The wait is finally over; Today we at Belleza Moda FINALLY reveal our 5 Favourite Albums of 2015!
If you didn’t get the chance to see the first 15 albums that made our exclusive list, you can read Part I, Part II and Part III by just clicking on the embedded link. Since 2015 has been a stellar year for all things music, we took the time and effort to explain precisely what makes these final five albums our standout picks of 2015. Your thoughts, comments and views are welcomed as always. Enough with the build-up, we now present you Belleza Moda’s Top Five Albums of 2015!
5. Disclosure – Caracal | Island / PMR
In the music industry, second albums are always make-or-break. “If you look at people’s careers, if their second record is as big or bigger than their first record, they’re a career artist forever and it doesn’t matter what they make for the third record, it will sell’ explains Ed Sheeran, a multi-platinum recording artist whose second album was one of the best-selling albums in the history of the UK.
For the Lawrence brothers better known as Disclosure, their debut album Settle was going to be a tough act to follow for several reasons. For starters, Settle successfully recontextualized older house and disco influences into reverent, modern and contemporary tunes à la Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx. Additionally, Disclosure’s pristine blend of UK Garage, Midwestern vocal house (R.I.P Frankie Knuckles – The Godfather of House) and hook-happy pop structures dominated British charts before making its way onto American ones. Settle paved the path for neo-house acts like Duke Dumont, Years & Years, Gorgon City and Rudimental to experience success across the Atlantic, not to mention Settle’s “Latch” sending Sam Smith into superstardom.
On Caracal, Guy and Howard Lawrence substitute killer basslines (and 100+ BPM songs) for slow-burning, R&B-inspired grooves. Their song-writing skills come to the fore even more on this album in conjunction with a group of carefully chosen collaborators. Megastar collaborations with The Weeknd (“Nocturnal”), Miguel (“Good Intentions”), Lorde (“Magnets”) and Sam Smith (“Omen”) are examples of Disclosure’s smoothed-out new direction. Meanwhile, Caracal’s spark shines brightest on “Holding On” – a soul-inspired lead single featuring Disclosure’s signature bounce with immaculate vocals from jazz songwriter Gregory Porter and “Jaded” – a song (penned by the brothers) about producers and people in the music industry taking credit for the work of others when it’s not truly their work.
One Grammy Nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album later, Caracal’s second album passes the grade and is not only Disclosure’s own work but also, their masterpiece.
Album Highlights: “Holding On” // “Jaded” // “Masterpiece”
4. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness | XO / Republic
Back in 2011, few would have predicted that a 20-year-old from Scarborough singing weeded-out sex jams over Beach House samples would go onto become one of the world’s biggest pop stars by the end of 2015. With Abel Tesfaye’s trilogy of mixtapes offering dark, bleary, rebellious odes to his sex, drugs & party-fueled lifestyle, Beauty Behind The Madness continues Abel’s image as a debauched lothario, albeit this time around one with a human heart. Unlikely as it seemed, 2015 marked the year Tesfaye grew from the hipster-esque, Tumblr-inspired R&B auteur to a full-grown crossover Top 40 grandeur like few others. From a commercial standpoint, Beauty Behind the Madness was nothing short of a smash hit. BBTM became the number one album in the country, Spotify’s most-streamed album of 2015 and at one point had 11 of its 14 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts.
In its brightest moments, BBTM draws heavily on Michael Jackson via Max Martin – the songwriter-producer behind countless pop hits in the past two decades. Tesfaye’s world-conquering single and song of the summer, “Can’t Feel My Face” as well as “In The Night” possess catchy, disco bounces similar to a certain King of Pop. However, BBTM is more than an album with a collection of singles tailor-made for the radio. Instead, BBTM is a concept album with a dark narrative arc which truly paint Abel as a lothario with a human heart.
We remember the Abel from the mixtapes as he sings about isolation (“Real Life”), fame (“Tell Your Friends”), sex (“Often”) and drugs (“The Hills”). On “Acquainted” however, Abel falls in love showing us, in a world exclusive, his human heart for the first time. “Shameless” and “Earned It” make us root for Abel and the lady in his life before “In The Night” marks the beginning of the end. The rest of the album revolves around the inevitable parting and end of the relationship. On “Dark Times”, Abel duets with Ed Sheeran about a drunken brawl while “Prisoner” with Lana Del Rey laments Abel being “addicted to a life that’s so empty and so cold.” BBTM’s swansong in “Angel” highlights Abel’s vulnerability and shows his heart; effortlessly yet selflessly crooning “I hope you find somebody” to his ex-lover.
Heartbroken and lonely, do not be surprised if The Weeknd heals his broken heart by finding solace in winning the seven Grammy Awards he is nominated for. Beauty Behind The Madness – yet another fantastic second album that ensured The Weeknd was the name on everyone’s lips in 2015.
Album Highlights: “Can’t Feel My Face” // “In The Night” // “Dark Times”
3. Coldplay – A Head Full of Dreams | Parlophone / Atlantic
Don’t ever give up. Just ask Chris Martin and the Coldplay boys.
Since temporarily sacking their drummer Will Champion in 1999, Coldplay, and Chris Martin in particular, have experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows. Claims of Coldplay being the greatest band of the 21st century are not far off the mark when you realize classics like “Yellow”, “The Scientist”, “Clocks”, “Speed of Sound”, “Fix You”, “Viva la Vida”, “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”, “Paradise” and “A Sky Full of Stars” have all come from the same London quartet. With the band turning twenty this year, the evolution of sound is there for all to see. Coldplay have gone from delivering a campfire guitar sing-along classic in “Yellow” to a euphoric, uplifting EDM-banger in “A Sky Full of Stars”. Through it all, Chris Martin’s urge to continuously reinvent has kept Coldplay relevant after all these years.
Marking a closing chapter for the band, Coldplay’s latest effort completes their first spectrum; the colour spectrum has seven colours and this is their seventh album. A Head Full of Dreams represents the beauty that can be found from a break-up. Ghost Stories, the band’s 2014 release, was a cathartic experience for Chris after his high-profile divorce from Gwyneth Paltrow. It serves as a transitional album: a prequel to something better. For Martin, if Ghost Stories was the pulling back of a bow, A Head Full of Dreams is the releasing of it. Coldplay have never sounded happier and for some, it is the most satisfying collection of songs they’ve written in years. A press release noted, “(Coldplay) have made an album that’s bursting with energy, color and big, life-affirming moments. Coldplay have never enjoyed making a record more than this one. Nor have they been happier with the results.”
Adding a gallop to Coldplay’s pop sensibilities, Stargate’s production (duo behind countless Katy Perry, Rihanna and Beyoncé hits) brings out a spring in Coldplay’s step like never before. Surrounded by an all-star cast only a band of Coldplay’s calibre can gather, AHFOD delivers everything from a disco-inspired feet shuffling number (“Adventure of a Lifetime”) to an old anthemic-rock curtain call (“Up&Up”) with a Beyoncé-accompanied partying anthem (“Hymn for the Weekend”) squeezed in between. While Aviici provides additional programming on HFTW, President Barack Obama recites Amazing Grace on “Kaleidoscope” and Tove Lo features on “Fun”, “Everglow” – a song about holding onto the warmth of the past and an album highlight – features Gwyneth Paltrow (Martin’s ex-wife) on additional vocals. As Q notes, “It is possibly the only break up song in history to have the ex-other half on backing vocals.”
The album’s curtain call, “Up&Up” features Noel Gallagher on lead guitar alongside a choir led by the children and partners of those on the album including Blue Ivy Carter. Worthy of closing out a sold-out Coldplay stadium-capacity show, “Up&Up” is the “kind of song we’ve been waiting to write for 15 years” according to Martin. Marking the end of Coldplay’s first spectrum, the album fades to silence with the gospel choir and Chris Martin signing off singing: “Don’t ever give up”. How very fitting.
Album Highlights: “Adventure of a Lifetime” // “Everglow” // “Up&Up”
2. Jamie xx – In Colour | Young Turks
An integral part of The xx – a minimalist indie trio – from London that rose to fame in 2010, Jamie Smith, better known as Jamie xx, is the man behind the sound. While the band’s debut album won the highly-coveted Mercury Music Prize in 2010, Jamie’s work away from the band have led him to great heights. Remix work for artists like Florence + The Machine, Adele and Radiohead aside, Jamie’s post-dubstep rework of Gil Scott Heron’s “I’ll Take Care of You” led to Drake sampling the song for his hit single “Take Care” (Jamie xx produced as well).
Come 2015 and Jamie xx’s debut studio album In Colour is a grand culmination of Jamie xx’s last six years of work with something there for everyone. As Mark Richardson notes for Pitchfork, “(In Colour gathers) up elements of everything he’s done – moody ballads, floor-filling bangers, expansive and off-kilter collaborations with vocalists – and packs them tightly into a glittering ball that reflects spinning fragments of feeling back at us”. Through eleven songs spanning 43 minutes and one aesthetically beautiful album cover, Jamie xx channels his minimalist values while overlooking anything he deems unnecessary.
On In Colour, Jamie’s bassy and beat-oriented production style succeeds in revisiting glory days of 90s UK dance and rave culture. In an effort so rich, complex and fluid, album highlights are certainly not hard to find. Album opener “Gosh” slowly builds, loop after loop before ascending onto a keyboard line pulsing into sheer ecstasy and euphoria. The xx bandmates Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft contribute to three songs on the record. “Stranger in a Room” featuring Oliver would feel right at home on an album by The xx themselves. “Loud Places” with Romy samples Idris Muhammad’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This” and is the perfect song to hear after a late night of a partying. Romy sings about loneliness and desire – “I go to loud places/To search for someone/To be quiet with” – a simple but absolutely stunning lyric.
The album’s ultimate highlight is “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” – In Colour’s most adventurous number which samples the legendary acapella group The Persuasion’s 1971 “Good Times”. Led by Jamie’s steel drums, “Good Times” (a frontrunner for our Song of the Year) unites the worlds of London electronic production through Jamie xx, Atlanta trap rap via Young Thug and Jamaican dancehall from Popcaan for an absolute belter of a song. In today’s social media-driven world, “Good Times” looks ahead optimistically saying f**k the “FOMO” (fear of missing out) lives we live in today for “there’s gonna be good times”.
Setting aside The xx’s black-and-white aesthetic for an album dazzling with colour, soft-spoken Jamie Smith surely had no idea In Colour would be Belleza Moda’s 2nd Best Album of 2015 back when I met him in July (pictured right). Hailed a modern classic and frontrunner for the Grammy’s Best Electronic/Dance Album, good times are certainly around the corner Mr. Smith. Don’t be surprised if he wins and moreover, don’t be surprised if his speech is no longer than 10 words.
Album Highlights: “Loud Places” // “Good Times” // “Girl”
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly | Top Dawg / Aftermath
Simply put, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is art; art that uncovers new meaning with each listen. While Kendrick’s breakout album, good kid, m.A.A.d city was widely embraced by pop radio, club goers and music critics alike, To Pimp a Butterfly provides a social commentary unlike few others (if any) we have heard in our time. Layered with dense meaning from a Compton native on top of his rap game, TPAB delivers an important social commentary on racial politics and the black celebrity while celebrating the rich history of black American music.
Contrary to few comments I’ve personally heard, TPAB is not simply chest-pounding, loud rap. Instead, TPAB’s conceptual narrative merges various genres and generations of African-American music. Throughout TPAB, we hear elements of African American music from riot funk akin to Sly Stone (“King Kunta”) to old-school soul (“Institutionalized” & “i” via The Isley Brothers) to sensual R&B (“These Walls”). On “For Free”, Kendrick delivers dense, spoken-word bars across bebop blues changes with churning jazz elements heavily present. It is important to note that Kendrick and his team did not approach the studio with the mindset of incorporating different genres on the album. Co-producer Terrace Martin notes, “Everybody on the record really understands what it’s like to be black in this day and age in America… It wasn’t “We’re gonna do jazz, we’re gonna do funk”, we just wanted to be the soundtrack to [Kendrick’s] experience. What other music to do behind that but black music?”
TPAB provided mainstream exposure to several jazz artists who have played significant roles in creating hip-hop & R&B music. In spite of having impressive CVs prior to TPAB, singers Bilal & Anna Wise along with multi-instrumentalists Terrace Martin and Thundercat have received little individual recognition until this album. Integrating the philosophy of collective improvisation of jazz into hip-hop, each track on the album is not only meticulously created but also, capable of holding its own. “u”, “i” and “You Ain’t Gotta Lie” reveal the struggles of fame and depression. “King Kunta” “unifies generations of African American musicians and cultural history” by weaving the textual story of a 18th century African-American slave character to the musical bravado of James Brown, Jay-Z and Michael Jackson via Kendrick’s lyrics.
“Alright” has become a political anthem for a new generation. “Mortal Man” includes vital jazz contributions from Thundercat and Martin as Kendrick name-drops Moses, Martin Luther King Jr., Mandela and Michael Jackson. TPAD ends with Kendrick sharing an imagined dialogue with his idol – Tupac. In an inspiring curtain call, Kendrick looks to a hero in Tupac for guidance at a point in time when Kendrick himself is becoming a spokesperson of a generation. While eleven worthy Grammy nominations for Kendrick are not enough to eradicate centuries of prejudice, hatred and racism towards African-Americans, it is a tiny start. With Kendrick Lamar at the helm of the current Civil Rights Movement in the music world, it really is time to believe that everything is gonn’ be alright.
At the 57th Grammy Awards (2015), Prince preached that “albums still matter” and in 2015, no album proved Prince’s claims more true than Kendrick Lamar Duckworth’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
Album Highlights: “King Kunta” // “Blacker The Berry” // “Alright” // “Mortal Man”
Albums are not novelties of our past and never will be.
There you have it folks – Belleza Moda’s 20 Best Albums of 2015 finally unveiled.
As 2016 promises to be another fantastic year for music, here are our most anticipated albums of 2016. Don’t be surprised if you see these albums feature in “Best of 2016” lists across the world.
On behalf of Belleza Moda, I’ve been Nikk Kadbet and I would like to thank each and every one of you who have tuned in and showed support throughout this blog series. It means a lot.
2015 – What A Year To Be Alive.