2015’s Best Albums: Idolator Editors Pick Their Favorite 15
5. Carly Rae Jepsen, E·MO·TIONReleased: August 21
Almost every song on E·MO·TION feels like a hit from another era. There’s 2010s disco-pop on “Boy Problems,” a saxy ’80s strut on “Run Away With Me,” TRL bubblegum and sparkly mall pop and aughts blog-wave — Carly Rae Jepsen’s third full-length has the stylistic breadth of a greatest hits collection. The fact that there’s absolutely no attempt to define a particular aesthetic or “trademark” CRJ sound could’ve made her seem like a bystander on her own album, but instead, Jepsen comes across as a proud pop ambassador, loyal only to the power of the hook.
Nothing is played close to the vest here. You know exactly how each song will turn out within the first 30 seconds, you know when the verse will explode into a magnetic, melodramatic chorus, and yet every time it happens it still brings a rush of euphoria. It’s like when a pitcher can broadcast his next throw knowing he’ll still smoke it past the batter. Cynics will deride such straightforward sugar as inherently manipulative, since it’s crafted with a near-scientific precision to latch onto your heart and burrow into your skull. But why over-intellectualize something just because it triggers a flood of serotonin? Instead, just give in to the emotion. — CARL WILLIOTT
4. Miguel, WildheartReleased: June 29
Miguel’s third full-length is incredibly sexy, but it’s also pretty heavy. Wildheart opens with a song about dying young, and later on the singer proclaims he’s going to Hell. One track is called “destinado a morir,” which translates to “destined to die,” and another looks at how society forces individuals to choose an identity (what he calls “programming”). These deep thoughts arrive alongside the deep thrusts chronicled in songs like “the valley” and “FLESH,” meaning the album mimics the way we live and love now. The outside world spills over into the bedroom, when we’re done clutching our lovers we clutch our iPhones and inevitably face a torrent of horrific shit on Twitter.
So Wildheart is a sex album poisoned by society, a psychedelic album anchored in reality, a cerebral soul album. It’s so erotic because it’s so nihilistic, as if to say we gotta soak up the ecstasy so we don’t succumb to the futility. — CARL WILLIOTT
3. Lana Del Rey, HoneymoonReleased: September 18
Lana Del Rey lied to us. In an interview with Billboard earlier this year, the mysterious diva promised her third LP would be a return to the (literally) genre-defining dark-pop of Born To Die. Instead, she delivered a languid, sprawling jazz-tinged album with six-minute songs and a reworking of a T.S. Elliot poem.
This is that rare body of work that demands patience. Honeymoon is an album that unfolds and intoxicates with each additional listen, which is a big ask for fans hungry for another “Video Games” or “Blue Jeans.” However, if you submit to Lana’s vintage soundscape, and let her gorgeous torch songs slowly work their magic, you’ll be rewarded with the songbird’s most complex and fully realized work to date. — MIKE WASS
2. Adele, 25Released: November 20
If the universal appeal of Adele’s modern day classic 21 was that it was a breakup album — a bar-raising, numbers-busting one at that — then the relatability of 25 can best be attributed to another shared experience we can all rely on at some point: the awareness of getting older. For all the accolades and musical achievements Adele’s career has been met with (and there are many), they appear to be bittersweet fruits — reminders of the simpler times, laid out here in the lyrics on 25, that the British singer is still clinging to.
Motherhood, an adult relationship with a romantic partner and — oh, right — the gravity of being the most popular singer in the world are heavy responsibilities. Luckily for us, Adele funnels these weights upon her shoulders into vivid tales of nostalgia and insecurity like “Hello,” “When We Were Young,” “Water Under The Bridge” and “Million Years Ago,” songs which are no doubt destined to become pop standards when all is said and done. — ROBBIE DAW
1. Grimes, Art AngelsReleased: November 6
Back when Grimes released “Go” and a tepid Bleachers collab, it seemed she was less interested in subverting the mainstream machine and more interested in joining it. But that was misdirection. She was cultivating her pop skills so that on Art Angels she could ramp up her eccentricities while delivering them in a package that was as melodic and immediate as anything the Top 40 factories churned out. The material is aimed at listeners’ gooey pleasure centers but refracted through an alt lens, a heap of sugar to help the medicine go down. Rap is propped up by demented surf rock on “Scream.” Sassy “Hollaback Girl”-style chants are preceded by feral shrieks on “Kill V. Maim,” like Crystal Castles doing Britney. The male gaze is dismantled before a laser breakdown straight out of the male-dominated EDM world on “Venus Fly.” It’s a glorious mess of unrelated influences disguised as uniform pop.
And the fact that Grimes wrote, produced and performed the entire thing herself, save for a pair of features, may be the most iconoclastic thing of all. Because, while this album won’t have the commercial weight of, say, a Diplo product, it’s proof that artists seeking an inventive, muscular singalong don’t have to come crawling to a super-producer. That the future of pop doesn’t have to be a congealed, beige blob of ’80s rehashes and Max Martin approximations. Art Angels is proof that in an era of stars banking on calculated weirdness, there are still true oddballs infiltrating the system. — CARL WILLIOTT
There’s still time to vote in our readers’ poll for the best albums of 2015. Let us know what you think of our editors’ picks below!