My annual best songs list is certainly a stronger showcase of any particular year's best music, but I'll always listen to music by albums, the books to their songs' chapters. My favorite songwriter, my favorite band from my high school years, and my current favorite band all brought something to the table. How did they fare against 2015's newcomers? Here are the strongest musical narratives of the year. The numbers in parentheses represent how many songs from each album made it into my best song countdown.
10. We Are All We Need - Above & Beyond (2)
Above & Beyond has been working on music continually since I first found them seven years ago, but We Are All We Need is their first record in a long time. As a sizable collection of years of work, this album offers many excellent tracks that, although originally unveiled alone, mesh very well with one another. In a year where I invested more time and money into electronic albums than ever before, this 15-song set is the best I heard.
9. Blue Leaves - Etherwood (1)
Etherwood is also a DJ, but his unique sound seems more at home in the R&B genre. Defined largely by its rapid drumming and simple piano lines, his music is some of the most refreshing I've stumbled upon in recent years. The album as a whole can feel monotonous at times, but enough variety is applied to the prevailing pattern throughout its run time that I found it a very strong project in the end.
8. Islands - Bear's Den (2)
Islands is another album that spans years of work, but it's the band's debut. I was firmly impressed by at least half of its ten tracks, which was exciting because I found quite a few similar-sounding bands this year that simply did not live up to my initial impression while Bear's Den went well beyond. I applaud the band for the emotional power that so effortlessly flows through their compositions. As an aspiring songwriter who struggles to do the same, I find it truly extraordinary.
7. Broken Into Better Shape - Good Old War (2)
Broken Into Better Shape is loads of fun. It's not particularly bold musically speaking, and some may even call it generic, but I find joy in every song. This feel-good set of songs won over more of my time than any other as the year came to an end. I think its messages are both heart-felt and eye-opening and its general optimism was a great transition into a new year.
6. #HIRAETH (2)
One of my favorite moments of the year was meeting my favorite songwriter, Ace Enders. He's worked in a few different bands over the years (including I Can Make a Mess, winner of my 2010 and 2013 albums of year), but never before has he released a full-blown solo album. Its release came as a total surprise in the middle of October and I quickly fell in love. It would rank higher if not so short, but it actually provides a good amount of extremely catchy songs in its short span. I couldn't have expected anything less from Ace.
5. We Were Here - Boy (3)
We Were Here is another fairly short album, which nearly discouraged me from picking it up at all. One third of its songs made it into my songs list so I'm glad I did. Boy's songwriting is simple, but almost immediately latched onto my heart in a way I can't explain. Its honest words are a major part of it, but I'm not so sure what it is about the music itself that I just can't get enough of. More likely than with the other albums on this list, this is one I think most everyone can enjoy.
4. Cathedrals - The Hope Arsenal (2)
Cathedrals is so obscure that I couldn't find the version of the cover that isn't an advertisement online, which is a real shame because I was shocked by its overwhelming beauty. This is the year's best kept secret. Massive orchestral pieces and folksy acoustic guitar tracks combine to construct an original journey for which the gorgeous album cover is a good.
3. Run Wild - Lydia (3)
Lydia, once my favorite band, has had hit-and-miss records for the last several years. There are always a song or two I really enjoy, but their last three albums weren't my favorite. This year, however, they won me back in a big way with Run Wild, so much so that I attended two of their concerts this year and snagged the chance to meet the whole band. I love this album from beginning to end.
2. Better Nature - Silversun Pickups (2)
The Silversun Pickups!!! With The Dangerous Summer recently disbanded, my "favorite band" position became a void that needed to be filled. The Silversun Pickups rose to the occasion by reminding me how much I've loved them over the years and throwing another excellent album into the collection. I was honestly disappointed after the first playthrough, but after a few months of listening, along with their thrilling SLC concert, I was sold.
1. Oh Wonder - Oh Wonder (6)
That's right. Six songs from one CD. Never before has an album had such a strong presence among my favorites. A brand new couple, Oh Wonder set out last September to write and release one song every month for a year. The result (and then some) is this self-titled album, 15 songs strong, which I've decided is one of the best albums I've heard in my entire life, nearly perfect according to my personal taste. No matter who you are, I highly recommend at least one full playthrough. It's the very best I have to offer this time around.