The Best Albums of 2015

  • Publish Date: December 29, 2015
  • Comments: ↓ 3 user comments

Kendrick Lamar has the best-reviewed major album of 2015

2015 96 To Pimp a Butterfly
by Kendrick Lamar
2014 95 Black Messiah
by D'Angelo and the Vanguard
2013 92 Sunbather
by Deafheaven
2012 92 Channel Orange
by Frank Ocean
2011 88 Bad As Me
by Tom Waits
High Scoring Albums by Year
(Minimum 15 Reviews)

There may not have been much suspense, but that doesn't diminish Kendrick Lamar's achievement. We have known since March that the Compton-born rapper's third album would likely be unsurpassed for the remainder of 2015, and that indeed proved to be true.

But To Pimp a Butterfly isn't just this year's highest-scoring (and thus best-reviewed) album. It is also the highest-scoring release since Brian Wilson's SMiLE back in 2004. And Butterfly is also the best-reviewed rap album of the 21st century, period, surpassing OutKast's 2000 classic Stankonia and Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

In fact, 2015 was a good year for music all around. We tracked 659 albums this year that received at least 7 reviews from professional critics. Of those, 133—or over 20%—received universal acclaim (with a Metascore of 81 or greater). That's far ahead of last year's 13% rate. And Lamar was not the only artist to score 90 or higher, as both Sufjan Stevens and Sleater-Kinney did so as well.

Below is this year's final ranking of the best albums (in Metacritic's database) released during 2015 as determined by their Metascores—an average of all reviews by professional critics at the time of each album's original release. Note that live albums, reissues, compilations, and the like are excluded from this chart, though they are listed separately a bit further down this page.

The 40 best-reviewed albums of 2015 (min. 15 reviews)

Album cover#1
Kendrick Lamar
96 To Pimp a Butterfly (Aftermath)

Buy From Amazon Buy From iTunes

For his major-label debut in 2012 (Good Kid, M.A.A.D City), Kendrick Lamar scored a 91. He somehow managed to top that with this 16-track follow-up that includes collaborations with George Clinton, Flying Lotus, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Pharrell, Thundercat, and Bilal.

"This is an important--a very important--piece of work that will stand the test of time. It’s also an utter blast to listen to and live with."

Drowned in Sound More reviews...

Album cover#2
Sufjan Stevens
90 Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)

Buy From Amazon Buy From iTunes

The folkie's first proper album since 2010's The Age of Adz ended an unusually long absence for the once-prolific artist. Titled after his mother and stepfather, the 11-song set features contributions from artists like Laura Veirs and Sean Carey, and many critics called it Stevens' best LP to date.

"This record is a return to the spare folk of Seven Swans, but with a decade's worth of honing and exploration packed into it. It already feels like his most classic and pure effort."

Pitchfork More reviews...

Album cover#3
90 No Cities to Love (Sub Pop)

Buy From Amazon Buy From iTunes

The reunited indie-rock legends' first album since 2005's The Woods proved to be worth the wait, surpassing anything that the trio's Corin Tucker, Janet Weiss, and Carrie Brownstein recorded with their other projects over the past decade.

"They’ve boiled their process down to its essentials, and No Cities to Love crams genius lyrics and hook after inescapable hook into just 10 tracks and 33 minutes."

Consequence of Sound More reviews...

Album cover#4
Napalm Death
89 Apex Predator - Easy Meat (Century)

Buy From Amazon Buy From iTunes

Recorded over the span of a full year, the 34-year-old British grindcore band's 15th studio album could be their best LP in decades.

"Untrained ears might shrivel in terror, but those who appreciate the joy of noise will recognise the sound of veteran masters on unassailable form."

The Guardian More reviews...

Album cover#5
Joanna Newsom
88 Divers (Drag City)

Buy From Amazon Buy From iTunes

The acclaimed indie-folk artist ended what turned out to be a five-year recording hiatus with the release of her fourth album this fall. Divers features arrangements by Nico Muhly, Ryan Francesconi, Dave Longstreth (of Dirty Projectors), plus Newsom herself, and was recorded by Steve Albini and Noah Georgeson.

"This is an album of remarkable consistency and sparkling beauty. If her music hasn’t clicked for you yet, listen to this record until it does."

Paste More reviews...

Album cover#6
Courtney Barnett
88 Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom+Pop)

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The year's best debut album came from 28-year-old Australia native Courtney Barnett, who first impressed reviewers with her 2014 EP compilation The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas.

"It excites by just sounding really, really, really good, and coming from a voice that, in more ways than one, we've never quite heard before."

Spin More reviews...

Album cover#7
88 Art Angels (4AD)

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Fans weren't totally on board with some of Claire Boucher's recent singles, but her fourth album as Grimes (and first since her 2012 hit Visions) had few detractors. The weird but accessible Art Angels cemented her place as one of pop music's true innovators.

"Grimes has given us a complete record that's everything pop should be in 2015: utterly uncompromising, imaginative and, somehow, universally accessible."

Exclaim More reviews...

Album cover#8
Julia Holter
87 Have You in My Wilderness (Domino)

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The Los Angeles-based artist/composer had 2013's second-highest-scoring album with Loud City Song. Though lacking its predecessor's unifying theme, Holter's fourth album is nearly as impressive.

"Loud City Song is Holter's most polished work to date, and another example of how she upholds and redefines what it means to be an avant-garde singer/songwriter."

Allmusic More reviews...

Album cover#9
Vince Staples
87 Summertime '06 (Def Jam)

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The Long Beach, Calif. rapper's full-length studio debut (which occupies two discs despite its relatively short 59-minute running time) includes production throughout from No I.D. (as well as a few others, including Clams Casino and Christian Rich). It's easily one of the year's best hip hop albums.

"It’s a major triumph disguised as a minor one--60 minutes of lean, inventive, important rap music that never pats itself on the back for being any of those things."

A.V. Club More reviews...

Album cover#10
Jason Isbell
87 Something More Than Free (Southeastern)

Buy From Amazon Buy From iTunes

Something is the fifth solo album for the former Drive-By Truckers member. Dave Cobb returns as producer from 2013's Southeastern, and the result is another hit with critics.

"Something More Than Free is like a novel set to music, each of its 11 songs a separate chapter that, when absorbed in full, leave you with the same kind of psychic shift a good book sets into motion."

Blurt More reviews...

... and the rest of the top 40:
Album/Artist Score Stream It Buy It
11 Cover Vulnicura
by Björk
87 Spotify Amazon iTunes
12 Cover I Love You, Honeybear
by Father John Misty
87 Spotify Amazon iTunes
13 Cover In Colour
by Jamie xx
87 Spotify Amazon iTunes
14 Cover Natalie Prass
by Natalie Prass
86 Spotify Amazon iTunes
15 Cover Surf
by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
86 Spotify iTunes
16 Cover Poison Season
by Destroyer
86 Spotify Amazon iTunes
17 Cover The Agent Intellect
by Protomartyr
85 Spotify Amazon iTunes
18 Cover Elaenia
by Floating Points
85 Spotify Amazon iTunes
19 Cover New Bermuda
by Deafheaven
85 Spotify Amazon iTunes
20 Cover Fantasy Empire
by Lightning Bolt
84 Spotify Amazon iTunes
21 Cover Wildheart
by Miguel
84 Spotify Amazon iTunes
22 Cover Currents
by Tame Impala
84 Spotify Amazon iTunes
23 Cover Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress
by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
84 Spotify Amazon iTunes
24 Cover Purple
by Baroness
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
25 Cover Foil Deer
by Speedy Ortiz
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
26 Cover White Men Are Black Men Too
by Young Fathers
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
27 Cover Star Wars
by Wilco
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
28 Cover Primrose Green
by Ryley Walker
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
29 Cover b'lieve i'm goin' down...
by Kurt Vile
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
30 Cover Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
by Panda Bear
82 Spotify Amazon iTunes
31 Cover Frozen Niagara Falls
by Prurient
82 Spotify Amazon iTunes
32 Cover Shadows in the Night
by Bob Dylan
82 Spotify Amazon iTunes
33 Cover Compton
by Dr. Dre
82   iTunes
34 Cover Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
by John Grant
82 Spotify Amazon iTunes
35 Cover Sauna
by Mount Eerie
82 Spotify AmazoniTunes
36 Cover Fading Frontier
by Deerhunter
81 Spotify Amazon iTunes
37 Cover Never Were the Way She Was
by Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld
81 Spotify Amazon iTunes
38 Cover Ivy Tripp
by Waxahatchee
81 Spotify Amazon iTunes
39 Cover After
by Lady Lamb the Beekeeper
81 Spotify Amazon iTunes
40 Cover Platform
by Holly Herndon
81 Spotify Amazon iTunes

What about albums with fewer reviews?

Here is a look at the albums that received extremely positive reviews, but not enough of them to qualify for our list above. (In other words, consider them the year's best under-the-radar releases.) Albums on this list received 7-14 critic reviews. (Titles with fewer than 7 reviews are excluded from all year-end charts.)

Album/Artist Score Stream It Buy It
1 (tie) Cover The Fade in Time
by Sam Lee & Friends
89 Spotify Amazon iTunes
  Cover Hand.Cannot.Erase.
by Steven Wilson
89   Amazon iTunes
3 Cover That's the Spirit
by Bring Me the Horizon
88 Spotify Amazon iTunes
4 Cover From Kinshasa
by Mbongwana Star
88 Spotify Amazon iTunes
5 Cover Complicated Game
by James McMurtry
87 Spotify Amazon iTunes
6 (tie) Cover John Howard & the Night Mail
by John Howard & The Night Mail
87 Spotify Amazon
  Cover Ten Love Songs
by Susanne Sundfør
87 Spotify Amazon iTunes
8 Cover Choose Your Weapon
by Hiatus Kaiyote
87 Spotify Amazon iTunes
9 Cover Painted Shut
by Hop Along
87 Spotify Amazon iTunes
10 Cover Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs By Karen Dalton
by Various
87 Spotify Amazon iTunes

Albums released between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2015 with 7 or more reviews (15 or more for the first chart) in Metacritic's database were eligible for inclusion. Reissues and other older material, EPs, live albums, holiday albums, greatest hits albums, multi-artist soundtracks, and other compilations are excluded from the above lists. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). Albums are ranked by Metascore prior to rounding. All scores on this page are from December 27, 2015.

More bests and worsts

Now that we've heard from the critics, what about Metacritic users? Here are the 2015releases receiving the highest average user scores:

2015 Releases Most Liked by Metacritic Users (Min. 15 User Reviews)
Album/Artist Buy It Listen User Score
1 96 To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar Amazon iTunes Spotify 9.0
2 78 Honeymoon by Lana Del Rey Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.9
  75 Froot by Marina and the Diamonds Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.9
4 83 The Epic by Kamasi Washington Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.8
5 80 Thank Your Lucky Stars by Beach House Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.7
  87 Vulnicura by Björk Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.7
  77 How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence + the Machine Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.7
  88 Art Angels by Grimes Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.7
  80 The Book of Souls by Iron Maiden Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.7
  90 Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.7

User scores represent an average of scores assigned by site visitors, from 0 (bad) to 10 (good).

If you read the fine print under our list of high-scoring albums above, you noticed that reissues, compilations, live sets, and other album types were excluded from our best-reviewed albums charts (which are intended to include only new full-length studio albums). Here are the highest-scoring "disqualified" albums of the year:

Best-Reviewed Reissues, Box Sets, and Compilations of 2015 (Min. 7 Reviews)
Album/Artist Score Stream It Buy It
1 Cover Sticky Fingers Deluxe reissue
by The Rolling Stones
100 Spotify Amazon iTunes
2 Cover The Bootleg Series, Vol. 12:
The Best of the Cutting Edge 1965-1966
Box set
by Bob Dylan
99   Amazon iTunes
3 Cover Physical Graffiti Deluxe reissue
by Led Zeppelin
97 Spotify Amazon iTunes
4 Cover The Smithsonian Folkways Collection Box set
by Lead Belly
95 Spotify Amazon iTunes
5 Cover Miles Davis at Newport: 1955-1975:
The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4
Live box set
by Miles Davis
92 Spotify Amazon iTunes
6 Cover Bouquets from a Cloudy Sky:
The Complete Pretty Things Collection
Box set
by The Pretty Things
92   Amazon
7 Cover The Ties That Bind: The River Collection Box set
by Bruce Springsteen
91 Spotify Amazon iTunes
8 Cover Ork Records: New York, New York Box set
by Various
91 Spotify Amazon iTunes
9 Cover Elitism for the People 1975-1978 Box set
by Pere Ubu
91   Amazon
10 Cover G Stands For Go-Betweens, Vol. 1 Box set
by The Go-Betweens
90   Amazon

Thousands of albums are released each year, and most of those don't even make their way to reviewers; as a result, the vast majority of the awful albums recorded each year do not show up on Metacritic. However, there are always some major releases this year that fail to impress critics, and we now share with you the 10 disappointing albums receiving the worst reviews in 2015:

The Lowest-Scoring Albums of 2015 (Min. 7 Reviews)
Album/Artist Score Stream It
1 Cover Coming Up for Air
by Kodaline
51 Spotify
2 Cover New Glow
by Matt and Kim
52 Spotify
3 Cover Wiped Out!
by The Neighbourhood
53 Spotify
4 Cover HitNRun: Phase One
by Prince
5 Cover Wilder Mind
by Mumford & Sons
54 Spotify
6 Cover American Spring
by Anti-Flag
54 Spotify
7 Cover Déjà-Vu
by Giorgio Moroder
54 Spotify
8 Cover Jekyll + Hyde
by Zac Brown Band
55 Spotify
9 Cover Kylie Christmas
by Kylie Minogue
55 Spotify
10 Cover Full Speed
by Kid Ink
55 Spotify

What do you think?

What were your personal favorite and least favorite albums of 2015? Let us know in the comments section below, and don't forget to vote for your favorite albums of the year in our Best of 2015 User Poll. And for more of 2015's best albums, see which titles critics are including on their year-end top 10 lists.


Comments (3)

  • greg7gkb  

    Made a sampler playlist for the albums above!

  • Lovdahl  

    Best: Father John Misty - "I Love You, Honeybear"
    Worst: Courtney Barnett - "Sometimes I..."

  • LamontRaymond  

    I'm really enjoying Jeff the Brotherhood's new "Celestial Rhythms". Colleen Green's "I Want to Grow Up" is also stellar.

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