Adele's much-hyped "25," Disclosure's brilliant "Caracal" and more: Newsday's Pop Music Critic Glenn Gamboa looks back at the year in music and rounds up his favorite releases.
Here's a look at the 25 best albums released in 2015.
1. KENDRICK LAMAR, "To Pimp a Butterfly"
Lamar's ambitious, messy look at race relations in America couldn't be timelier or more strongly felt, moving between references to Ferguson, Mo., and the effects of racist systems, while riding cool beats and focusing on honesty in his rhymes. His verdict? "We gon' be alright." Read the review. (Released March 24 on Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope)
2. ADELE, "25"
From the review: "We've come to expect gorgeous, well-crafted piano ballad melancholy like "Remedy" and, to a certain extent, "Hello," though even that comes with unexpectedly raw emotion. But the stunning "When We Were Young," where Adele blends throwback soul with anthemic swells and a killer note that comes almost four minutes in, puts any worries about her voice to rest." (Released Nov. 20 on XL/Columbia)
3. CARLY RAE JEPSEN, "Emotion"
From the review: "You can almost hear the chip Jepsen carries on her shoulder in the desperation of "Your Type" and ambitious experimentation of "Warm Blood," where she comes across as the next Robyn with the help of Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij. No maybe here, "Emotion" proves Jepsen is the real deal." (Released Aug. 21 on Interscope)
4. MIGUEL, "Wildheart"
From the review: "Not only does he follow the tradition of soulful experimentation built by Prince and Sly Stone, but he puts his own twist on it, dropping in elements of hip-hop, EDM and rock. The biggest surprise, though, is how easily Miguel's ambitious experiments transform into earworms." (Released June 30 on RCA Records)
5. SLEATER-KINNEY, "No Cities to Love"
From the review: "Maybe it's because of the successes they found in their time apart, but Sleater-Kinney sounds more confident and accomplished than ever - a real feat considering their riot grrl roots. There's a grandeur on 'Hey Darling,' an early song-of-the-year candidate that covers [Carrie] Brownstein's anxieties about being onstage, showing the trio hasn't been standing still over the past nine years." (Released Jan. 20 on Sub Pop)
6. JAMES TAYLOR, "Before This World"
"Before This World" captures a master at work, showing the pleasure a great artist can have crafting something new. Read the review. (Released June 16 on Concord Records)
7. KACEY MUSGRAVES, "Pageant Material"
From the review: "If you don't have a big voice, backed by a big beat, with big production values, chances of getting noticed are, well, small. Throw in the current climate in country music that overwhelmingly favors men, and Kacey Musgraves' new album "Pageant Material" becomes nothing short of a musical miracle." (Released June 23 on Mercury Nashville)
8. COURTNEY BARNETT, "Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit"
The Australian singer-songwriter tells lovely little stories with clever lyrics and memorable melodies in a breezy way that's completely natural. On "Depreston," she's a carefree Lucinda Williams. On "Pedestrian at Best," she's the female Ben Lee. In any case, she's always delightful. (Released March 24 on Mom & Pop)
9. JANET JACKSON, "Unbreakable"
From the review: "For 'Unbreakable,' she teamed again with Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, the producers who shepherded her rise to Jacksonian heights with 'Control,' and their partnership has seemingly restored both her confidence and her ambition." (Released Oct. 2 on Rhythm Nation/BMG)
10. FALL OUT BOY, "American Beauty/American Psycho"
From the review: "As engaging as these intricately crafted musical monuments to the way the Internet-surfing brain works are, though, the band is far more effective when it simply lets the songs unfold. 'The Kids Aren't Alright' lets Patrick Stump's emotional vocals shine and gives Pete Wentz's clever turns of phrase the space to be appreciated." (Released on Jan. 20 on Island)
11. MADONNA, "Rebel Heart"
From the review: "Despite her unexpected revelations on 'Rebel Heart,' Madonna is more artistically fearless now than ever, ready to forge new styles at a time in her career when most would be considering acoustic interpretations of her hits and decades-themed cover albums." (Released March 10 on Interscope Records)
12. ALAN JACKSON, "Angels and Alcohol"
From the review: "Jackson sings like a man who knows what he's doing. That's not to say he doesn't tackle many of the same topics as his country brethren -- drinking, breakups and three-day holidays in his world, too. But he does it better than almost anyone else." (Released July 17 on Capitol Nashville)
13. BJORK, "Vulnicura"
From the review: "Few artists would ever document a breakup so openly or be so clear-eyed about making it seem universal. But Bjork has always been a singular artist and in 'Vulnicura' she has built a singular artistic work to stand against other 'breakup albums' for years to come." (Released Jan. 27 on One Little Indian)
14. ALABAMA SHAKES, "Sound and Color"
From the review: "Alabama Shakes were on their way before, thanks to their hit 'Hold On,' but 'Sound & Color' takes them to a whole new level, where they show they're a great band, not just a band with a great singer." (Released April 21 on ATO)
15. BOB DYLAN, “Shadows in the Night”
From the review: "At its best, 'Shadows in the Night' takes classics and bends them to Dylan's will to build something memorable and new and, often, beautiful." (Released Feb. 3 on Columbia)
16. THE WEEKND, "Beauty Behind the Madness"
From the review: " 'Beauty Behind the Madness' (XO/Republic) feels like the work of a superstar artist - ambitious in both theme and execution, as The Weeknd shows how deeply positive and negative emotions are entwined." (Released Aug. 28 on XO/Republic)
17. TOBIAS TESSO JR., "Goon"
We're always down for a good piano man around here and Tobias Jesso Jr. is the best new one to arrive in a while. "Goon" combines McCartney-ish melodies with Randy Newman-like observations to build self-sufficient piano creations. Like, you know, The Piano Man. (Released March 17 on True Panther Sounds)
18. BULLY, "Feels Like"
Alicia Bognanno channels Blake Babies-era Juliana Hatfield and pre-Breeders Kim Deal for a fuzzy, raucous slice of '90s revivalism that rages just enough on "Trying" and "Milkman." (Released June 23 on Columbia)
19. JAMIE XX, "In Colour"
For his first solo album away from The xx, Jamie xx builds an eclectic EDM world on top of one solid groove after another, swallowing whatever genre floats by, transforming it into something new. (Released June 22 on Young Turks)
20. SUFJAN STEVENS, "Carrie & Lowell"
From the review: "Stevens spends most of 'Carrie & Lowell' (Lowell is Stevens' stepfather) trying to come to terms with his mother's death and her lengthy absence in his life, using his tools of indie-folk storytelling and guitars." (Released March 31 on Asthmatic Kitty)
21. WAXAHATCHEE, "Ivy Tripp"
From the review: "Throughout 'Ivy Tripp,' Crutchfield condenses complicated thoughts and feelings into small, hard-hitting bursts that linger long after the song ends." (Released April 7 on Merge)
If The Weeknd was, you know, um, fun, maybe he could keep up with the frantic dance-soul of Las Vegas' Shamir Bailey on his debut "Ratchet" (XL). His single "On the Regular" introduces him as a nimble, clever rapper who can ride an electro-beat with skill and, yes, humor. -- GLENN GAMBOA
23. DISCLOSURE, "Caracal"
From the review: "It shows how strongly the Lawrence brothers feel about the combination of "deep house" music and fragile, emotional singing and how potent that mix can be. The Lawrences plug one A-list singer after another into this winning formula." (Released Sept. 25 on Capitol)
24. JAZMINE SULLIVAN, "Reality Show"
During "#HoodLove," Jazmine declares, "He ain't always right, but he's just right for me," then stretches out "me" for what seems like a melisma-filled eternity. That pretty much sums up her wildly ambitious brand of R&B and her super-cool "Reality Show." (Released Jan. 13 on RCA)
25. MIKAL CRONIN, "MCIII"
From the review: "It's the second half of 'MCIII' that is the real surprise: a six-song, mini rock-opera of sorts called 'Circle' that calls to mind the ambitions of 'Pet Sounds' without losing any indie-rock cred." (Released May 5 on Merge)