Billboard released the year end charts, and Taylor Swift's '1989' topped the Billboard 200. But now it's time to name our favorite albums based on critical and personal tastes. ('1989' came out in 2014 -- topping our critics' picks for that frame.) Here is the list of Billboard.com's 25 best albums of 2015.
25. 'Hasta La Raiz,' Natalia LaFoucarde
Natalia Lafourcade’s intimate yet forceful and entreating Hasta La Raíz didn’t win the Latin Grammy for album of the year, but it should have. Lafourcade manages to be retro and futuristic at the same time, blending acoustic elements (guitars, strings, percussion) with loops and organ. The sound is so unexpected, that coupled with Lafourcade's sweet vocals, it makes you listen. And at a time when women have been making nary a dent on Billboard’s Latin charts, these may be the kinds of songs they need; when Lafourcade says “You’re so used to love that you don’t see it; you don’t see that what I offer you is unconditional,” we believe her, and we’ve all been there. Hasta la Raíz has not been a commercial hit in the U.S.; there is no radio here for Lafourcade’s brand of alt music, although in Mexico, the album has sold strong. But still, it reached No. 6 on Billboard’s Latin pop albums chart.
24. 'Emotion,' Carly Rae Jepsen
Fans may have spent a lot of 2015 talking about another '80s-influenced pop album, but this one also deserves some serious attention. Chock-full of both frothy fun and heartbreak, E MO TION is the perfect joyful work to listen to whether you need a pop tune kiss-off (see: “Boy Problems”) or you’re on the cusp of falling in love (“Run Away With Me”). Either way, we really, really like her.
23. 'Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü,' Jack Ü
When Skrillex and Diplo dropped their much-anticipated Jack Ü debut during a live-streamed 18-hour house party in February, there was a palpable sense of excitement among dance fans that the release could be game-changing. And in many senses, it was. While the album’s other tracks were overshadowed by the “Where Are Ü Now’s” crossover and Justin Bieber’s comeback bid, their impact was not ignored within the scene. Jack Ü's genre-defying, broken-beat brilliance set the tone for the year to come, inviting widespread imitation of dynamic numbers like “Take U There” ft. Kiesza and “To U” ft. Alunageorge, while “Holla Out” helped launch the career of one of 2015’s breakout stars in SNAILS.
22. 'Surf,' Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment
Fans may have been demanding a follow up to his 2013 mixtape Acid Rap, but Chance The Rapper has been winning in his career by doing anything but what's expected. That's the basis for Surf, the collaborative project from his band the Social Experiment, spearheaded by horn player Donnie Trumpet that is equal parts sprawling, fun, loose, emotional, jazzy and deep without losing its vigor throughout. There are plenty of heavyweight guest appearances -- Busta Rhymes, Big Sean, Quavo and Erykah Badu deserve special mention -- but it's the pure joy of songs like "Slip Slide," the ironic goofiness of "Wanna Be Cool" and the earnest charm of "Sunday Candy" that makes this project truly stand out. It's an avant-garde experiment masquerading as a hip-hop album, and in its experimentation it manages to exist in all genres and none at once.
21. 'Honeymoon,' Lana Del Rey
Lonely guitar reverb, breathy, layered vocal coos, and lyrics about lost Hollywood legends -– Honeymoon couldn’t be anything else but a Lana Del Rey album. Incidentally, it's probably her most consistent listen to date, melding torch balladry with jazz cues and hip-hop-inflected beats.
20. 'Days Gone By,' Bob Moses
The Vancouver duo delivered on the promise of EPs past by fusing thoughtful songwriting with melancholy and melodic house music on their first full-length outing. Over the course of 10 songs, singer/guitarist Tom Howie veers between narrative (“Tearing Me Up”) and nostalgic (“Before I Fall”) above producer Jimmy Vallance’s pensive synths and minimal rhythms to inspiring effect. Silencing critics who attack the genre for lacking lyrical depth, Days Gone By represents the best of where dance music is headed.
19. 'Amanecer,' Bomba Estero
After a decade burning up festival stages, Bomba Estereo broke through to a wider audience with Amanecer, and the band's name recognition really blew up when Will Smith collaborated on a remix of the single "Fiesta." The Colombian duo’s 2015 album is a seductive listen that marches to a carnival-friendly pop beat, encompassing tropical rhythms, EDM, and hip hop. Singer Li Saumetquiets’ primal screams have softened, but the band remains true to the Afro-Colombian roots of its fearless fusions. Amanecer reached No. 17 on Top Latin Albums and the “Fiesta” remix featuring Will Smith peaked at No. 11 on Hot Latin Songs.
18. 'Beauty Behind the Madness,' The Weeknd
After a string of critically acclaimed mixtapes that helped pioneer the PBR&B sound, the Weeknd finally ascended to the top of the pop world with his second album Beauty Behind the Madness. While the Michael Jackson-esque "Can't Feel My Face" made sense as a No. 1 hit, "The Hills" is easily one of the most unlikely, innovative singles to top the Hot 100 in years. Music this edgy doesn't usually own the charts, but the Weeknd's dark, seductive art has proved impossible to resist.
17. 'How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful,' Florence and the Machine
On her third album — and first No. 1 — Florence Welch took the advice of Taylor Swift and poured more personal experience into her music. It’s evident on the opening couplet of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful — "Don't touch the sleeping pills, they mess with my head" — but by the end of the stanza, she’s singing about great white sharks and killer whales, proving her old fantasy world isn’t going anywhere. The rest of the album wrestles with Welch’s old bombast and a newfound directness, both in the words and music. Rest assured, Florence + the Machine knows how to grow, and they’re here to stay.
16. 'Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit,' Courtney Barnett
If you told Courtney Barnett at the start of 2015 that she’d be nominated for one of the four major Grammys by year’s end, she might’ve laughed in your face. But twelve months later, here we are — the self-deprecating Australian has been nominated for Best New Artist behind the sort of LP that just demands you listen with the lyrics at your side. Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit will inspire you to turn your most shiftless, sad sack moments into great art, until you realize you’re not that good at turning a trip through a depressing Australian suburb into a rock song.
15. 'Dark Sky Paradise,' Big Sean
Big Sean's career before this year could have been summed up with near-misses and unfulfilled potential; in short, a lot of people believed that Sean could become a true hip-hop superstar, but he just kept coming up short. That narrative came to an end with Dark Sky Paradise, the first truly great full-length project he's produced thus far. Propelled by the smash hit single "I Don't Fuck With You" featuring E-40, Sean explored -- fittingly -- the darker side of his psyche, addressing the trials and tribulations of his love life, career and family struggles. The Drake-assisted "Blessings" provided the memes, while his ode to his late grandmother, "One Man Can Change The World" with John Legend and Kanye West, could provide him with a few Grammys. But it's the non-singles -- like "All Your Fault" with Kanye or "Deep" with Lil Wayne -- that make the full project better than its parts.
14. 'No Cities To Love,' Sleater Kinney
There was no way the kids of the 2010s were going to grow up thinking of Carrie Brownstein simply as “that actress from Portlandia.” After a near-decade break, Brownstein, fellow guitar goddess Corin Tucker, and dynamite drummer Janet Weiss put their magic rings together and reformed the beloved Sleater-Kinney. Powerhouse chorus after powerhouse chorus, No Cities to Love sounds absolutely essential, a much-needed return from a seminal band, just when many of their disciples were starting to come of age. Could their most accessible album also be their best?
13. 'Traveller,' Chris Stapleton
There is no doubting that this talented singer-songwriter is the critical darling of 2015. With his traditional arrangement, and whiskey-drenched vocal approach on Traveller, Stapleton scored one of the biggest triumphs for a Nashville-based male vocalist in years.
12. 'If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,' Drake
Drake’s surprise release If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late went viral for all the right reasons: Ginwuine samples, give-no-F-bombs bars and the type of hand-scrawled cover art that would spawn memes. Where 2011’s Take Care was an icebox of emo drunk messages and 2013’s Nothing Was The Same was a bottle-popping celebration of bad behavior, IYRTITL (Cash Money/ Young Money/ OVO Sound) is Aubrey Graham as rap menace on a mission to prove his haters wrong. With “Toronto Vs. Everybody” the unofficial tagline for the 17-track offering, Canada’s finest paints OVO as the epitome of hashtag squad goals with eerily dark production, catchy one-liners (“Running through the 6 with my woes”) and views from a higher place.
11. 'DS2,' Future
Few people have so totally and completely dominated their genres over a calendar year than Future's stranglehold over hip-hop in 2015: two brilliant mixtapes and two chart-topping albums spread out over a nine-month period will do that for an artist. But it was his July album DS2, his third studio LP, that was his high water mark, weaving dark and tortured tales of groupies, Xans, codeine and depression over an equally twisted sonic palette from the likes of Southside, Metro Boomin and Zaytoven. From the delicately stated ironic wink of opener "Thought It Was A Drought" to the repetitive anguish of closer "Blood On The Money," Future laid out his demons and excesses for all to see, resulting in the best work of his career.
10. 'Something More Than Free,' Jason Isbell
Isbell was one of the more against-the-grain chart toppers on the Country Album charts. The disc’s unflinching songwriting earned him comparisons to Bob Dylan, Neil Young and a young Merle Haggard.
9. 'I Love You Honeybear,' Father John Misty
Singer-songwriter J. Tillman is a former drummer in Fleet Foxes who writes about sex 100% more openly than his old band. Actually, aside from having a beard, there’s nothing much else they share in common when Tillman records as Father John Misty. His second such album is a rollicking folktronica circus, written as an ode to his wife (whose beauty he loves to brag about) and how she turned him away from his old playboy ways. It’s one of the year’s most lyrically frank albums, which makes for some uncomfortable moments. But in the end, that’s a lot of what makes it great.
8. 'Black Messiah,' D'Angelo
Somehow, after waiting a decade and a half to put out an album, D'Angelo still managed to surprise fans when Black Messiah dropped into their laps in December 2014. Was it worth the nearly 15-year wait? Without a doubt. Does it match his classic Voodoo album? It comes damn close. And now the smooth masterpiece -- which had a top five Billboard 200 debut -- has the Grammy accolades to show for it, picking up three nominations: best R&B album, best R&B song for "Really Love" and even storming into the Big Four categories with a record of the year nod for that track too. Welcome back.
7. 'Sound and Color,' Alabama Shakes
They said Beck’s album wouldn’t win Album of the Year, but now Alabama Shakes’ masterwork is up for the same Grammy, and we all know how that one turned out. But regardless of its chances against 1985 and To Pimp a Butterfly, Sound & Color is a killer record. There’s retro soul in its DNA, but Brittany Howard’s shape-shifting vocals and the band’s unexpected arrangements are alien enough to shake the revivalist tag.
6. 'In Colour,' Jamie XX
When The xx’s silent member announced his first solo album in March, few expected it to speak quite this loudly. Jamie xx’s Grammy-nominated In Colour is not only the year’s most cohesive electronic release, but also one of its most imaginative. The brilliant 11-track assortment seamlessly segues between after-hour laments (“Loud Places”), whimsical synthscapes (“Sleep Sound”) and an unlikely standout Caribbean collab (“I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” ft. Young Thug and Popcaan), all with one acknowledging eye towards dance music’s rave-checkered past and another fixed firmly on the future.
5. '25,' Adele
To be honest, Adele had us before "Hello," as the beloved songstress made her welcome return. Happily, her third album is full of tunes that are destined to be hits, from the kiss-off snark of “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” to the welcome, big-voiced joy of “Water Under The Bridge.”
4. 'Summertime ‘06,' Vince Staples
Vince Staples weaves his most vivid memories in Long Beach, Calif. into hip-hop cinema on his double-disc debut Summertime ‘06. On the 20-track offering, listeners ride in the passenger’s seat as he zips down memory lane with crisp beats and vivid bars in one of the year’s most consistent LPs. The rap rookie recalls dishing out coke with his daddy as a kid on “Get Paid,” backed by a Neptunes-esque beat by No I.D. -- who produces the bulk of the record. Guest producers include DJ Dahi, Clams Casino and Christian Rich. Staples isn’t shy about altering his voice to fit the occasion, either. He delivers high-pitched yelps on “Dopeman” before rap-singing syrupy notes on the dreamy “Summertime.”
3. 'Art Angels,' Grimes
Three years since the analog glory of her breakout album Visions, Claire Boucher — aka Grimes — delivered 2015’s most futuristic pop album. Boucher (who self-produces all her material) didn’t falter behind the big hooks; instead she took us on a cosmic joyride that included reggaeton beats, nu metal guitars, and the Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes amongst extraterrestrial songs that somehow sound like they could find a home on alternative radio.
2. 'Hamilton,' Original Broadway Cast
A Broadway cast album featuring diverse hip-hop, R&B, rap, and Broadway pop numbers about the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton? Safe to say few people expected it to work. But work – or, to borrow the parlance of the show, werk – it does, even without the benefit of watching the performance. Because Hamilton is sung/rapped-through, essentially the entire show is on the two-disc album, allowing fans to fully experience the breadth of the immersive and cohesive music by creator/star Lin-Manuel Miranda.
1. 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar
Twenty years ago, a conscious rap record wouldn’t have penetrated the mainstream in the way Kendrick Lamar did with To Pimp A Butterfly, the follow-up to his pristine debut good kid, m.A.A.d. City (Top Dawg/ Aftermath/ Interscope). His sense of timing is impeccable. In the midst of rampant cases of police brutality and racial tension across America, he spews raw, aggressive bars while possibly cutting a rug. Recruiting everyone from P-Funk icon George Clinton to out-of-the-box virtuosos Bilal and Robert Glasper, the politically charged project sonically commands your full attention, even with its impactful skits and interludes (“For Free?” finds Lamar scatting in sixteens about opportunity costs). Beyond the prism of hip-hop, the jazzy Butterfly deep cut “Alright” has become the year’s most powerful track as the unofficial anthem to the Black Lives Matter movement.