In Brief

Top albums of 2015: seven essentials for the music lover

From Adele to Kendrick Lamar and Malian blues, the albums that got fans and critics humming

As the year draws to a close, it's time to look back on the albums that won over fans and impressed the critics. We've put together seven of the headline albums that will get you into the holiday groove. 

Adele's – 25

The welcome return of the Brit songstress, following a break after throat surgery, 25 is an undisputed crowd-pleaser, which has even been attributed to stopping family arguments over the Thanksgiving dinner table. The Independent calls it a pleasing return to Adele's smoky sound, adding: "Adele does what she does best, belting out emotional tales of love and loss."

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Rapping wunderkind and Compton MC, Kendrick Lamar explores black politics and the entire realm of African American musical history with the assistance of music legends George Clinton and Thundercat. Rolling Stone calls it a masterpiece, and a "densely packed, dizzying rush of unfiltered rage and unapologetic romanticism, true-crime confessionals, come-to-Jesus sidebars, blunted-swing sophistication, scathing self-critique and rap-quotable riot acts".

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

American singer-songwriter, lo-fi folk artist and electronic musician, Stevens uses this album to explore his grief over his mother's death, and his childhood memories. NME says the album joins the canon of "sublime sadness" and is "consistently stunning". No matter how dark it gets, the emotion is "swathed in glistening guitar tones and angelic harmonies, spooling out his genius as casually as breathing".

Florence and the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Florence Welch blends alt-pop, soul and art-rock with her trademark introspective melodrama in 11 songs ranging from soulful belters to measured electro-pop ballads. Rolling Stone calls it a "sexy record that sticks to some familiar themes: a woman wrestling with lovers and emotions", adding that it features a  "magnificent bit of British brooding, backed by ghostly choral vocals".

Songhoy Blues – Music in Exile

This northern Malian quartet first came to attention when their song was featured on one of Damon Albarn's Africa Express compilations in 2013. The band (from the Songhoy ethnic group) formed when Islamic extremists banned music in their home town of Timbuktu and they fled to the Malian capital of Bamako. On this album they blend Malian melody with gritty American-style blues. The Daily Telegraph says "you can hear both the exile's homesick yearning and the musician's rebellion" in these songs, which feature some "terrifically danceable numbers".

Taylor Swift – 1989

The star of the much-denigrated genre of teen pop, Swift has bewitched a legion of devoted fans with her cleverly constructed and infectiously upbeat songs. Her fifth studio album has become one of the biggest sellers of the year. The Guardian says there are "umpteen highly polished pop records every year, but they're seldom as clever or as sharp or as perfectly attuned as this". 

Benjamin Clementine – At Least for Now

The British-raised, French-influenced poet, pianist and composer has been dubbed "the future sound of London". He dazzled reviewers with this debut album that went on to win the Mercury Award. The New York Times describes his voice as "a strange and frequently stunning instrument" comparable to Nina Simone, Antony Hegarty and Leonard Cohen.

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