From Blur and Muse to Wolf Alice and Bully to Hot Chip and Jamie xx

We've passed the halfway mark of the year, and it really must be said that 2015 has already been a magnificent year for music. Our record shelves are creaking with the addition of countless incredible new releases across all genres - and here are just 40 of the best. 

Pop has graced us with works of excellence from Say Lou Lou and Charli XCX, electro pioneers Jamie xx and Hot Chip delivered the goods, returning legends Blur and Sleater-Kinney have kept a firm grip on their throne, rock has been so kind to us with hard-hitting offerings from Marilyn Manson, Muse and Enter Shikari, and fresh blood has kept everyone on their toes with immaculate debuts from the likes of Wolf Alice. 

In no particular order, here are the 40 best albums of 2015 so far. 

  • Bjork - Vulnicura: "Our love was my womb," pines Bjork on new album Vulnicura's centre-piece, 'Black Lake'. Bjork has always sought to map her inner workings and movements onto the world around her - be it a womb, a mountain or a skyscraper. It is her harnessing and curation of the elements, both physical and metaphysical, that makes her an artist like no other. Translating the turmoil of her separation from long-term partner and artist Matthew Barney into a painting with the world around her - making Vulnicura an orchestral, melodic journey through her psyche, rather than just your standard verse-chorus-verse affair. A true triumph.

  • Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit: Witty and wistful folk-grunge that's always engaging and never twee - a true and unpious spokesperson for generation Z. You need this artist in your life.

  • The Decemberists - What A Beautiful World, What A Terrible World: With a career spanning nigh on 15 years and a catalogue of seven studio albums, the band have weaved their own tapestry to portray a world of murder, suicide, love, war, brotherhood, betrayal, all told through the prism of folklore, history, literature, poetry and beyond. They're much more than a band - they're an adventure in fiction. On album No.7, we explore only more magnificent territory. It showcases all that's great about this band: never twee, but always using these idiosyncrasies as a vehicle for a universal truth. On What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, what we have a real rarity: one of the most original acts of their generation, singing of love, loss and freedom in the fullest of voice, like no one else could.

  • Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly: The fiery third full-length studio album from Kendrick Lamar is a serious, jazzy and arresting exploration of police corruption, race in America and the perils of post-Ferguson life. Using the metaphor of turning from a pimp into a butterfly, this angry and politically-charged record from the Compton rapper has arguable set the bar for every other hip-hop release this year, cementing his status as a rapper at the top of his game.

  • Laura Marling - Short Movie: Like many of the musicians she grew up listening to - Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell - Laura Marling sheds her musical skin with each album she produces, emerging with a rejuvenated sense of purpose and a new direction. And this, at the age of 25, is her fifth - a fact sure to make anyone under 30 seriously question their own life choices. It's a startling confrontation in the form of a brutal but beautiful new incarnation.

  • Marilyn Manson - The Pale Emperor: "Lazarus has got no dirt on me," growls Manson on the Faustian 'The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles'. Yes, his Royal Darkness is back, and it's about to get Biblical. But this time, scrape beneath the make-up and you'll see an artist proudly wearing the scars of his years. The inconsistency of recent records lead many to think Manson's finer moments were behind him, but, like Lazarus, he's back from the dead. "To make rock n' roll, you need a lot of scars," Manson has said - and he has more than most. The result is an artist with more dimsensions than you thought possible. The horror remains, as does the spectacle, but in giving his vision the space to breathe, it instead breathes fire. All hail The Pale Emperor. Long may he reign.

  • Mini Mansions - The Great Pretenders: A dark delightful Wurlitzer through death, sex, loss, madness and insecurity, taking in a range of cross-generational influences that would surprise most ardent fans expecting something a little different from the QOTSA bassist. Add a little bit of 'Guy Ritchie gangster' swagger from Mr Alex Turner and you've got the recipe for one of the best records of the year so far.

  • Purity Ring - Another Eternity: This exquisitely off-kilter album sees the musical duo stray away from their earlier witch house sound while still maintaining the ethereal lyricism we have come to expect from them. Their wonderful poppy sound still manages to be gloriously indie and with their slightly twee, anthemic songs like 'begin again' and 'heartsigh' the album manages to be a little slice of pure sugary perfection.

  • Death Cab For Cutie - Kintsugi: To put it simply, the best thing they've done in a decade. It's a real return to form in the sense that they've struck a balance that we haven't heard with Death Cab since Plans and Transatlanticism.That aching sense of confessional is reflected in the music, which is what makes this feel like a 'classic' Death Cab record. Obviously, Death Cab fans are somewhat of a cult, and everyone has their own entry point which they're quite dedicated and stuck to, but I think there are shades on here that everyone can find love in.

  • Action Bronson - Mr Wonderful: All tinkling piano, clinking glasses and lyrics about women and food, Mr Wonderful sounds like it was recorded in a restaurant, which you might expect from ex-chef Bronson. Dreamy, happy and original.

  • Title Fight - Hyperview: Lighter, more melodic and more polished than Title Fight%u2019s previous releases, Hyperview's mere 30 minutes prove the Pennsylvania punks are going from strength to strength, whilst evolving in sound.

  • The Mountain Goats - Beat the Champ: Whilst ostensibly a concept album about wrestling, Beat The Champ is an honest and unpretentious lo-fi creation from multi-instrumentalist John Darnielle, aka The Mountain Goats.

  • Joey Bada$$ - B4.DA.A$$ - Despite the ridiculous name, old-school production and Joey%u2019s irresistible flow make this album a must as the 20-year-old Brooklyn rapper tries to emulate his hip-hop hero Nas.

  • Idlewild - Everything Ever Written: Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder, and it's never been easier to fall in love with Idlewild than on this long overdue comeback record. From the gentle rolling balladry of 'Nothing I Can Do About It' into the rushing compulsion of 'Collect Yourself', this makes for an album that both encapsulates the glory of their finest moments, but shows a textured depth of a band highly evolved.

  • Say Lou Lou - Lucid Dreaming: We've been waiting on this debut from the much-hyped Swedish-Australian electro-pop twins for two or three years now - and boy, was it worth the wait. Containing all of that chilling, crystalline romance that first made you fall in love with them, but lifted by a real sense of warm disco charm and danceability, this is a rich and evolved debut that rushes with life in Technicolor. They may have been longlisted for the BBC Sound Of 2014, but Say Lou Lou feel so much like the sound of now, that the future deserves to be theirs.

  • Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear: In his own words he may dress 'like a paedophile at a wizard wedding' but on record the ever-quotable Josh Tillman is simply untouchable. Bar by bar, he goes from heart-breaking beauty to casual depravity.

  • Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell: Even if you've never stooped to tweeting about #feels on your timeline, no record will hit you harder than Stevens' folksy emotional rampage. Over 11 tracks, he gets to grips with the loss of his mother: prepare to weep.

  • Marina & The Diamonds - Froot: Genuinely sublime: the sort of arch, clever pop LP that we thought might have died out in a post Miley world. Froot is a true delight - from the gentle melancholia of 'Happy' to the pigeon hole funk of 'Can't Pin Me Down', this is an absolute joy.

  • Matthew E White - Fresh Blood: Sure White%u2019s studio setup at Spacebomb Studios in Virginia is impressive: but it%u2019s what he does during the sessions that counts. Despite the retro stylings, this is no slavish Stax ripoff: this is a thoughtful funny record that can be both incredibly bleak ('Holy Moly') and genuinely insightful ('Feeling Good is Good Enough').

  • Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Chasing Yesterday: Despite the fact that the first line is literally The Beatles-referencing 'There's something in the way she moves me' and 'The Girl With The X-Ray Eyes' openly rips off, Chasing Yesterday is the strongest example of Noel’s songwriting since What’s The Story. A real belter of a record delivered with stadium size confidence: if Noel continues making albums this strong, the reunion with Liam can wait for many years to come.

  • Young Fathers - White Men Are Black Men Too: The album title alone - something they fought hard with their label to keep - perfectly condenses Young Fathers' skill for blending social commentary with musical and cultural contradictions. Their second album, just like its Mercury winning predecessor, treads the line between making its listeners excited and making them uncomfortable. It offended Gareth Gates, and it thrilled us.

  • Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love: There's a depth, both lyrically and musically, to Sleater-Kinney's music that makes it all the more remarkable that they never use a bass guitar. No Cities To Love, the band's surprise comeback offering, is jagged and urgent and a little bit angry, but laced in buoyant melodies that step into the realm of pop. To create an album that is both increasingly accessible and still intrinsically Sleater-Kinney is no mean feat.

  • Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp: When she's not putting sexist hecklers in their place at gigs, Katie Crutchfield is making wistful, minimal indie rock. That minimalism isn't at the cost of a sense of strength and richness though - quite the opposite in fact. Ivy Tripp alternates between buoyant and languid, reticent and self-assured. Her lyrics are at times plainly honest - "Maybe I let on that I was interested in your brand of lonely" - and at others, beautifully opaque: "My thoughtful consort / When the stars are holding court /We will be in another world / Where my clarity's restored."

  • Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love: For album three, Ruban Nielson has taken UMO's psychedelic, lo-fi rock and drenched it in synths, dance beats and themes of polyamory. It gently, poetically tackles heteronormativity and romantic tradition: "She don't want to be a man or a woman... She wants to be your love."

  • Florence + The Machine - How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful: Of the many words used to describe Florence + The Machine, 'subtle' isn't usually among them. Within her third album though, as well as the compulsory soaring orchestras and anthemic hooks, lies a poignant sense of restraint. On How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, an overriding sense of humbleness has been enveloped into Welch's lyrics, nestled amongst the grand, sweeping sentiments. This is a beautiful but world-weary third offering, nostalgic but rooted firmly, this time, in reality - a reality that Welch takes pains to accept and then move on from.

  • Everything Everything - Get To Heaven: With 'Distant Past' and 'Regret', Everything Everything have produced two of the most unbearably catchy songs of the summer. "Did you imagine it in a different way?" they ask in the latter. "Did you think that everything, everything would change?" We're not sure if that was a deliberate reference to their band name, but it sums up the band's metamorphosis perfectly.

  • Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool: One minute a touching ode to childhood friendship ("I'm so lucky, you are my best friend / Oh, there's no one, there's no one who knows me like you do"), the next a raucous exorcism of bitterness and anger ("You ain't going to heaven, cus I'm dragging you down to hell / Where's Mum and Dad so you can tell them? You're a dodgy fucker as well") Wolf Alice's debut is immediately destined for greatness. Toying with the traditions of feminine vulnerability, Ellie Rowsell's vocals are the hook on which the scuzzy guitar rock hangs - endlessly changeable yet consistently recognisable. An instant classic and strong contender for album of the year.

  • Bully - Feels Like: No subject matter is off-limits in Bully's debut album - but it's done more as an attempt to embrace the mundanity of human anxiety than to shock. "Been praying for my period all week," sings Alicia Bognanno in album highlight 'Trying', later adding, "I question everything - my focus, my figure, my sexuality / And how much it matters or why it would mean anything." Musically, it meanders between vulnerable restraint and angry, rebellious yells. A brilliant debut.

  • Marika Hackman - We Slept At Last: There's a sort of delicate ferocity lurking underneath Hackman's pure, melancholic vocals. Lyrically too, she intensifies cliched images of love and attraction until they curdle and sour: "I'm jealous of your neck / That narrow porcelain plinth of flesh / It gets to hold your head / And I'd rather perform the task instead." Beautiful and slightly creepy in equal measure.

  • Speedy Ortiz - Foil Deer: Creating the incredible, gaudy terrarium on Foil Deer's cover is the least of lead singer Sadie Dupuis' talents. She's also a formidable musician and an acerbic lyricist. The anthemic call to arms 'Raising The Skate' includes the chorus, "I'm not bossy, I'm the boss / Shooter, not the shot / On the tip and fit to execute.". Speaking of the song's sentiment, Dupuis said, "It’s crazy frustrating seeing women and girls, myself included, put in positions in which they have to shirk credit for their talent or otherwise risk getting dissed as overbearing and bitchy." With an album this good, she'll never have to shirk credit for her talent again.

  • Muse - Drones: While it may not be their best work, it's a work of hard rock, operatic melodrama - consider it 'the best of Muse', in the sense that it runs in the vein of all that makes this band great, despite not reaching the highest heights of their true brilliance. It strips away many of the bells, whistles and unnecessary flambouyancies picked up during The Resistance and The 2nd Law, sounding more like the trashy three-piece you fell in love with way back when, but naturally loaded with enough extravagance to make it loveably ridiculous. Drones is by far their most consistent, focussed and complete work since Black Holes And Revelations - a listen of good, old-fashioned, bat-shit rock fun.

  • Enter Shikari - The Mindsweep: Sonically chaotic as it is thematically strong, Shikaro are back with a fire in their belly and firing on all cylinders like the synapses envisioned by the artwork. 'Torn Apart' features a string section, while 'There's A Price On Your Head' offsets math rock with a dubstep breakdown. To some this may be jarring, but for fans of Shikari this anarchy is familiar and welcome. A much-needed powerful, politicised punch to the throat of Britsh rock.

  • Leon Bridges - Coming Home: A former waiter in a Tex Mex restaurant who became a soul sensation, Leon Bridges has the kind of origin story and sound you'd associate with the long lost Sixties labels of Key-Loc, Morsound or Twink. It comes as no surprise then, that has debut aches with a timeless class.

  • Sleaford Mods - Key Markets: No tricks, no gimmicks, no bullshit - just a thick serving of reality laced over beats and a whole lot of bitterness. The best, and only, album of its kind in 2015.

  • The Vaccines - English Graffiti: "I want in ten years' time for people to say to their friends, their children, or whatever 'this was the record that summed up my 2015 - this album sums up how my generation were feeling, what we were listening to, how music was being made, how it sounded', you know," Justin Young told Gigwise of English Graffiti. Indeed, it is an album very much of its time. With an urgency as well as a longing, this is music that demands to be heard. Whether or not The Vaccines have captured the zeitgeist remains to be seen, but one thing is clear - their time is now.

  • Hot Chip - Why Make Sense?: Mature and assured yet fresh and adventurous, Why Make Sense sees Hot Chip return to the purest elements of euphoric dance-pop with a carefree yet controlled abandon. Measured and magnificent, and dripping in a very modern romance.

  • Brandon Flowers - The Desired Effect: The Desired Effect is light years ahead of Flowers’ solo debut Flamingo and arguably the best thing Flowers has recorded in over a decade. It doesn't look like this is the end of The Killers, but Flowers can rest easy now that he knows he has proven himself on his own terms. The Desired Effect shows that he's capable of standing out on his own - and that he's more than capable of living up to his own hyperbole. An utter joy.

  • Jamie xx - In Colour: Released perfectly in time for summer, the man at the back off The xx dropped this dose of pure electro opulence. Just like the artwork, In Colour is a kaleidoscope of colour, life and ideas - a staggering accomplishment and shoe-in for a Mercury Prize nod.

  • FFS - FFS: 'Collaborations Don't Work' they jest tongue-in-cheek on the debut meeting minds from Franz Ferdinand and Sparks. Rather than find a common ground where both acts can compliment each other, what they've done is create an entirely new band - where their delightfully twisted artpop can truly flourish. It's a weird and wonderful word they've created, and we can't get enough. But let's be honest, it was always going to be great. Combined, they're just too smart to fail.

  • Blur - The Magic Whip: after some time spent in counselling/rehab/Hong Kong/a farm in the Cotswolds and a productive studio session with Stephen Street, we have the best possible outcome: a Blur album that delights hardcore fans, casual listeners and, perhaps most significantly, the band themselves. This is arguably the first time since Parklife that Blur actually sound like they are having fun. The Magic Whip is a triumph over animosity.

Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.

Photo: Press