Emily King, The Switch

Emily King writes the kind of songs that feel completely lived in, as if they have simmered in her imagination for years. The Switch is her first full-length in nearly a decade, and follows her Grammy-nominated debut, East Side Story, which also brought her “next star” status, but not much else. Like Alice Smith and other soul singers whose sharply intelligent music outstrips the record industry’s ability to market them, King’s carefully tuned work often feels out of step for a youth-obsessed pop marketplace. She can sing in a jazzy yelp over slow funk-rock like “The Animals,” where she testifies, “Never again will I be friends with a big bad wolf like you.” Her “Off Center” soothes with acoustic guitar, while “Already There” blooms with string-laden neo-soul. No matter the sound, her lyrics – many co-written with producer Jeremy Most – shine brightly. “I feel my body moving without me again,” she sings on “Sleepwalker.” For the cathartic build of “Off Center,” she sings, “You’re aiming too much, you want it too much/I needed it bad.” –Mosi Reeves

Colleen Green, I Want to Grow Up

Halfway through Colleen Green’s third album (her third overlooked album?) the L.A. indie rocker stumbles across a sensible solution to the anxious miseries she’s been turning into scruffy, guitar-pop gems — ”I gotta stop doing things that are bad for me.” One song later she’s hit a snag: “I want to do,” she croons over a slow, stomping buzz, “drugs right now.” If you can relate, or if you loved the plainspoken wryness of Courtney Barnett’s debut, try this fuzzed-up, casually intimate album that’s thick with deadpan hooks and wrenching moments, and heard by way fewer disillusioned Weezer fans than it should have been. –Theon Weber

Susanne Sundfr, Ten Love Songs

The most eclectic and thrilling collection of dark synthpop in a year rife with dark synthpop, Norwegian singer/songwriter Sundfør’s sixth album matches symphonic ambitions (the 10-minute “Memorial”) with churning pop melodies and passionate lyrics. “I hope you’ve got a safety net,” she warns on “Delirious,” “ ‘cuz I’m gonna push you off the edge.” –Theon Weber

Kristian Bush, Southern Gravity

As half of the Grammy Award-winning duo Sugarland, which topped both the airplay and sales charts, Bush’s first solo outing Southern Gravity, came and went with very little fanfare. The album is filled with catchy, smartly written songs and Bush’s warm-yet-raspy voice gives his radio-friendly sound some edge. “Light Me Up” and “Make Another Memory” are two anthemic songs shaded in heartland rock, while the island breeziness of “Trailer Hitch” and “Flip Flops” recall that Jimmy Buffet song. — Linda Ryan

John Moreland, High on Tulsa Heat

Americana artist Moreland released the stellar High on Tulsa Heat and unless you were already among the Oklahoma resident’s established fan base, you probably missed this one. There’s never a bad time to make a great musical discovery, and High on Tulsa Heart is exactly that. With a gritty, Springsteen-esque vocal style set to sparse, sepia-toned accompaniment, Moreland writes songs that cut to heart. “Now I’m underneath the rubble, trying not to feel the trouble, and you don’t care for me enough to cry,” he rasps on “You Don’t Care for Me Enough to Cry.” This isn’t the album to reach for when you want to get pumped for a night out, but when you want to wallow in it — really wallow in it — High on Tulsa Heat  is your new best friend. — Linda Ryan

Dead Sara**, **Pleasure to Meet You

Dead Sara get zero respect. Featuring Emily Armstrong’s slashing, switchblade vocals, they are one of rock’s most thrilling bands. After a messy break from Epic Records that made 2014 a year to forget, the outfit self-released their long overdue second album, Pleasure to Meet**You. The record deserves accolades, but unfortunately, most major press outlets slept on it so few music heads were hipped to the record’s fiercely energetic rock that crushes the soul in the best possible ways. Dead Sara unload plenty of sharp hooks on “Radio One Two,” “Suicidal” and “L.A. City Slum.” Yet they’re hooks that almost always find themselves pulverized by crashing guitars and furiously rhythmic propulsion. Pleasure to Meet You isn’t just one of 2015’s most overlooked records; it’s also one of the year’s best. All fans of loud, passionate rock ’n’ roll should give it a spin.  — Justin Farrar

Vhöl, Deeper Than Sky

A co-ed Pacific northwest supergroup side project of sorts, Vhöl’s members are better known for their roles in doomgaze bands Agalloch and Yob, proggy conceptualists Hammers of Misfortune, urban black-metal depressives Ludicra, and ambient goths Amber Asylum, all from somewhere along the San Francisco-to-Portland axis. But from its alien cover art on down, Deeper Than Sky, similiar to its self-titled 2013 predecessor, mostly plays like a loving tribute to Voivod-style science-thrash in all its guises. “3am” and “Red Chaos” suggest real early Voivod, when they were a harsh, rrröööaring, super-crusty, almost-hardcore outfit; “The Desolate Damned” and “Paino” (an anagram for “piano”?) are somewhat less Neanderthal, chugging zig-zaggily, almost jazzily at points, and reaching for classical crescendos under exasperatedly nasal voices, Celtic Frosty grunt interjections, operatic power-melodrama. The title track, meanwhile, is a dizzying 12-minute tour de force, changing course to more asteroids than you can count — space-metal with gravity, having a blast. — Chuck Eddy

Laura Denisse con Banda, Sigo Enamorada

Laura Denisse is a telenovela-acting, LBGT-supporting, Monterrey, Mexico, cowgirl — she constantly wears a cowboy hat and puts actual cows in her videos, which seem filmed on some Western prairie ranch. She’s been recording for small Regional Mexican labels since she was a teenager in the late ‘90s, but 2015 marked her jump to Universal-distributed Fonovisa. Sometimes, she even sounds country: Sigo Enamorada’s title track single, especially, has some subliminal “Third Rate Romance” in its melody, and she’s got early Linda Ronstadt in her big, clear, sweet voice — or in the sad processional “Quién,” maybe a little Connie Francis. Of course, Nashville musicians would never back her with tubas and accordions this propulsively polka-like; no modern country singer would punctuate with so many squeals, “yeeeeee-haws,” “hoo-hoo-hoos” or “ai-yi-yis.” Listen to the joyous handclap beat, Dixieland horns and goofy novelty effects in “Eres Muy Poco Mujer,” and you might just decide “norteño” and “banda” are Spanish for old-time rock’n’roll. — Chuck Eddy