David Bowie’s final album is as complex and brilliant as he was.

David Bowie_albumKnowing that he was terminally ill while recording Blackstar, Bowie left us with “Lazarus,” his self-penned epitaph set to a beautifully darkened art-rock backdrop. But he also set the tone with a deeply disturbing title-track – a nearly 10-minute-long, conceptual, sci-fi, avant-jazz masterwork. Though unpredictable, Blackstar is unmistakably Bowie. –Eric Shea


Willow Smith drops surprising debut album, Ardipithecus.

1. Willow SmithIf you haven’t been keeping tabs on the young singer (yes, the daughter of Will and Jada), it’s been five years since the release of her tweeny dance track “Whip My Hair.” Now at 15 she’s gone in an exciting new direction, penning and producing most of the tracks while embracing multiple genres. –Michelle Solomon


Bombastic bliss

3. SidewaveLA space-rockers Sidewave fuse classic nineties crush with dreamy, druggy shoegaze on their debut full length, Glass Giant. The group’s lush layered production, crunchy guitars, rhythmic grooves, washed out vocals and near metallic heft make their sound a cozy fit alongside sonic brethren like HumFailureQuicksandSilversun Pickups and Smashing Pumpkins. –Andee Connors

Brooks Was Here and she’s sticking around!

4. Sally BrooksNYC-based comic Sally Brooks unleashes a relentless wit on her debut album. The comedy festival veteran reveals how much she hates talking diets and kids, explains the difference between chocolate and poop and her difficulty explaining “lady farts” to her husband’s super-smart colleagues. Keep an ear out for the bonus track, “no offense.” –Kelly Anneken

Pusha T knocks out the lights on King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude. 

Coming back as president of  Untitled-1GOOD Music, Clipse mastermind Pusha T drops the album of the year right before the ball drops. Kanye and Timbaland create cinematic beatscapes as Pusha’s lyrical skill shines through the darkness. –J Boogie 


De la Habana para el mundo.

Maykel Blanco Y Su Salsa Mayor6. Maykel Blanco Y Su Salsa Mayor snuck in at the end of 2015 with one of the most anticipated tropical releases of the year, giving salsa Cubana enthusiasts further reason to celebrate the season. On Que No Me Quiten La FeBlanco cements himself as one of the brightest stars in contemporary Cuban music. –Marcos Juarez

Richie Hawtin is still expanding minds.

7. Richie HawtinTechno legend Richie Hawtin celebrates the 25th anniversary of his Plus 8 label with a surprise album of new material. Tracks on From My Mind to Yours are credited to his various well-loved pseudonyms, and each reflects the personality of its alias: dark and intense for F.U.S.E., tripped-out for Plastikman, all edgy and propulsive. –Party Ben

White punks on dope…

The Flaming Lips8. The Flaming Lips might be festival headliners now, collaborating with popstars like Ke$ha and Miley, but Heady Nuggs looks back to 1995’s Clouds Taste Metallic, the Lips’ last, truly freaked out, psychedelic, drug-rock hurrah before their mainstream breakthrough. It was also the final record to feature the damaged, noise-guitar genius of mad axe-wrangler Ronald Jones. –Andee Connors



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