2015 came and went like a pop song in the words of The Bicycle Thief. We laughed, we cried, we listened to comeback albums. Me personally, I took an affinity to 50 records in particular that I would like to share with you, the reader. Take a little gander at a few or all of the excerpts. I even put the album art in before each write up, so that you could look at it and say “Yeah, I recognize that artwork” as you furiously scroll down the page. Just thought I’d keep your attention. After all, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so why not read the actual thousands of words I compiled? Just kidding, I’m just happy you clicked on this page in the first place! All rankings and opinions are my own. Check the Spotify playlist at the bottom.
50. Nite Fields – Depersonalisation (felte)
It’s all too suiting that Nite Fields concludes Depersonilisation with the blaringly cold “Winter’s Gone”. The Australian rockers’ eerie blend of post-punk riffs and sneaking synths sparkles with deceptive veteran prowess despite being the band’s debut record. With the allure of gloomy vocals and shoegaze guitars driving and adding depth to otherwise run-of-the-mill tracks, there’s still much to be said about the bands’ outputs amidst a flurry of genre-resurrections that have basically defined an ever-expanding musical palette in today’s society. Is it so out of the ordinary for a band to throw in a huge cluster of influences and sounds amidst the blooming revival movements? Whatever. Despite that, Nite Fields still throw in their own fresh flavors and spices into the mix. Where The Church made a name for themselves in the eighties with more pop influences grouped with icy punk/shoegaze tendencies, fellow countrymen Nite Fields have set a similar standard placed on their audience, and at a much earlier stage of their hopefully lengthy career.
49. Refused – Freedom (Epitaph)
Following up what is widely known as the greatest post-hardcore record of all time sounds pretty simple, right? *Wayne Campbell voice* NOT! It’s lofty enough dubbing said masterpiece “The Shape of Punk To Come”, but I’d argue announcing a comeback album almost two decades later takes even bigger stones than anything Refused has ever concocted in their brains prior. From their highly anticipated reunion tour a few years back, to booting longtime guitarist Jon Brännström out of the band, Refused still has proven amidst a renaissance and reformation of sorts that they maintain the extreme energy and booming guitars that brought them so much acclaim in the first place. Of course, a legendary album can never be repeated, nor should it. Freedom surely isn’t absent of shaky vocals (bonus points for eerily spot-on Dave Grohl impressions) and less than satisfactory experimentation on tracks like “Francafrique”, where use of electronics and recycled guitar leads fall stale. Still, the transformation of a band on the comeback is impressive, including wild enough hard rock prowess to garner an acceptable return to form, either that or avoiding a complete fall from grace depending on who you’re asking. All in all, Refused have made a Refused record. Maybe more than anything, it is a timely cash grab, and sure, some fans are bummed as hell, but then again, others are unbelievably hyped. Take it for what it is, “Refused are (not) fucking dead!”
48. Death Grips – Jenny Death (Harvest Records)
Someday when I’m an old man sitting around a warm fire with my grandchildren, I probably won’t have any life-changing adventures to speak of, no tales of forbidden love, grandeur travels, or waiting in line to score tickets to the midnight showing of Star Wars Episode VII. What I can say is that I was among the unfortunate victims in “Indieland” who had tickets to a Death Grips show, only for them to prematurely cancel and leave us longing for what could have been. Actually, to be honest, I was attending a stadium Nine Inch Nails show, and Death Grips happened to be third on the bill of bands scheduled to perform. Was I bummed? Yeah, absolutely. Zach Hill and Ride have quickly become huge influences and polarizing figures in the early 2010’s, releasing increasingly experimental and genre-bending flurries of industrial hip-hop fused with punk. Jenny Death is no stranger to pushing the limits. Combining the accessibility of The Money Store with Hill’s concise technical skill and innovative bullet-drumming, Jenny Death comes through again as a perfect marketing ploy amongst ravage, eager fans, but simultaneously boasts some of Death Grips’ best songs. Singles “On GP” and “Inanimate Sensation” prove the band hasn’t lost a step in spite of their “breakup” and subsequent reforming. Plus, a new string of new and fun phrases to yell like MC Ride with your friends is always a great party game or ice-breaker on a first date!
47. Drake – If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late (Cash Money Records)
In the words of the great Bob Ross, “We don’t make mistakes. We have happy accidents.” Such philosophical epiphanies only spring into greater fruition in the happy-go-lucky world of Aubrey Graham, also known to the lesser of us as Drake. The man simply can do no wrong. Where his last two full lengths have seemingly won over the entire internet at large, If You’re Reading This… only seems to compound his influence on hip-hop culture, meme-heavy internet message boards, indie music blogs, you name it. The cat’s out of the bag, and it has tearing up your couch cushions and marking it’s territory for a long time. Drake possesses the “Midas Touch”, with his golden hands picking up right where he left off last year, dropping mammoth singles (“Energy”) leading up to this surprise mixtape. The anticipation is always lurking within the fan mindset; at no point during the year have people felt like this is the apex of his repertoire. Drake is still ascending higher and higher, with Views From the 6 still lurking, as if it could fall right out of the sky at any moment. Combine that with the already lofty hype surrounding the positive reception and all around ass-kicking in regards to “beef” with Meek Mill earlier this year, and Drake is basically coasting. If You’re Reading This… is a reflection of life at the top as king of the hill. The mixtape is still the usual Drake we know and love, infinitely quotable, bold and brash, with top notch production and beats, and all with a newer, more ethereal emotion to it. Drizzy is set to “W” for “Wumbo”, when the competition is begging that he’s set to “M” for “Mini”.
46. Frank Turner – Positive Songs For Negative People (Xtra Mile)
I was admittedly hesitant leading up to Frank Turner’s latest release, Positive Songs For Negative People. Coming off perhaps his biggest mainstream success just a few years prior, I swiftly jumped to the conclusion that Frank not necessarily had sold out, but had just graduated into the “adult who has found himself” stage of his life and career. The charm that had once sold Turner as a rebel on the run, living life on the road, and juggling lovers new and old, had sort of devolved into a fond season in life, now equated to reminiscing as a wiser, more mature version of his person as he gets ready to go to work as a Whole Foods cashier. Further deliberation has led me to believe that this new age Frank is A-OK in my book. What good is it to have those insurmountable expectations like he’s this effervescent Billy Bragg junior? Frank is his own man. Besides, he still rocks with guitar in hand, as well as his Sleeping Soul bandmates. He’s still charmingly British, and he still can write a hell of a good drink your heart out anthem (Demons) as well as a gut-wrenching tear jerker (Song For Josh). Frank may be turning into my dad, but I’m getting older too.
45. Torche – Restarter (Relapse Records)
Torche’s marketing campaign for Restarter revolved around a generic two-dimensional sidescroller minigame in which you could play as one of four band members jumping around shooting evil robots (all while rocking face to the new album playing in the background!). What better preface for anyone listening to Torche for the first time than with the power of cheap app store games? Restarter is coming back for another round of muddy guitar, and repeating heavy drums driving each track along. “Minions” beckons listeners to scream in their minds “coming down the mountain!” before a righteous guitar solo kicks the song up another notch. Perry Farrell impressions aside, Torche comes through once more with this new set of jams, not necessarily deviating far from anything they’ve done before. However, the consistency is welcomed in the world of stoner-rock, and goes without saying the the pop influences present on 2012’s Restarter are basically non-existent here. Throw your metal fingers up!
44. Soilwork – The Ride Majestic (Nuclear Blast Records)
Speaking of consistency and longevity intertwined, Sweden’s Soilwork return with an equally pounding, riveting, fast-paced, and melodic follow-up to 2013’s The Living Infinite. The production is as crisp as ever, which brings out the best in the instrumentation, and tracks such as the title track drop right into the fray with a flawless transition between harsh and clean vocals. Call me or any other music reviewer a broken record, but the group’s affinity for bringing out the best of a melody trading off with the brutal death metal screams and long run time is testament to their pedestal within the metal community. This time, their reach is elongated to a wider audience, with perhaps their most accessible album to date. If Deafheaven is “black metal for dummies”, then knight Soilwork as the beginner’s guide to melodic death metal. They are veterans in the mix, but will ultimately make amends along the passages of time; people give them praise where it’s due here in 2015, but the aesthetic and legend of the band ultimately slides unnoticed to an extent. This is the likely outcome at least until they hang it up for good. It’s like the quietly great athletes in sports, thinking of a Tim Duncan or Bill Russell type player. They get business done, and put on for the team/audience whatever is needed of them to win. We call these the quiet killers, or the studies of the game. Don’t take Soilwork for granted. We will all miss them when they’re gone.
43. Mew – +/- (PIAS America)
Although +/- is nowhere near my favorite Mew output, they still managed to put on a killer live show when I saw them on the North American leg of their tour earlier this year, with a great ensemble of tracks from albums old and new. The way I see it, if you can’t handle Mew at their worst (-), then you don’t deserve them at their best (+). Alright, that’s enough inspirational sorority girl cliches for one excerpt. By all means, +/- finds the Danish rock group in a perfectly comfortable stride. The progressive influence that tends to drive a typical Mew song is a little less pronounced this time, but where they leave out technical prowess in each composition, they make up for in pronounced dream-pop epics. Frontman Jonas Bjerre’s vocals thrust center stage as a focal point of their sound, charging right out of the gate on opener “Satellites”, mellows out for a surprisingly tight duet with New Zealand pop princess Kimbra on “Night Believer”, and beams with powerful crescendo on the eleven minute ballad “Rows”. Mew remain atop the pyramid of prog-pop bands, with hopefully greater things in store. Whatever the future holds, it’s just nice to hear them back with new material again after six long years.
42. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down… (Matador)
Just look at that cover art, the cheeky smirk, the lower case font, the shaky abbreviations, the oral sex allusion. This is the precise goofiness that complements the personality and lyricist that is Kurt Vile. Coming off of the lofty Wakin on a Pretty Daze proved to be no small accomplishment for Vile, but b’lieve i’m goin down presents an interesting development in his evolution. With familiar Lou Reed style vocal delivery, and deadpan, train-of-thought lyrics, Vile trades marathon songs drenched in reverb for a safer folk-rock tumble. Tracks are a bit more concise given this approach to his song writing, like his message possesses a less hazy, psychedelic delivery, but instead basks in the blunt, laid back world that is his life. He’s a father and a traveling man, bent on the new challenges that define fatherhood. Take it or leave it, KV has much to say about nothing, but that’s life though (almost hate to say).
41. Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us (Polyvinyl Records)
Indifference is a good word to describe my feelings on Beach Slang’s EPs from last year. There isn’t much positivity to speak of for bands who don’t bring home the bacon as far as a unique aesthetic to their sound. Plus, bands with the word “Beach” in their name just scream generic to me. In Beach Slang’s case, the ante slowly creeped to a higher standard with The Things We Do… Sure, the anthemic showcase of crunchy guitar combined with empowered vocals screams of tribute to contemporaries like Meatwave and Cheap Girls, but frontman James Alex has publicly stated his love for The Replacements and a classic brand of punk rock. At the same time, the 41 year old Alex resonates more with the millennials of this day and age, with lyrics playing ode to the youthful exuberance of being reckless and full of life. “The night is alive, it’s loud and I’m drunk”, he shouts on “Noisy Heaven”, a call to arms for many a good time, questing later on the record to “get high enough to feel alive”. Maybe his fleeting adolescence lurks in the shadows, but Alex and the band are trekking on, and hanging close with the punk kids of 2015 and onward.
40. Rae Sremmurd – SremmLife (Interscope)
The achievement of respect in modern hip-hop today has so much to do with who’s producing just as much as it does the emcee(s) behind the performance. This is exemplified perfectly by Tupelo Mississippi’s own Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy, aka, Rae Sremmurd. I’m not pointing any fingers here, nor am I ribbing on their abilities as rappers. Albums seemingly tailor-made for millennials to party hard to carry the same equal and opposite weight for others who are consequently thrown into a state of detachment from society. Are they out of touch with the young kids? Maybe so, but let’s celebrate the genius of SremmLife and give credit where it’s due. Veteran producer Mike WiLL Made-It gloriously showcases once again why he is a force to be reckoned with in the mix, and the brothers Sremm are charging full steam ahead from start to finish. The trap beats and Southern flavor yield noticeably positive response from fans all over the world, and give us larger than life guest appearances from fellow heavyweights Nicki Minaj, Jace, Big Sean, and Young Thug. Did I mention that Rae Sremmurd are just a combined 40 years old between the two of them? I wouldn’t expect these guys to fade from the spotlight anytime soon, so long as their youth and affinity for crafting bangers isn’t trumped by the dangers of such sudden fame and fortune.
39. Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool (Dirty Hit Records)
You don’t see many bands these days hitting the post-grunge aesthetic as if they’re a different breed of misfit outcasts straight out of the nineties. Wolf Alice boasts a new “flannel and baggy jeans” revival, along with a charisma that would make Black Francis grin (“You’re a Germ”). My Love Is Cool begins with two tender indie pop/rock songs “Turn To Dust” and “Bros” before quickly shooting into grainy guitar tones and dirty riffs that dominate the album. As a matter of fact, that remnant of slower, dreamier arrangements almost seems like a distant memory as the record progresses, with faint traces of stripped back melody sprouting up here and there, but largely overpowered by the crushing indie rock influences that the band wears on it’s sleeve. Wolf Alice are largely reinventing the wheel on My Love Is Cool, but the myriad of genres portrayed on record are better yet an homage to bands and trends in indie rock spanning the last 30 years, and for that, I proclaim this as refreshing as a Coke in the the heat of Summer. You get a comfortable sugar rush, and a figurative and literal buzz to attest to the newly discovered euphoria, but you gotta call now!
38. Mount Eerie – Sauna (P.W. Elverum & Sun)
Phil Elverum is no stranger to the wonders of nature connecting to the human spirit in his music. With no time wasted, Sauna commences into the ten minute title track “Sauna”, filled with organ drone and faint crackling of a campfire, the perfect setting to find the sort of introspective contemplation that seems to beckon us in any Mount Eerie release. Elverum has always built that bond with the world around us. Heck, the clues are right on the album cover, clearly creating a formerly blank canvas in which he surrounds the consumer with warm feelings of tender observations of mental and emotional processes. Besides the sprawling “Sauna” and “Spring”, which build their structure on long droning tracks that hiss and build, Elverum takes a more standard lo-fi approach to the other tracks on Sauna, matching minute folk instrumentation and soft female guest vocals with his own faint voice and hazy, introspective warmth.
37. Czarface – Every Hero Needs A Villain (Brick Records)
To delve into great detail concerning Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers isn’t really necessary, seeing as the pop culture staple it is today speaks volumes already. Quickly though, what is the overarching triumph of Enter The Wu-Tang? For me, it has to be the ability of every single personality to somehow mesh together and churn out arguably the greatest hardcore rap record of all time. So when people talk about the solo outings that dispersed with fame and success guiding each member to separate and new heights, where does Inspectah Deck come into play on this metaphorical hierarchy? Truthfully, it’s more or less a second thought, brushed to the side. Even so, there exists Czarface. Deck collaborates with the group 7L & Esoteric to create a lush world of smooth rhymes and boastful delivery that garner immediate attention that a solo career never did. Like his masked contemporary, MF DOOM (who appears on record with a spot on “Ka-Bang!”), Inspectah Deck & company thrive on the superhero theme that christened listeners ears many times before on DOOM’s body of work. Every Hero Needs A Villain is a familiar call to arms, with multiple Wu-Tang alumni guest spots on what can only be interpreted as a figurative fight of good versus evil, with each new challenger coming in to thwart our hero, Inspectah Deck. He craves this opposition not only be great, but to push him to achieve greatness. Without the villain, what is the hero’s purpose? This album is fun and energetic; the Madvillain-esque short interludes, comic book dialogue, and frequent sampling give the listener plenty of material to digest. Whether good triumphs over evil, you become the judge of that.
36. EL VY – Return To The Moon (4AD)
Did it ever strike anyone else the blaring absurdity that possesses Matt Berninger’s lyricism in his main project, The National? I’d venture to call it off putting, if not for the simultaneous moving elements that seem to tug at our collective heart strings in their anthemic songs bursting with odes to cheeky fights with lovers, life, and the uncertainty of growing old. That being said, Berninger and his buddy/partner in side project crime, Brandon Knopf come onto the scene with even sillier compositions, taking quirky and outlandish indie pop to new stratospheres of random. Where the music doesn’t exceed creatively, it more than makes up for in bouncy guitar and midi piano driven tracks such as “Need A Friend”, where Berninger’s familiar Leonard Cohen-esque baritone breeds an odd yet satisfying take on a much lighter, dare I say, happier brand of music than we normally see him accustomed to. EL VY are plain and simple having a hell of a time. Side project heaven allows for playing around, even breaching an unspoken territory of joy. That isn’t something you see everyday from a member of The National, where blissful ignorance is traded for somber maturity. You can hear it in each new number springing forth into our ears. They’re as awkward in mannerism as they are debonair, their “dicks are in sunlight”, and by God, when EL VY walk into a room, they DO light it up!
35. Ought – Sun Coming Down (Constellation)
On the surface, it’s easy to pinpoint Ought as another British band who worships the quirky new-wave artists that dominated college radio waves in the eighties, only one thing. Ought aren’t British, they’re Canadian! Furthermore, their knack for guitars channels an intense Television impression, complete with nerdy, hyper-active licks reminiscent of The Feelies. Lead singer Tim Darcy provides the wounded vibrato of Iggy Pop, deadpan delivery of Andy Gill, and manic shouts of David Byrne, to wield his vocal ability into some sort of Captain Planet conglomerate of abilities transformed into one super power. Sun Coming Down has attitude, it has spunk, and it don’t need no music critics telling it what it can and can’t do within the confines of it’s local business execution. The band is hard at work, churning out the newest album just a year after their acclaimed debut, More Than Any Other Day, and the have officially solidified their place on my playlist as blue collar champions of indie social circles.
34. A City Sorrow Built – Ai (Sailboat Records)
Indonesian emo/post-rock naturals A City Sorrow Built come firing on all cylinders with their magnificent record Ai. Yes indeed, this a tried and true “screamo” band. Don’t let your little sister or middle school friends tell you otherwise. The band soars with whirring reverb-laden guitar, accompanied by a combination vocal attack of midwest-emo tinged whining and harsh screams. The instrumentals follow suit as well, keeping tabs on mood and swings in tempo. The album maintains the textbook trade-off of sounds, which is no new formula, keeping in mind that the genre tends to follow that method of song structure. However, what Ai exceeds at is its ability to draw listeners into the vortex of emotion, hitting the apex of noise and passionate screams juxtaposed with a lush comedown of beautiful arpeggio guitar. With the exception of the slow burner “Duka/Cita”, Ai clocks in at a swift 34 minute run time, and for the pay-what-you-want entry fee on their bandcamp, A City Sorrow Built supply a steal of a deal, but support them for goodness sake!
33. Conduct – Fear and Desire (Public Tone)
I like Conduct. I like their blend of post-hardcore fused with post-punk and noise rock. I hope after reading this, you will in turn listen to Fear & Desire and make the decision yourself to accept Canada’s greatest 2015 prodigies since Viet Cong (the band, don’t worry) into your musical carnival. Beginning with the album art, it’s easy to see that the subject matter within tends to lead a darker tone. The sporadic sense of urgency in the warped guitar on tracks like “Fear and Desire” and “Failure” are coupled with lead vocalist Nicholas Liang’s schizophrenic delivery, making for a quick yet satisfying listen. Liang often dabs back and forth between a shouting outcry and mellower spoken word sections of tracks, even further culminating the myriad of influences that drive Conduct’s debut. Not only does the production and engineering scream Albini, but synched guitar and bass medleys point all fingers towards a bit of Fugazi worship as well. Be sure to remember Conduct moving forward. I like Conduct.
32. Foxing – Dealer (Triple Crown Records)
The best phrase I could use to describe Foxing as a band in just a few words would be this: ‘An emo symphony’. That sounds like a jumbled disaster of a pitch for future mainstream music media’s depiction of some sort of Green Day successor, but behold, Dealer strikes all of the right chords, and shuts your filthy mouths! Fresh off a U.S. tour with fellow aging hipsters mewithoutYou and Pianos Become the Teeth, Foxing depict the lore of pleasant hopefuls ready for their next chapter in life. Lyrically, Dealer is the adventure and uncertainty of making it in this crazy world personified. Much like Link in “The Legend of Zelda”, it’s dangerous to go alone, and Foxing’s secret weapon, the trumpet, guides listeners on a grand adventure of epic post-rock combined with lead singer Conor John Jostedt Murphy’s (wow, that’s a mouthful) caressing vocals. The blend of build-ups and warm textures are testament to Foxing’s growing sound, and a mature follow up to 2013’s The Albatross.
31. Milo – So the Flies Don’t Come (Ruby Yacht)
Yes indeed, everyone’s favorite Wisconsin-based rapper, Milo, returns in 2015 with the cooler-than-Miles-Davis So the Flies Don’t Come. Fresh off of 2014’s breakout A Toothpaste Suburb, Milo is back again, with better rhymes, a unique and chill stop-and-go flow, and jazzy beats courtesy of frequent collaborator Kenny Segal. What charm isn’t already established by his persona, Milo accounts for tenfold in his witty yet conscious lyrical content. On “Souvenir”, Milo quips, “Let me take out a full page Vice ad that supposes it might ask if underground hip-hop was just one tight fad…”. Combine this with playful shots at Jason Derulo on “Re: Animist”, contemplating the deepest facets of inner-conscious while staring at cereal boxes on “An Encyclopedia”, and closing with “Song About A Raygunn (An Ode to Driver)”, and you have arguably the most complete package in underground hip-hop present day. Milo hits hard with these new tracks, many of which are worth the price of admission as stand alone entities on the record.
30. Algiers – Algiers (Matador)
If there’s such thing as a reward for most original output in little ole’ 2015, Algier’s self-titled debut is gifted some slice of the imaginary cake. Laden with combinations of dark industrial synth and gospel era blues execution, the band have breached new territory in a society brimming with early adaptors. More importantly, the record stands as a grand narrative of generations upon generations of storied racial politics and struggle for immediacy in today’s society. The sense of desperation is clear, and illuminated from the moment the needle hits wax. Frontman James Fisher is no sucker for farce either. Algiers is as intense of a record as Fisher is stern. The fusion of gospel-influenced vocals belted amidst a flurry of haunting basslines and synth choir “oohs” and “aahs” are a focal point of delivery. Fisher has a message for America; his sheer force in demeanor yet soothing soul pretext beckons that of an older Leadbelly tune of blues origin. “You say your history’s over, all my blood is in vain”, he wallows on “Blood”, an outcry against the stagnant progression of civil rights and equality of minorities. If change is an inevitable resolution to a so-called crusade against the binds which hold a country back, then where are we now? Algiers arrive in a timely manner, thrust into a spotlight where voice and action is needed, where talent and passion go hand in hand with wisdom. “Fifteen minutes of freedom and still three-fifths a man”, it is an uphill battle that Fisher and company are diving into head first.
29. Destroyer – Poison Season (Merge Records)
Judging by Dan Bejar’s apparent love affair with Times Square, it’s not out of line to wonder if Poison Season’s first impression on the listener purposely evokes a feeling of pompous grandiosity. On previous records, Bejar is no stranger to sophistication in his lyrics, and the innovative art-pop sentiments of eighties David Bowie and saxophone solos might only prove this sentiment. “I write poetry for myself…” he claims on 2011’s Kaputt. Perhaps Destroyer is at a stage of gliding consistency in his music, to the point where his self-awareness as a top-tier musician and composer leads to bombastic experimentation. Poison Season tells me after each listen that Bejar knows he’s great, and can do whatever he wants as a result of his stature. The direction of the record beckons a similar response to each budding Tarantino or Wes Anderson film for example. Both staples of a balanced hipster cinephile, we expect great things out of great minds such as these, yet the envelope can be signed, sealed, and delivered any which way. You don’t always toss a strike on each frame, but the flair is memorable nonetheless. A career spanning three decades calls for outlandish feats of melding classical experimentation mixed with his textbook alternative roots, and I love Bejar for crafting new melodies and trying different things on Poison Season.
28. Hop Along – Painted Shut (Saddle Creek)
Do you remember when Klasky-Csupo made the questionable “Rugrats” spinoff “All Grown Up!”, a show in which all of the babies are edging on the start of their teenage years, still live in the same neighborhood, are all still friends, and still wear some variation of the clothes they had when they were toddlers? Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan always evoked a sort of Tommy Pickles hoarseness in her voice to me, and that’s an awesome thing! Furthermore, to continue this Rugrats allusion I have going, Painted Shut thrusts Quinlan deeper into an unrighteously male-dominated brand of alternative-punk, whereas she boldly wails her heart out with the same fervor and bravery Pickles exudes in each adventure of his own. Hear me out though. I foresee a brighter future for Hop Along than any Nickelodeon cartoon. Frances Quinlan is a perfect voice for borrowed nostalgia of 1990’s misfits, and is making huge waves with a fresh batch of anything but cookie cutter songs. You’d best grab your bottle of milk, sit back, and enjoy greatness.
27. Deafheaven – New Bermuda (ANTI-)
When Deafheaven released “From the Kettle Onto the Coil” in late 2014, fans caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a change of pace from the dreamy, shoegaze beauty invoked by Sunbather. The band is notoriously granted the label of genre benders, to the effect that Sunbather drew its fair share of crossover fans to a new sound in the collective repertoire of tastes, but it also drew much dismay to another branch of “purists” all in the same. The single and then subsequent 2015 release New Bermuda sought a new agenda, all while maintaining a familiar fury of melody amidst the fray. Deafheaven’s shiny performance has now twisted into a fiercer, more immediate punch in the face, beckoning a sister sound more attuned to Agalloch’s more brutal numbers. George Clarke screams a fiercer brew of heaviness, teaming with metalcore chugs on “Brought to the Water”, atmospheric guitars on “Luna” and “Baby Blue”, as well as a consistent onslaught of machine gun drumming that doesn’t let up almost the entire running time of the record. I’ll hold back claims of revolution, but New Bermuda impresses with new elements of guitar solos and melody inconsistent with a black metal stereotype, but the continuing evolution of their sound keeps fans guessing what is next in eager anticipation.
26. No Devotion – Permanence (Collect Records)
I used to think of Geoff Rickly as the Wayne Coyne of post-hardcore music during his storied tenure with former band Thursday. He isn’t necessarily a technically gifted singer with diverse range, but what he lacks in potentially plastic talents, he compensates for in encapsulating wails of purpose and emotion. When Thursday broke up after releasing and touring what is arguably considered their magnum opus, No Devolucion, it was uncertain where Rickly would choose to go next musically. With the influx of contemporary, nostalgia-fueled reunions in the genre’s recent days (Glassjaw, Refused, Underoath, Thrice, At The Drive-In), it’s uncertain the future of Thursday’s status on hiatus. For the time being, No Devotion stay true. Joining forces with the members of Lostprophets who aren’t scum of the earth, Rickly gives as driving and passionate vocal performances as ever, evoking a powerful echo of croons paired with the sleek synths and drum machines of his new backing band. No Devotion step up a new level of musicianship in comparison to former projects, which speaks of the immediate chemistry of a band in the early stages of their time together. Permanence is as keen on Joy Division grandeur and dark synth leads as it is peppy. Rickly is mysterious and moody, yet personifies a brighter outlook and catchiness bringing to mind a new-age Brandon Flowers. The juxtaposition of light and dark is a much needed boost in overall aspiration and diversity in No Devotion’s sound. Rickly is alive and well in 2015, trading band reunion and comfortability for the expanding of a new horizon.
25. Cannibal Ox – Blade Of The Ronin (I HipHop)
Consider the history behind a ronin, and draw context and themes based on understanding of where the idea is crafted from. A ronin in feudal Japan represented a samurai with no master, either by means of the passing of a master to another life, or falling out of favor completely. So arises a present scenario: Harlem emcees Vast Aire and Vordul Mega arise from ashes after years in hiding. Underground legends of yesteryear are back, rebels without a cause, ready to take names and bust rhymes like El-P is behind the wheel production-wise. Though, while El is absent on the reunion lap, Cannibal Ox exude the same fervor that has recently brought El-P and his partner in crime, Killer Mike, so much good fortune and acclaim over the past few years with their duo, Run The Jewels. Arguably, I’d take Blade of the Ronin over either RTJ output. The beats are big, the samples are heavy, and Vast Aire and Vordul Mega are as angry as ever, spreading a new gospel on “Psalm 82”, weathering the stormy “Water”, and paving their own path for rebirth, unleashing the Ox out of the Cage once again.
24. Worriers – Imaginary Life (Don Giovanni Records)
What ever happened to the art of an honest pop-punk record, the ones that stood as a motivator to the downtrodden and distraught? No, I’m not talking about the brashly juvenile “U.S. government is a lie” kind of politics that possess “American Idiot” Green Day era teenagers around the globe. Imaginary Life abandon this sham revolution and serve a plea to the individuals who fight for truth to shine in the lives of the people, a call to arms to be the change they wish to see in the world. Maybe Worriers as a band name are a play on the very individuals they seek to remedy. “We are fighting between ‘rock’ and ‘why bother’”, Lauren Denitzio belts on “They/Them/Theirs”, clinging to any hint of a spark. Her rambunctious wordplay drives Imaginary Life through twelve songs, each as sincere as the last. With production by fellow riot grrrl Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!), the record serves as an exciting balance between clean, bubbly hooks, and inventive and earnest punk rock.
23. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Harmlessness (Epitaph)
The World Is A Beautiful Place… have experienced many changes in the short span that separates Harmlessness from their debut Whenever, If Ever. With a number of shaky EPs featuring various experimentations, complete with avant-garde spoken word and overall weirdness, hindsight seems like a hard read on the band supposedly distraught smack dab in the middle of an identity crisis. However, my experience seeing the band live last year was as follows: about ten people on stage all equally full of passion and emotion, playing familiar tracks from Whenever, If Ever, and new lead singer David Bello taking control of the tracks, creating a wave of guitars, keyboards, and drums (two drumsets to be exact) driving the brand of emo-revival so fresh in the minds of a close knit fanbase. It has been a sneaky outpouring of material creeping through the cracks, yet at the bottom of everything, we stand again with a worthy follow up to the band’s debut back in 2013. Harmlessness is immediate in execution, and the crescendos of post-rock leanings shine with even more fervor on tracks like “January 10th, 2014”, narrating the story of the Juarez murders as spoken of similarly on At The Drive-In’s classic “Invalid Litter Dept.”. Prepare to be awestruck at the sheer power of the army that is The World Is A Beautiful Place, carefully contemplating your own existentialist train of thought with feelings of optimistic futures and hope. Peace to you, my friend.
22. Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect (Hardly Art)
The Agent Intellect is bold subject material. Right off the bat, Joe Casey is enshrouded in the darkest wave of guitar and eerie melody driven in his self-loathing lyrics. This forthcoming of crippling anxiety and rambling lyrical delivery surely serves a greater purpose too of a wonderful encapsulation of how to perceive what his troubled mind sounds like. Casey is fairly ancient by indie rock standards, pushing forty years of age, and with a look that can only be described as the antithesis of your typical punk mentors of old. The Agent Intellect isn’t a revolutionary formula, and as evidenced by Protomartyr’s effort last year with Under Color of Official Right, the band are just fine with their blend of The Fall’s post-punk tendencies hinging on fast paced drums and moody tempos. This record is driven by the vices that tear so many down. It is ripe with anger on “The Devil In His Youth”, displaying Casey most distraught with himself and his ability, or lack thereof, to act as a caring human being despite his struggles (equating himself with the devil). Going forward, he channels feelings of disinterest, disappointment in his persona, loss of faith in a higher power, and grief over lost mentors and family. Joe Casey’s brash, deadpan countenance is a portal to visions of human sadness, but above all, it is a battle of greater will that is worth fighting, and he is shedding light on what many are already thinking about yet unable to convey.
21. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall (Capital Records)
I reckon it’s safe to say that My Morning Jacket has album art of the year on lock. That is a gorgeous cover, pleasing to all of the senses. You know what else pleases me? The fact that the band put together a cohesive album with The Waterfall. Considering their track record of big selling records, live album mega events, solo projects, etc., one can only assume the band is on a comedown, much less a period of stagnant contentment. The Waterfall is the opposite of this, firing back with Jim James and company’s exuberant flair. The vocals are slick, possessing James’ textbook falsetto soaring as beautifully as ever. The guitars are marinated in gorgeous reverb, and the tinge of americana influence is present as always. Better yet, the songs flow (pun intended) into one another with purposeful cohesiveness, each with a growing and additional piece of imagery building the overarching meter of the record. This pace drives The Waterfall from crest through cataract, with ever-present mellower sound standing pertinent, and rolling steadfast to the finish. Depending on the person, this could play as a strength or a weakness of The Waterfall in My Morning Jacket’s lengthy discography. It’s not a challenging listen, but rather serves as a light journey through a calm wave of good vibes guiding the listener to an ever blissful conclusion on the wavy epic “Only Memories Remain”.
20. Desaparecidos – Payola (Epitaph)
Oh Connor Oburst, if only you sought your true calling as a punk rock and roller as opposed to the shell of your true feelings bottled up deep inside you with Bright Eyes. Just kidding! I love Bright Eyes, and besides, what else would bride’s and groom’s across the world submit their first dances to if not for “First Day of My Life”? It’s a grand twist of fortunes when you see a folk artist turned punk rocker, since the narrative seems to dictate the opposite more often than not. Complaining aside, Desaparecidos return after 2002’s distant memory, Read Music/Speak Spanish, a personal account of the carnalities of many a first world nation: corruption, greed, power, and industrialisation. So what does Oburst fight for over a decade later that makes him raise his voice so? Payola is politically charged at it’s heart, but there appears to be a distance between the apparent laziness the band has been accused of (with singles for the record being released as far back as 2012) and credibility in action. Payola does excel in the stinging punk rock leanings, and catchiness factor stands at an all-time high. Basically, it’s just nice to see Connor Oburst back in the fray.
19. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope)
“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for”. Yeah, I’m quoting Judge Taylor in Harper Lee’s American classic To Kill A Mockingbird. Yeah, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly album title is based on the former. Yeah, I personify the very person Judge Taylor may or may not be talking about. What does that mean? I want to believe Lamar’s racially charged wordplay and experimental jazz influences on record translate into a new revolution of understanding in every American life. The truth is, interpretation is destine to possess flaws in execution. Furthermore, I can take the Harper Lee life lessons to the next level, and claim we have to walk a mile in Kendrick Lamar’s or any other person’s shoes susceptible to the daily discrimination and prejudices that blacks or any minority faces. It just doesn’t work like that though. To Pimp A Butterfly is too grand in scale to define a single facet of my own life. People like me will never be able to walk a mile in such tattered shoes, and the biggest mistake I can make is thinking that I can relate. To Pimp A Butterfly seems timely in 2015. Kendrick has reached a new form of introspection in his poetry, and in his collaboration with funk maestro George Clinton and Jazz aficionado Kamasi Washington, and this is to great acclaim. Why pretend though that 2015 is a changing of the guard? If anything, Kendrick is fighting to resuscitate the flames that faintly burn in response to racial equality, and to the treatment of all peoples in love. It has always been a battle, and there are still dissenters everywhere. To Pimp A Butterfly is not a victory lap, it’s a call to arms, a decree to fight a good fight. 2Pac’s conversation with Lamar speaks volumes with that in mind on “Mortal Man”, “We ain’t even really rappin’, we just letting our dead homies tell stories for us”.
18. Bjork – Vulnicura (One Little Indian)
Bjork turned 50 last month, testament to her prowess and stature in the music world certainly, but she has also excited fans time and time again with new and wonderful works of art and self-expression. Vulnicura is no exception, first grazing the ears of curious listeners in early 2015, when the album leaked and was subsequently released earlier than the initial announcement. It’s plausible that this was the plan all along. Vulnicura is a “breakup album” in essence, carefully detailing and timestamping both the before and after sequences of events predating and postscripting Bjork’s breakup with partner Matthew Barney. Where a record like 1997’s Homogenic was a coming of age for Bjork in maturity and crafting some of the most experimentally gifted and lush songs of her career, she stands almost two decades later channeling the same immediacy and purpose on record. “Stonemilker” and “Lionsong” are a storybook wrought with confused feelings of loss, as Bjork examines why things unfolded how they did, carefully trying to pinpoint her lover’s mind machinations. It is a journey laden with beautiful strings as evidenced on former works. Consistency is pleasure, and why not keep the strings, when her live performances with a full orchestra are so immensely passionate? Her stream-of-consciousness search for clarity amidst chaos has raised the legend of Bjork to new grounds. Each work on Vulnicura serves as a diary of sorts, plotting each reactionary feeling to breach new territories of human emotion, something we know Bjork is the perfect curator for.
17. Unwed Teenage Mothers – Goodnight Girls (Bleed101 Records)
It may be surf rock in disguise, but Goodnight Girls boasts all the catchy guitars and power pop ditties that beckon a dip of your toes in the sand. John Fogerty was a California kid, but he’s always had an image as a Southern man, so why can’t these boys do the opposite? Unwed Teenage Mothers hail originally from Oxford, Mississippi, so while a striking resemblance in appearance screams California beach bums, the band are making waves in an entirely different way. Trudging forward with sing along anthems of rebellion and angst, Goodnight Girls is energetic and fast paced, thrusting forth hyperactive homages to good times and girls, all led by the pristine vocal performances of Colin Sneed. Each song leads with power chords and Sneed’s hoarse high-pitched crooning, and lightning bolt guitar solos such as that on “For Rihanna” are in abundance amidst the shining youthful exuberance of the band. Call it uncanny for a group of Southern kids leading a lifestyle of sunshine and babes, but these boys sure know how to party!
16. The Apartments – No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal (Microcultures)
Bro, I’m so into “aussie-jangle”, I don’t know about you. That’s what I would say to you were it early Summer time, having just stumbled upon the grandest treasure I dug up this year, No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal. Considering the beautiful blanket of snow enveloping the landscape on the Pascal Blua designed cover, it’s a wonder to immerse in this record as anything more than a cold of winter type environment. The Apartments launched one out of left field here with their first record in almost twenty years, combining a soft blend of piano, horns, and lush melody in their chamber pop ensemble. As versed as fellow countryman Nick Cave, and equally as debonair and shadowy circa The Boatman’s Call with plodding piano, Peter Milton Walsh and the band invoke overwhelming arches of melancholy, soaked in grand arrangements of orchestra that build a sleek structure of sounds. This wall most prominently calls to a Dan Bejar like vocal performance and vastness of the moment. No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal is bleak as much as it is optimistic.
15. Girl Band – Holding Hands With Jamie (Rough Trade)
There are an overwhelming number of Rough Trade bands that flat out rock face, but above all, between The Early Years EP and Holding Hands With Jamie (both 2015 releases), Girl Band is likely leading the pack as far as sheer noisiness is concerned. Not only that, but the Dublin quartet are hitting a fresh balance of post-punk and no wave influences in the midst of the onslaught of chugging bass and shredding guitars. Dara Kiely screams to his heart’s content perfectly juggling an act of slowly mumbling and working his way up to his peak screeches. As he yells “I don’t know what she wants!” on “Pears Before Lunch” repeatedly, one can’t help but evoke a certain sense of nostalgia for Black Francis tracks at his most energetic, blaring experimentation with Pixies, as well as on “Baloo”. Take that, and flip another 180 degrees; We’re spinning in circles now, as Kiely utilizes spoken work elements on “Texting an Alien”, hoping to draw the attention of Spiderland fanatics everywhere. Holding Hands With Jamie is all over the place, and between beckoning for a Nutella sponsorship on “Fucking Butter”, and the casual whispers that accompany, Girl Band have a bright future as reigning noise-rock champions of 2015.
14. Mutoid Man – Bleeder (Sargent House)
Brooklyn’s Mutoid Man “bleed” (get it?) the all-in-the-family roots that boast many a hardcore/punk staple of the legendary turn-of-the-century bands that left their mark and continue to kick ass present day. The band features Stephen Brodsky on vocals and lead guitar, with Ben Koller (of Converge) on drums and Nick Cageao on bass. Blood brothers they arrive, and blood brothers they conquer on the psychedelic stoner package, Bleeder. Bordsky and Koller having played in each other’s respective bands one time or another immediately are fixed with chemistry ablaze, complete with moments of congruency between Bordsky and Cageao playing the same riff on different octaves with the booming drums keeping temperate meter along the way. Bleeder is fast-paced, too quick to be filler material yet possessing enough substance to keep things interesting. Brodsky sings relatively clean on the tracks, but it’s not until the true meat of the album hits like a brick that we become witness to his utterly brilliant screams, as if Jack Black stormed the stage with his textbook rasp and rockstar demeanor. Long live rock and roll in this family, you just got schooled!
13. mewithoutYou – Pale Horses (Run For Cover Records)
The do it yourself aesthetic of Philadelphia’s mewithoutYou has always carried with the band since their inception around the turn of the century. For the most part, that has remained the same; they still tour in a bus that runs on vegetable oil, still are outcasts seemingly alienated from a consistent label deal, and still carry a hippy-like appearance. So it goes, you can’t call Aaron Weiss and company out as faux hipsters, since their track record proves otherwise. The unique blend of indie rock instrumentation, paired with Weiss’ half yelling, half spoken-word delivery pins the tail on the mark with Pale Horses. Lead single “Red Cow” made airwaves among followers of a hopeful return to the aggressive post-hardcore upbringing that dominated their debut [A–>B] Life, and were instead treated to the harder tracks that could hearken to the first record, but also the insightful indie rock that blended introspective, visual lyrics that Weiss is so known for. There is no comparison in any genre as far as Weiss’ ability to write such descriptive metaphorical wordplay, and his stature as a professor of education at Temple University only builds on his mysterious character as a Jekyll & Hyde type teacher and rock star. Pale Horses remains another grand entry in the stunning mewithoutYou discography, keeping in line the greatest aspects of the underground trail that they continue to pave.
12. Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth (Atlantic Records)
Lupe Fiasco’s riding a strange wave of success, in the form of simultaneous criticism from a very vocal fanbase claiming career suicide with 2012’s Lasers. Yes, this is the album with the one song that borrows the Modest Mouse “Float On” riff, and although everyone and your sister knows the track from widespread radioplay among other factors, Lupe has turned a new leaf. Not that he has admitted to the faults of Lasers (nor will I speak on it one way or another), he has offered to take fans’ copies of the record who purchased it for them all to be burned with fire. More importantly, he’s risen as a phoenix, emanating flames lit with righteous wordplay and conscious themes of the changing seasons. In addition, Tetsuo & Youth is a protest of the U.S. prison system, mindless violence, as well as the state of affairs with his antsy fanbase. Lupe came back out of a hypothetical grave in 2015, winning over the hearts of admirers and haters alike. Pair this with a nasty freestyle on “Sway In The Morning”, taking names on Twitter amidst semi-pointless beefs, and altogether exerting the familiar poise and wisdom of old in his rapping and demeanor that we used to know and love, Lupe Fiasco has achieved new heights and is still hungry for more.
11. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)
An enumerable amount of things could have taken place direction-wise following Sufjan Stevens’ last full length, The Age of Adz. Fresh off of the most experimental, bleepity-bloopity batch of tracks he’s ever done in an expansive catalog, Stevens had at his disposal project after project he was apart of, yet at the heart of it, Carrie & Lowell sprung forth upon an audience of dry eyes soon to be consumed with empathetic sadness. This is a sliver of Steven’s life that more-or-less defined his character and the person he has become, and the stories and experiences he went through under the household of his schizophrenic, emotionally distant mother. The myriad of struggles she faced hence paints a picture more exceedingly clear to the invested public. Sufjan Stevens was neglected in many ways, yet stricken with grief through expression present day of a now deceased family member (“Death With Dignity”). At the same time, Stevens took Carrie & Lowell’s dark roots, and turned it into art, a history that is confronted head on in deep, healthy reflection. Think of it more kindly as a Luke Skywalker situation; he makes a second return to the Dagobah system (Stevens addressing his mother again after some time from “Romulus”) in order to confront his greatest fear, that is, facing his father Darth Vader and the emotional baggage that tags along. In the same way, Carrie & Lowell serves as a exorcism of Stevens’ personal demons of feelings light and dark of his mother. It’s a heavy and lurking set of life experiences that he will cope with likely for the rest of his life, yet the beauty of his niece, and the wonderful traits of his mom are perfectly expressed amidst his soft voice and light guitar picking throughout the album.
10. Laura Stevenson – Cocksure (Don Giovanni Records)
From the very first strum of the guitar, Laura Stevenson paints the scene with the same exploding candor visible on the the cover of her album, Cocksure. A true master of art, her music has always struck a chord not only with the beautiful vibrato of her voice, but also her distinctly passionate lyrics. Stevenson has always approached writing songs based on her struggles with depression, and Cocksure is no stranger to her strongsuits as a songwriter. “Out With A Whimper” is big in nature, reigning down powerful chords striking in tune with the alternative power pop that takes a hold of a number of songs. Further down, Stevenson pushes away from stripped down balladry such as that on Wheel or Sit, Resist, yet her songs still have an affinity for appearing deceptively cheery. Factoring in partial influence from Bomb The Music Industry! frontman Jeff Rosenstock, who produced the album, the fuller sound of a band behind Stevenson’s wailing vocals and directing guitar lines are more immediate bursts of energy coming in small packages such as on “Jellyfish” and “Emily In Half”. Cocksure finally arrives at the end destination on “Tom Sawyer / You Know Where You Can Find Me”, at long last the emotional slow burner that she has laid bare so serenely and as optimistic as before. You can see the true artistry behind someone as talented as Laura Stevenson, able to churn out a fun guitar record, but also capable of possessing the deeper human qualities in her words amidst the playful exterior.
9. Blank Realm – Illegals In Heaven (Fire Records)
I’m so glad that bands like Blank Realm exist. Too often we pretend that musicians have to do something new and innovative to garner the attention of music media all across the globe. Even further, the farce sometimes oozes through the cracks that many bands are drilling into new territory, when in reality, these ideas have been established within the confines of musical histories. The Australian pride continues to dominate my top fifty as we progress (step it up, Tame Impala), and here we stand with Illegals In Heaven cracking the top ten. Truthfully, it’s pretty straightforward psychedelic tinged indie rock. The songs are fast, extremely catchy, and tradeoff boy then girl singing, almost as unselfish yet diversified as a Mark Hoppus and Tom Delonge tag team. Where Blank Realm don’t hook you in with driving bass lines and dirty guitar riffs, they surprise on tracks such as “Cruel Night”, evoking an ethereal mellowness driven by similar structures as Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” or slide guitar dominated Beach House songs. The shining moments certainly envelop a knack and nurturing of the record’s production; where previous efforts charmed based on lo-fi production, Blank Realm has sought out a studio environment this time around, and the attentiveness to developing the sound yields fruitful results. This is admittedly my intro to the band in 2015, yet ears took notice to the quirkiness of the punk rock lines paired with lullaby midi lines on keyboards. An interesting albeit standard listen within the indie stratosphere makes for some of the most exciting songs of the year, welding in a fix of shoegaze, post-punk, and dream pop as well.
8. Beach House – Depression Cherry (Sub Pop Records)
Finding yourself in a lull trudging through the most bland aspects of dream pop is harrowing business. Beach House have made a career of the greater aspects of the genre, yet also tailor to new age hipster cravings for indie influences glistening on the side. Nothing on Depression Cherry truly serves as a main course dish ala Teen Dream, but the progression as songwriters plays the band’s strengths. Victoria Legrand soothes the weary soul, opening the album with an entrancing interjection “You should see there’s a place I want to take you”, followed by familiar spacey synths reminiscent of the happiest moments on Bloom. Deceptive as lead single “Sparks” turned out to be, which invoked a splitting image of My Bloody Valentine’s latest 2013 release, M B V, Beach House still manage to invoke feelings of warmth, just as the physical packaging of Depression Cherry yields the same stimulating of the senses of touch. You can feel the message of Legrand’s angelic voice both physically and emotionally. Paired with Alex Scally’s textbook reverb-laden guitar work, Depression Cherry is wrought with euphoric entrances, fuzzy melodies on “Space Song” and “Beyond Love”, impresses even the oldest of fans on “PPP”, and gently lowers you back among dispersing clouds to reality on the sweet “Days of Candy”.
7. Little Simz – A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons (Age 101)
“Women can be kings”. Having dropped eight mixtapes alone since 2013, perhaps Simbi Ajikawo, also known as “Little Simz” has obtained a big enough pedestal to get her message across. Hailing from the UK with a pristine accent and culture shock to boast, Simz dominates a negligent and vulnerable frame of mind among her haters in terms of social structure and corruption on A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons. The slow jam beats dig a tunnel for Simz to exemplify her machine gun delivery and existential hypotheticals running off line after line. “The Lights” among others tracks are tense even in connection with the smooth, jazzy beats, often hearkening to within Little Simz’s deepest subconscious, almost like a conversation brewing in her own mind. It’s very bare in this sense, yet simultaneously marks a plea for change and a victory call of her own person. You see the image of women in the industry looked down upon, be that because of the means of fame, societal pressures to act and look a certain way, etc. Little Simz has channeled these perceptions on A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons and is dictating her own walk among the red carpet, even having released the record on her own label. She is a true pioneer for respect, as a black woman, as a performer, and as a role model for those broken by society and cheated by naysayers. “What’s important to you ain’t important to me, yeah this story’s for you”, she quips on “Fallen” carefully prefaced by “This is Not an Outro”. Thinking of the mark she made in 2015, and earning praise from contemporaries such as Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and A$AP Rocky, I’d venture to say that she isn’t even scratching the surface of her talents, but instead is ushering in an intro to the mainstream frame of mind. At 21 years young, there are many new trials to be conquered.
6. Soko – My Dreams Dictate My Reality (Babycat Records)
Maybe Soko isn’t everyone’s bread and butter, and the transition from twee pop with folk tidbits to straight up The Cure worship post-punk revival falls out of left field, but My Dreams Dictate My Reality is a surefire surprise. Even more assuring is the French-born singer’s image in establishing her new sound with force. Soko has returned born again as a sort of Siouxsie Sioux reincarnated, with bleached blonde hair, and a darker yet sillier attitude. The music reflects this; cutesie charm is now replaced with fervor reminiscent of any punk rock persona who doesn’t have a care in the world of their image in society. Combine that with two Ariel Pink collaborations on “Monster Love” and “Lovetrap”, you see that the new and improved Soko provides what is sure to be a creative mind discovering a new outlook on the confines of being an artist. Working and creating art as a woman in a historically male-dominated genre paints pictures worth more than just a thousand words too. Soko is raising the bar for a singular entity or any mixture of gothic, post-punk, and new wave magic.
5. Turnover – Peripheral Vision (Run For Cover Records)
Peripheral Vision stormed into a pop-punk collective throwing fans for a knuckleball. Pulling a notorious “reverse Jimmy Eat World”, Turnover raised eyebrows with their cozy dream pop inspired blend of indie rock. The songs embrace guitar driven arpeggios complete with a standard 4/4 drumbeat keeping each song quietly intact. However, the strengths of the record are not surrounded by drums. In fact, they serve better as a metronome, only called upon every so often to embrace a bigger spotlight, much like Ringo Starr with The Beatles. Turnover are championed by the lyrics of crippling doubt and self-loathing cynicism. “Humming” invokes a sense of awe and longing over a troubled relationship, countered by an apparent lack of interest by the tainted lover. “Elated with your lack of interest, what a wonderful indifference”, outlines one of many captain hindsight epiphanies over the course of the eleven tracks. Turnover’s new direction sparks an elaborate diction paying tribute to emo influences of old. The youthful worries of tomorrow are driven home with a rejuvenation in the hazy delivery and nostalgic shoegaze, and much like Seahaven and Title Fight flipped their own progressive 180s (for better or for worse), Peripheral Vision provides instant gratification as well as high replayability. The comforting melancholy strikes a careful balance between coping with anxieties and getting better.
4. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness (Domino Recording Co.)
Great expectations lay in store for Julia Holter upon release of the darling Have You In My Wilderness earlier this year. Much like Loud City Song garnered the attention of an artful audience in 2013, Holter returns to form, neatly layering her lush wave of strings amidst serene ambience. The feeling of floating on an empty sea of fog to nowhere is channeled by her transparent vocals, as the torche fiercely lit by Kate Bush is succeeded by a new generation of art-pop. Whatever your mind’s eye crafts in emotional response to the breezy atmosphere created by Holter’s booming originality, her sights are set so high, and dreams becoming reality are surefire experiences on eager eardrums. Have You In My Wilderness keeps it’s airy blend of chamber pop and jazz influences intact, but delivery is immediate with a more bubbly substance on the opener “Feel You”, as well as “Silhouette”. If Julia Holter has not yet made her case for most promising expectations, look into the near future for her creative essence on the ambitious projects of tomorrow. Having already collaborated with other indie musicians such as Ducktails’ Matt Mondanile (who she dated briefly), Holter’s ceiling is yet to be reached, with plans already set in place to score her first big time film, Scorsese’s executive produced boxing film Bleed for This, starring Miles Teller. If her work stretching to film proves to be as bold as her studio recordings, expect great things from Holter, channeling a myriad of wild and luxurious sounds.
3. Sun Kil Moon – Universal Themes (Caldo Verde Records)
Are the misadventures of Mark Kozelek still relevant in 2015, over one year after the infamously dark yet poetic Benji dominated indie circles? Absolutely! The legend of a man whose career has been reborn in a sense thanks the very mediums that seek to tear him down present day is in full force with the ever lovable rambling Kozelek has turned to in now seemingly typical “sit on grandpa’s lap around the fire” story time fashion. Universal Themes at it’s heart is observational in the most mundane sense of the word. However, examining the record on a deeper level doesn’t require exuding so much as a face value investigation. “As I walk around the block that you live on, I see poetry in every inch of it”, Kozelek retorts on “With A Sort Of Grace I Walked To The Bathroom To Cry”. His latest stream-of-consciousness is still deeply heartfelt, and these songs are evidence to a greater facet of life than Benji ever personified. We grieve for those who are lost, and reflect on dark times, but with each mournful season of crud and gloom sprouts goodness and beauty in this world. Universal Themes is a celebration of the finer things, and experiences and people that we should be grateful for. Mark Kozelek is still the bitter old man yelling at you from his front lawn, or so that’s how the media seeks to portray him. Truthfully, he’s also a man that loves his family and girlfriend, respects his craft and other musicians who play around and with him (Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley on drums for example), and is infinitely proud and grateful for each life experience that shapes him. I don’t think he’s losing any sleep at night over any artificial controversy stewing over his likeness these days. Keep on grumping, Mark!
2. Viet Cong – Viet Cong (jagjaguwar)
Channeling Rick McCallum, every song on Viet Cong is so dense, bursting with equal parts firepower and slithering dark aura, all coming together to form a most-cohesive package. It’s short and sweet listen, with no fat to be trimmed at just seven tracks total. The first three songs serve as a wave of mellower, standard rock tracks, given the catalyst label to lead into the abrasive second half of the record. “March of Progress” comes in on the latter of side one with complex drums pounding like a heartbeat, switching between time signature each pursuing measure. A bleak synth lurks in the background until a few minutes in when the listener has journeyed to a new arrival of Flegal’s ghostly, chanting vocals, bracing his audience for the sheer power of what is to come. Viet Cong is captivating on “Bunker Buster” and going forward. Each progressing track is brimming with a new confidence. Each manic guitar line, complete with the building tension of bursting drums and wailing vocals captivates in a waving crescendo of noise mixed with brooding melody. “Silhouettes” hearkens to a breakneck version of Joy Division, with synths leading the fury of riffs and Flegal’s “oohs” and “ahhs”, preparing for Viet Cong’s grand finale. “Death” arrives just 25 minutes into the record, what I like to think of as Viet Cong’s own trump card to Women’s “Eyesore”. Separated into two parts, it begins with noodling guitar and driving drums, transitioning into a claustrophobic chamber of each instrument building and building to the ultimate climax of crashing cymbals and perfect unleashing of all the tension that had built up over the course of the entire Viet Cong experience.
1. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy (Merge Records)
Patrick Stickles has the world of 2015 on a string, always serving to best his own personal track. An ever-present force on social media, Stickles is as brash as ever with his bombastic triple-album The Most Lamentable Tragedy, spanning over five acts and twenty-nine tracks. Titus Andronicus are on a mission of world domination, even after blessing ill prepared ears with the civil war inspired punk rock classic The Monitor. Presently, we see Stickles in abundant public appearances pushing the agenda his sights are so grandly set on. Taking many a reference and influence of his battles and episodes with manic depression over his lifetime, he takes on an image of a great warrior plodding headfirst with reckless abandon against his demons. Stickles has gone full Jay-Z in his own spotlight; Titus Andronicus is a business, man! The larger than life expectations, public reception, takeover of their own Genius page, everything ties into a huge narrative of epic proportions. Titus Andronicus may appear to be throwing caution to the wind with The Most Lamentable Tragedy, but I truly believe that they hold the opinion that this mammoth of an album is a self-evident truth existing as a masterpiece of it’s time. In my opinion, it is! The ragged voice of Stickles is further down a chain smoking oblivion. Songs are shorter, yet flee out of the gate with bolting sense of urgency, and themes of manic episodes and outbursts are illustrated perfectly in combination with abrasive crashing drums and power chord heavy guitars. Where Stickles used the illusion of dying dreams and persons in connection with days of civil distress and violence in America circa mid nineteenth century, his outcry speaks a personal plea to saving himself here. He’s lost his mind, and he’s channeling every fiber of his body and his bandmates to possess a dangerous self-expression of the only hope left in his curdling soul. To ignore the outcry and basking glory of this rock opera would be truly tragic.
Thank you, goodnight!