3 Post-Christmas songs

Christmas has come and gone. Boxing Day has come and gone. If you are one of those people who quits listening to holiday music immediately after putting the trash bins with the wrapping paper out then maybe you won’t be inclined to check out these unheralded gems. But you can always bookmark them for next year.

The internets sometimes confuse Puller with Lifter Puller. But they aren’t the same band, trust me. After For Love Not Lisa broke up, Mike Lewis regrouped with Puller and the band put out several excellent albums on Tooth And Nail Records. “Saviour of The Fools” is an original song from the first Happy Christmas compilation, long out of print and not available in online retailers. It’s a shame because it is one of the best, and saddest, holiday songs ever written in the late nineties. Also enjoy songs from Starflyer 59 and a recent, sneaky-good Phoenix track featuring Bill Murray and others that is really a cover of a lost Beach Boys tune.

Best Albums of 2015 | The Top 10


The collection of my favorite 10 albums for the past year is now complete.  What came as a surprise was that half of it consists of debut albums from what I would consider to be some of the most important bands of the next several years.  In a year that female-fronted rock bands, hushed vocals, and Kendrick Lamar dominated best-of lists of 2015, I made my personal insertion of the importance of punkrock.  Beginning the exodus from my mid-30s into my late 30s I have found that my taste for music has not changed, but it has rather evolved taking with it my interests of my youth and adding new additions to provide variety and growth.   If I have missed something that you feel should have made it’s way onto my list then, please, let me know as I am always looking to discover new music.

My Honorary Mentions and Runner Up Top 10 Best of 2015 publications are also available to check out.

 

10-Brutal Youth – spill your guts

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I’m not going to sugarcoat anything at this point and I’ll just admit upfront that this pick was most definitely nostalgia based.  At a time when punk bands such as Good Riddance are becoming boring with recent releases it is rather refreshing to hear the kids beat the vets at their own game.  Spill Your Guts is not going to blow you away as an introspective 22-minute 18-track punk record, but what it will do is give you the best throaty-vocal punk album since For God And Country.  It’s the most fun a group of friends has had playing angst-ridden punk love/hate songs in under a minute in quite awhile.  If you modernize The Descendents’ sound and add the edge and presence of early Good Riddance, then you are left with Brutal Youth.  As a longtime fan of the melodic hardcore genre I am glad to see that it can still be done well.  This is an all around great album.

essential tracks: Four Letter Words | We Need To Talk | Square Dancing: What Is It? & What Can It Do For You?

 

9-Worriers – imaginary life

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Worriers’ Imaginary Life is their debut LP, and gives us the introduction to front-woman Lauren Deritzio’s unimpaired ability to express herself without any collaboration.  She has been part of several music groups before Worriers only to find her presence hidden within the confines of combining creativity with other musicians.  Coincidently, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! stumbled upon Deritzio and the Worriers and agreed to produce Imaginary Life while graciously including them as the opening act on tour.  The peer recognition found within that and the touring success to follow had come at such a fast pace that it is no wonder as to why the positive critic reviews have followed.  All that remains is the mainstream success, but it is as yet to be determined if that is what is desired.  Deritzio, along with Laura Jane Grace, also questions the limits of gender binarism so it is to no surprise that these two have found an opportunity to help eachother give a voice to that misunderstood community.  Impassioned lyrics and a straightforward indie-punk sound provide for one of the best rock albums of the year in just under 30 minutes.  In a year that saw huge success for female-fronted rock bands, it’s nice to see that they were also dominating the underground as well.

essential tracks: They/Them/Theirs | Plans | Advance Notice

 

8-Screaming Females – Rose Mountain

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The Screaming Females are the hip, cool alternative to Alabama Shakes.  They are the Sleater-Kinney that you haven’t yet heard of.  Despite the fact that they’ve been a band for 10 years and have released 6 albums they have still managed to be overlooked by many music critics; until now.  If the music industry were to make any sense then the “screamales” would be the one at the top of the modern-rock charts.  Rose Mountain puts the untouchable vocal and guitar talents of Marissa Paternoster front and center of The Screaming Females.  It feels very retro and almost classic-rock, while still fresh and fast as the choruses on the album build up to be among the more enjoyable audible explosions from music offered this year.  Catchy songs, classic guitar riffs, powerful vocals, and hard-hitting melodies all make up what was one of my favorite straight up rock albums of the year.  Sometimes lyrics don’t matter too much in a record, and this is one of those instances where the music sweeps you away rather than what is being said behind it.

essential tracks: Hopeless | Wishing Well | Ripe

 

7-Not Scientists – Destroy To Rebuild

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A pop punk band from France has cracked my top 10.  When the occasional discovery of a band such as Not Scientists finds you, the feeling of being a kid resonates inside of you again.  Who says that I have to be consistent in my listening habits so that they match my age demographic?  Who says that as I get closer to my late 30s I should be listening to bluegrass, folk or Phil Collins?  My response to the stereotyped questioning of my music listening behavior is “leave it alone, because I know what I like”.  Rest assured, I will be that grandfather in his rocker listening to 90s punk rock as my grandchildren laugh at me and my “oldies” playing out of the speakers in my living room.  Destroy To Rebuild is a fantastic album to lose yourself in.  It has catchy choruses, epic guitar riffs, sincere and sometimes cheesy lyrics, everything meant to expect from something out of this genre.  While songs such as “I’m Brainwashing You” and “Tomorrow’s Another Day” provide what is expected, “These Heads Have No Faces” and “Disconnect the Dots” prove that they can also play outside of the expectations of that specific punk brand.

essential tracks: We’re Given Options | These Heads Have No Faces | Over and Out

 

6-Beach Slang-The Things We Do To Find People Like Us

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Knowing that Beach Slang is the fourth of five debut albums on my top 10 makes for a strong case that the future of music, despite staggering record sales and the predictably boring mainstream, is on the upswing.  The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us is an album played for the pumping fists in the front row but sung for outcasts on the sidelines.  It’s hard to believe that singer James Alex is in his 40s without any amount of recognition to his music until now.  With this album you find a perfectly flawless throwback to what would happen if The Lawrence Arms sang a Jawbreaker song written by Paul Westerberg.  Do I have your interest now?  If you managed to overlook this band in the same way that I missed them coming to Strummer’s in Fresno earlier this year, then stop here and treat yourself to 26 minutes of the ultimate listening experience of what good rock music is supposed to sound like.  Beach Slang has become a new addition to the growing list of my favorite bands.

essential tracks: Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas | Young & Alive | Ride The Wild Haze

 

5-Butch Walker – Afraid Of Ghosts

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Butch Walker is quite the interesting case study in modern pop music.  He goes from fronting the 90s pop-hair metal band Marvelous 3 to producing numerous musicians of the last couple decades.  His résumé includes production work for Weezer, Anberlin, Pete Yorn, Avril Lavigne, Pink, Fall Out Boy, Taylor Swift, and Keith Urban just to name a few.  For Afraid of Ghosts Walker chose to, for the first time on his own records, have someone else produce it.  Ryan Adams became that person and gave Walker the best advise anyone could ever have given him.  Walker explains by recalling the following conversation:

“One of the first things Ryan said to me, in his brash, honest, brutal delivery, was, ‘You know, sometimes I think your day job rubs off into your own music, which I don’t think you should do. And at first, I was like, ‘F–k you, man! That’s not true.’ But it is true. It’s hard to work at Starbucks and not go home smelling like coffee. So we had to wash the coffee off on this record.”

The atmosphere that Adams helped create for this album was a perfect pairing for what Walker was preparing to create.  Afraid of Ghosts is an album meant for the heartbroken during a time of incredible loss.  The closing lines of “Father’s Day” completely captures what I think was his state of mind during the writing process as he sings “You don’t become a man until you lose your dad, you see.”  Absolutely heart-wrenching.  He is at his most vulnerable here as he sings about losing his own father who he had just begun to have a rebounding relationship with, and other similar struggles as someone becoming older in a world increasingly less fair.

essential tracks: Father’s Day | Chrissie Hynde | How Are Things, Love?

 

4-mewithoutYou – Pale Horses

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One of the more strangely unique modern-rock musicians of our time is the singer for mewithoutYou, Aaron Weiss.  He has an ability to poetically construct the lyrics of a 4 minute song ending with you less sure of it’s meaning than you were at the beginning.  Pale Horses is an enjoyable, but dark album pulling concepts from an apocalyptic world to the death of his own father.  Having the opportunity to see them perform in July this last year at Strummers of Fresno was a definite highlight of the year, and is one of my favorite live shows that I’ve gone to.  Weiss needs a stage and an album to get out of him the creations that are so evident within his mind.  The self-doubt and religious journey that he speaks to is so honest here that it feels tragic, and at the same time beautiful.  Pale Horses is the perfect farewell album if it is indeed one, but I’d rather hear more from the introverted intellectual Weiss if I had any say in the matter.  Still, it has been said by him that he can not imagine the desire to write another song, let alone another album, after having put this one together.  Time will tell.

essential tracks: Lilac Queen | D-Minor | Mexican War Streets

 

 

3-Success – Radio Recovery

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This was absolutely my favorite punk record of the year as well as my favorite debut album of the year.  Radio Recovery combines punk with rockabilly and adds a couple of the most kick-ass guitar solos I’ve heard in years.  Success are the only West Coast representation on my top 10 list beating out fellow west coast punkers NoFX and Joey Cape for a higher rank.  Sometimes fresh is more fun, and that is precisely what these 5 guys from Seattle have done.  Punk is fresh again, folks.  There’s a bit of sarcasm, a little sap, a couple songs about rebellion, and even some hope and a call for revolution.  It is visibly apparent that these guys are having a lot of fun and enjoying every moment to the start of their inevitably long adventure in music.  Radio Recovery is full of ridiculously catchy choruses and hooks so contagious that you’ll catch yourself pumping a fist while driving that could be mistaken for road rage by the poor Audi in front of you.  From the opening line of the album to the last song before the record ends everything about it will convince you to put it on repeat, again, then again, and then again.

essential tracks: Lives That We Deserve | Believe In | Resignation

 

2-Kurt Vile – b’lieve I’m going down…

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Ok. This is when I start showing my age.  My second favorite album of the year comes from the man who is everything that Ben Kweller wished he was.  I’m a bit late to the Kurt Vile hype-train, but I am just glad I didn’t miss the train entirely.  He kind of looks like if Pee-Wee Herman grew his hair out and took up writing music on an acoustic guitar while smoking a Benson & Hedges cigarette under a lamppost.  Nonetheless, this guy knows how to craft a perfect song.  He is that singer-songwriter that you were looking for but never poked your nose around long enough to find.  Every song on this album is a mellow remedy for a slow-moving afternoon in the office.  As I am not very familiar with his recordings before b’lieve I’m going down… I imagine I will often come back to this one during my journey backwards being that it was my entry point into his collection of work.  If slacker rock is making a comeback then I think we have found the one that is suitable for taking the reigns.

essential tracks: Pretty Pimpin | Lost My Head There | That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say)

 

1-Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

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My favorite album of the year came at a bit of a surprise.  It was no secret that I loved to hate Sufjan, and it was mainly because I refused to use a soft-J while pronouncing his name.  I never quite gave him the chance that he deserved, because for whatever reason he came across pretentious and unlikable to me.  When Carrie & Lowell was released I listened to it out of curiosity after hearing good reviews and recommendations.  After my first listen I was absolutely stunned at how much Sufjan was willing to tell us through his music.  Every song is a desperate plea for forgiveness from his self and from his late mother as the theme of the album discuss elements of guilt, anger, death, feelings of loneliness and separation, as well as questions of faith.  Carrie & Lowell will more than likely remain to be the only Sufjan album I listen to willingly, unless of course this signifies a change of style within his records.  I cannot imagine the tone to be repeated in a later album as this one seems unique to anyone’s catalogue.  Sufjan was quoted to say that “this record is not art, it is my life”, so I do not foresee this degree of vulnerability doubled-down on when we hear from him again.  This is a beautiful album and I will listen to it when I want to feel better about who I am and who I have after having heard the lyrics and music of a man that wants to bring peace through tragedy.

essential tracks: Should Have Known Better | The Only Thing | No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross

Best Albums of 2015 | Runner Up Top 10

Part two of my three part series for music in 2015 takes me to my secondary top 10 list highlighting the second tier of my favorite albums of the year.  The first part highlighting my honorary mentions can be found here.  Stay tuned for the first tier top 10 coming soon.

 

20-William Fitzsimmons – Pittsburgh (Deluxe)

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“Pittsburgh” is the first album of a handful that intimately tackles the subject of the loss of a loved one within my collection of favorites this year.  The heavy subject matter and vulnerable lyrics of Fitzsimmons’ make the album difficult to listen to, but easy to relate.  Any form of loss experienced within your personal life can be represented in one or more of these songs.  “I Had to Carry Her” is one of the more tear-inducing songs I’ve heard in recent memory.  Do not listen to this album in public as you may show certain emotions that you would otherwise not want to show spontaneously while not in the confines of your home.  The therapeutic nature of the album is enough to be considered as a favorite of 2015.

essential tracks: Better, I Had to Carry Her (Virginia’s Song), Matter

 

19-Joey Cape – Stitch Puppy

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Tony Sly and Joey Cape were two of my adolescent idols growing up.  Not a day passed during high school that I did not play No Use For A Name’s Leche Con Carne or Lagwagon’s Trashed during an afternoon that I was supposed to be doing Algebra homework.  Since Tony Sly’s untimely passing Cape has become one to dwell on the more dark sides of life.  Even records released by Cape with Lagwagon since Sly’s death seem to come with a darker tone to them.  Call it a coincidence, call it cause and effect, call it whatever you want but as the punk rockstars of the 90s reach their 40s Joey Cape has found new reasons to write songs without seeming cliché or selling out.

essential tracks: Spill My Guts, Gone Baby Gone, This Life Strange

 

18-Widowspeak – All Yours

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I want to like this album much more than I actually do. Still it remains to be known that I really enjoy it.  To compare the collide of two conflicting genres of music would only partially explain the reasons I found to enjoy the songs here. To see nothing more from this duo after this, their 3rd album, would be enough to induce an anxiety attack because they seem so close to that perfect 10-tracked shoegazing pop album.

essential tracks: Narrows, All Yours, Girls

 

17-Desaparecidos-Payola

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You cannot get much more of a politically opinionated series of songs than you do with Payola.  If you can handle a conversation of politics with a family member sharing the same passion of politicizing tragedy, but defers in the outcome of the interpretation then you are probably one who perseveres to the end of Payola enjoying the music and the lyrics.  Not really a step forward for Conor Oberst, as it is simply a finished statement that he left with Desaparecidos back in 2002.

essential tracks: The Left Is Right, Backsell, Slacktivist

 

16-Langhorne Slim & The Law – The Spirit Moves

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The newly sober Langhorne Slim presents his most ambitious, most honest, and best album so far with his latest collaboration with backing band The Law.

essential tracks: Changes, Whisperin’, Strangers

 

15-NoFX – Home Street Home

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A punkrock musical not meant for children.  Fat Mike released a concept album in the form of a musical that makes Billie Joe Armstrong’s American Idiot a major-label shortcoming.  The questionable subject matter in Home Street Home ranges from implied incestuous relations to drug abuse to sodomy to prostitution, but it captures the punk street life so vividly that listeners are reminded at how well of a storyteller Fat Mike can be.  He was joined by Matt Skiba as the vocals for the father figure in the story, as well as Frank Turner, Stacey Dee (Bad Cop/Bad Cop), in addition to members of The Descendants, Lagwagon, The Living End, and the late Tony Sly.  It has been told by the authors of the musical that it was based on true stories, and the authenticity of that statement is supported by the genuine tone throughout the album.

essential tracks: I’m Suicide, High Achievers, Because I Want To

 

14-Royal Headache – High

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It’s a bit Johnny Rotten, a bit Brandin Lea (circa Flickerstick), a bit of Noel & Liam’s Oasis, and a whole hell of a lot of what makes garage rock bloody brilliant.  Frontman, Shogun, permeates a rockstar presence with his Weiland-esque swagger. Maybe the next time we hear from these guys we’ll see them recording videos for their singles in a bigger garage than the one in “Caroline”.  Australia brought us INXS in the 80s, Silverchair in the 90s, Jet in the 00s, and now Royal Headache in the 10s.

essential tracks: Need You, My Own Fantasy, Carolina

 

13-The Brilliance – Brothers

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During the most troubling of moments it is easy to get discouraged.  It is simply too effortless to get caught in the downward spiral of the indwelling obsession of the horror that comes from life.  I cannot remember the last time a self-proclaimed Christian band that marketed toward that genre to have had such an impact on me than The Brilliance did during this last year.  In particular, the title track on the album opened up my perspective toward numerous current events.  That song, Brother, touched me in a way that no other song has in a very long time.  It brought back a perspective toward humanity that I have always believed, but had often forgotten to live by.  Each song on this album transforms and uplifts your mood as it helps refocus whatever lost spiritual focus you may have had.

essential tracks: Brother, Yahweh, Love Remains

 

12-El Vy – Return to the Moon

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The National have been able to make a career out of being sarcastically clever and disguising itself within the droning vocals of Matt Berninger.  The exact opposite is done with El Vy.  The subtleties are accentuated and the playfulness is presented without any cautious desire to hide those tendencies within the music.  Instead, the music allows the intended purpose to be what the lyrics suggest.  Return to the Moon is a breathe of fresh air when The National were seeming to become routine and predictable.  I look forward to hear how this may evolve the future of The National and how their sound may benefit from such a strong side project by Berninger in El Vy.

essential tracks: I’m The Man To Be, Return to the Moon, Paul Is Alive

 

11-Millencolin – True Brew

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Let me just begin by saying this:  If there is a Millencolin album that compares to Pennybridge Pioners then this is the one.  They are back after being gone for 7 years, and they are here to help contribute to a genre they helped define.  Musically they started to concern me with the 2008 album Machine-15, but it looks like that was just a blip on the radar on the “oops-scale” of mistakes.  Put your headphones on and allow your mind to take you back to the hey-day of pop punk.

essential tracks: Bring Me Home, Sense & Sensibility, Autopilot Mode

 

Best Albums of 2015 | Honorary Mentions

This year was stacked full of music that kept me company during the good times and the bad. I paid more attention to the trends and the obscure more than I had in the last several years. During the beginning of this year I paid close attention to new music because I was fresh off of my “best-of 2014” self-assignment. As the year progressed I veered away from seeking out new music and resorted to the skate-punk of my yesterdays. Continue reading “Best Albums of 2015 | Honorary Mentions”