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In the past few months, I have had the chance to see music from Australia, France, and Canada, in addition to the Texas, New York, and LA-based acts that typically come through. That’s been nice.
Gojira were very polite, which stood in contrast to their precise and pulverizing metal. Their French accents were cute. I don’t know if Courtney Barnett spoke or sang or mumbled or what, but whatever it was I couldn’t understand it but totally loved it (as always). Crystal Castles were Canadian, and I also saw Phantogram. Both were about as antiseptic as expected.
Along with Barnett, the Sound on Sound Fest one-day pass also provided close access to a rock legend (Bob Mould) and a local legend (Explosions in the Sky). The latter was the clear highlight of the fall for live music. These guys’ near-telepathic chemistry and their mastery of dynamics was put over the top by the coolest light show I have ever seen (thanks, weather).
Personally, it has been a crushing few months, but discovering new music and seeing old favorites is a helpful tonic. Listen to some of what I have been listening to, if you d/care.
Everyone would agree that twenty sixteen was a year that brought upon us newfound self-pity, self-doubt, and self-reflection, all with a loss of how to react or cope with the current state of things. No matter your personal opinions with whether we are in an incline or decline of western civilization we all can come together and agree that we are living in the first days of a new world. How you interpret those first days of the rest of our life is up for interpretation.
Politics provide a framework to divide. Social issues, largely, are defined as being a separating line between us all. The simplest way that I have found to manage my collective frustrations, or celebrations, have been through the art of music. I have not perfected the craft of creating music, so I have, for some time, resorted to finding the music that best speaks to me to interpret the words and feelings that I have inside. Whether it be through the melodies or the words, each of these albums have helped me through this trying year.
The following albums are ones that I have enjoyed and wanted to share with those that care to listen.
First, my five honorable mentions:
The Lumineers | Cleopatra
YG | Still Brazy
Juvenilia | Juvenilia
Cymbals Eat Guitars | Pretty Years
Nice As F*ck | Nice As F*ck
Now, here is the countdown of my favorite records of the year:
20 Ultimate Painting | Dusk
This is a record from some guys from the UK bringing us rock music in tune to the 1960s. The most enjoyable moments in music are when you can witness someone recreate something old and make it new again, and I like the cover art font choice.
stand outs: Bills, Monday Morning, Song For Brian Jones
19 Communist Daughter | The Cracks That Built the Wall
The stumbling upon Communist Daughter is solely the responsibility of my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist. If you are confused by that opening statement then do yourself a favor and Google it. You can thank me later…and, your welcome. The melancholy tone to the stripped down emotion within this record is difficult to forget. The tattered wellbeing of the singer is front and center in the lyrics of the songs on The Cracks That Built the Wall and I hope that future Communist Daughter records start to reflect the positive progress to the mental state of the lead vocalist.
stand outs: Hold Back, Balboa Bridge, Sunday Morning Again
18 Sioux Falls | Rot Forever
Sioux Falls is for when you want to listen to some classic Modest Mouse or Built to Spill, but with new perspective and fresh blood. There are several epic 6 to 7 minute tracks on Rot Forever that easily become the soundtrack to the background of your afternoon. The ambition of this record are admirable and definitely worth checking out.
stand outs: 3fast, Dom, In Case It Gets Lost
17 Milk Teeth | Vile Child
If the XX ditched the DJ and adopted an actual drum set, infatuation for the 80s, and some screamo then you end up with Milk Teeth. The UK still knows how to breed good punk bands.
stand outs: Brickwork, Brain Food, Get A Clue
16 The Lowest Pair | Fern Girl & Ice Man and Uncertain As It Is Uneven
Banjo’s, a beard, and that trendy guy/girl dual vocal. This kind of music reminds me of my late grandfather. Not because he played a banjo or that he had a beard (he did not), but because his love for music represents to me the foundation of music that this record builds upon. I used to seek this genre out for the sake of remembrance, but now it has easily become part of my taste in music. I call it a win-win, and with 2 records released by The Lowest Pair this year it helps solidifying them as one of my favorites.
stand outs: Sweet Breath, Mason’s Trowel, The River Will
15 Hope Sandoval & the Warm Intentions | Until the Hunter
I should preface this with saying that I wouldn’t have thought to like or listen to Hope Sandoval if it weren’t for my incredible wife. I tend to dominate the speakers at home with my fairly annoying selections, but sometimes I’ll forfeit control for the sake of a good recommendation. Thanks, Nicole, this was a good listen. To summarize, it would benefit to include that with a guest vocal of my favorite singer of 2015 on one of the tracks helps with my liking of this record as well.
stand outs: Let Me Get There, A Wonderful Seed, Into The Trees
14 Third Eye Blind | We Are Drugs
Personally, it is simple to write about Third Eye Blind. It is comforting, for some reason, to listen to Stephen Jenkins lispfully sing over tracks that take you back to 1998. The ironic part here is that there really hasn’t been a good album since Kevin Cadogen left the band in 1999. With that being said, and with the addition of some new 20somethings to the band’s lineup, 3eb has finally put together a record that is good again. After listening to it, my first thought is: “I’d totally purchase a Steph Jenkins rap album!” Jenkins can’t sing, but he can write a killer pop record.
stand outs: Cop vs Phone Girl, Company Of Strangers, Isn’t It Pretty
13 Michael Kiwanuka | Love & Hate
I’m super white. Ask my wife. My overcompensation this year to be more musically diverse has been very refreshing and has come with a more diverse list of favorites. The future of music has offered the ability to expand yourself as a music fan as you digitally explore artists similar to those that you already listen to. Kiwanuka is one of my favorite self-discoveries and this record that brought me to him will remain a personal favorite of mine.
stand outs: Love & Hate, Black Man In A White World, Father’s Child
12 Saint Motel | saintmotelevision
To represent my absolute whiteness, Saint Motel has become part of the soundtrack of my life in 2016. “Gotta get up, gotta get up, MOVE!” has become the single lyric to keep me going. Dancing with my kids to LA2NY in the living room while my wife shakes her head and laughs has given new reason to enjoy indie dance pop music again.
stand outs: Move, Born Again, Local Long Distance Relationship (LA2NY)
11 Wye Oak | Tween
Tween happens to be that abbreviated record that takes you to a place where you want to be when you are somewhere that you don’t. The quilted musical atmosphere within Tween will be doubled down as you find yourself instinctually starting the record over when it suddenly ends.
stand outs: Watching The Waiting, If You Should See, Trigger Finger
10 Starflyer 59 | Slow
Bands from my adolescence always seem to sneak themselves into my current playlists, and it only benefits the playlist when those bands release new music that is good. I started to lose interest in SF59 for awhile, but came back when I heard Slow. It’s nostalgic in every sense of the word, and even Jason Martin admits to his enjoyment of losing himself in that euphoric feeling.
stand outs: Wrongtime, Slow, Retired
9 Future of the Left | The Peace & Truce Of Future of the Left
If you know me at all you are aware that I like to make bizarre comparisons of the up-and-coming to those that have already been; Future Of The Left is basically a hardcore Ted Leo. Being a fan of the latter I have found it satisfying to listen to post punk versions of Me and Mia with fists pumping.
stand outs: Back When I Was Brilliant, Miner’s Gruel, The Limits Of Battleships
8 DIIV | Is The Is Are
Getting lost in music happens to be a favorite pastime of mine. DIIV gives us an overly ambitious effort of a record with Is The Is Are. As their second release, it feels like they have maintained a permanent position in the corner of the mainstay of post-shoegaze. I’m pretty certain that the Roman Numeral for how many times this record kicks ass is DIIV.
stand outs: Dopamine, Under The Sun, Healthy Moon
7 The Lippies | The Lippies
This debut is reminiscent of last year’s Imaginary Life by Worriers; punk rock at it’s least common denominator. During the latter weeks of 2016 I found myself in a car a lot and the tracks on this record helped the dashed yellow line on my left pass a bit quicker. Fans of punk rock need to be listening to The Lippies.
stand outs: 302, As We Fall, Fuck The Customer
6 NoFX | First Ditch Effort
NOFX is one of those bands that helped define who I am as a fan of music. They were one of the first punk bands that I got into and paved the way toward the slippery slope. Fat Mike, as offbeat and strange as he may be, will always have dibs with a place in the answer of the question “who are your top 3 favorite musicians?” First Ditch Effort rips off the scabs and exposes the scars and pains that previous records have not. The passing of another one of my adolescent favorite punk rock vocalist, Tony Sly, has helped contribute to Fat Mike’s introspective nature on I’m So Sorry Tony. The usual play on words still exist on this NOFX record, but the overall revelation of the importance of expressing the feelings that are inside seem to be calling shotgun in Fat Mike’s joy ride of juvenile delinquency.
stand outs: Oxy Moronic, Six Years On Dope, I’m So Sorry Tony
5 The Hotelier | Goodness
At this point it doesn’t even matter if a good rock band is emo or not. Sometimes good music is just that – good. On the coattails of bands such as Thrice, Brand New, and Jimmy Eat World is seems that being considered relevant beyond the established realm of the genre of emo is a difficult achievement to hold. The Hotelier, with Goodness, have made the genre relevant again by exposing the bare elements of the music they embody with their music as well as with some revealing cover art that embodies the bare elements of an aging generation.
stand outs: Goodness Pt. 2, Piano Player, Soft Animal
4 Car Seat Headrest | Teens Of Denial
This year Car Seat Headrest seems to be the critic’s choice for best underground indie pick for their own “best-of” lists. Turns out that they are correct with this one. A short Google search will help you find out that this is Car Seat’s 12th album since 2010, and the first one released on a label. At 23 I was delivering pizza, and this guy is delivering songs written and performed better than his peers and influences are. There is so much record to get lost in while listening to several of the tracks that feel like what could have been a couple different albums entirely. Regardless, in the end it feels good to know that there is a bright side to an aging Bright Eyes (refer to a later installment).
stand outs: Fill In The Blank, (Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t A Problem), Vincent
3 Conor Oberst | Ruminations
Last year one of my favorite records was from the Desaparecidos led by Conor Oberst fueled by the fire lit beneath his ass. This year he surprises with a somber return with a collection of intimate songs sung over a single guitar, an occasion piano, and harmonica in a way that only would be suitable for an aging Bright Eye. As the music industry fades and becomes relatively unnecessary, the indie voices that just missed their opportunity are reaching their middle ages. Conor Oberst, here, opens up himself with intimate subjects of depression, self-mutilation, and giving up presented on display with quiet renditions of subdued musical arrangements. This is easily my favorite Oberst album so far.
stand outs: Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out, Counting Sheep, Tachycardia
2 L.A. Salami | Dancing With Bad Grammar
The vivid storytelling ability within the lyrics of Dancing With Bad Grammar is enough to include this as one of my favorite records. Salami has a unique way with words that could be given a humble comparison to Elliott Smith and Bob Dylan. Tracks needing attention due to the exposition of words are Day To Day (For 6 Days A Week) & Loosely On My Mind. While most records nowadays pack a swift punch in just over 30 minutes this one is almost three times that long, but after listening you will understand why it was necessary. The dense prose that are sung over music so soothing you fail to realize the weight of the topics being sung about. This is singer-songwriting at it’s finest!
stand outs: I Wear This Because Life Is War!, The City Nowadays, Day To Day (For 6 Days A Week)
1 Da’ T.R.U.T.H. | It’s Complicated
It’s a hard time to be religious right now. 2016 has surprised me with the complications that it brought. Questions that I thought were answered have come back at me with second guesses. Everything from theology, to social issues, and political parameters have drafted the pages that have defined my second guessing. This record has provided me new hope in the meaning of what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be real. It reminds me that I am not the only one questioning things wondering if what I believe is what should be. Judging by the state of the world I doubt that things will get easier, but I stand here with raised hands hoping that with troubled times comes a new awakening. Not only is my favorite record this year from a Christian artist, but it is also rap. Each one of the tracks on It’s Complicated speaks so true within me that it was without struggle to decide that this was my favorite of 2016. May God Bless America and have mercy on us all.
stand outs: Religion, Judge, Color Purple
I used to write songs. I would sing them alone in my bedroom. Some of them were sad. Some of them were triumphant. Mostly, they were not that good, or else I would not have forgotten them.
I cannot even remember the words, much less the chords. Just little snippets. And the memory of singing them alone in my bedroom. It was cathartic somehow, or therapeutic.
I wish I remembered those songs. Or remembered how to make them up.
Instead, I listen to lots of songs, especially while driving. Last month, I drove a lot. I also went to a few shows. I saw Joanna Newsom in a far-too-stuffy room and I saw an awesome triple-billing of psych-rock while standing in the sweltering late-summer Texas heat. I also saw Crystal Castles and a couple songs from the Old 97s in the famous Studio 1A at KUTX.
So I made a playlist of songs from those artists (accept Joanna Newsome, because Spotify) and some of the songs that are speaking to me right now. I hope you like them. I am seeing Gojira in a couple of days. Maybe I will write a blog post about it, since I have forgotten how to write songs.
Better late than never – my top 10 albums of 2015 + honorable mentions.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
There isn’t much left to say that hasn’t already been said about this powerhouse of an album. The most culturally and socially relevant album of my lifetime, To Pimp a Butterfly is the platform on which Kendrick attacks issues of race in America unlike any artist before him. The strongest track is “Alright,” which has become the soundtrack of the modern day civil rights movement. But more than just the chant of “We gonna be alright” being belted out across the country in the wake of unarmed African Americans being killed by police, “Alright” has an underlying cynicism about the current state of race relations that is poignant.
The album packs a punch start to finish. From the radio and club-friendly “King Kunta” to the angry, heart throttling beat on “The Blacker the Berry” to the album’s closing song “Mortal Man” where Kendrick engages in a conversation with Tupac. This is an album that we will tell our children about, if they don’t ask us about it first.
2. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
Jason Isbell has experienced enough heartache to last multiple lifetimes. Though the majority of it is – by his own admission – his doing, it is these experience that provide him with a unique ability to tell stories through his music that almost anyone can directly relate to. Isbell has been around the block, from the Drive By Truckers to the 400 Unit to now putting out two incredibly well-done solo albums. While 2013’s Southeastern announced his return to music, 2015’s Something More Than Free has solidified him as one of America’s most talented, if underappreciated, singer songwriters. The album’s first single “24 Frames” is powerful, conveying the fleeting nature of most everything in life, and the need to let go of things beyond your control. But for me, the standout track is “Flagship,” where Isbell’s desperate plea with himself to not repeat mistakes from past relationships comes through beautifully.
3. Radical Face – The Bastards
Ben Cooper, aka Radical Face, actually released this as four separate EPs (The Bastards: Volumes I, II, III, and IV) beginning in 2011 and concluding this past year. The Bastards is a break from his concept album trilogy The Family Tree (set to be completed in 2016), which follows “the story of a fictitious, sometimes otherworldly 19th century family called The Northcotes.” I often try not to include these types of compilation albums in end of year lists, but The Bastards comes across cohesively both in theme and sound. The standout track is the “Nightclothes,” which serves as a sweeping, haunting closing the album.
4. The Wonder Years – No Closer to Heaven
It’s a little depressing that it’s even possible for there to be an album that is a throwback to my angsty teenage years, but alas, I’m in my 30’s now and fully allowed to reminisce. No Closer to Heaven harkens back to pop-punk’s glory days at the start of the millennium, when Brand New, Saves the Day, and Alkaline Trio were ruling the roost. This album is great because it’s deep – conceptually, musically, lyrically. It takes you for a ride you might not expect, but once engaged, all you can do is hold on and enjoy it.
5. Twin Shadow – Eclipse
While great in spurts, previous albums by George Lewis, Jr. – aka Twin Shadow – could, as a whole, seem limited at times. Not so with his newest endeavor, Eclipse, which represents a giant step forward for Lewis. Stadium-sized tracks permeate the album, including “To the Top” and “Old Love/New Love.” If this progression continues, I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.
6. Kurt Vile – b’lieve I’m going down…
Whether labeled lo-fi, stoner rock, slacker rock, or what have you, for me Kurt Vile was the artist equivalent of apples – I feel like I should like them, but everytime I try them, I’m left wholly unsatisfied. That all changed with b’lieve I’m going down…I had trouble NOT listening to this album. It can be a good driving soundtrack, background music to a solid book, or as Mr. Cohea put it, a “mellow remedy for a slow-moving afternoon in the office.”
7. Tame Impala – Currents
Though released in July, Currents didn’t appear on my radar until November, but thank god it did. The album kicks off with the nearly 8-minute “Let It Happen,” and only picks up steam from there. With synth hooks as catchy as they come, this album didn’t escape critical acclaim – it was #4 and #13 on Spin and Rolling Stone’s Albums of 2015 lists, respectively.
8. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
Way outside my musical comfort zone, Leon Bridges’ Coming Home was a revelation to me this year. As a 5’9” white dude with few musical inclinations, soul is about the last thing I have. But every time I listen to this album, I feel like the ghost of Marvin Gaye.
9. Mumford and Sons – Wilder Mind
Yes, it’s different. But it’s also sooo good. As one Ryan Townsend said: If you really liked Mumford’s previous albums, you don’t like this album. I think that’s true to an extent, except that I always had a soft place in my heart for Mumford, and I still think this album is awesome. Listen to it, enjoy it, accept it.
10. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
The only reason this album isn’t higher is its lack of “hits.” A “rock opera” clocking in at 93 minutes and 29 tracks, The Most Lamentable Tragedy is truly a behemoth. Though the sum often feels greater than its parts, if you don’t have an hour and a half to spend getting your eardrums beat in, standout tracks include “Dimed Out,” “Fired Up,” “I Lost My Mind (+@)” and “Come On, Siobhan.”
- Grisbee – Sail Another Day
- Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
- CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
- Disclosure – Caracal
- City and Colour – If I Should Go Before You
- Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
- Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect
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.
10-Brutal Youth – spill your guts
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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…
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
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
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)
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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