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i've got a lot of words here, and plenty more to spare in the podcast above, so let's get right to listing out and detailing most of the notable LPs released over the past 12 months.
Critically praised records that didn't click for me
- Beach House's Depression Cherry: A nice approach and good sonic minamlism, but the presentation overall just doesn't do it for me.
- Deerhunter's Fading Frontier: A little perplexed as to how this one cracked the top 15 of a few major-pub lists. "Snakeskin" is quite enjoyable; it should have been the album opener. "All the Same" is sort of a plodding push of a track 1. Overall, this is OK but not too memorable. I'll probably like it more in 2019 than I did in 2015.
- Grimes' Art Angels: Considered a top-five LP by many a review board. The style just doesn't click with me. Artistically, I understand and even enjoy some of what Grimes is doing here, but the delivery and overall context goes past my head. Liked a few of the songs, but the idea that this is an elite 2015 release is something I can't interpret.
- Jamie XX's In Colour: Aurally pleasing enough, but in general I thought this one was a bit overrated on the year-end lists. A nice "listen while you write" album for me, but I have no pull to come back after two listens.
- Joanna Newsom's Divers: Can't get past the voice more than anything, and the arrangements aren't the easiest thing to dig your heels into.
- Titus Andronicus' The Most Lamentable Tragedy: This band's never gonna do it for me. Just one of those things.
- Vince Staples' Summertime '06: Says more about my way-too-pick hip-hop tastes than the offerings of this specific LP.
Disappointments and/or underwhelming releases
- Ben Folds' So There: The tenor tones of the title track are nice, and the orchestral arrangements around the songs work, but overall this isn't one of Folds' memorable efforts. It'll be a nice surprise to revisit on rare occasions, but it's not essential to his canon. Plus, the three concertos that tag the end of the LP seem out of place, even with the rest of the record including elements of the orchestra.
- Built to Spill's Untethered Moon: "On the Way" is a standout track. But overall, not much to this LP that makes me want to head back and listen again. Twice was enough. Read a few times the sentiment that this was BtS's best LP since the '90s. Consider me stumped.
- Coldplay's A Head Full of Dreams: Whatever it was that once inspired Chris Martin and his band to write genuinely good music with guitars, a bass, some piano and drums has seemingly permanently left the coop. I forced myself to listen to the whole thing out of dedication to the Coldplay fan I used to be, the one who still enthusiastically plays Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head. That band is never coming back.
- Gary Clark's The Story of Sonny Boy Slim: Doesn't come close to what was tapped with Blak and Blu.
- The Dead Weather's Dodge and Burn: Only gave it one listen and wasn't even drawn back to try again.
- The Fratellis' Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied: "Me and the Devil" is a pretty good opener; made me think The Fratellis were opting to go an Arctic Monkeys AM route. Some of this LP has a The Gaslight Anthem ethos. The melody to some of the verse from "Thief" sounds like it's one shade removed from "Ghostbusters," by the way. Overall I don't think The Fratellis will ever get close to tapping the well that was their home run debut, Costello Music.
- Muse's Drones: A little too novel in concept, and a lot of it sounds like ideas that should've hit the cutting room floor. "The Handler" is a highlight.
Good efforts but not standouts
- Alabama Shakes' Sound and Color: Title song/album opener is maddeningly short; you probably heard it on that iPad commercial 87 times. The first single, "Don't Wanna Fight," didn't do it for me, but some bass modulation, more muscle and ambition did good for the Shakes' sound. Brittany Howard's delivery on "Gimme All Your Love" is worthy of a Grammy. Overall I did like it but wouldn't say it was a complete sophomore effort.
- Blur's The Magic Whip: The first studio output from Blur in 12 years was a surprise (the thing basically only came to be because of a cancelled music festival that had the band hanging out in Hong Kong for a week) ... and the years away showed. I wanted to like Whip more than I did. You can tell, sometimes, how much you enjoy an album by how often you feel the urge to return to it, and I didn't give Whip more than three spins all the way through. Recorded in Hong Kong, the aesthetic of that city has tinges on the album, but overall the fun of Blur is missing.
- Courtney Barnett's Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit: Definitely an LP that pulls off the nearly impossible task of providing a fresh sound while channeling an ethos from the '90s indie scene. Doing that is what provided the Australian songwriter the chance at cracking the top 20 of so many year-end lists. "Aqua Profunda!" is probably my favorite song on the record. Barnett's off-the-shoulder delivery grabs you, though the lyrics (while good) sometimes get too wordy for their own good. But a fine debut! I think my favorite song title of the year is "Nobody Cares If You Don't Go to the Party."
- Kamasi Washington's The Epic: A triple album of jazz deco (a term I just made up!) that is nearly three hours long. I twice attempted to listen to all of it, but it's such a project that I couldn't make it. Liked some of what I heard. At the same time, I'm kind of gobsmacked a freeform sprawl of a jazz album found itself well-placed on so many year-end lists. I've got no qualm with it, but its inclusion seems conspicuously hivemind-y, as if Washington's association with Kendrick Lamar spurred people to start paying widespread attention to an entire genre of often brillliant music. If more jazz can be included on a year-to-year basis, music reviewers and listeners will be better for it, though, so hopefully this kick-starts a movement.
- Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly: Well, it's a statement album, that's for sure. The overwhelming pick for the best record of 2015 just didn't connect with me in a lot of ways. I will say that "i" is the best song on the record, and "Hood Politics" also hits hard. "Mortal Man" makes for a good closer, but a lot of the spoken word stuff just took me out of the experience. Kendrick's talent is undeniable, and I think he'll have clearer highs than this.
- Ryan Adams' 1989: Some good parts, some stinkers, like his "Welcome to New York" take. "Style," "All You Had to Do Was Stay" and "I Know Places" were his three best here, I thought. The last one has that plate reverb which balances with the slow romp and bounce of the bass line. Very nice.
Surprisingly good but just short of cracking the final list
- Beach Slang's The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us: An angsty punk record without too much angst or too much punk! This LP really grew on me, and there's an enduring sound here, I think. Most of the songs clock in under 150 seconds, too. For any fan under 25, it doesn't get much more honest than the lyric "The night is alive / It's loud and I'm drunk."
- Carly Rae Jepsen's E•MO•TION: Wouldn't take to listening to Jepsen's stuff, but caved because this was very highly rated by many a critic. After giving it a chance, I can hear why. There are a few earworms, and the production work on the LP is absolutely solid. The hooks aren't totally engrossing, but it's a nice release from Jepsen, who elevated her status with this. The bass work is very nice. Would make for a great late-night album in the late summer/early fall.
- Chris Stapleton's Traveller: Unquestionably honest and a well-rounded debut, as strong an opening effort from any solo artist as we heard in 2015. His genre doesn't bring me in, but Stapleton's going to be a mega star in the country world over the next few years. Traveller isn't true country. It's slow-boiled dirty folk blues. "Tennessee Whiskey" and "Might As Well Get Stoned" are standouts; the latter made me triple-take and make sure Chris Cornell wasn't providing backup throat-scream harmonies. The phaser+vibrato guitar tone that's used on "Was It 26" is a great choice, and that's my pick for the record's best song. Stapleton's LP closer, "Sometimes I Cry," is one of the best vocal performances from 2015 -- I can't tell if it's a live cut or not, but it's impressive nonetheless.
- Galactic's Into the Deep: Not a classic effort, but more than two decades in, Galactic still is bringing enjoyable beats and a great sound that fuses New Orleans neofunk with modern hip-hop and structured jazz stylings. I would put it in my top 20.
- Kurt Vile's b'lieve i'm goin down: "Pretty Pimpin" is one of my favorite side 1, tracks 1 from 2015. And by the time "Dust Bunnies" was 30 seconds in, I knew this was my favorite Vile record yet. It's not a burner and it's not one you'll want to put on every week, but Vile's voice is emerging as one of the most distinct of this era. "Lost My Head There" is also one that will keep bringing you back.
- Miguel's Wildheart: I love when you have this anticipation for a record -- without knowing at all what it will truly sound like -- and then you hit that first track and it completely catches you off-guard. That's what Miguel's "a beautiful exit" was like. "waves" is my favorite off this record. the standouts are strong enough to keep this one in the music library. Also seek out " ...goingtohell."
- The Dear Hunter's Act IV: Rebirth and Reprise: Any The Dear Hunter album is a full on adventure and experience. They can bring in orchestral elements and then blend them with hard rock — and make it work. The sound and style is not for everyone, but in terms of songwriting arrangement, what The Dear Hunter has been pulling off for years is among the more daring attempts at beautifully bloated harmony that often wins me over. And often enough, this outfit conquers more genres in one record than most others do in a career. Power pop, hard metal, piano waltzes and simple folk. Few bands can turn on a dime and switch a song’s key with deliberate ease like these guys. The drop to a minor chord, and then a diminished chord, like what happens in “Is There Anybody Here?” is at the spirtual center of this group’s strengths. Then the guitar solo comes, and the band is swirling behind it, and you get a peak at what modern baroque rock music can be. Casey Crescendo has one of the more underrated power voices in modern rock music, too. This album is too stuffed, like all The Dear Hunter LPs, but get lost and enjoy the effort. “The Line” is a standout
And finally, my favorite albums of 2015
14. Modest Mouse's Strangers to Ourselves. Release date: March 16. Grade: B-.
The latest contradictory album title from one of the most distinct modern alt rock bands out there took eight years to follow up from Modest Mouse's previous studio LP. And while it's got some filler, it's hard for a real fans to dispute the effort here. I don't know if it was worth the wait, but it's an improvement on 2007's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. "The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box" is the standout track, and one of my favorite songs of the year, while "Lampshades on Fire" was a strong debut single. "Coyotes" and "The Best Room" are also pretty nice. The differences between the strong stuff and the fermenting ideas are stark here; Modest Mouse put this record out while laying down enough material for a double album. You can tell some editing was still needed.
13. Eagles of Death Metal's Zipper Down. Release date: October 2. Grade: B.
"You didn't want to scratch but then you got the itch" is the opening line of "Complexity," which is the first track on Zipper Down, and it encapsulates my sudden curiosity with this band. Tell me, where should I go next? I don't know what "The Deuce" is, but I now know it can definitely boogie. Was unfamiliar with the "Save a Prayer" Duran Duran song, which is covered on the penultimate track, but it's floaty fuzzy sound is nice take. Also great to see how Duran Duran took to EODM's side in the wake of the Paris attacks and helped raise a lot of money for charity.
12. Sufjan Stevens' Carrie and Lowell. Release date: March 31. Grade: B.
Nick Drake for the modern era. Stevens has a certain sound, sticks to it, and never lets you down in that regard. The lyrical effort here is totally heartbreaking. This is his second best LP, to my ears. You'll need to be in the right mood to listen, but when the mood comes, this album is as fulfilling as any others listed in this post. Song to check out: "Death With Dignity," which opens the album.
11. Jason Isbell's Something More Than Free. Release date: July 17. Grade: B.
"Children of Children" the standout. "Palmetto Rose" is sneakily maybe the second best song on the LP. A fine follow-up to Southeastern, but falls a little short of that record's depth. Still, I think I like listening to this LP more. The production is very nice, some country grit guitar roughens the edges of Isbell's still-maturing voice, and i mean that both physically and philosophically.
10. The Weeknd's Beauty Behind the Madness. Release date: August 28. Grade: B+.
OK, it seems like this one's actually become underrated, right? The massive success of "Can't Feel My Face" could be overshadowing the consistency of this record. "In the Night" is probably the best song here, while "Often," "Earned It" and "Prisoner" are great examples of modern R&B that extends the genre. At first I thought this record might have hit me at hte right time, but having gone back for a few more listens, no, this is definitely among my favorites. Big surprise on my end.
9. Wilco's Star Wars. Release date: July 16. Grade: B+.
I'm a weirdo: Most of Wilco's discography just does not do it for me, but Star Wars' predecessor, 2011's The Whole Love, and this surprising release made the band finally click for me. I don't love every track, and in truth I had to go back and really listen to connect song titles to certain tunes, but overall this is just an enjoyable stoner basement rock record. It feels like it was the most carefree and "simple" album Wilco's ever done. Wonder how the hardcore sect feels about this one. Give "Cold Slope" a listen right now.
8. Chvrches' Every Open Eye. Release date: September 25. Grade: B+.
A small step forward -- meaning it's a damn good record, still -- for one of the best new neopop acts out there. This was my favorite 2015 LP to pop on when going for a run. To be honest, Chvrches do what they do so well, I wouldn't mind if their next three records were basically variations on their first two outputs. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry has a voice that pierces beautifully. The three strongest tracks, for me: "Never Ending Circles," "Clearest Blue" and "Empty Threat."
7. Guster's Evermotion. Release date: January 13. Grade: B+.
Just don't get how an altpop act two decades into its career can put out an LP this solid and hardly get any recognition for it. Evermotion isn't even in the top three for Guster's discography, but it's better (to my ears) than a lot of the stuff that gets groupthink inclusion near the back end of year-end lists. Go ahead and give this one a full spin. My favorites are "Lazy Love," "Long Night," "Doin' It By Myself" and "Gangway." Guster still has plenty left in the tank.
6. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' Chasing Yesterday. Release date: February 25. Grade: B+.
This wasn't the straight rocker I was expecting -- and what a stimulating listen Chasing Yesterday became because of that. It's packed yet spacy, cozy but has a lot of room to groove. The bass licks on this record are some of the best you'll hear amongst any of the other records listed. Give "The Right Stuff" a listen if you think I'm wrong. "Riverman" is an epic opener, and "The Dying of the Light" is one of the 20 or so best songs Noel's ever written. The thick, reverby sound hear is great, and it gives way to some nimble mood work with minor chords and the like, but I will say I wasn't a huge fan overall of the mix of the record. The vocals were too buried, and the drum sound could've brought more oomph. Still: really good, and if you like Oasis, you'll like this distant cousin of a sound.
5. Best Coast's California Nights. Release date: May 5. Grade: B+.
Well, this was the biggest shocker to me. I did not expect to enjoy this record as much as I did. The title track is among my 10 favorite songs of the year. The lyrical content on the record is as basic/entry-level as you can get, but the structure and soul of the songs are so good. Great summer record. And I'm sucker for booming toms on prechoruses. Seriously: listen to the title track now. Then hit up "Heaven Sent" and "Feeling Ok."
4. The Decemberists' What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World. Release date: January 20. Grade: A-.
Criminally overlooked. Remember when this band was a critical darling? If that's still the case, this output was an outlier, because the group got little love for what I thought was an album on par with 2011's "The King is Dead." I knew it would be on my year-end list from the first listen. "Easy Come, Easy Go," "Calvary Captain" and "Til the Water's Long Gone" offer up some of the best of what this band has evolved to.
3. My Morning Jacket's The Waterfall. Release date: Grade: A-.
I knew they'd done good again from the moment I got to the first chorus of "Believe (Nobody Knows)." MMJ has become one of the best American rock bands of the past 15 years, and it's unfortunately fitting that modern music is emblematic of that fact in that they're not super rockstars. They should, but they live as a huge entity in their own tiny corner of the music world. If this was 1977 and they were writing songs like this, they'd be one of the five biggest bands in America.
2. Father John Misty's I Love You, Honeybear. Release date: Grade: A-.
You ready for these song titles? "Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow," "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)," "Holy Shit" and the ever-inspiring "I Went to the Store One Day." Highly ranked on a lot of year-end lists, I Love You, Honeybear lacks a truly great song but is filled front to back with a lot of really good ones. The facade Josh Tillman's put on in this odd meta art project is working; the music sounds lovely, and that matters most. Tillman took a gamble when he left Fleet Foxes, but his career is arguably rivaling his former band's still-acclaimed run. (Can't wait for the Foxes' 2016 output.)
1. Tame Impala's Currents. Release date: Grade: A.
A complete listening experience, a terrific showing from bandleader/songwriter Kevin Parker. This is the whole album, and from the stellar opener "Let It Happen" all the way through the "New Person, Same Old Mistakes," Parker's penned a great breakup record that increases the heartbeat, works the mind and moves the body. It's got elements from the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and 2000s. People trying to pretend this isn't one of the best releases of 2015: I don't get you. Toss on some cans, give Currents a spin and listen to the latest incarnation of popular alternative rock.
And so, on to 2016!