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Top 10 Albums of 2015

Top 10 Albums of 2015

For the past decade or so, I’ve devoted the vast majority of my music finding efforts to the past, combing record stores for hidden finds from the 90s and acquainting myself with the back-catalogs of artists from the 60s and 70s who are now well past their prime (or in some cases long since deceased).  It’s been a rewarding education to compliment my very natural 90s-centric tastes, but I have slowly but surely been paying more attention to the present over the past couple of years, which could be a result of music getting better recently, or maybe it’s just a result of me actually trying/caring somewhat again.  Or maybe it's both.

Whatever the case, I’ve managed to put together a Top 10 list with albums I believe are not too shabby (for the most part) for the year 2015.  And although I often greet most new music with a resigned sense of indifference/disappointment, there were some pleasant surprises for me in 2015, such as:

Semi-honorable mention – The Pale Emperor – Marilyn Manson

Did I just say pleasant surprises?  When it comes to my old chum Marilyn Manson in the year 2015, the pleasant surprise is that he released an album that isn’t completely terrible, and is actually dare I say, pretty above-average-y?  In fact, the first third of the album is downright good, but then the album grows gradually more monotonous as it wears on unfortunately.  But for a few moments here, it sure is nice to feel like Manson is borderline relevant again for the first time in 15 years.

 

#10 – Zipper Down – Eagles of Death Metal

OK now on to the official Top 10.  EODM have been a band of slowly diminishing returns since they captured lighting in a bottle on their ridiculously infectious 1st (and best) album “Peace, Love, Death Metal”.  This album unfortunately sounds too much like their last album “Heart On” opting for more traditional rock song structures instead of the highly danceable, more spontaneous, goofy cock-rock that characterized their 1st two releases.  Haven said that, EODM do still make, fun, tongue-in-cheek rock n’roll that’s not meant to be taken too seriously, so it always feels like a light-hearted breath of fresh air when they’re blasting through the speakers. P.S. – The chorus/overall premise of “Silverlake” is hilarious.

 

#9 – Currents – Tame Impala

Am I the only one on the planet who was disappointed by this album?  While not bad overall, I am still struggling to appreciate the change in direction Kevin Parker took on Currents, a direction that I would describe as decidedly poppy/trendy.  Overall this album just sounds too glossy/watered-down for my tastes, as Parker essentially trades in his affection for psychedelic riffs/experimentation for overly produced "dancy" beats/synths and borderline gushy millennial ballads (“Eventually” is the only ballad I particularly care for).  The only truly profound track that sucks me in the way most songs from Lonerism did routinely is “The Moment”, which actually manages to stir up a sense of dread with its eerie keyboards and brooding atmosphere.  The rest of the album has a few other decent moments, but just as many tedious/underwhelming moments to cancel them out unfortunately.

 

#8 – Dodge and Burn – The Dead Weather

The Dead Weather would have been hard pressed to top their prior album “Sea of Cowards” but they get very close to doing just that on their first album in half a decade, “Dodge and Burn”.  After 5 years, it’s good to have them back, as they essentially pick up right where “Sea of Cowards” left off, pumping out the same type of saucy garage-rock that made Jack White famous in the first place.  It starts to wear a little thin as the album progresses, as the band’s cutesy posturing starts to come off as a bit tacky after a while, but it’s hard to deny that this isn’t a solid and mostly enjoyable record that would certainly be a lot of fun in a live setting.  When Jack White’s in the mix, how could it not be? 

Random observation: Is the opening bassline from “Three Dollar Hat” essentially identical to Rage Against the Machine’s “Settle For Nothing” or is it just me?

 

#7 – Adults – Blacklisters

Have I ever mentioned that I like heavy music?  Because I do.  Particularly heavy music that is hard to define.  Blacklisters sport a sound that somewhat recalls Jesus Lizard, offering up a sloppy, punkish take on sludge.  The criminally underrated sludge-metal band “16” also comes to mind when listening to these guys, but Blacklisters have a more punky anesthetic to their sound.  You probably get the point, they’re abrasive, aggressive, disorienting, loud, raw and unrefined.  And while they’re not really breaking any new ground here, for someone who enjoys sweaty, underground, moshable shows played in dingy, whisky-stained dive-bars, Blacklisters certainly fit the bill for yours truly.

 

#6 – Kunk – Dope Body

Continuing with the “heavy music that is hard to define theme” Dope Body are nearly the perfect encapsulation of that idea.  This album is full of improvised, somewhat experimental jams and unsettling sonic experiments that are abrasive, kind of funky, and evoke a somewhat sinister atmosphere (i.e. “Obey” and “Old Grey”).  Being a huge fan of demented and raw sonic experimentation, Dope Body is kind of like a wet dream for yours truly.  They’re heavy on harsh distortion and feature somewhat industrialized, hip-hop flavored beats, but it’s all fairly fragmented, as most of the “songs” on the album are actually instrumental/dissonant in nature. And that’s fine by me, because the instrumentation is creative, menacing, and downright wicked enough to keep me engaged throughout the album (granted it is pretty short, but nonetheless). Nothing amazing here, but pretty cool shit if you ask me.

 

#5 – II – METZ

Unlike Dope Body, METZ are a band that doesn’t fuck around much with experimentation.  No, their method of attack is much more intentional/blunt, and the results are pretty GD impressive for this guy.  METZ are a pretty unrelenting sludge/punk band that will forcefully pummel you into submission with their intensity and brute aggression.  There’s a somewhat sadistic bent to the sound here, like a frantic horror movie that won’t let up on you, and it’s pretty awesome to behold.  What impresses me most about METZ is their authentic brand of abrasiveness/unpleasantness.   There’s a certain disgust/distain in Alex Edkin’s vocals that really adds to the intensity of the band’s attack, and it’s convincing.  Did I mentioned they have bounce and groove too?  This is music that will get you moving (albeit in a rather aggressive fashion).  Looking forward to catching these guys live next month.  Should be a brutally good time.

 

#4 – Sol Invictus – Faith No More

Being that Faith No More are one of my all-time favorite bands, it was certainly good to have them back after an EIGHTEEN year hiatus.  That’s a long time, but Mike, Roddy, Puffy, Billy, and Jon have aged well, like a fine wine on “Sol Invictus”.  It’s a subversive record (naturally) with a somewhat distant, almost gothic vibe running throughout, but it is engaging listening for the most part.  And while it’s silly to compare “Sol Invictus” to their classic albums from a generation ago (it’s not in the same league as “The Real Thing” or “Angel Dust”) it does chomp at heals of albums like “King for A Day…” and “Album of the Year”, which is really an impressive accomplishment for a band that had been on the bench for almost 2 decades straight.  As you can tell, I am a FNM fan-boy, but a realistic fan-boy, and this album has slightly exceeded my expectations with repeated listens.  Welcome home my friends.

 

#3 – II – Fuzz

I love riffs, I love distortion, so it’s only natural that a band like Fuzz would appeal to me.  Generally speaking, I enjoy music that lets the instruments do the talking, and there is a lot of instrumental jamming going on here on Fuzz’s 2nd album “II” (although the vocals compliment the vibe well).  The riffs found throughout the album are quite tasty, very Sabbathy, very swampy, crunchy, groovy, heavy yet breezy at the same time.  That’s probably because there is a somewhat psychedelic bent to the sound here, as the band goes off on more than a few tangents which helps keep things interesting throughout.  As you might expect, there’s more than a few down-tempo, droning riffs on the album, but the predominate vibe of the album is actually more mid/up-tempo in nature, more light on its feet, which keeps the energy flowing as the band takes you through all the stoney twists and turns.  It’s all pretty GD infectious and righteous listening for this guy.  This is a band that would no doubt suck you into their dense and infectious sound in a live setting, so hopefully I will get a chance to catch them on the concert circuit in the near future.

 

#2 – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett

I noticed this album kept popping up on several best-of lists for 2015, so I listened to their single “Pedestrian At Best’ on YouTube a few weeks ago and liked what I heard.  I then proceeded to listen to the album in its entirety and was pleasantly surprised that it was pretty good.  I didn’t think it was great, just pretty good, refreshing, and pretty darn catchy to boot.  Then, over the next few days, I kept noticing that several songs from this album were apparently, somewhat strangely stuck in my head.  Some in a good way, some in an annoying way.  Confused, I started listening to this album even more, and like all great albums, it became more rewarding with repeated listens.

I’m really not into the whole singer-songwriter thing, but I have to admit something good when I hear it.  There’s really nothing bad on this album, and practically all the songs are catchy, but not in a disgustingly poppy type of way (granted they certainly have a pop appeal, but it’s done tastefully).  I like Courtney Barnett.  She seems like a down to earth, sarcastic slacker, which is actually a pretty good description of my personality.  So it makes sense that I like her style, but she’s also got the musical chops as well.  While no guitar virtuoso, she knows how to play the blues (“Small Poppies”), displays genuine emotional depth (“Depreston”), and really brings the light-hearted but crunchy punch on most of the other songs, all of which are of pretty high quality.  In a nutshell, more so than any other album I’ve discovered in 2015, this one is frequently stuck in my head the most, so it deserves nothing less than 2nd place.

 

#1 – Sound & Color – Alabama Shakes

I’m really a big fan of sincerity in music, and I love music with heart and soul.  Alabama Shakes have always had those qualities in spades, but Sound & Color is some next level shit for the band.  Given the huge (and well deserved) success of their debut album “Boys and Girls”, a band this popular could have taken the easy route and produced a more mainstream sounding record, but Alabama Shakes chose to expand their sound here, they choose to experiment, to go deeper, and the results are pretty spectacular for the most part.  They really up the funk, rhythm, and range of their sound somewhat dramatically, and Brittany Howard pours on her unique brand of wounded-sounding soul as only she can.  They also throw in some lush electronic arrangements on a few cuts, which really adds to the dynamic of the record, and they even throw in an up-tempo, garage-punk sounding song with “The Greatest”.  That’s a fun one.  There are a lot of highlights on this album, from the hypnotic opener/title track, to the funk-tastic “Don’t Wanna Fight No More”, to the spacey/druggy “Future People”, to the earnest, aching, yet warm “This Feeling” and “Shoegaze”.  But the real highlight for me is “Gimme All Your Love”, particularly the mind-blowing jam session that starts the song’s 2nd half.  It’s so incredibly funky, soulful, hard-rocking, psychedelic, righteous, it’s hard for me not to break a sweat every time I hear it, and definitely impossible for me to sit still to.  

So despite Alabama Shakes retro-reputation (which I don't think is a bad thing), they really impressed me with how they expanded their sound on Sound & Color.  The music itself is fantastic, but what solidifies it at the top spot for me is the depth, sincerity, and soul that backs it up.

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