The Fire Note wouldn’t be possible without the talented writers that share their educated thoughts and true enjoyment of music with our readers. The time and commitment that goes into writing consistently is appreciated by TFN and taken for granted by everyone else!
If you want to be on this list next year send us an email. We are always up for some new voices if you think you have what it takes! Our year end Top 50 is coming soon but clearly everyone has different tastes and ideas when naming the best album released in 2015.
So without any other delay I give you The Fire Note Writer Picks of 2015. Thanks again to all the contributors!
1. Ricked Wicky-I Sell The Circus/Robert Pollard-Faulty Superheroes/Ricked Wicky-King Heavy Metal/Ricked Wicky-Swimmer to a Liquid Armchair/Circus Devils-Stomping Grounds
2. Sufjan Stevens-Carrie and Lowell
3. Car Seat Headrest-Teens of Style
4. Libertines-Anthems for Doomed Youth
5. Robert Forster-Songs to Play
6. Alex G-Beach Music
7. Destroyer-Poison Season
8. Trans Charger Metropolis-Haunted House Birds
9. New Swears-Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever
10. Mikal Cronin-MCIII
12. Jim O’Rourke-Simple Songs
13. Girlpool-Before The World Was Big
14. Big Dick-Disappointment
15. Pile-You’re Better Than This
16. Iron Maiden-Book of Souls
17. Viet Cong-Viet Cong
18. Wilco-Star Wars
19. Tommy Keene-Laugh In The Dark
20. Mountain Goats-Beat The Champ
21. Albert Hammond Jr-Momentary Masters
22. Father John Misty-I Love You Honeybear
23. Kelley Stoltz-In Triangle Time
24. POW!-Fight Fire
25. Lou Barlow-Brace The Wave
After a few less than spectacular years, 2015 turned out to be fantastic – with cool releases from all over the place: Indie, Punk, Emo, Prog and Metal. It has been a year where so many terrific LP’s were released that doing this year-end list was a real challenge. In the end, I simplified my criteria and ignored my (and my colleagues’) Fire Note ratings and went with this: what records refused to leave the CD player in the car, the turntable in the man cave or the iPod next to the bed. Very scientific.
1. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Harmlessness
I would have never, not in a million years, guessed that this band’s second album would be at the top of my list. Not that their first record didn’t have its moments but jeezy Pete. And don’t let the Emo tag fool you, these guys are more Doug Martsch than Jeremy Enigk no matter how you slice it. A thoughtful, exciting and thoroughly enjoyable romp, Harmlessness is one for the ages.
2. Steven Wilson – Hand.Cannot.Erase.
Ever since putting Porcupine Tree on indefinite hiatus, Steven Wilson has been releasing some of the most interesting music out there. Just like my #1 pick, don’t let the Prog tag fool you, Mr. Wilson’s incredible range of influences insures that there’s as much Felt and Dead Can Dance as there is Genesis and Yes in the mix.
3. Robert Pollard – Faulty Superheroes
What else needs to be said – another year, another 20 Pollard-related records are unleashed upon the world. And we are all the better for it. Just twelve really good songs done right. This one is right up there with anything GbV released since Earthquake Glue. Don’t believe me? Drop the needle anywhere along its thirty minute run time and find about one solid hook per five seconds.
4. The Tangent – A Spark In The Aether
Andy Tillison and his revolving band of retro Prog merrymakers always deliver the goods. An homage to the ghosts of an era where progressive rock ruled the world (and ELP in particular) The Tangent’s eighth LP also serves as a state-of-the-genre document and finds the landscape no more promising than on their 2003 debut.
5. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier
Something tells me that this record won’t make a lot of lists and that is a shame. Bradford Cox may simply be a victim of his own success. There are great expectations surrounding anything he’s involved with – and rightly so. Few artists have compiled such an impressive CV in the past decade and Fading Frontier is a worthy addition, even if it doesn’t explore a lot of new territory.
6. Riverside – Love, Fear And The Time Machine
Poland’s finest band finally release the album they’ve been flirting with for some time: mature, melodic and demanding of repeated listens. Okay so their not as riff-heavy or as proggy as they once were. These songs resonate. They have power in their intoxicating blend of 70’s Floyd, 80’s goth and modern prog metal. A really nice surprise.
7. Deafheaven – New Bermuda
One of the most anticipated records of 2015 did not disappoint. These guys redefine what metal is and would it could be. There had to be some temptation to plain down what they were doing to entice a larger audience but instead they merely doubled down on the brutality and the beauty. Maybe not for everyone but once you acquire the taste it’s hard to go back to decaf.
8. Ricked Wicky – I Sell The Circus/King Heavy Metal/Swimmer To A Liquid Armchair
C’mon man! Really?? Three Ricked Wicky LP’s dropped in 2015? And they’re all good? Let’s just place them all together here and consider it one really good debut album and be done with it. Let’s hope Bob Pollard keeps this thing going because it’s always nice to have him in an actual, quasi functioning band.
9. The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ
Hmmm, about that album cover… Yikes. But go beneath the surface and Darnielle’s epic tales of wrestlers past and their trials and tribulations make for an oddly compelling album. The real human side to these characters, with whom Darnielle obviously identifies some strange way, is universal and the opportunity for the great lyricist to turn his muse on a subject he so loves is priceless.
10. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Every time I’m ready to write this guy off he goes and releases another unexpected gem. I mean after the weird electro of 2010’s The Age Of Adz did anyone see this coming? A sad record that recalls Stevens’ early life struggles is the portrait of a family that is unfortunately becoming the norm. All of his formidable power went into this project and it confirms (again) that Sufjan Stevens is who we thought he was.
11. Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
12. Built To Spill – Tethered Moon
13. Of Montreal – Aureate Gloom
14. Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer
15. The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
16. Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp
17. Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls
18. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down
19. Wire – Wire
20. Beach House – Depression Cherry
21. Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us
22. Magic Pie – King For A Day
23. Anekdoten – Until All The Ghosts Are Gone
24. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Ascunder,Sweet And Other Distress
25. Courtney Barnett – Sometime I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit
Honorable Mention: SSLYBY, UMO, Muse, Beardfish, Battles, Advent, Native Construct, Pandora Snail, Pile, Thieves’ Kitchen, Chelsea Wolfe, Viet Cong, Tame Impala, Motel Beds, Titus Andronicus and Wilco. Any other year most of those would have made the list!!! Let’s all pray that next year we’ll have a new album from The Wrens. Happy Holidays!!!
1. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
2. Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool
3. Evans The Death – Expect Delays
4. Radkey – Dark Black Makeup
5. The Fratellis – Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied
6. Destroyer – Poison Season
7. Tallest Man on Earth – Dark Bird Is Home
8. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper
9. Tame Impala – Currents
10. Toro y Moi – What For?
Top 15 2015 Releases
1. Ricked Wicky – King Heavy Metal
Pollard’s new band really came into their own on this second record, getting a little weirder while keeping the hooks coming. They hit this one out of the park.
2. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Mixing the wry humor of Randy Newman with the pop songcraft of Harry Nilsson, Father John Misty’s sophomore effort is classic track after classic track with almost no filler.
3. Wilco – Star Wars
Surprise released toward the end of summer, Star Wars keeps things short and sweet, but finds Wilco amping up the energy with some wild and wooly rockers.
4. Ricked Wicky – Swimmer to a Liquid Armchair
Ricked Wicky’s third album this year falls just barely behind King Heavy Metal in terms of quality, and contains some of Nick Mitchell’s best contributions to the project to date.
5. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan’s back in singer-songwriter mode, resulting in an emotionally raw and downright gorgeous album.
6. The Sonics – This Is The Sonics
Seattle’s garage-rock godfathers show the youngsters how it’s done, turning in a set of rowdy tunes that sounds like a time machine to 1965.
7. The New Old-Fashioned – Low-Down Dirty Summer Nights
Dayton locals The New Old-Fashioned hit their stride on their second album, churning out beefy rock riffs and soulful harmony vocals, all imbued with a twangy alt-country vibe.
8. Circus Devils – Stomping Grounds
The follow-up to 2014’s masterpiece Escape finds Pollard and the Tobias brothers inspired by 70s stoner metal and warped psychedelic imagery. The result? One of the best Circus Devils albums to date.
9. Ricked Wicky – I Sell The Circus
Ricked Wicky’s debut showed that this band was just getting started—tons of great tracks with a several that rival the best of the reunion-era GBV output.
10. Blur – The Magic Whip
A late entry for me, but The Magic Whip’s eclectic sequencing and Britpop sensibilities keep finding their way into rotation.
11. Robert Pollard – Faulty Superheroes
Faulty Superheroes is short at just over thirty-odd minutes, but it makes up for it with confections like “Take Me To Yolita,” “Up, Up and Up,” and “Photo-Enforced Human Highway.”
12. The Tallest Man On Earth – Dark Bird Is Home
Kristian Matsson keeps expanding the Tallest Man On Earth’s sonic palette, and this album shows he still has the songs to back up the bigger arrangements.
13. The Arcs – Yours, Dreamily,
Loose, bluesy, and soulful, The Arcs’ debut is one of those albums that gets you excited to see what the band will come up with next.
14. Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color
The Shakes broaden their horizons on Sound and Color, adding in more musical curveballs to their bluesy hard-rock sound.
15. The Zombies – Still Got That Hunger
OK, so it’s no Odessey and Oracle, but most other bands of the psychedelic era are just a memory at this point—the Zombies aren’t just still around, they’re making great music too with Still Got That Hunger, which means they deserve a spot on this list.
Honorable Mentions: Follakzoid – III / Jeff Bridges – The Sleeping Tapes / Trey Anastasio – Paper Wheels
Top 10 Archival Releases
1. Bob Dylan – The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12
Just when you think there’s nothing else left in the vault from Dylan’s mid-60s electric trilogy, his camp unleashes motherlode—six discs worth of revealing alternate takes, early versions, fragments, and unreleased songs. Essential.
2. Yes – Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two
Recorded one of the tours that yielded Yessongs, Progeny presents a “warts-and-all” snapshot of the band in their prime, absolutely nailing it night after night.
3. Various – Dust On The Nettles: A Journey Through the British Underground Folk Scene 1968-72
I picked this one up on a recent trip to New York City and it’s an absolute treasure-trove, with rare tracks from the scene’s top acts (Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Incredible String Band) rubbing shoulders with stellar songs by lesser-know artists.
4. Guided by Voices – Suitcase 4: Captain Kangaroo Won the War
By now Pollard’s suitcase of cassettes should be running dry, but it seems nothing is further from the truth—with early versions of classic tracks, newly-recorded demos, and more unreleased songs than you can shake a stick at, Suitcase 4 might just be the best installment yet.
5. Iron & Wine – Archive Series vol. no. 1
Composed of tracks recorded at the same time as The Creek Drank The Cradle, the first release in Iron & Wine’s archive series nearly matches that album in terms of quality, which is no small feat.
6. Fotheringay – Nothing More: The Collected Fotheringay
This 3-CD/1-DVD set is aptly named since it collects every stray track and piece of film footage from Sandy Denny’s post-Fairport Convention band, including their sole official LP, the unfinished second album, BBC sessions, and more.
7. Grateful Dead – 30 Trips Around The Sun: The Definitive Live Story 1965-95 (4 CD)
The “sampler” to the mammoth 80-disc box set compiled to commemorate the Dead’s 50th anniversary, 30 Trips provides a solid overview of the band’s live work, selecting one track from one show for each year the band was together.
8. The Velvet Underground – The Complete Matrix Tapes
The Complete Matrix Tapes provides 4-discs worth of multi-track live recordings from the same concerts that resulted in The Velvet Underground Live 1969. There’s a lot of repetition in the set lists, but this is the best-sounding (and best-played) material you can get from the Mk. II (Doug Yule) lineup.
9. Faces – You Can Make Me Dance, Sing, Or Anything
The earlier Faces box Five Guys Walk Into A Bar… presented a revelatory wealth of outtakes, alternate versions, and live tracks. This set completes the picture, presenting each original album with bonus tracks (most not on Five Guys) and an extra disc of singles and B-sides.
10. Brian Eno – My Squelchy Life
Originally slated for release in 1991, Eno shelved My Squelchy Live to record new, more “cutting-edge” tracks, eventually releasing them as Nerve Net. The original, presented here as a double-LP for Record Store Day 2015, is poppier, more accessible, and ultimately better, staying true to Eno’s musical philosophy.
Honorable Mention: Grateful Dead – Dave’s Picks vol. 16: 3/28/73
1) Carly Rae – E-MO-TION
On alternate timeline, Carly’s grace amid such a substantive creative breakthrough has already buried Taylor Swift’s mean streak dressed up as millennial swagger. As a foil, her timing is impeccable. As an understated auteur of the unit shifting set, she’s long overdue.
2) Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone?
An entire world built of lonely nights on the couch, walks around the block, listening to the rain. A grown up take on the maudlin exercises of youth self-involvement is still narcissistic, but Are You Alone? makes it sound every bit the necessary bloodletting it always was.
3) Earl Sweatshirt – I don’t like Shit, I don’t Go Outside
Deconstruction is nothing new to hip hop, but to have an avatar internalize it to this degree feels like uncharted territory. Your heart goes out to Early. Something seems wrong, and it’s not just the grandma thing. The sound of a man walking around the ashes after the end of the world, still angry, still right, still his own worst enemy.
4) Sara Bareilles – What’s Inside
It’s the Magnolia soundtrack as a Disney Channel special, it’s a celebration of small mindedness, a wan attempt at cashing in on the surging current of musicals. It’s also a reminder that very big, very complex, very real ideas can be built of the simplest blocks.
5) Tame Impala – Currents
This is the album that Hot Chip should have come up with this year, the classic DFA forgot to press, the one MGMT are afraid they might deliver. It’s every bit the misunderstood masterpiece those possibilities suggest and so much more.
6) Arca – Mutant
7) Young Thug – Barter 6
8) Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down.
9) Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt
10) The Jam – Fire and Skill
11) The Tallest Man on Earth – Fields of Our Home
12) Bjork – Vulnicura
13) Susanne Sundfør – Ten Love Songs
14) Tenement – Predatory Highlights
15) Justin Bieber – Purpose
16) Jamie xx – In Color
17) Ryan Culwell – Flatland
18) East India Youth – Culture of Volume
19) Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon
20) Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too
1.) Bottle Rockets, “South Broadway Athletic Club” (Bloodshot)
With a six year lag in recording, the St. Louis based classic rock/Americana quartet returned this year with a winning batch of songs that recall the heart and soul of their best albums from the mid-90’s, “The Brooklyn Side” and “24 Hours A Day.” Writing about everyday blue-collar experience from the perspective of established relationships with one’s lover (“Big Lotsa Love”) or one’s pet (“Dog”), and a desire to thrive (“Building Chryslers) and yet relax (“Big Fat Nuthin’”) in a challenging economy. Strong guitars, catchy melodies and down-to-earth lyrics suggest that these Bottle Rockets – admittedly a sentimental favorite – have produced another disc set to go the distance.
2.) Richard Thompson, “Still” (Fantasy)
Starting back in the late 60’s with the British band Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson came to epitomize the Celtic folk/rock tradition, placed on full display in the Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) produced “Still.” Great songs, marked by classic melodies and Thompson’s superior guitar virtuosity, this collection is a pure delight from start to rockin’ finish celebrating his own “Guitar Heroes.”
3.) Various Artists, “Hamilton: Original Broadway Cast Recording” (Atlantic)
At a time when nothing sounds more obsolete than the idea of a Broadway musical, writer/performer Lin-Manuel Miranda combined hip-hop rap rhymes, R&B soulfulness and classic Broadway balladry to tell the true story of founding banking father, Alexander Hamilton. Tragic, funny, human, the story connects in ways you might not expect, made all the more vital and contemporary by the deft musicality and smart storytelling.
4). Peter Case, “Hwy 62” (Omnivore)
Although often remembered for a brief cameo in the movie “Valley Girl” with his one-hit wonder, new wave band The Plimsouls, Peter Case has been a travelling folk/blues singer/songwriter solo artist for nearly 30 years. On “Hwy 62,” supported by guitarist Ben Harper and a solid band, Case delivers another great acoustic-leaning collection of story songs, including “Pelican Bay, “ as musical as it is political in addressing America’s crisis in a rising record prison population. “If I Go Crazy” and “Waiting on a Plane” demonstrate a pop sensibility, recalling Case at this best.
5). The Decemberists, “What A Terrible World, What A Wonderful World” (Capitol)
The arty folk rock quintet from Portland, Oregon, have produced a surprisingly up-tempo collection of melodic pop songs, combined with their more classic storytelling lyrical inclinations. In the past darker tales (“The Crane Wife”) may have dominated, but here songwriter Colin Meloy leans toward the comic on “The Singer Addresses His Audience” and the celebration of sexual union that is “Philomena,” making this year’s model of The Decemberists its most commercially accessible yet.
6). Modest Mouse, “Strangers to Ourselves” (Epic)
Given the formulaic predictability of what passes for Modern/Alternative rock radio these days, the 8 years since the last full-length recording has proved far too long. With “Strangers to Ourselves,” singer/guitarist Issac Brock leads the eclectic rockers through a fine collection of smart, dark yet fun songs. Brock at times seems to echo Talking Heads vocalist David Byrne, but the music’s denser textural quality places the band in an original context all its own. The return of Modest Mouse is a satisfying antidote to Imagine Dragons, or the next big thing/flavor of the month offering on popular broadcast formats.
7). Wilco, “Star Wars” (dBpm)
In their 20th year, Wilco surprised fans with an unanticipated new album offered as a free download, before becoming commercially available months later. This, alongside singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy’s double solo disc of last year with drummer, son Spencer Tweedy (under the moniker Tweedy), and touring as this new unit. There’s a nearly playful, urgency and immediacy to this brief 11 song effort, capturing this band’s eclectic approach and seasoned live vitality. This 9th studio album, delivers the best of Wilco/Tweedy, not merely marking time but looking forward.
8). Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin, “Lost Time” (Yep Roc)
After years of hearing that there was enough ill-will between the brothers Alvin, that we could not expect soon to hear a reunion of the one-time leaders of The Blasters. Then came last year’s collaboration on “Common Ground” and joint tour, where the duo came together to celebrate the songs of one of their greatest musical influences growing up, Big Bill Broonzy. In this fine follow-up, they expand their repertoire to rediscover early blues from Willy Dixon, James Brown, Leadbelly, Big Joe Turner and others. “Lost Time” may describe the past tensions between the brothers, but it’s also too long since we took the time to celebrate these classics, sung with soulful conviction by Phil, matched in intensity by Dave’s smokin’ blues guitar chops.
9). Los Lobos, “Gates of Gold” (429)
It’s hard to believe that it was over 20 years ago when Los Lobos released “Just Another Band From East L.A., descriptive of the band’s first 20 years, evolving from a Tex-Mex wedding party band honoring the Latin music tradition of our nation’s Southwest, a hit cover of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba,” to a blazing electric rock band, reminiscent of Santana and The Allman Bros. Band. On “Gates of Gold,” they are far from reinventing the wheel, although they artfully touch many of the bases that influenced that masterful collection. David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas trade off on lead vocals and distinctive lead guitars, often blazing in their own right.
10). Florence + The Machine, “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” (Republic)
The third album from Florence Welch and her backing band, The Machine, which includes Isabella Summers on keys, Robert Ackroyd on guitars, Chris Haydon on drums, Mark Saunders on bass, Tom Monger on harp, and Rusty Bradshaw on rhythm guitar and keys, finds the artist singing personal songs in the larger than life, ”wall of sound” musical settings that The Machine favors. Florence’s vocals compare admirably to Shirley Manson of Garbage, PJ Harvey, and Siouxsie Sioux. “Ship to Wreck,” the disc’s first single is ridiculously infectious, as is much of the album.
11). Blur, “The Magic Whip” (Parlophone/Warner Bros.)
Given the 12 years since the last Blur collaboration and Damon Albarn’s success with Gorillaz and last year’s solo release, “Everyday Robots,” I don’t think anybody, including the members of Blur, expected to produce new music in 2015. While nothing here rocks with the intensity of “Song 2,” the punk/pop anthem that dominated alternative radio in 1997, “The Magic Whip” thrives on the classic Brit-pop/new wave collaborations of Albarn and guitarist Graham Coxon. Reflecting the Asian context in which the music was first recorded, Blur’s pop song prowess finds great expression in “Lonesome Street,” “New World Towers,” “I Broadcast,” and “Pyongyang.”
12). The Lone Bellow, “Then Came the Morning” (Descendent)
The soulful vocal harmonies of Zach Williams, Kanene Donehey Pipkin, and Brian Elmquist, which fuel the often passionate choruses on the songs of this trio’s second full-length album, are a thing of beauty. The Lone Bellow’s intricate songwriting cuts across a variety of roots music – folk, country, gospel – enhanced by Aaron Dessner (of The National’s) light production touches, gives “Then Came the Morning” a timeless quality, rich with tradition.
13). Rhiannon Giddens, “Tomorrow Is My Turn” (Nonesuch)
On this solo debut, Rhiannon Giddens steps out of the string/roots band Carolina Chocolate Drops, and out of the shadow of Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket, with whom she worked to reinvent some recently recovered lyrics by Bob Dylan in the New Basement Tapes, to express her own voice and appreciation for the women singers who came before her. Classically trained, but organically connected to the roots music of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Odetta, Nina Simone, and even country greats like Patsy Ciine and Dolly Parton, Giddens offers up an eclectic celebration of their classic songs, while establishing a launching pad for her own unique voice.
14). The Arcs, “Yours, Dreamily,” (Nonesuch)
The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach clearly has too much time on his hands. Outside of his own bands’ hit albums, he has produced recordings for Dr. John, Ray LaMontagne, and Lana Del Rey, and what was originally intended as a solo project turned into a collaboration with Leon Michels (keyboards), Richard Swift (drums/keys), Nick Movshon (bass), and Homer Steinweiss (drums). The Arcs lean more toward melodic pop/rock on singles “Outta My Mind” and “Stay In My Corner,” but on “The Arc” we hear Auerbach’s signature bluesy guitar sound, while the recording on the whole manages to explore a denser, more eclectic, retro rock palette.
15). Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color” (Rough Trade/ATO)
With the follow-up to “Boys & Girls,” Brittany Howard and the men of Alabama Shakes broadened their music perspective following the lead of her growing vocal confidence. A retro R&B vibe still shines through on “Gimme All Your Love,” where Howard unleashes her bluesy voice and some serious guitar chops.
16). Muse, “Drones” (Warner Bros.)
On this seventh album from what has often been seen as a Queen Wannabe, producer Mutt Lange has stripped away much of the band’s prog-rock pretension to emphasize songs structured around big rock guitar riffs. But thankfully some of their operatic inclinations still manifest on tracks like “The Handler,” “Revolt,” and the 10 minute “The Globalist.” Front loaded are the crunchier rockers that present the band’s strengths in a straight-forward fashion: “Dead Inside” and “Psycho.”
17). Steve Earle & The Dukes, “Terraplane” (New West)
Every couple years, Steve Earle cranks out an album to remind the world of Americana/roots music that he’s a creative force to be reckoned with, and this time the focus is on the blues tradition. A masterful songwriter with a keen sense of musicality in his guitar playing, Earle gets personal about the breakup of his marriage to Alison Moorer on “Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now” and “Better Off Alone,” but he can keep it fun too: “Go Go Boots Are Back” and “Baby’s Just As Mean As Me.”
18). Todd Rundgren, “Global” (Alchemedia)
Most of the artists on tour as part of Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band are living off their past hits, but Todd Rundgren has to be the hardest working man in rock & roll who’s still creating fresh music after a 45 year recording career. “Global” follows the electronica/techno lead of 2013’s “State,” while expanding to include a more pop-song melodic sensibility. Songs like “Blind” and “Earth Mother” focus on climate change, while there’s a political and ecological undertone throughout. While I do miss The Todd’s great guitar playing here, it’s great to hear new music from someone who will still be best remembered for that “Bang A Drum” baseball stadium staple.
19). Craig Finn “Faith in the Future” (Partisan)
The Hold Steady’s singer/songwriter steps away for his second solo album, a collection of literate story-songs that suggest the vague spiritual longings and sexual yearnings, with characters that are always looking for love in all the wrong places. I’m a sucker for his Springsteen-esque, catchy writing in songs like “Saint Peter Upside Down,” “Sarah, Calling From a Hotel,” and “Maggie I’ve Been Searching For Our Son.”
20). Ryan Adams, “1989” (Pax-Am)
On paper, this idea kinda sucks. Why not have celebrated indie rocker Ryan Adams record all the songs from Taylor Swift’s current successful album in the spirit of Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska”? But strangely enough, it really works. Which suggests that Swift is probably a lot better songwriter than most of us give her credit for, and Ryan Adams gives them an irony/parody free delivery that’s as enjoyable as last year’s fine “Ryan Adams.”
21). Gary Clark Jr., “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim” (Warner Bros.)
22). Don Henley, “Cass County” (Capitol)
23). Leon Bridges, “Coming Home” (Columbia)
24). Patty Griffin, “Servant of Love” (Thirty Tigers/PGM)
25). Jason Isbell, “Something More Than Free” (Thirty Tigers/Southeastern)
1. Pile: You’re Better Than This
Exciting and off –kilter noise rock. Recommended for fans of Pixies and Jesus Lizard.
2. Astral Swans: All My Favorite Singers Are Willie Nelson
Stark, yet comforting rock. Recommended for fans of Nick Drake and Phosphorescent.
3. Circus Devils: Stomping Grounds
Uncle Bob’s best work this year. For fans of Guided by Voices, Robert Pollard and weird stuff.
4. Christian Fitness: Love Letters in the Age of Steam
Aggressive, heavy and catchy. Fans of Frank Black and Mink Lungs will dig this.
5. Lost Boy?: Canned
Loose and sometimes goofy lo-fi rock. Drifts between Ween, Guided by Voices and even Parquet Courts.
6. Flotation Toy Warning: Bluffer’s Guide to the Flight Deck (Vinyl Reissue)
Reissue of one of my favorite albums of all time. Trippy chamber rock. Fans of Neutral Milk Hotel and Grandaddy will want this.
7. Guided By Voices Suitcase 4/Briefcase 4
More gems from Uncle Bob’s vault of lo-fi rock.
8. Krill: A Distant Fist Unclenching
RIP to this wonderfully disjointed band. Fans of Pile and Bad History Month will love this quirky band.
9. Built to Spill: Untethered Moon
Indie rock kings return with a great LP.
10. Traams: Modern Dancing
Surprising hit for me. Just bought it and fell in love. Reminds me Clap Your Hands Say Yeah mixed with The Stokes.
11. Girl Band: Holding Hands with Jamie
Uncompromising music. Harsh, but somehow catchy.
12. Smug Brothers: Woodpecker Paradise
The always good Smug Brothers gave us their freshest record yet. Spirited mid-fi rock from Dayton.
13. Robert Pollard: Faulty Superheroes
Nothing can slow down Robert Pollard. He still crafts excellent songs and always will.
14. TUNGS: You Could Call This Art
Inventive and interesting indie rock. Fans of Ween, Built to Spill and Wire should check them out.
15. Wand: 1000 Days
Excellent psychedelic rock. Not afraid to mix it up to keep the listener glued. Fans of White Fence and Wytches should love them.
16. Honey Radar: The Rabbit’s Voice
Miss Propeller-era Guided by Voices? Honey Radar has your cure. Short and catchy lo-fi gems.
17. Wand: Golem
Yep, they are on my list twice. Three albums in 18 months. Three excellent albums at that.
18. the i.l.y’s (Deathgrips) : I’ve Always Been Good at True Love
Abrasive and catchy techno/rock/rap? No idea what this is, it is just good.
19. Helvetia: Dromomania
Heady and trippy slacker rock. Fans of Built to Spill will want this.
20. Ex-Breathers: Past Tense
Heavy-ish pop punk.
21. Soccer Team: Real Lessons in Cynicism
Long time no see. Brilliant indie pop.
22. Passenger Peru: Light Places
2 years in a row, Passenger Peru made my end of year list.
23. Graham Repulski : Success Racist
Lo-fi noise all wrapped in a catchy package. Got a lot of their stuff this year.
24. Girl Band: The Early Years – EP
Collection of early stuff. You can see why their debut LP was so highly anticipated.
25. Moon Duo: Shadow of the Sun
Catchy psych rock. Seeing these guys live kicked my love into overdrive.
26. Qúetzal Snåkes: II- EP
Imagine the Swirlies playing hardcore psychedelic rock. Yep. That is these guys. Excellent EP.
27. Ex-Cult: Cigarette Machine
Hardcore done right. Catchy and packs a punch.
28. Mythical Motors: Long Live High Energy
Perfect album to hit the road with. Driving indie/lo-fi rock.
29. Sleaford Mods: Key Markets
Punk/Rant Rap/ ghetto tech stuff. A bit more subdued than their earlier stuff, but it still has a lot of bite.
30. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Was really loving this until Kevin Poindexter called her the new Sheryl Crow…thanks Kevin.
25.The Alabama Shakes- Sound & Color
24.Majical Cloudz- Are You Alone?
23.Big Dick- Disappointment
21. Mikal Cronin- MCIII
20.The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion- Freedom Tower – No Wave Dance Party 2015
19.The Myrrors- Arena Negra
18.The Dead Weather- Doge And Burn
17.Rose Windows – Rose Windows
16. Deerhunter- Fading Frontier
15. Tame Impala – Currents
This was one of the toughest reviews I had to write all year. You have to acknowledge that Kevin Parker’s instrumentation and production work were spot on. But, as a huge fan of the first two albums I was left a little underwhelmed. But, there where plenty of track on Currents to keep it in rotation throughout the year.
14. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard Wizard – Quarters
What a bold undertaking this was. Quarters wan’t just the title of the album but the theme too. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard took 4 songs and recorded them with a length of 10 minuets and 10 seconds. It was one of the cooler undertakings that stuck with me this year earning a spot in my top 15.
13. FUZZ – II
This is another FUZZ record and that’s a great thing. Ty Segall, Charlie Moothart, and Chad Ubovich create a sprawling proto-metal landscape that goes in a few directions. While I thought their self titled debut was a tighter album over all, II gave us plenty of tasty, molten riffs to meld with your eardrums.
12. Wand – Golem
When I first heard Wand’s debut Ganglion Reef I was taken aback. But when I heard the follow up Golem I was drawn in. Golem was an unexpected, sludgy, heavy, space vortex that shows only a few hints of their debut. Wand has already released a follow up to Golem, 1000 Days. With a band as prolific as this I can only imagine what comes next.
11. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
You could consider Tame Impala’s Currents a “pop” psych or “dance” psych album. I believe the same could be said about UMO’s third record Multi-Love. Why did it rank higher than Currents you ask? Well, Ruben Nielson has enough of the special UMO something that kept everything weird. Plus, it’s a UMO record you can shake your ass too and I’m all for that.
10. Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated at Last
Starting in on the top 10 Thee Oh Sees had to be here. With songs such as “Turned Out Light,” “Withered Hand,” and “Palace Doctor” Mutilator Defeated at Last was and impressive addition to an already expansive and impressive catalogue.
9. Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer
Let me say this, like Scot Lade, I believe that Foil Deer isn’t as good as Major Arcana. But, I would have to say “Raising The Skate” is one of the songs that stuck with me the most this year. A lot of the same flavors from past releases where there but this was Speedy Ortiz going a bit out of there comfort zone- it worked more than not.
8. Hollow Sunshine – Bring Gold
An up and coming band that’s doing impressive things, Hollow Sunshine combines shoegaze and sludge in an almost “gentle” way. Unlike Deafheaven, Hollow Sunshine is a slow burn that holds it’s fury in it’s slower tempo.
7. Motel Beds – Mind Glitter
In a year of heavy hitters, Motel Beds Mind Glitter absolutely has to be here. Not only did it get to interview dynamic front man PJ but Mind Glitter happens to be the most cohesive and well produced Beds album to date. I can only say do yourself a favor and catch this wave.
6. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
Sufjan has always been a prolific artist, but Carrie and Lowell is his most beautiful and personal to date. I feel this album fills the spot that Sun Kil Moon’s Benji carved out last year-believe me that’s not a bad thing.
5. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
As a music fan/journalist I come to you with a secret shame. I’ve never heard Father John Misty’s 2012 album Fear Fun. But, I did remedy the situation by getting into I Love You, Honeybear. In a list filled with big and heavy rock albums Josh Tillman’s I Love You, Honeybear’s bigger instrumentation, engaging highs, and emotional lows carries a huge and catchy weight that stick with you.
4. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
Could this be the last Titus Andronicus album recorded? Maybe. Is it a great way to go? Absolutely. A heady rock opera that requires a bit of homework and research, but once cracked this album gives one of the most rockin’ and rewarding experiences of 2015.
3. Deafheaven – Bermuda
One of the most brutal albums released this year, Deafheavens’ Bermuda is another excellent blend of black metal and shoegaze. There’s a reason this album is here and that’s because it’s DEAFHEAVEN.
2. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
Sleater-Kinney is back and better than ever. No Cities To Love is a powerful “rock” album that helped remind us why they where missed. We can only hope that another album is released because if the can come back this strong then we have noting to worry about.
1. Viet Cong – Viet Cong
I originally gave this album 4 out of 5 headphones but at the year went on it had to be the album I came back to the most. It’s machine like hypnotism’s and familiar yet original tones make it the perfect combination of comfort and interest. Plus, the final track, “Death,” was a bold monster that made it’s 11 minuet run time feel like nothing. While the band isn’t going by Viet Cong anymore, this album was the strongest – maybe even the best – debut of 2015. Whatever they end up calling themselves I’m waiting with great anticipation on what they release next.
1. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
2. Baroness – Purple
3. Tame Impala – Currents
4. Sufan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
5. Deafheaven – New Bermuda
6. Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
7. Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool
8. Foals – What Went Down
9. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier
10. Bully – Feels Like
11. Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone?
12. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
13. Alex G – Beach Music
14. Heaters – Holy Water Pool
15. Ryan Adams – 1989
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