It's December 29th and I haven't started one round up 2015 post yet. Normally I look forward to theses posts all year long. I've found myself consuming music with the idea that at the end of the year I will rank these things because making lists is fun. But, I'm finding it hard to rank music these day. Maybe it's because, as a musician, being ranked is weird. And not being ranked at all can make me a little sad. Feel forgotten. Maybe it's because I personally know a lot of people who made albums this year that I really enjoyed and it feels weird to not have them on the list because there were 10 others that maybe I listened to a little bit more. Or maybe it's because there were only two albums that I really really fell head over heels for and the rest of the rankings seem kind like kind of a random grouping of things I listened to a little more than others.
But is also too much fun to read these years later and see what has still held up and what might have changed. So all that said...here is my favorite music of 2015.
Girlpool: Before the World Was Big
I kept hearing about this band around SXSW time. Based on the basic descriptions I was catching, I envisioned a very loud, punk, screaming group - but they are so far from that. I have nothing against the previous description. I enjoy a lot of bands with that vibe. But I just found Girlpool so simplisticly refreshing. Only an electric guitar, bass, and two vocals in wonderful harmony singing songs about swimming in Seattle and childhood. They very much remind of The Murmurs, whom I loved back in the day. The plucky, staccato guitar riffs move along with the duo vocals perfectly. Sometimes the guitars are a little out of tune, but for whatever reason, that's okay. It's all the more endearing. This is just an album that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside - and it's great to sing along to. And that's all I ever ask.
Top Three Tracks: "Crowded Stranger", "Chinatown", "Cherry Picking"
Gramma's Boyfriend: PERM
Fronted by the fabulous Haley Bonar, Gramma's Boyfriend is a fun fun fun band. This album is full of danceable, new wave-esque, sometimes silly, sometimes pretty, always excellent numbers. Opener "Down in a Bucket" immediately hooks you with it's Go Team Go sports arena style guitars and synths and the rest of the album continues with hip-moving bass lines and crazy guitars. There's a lot of really great guitar stuff going on throughout. All of this is fronted by Haley's awesomely manic vocals. The band - a side project for nearly all members - claims it's not something they take seriously. Maybe this is a life lesson we should all grab hold of, because this is a great album. You can't not dance to it.
Top Three Tracks: "Little Lightening:, "Forgiven", "I Forgot!"
Erykah Badu: But You Cain't Use My Phone
Why do I always forget the greatness that is Erykah Badu? This album - or mix tape, as it's called - was released unexpectedly late December and it is just so...cool. She is so cool. She might be the coolest. I've always loved her, but my album buying of hers never went past her debut Baduizm (which I LOVE) for whatever reason. But after getting this, I picked up another album of hers and she is all I want to listen to all the time now. Seriously, cool. The songs on this album all bleed into one another and mix and revolve around the topic of phones and communication and how we relate to each other. The album title comes from her song "Tyrone" which you must hear if you've never heard it. (Find it HERE).
Top Three Tracks: "Hello", "Cel U Lar Device", "Phone Down"
Rank Strangers: Lady President, Ringtones, The Box (Trilogy)
I feel I have been waiting for far too long for new Rank Strangers. I see them play all the time and they've had so many new songs for so long that I knew all the words to just from seeing them played live so often. I would always ask when to expect a new album and I was always told they were working on something...and that something turns out to be a trilogy of albums. It's oodles of Rank Strangers songs that I've loved for so long in three beautiful packages. I'm so happy to finally have these songs available to listen to when I want. And all of these other songs that they don't play live that are newly discovered. Rank Strangers make great rock music. Check'em out.
Top Three Tracks on each album:
Lady President: "The Children of the Czar", "Ivan After 5", "When the Pendulum Swings"
Ringtones: "As the World Turns", "Dust and Glue", "Destroy She Says"
The Box: "The Never Never", "King James", "The Empire of Dresses"
Joanna Newsom: Divers
Beautiful. Classical. Whimsical (though I hate to fall into that trap of describing her sound that way). Wordy. Joanna Newsom tells full epic novels in her songs, along with the occasional heart-wrentching love song, that will leave you breathless. I listen to her and I have no idea how anyone even begins to construct a song the way she does. And then there's the harp - her instrument of choice when she's not behind the piano. I watch her play the harp and listen to the sounds and it blows my mind. She is a truly gifted artist. There is no one else like her. I feel like she really is the only musician who can say that. Oddly, tho, like her previous album Have One On Me, it's her use of percussion that draws me on. It's used like a melodic instrument. Not just something to keep the beat. It feels as much a part of the song as the piano or vocal. It has feeling. It has heart. Her music is not for everyone - and I don't mean that in a snobby way. There's usually not much for hooks and her voice is one of those you either love or hate. And did I mention the harp? But once you sit with her albums and really soak them in, you can't help but fall in love.
Top Three Tracks: "Time As A Symptom", "Goose Eggs", "The Things I Say"
Wilco: Star Wars
Another album that just sort of dropped out of the sky. Wilco released this album unexpectedly and for free. I enjoy Wilco quite a bit, but I'm not someone who runs out the second they release something to buy it. But this was free, so I got it right away. The title has nothing to do with the movie, btw. The songs all have a general sound and vibe to them. It's a rock record. but a laid-back, dad-rock kinda rock record. The fuzzed-out electric guitar that appears on nearly every track brings a cohesive-ness and coolness to the album. It's an album that I can't quite pin-point exactly why I like it so much, I just do. I guess, it's just a collection of good songs.
Top Three Tracks: "Where Do I Begin?", "The Joke Explained", "Taste the Ceiling"
Beach House: Depression Cherry
Depression Cherry was released in August and then, as was the trend this year, they released another album, Thank Your Lucky Stars, unexpectedly in October. Both are very similar albums. Beach House don't tend to stray too far from their signature sound. And that's fine. Because they are really good at it. Dreamy, ethereal, pop. This album was a constant for me when I was recovering from my surgery. It will always be tied to that time of my life. I find their music to be very soothing. You drift off in it. Grab a glass of wine and put it on.
Top Three Tracks: "Space Song", "PPP", "Wildflower"
Erica Russo: In Between Dreams
Erica Russo is such a weird artist for me. Not because of anything to do with her. Just because I never would know who she was if she didn't contact me out of nowhere and asked me to play a show with her as she traveled through Minneapolis on her tour. She's out of New York and doing well for herself, but the randomness of my connection to her is something I find interesting. I think she's fantastic. Her way with lyrics is special. I'd liken her to another favorite lyricist of mine, Anais Mitchell. She made this album completely on her own. Playing all the instruments, handling the recording. It feels very drawn from within. It's a bit eerie. It's another one that was with me a lot while I was recovering from surgery.
Top Three Tracks: "Dreamcatcher", "Barnacle", "So Tired"
Murder Shoes: Daydreaming
I hate to use the term 'local band" as that implies that they are trapped within the city they are from. And I don't think that's the case with Murder Shoes. I first heard them when our songs from our new albums were debuted on The Current's Local Show the same night. I really liked them and asked them to join me for a show some time. They ended up playing my residency at the 331 Club. If you remember that song "Sometime, Always" from the 90s - a duet between Hope Scandoval of Mazzy Star and The Jesus and Mary Chain, then you know what Murder Shoes sounds like. Fuzzed out dream pop. They also have a lot of humor in their songs, like in "Reefer and Pizza" and "Girls Named Benji". I was listening to this the other night again and wondered how this could not make my Top 10. So here it is.
Top Three Tracks: "Girls Named Benji", "So What May", "Can You Sea Me?"
Matt Latterell: Phase & Field
Beautiful album driven by complex songwriting that speaks to your soul. Matt puts it all out there when he sings and with his words, leaving nothing behind. The songs surprise you. What may at first seem to be a nice little acoustic ditty can suddenly take a turn into completely unexpected territory.
Top Three Tracks: "And I'll Never Let You Go", "Two Tornados", "Surprise Inspection"
Beirut: No No No
Another modern-day classical album. Beirut's lead singer/songwriter's main instruments are the trumpet and ukulele. So already how can I not love it? It's a bit orchestral. A bit baroque. I imagine puffy sleeves and rosy red checks and powdered wigs tip-toe dancing through a ballroom when I listen to this album. It's elegant. Another one to go with that glass of wine (or bottle).
Top Three Tracks: "So Allowed", "At Once", "August Holland"
ALL THE REST:
EL VY: Return to the Moon, Strange Relations: Centrism, Blur: The Magic Whip, Mary Bue: Holy Bones, Fury Things: VHS, Katy Vernon: Present, The Juliana Hatfield Three: Whatever My Love
(not featured on the favorite albums listed above)
Belle and Sebastian: "Nobody's Empire"
Catbath: "Ta Da"
Noel Gallagher: "Do the Damage"
EL VY: "Paul Is Alive"
Zoo Animal: "Delicate"
SOAK: "Sea Creatures"
My Morning Jacket: "Get the Point"
Beach House: "Somewhere Tonight"
Oh, yeah...also, I released an album in 2015. Reactor. Listen below.
And then I released an EP just for the fun of it. You can listen to that below, too.
Looking forward to all of the music that is coming out in 2016 - including maybe new stuff from me, too? Maybe? Hmmmm....