Saturday, December 19, 2015

My Top 20 Albums Of 2015

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know how last year I posted a Top 10 Albums of the year list and how it was the first time I had done such a thing at the end of a year in the 8 years I've run this site. And I know how 10 is a nice, tight number but, dammit, there were just too many great albums released in 2015 and I guess if I start with 20 this time, I can do the same again in 2016...assuming there are another 20 albums this good released in the upcoming calendar year.

So, here goes, cats and kittens. Here are my Top 20 Albums of 2015 (in order of release, roughly).

1. No Cities To Love by Sleater-Kinney

"A return to form" is an overused phrase -- especially here when talking about Carrie Brownstein and crew since this band never went downhill -- but, really, it suits a discussion of No Cities To Love since this one was the most direct and enjoyable Sleater-Kinney record in ages. I was a bit late to catch up with the band again but, wow, what a great album this one is!

2. Mourn by Mourn

Spain's Mourn need to get as much press as Hinds (f.k.a. Deers) do. The band released its debut earlier in 2015, my review is here, and it's a record that is alternately abrasive and beautiful, like Sonic Youth straddling melody and noise.

3. 360 by The Supernaturals

Scotland's The Supernaturals were one of my fave bands from that first big Britpop wave. The band's mix of Jellyfish-ish whimsy, Nilsson-worthy melodies, and Beatlesque hooks thoroughly worked its magic on me so I was thrilled when I got word that a new album, 360, was out. The album is not quite at the level of the band's first 2 records but, as I stressed in this review, the songwriting is still superb.

4. Ripe 4 Luv by Young Guv

This Young Guv record on Slumberland Records is probably my favorite album of 2015. I don't usually narrow things down like that on here but, really, Ripe 4 Luv was just so good. As I raved in my review, the spring release managed to whip up a heady brew of power pop, and Prince-style electro-funk, and supple new wave. Whether you swing with the mellow bits or the crunchy ones, there's no denying the utterly perfect stadium rock appeal of "Crawling Back to You", winner of the "Kenixfan's Most Cranked in the Car" award for 2015.

5. Once More From The Top by The Granite Shore

The Granite Shore got pegged as a super-group what with a June Bride (Phil Wilson), a Blue Orchid (Martin Bramah), and a Distraction (Nick Halliwell) in the band. That's all fine and good but what really matters is that Once More From The Top is chamber pop of the very highest order. Perhaps no other album in 2015 betrayed such a careful and considered approach to indie-pop, even if the results feel entirely organic and fresh and not overly studied. A masterpiece in many ways, more details on the album are available in my review.

6. Time To Go Home by Chastity Belt

It seems unfair to lump the new class of female-fronted bands together, as if such a wave was some big revelation. But the reality is that Courtney Barnett is gonna show up on a lot of lists like this one. And while her record was pretty great, as was the Colleen Green one, and the La Luz one, it was the Chastity Belt album that really made me happy this year. The band managed to be smart and funny at the same time and for a guy like me who hates bands that try to be funny (as a rule), that's a major compliment. I probably mentioned that already in my review of Time To Go Home but it bears repeating 'cause this band know how to pull this sort of thing off without seeming obnoxious about it. No small feat.

7. Earthquakes And Tidal Waves by Dot Dash

Anyone's who's come to this site more than once probably knows how much I love the music of Dot Dash. The D.C. collective has guys who've been in Dischord legends (Steve Hansgen from Minor Threat, Danny Ingram from Youth Brigade, a band whose first demo got reissued this year), a guy who's backed up Pere Ubu's David Thomas (Hunter Bennett), and a guy who's been in Slumberland Records and Sarah Records bands (Terry Banks). I hope that in the very near future they will be recording with Mitch Easter again and I'm sure that the results will be as strong as the punchy Earthquakes and Tidal Waves, my review here.

8. No Sad Songs by The Lilac Time

The latest one from The Lilac Time, No Sad Songs, reviewed by me here, is not a perfect album but it has moments of perfection on it. Stunningly beautiful in spots, the return of Stephen Duffy and co. was one of 2015's most appreciated surprises.

9. Expect Delays by Evans The Death

Evans The Death dropped a noisy, messy, and altogether delightful record in 2015's Expect Delays, reviewed by me here. The Slumberland Records band seem to have boldly redefined the shapes of English indie on this one.

10. Non-Believers by Mac McCaughan

Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan went solo for a spell in 2015, long enough to drop and tour behind the excellent Non-Believers, reviewed by me here. I'm not sure if other 'Chunk fans liked this one as much as I did but I don't see how anyone couldn't like these excellently constructed, ruminative tracks. If Mac seemed more in thrall to New Order this time around, that was fine as the subtle production worked well on this one.

11. Destroy.Rebuild by The Jet Age

When I think of my favorite tracks from D.C.'s The Jet Age, I think of songs from earlier records. But if you ask me to name the band's best album? I'm pretty sure I'd pipe up that it was 2015's Destroy.Rebuild. The record, reviewed by me here, seemed to offer up the most perfect blending of the band's shoegaze and Who leanings. Direct as always, frontman Eric Tischler's cuts here showed a sharp focus as drummer Pete Nuwayser and bassist Greg Bennett tightened up behind him. Musically, the band never sounded this on fire even as that fire was more carefully controlled this time around.

12. Rest And Be Thankful by Linden

Linden's Rest And Be Thankful was perhaps the warmest record of 2015. Released on Slumberland Records here, the project from the one-time BMX Bandit offered up a whole slew of easy-going rockers in the mold of classic era Teenage Fanclub, as I probably stressed one too many times in my review.

13. Brain Cream by Jaill

This album isn't going to set the world on fire but it is going to burn its way into your head through a clutch of catchy melodies and wicked indie hooks. Brain Cream by Jaill, reviewed by me here, charms largely on the strength of those little riffs that Jaill make so infectious.

14. Songs to Play by Robert Forster

Robert Forster sounded thoroughly confident and invigorated on this year's Songs To Play. I think I gushed a bit in my review and that's only natural 'cause it is, after all, a former Go-Between here. The fact that he's delivered his best batch of new material in at least a decade is indeed a cause for rejoicing. Grab this album and rejoice with me.

15. The Gold Standard by Marrow

Chicago's Marrow managed to surprise me in 2015. They crafted something I'd never quite heard before. The fusion-y vibes of The Gold Standard worked splendidly. I never expected to like something like this one this much, certainly not when I use terms like near-prog rock to describe some of this now. As I hinted at in my review, Marrow have really pulled off something special here, and their expert blending of styles only hints at further greatness on future releases.

16. Dissolver by Young Husband

The fact that Dissolver, reviewed by me here, was produced by someone from seminal shoegazers Loop got Younghusband a lot of attention, even of the misguided sort. The truth is that every Beulah-like cut on this album is fantastic and, taken as a whole, Dissolver remains one of 2015's most pleasing listening experiences.

17. Silver Bullets by The Chills

For those of us who never stopped loving The Chills, Silver Bullets, reviewed by me here, was like a big reward for waiting nearly 19 years for a new full-length from Martin Phillipps and company. That the album was so good, so listenable, and so adventurous in spots ("Pyramid/When The Poor Can Reach The Moon"), was not so much a surprise as a delightful affirmation of all the things that The Chills have done so well for so long. As he hinted at in my interview with him recently, The Chills are hoping to tour America again in 2016 and I am positively thrilled to hear that news, having seen the band the last time nearly a quarter of a century ago.

18. You Can't Always Be Liked by Expert Alterations

Baltimore's Expert Alterations made the switch this year from Slumberland Records to Kanine Records but they took a Slumberland legend with them. Velocity Girl and Black Tambourine guy Archie Moore mixed the tracks on the band's debut full-length, You Can't Always Be Liked, reviewed by me here, and the results ended up being some of the most perfect indie I've heard in years. Frankly, there are too many bands trying to do this sort of thing and most of them fail routinely to pull it off. Expert Alterations (and tour-mates Literature) can do this sort of thing perfectly and if you want proof, just spin any random cut on the band's superb You Can't Always Be Liked.

19. Real Lessons in Cynicism by Soccer Team

It seems like I missed a few Soccer Team shows in D.C. this year and that bums me out still as the Dischord band are probably great live. The interplay on the band's newest, Real Lessons in Cynicism, reviewed by me here, hints at a mastery of multiple genres from the Shudder to Think-ish "Friends Who Know" to the more supple and nearly Unrest-like "Too Many Lens Flares".

20. Meet The Foetals by The Foetals

As I tried to hint at in my review of Meet The Foetals, there's a sense that on this one Jolan Lewis (Temple Songs, The Pink Teens) has finally found a way to merge his more experimental leanings with some of his best pieces of songwriting in years. If you want to learn a little about how Lewis crafts this sort of music, read my recent interview with him. If you want to hear something supremely catchy and altogether affecting, spin a cut like "Fine" from Meet The Foetals and then try to get it out of your head.