Thursday, December 10, 2015

Guest List: dollys' Favorite Albums of 2015

Pick one. Okay, two.

We love dollys around here. They are students of pop songcraft and put out (My Favorite Albums of 2015 -- Part II *SPOILER ALERT*) one of my favorite albums of the year along with a batch of singles that may even be stronger than Oh, Please!

Naturally, I wanted to have them tell us what releases moved them this year; and, thankfully, they obliged. Check out what Jeff Lane, Erik Kase Romero, and Natalie Newbold loved in 2015; and then, after your holidays are all done, get yourself all dressed up and come out to our Indie Pop Winter Formal at The Saint on January 8th when dollys will perform along with Dentist, YJY, and Paper Streets.

Jeff (guitar / vocals):

I think that great records are, in a way, all about balance. We like things to be challenging, but familiar. We love catchy, but there are bonus points if it's weird too. It's got to sound good without being too polished. The lyrics should be great if we decide to dive in, but easy on the vocab, nerd! Additionally, most of us cave-dwelling music listeners want to believe that what we spend time listening to is genuine and that our heroes are honest about their experiences... All of that is why I really enjoyed Hop Along's Painted Shut.

If you know anything about the band, you know of Frances Quinlan's magnetic voice and the raw energy of the group. If you know a bit more, you're probably familiar with Get Disowned, the ambitious LP they released in May 2012. I was really taken with that record and so when I first listened to their latest release, I wasn't sure what to make of it. It's more rough around the edges and features considerably less studio wizardry in favor of a more direct "this is our band playing our songs" type of presentation. In time, I realized how badass it was to ditch those crutches, but my first reaction was of uncertainty...

Then I heard the chorus of "Texas Funeral," which rings, "none of this is gonna happen to me // within my lifetime." You've gotta hear her do it. It's vexingly simple and SO moving. The first time I heard it sounded pretty much exactly like what I've told myself before every great trial and tragedy in my life, and it totally wrecked me. It won me over, probably forever.

I've since read in an interview that Quinlan was voicing the selfishness of certain people in the face of climate change with that lyric, but that's kind of the thing about great pop music. That lyric (and the rest of the album) hits home for me brutally and like clockwork regardless of what she meant by it.

Erik (bass / poducer / co-engineer):

2015 was a year of some really special releases across so many genres including some incredible records by Sufjan Stevens, Hop Along, Sleater Kinney, Father John Misty, and Wilco to name a few. However, I have to say that, as soon as I was presented with the challenge of picking one single record, I really had no hesitation about what my answer would be...

Vulfpeck has at this point put out so many fantastic records that I was not at all surprised when I first heard Thrill of the Arts and, as expected, couldn’t even believe (or fully understand) what I was listening to. One of the main things that I appreciate about the album is that, like every Vulfpeck release thus far, it was a significant progression in terms of songwriting, experimentation, and outrageous bravado. The musicianship in every single song is, as usual, seriously humbling, not to mention the inclusion of some very heavy guest musicians such as Blake Mills. Somehow yet again, though, they discovered how to perfectly balance on the precipice between eccentric and campy (or even just plain silly) while managing to surprise the listener at every turn and somehow rest everything atop righteous grooves.

For me, one of the most incredible moments of the record is in “Rango II.” For almost the entirety of the song, there are NO DRUMS, just some awkward claps; and then in the last third, after a totally bombastic overload of synthesizer madness, it cuts to just Wurlitzer and Bass. They play 8 bars of some of the simplest, filthiest, groove without any percussion, and it's really incredible. I am truly a sucker for when musicians and artists use space, the absence of shred, and simple contrast to create feeling. Of course, if there were any doubt that they performed the whole track live they went ahead and released this.

What makes me come back and pay respect to Vulfpeck again and again is similar to how I feel about what goes on at Daptone Records in Brooklyn. It’s the homage to all of the beauty and imperfection that we miss from recordings in the 60s and 70s but without being derivative and without putting any vintage techniques or ideals on a pedestal. It’s reverence to the fact that music that is conceived and performed live with a group of people in a room can and should be captured that way in a recording!

Also, seriously, try not to smile and/or dance when you listen to this!

Natalie (drums / vocals):

I'm having a really difficult time picking out my favorite record for 2015. The best I can do is narrow it down to two. I’m sorry! Here we go!

Grimes's Art Angels is a pop work of art that is instantly catchy and approachable but gritty and grotesque at the same time. My favorite thing about this record is that every part feels undeniably authentic. I was blown away by the imaginative, alien-like world she creates and was even more impressed when I listened to her words. Reflecting on the current indie music scene and dealing with what it’s like to be a female artist and producer, she’s pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a female pop icon. It’s amazing and so inspiring and I think I’ve listened to “Flesh without Blood” like a million times.

No Cities to Love was my most anticipated record of the year. I was really excited to hear that Sleater-Kinney was putting out new music and, on first listen, was immediately convinced it was the best record they have ever released. They’ve come back with all of the things we’ve come to expect, super-cool, rocking guitar parts with fiery and culturally relevant lyrics. The difference between “No Cities to Love” and their other records is the exceptional songwriting. There isn’t a single song on this one that doesn’t have a killer chorus that I just want to blast as loud as possible and scream all the words to.

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