Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Favorite Albums of 2015 -- Part I

Come on. You knew this already.

In No Particular Order

This comes with the usual disclaimer. I didn't listen to everything by any stretch. Only a few tracks from I Love You, Honeybear or To Pimp A Butterfly made it onto my radar this year; so, while I'm sure those are great records, deserving of all the accolades they're receiving this year, I'm not qualified to comment. This is just the list of stuff that I listened to the most in 2015. The stuff, that for whatever reason, I kept cueing up in the car.

CoolDad is not your authority on what was good; but, maybe, you can find something here that you missed in 2015 that will do something for you. I'm hoping, as we publish a few more lists from contributors this month, that happens for me.

So let's get to it. Here's Part One of my list of favorite albums of 2015. And, once again, this is in no particular order.

But let's get one out of the way right off the top...

Titus Andronicus, The Most Lamentable Tragedy

From the "I hate to be awake!" of "No Future Part IV" to the ", never, no never sleeping forever" of "Stable Boy," The Most Lamentable Tragedy tries to take us through the story of Our Hero's battles with manic-depression. The album combines punk, garage rock, bar rock, experimental sounds, and even silence into a beautifully messy stew that finds Titus mastermind, Patrick Stickles, puking his heart and soul out through his strained vocals.

I spent several "straight through" sessions with this 29-track, 93-minute album; but I've also found that consuming it in chunks is a good way to reinforce or counter whatever mindset you're dealing with at any particular moment. The Most Lamentable Tragedy may be too much for some people, but it's out there for all to see; and it's painfully honest. What more can you ask of a piece of art, really?

Favorite tracks: "No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant," "Fired Up," "Dimed Out"

Hop Along, Painted Shut

Like Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield or Cayetana's Augusta Koch, Hop Along's Frances Quinlan pours everything into her vocal delivery. The frustration of not being able to help a child on "Powerful Man." The inner turmoil of coming in contact with a painful past on "Waitress."

With hints of country and shoegaze combined with Quinlan's raw and exposed emotion, Painted Shut was one of my most pleasant surprises of 2015.

Favorite tracks: "Waitress," "Powerful Man," "Sister Cities"

Shellshag, Why'd I Have to Get So High?

John "Shellhead" Driver and Jennifer Shagawat are two of the most positive people I have ever met. It's what comes from doing what's perfect for you, well, perfectly for so long. On Why'd I Have to Get So High? producers Jerri Queen and John Petty help the duo explore new territory and expand their sound while keeping things unmistakably Shellshaggian.

There's some melancholy here, but no regrets. It's kind of like, you're where and who you are because of everything you've been through; so there's no point in crying for too long. Just keep going.

Favorite tracks: "Blowin' It," "Rattle Trap," "90s Problem," "Hold You in My Arms"

Black Flamingos, Black Flamingos EP

There's a retro-future vibe to this set of surf rock instrumentals. The songs are oddly familiar, grounded in a well-worn genre; but they're also modern and dark.

Robert Butkowski, Vincent Minervino, and Declan O'Connell bring some serious chops to the table; and this is a quick hit of something dripping with both mind-blowing virtuosity and ultimate cool.

Favorite tracks: "Okinawa," "Shark Repellant"

Laura Stevenson, Cocksure

If you follow Laura Stevenson on Instagram or Twitter, you quickly see her biting and self-deprecating sense of humor. Cocksure, produced by Jeff Rosenstock, delivers those feelings wrapped in a package of rock and power-pop. Stevenson is locked inside her head or inside her room, judging the world and herself and not always enjoying what she sees.

Something about the overall feel of Cocksure -- its humorous self-loathing, maybe -- spoke to me in a way that almost no other album did in 2015. Hmmmm.

Favorite tracks: "Torch Song," "Jellyfish," "Diet of Worms"

Big Quiet, Big Quiet

Talk about surprises. I stumbled on this one during one of my weekly attempts to get the CoolDad Music Inbox under control. When I checked the release out on Bandcamp, I noticed that Big Quiet had worked with Mitch Easter to record their self-titled LP. Easter had a huge influence on my musical tastes through his work with R.E.M., Pavement, and many more.

Easter's fingerprints are on this one for sure, but it's Marisa Cerio's guitar and vocals that do the heavy lifting. There's a retro (well, some would say "timeless") jangle to songs like "Why Do We Bother?" and "Maura & Dana," and I kept hearing Belinda Carlisle in Cerio's voice. So, yeah. There's a definite wearing of influences on the sleeve here, but it still sounds great.

Favorite tracks: "Why Do We Bother?" "Nervous," "Maura & Dana"

Hot Blood, Overcome Pt. 1 & Pt. 2

Two EPs. Roughly 10 total minutes. Eight songs covering the plight of the working class, militarized police forces, over-medicated kids, and oppressive organized religion. Hot Blood come at you with the jagged sound of hardcore punk, but there's always some musicality here or even a hook there.

Part 1 even includes a political manifesto. Oh, and another version of Hot Blood's trademark track, "Class Warfare." Get angry. Then get out and do something.

Favorite tracks: "Cop in a Tank," "Blood on My Hands," "Chemical Solution"

Hey Anna, Run Koko

Run Koko is like a little movie. It's a movie with people lying on the beach or walking hand-in-hand or just turning to smile at the camera. Run Koko is swirling and intertwining female voices. It's the hint that the guitar wants to rock out just a little. It's pop. It's beautiful.

The voices of the sisters Rauch-Sasseen both blend and contrast perfectly at various times. They float on top of reverb-soaked guitars and rolling drums. The songs sound like they're being broadcast from the past, but then the synths place them in our modern times.

Favorite tracks: "By the Bay," "Move Your Body," "Anaphaze"

Roy Orbitron, Elston Allen Gunnn

I was pretty proud of the total pan I wrote of this EP back in January. I meant it as a joke and tried to convey everything I liked about the record in my review, but I still got friends of the band volunteering to punch my face. Not as clever as I thought, I guess.

Just so there's no confusion, Elston Allen Gunnn absolutely belongs on this list. Roy Orbitron are hard to classify. The violin gives things the whiff of Americana. The wordiness and the urban, East Coast sensibility hint at early Springsteen. What unites all the songs here, though, are interestingly unconventional song structures and a sense of humor that's dry and cutting.

Favorite tracks: "Doctor, Take My #," "Brimstone Suckers," "Navajo Juggalos"

The Roadside Graves,  Acne / Ears

I was really drawn to albums this year filled with personal moments. In 2015, so many of them seemed to be touching on things I was actually feeling. Acne / Ears contains images of awkward youth, Catholicism, never quite fitting in, the power of music to transform or make you regret your life.

The Roadside Graves went in a few different directions on this one both sonically -- synths! -- and thematically -- focusing on the personal. The results are captivating.

Favorite tracks: "Acne / Ears," "Contact High Alumni," "Gospel Radio"

The Battery Electric, The Heart and The Thrill

Because I'm lazy, I'm just gonna copy some of what I said in the review that accompanied the limited-time only album stream I posted on the site in February.

"The Battery Electric may do a bit of drinking. The Battery Electric may have called you a pussy from the stage for hanging back at the bar and not dancing. But The Battery Electric love you. The Battery Electric would go to the mattresses for you. The Battery Electric have poured their blood and sweat into a record that goes about as far as it can go at capturing the feeling of a summer night in a tiny bar out on the boardwalk, its doors open to the salt air and the surf, as denim-clad audience members ride on top of the tightly packed crowd with a look of pure joy on their face.

At first glance, The Battery Electric may seem dangerous. But they've never hurt anybody. They just want everyone to have a good time. They're doing their part to make sure that happens."

Favorite tracks: "Heathen," "Does He Love You?" "The Heart and The Thrill"

Bully,  Feels Like

This Nashville band blew me away last year with their single "Milkman." That 90s combination of hard-rock and pop that I love so much is present on "Milkman" (which shows up here) in spades. I'm not sure of the chronology, but Bully ended up on a major for Feels Like. It's clear, though, that singer / guitarist / engineer Alicia Bognanno retained creative control, because these songs contain all of what was great about "Milkman" and more.

Bognanno screeches "I remember hurting you so bad" from somewhere off in the distance on "I Remember." The vocals are more up-front on the amazing, Pixies-influenced "Trying," but in both cases Bognanno is all-in.

Feels Like will get you your 90s nostalgia fix for sure, but this would grab you in any era.

Favorite tracks: "I Remember," "Trying," "Milkman"

BOYTOY, Grackle

BOYTOY's brand of garage pop is characterized by an aggressive dual guitar approach contrasted with some often sweet-sounding vocal harmonies. Saara Untracht-Oakner's voice over some of the jagged guitars had me thinking of 90s alt-pop from the likes of Juliana Hatfield at times. Oakner's voice pairs well for some harmonizing with Glenn Van Dyke's on songs like "Pulp," and drummer Matty Beans even gets in on things, fronting "Building an Empire."

Grackle isn't some experimental album pushing the boundaries of popular music. It's a fun record that I find myself calling up in the car over and over again.

Favorite tracks: "Postal," "Pulp," "Wild One"

Worriers, Imaginary Life

Like my childhood idol, Billy Bragg, Lauren Denitzio of Worriers delivers some strong political messages in the guise of sing along, shout along pop punk. The Laura Jane Grace-produced Imaginary Life sounds just fantastic. The guitars are a particular high-point for me.

Whether deconstructing the social construct of the gender binary, telling us that we are all complicit in police abuses if we remain silent, or critiquing our materialistic culture, Denitzio never makes you feel like you're being lectured. Instead, you just get a reason to hold your fist above your head and scream the message for everyone to hear.

Favorite tracks: "Plans," "They / Them / Theirs," "Most Space"

YJY, Couch Surfin' USA

On their debut EP, this Hightstown quartet skillfully blend the proclivities of their two principal songwriters. The pop jangle of Steve Sachs fits seamlessly with the noise and fuzz of Ricky Lorenzo. The title track was the first song the pair ever really wrote together and is a perfect illustration of this.

For a five-song, fifteen-minute collection, Couch Surfin' USA covers a lot -- from jangle pop to shoegaze. It also makes me impatient to hear where the band will go next.

Favorite tracks: "Surreal," "Couch Surfin' USA"

OK. To be continued...

You probably know a few of the ones coming up, but I may surprise you. Who knows?

No comments :

Post a Comment