Friday, December 11, 2015

My Favorite Albums of 2015 -- Part II

You knew this one, too. Didn't you?

Again, No Particular Order

Here's the second and final part of my favorite albums list of 2015. Like I said, there's a ton of great stuff that's not on here. I don't listen to everything, obviously; and I don't even listen to that many different genres. This is just the stuff that got me through the year.

We've got some lists coming from other folks that will broaden your (and my) horizons for sure. In the meantime, ask your friends what they liked this year. Tell them your favorites. Sharing is caring and it's always cool to find something new.

Beach Slang, The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us

"I've always felt stuck, alone, or ashamed!" James Alex is a grown-up, misfit kid who writes and sings his heart out for everyone who's ever felt like they didn't belong but found their place in music. The Things We Do... throws parts of Paul Westerberg in with parts of Richard Butler and The Psychedelic Furs. It surrounds it in the wall of sound and pulsing guitars of The Jesus and Mary Chain and Swervedriver, binding it all with the blood, sweat, passion, and melodrama of James Alex.

"I ain't ever felt loved," sings Alex on "Too Late to Die Young." Beach Slang have pulled at the heartstrings of so many with this record. They've touched so many people. I don't think that should be a problem for him anymore.

Favorite tracks: "Throwaways," "Bad Art and Weirdo Ideas," "Too Late to Die Young," "Dirty Lights"

dollys, Oh Please / How Charming / better doctor / i know imitator

"Dad, I like this!" 8-year-old CoolDaughter #2 looked at me with wide-eyed amazement. She couldn't believe I'd chosen to put something on that she enjoyed. She usually doesn't like "Dad's music." That was dollys' single "How Charming." CoolDaughter #1 and I had Oh Please on repeat during one drive back and forth to a swim meet in New Brunswick. She sang along and loved it.

That's the thing about great pop music. It's a great unifier. And I'm not talking about pop as in what's currently "popular" necessarily. I'm talking about the great songs written by Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Brian Wilson, Johnny Marr, Stephen Patrick Morrissey, Stuart Murdoch, Evan Dando, Juliana Hatfield, and many more. The songs that have woven their way into our collective consciousness.

Oh Please and the singles that dollys have kept pumping out this year form the best pop collection of 2015. Not the local best. Not the New Jersey best. The. Absolute. Best.

Favorite tracks: "Oh, Please," "Anywhere," "Cornerstones," "imitator"

Smalltalk, Plus!

Much of this collection came out in 2014, and I mentioned those parts last year. Smalltalk get in here again, though, for compiling everything and for the addition of the 25% that came out this year. This compilation brings together the band's four out-of-print EPs while also offering them on formats other than vinyl.

It's great to hear all these songs in one place. "Go Love" and "The Last Ones" stand up right next to "Just Thought" and the amazing "June / July," and we can see how the band have evolved. There's still plenty of mid- to late-80s drama to take me back to those days when I was playing tapes that I recorded off of my turntable in the cassette deck of my car.

Favorite tracks: "Go Love," "Holding Out," "Indecipherable," "June / July"

Screaming Females, Rose Mountain

Rose Mountain is a tight 10 songs and 35 minutes. Some of those songs are kind of poppy even. That shouldn't be surprising, since Screaming Females have always had a hint of pop sensibility bubbling up from beneath all the rocking and shredding. Even in the band's poppier moments, though, there's always something pleasingly off-kilter or out of left field. This album even includes a stone masterpiece in "Wishing Well."

When I wrote about Rose Mountain, it sounded to me like a break-up record. I've since seen in interviews that guitarist / vocalist Marissa Paternoster has confirmed that. Sort of. She's called it a break-up record with her body with whom she's been having a difficult relationship since being sidelined by illness and chronic pain soon after the release of Ugly. That's a little more obvious on a song like "Broken Neck," but that context gives many of the songs on Rose Mountain a new meaning.

This is simultaneously Screaming Females' most accessible and best work.

Favorite tracks: "Empty Head," "Wishing Well," "Criminal Image"

Colleen Green, I Want to Grow Up

KNDD Seattle. That was the station CoolMom and I listened to in our little red Tercel every day when we were in graduate school in the Northwest. Those were the years when Weezer, Veruca Salt, Matthew Sweet, and others ruled alt-rock radio with their combination of heavy rock and bubble gum pop. That's all back on this record by Colleen Green.

This was Green's first studio record. She made it with a band that included Jake Orrall of JEFF The Brotherhood and Casey Weissbuch of Diarrhea Planet, so the Weezer feel shouldn't be too surprising. Green is able to convey some complex feelings through simple song structures. It's time for her to start taking responsibility for actions and to behave like an adult. I Want to Grow Up points out that getting older is something that just happens, but growing up is something you have to choose and work at.

Favorite tracks: "I Want to Grow Up," "TV," "Things That Are Bad for Me (1 & 2)"

Sharkmuffin, Chartreuse

This quick dose of garage / surf / psychedelic pop comes across time and space to 2015 from someplace where people dance and toss their hair around until they give themselves a headache. Bassist Natalie Kirch and (for this record anyway) drummer Patty Schemel hold things down while guitarist / vocalist Tarra Thiessen goes off on some wild tangents.

Over the course of its 21 minutes Chartreuse takes off on the manic energy of a song like "First Date" or oozes on the stoner vibe of "Straight Lines." It's a mess and it's a lot of fun.

Favorite tracks: "Chartreuse," "Broken Teeth," "I Called You from the Moon"

where is my spaceship, mostly crocodile

The blistering opening track to this one, "snakejuice anthem," drew me in; and where is my spaceship's Josh Evensen got me to stick around. We like lots of the same music Josh and me: Titus Andronicus, Pavement, The Hold Steady. And even though Josh is a lot younger than I am, we have lots of the same concerns: worrying about not living up to our potential, finding it difficult to conform to expectations, getting numb to the daily grind.

I remember early in the year just sitting back and feeling this album speak to me. That's always amazing.

Favorite tracks: "snakejuice anthem," "sad songs all night," "roll away the stone"

Protomartyr, The Agent Intellect

"Before recorded time, in some suburban room, see the devil in his youth." I just love that line. It's the first line of this album of anti-pop. Joe Casey delivers every lyric with a deadpan disdain. There are hints of post-punk on a song like "Pontiac 87" or early-aughts indie rock on "I Forgive You," but Protomartyr are their own thing. Unique. Intelligent and angry. Simmering, seething but rarely raging.

"False happiness is on the rise. See the victims piled high. In a room without a roof." Take that Pharrell.

Favorite tracks: "The Devil in His Youth," "I Forgive You," "Why Does It Shake?"

Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp

From the opening synth of "Breathless," we know this is something different. This isn't the solo, bedroom recording of American Weekend or the more fleshed-out full-band sound of Cerulean Salt. On Ivy Tripp, Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield explores new sounds; but, taken together, all three records tell a story.

American Weekend contained lots of songs about an unwillingness to commit to a relationship. Cerulean Salt often dealt with the fears that come with actually being in a committed relationship. The title Ivy Tripp is a phrase that Crutchfield invented to describe the aimlessness that comes with not wanting to follow a pre-prescribed path (monogamy? marriage?), kind of figuring out your relationship with yourself maybe.

"You were patiently giving me everything that I will ever need," she sings on "Air," connecting all three of her Waxahatchee albums with that theme of someone giving while the other takes in relationships. Two out of three times, she's been the taker.

Favorite tracks: "Under a Rock," "La Loose," "Air"

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love

Who thought this would ever happen? I mean, if Sleater-Kinney were ever going to come back, who thought that they could come back so strong?

No Cities to Love is that rare combination of a badass rock record that also sounds fresh and unique. Kind of like the stuff put out by that New Brunswick power trio I mentioned up above. And in what sounds like a case of a little feedback loop action, the opening guitar on "A New Wave" bears a striking sonic resemblance to Screaming Females. Drummer Janet Weiss is absolutely devastating on opener "Price Tag," and single "Bury Our Friends" was one of the most fun songs to sing along with all year.

Favorite tracks: "Price Tag," "A New Wave," "Bury Our Friends"

Mal Blum, You Look A Lot Like Me

Mal Blum kinda rocks out a bit on this one. Blum got some help from Marissa Paternoster who produced, played some guitar, and lent backing vocals; so maybe that shouldn't be surprising. But Mal's introspective songwriting is still there under the rock and power pop.

Allyson Dwyer wrote, "For all of Blum's blunt lyricism, there is a subtle journey on this record -- one that doesn't have a complete ending. But in its documentation, its archiving, this period in Blum's life has been given reason and purpose. By sharing those experiences, Mal Blum makes some of us feel a little less alone."

Favorite tracks: "Archive," "Better Go," "Reality TV"

Sink Tapes, Window Unit Blues

Sink Tapes are crazy. They put out more stuff than even seems possible, and they rarely miss. All killer, no filler.

Window Unit Blues is an interesting one that sees the band experimenting with some longer, more classic-rock inspired sounds. Things start off with their usual indie jangle on "You Shouldn't Have" and "Haskell Heavy Hitters," but we're getting positively jammy with six-plus minute closer "Window Unit Blues."

Favorite tracks: "Haskell Heavy Hitters," "Spacecraft Theatrical," "Plastic Lover"

Rock N Roll HiFives, Gold Glitter Shoes

The Rock N Roll HiFives are awesome. The family that plays together stays together, right? This family rocks together, and they bring us all along for the ride.

Joe Centeno has a list of New Jersey rock bands on his resumé. He semi-retired, though, when he started a family with his wife Gloree. Little did anyone know that Joe was just biding his time until he could grow his own band. Joe, Gloree, Eilee, and Evren make rock music that puts a smile on your face and makes you feel silly for feeling so down all the time.

Rooted in some great rock and roll like Guided By Voices, Dinosaur Jr., and The Rolling Stones, the Rock N Roll HiFives aren't just kid stuff, but each member -- even the parents -- exudes the enthusiasm of childhood.

Favorite tracks: "Planets," "Livin' the Lost Boy Life," "Miracles"

Wreaths, Mr. Fang

I'd been hearing about this new EP from Wreaths for a while. I think I even heard some rough mixes early on and wondered when we'd get to hear its final version. Drummer Colin Carhart slapped this tape into my palm one night at Asbury Park Yacht Club. When I finally dug out my old boom box and popped this in, I was impressed.

Wreaths do love to work a theme, and "Dog Dreams" builds a wall of controlled noise around a repeated theme. Ralph Nicastro's distant, buried vocals work really well coming out of the speakers on my boom box, and I found myself getting lost in this one. "Traced and Hazed" gets a little 80s proto-shoegazy, while "Fumblin' Dice" is a nine-minute fever dream.

Don't ask questions. Don't expect answers if you do. You've just gotta let Wreaths take you where they want you to go.

Favorite tracks: "Dog Dreams," "Traced and Hazed," "Fumblin' Dice"

Tenement, Predatory Headlights

2015 was a big year for 20-plus song punk albums, I guess. Tenement combine some weird experimentation in sounds and silence with some familiar rock and power pop. The big 70s rock sounds of "Feral Cat Tribe" give way to distant footsteps and muffled piano. Similarly, "Whispering Kids" goes out on the sound of footsteps and wind chimes or bells. "The Dishwasher's Meal," an instrumental, trades the rock and roll for piano and sometimes discordant strings.

Predatory Headlights will give you plenty in terms of your punk, rock, power pop fix for sure; but it will also, at times, leave you scratching your head to say, "What's going on here?"

Favorite tracks: "Dull Joy," "Curtains Closed," "Whispering Kids," "I'm Your Super Glue"

So. That's it. Peace. Happy Holidays.

1 comment :

  1. Eric James Guy FriedmanDecember 18, 2015 at 5:41 PM

    I'm very happy to see the Protomartyr album on this list! I'm still tinkering with my own personal list but that one is on it for sure.