Top Albums of 2015

2015 was a good year for music!  So many things came out that It’s time to recap some of the best ones.  

In no particular order...

1. Failure - The Heart is a Monster

One of my favorite “trends” in music over the last few years is how many post-hardcore bands are reuniting and making new music. Failure is no exception; they’ve made an incredible record.  It holds its own, it’s new and fresh and still sounds like Failure, and grabs me in every possible way that an album should. I cannot get enough of this record.
Highlights: Mulholland Dr, Atom City Queen, Petting the Carpet, The Focus, I Can See Houses

2. Will Haven - Open the Mind To Discomfort

The doomiest, heaviest thing Will Haven has ever released.  Very Neurosis-esque.  Not as ambient as “Voir Dire” was -- it’s a much darker record, with more complicated time signatures and other musician tricks to keep things interesting. My only complaint is it’s short -- 2 or 3 more songs would have been nice.
Highlights: Do You Have a Light, Hermit

3. Lamb of God - VII: Sturm Und Drang

Their first album after Randy was accused (wrongly) of manslaughter and spent a month In a Czech Republic jail cell.  Several songs (all of them?) were inspired by that ordeal. Whether that’s what did it or not, I don’t know, but I like this album much more than their previous disc. “Wrath” was good, but didn’t grab me as much as “The Sacrament”.  “VII: Sturm Und Drang” brought Lamb of God back for me, this disc stayed in my stereo for several weeks, getting played over and over.  Randy’s singing on the song “Overlord” was long overdue; nice to see the band trying new things and expanding their sound a bit.
Highlights: 512, Embers, Erase This

4. The Interrupters - s/t

If Operation Ivy had a female singer, they would sound like The Interrupters.  I first caught them live in Santa Cruz, opening for 7 Seconds, and was immediately hooked.  Their album is one of the catchiest things I’ve ever heard. (Apparently I’m not the only one that thinks The Interrupters are great -- their song “Take Back The Power” has been the background music for Verizon’s TV commercials of late.)
Highlights: Liberty, This is the New Sound, Judge Not

5. Faith No More - Sol Invictus

This is an album for Faith No More Fans. Are there people that still think Faith No More are only a rap-metal band? That have only heard “Epic” and nothing else? This is not a record for them. :) It’s all the other great things about Faith No More, their experimenting with time signatures, genres, dynamics, and dozens of other ideas that most bands couldn’t possibly pull off.
Highlights: Superhero, Sunny Side Up, Cone of Shame

6. MG - s/t

Martin Gore from Depeche Mode released another instrumental-electronic album. It’s not as minimalist as the VCMG disc he did with Vince Clarke.  These could very well be backing tracks for Depeche Mode songs.  They’re full and arranged, and even without vocals, they have that “magic” that Depeche Mode songs have for me.  I am continually in awe of the sounds Martin can coax out of synthesizers and his ability to arrange music.  Among songwriters I often hear people discuss how one determines the author of a song by the parts that can be sung and played on acoustic guitar -- that everything else is just arrangement and not really “songwriting”. Martin’s abilities to arrange and produce songs are one big reasons why I take issue with that “rule”.
Highlights: Pinking, Creeper, Featherlight

7. Dave Gahan & Soulsavers - Angels & Ghosts

We got not just one but two Depeche Mode side projects this year -- life is good. Soulsavers is Dave’s more blues-based side project.  This record is less “ambient” than the previous Soulsavers album; the songs are slightly more polished, more pop and marketable -- several tracks could very well be Depeche Mode songs.  Dave Gahan is one of best frontmen and singers in rock today -- his performance on this record is no exception.
Highlights: Shine, All of This and Nothing, Don’t Cry

8. Refused - Freedom

Yet another post-hardcore band to reunite recently, Refused, released a stellar album.  It’s less electronic than The Shape of Punk to Come, and heavier than the albums before it.  It’s got that combination of pop sensibilities and controlled chaos that Refused records are known for.
Highlights: Old Friends New War, Dawkins Christ, Useless Europeans

9. Motion City Soundtrack - Panic Stations

Motion City Soundtrack know how to write guitar-keyboard-pop records. They get more focused and “pro” with each record (some people like that, some don’t).  There aren’t really any derivations from previous records.  The lyrical content gets a tad more mature as the band gets older, but it still sounds like what I expect out of a Motion City Soundtrack record.
Highlights: Anything At All, TKO, It’s a Pleasure To Meet You

10. The Mountain Goats - Beat The Champ

As if The Mountain Goats weren’t already brilliant, prolific dudes, they released a concept album all about pro wrestling.  And it’s REALLY good.  One doesn’t even have to be a wrestling fan to enjoy it. But for us that are, it adds an extra level of fun to the songs.
Highlights: Foreign Object, Southwestern Territory, Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan, The Legend of Chavo Guerrero

PS. Kevin Seconds didn’t release a proper CD this year, but the dude wrote, recorded and released over TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY SONGS in 2015. “Mad skills” doesn’t even begin to describe how jealous, inspired, and awestruck I am at that feat.  


Honorable Mentions (because picking just 10 is TOO HARD!)

Disclosure - Caracal
Only Crime - Pursuance
Mayer Hawthorne - A Strange Arrangement
Colin Hay - Next Year People
mewithoutYou - Pale Horses
Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness - s/t
Once An Empire - Changing Shapes
Murder By Death - Big Dark Love
Good Riddance - Peace In Our Time
Echosmith - Talking Dreams

Things I didn’t pick up this year, but probably would have made the list had I done so:

Slayer, Ghost, The Struts, Jacob Golden, Alicia Witt and others all released stuff this year that I haven’t blocked off time for yet.


Disappointments of the year:

Matt Nathanson “Show Me Your Fangs”

Dear Matt, we need to talk.  Early in your career you made 2 near-flawless albums -- “Ernst” and “Still Waiting for Spring”.  I’ve played them both thousands of times; I’ve sung along to every word  over and over at the top of my lungs; I’ve learned to play nearly every note on guitar.  And I’ve bought everything you’ve released since then, just based on faith that you’ll continue making great records. Then you signed with a major label, and they melted your brain.  At first it was a slow, dismissable change.  Then you slowly tried to become Jason Mraz and Gavin DeGraw, then you tried to become Train.  Now with this new record you somehow think you’re a 60’s Motown act.  The album feels incredibly disjointed.  Upon first listen, I thought “wow, this feels like 6 or 7 different people produced this, there is no continuity in the record”.   Upon reading the liner notes I learned that my sadness was justified -- I was right. You DID have a half-dozen producers on this album.  Please call Mark Weinberg and make another GOOD record like we both know you’re capable of doing.  That being said, the song “Bill Murray” is totally brilliant.  

Kurt Cobain “Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings”

This should never have been released; and I say that as a die-hard Nirvana fan, and as a fan of deep cuts, B-sides and other rarity collections.  These were obviously home demos meant for Kurt’s own reference and nothing more.  There is no production or editing done anywhere on the disc.  On one hand, that’s kind of cool to hear that Nirvana demos do indeed start out just like any other band demos (which we all knew but rarely do we get to peek behind the curtain for a band of this caliber).  But Kurt was pretty vocal about hating his own voice, and basically needing every production trick available before he felt comfortable hearing his vocals on a recording. I can’t imagine he’d be happy with these demos being released.  And as much of a Nirvana fan as I am, I don’t think we gain anything by listening to them.  With one exception: the Beatles cover was worth the money.