Well, here it is, my favorite albums of 2015. At this point, I don't know how I feel about this year in music. There were some very good albums that were released, but not quite as many that grabbed me as in past years. My year in music was all about exploring new places like 70s Eno and the Numero Group releases (Ork Records!!). This list represents the 20 albums that did occupy a place in my ears for more than a passing moment. My favorite part of making these lists is going back months or years from now and seeing which albums I still reach for. Time will tell how they all stand up. Enjoy!
20. Wilco - Star Wars (dBPM)
19. They Might Be Giants - Glean (IDLEWILD RECORDS)
18. Pond - Man It Feels Like Space Again (S/R)
17. Kurt Vile - B'lieve I'm Goin Down (MATADOR)
16. Magic Castles - Starflower (A RECORDINGS)
15. Jim O'Rourke - Simple Songs (DRAG CITY)
14. Weird Owl - Interstellar Skeletal (A RECORDINGS)
13. Sleater Kinney - No Cities to Love (SUB POP)
12. FUZZ - II (IN THE RED)
11. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment - Surf (S/R)
10. Viet Cong - S/T (JAGJAGUWAR)
9. Titus Andronicus - The Most Lamentable Tragedy (MERGE)
8. Wand - Golem (IN THE RED)
7. Brian Jonestown Massacre - Musique de Film Imagine (A RECORDINGS)
6. Father John Misty - I Love You Honeybear (SUB POP)
5. Helvetia - Dromomania (JOYFUL NOISE)
In 2014, news of a new Built to Spill record was popping up only to be shot down. Turns out the album was recorded, then scrapped. There was a lineup change and the new album was recorded and released (keep reading to find out if I liked it). Jason Albertini of Helvetia was one of the additions to the BTS lineup. Having toured opening for BTS many many times, I was concerned that the BTS sound would bleed through onto this record and it would be pretty so so. I'll admit when I'm wrong! This record sounds nothing like BTS in the best way possible. The sounds on this album brilliantly balance between sounding extremely intentional and haphazardly thrown together. That balance comes from the genesis of this record blending 60's psych pop like the Kinks and Beefheart with 90's indie fuzz like Pavement and Guided by Voices. Helvetia blends those influences into a sound all their own that is a resounding success. This album got no press. I don't think I saw a single review. So here's one for you and for Helvetia. Great album!
4. Dan Melchior's Broke Revue - Lords of the Manor (IN THE RED)
I first heard about Dan Melchior from Dan McGee of Spider Bags during an interview I conducted with him in 2014. He shared a story about Melchior and brought a 45 that we spun. Melchior is one of these mythical underground rockers that releases so many records across so many variations of rock N roll that it's no wonder that few people have heard of him. When you keep running it's hard for anyone to catch you. I happened to find a Melchior record at Harvest Records maybe 2 weeks before we got this album at the station. Lords of the Manor finds Melchior bringing some heavy psych and krautrock into the garage with him. The result is 7 raging slow burning jammers that will melt your face and rupture your eardrums! 3 songs under 5 minutes, 4 songs over 5 minutes with the crown jewel "Monkey" reaching past the 9 minute mark. Don't let Dan Melchior's music pass you by, I guarantee that someday long after Dan has passed, his albums will be reissued and everyone will wonder why the hell he didn't get his propers when he was alive.
3. Built to Spill - Untethered Moon (WARNER BROS)
There are few bands that have grabbed such a significant portion of my heart and soul. The music of Built to Spill soundtracks my life. The balance that they draw between jangle pop and psychedelic insanity hits me where it hurts so good. I will go on record to say that Built to Spill's discography is as flawless as any band in history. I am not saying that BTS is one of the greatest bands ever (though I think so) simply that they do not have a single blemish in their history and few bands that exist for over 20 years can say that. Hell, even The Boss, the Kinks and the Stones have albums that suck! Having released just 8 albums in 22 years it is apparent that Doug Martsch and the rest of BTS take their time when it comes to recording. Untethered Moon is their first album since 2009's There is no Enemy and is a fantastic addition to their catalog. It's got psych jammers, jangle poppers and closes with "When I'm Blind" that stretches to noisey, dark psychedelic places over the course of 8 minutes. BTS put on one of the best live shows in the game, so buy their records and go see them live.
2. Kamasi Washington - The Epic (BRAINFEEDER)
When I was a young chap of 17-20, I got into jazz. I didn't go super deep, but I dug into a number of albums by the greats like Miles, Coltrane, Herbie, etc. Jazz Appreciation was even my favorite class in college. Fast forward to 2015; my musical path has taken me away from jazz and down countless wormholes. 2015 was the year I got back into jazz and The Epic helped guide me down the trail. The Epic blends together damn near every sub genre of jazz from the last 50 years - at times cool and chill, at times frantic and free, at times funky and full of fusion. Over the course of 3 LPs and near 3 hours Kamasi takes his band of psychedelic explorers through a multitude of themes that pop up, get explored, resolved and pop up again. Having spent years of adding flourishes to hip hop records, Washington adds such an intoxicating vibe to his brand of jazz that he can convince the most staunch jazz hater that they are wrong.
1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly (INTERSCOPE)
It really wasn't fair for most bands/musicians that put records out in 2015. I mean, seriously, have you heard To Pimp a Butterfly? From the moment I listened to this hip hop masterpiece front to back, I knew this would be my #1 album of the year and it got released back in March! Hip Hop is a genre that has been dominated by artists proclaiming they are the greatest rapper/lover/gangster/whatever. Kendrick dropped an album about depression and struggle. To Pimp a Butterfly explores Lamar's feelings. Yeah, FEELINGS on the best hip hop record of the year, if not the decade and possibly the century (so far). That's not to say he doesn't throw out some lines about being the baddest ("Where were you when I was walking? Now I run the game got the whole world talking...."). Over the course of 2014 and 2015 it has become blindly obvious that we still live in a country where blacks are second class citizens. Police murder black men and women and get away scott free (that is not to say that all cops are murderers). On To Pimp a Butterfly Kendrick Lamar dropped the civil rights anthem of the 21st century with "Alright." No matter what gets thrown at you, We gon be alright! What the movement for equality in this country needed more than anything was a voice and an anthem. Kendrick didn't try to be that voice, but by crafting an honest album about fear, anxiety, race relations, and murderous police with the hottest guests in the game (Kamasi, Snoop, Flying Lotus, George Clinton, Thundercat, Bilal, Rapsody) he proved to all of us that if this movement needs a voice, it has one. No matter what life throws your way, you will be alright.