Much like our entry at number 26 — Car Seat Headrest — Alex G isn’t necessarily a new artist, even though this could be the first year any of us have been exposed to his music. Beach Music is Alex G’s seventh release; several of his past releases came via Bandcamp. If you were already enamored by this young, engaging songwriter, you’re likely satisfied with his jump to the “big” leagues on Domino. Beach Music is laid back, chill music that hits on several emotions and wholly sucking you into its mood. The album’s clear stand out is “Brite Boy” but following song, “In Love”, will tear apart your soul.
In a land of clunky, artsy post-punk bands that seem to clog the musical landscape, there are only a few that still possess the power to deliver a knockout punch. Even fewer remain interesting enough to avoid an endless drone of noise. Riding off of the success of their single, “Continental Shelf”, Viet Cong’s self-titled LP boasts both the strength to make a statement and the chops to turn a good song. Full of memorable hooks, ravaging guitars, and enough pauses in the action to allow listeners a breath, “Viet Cong” ticks off all of the boxes that so many other similar albums seem to miss.
The range of sounds and styles Holly experiments with on Platform are what make it such an exciting and engaging listen. Over the course of 10 tracks she explores elements of new-age, break-beat, techno, glitch-hop, choral pop, trip-hop, avante-garde, house and even ASMR. There are easily accessible and almost anthemic moments to be found on tracks like “Chorus”, “An Exit” and “Morning Sun” as well as bizarre left-turns on tracks like “Lonely At The Top”. Some of her experiments are more successful than others, but overall this is an essential listen for anyone seeking to sonically explore the digital age we currently live in from a perspective which is both critical and celebratory.
I’ll be honest. I really didn’t expect much from Neon Indian’s follow-up to Era Extraña because I thought Era Extraña sucked. That’s as blunt as I can be without using expletives or obscene remarks involving genitalia. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised by VEGA INTL. Night School, a funky getaway from albums where its makers took the music way too seriously. VEGA INTL. Night School keeps things fun and creates a sexy vibe that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to blast while your friends are over (try doing that with Skrillex or Diplo).
2015 wasn’t without its fair share of angsty releases from female fronted acts like Bully and Speedy Ortiz. However, the clear winner among all of them was Hop Along’s Painted Shut. Fronted by Frances Quinlan, she possesses a screeching delivery that could wake the dead, but I mean that completely as a complement. “Waitress”, a stand out from Painted Shut, should be enough to get you hooked on Hop Along and make you believe that flannel is making a comeback.
It’s still crazy to believe Beach House released two albums in one year. Although they said Thank Your Lucky Stars wasn’t a surprise release, everyone was surprised (some more pleasantly than others). Count me and a few of the other Earbuddy members as listeners who enjoyed Thank Your Lucky Stars far more than Depression Cherry. Depression Cherry was good (as expected), but it was also somewhat of a letdown in that it never followed up on the experimentation heard on “Sparks”. Thank Your Lucky Stars made no promises; arriving without warning and just being good…really good.
Rock-n-roll has died a thousand deaths, been reborn a thousand more, but never has it seemed more in need of a revival than now. There will (hopefully) always be good and occasionally great singers, virtuoso guitarists, amazing drummers and skilled rappers. What seems to be in doubt is if these musicians will have anything worthwhile to say. Sleater-Kinney still have plenty on their minds and plenty of venom and rancor to force a rock revival. Wild and unabashed aggression is extremely uncommon in music today. It seems almost every one walks around on eggshells, fearful of taking stands, trying their best to not offend anyone, content to make bland background music that requires little effort to digest and even less to ignore. Sleater-Kinney, as they always have done, refuse to tread softly and refuse to stay silent.
After a list-topping effort on last year’s “LP1”, FKA Twigs dropped a surprise EP mid-August. For Twigs, whose only massive misstep in the past few years has been her engagement to actor and human cliché Robert Pattinson, M3LL155X could have either gone a few ways: much of the same as “LP1”, worse than “LP1”, or better than “LP1”. Instead, the EP showed a different side of FKA Twigs, one that is decidedly less sensual than who we met in LP1, instead more aggressive and, well, angry. (An obvious result of her relationship with the living “Twilight” movie poster? Who knows.) There’s much less vulnerability on M3LL155X, but far more experimentation and jarring beats — sounding less like a delicate chanteuse and more like clipping.
Purchase: Young Turks
“Is this still the same band?” A valid question posed by many first-time listeners as they make their way through Alabama Shakes’ triumphant Sound and Color. Yes, the band enjoyed a popularity boost due to powerful appearances on The Late Show and SNL, but that shouldn’t discount the complexity and completeness of Sound and Color. From the funky “Don’t Wanna Fight” to the classic rock-styled “Dunes” to the aching “This Feeling” and back to the punk-ish “The Greatest”. This album has something for everyone, and its mass appeal is further buoyed by the raw emotion and flawless musicianship. Finally a popular Grammy nominee we can be proud of.
What makes Sprinter stand out among the myriad other singer-songwriter solo records is the beauty of it all. Not “beauty” in a shiny, sterilized, symmetrical way, but emotional beauty. This record is so raw, and Mackenzie Scott’s message feels so intensely personal, that it often feels as if she is singing directly to you, like some kind of audio confessional. Torres is similar to other contemporary songwriters like Waxahatchee, Perfume Genius, and Sharon Van Etten, but the key difference is that Torres is able to channel the anxiety, the anger, the regret into a medium that’s perfectly reflected by the music without it being dreary or a drag. Torres takes that pained energy and spins it into something else. Those wounds give way to new skin.
If you’re an Adele fan but have no clue who Tobias Jesso Jr. is, take a listen to 25‘s single, “When We Were Young”. Tobias Jesso Jr. helped write the song. In fact, many of his songs on Goon were written for other people to sing. But what do you do when no one wants to sing your songs, you sing the damn things yourself! Lucky for Jesso Jr. that he has a remarkable voice, crafts beautiful piano melodies, and knows how to write sharp, emotion-packed songs. “How Could You Babe” stands out as one of the songs I kept on repeat this year. How could you not take the time to check out Goon?
Prass’ self-titled debut LP has been a long time coming. Recorded in 2012, fans’ patience paid off with a stunning and ambitious album that is simultaneously stark and grand. Leading off with the glorious “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” — a track that has more great ideas and musicality than 90% of albums released today — Prass gives listeners a glimpse into how minimal melodies can be successfully mixed with maximalist production. With enough variety and songwriting chops to hold modern audience’s attention spans, Prass’ LP remains open and revealing without succumbing to the flightiness that sometimes plagues her peers. “Natalie Prass” is the type of album that probably keeps Jenny Lewis up at night.
I wasn’t completely sold on Courtney Barnett after hearing Double Ep: A Sea of Split Peas. Now Barnett is a Grammy nominated artist and for good reason. Her debut LP Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is killer. Opening up with “Elevator Operator”, Barnett quickly hooked me with her story about a lovable loser, who just wants to jump off the roof of a building. What makes Barnett so good is her ability to pack her songs with concrete details and making it all jive. While she’s a songwriter at heart, she knows how to tear the walls off the building as evident by “Pedestrian At Best”.
Daniel Lopatin over the progression of his “R” trilogy (Returnal, Replica, R Plus Seven) has streamlined and emboldened his late ‘80s cyber nostalgic sound into something that can stand on it’s own two feet. Garden of Delete plays out as an auditory equivalent to an angsty teenager’s school journal covered in Nine Inch Nail Logos, Sonic The Hedgehog characters, UFO spacecraft, cyborgs and strange doodles of made-up symbols. The influence of modern producers like Hudson Mohawke has made the record accessible to many music fans that would claim Boards of Canada adventurous. Hypnotic, dramatic and otherworldly; Garden of Delete delivers cosmic splendor with operatic power.
While 2014 seemed to indicate a punk revival (Perfect Pussy’s Say Yes To Love and White Lung’s Deep Fantasy), 2015 had a host of metal and almost-metal releases that made an impact on year end lists. Deafheaven led the charge with their brutal, yet listenable, release, New Bermuda. Showcasing the same rapid-fire guitars from 2013’s Sunbather, New Bermuda finally gave drummer Daniel Tracy space to really shine, taking some of the pressure off guitarist Kerry McCoy and allowing the tracks to open up a little more. In these moments of reprieve, the listener is allowed to take a breath and brace for the next impact. New Bermuda is one of those rare albums that feels way too short — in a good way.
And now a look at our list so far:
100. Wild Raccoon – Mount Break
99. HIBOU – HIBOU
98. Aqualung – 10 Futures
97. Misterwives – Our Own House
96. Lapalux – Lustmore
95. Of Montreal – Snare Lustrous Doomings
94. GABI – Sympathy
93. White Reaper – White Reaper Does It Again
92. All We Are – All We Are
91. The Cairo Gang – Goes Missing
90. Sun Hotel – Rational Expectations
89. Jose Gonzalez – Vestiges and Claws
88. Travis Scott – Rodeo
87. Shlohmo – Dark Red
86. Krill – A Distant Fist Unclenching
85. Sarah Bethe Nelson – Fast Moving Clouds
84. Jaakko Eino Kalevi – Jaakko Eino Kaveli
83. Blur – The Magic Whip
82. Young Thug – Barter 6
81. Vomitface – Another Bad Year
80. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf
79. Martin Courtney – Many Moons
78. The Black Ryder – The Door Behind The Door
77. Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls
76. Oberhofer – Chronovision
75. Adele – 25
74. Main Attrakionz – 808s and Dark Grapes III
73. Slutever – Almost Famous
72. Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer
71. Future – DS2
70. Ash Koosha – Guud
69. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
68. Matthew E. White – Fresh Blood
67. Mount Eerie – Sauna
66. Shannon and the Clams – Gone By The Dawn
65. Autre Ne Veut – Age of Transparency
64. Wilco – Star Wars
63. San Fermin – Jackrabbit
62. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
61. Pile – You’re Better Than This
60. Clarence Clarity – No Now
59. The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ
58. Petite Noir – The King of Anxiety
57. Lady Lamb – After
56. MIkal Cronin – MCIII
55. Ava Luna – Infinite House
54. Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt
53. Youth Lagoon – Savage Hills Ballroom
52. Girl Band – Holding Hands With Jamie51. Floating Points – Elaenia
50. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper
49. Lower Dens – Escape from Evil
48. Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone?
47. Lightning Bolt – Fantasy Empire
46. Joey Bada$$ – B4.DA.$$
45. Death Grips – Jenny Death
44. Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last
43. Drake – If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late
42. Hudson Mohawke – Lantern
41. Beach House – Depression Cherry
40. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier
39. Laura Marling – Short Movie
38. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down…
37. Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp
36. Björk – Vulnicura
35. Miguel – Wildheart
34. Joanna Newsom – Divers
33. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
32. Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us
31. Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss
30. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
29. Rustie – EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE
28. Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
27. Arca – Mutant
26. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Style
25. Alex G – Beach Music
24. Viet Cong – Viet Cong
23. Holly Herndon – Platform
22. Neon Indian – VEGA INTL. Night School
21. Hop Along – Painted Shut
20. Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars
19. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
18. FKA Twigs – M3LL155X
17. Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color
16. Torres – Sprinter
15. Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon
14. Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass
13. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
12. Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete
11. Deafheaven – New Bermuda
And that’s it for today! Be sure to join us tomorrow as we take a look at our best releases of 2015: 25 – 11.