Holiday-sized rundown of my favorite albums of 2015

This year saw an incredible slate of releases from a ton of different genres.

So, instead of a typical five or 10 item list, I’m naming an album of the year, and then giving some shine to the glut of great tunes from this year.

My anticlimactic pick for album of the year is:

I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty.

I gushed about this album when it came out, and I sung its praises when I did my half-year roundup. Unsurprisingly, I still hold this album in high regards. It’s a collection of excellent ’70s troubadour love songs performed  with a bitingly sarcastic viewpoint. The acerbic observation often turns inward, as Josh Tillman demonstrates he’s not above a world he largely sees as vapid and ridiculous.

 

 

 

Despite all the vitriol and bile evident on songs such as “Ideal Husband” and “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartmet” the album’s hardly bleak, as the title track, gentle closing ballad and super funny “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Cow” underscore the central theme of the album, which is Tillman’s incredulity that a thoroughly modern jackass could find a classically happy love.

On to the other albums I loved this year:

Rose Mountain by Screaming Females

Sore by Dilly Dally

Painted Shut by Hop Along

Feels Like by Bully

Art Angels by Grimes

Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett

Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars by Beach House.

This year was an awesome year for female-fronted rock bands, and that’s without  mentioning  the Waxahatchee album or  the Sleater-Kinney release. I liked both albums, but didn’t particularly love either one.

Also, I know Claire Boucher is sort of a genre-hopping, singer-songwriter-producer, but listen to “Scream” and tell me Deafheaven wouldn’t be proud to have provided the instrumentation for that beat. Therefore, based on that stylistic choice and attitude, I’m lumping her in with the rockers.

I recommend just making one really long Beach House playlist using both their albums from this year, getting real cozy, maybe a little drunk, or maybe just taking some over the counter sleep aids and sitting in the undulating, shimmering swells of this music.

Bully, Screaming Females and Dilly Dally all mined similar ’90s alternative rock veins. If you like Hole, you’ll like Bully. If you like The Pixies’ Kim Deal songs you’ll like Dilly Dally and if you like The Smashing Pumpkins but wish anyone but Billy Corgan was in charge, so you didn’t have to hear his voice and songs would be less meandering, Screaming Females are the platonic ideal. Dilly Dally absolutely have a loud-quiet-loud dynamic going on, and their music tends to move in surprising direction.  Alicia Bognanno’s vocals pretty much ensured every review of Bully’s great album included a comp to Hole,but Hole never released an album quite this even, and Screaming Females branched out to some new sonic territory without abandoning punchy, crunchy guitar noises on a characteristically strong album.

Painted Shut came damn close to getting my album of the year nod. The incredible third album by Hop Along is the simple, jangle rock music I love, and Frances Quinlan’s singing is unlike anything else released this year or really any other year. Painted Shut and Art Angels  remind me of each other because both feature wildly fluctuating points of view, focus and scope presented by gutsy singers using their voices in almost every imaginable way.

Courtney Barnett’s debut album paints detailed scenes with lyrics and rocks in a very straight-forward way that belies the sophistication of Barnett’s insightful, funny songwriting. It’s a great paring and an incredibly confident first LP.

The Agent Intellect by Protomartyr

The Most Lamentable Tragedy by Titus Andronicus

Know America by Obnox

b’lieve i’m going down by Kurt Vile

Teens of Style by Car Seat Headrest

Protomartyr continue to make post-punk music that sounds vital and interesting, which is no easy feat. The Agent Intellect also contains the super personal, super sad “Why Does it Shake?” which derives its name from a real question about tremors caused by aging.

Titus Andronicus swung for the fences with a sprawling double-album and mostly connected. The Most Lamentable Tragedy contained some of the best songs in the band’s oeuvre and some really fascinating takes on what it’s like to battle mental afflictions.

I haven’t seen a ton of love for Obnox’s newest album, but it’s weird blend of hip-hop, blues and scuzzy rock with commentary on race relations made it sort of a lofi To Pimp a Butterfly and a totally captivating listen.

Kurt Vile scaled back from his last effort, but Vile is thoroughly hilarious when pontificates on a largely mundane existence and “Pretty Pimpin'” might be his best single ever.

If you like Julian Casablancas, you’ll love Car seat Headrest, who make a fun brand of garage rock I can’t not endorse.

I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside by Earl Sweatshirt

Mr.Wonderful by Action Bronson

Summertime ’06 by Vince Staples

To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar

For me, this was a year that saw a lot of rap releases I liked, but not a ton I loved. Donnie Trumpet was interesting, but really didn’t do much for me. Drake sold a million albums and still, as always, sucked.

Earl Sweatshirt got even darker and more insular, and it really worked. If you want to feel super bleak, look no further than his album from this year.

Action Bronson revealed he apparently listens to more blues and Billy Joel than I would have expected on a super fun, well-made album.

Vince Staples continues to be almost uncomfortably real about his upbringing and proximity to gang violence, but he’s always clever and fairly catchy.

Kendrick Lamar turned out what most people consider to be the album of the year with his politically minded, not particularly commercial release. I actually liked it more than his last album, but I’m still not a huge fan of the re-heated G-funk and Flying Louts aping. Still, the album was pleasantly weird and grappled with some big-picture topics and is definitely worth a spin.

Some albums that just missed the cut: Before the World Was Big by Girlpool, Ratchet by Shamir, Untethered Moon by Built to Spill, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper by Panda Bear, The Things We Do to Find People Like Us by Beach Slang and StarWars by Wilco.

 

 

 

 

My favorite albums of 2015 so far

As always, best means Ben’s favorite, because the two phrases are synonymous. This has actually been an incredibly strong year of new releases, so this was challenging.  Also, I wasn’t crazy about Kendrick Lamar’s reheated G-funk and Flying Lotus hybrid album, so that made my Top 5 even more volatile.

There’s a good chance a few more prominent releases and time for newer releases to grow on me could really shake things up by December. I’m convinced Girlpool’s album can only sound excellent in warm weather. It just barely missed this list, but we’ll see if it’s still kicking around my main rotation in November. The Most Lamentable Tragedy, which is essentially 90 minutes of Patrick Stickles braindrippings is the other near miss. Technically, it won’t be released until the end of July, and it’s so dense I really don’t have a definitive stance on more than five of the album’s songs.

Since this is a mid-year round up, these are presented in no particular order, but I will start with albums I’ve already covered:

This album is a collection of solid tunes performed on varied instruments that perfectly capture Father John Misty’s appeal. This is a portrait a sardonic jackass, who is fully aware he’s a cad, reconciling the idea he can still be his petty self while experiencing transcendent love. I circled back to this album earlier this week to make sure it’s still great, and it’s staying power seems legitimate.

This is an awesome twangy rock album that I would thoroughly enjoy with just about any singer slotted in on vocals. However, Frances Quinlan delivers one of the most outstanding vocal performances in recent memory. Every emotion she expresses has palpable urgency and registers on a visceral level. The intensity is enjoyably offset by fairly bouncy tunes.

  • Ratchet by Shamir

I can’t believe every review of this album doesn’t start off with a Prince comparison. It’s painfully obvious and might set the bar high, but it’s appropriate. This is a party album that identifies the vapid nature of it’s scene before strapping on a studded collar and wallowing in surface pleasures.

Shamir’s falsetto tag-teams with gorgeous electronic beats, which draw  from every decade’s dance music and hip-hop to deliver my favorite pure pop thrills of the year.

  • Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett

This album, which has the most unwieldy title since Neko Case’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, is full of funny, rowdy rock music with a distinctly Australian flavor. Barnett is clearly a songwriter with a sharp eye for detail with a talent and a wit to match, which mingle excellently with a bar-room rock sound.

  • I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside by Earl Sweatshirt

This is my favorite rap release of the year. It’s grim, sparse and intelligent. I think sometimes its bleakness is somewhat overplayed, because while there aren’t many outright jokes on I Don’t Like Shit… there is a cleverness to wordplay and chemistry with Vince Staples that hint at both a sense of humor and a joy in the catharsis of creativity. It’s a short album and well-worth the scant time investment.

Honestly, this year’s rap releases could probably fill an extensive list of recommendations. Off the top of my head, check out: Kendrick Lamar’s effort, A$AP Rocky’s release, Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s breezy rap collective harmonies, Action Bronson’s aural ’80s action movie and Joey Bada$$ most recent LP.

Those are my five must-listen albums for 2015 so far, although as stated up top, this has been a strong year for new music so go listen to FFS, The Most Lamentable Tragedy, No Cities to Love, Rose Mountain or some other great release I just overlooked.

I love I Love You, Honeybear

I Love You, Honeybear, the latest offering from Father John Misty is absolutely incredible.

J. Tillman, formerly released morose solo efforts and drummed for the Fleet Foxes, but since adopting the Father John Misty moniker, he has penned pseudo-shamanistic, sarcastic and tuneful music, and while I Love You, Honeybear could accurately be characterized as folk rock and acts on some melancholy impulses, it’s a stark departure from anything Tillman has made before, including his last release under the Father John Misty name, Fear Fun. 

Despite having an intentionally sophomoric title, I Love You, Honeybear is a deceptively mature album. Luckily, even with mature themes and a mature sound, Tillman’s humor remains in tact.

Honeybear mines the singer-songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s for its sonic cues. There are elements of baroque pop and folk music. There are a few ballads, notable “Bored in the U.S.A.”, and one stomp-along rocker, the scathing “The Ideal husband”. Still, the common through line is that almost everything could be described as well-crafted  baroque pop.  “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Cow” moves effortlessly from steel guitar to boozy clarinet and feels perfectly in place on the same album as the mariachi horns present in”Chateau Lobby #4(In C for Two Virgins”

The lyrics are sharp, funny and sometimes poignant. Tillman recently married, and I Love You, Honeybear captures a sarcastic cynic, who imagined marriage as, “a passionate obligation to a roommate,” reconciling his identity with sincere love and the happiness his recent marriage has brought into his life. Feeling transcendence through love while also acknowledging occasional creeping feelings of futility and ennui, while admitting he’s suddenly the type of person, who believes in transcendent love is, for the most part, the album’s major theme.

Of course, there are still a few diversions, including “The Night Josh Tillman Came to our Apartment”, which mostly exists to hilariously skewer a certain type of millennial, but some of the totally out-there batshittery found on Fear Fun is totally absent here. In my opinion, a little grounding grants I Love You, Honeybear some emotional heft, which is entirely appropriate for an album so interested in exploring classic love in a modern setting. Also, after “The Ideal Husband” wraps up it’s brutally self-effacing and confessional spew, it’d be an odd change of pace to hear about talking dogs or ass-to-face skin grafts.

I Love You, Honeybear certainly does not suffer from daring to be different from its 2012 predecessor.

The pretty good, often goofy artist who made Fear Fun has crafted one of 2015’s best albums so far.

Father John Misty blends wry humor with an honest portrait of a relationship and excellent, mature pop music in a fantastically winning way on what will probably be a strong contender for the best album of 2015.