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.

 

 

 

 

Rock around the clock: a song from every hour of the day

Earlier this year, when Girlpool and Hop Along were both in my main rotation, I couldn’t help but notice “Before the World Was Big” starts at 7:45 a.m., while “The Knock” starts at 8:45 a.m.

I wondered if I could track down a song from every hour of the day, and I succeeded. Stumbling across The Human Clock’s list of songs was a huge boon to this arbitrary and wildly unnecessary project, but  a few of my songs are not on the list, and a few of my choices are creative interpretations.

When possible, I tried to eschew obvious picks and select quality tracks.

Midnight: “Midnight City” by M83

The breakout song from the outstanding Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is my choice from a cluttered field of songs referencing midnight.

  • 1 a.m. “In the Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett

“Wicked” Wilson Pickett is not a punctual man. Sure, he says he’ll come for you in the midnight hour, but I’d be floored if he meant any earlier than 1:15 a.m.

  • 2 a.m. “Gin and Juice” by Snoop Doggy Dogg

There are several times mentioned during this recount of a raucous party, notably 6 in the mornin’, but at 2 a.m., the party’s still jumping, and a bizarre number of good songs reference 6 a,m,

  • 3 a.m. “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” by Outkast

This Outkast classic takes a laid-back approach to recounting a connection made during a wild night. It’s about 3 in the morning when three knife fight combatants are taken to the hospital.

  • 4 a.m. “This Is How You Spell ‘HAHAHA, We Destroyed The Hopes And Dreams Of A Generation Of Faux-Romantics'” by Los Campesinos!

This song with a cumbersome title is off of Los Campesinos! wonderful debut album, Hold On Now, Youngster. It rules, and during the course of the song, an alarm clock is set for 4 a.m. the next morning. Apparently, Gareth Campesinos! does not omit redundancies.

  • 5 a.m. “She’s Leaving Home” by The Beatles

At 5 a.m., on a Wednesday, the day is just beginning, and the song’s protagonist is just beginning to slink away from her home.

  • 6 a.m. “911” by Delta Spirit

This song, which tracks post-9-11 fallout begins with the speaker upset to be waking at 6 a.m.

  • 7 a.m. “Before the World Was Big” by Girlpool

7:45, the song’s speaker leaves her house attempting to ignore the irrefutable passage of time.

  • 8 a.m. “The Knock” by Hop Along

The knock, which sets the opening track from this year’s amazing Painted Shut into motion comes at 8:45 a.m.

  • 9 a.m. “Elevator Operator” by Courtney Barnett

Oliver Paul wakes up at 9:15 a.m., then dramatically decides to skip work. Whose office job starts later than 9:15 a.m? Of course, Oliver enjoys a Vegemite breakfast, so obviously there’s a cultural barrier here, but it’s perplexing.

  • 10 a.m. “10 a.m. Automatic” by The Black Keys

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s also a pretty good garage-blues number.

  • 11 a.m. “11:11” by Rufus Waingwright

Rufus wakes up at the titular time unable to differentiate between Heaven and Portland. Angels don’t wear flannel, so it seems easy enough to sort out.

  • Noon. “Boyz-N-The-Hood” by Eazy-E

Eazy wakes up late, at approximately noon, he is hit with the realization he must make haste to Compton. This is one of the most famous openings in rap history.

  • 1 p.m. “One p.m. Again” by Yo La Tengo

I tried to stay away from songs that just contain times in the title, but the mid-afternoon times were pretty barren.

  • 2 p.m. “2:35 p.m.” by Spaceman 3

YLT and Spaceman 3 are both seminal independent rock bands, and they both adore the middle of the day.

  •  3 p.m. “Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts” by Arctic Monkeys

A bigger, intimidating boy picks up the object of our protagonist’s affection at 3:20 in this early Arctic Monkeys standout.

  • 4 p.m. “Babies” by Pulp

It seems like generally speaking, British rockers feel more compelled to slip a time reference into their lyrics. It’s around 4 p.m. when the singer–hiding in a wardrobe– spies his crush’s sister doing unsavory things.

  • 5 p.m. “A Well Respected Man” by The Kinks

The well respected man gets home at 5:30 p.m., everyday, because he has a predilection for catching the same train. Punctuality is a defining characteristic of this repressed individual.

  • 6 p.m. “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”

Famously, these lyrics are incomprehensible, but 6 p.m. is given a quick shoutout right before the, “slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn,” bit.

  • 7 p.m. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot

In this delightful retelling of a nautical disaster, a main hatchway caves in, and death is accepted as imminent.

  • 8 p.m. “Justify my Thug” by Jay-Z

I WILL ALWAYS HYPHENATE JAY-Z. With that out of the way, Hov does a time run down inspired by “Rock Around the Clock” in this song. It was tough to find an 8 p.m. song.

  • 9 p.m. “Girl on T.V.” By LFO

These ’90s boy band also-rans recorded a song about meeting a television star and immediately falling in love. Is 9 p.m. forcefully rhymed with again? Youtube this and find out, The Lyte Funkie Ones do not disappoint.

  • 10 p.m. “The Clock Strikes 10” by Cheap Trick

This hugely influential power pop outfit from Rockford, Ill., managed implement the harmony a grandfather clock makes at the top of an hour into a song, and it’s actually pretty awesome.

  • 11 p.m. “Give Me Scabies” by Kitty Pryde

This song riffs on the inescapable “Call Me Maybe”, and is an early standout from the artist, who now bills herself as Kitty–one of my guiltiest pleasures. Honestly, I think I could more easily reconcile with a love of thrill-killing than fully accept how much I enjoy Kitty’s music. Anyway, it’s 11:11 p.m. when Kitty unlocks her Droid.

I cobbled together a playlist of as many of the songs as I could find on Spotify. Enjoy.

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.

Hop aboard the Hop Along bandwagon

Painted Shut, Hop Along’s most recent offering, is absolutely phenomenal. It will populate the upper reaches of year-end lists. Go pre-order it from Saddle Creek Records right now.

It’s also a fairly odd album. Painted Shut is excellent from its opening seconds, but those opening seconds are a misdirection. “The Knock” starts off with jangly guitar blasts and the type of cool, detached female vocals Katie and Allison Crutchfield employ to great effect in their respective Waxahatchee and Swearin’ projects.

Frances Quinlan’s voice and a tuneful riff hint at large, shout-along choruses, but they never really come. Painted Shut is all the better for their absence.

While Hop Along deviate from expectations, they don’t entirely subvert genre. Painted Shut evokes elements of ’90s alternative rock, but instead of Shirley Manson, Quinlan tends to dial up an intense scream reminiscent of early Nirvana recordings.

Instead, short compulsive thoughts then to percolate out of Quinlan repeatedly until they’re also lodged in the listeners brain.

This means punchy, phrases consisting of mostly monosyllabic words such as, “The witness just wants to talk to you,”, “None of this is gonna happen to me,” and “I just though he looked like a powerful man,” generally constitute the hooks of these songs.

However, stilted delivery, throat-shredding intensity and odd rhythm keep the repetition from being rote. It’s really difficult to guess whether a proceeding phrase will be delivered in a breathy falsetto or yowled.

These simple, repeated sentences also stand in contrast to verbose, detail oriented lyrics that set the scene for howling, emotional climaxes, which make them all the more infectious.

Obviously, my big takeaway from this tremendous album is that Quinlan’s voice is incredible, but Painted Shut would be a kickass rock album with less outstanding vocals.

Album opener “The Knock” builds tension before expertly exploding. Elsewhere, a variety of differently stylized, memorable guitar licks abound.. Sometimes, this variance takes place in the same song. For example, on standout  “Texas Funeral” verses are accompanied by a twangy southwestern sound, but collapse under crashing waves of reverb noise, which ultimately recede and allow for a genuine guitar solo.  he audible intensity results in a sort of palpable catharsis.

Painted Shut is a fairly short album, consisting of 10 songs and clocking in around 40 minutes, which makes it perfect for compulsive re-spins, which are absolutely necessary, because it’s almost impossible to dislodge Hop Along’s music from your brain.

While the songs on this album often focus on characters with some degree of moral reprehensibility or who are grappling with pain (either physical or emotional) they are always an absolute joy to listen to.