2015. We wave goodbye to this year and just like any other before (and after), there were high and lows. This Shithole of a Website (TM) was supposed to close and we are still here, wondering what it all means and when is it really time to call it quits. It’ll be a whimper, not a bang, but that’s a discussion for another day. In the meantime, 2015 gave us some pretty delectable releases, some great gigs and a couple of singles that deserve your attention. In no particular order, these are the albums and EPs that made my 2015 memorable. We are skipping the obvious choices, like Kendrick Lamarr’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Ryan Adams‘ 1989 and Lana Del Rey‘s Honeymoon because y’all read too much about those in other places extensively. We’re going instead for:
Low – Ones and Sixes. As much as Low try to keep things fresh, there’s no denying they’ve kept that feeling of primordial fear that oozes through each of their albums. Never as dark as Drums & Guns, never as expansive as The Great Destroyer, Ones and Sixes is a keeper in the Low pantheon. Fave track: ‘No End.’
Moving Panoramas – One. A painful album to listen to. Why? Because of the emotional depth charge detonating through all tracks of this long-awaited (at least by me!) debut album. All three members of the band are seasoned musicians and I’d venture to say they found their sound with Moving Panoramas. Sometimes the loudest scream is a whisper drenched in dream pop. Fave track: ‘Tonight’.
Publicist UK – Forgive Yourself. On a surface scan, it’s a heavy album that fuses itself with a classical post-punk sound. Dive a little deeper than 4 feet and you find that this is an album that flips the dreampop genre into something that could very well be nightmarepop. The dread-filled vocal delivery of Zachary Lipez salutes Michael Gira and Mark Sandman while being subdued behind the growling musical landslides. A dark album that never gives in fully into oblivion. Fave track: ‘Levitate the Pentagon’.
The Eastern Sea – The Witness. Just like Moving Panoramas, Austin based The Eastern Sea tapped a painful mother lode of inspiration from the vicissitudes of life. The Witness is the culmination of a long journey, with all the emotional baggage and mementos you pick along the way. I once betted that ‘Boy in Blue’ & ‘Something Sweet’ were the best The Eastern Sea tracks, but then ‘Baseball’ hit me in one of those hard moments in life and I became hooked. This the band at its strongest and if I had to chose for only ONE album, this would be it (sorry, Moving Panoramas, I really love you!). Fave Track: ‘Baseball’.
Vast Robot Armies – Little Creatures. The arduous process. The trial and error. The long drive with everything to fear. The pains of doubting yourself. Sitting in the same room with the best goddamned drummer in the world. Wake and bake breakfasts. Last minute crisis. Finding your voice. Seeing it all fall into pieces. Getting a sweet album cover that pays tribute to Logan’s Run. Jason, Joe, Joseph and Chris came together for a little over a week and knocked it out of the park. More, please. Fave Track: ‘Everything new is old again’.
Echodrone – Five. Incredible. The shoegaze revival has been flogging reverb-hazed albums for the last 4 years or so and amongst the deluge of My Bloody Valentine/Slowdive copycats, few stand proud with a sound of their own. Echodrone surely stand tallest, with a flavour of shoegaze that is both endearing and sober. There’s as many emotions as harmonics in Five and like a few albums in this list, this is an album about changes, about losses and about moving on. It’s a miracle that it exists and fans of the genre should relish this. Fave Track: a tie between ‘When the two ends meet’ and ‘Glacial place’.
Cloakroom – Further Out. Glitterdust over drums. Drawn out vocals. Enough guitar tweaking to run 2 and a half circles near planet Hum. An easy going pace that will/should never be called “shoegaze”. An expansive sound that deserves to be pressed in two vinyl records. Cloakroom‘s Further out never goes for cheap nostalgic shots, it knows its place in the spectrum and with every crunching sound, it pulsates outwardly, rapidly becoming a quasar of chords and atmospheres. Fave Track: ‘Moon Funeral’.
Shores – Precedents. Self-described ‘bummercore’ outfit Shores will not make your party a happy affair. Heck, they won’t make a break-up easier to survive. What Shores will do is pull out your heart and stomp it in slow, reverberated motion, Office Space-like. Precedents, released in that Tuesday of Months (February) brings back memories of Idaho and Red House Painters, with a little dab of continental drift. A gorgeous album that lets you wallow for a bit. Fave Track: ‘Haute’.
Arm Candy – Arm Candy. Get a Costco sized box of Pop Rocks. Get a keg of Crystal Pepsi (it’s back!). Mix ’em together and in that foamy avalanche of fizz and sugar, you’ll find Arm Candy surfing, waving a “HAPPY FOREVER” banner and relishing on rapid-fire solos, punk attitude and that ever so sweet New York sound. A fantastic punk album that goes quite well with Best Friends, Feature and Slowcoaches. Fave Track: ‘Clean Dreams’
The Ravenna Colt – Terminal Current. I will never hide the fact that I love alt-country & Americana. I have no idea how or why, but the first time I heard the genre, I got hooked. The Ravenna Colt ticks all the boxes and then some, with a clear love of the classics and enough ideas to create a magical trip through the counties, the fields of crops and the endless green fields of the Midwest. Terminal Current, the sophomore album by The Ravenna Colt, is a long road trip. The final destination and the purpose are never spelt to you, it’s a slow journey and through each track, through each solemn note and mournful solo, you will find what it is about. A fantastic slice of true Americana, down a shot of Early Times with this one. Fave Track: ‘Terminal Current’. Just perfect.
Marathon – Sanctuary. I think post-rock is getting a much-maligned (and undeserved) reputation as of late. Derided by some critics as “new age for Gen-xers/millenials”, the genre is getting a beating. Enter Marathon and their delicious single track album, Sanctuary. A topsy-turvy detour through the soundscapes and drones of the modern world, Sanctuary flows easily with the fierce determination of magma. From time to time, the easy flow descends into chaos; red hot molten rocks touch cool water and fiercely react. An astounding experimental album from Illinois. Fave Track: uh… ‘Sanctuary’, of course.
R.E.W << – Olive Skinned, Silver Tongued. Right, so Ryan E. Webber, which is 50% of our beloved Eric & Magill went and released this gorgeous collection of tracks, dabbling from the dream pop he’s crafted so well in the last 15 years or so to sweet soundscapes that instantly soothe your troubled mind. There’s even a couple of baroque moments that are majestic. I’m looking at you, ‘Indigo Fortresses’. Deceptively simple, layered in a complex fashion. Fave Track: ‘Olive Skinned, Silver Tongued’ is simply perfect.
HEY, STOP THIS LIST.
I kinda want to group Palehound and a few bands in this list as The Great Exploding in Sound Musical Cornucopia. Everyone who says “there’s no good new bands out now” should take a few moments out of their Foreigner/Beatles/Winger marathon and listen to any of these bands that have their HQ at Exploding in Sound. Bands like….
Palehound – Dry Food. Look, we should all love Speedy Ortiz and their meteoric rise. We should also give our full support to the strange loveliness of Palehound, who manage to be intimate and menacing at the same time. Dry Food is a tilt-a-whirl ride into dialogue heavy film scenes, unheard seventies psychedelic rock and plain ol’ fun. Bent Nail was pent-up anger building up, Dry Food is the thunderous release of all that energy. Fave Track: ‘Cushioned Caging’.
Stove – Is Stupider. RIP Ovlov. Welcome to Earth, Stove. There are no second acts in American lives, but bands? They can have as many lives as long as inspiration is there. Is Stupider finds Steve Hartlett with a shitload of ideas and no band to play with. Solution? Play everything. Result! Focused but with enough liberty to still have fun, Stove‘s debut album is a hoot and hollerin’ ride. Fave Track: ‘Ex-punk’
Pile – You’re better than this. How the fuck do you want me to describe Pile? They look like hillbillies, snore like truckers, eat like a gang of bikers and play the musical equivalent of those late night thoughts that won’t let you sleep. You’re better than this grabs that dark humour that Pile juggles so well and balances it with its impressive musical palette. It’s a fun album. It gave me nightmares (coulrophobia!) It rocks. Fave Track: the simply brutal ‘#2 hit Single’
Dirty Dishes – Guilty. Way back in January of 2015, when we weren’t sure how the year would go, Dirty Dishes suckerpunched us with their third album, Guilty. A combination of alt-rock with psychedelia, Guilty simply delivers the necessary punch to keep you moving forward, no matter what. Fave track: ‘Thank you, come again’.
Beards – Nature Proper. A ferocious sophomore album by Beards, Nature Proper is a vertiginous cocktail of punk, art rock and weapons-grade bass playing. From the apocalyptic ‘Breh’, with its chaotic intro, to the groovy ‘Crowds’, Nature Proper keeps you on your toes in a vast field of tacks and nails. Fave Track ‘at C’.
Ultimate Painting – Green Lanes. The psychedelic nature of the songs plus the sparsely arrangements make this a great “night” album. Whether for a slow drive back home, a little accompaniment for reading or just something to relax to, Green Lanes offers so much while keeping it simple. The shushed vocals by Jack Cooper and James Hoare intertwine perfectly with the relaxed atmospheres. Fave Track: ‘The Ocean’.
Motes – Keep it in the dark. Motes: the great escape artists of 2015. You might think you’ve sussed out the genre they belong into and then they escape, Steve McQueen style. Slocore, Twee, Rock and even hints of goth pop from time to time in what’s easily one of the most diverse albums I’ve heard in my life. Add to that a couple of great videos (like this one) and you’ve got a real keeper in your hands. Fave Track: ‘Dear life’.
White Reaper – White Reaper does it again. Hubris: defined by claiming you’ve done it again before releasing your album. It should be a curse, but somehow White Reaper jumps over this self-imposed hurdle and deliver a fast-rollicking, high-kicking second album that deserves all praise thrown towards it. Perfect for late night driving. Fave track: ‘Sheila’.
Someone Still Loves you Boris Yeltsin – The high country. A fairly underlooked band with one of the most infectious pop releases of the year, The High Country manages to bring you back to the times of Members Only jackets, Citation XL and Pac-Man Candyfaces. ‘Line on you’, ‘Step Brother City’ and ‘Foreign Future’ keep the tempo up, but you also get quiet moments like ‘Madeline’. It’s the most straight shootin’ release from Someone Still Loves you Boris Yeltsin and it’s a bullseye every time I hear it. Fave Track: ‘Madeline’
Birthmark – How you look when you’re falling down. Why aren’t y’all talking about Nate Kinsella‘s solo efforts? Look, I love American Football as much as anyone with a music blog, but the stuff that Nate is creating under the Birthmark moniker is pleasant, intricate and utterly addicting. A more upbeat release than the lovely Antibodies, How you look when you’re falling down spirals with undulating notes, trumpets and chants. It’s like a J.M.W. Turner painting, in audio format. Fave Track: ‘Sounds can be so alarming.”
Elk – Herd Songs. The fine folks of The Audacious Art Experiment sure have released some great albums over the years and 2015 felt like a particularly strong year. Elk‘s ferocious Herd songs veers seamless between math pop and experimental, with the desperation in the vocals piercing the way through for all instruments to follow. Fave Track: ‘Fife’.
Oblique Quartet – Tlaloc Beat. A sort of supergroup made from some of the finest (and nicest) musicians I’ve met in Mexico, Oblique Quartet take the impossible task of making art rock both palatable and infectious. Riffs, tactical drumming and noisey effects infect every track in this juggernaut. Highly recommended you chase this with Acidandali, Terror Cósmico and 66.6%. Fave Track: the bass heavy ‘Agua Celeste’ is a great starting point.
Actual Wolf – Itasca. As previously stated on this list, I love Americana and alt-country. Eric Pollard, aka Actual Wolf has been carpet-bombing us with top-notch Americana for the past few years and Itasca is a love letter to his hometown, to his family, to his past and to his future. Quiet introspection (‘Give me your gun’), good ol’ fashioned rock (‘Honey, honey’) and folk (‘Family’) are all contained in this lovely tape. Fave track although ‘Honey, honey’ should be my fave, it’s the heartbreaking ‘Queen of Carolina’ who takes the crown here.
Long Beard – Sleepwalker. Bedroom pop. The one tag I thought worked best with the longing style of Long Beard. Sleepwalker feels intimate to the point one feels uncomfortable because you feel like you are intruding into the deepest thoughts and feelings of someone. A gorgeous album that goes so well with the colours dusk time paints over the eternal sky above our heads. Leslie Bear‘s vocals are an emotional maelstrom: once you get dragged, you will not be able to escape. Fave Track: tie between ‘Suburban Set’ and ‘Dream’.
Julien Baker – Sprained ankle. Of all the things people have written about minimalism, the often forgotten word is “solace”. The quietest scream is always the loudest and Sprained Ankle is louder than the most bombastic black metal album you can think of. Julien Baker mixes damage and strength in every chord, fortitude and emotion in every vocal and a whole lotta heart through the nine tracks of this amazing album. Fave Track: ‘Something’ – not a single dry eye in the house with this one.
Seluah – Phase III. There is no last place in this list. They are ranked in no particular order. I just saved this one for the end because it deserves a special place. Phase III is not an album, it’s an intricate audiobook. It’s not a collection of songs, it’s a seedy underground film. It’s not a band playing in a room, it’s a series striking images burning into your retinas. Phase III flirts with doom, rises like a field of mushroom clouds signalling the apocalypse and sounds pretty tight too.
And now, here’s a couple of EPs that really made their mark this year:
Diet cig – Over Easy. Lonesome, strikingly honest and curt. It’s a delicious bedroom album from a band we NEED to listen to more in 2016.
Pjaro//Radical Boy – Split 7″. Pjaro and Radical Boy. Bands we’ve observed for a while to understand their mating habits. What we observed was their musical rituals: deceptively lackadaisical, surreptitiously extravagant and thoroughly on the spot. Best pairing since Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly went out for a beer.
Le 1991 – Luminol Dancing. From the warmest of estates, Aguascalientes, come Le 1991, a duo peddling psychotropic friendly dreampop. A dash of reverb, a kick in the triple chorus and a distant vocal delivery. Yum.
Caos del Té – Caos del Té. User friendly for the ones who relish sipping on drones and swirling atmospheres, Caos del Té is a torrential deluge of guitars, longing vocals and brimming emotions.
Car Crash Sisters – The Crystal Garden. Unfortunately, I can’t describe them in anyway. This one you’ll have to listen to in its entirety, because no words I can type could do it justice. Gorgeous bite-size serving of shoegaze fun.
Shark? – Becky and Debbie EP. And the award for the trippiest slice of post punk goes to the always underrated, extremely fun Shark?. Only six tracks in this EP (or mini-album!) are needed for this soundtrack to a perfect getaway into the Durango badlands. Bat country? Way behind. This is Shark? country and sobriety and aloofness are unknown words here. Sit tight, listen to ‘Cool Enuff’ and let the room spiral out of control.
Here’s to a 2016 full of great music.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López