2015 was a strong year for music, at least going by what I listened to this year. Here’s a bunch of albums I really liked – let’s start with some honorable mentions and then get to my top ten.
Certainly a bold move to just come right and title your album The Epic, but this sprawling 3-hour jazz extravaganza certainly qualifies.
Speaking of Kasami Washington. I admittedly didn’t listen to this nearly enough, but it’s a wonderful genre-bending hip hop album.
Without question, my favorite album this year from someone I saw play in some high school kid’s garage about 13 years ago.
Pretty much what it says on the tin. This EP somehow sounds completely inhuman while dripping with groove. A pretty fancy trick indeed.
Just some kickass rock and roll. Why spoil it by over-describing?
Grimes took a pop-sounding turn and it’s very compelling. She’s still so weird and unique that even with the pop production values, it’s really anything but.
Alabama Shakes took their Southern R&B and filtered some garage, even more soul, and even some shoegaze through it, and all to great effect.
Ok, on to the ranked releases.
Tape’s Top Ten of 2015
Julien Baker is only 20 years old and somehow writes and sings like she’s been carrying the weight of the world for 40. I had the same reaction the first time I heard Sprained Ankle as when I first heard Sharon Van Etten: completely devastated.
Mackenzie Scott builds upon the emotional weight of her first album with a new ferocity, almost threatening to swallow the listener at times.
Failure returned after 19 years away and didn’t appear to skip a beat. The Heart Is a Monster is the spiritual successor and counterpart to their 1996 magnum opus Fantastic Planet, and while band reunions rarely bear edible, much less appealing, fruit, Failure’s return did not disappoint.
Purity Ring’s debut Shrines was a revelation when released in 2012, but few bands were more copied in the intervening three years. As such, their followup isn’t nearly the aural innovation as its predecessor, but Corin Roddick and Megan James make up for it with even tighter songcraft and James’ voice which soothes while her lyrics stealthily unnerve.
While Screaming Females were always one of the strongest forces in rock this decade and a truly talented power trio, for once they get a recording that really shows off how damn good they are. Melissa Paternoster leads the way with her great voice and is one of the most talented guitarists going, but Jarrett Dougherty’s slick bass grooves really come out into the open on this ripping rock record.
I almost can’t believe I have this as low as #5. Sleater-Kinney surprised everyone with perhaps the best-kept secret of the new millennium their new, already-recorded album. Like Failure, Sleater-Kinney picked up almost exactly where they left off and came back with an album perhaps a little older and wiser, but just as vital.
I have difficulty properly describing Krill, and I think it it’s because of the existential uncertainty I get when I listen to them, somehow imbued with both joie de vivre and ennui. Krill ended their run as one of Boston’s best bands this fall, its members scattering to New York and Austin, and we’re all worse off for it.
Krill forever. Krill, Krill, forever and ever.
This was probably my most anticipated release of the year. Somehow Every Open Eye sounds even more resounding and explosive than their 2013 debut, The Bones of What You Believe. Like Purity Ring’s sophomore effort, CHVRCHES took a sound that had excited listeners, tightened up the writing and arrangements, and in this case gave us an album that will stand out as one of the decade’s best.
Carly Rae Jepsen announced a small tour of 4 cities in the Northeast, and I was shocked that the Boston venue was the Paradise – a small club with a capacity of barely 900. Didn’t she have a massive hit in “Call Me Maybe”? How could a Pop Star play such a place? No matter. Carly Rae owned that room like few musicians I’ve seen before in my life. In a year full of excellent concerts, Carly Rae Jepsen’s was a pleasant surprise as by far the best of all of them.
Obviously I’m not reviewing concerts here, but that assessment carries over here: in a year filled with great releases, E•MO•TION was one that I anticipated being a pretty nice album but ended up being one of my absolute favorites.
I was first exposed to Braids early in 2014, opening for Wye Oak at that same Paradise. I was so blown away by their performance that I bought all three of the albums they had at the merch table and ate them up for weeks. Interesting and challenging electronic music melded with traditional rock instrumentation and Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s commanding, unique vocals. Deep in the Iris is still an electronic pop record, but instead of sounding futuristic, the sound is somehow warmer and antique even as vocals and synths glitch past. The songs are more clearly written while somehow being more experimental. It definitely feels like the product of years of refinement have resulted in Braids’ essence becoming fully formed, and with it came the most artistically satisfying release of the year.
At least in this one dude’s opinion.