I cannot believe 2015 is nearly over. It has been a tumultuous year. The world seems to have tipped from just crazy to full blown insanity. Here in the states as wannabe presidents vie for our hearts and votes every thing seems askew like we are collectively looking in a fun house mirror. Through all the struggle personally or as a nation we use music to filter our thoughts, to clarify our reality and to forget about it too. Escapism isn't a bad thing when doing so somehow keeps our creative souls stoked which in turn helps us move sanely through the fray of our lives. The following songs are my favorites of 2015. A few are by iconic artists but most are by indie artists yet to be widely known but I think all the songs are pretty epic in their own way. One thing is for sure, this AP list undoubtedly contains more artists not on those "other" lists and for that I am proud.
(Note: Most songs have links to AP's original review)
(In no particular order)
1. Callous Reaction by Look Vibrant:
Montreal based indie / art rock Look Vibrant's latest video suits the season. The track Callous Reaction leaves you out of breath as the energetic pulse and melodies chase themselves. The video directed by Max Taeuschel features 3 ghosts wreaking mild havoc and thankfully states "no animals harmed" in the credits. Love the song breaks that let you breathe amidst the roller coaster ride. Elements of the song made me think of LA's So Many Wizards and MGMT for some reason.
2. Next Gen by Post Life:
The progressive nature of Post Life's music is what makes it so amazing to me. In Next Gen, bass, guitars and drums intricately fit together like a jigsaw puzzle that you have to stomp down with your fist to make the pieces fit. Brianna's vocal yelp stitches it all together and it might be her full tilt call, sometimes filled with doubt, pain, elation and abandon that ultimately gives these songs a goose bumped jubilant feel. Not jubilant as in happy go lucky but as in I don't give a fuck I just need to press on no matter what. And while there may be a patina of nihilism throughout there are also equal doses of hope.
3. Into A Tissue (for Grandpa Bob) by Little Star:
This may be the dreamiest song ever that touches on masturbation (I think) .... no seriously. The bass line is so engaging, love everything about it and it is about longing, crushes or love and such. When I first heard it, I thought of The Cure for some reason.
4. Space Waste by the Lovely Bad Things:
Controlled feedback guitar fuzziness ride a bottom heavy bass bounce and a mid-tempo drum beat as emotional melodies add to the punch. The production is thick and powerful but not overproduced which I think their fans will appreciate. Hearing the produced studio versions of any band's songs that you love and have heard live can be a dicey thing especially with genres like proto-punk and garage rock which is inherently at it's core has a raw sound even if the songs are well crafted but the Lovely Bad Things hit the right balance. Part 90's post rock, punk pop there is always a celebratory feel to their songs even when the lyrics veer into the darkness of youth finding their way.
5. Black Star by David Bowie:
Bathed in Andalusian /Arabic tones propelled by drums that rush and slow down within their own beat become unhinged at times and then tightening back up. The low horn section and refrain "I'm a Blackstar" has that sweet Bowie funk laden 90's meets 50's sway. There are so much dense musical cues here. The music metamorphosis is so absolutely interesting, shifting your creative / emotional point of reference as the track shifts back to the Andalusian tones. I thought of artists like Bjork, Radiohead, Woodkid, Passenger Peru, (early) ELO and Thomas Azier not to mention a dozen film scores and, of course, I thought of Bowie himself. Embedded in Blackstar are the tender, passionate, poetically dense vocal performances honed over so many years. There are hints of Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, The Next Day and every musical incarnation that David Bowie has so artfully possessed forever.
6. Wet Juice by The Vulgarians:
The Vulgarians hail from Hull, England and their latest track Wet Juice is loaded with atmosphere both wistful and caustic. The bass line and drums stalk and creep along with haunting guitar sounds waiting to erupt and they all do. The vocals feel battered, are on the edge, are full of snarl and spit. The result is kind of indie gothic, kind of grunge, kind of post rock and 100% captivating.
7. The Memo by Father John Misty:
The Memo is snarky and thought provoking and depressing as hell. I love it, love Father John Misty and also love when he creates artful songs that don't necessarily comment on society at large. In the end maybe it's all bullshit anyway and if art and entertainment are the opiates of the masses, Father John Misty is one of our most interesting drug dealers.
8. The Dogs by Seldom Family:
The whole torrid affair feels both emotionally sad and conflicted, some times lashing out and sometimes comatose. It saunters along like a slow dance but for one not two. It is as dark as it is sad and as sad as it is passionate.
9. The Roses by Nightair:
It is a jammy rocker drenched with youthful punk bravado, pursed lips, a killer beat and piercing lead lines that almost seem mocking. The sound grabs you instantly and while I couldn't not think about The Strokes and The Drums, that comparison falls away quickly. While Julien Casablancas's vocal delivery feels a bit like a drunken stupor and Jonny Pierce can feel aloof, Tony Davia's vocal performances feel like fun flirtations.
10. The Giving by Matthew Spires and the Learning Disorders:
I hear and feel glimmers of deep hope for the condition of the world. The Giving is a track that you will want to listen to often and the more you do I think you will feel that hope percolating up too. It floats in the thoughtful prose, vocal performance and plaintive trumpet. Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel, maybe the inkwell is not that dark.
11. G by Young Jesus:
The tone still feels very organic in that 90's post rock sort of way. Like in the beautifully transient Brothers, John Rossiter and the boys let the rock and stories breathe / air out and float around your senses. The thoroughly catchy G churns while it tells personal stories. It feels as big as the biggest Weezer song in spots but also has an almost down home backyard porch rock feel too. Dynamically rich, it darts around, get's lost and then runs down dark city streets like youth run amok at a break neck pace.
12. Random Name Generator by Wilco:
Random Name Generator has a thick, lusty glam feel and might be the best T-Rex song they never wrote.
13. Casual Seer by The Obleeks:
The surprise track on this Chicago band's latest hard rocker EP is Casual Seer, an acoustic vagabond on the road folk rocker with a bluegrass vibe that amazingly erupts into a pretty vast sound with the inclusion of strings (a cello I believe) that bends the song into something more abstract and quite beautiful.
14. So by Built to Spill:
My favorite song on the album, So, is absolutely beautiful in it's dirty sustains. There is nothing like the biggest bad ass dirty sounding guitar playing stunningly beautiful melodies and that is what you have here. When the heaviness falls head first into Martsch's sweet vocal melodies it is so engaging and lovely. It is Black Sabbath meets the White Album. The song induces true goosebumps when the lead lines wrap around you and when it suddenly erupts into full out pandemonium it is a blissful thing. When I heard them play this track live at Shakey Knees I nearly lost it.
15. Reincarnation by Charlyne Yi:
The ballad stirs and swirls dreamily along until it becomes a crescendo in sustain. It is so charming and sweet in a kind Brian Wilson's "Smile" sort of way and then it blows up even more with an out of sight very cool trumpet accompaniment that is downright blissful. The repetitive refrain is so joyous that the song turns into a lovely mantra that could go on forever and not wear out it's welcome. It instead becomes part of you, just like your heartbeat or breathing itself... that is until it sadly ends at only a little over 2 minutes.
16. Plow Song by The Sideshow Tragedy:
Sideshow Tragedy is fighting the good fight and the last track (on their album Capital) Plow is a stark bare cascading lineage of the haves and have nots (morally speaking) and of cold false promises. The final lines "and you will die pushing that plow" feels (to me) like a downer although a memorable one. Maybe I wanted those plowshares to be beaten into swords.
17. The River by King Grizzard and the Lizard Wizard:
Pour yourself a drink or light up to the utterly chill swill of King Grizzard and the Lizard Wizard's The River. The seven piece Aussie garage psychedelic band that sometimes stir in jazzy garden rock flavors into their post punk fusion get really mellow on this track.
18. Raising The Skate by Speedy Ortiz:
Speedy Ortiz has a unique sound and Raising The Skate is once again mired in the delicious thick guitar wash that was so inspired on Major Arcana. Sonically, this track is a pretty lushly produced and frames Sadie Dupuis' code poetry so well.
19.California by Drug Cabin:
For me, the track California might be the most beautiful and lush song on the album. As tender as a slow motion bottom turn on a perfectly walled four foot wall of water at Trestles, the song glides like the sweetest embrace and yet still hold's some tears in it's happiness.
20. Where The Hills Start The West by Grassfight:
Grassfight's album "Please Don't Tell" is so engaging. Atmospheric, sultry and badass. For me, it is steeped in 90' post rock meets 80's Brit rock sounds while retaining it's own aesthetic. This is one of my fav tracks, maybe the most vast sounding.
21.The Best Way To Drown by Passenger Peru:
The line: "the price that your worth will be deducted from birth" stands out in The Best Way To Drown, a kind of full charged rocker with a rebel streak. Like some of Muse's work it as a freedom fighter tone like it is hiding in dark places from an omnipresent enemy. The bass riffs, the walls of sound are delicious, the words a bit battle scarred, "here come the waves over the mountainside, wash me away, wash away all our lives."
22. Pepper and Milk by Melted:
Besides the pure punk sound that is instantly addictive, they put on a live show deserving of their songs that are full of jagged guitar lines and full thrust drum and bass anarchistic punk attacks in that Vandals / Circle Jerks vein tempered with the cynical (even semi humorous) vocal slap of a band like the Dickies. But comparisons thrown aside they are their own cool thing, standing on formidable punk leather clad shoulders yes but feeling fresh and new and alive.
23. She's A Queen -- Together Pangea
Together Pangea is not afraid to deconstruct their punk style and reconstruct in some other fashion. This is the case with their latest EP The Phage which shuffles 70 garden rock and 90's post rock together. "She's A Queen almost has a RIDE vibe.
24. Heat Death pt I+II by Rare Diagram:
This 9 plus minute song or 2 feels very much like a fully realized mini-rock opera. I have yet to review "Secret Shot" but it is a stunner of an album.
25. Should Have Known Better by Sufjan Stevens
When sadness and abject pain can be somehow channeled into absolute beauty it can feel so healing.