TWJ’s Best Albums of 2015: #25-11
Nothing seems to excite us at The Wounded Jukebox more than stepping back and taking in music as a whole. Sure, mid-year and year-end lists of favorites are customary on all the music blogs and publications; it’s almost mandatory at this point, readers would riot in the streets due to the anarchy of albums with no bestowed crowns and titles of “Best”. So it might come as a surprise when I venture to say that rather than focusing on numbers and rankings, what we enjoy most as a staff here at TWJ is reliving all the highlights and forgotten favorite songs and car ride moments and subway soundtracks and workout anthems. Sure, albums can encapsulate an artist’s state of mind at a certain time, but they can also provide you the listener with an empty lot to fill and color a playground of your own. New music is addictive to us, and 2015 provided us with a hell of a jungle gym.
With your permission, here is our first installment of TWJ’s Best Albums of the year!
25. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier (4AD)
Whether it’s due to Ben Allen’s production on the album (Animal Collective, Bombay Bicycle Club) or the newfound camaraderie between Lockett Pundt and Bradford Cox, Fading Frontier flits in on a breeze, and floats there spouting wisdom like your fairy godmother in the most joyous of ways. It’s an album full of things that make long time listeners clutch their fists in silent victory, hitting notes that ring as not only true for Deerhunter, but downright destined. “Breaker” may well go down as the most gorgeous and poignant tune of their career, and nothing has ever strutted down a city street harder than “Snakeskin.” But it’s on a whole that Fading Frontier succeeds the most; it stands complete at a mere nine songs, leaving you wondering what else you could possibly ask for.
#24. Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ (Merge)
There are many things I’ve done for years and years, like listen to The Mountain Goats, but watching professional wrestling is not among them. So perhaps it’s a funny thing that this album, all about John Darnielle’s lifelong fondness for it, was genuinely one of my very favorite releases of 2015. I’m not even sure if I’ve ever watched wrestling on purpose, but listening to The Legend of Chavo Guerrero made me hit up Google for some reference video and Foreign Object had me humming along anytime I felt the urge for vengeance at work. At some points quiet and poignant and at others raucous, the album as a whole is a lot of fun – which could be said for much of professional wrestling as well.
#23. Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Goin Down (Matador)
From its first notes, b’lieve i’m goin down… is unmistakably a Kurt Vile record. By now anyone familiar with the 35-year old strumming savant knows they’ll get solidly structured guitar licks and choruses that stick in one’s head for days. It’s hard to reach that level of consistency and remain truly compelling, but Vile maintains that high bar on b’lieve, his sixth solo album. There are some nice flourishes – banjo, harpsichord – but the layered guitar melodies coupled with Vile’s steady vocals deliver the emotional heft here.
#22. – Misterwives – Our Own House (Republic)
My first encounter with Misterwives was live, as an opener to another artist on our 2015 list, Twenty One Pilots. First impressions proved pretty accurate, as the somewhat unusual but certainly alluring vocals of Mandy Lee lead the way in a colorful palette of indie-pop sounds that works in brass, bass, keyboards, guitar and various forms of percussion. There are catchy melodies throughout Our Own House, which pulses with youthful energy from start to finish.
#21. Lord Huron – Strange Trails (IAMSOUND)
Like a photograph of the American Southwest that’s impressive on its own widescreen terms, Strange Trails is similarly enchanting and expansive the longer you sit with it. Lord Huron has always amused me in their self-serious, all-sound-and-fury approach to songwriting but, start to finish, this propulsive, occasionally haunting LP has a jangly swagger that recalls everything from John Ford movies to pulp Westerns set in the purple sagelands.
#20. Joanna Newsom – Divers (Drag City)
Joanna Newsom is not human. She is a mythical creature of lore who will cast spells upon you with her hauntingly beautiful voice and sometimes archaic collection of instruments. She will lead you into the labyrinth that is her fourth studio release, Divers, and serenade you through the twists and turns, stopping at points to offer advice or poetic observations while you bask in the darkly glorious vignettes that each song constructs. The walls surrounding you are lush and beautiful and tall enough to suggest there may be no way out. And if that’s so, if we’re to be trapped within her creepy/beautiful maze for eternity, at least I’m a bit comforted by her assurance in Time, As a Symptom, “Stand brave, time moves both ways.”
#19. Bomba Estéreo – Amanecer (Sony Latin)
I have to admit it, I’m a sucker for any music that Bomba Estéreo puts out. Their sound combines so many genres into fun and meaningful songs. Whether it’s reggaeton, pop, electronic, hip hop, calypso or cumbia it all blends together to my ears liking. Amanecer is no exception to the Bomba rule of awesomeness and difficult to classify as a genre. Bomba brings in dance songs like “Cadera”, to thoughtful calm, thoughtful songs like “Raíz”. Enjoy the mix that is the Colombian supergroup Bomba Estéreo and their album Amanecer.
#18. San Fermin – Jackrabbit (Downtown)
San Fermin sounds like a band without fear on Jackrabbit, an album that is full of wonderfully controlled chaos. The arrangements of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, the band’s founder and composer extraordinaire, manage to sound expertly crafted and experimental at different points on the record. But the layers – any manner of strings and brass, the lead vocals of Charlene Kaye and Allen Tate, and various digital loops and tricks – always serve the forward momentum of each song.
#17. Twenty One Pilots – Blurryface (Fueled By Ramen)
“This is not rap, this is not hip hop – just another attempt to make the voices stop.” The music of Twenty One Pilots has seemingly always served as the catharsis for whatever internal turmoil its dynamic duo is going through. But the variety of sounds and textures that Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun create out of that angst is what makes the band’s fourth studio album Blurryface such an interesting ride. There are elements of seemingly every genre here – dancehall reggae, hip-hop, rap, indie rock, synth pop – often in the same song. This unique blending of styles keeps the listener guessing, but also makes Blurryface thoroughly entertaining.
#16. Trails and Ways – Pathology (Barsuk)
I’ve been following Trails & Ways since their Trilingual EP release in 2012, and was excited to hear about their first full length album this year. The Bay area dream pop crew delivered both favorite singles like, “Nunca” and “Mtn Tune” , mixed with solid new tracks like “Skeletons”. The Trilingual blend of dreamy vocals and danceability in Pathology is just plain fun listening.
#15. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – A Year With Thirteen Moons (Mexican Summer)
A Year with 13 Moons is hard to describe. Part ambient landscape, part noise, part bliss, it stands by itself in a time where experimental music has continued to reinvent new exciting musical styles. One of the many standout tracks, “Love After Love”, begins with an earful of feedback, and slowly morphs into a beautiful soundscape of synths and beats. It’s an amazing record to experience.
#14. Everything Everything – Get To Heaven (Sony RCA)
Bigger and more euphoric than anything else Everything Everything’s done before, Get To Heaven surrounds then drops you onto a twisting ride through small stories of striving characters fighting their way through a seemingly dark future. Every song of which pair joyous and sole-grinding dance rhythms with rapid shifts in tone and emotion. The result comes from lead singer Jonathan Higgs’ battle with depression and the consequent mood swings the medication caused, and the tribulant events of terrorism that wracked the U.K. throughout 2014 and 2015. Even so, it’s bashfully easy to ignore all that and enjoy Everything Everything’s best brand of heart bursting material yet.
#13. Raury – All We Need (Columbia)
From chants evocating bonfires casting dancing shadows to lip-splitting deliveries of scathing tales from the vibrant world around him, you might be forgiven for never guessing the songs of All We Need were ever part of the same album, much less offered by the same 19 year old Ruary Deshawn Tullis. The Atlantian claims to be the future of hip-hop; and with Kanye West and Andre 3000 as mentors, an album full Magic Eye-spiritual invitations and world-wide calls to action, he might just be right.
#12. Matt and Kim – New Glow (Harvest)
New Glow is an interesting turn for pop music veterans Matt Johnson and Kim Schlifino. While they maintain their intense, crazy energy, this newest record is fully polished and full of frenetic hooks. New Glow feels like the duo’s stab at mass appeal, and it’s hard to argue with how fun and catchy the album truly is. Even with 10 tracks, it clocks in at less than a half hour; each song is a burst of light and sound that sticks around just long enough to plant itself in your brain, then makes way for the next fire.
#11. Josh Ritter – Sermon on the Rocks (Pytheas)
For his 8th album, Josh Ritter has turned up the tempos and inspired my toes to tap along as his brilliantly crafted lyrics soar above, around and through the punchy beats and grooves of his Royal City Band. While not all of Sermon’s offerings are sunshiny, it is quite the turn for the light and the outward compared to his last release. The bright and aggressive sounds behind Getting Ready to Get Down, Young Moses and A Big Enough Sky are countered with the darkness in Birds of the Meadow and Henrietta, Indiana while The Stone follows up with a more somber note. Ritter often draws comparison to Paul Simon with his wordiness and this likeness truly shines on Cumberland, and elsewhere there are murmurs of Springsteen in the golden-lit Americana of songs like Homecoming, but make no mistake, this is a Josh Ritter Album. Your heartstrings will be pulled and your tongue will be twisted trying to navigate the verses and your soul will be uplifted by the beauty created within.
Thanks for reading! Come on back for the our finale.