Posts Tagged ‘2015’

2015 Year End Picks

December 28, 2015

Miguel_-_WILDHEARTa1172625177_16

Jamie_xx_-_In_Colour-2Surf_(Donnie_Trumpet_cover)

Haven’t posted in awhile, but still been listening to a bunch of albums this year.  Here’s some of my favorites from this year.  Quite a few have been on best of lists I’ve looked at, but there’s a few that I liked that I haven’t noticed on these lists so I focused on those.  I’ll split it up by genre.

Rock

Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color.  Brittany Howard has got one of the best voices in rock today and her and the band cover a lot of ground in this album, with no missteps across the 12 tracks.  My two favorite tracks are Gimme All Your Love, a screaming stomp of a song, and Miss You, an almost folk-y ballad.

Budos Band – Burnt Offering.  While the Budos Band has produced several great soul instrumental albums, this year they decided to take a chance and make a “rock” record.  It’s not as far a stretch as you’d think.  A groove is a groove, whether it’s R&B or metal and Budos Band can groove.  The Sticks is my favorite song and the whole album is decidedly rocking.

Built to Spill – Untethered Moon.  One of those bands I’d always heard and read about, but just never spent the time to focus on, I happened onto their new release and decided to give it a spin.   I immediately went from this record to their earlier recordings, which I think is a testament to this record, which was their first in 6 years.  Living Zoo is a good representative of the album and the band’s sound in general, lots of guitars and Doug Bartsch’s off-beat, nasally lyrics.

Chastity Belt – Time To Go Home.  The all-female band from Seattle put out the rock album I listened to the most this year.  I think it reminded me of another band I loved in 2014, Parquet Courts.  They don’t quite get the same pace as Parquet Courts, but they bring a ton of attitude, great guitar work and clever lyrics.  Standouts are opener Drone, Why Not (which actually is a fast tempo number) and Joke.

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager.  Lewis has a golden voice and I’m not sure I could dislike an album by her.  This year’s release was another fun, rollicking album with Lewis belting out numbers like the title track and my favorite from the album, Just One of The Guys.

Moon Duo – Shadow of the Sun. I’d call this brooding psychedelia.  With its chugging riffs that sprawl over the entire record, their third full length seems like it would be the perfect record to soundtrack a nighttime desert drive down the freeway.  The trippily-titled Free The Skull is my favorite.

Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last.  Another band that sometimes gets the psychedelia label, a lot of reverb, garage rock riffs, and John Dwyer’s yips and yowls.  While they usually have songs that are tight and concise, my two favorite tunes from this album are the two longest tracks, Web and Sticky Hulks.

It was a good year for rock.  There were a lot of other good rock releases that are all over the year end lists that are definitely worth a listen: Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit; La Luz, Weirdo Shrine; My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall; Sleater Kinney, No Cities For Love; Spoon, They Want My Soul; Tame Impala, Currents.

Folk and Country

Calexico – Edge of the Sun. Another band that I’ve dabbled in a few songs here and there, but with this year’s album, I went straight to their back catalog after listening to this album. Toeing the line between folk and rock, I’m a big fan of singer Joey Burns’ voice and they flex in some new directions with the great Cumbia de Donde, which follows the other standout track Tapping on the Line, which has an assist from Neko Case.

Joanna Newsom – Divers. Just listened to this after getting it on vinyl as a present for my wife. Beautiful arrangements and Newsom’s voice, which can be a love-it or hate-it proposition, works well with these arrangements.  Kudos too for a well-presented vinyl package, with individual posters of beautiful nature scenes and lyrics for each song.

Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material.  A polished country album that still reminds me more of “classic” country-pop than today’s versions.  Musgrave’s is the country version of Courtney Barnett with her sly, witty, conversational lyrics.  The title track, Biscuits, and Family is Family are all really good tracks.

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell.  Abandoning the bleeps and bloops of Age of Adz, Sufjan returns to his folk roots with lean guitar providing the backdrop for some of his most beautiful and personal songs.  I saw him perform twice this year, and he beefed up the songs for the road with long, guitar-distorted extensions of those spare arrangements that worked surprisingly well.  He comes on strong out of the gate with tracks 2-4 all delivering a strong emotional punch.

Widowspeak – All Yours. An entirely different album than I was expecting, the fiery guitar band that I saw at SXSW two years ago is replaced with a softer, gentler version.  The guitars are more subdued and the lyrics more at the forefront.  Singer Molly Hamilton’s lush voice works well with that softer approach and it reminded me of Mazzy Star’s 90s output.  Stoned and Coke Bottle Green were my favorites.

Electronic

Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer.  Reining a little of the chirpy vocals of some of his earlier releases, but keeping his ability to create madcap beats, this album bounces and bobs its way through 8 tracks.  A master of the slow build, Sheathed Wings and When I Was Done Dying, will certainly have you dancing.  And if you have a chance to see him live, do it.

Hot Chip – Why Make Sense.  Remarkably consistent, Hot Chip put out another album this year full of pleasant, slightly funky, and always dance-y songs.  Opener Huarache Lights and the electro-funk of Easy to Get are representative of what this album has to offer.

Jamie XX – In Colour.  Taking a break from his more relaxed work with XX, this solo album showcases a more upbeat side of Jamie Smith.  Like Disclosure’s album last year, this is a great electronic album from beginning to end, a cohesive work that is meant to be listened to as a whole.  Obvs, the back-to-back duo of Hold Tight and Loud Places, and back ender The Rest is Noise are all great tracks.

Jazz, R&B, and Hip Hop

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf.  A surprising free release earlier in the year, this is probably the album I played the  most this year.  I think the reasons are: 1) the variety of musical styles on display from jazz, hip hop, and R&B and 2) it’s just a fun album.  Great to throw on in the car or when friends are over. The fact that my two favorite tracks land in the second half of the album, Familiar and Something Came to Me, is testament to the strength of the whole album.

Kamasi Washington – The Epic.  No album all year had a more spot-on title.  This ambitious jazz album, from the saxophonist who was also responsible for a lot of arrangements on the next album I’ll talk about, sprawls over three sides with 8 songs clocking in at over 10 minutes long.  It’s an immersive album that didn’t lose my interest even on those longer songs.  Several of the songs have lyrics and Malcolm’s Theme includes an excerpt from Malcolm X speech that is probably more topical than Kamasi imagined given recent events.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly.  Ranked at or near the top of most year end lists, hip hop’s reigning king followed up his critically acclaimed Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City with a angrier and more determined album.  King Kunta and The Blacker the Berry are raw, confident political statements with Lamar not mincing any words.  Throw in a super-strong opener, Wesley’s Theory, and the 12 minute long closer Mortal Man, and you have a new entry into the canon of classic hip hop albums.

Leon Bridges – Coming Home. Bridges is a 50s/60s soul and R&B throwback and his debut album sounds like it comes from a different time.  Songs like Brown Skin Girl could have been done by Otis Redding and the album-ending ballad The River is a beautiful number.  Hope that he can continue in the same vein as other similar throwback acts like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley.

Miguel – Wildheart.  My personal favorite album of the year.  Miguel is the heir-apparent to Prince as the man who exudes sex in his music.  Start with the cover and move to songs like The Valley and FLESH and you’ll see what I mean.  The man can also belt out a ballad, see Coffee for an example.  Great beats abound as well, I can’t get enough of Hollywood Dreams.  And he even throws in an outsider anthem in What’s Normal Anyway for good measure.

Shamir – Ratchet. Released earlier in the year, I think people slept on this one a little in the year-end lists.  After the slow build of opener Vegas, Shamir hits three homers in a row with Make A Scene, On the Regular and Call It Off.  His unique delivery, reminiscent of Missy Elliott’s ability to latch onto a beat, is suited to the disco and house beats that recall electronic acts like YACHT, Basement Jaxx, and Hot Chip.  Closer Head In the Clouds is a positive anthem that appropriately soars up and out to the end of the album.

Quick Hit or Miss – Heems, Eat, Pray, Thug

May 2, 2015

A solo album from former Das Racist member, I went in with trepidation as I never particularly got into Heems’ former group. The first song, Sometimes, won me over in a big way. The beat is pretty minimal but still brings the boom and Heems’ wordplay is fantastic. Generally the rest of the album follows that same formula, though there’s definitely parts that drag (Damn, Girl and Suicide by Cop) and the party atmosphere of the opener isn’t there on other songs that focus on serious subjects like his experiences as a brown man in post 9/11 NYC. I’d liken the experience of this album to a less dense (production wise) El-P album. So, I’d recommend this unless 90’s/early 00’s NYC hip hop isn’t your speed.

Here’s opener Sometimes:

Hundred Waters, Moses Sumney, and Natalie Prass, February 13, 2015 @ El Ray Theater

February 22, 2015

This was my first show at the El Rey in Hollywood. It’s a nice room with some impressive chandeliers, and a floor that’s recessed below two small tiers of additional viewing areas. Their beer selection is crap but my wife and I both commented on the nice, handsome bartender who served us said crappy beer.

We went into that recessed floor area to see the first opener, Natalie Prass. From Nashville via Richmond, VA (holla!), Prass played a pleasant set of songs that bobbled between rock and country. She reminded me a little of Jenny Lewis’ solo stuff, maybe a little more poppy. The pop side came out when she played an unexpected (for me, at least) cover of Janet Jackson’s Any Time, Any Place. It’s a B side on one of her singles; it was requisitely funky. Her debut has gotten good reviews, I’d recommend checking it out. For a three band opener, this was really good. I’ll expect to hear more from her.

After she finished, we moved up to the highest “level” and found a nice unobstructed view with a railing to lean on for the next artist, Moses Sumney. A solo act who uses electronics to accompany his terrific voice. He has some pre-programmed backing music but also used a live guitar; and his hands, fingers and mouth to create beats that would get layered on top of other elements, building a musical house from which Moses belted out his songs. He played two new songs that both got positive vibes from the crowd, so be on the look out for new material from him.  After his set, he joined the crowd to see Hundred Waters, as he professed during his set that their album was his favorite of 2014.

We had seen Hundred Waters last year at a church at SXSW. It was a perfect setting for their swirling, slow-build music and lead singer Nicole Miglis’ delicate voice.  This time around, they brought a bigger sound, a more confident Miglis (who seemed a bit nervous during the set we saw at SXSW) and a laser show. It was a different experience for sure, but still a good one.  Miglis’ voice can be Bjork-like in cadence and timbre, which suits the music behind her. I love how their songs can veer in between synth-noodling ala Echoes era Pink Floyd and full on rocking out with big beats in the space of one songs.  Stand outs from their set for me were Down From the Rafters, Out Alee and Cavity. Overall, a really good show by all three bands. Can’t ask for more than that.


IMG_1730

Quick Hit or Miss – The Decemberists, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

January 22, 2015

Four years have passed since their last album.  Colin Meloy and company return this week with, well, an album that sounds like it could have been released six months after 2011’s The King Is Dead (and apparently some of the songs were written around the time of that last album).  Meaning, there’s not a lot of new ground here.  The Decemberists can spit out good indie pop songs with the melodious voice of Meloy as an anchor; that’s not a knock.  It’s a testament to the band that they can consistently do this.  I’ve been a casual listener to the band; I feel that sometimes I can get bored with them because that consistency can  wear on me.  One thing I enjoyed about this album was that the songs are on the shorter side, especially in the second half of the album.  Despite the title, there doesn’t seem to be any overarching theme to the album from my few listens.

For serious fans of the band, this may be a disappointment, but I enjoyed the album as a collection of mostly upbeat songs with some nice harmonies and pleasant vocals.  I don’t know it’s something I’ll come back to a lot over the year, there’s always a lot of good stuff coming out and I just don’t that this will have staying power for me.

Here’s the first single, Make You Better, which is actually one of the longer songs on the album.