ALL THE PEOPLE ARE SO SAD AND WEâ€™RE NEVER GOING HOMEI turn 30 soon. Iâ€™m twice as old as when I started my first band. Iâ€™m about as old as my dad was when he became my dad. I grew a mustache and my wife let me keep it for one day but destroyed all photographic evidence. Our first child is about to turn three, and heâ€™s reached a point where he says these awesomely esoteric one-liners, which I have scattered throughout this piece. Sometimes I think about being 15 and feeling anguished and isolated and fake, and then I look at where Iâ€™m at now and I get so stoked on being an adult-type person. I hope you had a good year without too many fires or failures. Let me tell you about mine:
DINOSAURS ARE BIG AND STRONG AND THEYâ€™RE NOT HERE: THE LPS
20. Kylesa: Exhausting Fire
Exhausting Fire feels like both a continuation of and a direct response against Kylesa's last album, Ultraviolet. The guitars still shimmer with atmospheric effetcs. But the songs also feel, well, a lot more metal again. Opener "Crusher" has plenty of psychedelic pretty parts, but it's also got some bone-crunching riffage as well. That slowed down take on Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" is tops too.
19. Bjork: Vulnicura
One Little Indian Records
Bjork didn't set out to make a concept record about her relationship dissolving, but that's what happened. Vulnicura is a somber set, all swelling strings and pulsing electronic beats. But it's not necessarily a sad record. Rather, it deals with a break-up with the utmost emotional maturity. It's not about fireworks so much as it is about fizzling out, making it ideal for the winter when it's cold and dark.
18. High On Fire: Luminiferous
Seven albums deep, High on Fire only needs to make minor adjustments to its winning formula. So while I can tell you that Luminiferous is a little faster and less sludgy than De Vermis Mysteriis, it kind of doesn't matter. This is Matt Pike we're talking about. He can pound out all the thrash metal he sees fit to produce. And if he wants to talk about snake gods secretly running the country, well that's his prerogative.
17. Mark Ronson: Uptown Special
I DON'T HAVE TO JUSTIFY SHIT TO YOU PEOPLE. "Uptown Funk" was a monster hit this summer, and with good reason: it's goofy fun. Mystikal's James Brown- ish contribution, "Feel Right," is even goofier, more fun. But those tracks are actually outliers. Uptown Special was really a savvy move on Ronson's part to lure Stevie Wonder into producing his best songs in maybe 30 years or so. And while that ultimately leaves the record feeling a little disjointed, I'm still not complaining.
Play It Again Sam
Dang, Mew, it has been a minute. But I want you to know I am still quite thrilled by your swirling prog-pop. I even bought the deluxe edition, featuring a bonus live album. +- meets a lot of needs at once. It's eminently danceable yet dizzyingly intricate. The only thing bigger than the choruses are the guitar lines. In an alternate timeline where John Hughes still lives, "Satellite" soundtracks someone's first kiss.
15. Hop Along: Painted Shut
Arguably their strongest release yet, Painted Shut finds Hop Along clicking into perfect place. France Quinlan raggedly sings about her character sketches over jangling guitars and crashing drums. Even when she sings about defeat, it has a way of sounding triumphant.
While Tales From Wyoming is now somewhat overshadowed by the passing of TBR drummer Brandon Carlisle, it's still an awfully fun record. Goofy and giddy, it's the same TBR fans have enjoyed for over a decade now. There's some catchy power pop love songs ("I Found the One," "First Time") but mostly just awesome joke songs ("Nothing Else Matters (When I'm With You)," "They Call Me Steve," "Too Much La Collina"). TBR hasn't changed their songwriting formula...ever... but they never needed to mess with it. I consider them my Ramones in terms of pop-punk productivity.
Sweet, glorious death metal from Europe. Tribulation's live show is epically metal, but The Children of the Night is almost defined by it's non-metal moves. Tribulation does a ripping cover of the Cure's "One Hundred Years." They love jamming out. Heck, they even love the occasional catchy chorus. A lot of death metal is nigh indecipherable, but Tribulation comes across effortlessly.
After a lengthy hiatus, Modest Mouse returned with a record that...sounded an awful lot like all the other Modest Mouse records. But at 15 tracks, no one can accuse Strangers to Ourselves of being phoned in. Rather, the band just knows what works for them: discordant guitars, lyrics skirting the lines between crazy and genius, dance beats. While frontman Isaac Brock does experiment a little bit here and there (check out the rap track!), mostly Strangers just feels like a much deserved victory lap.
11. John Carpenter: Lost Themes
Sacred Bones Records
John Carpenter's music direction was such a key component of his filmmaking that it's kind of ridiculous that he only just now got around to putting out records. Sacred Bones is comparable to all the classic Carpenter scores. Loaded with brooding synths and pulsing beats, each of the nine tracks lives up to the album's title. These cuts could've all been used to score the likes of Assault on Precinct 13 or Prince of Darkness. While there's the occasional prog-rock gesture, Lost Themes is mostly a throwback to the days when Carpenter would score his movies with just a synth and a lot of patience.
My only regret is I wish I could've heard this record as a thoroughly serious teenager. On the surface, Beach Slang sound like another gruff Replacements tribute, but they carry so many Springsteenisms with them. Their songs tremble with sincerity and nostalgia and longing. They also pack in big, grand, sweeping rock 'n' roll gestures throughout this, their full-length debut. So what you get here are all the feelings and all the noise and maybe all the salvation. My favorite punk bands always care too much.
9. Waxahatchee: Ivy Tripp
Ivy Trip is indie rock and alt country and synth-pop Frankensteined together. Katie Crutchfield's introspective storytelling is what anchors all the tracks together. Well, that and her soaring voice. The album feels like a mix between Crutchfield other two solo records, alternating between sparsely arranged, contemplative numbers and fuzzier full band arrangements. Crutchfield's full discography is all over the place, but for now she seems to exist somewhere between Belly and Weakerthans.
8. Envy: Atheist's Cornea
Post-rock/post-hardcore/metal/screamo/something/something/something from Japan. Atheist's Cornea is a lot less sprawling than Recitation, but no less grand. This band takes quiet/loud dynamics to extreme opposites, ensuring that every song is like a mini-album onto itself. Get ready to bump dat fist. I cooked to this record a whole, whole lot.
7. Cetus: The Remnant Mass
In which I rep Lansdale hardcore. Or at least technical hardcore. Or maybe Cetus is just a straight up metal band now. I do not know. But I do know this, deep down in my bones: My friends made a killer record that screams and wriggles and grooves its way through nine riffy ragers. And now they can brag about topping higher than Bruno Mars on somebody's best of 2015 list.
My favorite pop-punk album of 2015 is really a stoned out Lemonheads/Juliana Hatfield Trio throwback. I Want to Grow Up is the kind of bubblegum rock we need if we're going to colonize Mars, beat cancer and save the whales. Green sings about craving adult responsibilities but succumbing to channel surfing instead, and she does so over a resonant low end and plenty of dope guitar solos. Golly this is a fun set.
TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE .
"Invent our own kind of obscurity." The most powerful of power trios, Sleater-Kinney roared once more in 2015. While I loved Wild Flag and the Corin Tucker Trio, it's so very cool to have them back. If anything, the years have made them better. No Cities to Love is a heavy both in subject and in sound. "Price Tag" and the title track weigh convenient ends versus ethical means. "A New Wave" and "No Anthems" talk about relationships with music and with people. Epic classic rock riffs and pounded out dance beats burst forth. The vocals are full-throated. Everything is loud and living.
John Darnielle wrote a concept album about wrestling. It is amazing because, like everything else he writes about, Darnielle approaches the topic with complete sincerity and understanding. Check out how he forges some very specific, obscure facts into a coherent rhyme scheme on "The Ballad of Chavo Guerrero" (heck, check out how he got the real Guerrero to appear in the music video. And yeah, he's a little tongue-in-cheek on tracks like "Foreign Object" and "Choked Out," but those songs are also totally bitchin'. These songs about emotional failure and physical ruin are very much in Darnielle's wheelhouse. Mountain Goats Mania is here, brother.
Sunbather was real darn good; New Bermuda is real darn great. The whole thing is sequenced to perfection, ramping up the black metalgaze as it goes along. Discerning between songs is pointless; this is a five-track suite. By the time I get to palate cleanser/album ender "Gifts For the Earth," I'm excited to start the process of washing myself in noise all over again. Speaking of which...
Settler came out around the same time I started commuting about an hour each way to work. I'd drive or take the train into the city, get my ass kicked by the dangerously assertive people of Philadelphia, and then go home and stress eat. But I'd also blast Settler over and over and over until I felt normal again. So yeah, metal saved my life. I love the Devil now. THE END.
SOMETIMES COULD BE SOMETIMES: THE SHORT PLAYERS
5. Ex-Friends/F.O.D.: Split [7-inch]
JP Flexner and Joel Tannenbaum are all over this list, and with good reason. Ex Friends fire off one last salvo from beyond the grave, and hey F.O.D. sounds good too.
4. Braid: Kids Get Grids
"Kids Get Grids" is an original; "Because I Am" is a Broken Hearts are Blue cover. Both are top notch angular emo.
Tannenbaum is the Tannen-bomb on these folksy tracks about better living through black metal.
Death to False Hope / Square of Opposition
Black Metal Yoga is a snack; Here is a List is a meal. Lush melodies float over driving pop rock. Even the art is pretty.
1. Didi: Didi
While working in Columbus, OH for a week, I got to attend a local punk rocking ceremony at a rather neat Buddhist-themed bar. Cayetana headlined and were awesome, but I was also struck by local heroes Didi. Live they were the loudest thing in the whole state, balancing guitar squals and perfect harmonies, chaos and disorder. On record, they're a bit fuzzier but just as fun. Either way I'm going to compare them to Pixies, Lemuria and maybe that dog. Please go listen to them so they can become a big deal and maybe come play Philly sometime.
JAMMIES ARENâ€™T COOL: THE VERY HONORABLE MENTIONS
Business Casual / Polyvinyl
Beach Slang released SO MUCH MUSIC this year. Broken Thrills consolidated their fiery first two EPs. Here, I Made This For You! is a cassette collecting covers. I'm all types of stoked for that Ride cover, but my favorite is Dramarama's "Anything, Anything." Perhaps you know it as the awesome song from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master?
B. John Carpenter Soundtrack reissues
Death Waltz Recording Company
I wasn't kidding about Carpenter's wizardy with a synthesizer, and Death Waltz knows it too. They put out a gorgeous set of vinyl reissues for his numerous scores. Prince of Darkness and the Halloween films look and sound particularly nice.
My only complaint is I wish Torche could've covered Nirvana's Nevermind in its entirety. But the other bands on this tribute are pretty good too. Extra points to Thou for covering B-side "Even in His Youth."
Punknews reviewed my old band twice this year. They hated the shit out of Day Job but they liked Ska. To be fair, Ska is better.
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