Another year, another list!
As always, I’ve collected a long-list of artists and albums throughout the year (over 190 songs long this time! phew!) which I then whittle down to the list you see before you. This year, I had some trouble keeping it short and decided to throw caution to the wind, and just let loose 40 albums that I could not put down throughout 2015.
There’s also a Spotify playlist (now that I’ve begrudgingly made the jump from the gone-too-soon land of Rdio) that you can use to listen along with, if that’s your bag. Also, there are plenty of other albums that I loved with all of my heart, but felt already had plenty of exposure on year-end lists and thus didn’t toss them on here – so don’t freak out and assume I hated the new Tame Impala, or something, because holy crap was there a lot of great music released this year!
Anyway, without further ado, here we go:
Without further ado, here’s 40 great albums that I truly believe are worthy of your time and effort:
This one was a surprising discovery that I felt got overlooked this year. Iji‘s Whatever Will Happen lands via Team Love Records, and features danceable indie-pop by way of saxophone-infused, smoothed over post-dance-punk-y-art-rock. As you’ll be able to tell from the list, I listen to a lot of straight-ahead indie- and punk-rock and this was a huge breath of fresh air and sounded like nothing else I heard this year.
Michael Cantor of the Ambulars returns with this LP of dreamy power-pop, featuring a wonderful balance of down-tempo eclectic tunes with upbeat numbers and a fair sense of atmosphere. Songs like “Louder Than Summer” show Cantor’s knack for stretching out and toying with percussion, while “Disrepair” chugs along with driving melodic force. There’s a lot of great variety on this LP, and it slowly grew to be one of my most returned-to albums in 2015; there’s a quiet yet catchy and comfortable mood going on here, perfect for late evenings in dimly lit rooms.
This New York trio fronted by Dean Engle play short, fast and simple revved-up indie-pop that tell deeply honest and raw stories of love and life. It’s all super catchy, uber-quirky, and as fizzy as a can of JOLT Cola; about as addictive, too. This was 2015’s first instant-add to my year-end list – as soon as I heard it, the Descendents fan in me fell head-over-heels.
Here’s a thoroughly underrated one. A plethora of nice soft-pop vibes bouncing around here, as produced by Chaz aka Toro Y Moi. Modern takes on an ever-spinning A.M. radio dial, with echoes of Paul Simon and other singer-songwriters; as the title suggests, it’s like the best kind of Sunday pot-luck, with plenty of dishes to pick through.
All Dogs front-woman Maryn Jones (making her first of two appearances on this year’s list) offers up this solo record, recorded and released under her Yowler moniker. This one is all about the atmosphere and sneaky hooks; with a distant and ethereal sound, reverberating guitars both electric and acoustic, and hushed vocals. Wonderful stuff, calling to mind some of Waxahatchee‘s early output, or the debut Tancred record.
Philadelphia band Hop Along are landing on a number of best-of publications this year, and deservedly so. Their LP Painted Shut was one of my most anticipated albums of the year, as 2013’s Get Disowned showed oodles of potential, and the single “Powerful Man” seemed to fully act upon it. Singer Frances Quinlan has a knack for juxtaposing deadly-serious lyrics with some of the most catchy tunes you’ll hear all year, as shown on the aforementioned single – you may find yourself happily singing along before you even realize the guilt-ridden subject matter. Expertly produced by John Agnello (who has worked with artists such as Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr., and Sonic Youth), it’s fantastic to see Hop Along making their victory lap after putting in years of hard work.
File this one under: “even better than expected.” Building upon the momentum gained by The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, Australia’s “answer to Bob Dylan” (he was a question?) dropped this stunning collection of wry, self-deprecating vintage-indebted indie-rock. Some have called her the voice of a generation, and listening to Sometimes I Sit… makes it hard to disagree; this is some of the smartest guitar-rock to be released in years.
Helvetia continue their streak as one of the most consistent bands going in indie-rock today, ranking up there with Spoon and The Sea & Cake for their ability to release album after album of rock-solid mix-n-match tunes that somehow sound wholly their own; when you hear a Helvetia album (formed in the wake of the fantastic 90s group Duster) you know instantly who you are listening to. They’re junky, the production is on point, you never know what’s around the corner through each track, and it’s just straight-up wonderful to have them back this year.
Instantly calling to mind the best of Stereolab and Broadcast, this LP from Death & Vanilla is like sitting inside an echo chamber while the world’s premier space-age lounge-pop acts clamor for attention all at-once. Right from the get-go, with “Necessary Distortions” vintage synth-lines and muted guitar arpeggios, I was ready to curl up inside this album and declare it my new home. Thankfully, it’s not just an album with a strong opener or slick ambiance, but tracks like “California Owls” prove that Death & Vanilla have the widescreen, boisterous pop-chops to back up some of their their artful-tendencies. Highly recommended.
What year is it!? I don’t remember buying this flannel shirt… who put this can of PBR in my hand? Didn’t I cut my hair last week? How’d it get down to my shoulders? Why is my head heavily rocking forward and back like this? WHAT IS GOING ON!? I don’t know, but boy do I love it.
The third album from Valet – the solo project of Portland’s Honey Owens, of Jackie O Motherfucker and Nudge – drops like a heavy sigh of relief with its twee-pop leanings and jangling, psychedelic guitar lines. This was the soundtrack to many stressful afternoons, and Nature never failed to calm me down.
I had no idea Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin had a new album coming out until the exact day it was released. This was a wonderful surprise – after the relatively downtempo Fly By Wire in 2013, The High Country is a return to upbeat, straight-ahead power-pop and it is just delightful. Easily their best album in some time – maybe even since their debut.
Scottish duo Pinact are another in the long list of bands who worship 90s heavyweights such as Pixies, Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Teenage Fanclub, but these guys are doing it right with a perfect mix of aggression and emotion. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more cathartic anthem than “Anxiety,” the second track on this, their debut long-player; crank it up, loud.
If you dug Martha’s Courting Strong or anything by Los Campesinos, you’re likely to also dig this phenomenal sophomore LP from London quartet Sauna Youth. Distractions is a hyper-tight blast of angular art-punk guitar slashes, shouted choruses, pummeling drum thrashing, and fizzed-out energetic hooks galore; it’s definitely the kind of record that could be easily passed over with a shrug by more passive listeners, but a closer look will reveal just how innovative this stuff really is.
Jeff Rosenstock – of Bomb The Music Industry! previously – has been a figurehead in the DIY scene for what feels like an eternity, at this point. His insane working attitude and ingenuity (BTMI! allowed fans to bring their own blank shirts to their shows, where stencils were at the ready for creating makeshift band merch at no cost to fans) is legendary, to the point where there’s an upcoming documentary to be released about the band. Here, on his latest solo act, he’s working at peak creativity and what results is easily one of the best albums of the year. Catchy, relatable, and damn-near life-affirming, We Cool? is the rare kind of album that will have you knowingly chuckle to yourself (“Nausea”) before shedding a few tears a few tracks later (“I’m Serious, I’m Sorry”).
Formerly Summer Vacation (see what they did there?), Winter Break continues the former band’s tradition of scream-along punk-rock influenced indie-rock barn-burners. These dudes are a total throw-back, sounding exactly like three or four different bands I would have listened to in High School squeezed into one album. They’ve hit on a sweet spot, and Self-Titled should please any punk or indie-rock fan looking for a tight, noisy, catchy record.
Plain and simple, the new Radioactivity LP shreds hard and fast. If you haven’t heard ’em, they’re members of The Marked Men and Bad Sports, and they’re on the ever-reliable Dirtnap Records. This is uncut fast and poppy power-punk-rock; you should know by now if this will be your bag, so get into it.
The latest from Tearjerker was the soundtrack to my summer – there’s not many acts who are making music this fussed over, this considered and this artfully produced and arranged. These guys continue to put out some of the best records here in Toronto, so get up on them! Another wonderful release in what will hopefully continue to be a fruitful career.
If you loved Hulu’s Difficult People as much as I did, you probably also found yourself bopping your head along to the keyboard-lead power-punk-pop tune they ended every episode with. Originally, I even thought it was another of The Marked Men‘s many side-projects, but in reality it was White Reaper, who sound a bit like Sonic Avenues blasting out covers of The Dickies with a pinch of new-wave keyboard action to round it all out. Unsurprisingly, it’s totally bad-ass and whips by at an incredible rate.
Retro psych-pop meets kraut-influences, noise-rock, neo-psych and even electronic flourishes on Aloa Input‘s sophomore release Mars Etc. This album was recommended to me with The Beta Band used as a reference point, and fans of the Band definitely need to be checking this record out, because the anything-goes attitude is alive and well on Mars; a kinetic and engaging step-forward for the band.
Jack Cooper (Mazes) and James Hoare (Veronica Falls) return with another album of dueling guitar melodies that shine like a ray of sun piercing through the grey sky. Their debut LP got a lot of press, but it’s their second album that solidified these guys as one of the best modern guitar-pop bands outside of their respective main-acts, for me.
While Speedy Ortiz had a banner year with their excellent second-album Foil Deer, former label-mates Palehound also dropped a fantastic set of skewed-indie-rock that grabs you by the hand and pulls you through a twisting cavern full of huge melodies and unexpected turns. More than the aforementioned band though, Palehound take their time on Dry Food to stretch out, on tracks like the slowly churning break-up anthem “Easy,” where Ellen Kempner sighs “All I need’s a little sleep / and I’ll be good to clean and eat” while the rhythm section and acoustic guitar trade skittering blows before launching into a Pavement-esque bridge.
On the Yowler listed above, All Dogs singer Maryn Jones opens up the darkest corners of her life for her moody downtempo tunes, but here on their debut full-length, Jones takes similar subject matter and churns it through a series of mid-tempo chug-along pop-punk tunes that slowly build to some of the most cathartic releases heard on any record this year; when Jones soars through the finale of “How Long,” it sends sharp chills down the backs of listeners, making it obvious that we’re witnessing something special here.
Another terrific album that comes to us from Toro y Moi‘s record label Company Records, Into by Vinyl Williams is a hard one to get a hold of – at least, initially. The record opens with a groovy tune, but not one that reveals what is to come later; it’s not until the second track, “Space Age Utopia,” that you begin to experience the world that Vinyl Williams is building. A world where elements of chillwave and psychedelia flirt with 60s and 70s pop, all while mingling with electronic textures. It’s a wonderful melting-pot of influences, and one which warmly welcomes you to book return visits – the landscape seemingly morphing, changing and aging beautifully every time you circle back.
Rocket From The Crypt may not have had an official release this year (though, their long-delayed collaboration with Sonny Vincent Vintage Piss did drop) but thankfully The Atom Age are keeping the horn-adorned garage-rock vibes coming strong with Hot Shame (produced by The Dwarves’ Blag Dahlia.) The surf-tinged riffs are explosive, the keyboards retro-as-hell, and snaps of reverb kick these beer-soaked ragers into gear.
Another brand-new discovery for me this year, Pupppy play indie-rock with a bit of herky-jerky country and twangy folk attitude tossed in there. Whenever I attempt to describe their album Shit In The Apple Pie, I’m not sure exactly how to describe it – but it’s more refreshing than whatever you’re currently picturing in your head, I promise you. With an album cover that may incite some queasy stomachs (not to mention track titles like “Puking (Marry Christmas)” and “Fucked Up”) and the lyrics to match, Shit In The Apple Pie paints a scarily real portrait of our day-to-day emotional struggles – warts and all.
Usually, I’ll be the first guy saying to stop labeling music you love as guilty pleasures – you should dig what you dig, and not force yourself to feel guilty about it! That said, I had regularly labeled my love of many Motion City Soundtrack songs as a guilty pleasure, when deep down I needed to admit that their brand of sugar-rush driven power-synth-pop is just an indulgence I can’t help but take from time to time. Their albums have been spotty, but when the highlights found therein are strung along on a playlist, the results speak for themselves. With Panic Stations, they’ve put out a helluva come-back album (I wasn’t a big fan of their previous album at all, to be honest) and potentially their strongest set of tunes yet from top to bottom.
Featuring members of emo and indie bands such as Algernon Cadwallader, Snowing, and Glocca Morra, Dogs On Acid‘s debut bucks the expectations placed upon itself by those acts, and stands on its own as one of the best rock-records of the year – there’s a reason why seminal record label Jade Tree threw their weight behind this release, as it calls to mind acts such as Archers of Loaf (“The Prick”) and Built to Spill (“9 Times.”)
Sounding like a Dischord band with a serious addiction to post-punk and post-hardcore, Meat Wave’s second LP Delusion Moon may have a Pink Floyd piss-take cover, but they ain’t no prog band; this is an album with one foot on the gas and Pink Flag in the cassette deck.
There’s not a clear way to express how excited I was to hear a new record from the criminally underrated band The Spills. This band’s previous LP was completely phenomenal, and I have no idea why they’ve been so slept on. On Collecting Dust, there’s plenty of different vibes mixed up, but generally it straddles the immediate-satisfaction of melodic indie-rock and punk (“Broken Guts”) with longer-form moments not unlike the best of Built to Spill (“Flash Floods”).
Another record that I had no idea was coming, to my surprise and delight, is the latest from Birthmark (aka Nate Kinsella of American Football, Joan of Arc, and Make Believe.) Continuing on the road laid down by the excellent Antibodies, How You Look When You’re Falling Down delivers organic and electronic instrumentation in long-form bursts of jazz-meets-pop songwriting. There’s really not much out there that sounds like what Birthmark is doing here, and it’s a shame that his albums don’t seem to be getting the press they deserve.
Kerrier District‘s sample-heavy LP 4 starts with an exclamation to “start up the phonograph!” before slipping into a bass-n-keyboard led groove and proceeds to ignite the dance-floor for 75 solid minutes. Luke Vilbert – also known as Wagon Christ and Plug – eschews his d’n’b and acid-jazz here, focusing on slinky nu-dicso house-jams pulsed into a fine puree with plenty of recognizable and nostalgic sample work; its a spaced-out masterwork that is guaranteed to have you smiling ear-to-ear as you dance along.
With acts like Tycho and label Ghostly Records making major waves in the electronic genre, you might not think there’s room in your collection for another LP bridging the gap between the organic and the artificial – but take a listen to the first two tracks on Rival Consoles’ Howl and you’ll have plenty room for more. Coming off the heels of a game-changing EP and a strong LP, Howl is Consoles’ first outing with a new thoughtful, yet laser-focused sound. If you like your experimental electronic records to be as emotive as possible, Howl is going to be right up your alley; each song has been carefully crafted, with magnificent swells of synths and skittering beats ready to surprise at every turn (take, for instance, the way “Afterglow” teases its way into a restrained climax, telling oh-so-much more than it actually shows – and yet is all the better for it.) Absolutely sublime.
Krill was another in a long-line of Rdio discoveries, and another reason why I was so broken-up about the dissolving of their services this year. Discovery on Spotify has been wonderful, but there’s no telling if I’d have been able to stumble-upon a hidden-gem like A Distant Fist Unclenching there. From the quiet opening moments of “Phantom” to the explosive blast of math-y riffs that closes the track, it’s clear there’s something interesting going on here – as Krill pull from art-punk and indie-rock while casually tossing in any number of disparate influences to create something entirely unique.
The first thing I wrote on Rdio when I heard Sleepy Kids was simply “This album fuckin’ rules.” and I 100% stand by that initial reaction. Brooklyn’s Haybaby have been making waves online leading up to the release of their debut, and it’s well worth the wait; the opening juxtaposition of “Old Friends” and “New Friends” leads way to much darker issues at hand, but thankfully the band are never quite content with just thrashing on power chords and relying on attitude alone – instead crafting subtly moving scenes that ebb and flow between aggression and beauty, as best represented on “Edelweiss.”
You know the deal: youngsters pick up their instruments and wield them as equipment for mining nuggets of melodic gold from a number of check-boxed 90s influences.
Like many of those bands-gone-by, though, Menace Beach (named after the low-budge NES cart of the same name) play with a sense of wild, attention-span-less abandon and surprise oft-missing from today’s revivalists – many of whom pick one band to ape, as opposed to say, five or six. Highly recommended.
Topshelf Records have done it again with another, well, top shelf release. Super fast, super catchy, and super addictive; this album caught me within the first few tracks and hasn’t let go since. Fans of PAWS‘ Youth Culture Forever might find some shared influences in here to latch on to. Think Cloud Nothings and Male Bonding sharing beers and passing a tattered copy of Dude Ranch back and forth while jamming out to grunge, and you’re getting warmer.
Best album released as a box of salt-flavoured cereal from 2015! This year, Math The Band expanded from a duo to a full seven-piece band, added another “the band” for good measure, cranked their effervescent, Weezer-y power-pop up to eleven and dropped this LP as a box of salty cereal (no, seriously.) It’s goddamn fantastic, and after I got my hands on it, I listened to it multiple times a day – that’s how good it is.
What if David Bazan fronted a stoner-sludge rock band? Well, Indiana-based trio Cloakroom might have stumbled upon something very close to what that would sound like. On Further Out, Cloakroom melds emotive vocals, pummeling drum slams and walls of feedback-laden guitar chugs on top of slowcore-esque songwriting chops. It’s a listen that, admittedly, took me a listen or two to warm up on, but once I did I couldn’t stop air-drumming and head-nodding along to this great set of tunes.
The title of Bent Denim‘s Romances You may sound romantic, but contained within are some of the most stripped-bare emotional over-shares since Pinkerton. To the soundtrack of downtempo indie-pop – with moments of twee, chamber-pop, and electronics – Bent Denim lay out their dirty laundry, where endearing qualities brush up against creepiness and pathetically honest admissions.
The duo have self-described their music as “nightmare-pop,” and it’s clear why when you hear gorgeous melodies and arrangements (the way “Often” fits into the climax of the previous track is a wonder to hear within the context of the rest of the record) laid under lyrics about crush-creeping for photos on search engines (“Caitlin,”) or admitting that “when you go to sleep / I’m going to try on your clothes / with both my eyes closed / just to feel what it’s like to be inside you.” Moments like these bring a scary tension to the album, shining a light on deep, dark and desperate moments of human nature that swirl around us every day and make Romances You a fascinating record.
Phew, and that’s it for another year! Hopefully you’ve found some new favourites, and don’t forget to list your best of the year – or any albums you think that I missed – in the comments! Can’t wait to hear from y’all!