The Top 20 Albums of 2015: 20 - 11
by Joshua B. Hoe Well, it has been a pretty amazing music year. As you will see (and have seen with my "almost" top 20 list) women dominated 2015 in music IMHO.
I have listened to hundreds of albums this year, some of them many times, to make this list. In fact, one of my key ranking criteria was - how many times did you listen to the album this year?
Obviously, this works against some of the newer releases, but you cannot help the wily ways of the calendar.
This is obviously a labor of love, I hope that you enjoy these albums as much as I did.
Without further ado:
20. Dilly Dally - Sore
With a strong (almost harsh) sound based as much in rock as it is in grunge and post-punk, Dilly Dally have been around since Toronto's Katie Monks and Liz Ball formed the group in 2009.
Once thing is for sure, they just blast it out and say what they want. I love how bold and rough the vocals are and I love the feeling that among the grunge there is just a touch of Television (Strokes?) influence.
The only reason Sore isn't higher is that the songwriting is still working its way out a bit. It is a bit messy, perhaps more than intended, but still great fun.
This is a good band with space to grow into something great.
Pitchfork rated Sore 8.0
Rolling Stone gave Sore a 3.5 (out of 5) stars
19. Milo - So The Flies Won't Come
Milo (who is actually Rory Ferreira) makes stoner hip-hop that might be too mellow for some but I suspect most will really enjoy his flow, the lyrics (very cool smart lyrics), and the creativity (the production is clever).
Just going to say this is the first time I know of a hip-hop artist name-dropping Haruki Murakami.
This is way laid back, literate, smart, and thoughtful hip-hop at it's best.
If you have an easy afternoon and just want to chill, this is good stuff!
Pitchfork's verdict was 7.4 (guess there was a black/death metal album that week)
18. Chastity Belt - Time To Go Home
Chastity Belt had me at hello.
The chorus of "Drone" (the first song), "He was just another man trying to teach me something" in a weary, tired, resigned voice says it all really.
The music is dreamy but specific. There is a very specific and cool style to their songs, like something you would listen to right after a crazy party while having coffee.
Kind of still rocking, but something you can reflect on and find truth in.
This is a band of four women that speak their experiences and don't mince words. But they also speak to everything from serious to silly.
"We're just a couple of sluts going out on the town fooling around (from Cool Slut)."
Like bands during the Riot Girllll years, Chastity Belt take control of the words people use to oppress and have as much fun with them as they want to.
But there is also a "no duh" feeling here too - as if it is so not a surprise that men suck that it is almost not worth getting excited about.
That kind of sadly makes sense to me.
This is the punk of barely caring about you.
In an interview with Paste Magazine, lead singer and guitarist Julia Shapiro complained no women were nominated for best rock album at the Grammy's. This is probably poor compensation, but you are nominated here.
Pitchfork said 7.6
NPR was pretty positive too
17. Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect
Detroit's Protomartyr make my kind of post-punk (and not just because they have a song called Ypsilanti - where I live). Driving music with smart lyrics tied to specific events that allow us to explore much more about the world.
I think it is probably more than a roll of the dice that Protomartyr follows Chastity Belt because Joe Casey's vocal style has a similar touch of the "I am saying this because I have to, not because I care much about what you think" as Chastity Belt's Julia Shapiro does.
My favorite song on this album is Pontiac 87 which is about the contradictions between people clamoring to see the Pope visit Detroit's Silverdome and the actual message the Pope was supposed to be carrying.
Money changing between hands outside the Silverdome.
Old folks turning brutish.
I often wonder at the differences between being faithful to ideas versus being part of a crowd of followers (often not very concerned with the actual ideas), so this song spoke to me at a deeper level.
Anyway, the whole album is great. Good smart post-punk.
Something you can listen to as you hope the sun never comes up until after you pass out.
The good people at Pitchfork rated The Agent Intellect at 8.1
Consequence of Sound said the album was an A-
16. Beach House - Thank Your Lucky Stars
I don't really know what to say here.
I used to not really like Beach House, and now they put out two albums in two months in 2015 and I loved both of them.
If you had told me even 15 years ago that I would like a band that used a massive amount of organ, I would have laughed out loud.
Not church organ, the organ you used to see played in the mall by some guy wearing a leisure suit.
Maybe as I get older I am able to expand my musical appreciations more? I don't know, but I know this is a great album.
I am really at a loss, and this is only Beach House album 1 on the list.
"All Your Yeahs"...So beautiful.
Just beautiful dreamy songwriting all the way through.
I also really have grown to appreciate Victoria Legrand's voice and phrasing more and more as the year has gone on.
I just had a quick argument on Reddit over which 2015 Beach House album was better, I suspect you can tell which one I prefer now, but both are really great.
Pitchfork gave Thank Your Lucky Stars an 8.1
Stereogum was also a big fan of the album (wondering as I did, how any band could put two such great albums out in a matter of months).
15. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Just Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett is a very talented singer/songwriter from Australia.
I find her lyrics very clever. I have, at times, suggested that she could be an heir to Elvis Costello in the sense that she turns a mean phrase.
Her word play game is strong, that is what I am saying.
She is sarcastic, smart, and also a pretty good songwriter. She bounces between snark and fun and silly and ironical quickly.
This album might have been higher but I don't think she has come close to reaching her peak yet. Not because, as many have said, she is a queen of slacker-pop (or rock whatever the hell that all means), but because her songwriting is still catching up to her lyrics.
While you could listen to this album casually, it would be more fun to listen to it paying close attention, if that makes any sense?
Courtney has talent to spare, I can't wait to see where she goes next.
The ever ubiquitous Pitchfork gave the album an 8.6
The venerable Rolling Stone gave the album a 4.5 (out of 5) star rating.
14. Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer
Speedy Ortiz...Oh, Speedy Ortiz
I went back and forth on this album all year. Some days I found it genius. Other days, I was no longer certain.
I have always like Sadie Dupuis and she has a point-of-view I appreciate. I guess I think what bothers me is that they, as a band, kind of seem to be a cleaner grunge. A grunge-pop, if that is possible.
For me, I have always liked finding the neat moments in the sludge more than the sludge eating at the neat arrangements.
This is all kind of nitpicking, at the end of the day, when I as listening I wanted to sing along, I tapped my feet, I liked the songs and the singing.
It is a really fun album to listen to, so I realized sometimes I just need to put my genre-tastes to the side and learn to love the Ortiz.
Plus, I am also kind of scared of Sadie, she is always talking about using her blades on people.
Pitchfork considered Foil Deer a 7.9
NPR liked the album even more than PF.
13. Hop Along - Painted Shut
Remember way back at the beginning of this list? When I said part of my criteria was how many times I listened to the albums.
I have the CD of Hop Along's Painted Shut (strange disc you put in these things called CD players in order to hear recorded music, but that is not important right now).
Anyway, that CD resides in the CD Wallet in my car. Throughout the year, I have noticed that it is never in the wallet because it is always actually in my CD player.
Apparently, I like this CD a great deal.
Maybe I like Frances Quinlan's gravel filled voice? I mean that is true, for sure, but, I also think the songs are pretty great.
It is a traditional alternative rock album, maybe nothing spectacular in structure or form, but how many times I have started randomly humming songs from this album (way too many I can assure you)?
Pitchfork (which apparently reviews everything ever recorded) gives Painted Shut a 7.9
Metacritic gives the album an 86
12. Albert Hammond Jr. - Momentary Masters
Why do I like this Albert Hammond Jr. album so much?
It is not just because I like The Strokes.
I think it is because it is so damn catchy.
There is this bouncy style to his guitar playing on this record that is a happy evolution from the roots of his Television influenced guitar playing.
His guitar on this album sounds like Ska played entirely inside the lines.
And, for some reason, that is not a bad thing, he is making a very precise architectural music, but despite that, it is really bright and fun.
Playing inside the lines sounds fun, I don't entirely get it, but my ears do.
Not exactly punk, but a brighter post-punk? A brave new world for me.
Oh and "Losing Touch" is just a really great (dare I say) pop song.
Pitchfork loved Momentary Masters less than I did at 7.3
Consequence of Sound also disagrees with me giving the album a C
11. Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh
Blanck Mass is Benjamin John Power (one half of the electro-noise group Fuck Buttons).
I am a big fan of both halves of Fuck Buttons (Andrew Hung has been doing these solo albums using a Nintendo Game System to make electronic music - pretty cool). So, it should be no surprise to find me mentioning Blanck Mass here.
Yes, I like noise-filled music. I like hearing soundscapes slowly decay or build and crash.
In other words, you might not enjoy this as much as I do, could be an acquired taste.
This is experimental, sludgy, interesting, messy electronic goop.
Sometimes it is full of rage, sometimes it is a ball of confusion.
But it has kept me interested all year. This is another one of those albums that keeps finding its way into my CD player or Spotify play.
I love, love, love, Dead Format, which is the best dark dance music I have heard in a long time. FURIOUS!
Pitchfork rated Dumb Flesh at 7.6
Consequence of Sound awarded Dumb Flesh a B
Well, that finishes off albums 20-11, the big 10 land tomorrow morning.
Hope you enjoy all of these as much as I have!