Steve’s Favorite Albums of 2015
You’ll have to excuse me, I’m feeling a bit over-whelmed at the moment. For me, this has been one of the greatest years for music that I’ve ever known. Within the span of 365 days, my favorite musical artist released her most personal and powerful album to date, I heard sonic waves of sound being conjured like some sort of other-worldly death magic, and the band I’d wished on every star (for 19 years) to re-unite, did.
Particularly in 2015, music has been my lighthouse in the fog of a most terrible year. The albums featured on the following list make me think of holding my beautiful and very significant other, the both of us tangled in limbs and melodies, as we gaze through crystal-clear skylights. These records inspire me to create stories that end with cold bodies and children clutching their imaginary friends. This music begs me think of the ones I love, and I mean really love. I’m talking about the individuals who, like the albums listed here, I could never bear to live without. I’ll meet you beneath a tree of stars, a set of headphones for each of us, and together we’ll dream bigger than we ever thought was possible. These are my favorite albums of 2015.
Favorite Album Not Released in 2015
Sherlock’s Daughter – Hunter
Not every album I fell in love with this past year was released in 2015. Since 2009, I’ve been listening to an EP from the band Sherlock’s Daughter, and for reasons unknown to me, I’d neglected to ever follow them onto any new material beyond that first release. Shameful, I know. Now, let’s fast forward to around mid-November of this past year – when I discovered that the band had in fact released a full-length album back in 2002. I bought it immediately, and then I went for a walk. With my big headphones on, I launched myself into the bitter cold, and pressed play. What I heard was a frightening fairytale of an album.
When I hear this album I think of children being told ghost stories before bed time. I imagine myself walking in a forest, and every tree is on fire. But there’s no smoke, only light. Tanya Horo begins to sing and suddenly the forest grows dark. Everything goes black and pink. Serpents begin weaving through holes in the ground as a Huntsman makes his way back to a crooked cottage – the dripping carcass of a dead wolf slung over his massive shoulder. All of this is happening as Tim Maybury (guitar), William Russell (drums), Liam Flanagan (bass) and Jonti Danimals (live electronics & samplers) cast their collective spell. And together with Tanya, create an epic and atmospheric soundscape. I see a bone-colored moon hanging among spinning stars. I hear an album that sounds as if it’s alive, and I go to a places that feel almost impossible for me to leave. If you like your music to have a meticulously crafted slow-burn, drums that are both circular and ceremonial in their rhythms, and vocals that sing twisted lullabies – this might be the album for you.
In the End
Favorite Albums Released in 2015
#13 – #7
13. Team Sleep – Woodstock Sessions Vol. 4
On May 25th of 2005, I concert-hopped between The Faint at Webster Hall and Team Sleep at the old Knitting Factory in New York City. That night, The Faint blew me away. Their energy was electric and every tune came alive with a rapturous glee. It really was something to behold. Shortly thereafter, I arrived at the Team Sleep show. The band was clearly drunk, and the performance – for lack of better words – was hot garbage. That said, a night that got away from the band was in no way going to mar my love for their music – particularly their self-titled debut album. That album is special to me in ways that I’m not about to share with you here. Let’s just say that when I needed that album most, it was always there.
This year, Team Sleep returned with the release of Woodstock Sessions Vol. 4, a live collection of tracks both rare and old – and it’s positively gorgeous. These recordings are in every way what I’d wanted from the band on that night I saw them perform. I hear this album, and I feel as if a missing piece of a puzzle left unfinished has finally been found. To put it plainly, this album is massive! Chino’s melodic vocals lovingly massage harsh, looping drums, wailing guitars, and slick samples as the music washes over you in waves. It’s like base-jumping for your ears. Dive!
Your Skull is Red
Live From the Stage
12. SEXWITCH – SEXWITCH
Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes is a woman possessed on this self-titled album. SEXWITCH is an exorcism for all that haunts you. Natsha, together with Dan Carey, learned the songs, and recorded them all in just one day. Let that sink in for a moment or two when you listen to this seductive and orgasmic record. It’s true that repetition of sound can often times serves to cripple an album. However, in the case of SEXWITCH, the spiraling, tribal-like drums invite you to join the orgy of sound happening at the center of this sensual record. Every song on this record sounds as if it’s meant to conjure spirits and expel demons. It’s ceremonial and tantric. An album that you can fuck to. Tilt your head back and scream.
Ha Howa Ha Howa
War in Peace
11. Beach House – Depression Cherry/Thank Your Lucky Stars
French-born Victoria Legrand (vocals, keyboards) and Alex Scally of Baltimore, Maryland make-up the dreamy, wide-open, and enigmatic band, Beach House. I’ve grouped both albums here, seeing as Thank Your Lucky Stars was released less than two months after Depression Cherry. The band has come forward saying that one is not a companion album for the other, but that Thank Your Lucky Stars is more of a compilation of B-sides that they wish to share with their fans. Regardless of their intention, Beach House have managed to release two powerhouse albums in 2015, and both deserve a place on this list. For me, Beach House is one of those bands that I listen to when I want to escape from the day.
I’ve personally found that their music is the auditory equivalent of a beautiful sunset. Does that sound cheesy? I can see it in my mind’s eye: the sun casting what’s left of its light upon the ocean waters, a misting of sparkles spiraling off the crest of every wave. The synths, soft chords, and gospel tones often remind me of an organ-grinder, hoping to get you through the turnstile that will lead you to his haunted carnival. It all sounds quite frightening, until you realize it’s not. The music will shield you. There’s a tunnel of love waiting for you, and there are no lines.
Recommended Tracks for Depression Cherry:
Recommended Tracks for Thank Your Lucky Stars:
Elegy to the Void
All Your Yeahs
10. Sister Crayon – Devoted
Under the guidance of Rodriguez-Lopez Productions, Terra Lopez (vocals) and Dani Fernandez (backing tracks, beats, digital) released Devoted on June 2nd, 2015. Sister Crayon have proven, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that they’re here to fuck shit up with this album. There’s seriously enough fire, venom, and personal demons on this record that I can’t help but clench my fists when listening to it. Sister Crayon pulls from several corners of the musical spectrum with Devoted, using elements of Trip-Hop, R&B, Soul, and Glitch-Rock to deliver their own unique brand of music. It’s the type of sound that threatens to dismantle its listeners, one emotion at a time.
Lopez is clearly at the top of her game, here. Vocally, she brings forth tales of longing, betrayal, and the struggles of keeping ones faith on solid ground. And damn, Ms. Fernandez is not to be overlooked on this record. The musicality of Sister Crayon has only grown more confident since the band released their first album, Bellow, in 2011. If Terra’s voice serves as our storyteller, Dani is very much the weaver of the worlds in which those stories play out. Together, these two ladies have forged a new path for this project, and I would follow them anywhere.
Recommended Tracks for Devoted:
Ride / Die
Into Solemn Hymns
9. Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color
Gather roundn, brothers and sisters! It took me a while to catch my breath, after my first listen of Alabama Shake’s Sound & Color. This Athens, Alabama-based band blends elements of Funk, Jazz, Blues, Gospel, and good old fashioned rock n roll to infectious results. I challenge anyone to listen to this album and not feel the over-whelming compulsion to nod their head and tap their toes to the groove. Thick bass, ringing drums, and rebellious guitar licks are what this record is all about. Couple that with Brittany Howard’s soul-shattering vocals, and you’ve got a cure for whatever’s got you feeling blue.
For me, Sound & Color takes me back to the days when I would listen to my late grand-father ratatat-tat away on his drum set, while playing in-time to his vinyl jazz collection. I’ve often daydreamed of playing this album for him, forever curious as to how he’d find it. My gut tells me that it wouldn’t be long before I would discover him back behind his kit, soft-shoeing his way through each and every track, periodically spinning the sticks with dancing fingers.
Recommended Tracks for Sound & Color:
Don’t Wanna Fight
Gimme All Your Love
8. Purity Ring – Another Eternity
In July of 2012, I heard what I can only describe as a sinister lullaby, playing on a nearby stereo. It turns out that those filthy, heated, precious sounds were coming from Megan James (vocals) and Corin Roddick (instrumentals) of the band Purity Ring. It didn’t take long before I found myself lost in their debut album, Shrines. Then, on February 27th, 2015, the band released their sophomore effort entitled Another Eternity, and I found myself falling further in love with them.
Personally, I imagine myself falling down the White Rabbit’s hole to Wonderland when I hear this album. Every kick, snare snap, and lilting synth arrangement seems to cradle every note from Megan’s lips, and locks onto them in with an un-relenting tenacity. Just as visual in its story-telling as Shrines, this new album takes us to parts unknown within the bands psyche. There’s a strong sense of foreboding here, as if something has started creeping out from beneath every bed on the planet, and whatever’s down there is starving. This is the sort of album I’d love nothing more than to pump into a sensory-deprivation tank. Floating, weightless, drowning in cacophonous noise.
Recommended Tracks for Another Eternity:
Flood on the Floor
Stillness in Woe
7. Twin Shadow – Eclipse
Whoa! Wait, what? You’re damn right. Twin Shadow’s Eclipse melts my butter. Everything about this album feels right to me. From George Lewis Jr.’s soulful professions of love, life, and promises kept, to the album’s larger-than-life synth-meets-R&B musicality. In my estimation, this album is all about reclaiming ones soul. It dabbles in tales of abolishing loneliness, exercising patience in the game of love, and leaving yourself open to the endless possibilities provided to you by the dawn of a new day. It’s the sort of album you listen to while driving with the top down, at top speeds along a sun-soaked stretch of highway. The music on this record works to get inside of you, and works tirelessly at extracting your heart, then pinning it to the outside of your chest. Afer that, there’s nothing left to do but welcome the wind with every beat.
Recommended Tracks for Eclipse:
Turn Me Up