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 partner, tangled in limbs and melodies as together 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.
Steve’s Favorite Albums of 2015
#6 – #1
6. Puscifer – Money $hot
Okay, so we didn’t get a new Tool album this year. I’m actually super okay with that. Whoa, what? But Steve, Tool is your favorite band! And it’s been what, 10 years since the release of 10,000 Days? Indeed it has, friend. But something that a lot of Tool fans have seemingly chosen to dismiss, is that Tool frontman, Maynard James Keenan, has kept busy during Tool’s down-time by making wine and music with his lounge-electronic rock band Puscifer. It’s been 4 years since the release of the band’s second full-length album, Conditions of My Parole. In my opinion, it was with the release of Parole that Puscifer truly started to spread their wings. It was clear to me, that when listening to that album, that the band had evolved.
With Money $hot, Pusicfer sounds to me like a far more confident collection of musical talent. I also it’s the album that takes the most risks in regard to its varying mood-swings and the way it effortlessly transports listeners to soul-searching musical locales. Additionally, it stands to reason that this record would not be complete without the vocals of Carina Round. Her voice lovingly soars to inspiring heights on tracks like: Galileo, Grand Canyon, and The Remedy. Really though, it would be remiss of me if I failed list all of the artists who contributed to this great record: Maynard James Keenan, Carina Round, Mat Mictchell, Jeff Friedl, Matt McJunkins, Josh Eustis, Jon Theodore, and Tim Alexander. Each of these talented individuals has helped to create one of the best and most elaborate Rock albums of 2015. So grab your moonshine, your lucha libre mask, and prepare to ride an auditory mechanical bull!
Recommended Tracks for Money $hot
5. Grimes – Art Angels
That lovingly bizarre Canadian-born songstress, Claire Elise Boucher (otherwise known as the singer/songwriter/director/producer Grimes) is back with a brand-new album, and it’s completely out of control! I’m not kidding. There is so much diversity and energy on this record. This work of art runs the gamut from seductively sharp foreign-language vocal tracks to rebellious banger anthems and everything in between! It’s a shoulder-shaker of an album that highlights Ms. Boucher’s talent for crafting feel-good dance tunes that burst with attitude, life, and middle fingers for all! A perfectionist by her very nature, Grimes is a cut-throat sort who accepts nothing less than perfection for every track that appears on this collection of songs. I strongly urge you to purchase this album, get naked, and throw a party!
4. HEALTH – Death Magic
WARNING: This album is dangerous! As your attorney I advise you to find the biggest, baddest, and best headphones you own, and prepare for lift-off after you hit Play on this rocket ship of a record. Death Magic with the song, VICTIM, a creeping, synthesized death-march of a track that warns you of things to come. Next, the song STONEFIST fires a cannon of shockingly loud noise and thunderous drums into your ears. My favorite aspect of this album, is the way in which it seamlessly flows from one track to the next without ever once losing pace. It’s the scariest and most satisfying roller-coaster of sound that I’ve heard this year, and there’s waiting an eternity to ride in the front car. Throw your arms up and sing your lungs out as you feel the drop!
Recommended Tracks for Death Magic:
3. CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
The Scottish electronic band, CHVRCHES, that took the world by storm with their 2013 release The Bones of What You Believe, are back! Do yourself a favor and just remove your socks and shoes, now. Because I guarantee that if angelic vocals set to intricately-woven break beats and bloops is your bag, this album will blow your foot-wear off and into parts unknown! When I listen to this album, I can’t help but shake, bounce, and bop around as if my very bones are being pulled by the invisible strings of some malevolent puppeteer.
This album makes me want to run a marathon, even though I’d most likely keel over after traveling 1/4 of a mile. Yeah, heart condition + arguably out of shape = me curled into a fetal position on the sidewalk. That said, my head would still be bobbing despite my exhaustion, because this album demands it. With Every Open Eye, CHVRCHES have proven that they’re a band to watch in the years to come. My hope id for their music and messaging to only get bigger and better as time marches on.
Recommended Tracks for Every Open Eye:
Make Them Gold
2. Bjork – Vulnicura
“Maybe he will come out of this. Maybe he won’t. Somehow I’m not too bothered either way.” Ouch! Okay folks, let’s get one thing straight before we dig into this incredible album. Bjork is, hands down, my favorite musical artist of all-time. Yes, Tool is my favorite band, but there is a warm and glowing space in my heart that only Björk Guðmundsdóttir and her vast library of inspiring albums can occupy. This year, she’s back with her most personal and perhaps scathing recording of her career. After divorcing from her husband of 13 years, Matthew Barney, Bjork channeled much of her sadness, frustration, and rage into Vulnicura. It’s without doubt the most honest album I’ve ever heard, and even if you’re one of those critics who love to point out that it merely represents on side of the coin, you have to admit that as a collection of emotions and art, it’s unreal.
I’ve been in love with Bjork, and her music, since Debut landed on shelves in 1993. I remember immediately rushing to Music Den in Port Jefferson after having seen the music video for “Human Behaviour” on MTV’s Beavis and Butthead. On that fateful day, I had no problem seeing through B & B’s juvenile commentary – and discovered an angel of emotion and sound. For year I’d wished to see Bjork live and in concert. Since those early days, my wish has been granted a total of 4 times. I’m a lucky guy, I know. Now, here in 2015, we have Vulnicura. Absent of dancey-anthem-tracks and explorations of playful glitch-pop arrangements, Vulnicura gives us a Bjork album that’s as personal as they come. The musicality of this album pulled me in right away, wrapping me in a cocoon of vengeful messaging, familial love, and fire. I emerged from my first listen, changed, and I’ve not looked back since.
(I took the above photo, earlier this year, as Bjork gave the performance of a lifetime at the Townhouse, NY)
“You doubted the light. And the shelter it can give. For in love we are immortal. Eternal and safe from death.”
“If I regret us. I’m denying my soul to grow. Don’t remove my pain. It is my chance to heal.”
“You fear my limitless emotions. I am bored of your apocalyptic obsessions. Did I love you too much? Devotion bent me broken. So I rebelled. Destroyed the icon.”
Perfection. Just … absolute perfection.
Recommended Tracks for Vulnicura:
1. Failure – The Heart is a Monster
Oh boy, where do I even begin? I suppose that to express my thoughts and feelings about this album, we’re going to have to travel back to August of 1996, to a tiny used-record-shop in Hershey, Pennsylvania. My Dad and I were out tooling around town, and in his infinite wisdom, my father offered to buy me just one album on that fateful day. I immediately took to the stacks, flipping through countless albums in the stores limited Rock section, and there it was, Fantastic Planet. Something about it called to me. I could swear that in that moment, I heard the disc speak, and it was saying, “Hey kid, there’s a listening station over near the front counter. Why not pop me in and give us a listen, yeah?” I did just that, and what happened next was life-altering. I remember hearing my first Failure song, “Saturday Savior”, and thinking, “Yeah, I like this.” Then it was on to “Sergeant Politeness”, and that’s when my toes started tapping. Next came “Segue 1”, and I thought to myself, “This is nice, too. I wonder what’s coming next.” Shortly there-after, while listening to “Smoking Umbrellas”, I had my very first “HOLY FUCK!” moment while listening to the music of Failure. I popped the disc out right then and there, returned it to its case, and exclaimed to my Dad (who was at the time in his own world while listening to a bit of Stevie Wonder), “This is it. This is the one. We’re listening to this in the car on the way home.”
After making our way back to the car, my Dad says, “Let’s see what you got.” We inserted the Fantastic Planet disc into his car stereo, and he cranked the volume knob to eleven. Part of the way through “Saturday Savior”, my Dad screams the words “Holy fuck!” I suppose the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree, ha ha ha! From that moment on, Fantastic Planet was our album, Failure was our band. Whenever I would visit my father, he would always have a copy of that album on-hand, and practically blow the speakers of his Eddie Bauer Explorer, so that all of Pennsylvania would hear it. It was an unforgettable time in our relationship as father and son. For all of the ways in which we differed from one another, music was our mutual anchor, it was the one thing that never failed to bring us together. I am eternally grateful to every contributing band member of Failure for sharing those moments with us.
Years later, my father passed away, suddenly, in his sleep. He was only 57-years-old. The ground dropped out from beneath me, and something in my heart shattered into an innumerable amount of pieces. Without warning, Failure’s music became my strength to get through the worst of what I was feeling. Oceans worth of tears fell from my eyes for months, as I missed the way my Dad’s singing voice would harmonize with mine as we rocked to the songs on Fantastic Planet. I was almost certain that the band would never re-unite. I’d wished for it on every star, but felt as if chances were slim. And then … about mid-2014 Failure announced that they were indeed making their return to the music scene, and my heart exploded in a seemingly un-ending display of fireworks and blood.
I couldn’t believe my ears. A new Failure album. A real-deal, 18-fucking-track Failure album so appropriately titled The Heart is a Monster was coming in 2015. Of course, I jumped on as a backer to help get the album up and running. My one regret being that I was not able to contribute enough money to the project so that I could meet the band – but times were tough and there was very little I could do. In the months to come I found myself obsessively day-dreaming about what a new album from one of my favorite bands of all-time would sound like. Then, I got my paws on the album while visiting my beautiful girlfriend in Canada. While sitting Indian-style on our favorite arm-chair, I placed my best headphones over my ears, and braced myself as I pressed Play. What happened next was nothing short of un-imaginable.
“Segue 4” bleeped and blipped slowly, creeping up like a great beast emerging from its cave after so many years of hibernation. Next, the band’s first single “Hot Travel” arrived like a triumphant space man planting a flag into uncharted ground. I rocked back and forth, swaying and singing along, happily lost among the stars and sounds. After that, “A.M. Amnesia” sucker-punched me in the gut, and pulled my quivering body along cosmic rocks and spiraling sand. I became untouchable, and there was still 15 more tracks to go. “How long can I possibly hold my breath?”, I thought. Rather than struggle against the elements of this new album, I let go. I surrendered, and allowed the music take me away. I was a rocket lost among the cosmos, spinning widely out of control, with no destination or purpose beyond drinking in the stars and sky.
Since the release of The Heart is a Monster, I’ve seen Failure live 4 times between November of 2014 and present day. Each time was more intense than the last, and each show was shared with different groups of friends, loved ones, and like-minded rockers – many of which who had waited as long to see this iconic band do their thing. Honestly, with all the energy, love, and bone-crunching power of those performances, you’d think that the band had been rehearsing for all of those 19 years to play those shows. I got a little closer to the band with each mind-altering live show. So close in fact, that upon walking out onto the stage at the Brooklyn Bowl, NY show, Ken Andrews pointed at me and smiled. Was he seeing my Instagram photos prior to their stage-time, or was it the hallucination of an adoring fan creating a moment for himself? I may never know, but I’d like to think we’d shared a moment, however brief.
In closing: Failure’s The Heart is a Monster is my favorite album of 2015. It means the world to me to have this band back in the game and making new music. With this record, I can forge new memories, new meanings, and revel in the knowledge that some wishes do come true. Every time I play this album, privately, I crank the volume loud enough so that my Dad can hear it. I’m certain that where ever he is, above or below, he’s got an enthusiastic “Holy fuck!” to express for this album.
Ken, Greg, Kelli, Troy, you have my un-dying thanks for this album. I hope one day to shake your hands, and let you see the gratitude in my eyes for all that you’ve accomplished with the release of this record. Cheers, fellas!
Recommended Tracks for The Heart is a Monster: