It's been a while. Two years actually since I posted a year-end list on this blog. Admittedly this blog was dormant for the past two years but it's definitely something I miss. Even if the readers may not. This has been a good year of music -- brilliant new albums from some of my favorite artists (Frog Eyes, Destroyer, Mountain Goats, Sufjan Stevens) and some brilliant releases from artists much newer to me (The World Is, Day Wave, San Fermin, Courtney Barnett). All in all, the top 10 is probably as strong as any year in recent memory and I would only say that perhaps the "depth" isn't as strong as it used to be... I only go 50 deep on this list, whereas in the past I used to go 100 deep, but perhaps that's due to my lack of time to pay enough attention to all the great indie music still out there in 2015. Anyway, here's the list:
1. I Ain't Around Much - Frog Eyes
Fairly impressive return to form for Frog Eyes after his bout with cancer, the death of his father, and his fear that he may never sing again. Just an amazing, perfect album from Carey Mercer and his bandmates and Pickpocket's Locket captured the top 2 tracks of the year.
3. Chest and Shirt - The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die
More Frog Eyes + Sufjan's return to glory + the best song that The World Is released this year, and it's not even on the proper full-length, it was actually released as part of split EP with Rozwell Kid titled Fourteen Minute Mile. Check it out on their Soundcloud page.
6. Dream Lover - Destroyer
Sufjan Stevens was in a veritable wilderness of music for almost a decade following the triumph of Illinois -- the very first album of the year in a Vague Space year-end countdown, back in 2005. Illinois had followed the excellent Greetings From Michigan and a strong full-length debut Seven Swans from a then-prolific artist who promised to tackle "50 States," which seemed like a pipe dream at the time and became sort of a nightmare of writer's block that plagued him for years. 2006 saw The Avalanche released, but that was basically extra recordings from the Illinois sessions and while that was excellent, that was it for "new" Sufjan Stevens releases for a long, long time. An instrumental soundtrack called The BQE was the first new non-Christmas music addition, and then came The Age of Adz in 2010 which --- yayyy new Sufjan music - but ummm... it really wasn't good, at least in my opinion. Then nothing again, forever again, until early this year when Carrie & Lowell popped up out of nowhere and became easily his best musical output since way back in Illinois. The music on the album is actually closer to his earliest stuff (the songs would have fit right in on Seven Swans) but it's really beautiful and poignant and the first two tracks on the album are absolutely brilliant (and made my top 10 of 2015).
Mixed in this grouping are a great comeback / reunion track off an excellent first album in close to 15 years by former-Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst's scorching political punk group Desaparecidos + a couple more tracks from The World Is (off two different collections), the best song on the next of an endless line of great albums by The Mountain Goats, a perfect collaboration album by Wavves and Cloud Nothings, and a new band called Lady Lamb whose debut was a bit scattershot but included one amazing song. But the band that did the most for me late in this year isn't really a band, it's a single dude named Jackson Phillips who once fronted an electropop band called Carousel that I don't know and I didn't know him but Sirius XMU happened to have "Drag" on rotation back in September when I was in southern California for 8 days, an extended vacation on Manhattan Beach (mostly) and the song and the feeling and the glory of the sun on my skin with the music in my ears is something I have chased ever since. Day Wave doesn't even have a proper full-length out yet, but still take up a bunch of places on this list due to a nearly perfect EP called Headcase and a couple singles recordings, including a perfect cover of New Order's perfect first song as a band "Ceremony".
I've long been a Cloud Nothings fan (well by long I mean a couple years) but although I was aware of Wavves, I don't think I ever got into them, and even their 2015 release "V" (which I assume is their fifth full-length but I'm too lazy to look up), it's a decent album but nothing special to me and didn't get any songs on this countdown. But somehow the combination of the two bands -- even though the sound skews much closer to the mellow grooves of Wavves rather than the hardcore stylings of Cloud Nothings, has produced a nearly perfect album this year called No Life for Me. Unfortunately it's only 9 songs long, runs 22 minutes, and includes two brief instrumental tracks. Almost every other song is great, though, and it scored 3 songs in my top 25 of 2015.
I saw San Fermin a couple weeks ago at the Bowery Ballroom, my final concert of 2015. I've definitely seen less concerts in 2015 than in the previous two years, where living so close to NY facilitated nearly a concert a week. I probably had tickets to 50 shows this year (or more) but I doubt I even made it to half of them. If I really think about it, I'd get depressed, though, so let's just move on. 2015 definitely pressed on my free time in a way no year previous ever did -- what with work (50+ hour weeks were the norm, not the exception, and I probably travelled at least as many times (25+) as I went to concerts), plus the novel -- all the editing to get it to an agent then all the editing once I got my agent to get it to an editor (hopefully all worth it, hopefully soon.....) plus a boyfriend who doesn't really like my music and never goes to concerts, so... yeah, it's been busy and something had to suffer, namely going to a show every single week. But I did see San Fermin a couple weeks ago, the second time I'd seen them in 2015. The first time, back in the spring, was at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, where I saw the band almost exclusively on the strength of the single "Renaissance!" from their self-titled debut, a song I really loved, but an album that otherwise didn't excite me, and I hadn't yet downloaded their second release Jackrabbit. So it was a surprise to me how much I loved the new album and all its tracks and how much the performance of the (now) 8-piece band floored me, to the point that I bought Jackrabbit at the show and as you can see they are all over my top 50 list, with "Woman in Red" the 2nd track on the list from this band. As for their 2 concerts, they definitely will fit squarely into my top 20 concerts of the year (if I do go 20 deep...) and in a way are a model for the way I've seen shows this year -- sort of unknown bands that I maybe have heard a track or two from, I see them live and fall in love. It happened this year with July Talk and The Drowners and Slothrust and Frankie Cosmos. And it's sort of a new way to consume music, as I don't have the time I once did to seek out new artists or really give any time to listen to a full album, but a track or two might catch my attention via Sirius XMU or blogs I still follow and all of a sudden, the band shows up on Songkick as playing that night in Brooklyn, I happen to be free and I'm there and sometimes it's love.
So I haven't talked about Desaparecidos yet. They've been on a reunion tear since I closed my blog down 2 years ago. They are of course the punk band outlet for Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, whose politically charged tunes on their only release nearly 15 years ago were quite prescient in detailing the dangers of following leaders who only cater to Wall Street and the War Machine. Sadly, the state of the politics in this country has devolved into something somehow much much worse than 15 years ago, despite the achievements of a somewhat liberal president and some wonderful advances in health care and gay rights and recovery from the Bush-imposed recession that, apparently, half our country has forgotten about and wants to go back to Republican rule. For some reason. Anyway, this is a year-end post celebrating music not a lament about the sad state of our politics, but Desaparecidos returned this year with their first full-length in 15 years, a collection of amazing tracks with vibrant messages about health care (Ralphy's Cut) and American "excellence" (City on the Hill) and if you give even a little bit of a crap about the virtues of a leftist/socialist agenda like Bernie Sanders's, just take a listen to some Desaparecidos and that will get you charged up to take on the world. Or at least cry a little less every time you hear a relative over the holidays state, without irony, that "some of the things Trump says make sense." Ugh.
40. Mountain at My Gates - Foals
This blog belongs to Bill Elenbark.
Lover of songs. Writer of wrongs.