Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful
With each new release it seems that Bronson is slowly but surely starting to get the recognition that is so sorely overdue. While this is mostly because of his music, it also comes from some of his other endeavors like Fuck, That’s Delicious and unfortunately more recently for his beef with Ghostface. Hopefully this petty argument doesn’t overshadow the fact that Bronson has released one of the better hip-hop albums in recent memory. His trademark flow and humor are still in full force however he has taken his beats to a whole new level. Bronson has always had an uncanny ear for beat selection as evident with his work with Party Supplies on Blue Chips but Mr. Wonderful is in a class of it’s own. A couple of the earlier tracks dabble in more minimalist territory but where the album really shines is when it’s being backed by soulful mo-town style instrumentals with Bronson even occasionally showing he can sing as well as rap. It’s good to see Action taking the high road with Ghostface and not falling into the beef pitfall, because with the music he’s putting out it’s surely just a waste of time.
Battle House – Full Normal
Battle House was a pleasant end of the year surprise for me. While Boston has recently been getting a reputation for lots of loud, noisy acts it’s nice to see a band embracing the more somber side of things. While they already have an EP and a full length under their collective belt ‘Full Normal’ was my first exposure to the group and it instantly had me hooked. From the opening notes on the first track ‘Exit Guides’ you’d think you’re listening to something more akin to Massive Attack rather than a full live band and then they slowly start to add instrument after instrument (including trombone and sax occasionally). While group vocals in the vein of Local Natives tend to usually exhaust me, the way they are executed on ‘Full Normal’ deserve special mention as they are expertly layered to create lush soundscapes. Battle House seems to have taken the groundwork laid down by bands like Autolux and honed it to almost perfection, evident by how wonderfully each track was sequenced creating a truly cohesive album that makes you feel like the whole thing is one single track.
Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
In a few short years Julia Holter has gone from lo-fi solo bedroom pop to full blown orchestral arrangements with glimmering production. Just compare her older version of ‘Sea Called Me Home’ to the recreation of it on this new album; not only does it still capture simple, catchy songwriting but it greatly expands upon it with all her new tools. Usually when an artist makes this sort of change a lot of the original charm is lost in the more grandiose visions that is certainly not the case here. The track ‘Betsy On The Roof‘ perfectly juxtaposes both eras of Holter’s music: starting off with her singing over a beautifully stripped down piano that eventually explodes with a burst of strings and drums that seamlessly drifts back off into simplicity.
Viet Cong – Viet Cong
Like Action Bronson, Viet Cong is another act that has been plagued by some very unfortunate PR: it turns out a lot of people aren’t too thrilled with the name Viet Cong, go figure. The group has already decided to move forward and change their name but this bad publicity should not detract from the incredible album these guys have crafted. The album starts out with what sounds like distorted and warped war drums that can be felt pounding in your chest eventually tacking on an equally unsettling fuzzed-out guitar and chanting vocals. Just when you feel as if the feeling of despair is too overwhelming the band transitions effortlessly into a reprieve of almost twinkling and happy synth line that closes out the track. That feeling is short lived as the sonic theme of despair runs throughout the whole album as if the grey that covers the album covers also coats the entire music they’ve produced here. Despair has never sounded so good, though.
Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
Continuing the theme of despair from Viet Cong, Earl Sweatshirt’s newest release is full of it: just look at the album title. His last album ‘Doris’ was so well received that it’s hard to avoid the inevitable hype that surrounded this newest outing. While ‘Doris’ had some tracks that had an uplifting vibe, there is none of that to be found on ‘I Don’t Like Shit..’. The album’s first single, ‘Grief‘, gave the first glimpse into the evolution of Earl and it showed him progressing into much darker territory. The backing beat on this track is reminiscent of a Boards of Canada interlude and ends with Earl slowing his flow down to an almost hypnotic pace that will throw you into a trance only to jerk you back to life with an abrupt instrumental change. I’d also like to say I’m happy to see no appearance from Tyler, The Creator on this album since I feel he disrupted the flow of ‘Doris’.
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
This is one album that has shown up on pretty much everyone’s end of year lists, and with good reason. 2015 has been incredible year for Courtney Barnett sky rocketing unkempt personality into the public spotlight complete with a Grammy nomination (!!!). I can’t think of someone more deserving and it appears that none of this extra exposure is going to affect her general attitude as evident by watching any of her live shows (Courtney and her backing band just clearly do not give a fuck). There’s nothing I can say here that hasn’t already been said much better elsewhere except that her sickeningly clever wordplay has never sounded better and the guitar playing has gotten more diverse and proficient. Ranging from garage psych-rock (Pedestrian At Best) to smooth Jimi Hendrix-esque solos (Small Poppies) it seems as if there’s nothing Courtney can’t do and you should just accept her eventual take over of the world.
Destroyer – Poison Season
I hate Bruce Springsteen. I also kind of hate Dan Bejar. Destroyer’s ‘Poison Season’ sounds like Dan Bejar trying to do his best Bruce Springsteen impression and somehow I’ve completely fallen in love with it. Trying to reconcile the pretentiousness of the Destroyer front man with the incredible songwriting he is able to put forth induces a feeling of cognitive dissonance that only he could create. Putting aside all of my personal grievances ‘Poison Season’ is truly one of Destroyer’s best albums to date. I could have easily just put the album on this end of year list solely based on the track ‘Dream Lover‘, which I stand by as the pivotal Destroyer track that rivals 2006’s ‘Rubies‘. Luckily for us the rest of the album is just as good.
Mac DeMarco – Another One
If Courtney Barnett is soon to be the Earth’s queen overlord, Mac DeMarco will be her king counter-part. I don’t think there’s been longer than a month break of touring for Mac since he released 2014’s ‘Salad Days’, and in that month off he was able to write and record a new EP to satisfy until his next full length. ‘Another One’ sees Mac embracing more of the keyboards that he hinted at on his previous album with songs like ‘Chamber of Reflection‘ and while it still has the hallmarks of his simple, catchy songwriting it shows a new progression in the Mac saga. The title track showcases this best with an infectious synth and keyboard line that will crawl into your ear and get stuck there for days. Once he has some more time to himself his next album is surely going to be something special.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Last year the award for saddest album of the year went to Sun Kil Moon’s ‘Benji‘. This year, however, that honor undoubtedly has to be bestowed upon Sufjan Stevens. While I’m not usually a fan of an album that is completely stripped down to vocals and an acoustic guitar there’s something so honest and sincere about ‘Carrie & Lowell’ that it’s hard not to keep coming back to. The pictures that Sufjan is able to paint with his lyrics are so vivid and yet his voice and simple finger picking sounds so frail and fragile that it could be broken with a heavy breath. ‘Fourth of July and ‘Blue Bucket of Gold‘ are two songs that stray from the acoustic guitar and move into subtle keyboard territory with the latter fading out with a haunting two minute outro where Sufjan’s voice sounds like a ghost. The whole album feels like it’s coated in this natural reverb, like it was recorded in a massive cave or tall cathedral, that gives both a warm and unsettling feeling simultaneously which suits the subject matter of the lyrics very well. ‘Carrie and Lowell’ may be a very personal album for Sufjan but he’s still able to transport you into his memories as if they’re your own.
Fuzz – II
Ty Segall is relentless; it seems that a few months can’t go by without him releasing another album under any number of projects he’s associated himself with. Fuzz, however, seems to be the one that has been sticking with people as shown by the diverse fans the band has garnered. Ty shifts from guitar front-man to drums but loses none of his stage presence by how they arrange their instruments on a live stage (drums front and center). Mixing the psych rock that he’s become so well known for with a more heavy, almost Sabbath-esque edge has really created a magical combination that resonates with many listeners who normally wouldn’t be connecting with Ty’s other projects. ‘II’ picks up right where 2013’s self titled debut left off: devastating fuzzy (get it?) out guitar riffs, epic solos and washed out vocals. The title track is the band’s longest song recorded to date, clocking in at almost fifteen minutes it sounds like the band’s magnum opus. Sprawling across psych, prog, noise it’s a crazy journey through everything Fuzz does best. Surprisingly all of the songs that were released on their live album do not make an appearance here which leads me to wonder how many unreleased Fuzz tracks we’ll never hear.
Title Fight – Hyperview
Here’s a band that I never thought would have an album I would enjoy, let alone one that would behoove me to put it on an end of the year album list. Title Fight used to fall into the emo/post-hardcore category but they’re the latest band to capitalize on the trend of ‘nu-gaze’. In this case, though, it does not sound forced or derivative; this is the genuine sound of a band maturing and realizing something greater than they ever were before. The opening track, ‘Murder Your Memory’ seems like a statement on them disregarding their past work and moving on to something new entirely. The track slowly fades to a gentle, warped sounding guitar with soft, driting vocals in the back. It then segues into their first single, ‘Chlorine‘, which is a fast catchy tune that sounds like if The Smiths were more into the punk scene. Reverb drenched guitars blend together to create vague melodies that get clearer and more enjoyable with each listen, creating an album I keep coming back to long after it’s release earlier this year.
Unknown Mortal Orchesta – Multi-Love
I once read in an interview with Ruban Nielson that he thought the first two UMO albums sounded as if they were recorded underneath a blanket. That type of sound did bring with it it’s own charm of analog warmth but it also made them feel a bit claustrophobic at times. With ‘Multi-Love’ the blanket has come off and it feels as if he’s finally able to fully realize the full extent of his brilliant songwriting. Ruban is able to combine the technical guitar proficiency of Prince with the funk sensibilities of Stevie Wonder demonstrated perfectly on ‘The World is Crowded‘ which sounds like it would be perfectly at home on ‘Songs In The Key of Life‘. I was able to catch these guys when they came to Boston over the summer and it’s worth noting the incredible show the band is able to put on, Ruban is truly a showman.
Deerhunter – Fading Frontier
It’s been a while since a Deerhunter album has instantly hooked me. I did not like their last outing ‘Monomania‘ and ‘Halycon Digest‘ only had a few songs that were enjoyable. The band has always been re-inventing their sound but they just never seemed to have the same creativity that was present in albums like ‘Cryptograms‘ and ‘Microcastle / Weird Era Cont‘. As soon as I heard the first two singles I knew they were on to something with ‘Fading Frontier’. ‘Breaker‘ opens with lovely bass line showcasing their excellent ability to write a catchy song topped off with a chorus that is more R.E.M. than R.E.M. could have ever been. ‘Snakeskin‘ might be one of the best songs Deerhunter has created with some of the most creative and surreal lyrics written by Bradford. Speaking of Bradford, the last few years it seemed as if he was on a downward spiral but now he’s looking a lot healthier and even a bit happier which shines through on ‘Fading Frontier’.
Metz – II
Looks like we’ve got TWO albums on this list titled ‘II’ and like Fuzz before them Metz also take the same ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach to their second album.There’s been a plethora of good noise-rock albums released this year including the excellent Blacklisters album ‘Adult’. While each band possess qualities of both, Blacklisters are more Jesus Lizard and Metz are more Nirvana (but heavier). That heaviness can’t be overstated, songs like ‘Acetate‘ and ‘Spit You Out‘ demonstrate it perfectly with pounding, relentless rhythm section that just won’t let up and a front-man who can belt out incredible vocals while also deliver wailing, noisy guitar making for a very loud three piece.
Yonatan Gat – Director
For me, Yonatan Gat came out of left field. Born in Israel and originally playing guitar in a psych garage-rock band (Monotonix) out of Tel-Aviv, he’s now relocated to Brooklyn and started his own improvisational three piece genre-spanning project that features a drummer so fast and erratic that he rivals Zach Hill. The sound of the album is almost impossible to do justice to trying to describe it sounds like if a 70’s jazz guitarist like Al Di Meola or John McLaughlin came from a garage-rock background and started making high energy jazzy improvisational pieces. Gat’s last band was known for insane live shows (they were banned from most venues in Israel) and that carries over into his new project who always setup all of their equipment in the middle of the floor in whatever venue they play in. It needs to be seen to fully appreciate it.
Think Tank – Servants, Animals, or Anything Else
It may seem a bit biased including this release on here since we released it on tape on this very website, but pay that no mind as Think Tank’s debut album is one of the best releases this year. The band does in six tracks what a lot bands struggle to do in twice that amount: effortlessly weaving between genres and styles while keep it all cohesive, which is not always an easy task. ‘Monte Verde‘ harkens back to Slint‘s quiet, almost serene post-rock style, ‘…And I Built The Coffin, Too‘ features the same fuzzy, heavy guitars with loud feedback that you’d find on an Electric Wizard album, and ‘Oaxaca‘ pummels you with noise-rock very similar to what Metz is doing. ‘Franz Josef Land‘ might be the best summary of the band: starting out noisy and loud, abruptly shifting to just a wonderfully slimy bass line with a distant shouting in the background only to end with a sonic explosion complete with squealing saxophone over a brutal breakdown.
Guerilla Toss – Flood Dosed
Another band originally from Boston, Guerilla Toss have recently moved to setup shop in Brooklyn while also simultaneously signing with DFA Records finally giving that label some much needed diversity to the line-up of stale electro-pop bands they’ve recently been pumping out. Flood Dosed is the result of a vinyl plant backup that forced their debut full length for DFA to be pushed back to 2016, so they put out this three song cassette in the interim. This is some of Guerilla Toss’ most accessible music to date with vocalist Kassie Carlson actually doing singing as opposed to the shouting that dominated their previous releases. That’s not to say it’s any less weird, though. Still present is their classic no-wave styling of layered synths and electronics mixed with groovy bass lines. My only complaint with this album is that it’s too damn short and has only enhanced my anticipation of their new full length.
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Like Courtney Barnett, ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ is another album that is (deservingly) appearing on pretty much every major end of the year album list. This album sees Kendrick moving away from the grimier, simple electronic beats that ran throughout ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d city‘ and on to a more extravagant style with live instruments and more diverse song structure and writing. ‘King Kuta’ features a bass line that makes it near impossible to not want to move your butt to even if you’re sitting down, and while most songs have this sort of upbeat vibe to them he does occasionally revert back to the sounds of his last album. ‘The Blacker The Berry’ is one example of this which sounds like Kendrick the angriest I’ve ever heard him which compliments the dark gritty backing beat. My personal favorite track, ‘How Much A Dollar Cost‘ on this album also I think blends Kendrick’s current and past styles perfectly, wonderful wordplay over a piano driven beat that sounds similar to something off of Radiohead’s Kid A.
Pile – You’re Better Than This
Pile’s 2012 release ‘Dripping’ is what I like to consider a masterpiece. They followed it up a year later with a single that is one of the most powerful and sprawling songs they’ve ever written (Special Snowflakes) which hinted that a very heavy album was coming down the road. Enter what may be Pile’s least accessible album up to now: ‘You’re Better Than This’. This inaccessibility leads to rewarding someone upon multiple listens as there’s always something hidden in the music that you may not have noticed before. The album feels bi-polar: one moment you’re basked in a gentle guitar melody with singing more suited towards a singer-songwriter and the next you’re engulfed in chaotic noise with angry yelling. Just to make it feel even more manic, right in the middle, there’s an acoustic folk instrumental jam. For the most part the album switches between shorter fast paced punk/noise songs (The World is Your Motel, Tin Foil Hat) and longer and slower in-depth epics (Appendicitis, Mr. Fish) which works as a nice balance to the pacing. The album also features what I think to be one of Pile’s heaviest songs: ‘Hot Breath’. The slow build in this song feels as if the band is putting bricks on your shoulders weighing you down more with each one added. While that doesn’t sound like too pleasant of a description don’t let that stray you away, it’s just a testament to how well Rick and company are at conveying feelings through their music.
Alex G – Beach Music
Big things happened for Alex G in 2015 moving him from self releasing bedroom recordings on Bandcamp to signing with Domino records and now having peers such as Animal Collective and Dan Deacon. Beach Music, the first release for the new label, has been a grower for me. The album didn’t immediately click like previous releases DSU and Trick did but once you get a full picture of it you just keep wanting to come back. Alex has the uncanny ability to tease you with a small, infectious melody and then take it away leaving you wanting more. ‘Salt’ demonstrates this well and might be the albums strongest and diverse song. Tracks like ‘Brite Boy’ and ‘Bug’ have Alex pitch shifting his voice which can be quite jarring at first but it suits the inconsistent tone of the album. This feeling of uncertainty somehow works beautifully and may very well be a reflection of the transition his music career is going into. Already with a prolific catalog of music behind it’s capped it off with his strongest and fully realized album yet and I feel this is just the beginning.