2015 was a banner year for music in a lot of ways. A bunch of my favorite bands all managed to put out records this year and many of them were very good. Like in years past, I’m putting together a list of my favorites with some quick thoughts on each one. Here we go with part 1!
25. Metric – Pagans in Vegas
Metric remains one of the best bands out there and this album didn’t deviate much from their established formula. I felt like it lacked that indelible song that many of their albums feature, but still a great effort from Emily Haines and company.
24. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
This is really the first Hotchip album that’s stuck with me longer than a couple of spins. It’s got a great vibe a couple of jams that got stuck in my head for sure. Now I feel like I have to go back and give some of their past albums another chance. Maybe I do like this band!
23. Slow Meadow – Slow Meadow
One of my favorite bands is Hammock, who didn’t release an album this year. Instead, they actually started a little record label and put out this album by a new band called Slow Meadow. The music palatial and gorgeous. Soft vocal and string melodies float above droning guitars to create an emotional tapestry. Check them out.
22. Bjork – Vulnicura
Bjork returned this year with a break-up album. She had recently split from her longtime partner and these songs were composed out of that sense of loss. The result is an album that relies on organic strings paired with electronic beats and is reminiscent of her late-90’s work.
21. Citizens & Saints – Join the Triumph
As the worship leader at Hiawatha Church, I try to find worship music that’s actually good and worthy of inclusion in our Sunday gatherings. It’s often a difficult quest. Citizens & Saints were once involved with Mars Hill Church before it fractured and they continue to make good worship music. This album is another collection of electro-pop songs that contain theologically sound, Gospel-centered lyrics. We’ve done a couple of their tunes and will probably adapt more in the future.
20. Beach House – Depression Cherry
Beach House actually put out two albums this year, but I fancy this first one a bit more. Their reverbed arrangments, guitar effects and the lovely vocals of Victoria Legrand combine into quintessential dream pop.
19. EL VY – Return to the Moon
Does this qualify as a supergroup? EL VY (like the plural of “Elvis”) is comprised of The National’s Matt Berninger and Menomena’s Brent Knopf and actually does sound like a mashup of the two bands’ sounds. I really like the resulting vibe and the title track from this album is a fun jam.
18. Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves
Well look who decided to show up. The last time Modest Mouse released an album was… 2007! This year, they picked up where they left off with another slightly overstuffed album of tunes that don’t stray too far off the reservation. To me, it doesn’t touch the greatness of their previous work, but it’s nice to have the zany Isaac Brock back in our ears.
17. Of Monsters and Men – Beneath the Sea
2011’s “My Head is an Animal” was a surprise hit for this Icelandic pop rock band which yielded a few radio hits like “Little Talks”. They’re back this year with more cool jams with dueling vocalists. The lead single “Crystals” is a very good song.
16. Original Mark Edwards (OME) – Distortion
Full disclosure, Mark Edwards is a good friend of mine. He decided to try Kickstarter this year and funded this album, which is very good. Incorporating influences from the Beach Boys, David Bowie and Radiohead, he produced a set of songs that has something for everyone. You should get it.
15. Sandra McCracken – Psalms
McCracken has been putting out good albums for a number of years, but she really outdid herself this time. Penning a collection of songs influenced by the book of Psalms in the Bible, Sandra captured the spirit perfectly. Unlike many worship music people, she doesn’t shy away from the sadness and pain that Christians experience – she leans into them and lets them direct her towards God. It’s a truly beautiful album.
14. Ben Folds – So There
Ben Folds has become a sort of quirk-pop godfather in recent years, emphasizing his musical proficiency and pulling younger musicians into his eddies. Here, he embracing the collaborative nature of music by partnering with yMusic on some great tunes. He also includes an actual concerto that he wrote. It’s his best work since “Rockin’ The Suburbs”. And I’m in love with the cover art.
13. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
Brittany Howard and her band burst onto the musical stage in 2012 with a fantastic debut album that featured awesome guitar work and a powerful vocalist without fear. They’re back this year with a stellar sophomore album that really propelled them into the national spotlight. Just listen to “Don’t Wanna Fight” and you’ll hear a band firing on all cylinders.
12. The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
You know what’s crazy? This is the first Decemberists LP since 2011! And they’ve still got it. The theatrics of their earlier album have (rightly) been pulled back a bit in favor of just featuring good songwriting and arrangement. I wasn’t as caught up in the songs as I was on their previous album (The King is Dead), but you’d be hard pressed to find more literary songwriting than what Colin Meloy pens. The band also released a nice little EP late in the year! I guess they’re back!
11. Dustin Kensrue – Carry the Fire
Kensrue fronted the band Thrice, did some solo stuff, became a worship leader at a megachurch, left the church as the ship started to sink, recorded this new solo album and is now putting Thrice back together. What a wild, symmetrical arc! With this album, Kensrue pulls from his experiences as a husband and father to great effect. I love how he weaves the romantic and mundane moments of married life into the song “Back to Back”. I’m glad he’s still making music.