Monday, December 14, 2015

Top 30 Records of 2015: 10-1

Putting the finishing touches on my 2015 end of the year list was a challenge.  Trying to rank my favorite records of the year wasn't as obvious for me as it has been in years past.  Most years I have a pretty good idea of how things are going to shake out come October or November.  This year, like last, that list was changed a lot by records either released in the last few months or ones that I just really absorbed recently.  Some records I knew would be up near the top from the moment I heard them.  One record in particular I anxiously awaited its release for most of the year (and damn it did not disappoint).  Other records unexpectedly sneaked up on me and knocked my socks off, taking up very high spots on the list.  The top two records on the list could honestly be seen as a tie.  One was from a band brand new to me and the other a band that is my favorite tight now.  Both are stellar and picking one over the other was kind of heart-wrenching.  The reality though is that every record on this list is excellent and more than worth buying.  At some point I plan on owning physical copies of all of these (at least the ones that are available physically) because I want to have something from each of these artists to hold on to and cherish.  These records give me hope and solace; they give me strength and energy; they let me know that no matter how screwed up things in the world get, I am not alone and everything will someday be okay.  Music is my religion and these are my gospels.  Go forth and spread the good word.  Hallelujah.  

Honorable Mentions, 30-21; 20-11; Song of the Year

10.  ...Are Wild For The Night by The All Brights
From my review --
With songs about sun, sand, surf, and girls, ...Are Wild For The Night is that perfect mix of satire and reverence with lyrical nods to everything from Matthew McConaughey's Dazed and Confused character's iconic line about high school girls; to the Dire Straits classic “Money for Nothing;” to iconic punk bands Youth Brigade, Pennywise, and The Bouncing Souls; to The Loved Ones' anthem “Jane.” On every possible level this record not only works but excels.

9.  Positive Songs for Negative People by Frank Turner
From my review --
In a lot of ways, Positive Songs... is for Turner's career what Leave A Light On is for 7 Seconds: a record that captures the heart and essence of everything that has come before while bringing a renewed energy and fresh take on the past while charging towards the future. This is not a cheap rehash of the past but instead an emphatic embrace of everything that Turner excels at, taking bits and pieces of what has come before and mixing them with a heart, passion, and drive that oozes from the speakers and uplifts the soul.

8.  Shit Present by Shit Present
Not only is this EP fantastic, the band produced what is easily the best video of the year.
From my review --
Shit Present is a five-song EP of indie punk power pop perfection. With a decidedly '90s influence this EP is so much more than the work of a wannabe nostalgia band. The songs are unbelievably catchy with lyrics that are personal and poignant while at the same time relatable and inspirational. Cairns has a voice that captures the frustration and joy of being a misfit journeying through the trials and tribulations of life, love, and growing up.

7.  Deforesters by Deforesters
From my review --
There are some records that all you have to hear is the opening chords and you know you've struck gold. Deforesters' self-titled sophomore EP is one such record. Hailing from Toronto, Canada, Deforesters play that gruff yet stupidly melodic and catchy form of punk rock that is so ridiculously infectious it hurts. Listening to Deforesters makes me wonder: a) how have I not heard of these guys before now, and b) why in the hell aren't these guys huge?!? Seriously they are that good. In fact, this four song EP is pretty much perfect.

6.  Not The Boy You Used To Know by Micah Schnabel
From my review --
As one of the voices behind the criminally underrated and under-appreciated Two Cow Garage, Micah Schnabel has proven to be a brilliant songwriter with a passionate and desperate voice.  His latest solo EP Not The Boy You Used To Know is another shinning example of how undeniably talented and special this man truly is.  [...]  Schnabel has always had a knack for expressing the truth of misfit life in America and Not The Boy You Used To Know is no different.  These songs speak straight to the heart through personal stories that beautifully resonate with the listener, letting us know that we are most certainly not alone in this mess.  For years I have said that John Moreland is the best songwriter alive; I think it's safe to say that Micah Schnabel is a very close second.

5.  Red City Radio by Red City Radio
This was the first record of 2015 that I truly, deeply, and passionately loved.
From my review --
Red City Radio's self-titled third full-length album is a record that displays a deep musical and lyrical growth.  [...]  So what exactly is different? Red City Radio's earlier records were high octane punk rock that pulled generously from the likes of Dillinger Four and Hot Water Music. On Red City Radio, the band has dropped the earlier pretense of cryptic lyrics for straight forward personal tales of love, struggle, and life. Sonically this record is a tad slower and far more rock 'n' roll than previous releases but the spirit of punk rock is still front and center. The easiest way to describe these changes is to say that this record is far more The Tim Version and Nothington than Dillinger Four and Hot Water Music. The end result is a powerful punch to the gut that touches the soul and leaves the listener singing along while pumping their fist in the air. Red City Radio is easily the band's best release to date...

4.  Hope Is Made Of Steel by Northcote
Not only is this record inspirational and uplifting, but Matt Goud is also a dead ringer for one Mr. Sami Zayn.
From my review --
Northcote's third full-length album, Hope Is Made Of Steel, is a thoughtful, powerful, earnest, heartfelt, and hopeful record. What began as a solo project for Canadian singer-songwriter Matt Goud has grown and evolved into a full fledged band. The result is a sound that is full, dynamic, and robust, breathing new depth into Goud's already superb songwriting. With a sound that is steeped in punk, folk, college rock, Americana, and arena rock, Northcote has always had a penchant for moving anthems... [...]  Hope Is Made Of Steel is the kind of record that just punches you in the gut and refused to let go by rousing rock 'n' roll anthems, emotionally griping ballads [...] and everything in-between.

Northcote is one of those artists whose music I put on and immediately feel at home. All of the struggles and pain and joys that come with adulthood are captured perfectly in Goud's songs. Hope Is Made Of Steel is the kind of record that I put on and instantly feel a blanket of calm and solace engulf me, making everything okay.

3.  Greyhound Dreams by Sam Russo
This is a record that really surprised me.  As one can tell, I love the punk rock troubadour (five of the entries on this list fall into that category, four of which are in the top 10) but Sam Russo really hit me hard with this album.  I was new to his work going into Greyhound Dreams but now I'm a long term fan.
From my review --
Sam Russo's sophomore full-length Greyhound Dreams is powerful record steeped in deep and dark emotions brought to life through breathtakingly simple music.  The English folk-punk troubadour has created something special and unique on this record.  Sure Russo isn't breaking any new ground here but what he has done is created a record with a sound that is completely his own.  [...]  The record is stark in its simplicity, driven completely by Russo's haunting vocals and his acoustic (that is often played like an electric) guitar, with the occasional and perfectly placed hand-claps for percussion and beautifully majestic female harmonies to round things out.  Greyhound Dreams deals with loneliness, desperation, and love taking you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions with lyrics that are honest, deeply personal, and completely relatable.  This is the kind of record that you put on at the end of a long day to let out whatever demons have been holding you down; it is cathartic, therapeutic, and absolutely perfect.  

2.  The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us by Beach Slang
Beyond a shadow of a doubt Beach Slang is my favorite band right now and this was easily the record that I was looking forward to more than anything else this year.  Beach Slang is truly something special; they have tapped into the heart and soul of the misfit and outcast (especially those of us from Generation X) and turned all of that rage and frustration in beautifully cathartic music that mixes all of the great elements of the underground music scenes of the '80s, '90s, and today.  Plus they've got this awesome early R.E.M. vibe going on in their video.  How freaking cool is that?
From my review --
Words like fantastic, excellent, brilliant, and moving fail to describe the utter joy and acceptance I feel when listening to this band. This band connects with me sonically with their pure unadulterated sound that is equal parts Replacements, Jesus & Mary Chain, and Jawbreaker driven by an energy and urgency that is beyond infectious. Lyrically singer/guitarist James Alex Snyder has found a way to express everything I've been feeling going all the way back to my days as a dejected and rejected teenager up to now as a middle-aged man with a wife and kids that still doesn't feel like he fits in or belongs. Being that misfit youth never goes away and Beach Slang embraces that fact, turning it into a battle cry full of power and promise. Snyder embraces being a misfit with such gusto, enthusiasm, and self-deprecation making The Things We Do... such an earnest record that it doesn't need to rely on irony or kitsch to drive its point home because it is so completely pure and honest. What's great about this record, and this band in general, is that it has created a sound, vibe, and aura that is completely timeless tapping into feelings and transcending genres to the point that everyone from a 14 year old high school kid to a 40 year old punk can hear this music and say “yup, this is mine.” But underneath all of that is a definite chord, ethos, and yearning born out of growing up in time that saw idealism traded in for consumerism all for the sake of the greater me. Without a doubt, Beach Slang is the last great musical gasp of Generation X and if it took growing up through all of that mess and an adulthood of getting squeezed out by those who came before and those coming after to get this music, then by God it was all worth it.

1.  Heartsongs EP by Aree and the Pure Heart
The first time I heard Aree and the Pure Heart, I was blown away.  I knew I was hearing something extremely special and pure and true.  Here was a band that was firing on all cylinders with such heart and soul poured into these unbelievable anthems.  It was the same feeling I had the first time I heard Beach Slang.  That feeling of awe that takes over everything when you hear a band that you know is just that damn good.  That is how it feels listening to Aree and the Pure Heart.  
From my review --
Anthematic punk rock 'n' roll. The term brings to mind artists like The Gaslight Anthem, Dave Hause, and later-day Against Me!. It should now also be synonymous with Aree and the Pure Heart. The band's debut EP Heartsongs is nothing short of rock 'n' roll perfection. There is passion, energy, hooks, choruses that make you sing along, and an earnest honesty that drives it all home. This record is so undeniably infectious with its power chords and, pun intended, pure heart that it is an instant classic. There is such power and purpose in these songs that it reminds you how cathartic and transcendent rock 'n' roll can truly be. Heartsongs is a hidden gem in the rough of a tragic and wondrous world. It's records like this that give me hope and solace that someday everything will be okay.

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