Welcome. Another year gone by, somehow faster than the last. These are the records that had the greatest impact on my musical landscape. I am sharing the soundtrack of these last 12 months with you, at least from albums that came out in 2015.
I listened to these records in sequential order many times. However, mixes have their place too. After floating downstream with Kurt Vile, My Morning Jacket or Wand, I found that a really quick, heavy punk song was just the thing I needed. The sonic palate cleanse. Brass and Mutoid Man worked well. Jay Reatard fits this bill excellently too by the way.
It’s interesting to note that the list this year is 60% debut records! From loud, heavy, aggressive to mind melting psych to jangly pop to bleak post punk to acoustic folk, it’s all here. Enjoy, I hope you find something new!
At this stage in their career, you never know what to expect with MMJ, and Jim James likes it that way. He’s been quoted as saying (paraphrasing) “when people get a new Jacket record and hear it for the first time, I hope they think they’ve put on the wrong disc”. Case in point, think of the first time you heard “Highly Suspicious”. I thought it was Prince.
Well, my first time hearing this record was to be perfect. I waited a month after release, forgoing any listening and did this right. A Sunny day around the seawall, headphones. It did not disappoint.
The instrumentation is flawless, the songs are ambitious and the scope is huge. Each track being a fully formed entity of the 5 members’ input. No other record instantly grabbed me like this one did, and still does. I remember comparing “Like A River” to “Battle of Evermore” in my head on that first listen. Same vibe, beautiful song. When you first start listening to the title track and the journey of “the idea” in it, you will want to hear that chorus drop again and again. Again. Again.
The record is solid, no skips, with a slowed down (depressing) breath in the middle in “Get The Point”. The album closer “Only Memory Remains” drifts and rambles on for 7 minutes plus speaking about a relationship that now only exists in the minds of the respective parties. Truly spine tingling. The track easily gets into my top MMJ songs of all time.
My Morning Jacket has the distinction of being one of three bands that I have seen double digit concerts for. I saw them only two months ago and was curious to see how this album translated live. We caught back to back Seattle performances and it was other worldly. 44 songs played over two nights, no repeats. Literally some of the best live music I have ever witnessed. There is another album already in the can too! Look for it in 2016.
I guess Jim sums it up in the incredible sentiment found in “Compound Fracture”: “There is love in life and sound. Get as much as you can keep around, before they put you into the ground, for who knows how long.” Amen.
Try and stop The Waterfall here:
Best Place To Listen: Live….But Cranked In Your House On A Good System Will Do
Kurt Vile is back with yet another great record. Solid. Song after song, his slacker persona shines through interesting, inventive tracks. Look no further than lead single “Pretty Pimpin'” to get a feel for these smartly delivered lyrics . He gets a great sound going on in “Outlaw”. Sounds like Chinese banjo. The next song “Dust Bunnies” asks what you get after a puff on a cigarette. The answer is an invigorating fix.
Speaking of which, the middle of the record is a dope smokers paradise. Long, ambient meandering synth, over repeating drums, guitar. Sweet, soft, assuring vocals. The tremendous tracks “Lost My Head There” and “Wheelhouse” lead me places I am always happy to follow, even though they seem to go on forever. There are fantastic moments of gorgeously played acoustic guitar too, where you can hear Vile’s calloused fingers slide from chord to chord.
The record ends with “Wild Imagination” where Vile is looking at someone. But it’s only a picture. No it’s not. It’s just an image on a screen. You can imagine if it were though? Just like he can imagine, you can imagine it right? He’s got a wild imagination. This fumbling, stream of consciousness delivered sentiment sums up the vibe here. At the same time he gives us introspective specific thoughts: “I’m an outlaw, on the brink of self-implosion. Alone in a crowd on the corner in my walkman in a snow globe, going nowhere slow.” His songwriting and delivery will keep you keenly listening.
There is so much going on in this hour of music, it’s a banquet for your ears. For those who pre-ordered the Deluxe Triple Vinyl, the feast is a little longer too. The third disc contains extended instrumentals and four songs not available elsewhere, one of which being the title track of the record.
Best Place To Listen: Sunny Day Walking Around the Seawall, I Guess.
Wand are definitely a band that should be on your radar if you are into great psych music. They have been recording and releasing at a pace that would make Ty Segall proud. In fact, Cory Hanson, the driving force behind Wand ,is very close with Segall so it makes sense. Their first album came out on Segall’s label and they share music, bouncing ideas off one another. On this album we see Wand in a more experimental mood, and it works beautifully.
Their past albums, especially Golem, represented a much heavier rock sound. For this, their 3rd LP in just over a year and a half, they are happy to float and meander, explore space, texture and sound. There are still crunching guitars present, sludgy and fuzzy at times, Cory’s soaring vocals perfectly meshing with the trudging drums.
In an interview this year with Cory described the important role analogue equipment played on this record. You can hear the passion in his voice while talking about the sound being pushed through machines, sculpted and molded sonically by his ears. When “Dovetail” is playing you can imagine him laughing freakishly behind some mixer, pleased with his creation, mad scientist like.
The most beautiful moment comes on this record in the form of “Passage of the Dream.” It’s one of those tracks the can induce goose bumps on the first listen. It just has that sound, where you are soaring at one point, seemingly on a plateau, and you impossibly get lifted to a higher place.
When I interviewed Cory, I made the choice to not bring up Ty Segall. I know how bands can get put in a shadow sometimes, when there is a more established artist in their midst. But I’m mentioning it now. Cory will return to Vancouver in January in Ty Segall’s band, the Muggers. Needless to say, it should be an incredible show.
Check out the entire LP here:
Best Place To Listen: Safe, Warm, Indoors, Eyes Closed, Couch, Opening Your Eyes Periodically To See The Sun Blazing Through The Venetian Blinds.
The debut record from this Vancouver band was an instant hit with me. They had an EP out in 2013 and a song on it ensured my ears would never forget the name Soft Serve. This record reinforces that, two songs in. The lush instrumental opening, cleans the slate for the first track beautifully.
“Family Tree” starts and exemplifies Soft Serve to the core. It is absolutely addictive. The upbeat feel, the monotone vocals, the incredibly speedy, shiny guitar lines, it’ s fantastic. It makes you pay attention to this band immediately. As you make your way from song to song, you notice a contemplative quality to the lyrics. The word “time” appears in every track. Upon reaching the end you find lead man Kyle repeating “you’re better off when you’re young” as the album ends with a decaying drum loop.
The entire album is linked here:
Best Place To Listen: Tie! Roaming Around Lighthouse Park Forest, On Sand With Sun In Your Eyes
This debut record from Nashville’s Bully will make fans of a 90’s sound rejoice. Heavy fuzzy guitars, thumping bass lines and that voice. The lead vocals that Alicia drags from the deepest reaches of her gut on these tracks is a joy to listen to. They are the star here. She is getting things of her chest and we are there a long for the ride. “Trying” and “Feels Like” are great examples.
Upon seeing Bully open for Jeff The Brotherhood in April, at what I consider one of the gigs of the year in Vancouver, I was captivated instantly. They held my attention until the last notes of the final song. Bully returned later in the year, opening for Best Coast and they were actually better.
This is a band on the rise. It should be fun to see them grow and improve. Speaking of fun, that’s exactly what this record is.
Get up close and personal with Alicia in an incredible vocal take for “I Remember” here:
Best Place To Listen: Making Dinner With A Loved One, I’m Picturing Pasta, Aprons and Spinning
I love the way LP’s can come into your life. A member of local Vancouver band Cave Girl had heard this in Germany and was telling me about them. I ordered it on a whim because of her description.
From the first few minutes of the lead track “Young and Successful” I could tell I was going like this. It has a post punk, cynical feel. I loved the spoken word and simple guitar. In contrast to the tempo of the first track, second song “Toonie” jumpstarts your ears. Many of the songs are fast affairs with crisp, attacking guitars.
This debut record was apparently recorded “in a practice space overlooking the industrial landscape of frozen East Berlin” and that bleak, emptiness is conveyed well in the sparsely populated tracks. Doesn’t hurt to have song titles “Nausea”, “Nightmare” and “Sinkhole” either.
Get sick here:
Best Place To Listen: Dark, Crowded Illegal Concert Venue, 12:45am, Drinking, Waiting For Headliner To Get On. Bonus Points: Listening From The Smoking Area.
This is a great, heart on your sleeve, genuinely honest record. It’s punk, it’s rock, it’s anthemic. It’s drenched in urgent emotion. The debut LP from Philly band Beach Slang delivers good on the promise of their previous two EPs. Front man James Alex has crafted these songs with nothing left to lose, and by completely letting go, something special has emerged.
The story is a great one: Weathered punk veteran, new father who never gave up on his music. There is intense, earnest emotion hanging in his raspy voice. You can’t help connect with some of the sentiment, or at least remembering a time when you could. They are not afraid to make mistakes. After all, “they grew up on the Replacements not King Crimson.”
Every song on this album was recorded as an early take. There is something very significant in that. A certain magic is captured that somehow fades once a band is going through the motions.
There aren’t many tracks on youtube from their debut, but here’s one:
Continue on to their fantastic 4 track Eps.
Best Place To Listen: Car,Winding Road, Green Hills, No Traffic Lights, Wind In Your Hair, Feeling Bad About The Past, Hopeful For The Future, Celebrating Now.
Vancouver hardcore punk. Loud, fast aggressive. Some of the sentiments in the lyrics I really connect with. A very short record, great for when you need to blow off some steam. These guys love to have fun and it comes through in the music. I’ve been in my share of bloody crowds and for 18 minutes or so, I can relive those days through the power of Brass.
For a flurry to your solar plexus, check out their fantastic video for
Best Place To Listen: Skytrain Car, 4:55pm. Fridays Work Best.
This LP from Mutoid Man is a loud, threatening, assault. Not only on your ears but on your speakers, not to mention the vocalists throat. It’s a debut record, but don’t let that fool you. These guys are all seasoned vets who can play. Well.
There is a mix of metal, speed metal, thrash, punk and rock. Crushing guitars, lightning quick solos, and licks will leave you in awe of the dexterity needed to pull this stuff at these speeds. They are super tight and function impressively as a unit. Each song has its own identity, you don’t grow tired of a similar sound.
The theme of Big Brother paranoia runs throughout this one, as depicted in the artwork. Speaking of which, the art layout of this record is one my favourites of the year. That’s saying a lot for a non-gatefold. It’s just perfect.
Check out Bridgeburner for Mutoid Man at the height of their seriously impressive collective powers:
Best Place To Listen: Pre Drinks At Home Prior To Heavy Concert To Get The Juices Flowing
I think this might have been the first record of 2015 I bought. I knew that they were formed by members of Tame Impala’s live band, so I was curious. And hell, who could say no to that kick ass die-cut cover paying homage to “Cheap Thrills?!”
I’m not in love with all of this, their 6th full length record, but the songs that do it for me, do it in a big way. This is a cosmic, glimmering journey of well crafted, unwavering songs. Virtually every track uses the wall-of-sound idealism. It’s an aural invasion from start to finish. Hidden in nooks and crannies of tracks are digitized sounds that reveal themselves after multiple listens. The production is pristine. Headphones are highly recommended.
“Sitting Up On Our Crane” is sublime, laid back psych at its best. The bass drops in that song will hit you and reverberate your gut, while the sustained synth and vocal coos, carry you along to wherever your mind wants to go at that time. “Outside Is The Right Side” is a funky jam, so is the song about Elvis. But here, see what it’s like to be “Sitting Up On Our Crane” :
Best Place To Listen: Laying Down With Your Eyes Closed Journeying Inwards
And with that another year of music has come and gone.
We interviewed half of the artists on our list this year. Subscribe here: