Every three months, we like to look back on some of the great albums that crossed our desks, landed in our inboxes, or that we just decided to pick up because we were curious. In April, we counted down our 20 Favorite Albums of the First Quarter. We had so much to write that we had to split it up into two posts.
The first ten featured The Amazing, Andy Shauf, Annalibera, Belle and Sebastian, Courtney Barnett, Death Cab for Cutie, The Districts, The Dodos, Father John Misty, and Kendrick Lamar.
Albums 11 to 20 (although we did in alphabetical order) included Lady Lamb, Marika Hackman, Natalie Prass, Pond, Ryley Walker, Sarah Bethe Nelson, Screaming Females, Sleater-Kinney, Sufjan Stevens, and Viet Cong. Who makes it this time around? Read our list below. As always, it’s in alphabetical order. A Spotify playlist is at the very end. And Happy Canada Day everyone!
When the Alabama Shakes announced late in 2014 they were releasing their sophomore album, we got the chills. We also asked ourselves, could they repeat and possibly exceed their brilliant debut album, Boys & Girls? Those concerns were quickly alleviated after one spin of Sound & Color. Like their first record, Sound & Color retains the raw and gritty sound of its predecessor, but it’s more of a retro-rock album, but one written with a ton of soul.
Of all the great albums released this year, very few made an immediate impact as the debut album from Algiers. The songs on Algiers are bold, fresh, socially conscious, and germane to current issues. It’s unlike anything written this year. The music speaks to a wide audience because it doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre. It blends the best elements of multiple genres: blues, gospel, rock, new wave, and punk. In a year when social justice and equality is a topic on everyone’s tongue, Algiers speak volumes of truth. The message is poignant and the music is powerful.
American Wrestlers isn’t on this list because they performed in Ben’s basement or that Gary McClure, the mastermind of the St. Louis-based indie band, participated in an interview with us. Instead, their self-titled debut is a brilliant collection of stories and experiences with an intimate, raw sound that draws you in and doesn’t let go. And at the end year, we’ll likely continue to gravitate back to the brilliant American Wrestlers.
You can divide singers into two categories – songwriters and storytellers. New Zealand’s Anthonie Tonnon is the latter, an artist who is able to take the mundane, personify one’s environment, or capture the history of a person to craft an exciting song. He complements his stories with an infectious and diverse sound that ranges from pop-rock to orchestral pop. When the songwriter meets the composer, the result is a stunning composition, otherwise known as Successor.
The past several years have seen a number of “comeback albums”. Bands are reuniting after years and even decades apart, finally releasing new material to diehard fans. Longtime fans of Blur had almost given up hope when their patience was finally rewarded with the surprise announcement of The Magic Whip. The album is the perfect blend of the early brit-pop days and the later more indie material. Damon Albarn’s song writing is still fantastic, but the real reward was return of Graham Coxon on guitar. Woohoo! (Sorry, couldn’t help ourselves)
Bop English is the new project of White Denim frontman James Petralli. The album was released under the radar without a lot of fanfare back in April, but it provides a solid 10 tracks that meld 60s rock, psych, jazz and soul. With Petralli’s smart songwriting and with the help from all of his White Denim band mates, we definitely are gifted with a talented and diverse album to tide us over until the next release from Austin’s talented White Denim. In some ways, this is a White Denim album. Nonetheless, it’s a masterful work of art.
Most country music fans know that in the main stream “Bro Country” reins supreme and honest work is hard to find. Surprisingly, this year’s “savior of country” mantel goes to man that has worked in the Nashville scene for years. Chris Stapleton has written hundreds of songs for Nashville elite. On Traveller, his first solo release, he gets the more authentic, dusty sound of country just right. You could play these songs along Willie, Waylon & the boys’ and they would fit just fine. Thank you Chris Stapleton!
Eskimeaux‘s 2015 release, O.K. is a collection of diverse, complex, and vulnerable music written by Brooklyn’s Gabrielle Smith. O.K. ranges from catchy to beautiful to rocking, the amount of feeling and emotion Smith put into this record is amazing. The lead single “Broken Necks” is one of the year’s finest and catchiest tracks, but the depth to O.K. is where it really excels.
Gengahr has been on our radar ever since one of their early tracks “Haunter” was released. There was a bit of anticipation surrounding their debut album A Dream Outside and, as we reviewed, it did not disappoint. The entire album is filled with gorgeous harmonies and summery melodies. It’s music that reels you in from first listen, eases the soul, and lifts the spirit. What more could you want from an album?
Not only do Heartless Bastards have one of the coolest band names, they also released one of the best records of the year so far, Restless Ones. The Ohio-based band rock hard behind the powerful voice of Erika Wennerstrom. Restless Ones is no-nonsense, knock your socks off rock & roll with a bit of a southern and soulful spin.
Two great country albums in a year is unheard of, but thanks to the brilliant Kacey Musgraves and her latest Pageant Material we get two within the same quarter! Where Chris Stapleton’s work is more whiskey-soaked, outlaw country, Mustgraves is more open plains anthems. Kacey is a small town girl from East Texas and her music feels remarkably organic in nature. This album is filled with beautifully simple tracks that unfold on the listener.
A lot of people talk about the “it” factor, an intangible occurrence that you’ll know when you see, hear, or feel it. You either have it or you don’t. Leon Bridges has that “it factor”. His music is a genuine throwback to a time long before he was born. His first LP, Coming Home is full of soul and R&B influenced tracks that instantly take the listener back to the days of Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke.
There are albums that with each listen grows on you more and more, where each listen there’s something new and different. Michael Rault‘s Living Daylight is one such album. It was terrific when heard the first few times; it’s even better now. It’s a bit of a kaleidoscope of an album, as Rault goes as far back as the ’40s to find inspiration. However, the album’s heart lies in the ’70s-era psychedelic- and garage-pop that simply is mind-blowing fun. But don’t let the sound fool you – beneath the trippy melodies and upbeat tempo is an extremely gifted songwriter with a social conscience.
It’s always a challenge to follow up a truly great, masterful album with another memorable effort. Even the likes of Arcade Fire and Radiohead of succumbed to this fate because musicians are constantly striving to produce create works of art and not just recycling the same old, same old (cuing AC/DC). For Mikal Cronin, he opted to build on his fantastic sophomore album, MCII, to create an equally brilliant record. MCIII, however, is different. It’s more expansive with Cronin showcasing his vast array of musical talents. MCIII is, as such, not just another record, it’s a full-blown composition of sound.
My Morning Jacket
From their unmatched live shows (best live band on the planet!) to their lyrical and rock prowess of their early records, My Morning Jacket have established a loyal following, much like the Grateful Dead. Many of us here are also huge fans, dating way back to their early beginnings. For the best ten years, our fandom was challenged as the Louisville, Kentucky quintet released, let’s be honest, pretty average albums. But with Waterfall, My Morning Jacket have channeled the past – both musically and within their own discography – to create a sublime album. It’s their best album in ten years (since the monumental Z) and one of the best of 2015.
San Fermin is the brainchild of Ellis Ludwig-Leone and their sophomore release proves that his talent of composing unique and flowing arrangements with a talented bunch is no fluke. We challenge that Jackrabbit is even better than their debut album. Every member of San Fermin contributes to the cohesive, 15-track album. The album successfully integrates the beautiful tones of keys, strings, horns into the alternative rock arena and adding a cinematic quality to the music.
Thee Oh Sees
If you’ve been following San Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees, you would know that they release at least one album a year, and usually two for good measure, since their formation in 1997. The heavy workload, which includes constant touring, has resulted in changes in the band’s membership and even a hiatus. But like the length of time between albums, the break lasted less than a year. Their latest album, Mutilator, sees Thee Oh Sees maintain their high-energy, pulsating garage and psychedelic rock yet expand their musical palettes to more melodic affairs. Maybe Thee Oh Sees have yet to put out a classic, but they never disappoint and Mutilator is no exception.
With her second LP, Mackenzie Scott, aka TORRES turns up the intensity. Not only in the sense of the evolved sound of her music, with Sprinter featuring lots of distortion compared to her debut LP Torres. It is also intense lyrically, hitting on subjects including adoption, family, and questioning her faith. Sprinter is a heavy record, from one of the finest young songwriters out there right now.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Unknown Mortal Orchaestra – the Auckland, New Zealand – Portland, Oregon band – have never been ones to stick to a single formula nor settle for simplicity. On Multi-Love, UMO return with arguably their best album to date. It sees the band expand their sound, not just across genres but going retro – about 40 years into the past while still feeling fresh, new, and exciting. While some experiments go awry, it seems everything UMO touches is an absolute delight to the auditory senses.
Wolf Alice is quickly ascending into the mainstream with their perfect mix of female-led vocals and hard hitting guitar riffs. With their debut release, My Love Is Cool, they show their diversity from the start. The talented foursome prove that they can make whatever music they want from punk, shoegaze, psych and alternative rock with each and every track and each one is a success. There is something for everyone in their debut album, yet somehow we feel they are still holding back a bit .
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