Albums, Mundo, Music, The Revue, Year-End Lists — December 30, 2015 at 6:00 am

50 Favorite Albums of 2015 – Part 3


Today, we reach the final 20 of our 50 Favorite Albums of 2015. From riot grrrl to psychedelic pop, from contemporary indie rock to the sounds of the ’50s and ’60s, from alt-folk to alt-country, the list is eclectic, diverse, and filled with the best of 2015. Read the final 20 LPs below. If you’re just catching up, you can find the First 15 here and the Second 15 over here.

50 Favorite Albums of 2015 - Part 3


Leon Bridges – Coming Home 

Leon Bridges – Coming Home

Leon Bridges is undeniably retro. Rich wrote about his soulful, debut release, Coming Home, earlier this year and how it transplants you back into the 1960s. Bridges’ voice has a seductive quality (similar to that of Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye) that lures you into his music. His sound may be retro, but the feeling and lyrics are relevant and profound. This album is full of horns, doo-wops, backing female singers, love, loss, and a whole lot of groove – nothing can be better. There is an incredible uprising of throwback rock ‘n roll, blues and soul bands appearing (Anderson East, Alabama Shakes) and Leon Bridges is arguably one of the best at it today. ~~ Zac


Michael Rault – Living Daylight

Michael Rault 2The psychedelic revival has often been associated with acts from Australia and the UK, but Canada has its own prodigal son, Michael Rault. His sophomore album, Living Daylight, is a dazzling display of psychedelic pop. On songs like “All Alone (On My Own”), “Suckcess”, and “Real Love”, the likes of Mikal Cronin, The Beatles, and Ty Segall can be heard. However, it’s in the stories that Rault tells that places Living Daylight above the rest. It is introspective at times, addressing issues like isolation and loneliness, and at other times studious with its sociological analysis on the widening class divide. Despite the serious issues dealt by Rault, Living Daylight is a fun, entertaining, and enjoyable listen, and a psychedelic gem of an album. ~~ Ben


My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall

My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall

The ethos of My Morning Jacket – those American indie rock stalwarts – is found in the lyrics of “Compound Fracture” from this year’s release, The Waterfall: “There is life in love and sound / Get as much as you can keep around / Before they put you into the ground.” This encapsulates both their philosophy and the pervasive theme of the album. The band’s focus, lyrically and melodically, is about fully embracing life and living in the moment. Such philosophical pragmatism from any other band might seem contrived, but in the talented hands of this Kentucky quintet, it’s effortlessly compelling. This seventh album reflects the cohesion built over their 17-year history: they’re at peak form, proving yet again what makes them one of the most dynamic groups in music. Every song is a testament to their uncanny ability to excel individually while bringing out the best in each other as a collective unit. The Waterfall shimmers as a whole with multi-faceted nuance at every turn. Where the opener, “Believe (Nobody Knows)”, surges as a big, unapologetic crowd-pleaser, gentler songs (“Like a River” and “Thin Line”) showcase Jim James’ honeyed vocals. There’s even a Zen-like calm to the album’s break-up song (“Get the Point”) that finds James facing the end of a relationship not with remorse but an accepting shrug. This is where the production from Tucker Martine (who worked on some of 2015’s top albums – The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, Modest Mouse) shines. The songs flow seamlessly through the peaks and valleys of emotions, from jubilation to introspection. Unlike previous albums recorded in their Louisville hometown, The Waterfall reflects its California origins with more ‘70s-rock influences (Fleetwood Mac and Yes), especially evident on the penultimate track, “Tropics (Erase Traces”). It’s one of the most stunning songs on the album with guitarist Carl Broemel adding depth to an already hypnotic tune with his arpeggiated picking on the intro and his backing vocal harmonies throughout. The wistful sunset vibe of the final track, “Only Memories Remain”, offers this parting thought: “Our earthly bodies will surely fail / But the love we share outlives us all.” What a perfect wrap to one of 2015’s very best albums. ~~ Hollie


Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass

Natalie Prass - Natalie PrassNatalie Prass‘ eponymous debut LP is everything I love about music. It’s music you can dance to and music you can cry to. The first track (“My Baby Don’t Understand Me”) kicks things off with a whirlwind of Prass’ voice and brass instruments, taking us back to the ’70s with its orchestral pop sound. Try not to dance to “Bird Of Prey,” a true toe-tapping track rooted in soul. The album has a cinematic quality to it as well. “Christy” and “It Is You” wouldn’t seem out of place on classic movie soundtracks. “Violently” is possibly the most stunning track on the record. It builds slowly until its majestic finale with the music guiding Prass’ vivid storytelling. The lyrical sharpness on the song is rivaled by only some of the best songwriters out there today. Natalie Prass also feels like a real, cohesive album: it flows, and there is a late-album reprise of “Your Fool” that ties the whole thing together wonderfully. Natalie Prass’ debut is true magic. ~~ Rich


Pearl and The Beard – Beast

Pearl and The Beard - BeastOn a list full of amazing debuts like Leon Bridges, Courtney Barnett, and Natalie Prass, sadly we must write about the final record from Pearl And The BeardBeast. However, Beast is not a sad album for long time fans of the band; it’s a celebration and a culmination of everything that captivated them. “You” starts the album off with a bonafide rocker that showcases the lush harmonies of Jeremy Styles, Emily Hope Price, and Jocelyn Mackenzie. “Again Animal”, the next track, is a folk-infused track that is among Pearl and The Beard’s finest. There are truly beautiful tracks (“Good Death”, “James”, and “River”) that are truly breathtaking. There’s even a heavy, southern rock-influenced tune in “Devil’s Head Down.” As the album comes to a close, the last two tracks (“Landmine” and “Such A Fool”) provide a powerful ending to an incredible discography from a truly amazing band. Beast will sadly be Pearl and The Beard’s last album, but it also may be their finest record. ~~ Rich


Pond – Man It Feels Like Space Again

Pond 3While their bandmate Kevin Parker took their other band Tame Impala to disco realms, Nick Allbrook and Jay Watson opted to take their side project Pond to new territory. On their aptly titled sixth album, Man It Feels Like Space Again, Allbrook and Watson along with Joe Ryan and Jamie Terry transport their zany psychedelia to intergalactic territory. The album is dreamy and spatial at times, such as on the lush “Sitting Up On Our Crane”, and orgasmic disco, psych-pop, such as the superb “Elvis’ Flaming Star”, the window-shaking “Zond”, and the spectacular “Waiting Around For Grace.” Ten years from now, people will look back on this album and realize how truly great it is and how it helped spawn a new era in psychedelia. ~~ Ben


Reservations – Taking Time

Reservations - Taking TimeIn 2012, Sharon Van Etten released her sophomore album, Tramp, which catapulted the New Jersey native into indie rock stardom. Fast forward three years later, and the second LP by a little-known band may have the same impact. Austin-based three-piece Reservations‘ second proper full-length, Taking Time, is similarly powerful. It is brutally honest yet beautiful in its songwriting. Frontwoman Jana Horn’s voice is one that is captivating. The music created by Horn, Paul Price, and Jason Baczynski is immersive, emotive, and intoxicating. It won’t be long before many blogs and music lovers will be applauding the work on this fantastic, little band with an explosive sound. ~~ Ben


San Fermin – Jackrabbit

San Fermin - Jackrabbit

San Fermin has been creating eclectic and mesmerizing tracks since composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone formed the project in 2011. Their self-titled, debut album, which was released in 2013, included vocals from Allen Tate and Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius. Two years later, San Fermin return with Jackrabbit, which sees Tate sharing the vocal chores with Charlene Kay. Jackrabbit is like nothing else you will hear this year. It is 15 tracks full of experimental, symphonic, alternative rock highlighted by the explosive “Emily” and “Jackrabbit”.  The chaotic brilliance of “Parasites”, which is quite amazing live, is another stunner and demonstrates the eight-piece’s creativity. Jackrabbit is just another step in the band’s growth and evolution, and one that we will follow closely. And who knows, based on our last Q&A, maybe there will be a movie score in Ludwig-Leone’s future that will further gather fans around San Fermin’s magical fire. ~~ Wendy


Sarah Bethe Nelson – Fast-Moving Clouds

Sarah Bethe Nelson 1Tinged with a lush, psychedelic sound and clever lyricism, Sarah Bethe Nelson‘s debut album, Fast-Moving Clouds, is not just one of the best kiss-off albums of the year but in the past five years. Nelson’s delicate, whispery voice provides a bedroom intimacy to her stories of heartbreak and infidelity. The brilliant “Paying” highlights the album with its forthright lyrics and the vulnerable state of the protagonist. Not all the tracks, however, are downtrodden. On the exhilarating and anthemic “We’re Not Dead”, there is a sense of redemption and hope. It is a fitting end to a terrific album – one that will leave a lasting imprint. ~~ Ben


Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to LoveIt’s almost as if “new Sleater-Kinney album” is enough of a reason to be on here, but there’s way more to it than that. Of course it’s exciting to have a new Sleater-Kinney record this year, but No Cities To Love is so much more than just a celebration of one of the most influential rock bands of the last 20 years. It is also a huge statement from the trio of Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss. Corin Tucker’s voice is as powerful as ever, and you can hear that right out of the gate with “Price Tag.” You also get some of the finest tracks of the year, such as the Brownstein-led “A New Wave”, which has a killer lead and awesome bass line, and the cathartic “Bury Our Friends.” Weiss’ drumming is fierce throughout as well, especially on “No Anthems.” Sleater-Kinney are back and are a force to be reckoned with. ~~ Rich


The SteelDrivers – The Muscle Shoals Recordings

The SteelDrivers – The Muscle Shoals Recordings

The Steeldrivers released their fourth album this year, The Muscle Shoals Recordings, and it immediately became a top contender for the year. With years of studio work, multiple awards and hard-earned tours behind them, the Nashville-based band return with arguably their best album to date. The 11 new songs are inspired by Muscle Shoals, Alabama and recorded in Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, so there’s that expected bluegrass sound one would expect. The Steeldrivers, however, haven’t completely ignored their roots, as the album’s modern bluegrass sound is soaked with raw Tennessee whiskey. As a result, The Muscle Shoals Recordings is 36 minutes of brilliance – a showcase in great songwriting and stunning musicianship. ~~ Zac


Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

Sufjan Stevens released his most personal and possibly the best album of his career with this year’s fantastic Carrie & Lowell. Stevens explores the pain and reconciliation with his mother who left him at a young age and then returned later in his life shortly before she passed. Songs like “I Should Have Known Better” and “Forth of July” find Stevens struggling with abandonment, forgiveness, and mortality. Several of Stevens’ more recent works have relied on lush electronic orchestration, but this time he opts for melodic acoustic arrangements without percussions giving the album a more haunting and intimate feeling. Seldom is an artist this exposed and this raw, and the end result is something absolutely beautiful. ~~ Michael


Tame Impala – Currents

Tame Impala - Currents

Artists can either stick with their core competencies with subtle changes, or they can take abrupt departures in musical styles. Kevin Parker opted for the latter in taking Tame Impala‘s latest album, Currents, away from the band’s psychedelic tendencies towards spacey, disco-era grooves. Sometimes departures like these can be off-putting, but in Tame Impala’s case the album feels like the full realization of Parker’s creativity and his bandmates’ masterful musicianship. The album kicks off with “Let It Happen”, a seven-plus minute jam that changes tone in texture repeatedly. The album is chock-full of hits like sultry “Cause I’m A Man” and the smooth “Let It Happen” that highlight Parker’s voice more than either of the two previous albums. Parker has a reputation of being a perfectionist when fleshing out songs, and Currents comes awfully close to achieving just that. ~~ Michael


TORRES – Sprinter 

TORRES - Sprinter

TORRES‘ sophomore record, Sprinter is not just one of the best records of the year but also one of the most powerful. Lyrically, it’s emotionally driven, and each track is heightened by ferocity in Mackenzie Scott’s voice. She sings about love and loss, religion, and family, and the hurt, sorrow, and remorse can be heard and felt.

Musically, Sprinter is a big shift from her debut, self-titled record, which had more of an alt-folk feel. But with Sprinter, Scott adopts more of a grunge feel with tracks like “Sprinter” and “Strange Hellos”. She gets electric with “Cowboy Guilt”, which showcases Scott’s excellent guitar work. The delicate, heart-wrenching songs, however, are not gone. “A Proper Polish Welcome” and especially “Ferris Wheel” have that vibe that drew us to her first record. Each track seems to carry a lot of weight, and Scott performs them with conviction. She really lets lose here, and the result is an untethered force of nature. ~~ Rich


Viet Cong – Viet Cong

Viet Cong 2Like the Academy Awards, it’s easy to forget and overlook albums that come out early in the year. For them to make the end-of-year lists, they have to leave a lasting impression. Viet Cong’s self-titled debut album was one of the first albums to be released in 2015, and to this day it has left an everlasting scar. Viet Cong is eight tracks of cathartic and blistering rock. From the 11-minute masterpiece of “Death” to the anthemic “Silhouette” to the mechanical and brilliant distortion of “Continental Shelf”, the album mesmerizes with its dark yet mind-blowing sound. But beneath the sound is the mourning of a friend, where Viet Cong has enabled Matt Flegel, Mike Wallace, Scott Munro, and Daniel Christiansen to share their pain and emotions. Consequently, the album is not just an album to listen to; it’s one remarkable experience. ~~ Ben


Whitey Morgan and the 78’s – Sonic Ranch

Whitey Morgan and the 78’s – Sonic Ranch

Whitey Morgan…The big bearded, whiskey shootin’, telecaster swingin’, honky-tonkin’ legend. Sonic Ranch is a career defining record for Morgan and his excellent backing band, The 78’s. This is the country gold sound of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Whether it’s one of his four original songs, (“Low Down on the Backstreets”) or a stunning cover (“Waitin’ ‘Round to Die”), Morgan keeps honest country music alive and well. This is what the spirit of true honky-tonk country music is all about! ~~ Zac



Wilco – Star Wars

Wilco - Star WarsWilco surprised the world with the release of the ridiculously tilted new album, Star Wars (and the story is made even more funny when frontman Jeff Tweedy remarked they had no idea a new Star Wars movie was being released in 2015). Wilco has had some fine albums recently but the overwhelming feeling has been a band playing it safe and getting too deep into their comfort zone. The dreaded “dad rock” label was being associated with a band that had once pushed the boundaries of alternative country and indie rock, such as on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Star Wars, though, finds the band both having fun again while not being afraid to get a little weird. The opening track “EKG” is total guitar distortion (Nels Cline at his finest) that lets the listener know they are in for something different. “Random Name Generator” is a fun, upbeat, spastic jam, and “Joke Explained” is one of the wittiest songs Tweedy has penned in years. The real gem is “Magnitized”, the brilliant psychedelic closer that has Tweedy and company channeling The Beatles to near perfection. Wilco’s Star Wars was the best kind of surprise – one that was unexpected in timing and in quality. ~~ Michael


Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

Wolf Alice - My Love is Cool

The smashing debut album from London-based, alternative four-piece Wolf Alice is quite the sucker punch. It starts off innocently enough on “Turn to Dust” with Ellie Rowsell’s lilting vocals gently lulling you into a false sense of indie-folk security. Then the second track, “Bros”, reveals a bit of the power lurking beneath the placid surface. Once you hear “I’ve got tricks I really want to show you” on the ‘90s-era grunge-tinged “Your Loves Whore,” they’ve already got their hooks in you. At this point, you’re keen to discover what’s in their bag of tricks – and they do not disappoint. Their sonic fury is unleashed on the fourth track, “Moaning Lisa Smile” (which has earned Wolf Alice a Grammy nod for Best Rock Performance), blistering in its under-three-minutes brevity. But lest you feel tempted to pigeonhole these young talents as just another alt-rock outfit, they throw a subtle right hook with the perfect pop gem, “Freazy”, which includes lyrics that play on both their band name and the album’s title. “You can join us if you wanna / Our love is cool” they repeat, though they’ve left you no choice. Their music is cool, so you willingly join them. Our Love Is Cool is a proper journey through a soundscape of scorching riffs and alternating mellow vibes, and it’s one thoroughly satisfying ride. ~~ Hollie


WOOF. – Bad Connection

WOOF - Bad Connection

We happened upon WOOF. randomly on SoundCloud last year and just couldn’t get enough. WOOF. is New Jersey native Kelan Bonislawski, and he is creating really awesome eclectic alt-rock tracks. Although I don’t usually like to compare artists, Beck springs to mind and even White Denim’s James Petralli, who also made this list under the moniker Bop English. Up until October, WOOF. didn’t have an album release; just a large collection of songs up on SoundCloud. Luckily, Tree Machine Records picked him up and released Bad Connection. The album isn’t straight-forward rock album, but rather it heads more towards an experimental sound. There’s a bit of prog-rock, a touch of alt-rock, and dashes of indie rock. But throughout the album, one is drawn in further and further in by Bonislawski’s creativity. Bad Connection is just the start for this emerging artist, who will have more to share in 2016. ~~ Wendy


Zachary Cale – Duskland

Zachary Cale - DusklandIn 2013, Louisiana-born singer-songwriter Zachary Cale released Blue Rider, which was one of our favorite albums of that year. Two years later, Cale finds himself in limited company as a repeat musician, joining Courtney Barnett, Jason Isbell, Julia Holter, Lady Lamb, and TORRES. His latest album, Duskland, sees Cale move from finger-plucking folk music to a much more expansive and widescreen sound. The new approach brings depth and a cinematic quality, which perfectly complement Cale’s fantastic songwriting, such as on “Sundowner” and “I Forged The Bullet.” In many ways, Duskland is like a masterful film: the music is dramatic, the storytelling is imaginative, and the production is superb. It’s just another gem from one of America’s best and most underrated singer-songwriters. ~~ Ben

Share This Article On...


Follow The Revue On...


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.