Honourable Mentions of 2015

The best of the rest, in alphabetical order:

band01Baroness, Purple (Abraxan Hymns)
Three years after a horrible bus crash brought Baroness’s momentum to a halt, John Baizley and his band is back with a fourth album that further continues the smooth transition from progressive sludge metal to expertly crafted rock ‘n’ roll. The songwriting is honed beautifully throughout, and producer Dave Fridmann gives the band just enough of Queen’s classic flair and bombast to lent it character. (Spotify) (YouTube)

bestcoastcaliBest Coast, California Nights (Harvest)

It’s doubtful Bethany Cosentino will ever match the lightning-in-a-bottle charm of 2010’s Crazy For You, but after a follow-up that stumbled, California Nights sees her righting the ship, focusing less on a middle-of-the-road sound and instead cranking out the kind of bittersweet rock tunes she is so gifted at. Couple that with an even stronger singing voice than before, and you’ve got a very winning album. (Spotify) (YouTube)

liturgyarkLiturgy, The Ark Work (Thrill Jockey)

Four years after the groundbreaking Aesthethica, metal provocateur Hunter Hunt-Hendrix returned with a new album that threw everyone for a loop, integrating the band’s black metal foundation with electronic beats, rap cadences, glockenspiel, synthesizers, and even bagpipes. What sounded like madness at first slowly felt cohesive, the record’s brash creativity impossible to not respect, a peculiar marvel. (Spotify) (YouTube)

luciferLucifer, Lucifer I (Rise Above)

While I was heartbroken at the sudden demise of Berlin band The Oath, singer Johanna Sadonis quickly rebounded, forming a new band with former Cathedral guitarist Gaz Jennings. A much doomier take on The Oath’s melodic heavy rock sound, it’s a perfect fit for Sadonis, who turns in a wonderfully detached, mysterious vocal performance atop Jennings’ authoritative riffs. Here’s hoping this band stays intact. (Spotify) (YouTube)

marriagesMarriages, Salome (Sargent House)

Led by the immensely talented singer/guitarist Emma Ruth Rundle, Marriages tread familiar territory on their second album, mining the kind of cosmic psychedelic shoegaze that a lot of bands have been reviving over the past decade, but Rundle’s guitar brings a heavier edge to the sound, while her singing is a lot more direct, addressing and confronting the listener rather than sounding indecipherable. This shoegaze has bite. (Spotify) (YouTube)

band01Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material (Mercury)
The country star-in-the-making followed up her 2013 breakthrough with an album that wound up being a lot more understated than expected. With the kind of lavish sound that evokes the country of the 1960s and 1970s, it’s the perfect backdrop for Musgraves, whose absolutely charming personality shines vividly in the music. Her “self-help” tunes are back in full force, but are too sincere and witty to feel repetitive. (Spotify) (YouTube)

band01New Order, Music Complete (Mute)

This I was not expecting. Especially considering how lead single “Restless” coasts along on autopilot. Get past that track, however, and you’ll hear a great band sounding their most vital since 1993. They’re not doing anything particularly new, nor do they have to. All New Order have to do, Peter Hook or no Peter Hook, is somehow sound like New Order while still feeling modern, and they strike that balance expertly. (Spotify) (YouTube)

band01Prurient, Frozen Niagara Falls (Profound Lore)

Esteemed indie label Profound Lore never fails to introduce me to cutting-edge artists who like to challenge audiences, and that’s exactly what Dominick Fernow does on this massive double album. This is experimental noise ingeniously executed and very smartly sequenced, ranging from jarring moments of cacophony and catharsis to elegiac sections that show there’s some soul underneath all the pretension. (Spotify) (YouTube)

band01Say Lou Lou, Lucid Dreaming (á Deux)

I listened to the debut album by twins Miranda Anna and Elektra June Kilbey-Jansson on the train from Rotterdam to Paris, and I’ll never forget its sleep dance pop as gorgeously rugged Brussels rolled by. It felt comforting and hopeful that morning, something I’ll never forget. Sometimes where you hear an album has a huge impact, enough for you to happily let any flaws in the music slide. (Spotify) (YouTube)

band01Screaming Females, Rose Mountain (Don Giovanni)

It was a surprise to hear Screaming Females rein in their sound on their new album, but while it took some getting used to guitar genius Marissa Paternoster tone down the riffing and shredding that had become her calling card, the more you heard the album the more the song craft started to come out. There’s some real subtlety at work here, not to mention some moments of actual tenderness. (Spotify) (YouTube)

band01Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love (Sub Pop)

It was great news to hear the mighty Sleater-Kinney had reunited, but was it ever a pleasure to hear them crank out a 32-minute scorcher of an album. Age, life, and in the case of Carrie Brownstein, mainstream fame have not made the groundbreaking trio any less ferocious. In fact they sound revitalized throughout. It’s so sharp and vibrant compared to 2005’s The Woods, a welcome return to classic form. (Spotify) (YouTube)

band01Tove Styrke, Kiddo (Sony)

Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Styrke captivated me with the saucy, sleek-sounding Kiddo, a pleasantly surprising statement of defiance and originality for a pop album. Part Suzi Quatro, part Robyn, part Annie, with a willingness to utilize reggae beats in audacious fashion, Kiddo bursts with life, expertly crafted as only the Swedes can do, loaded with hooks and never for a second short of attitude. (Spotify) (YouTube)

band01Torres, Sprinter (Partisan)

Singer-songwriter Mackenzie Scott shocked me out of my gourd with this album, one of those curiosities that seems to come out of nowhere and generates enormous buzz. The hype is warranted, however, as Scott combines gut-wrenching confessional songwriting that echoes PJ Harvey, often turning right around and showing the kind of ingenuity St. Vincent displayed early in her career. This is a major talent. (Spotify) (YouTube)

band01Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp (Merge)

The prospect of a new Waxahatchee album living up to 2013’s Cerulean Salt, which is becoming one album from the 2010s that has become very near and dear to me, was a tall order, at least in my opinion. But the immensely talented Katie Crutchfield did come through with a splendid new record that continues her evolution as a songwriter and makes room for a little experimentation here and there. (Spotify) (YouTube)

band01The White Buffalo, Love and the Death of Damnation (Unison)

I’ve never seen Sons of Anarchy, so I wasn’t aware of the music Jake Smith had written for the show, but when I was handed a new track to premiere at PopMatters this year, I was wowed. Gritty, rugged – the big man plays and sings hard – and always badass, Smith’s brand of Americana is raw, yet at the same time there’s great substance, and in the case of his lyrics, a lot of poetry. This is one Drive-By Truckers fans should hear. (Spotify) (YouTube)