Give 50 music writers a forum to tout their top 50 albums of the year and you’ll probably see 45 or so unique bands and albums on every person’s list. You’ll immediately doubt your hipster credentials because you’ve likely never heard of 35 to 40 of the artists on each list. Every year there will also be one album that everyone’s afraid NOT to like. Typically this honor goes to Kanye West, this year it’s all about Kendrick Lamar.
A lot of the artists in my 2015 list also ranked high in my 1985 or 1995 lists — or at least sound like they’re of that era. 2015 was a year of comebacks and throwbacks. Some beloved artists returned to greatness. Some new artists embraced old sounds while boldly diving into the new.
So if you’re not a jaded millennial and want to discover some 2015 albums you’ll actually enjoy listening to in 2016 and beyond, let’s hop into the Delorean and crank up the Discman:
45: Against Me! – 23 Live Sex Acts!
Laura Jane Grace & a relatively new lineup celebrate the band’s long overdue breakthrough release, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, with a fast, furious and unfiltered live run through their widely divisive catalog. Finally, something fans of their early years, major label years, and the Laura Jane Grace era can agree upon.
#44: Grimes — Art Angels
The only album on this list I don’t own — fucking thing is on Amazon backorder, and I can see why. Like a fine wine, swirl it around in your ears for a while and you’ll detect notes of just bout every musical style imaginable.
#43: Coldplay — A Head Full of Dreams
I think I kinda prefer “Sad Coldplay” (last year’s stunning Ghost Stories) to “Happy Coldplay” — but there’s plenty of winners on here. Late arrival for 2015 but surely going to be heavily played long into 2016.
#42: Eagles of Death Metal — Zipper Down
I own all their CDs, they deliver perfectly fine, down and dirty, party music. Not great or profound in any way. That tragedy made them the most important band in the world is a buzz killer for sure, but what better way to stand up to terrorism than to rock out with your (freak flag) out.
#41: British Sea Power — Sea of Brass
This band doesn’t always deliver perfect albums, but they’re always very interesting. While their first two discs cemented their retro-leaning post punk in my heart, subsequent albums have been more challenging to grasp. This project — at an audacious 3CDs in length, revisits their catalog with a big ass brass chamber orchestra in tow. It was recorded live and in studio with the Foden’s Band, a renowned Cheshire-based brass ensemble that was formed in 1900. It’s going to take me most of 2016 to fully digest, but as with most of their music, it’s intense and well worth the journey.
#40: Jimmy Somerville – Homage
The Bronski Beat/Communards frontman returns with an unabashed disco epic. Read our original review here.
#39: Madonna — Rebel Heart
Madge follows her near career-killing MDNA with a pretty fine album despite some dreadful, unnecessary cameos from the likes of Nicki Minaj, Chance the Rapper and Nas. I sprung for the 25-track “super deluxe edition” and from that could likely boil down a solid 12-track album.
#38: Phases — For Life
Remember The Like? I have their Wendy & Lisa-produced debut album but I’m not sure I ever really liked them. Well, one of The Likes, Z Berg, is back in a big 80’s throwback pop outfit and it’s quite the likable listen. Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley/Bright Eyes), Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet) and Michael Bolton, oh wait, Michael Runion, round out the group. They’re signed to Warner Brothers… well, for now. Plenty of hits on this record, hopefully one or two break out, keep the label happy, and reach ‘Cool Kids’ popularity — achieved by label mates Echosmith (who two years after the release of their debut album remain the most played disc in my household — I like it, my toddler LOVES it).
#37: PiL — What The World Needs Now
John Lydon, Post Punk’s resident Angry Neighbor is back yelling at you to get the hell off his lawn. This album keeps up the momentum of 2012’s This is PiL.
#36: Zombies — Still Got That Hunger
Now that the Walking Dead is the biggest show on TV, what better time for the beloved band to return with a new album that’s pretty damn lively?
#35: Bryan Lee Brown — Sonic Highways
This collection of instrumental interludes and segues from Foo Fighters’ Grammy-nominated TV series is a moody, atmospheric gem.
#34: Brandon Flowers — The Desired Effect
Every year the Killers reunite to deliver a superb holiday gem to benefit RED. Between that and appearing on the new New Order album (see below), Flowers improved on the spottiness of his solo debut, Flamingo, with a much more solid solo spin.
#33: Prince “¢ HitnMiss
It takes 2 much energy 2 write, code, tag, publish N promote these blogs 2 spend any of that time writing something bad about someone else’s art, that’s why eye don’t write negative reviews. If eye H8 something, eye keep my mouth shut — which is why eye wasn’t going to mention Prince’s HitnRun Phase One, an album so bad that eye bought it on CD solely 2 maintain D completeness of my Prince collection. And then at the last minute, Prince releases Phase Two and all is forgiven. Most of these tracks have been trickled out over D past year or so, but D good ones make U remember why U loved the Artist Formerly Known as “Formerly Known” in the first place. Prince’s loyal fans love his genius era (Dirty Mind thru Crystal Ball/Dream Factory/Sign O’ The Times) D same way Star Wars fans love Episodes 4-6. This is why it hurts so bad when Prince reaches anything less than his potential. There’s more in Phase Two 2 love than hate. For whatever reason, he may never release a studio recording that shows his guitar prowess, but for D lite mid-tempo R&B he’s been peddling for 20 years, this second batch ranks among his best.
#32: Visage — Demons to Diamonds
Considering the questionable posthumous output from Tupac, Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson, this final album by the late, great Steve Strange could have been much worse. Thankfully, recording was far enough in process when he died so tragically young and beautiful that this swan song can sit proudly alongside Visage’s other works, most notably 2013’s glorious return to form, Hearts & Knives. Visage had some hits, but never reached the mass appeal of fellow new wave darlings Human League and Depeche Mode, but they have a charming catalog worth exploring.
#31: Dave Gahan & Soul Savers— Angels & Ghosts
Speaking of Depeche Mode, both of Mode’s main men put out solo records this year. Gahan’s collaboration with British production duo, Soulsavers, simultaneously breaks free of Mode’s conventions while also totally playing to the base (and nailing it). While Martin Gore’s MG went in an experimental synth instrumental direction, Angels & Ghosts is an urgent, dramatic, confessional and intimate rock album. Read Rolling Stone’s insightful interview with Gahan here.
#30: Adam Lambert — The Original High
Adam Lambert’s celebrity is still bigger than his recording career. If he went the Adele route by recording a disc full of belters that properly showcase his amazeballs vocal talent, he would be the biggest male recording artist in the world see — the world — bam! But alas, he prefers to record slow groove club jams. The Original High is a dark and delicious dance record, offset by slow, dreamy, sensual ballads. ‘Ghost Town’ is way better than Madonna’s similarly titled track; it’s a phenomenal work of digital audio engineering and is now my new go-to song to showcase the sonic prowess of my hi-fi (replacing Prince’s ‘P Control’).
#29: Chvrches — Every Open Eye
This Scottish trio just might make the shiniest, brightest, most polished, close to damn near blinding music in the history of pop. Walls of synths cascade down upon the lovely Lauren Mayberry on the album’s 14 tracks, but there’s a dark ripple in their rainbow — the emotional depth elevates their sound to even higher highs. They really are this century’s Book of Love. NOTE: the Target edition includes two inessential live tracks and a lovely B-side called ‘Up In Arms’.
#28: Hurricane #1—Find What You Love and Let It Kill You
I totally missed this band’s first two-album go-round in the late 1990’s on Alan McGee’s Creation Records. Singer Alex Lowe has since battled cancer and released new music under the name Gun Club Cemetery on McGee’s 359 Music label. McGee encouraged Lowe to bring back Hurricane #1, a band that also included ex-Ride guitarist/vocalist Andy Bell. Lowe got Bell back into the fold for one track, to provide backwards guitar on ‘Think Of The Sunshine’, but for the most part, it’s a new line up and they sound young, fresh and ready for the fight. There’s a splash of Oasis in their sound, a dash of Tom Petty and the Church too. All said, Find What You Love… is a triumphant celebration of life, love, guitar and Brit Pop.
#27: Spectacular Spectacular — Blur
Guitarist, YouTube vlogger, actress and trans-advocate Isley Reust has a ton of projects on her plate. Between appearing in Laura Jane Grace’s True Trans series and filming a movie that bears her name, she recorded a fierce dream pop album with bandmates Jessica De Grasse and Millie Chan. Blur bears less similarities to the similarly named band and more kinship with The Heart Throbs, Big Hat, early Lush and the Chameleons. Angelic vocals. Shimmering guitars. Darkness and light, what’s not to like? Fingers crossed, a new album might drop in 2016. Read the POPDOSE interview.
#26: Veruca Salt — Ghost Notes
I half expected the Smiths to reunite before the original lineup of Chicago darlings Veruca Salt. After the split, Nina Gordon released some decent solo records while Louise Post guested on Dave Grohl’s phenomenal Touch soundtrack while keeping the VS brand alive with various line-ups. Ghost Notes marks the welcome return of the three dudes in the band, Jim Shapiro, Steve Lack and producer Brad Wood. Ghost Notes is the album that should have followed-up Wood’s American Thighs — to better prepare us for the over-the-top production in Bob Rock’s 8 Arms To Hold You. Attitude? Check. Hooks? Plenty. The songs to back up the hype? Ka-ching. Welcome back. Now if only Wood and Liz Phair would make nice and record again. One can dream.
325: Motorhead — Bad Magic
Guys who wore Motorhead t-shirts were the kind of guys I avoided in high school… and college… and in bars… and at the super market… but Lemmy has grown on me primarily through exposure on Dave Grohl’s documentaries and via Grohl’s Probot supergroup. While I have yet to dive deep into the back catalog, their 22nd album, Bad Magic, makes for a great “Motorhead for Beginners” listening experience. The tracks are fun, fast, furious and about as menacing the Ramones or my terrier. This disc pairs nicely with the Eagles of Death Metal’s Zipper Down when you need to unleash some rage, raise a fist, rock the fuck out and shake whatever hair remains on your head.
#24: The Libertines “¢ Anthems For Doomed Youth
How we live in a world where Scott Weiland and Amy Winehouse are dead while the ultimate Junkie poster boy, Pete Doherty, is still alive is beyond me. That this album even came to be is a miracle in itself. Will he survive long enough to fully tour it, well, that remains to be seen. But it harkens back to what made Up The Bracket so much damn fun in the first place. Punch drunk melodies, clattering guitar, slurred lyrics and wicked hangovers.
#23 (TIE): Foo Fighters “¢ Saint Cecilia EP/The Laundry Room EP
We usually go a few years between Foo Fighters platters, so needless to say what a joy it was to follow-up 2014’s wonderful Sonic Highways with a 2015 bookended by two not-so new Foo Fighters EPs. Songs From The Laundry Room unearth some pre Foo Fighters demos along with a cover (Kim Wilde’s ‘Kids in America’) and previously unreleased ‘Empty Handed’ from 1992. Six months after this was an exclusive Record Store Day 10-inch, the band put it out digitally for $3.99. Last month, they counted down to the release of a FREE EP consisting of five new recordings made inside Austin’s Saint Cecilia Hotel. The songs were written along the band’s 20 year ride, so they tie together everything that has made this band so much damn fun and did I mention it’s free? Go get it while supplies last.
#22: The Fall “¢ Sub Lingual Tablet
Cranky old post punkers Public Image Limited, The Membranes and The Fall came down the mountain with new albums this year — and they were all good. Sub Lingual Tablet is an especially wickedly fun, dour, witty and obtuse ride. Marc E. Smith and Co. already have a new disc on tap for February, 2016: the Wise Old Man EP promises a mix of old and new material.
#21: Darlingside — Birds Say
Something spellbinding happens when bassist Dave Senft, guitarist and banjo player Don Mitchell, classical violinist and folk mandolinist Auyon Mukharji, and cellist and guitar picker Harris Paseltiner gather around the microphone — harmonies that could roll the Beach Boys right off their surf boards; heavenly songs that will thrill fans of Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes and the Futureheads alike. Who knew Americana would become one of the most exciting and innovative forms of modern music, but the bands that have emerged each take it into exciting new places. Darlingside marry the best harmonies in the business with inventive instrumentation and brilliant songwriting. As Star Wars reaches fever pitch this week, take a spin with ‘Harrison Ford’ — a lovely track about a very chance encounter that may or may not be with you know who.
#20: Adele — 25
Everything I need to say about Adele’s 25 I said last week in “21 Things We Learned About Adele’s 25“. To quote: All you really need for an Adele album is Adele’s powerhouse vocals front and center in the mix. Over 14 glorious tracks, Adele Adele’s the living shit out of 25.
#19: Richard Hawley — Hollow Meadows
Richard Hawley’s POPDOSE interview remains one of my all time favorite contributions to this site. Where his last album, Standing at the Sky’s Edge, was loud, urgent and a bit pissed off, Hollow Meadows returns to the laid back, beautiful, haunting, intimate, lovely Hawley that won acclaim with the likes of Cole’s Corner and Late Night Final. Don’t think for a minute Hawley is backpedaling or coasting — not in the least. This collection sparkles with romance, melancholy, dreaminess and wit. The melodies here will keep your toes warm all winter long.
And just when you’re ready to curl up to the fire with your sweetheart to make out for a while, he drops the wicked ‘Which Way’ on you:
#18: Franz Ferdinand Sparks “¢ FFS
Last year, Sparks stole the show on the CD version of Beck’s Song Reader project, so the stage was set for these beloved 80’s art poppers (who technically never went away) to stage a glorious comeback. The unlikely collaboration with Franz Ferdinand (not “members of”, the whole damn band) resulted in a totally fresh vision, sound, experience and batch of songs. It’s easily the best long-player from the mostly reliable Franz gang since their debut. There’s nary a dud in the batch, even the song ‘Collaborations Don’t Work’ totally does. In the year that’s followed, the band has become a formidable live act. Hopefully this won’t be a one-off affair. Alex Kapranos is already off to join another supergroup, Banquet, featuring members of Band of Horses, Midlake, Grandaddy and Travis, so only time till tell.
#17: Jack and White “¢ Lost
Brooke White just might be the sweetest, most adorable singer/songwriter in all of pop music right now. She co-hosts a web series, The Girls with Glasses; stars in TV movies, releases solo records, raises a lovely daughter and even returns to the Mother Ship, American Idol, once in a while. Thankfully, she still finds time to record with Jack Matranga as the duo Jack and White. Matranga adds the perfect ripple of darkness to the brighter than sunshine White. The result is a sound as lovely as Fleetwood Mac, the Beach Boys and the Monkees at their best. Jack is the John to Brooke’s Paul; the Lindsay to her Stevie — without all the sex and drugs and rock and roll messing things up. This is pristine pop at its best — angelic, harmonic, enlightening, welcoming and a fresh alternative to the “trying too hard to be provocative” stuff clogging the airwaves these days.
#16: Editors “¢ In Dream
Stafford England’s Editors is one of those bands whose members you don’t know by name, whose faces you wouldn’t recognize on the street and yet across five albums in ten years, they have been one of the most consistently amazing bands in modern rock. The first few albums were guitar powerhouses, carrying on the tradition after Radiohead all but abandoned the instrument. Then came the synth heavy third album and the more orchestral feeling fourth. In Dream continues on this trajectory. It’s quiet, majestic, urgent, uplifting, ominous and beautiful. Spring for the 2CD Deluxe Edition while supplies last.
#15: Ryan Adams “¢ 1989
In 2014, Taylor Swift won over just about every hate, hate, hater with her wonderful pop tour de force, 1989. Perhaps nobody more than Ryan Adams. Swift’s songs nursed the broken heart from his Mandy Moore divorce and his form of payback is a stitch. He reimagines the songs as rock epics, weaving in the perfect amount of darkness on the edge of Springsteen. Even if Swift isn’t your jam, this album stands on its own as one of the decade’s top rock albums.
#14: Pasadena ’68/Dakota Shakedown — Split EP
2015 was a big year for Power Pop. Cheap Trick got their ticket into the Rock Hall, the Replacements wrapped up a decent cash in tour — but what about NEW music? I had just discovered proud Minneapolis sons, High On Stress, for a POPDOSE Power Pop round-up a few years back right when they break up. Dammit! Well, sometimes in rock and roll, there’s life after death. Enter Pasadena ’68 and Dakota Shakedown — two power pop bands with a lot more in common than a zip code, Replacements swagger and Husker Du urgency.
Pasadena ’68 features High on Stress’s Nick Leet (vox and guitar) and Chad Wheeling (guitar) plus Elliot Hilton (bass and backing vox) and Mike Hjelden (drums and backing vox). The band’s name is a reference to a Jets to Brazil song called ‘Crown of the Valley. Dakota Shakedown is the same lineup except Mike Hjelden takes over vocals and guitar and Chad Wheeling heads to the drum kit. Leet writes the Pasadena songs; Hjelden writes for Dakota; they previously were in the band Standard Thompson together. In typical rock and roll fashion, they fell out, didn’t talk for ages, and then the death of the Monkees’ Davey Jones got them talking again right as High on Stress was falling apart. Enter two new bands and a fresh start for Minneapolis’s thriving indie rock scene. Hilton also plays in Hart Lake Mystery, another MPLS Power Pop band featured in our original round up (read that here).
#13: Giorgio Moroder — DÁ©jÁ Vu
Who says an old dog can’t teach the pups some new tricks? You could fill a Hall of Fame with Moroder’s contributions to pop music, so it’s no shock everyone answered the call when he wisely decided to surf the Daft Punk wave and release a new solo record. Britney Spears, Charli XCX, Kylie Minogue, Sia and Kelis all deliver bankable hits, but the lesser known boys steal the show here. Mikky Ekko’s ‘Don’t Let Go’ is one of the year’s most rewarding pop songs and Matthew Koma’s ‘Tempted’ is way more fun than that solo record by that .fun guy. Even Moroder’s solo instrumentals recall one of my fave dance albums of all time, Who Needs Guitars Anyway? by Alice Deejay. If anyone can answer that question it’s Moroder and his straight outta Studio 54 synths.
#12: Butterfly Child — Futures
I don’t always like Butterfly Child albums, but when it do, it’s Futures. Holy shit this is a good album. Joe Cassidy, the singer/songwriter/most interesting man in Butterfly Child’s world, recently said in an interview that his music wasn’t going to change anyone’s life — and well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Futures, the first Butterfly Child album in 18 years, is an epic tour de force of heartbreakingly beautiful songs. From the nearly 8-minute epic, ‘No Longer Living in Your Shadow’, to the indie pop album opener ‘Blind So I May See’ and majestic near-closer ‘Lost in These Machines’, the album sounds both seemingly effortless and outrageously ambitious with every breath. I’ll admit, I missed this band the first time around — but I was REALLY into Cassidy’s short-lived Chicago-based follow-up, Assassins; a band that was swept up in the big label frenzy to find the next Killers or Stellastarr* in the early 2000’s. A new Butterfly Child EP is right around the corner, so stay thirsty my friends.
#11 (TIE): A Silent Film “¢ Sand & Snow + S/T
I discovered Oxford’s A Silent Film via one of those music channels on the cable TV when 2009’s ‘You Will Leave a Mark’ played and absolutely floored me. I picked up their debut album, loved the crap out of it, and promptly forgot about them. Enter POPDOSE’s Dan Wiencek who interviewed the band (pared down to a duo), about their upcoming self-titled third album. Third Album? I promptly raced out and bought their second album, Sand & Snow, which quickly became one of my most beloved discs of the year. Sand & Snow truly captured the Coldplay/Snow Patrol/Keane sound they were kinda going for with extra giddy delights like the Springsteen-esque opus, ”Danny, Dakota, and The Wishing Well”:
They may have lost some members, but they don’t miss a beat with the new album. While not as “big” sounding as Sand & Snow, it is packed full of uplifting songs.
#10: Blur — The Magic Whip
Damon Albarn has so many freaking projects going on at any given moment, most of them good, none of them great (save for Gorillaz), that I had lowered expectations for their first album in 12 years, The Magic Whip. Needless to say, this pup is whip smart and perhaps their best since Parklife.
#9: The Winter Tradition — Lumi
I discovered Edinburgh’s The Winter Tradition three years ago this very month. Their arena-sized indie rock scratched my Editors itch as that band swept into the darker, synthier waters we spoke of above. Their debut album, Gradients, was among that year’s best and the follow-up, Lumi delivers the perfect one-two punch. If you love massive hooks, gut punching lyrics and melodic ear worms, this is the disc for you.
#8: Duran Duran — Paper Gods (Popdose Edition)
Three editions of this album were released, the regular one which was a waste of everyone’s time, the Target Special Edition (2 bonus tracks) and a Deluxe Edition (3 different bonus tracks). The problem with the whole deal isn’t the songs — they’re all mighty fine — it’s the sequencing. There are actually two different albums going on here. Side A carries on the Night Version-esque tradition started by the Mark Ronson-produced comeback album, All You Need Is Now. These are the dark, new romantic, songs that recall the band’s heyday (Duran Duran, Rio, Seven and the Ragged Tiger and Arcadia’s So Red The Rose). Side B honors those desperate attempts at big huge mainstream pop songs that mired down nearly 20 years of the band’s output (everything after the ‘Skin Trade’ single right up through Red Carpet Massacre and most of Astronaut). Fortunately, this time around, most of these pop songs work — except for the truly dreadful ‘Dancephobia’ — a track so bad that Lindsay Lohan is the best thing on it and you kinda, sorta feel sorry for her. ‘The Universe Alone’ starts off fine, grows tired and inexplicably ends in a messy, over-modulated mix.
Here’s the remedy — BUY the Target CD for the stellar bonus tracks ‘Cinderella Ride’ and ‘On Evil Beach’. Then cough up an extra $3 to score digital versions of the three deluxe bonus tracks. THEN, import them into all iTunes and split them into these two albums:
SIDE A: Night Versions
Paper Gods “¢ You Kill Me With Silence “¢ What Are The Chances? “¢ Sunset Garage “¢ Only In Dreams “¢ On Evil Beach “¢ Cinderella Ride “¢ Planet Roaring “¢ The Universe Alone
SIDE B: Day Versions
Pressure Off “¢ Last Night in the City “¢ Face For Today “¢ Change in the Skyline “¢ Butterfly Girl “¢ Valentine Stones “¢ Northern Lights “¢ Dancephobia
#7: New Order — Music Complete
These days New Order doesn’t play much, if anything, from their 1989 masterpiece, Technique, — but they more than make up for it with Music Complete, their most rewarding album since then. Peter Hook is gone (and good riddance per his ridiculous lawsuit), but his signature bass and backing vocals are missed. Their absence keeps this 9.75 album from being a perfect 10. Keyboardist Gillian Gilbert is back and she brings with her all the freaky underground club urgency that was missed in their sporadic 1990 and beyond output. The result is an album with twists and turns around every corner. The guest list is A-level and their contributions move New Order into exciting new directions — from Iggy Pop’s poetic spoken word (‘Stray Dog’), to Brandon Flowers harmonies (‘Superheated), to the assured vocals from Elly Jackson of La Roux (‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘People on the High Line’). ‘Singularity’ is their new ‘Blue Monday’ — an dark and shadowy masterwork with guitars we haven’t heard since the Movement era. Most of the beloved sounds from throughout the band’s catalog are revisited and refreshed here. I can just imagine Hooky standing on the outside wiping a circle into his breath mist on the cold window, wondering why the hell he left this party in the first place.
#6: A Projection – Exit
We discovered Stockholm’s A Projection back in April and their album, Exit, has only gotten more feverishly played ever since. Easily the best dark wave, post punk flashback LP since Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights. Sure it’s a nostalgia exercise, but the songwriting is top notch, the musicianship is tight, and the whole experience is just so damn urgent and committed. Lots of those albums from that era were hit and miss — some great singles packed with filler. Exit is all hit, no miss. Essential listening for fans of The Chameleons, Joy Division, Echo & The Bunnymen, Tones on Tail, Comsat Angels, Boys Brigade — or any emotional kid who has a big heart and black wardrobe.
Click here for our original story with some tracks from Exit. For your viewing pleasure below, here’s their cover of the Chameleons’ ‘In Shreds’ that gets a blessing from Mark Burgess himself in the comments.
#5 (TIE): The Airborne Toxic Event — Dope Machines/God Whiskey
The Airborne Toxic Event ranks right up there with The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus in terms of clunky indie pop band names from the 2000’s. But the music, oh the music, is so freaking phenomenal. From their breakthrough single, ‘Sometime Around Midnight’, onward, the band rarely releases anything less than a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. That said — a lot of their best stuff doesn’t wind up on their proper albums. They have a knack for recording one-take ‘Bombastic’ video versions of their songs and scatter them like Easter eggs on the YouTubes for fans to find. As richly as their studio albums are produced, there’s something magical about the Bombastic versions that deserves an eventual box set. I bring this up because this year they released an entire second album as a limited edition digital only bonus to their new album, Dope Machines. This surprise album, Songs of God and Whiskey, was almost immediately out of print. Head to their website to this day and they say it’s not available. Search iTunes or Amazon and you can find it with a little work. I bought it for $10 and it was worth every penny. I don’t get the business model of making your best work in years so damn hard to find (this NEEDS to be released on CD), but I digress. Let’s talk about the music.
Songs from Songs of God and Whiskey, much like Foo Fighters’ Saint Cecilia EP, were written throughout the band’s career — and playing them loud confirms why this band is so damn wonderful in the first place. Every instrument crackles and shines, the band is on fire. ‘California’ appears in different incarnations on both albums:
The proper new album, Dope Machines, is a different affair. Their signature guitars and Anna Bulbrook’s viola are downplayed and synths are pushed to front and center. It’s a risky move considering that crescendo of strings IS the band’s sound. But the bold move pays off. Dope Machines is the band’s most uplifting and joyous album since their debut.
#4 (TIE): Jennie Vee — Die Alone/Spying
Every year I tend to discover at least one artist that makes it totally worthwhile to scour through 20,000 PR pitches, stacks of promo CDs and forests of press releases. This year’s needle in the haystack is Jennie Vee. While the Jennie is the queen of her block, she’s not just another pretty face backed by session musicians. This is a serious band, one that holds no punches. The Die Alone EP leans closer to the sound of Lush, Echo & The Bunnymen and The Smiths. The full-length follow-up, Spying, is more in the territory of 90’s bands like Sleeper, Belly, and Echobelly. Every song is utterly fierce, fully captivating and simultaneously retro while planted deep in the now.
BEST DEAL: Visit her bandcamp page to buy Spying on CD or digital download. For a limited time, you can grab her entire discography for one low price — highly recommended. Nary a dud in the bunch, straight down to a spot on cover of Echo & The Bunnymen’s ‘Lips Like Sugar’.
#3: Mynabirds — Lovers Know
Generals, the second album by Omaha’s Mynabirds was the first album I ever reviewed for POPDOSE. The title track had all the swagger of peak-level Black Keys and White Stripes. On the follow-up, Lovers Know, Laura Burhenn tones things WAY down and creates a lush and mesmerizing masterpiece. This album sits right up there with Neko Case’s Blacklisted, Hey Kid by Angela Perley & The Howlin’ Moons and Goldfrapp’s Seventh Tree as albums that are spellbinding and impossible to properly describe. Rock, Folk, Alt Country, Americana, Shoegaze, and Dream Pop all swirl through Burhenn’s kaleidoscope soundscape. Her luscious and assured vocals clock you straight in the heart. The album is so intimate, confessional and angelic, you feel like you’re in privileged company while listening to it. A pure marvel.
#2: !!! — As If
I’ll never forget the crowd cooling as the lights dimmed inside Los Angeles’ El Rey Theater and !!! (chk chk chk) took the stage — I think it was the Louden Up Now tour. I drew my beer cup closer to my lips as I made the shocking realization that NOBODY else had a beverage. A split second later the place lit up like a bomb hit, a dozen or so rhythmic artists rocked the dance floor and my beer rained down upon people 30 feet back. I never truly made out any one band member’s face. The rhythms were intense, the vocals were incoherent. The dancing soaked me to the toes. It was intense. Cut to a decade later, I check out the band between albums at the Columbia Theater in Seattle. Their stage show dramatically changed, loads of mugging and posing. The long, never ending songs of years past were replaced by much shorter and brighter pop songs. As much as I miss the !!! that was, the !!! that IS 2015 absolutely crushes it. As If is an infinitely better pop album than any chart topper put out this year or in the past decade. As If is a party album for sure — it crackles with big melodies, sexy and soulful hooks and fresh ways to move your booty. Utterly brilliant.
If that wasn’t enough, the video for “Ooo” is second only to Star Wars: The Force Awakens as the year’s top sci-fi epic:
#1: Blancmange — Semi-Detached
Blancmange — the Middlesex England new wave duo of Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe had a solid three album run in the early 80’s, generating a stack of hits like ‘Don’t Tell Me’, ‘Living on the Ceiling’ and ”Blind Vision’. And that was it. Arthur released a brilliant solo album, Suitcase, while Luscombe explored Middle Eastern dance music with West India Company. Lo and behold 26 years later when the duo reunited for 2011’s stellar Blanc Burn, I nearly fell off my chair. Sadly, Luscombe fell too ill to continue, so you wouldn’t blame Blancmange from ending their career on a high note. Enter Semi Detached, the second in a prolific string of Neil Arthur solo albums released under the Blancmange name: Happy Families Too came out last year, an instrumental album, Nil By Mouth came six months after Semi Detached’s March debut and Arthur just announced his next album, Commuter 23, drops March 11, 2016. Semi Detached, released as a single disc and 2CD Deluxe Edition by Cherry Red is the crown jewel of Blancmange 2.0 and my most played, most adored, most audacious and most daring album of 2015. It has everything that made the band great in the first place (off kilter synths, whip smart lyrics and constant rhythmic twists & turns). It also sounds fresh, modern and utterly now. The bonus disc includes yummy bonus tracks and extended mixes.