Top Albums of 2015 | Doug Tull

2015MusicI can think of no other band that disappears for almost two decades and then reemerges with the best album of the year.

 


1. Failure | The Heart Is a Monster (INgrooves Music Group)

I can think of no other band that disappears for almost two decades and then reemerges with the best album of the year. Failure is the band, and The Heart Is a Monster is its crowning sonic achievement.

Filled with lush, atmospheric, ethereal arrangements and themes of metaphysical alienation and space, THIAM has the grandiosity and gravitas of Pink Floyd or Rush’s seminal 1970’s releases.

Standout tracks include the sweeping ballad “Mulholland Drive,” the weightless “Counterfeit Skies,” and the haunting and melancholic beauty of “Snow Angel.” If you miss complete albums with depth, magic, and multilayered arrangements, this belongs in your collection.

2. Alabama Shakes | Sound & Color (ATO)

Sound & Color represents the essence of American music: blues, R&B, gospel, roots rock, and Southern-fried goodness. The album shows Alabama Shakes is not content to merely repeat the blueprint of its 2012 debut, Boys & Girls.

As expected, vocalist and guitarist Brittany Howard’s soulful voice, tales of hurt and rejection, and tasteful guitar playing are center stage. The production on Sound & Color is more lush and complex than the band’s debut. Tracks like “Gemini” feature deep funk grooves and grit, while “Donna Want to Fight” is a blistering; push-pull number with tension, passion, and release.

Alabama Shakes represent America’s deep, rich musical history, while carving their modern take. This is a band that will hopefully be shaping music’s future for many years to come.

3. Tame Impala | Currents (Interscope)

Tame Impala is the result of the madcap genius of Australian writer, musician, and front man Kevin Parker. Parker’s world is a strange, quirky soundscape of psychedelic, controlled freakouts.

Currents, Tame Impala’s third release, has a poppier, funky, fresh feel than its two more lysergic predecessors. There’s more a focus on songwriting, arrangements, and production; the most psychedelic thing about Currents is probably the cover art.

The first track, “Let It Happen,” has an ’80s dance sheen, a lá New Order or Erasure. That same groove continues the slightly melancholic, but danceable number, “The Less I Know the Better,” and the shimmering synth touches of “’Cause I’m a Man.” Parker’s vulnerable, falsetto vocals and the shiny production result in a very listenable, chill-out album that’s the perfect mood music for any occasion.

4. Cage the Elephant | Tell Me I’m Pretty (RCA)

Kentucky’s Cage the Elephant continues to carve its own unique niche and deliver some of the freshest sounds in alternative music. The 10 tracks from the quartet showcase a new maturity and depth, but without sacrificing the hunger, quirkiness, and joy that have been the hallmarks of their sound. Produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, there’s a bit more grit and spit on this effort.

Many tracks seem to have dug into the ’60s deep catalogs of West Coast ghosts including the Beach Boys and the Doors. There are also nods to that decade’s British hit-makers and the Mersey Beat.

“Mess Around” has that great, danceable spirit, with analog fuzz and a Lennon guitar clang that sounds like it would have been great in a film like Blow Up. Other standout tracks include the Donovan folky-rock pastiche of “Trouble” and the psychedelic spiked track “Punchin’ Bag.”

Auerbach and Cage the Elephant are like many great artists: borrowing and stealing from the masters, but making it sound like their own. Cage the Elephant remains one of America’s most compelling bands.

5. Drenge | Undertow (Infectious Music)

Infectious Music is one of the best releases of 2015 that should have been on more critics’ best-of-list and alternative music fans’ collections.

Brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless create a heavy, echo-laden, raucous mind-meld with nods to British shoegazing and Birmingham guitar fuzz. This sophomore release continues to deliver heavy atmospheric rock, but with a bit more spit and polish.

Standout cuts include the riff-heavy, thunderous “Running Wild,” the punk-y bluster of “Favourite Son,” and the grungy, trodding noise of “The Snake.” If you’re a fan of lo-fi, high-energy, raw music, Sheffield, England’s Drenge belong in your collection. | Doug Tull

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