My Favorite Albums of 2015

2015I love year-end music lists. I love to see what other people loved to see what I missed and what I agreed upon with other music lovers. Year-end lists serve as a snapshot of what music was most meaningful to me for that year.

I am under no illusion that my tastes are anything more to anyone else than simply my tastes. As such, I try to refrain from ranking albums as “the best” of the year because you may not like what I like and I like that. In fact,  I am not ranking this year’s albums at all. To be completely honest, I didn’t really have “one favorite” album this year or even a couple that just had to be ranked. Instead, I am simply listing my 42 favorite albums of 2015 in alphabetical order. In case you’re wondering, I mainly ended up with 42 albums because that’s right about where I had trouble cutting any more albums out and it is divisible by 3.

I have included comments that are probably not really helpful for you in you determining whether or not you would like each album for yourself. Instead, you’ll have to go and do some listening for yourself. I hope you enjoy and I look forward to your feedback.

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Sound & Color  by Alabama Shakes – The band obviously wanted nothing to do with the sophomore slump or claims that they were a novelty act. In fact, the band stretched its sound without losing any of the appeal that brought them all the attention in the first place. (buy)

River by Daniel Bachman – It can be tough bearing the mantle of “American Primitive”. Comparisons to John Fahey will dog you your entire career whether they fit or not. Building on an acknowledged tradition while finding your own voice can be difficult but it is exactly what Bachman has done here, proving that life can still be found in the primitive. (buy)

Coming Home by Leon Bridges – Respecting the past without being stuck in it is not only difficult for solo guitarists but soul singers as well. Leon Bridges has found the right balance of embracing what people love about classic soul/R&B records without sounding like a cover band. In fact, it is never in question that the music laid down here is as heartfelt as the originals it draws from. (buy)

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Pale White Dove by Doug Burr – After a disappointing reception to Burr’s last album, O Ye Devastor, Burr took his time putting out his next album. He worked for five years to not only push his sound but please himself with a new set of songs. Pale White Dove often pushes Burr’s music into somewhat heavier and darker territory but never loses sight of the hope of redemption. (buy)

Untethered Moon by Built To Spill – Sometimes you don’t have to teach an old dog new tricks because its old tricks work just fine. Former Treeperson Doug Martsch and company turn in their eighth full-length album (their first in six years) of indie power pop punk if that’s what you want to call it. (buy)

Edge of the Sun by Calexico – The Tucson band continues to tinker with their evolving sound. Though the band incorporates lots of musical elements, they are all sunbaked until they feel right at home in the desert. (buy).

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Every Open Eye by Chvrches – Hook heavy electronic reminiscent of early New Order. These are a few of my favorite things. I didn’t expect to like this album as much as I do and who doesn’t love a pleasant surprise, right? (buy)

Nashville Obsolete by Dave Rawlings Machine – At only 7 songs, Rawlings leaves you feeling the road weary wisdom of a rough journey without feeling defeating. Channeling Dylan and Young, Rawlings creates a warm tone with welcome harmonies. (buy)

Fading Frontier by Deerhunter – Bradford Cox drew an “influence map” to help people understand a bit of where this album came from. Among other influences, the map includes R.E.M., Tom Petty, INXS, Faulkner (apparently Cox’s dog, not the author), “Japanese ceramics broken and repaired with gold”, tea and oils, what else could you ask for? Oh yeah, an album of songs “where if you hear them in a restaurant or car or house party, no one will ever ask you to turn them off.” (buy)

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Butterfly Effect by DJ Krush – The Japanese turntablist returns with another solid set of above average instrumental hip hop. (buy)

Theory of Mind by Electric Moon // Love Monster by Zone Six – I know, I know. It’s sort of cheating to include two entirely different albums as one selection on a year-end list but since these two bands share members and interest in zoned out, extended space rock jams, why not get two for the price of one. (buy and buy)

Heartbreak Pass by Giant Sand – Sunbaked Americana from one of its inventors. I don’t live in Tucson but I love the desert and Giant Sand will always be part of its soundtrack for me. Ramshackle, meandering and feeling like it might tip over at any moment, Howe Gelb not only holds it all together but leaves you wanting more. (buy)

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Chambers by Chilly Gonzales – Though  often known for his outlandish stage persona, Chilly Gonzales turns in another beautiful album of piano music. Still channeling Satie, Gonzales, as you might expect, adds strings to this outing for a straightforward but moving effect. (buy)

Servant of Love by Patty Griffin – Patty Griffin albums demand your attention but they repay it in spades, revealing subtle hooks and deft lyricism. As the title suggests, Griffin’s latest is filled with ruminations on love and what it means. (buy)

Dream All Over by Gun Outfit – Rambling rock with southwestern influences, hints of noise and lots of nods to Sonic Youth. (buy)

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Seasonal Hire by Steve Gunn and Black Twig Pickers – Combining his spacey Americana with Appalachian bluegrass and healthy doses of drone, Gunn and company have created a world all their own. (buy)

 

Little Neon Limelight by Houndmouth – Like a bigger version of everyone’s favorite local bar singalong band, Houndmouth has big choruses with straightforward rock riffs to remind us all that rock can be fun. (buy)

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Something More Than Free by Jason Isbell – Isbell’s fifth album after leaving the Drive By Truckers mines familiar territory. That is to say, Isbell still excels at storytelling music that finds the moments to be treasured even if they have to be found in the midst of struggle. (buy)

In Colour by Jamie xx – While Jamie xx’s other project can sometimes seem dour, Jamie seems compelled to let in the “colour” here. Still playing with sly synth grooves, he lets in light and bounce you might not have otherwise known he had. (buy)

Drug For The Modern Age by Kopecky – Apparently no longer a family band, Kopecky, like Houndmouth mines the valley of big choruses and straightforward melodies to great effect. Falling somewhere between Arcade Fire and Fleetwood Mac, the band continues to discover themselves while stretching their sound. (buy)

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All A Man Should Do by Lucero – Still toying with Memphis influenced horns, the latest outing from Lucero finds the band in a more subdued, keyboard driven mood. But, as Allmusic points out: “Saying All a Man Should Do is a more mature effort from Lucero sells short the street smarts and emotional wisdom of their previous work, but this album does find the fine band reaching for something different, and they hit their target with skill, assurance, and clarity.” (buy)

Lands & Peoples by Bill Mallonee and the Big Sky Ramblers – There are not many artists I wish would put out fewer albums. Bill Mallonee is one of them. He seems to average two to three (if not more) releases a year and I know it simply overwhelms a lot of people who end up missing the gems because they can’t keep up and don’t know where to dive in. Lands & People is indeed a gem, proving why Mallonee was named one of Paste magazines best living songwriters. (buy)

Shadow of the Sun by Moon Duo – Repeat-O-Rock? Space jams (not the movie)? Trance, drone rock? No longer a duo, Moon Duo does what they do best, rocking you into repetition bliss. (buy)

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Arena Negra by the Myrrors – The third Tucson band on my list! If Bardo Pond were sunbaked in the Tucson desert, the resulting psychedelic, sprawling rock would probably fall somewhere near Arena Negra. (buy)

Vertigo by the Necks – The Necks have developed a solid strategy without trapping themselves. Their albums are usually one hour-long track featuring slowly unfolding minimalist jazz. Their concerts are completely improvised and they carry this ethos in to the studio with them. This time around, they offer 1 44 minute track adding electric guitar to their proven formula a piano, bass, drums. (buy)

Sun Coming Down by Ought – Nearly every review of this album that I’ve read references some sort of yester-punk. OK. That’s fine. Frenetic, charged and yet accessible. (buy)

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Simple Songs by Jim O’Rourke – Few people have had the Midas Touch streaks that O’Rourke has. Somehow, he has been involved in some of the best music made by Smog, Sam Prekop, John Fahey, Wilco, Stereolab, Sonic Youth (of which he was a member), Beth Orton, Superchunk, and many others. If that’s not enough to interest you in his solo albums, perhaps brilliant production and musicianship paying homage to Van Dyke Parks among others and witty lyrics like: “Nice to see you once again,” and it seems like he’s addressing it to listeners who haven’t heard from him in a while, but then he follows that with “Been a long time my friends/ Since you crossed my mind at all” will pique your interest? If not, I’m not sure why we’re friends. (buy)

Natalie Prass by Natalie Prass – This record is of great interest, not only because Prass is a terrific writer and evocative vocalist but because Spacebomb records is, one release at a time, proving that they are more than a novelty act. They are creating a musical world that feels homey in the best way, not content to merely stand on tradition but bring it by the hand, not only into the present but into the future. If Van Morrison were in Memphis, he might very well be hanging out with the Spacebomb crew. (buy)

For Use And Delight by Promised Land Sound – Mix some Big Pink and some Workingmans Dead, and then combine with “harmony-laden jangle pop.” Shake. Sip. Repeat. (buy)

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Fables by David Ramirez – Ramirez continues to consistently be one of the best singer-songwriters on the scene today. Fables is another step forward, building on Ramirez’s strengths but also pushing forward. (buy)

Shadow Shows by Seryn – There was a four year wait between This Is Where We Are and Shadow Shows. Those years brought lots of changes to the group. Marriages, line-up changes, a complete band relocation. But the wait was worth it as the band moves in a more electric, even spacey direction, while retaining everything that made them one of your favorite acts to begin with. (buy)

Late Night Endless by Sherwood & Pinch – Spacey dub smashup from two of the genres top producers. (buy)

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Early Risers by Soldiers of Fortune – A band that is committed to not rehearsing shouldn’t be this good. But then again, when you’ve got Matt Sweeney and Jesper Eklow (Endless Boogie) involved, you might just end up with something special. Under The Radar says: “the songs are solid, brawny, and looking to fight.” Yup. (buy)

Traveller by Chris Stapleton – By far the most “mainstream” release I included this year. By far the closest to “popular country” that I’ve gotten in, well, ever. It’s that solid. (buy)

Parallelogram by Various Artists – Again, it might be considered cheating to included multiple releases as one listing. But this year, Three Lobed Records got a bunch of their favorite artists to release split LPs. The idea was to showcase the beautiful similarities and perplexing differences between some of the label’s favorite artists. So, when you’ve got Hiss Golden Messenger, Yo La Tengo, Bardo Pond and others, you don’t. Nay, you can’t just choose one. (buy)

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Sisters and Brothers by the Vespers – Bluerock? Rockgrass? Big choruses pave the way for a more muscular outing from this duo of sibling duos. (buy)

b’lieve i’m going down by Kurt Vile – Vile described this album as “darker” than previous albums. It’s got, he said, a “night vibe.” Vile adds instruments this time out, banjo, piano, reverb. But it’s a shuffling, slow-to-reveal-itself Kurt Vile album that simply gets better as it becomes part of life rather than something to be dissected. Just enjoy it, dangit. (buy)

Primrose Green by Ryley Walker – The spirit of Van Morrison is strong with this one, it is. (buy)

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The Epic by Kamasi Washington – At nearly three hours, this album truly is “epic.” Washington, a Kendrick Lamar conspirator, reminds us just how vital jazz can be. If I had allowed myself 43 entries instead of 42, I would have included Children of Light, the Perez/Patitucci/Blade album. See how I just worked in another album? Anyways, Washington seems uniquely positioned to remind us that jazz continues to be important. (buy)

Fresh Blood by Matthew E. White – The second Spacebomb release here, White’s Fresh Blood testifies that something special seems to be in the soulful, stylish but not over-bearing Spacebomb waters. (buy)

Star Wars by Wilco – Maybe not Wilco’s best album ever. But, the surprise, free release finds the band seeming to play music because they love to, not to meet certain expectations. The release reminds us why Wilco continues to be one of the most important American bands currently playing. (buy)

 

The Great American Mixtape Exchange: 2015 Favorites (Roundup Edition)

2993_tape1 copyEvery once in a while I like to see who’s up for exchanging a little music. I mean, after all, who doesn’t like hearing new music? And music mixes can often tell a lot about the person who made them.

I also love year-end music lists. It’s the most wonderful time of year. I like seeing not only what music different authors loved but I love seeing which albums receive more attention than others. So this year, I’ve asked you, my fine friends, to share mixes of your favorite music of 2015. Five of my friends took me up on the offer. Here’s the delio on each mix (including my own) for this year. Enjoy.

  • See Paz Galusha-Luna’s 2015 mix.
  • See Danny Lopez’ 2015 mix.
  • See Chris Martin’s mix.
  • See my mix.
  • See Mark Whiten’s mix.
  • See Jonathan Wolfinger’s 2015 mix.

The Great American Mixtape Exchange: 2015 Favorites (Mark Whiten Edition)

Eldons 2015 mix coverAnd now, the one we’ve all been waiting for . . . well, I’ve been waiting for . . . the one, the only, sometimes he goes by Eldon, sometimes not . . . Mark the “White N” Whiten!!

A man of Mark’s stature is far too busy to elaborate much on a mix. But here’s what I could get out of him:

“My collection of songs for a 2015 mix comes mainly from my attraction to the structure of a song…. And in some cases not the lyrics. Although the style or genre of music goes from noise rock to no wave to chamber folk to Brit rock the theme may be fluid structure. So, much like the historical Tacoma Narrows Bridge or an aneurysm, this mix in its sum and its parts has movable or deformable structure with an internal or surrounding fluid flow. Most of these songs are included in albums that themselves are picks for favorites of the year.”

Here’s the tracklist:

  • What Went Down by Foals
  • I Saw A Ghost by The Slow Readers Club
  • Eyes Peeled by METZ
  • A Heroine by Holy Holy
  • Snow by The Lonely Wild
  • Lawman by Girl Band
  • Suicide Girl by Clark and the Himselfs
  • Exeunt by The Oh Hellos
  • Alligator Years by Twinsmith
  • Acne/Ears by Roadside Graves
  • Miss You by Alabama Shakes
  • Breaker by Dalton
  • Baby What’s Wrong by Whitehorse
  • Sedona by Houndmouth
  • Odell by Lowland Hum
  • The Wind That Shakes The Barley by Black Rivers

Download Mark’s mix at Zippyshare.

The Great American Mixtape Exchange: 2015 Favorites (Chris Martin Edition)

2993_tape1 copyAnd now, it our friend Chris Martin’s turn!

Here’s what he has to say about his mix:

“Here are some of my favorite songs from 2015. There’s no real theme here, aside from the fact that I’ve danced to most of these songs with my one year old son over the past year.

I tried to at least put the songs in an order that isn’t too jarring. The exception is the two songs at the end: The Valley Maker track is by a friend of mine and it was just too good to leave off even though it’s totally different than everything else on the list. The other exception is the Vince Staples song. It has some serious profanity in it, so I put it at the end so people can skip it if they want.

Finally, there’s some great music videos on this list. I especially love the Thundercat and Courtney Barnett videos.

Enjoy!”

Chris chose to make a Youtube playlist of his picks. Here is the traklisting:

  • Kamikaze by MØ
  • Gold by Kiiara
  • Fela by nvdes
  • Standard by Empress Of
  • Blue & Green by Loyal
  • Them Changes by Thundercat
  • Hotline Bling by Donna Missal
  • Home by Islandis
  • Heroes by Callers
  • Desire by Dilly Dally
  • Dead Fox by Courtney Barnett
  • Book of Right On by Foxtails Brigade
  • Pretty Little Life Form by Valley Maker
  • Norf Norf by Vince Staples
Stream the mix right here:

Or find it on Youtube here.

My Favorite Stuff of 2014

2014 ReviewIt’s no secret that I love year-end lists. I mean, come on. For someone perpetually interested in popular culture, it’s the most wonderful time of year. You get to see what other people liked and didn’t like. You get to be introduced to new things you would have otherwise missed. And you get your own disproportionate sense of self-worth inflated when the “real” publications agree with your great taste. What could be better?!

So, every year I not only read many year-end lists, I like to compile my own. It’s more for me than anyone else but I have found that some people find them interesting, so I post them for all the honest world to feel.

In keeping with last year, my list originally appeared at Habañero Collective. But I do want to take some of your megabyte space and add some elaboration  on some of my picks. I want to share some thoughts about a few of them. So, we’ll start with listing lists of lists:

My Favorite Music of 2014 (In Approximate Order)

  1. Modern Kin by Modern Kin

  2. Everything’s Different, Nothing’s Changed by Armon Jay

  3. Live In Ravenna by Moon Duo

  4. Sunday ’91 by Annie Eve

  5. Lost Colony by William Tyler

  6. Singles by Future Islands

  7. Dark Was The Yearling by the Bones of J.R. Jones

  8. Dark Night Of The Soul by Jimbo Mathus the Tri-State Coalition

  9. Our Lobe by Caribou

  10. Single Mothers by Justin Townes Earle

  11. You’re Dead! by Flying Lotus

  12. Heal by Strand of Oaks

  13. Lese Majesty by Shabazz Palaces

  14. Invisible Hour by Joe Henry

  15. Small Town Heroes by Hurray For the Riff Raff

  16. They Want My Soul by Spoon

  17. Forget Where We Were by Ben Howard

  18. Intensity Ghost by Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band

  19. Blind Water Finds Blind Water by Adam Faucett

  20. Way Out Weather by Steve Gunn

  21. Skinned Alive At The Last Exit by Shawn Skinner

  22. Benji by Sun Kil Moon

  23. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by Sturgill Simpson

  24. Lateness of Dancers by Hiss Golden Messenger

  25. Lost In The Dream by the War on Drugs

My Favorite Song Of 2014 Was Not Released In 2014, Sorry
OK, OK, OK, I will go ahead and point it out but my favorite song of this year wasn’t actually released in 2014. This song first appeared on a live release from October 2013. There are unreleased demos of the upcoming Shawn Skinner and the Men of Reason album but those cannot be shared yet (but trust me, they are excellent).

But this song has meant more to me this year than any song actually released in 2014. This year has been one of some major transitions  (read here and here) and the themes in this song have meant quite a bit to me. Lines like: “letting go and holding on, not so young and not so strong. With no need to get ahead, just thankful for our daily bread. And even when the sunset seems so far away, you’ve got to hold out hope for a better day.”

There is something about this seeming contradiction about letting go of what you can’t control while holding on in faith that has really been my theme for 2014. The fact that this song was written by one of my favorite people on the planet who is not my wife makes it all the more powerful. There is hope, even when the daybreak seems so far away.

Stream “Letting Go and Holding On” by Shawn Skinner.



  • Read some thoughts on my list here.
  • Stream a mix of my favorite songs of the year right here: