Tuesday, March 29, 2016

My Top Albums of 2015: #50-26 (with commentary)

#1-25 #51-100 Good albums that didn't make the cut
#50: Of Monsters and Men, Beneath the Skin
Proving that their debut wasn't a fluke, this Icelandic quintet produced another strong collection of dramatic, melodic folk-rock with some baroque touches.
#49: Ibeyi, Ibeyi
These Franco-Cuban twins ("ibeyi" means "twins" in Yoruba, the language their ancestors spoke when brought to Cuba by Spanish slavers) produce a unique sound with their deftly interwoven voices, use of traditional Cuban percussion, and Afro-Cuban influences.  

#48: Holly Miranda, Holly Miranda
Holly Miranda is a fantastic American singer-songwriter with an expressive voice. This collection of melodic, alt-rock pulls in a number of sounds but is often anchored by simple chiming guitar lines that work with her voice to create something moving. Listen to "Mark My Words" for an example.

#47: Pale Honey, Pale Honey
It's almost impossible to put a list of top albums together these days without an artist (or, more often, artists) from Scandinavia. Thus we come to Pale Honey, a Swedish duo consisting of Tuva Lodmark and Nella Daltrey whose debut features deceptively simple beats and guitar riffs supporting the typically great melodies Swedish artists seem to produce (it's like they've all absorbed ABBA through their bloodstreams).

#46: Martha Scanlan, The Shape of Things Gone Missing, The Shape of Things to Come
Listening to Martha Scanlan is like turning on a radio somewhere in Appalachia 50 years ago. You can practically hear the hiss in the scratching fiddles and the dirt in the voice.

#45: José González, Vestiges & Claws
The next Swede on the list, José González (also known for his work with Junip) has a highly original sound with his fingerpicked and percussive style on nylon-string guitar, plus the vaguely African chords and simple handclapped rhythms. This is his third such collection and my only criticism is that he will, eventually, need to expand beyond this sound to avoid repetition.

#44: Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear
Josh Tillman, better known previously as the drummer for Fleet Foxes, reinvented himself as Father John Misty and has produced one of the more original albums of the year, a tuneful, inventive and musically roving set of songs anchored in Americana, soul, and classic songwriting.

#43: Kurt Vile, b'lieve i'm goin down
Vile is one of the great lyricists at work today, and his folk-rock often features dobro and gains strength from the slightly cynical sneer in his voice. 

#42: Beirut, No No No
Super strong songwriting and always inventive, perfectly chosen instrumentation (the band must play about 40 different instruments)

#41: Shana Cleveland & the Sandcastles, Oh Man, Cover the Ground
The first solo album from the La Luz singer and guitarist is a trip, haunting, melodic and adventurous. "Itching Around" catches the vibe here with its slow-burn of a rhythm and dramatic dobro.

#40: Andy Shauf, The Bearer of Bad News
Saskatchewan-singer-songwriter Andy Shauf writes sharply observed and finely drawn songs in the vein of Elliot Smith and Ron Sexsmith, executed with simple arrangements that perfectly suit these tales of damaged small-town folks.

#39: James McMurtry, Complicated Game
Simply put one of the best singer-songwritiers in America. He's not got much of a voice but uses this limitation as a strength. I don't think there's anyone better at capturing the challenges, despair and hope of the average American these days.

#38: Barnstar, Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!
[Caveat emptor: I know the leader of this band!) Bluegrass covers and originals produced by a group of incredibly skilled and passionate musicians. It's rare that a cover is better than the original but just about every cover here performs that miracle ("Sequestered in Memphis" and "Stay With Me" stand out in particular). And you've got to see them live!

#37: Joel Plaskett, Park Avenue Sobriety Test
This is the quiet side of Nova Scotia singer-songwriter (and Canadian indy rock icon) Joel Plaskett. Often quiet folk-rock with the occasional upbeat number tossed in and strong songwriting throughout.

#36: Jill Scott, Woman
This is a coherent and thematically linked album of R&B and soul driven by Scott's fantastic voice and exquisite arrangements.

#35: San Fermin, Jackrabbit
While not quite as impressive and stunning as their debut, this is still a strong and musically ambitious collection that piles elements of pop, jazz, and orchestral music into a unique sound.

#34: Anna von Hausswolff, The Miraculous
Imagine some sort of slow, crunchy death metal in which the guitar is replaced by church organ (and the shrieking lead singer replaced by an opera singer) and you'll have some sense of Anna von Hausswolff's highly original sound. "Pomperirossa" is soaring and majestic.

#33: Destroyer, Poison Season
Dan Bejar's voice is whimsical, quirky and somewhat an acquired taste, but it is a key ingredient in giving unique flavor and tone to this group of classic Brill Building songs.

#32: Young Fathers, White Men Are Black Men, Too
A multi-racial trio from Edinburgh, Young Fathers combine pop and hip-hop into a sound that's like a less rocky and more experimental TV on the Radio.

#31: Titus Andronicus, The Most Lamentable Tragedy
A punk opera (I'd write "concept album" but I suspect that phrase turns the stomach of most hard-core acts) 29 songs long and ranging all over the map, from country-rock, hard rock, and punk, to Springsteen-like anthems.

#30: Bjork, Vulnicura
It's Bjork. What more do you need to know? The album cover says it all: sparkles, twists, and otherworldliness.

#29: Beauty Pill, Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are
Experimental electronic pop underlined by strong melodies and some world music sensibilities. "Afrikaner Barista" is a stand out, as is "The Prize." 

#28: St. Germain, St. Germain
A wonderful blend of Malian sounds and house music 

#27: Patrick Watson, Love Songs For Robots
The Montreal-based, Polaris Prize winner has created another winning collection of quirky alt-pop with his delicate and expressive falsetto wrapping itself around moody lyrics about the difficulty of connecting in this world. It's backed by an expansive musical palette, ranging from Andrew Bird-like sounds to the '60s vibe of "Grace."

#26: Low, Ones and Sixes
Low is a husband-and-wife-led band with an (appropriately) low, quiet yet highly emotive and dramatic sound.

4 comments:

  1. I was wondering if you were doing this post for 2015! Glad to see it as always.

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    1. Thanks, Mardi! I'm actually ahead of last year! I always end up finding all these albums I missed during the year and then spending the first couple of months of the next year trying to catch up!

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