My Top 12 Albums of 2015

By Rob Watts. Follow @RobWattsOnline

I’ve bought and listened to tons of new albums that have come out in 2015, and I can honestly say that the following twelve are indeed my favorite. While I know that every album listed here won’t appeal to everyone reading this, I am confident that you’ll either agree with me on a handful or will discover something new that you’ll wind up enjoying for yourself. So, in no particular order, here are my top 12 albums of 2015

1- Moon Duo: Shadow of the Sun

It’s not often where I stumble upon a new album that hooks me in immediately and holds my undivided attention from point A to point B throughout the entire listen. In fact, I immediately replayed the album again, as it was one of the greatest listening pleasures I’ve had in quite a while. From the opening track “Wilding” to the final piece of the happy frenzy “Animal”, Shadow of the Sun, the band’s third album, feels a bit like a circus act on acid or a carnival fun house ride surrounded by neon pinwheels and dancing mannequins. Each track follows through with repetitive riffs and thumps, drizzled with hypnotic guitar tones and synths by singer-guitarist Ripley Johnson and singer-keyboardist Sanae Yamada. They truly created an eerie atmosphere of hazy, hypnotic sound on this album. 

2- Viet Cong: Self-Titled

Viet Cong is a Canadian Post-Punk band based in Calgary, Alberta. The group is comprised of two former members of the band Women, vocalist/bassist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace. Rounding out the quartet are guitarists Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen. Their self-titled album is a delightful mess of moody and murky songs with blown out vocals and blunt instrumentation…galore! Apparently drawing from the same lineage as post-punk luminaries such as Bauhous and Joy Division, Viet Cong conjure up despair and melancholy, only with blatant dashes of upbeat atmosphere. Whether it’s the restless vibe of “Newspaper Spoons” or “Pointless Experience” or the tranquil sea of misery and pathos on ” Silhouettes” and “Continental Shelf”, it’s a journey urged to be taken by the listener. The album wraps up with the eleven-minute “Death”, and from the opening plucky riffs, it appears to be familiar territory, however, the track dives left and right into its murky, abstract universe, creating a truly epic coda to this self-titled gem.


3- Title Fight: Hyperview

Finally, a punk band that isn’t afraid to sound unpunk; perhaps defying the expectations is punk in and of itself. On Title Fight’s latest offering—the ten-track length Hyperview, the quartet knocks every song in the pocket with their shimmery reverb and waves of distortion. Thursday’s “No Devolution” comes to mind when I listen to Hyperview, as it’s a big step towards musical maturity. “Murder Your Memory”, an unconventional opener, with thick drums and slow bouncy bass lines sets the mood, but “Chlorine” hits you hard with it’s scraping guitar riffs and icy backdrop. “Hypernight” drives along nicely with its bass romps and “Your Pain is Mine Now” is full on shoegaze-dream pop. This album folds up wonderfully into a relevant modern sounding piece of art. One of the best new albums released this year, so far!

4- Swervedriver: I Wasn’t Born to Lose You

British Alternative band, Swervedriver, produced a well-crafted collection of charming songs that pick up right where we last heard the band, almost 17 years ago. I Wasn’t Born To Lose You, the first studio album of new material since 1998s 99th Dream, sounds slightly derivative (in a positive way) of their contemporaries Sonic Youth, Catherine Wheel and My Bloody Valentine. However, their updated sound and production is pleasing to the ear and feels as though the band had been recording regularly since 1998. The whirling and dreamy guitar playing is simplistic, yet enticing. It’s a mellow vibe throughout the album, shimmering with Shoegaze with enough backbone behind it to not fall into the overly-cliched genre. If you enjoy catchy hooks, melodies, shimmery guitar tones—song after song, then you’re sure to adore this new album.

5- Best Coast: California Nights

There aren’t many bands around today who you can rely on to consistently release quality albums; especially music that get better with each new release. “California Nights” could very well be one of the best new releases this summer. Continuing with the same formula of upbeat hook-laden songs from their previous ep “Fade Away“, the Los Angeles surf pop band once again employed producer Wally Gagel, known for his work at Fort Apache Studios with acts such as Belly, Sebodah and Juliana Hatfield. The album has some amazing hooks, especially on songs such as FEELING OK, HEAVEN SENT and JEALOUSY. The hypnotic dream pop title track features Bethany Cosentino‘s vocals at their most epic state. Between her and bandmate Bobb Bruno, this could possibly be their most ambitious and greatest piece of work…yet!

6- Faith No More: Sol Invictus 

It’s as if the last eighteen years hadn’t happened. Reuniting in the studio for the first time since their 1997 release, Album of the Year, the San Fransisco based experimental rockers have responsibly recorded an album that die hard fans can declare worthy of the near two-decade-long sabbatical. Sol Invictus picks right up where Album of the Year left off. Having listened to their 1997 effort a bunch of times leading up to the new release, I can say with absolute certainty that Sol Invictus sounds exactly like what I’d have expected from the band in 1999, let alone 2015. In short; they truly meant it when they said they were recording a Faith No More album that sounds like Faith No More.  Mike Patton‘s vocals are amazing as always and his classic delivery has lost nothing over the years. All of his side projects have kept him in top shape and Sol Invictus benefits greatly from that fact. Roddy Bottum’s keyboards gives the album the right amount of ambience and ethereal quality. Billy Gould and Mike Bordin‘s familiar backbone will jump right out at you and Jon Hudson‘s guitar performance is probably one of his best offerings on this album.  It’s difficult to pin point all the great elements of each song, as I’ve always approached Faith No More’s music as a full-album experience. At least since 1992s Angel Dust. Superhero and Motherfucker, the two lead singles, are hard-driving rock delights, but Cone of Shame and From The Dead really shine a light on Patton’s operatic vocal abilities. Matador is a highlight, especially for fans of Bottum’s synth playing. Black Friday features Patton’s sung-in-spoken word vocals that we’ve all come to know and love. As an album in its entirety, it comes close to Faith No More’s finest work to date. I hope we don’t have to wait another eighteen years for a new album, but if it’s as good as this one, I’ll wait patiently. 


7- Silversun Pickups: Better Nature 

One of the coolest things about a new album by Silversun Pickups is that it reminds you of an old friend who comes to dinner—once again, with even more interesting stories to tell since last time. The Los Angeles-based quartet’s ever-expanding sound comes accross impeccably on their fourth full-length album, Better Nature which came out on September 25th via their own New Machine Recordings. Produced once again by Jacknife Lee (who helmed their previous effort Neck of the Woods), their sprawling cinematic sound pours outward from every track, as evident from the opener Crawling (Better Nature.) Lead vocalist and guitarist Brian Aubert‘s shimmering guitar tone and unique vocal range open things up with a familiar feel but as it progresses, the album takes you to new places unlike any of the band’s previous releases. Connection and Pins and Needles pull out all the stops, with tight guitar riffs, in your face drum and bass rhythms, and of course Joe Lester‘s haunting ethereal backdrops.  Friendly Fires is a slow-paced declaration, followed by lead-off single Nightlights, which is probably the closest track that bares resemblance to anything found on 2012s Neck of the Woods. Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance), the latest single employs bassist Nikki Monninger‘s vocals as she trades verses with Aubert in a prominent manner. The track, as well as much of the album, feels like a hint of an 80s throwback—but just a hint. Tapedeck, probably the quirkiest of the collection, showcases drummer Christophen Gaunlao‘s upbeat tempos quite nicely as the song throws the listener all over the place as the track turns off every which way. Latchkey Kids falls back on familiar SSPU territory with straight-ahead musicianship, while Ragamuffin walks you down dark pathways once again with its ominous opening chords. The Wild Ones plays the listener out wonderfully with each musician utilized perfectly, which is really what we’ve come to expect from this band.  With stellar production, new recording techniques, gang vocals, the implementing of Monninger’s vocals to a greater extent and an overall recharge from the band as they move forward—taking reign of their own career, this is an album worth supporting.  


8- New Order: Music Complete

 New Order is back, and their 10th studio album is reason to celebrate all that’s great about this band. Music Complete covers wide ground, walking you through the highlights of their 35 year career. While 2013s Sirens, more or less an album of outtakes from 2005s Waiting for the Sirens’ Call, and the aforementioned were worthy attempts at continuing the New Order legacy, Music Complete competes with the likes of everything amazing from 2001s Get Ready, 1989s Technique and 1983s Power, Corruption & Lies. For fans who are concerned about the absence of bassist Peter Hook, you needn’t worry, as Tom Chapman handles the 4s in such a Hook-like manner, you’ll hardly notice the difference. The album features the return of Gillian Gilbert, who’d been absent since 2001s Get Ready. Her return to the keyboards was much needed and fans will agree that the band lacked that certain atmospheric oomph since her departure. Bernard Sumner‘s voice is in usual fine form, and the album features a slew of guest vocalists, such as Iggy Pop on Stray Dog, La Roux’s Elly Jackson sings on three tracks, most prominently on Tutti Frutti. The Killers’ Brandon Flowers lends his background vocals to Superheated. From the swirling guitars, to the ominous backdrop of synths to the dance floor beats—this is a strong return for New Order. Finally, as it’s been sort of hit or miss since 1993s Republic. It’s nice to have a worthy front to back, full-length enjoyable listen from this English rock band. 


9- Leon Bridges: Coming Home

Fans of classic R&B will rally around this album. If you’re into the sounds of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and David Ruffin, then Coming Home by Leon Bridges will grab you instantly. The retro sounds of Motown are apparent and the throwback production is plentiful. Between the steady use of reverb, female backing singers, simplistic recording techniques and the strength of songwriting, this is one of the strongest albums to be released this year. Every song tells a story that’s worthy of a listen.

10- The Mars Patrol: Human Condition

Although the official release won’t be until late 2015/early 2016, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the physical release earlier this year via the U.K. band’s Pledge Music campaign. Combining tracks from their 2012 e.p. release Young Lovers, Human Condition boasts a beautifully cohesive collection of pop/rock perfection. From the clean guitar jangles of “Girl I Used To Know” to the darker thumping of “Not About You”, it’s a front to back enjoyable musical journey. Their ever-expanding sound is something that never grows tiresome. 

11- Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

With her witty lyrical delivery, deadpan style vocals and psychedelic folk-rock sound, this Austrailian’s debut full-length album is a total winner. Barnett’s lyrical journey engulfs the listener with rambling storytelling of her daily thoughts and observations. This, in most cases, would come off as annoying and pretentious, however, her straightforward manner comes off as honest and sometimes clumsy. Taking all of these elements into account, it’s a terrific album to erase your mind of any daily troubles it might be storing up. One only needs to listen to “Depreston”, “Debbie Downer” and “Dead Fox” to get hooked immediately into Barnett’s babbling world. 


12- Nada Surf: Live at the Neptune Theatre

I’m usually not a fan of live album releases these days, simply because they fail to capture the true essence of a band’s live performance. Such is not the case with Nada Surf’s Live at the Neptune Theatre. Recorded in 2012 during their Seattle stop in support of their “The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy” release, the album captures with pristine clarity, every nuance of the alt-rockers live repertoire. Adding to the live experience is the on-stage banter, which rightly so is edited out of most live albums, leaving minimal dialogue. This is one case where this can be overlooked and forgiven.  In fact, hardly much was left on the editing room floor, as this digital release boasts 21 tracks—and thankfully their hit song “Popular” is nowhere to be found. They have a respectable amount of strong material where they don’t need to rely on that song as a crutch. A triple disk vinyl release is expected out in January of 2016. 

Honorable mention- Hollywood Vampires: Self-Titled, Duran Duran: Paper Gods, Metric: Pagans in Vegas


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