Getting my end-of-year favorite albums pinned down has been strangely difficult. Even my MacBook was resisting writing this post, though granted it's about to have its 7th birthday (what is that in computer years?). Maybe I'm still lagging from the holidays, or maybe it's really that I had a hard time deciding what albums get the top honors (only to be switched around, probably, when I re-assess in a year). Maybe it's that I remember being so excited and passionate about my top records last year, but a few records I highly anticipated this year (Pentimento, Better Off) fell pretty flat, and now I'm struggling with what I want to say about the rest. That's not to say I didn't find a couple really special albums this year, but my most-listened music wasn't released in 2015, and man I wish I could spend a few blog posts just gushing over (Microwave's 2014 release) Stovall.
But for whatever it's worth, EOTY lists are little time capsules for me, and it wouldn't feel right to start off 2016 without having done one. Last year, my list was 15 albums long, but when I tried to rank my top 15 this time around, I came up with about 11, and a few that hung off the end with no clear distinction between them. So, this will be a Top 10, plus some other picks. Thanks for sticking with me.
10) Dealer - Foxing
This is technically a "local" band for me, which doesn't mean much anymore because lately they've been selling out venues all over the country. Weirdly, it does mean that they have a billboard on I-64 very close to the new Ikea, which I'm sure a lot of people see but have no idea what it is they're looking at. I was super shocked the first time I saw it, a week or so after Dealer was released, because I'd heard this album talked up so much that I couldn't imagine why they'd need a billboard to advertise it. (Also...who does this?). I'm happy to report that this album lives up to its hype, and while I never got into Foxing's freshman effort, The Albatross, I've enjoyed the hell out of this one's mopey piano and swirly, atmospheric touches.
Top track: The Magdelene
9) Red City Radio - Red City Radio
This is the album that kicked off my 2015, since it was released right at the start of the year and shortly before I heard these guys play a killer set in a space with extremely poor acoustics, which was simultaneously awesome and sort of a bummer. I think that's a pretty good descriptor for this album, actually. "Simultaneously awesome and sort of a bummer" sums up the way I feel about RCR having lost a vocalist last year, yet somehow managing to carry on with all the energy (er, electricity) that have always drawn me to them.
Top track: I Should Have Known
8) Greyhound Dreams - Sam Russo
Watching Sam Russo play live really is magic. He has this lilt-y, mumbly way of sliding his voice off the ends of words, and he always closes his eyes like he can't quite bear to let listeners in on the stories he's telling, but like he knows that's the only way they'll become more than diary entries. For me, his recorded music never quite reaches the same level. Regardless, Greyhound Dreams has some heartbreakingly beautiful moments, and the female vocals blend more seamlessly here than on previous records.
Top track: Eye Candy
7) The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us - Beach Slang
Oh, the things we do to try to remember the name of this album. I enjoy Beach Slang, really, even if some moments kind of rub me the wrong way ("Don't whisper now, we're allowed to be loud," sung in a whisper, whoa-HO is that clever; "...way out of tune, turned up to 11," did you GET that Spinal Tap reference?!). I get that their thing is to sound like an 80s punk band who records live in a basement. I can't even begrudge them the countless articles written about their "best band of 2015/the 2000s/ever?" status, because their appeal is fast and wide, and I would rather watch James Alex flail around in his layered button-down/sweater/jacket/vest combo than watch the 300 people in TWIABP pack onto a too-small stage to play that other #1 album of the year. So while this album is a bit same-y for me, it is a lot of fun, and I'll never be opposed to throwing it on for background music in the car.
Top Track: Ride the Wild Haze
6) Positive Songs for Negative People - Frank Turner
Frank really is the king of positivity, and "The Next Storm" is probably going to be the one thing getting me through the annual post-holiday January-through-March slump this year. This album talks a lot about becoming the best version of ourselves, how we can keep reaching until we take our last breaths. The last song of this album, though, finds Frank in a rare moment - reflective and regretful, with none of the usual uplifting maxims - and oddly I love this side of him the most. After seeing Frank play a packed show at one of St. Louis' biggest venues in December (with a full band!), I can confidently say that this album holds its own against his best work.
Top Track: The Next Storm
5) Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise - The Dear Hunter
I recently found out that there is also a band called Deerhunter, which sounds nothing like and is far inferior to The Dear Hunter, and I'm kind of upset about it because I want everyone to know about this project from ex-Receiving End of Sirens' Casey Crescenzo. This album, part of a concept series, was the sleepiest of sleeper hits for me, waking up to kick me in the ass around mid-December and begging to be a part of this list. Its complexity is nothing new for The Dear Hunter, but it's still astonishing, and I find myself wanting to describe this album as "majestic," which sounds hyperbolic but I promise makes sense. For someone who played in classical orchestra through high school, the instrumentation is captivating, and everything is just so singable. I've been trying to revisit this project's back catalog, but I can't listen to much else without being reminded that I want to hear Act IV over again.
Top Track: Waves
4) Party Adjacent - Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room
All of my favorite Alkaline Trio songs have been the ones written by Dan, so I should've known how much I'd enjoy this record. Somehow I still underestimated it. I actually wasn't even sure I'd bother listening all the way through, but I sure am glad I gave it the time of day. Party Adjacent has become one of my most-played albums this year, and although some of the tunes are a little lifeless, the others more than compensate. Even the weirdest of metaphors ("... I'm dissecting my human being") become familiar and friendly when sung in Dan's lilting lisp.
Top Track: Fire Pit
3) Better Whenever - Elway
Right after Better Whenever came out, I tweeted that Elway struck me as the little Red Scare band that could. I've liked their previous work, but this record has so many feelings. Not just that it makes me have feelings, but the emotions that pepper these songs are palpable, and sort of tough to swallow, like life can be sometimes. Frank Turner urges us to push ourselves, to acknowledge that there's always something to reach for; Elway calls it like it is. "I'll get better... whenever." When I feel like it, when I finally think I'm capable, when the weather gets warmer, when I stop finding it hard to get out of bed. I love this record for its honesty, for its hints of the same things that made The Lawrence Arms' Metropole one of my favorite albums last year, and for being an album I know will grow with me.
Top Track (of 2015, maybe): Better Whenever
2) Already Dead - Timeshares
I don't have an emotional, introspective blurb prepared for this album. It didn't make me reflect upon my life's worth, or make me question the state of today's music. Rather, it's sort of unassuming, a pure rock-and-roll album with infectious gang vocals and noodly guitar riffs. It earned the #2 spot by being the type of album I wouldn't have expected to be all the way up here, the kind of album that doesn't sound like its trying too hard or really even at all. I never get tired of listening to it and singing along, and it soundtracks a windows-down drive just as well as it does a chilly winter evening. Whatever comes next from Timeshares, I'll be first in line to get it.
Top Track: The Bad Parts
1) No Closer to Heaven - The Wonder Years
This album is not The Greatest Generation, and so that is to say, it did not blow me away on first listen. I didn't spend nights with the liner notes in my lap trying to piece together the story that pinned the tracks to one another, and it is not forgiven its (few) flaws, especially in production quality. It does, however, have one song that makes me cry uncontrollably, and that one song might be the best of the Wonder Years' catalog ("Cigarettes and Saints"). It has a few gut-wrenching lines buried between Dan Campbell's constant (sometimes overkill) professions of society's shortcomings. It has some really punchy and innovative guitar lines, some killer drumming, some call-to-arms gang vocals I can't help but scream along with. I've read a lot of reviews that call this album out for mediocrity, and on the heels of The Greatest Generation, it's hard not to (much like comparing The Menzingers' Rented World to On the Impossible Past). I've wrestled with how to put into words the way I feel about the music this band makes, and why I can accept a few moments that fall short in order to get to the ones that make my heart swell. I think back on the first time I noticed this band, playing in the rain at Riot Fest Chicago in 2013, on a stage that was on the way to wherever we were headed. I remember how we stopped to use a tree near that stage like an umbrella, and The Wonder Years were playing "Chaser," and I had that holy-shit moment I sometimes have when I'm hearing a band I know is about to really mean something for me. And so this may not be the best album I heard in 2015, but it is my favorite, because it's made by a band who constantly renews my faith in...whatever this genre is called. Maybe in music as a whole.
Top Track: Cigarettes and Saints
Bloodlines - Head North
Albums I Liked a Lot but Didn't Dive Into Enough to Justifiably Rank Them
Pets Hounds - Pet Symmetry
The Money Pit - The Money Pit
Mother - Runaway Brother
Mable - Spraynard
Pale Horses - mewithoutYou