Here are my music review snippets from January to May of 2015. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the albums that have been released this year. Also, I started a lot of albums I didn’t finish, hence no rating being below a C. Most of the albums I reviewed were released in the months I reviewed them–but not all of them. Some are from many years ago. I guess I could order this alphabetically or by ranking but I didn’t. So suck on that. Now, kindly suck on these:
january: (in no particular order):
|the best of January. contender for the best of the year.
Wolf Gang: Alveron (B): Uplifting, sweeping alt-rock, indie-pop. Not a bad song in the bunch. The lyrics aren’t bad, but they seem like they aren’t as powerful as they seem. It feels like it could be better though–maybe on their next album they’ll get it. Highlights: “Alveron” “Now I Can Feel It” “Killing Kind” (2014)
Dawes: North Hills (C+): Nice alt-country folk rock. Good background music but nothing too spectacular. Highlights: “That Western Skyline” “Love Is All I Am””Take Me Out of the City” (2009)
Enter Shikari: The Mindsweep (A): How does a band follow up one of the best albums of this decade? With one that’s even more nuanced, lyrically more urgent, and more sonically complex. While this album is more accessible than some of their past work, the poppy style is actually a mask of the sheer talent bubbling below. At times, they could allow the riffs and melodies to simmer longer and a few songs feel out of order. Highlights: every. damn. song. (2015)
Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (B-): I have no previous experience with them and honestly didn’t know they were a band until Portlandia, so I’m either the ideal audience or the worst audience. But this is pretty good, straight-forward rock and roll. I don’t quite get what the hullabaloo is though–just because they’re women? Honestly, they’d sound better with a more rounded sound. But it’s still a really good time with some great guitar riffs. Highlights: “Hey Darling” “Fade” (2015)
Guster: Evermotion (B-): Remember these guys? Well, they’ve seemed to trade in their reliable sound for a trendier dream pop mode which is great news for Paste Magazine readers but kind of a bummer for people who liked their old sound. But a new take on old Guster is still pretty good though. HL: “Simple Machine” “Expectation” “Kid Dreams” “Farewell” (2015)
Field Report: Marigolden (A-): Amazing folk country stuff. It’s almost a mixture of Bon Iver, Bruce Springsteen, Dawes, and Bob Dylan. The former comparison might be because the songwriter, Chris Porterfield, used to play in a band with Justin Vernon. Beautiful, haunting melodies and if “Pale Rider” doesn’t make you tear up a little, then I don’t know what. HL: “Pale Rider” “Michelle” (2014)
The Decemberists: What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (C+): With an on-the-nose title like that, I think it sets the tone for what this album offers. At this point, the listener knows their take on The Decemberists. Mine? They bore me. Well, except when they do more Americana/bluegrass stuff–then I completely feel them (hence the plus in the C). HL: “Till Al the Water’s Gone” Carolina Law” “Better Not Wake the Baby” These three songs are great! (2015)
Fall Out Boy: American Beauty/American Psycho (C): Did The Decemberists and Fall Out Boy take an album naming class from the same misguided instructor? Hey guys, here’s some more ideas for you: Sexy Girl/Ugly-Ass Girl, Funny Jokes/Dumb Jokes, Good Things/Bad Things. Well the Fall Out Boys proved they could do punk rock with their PAX AM Days EP, but Save Rock and Roll showed they’re at their best when they combine it with their pop sensibilities. Well Psycho leans too heavily on the pop with hardly anything interesting to separate it from any other generic pop punk, or even pop, act aside from a really high production budget. HL: “Twin-Skeletons” (2015)
The Sidekicks: Runners in the Nerved World (C): A nice, low-fi, low-key punk album with nice harmonies decorating the minimalism. However, nothing else is very interesting. They are a talented group but largely forgettable. (2015)
Night Terrors of 1927: Everything’s Coming Up Roses (B): Good, organic synth pop. Sometimes it gets boring and cliched. When it’s unique it’s at its best. HL: “Dust and Bones” “Fire w/Fire” “Always Take You Back” (2015)
february: (in no particular order):
|here’s a fantastic album that February had to offer.
Murder By Death: Big Dark Love (B-): Good, dark Americana rock. It could get better, but I’m not familiar with the back catalog. It has good pathos mixed with acoustic sounds. They’re a Decemberists 2.0. HL: “Haunted” “I Shot An Arrow”
Sick Feelings: Suburban Myth (C+): Calculated punk noise chaos. They’re really good at it too. It rocks. But it is what it is: fun; not high art. (2015)
Periphery: Alpha/Omega (B-): This is two albums working as one. It probably should have just been one–like nearly every double album ever conceived. Moments of subtle brilliance emerge and it’s full of fantastic musicianship. It’s a smorgasbord of metal, rock, progressive, and other genre swapping moments. It suffers from singing tropes and cliches that plague metalcore-type acts. The background singing always trumps the leads. HL: “Hell Below” “Omega” “The Event” “The Scourge” “Psychosphere” (2015)
Mark Ronson: Uptown Special (C+): It’s good, but it ain’t my thang. But that single tho! Some fun, funky jams. That Bruno Mars track is seriously amazing. I don’t care how many times I hear it. I want more like it.
Twice Young: Prefer You [ep] (B): Nice, melodic emo pop. All the tracks are good but nothing grabs the listener’s attention. A BAND TO WATCH! (2015)
The Word Alive: Real (C+): While most metalcore/screamo sounds about the same, these guys stand out a bit with moments of sincere musicality. HL: “Collapsing” (2015)
Big Noble: First Light (B): Melodic soundscapes that still have elements (hints, even) of melody. It’s a pleasant listen that sets a cinematic mood of longing. It’s a side project from Interpol’s guitarist Daniel Kessler if that’s of interest.
Title Fight: Hyperview (C): This album starts with the promising “Murder Your Memory” which sounds like a shoegaze version of Pinback but unfortunately “Murder” is the highlight. The album slips into mediocrity and turns into mostly meh indie stuff.
Butch Walker: Afraid of Ghosts
(B/B+): Remember “Freak of the Week”? That catchy song from the late 90s? The song where when they performed it live on David Lettermen they did this awesome guitar pick switch off? Well that was Butch Walker! In some band. Who cares what it was called. Really good folk-fused acoustic stuff. It’s dripping with potential. I’ll need to listen to this again. The album starts off a little weak but gains steam, hitting its stride in the final tracks. (2015)Team Me: Blind As Night
(B+/A-): I don’t know how to describe these guys. I’ve listened to multiple albums and still don’t know how to classify it. But, this is by far their best effort. It’s pop, but it’s serious, but it’s playful, but it’s simple, but it’s deep. It hints at epicness that I wish it explored it more. HL: “Riding My Bicycle” “Lo Sound” “Steven”Dan Mangan + Blacksmith: Club Meds
(B-): Moody, morose, folk tunes. It gets mopey at times and it drags it down. It is a bit Bon Iver-esque but not quite that level of goodness. HL: “Offered” “New Skies”Oh Honey: Sincerely Yours/With Love
[EPs] (B): On-the-nose folk-pop with a dewey-eyed girl singer and a hipster-haired boy singing oh-so-sincerely. But it’s sweet and it’s catchy. Their stripped-down acoustic tracks are better than the over-produced pop tracks. A full-length comes out this year–I’ll be interested in hearing it. (2014)
A Place to Bury Strangers: Transfixation (B-): Odd noisecore, industrial, new wave stuff. Some songs land better than others. I like the more polished tracks. HL: “Supermaster” “I Will Die” “Straight”
march: (in no particular order):
|most important album of 2015? the decade?
|two sensational albums in one month? yes. yes there were.
Dan Deacon: Gliss Riffer (B+): The first half is glitch-pop perfection but it devolves into ambience and instrumentals for the second half, which makes the album feel uneven. Plus, the first half just feels like a better version of an album–or at least the album I’d rather hear. HL: the first four songs. (2015)
Somos: Temple of Plenty (C+): Some good ol’, new-school emo. I like their sound, but nothing on the album really seemed noteworthy. So, it’s essentially 90’s emo but without deplorable production values. (2015)
Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (A): In thirty years this album will be taught alongside the current Ferguson civil rights movement as the accompanying literature along with RUTJ2. This in an incredible album that’s pretty life altering. The final track, with the Tupac outro, makes the whole thing come together and brought me to tears. Plus, no skits! (2015)
Have Mercy: A Place of Our Own (B): More new old emo. They have a good mixture of ups and downs with both tempos and emotions. The vocalist is solid and has lots of energy. Feels like a copy of earlier, better bands at times. HL: “Two Years” “To Convey” (2015)
Oceans Ate Alaska: Lost Isles (B): Such raw talent in this true metalcore outfit. Each song has moments of sheer brilliance and mesmerizing artistry but is then bogged down by generic metal and generic screamo/hardcore. HL: “Mirage” “Floorboards” “Downsides” (2015)
Stick to Your Guns: Disobedient (B/B+): Some good hardcore with odd tinges of 80’s hair metal. It’s at its best when it strays from its formula (the first and last track). But the standard hardcore is good too. Lots of swears too for no discernible reason. Fans of traditional hardcore will think it’s a-ok. (2015)
Lieutenant: If We Kill This Thing . . . (C+): More Sunny Day than Foo, Nate Mendel’s solo project shows a lot of promise and he has a surprisingly good voice. The problem is the songs are all boring and don’t have any pizzaz. (2015)
Two Gallants: We Are Undone (C+): I don’t understand two-man bands. Why not make the recordings full? To reproduce the sound live? Is it for budgetary reasons? And why is the second player always a drummer? Have these people not heard of drum machines? At least here the second member is a multi-instrumentalist. This folk duo has some nice aspects to their music, but it is limited by the stripped-down sound. (2015)
From Indian Lakes: Absent Sounds (B): A solid “emotive indie pop” (AP) album that verges on greatness but never touches it. Good songs and a solid listen. (2015)
Boots: Motorcycle Jesus OST [ep]: Good stuff. A unique sound. I need to stick around and listen too Boots. My friend Devin sent me this. It’s a mixture of folk, indie, dream pop, and rock. The single “I Run Roulette” is great. (2015)
Falling in Reverse: Just Like You (B): They’re just sooooo on the nose but the talent is quite high. It’s much more mature than their previous work. Some songs are really good, especially the final track. (2015)
The Album Leaf: Into the Blue Again (B): So, “The Light” is the theme song of the crappy love story on Scandal. But it’s an incredible song. The whole album’s good and varies from Moby to post-rock to cinematic scores to Pinback. More songs like “The Light” would be nice. (2006)
Death Cab for Cutie: The Photo Album (B): I usually don’t love pre-Transatlanticism DCfC, but this one is quite good. It’s pretty form-fitting for the indie-emo genre of the era. More melodic than their first few albums and the brilliance of Transatlanticism coming can be heard in every track. (2001)
AWOLNATION: Run (B+): It’s a catchy, good follow-up, but it pales a bit to its predecessor. It often feels like it cuts short on what could be deeper exploration. Take the title track. It’s good and covers the appropriate beats, but it ends before it ever reaches the intensity that I’ve come to expect. (2015)
A Lot Like Birds: No Place (A-): A haunting journey taking place in a haunted house full of the monsters of memory and grappling with the horrors of adulthood. Musically it’s mewithoutYou meets Armor for Sleep with a dash of post-hardcore. I saw them live and it was disappointing though. (2013)
A Lot Like Birds: Piece (B): A pretty good predecessor to No Place but too heavy on the post-hardcore and light on the harmonies and melody. (2011)
Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (A-): My favorite Sufjan album yet. It’s like he took the mood and tone of “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” and made an entire album about it. It’s a much more personal album than previous efforts. The simple guitar tracks are accentuated by orchestral synths. It could use a little more variety. (2015)
Death Cab for Cutie: Kintsugi (B-): Like many Japanese philosophical words, the meaning is beautiful. This album sounds more like latter-day DCfC with a lot of forgettable, over-produced tracks. It’s mostly forgettable–but not bad!–versions of their post-Plans sound. HL: “Black Son” “Binary Sea” (2015)
Modest Mouse: Strangers to Ourselves (B): Not bad! Which is surprising considering it’s been such a long hiatus. But it has too much filler and Modest Mouse sameness pseudo-quirk. Some truly inspired moments. Maybe 10 tight tracks instead of the 15 it has would have made it remarkable.
april: (in no particular order):
|hopefully this album won’t stay hidden! I’ll see myself out.
Vola: Inmazes (B/B-): Amazing metal-like musicianship but it feels a bit like an autistic child trying to understand emotion through music. Moments of brilliance make it worthwhile though. (2015)
Hidden Hospitals: Surface Tension (A-): What a really good album! At times it feels like it’s going to be budget musically but it always delivers. It’s rock with emotion but has no need to resort to hardness or anger. It trusts itself. Every song is great. (2015)
Daisyhead: The Smallest Light
(C+/B-): Some good old-fashioned rock’n emo. Some tracks are better than others (“Inanity” “I Didn’t Deserve This”). Feels too 00s to me and too monotone, uninventive. If more tracks had “I Didn’t Deserve This”‘s inventiveness this album could’ve been a contender. (2015)
Dustin Kensrue: Carry the Fire
(B++): Ah, the B++ rating. It’s when an album is almost in the A-level territory but isn’t quite there, but is also just a bit too good to just be a B+. This is Thrice’s Dustin Kensrue’s solo project in its fourth LP incarnation (third if you don’t count Christmas). It’s less Jesus-y than the amazing The Water and the Blood
but still feels worshipful somehow. But non-believers need not be scared by this–it’s not preachy in any way. Great full-sounding acoustic tracks with soul and a serious bite. (2015)
Sleeping With Sirens: Madness (C+): Punk pop for the masses! It serves its purpose and ain’t half bad. While it’s pretty good, it’s also very ordinary. Just so ordinary. But, in all seriousness, how is their singer a dude? (2015)
Matt and Kim: New Glow (B++): Another B++ in one month. This is deliciously catchy and a lot of fun. This is a great example of what mainstream pop music can/should be. Time will tell. It’s lots of fun and has lots of pep while pulling lots of punches–but it could use a little more heart. (2015)
Maine: American Candy (C or B-?): I can’t tell if this is accessible punk rock or just pop rock trash. It’s polarizing. It’s catchy. It’s crap. But it’s so good at being crap. Is it intentionally crap or a sincere misfire? Is it winking at us? Sometimes it’s a sing-along fun fest but other times it’s like recycled Third-Eye Blind leftovers. It’s a legitimate mystery.
Dance Gavin Dance: Instant Gratification (B): Pretty solid screamy pop. Sometimes it just feels generic. The track “Eagle Crows” even raps! It raps! “On the Run” is the standout track. It’s at its best when it’s pretty. (2015)
may: (in no particular order)
|great album and a great cover. also Blurryface is really good.
The Weepies: Sirens (B): If you like The Weepies, you’ll still like this. If you don’t know The Weepies, start here–it’s their best yet. The first four songs are incredible, the rest are a variation of no thanks to pretty good. If they’d whittled down the tracks to the most solid 10, it would have been a higher grade. (2015)
Rocky Votolato: Hospital Handshakes (C+): Pretty solid, folksy, alt-country, acoustic, indier rock. Some tracks are better than others (the more outlaw-themed ones). The fuller the tracks were the more forgettable they felt. (2015)
Passion Pit: Kindred (C+): I don’t mind Michael Angelakos’ outfit, but I kind of feel like he’s a poor-man’s Anthony Gonzalez’s m83 unit? I feel like if they weren’t so dead-set on being synth-pop some of the tracks could be better (which is evidenced on the acoustic bonus tracks–which I think are superior to the dolled up, synthy ones). It’s still a lot of fun though.
Dead Leaves: Dead Leaves [ep]: I never know if I should grade EPs. This is great–well that is if you’re a fan of 90’s emo. It’s a renaissance band with punk rock roots that sounds fresh and fantastic. A really solid EP that’s worth paying attention to. Hopefully they’ll explode.
Brandon Flowers: The Desired Effect (B): The first six songs are nostalgic fun and just strong tracks. Seven to nine are weaker but track 10 brings it back in line. Overall it’s a stronger offering than the last few Killer’s offerings and Flowers’ first album but it’s not great. (2015)
SayWeCanFly: Between the Roses (C): Overly precious and so sensitive. Maturity will help young Braiden Barrie because he means well and has a positive message. But his songs have good bones (see “Song of the Sparrow” and “Brother”) even if his message is about as on-the-nose and pseudo soul-searching as a high school drama freshman’s scribbles in the ledger of his/her notebook. Also, he kind of looks like an emo scene kid circa 2005 and sings like a tween girl. The music drips with turn-of-the–century acoustimo sentimentality. (2015)
Geography: Ghost Modern (C+/B-): Weird mixture of fantastic, experimental indie pop that hits it and a retro 70s AM pop that sinks it. HL: “Need” “You Say You Love Me” “Read Your Palm” “The Fire Is Coming” (2015)
Hotel Books: Run Wild, Young Beauty (A-): Powerful emotive speech-core with a spiritual angle that only yearns, never preaches. The sounds, lyrics, and emotions tug at primal levels. It could use more melody and variety though. It’s great. (2015)
The Helio Sequence: The Helio Sequence (B): I’ve come to accept that the wonder and amazement of Love and Distance is never going to happen again. But this is an okay thing. It’s a bit psycho pop but it grows on the me. It has nice elements to it. (2015)
Twenty One Pilots: Blurryface (B++): I hate having expectations for an album. It’s hard to be objective. Earlier this year Enter Shikari had that same weight and I tried to ignore it but it weighed on me. But it was incredible. Blurryface, however, is not the follow-up Vessel deserves. Don’t get me wrong–it’s good. It’s very good. And the singles fueled my expectations, because they’re fantastic. In fact, about five songs are just incredible–like just fantastic. Five are really good! That’s a solid album right there. Unfortunately, four tracks are forgettable. The whole reggae approach just isn’t working for me. It might work for others though. Seriously though, if it were just the ten tracks and maybe one more, it would be an A. But, this is still a very good album. These guys are insanely talented. Insanely. And I admire them for the gumption and ambition. (2015)
The Early November: Imbue (C+): What is it about The Early November? They don’t have a single standout album, yet they’re a good band and I still stick with them. The same applies to Ace Enders’ solo work. So much talent, but it never fully realizes itself. The closest thing so far is the third disc on the triple album This one has good moments but many songs feel bloated and pointless.
Arms and Sleepers: Swim Team (B-): Some Pogo-esque electronic fun stuff for background listening. It’s not amazing and it blends together but it’s a pleasant journey and worth listening.