My Top Ten Albums Of 2015



alabamshakesWell, there went 2015, just like that. It was a difficult year for the planet, but I would say it was a pretty good year for Rock. The music business is in the middle of a massive rethink, and we are seeing more and more artists stepping out of their comfort zones and aiming for the fences. I am awfully excited about what 2016 may bring. Here are my ten favorite albums from the year gone by.

 

10. Neil Young – The Monsanto Years

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The biggest surprise for the year for me. After years of releasing a lot of dreary, angry sludge, Neil hooks up with a young band, Promise Of The Real, and rediscovers his sense of fun. There’s still plenty of anger, but it’s wrapped in a warm and tuneful blanket that makes the message a lot easier to chew on.

 

9. Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful 

For much of 2015, this band was the only Rock act on the pop charts, essentially keeping Rock alive in the eyes of the next demographic. The album’s a worthy flag-bearer, well-crafted, spirited, catchy and intelligent, and even if it fails to truly excite, it will have performed a great service by leading the next demographic to, say, Grace Slick or Neko Case.

 

8. Leon Bridges – Coming Home

At first listen it sounds like another retro-soul tribute act. But listen a little more closely and you hear a deeper musical sophistication. The classic elements are all present, but a bassline here and a guitar riff there, combined with the pure, understated vocals, reflect a respectful but still contemporary sensibility.

 

7. Mark Ronson – Uptown Special

Serving up da funk with a prog rock sensibility, Ronson is an exceptional bass player and a brilliant arranger with crossover on his mind and different artists to take him there. Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” may have been everywhere in 2015, but only the tone deaf would deny it had some bona fides to it.

 

6. The Arcs – Yours, Dreamily

Dan Auerbach takes his signature Black Keys sound and adds a little Philly soul and some electronic textures, making it a little lighter and brighter without sacrificing any punch. The guy continues to stake out new Rock territory.

 

5. Bob Dylan – Shadows In The Night

‘Dylan does Sinatra’ sounds like a cynical punchline, but Dylan’s never been less cynical than this. It’s a loving tribute to the power of a song, and the importance of a singer who can truly inhabit one. Dylan is telling us that context is everything, in a voice that is somehow sweeter and more supple than it’s been in 45 years.

 

4. Beach House – Depression Cherry

Beach House breathes warmth into cool swirly atmospherics by way of some crafty lyricism and clever chord structures, combined with an insistent lead guitar sound that cuts through the chill like a hot knife. Is The Free Design-meets-John McLaughlin too obscure a reference? How about Enya-meets-Jack White?

 

3. Wilco – Star Wars

The edgy brilliance of 2001’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was Jeff Tweedy’s eloquent call for help. The edgy brilliance of Star Wars comes from a mature artist who’s found a comfortable place yet isn’t afraid to stretch it out and go for the glory. Plus it’s a big fuck you to anyone who ever called Wilco “dad rock”.

 

2. Gary Clark Jr. – The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim

This is what Rock was meant to do — draw elements from other styles of music and forge them into something new. Gary Clark Jr. spins rock, soul, blues, R&B and hip hop into an epic and ultimately uplifting narrative about escaping rural poverty, a truly astonishing musical achievement.

 

1. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

The Shakes’ debut album Boys & Girls impressed because of lead singer Brittany Howard’s power and authenticity, but the band was essentially covering tired, old ground. With Sound & Color, they’ve managed to create an identity and a brand new sound all their own, where the quiet moments are filled with intensity and the loud moments are filled with soulful reflection. Hands down, the Album Of The Year in my book. Heaven knows what heights this band may reach some day.

 

 

Photo: Alabama Shakes; credit: By Liza Agsalud from Los Angeles, Ca (Alabama Shakes) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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2 comments to “My Top Ten Albums Of 2015”
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