It’s true. 2015 was not the greatest year in music. Every day we have the ability to completely inundate ourselves with music. Because of this, it takes something really special and profound to break through the noise and stand out in a major way. With that said, I give to you the best music of 2015.
Best Album: Knowing the release schedule for the year, I expected many great things from the likes of Father John Misty, Lana Del Rey, and others. Though these were not complete failures, they did fail to live up to my hopes and expectations. Did I want too much? Were my demands too high? Maybe, but that’s just how I roll. This left album of the year to be a wide-open contest.
The winner was the sophomore release of a band I stumbled onto at a Nada Surf show years ago. Their album was so accessible and upbeat that it is a true throwback to Weezer’s Blue Album, which was made 20 years before this album came out. The best thing about this album: it’s real.
Winner for Album of the Year: Waters – What’s Real.
Mentions: Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell; Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love; Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi
Best EP: EPs are always a crapshoot. You never know if the material is a garbage dump for the overflow from the last album, or it is honestly filled with new concepts and ideas not yet fully flushed out. In other cases, the band sets out only to make a handful of songs knowing that the content would speak for itself. Bands I love, like the Decemberists, are clear in their statements that EPs are part of their release cycle. If a song just doesn’t onto the album, it makes the following EP.
A funny thing happened on Slacker one day as a track was able to cut through the monotony. Lights On by Big Grams. Now, I’m no fool. Well, I mean … not about music. What I heard was the unmistakable tones of Sarah Barthel from Phantogram, but there was something different, another layer added to the track. It was Big Boi. You mean Big Boi from OutKast? That Big Boi? Do you know any other? With this realization, I indulged the 7-track digital masterpiece. More than anything, this EP is fun this references to wrestling great Ric Flair and Billy Ocean. It follows the expected course of hip-hop while avoiding the cliches feeling cliched. The seven tracks outline the seven deadly sins in a way that even Brad Pitt’s Detective Mills would be pleased with. What’s in the box? It’s 39 minutes of bliss. Even though it is actually 2 minutes longer than the Album of the Year, it’s an EP.
Video of the Year: Is the music video a dying medium? Is it already dead? Or is it thriving thanks to YouTube and Vevo? In any case, I still love a great music video, but it must add something to the song and to the band. Case in point: Everlong by Foo Fighters. There were so many great visuals, they had to adapt the song to make it fit the video. This year, I was impressed by the video for Nightlight by Silversun Pickups off of the Better Nature release.
What’s the video about? Don’t get stuck in explaining something. Just sit back and enjoy the visuals with a few minutes added to the track to explore the arc of the character. The 7:45 flys by as you want to know more and hear more. Unfortunately, the rest of the album pales in comparison to the awesomeness of this track and the paired video. Still, an amazing experience from an amazing band.
Song of the Year. It’s a long year, and there are a lot of songs. Looking back, it is hard to remember the songs that I loved in February and compare them to the songs that I love now, so I am giving you a tie for song of the year. Behold, the songs of the year.
The first is the latest from Beck. The man has been crushing it for 20 years, and following Morning Phase, the man can do no wrong in my mind. The track is Dreams, and though it is a major departure from Morning Phase, it is a return to the irreverent electronic-infused alt. rock Beck is best known for. Fun track and I can’t wait for the full release in 2016.
The second entry comes from a completely different direction: Kurt Viles’s Pretty Pimpin’. This selection is pulled from the album B’lieve I’m Goin Down. As you can see, the man loves an apostrophe and hates ending a word with a “G.” The song is insanely amazing and amazingly insane. From the first guitar strums, you know this song is like nothing you’ve ever heard. Lyrically, it is so different and engaging. The narrator is recounting an out-of-body experience, which is possibly drug-induced or possibly induced by the act of aging and being shocked by what the mirror is throwing back. The lyrical structure essentially repeats itself while adding content only intensifies the trippy reexperience.
It may not have been the greatest year in music (1994), but putting the above on repeat will get you through to 2016. Fingers crossed.