I listened to a lot of music, at least according to Spotify. That doesn’t count all the records I bought and played, the shows I saw, and everything I listened to that wasn’t on my streaming service of choice. Of course, I didn’t need some report to tell me that, I always listen to a ton of music, almost most of my day is spent with headphones on and I’m fine with that. I listened to a lot of old stuff, fell back in love with some records I’d put away for whatever reason, bought some reissues, paid too much on ebay for some old hardcore seven-inches, and felt fine about all of it. But what really made me happy was the fact that I seriously loved a lot of new stuff this year, something I don’t think I’ve been able to say in a long time.
What I didn’t realize until I was writing this list, however, was I needed all of the new music. 2015 just felt like everything good was being carried away down a mudslide. Some days I felt detached more than ever, and just like when I was younger and needed some way to connect, I could turn to my favorite albums, new and old, to feel like I had something. There was an odd comfort in that.
I won’t say this is supposed to be a top ten type list of the albums that stood out to me the most, although I do think there is some point to the order I mention these albums in. Yet all of thee albums are wonderful and really made 2015 a little more tolerable.
More than anything, I needed an album like Full Communism by Downtown Boys, I think we all did. I needed it the way I needed bands like Bikini Kill and Los Crudos to come into my life when they did, and the fact that they resemble both of those bands in a lot of ways (toss in some X-Ray Spex, maybe even some Hot Snakes influence as well), meant Full Communism was more than just my favorite record of 2015. In a year when we all constantly felt like the world was just repeatedly punching our faces in, Downtown Boys gave me some little glimmer of hope in that way that music sometimes does, and I haven’t appreciated an album as much in a long time because of that.
In any other given year, The Things We Do To People Who Feel Like Us by Beach Slang would have been at the the #1 spot, and there is a possibility that I actually listened to it more than any new album this year, so I mean no disrespect placing it behind Downtown Boys. It’s an incredibly powerful and moving album, sort of a fuck you in a time when I read things like rock and roll is dead. I think “Throwaway” is the best leadoff track I’ve heard in a long time, and the fact that it’s a dude from Weston (a band I’ve loved for I don’t know how long), playing music that rightfully draws comparisons to The Replacements and Jawbreaker, but also makes me feel like I’m listening to The Hold Steady for the first time again, makes me feel the need to tell everybody I know about this record.
“Think big girl, like a king,” says Jenny Hval as she starts out Apocalypse, Girl. She does think big, but she stretches the big thoughts out into something beautiful, frightening, and hard to explain without simply playing it for somebody. I could say there’s stuff on this album that makes me think of Laurie Anderson at some moments, and then Kate Bush or even Bjork others, but I hate comparing her to anybody, I really do. I know it doesn’t do her justice. I should really just say it’s the kind of music I’d like more people to make, but at this point in time, only Hval is going out of her way to do it.
I think since so much has been written about this one that I’ll just say I think Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is the landmark album of 2015. It took a lot of what is wrong with America and turned it into something focused and fierce. It was worth all of the hype.
Here’s some hot blasphemy for you: John Darnielle put out the best overall Mountain Goats album in 2015. Sure, he’s got a lot of really great albums, and some of those albums have some damn perfect songs, but in terms of songwriting, pacing, and subject matter Beat the Champ is my favorite record. I have to listen to it all the way through because it’s basically the greatest professional wrestling fanzine ever put to music.
I remember yelling “SHUT UP” the first time I read a music writer talk about how Leon Bridges is the new Sam Cooke or whatever. But let’s be honest about the fact that even Sam Cooke would be moved by “River.” Coming Home is an immensely beautiful album, the kind that you just don’t hear enough of anymore.
Katie Crutchfield is a genius and one of the best songwriters around. I knew the first time I heard Waxahatchee’s Ivy Tripp that I’d probably listen to it at least a dozen more times immediately after. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and now I’m here in December, still playing it on an almost daily basis, constantly captured by the kind of magic Crutchfield produces, just happy knowing that somebody so good can only really get better.
“There’s a new Title Fight album? That’s awesome.” That was my reaction after clicking a link I didn’t think I’d see: GQ featuring the band’s Ned Russin talking about his favorite vintage hardcore t-shirts. After my jealously subsided, and I put away the dreams of one day having a collection of old Youth Crew shirts like Russin’s, I decided to give Hyperview a listen, and what I wasn’t expecting was a total dream pop/shoegaze masterpiece, something that could hold itself up against Loveless, or at the very least, Hum’s You’d Prefer an Astronaut. Epic and beautiful.
And I mean, yeah, I loved No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney, that should be obvious. In a year where it felt like everything was falling apart, they came back and it was like they never left.
Top photo: Downtown Boys (via Don Giovanni Records)