Maybe it was a little too soon to proudly proclaim rock not dead- this year dragged its blue suede shoes pretty bad and left its electro shit all over the carpet. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but even in the minor leagues it seems that interest has faded for guitar-lick based music and metal drums. I’m just not hearing the evolution; the old guard is circling the wagons (and touring for 50 years straight) and the new guard thinks music cannot be made without an Apple product somewhere in the pipeline. Maybe it’s just easier to moan about partying and being sad over a drum machine? If I had to make a band by tomorrow that would probably be the way I’d go. Okay, are you ready to get off my lawn and get through this list?
Album of the Year
Sleater-Kinney : No Cities to Love
Sleater-Kinney has always been super personal, a fact made even more clear by Brownstein’s recent memoir (Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl). Their viewpoint just seems lodged up behind the eyes, an internal monologue of anger and effort, which probably made it even harder to bottle up and deal with the frictions that eventually imploded them. Still, as “No Cities to Love” makes abundantly clear, there is an irrepressible need to rock flowing out of these ladies. They sat still as long as they could, but once they started vibrating the utensils off the table they got back together and turned that energy into rock-juice once more. The new record is energetic, a go-ahead rock album coming in at just over a half, and the sound has made it over the ten year gap intact. In some ways their secret success status is on display, the songs are so assured it feels like a victory lap. However the craft is undeniable, from the very first beats of Price Tag. This is the rock album of 2015.
Father John Misty : I Love You, Honeybear
Another beautiful albums about the hipster losers that make up America, Father John Misty (Joshua Tillman) continues to Benedict Arnold his fleet friends and foxy girlfriends, weaving a tapestry of our national ennui that is reminiscent of Mark Twain’s observational wit. Fear Fun, his first album, was a melding of folk wit and barbershop quartet. “I Love You, Honeybear” finds Tillman more confident as a narrator, painting broad images at an unhurried pace. The album is not as rollicking as Fear Fun but the lyric writing is sharp as a knife and the soul vibe has been blown way out to 70’s record fuzz levels. Somewhere in the middle of your solo listen, The Ideal Husband will destroy your precious psyche.
Courtney Barnett : Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
The darkhorse of the 2015 catalogue, Barnett is a no bullshit garage rocker with deep licks and probably the best naming chops of the year (personal favorite song title: Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To the Party). Her verbiage is puissant, tumbling out of her at a great pace. She mostly doesn’t sing very hard (it seems she will not bother singing for you unless she really feels like it), but it works with the dirty guitar and frequent cymbal crashes. The result is one of those stripped down garage records, but it’s one that is somehow dripping with her personality (usually the problem is the distorted LPs are indistinguishable). Maybe it’s the accent or the off-kilter observations but this is a well produced album that still seems shockingly indie. This seems like one of those bands that just can’t help but have a unique worldview, which makes for a very unique 2016 album.
Tame Impala : Currents
Confession time, I’m actually sort of divided about Tame Impala. When Elephant drifted into my brain real estate a few years ago, it seemed like a psych band I liked was going to take it to the next level and break through, and on top of it all guitars would lead the way! Innerspeaker and Lonerism remain amazing headphones music, and here was a hit off one of them with a damn guitar solo in the middle of a huge midsong drop. However, when I went to see them I witnessed something I couldn’t unsee. Elephant wasn’t a new Knights of Cydonia with the world exploding by guitar pick. The solo time came and…it was well chosen notes on a keyboard. I guess it doesn’t actually change the song, but I was still disappointed. I had misjudged this band, they weren’t getting swagger, they were going the other way. Soundsmithing, electro fuzz, synth beats. The resulting evolution was Currents, an album that takes more guidance from Ariel Pink than any of the other rockers on the list. It’s a retro funk piece, with guitar relegated to rhythm and synth is king. Still, Currents is an undeniably good album, a soundscape replete with absolute killers like Let It Happen and The Less I Know the Better. I may have lost but at least it’s sort of a Rocky situation where the loss is pretty good too.
Some other dope ass shit
Speedy Ortiz : Foil Deer
I think I destroyed my mind listening to Speedy’s first album on repeat while writing my thesis. This sophmore debut is no less assured and interesting. I sort of missed it when it dropped but I’m hoping to come back and break this wide open later.
Wavves : V
This is sort of a nod for a few different things. One, I discovered King of the Beach this year (Green Eyes should be listened to as loud as possible), two, they collaborated with Synthetic Error favorite Cloud Nothings on a neato EP this year, and three, V is a pretty nifty surf rock album in its own right.
Ty Segall : T.Rex
The beast. Ty Segall albums are how we mark time. This is a collection of covers from one of Ty’s influences, with uncertain (to me) historical significance but its got his tell tale swagger.
Everything Everything : Get To Heaven
Overexcited english rockers with a Hives vibe, they have a certain momentum to their style that recalls the hair metal opuses of the 80’s without the excess.
Well, hopefully something catches your ear here. The barn remains intact, but there was still some pretty good music in 2015. See you on other side (if anyone’s waiting for you).
Originally published on Synthetic Error July 18, 2016