2015 might not go down as the best year for new music on record, but there are still a number of standouts making defining recorded albums. Take Low Cut Connie (pictured above) who are molding showmanship, punk and boogie into a new realm of relevancy. Riley Walker is mixing the pastoral folk of Nick Drake with free jazz into one of the more exciting sub-genres of late, while Wilco let go of the tired dad-rock phase and entered a world of spontaneity and fresh riffs. Our 20 best records of the year encapsulate these novel approaches to music, and although its always hard to narrow it down to 20- these are Glide’s favorites with thoughts from Glide’s writers themselves.
Glide’s 20 Best of the Year (In Alphabetical Order)
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
With Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes have made an album quite unlike their prior- think My Morning Jacket going from It Still Moves to Z. Dropping the retro soul sound, Brittany Howard and the Shkes went outside their comfort zone in a collection full of genre bending songs with spacey jams, electronic experiments to make a full rock band sound as exciting and fresh as it did in the 70’s.
All Them Witches- Dying Surfer Meets His Maker
All Them Witches have crafted a record that’s as stunning as it is horrifying, leading its listeners down a path to Hell as a sort of latter day Virgil guiding Dante through the inferno. Full of mystery and intrigue, All Them Witches have blown the invisible boundaries of genre off the map, leaving only a terrifying journey through darkness you have no choice but to embark upon. The band openly channels the spirit of gothic Americana, its sludgy tempos symbolic of darkened swamps hiding in darkened forests, waiting, eternally and patient, to catch the unwary in its grips. Even the album’s lighter moments belie a truth unspoken—there’s something dark in them woods, lurking, watching.
Andrew Combs – All These Dreams
Andrew Combs is a dynamite artist who just keeps getting better and better. On his second full-length record All These Dreams, a follow up to 2012’s Worried Man, he’s still evolving, this time taking on a more pop-country identity. Have no fear, though, if that isn’t your thing. Combs still sounds like he could have time-traveled from a past decade of classic country music. He’s perfected that throwback country vibe, but with Dreams, he’s delving into, no coincidence, dreamier hooks and more polished instrumentals.
Bop English – Constant Bop
When any album is this instantly catchy and flowing, a quick double check is needed. The proprietor of said album? Bop English aka James Petralli, the frontman of White Demin who is releasing his first solo record (which has been in the works for over a decade). The players? Petralli’s day band plus ex-Shearwater bassist Kevin Schneider and a host of others. Ok that all adds up, so the consensus? One of the most enjoyable sounding records to come out in some time; Constant Bop is gloriously adventurous pop rock.
Bright Light Social Hour– Space Is Still The Place
If you take Pink Floyd, stick them down south and add just the right amount of grit and dirt, you’ll have the killer Austin band the Bright Light Social Hour. A Southern psych rock aesthetic runs through the veins of their new record Space is Still the Place. It’s trippy, but not meandering, and thumps with dance-ready beats and carefree melodies that ebb and flow like a Technicolor tide.
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
If Kurt Cobain came back as an observant singer-songwriter, it might be in the form of Courtney Barnett. With a sense of humor atop honest lyrics where anything is game, Barnett’s music evolved from 90’s grunge, but isn’t a flannel throwback. These songs rock foremost and have the potential to usher in a new realm of punk, folk, garage rock, like a certain Seattle band decades prior.
Deerhunter – Fading Frontier
Fading Frontier serves as a new collection of tunes that finds the band shifting away from the grunge sensibilities of their last album, 2013’s Monomania, and treading in a brighter, more melodic direction. While this still remains somewhat of a challenging listen with a bevy of stylistic shifts and an assortment of cryptic lyrics to parse through, all in all, this album shies away from disorientation in favor of a cleaner, more forthcoming sound. While hardly qualifying as a breakthrough to more mainstream popularity, Fading Frontier could be that album that wins the veteran group some new fans or at the very least serve as a worthy introduction for the unfamiliar.
Destroyer – Poison Season
Four years after the highly celebrated release of Kaputt, Bejar has flipped the script and returned with an album that bears little sonic resemblance to the 80’s lite-rock aesthetic that brought Bejar that biggest acclaim of his nearly two-decade career. Instead, his often witty and frequently arcane vignettes crackle with the seasoned air of studio musicianship brought forth by the live, in-the-moment recording process utilized this time around over the spontaneity and haphazard stops and starts previously favored.
Failure- The Heart Is A Monster
These 18 tracks rocket the listener through an introspective journey full of emotionalism and, of course, rock. While it is a long album, there’s never a dull moment. Failure aren’t interested in making a record that’s easily digestible and what a gift that is to us. This is the kind of record that consumes you rather than the other way around. The guitars screech and wail over a pounding rhythm, providing the perfect backing for Ken Andrews’s mournful vocals. It’s a fabulous evolution to their sound that, though still rooted in post-grunge, transcends boundaries and labels.
James McMurtry- Complicated Game
Using his trademark acoustic guitar as his canvas, Texas singer-songwriter James McMurtry dabs banjo, mandolin, slide guitar, organ and harmonies throughout the tracks making his ninth studio release Complicated Game, perhaps his best. The album is the perfect mix of stark, dark ballads, toe-tapping ditties and magical musical tours. Lyrically McMurtry’s words beautify the mundane with his ever-present satirical viewpoint making life’s seemingly endless struggle told over picked guitar and banjo parts.
Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
Something More Than Free, like Southeastern, is a true country record, but rather than a heartfelt journalistic feel, it listens like a deep Southern novel, reminiscent of writers like Larry Brown or M.O. Walsh. And we’re never quite sure what’s autobiographical. Isbell is a Southern man through and through, and he is so skilled at pegging the unique details of the lifestyle he’s known all his life. Isbell’s soft, but strong voice is thoughtfully raspy when he belts out the chorus on songs like “How to Forget” and “The Life You Chose”, both troubled revisits to old, doomed relationships with women who left their mark.
JD McPherson – Let The Good Times Roll
It’s hard to say when McPherson is at his best because he can truly do it all. His theatrical growl on will do much more than shake you up. It will have you shaking your ass and twisting all over the dance floor with its steady, driving beat and McPherson’s uninhibited howl. He takes elements of the good old stuff and blends them with contemporary coolness, and it never feels forced or overwrought. That vintage thing comes naturally to him, a rarity in a sometimes overtly referential period in music.
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
While Lamar’s two prior albums ranged from great to even better, his third one transcends the recording artist to trippy experimental funk beats gives this album a vintage, yet modern feel. This album isn’t so much about singular hits or hype moments as it is about transcending. To Pimp A Butterfly is just as much as a rap/hip-hop album as it is a jazz/funk/soul/R&B album. Musically and lyrically there is nothing cookie cutter here, just fresh goods.
Lowcut Connie – Hi Honey
Hi Honey features a more full-band sound, but with that same retro rockabilly soul aesthetic they’ve always done so well. There’s a raucousness to their songs, like they’re just completely losing their shit in the best way. Hi Honey has a heavy 1960s vibe to it, which is so well suited to what Low Cut Connie does best. Frontman Adam Weiner’s bellow is Low Cut Connie’s secret weapon, but his band knows how to back him up.
Mac Demarco – Another One
The best part of DeMarco’s latest release is the fact that he’s dubbed it a “Mini-LP” rather than an EP. Nothing could be truer, as the work is quantified lyrically and melodically in a way that is not consistent with an EP. DeMarco’s ability to contort each individual piece from a typically easy listening elevator track into a well-loved, well-written summer soundtrack is not only telling of his talent as an artist, but also of his unruly expectations of himself as a musician, something that heeds heavily as a factor once you reach the end of the album.
Ryley Walker – Primrose Green
Chicago’s Ryley Walker is a folk singer whose unique brand of musicianship is a melding of styles, from the fingerpicking schools of Bert Jansch and Pentangle to the blue-eyed soul of Van Morrison and the free-jazz guitar of Sonny Sharrock. He can discuss any number of these influences, and although he doesn’t claim to have some all-encompassing knowledge of them, his hunger and interest in their pursuit is quite obvious when he speaks.
Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
No Cities to Love wastes no time in reminding us exactly why Sleater-Kinney is one of the important American rock bands of the last 20 years. Working once again with longtime producer John Goodmanson, these ten new songs, primarily recorded in secret at John Vanderslice’s famed San Francisco studio Tiny Telephone, bolster a tighter, more focused attack on the riot grrrl punk sound they helped perfect in the mid-90s, seemingly splitting the difference between The Pretenders and Pussy Riot on ragers like “A New Wave” and “Surface Envy.”
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Stevens has spent the last few years working on a handful of artsy, otherworldly projects, but where he’s landed now is most intriguing place. He’s taken a giant step away from his oddball imagination and instead, focused on the memories that have been lurking there, seemingly waiting to be shared. To be able to express himself so candidly and so poetically is a gift that makes Stevens a true rarity. He’s an artist through and through, but his most brilliant, striking work of art is also his least artistic. There are no frills on Carrie & Lowell, no fancy production. Just the man and his memories. And it turns out, that’s all we never knew we needed from him.
Titus Adronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
Leave it to this gang of Jersey punks to release an epic, conceptual triple album that also happens to be one of the year’s best releases. The band’s first album in five years is a swelling sea of vicious guitars and triumphant pianos, which serve as the backdrop to frontman and mad genius Patrick Stickles’ neurotic, manic lyrical vocals that have a tendency to veer from pure anger to pure bliss on the drop of a time and sometimes within the same verse.
Wilco – Star Wars
Wilco’s surprise release ninth LP is loads of snarling art-punk riffs, psychedelic texture, and dashed-off absurdity. That offhand vibe extends to the music. These are the messiest, most playful tunes in the Wilco catalogue – with a bare-bones, guitar-heavy production style that feels like a galaxy far, far away from the overdubbed headphone majesty of 2011′s The Whole Love.
20 Honorable Mentions (In Alphabetical Order)
Beach Slang- The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us
Billy Shaddox – I Melt, I Howl
Built to Spill – Untethered Moon
Bully– Feels Like
Charlie Parr – Stumpjumper
Deafheaven – New Bermuda
Faith No More – Sol Invictus
Frank Turner – Positive Songs for Negative People
Gary Clark Jr – The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
Grimes- Art Angels
Heartless Bastards – Restless Ones
Julia Holter — Have You in My Wilderness
Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Kevin Gordon – Long Gone Time
Kurt Vile- b’lieve i’m goin down…
Mikal Cronin – MCIII
Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves
Patty Griffin – Servant of Love
Promised Land Sound – For Use and Delight
Tame Impala – Currents