Every year since I was in high school I’ve had a tradition of compiling my favorite songs of the year and putting them together as a single mix. At first they were on cassette, then CD, and now digital. I only have a couple of rules:
- I have to have acquired the songs some time within the preceding year or else have been re-listening to them a lot during that time.
- Everything has to end up sounding good together, because a mix isn’t random, a mix is a carefully constructed montage of sound.
This year’s mix clocks in at around 1 hour and 53 minutes and features 25 of my favorite songs from 2015. I call it:
Rejoice, Rebuild, The Storm Has Passed
1. Frank Turner
“The Next Storm”
Positive Songs for Negative People
I decided to start of this year’s mix with a song that pretty much said everything I wanted to say about ending 2015 and going into 2016. After an all too negatively eventful two years I felt like I took 2015 to hibernate and rebuild, but as a new year dawns I’m tired of taking it easy and as Frank says “I’m gonna step out and face the next storm”. Incidentally Frank’s music has been a steady source of joy these past three years. Rejoice!
Berkley to Bakersfield
Ever since David Lowery got Camper van Beethoven back together just over a decade ago there has been a steady stream of CvB and Cracker releases every year or two. These days the only difference tends to be who’s playing on the albums. Last year’s Cracker release was a two disc affair and while the first disc “Berkley” didn’t thrill me, disc 2 “Bakersfield” was the kind of alt country I’ve been coming to Cracker for since the early 90’s. While I feel like Lowery’s spread his songwriting a little thin between both bands, he does manage to record some great tracks now and then, this being one.
3. Death Cab for Cutie
At this point I’m not certain why I keep buying whole Death Cab albums. It’s not that I don’t like them anymore, but beyond one stand out track (usually the lead off single) I rarely find much else I like on them. That one track though is always a killer. “Black Sun” off of Kintsugi is easily one of those tracks, a perfect example of what Death Cab do well.
“Montreal Rock Band Somewhere”
Weird Little Birthday
This is the first of several new-to-me bands this year that I discovered at or while researching acts for SXSW this past March. Happyness was actually the one of two of those bands that I didn’t end up seeing live, but I loved this song so much that I picked up their most recent album on which it appears as a bonus track. To me this band has a sound that hearkens back to that 90’s or early 2000’s post-grunge, psuedo shoegaze, hazy rock that I love so much.
5. Mother Falcon
Good Luck Have Fun
It’s been a little while since a proper release from Mother Falcon, but this latest LP at least partially counts. Their first on a major label (after a last minute signing) it features an EP’s worth of new songs followed by an instrumental suite that was originally made for a documentary about professional StarCraft players. Good Luck, Have Fun is nothing to look one’s nose down at however. With several quality tracks it reveals a band that is growing but stabilizing at the same time, if anything it just whets my appetite for a proper LP in the near future.
6. Mumford & Sons
“Tompkins Square Park”
I never jumped on the Mumford & Sons bandwagon. I listened to and liked Sigh no More, but coming on the heels of The Avett Brothers’ I and Love and You I really didn’t need another banjo folk band. This latest album is nothing like their earlier work though and that’s probably why it caught my attention. Electric and poppy in that way that Brits do so well this really works for me and there are a number of excellent tracks to be found within. Ultimately “Tompkins Square Park” just fit the best in the mix, but was also the song that had most recently clicked with me as I was thinking about putting it together.
7. Bright Light Social Hour
Space is Still the Place
I didn’t really get into Bright Light Social Hour’s initial release, it was too much Stones’ style blues rock for me and I’m more a Beatles guy. Their sophomore release is something entirely different though. Progressive and spacey, Space is Still the Place takes the solid base of their previous work and builds it out in strange and wonderful ways, resulting in almost Pink Floyd like moments and bizarre twists like this disco/prog/80’s-synth/not quite My Morning Jacket but almost anomaly “Dreamlove”.
The Heart is a Monster
Failure have ruined band reunions at least for a generation by finally doing it right. Having split up nearly 20 years ago, Failure not only reunited recently, but released a new album that was not disappointing in the least. I’m sure there are many factors that went into this being true, not the least of which being Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards never having moved too far from the kind of music they made as Failure after they split, but regardless I’m glad that it all turned out so well. While no Failure album will ever resonate with me the way that Fantastic Planet does, The Heart is a Monster has been worth more than just a few spins and will likely join my regular Failure rotation whenever the urge strikes me.
9/10. East Cameron Folkcore
Kingdom of Fools
I got turned on to East Cameron Folkcore at the absolute perfect time, just before they released their third LP, the ambitious concept album Kingdom of Fear. I became acquainted with the band after seeing them open for Quiet Company in early March and when Kingdom of Fear came out it quite simply blew me away. Touting folk rock played with a punk ethos and intensity, East Cameron Folkcore don’t pull any punches musically or lyrically. This is an important album for the times and hopefully for East Cameron Folkcore’s career as well.
“Footsteps in the the Distance”
Envy is a band that just doesn’t quit. Having surpassed 15 years of activity this Japanese hardcore band has manged to remain relevant through several evolutions. Having started off as just another early 00’s sounding hardcore band, Envy developed their own epic spin on the sound, eventually meandering off to more serene (but still heavy) post-rockish soundscapes on recent releases. This latest album sees them pulling together all their separate selves in one epic push and it’s amazing. I only wish they had swung by Austin during their recent US tour. It’s a rare sighting that happens only once every 5 years or so.
12. UNTD SNKS
You Know the Snakes Don’t Love EP
These guys are either from Dallas or Austin or both. I’m not sure. What I do know is that I should have heard of them before now. This is my kind of hardcore … the kind that some people don’t think of as hardcore because it’s has hooks and melody and they can stand listening to it. Boiling over with intensity backed by an obvious understanding of how to rock, these guys get it done. It’s too bad their last release was in 2013, though they did do a local radio recording late last year, so maybe there’s something on the horizon.
13. Feral Future
I’m so proud of Austin punk music these past couple of years. The scene is finally wriggling out from beneath the bloated corpse of the mainstream’s fascination with “garage” “punk” and we’re seeing all kinds of great and diverse acts coming to the surface. Feral Future would seem to be one of the bands at the forefront of this new non-movement. I think it was great to see so may people excited about Sleater Kinney’s reunion and new album earlier in the year, but I’d like to challenge them to be more than scenester posers and pick up this album. SK are great, but Feral Future are the real deal when it comes to ground floor Riot Grrl today.
14. US Weekly
Void of Devices
Another recent addition to the Austin punk stable, I can’t easily pin down US Weekly. It’s “punk” sure, but at times reminiscent of Black Flag-brand hardcore and at others it wanders off on more experimental bents. Regardless, they manage to get it right while still sounding like they just threw it all together at the last minute. Who knows, maybe they did. That’s the beauty of punk, it doesn’t have to be polished to be quality.
This was a local punk-tinged release from last year that grabbed my attention early this year and while at times generic, has enough hooks in songs like this one that kept me coming back. The second half of this song just floors me every time, especially knowing that the singer is also the drummer. I need to see her play this live at some point. There’s no way it cannot be impressive.
16. The Hollowpoints
“Ever Have Your Asshole Licked by a Fat Guy in a Jawbreaker T-Shirt?”
Rocket to Ranier
I cannot express how glad I am that this band is still around. Their last LP was one of my favorite albums of 2010. After not hearing anything from them since then, out of the blue I got wind of this release about two weeks before it dropped. They basically picked up right where they left off, cracking out another album of hardcore-edged pop punk tracks and once again landing on my list of favorites for the year.
17. The Effects
Closer b/w Eyes to the Light
If Devin Ocampo is making music, I’m going to be there. Having finally put Medications to bed it seems, Devin’s new band The Effects have been releasing two-song EP’s since late last year and they’ve all been great. Whether meant to stand alone or precursor to a larger release, I’ve been along for the ride and I hope it doesn’t end anytime soon.
18. Grand Analog
“I Play my Kazoo”
Metropolis is Burning
Another of my SXSW finds, these guys fit right into my hip-hop niche or at least this song and a couple others on this album did. Backed by live instruments and avoiding the consumerism and braggadocio of so much mainstream hip-hop, Grand Analog make the kind of rap I dig, though their catalog as a whole does have a little bit more of a reggae leaning than is to my liking. Live at SXSW they owned the stage however, drawing a growing crowd as their set went on and inspiring everyone to move and shake.
19. Fight Like Apes
The Body of Christ and the Legs of Tina Turner
Yes, it’s another SXSW band, this time from Ireland. While their album ultimately didn’t thrill me too much, this song really clicked. There’s something about their dual synth + bass and drums setup that’s fun and works really well here. It’s a fun pop song. Sometimes that’s all you need.
20. Wild Party
Speaking of pop songs, this was another SXSW pick, but one that I didn’t get to check out live. I bought the album anyway though after deciding I liked several of the tracks and this one in particular kept getting stuck in my head. There’s just something undeniably twee about Wild Party’s music that I feel like I haven’t heard in a while. Somewhere between Emperor X and The Field Mice, it’s that kind of indie pop that manages to tickle my fancy every now and then.
21. Quiet Company
“Mother of a Deal”
Trangressor is the first 100% new LP from Quiet Company in a few years and while my initial reception of the album was good, I feel like I went back and forth on it for a while. As time went on and I understood the context of the album more (written during the break up of front man Tyler Muse’s marriage) I began to pick up some of the album’s more subtle complexity. “Mother of a Deal” was always one of my favorite tracks on Transgressor, but understanding where it came from gave it a new life just in time to be included in this mix.
The last of my SXSW finds turned out to be a local band that I hadn’t previously been aware of. “Spring Forward”‘s artfully arranged arpeggios caught my notice right away, setting off my math rock alarm rather loudly. The composition and layering of instruments is truly captivating and as a bonus Hikes were an excellent live band too, easily one of the highlights of my final night of SXSW this year.
23. Wild Child
Fools was the album that would not die. Coming late in the year I initially wrote it off as too much of a departure from what I thought I previously liked about Wild Child. There was only one problem though: I couldn’t stop listening to it. I eventually came to peace with what Fools was – despite never gaining a fondness for the eponymous lead off track/single – and “Break Bones” was a big reason behind that. A piano ballad that rivals the most stirring output of songstresses like Tori Amos and Regina Spektor, “Break Bones” owes much of its power to Kelsey Wilson’s mesmerizing vocals.
The last few Muse albums haven’t really stuck with me very well, but Drones seems to have broken the trend, supplying what may be my favorite album of theirs since Black Holes and Revelations. There’s definitely more of a progressive leaning on this release and that’s one of the things that I come to Muse for, that fusion of Brit pop and prog rock. “The Globalist” is one of a couple excellent examples off of Drones, but possibly my favorite.
25. And So I Watch You From Afar
I’m always luke warm on new And So I Watch You From Afar releases for a while and Heirs was no exception. Ultimately I feel as if the first half of the album is fairly forgettable, featuring songs that don’t move far beyond a single central sonic theme, but side two is almost an album in and of itself. Practically a connected suite of songs, the final four tracks of Heirs are epic in a way that I don’t think I’ve heard ASIWYFA be since their initial release.