Posts Tagged ‘Best Albums Of 2015’

Welcome to the world of Natalie Prass co-produced by Matthew E. White. It looks a lot like our own, but it’s all painted in bright smears of blue and light pink. There are a lot more horns this time. The year of the ’70s singer-songwriter never really took off again, but Prass album certainly did, and that’s mainly due to the boundless creative energy she exhibits on her debut, where the limits are only as high as her ambition. The 2015 album from the Nashville-based singer/songwriter. Not only one of the sharpest up-and-coming songwriters in Nashville, Natalie Prass possesses a rare artistic method she infuses into all her endeavors. She handcrafts album artwork and flyers and organizes local vinyl listening parties/drawing sessions, and there appears to be little end to the homespun creativity of this bright young talent. She’s also no slouch in the pipes department either — the girl can sing. While her delicate alto evokes clear benchmarks of influence — see early Rilo Kiley, Feist, Karen Carpenter, etc. Natalie Prass never seems weighed down by the artists she’s absorbed. Instead, she has developed a refreshing guitar-grounded musical vocabulary and a knack for infectious and entrancing tunes. Still, it’s a spirit of invitation and friendship that continues to be Prass’ most pronounced attribute.

By crafting ornate, grandiose arrangements about heartbreak and loss and desire, she imbues all of these emotions with the dramatic flair they deserve.

Natalie’s live set also got better as the year went on, but she was never short of surprises throughout it all. One night at the Los Angeles’ Troubadour, Prass brought out Ryan Adams on stage for a couple songs that left the crowd speechless (and she was opening for San Fermin mind you). Prass essentially courses through the entirety of her brilliant debut album (Top Albums of 2015) and her incredible backing band is just as mesmerizing as she is. Trey Pollard on guitar, Michael Libramento on bass and Scott Clark on drums all—like Prass—hail from Richmond, Va. and are all essential to enacting Prass’s live experience. In late October, Natalie performed at a few of our festivals this year, her set was highly intimate. She had a few drinks in her and the confidence of her budding career came through with every joke and every gorgeous note as she was among  one of the best live performances I saw all year

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Metz, II
These mild-looking Canadians revive the golden age of early Nirvana and ’90s grunge with 10 walloping noise-rockers—but there are surprising hooks amid all the Sturm und Drang. The sludgy, tinnitus-inducing sound of the ’90s’ Seattle Sound lives on with this Toronto trio. From the thumping bass lines of album opener “Acetate” to the deafening wall of distortion of closer “Kicking a Can of Worms,” II is ten rounds of pummeling noise-rock that never lets up

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“If post-punk speaks the language of disaffection, then don’t call Ought a post-punk band. It’s easy to listen to Tim Darcy’s wry vocal inflection and find cynicism in it, but Ought’s music swallows angst and spits it back out in the form of life-affirming songs. They seek to inspire with “Sun Coming Down” its an impulsive, interpretive ode to existence that, on particularly bad days, reminds me of all that I have left under this big, beautiful, blue sky

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Ought Known the value of a song’s lyrics, David Byrne once said, “In a certain way, it’s the sound of the words—the inflection and the way it’s sung and the way it fits the melody and the way the syllables are on the tongue—that has as much of the meaning as the actual, literal words.” It seems Ought’s Tim Darcy takes a cue from this emphasis on lyrical delivery over lyrical content in the Montreal-based, post-punk band’s newest single “Men for Miles”. It’s the second track off their sophomore LP Sun Coming Down on Constellation Records

As you listen to the song’s frantic energy unfurl, you get a sense that Darcy is someone who lives in his own head most of the time. He proposes anarchy (“bringing this whole fucker down”) only to follow it up with clinical logic and rationality (“It came with instructions / It’s neither here nor there”). Over a heaping layer of rhythmic guitars and drums, he asks with a combination of paranoia and distrust, “What did you see? / What did I see?” In “Men For Miles”, the mental cage breaks open and unleashes an anxiety-ridden stream of consciousness that makes more sense and feels more potent in listening to the idiosyncratic tone in  voice than it ever would on paper.

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Sufjan Stevens - <em>Carrie & Lowell</em> (Asthmatic Kitty)

Before the year was even two weeks old in 2015, we were greeted with the wonderful, news that Sufjan Stevens had an album on the way, a return to his “folk roots.” It was about time! After a run of three classics in three years — 2003’s Michigan, 2004’s Seven Swans, and 2005’s IllinoisStevens wandered around the wilderness for a decade, reporting back only with sporadic news . It was easy to imagine we’d lost him forever.

When “Carrie & Lowell” arrived in early 2015, though, we realized it wasn’t a return to anything. Like so many soldiers, convicts, and mystics, Stevens had been irretrievably altered in his time away. The guy who made Illinois was gone. On that record, Stevens occasionally tackled subjects such as substance abuse and mental illness and mortality (all three in the same song on “John Wayne Gacy”),

On Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens is directly singing about his own mother’s drug addiction, her schizophrenia, her death from stomach cancer. He’s singing about his own terror and sadness and loss — his own childhood, his own grief. There’s no glockenspiel, no grand concept; there’s little more than a finger-picked acoustic guitar and a whispering, quivering voice. And that voice doesn’t just sound haunted; it sounds like a fucking ghost. Listen to Carrie & Lowell on headphones, it doesn’t feel like Stevens is singing to you; it feels like he’s singing inside you.

It’s a discomfiting experience. Stevens’ most obvious musical touchstone here is Elliott Smith — another damaged person who wrestled with demons his whole life — but Carrie & Lowell is somehow even more devastating than any of Smith’s records. That’s partly because Stevens‘ soft voice is so prominent in the mix. Elliott Smith buried his vocals in layers, tangled them in knots; you can listen to an Elliott Smith record and just get lost in the loveliness of the sound if you don’t want to think about the ferocious pain conveyed in the words. Carrie & Lowell refuses you that option: You get trapped in the loveliness of the sound.

But Carrie & Lowell isn’t a morbid record, like the moments of Sun Kil Moon’s Benji, it is meditative, honest, and open. It claws at the world. It fights back at the darkness. It rips you to shreds and moves you to tears, but it’s not asking you to dwell on death — it is forcing you to experience life. And when I immerse myself in Carrie & Lowell, I’m engaging with every single verse, but here, now, I will engage only with this one, which closes “Eugene”:

“What’s left is only bittersweet/ For the rest of my life, admitting the best is behind me/ Now I’m drunk and afraid, wishing the world would go away/ What’s the point of singing songs/ If they’ll never even hear you?”

Carrie & Lowell captures a life full of bittersweetness — several lives, really. And in the music, all those voices, the living and the dead, are reflected, amplified.

The best is not behind Sufjan Stevens. He has never been better than this, never really even been close. He can push the world away and walk off into the woods if he wants . Not anymore. Carrie & Lowell forces us to hear everything, to feel everything.  Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell was released a few years ago, and while some records lose their luster over time, this one remains stunningly, painfully intimate to this day. The record details Stevens’ troubled relationship with his mother, and also marks his return to a more traditional folk sound. Full of intricate guitar picking and ghostly vocals, listening to Carrie & Lowell is like bearing witness to one person’s beautifully rendered emotional wreckage.

There’s no other way to say it: This album kicks so much ass. Instead of rattling around your brain, the hooks on this thing punch right through your skull. Screaming Females sound less ragged and more polished, and to some, the sanding down of their punk edges could be a disappointment. But that polishing leaves them a towering rock machine, every one of Marissa Paternoster’s guitar heroics and defiant wails perfectly calibrated to make you want to go stomp a dragon in the teeth. And if that makeover paves the way for something like “Wishing Well,” a downright pretty alt-pop song that still manages to shred, I’m all for it.

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When “Girls” was released in the spring of 2015, we woke up and took notice. We’d loved Widowspeak’s Jarvis Taveniere-produced debut in 2011, but found the follow-up, 2013’s Almanac, a trifle problematic, as Molly Hamilton’s ethereal voice, lathered on too thick, can be like a cake that’s all icing and air. Yet “Girls” was a nutritious harmonic pastry, still sweet but plenty nourishing, and a few months later when “All Yours” was released, we prayed that the full album would be as good as those two songs. Happily, Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas’s move from Brooklyn to Upstate New York has filled their music with fresh Hudson Valley air, and any cloying sensibilities have been washed away. The sugar high is gone, we happily declared with All Yours came out in September 2015, and it was a wonderful backdrop to autumn.

They came back roaring. The greatest punk band of the late-’90s and early-’00s didn’t have to make any music; they could’ve toured for years on past glories and Portlandia recognition. Instead, they gave us 10 songs of feverish, desperate urgency. Musically, they went full-bore, keeping the tangled intensity of their last album, the psych-rock experiment The Woods, but streamlining those sounds into power-pop anthems with strangled-robot guitar effects. And once again, they’re completely locked-in with one another, generating riffs and grooves with the sort of chemistry few bands throughout history can match. It’s like they never left. It’s beautiful.

As if Sleater-Kinney’s grad return and triumphant “No Cities To Love” weren’t enough in 2015, the riot grrrl group teamed up with the creators of the Fox animated series Bob’s Burgers for “A New Wave.” The video shows the band playing this song in 13-year-old Tina Belcher’s bedroom. Everyone is jumping up and down, which, yeah, is pretty much was Sleater-Kinney makes you want to do.

Opening with the subtle rumble of early morning Chinatown, hazy instrumental shape into focus with languid guitars, gently welcoming you into a dream .  The Manchester-based multi-instrumentalist/producer Ryan Kennedy,and his  dream pop group Horsebeach. Based around chiming guitars and Kennedy’s downbeat croon, Horsebeach draw inspiration from classic jangle pop. Becoming critics’ favourites with the release of their eponymous debut album in 2014,

The summery groove and the pop majesty of ‘It’s Alright’ soon sends you spinning into infinity, cares eased by the warm tones of chiming guitars, while Beth de Cent’s smokey vocals come together in perfect harmony with Kennedy’s. ‘Andy’ treats you to a yearning tale of forbidden love, packed with erotic overtones so full blooded they’d make Morrissey blush , while the marbled melodies of ‘Broken Light’ come on in nostalgic ripples and waves of sepia-tinged beauty. ‘Let You Down’ finds Kennedy’s voice sounding better than ever, detailing visceral regret over a full bodied groove .

Opening the B-side with a masterful subtlety, synth led instrumental ‘Midnight Pt.2’ sees Kennedy taking us for a moonlit stroll by the ocean before ‘Dana’ ushers in the dawn with the greatest X-Files inspired song ever written (sorry Cerys). The antithesis of over-serious hipster cool, the earnestly emotional lyrics, anthemic chords and shimmering should be enough to prompt John Hughes to rise again and make a much needed sequel to The Breakfast Club. ‘Disappear’ finds Kennedy and drummer Matt Booth drinking in the cosmic vintage of Düsseldorf ’72, as their chiming West Coast guitars are joined by celestial keys, head nodding bass grooves and a motorik rhythm. ‘Clouds’ draws us back into the haze as Kennedy’s multi-tracked vocals gently melt into the swirl of flanged guitar, while ‘Avoid The Light’ closes the LP with a plea to stay in the dreamworld just a little longer.

Alive with lyrical depth, melodic intricacy and lush production, ‘II’ is the work of a confident and mature multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, and it’s your new favourite LP all of a sudden.

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TRACK LISTING

1. Intro
2. It’s Alright
3. Andy
4. Broken Light
5. Let You Down
6. Midnight Part 2
7. Dana
8. Disappear
9. Clouds
10. Avoid The Light

 

Time to Go Home artwork

Seattle post-punk female four piece return with their second album and their first for Sub Pop offshoot, Hardly Art. ‘Time to Go Home’ sees Chastity Belt take the nights out and bad parties of their past to their stretching points, watch the world around them break apart in anticipatory haze, and rebuild it in their own image with stunning clarity before anyone gets hung over. Cool, twangy and languid guitars meet vocals dripping in melancholy.

Let yourself be swept away by this stunning, meditative clip for Chastity Belt’s “Lydia,” off of their widely-acclaimed 2015 album “Time to Go Home”.

Chastity Belt is a rock band consisting of four friends – guitarists Julia Shapiro and Lydia Lund, bassist Annie Truscott, and drummer Gretchen Grimm. They met in a tiny college town in Eastern Washington, but their story begins for real in Seattle, that celebrated home of Macklemore and the Twelfth Man. Following a post-grad summer apart, a handful of shows and enthusiastic responses from the city’s DIY community led them, as it has countless others, into a cramped practice space. They emerged with a debut album, No Regerts, sold it out faster than anyone involved thought possible, and toured America, a country that embraced them with open-ish arms. Now they’re back and the tab is settled, the lights are out, the birds are making noise even though the sun isn’t really up yet: it’s Time to Go Home, their second long-player and first for Hardly Art.

In the outside world, they realized something crucial: they didn’t have to play party songs now that their audience didn’t consist exclusively of inebriated 18-22 year olds, as it did in that college town. Though still built on a foundation of post-post-punk energy, jagged rhythms, and instrumental moves that couldn’t be anyone else’s, the songs they grew into in the months that followed are equal parts street-level takedown and gray-skied melancholy. They embody the sensation of being caught in the center of a moment while floating directly above it; Shapiro’s world spins around her on “On The Floor,” grounded by Grimm and Truscott’s most commanding playing committed to tape. They pay tribute to writer Sheila Heti on “Drone” and John Carpenter with “The Thing,” and deliver a parallel-universe stoner anthem influenced by Electrelane with “Joke.”

Recorded by José Díaz Rohena at the Unknown, a deconsecrated church and former sail factory in Anacortes, and mixed with a cathedral’s worth of reverb by Matthew Simms (guitarist for legendary British post-punks and one-time tourmates Wire), Time to Go Home sees Chastity Belt take the nights out and bad parties of their past to their stretching points, watch the world around them break apart in anticipatory haze, and rebuild it in their own image with stunning clarity before anyone gets hung over.

TRACK LISTING

1. Drone
2. Trapped
3. Why Try
4. Cool Slut
5. On The Floor
6. The Thing
7. Joke
8. Lydia
9. IDC
10. Time To Go Home

Every discussion of Hop Along begins with Frances Quinlan’s voice. It’s a force of nature, yes, but it’s also human, often painfully so, and she uses it to relate stories of humanity in all its rawness and imperfection, its ugliness and its grace. The band match her thorny intensity with knife-sharp guitars and rhythms, see-sawing from sweetness to noise, building to moments of musical and emotional catharsis that detonate with the force of a land-mine. So much of Painted Shut is about feeling small, feeling weak, letting people down and being let down, but Hop Along turn that into something explosive and strong and beautiful and triumphant. Powerlessness has never sounded so powerful.

The wiry, bookish sound of Painted Shut by the band Hop Along are at their vanguard. “By the time it’s old/ My face will have been seen/ And I’ll share a very/ Common poverty/ It’s a very common kind,” Frances Quinlan sings on “Waitress”, a vignette about a disgraced diner server. Hop Along spend all of their stellar third album leaping to capture these specific sorts of honors.

Quinlan’s rough voice always sounds on the verge of giving out, but as a writer she is a tender guardian who sees dignity everywhere she looks: On “The Knock”, she is moved to tears by the beaming Jehovah’s Witness who knocks on her door (“I never once seen a teenager look so radiant”), and “Buddy in the Parade” recalls the spectacular public breakdown of early-20th century cornetist Charles “Buddy” Bolden, who started frothing at the mouth during a parade performance and spent the rest of his life in a sanitarium. The songs are furiously angry in their energy and endlessly compassionate toward their targets, backing you into a corner and hugging you fiercely, like someone staging a very determined intervention on your behalf.