Sunday, July 5, 2015

Halftime Report: The 20 Best Albums of 2015 (so far)

There is so much new music released every week. Perhaps it is the exact same amount of music that was being released many years ago, and it is just that our access has increased exponentially. Either way, if you are a person who cares and takes an active interest in hearing as much of the new music out there as possible, it can be a pretty daunting task to make sense of it all. I took a few minutes to shine a light on 20 albums I have been able to spend some time with over that last six months. Albums that left some level of meaningful impression on these aging yet thirsty ears I use to obsesses over all manner of new music. 

So six months into 2015, and in no particular order, here are 20 albums I thought were the best so far this year.

Hot Chip - Why Make Sense?

Quite probably the most consistent musical act of the last 15 years. They have never made a bad album, and this one keeps that bold claim in tact. A bit of their old vibe with some new tricks thrown in. Fresh and perfect synth type pop, with some of the funkiest songs they have recorded to date.


Mikal Cronin - MCIII

This is the third album by this jangly fuzzed out California songwriter. This one adds string arrangements and even more maturity to his craft. Cronin makes special, genuine, familiar sounding music. So great to hear guitar pop made with this level of care and sincerity.


Dutch Uncles - O Shudder

Quirky, mathy art pop from Manchester. This is actually the fourth album from Dutch Uncles and it is another solid outing, that blends Hot Chip esque vocals with with choppy well executed playing, over wonderful pop hooks. One of my three favourite bands making music right now.


Yukon Blonde - On Blonde

The third full length album from this Vancouver band, sees them stepping up the synth quotient slightly to wonderful effect. All of their material is the stuff from which quality indie pop is made, and On Blonde might be their best yet. Perhaps the best young band working in Canada currently.


Bjork - Vulnicura

This wonderful little weirdo lost me sometime after 1997's Homogenic, but she has my attention again on this album. Impassioned and heartbreaking stuff, all backdropped with combinations of sounds no one else can do quite like Bjork.


The Charlatans - Modern Nature

I had all but relegated the Charlies to retired Madchester and Brit Pop royalty, somewhat past their prime. Bad call. This is one of the strongest collection of songs they have produced since their self titled fourth album in the mid 90's. This is the sound of a band who are really comfortable in their skin, and have no pressure to do anything but remind everyone how great they can be. Looks so good on them.


Ceremony - The L-Shaped Man

My sense is there are some fans of Ceremony who prefer when they sound like a more traditional hard core punk band. My personal preference is them making an album like this, that leans far more on traditional post-punk and goth type styles. Some reviewers have said this sounds like another Joy Division cover effort. It does not, and if it did, that would be completely fine with me as well. This is a super tightly executed album from these guys.


FFS - FFS

Apparently this project has been in the works for some time. A fascinating collaboration between new Brit art rockers Franz Ferdinand, and old school art farts, Sparks. This works on so many levels, with Sparks leading the charge somewhat. Sparks were a terrible blind spot for me prior to this record, which I am correcting with great haste by purchasing their whole back catalogue. You don't make a record like this to make money. This is 100% about making interesting music and writing wonderfully pretentious art school songs.


METZ - II

Toronto hardcore-post-punk darlings light it up on their sophomore album. The noise feels urgent rather than gratuitous, and none of the rage hear outpaces the subtle hooks. Three people should not be able to create this much legitimate noise and anxiety on a studio recording. This album stresses me out when I'm listening to it, in the best possible way.


Everything Everything - Get To Heaven

I love this band. If I have three favourite bands currently making new music, Everything Everything is one of them, and that only has a little bit to do with them being from Manchester. Third release from these cats sees them really hitting stride. Their debut was a wonderful math pop mess. The second album a bit more, but still hardly radio friendly. Get To Heaven finds them perfectly balanced. Hooks galore. Vocals that admittedly are not for everyone. Solid players, with a range of genre influences few bands can capture so seamlessly. Brilliant record.


Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

Another wonderful little weirdo, whose solo material I actually slightly prefer to his work with Animal Collective. Not sure this one quite hits the calibre of his solo debut, Person Pitch, but it's right there. This one feels super fluid and focused, for an artist whose thing seems to be having a lack of focus.


Tuxedo - Tuxedo

Unabashed 70s/80s influenced funk and disco fun. Perfectly executed with the highest calibre of organic dance music in mind. Sort of like where Chromeo started a number of years back, but playing to far fewer gimmicks and image based retro-ism. I dare anyone not to dance while Tuxedo is playing.


Local H - Hey, Killer

Admittedly, I have tended to be a singles and hits fan of Local H, despite having some close musical friends who are huge fans. I always categorized the band as unfairly under the radar compared to higher profile and less competent 90s alterna guitar stalwarts. What I was not expecting in 2015 was a Local H album that is without apology, very much akin to their hey day sound, but in a way that doesn't sound dated or trite like so much of that era can tend to at this point. This is a crunchy guitar rock record that works on just on just about every level.


Tanlines - Highlights

There had to be a fair amount of pressure on Tanlines after their Matador released debut album from 2012. These Brooklyn lads tapped into the quality side of all the electro/synth pop stuff that is cluttering the interwaves these days. This follow-up doesn't quite hit the same mark, but it is still a fabulous set of heartfelt pop songs from a couple dudes who clearly get it.


Dan Deacon - Gliss Riffer

This guy is bananas. Until this album, I wasn't completely onside with his absurd and patchy form of mixed sounds. This album feels more playful and jovial though, and I love the keyboard sounds he has put together. It feels like Deacon could be at the forefront of limit pushing electronic music, and this record seems like a deliberate step along that path.



Susanne Sundfor - Ten Love Songs

A friend recently introduced me to this Norwegian artist. Experimental electronic pop songs, with dense, textured production and lovely vocal arrangements. Maybe the best album of 2015 no one will hear.


Viet Cong - Viet Cong

The lead single from this album, "Silhouettes," could lead one to believe this is a really well put together post-punk record, with atmospheric synths and sparse vocal treatments. Rather, it's a really great record by a young Calgary band, with solid elements of post-punk, noise, and lo-fi pop throughout.


Errors - Lease of Life

These guys really seemed to come into their own three years ago on their fourth album, Have Some Faith In Magic. This new record finds them continuing to fire on all cylinders, while still pushing the limits of their lush and eclectic electronic pop songs.


Mew - + - 

Mew lost me somewhat on their last few albums, but this album could be their best in ten years. They continue to produce ambitious pop songs, which are almost rooted in prog sensibilities, without ever really venturing into self indulgent meandering. Another solid outing from these Danish veterans.


The Vaccines - English Graffiti

Comparisons to The Strokes continue to be a thing with these guys, but unlike their first couple of impassioned straight forward guitar records, they have added a bit more depth and shine to the mix on English Graffiti. This is the classic sound of a band on their third record, where they are completely confident enough to move the sticks around and throw in some of their new wave and glam influences.