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Ten Best Albums of 2015 by Shirley Griffith

By Shirley Griffith 

December 22, 2015

Ten Best Albums of 2015 by Shirley Griffith

Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone? 

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This album from Canadian duo Matthew Otto and Devon Welsh took my breath away the first time I heard it. Then I listened about 800 times more on solid repeat day after day (which took approximately a month) and still got the same incredible, floating feeling. It is grey, ethereal, and beautifully moody. Devon Welsh’s execution of the lyrics add an entire performance level onto the already transcendent music, especially in “Downtown” where Welsh punches out “…is it really this cool to be in your life.” The intensity of the album could make it difficult to get into unless you’re in the proper headspace but that doesn’t seem to be a problem overall. Are You Alone? is full of empathy and understanding– a quiet hand soothing the depressive existential dreads of the everyday– as in it’s OK to be sad sometimes, it’s OK to feel alone. At the end of the day there is a massive love and unspoken but wildly beating intimacy between each human heart.

Favorite tracks: “Downtown,” “If You’re Lonely”

Fraser A Gorman – Slow Gum 

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This is the first full-length released from the young Australian and it bleeds strongly in the vein of traditional Americana. A perfectly warm blend of strolling blues and storyteller lyrics accentuated with twang, Gorman’s considerate and easy-going personality pleasantly weaves throughout the album. Slow Gum is comprised of confidence and character rippled with simple observations that occasionally wink out at the listener. Ultimately, the album in full is a blue-collar, literary comfort. Gorman had a big breakout year, opening for and touring with You Am I and Courtney Barnett, as well as releasing two stylish music videos from the album: “Broken Hands” and “Shiny Gun.” 

Favorite tracks: “Book of Love,” “Broken Hands,”  “Dark Eyes”

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit 

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Courtney Barnett (who runs the record label, Milk!, with her partner/brilliant songwriter Jen Cloher) released her first full-length this year as well. SISATASIJS comes out of the gate roaring with the awkward interaction “Elevator Operator,” in which she mistakenly presumes that a man she sees is unhappy with his life and she pleads with him not to jump. This clever, dark silliness runs streaming like a cake-faced toddler through a party and the album is as charming as Barnett herself. SISATASIJS is a refreshing chaos of pop held together by the familiar heartiness of guitar rock or, as Barnett once described herself, “like eating an orange whole.” The album reflects her insecurities about fame in “Pedestrian At Best,” her views on wildlife conservation and capitalism in “Dead Fox,” her outside-looking-in woes about buying a house in “Depreston” and maybe 2015’s slogan/song of the year “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party.”

Favorite tracks: “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party,” “Depreston,” “Pedestrian At Best”

Elvis Depressedly – New Alhambra 

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I first saw Elvis Depressedly in the now extinct DIY venue Area 15 and was initially taken by the humorous stage name and the lyrics of the song “Weird Honey”: “…If there’s a cold spot in Hell I know you’ll get it.” Flash forward two years later and Elvis Depressedly is playing May’s Reverb Fest at Neighborhood Theatre in support of their album New Alhambra, released that same month. The album ranges from evocative Southern mysticism to professional wrestling, to abstract samplings of preachers and hell-fire which nostalgically peep its head in as a nod to lead singer Mat Cothran’s Bible Belt origins. The textured, watery drips in New Alhambra seep slowly and contemplative resulting in a mellow, shimmering clarity for the band. The album also reflects a new hope built up from the decayed ruins of an old state. The last track on New Alhambra “Wastes of Time” may be my favorite lyrically, offering up coherent optimism even at the very end: “If you try, I will try/if we fuck up it’s alright/there’s so much more to life/than all these wastes of time.” Top tracks off the album include “Thou Shall Not Murder,” “N.M.S.S. (No More Sad Songs),” “Ease,” and “Wastes of Time.”

Favorite tracks: “Thou Shall Not Murder,” “N.M.S.S. (no more sad songs),” “Ease,” “Wastes of Time”

Mineral Girls – Cozy Body 

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Local four-piece Mineral Girls really surprised me with their album Cozy Body, produced by our lord and savior Bo White. Not that I didn’t expect great things from the Mineral Girls, but when your friends make a record that you find yourself listening to over and over again, well… Cozy Body did that for me. I appreciate that the central theme of the album is one of being uncomfortable within your own body. The band makes it alright to feel inadequate, a feeling I constantly struggle with, and they even take it so far as to yell out “is anyone happy with the body they were given/ was Jesus happy with the body he was given?” I feel that Cozy Body was perhaps a very cathartic album to make as most of the songs sit somewhere between letting your past go and accepting that there is life afterward. Whether this comes from finally making peace with yourself in your physical body or with your own emotional baggage there is peace to be had and it feels good knowing that message is out there.

Favorite tracks:  “Cozy Body,” “Nvr Ur Gf”

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell 

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I never was on board the Sufjan train until Carrie & Lowell. Written about his mother and stepfather, the album is uniquely and immediately timeless. The song “Fourth of July” makes me teary-eyed from the first haunting note to to the prancing, foreboding exit. To be honest, the album is heartbreaking from the descriptive cutting wrists imagery on “The Only Thing” to the overall message of abandonment, confusion and great sadness that Sufjan has endured. The whispering narrative of Carrie & Lowell is sadly stimulating and brazenly honest which makes it a complete standalone piece worthy of a serious listen.

Favorite tracks: “Fourth of July,” “All Of Me Wants All Of You”

Eskimeaux – O.K.

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Brooklyn bedroom pop never sounded so fully orchestrated than on Eskimeaux’s O.K. Starting softly with “Folly,” the pace quickens into “Broken Necks” where Gabrielle Smith patiently layers “while you were breaking your neck trying to keep your head up/ I was breaking my neck trying to stick it out for you” over poppy beats and cascading drums. Smith’s poetry with Eskimeaux comes off mature and friendly with the exact measurement of twenty-something self-aware uncertainty like in “I Admit I’m Scared” where she goes from thundering angst to soft exclamations. The most powerful song I found on the album remains “The Thunder Answered Back” where Smith screams out into the vast nothingness so much so that nature itself finally answers her back with a roar matched only by the surging anxiety of her own voice. Eskimeaux and Elvis Depressedly have been friends and I like that both ended their albums with quiet, considerate songs offering up love like the last song on O.K., “That’s O.K.” At the end of the day, it really is O.K.

Favorite tracks: “Broken Necks,” “Pocket Full of Posies”

Shadowgraphs – Return to Zero

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If Bryan Olson’s beautiful collage album artwork doesn’t draw you over to Return to Zero then I don’t know what else you could be looking for. The credentials for this album speak for themselves. Recorded on analog equipment at Bryan Olson’s home studio, the tracks were then sent to NYC to be mastered by Greg Calbi (Springsteen’s Born to Run, Simon’s Graceland, etc). The six-song release is a mesmerizing psychedelic overtaking in the vein of 13th floor Elevators and the golden age of enlightening psychedelic rock. The tracks blend together so stylishly it makes me want to drink spiked strawberry lemonades in the sunshine. “Moonchild” is one of those unattainably perfect nights where the groove is set by smart, steady rhythm and lights fizz around your head even (and especially) when your eyes are closed. “Return to Zero” is straightforward, bluesy and a completely distinctive sound to come out of our Queen City.

Favorite tracks: “Strawberry Lemonade,” “Leave to Love in the Nehru Valley.” 

Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin’ down 

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Oh Kurt. You and your perfect hair have outdone yourself yet again. B’lieve is complete with flawless guitar work, there’s a new focus on the keys, and even a re-introduction of the banjo, on which Vile first learned his unique picking style (try playing Pavement songs on a banjo at 14 years old and this is what you’ll get). “Pretty Pimpin” is the easing coolness of the Philly persona, strutting down the street accompanied by a funky soundscape and Stella from Warpaint on drums. “I’m an Outlaw” is a warm urban cowboy, foot-tappin and dusty, accentuated by cozy bonfire beats. Altogether, b’lieve is the best album Vile has recorded, and I make that claim after spending years emerged in fandom. The album has a classic Manifest Destiny westward direction to it, in instances where he’s “hang-gliding into the Valley of Ashes” which, of course, is new for the East Coast king but suits him rather well. The lyrics are sillier, freer and pave the way for Vile’s witty personality to really shine out.

Favorite tracks:  “Pretty Pimpin,” “Lost My Head There”

Chastity Belt – Time to Go Home 

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Chastity Belt is a band that I want to have a pizza party with. Time to Go Home is full of jangly, melodic guitars drifting around and brought down to earth by the distinct, snarling voice of singer Julia Shapiro. Their songs are in my very humble opinion a college-era resurgence of feminist icons like Kathleen Hanna, Sleater-Kinney or today’s Ex Hex. Each track details with hilarious dark humor instances of what it’s like to be a girl in this day and age. For instance this lyric in ‘Drone’ “He was just another man trying to teach me something” which hits head on the everyday mansplaining phenomena of men telling you what to be/how to be (especially in the music world) or the entire song ‘Cool Slut’ which applauds being able to do what you want to do, including having casual sex, all wrapped up in the catchy hook “ladies, its ok to be slutty.” This album has a huge message to get across, and Chastity Belt executes it one of the coolest, easygoing ways I’ve ever heard and Time to Go Home is remarkably freeing.

Favorite tracks: “IDC,” “Joke,” “Cool Slut,” “Drone”

A playlist of Shirley’s Ten Best Albums of 2015

Also check out Sean Titone’s Ten Best Albums and Cameron Lee’s Ten Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2015.

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