That’s right everybody, it’s that time of year again. No, not Christmastime, you dummies. That shit has come and gone, which of course leads us to the all-encompassingly depressing month that is January. Luckily, we here at Mildly Pleased take a bit longer than most pop culture sites to get around to seeing/hearing everything that came out in a given year, because as you may know, we do this for free (which also explains why we have lived to see 2016, unlike several great pop culture sites that folded last year). And therefore, we will begin unleashing our top ten albums, TV shows, and movies, as well as a podcast commemorating the year in mild pleasure in the coming weeks.
But as for 2015 in music, overall I’d say it was just an ok year for me. If anything, it was a year where I probably felt myself becoming a little less open-minded towards the kinds of music I was seeking out. Which might be a sign of me getting older, or might be a sign of me having lived with my own personal tastes long enough to know that if it doesn’t have guitars or a real drummer on it, I probably won’t like it. So here are the albums that measured up to my ever-narrowing standard of what good music is…
Wilco – Star Wars
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
Colleen Green – I Want To Grow Up
There are probably a few albums I listened to more in 2015 than this one that didn’t make the list, but I can’t help but be utterly impressed by the depth of musical vocabulary I experience every time I hear Simple Songs. Jim O’Rourke is a guy whose music I hadn’t really explored until 2015, and I’m glad this album came along to introduce me to his work, which can come off as a little inscrutable at times, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t nice to listen to. Because sure, there aren’t a ton of big choruses, or really anything resembling typical rock song structure here, but I think O’Rourke’s vulnerability and his ear for melody gives you something to feast on with each listen.
I’m not entirely sure what “bro-country” is, but I’m glad there are artists like Kacey Musgraves fighting against whatever this terrible-sounding subgenre is. Not that there’s anything prickly or abrassive about Musgraves approach here, in fact it’s quite the opposite. She has a sweet, wistful sound to her music that like most great country has the power to make you feel a little less lonely in a way that a bottle of whiskey just can’t. By which I mean her music goes does down smooth, but it’ll still be there in the morning, or something. I don’t know. I don’t drink enough or listen to enough country music to give you a solid metaphor here. Sorry.
This was a good album for listening to on a quiet summer night, possibly when I was driving home. Though since the summer ended, it hasn’t been one I’ve returned to a bunch. So when making this list, I kept thinking, “Do I still like that mopey piano album where that guy whines about his girlfriend leaving him?” And the answer is yes. Mostly because every time I hear the song “Hollywood” and how it embodies the dashed hopes and unfullfilled dreams that embody the town that shares it’s namesake, it wrecks me. Which may or may not have to do with my own personal relationship with the city of L.A., but that’s not the point. The point is, the rest of these songs are really good too, and Jesso writes mopey piano ballads as well as anybody, which I don’t think you need any more proof of than the fact that he wrote a song for that massive Adele album that came out this year.
I’m not sure I heard a better intro to an album this year than the one that begins The Agent Intellect‘s lead-off track, where a flurry of scruffy guitars come strumming along, right before singer Joe Casey croons “Before record time, in some suburban room. / See, the devil in his youth”, and then the rest of the band comes in like blistering gangbusters. It’s an apt precursor to the way Protomartyr attack their own brand of darkness, with a bit of half-baked poetry and the underlying feeling that this band is trying to pummel you into the ground. Getting pummeled never felt so good.
Ok, I can say for certain that there were a lot of albums that I listened to in 2015 more than The Most Lamentable Tragedy, mainly because it is 93 god damn minutes long. It’s also probably the reason why people that aren’t already unabashed Titus Andronicus fans like myself didn’t even give it a chance, which is perfectly fair. But for the TA faithful, The Most Lamentable Tragedy was a pretty thrilling return to the overblown rock n’ roll glory of 2010’s The Monitor, and a reminder that a great rock opera should probably be messy and have a convoluted storyline. And on top of that, I just don’t think there’s any band out there that embodies what rock and roll can be when it’s both at its scrappiest and its most grandiose (aka the way the I like it).
As you probably haven’t noticed, this is the only album to appear on this list that I haven’t already written about on this blog at some point. This is by no means an accident, since I never really felt the need to add to the ongoing conversation and adulation that was circling around To Pimp A Butterfly for practically all of 2015. Because what new could I possibly have to say about this album? It’s a sprawling, dense stroke of genius that musically seems to encompass everything great about black music’s past and present, and yet could not feel any more like a vital document of the racial uneasiness of American life in this specific moment in time. But you already knew that, didn’t you?
In my review, I think I described this as an album that I practically felt contractually obligated to like, but that doesn’t take away from any of the power of TTWDTFPWFLU. Because it’s not like this is a band operating under any kind of strict formula. That seems pretty clear from the way lead singer Alex James took until he was in his early 40s to have a substantially successful band, and doing it with the kind of booze-soaked brazenness that has supposedly been reserved for much younger musicians. But regardless of whatever age you are, if you like rock and roll — and in particular, loud, emotionally charged rock and roll that holds nothing back — you couldn’t do much better.
Here’s one of those albums that I had a very hard time not listening to in 2015. Which is strange, because Painted Shut at first to me sounded like another just-pretty-good guitar album in a very classically indie kind of way. But then there’s that voice. You know the one I’m talking about (assuming you’ve listened to this album of course). That sometimes raspy, sometimes sweet bellow of lead singer Frances Quinlan, which I found so moving that quite frankly, it was something that I needed to hear constantly in order to get through this year. Yelling out phrases like “The witness just wants to talk to you!” and “None of this is gonna happen to me!” while the power of the rest of the band propelled Hop Along towards something pretty remarkable.
Speaking of powerful, that’s exactly the word I’d use to describe the Sleater-Kinney show I had the pleasure of seeing this summer, which was easily the best live performance I saw last year and probably just one of my favorite personal moments of the year. Watching that performance, it became clear to me that this was not a reunion like most other veteran rock band reunions. These women need to be playing music together, and we need them to be playing together just as badly. It’s that mentality that completely transfers over to No Cities To Love, as it seems like everything’s at stake here while these three musicians are willing to push every little thing that they can out of each other. It’s been a hell of a thing to behold, and it’s been just as enjoyable to hear it captured so potently on record.
For months now, it’s pretty much been a constant tug-of-war in my mind over whether to put the Sleater-Kinney record or Courtney Barnett’s debut at the top of this list. It’s been an interesting dilemma, since my main argument for No Cities To Love was that it feels like such a complete, fully-formed record, without a single wasted second, while Sometimes I Sit And Think, well… isn’t. It’s a messy, ramshackle record, full of imperfections and has at least one song that’s a bit longer than it needs to be. But maybe that’s why I like it. Courtney Barnett isn’t afraid to put all of her insecurities and neuroses on record, and yet she pulls it off with a kind of droll likability and expert songcraft that makes this record seem both incredibly charming and incredibly human at the same time. And on top of that, this album features “Depreston”, my favorite song of the year, and whose outro repeats the phrase “If you’ve got a spare half a million / we could tear it down, and start rebuilding”, which seems like as good a sentiment as any as we head in to the new year.