This year’s best of music list is going to be a little different. Instead of a numbered list, I’m doing things by category. Why not? My tastes are eclectic so rating my favorites of the year against each other would be like comparing avocados and orangutans. Ok, that’s not how the phrase goes, but when have I ever done anything the way it’s supposed to be done! But I digress. Anyways, here’s a list of music I really enjoyed this year (and one album I really didn’t).
Best free album of the year: Star Wars – Wilco: This album starts out with an experimental track called “EKG.” You’re treated to a guitar that sounds like it was tuned wrong and a rhythm section that sounds like it’s a little too slow. But it works. The album is blessed, or plagued (depending on your opinion) with Wilco’s melding of classic guitar rock and Lo fi, followed by a little space pop followed by psychedelia followed by …well, you get the picture. I can honestly say this is my favorite Wilco album since A Ghost is Born. Seriously – go download it. Now!
Best hipster song: Bored in the USA – Father John Misty: OK, so that’s a bit of a mean thing to say – but it’s true. This is a hipster song if there ever was a hipster song. But hipster or not, the witty lyrics paired with an almost Elton John-esque feel. The use of a laugh track halfway through the song makes the protagonist sound like his life is the butt of some cosmic joke – as though his life is only there for the amusement of some unseen audience. But back to this being a hipster song. This is a hipster song because this was written about the fears the Millennials are currently looking at. The same fears Generation X had 20 years ago. The same fears the Baby Boomers had 40 years ago. The same fears the next generation will most likely face in 20 years. So maybe this isn’t a hipster song. Heck, what’s a hipster again?
Best album I forgot existed: Girls In Peacetime want to Dance – Belle And Sebastian: While I was reviewing the music I bought in 2015 for this article, I realized there was a brand spanking new Belle And Sebastian album I bought and totally forgot about. Belle and Sebastian might be the favorite band of mine on this list, so this was a big deal – almost a late Christmas gift. As I opened this gift, I was pleasantly surprised. The album starts out with one of the most, if not the most, personal song Stuart Murdoch has ever written. The song, “Nobody’s Empire” speaks of struggles with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and how it affected every aspect of his life. Going past the state they’re currently in though, this album differs from past Belle and Sebastian albums, in the fact that they rely heavily on keyboards – giving sections of the album an almost disco feel. Despite the disco, this album really feels like a Belle and Sebastian album. Perhaps that is why it’s such a great album – they kept their essence, and yet infused it with something new.
Best album from a rock and Roll legend: Alone in the Universe – Jeff Lyne’s ELO: John Lennon once stated that Electric Light Orchestra is the spiritual successor of the Beatles. So, what better way to judge an ELO album than by asking “what would the Beatles sound like if they made an album now?” Honestly, I think the Beatles would sound a lot like the music on Alone in the Universe. The opening tract, “When I was a Boy,” feels like the song “Yesterday” evolved (and by the way, it might be the best song that Jeff Lynne has ever written). That’s not to say Jeff Lynne and ELO can’t do anything that isn’t Beatles-esque mind you. The haunting title track sounds nothing like a Beatles song, yet it is easily one of my favorite tracks. There’s also “Fault Line,” a fun rockabilly song which will stick in your head for days and days. It was 14 long years since we’ve had a new ELO album, and Alone in the Universe proves the wait was well worth it.
Worse album from a rock and roll legend: No Pier Pressure – Brian Wilson: I have a ton of respect for Brian Wilson. There are times I’ll listen to his music and wonder if maybe we’re twins separated at birth (even though he’s 30 years older than I am). So I was, of course, really excited when he released a new album. Sure, all his albums can’t be Smile, but this one just bored me. To be fair, it felt like Brian Wilson is trying to capture the days of his youth. I can respect that. The very album name makes a reference to this -maybe I just don’t get it. I will say though, I do love the song “On the Island” featuring She & Him.
Best album of covers: The Cover Up – The Protomen: While we wait for The Protomen to finally give us Act III, they have given us a lot of really good covers. Starting with “Because the Night” (Patti Smith Group) as a duet. While this version isn’t as sultry as the original, I do feel like it actually trumps the 10,000 Maniacs’ version. The album also features a Version of Celine Dion’s “I Drove all Night,” which totally changed my opinion of the song from meh to whoa! The Gambler even belted out an amazing version of Total Eclipse of the Heart – albeit her voice is an octave or two lower than Bonnie Tyler’s original. It’s hard to not talk about every song on this album (Danger Zone, Mr. Roboto, I Still Believe, Princes of the Universe). Having said this, the ending track, Mike + the Mechanics’ Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground) might be the strongest song on the album. The Protomen version is a bit more updated, and a bit darker with the addition of missing persons reports voice over at the end of the song. A perfect ending to the song, and a perfect ending to the album.
Best artist discovered in 2015: The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones – How did I NOT really know this band before this year? Yes, sure, I knew “The Impression That I Get,” – everyone knows that song. But I didn’t know the Bosstones. I did not know “Royal Oil,” I did not know “The Rascal King,” I didn’t know the heavily Ska inspired “Where’d You Go?”. I did not know their Brilliant cover of Kiss’ “Detroit Rock City.” My sins have been forgiven, as I’m now fully into the Bosstones, but I still weep for my wasted years of not listening to this amazing band. Fun fact – their manager dances around the stage when they play live shows. How cool is that?
Best album discovered in 2015: A Prarie Home Invasion – Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon: Ok, if you’re not offended sometime during this album, you’re probably a psychopath, but that goes without saying if Jello Biafra is involved. Add Mojo Nixon, and you’ve got yourself a cocktail of anarchy! This album purposely jabs at the “rednecks” of America (circa 1994). The music is mostly public domain gospel tunes with new lyrics. A high point of the album is a cover of Fred Kirby’s “Atomic Power.” While the original was totally serious about the benefits of “God Given” Atomic Power, the unchanged lyrics in the context of Biafra and Nixon is a good, tongue in cheek jab at nuclear power plants. And then there’s “Will the Fetus be Aborted” to the tune of “Will the circle be unbroken.” Yeah – even I’m a little offended by that song.
Best artist to finally wake up and let Spotify stream their freaking music: AC/DC: Yes, Finally! I can scream along to “Thunderstruck” while sitting at my desk. OK, ok, that might not be a good thing – but seriously – I was happy when they announced this. Now, if Only we could convince Joana Newsom to do the same thing. Hmmmm…..Imagine a mash up of AC/DC and Joana Newsom. You’d have a harp playing girl singing about a Highway to Hell. I’d certainly pay to listen to to that! But I digress.
Best Song that everyone knows and loves of the year: Hello – Adele I won’t write too much about this, because like I said – everyone knows it. But geez, how can anyone not like this song? Wow. Just wow. She’s got a pretty voice.
Honorable Mentions: There were several songs, artists, and albums I wanted to include on this list – but I can only give so much! But Sufjan Stevens, The Decemberists, Kathryn Calder, Sleater-Kinney, Chicane, The Alabama Shakes, and Enya all produced some amazing music this year. So, go check those out too!