My name is Doug Wykstra, and this is some of the stuff I've read and watched.
The year 2015 in music was–well, I don’t really know what it was. Based on the albums I bought, there was some soulful, acoustic singer-songwriter stuff, there was some excellent loud guitar rock, and there was some slightly more experimental electronic-tinged indie rock, but if we’re going by the albums I buy, that’s every year.
Anyway, here are the albums I thought were the best of 2015:
The year’s “album that all the music critics are crazy about but didn’t ever quite cohere for me.” I really do like the middle of the album, though, and “The Less I Know the Better” is a ridiculously catchy track, so it squeezes into the top 10
After creating a few albums that function as full, cohesive concepts, The Decemberists go back to short story mode on What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World. The songwriting is as well-crafted as ever, and songs like “Cavalry Captain” display more ambitious arrangements than anything the group has tried before. Meanwhile, songs like “Philomena” and “Better Not Wake the Baby” will slot in to a Decemberists’ show perfectly naturally.
I wasn’t expecting The Go! Team to ever put out another album, let alone expecting it to be one of the best albums of the year–they’ve never topped their debut–but this is a classic case of addition by subtraction. Removing some of the hip-hop/EDM influence from your music and focusing on bubblegum pop is not supposed to work in 2016, but somehow it does here. An album you always want to last for a few more tracks.
This album wasn’t even on my radar when it first came out, and I didn’t realize Will Butler was in Arcade Fire when I bought it. Really, I bought it because it was $5.99 on Amazon and I liked how most of the tracks sounded in 30-second previews. This is not always an advisable strategy for buying an album, but it worked out in this case. “Son of God” is crawling up my “most played” list without any signs of getting old, and it would be going up a lot faster if I didn’t basically feel compelled to listen to the rest of the album every time I get to that track.
This was actually bought with the same criteria that caused me to pick up Policy, though this album may have only been $4. Either way, good year for the Amazon discount section. This may have been the number one album of the year if there had been more songs like “Under a Rock,” which reminds me of Rilo Kiley when they would just rock out. The next track, “Poison,” continues the rocking and is also awesome, but the rest of the album is quieter singer-songwriter stuff that happens to have a band backing it. And while it’s excellent quiet singer-songwriter stuff, there was some stiff competition in that category this year. That won’t stop me from playing “Air” a bunch, though.
Great straightforward garage rock with catchy lyrics. Bartnett was the opening act of the best concert I went to this year, a double-headliner featuring Spoon and The Decemberists, and I just had to be thankful that God, the universe, or the precepts of natural law had arranged for these three artists to play a single show. Anyway, I love that there is a song on here called “Debbie Downer.”
Beats Tame Impala for “best album where I habitually skipped the first track,” and I really can’t imagine anyone playing this album without skipping the first track. Seriously, I know music critics like to call songs like “EKG” playful or experimental or whatever, but I derive no enjoyment from them whatsoever. Still, the rest of the album was great, “Pickled Ginger” is probably the best track on there, and it’s free, so gift horses and mouths and etc.
In 2015, I bought this album, Courtney Barnett’s album, and Ex Hex’s Rips from 2014, which made this personally an excellent year for female-fronted backs that rock out. Really, Waxahatchee might have been boxed in to #6 no matter which way that album had gone. Sorry, Waxahatchee. Screaming Females are the winners of this subcategory, by virtue of their album coming out in 2015 (which disqualifies Ex Hex) and by virtue of having the most obviously talented guitarist. I’m not even naming favorite tracks at this point; just listen to this album front-to-back.
The Mountain Goats are one of my favorite bands, so it’s difficult for their albums to not appear near the top of my lists. I really didn’t think this one was going to at first, because an entire album about minor-league pro wrestling seemed too high-concept to hold my attention for long. But the gimmicky concept is backed by John Darnielle’s songwriting chops, and it’s easy to start singing along to “Choked Out!” and “Werewolf Gimmick” even if you’re not a pro wrestling fan.
Sufjan Stevens’s album on the death of his mother came out the same year my grandfather passed away, and even if the feelings I had weren’t echoed within this album, it would still probably take the top spot. Trying to describe the emotional power these songs pack is one of the first times I’ve felt like the “dancing about architecture” analogy is actually pretty accurate and justified. Don’t ever play this album around anyone if you aren’t okay with them seeing you cry.