Guess what kids? It’s time for my yearly Top Five Records of the Year post.
Now, a couple of things before we get into the nitty gritty of this list. First off, the death of rdio has had a big impact on how I cobbled together the list this year. Not only does the end of my beloved rdio mean that you won’t be able to stream the these records in a single playlist, like last year’s list, but it also a changed how I manufactured this year’s list of records.
See, rather than sitting down and brainstorming my favourite records from memory, this year I let “my rdio history“http://www.rdio.com/people/ctoverdrive/ dictate the selection of records that qualified for the list. In comparison to my previous best of lists, there turns out to be a couple of surprises on this year’s list. Two of the records on here were absolute givens, but the other three were a bit of a shock and interesting enough to supplant a few records that probably should have made the list.
So without further adieu, here’s my favourite records of 2015.
It terms of placement and ranking, this is probably the easiest of my selections. And if I’m being honest there hasn’t been a more obvious choice since Rob placed Smells Like Teen Spirit on his Top Five Track One/Side One list. Soulful, powerful and mesmerizing, Sound & Color truly is just all around brilliant. From the initial wandering moments during it’s namesake title track to the last few guitar strings on Over My Head, Sound & Color is an album of pure perfection. Tracks like Dune and Don’t Want To Fight No More are those heartfelt sing out loud songs that are perfect for the open highway or just stumbling around your apartment late at night. If you don’t already own the album, either as a download or as one of those fancy CD thingies, do yourself a favour and just go out and buy it.
Whether it’s the Caribbean infused beats of Obvs or the uplifting soulful swings of Loud Places, In Colour screams to be spun multiple times through a set of high quality headphones or speakers. As a record that strikes a perfect balance between moody and introspective ballads and feet on floor “dance” tracks. My only minor beef with In Colour is that if you’re already familiar Jamie xx’s (a.k.a Jamie Smith) main gig as lead of The xx and previous remix work, In Colour may actually feel like a more elaborate and experimental The xx record than anything truly unique and life altering. But when it comes to black marks to describe a record, anything with the same pedigree of previous The xx records is nothing to really complain about.
I know I make this comment almost every year, but the state of rock/alternative music is sad and pathetic. It’s the musical equivalent of the Edmonton Oiler’s second round draft picks over the past decade. If I’m being perfectly honest, I can probably count the number of acts out there that I feel are really crafting unique and accessible music with one and a half hands. Now luckily for everyone New Orleans quartet MUTEMATH happens to be one of those bands. Although it only rolled out a couple of weeks ago, Vitals manages to carry the torch of the band’s previous underrated masterpieces with it’s mind-bending techno-fusion of alt-rock and Southern Louisiana soul. Tracks like Joy Rides, Monument, Vitals and Used To pop out of the speakers like sonic firecrackers and the entire record is a mind-melting tour from start to finish.
Trust me, when it comes to compiling lists of the best music of 2015, this will be the only place you’ll find this record. If I’m being honest I was kinda floored to find it as one of my most listened to albums… that was until I gave it another listen.
So who the hell is Atomic Tom? If you’re a long time fan of the old c.t.overdrive blog, you may recognize Atomic Tom as the quartet of New Yorkers who went viral by recording their first single, Take Me Out, using their iPhones and a couple of speakers on a NYC Subway car. Atomic Tom’s sound also happens to be a massive throw back to some of my favourite glory music of the 80s – bands like Human League, Duran Duran, A-Ha, and of course Culture Club. ERA is their second “major” release and while it’s not as technically awe inspiring as other records on this list, ERA does happen to be thirteen simple and wonderfully nostalgic tracks that are a breath of fresh air when juxtaposed against most of the other garbage coming out of the modern rock/alternative music genre.
So how does Scottish synth-pop trio CHVRCHES follow-up their stunning debut album? Of course they knock it right out of the pitch with a full catalog of tracks just as strong and catchy as anything that appeared on their refreshing The Bones Of What You Believe. Again, I must be some kinda of closet 80s music junkie, because similar to Atomic Tom before them CHVRCHES grabs some of the best elements of the 80s and slams them headfirst in to the digital age. Stealing elements of Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys to build a full record of engaging and artistic pop tracks.
Big Data – 2.0
Straight up, I have no bloody idea how I stumbled across this record. Seriously, who the hell is Big Data?
That being said, 2.0 is a mess of a mash-up album that is made up of smouldering pop songs that don’t even exist. While that sounds messed-up, and trust me it is, 2.0 actually turns out to be an album you can’t stop listening to. There’s no real rhyme or reason with the record and the tracks disjointedly flow into one another with no linear connection. But if you take a minute to give songs like Dangerous, Clean, Snowed In (Featuring Rivers Cuomo), and The Business of Emotion a spin for a couple of hours you’ll find it almost impossible to remove them from your playlist. I dare you. It makes no sense, but it’s impossible.
The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness
It was hard not to sneak Beauty Behind The Madness into the top five this year. Tracks like Can’t Feel My Face and The Hills were not only infectious, but inescapable within the pop culture realm. But at the end of the day, while sonically this record is on a different plane than most anything that came out this year and the aforementioned tracks will probably define most of 2015, there is only so many tracks about “hooking up” that an old fossil like myself can really give a damn about.
Grimes – Art Angels
The first single from Art Angels, Flesh Without Blood, is one of the best pop songs you’ll hear all year. I probably can’t pinpoint my own personal attraction to this song, but it’s undeniably infectious. But the problem with Art Angels as a record is that it never really matches the same layered music heights as Flesh Without Blood does, so the record as a whole doesn’t make the top five. But as probably one of the best pop songs of 2015, Flesh Without Blood sure does give the record enough streetcred to warrant a mention on this list.
And like clockwork, it’s time for me to continue my yearly tradition of dusting off my music critic reviewr hat to conjure up my top five favourite records of 2014. Sure, this list doesn’t match the elitist snobbery of Pitchfork’s list or the complete obviousness of Rolling Stone’s list, but hopefully there are a few records or tracks in here that will give you something new to listen to during the Holiday season.
No this year’s list is a bit of a surprise in that it was dominated by some strong female (or female based) acts, rather than the usual suspects like Beck, St. Vincent, Spoon or even Bruce Springsteen.
(And like last year, you can use the playlist above to listen to all the albums on this list)
The Distiller’s Coral Fang is probably one of my all-time favourite records, so it goes without saying that the first solo record from ex-lead singer Brody Dalle would be on my list for 2014. It also helps that Brody Dalle is the better half of my unhealthy man crush – Josh Homme. Now regardless of those obscure personal biases, Diploid Love is a pretty fierce and fantastic pop-punk record from beginning to end. Yes, it probably won’t appease many of the punk purists out there, but for a main stream release and a first solo record Diploid Love was easily my most played record of the year.
Will not nearly as classic as DFA1979’s legendary You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, in my biased opinion The Physical World was a far more interesting record than a majority of anything else released over the past year. That unique sound that propelled DFA1979 from obscure Toronto garage act to mythological indie royalty is still there and it came out in spades on this record. Given how passive and lazy music has become in general so far this decade, it was fantastic to be reminded of how exciting and gritty music can actually be.
I honestly have no recollection on how I stumbled across Banks, especially as this is something that is completely out of my usual wheelhouse, but am I ever glad I did. Sandwiched somewhere between English legends Sade and Deftones frontman Chino Moreno’s Team Sleep side project, Bank’s debut album Goddess is as mysterious as it is atmospheric. A dark and misty record that’s filled with just enough variety to leave you wanting more.
Regardless of their faux-Albertan backstory, The Rural Alberta Advantage have been one of my family’s favourite bands for the past few years and this year’s Mended with Gold is just as enjoyable and homely as their previous outings of Departing and Hometowns. With a sound akin to something Blue Rodeo would record if they drank more whiskey and set their bassist on fire, RAA are a furious and grumpy take on classic Canadiana prairie rock.
Jenny Lewis’ previous outing with the Watson Twins was the perfect recreation of classic Loretta Lynn for the naughts. So it comes as no surprise that she would knock it out of the park again with her latest outing of Voyager. Filled with dark and personal songs, Voyager tight ropes the sound from her earlier solo outings and the more recent pop of acts like Haim and London Grammer.
Hozier – Hozier
I feel a little cheese-ball adding this here as, although Hozier is undeniably talented, adding this to my list feels like the ultimate omission of turning into a Starbucks sell out in my old age. That being said, Hozier’s self title record is a fantastic listen from beginning to end and well worth all the hype… now if only someone could hand over my triple-shot-no-foam-carmel-swirly-frappacino I’ll get back to being a grumpy bastard.
London Grammer – If You Wait
One of those amazing finds from partaking in Month of New Music, London Grammar’s If You Wait is a brilliant atmospheric album, if I was still a heart broken and angst ridden 22 year old this album would be the soundtrack to my life.
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
True confession, this record falls in to the category of it’s December and I suddenly realize that after reading ten to fifteen different best of lists that I know nothing about music and I need to have a record that reinforces my street-cred even though I’m an old fossil for the list. Now that being said, any record that showcases a guest appearance from the reclusive Zach Dela Rocha and hits as hard and dirty as this album deserve a spot on this list.
Taylor Swift – Shake It Off
Alright, I haven’t heard the entire 1989 album, but Shake It Off has to rank up there as one of the greatest pop songs of the past ten years. No seriously, try and ignore this song. It’s fucking impossible. So it get’s a spot on my list solely for forcing me to listen to it on repeat on YouTube so it doesn’t ruin my Rdio algorithm.
(P.S. I also tossed in the Us The Duo cover to not mess up my algorithm)
Usually on my birthday I ramble on about something epic, inane or even ridiculous. But this year to due to travel, work commitments and … I don’t know … possibly a crazy conference that I’m involved in organizing, I unfortunately didn’t have time to vomit out some thoughts to the old word processor. So instead of trying to ramble together some half-witted thoughts, I figured I would instead share a play list that I’ve been quietly compiling of my favourite songs of all time.
So yes, a post with a play list really isn’t anything too deep and nothing mind blowing, but if you’re looking for some new music to listen to over the next few days, just give it a spin.
… and yes, the play list does start and end with R. Kelly.
Love for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis? Check.
Love of guerilla music projects in unusual locations Check.
Then of course this is going to be awesome. Ryan Lewis & Macklemore dropping Can’t Hold Us on a NYC bus.
Oh and here’s how it was made.
Rigging a bus with enough cameras to capture every angle of the duo performing “Can’t Hold Us” in such a small space without giving anything away wasn’t easy. “Our production partner Tool of North America planted GoPros in places where they were pretty invisible,” says Rayburn. “They also planted some camera guys with camera phones.” The agency assures us the people riding the bus had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. “Their reactions to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ appearance are 100% real.”
Almost tops, Atomic Tom’s iPhone Subway video…
Jesus, it felt like it was only a few weeks ago that I was posting The Pogues to celebrate Christmas 2012. But alas it’s already been 365 days and thank god we’re finally near the end of 2013.
… but that loaded comment is for another post.
So let’s all take some time away from life this week. It’s time to wish everyone – friends, family, acquaintances, random people of the internet – a very Happy Christmas to you and your family … and like a fresh tin of quality streets, there is no better way to celebrate Christmas than with The Pogue’s Fairytale of New York.
Have a Happy Christmas everyone and all the best in 2014.