It's about that time! Here is my 2015 end of the year list -- all the records I loved this year. It was an awesome year for me overall, music-wise and life-wise, though I listened to far fewer records this year than I did in any previous year dating back to junior high.
Part of that is the rising influence of podcasts on my daily life. I'd estimate that 80% or more of my active listening time over the past year was spent listening to podcasts or audiobooks rather than music, so I'm probably far less familiar with most of the records on this list than I have been with my EOTY lists in the past.
This is something that I'm surprisingly fine with. My favorite albums -- these top 10 records that I ranked in order below -- still got tons of listens from me on the train, at the gym, walking around the city or at work. I'm very, very familiar with those albums. The main difference is that rather than spending my time listening to records I felt on the fringe about (whether for the purpose of writing a review for AbsolutePunk, which I don't do anymore, or for the purpose of signing a band, which I've allowed to come a lot more naturally without as much seeking out new artists), I spent more time listening to records I enjoyed more.
That sounds obvious, and even dumb to write, but that's not how my listening habits have worked in the past, so it serves as some sort of development in how I digest music. Anyway, here's a list and some words...if you want to hear my blab more about my top 10 (these #blurbs are pretty short), there's a new episode of Encore with me and Jason Tate up on now where we do nothing but talk about our albums of the year.
Top 10 Albums of 2015
1. The Wonder Years – No Closer To Heaven
Oooooo, a real shocker up front! This is the fourth album from The Wonder Years to chime in at the top or near the top of my EOTY list: The Upsides was first in 2010, Suburbia was second in 2011 (to The Horrible Crowes' Elsie, and I'll stand by that ordering), and The Greatest Generation was first in 2013. To be quite honest, nothing really came close to topping this for me. It's the album that most regularly gives me chills, the only album from this year that I'll turn up to max volume on the subway and not be bothered by the fact that it's bothering people around me, and the album that most regularly dominated my listening across several months, from its honeymoon phase to just last week. The Wonder Years are still my favorite band and probably will be until they're not a band anymore.
2. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Carrie & Lowell is the first of four consecutive albums on this list to catch me completely by surprise. I've never really listened to Sufjan Stevens before this LP came out, and I have yet to venture too far into his back catalog (though it's certainly on my list to do just that). The songwriting on this thing is masterful and Stevens has an incredible voice.
3. Foxing – Dealer
I liked The Albatross, but not enough to be anticipating Dealer with much urgency. Foxing take a real step forward here into the type of band that could command a cult following for many years to come; they've got a live show that is absolutely jaw-dropping and Dealer is strong indie-rock from top to bottom. Everyone's always looking for the next band to follow in the steps of Brand New / Manchester Orchestra / Thrice, and I do believe this band has the talent and dynamism to do just that.
4. Turnover – Peripheral Vision
While not as technically proficient or impressive as my #5 album, Turnover's Peripheral Vision gets the nod because of the lasting power I already feel from it. It came out in May, but I've been listening to it pretty regularly since a couple of months before that. It's simple indie-rock, but it has some straightforwardly powerful and affecting songs, from its opening "Cutting My Fingers Off" to its penultimate "I Would Hate You If I Could." Similar to Foxing here, I liked this band's previous effort (2013's Magnolia), but to an extent that the amount I enjoyed Peripheral Vision was an enjoyable surprise.
5. The World Is A Beautiful Place... – Harmlessness
When I say that Sufjan Stevens and Foxing and Turnover released albums that surprised me, I do mean that ... but not in the same way that I mean it when I talk about The World Is A Beautiful Place...'s Harmlessness. Not only did I not like 2013's Whenever, If Ever (an opinion I realize is not super popular), but I very actively disliked it. To the extent where if someone turned it on, I'd ask if we could listen to something else. So the turnaround to this incredible new album is very much a surprise, and an extremely welcome one: Harmlessness is catchy at times, abrasive at others, strikingly modern in its approach to indie-rock, and challenging in a way that keeps me coming back for more. If you want a little extra required reading on this album, Drew Beringer's review is what originally made me check it out.
6. Adele – 25
I'm not sure whether I like it more than 21 yet, but 25 is a captivating album for a multitude of reasons. It's a best-seller of epic proportions, and it's another statement that Adele is (maybe) the best singer in pop music today and (certainly) the most dominant modern artist.
7. Sorority Noise – Joy, Departed
Joy, Departed will leave you with bruises, the type that only arise from an album with lyrics as intimately straightforward as the ones Cam Boucher has put forth here. From depression to addiction, Joy, Departed touches on a number of intensely personal and relatable while, a bit closer to its surfacing, showcasing a band that is developing into something special much sooner than I expected after last year's Forgettable.
8. Pentimento – I, No Longer
Ranking an album that I worked on is always difficult. Pentimento's I, No Longer came out via my record label, Bad Timing Records, and it's the only LP we released in 2015 that I have ranked here. It's a bit difficult to stay even-keeled on a band that I've had a unique relationship with, but I think I managed to do so. The weird part is ... me working on this album didn't inflate its position on my AOTY list. If anything, I judged it more harshly when it came time to do these rankings. I really do think that, if I were to hear this record if it were released on another label, it'd be higher on this list...probably in my top 5. I talked a bit more about that on the aforementioned AOTY episode of Encore, but for now like ... just listen to it or whatever.
9. Frank Turner – Positive Songs For Negative People
Positive Songs For Negative People is a return to form from one of my favorite singer-songwriters, and an unexpectedly refreshing bounce-back from the broken-heartedness found on Tape Deck Heart.
10. Knuckle Puck – Copacetic
Knuckle Puck is a band I've worked with, but Copacetic isn't a record I released, so ranking it felt a lot easier and more natural than ranking Pentimento's album. This band took a huge step forward, and Copacetic is still only their first full-length album. I think these guys could be the best band in pop-punk if you give them a little more breathing room to keep growing. I'm looking forward to seeing what else they've got for us.
Here are 20 more albums, in alphabetical order, that I also really liked. I didn't feel like ranking 11-30 the same way I did 1-10 ... partially due to not having the desire to sit down and parse that out, but also due to my aforementioned lack of listening to music as much this year as I have in the past. A few of these records were in my top 10 at mid-year, and I thought a few of them would make my top 10 now as well. Some of them just fell out of my regular playlist, which is what helped define what did push into my top albums.
I still listened to all of these quite a bit, and I bet there will be some shuffling in my top 10 when I re-do the list next year (see further down this page for more on that).
All Time Low - Future Hearts
Beach Slang - The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us
Better Off - Milk
Brandon Flowers - The Desired Effect
Butch Walker – Afraid of Ghosts
Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Four Year Strong - Four Year Strong
The Front Bottoms - Back On Top
Good Old War - Broken Into Better Shape
Hop Along - Painted Shut
Jeff Rosenstock - We Cool?
Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Microwave - Stovall (reissue)
Petal - Shame
Ryan Adams - 1989
The Sidekicks – Runners In the Nerved World
Tallest Man On Earth - Dark Bird Is Home
Top 5 EPs
1. All Get Out - Movement
2. Head North - Bloodlines
3. Dryjacket - Lights, Locks & Faucets
4. ROMP - Sorry, Not Sorry
5. Homesafe - Homesafe
2014 Top 10, Redone
The idea is easy enough to explain – every year I take a look back at my list from the previous year, and I re-rank my top 10 with how I feel about those records today. Just because you record your opinions about an album in a review or an end-of-the-year list doesn't mean you're bound to those opinions for life, and EOTY lists seem like a good time to drive that sentiment home. In parenthesis are the spots where I ranked these albums last year.
1a. (1) Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues
1b. (2) The Hotelier - Home, Like NoPlace Is There
3. (9) PUP - PUP
4. (5) Every Time I Die - From Parts Unknown
5. (10) Bleachers - Strange Desire
6. (4) Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties - We Don't Have Each Other
7. (3) Modern Baseball - You're Gonna Miss It All
8. (25) Pianos Become The Teeth - Keep You
9. (7) Manchester Orchestra - Cope
10. (6) The Menzingers - Rented World
Dropped Out: The Gaslight Anthem - Get Hurt (I'm not sure I listened to this record all the way through a single time in 2015).
I thought about adding more stuff to this list -- movies, TV shows, apps and more that I liked in 2015 -- but I suppose I may do that at another time. I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year's and checks out some of the music on this list. Cheers!