Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Rock Albums Post XV: Top 15 Albums of 2015

Top 15 Albums of 2015

Here we are again another year has come and gone. It seems like the time flies by so fast but than when I compile this yearly list I realize all the experiences I have encountered, new people I’ve met, changes I have endured and best of all new music I’ve discovered and enjoyed.

This list brings to you what I feel were the very best albums of the year. Most of these albums were released in 2015 though there are a few from 2014, which impacted me heavily through 2015.

This list is my fourth annual year end countdown. Here are the links to the previous countdowns:



I hope you enjoy this list and as I did I hope you discover some great new music you may have missed along the way.

15. “Memories” by Mind.In.A.Box

Release Date: March 24, 2015
Label: Dreamweb Music/Metropolis Music
Producer: Stefan Poiss
Chart Positions: N/A
Singles: N/A

Mind.In.A.Box is an Austrian quartet formed in 2000. Their unique brand of technopop is usually described as a cross between futurepop and progressive trance.

Their albums are works that weave together to tell a story. Each album continues in the epic story of mystery that is based upon science fiction, fantasy and noir fiction.

Their music is heavy in beats and bass wrapped with electron pulses of guitar threads and mysterious dark understated vocals. The music is intricately woven together featuring spacey synth-lines, melodic counterpoints, builds, breakdowns and a whole ecosystem of complex delays, verbs and other time based effects that never seem to trip over one another regardless of their density in the mix. Simply put there is a whole lot going on in this music. Putting on the headphones and listening to the album is like taking an astral trip into a fourth dimension of conciousness.

“Memories” is one of this year’s most unique albums.

"Up There" by Mind.In.A.Box 

Release Date: June 30, 2015
Label: Tru Thoughts
Producer: J-Felix
Chart Positions: N/A
Singles: “Patience,” “Late Night SOS”

As a lover of funk and jazz this album was a must for me to pick up. What I love most about this album is it’s heavy influence from 80’s style funk with some great pitched up vocal samples and funky rhythmic bass lines. The bass keeps this album moving and grooving.

J-Felix is a singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist from Brighton in the UK.

"101 Reasons" by J-Felix

Release Date: May 6, 2014
Label: Innovative Leisure
Producer: BadBadNotGood, Frank Dukes
Chart Positions: N/A
Singles: “CS60,” “Can’t Leave The Night”

This hip-hop jazz band focus’s more on the jazz and less on the hip-hop. The axis of this Canadian group is Matthew Tavares’ improvised and expressive keyboard/piano work. Though what he does on the keyboard is far beyond what you expect to hear from the instrument. He brings his jazz sounds into the present from the future and creates an atmospheric sound filled with beats, bass and textured electronics.

This instrumental album appeals to my need for the unique and original. Though the album is somewhat left of center it is filled with enough traditional bebop jazz type sounds to appeal to those that are not quite so risky in their music tastes.

"Kaleidoscope" by BadBadNotGood

12. “Algo Sucede” by Julieta Venegas

Release Date: August 14, 2015
Label: Sony U.S. Latin, Ohanion S.
Producer: Cachorro Lopez, Julieta Venegas
Chart Positions: #11 (Mexico), #5 (Latin US), #1 (Latin Pop US)
Singles: “Ese Camino” (#13 Latin Pop US), “Buenos Noches, Desolacion” (#23 Latin Pop US)

“Algo Sucede” breaks no new ground for Julieta but what it does is entertain to the nth degree as Julieta. Julieta is one of the world’s most underrated musicians. Yes, she has achieved success and has sold near 10 million albums worldwide. But she remains largely unknown to most music lovers. Why is that so? Could it be because she does not dance around the stage showing off her body parts? Could it be because she keeps her life out of the press and maintains a healthy family life with her daughter? Whatever it is Julieta is quite the talent a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist including guitar, keyboards and accordion.

With this album Julieta continues her ever-joyful brand of Latin pop music. Her message is sincere and her style is straightforward. I love that Julieta features the accordion in many of her songs. She wrote all twelve songs on the album. “Algo Sucede” is her first album to reach #1 on any US Billboard chart. This is cause for celebration!

With this album Julieta brings on a new era of everything that is good in pop music. “Algo Sucede,” which means “Something Happens” is an album about making things happen and opening your eyes to what is going on around you. Some of the messaging is dark in its lyrics but the end result is about self and social awareness.

"Buenos Noches, Desolacion" by Julieta Venegas

Release Date: July 16, 2015
Label: dBpm, Anti/Epitaph
Producer: Tom Schick, Jeff Tweedy
Chart Positions: #105 (US), #83 (UK), #14 (Netherlands), #30 (New Zealand), #52 (Switzerland), #60 (Austrailia), #69 (Ireland), #83 (Germany)
Singles: “Random Name Generator”  #20 (Adult Album Alternative US)

This album was released in July 2015 and I passed on it several times. First it was because I didn’t care for the album. A month later I was looking at it again but passed again because I really had never been compelled to purchase a Wilco album in the past. After that I forgot about it. Then finally in late October 2015 I was looking at the album again. This time I decided to hit up youtube and listen to some of the tracks and immediately I was sold. I bought it this time… despite the album cover. I really like the lazy sort of sci-fi… lo-fi sound of the music. It’s not your typical alt-rock outing. It is reminiscent of Brian Eno in some aspects and Bowie or T-Rex in others. I love the space rock 70’s sound of this album. This will be a constant in my disc player for years to come.

"Random Name Generator" by Wilco

Release Date: September 11, 2015
Label: Fuel Records
Producer: Tree63
Chart Positions: #21 (US)
Singles: N/A

If feel Jay Akins, from the bi-monthly publication Worship Leader, stated it best, "Strong melodies and well-written stories draw the listener into the moments of each song. Land is a great album full of hope and compassion for everyone listening."

I was a huge fan of Tree63 back in the early 2000’s and I purchased all their albums. Their music has always been quality and full of joyful emotion. I would always come away feeling uplifted after listening to a Tree63 album. I get the same feeling with their new album “Land” and even more than before. I would have to honestly say this is their most complex yet simplistic album of them all. Easily this is their best effort. Wonderful layers of music weaving together bring the listener to a place of wonderment.

“Land” is Tree63’s first album since 2007’s “Sunday” and it came as quite a nice surprise.

"Standing On It" by Tree63

9. “The Helio Sequence” by The Helio Sequence

Release Date: May 19, 2015
Label: Sub-Pop
Producer: The Helio Sequence, Jerimaya Grabher
Chart Positions: N/A
Singles: N/A

Why I didn’t discover this band from Oregon earlier is beyond me. They’ve been releasing albums since 1999 and I had never heard of them until mid year 2015. I’m pretty good at sniffing out these great underrated bands but this one got past me.

This album features Coldplay-esque keyboards along with some interesting drum patterns (the drums are a main focal point in the music) and tasty jangling guitar parts and solos. The vocals are nice and relaxing. It has everything I like in a modern mellow type album.

“The Helio Sequence” doesn’t break any new ground but it sure is a great listen on a lazy sunny afternoon. Good driving music.

"Red Shifting" by The Helio Sequence

8. “Saudade” – Thievery Corporation

Release Date: April 1, 2014
Label: ESL Music
Producer: Thievery Corporation
Chart Positions: #58 (US), #2 (US Electronic Albums), #15 (US Top Independent Albums)
Singles: N/A

Thievery Corporation has been around since the mid 1990’s but I never paid attention to them. Finally they released “Saudade” the album that caught my attention. At that I didn’t notice it until the spring of 2015, but after the album came to my attention I picked it up instantly. I don’t know if it was the album cover that led me to listen to samples of the album but whatever it was I feel in love with the music I heard. The Brazilian influenced bossa nova sound is inescapable. My first thought was Antonio Carlos-Jobim.

The Brazilian bass rhythms and the great horn and strings sections absolutely send me into that music heaven I so enjoy. The ultra-smooth vocals fit so fine on a dark rainy night or a hot sunny afternoon. “Saudade’ is the ultimate “chill” album of the year.

The irony of this album is that it reached #2 on the US Electronic album charts yet the album has absolutely nothing to do with electronics. I would suspect the only reason it made it this high on that particular chart is strictly because of the artists name. They have been hugely successful on the US Electronic charts since 2004, putting 7 of their albums in the Top 7.

"Firelight" by Thievery Corporation

7. “Damn Country Music” – Tim McGraw

Release Date: November 6, 2015
Label: Big Machine
Producer: Byron Gallimore, Tim McGraw
Chart Positions: #5 (US), #19 (Australia), #11 (Canada), #87 (Scotland), #3 (US Country Albums), #1 (Australian Country Albums), #3 (UK Country Albums)
Singles: “Top of the World” #80 (US), #89 (Canada), #15 (US Country), #7 (Canadian Country)

Tim McGraw has released a solid country music album. Every song is filled with well-constructed musicianship and thoughtfully written lyrics. The album is mostly uplifting and full of that good feel that we all love.

Tim McGraw makes it clear he’s a Hank Williams fan as he mentions his name in the songs “Losing You” and “Damn Country Music.”

The popular country music duo Big and Rich are featured on the jubilant track “California.” While Tim’s daughter Gracie McGraw shows up on “Here Tonight.”

I especially love the tracks “Losing You,” “Love Runs,” “California” and “Top of the World.”

"California" by Tim McGraw

6. “The Monsanto Years” by Neil Young + Promise of the Real
Release Date: June 29, 2015
Label: Reprise
Producer: Neil Young and John Hanlon
Chart Positions: #21 (US)
Singles: “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop”

Neil Young does it again. He made it on to my 2014, 2012 and 2011 Top 15 albums lists. This is his fourth non-consecutive year since I started this. I will admit I like this album most for it’s social awareness values. I feel that the issues surrounding the packaging and production of our food (in the USA and around the world) is so messed up. I can’t believe that so many lawmakers would vote against the simple procedure of labeling foods that are GMO. Of course the big food industry completely duped the public by running misleading ads making us think that putting this simple and brief information would cause food prices to increase. Once again Neil Young scores in an attempt to keep corporate greed in check.

Musically this is a sound album. Each song is fantastically produced and arranged as all of Neil Young’s works. This album brings me back to Neil Young’s Crazy Horse days with some great guitar riffs and nicely recorded harmonies.

Best tracks; “Big Box,” “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop” and “Working Man.”

The album features Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah Nelson. Lukas formed the band Promise of the Real.

"A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop" by Neil Young + Promise of the Real

Release Date: March 31, 2015
Label: Joyful Noise Recordings
Producer: Reptar
Charts Positions: #13 (US Top Heatseekers)
Singles: “Ice Black Sand,” “Amanda”

“Lurid Glow” is one of 2015’s most unique albums. This one has a sound all of it’s own. Reptar really can’t be compared to any other group as they are paving their own way with their own style. The mix and guitars and drums work together with great effect. The guitar sounds are absolutely stunning – very animated and alive. Much of their music has an 80's new wave feel to it yet still very current day alt-rock in nature. I most enjoy Graham Ulicny’s spirited vocals; he’s a one of a kind. Some of their songs have an early 80’s era Talking Heads flavor to it.

Graham Ulicny

"Cable" by Reptar

Release Date: February 10, 2015
Label: ECM
Producer: Manfred Eicher
Charts Positions: #8 (US Jazz Albums) #17 (US Top Heatseekers)
Singles: N/A

“Break Stuff” is 2015’s experimental jazz work of the year. The album is both muscular and delicate at the same time with beefy bass lines surrounded by compassionate piano parts and driven by funk-filled pulse moving drums.

The album at many points is an exercise of irony combining the avant-garde with the classic.

“Hood” pushes the envelope of experimentalism with its simplified bass and beat mode. Iyer’s working of Thelonious Monk’s “work” is as refreshing and effective as Monk’s original. Monk is Vijay’s number hero. He also puts in an inspiring performance with John Coltrane’s “Countdown.”

“Break Stuff” is colorful, rhythmic and original. An album that will become a jazz classic for all times.

"Break Stuff" album presentation by Vijay Iyer Trio

3. “Rattle That Lock” by David Gilmour
Label: Columbia
Producer: David Gilmour, Phil Manzanera
Charts Positions: #8 (US Jazz Albums) #17 (US Top Heatseekers)
Singles: “Rattle That Lock” #5 (US), #1 (UK, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Czechoslovakia,  France, Italy, Portugal, Scotland), #2 (Canada, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Croatia, Holland, Ireland), #3 (Denmark, Finland, Korea)

“Rattle That Lock” has been a huge hit worldwide having reached the Top 3 in more than 20 countries worldwide. I was over-ecstatic when I heard that David Gilmour was releasing another album. Personally I did not think he’d be putting another out. But here it is nine years after “On An Island” and it is a solid collection of music, but we would expect no less from David Gilmour, one of the chief creative forces behind the classic band Pink Floyd.

“Rattle That Lock” displays the many shades of David Gilmour’s musical abilities and tastes. In many ways the album reminds me stylistically a bit of the Pink Floyd album “A Momentary Lapse Of Reason” from 1987. It opens with a moving instrumental “5 A.M.” which features Gilmour’s ever fresh and competent guitar chords. The title track “Rattle That Lock” features an upbeat more centered pop sound from the master of guitar and at the age of 69 his vocal performances are surprisingly crisp. “A Boat Lies Waiting” is style new and different for Gilmour. It begins sounding like his normal fare but once the vocals start were in for such a treat. He employees a stacked vocal effect layering voice upon voice to sound like a wall of voices, which include Graham Nash and David Crosby. The mood is somber and awakening to the importance of those we love. This song is especially poignant as it is a tribute to the late Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright. “Dancing Right In Front Of Me” is an interesting pop sort of tune that we usually do not hear coming from Gilmour, this one is a treat just because it’s different for him. “In Any Tongue” is classic David Gilmour the way we’ve come to know him from his first days with Pink Floyd. “The Girl In The Yellow Dress” is a complete departure for David Gilmour as he delves into a cool jazz sound. The song opens with a delicious double bass jazz riff and continues with an acoustic jazz guitar. Daivd’s wife Polly Samson wrote the lyric as David says, "Polly wrote a beautiful lyric about a girl dancing in a jazz club wearing a yellow dress that comes from a picture that we have by Johnny Dewe Mathews," Gilmour continued. "I recorded it again at Abbey Road with a different band, including Jools Holland on piano, Robert Wyatt playing coronet and Rado Klose – who has been a friend of mine since I was born – on guitar."

“Today” is quite possibly my favorite song on the album. I love the way it opens with a multi-voiced choral vocal than works into a rock and roll song full of riveting guitar and Gilmour’s rough sounding vocal. The song is an all out classic rock type tune you’d hear on any radio station back in 1978. “Today” was actually put together by three pieces of music Gilmour had discarded. It was co-producer, Phil Manzanera, that found these pieces and turned them into a song with his insightful acoustic guitar added.

“Rattle That Lock” is one of the great albums of 2015 with many memorable musical moments. My favorite tracks are “Rattle That Lock,” “Today” and “A Boat Lies Waiting.”

"Today" by David Gilmour

Release Date: May 19, 2015
Label: Matador
Producer: John Reis
Charts Positions: #20 (US Hard Rock Albums), #11 (US Heatseekers), #31 (US Independent Albums)
Singles: “Your Life In France,” “The Separation,” “The Understanding”

“The L Shaped Man” was a huge departure from Ceremony’s previous album “Zoo.” This album was quite a bit more dark and somber. That’s what attracted me the darkness and the mood. Much of it reminds me of Joy Division.

The first few piano chords in the opening song “Hibernation” set the mood for the entire album, stark, dark and simplistic. The album contains a certain sort of beauty hidden behind the electric rock guitar chords and dour vocals. The songs all speak about making it through life, love and loss. The album deals with lead singer, Ross Farrar’s recent break-up. This is a personal album for the band. I feel a certain sort of energy and peace emanating from this set of emotionally raw and exposed songs. It’s put up front our fragilities and our faults mixed with our beauty and love.

I especially love the lyrics in the song “The Pattern,” in which Ross Farrar repeats “it’s happening again” several times through the end of the song. It reminds of us of how we so often repeat our mistakes over and over in life. How we seem to be attracted to the same unhealthy habits and relationships. Do you grow? Do we learn from these mistakes? All we know is that it’s happening again.

“The L Shaped Man” is most definitely influenced by Joy Division and this is a great thing when it is done properly and Ceremony has hit the nail on the head to perfection. After all Ceremony took their name from a Joy Division song.

I give this album an A+ for its introspection. “The L Shaped Man” is a high point in Ceremony’s career and will move on to become one of their pivotal releases. I can’t help but to believe that “The L Shaped Man” is only the beginning of a set of classic recordings by Ceremony. The best is yet to come.

"Your Life In France" by Ceremony

1. “Twin Danger” by Twin Danger
Label: Decca Crossover
Producer: Guy Eckstine, Vanessa Bley, Stuart Matthewman
Charts Positions: #7 (US Jazz Albums)
Singles: “Coldest Kind Of Heart”

NPR Music’s staff writes:
“Cocktail jazz isn't a sound you hear very much in pop music these days. But a duo known as Twin Danger is causing a scene with their self-titled debut album and live shows.
It's a familiar mood for saxophonist Stuart Matthewman; he co-wrote many of the biggest hits for Sade, like "No Ordinary Love" and "Your Love Is King."
Matthewman's latest singer is Vanessa Bley, the daughter of jazz piano great Paul Bley.
Behind their smooth exterior, there is a certain punk ethos to the way they handle themselves when they perform live. As Matthewman told NPR's Arun Rath: "We always said about how we wanted the band to look and be on stage: if Frank Sinatra was in The Clash."
Vanessa Bley came up with the name Twin Danger. She explains why: "In Manhattan, I'd go to this bar near 21st and Park . Around 6, all these businessmen would come in in suits. They'd go into the basement and about an hour later come up in total drag and have this epic party. It certainly displays this idea of having two sides to yourself."”

I first came to discover Twin Danger as I was conducting my weekly Amazon. com new release check. I usually check out the Alternative rock and jazz section. Twin Danger was listed in both sections. This intrigued me. I just knew I had to check them out. I listened to a few samples on Amazon and I really liked what I heard so I jumped on over to youtube and listened to a few of their songs in full. I was instantly sold on this smooth smoky jazz club sound. My first impression was that this music is authentic. This is not a group of people attempting to be “cool,” they are “cool” and the music is simply spot on both musically and vocally. I ordered my copy from Amazon right at that moment.

Right from the first listen I knew the album would be my favorite of the year. There was some strong competition with David Gilmour’s “Rattle That Lock” and Ceremony’s “The L Shaped Man,” but in the end it was the purity of the music and vocals from Twin Danger that won out.

I love their cool smooth calm energy and feel that Twin Danger will have a long and successful career in music. This is just the beginning.

"Sailor" by Twin Danger

Worthy Mention:
The following albums did not make the Top 15 but deserve a worthy mention.
  • "25" by Adele (this may make the 2016 list)
  • "A Head Full Of Dreams" by Coldplay
  • "No, No, No" by Beirut
  • "Going Back Home" by Roger Daltrey and Wilko Johnson
  • "Sand In The Sky" by The Expendables
  • "Shockwave Supernova" by Joe Satriani (best album packaging of 2015)
  • "Smoke and Mirrors" by Imagine Dragons
  • "Ixora" by Copeland
  • "Absent Fathers" by Justin Townes Earle

Thank You for stopping by!!! Please post your thoughts.
What's your favorite album from this list?

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