2015 marks the 7th consecutive time that the collective staff of Spinning Platters have come together, selected our favorite records of the year, and then spent the following month listening to every possible contender on the list and picking the best of the best. With such an eclectic mix of music — from creative genres birthed into existence, to old artists returning to the fray, and, of course, new works by those still deftly holding fast in the tumult — it definitely made for an interesting set of choices. This year, we had a whopping 54 albums to choose from, and narrowed that list down to our ten favorites over the course of five weeks. Here are the records that made it to the final round.
10. Metric: Pagans In Vegas | review by Christopher Rogers
Described in haiku:
A fluorescent bulb
on the dancefloor after work.
Bzt, bzt, bzt, bzt, bzt.
9. Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color | review by Michelle Viray
Since the release of Boys & Girls, singer Brittany Howard’s androgynous voice has been one of power, weaving through cleverly-written lyrics, insightful beyond her 27 years. After this debut album and its three Grammy nominations, this four-piece band moved further away from their 60’s soul sound, creating Sound & Color, a haunting, melodic, and unique album with a slight electronic influence. A follow-up to a successful debut album isn’t easy (just ask Justin Timberlake or, more appropriately, Lauren Mayberry) but Alabama Shakes have created an alluring album moving fluidly through different moods, heavy with eclectic raw talent. Full of influence, Sound & Color maps back to funk, blues, and southern rock, but moves forward on its own, hoping you take notice of this inspiring 2015 release.
8. Fuzz: Fuzz II | review by James King
Fuzz has never sounded heavier or tighter than they do on their sophomore album. Songs like “Pollinate,” and “Pipe” show that Fuzz are capable of channeling their inner Sabbath. Fuzz II shines in the moments when Fuzz drifts into the realm of stoner metal as opposed to that of blues-based riffs. Guitarist Charles Moothart has matured as a guitarist, and no longer relies on the excessive vibrato that dragged down most of his riffs and solos on their previous work. With II, Fuzz have demonstrated that they are more than just another Ty Segall side project.
7. Geographer: Ghost Modern | review by Kara Murphy
Up until this year, Geographer was known as one of San Francisco’s best kept secrets. After three albums that captured the hearts and minds of the most discerning electronica fans, frontman and composer Michael Deni decided to set his sights on grander musical pastures. Instead of fully surrendering to his previous, abysmal mindset — having publicly claimed, in the past, that life is meaningless — Deni channeled that angst into a gorgeous, ambitious, anthemic, and accessible collection of songs espousing tales of despair and redemption. Ghost Modern‘s lead single, “I Am Ready”, sets the tone with pulsating synth arrangements layered with Deni’s yearning, unrelenting, and mesmerizing falsetto. The listener can’t help but connect emotionally with every lyric, verse, and chord until the final track, “Falling Apart.” Ghost Modern is Geographer’s Born to Run and, as a result, they’ve ultimately succeeded in transcending their Bay Area boundaries.
6. The Weeknd: Beauty Behind The Madness | review by Caroline Hernandez
This album’s big hit, “Can’t Feel My Face”, is an ode to early Michael Jackson, with The Weeknd’s voice bearing an uncanny similarity to the late great King of Pop. Conversely, “The Hills”, the second single from Madness, is a sordid tale of indiscretion, drugs and alcohol wrapped in an beat punctuated by the sound of a woman screaming; it has the kind of dark glamor of an old Hollywood tale. The real beauty of the album, however, comes from listening to it as a whole from start to finish. The alarms that begin “Real Life” set the tone for the entire album; The Weeknd is best at being alone and love is eclipsed by addiction. It would all sound rather cliché if it weren’t for the fact that his angelic voice is delivering lyrics like “If I had her, you can have her, man it don’t matter/I’m never sour, I’m just smokin’ somethin’ much louder” in songs like “Often.” The nihilism is intoxicating and it becomes a story I want to hear over and over again. Ed Sheeran and Lana Del Rey assist in depicting a lonely landscape in “Dark Times” and “Prisoner” in which fame becomes a catalyst for further self destruction. In the end, I’m like a voyeur who can’t turn her eyes away from a scandalous and tawdry scene.
5. Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) | review by Joel Edelman
When I was in college, I hated studying history; I only wanted to take the classes I needed to graduate. (Maybe that was why I hated it.) However, if my college had taught history the way Hamilton presents it, I’d have never missed a class and would probably do a lot better when I watch Jeopardy! on TV. Hamilton is a biomusical (as biopic is too limiting a word) about our first US Secretary of the Treasury; its musical numbers are comprised of lot of hip-hop that’s well done in terms of both timing and writing style. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer and lyricist, could revolutionize the way we educate children if he’s up for it. As someone who’s listened to the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack hundreds of times but has never seen the movie, I imagine Hamilton will suffer the same fate from me, but don’t let that stop you. It’ll continue on Broadway as well as be in Chicago next year, so go see it. Until then, be sure to give this a listen.
4. Algiers: Algiers | review by Jonathan Pirro
Forget what any fan of 80s college rock or modern-day industrial synths tells you: when it comes to dark pop music, there is no better choice in 2015 than Algiers. It’s a nightmarish hellscape that came screaming into existence from the funk-drenched shores of Alabama, the product of a trio of brilliant musicians who are anything but easy to define in their approach. Drums smash and caterwaul into a wall of noise; samples lay the groundwork for a futuristic haunted house of retro sounds and jarring electroclash; and, beneath it all, the smooth-yet-screaming bellow of singer Franklin James Fisher drives the fierce rhythms, possessed of a voice halfway between the timid baritones of Tindersticks and the frenetic energy of James Brown. Pigeonholing it into “soul punk” can only do it justice if you fully acknowledge the breadth of influence that both of those genres have had on the course of musical history, and Algiers sounds like a record borne from decades of anger, passion, and disquiet.
3. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit | review by Marie Carney
Courtney Barnett’s debut album is full of so many great things I’ve spent the last few months telling everyone I know they have to listen to it. When I do this, it usually takes me until five minutes into my pitch before I realize I sound like an over enthusiastic salesman, but that’s how this record makes me feel, like it’s something I need others to experience. Musically, it’s a great rock record that sounds almost like something I would have heard in the 90s, but more stylistically adventurous. What makes this record stand out, however, is the sense of who Courtney Barnett is — and it is one that you fully understand through her lyrics. Listening to Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is like hearing your most charming and fun friend tell you stories of their day; how they feel, what they saw, various thoughts and observations. The lyrics are conversational and often simple, but also full of depth and wisdom; I catch myself listening over and over to the same song trying to figure out how she accomplishes this wizardry. Where is that exact turn of phrase that brings in that oh-so-original perspective, that keeps it from being just any old song? Sometimes I find it, but mostly, I think it’s magic. Courtney Barnett is full of musical wonder; if you’ve missed her so far, don’t make the mistake of continuing to do so.
2. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities To Love | review by Dakin Hardwick
Reunion records are rarely worthwhile; usually they are half-assed records, only cobbled together for the sake of getting a label to help support a tour. Sleater-Kinney, however, managed to defy that rule, and in fact defied all expectations by releasing a record that seamlessly works right next to their last release, 2005’s The Woods, but is still full of pure passion and fury. From the first note to the last bit of fuzz, SK have given us an unrelenting, aggressive record that most hardcore and metal bands would sell their souls to get even halfway to their same level. Rolling Stone once called Sleater-Kinney “the most important band in America”; No Cities To Love is a testament to that statement.
1. CHVRCHES: Every Open Eye | review by Gordon Elgart
Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty are a band called CHVRCHES. Although the majority of the press goes to the lead singer and lyricist Mayberry, the trio from Glasgow have spurned the production teams that attempted to recruit them to decide to remain a self-produced synthpop band, continuing to work on their chemistry together, and they are all better for it, as Every Open Eye is an absolute gift of an album. Side one in particular is five perfect pop gems; the ABBAesque “Keep You By My Side” is a particular standout, but the MVP is “Clearest Blue,” which turns from a bouncy number into an all-out arena-sized banger by the end. By the time you get to the soaring closer, “Afterglow,” you’ll be very glad the band stuck to their guns and provided a true artistic statement.
Stay tuned for individual best-of album lists coming after the new year!