2015 was an excellent year for new music. When I’ve been asked in the past to sit down and make similar lists for other sites it’s never taken me so long to come to some type of conclusion as to what should make the cut and what eventually doesn’t. It’s never been this painful of a process before. For the last couple years I completed a massive year-end list for Lonesome Noise (R.I.P.) and the list always wound up being very, very metal heavy (pun intended). It only makes sense being that’s the genre of music I listen to the most. So this year in the interest of fairness I decided to break out two lists – the metal version and the non-metal version.
Please note that this list is not intended as a “Best of” so to speak. This is simply a list of the 23 albums that I listened to and loved the most. (Why 23 albums? Because I originally intended to only list 20 and couldn’t get this list down further. So you’re getting a seemingly arbitrary number.) There are lots of outstanding albums that didn’t make the cut simply because I didn’t spend enough time with them. That does not in any way diminish their artistic merit. Albums below are listed alphabetically by artist, so without further delay…
Amber Asylum – Sin Eater
There are quite a few “dark” albums on this list, albums that a lot of metal fans can sink their teeth into. This is one of those albums. Amber Asylum have a long history with a truly fascinating discography. Sin Eater is easily one of their deepest and darkest records to date. They are able to take their brand of neo-classical and combine it with a Neurosis-like ambiance that delves in and out of somewhat unsettling sonic territory, yet never losing the essential beauty that makes Amber Asylum tick. A must own for any fans of the musical noir.
And The Kids – Turn To Each Other
For the first six months of the year this was arguably my favorite new record. Six months later I’d still call it one of the 5 or 10 best records I got to experience this year. Super catchy hooks combined with jangly, indie rock rhythms equal an album chock full of memorable songs. And The Kids aren’t afraid to get a little weird either as they take their sound on a road trip all over the indie rock landscape. An album virtually devoid of any filler at all, and one that supplied some absolutely electric moments. It’s brilliant from start to finish.
Christ – Tower
Another album that drifts into cinematic landscapes of sometimes nightmarish proportions, this time delivered by Montreal’s Christ. It’s almost ritualistic in its delivery as Christ paint some of the most soothing post-apocalyptic visions you’ll hear. Really no album this dreary should be this beautiful yet somehow Christ are able to perfect that juxtaposition beyond any reasonable doubt. Fans of everything from metal to psych rock to neo-folk will find a lot to love here.
Dirty Dishes – Guilty
Earlier this year, on another site, I called Dirty Dishes the most underrated band floating around the various boroughs of New York City. Almost a full year removed since the January release of this album and I still stand by that statement. Dirty Dishes hearken back to a time when the term “alt-rock” actually had some power behind it and was filled with dirty, fuzzy guitars and a certain level of ‘fuck-off’ to the established pop rock machine. Fans of acts like the Pixies and Sonic Youth could do worse than this duo.
Brian Dolzani – A Place That I Can Feel
Brian Dolzani has been an active member of the Connecticut music scene for a long time and his back-catalog is pretty prolific. But Dolzani saved some of his best songwriting for new album A Place That I Can Feel. He’s also done his best to answer the proverbial question: Who is Connecticut’s answer to Neil Young? Big shows to fill, obviously, but that’s simply how good Dolzani’s brand of folk-infused Americana comes across on this album.
Rachel Grimes – The Clearing
Rachel Grimes is another artist with a long and prolific career writing and composing music for various musical projects. The Clearing, however, is easily one of her most accomplished and lush works of art in a career filled with some pretty accomplished and lush works of art. Grimes is able to paint pictures and tell stories with something as simple as a minimalist piano-fronted piece in ways that few artists around the world can. Even in its most stripped-down moments it’s an altogether beautiful album, a truly inspiring work.
Kristian Harting – Summer of Crush
I purposely listed this albums alphabetically but in reality I was pretty sure what my top three records on this list would have been if I listed them in some sort of hierarchy. This one might have clocked in at number one, overall. Simply put, Kristian Harting writes some of the most gorgeous music I’ve ever heard. The songs on this record range from ambient acoustic interludes, to trippy blasts of psych rock but throughout Harting delivers this sort of shadowy aesthetic, almost the musical equivalent to dusk itself. It’s an album that is often as breathtaking as the best sunset you’ve ever seen.
Hex Inverter – Hex Inverter
Blending avant-garde rock with shoegaze and heavy psych elements, Philadelphia’s Hex Inverter delivered one of the more interesting debut albums of 2015. A cross between sheer atmosphere and something you might find on a classic horror movie soundtrack, Hex Inverter delivered an album that will hopefully be the foundation for many more releases to come.
Masakichi – Hummingbird
I’ll be completely honest with you here – I had never heard of this band before I stumbled upon them online. One of the best serendipitous finds of the year for sure. Masakichi play a rich and textured brand of alt rock meets indie rock meets shoegaze. It’s a distinct sound punctuated by soaring female vocals and a penchant for the ethereal. It can all be quite mesmerizing when it hits just right, as it does more often than not.
The Meadows Brothers – Won’t Be Troubled
There are a handful of Connecticut artists that I can see breaking out of their own backyard and taking their music to wider audiences. The Meadows Brothers exist somewhere near the top of that list and their debut album, Won’t Be Troubled, did nothing to dissuade that opinion. Mixing elements of blues, folk, and country, The Meadows Brothers successfully pull together a bevy of sounds that at one point were all budding from the same musical tree. They are throwbacks to a time when an acoustic guitar, harmonica, and a couple strong voices were all you needed to spin yarns and get people fully immersed in your music. There are most likely some big things on the horizon for these brothers Meadows and this album is just the launching point.
Mercy Choir – Sings In The Traditional Rock And Roll Style
Go ahead and take a gander at the Mercy Choir Bandcamp page and you’ll find no less than 18 albums up for grabs. 18! Mercy Choir is the brainchild of Paul Belbusti, easily one of the most prolific musicians, possibly in the entire history, of Connecticut music. But it’s hard to recall if Belbusti ever let his Mercy Choir project sound so…well, traditional. Mercy Choir has been built on the essence of being an experimental project, with Belbusti taking whatever liberties with his music that he damn well pleases. But on this record it’s as if he’s purposely turning back the clocks to explore the blues-infested infancy or rock music. The result is simply one of the funnest and dance-friendly records you’ll hear this year.
Midas Fall – The Menagerie Inside
Every now and then there are albums I fall in love with, I listen to them incessantly over a short period of time – fully intending to give them a glowing review – and then life gets in the way of living and I drop the ball. This is one of those albums. UK’s Midas Fall play a haunting mix of electronica and post-rock that get speckled with prog and goth elements throughout. It’s an album that just flows like a majestic river cutting through a dense wood. There is mystery and intrigue at every bend, yet the level of beauty remains stunning from start to finish.
Krizta Moon – Tending The Garden Of Truth
I try very hard to keep lists like these to full-length albums only, but every now and then an EP comes along that I simply can’t penalize just because it isn’t long enough. In fact, for Connecticut songstress, Krizta Moon, settling for an EP works in her favor as it leaves you wanting more. More of that sultry sweet voice, more of her ethereal brand of folk. Moon writes songs that seem to commune directly with Nature and simultaneously take the listener by the hand and lead you down a grassy path into a place where Spring is eternal.
Jeff Przech – Sounds Like Fresh
Despite the fact that Connecticut is constantly a tour stop for some of the biggest (and worst) country artists in the world, there are not a ton Connecticut artists making music you could unconditionally quantify as country music. Jeff Przech is one of those exceptions. His debut album, Sounds Like Fresh, is arguably the best country record the Nutmeg State has produced in quite some time. Przech combines elements from a wide array of countrified influences to present a listening experience that indeed sounds fresh on so many levels.
Quiet Giant – loom
Originally called loom, now called Quiet Giant, with a debut album called loom. Got that? All you need to get is that one of the best new artists in all of New England is Quiet Giant. They may be the heaviest pop band you’ve ever heard, or maybe they are the dreamiest post-rock band you’ve ever heard. The real answer is they probably lie somewhere in between. Regardless of how you want to classify them, Quiet Giant are absolutely infectious and their debut album was one of the best freshman efforts you’re going to come across this year.
Shilpa Ray – Last Year’s Savage
I first stumbled upon Shilpa Ray when she was still roaming the bar circuit with her “Happy Hookers” in tow. My first Shilpa Ray live experience was nothing short of a religious one. Rarely had I experienced such a combustible combination of power and emotion that Ray spewed that night at a venue that doesn’t even exist anymore. Her newest album takes the dirty, bluesy, cacophonous rock that Ray perfected on previous releases and strips it down to a, at times, more lucid trajectory. But that rocket ship is still aimed at the sun no matter what speed it’s traveling at and the more ethereal aesthetic of this album just seems to make Ray’s music slightly more unnerving in its honesty and grit. This album is a triumph and how Ray hasn’t already become the darling of the entire indie rock world is absolutely beyond me.
Meredith Rose – Sow
Another EP I couldn’t justify leaving off this list. I don’t listen to a lot of pop music…at all. But if I did on a more regular basis I would seek out artists like Rose. Her debut EP is a catchy blend of dreamy pop and indie Americana. It’s also four songs that will absolutely get stuck in your head the best way possible if you allow them to. (I dare you to not be humming the hook to “Free” once its grabbed hold of you.) Rose is another young CT artist on this list with a bright future and this EP is a great jumping off point.
Violent Mae – Kid
I honestly don’t even know where to begin with this band. If you didn’t get a chance to read my full review of this album, you should. It would do this album more justice than I could in this brief space. I’ll be frank. I’ve been in love with the music of singer/songwriter Becky Kessler since the day a mutual friend asked me to book her onto the taping of a local music TV show I used to produce. Combine Kessler with the production and instrumental wizardry of scene veteran Floyd Kellogg and it’s a no-brainer that Violent Mae are simply one of my favorite bands in the entire world, genres be damned. Kid is the follow up to their tremendous, self-titled debut album, and it leaves everything on the table for the taking – amazing songwriting, killer lyrics, dynamic production – all sewn together in a mix of esoteric indie rock of the highest order. It just doesn’t get much better than this album.
Steve Von Till – A Life Unto Itself
Metal fans may be surprised to see Von Till on this list, solely because he’s better known as one of the masterminds behind one of the most influential metal acts of all-time, Neurosis. But Von Till’s solo work has always cut a much different path than his work with Neurosis and this album is no exception. With the exception of some pedal steel and stringed accompaniment this album consists of Von Till, his acoustic guitar and that instantly recognizable, raspy voice. Von Till has written hands-down the best neo-folk album of the year and easily one of the darkest as well. It consistently has a very personal feel to it, almost voyeuristic in nature, as we look right into the soul of a man so full of stories to tell. Beautiful is simply to grand of an under-statement when discussing this album.
Dale Watson – Call Me Insane
Anyone who knows me at all knows my love of classic country music. The pop-rock bullshit killing brain cells on commercial radio these days, frankly, makes me want to puke. Then there are artists like Dale Watson. There is a ton of great country music out there toiling all over the U.S. in various sawdust covered honky tonks. Watson put out, what I am confident to call, the best country record of the year in 2015. Call Me Insane continues to build on a growing reputation for Watson as being the true heir to cats like George Jones, Buck Owens, and Waylon Jennings.
Wise Old Moon – Don’t Take Off
Another album I’ve spent a lot of time with but haven’t been afforded the opportunity to give the full review treatment. On their sophomore effort, Wise Old Moon, have taken a decidedly more laid back approach to their brand of Americana-infused, indie-folk. It’s a little more country and a little less rock n’ roll and the results have paid big dividends in the way of a record that tops their exceptional debut. No small feat yet one that Wise Old Moon was clearly up for. This is a band with all the arrows pointing up and a long career of fine music in front of them.
Debbie Wiseman – Wolf Hall (Original Television Soundtrack)
Listen, I’m not a soundtrack guy by trade. Never was, never will be. The number of movie soundtracks I own I could count on one hand, literally. The number of TV soundtracks is even less. But this one is a must have for any fans of classical music, powerful musical scores, or really music in general. Wolf Hall was an amazing mini-series produced by the BBC, and based off the book series of the same name. It tells the tale of British monarch, Henry VIII, and the rise and fall of both (one of his many wives), Anne Boleyn, and his trusted adviser, Thomas Cromwell. It’s a fascinating and titillating time in British history and Wiseman’s soundtrack does more than set the tone – it downright steals the show at certain points. Watch the series (trust me when I say it’s one of the best-acted, most well-written, and most gorgeously produced pieces of television you’ll ever see) and then experience Wiseman’s astounding contribution to television, musical, and factual history.
Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss
It’s fitting that this is the last album we are discussing on this list because a) it was the last album I truly fell in love with this year as I was late to finally investigate it (why, I’m still not sure) and b) it’s a contender for album of the year. To say that Abyss is Wolfe’s heaviest and darkest album to date would be a gross understatement. How heavy and dark is this record at its heaviest and darkest? I almost considered including it on my Metal albums year-end list instead of this one. Honestly, if I did I’m not sure anyone would have had any arguments against its inclusion. Wolfe has always had a penchant for playing in the shadows but on this album it would seem that she’s simply decided to throw off any pretense and immerse herself fully into the blackest of voids. It’s as dangerous sounding as it is beautiful and the final result is often times simply breath-taking on so many levels.