Each season brings with it sounds and images, which correlate to emotions felt and events experienced. Here are the albums that mattered to me in 2015.
Mac Demarco — Another One
Another One is known as a mini-LP, or an inter-LP, a small taste between two full length records. It is Mac’s love letter, with themes of heartbreak and new found love. Written in a week while away in his house by the lake, the songs are short, sweet, and full of Mac’s classic swagger. Apart from the droning piano playing against crashing waves (“My House by the Water”) and the sad, breakup songs, Another One was a perfect love letter to the Fall season.
Best Track: I’ve Been Waiting For Her — Fun-loving and full of pop, this track is Mac asking himself: ‘What was I doing before her?” Highly relatable with a quick little guitar solo, I’ve Been Waiting For Her is Fall’s simple love declaration.
Caspian — Dust and Disquiet
I have been eagerly awaiting Caspian’s next LP since Waking Season’s impact on my Fall 3 years ago. With Dust & Dusquiet, Caspian follows in the wake of Chris Friedrich’s death (Bass Guitar), and steps forward with sorrow behind them and a future of hope and acceptance ahead of them. Dust and Disquiet is about change, about facing pain, and about honoring those we love. It is a sweeping post-rock masterpiece, creating soundscapes to sit with as the leaves change around you.
Best Track: Darkfield — Being the first track off of Dust & Disquiet that I heard, I was intrigued by the syncopated drums and small tearing sounds. It’s a track that waits to build and when it finally unleashes it is one of Caspian’s heaviest songs. Emotional, epic, and just the right length, Darkfield will move you into action this season.
The Dear Hunter — Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise
It has been six years between acts III and IV of Casey Crescenzo’s six-act story, set in the 20th century following the birth, life, and abrupt death of a boy known as “The Dear Hunter.” The anticipation for Act IV was huge, and upon its release, Rebirth in Reprise was worth the wait. The album continues where Act III left off, reprising hints of past songs throughout the next hour and 17 minutes. Symphonic, progressive, and wide in scope, Act IV is a novel performed for your ears. As the 2015 Fall season was full of joyous and confident change, Act IV followed the Dear Hunter through immense change and left me exciting for Act V’s eventual release.
Best Track: A Night on the Town — Wide in scope and musical influence, A Night on the Town is a novel in itself, clocking in at 9 minutes and covering much ground. It incorporates all the great qualities of Act IV into one song, providing an emotional ride of happiness, sorrow, regret, and anger while moving from exciting rock to a beautiful orchestra.
Kurt Vile — B’lieve I’m Going Down
B’lieve I’m Going Down is Kurt Vile at his most retrospective. Becoming a new father certainly changes people (see: Kanye West) and for Kurt Vile, it meant facing who he really is and accepting what he sees. The lyrics are loose, Vile’s voice is quiet and raw, and the song compositions are sometimes dense, while other times stripped down and bare. The theme the season, as you may have guessed, is encountering change and what we do with it. For Kurt Vile it meant writing an album that is representative of who he truly is and where he is going.
Best Track: Life Like This — Taking a look at his own life and how he deals with it, Vile continues to ask: “You wanna live a life like mine?” Eh, I think we all do. It’s a song about rolling with the punches and jumping between the toughest and sweetest moments of life. The piano throughout the song, paired with Vile’s signature guitar riffs, creates a song worth sitting back and enjoying.
Deafheaven — New Bermuda
Deafheaven’s Sunbather placed this 5-piece death-metal/shoegaze-y band in critical headlights. It was equal parts bright, like their pink album cover, and equal parts dark, featuring guttural screams, blast beats, and slowed-down voice overs. New Bermuda adds to Sunbather’s incredible contrast and delves deeper into the darkness, while also writing their brightest interludes. With only 5 tracks, New Bermuda’s cohesiveness is found on a track-by-track basis instead of an overarching album cohesiveness, as found in Sunbather. George Clarke’s vocals are matured and the rest of the band’s songwriting bounces from one influence to the next, improving with new sounds and song structures. As the days get shorter, New Bermuda’s embrace of the dark leads to a brighter ending.
Best Track: Luna — Viewed as a successor to “Dream House” from Sunbather, the dream quickly becomes George Clarke’s nightmare. With some of the best vocals on the album, Luna is also the heaviest track, creating room to breathe about 3/4’s through. It shows Deafheaven’s talent as songwriters in this genre they’ve created, combining both blistering blast beats, calm guitars, and George Clarke’s screams.
Beach House — Thank Your Lucky Stars
I quickly glanced over Depression Cherry, not truly giving it a proper listen before making it down to Portland for our dear friends’ wedding. While exploring that grand city, Gina, Liz, and I stumbled upon a tiny record store (across the street of the best donuts in town — Blue Star Donuts), and were there for Thank Your Lucky Stars’ release. Without any prior listening experience with this record, we purchased it out of whim and brought it back to Seattle for a spin. After spending a handful of nights making dinner, hanging with friends, and preparing for winter, Thank Your Lucky Stars’ calm, slow-dance quality tracks swept over our apartment and embraced our fall season with wonder.
Best Track: Somewhere Tonight — That organ, that 6/8 time signature, those lyrics, it all adds up to the perfect “slow-dance-while-making-dinner-in-your-apartment-with-your-love” song.
Polyenso — EP1
I have been following Polyenso ever since their transition from Oceana’s post-hardcore days. Now making sounds combining alternative, progressive, jazz, electronic, folk, and experimental influences, Polyenso is a band constantly mutating into a genre that is all their own. With EP1, Polyenso once again reinvents themselves, presenting four tracks of groove, airy vocals, and a medley of different instruments. In just 16 minutes, Polyenso manages to take you on four different journeys, each one resulting in a different reaction from your body, whether that is a bob of the head or soothing contemplation. One of my go-to albums for work, hanging out, or anything in between this Fall.
Best Track: Not My Real Life — With a sound fit for gliding on air, Not My Real Life has the most interesting song structure on the album. It’s dense with a tight production, groovy bass lines, poppy drums, and their now signature trumpet. With each listen, you hear something new — and that is what draws me to Polyenso.
Mutemath — Vitals
4 years MuteMath has been away; touring, writing, and living their lives as husbands, fathers, and friends. Where Odd Soul left off seeped in southern rock influences and raw, natural sounds, Vitals picks up in a completely different direction (as MuteMath is wont to do). Structured around heavy synth usage and barebones, only-essential-to-the-song compositions, we arrive to MuteMath revitalized, sounding young and energetic. This is an album you tap your toes and dance to; wake up and move to. Vitals is MuteMath venturing down a new path, keeping a keen eye on their past, and writing some of the best synth-pop-rock music to date. Gina and I had the opportunity of also seeing them back on tour here in Seattle; a sold out show at the Tractor Tavern. Once again, their live shows solidify them as one of the most creative bands currently touring.
Best Track: Used To — This song is a representation of what Vitals brings to the sound table. It is explosive, propelled by Paul Meany’s vocals and creative synth work. Even more substantial live, Used To will certainly move you.
Strawberry Girls — American Graffiti
Currently Fall, 2015’s productive work album, American Graffiti is the progressive rock album of the year. Layered with impressive musicianship and songwriting from the entire three-piece group, this album hardly ever lets up, noodling its way into your ears with urgency and grooviness. Its an album where each member knows each other’s strengths, playing to them, and presenting an album that had my body unable to stand still each and every listen. Although I am not a fan of every vocal feature, the addition of vocals on those four tracks creates interesting variety throughout the album. I look forward to continuing American Graffiti’s heavy rotation well into 2016.
Best Track: American Graffiti — Starting off the album with this track sets up your ears for what is to come. It has that essential groove, a perfect sync between the band, and a build up that leads you right off a cliff.
Will Butler — Policy
Will Butler’s debut album apart from Arcade Fire is quite a treat. Policy’s tracks are sometimes unpredictable, completely varied, and all wholesome fun. It is exciting to hear this side of Will Butler’s creativity, a sound that is almost completely devoid of Arcade Fire’s signature style. Policy’s impact on Fall was made known as the album quickly became a go-to road-trip, heavy-traffic companion. Short and sweet, Policy is an easy album to listen front-to-back, with no disappointments.
Best Track: Anna — Complete with a wild music video, Anna’s bass line and Will Butler’s sharp voice is an instant two-stepper.
Landlady — Upright Behavior
I discovered Landlady after researching Son Lux’s fantastic drummer — Ian Chang. With no expectations, Upright Behavior surprised me. Led by Adam Schatz’ full voice, this album is simple yet energetic, refined yet spontaneous. It makes you dance, moves you through the changing soundscapes, and creates anthemic lyrics that I am sure are shouted loudly amongst the crowd at a live show. Upright Behavior will surely maintain its position in my car as an album worth driving to and zoning out to.
Best Track: Fine — Playing to Ian Chang’s drumming strengths, this track is heavy on percussion. It is a slow burner, leading up to the eventual exultation: “I’ll be fine.”