Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Impossible to Verify: The 2015 Top 8

About this time last year, struggling amid a what-to-play-next crisis, I impulsively embarked on a plan to solve that issue by streaming every album on WXPN's "Top 885" all-time countdown, bottom to top. With the exception of a few handfuls of unavailable titles, and granting myself the option to play live albums, I tackled more than 400 of them this year, and I'm somewhere in the mid-300s now.

Given the scope of the project -- and the fact that the list itself was published in 2005 and so by definition pinned me back a full decade at least -- I didn't leave my ears a whole lot of time for new music discovery in 2015, and find myself even less familiar than usual with the contemporary year-end lists you see this time of year.

With a couple of exceptions I was tempted to listen to new stuff mainly in cases where I had at least some familiarity with the artist going in, and so as I review my favorites they're about as Dad Rock as ever. As I can't recommend 10, please enjoy selections from my top eight 2015 releases.

Robert Foster SONGS TO PLAY
The elderly singer of the 80s band the Go-Betweens comes off as an elegant Aussie Lou Reed jangle-rocker. Can't find an embeddable version of "Learn to Burn" but that's worth a listen too.

There's no denying Frank Turner knows how to write a rousing song, and this collection of 'em is an improvement on his last one but its getting to the point that I don't get what he's so stirred up about anymore. The weather? It's about half the record.

I detect Frank's "core" punk fanbase is dismayed at his increasingly listenable output -- writing lyrics to a song called "Get Better" all over his old album covers I think sends a message too -- but I'm looking forward to the day he's ready to truly abandon his roots, fuse that fist-pumping energy with some soul; swap out the barrelhouse pianny for a hammond organ, mandolins for horns, etc. etc. Still, this one fires you up!

The Front Bottoms: BACK ON TOP
Low-fi, funny-sad garage band with an incredibly expressive singer who manages to strain against the hopelessness at the heart of one catchy tune after another.

Franz Ferdinand Sparks: FFS
Churning out underappreciated, theatrical weirdness for 40 years, Sparks gets a jolt of new energy from younger collaborator Franz Ferdinand, themselves a bit of a quirky outfit I also like. A "pick any song" kinda record.

Joe's first "new" record in seven years is actually a double-album recorded with four different bands in four different cities. So it's literally all over the place, but as well executed, well arranged, and well played as ever, and several are lyrically interesting particularly on the ruminative title track. I particularly the New York and New Orleans sides, the latter producing the Beethoven-inspired selection below. I'm ready to start a campaign to get Joe into the rock Hall of Fame.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds: CHASING YESTERDAY
I admire the way the classic-rock ripoffs on this album are so plainly in sight. The very first song begins "There's something in the way she moves," while the one below borrows the melody and a lyric from David Essex's "Rock On." Other song titles include "In the Heat of the Moment" and "When the Song Remains the Same." About half of this album is great, and the other half isn't, but  that was enough for me this year.

This is the only guy on this list who was completely new to me this year, and I don't remember how I first encountered him, but this is fun stuff, 50s roots rock and a great singer with a dirty -- but not filthy -- edge.

Reflective, wordy, literate and sometimes funny, Josh Ritter captures both the golden light and chilling shadows of Autumn. There's some fire-and-brimstone -- opener "Birds of the Meadow" is creepy and "Henrietta, Indiana" is bleak -- but the same themes of religion and small-town folk are tackled joyously on "Getting Ready to Get Down," and "Cumberland" later on in the record, and all of it is interesting, listenable and evocative.

Here's a little more:

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