Thursday, December 3, 2015

Top 5's of 2015 - Matthew Phillips!

It's my favorite time of the year for Maritime Vinyl, The Top 5 Lists! Anyone who wants to send a list please feel free to do so. I always get a huge response from these! I don't require a write-up but it is always appreciated if you feel like it.

First up we have Matthew Phillips! He always brings this to an entire new level with his great in depth reviews. Couldn't think of a better place to start. Enjoy!

Here's Matthew in his own words:

After two mediocre years for my musical tastes (2013-2014), I was ready for 2015 to breakout with some full-on killer albums.

From the beginning, it looked to be another huge year of PledgeMusic campaigns with no less than five of my favourite bands looking for fan support. But… I only plugged in my credit card for two of them. (More on that later).

Looking back for a moment at 2014, eight artists were on my radar last year with new albums in the works for 2015, and of those, five of them put out new records this year that made my top 10:

- Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

- Faith No More

- The Darkness

- The Winery Dogs

- Stereophonics

From that shortlist of bands alone I was as hyped for 2015 as any year in recent memory.

As with every year, don’t look to my lists for the trendiest records. Were there some killer indie records in 2015? I really wouldn’t know. What I do know is that 2015 was an exciting year for anyone’s musical tastes.

10 Favourite Albums of 2015 (in the order I found them):

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Chasing Yesterday (March 4, 2015)
Bought online from

My favourite songwriter from the ‘90s, Noel Gallagher has survived while his ex-bandmates from Oasis fell apart. October 2014 saw the break-up of brother Liam’s band, Beady Eye; six months later (March 2015) saw the release of the first album on my favourites list, Noel’s “Chasing Yesterday”.

I haven’t warmed to this album as much as the High Flying Birds’ 2011 debut, and it’s certainly not the experimental album that was promised when we’d heard Noel was collaborating with British EDM duo Amorphous Androgynous. “Chasing Yesterday” is sometimes predictable but just as predictably it’s stayed on my iPhone playlist all year long. There are a few curious moments (like an unexpected saxophone solo halfway into the first song, something I guarantee ‘90s Noel/Liam would never have recorded). But you can’t deny great song writing. Terrific production on this one too (as with the last “High Flying Birds” album).

I picked up “Chasing Yesterday” on deluxe edition CD, vinyl, and I also found the 12” vinyl single (“In the Heat of the Moment”) on Record Store Day at SecondSpin in Fredericton.

Faith No More
Sol Invictus (May 20, 2015)
Bought at HMV Fredericton

The first new album from a reformed Faith No More was announced just over a year ago by the ominous single “Motherfucker” (“Get the motherfucker on the phone!”) featuring the vocals of keyboardist Roddy Bottum, and the man with the widest vocal range in rock music: Mike Patton.

Sadly, I haven’t tracked down a copy of the “Motherfucker” single on vinyl, but I did get the full “Sol Invictus” album on CD in May, and then the well-priced vinyl record in September. The second single – “Superhero”, on 7" vinyl – was much easier to find, and since hearing it on CD “Superhero” has been my favourite song of the year.

“Sol Invictus” (which is Latin for “unconquered sun”) is the sound of a confident band who’ve always embodied true “alternative” to me. It’s not a killer album, but a really solid one (and a must-buy for Faith No More collectors).

The Purple Album (May 20, 2015)
Bought at HMV Fredericton

There’s lots to discover on “The Purple Album” if you’re a classic rock fan like me who always wondered how deep their catalogue goes beyond “Smoke On The Water”.

I’ve tried to enjoy Deep Purple – for all of their influence on my favourite bands – but the really dated production on their albums always dampened my enjoyment.

Featuring 13 songs from the Mark III and IV line-ups (15 if you picked up the deluxe CD/DVD edition), you’ll either jump all over this album’s modern production and extended solos, or – if you’re a Purple purist – you might cringe at just how bombastic everything is. All of the songs are from a transitional period for Purple when they were fronted by new members David Coverdale (vocals, and king ‘Snake) and Glenn Hughes (bass and vocals), who I was really hoping would make a guest appearance on “Burn” (he shared vocals with Coverdale on the original, but not this time).

Winger’s high-energy shredder Red Beach – who is now the longest tenured Whitesnake guitarist ever, at 12 years – and new axeman Joel Hoekstra don’t stick to the purple blueprints here, and they impress with some extracurricular guitar work.

The Darkness
Last Of Our Kind (June 10, 2015)
Bought online from

What is it about British bands that inspire them to write the best classic rock riffs? The Darkness are carrying the torch in 2015 with their latest album “Last Of Our Kind”, full of Queen-inspired production and classic riffs that will also remind you of The Cult (“Open Fire”), and the power crunch of their debut album (“Barbarian”, “Roaring Waters”). They also haven’t lost the knack for writing great power ballads (“Sarah Oh Sarah”, and “Wheels Of The Machine”).  
Since the summer it’s been my favourite record of 2015 (and favourite album artwork with many Iron-Maiden-esque references to discover). From package to production “Last Of Our Kind” was made for the vinyl experience.

I first heard about a new album from The Darkness through PledgeMusic, though my fan support (i.e. wallet) only stretches so far. I begrudgingly waited a few extra weeks and bought the limited-edition green vinyl (and CD) on instead, for half the “pledge” price.

There is a new deluxe edition CD of “Last Of Our Kind” (with 4 bonus tracks) that should be out by the time this is published and it features their first Christmas single in 12 years, “I Am Santa”.

Joe Satriani
Shockwave Supernova (July 30, 2015)
Bought online from

Still kicking myself for missing Joe’s show at Moncton’s CasinoNB in 2013, I’ve also been very late to the Satch boogie. Sure, I owned “Surfing With The Alien” in the ‘80s. But since 1986 Joe’s put out an album basically every 2 years (with a few 3-year gaps) so there’s a lot of music to catch up on.

My favourite modern Satriani record is still 2006’s “Super Colossal” but the new “Shockwave Supernova” would come in second.

Many of the ideas on “Supernova” were intended to be on a 3
rd Chickenfoot album – Joe’s side project with Sammy Hagar, Mike Anthony and Chad Smith – that never was, and for a while it looked like Chickenfoot would be yet another disbanded “supergroup”. Certainly some songs like “Crazy Joey”, “On Peregrine Wings” and the title track could have sounded great with some Hagar lyrics/vocals. Joe confirmed in September that a reunited Chickenfoot were working on a brand new song (possibly more) and here’s hoping for a 2016 release.

As a graphic designer I was really excited for the “Shockwave Supernova” album packaging which features some smart die-cuts and shiny surfaces. While it’s a cardboard digipack (which I generally dislike), the printing has an expensive, velvety feeling and the entire package feels as slick as Joe’s playing.

Check out an “unboxing" video of the super cool packaging here:

Alice Cooper
 Hollywood Vampires (September 26, 2015)

Bought at HMV Saint John

“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make…”

Alice Cooper’s latest album has been in the works for years, but I was originally in no hurry to buy a collection of mostly predictable covers of The Who (“My Generation”), Led Zeppelin (“Whole Lotta Love”, curiously sung with Brian Johnson of AC/DC), mixed with a few originals.

Just like Joe Satriani, the Coop has been very prolific – with a new album every 2-3 years since 2000s exceptional “Brutal Planet – but on paper this sounded like a throwaway album, and a waste of momentum.

Where a lot of tribute albums are terrible and often feature a B-list of washed-up musicians who suck the life out of the songs, “Hollywood Vampires” is uplifted by a solid core of guitarists, namely Joe Perry and Johnny Depp (who you may be surprised to hear has played on other people’s albums since the ‘90s).

Each song is a raising of the glass to Alice’s “dead drunk friends”, and while the title simply says “Hollywood Vampires”, this is an Alice Cooper album right down to its Producer (Bob Ezrin) and a familiar list of current and original Cooper bandmates: Dennis Dunaway, Neil Smith, previous guitar siren Orianthi, Tommy Henriksen and Kip Winger.

Promo videos for the album of course focused on guest stars Paul McCartney (who wrote “Come And Get It” back in ‘69) and Robby Krieger (on The Doors’ medley) but I was happy to sink my teeth into the new tracks: “Raise The Dead”, which easily fits on any recent Cooper album; the swaggering “My Dead Drunk Friends”; and a reading by Sir Christoper Lee of “The Last Vampire” from the original Dracula novel (marking his last appearance on record).

“Hollywood Vampires” is not an album I absolutely love, and the track listing could have been so much more interesting, but I’ll pick it up on vinyl if I ever see it.

Condition Hüman (October 2, 2015)
Bought online from PledgeMusic

The most anticipated album on my list is the second album from a re-energized Queensrÿche, again featuring “new” singer Todd LaTorre. I’d been waiting almost a year for this album, since I bought in through PledgeMusic in November 2014.

“Condition Hüman” outshines their previous self-titled 2013 album in nearly every way with better songwriting, more songs (the 2013 album was too short), and interesting artwork. Depicting a little girl inside an attic – wiping away the dust from a window overlooking their hometown of Seattle – her revealing swipes on the artwork form the distinctive shape of the TriRyche logo.

Todd’s vocal range is more on display and every manner of Queensryche-ism has been dusted off for this album. It’s both heavier and lighter. Songs like the first single “Arrow Of Time” and “Guardian” recall their heavy progressive beginnings, and “Just Us” is the ballad we’ve been waiting for Queensrÿche to write since their heyday; Todd’s voice is so sweet and barely recognizable in the beginning. Another song with a distorted bass intro, “Eye9” could have been on 1994’s “Promised Land”.

Like their last album, this one has a very strong start and stronger finish, ending with the epic, seven-plus minute “Condition Hüman”.

The production is my only complaint, and while James “Jimbo” Barton may have slightly over-produced the last album, he’s nowhere to be found here, and his skills are missed.

Of the two PledgeMusic campaigns I bought into this year, “Condition Hüman” was definitely the most worthwhile.

The Winery Dogs
Hot Streak (October 2, 2015)
Bought at HMV Fredericton

The Winery Dogs are probably the most adept power trio since Rush, but that is where any comparison ends.

The three dogs have never found permanent homes:

- Billy Sheehan was a bassist in the ‘80s-‘90s for Mr. Big and for a time with David Lee Roth’s first solo bands;

- Richie Kotzen co-wrote a terrific album in ’93 for Poison and since then has had a long, humble solo career;

- Mike Portnoy is a Berklee alum who drummed for Dream Theatre, has had more side projects than I would dare list here, and two recent tours with Avenged Sevenfold and Twisted Sister (after both bands lost their original drummers).

“Hot Streak” is the second album for them in two years, and after watching recent super group Black Country Communion flame-out after three albums (and a live album) in four years, I’m going to enjoy side projects like The Winery Dogs while they’re still making music.

Complicated but still catchy, it’s a better album than their first, with a really crisp production and of course lots of impressive guitar and bass noodling from Kotzen and Sheehan, punctuated by the sublime drums of Portnoy. The first five songs, “Oblivion”, “Captain Love”, “Hot Streak”, “How Long” and “Empire” are as memorable as anything I’ve bought this year.

Check out some impressive Portnoy drum-cam footage during the recording of the album:

Def Leppard
Def Leppard (November 7, 2015)
Bought at Bullmoose, Bangor

Supposedly free of record company meddling, Def Leppard released their first-ever self-titled album in October (via PledgeMusic) after a seven-year gap that was long, even by Def Leppard standards.
Being self-titled fits the album’s sound (unmistakeably Def Leppard) and it shows in the credits. No outside writers:  just Joe, Sav, Phil, Viv and Rick who (coincidentally) all sing on record for the first time, with each band member taking at least one verse on the melancholy ballad “We Belong”. Drummer Rick’s voice, while not the strongest of the bunch, I think could sound current on music of the day (and an opportunity was missed when they didn’t try this on other songs). Then again, Joe Elliott is the signature voice of Def Leppard, and my favourite parts of the album are when he reaches way back for some “Pyromania”-esque, scratchy wails.
This album started out as an EP, but with time on their side it turned into a full “album” of 14 songs; in my opinion they could have trimmed 14 to 11 and released a slightly better record.

Opener “Let's Go” has a riff that will remind you of “Pour Some Sugar On Me” but a chorus that sounds more like Taylor Swift. “Man Enough” is a funky bass groove and maybe the simplest, most direct song they’ve ever done (and has some of those Joe Elliott wails at the end). “Battle of My Own” is Zeppelin-flavoured and the kind of direction I wish the rest of the album had gone in. “Wings Of An Angel” is like a modern “Foolin’”. All of these are stand-out tracks among a collection of more straight-forward pop-rock songs (“Sea Of Love”, “Invincible”, “Broke ‘N’ Brokenhearted”).

For comparison, if “Hysteria” is a perfect 10 (yes, it is), then this self-titled affair gets a solid 7.5. It’s the most current that Def Leppard has tried to sound since their 1996 “Slang” album, while (unlike that album) still wearing some of their spots.

Classic rock fans should also check out Joe Elliot’s “Down ‘N’ Outz” side project, for two albums of eccentric covers by one of Joe’s favourite songwriters: Ian Hunter (of Mott The Hoople).

Keep The Village Alive (November 7, 2015)
Bought at Bullmoose, Bangor

From the same time period as Oasis, the Stereophonics have never found a huge following in North America, while their credentials overseas put them in comparison with The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, ABBA and U2: from 1999-2009 they ranked five-consecutive #1 albums in the United Kingdom.

Losing a bit of steam with their last few releases, “Keep The Village Alive” has returned the Stereophonics back to #1. Frustratingly, their music is becoming harder to find domestically and so it took nearly two months to get my hands on the CD version, ordering it way back in September from our local HMV.

While it’s still too fresh for me to declare this a great album, Kelly Jones (frontman, songwriter, and guitarist for the band) has never disappointed, and I’ve bought everything he’s released (including his lone solo album).

Opener “C'est la Vie" recalls the energy of their first two albums, with barely a time to breathe in between verses and choruses (and with pub lyrics that could only come from Kelly’s mind). Second and third singles “I Wanna Get Lost With You” and “Song For The Summer” could nicely fit on any Stereophonics album.

The electronic sounds that were introduced with their break-out album “Language. Sex. Violence. Other?” (2005) are kept to a minimu. Electric seagull noises punctuate one of the best songs, “Fight Or Flight”. I am guessing this slight change in direction has to do with the departure of drummer Javier Weyler, who first had a career as an audio engineer, and had been a member of the Stereophonics since their breakout period 10 years ago.

Biggest Disappointments of 2015:

Brian Wilson – No Pier Pressure Deluxe (April 8, 2015) Bought at HMV

One-fifth of all my vinyl is Beach Boys-related, so as a huge fan I think it’s a shame most Brian Wilson solo releases have been spoiled by Psychiatrists and outside writers. There are only 2-3 must-own Brian Wilson solo albums in my opinion.

This is not one of them. “No Pier Pressure” is a great title but the record is a complete sham from the pressure to make Brian collaborate with current artists. Mixed in with some nice California-dreamy songs this is a hard – sometimes embarrassing – album to listen to all the way through.
It’s my biggest disappointment of 2015. If you’re curious about Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, spend your time instead with the “Love & Mercy” (2014) biopic that has great performances from John Cusask (playing an older Brian under the spell of Dr. Landy), Elizabeth Banks (his eventual 2nd wife) and Paul Dano (Brian in his ‘60s prime). I am curious to see if “Love & Mercy” makes a mark this Spring at the 2016 Academy Awards.

Scott Weiland And The Wildabouts – Blaster (May 26, 2015) Bought through PledgeMusic campaign

A collection of mediocre rock songs (and one cover, “20th Century Boy”) from the ex-Stone Temple Pilot singer that I regretfully purchased through PledgeMusic, for way too much money. Scott sang melodies on another side project this year (that he’s tried to oddly distance himself from) called “Art Of Anarchy”, and there are much more interesting songs on that record, that Scott had no hand in writing.

Big Sugar – Calling All The Youth (August 28, 2015) Bought at HMV

Gordie Johnson as Big Sugar (or Grady, or as a solo artist) has been no stranger to the Fredericton live music scene. In the past 15 years I’ve seen Big Sugar live more than any other band. The Jamaican influences that have always been present finally take over here, and although it’s got that great live feel – and the first single “Natty Dread Rock” could have been on any Big Sugar record – overall they’ve lost me. I haven’t been able to finish the album start to finish.

Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls Deluxe 2-CD (September 18, 2015) Bought online from

Contrary to what some die-hard Iron Maiden fans will tell you, more Maiden is not necessarily a good thing. Here we have Iron Maiden’s first non-live double album, and the best thing I can say is that the Mayan-inspired artwork is terrific.

I picked up the deluxe edition double-CD “book” and it’s a nice package with great illustrations. But only a decent album. After a decade of decent albums I was just hoping for so much more. In my opinion they need to move on from Producer Kevin Shirley – every Maiden album he’s worked on sounds like a muffled demo recorded in a closet – and get some fresh perspective. I think Kevin’s laid back Production style has made it too easy for them and this meandering, mediocre double album is proof.

Favourite Finds of 2015:

James Mullinger – Live at Imperial Theatre (January 25, 2015)

Bought at The Algonquin Resort after the YukYuks comedy show I saw most of Comedian James Mullinger’s live set at the Algonquin (in St. Andrews) at the start of the year – tucked away during a January blizzard – and James graciously signed my CD afterwards.

His stand-up show of new material for 2015 was debuted in October at the Imperial Theatre in Saint John, and I’m thrilled to say that it will be pressed to vinyl for Record Store Day 2016 (as I sat front-row for it).

James is an avid vinyl record collector, and more importantly has been a champion for the tight-knit stand-up comedy scene in his hometown of Saint John. Originally from London, his fresh perspective on life in the Maritimes (by way of his cheeky local references and stay-at-home-Dad anecdotes) is perfectly inappropriate and always hilarious.

I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to “comedy”, and I haven’t laughed so uncontrollably hard as during his stand-up show last January.

James recently shared a live clip from “Londoner To Maritimer” on his YouTube channel:

Black Country Communion vinyl & picks (January 26, 2015)

Bought online at Joe Bonamassa’s webstore I was happy to finally get some Black Country Communion vinyl at the beginning of the year when Joe Bonamassa’s website had a 50% off sale. I snagged their first 2 records, plus “Live Over Europe” on Bluray, and a set of red Joe Bonamassa-endorsed picks – small, with a nice grip and sharper point – that have been my favourite electric guitar picks ever since.

Red Dragon Cartel – Red Dragon Cartel (July 24, 2015) Bought at Frank’s Music, Moncton Found one of my favourite metal records of 2014 – on vinyl! – on an epic 12-hour roadtrip, where we hit all of the major record stores in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John, with Tim (of Tim’s Vinyl Confessions) and his nephew Will.

Faith No More – The Real Thing Deluxe 2-CD (October 13, 2015)

Faith No More – Angel Dust Deluxe 2-CD (October 13, 2015)

Bought at HMV Fredericton
Steal of the year for me was getting the two deluxe edition Faith No More double-CDs at our local HMV for only $16.60 total (they usually sell for $25 + HST a piece online). A 2-for$20 special plus $6 worth of HMV points.

Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman signed vinyl album (October 19, 2015)

Pre-ordered from PledgeMusic

My favourite piece of vinyl in 2015 was also unboxed on Tim’s Vinyl Confessions: a gatefold double album on clear, weighty, white vinyl, with the band’s name etched into the grooves, and signed on the cover by each band member (as one of their PledgeMusic rewards). I find that the artwork is much more vibrant on the vinyl version than on the CD.

Releases I am looking forward to in 2016:

- Megadeth – “Dystopia” (January 2016, via PledgeMusic)

- The Cult – “Hidden City” (February 2016)

- Last In Line – Featuring the original “Dio” band doing new material, obviously without Dio (February 2016)

- James Mullinger – New stand-up comedy album “Londoner To Maritimer” (April 2015)

- Meat Loaf – “Braver Than We Are” (TBA)

- Zakk Wylde – “Book of Shadows” Volume II is in the works

- The Pretty Reckless – 3rd album in the works (TBA)

- Metallica – New album in the works (TBA)

- Red Dragon Cartel – 2nd album in the works (TBA)

- Living Colour – New album in the works (TBA)

- Extreme – New album in the works (TBA)

- Skid Row – A promised 3rd volume of their “United World Rebellion”, this time with current singer Tony Harnell

- Chickenfoot are working on new material, according to Joe Satriani

- Led Zeppelin – Now that all of the remasters are out, I am hoping for a boxset to collect them all as I haven’t purchased any of them yet.

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