Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Top 5's of 2015 - Shawn Williston!

1. COURTNEY BARNETT: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

"Put me on a pedestal and I'll only disappoint you," Courtney Barnett sings on the fiery rocker "Pedestrian At Best"; maybe she'll make good on that someday, but it sure isn't this day. Her debut full-length is packed with scrappy tunes that reach back to the '90s alt scene and, while that seems to have become an emerging trend, what sets Barnett's songs apart is her uncanny ability to spin observations of mundane, ordinary life into pure rock bliss.

Check out: Pedestrian At Best, Depreston, Kim's Caravan

2. CLUTCH: Psychic Warfare

While other bands their age have already put out records with diminishing returns, disbanded and eventually reformed to hit the county fair circuit, Clutch have very calmly and methodically gone about their business. Those expecting bands to be shells of their former selves by the time they release their 11th album aren't usually all that wrong, but Psychic Warfare proves that Clutch is not only immune to such criticism, but indeed one of the most dependably thrilling rock bands on the planet.

Check out: X-Ray Visions, A Quick Death in Texas, Noble Savage

3. DEAD SARA: Pleasure To Meet You

Epic Records reneged on their contract with Dead Sara upon hearing this record, likely let down that they hadn't conformed to a mainstream train of thought and become a Pretty Reckless or Halestorm clone. Instead, what Dead Sara delivered is a fiercely combative, incendiary rock rager of a record. Emily Armstrong continues to establish herself as one of rock's most formidable, intense vocalists, running the gamut from cooing songbird to roaring monster. This year also saw a happy ending for the band, as they've now earned another major label deal (this time with Elektra) and didn't have to compromise their sound to do it.

Check out: Mona Lisa, Radio One Two, Blue Was the Beautiful You

4. ROYAL THUNDER: Crooked Doors

Just as Baroness did with Yellow & Green in 2012, Crooked Doors aims to challenge your preconceived notions of what a hard rock/metal band should sound like. By expanding their sonic palette and drawing from a wide array of influences, Royal Thunder have graduated from sludge/stoner also-rans to an accomplished, full-blooded rock group with no need of pesky labels to define what it is that they do. 

Check out: Time Machine, Forget You, One Day

5. TITUS ANDRONICUS: The Most Lamentable Tragedy

Never ones to shy away from conceptual tendencies in the first place, Titus Andronicus went all out for their fourth album. A five-act rock opera that stretches out past the 90-minute mark, TMLT ebbs and flows throughout the course of its story, using the music to convey the protagonist's struggles and triumphs. Even with all the disparities in tone and emotion (there's everything from a blistering punk rock suite to a Celtic-inspired section that features sloppy covers of both The Pogues and Auld Lang Syne), this sprawling double album never strays too far from its core objective, which is to make you feel the power of rip roaring, life affirming rock n' roll.

Check out: Fired Up, Dimed Out, Lonely Boy

6. SLEATER-KINNEY: No Cities To Love

In the timeless words of hair metal greats Cinderella, "You don't know what you got 'til it's gone". Adding to the point in regards to Sleater-Kinney, perhaps we didn't know what we had until they left for a decade, only to return with their most vibrant, focused and most important feeling record ever. 

Check out: A New Wave, Surface Envy, Fade

7. FAITH NO MORE: Sol Invictus

Speaking of bands that went away for a long time, the unexpected return LP from Faith No More is about as potent a record as a band that ceased production for 18 years or so can be. Not content to simply rehash the past, Sol Invictus sees FNM merely using previous exploits as a jumping off point from which they push themselves forward in search of uncharted musical territory to conquer.

Check out: Superhero, Cone of Shame, Motherfucker

8. VERUCA SALT: Ghost Notes

I'm still not sure what I'll remember 2015 more for, the high quality of records released by female artists or the high quality of records released by comeback artists. Like Sleater-Kinney, Veruca Salt falls into both categories beautifully; after an ugly split before the turn of the century, Louise Post and Nina Gordon reunited for their first music together in 18 years. The resulting record doesn't shy away from old wounds, but sees them looking to heal rather than reopen them. It also doesn't hurt that the sharpness of their songwriting and unmistakable natural harmony are as intact now as they ever were. One of the year's most shamefully overlooked gems.

Check out: The Museum of Broken Relationships. Laughing in the Sugar Bowl, Empty Bottle

9. GHOST: Meliora

Fusing nefarious imagery, sinister melodies and evangelical bombast, Ghost can seem like a silly sideshow at a passing glance. I certainly chuckled and chalked them up to novelty at first blush, but on third record Meliora, I'm not chuckling anymore. Such are the chops this band has developed that this record is consistently thrilling without so much as a glance at the artwork or lyric sheet. As an added bonus, they push their sound into some very interesting places without sacrificing their integrity as musicians and songwriters.

Check out: Cirice, From the Pinnacle To the Pit, Spirit

10. THE DEAD WEATHER: Dodge & Burn

Jack White is typically so busy being in the news for his exploits both on and off record, it hadn't really registered for me that Dodge & Burn is the first Dead Weather album in five years. That absence of time resulted in a slightly more refined but no less adventurous record; together with Allison Mosshart, guitarist Dean Feritita and bassist Jack Lawrence, White has crafted a less pensive, more explosive record than we've gotten used to from him in recent years.

Check out: I Feel Love (Every Million Miles), Three Dollar Hat, Open Up

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