Thursday, December 31, 2015

The List 2015 - Loring Wirbel


    The last few lists have pointed out the dominant role women have played in pushing the edge of 21st-century music, but in 2015, solo women or women-dominated bands owned such a chunk of the best music, it almost seemed as though men were missing in action. The masses may pay the most attention to Adele, but the best women’s music of the year featured lyrics and arrangements with plenty of untried ideas. Here’s hoping this trend continues – though men, it’s time to get back on your game.
    Listeners with roots in any of the last five or six decades found plenty to like this year, as it seems that every band that ever existed attempted a reunion in 2015. New releases from familiar names were everywhere, some treading water, some innovative as hell. And remastered sets of very interesting music from the likes of Coltrane, Dylan, and The Pop Group could be found everywhere, it seems.
     The rules for special albums are the same as always, though as with last year, it was hard to draw a line. Special live and archival material in that category must consist of primarily new material. The latest two Led Zeppelin re-releases were not included, like the first five, because these were remastered albums, and the bonus material consisted of studio takes of the same songs. Still, hats off to Jimmy Page for the effort.    
     Please remember that close to a thousand mainstream and indie albums are released annually, and this 150 or so represent the ones worth hearing.  Sure, there are quality gradients between the top ten and bottom 20, but anything that makes this list is worth your perusal.
     We’re going to provide a special award to the forward-looking team at Waywords and Meansigns for its efforts to bring James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake to music. The group already has released a first volume of readings from experimental musicians at, available for free downloads, and 2016’s releases will include the irrepressible Neil Campbell. If you’ve ever loved or been confused by James Joyce, you can’t miss this.
      Farewell to Scott, Lemmy, Chris, B.B., Gary, Carey, A.J., Andy, Lesley, Daevid, Phil, Cilla….

Regular Studio Albums, 2015

1.     Torres, Sprinter – Sometimes an album shoots to the top for personal, inexplicable reasons. Mackenzie Scott, aka Torres, writes fine songs in her own right, and the engineering on her second album plays the kind of precise decibel games that King Crimson used to love. But something about this album pushed all the intuitive buttons – was it her surreal, cryptic lyrics? The bravery to look for hope in a grim landscape? Whatever, it worked for me, it may not for you, but this one even overshot Courtney Barnett to take the title.
2.     Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit – Believe the hype. This diminutive Australian cyclone delivers Dylanesque lyrics at impossible speed, has a crack and rockin’ band, and displays the kind of dry, detached humor that few are even able to show when they’re 50. All the songs on this album will be on continuous rotation.
3.     Ought, Sun Coming Down – Oddly enough, this Montreal band held the same third-place spot last year with their debut album. Some might interpret this as treading water. In reality, Ought captured the early Talking Heads sound perfectly, and avoided the sophomore slump common to other Heads sound-alikes like Tapes n Tapes and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! Remarkable lyrics, remarkable stage presence, remarkable band.
4.     Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly – Lamar largely reaches his complex and challenging goal of compressing Black History Month in the story of a particular family. Expansive, exhausting, and brilliant. The arrangements by Kamasi Washington make it particularly gripping. Go for the double vinyl with the expanded liner notes.
5.     Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love – The bosses are back. The rest of us can go home now.
Bonus Edition Handicap: The white-vinyl box edition not only contains extra songs, but is a thing of great beauty. How can you NOT want it?
6.     Hop Along, Painted Shut – Frances Quinlan is an innovator in both lyrics and arrangements whose talents are finally being recognized.  This is several steps beyond the last Hop Along.
7.     Joan Shelley, Over and E           ven – Is the Kentucky angel a cross between Gillian Welch and Diane Cluck, or simply the ghost of Kate Wolf? Haunting, simple, quiet works.
8.     Veruca Salt, Ghost Notes – Given all the reunions from 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s dominating the music scene, this seemed to be the most unlikely of smashing successes. And yet it is.
9.     Yarn/Wire and Pete Swanson, Eliminated Artist – An experimental classical chamber quartet gets together with America’s electronic bad boy, with expected results.
10.                       Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color – Between this album and her solo Thunderbitch album, Brittany Howard has enough wild ideas bursting out all over to exhaust any observer.
11.                       Belle and Sebastian, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance – Skeptics call it the B&S disco album, but this work is full of ponderous and dark tunes to terrorize the dance floor.
Bonus Edition Handicap: The four-LP box set may be a little overstuffed, but is a beautiful and stunning thing to behold.
12.                       New Order, Music Complete – Bernard Sumner and compatriots can have the last laugh on the embittered Peter Hook. This is the best New Order album in at least 20 years.
13.                       Joanna Newsom, Divers – Slightly more palatable and radio-friendly than Have One On Me, Newsom still refuses to make compromises in her efforts to make some of the most complex pop in existence.
14.                       Father John Misty, I Love You, Honey Bear – As much as I love live Father John, and think his ode to true love and marriage is fine, I can’t agree with those who call this album of the year or even a Top Ten. It’s too normal.
15.                       Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer – It must be frustrating for Sadie Dupuis and bandmates. They were on every newcomer list for 2014, then released their most cohesive work in 2015, only to have most so-called fans ignore it. A fine effort.
16.                       Waxahatchee, Ivy Splitt – Katie Crutchfield has been on a straight track to greatness through each succeeding Waxahatchee album. A finely crafted and almost frightening album.
17.                       Modest Mouse, Strangers to Ourselves – If Isaac Brock had really flubbed in MM’s return to the limelight (not really a reunion, or was it?), the relative snubbing this album received might make sense. But this was a solid Modest Mouse album with interesting lyrics and arrangements, and little filler. Odd that it was forgotten by many.
18.                       Passenger Peru, Light Places – The second album from this innovative Brooklyn duo covers everything from Future of the Left to Pink Floyd. Music that never stops being interesting….
19.                       Destroyer, Poison Season – One would think that after a dozen albums, Dan Bejar would be known more for the majesty of Destroyer than for being the spacey dude in The New Pornographers. This album takes precision composition to new heights, almost sounding like a psychedelic Nelson Riddle Orchestra at times.
20.                       Florence + The Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – Somehow, Florence has managed to retain the diva histrionics of her powerful voice, while at the same time pulling back, playing reserved, and trying new things. If you love the big, larger-than-life voice, Florence consistently treads new ground more than someone like Adele.
Bonus Edition Handicap: Florence has a reputation for always giving surprisingly solid outtakes in her multi-disc deluxe versions of releases, and this album is no exception.
21.                       Ryn Weaver, The Fool – Seeing as how Weaver created a small YouTube sensation in 2014 with “OctaHate,” it’s odd that most critics greeted her debut album with a shrug. Most songs here seem consistent and fascinating, more so than Internet pop insta-stars like Halsey or Charli XCX.
22.                       Julia Holter, Have You in My Wilderness – Holter is first and foremost an experimental artist, but she chose to make an album of passionate, personal songs that are normal enough to please just about anyone. This one will break your heart, but also fits solidly in the Holter pantheon.
23.                       Jason Isbell, Something More Than Fine – Arguably better than last year’s album, even though Isbell tries to add more tales of love and lasting redemption. Some of the finest songwriting one will find today.
24.                       Grimes, Art Angels – Claire Boucher was under a lot of pressure to make this album not only her best yet, but impressive enough to justify the partially self-generated hype. It worked. Her voice may be as squeaky as Carly Rae Jepsen, but her studio talents for arranging and mixing make her the bubble-pop princess.
25.                       Laura Marling, Short Movie – Seeing as how Once I Was An Eagle gained a #1 ranking two years ago, the fact that Marling scrapped her first attempt at a follow-up album, went on a long road trip, and came up with this minimalist mini-masterpiece, might suggest a misfire due to the comparative low ranking here. But if she would have tried to remake the Eagle album with its complex rhythms and arrangements, the ranking might have been lower still. This is actually a damned fine album, precisely because it is simple and short.
26.                       Le Butcherettes, A Raw Youth – The only reason this doesn’t rank as high as last year’s Cry is for the Flies is that the last Butcherettes album was a wild art-punk masterpiece, and this one strives for slightly more new-wave normal. Teri Gender Bender of Butcherettes wants to be the next Joan Jett, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
27.                       Heather Leigh Murray, I, Abused Animal – Heather, former member of Charalambides and curator of Volcanic Tongue, usually dwells on the outskirts of experimental music with her work in steel guitar and percussion. This is an album of quasi-normal voice, both a capella and accompanied, delivered in the same strident and jarring fashion as Circuit des Yeux.
28.                       Low, Ones and Sixes – A return to a quiet dark place after the slightly upbeat C’mon C’mon, Low gives us a suite of amazing compositions like “No Comprende.”
29.                       Kate Pierson, Guitars and Microphones – Given her decades of work as the bubbly persona in the B-52s, we could have expected a sparkly pop effort for her first solo album and not been disappointed. But every song here offers more substance than might have been expected. Solid, rocking, and even serious at times.
30.                       Dave Rawlings Machine, Nashville Obsolete – Rawlings (with Gillian Welch in the background) gives us a heady album of long, complex songs that come off like a 21st-century version of Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Of course that’s a good thing.
31.                       Circuit des Yeux, In Plain Speech – Haley Fohr has been building on her transcendental droning music and blues-like wail for five albums now, and has reached a point where normal humans may find this music fascinating. Fohr, as CdY, has always been fascinating. She just needed people to catch up to the very unusual work she is doing.
32.                       Sufjan Stevens, Carrie and Lowell – A very heartfelt ode to Stevens’ mom and step-dad, this carries a lot more weight than some of his projects like BQE. Still, the unrelenting acoustic sadness of this album gave it a single consciousness that prevented it from making the top 20.
33.                       Richard Thompson, Still – Thanks to Jeff Tweedy and to Thompson’s own sense of gravity, this album is the grand master’s best work in a decade or more.
34.                       Wilco, Star Wars – The most exuberant and free-wheeling Wilco album in a long time gave this one unique power, though Magnet’s claim that this is album of the year seems hard to justify. Seems more like a nice jam session between friends.
35.                       Jamie Xx, In Colour – Speaking of exuberant, who would ever have expected the founder of Xx to offer up anything so lively, danceable, and silly? An ode to the endless party.
36.                       Titus Andronicus, The Most Lamentable Tragedy – The most interesting aspect of this isn’t so much that it’s a double-disc punk rock-opera, but that it brings in sonic elements more akin to Springsteen and Thin Lizzy than punk. Still, it all works in that sloppily majestic Titus Andronicus style.
37.     Gwenno, Y Dydd Olaf – Sci-fi dystopias in English tend to be tense and somewhat frenetic affairs, ranging from Bowie to Janelle Monae. Former Pipette Gwenno Saunders opts instead for an ethereal cautionary tale about cultural blanding and robotic response, sung in Welsh and Cornish and executed in a dreamy style somewhere between Stereolab and Trailer Trash Tracys. Fascinating, but the language barrier isn’t as daunting as getting serious politics delivered via dream-pop.
Bonus Edition Handicap: The 40-minute bonus CD, Y Dydd Ychwanegol, is livelier than the album itself, and hence is far from an afterthought.
38.                       Kamasi Washington, Epic – Impressive but almost coma-inducing in its sheer scope. Don’t let that scare you off, much fine musicianship within. Still, in my youth I loved things writ large, now I think a little minimalism is fine.
39.                       Circus Devils, Stomping Grounds – I often don’t count Circus Devils albums as part of Robert Pollard-related products, because they all are so individual and weird. This one is neither as strange as the two Circus Devils released in late 2013, or as boring as Escape released in late 2014, but a savage rocker.
40.                       Lou Barlow, Brace the Wave – A work of unusual and direct substance from the founder of Sebadoh and Folk Implosion. Even folks who have believed in Barlow for a long time may be startled as to how deep this goes.
41.                       Tom Carter, Long Time Underground – Dozens of musicians have weighed in with benefit tracks to help Carter recover from his induced coma of 2012, but Carter himself has never addressed the topic. This two-disc set is a chronicle of life in another state of being. The guitar playing is as beautiful as his Four Infernal Rivers project with Pat Murano, yet the subject is as serious as watching yourself die.
41.                       The Pop Group, Citizen Zombie – OK, let’s admit The Pop Group has played up to commercialism in the two slow years in which it re-formed, and cashed in on the band’s 1979-81 popularity. Still, this studio album of new material has great moments of rhythm and politics.
Bonus Edition Handicap: The remix tracks in the CD box are nothing special, but the patches and buttons and stickers and junk are to die for.
43.                       FFS, s/t – Who would have believed that a collaboration of Franz Ferdinand and Sparks would work? The energy is thanks to the Mael brothers of Sparks, who will act like adolescents even in retirement age. Way to go, weirdos!
44.                       Lana Del Rey, Honeymoon – Many weren’t sure how to approach this album, but it’s a film noir look at a 1960s Hollywood that must exist in its own opium fever dream. Give Lana credit for never really repeating herself, even if it’s hard to understand her vision at times.
45.                       Natalie Prass, s/t – Prass took a risk by recording her first album with a chamber jazz band recalling some of the earlier Randy Newman works. It takes some getting used to, but it really works. Is this a one-shot deal, or will Prass stick to this style?
46.                       Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Style – Fans want to crown Will Toledo as the next Guided by Voices or the next Casiotones for the Painfully Alone. He’s occasionally a bit adolescent, but his work has quite a future to it.
47.                       Patty Griffin, Servant of Love – Rumors that this would be an all-gospel album left fans a little hesitant, but that isn’t true at all. This is a strange and beautiful album unlike any other Griffin release, with jazz and Middle Eastern influences and some gripping lyrics.
48.                       Dodos, Individ – Dodos have finally gotten past the death of member Chris Reimer, and come up with an exuberant and empowered album after a period of darkness. Good for them.
49                       Field Mouse, Hold Still Life – An underappreciated and complex Philadelphia band that expands its vision with each outing.
50                      Amy Kohn, Plexilusso – Perhaps Kohn’s most luxuriant and rich experimental work to date.
51                       Earl Sweatshirt, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside – The title says it all, the most unrelenting depressing hip-hop album of this or any decade. Brutal but majestic.
52                       The Weepies, Sirens – For those who find some Weepies albums too saccharine, rest assured this was recorded in the aftermath of Deb Talan’s Stage 3 breast cancer. A bitter but powerful album, exemplified by “Does Not Bear Repeating.” Except it does.
53                       Vibracathedral Orchestra, Rec Blast Motorbike – A more upbeat set than the Café Oto recordings or the Krayon release (reviewed in specials), this is the VCO album you haul out for people who just might not otherwise get VCO.
54                       Dar Williams, Emerald – Hey, so what if she has to release albums through Kickstarter? Dar has not lost an ounce of integrity or style, and this one carries as much weight as any of her work of the last decade.
55                       Rhiannon Giddens, Tomorrow Is My Turn – Apologies for this low ranking for the lead singer of Carolina Chocolate Drops, though her associated EP ranks much higher. Both releases are filled with unusual takes on traditional and modern works. Giddens is a stunning solo talent.
56                       Halsey, Badlands – This may seem a middling ranking for a woman taking the world by storm, but it really is quite good for a debut effort. Lots of attitude, lots of snarl, now she just has to build the songwriting up.
Bonus Edition Handicap: The 16-song version is essential, if only for the cover of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line.”
57                       Shopping, Why Choose? – This Australian trio wants to bring back the 1979-80 style of Pink Section, The Slits, and Bush Tetras, and the band largely succeeds, albeit with the politics subdued a little bit.
58                       Shilpa Ray, Last Year’s Savage – Shilpa Ray has dropped her Happy Hookers, but continues to make very innovative pop with artsy celebrity name-dropping.
59                       Julien Baker, Sprained Ankle – Direct, beautiful folk-rock tunes. I can’t place as high as Joan Shelley et al, though, because Julien sometimes jumps from ethereal to whiney.
60.                  Joy Williams, Venus – In the post-Civil Wars era, Joy has elected to stretch and move beyond her country-folk. Her effort mostly succeeds.
61                       Wire, s/t – Wire has attempted reunions several times, but this particular album offers more keepers than those by Gang of Four et al.
62                       Beach House, Depression Cherry – I keep going back and forth as to whether the expanded BH style of this album, or the return-to-roots of its Thank Your Lucky Stars companion, constitutes the better 2015 release. For now, this one leads, that might change next week.
63                       Cage the Elephant, Tell Me I’m Pretty – America’s finest young contrarians work with Dan Auerbach to refine their free-form craziness into something snarly and fine, recalling Black Keys, Spoon, Zombies and Monkees at various times.
64                       Ricked Wicky, King Heavy Metal – Everyone has their own favorite annual Robert Pollard release that stands high above the others. This one was mine, couldn’t tell you why.
65                       Built to Spill, Untethered Moon – Good to have Doug Martsch and the band back, and this seemed a solid effort, though without the riff grasp of some recent BtS works.
66                       Protomartyr, Agent Intellect – Joe Casey may have a limited range and flat delivery, but Protomartyr is like a rough-cut early Interpol, which can be a very good thing.
67                       Vanessa Carlton, Liberman – The piano pop princess often is dismissed as a lightweight, but this album has some real substance.
Bonus Edition Handicap: Usually, a second CD with acoustic demos and outtakes of the studio songs is sort of boring. In this case, it gives you insights into Carlton’s songwriting process.
68                       !!!, As If – Not as diverse and hard-hitting as the last album Thr!!!er, but a fine and hilarious dance album from NYC’s most effervescent underground dance band.
69                       Chvrches, Every Open Eye – An admirable effort to grow sonically while keeping the music home grown and DIY. Maybe no song grabbed me like “The Mother We Share,” but still a worthy effort.
70                      Beach House, Thank Your Lucky Stars – A grittier, more back to the roots album than Depression Cherry, but still a fine work.
71.                    Jessica Pratt, On Your Own Love Again – Pratt has an odd style, a slight British accent and singing inflection a la Vashti Bunyan, but one which becomes familiar after repeated listens.
72                       My Morning Jacket, Waterfall – A complex, rich countrified album from Jim James and friends, it only ended up being low due to heavy competition.
73                       Beirut, No No No – Zach Condon intended to make a long, somewhat depressing and complex album, but trashed it out to release this short and happy, rhythm-heavy album. It will be nice to hear those alternative tapes some day, but for now, this was just the right Beirut for its time.
74                       Jenny Hval, Apocalypse, Girl – The experimental raunch artist gives us some strong Peaches-Meets-Laurie-Anderson vignettes. Great fun.
75                       Battles, La Di Da Di – An exceptional collection of EDM-style songs, except using real instruments.
76                       Holly Herndon, Platform – Herndon is another hero in women’s experimental electronica, but in this case relies more on Pro Tools than some of the skronky competition.
77                       Pile, You’re Better Than That – One of the most exuberant new post-punk bands. The live shows, as represented in the specials section, capture the energy better than this particular album, but it’s a keeper nonetheless.
78                       Imagine Dragons, Smoke + Mirrors – Seriously. As much as these good Mormon boys may be maligned, an Imagine Dragons album is always a spectacle of rhythm and syncopated sound.
Bonus Edition Handicap: Yes, the long version. The remix stretches are worth it.
79                       Six Organs of Admittance, Hexadic
80.                       Six Organs of Admittance, Hexadic II – Still haven’t quite figured out what Ben Chasny’s new mathematical message is, but I do know this is a nice pair of experimental pieces.
81.                       Mumford and Sons, Wilder Mind – While their mere appearance on this list may annoy some M&S haters, Marcus Mumford knows how to arrange interesting pop tunes, and expand on them in a live venue. Their turn to electric music deserves neither brownie points nor demerit points, but is simply a chance to try other genres. Decent enough in its own right.
82.                       Viet Cong, s/t – This Canadian band wins demerits for changing the band name (to what?) after some concert organizer at Oberlin College whined about being offended. Lesson One: Pay no attention to college students taking offense, they’re friggin’ babies. Besides that, Viet Cong had a lot of pre-release hype, but the sound was a bit too ethereal and unformed for me.
83.                       Tyler the Creator, Cherry Bomb – Tyler wishes he was the greatest legacy of Odd Future, but his bombast isn’t as effective as Earl Sweatshirt’s relentless downer mood. This album is funny in places, but also wears thin at times.
84.                       Sun Kil Moon, Universal Themes – Part of me wants to give Mark Kozelek credit for possibly inventing a new musical form with this album, the tracks of which are unlike anything else around today. The other half of me is tired of Kozelek being a grumpy, whiny baby in public.
85.                       Brandi Carlile, The Firewatcher’s Daughter – A highly effective, back-to-the-roots DIY album for Carlile, a leap ahead of her dalliance with orchestras.
86.                       CocoRosie, Heartache City – Actually fascinating, maybe the best CocoRosie album in odd ways. A dark work about killers and strange friends, recalling Roald Dahl and Edward Gorey. No pop hits here.
87.                       Public Image Ltd., What the World Needs Now – Based on his TV commercials for margarine, we could expect Johnny Rotten to have no pride left, but Lydon actually writes some decent tunes of social critique with adequate musical backup from his band. This is hardly Sex Pistols or 1980s-era PiL, but then again, what reunion has equaled the original this decade?
88.                       Deerhunter, Fading Frontier – I really do like this album better than any Bradford Cox project since Microcastles, and it’s a very exuberant and happy album. But Cox is still a bit overrated overall.
89.                       Frank Turner, Positive Songs for Negative People – Frank Turner has created an interesting space as a successor to Billy Bragg, with a hint of Springsteen thrown in. The politics are rarely as biting, but Turner certainly seems to have a good time.
90                       Bjork, Vulnicura – I wanted to like this much more than I did, both because of Bjork’s experiments with orchestration, and because of her willingness to put her heart on her sleeve when her marriage fell apart. But the album was never as interesting as its prospects suggested, though many of the remixes were fascinating.
91.                       Thunderbitch, s/t – The secret solo album of Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes is a rowdy juke-joint affair in the manner of Lord Sutch and His Heavy Friends. It’s not even as experimental as the Shakes themselves, but rollicking fun for parties.
92.                       Tame Impala, Currents – There are really fun songs on this album, and Kevin Parker has a great ability to craft a concept album. But I don’t want to give Parker more to feed his ego than others already have. This is about where this album belongs.
93.                       Blur, The Magic Whip – Yet another great reunion in 2015, this one is probably among the top three Blur albums, a well-seasoned work.
94.                       Peter Buck, Warzone Earth – The third vinyl-only solo release from the former REM guitarist, this one features cameos from the likes of Jeff Tweedy, Krist Novoselic, and Chris Slusarcenko. This is the best of the three but rough-cut stuff, with Buck’s vocals sounding like Tom Waits, and the songs resembling a juke-joint collection.
95.                       Hot Chip, Why Make Sense? – A good suite of new songs from Hot Chip, but in the mostly-instrumental dance category, they get hammered by the likes of Battles.
96.                       SOAK, Before We Forget How to Dream – Bridie Monds-Watson is Ireland’s newest teen songwriting sensation, and she writes some remarkable songs, but she surrounds herself in gauzy atmospherics that keep the work from being as strong as it could be.
97.                       Death Cab for Cutie, Kintsugi – Many fans feared for what this album might sound like with Chris Walla’s departure, but Walla still had a hand in this, and it is an enjoyable Death Cab album, if not among the band’s top three.
98.                       Heartless Bastards, Restless Ones – Some of Wenner’s most heartfelt works with her band, a surprisingly strong effort.
99.                       EL VY, Return to the Moon – It’s hard to know what people were expecting from a collaboration of Matt Berninger of The National and Brent Knopf of Menomena, but I was expecting more party than profundity, and that’s exactly what’s here. A fun time and a great laugh, with no intention of being a masterpiece.
100                       Coldplay, Head Full of Dreams – Poor Chris Martin gets grief for virtually anything he tries these days. This one sort of makes up for last year’s Ghost Stories, by being Coldplay’s liveliest effort since Viva La Vida.
101                  Joe Jackson, Fast Forward – An intriguing concept album, realized as a multicity collection of four EPs. Great to have Jackson back offering new pop tunes.
102.                  The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, Harmlessness – These guys veer between being a successor to Death Cab for Cutie, and wanting to evoke classical myth images. The lyrics can be pretentious from time to time, but in this long and involved album, the band establishes itself as a force to watch.
103.                  Mountain Goats, Beat the Champ – I’m usually bound to like anything John Darnielle offers up, but a concept album about professional wrestling just threw me for a TKO.
104.                  Heather Leigh Murray, Nightingale – In contrast to her vocals album, this is an instrumental album of harsh steel guitar, ideal for Heather’s existing fans, but tough for neophytes.
105.                  Panda Bear, Meets the Grim Reaper – An exotic and swirling work by Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, this probably deserved a much higher ranking, though it just didn’t grab me.
106.                  Annette Conlon, Life, Death and the Spaces Between – A handful of critics understood that, in the realm of sincere country music, Conlon beats Ashley Monroe hands down. The old “diamond in the rough” observation, but I’d rather have rough edges than Autotune.
107.                  Godspeed You Black Emperor, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress – We all should be overjoyed at the return of Godspeed, but somehow this album seemed lackluster.
108.                  Gang of Four, What Happens Next – The addition of Alison Mosshart does wonders for this reunion, giving Go4 more of the feel of the band in 1979-80, with even a hint of the strident politics.
109.                  Phil and Dave Alvin, Lost Time – It certainly is great to hear the Alvin Brothers get together again to play originals and covers with a tight and strident band.
110.                  Best Coast, California Nights – Best Coast has become more or less a Beth Cosentino solo effort, and that’s just fine. These are pop songs worthy of the early-60s girl-group styles.
111.                  Idea Fire Company, Lost at Sea – A minimalist IFCO album, centered on the hypnotic piano of Karla Borecky.
112.                  Neil Young, The Monsanto Years – Much as I like Neil getting political and appreciate his choice of targets, this seemed like a one-dimensional rant – though a good one.
113.                  Carter Tutti Void, f (x) – Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle fame join with Nikki Void for some stimulating and hypnotic noise.
114.                  Blessed Feathers, There Will Be No Sad Tomorrows – A beautiful effort resembling many different types of groups.
115.                  Kathryn Calder, s/t – Calder of New Pornographers has written some great material with Immaculate Machines, but her solo works seem to be full of ethereal auras that are hard to grab. Her live performances deliver much more of what she’s aiming at.
116.                  Rickie Lee Jones, The Other Side of Desire – Jones has finally found some peace and happiness living in New Orleans. Her new work is interesting, with a voice not unlike Blossom Dearie’s, and a style of Big Easy jazz-rag.
117.                  The Dead Weather, Dodge and Burn – Some of the roughest and most feral work from Jack White and Alison Mosshart, though it doesn’t always translate to the DW’s best work.
118.                   The Decemberists, What a Beautiful World, What a Terrible World – The Decemberists seem to veer between overwrought works (The Hazards of Love) and powerful, perfectly-paced works (The King is Dead). Unfortunately, it was time for one of the lesser-focused albums. Exception – something about “The Wrong Year” haunts my dreams.
119.                  Jucifer, District of Dystopia – Amber Valentine should be respected for being metal’s political historian, offering up concept albums on France, Russia, and barbarian kings. This time the duo turn their critical eyes to the atrocities of the U.S. government. Since Jucifer play and sing in howls, it’s hard for many to get the point they’re making, but here’s proper credit for adding to the archives.
120.                  Mercury Rev, The Light In You – We may never return to the days of early Mercury Rev cleverness, but this new reunion album is better than some of the band’s over-emo works of the early 2000s. Still, there’s too much synthesizer and floaty tenor, recalling Deserter’s Songs (not the band’s best work by a long shot).
121                  Ricked Wicky, I Sell the Circus
122.                  Robert Pollard, Faulty Superheroes
123.                  Ricked Wicky, Swimmer to a Liquid Armchair – The remaining three Robert Pollard albums of 2015 didn’t hold my interest as much as Circus Devils and the second Ricked Wicky, but hey, they’re still worthy.
124.                  Wolf Eyes, I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces – Wolf Eyes’ move to the quasi-mainstream via Jack White’s Third Man Records started off interesting, but then moved to the type of fuzz favored by Ty Segall and friends. I like the American Tapes underground Wolf Eyes.
125.                  Steve Earle, Terraplane – A nice and raucous blues effort by Steve, fun to listen to, nothing startling.
126.                  Mark Knopfler, Tracker – Knopfler is crafting songs with the grace of “Sultans of Swing,” making this a beautiful album, but he doesn’t have the ability to reach into new territory like fellow senior statesman Richard Thompson. Still, an album worth hearing.
127.                  Lithuania, Hardcore Friends – This Philadelphia punk-slop trio has that well-meaning tenor of teenage angst and sincerity that characterized early grunge-punk. Adorable in its own way.
128.                  Dawes, All Your Favorite Bands – When you set out emulating the Eagles/Jackson Browne sound, some of your albums can be groundbreaking, others merely pleasant. This Dawes album is in the pleasant category.
129.                  Pope, Fiction – Another burst of impressive post-punk music from a worthy newcomer.
130.                   Will Butler, Policy – A decent set of rocking songs from the other Butler brother of Arcade Fire.
131.                  Ashley Monroe, The Blade – Many critics called this their favorite country album of 2015, but I wonder if it was the involvement of Vince Gill and Jack White that swayed them. Monroe is actually a decent songwriter, but the arrangements and autotune are pure Nashville pop. Better to seek out Lydia Loveless or Annette Conlon for your country integrity.
132.                  Albert Hammond Jr., Momentary Masters – A lively and intriguing set of tunes from the Strokes member.
133.                  Libertines, Anthems for Doomed Youth – When you strip away Pete Doherty’s drugged antics and shameless self-promotion, Libertines really are a good band. A fine set of tunes here, though nothing that sticks too long.
134.                  The Zombies, Still Got That Hunger – Yes, it’s THAT Zombies, but I think a lot of people were expecting new baroque stylings in the manner of Odyssey and Oracle. This bears a closer resemblance to Rod Argent’s 1970s band, Argent, and hence is less interesting, though not half-bad.
135                  Of Monsters and Men, Beneath the Skin – Not a bad follow-up for this Iceland band, though nothing as notable as “Little Talks.”
136.                  Juliana Hatfield, Whatever My Love – Juliana is back with a band and a party attitude, which may seem lightweight, but is certainly fun in its own right.
137.                  Session Americana, Pack Up the Circus – Anais Mitchell produces and plays backup in the latest album by this gnarly supergroup of Americana session musicians. Great fun.
138.                  Sunn O))), Kannon – Almost a classical composition of metal noise. An acquired taste, but a fine work.
139.                  Joe Pug, Windfall – What with the big portrait picture and the smooth engineering, this had the look of Pug’s breakthrough effort, but I like the songs better on some of his earlier albums.
140.                  The Bad Plus and Joshua Redman, s/t – This has the makings of a great jazz collaboration, but it seems as though BP and Redman were pulling punches to be more mainstream. They needed to take more risks.
141.                  Madonna, Rebel Heart – In some ways, this is Madonna’s best work since Ray of Light, but Madonna still insists on using sexual and tough-bitch imagery that she should have outgrown a couple decades ago.
142.                  The Oh Sees, Mutilator Defeated at Last – The Oh Sees’ best work takes place when they are most like anime or manga. This one is loaded with cartoon fun, but reinforces my belief that Oh Sees are interesting but also overrated.
143.                  Muse, Drones – Cheers to Muse for offering up two explicitly political concept albums in a row, and for concentrating on the ethics of armed drones in this one. The problem with Muse is that everything is larger than life and a little too corny in its hyperbolic style, like a classic 1970s arena band with light show.
144.                  Passion Pit, Kindred – I’ll give Michael Angelakos credit for putting his heart on his sleeve and making a very personal concept album about the problems of family. It still doesn’t make PP music all that interesting.
145.                  Adele, 25 – It may not be fair that Adele gets demerits for her fans being so maniacally adoring, but she also deserves a little chiding on her own for making essentially the same album over and over. If you must reach for a diva, reach for Florence or Beyonce.
Bonus Edition Handicap: An Adele fan is going to want the 16-track edition, no doubt, though that doesn’t imply greater variety.
146                  Grace Potter, Midnight – This is Grace’s first album without The Nocturnals in a little while, and has some good blues and rock originals on it. I really enjoy her work, but she seems lost in a 1970s hard-rock image of what a female vocalist should do.
147.                  Dilly Dally, Sore – A post-punk album that caught many critics’ eyes, decent but not monumental.
148.                  Trans Charger Metropolis, Haunted House Birds – An unusual noise-infested pop work that recalls early Guided by Voices or Joseph Airport.
149.                  Flying Saucer Attack, Instrumentals 2015 – Great to have FSA back, though this seemed like a modernist muzak effort.
150.                  Pond, Man, It Feels Like Space – The Australian comic-rockers can be as much fun as Spinal Tap, but this seemed like an effort to emulate Jeff the Brotherhood.
151.                  Sleaford Mods, Key Markets – While these guys make me laugh with their sarcastic hip-hop take on consumer life, they are worse than The Pop Group in taking advantage of all they parody. Sleaford Mods albums and singles are overpriced and minimal, and one can almost hear them laughing behind our backs.
152.                  Carly Rae Jepsen, E-MO-TION – I understand why serious music fans liked the arrangements here, but Carly’s thin vocals were cause for the lower ranking here.
153.                  Todd Rundgren, Global – New Rundgren songs are a cause for celebration, though these tunes were meant to exploit his “disco at the end of time” live show, and are interesting but odd.
154.                  Blitzen Trapper, All Across This Land – Eric Earley is commonly called “Portland’s Tom Petty” these days, and he’s trying to move Blitzen Trapper from its former weirdness to a pure Americana vision. That’s OK, but these songs aren’t nearly as interesting as those from the 2010-era Blitzen Trapper.
155.                  Silversun Pickups, Better Nature – I always want to hope this band will live up to being the hope of Southern California, repeating the mystery of “It’s Nice to Know You Work Alone.” But the last two albums have been more like predictable 1980s-era hard rock.
156.                  The Selecter, Subculture – The Selecter was my favorite band of the early 1980s ska era, and it’s wonderful to have Pauline back. Unfortunately, few of the new tunes could reach the brash style of their earlier work.
157.                  Electric Light Orchestra, Alone in the Universe – I’m glad someone’s keeping their sci-fi visions alive, but in Jeff Lynne’s case, he seems like a crotchety old man awaiting the aliens.
158.                  The Purity Ring, Another Eternity – Megan and Corin offer up some interesting electronic-duo sounds, but with none of the oomph of a Phantogram – or even a Beach House.
159.                  Twin Peaks, Wild Onion – This band is always touted as the next big thing in teen angst-psych-punk. It comes through as such in some of their singles, but when they get to the longer formats, Twin Peaks doesn’t get that far.
160.                  Justin Townes Earle, Absent Fathers – I want so much to like J.T. Earle more than I do. It seemed his duo concept albums of mothers and fathers were the perfect change to experiment with lyricism, but the songs still seemed sort of pedestrian to me.
161.                  Great Lake Swimmers, Forest of Arms – This Canadian folk band is another one with capabilities of great works in them, but this release largely went flat. Still worth hearing a few of the songs.
162.                  Mynabirds, Lovers Know – Laura Burhenn is a complete chameleon, utterly changing Mynabirds’ direction for each album. That’s perfectly OK if the material warrants it, but I’m still waiting for a work that meets the piano-driven folk rock of Mynabirds’ first album.
163.                  Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material – Musgraves painted herself as a comical country rebel in 2013’s Same Trailer, Different Park, but I’m still not getting the joke behind most of these new songs.
164.                  Sleeping with Sirens, Madness – This hard-rock supergroup moved from Orlando to Grand Rapids, which sort of characterizes in miniature the breadth of their music.
165.                  The Vaccines, English Graffiti – If this British power-pop band can put on a live show that characterizes Art Brut, why does its work in the studio fall flat?
166.                  Ellie Goulding, Delirium – Goulding always carried content under the Autotune, but here she gives herself up entirely to the electronic dance floor. Either she is being remade by others, or she has opted for a future in some gauzy EDM existence, but in either case, it seems like a wrong turn to me.
167.                  Glen Hansard, Didn’t He Ramble – This was the 25th anniversary of The Frames, with an excellent retrospective album released this year. Meanwhile, Hansard followed up a mediocre album and EP with another mediocre album. Hansard needs either a band or Marketa Irglova to keep him interesting.
168.                  Matt and Kim, New Glow – Many thought Matt and Kim were a novelty bouncy-pop duo to begin with, but they kept chugging along, winning more fans all the time. This time, they bring in EDM dance elements, but the real problem is, the songwriting just isn’t keeping up with their ambitions.
169.                  Mini-Mansions, Great Pretenders – Is the title supposed to be ironic? Because these folks were going to be the ones that stuck around the L.A. area and kept their indy-punk integrity. But slowly but surely, members began wearing suits and acting like dandies. And the music had most of the life sucked out.
170.                  Miley Cyrus and Flaming Lips, Dead Petz – The maddening thing is that this collaboration could have been great if Wayne had held Miley’s feet to the fire and said, “I know you are capable of some great lyrics that match up to this crazy concept.” But he didn’t, and this album mostly ended up being an exercise in nonsense.

Special Albums (Live, Compilations, Splits, CD-Rs, MP3, etc.)

1.     Laurie Anderson, Heart of a Dog – Given the excitement at Cannes and the Oscars over Laurie’s new film, it’s odd that critics have virtually ignored the soundtrack album, since this may rank as Laurie’s best audio release of all. Musings on the death of her husband Lou Reed and her dog Lolabelle morph into meditations on why our stories, even those we tell ourselves, are carefully edited to remove the saddest parts. Powerful beyond words.
2.     Ryan Adams, 1989 – By all rights, Adams’ effort to cover Taylor Swift’s entire 1989 shouldn’t have worked. And yet it does, tremendously. The big hits like “Blank Space” are changed significantly, while lesser songs like “Wildest Dreams” become Adams’ own.
3.     Continental Drifters, Drifted – It may be 15 years too late, but people are discovering that the New Orleans collaboration of Vicki Peterson, Susan Cowsill, Peter Holsapple, et. al. was a 1990s miracle. Most miracles aren’t recognized until sanctified. This is the sanctification, featuring two discs of outtakes and covers, such as Vicki and Susan singing “When You Dance, I Can Really Love.”
4.     John Coltrane, A Love Supreme, The Complete Masters – Lots of musical milestones hit their 50th this year, but Coltrane’s masterpiece may be the most important. A lovingly crafted document.
Bonus Edition Handicap: If you’re going to snare the master, go for the book and third disc with the Mondial Jazz Festival live set.
5.     Various Artists, Remembering Mountains: The Music of Karen Dalton – This album was remarkable just to exist, but the curators pulled together amazing renditions from women artists as diverse as Diane Cluck, Lucinda Williams, Julia Holter, Sharon Van Etten, Patty Griffin, Marissa Nadler, and on and on. Better than could ever be imagined.
6.     Parquet Courts, Live at Third Man Records – Jack White has recorded some great sessions at Third Man with the likes of Divine Fits and Ashley Monroe, but the Parquet Courts album is one of those classic all-time live sets that rank with J. Geils’ Full House. A no-holds-barred house rocker.
7.     Various Artists, Bloodshot Records’ Six-Pack to Go: Drinking Songs for the Working Class – You’d want this simply for the beer six-pack packaging, but the 12 artists within (14 in the Chicago version) offer up fine drinking songs, most notably Deer Tick’s cover of The Pogues’ “If I Should Fall from Grace with God,” and Elizabeth Cook’s cover of The Dead Kennedys’ “Too Drunk to Fuck.”
Bonus Edition Handicap: Of course you want the edition with seven 45-rpm records instead of six, because then you get songs from Devil in a Woodpile and Tijuana Hercules. How could you do without that?
8.     Zaimph and Yek Koo, L’Interieur de la Vue – Marcia Bassett fans are going to pick up anything labeled Zaimph anyway, but if you don’t know about Helga Fassonaki, who records under the name Yek Koo, well, you’d just better get educated.
9.     Joan Shelley, Live at Union Pool Feb. 12, 2015 – If you still need an introduction, this intimate live set collects some of the best songs from Electric Ursa and Over and Even.
10.           Deerhoof, Fever 121614 Live in Japan – Live albums are not that popular among indy and experimental artists, so it’s nice that Deerhoof made the decision to create a classic, with incredible gatefold packaging and an insane set list.
11.           The B-52s, Live in Boston 8-24-1979 – Maybe not as primal as those black and white YouTube videos from 1978, this still captures the band on the verge of the first album release, opening for Talking Heads. “Rock Lobster” and “Dance This Mess Around” are featured, need we say more?
12.           Nellie McKay, My Weekly Reader – Nellie’s most recent studio efforts have been sort of odd (in a bad way), so it’s nice to see her get together with Dweezil Zappa to craft an album of strange nostalgic covers of works by Small Faces, The Cyrkle, Mothers of Invention. Wondrous stuff.
13.           Elisa Ambrogio, Three Live Sets – Ambrogio has become much more melodic since her Magik Markers days, and is able to put forth a fine power-pop set, as well as improv with her partner Ben Chasny.
14.           Kathryn Calder, Live at Mercury Lounge, Sept. 11, 2015
15.           Destroyer, Live at Webster Hall, Oct. 4, 2015
16.           Neko Case, Live at the Lexington, London, Nov. 30, 2015 – How odd that three members of The New Pornographers toured solo in the fall of 2015 and presented fantastic sets. Kathryn gets top listing because of the quiet simplicity of her work. Dan Bejar with Destroyer shows how precise and complex his work is when performed live. Neko goes for a simple and acoustic presentation with Eric Bachmann, part of a career retrospective to introduce a new boxed set. All are excellent snapshots of Pornographers on their own.
17.           Various Artists, New York, NY: Ork Records, Complete Singles – OK, this puppy will set you back well over $100, but it contains 45 rpm records of all those late 70s legends like Television, Cheetah Chrome, Richard Hell, Alex Chilton, The dBs….. a 16-record masterpiece.
18.           Bill Orcutt and Jacob Felix Heule, Colonial Donuts – In which Orcutt and his neighbor record tracks almost resembling blues songs with identifiable melodies. Maybe Orcutt’s slipping, or maybe he simply wants to be understood by someone else on the planet.
19.           The Pine Hill Project, Tomorrow You’re Going – Two legends of folk, Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell, record an album of eclectic folk covers. My favorite is the Dave Carter cover, no surprise. You’re bound to fall in love with at least a few.
20.           Guided by Voices, Suitcase 4: Captain Kangaroo Won the War – After four suitcase sets, we’re finally scraping the bottom, as there are many alternative takes of existing songs in this box set. But there are also many unreleased gems, proving once again that there is no such thing as hearing every GbV song ever recorded. Kudos for the packaged magnifying glass.
21.           Xiu Xiu and Merzbow, MerXiu – Long after the wild explosion of Xiu Xiu work in 2013-14, we get a collaboration between Japanese noise artist Merzbow and the mighty Xiu Xiu. Well, what do you think it’s going to sound like?
22.           Iris Dement, The Trackless Woods – It fits Iris’s consciousness perfectly that she would set the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova’s works to music. A difficult but rewarding listen, but nothing that’s going to get Iris a wider fan base.
23.           Waxahatchee, Live at Music Hall, April 9, 2015 – Katie Crutchfield with full band gives a glimpse at how she evolved from single artist to a legitimate rock-driven band. The vocals are muffled at times, but the percussion is crisp and consistent.
24.           Bob Dylan, Cutting Edge 1965-66 – Appropriate to hear all these outtakes on the 50th anniversary of Dylan’s most dangerous and prolific period. Most folks can be satisfied with the two-CD set. Solid fans will want the 6-CD set. But the 18-CD version? Purely for the obsessed.
25.           Sir Richard Bishop and Bill Orcutt, Road Stories --  A fine collaborative effort from two masters of the weird.
26.           Beirut, Live at Bell House, Sept. 10, 2015 – Zach Condon proves that leaving behind studio masters that cover complex depression, in favor of simple exuberance, is not such a bad idea (though most songs in this set are earlier ones, only a few from No No No).
27.           Protomartyr, Live at Ad Hoc Car Wash, Oct. 17, 2015 – Joe’s fervor is at peak in this short but tight set.
28.           Alabama Shakes, Live at Mountain Jam, June 7, 2015 – A long and varied set with a good compendium from the two albums. A nice alternative to the inflated prices you’d pay for Alabama Shakes tickets these days.
29.           Cloud Nothings and Wavves, No Life for Me – Uneven in places, but an interesting mix of two distinct bands. Best sought after in red vinyl.
30.           Vitamin String Quartet, Play Modest Mouse’s ‘Moon and Antarctica’ – VSQ occasionally can be a bit mainstream, but Modest Mouse’s tough arrangements demand an edgy string quartet style, making this one of the better VSQ releases.
31.           Yo La Tengo, Stuff Like That There – An eclectic collection of covers from the band that excels in eclectic.
32.           Lake Street Dive, Live at Mountain Jam, June 7, 2015 – A long and strident set from Rachael Price and cohorts, featuring many songs not often played.
33.           Jackie-O Motherfucker, Smiles – New work with the extended jazz edition of JOMF, cassette-only release with two 20-minute cuts.
34.           Not for Pussies, Digital
35.           Not for Pussies, Remnants and Aftershocks – Brian and Janette Kidd’s music becomes more layered and varied album by album, and each successive NfP allows us to hear more of Janette’s exceptional vocals.
36.           Bill Orcutt, Gertie Likes Pussy – Bill Orcutt performs some of his most difficult compositions at a Gertrude Stein read-a-thon. Not for the weak of heart.
37.           Heartless Bastards, Live at Webster Hall June 15, 2015 – A double disc’s worth of Erica Wenner’s best new tunes, in a tight and well-recorded set.
38.           Parquet Courts, Live at Palisades Feb. 9, 2015 – While this is not as tightly engineered as the Third Man Records set, this provides a looser, sillier sample of the mighty Parquet Courts.
39.           Steve Gunn and Black Twig Pickers, Live at Hopscotch, Sept. 11, 2015 – An experimental/traditionalist wonderland.
40.           Vibracathedral Orchestra, Unnatural with Pain Relief – One of VCO’s slower sets, and apparently the last release on the Krayon label. Worth seeking out for its majestic feel.
41.           Vibracathedral Orchestra, Representing North and Gavin’s Recording – Two takes on the same Café Oto show, sort of a reprise of last year’s Oto works.
42.           Babes in Toyland, Live Sept. 17, 2015 – The grand reunion is intriguing, but also a reminder of how much of the early 90s riot grrrl music relies on a metal base.
43.           Zaimph, Two Aspects Divided – A fine vinyl recording from Marcia Bassett, engineered with care.
44.           Sir Richard Bishop, Live at Union Pool, April 10, 2015 – An intense and intimate recording from SRB.
45.           Various Artists, Counterfeit Blanks: A Shrimper Compilation – Cassette Store Day release to chronicle the Shrimper label.
46.           Pile, Live at Baby’s All Right, April 28, 2015 – An intense set from the often overlooked Pile.
47.           The Frames, Longitude – This 25th-year retrospective is mostly a best-of series, but includes new material from Glen Hansard and friends.
48.           Tom Carter and Bill Orcutt, Two Sets Live at Trans-Pecos, June28, 2015
49.           The Avett Brothers, Live Vol. 4 (New Year’s Eve 2014/15 in Raleigh) – This is the first of the Avett live collection to feature a DVD, and many of the songs get fine treatment. I’m ranking it lower because the band already gets too much publicity from a rabid fan base that wants to pretend a middling Americana band is the world’s greatest. Almost a Deadhead vibe, which is a bad thing in my book.
50.           Ex Hex, Live at Chaz’s, Durham, NC, April 18, 2015 – A rough record store recording, but a rare chance to hear Mary Timony’s band in its best element.
51.           Bob Dylan, Shadows in the Night – I might appreciate this set of covers more if I liked Frank Sinatra, but I don’t.

Singles and EPs

1.     Sharon Van Etten, I Don’t Want to Let You Down – Even when her own release of the year is an EP, Van Etten can do no wrong.
2.     Janelle Monae and Wondaland, “Hell You Talmbout (Say Their Names),” – Wow! A perfect theme song for Black Lives Matter. A compendium of police victims set to strong beats. Nice to hear Monae produce such a powerful political piece.
3.     Rhiannon Giddens, Factory Girl – An amazing companion to her debut LP, with five traditional and cover tunes.
4.     Parquet Courts, Split with Joey Pizza Slice, “Pretty Girls is a Motherfucker” – Hey, this just may be the song of the decade, right up there with The Modern Lovers’ “Pablo Picasso.”
5.     Garbage, The Chemicals – Shirley Manson doesn’t always get respect for some of her post-reunion efforts, so let’s just say this is an amazing EP.
6.     Violent Femmes, Happy New Year – A worthy return in vinyl form, and one of the best RSD releases.
7.     FKA Twigs, M3LL155X – A six-song EP that just might exceed her debut album by being more focused and intense, and less spacey.
8.     Natalie Prass, Side by Side – The remixes of her own songs are fine. The cover of “Sounds of Silence” was a little odder, but hey…
9.     Chuck Snow, Death Comes for Ella Mae Pixley – A powerful EP from the former Auto No boss of us all.
10.                       David Bowie, “Blackstar,” Sort of a cheat to include this, since the full album drops Jan. 8, but this got enough play in 2015 to warrant a mention.
11.                       Bardo Pond, Is There a Heaven? – Third in the set of EPs, this with covers of Roxy Music and Albert Ayler. (They also released all three as a combined LP this year, but that counts as a re-release.)
12.                       Courtney Barnett, Boxing Day Blues – Courtney’s single for Third Man Records, two slower numbers but still worthy.
13.                       Hurry Up, s/t – A raucous punky EP from Portland, some of the liveliest tracks to come around in a long time.
14.                       Todd Snider, Impending Doom – Another great RSD 7-inch record, and a worthy entry in the Snider canon.
15.                       Rev. Collin Estes, Augury – A prelude to a full-length coming soon, to whet your appetite.
16.                       Jenny Lewis, One of the Boys (the PAX AM sessions) – Jenny’s remixes of last year’s songs with Ryan Adams’ label.
17.                       !!!, All U Writers – A 12-inch dance single preview of the As If album.
18.                       Mac DeMarco – Another One – Some had this listed as a full album, I say its short length and its unformed nature make it a definite EP.
19.                       Spoon, TV Set – A nice Cramps cover on a 10-inch record.
20.                       Run the Jewels, Bust No Moves – A much better Run the Jewels option than the rather-silly Meow the Jewels.
21.                       Justin Townes Earle, Live at Grimey’s – Frankly, this is a more interesting Earle effort than any of his recent albums.
22.                       Off!, Live – What else do you need to know? It’s Off!, it’s live.
23.                       Parquet Courts, Split with Future Punx, “This is Happening Now” – Not as stunning as the Joey Pizza Slice release, but a decent single all the same.
24.                       The Decemberists, Flora Songs – An average EP to go along with an average album.
25.                       Courtney Barnett, Kim’s Caravan – A 12” single to accompany the debut album.
26.                       Johnny Marr, I Feel You – A worthy single from RSD.
27.                       Dressy Bessy, Lady Liberty – As a celebration of a reunion and a prelude to a full album in February, Dressy Bessy dropped this single in November. All hail Tammy Ealom.
28.                       Ricked Wicky, Piss Face
29.                       Ricked Wicky, Death Metal Kid
30.                       Ricked Wicky, A Number I Can Trust
31.                       Ricked Wicky, Tomfoole Terrific – My favorite four of the endless stream of Ricked Wicky singles this year.
32.                       Robert Pollard, Take Me to Yolita – The only 45 rpm single bearing Pollard’s name this year, and a nice one.
33.                       Bjork, NotGet (Keptsafe)
34.                       Bjork, Lionsong (Choral)
35.                       Bjork, Stonemilker (Patten)
36.                       Bjork, History of Touches (Krampfhaft)
37.                       Bjork, History of Touches (Rabit Naked)
38.                       Bjork, Lionsong (Mica Levi)
39.                       Bjork, Black Lake (Bloom)
40.                       Bjork, Mouth Mantra (Haxan Cloak)
41.                       Bjork, Family (Katie Gately)
42.                       Bjork, Family (Bloom’s North)
43.                       Bjork, Lionsong (Juliana Huxtable)
44.                       Bjork, NotGet (Lotic Fromdeath) – One could argue that the 11 (at last count) remixed singles from Vulnicura realized Bjork’s vision more than the album itself. Then again, one could argue that for the spinoffs from most Bjork albums.
45.                       Ricked Wicky, Poor Substitutes
46.                       Ricked Wicky, Mobility
47.                       Ricked Wicky, Jargon of Clones – Three more RW releases to round out Robert Pollard’s massive 45 rpm assault in 2015.
48.                       Ryan Adams, Come Pick Me Up – One of a series of singles he’s issued pretty consistently in the last two years, all of them decent.
49.                       Lydia Loveless, I Will Die 4U – Sort of a silly Prince cover, but if this is all the Lydia we get in 2015, I won’t complain.
50.                       Parquet Courts, Monastic Living – Could be counted as a mini-LP or extended EP, but why would the band choose to launch its new career with Rough Trade with a noise experiment? I mean, when Trumans Water issued improvisational albums, they were interesting, but this just feels like a bunch of unformed silliness. For dedicated fans only.

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