2015 Strikes Back: The Top Eleven

The Best Of 2015

by Melanie Love

This was the year I saw Death Cab For Cutie for the third time with my mom, Dave Grohl rocking New York from an unbelievable light-up throne made out of guitars, and The Weeknd in New Jersey amid an ear-piercingly loud horde of teenage girls that made me feel every bit of my 25 years of age. It was also my second year of graduate school, which meant an ever-regenerating stream of papers and seeing therapy clients for the first time – all events that needed soundtracks that rocked but also inspired, music that kept me moving, feeling, and looking forward. Without further ado, here is my top eleven of the year (because it wouldn’t be rock ‘n’ roll without a little rebellion).

Bring on 2016! 


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1. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness

I held off on writing a review of this disc when it was first released because I worried I would be too effusive. I figured my red-hot enthusiasm for the third release from Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, would eventually cool off, but four months, endless spins, and one live show later, there’s no sign of the spark fading. Beauty Behind The Madness is at once sultry, intimate and bleakly raw, with a pop/R&B sensibility that distills his earlier work into a mass-appealing sound. Opener “Real Life” is revealing and revelatory; you’ll swear you’re hearing the ghost of Michael Jackson come back to life on “In The Night;” and chart-topping “The Hills” is a blown-out anti-love song with an indelible chorus. Time will tell, but this looks like it’s going on my list of the all-time greats. My first task of 2016 will be to review this one properly.

 
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2. Death Cab For Cutie – Kintsugi

Spotify says this is my most-played album this year, and while I’m pretty sure that honor belongs to The Weeknd, this one is a close second. This is the disc that brought me back to Death Cab after a Codes And Keys hiatus, and I’m so glad it did. Kintsugi makes disillusionment look lovely, crafting a batch of cracked and fractured yet endlessly listenable songs. From hauntingly catchy “Black Sun” (which is a fine showcase for founding guitarist Chris Walla’s signature sound on his last disc with the band) to dance-pop on “Everything’s A Ceiling,” this is one of those rare albums that I look back on and wish I had graded higher. And it makes for a great live show, too!

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3. Years & Years – Communion

One of my musical regrets this year is missing these guys live when they made their way to NYC, because if relentless energy on this disc is any hint, the songs from Communion are likely even better in a live setting. But the stylish electropop grooves here are substantial, too; the best songs here combine rafter-reaching beats with poignant lyrics about love gone wrong, designed to get you dancing and feeling at the same time. Standouts include the swirling “King,” slow-burning “Desire,” and anthemic “Shine.”

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4. Queen – A Night At The Odeon (Hammersmith 1975)

1975 is the year that found Queen about to break through to megastardom, and this show is a fine glimpse into a band on the rise. It marks the first appearance of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” as well as a lineup of early hits (a snappy “Killer Queen,” hard-rocking first single “Keep Yourself Alive”) and deep cuts (“White Queen” is a forgotten and gorgeous gem, and “Liar” is a raucous epic). Freddie Mercury’s voice is absolutely pristine, showcased in all its glory here before decades of cigarettes caught up with him – and the rest of the band is no slouch either. This set has been heavily bootlegged for years, but it’s worth checking out to find a fully formed Queen right from the very beginning.

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5. Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

A Florence + The Machine release is always a revelation, and this latest offering is no different. This is just another gem in an ever-growing string of standouts. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is as elegant and soaring as previous discs but infused with a more modern and upbeat sensibility, too. This is a breakup album for the ages – and this is no better emblemized than in the outstanding single “What Kind Of Man,” which starts out slow building and then suddenly becomes a piercing, stomping, and absolutely electric. From the opening jangle of “Ship To Wreck” to the stormy “Delilah” to the magnificent horns section in the title track, this is an album to be experienced.  

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6. Atlas Genius – Inanimate Objects

This one was a sleeper hit for me. The second album from South Australian alt-rockers (best known for their 2011 hit “Trojans), Inanimate Objects finds the band creating a slow-building atmosphere that runs throughout the whole disc, creating a seamless listening experience that sounds even better live. They drew me in with the soaring and cathartic “A Perfect End,” but kept me sticking around with songs like the dance-worthy, jagged pop of “Molecules” and “Stockholm.”

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7. Carly Rae Jepsen – E*MO*TION

This album feels like the sequel to Taylor Swift’s 1989 for me in terms of its modern resurrection of ‘80s synth-pop. This disc feels a bit less stylized than Swift’s opus; Jepsen is relatable and endearing on this release, from her sassy collaboration with Sia on “Boy Problems,” to the pastel sweetness of “I Really Like You” (not to mention Tom Hanks in all his glory in the accompanying video), to the swooning “All That.” Jepsen composed over 250 songs to gather up this batch of 12 tracks, and it looks like that hard work paid off.

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8. WATERS – What’s Real

This album, the long in the works follow-up to 2011’s underrated indie gem Out In The Light, somehow managed to slip past me until recently. Recorded with Grouplove drummer/producer Ryan Rabin, this disc indeed sounds like a blend of WATERS’ debut – hooky yet heartfelt – and Grouplove’s ineffably peppy, sun-baked California sound. Opener “Got To My Head” is pop gloriousness with hints of rock stomp, and the title track is a jangling ode to the search for self-awareness. This disc breezes past at just 35 minutes, but it’s bigger sounding and farther-reaching than its breezy runtime would suggest.

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9. Børns – Dopamine

The debut full-length from Børns wasn’t quite as epic as I hoped it would be, judging from the sugary pop wondrousness of his Candy EP. Still, the chocolate-box of tracks here provides an excellent intro to a talent in the making. You’ll never get tired of spinning joyously clear-eyed single “Electric Love, but stick around for the gauzy “American Love,” the sultry grooves of “Fool” that are plucked right out of the ‘70s, or the hazily downbeat “Clouds,” which provides a new dimension to BORNS’ pop majesty.

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10. Mumford & Sons – Wilder Mind

I think I’m the lone listener that actually likes this disc, though I recognize that it marks a downturn in quality from British rockers Mumford & Sons’ previous work. Most say that they lost their distinctive sound when they cut out the banjo and went electric, but I still found something to love in this sprawling, surging collection. Lead single “Believe” reminds me of U2 in its bittersweet sentiment and plugged-in guitars, the jittery, swirling “Snake Eyes” deserves to be a single, while the downbeat “Monster” is sweetly crafted, providing a break from the roiling brood of the rest of the disc.

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11. Foo Fighters – Saint Cecilia (EP)

My motto is that any Foo Fighters is good Foo Fighters. Hot off the heels of the Broken Leg tour, which found Dave Grohl relegated to a ridiculous yet totally rock ‘n’ roll throne for their world tour, this five-song EP infuses all that energy and rage that was left to burn. Previous full-length Sonic Highways was ambitious but a little too over-baked, and this little sparkplug of an EP (recorded at the Austin City Limits Festival) is a nice way of getting back to basics – catchy, straightforward, straight-up ROCK as the Foos does best. The title track rolls along with an enveloping jauntiness, while “Sean” and the pun-tastic “Savior Breath” offer up roiling, breathless punk. Here’s hoping that this EP is a prequel for what’s to come next from the sitting Kings Of Rock – Wasting Light part two, please?





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