My Favorite Albums of 2015: 1st Quarter

record pictureby John Ellis

2015 is a quarter of the way over, and this young year has already seen some excellent music released. As far as I’m concerned, 2015 is well ahead of 2014’s pace and is setting itself up nicely to go down as a banner year in music. In fact, the reason why I’ve decided to write “quarterly lists” this year is because there have already been quite a few excellent albums released in 2015, and I want to be organized (stay organized) for my year-end list. During these first three months, I’ve evaluated eighteen albums, and there were at least six released during this first quarter that I wanted to get to but haven’t[1]Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance – Belle and Sebastian, Vulnicura – Bjork, Shadows in the Night – Bob Dylan, Chasing Yesterday – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar, Kintsugi – Death Cab for Cutie. I’m sure that I’ve missed far more than six; help me out, and let me know the albums that you believe I’ve overlooked.

As always, this list is compromised of my favorite albums, not the ones I’m claiming are the best. In fact, don’t be surprised if my year-end list shuffles some of the albums ranked here. Tastes change, after all; besides, I may listen to certain albums so frequently that by the time December rolls around, I’ll be a little tired of them.

Before I get to the list proper, two albums deserve mention. Both of these albums are indie releases that should have a wider audience. West Side Stories – The Westies and Monsters Are Real – Whiskey of the Damned.[2]

  1. I Love You, HoneyBear – Father John Misty

To be honest, the only reason that this album is on the list is because I’m apparently superstitious and didn’t want a list of thirteen. Nonetheless, it’s a good album.

  1. What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World – The Decemberists

I have several friends who would rank this album much higher; in fact, I’m willing to bet that several of my friends will consider ranking the latest release from The Decemberists in the #1 slot on their year-end list. It’s an excellent album, so I won’t necessarily disagree with those who do. I just hope that those who are big fans of The Decemberists realize that there has been some excellent music released since January 19.[3]

  1. So Delicious – The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band

So Delicious may very well be the funnest album that you’re not listening to, and The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band may be the funnest band that you’re not aware of[4]. I know that So Delicious is the funnest album that I listen to. Read my review here.

  1. Live At the Atlas – Laura Tsaggaris

This is a late entry to the list, so don’t be surprised if by the end of the year it’s moved up a few notches. Laura Tsaggaris is a DC area musician who reached out to me last week about reviewing her album. After listening to several songs, I agreed, and she mailed me the CD – which arrived in the mail yesterday. Laura has a beautiful voice, and the musicianship is tight. Look for my actual review in a week or so.

  1. 1532 – Drew Gibson

Drew Gibson is another DC area musician that reached out to me; my wife and I are both very happy that he did. To be honest, it’s really only my cowardice that’s keeping me from ranking 1532 even higher. Although this is a list of my “favorite” albums, I still allow the fear of man keep me from ranking a relatively unknown musician higher. Maybe I’ll acquire some courage by December[5]. Read my review here.

  1. Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens

It irritates me to concede that I like this album. But that’s not necessarily Sufjan Stevens’ fault[6]. It’s mainly the fault of his fan base. And, no, I will not explain. I didn’t write a review for Carrie & Lowell but don’t let that stop you from buying it. It is really good, even if I have to acknowledge it through gritted teeth.

  1. The Phosphorescent Blues – Punch Brothers

Although I listen to this album fairly frequently, and am obviously a fan, I have yet to figure out what I want to say about it. I had intended to write a review, but was unable. Check it out for yourself, and let me know what you think.

  1. Revelries – Humming House

I owe the band’s publicist a review of Revelries. I started writing the review at the beginning of February, a little over a month before the album’s release, and have yet to finish it. That’s my fault, not the album’s fault. Having really liked the band’s self-titled debut album, I was pleased to find on Revelries that Humming House has not been resting on their laurels. It’s a much better album than their worthy debut. Another more famous band, that releases their sophomore album in about a month, should’ve taken their cue from Humming House, and focused on growing as a band instead of focusing on being famous[7].

Update: I have since reviewed Revelries and you may read it here.

  1. No Cities to Love – Sleater-Kinney

No Cities to Love is another album that I intended to review, but didn’t. In fact, I began a review, but was unable to stop being old and grumpy while writing it. Sleater-Kinney was releasing great albums well before many Portlandia fans had gotten the first Kidz Bop album. You young kids need to stop acting like you’ve discovered anything. I’ve loved Sleater-Kinney for almost two decades, and No Cities to Love is a great addition to the band’s canon.

  1. Medicine – Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors

Entering 2015, Medicine was the album I was anticipating the most. If you had asked me on January 1 where it would’ve ranked on my favorite albums of the first quarter of 2015, I would probably have said #1. The fact that it’s at #5 says far more about the albums ahead of it than it says about this addictive album from Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors. Read my review here.

  1. Then Came the Morning – The Lone Bellow

Oh my word, Then Came the Morning is a gorgeous album! I don’t remember ever using the word “lush” to describe an album until this moment. This is lush music to sink into! I’m now wishing that I had written a proper review.

  1. The Firewatcher’s Daughter – Brandi Carlile

I was late to the party on this one. It’s not because I’m not a fan of Brandi Carlile, because I am. For some reason, I wasn’t aware that she was releasing The Firewatcher’s Daughter until after it had already been released. I love her voice and lyrical sensibilities.

  1. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I just Sit – Courtney Barnett

Out of all the musicians on this list, Courtney Barnett is the one most likely to make it into heavy rotation on Clear Channel’s top-forty stations. That’s not her fault. Sometime I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is a great album that will deservedly end up on pretty much every major publication’s “year-end-best-of” lists. For what it’s worth, my favorite music critic, Steven Hyden, loves Courtney Barnett. Read my review here.

  1. Tomorrow Is My Turn – Rhiannon Giddens

It may reveal some microaggression/sexism in me to point this out, but I’ll risk it. The top three albums on this list are from female artists. In fact, out of the fourteen albums, nine of them are either by female artists or bands that prominently feature females. That doesn’t really explain why Tomorrow Is My Turn occupies my top spot, but I’ve already gushed enough about this album in my review.

[1] Not to mention the several indie releases on my radar.

[2] If you do the math, those two albums added to the fourteen on the list proper only add up to sixteen – the other two are Run – AWOL Nation (one great song, but the rest of the album is merely *meh*) and Strangers to Ourselves – Modest Mouse (I think I like this album, but I’m not sure yet.)

[3] That’s not fair, of course they have. Right? … the reason I wrote that is because upon the album’s release, my Facebook newsfeed was filled with fans of The Decemberists claiming that the Best Album of the Year race was over – on January 19.

[4] I have decreed that “funnest” is a word.

[5] Or maybe my wife, who absolutely loves this album, will make me rank it higher.

[6] Actually, it partially is. Pretty much every time I read a Sufjan interview, I want to smash all of my albums by him.

[7] Referring to Alabama Shakes.


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