My Favorite Albums of 2015: 2nd Quarter

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by John Ellis

When you’re reading “best of” lists from major publications, you’ll notice that editorial boards, entire writing staffs, and hungry interns all came to bear on the process of wading through the hundreds, if not thousands, of possible choices. For a list to adequately represent the actual musical output, an entire team is needed. For the second quarter of 2015, Wikipedia has one hundred and forty albums listed as being released[1]. And that doesn’t include the many indie albums that never sniff Wikipedia coverage. That’s one quarter. During that one quarter, I evaluated exactly twenty albums, and am proud of myself for it. When I can afford interns, I’m sure that number will go up. For now, though, I only have twenty albums from which to choose my favorite albums of 2015’s second quarter.

With that previous paragraph still fresh in your memory, allow me the opportunity to make a personal plea. Every time I make a list like this one, I have friends who text me or email me bitter messages lecturing me that since I missed their personal favorite album, my list is invalidated and I am not qualified to write about music. This past quarter, I listened to a mere 14% of the albums released, and I’m basing that percentage on a website that probably doesn’t include half of the albums actually released. I am deeply sorry if I have snubbed your favorite album; it wasn’t intentional – I promise. It also shouldn’t invalidate a list that contains the words “My” and “Favorite.” Here’s what you can do, though. By all means, alert me to the snub. Let me know that there is a great album out there that I’m missing out on. I’m a firm believer that too much good music is a level with armaments that can never be broached.

Before getting to the actual list, I want to highlight two indie releases that didn’t make my cut. The publicist for Ike Reilly sent me Born on Fire about two weeks ago (the album was released last week). As of the writing of this list, I’ve only had time to listen to it twice. I like it (enough so that I will be reviewing it for No Depression). But, as of now, I don’t have enough of a handle on it to properly place Born on Fire on this list.

I initially intended to write a review of Nothing but the Silence, but the debut album from Striking Matches fell short of my “like” threshold at which I’ll promote an album[2]. That being said, I’m rooting for the band; I like their sound; I like their energy; and I like where their songwriting is headed. I’m looking forward to Striking Matches’ sophomore release.

The astute reader will notice that a couple of the following albums were actually released during 2015’s 1st quarter. I wrote my 2015 1st quarter list before listening to them.

  1. The Waterfall – My Morning Jacket

The guy who mans the will-call window at The Birchmere likes to tell me that I look like Jim James. But even if the My Morning Jacket frontman didn’t have that going for him, I’d still be a fan. If you’re curious about how psychedelic rock and roots rock sound together, The Waterfall, the band’s 7th studio album, is a great place to find out.  

  1. English Graffiti – The Vaccines

Others can throw “indie,” “post-punk,” and various other hip signifiers in the direction of The Vaccines. I, however, stubbornly claim that English Graffiti is a welcome example of how good power-pop can be fun and thoughtful. And, possibly better, with their third album, we can all hope that The Vaccines have rescued Big Star’s genre from boy-bands[3].

  1. Kintsugi – Death Cab for Cutie

For some reason, Death Cab for Cutie has never really made it onto my radar – maybe because I never watched The O.C. I mean, to be honest, the Northwest based indie-rock band did technically cross my radar; I was very familiar with Death Cab for Cutie thanks to the constant chirping about them by smug, pretentious acquaintances – you know, the type of people who have now cut gluten out of their diet even though they don’t have a gluten allergy[4]. But I haven’t paid the band any mind, until Kintsugi, that is. I’m now sorry that I didn’t pay attention to Death Cab for Cutie earlier. If Kintsugi is any indication, I really like the band.

  1. Ivy Tripp – Waxahatchee

Although my age places me at the top end of the voices Waxahatchee (Katie Crutchfield) speaks for, her stated motif of aimless angst on Ivy Tripp resonates with me. And not in a pointless navel-gazing way, but in the same way that Pavement, the opposite of Nirvana in many respects, understood and expressed Gen X’s existential morass without being overwhelmed by it. The shoe gazing-ish yet pop-ish indie music is well executed on Ivy Tripp and the album as a whole is an engaging and fun listen.

  1. Monterey – The Milk Carton Kids

Listening to Monterey from the folk-music duo The Milk Carton Kids elicits a visceral response that is similar to what I feel when listening to Nick Drake. If my high praise causes you to furrow your brow in skepticism, I’m willing to bet that you have yet to listen to one of the most simple yet beautiful albums to come along in years.

  1. Complicated Game – James McMurtry

I’m not sure why, but, considering I wrote *this* review of Complicated Game, I’m comfortable making this somewhat non-sequitur of a statement about James McMurtry’s latest – Complicated Game makes me think about one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Sons of Anarchy. Don’t ask me to defend that statement, I’m not sure that I can.

  1. The Traveling Kind – Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

Reigning country music royalty Emmylou Harris teamed up with long-time friend and collaborator Rodney Crowell, who can make a claim to country music royalty as well, to produce one of the finest examples of an alt-country/roots music album that you’ll find. Read my review *here.*

  1. Beneath the Skin – Of Monsters and Men

At the beginning of 2015’s second quarter, if you had asked me if Beneath the Skin would sit at number three on this list, I probably would’ve responded, “only if the albums from this second quarter mostly suck.” Well, the albums from 2015’s second quarter do not “mostly suck.” In fact, as much as loved the musical output of 2015’s first quarter, this second quarter has exceeded the first quarter; it has definitely exceeded my expectations, as has Of Monsters and Men’s latest release. I sorta liked, I guess, the band’s 2011 debut album; but there’s no guess work about my feelings for their current release, though. Beneath the Skin is a well-constructed and gorgeous album.

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

This is a gloriously immense album. With Florence Welch’s voice soaring over intricately woven and deep instrumentals, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is an album that leaves the listener breathless.

  1. Lands & Peoples – Bill Mallonee

I’m not sure what else I can say about this album that I didn’t already say in *this* review. Lands & Peoples is an album that I’m not only willing to go to bat for, but it’s an album that caused me to pour some of my own heartache from past failures into a music review. Bill Mallonee is not only a beautiful musician, he’s a beautiful human being, too, and his music deserves a much wider audience. Please, please check out my favorite album of 2015 so far. FYI – Lands & Peoples can be purchased *here.*

Before I wrap up, I want to mention three noticeable omissions from this list – Drones from Muse, Sound & Color from Alabama Shakes, and Wilder Mind from Mumford & Sons. I love Muse. Origin of Symmetry and Absolution are two of this young millennium’s greatest albums. But Drones is, well, so far I have been unable to put my finger on what I like and dislike about Drones. It’s lacking something, though.

Of the other two omissions, Sound & Color is the one that’s universally recognized as one of the year’s best, so far. I disagree. Quite adamantly, in fact. To me, Sound & Color sounds like Brittany Howard has spent the time since their debut album being famous and not on improving as a musician and songwriter. Mumford & Sons, on the other hand, has had their latest release almost universally dismissed. I am no exception. No reason for me to explain why, though, because you can read my review of Wilder Mind *here.*

[1] Did you know that Savage Garden is releasing a 2nd greatest hits album? A 2nd? I didn’t even know that there was a first.

[2] I don’t like writing bad reviews, especially not in regards to up-and-coming indie-ish bands. I don’t see the point in bad reviews. For the record, I will occasionally write a negative review of a major-label, multi-million album selling band if I believe that the conversation around the album warrants my negative input – see Mumford & Sons.

[3] One Direction and the Jonas Brothers are two of the more tragic examples of what people are referring to as power-pop these days.

[4] Which makes me wonder if all of those unicycle riding hipsters were all secret fans of The O.C.


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