15. Nellie McKay – My Weekly Reader
The once darling new comer has basically fallen into obscurity somewhat caused by head-strong creativity and fighting with labels; however, this second collection of remakes comes as a surprise. Her first was a collection of Dorris Day songs and was well received. This one is a mix of 60’s and 70’s nostalgia and is quite charming.
Favorite songs: “Murder in My Heart For the Judge,” “Itchycoo Park,” “If I Fell”
14. Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer
Introduced to me by [adult swim] with an animated video for “When I Was Done Dying” this collection of murky electronic alt-pop is weird, fun, and catchy. At times, it’s all three. The instrumentals can wear a little thin, but his others are interesting lyrical takes on death and strange stories.
Favorite songs: “Feel the Lightning,” “When I Was Done Dying,” “Meme Generator”
13. Blur – The Magic Whip
The long awaiting return of one of the 90’s best alternative bands is not a return to their heights of old, but more of a modernization of their sound. There’s been a decade or two behind them so there is a bit more soul searching here. It easily fits in with their last couple of collections before they broke up and is a must for Blur fans.
Favorite songs: “Ice Cream Man,” “I Broadcast,” “There Are Too Many of Us”
12. Belle and Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance
Belle & Sebatian has tried many things, but a true dance album they have not. They traveled to Atlanta to work with a new producer and came with a fun collection of sugary-sweet pop songs which make for some good, old-fashioned toe tapping. A couple of the longer songs outstay their welcome, but “The Party Line” is one of the best singles.
Favorite songs: “The Party Line,” “Nobody’s Empire” “Perfect Couples”
11. Destroyer – Poison Season
Since Kaputt (my #1 album of 2011) was big enough to get Dan Bejar on late night television, the band has revolted against fame. He has said he throw the three catchiest songs out and settled on experimental with a more orchestrated feel. This has lead to some disappointment; however, after a few listens the secrets held within start to reveal themselves.
Favorite songs: “Dream Lover,” “Forces From Above,” “Times Square”
10. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Joshua Tillman’s second album as his alter ego Father John Misty is an exercise in what greatness can come out of mixing catchy tunes with blunt, biting lyrics. Here the songs are mostly about meeting his wife and consequent events that have happened afterwards. I Love You, Honeybear is an honest collection of songs which will occasionally cause fits of disbelief and laughter.
Favorite songs: “I Love You, Honeybear,” “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow,” “Holy Shit”
9. Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Alone in the Universe
Love this man and it seems he’s finally receiving his dues. His newest since 2001’s Zoom makes for a great compromise. Equal parts 70’s orchestral lush and 90’s rock blues, Alone in the Universe tries to appease everyone and does so for the most part. There are no big, catchy hits here, but the quality of his work — both songwriting and production — are on par with earlier output.
Favorite songs: “Dirty to the Bone,” “When the Night Comes,” “One Step at a Time”
8. Enya – Dark Sky Island
Here is Enya’s return to the height of her first two break-through albums. If you enjoyed Watermark and Shepherd Moons, pick this one up. The first half of the album is phenomenal. It’s overflowing with catchy melodies and the most interesting lyrics her poet partner, Nicky Ryan, has put to paper in a while. The second half, while not as strong, is still a wonderful listen.
Favorite songs: “The Humming…,” “Even in the Shadows,” “Echoes in Rain”
7. Florence + the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Florence’s sophomore effort Ceremonials never hooked me. There were good songs on it but never found myself going back. Not here. So Big… is full of Florence’s gigantic vocals and her trademark over-the-top subject matter, but this time there are songs made to be heard multiple times. She plays with arrangements, too. Horns and heavier guitar work put many of these songs in the rock realm and gives her angst a stronger punch.
Favorite songs: “Ship to Wreck,” “Queen of Peace,” “Third Eye”
6. The Bird and the Bee – Recreational Love
If you’re a big fan of Adele’s “Hello” then here’s her co-writer and producer of that song. Greg Kurstin knows pop music well and this is his outlet with Inara George to geek out with different flavors including jazz, electronica, and hip-hop beats. The songs are fun, danceable, and — especially “Will You Dance?” — deserve bigger recognition and a larger audience. (Trivia: this one is a Grammy-nominee for best engineering. It even surprised the band.)
Favorite songs: “Will You Dance?”, “Runaway,” “Los Angeles”
Includes my favorite lyric of the year: “I don’t care/I don’t care if people stare/People stare at all the wrong things”
5. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Weird and wonderful, Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear is the most pop-minded of the experimental band Animal Collective and here he has given us his most accessible album. Don’t misunderstand though. It’s still strange. Otherworldly loops coalesce with obtuse lyrics and melodic hooks that simply stick in your brain. The two ballads I find to be a little weak, but overall here is an album the adventurous will find satisfying.
Favorite songs: “Mr Noah,” “Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker,” “Boys Latin”
4. Duran Duran – Paper Gods
Here is Duran Duran’s first attempt in years to activately seek out the sound of today’s hit makers and — surprisingly — it works especially since the band didn’t have to compromise their own sound too much. Can we talk about “Pressure Off?” Holy wolf hunger! What a song. The most infection thing they’ve done since “Notorious.” Maybe “The Reflex.” “Paper Gods” is the “Chauffeur” for a new generation and that chorus in “You Kill Me with Silence” is killer. All of this proves Duran is still — like Pet Shop Boys — a force in the music world.
Favorite songs: “Paper Gods,” “You Kill Me with Silence,” “Pressure Off,” “Butterfly Girl”
3. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
For those who have given Sufjan Stevens a try and thought it too weird and chaotic, rejoice! Here is his most straight-forward collection of arrangements in many years. Soft guitars, washes of electronics, beautiful harmonies, and nary a drum you will find here. It’s stunning. It’s also heartbreaking and somber especially in the nostalgic “Fourth of July.” A song that I will admit has brought me to tears a couple of times realizing it’s an imagined conversation with his estranged mother. Please don’t let any of this stop you from listening because you will miss some of the strongest melodies of the year. Gorgeous odes to his mother who passed away recently, but not before Sufjan could talk to her again. The pain is palpable and you can sing your heart out with it.
Favorite songs: “Death With Dignity,” “Eugene,” “Fourth of July,” “John My Beloved”
2. Grimes – Art Angels
Talk about left field. Here’s a singer/songwriter/producer/engineer whose philosophy is basically “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.” And like Eurythmics did with “Sweet Dreams” and their small masterpiece “Touch,” Grimes takes pop music, turns it on its ear, and gives the listener new ways to hear the genre. Stuff which the highly-polished overlords of the labels would never let happen. So many good songs: the slight-country of “California,” the sweet fuck off of “Flesh without Blood,” the club grand-standing of “Venus Fly,” the best-song-Curve-never-did in “Artangels,” but mostly in the gender swap that is “Kill V. Maim” where she uses K-Pop stylings to ironically hold a mirror up to the dark side of men in one of the most intense songs recorded into a computer. All mesh together in what Pitchfork is calling her job application to the world of pop superstars. It easy to see how they came to that analogy. After this, the Mileys, Taylors, and Nikkis will indeed be clamoring to work with this Canadian auteur.
Favorite songs: “Flesh without Blood,” “Kill V. Maim,” “Artangels,” “Venus Fly”
1. Marina & the Diamonds – Froot
Many times in my life, I’ve been drawn to an album cover with such curiosity that I’ve just bought the thing. The Beautiful South’s “Welcome to the Beautiful South” is an example. Froot kept showing up in the library’s coming soon list so with a “why not” I grabbed it. Instinct works. What an album. Here’s another strong woman who decided she needed to take control of her music. Gone are the multitudes of producers. Gone are the radio-friendly pop stylings. Here is Marina Diamandis at her most bare. She exposes her flaws (“Blue”), her fears (“I’m a Ruin”), and her bluntness (“Can’t Pin Me Down”) with music to match. It’s gorgeous, catchy, and seems honest and true to who she is. Thankfully, her wordplay is still here from earlier albums. “Froot” is a huge flora pun about her being horny: “Hanging like a fruit/Ready to be juiced.” “Can’t Pin Me Down” is a non-confirmaty fuck off: “You might think I’m one thing/But I am another/You can’t call my bluff/Time to back off, motherfucker.” “Savages” picks apart the horrible things humans do to each other: “I’m not the only one who/Finds it hard to understand/I’m not afraid of God/I am afraid of Man.” This is an emotional, cathartic release of an album. Beautiful, expressive, and wonderfully melodic, Froot is perfectly accessible and recommended listening for a road trip.
Favorite songs: “Froot,” “Blue,” “Can’t Pin Me Down,” “Better Than That,” “Savages”
Listen to the music
Favorites of 2015
The 2015 Partyline: A Collection of 2015 Party Songs