The Land of Sunshine albums of 2015
10. They Might Be Giants – ‘Glean’
There are some people who think They Might Be Giants career began and ended with 1990’s Birdhouse In Your Soul. These people are idiots. TMBG are one of the most consistently excellent bands working today, who have, to date, released seventeen studio albums plus a whole plethora of other material.
Glean began as an updated version of their classic Dial-A-Song service (where fans could call an answer machine onto which the Johns had recorded songs). They recently took the idea online and ‘Glean’ is essentially the collection of the best of those songs, and in keeping with what we’ve come to expect from these boys, it’s a quirky treasure trove of pop nuggets and idiosyncratic stories.
Opener Erase is pure Linnell pop goodness, while Music Jail, Pt. 1 & 2 is Flansburgh at his Flood level quirkiness. Sorry, that last sentence probably only made sense to about eight people. Look, it’s really great, go buy it, then all their other albums. Thank me later.
9. Turbowolf – ‘Two Hands’
I must admit I never really took to Turbowolf on their first album. I was never quite sure what they were supposed to be. Not that being uncategorisable is necessarily a bad thing but they just never quite clicked for me.
Now, armed with a new rhythm section, they’re back with their second album ‘Two Hands’ and I’ll be putting my two hands in the air and admitting I was wrong (see what I did there? You don’t get quality journalism like that in the NME). ‘Two Hands’ is a dirty bomb of kinetic energy. Thick fuzzy riffs, clattering drums, and with singer Chris projecting his insane lyrics over the top.
Solid Gold is a big filthy groove stomp of a song, American Mirrors sounds like doing cocaine on a rollercoaster, and Good Hand sounds like T-Rex being played by Monster Magnet.
They may still be uncategorisable, but ‘Two Hands’ is fiercer and more focused than they ever sounded before.
8. Lyla Foy – ‘UMi’
Lyla’s 2014 album ‘Mirrors The Sky’ was a lovely discovery for me last year. So much so that it made my top 10 of the year. UMi feels very much like a companion piece to ‘Mirrors…’. A lilting, dreamy, lovely little seven track mini-album that makes me sleepy in the very best possible sense.
River is simply gorgeous (listen to it on headphones, the backing vocals are amazing!) and Tiger ranks among her best songs, but much like her last album, there’s really not a sour moment on the whole thing. It may all be over in a little under half an hour but I guarantee you’ll be reaching for the play button the second it’s finished. That is if you haven’t already drifted off into a wonderful dream about clouds.
7. Chris Cornell – ‘Higher Truth’
Cornell’s last album, 2009’s ‘Scream’ raised more than a few eyebrows. Its slick Timbaland production did not sit well with fans of his heavier output. Cornell apologised in the best possible way by getting Soundgarden back together and recording 2012’s excellent ‘King Animal’. Now he’s back on his own and while ‘Higher Truth’ is unlikely to appease the rabid Badmotorfinger fans, it is. In many way, the anti-‘Scream’.
In lesser hands this is a collection of songs that could run the risk of sounding twee or mawkish, but in the hands of Cornell (and long time grunge collaborator Brendan O’Brien) ‘Higher Truth’ is an earnest stripped back, heart on sleeve, acoustic rock album, and it’s pretty damn lovely.
Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart and Our Time In The Universe are the closest the album comes to straight up rock songs, and while they’re definitely both highlights, it’s the gentler numbers that really creep up on you. The near bluegrass Dead Wishes or the stunning Before We Disappear create images not of a dark grunge band but of two old songsmiths, sat on a back porch, playing for the love of it.
As I say, if your favourite Cornell tune is Slaves And Bulldozers this may not be for you. But if you’re in the mood for some beautifully organic song writing, sung by one of rock’s greatest vocalists, you will find so much to love on ‘Higher Truth’.
6. Veruca Salt – ‘Ghost Notes’
Well this one was a nice surprise. The first Veruca Salt album in nine years and the first to feature the classic line up since 1997’s ‘Eight Arms To Hold You’. With the formidable tag team of Nina Gordon and Louise Post back together (along with Jim Shapiro and Steve Lack bringing up the rear) they have made an absolute corker of a record.
Ghost Notes tales the melodic fuzz we’ve come to expect from this lot (or maybe that you vaguely remember from seeing Seether on MTV back in the 90’s) and imbues it with a depth and maturity that sometimes borders on the genuinely beautiful.
The Sound Of Leaving and Empty Bottle are stark, beautiful and passionate while the likes of The Gospel According To Saint Me and Love You Less prove that they can still knock a great fuzzy pop song.
It’s really great to hear Post and Gordon’s voices back on the same record. Let’s hope this is the (re)start of a beautiful friendship.
5. Therapy? – ‘Disquiet’
Enemies to grammar Nazis the world over, Northern Ireland’s Therapy? have been a bloody consistent (and persistent) lot. Even the weaker moments in their fourteen (FOURTEEN!!!) album career have produced some amazing moments. ‘Disquiet’ is not one of their weaker moments. A decidedly more melodic beast than their previous couple of releases, ‘Diquiet’ may just be the closest in sound they’ve come to their mighty ‘Troublegum’ album in a long time.
Opener Still Hurts feels very much like a spiritual successor to Knives the opener from the aforementioned ‘Troublegum’, and Insecurity could have sat happily anywhere on their 1994 opus. This isn’t straight imitation though, the chorus of Tides soars in the bleak way only a Therapy? chorus can, and closer Deathstimate (they’ve always loved a good portmanteau word) is a broody Sabbathy beast with a monster riff hanging off of it.
Therapy? have produced some phenomenal work in their 26 years and if Disquiet is anything to go by, they show no signs of stopping.
4. Skindred – ‘Volume’
BOOM! Just over a year after they released ‘Kill The Power’, Skindred are back with what might be the album of their career. The sound is absolutely huge! Monster guitars, play Godzilla sized riffs while frontman Benji continues to be one of the most underrated vocalists in rock.
Opening salvo Under Attack explodes from the speakers with a riff guaranteed to have you bouncing off the walls. Title track Volume is straight up one of the best tunes they’ve ever penned, The Healing has an absolutely monster riff hanging off of it, and closer 3 Words is actually pretty damn gorgeous and heartfelt.
Then there’s Mr. Benji Webbe. Fusing searing metal, soulful reggae and fearsome ragga styles into one glorious whole, he is one of the most unique and gifted vocal talents around, and on top of that, one of the most magnetic frontmen to grace a stage.
Get this album, go see them live, and give ‘em a Newport Helicopter from me (you’ll know).
3. Clutch – ‘Psychic Warfare’
Regular readers will know that I was a big fan of 2013’s ‘Earth Rocker’, but ‘Psychic Warfare’, for my money, outshines it. Taking the pure rock fury (see what I did there?) of the previous album but adding some more colour and variation, this is possibly the closest in sound they’ve come to their magnum opus Blast Tyrant. If you aren’t already in a full sprint to the record store after reading that sentence then I’m just going to assume you already own a copy.
Opener (intro track aside) X-Ray Visions gives you everything you want from a Clutch song, driving guitars, grooving drums, and Fallon’s fascinatingly off-kilter lyrics, it gives Earth Rocker a run for its money in terms of sheer, balls out drive (plus how many times have you heard a singer introduce his band by their star signs?). Firebirds contains some of the best lyrics Fallon has ever written and Quick Death In Texas is one of their best songs period. And we’re only at track 4!
Other highlights include the funktastic Your Love Is Incarceration, the dirty lounge blues of Our Lady Of Electric Light, and closer Son Of Virginia which, to my ears at least, sounds like the boys channeling ‘Murder Ballads’ era Nick Cave (imagine a Fallon / Cave collaboration. Go on, imagine it?).
Psychic Warfare is the boys on top form. And to be honest, it’s almost pointless even writing about it because if you were going to buy it, you probably have already, right?
These last two albums got swapped between the number 1 and 2 slot so many times that I just decided to make them both joint number 1. They’re impossible to compare and each brilliant in their own way.
-/1. Chelsea Wolfe – ‘Abyss’
I’ve been dreading writing about this one. I mean, how do you sum up an album like Abyss in a few pithy paragraphs? What words do you use? Beautiful, harrowing, hypnotic, devastating? It is an album that defies words. It is an album to be experienced, to be felt, not thought about.
I didn’t get it at first. I mean I liked it sure, it was heavy as shit, with Ms. Wolfe’s signature wail on top of it all. But I didn’t ‘get it’. Then I listened to it on headphones and my mind exploded. This isn’t an album for the car, or to put on in the background. It deserves to be listened to in a dark room through good quality speakers, without any other distractions. That when you finally realise what a densely layered beast Abyss truly is. Among the wall of doom guitars float delicate vocal loops. Ethereal strings and broken pianos play among the carnage.
You may have guessed by now that this is not a happy album. In fact it is one of the darkest albums I have ever heard. But it is also so beautiful it nearly makes me cry. I can’t even bring myself to highlight individual tracks as it needs to be experienced as a whole. Once I start listening I cannot turn it off.
Abyss is not for everyone, but if you think you can handle it then you owe it to yourself to check out this truly stunning piece of work. Thank you Chelsea, don’t go getting happy on us any time soon.
-/1. Sleater Kinney – ‘No Cities To Love’
Comeback albums have always been greeted with some trepidation. Often very large rose tinted glasses are required to convince yourself that the magic you heard in your youth is still evident. And yet, for the second year in a row, our number one slot has been taken one.
It has been ten long years since SK’s excellent swansong The Woods. Time which has seen the ladies embark on numerous other musical projects and even a successful TV sketch show (the excellent Portlandia). But now it’s like they never left.
Everything that makes Sleater Kinney such a great band is here in spades. The jittery guitar riffs, the vocal interplay between Tucker and Brownstein, and Janet Weiss’ propulsive drumming, all wrapped up with their trademark socio-political lyrics.
This isn’t a left turn for the band, there is nothing on here that will shock or surprise old school fans, it is simply what Sleater Kinney do best, done really fucking well. Unlike Ms. Wolfe’s album, I can’t claim No Cities… will change your life, or redefine what you think of modern rock music, and that right there is the biggest compliment I can give. It earns its number one slot on the sheer strength of ten incredible rock songs. This is not just a great SK album, it’s possibly the best thing they’ve ever done. Ten sublime slices of catchy, beautiful, furious alternative rock that never put a note wrong.
Over their 20 year career, Corin Tucker has gone from someone who basically wails in fifths to an absolutely formidable vocalist, and her talents really shine through here. From the staccato rage of ‘Price Tag’ to the soaring anguish of closer ‘Fade’ she is nothing less than superb.
No Cities To Love came in early (it was released at the end of January) and has fearlessly batted away all competition for the next eleven months. It is simply a fantastic album that you will want to play again the second it stops. More please ladies!
Honorable Mentions: Faith No More – ‘Sol Invictus’, Eagles Of Death Metal – ‘Zipper Down’, Foo Fighters – ‘St Cecilia’, The Dead Weather – ‘Dodge & Burn’, The Front Bottoms – ‘Back On Top’, We Hunt Buffalo – ‘Living Ghosts’.