My Top 10 Albums Of 2015
by Rufus Onfire
And so here were are again. The month of indulgence is upon us, the season of giving about to get into full swing and the year 2015 is nearing towards a close in the ledger of time.
On the music landscape it was as you were in 2014 with digital sales hanging in there, vinyl still on the up in new and reissue form while the newbie cloud/streaming saw more players enter and even more people get into this new method of music delivery.
The little Aussie bleeder (aka the dollar) did just enough to allow artists big and small old and new to venture down to these parts for some live shows, while the festival market remained good for the heavy hitters while those on the fringe struggled or called it day due to lack of punters.
The great gig in the sky expanded its Houseband again a little too much in 2015 as we said adios to many a good muso and people from the bizz while the end of an era is just around the corner in the harbour city with the house that Nifty built aka the Sydney Entertainment Centre set to host its last gig this month before being demolished to make way for more apartments, only in Sydney some might say!
Working our way through 60 albums to get a final cut for 2015 was once again an enjoyable task, listening for the good stuff, little gems we missed the first time around or simply needing a pick me up in the ears to get to the business end of things which is the Top 10 Albums Of 2015.
And here they are, rolled out as tradition dictates in Playlist order if this were to be a CD, album or whatever delivery method your mind and ears prefer.
My Morning Jacket “The Waterfall” (#8 in Top 10)
7 albums in and the lads from Louisville Kentucky deliver a masterclass in alt country Americana.
Jim James and band build on the critical and commercial success they have racked up over the past decade here in style, and take it a step further sound wise too with some psychedelia and indie pop thrown in for good measure.
Sessions went so well here recording wise there’s already enough tracks in the can for an album in 2016, something that given the many meats of the band’s cultural stew of sounds should result in further goodness being added to the pot.
Selected Track: Compound Fracture
Little May “For The Company” (#9)
From busking to playing covers in pubs all while sneaking their own songs into the mix for good measure, for the Sydney female trio Little May it’s certainly been a wild ride of late.
Decamping to New York to work with producer Aaron Dessner from The National, the indie folk sounds shine, the vocal harmonies glisten and the songs roll off the tape superbly as Annie Hamilton, Liz Drummond and Hannah Field deliver a fine debut long player here.
Comparisons to the likes of First Aid Kit and Haim abound, but it’s easy to see why the buzz is strong with the band and the sold out shingle starting to go up at more live gigs as a result. 2016 may see them spend a chunk of time in other parts of the globe supporting its release, but at home this is worthy of a wider audience.
Selected Track: Sold
Ruf Rating: 4/5
Tame Impala “Currents” (#2)
3 albums in and the enriching musical evolution of Tame Impala continues.
Only this time the main man of the Perth combo Kevin Parker has gone it alone, playing, twiddling, mixing and laying down each note on the album.
The old sounds we love now have some electronica thrown in for good measure showcasing an artist not content to stand still even if being meticulous at the same time in creating new tunes. Starting off with 7 minutes plus of Let It Happen which appeared out of nowhere come July the album proper dropped and grabbed fans in an instant while also being a tasty morsel for outsiders and occasional listeners of the band as well.
And on the home front the band’s audience has started to mirror that of overseas punters who got on board early and still savour many a fine offering of sound, none more so than this album which is oh close to being top dog for us, and only missed out by a speck.
Selected Track: The Moment
Ron Sexsmith “Carousel One” (#4)
The troubadour from Ontario is back. 14 albums in and Ron Sexsmith may have made his name as the master of the melancholy on record, but here with a new label and new producer on board plus some top notch musos as well it seems an air of good vibes and positivity has taken over.
Mellow sounds and country twang mixed in with the classic Sexsmith song DNA of acoustic rhythms sprinkled with keys and electric guitars are across a whopping 16 songs on this album, which despite going against the grain of most modern day releases track wise doesn’t really have any filler on it and has something for everyone old and new to his work.
At its best like when we first heard it in April this is a great weekend listening album, something to whack on when downtime and relaxing sounds are needed and shows that even a quarter century in on record a man and his guitar from Canada still has a lot to offer.
Selected Track: Can’t Get My Act Together
Bop English “Constant Bop” (#3)
One does love a good side project, especially when it all comes together to great effect.
In the case of White Denim front man James Petralli, the Texan’s day job has been renowned for taking a slice from as many musical styles as that band can fit into a record.
And in solo mode not only has the now standard fare of adopting a different moniker been taken, but with a few of his band mates in tow on this record as well the end result is something which doesn’t sit still sound wise and takes you on different tangents as the songs roll out.
Quirky beats, looped sounds and acoustic and electric guitars underpinned by a solid rhythm has your ears humming and waiting in anticipation for what is coming up next. To some it may be called self-indulgent and an artist being handed the keys to the cookie jar, but in the case of Bop English it’s an eclectic triumph that has you reaching for the jar wanting some of what he’s just devoured.
Selected Track: Struck Matches
Holy Holy “When The Storms Would Come” (#1)
There’s something to be said about great Australian music when you hear it unleashed.
Brisvegas’ Timothy Carroll and Melbourne’s Oscar Dawson’s paths initially crossed in Indonesia where they were volunteering as English teachers. Fast forward to 2011 and now in Europe they met up again, this time in Sweden where Carroll is doing the singer-songwriter thing and Dawson heads over from Berlin where his then band Dukes Of Windsor have decamped.
They work on some songs which become demos and then back home take it to the next level and issue a single which gets picked up by Triple J. The buzz starts about these guys whose sound influences everyone from Neil Young to Springsteen, Pink Floyd to Texan folkies Midlake and talk turns to an album proper.
The duo settle on a full band set up to lay it down old school style on analogue under the guidance of producer Matt Redlich, a dude who is much happier behind a mixing desk or synthesizer than in public.
July 2015 arrives and the album When The Storms Would Come is released. Opening with 2 breezy salvos leading into indie bliss, things go up a gear before the album settles into drive just before entering the highway of sound and before you know it the foot is down and the rock is cranked to stunning effect.
The segueway of leaving the album’s highpoint and returning to the lush soundscapes on offer earlier shouldn’t work, but here it just does as the bands tight sound is the conduit to keep things flowing.
You get a tinge of psychedelic art rock slotted in finely too, and a slow building long track that showcases a band totally in control of their style and sound before a mellow closer sees it seem over fleetingly after it began.
And all of this without even talking about the stunning vocals both front and centre and harmony wise, perfectly overlaying the musical journey on offer.
A damn fine debut album offered up and one which no doubt in 2016 will see the band spending time criss crossing the globe spreading the good gospel that is Holy Holy, so why not join the gang and let your ears see what all the fuss is about, they will thank you for it trust me.
Selected Track: You Cannot Call For Love Like A Dog (Song Of The Year)
Rating: 5/5 (Album Of The Year)
Foals “What Went Down” (#5)
Heading in a new direction sound wise after cracking the mainstream can be fraught with danger.
Oxford indie popster’s Foals joined the big league in 2013 with their Holy Fire offering, but this time around were keen to test the boundaries rather than simply offer up more of the same.
A new producer was also brought in to help bring frontman’s Yannis Philippakis’ vision to life, and knob twiddler James Ford’s CV which includes some band called Arctic Monkeys gave the impression a heavier sound may show on the new album.
We get a bit of that but at the same time what got them to this point isn’t totally discarded either, rock rhythm and riffs combining with the indie goodness these guys do so well and in a live setting take the punters along for a great ride.
Something for everyone here and enough new nuggets that should see the band continue to maintain a steady set in the musical main game for a while just yet.
Selected Track: Albatross
City And Colour “If I Should Go Before You” (#10)
It’s been a pretty solid past few years for the Canadian artist Dallas Green.
The dude began his musical life in post hard-core form Alexisonfire (no relation eh heh!) before going solo, getting all descriptive with his performing name and stripping things back sound wise, the albums flowed and the fan base built including a lot of trips down under as well.
Chuck in a collaboration with Pink last year under the title You+Me and come this release after all of these events the expectation was there this guy may take it to the next level on record, even being as daring to start things off with a 9 minute plus taster!
There’s plenty of styles and sounds here which usually comes with the territory of a singer-songwriter but you just get the feeling the past few years of continued success and wider exposure outside of his homeland and disciple followers has seen the confidence ooze and bar raised higher which sees a fine album result for many more to enjoy and feeling they need a little more City And Colour in their musical collection as well.
Selected Track: Wasted Love
Tim Rogers & The Bamboos “The Rules Of Attraction” (#7)
From a single song springs a collaborative collective.
2012 saw Melbourne funk and soul warriors The Bamboos invite some guest vocalists into the mix for their studio album Medicine Man, one of which was the You Am I front man Tim Rogers on the track I Got Burned.
An enjoyable experience was had, Rogers j0ined the band on stage live wise when commitments allowed and returned the favour by having some of them on his short lived TV show Studio At The Memo, all the while having in the back of their minds another stint in the studio was calling.
Schedules clear and 12 songs co-written by Rogers and Chief Bamboo Lance Ferguson were laid down and unveiled in May this year. The classic Bamboos sound still prevails and the addition of Rogers on more than one track this time around sees a solid release and one which also went down well when played live earlier this year as well.
Music that’s good for the ears and for the mind and soul plus gets the head nodding and the feet tapping, now where’s the harm in any of that.
Selected Track: Now And Then
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds “Chasing Yesterday” (#6)
Things are usually different the second time in solo mode land.
And in the case of The Chief Noel Gallagher he was ready to roll again in the studio after the steady beginnings of all things “HFB” in 2011.
Opting to self-produce and record in London this time rather than his recent preferred hang of LA due to regular producer Dave Sardy not being available, while it was great to be close to home work wise Gallagher remarked that also being in the area you go out and socialise in at the same time probably wasn’t the smartest thing.
Thankfully though the songs that make up this new album haven’t suffered in the process, Gallagher’s craft for banging out a good tune remains, whether it be the slow burner, the fuzzy guitar groove, elements of disco and jazz via the appearance of a sax on record here for a change and some of the familiar we all know, there’s enough on offer to fill out another solid release on record from The Chief.
Selected Track: Lock All The Doors (2 decade old demo re-badged and superbly reworked)
Close, But Not Close Enough (11 to 15)
The Juliana Hatfield Three “Whatever, My Love”
(4/5, Track – If I Could)
22 years between albums, seems like they were never away. A nice slice of indie rock bliss.
The Paper Kites “Twelvefour”
(4/5, Track – Revelator Eyes)
Melbourne band show some promise on their 2013 debut. Second time around here they deliver on this and create the footprint for a wider audience to enjoy their sounds.
Dawes “All Your Favourite Bands”
(4/5, Track – Right On Time)
The current keepers of the Laurel Canyon sound, the LA folk rockers 4th album and best to date.
Josh Pyke “But For All These Shrinking Hearts”
(4/5, Track – Momentary Glow)
New beginnings label wise, and best release for the Balmain boy since his 2007 debut is the pleasing end result.
Belle And Sebastian “Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance”
(4/5, Track – Allie)
One of the first releases in 2015, which had enough good stuff in the tank to allow the Glasgow indie popster’s 9th album to still be in the mix come the business end of proceedings.
In an era where easing your way in album wise and long careers on record have been replaced by immediate success or perish, mining the past via reissues/compilations still provides an outlet to introduce the next generation to or update someone’s own library with a choice stocking filler;
The Go-Betweens “G Stands For Go-Betweens – Volume 1”
Covering the early days of this Brisvegas institution from 1978 to 1984. Their first 3 albums plus some collectable singles and a stack of rarities, demos and some live work from 1982. And best of all it’s on vinyl. See they really are more than just the name of that bridge in their hometown you youngsters out there.
Selected Track: Cattle And Cane (still sounds fresh more than 3 decades after its release)
Lloyd Cole & The Commotions “Collected Works 1983-1989”
Slowly but surely the artists of yore are seeing their back catalogues remastered and refreshed sound wise for your listening pleasure. 2015 included these Glasgow purveyors of pop’s 3 studio albums getting the long overdue treatment and don’t they sound oh so good.
Selected Track: Perfect Skin
Echo & The Bunnymen “Do It Clean : Anthology 1979-1987”
2 decades into their second coming, but it’s the initial run that most still fondly hark back to from these Merseyside new wave post punk rockers. Sure it’s an update on a previous compilation but it still sounds great.
Selected Track: Do It Clean
The Jam “About The Young Idea : The Very Best Of The Jam”
Another year, another Weller like compilation. Yeah it’s been done before but not on the scale here from go to whoa album wise of is original combo, all here in their superb sounding revelry. Mod up!
Selected Track: In The City
Various Artists “Blaxploitation – Six Classic Funk Soundtracks”
Taken from the heyday of this genre’s film making in the 1970’s, the likes of Marvin Gaye, Roy Ayers, James Brown and Booker T & The MG’s offered up their services to a timepiece of sound that continues to influence the current artists of today. And who doesn’t like to get down eh!
Selected Track: Theme From Shaft / Isaac Hayes (who wouldn’t pass up the chance for a classic to close out the playlist)
So, there we go all said and done for another year. As always I hope you get as much satisfaction working and listening through these as I did putting it together.
Compliments of the season to each and every one of you, and as always may all your music be mighty.