Wednesday, January 13, 2016

AM's Best of '15

My mind is clouded by the death of David Bowie, more so than I would have even expected; there's a haze on 2015. I haven't felt this dismayed since George Harrison died in 2001, yet I'm proud of AM for being loyal to Bowie through the years and for having had the foresight to recognize the content of his work throughout a monumental 50 year career. Nonetheless, it's 2016 and 2015, if not a stellar year, gave us much to be thankful for, Bowie's "★" single included. 2015's best:

AM's [controversial] choice for Album of the Year: Modest Mouse, Strangers to OurselvesThe first listen I said, "What the hell is this?" Then on a road trip with my son, "There's something about this album." The next morning, I awoke and couldn't wait to get back on the road. I felt I needed to listen to it. Some of the songs have that salty-wet sound of old (it's been 8 years since We Were Dead), but Strangers explores a plethora of new wilderness, if in a familiar way. Call it controversial in that many, hardcore fans included, get little from this LP; it's one you love or hate with identical passions. Pitchfork stated, "There are no new directions or tweaks to their approach. 'Lampshades on Fire,' the first single, is a good example. It offers a sort of greatest-hits version of all the sounds Modest Mouse have become known for—Here's the hard-swinging backbeat! Here are a few of those eerie-sounding harmonic guitar bends, and here are some tight, clipped 'bah bah bahs!'" Still, there's satisfaction to be had, hearing this band of pros finding and hitting their marks so emphatically, honing their skills, and that is the key to its success. Nearly a year later Strangers remains great car music; a 21st Century "L.A. Woman."  

Runners Up: 21 Pilots, Blurryface: Beats sick as frick; a more pronounced bass that provides a punch vacant even from Vessel. I don't know that I like this album more than Strangers to Ourselves, but I'll admit to listening to it a lot. "Ride," is AM's choice for single of the year, beating out even Bowie's epic "★." Death Cab for Cutie, Kintsugi: Gone are the synthesized stylings of Codes and Keys, or the accessible experimentation of Narrow Stairs, making Kintsugi a mature mix of Transatlanticism and Plans, with their early years vibe whispered at here and there. A bit surprised that hardcore DCfC fans don't embrace Kintsugi more. A Walla-less Death Cab has indeed something missing, but Kintsugi is classic Gibbard.

What? No Adele, you ask? Nope. Like her plenty, but Adele is AM's choice for most overrated of the 21st Century; Adele is the Michael Jackson of our era, without, of course, the child endangerment.

Others worthy of mention: the highly disappointing Drones (Muse) (weren't you expecting the greatest LP of all time?); M3LL115X by FKA Twigs; Belle and Sebastian's Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance; Tame Impala's Currents; What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World by the Decemberists; and Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly (this certainly isn't AM friendly, but to find real musicianship and a positive, contemporary note in rap is refreshing and promising).

Singles of Note: Annabel's "Having it All," Lana del Rey's "High on the Beach," Beck's "Dreams," Andrew McMahon's "High Dive," Chvrches' "Leave a Trace," and Elle King's "Ex's and Oh's."

2015 was a year in which I found myself listening to 2014's music more than what was current. From Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness to Copeland to Empire of the Sun, 2014 had it all over the past year, but on to 2016. We already got ★, and now we anticipate new Radiohead, Vampire Weekend, NIN, Tool, Beck. Cheers to a better year.

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