The Second Disc is continuing its celebration of 2015’s finest with today’s column by Ted Frank! Stop, do not pass GO and do not collect 200 dollars if you haven’t already read our Sixth Annual Gold Bonus Disc Awards summation of the year’s greatest releases. Here, Ted presents his very own, alternative year in review with titles new and old!
I make records … I really don’t want to be about singles or anything. -Adele, The Tonight Show
In recent years, the download/stream-heavy music business has seemingly become an industry of the sure-fire hit single rather than the conceptual album. Moreover, it’s become increasingly more difficult for an artist to sell an album in its entirety since today’s empowered consumer can simply lay proprietary claim on/pick and choose a favorite song(s) to own rather than, as in yesteryear, be subjected to own outright an entire album for a mere favorite single or two. Then along came this year, 2015, a year in which a talent like Ryan Adams unconventionally covered a mere-year old Taylor Swift album in its entirety, and singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles released an album of self-penned showtunes in anticipation of her musical Waitress‘ initial Broadway run, and then Irish pop celebrants Pugwash released a new pop record that felt like a familiar classic – these artists proved that there is still plenty to be explored in terms of album artistry. Finally, let’s not forget that pop chanteuse, Adele shattered album sales records with the fastest-selling record since such sales records began being tracked back in 1991. Looking back, 2015 marked an exceptional year for the album. Below are some of the albums from this past year that simply resonated most with me. I hope some of them may do the same for you.
Favorite Box Sets & Reissues of 2015 (in no particular order):
Various Artists, Ork Records: New York, New York (Numero Group) – Thankfully the stellar, Second City-based Numero Group just might have recovered the best thing to happen to the NYC rock scene since…the Strokes or the now defunct Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex (RIP).
Bob Dylan, The Best Of The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Volume 12 (Columbia/Legacy)- What else can be said other than this is The Bard examined/celebrated at his garage rock, “mercurial” peak!
Various Artists, Back To The River: More Southern Soul Stories 1961-1978 (Ace) – This is a massive sequel of finely curated and deeply realized southern soul music. All the greats are here; it will rivet your soul!
The dB’s & Friends, Christmas Time Again! (Omnivore) – Omnivore Recordings reinvented this classic power-pop Christmas album originally conceived as a 1986 EP. Just listen to Skylar Gudasz’s deeply reflective “The Sounds of Christmas” from this latest incarnation to see what this heartfelt album is all about.
The Persuasions, We Came to Play (Fever Dream) – Today many celebrate a cappella in Pitch Perfect form; here is a key to a time (the early 1970s) when it was regarded a lost art.
Son Volt, Trace (Warner Bros./Rhino) – After the breakup of his former band, Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar delivered this debut masterpiece. This expanded version also captures Son Volt live during this pinnacle time.
Epic Soundtracks, Rise Above (Troubadour) – Imagine a combination of Todd Rundgren and Elliot Smith and it would sound something like Tobias Jesso Jr. or this Swell Maps’ frontman, Epic Soundtracks. This is an exquisite singer-songwriter collection that is from 1992 via 1970s AM Radio.
Kenny Knight, Crossroads (Paradise of Bachelors) – This is a true diamond found in the deep country-rock rough. Just put this album on and hitch its ride!
King Curtis, The Complete Atco Singles (Real Gone Music) – This versatile saxophone great and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Sideman Inductee of the Class of 2000 receives a long overdue 66-track anthology from the Real Gone label. Curtis’ A and B-side output, as well as Randy Poe’s liner notes here, are simply spellbinding.
Harmonia, Complete Works (Groenland) – Experience not only some of the most beautifully crafted Krautrock, but some of the most exquisitely composed music in general in this complete collection.
The Telescopes, Splashdown: Complete Creation Recordings 1990-92 (Cherry Red) – This cohesive and ‘Celestial’ shoe gaze collection captures this “wall of sound” era at its zenith.
The Go-Betweens, G Stands for Go-Betweens, Vol. 1 (Domino) – This set captures the formative years (the first three studio albums, singles, and rarities) from the quintessential cult band of the 1980s. Now is an important time to revisit this influential Aussie band as the “Down Under Invasion” grows with the likes of Courtney Barnett, Dick Diver, and Royal Headache!
2015 Box Sets & Reissues for the Completist (a.k.a. Best of the Rest – in no particular order):
Other Favorite Treasures:
The City, Now That Everything’s Been Said (Light in the Attic)
Wilson Pickett, Mr. Magic Man The Complete RCA Studio Recordings (Second Disc/Real Gone)
Ricci Martin, Beached (Second Disc/Real Gone)
Elyse Weinberg, Greasepaint Smile (Numero Group)
Ann Peebles, Straight From The Heart (Fat Possum)
Alex Chilton, Live at the Ocean Club ’77 (Norton)
Game Theory, Real Nighttime (Omnivore)
Roy Orbison, One of the Lonely Ones (Roy’s Boys/UMe)
Link Wray, Link Wray’s 3-Track Shack (Ace)
Fleetwood Mac, Tusk (Warner Bros./Rhino)
Bruce Springsteen, The Ties That Bind: The River Collection (Columbia)
Them, The Complete Them: 1964-1967 (Legacy)
Otis Redding, Soul Manifesto: 1964-1970 (Atco/Rhino)
A Tribe Called Quest, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (Legacy)
The Dream Syndicate, The Days of Wine and Roses (Omnivore)
Wes Montgomery, In the Beginning: Early Recordings from 1949-1958 (Resonance)
Spoon, Gimme Fiction (Merge)
Deeper Favorite Treasures:
Raging Fire, Everything Is Roses (Raging Fire)
The Textones, Midnight Mission (Omnivore)
Rose McDowall, Cut with the Cake Knife (Sacred Bones)
Beach Bullies, We Rule the Universe (Omnian)
Ron Nagle, Bad Rice (Omnivore)
Art Pepper, Neon Art Volumes 1-3 (Omnivore)
In Camera, Era (4AD)
Sneaky Feelings, Send You (Captured Tracks)
Sneakers, Sneakers (Omnivore)
Beat Happening, Look Around (Domino)
DM3, West of Anywhere (Alive)
Royal Jesters, English Oldies (Numero Group)
Amanaz, Africa (Now Again)
Favorite New Releases of 2015
2015 Albums with Vocals:
Wilco, Star Wars (Anti/Epitaph) – Jeff Tweedy and company suddenly dropped this, their best album in a decade, online the day before they took to the Pitchfork stage. Aptly titled, this fusion of glam rock and jazz (tip of the hat to jazz guitarist Nels Cline) is an AWAKENED FORCE!
Royal Headache, High (What’s Your Rupture) – This Aussie band creates one of the most earnest sounds of the year. With lead singer, Shogun’s vocals carrying that fierce and weathered delivery of Otis Redding and the blustery confidence of Shane MacGowan, this Garage Punk outfit is Pure DYNAMITE!!!
Runner Up 2015 Albums with Vocals:
Richard Hawley, Hollow Meadows (PLG UK) & CHVRCHES, Every Open Eye (Glassnote) – These two important artists continue to work with a steady stride and present beautifully textured albums: one that re-opens the gates to the melancholic ruminations of singer-songwriting & the other dazzles with synth pop soundscapes! A perfect yin & yang combo!
Instrumental Recordings of 2015:
Max Richter, From Sleep (Deutsche Grammophon) – Originally recorded as an 8-hour meditation/accompaniment for sleep, Richter has since crafted this recording to a precise hour of the most sublime music of the year.
Yo-Yo Ma & Kathryn Stott, Songs from the Arc of Life (Sony Classical) – In a master class of a recording, Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott prove that in their symbiotic playing they capture the cycle of life.
Runner Up Instrumental Recordings of 2015:
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical [Original Broadway Cast Recording] (Atlantic) – Hamilton rightfully deserves every bit of the praise it has garnered. Having seen it both at the Public Theater and later on Broadway, this outstanding show even improves with time. In fact, Hamilton is more than a show; it is a testament to the creative capabilities of the human mind. With Hamilton, composer-lyricist, Lin-Manuel Miranda sets a new high bar that is nearly unreachable! Imagine a happy medium somewhere between the score of Les Miserables and recordings of The Beastie Boys and that’s merely the beginning! This is necessary music and a vital cultural statement!
Craig Ferguson, Just Being Honest (Epix) – On his 2011 recording Does This Need to Be Said, comedian and then-host of CBS’ The Late Late Show, Craig Ferguson quipped of the shortcomings of TV censorship when it comes to comedy. Here on this Grammy-nominated recording, Craig is totally unleashed with the intent to offend just about every and anyone in the funniest hour-plus of material in 2015. It WILL bring you to tears in the best possible way especially as Craig recounts meeting rock legend Mick Jagger and “his little hands” for the first time!
Runner Up Show Recordings of 2015:
Britta Phillips/Dean Wareham, Mistress America [Original Motion Soundtrack] (Milan) & Sara Bareilles, What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress (Epic) – Both of these recordings are filled with pathos and the kind of music to score a screwball comedy. These two recordings are the best kind of tender traps!
Darlene Love, Introducing Darlene Love (Wicked Cool/Columbia) – The 2013 film 20 Feet From Stardom made a legitimate case to spotlight Ms. Love as the overlooked queen of soul-pop. It was in 2015 that producer Little Steven Van Zandt (of The E Street Band & The Underground Garage fame) delivered one of the most delayed, yet anticipated “debut” albums in pop music history. Though Love had sporadically recorded solo albums in the past, this new introduction was WORTH the wait!!!
Jamie xx, In Colour (Young Turks) – Jamie Smith of the band, The xx put together his eclectic, yet cohesive electronic studio debut. It’s a masterpiece that will take you back to the early days of Aphex Twin while also ushering you into a very promising future of genre-shattering music!
Runner Up Conceptual Albums of 2015:
Kamasi Washington, The Epic (Brainfeeder) – A three-disc debut is truly EPIC (pun intended). Furthermore, burgeoning rap-maestro Kendrick Lamar found his Clarence Clemons in Kamasi Washington and together they created a genre-defying masterpiece and one of the boldest statements in 2015 with To Pimp a Butterfly. 2015 certainly put Washington on the map (pun unintended J)!
Bob Dylan, Shadows In The Night (Columbia) – Bob Dylan closed out 2014 with a historic ‘show’ at NYC’s Beacon Theatre. His subtle and nuanced performance indicated another direction in Mr. Dylan’s ever-evolving canon as is evidenced in his first recording of non-original, American Songbook Standards.
Overall Best & Most Timely New Album of 2015:
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical [Original Broadway Cast Recording] (Atlantic) – See above for the numerous reasons as to why this document of this living masterpiece is beyond essential; it’s necessary today for all the right reasons!
Other Artists with Significant 2015 Contributions (in no particular order):
Waxahatchee, Dave Rawlings Machine, Panda Bear, Julia Holter, Destroyer, The Winery Dogs, Dick Diver, The Cairo Gang, Gun Outfit, Robert Forster, Richard Thompson, Yo La Tengo, Jason Isbell, Ezra Furman, Eztv, Swervedriver, Grimes, Pugwash, Courtney Barnett, Sufjan Stevens, Father John Misty, D’Angelo, John Eliot Gardiner & Kendrick Lamar!