Friday, December 18, 2015

Favorite Albums of 2015

1. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love
My professional career is based on the assertion that not only can we write about things normally considered to exist outside the logic of words (the body, dance), but that we must. So it's hard for me to admit that I just can't talk about what Sleater-Kinney mean to me. The way the kids in this video look like they feel as they dance along to animated versions of Carrie, Corin, and Janet begins to touch the surface of my feelings for this band. I just couldn't be happier that they are back.

2. José González - Vestiges & Claws
There's something about José González's sound--the timbre of his voice? the keys he favors?--with which I deeply resonate. I listened to this album over and over again when it first came out as I was spending a rainy week in Portland. The atmosphere of his songs and the climate seemed a perfect match, and the album transports me still.

3. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
I have to admit that I wasn't blown away by Alabama Shakes' first album, Boys & Girls. I thought it was a solid offering, and that Brittany Howard's voice was strong, but it just didn't stand out to me musically. Their second album, however, really struck me as a band coming into its own and claiming their unique sound. I particularly love the way Howard morphs her voice from one song to another and even within a song.

And speaking of Brittany Howard, the release of Thunderbitch - Thunderbitch came as a surprise to everyone. Total unapologetic summer fun.

4. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
In dance there's the idea that repeating something prosaic over and over and over again can imbue the movement with a profundity it might not otherwise have. I find the same quality in Courtney Barnett's songs. One minute you're listening to her singing about a mundane moment in her day, or a thought you yourself have had, and then suddenly you're caught off guard by the deep insight of her observational style.

5. Buffy Sainte-Marie - Power in the Blood
When I was young, Buffy Sainte-Marie's Fire and Fleet and Candlelight was on regular rotation when I had control of the record player (which in retrospect seems like all the time). I admit I hadn't followed her over the years, but when I heard this album I was drawn back in to the power of her voice and her message, which far from fading over the years have only gathered strength.

6. Rhiannon Giddens - Tomorrow is My Turn
That voice! I have to admit I'd never heard Rhiannon Giddens or Carolina Chocolate Drops until I watched that documentary, Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis. I was captivated by her, and this, her debut solo album.

7. Childbirth - Women's Rights
Anytime you combine feminism and snark, I'm there. Add in dance-able tunes and laugh-out-loud lyrics and it's irresistible.

Childbirth is actually a "supergroup" of Seattle alt-rocking women, including Chastity Belt's Julia Shapiro.  Chastity Belt also had a noteworthy 2015 album, Time to Go Home. I will never forget seeing the band in the basement of J&J's Pizza at 35 Denton, and alternating between enjoying the music and worrying that we were all going to be crushed when that low, low ceiling fell in.

The next three bands make me feel like I'm back in the early 90s before the Lilith Fair-ization of music made by women, when the songs and sound could still be fierce and complex and fun.
8. Speedy Ortiz - Foil Deer
I caught Speedy Ortiz at Solid Sound this summer. Bonus: Speedy Ortiz are from Western Mass and "Puffer" references Puffer's Pond, one of my favorite Massachusetts swimming holes.

9. Palehound - Dry Food
I admit I don't know much about Boston-based Palehound, just that I kept being drawn to their sound, which at once seems familiar and surprising. (And ok, the album title makes me think of cats.)

10. Bully - Feels Like
I like the combination of strength and vulnerabilty in Bully's sound and lyrics. Triva: Singer Alicia Bognanno once interned for Steve Albini.

Bonus: Eagles of Death Metal - Zipper Down
I don't want to like this album. It's just so catchy! And I know how bad it looks coming after all the amazing powerful women I've talked above above. Maybe that's what they mean by "Complexity"?

*I have to give credit where credit is due. I learn about a lot of new music, especially all the amazing young women on this list, from NPR's Katie Presley

Favorite Songs of 2015

I spend most of my new music listening time focused on albums. I don't do much radio listening any more, so I'm less likely to encounter songs as singles. But occasionally a song or two breaks its way into my consciousness, standing on its own as a lyrical or melodic statement, leaving a visceral experience in its wake.

This year three very different songs worked their way into my ears and life.

Janelle Monae and Wondaland - "Hell You Talmbout"
This sonic litany of African Americans murdered by police in the United States is at once a powerful expression of rage, an urgent call to action, and an insistence upon remembering each individual life.

Rhett Miller - Most in the Summertime
I actually heard this song on the radio driving around on a summer day (though I probably didn't have the windows rolled down - Texas summers are just too hot!). This song perfectly evokes the feeling of skin warmed from the summer sun and new love.

Shovels & Rope - Patience
Let me just start by establishing two things: 1) I love a cover song that makes you discover something new about the original and 2) I never liked GnR's "Patience. Or to be more specific, I never gave it much thought. To have hated it, I would have had to actually listen to it. I find this cover by Shovels & Rope delightful precisely because it made me stop and listen.

List of my favorite albums of 2015 coming soon!


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