The Also Rans – 2015

I’m somewhat known for my “Top Ten Records” lists that I write every year.  I’ve got one waiting for this year, but I bought so much stuff that if I covered everything in one post, it would be intolerably long.  So I’m going to break it up into two posts.  (I think I did this last year, too.  But I’m not checking.  Do your own research!)  This post represents the “also rans.”  The stuff that I bought but that didn’t make the top ten.  (Spoiler alert — It will actually be the Top FIFTEEN!)  Some of the stuff here is great.  Some of it sucks.  Let’s get into it…  Here’s the spread…

Also Rans.png

Ready?  Okay.  In no particular order, other than left to right from the top down:

  • My Morning Jacket: The Waterfall
    I’m on record as not having liked the band’s previous record “Circuital.” This record is proof of why you shouldn’t give up on a band when they release a record you didn’t like.  (There’s a lot of that in the “also rans” this year.)  This was a strong return and I genuinely enjoy listening to  it every time I put it on.  That “The Waterfall” didn’t make the top 10 or even top 15 is evidence of how great a year this was for new music.  It’s kind of shocking that it’s on this list and not the one coming later.
  • Slayer: Repentless
    I like it.  But not enough.  After the death of Hanneman, there was a lot to live up to and a lot to prove.  For the most part, it sounds like Slayer and I’m happy with it.  However, there are some drumming missteps that I can’t overlook.  One song sounds like it’s just plain off beat and while I’m not a Dave Lombardo purist, maybe they should’ve done what they could to extend him an olive branch.  The tracks as they are seem like they’re both trying to live up to Dave and also be willfully not referential to him.  That’s right…following the death of Jeff Hanneman, I’m more distracted by the absence of Dave Lombardo.  Weird.
  • Prince: Hit N Run – Phase One
    It’s Prince and it’s fine…but I’ve barely had time to absorb Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum…and “Phase Two” came out THIS month in another “surprise” release, and I’m not going to even go near it until the new year.  I love Prince and it seems like every time he puts out a new record, he ups his game…but as much as I hate to say it, this would’ve benefitted from about a year’s wait.  The music is stellar, but I don’t have the time to develop relationships with his songs before having to hear new ones.  Not necessarily a BAD problem to have…but it does keep this one out of the top 15.
  • Brent Best: Your Dog Champ
    Brent Best is a recurring influence on my musical life that I don’t talk about enough.  He’s the front-man for both Slobberbone and The Drams, and this year he put out a solo album.  I was expecting to love it…but unfortunately it fell a little flat with me.  I don’t think it’s a bad album–I think I just expected something else.  It’s probably going to grow on me.  But it’s about a dozen songs about murder, and I guess I just have trouble getting into that headspace in a mostly acoustic folky record.  (Not an unprecedented topic in his writing though.)  I don’t know…it might be that the same songs done with the raucousness of Slobberbone would be my record of the year, but there’s just something about the presentation that–while they’re elegantly written murder-songs–just falls a little flat and gets a little too dark for me.
  • Modest Mouse: Strangers to Ourselves
    It sounds like Modest Mouse, and I liked it…but I also haven’t listened to it in months.  When I’m on a Modest Mouse kick again, I’m sure I’ll break this one back out and re-listen, then kick myself for not putting it in the top ten.  But that time hasn’t come yet.
  • Best Coast: California Nights
    It’s fine.  But it’s JUST fine.  Didn’t blow me away.  Might need to listen a few more times.  It’s just that there’s been so much to be excited about in music this year that this one didn’t excite me.  I’ll probably listen to it while cleaning some night and it’ll click.  It’s one of those…
  • Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell
    More like Suf-YAWN.  Dull.  Boring.  Haven’t listened to all of it even once.  I read review after review that talks about how personal and moving this record is and how it’s a real look inward for Sufjan.  But if that’s the case, then he’s a really boring person on the inside with no lyrical depth remaining.  I know this is harsh…but to pull a phrase from Roger Ebert, I hated hated hated hated hated this album.  In fact, I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed any Sufjan since “Illinoise.”  If this is where he is now, I’m ready to stop trying.  Resonated with me once…but I guess never again.
  • Carly Rae Jepsen: E-Mo-Tion
    Sometimes one of the best songs of the year isn’t on one of the best albums of the year.  That’s the case here. “I Really Like You” is infectious, fun, silly, and wonderful.  I like it.  I really really really really really really like it.  It’s great.  Rest of the album is a good, fun pop album–and I’ve got a big place in my heart for that–but the rest doesn’t live up to the single and while I’m definitely going to continue to listen to the album as a whole, it’s not making the top ten.
  • Leonard Cohen: Can’t Forget
    Interesting idea.  An album recorded at least mostly during sound-checks.  It’s more interesting from an almost archival perspective than a song-to-song listen.  It’s almost like you get to hear a guy (and band) who has crafted his art just throw stuff at the wall and figure it out–although in a really beautiful way.  At the same time though, it ain’t exactly toe-tapping and I’ve got to be in the right headspace for it.  Still, when I’m on a Cohen kick, I’ll be likely to reach for it.
  • Wilco: Star Wars
    Genius title.  Star Wars (the movie) released this week and this album preceded it by months as a FREE download.  Great marketing move.  But I just haven’t been able to get into the album, unfortunately.  It’s solid.  It’s good.  But…  Put it this way…  I haven’t seen the Star Wars movie yet, but if I have the same reaction to it that I do to this album, I’d be happier to see it for free.  Wouldn’t pay for it, because I’m just not that big a fan.  Wilco has become the Star Wars of indie music…you’re either all-in or you’re not.  And I used to be all in…but now I’m not.  And that’s okay.  It doesn’t make the record bad.  It just means I like the Lord of the Rings way better now.  (The metaphor has gotten away from me, so I’m going to move on.)
  • Ben Folds: So There
    I like this a lot.  It’s another one that only falls short because there’s other stuff I liked more, even though I definitely liked this a lot, too.  It’s based largely around a symphonic piece he wrote.  Saw him perform a movement of it in St. Louis with our symphony, which he referred to as being one of the BEST symphonies in the world.  (And he’s played with a LOT of them!)  It’s an elegant piece and the rest of the record is beautiful and in places Folds-style silly, just how you want it to be.  It feels a little bit like he had the symphony and just put some b-sides on to fill it out…but even if that’s the case, it’s still a must-have for Folds fans, and maybe not a bad jumping-on point for people who don’t know where to start, as you get a little bit of all sides of the guy.
  • Bunnygrunt: Vol. 4
    St. Louis kids.  Good album with a kind of punky, indie vibe and a ripoff of a Sabbath album cover.  Features our dear departed St. Louis musician/trendsetter Bob Reuter, who died in a stupid accident.  Worth having just to hear Bob again.  Fun record.  Considered it for the top 10 for a while, but felt like I was just inflating it because of the local connection.  Might end up regretting demoting it to an also ran over time.
  • Godspeed You (!) Black Emporer: Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress
    If you’re a Godspeed fan, you basically know what to expect and it basically delivers.  Not overwhelmingly innovative or groundbreaking for them.  Not their best album.  But far from terrible.  It’s the kind of thing you put on in the rain and just deal with.  And that’s the kind of thing I like.
  • Frank Turner: Positive Songs for Negative People
    I really like Frank Turner.  I bought this and was super-excited about it.  And I’ve only listened to it all the way through once.  Here’s my problem with it…  Turner always has one song per album that I find incredibly tedious, boring, derivative, and a chore to get through.  He always has that ONE song on every album that I skip every time.  And on this record…it’s the first track.  He led with the worst song on the album.  And that’s in my head, and I can’t get away from it.  I think of this album and I think, “Oh, the boring one.”  And that isn’t fair, because I know the rest of it was better.  At some point I’ll relisten to it and find the ONE song on it that has been missing from my life for years, because he always has THAT song on every album, too…but it’s going to take me a while to talk myself into finding it.
  • Alabama Shakes: Sound and Color
    Probably my biggest disappointment of the year.  Those who remember my 2012 list–weirdos–will remember that I had their previous record at #5.  I loved it.  It was great.  Fun, emotive, rootsy, and passionate.  So…where’d that go?  People are talking about how great “Sound & Color” is and how it’s innovative, etc…  I hear a record that meanders and doesn’t have a single memorable hook or chorus.  In fact, ARE there choruses on this album?  Was there a single?  I don’t hear a single here.  Brittney is a ridiculously talented woman who spent the time between albums playing with just about everybody and becoming almost a household name (among certain houses).  But I would’ve preferred it if she’d spent that time working on her OWN BAND’S album.  Because this sounds slapped together, unfinished, and unfocused.  At best, they were being experimental for the sake of being experimental.  At worst, they didn’t know what the hell they were doing, but didn’t want to be forgotten.  I don’t see why people are telling me to like it.  They’re wrong.  …but as I established earlier, you can’t give up on a band you like based on an album you didn’t.  So I’ll check out #3, when it comes.  And I’m hoping and even EXPECTING that it will be great.
  • Beach House – Depression Cherry
    Not a longtime fan of Beach House and picked this up on a whim.  Enjoyed it a lot.  Nice, lush, rich melodies and a good listen.  If I were a longtime fan, I get the feeling I’d put this high up on my top ten.  But as a casual listener, I like it a lot, but not “top ten” levels.

Next post should be the official top ten/fifteen!  Going to be a good one!

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