Friday, January 1, 2016

Rocking The Cradle: Favorite Albums Of 2015

Putting noteworthy releases from the past year in numerical order is a difficult process, but I’ve managed to once again come up with my Top 40 Favorites. This year, the list is even a bit more off kilter because while most of these recordings were reviewed on Broken Hearted Toy in 2015, a few were actually were released in 2014.

I’d like to extend my gratitude to all the artists, press agents, and labels that contacted me in regard to reviewing music, and I sincerely apologize that due to time constraints, I often wasn’t able to respond to your messages.

Favorite Albums of 2015
The top 25 have a bit of description. All 40 include the (date) the review originally appeared on Broken Hearted Toy in 2015.

1. Squeeze - Cradle To The Grave (9/30) The band's first album of new material in 17 years proved founding members Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook are still master songwriters. Cradle offered bittersweet reflections on growing up, discovering sex, finding work, and growing older. The clever lyrics, indelible melodies, and harmony vocals are all classic Squeeze.

2. Motobunny- Motobunny (5/27) This new group, comprised of members from The Wooly Bandits and The Love Me Nots, forged a dozen high-energy songs that tap into garage and glam rock, with Christa Collins and Nicole Laurenne consistently working in tandem on vocals. Possibly the most fun album of 2015.

3. Ex-Norwegian - Pure Gold (11/30) Singer-guitarist Roger Houdaille has endured several breakups of the band he founded in 2008, along with some recent health issues. So it's all the more impressive that he created these energetic songs with Ex-Norwegian's current lineup. Houdaille's vocal interplay with vocalist Michelle Grand calls to mind the exquisite pop of Game Theory and Let's Active.

4. The Webstirs - Now You've Really Done It (7/6) The Chicago-based power pop veterans wrap their clever observations within catchy melodies. This was their fifth and most consistent release.

5. The Weeklings - Monophonic (9/7) Guitarist John Merjave and bassist Glen Burtnik have performed with the Beatles tribute band Liverpool for several years, and they found like-minded collaborators in Bob Burger and Dave Anthony. The British Invasion songs on this debut were evenly divided between Burtnik-Burger compositions and obscure gems The Beatles composed but never officially released.

6. Dot Dash - Earthquakes And Tidal Waves (4/7) This Washington, D.C. quartet tapped into vintage punk when it debuted in 2011, and has recently moved toward a more 1980s-influenced approach reminiscent of Wire Train and Translator. Earthquakes And Tidal Waves found them pushing their boundaries even further.

7. Various Artists - strange fruits (3/4) The English indie label Fruits de Mer once again recruited current bands to pay homage to psychedelic and garage rock classics from previous decades on this mind blowing 18-song collection.

8. Wilco - Star Wars (9/9) A casual 34-minute effort that felt like hanging out with vocalist-guitarist Jeff Tweedy in the studio, but still showcased his knack for crafting infectious melodies and intriguingly cryptic imagery.

9. Brinsley Schwarz - Live Favourites (11/16) A live performance recorded at The Top Rank Club in Cardiff, UK in 1974, with Schwarz, Nick Lowe, Ian Gomm, and other original members. Offered as a limited-edition on 180 gram black vinyl edition, Live Favourites showcased a highly influential band that reportedly felt more comfortable whipping up a party on stage than recording in the studio.

10. Veruca Salt - Ghost Notes (10/15) The first album from the original line-up since 1997's Eight Arms To Hold You found the Chicago-based alt rock band operating at full power. Singer-guitarists Nina Gordon and Louise Post effectively blended their voices together throughout; from the hushed approach on "Empty Bottle" to the full-on rage of "Triage."  

11. Ex Hex - Rips (3/24) The newly formed Washington D.C. trio brought together alt rock veterans vocalist-guitarist Mary Timony (formerly with Wild Flag), drummer Laura Harris, and bassist Betsy Wright. Their high-energy songs hark back to the dawn of punk and new wave, with hard-edged but irresistibly fun arrangements.

12. The Chemistry Set - The Endless More And More (10/28) The first album in a few years from these veterans of England's psychedelic revival brought adventure, energy, and amusement to their songs, while adding elements of prog and hard rock.

13. Party Lights - I See The Lights (12/1) The full-length debut from this Brooklyn-based quartet made good on its sworn allegiance to The Go-Gos via singer-guitarist Anna Blumenthal's effervescent songs and her vocal interplay with bassist-keyboards player Joan Chew.

14. The Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club - Rock And Roll Motorcycle Dinosaur (7/13) An adventurous album that found this Chicago band veering off in numerous directions while maintaining an emphasis on irresistible melodies and elaborate vocals. The Cheap Trick influence heard on an earlier single was still very much in evidence here.

15. Various Artists - ON XRT Volume 17 (Not Reviewed) The latest edition in this annual series featured songs by some of WXRT's most popular artists (Hozier, Jack White, Wilco, Elle King, etc) from live performances that aired on the Chicago rock station in the past two years. Considering XRT has been around since the early 1970s, it would have been interesting to have at least a few selections from the more distant past.

16. Kurt Baker Combo - Muy Mola Live! (4/28) Recorded at Salty Peet’s Rock Shack in Kenosha, Wisconsin, this album featured one of power pop's best-known artists charging through an energetic mix of originals and well-chosen cover versions.

17. Scraps - Vol. 1 (not reviewed yet) A recent digital release from a band that thrived at the same time as Cheap Trick and Off Broadway on Chicago's club scene. The songs, including "Strike Three,""Gossip Gossip," and "Twilight Zone" are from the band's prime years.

18. Jack Ellister - Tune Up Your Ministers And Start Transmission From Pool Holes To Class O Hypergiants (11/2) This vocalist/multi-instrumentalist from Holland's psyche scene followed the release of his two EPs with this oddly titled full-length debut. Ellister whips up his own fascinating universe, using synthesizers, guitars, and an ethereal female backing vocalist.

19. The Hangabouts- Illustrated Bird (1/19) Initially, this effort comes across as a collection of easy-going power pop songs, but songwriters guitarist-vocalist John Lowry and vocalist-bassist Gregory Addington embedded complicated emotions beneath the fetching melodies and intricate harmonies.

20. The New Trocaderos Thrills And Chills (9/24) The trio started as a side project for Brad Marino and Geoff Palmer from The Connection, and Kurt Baker of The Kurt Baker Band, but is now its own entity. The ultra catchy songs were written by, or written with the album’s co-producer Michael Chaney (Dean Baltulonis is the other producer) and mostly deal with hard drinking and troubled romances.

21. Jessica Pratt On Your Own Love Again (4/22) A beguiling singer-songwriter who works primarily with her acoustic guitar while spinning tales of complicated relationships.

22. The Seventh Ring Of Saturn - Ormythology (4/16) This psychedelic band from Northampton, MA features lead vocalist-bassist Ted Selke singing mind-bending lyrics like, “Can’t you see she’s burning a hole in my mind?” over melodic dreamscapes.

23. I Think Like Midnight - Warm Seclusion Structure (2/3) A compelling collection of instrumentals fueled by a mix of guitars and keyboards. The music tends toward alt rock, but there are also some appealing acoustic moments and hints of jazz.

24. Herb Eimerman - Five Dimensional Man (9/3) The veteran power pop musician and American third of the international power pop/neo-1960s trio The Britannicas plays just about all the instruments and does all the vocals on this engaging five-song EP.

25. The Fad The Now Sound (6/18) A long-lost effort from 1982 by a trio that dressed in Star Trek-inspired outfits and boldly combined the sound of the original British Invasion with power pop.

26. The Jeanies - The Jeanies (2/18)

27. It Was Romance - It Was Romance (4/30)

28. Shark Tape - Marathon (6/9)

29. ZXt - Don't Drink The Water (7/27)

30. Three Hour Tour - Action And Heroes (11/18)

31. Feral Conservatives - The Feeling Noise Becomes (5/18)

32. The Power Cords - Stray Comets (3/16)

33. Crystal Jacqueline - Rainflower (3/10)

34. All The Wine - Heavy Lights (9/28)

35. Jack Scratch - If Only (9/2)

36. The New Trocaderos - Frenzy In The Hips (4/2)

37. Sounds Of Sputnik - New Born (1/14)

38. The Ravines - Everything's Fine (8/4)

39. The Unswept - The Unswept Today! (5/25)

40. Catholic Girls - Kiss Me One More Time (4/29)

Favorite singles from this year, in no particular order:

The Jangle Band - "Kill The Lovers"/"This Soul Is Not For Sale"

The Outryders -"Over The Scars"/"Look At What You've Done"

The Night Dials - "I've Done More Things"/"I'll Sleep When I Die"

Lannie Flowers - "Best I Can"

The Rhemedies - "Leave Me Alone"/"You'll Never See My Face Again"

Eric Howell - "Zookeepers"/"45"

The Phantoms - "Wasting Time"

The Jigsaw Seen - "Have A Wonderful Day"/"We Women"

FdM Split Single: Ex-Norwegian - "It's A Game" and Permanent Clear Light - "Corneville Skyline"


"Boris" said...

Happy New Year!
A GREAT list.
Many 'Secret Weapon' regulars on it!
Here's to a great 2016!

Andrew Chalfen said...

Thanks for the kudos, Terry! Recording on the 2nd I Think Like Midnight album will (knock wood) commence in February.

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