Top Records of 2015: 13-7

13. The Sonics - This is the Sonics (Revox)

Who would expect a band that hasn't released a record for more than forty years to rock so hard? This is the Sonics undoubtedly shows that rock and roll is not necessarily a young person's game. The Sonics prove they still have what it takes in spades, delivering a record that has all the power of their early recordings with the levels turned up to eleven. The recording sounds crisp and clean, and the band has power to spare. The mono recording captures the power and passion of a group that sounds psyched to still be playing together and does not lessen the sheer visceral impact of their chosen material and performances. While it does not quite match the intensity of their 60s recordings, the album packs a wallop. Gerry Roslie still has the pipes to belt out frantic rock and roll numbers and Larry Parypa plays some riffs that could teach the youngsters a thing or two. Rob Lind blows his sax with the expected squall. The new members -- bassist Freddie Dennis and drummer Dusty Watson -- are no slouches either. The album rages from the first track, "I Don't Need No Doctor" through the last "Spend the Night." Standouts include "Bad Betty" and the propulsive "Leaving Here." Sometimes the lyrics on the originals (Particularly on"Save the Planet") fall flat, but the band's energy more than makes up for it. The cover of Bo Diddley's "You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover" has to be heard to be believed.

12. Panopticon - Autumn Eternal (Bindrune/Nordvis)

Another year, another Panopticon album, but this one is so good that I couldn't think of not including it. Austin Lunn makes the transitions between disparate styles seem so easy. Lunn melds the violin and dobro instrumental "Tamarack's Gold Returns"into the black metal flavored "Into The North Woods" with an unexpected ease by including a recording of nature. The latter track recalls Lunn's adopted land of Minnesota as much as it pays homage to the black metal landscapes of Norway or Sweden. More of that style can be found throughout the album most notably on "Sleep to the Sound of the Waves Crashing" and "Pale Ghosts," but Lunn has increased his use of ambient sound and guitar solos. The album is an atmospheric expression of numerous genres fitted into a framework of impenetrable soundscapes that evoke a feeling of dread and cold more than they express meaning. American folk styles are seamlessly placed next to progressive metal and symphonic death metal. For example, "A Superior Lament" includes eerie folk vocals and minor key instrumentation. The album's eclectic nature is not for everyone, but those who get thrilled at the idea of experimentation and have no problem with dense instrumentation and harsh vocals should check it out. It is the third part of a trilogy that began with 2012's Kentucky and was followed by last year's Road to the North. I wonder what he has planned next.

11. Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect (Hardly Art)

Protomartyr is getting a lot of press for good reason. They make cerebral postpunk that updates the sort of grind that The Fall has been perfecting for decades. Yet they do it in a way that adds the influence of indie rock melodies that recall the Afghan Whigs or Television if they were fronted by Richard Hell throughout their career. On The Agent Intellect, the band drops some of the Detroit trappings that informed 2014's The Color of Official Right. Joe Casey's tough, practically spoken vocals bolster this image, and he never seems disaffected as he sings lyrics like "I'm going out in style" on "Cowards Starve" or "I recall seeing the pope / Pontiac 1987 / Money changing between hands / Outside the Silverdome" on "Pontiac 87." Protomartyr's wall of sound sometimes overpowers Casey's vocals, but the stories remain. Greg Ahee's guitars blaze through the din, and bassist Scott Davidson and drummer Alex Leonard inventively support his forays. At their live shows, the band is a force to be reckoned with, getting the audience to dance and sing practically before they know the lyrics. Feel the rhythm and get bowled over by the lyrical enunciation.

10. Night Birds - Mutiny At Muscle Beach (Fat Wreck Chords)

Night Birds perfect their surfy punk formula by amping up the speed on their first record for Fat Wreck Chords. The production remains minimal and the songs high energy. The song writing is as memorable as ever, although there are not as many first listen stand out tracks as Born to Die in Suburbia. The band delivers a cohesive and far too brief synopsis of personal punk politics and sound in 2015 that might have dropped in the Reagan era. They touch on all their usual topics: alienation, entertainment, and politics. Clever lyrics backed with catchy riffs make Mutiny a perfect listen from start to finish. Not many punk bands make music that sounds so dangerous and refreshing while maintaining such a firm footing in the genre's past.

9. The Mountain Goats - Beat The Champ (Merge)

I've been underwhelmed by every album The Mountain Goats released after Heretic Pride, but despite my best efforts Beat The Champ has renewed by faith in John Darnielle's songwriting. I often prefer when Darnielle and company decide to use less instrumentation, so the lyrical intelligence of his songs can shine through. In fact, the band is often at their best when they are recording conceptual albums with a strong seemingly personal focus. Over the last few years, their albums have been samey and overproduced not reaching the heights of classics like We Shall All Be Healed or The Sunset Tree. Just when I was prepared to dismiss an album about professional wrestling, one of my guilty pleasures, as another of Darnielle's whims, he came through in the clutch. It does not matter that these songs are about forgotten wrestlers in a disputed sport. Darnielle's stories about his relationship with wrestling in the 1970s ring true, and the stories he tells contain an element of pathos and realism that will affect even those who don't know the "difference between a wrist lock and a wrist watch." They're that good. Songs range from those about territories and gimmicks ("Southwestern Territory" and "Foreign Object") to those about specific wrestlers ("The Legend of Chavo Guerrero" and "Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan") and points in between. That "Johnny Wurster Kid" on drums and Peter Hughes on Bass are the perfect rhythm section for presenting Darnielle's songs. And there's even a bunch of keyboard, but don't let that scare you away.

8. American Aquarium - Wolves (Self-Released)

The older I get the more I find myself sucked into this ill-defined Americana music genre and my record lists reflect that. I try to objectively review all types of music, but I find myself drawn to a certain type of album. Pure and simple, I like songwriting that tells a story. I also grew up in a household that privileged mainstream country, so I have a soft spot for certain country elements in my music. Storytelling, fiddles, and such are lost on the current generation of bro country, but there are tons of good rock bands that add country elements and tell the story these bands do not know how to. And they know how to produce a record. So enough rambling because American Aquarium have released another solid record that reflects the struggles of life in a touring band and, hell, just life in general as one grows to adulthood. BJ Barham and his band mates tell the stories that Luke Bryan and his ilk never could, focusing on small town life and their time on the road, as well as lessons they have learned while rocking out if necessary. Guitarists Ryan Johnson and Colin Dimeo, bassist Bill Corbin, drummer Kevin McClain and Whit Wright on keyboard and pedal-steel guitar provide the . References to Ryan Adams and Jason Isbell apply, but Barham is a strong and original songwriter in his own right. On "Southern Sadness," the narrator searches for his identity, singing "There's a certain kind of despair / it hangs everywhere in the air / and everywhere I go I'll always smell the Piedmont Pines / It's a southern sadness that hangs heavy on this heart of mine." On many tracks on the record such as "Man I'm Supposed To Be" and "Wichita Falls," Barham sings about the struggles of growing up and maintaining relationships while on the road, yet these perennial themes are best defined in arguably the best track on the album, "Losing Side of Twenty Five." He sings, "I might never have a mansion / and I might never own me a home / but I got a couple songs and some boys that I call friends / and a pretty girl that I can call my own." He examines his life in light of others who are doing what society expects of them and living a different type of dream. Wolves is satisfying album for those of us who also took a different road.

7. Deacon the Villain - Peace or Power (QN5)

I've been a big fan of the Cunninlynguists for years, and Deacon's lyrics and Kno's production has always been so solid that it never seems like they can top themselves. Then I listen to their new releases and quickly change my tune. Deacon's first solo LP eschews Kno's production, and the man does it himself, while singing on many of the tracks and coming up with amazing hooks and tight rhymes. Imagine if radio hip hop was catchy as hell and focused on social issues, spiritual ideas, and real life instead of trying to sell albums. Not to say that this record shouldn't sell well. In a perfect world it would go platinum. There are guest appearances by the cream of the crop of indie hip hop, including many that are on the QN5 roster, Kno and Natti of the Cunninlynguists, Tone Deff, Homeboy Sandman and others. Stand out tracks include "The Other Side," one of the catchiest tracks of the year with tasty guitar licks, "The Devil and the Deep," which feels like a lost Marvin Gaye track, "Falling Sky," and "What's a Star." The socially conscious "Ghosts Don't Lie" featuring Natti comments on the current political and racial unrest. Deacon sings "If you know me very well /
You know I don’t believe in fairy tales /Ghost Don’t Lie /Ain’t gonna tell you twice." He raps "Some times the truth hurts like whips /Or being chained together under ships /Sleeping in shit /Tell me how hood must we get /Remember who started this shit / Red, white and blue. "Marmalade" featuring Tunji is the last full track on the record and showcases Deacon's positive side. What a great record!


  1. Hey Andrew, good stuff. I'm with on Wolves track for track. However, Be A Woman on This Is The Sonics isn't an original, it's a '92 Dave Faulkner song from his side-band Persian Rugs:

  2. Whoa. Thanks. I'm going to listen to this now and make the proper corrections.


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