Monday, December 21, 2015

My Ten Best Albums of 2015 - 10 through 6

As we approach the end of 2015, I give you my “Ten Best” albums of the year - ta da! I'm a music director at a "Triple-A" - Adult Album Alternative - radio network, The Point (, in Vermont, but this list isn't a professional sort of list - it's as subjective as they come. Music is a subjective experience, after all – the ultimate critique is simply “I Like This” – so I'm abandoning any pretense at critical “objectivity” and just going for it!

I hear a LOT of music over the course of the year. These ten had an impact on me personally, had songs I loved and played repeatedly, driving in my car, at home – not necessarily things you would have heard me play on the radio, though some I did. Here they come in reverse order. And who knows? Maybe I can turn you on to something you haven’t yet heard – introduce you to one of your new favorite albums.

10. The Mountain Says No - JV

One of two Vermont bands whose albums make the list. Ben Madox and Jedd Kettler, veteran Vermont musicians whose former bands include  farm, power The Mountain Says No. The tunes move from plaintive folk delicacy to hammering hard rock, sometimes in the same song. They're also amazing live, incredibly tight and powerful.

Both Madox and Kettler are good vocalists, but together shine even brighter, their two voices combining into a harmonious third, put to use to great effect on "The Mountain" among other tunes. "The Bomb" is another stand-out, with a wry sense of fun and whip-smart lyrics. Available at bandcamp

9.  Jeff the Brotherhood - Wasted On the Dream

Back in the spring my friend Matt asked if I'd heard Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull on the new JEFF The Brotherhood song. What? He played me "Black Cherry Pie". Hot damn, there was a little blustery flute from Ian on the tune! The rest of the album rocks, great Friday afternoon driving home music with loud, aggressive guitar and propulsive drums. There's a Weezer influence here, but they make the sound their own. Brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall bring the goods. And Ian Anderson.

Didn't really know the band before this, and it kind of blew my mind to discover they were the sons of Robert Ellis Orrall. Evidently, he's kind of a big shot songwriter and producer these days, and was a country star for a bit, but I used to be a fan back in the early 80s when he was an up-and-coming local rock musician in Massachusetts. He had a hit back then with Carlene Carter - "I Couldn't Say No". Cue bad video:

But I digress...

8. My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall

Was not sure I liked this album at first. Evil Urges is still an all-time favorite album, but Circuital felt uneven to me. I wasn't sure what to make of this newest My Morning Jacket effort, either, at the start. Gave it a few listens, at home, in the car. Heard it out socially. Liked "Compound Fracture" and first single "Big Decisions" but the rest of it wasn't connecting with me for some reason.

And then, one day? It just kind of clicked. The opening track "Believe (Nobody Knows)" wedged itself into my consciousness and wouldn't let go, opening me up to the rest of the album as a whole. And that's it, too - The Waterfall is best experienced in it's entirety - the rush of the waterfall, perhaps. It's not a concept album, unless the concept is life in general, which would make most albums concept albums, so no... but it does feel like a unified whole.

7. Madaila - The Dance

Out of the ashes of a band called Chamberlin rose Madaila! Well, Plato Ears, DALY, then Madaila. Saw them live first as DALY and they were tight, fun and funky with occasional flashes of Prince, EDM and other stuff. It's essentially the creation of Mark Daly, the lead singer and songwriter, with an assist from Eric Maier, also a former member of Chamberlin, and Jer Coons. Live these days they're joined by Willoughby Morse and Dan Ryan.

The Dance was preceded by the video and single "Give Me All Your Love" late last year, which we gave a lot of love to at The Point. Sounded great on the air! And they came in and played it live in the studio in March just before their album release party at Burlington's City Hall:

Pretty amazing performance given this was one of the first times they had recreated the track in a live acoustic setting!

The Dance is a strong piece of work. Closing track "Trying to Be Heard" also went into rotation at the radio station. Nationally known acts don't always get a second track, but Madaila did... and my boss, Zeb Norris, the program director, doesn't play favorites, not with local bands or any band, for that matter. It made it in on its own merits. The entire album went into rotation in my car - great summer driving music!

6.The Amazing - Picture You

The final entry in these lower five albums of my Ten Best comes from a Swedish band I came across for the first time with the release of their newest album near the start of the year. Their atmospheric, breathy vocal washes and slight early-Pink Floyd influence made this album the perfect soundtrack to the early winter months in Vermont. The two parts of title track "Picture You" show off the two sides of the band. the plaintive opening pop tune not only echoing with reverbed vocals and strummed guitars but also the influence of the Church or the Cure, while the second part's hypnotic repeated guitar progressions surge with and release tension in slow, rhythmic waves.

The video is striking for its simplicity and effectiveness.

The Point played the first section as a radio tune, provided to us by the record company as the "Picture You" "Radio Edit". We instead called it "Picture You - Part One" because that's kind of how we are. Of course, I still much prefer the longer version with the second half jam! Other tracks here jam out as well - there's a beautiful, sprawling expansiveness to many of the tunes on Picture You.

This album got me through many miles of driving over the early months of the year. This one, and the album which comes in as my number four. I received pre-release promo copies of both Picture You and number four early. I'd almost listened to both too much before they were even released to the general public!

Come Back for Part Two - with the Top Five of my Ten Best - in my next post.