I’m not certain if it’s this era in music I don’t really care for or if it’s the tastes of Utah. Here in Salt Lake City, at least, everyone is in to DJs. And electronic. And very pop-1980s throwbacks. It’s nothing live, nothing that has heart. And that’s the whole thing for me. I need substantial lyrics and some belting out. Instrumentation. The popular music in the Salt Lake City area is computer-generated or superficial. So I feel like I’m musically starved. And I hope it’s just this region that doesn’t know the story. I did manage to scrape up some contenders for this list.
This list was compiled based on album alone. Catalog, concerts, expectations, hype, and cuteness were not factors. And as an aside, I posted this before really going through it with a fine-toothed comb, so to speak. In the interest of time. I’ve been notorious in previous years for wanting to perfect these or wanting to listen to ALL the options, then not ever posting them. Or posting them a year late. So up it goes, but I may edit or add some things later.
DIDN’T Likes (Worst to Don’t Love Listening):
What happened to the Puffy/Biggy days when there was a melody or two within the rap? This is harsh and displeasing. Almost grating. I think it’s that electronic influence rearing it’s ugly head again. Also, rapping was not really a thing (which is the point?) so I didn’t really connect with any lyrics either. A disappointment.
Some people might like “No Cities to Love”. I am not one of them. But I don’t think this album is bad, it seems well thought-out and well-executed. It is just not my taste AT ALL.
I have liked her past albums. Like a lot. I think she is one of few that speaks for feminists. And that’s so important, especially in the male-dominated music industry. This album was barely listen-able for me. It felt like a cheesy Disney soundtrack or a musical. Very overwrought and sappy to the point of-barf. I hope she goes back to her roots.
Matt and Kim
It’s TOO harsh. I understand they are supposed to be electronic and robotic. But “New Glow” is robots in a war. I need something to sing to, some catchy chorus, somewhere. All the noise makes that difficult to find. And even as an exercise album, which I expect substantially less from lyrically, it was too jarring and too syncopated.
Blah-Neutral, Try Harder in the Future, and Up and Coming in no particular order (Medium-Passion from Me):
Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell
The first two songs made me think they were going to steal the Grammy from Brandi. Which, despite a flagging enthusiasm for Brandi’s latest, I most definitely want her to WIN that prize. So I was horrified, I really liked a couple of Emmylou’s songs. It’s old country and Americana as the category has nominated her for, but every song was not a winner. The album lost steam in a few places. Aside from some boring tunes, it’s a down-home oldy-feeling work of art that a person could listen to one or two times before totally losing interest.
It’s hard not to compare Isbell to Brandi Carlile–since they’re up for the same Grammy and all. But, this artist is ranked under Brandi, because I said I would look at the albums singularly. And his is a whole different thing. I think in some ways it is more listen-able then “Firewatcher’s Daughter” in that it makes easy, background music. I like the gentleness of the sound. But when it comes down to it, I personally like catchy things sung well and with feeling. And this album has no hooks or unbelievable vocal range, as Brandi’s does. But it’s a chill-mood and none of the songs are unlikeable (which I can’t always say about Brandi’s songs). So check it out–but it BETTER not steal Brandi Carlile’s Grammy if it knows what’s good for it!
More of the same. I’ve always liked Clarkson, especially her breaking up songs. Except, I feel like her albums and sound are becoming more and more of a manufactured machine. The genuineness is simply not there. I think Clarkson should write from her heart and sing from her soul rather then doing mathematical calculations in trying to secure top chart numbers and album sales. I want to hear her stripped down and authentic–even at the risk of being less corporate.
Went skating. Skating by on prior success, on his image, and on his fan-base. I thought there was nothing at all special about this album. I would like to see him strive for the next work–I know he is capable of growth, of branching out, and getting out of his comfort zone a little. This album was put out for the sake of remaining relevant, and unfortunately, you can tell.
On the other hand, Jewel tried too hard. I can hear that she tried to replicate her earlier success. But the effort had a disingenuous, forced quality about it that I didn’t like. The poetry was there, some sweet-signing, and a little discord. Folk was full-force, but “Picking Up the Pieces” still wasn’t comparable to “Pieces of Me” as I’m sure she intended. Jewel formerly sold out and went straight pop for the money. Then she tried to recapture success easily by going to the easier realm of country. After that failed, she’s floundering–and it shows. I wish Jewel would forget the record sales and corporate numbers and actually be genuine. I think she has a place in music–but it’s not going to be through her own force of will. She needs to get in tune (pun!) with herself and her story if she’s going to get out of her slump.
Also offered nothing really special or nothing really groundbreaking here. I used to like their rebellious sound. The blend of punk, pop, and rock they had going. Now, it’s a little formulaic, with no real standouts. Can’t music forgo corporate manufacture and be real?!
“Stories” could be a great album. But the first album, “True” (?) that I listened to raised my expectations very high so this newest one was sort of a big yawn for me. After falling in LOVE with the last album, I just could find anything to attach to in this one. I think it’s still OK, but it hardly equals “True.”
Worth Mentioning (but not a blurb):
Adele- probably would rank on my list, but no Spotify, no rank.
Christine and the Queens- self titled
Death Cab for Cutie- Kintsugi
The Decemberists- What a Terrible World. . .
Imagine Dragons- Smoke + Mirros
Kendrick Lamar- To Pimp a Butterfly
Luke Bryan- Kill the Lights
Sports- All of Something
AAANNNNNND Top Albums of 2015 Countdown from Good to Very Best:
11 (honorable mention).
Dave Matthews Band’s Lovely Ladies must have stepped into the recording studio with Kid Rock. This album is good, but very, very different from previous efforts. It’s more grown up and country/blues, than rebel rock. I liked the gospel and southern flair and thought they were appropriate to the tracks. The thing that would make the album stronger is a little more variation in the songs. They all started to sound the same to me. And though cohesive as an album, even the 80’s hard-rock Gods knew to throw in a ballad once in awhile. There should be something that doesn’t meet expectations in here to really flesh it out. And fans of the first few albums–prepare your ears–I’m not sure you’re going to like this even a little bit.
This album would have ranked higher, because the songs that I like, I really, REALLY like. But there was some electronic/club influence that I’m trying to get away from—as you heard. My top 10 is all about the human aspect of music. What I liked was the variability in the album. It all meshed together, but the songs were distinct and had different feels and influences in them. We have a broken heart, dancy-club, a Jamaican sound, and of course electronic. I especially give top marks for this seldom-seen vulnerability in many of the tracks. It’s a softer, riskier sound for Madonna, and I feel like I know her better as a person because of it. Of course I also like the stronger side of her personality and artistry, and that’s here as well. Madonna’s sound has matured and she has leaned tons from her years topping the charts–but she’s still got IT.
Let me just get it out there. No, I have to soften it a little by saying Brandi is perhaps my favorite artist of the last 6 years. And her shows are THE best! She seems genuine and she’s personable, and of course she’s cute. So my expectations for a new album were SKY-high. Bear Creek was phenomenal, in my opinion. The follow-up was sure to be even better. But it wasn’t. Not to me, at least–the rest of the world seems to disagree and is finally catching on to MY band. Washington state, especially Seattle, feel like the band is OURS. So I very much hate to say “Firewatcher’s Daughter” just seemed to meander too far to the right for me. I’m not saying it was bad by any means. But usually I attach to all but 1, or maybe 2 songs on Brandi’s albums. This time, I only really-liked 2-3. “These Things I Regret” was good and I think sort of a fan-song. It was more the old style, the one I fell in love with. “Mainstream Kid” with its strength and rock-flavor is the other obvious hit on the record. And “Wherever is Your Heart” shows the band’s range and energy. Honorable mention goes to “The Stranger at my Door” for most awesome song-ending ever. The rest? Too. . . I don’t know, maybe just not MY style. “The Eye” is not an album-song. It’s meant for the live, breath-taking, ‘wow that’s almost a Capella and look how they blend together as a group’ sentiment. But even live (at the Gorge) the choruses repeat to the point of boredom and it just got tedious to me. The Avette Brother’s cover is good. But it also bothers me. One, it seems too soon cover them–the Avettes (though their catalog is HUGE) are JUST going mainstream. Mostly, though it seems (as gleaned from show commentaries and interviews) to be Brandi’s love song to her family and a gay anthem (from her perspective, I gather). But it’s obviously written (and unchanged) for brothers, or at least siblings. With the ‘which one of us would Dad be proud of’ stuff. I want her to tailor it to her needs or really, just leave it to the Avette Brothers. And “Wilder, We’re Chained” if it’s not a direct Fleetwood Mac cover, it’s MUCH too similar, and with “The Eye” having that same tone, it just feels like a throw away song. I guess I won’t go into any more specific song detail (because I already wrote that blog) but I feel compelled to justify my options. I don’t like “going against” my favorites. Because–I feel guilty for being disappointed. I am happy Brandi Carlile’s career is finally taking off in a mainstream way and she’s getting some long-deserved media-attention. But, I hope Brandi Carlile does not continue to scout territory which takes her farther away from her core group of fans. I liked the former albums–even if they didn’t garner all the attention, hype, and accolades. Though they should have and I don’t know why she’s just now blowing up–it’s long overdue. Maybe now that everybody’s watching she can go back to the more rock-folk style that I like better?
8. Kacey Musgraves
I like it: A cheeky country gal. The songs are catchy and foster an independent rebel spirit that I like, and that I think is totally necessary in the still good-ol boys country network. I think she’ll join modern trail-blazers Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood, and especially Miranda Lambert as the new spunky voice of country women, working to bust stereotypes and get outside of the social norms. This album gives me an idea of what Musgraves stands for, and I like that message even better then the songs.
Is back to herself–thank goodness! I love her bitter songs where she gets feisty and this album has that in spades. Seeing Underwood sell-out and try to please mainstream (impossible/boring) was sad, so “Storyteller” is all the better. It offers almost every song as independent woman, talking trash to some loser who mistreated her. The passion in Underwood’s voice is back to go nicely with her always strong voice. Love. And I hope she remains true to her roots from now on.
Mumford & Sons
I loved their sound so much. When “Babel” exploded onto the scene, it was stripped down, featured a kind of country feel, and was completely different. So I’m a little disappointed the band has chosen to deviate to the sound that contributed to their huge mainstream popularity. I liked it because it WAS different and not the normal mainstream sound. But alas, though I’m not sure I’m on board with the band changing its tune (another pun!), but I’m judging “Wilder Mind” by itself. And it’s masterfully done. Really, it’s a solid work as a group. You can listen to the album over and over and it’s a really great work. There are no real individual songs that pop though. And as a side-note to the band–get back to your acoustic roots.
Mika- The Origin of Love
Yes, this album is pretty-pure pop. BUT it is strong in a socially-conscious way. Mike SAYS something in this album. Opposed to Cee Lo’s closet-case, Mike is totally uninhibited gay. Like, old-school, flamboyant, proud to be a little feminine, gay. This album is an anthem for all the homos everywhere, even going so far as to ask, “Where Have All the Gay Guys Gone?” And the songs are catchy and dancy which doesn’t hurt one bit.
4. The Indigo Girls
When I was just thinking about the album, I felt sorry that I was a little disappointed in it. “One Lost Day” is not an evolution. Some past albums were much stronger, showed more growth, or talked more of political issues. But if the Indigo Girls can do anything, they can subtly change their sound to remain relevant in current times. Just look back at how long they’ve been around. And just TRY to sound two very similar albums from there—they are all different. And apparently, in order to be relevant in 2015, you have to have an electronic or strong-pop flavor. I couldn’t remember any stand-out songs when I thought about the tracks of “One Lost Day,” and I even thought maybe the new album was a little too pop. When I actually turned on the songs to hone in on my list-placement, I remembered why the Indigo Girls are masters at what they do: The album has a clear ark and tells a cohesive story. Each song contributes to an overall story. The songs are polished and you know the duo has absolutely perfected their writing/recording process. But there is always a feeling-invoked and an authenticity about their works. Yes, obvious success and maybe a little pandering is going on, but The Indigo Girls still have their amazing harmonies, their political ideologies, and a personal story to tell. I call this one polished, but not superficial.
I didn’t even want to sample Hart’s new album, because Douche had told me once that she attended a Beth Hart concert and the artist was sloppy. Like, obviously impaired, and asking the audience for drugs while performing on stage. And I’m not into supporting obvious drug-addicts. BUT I came across a recent article about Beth Hart outlining her addiction, new sobriety, and bipolar diagnosis. So I listened to “Better Than Home”. And I’m glad I did! It’s bluesy and stands out from the crowd right now. Hart’s voice is resonant and her lyrics deep. Also, she has this vibrato singing style that’s very technical and amazing. It’s a different sound in a sea of similar female voices.
Where did she come from?! All I remember is that “A Thousand Miles” song that was over-played to the extreme until it became hostile to listen to again. But “Liberman” is so great. It’s a stripped-down feel, heavy on the piano, and with good song-writing. It’s a chill listen without being boring. I don’t know if you could over-play this album–it’s sure been heavy on my rotation and I’ve yet to tire of it. Think Ben Folds Five, but with a female vocalist.
- Cee Lo Green
This is totally beside the point, but does anyone else think Green is a seriously closeted gay? This album sets off my gay-dar. It’s upbeat and dancy, but in a good way. I may not have a lot to write about the album, but I want to convey it’s a fun, yet serious album that has good singing, true writing, and I found it very pleasing to my ears.
P.S. Yes! I finished this entire post, BEFORE the next year. This is the first time in 3(?) years I can say that. I am very pleased, and this means good omens for 2016.