This year didn’t quite live up to the high expectations I had back in January. Artists like Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean, Jai Paul, Kanye West, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, and The Wrens didn’t make good on their promise for a new full-length album in 2015. Fortunately, others were there to pick up the slack and provide us with some great albums. Below you will find this year’s edition of what I consider the top 40 albums of the year. You’ll find albums from varying genres and possibly a few albums that are new to you. In a time where you can look up any song on a streaming service and hear it instantaneously, I hold on tightly to a love for the album as a whole, a collection of songs that work off each other, building toward one major theme or mood. As you will see in the list below, I’m a bit obsessed with new music and the art form that is the album. I take great pride in this list and hope that you find something worth checking out by the end.
Joey Bada$$, B4.DA.$$
Built to Spill, Untethered Moon
Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge, 12 Reasons To Die II
Mike Krol, Turkey
The Mountain Goats, Beat the Champ
Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld, Never Were the Way She Was
Thee Oh Sees, Mutilator Defeated At Last
Fred Thomas, All Are Saved
Kurt Vile, B’lieve I’m Going Down…
Windhand, Grief’s Infernal Flower
40. Martin Courtney
When an artist from a well-respected band decides to release a solo album, it always feels like an inferior effort. Maybe it’s because you’d expect them to save their best material for their more famous project, or maybe it’s a fan created defect due to their yearning for more music from the band as a whole. Initially, Martin Courtney’s first solo album away from indie darlings Real Estate may seem like a “lesser-than” effort. The music breezes by you, calm and serene, but altogether inconsequential.
Then again, that’s how all Courtney songs work, with or without his band mates. As with his former work, Many Moons grows with time and patience. The songs, as a whole, fit within the Real Estate mold of tender sentiments and amiable spirit. However, Courtney explores new approaches that may not fit within the shimmering, reverb-laden work that defines his band. The acoustic guitar takes up the bulk of the songs, giving the album a more laid-back, carefree mood. Many songs take on an early 70s singer-songwriter feel that conjures up memories of Nick Drake, The Carpenters, and Van Morrison. In the end, it may not quite measure up to the high standards set by his band’s work, but based off of Many Moons, a second-rate Real Estate album can still be pretty damn good.
“Before We Begin”:
39. Beach Slang
The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us
In the summer of 1997, a friend and I drove a half an hour north to the small farming community of Fairmont, Minnesota to see the Pennsylvania based punk band Weston play in some kid’s basement. That night remains a vivid memory because it was my first real encounter with the DIY scene. I remember feeling so alive that night, the noisy music, the stench of sweat and mildew in the cramped little basement, the feeling that anything was possible as the rugged harmonies and jagged guitar riffs pumped adrenaline through my veins.
18 years later, Weston guitarist James Alex is still running off the fumes of that youthful spirit with his new band, Beach Slang. Throughout the band’s full-length debut, Alex reminisces about the days when we he was “young and alive” and how, despite age creeping in, he’s still “that kid always out of place/ I try to get found, but I’ve never known how.” Most of the album is Replacements style pop-punk, Alex’s voice often resembling Westerberg and guitar riffs reminiscent of the late, great Bob Stinson. But the highlight of the album is “Too Late To Die Young,” a ballad that reflects on what it’s like to be an adult when deep down you’re still that kid who just wants to sit around listening to records. The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us is an album for all of those middle-aged men and women who stand in the back at punk rock shows, still holding on to that feeling that the music gave them so long ago.
“Too Late To Die Young”:
38. Action Bronson
Action Bronson has built up an underground following over the past several years with a handful of mix-tapes, two self-released albums, and two EPs. As hilarious and fun as these early releases could be at times, they all had moments of weakness, a lack of focus that often beleaguers mix-tapes. Based off of the intoxicating power on Mr. Wonderful, the biggest element missing from those early efforts is an age-old staple in music – the tried and true chorus. Most of the tracks on Mr. Wonderful contain a centerpiece hook holding together Bronson’s comical portrayal of what it’s like to be a “Big bearded Buddha bangin’ bitches in Bermuda.” Instead of relying on some big name vocalist to come in and pump up his tracks, Bronson sings the majority of the melodies. He’s far from Frank Ocean, but there’s also something endearing about his nasally, slightly off-key vocals.
Despite a more mainstream approach, Bronson’s talents as an MC are still on full display, fluidly moving from references to Serge Ibaka to the Iron Chef to The Golden Child with the greatest of ease. When he is bragging (as rappers are wont to do) it’s about silly things like his ability to cook and the insane amount of pot he can vaporize in one sitting. Mr. Wonderful is the music equivalent of Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke road trip, a fun-filled journey from one outlandish story to the next. Musically, the production on the album follows this same helter-skelter journey, moving from the 70s soul of “The Rising” to the bluesy jam band feel of “City Boy Blues” to the 80s rock riffs of “Only in America.” For those wanting more substance from their hip-hop, you might be looking in the wrong place for a statement on world affairs. While hip-hop acts like Run the Jewels, Vince Staples, and Kendrick Lamar receive accolades for their lyrical analysis of injustice and poverty, Action Bronson just wants to have a good time, and with Mr. Wonderful you’re welcome to join in on the best joy ride since Coolio took us on a “Fantastic Voyage.”
Over the past 10 years I’ve tried to turn multiple friends onto the music of Deerhunter with little success. I guess the experimental wanderings of the band may be a bit jarring for the uninitiated. The band’s 2015 release, Fading Frontier, might be the gateway drug I’ve been needing to hook my friends onto the band’s music. Fading Frontier is the band at its most listener-friendly. “Snakeskin” is a glam-rock revival, “Breaker” could easily have been written by Tears for Fears, and “Living My Life” will likely be featured during the final scene of a rom-com in 2016.
As a result of all this radio-friendly fare, Fading Frontier is my least favorite Deerhunter album. It’s a bit too uncomplicated, too friendly, and too tame (Bradford Cox has even called this the band’s “domestic album”). So why is it on this list? Despite my attempts to leave it off, those memorable melodies and soothing synths kept sneaking their way back into my top 40. There’s also something encouraging about the album as well; for those who think the band’s past work is just a bunch of avant garbage, Fading Frontier is proof to all the naysayers that Cox and company can write straightforward, accessible songs if they really want to. I just hope they don’t stay too domesticated for too long.
“Living My Life”:
Deeper Than Sky
[Profound Lore; 2015]
Have you heard the one about the black metal drummer, the doom metal vocalist, and the two prog-metal guitarists? Well, if there is a punch line to this hypothetical joke, it’s Vhöl’s Deeper Than Sky. In their day jobs, Aesop Decker of Agalloch, Mike Scheidt of YOB, and the Hammers of Misfortune duo Sigrid Sheie and John Cobbet are all business. All three of their respective bands create music that is dark and sinister, but their side project Vhöl is the most light-hearted, entertaining thing going in metal today.
You have to think these metal visionaries all grew up listening to the likes of Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, and Slayer, and it shows in their boisterous mix of 80s inspired thrash metal. Scheidt, who is more accustomed to growling over doomy riffs, is given the chance to unleash his inner Dio while Cobbet mixes break neck Hanneman riffs with proggier guitar theatrics. “The Desolate Damned” and “Lightless Sun” are epic labyrinths of metal nostalgia, and songs like “3am” and “Red Chaos” are EyeHateGod inspired thrash punk. And if you think for even a moment that this album is meant to be taken seriously, “Paino” arrives with its two minutes of piano metal bedlam. Deeper Than Sky is one hell of a fun ride for those who remember playing their best air guitar to Screaming for Vengeance back in the day. It’s time to dust off the old instrument and thrash (ideally in a locked room).
“The Desolate Damned”:
35. Dan Deacon
To label Dan Deacon’s music EDM would be missing the point. The energetic tracks on Gliss Riffer are definitely dance-inducing and the beats are discothèque fare, but there is so much more going on in Deacon’s strange electro-concoctions. As with Deacon’s 2012 masterpiece America, the album starts off with upbeat, hummable tunes that will ease you into the listening experience. While songs like “Feel the Lightning,” “Sheathed Wings,” and “Meme Generator” are affable, easily digestible tracks, Deacon’s attention to detail can be found if you dig your way through the layers of synth. Beeps and squeals rummage just below the surface, adding life to already energetic songs.
Once Deacon has you acclimated to his zany, digital atmospheres, the second half of the album arrives. The last few tracks on the album are sprawling 6-8 minute electronic opuses that churn and expand, mutating and growing with each passing minute. The first half of the album may ask you to get up on your feet and dance, but the second half insists that you sit back, shut your eyes, and give yourself up to the technological expanses. As with these latter tracks, Deacon has created another album that evolves into something completely different by the end.
34. Car Seat Headrest
Teens of Style
Audiophiles love when an album has a good backstory (think Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago), and the story behind Car Seat Headrest’s unlikely rise is the type of narrative that would make any music lover salivate. Five years ago, Will Toledo began recording his songs of teenage angst and isolation on a laptop in the back seat of his parents’ car (hence, the band name). Over time, these little lo-fi lullabies made their way to SoundCloud and at some point came across Matador Record’s radar.
It’s pretty fitting that Matador signed Toledo considering his first batch of songs represent everything that is their label: the lo-fi fervor of Guided By Voices, the lyrical pith of Stephen Malkmus, and The New Pornographer’s gift of melody. With a fully assembled band behind him, Toledo took to the studio to create Teens of Style, a veritable greatest hits album that re-captures the creative awakening that took place in his parents’ car. The result is an album that moves from one impressive hit to the next, filled with lyrics of cynicism and seclusion. With another album already in the works, the future looks bright for this backseat bard.
33. Beach House
Thank Your Lucky Stars
[Sub Pop; 2015]
Beach House frustrated much of the music critic community when they released Thank Your Lucky Stars without any fanfare, two months after Depression Cherry. Some reviewers went so far as to scold them for having the nerve to release so much music in one year. As a result, Thank Your Lucky Stars got the cold shoulder for the most part. Due to the album’s stripped down, lo-fi approach, it would be easy to consider it inferior to the grandiose, cathedral production of Depression Cherry. However, I found Thank Your Lucky Stars to be a far more rewarding listen.
With each album, Beach House has gone bigger and bigger with their wall of warmth. Thank Your Lucky Stars is a call back to the band’s 2008 effort, Devotion. And despite what some may think, this isn’t a leftovers compilation. In fact, motifs and metaphors tie the entire album into one mysterious narrative, illuminated mirrors and dead flowers haunting the entire affair. Often Beach House songs are wistful and serene, but there’s a darkness on the edge of each twinkling tale. Alex Scally’s guitars often wobble like a kite on a string, swaying in and out of tune, on the brink of dissonance, while Victoria Legrand’s voice plants itself in her lower register, her deep alto voice rich and foreboding. If David Lynch is looking for music that will suit the Twin Peaks reboot, Beach House might have the perfect mix of mystery and synth to rekindle the show’s legendary soundtrack. Plus, who wouldn’t love seeing Legrand and Scally performing “Elegy to the Void” at The Real Road House?
“Elegy to the Void”:
32. Majical Cloudz
Are You Alone?
For the BDWPS faithful, the absence of Kurt Vile from this list might be a bit surprising. Vile’s last two albums have made the top ten of their respective years (Smoke Ring For My Halo even made the top spot in 2011), and if asked, I’d name Vile as one of my favorite artists out there today. My issue with B’lieve I’m Going Down is the frankness of the lyrics, often so on-the-nose that they take you out of the listening experience completely. I bring this up because the same lack of guile that riddled Vile’s 2015 effort is the element that makes Majical Cloudz Are You Alone? such a successful venture.
One look at the album cover and you should get the point. Are You Alone? is so straight-forward and blunt, yet there’s also something inviting about it. Like a musical Dr. Melfi, Devon Welsh cuts through the bullshit and gets to the pain buried deep down inside us all. He builds off of what he accomplished with 2013’s Impersonator, openly admitting he’s “broken,” “alone,” and simply put – “nothing.” The music heightens this confrontational listen by setting the mood without distracting from Welsh’s confessionals. There’s something strangely comforting in this collection of deeply depressing revelations. Yes, you may be alone, but as the songs on the album suggest, you’re not alone in your sadness.
31. Speedy Ortiz
After the success of Speedy Ortiz’s debut Major Arcane, I expected the band to suffer from the sophomore jinx. It’s not that I doubt the talent of this Massachusetts indie rock outfit; I just didn’t know how they could follow-up such a fantastic debut. Fortunately, Speedy Ortiz crushed my negativity out of the ballpark with Foil Deer, an album more intricate and mature than their first effort. The band’s success has only bolstered Sadie Dupuis’s poise as a singer/songwriter. Her voice is confident on “Raising the Skate” with her shouting, “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss,” and throughout the album her imagery and unique phrasing explore the human condition.
While Major Arcane was recorded in just four days, the band spent month’s piecing together Foil Deer, and this meticulous endeavor can be seen in the details found within each track. It’s rare to find a rock band putting as much care into their craft as Speedy Ortiz does on this album. Every song has abrupt shifts, moving from one catchy riff to the next, all somehow pieced together like an indie rock quilt. Cozy up to Foil Deer and listen to Dupuis as she tells you one intense bedtime story after another.
“Raising the Skate”:
30. Royal Headache
[What’s Your Rupture?; 2015]
Australia must not have gotten the memo that rock n’ roll is dead because the best rock records to come out this year are from Down Under. Leading the garage rock charge is Royal Headache, an up-and-coming punk outfit that has taken tutelage from Aussie Jedi Mikey Young (of Eddy Current Suppression Ring fame), and they’ve built a pretty rowdy following in their homeland (a show earlier this year at the Sydney Opera House was shut down due to the crowd rushing the stage).
The band’s second album, High, is the epitome of a break-up album. Not only did singer/songwriter Shogun say that all of the songs are about a recent broken relationship, but the band its self almost failed to make the second effort due to a brief break-up. It’s not one of those melodramatic, down in the dumps break-up albums; it’s a frenzied and passionate look back on what made the relationship great and also what made it miserable. Shogun’s voice is the perfect vehicle for conveying these emotions, his raspy screams countered by his unyielding tenor croons. Royal Headache’s High is proof that relationships may end but rock n’ roll will never die.
[Profound Lore; 2015]
In the five years since Isis (the band, not the terrorist group) broke up, we’ve seen some interesting developments in the world of metal. The influence this seminal band has had on metal as a genre can’t be overstated. You can hear the Isis ambience in post-black metal acts like Deafheaven and Woods of Desolation, and the definitive sludgy tone of the legendary Boston quintet can be heard within doom metal upstarts like Windhand and Pallbearer. Aaron Taylor could have rode off into the sunset after his masterwork with Isis, satisfied with his impact on the world of metal, but thankfully for us, he has continued tooling away at a genre that is more interesting than ever.
It isn’t any wonder that his latest music project Sumac has released one of the most innovative albums of 2015. Sumac’s The Deal is one confounding album. It’s soft. It’s loud. It’s ambient. It’s crushing. But more than anything, it’s volatile. The true beauty of Sumac is their ability to turn on a dime, moving from ¾ time, to 4/4 time, to 7/8 time all within the same song that nervously jumps from cut-throat speed to an abrupt, murky halt. The drum work of Nick Yacyshyn (from the band The Baptists) is a major character in the scheme of things, threatening to bubble over into madness with a frenzied tumult on the snare that would make JK Simmon’s character Miles Teller blush. In the quieter moments, the guitars let out ghastly wails and in the heavier interludes, they pour out, pulpy and masticated, like meat from an unforgiving grinder. I don’t even know what to label this album (post-metal? Metalcore? Jazz metal?), and maybe that’s the point. As long as Aaron Taylor is at work in his dungeon of destruction, the metal Gods will be listening with bated breath.
“Thorn in the Lion’s Paw”:
[One Little Indian; 2015]
It would be difficult to find a 2014 Top Albums list that didn’t feature FKA Twigs. My list might be one of the few devoid of the British singer/songwriter’s LP1. It’s not that I totally disregard her efforts. I just felt like it wasn’t as innovative of an album as others seemed to think. I’d heard the same type of woozy, disorienting modernism before, but I couldn’t quite put a finger on it. Then, of course, I heard Bjork’s Vulnicura, and I realized that not only is FKA Twigs mimicking what Bjork has been doing for 30 years, but it’s poorly executed in comparison to the Icelandic legend.
One listen to the complex arrangements on Bjork’s Vulnicura and it’s clear who is the true Queen of electro-orchestration. On the album she chronicles the downfall of a relationship, one emotionally draining, ornately constructed song at a time. The album’s complexity requires multiple listens, each taking you deeper into the darkened corners of heartbreak and anxiety. Bjork, as always, uses her voice as an instrument, swooning, whispering, and growling out her sorrow as her composure unravels. Vulnicura is a reminder that Bjork is still one of the bravest, most uncompromising musicians of our time.
The Agent Intellect
[Hardly Art; 2015]
In the past few years the once crumbling city of Detroit has seen a resurgence. In the wake of the automotive industry’s near collapse, companies like Quicken Loans, Shinola, IBM, and ProQuest have made the corpse of the motor city their home. As a result of this rebirth, many in the area fear that this gentrification of the city is wiping away the remnants of its rugged history.
Protomartyr, a band of Detroit natives, execute this narrative perfectly in their latest release, The Agent Intellect. On the surface, Agent Intellect explores frontman Joe Casey’s struggle with the recent death of his father, but this discussion of mortality also doubles as an omen for the state of the band’s hometown. This isn’t Dan Gilbert’s squeaky clean, renovated Detroit; this is the seedy underbelly, filled with songs of arson, auto theft, drug abuse, and violence. “Dope Cloud” best exemplifies the mantra of the Motor City, Casey singing throughout, “That’s not gonna save you, man.” As Detroit natives languish in a world of quick fixes, Casey describes a cloud descending on the city, “Blowing gold dust/ Into the pockets/ of the undeserving.” Yes, the city has seen a comeback, but Wall Street vultures are feeding off of the urban carcass while the people of the city continue to struggle on the outskirts of town. The Age Intellect shows the band maturing, their lyrics consistently matching the music’s feeling of desperation and hopelessness. The guitar riffs are scuzzy, Sonic Youth takes on post-punk. The bass lines are brooding and mysterious, like a stranger in the corner of the bar that could pull a knife out at any moment. Casey sings in a raspy baritone like he spent the night before out at the bar, smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey. Detroit may be the new Sillicon Valley, but The Age Intellect is a reminder that the greasy engine of the Motor City hums on with plucky pride and defeated indifference.
The Good Fight
[Mello Music Group; 2015]
Oddisee’s 2015 effort is named The Good Fight, and I can’t help but think he’s fighting against the mainstream music-making machine. Throughout the album he spits harsh criticism. On “Want Something Done” he pinpoints the shallowness in mainstream hip-hop – “If you’ve got a message in your records than you’re collecting dust,” and on “What They’ll Say” he reveals the uphill battle he’s taking on – “Yeah, I could dumb it down and get a buck.”
However, Oddisee refuses to dumb things down on The Good Fight. His lyrics seem straightforward and conversational, but before you know it, sleek wordplay and intelligent allusions are flying past you faster than chocolate on Lucy’s conveyor belt. Despite Oddisee’s lyrical fortitude, musically the album plays like a 12-pack of pleasant hits. “That’s Love” should have been this summer’s “Happy” and “First Choice” shows Oddisee singing better than any other rapper out there, sans auto-tune. The tracks bounce between Marvin Gaye’s soul and J Dilla’s boom bap. Instead of relying on samples and layer upon layer of over-dubs, most of The Good Fight is performed by a live band, bringing jazzy undertones and smooth vibes. That’s really the brilliance of The Good Fight – it will have your head bouncing to the upbeat sound and have your brain working on overload with the complex lyrics. As the commentary at the end of the album says, Oddisee makes you “Use your head for more than a hat rack.”
[Sub Pop; 2015]
On their sophomore release, this trio of 20-somethings from Calgary, Canada burst from the confines of the recording studio with a frenzied tension and unbridled fury that could only come from the womb of Nirvana. METZ’s first release also had a distinct 90s edge, but the self-titled debut was more indebted to the hardcore styling’s of Jesus Lizard than anything from the realm of grunge. The Jesus Lizard is still the most prominent forebear on II, but the album has its more melodic moments that, in combination with the harsh distortion, call back to the brilliant blend of punk and pop that Cobain and crew created 25 years ago.
There’s a distinction I need to make: this isn’t Nevermind, pop-genius era Nirvana; this is the band in its final incarnation – In Utero. On tracks like “Spit You Out,” “Landfill,” and “Wait in Line,” you can almost imagine Steve Albini at the producing helm, Kurt at his angriest, and the band at its most belligerent. At that point, Nirvana had no interest in appeasing the masses, and either is METZ on II. Alex Adkin’s voice is far from the gravely tenor of Cobain, but II does show Adkins growth as a vocalist. He often sounds more like Johnny Rotten than the David Yow impersonation he put on with their first album. The snotty, abrasive singing gives the album a slightly different edge than the more in your face self-titled debut, although it wouldn’t be difficult to get the two albums confused. On the surface, II seems like a re-tread of what worked on their first effort, but there are small tweaks that give this effort a slightly more bewildering feel. The guitars, while still masked in crunch, are woozier and blurred with psychedelic nausea. We may never have another Nirvana, but thankfully Cobain’s brilliance lives on today in the music of bands like METZ.
24. Panda Bear
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
It’s weird saying that Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is Noah Lennox’s most straightforward album because there really is no such thing as an uncomplicated Panda Bear album. The bleeps and gushing synths still run amuck and his meditative, swirling repetitions still ensnare you in a mist of digital garble. Despite the distinctive Panda Bear sound remaining the same, the album as a whole seems more welcoming, more pleasant, more roomy. Not that there’s anything wrong with the claustrophobic environs of Person Pitch or the enveloping pits of Tomboy – even with the album’s sinister title, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is a happier album on the whole.
A big part of this positivity shift is found in the songs because these are definitely songs in comparison to the experimental soundscapes of the past. Tracks will still venture off into otherworldly terrain, but for the most part, this album is composed of a dozen electronic pop songs. It has its drearier moments (“Tropic of Cancer” is a meditation on his father’s death and “Lonely Wanderer” is a song exploring isolation and regret), but even on these tracks he finds a way to present these more depressing themes in a way that is calm and accepting. It’s clear with Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper that Lennox has found peace with himself and the little family he’s formed in Lisbon. This album provides the listener with just a glimpse of his peaceful nirvana.
Man It Feels Like Space Again
Many may see Pond as a side-project to the more widely popular Tame Impala (only one member of the band hasn’t served time with Pond), but this is an unfortunate misconception. Their latest effort, Man It Feels Like Space Again, is evidence that these Vegemite stoners deserve more credit for the mind-expanding mischief they’ve concocted over the course of six albums. Not that you should take their bubbly, far-out mix of melodies seriously – these songs are meant to be silly and fun. It’s this complete lack of pretension that makes their rumpus ride more deserving of accolades from psych-pop aficionados. While Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker ponders the emotional struggles that come with heartbreak and isolation, Pond opts to sing songs with titles like “Elvis Flaming Star” and “Heroic Shart” (yes, “shart” – that magical contraction of the words “shit” and “fart”).
This type of folly is just one element of the band’s sense of freedom on their most adventurous album yet, Man It Feels Like Space Again. Musically, the band is just as feral, each track leapfrogging from one legendary 70s sound to the next. “Zond” and “Outside is the Right Side” are wacked-out, funky prowlers that resemble a collaboration between Funkadelic and Frank Zappa (Frankadelic?). “Elvis Flaming Star” and “Holding Out For You” are what it might sound like to experience an acid trip through Marc Bolan’s eyes. “Heroic Shart” and the eight-minute closer “Man It Feels Like Space Again” ignite a full-fledged psychedelic prog-trip to the dark side of the moon. Maybe Tame Impala will always be the overachieving shadow cast on Pond, but I still enjoy the rampant childishness of the slacker offshoot.
“Elvis’ Flaming Star”:
If I were to choose the album I listened to the most this year, it would probably be The Twerps’ Range Anxiety. Mind you, it’s not music that’s gonna change the world. It’s comprised of basic pop songs, jangly guitars, and two-part harmonies. On the whole, it’s pretty harmless music that is unobtrusive and calming. In a weird way, this nonchalant, mosey from one good-natured melody to the next suits the over-riding theme of the album – that everything’s not going to be all right and that’s okay. “New Moves” bemoans how “the days waste away,” “Back to You” complains that “Somebody out there is doing better than me,” and “I Don’t Mind” hammers home the defeatist attitude with Martin Frawley singing, “I don’t mind if we have to give it all away.” This divide between happiness and misery is best seen on “Adrenaline” when Julia McFarlane faces death with a smile: “Things are in the ground but we’re still having fun.”
Throughout the album, Frawley’s monotone delivery can seem both melancholy and light-hearted within the same breath. It never feels like he’s exerting much energy as he sings, almost as if he might be plastered to his couch in a depressed stupor as he mumbles into a microphone. But again, he seems cool with it. Since childhood we have been told that when facing adversity we should pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and face the day. This is a nice sentiment and all, but I’d much rather throw Range Anxiety onto the turntable and bask in the joyful bliss that is accepting your sadness and letting your bootstrapping state of mind wait for another day.
“I Don’t Mind”:
21. Chelsea Wolfe
[Sargent House; 2015]
I’ve always thought Chelsea Wolfe had a lot of potential, and with Abyss, she’s finally made the leap. In the past, her music would be best labeled as doom-folk. Her take on the dreary genre has been successful (if it wasn’t, she wouldn’t still be making music), but it never quite matched up in comparison to other doom-folk songstresses like Mirel Wagner and Marissa Nadler. I remember seeing Wolfe perform a few years ago at SXSW and thinking, “Somebody just needs to give this girl a distortion pedal.”
Based off the corroded collection of songs on Abyss, she read my mind, loud and clear. Wolfe has always held close ties to the metal community, whether it be her folky cover of Burzum’s “Black Spell of Destruction,” her friendships with metalheads like SunO)))’s Stephen O’Malley, or the fact that most of her albums have been released on Sargent House, a metal-centric label, but on Abyss, she goes all in with brutal riffs, terrifying hisses and screams accenting throughout. To beef up her assault, Wolfe brought in Russian Circle’s Mike Sullivan and producer John Congleton, a man who knows his way around a chaotic recording studio after working on the Swan’s To Be Kind. Wolfe’s signature doom-folk approach is still evident throughout the album, but it’s countered nicely by moments of crushing discord and sweltering reverb. The mix of metal and folk creates a disorienting listen that is better suited for a haunted house than a coffee shop, and Chelsea is the witch at the cauldron, mixing her haunting blend of folk and metal, harnessing her full potential.