2015 was one of the best years for music that I can remember. I’m very bad at remembering what came out when, but music seems to run in alternating-year cycles for me, with one great year followed by one mediocre year, and then every 4 years or so, comes an Olympic Year, where the music is almost too good to keep up with. That was this year. So many great records, so many consistently good ones, the following is a list of my favourite music of 2015. These may not be the best records, as I’m not some expert who tries to tell you what one thing is better than something else, but just my favourites.
As per last year, I’m going to rank every album I BOUGHT. I listened to many more records than this, but these 37 records inspired me to purchase them, and here they are, ranked for your pleasure. So while #37 might seem like it’s bad, it’s actually pretty good! It’s just my least favourite of the records I liked enough to buy. I’ll only do write-ups for the top 20 because a) no one is paying me for this and b) you don’t give a shit anyway. Enjoy.
37. Modest Mouse—Strangers to Ourselves
36. Sleater-Kinney—No Cities to Love
34. Rick Ross—Black Market
33. Beach House—Depression Cherry
32. A$AP Rocky—AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP
31. Earl Sweatshirt—I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
30. The Staves—If I Was
29. Alabama Shakes—Sound & Color
28. Tallest Man on Earth—The Dark Bird is Home
26. The Early November—Imbue
25. CHVRCHES—Every Open Eye
24. The Weeknd—Beauty Behind the Madness
23. Ty Dolla $ign—Free TC
22. Ryan Adams—1989
21. Drake and Future—What a Time to Be Alive
20. Purity Ring—another eternity
A lot of people said this wasn’t as good as their first record, but I didn’t like their first record, so I guess their shift in sound was directed at plebes like me. There is some filler here to be sure, but these two know what they’re good at(massive soundscapes and booming, lingering vocals) and do it very well here. Some absolute jams on this record.
19. The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die—Harmlessness
A lot of people who write about music a lot more than me claimed this band was going to be leading the emo revival, except that You Blew It! has already done that, and better. There are some good songs on this record, but a lot of them fall short and the vocals and production both leave some to be desired. Bonus credit for writing a song about a Mexican woman who killed a bus driver for sexually assaulting other women, though. Seriously, look it up. Crazy story, great song.
18. Years & Years—Communion
I just realized I started my last two record reviews with “a lot of people”, and I promise I wasn’t trying to be contrarian. A lot of people will tell you this record isn’t as cool as some of the other “R&B by white boys” records that came out this year, but they would be wrong. This is catchy as all hell, and the opening tune, “Foundation”, is as good as you’ll get aping The Weeknd while being white and not dating underage models or singing about cocaine and/or having sex.
This was the record I thought I was promised when a lot of people were talking up the “World is a Beautiful Place…” record. It’s basically that record, but with better production, better vocals, and more interesting arrangements. Unfortunately, there’s a middle section of 3 songs that are plodding, boring attempts at being shoegaze-y and interesting and fail miserably. So in that sense, it was a very typical emo record with some weird attempts at doing stuff no one wanted their band to be about. If they just stuck to writing jams, this record would’ve been easily top 10.
16. Fetty Wap—Fetty Wap
I don’t even know how to explain this record. Every song sounds exactly the same, and yet, I’m still totally cool listening to all 17 of them. My girlfriend and I drove to Whistler this fall and played this album the whole way and it was about as good of a day as you could hope for.
15. Sufjan Stevens—Carrie and Lowell
This is quite clearly a very excellent record, but one that only plays well when you are either openly weeping or want to begin openly weeping. I tend to be biased against records I can’t enjoy at all times, and this falls in that category. It’s a gorgeously written record.
14. Hop Along—Painted Shut
If you have never listened to a Hop Along song, go to YouTube right now, listen to “Waitress”, and then you’ll probably get it. I have no idea how the lead girl, Frances, got a voice like that, but goddamnit I could listen to it all day. The music is very nice on some songs but fails to catch up to Frances’ emotive wailing on a few others, hence the #14 spot.
13. Kendrick Lamar—To Pimp a Butterfly
Okay so like everyone said this was the best record of the year, but I mean…is it, really? It’s not. It’s interesting, and Kendrick is quite clearly the best rapper alive right now, but I mean, come on. Before the year started, no one was saying “I hope the best rapper alive decides to release a record rapping almost exclusively over weird jazz fusion beats and inspires a trillion thinkpieces by people I don’t give a shit about”. This sounds like I am dumping on this record, and I’m not. It’s really, really good. But I mean, it’s not the best and certainly wasn’t my favorite. Maybe that makes me less of a human being, I don’t know. Whatever.
12. Courtney Barnett—Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
If you had to describe this record, it sounds like nothing that should work. “Australian girl talk-sings over basic pop/rock/punk framework about her life as a queer female, and doing regular things like going swimming and buying a house” sounds like nothing you would want, but son of a bitch does it ever go good. Maybe I like the record even more as a comedian, because she has that thing where you’re listening along and then all of a sudden one line just smacks you right in your heart/throat/balls and the song is all of a sudden the greatest thing ever, and that’s every single song on this thing.
11. Tobias Jesso Jr.—Goon
“How Could You Babe” is a lifetime jam. That’s enough to put this record here on its own, but TJJ’s committal to a mid-00’s Adam Brody hairstyle, dating members of HAIM and kissing Taylor Swift and collaborating with Adele and then putting out a record that sounds like he’s Randy Newman and Michael McDonald’s lovechild is damn good enough for me. Before 2015 if you had said “Cullen you’re gonna put a piano jams record just outside your top 10” I’d have told you to go bang pots but you would’ve wrecked pots for nothing because here we are.
#10-1 will come at you live tomorrow!
I announced this a while ago on social media, but I’m excited to be performing at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal this summer. I was one of 9 comics across Canada who were selected to be in this year’s Homegrown competition.
It’s always a dream of any comedian when they start to perform on professional shows and get more established to be invited to perform at JFL. For me, Just For Laughs was one of the reasons why I got into stand-up comedy in the first place. I loved watching comedians on TV all the time, and being Canadian, JFL was one of the only consistent places to do just that.
The Homegrown line-up is absolutely stacked this year, so it’s going to be a phenomenal show. The line-up is also filled with friends, as Vancouver pals Chris James and Sean Emeny will both be joining me, and my friends Julia Hladkowicz from Ottawa(now Toronto) and Matt Wright from St. John’s will be there too. It’s going to be some type of party and I am super, super excited.
I’ll be performing a warm-up show on July 23rd for which details have yet to be announced, and then the Homegrown Competition itself is on July 24th at this awesome venue in Montreal called L’Astral. Shaun Majumder will be MC’ing, which is also great because he is one of my favorite Canadian comics and a guy I grew up watching on JFL.
If you’re going to be around Montreal this summer, tickets and pertinent info are all available here: http://www.hahaha.com/en/show/homegrown-comics-competition
I have no idea why I haven’t shared these posts on my blog before, but it’s about time I do, right? And no better time to start than with one of my favorite guests, Alex Carpenter. She just won the Patty Kazmaier award as the best player in the NCAA, won a silver medal in Sochi, and has won the world championship twice(the second time was about a month ago).
She’s American, but we won’t hold that against her. She was super nice, super accommodating, and we laughed a lot. Check it out at Shnarped:
It’s Part 2, and looking at this top 10, I feel like I really listened to and loved a lot of stuff that other writers didn’t. In what might’ve been the weakest year for music in the last decade, I suppose that’s to be expected. Hopefully this list will help you discover some gems you maybe hadn’t thought of as the Best of 2014, but will help ease the transition into what might be another phenomenal year of music in 2015. Enjoy.
10. Future Islands
Best Track: “Seasons(Waiting on You)”
I don’t even know what this record is, but I love the shit out of it. Sometimes you sit back and you think, “how did the band write these songs? Where did they come up with these ideas?” That’s not always a positive sign, but this is as strong of a collection of new-wave, indie pop whatevers in as long as I can remember and “Seasons” is the undisputed track of the year. The only reason I ranked this record is so low is it feels like it has the chance to be this year’s M83 record, where it sounds so great now and flames out spectacularly only a year or two down the road. (seriously, have you listened to that M83 record recently? Outside of “Midnight City”, I can’t remember a record that felt so vital upon its release feeling so stale so quickly.)
9. TV on the Radio
Best Track: “Trouble”
This is the first TVOTR album I have genuinely liked from start to finish, so it’s a bit strange to me that I liked it as much as I did, but here we are. I have liked individual songs from them in the past, but found their albums a bit too much to get through. With Seeds, they hit the chill button a little harder than they have previously, to what I feel is a great result. The album seems a lot more grounded into synths and electronic drums, giving the whole thing a chillwave type of vibe and finding constant rotation for me since its release.
8. Sharon van Etten
Are We There
Best Track: “Taking Chances”
This album is basically a giant kick in my emotions’ dick. It is rare that this type of confessional album is communicated with such honesty that it never feels cheesy, and Sharon van Etten somehow makes lines like “break my legs so I can’t run to you” feel empowering and not awful. The instrumentals should also not be without mention, as the album has a grungy-type feel that carries the weight of the tracks beautifully. It was an album I came to much later than its release date, and I’m glad I did.
7. Bry Webb
Best Track: “Let’s Get Through Today”
I am an unapologetic lover of the Constantines, and Bry Webb’s voice is something I have turned to many times, in response to many different emotions. While this is not Webb’s first foray into solo territory, this collection feels just a little bit more vital than his 2011 debut, Provider. Webb’s voice is raspy and emotive with the Cons, but he finds another level in this hushed setting, finding a beautiful timbre that gives each of his words extra weight, particularly on album standouts “Fletcher” and “Let’s Get Through Today”, the latter about the birth of his son. Not shy about using acoustic and electric guitar, pedal steel, and drums to augment the sound, this was a record I turned to a lot during contemplative times this year, and is one I’m sure I’ll return to often, perhaps more than any other record released in 2014.
6. Majid Jordan
A Place Like This EP
Best Track: “A Place Like This”
From the complete opposite end of the Bry Webb/Sharon van Etten spectrum come Majid Jordan, frequent Drake collaborators(they provided the backing on last year’s song of the year, “Hold On We’re Going Home”) and a smooth-voiced pair of gentlemen(one named Majid and one Jordan) making delicious R&B music. After first being drawn in by the slinky “A Place Like This”, I was surprised at how effective these two were at creating R&B mood pieces, from the groovy “All I Do” to the slow jam “U”. While only 5 tracks deep, I listened to this EP a ton this year, blowing the cover off on many night-time drives. A full-length with a star-studded guest list would be one of my more anticipated releases in 2015.
5. Damien Jurado
Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son
Best Track: “Silver Donna”
Damien Jurado’s “Saint Bartlett” is one of my favorite albums of the last decade, and ever since he began collaborating with infamous producer Richard Swift, he can do no wrong in my eyes. This album is no exception, capping a trilogy of albums with Swift by combining the ideas of the first two to create what might be the strongest of the three. “Saint Bartlett” was Jurado easing into the new direction Swift wanted—additional instrumentation, a focus on fleshing out songs in a way Jurado hadn’t before—but was ultimately still pretty quiet. “Maraqopa” was Jurado taking those Swift-ian ideas to their end, slamming every song full of psych-rock freak outs, Latin drumming, and whatever else he could think of, ending with a good record that was a bit overstuffed. This album feels like the perfect, tempered combination of those first two records, using those sounds to augment each track near perfectly, with “Silver Donna” ranking up among the best and most fleshed-out songs Jurado has written. A stunning album.
4. Tokyo Police Club
Best Track: “Argentina”
Every year, there is an album that I’m just not that enamoured with at first. Maybe I enjoy it, but just not as much as I’d hoped, or maybe I straight up dislike it. By the end of the year, usually that “grower” album of the year tends to be one of my favorites, as I felt like perhaps I struggled a bit more to get it into my brain. This record was that for me this year.
With this record, it wasn’t that I disliked it, it just wasn’t what I expected. Having ADORED TPC’s “Champ”, I was surprised that rather than following the more electronic direction that album seemed to be taking, they went full pop instead. But it’s really, really good and I’m glad they did. “Argentina” is a bonafide track of the year candidate, with tremendous guitar work from Josh Hook propelling the 8 minutes of the song into a musical rarity: a song over 5 minutes that never gets boring. “Hot Tonight” is something you would imagine the band could’ve retired off the royalties from if they gave it to Carly Rae Jepsen, and the rest of the album is accomplished pop that firmly establishes the band among the upper echelon of Canadian indie.
3. You Blew It!
Keep Doing What You’re Doing
Best Track: “House Address”
Earlier in this list, I alluded to the fact that for whatever reason, 2014 seemed to be the year of the punk revival. And not Black Flag/Minor Threat-type punk, of which a revival seems to occur every two years or so. We’re talking the late 90s/early 00s punk, the Warped Tour set gaining a whole host of new bands inexplicably, 10 years after they were relevant. Bands like Joyce Manor, Chumped, and The Hotelier all made a name for themselves this year, but for my money, none were even close to the brilliance of You Blew It! I remember playing the record for a friend in the car, and his first reaction was, “they still make music like this? I like it, but it almost feels weird listening to it.” It has a timeless feel that can’t be described, and I probably listened to this record more than any other in 2015.
Tight drumming and the interplay of three guitars created a phenomenal back drop for Tanner Jones’ lyrics, which read simultaneously like burnout teenage confessionals(“If I had my way/I’d play video games with you every single fucking day”, “The only thing that stays the same/is the way I never change”) and kiss-offs(“You can always consider me a friend/just strictly in the past tense”, “For every good thing I could say about you/there’s a great reason why I refuse to”). If this were released in 2002, it would’ve been a standout in the genre due to the exceptional songwriting, but in 2014, it’s not only a standout, but a refreshing change of pace.
The Take Off and Landing of Everything
Best Track: “My Sad Captains”
Elbow might very well be my favorite band, so this is possibly a slightly biased pick, but I don’t care. Their last album, build a rocket boys!, outside of the stunning “Lippy Kids”, may end up being Elbow’s weakest album as a band. I found it to be a collection of unfinished ideas, playing more like a Guy Garvey solo album than a fully formed Elbow record. Thankfully, they’ve returned to form here, combining their prog-rock sensibilities with their flair for sullen drama that no other band on the planet does better, save perhaps The National.
The album follows the pattern of all great Elbow records, a few rocking tracks(“Charge”, “Fly Boy Blue/Lunette”, the title track) nestling in beside the contemplative pieces(“My Sad Captains, “This Blue World”, “Real Life”) to create a phenomenal mix. It’s hard to believe that the band has been going this strong for almost 20 years, but here we are with yet another Elbow record that feels just as vital as their debut.
1. Wye Oak
Best Track: “Glory”
This is the second Wye Oak album to find the top of my list in a weaker musical year, as “Civilian” topped my list in 2011, and it’s hard to imagine a band changing more between two albums than Wye Oak did between Civilian and this record.
Wye Oak are a two-piece that work together to create a massive sound, with guitarist and lead singer Jenn Wasner being a standout in the genre. She combines a unique alto voice with tremendous guitar skills(girl can shred!) to give the band a unique sound in a crowded genre, and Civilian was one hell of a record. Then, with this effort, her and drummer Andy Stack threw that out the window, as Wasner decided she was bored with the guitar and picked up a bass and synthesizer instead. Somehow, it worked.
This album is proof that these two are better musicians than I might’ve originally thought, as it somehow sounds like a logical departure from their previous sound despite being so markedly different. From the plodding “The Tower” to the dance-y “Glory” to the gorgeous, must-listen-in-headphones layering of “I Know the Law”, each song sounds like a different idea, like the two felt somehow freed without the guitar and were willing to try a bunch of different sounds, song structures, and ideas to make it work. They virtually all work. It’s a wondrous piece of music that makes me excited for a future Wye Oak that exists in this realm, or a return to their guitar-based sound of albums past. It’s rare a band can so drastically shift their sound and be so successful, but Wye Oak have managed it here on what I think was 2014’s best record.
Every year, I find myself coming up with a new way to review the music of the year, and this year, I thought I would catalogue each music purchase I made of an album this year, 26 in total. I thought it might be neat to see the range of things I decide to buy, and to display them all, instead of just picking 10 and readers not knowing where my head was at.
Now, keep in mind, I listened to a LOT more music than what I actually bought, so I think these 26 albums are all pretty solid. There were a few albums people seemed to universally adore that I didn’t, like War on Drugs or Sun Kil Moon, but for the most part, I think this list is pretty reflective of a year that was ultimately not that strong for music. Enjoy.
26. Cloud Nothings
Here and Nowhere Else
Best Track: “Psychic Trauma”
I loved their last album, and the live show that followed is still one of the concert highlights of my life. This album had none of the same impact on me. It felt less immediate, less important, and ultimately, just less. This is one of the few albums I bought this year that I straight up disliked.
Everything Will Be Alright in the End
Best Track: “Go Away”
After reading enough reviews to convince me this was a return to form for Weezer, I bought this album and realized that Weezer are just never going to be what I want them to be. I’ve retreated back to my Blue and Pinkerton cave and will never come out again. At least it’s not terrible?
24. Tigers Jaw
Best Track: “Nervous Kids”
This was a great sunny afternoon album from a band who broke up immediately after they released this record. There are some jams that I am legitimately happy to hear on shuffle, but the record isn’t really memorable.
23. Charli XCX
Best Track: “Doing It”
I loved Charli XCX’s weirdo debut, True Romance, and I thought it gave a vision into where pop music was headed. I was proved correctly when a lot of 2014 pop music borrowed heavily from its dark/goth leanings(*cough*Taylorswift*cough*). Unfortunately, this takes a left turn directly onto the mainstream pop highway, a collection of largely forgettable songs bogged down by heavy-footed and dim-witted songwriting.
22. You Blew It!
You Blue It! EP
Best Track: “Only In Dreams”
It’s an EP of Blue Album Weezer covers from the band that released one of my favorite albums of the year. There’s very little not to like, it’s just hard to rank an EP of covers above much of the original content released this year.
21. Real Estate
Best Track: “Talking Backwards”
I love Real Estate when I’m in the mood for Real Estate. Sunny day, aimless drive, the clean guitar and airy vocals provide the best soundtrack to summer in the business. Unfortunately, summer is only two months of the year, and I find these tracks to miss the mark without the appropriate weather-related context.
Best Track: “Move That Dope”(feat. Pusha T and Pharrell)
This album feels like the end of trap music. It’s not, of course, but thinking how little relevance it has at the end of the year as compared to its May release is telling. 5 years from now, this will simply be the record that brought us “Move That Dope”, “Benz Friends” and “Look Ahead”, and not much else.
19. D’Angelo and the Vanguard
The Black Messiah
Best Track: “Sugah Daddy”
I was never a D’Angelo fan before this record, but all of the rave reviews from everyone led me to pick it up. It is certainly an enjoyable listen, but I am definitely not this record’s target market. The jams are a little too jammy and the vocals a little too high register for me.
18. Lydia Ainsworth
Right From Real
Best Track: “Moonstone”
This goth-pop collection sounds a bit like Florence and the Machine run through a food processor. An arresting collection of “chopped and screwed” goth-pop, it really hits you when you’re in the mood for it, though, like Real Estate, it is very much mood music that demands your attention when it’s on.
17. From Indian Lakes
Best Track: “Sleeping Limbs”
This year saw quite a few throwbacks to the late 90s and early 00s alternative/punk sound, and this record wouldn’t sound out of place in that era at all. A catchy, drum-driven album full of solid melodies and hooks finds an audience with me, a man who wasn’t even sure he missed that era of music, but judging by a few releases on this list, certainly did.
16. The Districts
Best Track: “Funeral Beds”
There are conflicting reports as to when this EP was released, but I’m counting it as a 2014 album if for no other reason than I think the more people who hear the song, “Funeral Beds”, the better. It cribs a little heavily from the Tom Petty/Lynyrd Skynyrd country-rock sound, but for some reason that sound always feels a little bit like home, even if it’s coming from 4 young bros from Pennsylvania.
15. Field Mouse
Hold Still Life
Best Track: “Two Ships”
Probably the least well-known of any of the bands on this list, this small New York band captured my attention a few years ago with a very Beach House-esque EP. Fast forward to their first full-length, and the band is a bit less shoegaze-y than before, but still provides the goods. Lead singer Rachel Browning’s voice carries an album of very capable and well-crafted indie pop.
14. Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels 2
Best Track: “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”
This album found its way to the top of MANY year-end lists, but I found it a bit too repetitive in both instrumental and lyrical content to really capture my attention the way it seemed too for other people. No question it has some tracks that are absolute hot fire, and the ethos of this band is tremendous(“Meow the Jewels” is one of the greatest things a band has ever done to endear itself to its fans), but it falls a bit short of the “classic” category for me.
Best Track: “I Never Thought That This Would Happen”
I’m pretty sure Arkells are this generation’s answer to Sloan. I mean, Sloan are still making music, but Arkells seem cut from the same cloth: poppy rock that SOUNDS Canadian, made by hard-working guys with hooks piled on top of hooks. This is the third straight album from the Arkells to follow the same air-tight blueprint, and that consistency is another hallmark of Sloan’s. Luckily, this album features their best-ever song, “I Never Thought That This Would Happen”, a sure-fire top 5 song of the year candidate, to further strengthen the band’s cause and tremendous live show.
12. White Lung
Best Track: “In Your Home”
A punk band with a lead singer whose vocal range and knack for writing melodies calls to mind a young Courtney Love, White Lung continue to capture more and more ears despite their genre. Unbelievably strong songwriting makes the album a standout even if you aren’t a particularly huge fan of punk music, and something I put on any time I feel like I might need to punch a hole in a wall.
11. Taylor Swift
Best Track: “Style”
The best pop stars have always made their bank on taking what other, lesser artists have done, stamping it with their money, voice, and style, and making millions off of it. On what could be considered her first true “pop record”, Swift shamelessly rips off a half-dozen artists on her way to one hell of an album.
The influences range from blatantly obvious(“Style”(Daft Punk), “Shake It Off”(Fergie), and “Wildest Dreams”(Lorde)) to not-so-obvious-but-intelligent(Charli XCX’s “True Romance” is EVERYWHERE on this album, from the “Out of the Woods” chorus to the sway of “All You Had To Do Was Stay”) to the bizarre(did anyone think 2014 would be the year we would see a massive pop star crib the Neptunes’ beat to Clipse’s “Grindin’”?). And then there’s “I Wish You Would”, which sounds more like HAIM than actual HAIM songs. Through all of that, though, Swift still knows how to make a song stick in your ear, and the production is second-to-none. My shameless pop record love of 2014.
I’ll return tomorrow with albums #10-1. Thanks for reading!
My special is finally out for viewing, and I couldn’t be happier! I shot this back when I performed at the Vogue Theatre in March, and the feedback has been amazing!
My friend Linea did an amazing job editing, my friend Leigh wrote a damn catchy tune for the titles, and overall, I’m really pleased with it. I’ve released it for free on YouTube because I really wanted everyone who has never seen me do comedy to have a chance to see me. I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for watching. Love you all!
I was lucky enough to catch the busiest man in curling, Brad Jacobs, on a day when he was in Vancouver appearing at the Vancouver Home Show.
The 2014 Olympic Gold Medal-winning skip couldn’t have been kinder, as he was incredibly gracious with his time, and was very gracious in sharing his hotel room’s chaise lounge as well. He is a super funny dude, and I especially enjoyed getting to talk about his team and the Olympics.
Well worth a watch, and a fantastic way to cap another successful season of Cullen and a Curler.