Saturday, April 09, 2016

2015 in Review: Music

This is the fifth in a series looking back on 2015. Other entries will include booksmovies, food, television, and more.

The last time I posted an entry from my 2015 year-in-review series, it was January 30th. At the time, I felt sheepish about the fact that January was coming to an end and I was still recapping the previous year. Then I practically stopped writing blog entries at all. Here it is, touching on mid-April, and I still haven’t completed my year-in-review of 2015. It seems completely absurd to start it up again at this point, I’m sure, and yet I’m going to do so. I had stuff I wanted to say about my musical year of 2015, and I’m going to embrace the whole “better late than never” philosophy when it comes to this. So here we go…

For me, the first standout album in 2015, although an album much older than that, is Men Without Hats’ 1987 release, Pop Goes the World. I got this album from the library in early February and listened to it almost non-stop for weeks. I found it unbelievably catchy, and it coincided with my coming to a point of clarity in my spiritual journey that also left me feeling giddy. The album served as a perfectly upbeat companion to a time in my life when things were changing, when anything seemed possible, and when I was deliriously happy—which is the precise term I used in a blog entry I wrote at that time, wherein I give credit to both Pop Goes the World and my religious revolution. I now think of Pop Goes the World as my conversion album. Many of you will be familiar with the title track “Pop Goes the World,” a decent hit for Men Without Hats back when it came out. If you’re like I was just 14 months ago, you’ve never heard the rest of the album. But, man, it’s fun. Although there are several songs that are certifiable earworms, I’ve chosen to share “Moonbeam” below. Apparently, it was also released as a single in ‘87, but I have no recollection of it. Does it ring a bell with any of my readers? I apologize that the video is of such terrible quality, both visually and creatively speaking. But the audio isn’t bad, and that’s what we’re going for here.

I discovered The John Butler Trio in 2015 thanks to a YouTube video shared on Facebook. I admit, I haven’t listened much to this band since, but I was blown away by the solo acoustic performance of “Ocean,” which I will post below. It’s impressive enough to be worth sharing, no matter how much (or how little) the band has otherwise taken root in my mind. The guitar-playing is mind-blowing.

One of my favorite folksy artists is Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden. Hayden released Hey Love in late March 2015, and while it may be one of the least memorable of his albums, it’s still good. Here’s the video for “Troubled Times”:

One of my favorite punk bands, Stiff Little Fingers, released a new album in 2015 titled No Going Back. Their first three albums, released between 1979 and 1981, will forever remain their best, but they’re in pretty good form considering. I need to spend more time with No Going Back, but here’s a sample for you: “Throwing It All Away,” a rather radio-friendly none-too-raucous ditty if I do say so myself.

Barenaked Ladies also reappeared on the scene in 2015 with the release of Silverball, just in time to spend some time on our car CD player as we drove to Illinois to spend seven weeks living in Nauvoo. Silverball is a marked improvement over 2013’s Grinning Streak, but still near the bottom of the band’s extensive catalog. Multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn continues to be one of the group’s greatest assets, if not an under-utilized songwriter. “Tired of Fighting with You” features Hearn’s classic surreal lullaby sound and quirkily poetic lyrics. This track doesn’t showcase the more energetic pop-rock tone that dominates the rest of the album, but it’s a good song.

1980s New Wave superstars Duran Duran are still going strong, having released Paper Gods in September. Perhaps only one album will eclipse Paper Gods as the album that featured more heavily into my life during 2015—and no, I’m not referring to Pop Goes the World. (Oh, the suspense!) Creegan has been an incredibly fun part of my music listening over the last year. He is an avid music listener, and he picks out his favorites from every CD he hears and demands that they be replayed over and over again. The first three tracks of Paper Gods—titled “Paper Gods,” “Last Night in the City” and “You Kill Me With Silence,” respectively—were all exceptionally big hits with Creegan, who loved the album in its entirety. But I’m actually going to share the fourth track from the album, “Pressure Off.” Why? Because it’s catchy as hell. What other reason do you need?

One of the best releases in 2015, in my opinion, was Ben Folds’ So There. The album concludes with over 20 minutes of concerto music, spanning three tracks. Preceding that are eight piano-heavy pop tunes, in classic Ben Folds form but with more orchestration than he’s ever done before. My favorite is the opening track, “Capable of Anything,” which I’ll share here:

One musician I continually find myself surprised to enjoy as much as I do is Joe Satriani, guitarist extraordinaire who specializes in instrumental rock. I found his 2015 release, Shockwave Supernova, thoroughly enjoyable. The final track is one of my favorites on the album, the slower, aptly-named “Goodbye Supernova.” I really like the bass in this song. Not that it’s impressive, it just sounds really good to me. I think it reminds me of something else, which might not be what Satriani wants to hear, but regardless, there is a nostalgic quality to this tune that pulls me in and makes me feel like closing my eyes and reflecting. Here it is:

I bought Shockwave Supernova as a birthday present to myself along with a few other albums. I rounded out my Collective Soul collection by nabbing both 2008’s Afterwords, which I had previously neglected, and their new 2015 release, See What You Started by Continuing. Collective Soul is one of those bands that I really enjoyed in the 1990s and then stopped paying much attention to after a couple of their albums were merely so-so. After nearly a decade-and-a-half of pretty much ignoring them, I came by a really cheap copy of their 2009 self-titled album and gave it a listen. I quite liked it. I can understand someone arguing that many of their songs sound quite a bit alike, but such a complaint can be lobbied against many a good band. All I know is, the last few Collective Soul albums have been very enjoyable, and I’m glad to have them back in rotation. Below are the videos for “Hollywood” from Afterwords and “AYTA” from See What You Started by Continuing.

One of my absolute favorite album discoveries of 2015 was one of my birthday CDs, White Hot Peach by Primitive Radio Gods. Choosing one song to showcase from this album is incredibly hard. It’s so damn good. I’m not sure the audio quality is as good in the following video as I wish it were, but the song is awesome. Please enjoy “Fading Out.” After you listen to this, can you honestly say you don’t want to listen to it about 100 more times before doing anything else?

It was late October, or maybe November, when a friend of mine called me up and invited me to go with him to see Shakey Graves in concert. I’d never heard of Shakey Graves, but I went for it and had a very good time. I was amused that, of all the concerts I’ve ever been to, this country-tinged, electrified, singer-songwriter type gave the most rock star performance of any artist I’ve ever seen live. Brassieres thrown onstage? I’d never seen it before, but it happened for Shakey Graves. He had a certain boyish charm and energy about him that kept the crowd enthralled, myself included. He wasn’t shredding up the guitar like you might expect of a heavy metal musician, but man, could he fingerpick the hell out of it. I’ve decided that a video of a live performance is more fitting, since that’s how I experienced Shakey Graves. In this video, he looks very much like he did when I saw him at The Depot in downtown Salt Lake City: black baseball cap, plain white t-shirt, and a thick but short beard. Enjoy this dual performance of “If Not For You” and “The Perfect Parts,” both from the 2014 album And the War Came.

And now for the absolute biggest album of 2015, as far as my family is concerned: Blurryface by Twenty One Pilots. We got this album from the library, and even more so than with Duran Duran’s Paper Gods, my kids could not get enough of it. They knew a couple of songs from the radio—“Tear in My Heart” and “Stressed Out”—but they quickly fell in love with pretty much every track on the CD. I tell you, watching Creegan cock an attitude and sing along with “Stressed Out” is pretty darn entertaining, but even I found myself enjoying the crap out of this album from a purely musical standpoint. For all the many hours of continuous airplay that it received in our car, I never got sick of it. I still don’t feel sick of it, even though it still gets regular airplay. (Santa was wise enough to give us our own official copy for Christmas.) Twenty One Pilots are sometimes classified as an “alternative hip hop” duo. If you know me, you know hip hop is pretty far from my style, but I guess the “alternative” part is doing enough work to keep my ears perked up and happy. Yes, there’s a fair amount of rapping, but there is also plenty of melodic singing and even some edgy screaming now and again. Musically and lyrically, these guys are hella talented. Spoiler alert for when I review 2016, but I’ve since listened to another couple of albums by Twenty One Pilots and they are relentlessly amazing. Each of the three albums I’ve listened to had me instantaneously hooked. Twenty One Pilots are one of the best discoveries I’ve made in the last few years, without question.

I’ll be sharing a few videos to orient you to Twenty One Pilots. The first video is the official video for “Stressed Out,” which is on the radio almost constantly, it seems. On the off chance you haven’t heard it, now you can. The next video is one of Creegan listening to “Stressed Out” while in the car. I discreetly filmed him with my cell phone so he wouldn’t know what I was doing and stop behaving however he was. Sadly, despite seriously belting his heart out numerous times up to this point, it seems my filming had the cosmic effect of cramping his style. In the video, he starts off singing in a silly, non-serious way (not as he had been up to that point), makes an observation about the lyrics, mimics a drumbeat, and eventually just lip-syncs and dances a bit. It’s still cute, and you still get a feel for how he sometimes acts when he’s singing along, but it’s not what I hoped it would be. To make matters worse, the picture goes blurry for most of the video. But it’s the best I can offer. The third and final video below is merely the audio track of my favorite song on the album, “Hometown.” It’s amazing.

The end!