This past summer, after riding my bike home all liquored up from the Keefer Bar, I left my battered but beloved 2003 iPod on a back-yard table, where it was destroyed by an overnight rainfall. A nice lady named Kate Ross eased the trauma by selling me her 160GB iPod Classic on Craigslist. The following records ended up on a playlist titled Kate Ross Totally Rocks.
Living up to its title, the third full-length from the Soft Moon finds solo artist Luis Vasquez exploring his boiling emotions in an attempt to make sense of the world. Cancer-black synths and sheet-metal percussion form the backdrop for a therapy session that, instead of easy answers, ends with the fittingly bleak, “I don’t know who I am/What is this place?”
Carrie & Lowell
The often-enigmatic Sufjan Stevens pulls back the curtain on his private life with songs inspired by the death of his mostly absent birth mother, who was plagued by mental-health and addiction problems. Harrowing has never sounded more beautiful than when Indie America’s most accomplished songwriter sings, “Fuck me, I’m falling apart” in “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”.
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Whip-smart Aussie Courtney Barnett cements her title as alt-pop’s cleverest lyricist, packing every song on Sometimes I Sit with a mini novel’s worth of detail. Marvel at “Elevator Operator”, on which stressed-out 21-year-old Oliver Paul stands on a rooftop telling a skeletal woman with a snakeskin bag, “I’m not suicidal, just idling insignificantly/I come up here for perception and clarity.”
Depression, an existential spiritual crisis, and an almost crippling fear of death all weighed heavily on Torres (aka Mackenzie Scott) while she was crafting her emotionally devastating sophomore outing. Revel in the pain when, as guitar and drums come crashing down around her on “New Skin”, she stands brave and defiant with “But if you do not know the darkness/You’re the one I fear the most.”
Before the World Was Big
EDM and hip-hop continued to rule the world in 2015, and that’s maybe one of the reasons Girlpool’s gold-soundz reboot of classic indie rock sounded so fresh. Nobody—and that includes Pavement, not to mention Liz Phair and Cat Power—makes records like this anymore.
Some things are worth the wait, with Dr. Dre’s 15-years-in-the-making Compton being a perfect example. A love letter to the still-violent birthplace of N.W.A., Andre Young’s official follow-up to 2001 tackles topics ranging from race-based police brutality to mortality to the challenges of being young and black in America, and the result is a record that’s as sprawling as it is powerful.
Written by three Atlanta-raised southerners (two white, one black) who’ve relocated to New York City, Algiers serves up a thrilling mashup of styles that should be at odds with each other, the songs mixing cold-slab postpunk with fever-sweat gospel and field-holler soul. Add lyrics that challenge everything from faith in God to the whitewashing of African-American culture, and you’ve got the year’s most revolutionary sermon.
Shadow of the Sun
While Shadow of the Sun has trace elements of grimy garage rock, CBGB-brand new wave, and Berlin techno, Moon Duo’s main obsession is post-Nuggets psychedelia. Dark, driving, and deliciously hypnotic, the Portland-based duo’s third full-length will make you appreciate both your vintage lava lamp and that mountainous stack of Orange Sunshine in the medicine cabinet.
Former Jenny Lewis sidewoman Natalie Prass shows she’s more than ready for her close-up with a hyperaccomplished debut marked by swirling springtime-in-Paris horns and regal concert-hall strings. Part oddball art-house jazz weirdo and part chamber-pop-fixated angel, the 29-year-old late bloomer is no longer anyone’s musical gun for hire.
From the chugging black-metal-glazed tsunami “Brought to the Water” to the meditative outro, “Gifts for the Earth”, Deafheaven shows that extreme music can be gorgeous, even as frontman George Clarke howls like a man swimming in broken glass. When the apocalypse finally comes, the towering New Bermuda will be a great sonic backdrop for the carnage.