Thursday, February 11, 2016

Top 10 albums of 2015

Ween is back for 2016, fuckers!

Well shit. It's already February, huh? Seems like this annual top 10 list goes up later and later every year. At the rate I'm going, my top 10 albums of 2025 might not see the light of day until 2027. Honestly, I'm really just a music journalist in name only at this point. This is only the 12th post I've made on this blog since 2011, and four of those (including this one) are just my annual top 10 albums lists. Two of them didn't even have anything to do with music and one was just a rehash of all my old 3?aK posts, so yeah, suffice it to say that writing about music has kind of taken a backseat to damn near everything else in my life lately. That said, a bunch of labels still send me promos to check out, and Village Voice still sends me a Pazz + Jop ballot every year, so I feel obligated to at least post a top 10 list for all of you loyal Tempe Carnivore readers out there.

Like last year, I've included the points I awarded each album on my 2015 ballot. Each voter gets 100 points to distribute amongst their top 10, with no album receiving more than 30 points or less than five. Also like last year (and every single year I've published a top 10), this list is predominantly metal. Deal with it.

As far as I'm concerned, the biggest music story of 2015 had nothing to do with any album released last year. In November, the greatest band in the history of recorded music, Ween, announced that they will be reuniting for a handful of shows this year, beginning with a three-night stint in Broomfield, Colo. over President's Day weekend, Feb. 12-14. I'm proud to say I have tickets for the first two nights, and if anything could light a fire under my ass and inspire a new, non-top 10 blog post, it'd probably be Ween's first live shows in four years. If all goes well, we might even have a new Ween album on this list next year. Until then, here are some really good albums by bands that aren't Ween that came out last year. As an added bonus, I'm also including a brief write-up on my favorite song of the year that I submitted to Village Voice along with my ballot. They apparently didn't publish any voter commentary this year, so consider it a Tempe Carnivore exclusive.

10. Clutch - Psychic Warfare [5 points]
Clutch is easily my second-favorite band behind Ween, so pretty much anything they put out is going to have a slot in my top 10 reserved for it. Twenty-five years and 11 albums in, they're still putting out some of the catchiest, grooviest hard rock this side of Led Zeppelin. This album might eventually occupy a higher spot on this list, but as much as I love 'em, the fellas in Clutch made this one kinda difficult to listen to. I stopped buying new music on CD a few years ago. Anymore, I just stream everything on Spotify and buy the albums I really love on vinyl. Unfortunately, Clutch chose not to make Psychic Warfare available on Spotify upon its Oct. 2 release, and the vinyl version didn't hit stores until Dec. 22, six days before my ballot was due. Due to the glaring omission of a digital download with the vinyl release, I've only managed listen to this album twice. It's still classic Clutch, but I really hope these guys decide to either get on the Spotify train or start including a digital download with their vinyl releases.

9. Elder - Lore [5 points]
Boston's stoner rock luminaries Elder returned with their third full-length, Lore, early in 2015. While this release doesn't quite reach the heights of their 2011 masterpiece Dead Roots Stirring, it sees the band expand their sound in more melodic and psychedelic directions. Unfortunately, one of the band's greatest strengths -- their unwavering dedication to lengthy, 10-15 minute jams -- might also be their biggest obstacle to achieving any sort of mainstream/crossover success. Part of me wants to see them try to condense their sound into some more easily digestible, four- or five-minute traditional rock songs, just to see if the non-metal world might be more inclined to take notice of this incredibly talented band. But the purist in me wants them to just say "fuck the mainstream" and keep cranking out the blissful, fuzzed-out, riff-worshipping epics that they already do way better than any of their contemporaries.

8. Joey Bada$$ - B4.DA.$$ [5 points]
I briefly considered leaving Joey Badas$$'s official debut album off of my top 10 list, just because it felt like nothing more than a token nod to hip-hop in a list otherwise dominated by hard rock and metal. And honestly, the older I get, the more out of touch I feel with modern hip-hop. Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly was pretty much universally hailed as the best hip-hop album of 2015, if not the best album, period, but it really didn't do much for me. Like Joey himself, I might just be hopelessly stuck in the '90s, but I'll take the throwback beats and old-school rhymes of B4.DA.$$ over any of the modern rap I heard this year.

7. Torche - Restarter [5 points]
Another slab of heavy, sludgy, yet somehow ridiculously catchy pop metal from Steve Brooks and his co-conspirators in Torche. Restarter is a little more aggressive than its 2012 predecessor, Harmonicraft, but still retains the inimitable balance of melodic hooks and thunderous riffs that few other bands are capable of combining to such an effective degree.

6. Baroness - Purple [7 points]
5. Valkyrie - Shadows [7 points]
Guitarist Pete Adams had a busy 2015. May saw the release of Shadows, the third release from Virginia's Valkyrie, the proto-metal band Adams has co-fronted alongside his brother Jake since 2004. Then in December, Baroness (whom Adams joined in 2008) released Purple, the highly anticipated follow-up to their groundbreaking, genre-defying 2012 double album Yellow & Green. While both albums are among the best releases of 2015, the surprise is that the relatively unheralded Shadows is arguably the stronger of the two albums. Valkyrie's first release in seven years picks up right where 2008's Man of Two Visions left off, showcasing the Adams brothers' vocal and guitar harmonies while advancing their songwriting chops. Baroness, meanwhile, is undeniably the more high profile of Pete Adams' two gigs, but Purple, although a remarkable album in its own right, just doesn't quite live up to the (perhaps impossibly) high standards set by its predecessor. Of course, like most Baroness fans, I'm mainly just happy that Purple exists at all, in light of the horrific 2012 bus accident that put the band's future in jeopardy and ultimately led to the early retirement of their rhythm section. In that regard, Purple is a welcome treasure. But compared to Yellow & Green, or even to Valkyrie's excellent release this year, it just doesn't quite deliver as much as I'd hoped.

4. Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats - The Night Creeper [12 points]
Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats' sound might be stuck firmly in the psychedelia of the late '60s and early '70s, but if you're going to be derivative, you could certainly do a lot worse than the legendary bands from whom this English foursome borrows heavily. Combine Black Sabbath's heavy blues riffing and dark lyrical subject matter with the Beatles' quirky, melodic pop sensibilities and you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Uncle Acid. Sabbath and the Beatles might be two of the most influential acts in the history of rock music, but rarely have their bloodlines converged as seamlessly and naturally as this.

3. Year of the Goat - The Unspeakable [16 points]
This album, more than any other on this list, is why I still find the process of making a top 10 list every year to be a rewarding and worthwhile endeavor. I had never heard of Year of the Goat when the digital promo for their second album, The Unspeakable, landed in my inbox back in June, and to be honest, I wasn't really expecting much. The band's label, Napalm Records, is home to a lot of gothic, symphonic and power metal bands that tend to be a little too cheesy and melodramatic for my taste. It's also home to nĂ¼ metal retreads Coal Chamber, so you can see why I didn't have high hopes. Shockingly, The Unspeakable not only surpassed my low (and admittedly biased) expectations but actually turned out to be one of the best albums I heard all year. This Swedish six-piece's sound is an amalgamation of '70s bluesy hard rock and '80s prog, but what sets the band apart is the incredible performance of singer Thomas Sabbathi. Sabbathi's voice is so reminiscent of Thom Yorke's melancholy falsetto that you'd be forgiven if you thought that Radiohead suddenly decided to do away with the pretension that has marred their later work and put out a fairly straightforward, occult-themed hard rock record.

2. Failure - The Heart is a Monster [17 points]
Reunions can be hard to pull off. At worst, it can forever tarnish an otherwise great band's legacy. The best you can typically hope for is an overpriced, nostalgia-laden tour that affords you a chance to see a classic band that you missed the first time around. Hell, we're even willing to cut Ozzy/Dave/Perry some slack for not being able to hit those high notes anymore just to be able to say we saw the classic lineup of Sabbath/Van Halen/Jane's Addiction. But even when the reunion tour is a resounding success, subsequent new music is frequently underwhelming (see Pixies, the). Despite these improbable odds, Failure managed to not only pull off a successful reunion tour after a 17-year hiatus, but also release an album that stands up to their seminal '90s work. The Heart is a Monster picks up right where 1997's Fantastic Planet left off and sounds like it could've come out in '98 or '99 (and I mean that in a good way). It's not only one of the year's best albums, but one of the best comeback albums of all time. Let's hope there's still more to come.

1. Deafheaven - New Bermuda [21 points]
I was a little late to the party on Deafheaven's 2013 masterpiece, Sunbather. I even mentioned in my top 10 that year that I felt some "ranker's remorse" in only slotting it at number 4. That's not to imply that putting their follow-up, New Bermuda, atop my list this year is some sort of "make-up call" (to borrow a term from the sports world). On New Bermuda, Deafheaven actually manages to exceed the almost impossibly high standard they set in 2013. This album retains many of the lush, majestic qualities that made Sunbather such a crossover success in non-metal circles, while pushing the bar even further in experimenting with new sounds and genres. It's also quite a bit more metal than Sunbather. If this album doesn't convince you of this band's prowess, you're probably just a hopeless hater.


So there you have it. Another top 10 in the books. See you back here in another 13 months, give or take. I'm off to see Ween, but before I go, here's that blurb I promised on the best song of 2015 (which, coincidentally enough, is also ween-related):

Forget "Hello" and "Can't Feel my Face." If you're among the several million people who still listen to the Howard Stern Show on a regular basis, the song of the year is unquestionably "I'll Suck Your Ween," the juvenile, homoerotic and undeniably infectious send-up of Justin Bieber's chart-topping hit "What Do You Mean?" Song parodies are a long-running staple of Stern's show, but this song in particular has managed to transcend mere mockery and take on a life of its own, inspiring subsequent opera, mariachi and a cappella versions, as well as a Christmas remix complete with sleigh bells. Part of the song's appeal lies in its mysterious origins. It is most likely a product of the show's writing team, but Stern has yet to reveal who actually wrote and performed the song, spurring numerous online discussions about its possible creators. Like any great song, it worms its way into your subconscious and stays there, playing on repeat in your head throughout the day. However, the vast majority of other ridiculously catchy pop songs aren't typically about dude-on-dude fellatio. When a coworker walks around the corner and catches you singing "I'll suck your ween, whoa-oh-oh-oh, pull out your penis, and I'll start to blow," there's not much you can do but shrug your shoulders sheepishly and pray that they don't decide to contact HR.

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