Listen to “Ozarks at Large”
Listen to Fayetteville Flyer contributor Kevin Kinder discuss these albums and hear clips from many of them courtesy of a discussion with Kyle Kellams of KUAF 91.3 FM. The segment can be heard during the Dec. 23 edition of “Ozarks at Large,” which airs at noon and again at 7 p.m. You can also listen online.
Saying you have a list of the “best” albums is all relative, of course. Because it’s impossible to listen to everything that gets released in any given year. Compiling such a list also cannot overcome your personal biases, and that’s shown here. You’ll notice a lot of alternative country below, because that’s my favorite. You won’t notice any jazz or hip hop because I just don’t listen to much of those genres. Still, there’s fun in this exercise, and there’s lots of great things to listen to from 2015. In descending order, my 10 favorites were:
10. Dawes, “All Your Favorite Bands”
In the tradition of other Southern California popsters such as Fleetwood Mac, CSNY, Steve Miller Band and even more recent acts like Haim, Dawes offers a deceptively sunny, thoroughly jangly 2015 album including one of their best songs ever, “All Your Favorite Bands.” This album serves as a bit of a comeback after a few lesser entries to their catalog, which now spans four albums and six years.
9. Leon Bridges, “Coming Home”
I’m paraphrasing here, but Leon Bridges told an interviewer he knew he was destined to make the kind of neo-soul/gospel works he makes because that’s the kind of music you make when you have a voice like his. And that’s the first thing you notice about this debut record, a collection of catchy tracks anchored by his silky voice. He’s got tremendous upside, and I believe we’ll be talking about him for many years.
8. Protomartyr, “The Agent Intellect”
The Detroit boys in Protomartyr don’t much like the term post-punk to describe their music, but the label is fitting. Pitchfork called the songs of “The Agent Intellect,” their third album, “grim but compelling,” and I feel like that’s an apt description, too. This is driving music, both in the sense of the guitar work and the propulsive spirit that might inspire you to put it on over your car speakers.
7. Tobias Jesso Jr., “Goon”
Adele, she of the millions-selling album and otherworldly voice, was instrumental in discovering and subsequently promoting Tobias Jesso Jr. This isn’t another Adele album. That’s okay. It’s a sometimes sad, always intimate album of love and loss and the loss of love. “How Could You Babe” and “Hollywood” will stick with you long after the album has stopped playing.
6. Jason Isbell, “Something More Than Free”
Jason Isbell’s most recent album, “Something More Than Free,” isn’t as good as his 2013 album, “Southeastern.” That’s a high standard to reach, however – “Southeastern” is one of the 10 best albums of this decade, or maybe two decades. “Something More Than Free” is a little less immediately intimate than “Southeastern,” but Isbell’s knack for painting realistic scenes, like the high school football grumbles he introduces in “Speed Trap Town,” remain strong.
5. The Lone Bellow, “Then Came The Morning”
Some albums take a few listens to catch me, but I was instantly drawn by The Lone Bellow’s harmonies. There’s exuberance and joy even when pain rests just underneath the surface of this gospel/country mashup.
4. Courtney Barnett, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit”
“Gloriously irreverent” is the first thought that comes to mind if I attempt to describe Courtney Barnett. Other potential labels include rambling, talking poetry or perhaps just hell of a guitar player. Barnett’s debut record zigs and zags, discussing things such as origami and deciding whether or not to attend a party. It’s smarter than all that sounds, and it’s really a wonderful record.
3. Tame Impala, “Currents”
Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker largely ditched the guitars he so prominently used on the band’s previous albums on “Currents.” He did not, however, abandon his sense of psychedelic melody. The synthesizers he uses instead means this album owes more to Joy Division than The Beatles. Tracks such as “Let It Happen” are ambitious, but they’ve met their own high standards again.
2. Sufjan Stevens, “Carrie & Lowell”
Speaking of stark differences between the most recent and previous album, Sufjan Stevens returns to the minimalistic folk that caught my ears in the first place. He left the busy, electronic-heavy experimentation of the 2010 album “Age of Adz” to the spare, soul-bearing “Carrie & Lowell,” which dives into losing his mother, Carrie. It’s a heartbreaking album, but an important one.
1. Chris Stapleton, “Traveller”
It’s hard to say if this is my favorite album of the year because I listened to it more than any other album or if I listened to it more than any other album because it is far and away the best album of the year. Either way, I don’t mind. Perhaps Jason Isbell, who created the album at No. 6 on this list, said it best:
I've never agreed with so many #CMAawards before, and I know my tastes haven't changed over the years. Good things are happening right now.
— Jason Isbell (@JasonIsbell) November 5, 2015
Chris Stapleton, and artists such as Sturgill Simpson and Isbell and Kacey Musgraves alongside him, are helping wrestle country music away from bro-country acts. This album just happens to have fantastic song after fantastic song after fantastic song. Try “Traveller” or “Outlaw State of Mind” or “Whiskey and You,” the latter a song he originally wrote for Tim McGraw but took back for his own debut. It’s a marvelous debut, and a marvelous cap to a very good year of music.
Other albums receiving consideration: John Moreland’s “High on Tulsa Heat,” Ashley Monroe’s “The Blade,” Lord Huron, “Strange Trails”