So now we are into January, I decided it was time to post the final part of my best of 2015 list. It was at times hard to describe exactly how I feel about some of these albums, especially the album I picked as my number one album of 2015. All five of these, however, are truly great records that you simply must hear, spanning pop, indie rock, emo and more.
5) Carly Rae Jepson – Emotion
June 23 – Interscope
If there is any album on this list that truly surprised me, it was Emotion, the new album from Carly Rae Jepson. The “Call Me Maybe” singer ditched her boy-crazy persona for this album, and aside from the single “I Really Like You”, has moved from the bubble-gum pop sound that found her stardom.
Opening with the more recent single “Run Away With Me”, the album starts with one of 2015’s best and most overlooked songs. Saxophone bursts into life, before Carly sings in a tone far more seductive and moody than ever before. The lyrics on this song, and the album in general, still revolve around the topics of love, heartbreak and relationships, but they never devolve into cheesy territory. The album has a huge 80s influence and pulls it off in a way which Taylor Swift’s 1989 could only dream of. From the pulsating electronics, to the glimmering guitar lines, and the pounding bass, this song is one of the catchiest, most-dance-able tunes released all year.
Following this, the high points come thick and fast. Next is “Emotion”, which is another hugely impressive track revolving around Carly hoping that her ex realises he made a mistake being without her. “I Really Like You” is the only song here that sounds more like her older “Call Me Maybe” style tracks, yet pulls it off with aplomb. “Gimmie Love” is a more moody track with a darker synth beat, and latest single “Your Type” is a simple yet brilliant tale of unrequited love that builds instrumentally, whilst one of the strongest songs of the entire album is the B-side “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance”, which as the title suggests is the song that most resembles a club anthem.
The songs have verses catchier than most songs choruses, and never falls into Swift’s trap on 1989 where she often relied on repetition for hooks, and instead Emotion boasts some of the most impressive vocal melodies of the year. To back these up, Carly gives an impressive and versatile vocal performance, and one that always feels full of personality, and never fake. From the sentimental and delicate “All That”, to the broody “Gimmie Love”, and from the playful happiness of “I Really Like You”, to the carefree swagger of “Boy Problems”.
Whilst there are a few less cheerful tracks on Emotion, most of the record feels like a perfect encapsulation of the start of a relationship and the feelings that come with it, and no album this year has conveyed this feeling more honestly or believably.
4) Frank Turner – Positive Songs For Negative People
August 7 – Xtra Mile/Interscope
Mixing acoustic folk and punk, Frank Turner has carved himself a niche in the British musical landscape through hard work and non-stop touring. Often topping 250-300 shows a year, Frank’s early years saw him travel as far as America and Russia to play for whoever would listen.
Of course, hard work only gets you so far. Luckily, Frank Turner has also written five of the best British rock records of the 2000s. His second album, Love, Ire & Song, saw him breakout, and many maintain it to be his best to this day. Fourth album England Keep My Bones saw him enter the mainstream, and even open the 2012 Olympic ceremony with a performance watched by over a billion people worldwide, whilst fifth album Tape Deck Heart was a more downbeat affair yet was his most commercially successful album to date.
Now, for his sixth album, Frank has turned the noise up to 11, and in typically punk fashion, has followed his biggest album with his fastest, most abrasive album yet. It’s still catchy, and it’s still immediate, yet most of all, it’s still intelligent. “Josephine”, for example, features a large number of historical references, whilst “Silent Key” bases its story around the crash of the Challenger space shuttle and a broadcast made by Christa McAuliffe, and features guest vocals by Esme Patterson.
Frank Turner has often claimed his albums are reactions to the one that came before it, and this is no exception. Following the downbeat and extra personal Tape Deck Heart, this album centres on living life to its fullest. Highlight “Demons” exemplifies this the best, with its shout-it-out-loud chorus of “At this truth we have arrived: God damn, it’s great to be alive.” It’s simple, it’s effective, and it’s hugely life affirming. Not only is this a great record, but it’s one you can listen to time and again for strength.
It seems fitting, then, that the final song be one of such utter despair. Similar to “The Ballad of Me and My Friends” from his debut, “Song For Josh” was recorded live at a venue that held huge emotional weight for the song, as it’s where the titular character worked and became close friends with Frank, before sadly committing suicide. The lyrics to this song are easily Frank’s most touching yet, and will certainly never fail to provoke an emotional response from me.
The second verse in particular, stands out as a lyric that will be all too well understood by anyone who has known a victim of suicide: “Why didn’t you say something on the last time we met? Why didn’t you say something? There’s always hope left. And I can’t say for certain what I would have done, but I can’t do anything now that you’re gone, and it kills me to think that for a second you felt alone.” During the bridge, Frank’s vocals noticeably strain, as he struggles not to break down himself. It’s a magical moment of pure emotion, on possibly one of Frank’s best songs yet.
It makes sense upon hearing this song, as to why Frank’s new record is about making the most of life. He knows as well as anyone that’s short, and we only get one shot. After losing a friend, Frank just wants to help the rest of realise this too.
3) Death Cab For Cutie – Kintsugi
March 31 – Atlantic
There is an art form from Japan that focuses on the power of healing. It involves taking pottery that has been broken, and using a golden lacquer to repair it, creating a piece of physical art that neither hides from its past, nor its flaws, but embraces and celebrates them for all to see. This art form is called Kintsugi and appropriately, this is also the title of Death Cab for Cutie’s first album in four years and their eighth studio album.
Opening with “No Room In Frame”, Death Cab show exactly why they are one of the most celebrated indie bands of the 21st century. The song builds throughout, whilst singer Ben Gibbard’s lyrics revolve around his divorce from New Girl star Zooey Deschanel. Whilst their last record, Codes&Keys, was a happier affair, this is immediately a more solemn release, as Gibbard sings “And I guess it’s not a failure I could help, and we’ll both go on to get lonely with someone else.”
Fourth track “Little Wanderer” is a more cheerful song, discussing a newer relationship with someone whose job also takes them around the world, and despite the talk of dodgy internet connections, the love-struck feeling permeates throughout, and it a rare positive moment in an album that has few.
Tracks five and six are the slowest on the album. “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life” is a slow burning track with lyrics that never hides it’s target, as Gibbard lament “You’re the mistress I can’t make a wife.” Track six meanwhile, is a beautiful and desperate acoustic song that sees Gibbard opening by asking his former wife “Darlin’, don’t you understand? That there are no winners?” The track closes as he quietly croons, “My love, why do you run? For my hands hold no guns.” It’s the most stripped back song on the record, and because of this is becomes something that feels truly special.
After this, Death Cab understandably raise the tempo with two dancier numbers, the first being “Everything’s A Ceiling”, which in a move reminiscent of heroes The Smiths or The Cure, the upbeat melodies and tempos hide more sad lyrics as Gibbard reflects upon Deschanel moving on with someone new. “Good Help (Is so Hard to Find)” meanwhile, contains guitars that flick in and out of consciousness and a rolling electronic undercurrent throughout, and it’s yet another highlight, one which apes the best parts of 2011s Codes&Keys.
Another standout is “El Dorado”, an indie rock number that discusses Deschanel’s apparent U-turn in order to star in New Girl. The lyrics contain constant references to Hollywood and the fabled city of gold, as Gibbard states “And I tried to be hyped for you, oh I’m trying to be hyped for you”, to a backing of flourishing guitars and tumbling bass.
It’s a record that is only surpasses in their catalogue by 2005’s Transatlanticism, and should see them sit atop the pile of indie bands once longer, with their self-given title of “The biggest small band in the world”.
2) The Front Bottoms – Back On Top
September 18 – Fueled By Ramen
For a band with such a stupid name, The Front Bottoms have become a pretty big deal. Now, signing to Fueled By Ramen (the label that broke Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Panic At The Disco, Fun., and recently Twenty One Pilots) they are being touted as the next big thing, despite being the last band one would anticipate breaking into the mainstream.
Playing acoustic pop-punk & emo with sarcastic and humorous lyrics, lead singer Brian Sella has a very unique melodic style, and his lyrics can often be touching and funny at the same time. Their third studio album (not including demo albums), Back on Top, is their best yet, and their first fully electric release.
Opening with “Motorcycle”, The Front Bottoms immediately prove they have created easily the most fun album of the entire year, as Sella sings “Sometimes you gotta close your eyes to truly see the light.” It’s the first of a hundred moments, that all make you want to jump up and sing at the top of your lungs, whilst the guitar lead throughout is a swirling vortex, only stopped when the music cuts to a gospel backing, before jumping back in at full speed.
Second track “Summer Shandy” has a chorus that builds each time around, with Sella at his most infatuated, singing “Yeah that would be great, that would be beach house living, every night, rest of our lives, you and me, we could go swimming.” Following this is single “Cough It Out”, which is one of the summer’s best chilled-out campfire songs. Whilst the chorus sings of being “delusional of love”, the verses tell the tale of a soured friendship, singing “I don’t care if you’re not sorry I forgive you, and with or without your support I will continue.”
Track four is quite simply the best song TFB have ever wrote. Titled “HELP”, it somehow opens with lyrics about pep talks and teeth brushing, before making the equally ridiculous lyrics “This is what I want, mother fucker make it happen to me” seem like a do-or-die prophecy, with a tongue firmly implanted in Sella’s cheek the whole time. There is not a single melody here, vocally or instrumentally, that isn’t designed to burrow inside your brain and make home there forever, and as a result you will find yourself singing this weeks after you last heard it.
The Front Bottoms have never hidden their use marijuana either, as Sella sings “Just you and me, getting high and hanging out, getting high and messing around, getting high and trying to figure it out”, before a spoken-word guest spot from New Jersey hip-hop artist GDP ends a more moody track named “Historic Cemetery”, which helps give the album some needed breathing room. “The Plan (Fuck Jobs)” sees Sella at his most whimsical as he sings through laughing, “I fucking hate the comments, why do you feel you have to talk? Nobody asked for your opinion, your sick sad way of jerkin off.” The song is a more groove driven affair that is punctuated by catchy keyboard melodies and punchy riffs, and the odd trombone.
Ninth track “2YL” meanwhile, is possibly the second best track here. An all-out rock affair, its lyrics are about young love and sex, even managing a Marvin Gaye reference. The chorus is one of the catchiest of the entire year, with winding guitar lines that swerve into a moment of pure triumph, where they take a nod from The Cure’s “Close To Me” and have the last half of song feature a full brass band that leads the band to new stratospheres.
Back On Top really is an album that should be enjoyed by everyone, with something here for fans of all kinds of rock music, and an upbeat enjoy-life mentality to lift the dark clouds from even the unhappiest of people.
1) Turnover – Peripheral Vision
May 4 – Run For Cover
“I always remember things better than they were, and miss people more than I should.”
This quote from singer Austin Getz came in the build up to Turnover’s second album, Peripheral Vision. Perhaps he considered it a throwaway answer, but it’s exactly this feeling of nostalgia and sentimentality that seeps from every pore of this album, and dominates its lyrical narratives.
Starting as a pop-punk band, their debut album Magnolia saw them take in emo and grunge influences and create one of 2013’s best albums. An EP title Blue Dream saw them take more ambient influences, with three songs that were mesmerising, and in the case of “Bella Donna”, incredibly beautiful.
The evolution has been slow, but it’s been precise. For their second album, Turnover have removed their punk shackles, and instead their sound is a mix of The Cure style indie rock, with Emo and shoegaze influences. The rhythm section is basic but driving, whilst guitars noodle throughout as Austin’s vocals arrive drenched in reverb. It’s all basic from an instrumental perspective, but it combines to create a gorgeous sound that even without the vocals, feels like pure nostalgia.
Opener ‘Cutting My Fingers Off’ is without a doubt one of the bands best ever songs. They create a swirling, hazy atmosphere surrounding 80’s-tinged pop melodies, whilst Getz spins a tale of lost love, singing, “You always said that every thought I had was geometric, I couldn’t think outside my own lines.” The song’s first half resembles a band such as American Football, with its quiet introspection, whilst the second half feels like the best parts of Mineral, and is a truly phenomenal opener.
Second track and lead single “New Scream” is one the more straight-up pop songs on the record, and perhaps most resembles The Cure. Jangly guitars and a bouncy rhythm front a track about the lust for a more exciting life, as Getz sings “I’m craving that new scream, lusting for more than just old dreams. I’ve been dying to feel alive, and I’ve been wasting all my time.”
Fifth track “Dizzy On The Comedown” is another highlight. Every line of the track is weaved expertly into a hypnotic melody that continues throughout. The song tells a tale of infatuation, with Getz singing “Would you come here and spin with me? I’ve been dying to get you dizzy.”
Another highlight is the reworked version of “I Would Hate You If I Could”, originally a song from a four way split EP. Gone are the grunge elements, and the poppier, cleaner tones suit the song perfectly. It’s a much sadder song that the rest of the record, and is a reflection upon a past relationship, with a reworked outro that places the backing vocals much higher in the mix. In all honesty, every lyrics from this song is brilliant, including the opening verse where Getz laments “I hear you’ve been telling all your friends that you’re done with me, like you always knew things wouldn’t work out. And I’ve been hearing things from people that I don’t want to talk to, like it matters who you’re sleeping with now.”
It’s an incredibly consistent record, and there really are no songs on the album that are anything less than brilliant. More than that, it’s an incredibly touching record, and one that I personally grew attached to incredibly quickly. The mix of atmospheric instrumentation, perfect for the evenings, and highly relatable lyrics meant that it quickly became my favourite record in about three years. Covering a wide emotional spectrum, Peripheral Vision is an album that somehow always feels suitable. It’s an album that constantly makes me search my own past, and has caused deeper introspection that any album in recent memory. It’s the soundtrack to many of the major events in my life, one that I’ve edited in later in life.
Perhaps the best part of this release is that it’s only the band’s second album. An incredibly consistent band that continually improve and progress, they are confirmed to already be working on new material, likely an EP, due for 2016.
If they manage to top this however, it could be something very special indeed.