Ever since I started writing for The Bay Bridged I have become hopelessly insulated from the larger national music trends. Lately, all my music recommendations to friends and family have consisted almost exclusively of local acts, and ever since I stopped working at a record store I no longer have any idea of what constitutes mainstream tastes.
And I don’t think I’m missing much.
I haven’t cared about Adele since she butchered a Bond theme, Jamie XX is about as emotionally engaging as a Christopher Nolan flick, and Grimes sounds like a parody of modern pop, like music you would hear in a sci-fi movie from the ’80s because that’s how ridiculous the composer thought the music of the future would become. If this is the future of pop music, I need to get out of this business and go into tech writing.
I am happily secluded from whatever Stereogum or Pitchfork deems the most important music of this generation. I am happy to find plenty of talented musicians and interesting acts in my own backyard that are way more impressive than whatever populates the top-ten lists of dozens of other obnoxious music blogs cluttering up cyberspace. To quote a Gogol Bordello shirt I bought recently: “Think locally, fuck globally.” Yeah, that about sums it up.
With all that being said, here are my top five releases from Bay Area artists in 2015. I stuck to full-length albums not only because I prefer the long-player format, but also because this list would never end if I included all the great singles and EPs I heard throughout the year.
I’ve covered Owl Paws a number of times over the past two years, but 2015 gave me an opportunity to write about a full-length release. After reviewing a handful of EPs and singles, I was excited over the prospect of seeing what the band could do with the LP format. I wasn’t disappointed. Reservoir is a fantastic collection of songs that exemplifies their unique brand of indie-folk, which combines a raucous rhythm section with contemplative lyrics and mournful melodies. This can be heard best on the scorching opener “Bring Me Back,” but continues throughout the course of twelve solid tracks, sometimes serenading you softly with a haunter like “Coils of Spring,” sometimes attacking with the fierce backbeat of “The Fields.”
Yeah, Gold Minor is a bit old-school. Yeah, they don’t feature a wall of synthesizers or drum machines or lyrics drenched in so much irony they would offend Oscar Wilde. That’s probably why their debut LP Bone Flowers sounds so fresh even while still sounding somewhat familiar. Guitar solos and soaring vocal performances abound, yet the most attractive element is the sense of earnestness that coats it all, a sincerity in the power and glory of rock n’ roll, a firm belief that the genre can remain surprising and relevant when executed correctly. From slow-burn ballads (“Kiss the Night”) to full-blown headbangers (“The Right Time”), this one is best experienced at full volume.
Hopefully this is the year we take decisive action as a society on climate change. Hopefully the Paris Climate Conference institutes these sweeping changes. Hopefully one day we won’t require protest songs and marches in the street to get governments and corporations to work for the greater interests of the people. But until that day comes, at least we have the stirring, melancholic, ferocious sound of Lila Rose to expose humanity’s mistreatment of the world around them. She doesn’t back away from the darkness, in both her words or melodies, and the results on her debut LP We. Animals. are breathtaking, challenging and utterly captivating. Tinged with electronic elements, spiked with a post-punk sensibility, Rose takes the format of the pop song and twists it to face ugly realities rather than avoid them, and no matter how catchy her tunes may be, they don’t distract from the deeper meanings. It’s confrontational throughout, but the epic closing title track promises an emotional purge, a cathartic release that has gone unrivaled among all the releases I have heard this year.
It’s hard to adequately describe the sound of Growwler. They contain hints of classic rock, prog, psychedelia, country, blues, folk, but no one genre label quite fits. This is a good thing. As a listener, this keeps me on my toes, frequently unable to anticipate what’s coming next. Check out that “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” meets Portugal. The Man vibe on “Song of Songs Pt. ii”, the shades of Wilco evident on “Station Walkin”, and an echo of Dylan hiding in the shadows of “Long Hair, Short Wits.” Listening to their first LP (there seems to be a trend here…), I was excited by the fact that I didn’t know where the hell the next song, the next minute, even the next second would take me. I felt like a kid rifling through a crate of overlooked vinyl gems, discovering something captivating with each successive spin.
Kat Robichaud — Kat Robichaud and the Darling Misfits
Kat Robichaud wrote and released an epic, over-the-top glam rock record in an era when epic, over-the-top glam rock records are no longer written. Her debut LP would feel more comfortable wedged between Diamond Dogs and Electric Warrior than some of her pop contemporaries, and that’s certainly some great company to be in. Featuring grand, sweeping arrangements, exemplary musicianship and, of course, her tremendous voice, this record dares to go big when most indie productions seem to favor scaling back. Kat is thriving on theatricality in an age when most are practicing minimalism. Huge melodies propel tracks like “Uh Oh” and “Somebody Call the Doctor”, insightful and engaging lyrics drive “Definition of Pretty” and “The Apple Pie and the Knife”, and the showstopper “Why Do You Love Me Now?” closes it all out with a bang. If you haven’t been wowed by an album this year yet, give this one a listen.
Writer, drummer for numerous Bay Area bands, and obsessive Titus Andronicus fan, you can find more of his work (both musical and literary) at louderthanadoubt.tumblr.com or facebook.com/Nearmyth62. @LouderThanDoubt