The Blazing Top 50 Albums of 2017

blazing top 50

#50

Old 97’s
Graveyard Whistling
ATO Records [2017]

Drinkin’, whiskey, cars, trouble, women, God and Texas – Dallas, Texas that is. That has been the story of the Old 97’s since their first record, Hitchhike To Rome which was released back in 1994. This veteran group returned this year with an album that embraced the alt-country world they helped build. Graveyard Whistling delightfully is the groups best record since 2008’s Blame It On Gravity and is easily in their top 5. Overall, there was nothing to dislike on Graveyard Whistling if you are a fan as the Old 97’s sound as young as ever.

Old 97’s: Graveyard Whistling [Fire Note Review 2/28/17]

#49

Big Thief
Capacity
Saddle Creek Records [2017]

After the clamor and scrawl of Big Thief’s debut album, Masterpiece, it might be a surprise to some to find the quiet moments on Capacity. There’s an intimacy here, between songwriter and listener, and even in its quieter moments, it still remained as intense as the band’s roaring rockers. You can see the life lived on these songs from Big Thief, in the images they conjure as it tested our limits, to fill ourselves both positively and negatively with the things that make the world spin.

Big Thief: Capacity [Fire Note Review 6/19/17]

#48

Once & Future Band
Once & Future Band
Castle Face Records [2017]

What was an unabashedly progressive rock band doing on John Dwyer’s Castle Face imprint? t seems an odd marriage at first. But then again, the line between Psych and Prog has always been a little blurry to say the least and even more modernized with Once & Future Band. Once & Future band are not clones. What they’re doing is updating an entire genre by putting a very unique spin on it. Once & Future Band created a very solid batch of songs that all sound like they belong together and flow well throughout. If Prog was going to move into the indie world Once & Future Band will be on the front line as they courageously defy current trends.

Once & Future Band: Once & Future Band [Fire Note Review 3/24/17]

#47

A. Savage
Thawing Dawn
Dull Tools [2017]

A. Savage is best known as one of the frontman for Parquet Courts. Thawing Dawn is his first solo record, that was recorded between December 2016 and June 2017 by a group of Savage’s friends that included members of Woods, Ultimate Painting, PC Worship, EZTV, Sunwatchers, and Psychic TV. A. Savage brought his crooner skills and kept it fairly simple here as it has many different flavors from spaghetti western strumming to rocking out to a great indie rock church performance. He is a true talent.

A. Savage: Thawing Dawn [Fire Note Review 10/18/17]

#46

Mac DeMarco
This Old Dog
Captured Tracks [2017]

Maturity is a weird thing because not only does it seem to happen overnight but you can typically identify the very “moment” it takes place. You can recognize it in your friends, in your own kids, your favorite athlete, actor and author and usually in your favorite artist. For the lighthearted and laid-back indie nice guy, Mac DeMarco, his third full length record, This Old Dog, is his “moment.” This record never broke out and showcased a very relaxed DeMarco. You bundle the heartfelt subject matter with his wavy crooning vocals, comfortable approach and truly mature songwriting, This Old Dog resulted in another fantastic edition to his catalog.

Mac DeMarco: This Old Dog [Fire Note Review 5/3/17]

#45

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile
Lotta Sea Lice
Matador Records [2017]

In today’s indie music scene, I couldn’t think of a current pairing that have an equal rising momentum like Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett. Lotta Sea Lice found them teaming up and essentially hanging out for this nine-song record. What makes Lotta Sea Lice successful is that it is a real collaboration and neither artist takes over the record. The songwriting is strong and the arrangements are memorable. It is an album that you can put on and play and its timeless vibe will keep you coming back. Lotta Sea Lice is an interesting conversation at the coffee house that comes complete with guitars and everyone is invited.

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile: Lotta Sea Lice [Fire Note Review 10/12/17]

#44

Tobin Sprout
The Universe And Me
Burger Records [2017]

Tobin Sprout’s first album in seven years is wistful, poignant and brings the rock. This album kicked off 2017 right as The Universe and Me ran the gamut of what you would want in a Tobin Sprout record. There are the crunchy power pop tracks, the bright, nostalgic Guided By Voices trips and the poignant heavy hitters that can wring a tear from your eyes and put a lump in your throat. The Universe And Me is a showcase of some exceptional songwriting and excellent production.

Tobin Sprout: The Universe And Me [Fire Note Review 1/23/17]

#43

ORB
Naturality
Castle Face/Flightless Records [2017]

ORB hail from Australia and run around with label mates King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard which are both on Flightless and Castle Face Records. Naturality is their sophomore record. Naturality continues some of their known sludge rock but now this muscle finds the group working a psych pop angle with more vocals and shorter compositions. Naturality show that ORB have more personality, creativeness and energy while still giving fans the power thumping tracks. The record is fierce, bombastic and has swagger right down to the end as ORB is another solid Australian act that are coming into their own with this entertaining album.

ORB: Naturality [Fire Note Review 10/5/17]

#42

BIRDS
Everything All At Once
Greenway Records [2017]

Brooklyn band BIRDS offer a very organic free flowing fuzzed-out mix of psychedelic rock that sways around some in the Elephant 6 Collective style like an Apples In Stereo and The Minders. BIRDS do not stay in that mode though as they also have a Kurt Vile meets Swervedriver energy throughout the album. This mix of shoegaze is where Everything All At Once finds its uniqueness because the band can smolder songs with big waves of reverb while still offering plenty of upbeat indie rock that comes with a youthful vigor. A very promising debut as we look forward to what the BIRDS release next.

BIRDS: Everything All At Once [Fire Note Review 8/16/17]

#41

Flotation Toy Warning
The Machine That Made Us
Talitres [2017]

Flotation Toy Warning returned after a 13-year hiatus and delivered an excellent record. The Machine That Made Us clocks in at just over an hour-long running time and encompasses 10 carefully crafted and beautifully layered songs. Each track is a journey, a chapter in a deliberately paced adventure novel. The music and lyrics fill your head with such strange and vivid visions that you cannot wait to get to the next chapter. You will need to spend some time with this album to appreciate it fully. If you have been looking for a reason to buy some high-quality headphones, this album is it.

Flotation Toy Warning: The Machine That Made Us [Fire Note Review 7/5/17]

#40

Iron & Wine
Beast Epic
Sub Pop Records [2017]

From one perspective, Beast Epic is a “safe” record, from Iron & Wine that is a culmination of Sam Beam’s earlier experiments; instead of adding new pieces to the puzzle, Beam is starting to put it together. It may not be as surprising as previous releases have been, but there’s something oddly compelling about an Iron & Wine album emphasizing craft over novelty. If this is the sound of Sam Beam settling into a groove, then it’s about time because not only does Beast Epic fit like a good old pair of sneakers – it is an excellent highlight on Iron & Wine’s talents.

Iron & Wine: Beast Epic [Fire Note Review 10/23/17]

#39

St. Vincent
Masseduction
Loma Vista Recordings [2017]

St. Vincent’s eponymously titled 4th solo album, released in 2014, was easily her most accessible album, while also delivering some pretty amazing songs packaged with electro-pop polish, and marked by her unique guitar playing. She returned with Masseduction, that can be warm and close, or cold and hard, but it’s impossible to ignore. Once again, St. Vincent was able to offer something fresh that included funk hooks, darker techno vibes, and industrial tones that all were driven with her stand out vocals. While her songs are melodically evocative, St. Vincent was thinking big picture here and created an artistic statement about the current shape of the world, or at least her experience of it. The end result made Masseducation evocative as it is engaging, and as challenging as it is entertaining.

St. Vincent: Masseduction [Fire Note Review 11/30/17]

#38

Ryan Adams
Prisoner
PAX AM/Blue Note Records [2017]

Adam’s 2014 self-titled album dealt with the beginning of a pulling away from an unspoken someone, so this time around Adams reached into rock history to see how they dealt with horrible breakups. And where some would reach for Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Adams reaches into Springsteen’s own 1987 document of the dissolution of his marriage, Tunnel of Love. Adams doesn’t hold anything back here as the songs display his pain as the album’s trajectory has as an arc, so as the songs click by, so does the weight of his loss. In the end, Prisoner was another top record in this career artists catalog.

Ryan Adams: Prisoner [Fire Note Review 2/16/17]

#37

Spoon
Hot Thoughts
Matador Records [2017]

In a world that is constantly changing, and as likely to disappoint as often as it pleases, we’ll always be able to count on Spoon, the Austin indie rock band that continues to give up the goods on their 9th studio album Hot Thoughts. There’s a recognizable shift in sound away from guitars and toward a bolder keyboard presence, but that Spoon swagger was left intact. Like an old friend with a reputation for consistency, Spoon is a band that will always find a warm welcome. Hot Thoughts unique take on keyboard pop and disco from their unique place in the alternative rock universe, is a solid addition to the Spoon catalog.

Spoon: Hot Thoughts [Fire Note Review 3/20/17]

#36

Sorority Noise
You’re Not As_____As You Think
Triple Crown Records [2017]

Ever-evolving emo rockers Sorority Noise fully come into their own on their third full length, deftly blending anguish, wisdom and their trademark massive guitars to produce a mature, extremely well-balanced record. You’re Not As______As You Think is Sorority Noise at their absolute best and most mature record to date. With the band’s tension and contradictions proudly on full display, and enough reflective content to connect with thousands of new fans, this record raises the exact questions Sorority Noise ought to be raising at this point in their career. Is it possible to have this much fun while feeling this sad? Is it possible to feel this alive while so consumed with death? On You’re Not As ______ As You Think, the only answer is “Of course.”

Sorority Noise: You’re Not As_____As You Think [Fire Note Review 5/4/17]

#35

R. Ring
Ignite The Rest
SofaBurn Records [2017]

Kelley Deal (Breeders) and Mike Montgomery (Ampline) joined forces as R. Ring and finally released their debut LP. Ignite the Rest is a stunning debut that helped people stop whining about wanting another Breeders record as R. Ring delivered 12 tracks with great cohesion. The band clearly has their own voice but Deal’s vocals give it an indie edge that had us wanting more. Her singing just draws you into each song and keeps you hanging on each lyric. Hopefully, after the Breeders storm the scene in 2018 we will hear more R. Ring soon!

R. Ring: Ignite The Rest [Fire Note Review 6/15/17]

#34

Fascinating
Picture This
Quality Time/Jurassic Pop Records [2017]

Fascinating is one of our favorite Ohio “slop-pop” groups that is fronted by Quality Time Records main man Ricky Hamilton. They play a delightfully fuzzed up lo-fi post-punk that is gritty, determined and quick.
Picture This followed last year’s solid Dice Game structure but tightens the pop madness bolts and rolls out an even more grooving distorted ride. Simple and to the point but right on key are why Fascinating stay in your head. If you are looking for a buzz band that will fill your speakers with a sing-along wall of distortion then Picture This is a release you need to hear and Fascinating is a band you should know.

Fascinating: Picture This [Fire Note Review 6/8/17]

#33

Alvvays
Antisocialites
Polyvinyl Records [2017]

Alvvays’s sophomore album Antisocialites is an indie pop delight. The Toronto band made a splash three years ago with their self-titled debut and their jangle pop is still both interesting and fun. Listening to Antisocialites, it sounds like Camera Obscura and Best Coast have passed on the torch of cheery-but-not-really jangle pop to Alvvays. This band continues to evolve and now that they have avoided a sophomore slump they will for sure be a bright spot with each new release. TFN is excited to see them grow.

Alvvays: Antisocialites [Fire Note Review 10/17/17]

#32

Father John Misty
Pure Comedy
Sub Pop Records [2017]

Pure Comedy will no doubt provoke numerous think pieces, and it’s difficult to resist the urge to join the fray. However, Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman) has already done all the work; you just have to listen. His lyrics have always been the reason to listen to Father John Misty and on this album, he is proclaiming himself to be a secular prophet, warning us about the traps and failings of modern life. With soft moments, lots of piano, acoustic guitar, and orchestral accompaniments, Pure Comedy takes you on a sonic adventure. The album is painfully confessional and extremely compelling. Take an hour to think and reflect about what Father John Misty has to say and you’ll walk away understanding him and his way of thinking much better. You also will probably hum along!

Father John Misty: Pure Comedy [Fire Note Review 4/6/17]

#31

Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit
The Nashville Sound
Southeastern Records [2017]

Jason Isbell first gained national attention as a member of Drive-By Truckers, where he played with them from 2001 to ’07. In 2015, Isbell’s fifth solo album, Something More Than Free, was his biggest commercial success and he picked up Grammy awards that year for Best Americana Album and Best American Roots Song. His newest album with his band The 400 Unit, is a classic in its own right, rooted in phenomenal songwriting and spirited performances. On the whole, when Isbell lets The 400 Unit loose they rock hard and well, more intense than most everything on Something More Than Free, living up to their name. With his wife Amanda Shires on fiddle, Drivin’ N Cryin’ guitarist Sadler Vaden, and Derry DeBorja (formerly of Son Volt) on keyboards, it’s worth mentioning that they offer elegant and satisfying contributions to even on the quieter material, playing with artful restraint and melodic clarity. We have gladly watched Jason Isbell receive the exposure his work deserves and The Nashville Sound shows no signs of him slowing down.

Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound [Fire Note Review 7/7/17]

#30

LCD Soundsystem
American Dream
DFA/Columbia Records [2017]

It would be easy to write off LCD Soundsystem, even convenient when you consider that on the surface some of their electronic dance tracks can feel repetitive and often run well past five minutes. There’s a dark, often ironic yet literate narrative, at work in James Murphy’s flowing lyrical storytelling, which can feel poignant and prescient even as it chronicles what could very well be a personal, inner dialogue. And it works without dragging one down, because the music is energetic and effervescent. LCD Soundsystem’s take on the American Dream is far more realistic and delivers on its promises.

LCD Soundsytem: American Dream [Fire Note Review 10/11/17]

#29

Curtis Harding
Face Your Fear
ANTI- [2017]

With the recent passing of the “Screaming Eagle of Soul,” Charles Bradley, Sonny Knight in June and Sharon Jones last year, the retro soul movement has taken a serious blow. Their talents are irreplaceable but with Curtis Harding’s new record, Face Your Fear, you will hear that the genre still thrives. Face Your Fear shows that Harding can hold a groove with the best, and this record was produced with his friends Sam Cohen and Danger Mouse, so you know all the ends were polished to perfection. Face Your Fear is a career defining type of album that should pave the future for Curtis Harding. Maybe not right away or today but definitely for the future because Harding’s pure talent will continue to grow and we will eagerly await his next step.

Curtis Harding: Face Your Fear [Fire Note Review 11/2/17]

#28

The National
Sleep Well Beast
4AD Records [2017]

Sleep Well Beast is one of the most expansive sounding albums The National has released. It is their seventh studio album in four years and right out of the gate, you knew it was another solid crafted record. Probably the biggest surprise on Sleep Well Beast was The National’s use of electronics. The electronic beat backdrops expanded the band’s depth and gave the record a far reaching and boundary crossing electricity. Sleep Well Beast once again, offered something different from The National while sounding so familiar. This release surpasses Trouble Will Find Me and comes close to High Violet if I were to place them in order. The National show that the time away and involvement in multiple other projects has only made them more interesting, complete and complex because Sleep Well Beast is a solid ride.

The National: Sleep Well Beast [Fire Note Review 9/17/17]

#27

Broken Social Scene
Hug Of Thunder
Arts & Crafts [2017]

For a band with as many members as Broken Social Scene (15 to be exact), an album can go one of two ways. It could be a messy cacophony that never manages to have a unified sound or vibe. Or it could take the assets of each member and bring them together to exceed the sum of its parts. The former option is more likely while the latter is really difficult to pull off. And Broken Social Scene pulled it off here because for those of you who like depth to your music, you’ll revel in Hug of Thunder.

Broken Social Scene: Hug Of Thunder [Fire Note Review 8/24/17]

#26

CFM
Dichotomy Desaturated
In The Red Records [2017]

Dichotomy Desaturated is a bit of a departure from Charles Moothart’s past work with Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin and Fuzz. The album was just loaded with psychedelic rock magic similar to contemporaries Meatbodies and Wand but also shares some loose, lo-fi jangle rock vibes that remind TFN of Sebadoh III. Each track on Dichotomy Desaturated is a twisted, ever-shifting tale. Moothart is not afraid to test the bounds of musical structure and ends up creating a very pleasing album via a less than conventional approach to how to rock your socks off.

CFM: Dichotomy Desaturated [Fire Note Review 6/5/17]

#25

Feral Ohms
Feral Ohms
Silver Current Records [2017]

Feral Ohms hail from Oakland, California and released their much-anticipated self-titled studio debut this year. There is no other way to describe it but as a full-on rock assault. Feral Ohms leans more towards the Comets venom and combines elements of old school punk like The Stooges, Black Flag and MC5 but also contains this super power hard rock of an early Soundgarden to their overall delivery that increases the speaker shaking qualities. High octane flows continuously from song to song and makes this 26 minutes from Feral Ohms very hard to forget. Feral Ohms is a true new face on the rock scene and their self-titled debut should not be dismissed – it should be turned up to the max!

Feral Ohms: Feral Ohms [Fire Note Review 3/21/17]

#24

The Rubs
Impossible Dream
HoZac Records [2017]

Impossible Dream is a solid power pop album from Chicago’s The Rubs that has classic recording vibes that will remind you of Big Star while singer Joey Rubbish floats out some Elvis Costello type chops. The modern roll of this group has both the gritty rock of The Strokes and the lo-fi jam of Connections. Impossible Dream was full of raw emotion and where it lacks in perfect studio sonics, the album makes up for it with its imperfect harmonies. This is a record that just gets more infectious with every spin and makes The Rubs new release one of the best surprises of 2017.

The Rubs: Impossible Dream [Fire Note Review 6/14/17]

#23

Protomartyr
Relatives In Descent
Domino Records [2017]

If Nick Cave fronted a modern era post punk band with a refined edge and a spoken word style that is like The Hold Steady you would find yourself with Protomartyr. The underlining intensity of Protomartyr’s fourth long player, Relatives In Descent, is where the band captures your ear and you follow every line singer Joe Casey delivers. This is a record that sits with the world’s current skepticism and how finding the bright spots have become harder and harder. Relatives In Descent is one of the better thought provoking slow burner rock albums you will hear this year. Its grind is its triumph, its peaking explosive moments are its strength and Casey’s leadership style will have you following anywhere.

Protomartyr: Relatives In Descent [Fire Note Review 11/15/17]

#22

Washer
All Aboard
Exploding in Sound Records [2017]

All Aboard builds off Washer’s solid debut and ended up being one of the best post-grunge albums of 2017. Washer’s sound fits in comfortably on Exploding in Sound’s current roster of incredible bands. It can be twisting and bending, it can be cataclysmic and edgy angst but most of all Washer brings the 90’s-era grunge/punk in their sound. It makes All Aboard a wonderfully catchy rocker that should not be ignored.

Washer: All Aboard [Fire Note Review 10/2/17]

#21

Japanese Breakfast
Soft Sounds From Another Planet
Dead Oceans [2017]

Soft Sounds From Another Planet comforts and caresses like a nice warm blanket. This sophomore album contains smooth crescendos of beautiful choruses and a weightless music that’s light effort with maximum impact. Japanese Breakfast’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet is a beautiful and tight introspective on how vocalist and creator Michelle Zauner views life, love, and the strange. It’s an album that grows on you with every listen and you always hear something new with every spin. Japanese Breakfast will be an artist to consistently watch from here on out.

Japanese Breakfast: Soft Sounds From Another Planet [Fire Note Review 11/20/17]

#20

Rick Rude
Make Mine Tuesday
TinyRadars/Sophomore Lounge Records [2017]

New Hampshire’s Rick Rude make a lasting impression with Make Mine Tuesday and represent the type of band TFN loves to introduce to our readers. Make Mine Tuesday was released back in January of this year, so it was easy to miss but if you want to hear a LP that keeps you on your toes and is not afraid to drift between Built to Spill and Heartless Bastards indie rock guitar moments but also hit you with some power-pop riffs right out of a Weezer or Pixies playbook, give Rick Rude a chance.

Rick Rude: Make Mine Tuesday [Fire Note Review 11/30/17]

#19

Jay Som
Everybody Works
Polyvinyl Records [2017]

Jay Som was doing her own DIY thing posting music online when Polyvinyl officially released her first batch of songs last year with the excellent introduction album Turn Into. The fresh spirited Bay Area-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Melina Duterte (aka Jay Som) then released her proper debut, Everybody Works, which completely held up to expectations. Jay Som is the modern Liz Phair which fits neatly into today’s instant now attitude and other recent similar stand outs like Vagabon and Frankie Cosmos. Everybody Works is a freewheeling indie affair that hopefully sets a path of success for Jay Som as it definitely sounds like the beginning to something great still to come!

Jay Some: Everybody Works [Fire Note Review 3/10/17]

#18

Oh Sees
Orc
Castle Face Records [2017]

For John Dwyer, it doesn’t seem to matter much as his OCS/The Oh Sees/Thee Oh Sees/Oh Sees project continues to morph its 20-year psychedelic garage rock arc and it just keeps getting more interesting. Orc is Oh Sees 19th record and feels as fresh and new as anything the band has released to date. Orc sounded like a natural progression for the band that can shred off your speaker covers with its intense and fringe metal moments but also can give off a classic meets post-punk rock vibe. Orc holds no limits and sounded as free as anything the Oh Sees have put out. Its magic comes from the focal direction of the tracks – it never feels like it is going completely off the rails but as a listener you never know where you are going and have the sense that it could. That type of built-in anticipation is TFN kind of record!

Oh Sees: Orc [Fire Note Review 8/25/17]

#17

Richard Edwards
Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset
Joyful Noise Recordings [2017]

Margot and the Nuclear So and So‘s Richard Edwards debut solo album probably had to be the surprise release of the year. It still remains under the radar in many circles but its autobiographical nature makes Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset feel like more than an assemblage of songs. The vulnerabilities expressed are gripping and catchy, hateful yet beautiful, and it has endings and beginnings. Edwards is now unhindered, out in the open and it shows. This rawness and honesty drives Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset and made it one of the most gorgeous sounding albums of the year.

Richard Edwards: Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset [Fire Note Review 3/30/17]

#16

Pile
A Hairshirt Of Purpose
Exploding In Sound Records [2017]

Boston-based Pile pulled off another stunning effort with A Hairshirt Of Purpose as it is an album that takes more time to reveal its charm. With time you grasp the entire narrative of A Hairshirt of Purpose and enjoy it as body of music, as an album, and not just as a set of singles with some filler material. These 13 tracks have a purpose as Pile’s loud-quiet-loud approach takes a much more of a mellow approach to get its point across. It feels more melancholic and lonely, but the songs are just so memorable. Each note has become iconic as Pile have made an indie record to cherish.

Pile: A Hairshirt Of Purpose [Fire Note Review 5/22/17]

#15

Guided By Voices
August By Cake
GBV, Inc. [2017]

“Ladies and gentleman – I present to you – August By Cake.” That is the introduction Robert Pollard gives on his 100th album which had it all. It was a double album, it featured a hungry and raucous band that contributed their songwriting and vocal talents, and there was a sense of effortless joy at play throughout its 32 tracks. A sense that maybe, just maybe, the restless muse of Pollard found his perfect expression. With August By Cake we have all been given a reminder that guitar rock is not dead. Thank you, Robert Pollard and company, we are all better because of your efforts!

Guided By Voices: August By Cake [Fire Note Review 4/4/17]

#14

Ty Segall
Ty Segall
Drag City Records [2017]

Opening with the thunderous guitar riff of “Break a Guitar” it was immediately obvious that Ty Segall’s latest was going to be a pretty special album. Ty changed some things this record and assembled his band along with Cairo Gang’s Emmett Kelly, and headed to the studio to record as a band (with Steve Albini engineering), and not just by himself which has been his normal modus operandi. The results of this collaboration on Ty Segall were flat out staggering. Ty Segall is an adventurous album; it’s not a full-blown garage psych freak-out like Slaughterhouse was, though it certainly has moments that could be characterized as such. Ty Segall is another in a long line of truly remarkable albums from Ty, just when you think the guy might be slowing down he hits another one out of the park.

Ty Segall: Ty Segall [Fire Note Review 6/2/17]

#13

Kevin Morby
City Music
Dead Oceans [2017]

Kevin Morby broke out last year with his fantastic third LP, Singing Saw. City Music, builds on that confidence and now becomes his biggest musical outing to date. Singing Saw was all about the solitude of Morby’s quiet recording area so with that concept in mind, City Music is a much busier record that contains all the hustle and bustle you can imagine when the city never sleeps. City Music is an album that, just like the city, has plenty going on. From a Germs cover to the memorable and moving songs that you instantly remember Kevin Morby accomplishes taking his career to a new level. Where Dylan has been a good comparison for his earlier work, City Music finds his inner Lou Reed. It is this singer/songwriter swagger of confidence that sets Kevin Morby apart as he has a bright future – and that is truly exciting where he goes next!

Kevin Morby: City Music [Fire Note Review 6/16/17]

#12

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
Four Albums
Flightless/ATO Records [2017]

I think everyone chuckled a bit when they heard that Australian upstarts, King Gizzard were going to release five albums this year. Well, the year is not over and they officially have released four LPs. Each had a different flavor while still maintaining the King Gizzard core which included psychedelia, a chaptered concept album, a jazzy collaboration and one they just gave away for anyone to download and release. Lumping these together is sort of a cop-out but all four records were strong and close in competition for being the best. For the record, TFN rank order is 1) Murder Of The Universe, 2) Polygondwanaland, 3) Sketches Of Brunswick East and 4) Flying Microtonal Banana if you wanted to know. We can’t wait for number 5 and 2018 as King Gizzard continues to be one of the best new artists releasing music today.

King Gizzard: Flying Microtonal Banana [Fire Note Review 2/23/17]
King Gizzard: Murder Of The Universe [Fire Note Review 6/22/17]
King Gizzard: Sketches Of Brunswick East [Fire Note Review 8/22/17]
King Gizzard: Polygondwanaland [Fire Note Review 12/6/17]

#11

Waxahatchee
Out In The Storm
Merge Records [2017]

If you don’t know the names Waxahatchee or Katie Crutchfield now is the time as her third album,
Out In The Storm, is a fantastic introduction. Her songs are full of the imagery of millennial youth: loss and hope, desperation and exhilaration. Unlike many of her contemporaries though, Crutchfield doesn’t let you all the way in. Her words are not torn from the pages of a diary and in that she may be a template for the millions of kids out there sharing every part of their lives (and bodies) on Snapchat. And although her shy nature colors most of her work, this time there’s a bit of swagger. Perhaps a little more confident in herself and her musical worth Out In The Storm represents a resounding bounce back after her dreamy and uneven sophomore effort Ivy Tripp. Katie Crutchfield continues to impress TFN with this tight and inspired set which was hard to put down.

Waxahatchee: Out In The Storm [Fire Note Review 7/26/17]

#10

Fleet Foxes
Crack-Up
Nonesuch Records [2017]

Although it’s been 6 years since the last record by Fleet Foxes, in some ways Robin Pecknold & Co. were able to come back to the place where the band left off. There was still a significant change of focus musically on Crack-Up as Fleet Foxes stretched out beyond any chance of predictable patterns and formulas of previous outings. Crack-Up was a record that took all year to absorb and with each successive listen it moved up our list. There are so many little moments on Crack-Up that just emphasize what a fantastic band Fleet Foxes represent. Let’s hope they don’t stay away so long before their next LP.

Fleet Foxes: Crack-Up [Fire Note Review 6/20/17]

#9

Shagg
Shagg
Quality Time/Greenway Records [2017]

Right now, you are scratching your head because you have not heard or seen anything on Shagg unless of course you read TFN. This Cleveland band should be on your radar because they will rock the crap out of you for this entire just over 14-minute record. Their arrangements are chaotic, the music is messy and they can blow your speakers out with just Nat Cherry’s scorching vocals. Shagg give you an in your face hi speed rock that is energizing and unrelenting, while their cover of the Wipers “Return Of The Rat” is spot on.

Shagg: Shagg [Fire Note Review 10/4/17]

#8

King Krule
The OOZ
True Panther/XL Recordings [2017]

We really didn’t expect this record to be this good and it took TFN by surprise. King Krule has a unique sound that blends multiple styles of jazz, garage, psychedelic, blues, trippy beats and indie rock that is guided by London’s Archy Marshall’s veteran Paul Weller, Nick Cave and Tom Waits type voice with a Mac DeMarco, Ariel Pink and Girls style. There are so many styles going on here The OOZ should be a mess but instead it offered something new for you every time you played it. That is the fantastic part about this record because it is fresh, timeless and entertaining.

King Krule: The OOZ [Fire Note Review 10/27/17]

#7

The War On Drugs
A Deeper Understanding
Atlantic Records [2017]

A Deeper Understanding is the War On Drugs fourth full-length album, and it is also one of their most accessible. There are a lot of influences on this album and it’s not news to compare The War on Drugs to Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young but Adam Granduciel nails that classic vibe while being his own artist. With only a few radio-ready songs but with no compromises is where A Deeper Understanding wins. There are ten tracks that clock in at over an hour so War On Drugs asks you to be patient with it as it builds. If you stay, A Deeper Understanding rewards you every single time.

War On Drugs: A Deeper Understanding [Fire Note Review 10/27/17]

#6

Vagabon
Infinite Worlds
Father/Daughter Records [2017]

Rarely anymore does a debut album get TFN revved up but that is exactly what happened the first time we heard the songs of Cameroon-born artist Laetitia Tamko, aka Vagabond. Infinite Worlds is an album of finding herself with no musical boundaries and that is the beauty here. At times, Infinite Worlds oozes confidence while around other corners it offers that uneasy feeling you get when you don’t know what is on the other side of the door but you need to walk through anyway. Vagabon offers different moods and styles with each track and the record flexes its muscles and crashes into you like a wave over and over. Her shaky confidence that is guarded but forward shines and it is ultimately why Vagabon has released the strongest debut of 2017.

Vagabon: Infinite Worlds [Fire Note Review 2/22/17]

#5

Julien Baker
Turn Out The Lights
6131/Matador Records [2017]

When we first heard Julien Baker on her 2015 debut, Sprained Ankle, you had a feeling it wouldn’t be the last from the young Memphis artist. Her delicate recording showed a raw vulnerability and a mature composure that well exceeded her then age of 19. Fast forward to her sophomore outing, Turn Out The Lights, and you will hear the phenomenal talent of the now 21-year-old Baker bursting out of every song on this record. Turn Out The Lights is the perfect balance of a stylish DIY and the backing of a major indie like Matador. Julien Baker tells her stories, composes heartfelt track after heartfelt track and not only do you instantly want to hear Turn Out The Lights again – you pull for Baker to get through to the other side every step of the way! This is truly one of the better records of 2017.

Julien Baker: Turn Out The Lights [Fire Note Review 10/30/17]

#4

The Afghan Whigs
In Spades
Sub Pop Records [2017]

Thank goodness, we have the return of The Afghan Whigs to help rock still have a voice in today’s scene. The Afghan Whigs’ returned with a more compositionally rich and textured musical approach that echoed classical musical themes which run in tension with the demanding drums, guitars and Greg Dulli’s compelling vocal howl. The end result gives an energized, and compelling mix of sounds to match the equally dark and emotionally dense images in Dulli’s lyrics, which continue to suggest the brutal, often painful realities of existence. There are too many pop bands, commercial rock and country artists who are succumbing to lowest common denominators as it’s both exciting and encouraging to have an artful rocker of Dulli’s and The Afghan Whigs pedigree continue to stretch musical boundaries with their singular artistic vision. More of this, please!

The Afghan Whigs: In Spades [Fire Note Review 5/5/17]

#3

Slowdive
Slowdive
Dead Oceans [2017]

22 years is a crazy long time to be away and for Slowdive it feels even longer. Today Slowdive fall into the dream pop genre with the likes of Beach House and Low but they are better known for their shoegazing 90’s and will be brought up along with classic acts such as Ride and/or My Bloody Valentine. Slowdive’s return is an appropriately aged record that sounds complete from a veteran group as its warmth hits you with such a delicate wave that you forget to hold onto something and get washed away. Their instrumentation is perfectly balanced from Neil Halstead’s smooth vocals to the backdrop riff and backing voices that ripple just below the surface. The 2017 version of Slowdive not only is a confident display of their past but truly relevant for today’s sometimes brutal and depthless indie scene. It is a comeback album for Slowdive that not only secures their place in music history but has now started a spectacular new chapter!

Slowdive: Slowdive [Fire Note Review 5/11/17]

#2

(Sandy) Alex G
Rocket
Domino Records [2017]

The bedroom pop of Alexander Giannascoli aka (Sandy) Alex G has grown substantially since we first stumbled upon his 2014 record DSU on DIY label Orchid Tapes. Rocket is the example of why you don’t give up or like many people today using Spotify – simply forget about an artist, because (Sandy) Alex G hits a home run here. Rocket embraces new angles with his bedroom pop wrapped in a dusty folk but he also includes his weirder side with an Auto-Tune number or noise filled songs that reminded us of some earlier Beck tracks. All the songs here from (Sandy) Alex G are different but not out of place. That is the gorgeous cohesion of Rocket and why it landed at #2.

(Sandy) Alex G: Rocket [Fire Note Review 11/29/17]

#1

Guided By Voices
How Do You Spell Heaven
GBV, Inc. [2017]

You can be forgiven for missing some of Robert Pollard’s output – the discography is indeed deep and daunting. With that said, there are no excuses for skipping How Do You Spell Heaven. With one of the most solid lineups GBV has seen that includes Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare Jr on guitars, Mark Shue on bass and Kevin March behind the kit, Guided By Voices delivered one of the most straight-forward GbV records to date. From the four-minute instrumental T-Rex kind of jam in “Pearly Gates Smoke Machine” to the classic rock and jangly power pop of other tracks GBV was able to boil down everything that made the double record, August By Cake such a thrill ride into a single, easily digestible LP. There is never a bad time to get onboard with Guided By Voices but you couldn’t pick a better time than now as How Do You Spell Heaven is our pick for the best album of 2017!

Guided By Voices: How Do You Spell Heaven [Fire Note Review 8/9/17]

The Fire Note Top Albums of 2017: Writer Edition

The Fire Note wouldn’t be possible without the talented writers that share their educated thoughts and true enjoyment of music with our readers. The time and commitment that goes into writing consistently is appreciated by TFN and taken for granted by everyone else!

Our official year end Top 50 is coming soon but clearly everyone has different tastes and ideas when naming the best album released in 2017. Thanks again to all our contributors!

If you want to be on this list next year send us an email. We are always up for some new voices if you think you have what it takes!

Brian Q. Newcomb

Okay, starting at the bottom, my list for the best albums of 2017, here goes:

25. Roger Waters, Is This The Life We Really Want? (Columbia)
Elections have consequences… that’s a phrase I hear almost daily. And one of the unexpected outcomes of the election of President Trump is he return of Roger Waters, the chief composer and voice in some of Pink Floyd’s most compelling works, in his first solo album in 25 years, and one of the biggest stadium tours of the summer of 2017, “Us + Them” with Waters aiming the venom of his new and older material at the current administration. We had a lot of musical activism throughout the year, from Prophets of Rage, Todd Rundgren, and most of our late-night comedians roused to new heights by Trump’s leadership priorities and style fodder for each new broadcast, but Waters’ musical reproach was unrelenting, yet artful and poignant. Without voices of sanity, this would have been a much harder year than it turned out to be.

24. Waxahatchee, Out In The Storm (Merge)
2017 was a great year for women in music… St. Vincent, Lydia Loveless, Kesha, Mavis, Sharon Jones, This Is Kit, Feist, Aimee Mann, Rhiannon Giddens all had solid, if not great releases. Katie Crutchfield’s band Waxahatchee (named for a Creek in Alabama) was this year’s strong revelation, carrying echoes of Julie Hatfield and Liz Phair. Bold guitars and a strong voice together with compelling pop/rock songs… it’s keeper.

23. Ty Segall, Ty Segall (Drag City)
In a year where keyboards, synths, loops and studio acumen seemed to dominate music across genres, be they pop, rock and indie efforts, I have more often than not clamored for loud, artfully played electric guitar. I will not go quietly into that good night. So, aside from listening to all my old favorites – from Clapton and Allman Bros. to Wilco and 77’s – I have found great solace in this new album guitarist Ty Segall, which was artfully produced by Steve Albini, best remembered for his work with Nirvana. Segall follows all the obvious guitar hero rock star heroes, contributes his own unique take, and the songs are solid enough in the classic rock vein to carry the weight of his more edgy soloing. It’s a treat for these guitar hungry ears.

22. Portugal. The Man, Woodstock (Atlantic)
This album from Portland modern rock borrows its name from the original rock festival, and includes a bit of Ritchie Haven’s ad libbed chant, “Freedom” in the opening track. Of course, the band’s ever-present single, “Feel It Still,” has been omnipresent throughout the year, but as ear-worms go, I’m not complaining. The album reveals this 5-piece band’s innovative approach throughout, mixing traditional instrumentation with all the studio tricks of the trade to produce a compelling blend of unique sounds, with a very accessible pop feel.

21. Spoon, Hot Thoughts (Matador)
I think it might have been about the 999th time that I heard “Hot Thoughts,” okay maybe it was the second time, it occurred to me that Austin band Spoon were modern rock’s answer to Steely Dan. Admittedly, they’re missing the jazz-influenced lead guitar solos, but that comparison works in lots of other ways, and at least to me it’s a compliment. Of course, in the current sexual harassment crisis titles like “Do I Have to Talk You Into It,” “First Caress” and “Can I Sit Next to You,” sound a little racier and daring than they did when the disc first surfaced back in the Spring. There’s a lot more keyboards here than on the last one, which I admit missing a bit, but this album has been a reliably enjoyable treat throughout much of the year.

20. Grizzly Bear, Painted Ruins (RCA)
Grizzly Bear first crossed my musical radar when they were reported as opening for a Radiohead tour in 2008, and then released their third album, Veckatimest, to critical acclaim. Chances are if they’d been quicker in following up their 2012 album, Shields, we’d no longer be referring to them as “indie rock.” But here, they returned after a five-year absence, with another compelling collection of experimental rock that mixes styles and influences in a way that feels completely unique to their combined efforts, from their strong vocal harmonies, to the band’s robust compositional interests. “Mourning Sound” earned the band immediate attention on alternative satellite radio, and the album more than lives up to one’s highest expectations.

19. The National, Sleep Well Beast (4AD)
There’s an austere, even stark, literate yet distant quality to Cincinnati band The National’s music that doesn’t make it immediately accessible, but there are satisfying pay offs like the amazing hook in “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” that gives these thoroughly modern compositions an emotional connection. Other songs, especially “Day I Die” and “Walk It Back,” feel more immediate, but the punchier rhythm on the former hides the more challenging lyrics of loss and anticipation, while the heaviness in the second holds a mirror up to political and social life in our country. This is art rock for the coming new age, a compelling piece of music to say the least.

18. Todd Rundgren, White Night (Cleopatra)
Now I’ve been a card-carrying member of the “In Todd We Trust” club since I came across Something/Anything in 1972 when I was 15 years old, so it’s no surprise to find Rundgren on my best of the year list just about any time he gets around to make a full-length album. I would argue, though, that White Knight is a superior effort from an artist and producer that has made some of the best, and most popular (although definitely not the same thing) albums in rock history. Of course, “Tin Foil Hat,” a duet with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, got most of the attention, since it’s a no holds barred take down of President Trump’s love of conspiracy theories. But Rundgren collaborates not only with some classic rock friends like Joe Walsh, Daryl Hall, and Joe Satriani, but also with Trent Reznor, Euro-soul artist Robyn, and includes rap with KK Watson and Dam-Funk, and Moe Berg. While I miss his guitar playing, on this keyboard, synth and loop dominated record, the songwriting and sounds are first class, yet again.

17. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice (Matador)
The coming together of Australian singer songwriter Courtney Barnett, who made a pretty impressive splash with her 2015 debut (Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit), and singer songwriter Kurt Vile, formerly guitar player for The War On Drugs, feels so natural, comfortable and unassuming, that you might suspect it was effortless. Their similar styles of speak/singing their lyrics in almost too relaxed a way, might tempt you to overlook the smart use of language in their songs, and the great guitar songs that show up in track after track. While all the songs feature the duo singing in duet, they write separately, and also cover one of the album’s strongest songs, “Fear Is Like a Forest,” written by Barnett’s romantic partner Jen Cloher, and a fun song by Belly’s Tanya Donnelly, “Untogether.” A lovely project that leaves me hoping they continue to work together.

16. Kesha, Rainbow (Kemosabe/RCA)
As the title suggests, Kesha’s return is a resurrection story, complete with a heroine narrative where she overcomes a wicked Svengali, only to win on her own terms. While she’s played down her hip-hop party anthems, in favor of pop songs, she’s still delivering plenty of attitude (and explicit language) even on songs that celebrate her spiritual side. This is solid songwriting, and her voice rings true, carrying the rich emotions with musical power, and importantly authenticity. Add in two songs with the Eagles of Death Metal, an appearance of the Dap-King Horns, and a country weeper duet with Dolly Parton, and you’re on to something special. But what lifts Rainbow above the rest of the pop pack is Kesha’ self-deprecating sense of humor at times, while still affirming her own brand of kick-ass feminism and self-reliance. Pity to kid whose parents bought a “safe” version with the stronger language censored, it wouldn’t make any sense at all.

15. Cheap Trick, We’re All Right (Big Machine)
I have given up entirely on chasing the Next Big Thing. Everybody’s got one good idea, it takes talent, will and effort to shape that idea into something people can appreciate and care about. Everybody thinks they can write music reviews, and I’m sure anyone willing to make the effort can write a solid, smart and attentive review with cute phrases and creative word choices. But show me a writer who can still capture my imagination without succumbing to lowest common denominator clichés after writing 1000 reviews, and I’ll know you’re on to something. There’s something to be said for longevity, for staying with your original vision, and the drive to keep doing what you love doing long after that early gloss of interest has faded. You could make the argument that Cheap Trick could have stopped recording after Cheap Trick at Budokan, and could still be traveling the retro circuit replaying “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender” until the cows come home. Obviously, guitarist Rick Nielson and singer Robin Zander, both in their 60s, are not ready to call it quits, and We’re All Right is a great rock album with solid vocal hooks and great guitar playing from start to finish. They rock here as hard as they ever did, they haven’t mellowed a lick. Respect.

14. Steve Earle & The Dukes, So You Wannabe An Outlaw (Warner Bros.)
I had to overcome a country music blind-spot over the years, like back when Uncle Tupelo started covering traditional artists and not just The Stooges. And then of course, Emmylou Harris, I mean, what kind of fool do you have to be to not love Emmylou Harris? The first time I saw Steve Earle he was opening for Los Lobos, and his country roots were buried deep in his band’s rock & roll attitude and serious musical chops. As I kept listening, and followed this great songwriter back to his early roots, and mentor Townes Van Zandt, another Uncle Tupelo connection, I dropped the pretense and started listening to the good country music, which you can spot wherever you see the names Earle, Harris, Cash, Nelson, Jennings, Haggard, Clark, Buddy Miller, Lucinda Williams, and more. This one is another fine album chock full of great songs, embracing his outlaw country bona fides with aplomb. It’s a winner.

13. The Mountain Goats, Goths (Merge)
Singer-songwriter John Darnielle is the kind of quirky that makes my appreciation of his writing a complete no brainer. His writing is literate, clever and funny in a sad way, or is that sad in a funny way. In the past he’s written entire albums of songs based on some of the most obscure, awkward, and even strange verses of scripture in the Bible (The Life of the World to Come), the band’s last album, Beat the Champ) celebrates the world of pro wrestling, and here his vivid imagination is brought into focus by the music of 80’s bands like Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, and of course The Smiths, and the people like him who loved them. The music is accessible folk rock, with solid melodies that can carry the weight of Darnielle’s lovely lyrics. You just gotta love an artist with high “Unicorn Tolerance,” it’s the right thing to do.

12. Filthy Friends, Invitation (Kill Rock Stars)
When Corin Tucker sings “holding on to the past won’t make it repeat/time to get up, I think you’re in my seat,” in the opening track of the Filthy Friends debut, she and her veteran rocker band-mates – Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin who toured with R.E.M. – have every reason to leave the past behind them. Besides their own past work, you can hear echoes or tributes to bands like Television, The Pixies, Pretenders, and others. Welcome to the new golden age of alternative rock & roll.

11. Lo Tom, Lo Tom (Barsuk)
The coming together of David Bazan and Tim Walsh of Pedro the Lion and Jason Martin and Trey Many of Starflyer 59, on the 8 songs of this debut, feels so natural and organic, so simple and obvious, that you have to wonder why they haven’t been making this music for a long time, and why they haven’t made more of it. Solid, unpretentious, straight-forward, melodic guitar rock this good is becoming an endangered species, so let’s work to save them from extinction.

10. Robert Plant, Carry Fire, (Nonesuch)
There’s something courageous and charming about the fact that Robert Plant has refused (so far) to cash in on a Led Zeppelin tour and hit the road making Rolling Stones and U2 money. Now, if he breaks down and does that tour, I’ll be looking at the second mortgage option to purchase good seats just like every other classic rocker in my age group, but I love that Plant’s more interested in making new music and reinventing his Zep rockers in a more organic, acoustic formation with his band the Sensational Shape Shifters, with whom he creates rootsy, Americana folk, country, rock & gospel, with a subtle jam band vibe. And his voice is still a thing of wonder at 69 years of age.

9. Bruce Cockburn, Bone on Bone (True North)
It’s been 6 years since we’ve heard new music from the Canadian (currently living in San Francisco) folk/rock/world music singer-songwriter guitarist, so it is pleasure to hear this artful poet/musician return with such an energetic and fun album. His singing voice, at 72, feels bold if ragged, and his creativity and sense of humor remain evident in “Stab at Matter” and “Al Purdy’s.” His world class acoustic finger-picking can be heard on the instrumental title track, and his renewed comfort with the spiritual finds its way into “40 Years in the Wilderness,” “Jesus Train” and “12 Gates to the City.”

8. U2, Songs of Experience (Interscope)
The whole first week this album was available, people all over the internet were having lengthy discussions of the Irish rockers’ artistic viability, and the status of this latest project in their lengthy career, and more often than not I find myself defending the band’s continued evolution, and not just because they’ve been a favorite of mine since the early 80’s when I first heard “I Will Follow.” So, since I’m long past the idea of appearing cool, I’ll just admit that the more I hear that corny pop rock single “You’re the Best Thing About Me,” from the opening crunchy guitar chords, to Bono’s admission that “shooting off my mouth/that’s another great thing about me,” the more I’m enjoying it. And it’s far from the best thing on this album. To be honest, I wanted more Achtung noise of the band this time around, so I’m drawn to both “The Blackout” and “Red Flag Day,” but “Summer of Love” and “The Little Things That Give You Away” maybe two of their best songs in quite a while… but hey, I liked Songs of Innocence a lot too.

7. The New Pornographers, Whiteout Conditions (Concord)
Each album from the Vancouver artist’s collective that is The New Pornographers, which brings together Carl Newman, Neko Case, and a bunch of other players with their own projects and side-bands, is a power-pop delight, and Whiteout Conditions, with its high energy embrace of fun Euro-beat techno-pop.

6. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound (Southeastern)
Surely the title of Isbell’s sixth studio album is intended to be ironic, given the state of modern commercial country music, of which I’m no fan. But Isbell is all about the songwriting, and again and again here he rises far above expectations with creative imagery, honest-to-life story-telling, and a poignant point of view that we need more of in the current culture wars and political divisions. “Molotov” and “If We Were Vampires” are two of the most creative takes on a love song concept that you’ll hear in any year. And, “White Man’s World” takes a “woke” look at privilege, while “Hope the High Road” and “Something to Love” close out the album with hopeful anthems in a world that could use a few of those. Oh, and musically the band rocks when they want to, and they can play it sweet, sad, and lonesome when that’s what the lyrics require.

5. Manchester Orchestra, A Black Mile to the Surface (Loma Vista)
With this fifth studio album, the Atlanta-based, Manchester Orchestra has continued to mature, creating lush cinematic musical settings for Andy Hull’s character studies that seem to center around the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment that is located a mile deep under the town of Lead, South Dakota. This is artful, alternative rock, and one of the strongest albums of the year.

4. The War On Drugs, A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic)
While the lush musical landscapes and soaring guitar melodies of Adam Granduciel and friends seem to recall an earlier time, the 80’s perhaps. Often striking an ethereal, even transcendent vibe, TWoD’s combined musicianship made this one of the most beautiful, and satisfying listens of the year.

3. Afghan Whigs, In Spades (Sub Pop)
I admit I’ve always been a sucker for Greg Dulli; three of my favorite albums in the 90’s were Gentlemen, Black Love, and 1965 by the Afghan Whigs. His mix of hard rock textures, post-punk attitude, and a deep appreciation of R&B creates compelling, often emotionally rich music, and In Spades is no exception. While guitars can dominate the sound, the occasional violin, cello and piano bring unexpected textures to the fore in a most pleasing way.

2. Queens of the Stone Age, Villains (Matador)
With all the “rock is dead” chatter, and the resurgence of synths/keyboards in pop music, I find myself craving guitar rock all the more for its cultural decline, and no CD rock me as intensely or a consistently this year than this one. The rhythms are more upbeat, and the attitude more aggressive than on the previous outing, …Like Clockwork. Josh Hommes & Co. feel more lose, and playful, even on scary, dark rockers like “Head Like a Haunted House” and “The Evil Has Landed,” and on the disc’s big single “The Way You Used to Do,” they hit an irresistible groove that I wanted to keep returning to.

And, my No. 1 album of 2017:

St. Vincent, Masseduction (Loma Vista)
in 2017, there wasn’t a more artistically interesting and musically satisfying work than Masseduction by St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark. There’s a strong performance artist quality to her work which takes the critical pulse of modern culture in a way reminiscent of Laurie Anderson, but with uncanny pop sensibilities that shine through songs like “Los Ageless, “Sugarboy” and the title track. But it’s her artful musicality and capacity to bring diverse approaches to her craft, noteworthy here on “Happy Birthday, Johnny,” “New York,” and the album’s haunted closing suite, “Slow Disco / Smoking Section,” that put her in the league alongside David Byrne, David Bowie and Beck.

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Daniel Taylor

1. The Machine That Made Us Flotation by Toy Warning: 13 years between their debut and sophomore releases was an excessively long wait, but damn, it was worth it. It is a strange, wondrous and a beautifully compelling album. Joyous and heartbreaking all at once. LIYL: Grandaddy, Sparklehorse, Neutral Milk Hotel.

2. A Hairshirt of Purpose by Pile: Most bands would have peaked after releasing a record like Dripping, but Pile just keeps churning out some of the best rock music of this decade. If this album is not in your top five albums of 2017, you should probably reevaluate your taste in music. LIYL: Pixies, Jesus Lizard, Pavement

3. All Aboard by Washer: One of the best post-grunge albums of 2017. Brooklyn duo, Kieran McShane and Mike Quigley, expand and improve their sound with this excellent sophomore effort. Massive hooks and endlessly catchy. LIYL: Grass is Green, Big Ups, Pile, Bad History Month.
4. Farnham by Baked: An absolute delight from beginning to end. It is equal parts heavy, fuzzy, striped-down, emotional, desolate, warm and ceaselessly charming. LIYL: Silver Jews, Swirlies, 90’s era Sub Pop bands.

5. Uncontrollable Salvation by Pardoner: A fantastic blend of fuzzy power noise slathered with skewed guitars, impeccable pop moments and an abundance of shoegaze noise. LIYL: Swirlies, Polvo, Sonic Youth.

6. Make Mine Tuesday by Rick Rude: Make Mine Tuesday is a stunning debut album that is sure to make people who love Built to Spill swoon. LIYL: Built to Spill, Heartless Bastards, The Pauses.

7. The Universe and Me by Tobin Sprout: Tobin Sprout’s return with his first solo record since 2010 is a real treasure and was well worth the wait. LIYL: Guided By Voices, Eyesinweasel, The Beatles

8. August by Cake by Guided by Voices: Uncle Bob and company take the Cake with this release. The contributions from the other band members helped make this album diverse and even more memorable. LIYL: The Replacements, Cheap Trick, The Who

9. One by Dove Lady: One is a wildly unpredictable debut album. This DC duo will assail your senses with some caustic bursts of noise rock infused with moments of post-hardcore, experimental jazz and even some R&B. LIYL: Slint, Fugazi, Chavez, Pixies.

10. Clean Feeling by PLAX: This Austin-based quasi-punk band may have released the best indie-punk/hardcore album of 2017. Twitchy and heavy in perfect doses. LIYL: Spray Paint, OBN IIIs, Skeleton and Sweet Talk.

11. Ignite the Rest by R. Ring: Kelley Deal and Mike Montgomery join forces for their debut LP. It is so good that I have quit whining about wanting another Breeders LP…almost. LIYL: Breeders, The Amps.

12. Pleasure Suck by The Spirit of the Beehive: This album emits a warm druggy vibe that is part slacker rock, lo-fi DIY and psychedelic sensation all rolled into one. LIYL: Midlake, Enon, Pavement

13. Dichotomy Desaturated by CFM: Charles Francis Moothart continues to branch out on his second solo LP. Dichotomy Desaturated is all about mind-expanding riffs and creating an exhilarating blend of garage/stoner/punk rock. LIYL: Meatbodies, Ty Segall, Fuzz.

14. Slap Bass Hunks by Christian Fitness: Slap Bass Hunks is another slice of edgy, post-hardcore heaven. Gritty production weaved in with Falkous’ biting and wry wit. LIYL: Future of the Left, Mclusky

15. Brutalism by Idles: More angry post-hardcore music from the UK. This band really rips into the state of things. LIYL: Sleaford Mods, Christian Fitness, Future of the Left.

16. Alice by Meatbodies: Chad Ubovich (Fuzz, Mikal Cronin) Kevin Boog and Patrick Nolan have created a thoroughly entertaining, fuzzed out album that blends bits of 70’s era Pink Floyd with heavy garage rock. LIYL: Ty Segall, Wand, Fuzz Mikal Cronin.

17. Occult Architecture, Vol. 1 by Moon Duo: Moon Duo have a heavy psychedelic krautrock sound that is layered with clever flourishes of synth and rhythmic drumming. LIYL: Wooden Shjips

18. Last Place by Grandaddy: Jason Lytle and the gang return and feel like they never left. A warm and charming LP. Grandaddy is just good for your soul. LIYL: Jason Lytle, Sparklehorse

19. Twitching in Time by Elf Power: One of the more resilient acts from the fabled Elephant Six Collective, Elf Power is still making incredible music. Their blend of psychedelic power pop remains timeless and always welcome. LIYL: The Elephant 6 Collective.

20. Thawing Dawn by A. Savage: Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts released a fine solo album this year. A nice slice of crooning, Americana rock. LIYL: Parquet Courts, Teenage Cool Kids

21. How Do You Spell Heaven Guided By Voices: The second release for GBV in 2017. Uncle Bob still has plenty of hits left in the tank. Looking forward to more in 2018! LIYL: Robert Pollard

22. Shame Spiral USA Nails: Heavy noise rock from the UK. Relentless music for people who do not mind some bracing music. LIYL: Future of the Left, Running, Christian Fitness

23. Last Laugh by Circus Devils: If this is the last Circus Devils LP we ever get, Pollard and Tobias ended things on a high note. Do the Nixon is a new American classic. LIYL: Pollard, GBV.

24. I’m Even Younger Now Graham Repulski: Lo-fi auteur Graham Repulski follows up 2016’s triple album release with a concise slab of psychedelic noise rock. The results are as jarring as they are accessible. LIYL: GBV, Robert Pollard

25. Self-Checkout by Telepathic: Some catchy and wonderful psychedelic punk from Philadelphia. LIYL: Superchunk

Honorable Mentions/Odds and Ends: Contributors Contributors; Mythical Motors Running the Shine; Smug Brothers Disco Maroon; King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard Flying Microtonal Banana; Big Heet On A Wire; Rectangle Creep Is Taking Drugs; Daniele Luppi & Parquet Courts Milano; Pissed Jeans Why Love Now ; Ty Segall Self-Titled; Spare Snare Unicorn; Bad History Month Dead and Loving It; Birds of Avalon Operator’s Midnight; Dove Lady E (EP); SLEEPiES Melt To You (EP); Exploding In Sound Records Live at Shea Stadium (Live Comp); Grandaddy Under the Western Freeway (Reissue); Future of the Left Live at the Garage (Live) and Graham Repulski The Photographer is Upset (EP) and a slew of Honey Radar singles.
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Dylan Gallimore

1. Craig Finn, We All Want The Same Things: Craig Finn’s colorful third solo record is as much as a sonic evolution as it is a perfect annunciation of the messages and themes Finn has spent two decades working to articulate. Released at the peak of our cultural outrage and societal dysfunction, it’s an anachronistically human record that unfolds in stark, plain-spoken beauty, cutting though the frustrations of modern American living and making our collective desperation seem warm, familiar and temporary — or at least survivable. Hell, with songs like these, anything’s survivable.

2. The Menzingers, After The Party: After The Party is a career achievement that blends Sprinsteenian storytelling, AC/DC guitars and genuine lyrical reflection on aging, identity and the loneliness of the punk lifestyle. Songs like “Charlie’s Army,” “Lookers” and “Thick as Thieves” invite memories of joyous, glorious old school rock and roll, effortlessly weaving together instantly-memorable guitar licks, poppy choruses and compelling stories. The record is filled with with an infectious sense of fun rarely found on punk releases today.

3. Sorority Noise, You’re Not As______As You Think: With the band’s tension and contradictions proudly on full display, and with enough reflective content to connect with thousands of new fans, You’re Not As______As You Think raises the exact questions Sorority Noise ought to be raising at this point in their career: Is it possible to have this much fun while feeling this sad? Is it possible to feel this alive while so consumed with death? On You’re Not As ______ As You Think, the only answer is “Of course.”

4. The National, Sleep Well Beast: For the persnickety few those who’ve been willing to nitpick the Brooklyn indie rockers’ sterling discography, “doesn’t use enough electronic elements” hasn’t been among the usual criticisms. But nonetheless, and to a surprisingly successful effect, Matt Berninger and co. sprinkle bleeps and bloops all over their solitudinous seventh record to deliver a listening experience as cold, quiet and lonesome as the cabin that dominates its cover art.

5. Richard Edwards, Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset: On his first solo record, Richard Edwards proves himself a quiet master of the songwriting craft, penning wistful, longing melody after melody. Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset is an independent, singular work of anguish and vulnerability; Richard Edwards has been to hell and back, this accomplished release chronicles his torment in painstaking, lilting detail.

6. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice: One of the most genuinely pleasant surprises of the year, Lotta Sea Lice is an indie rock dream, loaded with jangly guitars and warm, friendly harmonies. The sweet adorability to Barnett and Vile’s lazy, giggly chemistry makes Lotta Sea Lice utterly irresistible.

7. Lorde, Melodrama: Lorde’s sophomore act is exquisite and original; a moody, groovy New Wave dance record that explores youth and young womanhood with fearless vulnerability.

8. Brand New, Science Fiction: Science Fiction is haunting and solemn; rather than menace listeners with blistering yelps and screaming guitars, Lacey and company opt to spread out their message across lush, polished soundscapes and let them soak in over the course of the record. It’s both a fitting return and a near-perfect ending.

9. Sean Rowe, New Lore: If not for Sean Rowe’s voice, the most effective, emotionally-loaded moments of New Lore would the record’s well-placed moments of silence. Composed mostly with quiet guitars, delicate pianos and minimal percussion, the songs of New Lore breathe in these instances, inviting moments of melancholy, contemplation and somber reflection. Sean Rowe makes a strong, dramatic and innovative entry into the alt-folk genre and continues to solidify his position as one of its most talented songwriters.

10. Queen Moo, Mean Well: Clocking in at just under thirty minutes, Mean Well, the second full-length release from Connecticut band Queen Moo, reinvents rock ‘n’ roll in ways you didn’t know you needed. The four piece accomplishes the admirable–and previously unfathomable–feat of balancing no-holds-barred rock with obscure jazz and big band influences without breaking a sweat or cracking under their own artistic heft.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thomas Wilde

1. Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent
2. Slowdive – Slowdive
3. King Krule – The OOZ
4. (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket
5. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
6. Guided By Voices – August By Cake
7. Pile – A Hair Shirt Of Purpose
8. Ty Segall – Ty Segall
9. The National – Sleep Well Beast
10. Jay Som – Everybody Works
11. Needles//Pins – Good Night, Tomorrow
12. Kelley Stoltz – Que Aura
13. OMNI – Multi-task
14. METZ – Strange Peace
15. Lost Balloons – Hey Summer
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Christopher Tahy

20. Six Organs of Admittance – Burning The Threshold
19. Mastodon – Emperor of Sand
18. Feral Ohms – Feral Ohms
17. Pile – A Hair Shirt of Purpose
16. Zola Jesus – Okovi
15. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
14. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Polygondwanaland
13. The Black Angels – Death Songs
12. Ty Segall – Ty Segall
11. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
10. Once And Future Band – Once And Future Band
9. Pallbearer-Heartless
8. Pissed Jeans – Why Love Now
7. Elder – Reflections of a Floating World
6. CFM – Dichotomy Desaturated
5. The National – Sleep Well Beast
4. ORB – Naturality
3. Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds From Another Planet
2. Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights
1. Richard Edwards – Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kevin Poindexter

1. Guided By Voices-How Do You Spell Heaven, August By Cake
2. The Afghan Whigs-In Spades
3. Ron Gallo-Heavy Meta
4. The Stevens-Good
5. Elder-Reflections of a Floating World
6. Grandaddy-Last Place
7. Spinning Coin-Permo
8. Lost Balloons-Hey Summer
9. The Bats-The Deep Set
10. Deep State-Thought Garden
11. LCD Soundsystem-American Dream
12. Cende-#1 Hit Single
13. The Dream Syndicate-How Did I find Myself Here?
14. Ty Segall- Ty Segall
15. Cairo Gang-Untouchable
16. Meatbodies-Alice
17. Bash & Pop-Anything Could Happen
18. Old 97’s-Graveyard Whistling
19. Pallbearer-Heartless
20. Tobin Sprout-The Universe and Me
21. Slowdive-Slowdive
22. The Rubs-Impossible Dream
23. Rips-Rips
24. Rick Rude-Make Mine Tuesday
25. Washer-All Aboard
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Scot Lade

1) Guided By Voices “How Do You Spell Heaven”
2) Broken Social Scene “Hug Of Thunder”
3) Deerhoof “Mountain Moves”
4) Grizzly Bear “Painted Ruins”
5) Liars “TFCF”
6) The National “Sleep Well Beast”
7) King Gizzrd & The Lizard Wizard “Murder Of The Universe”
8) Flotation Toy Warning “The Machine That Made Us”
9) The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die “Always Foreign”
10) Godspeed You! Black Emperor “Luciferian Towers”
11) The Mountain Goats “Goths”
12) Waxahatchee “Out In The Storm”
13) Wolf Parade “Cry Cry Cry”
14) Do Make Say Think “Stubborn Persistent Illusions”
15) St. Vincent “Masseducation”
16) Stars “These Is No Love In Flourescent Light”
17) Guided By Voices “August By Cake”
18) Temples “Volcano”
19) Fleet Foxes “Crack-Up”
20) Sparks “Hippopotamus”
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Simon Workman

Top 15 “New Music” Releases

1. Guided by Voices – August By Cake
2. Tobin Sprout – The Universe And Me
3. Lo Tom – S/T
4. Iron & Wine – Beast Epic
5. Guided by Voices – How Do You Spell Heaven
6. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
7. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers
8. V/A – Soul Slabs vol. 1
9. Circus Devils – Laughs Last
10. St. Vincent – Masseduction
11. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
12. Robert Plant – Carry Fire
13. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, & James McAlister – Planetarium
14. R. Ring – Ignite The Rest
15. Roger Waters – Is This The Life We Really Want?

Honorable Mentions: Brian Eno – Reflection, Bob Dylan – Triplicate, The National – Sleep Well Beast, Father John Misty – Pure Comedy, Ride – Weather Diaries, Chomper – Medicine Mountain, Ty Segall – S/T, Once & Future Band – S/T

Top 10 Archival & Reissue Releases:

1. Bob Dylan – Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series vol. 13 (box set)
2. King Crimson – Sailors’ Tales (box set)
3. Grateful Dead – May 1977: Get Shown The Light (box set)
4. V/A – Brown Acid: The Fourth Trip & The Fifth Trip
5. The Beach Boys – 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow
6. V/A – Transparent Days: West Coast Nuggets
7. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Lovely Creatures (box set)
8. Chris Bell – The Complete Chris Bell (box set)
9. V/A – Wayfaring Strangers: Acid Nightmares
10. Can – The Singles

Honorable Mentions: The Creation – Action Painting, V/A – Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present: English Weather, Grateful Dead – Dave’s Picks vol. 21, Grateful Dead – Dave’s Picks vol. 23, V/A – Seafaring Strangers: Private Yacht
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Adam Strong

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
The reunion album to end all reunion albums. James Murphy reconvenes his beloved LCD Soundsystem project and the results are that of a grisled beast, the dark computer chip. Paranoia, intended and deliberate doom that you could still shake your ass too. This is what 2017 sounded like.

Big Thief – Capacity
The songwriter of the year for me. When I saw Big Thief live this summer at Pickathon, lead singer songwriter Adrianne Lenker was so inward, it was hard for her to project the usual persona of performance. Her songs come from a dark and personal place, fiction and fact blending and twisting. A more varied outing than their debut, Masterpiece, the songs on Capacity grind their way down into the deep tissue of our muscles.

Kendrick Lamar – Damn
The way the album folds on itself, with bits of narrative cut up and split through the 12 tracks on Damn, Kendrick reaches new heights of storytelling and mood that culminates in the masterful track Duckworth.

Kevin Morby – City Music
These songs appear lightweight and fun when one first hears this, but with Morby’s deadpan delivery, there’s an unease about this record that really stuck to me. It was hard to not be enthralled by the simple pleasures of Morby’s City Music.

Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm
Fourth album from Katie Crutchfield broadens her sound a bit, in this unflinchingly defiant record, driving songs about all the things she’s going through. She’s been on a roll lately, with each release showing more of her strengths as a songwriter, this summer I simply couldn’t stop listening.

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
The arrangements haven’t changed much, but where 2014’s Lost in the Dream was a standard edition car, 2017’s A Deeper Understanding is a luxury model.

Alvvays – Antisocialites
The love affair starts the first time you put on ‘In Undertow’, the opening track on their sophomore release, Antisocialites. The kind of song you could hear everyday for the rest of your life, and on this second album, they find the perfect balance between sweet vocals and arrangements that support their ever-expanding vision. It’s a classic sound that relies on the chirp of old country music, the sweet vocal spot of Kirsty Maccoll and Tanya Donnelly. It’s timeless.

Bonny Doon – Bonny Doon
Heard about this from a friend who’s a music publicist, and there it so much Bonny Doon draw from on their debut. It’s a lazy summer afternoon of a record, perfect for lying in a hammock by the river. “What time is it in Portland?” became an instant favorite.

Samphia – Process
Piano and vocals that sound like cracked open R & B because that’s what it is. It’s highly spiritual stripped down music, as intensely uplifting as it is jaw droppingly gorgeous.

Ryan Adams – Prisoner
The guy might get a bit of stick for being more style than substance, but on his upteenth album, Ryan Adams explores the divorce process and offers up 12 more songs that show what a wellspring of inspiration he’s operating with. There’s a yearning to these tracks, they go in deep and describe the way he felt about his recent divorce, and sonically he has never sounded as assured as he does here.

Sandy (Alex G.) – Rocket
An album that came straight out of left field, a record to fall in love with, for sure. Folk meets lo fi experimental which could be a mess if it was in less skillful hands, but Sandy (Alex G.) delivers one of the albums of the year, it’s sheer unpredictability will have you reaching for the repeat button.

Fleet Foxes – The Crack Up
There’s so much to digest on the Fleet Foxes third album, you’d be forgiven if you gave it an initial pass, but stick around and you’ll be privy to the expansive gorgeous harmonies that haunted their first two albums. LIke before but deeper, longer and stronger.

Slowdive – Slowdive
Slowdive pick up not quite where they left off with 1998’s Pygmalion, but instead opt for the sound of the band smack dab between 1991’s Just for a Day and 1993’s Souvlaki, and what’s amazing is how well they pull off the classic sound. Its as if the band went back in time and turned left where before they turned right. It’s sublime.

Bjork – Utopia
The Icelandic wonder returns to a more joyous, ebullient sound on a record about dating and falling in love.

Elbow – Little Fictions
From start to finish, their best album. Lead singer Guy Garvey’s voice is a joy to behold.

Julien Baker – Turn out the Lights

The Parson Red Heads – Blurred Harmony
On Blurred Harmony, Portland, OR’s Parson Red Heads try on several styles and manage to add fresh insight into a variety of sounds. One spin and you’ll be convinced.

The Afghan Whigs – In Spades
It took seeing them play songs of this album live to convince me that this album was one of the best of the year. Even without their recently deceased guitarist David Rossiter, Greg Dulli has once again made some of the best music of his career out of tragic events.

The National – Sleep Well Beast

Shout Out Louds – Ease My Mind
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Matt Heiner

1) The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
2) Perfume Genius – No Shape
3) Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder
4) Thundercat – Drunk
5) Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
6) The xx – I See You
7) Girlpool – Powerplant
8) The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions
9) Laura Marling – Semper Femina
10) Spoon – Hot Thoughts
11) Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm
12) Cage the Elephant – Unpeeled

These albums would have probably made the list but I didn’t spend more time with them:
The National
Priests
Sylvan Esso
Big Thief
Hurray for the Riff Raff

Prog 2017: The Year In Review


Progressive Rock is not dead. It’s been relegated to the back of the line but it refuses to go away. And this is the time of year I get to reflect on all of the previous twelve month’s worth of proggy goodness that my ears have received. Yeah, it’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it.

There’s an endless supply of records and bands from around the globe – more so each year, it seems. This is curious as Prog has not had anything like a renaissance. If anything, its outsider status is more deeply entrenched than ever. Despite the attention Yes got for being inducted into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame (and for their being two bands out there calling themselves “Yes”); despite Steven Wilson’s latest album debuting at #3 in the UK; despite Washington Post political writer Dave Weigel’s book, The Show That Never Ends, on the subject (which opened some mainstream eyes to the genre); despite it all Prog is still a niche category. It’s still the object of scorn and endless misinformation. I think Weigel put it best though: most Rock is simple and stupid; Prog is complex and stupid. That statement sums it all up for me.

More than just a relic of a by-gone era, progressive rock is an underground cottage industry today. Self-released albums, independent labels, small venues, themed Caribbean cruises, but no radio play – it’s all about the music, all about the art. Very few of the artists on this list can “do” music full-time. There’s just not enough money in it. Although this is a travesty, it is also a blessing. These bands have not sold their souls for fame or fortune. Why bother? It wouldn’t do any good. Might as well write and record the best, most interesting music you can. That is reward enough. At least for some of us. So with that in mind – here are my top picks for the year.

#20

Deluge Grander
Oceanarium
Emkog Records [2017]

I’m sure this would have landed higher had it come out earlier in the year and thus giving me more time to let it sink in. This is their fourth LP (and second in a planned seven album series). The basic template is symphonic but not in the traditional Yes/ELP/Genesis sense. The songs are intricately composed with a wide array of creative instrumentation. Textured and highly nuanced, this is adventurous music for those not afraid to go on a sonic journey.

#19

Gentle Knife
Clock Unwound
BAJKA [2017]

Ten piece act out of Norway (of course) brings to mind King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Van Der Graaf Generator but have the writing chops to keep those comparisons at bay. Distorted guitars make room for flutes and saxophones. There are some really nice boy-girl vocals pulling it all together. The songs take time to develop and build organically at their own pace. With so many members it is a testament to their cohesion as a band that things never get messy. Nobody wants that.

#18

Maxophone
La Fabbrica Delle Nuvole
AMS Records [2017]

Back in 1970’s an Italian band called Maxophone released their one and only album. Now, forty-two years later, comes the follow-up. Same singer and keyboard players, same impeccable ear for melody but in a slightly updated version. Modern recording techniques help bring this into the here and now as the debut sounded a bit dated even back in ’75. A beautiful reminder of how great the Italian scene was (and is). Comebacks aren’t supposed to be this good.

#17

Motorpsycho
The Tower
Stickman Records [2017]

Absurdly prolific band from Norway continue to defy the odds and all expectations with their twenty-second album. From classic rock touchstones like Zeppelin and Floyd to krautrock-influenced stompers, The Tower plays like a geologist’s core sample: it’s all in there somewhere. They’re at their best when streamlining the jam band aspects of their sound and concentrate on songwriting. This release does that and then some. An excellent entry point into an important artist’s discography.

#16

Pain Of Salvation
In The Passing Light Of Day
Inside Out Music [2017]

Another Swedish act makes the list. Much like Opeth, Anathema and Riverside (all bands that turned down the volume), POS gets better the less metallic their songs are. Daniel Gildenlow is one of the most talented vocalists in the genre today and his health issues are dealt with throughout this terrific album. He was very close to death with a flesh eating bacteria and maybe that focused his mind towards the creative process. There’s a special magic that happens when you know the lyrics are more than mere words. And this is a special album.

#15

Steven Wilson
To The Bone
Caroline International [2017]

There was much hand-wringing about Wilson’s supposed descent into Tears For Fears territory. Some fans were upset that he turned his back on Prog but Wilson never hid his love of Kate Bush, XTC and the prog-lite that came out of the 80’s. This is just a very good album with very good songs on it. But to all the haters out there: Prog comes in many forms. All the above-mentioned acts were progressive. Just in a different way. And as an added bonus: the title track was co-written by Andy Partridge.

#14

Sons Of Apollo
Psychotic Symphony
Inside Out Music [2017]

Progressive metal supergroup reunites Mike Portnoy with his former Dream Theater mate Derek Sherinian and makes a strong case for best metal album of 2017. Also in tow are: Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big), Bumblefoot (Guns ‘n Roses) and Jeff Scott Soto (Journey). Yeah, it sounds similar to Dream Theater but without that band’s newfound fondness for Disney-like story lines. Like most bands in this category I only wish there was more Prog and less Metal but really anything with Mike Portnoy on it is likely worth owning.

#13

Thinking Plague
Hoping Against Hope
Cuneiform Records [2017]

Colorado might be the last place on earth music this complex should originate from. Really. Definitely the most challenging record on this list, Thinking Plague grab hold of your brain and don’t let go. Frank Zappa, Henry Cow, Art Bears and Univers Zero are easy identifiers but that doesn’t comment on their unique ability to make the strange sound gorgeous. Dark horns, odd scales and time signatures, this is their best effort since 1998’s high water mark In Extremis. Play this late at night with the lights down low.

#12

Nad Sylvan
The Bride Said No
Inside Out Music [2017]

This guy first came to my attention while performing in a Genesis wannabe band (Unifaun) where he gave the best Gabriel impersonation around. Later he teamed up with Roine Stolt for three great LP’s as Agents Of Mercy. All this led to his touring with Steve Hackett for his Genesis revisited dates. Now on his second solo album, Sylvan has matured into so much more than a sound-alike vocalist. One thing he does indeed share with Peter Gabriel: an innate ability to create interesting characters in his songs.

#11

Magenta
We Are Legend
Plane Groovy Records [2017]

I was really looking forward to this one and Robert Reed, Christina Booth and company did not disappoint. Booth has one of the finest female voices in Prog today and Reed’s compositional skills are unquestioned. Three long tracks make up this album’s entire length and they are all solid but the twenty-six minute “Trojan” serves as an excellent primer to the world of Magenta – a world where Reed can play guitar like Howe, Hackett and Gilmour all wrapped into one dude. And the rest of the band ain’t bad either.

#10

Barock Project
Detachment
Artalia [2017]

With refined hunger for detail these Italian lads (who mercifully sing in English) are at the cusp of greatness. Blending contemporary sounds with 70’s sensibilities may not be a new idea – merely one that no one (besides Haken perhaps) has really done satisfactorily. They are a rock band first but the proggy flourishes aren’t tacked on afterthoughts; they are integral parts of each song’s structural framework. Nothing feels forced. The result is an album that is very easy on the ears but has surprising depth.

#9

The Tangent
The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery
Inside Out Music [2017]

I like pretty much everything Tangent front man Andy Tillison has ever done so it comes as no surprise that the band’s ninth album lands on this list. On their previous record Tillison was complaining about the state of Prog in the 21st Century. This time out he’s back on a political soap box as Immigration, Brexit and Trump are never far from view. Subtle he is not but the arguments are delivered with conviction of a man who just survived a heart attack – which he did last year. Modern Prog done right – as per usual.

#8

Cheer-Accident
Putting Off Death
Cuniform Records [2017]

There’s a special place in the pantheon of American rock bands for Chicago-based act Cheer-Accident. Led by drummer Thymme Jones, they trade in the kind of eclectic, avant garde Prog that is impossible to pin down. Every album is different in spirit but never lost is the sense of experimentation. At times their work can be difficult but they always bring to it something memorable. There are actual melodies here, sure, but so much more lurks beneath.

#7

Kotebel
Cosmology
Musea Records [2017]

This Spanish band has been making some great records for a while now but they’ve finally captured everything they’re good at in one, achingly beautiful album. Purely instrumental (which is often enough for me to steer clear) Kotebel’s music effortlessly morphs throughout each piece without ever feeling cluttered or unnecessary. All the pieces fit together with an emphasis on piano and flute with both acoustic and electric guitars providing texture and counter-point. This is a record worth tracking down.

#6

Jordsjø
Jord
Self-Released [2017]

Oh boy. Two bands from Norway in the Top Ten? Why not! This cassette-only release (well, it’s available on their bandcamp page too) has been turning more than a few heads. The duo’s brand of “forest prog” incorporates Scandinavian folk into a symphonic rock template that emphasizes melody over technique to brilliant effect. Too often I discount any band that doesn’t sing in English but this is an exception. This is the type of album that made me fall in love with Prog in the first place. One complaint: it’s too damned short!

#5

Comedy Of Errors
House Of The Mind
Plane Groovy Records [2017]

Not usually my cup of tea, the Neo-Prog sub-genre wets its collective beak into the waters of mid 70’s Genesis a bit too often but every now and then a record like this arrives. These guys have been getting better and better with each record and have finally hit their stride. Singer Joe Cairney has just enough versatility to his voice to carry these songs. I only wish he sang with a Scottish accent! I always enjoy that. But the star of this show is Jim Johnston who gets the keyboard sounds just right – even if they’re Tony Banks-influenced. Who cares? It’s brilliant.

Karmakanic: Dot [Fire Note Review 10/31/16]

#4

Kaipa
Children Of The Sounds
Inside Out Music [2017]

Sweden has been at the forefront of the nascent Prog revival. This band, however, began in the 70’s and was reborn after a 21 year hiatus in 2002. Now on album number eight of this incarnation, Kaipa is the musical equivalent of a unicorn pissing rainbows on the vernal equinox – all sunshine and positive vibes, man. Yeah, it’s indebted to Jon Anderson’s mystical ruminations but they somehow make it all feel new. Unlike recent Kaipa albums, this one is a true grower – it gets better with each listen as themes reappear in varied forms without a hint of darkness. Or irony.

#3

Big Big Train
Grimspound
Giant Electric Pea [2017]

It’s been an eventful year for this quintessentially British act. After last year’s stunning Folklore they had so much material left over that they released not one but two new albums – the first (and superior) of them is this life-affirming set. Once again BBT prove that they are storytellers of the highest order. The musicianship is top notch as well. The songs here reach for the heart of Englishness and exactly what that means in the twenty-first century. If one married Genesis to XTC it would sound a lot like Big Big Train. And if you’re like me then you know that’s a very good thing.

#2

Discipline
Captives Of The Wine Dark Sea
The Lasers Edge [2017]

Detroit band known for taking forever between albums delivers a near masterpiece. A perfect album to play for a newcomer to progressive rock as it never goes too prog-freaky. The band has been together for 30 years and this is only their fourth proper release. The Van Der Graaf Generator comparisons are still valid but Matthew Parmenter and company try their hand at a variety of styles. Some purists don’t like that – there’s only one song over ten minutes?! But ultimately it’s about the songs and once again Discipline prove they’re one of the best bands in America today.

#1

Wobbler
From Silence To Somewhere
Karisma Records [2017]

These Norwegians have been putting out some of the best Prog around for a while now but they’ve always felt slightly derivative. Their first two albums sounded like Anglagard meets Gentle Giant while 2011’s Rites At Dawn had a distinct Yes vibe to it. Not only have they found their true authentic voice but they’ve just gone and released the best album of 2017. The hooks are bigger and more visible. The format is familiar – a side-long track and two other songs over ten minutes (with a short interlude tune thrown in). Kinda like Close To The Edge or Relayer. From this time-tested format they mount an impressive assault on the listener’s expectations. Keyboard player Lars Fredrik Froilie (who also plays in the band White Willow) rocks the Mellotron, Moog and Hammond like it’s 1972. His tones are spot on but this is no mere retro act. Wobbler is not attempting to recreate the music from that era but rather they use it as a point of departure. One can hear the influences but they enhance the songs, they don’t rule them. Most Prog LP’s take time to sink in. Not so here. Immediately entertaining and thoroughly inventive, From Silence To Somewhere is our clear winner.

Among the artists considered but did not ultimately make the cut, here are a few that deserve a mention as they all released quality recordings this year: PFM, Tusmorke, Von Hertzen Brothers, Mike Oldfield, Once & Future Band, Cast, White Willow, Ayreon, This Winter Machine, Hidden Lands, Magic Bus, Anathema, The Watch, Samurai Of Prog, Mostly Autumn, Bubblemath, Soup, Bent Knee, Unreal City, Gungfly, Drifting Sun, Schooltree, Threshold, Lifesigns, Soul Enema, Agusa, Sky Architect, Mogador, Machines Dream, Siiilk, Lunatic Soul, Brother Ape, Siena Root, Hadal Sherpa and Steve Hackett.

-Recap by Scot Lade

The Blazing Top 50 Albums of 2016

blazing top 50

#50

M Ross Perkins
M Ross Perkins
SofaBurn Records [2016]

It was a good year for Dayton, Ohio native M. Ross Perkins. He had a track premiered by the High Times website, an album feature/stream on AllMusic, and recorded both his own solo album and a record with fellow Daytonians Me Time. His self-titled record pulls from a well of influences that include the obvious (The Beatles, CSNY, The Beach Boys) and not-so-obvious (Harry Nilsson, Todd Rundgren, “Lola”-era Kinks). M. Ross Perkins’ debut LP shows that sometimes all you need to make a great record is yourself.

M Ross Perkins: M Ross Perkins [Fire Note Review 11/21/16]

#49

cymbals-eat-guitars-pretty-years Cymbals Eat Guitars
Pretty Years
Sinderlyn [2016]

It would have been easy to write off Cymbals Eat Guitars with the rotating band members but Pretty Years has the main drive of original member singer D’Agostino which is still full of fresh steps. With more synthesizers roaming in the background the band’s foundation of guitars, drums and bass are still well intact. Cymbals Eat Guitars separates themselves from the so-called dying indie genre and reinvented their music for 2016. Pretty Years was another solid album in their catalog.

Cymbals Eat Guitars: Pretty Years [Fire Note Review 11/17/16]

#48

alejandro-escovedo-burn-something-beautiful Alejandro Escovedo
Burn Something Beautiful
Fantasy [2016]

Supported by Decemberist drummer John Moen, guitarist Kurt Bloch (The Fastbacks), Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin on baritone sax and strong vocal performances by Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney) and Kelly Hogan (Neko Case and Minus 5), Escovedo’s long fascination with Mott the Hoople style glam rock shines through crunchy rock tracks on his 12th overall album and first in four years. This no holds bar fire keeps Burn Something Beautiful moving as Escovedo celebrates the noisy possibilities of our existential crisis.

Alejandro Escovedo: Burn Something Beautiful [Fire Note Review 11/7/16]

#47

martha-blisters-pit-my-heart Martha
Blisters In The Pit On My Heart
Dirtnap Records [2016]

Martha is the first UK band that Dirtnap Records has worked with and you can hear how their sophomore record fits in the with the label’s pop punk vibe. The band has a nice balance of pop and punk as their songs can rip and bounce at the same moment. Martha is an English band with a political agenda which gives them substance and drive. Once you wrap it up in songs you can sing along with really loud it completely worked and is volume knob heaven.

Martha: Blisters In The Pit On My Heart [Fire Note Review 11/30/16]

#46

OLE-1090-SteveGunn_EyesOnTheLines-copy Steve Gunn
Eyes On The Lines
Matador Records [2016]

Gunn’s Matador debut is full of masterful psychedelic guitar groovers. Eyes On The Lines feels like summer, it feels like hanging out with your friends and having your favorite album on while you’re drinking some beers. It has a comfortable, confident vibe, and then suddenly you realize that it’s been twenty minutes and you haven’t said a word to anybody because you got lost in the guitar grooves that Steve Gunn has been laying down. That is what landed this record in the Top 50.

Steve Gunn: Eyes On The Lines [Fire Note Review 6/22/16]

#45

charles-bradley-changes Charles Bradley
Changes
Dunham/Daptone Records [2016]

They don’t call Charles Bradley the screaming eagle of soul with a heart of gold for nothing. Changes housed some of his truest confessions of love and soul this year. Bradley’s delivery is heartfelt, consistent and a straight shot that plays to his honest strengths. If you are looking for just a complete honest performance, Bradley is your man because he has nothing to hide and lays all of his card on the table.


Charles Bradley: Changes [Fire Note Review 5/3/16]

#44

TIM111-OMNI-Deluxe_1600x1600 OMNI
Deluxe
Trouble In Mind Records [2016]

Atlanta’s OMNI plays a low-fi indie rock that has the similar post-punk vein of Parquet Courts but with a bit more laid back mood like Spoon. OMNI keep a consistent vocal, guitar, drum and bass but shake it up with an undertone of hooks and running riffs. There is no fire here, there is no last breath, and there are no exploding moments but OMNI make up for it with little treasures that sneak up on you again and again. Deluxe was a true indie sleeper.


OMNI: Deluxe [Fire Note Review 8/11/16]

#43

thejulieruin-lp1 The Julie Ruin
Hit Reset
Hardly Art Records [2016]

Kathleen Hanna is all you need to say here as her resume includes Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. The Julie Ruin’s new album, Hit Reset, was smart, snappy and sassy. It is full of tight songs that let Hanna just run wild and also allows her to state her world views, teach younger artists a lesson and it highlighted how well written punk songs can go a long way!

Julie Ruin: Hit Reset [Fire Note Review 7/21/16]

#42

tim-easton-american-fork Tim Easton
American Fork
Last Chance Records [2016]

Tim Easton is the singer/songwriter that you just can’t stop from delivering a pure heartfelt record. His eleventh, yes eleventh, record American Fork feels and sounds like an artist at the top of his game which has no care in the world except providing the absolute best sonic effort for your ears. Tim Easton is one of the best under the radar songwriters out there and American Fork once again backs it up with quality writing, singing and production. When you add drummer Jon Radford (Justin Townes Earle, Steelism), bassist Michael Rinne (Rodney Crowell), the pedal steel playing of Russ Pahl (Ray Lamontagne, John Hiatt), and multi-instrumentalist Robbie Crowell (Deertick, Turbo Fruits) to the equation, American Fork absolutely could not fail.

Tim Easton: American Fork [Fire Note Review 9/9/16]

#41

weezer-white-album Weezer
Weezer (White Album)
Crush/Atlantic Records [2016]

On this tenth studio album (and the fourth with eponymous title), Weezer returned to it’s LA/Southern California roots with a host of songs that played around in territory covered by the Beach Boys. Guess what? It was catchy good! Cuomo & Co. are not just having fun with the music (although clearly they are), lyrically they turned the Beach Boy summer fantasy clichés on their ears, and make obscure references to Darwin’s trip to the Galapagos islands on the ship. It was a summer sing along record that still holds some of that classic Weezer magic today.

Weezer: Weezer (White Album) [Fire Note Review 4/25/16]

#40

guided-by-voices-please-be-honest Guided By Voices
Please Be Honest
Guided By Voices Inc. [2016]

Guided by Voices returned as a one-man band this go around as Robert Pollard was responsible for playing every instrument. Please Be Honest is a little rough around the edges and is one of those records that takes a few listens to fully appreciate: its hooks aren’t as immediately apparent, and its melodies aren’t as instantly catchy. But, Please Be Honest contains the sprawling “My Zodiac Companion,” which featured one of Pollard’s most effortless melodies in recent memory, so even though this was not the most consistent GBV effort, it did capture that indefinable GBV spirit. That spirit is why it is still Top 50 material.

Guided By Voices: Please Be Honest [Fire Note Review 4/26/16]

#39

wcr070votaries-psychometry-coverimage Votaries
Psychometry
Wharf Cat Records [2016]

There is a good chance this record would be higher up on the list if we heard it earlier in the year. Votaries is Jackson Scott’s new project, which has now released their first LP, Psychometry, and it is a rather stunning collection of psychedelic drone-rock. Psychometry exceeded expectations with its blend of My Bloody Valentine drone, slithering vocals and psychedelic flourishes that will remind you of artists like Wand and Mac DeMarco. This is truly a grower of an album but once you get bit by the Votaries bug – it is really hard to turn down or turn away!

Votaries: Psychometry [Fire Note Review 11/29/16]

#38

nada-surf-you-know-who-you-are Nada Surf
You Know Who You Are
Barsuk Records [2016]

Nada Surf returned with their first batch of new tunes since 2012 as You Know Who You Are was the group’s eighth LP and marked its first as an official quartet with the addition of the super talented guitarist Doug Gillard (Guided By Voices, Death of Samantha, Cobra Verde). Sometimes it takes time to absorb an album and our intial score on this record was a bit too harsh. With more time and perspective, the album’s bursting moments sound bigger, its angular driving sections are more intense and it really does represent the Nada Surf formula that is hard to replicate. Nada Surf haven’t changed much over the last four years and You Know Who You Are is not only ultra-catchy but just kept getting better and better everytime we put it on.

Nada Surf: You Know Who You Are [Fire Note Review 3/8/16]

#37

white-lung-paradise White Lung
Paradise
Domino Records [2016]

White Lung have to be one of the more under the radar great female fronted rock bands currently on the scene today. Deep Fantasy (2014) was great and with Paradise they showed that it was no fluke. White Lung is full of piss and vinegar with a touch of melody and memborable hooks. The result was a 29-minute record that blows you away with frontwoman Mish Barber-Way’s commanding vocals and a tight guitar-drum-bass combo roll that never allows breaks. It is harder and harder to find this sound as Paradise is full of essential rock elements. This record is full speed and made cranking up the volume a given!

White Lung: Paradise [Fire Note Review 5/24/16]

#36

kyle-craft-dolls-of-highland Kyle Craft
Dolls Of Highland
Sub Pop Records [2016]

The debut from singer/songwriter Kyle Craft will be one of the more interesting and entertaining records you will hear this year. I really thought Craft would break out more but that was not Dolls Of Highland’s fault. His floating tenor and talented musicianship is uniquely addicting with great storytelling, a 70’s folk/glam sound and surprising song shifts. Kyle Craft is a new artist that is completely worth the hype and Dolls of Highland is a record that deserves your ear! Be on the watch because you probably have not heard the last of him.

Kyle Craft: Dolls Of Highland [Fire Note Review 5/5/16]

#35

sleepies Sleepies
Natural Selection
Mirror Universe Tapes [2016]

Wake up people! Sleepies third album needs your attention. This band has a knack for crafting quirky, off-kilter and unpredictable rock. Just when you think you know where a song is going, these guys pull the rug out from underneath you and hit you with something unexpected. Natural Selection finds Sleepies evolving their sound into a hybrid of power-pop-punk mash-up with occasional flourishes of psych-rock. They have a nervous edge to them that has bits of Pixies, Parquet Courts, and McLusky which is just one more reason the Sleepies ended up in the Top 50.

Sleepies: Natural Selection [Fire Note Review 9/7/16]

#34

fascinating-dice-game Fascinating
Dice Game
Quality Time Records [2016]

Fascinating is a trio out of Cleveland, Ohio that is one of many projects from Quality Time Records’ Ricky Hamilton. Fascinating comes at you 100mph with their lower fi post punk that sounds like you are in the best sounding basement in the world. This debut has it all with a raw laid back delivery, roughed up edges and strategically gives a crap when it creates its own little sing along moments with choruses that stick. Dice Game is a 21-minute blast that earned its way onto the list as Fascinating is the real rock n roll deal!

Fascinating: Dice Game [Fire Note Review 10/25/16]

#33

danny_cover_for_pre-order_1024x1024 Danny & The Darleans
Bug Out
In The Red Records [2016]

Danny (Dan Kroha) was a founding member of the legendary Gories so their second LP, Bug Out, seemed like a must to check out. The best thing about the record is that Kroha returns to his garage rock Detroit roots and plays from the hip with hard hitting Rn’B style jams. Bug Out’s raw and un-filtered sound is exactly what you want from this record and Danny & The Darleans deliver. Bug Out was one of the best garage rock albums you could pick up this year!

Danny & The Darleans: Bug Out [Fire Note Review 12/7/16]

#32

wilco-schmilco Wilco
Schmilco
ANTI-/dBpm Records [2016]

The quick return of Wilco was a surprising addtion to the music releases last year. After the louder Star Wars, it was no surprise that Schmilco took a more stripped down approach this time out. In fact, Schmilco would have made a great second record in the set. It was easier to forget about this one because of its style but repeated listenings revealed that this music is not as simple as it first sounds. It took longer to get into Schmilco but still offered all of the Wilco rewards in the end.

Wilco: Schmilco [Fire Note Review 9/6/16]

#31

tuns TUNS
TUNS
Royal Mountain Records [2016]

TUNS was Canadian power pop heaven. The band consists of Sloan’s Chris Murphy, The Inbreds’ Mike O’Neil, and Super Friendz’s Matt Murphy. All 90’s veterans of the Northern scene and without even trying, TUNS soars with its upbeat harmonic indie pop that is most closely related to Sloan’s style. The surprise here was that TUNS was a much more cohesive record than other recent “supergroup” projects you can think of. The backing falsettos, the sharp lyrics and the multitude of memorable choruses makes TUNS one of our more fun listens this year!

TUNS: TUNS [Fire Note Review 10/12/16]

#30

WussyAlbumArt_lores Wussy
Forever Sounds
Shake It Records [2016]

This Wussy record came out in March, so I believe it was a little forgotten but should be pulled back out. At this stage in their career, you must give a standing ovation to Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker for Wussy’s growth. Forever Sounds is their sixth full length and is a testament to their longevity. For Weaver, this is his second shot at stardom, as his Ass Ponys were part of the 90’s alt-rock explosion that many of us still hold near to our listening heart. All of this experience, that includes Mark Messerly, Joe Klug, and John Erhardt can be heard on Forever Sounds as it goes down many different rabbit holes such as hope, heartbreak, and the supernatural. The sharing of songwriting duties, trading lead vocals, and harmonizing together still existed on Forever Sounds and seemed effortless which of course made this album one of their best yet.

Wussy: Forever Sounds [Fire Note Review 3/4/16]

#29

frank-ocean-blonde-album-cover-628x628 Frank Ocean
Blonde
Self-Released [2016]

It’s easy to automatically reject Frank Ocean here because he is outside our normal music coverage. With that said, that is why Blonde succeeds because it has much to offer for all fans of music. So, why was Blonde so good? There are so many moments that demand your attention, like big choruses, chilling harmonies, power ballads and a spectaculer gospel side that worked. Blonde deserves all of the praise it has recieved from all and if you give it a chance, we think you will hear its uniqueness as well.

Frank Ocean: Blonde [Fire Note Review 9/13/16]

#28

Mitski
Puberty 2
Dead Oceans [2016]

Here is a record that just missed us. We scrambled to get a review for it becuase it was worthy of this Top 50 spot. TFN described Mitski’s sound as PJ Harvey meets Angel Olsen croon, electronic drum machines meets Pixies-ish style guitars, while quiet moments can become feverish mayhem on a turn of a dime. If that doesn’t get you a little bit excited than I am not sure what would because Puberty 2 was a refreshing listen with its diversity. Just when we think we have heard it all, a record like this comes along and you can hear how different it is. Mitski’s voice soars, her compositions are energizing and Puberty 2 would just keep climbing the chart if we spent more time with it.

Mitski: Puberty 2 [Fire Note Review 12/12/16]

#27

told-slant-going-by Told Slant
Going By
Double Double Whammy [2016]

How about a cross between Modest Mouse, Sufjan Stevens and Hayden? That is exactly what we heard on the new engagingly addicting sophomore record from Told Slant. It is a slower moving album, so I think some listeners were lost with it but if you kept going you found yourself hanging your ear on every lyric, every strum and every music transition. Told Slant created a fantastic space out of the real space between notes. Going By sucks you in with this quiet intensity and we believe it took many of us by surprise.

Told Slant: Going By [Fire Note Review 7/1/16]

#26

big-eyes-stake-my-claim Big Eyes
Stake My Claim
Don Giovanni Records [2016]

The music scene needs Big Eyes more than ever. This 10 song 24-minute rocker titled Stake My Claim is a great combo of classic rock riffs and pop punk hooks that has swagger and attitude just busting out from all of its edges. This brashness starts from lead singer Kait Eldridge and her slightly roughed out Joan Jett vocals which take command of each song. Stake My Claim is catchy, strong and memorable as it had a very high replay value. Its balance of pop, punk and rock is well blended till the end as Kait Eldridge is clearly a new force on scene to be reckoned with. TFN thinks that this record is just the spectacular beginning for Big Eyes!

Big Eyes: Stake My Claim [Fire Note Review 8/16/16]

#25

nick-cave-skeleton Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Skeleton Tree
Bad Seed LTD. [2016]

Although Skeleton Tree may be the least accessible of Nick Cave’s works, he has never tried to soften the blows of life in creating music for his listeners. Filled with pure, unbridled pain, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds once again exorcised their demons and delivered an album that looks death in the face, and doesn’t look away. In a year when we have lost such luminaries as Bowie, Prince, and others, this music offers a final sense of release that allows the mourner to look up and begin to live again. It wasn’t an easy record to listen to nor your favorite put on play album but Skeleton Tree was an important listen even if it was only once.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree [Fire Note Review 9/19/16]

#24

ultimate-painting-dusk Ultimate Painting
Dusk
Trouble In Mind Records [2016]

Jack Cooper and James Hoare, better known as Ultimate Painting, came back with their third album, Dusk, which contained 10 tracks of some of the finest guitar pop you are going to hear this year. Comparable to bands like Television, Yo La Tengo, and Luna, and influenced by the majestic third lp from The Velvet Underground, Ultimate Painting hit all the right notes with their jangly guitars as they spiraled around and weaved in and out of their strong melodies. Dusk was easily their best release to date and is honestly a record that just gets better everytime we revisit Ultimate Painting’s world.

Ultimate Painting: Dusk [Fire Note Review 10/24/16]

#23

thee-oh-sees-weird Thee Oh Sees
A Weird Exits
Castle Face Records [2016]

Thee Oh Sees are one of TFN favorite bands right now and upon first take we were a bit harsh on A Weird Exits. It was a record of muscular pulse and experiement, which are very easy to get lost in but every time you combined the garage rock with its guitar chug we became more addicted. A Weird Exits was very comfortable in spots for fans but when it changed directions is when the diverse front man John Dwyer excells. He wants to keep things fresh and challege his audience. We were not with every oddity that showed up here but as a whole, it made A Weird Exits one of the better albums of the year that we truly enjoyed.

Thee Oh Sees: A Weird Exits [Fire Note Review 9/28/16]

#22

thao-a-man-alive Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
A Man Alive
Ribbon Music [2016]

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down have been putting out quirky indie rock since their 2008 debut We Brave Bee Stings and All. Bandleader Thao Nguyen continues to get stronger with her presence and on the band’s fourth long player, A Man Alive, you can hear her in full control. We really liked Thao’s last album, We The Common [2013] but with repeat listens, A Man Alive stands tall and competes for title of best album in her catalog. A Man Alive made this list because of its fun side and timeless appeal that never lets down.

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down [Fire Note Review 5/11/16]

#21

drive-by-american-band Drive-By Truckers
American Band
ATO Records [2016]

I really don’t think that the Drive-By Truckers could make a bad record. It is more about how good their album is. With American Band, the group really seems to have found a new energy and is firing on all cylinders once again from previous lineup changes that plagued some past releases. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley now seem on an equal platform and American Band is better becuase of it. They really push each other, which in turn pushes the entire band to a higer level. American Band is not only one of the finest albums of the year; it’s also one of the most important with its political charge.

Drive-By Truckers: American Band [Fire Note Review 12/9/16]

#20

goggs GØGGS
GØGGS
In The Red Recordings [2016]

Ty Segall has his hands in several projects but GØGGS may require stitches after it takes you for a blitzed out pounding. With Fuzz bandmate Charles Moothart, and frontman Chris Shaw of Ex-Cult, this trio is a loaded army of buzzsaws that never slows down. GØGGS style in 2016 felt fresh because their in your face approach was a salute to the hardcore 80’s LA punk scene that brought back the sweat and energy of Black Flag or T.S.O.L. It comes at you with no excuses, and no apologies. There were just not many records released this year that compare to GØGGS sound, as it easily earned its spot at number 20.

GØGGS: GØGGS [Fire Note Review 7/6/16]

#19

sturgill-sailor Sturgill Simpson
A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
Atlantic Records [2016]

With A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, Sturgill Simpson expanded the boundaries of country music employing strings, horns and some big jazzy blues. You might think his roots were lost but that is just it – Simpson still is bona fide country. It was easy to get all wrapped up in his excellent cover of Kurt Cobain’s “In Bloom,” but musically, A Sailor’s Guide is a pure delight, taking full advantage of the fine musicians Simpson brought together for the experience, while taking country music into areas previously assumed as off limits.

Sturgill Simpson: A Sailor’s Guide To Earth [Fire Note Review 6/2/16]

#18

whitney-light-upon-lake Whitney
Light Upon The Lake
Secretly Canadian [2016]

When the Smith Westerns called it quits we really thought we would be talking about frontman Cullen Omori’s solo release here but instead Westerns’ guitarist Max Kakacek and singing drummer Julien Ehrlich (also in Unknown Mortal Orchestra), released the superb Light Upon The Lake under the new moniker Whitney. This new group features the same type of whimsical warm indie rock but keeps things more simple and low key with included brass and plenty of swaying moments. Light Upon The Lake has plenty of cool jazzy undertones which gave the album another depth, while Ehrlich’s quiet vocal inflections pull you into the albums core. Whitney’s debut was a strong statement and we can’t wait to hear what comes next.

Whitney: Light Upon The Lake [Fire Note Review 6/14/16]

#17

honey-radar-blank-cartoon Honey Radar
Blank Cartoon
What’s Your Rupture? [2016]

I don’t know why more lo-fi fans have not found Honey Radar. Blank Cartoon is a wonderful patchwork of songs that bring to mind an early era of Guided by Voices. At 18 tracks long, there is zero filler on Blank Cartoon and most tracks are under 3 minutes long, so Honey Radar delivers just the right dose. We feel Honey Radar is a group that should be bigger than our small corner of the music world and we couldn’t feel any stronger about Blank Cartoon landing at number 17. If that is not a statement about their quality, we are not sure what else we can do!

Honey Radar: Blank Cartoon [Fire Note Review 7/1/16]

#16

pinegrove-cardinal Pinegrove
Cardinal
Run For Cover Records [2016]

The honest voice of Evan Stephens Hall here is the initial attraction to Pinegrove with his ever so slightly weathered vocal and complete sincerity. The group has solitude like Elvis Depressedly and Bright Eyes, can rock like Car Seat Headrest or early Wilco and would be fine opening for Ryan Adams or Built To Spill. Cardinal took some time to click but when it did it really clicked. It is an emotional rollercoaster of an album that is indie rock with a country tweak that lyrically deals with its demons but comes through fine on the other side. It has a youthful flow to it that makes each track unique and a clear spotlight in 2016.

Pinegrove: Cardinal [Fire Note Review 12/1/16]

#15

leithauser-rostam-i-had-dream Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
Glassnote Records [2016]

The Walkman’s frontman Hamilton Leithauser has one of those instantly recognizable voices so I never doubted that he could do well in a solo setting. His 2014 debut was OK but after he teamed up full time with former Vampire Weekend producer/instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij they created one to remember. Leithauser and Rostam are excellent story tellers and each song here could catch you with its lyrics and different intricate musical pieces that brought on new discoveries with each repeat listen. I Had A Dream That You Were Mine from Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam is the best collaborative album this year and overall one of the true highlights in 2016.

Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam: I Had A Dream That You Were Mine [Fire Note Review 10/27/16]

#14

frankie-cosmos-next-thing Frankie Cosmos
Next Thing
Bayonet Records [2016]

Next Thing is that special record for creator/singer Greta Kline’s Frankie Cosmos, as it is that moment she goes from being known by a few to being known by many. The record is a short and interesting perspective of spoken word except that it is accompanied by the catchiest of jangles. This is the mix that makes Frankie Cosmos so damn enjoyable as her sophomore album Next Thing was made for a bigger audience but also retained what makes Kline great in the first place. The songs are still personal, the music still gives you shivers and the closeness of her sound makes you feel like the only fan on this earth.

Frankie Cosmos: Next Thing [Fire Note Review 4/6/16]

#13

esp-ohio-recordsESP Ohio
Starting Point Of The Royal Cyclopean
GBV, Inc. [2016]

ESP Ohio was the third Robert Pollard release this year and because of the lineup, the most exciting. The new project reunited him with guitarist Doug Gillard (Nada Surf, Guided By Voices) which has historically yielded some great indie pop moments, then he added current GBV bassist Mark Shue and drummer Travis Harrison (Lifeguards producer). This record had everything you want if you are a Pollard fan, such as riff rockers, hook filled jams and then of course the jangly carefree songwriting. ESP Ohio also brought horns to the party which was a new twist that worked. This project really works because it’s being allowed the freedom to be whatever it wants to be. The songs move to their own internal compass and the band sounds energized and tight as hell. We really hope that ESP Ohio will back for another run soon!

ESP Ohio: Starting Point Of The Royal Cyclopean [Fire Note Review 11/14/16]

#12

jeff-rosenstock-worry Jeff Rosenstock
WORRY.
SideOneDummy Records [2016]

Punk has been taking a backseat for some time now so it was ear opening to play Jeff Rosenstock’s new album WORRY. This record moves Rosenstock lightyears ahead of his catalog as this album collects all of his ideas in one place and harnesses a powerful and explorative record that has peaks, valleys, gut punches, rip shit up moments and cry in a corner times that all equate a thrill ride from beginning to end. WORRY. was the best punk release for 2016 and has no problem sitting this high on the list.

Jeff Rosenstock: WORRY. [Fire Note Review 10/12/16]

#11

bon-iver-22-million Bon Iver
22, A Million
Jagjaguwar [2016]

I never thought that Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon would stay contained to one style, sound or genre but the turn he took on his third record 22, A Million was not expected. It was a perplexing shift but if you stuck with it, Bon Iver captured the same engagement here as previously praised releases. This album has its spacey and ethereal moments that were highlighted by synthesizers, electronic beeps and well-placed beats. What makes this record exciting and one of the better releases of the year is that Vernon’s artistic inclusion of “quiet” space was held by isolated instruments like saxophone, metal drum, and trumpet while using samples at moments you don’t expect. Artistry won us over big on this one.

Bon Iver: 22, A Million [Fire Note Review 10/6/16]

#10

connections-midnight-run Connections
Midnight Run
Anyway Records [2016]

The sound found on Midnight Run was not new for Connections but it was perfected. Midnight Run, highlights that they know exactly what they are doing at this point with their brand of lo-fi fuzz guitar rock that soars with melodies, stands up with guitar solos and is just weird and disjointed enough in parts to keep the record interesting. This album translates on your headphones and will easily play loud on the stage. Connections already have three solid records in their arsenal but Midnight Run took their talent to the next level!

Connections: Midnight Run [Fire Note Review 7/20/16]

#9

parquet-courts-human-performance Parquet Courts
Human Performance
Rough Trade Records [2016]

It has to be hard to keep cranking out top notch releases and nobody has done it better over the years than Parquet Courts. Their quick shift changes circulated throughout Human Performance as the record looked to take chances. There was intricate conga play, psychedelic movements for a different realm and much more time spent on the creative process to arrive with this final result. Human Performance has a slacker meets swagger attitude which was infectious and most certainly helped propel the record upwards to number 9.

Parquet Courts: Human Performance [Fire Note Review 4/12/16]

#8

king-gizzard-nonagon King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
Nonagon Infinity
ATO Records [2016]

If you have read TFN long enough, you know that we have been telling you about Australia’s King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard for some time now. Nonagon Infinity was the eighth studio album by the psych rock group and it is an infinite loop, with every song flowing into one another, including the closing and opening track. Nonagon was much heavier than previous records, which gave it a special edge as it even won the Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal album at the ARIA Music Awards of 2016. It really does not fit that category but I think it just shows that this record was the most in your face album the group has produced and we loved it!

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard: Nonagon Infinity [Fire Note Review 4/28/16]

#7

radiohead-moon-shaped-pool Radiohead
A Moon Shaped Pool
XL Recordings [2016]

Radiohead anymore just seems to be at a different level. Some people still don’t get it but Radiohead are truly a great band. A Moon Shaped Pool isn’t catchy. It’s actually almost terrifying in a certain way but that was one of its greatest strengths because it doesn’t have to be catchy – beauty, art, and poignancy are what it is all about and it really sinks in the more you listen. You walk away from this album feeling like you just had an experience. That is something many artists will never achieve – Radiohead seem to do it time and time again.

Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool [Fire Note Review 5/12/16]

#6

JAG285 Dinosaur Jr.
Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not
Jagjaguwar [2016]

At this point, the reunited classic Dinosaur Jr. lineup has now recorded more albums than they did on their first go round. I don’t think any of us ever saw this coming when they announced they were reforming over a decade ago. They band that could only keep it together for a few short years originally has now held it together for over a decade. This is showcased in the music on Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not because it is one of their finest moments. With plenty of classic Dino barn burners, smoking riffs, throbbing bass, and thunderous drums, Dinosaur Jr. not only returned but they showed everyone how band driven indie rock still exists.

Dinosaur Jr.: Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not [Fire Note Review 8/9/16]

#5

angel-olsen-my-woman Angel Olsen
My Woman
Jagjaguwar [2016]

Initial impressions of a reviewer don’t always hold the collective view of others and we feel that way on Angel Olsen’s third record My Woman. Not only was My Woman her best album to date, it is easily one of the best records this year. The remarkable single “Shut Up Kiss Me,” started the campaign for this record as My Woman finds Olsen hitting the big time with production, confidence and swagger. Tempos absolutely didn’t matter here as each song would get in your head and never leave. That staying power is exactly why My Woman is number 5. Expect to see plenty more of Angel Olsen moving forward as she has crossed over into a new level of artistry.

Angel Olsen: My Woman [Fire Note Review 9/18/16]

#4

cover (1)The Hotelier
Goodness
Tiny Engines [2016]

The Hotelier evolved on their 2014 breakout LP, Home, Like No Place Is There, but Goodness found them elevating their game even higher. It is thrilling to witness a band at the very peak of their creative prowess, when they believe that they can do anything. Goodness is that moment for The Hotelier. The music is cerebral, it’s emo, it’s quiet, it’s loud, it’s thoughtful and it’s direct. Not sure where The Hotelier go from here but right now Goodness is the bar!

The Hotelier: Goodness [Fire Note Review 6/20/16]

#3

kevin-morby-singing-saw Kevin Morby
Singing Saw
Dead Oceans [2016]

From the surreal instrumentation to a voice that at times sounds like a young Dylan, Kevin Morby hits all the right notes on his third full length Singing Saw. His first two solo records were on Woodsist so Singing Saw not only finds Morby moving to a bigger label but also features his biggest sound. The growth is incredible here, which is why it is so engaging. On Singing Saw, he connects with his LA surroundings and notices the abstract about the city which is lonely but yet comfortable. The closing line of the final track “Water,” is the perfect conclusion to the record as Morby exclaims with a heightened sincerity “If you find water / Please call my name / Put me out like a fire / Cover me in rain.” Kevin Morby is an emerging artist that no matter how much he wants his flame to simmer, the beauty and freedom on Singing Saw turns into an uncontrollable wild fire and lands it at number 3!

Kevin Morby: Singing Saw [Fire Note Review 7/13/16]

#2

david-bowie-blackstar David Bowie
Blackstar
Columbia Records [2016]

I really don’t think that words can even do justice here. Nobody, execpt Bowie knew that he was going to die very soon. That very piece of information is why Blackstar is such a compelling listen. It is a mature, calculated performance, in a genre that stretches beyond anything we’ve previously heard from Bowie. In the title track he sings of a “solitary candle in the center of it all,” a fitting image of his unique artistic path. As a sonic eulogy, Blackstar haunts the listener, and demands to be heard again and again.

David Bowie: Blackstar [Fire Note Review 1/13/16]

#1

car-seat-headrest-teens-of-denial Car Seat Headrest
Teens Of Denial
Matador Records [2016]

I am so tired hearing about the death of indie rock. It died 3 years ago, it died last year, 2016 was the final death of indie rock – we have heard it all. Then you get an artist like Will Toledo’s Car Seat Headrest. Just a young dude making music and releasing it for free on Bandcamp. Then Matador Records picks it up and puts out a reworked greatest tracks last year and builds some buzz. Fastforward to Car Seat Headrest’s debut of all new material, Teens Of Denial, and after you hear the opening line “I’m so sick of – fill in the blank,” out of founder and singer/songwriter Will Toledo’s creative brain you just proved the haters wrong. Its sonic boom and attack represents the first real song Car Seat Headrest has released with a full band recorded in a real studio and gives you an early glimpse of the cleaver wordplay that fills the album and the indie rock that soars throughout. Teens of Denial is challenging, not afraid to push limits and boundaries and most certainly is not scared to have you turn up the volume. This record is a win for indie rock and we can only predict that this is a true beginning for Car Seat Headrest’s next stage that hopefully will produce more exciting music in years to come. You should get onboard now, as Teens Of Denial is our pick for the best album of 2016!

Car Seat Headrest: Teens Of Denial [Fire Note Review 5/19/16]

Honorable Mention Albums of 2016


Let’s face it – not every album we enjoyed can end up in our year end Blazing Top 50. Many times, there are records that almost make the cut and honestly probably could have replaced another record but for one reason or another they were just left out.

Realizing that, you will find 12 of those such records below that came so close to making the Top 50 but still deserve a highlight, so they are now included in The Fire Note Honorable Mention Albums of 2016.

Honorable Mention

beach-slang-teenage Beach Slang
A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings
Polyvinyl Records [2016]

TFN has been all over Beach Slang’s Replacement style rock n roll since their pair of EP debuts back in 2014. A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings brought back the exact same formula as the band wanted to make another record that was for the fans. It feels like volume 2 from their debut as it just never takes its foot off the accelerator. A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings is an energetic rush from beginning to end that we just couldn’t turn off!

Beach Slang: A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings [Fire Note Review 9/27/16]

Honorable Mention

dba-start-own Various Artists
Start Your Own Fucking Show Space
Famous Class Records [2016]

We typically do not feature a live compilation like this in the Top 50 but Start Your Own Fucking Show Space still needs a highlight. This 3 LP set from Famous Class features 26 live tracks from various artists that captures the last days of the popular Brooklyn Death by Audio venue. It is an amazing grouping of artists that finds bigger names like Deefhoof, Parquet Courts, Thee Oh Sees, Ted Leo and Ty Segall with others you might not know as well such as Nots, Sleepies, Pampers or The Numerators. It is pure example of why the live show will never die!

Various Artists: Start Your Own Fucking Show Space [Fire Note Review 8/10/16]

Honorable Mention

bent-shapes-wolves-of-want Bent Shapes
Wolves Of Want
Slumberland Records [2016]

TFN is easily drawn to a well-done power pop record and Boston’s Bent Shapes was a stand out with their sophomore outing Wolves Of Want. The record dealt with some bigger subject matter but disguised it with quality catchy power pop precision. Its 10 songs clocking in at 28 minutes also made it super easy to ingest and go back for more while leaving you humming every last line!

Bent Shapes: Woves Of Want [Fire Note Review 3/24/16]

Honorable Mention

eztv-high-in-place EZTV
High In Place
Captured Tracks [2016]

If your record features Jenny Lewis and Real Estate’s Martin Courtney and Matt Kallman then you must be doing something right. High in Place found EZTV returning quickly after last year’s debut as they kept things simple and consistent without much alteration to their laid back soft indie rock. EZTV have a very soft power pop sound that throws back to The Byrds or Dwight Twilley while giving nods to Teenage Fanclub and I still have not figured out why they just don’t get more press. Oh well – we like them!

EZTV: High In Place [Fire Note Review 11/8/16]

Honorable Mention

Robert-Pollard-Of-Course-You-AreRobert Pollard
Of Course You Are
Fire Records [2016]

Robert Pollard can crank out a record from start to finish faster than most people can think about recording one. 2016 was another productive year for him and Of Course You Are was another great solo performance. This record was somewhat of a continuance from last year’s Ricked Wicky as all of the instruments on Of Course You Are were played by Ricked Wicky’s Nick Mitchell. This direction shook things up a bit for a slightly different vibe that still fits neatly in Pollard’s catalog.

Robert Pollard: Of Course You Are [Fire Note Review 3/3/16]

Honorable Mention

Lost Boy?
Goose Wazoo
Little Dickman Records [2016]

The rule at TFN is that if an album does not receive a review it is not eligible for the Top 50. Lost Boy?’s excellent Goose Wazoo unfortunately falls to HM because of this law. It is too bad because this record is Top 50 material with its lo-fi pop that is both catchy and quirky. With a good mix of old school Elephant 6 collective sounds stirred with some Ween like moments, Lost Boy? will stick with you if you just take the time to discover them right now!

The Friday Fire Track: Lost Boy? – “Goose Wazoo” [Fire Note 9/23/16]

Honorable Mention

paul-orwell-organized-blues Paul Orwell
Organized Blues
Heavy Soul Records [2016]

Paul Orwell followed up last year’s ’60s style rocker, Blowing Your Mind Away, with an album of 12 heavy Hammond organ instrumentals. Guess what? It is fantastic and with some well-placed horns, drums and guitar plus an ending cover of Neal Hefti’s Batman theme, Organized Blues was one of the biggest surprises we listened to in 2016. It also was a vinyl only release which was just one more reason to get the turntable spinning!

Paul Orwell: Organized Blues [Fire Note Review 8/4/16]

Honorable Mention

CF-075cover_large Thee Oh Sees
Live In San Francisco
Castle Face Records [2016]

Castle Face’s Live In San Francisco series has been a hit since day one with great sets from the Ty Segall Band, FUZZ, Destruction Unit, White Fence, OBN III’s and the newest being Feral Ohms. Thee Oh Sees of course set a new bar for the series on this one as it was the first double LP in the series and included a DVD. If you are a Thee Oh Sees fan, Live In San Francisco is a must own. The songs come to life in this settling and the guitars just come through your speakers. It not only sounds and feels like you are at the show but this just may be the best release in the series yet.

Thee Oh Sees: Live In San Francisco [Fire Note Review 7/27/16]

Honorable Mention

rob-crow-gloomy-place Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place
You’re Doomed. Be Nice.
Temporary Residence Ltd. [2016]

Pinback’s Rob Crow publicly withdrew from music early last year so this release was a great surprise. He has one of the best voices in indie rock and with his new band made up of close friends, Crow sounds inspired. The vocal interplay, the muscular guitar work and the pounding drums all swirl in and out which gave Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place a fresh starting point in his catalog and deserved much more press than it received.

Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place: You’re Doomed. Be Nice. [Fire Note Review 3/1/16]

Honorable Mention

ty-segall-emotional Ty Segall
Emotional Mugger
Drag City Records [2016]

Ty in the scary baby mask is how we will remember Emotional Mugger as it was released way back in January. This album was paranoid, claustrophobic and itching for trouble, as Segall offered big riffs with twists and turns until it wrapped Emotional Mugger into a pretzel. It may not have been as catchy as his last two efforts but it also wasn’t too bad either!

Ty Segall: Emotional Mugger [Fire Note Review 1/26/16]

Honorable Mention

band-of-horses-why-are-you-ok Band Of Horses
Why Are You OK
Interscope Records [2016]

Why Are You OK is Band of Horses best major label record to date and it was an album that became catchier everytime we listened. “Casual Party” was fun while “In A Drawer,” with J. Mascis on backing vocals, is still one of our favorite singles this year. I really want Band Of Horses to succeed and the more attention to detail on Why Are You OK gives me hope that the band has not been lost forever to the major labels.

Band Of Horses: Why Are You OK [Fire Note Review 6/23/16]

Honorable Mention

pink-mexico-fool Pink Mexico
Fool
Burger Records [2016]

If you like fuzz-laden rock, then you should not be missing out on Pink Mexico. The band can stuff a melody right between two walls of sound and not blink. That is exactly what you consistently get on Fool with fast tempo rockers and mellower numbers that catch you in their trippy chorus. Really, we were sold on Pink Mexico when we typed fuzz-laden!

Pink Mexico: Fool [Fire Note Review 8/16/16]

Finally, below are several other albums that never made the review page. We recommend checking them out as well as they were great listens but unfortunately not eligible for a spot!

They are:
Tim Presley – The Wink (Drag City);
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (Columbia);
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic);
LVL UP – Return To Love (Sub Pop)
.

I am sure there were more but that is enough to keep you busy! The Blazing Top 50 of 2016 posts tomorrow.

Prog 2016 – The Year In Review


It’s been a rough couple years for Prog with the losses of Chris Squire of Yes, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of ELP, Nektar’s Roye Albrighton and Daevid Allen of Gong. The heroes of the Golden Age of progressive rock are entering their twilight years. Along with that comes the realization that anyone born after 1970 would have no recollection of just how big the titans of Prog truly were – both commercially and artistically.

Bands like Yes, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and ELP sold millions of records and sold out venues around the world. At the genre’s peak (1971-1977) only Led Zeppelin outsold them. What happened after that is the subject of much debate: the rise of punk and disco did, of course, hurt but the hubris of the major acts was just as important. As was the incompetence of the record labels who came to view Prog as a relic long before audiences did.

Though beaten down in the eighties, Prog never quite died and the nineties saw a revival – first in Sweden (with bands like Anglagard, Landberk and Anekdoten) and then in America (where Spock’s Beard, Echolyn and Dream Theater formed). Since then it has been a long and mostly fruitless climb back to relevance. Long gone are the heady days of major labels and radio airplay. The practitioners of modern Prog toil in obscurity and poverty; a truly underground scene that is home to some of the most exciting music being recorded today. Here’s a look at the best progressive rock albums of the past 12 months.

#20

Opeth
Sorceress
Nuclear Blast America [2016]

These Swedish champions of the prog metal universe continue to expand on their progressive journey away from death growls and towards Deep Purple and Jethro Tull – complete with vintage keyboards and acoustic guitars. For the third album in a row Mikael Akerfeldt dispenses with the Cookie Monster vocals and allows his love for 70’s Prog to inform these tracks. Opeth has already lost some of their hardcore fans who long for the old death metal days but it appears that they’ve acquired enough new ones to continue down this path. One can only hope.

#19

Haken
Affinity
Inside Out Music [2016]

Haken are a truly strange band – a Prog metal outfit with a Gentle Giant fetish. This time out they incorporate 80’s era Yes, Asia and Rush as touchstones and the result is a very different record than their 2013 masterwork, The Mountain. This time out the band explore the chilly environs of technology – both in the human experience and the music they’re currently making. The guitars sound digitally supercharged and the electronic flourishes blend in seamlessly making Affinity a likely outlier in their discography. But in a good way.

#18

Gustavo Santhiago
Animam
Records DK [2016]

What? Wait a minute! This Brazilian dude is only 17 years old? Shades of Mike Oldfield with a sprinkling of Camel and PFM, this instrumental album plays with so many themes and moods but keeps the focus on classic 70’s Prog. This may be retro stuff but the composition is rock solid. Playing keyboards, flute and bass, Gustavo is a rare talent who possesses an old soul and an ability to scale the heights of his chosen genre with an ease and effortless grace. Look out for this kid.

#17

Frost*
Falling Satellites
Inside Out Music [2016]

The on again/off again project of producer Jem Godfrey and the much in-demand singer/guitarist John Mitchell (It Bites, Arena), Frost* delivers a very diverse set of songs for their third album. From Belew-era King Crimson to Max Tundra and a whole lot in between, Falling Satellites is one record that unashamedly lets the less proggy influences shine. This is modern Prog at its most “modern” sounding. Unlike their incredible debut, this one took a few spins to grow on me but now that it has I can’t get enough.

#16

Evership
Evership
Atkinsong Productions [2016]

Falling under the “neo-prog” subset usually means a band has a strange affection for late 70’s Genesis without the songwriting abilities. Well, Nashville musician Shane Atkinson and singer Beau West have just put paid to that misconception. Sometimes heavy like Dream Theater, other times laid back like Marillion, the sheer sonic variety is impressive. As are West’s vocals which recall the great Freddy Mercury. Atkinson says he has at least four more albums worth of material already written so it’s safe to say we’ll be hearing more from this talented group.

#15

Cirrus Bay
Places Unseen
Self-Released [2016]

Playing pastoral, whimsical progressive rock with a female vocalist will almost always lead to Renaissance comparisons and with album number five, Cirrus Bay have a new lead singer, Tai Shan, who sounds even more like Annie Haslam. Luckily the music has gotten more intricate and evokes as much Genesis or Caravan as it does Renaissance. They are more polished, more electric and more progressive this time around and if you’re not already convinced that this is a band you need to hear they even pay homage to the late, great Bo Hansson.

#14

Kaipa Da Capo
Darskapens Monotoni
Foxtrot Records [2016]

Not to be confused with that other Swedish Prog band (Kaipa), this version of the band is basically the original 70’s line-up minus Hans Lundin. As Lundin keeps making great records as Kaipa, Roine Stolt obviously felt the need to surpass those. Enlisting his brother Mikael into the fold insured that this album has The Flower Kings written all over it. Warm and inviting, this record continues Stolt’s hot streak but I sure do wish they sang in English. Well, the purists love that stuff.

#13

Van Der Graaf Generator
Do Not Disturb
Esoteric Antenna [2016]

That Peter Hammil, Hugh Banton and Guy Evans are still making music as Van Der Graaf Generator is a miracle. After a long hiatus, VDGG returned in 2005 and have since released five terrific albums and this one may be the best of the reunion records. Hammil still sounds completely unhinged but the melodies are beautiful and more memorable than at any time since their 70’s heyday. Rumor has it that this may be their swan song and if that’s true than they are, without a doubt, going out in grand style.

#12

Circa
Valley Of The Windmill
Frontiers Music [2016]

Billy Sherwood is a divisive figure in the history of Yes. Having been a part of that band in the 90’s and now the hand-picked successor to the mighty Chris Squire it should come as no surprise that Circa (which also includes ex-Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye) sounds a lot like the mothership. Sherwood’s vocals are grittier and more Americanized than anything to be found on a Yes album but the music resides squarely in that realm: melodic and symphonic to a fault. Nothing particularly new or groundbreaking going on here just some good old fashioned Prog. Okay?

#11

Bent Knee
Say So
Cuneiform Records [2016]

Fans of Fiona Apple or Shirley Manson won’t feel too alienated with this Boston group’s sumptuous third album. Courtney Swain has the kind of sultry voice that really makes Bent Knee’s music seem more “normal” than it actually is. And when a band includes their producer/sound engineer as a full-fledged member of the band (as Vince Welsh is) there’s a very good chance that their records sound pretty good and this is one of the best examples of a current band using the studio to augment their vision. Very sorry I missed them when they played in Dayton earlier this year.

#10

Kansas
The Prelude Implicit
Inside Out Music [2016]

Sixteen years since their last album, Kansas comes back with a vengeance – and three new members: vocalist Ronnie Platt, guitarist Zak Rizvi and keyboardist David Manion. The result is a truly engaging record that not only recalls past triumphs but firmly establishes this version of the band as a bona fide contender. The absence of Steve Walsh and Kerry Livgren from this line-up sounds like a death sentence but it has actually given these Prog stalwarts a new lease on life. Given my low expectations this one was a pleasant surprise!

#9

Dream Theater
The Astonishing
Roadrunner Records [2016]

These progressive metal titans return with a double concept album about an evil empire and the magical power of music. Think Game Of Thrones meets Rush’s 2112 and (while you’re at it) add a touch of Disney to the proceedings. Longtime fans are pretty much split about this one (the third without co-founder Mike Portnoy). The virtuosity on display is, as always, second to none but after two hours The Astonishing can be exhausting. Definitely not the place to start if new to the band but still filled with lots of proggy goodness.

#8

The Pineapple Thief
Your Wilderness
Kscope [2016]

This Bruce Soord-led project is now eleven albums in and as their name grows in stature they eschew the trappings of the more polished edges of their last couple records and go for a more standard Prog sound. The inclusion of drummer Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree, King Crimson) proves to be pure magic as his percussive touch is all over this release. There’s a melancholy to these songs as Soord deals with the issues of isolation and alienation while musically there’s not a lot of distance between this and Radiohead.

#7

The Dear Hunter
Act V: Hymns With The Devil In Confessional
Equal Vision Records [2016]

The fifth (and final) installment of the series, Casey Crescenzo saved some of his best material for this. As usual, genres are blurred beyond any recognition and song craft becomes the star of the story – which is a good thing as the tale is as confusing as anything Coheed & Cambria could have dreamt up. This is not traditional Prog in any sense of the word. In fact, it owes a huge debt to emo which isn’t surprising given Crescenzo once played in the Warped Tour band The Receiving End Of Sirens.

#6

Glass Hammer
Valkyrie
Sound Resources [2016]

Chattanooga based band is best known for its former vocalist, Jon Davison, joining Yes but founding members Steve Babb and Fred Schendel have put together perhaps their best album. Susie Bogdanovicz returns as lead singer and it’s a match made in heaven. The “war sucks” storyline doesn’t really add a lot but it’s not a hindrance either – these songs are just top notch regardless. After seventeen albums it seems like Glass Hammer are just now hitting their stride.

#5

karmakanic-dotKarmakanic
DOT
Inside Out Music [2016]

Jonas Reingold and company finally sound like a real band and not a side project. Reingold is involved in so many things (The Flower Kings, Anderson/Stolt, The Tangent, Kaipa, The Fringe) that it would be understandable if he let Karmakanic sit idle or – worse still – release a subpar album. Fear not! The perfect blend of symphonic rock, progressive metal, jazz fusion and classic AOR; Karmakanic have come a long way since being a vacation from The Flower Kings.

Karmakanic: Dot [Fire Note Review 10/31/16]

#4

knifeworldKnifeworld
Bottled Out Of Eden
Inside Out Music [2016]

Modern Prog with avant garde and pop sensibilities galore. The future is now. Kavus Torabi is carving out a unique position in the Prog world. Having been a part of Cardiacs certainly gives him the right pedigree and now (as if he isn’t busy enough) he has taken the helm of the good ship Gong after Daevid Allen’s passing. But this is no mere side project. The attention to detail in each track is astounding. More importantly, these songs really grab the listener and never let go.

Knifeworld: Bottled Out Of Eden [Fire Note Review 6/3/16]

#3

a3251413013_10Big Big Train
Folklore
Giant Electric Pea [2016]

These guys are so English that they might as well be from another planet – just out of this world great. Most years this would be the hands down winner but as our top two spots are generational albums, Folklore is still a very satisfying release and Big Big Train’s best effort yet. With all the pieces now in place (former members of XTC, Genesis and Beardfish are now in) it will be exciting to see where they go from here. Pastoral but never boring, melodic but never delicate – BBT has entered the top tier.

Big Big Train: Folklore [Fire Note Review 7/12/16]

#2

12074703_10154044883965439_726321553244053807_nAnderson/Stolt
Invention Of Knowledge
Inside Out Music [2016]

Yes meets The Flower Kings. And it works like a dream. Easily the best work Anderson has done in decades (with or without Yes) this marriage of Prog heavyweights gives off all kinds of Tales From Topographic Oceans flavor and the spirituality of that 1973 masterwork is reworked by lead Flower King, Roine Stolt, in such a loving and reverential way that it’s hard not to wonder why Yes can’t release something this good. Laid back like Anderson’s solo debut, Olias Of Sunhillow, but with more of a rock backbone.

Anderson/Stolt: Invention Of Knowledge [Fire Note Review 7/28/16]

#1

cover-neal_morse-the_similitude_of_a_dream-1024x1014 The Neal Morse Band
The Similitude Of A Dream
Radiant Records [2016]

The best band in the world that you aren’t listening to -or- Giving Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd a run for their money. This is Neal Morse (ex-Spock’s Beard) and Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) working at a level few humans can approach. Technically brilliant yet still strongly song-centric, Similitude is a modern classic and destined to be considered one of the best concept albums ever. Best of all: you don’t really need to follow the story to enjoy it either as individual songs or as a whole. If you thought no one writes ’em like that anymore then this is proof that you are wrong!

The Neal Morse Band: The Similitude Of A Dream [Fire Note Review 11/28/16]

Honorable mention to: Devin Townsend, Thank You Scientist, GOAT, Mantra Vega, The Mute Gods, Airbag, iamthemorning, Hexvessel, Messenger, The Syn, Headspace, The Samurai Of Prog, Galdalf’s Fist and The Gift. They all produced beautiful records in 2016 but I decided to leave it at the twenty albums that I found myself returning to over and over throughout the year. Just remember: Prog never died – even if many of its leading lights are departing us, the music lives forever.

-Recap by Scot Lade

The Fire Note Top Albums of 2016: Writer Edition

The Fire Note wouldn’t be possible without the talented writers that share their educated thoughts and true enjoyment of music with our readers. The time and commitment that goes into writing consistently is appreciated by TFN and taken for granted by everyone else!

Our year end Top 50 is coming soon but clearly everyone has different tastes and ideas when naming the best album released in 2016. Thanks again to all our contributors!

If you want to be on this list next year send us an email. We are always up for some new voices if you think you have what it takes!

Kevin Poindexter

1. Guided By Voices – Please Be Honest
2. ESP Ohio – Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean
3. Robert Pollard – Of Course You Are
4. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
5. David Bowie – Blackstar
6. Sturgill Simpson -A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
7. Honey Radar – Blank Cartoon
8. Steve Gunn – Eyes on the Lines
9. Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are
10. Drive-By Truckers – American Band
11. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
12. Connections – Midnight Run
13. Counter Intuits – Monosyllabilly
14. Lydia Loveless – Real
15. Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree
16. Dinosaur Jr – Give A Glimpse of What Yer Not
17. Ultimate Painting – Dusk
18. Tim Presley – The Wink
19. Lambchop – Flotus
20. Parquet Courts – Human Performance
21. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
22. Mitski – Puberty 2
23. Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – The Rarity of Experience
24. Joyce Manor – Cody
25. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Scot Lade

1. The Hotelier – Goodness
By far the biggest surprise this year was just how good this record is. Brilliant from start to finish, Goodness is my runaway #1.

2. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
I’m sorry but every Radiohead album is worth owning and this one might be their best.

3. David Bowie – Blackstar
Although difficult to separate this music from his tragic death, Blackstar defied the odds to become an instant classic.

4. ESP Ohio – Starting Point Of The Royal Cyclopean
Robert Pollard and Doug Gillard. Need I say more?

5. Bon Iver – 22 A Million
Sometimes when an artist makes a change it can be disasterous. And sometimes it just works.

6. Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial
7. Blood Ceremony – Lords Of Misrule
8. Mock Orange – Put The Kid On The Sleepy Horse
9. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years
10. Purson – Desire’s Magic Theater
11. Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are
12. Thao And The Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive
13. Deerhoof – The Magic
14. Of Montreal – Innocence Reaches
15. Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
16. Tancred – Out Of The Garden
17. Mitski – Puberty 2
18. Cloud Cult – The Seeker
19. White Denim – Stiff
20. Guided By Voices – Please Be Honest

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Brian Q. Newcomb

1. Alejandro Escovedo – Burn Something Beautiful (Fantasy)
Co-writing with his producers, Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Scott McCaughey (R.E.M. and the Minus 5), singer songwriter Alejandro Escovedo returns with a big noisy rock record that celebrates the “Beauty and the Buzz.” Walking the fine line between his Americana roots and glam-rock aspirations these literate songs are raw with emotion, and are delivered with the musical heft to sustain these “Redemption Blues.”

2. David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia)
It’s impossible to separate the music of David Bowie’s swan song reflection on mortality and the meaning of it all with his actual demise just days after its release. His was the first of the many music star deaths that have haunted 2016, including Prince, Keith Emerson, Leonard Cohen, Lemmy, Glen Frey, Leon Russell and Sharon Jones. Musically, Blackstar found Bowie dipping into a dark and brooding mix of rock and jazz in long expressive songs. The result was artistically compelling and literally haunting as Bowie captures the mixed emotions and desire for transcendence in the face of the inevitable. As a last will and testament, the artist went out with a bang, not a wimper.

3. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)
Thom Yorke and company continue their artful deconstruction of alternative rock song expectations in one of their most beautiful sounding recordings to date. The album benefited from the addition of strings and choral vocals on some of the songs plus the evocative uses of organic instrumentation and processed sounds. Enigmatic by design, and essentially gloomy, once again Radiohead challenges its listeners to travel with them to new horizons.

4. Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me (Total Treble)
Laura Jane Grace has led this great punk band through her Transgender Dysphoria and is back to tell the next chapter of her heart-on-her-tattooed-sleeves story. The music manages to be as aggressive, energetic, and catchy as her story is heart-rending.

5. Red Hot Chili Peppers – The Getaway (Warner Bros.)
By now everyone knows exactly what to expect from the Chili Peppers – Flea’s funky bass breaks and Anthony Keidis’ sing/rap melodic flow. All these years in, RHCP’s benefit from the genuine musicality and versatility of their latest guitarist, Tommy Klinghoffer, and the guidance of producer Danger Mouse, and have produced their strongest album in over fifteen years.

6. Beyonce – Lemonade (Parkwood)
Lemonade may have started out as a betrayal/revenge fantasy, but it developed into a pop masterwork on themes of feminism, self-determination and liberation. No one has ever doubted that Beyonce had vocal chops, and all the way back with “Single Ladies” it was obvious she could write a catchy tune, but here she digs deep into the historic Black experience as the foundation for her personal effort to turn a difficult situation into something life-giving. When the R&B Queen Bee showed up on the Country Music Awards to join Dixie Chicks on their cover of her song “Daddy Lessons,” she stole the show and proved that she was an artist that could span genres. Lemonade produced many of pop music’s finest moments in 2016.

7. Wilco – Schmilco (dBpm)
This 10th album from Wilco is the yin, to the yang of last year’s release, Star Wars. While the last one leaned toward the louder, edgier sounds, the songs on Schmilco tend toward more acoustic, more introspective songs, like the opener “Normal American Kids,” where singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy acknowledges he was always the odd one out and liked it that way. But even on a record that leans toward a quieter approach, Wilco rarely goes too far without testing the boundaries, and expanding sound-scapes. It’s comforting to watch a band, even 20 years in, willing to take risks and break with convention, especially when its done in such a musical and compelling way. “If I Ever Was A Child” epitomizes the band’s Americana roots, while “Common Sense” is purposely discordant. “Locator” deconstructs pop song structures, while “Someone to Lose” and “Cry All Day” prove that they can play it straight when they want to.

8. Bonnie Raitt – Dig in Deep (Redwing)
In the post-major record company age, Bonnie Raitt has taken things in her own hands, running her own label, foregoing session players and recording with her touring band, featuring her long-time guitarist George Marinelli and stalwart keyboard player Mike Finnigan. She co-produces here with Joe Henry, and delivers her own fun, funky take on the blues. A lot of the attention here went to her cover of INXS cover of “Need You Tonight,” but Raitt wrote a few things here but chose other works, like “Gypsy in Me,” which totally fit her free spirit, bluesy nature, lovely voice, and natural way with a slide guitar.

9. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (Columbia)
Leonard Cohen, writer of arguably one of the most beloved pop songs in a generation, “Hallelujah,” was one of the musical artists that we lost this year. If his passing was made a little easier because he had lived a long, full life into his 80’s, this last recording was a great reminder of what a treasure he was in life. More a poet than a singer, Cohen’s lyrics borrowed liberally from spiritual resources from his native Jewish tradition as well as Christianity and Buddhism, but he seemed also to delight in the sensual and the darker emotions. Produced by his son, Adam Cohen, the record feels sparse compared to his earlier outings, thus making his brooding bass voice all the more pronounced and soulful. Like Bowie’s Blackstar, Cohen’s thoughts are turned toward death, and thus the meaning to be found in life and love. This last recording is truly a worthy cap on a long, artful existence.

10. Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome (Interscope)
Over ten years since their last album, and still selling out stadiums, The Rolling Stones don’t need to ever make another record, their fans will continue to pay to see them play as long as Jagger can run from one end of their long stage to the other, and Richards can still play the opening chords to “Start Me Up.” That they chose, finally, to record an album of vintage blues covers by artists like Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter that influenced them all the way back when they started makes Blue and Lonesome a labor of love. That they play these songs with such restraint and artful respect, makes it a joy to hear.

11. Bob Mould – Patch the Sky (Merge)
Who knew that the kind of loud, thrashy hardcore that Bob Mould first made in Husker Du, and the loud, catchy power pop that he made with the band Sugar, would still have currency in this new century? I’m not sure even Mould did, but he too must understand the cathartic power of this music, but he returns to form here on Patch the Sky, for the benefit of the rest of us.

12. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression (Caroline Intl.)
Who knew that Iggy Pop would be one of the survivors, and that here in 2016 he would produce a smart, relevant and engaging work? Paired up with Josh Hommes of Queens of the Stone Age, Pop finds the right musical structures to support his voice and personality, recalling his most commercial accessible works from his time working with David Bowie.

13. The Record Company – Give It Back to You (Concord)
A couple songs from this band’s debut album kept showing up on one of the satellite radio stations I favor, and I always turned it up. The Record Company is a back-to-basics roots rock trio that plays high energy blues influenced songs with pop hooks that recall the early days of rock & roll. Give It Back to You is a collection of smart grooves, great harmonica playing and no-nonsense rock, a classic sound from these L.A. boys that sound like they belong in Memphis.

14. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic)
The reunion of A Tribe Called Quest is good news for old school hip-hop fans who have lost touch with the rap scene, and the fact that they have guest spots that include Jack White playing guitar on three tracks, Elton John on one, and some of the rappers that they influenced, Kanye, Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000, Talib Kwali, and long-time collaborators Consequence and Busta Rhymes. Tragedy struck during the recording with the premature death of Phife Dawg, but mainstays Q-Tip, Jarobi White and DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad completed the project as a tribute. The opening tracks, “The Space Program” and “We the People,” offer up political anthems appropriate to the times, and the giddy bouncy rhythms and playful spirit throughout recall the early creative days of rap.

15. Green Day – Revolution Radio (Reprise)
I was one of those with the minority opinion that the trio of albums released by Billy Joe Armstrong & Co. in 2012 (Uno, Dos, Tre) were pretty good records. But the four year hiatus following Armstrong’s breakdown, appear to have served the band well as Revolution Radio is a stellar return to form. Perhaps “all grown up and medicated,” but Green Day is back, playing fast and loud, and delivering big hooks on post-punk pop/rockers like “Bang Bang” and “Bouncing Off the Wall.”

16. Drive-By Truckers – American Band
Drive-By Truckers is one of those Americana, Southern country rock bands that has been plugging away, recording 11 albums in 20 years, grinding it out on the road, and often writing really good songs. American Band has quite a few of those, including “Surrender Under Protest” by Mike Cooley, and some of the most politically potent songs from Patterson Hood, “Guns of Umpqua” about mass shootings, the tale of Irish immigrants in “Ever South,” and the current issues of race and violence against young black men in “What It Means.”

17. PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project (Vagrant)
On this concept album takes on urban blight in the Capital of the US, PJ Harvey brings a journalists eye to the gentrification that has forced poorer residents without affordable housing. Her artful alternative rock dissects decay of communities as corporate rulers prosper, suggesting that we can do better for communities, in musical statements that are insightful, edgy and potent.

18. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Alt/country artist, Simpson got a lot of attention for his inventive cover of Kurt Cobain’s “In Bloom,” but A Sailor’s Guide is better recognized for his own song-craft reflection on what it means to bring a child into this world. Richly orchestrated, with exceptional values, it gives one hope that country music doesn’t have to sound like all that crap on “new country” radio.

19. Pixies – Head Carrier (Pixiesmusic)
Officially, The Pixies were back with Indie Cindy in 2014, after a 23 year hiatus from recording, but they didn’t really feel like they were back until I heard this one. Black Francis is back in his rightful place singing fast punk rockers like “Um Chugga Lugga” and all is right with the world.

20. The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware os It (Vagrant)
Sometimes you just need a break from unpretentious music, and you wonder who is going to be the next generation of snotty nosed rock stars. The 1975’s lead singer Matthew Healy auditions exhibited a bit of Jagger, some Bowie, and hint of Michael Hutchence in the band’s blend of electronic alternative pop on this long and intriguing second album. They really want to be the Next Big Thing, and the evidence found on this record indicates they could be well on their way.

21. Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct (Blackened)
Every few years, I begin to think that metal is finally done, locked in endless clichés, and one Spinal Tap too far to ever find its way back into the light of day, and then Metallica raises it’s ugly head again. And on Hardwired, they return with all the piss & vinegar, the speed, turn on dime time changes and muscular guitar fury to match James Hetfield’s seemingly endless pool of rage. Every now and then you have one of those days when you need to bang your head, and this year this is the exceptionally well recorded double album to do just that.

22. Moby & The Void Pacific Choir – These Systems Are Failing (Little Idiot/Mute)
While I don’t usually have the patience for electronica (pretty sure I don’t do the right drugs, and it doesn’t help that I don’t dance), or techno, or whatever it’s being called these days, Moby won me over with Play back in 1999. The video/single “Are You Lost In the World Like Me?” insightful critique of our worship of technology drew me back in, and again he’s infused his electonic beats with enough organic rock instrumentation and vocal hooks to reignite the connection. Moby rocks.

23. St. Paul & The Broken Bones – Sea of Noise (RECORDS)
This great old school, funky R&B band won me over the first time I saw his shiny white Pentecostal preacher shoes and heard his effortless falsetto shout on David Letterman. Two albums later he’s even more refined, as the band has grown to embrace the music soulful nuance and subtlety as well as its punch and power.

24. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd.)
In 2016, death was in the air. We lost so many musical giants, and here Nick Cave mourns the death of his young teenage son from an accident, in music that matches the singers angst and woe. It’s a challenging listen, but artful, honest and gripping. Play this alongside Blackstar and You Want it Darker, and you’ll be thankful you’re alive and your loved ones are safe.

25. Lucinda Williams – The Ghosts of Highway 20 (Highway 20)
Year in and year out, Lucinda Williams is a voice, both as a writer and as a singer, that speaks to the rich textures of humanity. This collection of songs, like several others in her catalog, capture the back roads of existence, in a life giving and affirming way.

Also considered: Mavis Staples, Livin’ On A High Note (Anti-/Epitaph); Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial (Matador); Parquet Courts, Human Performance (Rough Trade); Peter Bjorn & John, Breakin’ Point (INGRID); John Doe, The Westerner (Cool Rock); Mudcrutch, 2 (Reprise); Robbie Fulks, Upland Stories (Bloodshot); Peter Wolf, A Cure for Loneliness (Concord); LVL UP, Return to Love (Sub Pop); Snarky Puppy, Culcha Vulcha (Ground Up); and Kaiser Chiefs, Stay Together (Caroline Intl.).
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Simon Workman

1. Bob Dylan – The 1966 Live Recordings (36-CD box set)
A mammoth 36-disc box set collecting every known recording from Dylan’s legendary 1966 world tour with The Hawks (later to become The Band). Sublime acoustic sets and earth-shaking electric sets make this essential for the hardcore Dylan fan.

2. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
A quieter, more introspective set than their last album, Jonny Greenwood’s orchestral additions to A Moon Shaped Pool make it a genuine contender for one of Radiohead’s best-ever albums.

3. Robert Pollard – Of Course You Are
With producer and multi-instrumentalist Nick Mitchell on board, Pollard turns in his best set of ‘solo’ songs since 2013’s Honey Locust Honky Tonk, including more fleshed-out versions of tunes first previewed on GBV’s Suitcase 4.

4. David Bowie – Blackstar
We didn’t know it would be Bowie’s last album, but he did. Putting everything into his final statement, Backstar is the best record the Starman has released in decades, right up there with his finest work.

5. Cluster – 1971-1981 (9-CD box set)
The underrated electronic duo Cluster, who worked with Brian Eno and were ‘krautrock’ pioneers in the 70s, collect their core albums together in this 9-disc box set. Containing eight remastered albums, plus a bonus disc of two live performances, 1971-1981 makes a great case for Cluster as the forerunners of modern electronic music.

6. King Crimson – Live in Toronto (2-CD)
The first “full-show” release of the latest incarnation of the mighty King Crimson, Live in Toronto is proof that the band is as challenging (and downright HEAVY) as ever. The percussion-heavy (3-drummer!) lineup plows through tracks drawn from their extensive back catalog, and includes a few new tracks as well.

7. ESP Ohio – Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean
Robert Pollard’s newest side project is 3/4 GBV, but features a layered, guitar-heavy sound (courtesy of guitarist Doug Gillard) and an ever-so-slightly more polished feel. Starting Point is crammed full of riffs and hooks—like any Pollard project—but here the Fading Captain sounds downright rejuvenated.

8. Wilco – Schmilco
Much less frenetic then last year’s surprise album Star Wars, Schmilco takes some time to grow on you. But after a while its twelve laid-back, mostly acoustic tracks reveal the strength of Jeff Tweedy & Co.’s songwriting, making it a very solid entry in the Wilco discography.

9. V/A – Let’s Go Down and Blow Our Minds: The British Psychedelic Sounds of 1967 (3-CD box set)
A sort of spiritual successor to the classic Nuggets II box of British psych, Let’s Go Down leans more toward the psych-pop end of the spectrum, but digs up so many excellent forgotten tracks (and a few acknowledged classics too) that one starts to wonder what was in the water in London circa 1967. (Probably LSD.)

10. Pink Floyd – Cre/ation: The Early Years 1967-1972 (2-CD)
The “sampler” for Floyd’s massive Early Years box set, Cre/ation doesn’t have every track fans have been clamoring for (no “Vegetable Man” or Scream Thy Last Scream”), but does have plenty of surprises. Highlights abound, including a “band-only” live version of “Atom Heart Mother” from 1970, BBC sessions, two versions (studio and live) of rare gem “Embryo,” a work-in-progress “Echoes,” and the unreleased Syd Barrett-era instrumental “In The Beechwoods.”

11. Guided by Voices – Please Be Honest
The first GBV record recorded solely by Pollard himself (á la his Teenage Guitar side project), Please Be Honest is rough around the edges in all the right ways. Classic Pollard hooks sit side by side with experimental dirges, odd samples, and plenty of abstract wordplay.

12. Grateful Dead – July 1978: The Complete Recordings (12-CD box set)
2016’s yearly box set from the Grateful Dead covers five complete shows from July 1978, including two legendary performances at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. While not as polished as their spring tour from the previous year, it’s clear over these twelve discs that the Dead were having a great time in the summer of ’78, playing consistently great shows night after night.

13. V/A – Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music
The latest entry in the Numero Group’s Wayfaring Stranger series mines the American country-rock underground of the early to mid-70s, saving over a dozen Byrds/Gram Parsons-inspired pieces of spaced-out Americana from obscurity.

14. Me Time – Vol. 2
Dayton’s Me Time turn in a great set of songs for their first LP, combining Beatlesque melodies and harmonies with jangling guitars and Andy Smith’s wry, relatable lyrics.

15. V/A – Still In A Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995 (5-CD box set)
Theres no My Bloody Valentine here (thanks, lawyers!), but just about every other major shoegaze act is represented (Ride, Lush, Slowdive, Swervedriver, Moose)—along with a few inclusions that might have some scratching their heads (mostly under the guise of being precursors or bands influenced by the genre). But despite a few shortcomings, it’s a fantastic set of tunes complemented by extensive liner notes that, while imperfect, provide a good overview of this often-misunderstood genre.

16. M. Ross Perkins – S/T
M. Ross Perkins’ debut takes the one-man-band approach and hits it out of the park. 60s psychedelia and the pop-craft of acts like Harry Nilsson and Emitt Rhodes are the main influences here, but Perkins’ distinctive voice and style come through loud and clear.

17. V/A – Brown Acid: The Second Trip & The Third Trip
The second and third volumes in Easy Rider Records’ and Permanent Records’ Brown Acid series continue to excavate rare and forgotten gems from the early 70s (mostly) American hard rock and heavy metal scene. It’s like Nuggets, but for stoner rock—brilliant.

18. Starflyer 59 – Slow
Despite the title, on their fourteenth studio album Starflyer 59 shows no signs of slowing down. Its eight tracks serve as a sort of summary of their career thus far, combining most of the approaches Jason Martin and his revolving cast of bandmates have tackled in their two-decade-plus run.

19. Grateful Dead – Dave’s Picks Vol. 18 (July 16 & 17, 1976) (3-CD + Bonus Disc)
The best of this year’s Dave’s Picks series focuses on an underrated year for the band, as they got back to work after a year-and-a-half retirement. With second drummer Mickey Hart back on board, the band gets a little more exploratory than most ’76 shows, and the results heard here (two complete concerts if you got the subscriber-only bonus disc) make an excellent case for further excursions into 1976.

20. Joseph Airport – Curators of Earth
Releasing new material at a rate that rivals their musical guru Robert Pollard, Joseph Airport’s albums have been increasingly good, and Curators of Earth is no exception. Featuring a track produced by GBV alum Tobin Sprout, the album is quite possibly their best so far, weaving its way through twenty-one zany and downright rocking tunes.

21. V/A – I’m A Freak Baby… A Journey through the British Heavy Psych and Hard Rock Underground Scene 1968-1972 (3-CD box set)
Similar to the Brown Acid series (#17 above), I’m A Freak Baby focuses instead on the early heavy rock scene in the UK, zeroing in on what was happening in the underground between Cream and Black Sabbath. Bluesy, distorted riffs and huge rhythm sections meet psychedelic lyrics and darker themes, revealing what happened to British hard rock when, in Lennon’s words, everyone realized “the dream was over.”

22. The Monkees – Good Times!
Who could have predicted that The Monkees would have released a good album in 2016, let alone one of the year’s best? Featuring original songs by the surviving members and some of their original songwriters, tunes contributed by everyone from Ben Gibbard to Noel Gallagher, and a few vintage outtakes spruced up with new additions (including a cameo from the late Davy Jones), Good Times! is definitely what it claims on the cover.

23. V/A – Day of the Dead (5-CD/10-LP box set)
A massive tribute to celebrate the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary, on Day of the Dead The National’s Dessner brothers bring together dozens of artists both current and classic, reimagining a large portion of the Dead’s catalog in modern terms. It’s a trip.

24. Andrew Bird – Are You Serious?
Featuring a collaboration with Fiona Apple and some of Bird’s least cryptic lyrics to date, Are You Serious is fine entry in the violinist’s already impressive discography. The album feels sunnier throughout than his last few outings—no doubt the result of tying the knot—and the result is a fresh new spin on Bird’s intricately arranged chamber-pop.

25. Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels
Bob Dylan’s second album of tunes (mostly) sung by Frank Sinatra is even better than the first. Finding Dylan still in surprisingly good voice, the album is more eclectic than Shadows in the Night, and features some more upbeat material that helps keep the album grounded.

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Adam Strong

1. David Bowie – Blackstar
2. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
3. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
4. Drive by Truckers, American Band
5. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson
6. Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest
7. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
8. Frank Ocean – Blonde
9. Suede – Night Thoughts
10. Band of Horses – Why Are You Ok?

Honorable Mention:
Conor Oberst – Ruminations
Big Thief – Masterpiece
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Daniel Taylor

1. Sleepies: Natural Selection – 3rd LP from Sleepies is a pitch perfect slab of catchy indie/noise/post rock. More people should be listening to these guys!

2. Spray Paint: Feel the Clamps – This album shouldn’t work. This obtuse brand of noise rock plays like a punk band writing a soundtrack for a horror/sci-fi film. Brilliant.

3. Votaries: Psychometry – My Bloody Valentine meets Ween meets Wand. Excellent psychedelic drone rock. You don’t need LSD to get high, just put this album on and get ready for a buzz.

4. The Astounds: The Astounds – Dean Wells (The Capstan Shafts) does it again. Catchy lo-fi power pop.

5. ESP Ohio: Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean – Pollard and Gillard capture lightning in a bottle again. On par with Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department and Mist King Urth.

6. Christian Fitness: This Taco Is Not Correct – Andrew Falkous can do no wrong in my opinion. His Christian Fitness stuff is brilliant, edgy stuff.

7. Parquet Courts: Human Performance – Took a few listens, but once this LP sank in, it is a very pleasant listen. A bit more subdued from their Light Up Gold days.

8. Future of the Left: The Peace and Truce of Future of the Left – Once again, Falkous can do no wrong. “Proper Music” is one of my favorite tracks for 2016.

9. Vomitface: Hooray for Me – After two bruising Eps, Vomitface show they have what it takes to make compelling and raucous LPs.

10. Lost Boy?: Goose Wazoo – Another year, another great Lost Boy? LP. Catchy and slightly goofy lo-fi power pop.

11. Honey Radar: Blank Cartoon – Now that GBV doesn’t dip into the lo-fi pool much anymore, Honey Radar fills that niche nicely. Get their EP too!

12. Kal Marks: Life Is Alright, Everybody Dies – Since Pile didn’t release an album this year, I needed a fix on music that is dark, murky and sometimes jangly.

13. Sat. Nite Duets: Air Guitar – Another great release from Sat. Nite Duets. Seriously, fans of Pavement need to listen to these guys.

14. Yak: Alas Salvation – Excellent debut. Tons of energy, tons of swagger. Keep an eye out for this band in the future.

15. Running: Wake Up Applauding – Extreme, heavy noise rock. Extremely good.

16. So Pitted: Neo – Killer debut. Nice and heavy. Can’t wait to hear more from them.

17. Robert Pollard: Of Course You Are – Another solid release from Robert Pollard. No surprise here; he has been knocking out hits over the past few decades.

18. Pink Mexico: Fool – No sophomore slump for Pink Mexico. Good fuzz rock.

19. Mike and the Melvins: Three Men and a Baby – A blast from the past gets resuscitated and wrought havoc on my ears…in a good way. Heavy stuff.

20. Graham Repulski: Boy Lung – My other go-to artist when I need some lo-fi noise rock.

21. Cotton Mather: Death of the Cool – Welcome back Cotton Mather. This record was a fine return for a brilliant band.

22. Teleman: Brilliant Sanity – Great pop stuff from former Pete and the Pirates members.

23. Guided By Voices: Please Be Honest – While this isn’t my favorite GBV album, it is good enough and has some really great tracks.

24. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial – Major label debut didn’t disappoint.

25. The Dean Ween Group: The Deaner Album – Wasn’t a big fan of the Freeman solo stuff, but Deaner brings the rock. A diverse listen and most importantly, a fun listen.
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Christopher Tahy

1.King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: Nonagon Infinity
When it really comes down to it, I did give Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool my first ever perfect score. But, over the year this has to be the album that I listened to the most. Whether it was my daughter requesting to hear “Road Train” for the umpteenth time or maybe it was just to hear the ever powerful transition from “Big Fig Wasp” to “Gamma Knife” Nonagon Infinity was on of the most under appreciated albums of 2016. If it passed you by I implore you to give it a listen. Also, one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a while.

2.Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool
One of the most beautiful albums of 2016 has to be Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool. Thom really seemed to give the reigns to Johnny and his orchestra and it made for one of Radiohead’s fullest albums to date. I’ve admitted to myself that we may never see another “guitar” album from Radiohead and I’m ok with that because in my 3 years of writing this was my first 5 Headphones album.

3.Jeff Rosenstock: WORRY
Considered to be the best punk album recorded this year, Rosenstock takes the theatrics of Titus Andronicus and drops the fuck life, philosophical dichotomy replacing it with the Rivers Cuomo slacker life style. It came out of know were and it’s a hell of a ride.

4.Charles Bradley: Changes
Charles for change! A true success story Charles Bradley is the screaming eagle of soul with a heart of gold. Changes houses some of the truest confessions of love and soul this year.

5.David Bowie: Blackstar
A heartfelt and hypnotizing goodbye. Blackstar is the album that know one saw coming. Bowie was a true artist even in his last days and Blackstar is all the proof that you need.

6.Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial
Don’t let Ric Ocasek know this is here-haha. My friend Christopher Anthony couldn’t have been more correct about this album, “The record is a winner because it never stops evolving or surprising you.” This record is one hell of a showcase of indie rock styles and influences.

7.Sunwatchers: Sunwatchers
Some of the greatest and strangest sounds that I’ve heard all year. Sunwatchers’ blast of brass and guitars is something to behold. I’m not going to lie this list is fairly heavy with Castle Face artists past an present. It seems they know they way to pick their artists. Sunwatchers is no exception.

8.Company Man: Brand Standard
Coming in just in the nick time the Company Man’s Brand Standard is dirty, bloozy, and an all around good time. While it’s an EP is has just as much a place here as all these other albums. It was some of the most fun that I’ve had in 6 songs this year.

9.The Hotelier: Goodness
I don’t know if you’d call this emo but, I do know that I really like what The Hotelier did here. Goodness takes theatrics and creative prowess and pushes it way past what a typical “emo” band would be today. In fact it’s top notch rock n roll and that’s the truth.

10.Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree
2015 was a tough year for Nick Cave. After having lost his 15 year old son he created the only album he could after that. Skeleton Tree is heartfelt, pure, unbridled pain. It’s Cave wrestling with his demons and that emotion is quite captivating.

11.Parquet Courts: Human Performance
I always love a good indie slacker jam out and Parquet Courts has been very good at it since their debut, Light Up Gold. But, we’re not here to talk about the debut we’re here to talk about grower, Human Performance. I think I must have rocked to spaghetti western jam “Berlin Got Blurry” countless time since its’ release. Parquet Courts have always maintained quality. It will be interesting to see what they do next.

12.ORB: Birth
Also from the same land as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, ORB simply rocks. While Birth got a 3.5 when reviewed, it was their spacey, sludge style that took me to Sleep, then to Sabbath, and to FUZZ. This trio really poured the grooves on thick and it gave me all the stoney, metal feels.

13.Votaries: Psychometry
When anybody links a band to Wand I have to take notice immediately. Many critics poured praises on this debut and with good reason. It can be tough to make shoegaze catchy and hooky. With songs like “Annihilation Generation,” “Delusion,” “Lucifer,” Votaries easily makes a case for themselves. Before you know it “Ritualized” is playing and the album has melted into the floor.

14.Tim Presley: The Wink
Tim Presley takes Barrett, Bowie, and Byrne and constructs something that only seems vaguely influenced by his main project White Fence. A albums that I’m still sad I didn’t review. The Wink has some interesting track from its’ title track, to “Solitude Cola,” and “Goldfish Wheelchair” to name a few. It will do you some good if your looking for a little something off the beaten path.

15.Thee Oh Sees: A Weird Exits
While it isn’t the strongest Sees album to be released, it still has some really strong Sees tracks. It also saw Thee Oh Sees experimenting with two drummers. “Ticklish Warrior,” “Gelatinous Cube, “Unwrap the Fiend Pt. 2,” and “The Axis” now take their place as some of my favorite songs in the entire Sees catalogue. Knowing their output that’s no small feat.

16. GØGGS: GØGGS
17. Heron Oblivion: Heron Oblivion
18. Black Mountain: IV
19. Lonesome Shack: The Switcher
20. Ryley Walker: Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
21. Frankie and The Witch Fingers: Heavy Roller
22. The Claypool Lennon Delirium: Monolith of Phobos
23. Witchcraft: Nucleus
24. Iggy Pop: Post Pop Depression
25. Preoccupations: Preoccupations

Best Live Album Release: The White Stripes – The Complete John Peel Sessions
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Thomas Wilde

1. Kevin Morby – Singing Saw
2. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
3. Pinegrove – Cardinal
4. Mitski – Puberty 2
5. Whitney – Light Upon The Lake
6. Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing
7. White Lung – Paradise
8. The Hotelier – Goodness
9. Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial
10. LVL UP – Return To Love
11. Danny & The Darleans – Bug Out
12. Male Gaze – King Leer
13. OMNI – Deluxe
14. Ryley Walker – Golden Sings
15. Savages – Adore Life

The Blazing Top 50 Albums of 2015

blazing top 50

#50

radioactivity-silent-kill Radioactivity
Silent Kill
Dirtnap Records [2015]

Punk rock has been getting a bad rap over the last decade or so for not being creative, fresh or even fun. What once was a thriving genre, especially on college radio, is now one of the harder styles to find reliable information on. I like to think TFN still can steer you to the punk promise land from time to time and today it is all about the sophomore album from Radioactivity. Regardless of your punk rock experience, I think you will like Radioactivity if you are into the garage indie scene. Silent Kill breaks the mold of what “punk rock” is supposed to sound like and it is completely fresh for 2015!

Radioactivity: Silent Kills [Fire Note Review 7/2/15]

#49

decemberists-what-a-terrible-world The Decemberists
What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
Capitol Records [2015]

Lighter and a bit brighter, The Decemberists brought a greater focus on their 7th studio record. By now, fans of The Decemberists are used to Colin Meloy’s tendency to look back at some darker historic moments to create songs in the great narrative folk song traditions of the British Isles, a la Fairport Convention. That strong literary story-telling sensibility can be felt here, but Meloy & Co. have embraced their inner pop star sensibility with renewed passion in the four years since The King Is Dead. Coming out in January it was almost easy to forget but I think it plays better today then it did eleven months ago.

The Decemberists: What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World [Fire Note Review 1/20/15]

#48

mourn-mourn Mourn
Mourn
Captured Tracks [2015]

Mourn did not release the best debut nor the best record of 2015 but its 24-minute running time breaths youthful vigor, armor proof confidence and an energy that can only be created from the bond of a young band. With an average age of 17.25, Mourn exceed expectation with their Ramones meets Sleater-Kinney rock that will only get better!

Mourn: Mourn [Fire Note Review 2/16/15]

#47

smpp-the-death-of-cool Surfin’ Mutants Pizza Party
The Death Of Cool
Fleeting Youth Records [2015]

Surfin’ Mutants Pizza Party is the one-man bedroom project of 21-year-old Julien Maltais. SMPP relies on California surf punk, sci-fi flicks, comics, video games, and skateboarding for motivation on his gritty punk rock that sounds more fit for the basement and will rock you out as the Replacements meet Wavves.

Surfin’ Mutants Pizza Party: The Death Of Cool [Fire Note Review 6/23/15]

#46

elvis-depress Elvis Depressedly
New Alhambra
Run For Cover Records [2015]

Technically a side project of Mathew Lee Cothran’s Coma Cinema, Elvis has really now stepped to the forefront as New Alhambra is his first official full length and it represents his most straightforward studio sound to date. It rocks but not really and that is the cool part of this record.


Elvis Depressedly: New Alhambra [Fire Note Review 7/29/15]

#45

EZTV-calling-out EZTV
Calling Out
Captured Tracks [2015]

Soft hook filled guitar pop has always had its place on the indie scene. Brooklyn’s EZTV created memorable tunes with ease and it reminds me of the 90’s when The Judybats, Ocean Blue and Teenage Fanclub were all over the college airwaves.


EZTV: Calling Out [Fire Note Review 7/20/15]

#44

wolf-alice-my-love-is-cool Wolf Alice
My Love Is Cool
RCA Records [2015]

This London band had quite the buzz before My Love is Cool was released and they back it up with an album full of soaring moments from their dynamic lead singer Ellie Rowsell, which has some serious chops. Wolf Alice has made a guitar rock record that traces its influences back to the best of 90’s rock. If you’re a fan of that era (and even if you’re not) give this album a listen.


Wolf Alice: My Love Is Cool [Fire Note Review 7/3/15]

#43

tobias-jesso-jr-goon Tobias Jesso Jr.
Goon
True Panther Sounds [2015]

Long before he was known for writing an Adele track, Jesso Jr. released the piano driven Goon. It is a timeless record that feels fresh in the current sea of noise we call today’s music scene. Its tracks have a familiar factor to them as you will hear keys of “Imagine” in “Without You” or the theme from Cheers on “Can We Still Be Friends?” and even some Fleet Foxes on the closing “Tell The Truth.” Jesso Jr.’s record is a different album that brings back the golden era of the performing singer/songwriter and for that reason alone – Goon soars.

Tobias Jesso Jr.: Goon [Fire Note Review 3/18/15]

#42

warm-soda-symbolic-dream Warm Soda
Symbolic Dream
Castle Face Records [2015]

If you like lo-fi then Warm Soda’s newest should be on a must listen list. Symbolic Dream is a rush of lo-fi power pop, full of crunchy guitars, upbeat melodies, and fast tempos. If you like your power pop with a soft sugary center but with some dirty garage rock on the exterior, then Warm Soda is a band for you! Warm Soda have delivered on the power pop record of the summer. Symbolic Dream has a high replay value and only gets better the more you listen to it, go seek it out!

Warm Soda: Symbolic Dream [Fire Note Review 6/8/15]

#41

albert-hammond-jr-momentary-masters Albert Hammond Jr.
Momentary Masters
Vagrant Records [2015]

This confident new solo record from The Strokes guitarist was a pleasant surprise and continues his artistic rebirth! The songs don’t feel like overdone studio creations at all, they are sharp and vibrant and there is a spontaneity to them that injects the album with life and makes you want to keep coming back to it. Momentary Masters is full of the tight guitar riffs that became part of the signature sound of The Strokes, and is once again full of great songwriting, unquestionably his strongest batch of songs since his debut solo album. Momentary Masters is a confident return and one definitely worth checking out.

Albert Hammond Jr.: Momentary Masters [Fire Note Review 8/21/15]

#40

FUZZ-II FUZZ
II
In The Red Recordings [2015]

With their debut self-titled album, high school friends Ty Segall (Drums, Vocals), Charles Mootheart (Guitar), and Roland Cosio (Bass) poured hot and heavy distortion with their worship of bands such as King Crimson, Jimi Hendrix, Blue Cheer, and Black Sabbath. II follows it up with more heart pounding music of the same which turned out to be one of the harder hitting indie records of the year. FUZZ created an album that felt truly huge with its progressive riffs, bigger sound, and intensity. While it can feel like an experiment at times II helped solidify FUZZ as more than just a side project.

FUZZ: II [Fire Note Review 10/26/15]

#39

girl-band-holding-hands-with-jamie Girl Band
Holding Hands With Jamie
Rough Trade Records [2015]

Holding Hands with Jamie is a stunning debut from Dublin’s Girl Band. It is a jarring and uncompromising record with blasts of My Bloody Valentine distortion and a lot of hardcore rage. It also had some kind dangerous beauty lurking in all that noise with something catchy and exciting in every track. Girl Band’s delivery is something special. It may be harsh, but Holding Hands With Jamie is a worthwhile and unique listen.

Girl Band: Holding Hands With Jamie [Fire Note Review 9/23/15]

#38

new-swears-junktime New Swears
Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever
Dirt Cult Records [2015]

This record has all of the hooks, crunch and swagger of New Swears’ last album, but ups the ante on the songwriting and arrangements, which shows, dare I say growth. I challenge each and every one of you out there to buy or download this album, and then play it around your friends. Don’t say anything just put it on and watch their reaction. This is THAT record, the one that will impress your friends that you discovered this record and turned them on to it. You’re welcome.

New Swears: Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever [Fire Note Review 11/5/15]

#37

speedy-ortiz-foil-deer Speedy Ortiz
Foil Deer
Carpark Records [2015]

Massachusetts quartet Speedy Ortiz began life as a solo project for poetry professor Sadie Dupuis and her decidedly nineties take on indie rock. Becoming a full band, Speedy Ortiz went on to release an EP and then, BAM!!!, along came 2013’s surprise hit Major Arcana. Foil Deer was not as good as Major Arcana but it is a solid record nonetheless. After a pounding 90 second introductory tune, “Raising The Skate” sounds like the bastard son of Built To Spill and Pavement – that is until Dupuis starts singing and that voice will carry you all the way till the end.

Speedy Ortiz: Foil Deer [Fire Note Review 4/21/15]

#36

beach-slang Beach Slang
The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us
Polyvinyl Records [2015]

Beach Slang is for everyone that wants to rock. In the spirit of The Replacements, early Goo Goo Dolls, Jawbreaker, The Gaslight Anthem and Superchunk, the Philadelphia band is the next to raise their torch in this elite club of no frills rock that has attitude, heart and plenty of big guitar moments. The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us is a fast record. You get 10 songs in 27 minutes. The album never slows down and powers through you and anything you are doing. It is a great first chapter for Beach Slang which should be around for more records to come.

Beach Slang: The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us [Fire Note Review 11/5/15]

#35

wand-golem Wand
Golem
In The Red Recordings [2015]

Wand has returned from their last record less than a year later with new tricks up their sleeves. This time around Wand have adapted to their new roots at In The Red; Golem blends more seamlessly with the label’s other acts like Endless Bummer, Ty Segall Band, Meatbodies, Thee Oh Sees, Zig Zags, and FUZZ. Golem Is an odd hotbed of spacy flavors while still maintaining the psych-pop categorization. It is a record that puts Wand in the top echelon of this genre which should start getting them the attention they deserve.

Wand: Golem [Fire Note Review 3/20/15]

#34

king-gizzard-lizard-wizard-quarters King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
Quarters
Castle Face Records [2015]

So here is a crazy idea. How about make a record with only 4 tracks that each runs a total time of 10 minutes and 10 seconds and then name it Quarters?! Oh yeah – that is exactly what our favorite Aussie psychedelic group King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard pulled off. Quarters is a psychedelic rock opus that incorporates jazz, psychedelic, garage, surf and plain rock into 4 well-crafted movements that keep you guessing. King Gizzard never make the same record twice, as evidenced by their 2nd release this year, Paper Mâché Dream Balloon, which makes Quarters just that more special.

King Gizzard & Lizard Wizard: Quarters [Fire Note Review 6/1/15]

#33

jason-isbell-something-more-than-freee Jason Isbell
Something More Than Free
Southeastern Records [2015]

After years of flirting with gaining a wider audience, Jason Isbell finally broke big on his excellent fourth album, 2013’s Southeastern. While that album was his most intimate affair both musically and lyrically, Isbell’s newest album, Something More Than Free, straddled the line of having both the intimate and a more band oriented sound similar to his earlier albums. His growth as an artist has been remarkable to follow and we are looking to many years of great releases from him as Something More Than Free is just the beginning.

Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free [Fire Note Review 7/20/15]

#32

bully-feels-like Bully
Feels Like
StarTime Intl./Columbia Records [2015]

Bully brings out the ghosts of Blake Babies, early Weezer and The Breeders. are everywhere. Bully seem like they’ve been around since the era they so lovingly adore. If this debut is any hint of what’s to come they may, in fact, be around long enough to witness the next time this sound gets trendy. And if not, Feel Like can stand on its own, free of comparisons. And that’s a neat trick in and of itself.

Bully: Feels Like [Fire Note Review 8/14/15]

#31

beach-house-depression-cherry Beach House
Depression Cherry
Sub Pop Records [2015]

Beach House (Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally) returned with their fifth studio album, Depression Cherry which turned out to be the first of two albums this year. The band pulled off the neat trick of both delivering on expectations and adding to their previous output. It’s hard to think of an artist who has such a defined role/expectations in what they create and execute it so well. That balancing act pays off big with Depression Cherry and continues the excellent career of Beach House.

Beach House: Depression Cherry [Fire Note Review 9/28/15]

#30

lou-barlow-brace-the-wave Lou Barlow
Brace The Wave
Joyful Noise Recordings [2015]

Lou Barlow may never be a household name based on his solo work but with a resume that includes Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh and Folk Implosion, Brace The Wave is the perfect outlet for his thoughts, emotion and individual skills. These nine songs give you intensity without being intense, give you folk stylings without being folk and could give you a reason to cry even though you won’t! If you are a fan, Brace The Wave is the perfect “put on and play” type of album that quietly snuck into the Top 50.

Lou Barlow: Brace The Wave [Fire Note Review 9/3/15]

#29

la-luz-weirdo-shrine La Luz
Weirdo Shrine
Hardly Art Records [2015]

La Luz easily have the best surf sounding record of 2015. Every track has a rolling sound and for 32 minutes it takes you somewhere else. That is its strength, as La Luz show their growth around every corner. Ty Segall definitely was the right choice to produce for this album, as his influence can be heard right down to having his buddy Mikal Cronin step in and play sax on a track. In other areas, La Luz take steps forward here, and if you have been a fan, this record is going to wow you. For newcomers, Weirdo Shrine is one of those albums that won’t necessarily grab you on the first spin because you don’t know what to expect. It is a journey that is truly filled with riches but only if you ride the wave all the way in!

La Luz: Weirdo Shrine [Fire Note Review 8/10/15]

#28

trans-charger-metropolis Trans Charger Metropolis
Haunted House Birds
Self-Released [2015]

Trans Charger Metropolis is a New Jersey group that you can tell have some lo-fi Guided By Voices blood in their veins as the sophomore album Haunted House Birds rocks, swags and rolls during its tight 16 song package. They have an indie rock edge to their music that melds a Times New Viking and Thermals sound which keeps pushing Haunted House Birds forward and if you like your raw indie rock there is no question that this is a record you should discover!

Trans Charger Metropolis: Haunted House Birds [Fire Note Review 10/20/15]

#27

deafheaven-new-bermuda Deafheaven
New Bermuda
ANTI- Records [2015]

With only five tracks totaling a little over forty-six minutes, New Bermuda is shorter and tighter than its mighty predecessor Sunbathers (2013). In toning down the shoegaze and throwing in everything else it also feels somewhat unsure as to what it is. This is something to be admired. New Bermuda is a thrilling document of a band willing to do exactly what it wants – regardless of how many metal purists scoff. Like it or not, Deafheaven is the real deal and New Bermuda is just more proof.

Deafheaven: New Bermuda [Fire Note Review 10/7/15]

#26

viet-cong Viet Cong
Viet Cong
Jagjaguwar Records [2015]

Viet Cong’s self-titled debut could easily be described as powerful and driving, savage and beautiful, unrelenting and striking. If this is a template for new acts in the year of 2015 Viet Cong have done a great job of driving purpose over pretension. Sure their name caused some controversy which will be changed for their next outing but there was no issue with the music as it was a record that kept growing on us over the year after its January release.

Viet Cong: Viet Cong [Fire Note Review 1/26/15]

#25

motel-beds-mind-glitter Motel Beds
Mind Glitter
Anyway Records [2015]

I guarantee not enough people have heard this record. Motel Beds have an old sound which is really hard to describe because it doesn’t fit a current mold in the indie scene today. That is what makes this group, and record, so addictive because by embracing a retro formula the Motel Beds actually have spawned something much more unique. Mind Glitter hits the sweet spot for kids that want something new, adults that want to maintain some sense of their youth and every person out there that just wants a touch of that late 60’s harmonic gold!

Motel Beds: Mind Glitter [Fire Note Review 8/15/15]

#24

girlpool-before-the-world Girlpool
Before The World Was Big
Wichita Recordings [2015]

This two piece, made up of Cleo Tucker (Guitar) and Harmony Tividad (Bass), never move beyond playing several chords and barely turn up the tempo or volume at any point on their debut Before The World Was Big. It is a careful record that builds momentum within its tracks by having plenty of harmonies that vocally accomplish moving the tempo. With catchy lyrics and a 25-minute running time Before The World Was Big turns out one of the more surprising and solid indie albums of the year!

Girlpool: Before The World Was Big [Fire Note Review 12/11/15]

#23

bigdick Big Dick
Disappointment
Dirt Cult Records [2015]

The guys in Big Dick, Johnny O and Dave Secretary, need to be hailed as geniuses and recognized for this powerful work. Not only is the lyrical content dark and moving, but the playing is incredible, and the singing is top notch as well. Disappointment is a step up in every single way from their excellent debut album, and should find a spot on your turntable as soon as possible. At 15 songs and less than 30 minutes in length the album begs to be played over and over again.

Big Dick: Disappointment [Fire Note Review 3/3/15]

#22

destroyer-poison-season Destroyer
Poison Season
Merge Records [2015]

Nothing was off limits on Destroyer’s latest record Poison Season. This was obvious from the album’s whispery opener to the strings, piano and sax that plays throughout. Founder/singer/songwriter Dan Bejar has found a balance on Poison Season which made it a refreshing listen that made you think. Even the straight-up pop songs can’t escape destruction here as Bejar will keep you on your toes. Poison Season was not the go to record for a sunny day but it is an album built on excellence and worthy of its spot in the Top 50.

Destroyer: Poison Season [Fire Note Review 8/27/15]

#21

majical-cloudz-are-you-alone Majical Cloudz
Are You Alone?
Matador Records [2015]

Are You Alone? was an album that searched for sincerity in a space that has been salted with cliché, as it built an immersive world around love and loneliness. The arrangements are so sparse, so economic, that when Majical Cloudz breaks their march to hold a note over the soft fissures and pops of the production, you experience a sense of freefall. It is just that type of record.

Majical Cloudz: Are You Alone? [Fire Note Review 11/5/15]

#20

pile-youre-better-than-this Pile
You’re Better Than This
Exploding In Sound Records [2015]

Pile, a quartet from Boston, continued their precision guitar attacks and disjointed arrangements on their third release. They have that “loud-quiet-loud” Pixies vibe, and vocals that can turn on a dime and become guttural with roars of rage and anguish. Pile are innovative and a refreshing reminder that rock music has something to say and can say it in a way that you have not quite heard yet. 10 years from now, new indie bands could easily be name dropping Pile as their main influence.

Pile: You’re Better Than This [Fire Note Review 3/23/15]

#19

ryan-adams-1989 Ryan Adams
1989
PAX-AM Records [2015]

Taking a popular pop star’s record and recording a new track by track redo sounds like a terrible idea. It sounds like a terrible idea unless you are the talented Ryan Adams and the record turns out to be well written like Taylor Swift’s 1989. The great thing about Adams’ 1989 is that it doesn’t matter if you know Swift’s version or not because Ryan excellently made this his own and it works. A Ryan Adams spin that takes these 13 tracks to a different level and honestly will have a more timeless staying power than its 2014 template.

Ryan Adams: 1989 [Fire Note Review 9/24/15]

#18

libertines-anthems-for-doomed-youth The Libertines
Anthems For Doomed Youth
Harvest Records [2015]

Let’s be honest, this album could have been an absolute disaster, but instead it was the surprise comeback of the year. This one has all of the classic Libertines trademarks: the gang style vocals, the shifting gears in tempos, and the HUGE chorus. Not surprisingly, the album is full of themes of love, reconciliation, recovery, and of course being a fuckup, but searching for redemption. Anthems For Doomed Youth is as good as you hoped and better than you honestly expected.

The Libertines: Anthems For Doomed Youth [Fire Note Review 9/28/15]

#17

waxahatchee-ivy-tripp Waxahatchee
Ivy Tripp
Merge Records [2015]

It’s a tricky thing creating the follow-up to your breakout LP. Many musicians have wilted under the pressure of increased critical scrutiny and fan expectations but Katie Crutchfield, better known as Waxahatchee, had no problem as evidenced by Ivy Tripp. The increased presence of keyboards shouldn’t be a shock as the record still has Waxahatchee doing what she does best – lyrics and style. The early Liz Phair meets Robert Pollard garage grunge is her wheelhouse and she knows it. There’s a lot of this kind of personal but vague detailing in her songs and Ivy Tripp is better for it. This was an album that just got better with each spin and with each spin moved up on this list to land at #17.

Waxahatchee: Ivy Tripp [Fire Note Review 4/7/15]

#16

brother-o-brother-show-pony Brother O’ Brother
Show Pony
Fonoflo Records [2015]

Indianapolis’ Brother O’ Brother is one of those bands that more people should hear but I assume have been somewhat dismissed with their take on the garage-blues rock genre because their template is right out of The Black Keys early playbook, which does not stop with their sound but includes their duo status and a small salute with their name. I will proudly report that there was not one new thing to be found on Show Pony. It is a blues garage rock record that wears everything on its sleeve and leaves it all at your speakers’ woofers. The key is that Brother O’ Brother never lets up off the pedal and Show Pony was the summer ride you should have taken. There is still time to let these Indiana boys in.< /br>
Brother O’ Brother: Show Pony [Fire Note Review 8/13/15]

#15

hop-along Hop Along
Painted Shut
Saddle Creek Records [2015]

This was one of the biggest surprise records of 2015. With an irresistible voice from Frances Quinlan that absolutely soars Hop Along’s sophomore record Painted Shut brought big booming guitars as they told their stories of desperation. Their angular indie rock has the 90’s alternative edge to it which works well and just pulled you in. Painted Shut was recorded and mixed by John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth), which was the perfect choice. Hop Along put fresh air into an old genre and Painted Shut never looked back.

Hop Along: Painted Shut [Fire Note Review 7/7/15]

#14

baroness-purple Baroness
Purple
Abraxan Hymns [2015]

Nothing like releasing a record so late in the year that it misses the critical accolades it deserves. Purple roared back with a hard rock style that has the pulse of survival after all that Baroness has been through, both physically and mentally, as each track had its point of excellence. This bigger than life sound pulled you in and Baroness will remind you of why a really good rock record is all you need and something you have been missing!

Baroness: Purple [Fire Note Review 12/16/15]

#13

wilco-star-wars Wilco
Star Wars
ANTI-/dBpm Records [2015]

Nothing like a free record from Wilco to make 2015 a solid year in music. Even better when the record is Top 50 material. Star Wars loose and fluid approach is why Wilco is so highly respected, as they have continually earned their spot in the top echelon of rock. Wilco is a career band that has used each record as a canvas to create their art. Star Wars was no different and highlights that their core fire is still strong. At 34 minutes, Star Wars was the best musical surprise we have had in a while and after even more listens, it solidly lands this high on the list.

Wilco: Star Wars [Fire Note Review 7/21/15]

#12

mikal-cronin-mciii Mikal Cronin
MCIII
Merge Records [2015]

To say that expectations were high for the new Mikal Cronin LP at Fire Note Headquarters is a massive understatement. Cronin’s last album, MCII, came in at #1 in our 2013 Top 50. MCIII can be divided into two distinct halves, Side A was made up of 5 pop gems that run the gamut of styles, from intricate chamber pop, to rock, to indie pop while Side B was a mini concept album of sorts. The result is a record that works the more you spin it. MCIII shows growth, highlights Cronin’s musical talent (he plays just about all the instruments), and firmly sets the bar higher as his solo career trajectory continues to climb!

Mikal Cronin: MCIII [Fire Note Review 5/13/15]

#11

deerhunter-fading-frontier Deerhunter
Fading Frontier
4AD [2015]

Bradford Cox, aka Deerhunter, posted a “concept map” prior to Fading Frontier’s release which cited the many influences he felt made an impact on his writing. The artists included such acts as INXS, REM and Tom Petty. What those artists all share is a desire to succeed commercially while retaining their integrity. Deerhunter accomplish the integrity part with Fading Frontier and based on its strength there is no reason that it couldn’t bring the mainstream to them. We didn’t feel there was a different direction here on Fading Frontier but what made the album so strong is that it brings the same confidence and consistency we have come to expect from Cox.

Deerhunter: Fading Frontier [Fire Note Review 10/16/15]

#10

SPORTS-all-of-something SPORTS
All Of Something
Father/Daughter Records [2015]

SPORTS is a basement rock band, started in 2012 at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. The group has had all the normal up and downs of beginning young bands but on its sophomore album, All of Something, SPORTS has nailed their sound. It is a free for all, spirited, laid back, honest, quick and catchy thriller of an indie record. SPORTS remind me of some of the great female fronted indie groups from the 90’s with their sharp wit and tight guitar but when the current day Millennials blend in their laid back attitude, All of Something becomes truly memorable!

SPORTS: All Of Something [Fire Note Review 11/3/15]

#9

courtney-barnett-sometimes-I-sit-think Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Mom + Pop / Milk! Records [2015]

Australia’s Courtney Barnett made a big splash with her debut that put her daily thoughts to record. Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is an interesting album because I swear we have heard it all before but Barnett’s delivery was infectious and made this record more unique. There is just enough grind in the songs to give them swagger and enough diversity on the record to keep you guessing. The album tells a story that everyone can relate to and will make you wonder if you put your thoughts to music – would they sound this good?!

Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit [Fire Note Review 3/30/15]

#8

paul-orwell-blowing-your-mind-away Paul Orwell
Blowing Your Mind Away
Heavy Soul Records [2015]

Paul Orwell’s Blowing Your Mind Away was one of the best debuts in 2015. The London area singer/songwriter steamrolled you with his retro energy and if you didn’t know any better you would think this was the solo project from a member in Small Faces or The Animals. The young brash lad flipped that sound and released one of the best sounding ‘60s beat British Invasion records in 2015 with plenty of distorted guitars, mood pacing organ, and hooks that will keep you coming back for more. This one was only released on vinyl, which not only made Orwell a more underground name but also highlighted Blowing Your Mind Away as a great obscure find!

Paul Orwell: Blowing Your Mind Away [Fire Note Review 12/3/15]

#7

car-seat-headrest-teens-of-style Car Seat Headrest
Teens Of Style
Matador Records [2015]

Car Seat Headrest, aka 22-year-old Will Toledo, has already recorded 11 albums which he’s released on Bandcamp over the last 4 years and has produced, written, recorded and played every song on there. Teens of Style represents re-recorded songs culled from his extensive discography and it is an excellent overview that will hook you from the beginning. Teens of Style sounds like if The Strokes were lo-fi pop with a 60’s British Invasion undertone. The record sounds and feels complete while also setting up Teens of Denial, which is an album of all new songs set for an early 2016 release.

Car Seat Headrest: Teens Of Style [Fire Note Review 10/28/15]

#6

kurt-vile-blieve-goin-down Kurt Vile
b’lieve i’m goin’ (deep) down…
Matador Records [2015]

Kurt Vile may not have the best voice or musicianship in the business but damn he can tell a story. Kurt Vile puts an exclamation mark on the idea with his sixth outing, b’lieve i’m goin’ (deep) down…. It won’t matter which version of this album you pick up because either package is worth a high rating. The bonus material on Deep is like an extra topping. For longtime fans, this record adds in a bit of banjo and more piano and a little less reverb as well but also continues Vile’s strong songwriting. b’lieve i’m goin’ (deep) down… is a marathon not a sprint with Vile and for those whom choose to partake – great things await.

Kurt Vile: b’lieve i’m goin’ (deep) down… [Fire Note Review 9/30/15]

#5

tame-impala-currents Tame Impala
Currents
Interscope Records [2015]

Tame Impala’s Currents is a true grower in every sense of the word. There are a lot of people I know that can’t get onboard with this album as frontman Kevin Parker took everyone on a trip. The band incorporated a synthesizer presence as they also mow you over with a catchy heavy funk. I respect that the band is not afraid of sounding like a modern ELO and pushing their sound in different directions but the key piece that is highlighted on Currents is that Tame Impala also did not give up any ground on their rising status in the rock world. With repeat listens throughout the year we determined that this is one review that was little low on the rating – coming in at #5 here should correct that error!

Tame Impala: Currents [Fire Note Review 7/15/15]

#4

ricked-wicky-swimmer Ricked Wicky
Swimmer To A Liquid Armchair/King Heavy Metal/I Sell The Circus
Guided By Voices Inc. [2015]

Big surprise – Robert Pollard released three records under the Ricked Wicky moniker with long tome Pollard collaborators Todd Tobias (Circus Devils), Kevin March (GbV) and Dayton lifer Nick (no relation to Mitch) Mitchell. All three were great, so we just thought it was best to blend all three efforts into one big rock opus record landing at #4. There is just something about Pollard fronting a band. We love his solo work as well but with Guided By Voices fading back into the briefcase, it was great to see Ricked Wicky step up and hold the torch high for Pollard rock – you can’t go wrong with any of these 2015 releases.

Ricked Wicky: Swimmer To A Liquid Armchair [Fire Note Review 10/1/15]
Ricked Wicky: King Heavy Metal [Fire Note Review 7/23/15]
Ricked Wicky: I Sell The Circus [Fire Note Review 1/30/15]

#3

sleater-kinney-no-cities-to-love Sleater-Kinney
No Cities To Love
Sub Pop Records [2015]

No Cities To Love not only marks the return of Sleater-Kinney but also gives a strong kick to the current indie music scene. Time to up everyone’s game because right out of the 2015 gate, Sleater-Kinney released one of the best albums of the year. This record never gives you a reason to doubt Sleater-Kinney’s bond, commitment or even believe that they were really idle for 10 years. As combinations of lyrics with sing along moments fill No Cities To Love with memorable line after memorable line you just couldn’t forget about this powerhouse of an album. We not only welcome Sleater-Kinney back with open ears but hope they are not going anywhere soon!

Sleater-Kinney: No Cities To Love [Fire Note Review 1/21/15]

#2

father-john-misty-i-love-you-honeybear Father John Misty
I Love You, Honeybear
Sub Pop Records [2015]

Everything on I Love You, Honeybear felt and sounded bigger compared to FJM’s debut Fear Fun. The emotions, the instruments, the highs, the lows, the skepticism, the sarcasm, the pain, the truth and the impact all were heighted as Josh Tillman let you take a walk in his shoes. Every track on this album gives Tillman a large canvas for his addicting and catchy vocals that go well beyond his own being, hence the need for Father John Misty. Where his moniker goes from this point is anyone’s guess but the power of words and the music are on full display here. I Love You, Honeybear is an album which is meant to be heard the old fashioned physical way from beginning to end. When you give Father John Misty a complete 45 minutes, I guarantee you will feel it too – I Love You, Honeybear was easily one of the best records we heard in 2015.

Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear [Fire Note Review 2/10/15]

#1

sufjan-stevens-carrie-lowell Sufjan Stevens
Carrie & Lowell
Asthmatic Kitty Records [2015]

How many times do you really hear an artist return to a past sound? I would say not that many. So many times in reviews we find ourselves critiquing an artist for not growing enough, not taking enough risks, and giving us more of the same but with less passion. Not only in my own work but I have read these complaints time and time again. Are they legit in some cases – sure, but now take Sufjan Stevens and his seventh long player Carrie & Lowell. Sufjan not only created his most personal record to date but also one of his best that went back to the basics that made him an indie household name. Sufjan Stevens hid behind nothing on Carrie & Lowell and allowed his art seamlessly to unite with his life. That stand out piece on this record can not only bring tears during certain lines but also relief. Carrie & Lowell can feel uncomfortable at times but its precision playing, irresistible vocals and heartfelt delivery is something you cannot turn away from making it the best record released this year.

Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell [Fire Note Review 3/27/15]

The Fire Note Top Albums of 2015: Writer Edition

The Fire Note wouldn’t be possible without the talented writers that share their educated thoughts and true enjoyment of music with our readers. The time and commitment that goes into writing consistently is appreciated by TFN and taken for granted by everyone else!

If you want to be on this list next year send us an email. We are always up for some new voices if you think you have what it takes! Our year end Top 50 is coming soon but clearly everyone has different tastes and ideas when naming the best album released in 2015.

So without any other delay I give you The Fire Note Writer Picks of 2015. Thanks again to all the contributors!

Kevin Poindexter

1. Ricked Wicky-I Sell The Circus/Robert Pollard-Faulty Superheroes/Ricked Wicky-King Heavy Metal/Ricked Wicky-Swimmer to a Liquid Armchair/Circus Devils-Stomping Grounds
2. Sufjan Stevens-Carrie and Lowell
3. Car Seat Headrest-Teens of Style
4. Libertines-Anthems for Doomed Youth
5. Robert Forster-Songs to Play
6. Alex G-Beach Music
7. Destroyer-Poison Season
8. Trans Charger Metropolis-Haunted House Birds
9. New Swears-Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever
10. Mikal Cronin-MCIII
11. Torres-Sprinter
12. Jim O’Rourke-Simple Songs
13. Girlpool-Before The World Was Big
14. Big Dick-Disappointment
15. Pile-You’re Better Than This
16. Iron Maiden-Book of Souls
17. Viet Cong-Viet Cong
18. Wilco-Star Wars
19. Tommy Keene-Laugh In The Dark
20. Mountain Goats-Beat The Champ
21. Albert Hammond Jr-Momentary Masters
22. Father John Misty-I Love You Honeybear
23. Kelley Stoltz-In Triangle Time
24. POW!-Fight Fire
25. Lou Barlow-Brace The Wave
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Scot Lade

After a few less than spectacular years, 2015 turned out to be fantastic – with cool releases from all over the place: Indie, Punk, Emo, Prog and Metal. It has been a year where so many terrific LP’s were released that doing this year-end list was a real challenge. In the end, I simplified my criteria and ignored my (and my colleagues’) Fire Note ratings and went with this: what records refused to leave the CD player in the car, the turntable in the man cave or the iPod next to the bed. Very scientific.

1. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Harmlessness

I would have never, not in a million years, guessed that this band’s second album would be at the top of my list. Not that their first record didn’t have its moments but jeezy Pete. And don’t let the Emo tag fool you, these guys are more Doug Martsch than Jeremy Enigk no matter how you slice it. A thoughtful, exciting and thoroughly enjoyable romp, Harmlessness is one for the ages.

2. Steven Wilson – Hand.Cannot.Erase.

Ever since putting Porcupine Tree on indefinite hiatus, Steven Wilson has been releasing some of the most interesting music out there. Just like my #1 pick, don’t let the Prog tag fool you, Mr. Wilson’s incredible range of influences insures that there’s as much Felt and Dead Can Dance as there is Genesis and Yes in the mix.

3. Robert Pollard – Faulty Superheroes

What else needs to be said – another year, another 20 Pollard-related records are unleashed upon the world. And we are all the better for it. Just twelve really good songs done right. This one is right up there with anything GbV released since Earthquake Glue. Don’t believe me? Drop the needle anywhere along its thirty minute run time and find about one solid hook per five seconds.

4. The Tangent – A Spark In The Aether

Andy Tillison and his revolving band of retro Prog merrymakers always deliver the goods. An homage to the ghosts of an era where progressive rock ruled the world (and ELP in particular) The Tangent’s eighth LP also serves as a state-of-the-genre document and finds the landscape no more promising than on their 2003 debut.

5. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier

Something tells me that this record won’t make a lot of lists and that is a shame. Bradford Cox may simply be a victim of his own success. There are great expectations surrounding anything he’s involved with – and rightly so. Few artists have compiled such an impressive CV in the past decade and Fading Frontier is a worthy addition, even if it doesn’t explore a lot of new territory.

6. Riverside – Love, Fear And The Time Machine

Poland’s finest band finally release the album they’ve been flirting with for some time: mature, melodic and demanding of repeated listens. Okay so their not as riff-heavy or as proggy as they once were. These songs resonate. They have power in their intoxicating blend of 70’s Floyd, 80’s goth and modern prog metal. A really nice surprise.

7. Deafheaven – New Bermuda

One of the most anticipated records of 2015 did not disappoint. These guys redefine what metal is and would it could be. There had to be some temptation to plain down what they were doing to entice a larger audience but instead they merely doubled down on the brutality and the beauty. Maybe not for everyone but once you acquire the taste it’s hard to go back to decaf.

8. Ricked Wicky – I Sell The Circus/King Heavy Metal/Swimmer To A Liquid Armchair

C’mon man! Really?? Three Ricked Wicky LP’s dropped in 2015? And they’re all good? Let’s just place them all together here and consider it one really good debut album and be done with it. Let’s hope Bob Pollard keeps this thing going because it’s always nice to have him in an actual, quasi functioning band.

9. The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ

Hmmm, about that album cover… Yikes. But go beneath the surface and Darnielle’s epic tales of wrestlers past and their trials and tribulations make for an oddly compelling album. The real human side to these characters, with whom Darnielle obviously identifies some strange way, is universal and the opportunity for the great lyricist to turn his muse on a subject he so loves is priceless.

10. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Every time I’m ready to write this guy off he goes and releases another unexpected gem. I mean after the weird electro of 2010’s The Age Of Adz did anyone see this coming? A sad record that recalls Stevens’ early life struggles is the portrait of a family that is unfortunately becoming the norm. All of his formidable power went into this project and it confirms (again) that Sufjan Stevens is who we thought he was.

11. Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
12. Built To Spill – Tethered Moon
13. Of Montreal – Aureate Gloom
14. Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer
15. The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
16. Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp
17. Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls
18. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down
19. Wire – Wire
20. Beach House – Depression Cherry
21. Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us
22. Magic Pie – King For A Day
23. Anekdoten – Until All The Ghosts Are Gone
24. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Ascunder,Sweet And Other Distress
25. Courtney Barnett – Sometime I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit

Honorable Mention: SSLYBY, UMO, Muse, Beardfish, Battles, Advent, Native Construct, Pandora Snail, Pile, Thieves’ Kitchen, Chelsea Wolfe, Viet Cong, Tame Impala, Motel Beds, Titus Andronicus and Wilco. Any other year most of those would have made the list!!! Let’s all pray that next year we’ll have a new album from The Wrens. Happy Holidays!!!

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Matthew Heiner

1. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
2. Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool
3. Evans The Death – Expect Delays
4. Radkey – Dark Black Makeup
5. The Fratellis – Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied
6. Destroyer – Poison Season
7. Tallest Man on Earth – Dark Bird Is Home
8. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper
9. Tame Impala – Currents
10. Toro y Moi – What For?

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Simon Workman

Top 15 2015 Releases

1. Ricked Wicky – King Heavy Metal

Pollard’s new band really came into their own on this second record, getting a little weirder while keeping the hooks coming. They hit this one out of the park.

2. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Mixing the wry humor of Randy Newman with the pop songcraft of Harry Nilsson, Father John Misty’s sophomore effort is classic track after classic track with almost no filler.

3. Wilco – Star Wars

Surprise released toward the end of summer, Star Wars keeps things short and sweet, but finds Wilco amping up the energy with some wild and wooly rockers.

4. Ricked Wicky – Swimmer to a Liquid Armchair

Ricked Wicky’s third album this year falls just barely behind King Heavy Metal in terms of quality, and contains some of Nick Mitchell’s best contributions to the project to date.

5. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Sufjan’s back in singer-songwriter mode, resulting in an emotionally raw and downright gorgeous album.

6. The Sonics – This Is The Sonics

Seattle’s garage-rock godfathers show the youngsters how it’s done, turning in a set of rowdy tunes that sounds like a time machine to 1965.

7. The New Old-Fashioned – Low-Down Dirty Summer Nights

Dayton locals The New Old-Fashioned hit their stride on their second album, churning out beefy rock riffs and soulful harmony vocals, all imbued with a twangy alt-country vibe.

8. Circus Devils – Stomping Grounds

The follow-up to 2014’s masterpiece Escape finds Pollard and the Tobias brothers inspired by 70s stoner metal and warped psychedelic imagery. The result? One of the best Circus Devils albums to date.

9. Ricked Wicky – I Sell The Circus

Ricked Wicky’s debut showed that this band was just getting started—tons of great tracks with a several that rival the best of the reunion-era GBV output.

10. Blur – The Magic Whip

A late entry for me, but The Magic Whip’s eclectic sequencing and Britpop sensibilities keep finding their way into rotation.

11. Robert Pollard – Faulty Superheroes

Faulty Superheroes is short at just over thirty-odd minutes, but it makes up for it with confections like “Take Me To Yolita,” “Up, Up and Up,” and “Photo-Enforced Human Highway.”

12. The Tallest Man On Earth – Dark Bird Is Home

Kristian Matsson keeps expanding the Tallest Man On Earth’s sonic palette, and this album shows he still has the songs to back up the bigger arrangements.

13. The Arcs – Yours, Dreamily,

Loose, bluesy, and soulful, The Arcs’ debut is one of those albums that gets you excited to see what the band will come up with next.

14. Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color

The Shakes broaden their horizons on Sound and Color, adding in more musical curveballs to their bluesy hard-rock sound.

15. The Zombies – Still Got That Hunger

OK, so it’s no Odessey and Oracle, but most other bands of the psychedelic era are just a memory at this point—the Zombies aren’t just still around, they’re making great music too with Still Got That Hunger, which means they deserve a spot on this list.

Honorable Mentions: Follakzoid – III / Jeff Bridges – The Sleeping Tapes / Trey Anastasio – Paper Wheels

Top 10 Archival Releases

1. Bob Dylan – The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12

Just when you think there’s nothing else left in the vault from Dylan’s mid-60s electric trilogy, his camp unleashes motherlode—six discs worth of revealing alternate takes, early versions, fragments, and unreleased songs. Essential.

2. Yes – Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two

Recorded one of the tours that yielded Yessongs, Progeny presents a “warts-and-all” snapshot of the band in their prime, absolutely nailing it night after night.

3. Various – Dust On The Nettles: A Journey Through the British Underground Folk Scene 1968-72

I picked this one up on a recent trip to New York City and it’s an absolute treasure-trove, with rare tracks from the scene’s top acts (Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Incredible String Band) rubbing shoulders with stellar songs by lesser-know artists.

4. Guided by Voices – Suitcase 4: Captain Kangaroo Won the War

By now Pollard’s suitcase of cassettes should be running dry, but it seems nothing is further from the truth—with early versions of classic tracks, newly-recorded demos, and more unreleased songs than you can shake a stick at, Suitcase 4 might just be the best installment yet.

5. Iron & Wine – Archive Series vol. no. 1

Composed of tracks recorded at the same time as The Creek Drank The Cradle, the first release in Iron & Wine’s archive series nearly matches that album in terms of quality, which is no small feat.

6. Fotheringay – Nothing More: The Collected Fotheringay

This 3-CD/1-DVD set is aptly named since it collects every stray track and piece of film footage from Sandy Denny’s post-Fairport Convention band, including their sole official LP, the unfinished second album, BBC sessions, and more.

7. Grateful Dead – 30 Trips Around The Sun: The Definitive Live Story 1965-95 (4 CD)

The “sampler” to the mammoth 80-disc box set compiled to commemorate the Dead’s 50th anniversary, 30 Trips provides a solid overview of the band’s live work, selecting one track from one show for each year the band was together.

8. The Velvet Underground – The Complete Matrix Tapes

The Complete Matrix Tapes provides 4-discs worth of multi-track live recordings from the same concerts that resulted in The Velvet Underground Live 1969. There’s a lot of repetition in the set lists, but this is the best-sounding (and best-played) material you can get from the Mk. II (Doug Yule) lineup.

9. Faces – You Can Make Me Dance, Sing, Or Anything

The earlier Faces box Five Guys Walk Into A Bar… presented a revelatory wealth of outtakes, alternate versions, and live tracks. This set completes the picture, presenting each original album with bonus tracks (most not on Five Guys) and an extra disc of singles and B-sides.

10. Brian Eno – My Squelchy Life

Originally slated for release in 1991, Eno shelved My Squelchy Live to record new, more “cutting-edge” tracks, eventually releasing them as Nerve Net. The original, presented here as a double-LP for Record Store Day 2015, is poppier, more accessible, and ultimately better, staying true to Eno’s musical philosophy.

Honorable Mention: Grateful Dead – Dave’s Picks vol. 16: 3/28/73

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Neil Barbour

1) Carly Rae – E-MO-TION

On alternate timeline, Carly’s grace amid such a substantive creative breakthrough has already buried Taylor Swift’s mean streak dressed up as millennial swagger. As a foil, her timing is impeccable. As an understated auteur of the unit shifting set, she’s long overdue.

2) Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone?

An entire world built of lonely nights on the couch, walks around the block, listening to the rain. A grown up take on the maudlin exercises of youth self-involvement is still narcissistic, but Are You Alone? makes it sound every bit the necessary bloodletting it always was.

3) Earl Sweatshirt – I don’t like Shit, I don’t Go Outside

Deconstruction is nothing new to hip hop, but to have an avatar internalize it to this degree feels like uncharted territory. Your heart goes out to Early. Something seems wrong, and it’s not just the grandma thing. The sound of a man walking around the ashes after the end of the world, still angry, still right, still his own worst enemy.

4) Sara Bareilles – What’s Inside

It’s the Magnolia soundtrack as a Disney Channel special, it’s a celebration of small mindedness, a wan attempt at cashing in on the surging current of musicals. It’s also a reminder that very big, very complex, very real ideas can be built of the simplest blocks.

5) Tame Impala – Currents

This is the album that Hot Chip should have come up with this year, the classic DFA forgot to press, the one MGMT are afraid they might deliver. It’s every bit the misunderstood masterpiece those possibilities suggest and so much more.

6) Arca – Mutant
7) Young Thug – Barter 6
8) Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down.
9) Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt
10) The Jam – Fire and Skill
11) The Tallest Man on Earth – Fields of Our Home
12) Bjork – Vulnicura
13) Susanne Sundfør – Ten Love Songs
14) Tenement – Predatory Highlights
15) Justin Bieber – Purpose
16) Jamie xx – In Color
17) Ryan Culwell – Flatland
18) East India Youth – Culture of Volume
19) Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon
20) Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too
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Brian Q. Newcomb

1.) Bottle Rockets, “South Broadway Athletic Club” (Bloodshot)

With a six year lag in recording, the St. Louis based classic rock/Americana quartet returned this year with a winning batch of songs that recall the heart and soul of their best albums from the mid-90’s, “The Brooklyn Side” and “24 Hours A Day.” Writing about everyday blue-collar experience from the perspective of established relationships with one’s lover (“Big Lotsa Love”) or one’s pet (“Dog”), and a desire to thrive (“Building Chryslers) and yet relax (“Big Fat Nuthin’”) in a challenging economy. Strong guitars, catchy melodies and down-to-earth lyrics suggest that these Bottle Rockets – admittedly a sentimental favorite – have produced another disc set to go the distance.

2.) Richard Thompson, “Still” (Fantasy)

Starting back in the late 60’s with the British band Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson came to epitomize the Celtic folk/rock tradition, placed on full display in the Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) produced “Still.” Great songs, marked by classic melodies and Thompson’s superior guitar virtuosity, this collection is a pure delight from start to rockin’ finish celebrating his own “Guitar Heroes.”

3.) Various Artists, “Hamilton: Original Broadway Cast Recording” (Atlantic)

At a time when nothing sounds more obsolete than the idea of a Broadway musical, writer/performer Lin-Manuel Miranda combined hip-hop rap rhymes, R&B soulfulness and classic Broadway balladry to tell the true story of founding banking father, Alexander Hamilton. Tragic, funny, human, the story connects in ways you might not expect, made all the more vital and contemporary by the deft musicality and smart storytelling.

4). Peter Case, “Hwy 62” (Omnivore)

Although often remembered for a brief cameo in the movie “Valley Girl” with his one-hit wonder, new wave band The Plimsouls, Peter Case has been a travelling folk/blues singer/songwriter solo artist for nearly 30 years. On “Hwy 62,” supported by guitarist Ben Harper and a solid band, Case delivers another great acoustic-leaning collection of story songs, including “Pelican Bay, “ as musical as it is political in addressing America’s crisis in a rising record prison population. “If I Go Crazy” and “Waiting on a Plane” demonstrate a pop sensibility, recalling Case at this best.

5). The Decemberists, “What A Terrible World, What A Wonderful World” (Capitol)

The arty folk rock quintet from Portland, Oregon, have produced a surprisingly up-tempo collection of melodic pop songs, combined with their more classic storytelling lyrical inclinations. In the past darker tales (“The Crane Wife”) may have dominated, but here songwriter Colin Meloy leans toward the comic on “The Singer Addresses His Audience” and the celebration of sexual union that is “Philomena,” making this year’s model of The Decemberists its most commercially accessible yet.

6). Modest Mouse, “Strangers to Ourselves” (Epic)

Given the formulaic predictability of what passes for Modern/Alternative rock radio these days, the 8 years since the last full-length recording has proved far too long. With “Strangers to Ourselves,” singer/guitarist Issac Brock leads the eclectic rockers through a fine collection of smart, dark yet fun songs. Brock at times seems to echo Talking Heads vocalist David Byrne, but the music’s denser textural quality places the band in an original context all its own. The return of Modest Mouse is a satisfying antidote to Imagine Dragons, or the next big thing/flavor of the month offering on popular broadcast formats.

7). Wilco, “Star Wars” (dBpm)

In their 20th year, Wilco surprised fans with an unanticipated new album offered as a free download, before becoming commercially available months later. This, alongside singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy’s double solo disc of last year with drummer, son Spencer Tweedy (under the moniker Tweedy), and touring as this new unit. There’s a nearly playful, urgency and immediacy to this brief 11 song effort, capturing this band’s eclectic approach and seasoned live vitality. This 9th studio album, delivers the best of Wilco/Tweedy, not merely marking time but looking forward.

8). Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin, “Lost Time” (Yep Roc)

After years of hearing that there was enough ill-will between the brothers Alvin, that we could not expect soon to hear a reunion of the one-time leaders of The Blasters. Then came last year’s collaboration on “Common Ground” and joint tour, where the duo came together to celebrate the songs of one of their greatest musical influences growing up, Big Bill Broonzy. In this fine follow-up, they expand their repertoire to rediscover early blues from Willy Dixon, James Brown, Leadbelly, Big Joe Turner and others. “Lost Time” may describe the past tensions between the brothers, but it’s also too long since we took the time to celebrate these classics, sung with soulful conviction by Phil, matched in intensity by Dave’s smokin’ blues guitar chops.

9). Los Lobos, “Gates of Gold” (429)

It’s hard to believe that it was over 20 years ago when Los Lobos released “Just Another Band From East L.A., descriptive of the band’s first 20 years, evolving from a Tex-Mex wedding party band honoring the Latin music tradition of our nation’s Southwest, a hit cover of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba,” to a blazing electric rock band, reminiscent of Santana and The Allman Bros. Band. On “Gates of Gold,” they are far from reinventing the wheel, although they artfully touch many of the bases that influenced that masterful collection. David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas trade off on lead vocals and distinctive lead guitars, often blazing in their own right.

10). Florence + The Machine, “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” (Republic)

The third album from Florence Welch and her backing band, The Machine, which includes Isabella Summers on keys, Robert Ackroyd on guitars, Chris Haydon on drums, Mark Saunders on bass, Tom Monger on harp, and Rusty Bradshaw on rhythm guitar and keys, finds the artist singing personal songs in the larger than life, ”wall of sound” musical settings that The Machine favors. Florence’s vocals compare admirably to Shirley Manson of Garbage, PJ Harvey, and Siouxsie Sioux. “Ship to Wreck,” the disc’s first single is ridiculously infectious, as is much of the album.

11). Blur, “The Magic Whip” (Parlophone/Warner Bros.)

Given the 12 years since the last Blur collaboration and Damon Albarn’s success with Gorillaz and last year’s solo release, “Everyday Robots,” I don’t think anybody, including the members of Blur, expected to produce new music in 2015. While nothing here rocks with the intensity of “Song 2,” the punk/pop anthem that dominated alternative radio in 1997, “The Magic Whip” thrives on the classic Brit-pop/new wave collaborations of Albarn and guitarist Graham Coxon. Reflecting the Asian context in which the music was first recorded, Blur’s pop song prowess finds great expression in “Lonesome Street,” “New World Towers,” “I Broadcast,” and “Pyongyang.”

12). The Lone Bellow, “Then Came the Morning” (Descendent)

The soulful vocal harmonies of Zach Williams, Kanene Donehey Pipkin, and Brian Elmquist, which fuel the often passionate choruses on the songs of this trio’s second full-length album, are a thing of beauty. The Lone Bellow’s intricate songwriting cuts across a variety of roots music – folk, country, gospel – enhanced by Aaron Dessner (of The National’s) light production touches, gives “Then Came the Morning” a timeless quality, rich with tradition.

13). Rhiannon Giddens, “Tomorrow Is My Turn” (Nonesuch)

On this solo debut, Rhiannon Giddens steps out of the string/roots band Carolina Chocolate Drops, and out of the shadow of Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket, with whom she worked to reinvent some recently recovered lyrics by Bob Dylan in the New Basement Tapes, to express her own voice and appreciation for the women singers who came before her. Classically trained, but organically connected to the roots music of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Odetta, Nina Simone, and even country greats like Patsy Ciine and Dolly Parton, Giddens offers up an eclectic celebration of their classic songs, while establishing a launching pad for her own unique voice.

14). The Arcs, “Yours, Dreamily,” (Nonesuch)

The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach clearly has too much time on his hands. Outside of his own bands’ hit albums, he has produced recordings for Dr. John, Ray LaMontagne, and Lana Del Rey, and what was originally intended as a solo project turned into a collaboration with Leon Michels (keyboards), Richard Swift (drums/keys), Nick Movshon (bass), and Homer Steinweiss (drums). The Arcs lean more toward melodic pop/rock on singles “Outta My Mind” and “Stay In My Corner,” but on “The Arc” we hear Auerbach’s signature bluesy guitar sound, while the recording on the whole manages to explore a denser, more eclectic, retro rock palette.

15). Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color” (Rough Trade/ATO)

With the follow-up to “Boys & Girls,” Brittany Howard and the men of Alabama Shakes broadened their music perspective following the lead of her growing vocal confidence. A retro R&B vibe still shines through on “Gimme All Your Love,” where Howard unleashes her bluesy voice and some serious guitar chops.

16). Muse, “Drones” (Warner Bros.)

On this seventh album from what has often been seen as a Queen Wannabe, producer Mutt Lange has stripped away much of the band’s prog-rock pretension to emphasize songs structured around big rock guitar riffs. But thankfully some of their operatic inclinations still manifest on tracks like “The Handler,” “Revolt,” and the 10 minute “The Globalist.” Front loaded are the crunchier rockers that present the band’s strengths in a straight-forward fashion: “Dead Inside” and “Psycho.”

17). Steve Earle & The Dukes, “Terraplane” (New West)

Every couple years, Steve Earle cranks out an album to remind the world of Americana/roots music that he’s a creative force to be reckoned with, and this time the focus is on the blues tradition. A masterful songwriter with a keen sense of musicality in his guitar playing, Earle gets personal about the breakup of his marriage to Alison Moorer on “Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now” and “Better Off Alone,” but he can keep it fun too: “Go Go Boots Are Back” and “Baby’s Just As Mean As Me.”

18). Todd Rundgren, “Global” (Alchemedia)

Most of the artists on tour as part of Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band are living off their past hits, but Todd Rundgren has to be the hardest working man in rock & roll who’s still creating fresh music after a 45 year recording career. “Global” follows the electronica/techno lead of 2013’s “State,” while expanding to include a more pop-song melodic sensibility. Songs like “Blind” and “Earth Mother” focus on climate change, while there’s a political and ecological undertone throughout. While I do miss The Todd’s great guitar playing here, it’s great to hear new music from someone who will still be best remembered for that “Bang A Drum” baseball stadium staple.

19). Craig Finn “Faith in the Future” (Partisan)

The Hold Steady’s singer/songwriter steps away for his second solo album, a collection of literate story-songs that suggest the vague spiritual longings and sexual yearnings, with characters that are always looking for love in all the wrong places. I’m a sucker for his Springsteen-esque, catchy writing in songs like “Saint Peter Upside Down,” “Sarah, Calling From a Hotel,” and “Maggie I’ve Been Searching For Our Son.”

20). Ryan Adams, “1989” (Pax-Am)

On paper, this idea kinda sucks. Why not have celebrated indie rocker Ryan Adams record all the songs from Taylor Swift’s current successful album in the spirit of Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska”? But strangely enough, it really works. Which suggests that Swift is probably a lot better songwriter than most of us give her credit for, and Ryan Adams gives them an irony/parody free delivery that’s as enjoyable as last year’s fine “Ryan Adams.”

21). Gary Clark Jr., “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim” (Warner Bros.)
22). Don Henley, “Cass County” (Capitol)
23). Leon Bridges, “Coming Home” (Columbia)
24). Patty Griffin, “Servant of Love” (Thirty Tigers/PGM)
25). Jason Isbell, “Something More Than Free” (Thirty Tigers/Southeastern)

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Daniel Taylor

1. Pile: You’re Better Than This

Exciting and off –kilter noise rock. Recommended for fans of Pixies and Jesus Lizard.

2. Astral Swans: All My Favorite Singers Are Willie Nelson

Stark, yet comforting rock. Recommended for fans of Nick Drake and Phosphorescent.

3. Circus Devils: Stomping Grounds

Uncle Bob’s best work this year. For fans of Guided by Voices, Robert Pollard and weird stuff.

4. Christian Fitness: Love Letters in the Age of Steam

Aggressive, heavy and catchy. Fans of Frank Black and Mink Lungs will dig this.

5. Lost Boy?: Canned

Loose and sometimes goofy lo-fi rock. Drifts between Ween, Guided by Voices and even Parquet Courts.

6. Flotation Toy Warning: Bluffer’s Guide to the Flight Deck (Vinyl Reissue)

Reissue of one of my favorite albums of all time. Trippy chamber rock. Fans of Neutral Milk Hotel and Grandaddy will want this.

7. Guided By Voices Suitcase 4/Briefcase 4

More gems from Uncle Bob’s vault of lo-fi rock.

8. Krill: A Distant Fist Unclenching

RIP to this wonderfully disjointed band. Fans of Pile and Bad History Month will love this quirky band.

9. Built to Spill: Untethered Moon

Indie rock kings return with a great LP.

10. Traams: Modern Dancing

Surprising hit for me. Just bought it and fell in love. Reminds me Clap Your Hands Say Yeah mixed with The Stokes.

11. Girl Band: Holding Hands with Jamie

Uncompromising music. Harsh, but somehow catchy.

12. Smug Brothers: Woodpecker Paradise

The always good Smug Brothers gave us their freshest record yet. Spirited mid-fi rock from Dayton.

13. Robert Pollard: Faulty Superheroes

Nothing can slow down Robert Pollard. He still crafts excellent songs and always will.

14. TUNGS: You Could Call This Art

Inventive and interesting indie rock. Fans of Ween, Built to Spill and Wire should check them out.

15. Wand: 1000 Days

Excellent psychedelic rock. Not afraid to mix it up to keep the listener glued. Fans of White Fence and Wytches should love them.

16. Honey Radar: The Rabbit’s Voice

Miss Propeller-era Guided by Voices? Honey Radar has your cure. Short and catchy lo-fi gems.

17. Wand: Golem

Yep, they are on my list twice. Three albums in 18 months. Three excellent albums at that.

18. the i.l.y’s (Deathgrips) : I’ve Always Been Good at True Love

Abrasive and catchy techno/rock/rap? No idea what this is, it is just good.

19. Helvetia: Dromomania

Heady and trippy slacker rock. Fans of Built to Spill will want this.

20. Ex-Breathers: Past Tense

Heavy-ish pop punk.

21. Soccer Team: Real Lessons in Cynicism

Long time no see. Brilliant indie pop.

22. Passenger Peru: Light Places

2 years in a row, Passenger Peru made my end of year list.

23. Graham Repulski : Success Racist

Lo-fi noise all wrapped in a catchy package. Got a lot of their stuff this year.

24. Girl Band: The Early Years – EP

Collection of early stuff. You can see why their debut LP was so highly anticipated.

25. Moon Duo: Shadow of the Sun

Catchy psych rock. Seeing these guys live kicked my love into overdrive.

26. Qúetzal Snåkes: II- EP

Imagine the Swirlies playing hardcore psychedelic rock. Yep. That is these guys. Excellent EP.

27. Ex-Cult: Cigarette Machine

Hardcore done right. Catchy and packs a punch.

28. Mythical Motors: Long Live High Energy

Perfect album to hit the road with. Driving indie/lo-fi rock.

29. Sleaford Mods: Key Markets

Punk/Rant Rap/ ghetto tech stuff. A bit more subdued than their earlier stuff, but it still has a lot of bite.

30. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

Was really loving this until Kevin Poindexter called her the new Sheryl Crow…thanks Kevin.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Christopher Tahy

25.The Alabama Shakes- Sound & Color
24.Majical Cloudz- Are You Alone?
23.Big Dick- Disappointment
22.Torche- Restarter
21. Mikal Cronin- MCIII
20.The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion- Freedom Tower – No Wave Dance Party 2015
19.The Myrrors- Arena Negra
18.The Dead Weather- Doge And Burn
17.Rose Windows – Rose Windows
16. Deerhunter- Fading Frontier

15. Tame Impala – Currents

This was one of the toughest reviews I had to write all year. You have to acknowledge that Kevin Parker’s instrumentation and production work were spot on. But, as a huge fan of the first two albums I was left a little underwhelmed. But, there where plenty of track on Currents to keep it in rotation throughout the year.

14. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard Wizard – Quarters

What a bold undertaking this was. Quarters wan’t just the title of the album but the theme too. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard took 4 songs and recorded them with a length of 10 minuets and 10 seconds. It was one of the cooler undertakings that stuck with me this year earning a spot in my top 15.

13. FUZZ – II

This is another FUZZ record and that’s a great thing. Ty Segall, Charlie Moothart, and Chad Ubovich create a sprawling proto-metal landscape that goes in a few directions. While I thought their self titled debut was a tighter album over all, II gave us plenty of tasty, molten riffs to meld with your eardrums.

12. Wand – Golem

When I first heard Wand’s debut Ganglion Reef I was taken aback. But when I heard the follow up Golem I was drawn in. Golem was an unexpected, sludgy, heavy, space vortex that shows only a few hints of their debut. Wand has already released a follow up to Golem, 1000 Days. With a band as prolific as this I can only imagine what comes next.

11. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love

You could consider Tame Impala’s Currents a “pop” psych or “dance” psych album. I believe the same could be said about UMO’s third record Multi-Love. Why did it rank higher than Currents you ask? Well, Ruben Nielson has enough of the special UMO something that kept everything weird. Plus, it’s a UMO record you can shake your ass too and I’m all for that.

10. Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated at Last

Starting in on the top 10 Thee Oh Sees had to be here. With songs such as “Turned Out Light,” “Withered Hand,” and “Palace Doctor” Mutilator Defeated at Last was and impressive addition to an already expansive and impressive catalogue.

9. Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer

Let me say this, like Scot Lade, I believe that Foil Deer isn’t as good as Major Arcana. But, I would have to say “Raising The Skate” is one of the songs that stuck with me the most this year. A lot of the same flavors from past releases where there but this was Speedy Ortiz going a bit out of there comfort zone- it worked more than not.

8. Hollow Sunshine – Bring Gold

An up and coming band that’s doing impressive things, Hollow Sunshine combines shoegaze and sludge in an almost “gentle” way. Unlike Deafheaven, Hollow Sunshine is a slow burn that holds it’s fury in it’s slower tempo.

7. Motel Beds – Mind Glitter

In a year of heavy hitters, Motel Beds Mind Glitter absolutely has to be here. Not only did it get to interview dynamic front man PJ but Mind Glitter happens to be the most cohesive and well produced Beds album to date. I can only say do yourself a favor and catch this wave.

6. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell

Sufjan has always been a prolific artist, but Carrie and Lowell is his most beautiful and personal to date. I feel this album fills the spot that Sun Kil Moon’s Benji carved out last year-believe me that’s not a bad thing.

5. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

As a music fan/journalist I come to you with a secret shame. I’ve never heard Father John Misty’s 2012 album Fear Fun. But, I did remedy the situation by getting into I Love You, Honeybear. In a list filled with big and heavy rock albums Josh Tillman’s I Love You, Honeybear’s bigger instrumentation, engaging highs, and emotional lows carries a huge and catchy weight that stick with you.

4. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

Could this be the last Titus Andronicus album recorded? Maybe. Is it a great way to go? Absolutely. A heady rock opera that requires a bit of homework and research, but once cracked this album gives one of the most rockin’ and rewarding experiences of 2015.

3. Deafheaven – Bermuda

One of the most brutal albums released this year, Deafheavens’ Bermuda is another excellent blend of black metal and shoegaze. There’s a reason this album is here and that’s because it’s DEAFHEAVEN.

2. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

Sleater-Kinney is back and better than ever. No Cities To Love is a powerful “rock” album that helped remind us why they where missed. We can only hope that another album is released because if the can come back this strong then we have noting to worry about.

1. Viet Cong – Viet Cong

I originally gave this album 4 out of 5 headphones but at the year went on it had to be the album I came back to the most. It’s machine like hypnotism’s and familiar yet original tones make it the perfect combination of comfort and interest. Plus, the final track, “Death,” was a bold monster that made it’s 11 minuet run time feel like nothing. While the band isn’t going by Viet Cong anymore, this album was the strongest – maybe even the best – debut of 2015. Whatever they end up calling themselves I’m waiting with great anticipation on what they release next.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thomas Wilde

1. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
2. Baroness – Purple
3. Tame Impala – Currents
4. Sufan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
5. Deafheaven – New Bermuda
6. Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
7. Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool
8. Foals – What Went Down
9. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier
10. Bully – Feels Like
11. Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone?
12. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
13. Alex G – Beach Music
14. Heaters – Holy Water Pool
15. Ryan Adams – 1989

The Blazing Top 50 Albums of 2014

blazing top 50

#50

the-safes-record-heat The Safes
Record Heat
Wee Rock Records [2014]

#50 is one of the hardest positions to select because there are plenty of albums that just missed the list. What made Chicago’s The Safes stand out is their solid 60’s style garage power pop on Record Heat that had us from the first strum. The band is truly under the radar on the DIY label Wee Rock out of Springfield, Missouri. This type of record is the reason The Fire Note exists!



The Safes: Record Heat [Fire Note Review 6/30/14]

#49

kishi-bashi-lighght Kishi Bashi
Lighght
Joyful Noise Recordings [2014]

Kishi Bashi’s sophomore record Lighght (pronounced “Light”) challenged your ears this time by going with bigger arrangements, a little 70’s prog, repetitive improvisations and several ballads that stuck in your head. Lighght didn’t have the innocence of their debut but its bigger moments grew on me with repeat listens and made it one of the more unique listens this year.



Kishi Bashi: Lighght [Fire Note Review 5/16/14]

#48

shellac-dude-incredible Shellac
Dude Incredible
Touch And Go Records [2014]

Dude Incredible is filled with the sort of Math/Post Rock that makes Slint fans feel like they have a purpose in life. Shellac didn’t reinventing the wheel here, but does what they do best, and they do it better than just about anyone. Steve Albini has been playing this kind of music since the days of Big Black, but there is no question that Shellac is the best vehicle for his challenging songs and they are highlighted on Dude Incredible.

Shellac: Dude Incredible [Fire Note Review 10/13/14]

#47

flying-lotus-youre-dead Flying Lotus
You’re Dead!
Warp Records [2014]

For fans of jazz and/or hip hop, Flying Lotus made an interesting and accessible album with You’re Dead! This was Flying Lotus’ fifth studio album and the first four tracks of the LP consume you with their amazing instrumental jazz-fusion. It is a record that will surprise and impress your ears even if these genres aren’t your thing as Flying Lotus takes you on a completely different journey from beginning to end.



Flyng Lotus: You’re Dead! [Fire Note Review 12/1/14]

#46

caribou-our-love Caribou
Our Love
Merge Records [2014]

Caribou returned after a four year absence with the drop dead gorgeous Our Love. Caribou is still heavily electronic and chill, but Our Love has a cool psychedelic haze enveloped around it. It’s a darker record than its predecessor, a heavy meditation about love, without ever really revealing exactly what it is about. Both sonically and texturally, this record is stunning as it packs a heavy emotional punch and kept us on the edge of our seat.



Caribou: Our Love [Fire Note Review 10/8/14]

#45

meatbodies Meatbodies
Meatbodies
In The Red Records [2014]

Band leader Chad Ubovich is included in the Ty Segall family and Meatbodies self-titled debut rocked out as expected. Meatbodies has just enough distinct moments and characteristics from Chad’s other projects that it stood out. Meatbodies is a solid listen that rolls more than sits as it achieves a novel sound with its mid-track genre changes that keeps you guessing. Better with every spin!



Meatbodies: Meatbodies [Fire Note Review 10/16/14]

#44

lab-partners-seven-seas Lab Partners
Seven Seas
Pravda Records [2014]

Dayton, Ohio’s Lab Partners returned with their first record since their 2010 and it completely satisfied with its guitar attack. At 48 minutes and 10 tracks long, there is not a bad moment on Seven Seas. The all five review may have been driven by excitement at the time but the band has definitely returned with a sonic vengeance, and a worthy LP landing at #44!



Damon Albarn: Everyday Robots [Fire Note Review 5/8/14]

#42

ariel-pink-pom-pom Ariel Pink
Pom Pom
4AD Records [2014]

Pom Pom is an insanely infectious joyride that seems to take you on a different route each time you listen. It is the kind of record you either love or hate, but will never think “It’s Ok”. It definitely provokes a strong reaction from the audience, and that’s the point. It’s Ariel Pink and that’s art.

Ariel Pink: Pom Pom [Fire Note Review 11/21/14]

#41

circus-devils-escape Circus Devils
Escape
Happy Jack Rock Records [2014]

The Circus Devils never make the same album twice. Robert Pollard and the Tobias brothers shift into a calmer gear on Escape and create what might be the best Circus Devils album yet. Call it mellow, call it rainy-day music; however you categorize Escape, it was new territory for Pollard and an entirely successful experiment for the Circus Devils.

Circus Devils: Escape [Fire Note Review 11/10/14]

#40

jack-white-album Jack White
Lazaretto
Third Man/Columbia Records [2014]

Jack White is a man of many talents. He is also hard to pigeon hole with one sound and that was evident on his sophomore solo release Lazaretto. Instead of flaking out with a Blunderbuss/career rehash, White still delivered original rock hooks but also showed that country music runs through his veins. Lazaretto was not the top 10 record we were hoping for but it also sounds better over time and easily still showed up in our list.

Jack White: Lazaretto [Fire Note Review 6/10/14]

#39

perfect-pussy-say-yes-to-love Perfect Pussy
Say Yes To Love
Captured Tracks [2014]

When you combine the actual crackle of noise that begins the opening track with one of the most hyped bands in 2014, you have a recipe for an experience. Frontwoman Meredith Graves somewhat indecipherable vocals left you trying to surface for air as Perfect Pussy had no problem absolutely ripping it up for the first 14 minutes of Say Yes To Love. The drone tracks near the end of the record were a challenge but the overall presentation from Perfect Pussy was a win and made them a band to watch!



Perfect Pussy: Say Yes To Love [Fire Note Review 3/20/14]

#38

st.-vincent St. Vincent
St. Vincent
Loma Vista Recordings [2014]

If you get St. Vincent and all of the eclectic pieces that go along with Annie Clark then you really liked her 2014 self-titled record. I feel now that our review missed the mark somewhat only because this album took more time to sink in. St. Vincent, the record, is beautifully weird and Clark’s delivery combined with the riffs here make a great listen. A great listen worthy of its Top 50 spot.



St. Vincent: St. Vincent [Fire Note Review 2/24/14]

#37

wussy-attica Wussy
Attica!
Shake It Records [2014]

Wussy have been gaining some steam lately as they were just recently featured on CBS’s Saturday Session. It is a much deserved highlight to this long running and hardworking indie band that just released one of their best in Attica!. Dynamic interweaving vocals from co-leads, Chuck Weaver (Ass Ponys) and Lisa Walker showcase how Wussy works as this album gives and gives and gives. With just a few spins you understand quickly what all the quiet hype is about!



Wussy: Attica! [Fire Note Review 5/15/14]

#36

white-lung-deep-fantasy White Lung
Deep Fantasy
Domino Records [2014]

White Lung’s third LP, Deep Fantasy, is a rip roaring punk record that will easily remind you of early albums by the likes of Hole, L7, and Babes In Toyland. If you are like us, that is all you need to hear to jump into Deep Fantasy and White Lung’s pummeling 23 minutes of effortless in your face rock. There were not many other records released this year that can match Deep Fantasy’s intensity which is why it is in our Top 50.



White Lung: Deep Fantasy [Fire Note Review 6/16/14]

#35

matthew-melton-outside-of-paradise Matthew Melton
Outside Of Paradise
Southpaw Records [2014]

Matthew Melton’s sophomore album, Outside of Paradise, was a really cool lo-fi garage ride. It is a record that has swagger without trying as Outside of Paradise is a tidy 34 minutes and flows seamlessly. Melton released a Warm Soda record this year as well but Outside of Paradise is where he hit all the right chords.



Matthew Melton: Outside Of Paradise [Fire Note Review 12/14/14]

#34

wand-ganglion Wand
Ganglion Reef
GOD?/Drag City Records [2014]

We live in a world where many artists try to reshape psychedelic music, and a lot of those who try fail. Wand used instinct, authenticity, and texture to an impressive degree that made their debut Ganglion Reef a squirrely kaleidoscope of lucid beauty and impactful fuzz. On more simple terms – it is a great record!



Wand: Ganglion Reef [Fire Note Review 9/2/14]

#33

vertical-scratchers-daughter-of-everything Vertical Scratchers
Daughter Of Everything
Merge Records [2014]

Vertical Scratchers were destined to create indie rock, as members John Schmersal (ex-Brainiac/Enon, live Caribou, and Crooks on Tape) and Christian Beaulieu (ex-Triclops!/Anywhere) resume suggest. Their pure sound will remind you of the 90’s but the reality is that Vertical Scratchers have created a timeless record that gives credit to the past but is fun today!



Vertical Scratchers: Daughter Of Everything [Fire Note Review 2/25/14]

#32

hotelier-home-like-noplace-is-there The Hotelier
Home, Like Noplace Is There
Tiny Engines [2014]

The Hotelier officially brought emo-punk back to proper form on Home, Like Noplace Is There. Their emotion filled sophomore record takes you on an energetic punk rock journey that is easily one of the best records I have heard in this genre, in quite a while.



The Hotelier: Home, Like Noplace Is There [Fire Note Review 3/10/14]

#31

ghost-of-a-saber-tooth-tiger-midnight-sun The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger
Midnight Sun
Chimera Music [2014]

I am sure their name scared some people off but you might be surprised to find out that GOASTT is a band from Sean Lennon. The record is easily his most accessible music since his solo days and Midnight Sun showcases his creative side with its full-fledged infused psychedelic and whimsical 60’s trippy pop vibe. Sound weird – maybe a little but only in a good way!



The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger [Fire Note Review 6/5/14]

#30

circulartory-systems-mosaics-within-mosaics Circulatory System
Mosaics Within Mosaics
Cloud Recordings [2014]

Does it get any better than 60’s pop melodies and wild psychedelic excursions woven together to create a giant sonic tapestry. That is just one description used for this double 31 track record. Its scope is enormous, it’s flawed in spots, it’s highly rewarding, and it can be dissected closely by rock archaeologists for the next 50 years.



Circulatory System: Mosaics Within Mosaics [Fire Note Review 6/26/14]

#29

weezer-everything-will-be-alright-in-the-end Weezer
Everything Will Be Alright In The End
Republic Records [2014]

I don’t think anyone could have predicted Weezer in the Top 50. Sure we heard the rumors about Everything but I don’t think anyone believed them. Even after the sort of cheesy, sort of cool “Back To The Shack” single many people still wrote Weezer off. Guess what – this is their best record since the beloved Pinkerton and it just gets more fun everytime I spin it.

Weezer: Everything Will Be Alright In The End [Fire Note Review 10/3/14]

#28

amen-dunes-love Amen Dunes
Love
Sacred Bones Records [2014]

I like finding records that I can just sit down with. Amen Dunes third record Love is one of those albums. Love, found Amen Dunes dropping their guard some as they embraced the idea of using more musicians and highlighting Damon McMahon’s vocals that pulls you in with its sincere delivery. This new focus on the details changes the soundscape for Amen Dunes and helped create their most engaging record yet.



Amen Dunes: Love [Fire Note Review 5/29/14]

#27

tuneyards-nikki-nack tUnE-yArDs
Nikki Nack
4AD Records [2014]

This record seemed to build momentum as 2104 rolled on. From opening for Arcade Fire to commercials, tUnE-yArDs are everywhere I turn. There is a reason for this and that would be the strength and music revolutions found on Nikki Nack.

tUnE-yArDs: Nikki Nack [Fire Note Review 5/9/14]

#26

buffalo-killers-heavy-reverie Buffalo Killers
Heavy Reverie
Sun Pedal Recordings [2014]

I couldn’t believe that Cincinnati’s Buffalo Killers released a record on a subdivision of Warner Bros. Records with Heavy Reverie. They definitely had earned the shot and if you checked out their sonically polished effort you would be singing their praises. Their southern rock influence was running through every track while a hint of 90’s indie rock drove some of the jamming ship. Buffalo Killers continue to impress and we can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store for them!



Buffalo Killers: Heavy Reverie [Fire Note Review 5/12/14]

#25

iceage-plowing Iceage
Plowing Into The Field Of Love
Matador Records [2014]

Iceage might not be for everyone as Plowing Into the Field of Love can get under your skin a little. I like this edge and with repeat listens this record just gets more intense. Plowing Into The Field is all about soaking up Iceage’s mood which at times is edgy, catchy, haunting, daunting and outright punky but overall creates a great listening experience that keeps on giving all the way to the end.

Iceage: Plowing Into The Field Of Love [Fire Note Review 10/17/14]

#24

sharon-van-etten-are-we-there Sharon Van Etten
Are We There
Jagjaguwar Records [2014]

Here is a record I wish I had spent more time with. Are We There is a lush, emotionally powerful collection of songs that never found Sharon Van Etten holding back. At times the indie rock scene lacks female voices, so it’s a welcome sight to see someone like Van Etten rise to the surface and shine.



Shron Van Etten: Are We There [Fire Note Review 7/18/14]

#23

how-to-dress-well-what-is-this-heart How To Dress Well
What Is This Heart?
Weird World Recording Co. [2014]

There was no wasted space on What Is This Heart?. The album flows in a way that you don’t notice when it ends and starts over. How To Dress Well-crafted a sophomore album that builds on their previous strengths and throws some new tricks at you. Tom Krell has established a high bar with his work up to this point, and What Is This Heart? is just another statement that backs it up.



How To Dress Well: What Is This Heart? [Fire Note Review 6/27/14]

#22

temples-sun-structures Temples
Sun Structures
Fat Possum Records [2014]

Melodic psych 60’s rock from the UK? Sign me up. Temples came onto the scene with the catchy single “Shelter Song” and never slowed down. Temples filled every bit of space with musical ideas, covering sonic territory from fuzzy acid rock to spacey proto-prog to harmony-laden, British Invasion-influenced freakbeat, often within the same track. Looking forward to where they go next!



Temples: Sun Structures [Fire Note Review 3/20/14]

#21

lykke-li-i-never-learn Lykke Li
I Never Learn
Atlantic Records [2014]

I never would have thought this record would capture us the way it did. Lykke Li’s third album is not only her best yet but also one of the top break up records released this decade. It is a powerful statement on life that is captured in a very listenable 33 minutes that easily found its place here in the Top 50.



Lykke Li: I Never Learn [Fire Note Review 5/8/14]

#20

strand-of-oaks-heal Strand Of Oaks
HEAL
Dead Oceans [2014]

HEAL is Timothy Showalter’s, a.k.a. Strand of Oaks, fourth LP and easily his most expansive as it takes you on a journey through some synth pop, a little post-punk, folky Americana and even a bit of hard rock. What could have been a scattered disaster, HEAL thrived on its different personas as Strand of Oaks have officially placed themselves on the musical map with this memorable release.



Strand Of Oaks: HEAL [Fire Note Review 7/8/14]

#19

cloud-nothings-here-nowhere-else Cloud Nothings
Here And Nowhere Else
Carpark Records [2014]

Cloud Nothings delivered an expected high quality indie rock record. No more and no less. At first listen, I think many people shrugged their shoulders as if nothing had changed but the maturity that oozes out of Here And Nowhere Else after repeat spins is hard to turn away from. Basically, Cloud Nothings provided one bad ass, in your face, kick your teeth in, pounder of an album that hardly ever let up – Just what the doctor ordered!



Cloud Nothings: Here And Nowhere [Fire Note Review 3/31/14]

#18

Res Road Cover Easton Stagger Phillips
Resolution Road
Campfire Propaganda/Rebeltone Records [2014]

I can’t say enough about the talent of Tim Easton, Leeroy Stagger and Evan Phillips. Resolution Road was easily the best Americana/folk record I listened to this year as its pure harmonies just pour out of the album. ESP did an excellent job of making a cohesive record while still shining individually when the light was on them vocally. Their hard work paid off as Resolution Road is a timeless keeper.



Easton Stagger Phillips: Resolution Road [Fire Note Review 5/1/14]

#17

real-estate-atlas Real Estate
Atlas
Domino Records [2014]

If it’s not broke don’t fix it – just tweak it. That is the main story behind Real Estate’s third record Atlas. The New Jersey group returned with an album that took their tighter and more refined approach to a different level by melting down their pop gems into a much more mature and even tone listen.



Real Estate: Atlas [Fire Note Review 3/5/14]

#16

ryan-adams-cover Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams
PAX-AM/Blue Note Records [2014]

Ryan Adams continues to impress and his recent output has been high quality. If mini-records could have made the list his ripper Replacements like record 1984 would be here as well. His self-titled release captures the essence of classic rock while keeping it very 2014. That is not an easy task but when you have the songwriting talent of Adams and the chops to pull it off – he satisfyingly makes it look and sound very easy.

Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams [Fire Note Review 9/10/14]

#15

woods-with-light-and-with-love Woods
With Light And With Love
Woodsist Records [2014]

Woods unique blend of 60’s and early 70’s rustic psychedelic pop music goes down smooth and sinks deeper into your brain with each listen. They are one of the greatest bands in the world right now, if you aren’t paying attention to them yet, you should be. With Light And With Love is the album for a wider audience to recognize this.



Woods: With Light And With Love [Fire Note Review 4/15/14]

#14

afghan-whigs-do-to-the-beast The Afghan Whigs
Do To The Beast
Sub Pop Records [2014]

16 years? No problem – The Afghan Whigs picked right back up where they left off! Do To The Beast was one of the more critically overlooked records this year that never left TFN player. Do To The Beast is not only a natural return to the scene but one that does not take any shit. That is the attitude we expected from The Afghan Whigs and that is exactly what they bring back to the table!



The Afghan Whigs: Do To The Beast [Fire Note Review 4/11/14]

#13

curtis-harding-soul-power Curtis Harding
Soul Power
Burger Records [2014]

There is a reason Jack White called upon Curtis Harding to open several of his shows. His retro-soul meets rock is incredibly infectious. On his Soul Power debut Harding’s sound is classic but his progression is 2014 as he sing effortlessly with cool passion. Curtis Harding is an emerging artist that you should get to know now and Soul Power proves that point.



Curtis Harding: Soul Power [Fire Note Review 5/28/14]

#12

white-fence-for-recently-found-innocent White Fence
For The Recently Found Innocent
Drag City Records [2014]

White Fence broke through to the next level and fulfilled all expectations with For The Recently Found Innocent. The record is chock full of Kinks and Who inspired garage rock anthems that just get better after every spin. Tim Presley has always been a stellar songwriter, but this raw edge he displays here really suits the material and firmly places the album at #12.



White Fence: For The Recently Found Innocent [Fire Note Review 7/23/14]

#11

tv-on-the-radio-seeds TV On The Radio
Seeds
Harvest Records [2014]

Seeds is a profound journey through pain and loss, and ultimately, spiritual recovery and rebirth! It also is catchy as hell. On their new album, the band has dialed back on the experimentation and atmosphere and has instead chosen to put their strongest set of melodies front and center. TV on the Radio has long been one of the finest bands in the world, but with this album, they have reached another level.

TV On The Radio: Seeds [Fire Note Review 11/26/14]

#10

beck-morning-phase Beck
Morning Phase
Capitol Records [2014]

Morning Phase is a record that had nothing to prove but everything to give! As much as we would put this album down, we just could not put it away. I think that if fans went into this record with defined expectations, Morning Phase may have passed them over. Morning Phase represents Beck’s total control of his career and you can hear his love of music in each carefully sung line on this album. Morning Phase has such a sonic flow that it became impossible to turn away from which is why it lands at #10.



Beck: Morning Phase [Fire Note Review 2/24/14]

#9

spoon-they-want-my-soul Spoon
They Want My Soul
Loma Vista/Republic Records [2014]

Thinking some of their best work may be behind them, Spoon’s They Want My Soul is a near-perfect return to form. We can’t imagine a more balanced, engaging, addictive, surprising album coming out this year. Spoon has a long history of excellent work, but They Want My Soul ranks right up there. It’s good to have Britt Daniel and the guys back.



Spoon: They Want My Soul [Fire Note Review 8/4/14]

#8

king-gizzard-lizard-wizard-im-in-your-mind-fuzz King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
I’m In Your Mind Fuzz
Castle Face Records [2014]

Australia’s King Gizzard will give you an entire new perspective in every way that is good. I’m In Your Mind Fuzz treats you to wild transitions, fuzzed up vocals, spiraling out of control instruments and plenty of energy that feels new and fresh. Funky turns and psychedelic jams are just a few descriptions for I’m In Your Mind Fuzz – “Exciting new band to check out,” is the only way to describe King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.



King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard: I’m In Your Mind Fuzz [Fire Note Review 11/12/14]

#7

parquet-courts-sunbathing-animal Parquet Courts
Sunbathing Animal
What’s Your Rupture? / Mom & Pop Music [2014]

Could Sunbathing Animal be better than their excellent last record? I kept thinking I was missing something because it is rare for lighting to strike twice, so I cautiously kept listening to the NYC band Parquet Courts post-punk/slacker indie rock. Sunbathing Animal is a sharp and smart record that finds a classic punk groove that will remind you of Wire and several more punk art bands. No question – Top 10 material.



Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal [Fire Note Review 6/25/14]

#6

mac-demarco-salad-days Mac DeMarco
Salad Days
Captured Tracks [2014]

Mac DeMarco grows up? With Salad Days – Yes. Mac DeMarco is a great pop songwriter in the tradition of his 60’s idols and Salad Days has such a cool laid back vibe that it becomes a classic. DeMarco is on the verge of bigger venues and wider success – Salad Days will always be the record which put him there.



Mac DeMarco: Salad Days [Fire Note Review 4/1/14]

#5

10_404_404_525_exhex_rips_2500px Ex Hex
Rips
Merge Records [2014]

Ex Hex has quickly become one of the best female power trios on the music scene today. Rips brings back a classic sound of rock n roll that kindles the spirits of the Ramones, Joan Jett’s Runaways and even a little Cheap Trick. It is a fun never slow down type of record that finds an electric chemistry between these three women that not only makes Rips stronger with every replay but also a whole lot of fun!



Ex Hex: Rips [Fire Note Review 10/6/14]

#4

gbv-motivational-jumpsuite Guided By Voices
Motivational Jumpsuit
Guided By Voices Inc. [2014]

GBV hit a home run with their strongest “classic lineup reunion” album yet! Motivational Jumpsuit has the classic seamless transitions of early era GBV while providing big time rock hooks. The thundering “Planet Score” is easily one of the best tracks the current configuration released while the rollicking “Alex and the Omegas,” is the strongest album closer. Motivational Jumpsuit surly will be remembered!



Guided By Voices: Motivational Jumpsuit [Fire Note Review 2/14/14]

#3

sun-kil-moon-benji Sun Kil Moon
Benji
Caldo Verde Records [2014]

Benji is one of the most intense lyrical driven records you will ever here. Sun Kil Moon takes a deep look at life here that sometimes is tough to hear twice but the record’s superb musicianship makes it go down easier. Benji is an album that not only stands up as one of the best releases this year, but will remain an excellent and timeless piece of work that will be enjoyed years from now.



Sun Kil Moon: Benji [Fire Note Review 2/12/14]

#2

war-on-drugs-lost-in-dream The War On Drugs
Lost In The Dream
Secretly Canadian Records [2014]

We don’t call albums “instant classics” very often but that is exactly how we feel about The War On Drugs, Lost In The Dream. It’s got it all, great instrumentation, a great vocal and melody, and a cool vibe. It is album that takes some dedication as it passes the one hour mark but it is completely worth the investment as you will just sit in stunned silence upon its conclusion. That is a priceless feeling when it comes to music and The War On Drugs make it happen!



The War On Drugs: Lost In The Dream [Fire Note Review 3/18/14]

#1

ty-segall-manipulator Ty Segall
Manipulator
Drag City Records [2014]

Manipulator was such a different record for Ty Segall. It has a polished production, is 56 minutes long, mellow in parts, groovy in others and contains many surprises. A great double album has to be impeccably sequenced in order to keep the listener from getting ear fatigue. Manipulator does just that and lets Segall show that he is a master of his craft. The scorching guitar on “Feel” alone placed this album at the top for us but it is really about how Segall effortlessly moves between styles and masters them all. He has put out many great albums over the past few years, but this is his best.

Ty Segall: Manipulator [Fire Note Review 8/26/14]

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