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.
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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
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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
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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”
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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
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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
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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

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

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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

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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 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)

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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.

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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.

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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 Fire Note Top Albums of 2014: Writer Edition

writer picks 2014
The Fire Note wouldn’t be possible without the talented writers that have signed on here to share their educated thoughts and true enjoyment of music with our readers.

Our year end Top 50 is coming early next week but clearly everyone has different tastes and ideas when naming the best album released in 2014.

So without any other delay I give you The Fire Note Writer Picks of 2014. Thanks again to all the contributors!

Kevin Poindexter

1. Guided by Voices – Motivational Jumpsuit
2. Ty Segall – Manipulator
3. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
4. Guided by Voices – Cool Planet
5. White Fence – For the Recently Found Innocent
6. TV on the Radio – Seeds
7. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
8. Sweet Apple – The Golden Age of Glitter
9. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
10. Woods – With Light and With Love
11. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
12. Thurston Moore – The Best Day
13. Circulatory System – Mosaics Within Mosaics
14. Connections – Into Sixes
15. Death of Samantha – If Memory Serves Us Well
16. Ex Hex – Rips
17. Mogwai – Rave Tapes
18. Passenger Peru – Passenger Peru
19. Circus Devils – Escape
20. Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger – Midnight Sun
21. Doug Gillard – Parade On
22. Needles//Pins – Shamebirds
23. Cleaners From Venus – Return to Bohemia
24. Strand of Oaks – Heal
25. Blank Pages – Blank Pages

Honorable Mentions: Tweedy, Bobby Bare Jr., Straight Arrows, Cheatahs, Vertical Scratchers, Damon Albarn, Drive-By Truckers, Gruff Rhys, Len Price 3, Nones, Off, Owls, Ryan Adams, Shellac, The New Mendicants, Wand

Christopher Tahy

1. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
2. Ty Segall – Manipulator
3. tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack
4. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – I’m In Your Mind Fuzz
5. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World
6. Wand – Ganglion Reef
7. Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
8. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
9. Ex Hex – Rips
10. Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s – Slingshot to Heaven
11. Lonesome Shack – More Primitive
12. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
13. Antemasque – Antemasque
14. Arms of Tripoli – Dream In Tongues
15. White Fence – For the Recently Found Innocent
16. Grouper – Ruins
17. The Shine Brothers – Hello Griefbirds!
18. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
19. Swans – To Be Kind
20. Circus Devils – Escape
21. Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright In the End
22. Curtis Harding – Soul Power
23. Buffalo Killers – Heavy Reverie
24. Lab Partners – Seven Seas
25. Jack White – Lazaretto

Matthew Heiner

1. Spoon – They Want My Soul
2. How To Dress Well – What Is This Heart?
3. The War on Drugs – Lost In The Dream
4. Black Pistol Fire – Hush or Howl
5. Gem Club – In Roses
6. Damien Jurado – Brothers & Sisters of the Eternal Son
7. Real Estate – Atlas
8. Faces on Film – Elite Lines
9. Against Me – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
10. New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
11. Caribou – Our Love
12. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
13. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
14. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
15. Bleachers – Strange Desire
16. Kahoots – Take To The Fields
17. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
18. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
19. Army Navy – The Wilderness Inside
20. Ex Hex – Rips
21. Beck – Morning Phase
22. St Vincent – St. Vincent
23. Owen Pallett – In Conflict
24. Jack White – Lazaretto
25. OK Go – Hungry Ghosts

Simon Workman

1. Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete (box set)
2. Guided By Voices – Motivational Jumpsuit
3. Circus Devils – Escape
4. Grateful Dead – Spring 1990: The Other One (box set)
5. Pink Floyd – The Endless River
6. Guided By Voices – Cool Planet
7. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
8. Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust
9. Teenage Guitar – More Lies From The Gooseberry Bush
10. Philip Selway – Weatherhouse
11. Copeland – Ixora
12. Temples – Sun Structures
13. Speaking Suns – Vanishing Country
14. Grateful Dead – Dave’s Picks vol. 11: November 17, 1972
15. Phish – Fuego
16. Antemasque – Antemasque
17. Cool Ghouls – A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye
18. Spoon – They Want My Soul
19. Nick Mitchell – Prayers From The Petri Dish
20. Chris Staples – American Soft
21. Tame Impala – Live Versions (RSD exclusive)
22. Circulatory System – Mosaics Within Mosaics
23. Eyelids – 854
24. The Donkeys – Ride the Black Wave
25. Robert Plant – Lullaby And . . . The Ceaseless Roar

Scot Lade

1. Guided By Voices – Motivational Jumpsuit
Whereas the final GbV record, Cool Planet, left me a little cold the penultimate one, released all the way back in February is a gem. Packed with memorable songs, great melodies and sequenced in a very satisfying way, Motivational Jumpsuit should have been the band’s swan song. Moreover, “Planet Score” is the best Pollard song of the reunion era and almost single-handedly gives the boys from Dayton the top spot. That the other songs are top-notch doesn’t hurt either.

2. Yellow Ostrich – Cosmos
Coming on the heels of two very strong outings (2011’s The Mistress and 2012’s Strange Land) it came as no surprise that Alex Schaaf and company released another solid record. What was surprising, however, was just how good Cosmos was. Sounding like a real band for the first time Yellow Ostrich swung for the fences with their head in the firmament. Rich, varied and full of queer left turns, this was one album I couldn’t stop listening to.

3. Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope
Prog supergroup consisting of Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings), Neal Morse (ex-Spock’s Beard). Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) and Pete Trewavas (Marillion) put it all together on their fourth album. This is no Asia or Velvet Revolver. No sir. This is the best progressive rock since the heyday of Yes, ELP, Genesis and Pink Floyd. Complex yet oddly approachable, even the epic tracks seem to fly by with an ease and grace. Not for everyone’s tastes to be sure but one fine record.

4. Together PANGEA – Badillac
There’s nothing groundbreaking going on here – just some really good songs played with the passion of a punk band, the ear of a pop band and the hooks of stadium-filling capital “r” rock band. The songs are pretty ridiculous but they stuck in my brain and I haven’t been able to get them out all year. This record sounds exactly like what a Burger Records act moving to Harvest Records should: loud but smart.

5. Spoon – They Want My Soul
Yet another quality LP from these guys. It gets a bit redundant having to place the latest Spoon record on a year-end list but here we go again. Although offering very little in the way of new ideas or a broader sonic pallete there’s really no need for that, is there?. Spoon does what they do so well that it would be a shame if they strayed to far from their comfort zone. Remember when The Ramones tried that? Neither do I.

6. St. Vincent – s/t
7. Thee Oh Sees – Drop
8. Warpaint – s/t
9. Quilt – Held In Splendor
10. Sleepy Sun – Maui Tears
11. Ty Segall – Manipulator
12. Owls – II
13. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
14. Temples – Sun Structures
15. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – IX
16. Liars – Mess
17. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Wig Out At Jagbags
18. Popstrangers – Fortuna
19. Knifeworld – The Unravelling
20. Swans – To Be Kind
21. Yes – Heaven & Earth
22. Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita
23. Augustines – s/t
24. Half Japanese – Overjoyed
25. Mogwai – Rave Tapes

Daniel Taylor

1. Passenger Peru – S/T
2. Guided By Voices – Motivational Jumpsuit
3. Sleaford Mods – Divide and Exit
4. Low Fat Getting High – S/T
5. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
6. Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – Party Jail
7. The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader
8. Smug Brothers – On the Way to the Punchline
9. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
10. Grass Is Green – Vacation Vinny
11. Fat White Family – Champagne Holocaust
12. Tungs – Not For Grandma
13. People – 3xaWoman
14. Greys – If Anything
15. Kahoots – Take To The Fields
16. Slippertails – There’s A Disturbing Trend
17. Street Eaters – Blood::Muscles::Bones
18. White Fence – For the Recently Found Innocent
19. Ausmuteants – Order of Operation
20. Francisco the Man – Loose Ends
21. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Wig Out at Jagbags
22. Dope Body – Lifer
23. Unicycle Loves You – The Dead Age
24. Joseph Airport – Stronger and Better
25. Paws – Youth Culture Forever

Brian Q. Newcomb

1. The Choir – Shadow Weaver (Galaxy 21)
Centered around the spacey, ambient soundscapes of Derri Daugherty and Marc (Hammock) Byrd’s haunting guitar textures – part Cocteau Twins, part Pink Floyd – and Daugherty’s warm melodic vocals, Shadow Weaver is arguably their best since 1990’s Circle Slide. Working in near obscurity, The Choir have been producing strong alternative pop releases since the mid-80’s, harnessing the uniquely intimate lyrics of drummer Steve Hindalong, as they do here to great effect on “What You Think I Am,” “Get Gone” and “White Knuckles.” This has been my most played recording in recent months, and now it’s my selection for the Best of 2014.

2. The Strypes – Snapshot (Photo Finish/Island)
Once in a while, a band comes along whose fresh, energetic approach to classic rootsy rock & roll rekindles one’s love of the music. These youthful bluesy pop/rockers exhibit a love for early Stones, Beatles and Yardbirds, but play with the punk energy of the Replacements. It’s enough to restore one’s faith in the power of music.

3. The Black Keys – Turn Blue (Nonesuch)
On True Blue, the “Lonely Boy” band gets really lonely and the result is more subtle, but no less intense approach to blues as seen through the eyes of modern rockers Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. Ostensibly a quieter, more nuanced effort, Turn Blue is a break-up record that works even if you’re staying together for the long haul.

4. TV on the Radio – Seeds (Harvest)
TV on the Radio has built a long, rich history on creative experiments that mix a prog-rock sensibility with R&B emotionality and hip-hop technology. Seeds’ thrives on great pop hooks and accessible melodies, sure to connect across a wider spectrum of serious music listeners.

5. Gary Clark Jr. – Live (Warner Bros.)
A blues guitarist is only as good as his/her live sound. With Live, Clark proves that his sound matches all the hype that he is blues/rock guitar’s best hope for the future by delivering the goods. This guy sounds like the real deal.

6. The Both – The Both (SuperEgo)
This collaboration of Aimee Mann and Ted Leo is pure, power pop perfection. Great songs, punchy rhythms, smart lyrics and harmonies… it’s totally contagious.

7. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye (Reprise)
Outside of New Jersey, Petty’s Heartbreaker cohorts are arguably the best long-time rock ‘n roll band working today. Amped up by Petty’s gritty songs about the unraveling of the American dream, they’re back with all the piss & vinegar we’ve come to expect.

8. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian)
On this third studio disc, these Philadelphia-based rockers stretch out in atmospheric bliss, a blend of Dylanesque Americana lyricism and soaring ambient jam band excursions. What’s not to love?

9. St. Vincent – St. Vincent (Loma Vista/Republic)
Annie Clark brings plenty of smarts to her bubblegum electro/funk synth pop, and surprises us with a hip, gritty guitar soloing that demands serious consideration. That she pulls it all together with wit and charm, suggests we’ll be hearing a lot more from this Saint.

10. Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes (Columbia)
I know, I know. All the cool kids think Bruce is so yesterday’s news, and High Hopes is supposedly mostly covers, album outtakes from 2012’s Wrecking Ball, and previously released material re-imagined. But you’d never know that from listening. The title track, written by Tim Scott McConnell, espouses a working class ethos of belief in the possibility of a full life, and Springsteen’s own “American Skin (41 shots)” may have been inspired by events in NYC in 2000, but could as easily have come out of Ferguson, MO. Of course, a lot of the energy here comes from guitarist Tom Morrello (of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave), who breathes new life into Bruce’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” a song Rage often performed life.

11. Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil – Goliath (Splint)
One of my favorite albums of all time is a little known band, Chagall Guevara (MCA, 1991), featuring singer Steve Taylor. The arrival of this Perfect Foil disc, popping with the bold guitar sounds of Jimmy Abegg, the deep bass grooves of John Mark Painter, and the frantic rhythms of drummer Peter Furler driving Taylor to make a serious rock & roll album all these years later… well, it’s like Christmas.

12. U2 – Songs of Innocence (Island)
Never mind that it arrived for free in everyone’s iTunes account (although that was a problem for you, really?), Songs of Innocence finds the Irish quartet writing and performing at the top of their game. Surprisingly Danger Mouse’s production is crisp and direct, as the songs explore their earliest inspirations and experiences, as in “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” and Bono’s tribute to his mother, “Iris (Hold Me Close).” Of course, if you are all about Kanye West, you could easily delete, right?

13. Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways (Roswell/RCA)
Too be honest, I liked the HBO shows about the cities where they recorded the 8 tracks a lot more than I like the album. Although at times, Dave Grohl seemed surprisingly uninformed about music outside of his small piece of the pie in alternative, punk & rock, still it was great to see him giddy with curiosity as he interviewed luminaries like Buddy Guy, Dr. John and Allen Toussaint, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris. While the music here is pretty much what you’d expect from Foo Fighters, it’s fun to hear Grohl site Muddy Waters and quote Guy’s line about “looking for a dime, and found a quarter,” in the song “Something for Nothing.” It would have been nice to see the music evolve beyond the FF formula, but it’s certainly cool to include artists like Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, Gary Clark, Jr., and Joe Walsh in the band’s work.

14. Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (Highway 20)
A goddess of Americana, Lucinda Williams surrounds herself with players that can support her raggedly honest songs with their bluesy, R&B and country roots. On this long double CD, she relies on the solid guitar talents of Tony Joe White, Greg Leisz and others, as well as the recently deceased former Stones-sideman Ian McLagan, who sat in playing the Wurlitzer organ. But the real draw here are these great, smart, emotionally potent songs, and that voice… of course, that voice.

15. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams (Pax AM)
Ryan Adams has come a long, long way from Whiskeytown. With great solo records like Gold, Jacksonville City Nights, and his last mostly acoustic disc in 2011, Ashes & Fire, it’s obvious he’s a solid songwriter, and as he showed on Rock N Roll he can rock when he wants to. He plays all the guitars and sings with soulful energy, supported by a crack band that includes Heartbreaker keyboardist Benmont Tench. On “Gimme Something Good” and “My Wrecking Ball,” songs whose title suggest other songs by other artists, Adams carves out a space for his songs on their own terms.

16. Bill Mallonee – Winnowing (billmallonee.net)
In recent years, the former Vigilantes of Love leader, Bill Mallonee has packed up his prolific homegrown singer/songwriter enterprise and moved it from Athens, GA to New Mexico, where together with his wife Muriah Rose he continues to deliver literate, finely crafted songs. Playing most of the instruments here, guitars & harmonica, drums, the works, Mallonee’s voice has taken on a worn world weariness as he sings about “The New Dark Age,” and a “Room Full of Woe.” What sustains Mallonee and gives light and hope to these songs is the possibility of love. We all may face “Those Locust Years,” he sings, but in the “Dew Drop Inn,” “stories got told and drinks were poured, and for a moment it was heaven here.”

17. The Hold Steady – Teeth Dreams (Washington Square/Razor & Tie)
With the addition of Steve Selvidge, Craig Finn’s songs of quiet desperation have gotten a lot louder, and that’s a very good thing. If the song’s narratives of longing and frustration don’t win you over, there’s a lot of great rock guitar on this one.

18. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! (Warp)
Some times music writers use the word experimental to describe an artist whose out to stretch the envelope, break new ground. While the effort is always to be celebrated, the results do not always make for an enjoyable listening experience. Eclectic producer, Steven Ellison (AKA Flying Lotus) has managed to bridge the divides between acid jazz and hip-hop, cover lots of ground in between on this largely instrumental work. Collaborators include jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock, rappers Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar, but mostly its Ellison’s keen ear that makes these brief strange juxtapositions in sound stand together as an artful whole. Not sure why, exactly, but he’s got me thinking about Frank Zappa.

19. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble/Xtra Mile)
As the title suggests, this album represents and describes the transition of Against Me!’s singer/songwriter as a transgender woman, now using the name Laura Jane Grace. As a band they take on this deeply personal struggle with the same bold angry crunchy punk rock that made “White People for Peace” and “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” so much fun. Grace & Co. continue to deliver all the hard edged energy we’ve come to expect, with lyrics that unearth the pain and perplexity of realizing your body’s wrongly gendered. Probably not safe for work, or around the children unless you’re ready for one of those awkward conversations.

20. The Afghan Whigs – Do To the Beast (Sub Pop)
And speaking of artists NSFW, it took 16 years but Greg Dulli has reunited with lead guitarist Rick McCollum and bassist John Curley to reform Afghan Whigs, one of the truly great alternative rock bands of the 90s. Dulli has kept busy with The Twilight Singers as have the others, but Do To the Beast while somewhat reflective of their aging/maturing realities, represents a remarkable return to form. The band rocks with intensity, never losing sight of Dulli’s inate interest in the song’s melody, often expressing his interest in R&B and soul music.

21. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers (Matador)
This collection of Vancouver musicians has delivered accessible indie pop masterpieces across their 15 year history. Of course, Neko Case’s solo career has also taken off over the course of this band, but in this setting she’s more content to let A.C. Newman handle the lion’s share of songwriting with a few thrown in by Daniel Bejar. Brill Bruisers is an almost entirely uptempo affair, buoyant and celebrative, filled with synth keyboard fills and harmony choruses.

22. Spoon – They Want My Soul (Loma Vista)
Austin’s Spoon delivers soulful indie pop/rock that has few peers. They Want My Soul comes after a four year break, but returns to their sturdy reliable song hooks and energetic dance club delivery. This is something worth rewarding.

23. Tweedy – Sukierae (dBpm)
Jeff Tweedy’s first solo album after forming Wilco out of the ashes of Uncle Tupelo is a family affair, with his son Spencer on drums and much of the material written as love songs to his ailing wife. As such, songs like “Low Key” and “I’ll Sing It” are not only the closest he’s come to writing pop songs in a while, but they’re also some of his most personal and intimate reflections.

24. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots (Warner Bros./Parophone)
In the 90s, Albarn was the frontman for Britpop icons Blur, and in the 00s he was the creative energy behind the virtual hip-hop band Gorillaz. After all that, Everyday Robots is his solo debut, exuding a lot of the expected British brand of clever on a pretty serious recording dominated by ballads.

25. Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright in the End (Republic)
For this ninth studio album, Weezer returned to work with the producer of their first two albums, Ric Ocasek (formerly of The Cars). In a move that echoes their single “Back to the Shack,” Rivers Cuomo returns the band to the hard rocking, pop hook laden sound that made “Billy Holly” and other early songs perennial favorites. And it worked.

Sophie Gross

1. Alex G – DSU
The bedroom pop, dorm room recorded band from Philadelphia, Alex G released an album under the DIY label, Orchid Tapes in June 2014, DSU. The melodic pop album includes a range of songs, from the lo-fi experimental tracks such as “rejoyce” and “icehead” to the tracks that include piano, “boy” and “tripper.”

2. Foxes in Fiction – Ontario Gothic
Foxes in Fiction’s newest release, Ontario Gothic is one of my favorite albums of the year. Ontario Gothic is a lo-fi, pop album with a dreamy, beautiful feel. Warren Hildebrand who runs the label Orchid Tapes, released, recorded and wrote the album.

3. Spencer Radcliffe/R.L Kelly – Brown Horse
R.L Kelly and Spencer Radcliffe collaborated to release a split under Orchid Tapes in October. I was already such a fan of Rachael’s work. However, I wasn’t very familiar with Spencer Radcliffe, whose side was exceptional. His lyrics were fascinating and the Borat reference was a nice touch. I loved the instrumental track “teen porn” on Rachael’s half of the split. Overall, an amazing album!

4. Orchid Tapes – Boring Ecstasy
This year, Orchid Tapes released a fourteen track compilation. It includes several songs from artists who also released full length albums throughout the year. The compilation is a great introduction to many of the label’s artists, and a good place to start if you’re new to Orchid Tapes. Anything under Orchid never disappoints, every band is so different, and unique. The frontman of the label, Warren Hildebrand’s attention to detail really pays off and makes the listening experience so much more special.

5. Ricky Eat Acid – Three Love Songs
Ricky Eat Acid’s Three Love Songs had to be one of the most interesting albums of 2014 in my opinion. The Ambient pop album grabs your attention, and doesn’t let go until the last song “Starting over” is finished. It is one of the most beautiful albums I have listened to in a very long time.

6. Frankie Cosmos – Affirms Glinting
Frankie Cosmos, without a doubt has to be one of my favorite artists. I find myself listening to her all the time in the halls at school, and humming “feeling alive” on the walk home. I think that her music is very relatable, and I can always find a song to suit my mood.

7. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Angel Olsen released Burn Your Fire For No Witness at the beginning of 2014. The eleven track album leaves you completely satisfied. Angel Olsen has one of the most interesting voices. Her voice combined with her emotional, and thought provoking lyrics just add up to a great album.

8. QUARTERBOY – QUARTERBOY
QUARTERBACKS released their album, QUARTERBOY this year under double double whammy records. QUARTERBOY contains several songs from their previous album, SPORTSCENTER, as well as some new ones. The album includes twelve lo-fi, songs with a nostalgic feel.

9. Frankie Cosmos – Zentropy
Greta Kline of Porches released a new album under her project Frankie Cosmos. The album includes rather sad lyrics with upbeat, catchy tunes. Kline tells stories of the stresses of art school, love, childhood, and the death of a pet in only 17 minutes.

10. Ghoul School – Casino Hearts
Casino Hearts’s album Ghoul School is a really pretty album, with a really cool idea behind it. The songs are all about teenage monsters. The original idea was supposed to be a zine, but without the help pf artists, fell through. It resulted in this twelve track album with song titles such as “Wolfboy” and “Meet Me By The Lockers” instead.

11. Tomorrow’s Tulips – When
The band under Burger Record’s; Tomorrow’s Tulips album When was definitely a favorite of mine this year. My favorite tracks off the album were “Glued to you” and “Baby.”

12. Cherry Glazer – Haxel Princess
Haxel Princess by Cherry Glazer was released early this year, The pop rock album is very upbeat and the lyrics are fun and catchy, It was one of my favorite albums over the summer, and one that my friends and I constantly blare with the windows down.

13. Whatever, Dad – 100% Take Me Home!+Grade Pending
This album was the first time I had listened to Whatever, Dad which is The lead singer of, Crying, Elaiza Santos’s project. The album has such pretty vocals, complete with the song “Noogie”-a cover of Weezer’s “Undone- The Sweater Song.”

14. Spencer Radcliffe – Keeper
Keeper, Spencer Radcliffe’s album came out in July of this year. I hadn’t listened to him much until my attention was grabbed by his Brown Horse split with R.L Kelly and I had to listen to more of his music. I really enjoyed this album as well as the others available on his bandcamp page.

15. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
Anything by Mac Demarco is guaranteed to be fun. His newest release, Salad Days is no exception, the dream pop album always puts you in a good mood. Mac’s laid back lyrics from his gaped-tooth mouth along with his chill music are always a good listen. Mac definitely knows how to keep it real.

16. Ty Segall – Manipulator
It is no shock that Ty Segall’s newest album Manipulator was amazing. Anything that Ty Segall puts out is bound to excite, and his seventh album Manipulator was one of my favorites so far.

17. Mister Lies – Shadow
Another release under Orchid Tapes was a favorite of mine this past year(what a surprise) I seem to just love anything they put out-what can I say?! I found the band through Orchid’s website, and gave them a listen. The album is soft and pretty and the lyrics are raw and personal.

18. Radiator Hospital – Torch Song
The band from Philadelphia, Radiator Hospital released an album in September. The bedroom lo-fi pop album features several songs that are lyrically driven. My favorite track was “Cut your bangs.”

19. Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again
Joyce Manor is a band that I grew to really like after introduced to them a few years back by my older brother. Therefore, I was really excited for their newest release. Never Hungover Again was such an impressive album, but in my opinion nothing by them will ever top their self-titled.

20. Wax Witches – Centre of Your Universe
Wax Witches released their newest album Centre of Your Universe in September. The tracks are lo-fi pop-punk and experimental. The band’s lead singer Alex Wall was formerly part of The Bleeding Knees Club.

The Fire Note Writer Picks 2013

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The Fire Note wouldn’t be possible without the talented writers that have signed on here to share their educated thoughts and true enjoyment of music with our readers.

Our year end Top 50 is coming later this week but clearly everyone has different tastes and ideas when naming the best album released in 2013.

So without any other delay I give you The Fire Note Writer Picks of 2013. Thanks again to all the contributors!

Kevin Poindexter

1. Robert Pollard: Blazing Gentlemen
2. Mikal Cronin: MCII
3. Roomrunner: Ideal Cities
4. Guided by Voices: English Little League
5. Jason Isbell: Southeastern
6. David Bowie: The Next Day
7. Connections: Body Language
8. Robert Pollard: Honey Locust Honky Tonk
9. White Fence: Live in San Francisco
10. Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt
11. T. Hardy Morris: Audition Tapes
12. Oblivians: Desperation
13. Suede: Bloodsports
14. Deerhunter: Monomania
15. Jackson Scott: Melborne

Christopher Tahy

15. Charles Bradley: Victim of Love
I’ve always had a general interest in soul music, but Charles Bradley pushed that into a slight obsession. Being backed by Menahan Street Band, “The Screaming Eagle of Soul” is able to think out side the box while pushing for the classic gospel and soul tones of the 50’s and 60’s.

14. Unknown Mortal Orchestra: II
Ruban Nielson has always been an impressive musician. So the fact that I look at other end of year lists and see II absent is quite surprising. Keeping the flow constant and writing one of the strongest album openings of the year with “From the Sun” and “Swim and Sleep (Like A Shark)” easily makes this one of my top 15.

13. Hooded Fang: Gravez
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again these guys and gal need to be heard. Releasing one of the most abstract garage/pop albums this year Hooded Fang shows no signs of slowing. With tracks that have stuck with me all year like the ever intense “Graves” and the psycho, sunny “Wasteland” it’s instant happiness with each listen.

12. Ty Segall: Sleeper
I’m a huge Ty Segall fan so the fact that he can release an album as emotionally impactful as Sleeper was a win for everyone. While battling the weary throws of loss and disregard Ty focuses that into infectious melodies that just burrow into your brain for days. This “uncrowned king of rock” can write more that just a stoney riff, showing his reflective side works too.

11. Thee Oh Sees: Floating Coffin
Thee Oh Sees have never let me down and 2013 continues to be a strong year for them. Not even a year after releasing 2012’s Putrifiers II they come back with the equally impressive Floating Coffin. The whole album keeps the freaky fun coming, and “Minotaur” is one of my favorite Sees tracks – and one of my favorite tracks of the year. That is no small feat.

10. Neko Case: The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight
Neko is never a let down, her last album Middle Cyclone was just the tip of the iceberg and only left us wanting more. Also, sadly absent from a lot of end of the year lists The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight is exactly the more that we’d been looking for. One of the most lush and well produced albums I’ve heard all year. Neko’s vocals just melt into your ears, but when the time calls for it Case isn’t afraid to show her dominant side.

9. The National: Trouble Will Find Me
For me it’s always easy to look forward to a new National release, especially when their back catalogue is so good. Trouble Will Find Me-in my opinion-has its’ troubles getting started. But with strong songs like “Sea of Love,” “Heavenfaced,” and “Humiliation” among others it’s easily a top 10 for me.

8. FUZZ: FUZZ
If there was ever a thing such a spiritual music guides, In The Red Recordings would have to be mine. With many of their reissues and release they seem to know me almost perfectly. Ty Segall’s trio FUZZ is no exception. Providing some of the burliest riffs all year FUZZ is perfect for anyone that just wants to rock out.

7. Speedy Ortiz: Major Arcana
Anyone who can pull off poetry mixed with Pavement has my vote for the 7th spot. Speedy Ortiz’s debut Major Arcana set the critics on fire with its’ refusal to hide away from a druggy 90’s. It’s a good thing they didn’t because they sure found their sweet spot.

6. Deafheaven: Sunbather
Guys, I finally get it. Sunbather is an impressive album. It might take a few listens but this strong brew is defiantly ready to intoxicate. Taking cues from black metal, shoegaze, noise, and many others. Deafheaven have a right to be proud by creating one of the years most enveloping works.

5. My Bloody Valentine: m b v
If Deafheaven take part in being the disciples then My Bloody Valentine are the master. Like my friend Steve said, “This isn’t Loveless, the guy who recorded that is long gone.” That being said My Bloody Valentine’s mellow affair is something to appreciate-especially after 22 years in the making. Love it or hate it it’s still My Bloody Valentine and that’s all that matters.

4. Queens of the Stone Age: Like Clockwork…
Just as everything changes so do opinions, QOTSA’s Like Clockwork… is quite the knock out. Not only does it posses the best riff of the year with “My God Is the Sun,” but its’ mix of rock n roll, sex appeal, and even beauty make it an easy shoe in for the #4 spot.

3. Grouper: The Man Who Died In His Boat
If you want to talk atmospheric minimalism then look no further than Liz Harris’ Grouper. An album packed with weird depth The Man Who Died In His Boat showcases a sultry, arty, and druggy affair that’s sure to lure anyone who dares to listen.

2. Rose Windows: The Sun Dogs
Shame on you Pitchfork for skipping out on this one. Sub Pop’s Rose Windows released one of the best debuts all year. Taking a classic formula and injecting it with their own collective brands and mantras. The Sun Dogs is easy to listen to again and again and again. A shoe in for number 2.

1. Morningbell: Bôa Noite
Why any album with theatric grandiosities overtook me this year I have no idea. But, with Bôa Noite Morningbell seemed to map my archetype. It’s confidence without pretension and theatrics that don’t overwhelm. Taking on so many styles and references, then fitting them together like a puzzle is an impressive feat which makes this my #1.

Matthew Heiner

1. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
2. Pity Sex – Feast of Love
3. Mikal Cronin – MCII
4. Kanye West – Yeezus
5. City and Colour – The Hurry and The Harm
6. Thundercat – Apocalypse
7. Casey Black – Lay You In The Loam
8. Atlas Genius – When It Was Now
9. Diane Coffee – My Friend Fish
10. MiniBoone – MiniBoone
11. Kings of Leon – Mechanical Bull
12. No Age – An Object
13. Boxer Rebellion – Promises
14. Ski Lodge – Big Heart
15. Wavves – Afraid of Heights

Matt also sent his 16th which was Queens of the Stone Age: Like Clockwork…

Simon Workman

1. Bob Dylan: Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) — The Bootleg Series Vol. 10
Every Bootleg Series release is a treat, but this one is extra-special. Two discs of amazing material from one of Dylan’s most underrated periods.

2. (TIE) Robert Pollard: Honey Locust Honky Tonk & Blazing Gentlemen
I honestly can’t decide between these two—some days I’m in the mood for the more introspective, quirky Honey Locust, others the chunky riffs of Blazing Gentlemen. Luckily, I don’t have to choose, because as soon as I’m finished with one, I can put on the other.

4. Grateful Dead: Sunshine Daydream (Veneta, OR 8/27/1972)
One of the Dead’s most-requested shows finally released, and with good reason. Fresh off their Europe ’72 tour, the band blazes through a nearly 3-hour set list that includes a half-hour long “Dark Star.” If you don’t like the Grateful Dead then this won’t convince you, but if you’re already on the bus, you NEED this set (which includes the concert film).

5. Surrogate: Post Heroic
One of this year’s strongest albums front to back, each song a perfect blend of earworm melodies, diverse textures, and thoughtful lyrics. Don’t miss out on this one.

6. Iron & Wine: Ghost On Ghost
Sam Beam has been a favorite of mine for a long time, and Ghost on Ghost’s jazzier feel had me hooked from the first few tracks. He may no longer be whispering homespun bedroom folk into a hissy tape recorder, but he still knows how to write a great song.

7. The Flaming Lips: The Terror
I know a lot of the guys here at Fire Note HQ weren’t feeling this one, but for me the cold, abrasive sound of The Terror is what makes it great—the Lips finally made that Halloween space alien krautrock record we always knew they wanted to.

8. Eisley: Currents
After a tough few years, Eisley triumphantly returned this year with Currents, their best record in years. It’s everything we ever loved about Eisley—the harmonies, moody atmosphere, odd-yet-charming lyrics—all wrapped into some of the most affecting songs the Dupree sisters have ever written.

9. Guided By Voices: English Little League
2013 was the year I finally got on board the GBV wagon, so this is almost here by default… almost. While English Little League isn’t quite as consistent as Class Clown Spots a UFO or The Bears for Lunch, there are plenty of high points that more than make up for it (Xeno Pariah, Islands, Send to Celeste, Noble Insect, Flunky Minnows, W/Glass In Foot… need I go on?).

10. My Bloody Valentine: m b v
One of the surprises of 2013 for me, since – like GBV – I came rather late to the party with My Bloody Valentine. But m b v is a great listen from start to finish, full of subtleties that keep you coming back for more.

11. The National: Trouble Will Find Me
Proving once again (as if they needed to) that they’re one of the most consistent bands around, The National keep the ball rolling with Trouble Will Find Me. Another winner to add to their already impressive back catalog.

12. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City
This one takes a little longer to sink in than the last two albums, but it’s worth the effort. The slightly calmer, less frenetic pace lets the songs breathe a bit, and there are still enough curveballs to keep you guessing what they’ll do next.

13. Wiretree: Get Up
Another huge surprise for me, Get Up’s ten tracks are full of classic rock hooks and the band’s talent for intricate arrangements shines through. One of the year’s best.

14. Subways on the Sun: The Honeymoon Stagecoach
High-energy alt-rock from the Pacific Northwest, Subways on the Sun’s debut shows what happens when a bunch of like minded first-class musicians come together to do what they love.

15. Mystic Braves (formerly known as Blackfeet Braves): Blackfeet Braves
2013 started off with a bang—this was my second or third review for The Fire Note, and it’s still one of my favorites from this year. Dusty southwest riffs meet Nuggets-style psych rock stompers on this impressive debut.

Scot Lade

1. Biffy Clyro: Opposites
2. Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt
3. Robert Pollard: Honey Locust Honky Tonk
4. Blood Ceremony: The Eldritch Dark
5. Of Montreal: Lousy With Sylvianbriar
6. Purson: The Circle And The Blue Door
7. The Dear Hunter: Migrant
8. Speedy Ortiz: Major Arcana
9. Arcade Fire: Reflektor
10. Yo La Tengo: Fade
11. David Bowie: The Next Day
12. Unknown Mortal Orchestra: II
13. Anna Calvi: One Breath
14. Local Natives: Hummingbird
15. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires Of The City

Scot couldn’t just stop there! Check out his next 10 below.

16. Deerhunter: Monomania
17. Medicine: To The Happy Few
18. Adam Franklin And Bolts Of Melody: Black Horses
19. Hospital Ships: Destruction In Yr Soul
20. Baths: Obsidian
21. Chelsea Wolfe: Pain Is Beauty
22. Sebadoh: Defend Yourself
23. White Denim: Corsicana Lemonade
24. Beach Fossils: Clash The Truth
25. Wavves: Afraid Of Heights

Michelle Morgan

1. Jake Bugg: Jake Bugg
2. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires Of The City
3. Jus Post Bellum: Oh July
4. WE ARE TWIN: We Are Twin EP
5. The Civil Wars: The Civil Wars
6. Wake Owl: Wild Country EP
7. The Lone Bellow: The Lone Bellow
8. The Head and the Heart: Let’s Be Still
9. The National: Trouble Will Find Me
10. The Avett Brothers: Magpie and the Dandelion
11. Kingsley: Flood Battles
12. The Love Language: Ruby Red
13. MGMT: MGMT
14. Jake Bugg: Shangri La
15. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

The Fire Note Writer Picks of 2012

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The Fire Note wouldn’t be possible without the talented writers that have signed on here to share their educated thoughts and true enjoyment of music with our readers. Our year end Top 50 was created based on reviews from the collective but clearly everyone has different tastes and ideas when naming the best album released in 2012. So without any other delay I give you The Fire Note Writer Picks of 2012. Thanks again to all the contributors!

Kevin Poindexter

1. Guided By Voices-The Bears For Lunch
2. Ty Segall-Twins
3. Guided By Voices-Class Clown Spots a UFO
4. GodspeedYou! Black Emperor-Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend
5. Japandroids-Celebration Rock
6. Redd Kross-Researching The Blues
7. Lotus Plaza-Spooky Action at a Distance
8. The Walkmen-Heaven
9. Guided By Voices-Let’s Go Eat The Factory
10. Woods-Bend Beyond
11. Ty Segall and White Fence-Hair
12. Neil Young & Crazy Horse-Psychedelic Pill
13. Motel Beds-Dumb Gold
14. The Fresh & Onlys-Long Slow Dance
15. Patterson Hood-Heat Lighting Rumbles in the Distance

Christopher Tahy

1. Tame Impala: Lonerism – Yes there may be better records that came out this year but for me this one was it. With its beautiful spacey sheen, other worldly audio, and careening through the cosmos vocals. Tame Impala’s Lonerism gives so much and is easily my top record for this year.

2. Jack White: Blunderbuss – This album presents amazing versatility and is a great, great listen. Plus, it also holds a bit of value to me because I used one of its tracks in my wedding. Very few have the swagger to write songs like Jack White and here he proves that in spades.

3. Japandroids: Celebration Rock – ENERGY, ENERGY, ENERGY. The title says it best as this is a celebration of rock. Big blazing guitars, shout along vocals, and a pour your heart into it mentality are enough to grab number 3 for me.

4. Various Artists: Alive At The Deep Blues Fest – Some of the best blues for every occasion. Please read the review as it one of the great things I’ve heard in a long time. Being at that fest must be like heaven on earth.

5. Ty Segall Band: Slaughterhouse – Breaking into the top 5 it has to be Ty Segall Band’s Slaughterhouse. Sadly I didn’t have time to listen to Segall’s Twins which I hear is just as excellent. What I do know is with its bad ass art work, fucked up 60’s sounds, and being it is one of my sons favorites this album just had to be in the top 5 for me.

6. Deftones: Koi No Yokan-Brutal – Heavy, sexy, and weirdly, embryonic are just some of the terms that come to mind when talking about some of the finest music to come out this year.

7. Pallbearer: Sorrow and Extinction – This album being released earlier in the year cannot be forgotten about. Its brooding sludge is poured straight into the listeners ears as its vocals easily mimic Ozzy Osbourne and are the icing on the stoney, sludge cake.

8. Murder By Death: Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon – A conceptual drama that crosses The National with Johnny Cash, what more could one ask for, I couldn’t think of anything.

9. Titus Andronicus: Local Business – If you ever wonder what Punky-tonk could sound like then this is the record for you. If this doesn’t make others end of the year lists then Titus got snubbed.

10. Dave Byrne & St. Vincent: Love This Giant – I think that this maybe is one of the most underrated albums this year. Plus I hold specific sentimental value to me as this was my first review here at The Fire Note. Also, I grew up listening to a lot of Talking Heads with my dad so this makes it extra special. It also doesn’t hurt that the music and arrangements are fantastic.

11. Thee Oh Sees: Putrifiers II – Many garage titans presented themselves this year so for these guys to make my top 15 is impressive. Like I said in the review “Just when you think Thee Oh Sees cannot have any more tricks up their sleeves, the comeback surprise and mystify”. It’s just great with Zombie style sock hoppers and Barrett era ballads, pretty perfect.

12. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Meat + Bone – Damn this one is funky, I feel that I may have under reviewed this record and didn’t give it the credit it deserved. So a good, hearty BLUES EXPLOSION to you Jon Spencer as on this record you haven’t changed a bit. Sex, scuzz, and skill shine through just as they did in the 90’s and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

13. Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s: Rot Gut, Domestic – Edwards and Co. always know how to write beautiful, emotional songs about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. This record is no exception containing some of my favorite Margot songs to date.

14. Sharon Van Etten: Tramp – A beautiful record, it’s like The National with a beautiful female singer.

15. West End Motel: Only Time Can Tell – Like I said, I may have given this album too much credit but the way they branched out is hard to ignore.

Matthew Heiner

1. How To Dress Well – Total Loss
2. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
3. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
4. Passion Pit – Gossamer
5. The Weeknd – Trilogy
6. AC Newman – Shut Down The Streets
7. Frank Ocean – channel Orange
8. Kishi Bashi – 151a
9. Twin Shadow – Confess
10. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
11. Beach House – Bloom
12. Guided by Voices – Class Clown Spots a UFO
13. The xx – Coexist
14. The Walkmen – Heaven
15. Best Coast – The Only Place

Christian Yates

1. Passion Pit – Gossamer
2. Hurt – The Crux
3. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
4. And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – Lost Songs
5. Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods
6. Coheed and Cambria – The Afterman: Ascension
7. Ben Folds Five – The Sound of the Life of the Mind
8. Guided by Voices – Class Clown Spots a UFO
9. The Shins – Port of Morrow
10. Cult of Youth – Love Will Prevail
11. Title Fight – Floral Green
12. Yellowcard – Southern Air
13. Anberlin – Vital
14. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
15. Monocle – Monocle

Alan Black

1. Led Zeppelin – Celebration Day (live)
2. Daphni – Jiaolong
3. The Weeknd – Trilogy
4. Bright Eyes – Fevers and Mirrors (reissue)
5. Sugar – Copper Blue / Beaster (reissue)
6. Sinéad O’Connor – How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?
7. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
8. Jason Lytle – Dept. of Disappearance
9. Moonrise Kingdom OST
10. Sleigh Bells – Treats

runners-up
The xx – Coexist
Sigur Rós – Valtari
Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Loudon Wainwright III – Older Than My Old Man Now
David Byrne / St. Vincent – Love This Giant

Michelle Morgan

1. Fun. – Some Nights
2. Imagine Dragons – Night Visions
3. The Lumineers – The Lumineers
4. Muse – The 2nd Law
5. Band of Horses – Mirage Rock
6. John the Conqueror – John the Conqueror
7. Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal
8. Coheed and Cambria – The Aftermath: Ascension
9. The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter
10. Neon Trees – Picture Show
11. Led Zeppelin – Celebration Day
12. Mumford and Sons – Babel
13. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
14. Grizzly Bear – Shields
15. Beach House – Bloom

Simon Workman

1. Bob Dylan – Tempest
2. Tame Impala – Lonerism
3. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself/Hands of Glory
4. The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
5. David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
6. The Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made The Radio
7. Denison Witmer – The Ones Who Wait
8. Grateful Dead – Spring 1990: So Glad You Made It
9. Lovedrug – Wild Blood
10. Sufjan Stevens – Silver & Gold (5-EP Christmas box set)
11. Brian Eno – Lux
12. Jack White – Blunderbuss
13. The Explorer’s Club – Grand Hotel
14. Sigur Ros – Valtari
15. fun. – Some Nights

Best Reissue: Paul & Linda McCartney -Ram (4 CD + 1 DVD Box Set)

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