25 Best Albums of 2015

best of 2015The new year is upon us, but before you start tackling those new years resolutions or detoxing from the holiday season, we want to offer one last rear view glimpse of the past year of music. 2015 brought about the end of a few hiatuses, introduced some new faces and there was a fair bit of self-examination and reinvention. Some great bands really proved why they have endured, some great songwriters stepped out on their own, some bands changed members or solidified lineups and a few debut albums shined bright. Heralding anything as the face of music to come is a pretty pointless exercise these days with tastes fragmenting into smaller and smaller niches, but looking back it’s hard to call 2015 anything but a banner year, at least for our corner of the greater musical landscape. We hope you find something here that inspires you.

spraynard mable album cover25.) Spraynard – Mable (Jade Tree)

I, like many people, fell in love with this West Chester, PA trio after their 2011 album Funtitled was released. The mixture of humorous and touching lyrics with catchy Iron Chic style melodies made them one of my favorite bands at the time. When they announced they were breaking up a few years later I was completely heartbroken. Then in 2014 they announced the band was getting back together and recording a new album.

Mable continues in the direction the band was going after the release of their final EP, Exton Square. The songs are a little more serious and the tunes a little slower, which I suppose is what the critics like to call “mature”. Gone are the stereotypical pop punk songs about hating your town but loving your friends that became the butt of many jokes for the genre. Instead Pat Graham and Pat Ware deliver touching songs about depression, relationships, feminism, and body image.

I initially didn’t enjoy this album as much as Spraynard’s work before their break up, but after looking at the lyrics and understanding how the band has changed, it grew on me. I am curious to see where they go from here.

old wounds the suffering spirit album cover24.) Old Wounds – The Suffering Spirit (Good Fight)

I’ve been following Old Wounds since their first EP way back in 2010 so it’s been interesting to watch the band grow and change over the years. Since the band’s last full length album, From Where We Came is Where We’ll Rest, they have shifted from a trio to a quartet. Lead vocalist and guitarist Kevin switched to only doing vocals while they recruited a new guitarist to take over and the results are obvious from the first notes of The Suffering Spirit.

The first thing you notice is how much heavier the band sounds. Converge was the immediate band that came to mind when listening to their older material, and while those influences are still there, now there is that slight nu-metal vibe that informed early 2000s Metalcore thrown in the mix similar to Code Orange and Down In It.

Now that the band has signed to Good Fight (run by some of the folks from Ferret Records) the band seems to be getting more exposure, as evidenced by their recent tour with Aiden (yes that Aiden.) If this trajectory is to continue, Old Wounds are poised to be one of the biggest bands in hardcore today.

the saddest landscape darkness forgives23.) The Saddest Landscape – Darkness Forgives (Topshelf)

I just had the privilege of seeing The Saddest Landscape perform recently on a tiny side stage at a local club and their performance cemented their place on this list. The turnout for the show was rather disappointing, but regardless the amount of people in the crowd the band still played their hearts out.

Darkness Forgives is the third full length from these screamo/emocore legends since their triumphant return in 2010; and I can safely say this is one of the strongest albums the band has put out to date. The album kicks off with a one-two punch of “Once We Were Immortal” and “Souls Worth Saving”, rivaling the opening of You Will Not Survive for best intro to a TSL album. Then it moves into “‘Til Our Ears Bleed” which may be the band’s best song since “…The Stars in January”.

If The Saddest Landscape had never reunited, they still would have gone down in history as one of the best screamo bands to ever grace the scene, but albums like this make you almost forget their early material. They deserve so much of our respect and admiration, even though they don’t always get the attention younger bands receive.

boysetsfire22.) BoySetsFire – BoySetsFire (End Hits, Bridge 9)

I have noticed that there seems to be three different versions of BoySetsFire. There is the early heavy period, the nu-metal sounding Wind-Up years, and the later more melodic era. When the band released While a Nation Sleeps… after reuniting, I was slightly disappointed because it reminded me of the middle period; their weakest material. Luckily the new album finds the band returning to a sound much like their swansong The Misery Index, not as widely praised as their first two releases but my personal favorite album of theirs.

That’s not to say that there aren’t heavy songs on this album. “The Filth is Rising”, “Coward”, and “Dig Your Grave” hit just as hard as anything else the band has written. But I’ve always been a sucker for Nathan Gray’s vocals when he actually tries to sing instead of shouting. In fact a lot of these songs remind me of Gray’s post-BSF band The Casting Out; a criminally overlooked project that saw him exploring his punk side.

The band formed in 1994, so it’s interesting that it took them over twenty years to release a self-titled album. Could it be that this is what the band considers a definitive BoySetsFire album? I think so.

shinobu 10 thermidor21.) Shinobu – 10 Thermidor (Lauren Records, Really Records)

Mike Huguenor is amazing isn’t he? Shinobu, Hard Girls, Classics of Love, The Bruce Lee Band, Kudrow, and so many other bands that I can’t keep track of. Shinobu is the first project of his that I remember listening to and it’s one of the most entertaining groups he’s been a part of.

Released all the way back on January 2nd of 2015, the second I heard this album I knew that I had to include this on my AOTY list. An impressive feat if you think about how many more releases come out over the span of the year. 10 Thermidor is the first album by Shinobu since 2009’s Strange Spring Air, and it’s one of the best in their discography.

Looking back, I can’t think of an album from 2015 that is as fun as this one, which is something that punk rock is sorely missing these days.

petal shame20.) Petal – Shame (Run For Cover)

Petal is a project from Scranton, PA singer/songwriter Kiley Lotz along with a rotating cast of supporting musicians, most notably Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins of Tigers Jaw, but has also been known to feature members of Halfling, Captain, We’re Sinking, and Three Man Cannon.

I first listened to Petal when their EP, Scout, was released in 2013 because I was interested in the Tigers Jaw connection. I adored those five songs but after not hearing anything else from them in over a year I kind of forgot about them. Imagine my surprise when I learned that there was a new album being released this year.

Shame is a gorgeous twelve song collection of killer songwriting. Sonically I would compare Petal to Waxahatchee, Pedro the Lion, All Dogs, and Lemuria’s slower moments. The tunes have a melancholic vibe that has worked perfectly for me in the cooler months of 2015 and I’m sure I’ll keep coming back to it in the coming winter.

dan andriano in the emergency room party adjacent19.) Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room – Party Adjacent (Asian Man)

2015 was the year of the Alkaline Trio side project. Matt Skiba released Kuts under the Matt Skiba and the Sekrets moniker, a solid album with some great songs. Skiba also joined Blink-182 and launched his own clothing line. Drummer Derek Grant also released a solo album of his own on Red Scare Industries back in January. But the undisputed winner of best ALK3 side project this year was Dan Andriano.

The second album released under the Emergency Room name, Andriano has put together another fantastic collection of songs. Also with this release, Dan stepped away from the acoustic limitations of Hurricane Season and went full band on this record. Backed by Mike Huguenor-whom we can’t seem to get away from- and Kevin Higuchi of The Bruce Lee Band and The Jeff Rosenstock Band.

His weary voice always made him my favorite of the two Alkaline Trio vocalists, and he sounds even more tired here. Between these twelve songs and the b-sides from My Shame is True, Andriano has been on a roll in recent years.

quarterbacks18.) Quarterbacks – Quarterbacks (Team Love)

This is the exact reason why you should always click on links by bands you like on Facebook. If I hadn’t I would have missed out on this amazing album. Nineteen songs in twenty-two minutes is something rarely accomplished out side of grindcore, but Quarterbacks are the furthest thing from Napalm Death.

Based out of New Paltz, NY, this trio play a style of jangly indie punk reminiscent of Radiator Hospital. While these songs fly by very fast, there isn’t any major aggression in these tunes. Instead we are treated to songs that remind me what it was like in my early twenties. Having a crush on nearly every woman I know, being too scared to go in for a kiss, falling in love incredibly fast, heart break, hanging out with friends, and so many more songs about falling in love.

When I listen to music it usually takes me a while to catch on to the lyrics, but this album hooked me on my first listen and connected with me in a way that no other on this list has.

british sea power sea of brass17.) British Sea Power – Sea of Brass (Golden Chariot)

In 2014, British Sea Power performed a number of concerts in England accompanied by different brass band orchestras. They played a selection of different songs all arranged to include horns. This year the band decided to go all out and record an album of BSP’s songs from different albums in their discography all joined by Foden’s Band (an orchestra from Cheshire, UK.)

Sea of Brass is an incredible record that I’ve never heard anything quite like. Sure there have been plenty of bands who have performed with symphonies, but those are usually all done as live shows whereas Sea of Brass is a fully formed studio album. The only reason this album doesn’t rank higher on my list is that it doesn’t feature any new material, but other than that it’s quite the accomplishment.

maranatha filth16.) Maranatha – Filth

Collin Simula(formerly of Christian Metalcore band Symphony in Peril) has come a long way since 2012’s Incarnate EP with the huge inverted cross on the cover. What started as a one man band has grown into a two piece with additional musicians for live dates. Splitting the writing duties in half, Simula has been joined by Jack Huston.

Filth is the first full-length by Maranatha and it’s a killer combination of hardcore, doom, sludge, and crust. Think Crowbar and Nails mixed with a little Converge. Riffs so immense they could blot out the sun, slabbed on top of each other like cooling chunks of molten lava. This is prehistoric sludge found in the bottom of millenniums old oceans. Easily the heaviest record of 2015.

The band did an Indiegogo to fund the pressing of this album on vinyl, which I unfortunately missed out on, but you can bet I’ll be the first in line to order one the second they go online.

burnchurch15.) Burnchurch – Burnchurch

Burnchurch are an Irish/Polish crust band based out of Dublin and this record absolutely rips. I’m not the biggest fan of crust music, but there is usually one or two crust records a year that I really get into. I was intrigued by the nationality of the members at first, but after listening to it I thoroughly enjoyed what I heard.

The members of this band have played in other groups such as Easpa Measa, Rats Blood, in Ireland and Silence in Poland, but this is their debut full length as Burnchurch. Similar to Tragedy, The Holy Mountain, and His Hero Is Gone, I especially enjoyed the vocal approach. There are a few times when the stereotypical crust lows show up, but Clodagh’s vocals are a breath of fresh air. Her ferocious shouted vocals do more for me than most crust bands.

I don’t know the likelihood of the band ever playing the states but I would love the opportunity to see them. I also hope to hear more music from them in the next year.

toyguitar in this mess14.) toyGuitar – In This Mess (Fat Wreck Chords)

Jack Dalrymple has been in a number of bands like One Man Army, Dead to Me, and the Swingin’ Utters. Now in his newest project he is joined by Brandon Pollack from One Man Army and Miles Peck from the Swingin’ Utters to play something a little different than what most people are used to.

toyGuitar are a punk band with a little more rock ‘n’ roll swagger than his work in Dead to Me and OMA. There is a little bit of a jangly 60’s surf rock vibe that is careful to not fall off into cheesy territory. This is a perfect summer time album to bounce a beach ball around with, despite being released in January.

the superweaks bad year13.) The Superweaks – Bad Year (Lame-O)

The Superweaks (formerly The Weaks) grabbed my attention last year with their incredible EP The World is a Terrible Place & I Hate Myself and Want to Die. My first impression was that they were poking fun at the current state of emo made popular by bands on labels like No Sleep and Run For Cover, but quickly realized that these were some of the most talented musicians in the scene today.

Bad Year is the bands first full length and sees them toning down the emo elements from the first EP. Their infectious melodies and twin/triple guitar approach owe as much to Piebald as to Weezer. What started as a musical collective centered around the songwriting duo of Chris Baglivo and Evan Bernard has solidified into a full lineup.

I had the privilege of seeing the Superweaks perform at the Fest this year, and witnessing these songs live brings a whole new level of appreciation. These guys have so much potential to become huge, and hopefully 2016 will earn them even more attention.

blacklisted when people grow people go12.) Blacklisted – When People Grow, People Go (Deathwish Inc.)

When People Grow, People Go is the first full length since 2010’s No One Deserves to Be Here More Than Me, which was an album that polarized Blacklisted fans. I personally loved that album, but I understand how some listeners could have been disappointed with their new direction. The first track here gives you the impression that the band was continuing in that new style. Except halfway through they ratchet things back up with some old school Blacklisted trash.

Blacklisted seems to have been paying attention to their fanbase and managed to meld the heavier elements of their earlier work with the more melodic moments of their later albums. What you get is a record that appeals to both sides of their audience and allows the band to continue to experiment with what they find interesting.

This album was released way back in February, and I constantly found myself going back to it all year long. This is the highest ranked hardcore album on my list this year and it is well deserved.

coheedandcambriathecolorbeforethesuncover11.) Coheed and Cambria – The Color Before the Sun (300 Entertainment)

Going into my first listen of this album I had some hesitation. Their previous two albums The Afterman: Ascension and Descension were a mixed bag for me. They each had a handful of great songs but there was also a lot of filler. It made me wish they’d just taken the best songs from each record and just put them together to make one great album instead of two decent ones. The announcement that The Color Before the Sun would be the band’s first non-concept album brought a new found excitement

Coheed and Cambria has always been at their strongest when they focused on writing catchy tunes instead of complicated prog rock and the new album is exactly what I wanted from them; it’s easily their best release since Good Apollo Volume One.

Some of the songs on this album feel like they could have been fit into some of their earlier albums. “Atlas” feels like a lost Second Stage Turbine track, while “Here to Mars” would be right at home with In Keeping Secrets. As a long time Coheed fan who never got into the science fiction aspect of the band, The Color Before the Sun feels like it was written for me.

timeshares already dead10.) Timeshares – Already Dead (Side One Dummy)

Timeshares first album, Bearable, came out way back in 2011 and was a brilliant take on Latterman style pop punk, a sound that was extremely popular at the time. As time went on it seemed like Timeshares were a one and done band  because they hadn’t released another full length in years. Then last year I saw that they were on a split seven in with Philadelphia’s Luther. I was excited to see new music from both bands, but I was quite surprised by Timeshares new direction. They had transitioned from something akin to Iron Chic into something closer to Cheap Girls and their split mates Luther (who just played their last show December 28th as I just discovered while writing this.)

I loved both styles of music, so it’s a win-win for me and fans with similar taste. Already Dead was the feel good album of the summer. I would blast it in my car with the windows rolled down as the wind blew through my hair, a mood that many albums didn’t capture this year. There is something blue collar about this band, which is probably from the Replacements vibe the album gives off. “Same Day, Different Week” became my anthem while driving to work in the sweltering heat.

Timeshares signed to Side One Dummy Records with the release of this album, which is surprising since the band hasn’t been terribly active over the last five years, though they did go on a major tour in support of Already Dead so hopefully this means more Timeshares sooner rather than later.

darius koski sisu9.) Darius Koski – Sisu (Fat Wreck Chords)

I’ve been a Swingin’ Utters fan since Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater introduced me to them with the song “Five Lessons Learned”. That song along with a handful of appearances on Warped Tour Compilations introduced me to a style of punk that I wasn’t quite used to. So naturally when I discovered the lead guitarist and one of the main songwriters of the band had a solo album I was game to check it out.

Sisu was quite a surprising listen. This is certainly not a punk album like most of the Swingin’ Utters albums, but fans of that band won’t be completely surprised because they’ve been known to whip out the acoustic guitars and accordions every once in a while.

This is a folk record in the truest sense, and even at fifteen tracks long, Sisu manages to hold my attention for the entire run time. Koski is a brilliant songwriter who sometimes gets overlooked due to the amount of talent people in his regular band and this album showcases just how great he is.

wildhoney sleep through it8.) Wildhoney – Sleep Through It (Deranged)

I’m not a huge shoegaze fan. Sure I like Swervedriver and Slowdive, but I don’t go much deeper than the well known bands in that particular subgenre. But thanks to a recommendation on Tumblr, I decided to check Wildhoney out when they released their Seventeen Forever single in 2014. Those three songs were just so good I knew I had to keep an eye on them. Sleep Through It was one of the albums I anticipated the most this year, and it did not fail to live up to my expectations.

As much dream pop as shoegaze, Wildhoney have not only released one of the best albums of the year, but they also released a brilliant EP called Your Face Sideways which Dylan included on his best EPs and singles list for 2015.When coming up with comparisons for this album, I thought of Mazzy Star, meets My Bloody Valentine with a sprinkling of The Cure. Laura’s reverb drenched vocals entwines perfectly with the shimmering guitars that dive into fiery walls of molten distortion at a moments notice.

mac macaughan non believers7.) Mac McCaughan – Non-Believers (Merge)

While it was quite disappointing to not get a new Superchunk album this year, we were all treated to a brilliant solo album by frontman Mac McCaughan. This is McCaughan’s first true solo album and non-Superchunk album since the last Portastatic record in 2006. I had initially planned on skipping this release because I’m dumb like that sometimes, but after seeing some people I know talking about how good it is I decided to give it a shot. Thankfully I did because it’s so unbelievably good.

I’ve often wondered how Superchunk could manage to write so many good songs this far into their career. Most musicians can only manage two or three really great albums before panning out but McCaughan has put out so many good albums between Superchunk and Portastatic and his various other side projects that it’s impossible to list them all. Non-Believers is another on that huge pile of brilliant records.

This solo album has a decidedly different approach to it than Mac’s other work, and focuses heavily on electronic instruments like keyboards and synths. That’s not to say there aren’t any guitars or drums at play, there most definitely are, but it’s not the first thing one notices when listening to it. The album is a pretty mellow affair, with an emphasis on killer melodies instead of raging guitars.

I’m looking forward to seeing what this mad genius decides to put out next, because there is no doubt that it won’t be amazing.

coliseum anxietys kiss6.) Coliseum – Anxiety’s Kiss (Deathwish Inc.)

I listened to Anxiety’s Kiss immediately upon it’s release and I thought it was pretty good but nothing I was hugely impressed with. Then some time passed and I heard one of the songs used in the intro to an episode of As the Story Grows. I really enjoyed the song and I decided to give the album another listen. The second time through something clicked for me and I haven’t been able to turn it off since.

Coliseum are a band who have evolved so much over their career. What started as a thrashy hardcore band has changed into a post-punk/noise rock powerhouse. This album grooves so hard, and J. Robbins’ production on this album just makes everything sound phenomenal. The rhythmic bass work and choppy short guitar riffs are almost hypnotizing. Then when they crank things up for a faster number like “Drums & Amplifiers” it’s completely earned; it’s like turning a key on a wind-up toy until it won’t go any further and has to be released.

My band had the privilege of playing with them at a show on their House With a Curse tour and it was poorly attended thanks to poor promotion by the venue. During their set, lead singer and guitarist Evan Patterson spoke to the audience that was ninety percent opening band members. He told us that shows like this happen all the time and to never let it discourage us from making art and playing shows. I’ll never forget it.

Dylan: This record was in my top 3 for this year! Ryan shook my hand and seemed to earnestly compliment me as a vocalist and front person at a point in that band where I was struggling to find my confidence. I also interviewed him awhile back for this blog. He’s always been a source of inspiration and encouragement, I’ll check out anything he does. Anxiety’s Kiss is the grimey, dark feel-good windows down record you never expected and though House With a Curse was a masterwork, I would almost wager that this record will take it’s place as my true favorite Coliseum record.

wailin storms one foot in the flesh grave5.) Wailin’ Storms – One Foot in the Flesh Grave (Magic Bullet)

Prior to Fest 14 this year I started reading the bios some of the bands I’d never heard of before. After learning that Wailin’ Storms were from my home state of NC, I began to question how the hell I had never heard of them before. They had transplanted from Texas to the Durham area and had been playing shows in the area. I listened to their EP, Shiver and absoutely loved it and I made sure I was going to go see them perform at Fest. Not long after that it was announced that their new album was going to be released on Magic Bullet Records and I got even more excited.Watching them at Fest was probably one of the highlights of that weekend for me. They were so intense and their music made me imagine Young Widows fronted by Glen Danzig making a country western album

One Foot in the Flesh Grave came out late in the year, right before Thanksgiving just when all the other websites start writing their album of the year lists. It’s as if the year was over and there wouldn’t be any more new music. Because sites like [take your pick of mainstream music news sites] were in such a rush to be the first ones out there with their list of music that is nearly identical in every way they skipped right over this brilliant record that they probably wouldn’t have bothered listening to anyway because it wasn’t hyped.

The day this went online I listened to it from front to back and then immediately listened to it again. I haven’t heard an album all year that felt so much like a complete piece of art. The tone of this album is haunting and oppressive at times. The guitars are simultaneously twangy and soaked in reverb, and the vocals are, yes reminiscent of Danzig circa Samhain, but come from a more intense and personal place. “Walk” is one of the most powerful songs of 2015, give it a listen if you don’t believe me.

beach slang the things we do to find people who feel like us4.) Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us (Polyvinyl)

One of the most promising bands of 2014 has delivered one of the most important punk albums of the year. The rise of Beach Slang has been meteoric to say the least. When you listen to Beach Slang whether it be on album or live, you get the impression that you are witnessing something magical. It’s hard to say exactly what it is that makes them connect with the audiences so much. Is it James Alex’s lyrics that punks all over the world can relate to? Drunken nights, basement shows with your best friends, and broken hearts are what nearly every song is about and sure tons of bands have written about those exact topics before, it’s something about how they’re worded that they hit us all so hard.

Or is it music? The driving guitars and soaring leads are unique among similar bands in the scene today. They aren’t too emo that they limit themselves to the No Sleep and Run For Cover sub-culture, and they aren’t so similar to Iron Chic as to get written off by anyone outside the scene as just a Dead Broke band. Drawing from 90’s alternative rock has pigeonholed so many bands a revival or throwback band, and Beach Slang manages to avoid being derivative.

The one band that I’ve seen people compare them to the most is Jawbreaker, whether it be by their own fans or from their detractors. While Beach Slang are obviously fans, going so far as playing a cover set of Jawbreaker songs for Fest this year, I’ve never thought they were an outright copy. But there may be some merit to the Jawbreaker comparisons. James Alex’s songwriting isn’t quite as literary as Blake Schwarzenbach’s, but it does touch along the same emotional nerve that “Chesterfield King” and “Boxcar” hit on.

Dylan has compared Beach Slang’s rise in popularity as being very similar to The Gaslight Anthem’s(Though much faster! -Dylan); a few well received releases that appeal to the punk community, followed by a crossover success that wider audiences latch on to a la The ’59 Sound. The next step is to go even bigger which no one is doubting will happen with Beach Slang. The hardest part is going to be avoiding the backlash from their original punk fanbase as they claim they haven’t written anything good since their early stuff.

But don’t forget, Jawbreaker’s fans hated Dear You when it came out…

Dylan: Forgive me as I interject. This was my number one album for 2015, which was no easy title to claim what with Wildhoney chiming through my ears since early this year or Coliseum pumping my fist through steering wheels and pounding my heels through each work day. There were internal factors as well that could have prevented it. The first two Beach Slang EPs gave such high hopes that it seemed very possible that The Things We Do could have fallen flat. Their image seems pretty carefully crafted and even their sound in general borrows just enough from the current Shoegaze trend that they could easily be chalked up to the formulations of a slick indie careerist. That assessment of the band though, falls flat if you read any interview or social media post by frontman James Alex. It becomes pretty clear that this is exactly the kind of music that his soul has been longing to make.

I think that answers Justin’s question as to what makes this band work. For me, it’s such an amazing, beautiful, inspiring thing to see a goofy, awkward guy with just enough talent and a lot of appreciation for good rock music to be smashing expectations and giving such a sincere face to guitar music. Beach Slang seem like true outsiders and to someone who often feels like a weirdo in weirdo circles, that is a powerful thing to be reckoned with. Alex’s unbridled enthusiasm and his pretty repetitious themes come off with such a charming lack of eloquence that any shred of artifice suggested by their aesthetic and success is left stripped away in the dust behind this record. It’s refreshing in a world dominated by vapid pop music, clickbaiting token nods from major media outlets to subculture and the sense of detached irony that has rock music recycling influences faster than ever. 

The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us is the sound of Punk Rock heaven in Gainesville shouting along with misty eyes through the lump in my throat, the weight on the gas pedal flying out of Flagstaff towards the California desert and a shock with just the right voltage I have needed to break out of post-college malaise and chase all the feelings that make my heart pound.

low and behold uppers3.) Low & Behold – Uppers (Northern)

Low & Behold is the long gestating project of Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter and Training For Utopia and Jason Martin of Starflyer 59. While I was a huge fan of Demon Hunter when I was younger, I became less and less a fan of Ryan Clark’s vocals with each album. Jason Martin on the other hand is an underrated musical genius who has been relegated to the Christian music scene due to two major factors: the external force of the mainstream which could not overlook a handful of explicit positive references to faith and his own self-sabotage of never committing to a full live band in favor of his love for the studio. I had no idea what to expect from this release, especially after being extremely disappointed with Ryan Clark’s other side project, NYVES, which I feel he completely ruined with overproduced vocals.

This album blew me away from the first notes. Taking influence from groups like Depeche Mode and The Sisters of Mercy, Uppers feels like a lost 80’s masterpiece. Martin’s guitar playing is unmistakable, yet sounds nothing like any Starflyer 59 album he’s ever released. Clark also manages to sound so much more natural on this album than he has in years, not giving into overproduction which is more than likely due to Martin’s involvement.

The music is dark and synthy with some softer piano moments sprinkled throughout. Brilliant tracks like “Blood Red”, “Violent Sound” and “Church Bells” are obvious homages to their influences, yet sound more menacing. But not all songs sound exactly like Depeche Mode;”Some People” sounds the closest like a Starflyer song, and “Bring Me Home” could be a ballad on a Demon Hunter album. This album was in the works for seven years, and who knows what went on behind the scenese–either a slow creative pace or time spent trimming the fat–but I hope it doesn’t take that long for another Low & Behold album to see the light of day.

lucero all a man should do2.) Lucero – All a Man Should Do (ATO)

I won’t lie, I was scared of this album. Lucero is a band who I feel hasn’t released a single bad album in their entire career, but when I heard the first few singles off of All a Man Should Do I was kind of disappointed. “Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles” was the most troublesome as I didn’t like the effects on Ben Nichols’ voice and the reliance on piano just didn’t sound like a Lucero song to me.

Thankfully my fears were put to rest the first time I listened to the album. This is Lucero’s tenth album and much like how Tennessee and 1372 Overton Park, changes the entire of direction of where the band can go from here. The overall sound of this album is softer than Women & Work, which itself was an excellent album that didn’t quite set their fans on fire and only featured two songs that regularly get played live. The problems I had with the singles didn’t bother me when I listened to them as part of the album, and in fact they added to the overall experience of the record.

There are some songs on this album that belong in the upper echelon of Lucero’s stellar catalog. “I Woke Up in Los Angeles” is a mostly acoustic song that has an incredible chorus made even better by the horn section. “Throwback No. 2” is a 70’s throwback that most alt-country bands wished they sounded like. And “Young Outlaws” mixes a saloon style country ballad with a driving Lynyrd Skynyrd-type verse and a classic Lucero chorus.

All a Man Should Do brought the band more attention than the last few Lucero releases have garnered with many reviews calling this the best album in the bands discography. While I don’t necessarily agree, it’s still a brilliant album from a band who has yet to do anything wrong.

winter break1.) Winter Break – Winter Break (Asian Man Records, Lauren Records)

I was heartbroken when it was announced that Summer Vacation was calling it quits. Condition is one of my absolute favorite albums released in the last five years. I was relieved to learn that three of the four members of Summer Vacation were going to continue making music together, except they would change their name to Winter Break, not only an amusing play on their old name but also a nod to an early Summer Vacation demo by that title.

Winter Break dropped their debut full length in May and immediately the difference is noticeable. Kicking things off with “Kirk Camoron” we are treated to slower tempos and a darker sound than Summer Vacation, but by the time the chorus hits Mark Chen’s unmistakable vocals let you know that not everything is different. It’s also worth noting that the band sounds tighter than ever, but not so tight as to loose some of the sloppy charm that Summer Vacation was known for. The only member of Summer Vacation to not return is Sean Arenas, and his presence is missed, but not enough to truly mar this record.

Winter Break still play the same style of music as the previous lineup, jangly, melodic, and at times aggressive. If their sound reminds you of Joyce Manor that’s because they have cited Summer Vacation as one of their biggest influences, going so far as to say that their sound completely changed the first time they saw them live. I’d also compare Winter Break to fellow Southern California bands Shinobu, Big Kids and Merry Christmas.

The Southern California scene has been consistently putting out some of my absolute favorite punk bands in recent years, which is amusing seeing as I live on the opposite side of the country in North Carolina. While the Philadelphia scene is exploding right now, and the Richmond area has so many incredible bands coming out of it, nobody on the east coast comes off as vibrant and energetic as these west coasters.

I’ve listened to this album more than any other 2015 release, and I can’t wait to see what Winter Break puts out next.

Justin is a freaky superhuman researcher/list compiler. He also has a personal tumblr where he reblogs cool/funny stuff and posts about music he likes. Follow that if you want a real-time glimpse into the things he digs this year.

Thanks for reading and keep checking back as we roll forward into 2016. Get in touch either in the comments or by emailing businesscreep[at]gmail[dot]com.

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