There are always going to be lots of musicians making shitty music. There will always be fewer people making great music. Here’s what I dug in 2015.
10. Jon Stickley Trio, “Lost at Last”
Bluegrass picker Stickley has always been a progressive guitarist, pushing boundaries in a genre defined by tradition. While acoustic-based, this is a percussive and frantic nod to new-grass and gypsy-jazz, a driving, dark, fusion record that’s aggressive, upbeat and fun.
9. Kinski, “7 (or 8)”
The long-time Seattle-based rock band walks the line between psychedelic, stoner and metal. Long live the riff.
8. Kelley Stoltz, “In Triangle Time”
The prolific Stoltz throws out a diverse collection of new wave and rock, with obvious nods to Captain Beefheart in one weird collection of avant-garage. It’s outsider music for those stuck on the inside.
7. Courtney Barnett, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit”
I hate myself for agreeing with Rolling Stone. Barnett’s studio debut is identified by her deadpan vocals. Thankfully not everyone needs to be Michael Stipe, Bono or even Patterson Hood, as Barnett’s nonsensical, often annoying observational writing style is perfect over obscure rock melodies.
6. Titus Andronicus, “The Most Lamentable Tragedy”
This band continues to bash out bombastic hard rock that sounds like it’s on the verge of falling apart. Think Springsteen’s younger, angrier brother raised on a record collection of American hardcore.
5. State Champion, “Fantasy Error”
This is the band you want to be friends with as they write loose rock songs with lyrical memories: A girlfriend’s tan lines. Drug deals. Or the picturesque notion of watching a highlight reel of your life when you get to Hell. This is a straight up rock band with a fiddle and less than perfect girl/guy harmonies for your back-yard party.
4. Hardy & The Hard Knocks, “Drownin’ on a Mountaintop”
The solo effort from T. Hardy Morris of Dead Confederate and Diamond Rugs is a collection of slacker alternative country and lazy rock and grunge featuring pedal steel in the starring role. His voice may grate, but his crack band and melodies makes it all work.
3. The Yawpers, “American Man”
This is a textbook example of American rock ‘n’ roll, a roots nod to working class punk and early acoustic blues. The Yawpers follow a simple but at times out of reach formula for many; write good songs of varying tempo; let the fast ones be rockers, let the slow ones grip emotion and leave it all void of polish.
2. Brent Best, “Your Dog Champ”
The frontman of Slobberbone (out of Denton, Texas) has always been adept at leading a charging rock band, one defined by songwriting. Best’s debut is a collection of folk: humorous, sad and brooding stories of dark America. Jason Isbell is deservedly the current hot singer/songwriter with Best close behind.
1. The Ants, “Control Your Thoughts”
This Kansas working-class band is the lyrical equivalent of a dark comedy and the musical equivalent of punk, indie and art rock.
The ever-annoying question of “What do they sound like” does this or no band justice. They sound like The Ants, as hints of ambiguous, pop weirdness shine through their guitar-driven rock.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected].