Chris Pyle: My Top Albums of ’15

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This is the third in a series of year-end articles by WOUB contributors. Check out all of this year’s lists at this link.

1. Wilco, Star Wars

This sounds like no other Wilco album to date. It’s very aggressive, thanks to Nels Cline’s guitar work (Cline is listed as number 82 on Rolling Stone’s list of Greatest Guitarists of All Time). It’s fair to say that this is as close to Jeff Tweedy’s punk and noise-rock roots as he’s ever gotten with this band. However, Cline makes it into something spectacular that pushes it way beyond what most would think of as “punk.” It sounds like the most fun Wilco has ever had making a record. Certainly, it’s their best since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

2.  Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love

This has become my favorite Sleater-Kinney record. I think it’s right up there with Dig Me Out. Taking a 10-year hiatus seems to have only made them sound more hungry. The songs still rock really hard, but there is a maturity in the sound and lyrics that make this album so undeniably good.

3.  Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit

Almost as good as last year’s Sea of Split Peas album, this record finds Barnett continuing to sing about the mundane in exciting ways. The band sounds tighter and the production is a step up from her past recordings. Every song is a winner.

4. Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color

I really liked Alabama Shakes’ first album, Boys & Girls, quite a bit but always thought it was somewhat underdeveloped. This is a HUGE improvement. With vocals reminiscent of Aretha Franklin and Solomon Burke, singer Brittney Howard is backed by a very tasteful and forward-thinking band. It’s a mash-up of modern indie rock, old school southern rock and ’60’s R&B. Very inventive and catchy.

5. The McCrary Sisters, Let’s Go

I don’t care much for most modern gospel records. They’re usually over-produced, sucking the life out of the performance. This album has both grit and soul. Guided by producer Buddy Miller, this is a wonderful album from start to finish. Not only one of the best gospel records in quite some time but one of the best records of the year.

6. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell

Well, if you’re looking for some great party music…this isn’t it. Stevens gets back to very sparse arrangements on this melancholy, dark album. The subject matter is about the death of his mom, childhood memories, and trying to make sense of life through death. It takes some time to digest but repeated listenings are rewarded.

7. The Decemberists, What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

This might be my favorite Decemberists record. I must admit, I didn’t like them as much when they turned out concept albums and long songs influenced by ’70s prog-rock. Thankfully, this album is more in line with their last record, The King Is Dead, and focuses on individual songs and hooks, with strong melodies and thoughtful lyrics.

8. Tame Impala, Currents

Kevin Parker continues to push himself into new territory with his third album. Currents has more synths and electronic noises than in the past, but the guitar is still here and it’s still extraordinary.

9. Leon Bridges, Coming Home

For fans of Sam Cooke and retro-soul. Bridges has that smooth, silky voice that few of today’s artists possess. Nothing new or cutting-edge here, just great songs.

10. Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free

Surpassing his last album, Southeastern, is quite a feat but Jason Isbell did it this year with Something More Than Free. Great songs, wonderful stories, and introspective lyrics about life and love.

11. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

Incorporating jazz, funk and spoken word, Lamar makes a classic hip-hop record that will be listened to throughout the ages.

12. Pops Staples, Don’t Lose This

Pops’ final recording. Delivering vocals like prophetic preacher, this is a great swan song from the late Rock and Roll Hall Of Famer.

13. Deerhunter, Fading Frontier

On this outing, Deerhunter is a little less dream pop and a little more traditional indie-rock. They haven’t lost any of the magic of their last few releases, though. And for the first time, band leader and songwriter Bradford Cox seems a bit playful.

14. Palehound, Dry Food

Great guitar pop with shades of The Pixies, Pavement and other ’90s alternative bands.

15. Low, Ones and Sixes

A bit more “produced” and slick than much of their past work, but Ones and Sixes shows that Low can still make great slowcore with engaging, spiritual lyrics that ponder the human condition.

16. Kurt Vile, b’lieve i’m goin’ down

Not as strong as his last, Wakin on a Pretty Daze, but still quite good. Vile isn’t pushing himself into new territory, but is still capable of making great stream-of-consciousness stoner guitar music.

17. Kasey Musgraves, Pageant Material

Country music for people who hate the sound and lyrics of most modern country.

18. Julia Holter, Have You In My Wilderness

A more laid-back, dreamy Kate Bush.

19. Motel Beds, Mind Glitter

Indie rock meets The Beach Boys.

20. Yo La Tengo, Stuff Like That There

Largely an acoustic covers album, played with an incredible and simplistic feel.

Honorable Mentions:

Surf by Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment
I Love You Honey Bear by Father John Misty
Universal Themes by Sun Kil Moon
Sour Soul by Badbadnotgood & Ghostface Killah
There’s A Light by Liz Vice

Chris Pyle is the owner of Donkey Coffee and The White Album & Mr. Kite Enterprises and co-owns 3 Elliott Studio in Athens, Ohio. He can be found performing around town with his band, The Wild Honeybees. He loves music so much that he feels guilty about it sometimes.