Liz Pahl: My Top Albums of ’15

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

“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.” – Henry David Thoreau

I’m very lucky to have been able to take part in so many fantastic music events this past year. Six of my top musical moments of 2015 have occurred within a 100 mile radius of my front door: Mountain Stage (in Charleston, West Virginia and Athens, Ohio) and just down the road in Nelsonville, Ohio.

1. Bahamas is Afie (2014), Bahamas/Afie Jurvanen 

Unknowingly, the first time I heard Afie Jurvanen live was at Memorial Auditorium in 2008, when he was on tour with Feist. In the past year, I’ve been devouring his records; namely his most recent release, Bahamas is Afie. Though the album may not scream it, Afie’s dexterity and skill on guitar is quite remarkable. Where I think it shines the most is in the mix: between his soulful tenor, overall arrangement and great writing. In June, I road-tripped with some great friends to hear Bahamas live in Charleston at a taping of Mountain Stage. It was an incredible show, to say the least.

Favorite Tracks: “All the Time,” “Like a Wind,” “I Can’t Take You With Me”

2. PHOX (2014), PHOX

If you have never tuned into Mountain Stage, believe the testimonials of folks saying, “Man, I bought tickets specifically to see X, and came out loving new favorite artist Y.” Performing on the same bill as Bahamas, PHOX was that new find for me this summer. This six-piece pop band hailing from Wisconsin is fronted by Monica Martin, who is the sincere definition of charming. Vocals are a center point of this record, with Monica being nearly pitch-perfect, and many of the tracks have a staccato barbershop musicality to them. I am a sucker for harmonies and one of PHOX’s strengths is the effortless blending of voices (every band member sings) on their self-titled debut.

Favorite Tracks: “1936” and “Slow Motion”

3. 1989, Ryan Adams

In all honesty, prior to Ryan Adams covering Taylor Swift’s 1989, the only time I heard TaySwift songs was in passing; on the radio, in a store, on a social media clip, etc. I’ve been a longtime fan of Ryan Adams and I’ll give any of his projects a chance. This 1989 cover is epic. Many complain it’s a little heavy-handed in the Springsteen Nebraska sound (which was on purpose; “Shake It Off” = “I’m On Fire”), but Adams’ translation of these pop songs is what is so fantastic. The magic of the project is showcasing the strength of the pop tunes that Swift (along with Max Martin and Jack Antonoff) wrote. When you can strip a song down, and have it shine in someone else’s timbre and style — that’s magic.

And of course I had to purchase Swift’s 1989 for comparison, so I think this project seems like a win-win for both artists.

Favorite Tracks: “Out of the Woods,” “Shake It Off” and “Blank Space”

4. Daytime Turned to Nighttime, Patrick Sweany

I had the pleasure of meeting Patrick Sweany 10 years ago in Pomeroy, Ohio, at the Court Street Grill, thanks to the uber-talented Myron Hart. Decades of playing looks good on Patrick, as he and his band absolutely blew away the audience at Memorial Auditorium for the Mountain Stage taping in October, 2015. Patrick is one of the nation’s most talented and hard-working musicians, and you can hear this testimony in his latest effort, Daytime Turned to Nighttime. Songs like “First of the Week” talk about the difficulties of touring life, “Too Many Hours” drips blue about missing his gal and the gritty “Back Home” is about missing home when on the road. While the record may seem autobiographical, let’s get one thing straight: Patrick Sweany loves what he does, and he ain’t stopping anytime soon. As “Here to Stay (Rock n Roll)” preaches: “Knees are getting weaker, I can still shake it coming out the speaker. It’s what I do. Rock n roll is here to stay.” Amen.

5. Birds Say, Darlingside

Another incredible band that I discovered through Mountain Stage (I swear I am not on their payroll!) is Darlingside. Their latest effort, Birds Say, nods heavily to the whimsical harmonies of Crosby Stills Nash & Young, but sets itself apart with insanely catchy, rhythmic, city-walking songs like “Harrison Ford” and my favorite from the album, “My Gal, My Guy.” Look for big things from this talented band.

6. The Waterfall, My Morning Jacket

I fell in love with My Morning Jacket 12 years ago with It Still Moves. Their newest release, The Waterfall, delivers signature Jim James vocals, big guitars, killer Koster keyboarding and all the elements that make MMJ one of America’s best rock bands. I’ve always loved James’ introspective, spiritual lyrics and The Waterfall doesn’t disappoint. But what feels palpably different about this album than their others is that it screams “I’m here. This is where I am presently, in this journey.” The album feels to me like they went into the recording and writing process with limitless ideas and little fear. I’m secretly hoping for the opportunity to see them in the flesh in June at a favorite festival of mine. A girl can dream, right?

7. Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett is quickly becoming a favorite among music lovers. Well-deserved, as her sophomore effort fantastically runs the gamut from super danceable (“Elevator Operator,” “Aqua Profunda”) to beautifully solemn soundscapes (“Boxing Day Blues,” “Depreston”). Courtney is so intoxicating to me because of her ability to make everyday mundane occurrences into gorgeous, thought-provoking rock’n’roll poetry.

Favorite tracks: “Elevator Operator,” “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York),” “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to The Party”

8. 2015 Nelsonville Music Festival, Nelsonville, Ohio

As many of you know, the Nelsonville Music Festival is one my favorite times of the year. It is hands down one of the BEST festivals in the USA and I am always so honored to be a part of it, whether volunteering or performing. That being said, there were some incredible performances in 2015 that make this list:

Adam Torres/Nostra Nova

Arguably the most anticipated performance of NMF 2015 was of my friend Adam Torres. Thanks to Misra Records, Torres re-released Nostra Nova, his 2006 masterpiece, and went on the road to support it. Sitting on a blanket with my family on a hot, sunny Sunday, Adam’s gorgeous songs and falsetto filled the ears and hearts of hundreds. As a former Athens, Ohio, resident and Ohio University student, I hope it was as much of a homecoming for Adam as it was for all of us.

St. Vincent 

I came into St. Vincent’s Saturday headlining set with no idea of what to expect. I was subsequently blown away. When I stopped to feel my face, I looked around and realized everyone around me was just as floored as I was. I remember thinking, “St. Vincent is like a modern-day Prince minus the sex.” Annie Clark and three other fantastic musicians created the sound of a 20-piece orchestra. Clark also made her virtuosity on the guitar look as effortless as blinking. Between the stage choreography, lighting and sheer talent, this was the most amazing musical event that 2015 brought to me.

Liz Pahl is an Athens, Ohio-based singer-songwriter and frontwoman for The Summoners. She is assistant director of Patron Services at Ohio University and the author of the website, which focuses on parenting and being an artist.