Andrew Lampela: My Top Albums of ’15

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

Holy crap, it’s time for this again? I was just catching up on all the lists from last year! I guess that’s not a bad problem to have, unless you hate music.

This was a weird year. I’ve always tried to be pretty open to any and all music, but I found myself really digging in to things I used to avoid at all cost (hey there, Pre-War Blues!!!) and enjoying the fact that my formative years are now the land of lavish reissues with all the bonus tracks from 7”s I trashed long ago (Mineral and Unwound would surely make this list based on the amount I listened to them).

There was certainly a ton of great stuff this year, but like I said, I have still been weeding through things I didn’t give near enough attention to last year (Sturgill Simpson and Ex Hex gained pretty big spots, and Angel Olsen absolutely DOMINATED my listening this entire year). But anyway, here’s a list of things I enjoyed this year.

Andrew Bryant, This Is The Life: In terms of sheer number of plays, Mr. Bryant is the clear winner this year. A superb album of, for lack of a better term, Americana from start to finish. No lie, I played the shit out of this record so hard that it feels like I’ve known these songs for decades. Great stuff, great guy.

Motel Beds, Mind Glitter: Another batch of super-catchy, power-poppy, indie-surf glam goodness from five of the most solid dudes that somehow have never thrown me out of their shows for “excessive hugging?” Yes please. I somehow managed to crush three separate Beds albums simultaneously this year. So yeah, check ‘em out, they rule.

Daniel Bachman, River: Bachman somehow keeps getting better and better. I think I already called Nathan Salsburg a “finger wizard,” but if I didn’t, it would certainly apply to Bachman’s acoustic magic. Equal parts traditional and weird, all of his albums are fantastic, but River shows a good bit of growth and managed to top Seven Pines as my go to, which is really saying something.

Swervedriver, I Wasn’t Born To Lose You: Can’t say I had huge expectations for a new Swervedriver album, but man, these guys delivered big time. Adam Franklin f’ing rules. Even on my 50th listen, I’m still shocked at how vital and fresh and awesome and huge this record sounds.

Joan Shelley, Over and Even/Electric Ursa: I stupidly snoozed on Shelley’s previous album, so she gets two on the list this year. I started spinning Electric Ursa a couple months before Over and Even was to come out, and I’ll admit, it didn’t click on the first couple of listens. Then it did, in a big way. Over and Even refines things, and while it may be a bit more sparse musically, it is just as rich with rewards. Shelley and Nathan Salsburg create immersive little worlds with each song, and also get a ton of credit for not kicking me out of their show for “excessive hugging.”

Temple, The Moon Lit Our Paths: It’s no easy task to whip together an album of instrumental metal and have it remain start-to-finish interesting. For every band great at it, there are a billion that suck. Tempel do not suck. I loved their first album, and had huge expectations for this one. They not only met my expectations, but the exponential growth here actually gives me the warm and fuzzies. I know instrumental black metal with bits of crust and some acoustic passages is probably a hard sell to most reading this, but Tempel understand momentum, dynamics and most importantly, songs are all very important, and they rip. Ryan was also one of my favorite interviews this year (a couple Ghettoblaster issues ago).

Lau Nau, Hem. Någonstans: I mean, what would my year-end list be without some Lau Nau? This album is a bit different for her, as it is an instrumental documentary soundtrack, and tends to lean a little more towards the contemporary classical, minimalist side rather than the weirder end of her catalog. It’s beautiful stuff, and certainly displays the breadth of her talent. Honestly though, we all know I’m going to listen to everything she does. That’s because no matter where the music takes her, it is never short of amazing.

Sonnet, Revisionist: Remember early in the year, when it snowed a ton? Yeah, this was what I listened to almost exclusively while walking to work. I hear the words shoegaze and black metal thrown around quite a bit with these guys, and sure, I’ll let those into the conversation. Great instrumental metal that is ferocious, compelling and yes, at times, damn beautiful.

Elder, Lore: I loved the last Elder, and was pretty convinced that they wouldn’t really be able to top it. Color me a dumbass. Part stoner-rock, part epic prog, all kick-ass. Elder have riffs for days, and the restraint to actually craft some crazy shit with all those riffs. Lore is awesome from the first listen, but it still benefits from multiple listens to really start making sense of it all.

Poppy Ackroyd, Feathers: This one caught me out of nowhere. I was unaware that I needed some one-woman looped classical-leaning stuff in my life, but yeah, I did. Poppy plays everything, and while the album is a layered affair, I’d also recommend checking out some live clips fro a different, yet satisfying, take on these songs.

Amish Electric Chair, Ready. Fire. Aim.: I’m a total sucker for a good punk album. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be that good; dumb punk rock is as cathartic as anything. Luckily, the local dudes in AEC bang out some top rate stuff on what I believe is their first full album of songs. The production is great, the songs are great, and the 31 minutes it takes to bang out 11 songs is pretty damn great, too. Well done, fellas.

Enslaved, In Times: Enslaved transcended their Nordic/black metal roots long ago, turning more towards Robert Fripp than the evil tropes of their contemporaries for inspiration, so it’s no shock that In Times is an epic slab of progressive black metal-tinged weirdness. What gets me is how good they’ve gotten at continually pushing themselves. If you enjoy the direction the last five or so albums have taken them, I’ll say out loud that In Times is my favorite of the bunch.

Lubomyr Melnick, his entire catalog: I was a bit familiar with Melnich due to his collaboration with James Blackshaw, but didn’t dive in until this year. Better late than never, because man, did his stuff nail me. He has a unique style you’ll have to read up on yourself, but just think repetitive-in-a-good-way classical leaning piano shred. Beautiful stuff, all of it, and as with several other things on this list, Melnick’s catalog is absolutely perfect for walking in winter/snowy conditions.

Riley Walker, Primrose Green/several live shows: There are two sides to Ryley Walker. Primrose Green is the recorded side, a heady blend of Bert Jansch and Van Morrison that floats by. Then there is the live setting, where he takes this shit way, way out there with whatever badass band is with him. Both sides blew me away this year. This album was such a huge step forward in terms of songwriting that I’m really excited to see where he goes next.

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love: I didn’t expect this album to suck, but damn, I also didn’t expect it to be one of Sleater-Kinney’s best, either. While they’ve always known how to write a chorus, somewhere along the line they decided to get even better at it. Start to finish, a great album.

Meg Baird , Don’t Weigh Down the Light: Man, I got super-folky this year. Weird. Anyway, Meg Baird is awesome. Folk in the traditional, ’60s style, with a bit of the modern psych edge to it. I loved her last album, but thought it had a lull or two in there. Forget those lulls, because she has. This one got a ton of play in the mornings around both the house and work. Perfect for easing into the day.

Brainbow, II: Sure, this is a few years old, and sure, I’m biased in that I used to play shows with these guys, but my list, my rules. I crushed this again this year, and firmly believe it stands amongst the best instrumental post-rock-whatever-you-call-it I’ve heard. Beautiful stuff.

Horseburner, rough mixes: This one just happened as I was putting this list together, and I might be violating some confidentiality clause by even admitting I have them, but holy shit, I can’t wait for everyone to hear the new Horseburner. I’m including it here for two reasons:

1. These songs are awesome and this album will make my list next year, too.

2. Just to prepare you for the me-telling-you-to-buy-it onslaught that is going to happen. So so so good.

There you go. Dig in. Or ignore it. That’s the beauty of music. I know I forgot a bunch of stuff. It’ll come to me and I’ll feel bad, don’t worry. Here’s a bunch of other stuff that I think is worth listening to, as well. I can’t let Eddie have the biggest list, now can I? Some of these deserve more listens and could very well have ended up on the list above given a bit more time.

Beach Slang, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us

Smug Brothers, Woodpecker Paradise

Bjork, the first half of Vulnicura

Lucifer, I

Chelsea Wolfe, Abyss

Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp

Fuzz, II

Iron Maiden, The Book Of Souls (I know, right? I’m as shocked as anyone that this is as good as it is.)

Danny Paul Grody, anything and everything, he’s awesome

Baroness, Purple

Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free

Sufjan Stevens, Carrie and Lowell

Bedhead, Whatfunlifewas

Caspian, Dust and Disquiet

High on Fire, Luminiferous

Viol, Deeper Than Sky

Andrew Lampela is the balding curmudgeon behind the counter at Haffa’s Records in Athens. He also writes articles for Ghettoblaster magazine, putting that English degree to work. You may also recognize him from a bazillion bands around town that you don’t really like.