Doug “Rat” Brooks: My Top Albums of ’15

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

One of the advantages of hosting Radio Free Athens is how much new music I’m exposed to. Having the resources of both the AM and FM stations, I can hear things sometimes before they have been released and can figure out what I want to buy.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that I was a bit of a slacker this year in terms of getting new music for my collection. I think I spent more time going back and looking for older recordings to enjoy, such as Todd Snider’s New Connection. However, there was plenty of great music to enjoy this year and these are some of my favorites.

Pokey LaFarge, Something in the Water: I was lucky enough to meet and get to spend a little bit of time with Pokey at the Nelsonville Music Festival a couple of years ago. He is as kind and unique as his music. “Actin’ a Fool” really sticks out to me.

Built To Spill, Untethered Moon: I didn’t know too much about Built To Spill before this year’s Nelsonville Music Festival. I started picking up some of their releases before the fest and instantly became a fan. This album is as good as any that they’ve released.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Alone in the Universe: It took me a while to really get this album. While there are definitely some tracks that sound like ELO, I think that it’s more of a reflection of Jeff Lynne’s time with The Traveling Wilburys. You can hear influences of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, The Beatles and Roy Orbison. One great thing about this album is the artwork inside: It still has that spacey feel.

Swervedriver, I Wasn’t Made to Lose You: The term “shoegaze” has been often used to describe Swervedriver. Not sure if I agree with that description. Their sound seems more upbeat and energetic than shoegaze would indicate. This album is a little less raw than 1993’s Mezcal Head but a great one, nonetheless.

Snoop Dogg, Bush: When I was first given this CD I was a little reluctant, but ended up being pleasantly surprised by its pop sensibilities. Not what one would expect from Snoop Dogg. Some laid-back tracks and others that could easily be heard on a dance floor.

Death Cab For Cutie, Kintsugi: By far, the CD I listened to most this year. Probably the best all-around recording of 2015, in my humble opinion.

Other recordings that got some airplay on my show:

Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free

Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color

Brandi Carlile, The Firewatcher’s Daughter

The Decemberists, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

I have three recordings that I have been able to hear and play on my show that are not being released until 2016, but I think they deserve to be on this year’s list.

Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons have a new album, Homemade Vision, whose physical copy is coming out in January. (I believe that digital downloads are available now.) You might have heard parts of it on my or Michael T’s show. She and her band are continuing to create great songs like “Electric Flame.”

Earwig has a new record coming out in February called Pause for the Jets. Vocalist/guitarist Lizard sent me an mp3 of a single called “Wasted On You” which they did with Lydia Loveless. Possibly my favorite single of the year. Looking forward to the rest of it.

I first saw the local band Water Witches at the August Moon Festival at Scripps Amphitheater. They have an album called Feathers that should be out shortly after the new year. I was able to get a hold of it thanks to band members Ethan and Charlie; they came up to the studio a couple of weeks ago to do an interview and to preview the CD with our listeners. This is the best album that I have heard come out of an Athens band in many years. Get it as soon as you can.

I always like to include live shows in my “best of” list. Two great shows I saw happened at The Smiling Skull, which to be honest, is not one of my favorite places to see shows. However, when I saw that Cymbals Eat Guitars were playing there, I thought it had to be a misprint in the Athens NEWS. Sure enough, it wasn’t. Definitely worth going to work the next morning on about four to five hours sleep.

The other show that I saw at The Skull was a kind of impromptu Sunday afternoon performance with Washboard Hank and Sweet Muriel, backed by Junebug, Catfish and Funky Phil. Hank is a songwriter from Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, a place where I spent parts of my childhood on Rice Lake. He is a unique character who creates songs steeped in bluegrass with a dash of humor. His percussion suit that he wears/plays is entertaining in itself. Check him out.

Of course the best musical event of the year continues to be The Nelsonville Music Festival. It is by far my favorite weekend of the year with music of all sorts. If you have never been, you must. A great festival with big acts in a small and comfortable atmosphere. This year’s favorites were Brandi Carlile, Moon Hooch, Built to Spill and of course, The Flaming Lips. Having my son Raad on my lap, as the giant robot made of balloons came marching through the crowd, will be an experience that I will never be able to forget.

Don’t forget to tune in to Radio Free Athens on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. to hear great, locally-produced radio on 1340 AM and at

Doug “R@T” Brooks is one of those people who moved to Athens to attend Ohio University and never left. When he is not teaching, running beer tents for local festivals or chasing his five-year-old son Raad around, he can be heard on Radio Free Athens on Saturdays from 3-6 p.m.