My new job makes it harder to listen to music (note: do not interpret this as a complaint, yet), so we're going to do things a bit differently this year. Rather than ranking, here are twenty albums I liked in 2015, and continue to like, in alphabetical order by artist. Not interested in music? Beer here.
A few trends, if one can call it that:
Two Australian artists, Courtney Barnett and Royal Headache.
Heterodox black metal, or if you want to be snide about it, "hipster metal." The orthodoxy around genres sure was fun to argue about in the 90s. Now I reap the musical benefits of bands that sit slightly outside a scene.
Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color: Not sure I’d ever find myself in the position of praising a soul revival group for their use of negative space and minimalism in arrangements, but here we are.
Algiers - s/t: An incendiary, politically and otherwise, mix of post-punk, and no-wave. Picture James Baldwin fronting early TV on the Radio with Liquid Liquid and ESG producing and you're close.
Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Sit: Wry, ramshackle alt-country reminiscent of both Uncle Tupelo and Pavement. One of the smartest lyricists around.
Cheatahs - Mythologies: These year-end lists usually contain a nu-gaze group, so here you go. (In all seriousness their first album sounded like a 90s tribute and they’ve done a good job breaking out of that mould here, incorporating post-punk rhythms, synths, and nifty production tricks.)
Beach House - Depression Cherry: Some subtle tweaks to their formula (louder guitars, organ loops, and even EDM) result in their best album yet. Throw a second 2015 release, Thank Your Lucky Stars, too.
Bjork - Vulnicura: Arca’s not my cup of tea, but the interplay between his beats and the strings are often challenging, and lyrically this is as real as Bjork’s gotten. It’s nice to have her back. Her best since Vespertine.
Chvrches - Open Every Eye: At times harsher, more industrial, and angular than their first. Closer to Depeche Mode. As it should be.
Dead to a Dying World - Litany: At their most beautiful they sound like a Godspeed You! Black Emperor 33 1/3rd LP being played at 45.
Deafheaven - New Bermuda: A bit more black metal, especially in the drumming, this time out, and none the worse for wear.
Holly Herndon - Platform: Out of chaos, order.
Jeffrey Lewis and Los Bolts - Manhattan: A man with a voice that can be described as “a more nasal Weird Al” does a Jim Carroll Band/Jonathan Richman thing, which reminds me of all that New York has lost.
Myrkur - M: I like the one that opens with haunting, ethereal vocals; Nordic folk instruments; and piano followed by abnormally well-produced, punishing black metal.
Obsequiae - Aria of Vernal Tombs: Putting the “folk” in folk metal.
Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper: An oddly funky psych-pop record, co-produced by a member of Spacemen 3, that still feels grounded, rooted, and homey.
Pinkish Black - Bottom of the Morning: Dungeon synths, metal, krautrock, and that drumming.
Royal Headache - High: The best album to sing along to this year.
Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell: Another quiet gem. His most personal album, and maybe his best.
Tall Tales and the Silver Lining - Tightropes: Hook-heavy west coast 70s AM radio goodness.
Viet Cong - s/t: “March of Progress” alone is worth the price of admission.
Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp: Indie rock has taken a beating lately, but Waxahatchee’s last two albums have carried the torch.
Cheers: The triumphant returns of Belle and Sebastian, Bjork, Cannibal Ox, Faith No More, Sleater-Kinney, and The Sonics. Whatever is going on with Ryan Adams and Taylor Swift.
Jeers: I just can’t with a lot of hip hop these days. Sad. So it goes with getting older? The Swift-Adams thinkpieces.
Songs (in no particular order)
March of Progress - Viet Cong
The Blacker the Berry - Kendrick Lamar
Ondine - Lower Dens
Blank Space - Taylor Swift
Should Have Known Better - Sufjan Stevens
Energy - Drake
Need You - Royal Headache
24 Frames - Jason Isbell
Ex’s & Oh’s - Ellie King
Something to Believe In - Tall Tales and the Silver Lining
Signs to Lorelei - Cheatahs
Beer (Either new to the market or a new brewery release in 2015, in no particular order)
Home - Ocelot (IPA): An admitted homage to Alpine's famed Nelson rye pale ale, see below, with slightly more cereal and grain in the body.
Nanticoke Nectar - Real Ale Revival (IPA): This brewery is crushing it. Big things. One thing a beer professional can do is introduce people to new things and champion them. Jace Gonnerman did that with RAR and Fairwinds, see below.
Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne - Right Proper (Berliner Weisse): Not too sour that I can't drink three of them. Floral, bone dry, and made within walking distance of my house.
Raspberry Dissonance - 3 Stars (Berliner Weisse): Not sure I can drink three of them, but I can drink two.
Black Twig - Albemarle Ciderworks: Their single-apple varietal ciders continue to impress.
Siren’s Lure - Fairwinds (Saison): Always nice when a brewery opens and immediately medals at the Great American Beer Festival.
Now in cans: Union Old Pro Gose, Port City Optimal Wit, 3 Stars Ghost White IPA.
Oktoberfest - Sierra Nevada-Brauhaus Riegel: Basically liquid perfection.
Left of the Dial - Notch (Session IPA)
Down to Earth - 21st Amendment (Session IPA): These session IPAs are the two best examples of hop-bursting I've encountered so far, moving this style away from what I'd ordinarily call a "bitter" to a category of its own.
Coffee Cinnamon Barrel-Aged Abominable - Fremont (Imperial Stout): This beer was so good that it literally silenced the room at a tasting.
Deux Rouges - Yazoo (Sour/wild ale): My favorite sour from SAVOR, no small feat.
Vinosynth White - Upland (Sour/wild ale): My second favorite, sorry Allagash.
New in the market:
Anything from Tired Hands: Greg Engert's persistence pays off yet again, as NRG bars and restaurants carry this Pennsylvania brewery. Look for more of this kind of arrangement in 2016.
Anything hoppy from Alpine: Not paying the six-pack prices, but it's nice to have these guys on tap.
Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin (IPA): My official beer of the summer.
Avery Liliko'i Kepolo (witbier): White Rascal was already my go-to Belgian in a can. Tropical fruit flavors and tartness take it up a notch.
Firestone Walker Pivo Pils: Yet another stupid good beer from a stupid good brewery.
Boulevard Ginger Lemon Radler: Danner knows what's up.