iAm Indie: 15 for ’15


I make a list like this just about every year. Most years its just a list.

“Here listen to this because I said so.”

I rant for a while about why some boy band or pop princess sucks. This year, while the boy bands and pop princesses still suck I’ve decided to tell you why you should be listening to other things rather than just listing the options.

Also for the first time this year I will include my honorable mention records. Also: a “I cant believe it but I actually missed some albums this year that I wanted to hear, so you get a things I missed this year” section.

What follows is my Top 15 albums of 2015. I will do my best to articulate why they are the best. Forgive the tropes and clichés.

Editor’s note: The header for each entry links to said album’s Spotify. 

15. The Mountain Goats “Beat the Champ”

I hadn’t really heard of The Mountain Goats until about 5 months ago.

It was in falling down a rabbit hole on Youtube that I saw The Mountain Goats cover of Jawbreaker’s Boxcar on AV Undercover, which lead me to their appearances on NPR as a part of The Tiny Desk Concerts… Which led me to their catalog.

The Mountain Goats are what goes on in my head when I listen to music and read a book at the same time. Beat the Champ takes on a wrestling theme, it feels sometimes like a metaphor and other times like the bands opus to Pro-Wrestling. It’s a great album for relaxing to and maybe watching videos of your favorite wrestlers.

14. Mumford and Sons “Wilder Mind”

Arguably the biggest indie band in the world, Mumford and Sons released their third album “Wilder Mind” in 2015. A massive departure from the usual banjos mandolins and acoustic guitars this album is mostly electric.

In classic Mumford and Sons fashion the lyrics on this album are raw and emotional. More literate than most “Wilder Mind” provides an opportunity for something different in the sea of post folk acts out there.

13. Guster “Evermotion”

Do you guys remember Guster?

Yes, that Guster.

Satalite? One Man Wrecking Machine?

Guster, right?

2006’s Ganging up on the Sun was like nothing we had heard at the time. It was pop it was rock it was electronic it felt like something out of the 80’s but yet way cooler.

Here we are 9 years later and Guster has done it again. Evermotion is a musical masterpiece the playing is shear perfection and is ever reminiscent of the Guster we all came to love back then. Sailing guitars, synthesizers, precise drumming, and vocals that elevate the whole piece to a euphoric level, every tune is catchier than the last.

12. Alabama Shakes “Sound and Color”

There are some artists out there who could sing paint dry and I would buy a ticket to see.

Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes tops that list.

Sound and Color’s name sake is instantly recognizable as that song from the iPad pro commercial. However it’s the rest of the record that’s truly astounding.

Echoes of old school funk, delta blues, Motown, and even punk rock, guide you thru a work that feels like you are sitting in with your friends band while they just goof around.

11. Dawes “All your Favorite Bands

I had heard of Dawes but they were just kind of another band in the miasma of music in my life. Then The New Basement Tapes happened.

The New Basement Tapes was an album by the super group of the same name, made up of Marcus Mumford, Elvis Costello, Jim James, Rhiannon Giddens, and Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes, recording never before heard Bob Dylan songs.

It was on this record I came to appreciate Taylor’s voice. More than anything Taylor Goldsmith’s voice has cemented me as a fan of Dawes. “All your Favorite Bands” is one of those albums that you can sing along with from your first listen.

10. Allison Crowe “Sylvan Hour”

Allison Crowe is an indie darling. With a voice on par with Sarah McLachlan or Joni Mitchell, Allison Crowe is a true hidden gem. Sylavn Hour is a chance to sit back and relax and not have to try too hard. The whole record is just an easy ride.

9. Colin Hay “Next Year People”

Colin Hay is the journeyman on this year’s list. He made his debut in the 80’s as the front man from Men at Work, before pursuing a solo career.

Hay has had hits over the years with songs like Overkill, Beautiful World, and Waiting for my Real Life to Begin. Next Year People is Colin Hay doing what he does best. It’s a man with an acoustic guitar telling his stories as only he can. With is one of a kind voice Hay tells heart wrenching tales of every day people.

8. Langhorn Slim and The Law “The Spirit Moves”

Remember the sea of post folk bands we talked about earlier? Langhorn Slim and The Law fall into that category, yet they soar above the crowd. Bluegrass infused rock and roll mixed with pure folk and pop. I defy you to listen to The Spirit Moves without a simple on your face or without at least tapping your foot.

7. The Wood Brothers “Paradise”

This is one of those times where I say trust me and listen to the record. To truly understand The Wood Brothers you have to understand the actual Wood brothers.

Having grown up steeped in roots music the children of a scientist and a poet, the Wood brothers, Oliver and Chris were almost destined to create some of the most literate music ever made. Oliver who plays both guitar and sings in the group is a story teller’s story teller, and Chris who plays bass in the band is a poetic musician whose phrasing and intonation in the instrumentation of The Wood Brothers music is the stuff dreams are made of.  Paradise is a bluesy folksy masterpiece.

6. Metric “Pagans in Vegas”

Is there any way not to love Metric? Pagans in Vegas continues the formula that has worked so well for Metric. Catchy pop hooks with electronic undertones, flawless delivery by the always spectacular Emily Haines, mesh together to form the best alternative album on this year’s list.

5. The Decemberists “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”

For as long as I can remember The Decemberists have been the benchmark for what Indie Folk and Indie Rock could be. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is classic Decemberists. Following their 2 year hiatus the band have returned to form as if no time has passed. The Decemberists continue to be the high water mark in the independent music scene.

4. Barenaked Ladies “Silverball”

Since the departure of Steve Page from BNL the band has released several albums. However, unlike their work before Page’s departure these albums were more serious, a departure from the fun loving and often comedic BNL we had all come to love.

Silverball is a return in many ways to that happy go lucky style of music while still tackling topics like love and heart break. Silverball is an all-around good time. This is one of only two albums on the list that I have seen performed live this year, and its as good as it gets. It should also be noted that members of the band did a commentary on the album that is available on Spotify.

Ok so I want to stop here and say something about the rest of this list. Any one of these next three albums could be number one. They fall in the order they fall in largely because of the emotions that I bring to the table listening to them. Every record on the list from bottom to top deserves all the acclaim and recognition they can get.

With that said here are my top three.

3. Father John Misty “I Love You Honey Bear”

Guys: Father John Misty was everywhere this year.

I mean the man was bigger than The Beatles. The critical acclaim around I Love You Honey Bear is undeniable, it’s been called a perfect album, I think it is (despite being 3rd on my list). Father John Misty — whose real name is Josh Tillman — hearkens back to greats like John Denver and John Lennon with his personal lyricism, and his simple delivery lets the words carry the weight they deserve.

2. Ike Reilly “Born on Fire”

Ike Reilly was on my radar a few years ago. The Assassination of Ike Reilly is one of my all-time favorite bands, but I was never that familiar with his solo work. I was watching I am Chris Farley and I hear this song playing, so I looked it up and its Born on Fire; the title track to this Ike Reilly album.

The song was stuck in my head for days, until I heard the second song off of the album. Born on fire is a tour de force for singer songwriters, Reilly talks about what’s around him and in doing so shows you the beauty in everyday life.

1. Ben Caplan “Birds with Broken Wings”

Can I just say I’ve been waiting years for this album?

A few years back I heard Ben Caplan in Studio Q playing songs off of his first album In the Time of the Great Remembering, I was hooked.  I first heard the song “Birds with Broken Wings” in 2013. The song was so unique that hearing it paired with the first album I could not wait to hear more. I was not disappointed.

Birds with Broken Wings has it all: folk, blue grass, pop, standards and ballads. What I was not prepared for was the political and personal tone the album would take. Caplan takes a hard look at life and talks about the things you would rather not talk about. Birds with Broken Wings uses lyrics and melody to convey emotions that aren’t often expressed in music.

There it is: the list; all 15 of them. I know it’s a lot but all of these are worth a listen for sure. There were some really great albums that didn’t make the list and some I didn’t even get a chance to listen to. Please take a second to check them out as well.

Honorable Mentions go to: Albums I missed:
Wilco “Star Wars” Sufjan Stevens “Carrie and Lowell”
Blues Traveler “Blow up the Moon” Of Monsters and Men “Beneath The Skin”
My Morning Jacket “The Waterfall” Grace Potter “Midnight”
Modest Mouse “Strangers to Ourselves” Ben Folds  “So there”
Twenty One Pilots “Blurryface” The Fratellis “Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied”
Third Eye Blind “Dopamine” Motion City Soundtrack “Panic Stations”
Motörhead “Bad Magic”
Imagine Dragons “Smoke + Mirrors”

Kyle Northop is a grizzled veteran of the radio broadcasting industry, in addition to knowing more about comics than you do. Get in touch with him on his Twitter or at BackLogAdventures@Gmail.Com. 



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