The 2015 MAMAMY Awards

Way back when, in a land called February, I took a trip down to Mexico. I’m a mixed bag when I get on a plane – I might be productive, I might be sleepy, I might have crippling anxiety that my end is near, or I might just have a couple paid beverages. Surprisingly, this flight was the first of all those options, and I took the time to write hundreds and hundreds of words about the music I loved most in 2015. And then I never saw those words again…until today! Welcome to the insanely overdue and barely edited 2015 MAMAMY (Mostly America’s Most Awesome Music of the Year) Awards!

Album/Artist of the Year

Think this category’s pretty self-explanatory. Who came out with the best album last year?

Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

During the few years of high school and college where I wasn’t fully aware that good music was still being made, I blamed it on drugs. Rather, a lack of drugs. I thought musicians were cleaning up their acts, seeing half their idols pass before they even hit 30. I was wrong, of course; I was just listening to the wrong stuff, but the point is, music needs drugs. Just as half of America needs legal drugs to stay focused or calm down or whatever else we can do to mask reality and stifle creativity, a guy like Josh Tillman, uses slightly less legal drugs to open up the possibilities of his work. Or maybe he’s never done a drug in his life, I don’t know the guy, but his music sure implies he does some pretty wild stuff.

With his second solo effort, the man who goes by “Father John Misty” made, what I consider, the album of the year for 2015. The songs are well crafted, his voice is outstanding, and the messages and stories are fantastical, real and condescending all at once. It’s the type of music and writing I hope I’d aspire to make were I to dedicate my life to music.  There are maybe two songs on this whole album I wouldn’t want to listen to on repeat, and it’ stands down the most complete and consistent work I listened to in 2015. While you’d expect most of his stories to be drugs and orgies (especially a dude with his level of fame and sarcasm and man-bun), the most gripping is a serene track that closes the album, where he shares the story of meeting his wife.

 

Jamie xx – Loud Places

Back in 2011, Jamie xx released an EP with a song called “Far Nearer.” Now, at the time I didn’t know who Jamie xx was, but I talked to some people who know some stuff about music and found out, duh, he’s from The xx.  Anyone who’s ever listened to indie music knows The xx. Well, this is the dude. Jamie. Jamie xx. And if I had to right now list my top 10 songs of the past five years, “Far Nearer” would undoubtedly be on it. So, needless to say, I was all kinds of pumped to see him release a new album in 2015, and he did not disappoint.

It’s kind of a strange album. I mean, it’s obviously not for everyone, for starters, but it started out as something I could just have on in the background kinda and occasionally pay attention to and start grooving. Then when I sat down and gave it a good listen the whole way through, I could see what he was doing, which was making a dance club album with so many sounds and layers that you can move to it, be surprised by it, and keep listening over and over and find new things to love. It’s a jam fest, through and through, and one where it’s tough to pick out a single highlight. While I featured “Loud Places” on my Top Songs of 2015 list, it’s tough to say there was an opening track that got me more excited for an album last year than “Gosh.” It may take a few listens to get into, but – newsflash – typically, that’s how great music works.

 

Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

Not many bands explode quite like the Shakes have. They released their first full-length album in 2011 and got enough buzz to skip right up to the second class of concert venues for their nationwide tour there (in Boston, that means House of Blues, the Orpheum, Agganis Arena, whatever we’re calling Harborlights these days…first class is the Garden and Great Woods…and then there’s “I can’t believe this many people like country music, but I guess that makes sense because generally people like terrible things, I mean, there are like 12 different CSI shows” class, which is Gillette Stadium).  Anyway, if you made it through that parenthetical, the Shakes burst (assuming this can function as the past tense of “burst”) onto the scene with a reputation for a fantastic live show and a sound that transcends generations, and this was with an album that I really don’t think is that great – a few fantastic songs, but as a whole, not incredible by any stretch of the imagination for me.

Then here they come in 2015 with “Sound & Color,” and it’s almost like it’s the first album they should have come out with. It sounds so raw at times, like they were just fooling around in a garage for a few hours and someone said, “hey, record this one,” and that’s how the album came out. When they released “Don’t Wanna Fight,” I didn’t think there was a chance I’d hear a better song this year, but it turns out most of the album is on that level.  If they come out with another album of this caliber, I’m not sure I could argue with anyone calling them the best rock and roll band of this generation. Listen to this and tell me that’s wrong.

 

Best New Artist

Artists who released their first full-length albums or EPs this year, unless I somehow messed this up.

BOOTS

Okay, so this is going to sound a little weird, but BOOTS didn’t create my favorite album by a new artist in 2015. In fact, it might not even be in my top 3 new artists’ albums. But, as I think I’ve referenced a few times already, it’s because an album to me is a complete work – every track needs to be given a similar weight and value (which is why albums with too many tracks are typically a train wreck, FETTY), and there are just a couple times this album loses me. But…ignore that for the time being. Classic me, starting with the negative. Let’s try this again.

No artist – new or otherwise – broke down the barriers of sounds like BOOTS did in 2015.  The combination of beats and what sometimes sounds like he’s literally (literally literally, not ironic literally) shredding his guitar is something I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve heard before.  That’s why “I Run Roulette” was my #1 song this year – not necessarily because I think it’ll be my favorite song from 2015 a few years from now, but because of what it does and what it represents as a path for music going forward. It’s the type of music that’s so aggressive it makes you want to run through a wall, and then when you sit down and have an isolated experience with the songs, you can’t do anything but appreciate the artistry and craft that was put behind it. It’s just like…nobody. I can’t come up with a comparison. But I hope a few years from now I can look at new material that comes out from other artists and say it stemmed from BOOTS. It’s a challenge at times, but it’s so, so worth it.

 

Baio

I’ve been pushing Baio hard on people lately (no, not Scott this time…and you’re the 98th person to make that joke to me, so good job there). He’s the bass player for Vampire Weekend, so it’s one of the easier musicians to tell people about and convince them they should listen because everyone loves Vampire Weekend or has some fond memory tied to a Vampire Weekend song (they’re like, the anti-Southern Comfort).

I’ll be honest, I didn’t originally spend a ton of time with this album. I thought it was catchy and there were some interesting sounds on it, but I didn’t think it was anything earth-shattering.  I still kind of agree with that, but I’d raise it up a bit higher than that now. It’s super catchy. There’s a ton of re-listen value on The Names, and a lot of that has to do with some pretty exciting and enticing sounds going on, whether it’s in the foreground or the background. I picked “Brainwash yyrr Face” as one of my top songs of the year almost entirely because of this piece of the chorus that basically just sounds like a robot woman crying out for help and trying to explain something to you. That’s the kind of stuff that grabs my attention and gets me excited. It’s the best element of any song I listened to in 2015.  But since I already featured that one, let’s try something that’s probably a little more accessible.

 

Algiers

Last year I made a commitment to myself to stop being a weenie and go see artists I like when they come to town, whether or not I have to do that alone. So, one night, I trekked out to Brighton to see Algiers play, knowing their sound made promise for an interesting live show. They didn’t disappoint in the least. And despite the venue having probably less than 100 people inside, they poured everything out on stage…especially the bass player, who was at times genuinely frightening (but also jumped off the stage and thanked everyone individually for coming to the show, which was a pretty awesome gesture and made me significantly less afraid of him).

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. They were great live, but more importantly, they’re just great, and they have a sound and combination that’s really unique when a lot of music today seems to blend together. To me, Algiers is basically the manifestation of one of my favorite songs of all time, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Wait, hear me out, this is a serious comparison (that I really hope doesn’t offend the band if they ever read this).  They’re not, like fiddlers or anything, so this comparison already doesn’t make sense, but here goes. In that song, Johnny faces off with the devil in a song-for-song battle for his soul (which, by the way, the devil wins HANDS DOWN, but the song’s story fails to reflect that). I don’t know how Johnny ended up in a battle with the devil, but whatever dark and torturous experience led him to Hell and whatever dark and torturous experience Hell itself was, there’s no way Johnny came back and led a normal life after that. Algiers is what coming back from Hell armed with music sounds like. And it’s beautiful and terrifying all the same.

 

Breakout Artist

An artist that has previously released work and showed tremendous strides or growth in their 2015 work.

Night Beds

A couple years ago, Night Beds (which I’m still still not sure if it’s more than one dude or not) released an album called Country Sleep, which was a soft, pleasant listen that you could listen to on repeat and not offend anyone. I expected more of the same in his/their 2015 release, where I would be perfectly content just having another song half as good as “Even If We Try.” Instead, we got an experiment of sorts – we got a portal into an artist trying to figure out who he is, what he wants to sound like and what his limits are.   As a complete work, Ivywild isn’t something you’re going to listen to the whole way through more than once or twice. As an exploration of what challenging, beautiful music can be, it’s, for lack of a stronger word, a treat. I already featured “I Give It” on my Top 100 Songs of 2015 list, so here’s the opening track, which may be the most rewarding song to listen to on repeat and let grow on you.

 

Kamasi Washington

As far as critical acclaim goes, I’m not sure anyone had a bigger breakout year than Kamasi.  And with good reason…Kamasi’s nearly 3-hour album The Epic, as I’m sure thousands of clever music writers have said, absolutely lives up to the name. In a time when it’s assumed humans have no attention spans, here comes an album longer than most feature-length films, with its “quickest” song lasting 6:32.  It’s a phenomenal piece of work, and one I’m not sure can be replicated. The only beef I have with The Epic is the same as I’d have with any “epic” film, in that I don’t think I can do the whole thing again. But, whatever, that doesn’t really matter. I have playlists, I have YouTube, I don’t need to listen to an entire album every time I hear one song. Which is great news because the horns, the flow, the complexity – even in just one song, it’s enough to stay with you for a long time.

 

The Weeknd

As with any rap, hip hop or otherwise cool artist, I first came across The Weeknd through my friend Shaun (back in 2011).  I thought his first release was a bit hit or miss, but the hits were huge hits to me, particularly “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls.”  I liked what I heard, but I wasn’t exactly prospecting at the time, so I didn’t give much thought to what his career trajectory would be.  But even if I had, I don’t think I could have seen this type of explosion coming.  In 2015, The Weeknd maybe had the biggest commercial breakout of any musician, and though it took a little change in style to get there it was well worth the change. He’s a pop star now, and though I hate losing that dark edge he had back on Trilogy, he’s creating some incredibly catchy music at a global scale and is probably making a poo-load of money compared to his income 5 years ago.  He’s about two more hit songs away from being a household name, and I can’t wait to see where he goes next, which seems to be straight after that MJ crown from stuff like this (you already know this song, probably).

 

 

You Do You

Artists who didn’t really improve or even performed at a slightly lower level than their previous efforts, but just thanks for not falling off a cliff or anything.

Kendrick Lamar

At the time of writing this, I have no idea what Kendrick may or may not have actually won at the Grammys.  To Pimp a Butterfly is a solid effort, and typically these awards shows are about rewarding your past because they’re always late to the party for GOD KNOWS WHAT REASON. It doesn’t reach the same level as good kid, m.A.A.d city for me, but it maintains the level Kendrick hit with that album. And you very well may be in the camp that Butterfly is the best he’s ever done and nothing can top “King Kunta” or “Hood Politics,” and that’s totally fine – you do you. For me, I thought it was a sonically inferior effort, and it just didn’t tie together like Butterfly does. From that opening segment in “Sherane,” the mood is set for good kid, and you’re pulled into Kendrick’s world. That’s not easy to replicate, and it wasn’t replicated here, but Kendrick still put out a very strong album with a slew of good tracks on it. Here’s hoping he rebounds with his next album…which it looks like he just put out? What? Great, well, ignore everything here till I listen to that.

 

Calexico

Sneaky, Calexico. You’re sneaky good. And you sneakily made one of my favorite albums of 2015.  Calexico is just a consistent, reliably enjoyable band, straddling some line between Americana and Mexican sounds (just Googled them to see what their description was, and it says “American, Tex-Mex, indie” – pretty solid descriptive work by me there, thanks for nothing, Googs).  They’re basically the entire reason I created this category. I knew they weren’t in my top-top albums, and I knew they didn’t do enough to call this a breakout, but man, is Edge of the Sun a heck of a collection of tunes.  Besides Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear, this album has the most re-listen value for me of the 2015 collection. It’s too pleasant to grow tired of (yeah, I know I’m not supposed to end a sentence with of, get off my case).

I don’t think it does them justice to pick out just one song – it’d be like picking out an episode of Breaking Bad and saying “here’s what this show is.” There are some very subtle differences from song to song, but as some parts dive further into the Americana side and others sound like a more talented and complex mariachi band, you can’t just take one song and say “this is Calexico.”  But I am gonna take one song and say “this is how good this Calexico album is,” and then if you want to see what’s on the other side of the coin, you can always swing back to the overly-referenced Top Songs list I published for the end of 2015.

 

Patrick Watson

If I was scripting a movie (probably an indie movie about a teenage boy coming to terms with his place in the world and the damning predestination that comes with growing up in the American education system…just speculating though, who knows?), I have a big list of artists I know I’d reach out to for my soundtrack. Obviously Andrew Bird would write the score, but I’d want some original songs in there, too, and that, my sad friends who have read this far, is where Patrick Watson comes in. I have yet to fall in love with a Patrick Watson album in its entirety, but I’ll tell you what this guy does. Every couple years he busts out two or three of the most beautiful and emotional songs of the year, and he did it again in 2015. He could put out an album that’s just a man scratching his beard and smacking his lips for the other nine songs, and I wouldn’t care. As long as he puts in the effort to make those other tracks as enchanting and as special as this song I’m about to share, I’d be foolish not to listen.

Top 100 Songs of 2015

Now THAT was a year of music! 2015 was an overwhelming explosion of great tunes, so much so that I had no idea what was going to be my #1 song of the year coming into the writing of the post (the horse I bet on came in 6th – I genuinely can’t even predict my own thoughts). I’m going to spend as little time as possible in the up-front here because I imagine anyone reading this has already scrolled down to the Spotify playlist below to get started. Continue reading Top 100 Songs of 2015

Favorite Artist Discoveries of 2015 – Happy Tunesday! Vol. 5 of 52

I don’t remember if it was NBC playing episodes over the summer or some TBS-like station syndicating them, but I distinctly remember Friends reruns being advertised as “if you haven’t seen them, they’re new to you!” way back in the land before DVR.  And that’s the approach I have taken to music discovery this year.  If I haven’t heard of them before, they’re new to me.  So let me introduce to you, my 10 favorite artist discoveries of the year so far. Continue reading Favorite Artist Discoveries of 2015 – Happy Tunesday! Vol. 5 of 52

What in God’s Name Is This Music Video? Happy Tunesday! Vol. 4 of 52

On a flight down to Austin, Massachusetts, this past Friday, I had the pleasure of having a screen in my face the entire flight, courtesy of JetBlue.  Since I’m a degenerate, I had my TV on the whole time, even when I didn’t have my headphones in and it wasn’t a sports show on the screen (a sign of a true loser).  At one point I looked up, and somehow I had some classic VH1 station on, showing an 80s music video that I just had to take another look at.

Continue reading What in God’s Name Is This Music Video? Happy Tunesday! Vol. 4 of 52

The Musical Reprise – Happy Tunesday! Vol. 3 of 52

It was a pretty fascinating week in the life of yours truly (it wasn’t), filled with countless women (dudes), extravagant feasts (late night hot dogs), and wild adventure (started watching Bob’s Burgers).  And what was the soundtrack to that week?! Who cares? We’re talking about something totally different in this week’s edition of Tunesday – the reprise. Continue reading The Musical Reprise – Happy Tunesday! Vol. 3 of 52

Happy Tunesday! (Vol. 2 of 52)

Assuming my body allows me (the road to recovery after a Sunday wedding can be a long one) and the show doesn’t sell out before I hit “publish,” I’ll be dragging what’s left of my body across town to check out Unknown Mortal Orchestra tonight.  That probably means little or nothing to you (unless you want to come?), but what’s more interesting is how I came to know the band.  It’s a lost art, but one that I assure you stands the test of time.

Continue reading Happy Tunesday! (Vol. 2 of 52)

Happy Tunesday! (Vol. 1 of 52)

Alright, so I (not at all recently) came to a couple realizations.  First, I completely took my foot off the pedal with writing. Not okay. That’s how my brain keeps progressing, and I’ve been wasting its time on worthless junk like podcasts and exercise. What a waste! My other enlightenment was that my music posts on this site have been by far the least interesting and least engaging for…people (hahaha, I almost said “fans”…almost). Here’s how we’re going to remedy that situation: a weekly music post!

This is the compromise I’m making – I need to write more, and the only way that’s going to start happening again is if I make a false promise to myself that tricks me into writing.

I’m going to write a music post every week for the entire next year.

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? False promise made! I’m going to force myself to write something – anything– about music every week. We’ll see where that goes, and I’ll try to mix at least one newish track in every week, for those of you who are so freakin’ on top of new music that this would be worthless to you.

This week’s theme: the new Boston Calling lineup.  I’m starting to make a Boston Calling playlist on Spotify, but here’s a sample of what I’m most excited about after seeing the fall lineup.

Track 1

For as long as people have asked me what kind of music I listen to (let’s say 6 years) as a conversation starter, I’ve given the same response. “I like to try to find new artists a lot, but I’ll listen to anything…” <3 second pause> “…except country.”  And then Sturgill Simpson crashed onto the scene last year and ruined years of work – and apparent lies – by me.  Sturgill crosses the border. He’s rough around the edges, he sings about really weird stuff, his lyrics don’t sound like they were written in crayon on a paper towel by a 16-year-old girl (which is my opinion on country lyrics, and you all know it’s accurate).  He’s an outlaw.  I’m not saying he’s Johnny Cash, but…he’s kinda Johnny Cash?  Give him a listen – this was one of my favorite albums last year, which you would know if I actually wrote my Top Ten albums post. Whoops!

Track 2

You should all know the Alabama Shakes by now.  They’re about an inch away from being the biggest band in America, and they’re making the Arcade Fire leap this year from indie sweetheart into annual festival headliner.

When they were last in town touring (for their first album), I sold my tickets (LIKE AN IDIOT), so I’m all kinds of excited to see them come around this fall, even though festivals are typically terrible places to see concerts.  I’m not sure what I’m getting to with that, but anyway, the Shakes.  Their new album is killer. It’s like they just jumped in a garage and started grooving until they hit their stride, then made all those strides into songs.  There isn’t a ton of structure, but the energy doesn’t stop on this album, and it’s an early contender for Album of the Year (if the artist from Track 3 didn’t have something to say about it). Here’s one of many songs from that album that no vocalist on earth could replicate:

Track 3

I saved the best for last here, which I find to be a great tactic when eating a meal and a terrible tactic for writing blog posts. It would take me at least 45 seconds to switch this into the Track 1 slot at this point though, and I already wrote this weird justification sentence you’re reading right now, so really it’s out of my hands.

Father John Misty is the weirdest dude.  But I think he knows he’s the weirdest dude, which actually makes him not the weirdest dude because the weirdest dude would genuinely have no idea he’s the weirdest dude, as self-awareness does not lend itself to the weirdest.  But he’s pretty weird. And an absolutely incredible musician.  His last album – Fear Fun – was an instant classic for me.  It’s something I listen to the whole way through at least every two months, and I don’t see that changing. Except…his new album (from 2015), I Love You, Honeybear, has surpassed the first. I’m not sure what more I can say to compliment the guy – he has two albums since 2012, and they’re probably both in my top 100 albums of all-time (consider I listen to probably 5-10 new albums every week, then that number seems a lot wilder).  This isn’t the best song on the album, but I couldn’t pick, and you’re going to listen to it now anyway.

Alright, solid ending!  Happy Tunesday, everybody!

Mind the Gap

Most of the time, when you’re making a fool of yourself on purpose, it’s just to make other people happy.  Their happiness brings you happiness. You may be costing yourself immeasurably in the persona you’re left with, but it’s worth it. You made someone’s day better.  And that’s the bright side.  The dark side is what it does to your mind when you’re not making other people happy.  The dark side is where you get lost in your own thoughts. The dark side is depression.

Continue reading Mind the Gap

Best New-ish Artist: You’re Awful, Grammys

If you have read any of my music lists or recommendations over the years, you’ll know that my taste doesn’t exactly align with the general public.  So when the Grammys come around every year, it’s only natural that I disagree with their nominations.  But it’s not because of the music that I disagree, it’s because the Grammys are a fraud. Continue reading Best New-ish Artist: You’re Awful, Grammys

Yeah, This Will Turn Out Well