2015 was easily the year of indie alt-rock and female-led or dominated bands.
2015 was a fantastic year for music. This year saw the industry really bounce back from some lean times. Adele’s album was a huge success, as was Taylor Swift’s. Kendrick Lamar made one of the most critically acclaimed albums of this millennium. Sleater-Kenney came back. Sufjan Stevens made one of the most heartbreaking and thoughtful albums. Courtney Barnett, who was just nominated for a Grammy made a phenomenal rock album that was on constant repeat in the IMN office. This year also saw stellar releases from Waxahatchee, Torres, Joanna Newsom and Father John Misty who also dropped some serious bangers. Wilco also dropped a surprise album, Star Wars, that has easily become one of our favourite Wilco albums.
Yet, despite it’s punctuations from Adele and Kendrick, 2015 was easily the year of indie alt-rock and female-led or dominated bands. To mark this, we even started a new permanent feature at IMN to highlight the wealth of female musicians making their name in the scene. Others have noticed too. Towards the end of the year, IMN connected with the She Does Podcast to share information and collaborate on a year-end compilation album, She Music. Alt-rock, our favourite genre at IMN, was made in spades this year and we couldn’t be happier about it. But don’t expect our top fifteen to be totally dominated by it.
In no particular order.
One of the best vocal performances of the year from Frances Quinlan, Hop Along is raw and energetic and full of feelings that are entirely palpable and bold. A full album effort, Painted Shut saw some heavy rotation at the IMN offices. It was also full of cuts that we saw our staff (trying to) sing along to the most.
Jenny Tuite and Alex Molini came to my city (Ottawa, ON) this year and despite the fact that there were only a handful of people in the crowd, they put on a rock show that I’m not soon to forget. Be they rocking right in your face, pushing the raw, righteous, babe-ness of Jenny Tuite’s voice or pulling you down into a blissfully ponderous and perhaps chilling instrumental track that’s hijacking your brainwaves, there’s nothing held back, there’s nothing timid about this effort.
Philadelphia was a huge scene for music this year. Beach Slang added to the city’s musical credibility with their debut release. An album of affirmation and full-on sound, Beach Slang’s release is all about what the punk scene has always been about: misfits and ne’er do wells finding a place in the world and putting up a middle finger along the way.
Toronto, ON’s Badbadnotgood is a jazz outfit that broke some serious walls down this year by collaborating with Ghostface Killah and producing one of the more creative albums of the year. It was a collaboration that was always meant to happen and always needed to happen. We’re glad 2015 was the year that it finally did.
2015 was a huge year for music and for something that was released in the last month of the year, it’d have to be impressive to make this list. Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso did just this with his debut EP. From the first track to the last, this EP is entirely engrossing. Big, brave, and more than just the fun electronica that backs Amelia Meith, Penumbra was also beautiful and at times, breathtaking.
A quiet reflection, deep breaths and even a tear or two later, Julien Baker’s debut album was easily our favourite acoustic effort of the year. Pensive and full of youthful innocence, Julien’s album was far more mature than her tender young age of 19. Melancholoy, and a punch to the gut, this album is more than just sad reflections. Deeper down there’s a recognition and an acceptance that’s beyond tears and trials. You can hear Julien finding her way on this album and in turn, you may even find yours.
Electronic combined with classical influences, Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm – two of the best modern composers in the world today – combined together to make this solemn and contemplative album that’s full of the sounds between the sounds and the sounds that build upon the others. The musical space these guys create is both intense and enveloping.
Just two girls with two electric guitars, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad form a magical little band called Girlpool. Their much-anticipated 2015 album release, Before The World Was Big, is an honest, bare, and imaginative take on life’s not-so-small confusions and mysteries. The highlight of this record is the synchronicity of their folk-punk harmonies – the tight vocal blend makes us listen a little longer, a little closer.
IMN writer, Dan Baker, describes the Boston-based band, Pile, as “ferocious, hard-hitting, and intense”. Their newest album, You’re Better Than This, lives up to Baker’s spot-on description. Pile’s music has an angry edge – they’re not afraid to scream and lose their minds in moments of electric, chaotic intensity. In an exclusive IMN interview with band member, Matt Becker, we learned that Pile’s goal is “to make art [they] find interesting with [their] friends”. They started the band with a set plan, but instead experimented and went with their gut. Their approach seems to have produced something magical, angry, and twisted – something that is uniquely Pile.
Krill made us feel nostalgic about our (perhaps reckless) college days with their February release, A Distant Fist Unclenching. What drew us to the Boston-based band was their high-energy and their bold, experimental place in the rock genre. One moment their songs are mellow and reserved, but there is a guaranteed build – a burst, a release of bottled-up, misplaced feelings.
IMN reviewed Palehound’s new album, Dry Food, back in August and we were in as much awe with lead vocalist and guitarist Ellen Kempner then as we are now. Her ability to blend various genres, influences, and musical elements impressed us, along with her inventive lyrics that present humorous juxtapositions. Dry Food is like the musical equivalent of a whimsical I Spy book – with more listens, the more you notice about Kempner’s musical ingenuity and witty wordplay.
A lot of hidden music gems come out of New Paltz, a small city in New York state, including the easygoing, self-described “slop pop” band, Diet Cig. Vocalist Alex Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman released their first album in February, entitled, Over Easy. Luciano’s vocals are endearingly insecure, making listeners feel reminiscent of childhood wonder, innocence, and confusion. The lyrics are simple and straightforward, blending a youthful sensibility with more mature themes and language. The juxtaposition of young and old creates an interesting tension that drives the album.
In August, IMN had the pleasure to interview the Minneapolis-based, feel-good indie-rock-pop band, Bad Bad Hats. We learned that lead vocalist and guitarist, Kerry Alexander, is inspired by popular female vocalists of the 1990s, which is especially apparent in their July release, Psychic Reader. Alexander is backed by Chris Hoge on guitar, bass, drums, and synth and Noah Boswell on bass. Each track on the album is a catchy, power-pop, guilty pleasure tune with just enough lyrical depth. Drawing from the music the band members grew up with, they created a carefree album for jumping and dancing on beds again.
Sometimes there’s nothing better than a rough, fuzzy sounding album that is absent of all pretension and grandeur. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a front man who is as unassuming offstage as he is ridiculous and lewd on stage. Stove’s debut album, Is Stupider, is a bare and jagged effort that feels lonely, introspective, and full of angst.
IMN’s favourite songwriter of 2015, Alex G’s seventh album, Beach House, is possibly his best yet. From start to finish, you experience his life as a touring musician performing with the likes of Elvis Depressedly, Cymbals Eat Guitars, and Gardens & Villa during 2014/2015. Recorded in his apartment, his Elliot Smith esque lo-fi pop stylings will make you shed a tear or two, contemplate life, and what your role is in this every changing world. Highly recommended listen when times are tough.