MAGNET’s #9 Album Of 2015: Deafheaven’s “New Bermuda”

Deafheaven

Deafheaven is by no means the first metal band to combine the delicate and the brutal, but by god, the group wins the prize for taking the most shit over it. Hard to say whether this is a byproduct of its notoriety after 2013’s Sunbather, that album’s pink album cover (really?), the band’s penchant for shoegaze or that metal purists didn’t appreciate the fact that us MAGNET nerds embraced Deafheaven as one of our own. New Bermuda is a brilliant record, but I’m here to tell you that it won’t change anyone’s opinion. The juxtapositions persist, with each song offering a pot of maggots at the end of the rainbow. Delicate piano and gorgeous guitar strumming inevitably meet obliteration from blast beats, fearsome walls of guitar sound, and vocals that could only be replicated by dropping a wasp nest and microphone into a mason jar and adding synapse-destroying amplifi cation. Still, there is evolution here, the deathgaze now mixed with more traditional metal elements, such as the whammy bar workout and closing chuga-chug riffage (think Metallica’s “Seek And Destroy”) on “Baby Blue.” The result is a more focused attack that all tribes—heshers and hipsters alike—should get behind. —Matt Ryan

MAGNET’s #10 Album Of 2015: Carly Rae Jepsen’s “E*MO*TION”

CarlyRaeJepsen

Let’s be real: You are dead inside. You have been since the first Bush administration. You are a callous, unfeeling brute operating solely on instinct and day-old pizza. But you long to feel again, long to have hope and joy and life spring forth from your grizzled bosom like flowers on the first day of spring. But that record collection full of doom metal and musique concrète just ain’t gonna do it—you need emotion. Or rather, E*MO*TION. From the very first synth-horn stabs of album opener “Run Away With Me”—which are as epic and stirring as that moment in Star Trek IV when the whales are like, “Sure, we’ll save your planet, assholes”—Carly Rae Jepsen delivers a dance-pop feast steeped in big hooks, classic rhythms and brilliant sound design. It’s a record that can satisfy Tangerine Dream-worshipping audio nerds and normal, functioning human beings alike. Jepsen transcends her over-meme’d “Call Me Maybe” reputation to deliver a record that is soulful, funky and, quite frankly, fun as hell. Remember back when you stayed up all night singing along with Sheila E.? Totally the same vibe on tracks like “ Boy Problems,” “I Really Like You” and “I Didn’t Come Here To Dance.” Maybe you aren’t dead inside after all. —Sean L. Mahoney

MAGNET’s #11 Album Of 2015: Low’s “Ones And Sixes”

Low

“Gentle… quiet… careful… measured… stable…” The ambiguous string of adjectives that opens Low’s 11th album reads like a decidedly facile caricature of the band’s initial slowcore aesthetic, a sound it has continually explored, expanded, refi ned and redefined over the past two decades. While a couple of those words might apply in moments, superficially, none of them re- fl ects the depth of what these indie mainstays have accomplished here: yet another astonishing release in a catalog full of them, and an especially striking divergence from the lulling, organic warmth of their last two records. Ones And Sixes feels familiar and assured, but at the same time raw, almost anxiously experimental. It stakes out newly arresting, starkly minimalist avenues, while also surveying much of what has come before: Drums And Guns’ bleak, digital churn; Trust’s stately versatility; the glacial expansiveness of their early days. The album also breaks new ground in terms of heaviness (the epic “Landslide,” whose dirge-y verses pilfer the punishing crunch of Sparhawk’s Retribution Gospel Choir) and poppiness (“Kid In The Corner,” whose opening seconds could practically be Taylor Swift). And while the spine-tingling beauty of Mimi Parker’s voice—featured here more than ever—is hardly a new angle in the band’s oeuvre, it will never, ever get old. —K. Ross Hoffman

MAGNET’s #12 Album Of 2015: Sleater-Kinney’s “No Cities To Love”

SleaterKinney

Sleater-Kinney did everything right with its comeback album, the trio’s first since 2005’s The Woods. Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss didn’t let anyone know they were working together, much less that they were recording. They woodshedded in Brownstein’s basement until they felt that they had something worthy of furthering— not repeating—their legacy, and they emerged with a loud beast of a record, one of the best of its storied career. It’s as heavy as The Woods, as charged as One Beat, and as catchy—at least at times—as Dig Me Out. But it sounds like none of them. And it was totally unexpected, which made it all the more thrilling. The trio had their own legacy to compete with—recently entombed with the Start Together boxed set, which contained a teaser of the new music—and they came out victorious: it’s a rare and beautiful thing to see a favorite band reunite and reignite, as if without pause. Although the backstory to No Cities is great, what counts is the current one: a fantastic album that grapples with rock ‘n’ roll, consumerism and desire; that pushes forward; that rocks hard. —Steve Klinge

MAGNET’s #13 Album Of 2015: Ricked Wicky’s “Swimmer To A Liquid Armchair”

RickedWicky

Not that there’s anything wrong with Robert Pollard’s solo LPs, but his band-centric collaborations seem to invigorate him, and working with guitarist Nick Mitchell, drummer Kevin March and bassist Todd Tobias under the Ricked Wicky banner has brought out Pollard’s best. Swimmer To A Liquid Armchair, the third Ricked Wicky record of 2015—insert your own stale jab about prolificacy here; we’ll wait—is probably the most consistent. (The others are debut I Sell The Circus and followup King Heavy Metal.) Pollard’s typically fine pop, punk, psych and prog stylings are in full effect, and moments like the ultra-melodic “Poor Substitute,” where Pollard hilariously claims he’ll “never have the Midas touch,” rank with anything in his voluminous back catalog. (That was stale, but wasn’t a jab.) It’s to Mitchell’s credit that his songs, “Blind Side” and “Plastic Oceanic Getaway,” aren’t filler, but rather vital to the LP’s vibe and success, though thoughts do wander to how great they’d be if Pollard were singing them. Ricked Wicky isn’t Guided By Voices. It’s not Boston Spaceships. It’s not even the Keene Brothers. (Sorry, I indulged myself there.) But as someone smart once said about Pollard’s output, it’s all one thing—and that’s gold. —Matt Hickey

MAGNET’s #14 Album Of 2015: Jim O’Rourke’s “Simple Songs”

JimORourke

In a recent interview with BOMB magazine, Jim O’Rourke recalled having to justify to his father his habit of rewatching movies. “People put years of their lives into this; there’s so much in there,” he said. “How do you think you can understand years of someone’s life in two hours?” Simple Songs, his first album of songs in 14 years, clocks in at just 38 minutes, but it’s so densely packed with gradually revealed details that it needs to be taken in the same way: repeatedly, while paying close attention. Its eight far-from-simple songs are populated with grumpy ghosts, forgotten artists and vanished places, each in a different state of awareness of its ongoing disappearance. O’Rourke has jettisoned the broad humor and overt references of his earlier records for Drag City, and instead crafted icy meta-pop slick enough to give the characters nothing to hang onto as they recede into oblivion. But each time you watch them slide away, you’ll notice some new lick or line that draws you in, keeping you engaged with figures that are on their way out. Now that’s staying power. —Bill Meyer

MAGNET’s #15 Album Of 2015: Blur’s “The Magic Whip”

Blur

Despite having reformed six years ago to play occasional live gigs, the prospect of an entire album’s worth of new Blur material appearing any time soon seemed slim, to say the least. So, when the band announced the release of The Magic Whip earlier this year, apparently out of nowhere, it was nothing short of a minor miracle. Which would have been meaningless if this was a tired, hollow retread of past glories. But it most definitely is not. What it is is Blur’s most consistently great album in almost 20 years. It’s a thrilling reminder of just what the British Isles’ preeminent art-school fops can produce when they’re at the top of their game. It’s a joy to hear Graham Coxon—undisputedly the best guitarist of his generation—make a glorious racket once more. It’s a joy to hear him backed by one of the most criminally underrated rhythm sections of recent times once more; and it’s an utter joy to hear them all blend seamlessly with Damon Albarn’s unerring gift for melody and careworn melancholy. It’s an irresistible blend that’s smart, vibrant and frequently gorgeous, and it’s just great to have them together again. Who knows what the future holds? For now, it’s onward and upward. —Neil Ferguson

MAGNET’s #16 Album Of 2015: Richard Hawley’s “Hollow Meadows”

RichardHawley

I’ve spent a lot of time in the U.K. over the years, but I’ve never been to Sheffield. Having also spent a lot of time with Richard Hawley’s eight solo records, maybe I don’t need to—they’re all named after places in and around those environs, and Hollow Meadows doesn’t deviate from this trend, taking its title from Auley Meadows, where his ancestors supposedly resided between the 14th and 17th centuries. What I do know of the place is its righteous antiquity—home of the world’s oldest soccer club (Sheffield F.C.), the birthplace of stainless steel. So, it’s hardly surprising that what we hear traces its roots to the ’50s-inspired hepcat rockabilly and classic BBC twilight pop we’ve come to expect from Hawley—vaguely melancholy martinis ‘n’ memories machines, rich with tremolo, melody and moodiness (“I Still Want You,” “Serenade Of Blue,” “Nothing Like A Friend”) even as they opine on age-old themes of busted romance, disappointments and The One That Got Away. I don’t know of anyone else who traffics in this kind of ancient and justified songcraft—tunes that remind you of a different, less complicated time, back before mobile phones ruled our every waking hour, when you could obsess over a piece of black vinyl spinning ’round for days or even weeks on end. —Corey duBrowa

MAGNET’s #17 Album Of 2015: Screaming Females’ “Rose Mountain”

ScreamingFemales

In the wild—that is, onstage, their preferred habitat—Screaming Females are a force of nature. Driven by Marissa Paternoster’s intimidating guitar solos and inimitable gut-punch wail, the trio is frenetic, virtuosic, relentless. But while their first five full-lengths displayed steady growth in chops and confidence, they didn’t quite match the power of the band’s live performances. With Rose Mountain, they’re not even trying to replicate that sound or fury—which has freed them to write their best suite of songs yet and, just as importantly, leave some notes unplayed. Paternoster still sings and shreds like a boss, but she’s no longer fighting for sonic space with Jarrett Dougherty’s nimble drumming and Michael Abbate’s chunky bass lines. The result: The band’s never been more dynamic or versatile, deftly moving from the grungy “Empty Head” to the chugging “Ripe,” the classic pop of “Wishing Well,” and through the sinewy titular song and the prog riffage of “Triumph.” While there are delicate moments on Rose Mountain, it’s not pretty on the inside. Lyrically, the LP is rife with references to peeled skin, pinched nerves, needles and burial plots. Even guitar gods are human, with blisters and scars to show for it when they’re in top shape, and more serious damage when wrestling with health issues, as Paternoster has. It’s a reminder that while we can’t break up with our bodies, music is our best shot at transcendence. —M.J. Fine

MAGNET’s #18 Album Of 2015: Destroyer’s “Poison Season”

Destroyer

Dan Bejar has evolved from being a cranky, brilliant word guy to a sophisticated, brilliant bandleader, and the ch-ch-changes have been a joy to experience. 2011’s breakthrough Kaputt signaled the shift as it reveled in the smooth stylings (complete with sax solos) defined by Roxy Music’s Avalon. Poison Season has some of that same suave aesthetic, but it pushes in new and exciting directions, sometimes relying on classical string quartets, sometimes revving up into the rock ‘n’ soul territory of Bowie’s Young Americans or early Springsteen. In other hands, these decidedly unhip signifiers could seem ironic, but Bejar plays them straight, diving deeply. The words are pared back and cryptic, and he sings, rather than declaims them. It’s long been clear that Bejar is a chameleon who can write catchy pop songs (witness his trio of tunes on each New Pornographers album), but on Poison Season, he finds the sweet spot between crafting memorable hooks—“Dream Lover” is one of his catchiest—and leaving open spaces for the band to stretch out. The music says as much as the words; until recently, that would have been a shocking thing to say about a Destroyer album. —Steve Klinge