JB “the Indicator” aka John Byce picks the best of 2015 releases. We stock em, you’ll like em.

JB knows. As an avid music collector, a bodacious drummer, a true connoisseur of sonic wonderment trends in modern rock and related music each year The Indicator offers us his distillation of the year’s expansive releases dialed down to 17 must-haves. This is a veritable check list for 12 months of great tunes from High-Fidelity land. They are all in stock most of them on CD and LP. What could be better? Here’s the 2015 round up. Enjoy!
17. Beach House – Depression Cherry

If you’ve listened to any of the great Beach House records you kind of know what to expect. Dream pop.. Shoegaze.. Droolcore.. Call it what you want. It’s the middle ground between Jesus and Mary Chain and the chilled side of Yo La Tengo.. Most people love it or hate it, I happen to love it.

16. Wilco – Star Wars

Jeff Tweedy is still at it and still making great records. Earlier in the year when this dropped for free, I ranted about how Wilco’s most significant work is behind them. The point of my tirade was to point out that Jay Bennett deserves more recognition for his contributions on the classic Wilco records. I’ll stand behind that rant but Star Wars is really starting to grow on me. Tweedy’s songs and the all star Wilco lineup have sparked fire late in the catalog. Let’s not write these guys off just yet.

15. Panda Bear – Meets The Grim Reaper

It’s hard for me to talk about Panda Bear because I can’t really put my finger on why I like it so much. The songs are more like tone poems with found sounds and effects looping, bouncing and splashing about; sometimes disorienting and can be distracting. But there are songs underneath that shine through once the ear has become accustomed to the world of Panda Bear.

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14. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

K Lamar is the big name of Hip Hop for 2015. The boys in the hood of Compton still celebrate him as well as prominent critics and even throngs of middle class tweens because his verses on Taylor Swift’s Badblood. Oh yea and the POTUS said “How Much a Dollar Cost” is his favorite song of the year.

This is a great record that is worth the attention it’s getting and if you haven’t listened to his 2012 album Good Kid, MADD City, it’s at least as good.

13. Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs

Jim records, produces, contributes and writes lots of different things; modern composition, weird electronic, noisy jazz, etc. But he has a pop side too and that’s what we have here. He’s worked with Wilco and Sonic Youth and released a handful of solo records on Drag City that are all in this vein. The sound on this one get’s kind of close to the arrangements of Steely Dan without the slickness and asinine lyrics. So unlike Pretzel Logic, I can listen to this in public.

12. Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Goin Down

Kurt Vile is my man. His sound, his swagger. I think his generation is listening to “classic rock” differently than I was when I was a 20 something. What we wrote off as cheese, they are mining and coming up with gold. On this record he strays from the layers of thick guitar that made Smoke Ring for My Halo and Wakin on a Pretty Daze so bad ass. I miss that sound but I have a feeling he’s in transition and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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11. Beirut – No No No

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Beirut and from what I can tell he has been struggling with a relationship as well as a way to follow his great 2011 record The Rip Tide. Supposedly he labored over the follow-up record for years then scrapped it. And this one (less elaborate, more of a minor work) was put together in a few weeks. I guess we’ll never know what the scrapped one sounded like but this one is dandy. Not the epic follow up that we were expecting but a really nice, piano based rock record with plenty of acoustic embellishments that he’s known for.

10. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

Sometimes I listen to songs without really paying attention to lyrics. But that never happens with Courtney Barnett. I don’t know if it’s the way it’s mixed and arranged or if it’s her vocal approach but it’s like a dose of ear Ritalin. Good thing though because there’s a whole world of emotion, perspective and humor that fills these little guitar trio arrangements.

9. Mac DeMarco – Another One

On past records, the love songs have been a foil to the Cooking Up Something Goods and Freaking Out The Neighborhoods. But on this mini-LP, it’s nothing but the tender hearted side of Mac. He plays up the love and heartbreak with big hooks and lots of electric piano. I’m ready for another one…

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8. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

I love you FJM! I would be embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve listened to this record. He may actually be as cleaver as he thinks he is. If there is a downside to this record it’s that he dots all the “i”s and crosses all the “t”s. Fear Fun was a better record because it was more raw and the songs had more mystery. I’ll be chewing on Fear Fun long after Honeybear has been fully digested.

7. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier

This is the most produced, fully formed, pop statement in the Deerhunter/Atlas Sound catalog. More refined but not watered down. More of what makes Deerhunter great; artistic visions, clashing styles that rumble with friction and imagery that prods our imaginations.

6. Cass McCombs – A Folk Set Apart

This is a collection of b sides and unreleased material from the past 12 years. This kind of thing is usually bottom of the barrel dregs of diehard fans only. I happen to be a diehard fan, so turn it up dude! But for real, everything he does is essential so just buy a copy and be thankful.

Fjm-iloveyouhoneybearDeerhunter_-_Fading_Frontier_album_artworkCassAFolk_12Gatefold_US copy

5. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf

From what I can tell this is essentially another Chance the Rapper album. Since this and the other two CTR albums exist only as free downloads there are no credits or liner notes. The Social Experiment is his band in the studio and on the road, of which he is part. So if Donnie Trumpet (the trumpet player of the group) get’s top billing instead of CTR, are we to assume that he writes more of these songs? Or did he write much or most of the music on previous CTR albums? The mystery of what this is bothers and excites me at the same time. It would make since listening to this and other CTR albums, that it’s a team of talented people, not just a lone producer that’s responsible for the rich sound that’s more than just backing tracks for a great rapper.

4. Destroyer – Poison Season

I’ve been a Destroyer fan for a while, but I caught my first proper show earlier this year at The Grey Eagle. The band was 7 or 8 strong and they ripped my face off. It was 70s Bowie meets 80s Springsteen meets Stooges Funhouse. Cranky old Dan Bejar engaged only to offer his crony Sinatra meets Van Morrison verses then retreating to his cocktails or green bottles of imported lager. The hyper intensity of the band with sax player who overblew from the first note to the last and the wall of sound coming from the affected trumpet juxtaposed with the guy in the center of the stage who was either uncomfortable with attention or seemingly unwanting of it. The whole experience left a mark and hearing this material burn with such intensity live helps appreciate the restrained nature and string arrangements that shimmer with sweetness upon songs that struggle to contain pent-up dark energy.

3. Tame Impala – Currents

The third record from these Aussie psych-rockers has more of a dance/programmed sound. So, yes they are changing but this new palate allows them to reach a wider sonic spectrum, taking the listener on a trip that expands their minds with lyrics that have us digging through the murk of self understanding. Kind of like how The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips stripped away some previous sonic baggage allowing them to widen their frame of reference and deliver emotionally charged songs about reconciling hope after loss. I have a feeling history will be kind to this record.

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2. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness

Not much in my collection sounds like Holter. That is with the possible exception of Joni Mitchell or Robert Wyatt. Weightless arrangements of harpsichord and strings play with syncopation in and around layers of jazzy percussion and the expressiveness of Holter’s vocals. Her melodies seems especially bold in this landscape, ripping through what could be a pleasant chamber group. The tension in these songs between simple conventional beauty and the unrestrainable realness of nature takes the listener out of their comfort zone. I kind of like it out here.

1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell

Sufjan wept. This collection of quiet, acoustic songs are about the complicated relationship he had with his schizophrenic mom and dealing with her death. Obviously it’s sad stuff but Sufjan being the artist he is, paints in many colors and shows us emotions beyond the standard grief and regret. This exercise points to rebirth and a greater understanding of who we are and a since of purpose.

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