Friday, November 27, 2015

Dr. Spin's Top 20 for 2015: The First Half

Ah, November – the newsfeeds are jammed with daily thanks, moustaches, holiday recipes, and shopping deals. It also serves as the deadline for my annual top 20 list. In my pre parenthood days, the blog had monthly roundups and November would feature selections 11-20. In recent years, this has devolved into just the latter.  I start working on this list at the beginning of the month, but I usually have time to compile it during my annual Thanksgiving Day holiday to South Padre.

In contrast to having a small dinner with some friends, Thanksgiving at the beach is a quite different affair.  My in-laws generously rent a condo on the beach and fill it with their extended family and friends.  With the Little One functioning as a very precocious 4 year old, she's gotten swept up in the kid culture of the group.  This includes, of course, significant amounts of beach time.

Sand drives me nuts, so I am not a huge fan of sand castles and the like.  That's the Little One's domain.  I am, however, a big fan of the aesthetic of the beach.  I can stand for an interminable amount of time letting the waves hit my feet while I take in the vastness of the ocean.  I usually get my fix during Thanksgiving, but this year was different.  When I got beachside, I was greeted by a huge, rusty pipe running as far as the eye could see.

It didn't do much to soothe the environmental anxiety that I have been suffering with this year.  I hope that the Little Two gets to remember seeing beaches without such a post-apocalyptic aesthetic.

I say it every year, and every year I get criticism: my Top 20 is not constrained to albums with a 2015 release date. Although albums released this year do have some degree of favor, inclusion on the list has much more to do with how an album comes to mark the time for a given year.  There are other rules, which I have stuck to since the first year I did this.  They are posted here.

20. Balmorhea – Stranger: This one entered the picture in late 2014, but grabbed my attention when I revisited it earlier this year. Tortoise’s It’s all Around You was a favorite of mine in another life, and Stranger speaks the same dialect.

19. Mew +/-: I really wanted to put +/- at the top of the 2015 list. While I will say that the return of bassist Johan Wohlert brought back the band’s soul, the album is ‘merely excellent’ rather than ‘phenomenal’ like their earlier work.

18. BattlesLaDiDaDi: LaDiDaDi harkens back to the unapologetically dense days of EP B/C EP. It is a step forward for Battles as a trio, but still doesn’t reach the heights of the classic Mirrored.

17: Spock's Beard - The Oblivion Particle: Without any direct input from Neal Morse, this year's offering from Spock's Beard rakes anoter step towards solidifying the current lineup.  Ted Leonard fronts the band without taking over, allowing the group's unique personality to shine through.

16. Death Grips – The Powers that B: Although Death Grips have released several albums since The Money Store, their media antics have been more compelling than their music. The much-hyped The Powers that B actually delivers on the braggadocio that they have been delivering for the past few years.

15. East India Youth – Culture of Volume: Despite a dismal set opening for Mew at SXSW, I had a hunch that the studio might be a better vehicle for his vision. I was pleased to find that I was correct – I only wish that he was using a live drummer!

14. Other LivesRituals: While it may not cast the same spell as its predecessor, Rituals definitely weaves a similar magic. It is similarly orchestral in its scope, however, with generous use of bassoon and hints of minimalism.

13. The New Pornographers Brill Bruisers: It is incredibly tricky to make multiple albums of outstanding power pop music without becoming formulaic. The New Pornographers navigate this issue by giving each album its own subtle character without reinventing the band’s essence.

12. Original Soundtrack - 13 Assassins: Thanks to the Superhero Theme Project, I have had a lot of soundtracks in rotation for the past couple of years. 13 Assassins was a totally accidental find in the research for Wolverine's theme, but its distinctive character immediately grabbed and held my attention for months.

11. Circa: - HQ: Regular followers of my blog know that I have engaged in an ongoing exploration of Yes’ identity. Listening to HQ was part of the research for this examination, but it came to have a life of its own early this year.

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