1. Shilpa Ray – Last Year’s Savage Enough already, world – bow down to the power and greatness of Shilpa Ray! Her style is rooted in a bygone born-to-lose era of rock (see “Johnny Thunders Fantasy Space Camp”), but Ray’s latest album finally offers the depth of material to best showcase her highly original perspective.
Dudes released two albums of essential psychedelic rock this year. I can’t choose between the metal crunch of Golem or the technicolor flower-punk of 1000 Days, cuz both knocked me out like few other records this year.
3. Lower Dens – Escape From Evil. The Baltimore nouveau post-punk unit scales a new peak. Not many groups walk the line between urban chill and interpersonal connection as skillfully and resonantly as Lower Dens.
4. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness She releases one unassailable album of melodic art music after another. Don’t let her indie milieu fool you: Julia Holter is one for the ages, whom we’ll be discussing along the lines of Bjork, Robert Wyatt and Kate Bush in years to come.
5. Male Gaze – Gale Maze EP Commanding, nervy, charismatic garage-rock from San Francisco. I just… cannot… stop jumping around, air guitaring and air drumming when this record comes on! YYYEEAAAHHH!!!
6. Roísín Murphy – Hairless Toys The intelligent, seductive, kooky, soulful vocalist presents eight highly polished gems of left-field electronica, one for each year since her last album. The wait was worth it.
7. Etiquette – Reminisce This real-life couple sets second-person narratives of romantic dissolution sung with pitiless clarity to compelling rainy-day downtempo grooves. Toronto’s Everything But The Girl – there, I said it.
8. FFS – FFS Easily the best Sparks record in a decade, maybe two, thanks to the chops of… some Scottish group named Franz Ferdinand?
9. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down… I still can’t figure out whether Kurt Vile is a simple-minded pothead noodler or a significant new figure in rock. That duality is part of what makes him fascinating, but at the end of the day we wouldn’t be talking about Vile if he weren’t continually upping his game as a songwriter, musician and recording artist.
10. Sufjan Stevens – Albany Palace Theater, April 2015 Carrie and Lowell was a return to the indie-folk that made Sufjan Stevens one of the most celebrated musicians of the last decade, but also maybe too intimate and vulnerable a record for frequent listening. In concert, his new acoustic-electronic arrangements (where Stevens’ musical heart really seem to lie these days) made those songs transcendent – even cosmic, in album/concert closer “My Blue Bucket of Gold.”
A sociology professor living in upstate New York, Leonard Nevarez is patiently waiting until his kids are old enough for a family roadtrip to Maryland Deathfest. He blogs at musicalurbanism.org and is writing a book about Martha & the Muffins and the late 70s/early 80s downtown Toronto music scene.