2015 gave us a lot of good music and a lot of bad music; I’m not sure if that’s to bring a sense of balance to the force or not, but it is what it is. As we bring 2015 to a close,we always look back and reflect on what some of our favorite albums and EPs that the year has given to us. This brings us to our annual year end Best Albums list that we’d love to share with all of you. These are in no particular order, but each of these provided stand-out moments in music for us that remained with us throughout the entire year. Sorry we couldn’t fit every album cover in our collage, but we got as many as possible in there! So, without further delay, here is our list of the 34 Best Albums of 2015! Why 34? Why not!
Duran Duran – Paper Gods: Once heralded as a “flash in the pan” in the 80s, Duran Duran has managed not only to survive, but to continue making music that is head and shoulders above most of the artists around them. Long-time friend Nile Rodgers jumps back on board as a musician and producer on a few tracks. This album leans heavier to that fun and funky side that runs deep in the band’s influences and less on the retro-80s sound.
Halestorm – Into The Wild Life: The band could have played it safe after The Strange Case Of…., an album that propelled the band them further into the spotlight and helped them grab a Grammy Award. Yet, the band decided to push the creative envelope and record outside of the box. The result was Into The Wild Life, an album with many more colors being used from the musical pallette. Although it brought out quite a few haters who didn’t want the band to stray from the sound of the last album, the album was solid and showed artistic growth for the band.
Joel Hoeskstra’s 13 – Dying To Live: Hoekstra found time in his busy schedule to record a new solo album, but he chose to make this one more of a group effort. He recruited an all-star lineup including Russell Allen, Jeff Scott Soto, Vinnie Appice, Tony Franklin and others. Killer power ballad called “What We Believe” on here as well delivered by Jeff Scott Soto and Chloe Lowery (Trans Siberian Orchestra). The album is a must for fans of melodic album rock with great hooks and killer vocal delivery.
Murder F.M. – Happily Neverafter: A band that sites influences as diverse as Motley Crue, Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode will definitely get our attention, but the key is maintaining that attention. Well, Murder F.M. got it and maintains it on this killer album of theirs. Although parts may sound a little bit familiar, it is still done in a way that’s fresh and original. Co-produced by the legendary Beau Hill, the album has plenty of big riffs included in the genre fused sound delivered by the band which is all tied together by the exceptional vocal delivery of Norman “The Gnar” Matthew.
Ashleigh Stone – Elements: Have you ever been to a show and no clue who the opening act was and shortly into their set, your jaw drops (for a good reason)? Well, that’s what happened when we saw Ashleigh Stone open up for Blue October earlier this year. Her newest album Elements is a beautiful and emotional journey with songs of powerful lyrical content delivered by the voice of an angel. Stone is a compelling mix of Tori Amos meets Bonnie Raitt and it’s so rewarding as a fan of artists with substance to see her getting some much deserved attention.
Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds – The Weather Below: This latest offering from the band is their most consistent release to date and my favorite from the band. Their soulful and funky sound includes a very impressive horn section and the band is fronted by the dynamic and charismatic powerhouse of a singer Arleigh Kincheloe. Whether it’s one of the upbeat tunes that makes you want to get up and dance or a slower selection that takes you to church, this album is strong from beginning to end.
We Are Harlot – We Are Harlot : The debut album from former Asking Alexandria frontman Danny Worsnop and guitar virtuoso Jeff George will probably surprise fans of Worsnop’s prior work. This new direction suits his voice much better and this albums soars from the moment that you push play. His voice leans more to the melodic side on here, although his rasp is definitely still there. George also provides some very tasty guitar work on this solid debut which features everything from fast paced rockers to mid tempo ones to even a power ballad.
Full Devil Jacket– Valley Of Bones : Full Devil Jacket’s sophomore album was 15 years in the making, but it does prove that good things come to those who wait. Josh Brown’s story is an amazing one and he sounds stronger and better than ever on this new album from the guys. This is album that needs to be cranked loud and it makes me really optimistic for the future of Brown and the rest of FDK.
Callaghan – A History of Now : Callaghan is one of our favorite singer/songwriters and this very talented songbird did not disappoint on her second studio album. Although we love her up-tempo songs, we’re a sucker for her slower songs that she delivers. She’s become one of our favorite vocalists over the last few years and her gift of storytelling through music is such something to treasure.
Chris Stapleton – Traveller : Just because you’re a talented songwriter who has penned hits for numerous other country artists doesn’t always mean that you have what it takes to be a solo artist……….well, unless you’re Chris Stapleton. He released his debut album Traveller in May and it eventually hit #1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart as well as the Billboard Top 200. This guy has a voice and style that screams old school country and he’s a welcome breath of fresh air in a genre that’s become way too pop-ish for me.
Sara Curtin – Michigan Lilium: This new solo album from Sara is one of the coolest and most creative things that we have heard all year. The music itself is very intriguing in its depth, but Sara’s vocals are such a draw as well. She’s has a beautiful voice that is quite powerful, but knows when to push it or pull back on it when needed proving that less is actually more.
P.O.D. – The Awakening: After more than two decades of making music, some bands would run out of things to say, but not P.O.D. The guys decided to roll the dice and take a risk and they released one of their most ambitious albums earlier this year in the form of The Awakening. It’s a concept album, which is a first for the band, and it’s some of the best work that they band has ever put together. It confused some fans who quickly dismissed it because it was different, but hopefully they will go back and give it a second chance because this album is deep in content and quality.
Sunflower Dead – It’s Time To Get Weird: The band’s debut album was really good, so the anticipation of their sophomore album has been building for some time. The guys definitely stepped up their game on this album on multiple levels and for me, it’s a more true representation of what this band has to offer. It’s a damn solid album packed full of great tracks including the title track (which features a guest appearance from Korn’s frontman Jonathan Davis), “Dance With Death,” “The Rain” and “My Mother Mortis.”
Stryper – Fallen: Who would have thought that over 30 years of being a band, that Stryper would still be putting out great music today? Fallen is the follow-up to 2013’s stellar No More Hell To Pay, which I thought would be one tough album to top. This album comes close to being equally as good and it is a bit heavier that previous releases, which surprised some people. Michael Sweet’s vocals still sound so freaking amazing and the band is tighter than ever.
One Eyed Doll – Witches: The band’s latest album Witches is a concept album based around the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and 1693. To help tell the story, many of the lyrics are taken from the actual quotes in the original witch trial documents. Kimberly Freeman (guitars/lead vocals) and Jason Rufus “Junior” Sewell (drums) continue to deliver their artistic vision in their own uncompromising way.
Robyn Cage – Born In The Desert: Another artist that came across our radar this year and we were blown away by this woman. Her bio describes Cage as “Alt/Pop featuring sultry vocals, dreamy soundscapes, and vintage pianos. Sounds like Florence + Machine meets Fiona Apple on a Vaudeville stage.” She’s stunning both musically and visually and her new album Born In The Desert takes us along journeys exploring stories of rebirth and rediscovery. She’s definitely a story teller and I feel as if she has plenty of stories to tell us.
Edge of Paradise – Immortal Waltz: Although it took a while, Immortal Waltz finally saw the light of day this year. It was produced by the legendary Michael Wagener and it finds the band elevating their game in what may be considered a defining moment for this young band. The ever charismatic lead vocalist Margarita Monet has never sounded better and the band is definitely a tight and fine tuned music machine.
Stillwell – Raise It Up: the new album from Stillwell is more of what the band envisioned their sound to be than their prior releases have produced. It’s not Korn Jr. or P.O.D. Jr., although you can hear the influences in the music. The combination of Q-Unique (The Arsonists), Wuv (P.O.D.), Fieldy (Korn) and Pablo “Spider” Silva tapped into something really special with the push given to them from producer Chris Collier.
Grace and Tony– Phantasmagoric: This album is by far one of the most unique albums that we’ve heard this year. It’s content draws inspiration from Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe and Frankenstein and is delivered by the husband and wife duo of Tony and Grace White. Their voices are so completely different in their delivery, yet provide music candy for your ears when they join together. Please give this album a listen and I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I have.
September Mourning – Volume 1: This is another recording that’s been a long time coming, but it proves to be well worth the wait. The six song EP is an extension of a multi-media approach of telling the story of September Mourning. There is also a comic book that was released via Top Cow Comics entitled “A Murder of Reapers” that further helps to tell the tale of September. It’s the vision of Emily Lazar along with the help of comic book great Marc Silvestri. As for the music, The guitars are big and crunchy and the rhythm section lays down an incredibly tight and powerful foundation that allows all of these songs to grow and take shape.
Kobra and The Lotus – Words of the Prophets: I’m not always sold on the idea of a band putting out a covers EP because a lot of time they tend to fall short. This definitely isn’t the case of this new EP from Kobra and The Lotus. They tackled classic Canadian songs from the likes of RUSH, Triumph and even Allanah Myles. The only negative is that the EP is short and you wish there were a few more covers on ti because it kicks some major ass in the short amount of time it is given.
Sleeptalk – (Tie) Pure and Young: Sleeptalk came out with two EPs this year and we like both equally, so we had to declare a tie on this one. These young guys have coined their music as “space rock” and it gives you a vibe of Blink 182 while incorporating their own twist on the sound to keep it sounded fresh and unique.
Hippo Campus – (Tie) Bashful Creatures and South: Another band that released two EPs this year that we love equally, thus this entry is a tie as well. 2015 has been a huge year for these four young guys after playing SXSW, Lollapalooza and appearing on Conan. Their songs are fun and infectious; this is definitely a band to keep your eyes and ears on.
Idlewar – Dig In: When you first listen to Dig In, you’ll be amazed to find out that all of that sound and power is coming out of a three man unit. They seem to have a combination of the modern stoner rock (Clutch/Crobot) while keeping their other rock influences (Beatles/Black Sabbath) a vital part of their structure and sound. This EP is best appreciated when listened to through some big-ass, powerful speakers. I can’t wait to hear what’s next from these guys!
Between Symmetries – Movetur: These young guys from Atlanta have tapped into something really special and unique on their new EP Movetur. You know how a recording studio can sometimes sterilize music and wipe that rawness away? This is still a bit raw, but that’s part of the appeal of it as well.I think these guys show a lot of promise and to think that they’ve barley scratched the surface on their potential is something that excites me! “Poseidon” is my favorite track from their EP and I hope you’ll check it out below.
Meka Nism – The Shift: Anthems For a Revolution: I will admit that I was drawn into checking out this band because of their appearance and I found out that they had the goods to keep my attention musically as well. It’s really tough to define their sound because it doesn’t limit itself to one genre or can be contained inside of a musical box. Lead singer Ms. Meka is intriguing and quite compelling, both visually and with her vocal range, and the guys in her band provide the perfect vehicle for the artistic vision that they’ve managed to create together.
Granville Automatic – An Army Without Music: Stories from Hallowed Ground: The fine art of storytelling through music seems to be an art form that is in short supply these days, but these two talented ladies are keeping that flame burning. Vanessa Olivarez and Elizabeth Elkins make up Granville Automatic and they are truly talented artists. The songs on this album were inspired by American Civil War stories from lands that had been lost or threatened by urban development or industry. They’re doing their part to keep this history and the stories that go along with it alive.
X Ambassadors – VHS: This band has been around since about 2009 and has released a few EPs and this is their debut full length album. You’ve probably already heard their song “Renegades” in a jeep commercial, but there’s even more to this new album than just that track. Lead singer Sam Harris has this soulful baritone voice that can easily switch styles from painful crooning to upbeat dance tunes. I absolutely love this album and it’s great to see these talented guys getting some much deserved attention.
Fine Fine Titans – Renaissance: Another new band that came across our radar this year and we were immediately intrigued after hearing one song. This album is a bit of a rebirth for the band and finds them going in a different musical direction than before. It’s a bit post-hardcore that still has some melodic rock thrown in with elements of punk as well. Lead singer Jennifer Bartlett has quite an intriguing voice with a lot of range to it that really helps to bring these very personal lyrics to life.
Crobot – Something Supernatural: Ok trolls, I know that this album came out in 2014, but it was very late in 2014 and didn’t make our Best of 2014 list. This album really took off in 2015 and the band solidified itself as one of the best live acts out there and stayed out on the road for the majority of the year. Will 2016 bring us a new album from the guys? I hope so, but in the meantime, I don’t mind cranking this one up and jamming it while I wait!
The Murder of My Sweet – Beth Out of Hell: The Murder of My Sweet took a risk and the result is that they delivered a real album this year in a sea of artists chosing to go the route of EPs. It tells a story of good versus evil and you may want to call it a concept album, but no matter how you label it, it’s a damn solid album from beginning to end. The beautiful and talented Angelica Rylin takes us on a journey with her amazing vocal skills as we listen to this story unfold; it’s cinematic rock at its finest!
Lullwater – Revival: Lullwater tends to prefer to record using analog tape because the band says there is nothing quite like it. They prefer this method due to is unique and vintage sound as it captures a more genuine feel to their music. If you heard their last album or this one, then you know exactly what they’re talking about. To say that the guys raised the bar with this album would be an understatement because not only did they raise it, but they created a whole new one. It’s bigger, louder and hits harder than their self-titled album which we absolutely loved. This one reaches through the speaker and grabs you by the throat and demands your attention!
Edisun – Collision: Edisun definitely doesn’t suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump on their new album Collision. I feel as if the band tapped into more of their alternative rock influences this time out and the entire album has a really great feel to it. It’s a solid rock album from a great bunch of truly talented guys who are about as real and genuine as they come.
Melanie Martinez – Cry Baby: It was hard not to fall in love with this talented young lady when we saw her during in the blind auditions on season three of The Voice in 2012. We watched her quirky and original interpretations of hit songs and wondered how she would do after the show. Her debut full length album Cry Baby was released this year on Atlantic Records and debuted at #6 on the Billboard Top 200. She’s still just as quirky and original on this new album as well as in her music videos.