Free Press music writers weigh in with top picks for 2015


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Jeff Monk / POP AND ROCK ALBUMS 1. NEIL YOUNG + PROMISE OF THE REAL -- The Monsanto Years (Universal)

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/12/2015 (2462 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


1. NEIL YOUNG + PROMISE OF THE REAL — The Monsanto Years (Universal)

Shakey hooks up with Willie Nelson’s sons to hammer out messages of disdain against greedy corporations and hope for the future of the planet. Whether it’s the vigour of younger players or Neil’s desire to kick against the pricks, TMY really gets the juices flowing.


2. FLOATING POINTS — Elaenia (Luaka Bop)

Using obscure Buchla synthesizers, and with the help of a few musical compatriots with skill and ambition, U.K. DJ and neuroscientist Sam Shepherd creates an intoxicating set of quasi-ambient tones that draws you in to its sonic space.


3. GOSPELBEACH — Pacific Surf Line (Alive Records)

Some pundits compare this band to the late Grateful Dead for its easy, cosmic-country overtones. Deeper consideration reveals a more energetic music that practically redefines the genre. The Dead are dead — long live Gospelbeach.


4. BISCUIT — 20 Years: A Million Beers & A Lotta Nerve (Off the Hip)

5. BLACK RIVER DRIFTERS — Hearts Gone Cold (Independent)

6. SEASICK STEVE — Sonic Soul Surfer (Universal)

7. THE DEAD WEATHER –Dodge and Burn (Third Man)

8. LOVE WITH ARTHUR LEE — Reel to Real (High Moon Records)

9. JOE ELY — Panhandle Rambler (Rack ‘Em Records)

10. GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR — Mystery Glue (Cadet Concept)



1. RAY WYLIE HUBBARD — The Ruffian’s Misfortune (Bordello)

The 68-year-old Ray Wylie Hubbard has been in the music biz since 1965, but age hasn’t affected the Texas songwriter’s ability to rock out with reckless abandon seasoned with a solid base of folk and blues. Vocally, Hubbard is like that worn-out couch you refuse to throw out. Even with the odd spring stickin’ out, it still wraps you in blessed comfort.


2. BROCK ZEMAN — Pulling Your Sword Out of the Devil’s Back (Busted Flat)

Roots-driven singer-songwriter Brock Zeman has been perfecting his craft over 10 previous albums and has a voice reminiscent of Tom Waits. He also shares Waits’ aptitude for writing some of the finest lyrics and poetry set to song. Whether it’s a ballad or an edgy rocker, it’s all effectively held together with Blair Hogan’s electric guitar as he weaves seductive aural textures among the mandolin, cello, piano, organ and other sounds organic or synthetic.


3. ROMI MAYES — Devil on Both Shoulders (Independent)

The exquisite Devil on Both Shoulders finds Winnipegger Mayes mining familiar, country-dusted blues territory with great lyrics like, “You’re not the one who’s guilty if you’re not the one who’s caught.” She occasionally leaves her roots behind long enough to climb over a few fences and push her new and improved, smoke-free vocals to new heights on the funky Monkey of a Man or the R&B-infected scorcher Gonna Miss Me. However, the album’s strongest moment is on the soulful, honest and seductively captivating Make Your Move. It’s hands-down Mayes’ best vocal performance ever.


4. MURDER BY DEATH — Big Dark Love (Bloodshot)

5. LUCERO — All a Man Should Do (ATO/MMR)

6. ZAC BROWN BAND — Jekyll + Hyde (Southern Ground/Varvatos/Universal)

7. STEVE EARLE & THE DUKES — Terraplane (New West)

8. MUMFORD & SONS — Wilder Mind (Glassnote/Universal)

9. THE BOTTLE ROCKETS — South Broadway Athletic Club (Bloodshot)

10. LINDI ORTEGA — Faded Gloryville (Last Gang)


Anthony Augustine / POP AND ROCK ALBUMS

1. BEACH SLANG — The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us (Polyvinyl)

Urgent, emotionally driven punk rock from Philadelphia’s Beach Slang channels the Replacements and Jawbreaker through an early Goo Goo Dolls lens, resulting in one of the most direct and sincere albums in recent memory.


2. DESAPARECIDOS — Payola (Epitaph)

Conor Oberst’s overlooked side project from the early 2000s, Desaparecidos, is resurrected and ends up being just the right mix of politically fuelled angst and raw emotion.


3. DRAKE — If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (Cash Money Records)

“Started from the bottom, now we’re here.” Drake may have dropped that line in 2013, but it has never been more true. If You’re Reading This… may have been dubbed a mixtape by the 6 God and his label, but few albums delivered the same type of cultural impact this year.


4. FOREIGN FIELDS — What I Keep in Hiding (Independent)

5. COURTNEY BARNETT — Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom & Pop)

6. MATHEW JONSON — Fabric 84 (Fabric Records)

7. MOON KING — Secret Life (Last Gang Records)

8. GRIMES — Art Angels (4AD)

9. JAMIE XX — In Color (Young Turks)

10. MATRIXXMAN — Homesick (Ghostly International)



1. SEIJI OZAWA, ISABEL LEONARD, SUSAN GRAHAM, SAITO KINEN ORCHESTRA — Ravel: L’enfant et les sortilèges & Shéhérazade (Decca Classics)

There’s something profoundly moving about marking your 80th birthday with a children’s opera. Legendary Japanese conductor Seija Ozawa leads the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Ravel’s fantastical L’enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Spells). The live recording also notably celebrates the award-winning maestro’s return to the podium after surviving a life-threatening cancer diagnosis in 2013 — even more cause for worldwide revelry and the icing on his own (birthday) cake.


2. JAMES EHNES — The Four Seasons (Onyx)

The pride of Brandon, world-renowned violinist James Ehnes tackles Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, amazingly, for the first time, while also leading Australia’s Sydney Symphony. Renowned for his compelling performances of 19th- and 20th-century repertoire, Ehnes brings his sterling artistry to the Red Priest’s four iconic violin concerti, as well as Tartini’s diabolical Violin Sonata in G minor, a.k.a. the Devil’s Trill, which he performs like a man possessed with pianist Andrew Armstrong.


3. MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN — Mozart Piano Sonatas (Hyperion)

Montreal-born pianist Hamelin, who delights in championing off-the-beaten-path repertoire, surprises once again with eight solo piano sonatas composed by the Wunderkind. A highlight is Sonata in C major, K545, with the artist’s sublime interpretation elevating its seemingly simple pianism to an elegant work of timeless beauty.

4. THE TALLIS SCHOLARS: ARVO P§RT — Tintinnabuli (Harmonia Mundi)

5. MARTHA ARGERICH — Carte Blanche: Verbier Festival (Deutsche Grammophon)

6. RENéE FLEMING, EMERSON STRING QUARTET — Berg Lyric Suite, Wellesz Sonnets, Zeisl (Decca Classics)

7. HILARY HAHN — Mozart 5, Vieuxtemps 4: Violin Concertos (Deutsche Grammophon)

8. ASTOR PIAZZOLLA — Escualo (Harmonia Mundi)

9. BORODIN QUARTET: DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH — String Quartets 1, 8, & 14 (Decca Classics)

10. PHILIP GLASS — Symphony No. 10, Concert Overture (2012) 2; Op 10, No. 1; Op 78; Op. 110 (Orange Mountain Music)


Steve Adams / POP SINGLES

1. MAJOR LAZER FEAT. M0 & DJ SNAKE — Lean On (Mad Decent)

Blending elements of bhangra, trap and electro-pop, all with a healthy dose of springy, inescapable synths, this was hands down the coolest (and some might even say surprising) pop hit of the year.


2. THE WEEKND — Can’t Feel My Face (XO/Universal)

A sexy, unconventional R&B number with an intoxicating quality about it, much like its druggy subject matter.


3. THE PRODIGY — The Day is My Enemy (Cooking Vinyl/Universal)

Seething with intensity, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfectly aggressive electro-rock onslaught than this in 2015.


4. DRAKE — Hotline Bling (Cash Money/Republic/Universal)

5. PIERCE FULTON — Kuaga (Lost Time) (Proximity)

6. NICKI MINAJ FEAT. DRAKE & LIL’ WAYNE — Truffle Butter (Cash Money/Republic/Universal)

7. YEARS & YEARS — King (Polydor/Universal)

8. JUSTIN BIEBER — What Do You Mean? (Def Jam/Universal)


10. MISSY ELLIOTT FEAT. PHARRELL WILLIAMS — WTF (Where They From) (Atlantic/Warner)



1. COURTNEY BARNETT — Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom and Pop Music)

Barnett spins turns of phrase such as “my internal monologue is saturated analog” and “don’t put me on a pedestal, I’ll only disappoint you.” She’s an introvert at heart who nevertheless doesn’t mind sharing what she comes up with.


2. BRANDI CARLILE — The Firewatcher’s Daughter (ATO Records)

This album is a compelling exploration of love and belonging that will leave listeners alternately teary-eyed and breathless.


3. JASON ISBELL — Something More Than Free (Southeastern Records)

Isbell paints pictures with words, bringing his listeners into the struggles, torments and triumphs of the working-class southerners who populate his songs.


4. GRIMES — Art Angels (4AD)

5. CANNON BROS. — Dream City (Disintegration)

6. SLEATER-KINNEY — No Cities to Love (Sub Pop)

7. SARAH MCDOUGALL — Grand Canyon (Independent)

8. KENDRICK LAMAR — To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg/Interscope)

9. ALABAMA SHAKES — Sound & Color (MapleMusic)

10. SCOTT NOLAN — Silverhill (Transistor 66)

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