The 2015 Halftime Report

Once again, we have reached the halfway point of another year. And once again, we have been exposed to several albums, released over the span of these past six months, which have continued to shape our ever-expanding musical interests. Personally, I have seen the continuing stagnation of pop music, with some valiant efforts that unfortunately fell short. On the other hand, hard rock and straight riffage have made a comeback in ’15, much to my excitement. Hopefully, there will be plenty more to follow in the remaining six months of this year. Without further ado, I present a list of the five albums I have most enjoyed so far (in no particular order), followed by a list of five albums I am most looking forward to, in order of release date. Enjoy!

-Joe MacPhee


5 Favorite Releases of 2015 Thus Far:


1) Drones – Muse


Drones is indeed a return to form for Muse, eliciting much of the trio’s progressive/hard rock sound from 2003’s Absolution. It is a bittersweet symphony because on one hand, this is undoubtedly the band’s best sound. Badass riffs and shredding solos abound through twelve tracks of chaos. However, the brilliance of this album points to the fact that Muse’s previous album – 2012’s The 2nd Law – was a bit underwhelming. The band took several risks exploring dubstep and symphonic arrangements on this album, but it is the simple combination of guitar, bass, and drums on Drones that really elicits the musical genius of frontman/songwriter Matt Bellamy. Writing an entire concept album about drones and America’s military industrial complex was also a very relevant and impressive (albeit frightening) strategy.


2) What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World –

The Decemberists


Portland-based folk rockers The Decemberists decided for a change of pace in 2015 and opted for a terrific pop rock album. What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World is a bit of a traditional Decemberists release in that frontman Colin Meloy’s acoustic guitar is the central focus on many tracks, and that the vocal melodies and musical hooks are as catchy as ever. On top of this, however, is a clear focus on more pop elements, like a stronger emphasis on electric instruments and a brass section, and more melodies reminiscent of Sixties pop songs. The Decemberists took a bit of a gamble on upgrading their sound, and it definitely paid off. Of particular excellence on What A Terrible World is the record’s first single, “Make You Better.” The song is fantastic, and its music video features a hilarious guest appearance from Nick Offerman.


3) Rose Mountain – Screaming Females


The Screaming Females are New Brunswick locals who have been part of the Jersey scene since the mid-2000’s. Rose Mountain was the first album of theirs that I really gave a chance, especially since I had heard it was the album on which they debuted their new pop rock sound. “Wishing Well” and “Hopeless” are prime examples of this new, infectious transition. Meanwhile, “Ripe” and “Triumph,” among others, are hard rockers dripping with fuzz and gnarly hooks. Rose Mountain reaffirms the fact that frontwoman/guitarist Marissa Paternoster has been named one of the greatest guitarists of all time by Spin magazine. All in all a very solid release by some great Jersey locals.


4) Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett


Typically in my lists, I like to include at least one artist or band I have never listened to before. This year, that honor goes to Courtney Barnett, an Aussie who has mastered the art of the slacker indie rock jam. She hit the scene in 2014 with the slow burner “Avant Gardener,” and then followed that single up with Sometimes I Sit And Think, a super-charged, better produced version of the same themes. Barnett is a pro at taking sets of aimless yet relatable, nearly stream-of-consciousness-type lyrics and packing them alongside subtle guitar work and steady rock beats, resulting in a very solid record. Fun Fact: She also produces all her own album artwork, as the cover art above demonstrates.


5) Beneath The Skin – Of Monsters And Men


Of Monsters And Men just barely made the mid-year cut with the June release of their follow-up to the wildly successful debut My Head Is An Animal and the even more popular single, “Little Talks.” This means I haven’t been able to dedicate as much listening time to Beneath The Skin as I have to the other albums on this list. Thankfully, that extra time wasn’t necessary since the Icelandic rockers’ sophomore album impressed me on my first listen. While it may initially sound like more of the same from Of Monsters And Men’s first record, Beneath The Skin is arguably more ambitious and experimental. “Empire” and “I Of The Storm” are two excellent examples of the band’s new direction. “Crystals” is the obvious first single, cashing in on the enormous success of My Head Is An Animal.


5 Most Anticipated Releases for the Remainder of 2015:


1) Party Adjacent – Dan Andriano In The Emergency Room

(Out July 17th)


Alkaline Trio have always been consistent with their studio albums. They are definitely one of my top five favorite punk-flavored bands, finding the perfect balance between punk fury and pop rock melody. With how much I listen to the Trio, it is surprising I have never given either guitarist Matt Skiba’s side project (Matt Skiba And The Sekrets) or bassist Dan Andriano’s own band (Dan Andriano In The Emergency Room) a chance. Andriano’s second studio album, Party Adjacent, promises to be something special, according to the two singles that have been put out thus far. “Enemies” sounds like a modern take on Men At Work, and “Lost” would probably fit well on Alkaline Trio’s latest studio effort, My Shame Is True.


2) Positive Songs For Negative People – Frank Turner

(Out August 7th)


Frank Turner has been consistently putting out at least one album each year since 2011. In ’13, Frank released his previous studio album, Tape Deck Heart, which easily made my Top Ten Albums list that year. ’14 saw the release of The Third Three Years, the third in a series of compilation albums of B-sides, covers, and alternative/live versions of previously recorded songs. This year, Frank plans to put out Positive Songs For Negative People, which sounds right in line with the sound he has developed over these past several releases. The record’s single, “The Next Storm,” has the same positive attitude as Tape Deck Heart‘s first single, “Recovery.” The music video also features a great cameo from WWE wrestler CM Punk. Positive Songs is easily my most anticipated album for the remainder of 2015.


3) No Closer To Heaven – The Wonder Years

(Out September 4th)


Just a few months ago, the only Wonder Years album I had listened to from start to finish was 2013’s The Greatest Generation. My opinion of the band at first was that they were the generic brand of sad pop punk. However, after seeing them live, opening for Paramore at TCNJ this past spring, I really got into their onstage energy. I can now hear the same power course through the Pennsylvanian rockers’ discography. Typically, I try to avoid any new generic pop punk records in the style of New Found Glory or Man Overboard, but The Wonder Years’ upcoming album, No Closer To Heaven, will hopefully reshape this way of thinking. The album’s first single, “Cardinals,” has a very indie intro, which shows a glimmer of hope that this may be the first Wonder Years album to crack my end-of-year top ten list, so long as this same alternative musical style flows through the entirety of No Closer To Heaven.


4) So There – Ben Folds

(Out September 11th)


Ben Folds has always been known for his crazy collaborations, whether with English novelist Nick Hornby on 2010’s Lonely Avenue or with William Shatner, producing the Canadian actor’s 2004 cover of Pulp’s “Common People.” 2015 will be no exception as Mr. Folds teams up with the New York City instrumental outfit yMusic for So There: Eight songs’ worth of pop melodies combined with piano, cello, viola, violin, flute, piccolo, trumpet, French horn, and a noticeably minimal use of bass and drums. “Capable Of Anything” showcases this unusual, yet very successful mix of mainstream instrumentation. Folds himself has recently stated that So There is his favorite album he’s ever written, so I am preparing for a very visceral, enjoyable experience.


5) Pagans In Vegas – Metric

(Out September 14th)


I have been following Metric since the release of 2009’s Fantasies, and I have watched them go from primarily indie rock with a tint of electronic composition to relying more heavily on the synth and samples on 2012’s Synthetica. The Canadian outfit recently put out a cassette-only EP titled The Shade, after the lead single from their upcoming album, Pagans In Vegas. The four songs on this EP (three of which are featured on the track list of Pagans In Vegas) reveal how Metric have finally embraced a full electronica sound. While the beats and synth leads are quite an earful at first, eventually you start picking out the hooks and melodies buried in tracks like the aforementioned “The Shade” and the throbbing “Cascades.” Mid-September is a long time to wait for such an anticipated album, but Metric’s EP definitely helps tide listeners over, especially those who actually have a cassette player.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: