Music

Where Are We Now? The Musical Milestones of 2015 in Review

2016 comes with promises of big new releases from so many artists–David Bowie drops an album later this week, and that’s just the second week of January. I, for one, am on the edge of my seat for what’s to come. New albums can set the entire soundtrack for your life, and new releases serve as milestones to measure against–I know I’m looking back at where I was when Bowie’s last album reached my ears, looking at how far I’ve come since I drove around memorizing the lyrics to “Where Are We Now?” –and I know 2015 will be measured against some seriously killer albums in memory. I’ve rounded up some of the most memorable releases of 2015, albums that will forever live in my mind as markers of where I was and where I’ll go.

By the time the Pale Emperor was released in January, I had all ready been stalking critical reviews and sneak peaks for a while. In fact, I had tickets for Marilyn Manson‘s corresponding tour before the CD I pre-ordered ever hit my mailbox. Despite the fact that Born Villain wasn’t everything I had hoped it to be, I had high hopes for his 9th studio album–I recognized the more classic goth-rock influences he had drawn on for Villain (that very Bauhaus verse in “the Gardener,” tho) and I was hoping for more. I could tell by the third track (and “the Third Day…”) that what Manson brought was less Bauhaus and more blues–this was the soulful, sophisticated Manson, the Mephistopheles of Los Angeles in bespoke suits and Italian leather so far removed from the Antichrist Superstar who shocked us with bondage and blood. “Cupid”‘s witch drums might have pounded for the television series Salem, but the magic of this album was more hoodoo than witchcraft–the murky throb of “the Birds of Hell Awaiting” transported me straight to the banks of the Mississippi River. While I walked around New York with my headphones on, I dreamed of New Orleans for months. –Sure, Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals are classics, but the Pale Emperor, arguably his most mature offering to date, sits very steadily at the top of my favourite Manson albums.

The Maine doesn’t fit my usual musical profile–they’ve gone from pop-punk to classic rock and roll, and their Arizona roots give them a certain down-home flare that normally wouldn’t appeal to me. But since my sister played Pioneer ad nauseam over so many family car trips, I’ve developed a soft spot for them. When “English Girls” went live in February, I could tell something was different. The hint of 90’s Rock I had heard in Pioneer and Forever Halloween was back with a totally new energy behind it, turning it playful and nostalgic rather than brooding and edgy. That’s not to say that edge was gone–American Candy dropped in March, and along with it came some seriously moody tracks. Listen to “24 Floors,” really hear the words, and try not to cry. Go ahead, I dare you. “Am I Pretty?” undoubtedly strikes a chord for their longtime teenage fans, but anyone who’s ever been insecure about their social footing can identify–the same is true for most tracks on this strikingly self-aware album. Despite that, it’s one of my go-to feel-good albums, mellow without sedating, fun but reflective.
I was raised on the complexities of Baroque music and I found a familiar thrill in the classically-touched art rock of Muse. I spent so many summers rocking out to Origin of Symmetry and passed chilly winters with AbsolutionBlack Holes and Revelations had its own place in my car for years. When the Resistance tour came to town, I nabbed tickets without a second thought. So when the 2nd Law happened…well…let’s just say it was a tough break. Their last four albums were practically perfect–it sounds a little irrational that I’d let one lackluster release break my heart, but as far as I was concerned, Muse were all but disbanded. Which is why Drones almost escaped my notice. When Spotify told me it dropped in June, my reaction was basically “may as well.” Talk about underestimation. From the opening strains of “Dead Inside,” I could tell my Muse was back. Although they sport some heavily political lyrics, the new tracks are full of the aggressive energy I enjoyed from Absolution and Resistance. “Mercy,” with its oddly predictable stadium-rock vibe and the second single off the album, seemed a strange follow up considering the strength of other tracks like “Reapers” or “the Handler” (though the first was used as a promotional single on YouTube)–but it charted fairly high in the US, so I guess I’m in the minority. “Revolt,” November’s third single offering, was much more my speed (though only Belgium seemed to agree).
Say what you want, Duran Duran is still one of my all-time favourite bands, and 2010’s All You Need Is Now remains one of my favourite albums period. I didn’t question their summer tour before I had tickets in hand, but when I heard they were releasing a new album I properly flipped. The single was released that same week, an upbeat, super-poppy collaboration with Janelle Monáe and Nile Rodgers (of disco heavyweights Chic, and former producer for Duran) called “Pressure Off,” followed quickly on by promotional releases of a handful of other tracks–including the title track, Paper Gods. The album officially dropped in September, and with it a deluxe version featuring three bonus tracks (seen above between my teeth)–it’s a great collection of dance tracks, and the upbeat pop tunes were a fantastic soundtrack for stress-free, (dare I say?) cheerful commuting, but I felt like the album lacked the meat of some of its predecessors. –that is, until I saw some of the new tracks performed live. “Last Night in the City,” and “Danceaphobia” come alive on stage (and without Lindsay Lohan’s deadpan narration), and the band’s energy added an entirely new layer of emotion to more lyrical tracks like “What Are the Chances?” (In fact, the new stuff is so good live, I saw them three times during their promotional tour–they’ll be back this summer with the official production!) That said, “Face for Today” feels like what I loved most about their 2010 release–a driving beat, infectious tune, and a chorus that sticks in your head for hours, and “the Universe Alone,” with its soaring melody and throbbing beat, is a beautiful song with some seriously provocative lyrics.
I liked the 1975‘s self-titled release as much as the next girl (which is to say a lot), but “Robbers” can only get me so far. When my sister texted me that a new single was live online, I was on Spotify in record time–“Love Me” was the first release since their rosy rebrand, and I was dying to see whether the colour had creeped into their shoegazey sound. The answer was an instant and resounding yes, it had–with a funky baseline and soaring synth, the new track is disarmingly fun, fantastically retro, and actually downright danceable. Don’t worry, ladies: it’s still got the heat of their previous singles–you might not want to watch the corresponding video in polite company. Though released digitally as a single, their next full album (with its title totally chock-full of words) won’t drop until the end of February. To tide us over, they leaked another track, “Ugh,” in charmingly vintage style on the radio. If you’re hungry for more, it’s worth listening to the band’s interview on what’s to come–I’ve all ready got it on order (and on pink vinyl!) to devour as soon as possible.
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