Michael Kirchhoff

The Best of 2015 – Musicality

There were lots of things in 2015. Some of those things were musical albums (what hipsters and aging hippies call “long-play records”).

The best one was this one:

Beardfish, +4626-COMFORTZONE

These Swedish rockers obviously spent a lot of time listening to their parents’ record collections. There is a heavy ’70s influence on their choice of instruments and crunchy sound, but the album is not drowning in Black Sabbath-era nostalgia. Beardfish dip in and out of genres like they are coloring Easter eggs and have little interest in sticking to any time signature for very long.

The “One Inside” trilogy opens and closes the album, giving it a thematic spine. The title track, “Comfort Zone” is incredibly proggy, while “King” and “Daughter/Whore” venture off into power metal. But what pushes this one into my Album of the Year selection is my favorite song of 2015, “If We Must Be Apart (A Love Story Continued)”, an ingenious and emotional 15-minute descent into love-spurned madness.

So that was the best of the music things this year. Here are some others that were good:

Steven Wilson, Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Modern popular music has no interest in anything too complex or adventurous. So how the hell does Steven Wilson have a career?

The (probably) former Porcupine Tree founder’s fourth (and best) solo album was inspired by the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a young British woman whose death went unnoticed for two years. While Hand. Cannot. Erase. (yeah, I don’t know what that title means either) is not Vincent’s story, it deals with feelings of isolation and loss. Wilson has explored these themes extensively, so this is familiar territory for longtime fans, yet the band he has assembled around him play with incredible precision.

Not surprisingly, the album’s best songs are the longest ones: “3 Years Older”, “Ancestral”, and the heartrending “Routine”.

Riverside, Love, Fear and the Time Machine

Finally, an album with a title I understand.

Riverside has been making beautiful, atmospheric prog metal for over a decade. The latest from the Polish quartet has a calmer, more optimistic feel than their last few albums, which often ventured into some dark lyrical themes. It’s no accident that “Love” is in this album’s title.

My favorite song is the one that opens the album, “Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By A Hat?)” which beautifully sets the somewhat serene tone of the whole album. “Discard Your Fear” is a rocker that sounds like it would have been played on the radio back when that was still a thing. “Caterpiller and the Barbed Wire” is highly reminiscent of bassist Mariusz Duda’s solo project, Lunatic Soul. “Towards the Blue Horizon” is a beautiful reminiscence and emblematic of the band’s trademark musical precision.

They Might Be Giants, Glean

When TMBG was a struggling band in the early 80s, They would record songs on John Flansburgh’s answering machine. Anyone could call the number and get a song for only the price of a phone call to Brooklyn. (“Free if you call from work,” the band proclaimed.)

TMBG revived their Dial-A-Song service in 2015, this time with 91% more Internet. Many of these new Dial-A-Songs were collected and released as the band’s latest album. It is somewhat exhausting for me to imagine that the Johns have been making sharp, diverse music for over three decades now, but despite their formidable discography, They show no signs of stopping any time soon. As long as They keep popping out rocking gems like “Erase”, “Music Jail”, “Answer”, and “Madam, I Challenge You To A Duel”, I’ll keep listening.

Also great, but I don’t feel like writing a bunch of stuff about them:

Anekdoten, Until The Ghosts Are Gone

Ozric Tentacles, Technicians of the Sacred

Magic Pie, King For A Day

Spock’s Beard, The Oblivion Particle

Echolyn, I Heard You Listening

Lonely Robot, Please Come Home

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