By: Music Director Anthony Spak (@spakdaddy)
DJ Zach Micklea (@zachmicklea)
DJ Kevin Hawthorne (@KevinHawthorne3)
As the end of the year draws near, the internet becomes littered with “Album of the Year” lists that clog up our news feeds and spark aggressive debates in the comments sections. This year, three of our station’s top current music DJs created a list like no other to highlight a handful of albums they thought flew under the radar or didn’t get the attention they deserved.
Host of “The Oakland Underground.”
Foxing – “Dealer” (Triple Crown Records)
Hailing from St. Louis, Foxing have been quietly becoming one of the most emotion-driven bands around. Dealer is their following-up album to 2014’s The Albatross. The record is a bit more compositionally complex, heavier, and gives a much deeper look into the psyche of vocalist, Conor Murphy, with lyrics like, “I am caught up in the guilt/ Making a living off of drowning.” The band has been touring relentlessly with mewithoutYou, The Word is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die and others. Expect them to take it easy in the coming months. In the meantime, listen to one of the best albums released in 2015.
Key tracks: “Glass Coughs,” “Night Channels,” and “The Magdalene.”
Superheaven – “Ours is Chrome” (SideOneDummy Records)
This is Superheaven’s sophomore LP. We all knew Jar would be a tough act to follow, but the band far exceeded expectations with tracks like “I’ve Been Bored” and “From the Chest Down.” The album landed the band on Rolling Stones’s May 2015 edition of 10 New Artists You Need to Know. On Ours is Chrome, Superheaven mixes multiple decades of music like 90’s grunge, 00’s emo and 10’s shoegaze thanks to a masterful producer in Will Yip. The band just got off a tour with Diamond Youth and Rozwell Kid and will likely be putting out another album in the not too distant future.
Key tracks: “I’ve Been Bored,” “From the Chest Down,” and “All the Pain.”
Julien Baker – “Sprained Ankle” (6131 Records)
Julien Baker is a minimalist. She wrote this album in complete isolation in a soundproof booth located inside the music building at Middle Tennessee State University. She claims her influences are David Bazzan, mewithoutYou, and Ben Gibbard, but it is tough to hear anything other than a beautiful female indie/folk singer. Baker uses her vibrato more than most, which simply adds to her already haunting vocals. Her simple lyrics accompanied with soothing guitar riffs resulted in one of the most thought-provoking and gut-wrenching records of the year.
Key tracks: “Good News,” “Everybody Does,” and “Sprained Ankle.”
Secret Grief – “The Sea of Trees” (Triple Deke Records)
To the naked eye, this album is the debut LP from Secret Grief, but the band also released a great range of music under the name Tiger! Tiger! until changing the name in 2012. One of the best Michigan releases of the year, The Sea of Trees, is different in its own way. There is no cliché acoustic ballad and each song sounds drastically different. It has been compared to Brand New’s The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, and there are similarities in guitar tones and timeless riffs, but the album is all Secret Grief. The band plays southeastern Michigan regularly and will perform as a 10-piece band for the foreseeable future.
Key tracks: “Faking Orgasms,” “Montauk,” and “Aokigahara.”
Sorority Noise – “Joy, Departed” (Topshelf Records)
After this album, Sorority Noise can no longer be considered a side project of Old Gray’s Cam Boucher. While the band’s debut LP, Forgettable, was an incredible album, it felt rushed compared to Joy, Departed. This album feels well planned with slower songs like “Blissth” and “Fluorescent Black” and faster songs like “Your Soft Blood.” It deals with real issues like addiction, heartbreak and becoming a better person. This album shows that emo music isn’t only about being sad, but about coming together as people and being supportive and compassionate.
For a real, in-depth look at the album and its concepts, check out DJ Zach Micklea’s in-studio conversation/performance with Cam Boucher (singer/guitar player) recorded back in October at WXOU here
Key tracks: “Your Soft Blood,” “Nolsey,” and “Using.”
Host of “Something New, Something Old.”
Superweaks – “Bad Year” (Lame-O Records)
A phrase that often gets thrown out when reviewing Power Pop groups is “the best Weezer record since Pinkerton” However with the Superweaks (formerly the Weaks) are a band truly worthy of this honor. Taking all the best elements of bands like Weezer, Cheap Trick and Fountains Of Wayne, The Superweaks created a power pop triumph, balancing sugary sweet melodies and crushing distortion.
Recommended track: “Frances Quinlan Will Have Her Revenge”
Dogs On Acid – “Dogs On Acid” (Jade Tree)
A Philadelphia based act (because nearly all the best rock groups are coming out there). Dogs On Acid features members of Hop Along and Algernon Cadwallader, and play music style reminiscent of early 90’s indie rock like Superchunk and Guided By Voices. While many bands are cashing in on 90’s nostalgia, Dogs On Acid take the template set and use it as a springboard for massive hooks and original songs that don’t just feel like the same song you’ve heard 20 times before.
Recommended tracks: “Flushed”
Mountain Goats – “Beat The Champ” (Merge Records)
John Darnielle has already proved himself to be one of greatest living the songwriters, pumping out stellar work with the Mountain Goats since the mid 90’s and even fitting in time to write a novel. However many raised an eyebrow when Darnielle announced the next Mountain Goats record would be a collection of songs about pro wresting. We were fools to doubt to Darnielle, because he graced us with another fantastic record, with songs that are funny, sad, and absolutely gorgeous. The jazz elements incorporated into the Mountains Goats usual folk is stellar and makes the record even more enjoyable.
Recommended track: “Heel Turn 2”
PWR BTTM – “Ugly Cherries” (Father/Daughter Records)
I hadn’t heard of PWR BTTM until last week, and now I’m furious I hadn’t heard them earlier. PWR BTTM have made one of the most fun rock records of 2015, one that gleefully blurs gender lines, and takes pride in its queerness. PWR BTTM have their musical roots with bands like Pansy Division, but they also throw in some glam pop for good measure. We need more bands like PWR BTTM, bands who don’t care about gender roles in any notion, and a band who writes kickass pop songs
Recommended track: “1994”
G.L.O.S.S. – “Girl’s Living Outside Society’s Shit” (Total Negativity/Nervous Nelly)
With members of the punk like Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! and the members of G.L.O.S.S it’s awesome to see more trans representation in the scene. For as much as punk likes to claim to be all inclusive, most punk bands are angry straight white dudes, so it is a pleasure to see a group of people who’s problems desperately need attention screaming at the top of their lungs until you pay attention. It also helps that G.L.O.S.S play some of the most shredding hardcore music this side of Negative Approach.
Recommended track: “Lined Lips and Spiked Bats”
Music Director Anthony Spak
Host of “Attack of the Spak.”
Tuxedo – “Tuxedo” (Stones Throw Records)
Michigan’s own Mayer Hawthorne teams up with Jake One to bring the funk on this duo’s first outing. Mayer Hawthorne has made a name for himself by putting out high quality throwback funk, scoring a minor hit with, “The Walk” a few years ago for its 1960’s Motown feel. On “Tuxedo,” Hawthorne maintains his smooth delivery but shifts into a sound that is more reminiscent of glossier synth-funk from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In a time when other artists like Mark Ronson, Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, Pharrell and even Nickelback have released funk-inspired new material, Tuxedo stands out with a sound that is catchier, more danceable and more authentic to a genre meant to make you clap your hands.
Key Tracks: “Do It,” “Number One” and “Get U Home.”
Cloakroom – “Further Out” (Run For Cover Records)
The “number one stoner emo band on college radio” delivers punishing rhythms with surprisingly catchy lyrics, even when they are indiscernible without the liner notes. Three Indiana factory workers, Cloakroom’s sound is reflective of the Midwest a.k.a. “The Region” where they’re stationed: desolate, hard-hitting and unforgiving. These aren’t songs made in the city. Droning guitars, deliberate drumming from Brian Busch and the occasional country undertones make for a perfect collage of shoegaze, metal, western and emo sounds.
Key Tracks: “Outta Spite/Moon Funeral,” “Paperweight” and “Deep Sea Station.”
Juan Wauters – “Who Me?” (Captured Tracks)
Picking up where he left off on “N.A.P. North American Poetry,” Uruguay’s finest Juan Wauters keeps up his playful songwriting and creates a very enjoyable listen. There is an unexpected depth to some of these songs; “Todo Termino” (translating to “Everything is over” in English) sounds carefree and lighthearted, but pain and loneliness linger underneath an upbeat chord progression. Wauters’ lyrics and delivery are simple, with lines such as, “Like a movie that is good / You require my attention,” that don’t bore listeners with any unnecessary pretension.
Key Tracks: “Todo Termino,” “I’m All Wrong” and “El Show De Los Muertos.”
Twerps – “Range Anxiety” (Merge Records)
“Range Anxiety,” is one of the most enjoyable albums in recent memory. Happy or sad, excited or brooding, eating in the food court or sitting home through yet another lonely Valentine’s Day, Twerp’s simple, “jenky pop” is suitable for any mood or situation. With other Australian artists like Tame Impala, Courtney Barnett and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard making serious waves at college radio this year, I was surprised that Twerps didn’t have a similar impact.
Key Tracks: “New Moves,” “Simple Feelings” and “I Don’t Mind.”
Palm – “Trading Basics” (Exploding In Sound)
Spastic rhythms, twinkling guitars and odd time signatures benefit “Trading Basics” because there is never a dull moment on the record. Drummer Hugo Stanley’s playing is erratic but always in time, accenting offbeats with a very distinct jam block. I was happy to hear a drummer using an unusual percussion instrument like a jam block, which is usually associated with more easygoing music, in such a serious context. Combining Stanley’s right-brain drumming with Gerasimos Livitsanos’ blissful bass high notes and the dark interplay of guitarists/vocalists Kasra Kurt and Eve Alpert results in a dense listen, but one that is darkly alluring. Post-punk has never been smarter or sharper.
Key Tracks: “Egg In A Frame,” “Second Ward” and “Garden.”