Thursday, March 17, 2016

Top 10 Local Albums of 2015

I'm a Long Island guy who grew up in Queens. I used to do a radio show highlighting "local" music, and a couple of public access TV shows as well.

When I talk local music, I try to keep a fairly loose definition of the word "local". For the purposes of picking a Top 10 Local Albums list, here's what I consider "local": 1. Long Island, for sure; 2. The 5 boroughs of NY (especially Brooklyn, where a lot of Long Island bands have run off to) 3. Sometimes Jersey or a little ways upstate, if the mood takes me. (I'm not giving away money or anything, so I kind of get to make up the rules as I go along). Also, if a band or artist spent a decent amount of time living on and playing on Long Island, they get to qualify, even if they've moved to another area of the country.

As for format of what constitutes an "album" I'm going by the same rules I used on my The Top 10 Albums of 2015 list --there  has to be a hard (CD copy) of the album, and it has to full-length; No EPs. allowed.

Because there's not much suspense about the top 3 slots (Since Tang, Elle King and Matt and Kim all made the national list), we're going to print this list from top to bottom.

Top 10 Local Albums of 2015

1. Tang -- Blood & Sand

Holy Guacamole! A local Long Island band takes the #1 slot for 2015! They describe themselves as a "dual female fronted alternative metal power trio". They've done some good stuff in the past, but this by far the best complete album they've ever put together. They're a way heavier band than I usually go for, but this was my number one album this year from the moment I first heard it, and nothing was able to dethrone it for the rest of the year. The whole album is first-rate, but the apocalyptic "The 11th Hour" is the standout. (So for all the happy, upbeat albums in the first part of the list, the darkness wins out after all. Yay darkness!)

2. Matt and Kim -- New Glow

Yet another great band (duo, actually) that lives in Brooklyn, these guys make music that's just kind of goofy and fun. When I first heard them, it seemed to me as if Beavis and Butthead had formed their own band. Then I found out that Kim was a girl, and I felt kind of bad about thinking that. Anyway, what is it with me and happy, fun bands these days? Usually I gravitate towards much darker stuff. (Well, wait until we reach my Top 20 Singles of 2015 list). As a New Yorker, I particularly love "Can You Blame Me" which has some great lyrics like "Climbing the Manhattan Bridge/Give the finger to our city with a kiss". These guys get it.

3. Elle King -- Love Stuff

Elle King is one of a ridiculous number of talented artists living in Brooklyn these days. Her music mixes rock, country and maybe a little blues. Love Stuff is her debut album, and it's a strong one. A lot of the songs on this CD feature her playing the bad girl -- drinking, breaking guys' hearts, tempting Satan, etc. "Ex's and Oh's" is the one everyone knows, if not from the rock charts or the alternative charts, then surely from one of several television commercials that make use of the song. My personal favorite is "America's Sweetheart", where she gets to do the bad girl thing to the hilt -- "Well they say I'm too loud for this town/So I lit a match and burned it down."

4. Jeff Rosenstock -- We Cool?

Actually, I hated this album the first time I heard it. There's a lot of feedback and cacophony going on. But on second listen, I realized there's also some first-rate song writing on this CD. Rosenstock has been involved in a number of previous projects, including the ska-punk band The Arrogant Sons of Bitches and a music collective called Bomb the Music Industry. The best songs here include a number called "Nausea", which includes a description of a great deal of substance abuse, and "I'm Serious, I'm Sorry" which also contains some excessive alcohol consumption, but is the song with the biggest heart on the album.

5. Jeremy Gilchrist -- Causality

I'm cheating just a little bit with this one, because it was actually released in the last two weeks of 2014, but tough. Jeremy Gilchrist is a former Long Islander who has since moved on, first to North Carolina and then to snowy Vermont (which is appropriate, since Jeremy is almost as well known for his love of extreme weather as for his love of music). This is his best album to date, which is saying something. The most powerful song is a slow number called "Letter from the 21st", which is a musical love letter to the 22nd century, full of hope, but also filled with regret for things we won't be leaving them. Also particularly strong is the last song, "Great Escape", which features the heaviest dose of Gilchrist's unique musicality, especially his half-laughing, half-maniacal vocals.

6. Melanie Martinez -- Cry Baby

Martinez is a Manhattan resident who competed on Season 3 of the television show The Voice. Cry Baby, her first full-length CD, is a concept album done in the style of a very adult and disturbing children's book. There are themes of family trauma, rape, childhood bullying, and others guaranteed to keep you up at night. The big single was "Pity Party" which borrows heavily from "It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To," but twists it into something a little more desperate. My favorite track is Pacify Her", a subtle number that is sort of the bizarro world version of Paramore's "Misery Business", told from the viewpoint of the boyfriend stealer with not a whole lot of sympathy for the victim. ("I can't take her whining/Where's her binky now?") The music is well thought out and heavily produced throughout.

7. Blackmore's Night -- All Our Yesterdays

All Our Yesterdays is Blackmore's Night's 10th studio album. I actually don't think it's one of their strongest, but it says something that even an album that's not one of their best still makes my local Top 10. The title track is classic Blackmore's Night, featuring yet another crystal clear and beautiful vocal by Candice Night. There's also some particularly tasty instrumental work from rock legend Richie Blackmore and his band here, especially on "Allan yn n fan". It blows me away that we have a band this strong on Long Island that has such a virulent following in places like Germany, but they've mainly only got a cult following here. Get with the program, Long Islanders!

8. Sufjan Stephens -- Carrie & Lowell

Sufjan Stephens is a Brooklyn resident with a distinguished musical career over the last few decades. This a bittersweet concept album with songs written mostly about his relationship with his mother who suffered throughout her life with mental illness and substance abuse, and his stepfather Lowell Brams, who later became the head of his record label. It's described on Wikipedia as "sparsely instrumental", and I'd say that's an accurate assessment. The best number is called "Fourth of July", an intensely beautiful song that recounts a conversation between  Stephens and his mother while she was in the hospital dying of stomach cancer. If you're looking for party music, this ain't it. But if you want something subtle, sorrowful and poetic, this is a highly worthwhile album.

9. Torres - Sprinter

Mackenzie Scott (aka Torres) is a Brooklyn-based singer songwriter. Sprinter is her second full-length CD. She opened for Garbage earlier this year at The Space in Westbury, and I'm bummed I missed it because I really like this album. I particularly like the song "New Skin", told first from the viewpoint of her as a baby trying to make sense of her baptism, and later of her as the young woman she is today. I'm also particularly impressed by a long, sparse number called "The Exchange". It tells the story of her loss of her own history; her mother was an adoptee whose birth records were lost in a church flood. The album as a whole is kind of stark, which of course, is one of the things I like best about it.

10. Virgin Steele -- Nocturnes of Hellfire & Damnation

As Monty Python would say, "And now for something completely different." With the exception of the Tang album at the top of the list, most of my Top 10 Local CDs list has been dominated by quiet, subtle or acoustic music. Virgin Steele  is a heavy metal band of Long Island origin, in the tradition thematically (if not quite sonically) of European epic metal. Nocturnes of Hellfire and Damnation is a 2-disc concept album filled with demons, devils, witches, etc., and what could be wrong with that? There are a number of strong songs on both the main disc and the bonus disc. My particular favorite is "Hymns to Damnation", which is sort of a slow, pretty demonic ballad celebrating damnation and disease. I also love "Persephone" which a more typical, driving number.

Thanks to anyone who takes the time to read this list. Again, my hope is maybe I'll turn you on to an album or artist you were previously unfamiliar with, and it will make your 2016 a happier year.

Next Post: The Top 20 Songs of 2015