Overall, I thought this was a good year for music on a whole. I think the most interesting point, for me at least, was the lack of a truly transformative album that really got me super excited. There was a lot of great music, but nothing truly exceptional.
Anyway, the rest of my favorites this year:
11) Gary Clark Jr - The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
12) Sarah Bethe Nelson - Fast Moving Clouds
13) All Dogs - Kicking Every Day
14) Alabama Shakes - Sound and Color
15) Mal Blum - You Look a Lot Like Me
16) Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
17) Rhiannon Giddens - Tomorrow is My Turn
18) Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free
19) YACHT - I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler
20) Jamie xx - In Colour
And the best of the rest:
Hop Along - Painted Shut
Frank Turner - Positive Songs for Negative People
Colleen Green - I Want to Grow Up
Drew Holcolmb and The Neighbors - Medicine
Heather Maloney - Making Me Break
Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp
Purity Ring - Another Eternity
Jedi Mind Tricks - The Thief and The Fallen
Holly Herndon - Platform
Rhett Miller and Black Prairie - The Traveler
Best Coast - California Nights
David Wax Museum - Guesthouse
CHVRCHES - Every Open Eye
Matt Pond PA - The State of Gold
Bully - Feels Like
Lady Lamb - After
The Deslondes - The Deslondes
GEMS - Kill the One You Love
And now, the negatives:
I don't want to trash some of the worst albums I heard this year, because I've already done that in the weekly posts. So instead, a quick rant:
Streaming is the future. We're big proponents of Spotify here, but Google Music and Apple and YouTube (and to a lesser extent, Tidal) are also making plays into the field. The world of on-demand, buffet-style music has been a boon to the industry in Europe, and is really the way forward for making music something we can continue to enjoy for years to come.
So when you have artists like Taylor Swift or Adele opting out, it sends a very bad message. To be clear, I am a proponent of artists having control over how their music is distributed. If a band wants to give away its album for free on Bandcamp, or if Peter Buck just wants a limited run of 1000 vinyl records of his solo albums, so be it. Taylor Swift and Adele, to a point, do not need what Spotify offers, since they can sell millions of copies of their albums in a week via traditional methods. But when they say it devalues music, that it isn't paying out what they expect... it sounds very tone-deaf. It shows a lack of understanding of the dire straits music was in due to the amount of illegal downloading that was occurring.
The math on Spotify is difficult, I do agree. We're in a weird situation here where the artists feel more empowered than ever, where the major labels don't have as much clout, but where record contracts (especially 360 deals) seem to have artists locked in more than we've recently seen with less solid compensation, the complaints about Spotify streams not paying out over a full album doesn't register. My most listened to album of 2015, the new Decemberists, was streamed in full well over 50 times, with "Philomena" getting a number of extra streams on top of that. If the reports on payouts are correct, they got more money from Spotify than they would have had I bought the album at full price either via download or via hard copy CD.
It's unfortunate to not see Taylor Swift or Adele on these services, but, like I said, they don't need them. But a band like Radiohead? Or Joanna Newsom? Or, even worse, an independent act like Bess Rogers? Especially on the latter acts where any sort of exposure that pays out money is going to be a good thing, you're ultimately asking a lot of music consumers to seek out your music on a lot of less convenient platforms, and in a way that will likely net you less money if you're working independently (since you control the distribution, publishing, songwriting, and so on).
I don't want to see this become a bit of a trend. While I don't want to shame artists who are opting out, I also want to kind of shake them sand say "look at what you're doing!" We've progressed a lot past the point where the only way to hear music was to see it performed in person, and while the balance of "the only way to get paid is to perform live" hasn't quite been achieved yet, opting out isn't going to help balancing things out, either. I'm hoping 2016 is a better year across the board for this sort of thinking.
Next week, a review of some of the best songs of 2015.