#22: Potty Mouth – “Potty Mouth EP”

Following up their 2013 album Hell Bent, Massachusetts’ Potty Mouth put out this five song EP that improves on most of the ideas on their debut. In particular, the band adds more polish to their sound and makes the smart decision of working with John Goodmanson, who has a stellar history of working with guitar-centric rock bands and aids them in expanding their grunge/alternative vision.

Of course, producers only do so much, and the most noted improvements are in Potty Mouth’s own performance –while only five songs, this EP has enough big hooks, riffs, and choruses to fill most full lengths. Abby Weems’ vocals are stronger and more confident, matching the more self-assured playing from the rest of the band. With many bands mining similar 90s grunge/alt rock material, it’s in this execution that Potty Mouth separate themselves. The result is five great songs that each sound like a lost 90s single.

#23: Amanda X – “Hundreds and Thousands”

Thanks to Twitter, Bandcamp, and Rdio (RIP), this year I found myself randomly becoming a fan of Philadelphia’s indie rock scene from afar. After liking a couple Philly bands, I began to connect the dots and find other bands they played with or recommended, and eventually had pretty much fully gone down a rabbit hole and adopted Philly as my local music scene of choice.

One of the bands I discovered this way was Amanda X, a trio of Cat Park, Kat Bean, and Tiff Yoon. Hundreds and Thousands is actually a two song 7-inch they released this year, but I listened to the two songs enough that I felt it was worth charting. “Quilted” and “Juniper” are both about six minutes long and take their time winding through distinct segments that cover a range of styles and moods, with a focus on vocal harmonies and noisy guitar. In this way, Amanda X’s freewheeling approach reminds me a bit of super-geniuses Afrirampo, in that there is an expression of freedom in these unpredictable songs that makes them stand out from a lot of more overly crafted rock that feels like it’s painting by the numbers.

The members of Amanda X show impressive versatility, seamlessly changing modes in mid-song while still making each of them feel cohesive. While only two songs and 12 minutes, Hundreds and Thousands has more replay value than most of the full lengths I listened to this year.

#24: Pinkshinyultrablast – “Everything Else Matters”

Pinkshinyultrablast hail from St. Petersburg, where I like to imagine they’re part of a booming Russian shoegaze scene. Everything Else Matters is their first proper album, and it’s clearly indebted to the usual shoegaze suspects, with songs consisting of the familiar wall of sound guitars and indecipherable vocals (from Lyubov Soloveva) that blend into the music. Pinkshinyultrablast feel more like they’re gazing into the sky than at their shoes, as they put a spacier spin on the genre with some longer songs that contain remnants of their beginnings as a krautrock band.

I’ll be honest: shoegaze albums are like pizza for me. Some are better than others because they have better ingredients, but I pretty much always like them unless I run into the rare Papa John’s equivalent. Pinkshinyultrablast don’t reinvent the wheel, but Everything Else Matters hits the familiar, satisfying notes I want out of shoegaze, and the band puts enough of their own spin on it that they don’t sound like pale imitators. It’s a simple crowd-pleaser for any loud guitars aficionado.

#25: Best Coast – “California Nights”

California Nights is the smartest stupid album of the year. After a few albums of lo-fi bedroom pop that never quite felt sincere to me, this is the album where Best Coast finally become what they were destined to be: a big, dumb, slick rock band, like Oasis if they loved California as much as the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“Stupid” and “dumb” aren’t usually adjectives used for praise, but there is an appeal to how California Nights completely foregoes any attempt at intellectualism or depth, and instead focuses on crafting anthemic pop songs that just sound good. It’s a smart decision that plays to the band’s strengths while making you forget about their weaknesses. Freed from the self-imposed lo-fi constraints of their past music, Bethany Cosentino’s singing and melodies soar higher while Bobb Bruno’s guitar benefits from the extra polish, evoking the California-landscape-at-sunset feelings the band has always gone for.

The bigger sound and added production values likely alienated some of Best Coast’s original fans, and music critics weren’t too keen on it either. But I think California Nights is the sound of a band finally figuring out who they are and embracing it.

The 2015 Year-End Extravaganza

Twitter has roped me back into making year-end lists, so I’ve made a list of my top 25 favorite albums of the year. The problem is figuring out how to share it, since I know the world desperately needs to read it and I’d frankly be doing mankind a disservice if I didn’t publish it in some form. I don’t want that on my conscience.

I started writing the typical end of year list post with every album, and then a short blurb about it and why I liked it, but I found it very constricting. I felt compelled to keep each blurb a reasonable length so the final post wouldn’t be a total word-bomb. I also like to link to music I’m writing about, since just listening is more effective than words at describing the sound, but was worried about making people’s computers or phones explode with that many youtube embeds on one page.

So, this is my solution: starting probably tomorrow, I’m going to roll out the list gradually, with each album getting its own post. Most of them will still be short, since I surprisingly don’t have article-worthy opinions about literally every album I listen to. But it does give me the freedom to go a bit longer and deeper if I have something to say or think the album warrants it. I think this will give me more freedom with the writing and allow me to do more justice to these albums, which I think deserve better than a dashed-off two sentence blurb. It also allows me to flood people’s social media timelines, which is one of the most enjoyable things about being a writer.

Stay tuned.