1. Bad Bad Hats “Midway”
I was turned on to Minneapolis’ Bad Bad Hats thankfully by my friend Will Noon (from the band fun. / Straylight Run). What separates Bad Bad Hats from the other indie bands in the scene is Kerry Alexander’s larger-than-the-room vocals. This track, off their debut LP Psychic Reader, will be stuck in your head for days after three listens, and she shines in it. The songwriting reminds me a lot of Liz Phair, and the record also leans on other ’90s alt rock icons like The Breeders, PJ Harvey and Letters To Cleo. The record was named one of the indie albums of 2015 by Buzzfeed. I HATE Buzzfeed and its lowest common denominator reporting, but they got this one right.
Bad Bad Hats play the Sinclair in Cambridge, MA on February 5.
2. Beach Slang “I Break Guitars”
Here comes another big indie breakout artist of 2015. Their debut The Things We Do To Find People Who Like Us seems to be on every rock critic’s top end-of-the-year list and it damn well should be. Punk rock ‘n’ roll isn’t supposed to reinvent the wheel, but when it’s done this right, it feels like it does. This record shows a shit load of promise for the Philadelphia band and this track is my favorite off of it. I generally get bummed when I hear bands or songs that people tell me are influenced by the Replacements, but “I Break Guitars” is the exception. Vice also named the band artist of the year along with Future, Speedy Ortiz, Iron Maiden and Kendrick Lamar. That company is all you need to know about where they are going. Get on the bandwagon before it’s too late.
3. Public Access TV “In Love And Alone”
Finally a celebration of self for self’s sake. Relationships are hard and listening to songs about relationships are even harder sometimes. What’s easier than relationships is giving up and falling back into a relationship with yourself. This song is a garage power pop blast that should be played as loud as humanly possible. While the song writing seems to be out of the Buzzcocks’ playbook lyrics-wise, the jam itself is more of New York Ramones / Devil Dogs vibe. Great track.
4. Cool Uncle “Break Away”
This song has my vote for best song of 2015 that you haven’t heard. The project’s concept is just as good on paper as it is on tape. Cool Uncle is superstar producer Jack Splash (Kendrick Lamar, Katy Perry) paired with smooth jazz legend Bobby Caldwell (best known his 1978 hit “What You Won’t Do For Love”). The result is modern day yacht rock bliss. Think along the lines of a mellow or lounge Gnarls Barkley. The self-titled record has a bunch of collaborations on it (Mayer Hawthorne and actually Gnarl’s Cee-Lo Green) and this track features Jessie Ware. Sweet summer yacht rock bliss in a winter month so warm we might as well be drinking can beer on a boat.
5. Miike Snow “Heart Is Full (featuring Run The Jewels)(Remix)”
Run The Jewels is unstoppable. Their last record “Run The Jewels 2” was not only the best album of 2014, for me it’s still the most played record of 2015. Here they take the lead single of Miike Snow’s new album III and straight up knock it out of the park with a remix and new verses. Killer Mike has been on a roll ever since starting to work with EL-P. The 2012 EL-P produced R.A.P. Music solo record was just a foreshadowing of the shape of what’s to come. Now partnered together as Run The Jewels, Killer Mike is not only performing at his best, he’s getting the attention he deserved. And with appearances on “Real Time With Bill Maher” and in front of rallies for Bernie Sanders, Killer Mike is getting the platform that his voice deserves as a talent and visionary.
6. Kirk Knight “Brokeland”
Just like I don’t typically like anything that’s proclaimed to be in vein of the Replacements, same goes for Wu Tang Clan. Any non-original Wu Tang member, but rather affiliate’s material, always is a dud on delivery. Kirk Knight, a member of Pro Era crew, took the right elements out of 36 Chambers and other mid ’90s New York City hip-hop. The 20-year-old’s full length “Late Knight Special” is a solid album and this track is my favorite off it. The beat sounds like a RZA beat, too. I look forward to seeing this young rapper evolve.
7. Leon Bridges “Smooth Sailing”
And here is perhaps the biggest breakout indie artist of 2015, Leon Bridges. This year saw the gospel / soul singer go from his first national tour at the beginning of the year to bookending it with an appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” That’s not to say there wasn’t hard work in between, but that’s a hell of a rise for an authentic musician. He is most often compared to Sam Cooke, and this track sounds so vintage you would not have a hard time convincing me it was from ’50s. He is supposed to put on a hell of a show too. Looking forward to finding that out for myself.
Leon Bridges plays the Wang Center in Boston on March 5.
8. Baroness “Shock Me”
Baroness are back and this is the second song teased off the upcoming album Purple, which will be released December 19 on their own newly formed label Abraxan Hymns. It’s not only the first new music from them in almost four years, but it’s also the first recording since their serious and near fatal bus accident in Europe shortly after the release of Yellow/Green. While elements of the metal act’s trademark seem in tact with this track, the vibes over seem different. It starts off with keyboards, which is entirely new to the band, for example. Vocalist John Baizley is one of my favorite vocalist in metal. Hopefully the record is as good as this song.
9. Babes “How Do You Make Love Stop”
I think the way a listener hears a song of heartbreak is often more a channel of reflection of their own life. Is it a song of overcoming the hardships of love for relationships sake? Or is it a hard knock reality of the pains of lost love? I think that this song, while being beautiful, is of the view point of pessimist. “Love is the only game we all play and lose.” Ain’t that the truth? The band is from LA, which one can tell from watching the music video. The music video takes the piss out of you so to speak, watching 3 and half minutes of people crying. I recommend the song, I don’t recommend listening while watching the video. Love hurts.
10. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment “Sunday Candy”
I’m late to the game on this one. This record came out in May, but as we reflect on best of list of 2015, I revisited Surf. The record is sorta Chance The Rapper’s follow up to 2013’s breakout Acid Rap. I say sorta because it’s a collaboration with trumpeter Nico Segal and a band of collaborators called The Social Experiment, but Chance’s imprint is all over this record. This track is a sweet tribute to his grandmother. And the record is still available for free to download on iTunes, so get on that.