A lot of people ask me about music on my Twitter feed and I like to post a few bits and pieces throughout the year. For those who don’t know, I’m super passionate about Alternative Rock. It’s a very wide spectrum of music however which touches on parts of metal, progressive, hard, pop rock, gothic and rap. I spend a fair amount of my spare time sourcing new music from bands rarely anyone on my timeline has ever heard of. This is usually because I have so few bands I truly enjoy everything they release, so I am always looking for something new. Just when I think I won’t find anything that really takes me, grabs me and sucks me in, I find something. Music is like that I guess.
As I travel a lot, music is something I listen to a lot, especially while flying any length of distance. Because of that, I have built up a considerable collection of this almost-underground rock. Some of the albums listed here you may have heard of, but many won’t. I guess this is a two way thing, I get to share my music taste with you, while hopefully also promoting some bands I think I deserve more followers on Twitter and more sales of their music so they go on and make more!
Usually an album is purchased because I’ve liked more than one track, but the ultimate album is the one where I enjoy every single track, I’m sure you are no different. Last year, there weren’t many, in fact only a handful I could honestly say stayed on my iPod the entire year and I enjoyed the entire album. Two in particular stood out for me and will stay part of my collection at the very top.
This then, is my top 10 albums I purchased in 2015.
- Beautiful Bodies – Battles
An alternative rock band from Kansas City, USA with Alicia Solombrino leading the way on vocals. The band have an interesting startup, with this being their first album. Back in 2014 they were said to be the best unsigned band out there by Industry magazine HITS Daily Double, but the way they came together was a bit odd, with all three members based in different countries sending demos to each other via email!
Whatever, the way these guys have come together gave me one of my albums of the year. Initially hooked by the hypnotic Capture & Release which has hints of Icon For Hire (one of my favourite bands from 2014). It also has some punk elements which work well with a modern twist. Like many of the recent female vocal alternative rock bands, they aren’t afraid to experiment with a wide range of sounds. Ravens for example has a much more electronic feel to it, but also combines strings and a touch of Avril Lavigne style lyrics.
There is some good old fashioned anthem rock too in the form of Invincible and they can do ballads to with the finale Gone, Gone, Gone.
All in all, this was one of my favourite breakout band albums of the year.
Standout Tracks: Capture & Release, Ravens, Invincible.
- We The Kings – Strange Love
Ah, We The Kings. A guilty pleasure since their first release in 2007. Every year it seems they bring out new music and I’m a sucker for it! The new album only came out in November, but already its a constant on my playlist. It’s hard to put them in a category really, they drift all over the place in terms of sound, but thats usually what makes their albums so great.
You may already be familiar with them, especially if you are StarCraft fan as they are often featured on GSL playlists during their shows, but if not, perhaps you have heard We’ll Be a Dream which featured Demi Lovato no less. They aren’t frequent UK Top 40 visitors, but then thats not a bad thing these days ;)
The new album might not be as epic as say Somewhere Somehow, but has that very likable sound to it. From the very start, when singer Travis Clark asks “Can we love again” you know you’re in for a treat if you love that high paced pop rock sound. The opening track always puts a smile on my face and I consider it an absolute must for any summer playlist.
Howl at the moon might not have the most inspiring title (at least not for me) but boy does it deliver. Proper guitars and epic highs and lows combine to produce one of my favourite tracks on the album. If there is a track that will make the GSL playlist, it’s this one!
At the other end of the scale is XO featuring the brilliant vocals of Elena Coats. Where to put this track, hmmm, it’s a cross between reggae, black eyed peas and something you might get from Rhianna, yet firmly a We The Kings track. If that sounds funky, it absolutely is.
There just isn’t room to cover every track, but suffice to say, there is a great mix again on Strange Love from acoustic to pop rock to rock ballads, there is something for everyone, but despite its eclectic mix, it holds up as an album of great quality.
Standout Tracks: Love Again, XO, Howl at the Moon
- Halestorm – Into The Wildlife
It’s incredible to think this band have, in one form or another been creating music for almost 20 years. Yet only in recent years have they finally got their rewards for producing fantastic rock music. In 2015, they released only their third studio album, three years after The Strange Case of…, which was one of my favourite albums ever. I had high expectations.
I wasn’t disappointed and though this one doesn’t top the previous album (it was almost impossible after all), it does show just how versatile Halestorm have become. If anything, the latest album seems a little heavier than the previous two, though still unmistakably still has Lizzie screaming out the tunes. The instant hook for me came from “I Am The Fire” with its acoustic start and light lead guitar, rising to a crescendo and in to the hard rock chorus. Classic Halestorm!
And if you want moody, get some “What Sober Couldn’t Say” on your iPod, pure class. But the one that really gets me every time is “The Reckoning”, again like “I Am The Fire” it has a low-key start, but builds up much slower and with a more deliberate motion. If there is a track that really shows off Lizzie’s range, it’s this one.
It’s also one of those albums I keep coming back to and finding new tracks I enjoy, a good sign this is a classic.
Standout tracks: I Am The Fire, Apocalyptic, The Reckoning
- Shinedown – Threat to Survival
For those who know my music well, you might be surprised to find Shinedown’s 2015 offering only in 7th place, but despite my absolute love for the band over the years, Threat To Survival, while still very good, just doesn’t match the standard of the previous albums.
Despite that, it does have yet more standout tracks, signature tunes from the band who know exactly how to creat epic rock tracks. “How Did You Love” has barely left my playlist all year and is the absolute 10/10 standout track on the album. If you loved “The Sound of Madness” album, then you’ll love this track too, it feels almost out-of-place on the current album and is a real throwback to the earlier sound of the band. Not sure if that’s intentional or even if it’s just me that see’s it like that, but its glorious.
The lighter sound is also covered with tracks like Thick As Thieves (another fantastic track), Misfits and Black Cadillac. But as ever they shine with the heavier stuff, including Outcast, Asking For It and State of My Head.
Standout Tracks: How Did You Love, Thick As Thieves, It All Adds Up
- Stellar Revival – Love, Lust and Bad Company
A new arrival on the scene, but actually not really. It turns out it took Capitol Records more than three years to get this album released and in the meantime, the record deal is dead? I’m not sure, but I hope not for the bands sake. Regardless of the mess of releasing, the wait was well worth it. A stunning debut album from the “Southern Gentlemen Music” club ;)
I was originally taken by the band thanks to hearing “Saving Grace” on a Christian Rock Radio Station (don’t ask!) and was immediately struck by the fantastic voice of front man Rino Cerbone as well as the slightly southern rock influenced guitars (which I’ve always loved).
Further investigation lead me to the album and boy what a find. The opening track, a grungy, guitar filled, hard rocker The Crazy Ones is obviously a live favourite. With Cross Your Heart (and hope) they show a completely different side, piano and strings opening a building ballad with strong lyrics and vocals to match.
Likewise, the band are capable of real emotion in the form of Shattered, a pure ballad again with huge vocals and fantastic strings and piano. There is plenty for the hard rocker too with Heart to Stone a particular favourite with its thumping bass and lead guitars wailing all over the place!
I just hope these guys get a break and carry on making excellent music so we can see just how far they can go, because they set a very high bar with their opening offering and its a tragedy they have less than 400 followers on Twitter.
Standout Tracks: Heart of Stone, Saving Grace, Shattered
- Young Guns – Ones and Zeros
Up to this point you may have noticed a pattern. All of the previous entrants in the top ten are from the United States of America, the great land of modern rock bands. So it is pleasing that there is not one, but two UK bands in the top five. I only say this as it means I have a greater chance of actually catching them live!
Young Guns however have been touring a lot and with bands like Breaking Benjamin, so its not perhaps a surprise that I enjoyed their opening album. A lot!
YG aren’t new however, they’ve been around since 2010 and while I was ok with their first two albums, this one rocked my world in a whole new way. The opening track “Rising Up” is an epic guitar that sets the scene nicely. As with many of the bands I like, YG has strong lead guitars, thumping bass with a fantastic vocal range and the opening track delivers this in spades (note the extra lead guitars at around 90 seconds in!).
Influences are varied throughout, but I did detect more than a little Killers on “I Want Out” which also had some BBC Radio 1 airplay. “Lullaby” also see’s some more of that fabulous vocal range and the title track takes us in a more creative direction.
The major standout and perhaps the anthem of the entire year for me is “Daylight”. Adding in a little electronic at the start and then crashing in with major drums and lead, it gives way to a darker opening than you’d expect. Simple lyrics are exceptionally well sung and the hooks in the chorus still have me humming (or attempting to sing) this in the shower and will continue to do so for some time. Catchy, but not one that tires easily to the ears.
Overall, Young Guns showed in 2015 that the United Kingdom can produce some of the best rock music in the world.
Standout Tracks: Daylight, Rising Up, I Want Out
- Three Days Grace – Human
Ultimate Guitar said of Human “You can’t even rate this album poorly, because it isn’t a bad album – it is something worse – it is SO mediocre”. Well, thats not a good start. Good job I don’t always listen to the critics when buying albums (though I’d have saved a lot of money if I had I guess!). For me, this was TDG’s strongest album in some time and despite replacing the lead signer (usually the death knell for any band) they might actually be better than they were before.
Human might not be a classic in the real sense of things, it’s certainly not going on my all time hall of fame list, but it’s much better than the critics made it out to be. Perhaps emotionally they were expecting more from TDG, but as stand alone album, I personally really enjoyed it, despite the “radio” pleasers on the album.
The opening track “Human Race” also shows they can do something different, utilising the synth far more than in previous albums. It’s true however that “Painkiller” is the signature track on the album and where Matt Walst really comes in to his own.
My favourite track is “Fallen Angel” which might be a little too radio friendly for some, but it hits all the marks for me including the deep piano in the background. Again, Walst uses his full range on this one and despite missing Adam Grontier on the mic, Matt has really grown on me.
Standout Tracks: Fallen Angel, Painkiller, Nothings Fair In Love and War
- Breaking Benjamin – Dark Before Dawn
One of the most eagerly awaited albums of the year was finally delivered after a six-year wait for a studio album. With a previous “greatest hits” album released in between, many fans worried that BB might just be at the end. Particularly when lead singer Ben Burnley has had so many issues with illness in recent years. Thankfully, we finally got what we wanted.
And fans of the band need not have worried BB had gone for a different sound, they were pleased to find Dark Before Dawn picked up right where we left off in Dear Agony. Initially the entire album didn’t grab me like Phobia did or We Are Not Alone, but the ingredients were all there. I only had to hear the opening 10 seconds of Failure to hear the familiar Breaking Benjamin sound I know and love. A further 30 seconds before it was confirmed with Burnleys distinctive vocals crashing in to the track. “Failure” would not be out of place on any of the previous albums and is another classic to add to the list.
In the same vein, “Angels Fall” can also enter the classic BB territory and “Breaking The Silence” adds to the feeling you are well and truly inside a great BB album.
Those looking for another “So Cold” will be mildly disappointed though, but the closest might be “Hollow” even if it doesn’t have quiet the same epic build up. Trouble is, how do you improve on a masterpiece?
There is plenty of the heavier BB stuff too with “Bury Me Alive” and “Defeated” standing out and while if there is one criticism to be had, that of not straying from a winning formula and taking a bit of a risk, the closest the album comes is “Ashes of Eden” but even then, Burnley ensures you aren’t going to get lost.
It’s a brilliant return from a brilliant band made even more special for us in the UK as the band will play Download Festival in the summer of 2016, their first time outside North America. I can’t wait.
Standout Tracks: Angels Fall, Failure, Hollow
- Red – Of Beauty and Rage
Right up front I want to admit I’m a Red fanboy. I’ve been there since the start with the award-winning End of Silence and 2008’s follow-up Innocence & Instinct. Both albums currently feature in my hall of fame with only 14 other albums. Since then, they’ve gone on to release two further studio albums (if you ignore the remixed Release the Panic in 2014) and while they have both been perfectly listenable, there was something missing from them that made the first two so great.
The re-released album last year proved the band had listened to their fans as they called for the string sections, that set the band apart, to come back.
Hopes were high for “Of Beauty and Rage” then, but also tinged with a little worry that things might be the same as the previous two albums. Boy where we wrong. Red came roaring back this past year and cemented themselves as easily my favourite band of the last ten years.
Like the first two albums, “Beauty” doesn’t have a single week track. Honestly, its a thing of beauty in both name and actuality.
Even the now signature instrumental opening “Descent” gets you right in to “red country”. If you’ve heard the other albums, there is little to say other than, get this one, you won’t be disappointed in any way. If you are new, then delve in early with “Yours Again” and “Take Me Over” to get you settled in. Then enjoy the masterpiece of “Darkest Part”.
There is even a little tilt towards Muse with “Shadow and Soul” and if you want heavier, enjoy “What You Keep Alive”. There really isn’t a bad track on the entire album.
Alongside the fantastic string sections, the always brilliant bass and lead guitars, Michael Barnes vocals are absolutely phenomenal and having seen the band play live, he can do the same in a live environment so if you get the chance to see them this year, do it!
Standout Tracks: Yours Again, Shadow and Soul, Darkest Part
- Nothing But Thieves – Nothing But Thieves
So, my favourite album of the year. For the first time ever (I’ve been doing these top tens for 10 years now!) a UK band takes the top spot. And I have to say, despite just how much I love Red’s album, Nothing But Thieves took this one by some distance and became only my 16th album in the hall of fame of Alt Rock.
This is also their debut year and debut album. What an incredible start!
While the band features some outstanding musicians in the form of Joe Langridge-Brown and Dominic Craik on guitar, drummer James Price, and bass player Philip Blake, it really is the almost unique sound of Conor Mason that helps separate the band from the rest of the pack. I’m not even going to compare him to anyone else and you have to hear his range to believe them!
Still, a great singer helps, but if the songwriting or the music sucks, you aren’t going far. Luckily, the band excel in every area. The album has that perfect chemistry of tracks, balance of rhythm, catchy little numbers that keep you coming back time and time again and of course some signature tracks that help the album stand out.
I’ll start with the track that got me early on, “Itch”. What a track. Alongside “Daylight” by Young Guns, its my anthem of the year. I just haven’t stopped playing it and every time it comes on to the playlist, I crank it up. It’s not the most complicated song, but has some catchy riffs throughout and a sublime chorus which shows off Conors incredible high range (I’ve tried to get up there, but there’s no way Conor is human!).
But don’t think this album is a single track wonder. There is true greatness here. The band show they can go completely across the rock spectrum from the bass heavy “Ban All The Music” (which also has a great video) to the incredible “Six Billion” and its silky, Ed Sheeran like vocals. There’s also upbeat and smart with “Honey Whiskey” (which is a real thing by the way) and just check out “Tempt You” which reminds me of a Zero7 track.
Heavy rock you say? Grab a bit of “Painkiller” (also much better but different to Three Days Grace same titled track). Another bass heavy intro leads in to “Drawing Pins” which is another smartly written and brilliantly varied track.
And I haven’t even started on “Trip Switch”, which is where most might come in to the album having only heard one track by the band. Again, the bass from Blake is just sublime here.
Missing a gloriously moody ballad? “Lover, Please Stay” is up there with anything released in 2015 by any artist. Melancholy, emotional and expertly delivered with passion by Conor with just the right subtle tones.
If I have a single complaint about the entire album, really, just one. The original track that made me fall in love with this band was “Last Orders” which I stumbled upon in 2014 on YouTube, but somehow that incredible track never made the album. You make me sad boys :(
But seriously, if that’s the only complaint? Just buy it.
It’s also an utter disgrace this band has so little following on Twitter, so get following them now! They are going to be absolutely huge!
Standout Tracks: Too many to list!
Nothing But Thieves Image courtesy of http://www.queensradio.co.uk/