We’ve seen a lot of the top ten lists this year, but in the spirt of giving everyone a chance to put out a record at the last minute, we’ve waited to release ours. In the end, none of these albums were put out in December. Nonetheless, we’ve chosen some of our favorites from bands we’ve seen in New England or at least touring through. No, this list does not mention Tame Impala or Kendrick Lamar, sorry folks. We’ve seen all these artists work really hard, however, and for the New Year, we wanted to say ching ching, salute, or cheers in the form of this top-ten list.
The Foresters, Sun Songs
Nork brothers, otherwise known as The Foresters, released their 3rd album Sun Songs this year, a very cohesive and well-written set of pop rock tunes, reminiscent of Built to Spill and the cleaner moments of Guided by Voices. The Foresters are a young band that have been around since 2010, previously releasing two albums (The Foresters and Living Hold) in the pop-punk vain, and the general line is that they are trying to move beyond the juvenilia effect that a young band often produces. Sun Songs does just that, gives the listener a tight bundle of rock trio songs, driven by lyrics that—not to sound too heady but—show some existential skepticism: “we’re all just paper anyway,” Evan Nork assuredly sings.
Johnny Mainstream, Break the Kettles and Sink the Ship
Maybe it’s the fact that the opening song references Twin Peaks, maybe it’s our profound love for rock anthems, or maybe it’s singer Matt Maynes’s affinity for alliteration (“She’s cautiously coy . . . “), but Johnny Mainstream has so much infectious heart. Like a Conor Oberst, Maynes crafts lyric into carefully wrought poetry, and then, without hesitation, delivers them confidently via the band’s soaring, vocal-driven rock. Real personality pulses behind these songs, perhaps showcased best in “27/m Seeking Rich Young Heiress To Support Rock and Roll Band,” in which Maynes tongue-in-cheekly assures a love interest, “if you wanna hang out, I got a show and I can put you on the guest list.” The lyrics can be funny in their charmingly self-deprecating way, and all too relatable to the millennial experience—sad at moments, hopeful at others, tinged with longing for people and places gone. And did we mention? Rock. Anthems. Galore.
Sweet Talk, Double Perfect
Sweet Talk’s Double Perfect is an almost perfect nerd rawk album. We had the esteemed pleasure of seeing them at Willimantic Records, touring from their home base in Austin, Texas. Double Perfect is a power pop tour de force, sustained by Stephen Svacina’s quirky songwriting and Mitch Fraizer’s vocabulary of slick blues guitar licks. In the track “Witness,” Svacina captures a feeling many folks these days experience, especially on Facebook—a lack of authenticity: “And I want to witness, yes, I want to witness something meaningful, we’ve still got plenty of time!” Svacina seems optimistic—obviously due to playing awesome rock n roll through tube amps—that there is something out there to experience beyond the likes, beyond the surface.
So Sorry, Tolerate or Die
One day at work, I was listening to a mix CD that guitarist and singer Connor D’Auteuil had made. There was one song on it that sounded so much like Connor, I had to ask him about it since I had no idea what I was listening to. I was like, “yeah, the lyrics are like, ‘so untouchable, so sweet . . . ’”. He pretended he didn’t know what I was talking about. “Towards the middle of the mix?” he asked, playing dumb, “Or the end?”
Long story short, I came to find out it was none other than his own song “Narcissus” from Tolerate or Die! So Sorry is a progressive alt. rock band from Willimantic, and one aspect of this first release that stands out is the wide range of vocal personas that D’Auteuil can convincingly inhabit. Whether it’s aggressive (as in the verses of the anthemic closer, “K.I.A.”), soft and emotive (“That Love”), or downright angelic and otherworldly (“Secular Hymn, #1), D’Auteuil transcends the boundaries of genre in his flexibility as a frontman. Although the band describes their sound as “progressive” (and it is), they are equally capable of maintaining a tight pop aesthetic, even when it’s set against the frenetic musical background of tapping guitar solos, delightfully warbly fretless bass, and wild, crashing percussion.
Violent Mae, KID
Violent Mae, the band “that wasn’t meant to be band,” though we’re all better off because they are. Good grief, their sophomore release Kid is honestly one of those hidden legendary albums, headed up by two killer singles, “In the Sun” and “In My Ring.” Vocalist/guitarist Becky Kessler and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Floyd Kellogg have refined their efforts to make these deep, textured songs, which lay to bare Kessler’s own vulnerabilities with no fear or self-doubt. The question is, how could you doubt yourself when Kellogg’s Picasso-esque drumming and a Fender Bassman support you? Incredible guitar and drum sounds aside, Kessler manages to artfully show you her wounds, all the while inviting you into her ring, “where you can fight.”
Quiet Giant, Loom
Truly, there is so much to appreciate about Bethel-based dream pop/rock band Quiet Giant, whether it’s Dani Capalbo’s mesmerizing lead vocals, drummer Jared Thompson’s consistently solid-as-fuck beats, or Will Touri’s reverb-laden, David Gilmour-esque guitar. Loom wanders along a journey with many turns, from full-on, explosive post-rock to moments of vulnerable minimalism (“You’re so discreet that everybody knows you’re killing me,” Capalbo hauntingly repeats at the end of “Gray.” Although Quiet Giant draws from a variety of influences—Explosions in the Sky, Mazzy Star, and even hints of classic rock come to mind—this album is incredibly consistent and distinctive in sound, which is a tough feat for such a new band. We could (and have) let this album ride for hours because new hooks, textures, and lyrics are reborn with every listen. On top of all that, Quiet Giant is even better live—Touri’s guitar roars to life, and Capalbo is pitch-perfect.
Ports of Spain,Tea Leaf Bloom
“I don’t want to wake up yet I’m tired. There is a cold rain spitting down outside” captures some of the inspired gloom—better yet, chiaroscuro—that permeates all of Ports of Spain’s Tea Leaf Bloom. Working though Ringo-ish singing and pedal-happy shoegaze, a song like “Water from a Well” enlivens the chordal monotony of drone guitar music, introducing a pop-style vocal that hooks the listener, as it should. The end result comes off as an intended meandering, the post-rock reveries of two very capable musicians. This description may capture some moments, but the album offers a few bits more. The roughly 50-second tracks at the beginning and end, “The Girl Who at A Dictionary” and “Even Closer,” two gentle acoustic ideas, really, punctuate Tea Leaf Bloom’s larger, more densely layered sound and are excellent points of contrast. Earlier this year, we played together at the Paper Goods festival, and they accomplish a ton as a duo.
Furnsss, New Moves
Furnsss’ New Moves is noisy, fuzzy, delightfully dark pop. Brendan Dyer and Jeremy Stern’s shared lead vocals can be laconic, moody, and endearing all at once, the songs are well composed, and honestly? a band with four guitars has never sounded better. “Slow Dark Water” grabs the listener immediately with its catchy opening melody, quick transition into a pre-chorus, then another verse, then . . . is it the chorus yet? . . . nope not yet . . . wait for it . . . CHORUS! Ah, the exquisite release that comes from masterfully written pop music. Furnsss’ overall sound captures the downtrodden, cynical mood of Connecticut rock, but this EP does not navel-gaze in the slightest—this is album that feels deliberate on every account. The only shortcoming of New Moves is that we wish it were longer, but perhaps that’s the point.
Terrible Roars, Wolf Suit
We hope that Terrible Roars’s Wolf Suit came out in 2015, because it’s really good and we want it on this list. We can always expect something upbeat and inspired like title track “Cottons” from the rambunctious Ross Page and his squad of gnarly 20-somethings, most notably, guitarist Chris Hominski. And in songs like “Holler” and “River Girl,” Wolf Suit betrays how I’ve always heard the Terrible Roars sound: in a nutshell, Sting’s best bass guitar compositions with The Police, under glittery melodies evocative of Kevin Barnes. But Wolf Suit isn’t all lollipops and candy canes as Page also reveals a more sobering, nostalgic side: “just want a piece of yesterday,” and don’t we all.
Orders, Works & Days
Orders takes simple, 2 and 4-chord folk songs and give them the edge that so much indie folk music desperately lacks. I mean, just look at that cover art. It’s a naked soldier, facing away, with a huge, nasty open gash on his back. It’s gorgeous art—and human beings are beautiful too, but we are also ridden with infection, imperfection—with pain. Orders brings that tension into high relief throughout Works & Days: “You’re walking with me / we’ll be dead soon you see,” singer Jared Blumer croons over the country ho-down “Walking With Me.” In “St. Rita,” violinist Robyn Buttery whistles a cheerful melody immediately followed by bassist Andy Tucker’s matter-of-fact assertion, “I want to strip my ragged carcass to the bones.” These are happy-sounding, upbeat tunes totally undercut by the raw vocals and disturbing, corporal imagery—a deft combination in a genre that needs it.