The Halfway Mark

Now that the end of June is upon us, this would be a good time to reflect upon the releases that have helped define 2015 so far.  I can honestly say that this year is poised to be the strongest year for local releases in about six years.  I like to do a Top 40 countdown of songs at the end of the year.  Since this is only the halfway mark, I’m limiting myself to twenty instead of forty.  And instead of focusing on songs, this is a list (in alphabetical order) of the strongest albums and EPs of the year thus far.  Along with each album, I’ve included one track for your sampling, which I hope whets your taste for the rest of what each act has to offer.

Anna Robyn ThomasSymptoms
I first discovered Ms. Thomas through Cindy Chaffin of the Fine Line blog.  At the time, she was a mere fourteen years of age, but her vocal talent surpassed most twice her age.  Five years have passed, and she now uses her middle name in her stage name.  The more significant change, however, is the growth in her songwriting skills.  Symptoms shows a new found maturity in her lyrics, as best demonstrated by the album’s opening track, “Crossroads”.  As with many female piano based musicians, there are the inevitable Tori Amos comparisons.  But Ms. Thomas is no Tori clone, creating melodic stories less cryptic and more accessible than Tori Amos.

Birds of Night, Birds of Night
Some people would argue that an album should have a cohesive sound that holds the songs together, while others prefer a strong sense of diversity from song to song. On their self-titled album, Birds of Night have accomplished the near impossible in creating an album that balances cohesiveness with diversity. Whether it’s the dreamy “Asleep in the Pine”, the laid back countryish vibe of “Big Shot”, or straight ahead rocking sound of “Dark”, Birds of Night hold on to their identity throughout the album, yet never sound redundant.

The Chloes, No Filter EP
It’s a shame that The Chloes are no longer together, as their final EP finds the band creating their strongest sounds yet. Songs like “I Can Change” could have found the band’s fan page expanding far beyond the walls of the metroplex. As it is, the No Filter EP only leaves the listeners with the question of what could have been for The Chloes.

Claire Morales, Amaranthine
Some artists are really easy to do the RIYL (recommended if you like) thing with.  For some reason, I can’t quite put my finger on who to compare Claire Morales with.  So I’ll leave it simple: I recommend Claire Morales if you like great lyrics, compelling melodies, and a powerfully gorgeous voice that is demonstrated repeatedly throughout Amaranthine.

The Demigs, Welcome to Hard Times
Ever since the release of the band’s Cities Can Wait album, lead singer Chris Demiglio had been telling me how he wanted to release a double-album of new Demigs material. A double album is always an ambitious project to say the least, and can often be overloaded with throw away material. The remarkable feat is how strong all the songs off of Welcome to Hard Times are. Fans of bands like Pixies and Pavement are sure to eat up catchy indie rock tunes like “Pluto”. And “Melamine”. And “Yeller”. And… well, you get the idea.

Doug Burr, Pale White Dove
I would imagine that the sound of Pale White Dove came as a bit of a shock to fans of Mr. Burr. The sound is far more rocking and (relatively) up-tempo than any of his other albums, as evidenced by the album’s opening track “White Night – Black Light”. Never fear though, because while the sound has changed, Mr. Burr’s lyrical strength remains a constant that I doubt ever will change.

Dove Hunter, Black Clouds Erupt Us
I’ve heard many refer to the sound of the new DH album being in the vein of “classic rock”, with comparisons to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Personally, there’s a complexity to the rhythm of the tracks on Black Clouds Erupt Us that unless if you’re referring to bands like Yes and King Crimson, are not found in classic rock. Part of what makes Dove Hunter so compelling is the dark, sinister sounding groove of Chad DeAtley’s bass and the complex yet fierce drum parts by Quincy Holloway. Songs like “This Creek Will Rise” and “No Shelter” have a sound that I can only describe as unsettling yet compelling.

Dripping Wet, …In Mokkori High
Let me get this out of the way: I think Dripping Wet is a lousy band name. The same goes for the name of the band’s EP. Fortunately, songs like “She’s Not Mine” and “Pretender” are deliciously dreamy bits of pop that more than make up for the bad band name.

Hawk vs. Dove, Divided States
By far the heaviest album on the list, Divided States is a very melodically and rhythmically complex album. It’s as if Hawk vs. Dove is trying to create the ultimate musical roller coaster ride with all the tempo and volume changes within the course of Divided States. If you’re wanting easy listening, stay away from this album like the plague. If you’re willing to go on a loud, chaotic musical journey, fasten your seatbelts through this exhilarating album.

Jetta in the Ghost Tree, Clandestine, Vol. I
It’s been six years since Flickerstick called it quits, but Brandin Lea has finally released a new album with his new band, Jetta in the Ghost Tree. There are a few tracks from the album, particularly “Carswell” and “Silhouette”, which feel like they could have been Flickerstick tracks. Jetta in the Ghost Tree is not Flickerstick 2.0, however, and the band makes that crystal clear with the slow psych rock burn of the opening track, “Clandestine”. There’s plenty of great rock songs on here, “Reaction” and “Larceny”, but the stand out track is the gorgeous “Pontchartrain Eyes”, which I have listened to countless times since receiving Clandestine, Vol. I. I can’t wait for volume two.

Jonas Martin, Chokecherry Jam
Jonas Martin had already made a name for himself within the local music scene through his work in the band Goodnight Ned. The release of Chokecherry Jam, however, has made his name even more prominent within the scene. Mr. Martin manages to blend blues elements with Beatlesque pop melodies that will leave listeners craving seconds and thirds of his tasty Chokecherry Jam.

Leon Bridges, Coming Home
I’d say 2015 has treated Leon Bridges quite well so far. He’s managed to be one of the most buzzed about artists this year, and even appeared on both The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman. But can he live up to the hype? Absolutely. Anyone who thinks soul music is dead need only listen to Mr. Bridge’s Coming Home to realize he has breathed life into the genre. The album feels like it could have been released in the 1960’s, and even the album artwork is a throwback to the era. The retro sound never feels forced, and always authentic. Expect to see this album on many best of 2015 lists, both in and outside of Dallas.

Missing Sibling, Commiserate EP
Missing Sibling’s latest effort feels a bit more pop than anything else the band has previously released. Perhaps the addition of Kevin Buchanan and Stephanie Buchanan helped the band in creating this new sound that fits them so well. Whatever it is, it makes for the most enjoyable songs that Missing Sibling have created to date.

(monkeysphere), Cosmicpolitan
Few local acts put on as fun of a show as (monkeysphere) does, and the band manages to do a good job of capturing their essence on Cosmicpolitan. And for those who say “they don’t like ska music”, I dare anyone to listen to “Moonshine” and not have a smile on his or her face. Other songs like “Stardust Melody” and “Straight and Narrow” manage to incorporate various musical styles with ska and present it in an accessible package, yet the band always stays true to its ska roots. If you’re wanting a musical gateway into the world of ska, Cosmicpolitan is the perfect entrance.

The Orange, Sharing Vitamins
While The Orange have always had a strong fan base in Dallas, they’ve flown below the radar of many local music critics (The Ghost being the long time exception to that rule). After the release of Sharing Vitamins, everyone is taking notice, whether it be Central Track, Dallas Observer, or Courtney Taylor-Taylor of The Dandy Warhols. Why is everyone taking notice? Simply put, Sharing Vitamins is a great album packed with catchy songs and no filler. It’s the kind of album that invites repeat listens from start to finish, where the fan will want to know all the words to every song. While all the individual songs are great, Sharing Vitamins is definitely an album meant to be listened to as an album, from start to end.

Rahim Quazi, Ghost Hunting
It’s been seven years since Rahim Quazi’s last album, Supernatural. While this album doesn’t hold an “obvious” single in the way that the previous album’s title track did, <em is by far the stronger album. And that’s not to say that there aren’t some very strong songs on here. “Relax, Believe” is probably the album’s closest thing to a single, and the most overtly optimistic track on Ghost Hunting. The album deals with a myriad of issues, ranging from forgiveness (“The Things We Do”), reflecting on one’s life (“Born on a Sunday”), and even child abuse (“Tiny Flowers”). Ghost Hunting is a lyrically powerful journey, and quite possibly the year’s strongest album to date.

Rude King, Coming Back to You EP
Rude King is back with another reminder of why they are they the Kings (and in the case of vocalist Vicki Tovar, the Queen) of the local music ska scene. Whether it be the straight ahead ska of “Walk Away”, the tropical feel of “Love You Crazy”, or the Motown inspired title track, there’s plenty on this EP for both ska purists and those who just like good, catchy songs that are easy to sing along with.

Valise, Dreamcatcher
Valise managed the difficult feat of selling out their CD release show at Three Links before the doors even opened that night. How did the band pull off such a feat? I suspect that the gorgeous, indie pop songs found on Dreamcatcher would reveal the answer. Half the CD leans more towards accessible indie pop (“Charlie Gray”, “Digadig”) while the other half is more dreamy and hypnotic (“Strange Light”, “Twisted Up”). That adds up to one whole great album.

Year of the Bear, Gold Rushin’
It seems that the world of psych rock is exploding right before our eyes. Year of the Bear, however, have been keeping the genre alive before it became so trendy. Their full length, Gold Rushin’, embodies all that is right with the style: pop hooks, lots of drone and fuzz in the guitars, and great songs. Besides, how can you not love an album with a song called “Centra-Magic”?

Zach Balch, The Good Gets Better
If I had to give an award for the most underappreciated album for the first half of 2015, The Good Gets Better wins hand down. Zach Balch’s tender, sincere, and emotive vocals take his already well written songs and take them to an entirely new level. Songs like “I Never Loved You” and “Getting’ Through to You” are presently simply without overdone production, reliant totally on Mr. Balch’s story telling abilities. This is an album that doesn’t aim for your head, but for your heart, and the songs on The Good Get Better never miss their mark. Music lovers, take notice.

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