Greatest Albums of 2015

As we live out the last month of 2015, it’s time to talk about the greatest music of the year. And 2015 was a clusterfuck for superior music — a slew of artists made extraordinary statements. In fact, there’s a huge list of albums lined up for my listening pleasure/analysis that I haven’t gotten around to and most likely won’t get to before 2016 arrives. But it’s OK; Strings & Laces will just post about the albums that I spent the most time listening to in 2015. Because, as we all know, great albums become even greater with repeated spins. The way Strings & Laces sees it (or, actually, hears it), records that were released in the first half of a year (January — June) may have a better chance to be written about at the end of the year; the listeners had more time to enjoy them. However, this theory is not always correct; a great album should always be a great album no matter what month it was released in. Although, again, music is made to develop over time. Or, an album is just bad from the beginning, never to be listened to again, but we won’t be speaking of any of that here.

Many websites/blogs list the best albums from 50 to one; Strings & Laces is taking a different approach. Instead of rating these releases with a number, we’ll just be talking about why they were great and why they are worth every listeners’ time. Because, sincerely, Strings & Laces’ favorite albums of 2015 all deserved at least one #1 vote for one reason or another. This isn’t statistics, people; it’s music.

So, without any further explanation, Strings & Laces gives you its Greatest Albums of 2015.

Next up, a band that put a modern twist on the best noise-rock sounds of the past:

KEN Mode : Success (Season of Mist)

What band is heavier and more punk rock then KEN Mode right now? Tell me; I’ll gladly listen, but I’ll be ready to dispute. Kill Everything Now (KEN) Mode may have murdered their instruments making Success, and it couldn’t sound any better.

Success has sounds reminiscent of Touch & Go’s bold noise rock heyday with some added heft; the Chicago independent record label drastically downsized in 2009. KEN Mode’s guitarist/vocalist, Jesse Matthewson, explains the influence: “That old [Touch & Go] stuff has always been an influence for us. We made a conscious decision to strip away some of the metal and hardcore that had always masked those influences from being able to be picked up by our listeners, at least I think.” Matthewson named such bands as Big Black, the Jesus Lizard, Drive Like Jehu, Circus Lupus, the Birthday Party, the Cows, and Cop Shoot Cop. “We wanted to give it all a bit of a modern twist,” Matthewson said, “but it’s [Success] definitely way more punk than our previous albums, and super snotty in the humor being delivered.”

Matthewson told Strings & Laces that the change in KEN Mode’s sound may have lost the band some fans, but there is no doubt that KEN Mode has gained many more with Success; it’s probably the best punk album of 2015. “The people who like it DO seem to REALLY like it,” Matthewson said of his nine-track barnstormer of an album. Literally, Success is 38 minutes of aggressive fire and endless hooks. Sitting still during this album is like trying to hold piss after five beers; it’s not going to happen.

Pitchfork, maybe the biggest music publication on the World Wide Web, gave Success a 5.9 out of 10, which seems like a huge mistake. Matthewson said that Pitchfork misunderstood the wit of the lyrics, which, at times, Matthewson delivers like Steve Albini circa Shellac and the aforementioned Big Black; Albini recorded and mastered Success. “They were just assholes about the lyrics,” said Matthewson about Pitchfork’s review, “believing them to be misanthropic and filled with anger, which is the opposite of where they were coming from.” In reality, Matthewson’s lyrics — “What was the last thing you’ve done that mattered;” “Handfuls of proverbial shit tossed over and over;” “A walking parody in black jeans;” “I would like to kill the nicest man in the world, make him feel uneasy, make him feel strange;” “That elemental, sentimental, pristine ideal is clearly gone;” “The all-natural fuckeasy, well, I’d rather be a whore than a slave;” and “Hot salad for the eater of hair and it’s a void you just can’t fill” — were laugh tracks about all of the ridiculous dualities in the human experience. Sure, some of these lines are pompous, but it flows well with KEN Mode’s stomping sludge, and I’m not going to question Matthewson’s intent here. Success is white heat for the mouths of affinity.

Strings & Laces worships Success for its melodic hooks, swagger, evil, calculation, conviction, and those fucking snare hits by Matthewson’s brother, Shane. It’s gratifying that KEN Mode found its way into Steve Albini’s recording studio; it was a match made in heaven. Jesse Matthewson hopes that Albini enjoyed recording Success, and there’s not much doubt that he did. “He offered to be part of the mastering process; he made sure that the basic vision was seen through,” said Matthewson. “I don’t think he does that with every project. He was a great dude to work with; and if I had my druthers, I’d very much like to work with him again.”

Seems like a success, doesn’t it? Sounds like nine hits as heavy as bricks, an evil whirlwind of bliss.

 Jordan J. Michael



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