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Rock: Year in Review

Ten albums that show there’s a lot of life left in rock ‘n’ roll

The year 2015 is when pure pop scored serious artistic cred: Ryan covered Taylor, Adele smashed all kinds of sales records and even Justin Bieber garnered some pretty decent critical notices.

So whither goes the rock band? In no particular order, here are ten of 2015’s most interesting, challenging and intriguing releases (and perhaps last-minute gifts for the rocker in your life) from young guitar geeks to mysterious pop auteurs just outside the mainstream.

 

Protomartyr Agent Intellect

Another solid slab of scorching post-punk from Detroit. Is Protomartyr the best young rock band in the game? I wouldn’t disagree.

 

Julia Holter Have You in My Wilderness

Daydream the cold winter months away with L.A. musician Julia Holter’s delectable and sensual baroque pop featuring harpsichord and string arrangements. 

 

Ought Sun Coming Down

Some of the best guitar-based indie rock is coming from Montreal these days, and Ought is at the forefront, mixing the ’70s post-punk of New York City with acute commentary on present-day anxieties.

 

Majical Cloudz Are you Alone

Over strange and textural electronic soundscapes, vocalist Devon Welsh confesses his darkest secrets in a vulnerable tenor. Compelling and starkly original, listenable but not exactly accessible, there’s no other band quite like Majical Cloudz.

 

Ezra Furman Perpetual Motion People

Gender-fluid musician Ezra Furman’s sound is ever-changing, providing 2015 with some of its best indie songwriting — sorta like early Elvis Costello for the millennial crowd.

 

Torres Sprinter

While mainstream music is full of blank-slate pop stars’ over-simulated backing beats, Sprinter shows there’s still a lot young rock singers can say with drums, bass, guitar and voice — particularly when that voice is as striking as Torres’ distinctive, raw alto.

 

Will Butler Policy

As a member of Arcade Fire, Will Butler is mostly just frontman Win Butler’s brother. Will Butler’s solo debut plays like a long-forgotten album from the same quirky era of songwriters that produced Warren Zevon and David Byrne.   

 

Courtney Barnett Sometimes I sit and think and sometimes I just sit

Scrappy Aussie songwriter Courtney Barnett mixes the slacker ethos of `90s-era guitar rock with a too-cool-to-try-too-hard charm. Plainly put, it’s some of the best rock ‘n’ roll made this year.

 

Sleater-Kinney No Cities Left to Love

In 2015, the world welcomed back Sleater-Kinney. No Cities Left to Love reasserts Sleater-Kinney’s claim to best band on the planet — a scintillating return to form.

 

Viet Cong Viet Cong

Viet Cong are a Canadian art-rock band (notice a pattern here?) that plays angular, vaguely gothic, slightly prog-influenced dance punk centered around guitar. Echoes of The Beatles and the atmosphere of the 1980s.