Rogue Sounds: The Best Local Albums of 2015
The past year was a bittersweet one for local music. We said goodbye to Ashland venue, The Lounge South, as well as Musichead in Medford, but saw others like The Haul in Grants Pass and The Phoenix Clubhouse bring the thunder. We saw music licensing agencies try to shake down local venues for royalty fees, while more touring bands than ever started to get hip to the region. And in perhaps the most interesting development, despite Southern Oregon’s musical reputation as a stronghold of old-time and reggae, 2015’s best local recordings were a wide selection of pop, rock and experimental styles with nary a banjo or Jah reference between them.
Here (in alphabetical order) are The Messenger’s favorite local recordings of 2015. All are available for download.
Part indie-rock/electronic hybrid, part world music, part avante garde sonic experimentation; the four songs on Seaons side-project Bora Bora were some of the most audacious recorded in Southern Oregon, showcasing national-level work, both compositionally and production-wise. The EP is like Graceland-era Paul Simon remixed as an Imagine Dragons or AWOLNation song. There are loads of strange noises and constantly shifting song structures that can’t easily be pinned down into simple verse/chorus structures. Chunks are danceable, others aren’t even close. And it’s thrilling from start to finish.
Though brothers Aaron and Phil Reed were initially just looking to augment their income with some smaller gigs when they put aside the turbo-charged bluster of their cowpunk band, Bucklerash, to form an acoustic project on the side, they found a whole new approach to music, one that brought their smooth harmonies of their lover’s laments and old west folktales front and center. The 12-track alt-folk collection is catchy without being annoying, smooth without being corny, and undeniably folk without feeling dated.
The 17-song collaboration between between Ashland-based emcee Hi-Pressure Sodium and Portlander Christobal Fumeo eschewed the minimalist east coast and hardcore hip hop style for beats equal parts peppy R&B, and EDM-dub hybrids, with wide-ranging lyrics about everything from Fannie Mae to dropping acid with Charles Dickens. Considering just how easy computers have made it to record and release really terrible hip hop, The Yield was a breath of fresh—if weed-laced—air: a local hip hop album totally worth your time and money.
After rotating their lineup several times, and having to completely scrap their recording and start from scratch after a catastrophic data loss, Medford rockers The Evening Shades hit their stride on their debut album, Alright. The 12-song collection is packed with straight and simple pop-rock gems with shades of Matthew Sweet, Weezer, or The Strokes, especially in the catchy vocal melody department. Frontman Mark Thales switches effortlessly back and forth between smooth croon and Jagger-style sass.
Part of what made Hound EP stand out as one of the best local releases of the year is that Slow Corpse’s sound is a breath of fresh air from the grass-hyphenate saturated local sound, with a style somewhere between ’80s post-punk and chillwave, blending downtempo beats beneath reverb-drenched guitar lines and minimalist keyboard melodies. But obvious care also went into the production of the dreamy five-song collection. Every guitar shimmers, every vocal line intrigues, every drum beat soothes rather than shocks. The EP just plain sounds good, and with songs somewhere between the shoegazier elements of Smashing Pumpkins and late-era Modest Mouse, it’s a compelling collection from bow to stern.
Honorary mentions go out to Bottomless Blue from Black Bear’s Fire, Experiment Station from Of Addicts and Dramatics and the vinyl re-issue of Scott Garriot’s 2014 album, Primordial Slack-Jaw Android.
Readers can sound off on their 2015 faves during voting for Best of the Rogue, which will happen in spring.