One of the perks of writing for a site like Geeks & Beats is being part of a widespread community of music fans with strong opinions on what makes a good album. There are thousands of albums released every year; here’s a smattering of what we’ve added to our collections and what stood out in The Year That Was 2015:
Amber’s Pick: “Outta My Mind” from Yours, Dreamily by The Arcs
Dan Auerbach can do no wrong. The first album from his side project, The Arcs, is incredible from the opening fuzzy voice track to the conclusion. Backed by two drummers, a keyboardist and a bassist, Auerbach promised a weird solo album and delivered, if by “solo” he meant a band three times the size of the Black Keys and featuring a guest appearance by an all-female mariachi band. The album is one psychedelic, hazy track after another, all driven by Auerbach’s aggressive guitar and distinct voice. If you haven’t added this to your regular rotation yet, you’re missing out.
Amber’s Pick: “Jungle” from VHS by X Ambassadors
We’ve all heard the song “Renegades” a hundred times by now, on rock stations and in Jeep commercials. Forget that tune. The first major release from X Ambassadors (originally from central New York) is a mix of recordings from family videos and tapes–including one of the brothers reciting from the Torah–and songs that sound nothing at all like “Renegades.” In truth, the first time I listened to the album, there was some confusion because it was nothing like I expected. I love the album for that exact reason. There’s a much stronger hip hop/funk influence that overrides nearly every other track on the album, save the heartbreaking “Unsteady,” and it’s incredible. The first few weeks I had this album, nothing else in my collection got any attention at all. Pick it up, give it a spin.
Amber’s Pick: “Vessel” from Club Meds by Dan Mangan + Blacksmith
If you follow our Geek Picks of the Week, my love and adoration for Dan Mangan + Blacksmith’s Club Meds is no surprise. I’ve mentioned the track “Mouthpiece” at least twice for its hypnotic, swirling intro, literary lyrics and overall epicness. In truth, the whole album is excellent. It’s one that grew on me every time I put it on, each listen revealing new little gems worth appreciating again. It’s a great Sunday morning listen. It’s a great roadtrip, singing with the windows down and the radio cranked album. Mangan’s solo albums are incredibly solid as well, but this album stands apart for its complexity, nuance and passion. I’m a big fan.
Vanessa’s Pick: “Smooth Sailin'” from Coming Home by Leon Bridges
From the moment I heard this kid on the radio, I was hooked. His voice, his talent, his charisma… he’s exactly what we need in music. Then, I read his story. Growing up in a particularly hip hop-central neighbourhood, Bridges hadn’t really heard other genres growing up. When he started to perform, and people compared him to Sam Cooke, he went to go listen to the legend for the first time. He had never even heard of Sam Cooke! Don’t just listen to this song either, listen to the whole album. It’s incredible!
Vanessa’s Pick: “S.O.B.” from the Self-titled album by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Listen to this song and don’t dance. I dare you. And again, take a listen to the whole album while you’re at it. It’s really really great.
Vanessa’s Pick: “It’s Now or Never” from If I Can Dream by Elvis Presley with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
For those who know me well, you know that Elvis Presley is a VERY big part of my life. My father was a tribute artist when I was a kid, so really, I knew the lyrics to most of his songs before I could even speak. If I Can Dream was released just a few months ago, and it’s 14 of Elvis’ well-known songs re-recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. THIS is the way these songs were meant to sound. Honestly, this album is so perfect and has been on repeat for me for weeks. The orchestra is not overpowering or obnoxious, it adds just the right touch to his songs. You’re not going to believe they weren’t originally recorded this way. I highly suggest giving the whole album a listen if you’re an Elvis fan.
Derek’s Pick: “If I Can Dream“ from If I Can Dream by Elvis Presley with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Like Vanessa, Elvis has been a big part of my life. A double disk set simply called Elvis was the first music I had ever bought for myself. I was 8, the album now hangs on my office wall. I also know how important playing with a real orchestra would have been to Elvis.
When assembling his own band for his first shows in Las Vegas in 1969 along with the usual rock musicians, Elvis included a 30-piece orchestra in the set. This arrangement would be the staple for the remainder of his live shows until his death in 1977. The Colonel and his label RCA, on the other hand, would not let him record with an orchestra during his studio sessions.
The closest he got to his dream of recording in the studio with an orchestra was while recording his famous 1968 TV special. It is from this TV special, affectionately remembered as the ’68 Comeback, that this album’s namesake and first single “If I Can Dream” is taken from. Elvis originally recorded “If I Can Dream” with the NBC studio orchestra as the closing number to his first TV special.
The song was written by Walter Earl Brown. It was drawn from Elvis’ own sadness at the violence and fear that followed the assassination of both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. earlier in the year. It is from these deep convictions that Elvis draws his emotional strength for the song that is now made richer by the new orchestrations of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Now, in the middle of the violence in the recent Paris and California terrorist attacks, the message of “If I Can Dream” is as poignant as ever.
The candle still beckons, dream on, Elvis dream on.