The 2015 LEO Playlist: Our favorite local songs of the year

Maximon — “Flame”
Hearing Maximon’s “Flame” for the first time feels like discovering something, like the feeling you get when you’re 15 and it all sounds brand new and endlessly exciting. The fact that I’ve played it countless times on repeat only lends to that old realization. Right from the beginning, with those vocals somewhat reminiscent of another Louisville great, Scott Carney, “Flame” is going somewhere. It drives, but not like Ryan Gosling. The danger within has nothing to do with a getaway car, but, instead, knowing that what is about to happen is going to change you forever.  And, by the end, when the guitar riff breaks through the madness and the last chorus rises to its ultimate climax, it all feels like a celebration.—Kyle Meredith

1200 Rozes – “First 48”
What’s so remarkable about this tune is how it manages to impart equally a sense of calm and a seething frustration just under the surface. It’s clear from both emcees — Jalin Roze and 1200 — that the naysaying and backbiting have tempered any success they’ve found. The central thesis here is a giant “piss off” to the haters, that their own happiness and artistic expression supersedes any negative response. 1200’s verse is comparatively filled with a tense fury, reflected not only by compositional change to a beat taut with indignation, while Roze ruminates on how any accomplishments he may have is revenge in and of itself. Whatever beef either has with the subject of their material is effectively illustrated by the juxtaposition in how each emcee presents their grievance, and it works like a charm. “First 48” underscores the idea that success is measured specific to each individual, and it’s beautiful.—Syd Bishop

White Reaper — “Pills”
Expectations were high in 2015 for White Reaper. After releasing their self-titled debut EP in the summer of 2014 to quite a bit of buzz, they followed up with a full-length, “White Reaper Does It Again,” which was released the Friday of last year’s Forecastle. And it provided the answers we were looking for. It was a clear and steady step forward, latching on the core ideas that initially drew us in — chugging guitars, swirling synths, a thunderous rhythm section and hook-heavy, to the point, vocals — but everything was thicker and sharper. “Pills” is the quintessential example. A head rush that always seems to be on the brink of out-of-control, but never dives from the edge, “Pills” shows how White Reaper is able to brilliantly blend power and melody, making you want to skip work and instead set off fire works in your front yard along the way.—Scott Recker

Frederick The Younger — “Whites of Your Eyes” 
I don’t know who gave Frederick The Younger the cold shoulder, but they are dealing with their frustrations in a great “let’s play a disco tune if disco didn’t suck” way. Guitars zip around, helping to tell a smoky-bar mystery in this tale of unrequited love in conjunction with a rhythm section that illustrates just how serious this woman is about getting what she wants.—Nik Vechery

Wax Fang — “Exit Strategy”
But wait, aren’t Wax Fang done with? It’s a question plenty have asked, and for a moment may have been true. Lucky for all of us, Scott Carney still has plenty to say and more crazy-ass melodies to conjure up. Here’s the thing, “Exit Strategy” doesn’t sound like anything we’ve heard from this band before. It haunts and hypnotizes. Part of the new direction may have something do with the addition of Core McAfee, or maybe it’s that Scott had a completely clean canvas to paint on after his epic opus “The Astronaut.” Though make no mistake, this new single still feels part of something bigger, whether that means concept album or simply mood is yet to to be revealed. Whatever the case, we’re set up for another exciting chapter in this band’s life.  Maybe the most exciting.—Kyle Meredith

Maiden Radio — “Charlie’s Neat”
This is the type of song that forms on the top of a mountain, sweeps down through the forest and seeps in through a cabin window like the morning sun. It’s earthy and honest. With the overflowing individual talents of Joan Shelley, Julia Purcell and Cheyenne Mize, the track could easily be bogged down by powerful voices overtaking each other. The magic of Maiden Radio is the opposite; all three voices melt together to create a tapestry of old-timey charm and boldness through seemingly simplicity. “Charlie’s Neat” is a no-frills track that should be admired like a lost photograph from a different time — all the secrets of a past forgotten, admired in the present.—Zach Hart

Coliseum — “Drums & Amplifiers”
Coliseum’s “Anxiety’s Kiss” was one of my favorite albums of 2015. But, the song I kept coming back to, week after week, was “Drums & Amplifiers,” a straightforward, driving, angry and honest track that masterfully falls in the cracks that connect metal, hardcore and punk. Growing more melodic over the years, Coliseum has been able to incorporate a structure of catchy, hook-heavy guitar work, while keeping the sort of intensity that they’ve always been known for. On “Drums & Amplifiers,” Ryan Patterson’s growl and lyrics aren’t messing around, as they throw out plenty of poignant middle fingers, disregarding any sort of subtlety, which is always refreshing.—Scott Recker

Tropical Trash – “UFO Rot”
For some reason this song reminds me of thrusting your hands into a big pot of dirt, washing them clean under the sink, only to haphazardly repeat the process over and over again. This song is all about control vs. chaos — and chaos ultimately wins as the song dissolves into an instrumental where each section crushes itself into oblivion.  The control comes in the form of laidback swagger, as the vocals bounce in and out. This is a list of best songs from Louisville, but “UFO Rot” is on my list of best songs of 2015 … anywhere. The same sentiment goes for the entire album. Tropical Trash aren’t just concerned with being loud, but crafting something lasting out of contrasting sounds, ideas and letting their artistry casually announce itself as something to be adored.—Zach Hart

Wilder Stallions — “Come Sunday, I’m Gettin’ Weird”
Wilder Stallions debuted in January with the release of “Don’t Let Your Meatloaf,” an instrumental fusion of funk, jazz and amplifiers composed by lead guitarist Will Wilder. It eventually landed them a nomination in this year’s Louisville Music Awards jazz/avant-garde category. But categories, like individual songs, are limited. While some better display the quartet’s control and virtuosity — “Pandemonium Express,” “My Loneliness Has Built a Wall” — it’s the second track “Come Sunday, I’m Gettin’ Weird” that welcomes everyone to their trailblazing ways. With electric keys and guitar, in four expressive minutes, the Stallions steep into Meatloaf’s finest ingredients of brassy funk interplay, moody soloing and sticky hooks, Wilder’s guitar-like adhesive in a constant rotation of sounds. “Come Sunday” is not only about gettin’ weird, it’s about taking risks, and emancipating music as it was intended. Now, have a slice. — Lara Kinne

Houndmouth — “15 Years”
The rolling rocker “15 Years” is one of several standout tracks on Houndmouth’s 2015 album “Little Neon Spotlight” because it shouldn’t work, but comes together flawlessly. Lyrically, the pleading track carries an air of classic country as the band tells the story of a man being released from prison after a 15-year sentence and returning to the love of his life, for whom he has spent the last decade and a half pining over. Musically the song is explosive. It’s modern while wringing out a plethora of retro influences, which the band seems to wear like a badge of honor. Those influences give the song a lived-in tone as though the band is covering a song written long ago in an era that never actually existed. Musically, there are few hints of the classic country that influenced the lyrics, but there’s also some indie rock, bluegrass, gospel … and even early-Beatles “oooh’s” can be heard here and there.—Brent Owen

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Quiet Hollers — “Mont Blanc”
The first escape of minor chords and the opening of the defeated narrator’s voice builds a small, bleak universe that encapsulates “Mont Blanc” by Quiet Hollers. The band has created a small house with a family trying to survive after an ominous bomb has dropped and they are in a not-so-successful fight for survival. It’s grimly dotted with references back to our pre-bomb world that cannot help but suck you in to sitting with this man wondering if he’s worth enough to even feed his family, which is then compounded by a forlorn violin masterfully weaving in and out of the music. It’s a raw deal, but even if weak and frail, the narrator’s voice has an omnipresent feeling of absolute love and willingness to lay down his life for his family. What more can you ask for when the entire world goes shit show?—Nik Vechery

Deviance — “Dehumanization” 
Among the local metal bands with a progressive vibe to their sound, Deviance has quickly become my favorite with their 2015 full-length, “A New Planetary Perspective.” Deviance is a one-man progressive death metal band created by local multi-instrumentalist Michael Uhlig. Upon recently returning home after spending time overseas as a Special Forces sniper, Uhlig set to work writing a progressive death metal record with an intellectual lyrical focus. Choosing “Dehumanization” as my favorite local song of 2015 was an easy pick, as it sonically showcases the fluid blend of progressive and aggressive ideas Deviance combines so well. The track expertly melds a complex playing style with a progressive-minded compositional approach. Beyond its gorgeous melodies and furious sweeps, “Dehumanization” tackles philosophical and psychological concepts that relate to cognitive dissonance and humanist viewpoints, which is more interesting than hearing yet another song about Satan or gore.—Austin Weber

Twin Limb — “Don’t Even Think”
Twin Limb’s “Don’t Even Think” is a soulful, heartfelt ballad that opens the band’s latest EP “Anything is Possible and Nothing Makes Sense.” All of the emotional burden is carried in the calling voice of Lacey Guthrie, establishing from the start an emotional distance between singer and subject. The soft rattling percussion and droning accordion help to build the isolation between our narrator and the proverbial “it” she doesn’t want to think about. It’s chilling, really. But the true beauty of “Don’t Even Think” is that, for a listener, with each repeated play, this song feels just a little further from your grasp than it did before. Because every time you hear Guthrie’s elegiac voice, she seems more withdrawn and more resolute in denial – a sense of denial that feels all too personal because it is.—Brent Owen

Andrew Rinehart – “Gone to Hell”
To refer to “Gone to Hell” as anything short of melancholic gold is an understatement. A cut from the exquisite “Nothing/Everything,” Andrew Rinehart captures something so intrinsically Louisvillian that it’s hard to imagine many songs more so. There is a quiet malaise that speaks to anyone who knows love lost, presented here in a simple and evocative way. Rinehart shies away from anything saccharine or trite, focusing his energy on honest storytelling, and delicately-structured compositions reliant equally on the constituent players in his ensemble and the subsequent restraint that each exhibits. There is an ample amount here to compare to Neil Young, but filtered through a sublime sheen of Slint or The For Carnation. When Rinehart says it’s gone to hell, you believe him, and it’s that belief in his narrative that compels the song to its wonderfully-crafted conclusion, and that takes the listener on the journey with him.—Syd Bishop

Howell Dawdy — “What Do You Mean?” 
Every time I get too wound up about the seemingly unstoppable corrupt corporate /government quagmire, a friend tells me, “Don’t worry so much, there is a guy somewhere in his basement right now figuring all this out so you don’t have to.” In the art rap world, the guy is Howell Dawdy. The alter ego of Lydia Burrell, who is the alter ego of Alex Smith, Dawdy fully embodies the disillusioned 30-something who has just begun to realize the game is rigged and has set out to tell the world — in a crumpled suit. Half paranoid conspiracy theorist, half midlife crisis, Dawdy asks the questions that are humorous because we can identify with them: “What do you mean I gotta live fast, die young, honor the unsung and still get all these chores done?” Mixing electronic beats with Lydia Burrell-style melancholia melodies, this is a perfect companion track to the Lydia Burrell/Howell Dawdy split single on This Man Records.—John King

Joan Shelley — “Not Over by Half”
“Not Over by Half” is a stunning ballad that harkens back to Joni Mitchell at her creative “Blue” peak. The song was released on Shelley’s latest album “Over and Even,” and it rises to the top of the record as a gorgeous forlorn ode to a lost loved one. It holds up to a sparse singer/songwriter arrangement allowing Shelley’s anguish to be highlighted in the lyrics and the haunting guitar strums behind her voice. There is a warmth to her sadness — pain with which we’re all acquainted but aren’t eager to recall. The lyrics are hauntingly vague, and the loss is clear but could be a lover, a friend, or family member, and it could be a death or simply a farewell; it’s not spelled out in specifics. But when she sings about the “tracks on my cheeks” you can almost hear the soft patter of tears splattering on the wood of her guitar.—Brent Owen

Dick Titty Blood Punch — “Sports!”
“Sports!” is one of those sarcastic, snotty songs that, if you’re a serious sports fan, you’ll likely hate. As in: “Take a lap, take a lap, NASCAR, sports! / Driving in a circle, NASCAR, sports! / Hot dogs, America, sports, sports! / $20 beers, sports, sports, sports!” Luckily, few are so serious that they’ll miss the intent with this funner-than-hell, punk-hearted rave-up. It’s like Bad Religion at a high school football game. It’s like Danzig watching ESPN with a bag of chili cheese Fritos. Or so it seems. Actually, it’s a tongue-in-cheek, furiously melodic way to ask, “Why the fuck are sports so important in this country?” Oh yeah, because we’re all just that spoiled and devoid of truly meaningful aspects of our lives on which we can focus. Hey, if you can’t appreciate the sentiment here, maybe you’re just too serious about sports. Hear that, Cards and ‘Cats fans? Time to lighten up.—Kevin Gibson

Kogan Dumb – “Most Abstract”
With the release of “38 Bucks Club,” Kogan Dumb has not only introduced the world to the incredible talents of producer Axel Roley, but also made an album of remarkable class and style. The beat features heavy jazz work, taking you into the club, and making you feel like you belong there, which is exactly what KG wants from you. Conceptually, “38 Bucks Club” is for the working-class intellectual, the sort of person that mixes a hard work ethic with waxing philosophical, and “Most Abstract” perfectly encapsulates that feeling. Is Kogan Dumb the most abstract ever? It’s hard to say, or to even identify the virtue of that ranking, although it’s wholly refreshing to hear someone brag not of any materialistic gain, but of their artistic acumen. It’s that love for his art that makes Dumb shine and everything about this track reflects that love of his craft.—Syd Bishop

Axel Roley x Kogan Dumb – Most Abstract from Kogan Dumb on Vimeo.

New Bravado — “I Don’t Mind”
If you wake up thinking to yourself, “I really need a badass song with dueling guitars throwing riffs all over the place,” then New Bravado’s “I Don’t Mind” is the power trip you’re looking for. Even the most melodic parts of this song are made in anticipation of a disastrous thunderstorm looming, the impending monstrous riffs that sound like a goddamn dragon only a moment away. All of this dynamism is contained in an unconventional song structure that melds all of the instruments into multiple tour de forces that are dotted with sudden breaks in cohesion designed to let singer Ben Lally’s vocals breathe, before reforming to roar toward the finish line of an absolute barn burner.—Nik Vechery

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