5. Hardwired… to Self-Destruct by Metallica
The new Metallica album is almost like a greatest hits collection… except with new songs. It’s also the best thing they’ve done since The Black Album. The old-school thrash bookends of “Hardwired” and “Spit Out the Bone” could easily have been found on Kill ‘Em All, while “Moth Into Flame” would be right at home on Master of Puppets. There are a couple of tracks like “Atlas, Rise!” that have the more mainstream vibe of Load (although you can also hear a bit of Iron Maiden influence as well). The sludgy “Dream No More” name checks Cthulhu and sounds like a Black Sabbath cover, while “Murder One” is a clear homage to Motörhead. For the most part, the album is a hard, fast, and aggressive return to form.
4. Revolution Radio by Green Day
First I just want to mention that Billy Joe Armstrong starred as a washed-up version of himself in a great, funny little film called Ordinary World, with the title song serving as the closing track of the new Green Day album. You should check it out. As for the album itself, well… let’s just say that the first single (“Bang Bang”) combines the rebellious, punk rock sound of Dookie with the thoughtful, social maturity of American Idiot. I’ll leave the rest to Alternative Press: “With the stripped-down, self-produced Revolution Radio, Green Day come to terms with their demons, only to find a new struggle waiting on the outside. Terrorism, racial strife, class warfare, a divisive presidential election—this is just some of the tension that underpins the album’s 12 songs. But Radio also is the most intensely personal Green Day album in years; as much a celebration of life on the upside of 40 as it is a reminder of the choices, conflicts and contradictions that mark a life well-lived.”
3. Together by the Explorers Club
When I first heard this album, I wrote on Twitter that it was the best Beach Boys album since Sunflower, and I meant it. These guys are obvious Brian Wilson disciples, and Together even includes a few members of Brian’s backing band contributing to the instrumental tracks. Their harmonies are rich and intricate, and Darian Sahanaja (of Wilson’s band) said, “I’ve obviously heard many Beach Boys-influenced artists in my lifetime, and though most do well at recreating the aesthetic, few truly capture the soul of the music as well as the Explorers Club do.” The album as a whole feels less like the “surf and sun” fare of the Beach Boys’ early years, and more like the emotionally charged pop of Pet Sounds, although the overall feel is much happier than Wilson’s famous laments on lost love and growing older.
2. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth by Sturgill Simpson
Sturgill Simpson had a big hit with his 2014 album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, which was basically a throwback to old-school country ranging all the way from Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings to George Strait and Randy Travis. Slant Magazine praised Simpson for realizing that “saving country doesn’t just mean making good country music; it involves rebuking Nashville’s glitzy bro-country culture and somehow throwing the entire industry into a magical time warp back to the good ol’ days when the Outlaws reigned supreme.” And while A Sailor’s Guide to Earth retains some of that country feel, it also throws in a lot of blues, boogie, and soul influences, along with strings and brass that give the album a much more symphonic sound. I should also mention that it’s a quasi-progressive concept album written as a letter from a former Navy man to his young son, so it’s really best to experience the whole thing in a single listen. Oh, and it includes a pretty badass Nirvana cover as well.
1. Lonely Is a Lifetime by the Wild Feathers
The Wild Feather’s 2013 debut remains one of my favorite albums of all time, but surprisingly enough, their sophomore effort comes extremely close to matching up. The Americana sound of their particular brand of folk/country/rock doesn’t shine through quite as strongly on Lonely Is a Lifetime, but that seems to simply be the sound of a young, talented band finding itself. The influences on their debut album were clear and obvious, from the Eagles to the Black Crowes to Tom Petty to the Allman Brothers, and if you watch any of their “Truckstop Covers” videos on YouTube, you can tell that these guys certainly wear their musical heritage on their sleeves. While the lyrics speak of loneliness, heartbreak, and drug abuse, No Depression writes that “the sheer jubilation that accompanies nearly ever track on this album clearly speaks for itself. Their confidence is clear, and if the band… hasn’t already exuded that from every pore, by the end of this album they’re showing it in spades.”