The Return of Mental Jukebox: Best of 2015 – Honorable Mentions

Having sadly fallen down in my self-appointed role of music curator for 2015 (too damn busy elsewhere, a condition I plan to revise soon), I’ve decided to use the rest of this year to hit the highlights – the key (mostly alternative rock) bands and songs that caught my attention in 2015.

I have just enough time (barely) to count down a Top 40 (yeah, 2016 is THAT close!) so be warned — I’m going to throw in a few “twofers” and skip over some of the more obvious artists that I already raved about in 2014…(although Hozier, Vance Joy, Walk the Moon, Alt-J and others are still going strong on my playlist!)

Except for the Top 5, which are pretty solidly entrenched, I’ve had the devil of a time deciding on the proper order for these…so it’s a bit arbitrary, but there were SO many good tunes in 2015 and I’m barely getting the opportunity to scratch the surface here. I know I’ve probably left some out as well, as I just didn’t have time to listen to everything that I wanted to.

I’ll be kicking off my “Top 40” next week, so this week’s offerings are my “honorable mentions”. Hope you find something new to add to your playlist! (And feel free to send me your faves as well!)

Monday:  Houndmouth “Sedona”

Houndmouth is a folk-rock quartet from Indiana/ Louisville that formed in 2011. They got noticed at SXSW in 2012 while promoting a homemade EP, and signed with Rough Trade, who released their debut album in 2013. The album “Hills Below The City” garnered a lot of attention from press and led to multiple major festival appearances. The band’s pleasing vocal harmonies are showcased on their single “Sedona”, which topped the US Adult Alternative charts in 2015. From their second LP “Little Neon Limelight” – this is Houndmouth.


Tuesday: AWOL Nation “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)”

I had the pleasure of promoting another cool LA band fronted by Aaron Bruno (Under the Influence of Giants – check out their CD if you like 70’s-inspired beats) so I’m happy to see him having success with AWOL Nation, although it’s admittedly a very different-sounding band. Since I have so few days in which to extol the virtues of all the songs I’ve enjoyed in 2015, this will be the first of many “twofers” in which I also call out the track “I Am”, although “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)” was the first track to take my attention:


Wednesday:  Chvrches “Leave A Trace”

Chvrches are a Scottish electro-pop band formed in 2011, vocally led by frontwoman Lauren Mayberry. Their influences are a long list of 80’s dance goddesses from Madonna and Annie Lennox to Kate Bush, Robyn and Cyndi Lauper…although they definitely have their own unique sound. “Leave A Trace” is the lead single from their 2nd album “Every Open Eye” which was released in September 2015.


Thursday:  James Bay “Hold Back The River”

James Bay is an English singer/songwriter/guitarist who was inspired to learn classical guitar after hearing Eric Clapton’s “Layla”. He further honed his trade by playing open mic nights while attending the Brighton Institute of Modern Music, releasing his first EP in 2013. His 2015 debut album Chaos and the Calm went to #1 in the UK and #15 in the US. The blues-tinged single “Hold Back The River” swells from its simple acoustic beginnings to anthemic harmonies that support Bay’s emotive vocals. The track peaked at #2 on the UK singles chart, #8 on the BB Rock Chart and #16 on Adult Top 40.


Friday: X-Ambassadors “Renegades”

“Renegades” was a huge hit for New York’s X-Ambassadors in 2015, topping the US Rock, Alternative and Adult Top 40 charts – not bad for a song that started out as a Jeep commercial. The song manages to incorporate both a laid-back feel and a celebratory call to action with its understated instrumentals and layered vocal harmonies. The band has toured in support of acts like Panic! at the Disco and Imagine Dragons (who championed them onto Interscope) and their debut LP “VHS” was released in June 2015. “Renegades” sounds quite a bit different from the band’s other offerings, so it will be interesting to see what direction they ultimately go in.


The 2015 Top 40 countdown is next!

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