- AWOLNATION: Run
AWOLNATION (aka Aaron Bruno) became popular in 2013 with the song “Sail.” While that is a great song and I love it, “Kill Your Heroes” was the track that got me hooked on this band. I picked up Megalithic Symphony and was completely blown away by it. Every song was different and amazing in its own way, and Run is no different.
From the opening title track, reminiscent of the lo-fi sound of “Sail,” to the mellow closing track “Drinking Lightning,” this album takes you through just about every musical genre there is. There is music to dance to (“Dreamers,” “Windows”), music to head-bang to (“Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)”), music to zone out to (“I Am,” “Headrest for My Soul”) and music to sing out loud at the top of your lungs right along with Bruno (“KOOKSEVERYWHERE!”)
While I still don’t think it tops Symphony (which is one of my all-time favorite albums), Run is unique and refreshing (as is AWOLNATION as a whole) in today’s music scene and is my absolute favorite release of 2015.
Best tracks: “Windows”, “KOOKSEVERYWHERE!” “Dreamers”
2. Delta Rae: After It All
Delta Rae is one of those amazing, underrated indie artists that I wish more people knew about. I discovered them via Pandora a couple of years ago and got the album Carry the Fire. I must have listened to that album ten times a day, that is how amazing it is! “Bottom of the River” gained some popularity in 2012 when that album was released, introducing the world to Delta Rae’s incredible vocal harmonies and unique musicianship.
With After It All, the band broadens their horizons even further than they did with Fire, beginning with the opening track “Anthem,” introducing the listener to those harmonies they do so well right off the bat with vocalist Eric Holljes on lead. One of three siblings in the band, Eric’s vocals are smooth and flawless and perfectly set the stage for his sister Brittany’s powerhouse voice in “Run.” “Chasing Twisters” finds singer Elizabeth Hopkins on lead with her bluesy and soulful vocals.
Delta Rae’s sound has been described as everything from folk to southern gothic to blues, and they have been compared to Fleetwood Mac, but to me there is no one category for this band. They are truly unique and like no other band I have ever heard. One of my best musical discoveries of the last few years!
Best tracks: “Bethlehem Steel,” “I Will Never Die,” “Scared”
3. Dead Sara: Pleasure to Meet You
Another relatively unknown hard rock act, Dead Sara is basically Kurt Cobain meets Janis Joplin, or that’s how I like to describe them. Fronted by two female powerhouses, vocalist Emily Armstrong and guitarist Siouxsie Medley, this band out of L.A. has a raw, electric and intense sound that grabs and doesn’t let go. “Weatherman” introduced the world to Dead Sara in 2013 and got me hooked, but Pleasure to Meet You defies the sophomore slump with the band incorporating more into their sound than ever.
The album kicks off strong with “Suicidal,” which is one of my favorite tracks with my favorite lyrics (“We’re suicidal, come on raise your Bible and we’ll laugh like idiots together.”) The energy doesn’t stop throughout the entire album, though it does slow down a bit for “Something Good,” which is unlike anything Dead Sara have ever done, a bluesy feel-good track that is perfect for driving down the highway with the windows down in summertime (or any time.) “Radio One Two” is hands down my favorite song here, with its punk influences and lyrics one can’t help but think are aimed at popular radio (“Radio one two, where’ve we gone to? I hear the static in our ears, so silent.”) The closing track “For You I Am” can only be described as epic, with Armstrong pushing her vocals to the very limit and bleeding emotion through the speakers.
Best tracks: “Radio One Two,” “For You I Am,” “Mona Lisa”
4. Breaking Benjamin: Dark Before Dawn
After a long (long, long) hiatus due to unfortunate legal stuff, Breaking Benjamin finally returned in 2015 with Dark Before Dawn. Lead single “Failure” broke records within minutes, and rightfully so, with its throwback sound to the band’s earlier work, yet still remaining fresh and modern.
Dawn showcases front man Benjamin Burnley’s unique voice and his ability to push his vocals from melodic and soft (“Ashes of Eden”) to aggressive and heavy (“Breaking the Silence”) and everything in between. Burnley is the only original member left in the band, but the new backing band fills the shoes of their predecessors impressively.
Best tracks: “Defeated,” “Ashes of Eden,” “Failure”
5. Von Grey: Panophobia
Consisting of four ridiculously talented sisters from Atlanta, Georgia, Von Grey released this EP in early 2015 to critical praise. Von Grey’s sound is unique and engaging, with distinct vocals and musicianship to rival an orchestra.
All four sisters are classically trained, from the violin to the cello to the mandolin and just about any other instrument you could think of, and they blend perfectly with the delicate yet powerful vocals of Petra, Fiona, Annika and Kathryn von Grey.
Lead track and single “Katie” is the song that got me hooked on this band, leading off with their signature harmonies and delving into a subject that is not often talked about: domestic abuse. It’s a powerful and moving song and sets the tone for the rest of the EP, including the haunting “Cyclical Dreams.”
Look out for this band, one day they will be huge!
Best tracks: “Katie,” “Cyclical Dreams,” “Forever Bound”
Imagine Dragons: Smoke & Mirrors
The Airborne Toxic Event: Dope Machines
The Neighborhood: Wiped Out