20 Under the Radar Albums from 2015 You Should Catch Up On

2015 was a great year for new music — especially new music that wasn't Adele, Justin or Bruno. Scene asked a few college radio music snobs what they thought was worth listening to in 2015 and here's what they came up with.


Feels Like (Columbia/Startime)

Lead singer Alicia Bognanno screams/sings in the best '90s alt rock way on this kick-ass fuzzed-up guitar rock album from the Nashville-based band. When you want to reminisce about your late-20s ennui, play "Trying." On it, Bognanno sings, "I question everything, my focus, my figure, my sexuality/And how much it matters or why it would mean anything." Turn this one way up. (Christine Hahn)

Eternal Summers

Gold & Stone (Kanine)

This exquisite Roanoke, Virginia-based three-piece's latest work finds them re-visiting the shimmering guitar textures from their earlier albums while retaining some of the sneaky toughness that marked last year's The Drop Beneath. Nicole Yun displays considerable vocal range throughout the 10 tracks, and her ace guitar work is both nuanced and tenacious. Sturdy bassist Jonathan Woods and one-of-a-kind drummer Daniel Cundiff are total pros in the rhythm department, injecting each track with whatever it asks for, if not more. If ever a record should be a soundtrack to your daydreams, Gold & Stone can safely play the part. (Ed Zeitz)

Ghostface Killah & BadBadNotGood
Sour Soul (Lex Records)

Of all the forces to be reckoned with in the Wu-Tang Clan, Ghostface Killah has proven himself to be among the most formidable as a solo emcee. One of two albums the rapper has released this year, Sour Soul indeed has plenty of soul but no sour notes. Instead, Ghostface sounds sweetly at home spitting rhymes steeped in the dramatic, warm beats of Canadian hip-hop/jazz trio BadBadNotGood. In a year full of terrific hip-hop albums, with Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly besting them all, Sour Soul comes off as a fun artistic statement that may have wrongly fallen through the cracks for fans of meticulously constructed and deeply texture rap music. In a word, this album is really GoodGoodNotBad. (Teddy Eisenberg)

Colleen Green

I Want to Grow Up (Hardly Art Records)

Colleen Green wants to sleep in her big-girl bed and wear her big-girl underpants. Or does she? Teen angst doesn't end at age 20, or even at age 30 for that matter, according to Green; instead, it's made even more unbearable by the adult self-awareness designed to protect us from social humility. From ADHD to instant gratification, Green wades through all of the innate syndromes of humanity for which adulthood is no cure, oscillating torturedly between "Don't touch me!" and "Please touch me, because no one else will." A mingling of jaunty pop-punk tracks with tinny '90s twee, the album is on a mood swing with an arc as wide as the social chasm engulfing Green. "Pay Attention" will have you dancing like you're home alone, while "Things That Are Bad for Me" reminds us that reckless abandon is the one side effect of youth we're sad to see go. In the end, maybe you'll realize that none of this is worth worrying about when you've got an ever-faithful best friend like "TV." The album's haunting relatability is an umbrella that will draw in even the most "grown-up" listener for shelter from life's emotional storm. (Bethany Kaufman)

The Honeycutters

Me Oh My (Organic)

Starting out as a lazy two-step across a barroom floor, the Honeycutters' Me Oh My gracefully transforms into an upbeat symphony of regret, redemption and resurgence. Led by singer-songwriter Amanda Anne Platt, the Asheville-based quintet attempts to sort out the messiness of modern relationships through a series of straightforward, no-frills country vignettes. Platt's sturdy vocals effortlessly weave their way around the mandolin, dobro and keys, presenting varying perspectives on love, both from the female side ("Me Oh My") and from the male counterpart ("Hearts of Men"). For fans of Eilen Jewell, Zoe Muth and fellow North Carolinians, Whiskeytown, the Honeycutters' third full-length lives up to the title of its opening track: "Jukebox" serves a heaping helping of honky-tonk, bluegrass and soul-tinged roots rock. (Emma Sleva)

Tobias Jesso Jr.

Goon (Arts & Crafts)

John Lennon may have passed away 35 years ago, but his spirit is alive and well in the music of British Columbia's Tobias Jesso Jr. Written after a painful breakup and his mother's cancer diagnosis, Goon channels that sincerity into 12 perfect ballads. Produced by Patrick Carney of the Black Keys and John Collins of the New Pornographers, Jesso Jr.'s debut album is a testament to just how much magic one man can conjure with a piano and an earnest voice. You may also recognize this budding talent from his writing credits, which include Sia's "Alive" and the new Adele smash hit "When We Were Young." Goon is piano-driven pop at its most compelling. (Eisenberg)


Rest and Be Thankful (Slumberland)

Over the past 25 years, Scotland has become the mecca of power-pop, and Linden is its latest export. On Rest and Be Thankful, the sheen of chiming guitars, ethereal leads and sunny horns resound between passages reminiscent of '70s AM pop, simultaneously inducing sensations of summer and winter. Soft, dream-like and slightly twee at times, Joe McAlinden and company offer baroque lullabies such as "Pull Me Round Again" and "Take My Hand" and a bit of twang with "Window Pane," recalling early Beachwood Sparks. For serious fans of Scot-pop, the joyful title track stacks up against the best of them. At only 28 minutes in length, Rest and Be Thankful is one you'll want to put on repeat and not soon put to rest. (Sleva)

The Lowlifes
How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Fury (Self-Released)

This way-under-the-radar release is compliments of Chris Hansen and Matt Pond. Pond has eschewed the age-old mechanics of record labels and has taken total control of his output by jettisoning his Matt Pond PA moniker and starting anew with this new name and record. Both weary and urgent, the recording not unexpectedly teems with Pond's astute, poetic lyrics and Hansen's exquisite arrangements and guitar work. Receiving what amounts to two fabulous new Matt Pond records inside of six months (The State Of Gold was released at mid-year) is a welcome embarrassment of riches. (Zeitz)

Smash Hits EP (Jigsaw Records)

The Smash Hits EP, which features six songs that clock in at 13 minutes, is all killer and no filler. Bay Area-based singer-guitarist Tim Brown and bassist Donna McKean offer a passing nod or two to Guided By Voices, and blast away with their edgy, sweet power-pop, punctuated by grins and sneers. This EP hits overdrive from the first note and doesn't let up until the last. (Zeitz)

Milky Wimpshake

Encore, Un Effort! (Fortuna POP!)

There's not enough English lo-fi twee pop out there anymore. This Newcastle, U.K.-based duo's release includes romance, politics and the politics of romance, all with drums, guitar and boy/girl back-and-forth vocals. Songs like "Heterosexuality is a Construct" use a Billy Bragg-like electric guitar plaintiveness. "Girl in Brackets" is the story of trying to figure out what you call that person you're sleeping with. This album is for the pop-punk anglophile in you. (Hahn)

T. Hardy Morris, Hardy & the Hardknocks

Drownin' On a Mountaintop (Dangerbird)

In addition to contributing his own brand of Southern grit to indie rock collective Dead Confederate and lo-fi glitz to side project Diamond Rugs, T. Hardy Morris has been busy crafting a solo catalog. Hardy & the Hardknocks: Drownin' On a Mountaintop represents his most recent work to date. Backed by the aptly named Hardknocks, Athens, Georgia-based Morris delivers a collection that includes slow-simmering, cinematic ballads ("Just Like the Movies") as well as ramshackle CBGB-era rockers ("My Me") and Dixie-fried garage tunes ("Starting Gun"). Here, Morris conjures sonic visions of Marc Bolan fronting the Flying Burrito Brothers. Drownin' On a Mountaintop explores how it feels to be an "old soul" trapped in a society obsessed with youth ("Young Assumption"). Mountaintop is alternately a Saturday night party record and a Sunday morning dirge. (Sleva)

Moving Panoramas
One (Modern Outsider)

Probably best known for her stint as one of the Wooden Birds, Austinite Leslie Sisson very assuredly moves front and center with her new band, aided by long-time pal Karen Skloss behind the kit and recent School of Rock graduate Rosie Castoe on bass. On Moving Panoramas first full-length, the three-piece cranks out reverb-y warmth in varying combos of thoughtful dreampop and delicate shoegaze, carving out a unique niche perhaps best referred to as dreamgaze. No matter what it's called, Austin loves them, and there's every reason why a lot of other cities should love them as well. (Zeitz)

Daniel Romano

If I've Only One Time Askin' (New West)

Most say you shouldn't judge an album by its cover, but Daniel Romano's If I've Only One Time Askin' would beg to differ. Hazily double-exposed, in a vintage Western shirt and striped polyester trousers, with cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, Welland, Ontario native Romano immediately brings to mind the cosmic-country psychedelia of Lee Hazlewood — as does his second release on New West. Romano sets the tongue-in-cheek mini-dramas of the latter to the avant-garde orchestrations of Van Dyke Parks, along with vocals that recall a young Willie Nelson. Romano's background in graphic design and leather-tooling come in handy on this record, as he stitches together the grandeur of classic Nashville with the bombast of West Coast pop and outlaw country. (Sleva)

Whitney Rose

Heartbreaker of the Year (Cameron House)

Not to be confused with fellow Americana songstress Caitlin Rose, Whitney tips her cowgirl brim to both pop and countrypolitan of the 1950s and 1960s on Heartbreaker of the Year. Evoking the styles of Brenda Lee, Ronnie Spector and Wanda Jackson, her refrains swirl through a shimmering landscape of pedal steel and echoing vibrato associated with the Brill Building and Gold Star's "Wall of Sound." Produced by Raul Malo, Rose's debut is certainly kissed with the South-of-the-Border mystique synonymous with Malo's main act, the Mavericks. Heartbreaker oscillates between the harmony of rural living and the dissonance of the city, the past and the present, delving into memory and making the melancholia of lost love sound more blissful than the requited. Malo and Rose team up on a sparkling rendition of "Be My Baby," but "Little Piece of You" is the star of this rodeo. (Sleva)

Shannon & the Clams

Gone by the Dawn (Hardly Art Records)

After spending three albums concocting the perfect folklore menagerie-land in which to dwell, the Clams take Gone by the Dawn, their fourth release, as an opportunity to peek back through the curtain to reality. It's an album about love on the run, most often in the "away" direction, and it marks the first time the band has seized a topical meeting place for its collection of songs. The group's core aural aesthetic hasn't changed, even if increased production files off some of their lo-fi edge. Just as before, Shannon Shaw's vibrato settles deep into a gravely bed while Cody Blanchard's pterodactyl screeches soar above, all in a forest of fuzzed-out jangle guitar. The album's final four tracks could easily be extensions of any of the band's previous releases of grisly rock. But tracks like the bopping "It's Too Late" and the sad-and-sassy "Point of Being Right" show the Clams aren't above the lighter fizzy-lifting-drink side of things. Although these tracks lure the listener into a sing-along with sugary hooks, the band can't condemn itself to doing everything kosher: The guitar and organ still sound like they're humming into a kazoo. (Kaufman)


Why Choose (FatCat Records)

What's more tongue in cheek than an album named Consumer Complaints by a band called Shopping? Perhaps only their sophomore release, Why Choose, which comes off like a modern-day "any way you like it" advertisement that fails to mention the brand name it supports. This London-based trio will entrance you. It's post-punk meets new wave minus the synths: high-energy, bouncy dance rock, with a nod to the Slits. Concept-wise, the album is just as non-committal as its title would suggest. A number of tracks deal with failed or struggling relationships from "No Show" to "Sinking Feeling," a tune about one partner drowning in emotional turmoil while the other skates on a sheet of ice-cold oblivion above. If you're looking to lose yourself in the groove, look no further than "Straight Lines," on which drummer Andrew Milk's vocals charge through like a freight train, or "Why Wait," a track about practicality in a world riddled with conveniences. (Kaufman)

Sufjan Stevens

Carrie and Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty Records)

Sufjan Stevens' seventh album, Carrie and Lowell, sounds a lot less electronic and experimental than his last few releases have been. An album about growing up with a mentally ill mother who suffered from drug addiction and substance abuse, it has a real poignancy to it as Stevens tells the stories with slow and powerful songs like "Fourth of July," a tune that features a quiet piano opening and the compelling refrain, "We're all gonna die." A plaintive strumming, questioning track, "Drawn to the Blood" brings back the old Sufjan we love with Catholic references and quiet guitars. (Hahn)

Kamasi Washington

The Epic (Brainfeeder)

Kamasi Washington's aptly titled album, The Epic, is a triple-length, 172-minute jazz odyssey for the 21st century. Presenting a deep and bold vision for the genre that is simultaneously accessible and virtuosic, the debut album impressively engages the listener in a musical dialogue without pandering to the cliches commonly associated with jazz. Nowhere is this clearer than on cuts like "Change of the Guard," which marries the album's lush modal piano playing with raw and confident soloing from Washington and his band. The Epic proves that compromise has no place in the aspiring Washington's music, and the compositions heard here benefit immensely from it. This is as thrilling as jazz gets. (Eisenberg)


Ivy Tripp (Merge)

The third Waxahatchee record is a step forward while nodding to the past, as Katie Crutchfield's previous band (along with sister Allison) P.S. Eliot's more beefy elements tunefully infiltrate several songs. There's also a step up with Crutchfield's thoughtful lyrics ("Our love tastes like sugar but it pulls all the life out of me" is one of a hundred superb examples) and plaintive voice, sometimes heavy, sometimes hopeful, and always convincing. It's a confident step into the spotlight with a record can be a springboard into new and unexpected territory in 2016 and beyond. (Zeitz)

Yo La Tengo

Stuff Like That There (Matador)

Yo La Tengo has released albums since 1986, but the group still comes off like that new band you want to tell people about. Like their 1990 release Fakebook, Stuff Like That There features eclectic covers and remixes of Yo La Tengo's own songs. A highlight on this release is the cover of the Cosmic Rays with Le Sun Ra and Arkestra's "Somebody's in Love." It's originally a doo-wop tune but singer Georgia Hubley gives it a very sweet, folky feel. Also featured is the often-covered Cure tune "Friday I'm in Love." It's not a very original take but lovely nonetheless. Interestingly, the band covers its own track, "Deeper into Movies," delivering it as a stripped down, less orchestral version of the original with Hubley, rather than Ira Kaplan, on vocals. Even though this album is mostly covers, it's still a great introduction to Yo La Tengo. (Hahn)

Christine Hahn hosts Stonecoldbikini, Saturdays 9-11 a.m., Emma Sleva hosts The Occasional Detour, Saturdays 11 a.m.-1p.m., Ed Zeitz hosts Chasing Infinity, Sundays 8-10 a.m., Teddy Eisenberg hosts The 59 Sound, Thursdays 8-10 a.m. Go to wruw.org for more information.

Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.

About The Author

Vince Grzegorek

Vince Grzegorek has been with Scene since 2007 and editor-in-chief since 2012. He previously worked at Discount Drug Mart and Texas Roadhouse.
Scroll to read more Music News articles


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.