Year in Review

Houston Record Store Staffers Pick the Best Music of 2015

Cactus music GM Quinn Bishop keeps hearing it: "Dude, you're getting Adele?" Bishop is pretty certain that, once he tallies up Adele's sales for her latest, 25, she's going to "squash" the rest of the artists that he has on his shelves.

But as for Bishop's own personal favorites from 2015, the closest he came to putting pop on his list was Ryan Adams's album-length cover of Taylor Swift's 1989. As with Adams's fresh, at times morose take on the superstar's happy glam jams, what was most important for Bishop's hunt for the best new music this year was, well, actual newness — records that twist the norm.

"In this time, where flowery indie rock and garage stuff is so ubiquitous, being different counts for something," Bishop says, referring to the fiddle-infused goth metal that topped his local favorites. 

Other record-store staffers we interviewed echoed that idea, with picks ranging from distorted psych rock to brass-heavy ska to unusual pedal steel guitar players. We asked for their store's best-selling records, their own personal favorites, and this year's local standouts. Find recommendations from Cactus, Vinal Edge, Sig's Lagoon, Sound Exchange and Black Dog Records.

Quinn Bishop, Cactus Music GM

Tame Impala, Currents
Steve Earle, Mississippi It’s Time
The Suffers, Make Some Room EP
Alabama Shakes, Sound + Color
Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen, Hold My Beer, Vol. 1
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
Beach House, Thank Your Lucky Stars
Buxton, Half a Native
Ray Wylie Hubbard, The Ruffian’s Misfortune
Robert Delong, In the Cards

Keith Richards, Crosseyed Heart
I think that’s his best solo record to date. He hasn’t made a solo record in decades, and it’s just a reminder of why he’s one of the architects of rock and roll. It’s undeniably great.

Ryan Adams, 1989 
I had given up on him as an artist. I think he’s one of the most confounding recording artists that I’ve ever followed, because he’ll make a record that I love, and then he’ll make three records that I just can’t get my head around at all. But this thing, it’s brilliant. It really shows the finest attributes of both of those artists. It legitimizes those songs for an older record buyer. And the fact that he took all the really upbeat songs and made them slow, and took all the slow songs and made them fast, I mean, if there’s artistry as an interpreter, that’s a fine example.

Leigh Nash, The State I’m In
An unlikely favorite of mine for 2015 is the album by Sixpence None the Richer vocalist, Leigh Nash. I have always thought her voice was brilliant, but was not a huge fan of the material. This record is in the classic Texas Country, Hill Country folk vein and really hits the mark. She has that little bird quality that Dolly has and the material is kinda personal in nature and superb.

Toro Y Moi, What For?
I've had a casual fascination with this artists’ previous records, but this one knocked me out. It's pretty power-poppy in a teenage fan-club kinda way. It's only 30 minutes or so long, which leaves you wanting to hear more as it ends. I've listened to it over and over and over.

Fiddle Witch and the Demons of Doom, self-titled
It's a goth-metal band, but it’s got fast, super-crazy fast violin on it. It’s awesome. That’s a record that wasn’t a huge seller, but was so good—more people need to hear that record. It’s a three piece, but it’s got a lot of different instrumentation on it. It was a really unique record—that’s what you’re listening for.

Buxton, Half a Native
I think that Sergio Trevino is a tremendous writer, along with their sense of dynamics in the material. The album exhibits that they can really rock and then back it down with a soft landing into some ethereal and atmospheric moments.

Charlie Bryan, Vinal Edge

Tame Impala, Currents
Adele, 25
Beach House, Thank Your Lucky Stars
Kurt Vile, b’lieve i’m goin down
Bjork, Vulnicura
Indian Jewelry, Doing Easy

Guapo, Obscure Knowledge
They’re one of the few bands that’s doing rock in opposition and avant-prog music. They’re pretty much the only people doing what they’re doing nowadays. It’s a little bit of a throwback to mid-seventies progressive rock.

Leviathan, Scar Sighted
It was their most produced album, which usually is a bad thing when it comes to black metal. But it turned out really well for him. It was a little more complex than some of his other ones — it’s pretty heavy, a nice mix of everything you could like in black metal.

Gnod, Infinity Machines
It’s space-rock, psychedelic-rock stuff. I thought it was excellent. It had everything from progressive electronic stuff to industrial moments. They’re a really interesting band from the UK.

Indian Jewelry, Doing Easy
They’re a really big deal in psych-pop and psych-rock. They do it a little more convincingly and authentically than a lot of other people —they’re doing it because they really like to do it, and that comes across in the music. It’s their own spin — they don’t sound like too many other people. It’s catchy, but it’s also very weird and far-out at the same time. They capture the authentic freak psych rock about as well as anyone at this point.

Holy Money, Zygote
Alex Hughes, the lead guy, has gone from punk to metal to psychedelic music, and Holy Money is like a whirlwind doom-psych kind of thing. It has low, guttural vocals, but also high-pitched shrieking in the same song. It’s a three-piece, super loud, really good songs. This is the second tape they’ve put out since they’ve been a band.

Talk Sick Brats, self-titled
It was easily one of our favorites. They’re a young, really energetic punk band that doesn’t take themselves too seriously. It’s not like tough guy hardcore. It’s got a real youthful energy to it, but they’ve all been in bands for a long time and they’re older. It doesn't feel forced or like they’re phonies, which to me is really important. When I see people play music, I like to know it’s their brand.

Phytosophie and the Invisible Man, OTTO
It’s kind of like avant garde soundscapes and ambient stuff with spoken-word French dialogue over it. It’s really cool. The producer, Dan Workman, has a really good grasp on sound. This one, it’s mellow, electronic soundscapes. It’s the first thing he’s done in quite a while.

Blaspherian with In League With Satan, split EP
Blaspherian is a longtime metal outfit in Houston, and it’s just really consistent output. It’s more of what you would expect, almost, in a very good way — not in a monotonous, boring way. It was really good, intense death metal.

Tomas Escalante, Sig's Lagoon owner

Fuzz, II
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
UGK, Ridin’ Dirty re-issue

Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
They showed a lot of growth compared to their first album. Now, I just want to see where they go from here, see if the growth continues. It’s fun to watch bands that you can see are about to blow up. They played at the Continental Club [in 2012], and you know that’s probably the last time you see them in this size of a venue. It’s kind of fun to see it from the ground floor.

Jello Biafra, Walk on Jindal’s Splinters (with the New Orleans Raunch and Soul All-Stars)
I was excited to finally see it come out, hearing about it for so many years [from Pete Gordon, owner of the Continental Club]. It was recorded back in 2010 or 2011 and it finally got released this year. It was recorded from the board, and you do what you gotta do to make live recordings sound worthy of being put out. It’s just a full-on, live, no-holds-barred craziness. You can hear the mayhem through the recording, which is always great.

Battles, La Di Da Di
I think it’s pretty ballsy to put out a recording with no vocals. It’s just all instrumentals. They’re an interesting band. A friend of mine turned me on to them, and when we saw them, and it’s captivating to watch. The musicianship’s stellar. You can find yourself not even watching them, and just listening to it was kind of mind-blowing.

Mikey and the Drags, Make You Mine
It’s fun to listen to. I like the garage sound, and once you have that in there, since they’re such a great band, I’m partial to that. It’s an easy sell.

The Suffers, Make Some Room EP
You have to root for them — it’s the home team and they’re doing so great nationally. 2016 will be a big year for them, because their new album will be coming out. We sold a bunch of their EP this year.

Kurt Brennan, Sound Exchange owner

Blaspherian & In League with Satan, split EP
Oceans of Slumber, Blue
Carter Tuttie Void, f(x)
Coil, Backwards

Micachu and the Shapes, Good Sad Happy Bad
Mica Levi is this young British woman who, over the last couple years, has been incredible. She’s someone who studied classical composition but is into an unbelievable range of music. And the stuff that she does is all different. She did a record with the London Symphony Orchestra live. So she’s just all over the map, and it’s all really good, and it’s all distinctively her — you know it’s her.

Heather Leigh, I Abused Animal
She was originally from here, but she’s been living in Scotland for many, many years. She does really odd things with the pedal steel guitar, and she makes it sound like something totally different. She uses the strings in unusual ways.

Indian Jewelry, Doing Easy
One of the things I like that they do is they’re really good at mixing drony stuff and more psych stuff, but they had a really good year for writing songs. A lot of those songs really stick in your head, but they mix them really well with a lot of noisier, dronier kind of stuff.

Richard Ramirez, A Week of Kindness & GX Jupiter Larsen, A Cognitive Culture
It’s just really powerful power electronics. It’s consistent with their past work, but the three together is a really good lineup. All three of them show through in that album.

James Sherwood, Black Dog Records owner

Adele, 25
Leon Bridges, Coming Home
Ryan Adams, 1989

Imagine Dragons, Smoke + Mirrors
They did a really good job of blending natural music with electronic music. A lot of music today, it’s over-produced. Imagine Dragons did a great job of blending guitar distortion with the electronic medium. To me, it produces an album that, if you like alternative, you’ll like it, and if you like all electronic music, you’ll like it as well. It kind of appeals to both your senses.

Florence + The Machine, How Big How Blue How Beautiful; Lana Del Rey, Honeymoon; Adele, 25
If you listen to the music, they all sing about struggle and trying to make it, and just being an ordinary person, and “don’t put me on a pedestal. I’m not the No. 1 in the music industry.” Yet they really are. You can kind of listen to the music and create a relationship with that person. It’s very relaxing music, the kind that you can go home and pour yourself a glass of cabernet, smoke a cigar, and just enjoy the rest of your evening after a hard day’s work.

Rogues Among Us, The Watcher
It’s a lot of acoustic guitars and a lot of harmony. It’s almost tear-jerking, it’s so good —and I mean that in a happy way. You watch them, and you hear them playing acoustic guitars, and you hear Mark’s voice, and you think, Oh my God, this guy’s an angel. And it does sound that good.

Roxy Roca, Ain’t Nothin’ Fancy
They do a killer job of coming in with trombones, trumpets, a stand-up bass guitar, a steady four-four drumbeat, and when those horns hit, you’re just like, damn, that sounds impeccable. It’s clean.

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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn