The 25 best live music acts of 2015

Best Live Acts of 2015

Around this time last year, we shared our 25 favorite live performers of 2014 after spending the past 12 months covering many excellent bands, musicians and DJs. So, with 2015 almost in the books, we thought we would give the same exercise another try, except this year, we made the call to exclude any artists we named in 2014. What fun would it really be to list them two years in a row anyway?

In the end, it wasn’t an easy task whittling down our list to 25, but some tough decisions had to be made. Those who didn’t make the cut but still deserve to be mentioned here include the following artists and bands (in alphabetical order) who we either covered at their own show and/or at a music festival this year:

AlunaGeorge, Ariel Pink, BADBADNOTGOOD, Bad Religion, Battles, Beirut, Belle and Sebastian, Big Grams, Billy Idol, Black Lips, The Black Keys, Blonde Redhead, BØRNS, BROODS, Built to Spill, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Chet Faker, Chromeo, City and Colour, Classixx, Cold War Kids, Dâm-Funk, Damien Rice, Death Cab for Cutie, Dengue Fever, Django Django, Dr. Dog, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Failure, The Flaming Lips, Flight Facilities, Goldroom, Glen Hansard, The Glitch Mob, Gorgon City, Holly Herndon, Interpol, Israel Nash, James Bay, Jeff Tweedy, Jenny Lewis, The Jesus and Mary Chain, JMSN, Jose Gonzalez, Jurassic 5, Kanye West, Kindness, King Tuff, Marina and the Diamonds, Miami Horror, Milky Chance, Modest Mouse, Morrissey, MS MR, Les Sins, Lotus, Natalie Prass, Neon Indian, ODESZA, Of Montreal, Oneohtrix Point Never, Panda Bear, Penguin Prison, Phantogram, Portugal. The Man, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Purity Ring, Ratatat, Royal Blood, San Fermin, Shlohmo, Slow Magic, SOHN, St. Paul and The Broken Bones, STRFKR, Surfer Blood, Talib Kweli, Tame Impala, Tennis, Toro y Moi, Tycho, Umphrey’s McGee, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Vintage Trouble, Vulfpeck, Widespread Panic, YACHT.

Now, without further ado, The Bam Team presents our 25 favorite live performers of 2015.

The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Shows, Albums & Songs of 2015

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2015:

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #25 - Lord Huron

25. Lord Huron

The audience reacted with just as much enthusiasm during classic Lord Huron tunes as they did in hearing brand-new material, especially during fan favorites like “She Lit a Fire” and back-to-back rockabilly-tinged jams “The World Ender” and “Fool for Love”. At this point, the crowd had not only warmed up to Lord Huron’s infectious stage presence, but also gave into their buoyant vibes as mini dance parties broke out throughout the venue. -Molly Kish, photo by Steve Carlson

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #24 - Puscifer

24. Puscifer

Maynard James Keenan and friends have established themselves as not just a group of musicians who play songs on stage, but rather an assemblage of entertainers that provide their viewers and fans with something they may not have ever seen before — a true experience. Paying homage to the likes of Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd and the glory days of the rock opera, Puscifer have a very special way of combining their music with a stage show that offers so much more than just music. -Scotland Miller, photo by Mike Rosati

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #23 - Viet Cong

23. Viet Cong

Once the appetizer had been digested, Viet Cong were taking the stage and beginning a theme of quirky banter that eased the crowd into the blistering set as opposed to bombardment. Within the first few chords, it was evident that continued time on the road found the band at the peak of perfection. -Kevin Quandt, photo by Diana Cordero

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #22 - Kate Tempest

22. Kate Tempest

This decade will likely be known for the death of “genre,” the end of how groups have been contained into categories like R&B or rap since the birth of record labels. And with dance music on the rise, digitized conventions are creeping into pop, rap and indie music on the regular. With music more accessible than ever and for free, listeners are willing to experiment with their auditory material — and amalgamation is the natural result. Tempest represents this change as much or more than anyone as we enter the smack-dab middle of this decade. And that includes Kanye West, Sylvan Esso or Run the Jewels. -Mike Frash, photo by James Nagel

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #21 - Deerhunter

21. Deerhunter

Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox talked about how he decided on the way over to the island that he wouldn’t play many songs, how he took ayahuasca on Saturday night in LA and he was surprised at how reserved the TIMF audience was. He said we were “polite like the Japanese.” Bradford, that’s what we call “respect” — and you’ve earned it. -Mike Frash, photo by Marc Fong

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #20 - Faith No More

20. Faith No More

It can be hard to know what to expect from a crew like Faith No More and their eccentric, yet prolific members. The entire stage was dressed in white, from the curtains to the amplifiers to the mic stands. Lining the entire length of the stage and any flat surface that would support them were thousands of dollars worth of beautiful, fresh flowers. The abundance of purples and pinks, reds and yellows created a very comfortable and soothing, yet incredibly eerie feeling as to what was about to happen next. Once the setup was complete and the lights dropped, the crowd was let in to the stark contrast that is the weird world of Faith No More. -Scotland Miller, photo by Greg Ramar

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #19 - Sufjan Stevens

19. Sufjan Stevens

Stevens spoke of the need for community in the throes of grief, and the audience ably did their part to help him through this very public grieving process. At the end of the main set, a young woman crashed the stage to offer a bemused Sufjan something (a hug? words of love and encouragement?), and it seemed wholly appropriate, as if the audience needed in some small way to collectively reach out to the man after he bared his soul so openly. -Steve Carlson, photo by Steve Carlson

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #18 - Allen Stone

18. Allen Stone

In many ways, Stone’s ideological stance on technology shapes not only his set as a performer but also his fan base. Watching an Allen Stone show, one can feel certain that all pretenses will be left at the door and those surrounding you will be committing their full attention to the music. Midway through Stone’s set, the venue was completely under his charismatic spell. The audience actively followed the Seattle-born frontman’s lead as he prompted a group participation “2-step” and rolled through crowd favorites from his self-titled LP and latest album Radius. -Molly Kish, photo by Tom Dellinger

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #17 - The Kills

17. The Kills

Mosshart, tall and slender, strutted her way through just about all of it, displaying a bravado that exudes both sex and confidence, while Hince handled his axe like a bona fide rock star, eventually playing some slide guitar during the gritty, blues-infused track “Pots and Pans” that got the crowd roaring after it was over. After all, it’s that blues/garage-rock overlap, along with the chemistry exhibited between Mosshart and Hince onstage, that makes The Kills such a captivating rock ‘n’ roll act to see live these days. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #16 - The Chemical Brothers

16. The Chemical Brothers

Directly following their dramatic entrance to a recording of Junior Parker’s epic “Tomorrow Never Knows”, the duo kicked off their career-spanning set with crowd favorite “Hey Boy, Hey Girl” from 1999’s Surrender. They launched into a full-blown frenzy from that moment on, and the UK dance legends went hard (no pun intended) throughout the rest of their two-hour performance, debuting live remixes of new material from their 2015 release Born in the Echoes while interspersing nostalgia-inducing EDM classics off their seven previous albums. -Molly Kish, photo by Justin Yee

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #15 - Eagles of Death Metal

15. Eagles of Death Metal

EODM have the perfect style as a rock band, one that takes itself just seriously enough. As a whole, they are a hard, fast and tightly-wound production, with their silly lyrics and even sillier frontman bringing a perfect balance to what you want to see at a rock show. Closing with “Speaking in Tongues”, EODM walked off the stage at the Great American Music Hall knowing that they had accomplished what they came to do — to prove that rock ain’t dead. -Brett Ruffenach, photo by Mike Rosati

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #14 - Florence + the Machine

14. Florence + the Machine

Welch lapped around the inside ring of the bowl, stopping briefly at the sound stage. What a cool moment. -James Nagel, photo by James Nagel

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #13 - Sturgill Simpson

13. Sturgill Simpson

Simpson has stage presence, that is without a doubt. The conviction of his voice bolsters his words as he describes a life of highs and lows, trials and tribulations. This was evident on renditions of songs like “Turtles All the Way Down”. If there is a song to capture your attention and convince you of Simpson’s talents as a songwriter, this is one of them. Just like that of his predecessors, he writes music that goes against the grain of popular country music. It may be defined as “outlaw country,” but I personally feel it is music that resonates with a wider audience than that of its counterparts. -Kory Thibeault, photo by Kory Thibeault

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #12 - alt-j

12. alt-J

The 2012 Mercury Prize winners echoed a semblance to that of Sigur Rós or Volcano Choir, leaving audience members entranced in a near-altered state while observing the foursome. The biggest fan responses erupted during the band’s singalong favorites “Breezeblocks”, “Fitzpleasure” and their token cover of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day”. -Molly Kish, photo by Mike Rosati

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #11 - Hot Chip

11. Hot Chip

In recent years, only ever getting the chance to see the outfit in stripped-down DJ sets or as part of side projects/collaborations, the afternoon crowd full of die-hard, nu-disco fans were not disappointed as the UK dance veterans set the polo fields ablaze. Refraining from any slow builders, Hot Chip performed an hour-long set of career-spanning bangers, keeping the crowd moving with hit after hit, that seamlessly blended into one another. The set procured one of the most viral dance party moments of the festival, with the audience spiraling into a collective bliss as it came to a close. -Molly Kish, photo by Josh Herwitt

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #10 - Dan Deacon

10. Dan Deacon

One of the toughest things to do in the world of electronic music is to sound organic, to imbue a sense of heart into the digitized nature of ones and zeroes. The Baltimore native accomplishes this through his hilarious and improvisational free-form, stand-up comedy, which thrives on wandering non sequiturs. And he mirrors this by adapting his insane-train of sound to meet and exceed the energy in the room. The “America” suite finished off the show with an extended doom metal quality that gave a sense that no aesthetic boundaries can contain Deacon’s sense of musical exploration. -Mike Frash, photo by Pedro Paredes

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #9 - FKA twigs

9. FKA twigs

British singer-songwriter Tahliah Debrett Barnett, better known as FKA twigs, has been all the rage lately after performing at Coachella in April, and she closed out FYF in style, donning an elaborate burgundy- and gold-colored robe for her Sunday night set. Just the week before, the 27-year-old fiancée of actor/musician Robert Pattinson released her brand-new EP M3LL155X, and with it receiving high marks from a number of music outlets, there were quite a few fans who stuck around after 11:30 p.m. on a “school night” to watch her perform some of them, including the opening track “Figure 8”, “In Time” and “Glass & Patron”. FKA twigs might be one of the most compelling live acts out there right now, and after scheduling Purity Ring to close out The Lawn the night before, FYF seemed to make a point of letting women rule that stage in the late-night hours this year. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #8 - Empire of the Sun

8. Empire of the Sun

As Steele belted out “Alive”, the hit single off the band’s sophomore studio album Ice on the Dune, to close things out, he brought the audience to a transcendent place of exhilaration. Crowd members embraced and danced amongst a like-minded family of people lost in the moment, even if it involved intergalactic creatures dancing in colored smoke and a crowned Emperor playing without his bandmate on stage. EOTS shows are a special kind of magic that regardless of the material’s absurd nature, translate into an experience unlike anything else. -Molly Kish, photo by Steve Carlson

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #7 - My Morning Jacket

7. My Morning Jacket

Though it was more than understandable to see the band play a large majority of The Waterfall for its first performance at the Santa Barbara Bowl in almost four years, there were plenty of other deep cuts mixed in over the next two hours, from “Bermuda Highway” to “Mahgeetah” to “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2”. After all, it’s no secret that My Morning Jacket have always been good to their most loyal and dedicated fans, and in once again taking song requests as part of their “Spontaneous Curation Series,” they made sure to dig up many of the classics from their seminal album Z, including “Wordless Chorus” and “Off the Record” one after the other in the middle of a loaded, four-song encore. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #6 - Jamie xx

6. Jamie xx

Throughout his tour, Smith has refused to compromise his individual style for the sake of appeasing either extreme of his now commercially hybrid audience. Whereas those familiar with his early XL Records mixtapes were satiated by his intermingling of Gil Scott-Heron and Idris Muhammad samples between hits, his newfound post-In Colour fans experienced equally breathtaking moments with the crowd hitting peak energy levels during the encore chorus of “Loud Places” amidst the glow of a warped-speed, neon-green strobe light. Other notable moments included the near-religious choral drop of “Gosh” that escalated the packed house to spiritual levels of enthusiasm, bathed in the glowing sparkle of Smith’s staggeringly iridescent ceiling to floor disco ball and stage lights. -Molly Kish, photo by James Nagel

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #5 - Elton John

5. Elton John

The star-spangled legend sat at his majestic piano as the sun went down on Sunday and moved the crowd with his brilliant playing. The adoring audience hung on every word and joined in singing his most popular hits. Walking off stage quickly after his last song, the audience demanded more and Elton happily obliged. With rumors of Lion King songs being played at past performances, some doting fans wanted a second encore to the tune of “Circle of Life”. While he didn’t indulge the Lion King fans, his stellar performance was a perfect ending to an amazing weekend at Outside Lands, leaving everyone’s festival tank full of love. -Nik Crossman, photo by James Nagel

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #4 - Father John Misty

4. Father John Misty

Father John (Sassypants) Misty has his festival game on point, and he has progressed his I Love You, Honeybear songs into epic plateaus since premiering them in the Santa Cruz mountains last February. He spewed banter like an Stephen Colbert-esque contrarian, saying, “Look at these suckers with their hair blowing all over the place.” And as he approached the mic for more improv-snark later on, Tillman paused to say, “Sorry, I have nothing to say. Ha.” FJM was speechless for once, but granted, it might have been set up for “Bored in the USA”, a song that should be considered an American classic at this point. -Mike Frash, photo by Pedro Paredes

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #3 - Kendrick Lamar

3. Kendrick Lamar

As Kendrick Lamar’s incredible performance began to wrap up with his newest single “Alright”, a group of fans in the crowd proceeded to lift someone up in a wheelchair, who, if I recall correctly, was the same guy who had his photo famously taken at Outside Lands in 2013. Kendrick took notice and called him out — his sense of sincere appreciation for a place like the Bay Area was written all over his face. -Brett Ruffenach, photo by Marc Fong

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #2 - Caribou

2. Caribou

Described by fellow musician Dan Deacon as “one of the most brilliant acts touring right now” just before their set, Caribou lived up to the hype. Starting with “Our Love”, the four-piece band led by Dan Snaith perfectly set the stage for the next hour — a series of tightly wound compositions that, as the song progresses, expand in rhythmic complexity before reaching a climax that will get even the most tired Sunday afternoon crowd moving. Heavily augmenting its live performances from its studio recordings, the band’s live rendition of “Jamelia” in particular was a highlight of the set. Caribou is a band not to be missed. -Brett Ruffenach, photo by Justin Yee

Best Live Music Acts of 2015 - D'Angelo & The Vanguard #1

1. D’Angelo & The Vanguard

One of the most anticipated sets of the entire weekend was none other than D’Angelo’s — and for good reason. The R&B/neo-soul singer-songwriter hadn’t put out an album in 14 years until he suddenly dropped his 2014 masterpiece Black Messiah last December, so you knew that getting the rare opportunity to see Michael Eugene Archer work a crowd at FYF would be something special. Sounding more like a youthful James Brown than a wannabe Prince (we still don’t totally understand where those comparisons are coming from), D’Angelo and his eight-piece backing band The Vanguard took the audience for a ride as they doled out new and old hits. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt

Outside Lands 2015 - Dan Deacon


Garage rock collides with indie pop as Black Lips, Ariel Pink drop by Bimbo’s 365 Club

Black Lips

Black Lips

Photos by Victoria Smith // Written by Emmanuel Castro //

Black Lips & Ariel Pink //
Bimbo’s 365 Club – San Francisco
October 14th, 2015 //

Atlanta’s Black Lips exploded into SF’s hidden gem of Bimbo’s 365 Club, creating an unlikely contrast of a spit-in-your-face, garage-rock band in a club that would be suited for the rat pack.

Garage punk to their core and looser than geese, the band that is known for its high-energy, unpredictable and anything-goes shows seemed a bit tame for a group with such a reputation. That was until the crowd filled in and the band played the sought-after song “Katrina”. Finally, it was the Black Lips again giving the show everyone expects: crowd surfers, shirt losers and guitarist Cole Alexander catching his own spit from the air. Being true to its lyrics, the band ended with “Bad Kids” and earned the sea of beer that was chucked at them from the crowd. Thus began the weirdest intermission and largest exodus of the entire crowd of potential smokers or mere fresh air seekers exiting out front, leaving just four souls holding fort in front of the stage.

It would probably be pretty entertaining and informative to see a debate between somebody like astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson and Ariel Pink. Somewhere between the lines of Pink’s songwriting, there is a bottled-up genius, and nobody but a genius could write such strange songs except for maybe R. Stevie Moore, whom Pink made a 61-track double EP with in 2011 entitled KuKlux Glam.

Ariel Pink

Ariel Pink

Pink’s set began uncertain of direction with the crowd wondering when they would play a more recognizable favorite. Suddenly, as if it were never going to happen, the band broke into “Number in my Phone” and “Only in My Dreams”, waking the eager crowd up from any confusion.

Pink’s backing band is the perfect blend of an American Apparel ad mixed with Hedwig and the Angry Inch ensemble, with Ariel holding their passports for ransom to ensure full dedication. They are clearly from Los Angeles — in the great way. During “White Freckles” the large-pupiled crowd jumped at the chance to mosh like it was its only opportunity, knocking over drinks, other people and innocence in the process.

Pink’s ever-endearing shyness made it unclear whether he enjoyed the show or not. Between the last song of the set and the encore, which seemed like an eternity in terms of show standards, half the audience left thinking the band wouldn’t reemerge. When it finally did, the true believers were treated to a three-song ending with “Four Shadows” and a “goodnight.”

New Music Tuesday: Foster the People • Tycho • Black Lips • Freddie Gibbs and Madlib • The War on Drugs

New Music Tuesday: Foster the People, Tycho, The War on Drugs, Black Lips, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

Foster the PeopleSupermodel

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Are You What You Want to Be?”
“Coming of Age”
“Pseudologia Fantastica”

Album Highlights: It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost three years since Foster the People released its Grammy-nominated debut Torches on Isaac Green’s Startime International. Since then, bandleader Mark Foster and his sidekicks — bassist Cubbie Fink and drummer Mark Pontius — have become some of music’s biggest road warriors, playing as many as 295 shows in a 16-month span, thanks, in large part, to the buzz that surrounded the group’s breakthrough single “Pumped Up Kicks.” While the breezy, yet gloomy song would quickly pave the road to success for Foster the People, it was only natural to wonder if the trio would hit another home run the next time it went into the studio. But on Supermodel, there are no “Pumped Up Kicks” to hype — even the album’s first single “Coming of Age” doesn’t compare.

Instead, Foster opted to take the concept album route this time around, using society’s obsession with pop culture as his songwriting vehicle for Supermodel. What results is a 12-track LP that may not rise to the top of the Billboard charts this year, but certainly still has its moments. “Are You What You Want to Be?” opens the record with a strong chorus hook, and “Pseudologia Fantastica” a few songs later shows Foster expanding his horizons as he flirts with psychedelic rock. Although the rest of the album doesn’t offer much in the way of highlights, Supermodel has enough to keep some FTP fans mildly interested.

Album Lowlight: While you have to give Foster the People credit for not writing the same album all over again, not every song works here. On “Nevermind,” Foster reflects on life with lines like “Yeah it’s hard to know the truth / in this post-modernist view / where absolutes are seen as relics / and laughed out of the room,” but the song never builds into much more than a commentary on modern-day materialism.

“A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon,” meanwhile, sees Foster the People delve deeper into its electronic roots, but this time, it’s Foster’s falsetto that feels out of place — just as his acoustic offerings “Goats in Trees” and “Fire Escape” do later, too. We won’t necessarily go so far to say that these tracks are downright unlistenable, but it’s also clear that Supermodel doesn’t finish the same way it starts.

Takeaway: Foster the People most likely won’t be earning any Grammy nominations for Supermodel, but that doesn’t mean its sophomore effort should be considered a complete failure, either. Writing an exceptional concept album is not an easy task to accomplish (just ask The Who or Pink Floyd), and the band undoubtedly took a major risk in trying to do so. Nevertheless, Foster has shown recently that he’s more than a capable songwriter, and Supermodel should only help him continue to grow and mature as one.

~Josh Herwitt


3.5-BamsTop Tracks:

Album Highlights: Tycho used to solely be the moniker of audiovisual musician, designer & performer Scott Hansen, but now the name also applies to the entire three-piece based out of San Francisco/Sacramento. Bassist Zac Brown helped create initial ideas and develop songs for Awake, and Rory O’Connor helped percussions flourish in the studio, but Hansen produces it all as he did before. This group coalescing has made Tycho’s music more powerful and efficient, successfully creating a record that is “about an arc of energy and emotion across the record.

Song titles are simple, expressive and always a single word, with positive connotations that aptly reflect the music. “Awake” begins the album with uplifting ease, staying steady while conveying a harmonious tone that lasts throughout. “Apogee” certainly mimics the feeling of reaching a high point, and “Plains” puts the record to bed with the first true dose of ambiance, imagineering a magnificent open terrain. There is a healthy balance with this record that threads kinetic propulsion and exploratory, euphoric plateaus, both separately and most thrillingly at the same time.

The overall tone and much of the auditory formula is similar to Tycho’s previous album Dive, as it marries ambient euphoria and a driving beat. This new effort is more straightforward and less meandering, and it is more immediate with stronger moments of contrast. There are virtually no “downtempo” sections on Awake, yet it is minimalist in some key ways — there are no more samples, female vocals, or distractions from Hansen’s stated focus.

What’s new this time is, first and foremost, clapping. That organic hand sound is found on most tracks, which provides much of the leading energy on the record. “See” begins with a reverbed hand-clap for almost eight measures, setting up one of the album’s finest songs. The penultimate track “Spectre” utilizes all the best parts of Tycho’s new sound, with a roller coaster of highs and lows, both in volume and intensity. “Montana”, so cinematic in nature, also represents the new album fittingly with its intense beats per minute while still projecting a soothing, pleasurable sound.

Album Lowlight: Fans of lyrics and singing of said lyrics will likely be disappointed. But as Hansen said in one of his Reddit IAMAs, the lack of lyrics “doesn’t define, it implies.” Some might call it repetitious, but the record thrives as if Hansen found a pressure point of sound that extracts overwhelming auditory pleasure, then he honed and expanded on it, allowing the listener to bathe in it while not allowing moments to pass ephemerally. That established, two more tracks could have even made Awake even more enjoyable.

Takeaway: Awake is a cohesive effort, one with an accessible goal that is achieved in breathtaking fashion. This output continues the path Tycho was on, yet Hansen takes it to the next level at the same time. Somehow effectively having his cake and eating it too, Hansen’s new sound isn’t a right or left turn, but an upward one, showcasing a band in full bloom. It’s pretty special for an album to be so peaceful in its tone yet still upbeat, forward-moving and constantly inspiring, creating a window to a world that magnifies your own state of mind. Music that’s accessible to electronic, post-rock and jam band fans is rare, and it’s fair to say this feat is accomplished with Tycho’s fourth LP. Yet, if you like all three of these musical categories, prepare for a visceral treat.

Tycho is performing Thursday at the Fillmore in SF, but it’s been sold out for months. Fear not! Hansen, Brown and O’Connor will be performing at Amoeba in San Francisco on Saturday at 2 p.m. PT for free.

~Mike Frash

Black LipsUnderneath the Rainbow

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Drive-by Buddy”
“Boys in the Wood”

Album Highlights: Black Lips’ new album Underneath the Rainbow continues in the band’s punk rock tradition but shows a great new direction. Considered Atlanta’s bad boys for the last 15 years, the band has now crafted a unique blend of garage-punk rock with blues-y undertones. The new album is partially produced by The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney as well as Tommy Brenneck and Ed Rawls. Carney’s influence is apparent in an album that incorporates a strong blues feel and a bit of a pop element.

Album Lowlight: The album is short. Just over 30 minutes, it’s quick and fun but concise. The album also feels torn at moments, somewhat unsure of what it is. While surprises are welcome, at moments its hard to imagine how some of the tracks are on the same album.

Takeaway: It’s exciting to watch the band grow in this new direction. The album feels very “Black Lips” southern twang right off the bat with “Drive-by Buddy” and lo-fi affectation throughout the album. But we see a departure from what we know Black Lips to be — the band has become more refined, more playful with this album that’s more grounded in roots & country music than before. It’s a great blend from a band that is in a cradle of mishmash themselves, being punk rockers from the South.

~Katy Meacham

Freddie Gibbs and MadlibPiñata

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“High” featuring Danny Brown

Album Highlights: Gary, Indiana, rapper Freddie Gibbs and California hip-hop producer and musician Madlib have collaborated on a 17-track behemoth of an album that has many highs and lows while calling on the talents of some of today’s hottest MCs. Raekwon, Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown, Domo Genesis, Scarface, and BJ the Chicago Kid are just a few of the guests to appear on this album. And they bring the goods.

Entirely produced by Madlib, this album is filled to the brim with some of the freshest hip-hop beats I’ve heard in a while. Nearly every track on this album has a beat so raw, so thick, that you can’t help but bob your head, despite some of the lackluster rhymes that are being spit. More on that later…

The guest spots on this album are incredibly strong. Danny Brown, Raekwon, Earl Sweatshirt and Domo Genesis all kill it. “High” featuring Danny Brown is an instant classic and belongs on everyone’s green-friendly playlist.

Album Lowlight: I like my hip-hop with intelligence behind it. There are a few times when this album gets a little too “gangster” for me. You can only drop so many n-bombs before it becomes excessive. You can only rap about bitches and hoes so many times before it loses its luster. “Scarface” as the second track completely takes the wind out of the sails, and it’s too bad because of the greatness that is to come later on Piñata.

Takeaway: This is a very strong record, despite a few bumpy patches. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib would have a strong record even if you removed the numerous guest appearances. However, it is the guest spots that make this record. Check this album out if you are digging hip-hop these days — you may just love it.

~Kevin Raos

The War on DrugsLost in the Dream

4.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Red Eyes”
“Eyes to the Wind”
“In Reverse”

Album Highlights: It’s refreshing to know you are listening to a top album of the year within a dozen listens, and that’s what we have here, folks. There truly is a lot to say about Adam Granduciel and The War on Drugs as following up the 2011 release Slave Ambient was no easy task, yet Lost in the Dream takes us deeper into the rabbit hole via blindingly lush arrangements, among other notable attributes. A cornucopia of influences (see: Bruce, Petty and Dylan) are perfectly melded here, as nods to truly great classic rock are abound, utilized in a contemporary manner which only The War On Drugs seem to constantly achieve.

Granduciel knows how to structure albums with the best of them – this acutely demonstrated via the nine-minute, sprawling opener “Under the Pressure”. This opener showcases a strong, constructive aspect through a plethora of synths that may temporarily transport you to a few decades past. First single “Red Eyes” keeps on a similar path as we sink deeper in, bobbing along to the pounding drum machine that has been a constant over the years for the Philly-based band. “Disappearing” takes us soaring above the clouds as we hear new, thrilling piano instrumentation with warm bass lines, creating a sense of weightlessness and flight. An extremely strong finishing track, “In Reverse,” perfectly captures the fleeting minutes on this release before jarring us back into a slightly crueler reality. I’ll leave you with this lyric off the closer, “We’re just living in the moment / Making our path / losing our grasp / through the grand parade.”

Album Lowlight: Honestly, there isn’t much to report about in this department. There was a little more edginess to Slave Ambient that could have had a place somewhere in this handful of tracks, but the cleaned-up facade lends to the act’s maturity. It’s kinda the WOD style to include a filler track, “The Haunting Idle,” but there’s plenty to stick your teeth into with the other nine standout tracks.

Takeaway: Lost in the Dream has garnered much buzz before it’s true release, and for good reason, as The War on Drugs are ready to take the next step into the spotlight, creeping out of the darkness. This next step was achieved by former member, Kurt Vile, so it was only a matter of time before The War On Drugs broke to the next level; they’ve sold out the major demographics on this upcoming spring tour weeks in advance. When a truly inspired artist borrows from the past while looking to the future, the outcome can be something fully new and exciting, which is what we have here.

The brilliance in Granduciel lies in his delivery, both musically and lyrically, crooning about the sometimes-not-so-simple intricacies of existence. Life, love and everything else in between can be tricky, yet Granduciel calmly assures us that things can work out. The long play of this record is so rewarding and grows with hopes that more can be brought into the light. Oh, and that the state rock and roll is just fine.

~Kevin Quandt