Guest Lists: The Best of 2015

Sean Rafferty, Henry Brawlins, Jake Joyce

Phil Collins - January 1, 2016

Today we have another set of guests sharing their picks for the best of 2015. This time we hear from Sean Rafferty, Henry Brawlins and Jake Joyce.

Sean Rafferty

Sean is the guitarist and vocalist for The Cheap Dates and handles vocals, guitar and bass for Firing Squad. Here are Sean's picks from 2015:

Favorite Friend Jams of 2015, Y’all

Initially, when I started thinking about my favorite releases of 2015, new records by bands like Radioactivity, Vexx, Canadian Rifle, Blank Pages, and Royal Headache, among others, came to mind. Killer stuff. However, I felt like I didn’t have anything new to say about these releases that hadn’t already been said in MRR, Razorcake, or any other solid fanzine being cranked out by a menagerie of unkempt weirdos. So, instead, I decided to make a list of my favorite releases by friends’ bands. However, this isn’t just masturbatory, vacuous glad-handing. Yes, knowing the people who created this music probably endears it to the ol’ earholes that much more, but I have a genuine, abiding affection for these recordings and these songs. It seemed like every few weeks this year friends of mine were releasing something that blew my dick off. It’s hard to have your dick blown off that many times and not find it remarkable enough to surrender to myopia and give these recordings their due. So, in no particular order, here’s a list of some of my favorite friend jams of 2015.

Seasonal Men’s Wear - 9xTOx5xCORE

Masters of the big, sweeping, sing-a-long chorus, SMW hammered out some of their best stuff to date on this release. It has all the hallmarks: lyrics that are sometimes hyper-specific yet capable of kaleidoscoping into something endearingly universal; melodic, noodly leads backed by a complementary second guitar that, on “Higher Learning,” reminds me of the mindfuck double guitar harmonies of Thin Lizzy, albeit with a lot less wankiness. When I first heard them, I thought they sounded like a band that would have fit into the eclectic catalog of early to mid 90s Lookout. I’m sticking to that. Two favorite songs: “Higher Learning, Stomach Churning” and “Conversations in the Kitchen.”

Hamstrings - Raw Ham (Demos)

There’s a dynamism here that defies easy categorization. In “History Lesson - Part II,” D. Boon sang, “Our band is scientist rock,” and that tag made total sense. I don’t know how the hell to describe the Hamstrings, but scientist rock seems as fitting as anything else. There’s a groove and a joyfulness in their music that is augmented by flashes of fury and dissonance. One of the few bands around that makes me wish I weren’t too uptight to dance. Two favorite songs: “Tunnel of Blood” and “Saturday Night.”

The RPMs - The Warehouse Sessions

When this came out at the beginning of the year, I think I listened to it at work every night for a month and a half straight. It was an intervention-worthy descent into madness. “Just put it in my veins!” I’d yell while tearing at my skin and rubbing my iPod all over my bloody arm, much to the consternation of the rest of the janitorial staff. A drum and guitar duo with tuneful lead vocals and roughed up backing vocals, these guys play pure, from-the-gut rock ‘n’ roll torch songs. These are super fucking catchy jams and they’ll be in my regular rotation for a long time. “Roses” is one of my favorite songs of the year. Two favorite songs: “Roses” and “Christeen.”

Dead Drugs - Pillow Talk

Playing an instrument is hard. Playing an instrument and singing at the same time is even harder. Playing two instruments while singing is what goddamn wizards do. As a one-man band -- guitar, drums, vocals -- Dead Drugs is doing the work of a wizard, a soulful, shit kicking wizard with a guitar that sounds bright and jagged. There’s a stomping, lo-fi R&B vibe that bleeds into a Dangerhouse and KBD spirit. What I’m saying is, it’s a record that sounds good to begin with but sounds even better the louder you play it. Two favorite songs: “Pillow Talk” and “Records & Dope.”

Melomaniac - Demos

A three-piece, all-female band who, to these ears, sound like a more melodious, more hook laden, less gruff version of something that could have bridged the gap between bands like Legal Weapon and 45 Grave, although that might be me grasping at straws. There’s not another band around who sounds like this. There are three originals on here along with killer versions of “Season of the Witch” and “Bang Bang.” Oh, did I mention that the guitar work on here is face shredding? Because it is. This is one of my absolute favorite bands to play with. And, just in time for the new year, they have a new EP waiting in the wings! “Life is kinda cool sometimes.” -- Mark Borchardt. Two favorite songs: “Death to the Shitters 1979” and “Rivers Edge.”

Cry Baby Hank - Naked Howling Free

The solo project of Kevin from The Cheap Dates (full disclosure: I’m in that band, too), Cry Baby Hank is a dark, dancey, growly mash-up of horror movie and pop culture references mixed with blasts of kick-in-the-teeth introspection, all of it tinged with the usual lyrical adeptness that Kevin brings to the table when he puts pen to paper. There are some real earworms on here, running the gamut from blitzed-out battering ram jams to bittersweet, heart-on-the-sleeve dirges. If Neo were still around, this is something that I’d want to dance to while some girl with vampire fangs and a cape put out lit cigarettes on people’s arms for no discernible reason. Two favorite songs: “No Fun” and “Perfect in Memory.”

Hung Toys - Lurid

Another solo project, this time by Kelly from Geronimo. Over a year ago Geronimo covered Husker Du at the 7th Street Scrambler, an annual show in Dekalb where bands play short cover sets. It’s no wonder that they fucking killed it, because Kelly’s guitar playing is reminiscent of Mould’s output during his Husker days and the more vigorous, adrenaline fueled Sugar stuff (Beaster, say). These songs also call to mind the 1984 EP by Ryan Adams. Catchy, dense, crooning-to-yelling, holy-fuck-your-guitar-just-burst-into-flames jams. Two favorite songs: “Idyllic Apartment” and “Gotta Drink Some Water.”

Henry Brawlins

Henry Brawlins is the drummer for The Cheap Dates and the man behind Cry Baby Hank. Here are his choices for the best of 2015:

Peach Kelli Pop - III

Video - The Entertainers

Jake Joyce

Jake Joyce is the vocalist and bassist for Seasonal Men's Wear. Here are his picks for the best of 2015:

I always suck at BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR reviews because I struggle with a thing called nostalgia and I get my foot caught in old rabbit holes all the time.

I also just want to list every single band I know personally because I know SO MANY FUCKING GODDAMN TALENTED PEOPLE that it almost feels like I'm dreaming sometimes. However, there's no way I can type up a whole status featuring those key players. Scroll through my feed and you'll see praise for everyone I hold near and dear to my heart.

Anyways, I'm breaking my list up into three categories. Yes these people are my friends. Yes I'm a tad biased. These albums rule so I don't care.

LP of the Year:

The Kreutzer Sonata Austere

I used to go see HeWhoCorrupts every time they had a show within a reasonable driving distance (Like anything over two hours). I still remember how I felt watching them and that feeling is a rare thing for me. I also felt it seeing "Richardson" Richardson for the first time. HWC was nothing but pure intensity with a touch of humble self-awareness. This was ten years ago.

The Kreutzer Sonata brings this feeling back for me. So many Chicago bands try to dip their feet into the hardcore pond but they just end up sounding like a bunch of kids. These bands probably think that part of being a hardcore band is sounding like shit, which it is most definitely not. TKS knows what they're doing, know how to play their instruments, and know how to put on a good goddamn show. HARDCORE FOR THE WORKING ADULT. Seriously mind blowing. This album is just a taste. You gotta see them live.

EP of the Year:

Crystal Gravy Night Dinner EP

There is no way in HELL that anything can top this. I'm sorry, folks. This is a fucking masterpiece. Why this isn't the biggest thing in Chicagoland right now is beyond me. Because it's different? Crystal Gravy is such a refreshing change of pace and they are brilliant songwriters. Once people pull their heads out of their garage-rock asses they'll recognize why this band is the best thing going right now.

LP "That I Played Drums on for a Few Tracks and Don't Want to Seem Too Biased but I still Love it Regardless" of the Year:

IM Cunj The Key To The Haunted Mind

Connor is brilliant and patient. This is an epic tape, literally. The liner notes make sure to detail everything about what this release is supposed to be. But you don't even NEED to read the liner notes because you'll know what's going on just by listening to it. This tape needs to be hyped as fuck and I suggest you pick it up (not because we're making any money off of it, but because that's how it should be heard!)