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Spanspek's Favorite Music of 2015 - Local Albums

This is it folks! Our look back on the music of 2015 concludes with our list of favorite local albums! Nothing much to say before we get into the nitty gritty other than there was a lot of good shit this year! In fact the Top 10 includes a fair number of debut albums from new bands.  I think this can be considered a pretty good indicator of the continued vitality of the Fresno/Tulare County scenes. It's all happening! O.k, here's our Top 10, which five more albums thrown in for good measure!

15.
Dependence (Fresno, CA)
Holding On When Moving On (InVogue Records)

14.
The Gospel Whiskey Runners (Visalia, CA)
Know Your Enemy (Romanced Records)

13.
Kooleidoscope (Sanger/Fresno, CA)
Eclipse

12.
Otis Reed (Fresno, CA)
The Mind Activation of Otis Reed

11.
Amoret (Fresno, CA)
HRZN

10.
White Glove Service (Fresno, CA)
Call it a personal flaw of the deepest degree, but I generally can't stand reggae music. Sure there's always that Bob Marley outlier that has some great tunes, but those kind of crossover artists are few and far between. Which is what makes Nonstop such a surprise. White Glove Service has taken the lessons of bands like Sublime and Matisyahu and created their own potent blend of reggae by adding alt rock and hip hop. Songs like "Just Watcha Need", "What Do You Live For", and the title track are utterly infectious, with finely tuned hooks, precision performances, and melodic sprechgesang (i.e. talk-singing. I learned a new word today!). It's enough to make me want to play this album.......nonstop. Eh, eh?!

9.
Satellite Era (Mendota, CA)
For the longest time Satellite Era, one of my favorite Valley bands, would only perform once, mayber twice a year. In my head I believe the sporadic performance schedule was due to guitarist/sonic mastermind Tony Quintero traveling the world, selling melons or something (I kid you not I think this might actually be true). To make matters worse the band would neeeeeever release any music. EVER! So imagine my surprise when I wake up one morning to see that a live performance had been released for free download! Oh joy of joys! Sonic nuggets of deliciousness like "New Age" and "Come Home" made the wait well worth it. And the soul searing solo from Quintero on album closer "Signals"? LEGIT. Still, I'm hoping the wait for the next album won't be so long. Tony! More music, less slangin' international melons! You ain't no fruit based James Bond!

8.
Aire Espacial (Fresno, CA)
Figuras Cosmicas
I don't know if this is true or not, but it appears that there is currently a dearth of both shoegaze bands and roc en español bands in Fresno. I'm a big fan of both genres, so the void has definitely been felt, in particular in the roc en español realm. You'd think in a place filled with cool ass latinos, there'd be way more spanish bands. This is why I'm glad Aire Espacial is around to keep the torch alive. On Figuras Cosmicas the band makes beautiful ear splitting music in the style of 80's and 90's latino bands. Songs like the epic "En La Nada" and the driving "Estacion" offer dark but inviting walls of sound that are as much Caifanes as they are My Bloody Valentine. It's an original sound within the local scene and one which deserves to be celebrated.

7.
St. X (Fresno, CA)
Get ready all you Catholics out there! St. X is your new patron saint of earnest indie rock! And for the rest of you I got no somewhat clever thing to write cause I ain't familiar with yo faiths. Longtime Friendcore scenester Jemimah Barba has always shown promise as a solo acoustic performer, armed as she is with a powerful voice and jangly guitar tones. But it wasn't until she got a full band that she came into her own. With the full force of a quartet, Barba's normally subdued songs were imbued with a summers energy. Even in the cold of winter, songs like the beach friendly "Midnight Sun" are still able to warm my cold cold feet. I have circulation problems.

6.
We Killed the King (Fresno, CA)
Chantek

New band We Killed the King worked hella hard all throughout 2015, releasing two fantastic EPs of instrumental rock. Of the two works Chantek is the album that really synthesizes all that the band does (Note: Chantek means 'beautiful'....or it's the name of a highly skilled orangutan. Take your pick!). Every song is cranked to epic scale, such as in the monolithic title track which barrels forward like a crashing wave. Even album opener "Clouds", beginning as a somber lullaby, eventually cedes itself to the thunderous sound of Jeremy Logans guitar and drummer Mike Arroyos monstrous beats.  It's meditative music, but for those who like to their meditations loud as shit.

5.
Meet Me In Montauk (Fresno, CA)
where the grass meets the pavement
Guitarist/Vocalist Nathan DeRaud seems to be one of those fortunate individuals who can do no wrong.  Whether it's with soul band Le Wolves or hardcore group Favorite Child, the guy can do no wrong. So it's no surprise that DeRaud's newest band cranks out the hits like nobody's business (see the instantly catchy "Poor Me" and "Prayer"). What I didn't expect was a sprawling post rock emo opus. Every track takes unexpected turns, switching from sweet love song to four on the floor dance tune (see "Juliet"). It has the effect of making the the album infinitely re-listenable. And everything is BIG: big emotion, big performances. These guys swing for the fences, and that ambition serves them well on what is one of the most self assured albums of the year.

4.
Dirty Limbs (Fresno, CA)
Blood Operator (Kerchow Records)
All the albums on this list are great. But only one contains my absolute favorite songs of the year. "Blood Operator", "The Woods", and "Think About You": FUCKING TIGHT. This isn't even a situation where I wish I was the one who wrote the songs. I couldn't write this shit if my life depended on it! "Think About You", with it's reverbed out guitars, wandering melody, and almost drawled singing could only come from the mind of singer/guitarist Johnathan Ekparian-Hadden and right hand man?lead guitarist Luke Giffen. Not that bassist Casey-John Burton and drummer Audrey Johnson are slacking off; they're the backbone that make songs like "The Woods" and "Blood Operator" move like a motherfucker. Look dude, the whole album is good, listen to it all. But man those three songs; shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

3.
Brother Luke / Zach Zeller (Fresno/Redding, CA)
iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.
The split from Brother Luke and Zach Zeller yielded some of the most refreshing and authentic work of the year. Armed with acoustic guitars and soft-spoken voices, the singer/songwriters individual takes on God, love, and life nourished the soul. It's Brother Luke though that specifically stands out.  Every one of his six contributions  makes you sad in the way that happiness can sometimes make you sad. It's like his songs help you appreciate those good moments, while simultaneously reminding you that those moments will fade. I don't even think that's what Brother Luke is trying to do necessarily, but I think it's important to note because only the best music can convey multitudes without even trying (see "Train Your Arms"). Brother Luke be giving me the feels man! Thank you!

2.
Conversation (Fresno/Oakland, CA)
Make no mistake, Conversation is a "super group" of the highest order. With members of Sunburns, Tokyo Death March, It's An Icicle, and many others onboard, the band is a juggernaut of talent. And though that's not always quite a guarantee of quality, in this case the guys deliver the goods. Take Care of Me contains a mood and tone that's all it's own.  Songs like "Swim" and reprise "The Ether" maintain pervasive auras of fog that are then swept away to reveal grandiosity beneath. And much like the Meet Me In Montauk, Conversation take chances with the formal organization, reveling in delivering surprising twists at every corner ("I Wanna Be Cool With the Cast Of"). The band is nimble, executing at will. Plus the timbre of every instrument is on point. The music just sounds good, on top of already sounding good.  I will assume that made sense to everybody. Moving on!

1.
Awahnichi (Merced, CA)
Five Hundred Seeds
In a year full of strong albums, none could compete with Awahnichi's ode to the storybook animals of the Yosemite Valley. From the very first listen way back in January this was the album to beat.

Following the disbandment of El Olio Wolof, singer/guitarist RC Essig took a streamlined approach to songwriting, employing only drums, guitar, and keyboard to accompany his kind and gentle voice. The result is a magical score that revels in quiet moments, yet is somehow brawnier and more energetic. A lot of this is owed to drummer Dante Johnson, who provides a lot of power to the proceedings. Still, the MVP award goes to Essig, who is as good as ever in painting pictures of the wilderness in action. On "The Flood" utter devastation is conveyed with the fearful intonation of "the wave, the wave, the wave came too high," followed by an unresolved chord and silence. It's powerful stuff.

While I was extremely sad to see El Olio Wolof go, I'm heartened by Essig's new venture. With Awahnichi, the singer has taken everything that made his former band great and distilled it into something just as good, if not greater. Five Hundred Seeds is an assured debut that foretells bigger things to come. Thanks for the great album folks!

***

And that's it! For more end of the year talk check out our latest episode of the Spanspek Podcast, where we'll talk about our favorite music, shows, and any thing else that tickled our fancy in 2015! Thanks as always for all the support and we'll see you in 2016!

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