Looking Back: Best of Memphis Music in 2015

By: Berlin Howell

Despite somewhat of a drought that's characterized the first half of the 2010's, Memphis' local music scene has flourished in 2015. Both independent and signed artists are building and growing dedicated followers outside of Memphis, and the city has seen an outgrowth of local releases and performances. 2015 has been a year that made us all proud to be Memphians, and music lovers were given a diverse spectrum of albums from a cadre of artists born and raised in the Bluff City.

Here are ten of The Galleon's favorites:

Yo Gotti - Concealed

Collective Music Group - January 2015

As a well-known rapper with roots based in Memphis, Yo Gotti occupies a rare space in the music scene. He has risen through the ranks to a place that few occupy, and he's been a pathfinder for emerging Memphis artists like Don Trip and Young Dolph. However, the Frayser native's career is anything but new. While his first album came out almost twenty years ago, he continues to release popular albums today through his label, CMG, which has given the music world an abundant supply of new Gotti material this year, the first being Concealed. Opulence is becoming gradually more prevalent in Gotti's material, and at this stage of his life he's living comfortably and rapping about the struggles of success. Yo Gotti's influence has spread heavily in Atlanta since his relocation there in recent years, evidenced by the presence of  ATL’s finest beat-makers on Concealed's tracklisting.

Must Listens: “I Feel Like” and “Real Rap”

Pillow Talk - What We Should Have Said

Animal Style Records - March 2015

Continuing the momentum of an exceptional debut EP release last year and long-term momentum from the successful foundations built by this super-group of individuals, Pillow Talk is a band doing pretty well for themselves.  Their new EP What We Should Have Said experiments with shoe-gaze and emo genres, but the band pulls it off without borrowing too much from any of their disclosed influences (My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Title Fight). 

Must Listens: Room” and “Escape Me

Cities Aviv - Your Discretion is Trust 

in collaboration with Collect Records - May 2015 

Cities Aviv is the anomalously progressive rap project of Gavin Mays, whose acclaimed career has brought him to New York (he played a show in Brooklyn this year with Yung Lean) in recent years. Cities Aviv's newest album succeeds much like its predecessor, 2014's Come to Life.   

Gavin Mays has long-standing affiliations with the Memphis punk scene, as evidenced in the offbeat and sometimes aggressive nature of his music. He also has an established relationship with Matt Qualls of Nights Like These, who handled mixing and mastering. Qualls has been involved with Cities Aviv albums as far back as 2011's Digital Lows. On this album you will find eccentric production, mind-boggling rhythmic sampling, and Aviv's signature vocal delivery. 

Must Listens: Anticipation” and “Communion

Don Trip - Godspeed 

Self-Released - June 2015 

 This release came as fantastic news to many of Don Trip's fans, as Godspeed is his first solo full length album in five years. 2013's Step-Brothers Two was a locally renowned collaboration with Nashville;s Starlito, but we haven't gotten anything but a few mixtapes from the former Interscope-signed artist since. 

Godspeed is full of confessions, painting a harrowing, but vivid portrait of Memphis. On “Nightmares” Don Trip raps about getting to a gas station at 12:07 a.m, just a few minutes too late to buy a Tennessee lottery ticket. Over the course of the album he raps about running from the Memphis Police Department, struggling to put drug-dealing behind him, and the tension of being able to provide for his son and his mother.

 The tracklist also includes a beautifully-sampled Daughter song, “Medicine” and the cutting, satirical, and politically-charged “White House.” 

 Must Listens:

Nights Like These - Old Youth Culture

Self-Released - June 2015 

Don't be fooled by the gruesome cover—this album might be the most accessible Nights Like These record the band has ever released. Old Youth Culture is not nearly as relentless as 2006's The Faithless (though that's not to say it isn't their heaviest material to date,) and as shown on 2007's Sunlight at Secondhand, the band knows how to make use of minimalism. This time around they've crafted an incredibly dark and visceral collection of post-metal songs (one might even compare them to Yeezus). To my great dismay, this is the band's last album, declared in a statement earlier this year.

Happy Monday everyone, the time has come for us to pour our hearts and souls into an album for the final time. We've...

Posted by Nights Like These on Monday, December 8, 2014

Songs like the album-opener “None More Hated” are brutal, and vocalist Billy Bottom weaves in messages of self-deprecation and self-realizations simultaneously. From the span of beginning to end, a cohesive thematic sound creates a perfect landscape for the doomsday lyricism.

Old Youth Culture was recorded at Ardent Studios. Guitarist Matt Qualls is credited with engineering, mixing, and mastering, the entire album, and his prowess as a producer can be heard on this record, along with many of 2015’s best local releases (Cities Aviv, Monticello, Holy Gallows, The Pop Ritual).

Must Listens: “Anchor in Bone” and “Old Youth Culture”

Greyscale - Limn Everything

Self-Released - July 2015 

For someone exposed to Greyscale for the first time, it’s possible to find the raw sonic quality jarring, but they would be mistaken to forsake Greyscale for the live dynamic present in their recordings. This four piece group has consistently set the standard for live performances. On any given night you can expect to witness the Shirazee brothers’ vivacious musicianship, Zohayr’s lightning quick guitar riffs and Sameer’s chaotic yet resolute drum parts. 

On Limn Everything you hear the sounds of talented musicians playing parts with only their human capabilities, and these four guys embody that responsibility with ease. To “limn” is to “illuminate” and it could be said that Greyscale absolutely attempts to illuminate “Everything” on this album. Several bands had a hand in parts of this album, namely Calvin Lauber of Pillow Talk who engineered and mixed the songs at Ardent Studios, and Franklin Wallace of Mayfair who created the artwork. 

Must Listens:Shaky Warrior” and “Songbirds of North America”

Monticello - Monticello 

Self-Released - July 2015 

 Jazzy, grooving, ambient, sanguine—Monticello’s self-titled first album evokes many descriptors. Earlier this year, Hunter Lantrip and Miles Young debuted Monticello as a two piece band (guitarist and drummer), but as of December they have evolved into a six piece: guitar, bass, drums, saxophone, trumpet, and trombone.  The varied instrumentals throughout the listen offer a pantheon of moods, and Monticello succeeds by grabbing your attention with unwavering grip. 

Must Listens: “Surco” and “Stray”

Julien Baker - Sprained Ankle 

6131 Records - October 2015 

 You can read The Galleon’s coverage of Julien’s debut here, but it must be said again: this album needs to be heard, by everyone. Memphis has birthed a rising star and hopefully she will continue on her rise to unimaginable heights. Sprained Ankle is despairing at times, hopeful at others, and intimate throughout.  

Must Listens: “Good News” and “Go Home”

Holy Gallows - Agita 

Delayed Noise

- November 2015 

 “Agita” is a word I had only ever heard before on The Sopranos, but Holy Gallows’ two-part, two track, 30-minute album Agita provides an entirely new context for the word. Mark Brake is the mind behind this experimental noise project, and he explores the meaning of Agita as a form of mental stress or agitation. (I’m anxious to see a Sopranos clip scored by some section of either “Gretchen Deathrage” or “250 Very Quick Deaths.”) 

This album is tense, but calming, and perhaps ideal for hypnotization. It was recorded at Brass Tracks Studios with the help of Matt Qualls. 

Must Listens: “Gretchen Deathrage” and “250 Very Quick Deaths”

Mayfair - The Ability to Dream

Ozona Records - November 2015 

Though their debut is only eight tracks in length, Mayfair expounds on hopeless ideas to endless distances on The Ability to Dream. Carefully subdued undertones of aggression exist throughout the guitar-work on these songs, but they never fully overpower the haunting and engrained vocal melodies.  This release comes two years after the band’s first EP, Things That Don’t Last. Vocalist Jon Clark admonishes being labeled as a “shoe-gaze band,” and it’s apparent through their song structuring and exploration outside of the shoe-gaze genre that they aren’t really interested in following any trends. Almost all of these songs had been written long before Mayfair entered The Grove Recording Studio with Calvin Lauber of Pillow Talk. Title track “The Ability to Dream” was the last section of lyrics that were finished in the studio. 

Must Listens: “The Ability to Dream” and “Ghost”

Honorable Mentions:  

 Juicy J’s - O’s to Oscars 

 The Pop Ritual - Weak Species 

Young Dolph - High Class Street Music 5 

Preauxx - Forever I Will

Berlin Howell is a Sophomore Creative Writing major at Christian Brothers University, an avid music critic, and a staff writer for the Galleon. 
Posted by Josh Colfer at 8:30 AM

The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.

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