1- Call of the Islands – Ixtahuele
An easy call in what was generally a weak year. Two years ago I rated Ixtahuele’s Mareld EP as number 4 on my top albums list (2014 was a very strong year), saying it might have ranked higher if it wasn’t just an EP. Well, the three tracks from Mareld returned this year as part of Ixtahuele’s second full-length album. Though maybe a step down from their incredible debut Pagan Rights, this is by no means a let down. These are thirteen original exotica tracks that rank up there with the best of the genre (extremely rare for any exotica group to have an album entirely of original compositions) . Such a fine mix of vibes+piano that would make Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny proud.
2- Honoka & Azita EP – Honoka & Azita
Hawaii’s ukulele sensations finally put out music for purchase after a couple years of YouTube videos. Their surf covers of “Miserlou” and “Wipeout” featured additional musicians but their original tune “Drop In” shows promise beyond novelty.
3- The Exotic Sounds of Tikiyaki 5-0 EP – Tikiyaki 5-0
This is the surf-oriented quartet variant of the Tikiyaki Orchestra, and their EP was a lot of fun. Check out the very good surf version of the exotica classic “Taboo.” I was looking for a modern surf group and this EP didn’t disappoint.
4- Super – Pet Shop Boys
Hard to follow 2013’s Electric album, but the template was largely similar with a focus on dance tracks rather than orchestral or acoustic experimentation. Some very strong tracks, including the single “The Pop Kids.”
5- This is what the truth feels like – Gwen Stefani
All the songs sound the same is sort of a plus and a minus. A big comeback for Stefani who’s last album was the largely forgettable Push and Shove with No Doubt. Though not as varied and dance oriented as Stefani’s first two solo albums, this one does have a great sound and some strong tracks such as “Rare” and “Make Me Like You.”
6- Hardwired… to Self Destruct – Metallica
A solid but unspectacular album from Metallica.
7- Strange Little Birds – Garbage
Ranked last, because it was my least favorite this year and among all the albums from Garbage. Which is not to say it’s awful, just “less awesome.” Overall, this album had fewer outstanding songs than are typical for the average Garbage album, and the tempo was down too (evidence: the album’s best song “Even Though Our Love is Doomed“).