Oklahoma musicians were busy in 2015. There were easily more quality record releases than weeks of the year, which made for a welcome abundance and variety of local music. Hometown staples put out some of their best work yet, and many bands took the leap from short-form EPs to full-length albums. It’s a year so dense that plenty of great work is bound to get lost in the noise. While this list couldn’t possibly accommodate for all of it, much time and energy was spent ensuring the smaller, less heralded efforts of the year didn’t go unconsidered. Without further ado:
15. From Train to Station by The Secret Post
Of all the albums on this list, From Train to Station is most at home on vinyl. Its nostalgia is so passionate and perfect that a blind listen would presuppose a release date of at least 30 years prior. Tulsa’s resident post-punk revivalists have been preaching the broodingly delicious gospel of gothic rock for a long while now, but this is their first time putting it to a full-length record. Enlisting studio help from John Ashton of the Psychedelic Furs (yes, those Psychedelic Furs), The Secret Post nails the pulse of a past zeitgeist. To criticize them of living in that past would be to miss the point. After all, the only thing differentiating “dated and derivative” from “vintage and reminiscent” is perspective.
Recommended tracks: “Eyelashes” / “Impurvious Thoughts”
14. Songs From a Cave by Rachel Brashear
If this album is any indicator, the OKC music scene may soon have a shape-shifter on its hands. Here, Rachel Brashear adopts an elegant demeanor on her follow-up to last year’s rock-driven Revolution, complete with a total change of lead instrument and costume. The piano is front and center of the lounge-soul arrangements as Brashear coos softly her introspective songs. She presents herself at turns sassy and forlorn. The live aspect of the recording is also an interesting, confident choice, though the performances are so solid that it might not have come across without a mention in the credits. At a short 7 songs, the album feels a bit slight, but it indicates that Brashear is still trying on music projects, still exploring her voice, and most impressively, refusing to be pigeon-holed.
Recommended tracks: “Ace Up Your Sleeve” / “The Tempest”
13. Barcelona ‘92 by L.T.Z.
The metro’s biggest names in hip-hop presumably spent the year working on new projects, which left a void for the scene’s up-and-comers to fill. Enter L.T.Z., who took the opportunity to drop his most fully-realized effort to date. With slick beats from veteran producer DJ Chips, the album is a comprehensive, groove-ridden ride through the origins and identity of the North OKC rapper. Not every stroke of the pen is a gold nugget, but there’s plenty of personality to sustain and embellish the tight 14-track LP. There isn’t much more to say that wasn’t already addressed in the full album review earlier this year, so give it a look and see why L.T.Z. is one to watch in coming years.
Recommended tracks: “Hillman” / “73120 (The Good)”
12. Naked All the Time by Sports
A number of bands have rocked the retro-aspiring synthpop sound this year, but none have quite tapped into those faded, feel-good vibes as well as this Tulsa trio. Their songs swirl about in familiar romance/relationship territory, but the lyrics are more of a structure to adorn with relaxing melodies and misty tones. Some of the keyboards are even detuned a little to enhance Sports’ distant, hazy soundscaping. It feels a little one-note, but with 8 tracks clocking in less than a 30-minute runtime, this album doesn’t outstay its welcome. For the Ray-Ban & deck shoe wearing crowd, it’s a must-own.
Recommended tracks: “Feels Like Magic” / “Panama”
11. Let the Good Times Roll by JD McPherson
Grammy nominee and Juke Joint Revival mainstay JD McPherson presents a new collection of throwback hits for 2015. Bouncy, catchy choruses keep the party going through the tight tracklist as McPherson’s irresistible vocal stylings deliver time and again. His songs are as simple and to-the-point as the classics he aspires to replicate. He continues to be the rare exception that can legitimately hang with the legends. There isn’t much new territory being explored, but Let the Good Times Roll remind of the joy in rediscovery. Expect plenty of percussive piano, lively drums, and, of course, electric guitar riffs to round out the vintage sound on full display here. Calculating a loose feel is a fine wire to walk, but JD McPherson pulls it off in spades.
Recommended tracks: “Let the Good Times Roll” / “Head Over Heels”
10. Pop Songs and Other Ways to Die by Sex Snobs
Anything goes on the latest offering from the OKC alternative/punk act. It starts out like any unassuming garage rock record, but the delight of Pop Songs and Other Ways to Die lies in the way it subverts expectations, then subverts those subversions. Offbeat soundbites, whacked-out pedal effects, and even whistling make their way into the brisk runtime. This lends itself well to the absurdist, witty nature of the songs. It’s exciting to see a band so unconcerned with having a specific sound that the mish-mash of genre tropes actually becomes cohesive in its own right. As listeners will realize by the final couple of tracks, the most surprising moments are the ones that aren’t rowdy and off-kilter. It’s a brilliant play on context, and it makes for a gleeful sandbox of a listen.
Recommended tracks: “Black Friday” / “Happy to be Human”
9. Self-titled by The Gentle Art of Floating
After years of fog machines, lasers, and a live wall of sound, the dreamy Oklahoma City psych rockers finally deliver on the promise of their spacey stage shows. With long, often instrumental tracks that segue seamlessly into one another, the album is an odyssey that travels many shades of a singular air. That it preserves its energy and rarely gets tired or repetitive is a feat that reveals how well this band understands dynamics and structure. Synths and guitars reign, but there’s ample room for contemplative violin and vocal overdubbing to help round out the sound. Oklahoma put out its share of reverbed shoegaze records this year, but The Gentle Art of Floating proves that music doesn’t have to be incoherent or dour to be atmospheric.
Recommended tracks: “Death of Doo Wop” / “Mirrors and Chrome”
8. There’s Still Time for Us to Die by Deerpeople
After riding the buzz of two strong EPs for the past few years, the Stillwater-based band finally delivers on their long-awaited full-length debut. That they did so on April Fool’s Day is telling to the kind of unpredictable, tongue-in-cheek songs that await listeners. With eclectic, heavily distorted instrumentation that blends with its traditional rock lineup anything from organ to pizzicato violin to amplified flute, it’s difficult to pin a label to their sound. Frontman Brennan Barnes frequently jolts into a shouting match with the fairly noisy mixing throughout the record, even on its slow, almost tender moments. Some songs click better than others, but when the right chorus strikes and unites Deerpeople’s eccentric odds and ends, it reveals the spark of mad genius.
Recommended tracks: “Funbar” / “Impala Abdul”
7. Waist Deep by Tallows
The OKC indie rockers follow up their game-changing, head-turning debut with a deeper, more frenetic exploration of their signature sound. The result is challenging and exciting, yet unmistakably Tallows. Cold electronic textures drip throughout the album, and the arrangements are more pointed than dreamy this time around. The core meaning behind Waist Deep is somewhat elusive, but the abundance of conceptual riffs on its water motif give it a long, thought-provoking shelf life. With more energetic performances and an especially percussive feel, Tallows have strained out much of the laid back melodicism of their debut. They have opted instead to cultivate their more experimental side, which is both refreshing and promising for what will hopefully develop into a long and varied discography.
Recommended tracks: “When Your Clothes Still Fit” / “The Dead Sea”
6. King Of Tallulah by Earl Hazard
Brazen, hard-hitting rhymes drive this fierce late-year release from the Tulsa-based rapper. It starts out a bit like a run-of-the-mill street mixtape, but a full listen reveals an unexpected level of range and depth. The inspired instrumentals bring a colorful, genre-hopping backdrop to Hazard’s brash yet quick-witted delivery as he jumps between party tunes and socioeconomic causes. The album does occasionally bury its intelligence in the typical parental advisory fare, but those willing to see through it will find a slew of fresh, smartly-produced bangers that often have as much substance as style.
Recommended tracks: “Act Out On It” / “Tallulah”
High on Tulsa Heat by John Moreland
Timeless songs and soul-bearing performances continue to remind listeners of why John Moreland is one of Oklahoma’s great musical spirits. Straight-forward and modest with the troves of poetic gems he strings into his music, he never fails to find the most poignant way to express his red-dirt ruminations and emotional plights. The clear, minimal arrangements insist on availing the spotlight for Moreland, which is undoubtedly still the right approach for the iconic songwriter. Ultimately, this results in a safe album, but it’s an endearing, heartfelt safety that will always fill a need in a world rife with troubles.
Recommended tracks: “Cherokee” / “You Don’t Care for Me Enough to Cry”
4. Rituals by Other Lives
Other Lives are the most ambitious musical act in Oklahoma, and their latest release only shows them reaching higher and farther for artistic greatness of monumental proportions. Contemplating the deep-rooted structures of human nature, the album echoes themes previously visited on its breakthrough predecessor, Tamer Animals. This time around, the lush orchestral arrangements are especially rhythmic, hypnotic and infectious, driving home the overall concept of Rituals. While it starts to buckle under its own towering weight the farther it goes, the meticulous, high-minded craft on display is an awe-inspiring mastery of musical conveyance.
Recommended tracks: “Reconfiguration” / “2 Pyramids”
3. Under Branch and Thorn and Tree by Samantha Crain
Addressing the bittersweet drama of working class life, Crain has assembled the most potent Okie album of the year. Her lyrics sting with reality while the accompanying music just carries on because that’s the way life is. It’s sure to not be a totally depressing listen, though; it’s often beautiful and sometimes even upbeat. Part of this is owed to the collaborative, organic embellishments around the spine of Crain’s earthy voice and guitar picking. Part is also owed to the 3-dimensional way she presents her stories and ideas. They are simultaneously wistful and hopeful, presented in a pitch-perfect tone that sticks long after the record has ended.
Recommended tracks: “Elk City” / “Big Rock”
2. Firefly Night Light by M. Bailey Stephenson (fka sun riah)
Fragile, haunting, and darkly mesmerizing, this album pulses in an isolated, sullen world all its own. Sun Riah is as much an art project as a music project, if indeed there is even a difference. Every word involved in the project is deliberately lowercase, and each individual track page on the album’s Bandcamp site is paired with a unique, contemplative photograph. With many songs built solely on the tremulous foundation of overdubbed, atmospheric harp, every moment feels on the brink of total meltdown. This doesn’t even account for the stark, breathy vocals that mutter and cry through the record’s unkempt bed of dejected lyricism. This melancholy tone builds and builds to the eventual closer, a breathtaking lullaby that perfectly punctuates the most surprising, uncompromising, and utterly arresting album experience of the year.
Recommended tracks: “all fell” / “firefly night light, my heart”
1. The Verdigris by Beau Jennings
Seven years in the making, Jennings’ ode to Will Rogers is a studious, stunning achievement. As the well-worn story goes, Jennings embarked on his big album/documentary project to explore his unshakable draw to the Oklahoma icon. The result isn’t some great epiphany, but rather an honest series of intimate moments. Each track has its own unique vantage point on Rogers’ life, and each is given an extra sense of character thanks to the record’s distinct, well-rounded, and down-to-earth arrangements. The collaborative construction and meditative, conceptual nature of The Verdigris elevates it beyond the sum of its parts, and it never runs out of steam. There are better lyrics, melodies, and performances on other efforts this year, but none capture the raw inspiration and excitement of full-length album craft as passionately as this.
Recommended tracks: “The Verdigris” / “Me & Wiley”
This article was originally written for Cellar Door Music Group (cellardoormusicgroup.com). It is archived here with the publisher’s permission.
Archivist notes: M.Bailey Stephenson name has been added to reflect an artist name change. The broken link was replaced with Stephenson’s newer Soundcloud link. – Elecktra Stanislava (1/21/2021)