Friday, December 18, 2015

Favorite Albums of 2015

Year-end list time motherfuckers!  I've been doing this long enough to know that nobody reads the intro to these things, so without further ado, here are 25 albums (in alphabetical order) that rocked my socks off in 2015...

Algiers - Algiers:  A blistering mix of post-punk, garage rock, and gospel, Algiers is like howling at the moon, trading shots with the bleak and the glorious.

BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah - Sour Soul:  Proggy jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD are quickly setting themselves to be THE producers to work with, churning out all kinds of groovy hip-hop and remix projects into the ether.  2015 saw the group release their (to date) magnum opus with Wu-Tang's Ghostface Killah rapping over their psychedelic soul jams.  You can feel the smoke and sway in the air.  Welcome to the cool kids' table.

Bjork - Vulnicura:  Probably my favorite Bjork record since 1997's "Homogenic," the Icelandic queen's latest album is a devastating portrait of heartbreak, a record for the cold and fractured.

Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh:  As one half of electronic duo Fuck Buttons, Benjamin John Power is still a force to be reckoned with on his solo projects.  Blanck Mass is noise and drone and electronics and glorious crescendos, and "Dumb Flesh," aside from it's excellent album cover, captures the very best that Power has to offer.

Leon Bridges - Coming Home:  What a remarkable year for Fort Worth's Leon Bridges, capturing his own brand of 60's soul revival and shunting it off to the masses.  The man channels the good stuff, and while pulling his sound almost directly from the past, manages to sound fresh and new.

John Carpenter - Lost Themes:  I have long been a proponent of Carpenter's film scores and the whole mass of bands who tread in those same sonic waters, so it only makes sense that i would be drawn to the man's first album of non-movie related music.  It's a synthy, electronic wonderland that could totally be it's own soundtrack, a score for some mutant film still living in Carpenter's head.

Casino Hearts - The Best of Casino Hearts:  I guess this album is a compilation of tracks that Jacob Rubeck has recorded over the last couple of years, so maybe it's not an actual new record per se, but it served as my introduction to his Casino Hearts project, and has been in constant rotation for months.  Lo-fi little pop nuggets, bedroom dreampop, and droney explorations through the garage, the album taps into so many of my favorite aesthetics, and is one of my favorite finds of the year.

Cindy Lee - Act of Tenderness:  Wow.  Patrick Flegel, formerly of the beloved and defunct Calgary band Women, put out two absolutely amazing albums this year under the moniker of Cindy Lee.  Bits of lo-fi scuff, crunchy noise, and delicate balladry, the songs of Cindy Lee are at once heartbreaking and all to real.  "Act of Tenderness" feels like a literal heart on a sleeve, a search for love in a sea of unrequited obsessions and romances.

 Deafheaven - New Bermuda:  Following up my favorite record of 2013 was not going to be an easy task, but the Bay area black metal/shoegaze/post rock/pop amalgamation that is Deafheaven certainly gave it a shot with new album "New Bermuda."  While still very much a record in the vein of "Sunbather," the album dials back the shoegaze fuzz a tad and really pummels the earbuds with some full on metal riffs and screaming wails...and still manages to be beautiful despite itself.

Faith No More - Sol Invictus:  Faith No More put out their first record in 18 years this year...and it ranks right up there with band's best.  I try not to get too excited when one of my bands of old reunites and releases a new record, but Faith No More just made it so damn hard not to be.  "Sol Invictus" is everything i want in a Faith No More record and more.  Here's hoping this is just the beginning of a new act.

Father John Misty - I Love You Honeybear:  As J. Tillman continues his transformation into his stage persona Father John Misty, one could easily expect the man to get lost within his own little art world, but good, true love sure can ground someone.  "I Love You Honeybear" is essentially an album about how much Tillman loves his wife...which is a whole lot.  And it's a beautiful piece of work.

Gwenno - Y Dydd Olaf:  Gwenno Saunders of the band The Pipettes embarked on a solo journey this year (actually it was last year on a limited cassette release, but finally out in wider scope this year) with her album "Y Dydd Olaf," a collection of Welsh language songs based on a sci-fi novel about world-conquering robots and human clones.  The record is soft synth pop with some serious kosmiche and krautrock undertones.  Saunders definitely dug on some Stereolab in her should we all.

King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard - Paper Mache Dream Balloon:  Modern garage rock bands seem to be the ever-prolific bunch, and Australia's fantastically named King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard certainly fall into that routine.  While 2015 saw the release of two albums from the seven-piece, it was the later release "Paper Mache Dream Balloon," an album recorded with no electric instruments," that really cemented what this band is capable of.  Minus all the fuzz and noise, and you've got some brilliantly crafted pop songs, and a group of musicians ready to try anything, to pick up any instrument and learn it on the fly.

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly:  So much has already been written and said about Kendrick Lamar's masterpiece, there's nothing i can add to the fold that would shed any new light on the material.  In full honesty, i was way late to the party on this one, only having recently begun to listen and dissect it's layers of jazz, funk, and hip-hop history, and i feel like a fool for that.  Lamar is as original and thoughtful a voice as your liable to get in hip-hop or any other genre of music.  He's special.  And we all know it.  Even Obama.

The Next Peak Vols. 1-3:  Three volumes of music covering, remixing, reimagining, and inspired by David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" as performed by a whole slew of electronic artists and synthesizer enthusiasts?  Yes please.  I cannot get enough of this.

Molly Nillson - Zenith:  Germany's Molly Nilsson crafts dreamy, floaty synth-pop that retains a darker edge due to her almost baritone-ish vocal delivery.  "Zenith" sounds like a younger Nico making music with John Maus.  It's spectacular.

Oneohtrix Point Never - Garden of Delete:  Daniel Lopatin is a sonic pioneer, constantly exploring the very boundaries of electronic music and then pushing it even further.  Each album listens like an adventure, like something new and exciting.  "Garden of Delete" is just the next evolutionary step.

Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper:  Noah Lennox's work as Panda Bear is increasingly becoming my go to for synth-psych-sample experiments, even more so than his work with Animal Collective.  His solo albums are beginning to eclipse those of his long-running band.

Shamir - Ratchet:  Let's dance everybody!  Shamir's "Ratchet" is a hodgepodge of hip-hop, R&B, electronica, and pop as brought to us by some high-voiced kid from Las Vegas.  Leave your sexual orientation at the door and just get on that dance floor.

Soko - My Dreams Dictate My Reality:  Weirdo mutant pop seems to be breaking its way into our ears and hearts this year, and for my money, the best is from French singer-songwriter Soko and her sophomore effort.  Featuring assists from Ariel Pink, "My Dreams Dictate My Reality" bounces all over the place, trading in kitschy synth-pop one moment and drifting off into cool, psychedelic airiness the next.  This is music for strange road trips.

Tame Impala - Currents:  The latest record from Tame Impala is kind of remarkable.  "Currents" is essentially an homage to 80's pop rock, featuring layers of synthesizer and bouncy beats, but maintaining the band's psych-rock sound that put them on the map to begin with.  This is as perfect a pop album as you're likely to get in this year or any year.

Viet Cong - Viet Cong:  The soon-to-be-renamed Viet Cong put out what is probably my favorite record of the year with this self-titled effort.  Cold and ragged edges surround this gnarly post-punk record with occasional forays into everything.  Live, the band is thunder, but on tape, they're more succinct, almost hitting krautrock-like moments of precision, before falling apart in a scratchy caterwaul.  Just like the earlier-mentioned Cindy Lee, Viet Cong sprung from the ashes of the gone-too-soon band Women, thus proving that there is something wonderful in the air in Calgary.

Anna Von Hausswolff - The Miraculous:  I probably could have made a whole list of albums indebted to dark folk and black metal, but i'll just focus on the sophomore album from Sweden's Anna Von Hausswolff instead.  Combining those aforementioned genres with some classical and chamber pop notes, "The Miraculous" feels cinematic in scope...dark and beautiful music for dark and beautiful imagery.

Wand - Golem:  Another band that put out two records this year, LA's Wand are all the best parts of garage rock: raucous licks, bombastic drumming, glammy melodies, and a sense of psychedelic inertia that threatens to blast you into the nether regions of the cosmos.  This is music to blaze and shake to.

Kamasi Washington - The Epic:  And finally we have the massive album from Saxophonist Kamasi Washington.  The aptly titled "The Epic" is almost three hours of soulful jazz, a cornerstone kind of record that draws its inspiration from everything that came before it.  There are notes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Vince Guaraldi, and so on, and we are all the better for it.  Maybe the kids are listening to jazz again.  I don't know, but goddamnit, i sure am.

So there you have it.  I capped myself at 25 records, but, like everybody who makes these kinds of lists, i could have easily thrown on a bunch more.  Better luck next year Lustre and Bell Witch.

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