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Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Top 50 Albums of 2015

(according to me)


The Top 50 Albums of 2015 (according to me)
Alrightie childrens, pens down, papers forward, please face the front. This splendid year of 2015 has just about reached its point of natural conclusion, and according to a recent study I made up in my head, the general consensus is that we can all be proud of this timeframe's musical offerings—especially in comparison to the relatively weak effort from 2014. And I don't know about you guys, but I sure am relieved about that fact.

This here article is the sixth time I am writing one of these end of year things. SIXTH TIME! I thought I'd be dead by now! Thank God I'm not though, because to miss the quality provided by 2015 would be such a shame, as it brimmed with a shining consistency and even featured some real game changers laced on top. I mean, like, how great is music though? It's like, wow.

The only disappointment I can pinpoint from the year was entirely my fault. Regrettably, I only managed to chew and swallow 400 albums from the past 12 months (each one at least three times though, I have to add) which is shamefully a whole 60 albums less than last year, as well as the lowest score since 2012. Oh God, please forgive me! And I dare call myself a music lover! But, whatever the fuck, I deem myself pardoned because (a) This year was so good that the top 50 is much better than last year’s; (b) That's probably more albums than you listened to; and (c) I was busy ok, damn.

As per usual, there are some points you need to know before kick off, so please pay extra careful attention to what I'm about to say as it may save your life:

1. Each album I listened to can be read about on this very spreadsheet. Within all its glory, you will find the album names, the album genres, the reason why I listened to any said album, and even some rough notes on every one of those 400 releases, which is far too much writing for any normal person to get through. However, if your favourite record is not featured on the below list, you should go there to find out why.
2. As per usual, there had to be a cut-off date, and this year it was the 4th December. This means that no albums released after that fateful day were even considered. I am sorry, but this was for my own survival.
3. Unfortunately, not everyone can be a winner, and more often than not, albums were chosen due to how persistently they nagged my memory, rather than how excellent they were. So, yes, some semi-ok records may have faired higher than some technically better ones, but this is only because they haunted me, which I had no control over. That said, you can hear a little bit of the best of EVERYTHING by checking out this super special Spotify playlist. Simply order by the date added, and pew, you’ll discover loads of amazing shit. Much more than what this list could possibly provide, anyway.

Ok, ready? Here’s to you, darling.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Jaga Jazzist - Starfire

50. Jaga Jazzist - Starfire

Post-Rock Nu Jazz
1 June
Spotify


Jazz by name and nu jazz by general consensus, I have some trouble with all this jazz business when it comes to Starfire. I mean, sure, the jazz is present, but it’s not as immediately obvious as it says on the name tag, with countless other genre hats I’d far rather dress up this album with. Instrumental post-rock works well. So does experimental progressive electronica. How about happy edgy electro? Or intensely dramatic theatre music? Or a tender yet strong film score for an intellectual art piece which doesn’t exist? Or an eerie ambience which dynamically develops into technical IDM fusion freak-outs? Or even something else? I think I might be making up genres now, but you get the point: it’s not just one thing. However, if you must insist on calling this “nu jazz”, I’ll accept only by proclaiming Starfire as the final brick needed to complete the 2010s' nu jazz path which was already well underway, finally providing a modern jazz album which is at the most relevant, and successfully completing that bridge for the kids of today to access the party from. And despite occasionally losing its grip during these lengthy songs, it always engages me as the very best I’ve heard in the style.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Wilderun - Sleep at the Edge of the Earth

49. Wilderun - Sleep at the Edge of the Earth

Progressive Folk Metal
7 April
Spotify


While it might take a while to warm up and reveal its true nature to you, I found there to be two distinctly conflicting ideas going on within this album. The first idea is directed by the happy acoustics of the more folky genre, reporting a tranquil slow-motion skip through the forest, embracing the majestic connection to Mother Earth as our spirits are finally sent back home. The second idea is the part of the story where you stumble upon a war, the peacefulness eroded by the progressions of melodic death metal, tearing through the silence with slow aggressive distortions, blessed with strings so symphonic that they conjure up an intimidatingly enormous beast soaring above the scene, ready to intervene if you do anything wrong. Such is a rare listen; these paradoxical elements somehow avoiding each other's thunder, yet neither one of them delivered with any less power or sincerity than the other, an achievement significantly in debt to the production which maintains enough cleanliness without inoculating the animal or deforesting the density. Granted, it may not be the most unfamiliar of all sounds, but it is definitely as epic as it says on the label, so fucking eat it.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Ash Koosha - Guud

48. Ash Koosha - Guud

IDM Glitch Hop
8 June
Spotify


Iranian composer Ashkan Kooshanejad perpetually risked punishment to pursue his passion in music, most notably as the singer of Take It Easy Hospital. This pop electronic outfit was a dangerous venture in Iran, as any Western-inspired music is strictly banned, and can result in lashings, fines, or imprisonment (all of which Ash has faced before). The trouble only amplified when the band were promoting their film No One Knows About Persian Cats in the UK, and upon arrival back in Iran, their drummer was promptly arrested, and has now completely vanished from existence. Out of fear, Ash sought British asylum, began studying classical music, fell in love with quantum physics and nanotechnology, and then “started to treat sounds as physical objects”. Which brings us to Guud, an unconventionally lush and immersively scary listen, which follows the uneasy wonkiness of Flying Lotus and the claustrophobic disruptions of Arca, forever dying, testing thresholds, and never exactly "music". And while I worry about how warped Ash must be to make this type of noise, I worry even further for myself as I drift into obscurity, lost in the layers, and totally fine with everything. Maybe I've changed, or maybe IDM is having a good year, but either way, I imagine Iran to be very upset about such an album.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Ibeyi - Ibeyi

47. Ibeyi - Ibeyi

Alternative R&B Art Pop
16 Feb
Spotify


Devastated by the loss of their recently deceased father (famed percussionist Angá Díaz) and further reminded of their older sister’s passing only a few years earlier, the 20-year-old Ibeyi twins settled upon the direction for their debut album. They would reflect on love, on death, and on family, concentrating their vocals as the main centerpoint, while the tribal rhythms kept the heartbeat alive. Luckily, such an ambitious approach paid off, as this downtempo self-titled album is one incredibly unique cultural amalgamation, perhaps only made possible by the duo’s Cuban/French heritage, while they pay their tributes in both English and Yoruba (a primarily Nigerian language). Due to these factors, this release offers an unusual amount of ancient spirituality within the creativity, complete with an innovative artiness which could be considered traditional and modern at the same time—somehow distressed, yet somehow hopeful. But even if certain critics have found this sound to be a little too minimal or crossbred, Ibeyi could prove to be a very significant step towards wherever contemporary R&B may be headed, now that the more commercial incarnations have oversaturated their welcome and all but buried themselves beneath one another. And if so, I say “march on”.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Carly Rae Jepsen - EMOTION

46. Carly Rae Jepsen - E·MO·TION

Dance-SynthPop
24 June
Spotify


Please excuse the unprofessionalism of this review, but let it be known that I had wholeheartedly decided against this record‘s inclusion on my final list. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it with all sincerity, the shameless poppiness satisfied the very guiltiest regions of my tastebuds as one perfectly calculated earcandy, crafted to summarise modern day mainstream better than perhaps any other album from the decade so far. The unobtrusive bubbles bounced along, stuffed full of fun, smiling to their 80s-esque bangers, carefree, youthful, and in love ... yet still unable to reach the spot I had preciously reserved for its arrival. Now imagine my surprise when, as the year went on, more and more publications pointed towards E·MO·TION as the pop release of 2015, praising Caryl’s determined work ethic (250 songs were written for this record, btw), and rightfully erasing the “one-hit-wonder” stamp from Jepsen name permanently. However, I would not be swayed by her repetitive one word hookiness nor the outside opinions of critics who earn more than me—this record was overrated and I was proud of my integrity. Until a few nights ago, no jokes, I had a nightmare that Carly herself contacted me, disappointed by the albums exclusion, and I took it as a sign. Here we are then.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Leviathan - Scar Sighted

45. Leviathan - Scar Sighted

Black Metal
3 March
Spotify


Ignoring the appalling album title, Jef Whitehead (aka Leviathan) is the real fucking deal. Active since 1998, releasing 23 full length albums/demos, and only recently completing his two year probation for reportedly sexually assaulting and beating up his then girlfriend ... there is a genuinely terrifying demonic aspect to the man, which he has earned all by himself, without answering to anyone. However, it is the lo-fi pain of Scar Sighted in particular that seems to have reached a new savage pinnacle for the man’s grotesque catalogue, perhaps occasionally going slightly over-the-top-devil and risking a comedic dismissal, but more frequently, dripping from a grimness so dank that I grow legitimately concerned for Jef’s mental health. Certainly, it’s a lot to take in, the record suffering from a runtime far too long to tolerate such a doomy harshness (it goes on for over an hour, for fucksake), but once the noise reaches its horrific conclusion and then settles again, you’ll just be grateful to have survived it. What’s that shocked emoticon dude with the big eyeballs again? O_o Yeah something like one of those.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color

44. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color

Blues Rock
21 April
Spotify


If we’ve learned anything from Alabama Shakes, is that you don’t always have to burst a main artery just to sway the masses. Instead, these artists casually turn their soft smiles back towards the past and gently pick their sounds from the colourful fruits of nostalgia, careful to leave no traces behind except for a few friendly faces. It’s a basic procedure, a natural temptation to borrow from our forefathers, but very few manage to do so with such a light spirit and lively gratitude, built around steady riffs and conquered by soulful vocals which diversify even the simplest of ideas. Pepper this recipe with a little bit of additional weirdness, and we have a band’s sophomore which is perhaps the most interesting nominee for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards’ Album of the Year.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: B.C. Camplight - How to Die in the North

43. B.C. Camplight - How to Die in the North

Psychedelic Baroque Pop
19 Jan
Spotify


Despite what I promised myself, sometimes comparisons are unavoidable, and can even be a part of a band’s charming appeal. Now, as it is so difficult to find any review admiring this album without mentioning the Beach Boys, we can start there, for when considering the surfy layers of tropical instrumentation, the 60s Wilson-esque harmonies, and the overall optimistic neatness, it is a warranted observation. However, such hasty conclusions serve only to satisfy the natural human desire to compartmentalise topics as fast as possible, ignoring all the other factors at work here. For example: this kookiness is as upbeat as it is offbeat, and the naive curiosity could be calling towards a more serious They Might Be Giants for inspiration? Or perhaps a less aggressively erratic latter-day Mr Bungle, keeping that experimental beachiness firmly in tact? Or even a scent of all that reverb-drenched neo-psychedelia which is so popular with the magazines of today? Whatever. We can ramble in this world of resemblances forever, but what matters is that Brian Christinzio Camplight still keeps his head above the freshness levels with the perfect amount of strange, the tightest of cluttered compositions, and some of the most pleasing song titles of the year.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Marika Hackman - We Slept at Last

42. Marika Hackman - We Slept at Last

Alternative Indie Folk
16 Feb
Spotify


From the unique title to the interestingly relevant artwork, you don’t even need to explore the music to already appreciate Marika as an artist of originality, one who understands the importance of a full package which smothers every aspect of the craft. However, I do recommend you listen to the thing too, not only because that’s kind of the point of music, but also because Hackman has executed such a delicate care within the depths of these songs, just like she has everywhere else. Her intelligent lyrics sway gently over earthly sounds, calming your breaths with a slow sweetness so subtle that you can’t predict what their intent may be. Is this somber mood supposed to lure me into a peaceful sleep? Or is it an attempt to unnerve my dreams for countless nights to come? Honestly, I would embrace either/or, as this is one of those rare records I didn’t want to tell any of you about. I wanted to keep all for myself. Because it sounds like a secret just for me.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Marilyn Manson - The Pale Emperor

41. Marilyn Manson - The Pale Emperor

Alternative Industrial Rock
16 Jan
Spotify


One thing Manson’s career has proven, is that the Antichrist struggles to embrace his age properly. Ever since 2003, album by album, his shock tactics continued to fall infertile as his Satanic façade diluted into a comical parody of itself, and even I had ceased my Sunday prayers for his return. But we were wrong. In one unpredictable move, Manson accepted he was a middle-aged man, rejected all nostalgia, tamed the aggression, shed his band, and then bravely delivered his sermon of disgust with a shockless stripped-back bluesy mood—which, interestingly enough, turned out to be far more sinister than when he was trying so hard to be just that. That said, while the frontman’s vocals sound more inspired than the whole last decade combined, he may still very well be the least impressive aspect of this album. His signature monotone dismalness sometimes bores me, and his lyrics often cringe my spine, presenting an album which can be a little hit and miss as a unit. However, (famed film score producer) Tyler Bates’ creepy compositions and Gil Sharone’s rewarding drums inject the extra needed slice of class into Manson’s musings, finally revitalising his career, and welcoming something we can all get excited about once again. Thank God for that.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Hop Along - Painted Shut

40. Hop Along - Painted Shut

Indie Rock
5 May
Spotify


If Painted Shut (Hop Along’s sophomore effort) proves anything, it’s that they aren’t just a cute name. No, they have cute vocals too. So much so, that any reviewer you find will unavoidably gravitate towards this feature and then attentively focus upon it so intently that the music itself becomes nothing more than a compulsory footnote. This isn’t altogether fair, as the pretty guitar licks and drum fills are more than competent enough to withstand any hipster kids’ judgemental blender of acceptance, yet the generalised evaluation is still somewhat understandable. Introducing frontlady Frances Quinlan, who (as you’d guess) dominates this record, telling her poetic stories between sugary soft harmonies and Courtney Love sandpaper screams, sometimes set only a syllable apart, whilst sticking her voiceful flag into the project all by her lonesome. Makes sense though. She started the thing by herself, anyway. But even with her outward emotions and punky foundations, she isn’t quite able to escape a certain joyous adorable vibe, which makes for one of the quietest 'loud' records you will hear this year, yet still managing to blast volumes around the band’s newly found overground status on the indie scene. Welcome to the bigger pond, guys.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Sun Kil Moon - Universal Themes

39. Sun Kil Moon - Universal Themes

Contemporary Folk
2 June
Spotify


When the heartbreakingly painful album Benji surfaced last year, critics nearly snapped their arms trying to squeeze as much praise out of Sun Kil Moon as they could withstand, worshipping the genuine depression and honest storytelling that only Mark Kozelek can quite pull off. So imagine everyone’s surprise when, a year later, not only was Universal Themes thrown together and rushed out, but was also a substantially different formula than the one which had worked so well before. I mean, sure, the monotone rambling nature, overly-detailed autobiographical poetry, repetitive string pluckings, and exhaustively long runtime were left intact, but this was still a distinct sidestep from all of that. As if some deformed leftovers from Benji, it was messier, uglier, more aggressive, more bitter, and more indulgent than its despondent predecessor; built out of structures which changed drastically in the middle of their playtimes whilst connecting their songs in a very disjointed and challenging manner. Such forceful modifications ultimately resulted in a much less acclaimed album, some critics dismissing it as a “for fans only” record, but I am a fan, so fuck you. And I like it more than Benji, so fuck you fuck you.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Lupe Fiasco - Tetsuo &; Youth

38. Lupe Fiasco - Tetsuo & Youth

Conscious Hip Hop
20 Jan
Spotify


Hailed as some sort of a hip hop saviour back in 2006, Lupe struggled to maintain the title over the course of his career, which applied most shamefully to 2011’s Lasers, generally disregarded by fans as the point where Fiasco truly lost his grip. Such a huge fall would naturally affect any artist, and Lupe’s desperate urgency to reprove himself as a top contender is very apparent on Tetsuo & Youth, standing as an archetypal example of what this upset determination would sound like. He’s thrown absolutely everything he’s got into this: from his high speed flows attacking with more words than you could possibly digest in one listen; to the optimistic preachy messages he is renowned for; to the sleek production which stays within the boundaries of a feather-padded safeness to guarantee success. However, while such an obvious hunger is welcome, it does unfortunately suffer from a bloated length, where some fat-culling would have definitely benefited us all. But whether this fault or the massive public overrating, I cannot deny that at times this album sounds almost like a modern rap classic, and easily rivals some of the best of them out this year.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

37. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

Indie Folk
10 Feb
Spotify


Once upon a time, Josh Tillman fell for a girl named Emma, and she inspired him so much that he went ahead and basically wrote an entire love letter to her in the album format. Now, before you rush to grab the nearest hollow object to spew your guts into, you must know that this is not your average overly-romantic affection-gushing barf-fest you may have come to expect, but rather one of the most honestly accurate records on the topic of relationships I’ve ever heard, except told by perhaps the snarkiest voice in the folk scene right now. His sarcastic confessions hide behind cynical black humour and exaggerated airs of emotionless sophistication, quick to surrender his own faults whilst acknowledging the annoyances of his female counterpart, yet unable to completely escape the simple touching aura that he really really loves this girl. And while some of the more condemning of critics have labelled this release as “inconsistent” or even “misogynistic”, none of that matters. What matters is that Emma appreciated it. She must have, anyway. They got married in the end.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: ESKA - ESKA

36. ESKA - ESKA

Pop Soul
27 April
Spotify


Despite living in South London most of her life, Eska Mtungwazi has not drained out all of her African blood just yet, as her birthplace of Zimbabwe surfaces much stronger on her debut than any other Western influence one may have expected. There is a distinct traditional quality here which paints visions of a mother sitting on the Earth’s floor, entertaining her children with magical fairy tales, each of which are designed to illustrate the world as a fun and positive environment. No sadness, just a beautifully complex backdrop to life. But while it is an undeniably danceable and free narrative, it is by no means a light or sweetened product, the quirk enforced by the unconventional inventiveness which reliably seeps into each and every song, breathing an intricate character into an album so self-assured and sturdy, that it earned renowned radio DJ Gilles Peterson to call her "one of the most important singers in the UK right now"; the Telegraph to label her as “the finest female vocalist in the UK”; and the Mercury Prize to nominate this record as one of the greatest of 2015.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Pyramids - A Northern Meadow

35. Pyramids - A Northern Meadow

Blackgaze
17 March
Spotify


Ignore the lazy “blackgaze” tag, for A Northern Meadow is quite unlike any genre I have ever come across before. For starters, the guitarwork is stock atmospheric black metal, embracing the lo-fi bedroom quality until the aimless riffs drench over one another, forming walls of soaked fuzz rather than focusing upon any distinguishable features. Next up, the industrial(esque) drums are inattentively programmed, stripped to their bones and then swirled around so quietly into the mix that they are all but completely lost, forever. But the most peculiar aspect of this album, is the paradoxically clean vocals, delivered with a beautiful dreaminess which (in my opinion) flirts most gushingly towards the more ambient works of Deftones/Team Sleep/Crosses frontman, Chino Moreno. The end product of drowning such antagonising ideas together is one of much abstract oddness, a record which is so dark and black yet so soft and clear, that any specific genre or mood or intention is impossible to accurately decipher. However, it is the perfect amount of mess; one slow, lush, ghostly creature which is as unique as it is captivating, and boasting some of the coolest, most ominous song titles to come out this year.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Jessica Pratt - On Your Own Love Again

34. Jessica Pratt - On Your Own Love Again

Contemporary Folk
27 Jan


This record is the equivalent of stumbling upon a damaged unlabelled cassette, perhaps in the dusty basement of an abandoned cottage, or perhaps in some long forgotten murky swamp—it's irrelevant. What matters here, is that it’s not yours, and you know you should not take it nor listen to it, and yet you do. Of course you do. And you don’t quite know why you do, until it’s too late ... “My God, an old witch made this tape!” you realise as it gently hisses at you whilst nasally vocals murmur over some sadly picked guitarwork, scratching at your door like a puppy in the rain. You’re in trouble now. Its tired repetition quietly casts spells upon your spirit, growing fond of you yet haunting your slumber with a certain adorable simplicity which reminds you of your dead granny. Or Nick Drake. Or Joni Mitchell. Or Stevie Nicks. Or anything but a record released in 2015. Because if I played you this album and told you it was a long lost lo-fi classic recorded in the early 70s, you would pretend you’d known about it all along. That is the curse of Jessica Pratt. And it will outlive us all.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Periphery - Juggernaut (Alpha and Omega)

33. Periphery - Juggernaut (Alpha and Omega)

Progressive Djent Metal
27 Jan
Spotify [Alpha]
Spotify [Omega]


Essentially a double album each sold separately, the brighter more accessible Alpha and the challenging more progressive Omega could only experienced as one singular colossal unit. Featuring more than enough talented ideas and creative catchiness to occupy the timeframe, it is Juggernaut’s conceptual presentation which binds the work together, complete with ample differences without dominating disconnected plains, solidifying the task of picking a favourite, impossible. But then ... there’s the pesky nuisance of Spencer’s vocals. On the one hand, he effortlessly knows how to adapt to the heavier side of the spectrum, delivering punches that scream with passion and fury; yet on the other hand, his whinier aimed-at-teenagers side encompasses everything I loathe about the style, and I struggle to swallow. However, when Juggernaut is good, it’s so fucking gutsy that any emu excess is swiftly forgotten, drowned out by technical expertise, flirtations with jazz ideals, soaring anthems, and moments of pure savagery. Oh, and that production?? Hands down the best I’ve heard this year, polished to shine and so clean that not a sound goes unheard. And if I think about it, when a record I hate on paper manages to impresses me this much? That’s even more impressive in itself.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Vennart - The Demon Joke

32. Vennart - The Demon Joke

Alternative Art Rock
25 May
Spotify


Whilst fans of Vennart’s former (highly acclaimed) project Oceansize split their opinions out like a ripped piercing for this record, I came from the fortunate position that I did not have a large amount of chips placed on that band. I do, however, remember them as a highly talented outfit, flexing their skills via means of textured layering, smooth harmonisation, and off-center time signatures. And, thankfully, that’s all still here. Nonetheless, it was the absence of progressive heaviness that betrayed some audiences, and I have read many of them point their blame-fingers almost exclusively towards Biffy Clyro, the act Vennart had recently toured with. “That damn Biffy Clyro!” some may have complained. “They turned my precious Oceansize frontman into an accessible poppy stadium rock soloist! Arghhhh!” And perhaps this is true. But if we are to sum up The Demon Joke like that, we must fairly emphasis how this album is a very unconventional approach to the genre, lightly swooping up and gliding over many varied versions of the style, with a huge dose of eccentric artiness elbowed into the upbeat compositions just for fun. And as one of the most unappreciated 2015 contributions, it still comes with some bite.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Horrendous - Anareta

31. Horrendous - Anareta

Death Metal
27 Oct
Spotify


I feel like Anareta would be a good record to listen to if you were going to kill someone and wanted to make sure you did a really thorough job of it. The coherent style would ensure you stayed focused on the job at hand. The incoherent guttural vocals would not distract you by putting words into your head, second guessing your motives. The tireless weight of the riffs would keep your vigorous energy nice and high. The compositions’ tendency to hint at some mathy sidesteps would encourage a little bit of creativity for your mission. The sporadic melodic moments would help aid a certain precision in your craft. Wow, it’s almost as if each member is taking it in turns to exorcise their demons upon you! With so many minute changes in their patterns, it seems the devil was truly in the details all along! And before you know it, you have brutally murdered a person, with bits of meat dripping from your fists and a carpet covered by a complete homicidal mess of guts and gore. Oh God, why did I listen to Horrendous again?? I’m not hungry at all anymore :(


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect

30. Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect

Post-Punk
9 Oct
Spotify


In an era where we have more than enough post-punk to fill the bucket, it is even more impressive when a band takes this popular route and yet manages to rock louder than the competition—which is exactly what Protomartyr have accomplished here. How they achieve this victory is explicitly stated in the very title, as it is their resilient intellect which reveals their forceful fixation on unhesitatingly stabbing the grittiest of the genre directly into your belly and deranging your innards, leaving a nauseating discomfort but also a memory which won’t be escaping your mind any time soon. The mournful songs cement themselves together, so similar in execution that it can be difficult to differentiate which specific slurry monotone poetic musing is currently surrounding you in a desolate dystopian depression, yet so bold and true to itself that you almost want to laugh, unsure if this is supposed to be a piss-take all along? I dare not ask. Regardless, as Protomartyr’s third (and undeniably best) release, they are only now coming into their own, and that should unnerve you more than anything else as to what comes next.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Holly Herndon - Platform

29. Holly Herndon - Platform

Electronic Glitch Pop
18 May
Spotify


This will not be a record for everyone. For at its worst, Platform can come off a little try-hardy, as cut up noises fragment all over the place, working as some sort of unstructured sound collage rather than “music”, perhaps serving only to please their pretentious ADHD-riddled creator whacked out on amphetamines. Such randomly scrambled tightly-packed packages obviously run the risk of overbearing the listener, but perhaps ... perhaps, you are unusual enough to take on the challenge? If so, hold your breath, and brace yourself against the experimental bursts of chrome, driven by layers (upon layers!) of Holly’s vocals shattered into snippets then built up towards the soundscape of the future. Everything is clinically clean here, yet deliriously stressful, like a robotic doctor with beautiful mechanics accidentally slicing an artery even though it was just trying to help. And while the innovative record may lose some inspiration steam near the end, it still tends to make more sense as it goes on, engaging your tastes by disturbing every angle of the stereo, and by doing so, solidifying Holly Herndon as one of the few musicians attempting to push the arty side of electronic pop as far out as it will go.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Janet Jackson - Unbreakable

28. Janet Jackson - Unbreakable

Contemporary R&B Dance-Pop
2 Oct
Spotify


Every year comes with its surprises, but very few smack with a surprise as surprising as this one, especially in regards to a name as potent as JACKSON. And yet here we are, with Janet’s seventh Billboard #1, making her the third act ever to achieve the top slot in each of the last four decades ... but charty-farty, amiright? As Unbreakable is no one-hit-wonder filler-festival, rather the perfect modern record for an ageing legend: aware of what she is good at by oozing her old school trademark Jackson blood thicker than any of the kids today could muster, whilst still verifying she’s been paying attention to our era, coming across younger as well as more grown up than she ever has. And she shows them children just how to do it, by splitting the album into two sides: one party dancey half, and one more experimentally diverse half, both racing past despite their hour-plus runtime, completely controlled by Janet’s ageless vocal range and duo Jam and Lewis’ detailed production expertise. The hooks never ever fail, no song sucks, it’s optimistic, it’s (*gulp*) sexual, and all of us who had given up on this lady have been embarrassingly slapped back into our seats.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Alva Noto - Xerrox Vol.3

27. Alva Noto - Xerrox Vol.3

Ambient Glitch
6 April
Spotify


As if aiming a gigantic stethoscope towards the sky and listening carefully for any interference, Xerrox Vol.3 could easily be misinterpreted as a sci fi soundtrack, spread across your psyche like some cinematic delusion set in the expansion of space. The densely saturated atmosphere is weightless and still, calmly pushing patient melodies outward with the richest of beatless ambience, floating the dreamer endlessly down into the infinity of everything. But you are not alone. Awkward alien pops and annoying insect crackles disturb your surreal drowsiness, reminding your porous soul that this should not be misconstrued as a neutral therapy session, but rather a vacant canvas, hungry for your thoughts, probing your awareness to fill the gaps, lightly stimulating your emotions to indirectly trouble the best answers out from your mind. Such a journey could never be called music. This is the background to your own vision.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Lil Ugly Mane - Third Side of Tape

26. Lil Ugly Mane - Third Side of Tape

Experimental Hip Hop (Sort Of)
29 April
Bandcamp


Lil Ugly Mane is one highly productive man, and after 15 years of musicianship, he discovered he’d accumulated a generous amount of demos lying around that he didn’t have a home for. In a moment of inspiration, he decided to slap the unrealised snippets all together into a single compilation, one that never really goes anywhere, consisting of six untitled songs, running at over two hours collectively. This discouraging length is difficult to digest in one sitting, sure, but is simply how long it takes to cover such an irresponsible amount of eclectic ground, including: hip hop, noise, industrial, black metal, punk rock, pop, techno, country, garage, breakbeat, ragga, and so much more. This may sound like a mash-up or a gimmick, but it’s far from it, Mane competent at every skills he chases, never boring and sequenced to precision without wasting a moment of our time. And in that way, it’s the perfect record, reminding me of a playlist I’d make expect of songs I’ve never heard before, and even if you aren't enjoying a certain song, you can just wait a bit and then it’s a completely different genre. Ideal for short attention spans, and undoubtedly the most unpredictable album I’ve ever heard.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh

25. Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh

Electro-Industrial
12 May
Spotify


Do you know of the group Fuck Buttons? Do you appreciate them? If you answered ‘yes’ to both of these questions, we are already off to a very good start, as Benjamin John Power (founding member of the aforementioned Buttons) is the sole intelligence behind Blanck Mass, and what he has gone and done, is built something very scary here, all by himself, alone. Meet Dumb Flesh, and pretend not to notice as it attempts to dance with you, disguising itself as some little party club scene, yet struggling to fool the public whilst so much disgusting black matter leaks from each pulsation of its heart. It breathes heavily, yet maintains focus. Focus on you, involving your person in every decision. Suddenly, you may find yourself confused by this over-enthusiastic yet approachable aura. You fall hypnotised by its driving determination or perhaps repulsed by its grotesquely violent dance moves. You may even feel conflicting sensations of blissful anxiety, together for the very first time within your body. But no matter what you experience, you will leave this album a little more traumatised than before, yet completely fascinated by the mechanics. Play this one very loud.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Pile - You're Better Than This

24. Pile - You're Better Than This

Post-Hardcore Indie Rock
3 March
Spotify


It’s unusual when an album’s artwork sums up the musical content so well, but here you go. For You're Better Than This is a demented scene, tirelessly and enthusiastically falling to pieces (in the insomnia type of way), unraveling within its own dark humour, suggesting that somewhere inside of this record, a desperate cry for help has been lost. Naturally, such off-key vocal outbursts supported by dangerously punky (almost southern) riffs are not the newest of formulas, yet Pile pay their homage without shame, twisting their necks backwards to nod towards the late-80s: where the hard-rawness of the Pixies reigned supreme; where the noisy mess of Sonic Youth stressed out their audiences; and where Nirvana was drunk again, dominating the scene, aggressively violating the precious pop-ethics whilst praying for rejection beneath their tears of misunderstanding. Now soothe this reckless stamping-tantrum upon nostalgic shards of glass; a sickly dose of superb song titles; a quick onslaught of imagination; and (of course), the demented cover presentation, and you have one thoroughly calculated tribute—perhaps a little less stable than the originators, but as a result, substantially more strenuous and worrying.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Death Grips - Fashion Week

23. Death Grips - Fashion Week

Wonky Glitch Industrial Instrumental Hip Hop
4 Jan
Soundcloud


Those well acquainted with the absolute insanity that is Death Grips may have found their opinion slightly fractured when it came to Fashion Week. But regardless of unrealised preconceptions, it still held the group’s principles of protecting their 'surprise!' trademark safe. It was released for free without any prior announcement. It was billed as a soundtrack to something (?). It was their first of two 2015 offerings, both released after their supposed break-up (or “fake-up”?). But even more unpredictable, was that this was an instrumental record, the absence of MC Ride (probably the primary brutal force of DG) leaving many aching from his exclusion, hypothesising what this record would have sounded like with his contribution. But then it simply wouldn’t be what it is: a clubby, lighthearted offering; not quite as abrasively hardcore or harshly mental as we’ve come to expect, yet still unsettlingly close, with enough high-strung energy and mangled frantics to wear the Death Grips brand proudly, featuring possibly the most vibrant (and impressive) beats of their career. In my opinion, one of the best albums from one of the greatest, most productive groups of our time. And it kicked my fucking face in, as they always do.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Panopticon - Autumn Eternal

22. Panopticon - Autumn Eternal

Atmospheric Black Metal
16 Oct
Spotify


Finally concluding the album trilogy he started in 2012, Austin Lunn (pretty much the exclusive brain behind Panopticon) has really started to earn a reputation for himself as a musician who challenges what black metal can actually be defined as. Undoubtedly, the harsh muddied vocals, emotionally aggressive riffs, and double-kicked forcefulness still keep the genre’s trademarks unbroken, but there are other atypical elements at work here. The raw production shoves the percussion to the forefront whilst the vocals are drowned out in the background like any respectable black contribution, but this particular mix somehow manages to preserve each sound as crisp individuals, all audible and complementary rather than cluttered and distorted. Further down into this clean noise, you may discover other interesting ingredients, such as: melodic, folky, almost bluegrass pluckings; dramatic swirls of symphonic strings; uplifting walls of blackgaze fuzziness; textured technicalities of post-rock; Pagan-esque spiritualities which hallucinate scenic visions of nature; a peaceful vibe which boasts its cold heart on the outside; and an album which pummels with such continuous passion and talent, that you might even consider it to be the most captivating and compelling metal record of the year. I said “might”, though.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool

21. Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool

Alternative Indie Pop
22 June
Spotify


Armed with radiant vocals, exciting rock riffs, an excessive amount of confidence, and one fantastic album name; Wolf Alice achieved something practically unheard of in the modern day scene: an almost typical alternative debut which didn’t try to be special nor steer away from the blueprint, yet somehow sounding completely fresh and energised, well above its comrades. Its mood covers countless variations of self awareness and reflection, tainted by a childlike sadness of sentimentality, as if cursed by the naivety of an adolescent who is wise beyond its years. But do not confuse this analogy as one describing some gloomy bleakness of a record, as these spirited hooks come packed heavy with claws, occasionally dabbling in surrounding genres to sharpen them (shoegaze, noise pop, dream pop, post-punk, etc) without risking their core 90s ethics. And most importantly of all, this album was unphased by the pestering hype that plagued its mention, one which refused to be ignored and risked overrating the status before anyone had even heard the damn thing. Thankfully, it lived up to everything, proving to be a much catchier and consistent record than I’d ever dared to hope for, and probably enjoyable enough to appeal to just about everyone.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Kamasi Washington - The Epic

20. Kamasi Washington - The Epic

Spiritual Jazz
5 May
Spotify


While anyone would be forgiven in assuming “The Epic” as a title was merely an exercise in pretentiously blowing one’s own saxophone, this album does actually live up to its name. How it achieves this honour probably has something to do with its borderline three-fucking-hour long runtime, which is honestly a bit too much to ask, especially for those of us who don’t consume jazz as our primary food source. Luckily, Kamasi has the credentials to back up such a demanding challenge, having already featured on albums by Thundercat, Flying Lotus, and Kendrick Lamar, providing enough interest for even the most uneducated of us to give his debut a swirl. And while I’ll admit there were moments where my boundaries were nudged and I struggled, I was predominantly caught off guard at just how lively and listenable this record was. The ride was a surprisingly smooth one, casually sexy, yet still able to build up into chaotic climaxes of improv solos and soaring backgrounds, spicing the traditional soul with a modern pop flavour, impossibly maintaining my interest over such an intimidatingly preposterous length. Which is what makes this one of the most impressive jazz records I’ve ever heard.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction

19. Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction

Deathgrind
7 Aug
Spotify


A death metal album of social commentary about mankind’s effect on the environment? Could it be that our precious grindy heavyweights have melted into eco-friendly hippies as they’ve entered their 40s? Well, if this is the case, then they’ve done so with the most forceful and technical execution possible, without a hint of slowing down their aggressive slaughters or themes of disgust and carnage (see the album artwork for reference). That said, long time fans have pointed out that The Anthropocene Extinction does seem like a step in a more commercial and polished direction, toying so closely with the borders between deathly pummels and catchy hooklines that perhaps anybody could find a way into the circle if they let their guards down. But we must realise that this was surely a purposeful strategy. The unvaried punishment could now be a formulaic attack, where primal shrieks and guttural brutality are designed as an easier to digest product, moments before they cut your stomach open and mutilate your insides trying to get themselves out again. Yet I just sit here. Drumming holes into my desk. Head moving involuntarily. I can’t see my screen. Ready to tear the face off of anyone who tries to help me.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Vince Staples - Summertime '06

18. Vince Staples - Summertime '06

Hardcore West Coast Hip Hop
30 June
Spotify


Certain opposing critics have accused Vince’s flows of being monotonous, but I prefer to call the style 'indifferent'. His untroubled approach may be relaxed and colourless, but there is an ominous aura to his dreariness which fits in perfectly with overall theme of this extraordinarily accomplished double debut album. By applying short songs as quick sly jabs, these lyrics tell the coming-of-age true story about Staples’ youth growing up in the hood of California, watching his innocence fade as his awareness of crime and evil dominated his routine. Hard hitting stuff, sure, but even such a sad and realistic portrayal of street life such as this cannot derail the true power and most significant hero behind this record: the music itself. Executively produced by No I.D., these beats achieve a smooth, unpredictable ride without flexing or relying on flashiness to steal the show, betraying no desire to be innovative because innovation would take too much effort, rather maintaining their cool without breaking a sweat. Together, these are the reasons why I consider Summertime ‘06 to be the most unfairly unknown and underrated album of the first-class 2015 hip hop releases, and I don’t hear any of the filler people keep complaining about.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Julia Holter - Have You in My Wilderness

17. Julia Holter - Have You in My Wilderness

Art Chamber Pop
25 Sep
Spotify


Having already made an unshakeable mark as one of 2013’s most fascinatingly eccentric creatives with Loud City Song, stakes were high as to whether Julia Holter could captivate her audiences once again with her whimsical emotions, or if her breezy dreams were simply too light to lift the celestial innocence into the extraordinary like she had done before. In response to that, I have good news, and I have bad news. The bad news is that some of these songs definitely shimmer brighter than others, generally the quirkier the offering, the more palatable and memorable, as if Julia only finds true comfort when letting her weirdness run free—which, expectantly, leaves her slower, more softened (yet still very satisfactory) compositions in a slightly duller position in comparison. On the other hand, the good news is that this is hardly a bother, as Have You in My Wilderness is a definite slide forward for the artist, as something less indulgent, more focused, lusciously layered with a generous helping of multi-instrumentation, and, of course, highlighting her trademark forte of exceptionally inventive vocal melodies overshadowing the whole project. If nothing else, this blissful record proves that Holter always knew exactly what she is doing.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld - Never Were the Way She Was

16. Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld - Never Were the Way She Was

Experimental Post-Minimalism Modern Classical Drone
28 April
Spotify


Best known for their touring/guest work, Colin Stetson (Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Tom Waits, TVOTR) and Sarah Neufeld (featured on every Arcade Fire release and tour ever) went into the studio and collaborated on this live instrumental record, boasting their chemistry without relying on any overdubs or loops. Their tools subtly weave in and out of each other; Stetson’s frighteningly plodding (more masculine) saxophone smothering abnormal textures on top of Neufeld’s gracefully quivering (more feminine) violin, each artist reigning in their specialities to meet on a distant middleground, playfully dancing together to represent both ends of the spectrum and determined to compliment each other above all else. Their expressive repetition and opiating ambience thumps out slices of avant-garde sounds which should not be possible on instruments alone, giving the impression that there is so much more going on here, because maybe there is. As a long time follower of Colin in particular, I am always impressed by (and fearful of) his ability to make the unpleasant sound so pleasantly surprising, but with Neufeld on board, the charming strings reduce the abrasive challenge into a much more nutritious skillset, encouraging me to dream of them working together again, forever.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss

15. Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss

Darkwave Gothic Rock
7 Aug
Spotify


Sometimes you hear of a death metal band who screams about devil worship and ritual sacrifice, and you almost automatically accept it as the music the Devil would listen to. But then when you hear something like Chelsea Wolfe, you realise you were completely wrong. This is the music the Devil would listen to. Because Abyss is not the try-hard Satanic-for-shock type of evil, but rather the sincerest form of doomy witchy shit which drugs you before conjuring up all the darkest of spirits to bring pain and grieving to your bedside. And as she cautiously edges towards an almost more commercially accepted approach per release, Chelsea only becomes less real and more of an ethereal enigma, her chillingly clean vocals reserving their mournful moods whilst the densely distorted drone of the music legitimately terrifies the outline of your soul. It’s just one of those records with the unholiest of presences, a stylish eeriness which is miles ahead of anyone else in the same bloodstream, and is effortlessly her best work to date as far as I’m concerned.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Grimes - Art Angels

14. Grimes - Art Angels

Electro Synthpop
6 Nov
Spotify


After the intense touring schedule of 2012’s drug-induced Visions, Claire Boucher nearly had a break down. Her hair was falling out and she became disillusioned by the male dominance in the industry, contemplating killing the Grimes name once and for all. Thankfully, our heroine pixie realised she had a mission to do, and in order to achieve said mission, needed a higher platform to speak from: Pop Music. And while Art Angels is less dense and textured than before, her effortless commercial transition was indisputably a monumental success, sounding clearer, healthier, and more focused than she ever has, without any hints of compromising nor selling-out her unorthodox charisma. Make no mistake: this is a corrupt form of pop, as addictive and as instantaneously sticky as processed sugar, and one ferociously danceable testament to Grimes’ ability as a craftswoman both in front of the mic and behind the mixing desk. Unfortunately (and much like Visions), she pummels you so fucking hard at the beginning, that the album loses a bit of power as it goes on (not to mention the insane hype-suffocation), but it’s still the most entertaining and universally worshipped accomplishment of the year—just ask NME, Exclaim! or Stereogum.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Benjamin Clementine - At Least for Now

13. Benjamin Clementine - At Least for Now

Art Chamber Pop
12 Jan
Spotify


Sleeping on the streets of Paris and busking just to afford a meal may not sound like the most comfortable of living circumstances, but it evidently does wonders for artistic inspiration. Take Benjamin Clementine, for example, whose unorthodox mellowness could have never sprouted without the dramatic loneliness of being stripped of everything and left empty without a soul to call a friend. His only solace came from his own poetically simple words, led almost exclusively by playful piano keys which are theatrically expressed by such powerful emotions, that you can taste the depth of sadness without ever being explicitly exposed to where it came from. Naturally, such otherworldly vocal melodies skillfully executed as some heartbroken delicacy could not go unnoticed for long, and his name snuck through the French music scene until EMI signed him up, sent him back to Britain, and then released this sparsely lit debut, which was not only praised by Sir Paul McCartney, David Byrne, and Björk, but also labeled “the future sound of London” by various critics. And I have never heard anything like it.
NOTE: I actually bet money on Benjamin winning the Mercury Prize, and he did! Thanks for making me richer, bro!


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Jenny Hval - Apocalypse, Girl

12. Jenny Hval - Apocalypse, Girl

Experimental Art Pop
9 June
Spotify


Listening to any Jenny Hval album is like having the freakiest, most uncomfortable sex you’ve ever had. She is so liberated from any normal person’s apprehension towards intimacy, that she’s ignorant as to how smutty and perverse her melodic utterances are, let alone how much they might upset anyone who is in listening distance. But even as your shoulders hunch in a defensive wince, there is no denying her erotic musings to be so poetic and casual that your attention will be engrossed rather than grossed out, consumed by the placid ambience which gently thrusts her provocative corruptions inside of you, whilst the concepts between abstract lunacy and commercial tranquillity don’t seem to be that far apart anymore. And with a release as arty-smarty as Apocalypse, Girl, one can only assume that this was no accident. It was an intentional demonstration of distasteful seduction, and I, for one, submit to this delightfully lifeless violation.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

11. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Alternative Indie Rock
24 March
Spotify


I’ve met girls like Courtney before. While they may not have worn such obvious Australian accents, granted, they did exist in one lifelong crisis, the most mundane of everyday circumstances amplifying in their head, turning profound and over-stimulating their thoughts, convincing the brain that it goes deeper than it really does. The disinterested intelligence works overtime to produce hilarious short stories which are as honest as they are sharp in the mind, but by the time they’ve articulated into words, come out dull and blank, lethargic and apathetic. Thankfully, in Courtney’s case, her indifference is enthusiastically propped up by the biting guitarwork, which explodes all around her with an aggressively live foundation and raw emotion, except she doesn’t even seem to notice. Courtney Barnett’s too busy thinking. God, it must be tiresome to deal with reality from such an elevated daydream, it surely wears you down. But for the rest of us, it’s a rather exciting act to witness.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Ought - Sun Coming Down

10. Ought - Sun Coming Down

Post-Art Punk
18 Sep
Spotify


As their second album in only two years, it has already become slightly worrisome as to what the future holds for this band. In a rare feat, their catchy sophomore stands as strong as their debut without repeating predictable formulas nor losing the neurotic charm which first introduced us to their genius. Their influences may be less obvious this time around, but their fun (almost mocking) take on the posty-punky legends (Joy Division/Sonic Youth/Talking Heads/Velvet Underground/Violent Femmes) still stink up the place, like some joyous drunk making everyone at the party feel uncomfortable. And as gritty and as raw and as bleak as this all may be, they preserve an unconventional quirk of genuine wit, which at times even smacks me straight into hysterics without their relaxed presentation cracking their signature deadpan expression. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that it feels like Ought may be onto something kinda significant here, as if by the end of the decade, they will rise as the cult kings of some really fucking weird scene. Which is why I state that if there was one group on this list I wish I was a member of, it’d undoubtedly be them.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Jamie xx - In Colour

09. Jamie xx - In Colour

UK Bass
1 June
Spotify


Five years in the making, and Jamie xx’s long anticipated debut album finally blessed our systems, compressed into a dazzlingly coloured ecstasy pill, and begging for consumption. You let it melt on your tongue, but unlike the standard superficial chemicals we are used to, this drug is abound with rich flavours which perpetually flourish into deeper realms of tropical positivity, lingering with one helluva wonderful aftertaste. And before you know it, you are back in your youth, a proud part of the British rave counterculture, except things are a little different this time. The bangers are subtle now, lighter and more minimal, yet still very danceable within their relaxed serenity and elegance—which makes for a beautiful party. One where your own mood entrances itself; where the visuals are almost too bright; where the transcendental love is always accessible; and where there’s never a come down, ever again. And this is what makes In Colour so special: that it’s bouncing a few steps ahead of the trends whilst filling in all market gaps within the electronic scene like some heavenly liquid. Furthermore, it’s better than anything he’s ever done before, which comfortably includes The xx, no question.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Mgła - Exercises in Futility

08. Mgła - Exercises in Futility

Black Metal
4 Sep


At first infection, it’s not immediately apparent as to what sets Exercises in Futility so much higher than the rest of 2015’s black metal sacrifices. The vocals, whilst viscous and grim, are fairly standard by genre comparison, and the music itself (bar the drummer’s incredibly exciting cymbal work) follows a steady black formula, relentlessly blast-beating and annihilating the listener with stock misery rather than reinventing the art of homicide. However, the deeper inside you tear your fingernails, the more unique the guts you will dig out. The most obvious of these intestines, would be how much focus they’ve placed upon dynamics (far above their lo-fi counterparts anyway), by exploiting the clearest of production qualities and melodic ethics to produce a chaotic catchiness buried well beneath their broken souls. Even more importantly, is how (unlike some of their more gloomy companions), Mgła do not collapse into a pathetic puddle of self loathing, but rather use their dense anguish to fuel an aggressive mission of despair, and in that breath, are far more dangerous than other black outfits who lack purpose. And finally, at a 40ish minute runtime, it never wears out its welcome, rather just kills you quickly, then leaves. Bloody. Satisfied. Undetected.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Viet Cong - Viet Cong

07. Viet Cong - Viet Cong

Post-Punk
20 Jan
Spotify


Some of you may have noticed the lovely surge of 2010 post-punk recently (Iceage? Ought? Savages? Girls Names? Protomartyr? Desperate Journalist?), and I, for one, welcome the dirty revolution. But none of these examples seem to have quite stabbed at the same icy peak as Viet Cong, who shamelessly steal from the past masters (a bit of art from Bowie, a bit of noisy chaos from Sonic Youth, a lot of everything from Joy Division, etc) and then dish out the tried and tested raw formula in one very exciting and unusual sideways submission. For starters, its impact is fast, distorting across your dry mind in less than 40 muddy minutes; driving hard with repetitive percussion, catchy riffage, and clean droning vocals—a harassment which could very well prove a little overpowering for some of our more safer listeners. But for those of us who don’t mind a bit of filth in our chaos, this homage does well to challenge the boundaries without losing the fun of a gripping hook or ignoring the craft of writing fucking sharp songs. As far as I’m concerned, here is a landmark of modern post-punk music, and considering all the band name controversy, it may even be the only 'Viet Cong' album we ever get.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Deafheaven - New Bermuda

06. Deafheaven - New Bermuda

Atmospheric Black Metal
2 Oct
Spotify


Upon researching for this review, I was surprised at how many so-called ‘metal purists’ consider Deafheaven as some trendy hipster act, shunning them as 'not real metal' on forums, and then ending with some homophobic slur. But after a while, I began to understand: it was because these ‘purists’ could not bear to have their little black bubble contaminated by any genre which hadn’t gone through the proper dark channels, as this would surely challenge the shadowy emotions they had worked so hard to build within themselves. An easier way to explain this, is to say that New Bermuda threatens to topple anyone’s comfort zone over, as the band painlessly shift their personalities from black metal, to atmospheric shoegaze, to post rock, to even a happy progressive indie at times, without ever dampening the impenetrable screams of joyous agony. But the true hero comes with the guitarwork, which sometimes uplifts your spirit, and at other times erodes your ghost with a palette of colourful evils, all within one swish of the wrist. How something so screechy can also be so mutually beautiful is beyond my elementary understanding of the world, yet I accept this as genuinely one of the most astonishing albums of 2015. Then again, perhaps I just don’t understand real metal?


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Sufjan Stevens - Carrie &; Lowell

05. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

Indie Folk
31 March
Spotify


It only takes one listen to expose Carrie & Lowell as a completely different type of Sufjan record. Gone are the progressive artypops we have come to expect from the man, now replaced by a drumless acoustic folk release, plucked bare and hushed into the natural echoes of good old plain storytelling. The dainty melodies tip-toe softly through the background, whispering requests of attention without demanding them, not wanting to be a bother. “What a cute little record!” you may say to yourself after its conclusion. But it is not. For this bittersweet album can never be properly understood until you learn the truth: that these alluringly meager songs were inspired by the death of Stevens’ mother, serving to clear his personal loneliness to the point of translucency, and allowing the self-pity to mourn whilst meditating on the harrowing melancholy which links hands with the emptiness only loss knows how to grow. “Oh my God, what an immensely sad record!” you may say to yourself after its conclusion, perhaps suddenly shedding a tear in unison with every other listener on the planet. Now watch, as each end-of-year list grieves and praises it in much the same way. Because we’re in this together.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Natalia Lafourcade - Hasta La Raíz

04. Natalia Lafourcade - Hasta La Raíz

Chamber Folk Pop
17 March
Spotify


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said that 'Music is the universal language of mankind,' and if there ever was an album which accurately demonstrated this statement to me, Hasta La Raíz would be one of the first to come to mind. For starters, it is an entirely Spanish release, yet any desire for a translation is lightly set free into the wind like florets from a dandelion, gleefully dissolving all language barriers and allowing the participant to adore what is being said without any concern over what it means. And once it has effortlessly removed this particular barricade, it goes to work on all the others, embracing everyone as a record which is so optimistic and intimate, that any age-group or snobby genre connoisseur could find themselves warmed by its mid-tempo coziness, swiftly defeated, inspired, then relieved. If you thirst for an album that glistens softly with remarkable melodies that never fail to brighten a day, then the quirky personality of Natalia Lafourcade may be the beginning of a very precious journey for you.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Joanna Newsom - Divers

03. Joanna Newsom - Divers

Chamber Folk Pop
23 Oct


It took five years for Divers to finally surface, which actually makes a lot of sense when you listen to it. After the indulgent obesity that was 2010’s Have One On Me, and even after the sparse sombers of 2006’s Ys, our ambitious Joanna decided to take on a different path still. One where she tightened up the spaces, streamlined the nudges, layered on the instrumentation, and put forward the most immediately accessible record of her career. But even when considering this easier-to-swallow festival of shimmering oddness, the bewitching magic from our mythical Newsom allures us as mischievously as always, bringing me back to that place in my childhood where my imagination had the freedom to explore forests of legendary creatures, fascinated by the dainty fairies who skim their barefeet over music whilst large horses own the world with merriment, unaware of anything but themselves. So adorable, so spectacular, so unconventional ... yet so natural for the eccentric mouth and delicate fingers of Joanna Newsom, now inarguably glueing herself as one of the greatest songwriters of our time.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Björk - Vulnicura

02. Björk - Vulnicura

Art Pop
20 Jan
Spotify


Three songs into the work of Vulnicura, and Björk’s 13 year relationship with Matthew Barney broke, tearing a wound so deep into her chest that confused vulnerability and exhausted anguish exposed itself, glowing within, swallowing the music as she fell down. Such a beautiful pain weighed heavy on the three songs which followed; the true heartbreak epicentre, drowsy and lost in the daze of loneliness. For the first time in 38 years, we realise Björk is human, as her sincere vocals are absorbed into the ambient strings while Arca’s drums thump irregularities without glitching the intimacy. This is not an innovative sound for the artist, perhaps the least adventurous thing she's ever done—a minimal repeat of Vespertine/Homogenic, even—but remarkably, it emerges as one of the most inspired records in her catalogue, potentially the break-up album of the decade, increasingly bursting with life whilst sinking into a spill of tears per each listen. And then, it starts to heal itself, the final three songs reflecting on the journey with additional strength and less self pity, damaged but wiser, determined to move on. Which is basically every relationship I’ve ever had, condensed into one hour, and I struggle with that.


The Top 50 Albums of 2015: Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly

01. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly

Conscious West Coast Jazz Hip Hop
15 March
Spotify


“The problem with [good kid, m.A.A.d. city] is that Kendrick will surely never be able to top it. He’ll probably spend the rest of his career trying to do so.” - Jared Woods; The Top 50 Albums of 2012 (#1)
Sometimes it feels good to be so fucking wrong. For the simple fact is this: there have only been two instant classic and crucial hip hop albums released this last decade, and Kendrick wrote both of them. To Pimp a Butterfly, in particular, has now bonded the man’s genius to the very top of the game, achieving said triumph by preaching about politics, cherishing black culture, and dealing with fame through an incomprehensible amount of ideas, densely stuffed into the darkest crevices between complex funky rhythms, untidy jazzy experimentations, and a fresh outlook on the old school hardcore West Coast sound. His confrontational protests attack fiercely from every angle, stitching unrelentingly fast flows together with countless contributors, directing one intensely ballsy and out-of-control album to victory. It’s the most spoken about and critically acclaimed album of 2015; groundbreaking and a landmark and a masterpiece. This is once in a lifetime shit. This is hip hop history right here. This will last forever. And Kendrick Lamar is unchallenged as the greatest rapper on the planet. What the actual fuck is going on? What the fuck is next?


Conclusion
As is Jared tradition, I like to end these things off with some sort of an analysis on how this year has collaborated with the rest of the decade itself, in hopes of identifying patterns which will stand as what the 2010s will be remembered for. And, unlike last year, 2015 was a little more on track and predictable, in the best of ways possible.

Certain genres are not worth going too deep into, for example: noise rock, nu jazz, experimental wanderings, party bangers, trap (eek), arty indie folky types, general electronics, post hardcore, shoegaze (and its derivatives), synthy popiness, psychedelia, chamber musings, etc. This is because these fellas have provided a certain continuity throughout the last few years yet without ever breaking into anything particularly new, and for that reason, may be something of a memorable fixture for the decade, but will probably not be a defining characteristic of what made it so special.

But on that note, here we have hip hop. This genre has never been far away from any of my lists, but it definitely has had stronger years than others—of which unquestionably includes 2015. In fact, it hasn't been since the Kanye/Death Grips/Kendrick/Nas invasion of 2012 that a year has felt so strong on this front, which gives me an erection. I mean, don't get me wrong, 2013 gave us Sweatshirt and 2014 had Run the Jewels' masterpiece for fucksake, but 2015 really came out swinging with quality records from Lupe and Vince and Joey and A$AP and Joey Bada$$ and (of course) Kendrick (to mention a few), who helped aid the hypothesis that hip hop will once again have a large portion of seats when 2019 is said and done.

Another interesting genre which hinted at its arrival in 2014, would be the weird IDM glitchy side of electronics. Hopkins and Haxan Cloak raised suspicions during 2013, but it wasn't until the end of last year when Clark, Arca, and the mighty Aphex Twin burst out into the open, teasing that 2015 may be the year for this style to really blossom. And they were right! Ash Koosha, Holly Herndon, Alva Noto, Arca (again), and plenty of others recently warped our minds with an intense strength, which makes me very curious as to how long this trend will continue in the upcoming years. I hope a while, because I'm having the weirdest fun.

Much like last year, metal-ish music punched holes throughout 2015's walls, generally in the more deathly/black/shoegaze subgenres. This list alone boasted Wilderun, Leviathan, Horrendous, Panopticon, Cattle Decapitation, Mgła, and Deafheaven, who joined the ranks already armed by Behemoth, Altar of Plagues, Gojira, Mastodon, Septic Flesh (etc etc) to once again prove that this genre will never die no matter how hard we try to kill it.

However, the stylie I found to be the most predominant this year would undoubtably be post-punk, a class which seems to have resurrected out of nowhere, definitely in the middle of some sort of a second regurgitation right now. Iceage proudly blew the stage apart last year, and this year we watched as Protomartyr, Ought, and Viet Cong truly came into their own with a strew of copycats not far behind. I predict another year of this in 2016, just before it becomes too big for its own good and then ultimately dies just like the early 1980s all over again. But what a ride it will be.

All of this praise is great, but there were a few indications of certain genres breaking down. I've said it plenty of times, and it still stands: R&B has been the most surprisingly interesting genre of the decade thus far. Janelle Monáe, Frank Ocean, and The Weeknd, for examples, truly lead something fascinating, until Beyoncé came along in 2013, stabbed her logo into the pinnacle, and made it impossible for any other artist to say anything worthy ever again. I mean, sure, some have tried (Miguel and Janet Jackson getting dishearteningly closer this year), but it does appear this style has had its day. That said, with people like FKA Twigs or Ibeyi, there is a small chance things could survive by going a little sideways and camping under the radar, but idk. Speaking of which, where is Jai Paul again??

Similarly, I have found almost every year to have some sort of a country music saviour in their company. Jessica Lea Mayfield, Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert ... these artists gave me hope that this usually dull sound had some proper modern day bite in it, keeping a nice mark on the decade throughout. However, this year, there was absolutely nothing to write home about (despite two of the aforementioned heroes actually releasing subpar material this year imo *cough*), and I do pray for the genres safe return.

Saving the most surprising for last was radio friendly pop music, somehow. This year was full of incredible albums from the most unlikely of sources, and even if they aren't all on this list, a big shout-out must be offered to people like Carly Rae Jepsen, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and (lesser than, but still) Selena Gomez. You guys kicked some serious ass in 2015, and proved bubblegum does not need to be flavourless. Keep that shit up.

Finally, massive props to all the solo female artists who dominated this year, perhaps proving that the feminist movement is working after all? Just look at this top 50: 14 of the entries were lone ladies, doing it by themselves in a world usually domineered by masculine band-y wanker types. And like ... Adele?? Hello!

In summary, great year, everybody! Totally beat the shit out of 2014 and has revitalised my faith in our 2010s all over again! Pat yourselves on the back, and see you in 2016 for an even more in-depth lie where I pretend to know what the fuck is even going on.


20 Near Misses
51. Desperate Journalist - Desperate Journalist (I actually wrote a review for this one)
52. Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Style
53. Miguel - Wild Heart
54. Gazpacho - Molok
55. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love
56. Tame Impala - Currents
57. KEN mode - Success
58. Georgia - Georgia
59. Sylosis - Dormant Heart
60. Tobias Jesso Jr. - Goon
61. Mechina - Acheron
62. Steven Wilson - Hand. Cannot. Erase.
63. Joey Bada$$ - B4.DA.$$
64. Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
65. Dawn Richard - Blackheart
66. Susanne Sundfør - Ten Love Songs
67. Lana Del Rey - Honeymoon
68. Timbre - Sun and Moon
69. Shlohmo - Dark Red
70. Napalm Death - Apex Predator - Easy Meat


Hall of Fame (2010 - 2015)
Alright, and finally, here are the greatest of the greats. This little list is calculated by adding the positions of reoccurring artists and their albums from all of my Top 50 articles (including entries from narrow misses, and only factoring their top two positions if they appeared more than twice), and then dividing that amount by two. Here are the top 20:

01. Kendrick Lamar (2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city #01; 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly #01)
02. James Blake (2011’s James Blake #01; 2013’s Overgrown #09)
03. Sufjan Stevens (2010's The Age of Adz #07; 2015's Carrie & Lowell #05)
04. Grimes (2012's Visions #02; 2015's Art Angels #14)
05. Joanna Newsom (2010's Have One on Me #15; 2015's Divers #03)
06. The Caretaker (2011’s An Empty Bliss Beyond This World #04; 2012’s Patience (after Sebald) #15)
07. Kanye West (2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy #25 [not counted]; 2011’s Watch The Throne (with Jay-Z) #19; 2013’s Yeezus #01)
08. Björk (2011's Biophilia #18; 2015's Vulnicura #2)
09. La Dispute (2011's Wildlife #09; 2014's Rooms of the House #12)
10. Deftones (2010’s Diamond Eyes #10; 2012’s Koi No Yokan #16)
11. St. Vincent (2011’s Strange Mercy #10; 2012’s Love This Giant (with David Byrne) #27 [not counted]; 2014's St. Vincent #17)
12. Run the Jewels (2013's Run the Jewels #18; 2014's Run the Jewels 2 #10)
13. Sia (2010's We Are Born #17; 2014's 1000 Forms of Fear #13)
14. Frank Ocean (2011’s Nostalgia, Ultra #27; 2012’s Channel Orange #03)
15. The National (2010’s High Violet #06; 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me #25)
16. Swans (2012's The Seer #34; 2014's To Be Kind #1)
17. Julia Holter (2013's Loud City Song #19; Have You in My Wilderness #17)
18. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (2013's Nanda Collection #4; Pika Pika Fantajin #37)
19. Crystal Castles (2010’s (II) #19; 2012’s (III) #23)
20. Arcade Fire (2010’s The Suburbs #09; 2013’s Reflektor #33)


FUCK ME, THAT TOOK A LONG TIME TO WRITE.


10 comments :

  1. Thanks Jared that was informative and funny. Looking forward to hearing new stuff that's out of my comfort zone. Cheers

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    1. Absolute pleasure, thanks for posting :)

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  2. This is awesome

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  3. Change the title to Top 50 albums of 2015 according to hipsters.

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    1. Well, it would actually be "Top 50 albums of 2015 according to one hipster" because there is no collective here. Furthermore, it's all fine and well (and lazy) to automatically label everyone you don't agree with as a "hipster", but if you really have any music integrity, you'd be more specific by highlighting which of these records fall into such a category, as well as providing your top 10 at least.

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  4. Thanks for posting this Jared! This is the only year-end list I actually look forward to year after year and closely go through. You're the man!

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    1. That is a real nice thing to say Mathias. Sometimes I feel like it's not worth all my stress, but messages like this encourage me to keep them up :) Thank you!

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  5. Kamasi Washington made the best album of 2015 BY FAR.
    And Kanye West Sucks

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    1. Gotta love how on articles that have almost nothing to do with Kanye West people still feel the need to get pissy over him for no good/relevant reason.

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