Music in 2015
Another year, another splendid hamper full of musical treats across all genres. And so it's time for another best of list. And if you'd like something to listen to while you read, here's a Spotify playlist with three and a half hours of my favourite tunes as well.
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Noveller - Fantastic Planet
There's a dry, arid quality to Sarah Lipstate's latest album that has not been present before. The more blunt electronic tones of *No Dreams* have been replaced by shimmering, almost mirages of sound more reminiscent of The Alps or the last Boards of Canada LP. Which is ironic really because while it evokes heat and thirst, it's actually a great glass of refreshing music in an wasteland of efforts that tried the same trick this year but failed.
Izah - Sistere
Epic doesn't really begin to cover this album. At four tracks and over 70 minutes long, there's really no indication that Dutch band Izah have ever come across the concept of a single. That this album of dark atmospheric post-metal is their debut is all to their credit. It seems not to have been written so much as composed with their triple guitar lines building up, interleaving, giving space to vox and sometimes quite disturbing spoken word passages, reworking themes and segueing seamlessly into new sections as they go along. It's not for the faint of heart but is remarkably enjoyable with a good glass of whisky.
Jean-Michel Jarre - Electronica 1 : The Time Machine
Some eight years since the unwise release of Teo & Tea and fifteen since his last official album before that, one of the pioneers of electronic music is back with the first half of a double album of collaborations that look back and celebrate electronic music from its origins in the 60s to today's evolution of subgenres and key players. The Time Machine moniker is very apt. Jarre's trademark Fairlight and Moog synths from the 80s are present alongside iPads, Ableton Live, Theremin, Laser Harp and back to oscillators from the early days and his collaborators also span the decades from Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter through to Boys Noize and Gesaffelstein. With every track you can hear the interactions between Jarre and his collaborators which is great so it's not a surprise therefore that a couple of tracks are less successful than the rest. However it's a very solid return and we've only to wait until April 2016 for part 2.
Honestly, you wait years for a new album to come along and then two arrive at the same time. And I thought it was just busses....
John Lemke - Nomad Frequencies
Few albums really tell a story these days. The age of the MP3 has almost drowned out the album in favour of the single track. Perhaps the vinyl renaissance will encourage bands to think on the larger scale in the future? For now, we have a wealth of soundtracks and those with a reverence to prog to rely on for a bigger fix. John Lemke is a soundtrack composer by trade but Nomad Frequencies is his second full length solo release. Taking its cues from both his world travel and his day job, NF is a night time adventure through different cultures. It's exciting, full of anticipation, uptempo, downbeat, and most importantly to me at least, a complete story in one album. Its one to put on, close your eyes and breathe in.
Hidden Rivers - Where Moss Grows
If Noveller went dry and John Lemke went global, then as the title suggests, this piece by Hidden Rivers depicts the newly damp, the dew of the mornings, the drips in a cave and the idly babbling brook. Inadvertently, it's very much an alternate soundtrack to the [new Channel 4 idents](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWvUJATjJDE) that Jonathan Glaser put together this year as well.
The Aristocrats - Tres Caballeros
A supergroup of sorts for guitar nerds, The Aristocrats' brand of fusion guitar instrumentals mixing Jazz, Rock, Blues, Funk and Prog with a definite desire not to take themselves too seriously might well be too left of centre for fans of the band's day jobs but their third album Tres Caballeros is their best and most imaginative so far.
Mutoid Man : Bleeder
Mutoid Man's Bleeder is the sound of its members letting off steam and just having some fun making music. That the results are all killer, no filler (if you'll pardon the cliché) and the most enjoyable straight up hard rock of the year is no doubt a bonus. Here we have a collection of two to three minute edges with refrains and riffs catchy enough to have even the diecast Taylor Swift fans in the family bobbing and singing along. It's all direct, to the point, frenetic and fun fun fun.
Slayer - Repentless
In most parallel universes, this album doesn't exist. In the hiatus between the release of their previous album World Painted Blood and this one, their lead singer & bass player Tom has had surgery to to put a titanium plate in his neck to repair damage caused by years of headbanging, while their co-lead guitar player Jeff first contracted necrotising fasciitis from a spider bite, and then died last year of liver failure. Oh, and their drummer left - again. I think most quartets in their situation would have called it a day after that lot. 30+ years and 12 albums into their career, no-one would have cried foul. But this is Slayer we're talking about. Slayer who have spent a career writing and performing songs about the dark side of humanity and the terrible things that will assault you from all sides. Slayer who have taken this adversity and used it to inform one of their best ever albums, a tightly wound slab of thrash that would have sat proudly amongst the high quality canon of thrash albums in the late 80s when it was the defining sound of metal. Repentless by title, repentless by nature, this is not just a Slayer album, it's a Slay-AAARRRGGGHH album.
Scale The Summit - V
Back in October a video appeared on Youtube of many [metal standards played without distortion](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PznnIHVZ3gQ). Which begs the question what can you do with a metal guitar outside that standard overdrive, fuzzy sound? Where can you take the music. Scale The Summit's fifth album of instrumentals neatly answers that. And almost capsizes it as well. Sans-vox none of their ten pieces here particularly obey a standard structure but do explore their own sound and style of playing, but what should we expect from a band of music majors - twelve bar blues? Ultimately V is a really rewarding album if you give it enough time to figure it out. Come for the guitar craft, stay for the puzzle, live for the explanation.
Deafheaven - New Bermuda
And so to number one. It wasn't even close. When Deafheaven released their previous album Sunbather a few years ago, they got almost as much press for the fact they tried to do something different with that post black metal platter as for the fact it was actually really very good. Cue the release of New Bermuda and not only have they continued to experiment with the set formula of the genre, but they've also almost created a hybrid which is almost entirely accessible to anyone who cares to listen to something other than trite chart nonsense. Its roots are still evident but now there are delicious solos and intermissions building on what they had with Sunbather.
Listen if you have ears, for they will not offend you.
First up, some honourable mentions for platters that didn't quite make the top ten.
- Darwin Deez - Double Down : Chock full of bright and breezy indie pop pitch perfect for a Drew Barrymore or Zach Braff comedy romance soundtrack.
- Jarboe & Helen Money - Wired : There's no such thing as a boring Jarboe release and this is dark, oppressive and disturbing thanks to Money's heavy, distorted cello and Jarboe's vox.
- Reso - Ricochet : Blinding drum n bass / jungle release from Reso with his customary electronic squelches and Orbital-like vox samples playing support to new old school beats.
- Public Service Broadcasting - The Race for Space : PSB's sophomore album plunders the apollo archive for stories and moments to support with sympathetic music.
- Steve 'n' Seagulls - Farm Machine : Hayseed Dixie have done it for a while but this Finnish group really hit the nail on the head with their semi tongue in cheek dixieland jug band covers of metal and rock standards.
- Jake Shimakaburo - Travels : TED-favourite ukelele virtuoso with another beautiful album of covers and originals.
- Seasick Steve - Sonic Soul Surfer : Sixth album of stripped down toe-tapping hobo hubcap music full of grins and gurns.
- Xavier Rudd - Nanna : Sublime eco-friendly reggae from Aussie Rudd who brings along a new nine piece band for added carefree fun.
- Five Gallon Bottle - Five Gallon Bottle : Cracking debut bandcamp ep from Greek stoners.