Favourite Albums of 2015: 25 – 21
At first glance, I flippantly thought 2015 seemed a little weaker than the past few years in music, with fewer albums leaping out at me and taking my attention by force. However, on sifting back through some of my favourites of the year for reappraisal, I’ve noticed that many of these albums only really blossom when the details hidden within them are held up to the light. As Hayden Thorpe sang on last year’s fantastic Wild Beasts record, “in detail you are even more beautiful than from afar”: it’s a sentiment true to many of the albums I’ve listed below. It’s easier to glance past and oversimplify the multifaceted beauty of a fifty-minute record than it is to truly lose oneself in the grace-notes sprinkled within. As such, it was only in spending the past few weeks poring over each album once again that I fully noticed the magic many of them hold. The list as it now stands has undergone a serious reshuffle from its November incarnation, and the 25 albums I’ve settled on are all worthy of (re)discovery.
Without any further waffling, here are my favourite offerings from the assorted delights of 2015. Please bring further listening suggestions, gripes, general feedback, and headphones, and enjoy discovering some of these gems anew; I sure did.
Sun Coming Down (Constellation)
There’s a palpable aggression to Ought’s second album which jostles angrily with the more playful tendencies exhibited on last year’s More Than Any Other Day. Recorded live to tape, these eight songs bottle the same fidgety, scrappy tension that Tim Darcy wails of in his patchwork lyrics, manifest in the walls of relentlessly scrappy guitars that bear down on the listener. Propelled by the white-hot bass runs of Ben Stidworthy and Tim Keen’s clattering drum fills, the band’s high-strung brand of post-punk congeals into a mess simultaneously sludgy and electrifying. It’s the sound of a band’s anxieties, excitements, and “fuck it” impulses pushing them to sonically thicker and more bitingly bleak terrain, always teetering on the precipice of chaos.
“This is the high watermark of civilisation.”
Public Service Broadcasting
The Race for Space (Test Card Recordings)
If 2013’s Inform-Educate-Entertain was an inviting smorgasbord, serving as an assorted taster for Public Service Broadcasting’s brand of inventive sampling and squeaky-clean pop nous, then The Race for Space is their first fully cohesive offering. By plunging determinedly into a single (though deliciously broad) concept, the sample-happy alchemists have emerged with a listen comparable to a Hollywood drama, chronicling the history of space travel in all its peaks and troughs from the 1950s to the present day. From the Chic-channelling funk of ‘Gagarin’ and doomy washes of ‘Fire in the Cockpit’, through to the spine-tingling triumphs of ‘Go!’ and ‘The Other Side’, The Race for Space blends its sci-fi smarts with gleaming instrumentation, in a mellifluous display which is even more potent when caught in a live setting. Taken as a whole, it’s an honest-to-goodness delight, and one which allows listeners to engage their heads as wilfully as they surrender their ears to the plentiful melodies.
“They’re travelling over the back side of the Moon now.”
Sound & Color (Rough Trade)
If Alabama Shakes’ début felt a little too in thrall to well-entrenched blues conventions at times, their ferocious follow-up flips its burning gaze forwards, abandoning the more rigid confines of yesteryear in favour of sojourns into howling soul, guttural funk, and supercharged riff-rock, with an earworm sensibility engaged more or less constantly. Those who feel that The Black Keys’ past few LPs have lacked the stomping weight of their earlier material will be utterly enamoured by the powerful blasts emanating from the likes of ‘Don’t Wanna Fight’ and ‘Gimme All Your Love’. Delivered in the lung-dredging wails of one-woman-hurricane Brittany Howard (surely one of the most magnetic and charismatic figureheads in contemporary rock and roll), the peaks and troughs of Sound & Color are a vibrant addition to the guitar-wielding class of 2015.
“Come people / You got to give a little, get a little.”
“Moments of clarity are so rare, I’d better document this,” Björk mumbles shakily at the opening of her ninth full-length, singing from the eye of a slow-motion whirlpool of strings and off-kilter rhythms. Over the nine skeletal compositions which follow, the Icelandic polymath does her best to wrestle with the all-encompassing distress that submerged her during her painful split from Matthew Barney, her partner of more than a decade. The album’s sleeve notes subtitle each song in sequence, fixing each one to a particular point of the narrative: from nine months before the relationship’s disintegration through to a year or so after the events. While at first these indicators seem a little too OTT to succeed authentically, they in fact give a glacial, icy apprehension to the songs as they pass, Björk shifting to new scenes and emotional coils as the break-up looms and recedes. Drifting eerily between wrenching pain (the oppressive, hammering ‘Black Lake’) and ghostly detachment (“I wish to synchronise our feelings,” she proffers like a non-computing robot), the singer imbues her record with not only grief, but with an inexorable dread, the disquieting instrumentals articulating the great peaks of overwrought turbulence and the valleys of emptiness. Once again, Björk reminds listeners of her unique position as an avant-garde artist with significant crossover appeal, distilling her pain into forms both impressive and (arguably) accessible.
“As I enter the atmosphere / I burn off layer by layer.”
The Magic Whip (Parlophone)
Graham Coxon and Stephen Street resuscitated a clutch of Blur’s mid-tour recordings laid down in Hong Kong in 2013, and this series of curios eventually crystallised into the beloved band’s first album since 2003’s wonky Think Tank. Fans hoping for a more fitting conclusion to Blur’s turbulent saga may well be satiated by this rather harmonious collection, but The Magic Whip actually found the band sounding as confident and invigorated as they ever had on record, with the end result far from one final victory lap. Comfortable with their musical prowess and interpersonal chemistry, this wasn’t the bolshy Blur of their mid-90s heyday, but instead the more considered, textured group responsible for past classics Blur and 13. Synthesising elements from the solo endeavours of Coxon and Damon Albarn, and with a full-bodied chemistry courtesy of Alex James and Dave Rowntree, The Magic Whip is an occasionally skewed but ultimately sparkling addition to the great band’s canon.
“I broadcast / Buzzing on another day now / All for a high score / Something out of nothing.”
Posted on December 27, 2015, in End-of-Year Lists, The Music World and tagged Alabama Shakes, Albums of 2015, Bjork, Blur, Damon Albarn, Michael Perry, Ought, Public Service Broadcasting, Sound & Color, The Magic Whip, Vulnicura. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.