Favourite Albums of 2015: 20 – 16
From steely-eyed troubadours to longhair guitar wizards, gothic angels to ivy-trippers and electro-engineers, five more heroes of 2015 are unveiled as the Album of the Year list continues. Cue credits:
Short Movie (Virgin)
My admiration for Laura Marling has been well-documented on this blog, and I’m slightly conscious that ranking her latest album at twentieth only two years after she took my Album of the Year accolade in 2013 possibly makes it appear that Short Movie has left me cold. Granted, it’s a record that possesses less composure and coherence than most of her previous offerings, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed hearing Marling take a slight shift in direction for her fifth album. Following the comprehensive concepts of Once I Was An Eagle, Marling has allowed her impulses to take greater prominence over her work, emerging with a dusty, limber-sounding record that breaks the artist’s own established traditions in small but intriguing ways (note the album title, the production credit, and – yes – the electrics). She may not be tearing up the rulebook, but by relaxing her grip and letting one or two tremors sneak into her vocals, she’s allowing the edges to fray a little in a fashion which is rather becoming after years of powerful – if occasionally slightly precious – songwriting. Whether it ends up standing as a non-sequitur in her canon, or the first step towards a new long-term path, Short Movie is a pleasingly idiosyncratic addition to an increasingly rich discography.
“I’m going back East, where I belong.”
Art Angels (4AD)
Witnessing Grimes’ vertiginous rise to cult superstardom has proved simultaneously surprising and understandable. In every way, Claire Boucher goes against packaging herself as a smoothed-out star, instead roughing up the edges, fucking up the margins, embracing mess and scribbling over everything with her auteur instincts. Every aspect of her output as Grimes is smothered in her inky fingerprints, from self-designed album artwork to self-directed music videos, and a signature squeal that serves as both pastiche of and riposte to auto-tuned affectations. Away from all the eye-popping visuals and proclamations, however, it’s Boucher’s uncanny knack for sticky melodies that has brought her crossover success, and on Art Angels her instrumental range and production skills alike are raised to a completely new level. Away from its gaudy video, ‘Flesh Without Blood’ is one of the year’s catchiest and highly-anticipated pop singles, and it’s flanked on all sides by equally appealing material, with highlights including the earnest ‘Pin’, Janelle Monáe’s cameo on the whomping ‘Venus Fly’ and ‘Butterfly”s sun-kissed bop. At the centre of the album awaits a glut of songs which are among the catchiest, most addictive pop nuggets of the year, with ‘Kill V. Maim’ arguably Boucher’s greatest (and craziest) achievement to date. Decriers have railed against Boucher with (rather rote) style-over-substance takedowns, but Art Angels is a pure grab-bag of fun from a distinctive and undeniably interesting artist. For the converted, she’s served up what will likely be considered the pop album of 2015, but for those new to Grimes’ weird universe, her web has never been cast so wide, nor so alluring.
“I’m only a man, do what I can.”
It’d be so easy to dislike Sam Shepherd if his output wasn’t so damn wondrous. The producer-composer-songwriter-DJ is yet to turn 30, and he’s already trained in classical music writing, boasts a PhD in ‘The Neuroscience of Pain’, and has garnered heaps of acclaim for his DJ sets as Floating Points, which are enjoyed around the globe. Yes, he can probably turn his talents to anything. If you can set aside the crippling jealousy, however, surrendering to his first full-length record as Floating Points is a true treat: a seven-track set that unspools as one shuffling suite of jazz rhythms, spiralling keys, and blissful string arrangements. Shepherd has taken the twinkling ambience of his Shadows EP and polished it to a dazzling gleam, with greater emphasis placed on rhythm and percussion this time around. It’s easy to pause and marvel at specific passages in the mix, such as those that pepper ‘Silhouettes’; a three-part epic which gradually heats from a skeletal jam into a graceful, string-soaked hymn and back again. Elsewhere, Shepherd reworks flavours of 1980s house into bright new forms, reaching peaks in the Tangerine Dream ebb and flow of ‘Argenté’ as well as the bustling cacophony of ‘Peroration Six’. For all its singular moments of beauty, however, it invites being experienced as a single, enveloping listen; whether enjoyed as a headphone-coddled odyssey or an ambient backdrop, Elaenia is a heavenly electronic vista to savour.
Ivy Tripp (Merge)
DIY singer-songwriter material can all-too-easily be dismissed as bedroom naval-gazing, plagued by shonky production and self-indulgent lyrical whims. Katie Crutchfield, however, soars above her limitations with her brand of stirringly earthy candour. Flanked by her sister and a small coterie of supporting musicians, Waxahatchee’s third album is Crutchfield’s most confident and warm creation to date, its emotional power lingering long after its 37 minutes are up. The sound is fuller and denser than on 2013’s Cerulean Salt, with Crutchfield’s steely guitars attaining a vulnerable grace when paired with her defiant voice: the kind of heart-on-sleeve croon that can suddenly reveal itself as a roar. What ties Ivy Tripp‘s disparate confusions together is Crutchfield’s knack for disarming melodies, the kind that sink in gradually and with all the gently nagging warmth of a friend on the other end of a phone line. Ivy Tripp deals in simple merits, but the overall effect is far more emotionally moving than the sum of its modest parts.
“You’re the only one I want watching me.”
Living up to 2012’s Lonerism – a modern classic in the estimations of many an audiophile – looked set to be a near-impossible feat, but Kevin Parker stuck to his guns for Album #3, maintaining a steady and committed trajectory away from guitar workouts and finally settling beneath a rainbow-throwing disco ball. Currents begins by tumbling through the ear-popping vortex of ‘Let it Happen’; a seven-minute masterpiece in which Parker flexes his muscles as songwriter, producer, and sonic experimentalist, while also providing the perfect launchpad for the kaleidoscopic journey to follow. As with both Innerspeaker and Lonerism, we are given thorough access to Parker’s contemporary headspace, and this time his preoccupations prove to be mixed: here he picks through the wreckage of a relationship turned sour, the pressures of critical and commercial expectation, and the multi-layered anxieties of personal and professional transformation. It’s testament to his assurance and magnificently broad instrumental mastery that the results never sound anything less than great fun, whether they’re laden with hooks (‘The Moment’, ‘The Less I Know the Better’) or tipping into weirder territory (‘Past Life’, ‘Disciples’). Currents may not match Lonerism pound-for-pound, but in many respects, it blasts through any remaining preconceptions of where Parker’s capabilities begin and end. On this evidence, it’s safe to trust his conviction in wherever he decides to travel next.
(Also, it deserves a high spot on this list given it bequeathed the world the most baffling and strangely hilarious music video of the year. Catch it below. Sodding Trevor.)
“She was holding hands with Trevor / Not the greatest feeling ever.”
Posted on December 28, 2015, in End-of-Year Lists, The Music World and tagged Albums of 2015, Art Angels, Claire Boucher, Currents, Floating Points, Grimes, Laura Marling, Michael Perry, Short Movie, Tame Impala, Waxahatchee. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.