Favourite Albums of 2015: 15 – 11
Five more fantastic records of 2015 to celebrate before I dive into my personal Top Ten for the year. From terrified art-pop to blazing brass compositions, industrial northern England playgrounds to Icelandic volcanoes, they’re a colourful bunch this time. They came, they saw, they helped us escape from evil.
Poison Season (Merge)
The release of Kaputt in 2011 proved to be something of a watershed moment for the Destroyer name. After eight albums of burgeoning if relatively hushed approval, suddenly Dan Bejar’s collective became overnight critical darlings, materialising in end-of-year lists from hitherto uninitiated sources. However, even with greater attention turned towards his project’s tenth studio album, Dan Bejar characteristically sniffed in the face of commentators and continued operating under his own steam with the same tight-lipped visage. Kaputt‘s eventual follow-up maintains the widescreen aesthetic of its predecessor, but feels less much less sprawling in its execution. Likewise, Poison Season perhaps lacks some of the knottier nuances that hardcore fans adored in previous records, but it contains musical and lyrical poetry worthy to rank with Bejar’s greatest peaks. Anchored by the three-part suite ‘Times Square’, Bejar has helmed another record of exquisite lushness, tempered as it is with a ragged weariness akin to ob Dylan’s more disillusioned ruminations. Even as ‘Dream Lover’ barrels out of the gate, its squealing, squawking brass sections and Bejar’s croak make the song sound as if the whole thing is on the verge of an asthma attack. Nevertheless, although it’s sometimes tough to gauge how earnest or sardonic Bejar is being in his writing, it’s hard not to be whisked away on the wings of the sumptuous instrumentation. Whether it’s the jaunty coda of ‘Hell’, the smoky waltz ‘Archer on the Beach’, or the starry-eyed romance of ‘Girl in a Sling’, there are so many moments of enrapturing beauty peppering Poison Season that Bejar’s wry wit sometimes slips past in the moments of magic.
“The writing on the wall wasn’t writing at all.”
Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (Bella Union)
“I am the greatest motherfucker that you’re ever gonna meet,” John Grant bragged on 2013’s ‘GMF’, perfecting his talent for lacing irony with authentically bitter personal insights, in a manner that accesses a remarkable level of emotional honesty. Given a new lease of life with his solo career after the Czars disbanded in 2004, Grant has traded in painfully frank articulation from 2010’s Queen of Denmark onwards, though from the outset, a deliciously dark, wry humour has permeated his lyrics, constantly grounding his anguish as something tangibly human. Whether employed as a coping mechanism or a means of rendering his darker confessionals accessible, it’s this acidic wit which makes Grant such a fascinating figure: the close interweaving of sarcasm and sweetness enriching the whole as a reflection of somebody recognisably flawed. On Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, Grant turns up both the humour and self-laceration, whether poring over his HIV diagnosis, relationship frustrations, or the animosity directed at him from within and without. With John Congleton’s swift fingers at the controls, Grant simmers over twelve beautifully produced works of spleen-venting, at times tender and heartfelt, at others hysterical and fanged, and consistently studded with dazzling lyricism. Who knew the sound of a man opening the lid on his midlife crisis would be this much fun?
“Everybody these days thinks that they’re a badass.”
Escape from Evil (Ribbon Music)
Having caught Lower Dens live in London twice in 2015, I’ve had ample opportunities to let Escape from Evil sink in since its arrival in spring. With each album the Baltimore quartet have broadened their palette, tidying the murkier edges of their sound and incorporating characteristics of krautrock, dream-pop and art-rock, binding it all in an increasingly glossy coating that doffs its cap to tasteful 1980s synth-pop. Following this pattern further, Escape from Evil is the group’s sleekest and most inviting package yet, and although it has its clear standouts (‘Ondine’, ‘Electric Current’, and the majestic ‘To Die in L.A.’), it took several months of sporadic listening before it had me completely compelled. The secret ingredient at work which benefits the group and lets Escape from Evil transcend its foundations is a sense of confidence which quietly, triumphantly radiates through these songs. With help from Chris Coady, Jana Hunter and her bandmates have sharpened their dexterity for strong hooks without jettisoning the shadowy unease that has always swirled through their music, resulting in smart pop songs which sound comfortable enough not to require bells and whistles. Hunter’s voice, which previously cloaked her music in mystery (and occasionally confrontation) has also ripened to a fine instrument in its own right, whether she’s holding a bellowed chorus note or revealing the tremulous side of her register. Matched with the sharp precision of Lower Dens’ gleaming music, it synthesises into a liberating experience; one which taps into a sense of triumph steadily earned and thoroughly deserved, moving past hurt and disquiet and towards hard-won joy.
“I’m just glad to be alive.”
Lonelady’s sophomore escapes into a dreamlike fervour of lithe, guitar-flecked dance, despite being inextricably affiliated with the industrial landscapes of deepest Manchester. With Hinterland, Julie Campbell invites us into the world that apparently, only she was able to see amid the rubble and belching chimney stacks on the outskirts of the city, with the album mostly inspired by her frequent wanders through the terrain. Contrarily, rather than oppressive and stark, Hinterland is kinetic and filled-to-bursting with propulsive, irresistible grooves. It takes only a few seconds to hear her alchemy working clearly: the post-punk lineage of Manchester is refitted to something equally cavernous, but offering a much more joyous form of release. Mammoth jams such as ‘Silvering’ and ‘Groove it Out’ are at their most potent when heard performed live, but the precise alchemy is translated almost perfectly onto record, with Campbell’s ear for well-timed details seldom failing her on this nine-track odyssey that will appeal to fans of LCD Soundsystem and La Roux alike. If Hinterland is a party happening inside her head, then at least she remembered to invite the rest of us along.
“Put a record on / Make a connection.”
Get to Heaven (Sony RCA)
One of the most pleasant surprises of 2015, Everything Everything’s third album had me holding up my hands and admitting I had grossly underestimated the Manchester group. Although I found Arc largely enjoyable in 2012, for some reason I was prepared to shrug my shoulders at its follow-up. This was probably out of some misplaced sense of fatigue with the group’s output, but the delightful truth is that in a righteous world, Get to Heaven should have catapulted Everything Everything to the higher echelons of contemporary British flag-bearers. If nothing else, the group (and frontman Jonathan Higgs, in particular) deserve recognition for bringing a clear focus and palpable heart to mainstream alt-rock. With its eye on current affairs and the extreme terrors faced by the world over the past two years, Get to Heaven holds up a mirror to the chaos of the 21st Century, assimilating the most troubling concerns of our time and reflecting its urgent reactions in blasts of fiery, inventive guitar music, packing choruses that also happen to stick to the brain with the ferocity of Matilda-brand superglue. Higgs has admitted he was anxious that he had written a repugnant “horror bible” after penning the album’s frequently upsetting lyrics. For my money, he shouldn’t apologise for sticking to his guns and helping to create a conscientious and compassionate album that defiantly broadcasts against violence and complacency alike. Get to Heaven is spectacular, with its bounteous supply of savvy melodies only outmatched by its humanity.
“I don’t want this, I never spoke up enough.”
Posted on December 29, 2015, in End-of-Year Lists, The Music World and tagged Albums of 2015, Destroyer, Escape from Evil, Everything Everything, Get to Heaven, John Grant, Lonelady, Lower Dens, Michael Perry, Poison Season, Quotesponge. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.