Friday, December 25, 2015

2015 in Albums Part 1

215) Cymande - A Simple Act Of Faith (Cherry Red)
Long awaited return for the often-sampled funk legends - a little more straightforward than the best work of their heyday (and mostly lacking Patrick Patterson’s defining guitar playing) but still enjoyably groovy and a good soundtrack for any party.

214) Erik Friedlander - Oscalypso (Skipstone)
If cellist Erik Friedlander's Broken Arm Trio explored the influence of the great Oscar Pettiford, Oscalypso goes one step further in paying tribute by reinterpreting his compositions. It's a treatment that manages to be at once reverential (Pettiford's themes are played expressively but recognisably) and adventurous, given Friedlander's own personal contribution to the cello as an instrument for improvising contexts and the superb interaction of his group here.

213) Mercury Rev - The Light In You (Bella Union)
Best album in quite a while from Jonathan Donahue and Grasshopper (without Dave Fridmann at the helm too) - focusing more on atmosphere and melody than magical realist bobbins.

212) Oneohtrix Point Never - Garden Of Delete (Warp)
Dan Lopatin crafts the interior life of an imagined adolescent, characterised by musical volatility, heightened extremes and surly, ruthlessly edited sounds.

211) Yo La Tengo - Stuff Like That There (Matador)
A spiritual sequel to the earlier Fakebook in which Yo La Tengo perform covers, both of pop and country standards, and, perhaps most interestingly, of their own work.

210) James Blackshaw - Summoning Suns (Important)
In which the highly proficient guitarist takes a detour in to singer-songwriter territory, transparently influenced by Jim O’Rourke. He’s not quite as confident in this world - but it’s a diverting experiment, and he is continuing to evolve as an arranger.

209) Promised Land Sound - For Use and Delight (Paradise Of Bachelors)
Not likely to break any new ground, but the Nashville band’s playing is superb, and it draws inspiration from a wide range of American rock, from classic CSY-style harmonies to Dead-style jams.

208) Rustie - Evenifudontbelieve (Warp)
Confirms my suspicion that Green Language had been too subtle - Rustie is at his best when sonically lurid and OTT - he indulges himself and goes full throttle here.

207) Fantasma - Free Love (Soundway)
The excellent Soundway label, mostly specialising in reissues and compilations, branched out in to new releases with this tremendous South African fusion project lead by Spoek Mathambo - the mischievous genre plundering results in an invigorating recording. 

206) Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp (Merge) 
Bare bones, simple, mostly very slow songs - it’s all in the feeling in Katie Crutchfield’s delivery.

205) Swervedriver - I Wasn’t Born To Lose You (Cherry Red)
One of the year’s more welcome reformations - with absorbing and satisfying new material.

204)  Scuba - Claustrophobia (Hotflush)
At once murky and warm, Scuba’s evolved post-dubstep is intriguing and compelling.

203) HEALTH - Death Magic (Seven Four Entertainment)
The application of contemporary commercial pop production tropes to outsider avant-rock - fascinating and uneasy listening. 

202) Leon Bridges - Coming Home (Columbia)
Classy, superior classic soul facsimile, with members of White Denim in the super tight backing band.

201) Ibeyi - Ibeyi (XL)
Twin sisters make distinctive, enthralling hybrid international pop.

200) Houndstooth - No News From Home (No Quarter)
Existing in a hinterland between gnarly country and melodic indie rock, Katie Bernstein’s characterful, clear vocal delivery elevates Houndstooth to a higher level, and the songwriting is consistently strong.

199) The Deslondes - The Deslondes (New West)
Riotously enjoyable barroom country, expertly played. With four singers and five songwriters, this band has a substantial pool of talent on which to draw.

198) Pure Bathing Culture - Pray For Rain (Memphis Industries)
Second album of blissful, warped, hazy, refracted indie dream-pop from the ex-Vetviver duo.

197)  Beat Spacek - Modern Streets (Ninja Tune)
New, slightly menacing outlet for Steve Spacek - rumbling, dubby, soulful, unnerving and strange -the variety in Spacek’s vocal delivery is impressive.
196) Model 500 - Digital Solutions (Metroplex)

Deliciously squelchy old school electro from returning techno legend Juan Atkins. 

195) Todd Rundgren/Emil Nikolaisen/Hans-Peter Lindstrøm - Runddans (Smalltown Supersound)
Bonkers prog electro-ambient suite likely to bring Rundgren to a new audience - also makes Rundgren’s influence on the likes of Daft Punk abundantly clear.

194) Gwenno - Y Dydd Olaf (Heavenly)
Former Pipettes singer makes delightfully detached Welsh language motorik electro pop - somewhere between Broadcast and Annie. 

193) Crying Lion - The Golden Boat (Honest Jon’s)

Members of Trembling Bells and Muldoon’s Picnic record a short album of four part harmony singing - unexpected and wondrous.

192) Thunderbitch - Thunderbitch (Thunderbitch)
Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes’ rawer, looser, punkier side project.

191) James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg - Ambsace (Paradise Of Bachelors)
Thoroughly delightful, sweetly melodic and effortless-sounding acoustic steel string guitar duo. The interpretation of The Smiths’ Reel Around The Fountain is a particularly unexpected delight.

190) Squarepusher - Damogen Furies (Warp)
Tom Jenkinson at his most abrasive and wild - impressive, but not a starting point. 

189) Vincent Peirani - Living Being (ACT)
French improvising accordion player dazzles and delights most in this ensemble setting.

188) Leonard Cohen - Can’t Forget: A Souvenir Of The Grand Tour (Columbia)
Largely superfluous third live album in almost as many years, save for the fact that it contains the two new songs not included on Popular Problems, and some very rare performances of offbeat choices from the back catalogue (so it’s essential for Cohen completists).

187) Christian Scott - Stretch Music (Stretch Music)
The open minded trumpeter is once again ‘stretching’ the definition of jazz - cinematic melodies with skittering, often disruptive accompaniments.

186) Ghost Culture - Ghost Culture (Phantasy)
Brittle, solipsistic bedroom electronica with a shimmering, elegantly sculpted sound.

185) Herbert - The Shakes (Accidental)
Politically motivated cabaret electronica, with typically topical sources for samples.

184) Shamir - Ratchet (XL)
Androgynous and sleek modern disco party music.

183) Grasscut - Everyone Was A Bird (Lo Recordings)
Light, almost airborne work from the Brighton duo, adding a dazzling array of additional musicians. Marcus O’Dair also something of a personal inspiration in his juggling of creative music and writing (his Robert Wyatt biography is essential reading).

182) Elephant Micah - Where In Our Woods (Western Vinyl)
The prolific songwriter Joseph O’Connell continues his impressive ascent, conjuring coherent and powerful moods from skeletal arrangements and allusive imagery. It’s music made with patience that demands a great deal of the same, in a very good way. For admirers of Jason Molina, Will Oldham (who puts in an inevitable guest appearance) etc.

181) Paper Dollhouse - Aeonflower (Finders Keepers)
Somnambulent and atmospheric, vivid and otherworldly - intriguing interaction between sound/noise and voices.

180) GABI - Sympathy (Software)
A pop album for sure, but Gabrielle Herbst’s composition background certainly cuts through in this music’s rigorous design. Herbst’s extraordinary voice is the star here though.

179) Philip Jeck - Cardinal (Type)
Philip Jeck’s drone music feels awe-struck and devotional here.

178) Micachu & The Shapes - Good Sad Happy Bad (Rough Trade)
The intentionally ramshackle sound of this music often disguises its ingenuity. Mica Levi is also developing into a poet of the everyday and mundane.

177) Rachel Grimes - The Clearing (Temporary Residence)
Ghostly chamber ambience from the former Rachel’s musician.

176) Lou Barlow - Brace The Wave (Domino)
One of Barlow’s purposefully low key releases, but blessed with a few songs that hit the top level of his trademark melancholy romanticism.

175) Jlin - Dark Energy (Planet Mu)
An evolutionary work, taking the footwork genre to new levels of detail and sensory impact.

174)  Mew - +/- (PIAS)
Adventurous modern progressive indie-rock with sugary sweet vocal melodies and coruscating sound.

173) Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear (Bella Union)

Elaborate, darkly humorous narratives detailing Josh Tillman’s developing relationship with his wife, set to opulent, romantic music with a classic sound.

172) Helm - Olympic Mess (PAN)
Atavistic, artfully constructed noise collages from London-based producer-composer Luke Younger.

171) Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld - Never Was The Way She Was (Constellation) Predictably eerie and unsettling collaboration between the avant garde saxophonist and the Arcade Fire and Belle Orchestre vioinist. 

170) Taraf De Haidouks - Of Lovers, Gamblers & Parachute Shirts (Crammed Discs)With an age range running from 12 to 78, twelve musicians strong, with many more singers, Taraf De Haidouks brilliantly communicate the rhythmically vital music of the ‘lautari’ gypsies of Romania.

169) Jake Xerxes Fussell - Jake Xerxes Fussell (Paradise Of Bachelors) Produced by William Tyler, Jake Xerxes Fussell’s debut album is steeped in Americana heritage, but also with a deep well of feeling of its own.

168) Thomas Strønen - Time Is A Blind Guide (ECM) Brilliantly paced, atmospheric and expressive percussion composition and improvisation from one half of Food.

167) Kurt Vile - B’lieve I’m Goin Down (Matador)Probably the strongest example yet of Kurt Vile’s slacker songwriting aesthetic - the off-the-cuff, rough around the edges spontaneity belies Vile’s considerable melodic gifts. He is the true heir to J Mascis. 

166) Arca - Mutant (Mute) The Brooklyn based producer expanded his reach massively in 2015, at least in part through his work on Bjork’s Vulnicura, but also due to this weird, detached and thrillingly unsettling suite of abrasive anti-music.

165) Jerusalem In My Heart - If He Dies, If If If (Constellation) Second album from Radwan Ghazi Moumneh’s longstanding audio-visual project - very much needs to be digested as a coherent suite of music. Moumneh’s attention to detail and sound design are extraordinary (he has produced all of Matana Roberts’ outstanding Coin Coin series so far too).

164) Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe & Ariel Kalma - FRKWYS Vol. 12: We Know Each Other Somehow (RVNG Intl) Collaboration between Lichens vocalist and poet Lowe (recently seen on screen in Ben Rivers’ film A Spell To Ward Off Darkness) and French-born musician Kalma is another highlight of the excellent FRKWYS series.

163) Owiny Sigoma Band - Nyanza (Brownswood) I wish I’d latched on to this project earlier - this is its third release. The pairing of British electronic soul duo Elmore Judd (Jesse Hackett and Tom Skinner) with a variety of Kenyan musicians is deft and light.

162) Goran Kafjes Subtropic Orchestra - The Reason Why Vol. 2 (Headspin) Second instalment of space-age, groovy re-interpretations from the Swedish trumpeter’s large-ish ensemble - includes arrangements of Turkish pieces, Milton Nascimento and Grizzly Bear. Irresistible bass lines.

161) Liam Hayes - Slurrup (Drag City)Delightfully ramshackle, concise and unassuming set from former Plush singer-songwriter, with a perfectly onomatopoeic title.

160) Bob English - Constant Bop (Blood and Biscuits)Bright and relaxed (but typically virtuosic) solo album from White Denim’s James Petralli.

159) Babelfish - Chasing Rainbows (Moltone) Brigitte Beraha and Barry Green’s voice-lead ensemble achieves a kind of gentle intensity and articulate playfulness that only comes with a mastery of both musical form and language.

158) William Basinski - Cascade (2062) More sublime tape loop composition from Basinski (an unbroken 40 minute piece), this time focusing on a melancholy piano motif. There is also a companion piece, Deluge, that I haven’t heard yet.

157) The Bad Plus - The Bad Plus Joshua Redman (Nonesuch) In which the madcap trio freshen things up by collaborating with one of America’s strongest saxophone players - the resulting music, focusing on original compositions over zany interpretations, is both intelligent and playful.

156) Roisin Murphy - Hairless Toys (PIAS)Deservedly Mercury-nominated album of brainy, sophisticated pop songs from the excellent former Moloko vocalist.

155) Meg Baird - Don’t Weigh Down In The Light (Wichita) Haunting collection of otherworldly semi-electric modern folk songs, brilliantly enhanced by delicate glimmers of lead guitar.

154) Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh (Sacred Bones)
Second album of disorientating, refracted ambience from Benjamin John Power, one half of Fuck Buttons.

153) Mount Eerie - Sauna (P W Elverum & Sun) Phil Elverum continues to be expert at exploring sound and texture, from harsh distortion to warm heat-haze.

152) Six Organs Of Admittance - Hexadic/Hexadic II (Drag City) Guitarist Ben Chasney’s rigorous approach to composition results in something that sounds liberated.

151) Hot Chip - Why Make Sense? (Domino) Hot Chip’s sixth album (impressive longevity now) has a satisfying narrative arc, veering from familiar four to the floor electropop, to more varied live band approaches.

150) Tigran Hamasayan - Mockroot (Nonesuch) The Armenian jazz pianist’s first album for Nonesuch is breathtaking in its scope - incorporating Armenian folk melodies, a delicate touch, and intricate, percussive passages inspired by electronica and metal.

149) Sunn O))) - Kannon (Southern Lord)
Characteristically doomy drone metal - cascading sheets of sound that reward the listener patient enough to investigate the smell detail. 

148) Pops Staples - Don’t Lose It (Anti-/dBpm)Posthumous collection of Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples’ final ten recordings - post-produced by Jeff Tweedy (his son Spencer plays drums) in characteristically warm and respectful style.

147) Calexico - Edge Of The Sun (City Slang) Another very good Calexico album, furthering their by now familiar dusty country-mariachi sound and understated melodicism. It has become a bit too easy to take them for granted.

146) Tunde Olaniran - Transgressor (Quite Scientific)Excellent celebration of musical and social individuality, delivered in Olaniran’s dexterous, flighty, wide-ranging voice.

145) The Chills - Silver Bullets (Fire) New Zealand’s Martin Phillipps returns with the first full album from indie heroes The Chills in nearly two decades - a typically neat combination of infectious melodic themes and melancholy moods.

144) Dungen - Allas Sak (Smalltown Supersound) Excellent album emphasing the Swedish band’s more freewheeling psychedelic, jazzy side.

143) The Unthanks - Mount The Air (RabbleRouser Music) The title track (apparently fusing a song sourced in Cecil Sharp House with the essence of Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain) is The Unthanks at their most intricate and beautiful, but the whole album is haunting, and a powerful combination of traditional and contemporary elements.

142) Michael Chapman - Fish (Tompkins Square)Mostly a return to Chapman’s folk roots after the avant garde Clayton Peacock experiments. Very intimate sounding recording.

141) Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organism - Robin Goodie (Whirlwind) Dislocated grooves, quirky themes (often delivered in clever harmony) and impressive improvisation from Strigalev’s excellent international ensemble.

140) Rhyton - Navigating By Starlight (MIE)
Two side-long, dense, murky post rock musical explorations with searing electric guitar in the foreground.

139) Samba Toure - Gandadiko (Glitterbeat)
Samba Toure aimed to capture the more joyful side of his music on Gandadiko. He has been partially successful, although the most resonant feelings here are of defiance and the desire to rebuild. A celebration of Malian stoicism.

138) Samadhi Quintet - The Dance Of Venue (F-IRE)
Drummer Sam Gardner has crafted an ambitious and memorable set of music, built on strong concepts and the firm foundation of his now longstanding working relationship with bassist Sam Vicary and pianist Dominic Marshall. Whilst the music can be tricky and conceptual, it’s also richly melodic and open, saxophonist Krysztof Urbanski bringing an expressive quality to the fore. 

137) Mike Reed’s People, Places & Things - A New Kind Of Dance (482 Music)
Top quality, exciting contemporary jazz infused with strong bebop language.

136) George Crowley - Can Of Worms (Whirlwind)
Restless, imaginative and spontaneous-sounding improvised music that must be fun to play, alive to a wide variety of possibilities.

135) Gwilym Gold - A Paradise (Brille)
Long awaited but ultimately underrated solo album from the talented and restless former Golden Silvers leader - subtle, piano-focused songs reminiscent of Mark Hollis.
134) Moritz Von Oswald Trio - Sounding Lines (Honest Jon’s)
Moritz Von Oswald’s mechanical tech-improv is imbued with warmth by the loose-limbed, brilliantly intuitive drumming of the legendary Tony Allen.

133) Levon Vincent - Levon Vincent (Novel Sounds)
Bizarrely, this lengthy, impressive double vinyl work was given away for free by Vincent himself online - a magnanimous gesture for such a major exploration of dance music’s darker possibilities. 

132) Michael Janisch - Paradigm Shift (Whirlwind)
This ambitious two disc release has its basis in a two night live performance at Pizza Express in Soho that has then been moulded in post-production - it’s a novel approach that has yielded Janisch’s strongest work to date, experimenting successfully with combinations of electric and acoustic sounds.

131) Michael Wollny - Nachtfahrten (ACT)
One of the major figures in European jazz, pianist Michael Wollny continues to surprise and impress with his current trio.

130) Malija - The Day I Had Everything (Edition)
A new trio consisting of three of the strongest individual voices in contemporary jazz - Phronesis bassist Jasper Høiby, the idiosyncratic and thoughtful pianist Liam Noble and saxophonist Mark Lockheart (an important voice in Polar Bear and in his own right) - there’s a nimble, fleet-footed quality to the playing here and it is very in touch with the blues.

129) Hiatus Kaiyote - Choose Your Weapon (Sony)
Vital and accessible groove music from a band enjoying word-of-mouth success in much the same way as their peers Snarky Puppy.
128) Roots Manuva - Bleeds (Big Dada)
Rodney Smith remains the most singular and important voice in British hip hop - his lyrics daring to explore the dark side. Sonically, this is his most varied and surprising work.

127) Deradoorian - The Expanding Flower Planet (Anticon)
There’s a synaesthetic or hallucinatory quality to much of this debut solo album from the former Dirty Projectors member, with the title track particularly having a strong visual sense.

126) Cannibal Ox - Blade Of The Ronin (Iron Galaxy)
A big question clouded this long awaited comeback - could Vast Aire and Vordul Mega make a great album without the production hand of El-P? The answer, fortunately, turned out to be yes. It’s not has hard hitting or significant as The Cold Vein - but Blade Of The Ronin is still hip hop at its most bracing and exciting. 

125) Rhiannon Giddens - Tomorrow Is My Turn (Nonesuch)

Giddens branches out from the old time world of the Carolina Chocolate Drops to announce herself as a major interpretative singing voice.

124) Panda Bear - Panda Bear Vs. The Grim Reaper (Domino)
Noah Lennox designs synaesthetic, kaleidoscopic sound worlds. 

123) Benoit Pioulard - Sonnet (Kranky)
Thomas Meluch’s fifth full length work as Benoit Pioulard mainly focuses on the instrumental aspects of his work, and is dependably coherent and mesmerising. 

122) Alela Diane and Ryan Francesconi - Cold Moon (Believe Recordings)
Beguiling collaboration between the beautifully understated singer-songwriter and the skilled multi-instrumentalist (perhaps best known for his work with Joanna Newsom). The result is some intricate acoustic songs, some of which are unusually long, with unexpected tempo shifts and intriguing melodic gear shifts.

121) Young Fathers - White Men Are Black Men Too (Big Dada)
This felt like where Young Fathers lived up to the hype - their fluid, eccentric music (incorporating elements of hip hop, R&B, motorik electro, punk and rock) is highly resistant to categorisation. They had to spend most of their promotional time explaining/justifying that title though.

120) Steve Gunn/Black Twig Pickers - Seasonal Hire (Thrill Jockey)
An opportunity for Gunn to explore a purer, more acoustic environment than he has been doing in his recent solo work. Seasonal Hire has an old time sound but a modern sense of spontaneity and freedom.

119) Duane Pitre - Bayou Electric (Important)
Pitre sees this as the final installment of an unplanned trilogy (after ‘Feel Free’ and ‘Bridges’), this single 48 minute composition is defiantly minimal but also somehow graceful and grand, its slow ebbs and flows patiently capturing a sense of the Louisiana environment.

118) Lightning Bolt - Fantasy Empire (Thrill Jockey)
Few bands aspire to this pulverising level of intensity and also sustain it.

117) Phil Robson - The Cut Off Point (Whirlwind)
Guitarist and bandleader Phil Robson’s jazz here (guitar-lead organ trio) has a classic sound and an inspiring lightness of touch, as well as a fluidness and intuition in the improvising.

116) Rudresh Mahanthappa - Bird Calls (ACT)
Mahanthappa is the latest in a line of contemporary jazz musicians to pay homage to Charlie Parker,  brilliantly reshaping the master’s legacy for his own ends.

115) Lee Bannon - Pattern Of Excel (Ninja Tune)
Hip hop producer crafts set of instrumental music that veers far from conventional definitions of hip hop. Pattern of Excel is ghostly and transcendent electronica.

114) King Midas Sound/Fennesz - Edition 1 (Ninja Tune)
Kevin Martin’s collaboration with Christian Fennesz is eerie and haunting - taking unused guitar improvisations from Fennesz’s recordings has added new depth and feeling to Kevin Martin’s work. 

113) Terakaft - Alone (OutHere)
Great example of Malian desert blues to rival Tinariwen and Tamikrest - if anything, wilder and more propulsive than those two bands.

112) Beats & Pieces Big Band - All In (Efpi)
Punchy, forceful, mischievous and triumphant modern big band music.

111) Laura Marling - Short Movie (Virgin)
Marling has already achieved massive amounts for someone still so young, and she continues to develop as an artist. Short Movie presents a more ‘American’ context for her work, and brilliantly balances a more electrified band sound with her more familiar skeletal narratives.

110) Erykah Badu - But You Cain’t Use My Phone (Motown)
Erykah Badu won’t be dropping her phone, but she does drop mixtapes, such as this fragmented but intriguing (and often funny) set of sketchy and eccentric but innovative modern soul.

109) Dave Rawlings Machine - Nashville Obsolete (Acony)
One of those occasions where the other half of the formidable Welch-Rawlings partnership gets to take the lead. Rawlings tends to wear his influences more transparently - but with all original material and an augmented line-up (including Punch Brothers bassist Paul Kolwert and OCMS member Willie Watson), Rawlings shows himself to be a skilled songwriter as well as great guitarist here.

108) Corrie Dick - Impossible Things (Chaos Collective)
A very impressive debut from the Blue Eyed Hawk drummer, drawing on folk melodies and world rhythms to create a satisfying hybrid sound.

107) Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (Kranky)
The second era of Godspeed continued apace with this bludgeoning but concise and direct set - capturing the suite known as ‘Behemoth’ from their live shows.

106) Vijay Iyer Trio - Break Stuff (ECM)
Iyer’s first trio recording for ECM is, understandably, a little less attacking than his previous work (although Taking Flight and the title track both pack a punch), but retains plenty of his depth and drive to explore.

105) Dawn Richard - Blackheart (Our Dawn Entertainment)
After the disastrous Danity Kane reunion, Dawn Richard quickly returned to the more adventurous and independent world she has built for herself - mythological futurist R&B that is radical and entirely her own.

104) Heather Leigh - I Abused Animal (Ideologic Organ)
A powerful, sometimes harrowing listen, with Leigh’s remarkable voice left either starkly alone or with her unconventional pedal steel guitar playing for minimal accompaniment. It’s a draining experience, in the best way.

103) Misha Mullov-Abbado - New Ansonia (Edition)
A refreshing and arguably unfashionable jazz album from the prize winning bassist - its focus is on clarity, directness and melody, with much influence drawn from folk and world music.

102) Partikel - String Theory (Whirlwind)
Impressive combination of the core Partikel trio’s kinetic, agile, dancing music with string work from Benet McLean.

101) Destroyer - Poison Season (Dead Oceans)
With ornate arrangements and some of the street opera of Springsteen’s Born To Run and Bowie’s Young Americans (although he professes to hate Springsteen), Dan Bejar once again pushed his Destroyer project in a new and intriguing direction.

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