2015 – The Year in Review – The Best Music


Play this as you read: Top of 2015 – Apple Music

So many… advancements in the world of music were made common in 2015. Apple Music finally launched. Spotify continued to not impress me. Rdio got ready to die. Grooveshark… well… whatever. Shazam, Sound Hound, SoundCloud, AOL Spinner, NPR, Last.fm… music streaming and discovery is a little bit nutty these days.

I decided to remain subscribed to Apple Music, despite its design flaws and confusing controls. The upshot is that fellow subscribers can enjoy all 30 songs from my Top of 2015 music playlist. Hooray for you guys!

Read on for my top 10 albums of 2015!

sufjan stevens carrie and lowell

1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

My choice for the best album of 2015 was cemented early in the year with the release of Sufjan Stevens’ brutal koan, Carrie & Lowell. I was quite possibly the first person to pre-order the album when it went on sale. I also snapped up tickets to see The Soof perform in my town- San Diego.

Then the album arrived on my doorstep, fully-formed, like Quasimodo on the steps of Notre Dame. Perhaps the term, “concept album” applies, here. Perhaps it’s more like a breakup album, mashed with a dirge, sort of if you could close the gulf between Beck’s Sea Change and last year’s Morning Phase. Or Warren Zevon’s self-titled 1976 album and 2003’s The Wind. He died on my 20th birthday.

Carrie & Lowell is also like Of Montreal’s The Past is a Grotesque Animal, it’s all over the map, yet tightly-bound by the purpose and training behind years of practice and performance.

The album is utterly  devastating and an ear worm all at once. An odyssey of heartbreak and memory.

When I emerged from the opera house after a face-melting extended performance of Blue Bucket of Gold I knew that there could be no doubt about it. Not only is it the best record of 2015, but also it’s Sufjan’s best record to date.

What is a poet? An unhappy man who conceals profound anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so fashioned that when sighs and groans pass over them they sound like beautiful music. His fate resembles that of the unhappy men who were slowly roasted by a gentle fire in the tyrant Phalaris’ bull—their shrieks could not reach his ear to terrify him, to him they sounded like sweet music. And people flock about the poet and say to him: do sing again; Which means, would that new sufferings tormented your soul, and: would that your lips stayed fashioned as before, for your cries would only terrify us, but your music is delightful. And the critics join them, saying: well done, thus must it be according to the laws of aesthetics. Why, to be sure, a critic resembles a poet as one pea another, the only difference being that he has no anguish in his heart and no music on his lips. Behold, therefore would I rather be a swineherd on Amager, and be understood by the swine than a poet, and misunderstood by men.

~Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or

grimes art angels

2. Grimes – Art Angels

Grimes scrapped an entire album between Visions and Art Angels. Must’ve been quite the refinement process, because AA is a juggernaut of constant pop-deformation. The album bristles and crackles with a raw creative energy that all the producers and all the studio finesse in the world couldn’t replicate for other young pop-stars trying to graduate to faux-rebel, damaged-goods astral plane of stardom. I just had some beer.

kurt vile - b'lieve i'm goin down

3. Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Goin Down…

Kurt Vile, formerly of The War on Drugs, has been churning out albums at a steady clip since 2007’s Constant Hitmaker. His latest is a sprawling, rambling opus filled with big, old-hearted men and rockstars who are so self-aware that they regard themselves in the third person and eventually forget their own identity. Just listen to lead single Pretty Pimpin and you’ll be hooked.

bombadil hold on

4. Bombadil – Hold On

Thank you, Bombadil, for remaining creative. Although Hold On is not as terrific as All That the Rain Promises or Metrics of Affection, it does have plenty of hooks and jingles to keep you coming back for more and more and more.

junun

5. Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood and the Rajasthan Express – Junun

Paul Thomas Anderson’s documentary about the making of Junun was a transcendent experience, primarily driven by the music in the film. The album is every bit as fascinating as the film itself, and they both benefit as a result. Maybe I will have a sip of wine, now.

Youth Lagoon - Savage Hills Ballroom

6. Youth Lagoon – Savage Hills Ballroom

2012’s Wondrous Bughouse was a masterwork of garbled lyrics, wrinkled-laundry-pile arrangements, and psychedelic scripture. SHB is more like the hangover after a graduation party. Now what? Make another album but do it with more restraint and awareness of limitations… but also awareness of where the good stuff can take you.

Beach House - Thank Your Lucky Stars

7. Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars

The second full-length release from Beach House in 2015 (the first being Depression Cherry) is the strongest in a long time. Both a throwback to the trinket-gaze of their first two albums and a departure easily on-par with U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. The last time I saw Beach House perform was somewhere in Cleveland…

tame impala currents

8. Tame Impala – Currents

With each record, Tame Impala have reached higher than before. Currents is no exception. Outside of every other album in my list (save Carrie & Lowell), this one is perhaps the best cohesive experience. I found it hard to pick songs out without wanting to hear the next one and so on.

destroyer poison season

9. Destroyer – Poison Season

Times Square. Dan Bejar’s palette has been constantly expanding and contracting over the years. Kaputt was a high-water-mark, and yet, here is Poison Season to up the ante just a little bit more. Chamber-Anti-Folk. That’s what I’m calling it. I don’t care. I’m drunk… almost.

natalie prass

10. Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass

Like a lost trove of Disney princess songs scattered across several decades and mixed with some singer / songwriter stock motifs. Aw what the heck, she’s a girl from Richmond, VA. I’ll be she’s been to GWAR-Bar at least once.

Where’s the rum bottle I had in the cupboard? Did I finish it already? I can’t remember…

2012 ~ The Year in Music

2012 - The Year in Review2012 was a “thinner” year for me, as I maintained a fairly strong connection to the channels through which I received my music-culture input, while at the same time withdrawing to a place where I spent less time seeking to find, and more time learning to redirect my own creative energies towards building stability for my family. Does this make sense?

There was a time when I bent the majority of my intellectual energy toward the uncovering of new artists and songs. It was hard work, long hours spent deeply absorbed in a world of sounds. I invested inordinate amounts of time just hearing things I never would have had the patience for if I hadn’t believed that there was some value to be discovered within the cacophony of the potentially-sublime creative output of some kids in a bedroom half a world away.

Upon moving to California, I adopted something of a passive attitude about such things. I was determined to remain in the dark about all of the shows I was now missing out on, mere miles away. I did go to a few, mind you, but nowhere near the number I would have gone to, had I not been so committed to pinching every penny we had. I locked up my input streams, and let the music flow to me, and flow it did. In pleasantly manageable quantities, too.

I won a spot on the guest list for Damien Jurado’s show in San Diego, and later I was able to tag along to a VIP hangout with Mutemath. Those were my concert-going activities for 2012. Will 2013 be more eventful? I fully expect it to be so.

Here is my list of top albums from 2012. Someday, an expansion on why Maraqopa was chosen will be due. I chose it very early in the year. Nothing has eclipsed my decision since.

Best album of 2012.
Best album of 2012.
  1. Damien Jurado – Maraqopa
  2. Grimes – Visions
  3. Chromatics – Kill for Love
  4. Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man
  5. elite gymnastics – ruin
  6. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
  7. Beach House – Bloom
  8. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
  9. Kent – Jag är inte rädd for mörkret

And a couple of honorable mentions. Why are these two honorables mentioned? Well, for one, Silver & Gold is a compilation of Soof’s past 5 Christmas albums. Also, it is a masterwork of staggering genius. Small Black’s Moon Killer Mixtape was released on 11/11/11 and was missed by yours truly (as a whole). I wound up digging on the title track a heck of a lot in 2012, so, I place this mixtape here as an honorable mention.

I'm a Christmas Unicorn. You're a Christmas Unicorn, too.
I’m a Christmas Unicorn. You’re a Christmas Unicorn, too.
  1. Sufjan Stevens – Silver & Gold
  2. Small Black – Moon Killer Mixtape

I don’t know what to expect from Sufjan, anymore. I just don’t.

Best un-owned (not unheard) albums from 2012. These are albums which I listened to- in this age of Rdio, Spotify, Grooveshark, and Soundcloud- and was highly impressed with, but hitherto have not been so moved as to purchase them. I would like to, though.

Far overstated how this band was "overrated" Shrines announces reality, sans hype.
Far overstated how this band was “overrated” Shrines announces reality, sans hype.
  1. Purity Ring – Shrines
  2. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
  3. Jessie Ware – Devotion
  4. Liars – WIXIW
  5. Chairlift – Something
  6. Passion Pit – Gossamer
  7. Woods – Bend Beyond
  8. Memory Tapes – Grace / Confusion
  9. The Fresh & Onlys – Long Slow Dance
  10. Crystal Castles – (III)

And finally, here is my list of favorite songs from 2012.

Never make you try.
Never make you try.
  1. Moon Killer – Small Black
  2. Genesis – Grimes
  3. Cherokee – Cat Power
  4. Give It Up – The Big Pink
  5. Wildest Moments – Jessie Ware
  6. No. 1 Against the Rush – Liars
  7. Into the Black – Chromatics
  8. Truth – Alexander
  9. Darkness – Leonard Cohen
  10. Working Titles – Damien Jurado
  11. Size Meets The Sound – Woods
  12. I’m Not Talking – A.C. Newman
  13. Presence of Mind – The Fresh & Onlys
  14. Shallow Tears – Light Asylum
  15. They’re Talking About Us – Tronics
  16. The House That Heaven Built – Japandroids
  17. Met Before – Chairlift
  18. Obedear – Purity Ring
  19. Wishes – Beach House
  20. h e r e, i n  h e a v e n  4 & 5 (CFCF Remix) – elite gymnastics
  21. All Your Gold – Bat For Lashes
  22. Only in My Dreams – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
  23. Fineshrine – Purity Ring
  24. Kill for Love – Chromatics
  25. The Theory of Relativity – Stars
  26. Museum of Flight – Damien Jurado
  27. Laura – Bat For Lashes
  28. Last Rights – Jeremy Enigk
  29. Heaven – The Walkmen
  30. Christmas Unicorn – Sufjan Stevens