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 Film

Admittedly, I didn’t see a great many “films” theatrically in 2012. I spent a decent portion of 2011 ingesting a glut of films for free at a theater that still used the actual medium of film, but in 2012, I daresay I saw perhaps only one legitimate “film.”

The Master
Enigmatic. Surreal. Mesmerizing. Discomforting.

That film, was The Master. By no means an endearing experience, it is nonetheless an unshakeable one. This film springs from a dusty, high, forgotten shelf of cinema  where a few peers may reside. Perhaps Aguirre: The Wrath of God? Perhaps The Thin Red Line? I don’t know what else to compare it to.  It’s just… extant. Great performances all around, but the connection between the film’s titular character and Scientology-founder L. Ron Hubbard is tenuous and oblique. P.T. Anderson seems to have something to say about the apparent futility of soul-searching in a world replete with charlatans who employ technology as a means of enlightenment, but I’ll be darned if I know what it is.

Balin & Dwalin
Dwarf Lords from Under the Mountain

Now I am brought to my top 10 list of movies from 2012. The #1 spot is taken by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, unsurprisingly. I have been a Tolkien fan since my youth, and originally read The Hobbit from an illustrated version that my mother bought for my cousin. Gollum’s cave is etched deeply into my remembered childhood imagination. Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth is at once triumphant, cataclysmic, and like the arrival of a dear, old friend on your doorstep.

Bernie
Jack Black’s greatest role.

My second favorite film came as something of a surprise. I had known of Richard Linklater’s new(er) film, Bernie, for a while. Strictly speaking, the film was completed back in 2011, but it didn’t see the light of day as far as a distributor until 2012. Why on earth it took me so long to finally watch it, I cannot say. I do know I will NOT miss out on Linklater’s next project, a third entry in the Before Sunrise series, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I digress. Jack Black does something amazing, here. He inhabits the entire length, breadth, and width of his idiosyncratic, real-life character’s personality traits and proclivities, delivering a performance that is so bizarre and true, it could not have ever been invented. Read that last sentence aloud, without taking any breaths. Sorry about that.

And the list goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began.

  1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  2. Bernie
  3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
  4. Moonrise Kingdom
  5. Kari-gurashi no Arietti (The Secret World of Arrietty)
  6. Looper
  7. The Avengers
  8. Les Misérables
  9. The Master
  10. The Dark Knight Rises

Here is a list of ALL 2012 releases which I have seen, specifically. An all-time low: total number equaling 18. I aim to do a little better in 2013.

  • Brave – theatrical
  • Les Misérables – theatrical
  • The Master – theatrical (film!)
  • Kari-gurashi no Arietti (The Secret World of Arrietty) – theatrical
  • The Avengers – theatrical
  • The Dark Knight Rises – theatrical
  • The Hunger Games – theatrical
  • Skyfall – theatrical
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – theatrical
  • Prometheus – theatrical
  • John Carter – theatrical
  • Looper – theatrical
  • Chronicle – theatrical
  • Moonrise Kingdom – RedBox
  • Bernie – Netflix
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi – Netflix
  • Take This Waltz – On-demand
  • The Innkeepers – DVD