Let’s face it, us humans love to quantify things, and what better time to do so than at the end the year. It also happens that this year has been one of the most exciting twelve months for new music in a very long time.
Not only has it seen a deluge of new talent spread their collective wings and take a leap off the cliff of obscurity to land straight into the sea of our consciousnesses, but 2015 will surely be remembered as the year of the come-back, with a litany of seminal artists announcing a triumphant return and producing some of their best material to date.
So, with beaming pride in the achievements of the collective minds that make up the great, strange beast known as ‘The Music Industry’, here’s our run down of the 10 very best albums of 2015…
Anna von Hausswolff
Sweden’s finest Anna von Hausswolff managed to school us all in what it means to produce pure cinematic pop music this year by way of her album The Miraculous. From tracks like ‘Evocation’ which sits resplendent and buzzing with barbs of jagged emotion, to more toned down moments like those delivered through ‘An Oath’, this year Anna von Hausswolff managed to serve up a devastating and captivating array of maximalist chamber pop. All the while her signature mile high pipe organ and achingly luscious vocals sat right in the centre of it all. Beautiful stuff.
(Domino Recording Co.)
One-man-party Dan Deacon returned with his fourth studio album Gliss Riffer at the beginning of the year, and it proved to be as varied as it was exhilarating. Taking a more considered, and less political approach than its predecessor America, Deacon pushed parts of Gliss Riffer to their sonic limits and ended up creating a tidal wave of twisted electronics and ear worm melodies, not least in opener ‘Feel The Lightning’.
But the more down-tempo moments like ‘Take It To The Max’ shone a light on Deacon’s more experimental side and this makes Gliss Riffer 2015’s prefect party album, infused with just enough mellow to enjoy the come down as the sun comes up.
2015 undoubtedly saw a surge of acts that embraced their psychedelic sides. But the wave of noise generated from Gold Celeste’s The Glow was like a technicolour tsunami. From opener ‘Can Of Worms’ which eases you in to the album like Brian Wilson taking you on a mescaline trip in the desert, to the hypnotic stand-out ‘Open Your Eyes’, The Glow proved that Gold Celeste are capable of truly great, and very tripy, things.
Five years is a long time, but in the universe inhabited by Joanna Newsom, this is clearly enough to hone the closest thing to a modern masterpiece as is possible to get in 2015.
When considered within the context of Newsom’s previous releases, from her wistful, quirky debut The Milk Eyed Mender, to the five-movement epic Ys and the sprawling conceptual loftiness of Have One On Me, Divers saw Newsom land on a perfectly balanced album that, in its considered and masterful construction, surely must be the apex of her complex and enchanting vision so far.
All Are Saved
If you haven’t heard of Fred Thomas, that’s probably because he’s what could be considered an ‘artist’s artist’. In reality he’s an indie rock lifer who has been releasing records since the late 90s and one of those guys who has a ten album back catalogue, and all this quiet experience has resulted in a person who has truly honed his craft.
Thomas is capable of calving out lyrical truths out of urban minutiae that will resonate with anyone who has had a clumsy first love, had a toxic friendship or simply been a child. In All Are Saved, Fred Thomas has continued his trajectory of witty, observational indie earworms, but also manages to amp up the hate a little bit, too, which suits him pretty well.
It’s hard to believe that Winchester born, London-based Rozi Plain is on her third album and isn’t headlining huge shows throughout the northern hemisphere. But this is part of what makes her music, and especially Friend, such a joy: its boundless energy lies in its understatement.
Plain is the type of artist that can’t help but spread ideas, be it playing as part of This Is The Kit to touring and collaborating with Francois and the Atlas Mountains, Plain seems to be able to lend her hand and/or voice to any number of projects. But Friend proves that her solo material is where she shines the most.
Tracks like ‘Actually’, which bounces with an impossibly infectious skiffle, to the folk heavy catchiness of ‘Friend City’, Friend sees Plain deliver textural pop brushed with colourful shades of afro-beat just below the shimmering surface, and with this album in tow, she managed to effortlessly charm us all.
No stranger to controversy, Norway’s Jenny Hval seemed intent on sending a seismic wave through the world of pop this year with Apocalypse, girl, her fifth album, and first for Sacred Bones. But the more you listen to it, the more you realise that Hval doesn’t really care about “shaking things up”.
Apocalypse, girl is more a pronouncement of Hval’s singular vision of the world and her interpretation of everything within it. As she tackles subjects as broad as the gender gap, the death of socialism and the struggles of finding an authentic creative voice in a world increasingly hostile to free expression, Apocalypse, girl shows Hval creating subversive pop music at its very best.
(Double Double Whammy)
Eskimeaux’s OK shouldn’t really sound the way it does. As part of a collective of Brooklyn-based artists and musicians who go by the moniker The Epoch, Gabrielle Smith, the brainchild behind Eskimeaux, clearly has an ethos of collaboration and fierce DIY aestheticism. So you’d expect any long term musical output to result in a collection of ramshackle offerings sounding charmingly rough around the edges. OK is anything but.
OK shines like a beacon of subversive melody and succinct heartbreak with tracks like ‘I Admit I’m Scared’ and ‘The Thunder Answered Back’ bursting like miniature supernovas of emotive energy. Imagine a Venn diagram of lost love, youthful verve and pitch-perfect melody – OK is what you’d find right in the centre.
Carrie & Lowell
Sometimes a musician can deliver something that is so cathartic and so personal, listening to it can feel a little uncomfortable. That is, until you realise that what they were aiming for all along was to get you into their head, sit you down and simply tell you a story.
Sufjan Stevens is well know for his ambitious, and slightly eccentric projects, be it embarking on a mission to produce an album for every state in the US or composing a symphonic soundtrack to an imaginary film about the Brooklyn-Queens express way. But in Carrie & Lowell, Stevens lays bare his demons, and what beautiful demons they are.
Taking cues from his abandonment and later brief reconciliation with his mother, and his sometimes turbulent relationship with his step father, Carrie & Lowell couldn’t be anything other than a journey of emotional heft. But it’s the way in which Stevens delivers his heart wrenching motifs that makes this album a truly special thing. No percussion and, at times, only Stevens’ delicate voice, occasionally sounding like it’s about to break, the heartache doesn’t distance you, it draws you in and leaves you with an overriding message of love.
Bones You Have Thrown Me And Blood I’ve Spilled
(Hits The Fan Records)
It’s a very rare occurrence when a piece of music comes along and completely floors you, even less so when that piece of music happens to be an entire album. This is unequivocally the case with Kathryn Joseph’s Bones You Have Thrown Me And Blood I’ve Spilled. And what makes this album even more inestimable, is the fact that it nearly didn’t happen at all.
Joseph has been open about her various crises of confidence whilst committing the album to tape and spoken of the hesitancy of relinquishing her singular vulnerability by releasing such deeply personal material into the public realm. But luckily, Joseph overcame her initial reticence and Bones You Have Thrown Me… made it out into the world, in all it’s devastating, nocturnal glory.
‘The Bird’, which serves as the opener to the album, turns on a coil of tightly wound piano and slow burn percussion, and like many of the tracks, is driven by a narrative of physical vulnerability in nature balancing on a high wire of emotional tension. Stand-out ‘The Crow’ turns on a cyclical piano riff, the small creaks of the piano’s pedal just audible in the distance, and Joseph’s poetic lyricism telling tales of lost love through deep metaphors of loss and self doubt. But the album retains an inherent optimism, and has a confirmatory air to it letting you know the journey is one worth taking for the cathartic arrival at some kind of emotional truth.
And the truth is, I could talk about this album forever, such is its raw and compelling beauty. But what Bones You Have thrown Me… does do, without any doubt, is emphasise Joseph’s knack for instilling emotive heft into the simplest of sonic touches and delivers it all with a feather-light touch.