Well, shit. It's already the 11th day of 2016 and I have no official "Best Of" list out, that all important contribution where budding tastemakers, cultural purveyors, bored music freakazoids, and other assorted miscreants put forth their truly enlightened positions on music and why you should hear what is actually good.
And I haven't done that yet for 2015, and I usually do something like that. But I feel like there is so much out there that is good or worth writing about that I have not properly heard everything just yet. But I do know for sure what I liked most during the year of 2015. That one album that I keep going back to is....
Cherubs - '2YNFYNYTY'
The return of an underground noise rock band, well respected in the 90s. From the south. One of the weirder of the noise rock bands in the vein of the Unsane monolith stacked brick riffs... I honestly don't know a whole lot about this band other than they have a lot of that rock x-factor vibe, so much energy is in their songs that it really cannot properly be captured. And they do funny interviews, very witty and full of personality.
2YNFYNYTY exudes rock intensity, but there is something more to it lurking beyond its blown out, distorted horizons. Not so much alien as imbued with life and unquantifiable energies. The riffs are there, catchy as ever. However, unlike some noise rock bands, there is enough variety and ebb and flow between compositions that it makes the effort truly an album's worth of memorable listening... which rarely seems to happen anymore.
There is so much going on in the layers of loudness that can be heard within, it is refreshing; referencing everything musical, as well as pure texture. Its sounds are both visceral and visual, image-conjuring even in their duller points. It is not unlike My Bloody Valentine's 'Loveless', except it is denser and less ethereal, more down to earth. Very similar in that it can be an adventure just sliding around multiple bands on an EQ to see what will happen as you catch glimpses into parallel dimensions. This is not a very revealing recording, as its murk masks some of what is going on, as it reveals itself more upon each listen.
That doesn't mean it doesn't have a lot of sunny qualities to it, or a lack of space. Its all there. One of if not the best album of 2015, in this guy's maybe not so humble estimation. The vocals top it all off with extra unique, soulful punk delivered rants and observations from a higher source. Could even unify rooms of not necessarily like-minded people, it is so broad in its scope. That is, if everyone is into great envelope-pushing music that will not win them any bonus points at the water cooler during small talk... but will garner them a gold star for sure in the bigger picture.
Unreleased Aphex Twin & AFX tracks on Soundcloud
To make a long story short, Aphex Twin released like 200 tracks early in 2015 that he was sitting on for years and years, dating all the way back to the beginning. Stretched out between all those years of unreleased tracks are some hidden gems, some of his best material. While over half of it is clearly b-sides or spin off versions of already existing tracks (which are always cool to hear!), there is enough material for at the least a double album of cool shit that puts most electronic artists (both beat and ambient oriented) to shame. And you got to hear them on a nearly unpredictable basis during the winter and spring, and they were free. One of my favorite things to happen all year. Almost made his most excellent 2015 "acoustic" EP an afterthought.
Cheatahs - 'Mythologies' LP and 'Sunne' EP
Move over Tame Impala, these guys are doing it better. If you like blissed out, psychedelic alternative rock, there's few better than Cheatahs over the past 5 years or so. A few years back I usually would see this band's name among the group of shoegaze revival bands mentioned in various publications and websites.
First off this year, Sunne EP was released: the 4 songs contained therein topping anything Cheatahs had ever done, even though they were already a fairly established and popular band among shoegaze and alternative rock circles.
The EP was bursting with fiery energy and pedal to the metal tempos, while the LP released a few months later dialed it down a couple notches but explored entirely new territory for the band. Cheatahs always had its pop elements, but they are presented in many new ways on Mythologies. The melodies became more complex and futuristic sounding, more pop as well as more psychedelic at the same time, without sacrificing their rock energies. I'd recommend this to anyone who wants to hear something forward thinking and maybe even visionary but still in a familiar rock format.
Dodheimsgard - 'A Umbra Omega'
In a year full of tons and tons of metal, especially of the blackened kind, Dodheimsgard was able to stick out like a sore thumb glowing with bizarre magical powers. I have had this album basically since it was released months and months ago, but I am still trying to figure out what is going on with it. Despite that confusion, I could tell there was some sort of singular and precise vision being conveyed.
The vocals were so deranged and different sounding from the rest of the field that it felt like between being yelled at in a different way, and all the avant garde and very creative compositional elements, this was something to pay attention to.
And it seems to be worth repeat listens each time, even though I cannot remember everything that is going on. Which ultimately makes it interesting since it leaves some intrigue in the listener's mind, as if there is some kind of unidentifiable purpose in the weird, dark chaos. Now I want to hear it again!
Failure - 'Heart Is A Monster'
The much anticipated return did not disappoint! I gotta admit though, it sounded much more polished and 90s rock radio than I had thought it would, like what if they had just kept getting bigger and did not have to break up. Well we have come full circle and bands are going back to a more direct, grungier sound... but I have to say, several songs on this album will be a big part of the memories I have of this past summer. The heart is indeed a monster, wanting what it wants. Fits well within their discography despite it sounding a bit out of place in contemporary rock music.
Falcon Haptics - 'Scuzzmaster'
A one man band from Iowa that used to be called something else, and made one man black metal instead of progged up stoner rock. His drum programming is better than ever, his guitar playing pushing new heights and expanding into different styles, while he actually sings on this instead of producing the usual raspily screamed utterances that is heard often at this time. This is complex yet catchy and obvious, which references 60s and 70s rock while pushing into outer space on the scuzziest bucket of bolts laying around in the desert. A gem in a sea of similarity, this one really sticks out as a classic in the crowded field of stoner rock. The compositions and catchy songs are what puts it on this list even though it is also technically proficient and a little forward thinking.
John Zorn - 'Pellucidar'
My favorite of the mellow exotica albums Zorn has been producing more and more frequently for years now. The analog production is as if you are in the room but better. Fully clear vibraphones caress your ears, robust guitar tones massage your brain, and seamless rhythms take you to other places on dancing feet. One of the most vivid recordings I have ever heard. A wondrous record that is much more traditional than most of Zorn's ouvre, it is in love with the sounds and luscious tones made by the instruments more than anything else. Simple but powerful and beautiful all at once, I probably listened to this more than anything else this year, even though at one point of my life I would have thought of this as dad or even granddad music.
L'Enfant De La Forêt - 'ABRAXAS'
I am still impressed by the production, scope, and vision of this album even though I have had it for nearly a year and many more albums have come out with similarities to this. At its best it is exciting industrial-tinged futuristic trip hop sounding material. At its worst it is truly horrifying horror music. I really hope this guy gets to score a horror flick, as I would check it out just because it would probably be a lot better than many horror movies based on its sounds alone. This album is truly cinematic sounding, gritty, real, surreal, floating, grounded, spooky, nocturnal music. To balance out the slower, dark soundtrack movements, there are a few more intense rock moments that give it just enough variety without taking it out of its particular context.
Loop - 'Array 1' EP
I really wish there was more Loop this year than just 3 new songs and 1 new drone track, but this is what we got and it was really damn good. Very dark yet warm sounding shoegaze music from some of the originators of the sound. I love the new lineup and approach from Robert Hampson and company. Very highly recommended and super detailed production values. Cannot wait for 'Array 2', let's hear that ASAP. Come on! I'm addicted to these sounds.
Magma - 'Slag Tanz'
This was the year of Magma for me, as I got to see them live and now fully understand their music. It took a few years, but I finally got it. Live, they were one of the tightest and most musical bands I have ever witnessed, despite the difficulty of their music and their more advanced age. They must practice like every day... Slag Tanz was a departure for them, carving up basically what was once probably one long song into smaller, only a few minutes long pieces or movements. Bordering on EP territory rather than bloated prog rock tome, this album pushes the limits of being concise within a larger form. One of their best albums.
Mastery - 'V.A.L.I.S.'
This one man black metal band seems to be pioneering a new type of sound within a genre that is so intense and fast that it is not easy to comprehend what is going on. Even more abstract than most of the more obtuse extreme metal bands, the music is difficult to describe, as it must be experienced. Sonically, it is on its own in some kind of other realm of perception. Streamlined into only the more aerodynamic sounds of distortion and world ending clatter, this will take you places you never even dreamed (or nightmared) of.
Meat Beat Manifesto - 'KASM02' EP
One of my all time favorite electronic music artists released new music, so I'm probably gonna have it on my year end list! One of the reasons that I make electronic music is Jack Dangers, always an inspiration and always producing top notch sounds. This one is more meditative and mellow than much of his work, but it retains all of the futurism.
Melvins reissues of Ozma, Lysol, Bullhead, and Eggnog on vinyl
Because, fuck yeah! That's some of the best punk rock and metal ever made in an era full of great music. These 4 albums were really in need of a remaster and these did not disappoint. Some of my favorite albums from one of my favorite bands presented most properly with a new master on new vinyl.
Primitive Man - 'Home Is Where The Hatred Is' EP
A simple reminder just how dysfunctional things really are. This is one of the heaviest bands around today and they continue to delve into their own sound. Sloppy and monstrous heavy metal with nihilistic vocals. Only for the tortured and malshapen minds of the outcast misfits of society.
Ringo Deathstarr - 'Pure Mood'
This would potentially be my album of the year if the production was anywhere near as good as the production demonstrated on their main shoegazer competition, Cheatahs' Mythologies LP, and the universe of sound and tight riffs heard on Cherubs latest 2YNFYNYTY LP. Other than those two releases, any record resembling anything of a pop format on my list is second to this. I just love most of the songs on here and they are dripping with psychedelia and shoegaze elements. Definitely going into My Bloody Valentine territory but overtly retaining their own persona. At least half this album is going to stick with me for a lifetime. Lyrically it is rather childish but I still love this more than most albums I have heard in recent years. While it is ultimately a love letter to the 90's and far from a perfect album, somehow I have really enjoyed it despite these realizations. Definitely in my top 5 of 2015.
Thou and The Body - 'You, Whom I Have Always Hated'
Crushing. Covers of early NIN. Two different sludge bands in one (I like Thou way more, but somehow this works). Torturously heavy, just like being in love. Resides in that nihilistic territory of Primitive Man, but more refined.
Battles - 'La Di Da Di'
The closest the band has come to matching the sound of its early live shows and initial trio of EP releases, which is beginning to make me a fan again. It is still a little too cartoony and overproduced for my tastes, but this music is upbeat, interesting, positive, and makes me productive at work so I am including it here. My favorite LP by them.
King Midas Sound with Fennesz - 'Edition 1'
This is the direction I would like to hear from Massive Attack, almost sounds like a lost album from them. Since they are due for a new one, this takes its place and is maybe even better than what they would do, if they did anything last year. Plus Fennesz! What more could you want? Really advanced sounds here.
Next are some albums I just recently acquired and listened to a few times, that I feel will be enjoyed in the long run... just not so much in 2015...
Onirik - 'Casket Dream Veneration'
Crafty, well constructed black metal. Very well done. Very European.
Vastum - 'Hole Below'
A perfectly aggressive death metal album full of chops. An appropriate follow-up to 'Patricidal Lust'.
Lychgate - 'An Antidote For The Glass Pill'
Black metal with real pipe organ! Holy shit, this is ridiculous and executed with no cheese somehow. A grower.
Jute Gyte - 'Ship of Theseus'
So, hearing Mastery early in the year, I figured I wouldn't hear anything like it until another Mastery album. But, lo and behold, here comes Jute Gyte, dropping a similarly harrowing existential nightmare of unpredictable atonal futurism. Both albums are near perfect and seem to be creating a new type of futuristic metal more blackened than death.
Arca - 'Mutant'
Some really "new" sounding electronic music, the beats have been so abstracted that they are not always beats exactly. Floating pseudo familiarities swirl around the stereo field. Disorienting but not malevolent.
Cruciamentum - 'Charnel Passages'
I was instantly infatuated with this album, a classic extreme metal sound referencing all kinds of points from the past but in non-generic ways. I just like the overall sound of this and they got doing the extreme thing very right. Grimey and dark, heavy, mysterious, menacing yet inviting with tons of energy.
Snail - 'Feral'
This might be my favorite straight up stoner rock album this year, in a year with great albums by Clutch, High On Fire, and other genre heavyweights. Snail have been around for almost as long but keep on keepin' on even though they have perennially gone virtually unnoticed. Each of their albums sound like their own particular vision on the genre while still progressing their craft, somehow not sounding like the stoner rock factory formula completely.
Kelela - 'Hallucinogen' EP
If you haven't guessed by now, I like futuristic sounding stuff. This sounds like R&B from the future. Kelela pushes her sound which debuted a couple years ago further into innovative territory while sounding more human than her more popular contemporaries. Hopefully on the next LP the sound she has been pioneering will be met with a more mature lyrical approach, as I think it would take her to the next level.
Serocs - 'And When the Sky Was Opened'
Heard a few technical death metal albums this year, and while I am not currently into the genre as much as I used to be, I found this album to be thoroughly hooky and extreme, and BRUTAL. It also has some quieter moments to give contrast to the brutality of this band's sounds... so it doesn't sound like the same thing for 50 minutes or whatever.
Helton and Bragg
- 'Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel'
One of the best experimental drone oriented albums of the year. I don't know, just got it and it sounds amazing, not much else to say about it right now other than I was captivated upon first listen. Will review later. But what I do remember for sure is they take these 2 instruments into new territories one might not imagine of these two devices.
Holly Herndon - 'Platform'
A critics darling for good reason. She tops her first album somehow... Very advanced digital signal processing of samples of her lovely voice, but this time arranged in a more musical manner rather than musique concrete. Might be the most futuristic sounding thing on here yet! Another one that I have not heard much but that I know should be mentioned, not just because other music writers liked it, but because it's something everyone should hear.
Nevoa - 'The Absence of Void'
Yet more black metal! But this is blacker than most! Extreme, yes! Unlistenable, no! Perhaps a good starting point if you are looking into getting into the 3rd wave of black metal before the 4th wave hits (and with bands like Mastery and Jute Gyte the 4th wave might already be hitting!).
Misþyrming - Söngvar elds og óreiðu
No idea what is going on with those words, and I have heard this less than even some of these on the tail end of this list. So why is it on here? Instant impact, instant impression. It's that good. I just haven't figured it out yet.
Henry Kaiser - 'Plane Crash 2'
I suppose this is my jazz inclusion for the year. Some years there's more jazz that I've discovered, but I always find at least one really good one. Another great one was by Atomic, but I'll write about that later as I didn't find it quite as memorable as I'm finding this so far. If you don't know Henry Kaiser, his music is almost unidentifiable. It is guitar, but ran through many alienating effects, so much so that the uninformed music listener often thinks he is a horrible guitar player, which is not the case. One of the more virtuosic but out of the box guitar players in music history. I call him jazz because I don't know how else to describe it. Very experimental weird sounds coming from traditional instruments, a definite stretching of the envelope yet again for Kaiser, but this time more beautifully recorded.