Please allow me to start this article with the confession that I don’t completely love list articles. The reason for that is because I find ranking art slightly artless and more importantly it’s rather presumptuous of me to assume that the music that resonates with me should in turn resonate with you. Now that I have that out of my system I will proceed to merely explain why I think this year was particularly musically important. 2015 had a great deal of album releases, which hasn’t necessarily been the case in the previous years of this wayward decade. Additionally there is something to be said about certain years that were particularly generous with strong albums.
Examples of this are…
1969-The Beatles- Abby Road, Led Zeppelin-Zeppelin 2, The Who-Tommy
1972-Rolling stone-Exile on Main St, Neil Young Harvest, Lou Reed-Transformer 1
1990- Nirvana- Nevermind, Tribe Called Quest- The Low End Theory, My Bloody Valentine-Loveless
2000- Radiohead- Kid A, Ryan Adams-Heartbreaker and D’Angelo’s- Voodoo .
These albums were well received at the time but unpredictably iconic and at the risk of sounding over zealous I believe 2015 has this potential. The following is a list of my absolute favourite albums of this very year…
Courtney Barnett-Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett hails from Melbourne, Australia and is in the crux of an illustrious career with the release of her first full-length album. Barnett has been widely recognized as a refreshing, innovative and authentic singer songwriter throughout her young career that consists mostly of playing charming and moderately sized music festivals. Common responses of people hearing her music for the first time is “who is this, why don’t I know about her, this is amazing”. Her sound is completely refreshing-it’s bold and fearless yet fun and inviting. Barnett’s music is relatively reminiscent of other powerful female songwriters such as P. J Harvey and early Liz Phair and resembles Bob Dylan’s stream of consciousness songwriting yet something new altogether. This album is a deadpan collection of affectionate realizations, groggy reflections and amiable rebellion. Her songs are certainly intelligent and well written but free of isolating those who haven’t experienced the same feelings. Additionally the girl can wail guitar like a machine and is outfitted with an intuitive band that understands her idiosyncratic style. This record is well suited to a diverse mosaic of emotions yet provides a sense that everything is going be all right due to her sense of humor and inviting sound. Barnett certainly isn’t pretentious, angry or esoteric. As John Cage put it “ Barnett has nothing to prove and she’s proving it”. Her music is truly a refreshing cleanse in the sea of other singer songwriters who take everything a touch too seriously and their music and soul consequently suffers for it. She is the voice of an otherwise silent archetype that enjoys being transparent, honest and void of self-importance.
Deerhunter- Fading Frontier
The unmistakable Deerhunter release their sixth studio album, which is like a ticket to further explore a really spectacular part of yourself. Front man, Bradford Cox who is arguably better known for his solo project Atlas Sound is quite possibly the most unique man in contemporary Indie music. Cox was born with a rare disorder called Marfan disease, which accounts for his strikingly long and thin limbs. His childhood was unusually isolated in that he lived in his infantile home alone in the suburbs after the divorce of his parents and he eventually dropped out of High School. He found salvation through both listening to and making experimental music, which is understandably packed with a tapestry of human emotion. Additionally, Cox was recently in a life threatening car accident and just shortly after released this album, so as you can imagine there is a significant emotional backbone to this record.
Although, Deerhunter’s music typically bleeds with the requirement to visit internal despondence it is also incredibly consoling and always musically gratifying. Deerhunter’s music is a combination of Shoe-Gaze, Ambient- Punk and Art-Rock. Their sound is entirely specific to them and each album explores different areas of their sonic mosaic. That stated, Fading Frontier is different from Deerhunter’s previous work in that it is purposefully more “normal”. Cox drew an “influence map” in the making of this record, which included the works of R.E.M and Tom Petty. These artists make “agreeable music” according to Cox, which he was ironically daring to explore. The result is an album that is certainly more Pop infused than their previous work, each song could be a single and it is void of the band’s notorious long-winded feedback solos. Although this album is presumably more “mainstream” and could even be interpreted as the band “selling out” it’s really just proof that Deerhunter can do it all.
Cox calls Fading Frontier their “domestic album” although each song tells a heartbreaking story; it comes in an accessible package. The seemingly blissful nature of this album is actually meant to be sarcastic and perpetually more morose than their previous work. Each song explores a different theme of mortality from a songwriting perspective, most notably on “Snakeskin” (“ I was born already nailed to the cross”) or in “All the Same” ( “Take your handicaps/channel them and feed them back/until they become your strengths”). From a musical perspective, Deerhunter has created another brilliant album that bravely explores an experimental soundscape that truly belongs to them.
Destroyer is the creator of one of my absolute favourite albums of all time “Kaputt” (2011) like many other fans of the incomparable Dan Bejar who is also a member of the New Pornographers. That stated, this album was highly anticipated and a great deal of pressure was submitted to Bejar as Poison Season is his first album since the iconic Kaputt. However, Bejar is a storm of talent and Poison Season is an excellent body of work that differs greatly and strongly from his previous. The album is more “radio friendly” than his earlier material but that works for Bejar. His voice is an appeasing stream of melodies that carefully belt poetic and tragic words straight from his bleeding heart. His lyrics are intelligent, tragic and hilarious which is a wonderfully rare tripod. As Pitchfork so accurately put “You listen to Destroyer to hear the smartest person at a party mutter funny and erudite things in your ear”. Bejar practices a different style of singing on this album, which is a tad more accessible and a tad less emotional. Each song could easily be a successful single, a symphony of sound is generously present throughout the record and his voice is flawless. Some fans have critiqued this album for being “too perfect” this is not the worst disapproval one can receive and it was likely intentional for Bejar to make a consistently solid record.
Most importantly, the album contains those heartbreaking and mind blowing lyrics we tend to long for such such as “ I’ve been sifting through these remains for years, bitter tears bitter pills, Oh it sucks when there’s nothing gold in those hills, girl, I know what you’re going through, I’m going there too” (Track: Girl in the Sling) Or, as “ You looked OK with others, you looked great on your own” (Track: Painter in your Pocket). The song “Times Square” is a smash single from the album and is a exemplary masterpiece;emotional but not corny, lyrically exceptional and musically jazz infused but not limited to. Poison Season will exceed the harsh test of sonic time.
Star Wars is Wilco’s ninth studio album, it was offered globally as a free download and released the same year of a tremendously popular film sequel of sorts you may have heard of . That stated, this album clearly wasn’t a money grabber for the six piece, wildly successful 21 years strong band. Wilco simply wanted to make an album void of media and financial pressure so that’s exactly what they did. Star Wars is an extension of Wilco’s array of solid brilliance. The album is explained by Tweedy as “Wilco being Wilco” and meant to offer “something for everyone”. This may exempt new listeners as many of the songs from this record make references to their early work such as A.M and Being There. Alternatively, It may be the most suitable album for new listeners as it is their most accessible album to date yet concentrates every element of their previous work in a powerfully skillful manor. The opening track “EKG” draws poignant comparisons to Sonic Youth, however it is a charming lullaby verses a trembling 15-minute reverb and noise parade such as many songs from my personal fave A Ghost is Born. Star Wars is Wilco’s first album in 4 years, which is the band’s longest gap between records. Star wars is playful, charming and genuine, each song is about 3 and a half minutes of pure gratification. Star Wars is ethnography of musical confidence and interpersonal trust between band members. The result is friendly as appose to aggressive and lacks obscure conceit that has historically been projected on Wilco by some. The sound of the album coincides accurately with the free download, lawsuit luring title and family friendly feline cover. Star Wars is an accurate sonic portrayal of the band’s contemporary maturity and refreshing withdrawal from the high pressure and sometimes hostile music industry.