Well, here we are again, folks. Enough of the platitudes, it really has all been said before, hasn't it? You know why we're here. Time to get on with it. Apologies in advance for the verbosity. I'd advise to stick the kettle on and grab a tin of biscuits. Once you've done that, I hope you enjoy.
Artist: Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe
Album: I Declare Nothing
Label: A Records
The simplistic approach is often the best. Anton Newcombe knows this as well as anyone, lending his sonic aptitude to Tess Parks for what is dubbed her sophomore effort in I Declare Nothing. It’s an album with simple chord progressions underneath the Parks' bourgeoning vocals. A voice hidden beneath a foggy obscurity and cigarettes, which operates deep in the heart of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a voyage of academia in some respects. Newcombe has almost taken Parks under his wing in order to nurture and harness these songs. I Declare Nothing is the result of that. The sound of Sunday morning.
Artist: Steve Von Till
Album: A Life Unto Itself
Label: Neurot Recordings
Along with Chelsea Wolfe's Abyss, this hybrid of dark folk reaches its peak through ‘Birch Bark Box'. Its reverberating drone and Von Till’s asphalt-rough groans outweigh most folk tracks put to record this year. Following is the haunting undercurrents of ‘Chasing Ghosts’. It seems like a fitting backdrop for a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Album: Star Wars
In the age of all things digital there's usually the odd band throwing out a record or two for free. This year it was Wilco's turn to be dragged kicking and screaming into the world of all things disposable, releasing a free album of their own; the follow-up to The Whole Love in the thirty-four minute treasure aptly titled Star Wars.
Favourite Tracks: More, Random Name Generator, You Satellite, Magnetized.
Label: Pink Flag
British post-punk pioneers, Wire, have always operating outside of the box. In many ways this makes them ahead their time. Look no further than their 1977 debut, Pink Flag. A timeless record that goes down for many as one of the greatest British post-punk debut LP’s. Their follow-up, Chairs Missing, didn’t disappoint, either, garnering just as many plaudits.
New guitarist, Matthew Simms, has introduced new elements to the band, and provides a nice foil for Colin Newman to impose his dry wit on his audience. ‘High’ is injected with those hard hitting chords that work well in tandem with Newman’s lovely melody. ‘Split Your Ends’ is the best track on Wire. It’s an infusion of vintage Wire and the new incarnation of the band.
Wire reveals itself slowly. It’s a common trait when you associate with this band. They are not an instant proposition and never have been. The proof of their grandeur lies with Newman and his mysterious ability to flesh out the perfect melody. In this case Wire is no different. There are mutterings of a new album in 2016, entitled Read & Burn 04, which are cuts taken from the Wire sessions. If it's anything as good as Wire, then I can't wait.
Artist: My Morning Jacket
Album: The Waterfall
Label: ATO Records
My Morning Jacket have always polarised opinion. A little too weird for those claiming the likes of Band of Horses and Fleet Foxes are the best things since sliced loaf. A little too simplified for the avant-garde clique. They have always been a band ostensibly uncomfortable in their own skin, which has made for some interesting moments; particularly in the latter stages of their career.
Artist: Destruction Unit
Album: Negative Feedback Resistor
Label: Sacred Bones Records
Starting out in the
early 2000s, Arizona’s Destruction Unit (better known as D-Unit to their
loyalists) have gradually morphed into something of a sonic stalwart as far as the
American underground garage scene is concerned. Surprisingly, Negative Feedback Resistor, the band’s
seventh long player, has gathered less favourable reviews. I’ll call a spade a
spade here. In a scene that has its fair share of mediocrity,
I firmly believe that Negative Feedback
Resistor stands alone as a juggernaut of its genre. It really holds all the
keys and is bolstered by the work behind the soundboards from the likes of The
Icarus Line’s Joe Cardamone and The Men’s Ben Greenberg.
Destruction Unit’s Negative Feedback Resistor feels like the sound of a pulpy horror movie. Its aesthetic, a pulverising form of tombstone garage rock. It’s something you could ascribe to being punk, but the musicianship is too tight to wrap itself completely around the genre. Frontman, Ryan Rousseau’s howls are reminiscent of the Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster frontman, Guy McKnight . Either that or Elvis Presley in your worst nightmare. His venomous delivery is simply what makes this so good, while the musicianship is not to be sneezed at, either. It’s not the loose baroque essence of punk. It’s all brawn, freight-train fast and perceptively dangerous. Take the speed of The Men, the danger of The Icarus Line and precision of Pissed Jeans and you have Negative Feedback Resistor here and at your service.
Album: Summer Tombs
Label: Riot Season Records
23. Artist: The Declining Winter
Artist: The Declining Winter
Album: Home for Lost Souls
Label: Home Assembly
The title track evolves with a slow forlorn guitar riff that threatens to break into some form of pop lament. ‘It Is Intensely Sad’ really is just that. It feels like the sonic backdrop of an imagery consisting of sweeping winds across the Pennines. ‘Hurled to the Curb’ is a psychedelic post-rock journey that almost sounds like Graham Sutton of Bark Psychosis joining forces with Flying Saucer Attack’s David Pearce. ‘The Right True End’ is the longest track on the album and its finest; a meandering ode to rural psychedelia and a pastoral aesthetic that goes unrivalled.
Adams’ ghostly murmurs, along with beautifully crafted instrumentation, help Home for Lost Souls convey an imagery of a wet northern Sunday morning, revelling in the satire of rural psychedelia. The Declining Winter offer rich textures, evoking a real sense of place, which is vastly lost in today's musical landscape. Proper Northern soul? I believe so. In many ways, as strange as it sounds, Home for Lost Souls it's as close to a rock record as Richard Adams and The Declining Winter will ever make.
Favourite Tracks: This Sadness Lacks, Home for Lost Souls, Hurled to the Curb, The Right True End.
22. Artist: Julia Holter
Artist: Julia Holter
Album: Have You In My Wilderness
21. Artist: The Pop Group
Artist: The Pop Group
Album: Citizen Zombie
Label: Freaks R Us
Another year, another
reformed band makes a new album. Such news is met with snide contempt from
some, whereas others choose to revel in the nostalgia. The Pop Group have been
back together for a few years now, sporadically performing live shows here and
there. Their comeback opus, Citizen
Zombie, sees them moving on from their DIY beginnings, which created a
milieu of discordance equating to the landmark album that was Ys. An essential to the post-punk genre.
20. Artist: Roots Manuva
Artist: Roots Manuva
Label: Big Dada
Some had claimed that Rodney Smith, A.K.A. Roots Manuva had lost his zest, teetering on the edge of non-pertinence. That’s when art is at its best, though. When creativity rises above the status quote and the collective voice of cynicism. Smith has used this cynicism as a manifesto to create one of his finest triumphs in Bleeds.
19. Artist: Jim O'Rourke
Artist: Jim O'Rourke
Album: Simple Songs
Label: Drag City
Simple Songs can attest to those conformist sounds which made Insignificance feel like O’Rourke’s road to Damascus moment. O'Rourke reaches these accessible points in a rather complex fashion. He orchestrates these moments symphonically. Just like the album’s moniker, O'Rourke has always rendered somewhat ironic song titles. This time around it's ‘Half Life Crisis’ which is arguably the best of the bunch.
While Simple Songs could very well rival the aforementioned magnum opus, O'Rourke yet again demonstrates his idiosyncratic interpretation of a genre that normally associates its sound with more user-friendly purveyors. That's why O'Rourke's music fascinates.
Favourite Tracks: Friends with Benefits, Last Year, End of the Road, All Your Love.
18. Artist: Editors
Album: In Dream
Birmingham’s Editors are a vastly different animal from the one many grew familiar with yesteryear. Apart from their most devoted followers who harboured the collective thought that The Back Room and An End Has to Start were British indie music triumphs, others quickly tired of the band’s following two records. They appeared slightly aimless and illustrated a band that was quickly running out of steam. I won’t lie. I’d almost forgotten about the Editors.
Some may think the Birmingham outfit have overreached with their fifth LP, In Dream. Perhaps plausible, however on the flipside you can hear a band that has totally reinvented itself. Isn’t that what creating something is all about? Are Editors back? I believe so, but not as we once knew them and that is the greatest aspect of In Dream.
From this point Editors of 2015 takes hold. Okay, so the chorus of ‘Forgiveness’ could pose as background noise during the rolling credits of a BBC drama. I’ll give you that. However these moments are very few. ‘Salvation’ is a stirring number led by sparse piano and clever electronic incursions. ‘Life is a Fear’ and ‘Our Love’ descend from a 1980s dancefloor; the latter a captivating clash between the new wave and rock music. It's one of the few times such fusions don't pass off an unpleasant whiff of manufactured shit.
Where almost every other post-punk collective is gnawing at the carcass Joy Division, Editors have broadened their appetite, instead turning to the likes of Jon Hopkins’ Immunity; a distinct influence throughout In Dream. Look no further than the final closing track, ‘Marching Orders’. It’s the track that illustrates Editors’ sea change as complete and I have to say, it's a mighty fine one at that.
17. Artist: Mercury Rev
Artist: Mercury Rev
Album: The Light In You
Label: Bella Union
After eight years in the wilderness (see what I did there? Okay, I’ll grab my coat), Mercury Rev are back with another offering of auditory pleasure in The Light In You. As time goes on, it would be fair to say Mercury Rev are at the stage where their followers are pretty much set in stone. Euphemistically it may suggest they are getting a bit long in the tooth, however their creative outfit remains unwaveringly pertinent.
Although mastermind, Dave Fridmann, isn't behind the soundboards on this occasion, the Mercury Rev brains-trust in Jonathan Donahue and Sean "Grasshopper" Mackowiak are the most obvious replacements and their efforts are one of reward. The ‘Rev’s framework of fantasy-laden atmospherics remains steadfast. Their ability to amalgamate fantasy and beauty has always been their strongest hand and like The Secret Migration and Snowflake Midnight, The Light In You continues these themes both lyrically and sonically. Is this a reinvention of the wheel? Probably not. However in this realm of rock music, Mercury Rev stand on their own feet and not on the shoulders of giants. Quite simply when Mercury Rev produce new sounds the world of music is a far better place with them around.
Favourite Tracks: The Queen of Swans, Amelie, Central Park East, Are You Ready, Rainy Day Record.
16. Artist: Howlin' Rain
Artist: Howlin' Rain
Album: Mansion Songs
Label: Easy Sound
Most associate Ethan Miller as frontman of the much revered Comets On Fire. Although his earlier workings throughout the Howlin’ Rain cannon consist of tracks rubbing shoulders with the cut and thrust of Comets’ oeuvres, Miller has also used the Howlin' Rain project as a juncture for his more conventional sounds.
15. Artist: Hey Colossus
Artist: Hey Colossus
Album: Radio Static High
Label: Riot Season Records
Despite the band’s members being scattered throughout various parts of the United Kingdom, Hey Colossus have been a part of a festering underground scene for years now. Having a slew of LPs (nine in fact) within their garrison, not to mention boasting just as impressive side projects (Henry Blacker being the most notable), it's as much their choice as anyone's as to why they haven't reached a wider audience. In their own words, this is just about hanging out with your mates and banging out songs. In their case, the ditties are of a monolithic variety.
Radio Static High is a bourgeoning representation of Hey Colossus. It’s an assortment of genres viscerally enmeshed to produce staggering results. These guys have impressive record collections. You can feel it through the music they create. The opening title track is a slow burning saunter, with droning riffs and reverberating tones. Quite a contrast to 'March of the Headaches', which is a speaker blowing sludge-rock stomp. 'Hesitation Time' may just been one of the best songs they've written and believe me, this band have written some numbers (look no further than ‘Hot Grave’, an exemplary cut from Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo). 'Hesitation Time' is a no-nonsense guitar-crunching number with cutting synth and bludgeoning riffs. “The future is waiting/You better plan your attack,” sings frontman, Paul Sykes. 'Honey' is the perfect end to this record, intertwining all the elements which makes Radio Static High the proposition it truly is.
Those who indulge in progressive metal will enjoy this as much as those who delve into psychedelic and stoner rock. The Melvins, Boris, Earth, Dead Meadow. It's all here on Radio Static High, jam packed with impressive sonic textures spanning over ten finely crafted songs that are presented in menacing fashion.
14. Artist: King Midas Sound/Fennesz
Artist: King Midas Sound/Fennesz
Album: Edition 1
Label: Ninja Tune
13. Artist: Chelsea Wolfe
Artist: Chelsea Wolfe
Label: Sargent House
The themes of Abyss are centred on Wolfe's sleep paralysis, making the album’s artwork somewhat of a literal piece. In terms of sound, it's evident that Wolfe's association with artists portraying heavier sonic leanings has influenced the structure of Abyss. 'Carrion Flowers' is a clear testament to this, with its low end drone piercing through Wolfe's ethereal vocal.
12. Artist: Self Defense Family
Artist: Self Defense Family
Album: Heaven Is Earth
With its members
spread across various continents, one gets the feeling that Self Defense Family
loosely define the notions of being a band. Perhaps a modern day
version of Fugazi without the personnel stability? Formerly named End of the Year,
Heaven is Earth is Self Defense
Family’s second album under their new moniker. Apart from frontman, Patrick
Kindlon, Self Defense Family seems to be more like a revolving door of
musicians creating sporadic art rather than a solidified collective that write
songs. Heaven Is Earth certainly
sounds like the latter, though. It consists of a melting pot of ideas; the sonic
scaffolding certainly centred on the origins of post-hardcore and British
‘Talia’ – the album’s first single – explodes with bending harmonicas and simmering pianos that function below an atmospheric post-hardcore pastiche. ‘Prison Ring’ is more of a reverence to early ‘00s indie rock and perhaps the most straightforward track on the album. The title track is slowest on the record and seemingly the most personal from a lyrical standpoint. ‘Dave Sim’ is the finest number on Heaven is Earth and a fitting closure to a record that doesn’t weaken from start to finish. It's an anthemtic fist-pumping foray presenting a gut-busting chorus that just about spells democratic vitality.
It’s worth pointing out that Kurt Ballou’s assistance behind the soundboards on Heaven Is Earth enhances the album’s capacity. His production is crisp yet provides the raw and spatial textures which capture what Self Defense Family are pushing for here. In conjunction with the songcraft from Kindlon, Heaven Is Earth is a clear winner and one of the hidden gems in music released this year.
Favourite Tracks: Talia, Prison Ring, Ditko, Dave Sim.
Label: Tender Loving Empire
Willis Earl Beal. A true punk. A troubadour. A man undoubtedly misunderstood. Three years, three albums. All of which are great, including his latest LP, Noctunes. As the title suggests, these songs were conceived during night time meanderings in his humble abode of a trailer/caravan. During the time of recording and release, he went through a divorce, spent a couple of weeks in prison and still managed to produce an LP that gets to see the light of day.
Noctunes is a rollercoaster of emotions. Love, hate, loss, hope; all the traits which have been at the forefront of Beal’s thematic travails. It's not easy to digest, Noctunes. It’s not an acquired taste, though. Patience is required for its essence to seep in. Four of five listens in, it starts to make sense.
You can feel Beal's pain. ‘Flying So Low’ almost feels like the man is on the brink. ‘No Solution’ is a evocative dirge about his marriage breakdown, as he sings “I wanna say something nice to you/I know I lost my wedding ring/The colours all faded blue/Now I lost track of everything”. ‘Stay’ follows and, as its title suggests, is just as gut-wrenching. ‘Able to Wait’ seems like a journey of hope. The last three tracks, ‘Survive’, ‘Start Over’ and the brilliant ‘1-2 Midnight’ are arguably the finest three tracks on the album and end this emotional rollercoaster where you sense that all is not lost and that Willis finds solace.
From start to finish, Noctunes is Beal at his most revealing. A true punk. A troubadour. No big studios, no hangers-on yearning for fame or fictitious bravado. It's just a man knocking out stripped back awe-inspiring songs. A true punk. A troubadour. People will laud the likes of Leon Bridges and Benjamin Clementine, but Willis Earl Beal isn’t some manufactured poster boy for the majors, nor is he a Mercury Music Prize nominee. No way. This man operates on the ridges. A true punk. A troubadour. Noctunes could very well be the vanguard of modern-day soul. In fact I’m quite certain of it, even if most people can’t see Willis Earl Beal for what he truly is. A true punk. A troubadour.
10. Artist: Majical Cloudz
Artist: Majical Cloudz
Album: Are You Alone?
Label: Matador Records
9. Artist: The Icarus Line
Artist: The Icarus Line
Album: All Things Under Heaven
Simply put, The Icarus Line haven’t received the plaudits they deserve. If truth be told, they probably never will, either. Over the last fifteen years they have delivered some of the finest representation of guitar music put to record. Mono, Penance Soiree, and Slave Vows are all beguiling experiences. In their own right, they all have one thing in common. Each of these albums have a unique ability to make you feel ten feet tall.
While the 12 minute 27 seconds of guttural downer rock during ‘Incinerator Blue’ will mesmerise many, the visceral inflections of ‘Solar Plexus’ transcend it, weaving in and out of the Penance’ era of The Icarus Line. This time, though, it’s far a more dangerous animal and one of the finest snapshots of this band. Funnily enough, it could be argued that the finest moment during All Things Under Heaven comes at its final juncture in the elegant ‘Sleep Now’. Festering saxophones, droning keyboards and Cardamone’s tender vocals morph this track into the most beautiful thing the band has written, yet again adding another string to the bow of this rock ‘n’ roll behemoth.
In some ways it's non-pertinent to rank albums such as All Things Under Heaven. Regardless of the digital age and people's different listening habits, albums like this continue to reveal themselves as the years pass. Should I be lucky enough to be still clinging to the mortal coil in thirty years' time, I have little doubt that this is one album I will be talking about.
Favourite Tracks: Ready or Die, Total Pandemonium, Solar Plexus, Mirror, Sleep Now.
8. Artist: Deafheaven
Album: New Bermuda
As far as outer
expectations are concerned, Deafheaven have probably felt these pressures like
no other band. While Roads to Judah caused
a ripple in the ocean, the shift in attention Deafheaven experienced after the
release of the landmark Sunbather was
indeed seismic. Likened to Majical Cloudz, there were undoubtedly many with the
build ‘em up knock ‘em down approach with poison pens at the ready, only to
retreat when the band’s third submission, New
Bermuda, became audible.
Many will call this Deafheaven's magnum opus, as the remnants of black metal and to a lesser extent, shoegaze, have never reached audiences so far and wide. While New Bermuda is certainly exceptional, it would be prudent to acknowledge the seeds which were planted yesteryear when Sunbather floored so many in its path.
More than ever, there is an array of influences on New Bermuda. The beginning of ‘Baby Blue’ is a head nod to hip hop, as Daniel Tracy’s drumming adds further dimensions to this ensemble. His drumming is dynamic from front to back on ‘Bermuda. The solemn dirge of ‘Come Back’ sounds like something Low, the Red House Painters, or Codeine could have written. The homage to post-rock is paramount, too.