2015 Year Enders, End of Year Lists

Mike Simonelli’s Top 50 Albums of 2015

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Mike Simonelli is a multimedia performance artists and musician based in the Boston area.

 

Touristes50 – Touristes (Julia Easterlin & Vieux Farka Touré)
This is quite an unlikely pairing – but it works really well. Vieux Farka Touré is the Malian singer and guitarist who is the son of Ali Farka Touré, and Julia Easterlin is a singer/songwriter who came out of Berklee and is now based out of New York.  She does wonderful things with her voice and a loop station.  There are some tracks that really stand out on here such as the opener, “Little Things“, in which this fusion of Mali blues and experimental American pop/folk music creates something unique and beautiful.
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Never Were the Way She Was49 – Never Were the Way She Was (Colin Stetson / Sarah Neufeld)
Colin Stetson is a saxophonist/multi-reedist and Sarah Neufeld is a violinist – both are played in Arcade Fire together – but this record is more in the vein of minimalist/repetitive experimental music.  No looping/layering is used in this record and it was all recorded live in studio.  If you’re unfamiliar with Colin Stetson’s work – check out New History Warfare Vol. 2 before checking this out.
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Twelve Reasons to Die II48 – Twelve Reasons to Die II
This record basically follows the same blueprint as the first 12 Reasons to Die – in regards to the plot and the instrumentals created by Adrian Younge (which ultimately makes it less exciting) – but Raekwon as a co-star in this hip-hopera is a fresh addition that helps makes this a great sequel.
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Simple Songs47 – Simple Songs (Jim O’Rorque)
Jim O’Rourque returns to creating something like a pop album – and despite what the title of this record may suggest – these tunes are densely layered and sometimes super proggy.

 

 

 

 

 

Every Hero Needs a Villain46 – Every Hero Needs a Villain (Czarface)
Czarface’s sophomore album is a significant improvement from their debut.  The group consists Wu-Tang Clan member Inspectah Deck and the Boston based hip-hop duo 7L & Esoteric.  The chemistry works better on this record, the hooks are tighter, and the 90s throwback beats make this well worth checking out for hip-hop fans.  

 

 

GUUD45 – GUUD (Ash Koosha) 
This record is weird as fuck.  Experimental electronic music that is kind of a similar aesthetic as Arca (but far better).  It’s glitched out, labratoryesque, complex, dense, and very sonically rich.
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Purple44 – Purple (Baroness)
The progressive sometimes stoney sludge metal group Baroness return with their first record in four years.  “Purple” takes the more psychedelic, hookey, accessible sound of their previous record “Yellow & Green” and combines it with the harder hitting approach of their earlier records.

 

 

 

La Di Di43 – La Di Di (Battles)
“La Di D-” takes the more groove oriented aproach of thier previous record “Gloss Drop” but removes the vocal features.  The results are somewhat mixed – sometimes like in the opening track “The Yabba” the grooves are super tight and there is a lot of rhythmically interesting stuff going on, but other tracks sound more like drafts of tunes that could have been tight if they were more developed…or just sound like they could use Braxton doing weird shit on them (or even a guest vocalist or something to bring the track somewhere else).  If you’re new to Battles check out their amazing 2007 record “Mirrored”, but the highlights on here make it worth checking out for folks who are already Battles fans.
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Poison Season42 – Poison Season (Destroyer)
Canadian indie-rock singer-songwriter Destroyer follows up his great smooth-jazz/80s pop influenced album from 2011, “Kaputt” with this more baroqued rock record that returns more to his earlier style.  He spews whimsical poetry over this well orchestrated rock instrumentals that bring to mind folks like David Bowie and Lou Read.
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Abyss41 – Abyss (Chelsea Wolfe)
Dark, gloomy/doomy, shoegazy folk-rock music that has a very metal aesthetic.
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No Now40 – No Now (Clarence Clarity) 
Clarence Clarity’s debut record “No Now” is in a similar vein as electronic influenced alternative R&B acts like James Blake, Jai Paul, and How to Dress Well – but pushes far further into the avant-garde than any of these acts.  Some tracks are more like a sound collage and some are more catchy/accessible pop oriented tracks with some vapor-wave influence (such as the anthemic “Cancer in the Water”) – constantly unexpected twists and turns throughout this dense, glitched out hour long record.

 

Layout_11_A_FINAL_Corr39 – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (Panda Bear)
Panda Bear’s fifth studio album is more rhythmically busy and groovier than his previous releases.  The drum programming is influenced by classic 90s hip hop and Panda cited A Tribe Called Quest, Dust Brothers, Pete Rock, DJ Premier, 9th Wonder, and J Dilla as influences.  The title of this record is a subtle homage to some of the classic dub records such as King Tubby and Scientist – and there is some of that influence as well on some tracks.  Some great catchy, melodic tunes on here with a heavy helping of neo-psychedelia.

 

B4.Da.$$38 – B4.Da.$$ (Joey BadA$$)
Joey started to create some buzz from his mixtape “1999” which had some great tracks like “Waves“.  He is kind of a throwback to the golden-age/90s jazz influenced New York hip-hop acts such as Tribe, Nas, and Wu-Tang – and brings a new life back into this style.  His comercial debut is a consistently solid record that is well worth checking out if you dig that boom bap.  

 

Black Feathers37 – Black Feathers (Sound Shaman)

Boston based musician Sound Shaman is extremely prolific – he has been releasing AT LEAST one record every season (and some of his other projects are phenomenal as well, such as Tunnel Visions and Of the Sun – the later of which I’m really anticipating their release next year “Time Death”) – it’s needless to say a little hard to keep up with listening and digesting them all – but this record is the real deal and I highly recomend checking out if you’re a fan of experimental electronic music and drone/noise music.  The album uses samples from pow wows of the Crow Tribe, Upper Mustang Rituals in Nepal on the Tibetan Plateau, prayer wheels in Nepal, and bagpipes and crows at the Hills of Tara in Ireland as well as vocals, drumming, singing bowls, shakers, and synthesizer which he recorded himself.  The whole album has a dark vibe – but in it’s 79 minutes, it’s diverse in regards to the sonic pallet it draws from, with some higher energy beat oriented sections in which you can hear the pow wow samples more directly (which begins and ends the album in loop-like fashion) to more meditative drone oriented sections.
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Agitations36 – Agitations (Lotic)
A thirty minute mixtape of visceral, dark, experimental electronic music.  Lotic (aka J’Kerian Morgan) has said in an interview, “Agitations was born out of the frustrations that come with touring and feeling increasingly out of touch with club culture and with the music industry in general,”
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Morning:Evening35 – Morning/Evening (Four yet)

Electronic musician, Kieran Hebden, had acquired a large collection of Hindu devotional music from his grandfather when he was ten years old but had never listened to it until his grandmother died a couple years ago.  He decided to base this record around this music.  The two pieces on here, which each take up one side of the record, “Morning Side” and “Evening Side” follow similar structure to the rage mode of Indian music and contains sampled vocals (which I assume are from the collection of Hindu music he inherited).  There’s also some great drum programming, arpeggiated synth stuff, and manipulation of found audio recordings.
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Fantasy Empire34 – Fantasy Empire (Lightning Bolt)

The explosive Providence based noise rock duo, Lightning Bolt make me proud to be a Rhode Islander.  They’ve been at it for over 20 years and have consistently put out great records – and this one is no exception.

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Imaginary Cities33 Imaginary Cities (Chris Potter Underground Orchestra) 
On his second ECM album, American saxophonist Chris Potter brings back his Underground Group (guitarist Adam Rogers, drummer Nate Smith, and pianist Craig Taborn) and as the title of the ensemble would suggest expands it into an orchestra – adding two bassists, Steve Nelson on marimba and vibes (who is also Potter’s bandmate in Dave Holland’s quintet), and a string quartet. It’s an ambitious record that combines modern jazz with modern classical music.
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Kneedelus32 – Kneedelus (Kneebody)
Kneebody are a New York based modern jazz group who draw from different styles such as hip-hop, rock, and electronic music. When I saw that they were releasing this record on Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label I was really excited, but also a little confused and unsure what to expect.  On this record that collaborate with electronic music producer Daedelus (hence the not so great title of this record) – and the results are a bit mixed.  At times it’s rhythmically a bit too busy and it sounds like they’re stepping on each others toes (some of these tunes I actually preferred hearing live without Daedelus when they performed them at the Newport Jazz Festival last summer) – but at other times it works really well.  I’m super pumped to see Brainfeeder really trying to create a jazz renaissance and I think Kneebody are one of the best ensembles who can really help make that happen.
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Scar Sighted31 – Scar Sighted (Leviathan)

Leviathan is the one man American black metal project from Jef Whitehead.  He’s been at it with this project since 1998, and this is his best record so far.  This album is absolutely BRUTAL and combines black metal with death and doom metal, musique concrète, and noise rock.
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Currents30 – Currents (Tame Impala)

The third studio album by Australian psychedelic rock group Tame Impala is my favorite of theirs so far.  I wasn’t a huge fan of their previous two releases as I felt like they sounded like they were imitating 60s psychedelia too much without bringing enough fresh stuff to the table (despite some great song-writing and great production) – but this record continues the great production and solid songwriting of great catchy and danceable tunes and incorporates more synth-pop/dream pop (there’s actually more synths than guitars on here) and the results are dope.
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-“The Less I know the Better” Music Video-

Asunder Sweet and Other Distress29 – Asunder Sweet and Other Distress (Godspeed You! Black Emperor)
Godspeed are arguably the greatest band that has come out of the post-rock movement and largely responsible for revitalizing post-rock since their return from hiatus.  In 2013 I saw Godspeed open for NIN and play a piece called “Behemoth” that completely blew me away.  When I found out that this record would be that piece I was really stoked.  However, on this record they compress this piece – shortening the drone sections and making the tempo shifts far less drastic to how they were doing it live during this time.  I think these choices are a huge disservice to this piece and make this record not as great as it could be.  If you’re unfamiliar with Godspeed, check out some of their earlier records like “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven” or their release from 2012, “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” – but if you’re already a Godspeed fan then you check this out.  And despite not being one of their greatest records, it’s still far better than most post-rock records in recent years and there are some moments on here that are really powerful.

 

The Gate28 – The Gate (Swans) 
Swans are potentially the greatest rock band that is active right now.  Their music is heavy, spiritual, and very visceral and human.  For newcomers to Swans I’d recommend checking out their record from last year, “To Be Kind” as well as others in their discography like “Songs for the Blind” and “The Seer”, but for those who have already dug into their studio discography this is a great document of their mind shattering live shows from the past year.  On “The Gate” there is a couple songs from “To Be Kind” as well as tracks that will be released on their next studio album (which this album serves as a fundraiser for).  The record also contains five “rough, crudely recorded demos” performed by Gira on an acoustic guitar that will be re-recorded for the upcoming album.  It has been announced that this next record will be Swans last album – and from the progression they’ve been going in since their return from hiatus and the sounds on here – it sounds like it’s going to be a pretty epic conclusion.
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Frozen Niagara Falls27 – Frozen Niagara Falls (Pruient) 

Frozen Niagara Falls is an 90 minute double album of experimental noise record that draws from ambient, synth, and industrial music and often has a black metal asesthtic.  It’s some of the most tortured music I’ve ever heard – but it’s also sometimes simultaneously really beautiful.
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Pomegranates OST26 – Pomegranates OST (Nicolas Jaar)
So I was pretty afraid to listen to this since “The Color of Pomegranates” is one of the greatest most holy/sacred films of all time – and this is a rescore/new original soundtrack for that film.  His reinterpretation is pretty extreme and often significantly alters the vibe – but more often than not it works really well.  This won’t be my go-to version of the film that I watch, but it’s an interesting alternative soundtrack that also stands alone pretty well.
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Junun_25 – Junun (Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood & The Rajasthan Express)
Johnny Greenwood has already proved himself as one of the most influential rock guitar players in the group Radiohead, as a film composer (with his scores for Bodysong, The Master, and There Will Be Blood), as a serious modern classical composer (such as with his pieces on his split with Krzysztof Penderecki) and performer (performing and recording Steve Reich’s “Electronic Counterpoint”), and now he made this record that he insists is NOT world music (lol).  Greenwood travelled to India to record this double album with Israeli singer and composer Shye Ben Tzur and 19 Rajasthani traditional musicians (The Rajasthan Express).
The Rajasthan Express combine three strains of traditional music not usually performed together: qawwali (Sufi devotional music which is hypnotic and trance inducing), Manganiar court music, and a Rajasthani brass band.  Nigel Godrich is on the controls as the producer on here (who also produces the Radiohead records) – and sonically this record sounds amazing.  The Paul Thomas Anderson shot a documentary about the creation of this record which is really cool to be a fly on the wall during these sessions.
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For One to Love24 – For One to Love (Cecile McLorin Salvant)

Cecile is pretty traditional in her approach as a jazz singer – but she brings a really fresh energy to it. On this new record there is more atmosphere such as on the opening track “Fog“, more joy/sense of humor, and more personal raw emotion (such as on the closer “Underling“, which I can’t listen to without getting goosebumps all over).  Cecile proves she deserves all the buzz she’s getting as a jazz singer on this record and I’m stoked to see where she goes from here.
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Break Stuff23 – Break Stuff (Vijay Iyer Trio)

Iyer said in interview the album’s title refers to “a break in music is still music: a span of time in which to act.”  And on this 71 minute record this is looked at in many different ways through a collection of standards and originals.  One highlight for me is the track  “Hood,” which was inspired by Detroit techno DJ Robert Hood and which gets your head spinning with some of the crazy rhythmic things gong on.
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Fast Futures22 – Fast Futures (Donny McCaslin)

Saxaphonist Donny McCaslin’s 11th release, “Fast Futures” blends post-bop with breakbeats, and electronic music.  It’s the same line up as his previous record – keyboardist Jason Lindner (electric and acoustic piano and synth), electric bassist Tim Lefebvre, and drummer Mark Guiliana.  Like on his previous record there are some covers of modern electronic music such as Aphex Twin’s “54 Cymru Beats,” and “No Eyes,” which is by originally by Baths.  Well worth checking out for folks who dig modern jazz as well as folks who dig electronic music.
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Made in Chicago21 – Made in Chicago (Jack Dejohnette)

This ensemble that was started when the Chicago Jazz Festival had Jack Dejohnette assemble this group for this festival – which consists of all Chicago musicians.  This live recording gets pretty abstract – as this ensemble is tuning into their roots of the experimental and free jazz scene in Chicago of the 1960’s.  They find a really interesting balance of repetitive melodic composition, (such as in the opener “Chant”), soloing, and group improvisation.
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Wild Man Dance20 – Wild Man Dance (Charles Loyd)
Saxaphonist Charles Loyd has been at it for over half a century – and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.  His music has become more spiritual as he’s gotten older (which is what initially turned me on to him, such as with tracks on his 2010 release “Mirror”) which is definitely true for this live record as well – which plays more like a six part suite.
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Xe19 – Xe (Zs)
Zs are a New York experimental group and on”Xe”, their 7th studio album, they are joined by guitarist Patrick Higgins and percussionist Greg Fox, who drums in the transcendental black metal group Liturgy.  This record finds them combining post-rock with jazz, and drone/noise music.  There’s a stripped back minimalist approach on here that uses repetition to a hypnotic effect.
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Bird Calls18 – Bird Calls (Rudresh Mahanthappa)

In Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Charlie “Bird” Parker project he wrote pieces in which he takes melodies/heads, harmony, and quotations from Bird and transforms them into jigsaw puzzle style compositions.  Stylistically he’s fusing post-bop/modern jazz with his Indian raga roots, hip-hop/funk, and the avant garde to create something that’s rooted in the bop tradition – but extremely modern, intense, and cerebral.
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Have You in My Wilderness17 – Have You in my Wilderness (Julia Holter)

Julia Holter is an art-pop singer-songwriter who would appeal to folks who dig artists like Kate Bush and Laurie Anderson as well as baroqued dream pop.  It’s a more emotive and lyrically more personal album than her previous work and is less atmosphere driven and  more song oriented.  There’s a really interesting mix between weird unexpected layers and psychedelic production and catchy melodic pop songs.
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Starfire16 – Starfire (Jaga Jazzist)
“Starfire” is Norwegian experimental/electronic jazz ensemble Jaga Jazzist’s 11th record, and one of their best. And this record definitely gets my vote for the best album artwork of the year – this shit’s holographic and has crazy optical illusions and such.  Plus the sticker on the vinyl looks super trippy when you’re playing it.  BUT ANYWAY – the music on here is really wonderful too.  At first I was feeling like this record is a little bit too static (especially coming from their previous release “One Armed Bandit” which is much more varied) – but then after listening a few more times I think that the reason for this decision is the point of this music is to hypnotize – and it does a really good job of doing so.
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Norberg:Apondalifa15 – Norberg/Apondalifa (Tim Hecker)
Tim Hecker is an electronic musician/sound artist from Canada whose music is very textural. The opening piece, “Norberg” brings John Luther Adams to mind (such as his piece”The Light that Fills this World”) – but becomes something noisier and harsher, while remaining breathtakingly beautiful.  The closing piece “Apondalifa” is a guitar based drone and is more intense in it’s energy.

-youtube: Norberg / Apondalaifa
-itunes: Norberg / Apondalaifa

 

 

Absolute Jest14 – Absolute Jest (John Adams)
In Absolute Jest, Adams uses material from Beethoven as the source material and transforms it into something kaleidoscopically different.  In his words, “taking not so much melodies but just little harmonic fragments, like fractals, from Beethoven and putting them through the black box of my own musical personality was real stimulation to my invention.”
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In Situ13 – In Situ (Laurel Halo)

“In Situ” is technically a double EP – but I’m considering it an LP on here since I think it feels more like an LP.  She’s a classically trained musician who makes electronic music on the Hyperdub label – and caught a lot of folks ear with her relatively ambient more vocally driven debut “Quarantine” from 2012.  This record is a huge departure from that and is more like instrumental mutant offbeat techno.  The jazz/fusion influenced closer on here “Focus 1” is definitely a highlight.
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Autumn Eternal12 – Autumn Eternal (Panopticon)
Panopticon is a Louisville one man black metal project of Austin Lunn and “Autumn Eternal” is the closer in a trilogy of albums that combine black metal with american folk and bluegrass instrumentation.  This third record in the trilogy is my favorite of the three.  The acoustic folk instruments are more subtly placed in the mix (with the exception of the acoustic intro) – but melodically there is still a lot being drawn from from American folk music.  This record is extremely cathartic and emotional and takes the cake for my favorite metal record of 2015.
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Songs We Like a Lot11 – Songs We Like a Lot (John Hollenbeck)
A couple years ago John Hollenbeck released, “Songs I Like a Lot” – and “Songs We Like a Lot” follows suite and is another collection of weird reimaginings.  The instrumentation is nearly the same – consisting of the Frankfurt Radio Bigband, as well as vocalists Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry, and Uri Caine – but I think this sequel is actually better than the first collection.  The songs on here range from classic pop tunes such as the Burt Bacharach, “Close to You” and the Cindi Lauper “True Colors”, to poetry he has set music to, and old folk tunes (like the opener which is a Pete Seeger tune).  There is more humor (such as the extremely strange, basically unrecognizable reimagining of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”, which he calls “Get Lucky Manifesto”), more joy (such as on the closer, “Up, Up, & Away”), more unexpected twists and turns, and more drama.
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10 – Vulnicura (Björk)

Vulnicura2

Vulnicura is the best Bjork album in over a decade (since “Medula”).  The music on this record is primarily made up of of string arrangements and electronic beats – and is kind of reminiscent of “Homogenic” in that sense.  She has said in interviews that on this record she felt like she was doing a more “traditional singer/songwriter thing” – and lyrically it’s more straight forward and the most personal Bjork record. The album’s subject matter deals with her separation with her husband, Matthew Barney – and it’s easily one of the most devastating/heartbreaking records I’ve heard recently.
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9 – From Kinshasa (Mbongwana Star)

From Kinshasa

“From Kinshasa” is the debut studio album of Mbongwana Star – which as the title suggests are from Kinshasa (which is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo).   The original title was “From Kinshasa to the Moon”, and as you may gather from the artwork there – this shit is some crazy African space funk.  There’s a lot of joy and of energy on here and the grooves are infectious.  It is a fresh urban interpretation of this region’s music with elements of electronic music and psychedelia that still remains true to its roots.
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8 – Universal Themes (Sun Kil Moon)

Universal Themes1

“Universal Themes” continues the musical direction Sun Kil Moon has been taking with his last couple records – in which his writing is more verbose, literal, and stream of consciousness.  It’s musically much more orchestrated and denser than it’s predecessor, “Benji” (which was my pick for top album of the year last year and I wrote a whole bunch about it on here).  The songs on here are much longer – with 5 of the songs being around 9ish minutes and are less tied to pop song structure (sometimes being more through-composed like the opening track “The Possum“).  Musically it seems like Steve Shelly (former Sonic Youth drummer who is drumming on this record) had more influence – and it’s much louder and more aggressive than anything else in Sun Kil Moon’s catalogue so far.   Lyrically the details on here are even more mundane and are generally about what was happening to him day to day (whether it be what he’s eating, conversations, health problems, touring and such) – but then he’ll break from that into a something that really hits hard of the mortality of all things (and often when this happens there is a huge musical shift/break-down as well).   Although this record isn’t nearly as perfect as it’s predecessor “Benji”, it’s great to hear Mark continuing to grow, evolve, and experiment as a songwriter and take a direction that I have not heard anyone else take before. 
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7 – Amorphae (Ben Monder)

Amorphae copy

Jazz guitarist/composer Ben Monder’s ECM debut started as a duo recording with Paul Motian in the fall of 2010 – but Paul Motion passed the following year.  Two of the tracks on here have Paul Motion drumming on them, two tracks are just solo guitar (the opener and closer), and the others have Pete Rende and drummer Andrew Cryille on board as well.  The album to me feels very much like a eulogy to Paul Motion.  It’s a departure from his last few records which are much more angular snakelike and a lot of the music on here is more ambient, mysterious and haunting
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6 – Divers (Joanna Newsom)

Divers

Joanna’s fourth album, “Divers” finds a middle ground between her earlier style and the more stripped down/songwriter/literary approach of her previous album “Have One On Me” – such as musically in her use of polyrhythms (such as on the title track) and the more baroqued orchestration on some tracks (such as was heard on Ys).

While lyrically this album is basically perfect (and my favorite album lyrically of hers to date), and there are some tracks that are mind blowingly awesome musically and everything she is going for works, there are some flaws musically (most of which show up in the second half of the record) that stop this from being as good as it could be.  The first track, “Anecdotes” is orchestrated by Nico Muhly – and this is by far the best orchestrated track on the album – where even as dense as it gets, everything in the orchestration flows and is completely balanced.  The final track is orchestrated by Dave Longstreth – and his style works really well with Joanna’s and he provides exactly what is needed to that track.  The remaining 9 tracks were orchesrated by Joanna.  Some of these are more stripped down – such as “The Things I Say” and others are more dense.  On some of the more densely orchestrated tracks she ends up stepping on her own toes a bit and some of her orchestration sounds pretty awkward, such as on the weakest track on the album, “You Will Not Take My Heart Alive”.  On others, the orchestration is a bit too bland, such as “Same Old Man” – which I can’t help but think how much better this track would have been had Muhly orchestrated  it (considering how it’s an old folk tune, Muhly’s work with Sam Amidon comes to mind – and I can imagine how tight this track could have been).  But despite these choices that detract from the album – the lyrics on this record are so strong and profound that it’s pretty easy to look past the album’s flaws.

In a conversation I was having a few weeks ago with someone who was just getting into the record, this someone asked, “What is Divers about?  Is it about Death?” – and I feel like I wasn’t able to answer her very well as the concept of this record is a a difficult one to articulate – but hope to do so better on here:

In some ways, “Divers” is about death – but the record is really more of an existential perspective on time.  Joanna stated in speaking about this album, “I would say all the songs on this record either ask the same question, or attempt to make the same case, or are lamenting the same thing or celebrating the same thing or railing against the same thing.  I think that, taken as a set or cycle, they are each sort of like relay racers passing the baton on from one to the other. They are circumnavigating the perimeter of the idea that is the central narrative of the album. So each of the songs is representative of one stretch of the landscape. Then you can sort of see that what they’ve traced is the central thing. So there are all these sorts of set pieces. They’re not really what the album is about; they’re just things that appear again and again and again: a sort of context.”

The architecture of the album is easier to speak about than the meaning of it – so I’m going to start with that.  Where “Have One On Me” is the chronological progression of Joanna’s process through her breakup – this record is quite the opposite in regards to it’s time line.  As mentioned above – it’s a cycle/loop – where the end is the beginning  and things parallel each other.  The most obvious clue of the loop is the first line of the album “sending” – complete the last word of the album “trans”.  There’s also similarities in many scenes that parallel/mirror each other – such as the second track, “Sapokanikan” which describes John Murroy Mitchel dying in a training exercise when he fell from a plane due to an unfastened seatbelt and the second to last track which describes a stewardess who fell to her death from an airplane after leaning against an emergency escape door. 
Right off the bat – you’ll catch there’s some funky shit happening with time on this record – such as when Rufous Nightjar asks Joanna, “When are you from?” as they’re burying landlines.  And things get a bit more sci-fi on the Waltz of the 101st Lightborne – in the fourth World War which is fought across time through time.  Joanna’s time travel stuff is actually well researched and in these lyrics she mentions cosmological theories, such as eternal return (which for me as a listener, looking this shit up was kind of a black hole – no sci-fi pun intended). 
The album bounces from time line to time line – from the future (such as in the two tunes perviously mentioned), to the present (such as on “Leaving the City” -in which Joanna personifies Death as a Woman, which is something I can’t say I’ve heard someone do before), and to the past (such as on the old folk song “Same Old Man”).  And all these reflections are strung together by a “common thread” – in which there are many reoccurring symbols – such as birds, and flight, and falling/diving (as the title would suggest), light, love, and death – and as Joanna stated in the quote above – these things “appear again and again and again” in an attempt to say something bigger than these individual scenes.  This concept that she is painting on this record is most clearly seen in the closing track, “Time as a Symptom”, in which she sings:
“When cruel birth debases, we forget
When cruel death debases
We believe it erases all the rest
That precedes
But stand brave, life-liver
Bleeding out your days
In the river of time
Stand brave:
Time moves both ways
In the nullifying, defeating, negating, repeating
Joy of life”
This record is not only extremely philosophical – but also equally poetic and beautiful.  There is simply no other singer-songwriter on the same level as Joanna alive today and this album further proves that she is one of the greatest songwriters of all time.
-itunes-

 

5 – Ilimaq (John Luther Adams)

Ilimaq

The title of JLA’s album translates from Inuit to english to mean “spirit journey,”

Here’s the liner notes for this thing:
“The dead shall live, the living die,
and music shall untune the sky (John Dryden)
In Inuit tradition the shaman rides the sound of the drum to and from the spirit world.  In Illimaq the drummer leads us on a journey through soundscapes drawn from the natural world and from the inner resonances of the instruments themselves.”
JLA also mentions in the liner notes that the first music he connected to was rock drumming – and the main performer in this piece is a rock drummer – Glenn Kotche (the drummer from Wilco).  Although this music has a connection to rock drumming – it’s more in it’s primal and raw energy than it’s rhythmic composition.   It’s scored for three different stations of percussion instruments (which Kotche plays), some live-electronic processing of Kotche’s playing, as well as electronically manipulated field recordings of nature.  This is by far the most visceral compositions that Adams has created so far – and definitely one of his best.
-bandcamp-

 

4 – The Powers that B (Death Grips)

The Powers that B1

As I have mentioned on here earlier – one of my new years resolutions was to listen to more Death Grips – and I succeeded in achieving this with flying colors.  Death Grips are an experimental hip hop group based out of Sacramento California.  The two primary members of the group are MC RIDE (Stefan Burnett) and drummer/producer Zach Hill (formerly of the noise rock duo Hella).  They have pissed a whole ton of people off in the last couple of years for crazy stage antics, canceling tours while mid-tour, getting dropped from their record label for leaking a new record of theirs that their record company didn’t want to put out and putting a dick on the cover, as well writing a posting a note they wrote on a napkin that stated they were breaking up and wouldn’t be playing any more music (which hopefully is just them fucking with people once again).  I saw them this past summer and they showed up three hours late for it – and then they played a brutal sixty minute sonic assault which was quite unlike nothing else I have ever witnessed.  Because they are musically on such another level – they can get away with all this shit.

The fourth Death Grips album is a double album – that kind of functions as two sister albums, rather than one fluid record.  The abums have some connections – but are rather polar opposite records – but somehow in that they fit together. 
The first disc, “Niggas on the Moon” is the most abstract, chaotic, and glitched out thing Death Grips have released so far.  It’s 8 tracks which all flow into one another – and it runs only a little over a half hour.  It’s instrumentation is Zach Hill on a Roland V-Drum kit (featuring chopping vocal samples from Bjork, which she recorded specifically for this record), as well as MC ride’s vocals of course.  The way Bjork’s voice is manipulated by Zach Hill to create textural layers as well as a rhythmic sound pallet is mind bending.  The lyrics on this record are extremely abstract and stream of consciousness – and often feel like sort of a death trip of sorts.  

The second disc, “Jenny Death” on the other hand is the most straightforward lyrically that Death Grips have released.  Musically it’s a much more punk sound – with lots of guitars (some provided by Nick Reinhart of Tera Melos as well as Julian Imsdahl) and sonically it’s aggressive and at times abrasive (such as in “Inatimate Sensation” where there’s a vocal part that sound like they are drilling through your eardrums”).  Lyrically this record often aims to shatter the way our minds are controlled and put in a state of isolation by the our technology and media.   I sincerely hope that this is not the end of Death Grips and that they will continue to make more music – but if this is in fact the end, and MC Ride’s last verse on the emotive final track on here, “On GP“, is the last Death Grips anyone will ever here – it’s a pretty phenomenal ending.
 

3 – Garden of Delete (Oneohtrix Point Never)

CD Booklet OPN GOD - images embeded
“Garden of Delete” is Oneohtrix Point Never’s seventh studio album and second album for Warp Records.  It’s incredibly sad and beautiful and completely terrifying.  It is the best Oneohtrix Point Never/Daneil Lopatin record so far – as well as the best thing that has come out of the whole vapor wave movement (a style that emerged in the early 2010s that use retro/80s technology/aesthetics in a nostalgic and sometimes parodic way – often using samples that are pitch shifted/chopped and screwed).  It uses this vapor wave sound as it’s primary sound pallet – but also expands this with drawing from metal, EDM, and industrial music.  The easiest outside influence to see on this record is from Daneil Lopatin touring with Nine Inch Nails – not only with the more aggressive industrial/metal and vibe on here at times, but in the mood and lyrics.

Lyrically/conceptually this this is one of the darkest records I’ve heard in a long time.  It’s a rather abstract record – so it’s a difficult one to talk about without projecting myself into my interpretation of the record, so I will only say a few things about it.  First of all – it should be noted that the title of the album, “Garden of Delete” is an acronym for GOD.  Although the lyrics are often chopped and screwed – the album comes with a lyric sheet which really helps in providing this programatic side of the album.  The lyrics are often nihilistic and hopeless.

And I should mention – if you chose to go down it – this thing is a fucking rabbit hole.  OPN cited a hypergrunge band, Kaos Edge, as a main influence on the album – come to learn the band was just made up by him…but he created an album from them as well as a website where you can hear their music and read the lyrics to their entire discography.  There’s also other stuff you can investigate if you care to – such as a fake interview with an alien named Ezra who has a blog, and real phone numbers in the lyrics…But all this shit is only cool because the music on here is so good that it makes you want to dive into this alternative universe.   GOD builds on the sonic pallet that OPN has created and paints something more cerebral and emotive than any of his previous work – it is easily one of the greatest electronic albums in the last few years.
 

2 – Synovial Joints (Steve Coleman and the Council of Balance)

Synovial Joints

Chicago based saxophonist/composer Steve Coleman’s “Synovial Joints” explores a concept of using the movement of the synovial joints in the human body, and how they pivot, flex and bend and applies to this concept throughout the composition.  He also uses a concept he developed called camouflage orchestration – in which he tunes into how an instrument sound can be distributed so they can be shifted in how they are perceived to be in the foreground, middle ground, and background – phasing them in and out of focus to a kaleidoscopic effect.  The album relies primarily on spontaneous composition from ideas he tapped into while getting his mind into a near-trance like state (which he describes more in depth in the liner notes).  This record is more accessible (this is relative…it’s still not really accessible to people who don’t like MBase/weird jazz music) than what Coleman has been doing recently and is his strongest record in a good long while.

-itunes-
 

1 – To Pimp a Butterfly (Kendrick Lamar)

To Pimp a Butterfly

This is easily the greatest hip-hop album in the last few years and Kendrick’s artist peak so far. Kendrick pushes further conceptually with this record – making it less of a straightforward story (like his previous breakthrough record, “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” – which played more like a film). Like in his previous record, he takes on different characters – and changes his flow to give life to these characters – ranging from Uncle Sam, Lucy (lucifer), as well different aspects of himself – The joys of fame – to the abuse of power and survivors’ guilt for having made it out of the trap of the city of Compton while the people her grew up with are still living a hard and dangerous lifestyle leading to self loathing suicidal thoughts – to rediscovering a greater purpose in using his music to create peace and unity.  The record is truly a rollercoaster on this wave of emotion – and with his ability to be versatile and bring the listener on his highest highs (such as the last minute of the track “Momma”) and his lowest lows (such as on the later half of “U” – where you can literally hear Kendrick drinking throughout the take).  He weaves in heavy issues on this record regarding social justice and racism mindfully and in a way that is not pushing ideas upon the listener but rather in a way that provokes the listener to think for him or herself – and he does this by constantly contradicting himself throughout the entire record – As he states in “The Blacker the Berry” – he is the biggest hypocrite in 2015 – and throughout the record he swings on the pendulum of duality.  

It also pushes further musically, straying further from trendy sounding instrumentals and more into genre defying tracks that incorporate funk and jazz (with the help of folks like George Clinton, Robert Glasper, Thundercat, Flying Lotus, and many others).   Kendrick collaborates with these phenomenal musicians in a way that creates something cohesive (despite the variety of musicians and producers) – knowing how to give the musicians the right balance of freedom and direction (such as you can read from an interview with piano player Robert Glasper).  The way he approaches working with these musicians to create emotive instrumentals that support his conceptual/lyrical work brought the Marvin Gaye album “What’s Going On” to my mind – in regards to the freedom and collaboration with the studio musicians to create a highly conceptual work of pop music that is centered around social justice. 
There has been so much said about this album all over the internet that I feel like me writing much more about this wouldn’t be covering anything new – so I’ll start to wrap things up…  
 
Despite this albums extreme level of complexity – he is able to maintain a pop sensibility that has mass appeal without ever compromising his level of artistry – and this complexity never detracts from the emotional power of this music as it works in supporting an equally complex conceptual framework.  The album radiates positivity in it’s message at a time where it is truly needed.
-youtube-

and in case you missed these:
-Top Eps of 2015-
-Honorable Mentions of 2015-

And I’ll be posting music I’m anticipating next year soon too (:

Thanks again to all the folks who shared any of this music with me, thanks to all those folks who made the music on this here list, and thanks to all the folks who read my blog.  You keep reading – I’ll keep writing.

Much love,
<3
Mike

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