I’m not sure if it’s the stouts clouding my brain or what, but this year seems to be going by incredibly fast. Like lightning fast. Like super crazy fast. There’s more gray in my beard. There’s more muscle pains in my back. My kids are growing out of their shoes at a record pace. Dammit 2015, slow the f**k down!
Sorry, just a quick panic attack. It’s gone now. Maybe a stout would help me out. Yeah, that’s what I need. I’ll be back in a minute….okay, I’m back. Much better. Nothing like a Left Hand Brewing Co Nitro Milk Stout to calm the nerves. So yeah, albums and 2015. Looking back at all the albums that have come out this year I have to say that while I haven’t been disappointed really, there haven’t been any records that knocked me on my arse. No Lonerism, or Tomorrow’s Harvest. No Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or The Soft Bulletin. I know, stop comparing to year’s past. Well that’s what I do. I compare. Compare and contrast. It’s a sickness. But still, I almost prefer a year of solid albums, with a handful of masterpieces. Over the last week I’ve gotten one masterpiece and two very close to masterpiece albums. I can’t include them in this collection, though. There’s still a lot of great to excellent records I’m going to talk about. So here we go.
Ben Zimmerman’s The Baltika Years is this strange documentation of one guy’s life through primitive electronic music. This album documents the musical output of Ben Zimmerman from 1992 to 2002, all recorded on a Tandy Deskmate computer. The results feel like this collection of hauntings through music. A mix of avante garde, ambient, and lo fi hip hop beats, this double album shows Zimmerman working through personal strife and genuine musical exploration. The Baltika Years isn’t a party record. It’s not something you throw on and pass around a bowl of Chex mix and gulp down lagers. It’s something heavier than that. It feels like an archaeological dig into Zimmerman’s psyche. It’s an 8-bit therapy session and well worth the co-pay.
Standout Tracks: “Space Jack Hummer”, “Da Chopp”, “Life Without Liz”, “Pausebreak I-VI”
There’s definitely some sticky resin on this album by the Pacific Northwest’s Eternal Tapestry. If you’re at all familiar with these space cases you’d understand. They make music that isn’t in any hurry to get to any specific destination. A jam of some sort is started and we see where we end up. That’s the modus operandi with Eternal Tapestry. There’s always been a sense of deep exploration, and Wild Strawberries isn’t any different. Yet, these guys seem to have reached a new level here. The songs are expansive, yet feel more meditative; they feel like there actually is a destination. Space and time collide on this excellent basement spinner. Experimentation is on the table, and in the haze in the air around you.
Standout tracks: “Wild Strawberries”, “Enchanter’s Nightshade”, “Lace Fern”
Kevin Barnes has been on a bit of a up streak since 2013s Lousy With Sylvianbriar. He’s taken a break from all the 12 minute sound collages and experimental compositions and has gotten back to making straight up rock and roll. In 2013 he was exploring his inner Dylan and Neil Young. This time around it’s more gritty 70s New York. Lower East Side. CBGBs. Barnes is exploring his inner Tom Verlaine and Debbie Harry, and with wonderful results.
Standout tracks: “Bassem Sabry”, “Empyrean Abattoir”, “Estocadas”
Colleen’s Captain of None is a serene, dream-like listening experience. She creates these amazing soundscapes with loops of stringed instruments and percussive noises. And when she does sing on tracks it’s a lulling and trance-like experience. From one song to the next you can go from ambient expressions of emotion to almost pop-like songs. Colleen, or Cécile Schott, uses the recording process as a canvas and paints gorgeous, expressionistic pieces of music.
Standout tracks : “I’m Kin”, “This Hammer Breaks”, “Captain of None”
No Joy have pretty much won in the shoegaze/dream pop/post punk department since their last album was released in 2013. Wait To Pleasure was this mix of jagged guitar and dreamy, sickly sweet melody. On More Faithful they continue with that program and improve on their technical prowess in the guitar department. The songs are both heavier and dreamier. It’s like Veruca Salt and Lush got devoured by Mission of Burma and Gang of Four. No Joy emerged from the metaphysical goo.
Standout tracks : “Remember Nothing”, “Moon In Your Mouth”, “I Am An Eye Machine”
Whenever Built To Spill decides to put out a new album it feels like a special occasion, because anymore there’s quite a few years in between those albums. It’s been almost six years since BtS gave us the decidedly lop-sided There Is No Enemy, so when Untethered Moon was announced, along with the release of the first single, “Living Zoo”, well it got us super fans all excited. When the album finally arrived on RSD 2015 I wasn’t disappointed in the least. Gone was the excess fat of 2009s Enemy, and what was left was this tight, jangly rock and roll album. Doug Martsch fills this record with all of that Fender jangle we’ve grown to love and gets down to the most important thing: writing great songs.
Standout tracks: “Living Zoo”, “On The Way”, “C.R.E.B”, “Horizon To Cliff”
Even after six months, Viet Cong is still kicking my ass. It’s like The Feelies, Bauhaus, and Wire morphed and borrowed some of that early Turn On The Bright Lights pomposity of Interpol and turned out this Gothic, mangy, and ultimately beautiful record of alienation and anger. You almost just have to listen to these guys to truly get their greatness. Words don’t do them justice.
Standout tracks : The whole f*****g record.
Sufjan left the funny outfits and glitter wings at home in the closet and has given us his most emotional and honest musical statement since Seven Swans. Carrie and Lowell is an album trying to make sense of a mom that was troubled her whole life and came in and out of Sufjan’s life until the day she died. There are moments of heartbreak and despair; and also moments of great joy. So many great moments, and after seeing Sufjan live back in April these songs came alive in a whole new way. A near-perfect record.
Standout tracks : “Death With Dignity”, “Fourth of July”, “No Shade in the Shadow of The Cross”, “Blue Bucket of Gold”
In all honesty, I don’t think this record is getting near the respect and love that it deserves. Ruban Nielson has as much musical genius in him as Kevin Parker, or Prince, and yet he gets written off as quirky. Sure, the story behind this album(influenced by a polyamorous relationship between him, his wife, and another woman) seems a tad out of the ordinary, and the guy does come across rather new age-y, but damn, he can write a song. Oh, and he’s one of the best guitarists working today. Multi-Love is like this freaky, funky, disco record from some other dimension. There’s soul, R&B, and even some jazz inflections here, and all written and created in Nielson’s home studio in the middle of the night. If you haven’t give this one a shot, you should.
Standout tracks : “Multi-Love”, “Like Acid Rain”, “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”, “Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty”, “Necessary Evil”
Yeah, my favorite album so far this year is an ambient, avante-electronic synth record by a guy from Denmark. I go back to this album at least twice a week. It’s like a series of pulses and waveforms that connect to some sort of ethereal plug-in to my brain. Jonas Munk pulls influence from folks like Terry Riley, Steve Reich, JD Emmanuel, and even touches of Klaus Schultze and Popol Vuh and creates three sonic movements that feel as organic as sand and water running through your fingers. It’s a sublime record of intense beauty and aural exploration.
Standout tracks : “Absorb”, “Fabric”, “Cascade”
So a top ten. What is that, really? I mean, I guess I’m trying to give you an idea of how much I love these records. But on any given day those orders may change, and some records may not even show up on this list. But at this point, right now, that’s my list so far for this year. There are other albums that come up and pop in once in a while on this list as well. Those other records that have been putting in time in my ears, head and heart are, in no particular order: Lightning Bolt : Fantasy Empire, Panda Bear : Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, John Carpenter : Lost Themes, A Place To Bury Strangers : Transfixiation, The Soft Moon : Deeper, Lower Dens : Escape From Evil, Aerosol : Leave, Metz : II, and Mikal Cronin : III.
I think the next list will look a little different, as well. Tame Impala, Wilco, Ufomammut, and Ecstatic Vision have been getting lots of love from me since they came out just this month. Then there’s the new Kurt Vile and FUZZ coming out. If anyone says it’s been a lousy year for new music, well I’d have to disagree.
Or at least agree with them, then quietly disagree after I walk away.