So, I’ve been asked by several people what were my faves of 2015. In typical fashion, for me, it’s hard to say – this has been a great year for music. I haven’t been listening to very much popular music this year, as my time with my show, Something Completely Different (on thescopeatryerson.ca every Sunday at 10PM) has eaten up most of my listening time. I limited myself to 3 in each category, just for the sake of imposing a limit of some kind, because that sharpens things.
Electronic / Ambient
Telepath – Window Druzy (USA)
Mining a similar vein of nostalgic gold as the Boards of Canada, only a good bit more ambient. Really wonderful, warm, tape hissy warbly stuff.
Markus Reuter – Mundo Nuevo (GER)
Swirling beautiful pieces driven by Markus’s custom built Touch Guitars, this record is a journey and a half. At times rather dissonant, I thought this should be in the classical section at times. A great work by a great composer.
Jaja – Starfields (GER)
Jaja makes luscious gentle quiet ambient washes of space music – it’s all just her on one synth, a Roland JD800 and a pile of effects. Beautiful stuff.
Marika Hackman – We Slept At Last (UK)
A deep and dark record. Angsty, wiry but filled with washes and tones. The lyrics are often melancholic but always inspiring. For folk music there is a lot of electronics on this album, which helps Marika push a lot more boundaries.
The Unthanks – Mount the Air (UK)
A gem of a record. Stunning. At times old-school folky, then drifting into a kind of loose jazz and wavering into Prog, but all of it sharp as can be. The Unthanks sisters have great voices and the raw honesty of their talent shows through.
Two Coats Colder – Unseen Highway (USA)
A bit traditional in presentation, this record has many charms. A few week points – when they try to play “country” music, it’s a bit of a fail. But the rest of it is golden sweet folkie stuff – bucolic and sweet.
Anekdoten – Until All the Ghosts Are Gone (SWE)
Possibly my favourite record this year. This record kicks so much ass, it’s hard to describe. For Anekdoten this is one of their very finest records, esp. with Anna Sofi Dahlberg’s Mellotron! SLABS of Mellotron. SLABS! The vocals are good, but they really come alive in the instrumental sections. If you’re not aware of Anekdoten, imagine a mix of King Crimson, Gentle Giant, and Gabriel Period Genesis, only much more dire than the above, with the possible exception of King Crimson. Just, wow.
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle (USA)
Another band that listened to too much Gentle Giant and Tull and Crimson in High School. These guys are great – they’re prog, but with a goofy smirking attitude. Not gut busting like Zappa, but more like Cartoon. And this is a great record of theirs.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (CAN)
GY!BE can do little wrong in my book. This is yet another monumentally difficult album to digest from these Montrealers, and one of the best records of 2015.
Rock and Pop
Hollerado – 111 Songs (CAN)
These guy wrote and recorded 111 songs. No, I’m not kidding. They put out the word that they would write you a song for $100, and they got 111 responses. Some of the songs are kind of silly and simplistic, but many of them are really great, and demonstrate how these guys can turn on their creative jets and excel.
Bossie – Meteor / There Will Be Time (CAN)
Anne Douris is one of the most overskilled people I know. If you’ve seen my video on Radical Tactics of the Offline Library, she did the brilliant animation for that. She also plays keyboards for Hollerado these days, AND she has a pop music vehicle called Bossie. Her songs are so catchy and hook laden you’ll be humming them for days. I know I do.
Braids – Deep In The Iris (CAN)
Now a smaller band (now they are 3) I really think this is Braid’s best album. It is much more focused and clear. I find myself putting this on a lot more. Raphaelle’s voice is better than ever, and this record flips my crank.
Nils Frahm – Solos (GER)
Cool and spacious, this is acoustic piano work by Frahm – none of the electronic arpeggios – just pure simple connection between him, and instrument and your ears. At times reminiscent of Harold Budd or Roger Eno, this is really unique and gentle music, brilliantly recorded.
So I’m An Islander – Bræuw (DEN)
So I’m an Islander is Søren Nissen Jørgensen who lives on an island east of Denmark. His music, usually just solo piano, is gentle, inviting, and direct. The recording quality isn’t the sharpest, but this adds to the mystery of it all.
Bang on a Can All-Stars – Field Recordings (USA)
This is a record of songs where there are field recordings or voice recordings and the music interprets, and even sometimes slavishly follows the recordings. Super smart. Sometimes it seems to be more like ProgRock or some distilled jazz, there is always this rigour and objectivity in their playing giving a distinctly classical feel.
Moki McFly – Osirus I: Xenolinguistics (PHI)
Moki McFly makes a very peculiar form of Jazz using his laptop. Looping and processing jazz, he creates new jazz that is experimental and compelling. Sometimes rather lyrical, sometimes dissonant and glitch, sometimes straight up encompassing and inviting, he’s one of my favourite jazz people right now.
The Cancel – No Way To Stay (UKR)
Like Moki McFly, the Cancel make Computer based jazz. They’re not as glitch as Moki, but they also have more in the way of live instrument recording, and have a very deep funky groove to their sound.
Laura Jurd – Human Spirit (UK)
Laura’s a magnificent trumpet player – quick, precise and sensitive. Her compositions are powerful and uncompromising yet never over the edge and dismissive. This is a great record.
Lindsay Dobbin – Tatamagouche (CAN)
Lindsay is a multi/interdisciplinary Métis artist who lives and works on unceded Mi’kmaq territory in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She previously worked as Broken Deer, and I’ve played her work a lot on Something Completely Different. Hesitating, lofi, gentle, mysterious, and utterly engrossing – her work is powerful as it is tentative and moving. This is not from the record I mention, but from an earlier work by Broken Deer.
Rapoon – Dark Zero (UK)
Robin Storey makes a brilliant work in the Rapoon tradition. Formerly of :zoviet*france:, this work is ambient yet challenging, hypnotic yet gently jarring. Parts of this sound a lot like Mohnomische by :z*f: and other Rapoon works, but there is a darkness and tautness in this record not found in many of his previous works. This is not from the record I mention, but from an earlier work by Broken Deer.
√π- – Binary Code (NLD)
Glitch computer based electronics with some drifty ambient textures, this work makes these kinds of sounds quite listenable as they flock around loose rhythms made of glitches and distortions. Fans of Emptyset might find this interesting. I couldn’t find a video for this.
Bonus – Alan Sondheim has been making amazing music for the few years, and it borders on criminal how little exposure he gets. Go to his website and DL everything you can. It’s great, edgy, difficult music that can suddenly spin into great beauty.