2015 is over! Whatever else happened during the year, we had some stellar releases from across the spectrum, and we also got the Mastodon video with the cats on acid, which was better than when we got the Mastodon video with all the bums.
Like me, you may be wondering if you’ve missed any releases in the last twelve-ish months. Here are a bunch of records that I was into. Feel free to tell me I am a chump and I missed out on loads of stuff; among others I could easily have included the new Deafheaven, Tame Impala, Pinkish Black, Maserati and Drudkh, as well as some more underground releases like My Silent Wake. Anywho, here is a list of things which brightened my year:
10. Kylesa – Exhausting Fire
2nd October – Season of Mist
Psych giants Kylesa have nailed yet another in a growing list of solid releases. This is a little dreamier than its immediate predecessor Ultraviolet; Kylesa have a real knack for taking well-structured songs and making them sound like they’ve been melted. Musically the drums are still very floaty, which is a nice touch but never a gimmick they rely on to sell themselves. Tracks like “Moving Day” and “Crusher” showcase some of their better experimentation with vocals; Laura Pleasants is a standout presence but very well balanced against Phillip Cope. The current atmosphere for ethereal stoner metal is very healthy, and Kylesa continue to stand head and shoulders above their peers.
9. Björk - Vulnicura
20th January – One Little Indian
Typically unpredictable, Iceland’s finest returns with her first record since the ambitious, expansive Biophilia. Written in the aftermath of a devastating breakup, the record is a naked and often jarring account of acceptance following a life-altering event.
Vulnicura is a lot more human than Biophilia or even 2007′s Volta, and a lot more openly challenging; the jarring violins on “Family” reminiscent of some of King Crimson‘s Lark’s Tongues-era material.
Every Björk release is accompanied by a string of sub-releases and various additional media, this time with a 360 video and a string version of the album; a new Björk record is a gift that keeps on giving.
8. Clutch - Psychic Warfare
2nd October – Weathermaker Music
Clutch are stacked with personality and good will; they’re arguably the most likeable band in modern metal, and though Pyschic Warfare lacks some of the straightforward tracks that its predecessor features, its a welcome development into longer, more complex material.
It’s not as immediately hook-y as their earlier material or their last offering, Earth Rocker, but there are some fun standout moments – I particularly liked “I confess/ I am guilty in the first degree” from the cowbell-heavy “Your Love Is Incarceration“.
Amidst all the fun, the album changes pace with “Doom Salon“/”Our Lady of Electric Light“; a sombre pairing which recalls earlier highlights like “The Regulator“.
Perhaps unlike some of their more accessible material, Psychic Warfare benefits from a few extra listens before it properly clicks, but it’s yet another success for Clutch.
7. Mgła – Exercises in Futility
4th September – Northern Heritage / No Solace
Black metal’s hard-hitters this year were skewed towards the artsier bands, with the likes of Deafheaven and Myrkur releasing stand-out, well-documented records. I liked both of those, but was more taken with Mgła‘s approach.
Exercises In Futility is a lot more together than previous material, and though it treads familiar ground it doesn’t feel trope-y or tired. The guitars in particular have a strong ethereal presence and the band experiments with a lot of rhythmic changes without losing pace. It’s also well-arranged and evocative, and displays a good sense of when their songs need to adjust whilst also allowing them breathing space to comfortably explore their objectives. 2015 was the year of Ghost Bath and Enslaved and the American envelope-pushers, but Mgła remind us that less experimental, well-crafted black metal can be just as killer.
6. Purity Ring - Another Eternity
27th February – Last Gang Records Inc.
Another Eternity, the latest effort from Canadian duo Purity Ring, is so fragile and delicate and quietly beautiful; songs about personal frustrations and weaknesses expressed through rhythmic electronics and fluid vocal passages, with Megan James‘s starkly gorgeous voice floating on a lush bed of textures, absolutely the shining star of the record.
Dream pop and shoegaze run the risk of becoming less coherent the more ambitious they get, so it’s refreshing to hear something as together as this, such a touching and well-crafted record. The cover is an excellent representation of the sounds; melancholic tracks like “Push Pull” and “Bodyache” settling lightly like pink noise. I listened to a lot of beardy, angry metal in 2015, and this was always a perfect contrast.
5. Sunn O))) - Kannon
4th December – Southern Lord
Sunn O)))‘s unique brand of abrasive insanity metal takes a breath of fresh air on their first release after the terrifying Monoliths & Dimensions; it’s interesting to see their progression from among the most challenging recorded music on the planet to something more stripped down.
Purists may balk at the lack of experimentation, but Sunn O))) have produced one of the most immersive, effective records of their career; stripping back all the weird shit makes the drone experience more overwhelming. If you were unmoved, bored or flat-out mortified by them previously then this surprisingly short record is an excellent point of entry.
4. Slaves – Are You Satisfied?
1st June – Virgin EMI
While there have been plenty of fresh-sounding punk releases, nothing has been as much fun as this record in ages. It’s not all complete irreverence; songs about deceased goldfishes lean towards “very silly” on the punk theme spectrum but opener “The Hunter” does engage with some social issues.
Slaves‘ first full-length is as vicious as their caustic appearance on Jools Holland (appearing right after the vapid Sam Smith in a phenomenal act of dickish scheduling). It’s been great to see a band this angry and heavy get so much stellar press. This just escalates their appeal; the more attention they get, the dafter they come across. Of course they defy any attempt to take them seriously so the real joke is on squares like me, trying to categorise them for a end-of-year list.
3. Bell Witch – Four Phantoms
28th April – Profound Lore
2015 continues the recent tradition of excellent doom releases, and a particular shining star is Bell Witch, Seattle’s stalwart duo. Four Phantoms is a lugubrious trip through four quarter-hour tracks of miserable soundscapes, culminating in a mournful funeral dirge.
I really feel like this record is a watershed moment for them, finding a sound that suits them; earnestly doomy but without falling too heavily into any tired doom tropes. This release has a clearer vision than any of their previous releases. They’ve also had the dubious honour of being reviewed positively by Boy George. Isn’t doom just the best?
2. Grimes – Art Angels
6th November – 4AD
I so nearly had this as my top choice. Art Angels is a record everyone wanted Grimes to drop, marrying her super-layered dream pop sugary vocals with disciplined songwriting. 2015 will be remembered for the year that Grimes dominated; Art Angels is rammed to the gills with delicious bangers, with Grimes herself sounding like Kate Bush on some mad sugar rush.
The album jumps from sweet, melancholy pop anthems to bass-heavy rap to quiet acoustic interludes, throwing down a gauntlet for variety on a modern pop record whilst managing to stay cohesive. This is also her best-produced release; her voice and vision finally realised. This is Grimes at her strongest.
1. Baroness – Purple
18th December – Abraxan Hymns
Nearly dying can shift one’s outlook, and as such 2015 Baroness is markedly different to their more economical 2012 incarnation. Gone are straightforward bangers like “Take My Bones Away” and in their stead we have a more layered, complex outfit. Purple feels at once architectural and organic, at once an absolute joy to experience and a challenging, harrowing listen.
The addition of a whole new rhythm section has hugely expanded their sound, and coupled with Dave Fridmann at the helm, they’ve managed to make both the most musically diverse record of their career and also the most emotionally intense. This only dropped about two weeks ago, and I’ve listened to it more than any other release this year. I can see a similar pattern for 2016.