Here we go for our annual review of the year in music through the best new records. Lots to write about in 2015 : dramatic and very important stuff with the Paris events but as well a few more derisory facts related to music in particular. The fact that the New Musical Express became a free weekly magazine was a very depressing one for those like me who were eagerly waiting in the 80’s and 90’s for its weekly edition to build one’s rock and pop culture. On the other side, vinyls are now available almost everywhere and one can only hope this is not a posh trend but something that will stay for good. I hope you will like this year’s selection ; I was quite happy to see so many powerful and independent women part of it by the way… And now, rock’n’roll !
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” What makes a record your favourite of the year ? Well, first, it has to be indeed your favourite and not the trendy choice to look cool and in line with rock critics’ choice. Then, it has to be a grower and probably not the kind of record you love after the first listens. On top of it, it probably has to get lost of changes, different musical styles, a few parts you do not really understand, others with which you are amazed, a kind of main thread through it too ? In this case, the choice is easily made and we are very happy to welcome a classic from Mr. Lamar three years after his previous opus. LP of the year !
TWO RUNNER UPS
Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I sit and think and sometimes I just sit” I have been told that one could feel that this record is made by someone special by looking at its cover and title and I must say this is really true. This young woman from Australia has justified this year all hopes put in her first past recordings with her proper debut album. Simple and punchy songs with a soft Velvet Underground influence for the music and simple and direct words from the “now” generation. Once you got this LP, I can tell you will have to listen to it regularly so good it is. Click here for live review.
Torres “Sprinter” Torres is the musical moniker for American female singer Mackenzie Scott and this album has been a real discovery for me as I had missed her first good but not great LP. With a prestigious cast of musicians used to work with great artists such as PJ Harvey or Portishead, she delivered with this record a series of extremely powerful and melodic songs built around a very strong personality. Difficult to describe as her music does not appear so different at first but the richness and greatness is felt little by little when one takes the time to do so. Like what all great music, you will be rewarded if you take enough time for this record. Click here for live review.
The rest of the Top 15 records in no particular order
Sleater-Kinney “No Cities to Love” Witnessing the reunion of Mss. Tucker, Weiss and Brownstein under the Sleater-Kinney tag was one of the joys of 2015. I must admit that I missed this band when they were at their peaks and only discovered them through the 2006 “The Woods” LP. In the meantime, I did my homework and bought little by little all their amazing punchy punk and melodic albums and became a fan of the “Portlandia” series in which Carrie Brownstein acts. No such fun as in the series in this record but an excellent job done by this female trio. …and Janet Weiss on drums has been for a long time a friend of this blog as she has played with so many great bands (Elliott Smith, Stephen Malkmus, Quasi, etc…).
Marilyn Manson “The Pale Emperor” I really think I would never have thought to find Brian Warner’s evil alter ego in such a list as his music had always been a mystery to me… I had enjoyed a few powerful tracks here and there but always thought the guy and his band were a bit fake and difficult to like through an entire album. Complete change of thoughts with this LP which is a real and constant pleasure for those who like bluesy and powerful music. The musicianship and sense of melody are great in all tracks but what makes this record a real gem is the way Marilyn Manson uses his amazing voice. The kind of records Nick Cave could do to soundtrack “The Road” (ok, I know he did but you got the point…)
Father John Misty “I Love You, Honeybear” Father John Misty is the name Josh Tillman took a few years ago and this symbolic act was indeed a liberation for him. After publishing a few solo records under his own name and more famously being the drummer for the (slightly boring but) good band The Fleet Foxes, he decided to get away from his folk and hippie look and make more aerial music. This record is indeed very ambitious and could have been done in the 70’s by West Californian singers. Complex and beautiful words also influenced by his getting recently married and the eternal husband-and-wife relationship stories…
Tobias Jesso, Jr. “Goon” Talking about simple but beautiful songs played on the piano, let me please introduce you to Tobias Jesso, Jr. His story is the kind that could have been invented. After a few failed tentatives to succeed in the music industry, and after the conjunction of a car accident and the news that his mother was sick, the young man gave up on his Californian dream and travelled back to Vancouver. Family news fortunately got better with time and he started to compose a few songs on his sister’s piano…and here you go for one of the records of the year. He was even (un?)lucky to be chosen for one of his track to be sung by a successful English chanteuse called A., whom this blog will not mention as we are talking about the best of 2015 here!
Sufjan Stevens “Carrie & Lowell” As often described for musical oeuvres that need a bit of time to get really appreciated, this album is a grower. I was actually quite surprised by its simplicity, knowing Sufjan Stevens is one of my Top 100 artists and is generally more ambitious in his records. This is a very moving and autobiographical story based around his mother (and her demons) and his stepfather. The more one listens to this record, the most one will be touched by these amazing melodies and sense of detail. A year with a new record from Sufjan Stevens cannot be that bad. Click here for live review.
Blur “The Magic Whip” Another quite unexpected news as although Blur had been back together for a few shows and singles, the idea of an album was not really realistic due mainly to all out-of-Blur extra activities held by Damon Albarn. Good news is that Graham Coxon is probably now the one who cherishes the most this entity called Blur and he was the real brain behind this new record. Cut from hours of jams when the band was stuck in Asia for a few days last year, he succeeded in putting structures behind these songs and suggested to Damon Albarn to add a few melodies here and there. The results are amazing and make it one of the best records from Blur. Welcome back gents.
My Morning Jacket “The Waterfall” Seventh studio album for this incredible American band and its singer Jim James. This album has not been a real star amongst rock reviewers and I think the reasons are that My Morning Jacket are now very far from their original americana sound and that this album cannot easily be identified easily. Songs and styles all over the place indeed but to me this is what makes it probably their best record. Jim James has never sung so beautifully and I remember their End of the Road concert as one of the best of my musical year.
Du Blonde “Welcome Back to Milk” Singer Beth Jeans Houghton went through a David Bowie (re)discovery phase, decided that life was too short to do the same music again and again and therefore decided to adapt this new Du Blonde moniker. Recorded with members of the Bad Seeds and other guests, her re-invention was really spectacular and beautiful. Powerful and melodic songs from a young woman not afraid to take risks in her career, what could one ask for more ? Click here for live review.
This Is The Kit “Bashed Out” Mainly the project of their singer Kate Stables who spends her life between Paris and the UK, this record is to me the perfect synthesis between folk and modernity and I mean it as a real compliment. The sounds they create are really warm but with a constant sense of melody compared to other of their contemporaries. The show they performed at the End of the Road festival was amazing and probably over what they had expected, according to their reactions that day.
Kurt Vile “B’lieve I’m Goin Down” This man has regularly been in our best of these last years when he has a new record but this is based on his high level of excellence rather than by laziness or habit. He is one of the young musician of our times I have seen the most on stage and I think there is no coincidence so brilliant he is live. The only difference vs. twenty or thirty years ago is that now such musicians bring their guitars cases on stage and do not drive in limos… A few new sounds here and there on this record with lots of piano for instance but once again the best way to describe Kurt Vile to me is an “indie” Bruce Springsteen.
Kamasi Washington “The Epic” I think this is the first time that a so-called jazz record can actually be found in such a list in this blog. Weird I guess as jazz is probably one of the musical genres I like the most, best proof being the presence of Miles Davis and John Coltrane in my Top 100 of all times. However, to me, it has too often become a rigid style a bit far from the diversity and dynamism of new music… and this is the reason why this amazing triple album can be found here this year. Kamasi Washington often plays with hip-hop or electro artists such as Kendrick Lamar or Flying Lotus and one can feel these influences in his music. An incredible sense of urgency and melodic madness during these three hours that seem to last three minutes. A record impossible to miss.
Robert Forster “Songs to Play” One of the finest return to form this year came from Robert Forster and that was quite an unexpected one. The former Go-Betweens co-leader has been particularly active this year either through the fantastic “G stands for Go-Betweens” box set for which he wrote the comments or with this great new record. So indeed this is not the nu-metal or grime new phase of Robert Forster but beauty often lies in classicism… Click here for live review.
Other top 5’s :
- New Musical Express (UK formerly rock Bible – now free weekly bullshit): 1. Grimes “Art Angels” 2. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 3. Jamie XX “In Colour” 4. Wolf Alice “My Love is Cool” 5. Tame Impala “Currents”
- Uncut (UK monthly mag.): 1. Julia Holter “Have You in my Wilderness” 2. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 3. Sufjan Stevens “Carrie & Lowell” 4. Ryley Walker “Primrose Green” 5. Father John Misty “I Love You, Honeybear”
- Mojo (UK monthly mag.): 1. Julia Holter “Have You in my Wilderness” 2. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 3. New Order “Music Complete” 4. Tame Impala “Currents” 5. Jim O’Rourke “Simple Songs”
- Paste (US web mag.): 1. Father John Misty “I Love You, Honeybear” 2. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 3. Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I just Sit” 4. Sleater-Kinney “No Cities to Love” 5. Hop Along “Painted Shut”
- Pitchfork (US website): 1. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 2. Jamie XX ”In Colour” 3. Grimes “Art Angels” 4. Vince Staples “Summertime ’06” 5. Tame Impala “Currents”
- Les Inrockuptibles (French weekly mag.): 1. Tobias Jesso Jr. “Goon” 2. Tame Impala “Currents” 3. Sufjan Stevens “Carrie & Lowell” 4. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 5. Django Django “Born Under Saturn”
- Magic rpm (French monthly mag.): 1. The Apartments ” No Song No Spell No Madrigal” 2. Aline “La Vie Electrique” 3. Julia Holter “Have You in my Wilderness” 4. Tame Impala “Currents” 5. Nicolas Godin “Contrepoint”
- New Noise (French bimonthly mag.): 1. Faith No More “Sol Invictus” 2. Failure “The Heart is a Monster” 3. Marriages “Salome” 4. Chelsea Wolfe “Abyss” 5. Vision of Disorder “Razed to the Ground”
- Sound Opinions (US music podcast)
- Jim DeRogatis’ 1. Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I just Sit” 2. Low Cut Connie “Hi Honey” 3. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 4. Bully “Feels Like” 5. Titus Andronicus “The Most Lamentable Tragedy”
- Greg Kot’s 1. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 2. Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I just Sit” 3. Protomartyr “The Agent Intellect” 4. Shamir “Ratchet 5. Vince Staples “Summertime ’06”
- Other Music (NY records store): Top 30 in no particular order
- Rough Trade (London records store) : 1. Bjork “Vulnicura” 2. Father John Misty “I Love You, Honeybear” 3. Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I just Sit” 4. Ezra Furman “Perpetual Motion People” 5. Max Richter “from Sleep”
- Ground Zero (French disquaire) : Top 10 in no particular order