I love December, not because of the imminent home invasion of a jolly, bearded fat man (watch out buddy, we’ve already got one those here), although I suppose Christmas is fine. Oh no, it's because it's, that’s right, end of year list time!
Okay, so I jest. I chuffing love Christmas, but I also do rather enjoy trawling the various end of year lists put forward at this most arbitrary of time markers, looking for albums I might have missed, or trying to find anyone who agrees with me over my own oddball choices. The whole endeavor, is, of course, completely passé, but fuck it, I like it. From The Guardian to some bearded dude on Facebook I met at a party once seven years ago and am somehow still friends with, I like to see what everyone’s thought of the musical year currently departing. So, for what it’s worth, here is my completely unsolicited end of year round up!
I’ve heard a lot of talk this year about how there’s nothing much going on this year, but 2015 has been a stupidly strong year, in my humble opinion. Granted, this is largely because this year we’ve seen the grunge revival really kick in, in some really interesting ways, but wherever you look, there’s cracking albums. When I sat down to write out all the albums I’ve like this year (because yes that is a thing I do, what of it?), the total ran just shy of 50 albums. 50! That’s a hell of a lot better than last year, when I could barely cobble together enough albums to fill a broken CD box.
So, here’s my top 20 albums of the year.
Sweet Cobra – Earth. In what may be seen as something of a trend over the course of the list, this saw formally noisy post metal Chicago troupe Sweet Cobra take a huge detour into noise rock, with lush 90’s grunge melodies over huge riffs. I absolutely adore this record, as anyone unfortunate to have tried to speak to me online this last year can testify.
Cult Leader – Lightless Walk. This is probably the angriest, bleakest album of the year, a clattering thunderous motherfucker of an album that makes me feel funny in my stomach.
KEN Mode – Success. This stonking album by formally angry noisecore Canadians KEN Mode is another one of those abrupt left turns into the Jesus Lizard style noise rock of the 1990’s, albeit with a production so utterly filthy as to have completely wrecked the speakers in my car somewhere around my gazillionth listen.
Mutoid Man – Bleeder. Equal parts Cave In, Converge, and some dude from a bar somewhere, this is a bewilderingly technical heavy pop album that’s ridiculously fun to listen to. I was gutted to miss them live.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell. Having followed Sufjan from oddball folkster to bonkers electro-prog genius, this heart-breaking and startlingly honest low key album is not an easy listen, but it is a vital one.
All Them Witches – Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. A band and album I’ve only recently discovered. Just as I was starting to bore of the stoner scene, this comes along, sweeping up folk, blues and prog into its big fat riff stew. Lovely.
Elder – Lore. This was one of the first albums this year to really grab me, and I’ve gone back to it again and again, pulled in by its proggy stoner doom, big riffs and bigger hooks.
Blacklisted – When People Grow, People Go. I thought I’d grown away from traditional Hardcore in the last few years, rarely finding anything to really excite me, so thank Jeebus for Blacklisted, whose overwrought, urgent hardcore reminded me why I am an idiot for thinking things like that.
Minsk – The Crash and the Draw. Post metal may be a stagnating scene, but it’s still been my go to genre in 2015, especially to write to, so it’s nice to see that some bands can still do interesting things with the genre.
Marriages – Salome. This is hauntingly beautiful, gossamer thin bleak pop music. It’s not a cheery listen, but it does wrap itself around you, giving you ‘the feels’ that the kids on the internet seem to be having these days.
Cloakroom – Further Out. At the beginning of the year I was invited into a Facebook group where people post their first track of the day, which is a lovely idea. In the first few weeks I kept seeing this little gem posted, an indie noise rock delight, swathed in rich guitars and old school indie vocals. Lovely.
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color. Yes, they may be the kind of hipsters beloved of BBC Radio 6 Music and plinky-plonky-piano wanker Jools Holland, but this funk, soul, blues, pop gem is easily my favourite mainstream album of the year.
City of Ships – Ultraluminal – Emo rock that doesn’t suck. Go figure.
Faith No More – Sol Invitcus - In which our heroes manage to be the one band from the 1990’s to reform and release an album that doesn’t make you want to burn their back catalogue while sobbing over the neighbours fence about how they’ve killed your childhood. Cone of Shame is easily the song of the year, too.
Sumac – The Deal. Speaking of post metal (I was, earlier), here’s ISIS (not that one) head cheese Aaron Turner taking the blueprint he helped lay down, and kicking the absolute living shit out of it. I don’t really know how else to describe this utterly bonkers effort. So it’s a good job I’m not a music journalist, really, since that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do. Phew.
Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss. Yet more gloomy, ethereal goth pop. I recently challenged three men to a fight in order to defend the honour of this excellent album, albeit safe in the knowledge that it was over the internet and the chances of actually having to throw a punch were fairly remote. Lucky, really, one of them is huge, and could easily crush my head like a grape.
Birds in Row – Personal War. If Blacklisted restored my faith in modern hardcore, then Birds in Row confirmed it, a great, urgent album, inflected with 90’s melodies and with a fantastic production.
John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure - Bearded hipster electro pop it may be, but excellent it is also.
Fight Amp – Constantly Off - More noise rock. Did I mention how much I’ve enjoyed noise rock this year?
General Lee – Knives out everybody! Thunderous, clattering hardcore stoner gubbins in the vein of Knut and the like, which is a lot of fun. Great cover, too.
So there you have it. I’ve pulled together not one, but two mixtapes for you all, too, because I’m nice like that. Both are 90 minutes long, allowing you to crowbar in a little nostalgia for the days of the C-90 while you're at it.
Good Music for a Bad Year - Parts 1 & 2
Feel free to share your own lists or thoughts in the comments below.