Wednesday, 23 December 2015

2015 albums of the year according to me


And not just any opinions about music, opinions about music written by someone with absolutely no journalistic skills or clever words.

Without further ado, it's time for 'A selection of albums from 2015 which Emma wants to talk to you about'.

Just the best thing to come out this year, like nothing else even comes close.

Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp a Butterfly

Very very occasionally, an album comes along that is so perfect in every way that I can hardly even handle it. And not just perfect, but so full of depth and complexity that I know I will always be able to come back to it and find new things.

If you haven’t already, I would urge you to sit down and listen to this album, start to finish. It is a masterpiece. Of course, is is an album about a world and a life of which I have no experience… (as a white woman living in gentrified Brighton), yet he can make me feel so much of what he’s experiencing with remarkable intensity.

A lot has been written about this album. A lot of more eloquent people than me have said a lot more eloquent things about it, (analysis, and both praise and criticism, although mostly praise), and you should go and read those people’s thoughts.

You should soak in this album, relish every moment. You should listen to it over and over again, because there is so much to take in here that you can’t get it all after 10, or even 100 listens.

Am I going over the top? Good. Kendrick is a genius and he deserves all the accolades he gets, including this over-effusive ineloquent few paragraphs.

(Trivia: ‘How much a dollar really cost’ is Barack Obama’s favourite song of 2015. Excellent choice.)

Start off with: The start ‘Wesley’s Theory’ and carry on from there. This album deserves to be listened to start to finish, so I wouldn’t recommend something from mid way through: and this is a stunning opener anyway.

Award for getting me to spend too much money

Prefuse 73 — Forsyth Gardens/Rivington Não Rio/every colour of darkness 

I, and lots of other people, love Prefuse 73, apparently enough to drop money on THREE short album/long EP length releases in one year. It feels a little cheeky on his part, but I’ll put it down to an artistic vision rather than a way of getting his fans to spend lots of money. Always prolific (his previous albums typically run to 18 – 22 tracks), this time, he’s taken the approach of breaking down his 2015 body of work a bit more, and arguably that makes it more manageable, and means each section gets the attention it deserves, rather than being lost in a lengthier release. Previous release ‘The Only She Chapters’ was off the mark for me personally, but he’s back on form here, and I’ve enjoyed these albums a lot. For anyone unfamiliar with his work, it's glitchy, sample heavy electronica drawing from rich and varied sources, and there's no one else out there doing it better.

Start off with: Prime Meridian Narcissism is a nice chunk of typical Prefuse 73, but the track I’ve actually been returning to most often is ‘140 Jabs Interlude’, thanks to excellent guest appearances from Milo and Busdriver. Their vocals are crisp and intense and beautifully written (more on them later)

Productivity aid award

Blanck Mass — Dumb Flesh 

Skip the first track (IMO). And then what do you have? A perfect album of intense, droney (but not samey), pounding electronic noise, which, if you’re anything like me, will about double your working speed, be it typing, running, designing, chopping onions, anything. Can’t say fairer than that! If you like The Field, you'll probably like this. Blanck Mass is Fuck Buttons Benjamin John Power, and while I never fully embraced Fuck Buttons, I found this much more immediately appealing and compelling.

Start off with: Dead Format (Cruel Sport is another highlight)

'My taste has changed but I really want to like this' award
Battles — La di da di

It would be hard to overstate how much I loved Battles last release ‘Gloss Drop’. I went to see them live the day it came out, having heard none of it… at the show they played nothing but that new material and it blew me away. In fact I want to recommend it afresh now: go listen to Gloss Drop. Suffice to say, I was pretty excited about this new release, 4 years on… But somehow it’s just not doing it for me. But what I can’t tell is whether this is a poor effort on their part, or whether it’s just me that’s changed. And I really don’t think this is a poor effort on their part. It’s got everything I loved about their last album, rattling, jangling distorted guitar loops and John Stanier’s incredible powerhouse drumming. It’s loud and multilayered and rich and colourful, and they deserve praise for it. Perhaps my math rock phase is just in the past now. Which is a pity, because math rock, done well (like by Battles) is an amazing thing.

Start off with: final track ‘Luu Le’ is the first and only point in this album where I really felt something click for me. It’s charming and weird and catchy and makes you want to wobble about a bit.

Best jazz/Best album that I’ve only actually managed to sit through in its entirety once
Kamasi Washington — The Epic 

This album is undoubtedly a masterpiece, and is rightly being lauded as such. Brainfeeder are putting out so much amazing work at the moment, and this is a jewel in the crown of their incredible year of albums. But you know what? It’s like 3 hours long. Ain’t nobody got time for that. (Well, I’ve made time for it once or twice, but I tend to dip in and out more often, because millennials, low attention spans, blah blah blah what was I talking about?)

Start off with: ‘Clair de Lune’, an incredibly beautiful version of.

Best artwork/best portmanteau
Daedelus and Kneebody — Kneedelus

I’ve long been a fan of Kozyndan’s work, and this is just the most incredibly beautiful piece: I’d honestly love to have it hanging on my wall. Go on, click and look at it bigger.

The album itself is great too… I wasn’t previously familiar with Kneebody’s work, but regular readers will know I adore Daedelus. It’s great to hear him getting a chance to work more with his jazz sensibilities, and great to hear a jazz group (albeit already a fairly experimental one) being pushed to new levels with an electronic producer on board. Another amazing Brainfeeder release this year.

Start off with: Daedelus fans might recognise ‘Platforming’ from his Looking Ocean EP from a couple of years back… It was always a favourite of mine, and it’s great to hear this beautiful re-take

Best depressing hip hop award
Earl Sweatshirt — I don’t like shit, I don’t go outside: an album by Earl Sweatshirt

If you’re feeling a bit miserable, maybe don’t listen to this. Cynical, bitter, low-mood hip hop at its finest — perhaps you can’t ever imagine a moment when that’s something you’ll be in the mood for, but this album is definitely worth a chunk of your time. (Also if you're not listening to his work on the basis of not liking Odd Future, I'd urge you to give him another chance with this, it's something quite different...)

Start off with: ‘Grown ups’

Best Weird Hip Hop award
Milo – So the Flies Don’t Come

Milo (actually called Rory) is the most utterly charming poet... His words move me like Kendrick's but in an entirely different way.
Full creepiness mode: I feel like I could fall in love with him. Who knows, he might be an awful person in real life, but his lyrics (on this and all his previous releases) are so warm, so delicious, so charming, it’s hard not to get pulled in. His delivery is crisp and clear, often feeling more like spoken word poetry than rap — which he actually alludes to himself “I don’t even really have to rap/my n**** it’s about if you can talk good”), and his beats are beautifully fuzzy, warm, subtle, rich electronica that just charms the socks off me.

Start off with: ‘Song about a Raygunn (An ode to driver)’, which is just a really lovely and well-deserved tribute to fellow rapper Busdriver… (of whom more next…) 
When he raps everyone everywhere is always electrified and no one would really mind if they were next to die

Best angry hip hop award
Busdriver — Thumbs

This is not an easy listening album, but it is definitely a good album. Busdriver has never put out a relaxing, gentle release (2007’s excellent ‘Roadkillovercoat probably comes closest), but even by his standards, this is challenging… And given his idiosyncratic vocal stylings, you probably already either love him or hate him, and whichever way you lean, this album is unlikely to change your mind. His incredibly verbose, darkly comedic lyrics, littered with bizarre metaphor and unusual turn of phrase continue to shine on this album, in which he touches on a wide range of cultural and political issues. There is a tone of bitterness/anger running throughout which is pretty compelling. He’s been doing what he does for a long time now, and his experiences and worldliness are more evident with every release: his work is only getting richer with time.

Start off with: Perhaps try the more gentle and arguably most listenable and intelligible track on the album’, the charming ‘Much’, which I think it would be pretty hard not to like, even if you’re not a fan of his work… Or go in at one of the more intense moments with ‘Great spooks of enormous strength’, which is probably my favourite.

Best video game OST

Flywrench OST

(Before I get started on this, shout out to the Undertale soundtrack… I’d never actually listen to it start to finish, as it’s mostly 30 – 60 second scene based chip tune, but in terms of absolutely nailing what that game needed to sound like, it deserves respect… Maybe play Undertale and enjoy it that way instead)

Flywrench is a ridiculous game. It's insanely challenging fast-paced levels of manoeuvring a rapidly moving abstract shape through progressively more difficult mazes, and requires a spectacular amount of skill and patience to get far with. I have only watched it being played, rather than played myself, and found the whole experience incredibly stressful, but also thoroughly enjoyable, mostly because of the appropriately intense soundtrack.
Messhof are again collaborating with Daedelus (who singlehandedly created the excellent soundtrack for their pixellated fencing game Nidhogg), but this time he has commissioned/curated a selection of his favourite artists into this surprisingly cohesive selection. It’s worth searching for a few short clips of the game to get an idea what this music is soundtracking, and hopefully this will help build an appreciation of how perfectly pitched for the game it is, as well as being an outstanding compilation of electronica in its own right.

Start off with: Kuh-lida’s upbeat ‘Left Lane Right Brain’ is perhaps the most explicitly ‘computer game’ feeling of the tracks… Daedelus own contribution ‘Speeds’ is also a shimmering, echoey highlight… and for some intense productivity aiding beats, try Sweatson Clank’s ‘Rust check

Some other great albums this year:
Kelpe — The Curved Line
Start off with: Calumet

Luke Vibert — Bizarster
Start off with: Bizarster

Jamie Woon – Making Time
Start off with: Sharpness

Nosaj Thing – Fated
Start off with: UV3

Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon
Start off with: Borderline with my Atoms

Lapalux — Lustmore
Start off with: Make Money

Ghostface Killah and Badbadnotgood — Sour Soul
Start off with: Sour Soul

Contrast Trio — Zwei
Start off with: What’s next

Masego x Medasin — The Pink Polo EP
Start off with: Bounce

Cavanuagh — Time and Materials
Start off with: Typecast

You should also check out this playlist, which contains a whole load of my favourite songs from this year.

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