By my reckoning, 2015 was one of the best years for music in some time. We seem to have reached the point where 90s indie rock is a bona-fide touchstone for new bands, so there are a slew of albums that have familiar aspects to them.
Apple Music has certainly had an impact. For whatever reason, Spotify never gained any traction for me, and having all my music in one place whether it’s streamed or owned has an appeal. There’s only been one album I’ve tried to find that hasn’t been available, which is a pretty good average, I think. Links below are all to Apple Music.
So for the first time in a few years, I’ve actually struggled to get this list down to a manageable size. I’ve based the cut on what I listened to most, and (in one or two cases) based on what I think might not make it onto other people’s lists in the interest of maximum variety.
So often, the first album of the year that I buy ends up on this list. Sleater-Kinney’s comeback album is a glorious piece of Talking Headsy post-punk, slathered in crunchy/melodic duelling guitars.
Not at all what I expected from this album after Barnett’s 2013 ‘A Sea Of Split Peas’ EP, which was predominantly acoustic, quirky melancholia. This album sports a fuller sound to back her witty, sarcastic poetry of the mundane.
My first listen to this album made me realise how little we still hear English regional accents in rock music, Shah’s Tyneside burr at odds with the twangy road-trip Americana reverb. There are touches of Sharon Van Etten or ‘Stories from the City…’-era PJ Harvey in the first few tracks, but the album really finds its feet on ‘Nothing Left To Do’, where Shah intones a single lyric over simmering, shimmering layers of guitar.
A remarkably accomplished debut album, which runs the gamut from ethereal shoegazey pop (‘Freazy’) through snarly feral punk (‘You’re A Germ’) to Jane’s Addiction-style stadium indie-rock (‘Turn to Dust’).
One of about nine hundred albums featuring Ghostface Killah that were released in 2015, one of two in contention for my best of list, and without a doubt the funniest album cover of the year. Canadian jazz trio BBNG lay an appropriately sparse background for Ghost’s eccentric stream-of-consciousness.
There’s a kind of singing that always makes me sit up and take notice - the point where a singer may not quite be able to reach the note they’re after, but they’re striving for it. Hitting that note, or getting as close as they can physically get, is so desperately important for them, and often the not-quite-getting-there is what makes the song. ‘Painted Shut’ is full of these moments. Not because France’s Quinlan’s vocal ability is limited — quite the opposite, she has one of the most astonishing voices I’ve heard in years, capable of a howling rasp reminiscent of Kurt Cobain or Janis Joplin — but because of the risks she takes with phrasing and melody that turn every song on this record into something really special.
Imagine Tanya Donelly-era Throwing Muses as snotty punk brats, or maybe the Pixies fronted by Transvision Vamp’s Wendy James. Sound good? Then you’ll be wanting to give this a listen. Pure pop songs, buried under crunchy guitars, feedback and a voice in serious need of a Strepsil.
This is what happens when you take a man, pin his brain open and force-feed him The Bad Seeds, Gallon Drunk, The Stooges, Jonathan Fire*Eater, the Cramps, 70s Euro horror/soft porn soundtracks, and Fox News, then make him play every night in a dive bar run by David Lynch. This is a sick, dirty, filthy, evil, nasty record, and one I’m determined to pick up on vinyl next time I’m near a decent record shop.
I wasn’t sure whether to include this, or Viet Cong in my final list. In the end, the sheer strangeness of this record pushed it slightly ahead. This is a truly odd, queasy-making noise of a record which has the dubious distinction of being the only one on this list that The Boy has tearfully insisted I turn off. Again, nineties alternative influences (Pavement, Sonic Youth, Nick Cave again) abound, but this time through the lens of growing up with techno and trance, with lyrics pulled directly from the singer’s diaries from when he was hospitalised with mental health problems at the age of 15. It’s as disorienting as you might expect, but also had a giddy tribal enthusiasm to it that pulls you in.
Sleaford Mods didn’t click for me until I watched their mid-Saturday-afternoon Glastonbury performance. Something about that setting - the clear vitriol in Jason Williamson’s eyes as he spat and growled and sweated and swore like Ian Dury arguing with Mark E Smith in front of a confused tentful of indieboys and alternagirls - made it all make sense. Carter USM for the age of austerity (and I mean that with much affection).
Czarface: Every Hero Needs A Villain 7L, Esoteric and Inspektah Deck make a proper hip-hop record for old heads
Ought: Sun Coming Down What the new Parquet Courts album should have sounded like
Leatherface: Razorblades and Aspirin Old-school Sunderland punks’ retrospective discography release that has held up surprisingly well
Drenge: Undertow Back in February I was sure this was a shoo-in for the list. Surly fuzz-pop
Ghostface Killah: Adrian Younge Presents 12 Reasons to Die Part 2 The other good Ghostface collab, a more straightforward gangsta Kung-fu blaxploitation yarn from the composer of the Black Dynamite OST
Chelsea Wolfe: Abyss A beautiful, expansive doom-folk-metal Portishead album
Anna von Hausswolff: The Miraculous Occupies some of the same sonic space as Chelsea Wolfe, and I think I confused them for a while. This has more organs
Viet Cong: Viet Cong I don’t understand how this is so catchy. I actually walked into work singing “if we’re lucky, we’ll get old and die” in a jaunty voice
Let’s have yours in the comments, please!