‘Tis the season to look back at the year
At Drone Publishing, we’re not brave, bold or stupid enough to go against the grain and this means we’re going to give you some year-end round-ups over the next few days, and maybe even, weeks.
First up is David Redford with his selection from 2015. It’s been a big year for David, he released Pop 365 but while that is a book that looks back on a history of great albums, David has also spent time listening to music this year – this is his 2015 Round-Up.
People might be less likely to buy and listen to a whole album nowadays, but there were very few signs in 2015 that musicians have become any less committed to the format. While singles, mixtapes and EPs remain as popular as ever, the LP is still the preferred medium for channelling creative output.
This year was also notable for the phenomenon of new music finding us. I think most people would resist the idea of our tastes being calculated by logarithms, but it’s amazing how well Spotify’s new Discover Weekly feature works. With technological advances like Twitter and streaming, it’s now easier to discover and listen to new music than at any point in history — but finding the time is getting harder than ever.
Thanks to a concentrated burst of listening in the past few weeks, I’ve caught up with all the 2015 records that I’ve been most keen to check out, and below is a round-up of a couple of musical trends from the past year (hopefully more real than imagined) and my own Top 10 list of albums for 2015.
Hip hop resurgent
After several years of stagnation, US hip hop has rediscovered its mojo, mainly thanks to the creative crossover between a talented pool of LA-based musicians, notably Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat and Kamasi Washington. Together, they are pioneering a new hybrid sound that blends jazz and Sun Ra-inspired cosmic psychedelia with a hip hop sensibility. Two great albums emerged from this scene in 2015: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and Kamasi Washington’s The Epic.
To Pimp A Butterfly is so good I even managed to squeeze it into POP 365 at the last minute. More recently, Barack Obama chose “How Much A Dollar Cost” as his favourite song of 2015, an album-only track from the LP. The song is a great example of Lamar’s innovative sound — which puts me in mind of Radiohead’s Pyramid Song, little surprise given that producer Flying Lotus is an avowed fan — and the poetic lyrics which are like a modern day fable.
Also worth highlighting were releases from Lupe Fiasco, The Internet, CZARFACE and The Underachievers, while 2015 was also notable for the triumphant return of Missy Elliott. In the UK, Sleaford Mods (who are hugely inspired by the Wu-Tang Clan) and Young Fathers tread a fine line between hip hop and post-punk, and both put out great LPs in 2015, while the new records from Ghostpoet and Roots Manuva are also worth checking out. 2015 was also a golden year for grime.
With 2015 seeing new music from the likes of Gaz Coombes, Björk, Blur, Beck, Noel Gallagher, Wilco, Leftfield, Bill Ryder-Jones (of The Coral), Belle & Sebastian and Sleater-Kinney, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the past two decades hadn’t even happened.
The appetite for nostalgia, or too much harking back to some imaginary golden era, can often be a barrier to discovering new music but sometimes it’s rewarding just to give in to the impulse. I really enjoyed seeing Gaz Coombes play live in Norwich a few nights ago, and think his new album Matador is great, but hearing him play Caught By The Fuzz was a real guilty pleasure.
Anyway, here’s my 10 favourite albums of 2015…
1. To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar
Enough said already. This is by far my favourite LP of the year.
2. Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens
A return to a more stripped-down folk sound, the latest Sufjan LP swaps the sonic experimentation of previous records for emotional bravery. His live performance of this album was my musical highlight of the year.
3. ESKA, Eska
I enjoyed the debut records from Benjamin Clementine and C. Duncan, but of all the 2015 Mercury Prize-nominated albums, this is my pick of the bunch. No videos online really capture the energy and excitement of Eska as a live performer. Another South London singer might have stolen the musical headlines in 2015 (I like a couple of tracks off Adele’s latest LP, like River Lea, though most of it is middle-of-the-road balladry), but Eska’s record is the one people should be buying this Christmas.
4. Divers, Joanna Newsom
Newsom has a release schedule and musical approach all of her own. It’s no cliché to say that her latest record reveals new layers each listen, but the amount of focus and concentration required to appreciate her music sets a high barrier to entry.
5. Mount The Air, The Unthanks
Folk music is in a healthy state in 2015, with the likes of Alasdair Roberts (solo and as part of The Furrow Collective), Laura Marling, James Yorkston, Laura Cannell, Jeffrey Lewis, This Is The Kit and Stara Rzeka all putting out innovative records this year, but this latest release from The Unthanks was my favourite. 10-minute track Foundling might be the most sublime thing I heard all year.
6. Simple Songs, Jim O’Rourke
Like Newsom, O’Rourke is a highly gifted multi-instrumentalist and songwriter whose records are never dull and always worth waiting for.
7. Music Complete, New Order
I loved the new Wire album, and Bowie’s latest release Blackstar, but this was the most memorable return to form of 2015 for me. So many great tracks, especially Tutti Frutti, Restless and Plastic.
8. From Kinshana, Mbongwana Star
This LP and the latest record from Songhoy Blues are both brilliant and bursting with vitality.
9. My Love Is Cool, Wolf Alice
Guitar music is going through a rough patch right now, but for me Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color and this LP were two of the best rock records of 2015. This year’s lo-fi rock releases from Courtney Barnett, Ought and Mac De Marco are also worth checking out. My Love Is Cool is far from perfect, but the sound is fresh and original.
10. It Follows, Disasterpiece
The shadow of John Carpenter stands tall over the horror soundtrack genre, but this album (like Mogwai’s Les Revenants soundtrack last year) is a worthy successor. I also really liked the soundtrack to UK crime film, Hyena, by the immensely talented Matt Johnson (The The).
If you want to check out what Chris Reilly thought of the albums of 2015 – you can do so right here!