The Music of 2015
2015 has been a wonderful year for new music, one of the best years in recent memory. Almost all the new releases I checked out were worthwhile, even the ones that eventually didn’t make the cut. What’s more, most of the albums I found that had come out in previous years were also exceptional. It is quite the opposite of last year when I had real trouble coming up with ten albums to talk about; this year the difficulty is deciding what to leave out. That is why I have gone with a Top 15 of 2015. Too much is just too good.
Some clear themes have emerged: this year’s music of preference seems to be either hard and heavy post-metal, post-punk, or sludge/doom metal; or beautifully sweeping songs, lush and melodic…there are few exceptions. But pretty much all of it features lots of great powerful riffage, and real honouring of the song. Instrumental music makes up a significant portion of the albums I chose. Established artists surprised by the shift in their direction, and new artists absolutely stomped into prominence.
This was also the year that the 1980s dominated: the influences from that decade are all over the damned place. Two bands active in the 80s that I hadn’t paid any attention to for years (or ever) blasted out of the past with monster releases. At least three other bands heavily reference 80s sounds (although technically one will not release their album until next year; at this point a single is available). Several decent live albums were released but only one snuck into the list. Live albums are generally not regarded as legitimate candidates for year-end lists, and the one that made it into mine was actually released in 2014, but fuck it, this is my list and I’ll include what I want.
So: onto the list, starting at Number 15 and working upward.
- Ghost: Meliora
Ghost are a band with a clever, well-formulated gimmick, and they are not unskilled, and Meliora is an album of nice poppy metal, nothing too straining, pleasant to listen to, but I do not understand why everyone seems to think this is a great album. No, it is not “great”, it is well done but not exceptional by any means, and there could be other contenders for the bottom spot that didn’t quite make it. This is the kind of album I play when I do not want to pay too much attention to what I am listening to: it has to have some merits in terms of good song structure and decent melodies, but not too demanding of one’s attention. Meliora fits.
- The Fierce and the Dead: Magnet
I do admire Matt Stevens; he is a dedicated guitarist and untiring in his self-promotion, which one must be in this day of DIY musicianship. However I tend to prefer his band project, The Fierce and the Dead, over his solo efforts. Magnet is a brief EP that came out this year showcasing their eclectic style, hard-rocking somewhat freeform math/post-rock.
- Steven Wilson: Hand Cannot Erase
I write this as I am listening to Insurgentes, Wilson’s first solo album. The differences between these two albums, the first, and his fourth, could not be more stark. Insurgentes is superb; but I find that listening to H.C.E is an exercise in sheer determination to get through it; it must be done though because it is, you know, Steven Wilson and he is god (or something). Naturally, the album is superbly executed with exceptional performances by the musicians, beautiful melodies, and is at times almost poppy (a welcome shift away from the jazz influences of the last two albums) — and while it is clearly meant to grab at the heartstrings I find it so obviously manipulative that it just leaves me cold. But you can read my (rather generous) review here.
- Toundra: IV
Toundra is a Spanish instrumental post-rock outfit, with three previous self-titled albums. The sound is a slightly jazzy hybrid between post-rock and post-metal; this new album is not quite as heavy as previous ones, but it is energetic and ambitious; there are nice melodic stretches and enough intricacy to reward attention should one choose to pay it.
- Editors: In Dream
In 2013 Editors blew me away with their album The Weight of Your Love; it was tied for the top spot in my Albums of the Year list. I was nervous about the new one; when the first album I hear from an established band just blows my socks off, I get reluctant to listen to other things by them in case they do not live up. In Dreams takes a new direction from the previous album; it is more sedate, restrained, and with a very introspective feel. It references the 80s, heavy on the bass and electronics, one of the several albums in the list that looks back to that decade. I do not find it as compelling overall as the previous album, but it does have two or three outstanding, mighty tracks.
- Torche: Restarter
I have no idea how I stumbled upon these guys, but the joyous raucous noisy sludge metal they play on this album really stuck with me. A bit of a change from the short hard alternative post-punk of previous albums, but it is a natural evolution, and unmistakeably Torche.
- Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster: Wires/Dream\Wires
These guys (apparently finished, which makes me sad) have a special place in my musical heart; it was through their massive album Exegesis that I discovered this entire instrumental post-metal genre, a style of music I had no idea that I needed to embrace. Naturally I was all excited to hear that a new album was on its way. Wires/Dreams\Wires takes their intricate proggy hard post-metal to another searing-riff level, and the monster opening track “Oko” just might be up there with the best of the post-metal best.
- Shriekback: Without Real String or Fish
Out of the blue. These guys, along with Japan and Simple Minds and maybe a couple other outfits, were responsible for my most beloved go-to albums way back in the 1980s…but somehow I lost the thread and really didn’t think of them as an active band anymore. However I became aware a couple years ago that they were indeed still active and recording but still, I didn’t follow up – until this album hit. And what an album it is: it is classic Shriekback but still sounds fresh and new, which is a very difficult trick to pull off. With its signature bass-and-vocals sound and oblique and clever lyrics, the album almost perfectly encompasses the heavy, quirky 80s intellectualism that made them brilliant.
- Dead Letter Circus: Aesthesis
I almost didn’t listen to this album. Their second one from 2013 was such a huge disappointment that I had pretty much written them off as a one-album (their first) band, and moved on. But for some reason I gave it a shot…and discovered that it really wasn’t as bad as I feared it might be. So I listened some more, and I’m glad I did. While it tends to sag in the second half there are some tremendous moments on the first half and one track never fails to raise goosebumps. I guess every band is entitled to one dog in their career.