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.
And here we present my most beloved albums of the year — it was not easy to rank these last few; in fact, the Number 1 album did not arrive in the queue of possibilities until November, which is very late for consideration. But such an album….anyway, see for yourself.
- Blindead: Live at Radio Gdańsk
I am cheating with this album. First, it is a live album and many people think that only studio releases should be considered for Album of the Year status. Maybe they are right but in this case I don’t care. Second, it isn’t a 2015 release at all, but came out the year before. I just couldn’t lay hands on it until very late in 2014 so I am pretending it is a current album. Sue me.
This is a great live album that presents impeccable versions of the last couple studio albums, along with several guest musicians including Piotr Grudziński of Riverside, playing guitar on the incandescent “A7bsence”. This is a band that deserves way more attention than they get.
- Eschar: Nova
The first full length album from this UK-based prog metal outfit displays an astonishing level of maturity, an excellent follow-up to their first EP. Instrumental post-metal is a tricky genre – there are so many bands and they can all sound alike after a while, but Eschar have managed to avoid that trap with their thoughtful and sophisticated songwriting and intense playing. This album has not disappointed; and coming in at No. 5 it has clearly kicked the ass of a whole lot of more established acts. See my full review here.
- Klone: Here Comes the Sun
Another new discovery for me this year, a French band who have been around for about 16 years, and another band who seems to have made a shift in the nature of their sound with the current album, away from earlier harder-edged metal. This is magnificently lush stuff, beautiful and sweeping and heartbreakingly melodic, played with intricate skill, a huge surprise to me. “Nebulous” is the attention-grabber but almost all the tracks are superb.
- Riverside: Love, Fear and the Time Machine
I did so want this album in the No. 1 spot, because I am unapologetically in love with this band, but alas it was not to be. Riverside’s sixth album follows the now-familiar trajectory of the last two in its uncompromising shift in style and direction, but this time there is something different. It is paradoxical. On an individual song-by-song basis it has moments of incomparable beauty, and at least one track that seems to be beyond transcendence…but the overall impression, the afterglow, as it were, when the last song ends, is almost like a musical coitus interruptus: a curious feeling of incompleteness. We know it is Riverside, there is no mistaking the characteristic sounds and nuanced richness of the guitars, drums, and organs…but the songs are more strongly bass-and-voice driven than ever before. And while Duda’s singing is more purely beautiful than anything he has ever done, there is a disconcerting lack of vocal diversity, an unusual absence of the playfulness of voice that Duda is noted for. This leaves a strangely mono-tonal aftertaste when the album is done. It seems very much like an album in limbo — not quite Riverside but not fully a Mariusz Duda effort either. One walks away from it vaguely dissatisfied.
- Sisters of…: The Serpent, the Angel, and the Adversary
This was the Album of the Year for me for most of the year, until a very late contender showed up. But…this. This album is something. Sisters of… is a guitar/drum duo out of Missouri, and this is their first album, following up an EP from a couple years back that astonished almost everyone who heard it. The Serpent… is an absolute behemoth of an album. Hard, relentless black instrumental post-metal that offers no mercy; listening to it is like clinging to the top of a runaway locomotive, loud and terrifying and yet exhilarating as hell, as long as you hold on for dear life. Face-melting, heart-pounding, unstoppable.
- Killing Joke: Pylon
This album literally came out of nowhere, hitting my consciousness late in November. Killing Joke are a band I have paid very little attention to – well, none at all, really — apart from “Love Like Blood”, a song which everybody knows, I knew nothing about them except, like Shriekback, they’d been around since at least the 1980s. I followed a link someone posted to one of the tracks from the album and it grabbed my interest long enough for me to follow up – and boy am I glad I did. I found the first couple or three listens a bit iffy, I couldn’t quite decide…and then Boom! Like a ton of bricks. This is just one monster of an album, industrial post-punk, compelling and addictive and heavy – sardonic, excoriating lyrics that deal with a bleak post-modern-age world: politics, the disconnectedness of virtual connection, wars and misery — everything I need. Number One with a Bullet.