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Wednesday, December 30, 2015 

The 15 best albums of 2015.

Honourable mentions, no order:

Floating Points - Elaenia
Joker - The Mainframe
Mumdance and Logos - Proto
Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh
DJ Clent - Last Bus to Lake Park
DJ Roc - Practice What You Preach
Flying Saucer Attack - Instrumentals 2015
Four Tet - Morning / Evening
Titus Andronicus - The Most Lamentable Tragedy
Battles - La Di Da Di
Chvrches - Every Open Eye
Julia Holter - Have You in My Wilderness
Joanna Newsom - Divers
Mattwizard - Phone Home

15. Mumdance - Fabriclive 80

The self-proclaimed "grimy John Peel", 2015 has been quite a year for ostensible grime DJ Jack Adams.  Building on last year's Take Time, Adams has been at the epicentre of grime's continued resurgence, surveying the best the genre has to offer and a lot more besides on his Rinse FM show.  His entry for Fabric's live mix series showcases both his influences and his tendency to go off beam - it journeys in its 70 minutes from a weightless, beatless opening through to up to the minute productions by himself and associates, before ending all the way back in of all places, happy hardcore territory.  State of 2015 stuff all the way it sure ain't, but it's all the better for it.

14. Refused - Freedom

Bit of a controversial one, this.  I might be around the only person suggesting this deserves the best of year moniker, as mixed reviews or not, the general consensus seems to be Freedom is a bit of a clunker.  And it's true, it's not the Shape of Punk to Come.  But it was never going to the Shape of Punk to Come all over again.  It's not meant to be the Shape of Punk to Come.  What Freedom is is a loud punk record, and despite Dennis Lyxzen screaming on opening track Elektra that nothing has changed, it has.  Freedom is the best that could have been expected, which in these times of celebrating mediocrity is no bad thing.

13. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress

Something is deeply unsettling about GY!BE's first album of completely new material since 2002's Yanqui U.X.O.  It's that, well, half of it sounds happy.  GY!BE's output in the past has been many things, but happy, rather than say joyful, exultant, or euphoric, would not be an adjective you'd use to describe it.  GY!BE's music has always seemed designed to soundtrack desolate landscapes, partially because its peaks and troughs seem to herald ascents to heaven and falls to earth, as though the apocalypse is upon us or something very much like it.  Hearing the ensemble appear to be playful is almost off-putting, and yet otherwise Asunder is determinedly the same band.  Thankfully, the group return to the dark side for the album's second half, and everything is once again right with the world.

12. Drew Lustman - The Crystal Cowboy

It's hard not to feel a little apologetic about choosing the Crystal Cowboy for a end of year best of list, as it is without doubt a side project to Lustman's main output as Falty DL, especially when those albums haven't featured here previously, despite my enjoying them regardless.  Perhaps Crystal Cowboy succeeds precisely because the pressure was off - essentially another of those tributes to jungle that have been doing the rounds of late, some a whole lot better than others, Cowboy takes inspiration from the 92 through 96 period without doing wholesale obeisance.  It also does so without outstaying its welcome, and in a year where we've had that Jamie xx album, that's something to cheer on its own.

11. Girlpool - Before The World Was Big

BTWWB is one of those albums it takes a while to properly adjust to.  The accents of Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker grate at first, the instrumentation is sparse and rudimentary to the point of hardly being there at all, and the songs are almost over before they've begun.  10 minutes in though and it already starts to make sense: you adjust to the duo's voices, their harmonising starts to shine through and by the time it's over you want to listen again.  One of the year's sleepers, and more than deserving of the praise it has picked up.

10. Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld - Never Were The Way She Was

Yes, for anyone wondering, everything you hear on Never Were The Way She Was is produced entirely using sax and violin, recorded live, with no overdubs or loops.  That in itself is extraordinary enough, with the not always easy to impress Boomkat exclaiming at how the pair managed to create such low end.  What stays with you beyond the virtuosity of Stetson and Neufeld is the soundscapes they create, the heaviness of their music, and how impossible it is to categorise it.  Is it neo-classical?  Drone?  Pure avant-garde?  Does it matter when it's this good?

9. JT the Goon - King Triton

Despite many not realising due to his only recently emerging as a producer in his own right, JT the Goon is one of grime's originators, with his work as the man behind the buttons for Slew Dem Crew marking him out as such.  The title itself is a reference to the Korg Triton, and the artist's debt to the synth is made apparent throughout his debut album.  For anyone who isn't a nerd, though, it's the Goon's ear for a melody that will keep them returning to what is a peerless collection of instrumental grime of the kind 2015 has delivered a reassuringly large amount of.

8. Ipman - Depatterning

With dubstep all but dead, and some would also say the album format along with it, Adele notwithstanding, that any sort of statement has been made by someone most associated with the genre in 2015 is a bonus in itself.  Typically, Depatterning is not straight up dubstep, nor is it post-dubstep; indeed, it opens with the visceral Regicide, a breakbeat-led track more satisfying than almost the entirety of drum and bass released this year.  What follows is more about the texture of the sound than it is the constraints of either beats per minute, time signatures or drum patterns, and it's the kind of release Ipman clearly relished.

7. Rabit - Communion

At the complete opposite end of the grime scale to JT the Goon's melody led, tropical bursts of colour is Communion, the debut from another of the genre's bright young things.  Austere, often completely lacking in melody altogether and on occasion abrasive, it follows on from where That's Hari Kiri by SD Laika left off last year, all taut drums, sharp snares and often sounding like the soundtrack to an experimental film not yet made.  Eyes down doesn't quite do it justice.

6. Sleaford Mods - Key Markets

I must admit to previously being a Sleaford Mods sceptic - a bloke seemingly doing little more than spitting prose rather than verse over repetitive, minimal pre-recorded backing is the kind of thing I normally run a mile from.  What marks the Mods out beyond those who've been doing similar on the toilet circuit for years is just how damn funny Jason Williamson's lyrics are, how the anger and malice contained within are not the product of bitterness, as they could so easily be, and their genuine not giving a fuck attitude, affected by so many, but rarely surviving as little as the success the Mods have achieved.  Have there also been more applicable lines of late than these, taken from Rupert Trousers?

Idiots visit submerged villages in 200 pound wellies / Spitting out fine cheese made by the tool from Blur / Even the drummer's a fucking MP, fuck off you cunt, sir / Die trying whilst the others just live lying / Rife all polish, no strife

5. Tame Impala - Currents

On first listen to Currents, I was convinced from around the half-way point that it would be my album of the year.  Descending all the way into psychedelia, it's safe to say there hasn't been another album remotely like it this year, or at least one that hasn't been so widely recognised.  Why then is it not at the number one spot?  Sad as it is to relate, that feeling I had on first listen has diminished each time I've returned.  Don't get me wrong - Currents is still one of the albums of the year, but its emotional heft, its ability to haul you in and capture your attention fully dissipates over time.  It's not helped that there's a song as misjudged as Past Life wedged right in the middle, which with its not-quite sampled speech does a disservice to what surrounds it.  Great, but not destined to be a true classic.

4. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

Were this a list determined not by the music and instead by liner notes, Father John Misty aka Josh Tillmann's Exercises for Listening would see I Love You, Honeybear at the top spot.  That it's this high based on the former is a reflection of how ILY, H is very much of its time despite all its musical pointers meaning it could have been recorded 30, 40, even 50 years ago.  Misty is a world-weary character clearly not all that distant from Tillman himself, the exaggerated avatar of the real person we've grown so familiar with from the comedy of the past 15 years.  It helps that unlike some of those characters, Misty is lovable while still being hilarious, but even if he was simply a jerk, the sheer loveliness of the melodies, tempered as they are by the bittersweet and occasionally simply bitter lyrics, would shine through.

3. Jlin - Dark Energy

Of all the albums on this list, it would be fair to say Dark Energy was the one least likely to have found a wider audience and yet still achieved it.  A footwork album by a woman from Gary, Indiana, who works long shifts at a steel plant, or at least that's what we're told, not just exciting the usual heads over at Boomkat or FACT, but doing so pretty much across the board?  Dark Energy has done so mainly, it must be said, by not being a footwork record; yes, it's still footwork, but it drops the genre's over-the-top eccentricities and affectations, from the over-repetitive beats to the comedy/coarse samples that so often litter other offerings.  Jlin instead makes use of the genre's basic structure to create a sound that can one minute be playful, as on first track Black Ballet, to as puncturing, harsh and downright FWD as Infrared (Bagua).  If anyone pushed an entire sound to the next level this year, it was Jlin.

2. Oneohtrix Point Never - Garden of Delete

If you were to believe any of the bullshit supposedly behind Garden of Delete, how it's meant to be about a teenage alien called Ezra, or is influenced by Daniel Lopatin's touring with Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden, not only would you be somewhat gullible, it would also distract from what an astonishing album GoD is.  Lopatin has never been afraid to use irony in his music in the past, but on GoD he seems to firing at all and sundry, one minute channelling euphoric trance, the next the kind of crushing power electronics that figured on the Bullet Hell Abstractions part of his RSD release.  The result is a 48-minute long fever dream, at turns exhilarating and terrifying, but never anything less than thrilling.

1. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

Like I expect a good few others, by the time I'd discovered Sleater-Kinney they had gone on hiatus.  2005's The Woods was, is, an utter behemoth of a record, the sound of a group seemingly at their peak, with the members deciding they should go out on that high.  No Cities to Love could then have been another of those disappointing, shouldn't of it done reunions, much like some feel about Refused's Freedom.  No Cities to Love by contrast feels like the product of a band that never went away, and in truth 2015 has been the kind of year made for a collective that were always ahead of the curve, with the rest of the world finally beginning to catch up.  While not as heavy as The Woods, not at least as it hardly could be, No Cities has the same number of hooks, the same battle cries, whether it be on A New Wave, the title track, Bury Our Friends, or most potently, No Anthems: "I want an anthem / An answer and a force / A weapon, not violence, a power source".  Rather than no anthems, No Cities has 10.

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Freedom is certainly more of a slow burn than Shape was, but it's grown on me. It's very much the album you'd expect a returning band to make after being split up for 15 years or so, and the lesser volume than Shape doesn't hide the (for me) more focused rage of Freedom.

That's almost exactly the way I feel about it. First listen I thought pretty much oh dear, but with each successive one it's unfurled a little further. The irony of Shape has always been that of course it wasn't the, err, shape of punk to come, nor was it going to be. Why should the band that made that statement itself be any different?

For the amount of band, both good and bad, that say Shape influenced them, there are very few albums that sound particularly similar. I guess Shape wasn't quite the manifesto Refused 1998 wanted it to be, but that helps keep it sounding fantastically fresh due to the lack of copying.

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