Top 25 Albums 2015
By Iann Robinson
As the year of our lord two thousand and fifteen draws to a close, I find myself waxing nostalgic on the year that was, especially in the world of music. I look back on all the albums I listened to, the few I reviewed (which I promise to change in 2016) and which ones really stuck out for me. The lovely folks here at Varla have given me a chance to share my findings with you. So, without further ado, here are my Top 25 Albums Of 2015. (Scroll to the top 10 for full reviews.)
10. Thelonious Monk
The Complete Riverside Recordings
An astounding box set from one of the most accomplished jazz geniuses in the history of the medium. 153 performances are captured here, including jam sessions, studio sessions, club dates and even an abandoned session with drummer Shelly Mann. As if that wasn’t enough, dig the musicians who are playing with Monk. The likes of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Coleman Hawkins, Gerry Mulligan, Max Roach, Clark Terry, Thad Jones, Charlie Rouse, Johnny Griffin, and Wilbur Ware. If you already love Monk, then you need this box set, if you don’t know him then this is a great set to learn with.
9. Jedi Mind Tricks
The Thief & The Fallen
It’s no surprise that JMT mastermind Vinnie Paz is a boxing aficionado; he truly sees the art behind the violence. Hardcore rap can so easily slip into boring braggadocio or chest-thumping bravado. On The Thief & The Fallen, Paz shows us why he’s one of the most respected vocalists in Hip Hop by lacing razor-sharp hardcore lyrics with intelligence and political savvy. With sick production from Stoupe and C-Lance, The Thief And The Fallen stands head and shoulders above most Hip Hop albums dropped this year. Look for a great cameo from future Hip Hop legend A-F-R-O.
8. Godspeed You Black Emperor
Asunder, Sweet & Other Distress
(Avant Garde/Experimental/Post Rock)
This band simply can’t put out a bad record. GSYBE’s delicate stitching of soundscapes and instruments has afforded them yet another staggering album. Asunder, Sweet & Other Distress is at times terrifying, then beautiful, inspirational and then damning. GSYBE has this innate ability to translate the emotional landscape into instrumental music. It allows you to personalize even their most out-there ideas. I can’t say enough great things about this album or this band.
7. Corrections House
Know How To Carry A Whip
Putting Scott Kelly from Neurosis and Mike Williams from Eyehategod into a room, one would expect a sonic tornado. Corrections House first release was exactly that. Returning with Know How To Carry A Whip, Corrections House once again unleash their violent, noise drenched storm, but this time they’ve added a deeper layer of songwriting. As cathartic as it is challenging, Know How To Carry A Whip shows a bright future for Corrections House.
6. Kamasi Washington
There is an online music site called Burning Ambulance, and they do more to alert me to amazing music than just about any other source. One of those this year was The Epic, a massive 3-CD statement from LA based avant jazz musician Kamasi Washington. Using everything in his arsenal, Washington unleashes an experimental summation of where Jazz was, is and will be. I can’t recommend this album highly enough.
La Di Da Di
Battles reinvent themselves again with La Di Da Di. Having taken a long step into synth-pop with their last album Gloss Drop, the band has stepped back into their roots to find a new direction. Stripping away the gloss and pop, Battles incorporates their original techno-rhythms and computerized ideas and then adds a dash of new, rock oriented songwriting. The combination allows La Di Da Di to breathe new life into Battles without losing their unique identity.
Zombi continues to be one of my favorite bands. Taking inspiration from the synth sounds of John Carpenter soundtracks, the inspired two-piece adds odd time signatures, off beat keyboards and a general sense of the weird that appeals to me. Shape Shift is another great chapter in what seems to an endless stream of innovative synth tracks from Zombi.
3. For Examples
Box Set (Various Artists)
Another fantastic gift from Burning Ambulance, For Examples is a box set from German label FMP licensed for release through defunct jazz blog Destination: Out. Originally released in 1978, the box set was very specific in its focus. Disc one was all about the solo artist, the second disc is only small group and the third expands into larger bands. The work here is amazing, across the board.
2. Chelsea Wolfe
Sargent House Records
Outside of my never-ending crush on Chelsea Wolfe, my adoration for her springs from the voice. A dark, somber, and heavily textured voice that evokes reaction across the emotional spectrum, Chelsea is a unique talent in the world of sing/songwriters. Abyss is a concept album about sleep paralysis, but really you can attach your own personal darkness to any of the tracks. Few singers are as raw and honest as Wolfe and Abyss is another stellar example of her ability, and growth, as an artist.
1. Royal Headache
What’s Your Rupture Records
With all the avant this and experimental that in my list, it’s funny to me that my number one record of 2015 is a jangly, poppy, kind of punk and sort of soul band of kids from Australia, but it is. High is an infectious, up-beat album that has so much fun, so much soul and is so entertaining that you have to be in love with it. Add to this music one of the most unique voices in rock and presto, BAM, album of the year.
Here’s to 2016!