After three years of asking I’ve finally contributed a list of my favourite albums for 2015 for Manic Pop Thrills. Seventeen in total (plus two reissues). It’s been an enjoyable but brutal task. The bit I struggled with was putting them in order although since I first heard Lonelady’s second album Hinterland earlier this year it’s been pretty much a dead cert. All in all, I have to say I thought 2015 was a damn good year for music and I’m brutally aware that there are a lot of albums I haven’t had a chance to listen to properly (or at all) throughout the year. Music is a very personal thing but also a communal thing as well at times and I would wholeheartedly recommend all of these releases. I may do this again in another three years or so. If I’m asked again…
Lonelady – Hinterland (Warp)
I’d read about this album and artiste prior to hearing it and bought it based on an exquisite interview and review on the excellent The Quietus. Best decision of the year – it was everything I hoped for and more. It’s an album of utter brilliance, full of different shades of colour, emotions and moods and utterly joyous. Seeing Lonelady play in Glasgow in the Autumn was also a wonderful experience. Probably the record I’ve played the most this year and I rarely dare to say this, but you should buy it and if you don’t like it I’ll give you your money back. And possibly never speak to you again. Should have been a contender for the top echelons of every album of the year list and a Mercury Prize. You can read my review here.
STOOR – Chronicles 1986-2020
I’ve always liked STOOR throughout their stop-start journey through the Dundee music scene but liking moved onto love since they re-emerged approximately two years ago. Their self-funded debut album is an utter beauty, packed full of cracking tunes topped off by a bizarre lyrical worldview. In a fair and just world there would be a cult of STOOR and they would be gigging across the nation and blasting out from radios everywhere. Still, the world may be a cruel and harsh place but this band are not. You can read my review here .
Ela Orleans – Upper Hell (HB Recordings)
I’m a huge fan of Ela Orleans both on record and live and her latest album, recorded with Howie B. is a beautiful piece of work. It’s very atmospheric, eerie, noirish and utterly engaging. I think it may be Ela’s most accessible record but really, I think everything she does is great and this record is wonderful and should have been a feature in every end of the year album release.
The Cathode Ray – Infinite Variety (Stereogram)
I came to this without any great expectation via Mike Manic Pop Thrills but love it. There are a number of bands who cite Wire as an influence but The Cathode Ray seem to me to build on that sound in a way that becomes uniquely them. This is a wonderful album, minimal in places, lush in others and each song is a hit to my ears. I can’t pin down exactly why I love this record so much but I do.
Various Artists – A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night OST
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night was pretty much my hands-down favourite film of the year and if an Iranian feminist Vampire film doesn’t sound your cup of tea then you ought to give it a watch. It’s sublime, as is the soundtrack. With the exception of White Lies, I hadn’t heard of any of the bands before but the collection of bands and songs work really well as a soundtrack and as a great record as well introducing me to a whole new array of bands including Federale, Radio Teheran and Kiosk.
Blank Realm – Illegals In Heaven (Fire Records)
This was one I came to through word of mouth and again purchased on spec. And again I have no regrets as it’s a bruising, tuneful creature. There are moments when this Australian quartet remind me of other bands I love but mostly they are best at being themselves. Slightly scuffed sounding, occasionally a little lo-fi but utterly addictive and fun.
Flying Saucer Attack – Instrumentals (Domino)
I was pretty surprised and incredibly happy to see Flying Saucer Attack (aka David Pearce) back making records after a long absence. Instrumentals features 15 well instrumentals, all built up around the guitar, full of drones, feedbacks and atmospheric, gentle guitar lines. If that sounds like a hard sell then trust me, it isn’t. It’s brilliant.
Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness (Domino)
This is pretty lush and dreamy with a vast sonic palate that verges on psychedelic-baroque pop at times. The sound is very plush and intricate yet also immersive and never simply expansive for the sake of showing off. Simply gorgeous and gets better with each play.
C Duncan – Architect (Fat Cat Records)
I’ll get it in before anyone else does. Yeah, yeah, writing about music is like dancing to architecture. Except in the world of C Duncan here is sonic architecture that you can dance to. This is a delightful record that appears to be making it out to a wider audience, possibly on the back of a Mercury nomination. However, it is simply a fantastic, sweet record. Recorded in his bedroom but full of ambition and scope.
Four Tet – Morning/Evening (Text)
My love for Four Tet and Kieron Hebden are limitless and this is a gorgeous, curio of a release. Basically it’s two tracks clocking in at around twenty minutes each and it is simply gorgeous. Both pieces really work as one long piece. Like all his previous work it is delightful and enchanting, an absolutely wondrous thing.
Roots Manuva – Bleeds (Big Dada)
Rodney Smith aka Roots Manuva is a stalwart of that unacclaimed netherworld ‘British Hip Hop’. Time after time he releases wonderful records that take you on a strange journey and are always worth hearing. This is an absolutely brilliant record, experimental and dense but also very accessible and smart.
Robert Forster – Songs To Play (Tapete)
Occasionally I dream of being Robert Forster, he seems so damn cool. In fairness, I haven’t always been a huge fan of his post Go-Betweens work (including the reformation) but this a gentle, sweet and witty record and possibly my favourite record of his solo career. It warms my cold, dark heart and fills me with romance.
Destroyer – Poison Season (Merge)
I was killing time in FOPP in Rose Street a few months back and heard some of this album for the first time. I had no idea who it was though snippets of the vocal reminded me of Luke Haines. The songs seemed to seep into my brain and I had to own it. It’s a very expansive sounding record, rich and beautiful. It turns out that Destroyer is one Dan Bejar who has released records extensively as Destroyer and as part of The New Pornographers and that I was very late to the party. However, it is a great party to be at and you are all cordially invited to a New Years party in Times Square with Dan Bejar.
Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh (Sacred Bones)
The first time I listened to this was on my headphones coming home late at night from a weekend in Glasgow and I had to take it off after a few songs as it was giving me the fear. In my tired state I was overwhelmed by the sound. I’ve got past that now and this is an enjoyable, multilayered record of dense, electronic instrumentals that are both disturbing and intriguing. Brilliant live as well. Unsettling yet euphoric.
Sarah Cracknell – Red Kite (Cherry Red)
My love for all things Saint Etienne knows no bounds and Sarah Cracknell’s second solo album is, much like Saint Etienne, a sound that looks both backwards and forwards. It’s an album full of lovely melodies and songs and full of joyful arrangements. A record to cheer you up in the months of winter.
Death And Vanilla – Where The Wild Things Are (Fire)
It feels weird buying two very wonderful records on the revived Fire Records in 2015. I had thought that Fire were long consigned to the dustbin of musical history despite releasing some fine records in the 1980s and early 1990s but the reboot 2015 seems to have a strong and varied roster as well hence two entries on this list. This is a curious record, very moody and enigmatic. It reminds me a little of Stereolab and Broadcast, two retro-futurist bands I adore but has a whole lot of charm and intrigue of its own. Quite eerie and splendidly dreamy.
Peaches – Rub (I U She)
I arrived late to this album but am really enjoying it. At times it’s quite minimalist, sparse electronics, drum machines but there are some great pop hooks contained in this record as well. It’s whip smart cool and quite rude as well with guest vocals from Kim Gordon, Feist and Simonne Jones. With songs such as ‘Vaginoplasty’ ‘Dick In The Air’ and ‘Dumb Fuck’ mainstream airplay might be difficult but Peaches is no cheap shock potty mouth but has serious things to say about gender roles, sexuality and identity. A political record you can dance to.
Re-Issues of the Year
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (Verve)
Possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever. Period. No argument. If you tell me you hate Jazz and then admit you have never heard this then quit while you are ahead and go take a listen.
The Velvet Underground – Loaded (Atlantic)
Possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever. Period. No argument. You say you don’t like The Velvet Underground? Then you should try harder.