Friday, January 1, 2016

It’s VII: 93 ’til Infinity

Favorite albums, 2015

[1] Swervedriver, I Wasn’t Born To Lose You

“The gift that healed me felt like molten gold.” —Martin Phillipps

[2] Dawn Richard, Blackheart

The only album I listened to regularly all year long, though I never quite wrapped my head around it. I wrote something about “inorganic textures wielded and finessed as if they have physical existence,” inadvertently describing an auteurist electronic album and/or most pop music in 2015 (it’s both, neither). Lose the passive voice and make Richard the subject: it’s the steadiness of her hands—wielding and finessing sound, rubbing temples, dangling a mask just lifted or about to be worn—that sets Blackheart above.

[3] Girlpool, Before The World Was Big

What haven’t I praised yet? How about the production, which gives every sound a weight and a place, on a surface just opaque enough to catch the long shadows.

[4] Björk, Vulnicura

Long amorphous songs with time signatures that only Björk and her collaborators could possibly identify (though I had fun trying to tap them out) tell the story of the greatest rupture in the history of recorded music. Vulnicura offers a lot of potential obstacles and intimidating portents but, from its demand of emotional respect onward, contains Björk’s most immediate and luminous music since the 90s. Don’t trust anyone who asks you to leave it to the fanbase.

[5] Joanna Newsom, Divers

Time is taller than space is wide, and Newsom exploits space to make this the year’s tallest 52 minutes. Eschewing harp and idiosyncratic language as much as her compositions will allow, she turns to a broader range of sounds and idioms, not always of her own invention. “Leaving the City” has so many hallmarks of rap music that the ones it lacks are a mere technicality, and “Waltz of the 101st Lightborne” is a barroom sing-along in more than just theory, I hope. Start there, or with the last 30 seconds of “You Will Not Take My Heart Alive,” where the constant surprise of the album’s instrumentation is expressed in miniature, sounds pairing off in sequence to state the theme.

[6] Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly

Not enough characters to be a novel, but I get it: in another universe, I’d have spent 2015 carrying around a tattered and marked-up book by the writer Lamar. I treated my digital copy more like a double LP, rarely played all the way through but each side given separate attention at some point in the year. A sent me reeling, D brought tears and grounded me, C let me in, invited me to look around and lay low, and B remained in the shadow of “u,” refusing to crack no matter how many times he screams into the hotel room mirror.

[7] Blur, The Magic Whip

“Every film about war ends up being pro-war,” Truffaut said. A pop album about overpopulation anxiety would seem similarly doomed to failure since it can’t help offering the thrill of human connection, can’t help being a product. Blur don’t try to mitigate either circumstance: The Magic Whip is astounding in its musical detail, glum in its self-implication. So a kind of helplessness pervades, but any sense that the music is overly lethargic disappears as soon as headphones reveal one of the year’s liveliest albums, and a high point in the band’s catalog.

[8] The Chills, Silver Bullets

You’ll notice a trend developing: artists who made some of their best music 20-30 years ago did so again in 2015. This one surprised me most. No Greenpeace calls in the booklet but Martin Phillipps still sings of ecology, geopolitics, love and human cruelty, while lavish arrangements feature guitar work as seductive and nuanced as ever, astonishing for a band that’s undergone countless shakeups in the three decades since “Pink Frost.” The Chills have made albums as good as this one, but none better.

[9] Tamaryn, Cranekiss

In which former shoegaze purist Tamaryn accesses The Timelords’ Manual not to generate #1s but to seek permission for an overtly borrowed aesthetic and a few pop-oriented moves. No permission needed. Even as she fills in all the boxes on her greatly expanded dream-pop/shoegaze checklist, she hits on just as many moments of breathtaking and organic melody. Weekend’s Shaun Durkan contributes, his stamp most evident on the hypnotic “Collection.” In a lot of ways, this is the Weekend album I’ve been waiting five years for.

[10] Earl Sweatshirt, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside

An agoraphobic wonderland of sound. Interiority as music’s final frontier, again. More albums should aspire to not passing the 30-minute mark.

Further listening

These might’ve made the list if I’d had more consistent means of listening to them:

Abra, Rose
Angel Haze, Back to the Woods
Fetty Wap, Fetty Wap
Grimes, Art Angels
Susanne Sundfør, Ten Love Songs

These didn’t make the list but maybe should have:

a. Best Coast, California Nights
b. Colleen Green, I Want To Grow Up
c. Destroyer, Poison Season
d. Evans The Death, Expect Delays
e. Janet Jackson, Unbreakable
f. Jazmine Sullivan, Reality Show
g. Low, Ones and Sixes
h. Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer
i. Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp
j. Yo La Tengo, Stuff Like That There

a, i: Never better, on album #3.

b, d, f: More fully realized as concept albums than the ones in my top ten, probably.

c, g, j: My favorite things they’ve done in nearly a decade, or at least it’s been that long since I so immediately sensed what they were up to.

p.s. It was great having Built To Spill, Sleater-Kinney, Deerhunter and Julia Holter in my life again. I have nothing bad to say about their new albums except maybe, toward the end of that list, “nice.”

p.p.s. Summer albums don’t wither but sometimes they hibernate: SoX’s Surf, Fair & Blake’s Yes.


The best things I bought were two box sets containing every album by The Sound and a two-disc House Masters set chronicling the career of Frankie Knuckles.

On the way to the Heems show in July I saw the night’s best performance, a busker in front of the IDS Center singing Sinéad’s “Just Like U Said It Would B” as if she’d just written it, with the fury of a picture-ripper.

I spent a July day with Jack Rabid in Helena, while his 7-year old son made Byrds puns, transcribed the lyrics to “Octopus’ Garden” and panicked when his Small Faces search turned up no results, and a lunch hour with Marlon James in Midtown talking about Prince, mostly, and our imagined 33 1/3 book proposals (mine: Bob Mould’s Modulate; his: Anita Baker’s Rapture). I interviewed The Go-Betweens’ Robert Forster and Local H’s Scott Lucas. Nice guys, both, though a certain dread gripped me when I went to transcribe the latter’s phone call.

All book chapters should begin thus:

“One of the songs off Goo was ‘Tunic (Song for Karen).’”
—Kim Gordon, Girl in a Band


I went to about 50 in 2015, on par with the year before. Some great ones, chronologically (Swervedriver was best):

Sleater-Kinney – First Ave (2/14)
The Twilight Sad – Entry (3/2)
Swervedriver – Turf Club (3/12)
Waxahatchee / Girlpool / Kitten Forever – Triple Rock (5/6)
Courtney Barnett / Babes in Toyland – Rock the Garden (6/20-21)
Ex Hex – Triple Rock (7/20)
Miguel – State (8/15)
X – Mill City (8/29)
Jenny Hval – Entry (9/1)
Destroyer / Jennifer Castle – Fine Line (9/26)
Ride – Mill City (9/29)
Kraftwerk – Northrop (10/7)
John Grant – Cedar (10/22)
Yo La Tengo – Pantages (11/7)
Deerhunter – First Ave (12/14)
Joanna Newsom – Fitzgerald (12/17)


Top five, top of my head: Björk’s Post, Pulp’s Different Class, Matthew Sweet’s 100% Fun, Mobb Deep’s The Infamous and Luna’s Penthouse.

Favorite old song of the year

No comments: