2015 in Music: Staff Picks

What tickled our fancy this year?

desperate journalist

Were there stupider things to attempt in 2015 than launch yet another music-focussed website? Maybes. Nevertheless, here we are. It’s been a bit of a wheeze so far.

We may have only been properly live since late September, but as the countdown to Christmas ticks off, it became obvious that the ‘End of Year Albums List’ is a party so glamorous that we were determined not to miss it. That said, we always found such affairs a little confusing – how do you decide the difference between the 33rd and 34th best albums in a twelve month period? – and didn’t want to spend days disappearing down that particular rabbit hole, not when there are vol-au-vents and mince pies being served on the buffet of life.

So to make things simpler, here’s our favourite album of 2015 and then a bunch of personal picks from our tiny, tiny team. It’s been a good year (aren’t they all?) and we look forward to whatever the next twelve months is going to throw up.

W&G Album of the Year – Desperate Journalist

A handful of self-released EPs were clear indicators of Desperate Journalist‘s promise but their self-titled debut, released at the start of year on Fierce Panda, was a leap of some magnitude. Taking all that was good about classic Brit indie pop and adding elements that the original template had often lacked – tunes, deep musicality, lyrical endeavour and, um, a proper singer – the London four piece were a literate and beautifully serious re-invigorating of a worthy but dulled sector of the alternative landscape. The follow-up, the Good Luck EP, was even better, signalling advancement in both song craft and studio smarts. Peel, surely, would have loved them and ‘Control’, the album’s barreling signature tune, would have pissed the Festive 50. Dig this one out, seriously (though the beautifully packaged vinyl is now long gone) and see them live where, led by the hypnotic Jo Bevan, they excel. Album of the year, band of the year.

Staff Picks

Douglas Baptie’s AOTY: Tove Styrke – Kiddo

Curiously overlooked in a year of pretty stellar pop, Kiddo is, nevertheless, worth digging out for reconsideration. AOP of the first order, Styrke melds quirky Scandosound (‘Snaren’), Big Apple street sass (‘Borderline’) and a Lily Allen-esque wink across twelve tracks without once dropping the glitterball. There are real smarts on display here and a production that reveals more of itself every play (check out the enveloping Moroder-isms of ‘Samurai Boy’). If you can tear yourself away from Grimes or Carly Rae for just a moment, Kiddo will repay the investigation.

Honourable mentions: If there were medals for ‘most played’, then WoahnowsUnderstanding and Everything would be top of the podium. The south west is throwing up a bunch of cool bands at the moment and UaE is chocka with hook strewn post-pop-punk whose sonics belie a thoughtful undercurrent. Hop Along Painted Shut & Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think… Two albums recorded on opposite sides of the world but Barnett and Frances Quinlan share a knack for storytelling and sense of place, able to turn the mundane into wonderfully evocative sonic comforts. Oh, and they know how to write a tune too. Wolf Alice My Love Is Cool: Despite the gap year air, Wolf Alice know how to catch your attention. MLIC is packed to the gills with old-fashioned student disco floorfillers. Huge-ness surely awaits in 2016. Joanna Gruesome‘s Peanut Butter channels Huggy Bear and Sarah Records – no mean feat – to exhilarating effect. Anorak in the UK. The loss of vocalist Alanna McArdle will be a real test of their mettle.

Tracks of the Year: Grimes – ‘Flesh Without Blood’ // Chvrches – ‘Clearest Blue’ // Hop Along – ‘Waitress’ // Pesky – ‘Heartbeat’ // Layne – ‘Warrior’.

Live Highlight: OK, Great Britain I get it. You prefer to be hand fed and greet with open arms all manner of American indie mediocrities. Meanwhile, Lemuria have been turning up on your doorstep to haul themselves around the lower reaches of the circuit to ‘intimate’ crowds. They play Glasgow’s Audio and all the stars are in alignment and they’re amazing and a couple of times my bottom lip starts to tremble and I stupidly get something in my eye. Isn’t that the point? Screw it – keep settling for second best. A few of us will keep ’em close, safe in the knowledge that we were right and you were wrong. So very, very wrong.

Gary Kaill’s AOTY: Susanne Sundfor – Ten Love Songs

Some albums just land right. Susanne Sundfor’s fifth – the first to gain real traction outside of her native Norway – was expertly assembled but it nudged perfection in a way that only ever really comes with a sliver of serendipity. A more fully realised collection than the skewed electro of her earlier work, Ten Love Songs sauntered from brittle dance pop (‘Fade Away’, ‘Delirious’) to lyrical balladry (‘Darlings’, the epic fantasia of ‘Memorial’) with haughty disregard for convention. High stakes throughout and shot through with moments of real drama. Surprise the Chvrches/Robyn/Grimes fan in your life and await their thanks.

Honourable Mentions: Have You in My Wilderness was a fascinating unpicking of Julia Holter‘s chamber experimentation and deservedly won her new fans. Complex and wayward, it’s the gateway album for those who’d previously struggled to find a way in. Manchester’s False Advertising took a tired template (‘nu-grunge’ – their words) and brought it back to life with a set of songs that felt like a ‘best of’. Their self-titled, self-released debut was exceptional. “Undercover of the night, Telecaster, pirate wanker! High seas, arthritis? Yes please!” 2015: the year in which, thanks to eighth (?) album Key MarketsSleaford Mods went from baffling oddity to fucking national fucking treasure. The world really didn’t take to Lana Del Rey‘s third album, Honeymoon. With the trim beats of her debut all but erased, her stark balladry relied largely on strings and voice. It’s not for everyone, but its old Hollywood glamour felt gloriously at odds with, well, everything in 2015. Outfit are, of course, huge in a parallel universe and Slowness was a low key, minor key wonder. How the hell did this not catch a wave? The closing ‘Swam Out’ came within a whisper of the late night, empty bottle, grazed elegance of The Blue Nile’s Hats. That good.

Tracks of the Year: Sleater-Kinney – ‘No Anthems’ // Destroyer – ‘Times Square’ // Chvrches – ‘Clearest Blue’ // Liane La Havas – ‘Grow’ // Hanne Kolsto – ‘While We Still Have Light’.

Gig of the Year: this.

Nick Soulsby’s AOTY: Dumb Numbers / Melvins / David Lynch / David Yow

Gorgeous excess. A triple 10” set, 975 copies only, in a neatly bolted wooden box with an intriguing cover print, then equally curious artwork for each record sleeve. It’d be too much if the contents didn’t rise to the occasion but how could they not give the cast-list? It could have sounded like an elaborate compilation but, in each case, Adam Harding’s group, Dumb Numbers, seem to be in dialogue with the coterie of musical outliers corralled for the release. It’s that unity — the conversational back-and-forth, give-and-take — that works on a release that covers more ground in six brief sides of 45rpm than most album length statements muster.

Honourable Mentions: Fennesz/King Midas Sound Edition 1: There’s a humanity to both artists, an attempt to catch the quieter, equivocal emotions that octave-smashing divas never feel. Teardrops fall throughout this record but always with a half-smile, as if the next moment could be blissed out pain or resurgence. A perfectly sutured wound. Sicko Mobb Super Saiyan Vol.2: Nothing says fun like lyrics that hit the sweet-spot where brain-dead meets ear-candy. Two MCs clearly having the time of their lives. The Libertines Anthems for Doomed Youth: Listening to the two scabs on vocals share quips and self-mythology provides a warmth that makes any underlying sadness or uncertainty feel tender rather than wretched. The album has a dusky vibe, the tempo rarely whips the speakers, but everything comes with a chant-able line or two, or a poetry worth retaining. Eccentronic Research Council: Johnny Rocket, Narcissist & Music Machine…I’m Your Biggest Fan A dramatic spoken word story laid over perfectly timed and tuned vibes and styles. Swallow it whole, see the visuals in one’s head, let the tale be told. Merzbow/Balazs Pandi/Thurston Moore/Mats Gustafsson Cuts of Guilt. Cuts Deeper Improvisational music is a social activity conjured in a specific time and locale — which is why it can be so difficult to translate onto record. In this instance, there’s a sharpness and distinctness to the sound, sufficient to pour the sensation of a live happening through speakers. This is an intense, and diverse, music that takes work.

Tracks of the Year: Coil – ‘A Cold Cell’ // Public Image Ltd. – ‘Shoom’ // The Weekend – ‘The Hills’ // Kurt Cobain ‘Burn the Rain’

Gig of the Year: Sunn O))) at the Royal Festival Hall. I’d been filled with trepidation, “I saw them at X venue, my innards shook and I was deaf for a day — how could they match that intensity in such a vast place?” I had nothing to fear. Volume as dense as a Thames tide, smoke like an ol’ London peasouper from days before my birth — Sunn O))) consumed the room. I took with me a naïve friend who trusted me enough to not check the band out before agreeing to attend — adorable. The waves of sound sent her to sleep. She woke disorientated yelping that she felt sick. She eventually bolted from the room in full dietary tract revolt. The next morning she texted to say that the sight of singer Attila Csihar rising up from the dark stage and spreading his cowled shadow in a cruciform over the audience had been so demonic it had filled her sleep with nightmares drawn from her religious Italian Catholic upbringing. Some bands are like Polo Mints: safe, easy to recognize and easily digested; Sunn O))) are the equivalent of eating the Ortolan whole. Some bands create atmosphere. Sunn O))) ignite it and leave nothing left to breathe.

About Douglas Baptie (188 Articles)
Editor at Words & Guitars. Lives in Carlisle, far away from 'that London'.
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