Category Archives: Music

Records of the Year 2015

Julia Holter

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I didn’t do this last year, did I? Well, I meant to,* but instead evidently concluded it was a good idea to let this blog lapse a bit longer instead. Here, though, is what I’ve liked most this year:

Albums
Julia Holter – Have You in My Wilderness
Sometimes records that are very diverse don’t fully cohere for me, but there’s a really nice consistency in Julia Holter’s record that means that torch songs sung late at night in smoky Berlin basement bars (‘How Long?’) sit beside jaunty tunes (‘Everytime Boots’) without any clash. A certain lushness and theatricality of tone ties it all together; ‘Vasquez’,  a song about a bandit, and ‘Lucette Stranded on the Island’, about a murder, are the standouts, but what I liked best about this record — and what makes it my album of the year — is that as I’m enjoying listening to each track, I’m also excited to hear the one that follows.

Also, and in no particular order:

Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss

Björk – Vulnicura
People are always talking about a ‘return to form’ for artists who’ve been around a long time, and I don’t really hold with that, but this is probably the most consistently listenable Björk album in well over a decade.

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
It is great to have Sleater-Kinney back. That is all.

Vet Cong – Viet Cong

Holly Herndon – Platform

Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet, and Other Distress

Belle & Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
‘Eeh,’ said one of the 6Music DJs after playing ‘No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross’ on the radio one daytime, ‘doesn’t that make you just feel all warm and fuzzy?’ No! This is one of the most sweetly depressing records ever.

Most disappointing release of the year for me was probably Modest Mouse’s Strangers to Ourselves, which manages to be half-baked and rather too long.

 

Songs

Clear standout for me this year is the closing track on Joanna Newsom’s Divers, ‘Time, as a Symptom’, in which her way with words, her unmistakable delivery and the music itself all go together to an effect that is more than just intellectually interesting (my usual response to Newsom’s work) but emotionally affecting too. It’s the first time really that she’s spoken to my heart as well as to my head — I feel like I could listen to this every day and never tire of it.

Honorable mention for Roisin Murphy’s ‘Gone Fishing’. Hairless Toys is a funny old record, and not really a very good one, I don’t think, but both this and ‘Exploitation’ are subtly catchy tracks I found myself seeking out for relistening a lot over the year.

 

Live
I saw a bunch of really good gigs this year, but Chelsea Wolfe’s hypnotic and pulverising show at Islington Assembly Hall, London in November and an explosive live show by Young Fathers at the Williamsburg Hall of Music, New York were the standouts. Honorable mentions here for the New York Terminal 5 gig I saw on Sleater-Kinney’s comeback tour in February, and a terrific Deerhunter show, also in November, which just about compensated for my having to go to Shepherds Bush Empire, long my least favourite big venue in London.

 

*I would’ve noted EMA, Fucked Up, Liars, Swans, St Vincent and Hookworms as having made my favourite albums of 2014, and ‘Queen’ by Perfume Genius and ‘Two Weeks’ by FKA Twigs as my favourite songs.

Some music I enjoyed in 2013…

Records of the Year

Albums:

David Bowie – The Next Day
Well, obviously. Some years belong to certain artists, and so 2013 was Bowie’s. His surprise comeback record sounds like the great album he didn’t quite get round to making in the 1980s — ‘Dancing Out in Space’ might have been rediscovered in an archive of 1988 recordings (in a good way) — and best of all, this was a revival which just kept going, via some inexplicably controversial videos, the happy coincidence (?) of the V&A’s David Bowie Is exhibition, and an EP of remixes and bonus songs to close out the year.

Savages – Silence Yourself
It sags slightly in the middle, but this is a fine debut from a studiedly cool — but no less enjoyable for that — new band. There’s something almost quaint about the band’s overt attention to its public image (moody photography, monochrome LP sleeve and stage outfits): not for nothing is their best song here a declaration of the new band’s intent: ‘I Am Here‘. Also responsible for two of my favourite gigs this year (one with Iggy Pop: quite the lineup).

Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Overlong by far, though that’s hardly a new problem for Arcade Fire, who like to bludgeon you into believing their choruses are as good as they think they are. The title song contains at least three points where it could come to an end — but no. That said, there are some lovely songs here, as always; it’s just that the sheer length of each one, and the double LP as a whole, detracts (detrakts?) significantly from their impact.

Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
Harsh and scary, and very good indeed. Olympics nothing: most particularly on the concluding ‘Hidden Xs‘, Fuck Buttons need spaceships to land and disgorge hordes of hostile creatures fore these songs to find appropriate action to soundtrack.

Barn Owl – V
I wandered around heatwave-struck Glasgow this July with this record on repeat on my headphones. Utterly inappropriate: it’s better-suited to clambering through dilapidated buildings on stormwhipped industrial islands. Which I also did (but without the appropriate soundtrack).

The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Though it contains some of The National’s weakest ever songs, where the customarily excellent lyrics are supplanted by banal rhyming couplets (‘She’s a griever, a believer / It’s not a fever, it’s a freezer’), Trouble also contains some of their finest in the wonderfully intense ‘Sea of Love‘ (in which they set out to demonstrate how many crescendos a song can have) and the lopsided, near-unbearably melancholic ‘Pink Rabbits’.

 

Songs and singles:

Two of these don’t actually have videos, and Cut Copy’s will drive you swiftly insane, but the Youtube links are there for the intrepid.

Glasser – ‘Shape‘, from Interiors

Julia Holter – ‘Into the Green Wild‘, from Loud City Song

Cut Copy – ‘Let Me Show You Love‘, from Free Your Mind

Neko Case – ‘Man‘, from The Worse Things Get The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight The More I Love You

Annie – ‘Invisible‘, from the A&R EP

Frightened Rabbit – ‘Backyard Skulls‘, from Pedestrian Verse

 

Gigs:

Julianna Barwick, London St Giles Church, 29th August (photo: kDamo, from Flickr)

The Knife, London Roundhouse, 9th May (photo: Passetti, from Flickr)
With its dubious dance routines, lipsynching and stagecraft gags, The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual tour didn’t really provide gigs per se, and backfired as much as it prompted questions about what a gig should be. Nonetheless, it’s the show that’s stayed with me most this year — even if it did feel, as the smoke rose, multicoloured lasers streaked out, and ‘Silent Shout’s familiar bubbling keyboard line emerged, that the whole thing was a 90-minute warm-up we’d had to endure before getting to hear the big hit.

Swans/Ben Frost/Grouper/Xiu Xiu, London Koko, 4th April (photo: DGJones, from Flickr)