Welcome to the sprawling mess that is Cyclic Defrost’s best music of 2015. Like the last few years we’ve asked our writers to come up with the top 5 pieces of music they heard this year. It could’ve been released this year or 30 years ago, all that matters is that they heard it and enjoyed it this year. Like previous years no one can agree on the same thing, thus there’s no Cyclic sponsored best of 2015, but we think that’s our strength. Thus we’ve got everyone from Klaus Wunderlich to The Bug, from Cracked Actor to The Necks, and pretty much everything else you can imagine in between. Yet for the first year there were actually two double ups, so that must mean that whatever these mysterious music’s are, they must be pretty damn good. Otherwise it’s all madness and mayhem, tangents and tributaries. We hope you find a rich vein here and ride it kicking and screaming into 2016. Thanks to all your support throughout the year…it means a lot.
Seb Chan – Founder
Aleksi Perälä – The Colundi Sequences (Bandcamp)
Perälä was responsible for some great releases on Rephlex as Ovuca and Astrobotnia, and here on this ongoing series (14 releases so far) called The Colundi Sequence, he uses the musical scale developed with Rephlex co-owner Grant Wilson-Claridge. WIlson-Claridge describes the scale in The WIre, ““Instead of dividing the keyboard into octaves with semitones . . . the scale is 128 resonant frequencies chosen via experimentation and philosophy, each relating to a specific human bio-resonance, or psychology, traditional mysticism or belief, physics, astronomy, maths, chemistry.”. At the end of the day, though, the Colundi Sequences, are strange synthesiser experiments – the most ambient of which being the best, and those with beats occasionally verging on the tedious – and spread over 14 vast releases there’s plenty to explore. This track from Volume 10 could loop for eternity . . .
Roger Robinson – Dis Side Ah Town (Jahtari)
Dub poet Roger Robinson, perhaps known to some from King Midas Sound, teams up with Jahtari boss Disrupt during a visit to Brixton. Ten great pieces of dub poetry in the spirit of Linton Kwesi Johnson, set to warm analogue 8-bit digidub. Robinson originally recorded many of these as spoken word pieces but set to Disrupt’s backing they gather new life. http://www.jahtari.org/music/JTRLP07.htm
Max Richter – Sleep (Deutsche Grammafon)
Richter cops a fair bit of flak for his modern classical soundtrack work from the ‘underground’ but for those of us who remember his excellent The Blue Notebooks (Fat Cat) from back in 2004, his popularity as a film composer – with all the genre’s attendant narrative needs and ‘obvious’ tropes – is a welcome payoff for years of hard work. Anyway, I did a vast amount of travelling this year with my job from New York, and later from Melbourne, and the eight hour ‘full’ version of Sleep was perfect utilitarian music for intercontinental commuter travel. Plugged into my brain through noise cancelling headphones, a 3mg dose of melatonin, a memory foam neck pillow and a meagre economy class seat recline, Richter’s Sleep managed to ensure I got a true 8 hours of proper sleep on long haul trips. Is it bad for music to fulfil such a utilitarian purpose? Or is lucid dreaming a welcome alternative to second rate inflight entertainment?
Chris Downton – Reviews Editor
Martin Gore – MG (Mute Records)
It’s strange given Depeche Mode’s international stadium-packing stature just how little promotion accompanied this solo album from Martin Gore when it emerged earlier this year. Perhaps in hindsight it was deliberate though, and indeed ‘MG’ sees Gore taking a break from his main group to instead focus on often beatless analogue electronics and modular synthesis. The end results sit somewhere between Klaus Schulze and Alessandro Cortini, veering from hypnotically ebbing sine tones through to more dark and industrial-hued offerings such as ‘Brink.’ While these tracks apparently originated as early demo experiments for the Mode’s ‘Delta Machine’ album, to me ‘MG’ feels more like the kind of album I usually find battered and scuffed in the middle of some trove of 1970s German prog / experimental synth vinyl. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QPnoBUeYPc
Klaus Wunderlich – Sound 2000 (TelDec)
Which leads me directly to this dude. I hadn’t heard of Klaus prior to grabbing this 1973 gem, which is actually a bit of an atypical release from him. In Germany, he was basically the equivalent of James Last, pumping out no less than 174 albums over a career as a bandleader that ran from 1958 right up until his death in 1997. He’s best known for the his Hammond organ playing on polka and schlager basement cellar party favourites, but ‘Sound 2000’ offers up (sadly) the one record where he tried something different, opting instead for a Moog and drum machine combo. While a lot of Moog records generally surround the synths with accompanying instrumental players, the twelve tracks here are stripped down to just Klaus and those two aforementioned instruments, and are all the better for it. There are the usual cover versions (including the eeriest version of ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ you’ll ever hear), but it’s Klaus’ original compositions that often offer the biggest highlights here (see the closing ‘Krimoogulus.’) I find it hard to imagine who originally bought a lot of these sorts of Moog records, because while they’re often couched as easy-listening, the voltage-gated synths are just so jarring and violent. I don’t know that I’ll be seeking out Klaus’ other 173 albums, but ‘Sound 2000’ is pure class. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncPjcXk2Yiw
Public Image Limited – What The World Needs Now
The last five years or so have been a really good time to be a Public Image Limited fan. After PiL’s initial disbanding during 1992 (Year 12 for me) and the ensuing slightly cheesy Sex Pistols reunions, my initial expectations hadn’t been very high upon hearing that John Lydon was reactivating his ‘other’ band. The ensuing tour though proved to be one of the strongest ones in PiL’s storied career, with arguably the best band unit Lydon had worked with in years going on to record 2011’s excellent comeback album ‘This Is PiL.’ If anything, this latest album ‘What The World Needs Now’ takes the goalposts set by its predecessor, and pushes them out even further. Vocally, Lydon’s in stunning form throughout this entire album, and indeed it’s hard to think of many other singers who still sound so good at this point in their career. If ‘Double Trouble’ opens things with a punky thrashout that’s the closest thing to a post-Pistols moment, ‘Big Blue Sky’ offers up a wide-eyed seven minute dub excursion, before ‘Shoom’ ventures out into streamlined electronic dance grooves that nod towards Lydon’s ‘Open Up’ collaboration with Leftfield. Thankfully in this case the sense of stylistic eclecticism really gels, resulting in what’s easily one of the strongest projects John Lydon’s turned his hand to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99BQNRU8BMI
Bjork – Vulnicura (One Little Indian)
This album stuck around for most of the year in my iPod, and I think one of the main reasons is because it’s such a weighty experience that takes months to properly digest. While the relationship breakdown that surrounding ‘Vulnicura’s creation has been well documented by now, the end result saw Bjork eschewing 4-5 minute songs in favour of almost orchestral movements (see the ten minute long ‘Black Lake’). There’s some of the best meshing of harsh synthetics and sweeping instrumental layers that she’s done since ‘Homogenic’, but in this case it’s spread over a much broader, often cinematic canvas. In many senses this album was also the jumping off point for me getting into Arca’s production, which can’t be a bad thing. As a longtime Bjork collector though, I can’t say I’m that stoked by her recent penchant for releasing all of her singles as limited etched vinyl art objects as it seems like a bit of a gouge to the fans. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGn1pJIpZw8
King Midas Sound & Fennesz – Edition 1 (Ninja Tune)
I was expecting big things from this inspired collaboration ever since it was announced earlier this year, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I mean, how can a meeting of minds between King Midas Sound and Fennesz be bad? ‘Edition 1’ (apparently the first in a set of four collaborative albums involving King Midas Sound and as yet unnamed artists) saw the collision between Kevin Martin’s edgy downbeat rhythms and post-apocalyptic electronics, the vocals of Kiki Hitomi and Roger Robinson, and Fennesz’s processed guitar soundscapes dragging both musical camps into completely new territory. I’m not quite sure how Kevin Martin will manage to top this first stellar volume, but I’m looking forward to finding out. If you’re looking for the full oceanic and isolationist listening experience, the vinyl-only instrumental version of this album is well worth tracking down.
Bob Baker Fish – Features Editor
My Name is Doug Hream Blunt – Featuring the Hit Gentle Persuasion (Luaka Bop)
The kindest, weirdest funky soul that grows on you the same way that a hiccup can turn into hysteria.
Bleach Boys – Yes (Sabbatical Records)
A curious, raw and seductive suite of obscure ill defined drones that are less about what they are than what they do to you.
DJ Nigga Fox – Noite e Dia (Principe Discos)
Inspired, almost demented wonky electronics from Lisbon’s master of minimal kudoro dancefloor rhythms. Remarkable.
Mike Cooper – Fratello Mare (Room40)
Experimental exotica, swells of sonic wooziness, sun drenched serenity, guitar music from the islands that inhabit this incredible and eccentric musician’s mind. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4N39ODoK6Qg
Hama – Torodi (Sahel Sounds)
Tuareg synth workout from Niger. Minimal desert electrics on a Yamaha PSR-64, from a part time musician who drives wealthy foreigners for a living.
Peter Hollo – Website Editor
Björk – Vulnicura (One Little Indian)
This came out so early this year that it could easily be swamped in what’s honestly been a fantastic year for music. But it has to be included, because it’s her best work in a very long time – not just the deeply personal lyrics but the stunning string arrangements and electronics. It’s the Platonic ideal of Björk.
Reuben Ingall – Microclimates (Feral Media)
Canberran producer Reuben Ingall writes indie gems and then fucks them up with Max/MSP patches. He manages to do this live as well as on record, and I’m floored by the emotiveness of the music that shines through the glorious glitches.
Vampillia + the body – xoroAHbin (self-released)
Both brilliant Japanese metal/post-classical/electronic collective Vampillia and US industrial black metal duo the body are big collaborators, and although there were two amazing collaborative albums from the body this year, it’s the tour EP with Vampillia that I dug the most, combining noise, post-classical strings & vocals, crumbling electronics, black metal screams & blast beats and more.
Punch Brothers – The Phosphorescent Blues (Nonesuch)
Chris Thile received a Macarthur Genius grant a few years ago, and there’s no avoiding the fact that it’s because he’s literally a genius. He and his equally brilliant cohorts in the Punch Brothers create a complex & beautiful evolution of bluegrass with biting lyrics and transcendent melodic & harmonic invention.
Daughter’s Fever – Daughter’s Fever (hellosQuare)
Probably the most unfairly buried album of the year – a collaboration between Grand Salvo’s Paddy Mann and jazz/experimental electronic musician Peter Knight, with Joe Talia on drums, joined by Erik Griswold, Vanessa Tomlinson and Andrew Brooks to create an incredible suite of songs using the quietly experimental template of late Talk Talk to draw in elements of jazz, gypsy, classical and glitch. It’s an engrossing sound-world and Mann’s songs, when they appear, are heartbreaking.
The Necks -Vertigo (Fish of Milk)
The Sydney trio’s latest breaks new ground in being probably the scariest, most disturbing album they’ve released yet – the title being suggested by Tony Buck, who provides a series of percussive ‘interventions’ which disrupt the usual ambient flow, although the connections to Hitchcock’s film may be accidental. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFoLg3xORbw
Lloyd Swanton –Ambon (Bugle Records)
A major work by Necks bassist Swanton with an extended lineup of his other group the catholics, including his POW uncle’s viola, not heard since the 1930s, a ukelele, pedal steel guitar, Sandy Evans on saxes, and a number of instrumental metissages provide just under two hours of an Indonesian-style string band memorial to his unclewho died in a prisoner of war camp on the island of Ambon. http://www.cyclicdefrost.com/2015/11/lloyd-swanton-ambon-bugle-records/
Abd Al Malik – Scarifications (Gibraltar/Le label)
The latest album by the most intelligent man in French hip hop, a Strasbourg native originally from the Congo who combines jazz, slam poetry, rap and chanson, in a joint produced by French techno king Laurent Garnier, who also worked on the film about his life May Allah Bless France that Malik directed (and I reviewed earlier this year). Abd Al Malik grew up on the streets, was a member of the group NAP (New African Poets), but also managed to go to university, majoring in literature and philosophy. He has published five books including his autobiography, and toured France with a show dedicated to Albert Camus. He has said, ‘For me, there isn’t any difference between high and low culture’, and he is also very concerned about the current rise of Islamophobia in France. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSHcJgup4Z4&list=PLXZfOiQHeCFsOcOhEL_OGLKeREVcV6lBo
Mike Nock/Laurence Pike – beginning and end of knowing (FWM Records (vinyl))
My top 5 comes from albums I have reviewed this year in Cyclic Defrost, so I’m playing it safe. But I can’t go past this outstanding album recorded in Norway with the great engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug in Rainbow Studio, where Nock recorded his only ECM album Ondas in 1981. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLYHFWaEZWg
Richard Pinhas – Chronolyse (Cuneiform Records)
Another incredibly intelligent Frenchman, who first released this album, a tribute to Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel Dune, back in 1978, after he had formed the ‘electronique guerilla’ group Heldon. A guitarist, electronic artist and keyboard player, he’s something of a polymath, who has recently collaborated with figures suchas Merzbow and Oren Ambarchi.
Here’s my top 5 in alphabetical order (a bit mainstreamy for me this year, I guess I can be the outlier!)
Charles Earland – Black Talk (Prestige)
A real discovery found while crate digging earlier this year, this album is a stunner. Recorded in 1970 by Rudy van Gelder of Blue Note records fame, this is an intelligent jazz record with gritty roots and a bit of rock and funk influence hovering on the edges, all held together with pretty damn hot musicianship. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fc6jxj-V0Rw
Laura Marling – Short Movie (Virgin)
I will admit that I was pretty ignorant to Ms Marling until this record, and frankly to these ears this is her pre-eminent record. A mature outing, she moves away from the more twee folky sounds of previous outings, embracing a raw, rockin’ edge fully fleshed out with her incredible lyric writing gift. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdCdT_dcmUI
New Order – Music Complete (Mute)
I confess to being a long term NO devotee, but seriously – this album is a cracker. The first single off the LP, ‘Restless’ is fresh and utterly contemporary with an apt lyrical summation of our times, and yet somehow still sounds like a New Order song that might have been written anywhere in the last 30 years. Brilliant, honest music – with of course just a few remixes thrown in for good measure….yep, the electro roots are there to stay!
PVT – gig at the Newtown Social Club 5th Nov
I chose this not just because it’s still fresh in the memory, but also because it confirmed why there should be great anticipation in waiting for PVT’s next album, apparently to be released soon. I’ve seen PVT play numerous gigs over the past decade and then some, and this was definitely an energetic, compelling performance of note. Particularly enjoyable were the musical twists and turns applied to even their most well loved tracks, revealing perhaps a little of where the next outing will take them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-pYWHLciEc
TV on the Radio – Seeds (Harvest)
This album is a like some kind of consolidation of the ideas and music produced by TVOTR over the past 10 or so years – in a good way. It is sonically inventive, with interesting lyrics and a balance is struck between the formalities and experimental opportunities of crafted songwriting. Really dig the electronica / keyboard presence on this album too, seems they feel comfortable to embrace the Korg within ….
Earl Sweatshirt/Vince Staples – I Don’t Like Shit…/Summertime ’06 (Colombia Records/Def Jam)
BARREN year for hip hop if you’re not so interested in Kendrick or auto tune. As well as Tink’s freestyle on The Breakfast Club, an unfortunately bloated ASAP project and some amusing yet forgettable beefs, the standouts for me were the solid – if a little unapproachable – albums from Earl and Vince. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJh9sN-xPzI
Kangding Ray – Cory Arcane (Raster-Noton)
A little more pensive than some of his earlier works, Cory Arcane is a claustrophobic ride on a futuristic submarine deep down into some of the murkier waters of the expansive techno ocean.
One of the shitter moments of 2015 was getting denied entry to his show after I took offence to a bouncer groping me when he was “looking for a drug”. Thanks Sydney!
Thomas William – Annum Contra (Plastic World)
Long-time twiddler Thomas William’s latest EP is a refreshing take on his trademark mix of ever-crisp percussive samples and barely touched vocal stabs. With the relative banger Sleepwalk getting some much deserved attention, he now gets the dubious honour of having the phrase “dancefloor friendly” shoehorned into all his reviews – including this one!
Jlin – Unknown Tongues (Planet Mu)
I don’t love footwork music. Shit’s frenetic. Stresses me out. I find something about this track quite calm and trance-inducing though. The clip helps too. Jlin is some awesome girl from Gary, Indiana who is creating really interesting stuff and pushing the boundaries with the sometimes constrained genre. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZ-IuNCCjQw
Lil Ugly Mane – Third Side Of Tape (Self-released)
Yeahhh. Umm I haven’t bothered to research much about this guy, to be honest I don’t really want to. I’m happy for him to retain some weird mystique, whether he warrants that or not is another story. I definitely cant back everything that’s on this mixtape, there’s a litany of genres that pop up which I’m not about to reel off; I guess that means there’s something for everyone.
Pop it on if you’re not sure what mood you’re in and can handle a few confusing swings between pure gold and pyrite.
Summarising the sounds of my Spotify for 2015 drew me to recall these albums as stand outs for the year.
Jamie XX – In Colour (Young Turks Recordings)
Blowing his contemporaries and audiences away with this masterful arrangement of electronic produced tracks, Jamie XX’s In Colour release truly demonstrates he’s a shapeshifter and futurist with the power to guide the direction of music. From the soul imbibed ‘I know, there’s gonna be (good times)’ featuring Popcaan and Young Thug to The XX band mate Romy’s ‘Loud Places’, this album succeeds as a tribute to the London dance scene and ‘The rest is noise’ presents as my favourite dance floor track to lose yourself to, of the whole year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TP9luRtEqjc
East India Youth – Culture of Volume (XL Recordings)
Another from the XL Recordings Stable, and a previous Cyclic Top Five crowned recipient from me in 2014, William Doyle, aka – East India Youth’s sophomore LP Culture of Volume surprises and delights at every point in its 10 track journey. ‘Hearts that Never’, the most wistful love song, with electro undercurrents. My favourite type of love song.
Chemical Brothers – Born in the Echoes (Virgin /EMI Records)
Hooray, we celebrated the return of the Chemical Brothers with album number eight! Born in the Echoes succeeds in taking listeners on an emotional rollercoaster. With the soaring bass lines (‘Sometimes I feel so Deserted’) and demure understated precision synths (‘Wide Open’) we’ve come to know and love from Tom and Ed, this album from go to whoa is high intensity. Perhaps a pastiche of their former works these tracks are sewn together through solid stewardship, with just the right amount of seasoning from collaborative artists, including Beck, St Vincent, old friend Q-Tip and relative new comer Ali Love – you will be transfixed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lxoFNt5ESs&list=PLUg8mvlCacMbdMeujJB7lhs37rb_u7-yP
Tame Impala – Currents (Modular Recordings)
These guys under the wizardry of frontman Kevin Parker just keep on hitting it out of the ball park. A soundtrack to breakup by? Yes indeedy. Strong tugging of the heartstrings in just the right way, demonstrates Kevin’s lyrics puncture you right where it hurts, and they do so because he is convincing in assuring listeners he knows the pain associated with heartbreak. Currents features hit tracks including ‘The Less I know the better’ and ‘Yes, I’m changing’. proving it’s a hard album to overlook when your heart is feeling the depths of gloomy heartbreak, but ‘Eventually’ also shines as a new beginning hopeful kind of tune too.
Kurt Vile – b’lieve I’m going down (Matador Records)
There is no one more laid back I believe in music today than Kurt Vile. I’m looking forward to seeing this album brought to life via his live shows for Falls Festival and no more a laconic setting could one find for his particular type of downbeat alt country musings. An album to while your afternoon away too, for sure. Listened into lots upon first release with much staying power, I’m still loving it today.
Locrian – Infinite Dissolution (Relapse Records)
The kind of year I’ve had means that this, an is-it-electronics-is-it-black-metal concept album about the elimination of the human race, is a bright point. They studied 19th century tracts for lyrical inspiration, but the music is the type of brutality Locrian have made their very own. It’s curiously triumphant.
Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss (Sargent House)
If Nico were making albums today they wouldn’t be this grim. A collection of songs informed by sleep paralysis, with a morass of half-remembered words bothered by vaguely-identifiable instruments. Beautifully brutal.
Bell Witch – Four Phantoms (Profound Lore)
Doom, in case the cover art of a river dammed with coffins, leading to a waterfall of death hadn’t quite clued you in. The Seattle duo sound like a bigger ensemble, presenting a quartet of stories from spirits entrapped by each of the elements. Not exactly singalong, but there’s a tremulous appeal within. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UCgWY0xxjE
Zombi – Shape Shift (Relapse Records)
In which Steve Moore and A.E. Paterra reboot their Goblin-and-Carpenter-obsessed neo-giallo unit. Nothing new under the sun, but as with Slayer records, nobody wants anything different anyway. They like to claim this is post-rock with a film music vocabulary, but really it’s just gruesome fun. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YncxutvUhdY
Tatsuya Nakatani – Gong (Nakatani Kobo)
Fourteen gongs. One guy. Untitled tracks. Bowed and struck, this is a disc with more development than you’d think. It’s music for solar flares, for the grinding of planets, for the disintegration of your bones as cultures pass. So it’s pretty good.
(live performance from the era these were recorded: can’t find album on YT)
Making – Highlife (TRAIT Records)
After extended delays due to unforseen label issues the eventual arrival of Sydney trio Making’s debut LP Highlife was well worth the wait. A string of singles, an EP and their powerful live show had already cemented them as one of Sydney’s most exciting bands so the anticipation for the LP was high. And boy did they deliver. A decidedly darker affair, Highlife takes no prisoners. From the explosive tribal throb of ‘Come to Me’, to the head-nod swagger of ‘Amazon’, to the jarring rhythms and crushing, metallic bass of ‘Dream Job’, the album is a taught, concise effort that highlights how far they have come over the last few years. https://makingmaking.bandcamp.com/album/highlife
Cracked Actor – Iconoclast (hellosQuare recordings)
Lead single ‘Hollywood’ was a revelation for Canberra 4-piece Cracked Actor, showcasing their razor sharp song writing, combining catchy melodies, impressive musicianship and an irresistible energy. The full-length follow up continued much in the same vein, moving between downtempo ballads, intelligent pop and ambient soundscapes to deliver an impressive and accomplished album that balances pop sensibility with the right amount of experimental flair to appeal to a wide audience.
Roommate – Make Like (Strange Weather records)
Beginning as a solo project for front man Kent Lambert in 2000, Roommate have evolved from quirky bedroom tunes to sleek, well considered pop songs which rival most indie “it bands”. The understated arrangements and rich vocal melodies appear simple and unassuming, discreetly making their way under your skin. This is the key to the albums charm; it forgoes bold statements for honest, thoughtful songs that will find you returning to the album over an over. https://roommate.bandcamp.com/album/make-like
Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (Tan Cressida)
2015 has been a notable year for hip-hop, with high profile releases like Kendrick Lamar’s epic To Pimp a Butterfly and the dream collaborative effort from Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD, to indie hip-hop gems from the likes of Busdriver and Cavanaugh. But it was Earl Sweatshirt’s sophomore album that seemed to resonate with me the most. With the fate of Odd Future in limbo Earl further reinforced his status as a solo artist, defining his sound in his most cohesive work to date. The squashed loops and murky melodies provide the perfect backdrop to the typically raw vocal delivery. Where Odd Future as a collective could be defined as adolescent, I Don’t Like Shit…. is an unforgiving move into adulthood with all the trials that come with it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZ5Mu2gs-M8
Unedited Footage of a Bear – Dir. Ben O’Brien & Alan Resnick (Adult Swim)
Although this Adult Swim short came out in mid-December 2014 I couldn’t help but include it here. It’s equally funny, weird and scary with Adult Swim’s oddball prints all over it. One of a series of what Adult Swim dubbed ‘infomercials’, Unedited Footage of a Bear is by far the most successful, pushing the boundaries even by AS standards, resulting in a truly unique short which, to the uninitiated would be at best perplexing, at worst downright frightening.
DonMonique – “Drown”, from Thirstrap (not on label)
My only actual ‘made-in-2015’ selection. There were plenty of fine new music releases this year (Jamal and Sun Ra, Edward’s Harmonia remixes immediately offhand) but discovered this last week and can’t stop playing it. Skin up and enjoy:
Haruomi Hosono – Pacific (Sony)
My pick from Hosono’s early 1970s exotica albums, from the YMO electro-pop pioneer. Only discovered him this year but jeez, everything is incredible. Keeping track gets exhausting but everything up to and including 1982’s Philharmony is essential and leagues ahead of its time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trrOKj72aa4
Paul Davis – “Cool Night”; Marty Balin – “Hearts”; Pages – “You Need A Hero”; J D Souther – “When You’re Only Lonely”; Firefall – “Just Remember I Love You”; Pablo Cruise – “Love Will Find A Way”…
The list could go on and on, with middle age confirmed by my obsession with 70s-80s AOR cheese in 2015, and no sign of slowing. Start with the Paul Davis and continue down the list if that toots your horn. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29Su4UIy7Yc
Carly Simon – “Why” (12” version), (Mirage)
This is absolutely everything I want from music, the perfect song. Arguably Chic’s finest moment (which is some statement), I somehow managed to avoid hearing this 1982 monster until this year. It is a rhythmic facsimile of my favourite (old) song from 2012, Yvonne Archer’s version of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody”.
Angelo Badalementi & David Lynch – Twin Peaks Archive (davidlynch.com)
Found this online and immediately got all 10 volumes, in anxious anticipation of 2017.
PRESENTS FIVE THINGS I LIKED IN MUSIC THIS YEAR
Lucy Cliche’s Drain Down EP from earlier this year was a very early contender for record of the year and looking back, it is still up there. On top of that release she also puts on a serious live show, and since moving to Melbourne she is playing lots so go see her! She’ll be closing up the Friday night slot at Meredith this year so if you are going, make sure you don’t miss it. Fingers crossed for more new music from her next year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJHpCYoB1vU
Singers & Players – War of Words (On U Sound)
On-U Sound have been reissuing like crazy this year since handing the reins over to Warp. There have been many amazing releases coming out of that, as well as the Sherwood at the Controls compilation, but the War of Words LP from Singers & Players has been on high rotation all year.
2015 has been an amazing year for the man who calls himself The Bug. Angels and Devils is one heavy-arsed record that needs maximum volume for maximum results. The Exit 12” with a few A&D cuts and outtakes is mastered so damned well that it practically blows down the walls every time I play it. His new 12” The Bug vs Sleng Teng just arrived today and it doesn’t disappoint with Kevin totally destroying the classic MT-40 based Sleng Teng riddim. Oh and his live set earlier this year at the horrible Railway Hotel on the Echo Chamber sound was absolutely insane. So yeah, cheers Mr Martin, it’s been a hell of a year.
Straight outta Coburgistan, local digital reggae don’s Naram and Colonel Mustard slipped out their first batch of fresh new 7”s on the new imprint Colonel Mustard, slipping down the side of the Jahtari couch. The second batch is about to drop and the secret preview I managed to hear in a Coburg back alley on a Sony Walkman shows that they are still going strong.
Seeing Richard Dawson live a couple of times this year was such an incredible experience, that I can only hope that each and every one of you reading this either saw him, or will make it your life’s work to do so. Not only is his music so damned powerful, he is also one of the funniest entertainers you’ll ever be likely to hear. Touring for Liquid Architecture 2015, his performance at the Mission To Seafarers is going to go down as one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced. Oh and his records are pretty damned good too.
Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss (Sargent House)
Wolfe’s most heavy and potent mix yet of doom, gothic folk and electronica. Made for sleepless nights, it is grief-stricken and angry while possessing a compassionate and sensitive heart. Death will no longer silence us.
Fka twigs – M3LL155X (Young Turks)
5-track EP of warped electro-pop that’s elastic, disjointed, futuristic, groovy, bad-ass and utterly flawless. A complex and cohesive listen, twigs has never sounded more purposeful and sure of herself as the year’s most essential pop star.
Roisin Murphy – Hairless Toys (Play It Again Sam)
Returns after 8 years like it was nothing and plays by her own distinctive rules, creating elegant and subtly affecting experimental electronic pop. It combines everything great from her 20 year career and sounds completely at ease with itself. Still discovering more layers after all these months. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvaWPm6WQPs
Elysia Crampton – American Drift (Blueberry)
Exploratory collages and transmissions of pre-set synths and R&B samples. Dense and hyper critical, but also visceral and good humoured, with an obvious pop nous that keeps it from being overly intellectual. The most memorable and singular release of the year that this reviewer keeps on returning to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOOCYQtusbw
Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars (Mistletone)
Baltimore dream-pop two-piece’s unexpected second release for 2015. Although its small, warm and intimate – all qualities that the band have displayed before – these 9 tracks are some of the most raw and unfussed over they’ve ever created, conveying a renewed sense of purpose and hope.
Frisk Frugt – Den Europæiske Spejlbue (Tambourhinoceros)
The latest Frisk Frugt long player exhibits an affinity for contemporary minimalism, messy folktronic, gaming music and more across its twelve tracks. Whilst Sufjan Stevens and Twink are simplistic reference points, Anders Lauge Meldgaard carves out his own space as he crafts orchestral collages that meld homemade instruments with conventional timbres.
Norberto Lobo – Fornalha (three:four records)
Lobo’s formidable guitar technique never gets in the way of his musicianship and sense of composition. On Fornhala, Lobo plucks, taps, bows and processes his way through the album on both nylon and steel string acoustics with an earthy vitality.
Monochromie – Behind Black Clouds (Fluttery Records)
I’ve heard my share of piano + electronics based albums over the last year or so. Some are simply pop chord progressions awash in reverb, whilst others – such as Middlemarch’s 2014 release, Wolf Hall – are transcendent. Monochromie, the work of Frenchman Wilson Trouvé falls in the latter camp. Trouvé’s love of ambient, post rock and noise is beautifully rendered throughout the record. https://monochromie-music.bandcamp.com/
Various Artists – Fractal Meat Cuts (Adaadat)
Community and independent radio rules. Where else can you find a fortnightly breakfast show named ‘Fractal Meat on a Spongy Bone’ that specialises in noise and various flavours of sound design? Hosted in the UK by Graham Dunning – an impressive visual and sonic artist himself – the show regularly features live performances. The release of Fractal Meat Cuts celebrates 3 years of broadcasting with fourteen live in the studio tracks.
The charm of this record – in addition to its diversity – is the immediacy of the live performances. Tracks that may have been over thought or produced are just smashed out with great energy.
Musify + Gamify Concert One, Seymour Centre, Sydney 29th May 2015
This was the first of two concerts held as part of the Vivid Festival exploring literal intersections of game play and music. Video game music? Well, yes in part but Musify + Gamify digs deeper into systems based and semi-aleatoric performances. Think more Cage and Zorn than Donkey Kong and Mario. As curators, Ollie Bown and Lian Loke deserve kudos for pulling together such an impressive opening concert in the series. Sometimes the fun of discovery is lost – or at least cloaked – in ‘new’ music. Musify + Gamify however, managed to amplify both the joy and depth of musical exploration. A great celebration of Australian composition and musicianship.
Andrew Cahill – Our Film Guy
My five favourite films released in Australian cinemas in 2015, in alphabetical order.
No, it doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense, or try to. And yes it can be hard to follow. But I dunno, man, isn’t that kind of missing the point? It’s weird and goofy and bizarre and unlike any film experience I’ve had in a long time. It sounds great and it looks stunning. What’s not to like? And throughout all the chaos PTA still manages to blanket the whole thing in this unmistakable, uncomplicated sense of nostalgia. Like a memory that keeps slipping through Joaquin’s fingers, be it a time, a place, or a person – there’s something that’s gone and, for all his searching, maybe ain’t there to be found.
Speaking of lost things, how about the loss of innocence. Those of you who’ve seen it will know and for you numbskulls who haven’t… go see it. Ya numbskulls. It’s smart and funny, sad and sweet. And did anyone else notice that mum was driven primarily by sadness and dad primarily by anger? They’re no numbskulls over at Pixar. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=seMwpP0yeu4
Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller is 70 years old. He spent 15 odd years trying to get Fury Road on the screen. The man is a national treasure. This is just such a wonderfully breathtaking example of one man’s imagination being made real (with a little help from his friends to be fair – shout out to Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris). From the big picture world building down to the tiniest detail this thing does not skip a beat – one of the cars here has one of those metallic feet measuring devices you find in chemists in place of an accelerator. Kinetic, visceral, poetic. It’s practically perfect. Now let’s get to work so that prophetic isn’t an adjective that applies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEJnMQG9ev8
Pure cinema. Unbelievably good. Thrilling. Beautiful. And mean! Benicio Del Toro. Benicio. Del. Toro. I heard The Martian described somewhere as competence porn. Which is not wrong. But also makes Sicario that under-the-counter competence porn you’ve got to ask for special. These people know how to do things. Dubious, morally questionable things. That long take at sunset is the best shot of the year by the way. Land of wolves, baby. Land of wolves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XLQ1bkSLDo
This one snuck up on me. And in a pair of hiking boots no less? Zing! Did not expect to like it as much as I did. And I loved it. Witherspoon owns the role. Dern breaks hearts as usual. Nick Hornby does a great job with Cheryl Strayed’s memoir. Everyone involved clearly cared. It might not be an entirely unique story but the specifics and the handling of it elevate it above the Eat, Pray, Love territory I had worried it would stray into. A film to make you feel good about people.