Björk – Vulnicura
Few characteristics define Björk as much as her unpredictability, so when it was first announced that her ninth studio album, Vulnicura, was co-produced alongside Arca and The Haxan Cloak, it didn’t necessarily mean we’d just be hearing a collection of detailed electronic landscapes and formidable beats.
Instead, Vulnicura ended up an affectingly raw, and rare, personal statement on Björk’s recent heartbreak.
The potent combination of lush yet intense strings and chilling beats on the likes ‘Mouth Mantra’ and ‘Family’ allows the tracks to become dense, winding emotional caverns, while ‘Black Lake’ sees her expressing sorrow through broken sentences and a defeated vocal – “I’m drowned in sorrows/No hope in sight of ever recover/Eternal pain and horrors”.
In fact, Vulnicura is so heavily effecting that Björk had to give up touring the album altogether, understandably so, as since its hasty January release (owing to an unfortunate leak), it has refused to be bested by any other record in leaving behind a lingering sadness.
Mumdance and Logos- Proto
Yes another Mumdance inclusion, man’s been everywhere in 2015. Mumdance and Logos‘ team up Proto just doesn’t sound like anything else, ethereal techno-y beats and scapes are the order of the day here. The myriad blending of the genres mixed in with that trademark off-kilter Mumdance percussion, the claustrophobic, synaesthetic vibes, Proto could almost be the soundtrack to an avant-garde sci-fi film.
The myriad layers of instrumentation lend seemingly infinite listenability to the albums ethereal soundscapes, combined with 90’s hardcore-esque breaks make the album movable, but also audially alluring, the fractured soundscapes of each track blend into one another, straddling the line between experimentalist abstraction and spaffed up ravey beats, resulting in one of the most interesting and fluid listens of the year.
Ólafur Arnalds & Alice Sara Ott – The Chopin Project
Not being a classically trained multi-instrumentalist or particularly aware of classical music in general, it’s initially difficult to pinpoint exactly why this reworking of an old ass Polish dude by an Icelandic man and a German-Japanese woman deserves a spot in an AOTY list. However, the more time spent pondering, the more it becomes clear that The Chopin Project isn’t about the rigid austerity one comes to expect of classical music, but the beauty of its openness to interpretation.
It feels as though Arnalds and Ott have fashioned a completely new story from a few old, weathered pages and presented life, and all its sorrow, wistfulness and nostalgic joy, as a warming tale to be told by a roaring fire in winter. It feels, more so than any other album this year, alive.
Blank Body – Explicit Deluxe
Perth Drug Legend – Clubbers Guide to Craigie
Out of stark defiance to the past few years haircut fuelled climate of anaemic tech-house rises A Clubbers Guide To Craigie; an experiment in dark, murky techno spawned from buckfast and scatty fiver a gram mephedrone in sunny Perthshire. There’s something about Clubbers Guide’ that just perfectly sums up Scottish rave culture, devoid of any coherent vocal or overused samples capture perfectly an atmosphere of drugged up sensory distortion.
Perth Drug Legend‘ mastery of the obfuscated electric heartbeat pulse perfectly complements its ethereal soundscape, emulating the internal monologue of the witness to a spaffy Tuesday morning sunrise. The intensively produced walls of noise convey abstract, abrasive soundscapes, produced to a means of audial illustration, sculpted to be blasted at 5 in the morning toward the tail end of a wonky one.
If ‘Born Slippy’ was the theme to Danny Boyle’s decidedly optimistic interpretation of trainspotting, Clubbers Guide To Craigie is the murky soundtrack to its much darker literary big brother – a rewarding, but almost unpleasantly alluring listen.
Health – Death Magic
Despite threatening to send their third studio album “where Chinese Democracy only dared to dream”, this year Health finally gave us the long awaited Death Magic, one of the coolest pop records of the year. The usual Health characteristic remain, the unfailing dedication to producing cacophonous noise, the despondent vocals and exhilarating drumbeats, yet it the biggest and most refined they’ve ever sounded.
The band are given a cleaner sheen while they simultaneously refuse to bury their more grotesque qualities, as shown by “Stonefist”, which features a bare, chilly atmosphere and earworm hook, only to be continually interrupted by brutally explosive guitars. The centrepiece of Death Magic is ‘Life’, a song that is a stunning contemplation of uncertainty of both life and death, which reluctantly celebrating both, however, that’s exactly the kind of record Death Magic is, one that peers into two contradicting worlds, bringing them together for phenomenal results.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress
GY!BE have been around the block more times than most, but have released just five full length albums in their 21 year career. Quite fitting for a behemoth post-rock band that trade in crescendos and swells drawn out over an average track length of 15 minutes, but the amazing part is that GY!BE rarely release something that isn’t completely breathtaking. Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress begins with a heaving drum pattern, then launches into a trudging guitar drone so brutish it could cause the collapse of civilization as well as soundtrack it.
Therein lies the beauty of GY!BE and of Asunder – without words, they manage to create an entire narrative that is rather befitting of the current desolate political climate.
Boots – Aquaria
After making his first notable musical contribution on the production credits of Beyoncé’s self-titled fifth record, Boots has been slowly been unveiling his various talents to the world, and these reach their peak in his most definitive statement yet, debut record Aquaria. As a hulking, growling shapeshifting beast of a record, the sinister Aquaria moves between the lashing of ugly riffs in tracks like ‘I Run Roulette’ and glitchy, destructive beats ‘C.U.R.E.’ and ‘Gallows’ which establish the influence of El-P (who incidentally aided in the production of Aquaria.)
There’s also value to be found in Boots lyrical quirks, with his stream of subconciousness offering up many humorous and bizarre images (“Trust I must to quake through the crust that your Bible swinging dicks reverse”) The album only relents in its tight grip for shimmering lullaby ‘Still’, but by then, Boots certainly proved himself as an artist who is just as commanding at the forefront of an album as he is behind one.
Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
Everyone’s had that “I’ll be in my blanket fort if you need me” moment when shit gets too real. Instead of crying softly onto piles of boxsets and tubs of ice cream, Earl went inside his (metaphorical) blanket fort and made I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. The album is the process of Earl insulating himself from everything he doesn’t like, which is, well, everything, and creating his own world for himself.
It’s produced entirely by Earl with the exception of ‘Off Top’ (produced by Left Brain) and only features guest verses from people Earl obviously has respect for. It’s really all about Earl on this project, and it’s most prominently exemplified on ‘Faucet’, where his production meshes mechanical, yet papery drums and an effervescently plucked guitar to an intensely satisfying degree and he raps about the difficulties he faced at home before his mum sent him to Samoa. Earl goes full introspective mode throughout IDLS contemplating all of what makes him who he is today and striving for self-improvement on his own terms.
It’s the “omg, me too, yeah same” AOTY for the apathetic and asocial hip hop fans. It’s also the most appropriate album of the year because 2015 has been really fucked up. So let’s all go make our own blanket fort and do the shit we want to do, by ourselves, and let’s not go outside until shit is better.
Bong – Beyond Ancient Space
Do you love smoking weed? Good, there’s a band called Bong who make music that’s sick to listen to while you’re blazed out yer nut, they’ve also produced one of our albums of the year. It’s sad to hear the rumors regarding the band potentially splitting up because Bong’s Beyond Ancient Space is a fucking great album, definitely the best thing to come off of Ritual Productions this year.
Whilst everyone and their mums is starting a doom metal themed band, Bong have done their own thing. The album’s sound is a post rock-y, ambient take on the whole sludge/doom thing that’s been getting big the last few years. The album is refreshingly unique, whether it’s the Sitar providing dISEMBOWELMENt-y jangles, the ethereal vocals, trademark crushing fuzzdrone guitars, all harmonized by beautifully mournful vocals. There’s so much to love about this album; even if you’re not really into the whole sludge/doom thing it’s a long lasting and rewarding listen.