Top Ten Albums of 2015

Not all these records are from 2015, they’re what I’ve been listening to or discovered this year.

BTBAM – Coma Ecliptic

As a fan of progressive metal, Between the Buried and Me have always been on my radar. I’ve enjoyed the odd thing I’ve heard of theirs, particularly the video for Astral Body, but never really listened to an album all the way through. That changed this year.

I saw the video for The Coma Machine and was grabbed straight away by the opening chord. The lyrics and the rest of the video hinted at something deeper, and, being a prog band, I figured there might well be more to it. It turns out the record is a concept album about a guy in a coma, drifting through weird hallucinatory alien worlds, meeting the inhabitants and having a pretty bizarre time.

The record is much more melodic with more clean singing than what I’d heard of the band previously, which probably helped ease me in. There’s still some pretty chaotic and fast sections on there, and the dynamics constantly shift from pummelling riffs to bare vocals-and-piano.

Listen if you like rock opera and extreme metal.

Deafheaven – New Bermuda

Their first record, Sunbather, was a total surprise to me in 2013. The combination of black metal and Mogwai-esque shoegaze was something I’d never even considered could work together. My expectations were pretty high for the second record (as, I’m sure, were everyone’s) and it didn’t disappoint. A bit darker in tone than the first record, this has some pretty catchy melodies in among the dense drums and riffs. You’ll find yourself humming along after a couple of listens. Can’t say that very often with black metal records!

Listen if you want to hear what Mogwai would sound like if they were a black metal band.

Vulfpeck – Thrill of the Arts

This year I started regularly practicing bass again, and through some online bass forums heard about this band. The bass player, Joe Dart, is an absolute beast. A lot of the songs on their previous records were pure rhythm-section grooves, but Thrill of the Arts has some genuinely catchy pop songs on it. Back Pocket – a saccharine tale of passing notes in school is the most coherent, where Funky Duck’s nonsense lyrics are brilliantly sung by guest singer Antwaun Stanley.

Listen if you like funk or soul in any form.

Monuments – The Amanuensis (2014)

The record is from 2014, but it was new to me this year. Djent-leaning progressive metal, but bouncy and fun rather than grim and po-faced. This is good-times metal for jumping about to. The playing is technical, but always in the service of the songs. The vocals are excellent, often with multiple part harmonies, even including a barber-shop style intro in Saga City.

Listen if you like Periphery or Tesseract but want something less whiny.

Haken – The Mountain (2013)

What’s this, another prog metal record? Yes. I was lucky enough to see these guys twice this year, once with Devin Townsend and again supporting Between the Buried and Me. They are one of the tightest bands I’ve ever seen. There are four-part harmonies on this record (see embedded video for Cockroach King) which they actually pull off live.

The songwriting is excellent. The lyrics can devolve into cliche at points, but the story they tell is always coherent and in tune with the music.

Listen if you like 15 minute long songs, barbershop harmony and circus music breakdowns.

GoGo Penguin – v2.0

A three piece jazz band plays drum n bass and house tunes, with a splash of Aphex Twin inspired glitchiness. Fantastic.

Listen if you want to hear electronic music interpreted by live musicians.

Grave Pleasures – Dreamcrash

The band formerly known as Beastmilk (a much better name in my opinion) releases their second record. Their first record on the surface was just another heavy rock record, but it had something really hard to define. It really sounded like the soundtrack to the end of the world, which I think was the band’s aim.

Dreamcrash is a worthy successor, with suitably dark song titles veering into the comic with “Lipstick on Your Tombstone”. The sound is different this time round, due no doubt in part to the lineup changes the band went through between records. The trademark vocal style remains and is part of the band’s charm – Elvis being channeled through Robert Smith. The melodies are as catchy as ever with New Hip Moon and Crisis being the stand-out tracks for me.

Listen if you like The Cure but want something a bit heavier.

And So I Watch You From Afar – Heirs

Crazy prog rock from Ireland. Super technical but melodic, with spare, often chanted vocals. Very uplifting stuff. My Dad got to see them at T in the Park and I was very jealous.

Listen if you like Battles.

Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves

It’s been quite a while since the last record but they haven’t lost their touch. This is as good as anything of theirs I’ve heard. There’s a welcome departure from their ‘normal’ style in “Pistol” which, with its pitched vocals and spare beat sounds like a DJ Screw remix.

There’s some really heartfelt storytelling in “Ansel”, and some really funny lines in “The Tortoise and the Tourist”:

The tortoise offered to tell him
About the future and how the universe ran
Oh, the man killed the tortoise, took his shell
And with a song on his lips walked off again

Listen if you like… I really don’t know who else sound like Modest Mouse. Just give them a go.

Snarky Puppy – Sylva

Another one I picked up through bass players (the band leader of this ensemble, Michael League, is also the bassist). I had the chance to see them live this year and they were fantastic. I’m not sure how to describe what they do, I guess it’s jazz, but there’s a big funk/soul influence in there. They really groove and it’s worth checking out some of their many live performances on YouTube to get a feel for them.

Listen if you like jazz-tinged funky instrumental stuff.

Runners-up

Intronaut – The Direction of Last Things
This only just came out, so I’m not sure yet if it’s going to be as good as their previous album Habitual Levitations which I fell in love with, but it’s looking that way.

Agalloch – The Mantle
I was very late to the party on this one. Sort-of-black metal that blends a lot of influences together into something properly epic.

The Twilight Sad – Nobody Wants To Be Here & Nobody Wants To Leave
I’d listened to these guys a wee bit years ago, but really got into them this year. Happily they played a free show in Stockholm, which was nice of them. Proper Scottish miserablism. I love it.

Iron & Wine – Sing Into My Mouth
Nothing properly new from Iron and Wine this year, as this record is all covers. Their version f Sade’s Bulletproof Soul is my favourite.

Charles Bradley – No Time for Dreaming
Amazing soulful soul from a guy who’s really been through it. I highly recommend the accompanying film “Soul of America” to see how this record came to be.

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Fantastic slice-of-life modern anxiety tunes from Australian newcomer.

Sylosis – Dormant Heart
Solid new release from the UK’s best straight-ahead-metal band.

Winterfylleth – The Diviniation of Antiquity
Darkly atmospheric black metal based on English folklore.

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Top Ten Albums of 2015