- Chorus by Holly Herndon – the catchiest pop tune that emerges only in glimpses, sung by a group of otters
- A Walk Down Chapel by Jam City – woozy 1986ish tune from a BP garage compilation tape, half-heard from the back seat of my dad’s VW Polo
- Price Tag by Sleater-Kinney – effortless, focussed, cool and cynical as fuck
- Era of Manifestations by People of the North – seven and a half minutes of Kid Millions’ manic drumming, culminating in a squelchy frenzy that can only end with an abrupt—
- Letter by Blood Warrior – sometimes just being lovely is OK and the ‘Oh Lord we were naked’ transition is wonderful
- Against Archives by Felicia Atkinson – Carter Tutti Void laptop thumps from the next room along and wise whispering in this one
- The Rest of Us by Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld – the album track that allows Stetson the freest rein, but Neufeld is vital to keeping the momentum
- Shatter You Through by Daughn Gibson – his ‘Take on Me’, but better
- In Service by David Thomas Broughton & Juice Vocal Ensemble – my favourite lyric of the year: “I deeply regret all events that did pass / I killed a man wi’ a broken glass”
- My Love, My Love by Julia Holter – Julia Holter singing Karen Dalton’s lost lyrics is much as you’d expect until the oboe or an organ comes in and is that a train and it builds and builds and now there’s feedback and birdsong and maybe someone making a cup of tea and that was bloody beautiful
- no.harm.do.no.wrong.Do.No.Harm.Do.No.Wrong.DO.NO.HARM.DO.NO.WRONG by Big Brave – simply enormous
- Venus Fly by Grimes & Janelle Monáe – you should see my son dance to the bassy parts
- Brickfielder by Mind Over Mirrors – best drone of the year; it’s so calm and still that you can hear what you like in there
Dream a Garden by Jam City (Night Slugs)
A few years ago my friend Charley and I did a series of Spotify mix swaps, with each one based on an agreed theme. It was good fun, but the theme that killed off the game for good was titled ‘Found a c90 on the floor of my dad’s VW Polo’ – that is, recent songs that sounded like they could have been released circa 1986 and therefore have been part of our childhoods. Every song on Dream a Garden could have been included in that mix. On first listen, I could have sworn I’d heard these songs before, or versions of them. They’re dated without being self-consciously retro, sweet enough to have been plausible FM hits, filtered through analogue tech and the sound of windscreen wipers.
Platform by Holly Herndon (Rvng Intl.)
It’s easy to imagine looking back at this album in ten years and saying, “That’s where it all first came together.” We’ve heard fractured laptop-pop before, but Holly Herndon manages to fuse pop melodies, techno washout bliss and still have room for moments of Laurie Anderson weird vocal tricks and art-gallery-installation introspection, all without losing momentum. That an album of this weight has standout songs is remarkable, but ‘Chorus’ and ‘Home’ are absolute earworms.
Art Angel by Grimes (4AD) for its joyousness and for demonstrating a savvy, self-sufficient alternative to manufactured pop. No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney (Sub Pop), for its immediacy and for shitting on all other rock albums this year, apart from Olimpia Spendid by Olimpia Spendid (Fonal). Au De La by Big Brave (Southern Lord), for call-and-response guitars that The Quietus described as ‘like two steel mills groaning to each other’.
Sintetizzatrice by Anna Caragnano & Donato Dozzy (Spectrum Spools) for Berberian Sound Studio-style wooziness and melodies that float just above head height. Simple Songs by Jim O’Rourke for its effortless evocation of Harry Nilsson at his best. f(x) by Carter Tutti Void (Industrial) for providing a worthy studio successor to 2012’s Transverse. Never Were the Way She Was by Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld (Constellation) for its cold, precise beauty.
Letter Ghost by Blood Warrior (Immune), for Baptist General-esque fragile indie-folk that felt immediately familiar, in the best possible way. Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens (Asthmatic Kitty), Apocalypse, Girl by Jenny Hval (Sacred Bones) and Sliding the Same Way by David Thomas Broughton & Juice Vocal Ensemble (Song, by Toad) for their honesty and frankness.
My favourite compilation released this year is Soundway’s Highlife on the Move: Selected Nigerian & Ghanaian Recordings from London & Lagos 1954-66. Everything else can basically go to hell, but the Earthly 6 mix by Jam City is good and the Late Night Tales mix by Nils Frahm is lovely.
Finally, Domino’s Weird World imprint rereleased The Magic Bridge (2011) and The Glass Trunk (2013) by Richard Dawson and you know what? They’re incredible. For me, the only reissues that come close are the I Crudeli OST by Ennio Morricone (Cherry Red) and 1971 Revolutionary Spiritual Afro Jazz Sounds From Exile by Ndikho Xaba and the Natives (Matsuli).
Favourite albums overall, new to me, from any year
Other than 2015 titles, my first big discovery this year was The Ascension by Glenn Branca (1981). The Adding Machine by Arnold Dreyblatt (2002) scratched a similar itch. And I can’t believe I’d never heard Watusi by The Wedding Present (1994), but I’ve now more than made up for the omission.