Well, it’s the end of another year. 2015 has been a life changing year for me with personal goals reached and life changing decisions made.
It’s also been a heart-wrenching year and will be remembered for its cavalcade of emotional extremes.
From a music perspective, 2015 was a watershed year. My volunteering at 2ser took me to a new musical plane and I have discovered and enjoyed a wider range of music than I ever have in the past. Also…gigs, gigs and more gigs! I think I have probably attended at least 30 concerts this year and whilst my tinnitus hates me, my soul is invigorated.
For the first time in my life, my musical tastes have spread outside of what I am spoonfed by triple j and whilst it is still the number one radio station I listen to, I have been exposed to so much more and that can only be a good thing.
I have always been a huge fan of albums over singles, but as the musical landscape tends more and more towards single releases and soundcloud tracks, I have found it harder to force myself to listen to a full album, or even find them. EPs, singles and remixes are the current trend and it’s a shame, because I love the experience of a full album and the chance of finding that hidden piece of gold within the final tracks of a full length release.
The best albums are those that take you on a ride through the emotions of the artist and there are three albums that stand out for me this year.
Hermitude – Dark Night, Sweet Light
The 5th album from this Blue Mountains duo is their best yet. Full of sweeping beats, unexpected bangers and layered electronica that has cemented them as the number 1 instrumental act in Australia. From playing tiny rooms a few years ago to playing a sold out Hordern Pavilion (my gig of the year), these guys have stepped it up in every way.
I was fortunate to be at the listening party for this album as it went dark and we did a ‘No Lights, No Lycra’ session. It was an amazing experience and remains one of my shining lights of the year.
In a year where lyrics were king, the ‘Hermits’ managed to make the best album of year anchored by their pure music.
Gang of Youths – The Positions
Last year I watched a slightly tentative Gang of Youths perform at the Sony showcase gig for Australian Music Week. Their album was still in the works and they were riding the wave of their first couple of singles. You could smell that something big was coming, but it was just a sniff.
The Positions arrived at the start of this year and it has been on repeat for much of the year for me. The heartbreak, joy and full blown passion exudes from this album. The voice of the young (but seemingly old heart) of Dave Le’aupepe is on full display and it makes it hard to know where he will go from here. Magnolia is the culmination of raw emotion as it declares that we’re ready to “kick some mother-fucking ass tonight”. The whole album surges with a pulse that has come from deep within Le’aupepe and we are all witness to.
Courtney Barnett – Something I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
It was a dead-heat in the most anticipated album of 2015, but Barnett just won out over Tame Impala for mine. Her duet of EPs had set the stage for an album that we already knew we’d love before it’s release. There is not a track of disappointment on this album from the stage-setting Pedestrian At Best, to the storytelling of Elevator Operator and Depreston, this album has set itself up as a pure Australian classic.
The fact that Barnett has exploded worldwide is no fluke. Her laid-back vocals and simple riffs are pure Oz. Her humble nature and ‘no worries’ personality sell her music in a way that no marketing department could. Sometimes, the less you try, the better you are.
The misguided backlash to her awards seems to be directed at the fact that her music is simple, but who ever said that it had to be complicated? (I’m looking at you Kevin Parker)
Super Best Friends – Status Updates
As Barnett and Gang of Youths have proven, lyrics are king and as we rolled into 2015 with the shadow of Tony Abbott hanging over the country we needed a voice to come out in protest with words that make us want to shout them in politicians face. Times of bad government reveal the best music, as has been demonstrated in the past (Dylan, RATM, SOTD, NWA).
It took Johnny Barrington, declaring that “..we are not full…” for a beacon of light to shine from the creative pool in our country. We need more of it. We need artists to inspire the everyday Jane and Joe to step forward and know that they are not alone. SBF nailed it with this album. Dog Whistling and Conscript are as biting as any System of a Down song, whilst All My Friends Are Leaving Town and Going Out Tonight retain the tongue-in-cheek nature of a good punk album.
It’s worth noting that Smith Street Band, Urthboy, L-Fresh the Lion and others stepped up throughout the year to present songs of protest in a year that desperately needed it.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
…and then we cried.
This achingly sad album, about Steven’s dying step-mother, tugged at every possible heartstring this year. Returning to his simplistic arrangements and delicate vocals, Stevens made us weep as he told us “..we’re all gonna die..” in 4th of July as he depicted story of his youth along the way.
It’s the album that every Sufjan Stevens fan had been waiting for since ..Illinois and re-establishes him at the top of the ‘artist we’d all like to have a cry with’ list.
Other albums that round out my top 10 of the year…
Szymon – Tigersapp
More tears here with a sadly posthumous album from a un-realised talent from Newcastle. Beautiful textures and words from this teenager, gone too soon.
Leon Bridges – Coming Home
Bringing soul and blues back to the mainstream with a rollickingly fun album from the South. Bridges’ beautiful voice make you wish you were eating grits and drinking whiskey everyday.
Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon
It’s not a simple album. There is so much going on in here that you’ll reveal something new on every listen. It’s the complex tapestry of sound that makes this album so amazing.
Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool
As their title suggests, these rockers are cool as fuck and continue the trend of the UK > US when it comes to cool new rock (ie. Royal Blood). This album has the right mix of sound, from the melody of … to the edginess of…
Ratatat – Magnifique
It’s a thematic album with the whine of the guitar present throughout, but it makes us hungry for more after each listen. Cream on Chrome is one of my tracks of the year and their live show was nothing short of outstanding.