Reducing a year of music into 25 songs and 20 albums is harsh. Not everything can fit on a very small list, but if they’re good why can’t they at least be mentioned? That’s the aim of our final list of 2015 – mentioning those records that nearly made it, but unfortunately missed out.
Honourable Album Mentions
Before The World Was Big // Girlpool
The ultimate simple-duo combination of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad were best summed up on their debut EP, which had some of their strongest songs and Before The World Was Big felt more like an extended version of that EP. It was simple to the point of the duo just using bass and guitar and was recorded to feel like a dusty bedroom record. It has a warmth and intimacy to it, probably due to how direct and upfront the lyrics are. Listen to ‘Cherry Picking’ and ‘Emily’ for the best results.
Short Movie // Laura Marling
When ‘False Hope’ came out as the first single from Laura Marling’s new album, it was almost like a revelation. The rock-Queen in Marling was awakened; she was more aggressive and more forthright, especially compared to her excellent peak record Once I Was An Eagle, which showed Marling dealing in four-song suites which flowed into each other. Short Movie was more traditional in structure, but had a pop element in singles like the lovely ‘Gurdjieff’s Daughter’ and ‘Short Movie’.
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful // Florence + The Machine
Florence + The Machine was the pop star of 2015. She replaced Foo Fighters as Glastonbury headliner (and did a better job than Grohl could’ve done) and came back from a so-so second album with How Big…, which was essentially a song-by-song showcase of Florence’s vocals and moving away from her old friend, the harp. She even got psychedelic on the last track, ‘Mother’, but the centrepiece was ‘Ship To Wreck’, her best single in years. Florence never sacrifices her eccentricities to scale the pop charts, they’re her strengths.
In Colour // Jamie XX
If the XX are black-and-white, In Colour is a rainbow. That’s the way Jamie XX, who usually works on the beats of his main band, treated his first solo outing. It was a celebration of where he couldn’t go with the moody, minimalistic XX. Here he was allowed to throw steel drums where he liked, slip handclaps in easily and have a single that features Young Thug and Popcaan. There were quieter moments; his single with bandmate Romy was like a more danceable XX offcut, with Jamie taking control over the direction of the track and doing whatever he likes with it.
Foil Deer // Speedy Ortiz
Foil Deer didn’t have nearly as much replays by us compared to their 2013 debut, Major Arcana, but was definitely the more mature follow-up from the band. There’s more direct lyrics beneath the wordy poetry of Sadie Dupuis on tracks like ‘Mister Difficult’ and ‘Raising The Skate’, which equals ‘Tiger Tank’ for alt-rock single-value. The band didn’t cut down on the noise and Pavement-like instrumental interludes built-in to the songs, ‘Dvrk World’ and ‘Homovus’ being the best examples.
Honourable Song Mentions
Kim’s Caravan // Courtney Barnett
Sometimes Courtney Barnett’s debut album could feel overwhelming with how much she threw her hyper-observational lyrics right out there on songs like ‘Pedestrian At Best’. However, ‘Kim’s Caravan’, an album highlight, was a sidestep away from her three-minute indie-pop songs and into something slower, more brooding and darker. She repeats ‘So take what you want from me’ as the backing vocals sweep in and the grungey guitars take over the plodding bass. The last third of the song is a wonderful noisy racket and then it winds back down to Barnett’s vocals once again.
Black Eunuch // Algiers
Gospel and post-punk. Who would have known the two genres worked so well together until Algiers released their self-titled album this year. ‘Black Eunuch’, a frenetic Talking-Heads-style showcase of the fusion of genres quick-swaps between the gospel section and brittle but crunchy instrumentation with a killer bassline behind it all. Franklin James Fisher’s unhinged performance lends itself to the equally uncomfortable lyrics (Example: ‘We are all walking in the dark with scissors in our hands’). When it comes to post-punk, Algiers have you covered for something a little different.
Make It Holy // The Staves
A highlight from the Staves’ Bon-Iver-produced second album was ‘Make It Holy’, which was more of a throwback to their folky first album compared to the more First Aid Kit style of their second. It begins slow, mostly with vocals and a guitar, but as it grows their knack for harmonies builds in, especially with the input of Justin Vernon’s backing vocals which hum in at one point just behind their vocals. The lyrics are beautifully simplistic, with the first line being ‘I could make you want me / make you need me, make you mine’ which could sound cliché, but it works here.
Blues Festival // Protomartyr
Before ‘Why Does It Shake?’, before Protomartyr even announced their excellent The Agent Intellect, ‘Blues Festival’ appeared out of the blue, featuring vocals from the one and only Kelley Deal (The Breeders). The song works in two parts: The noisy starting part which is vicious and loud, especially from the usually deadpan frontman Joe Casey, who is much more enigmatic here. Then there’s the chorus, which trims down the noise to a click from the drum, a Strokes-like guitar and funk bass as Casey spits out ‘Don’t try to air your big ideas / Don’t hold the mic like a crying child’ in one of their most self-aware songs, criticising the whole system of bands. And this is without getting to Deal’s vocal performance, which gets weirder and weirder as the song progresses until finally her shriek pierces the hazy effects thrown over her voice.
I’ll Start Believing // Warpaint
‘I’ll Start Believing’ was a shock to the system for anyone who had heard a Warpaint song prior to the single they put out earlier this year. In 2014 they made a dance-influenced psych record, but ‘I’ll Start Believing’ was in punchier, quicker territory, especially in comparison to their early-career jams which would extend up to twenty minutes alive. They have never made something that made such a quick impact, but still had all of the intensity of their best songs. The highpoint was when the entire song stops for a crunchy guitar to enter for a couple of bars, before everything kicks off again. Where had they discovered that sound? And where can we get more of it?