AUTHOR’S NOTE: Well, finally… This post has been 3 months in the making, haha. Alas, here it is…
I was really disappointed with this year’s triple j Hottest 100. For a supposedly-prestigious countdown of the year’s best alternative tracks, this year’s edition consisted almost entirely of EDM. I find it saddening that this is what triple j (previously huge supporters of our local alternative scene) has come to – a stream of soulless, forgettable club music, that, in the end, is really ‘pop’. To quote The Church’s Steve Kilbey’s article on the 100 for The Guardian, “I thought triple j would have a lot more edge than this smooth, manufactured fare.”
I don’t, however, feel that this accurately represents the year that was. For in my opinion, 2015 was the greatest year for music since at least the mid-’90s. Though my thoughts that the EDM trend had faded were obviously incorrect, there were plenty of inventive, affecting releases to make up. The keyboards and synths of 2014 faded a little – guitars making a triumphant return to the alternative arena in their place; the ‘album’ made a huge comeback, so many of the following carefully sequenced as only the greatest pieces of musical art are; many now-“retro” genres (psychedelia, grunge, old-school punk and folk) experienced perhaps their greatest rebirths in recent years, creating work easily as good as those of their predecessors. And while my faith in the current music scene was thrown into jeopardy a good number of times, the following 10 albums (and so many more, too!) more than reassured me. Perhaps 2015 will go down in history as my generation’s ‘1967’ – for I know that so many of these albums will be seen as classics and will change lives in years to come. So here goes…
(I should also mention that this list is by no means complete. There’s still a lot of albums from last year that I haven’t yet been able to listen to! Perhaps there will be a follow-up to this post at some point…)
10. Currents (Tame Impala)
Currents was easily the album I anticipated most on this list. However, I was a little disappointed. Though I remain a fan of Kevin P. & Co’s work, the swirly guitars that had drawn me to their discography had been replaced by club-worthy synths and drum machines. Their fascinatingly-weird brand of psychedelic rock was now pop.
Despite this, I still loved Tame Impala’s latest effort. Kevin Parker far from neglects the idiosyncratic, kaleidoscopic edges of Lonerism and Innerspeaker, each track still sounding as hypnotically psychedelic and, well, a little out of place as the work that preceded it. Each track swirls through your mind, a showcase for Parker’s incredible musicality, his voice sounding like John Lennon on Revolver, the synths a suprisingly-earcatching hybrid of Spiritualized and pop music. It is just so much more inventive and weird than so much of the stuff it is lined up against! Currents proves Parker’s status as music’s residential genius right now is more than deserved. His work truly is among the greatest of our time.
START WITH: ‘Cause I’m A Man’
SEE ALSO: I Went To See Tame Impala!
9. Depression Cherry (Beach House)
After a 3-year break, Beach House were famously prolific in 2015 – following up August’s Depression Cherry with October’s Thank Your Lucky Stars. And perhaps it was just the anticipation (and the velvet cover…), but the former wins out for me.
Depression Cherry is exquisitely delicate and positively other-wordly from its first chord. Listening to it is like being caught in the most beautiful dream – the instrumentation subtle yet lush, spellbinding, ethereal. The synths, like sonic gossamer, flicker and swirl around your mind, embellished with jangly lead guitar, sheer bells and dreamy vocals. It is so calm, so gentle, so warm, and will undoubtedly leave you spellbound after the first listen…
START WITH: ‘Beyond Love’
8. Slow Gum (Fraser A. Gorman)
Good news – there’s more where Courtney Barnett came from! Fraser A. Gorman is an artist signed to Milk! Records (the record label Barnett and her partner Jen Cloher began in 2012), and his 2015 debut – though not receiving the same incredible success of hers – is just the best, too!
Slow Gum is steeped in old-school folk and Americana (the cover even evoking The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan!), also taking cues from – as his bio notes – artists like Transformer-era Lou Reed and Big Star; yet it doesn’t rehash the past. In true Milk! Records style, his lyrics are charming and quirky, telling stories reflecting love, life and what it’s like to be a young Australian right now. The music is equally charming and quirky – it’s laidback, slightly sleepy, nostalgic yet anticipates what’s to come. It’s driven by the greatest acoustic guitar, a fiddle (!), surprisingly rock’n’roll drums, glowing electric organ, lead guitar that goes from Neil Young to Courtney Barnett in the space of a song, pretty harmonies, and his vocals are like a sweeter, Australian Bob Dylan. It’s just so great – the kind of thing you’d listen to as Summer comes to its end, that you’d sit in the sun on Sunday morning and sing along to over coffee and toast. A painfully-underrated cut from last year that deserves your attention!
START WITH: ‘Shiny Gun’
7. b’lieve i’m goin down… (Kurt Vile)
I’ve never previously counted myself as a fan of Americana music, but as soon as I heard the beginnings of b’lieve i’m goin down…‘s ‘Pretty Pimpin’, this was completely irrelevant. Maybe it’s the song’s guitary stomp, which makes you want to immediately get up and dance, or Vile’s idiosyncratic vocals and rambling lyrics, or something else entirely – but I found it deliciously addictive, and have barely stopped listening since.
This brand of quirky, introspective folk rock is just as great throughout the remainder of b’lieve i’m goin down. The music is raw, welcoming and hooking – boasting some incredible fingerpicking, a lead guitar that sometimes lays in its country roots but more often finds itself in territory dominated by tougher rock’n’roll – that goes from wailing to stabbing between tracks, subtle keys, a banjo. Vile’s voice is delightfully unusual and slightly deadpan in its stylings, yet the melodies he sings are the kind you’ll be humming for days to come. The lyrics he writes are wonderfully rambling and contemplative, recounting an inner monologue in his fascinating manner. Another record that you’ll fall in love with on the first listen, and one that won’t leave your turntable/MP3 player for weeks to come!
START WITH: ‘Pretty Pimpin’
6. Quarters! (King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard)
Beach House weren’t the only overly-prolific band of 2015. In fact, last year’s release schedule for infamously-prolific psych rockers King G & Co. was fairly normal! True to form, the band released two albums last year: Quarters! in May, and Paper Mache Dream Balloon in November… Unlike the latter album (which was announced to much fanfare and met with great anticipation), Quarters! came out quietly in late Autumn, not even released on CD. The album only contains four tracks – each of them precisely 10 minutes and 10 seconds long! – and is a lot simpler than the Tame Impala/POND cuts to which they’re compared. But this does nothing to diminish its undeniable greatness.
Quarters! consists of some kind of dreamy, psychedelic magic, the kind that will leave you spellbound with its incredible beauty. It’s not overpowered by outlandish busy-ness, like POND and Tame Impala, instead celebrating its weirdness in a starker – yet just as satisfying! – manner. Jangly jazz chords play softly throughout each of the four cuts, paired with soulful vocals, hazy guitar arpeggios, gentle reverb, shimmering keys – making for space-agey doo-wop tunes and giddy, experimental freak-outs and foggy folk tracks, the kind of things fit for the fading warmth of Australian Autumns… And while it’s still heaps of fun (KG&TLW have always been unapologetic about the fact that they’re among the silliest bands around), the album is perhaps more affecting than its successor – the kind of music that digs deep into your mind, that becomes a favourite that you’ll play until it wears out, that makes you want do stuff yourself. It quietly accepts its freakishness, and celebrates this – and that’s why it’s so good. The album is so brilliant, so strange, so fascinating – you’ll never get tired of it!
START WITH: ‘God Is In The Rhythm’
5. Man It Feels Like Space Again (POND)
POND have always garnered a number of comparisons to Tame Impala, not least because 3/5ths of its current lineup have been touring members of the latter act. But although POND’s 2015 effort did not receive the accolade of Tame Impala’s, I have to say that I prefered it – considerably.
Man It Feels Like Space Again is a delightfully spacey, exciting affair, stumbling from track to track in a hazy, psychedelic dream. Each is drenched in effect – dreamy reverb, unsettling synthy strings, chugging phasers, erratic fuzz -, driven by brilliantly eccentric drums, layered with floaty vocals (mixed lower than usual – sometimes practically inaudible – but to great effect!), embellished with the prettiest, spaciest guitar, echoing – and even rivalling – the madly psychedelic moods created by many artists in the late-’60s. It’s unpredictable – ranging from glammy disco cuts to foggy waltzes – and so weird, so much more experimental than many of its contemporaries. Dominated by a ‘more is more’ philosophy, it swirls from the speaker, bursting at its sonic seams with with its bizarreness. With each listen, you’ll notice something new – it really never gets old. Man It Feels…, despite its relative obscurity in comparison to Currents, is just so much more weird, more interesting, more unpredictable, more fun. And that is why I’m still listening to it so much, over a year since its release…
START WITH: ‘Elvis’ Flaming Star’
4. Feels Like (Bully)
Listening to Feels Like is a little like running back to the ’90s, when the majority of alternative bands employed guitars to play their brands of punk and grunge instead of poppy synths, and when the most acclaimed female musicians were more Kim Gordon than Beyonce. But that’s kind of simplistic – for Tennessee punk band Bully’s debut LP sounds too fresh, too great to be but a mere throwback.
Feels Like begins with the visceral, thrilling ‘I Remember’, which rips through your speakers with its ferociously loud guitars, whirlwind drums and singer Alicia Bognanno’s howls and screams. The rest of the album is the same – a collection of impassioned punk anthems, ready-made for playing on constant repeat. The music is fierce and relentless, thrashing itself through each song, reminiscent of Sonic Youth, Pixies, early Sleater-Kinney. It is inaccessible, yet kind of anthemic, and it’s punk – refreshingly hard and edgy, and just as good as the bands that inspired it. Alicia Bognanno’s voice is just the best, too… And Bognanno’s lyrics are undeniably brilliant – like the Slits before her, she writes relatable lyrics that effortlessly capture the thoughts and anxieties of so many girls, the kind an introverted, teenage music-geek would scribble all over their schoolbooks and quietly quote to themselves in their bedrooms. And Feels Like is the kind of record that celebrates what it’s really like to be a teenager in this world, painfully relatable, and why I, for one, love it so. It is one for playing on constant repeat until you wear it out, and one for quietly sneaking onto a party playlist to prove that you’re cooler than everyone else. And one that once you start, you won’t be able to get enough of…
START WITH: ‘Trying’
3. Ivy Tripp (Waxahatchee)
Listening to Waxahatchee’s Ivy Tripp is like crowding around a fire on a particularly cold Winter’s day. It is warm and inviting, quirky and impossibly pretty. Waxahatchee (aka Katie Crutchfield) compiles each instrument – the guitars, keys, synths, drums – in a delightfully “DIY” manner, the kind of thing you’d record with your newly-formed indie band in your bedroom (but in the greatest way possible). It seems so delicate, fragile, yet leaks with passion and independence. And her vocals – so strong, yet so flowing – must be among the most beautiful I’ve heard. The kind of record you’ll fall in love with as soon as the first chord begins, and that demands to be played on repeat for years to come.
START WITH: ‘La Loose’
2. No Cities To Love (Sleater-Kinney)
2015 marked the return of the incredible Sleater-Kinney, a band of three immensely talented women whose mix of scuzzy guitars, powerful vocals, catchy melodies and confident lyrical matter have continually inspired and reassured many a girls’ (myself included) love of rock’n’roll, as well as establishing themselves as among the greatest rock bands of our time. No Cities To Love not only reiterates these statements, but establishes itself as among the band’s best records yet.
Cities flings itself from track to track with an incredible excitement and energy, almost never matched by newer bands. Carrie Brownstein’s and Corin Tucker’s guitars thrash at each song with a fuzzy, murky dissonance that barely anyone else bothers to create these days, and Tucker screams her vocal lines with a phenomenally ferocious passion (think X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene). Each song is raw and raging, possessing an energy – a fire – reminiscent of the ’70s greatest punk albums; yet each is anthemic, too, prime for party playlists and bedroom sing-alongs. Cities is an incredible rock record: a piece of raucous, fast-paced rock’n’roll that never fails to satisfy, that raises your adrenaline as soon as the first chord lifts off. A set-to-be classic.
START WITH: ‘Price Tag’
1. Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit (Courtney Barnett)
It would easy to suggest that my love of Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think and Somtimes I Just Sit lies mainly within its obvious homage to ‘retro’, guitar-driven rock, but this would be lazy – for it is so great on so many levels. Barnett slays her debut LP, laden with the wittiest lyrics, a voice among the uniquest in music today and tight, tough instrumentation, creating what is undeniably now a modern classic.
Barnett’s music is so incredibly refreshing in a world where Justin Bieber and gone-solo boyband members top the charts. Her lyrics are astute and entertaining, ramblingly poetic, simple and humble yet funny and smart. She manages to turn the most mundane of human experiences into interesting and often hilarious stories, penning lyrics you’ll sing until you can quote them at a second’s notice. She sums up what it means to be a young Australian in an almost disturbingly-accurate manner, recounting scenarios we know all too well with her proudly-displayed accent – so while Barnett has achieved international success, her work perhaps means most to all the young Australians who identify best with it. It is nice to hear your own accent, to hear slang you use every day in music you love, rare in a world ruled by America and Britain. She has easily become among the most important voices in music today.
To boot, Sometimes‘ incredible lyrics are backed by an equally-great band. The music crackles with such a rich exuberance, bursting with fun and fuzz-pedals. Barnett plays a mean guitar, thrashing it just like her grungy heroes. And paired with the help of drummer Dave Mudie and bassist ‘Bones’ Sloane, she creates a brand of indie rock so much rawer than that of those around her, echoing Australia’s longstanding love of garagy guitars, yet creating her very own sound at the same time. Think Nirvana, but funnier. But Sometimes isn’t retro, outdated – it’s fresh, made for the 21st century, and unlike most music out now, inventive and original. It is this – Barnett’s originality, her quirks, her (as SPIN put it) “low-key brilliance” – that has already cemented her debut as a classic, alongside Horses and Violent Femmes. And it is this that will ensure that it remains so, for years to come…
START WITH: ‘Pedestrian at Best’
SEE ALSO: I Went To See Courtney Barnett!
Albums I’m particularly anticipating this year include Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression, The Drones’ Feelin Kinda Free, Sunflower Bean’s Human Ceremony, Glitterbust’s (Kim Gordon’s new band) debut, Adelaide noise-rockers Horror My Friends’ Stay In, Do Nothing – but I feel that Bowie’s Blackstar may have already taken out #1… (I guess we’ll have to wait and see!)
Did you listen to any new music in 2015? What were your favourites? Be sure to tell me in the comments!
(Also, if you’re viewing this on the site, you may notice that I’ve made a few cosmetic changes! Hope you all like them! The drawings in the header are ones I’ve done myself over the past year…)