Written by Simon Geraghty.
We’ve reached that time of the year where we give you a flavour of some of the songs and albums that formed the backdrop to our working days at Dot Dash (and even beyond the office!) 2015 has been an odd one for me personally and there are several songs that have felt quite (auto)biographical. My wife and I decided to separate after 12 years of marriage and it is no coincidence that the first three albums on this list are all very personal and honest albums.
Our list includes our top six albums of 2015, plus another dozen albums that also delivered in 2015. As ever we’ve also created a Spotify Playlist to explore these and more that caught our attention. (& here’s our list of albums from 2014).
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
‘Carrie & Lowell’ was inspired by the passing of Sufjan’s mother Carrie from cancer in 2012 after a life spent struggling with schizophrenia and alcoholism. According to the New York Times when Sufjan “was a year old, [Carrie] left her children with their father … Sufjan saw her only occasionally through the years, though he was with her at the end”. (The titular ‘Lowell’ refers to his one time step-father who still works with Sufjan at the Asthmatic Kitty label).
I’ll admit that I took my eye off Sufjan’s work after his ambitious Michigan (2003) & Illinois (2005) albums – part of a bold attempt to sonically catalogue all the US states! Apparently this one was almost called Oregon…
Tender and intimate throughout, in fact it is so intimate that in places it feels like he is sitting in the room playing just for you! (In particular listen to ‘John My Beloved‘, ‘The Only Thing‘ or ‘Blue Bucket of Gold‘). Two Dublin shows sold out instantly for the Helix where Sufjan looped old home movie footage and photos of his mother, accompanied by many’s the moist eye in the audience…
Ghostpoet – Shedding Skin
Ghostpoet (Obaro Ejimiwe) imbued so much of himself in ‘Shedding Skin’ that the cover art features microscopic enlargement of his own skin!
Ghostpoet has an MC-ing style that draws a line back to Gil Scott Heron via Tricky, Mike Skinner from the Streets and Scoobius Pip with a confessional personal spoken word style. His Mercury prize nominated ‘Shedding Skin’ album also sees contributions from Nadine Shah, Etta Bond, Mélanie De Biasio, Lucy Rose and Paul Smith.
We featured his last album in our 2013 list. In ways his songs have been compared to the National in that they tackle issues that hit us later in life, love, relationship breakdown, moving out, moving on… Listen to ‘Be Right Back, Moving House‘, which hit closest to home for me, ‘X Marks the Spot‘ or the steadfast ‘Nothing in the Way‘ which finishes the album strongly!
Tame Impala – Currents
Perth’s Kevin Parker and pals shift gears a little on this album moving to a poppier sound than ‘Lonerism’, which we also loved in 2012. Like the two albums we looked at above this one is also a confessional album, drawing on heartbreak and regret, in particular with the song ‘Eventually‘.
‘Currents’ sees the band moving on musically from purely guitar driven psychedelia to a broader sound drawing in synthesisers.
The musical departure is most evident on ‘Let it Happen‘ the first single from ‘Currents’. The track comes in at almost 8 minutes and is closer to disco than their earlier prog rock wig-outs, to the point where the track even has a nod to Grandmaster Flash’s ‘White Lines‘. This album is something like a phenomenon!
Viet Cong – Viet Cong
Viet Cong’s strongest tracks are all on side b of their self titled debut album – a meaningless description on Spotify I know – ‘Continental Shelf‘, ‘Silhouettes‘ and ‘Death‘ (clocking in at 11:17!). They played a tight and energetic show in Dublin’s Workman’s Club in May followed later in the year by a slot at the Electric Picnic.
The Canadian band became embroiled in a distracting debate about the viability of their name, particularly in the US, where they had shows cancelled in Texas in 2015.
It’s a shame their name became a sideshow as they are a talented group of musicians and writers who channel Joy Division, Fugazi and Interpol (not a shabby bunch of misfits to be compared to!)
Joy Division, Gang of Four and Dead Kennedy’s never let a divisive sounding name stop them, although Joy Division did attract a fringe element as a result of their name, but also due to their sound and the era.
In September Viet Cong announced plans to change their name. It will be interesting to see what their new moniker is and what effect all of this has on their future as artists and as a band.
Algiers – Algiers
Another debut and self-titled album. Algiers give us a mix of gospel, the blues and post punk. This album is a good companion piece to Viet Cong and some of the albums mentioned below, including the Young Fathers! Franklin James Fisher’s vocals give this band heart, soul and are delivered with urgency. The drumming is programmed, harking back to the mighty Big Black.
The trio straddle New York (1) and London (2) and as pitchfork put it the band “pieced the album together through transatlantic file swaps”. We love this album’s blend of the Liars meets the Make Up and this impressive album hasn’t received the attention it deserves from my perspective.
Ryley Walker – Primrose Green
Finger-style guitarist, singer and song writer and son of Chicago doesn’t really break any new musical ground on ‘Primrose Green’, instead what he does very well is recreate the pastoral sounds of an earlier halcyon musical era.
This is folk rock and free form jams Walker channels early Van Morrison (including the Astral Weeks album art!), Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Manfred Mann, he’s also partial to a bit of Traffic, and there are sage nods to Nick Drake.
Other Honourable Mentions for 2015:
- Ought – ‘Sun Coming Soon’. Listen to the post punk of ‘Beautiful Blue Sky‘. If you like these guys you should also check out DIAT’s ‘Positive Energy’ and Protomartyr’s ‘The Agent Intellect’.
- Girl Band – ‘Holding Hands with Jamie’ another guitar driven band who hail from Dublin. Listen to ‘Texting An Alien’ (Although I can’t find a working link!)
- Public Service Broadcasting – ‘The Race for Space’ A homage to 1960’s space exploration and race. We love the suspense in ‘The Other Side‘.
- Benjamin Clementine – ‘At Least for Now’ is the 2015 Mercury prize winner he has an amazing voice, talent and back story. Apparently Benjamin spent time homeless in Paris playing the piano. ‘Then I Heard a Bachelor’s Cry‘.
- Young Fathers – ‘White Men are Black Men Too’. Last Year’s Mercury Prize winners, but to my mind this is a stronger album and more in keeping with the ‘GET UP’ track from their 2014 album ‘DEAD’. ‘Shame‘
- The Smoking Trees – ‘TST’. Pet Sounds style summery tracks: ‘She Takes Flight With Me‘
- Tess Parks – The husky voiced and striking singer played a lovely set at Dublin’s Sugar Club in July backed by Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jone’s Massacre. Here’s ‘Voyage de L’Ame‘
- Unknown Mortal Orchestra – ‘Multi Love’ is a concept album that explores his relationship with his wife who welcomes a third party into the mix! ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone‘ is definitely a clarion cry for me!
- Aphex Twin – ‘Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 EP’ Richard E James is back to his most mischievous and finest, this is either a work of laziness or genius, we can’t tell, just listen to it all!
- Finally, One that landed in our conciousness this year is Moodymann’s self titled ‘Moodymann’ from 2014. ‘Lyk U Use 2‘
Here’s a Spotify Playlist of all these songs and more from 2015!