Father John Misty
This is the erstwhile Joshua Tillman's second album since his epiphany, naked on a tree, and the subsequent invention of the surreally personal/absurd "Father John Misty" persona. Garishly and yet subtly arranged, it swaggers in wide screen cinematic splendour between sarcastic piano ballads and grand orchestral pop. As funny as it is sublime and touching.
Father John Misty, "I Love You Honeybear" (Bella Union)
Veronica Falls' James Hoare and Mazes' Jack Cooper met on a shared tour, this, their shared album they recorded at James's flat. It is a wonderful collection of laconically sung, warm-hearted songs in the spirit of Syd Barrett and late Velvet Underground. The spice is in the detail: the fiercely brief guitar duel at the end of "Ten Street" or the simple piano lines of "Three Piers".
Ultimate Painting, "Ultimate Painting" (Trouble in Mind)
Driven by a twang-guitar related to Marc Ribot as well as the Shadows, Belgian trio Dans Dans (guitar, bass, percussion, electronics) serve up a rich, dark and dynamic post-rock stew full of percussive verve and melodic innovation. Complex but never "difficult", this is a gripping dispatch from the borderland between improvised jazz and rock and the best moments of Nels Cline.
Dans Dans, "3" (Unday)
When they're not out on their donuts playing golf, Dangergolf from Zurich play delightfully bouncy and devilishly catchy sunshine pop, They marry classic boy/girl harmony vocals with crisp beats from the box and a big nod to the Beatles. Reggae-tune "Love is a Train" is an unlikely highlight, "Steal the Moon" should be a single.
Dangergolf, "Keep2Path" (Coffindodgerunited/punkrap.ch)
All We Are
AWA are an Irishman, a Brasilian and a woman from Norway who met whilst studying music in Liverpool. Together they play dreamily shimmering semi-electronic/ semi-analog music with a funky beat, sometimes, a touch of "Girl from Ipamena" here and there, and an occasional falsetto vocal. Languid in mood, this is satisfyingly multi-layered music to dream, dance or do the dishes to.
All We Are, "All We Are" (Domino)
Natalie Prass's voice does in no way fit the clichée of the big-chested soul-belter or even the impassioned gospel queen. With its fragile clarity it would seem to be tailor-made for Joanna Newsom-type folk songs, in fact. However, it is just this contrast between the voice and the deeply imaginative soul production by Matthew E. White's Spacebomb collective that gives this gorgeous album its depth.
Natalie Prass, "Natalie Prass" (Spacebomb)
Karl Culley is a very fine song writer and an even finer acoustic guitar player. Reminiscent in style of people like Michael Chapman or Bert Jansch - no, seriously! - he never abuses his stupendous technique merely to dazzle. Recorded in Poland with just his guitar for company, this is a quietly but seriously superb album.
Karl Culley, "Stripling" (Sound of Jura)
Fizzy with verve, these designers, painters and architects "in real life" bring a healthy disrespect for melodic conventions to their sparkling concoctions of electronic trickery, funky beats and sunshine pop harmony vocals. Every track could be a single, and that's no bad thing in this case!
Django Django, "Born Under Saturn" (Warners)
Death and Vanilla
The Swedish trio wear their influences on their sleeve - Can, Broadcast, V Underground etc. - but they have plenty of their own ideas. Their dreamy songs are built on short and repetitive melodic patterns played on analogue synths, guitar and - this truly makes the band different - vibraphone; and Marleen Nilsson's hazey voice fits the otherworldly mood perfectly. Gets better with each listen,.
Death and Vanilla, "To Where the Wild Things Are..." (Fire)
The Lower Dens
The Lower Dens' distinctive sound is defined by Jana Hunter's languorously atmospheric and androgynous vocals, and guitar/drums/electronica arrangements based on unusual, often minimalist chord patterns. This, their third album, is a bit breezier and a touch more 80s than what's gone before. A fine album still.
The Lower Dens, "Escape from Evil" (Ribbon Music)
So far I have limited myself to albums I like in these pages. No longer. Often I hear an album that's being raved about everywhere only to think to myself: "What!?" Thus, the Bin of Bile will henceforth serve as a lightning conductor for my gripes with the zeitgeist. Short sharp bursts of bile with no pretension of objectivity.
Du Blonde, "Welcome Back to Milk":
Beth Jeans Houghton claims to have at last made the album that fulfills her original artistic ambitions and ideals. I see only a tacky and pseudo-provocative image and the songs to go with it.
Covers of Billie Holiday songs we've had plenty, but never quite like this. Starting from Nick Cave's producer Nick Launay, Wilson has assembled a band that comprises Cave's drums/bass duo Wydler/Casey, guitarists T-Bone Burnett and Nick Zinner, and even the odd string arrangement by Van Dyke Parks. Spooky, dark and magnificent.
Cassandra Wilson, "Coming Forth by Day" (Legacy Recordings)
Pascal Comelade & Les Liminanas
A marriage made in garage heaven - Pascal Comelade with his toy instruments and wonkily tuned strings, and the Liminanas, masters of fuzzed-up old school organ and yé-yé sleaze. Mostly it's instrumentals, including covers like "Yesterday Man" and "Ramblin' Rose". Brimful of joie de vivre and surreal wit.
Comelade/Liminanas, "Traité de Guitarres Triolectiques (à l'usage des Portugaises ensablées)" (Because)
The seven-piece spin-off of Staff Benda Bilili uses the hypnotic grooves of Congolese rumba as a springboard for an utterly fresh kind of African psychedelic rock. The songs weld together intricate guitar/vocal interplay with heavy percussive drive, eerie sound effects and a dubby production. Mesmerising, and fully doing justice to the darkly surreal imagery of the album sleeve.
Mbongwana Star, "From Kinshasa"
Odd one, this! Starting off with melodies and riffs that might have been picked from 60s pop tunes or even from 50s doo-wop, Furman builds up a faintly deranged mood, mostly by dint of oddly un-normal (brass, woodwind) arrangements, slightly faster than expected tempi and an over-heated Bowie-esque vocal style. And there's a delicious whiff of danger, too.
Ezra Furman, "Perpetual Motion People"
Weaver is from Manchester and used to be one of those bell-voiced folkies. With last year's "The Silver Globe" she suddenly went seriously and wonderfully Hawkwindish/krautrocky. I missed that event but I haven't missed this new deluxe release with an extra 10track album of similar but dreamier and less "motorik" fare. Truly, magically terrific!
Jane Weaver, "The Silver Globe/
The Amber Light" (Bird)
They're a four-piece from London, and they're the fiercest, funniest and most imaginative guitar (not to say "punk") band that's rattled my speakers for a very long time. Most tracks are 2'20" max. but this lot squeeze so many ideas and, yes, subtleties, into their racket that the whole thing feels like a very English kind of art/prog.rock-Ramones. John Peel would have been proud.
Sauna Youth, "Distractions" (Upset! the Rhythm)
Like the splendid Saints and the wondrous Go-Betweens, Blank Realm - three siblings and a stranger - come from Brisbane. Like the former they're boiling hot with energy, like the latter they like their jangly guitars, and like everyone else in the present-day Australian psychedelic scene they enjoy swathes of echo. Plus, even the most anarchically cacophonous moments are dusted with the gold dust of joyous melody.
Blank Realm, "Illegals in Heaven" (Fire)
Alabama Shakes, "Sound & Color"
The singer's incessant and super-earnest emoting sets my teeth on edge. Urgh. Unbearable.
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, "ditto"
Faux-old time gospel and rhythm & blues perpetrated by a posey bunch of hipsters who know all the right tricks to do "passion".
Lanterns on the Lake, "Beings"
Self-important female post-shoegazer vocals overloaded with "meaningfulness" and pathos, wrapped in a treacly fog of "mysterious" melody.
After the "novel" that was Holter's last album, this is a collection of short stories. The arrangements serve up all kinds of unusual instruments - cembalo, for instance - and are incredibly intricate. The the vocal melodies, as ever, are full of unexpected turns. There's even a stunning sax solo! A gloriously nebulous and yet subtly catchy album which makes me think of Anna Kavan's novel "Ice".
Julia Holter, "Have You in My Wilderness" (Domino)
The first solo album by ex-Pipette Gwenno - dreamy melodies, lyrics sung in Welsh and Cornish to the backing of subtly rhythmical electronica sounds, telling a story based on Sci Fi novel never translated from the Welsh: one man, the writer, cannot be turned into a robot in a future robot world because the robots trying to do so cannot understand his language, Welsh.
Gwenno, "Y Didd Olaf" (Heavenly)
Verena von Horsten
The subject matter is startlingly existential: von Horsten is dealing here, song by song, with the various stages of her feelings after the suicide of her brother. Far from being bleak and morbid, the resulting music - analogue synths, guitars, piano, mostly self-played - is bursting with volcanic power even when the mood is more meditative and lyrical. A superb and courageous album.
Verena von Horsten, "Alien Angel Super Death" (A Tree in a Field)
"I was nearly someone back in the day, I was in the lower regions of the hitparade..." sings Wreckless on another of his wry odes to living under a rain cloud, "I was out of time, I was out of step." Now resident in the USA, tee-total and married to the singer Amy Rigby, Eric has lost none of his wit, nor his ear for a cute melody. The recipe is old: garage guitars, a hint of computer, the drizzle of a nasal voice - the results are as refreshing as ever.
Wreckless Eric, "amERICa" (Fire)
Lindsay Corstorphine (guit./vox) is clearly a workaholic: on top of Sauna Youth and Monotony, Primitive Parts are at least his third simultaneous band. He also has an instantly identifiable guitar sound which he combines with a super-energetic line in sharp two-chord noise salvos. This, the group's debut album, offers up a joyous selection of punky garage sounds, not a million miles away in spirit from label mates Ultimate Painting.
Primitive Parts, "Primitive Parts"
(Trouble in Mind)
It took a few months to work its way through my pile of new CDs - but what an album! Not music in the sense of songs, choruses and sax solos. More like a space filled with slowly pulsing noise, a fog of sound (de-tuned radios, scratching sandpaper, crackling static) where things happen constantly but far away. Rooted in musique concrète, the effect is utterly hypnotic.
Bérangère Maximin, "Dangerous Orbits"
Beautifully presented in a triple box set with a book, this is the first time the Russian soundtrack composer's work is released in the West. Discovered by chance in a St. Petersburg café by Stephen Coates (The Real Tuesday Weld), the music ranges from chanson to Bert Kämpfert-type easy listening, and from autumnal solo jazz piano to romantic orchestral splendour. Tariverdiev (1931 - 1996) never left Russia. His music is urban, romantic, elegant and somehow quite otherworldly.
Mikael Tariverdiev, "Film Music" (Earth)
I saw no.3 performed at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and I'm hooked. 2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello plus, on the album, 2 percussionists, create a music of hints and whispers that wraps itself around long stretches of silence. The intense tension between silence, sound and the hushed volume of the performance creates a near-phsyical sense of space in which our thoughts drift into places they've never drifted in before.
Jürg Frey, "string quartet no.3 - unhörbare Zeit" (Edition Wandelweiser)
The second album from this playful "supergroup" of boundary-defying experimenters is as exhilaratingly pleasurable as the first one. Produced by Roli Mosimann, Joana Aderi, Fredy Studer, Joy Frempong, John Edwards and Daniel Sailer cook up a stew that feels more organically percussive and voice-driven this time round, and a little less electronic. "I have been staring into my fish tank", indeed. Excellent fun!
Phall Fatale, "Moonlit Bang Bang" (Qilin Records)
1) Julia Holter, „Have You in MyWilderness“
2) Mbongwana Star, „From Kinshasa“
3) Verena von Horsten, „AlienAngel Super Death“
4) Sauna Youth, „Distractions“
5) Gwenno, „Y Didd Olaf“
6) Death & Vanilla, „To Wherethe Wild Things Are“
7) Ezra Furman, „Perpetual MotionPeople“
8) FFS, „FFS“
9) John Grant, „Grey Tickles,Black Pressure“
10) Father John Misty, „I Love You Honeybear“
11) Django Django, „Born Under Saturn“
12) Ultimate Painting, „Ultimate Painting“
13) Stealing Sheep, „Not Real“
14) The Chills, „Silver Bullets“
15) The Arcs, „Yours Dreamily“
16) Lana Del Rey, „Honeymoon“
17) Novella, „Land“
18) Jane Weaver, „The Silver Globe/The Amber Light“
19) Wreckless Eric, „amERICa“
20) Drastic Dislocations, „What Was, Was“
...and these are my top 20 of 2015