Intense for very different reasons…
In The Pharmacy #94 – Late January 2016
PJ Harvey ‘The Wheel’
First single from the forthcoming The Hope Six Demolition Project (April 15, Island) follows on from where Let England Shake left off, with added sax.
The I Don’t Cares ‘Born For Me’
Paul Westerberg and Juliana Hatfield team up for a new project which rocks in an understated way. The original version of this track featured on Westerberg’s album Suicaine Gratifaction (1999).
[The I Don’t Cares]
Operators ‘Cold Light’
Dan Boeckner (Divine Fits, Handsome Furs, Wolf Parade) with a track taken from the forthcoming debut Operators album Blue Wave (April 1, Last Gang Records). Eighties-indebted electronic pop with more than a nod to New Order.
Daughter ‘No Care’
The first of two tracks featured this episode from Daughter’s excellent second album Not to Disappear (4AD, out now). This is the record’s outlier, fast and direct and under three minutes long.
Two White Cranes ‘Unattached’
Roxy Brennan (who can also be found playing with Trust Fund and Joanna gruesome) has been singing in her home town of Bristol for ten years. Two White Cranes is her solo project (though it also features collaborators). It’s a little indie folk, a little indie pop and very tuneful.
[Two White Cranes]
Suede ‘Like Kids’
Since 2010, Suede have done a great job of showing how you can handle a reunion with dignity. Playing hits heavy shows (check out their 2015 Glastonbury performance) and releasing two very good new albums 2013’s Bloodsports and now the loose concept album Night Thoughts. This track channels the same energy and vibe of the Coming Up-era.
Walter Martin ‘The Tourist’
Another tropical-flavoured track from the former Walkmen member’s Art and Leisure album (out now, Ile Flottante).
Eleanor Friedberger ‘Cathy with the Curly Hair’
Former Fiery Furnaces Friedberger with another charming track from her third (and best) solo album New View (out now, Frenchkiss).
Ryley Walker ‘The Roundabout’
I was fortunate to see Ryley Walker twice on his recent visit to Australia and was surprised when he played sets that featured none of my favourite tracks from last year’s excellent Primrose Green. Surprised, but not disappointed when he treated us to new songs such as this one.
Ty Segall ‘Diversion’
More west coast heavy psych from the Emotional Mugger album, this is a cover of a 1973 Equals number penned by Eddy Grant.
Naps ‘Social Skills’
DIY indiepop from Tallahasee band.
Amber Arcades ‘Right Now’
Dutch musician Annelotte de Graaf records (aided by friends) under the moniker Amber Arcades, last year she went to New York to record her debut album with Ben Greenberg (formerly of The Men). The album is due out This track is taken from those sessions.[Amber Arcades]
Brooklyn indiepop types Beverly, (now the core of Drew Citron plus collaborators after the departure of fellow founding member and Brooklyn indiepop-Zelig Frankie Rose) return with another track from their forthcoming second album Blue Swell (May 6th, Kanine).[Beverly]
Public Access TV ‘On Location’
New York Band. fans of The Strokes no doubt, deliver a crisp slice of new wave influenced guitar rock.
[Public Access TV]
Your Friend ‘Come Back From It’
Domino-signed Kansas musician Taryn Blake Miller channels her inner Jana Hunter on this excellent track from her debut album Gumption (out now).
Nap Eyes ‘Roll It’
Following on from Mixer (ITP #92) this taken from the Halifax Nova Scotia band’s new album Thought Rock Fish Scale (February 5, Paradise of Bachelors).
Martha Ffion ‘Wallflower’
“Classic songwriting with a dream pop sheen” from Glasgow-based Irish singer songwriter, Claire Martha Ffion McKay.
Frankie Cosmos ‘Sinister’
Prolific Brooklynite musician Greta Kline follows up Zentropy with a track from her second album under the Frankie Cosmos name, New Thing (April 1, Bayonet).
Second, more spacious track from Not to Disappear (4AD, out now).
Father John Misty ‘Maybe, Sweet One, You Won’t Have Nightmares Tonight’
“I was asked to write a lullaby for Stephen Colbert as part of a skit for the show. Unfortunately the bit was cut for time/content.”
[Father John Misty]
Britta Phillips ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’
Britta Phillips of Luna and Dean and Britta fame will release her debut solo album later this year. Here’s a taste of what she can do in the driving seat with this wonderful Dylan cover.[Britta Phillips]
Stars ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’
Stars have long had a way with the cover version and in 2016 they’ll be releasing one a month, here’s the first featuring a lead vocal from Amy Milan on another Dylan classic.[Stars]
In The Pharmacy #93 – January 2016
Thirteen new tunes to start off 2016. New indie / psych / electronic / folk / garage punk / surf pop music from the US, UK, Spain and Canada. Tracks from Hinds (pictured), Yeasayer, Savages, Woods, Walter Martin, Tacocat, Misun, The Besnard Lakes, Sea Pinks, Cullen Omori, Dr Dog, Gun Outfit and Heron Oblivion.
Scrappy, garage pop opening track from the young Madrid band’s debut album Leave Me Alone (out now, Mom & Pop).
Yeasayer ‘I Am Chemistry’
Taken from the Brooklyn band’s fourth album Amen & Goodbye (Mute, April 1). This is electronic pop with eastern, psychedelic and gothic flourishes. At 3m18s in there’s a switch to a folky interlude- acoustic guitar and piano with Suzzy Roche providing a layered choral vocal before the electronics return, then fade away leaving just the piano at the outro. Sweet. Check out the trippy SF video too.
Woods ‘Sun City Creeps’
Mournful horns, afro-funk, and west coast psychedelia meet on the first taste of the band’s forthcoming ninth album City Sun Eater in the River of Light (April 8, Woodsist). Can’t wait to hear the rest of it.
Tacocat ‘I Hate The Weekend’
One hundred and twenty-six seconds of garage punk surf pop from the Seattle band. Taken from their forthcoming album Lost Time (Hardly Art, April 1).
Misun ‘Give It Up’
Laid back electronic pop underpinned by a simple acoustic guitar line and topped off with Misun Wojcik’s mellifluous, summery, vibrato. Available digitally and as limited edition cassette single on B3SCI Records.
Walter Martin ‘Down By The Singing Sea’
Former keyboard and bass player for The Walkmen follows up his wonderful family album We’re All Young Together with an album inspired by art history, Arts & Leisure (Ile Flottante, January 29).
Gothy post-punk quasi-title track from the band’s forthcoming second album Adore Life (Matador / Pop Noire January 22). A signal lesson in the power of restraint, with the pay off coming in the final minute as the song builds to a crescendo.
The Besnard Lakes ‘Nightingale’
On their last two albums, The Besnard Lakes proved that they had mastered epic space rock. On their latest, A Coliseum Complex Museum (Jagjaguwar, January 22) they refine it further. This is just one of many stand out tracks.
[The Besnard Lakes]
Sea Pinks ‘Cold Reading’
Melodic indiepop from former Girls Names drummer Neil Brogan’s fifth album under the Sea Pinks name, Soft Days (out now, CF Records).
Cullen Omori ‘Cinnamon’
Former Smith Westerns frontman with first track taken from his forthcoming solo album New Misery (March 18, Sub Pop)
Dr. Dog ‘Bring My Baby Back’
Shuffling psych pop taken from the veteran Philadelphia band’s new album Psychedelic Swamp (February 5, Anti-)
Gun Outfit ‘Expansion Pact’
Following on from last year’s excellent Dream All Over album, this is a new song from a forthcoming five track EP, Two Way Player ( March 18, Wharf Cat).
Heron Oblivion ‘Oriar’
Blistering psych folk from the Sub Pop signed San Francisco super group featuring Meg Baird and members of Comets on Fire and Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound.
The Best Albums of 2015
2015 was another great year for new music, but not all those tracks made it onto the best albums. The album is not an easy thing to get right. Some hit it with their debut and then fail to reach those heights again, others get it right second time around, still more take several attempts or never get there. Rare is the artist who reaches a high level of consistency. Rarer still those that keep getting better. This year proves that there are few certainties in music with a list that includes first timers, second chancers, late bloomers and old faithfuls, and omits just as many1.
Some of these records appear on many other end of year lists, but they are not here to make the list seem relevant. Others are much less celebrated, but they are not included in an attempt to appear iconoclastic. Rather, these 20 albums are those that have moved and excited me the most, the ones I still can’t stop playing, the ones that I love the most. Any other measure is meaningless.
20. Baio The Names
This could have been just a space filler from the nerdiest looking member of a nerdy looking band, but Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio has made good on his promise of an album of “Bowie and Ferry-influenced pop songs and dumbsmart arena techno”. Keeping it to a compact nine-songs-in-39-minutes, he has delivered a record with songs as charming, hooky and interesting as his day job band. Baio’s speak-singing voice suits the songs well thanks to his well judged and mannered phrasing. The tunes are instant, but continue to reveal further charms with every listen. It’s bizarre that this album has been so overlooked. What coverage it received has been good, but the likes of Pitchfork, The Guardian and NME failed to even review it. Clowns!
Recommended tracks: ‘Sister of Pearl’, ‘Brainwash Yyrr Face’, ‘I Was Born In A Marathon’, ‘Needs’.
19. Cristobal and the Sea Sugar Now
London-based Anglo / Portugese / Spanish / Corsican fourpiece with debut album of upbeat, trippy psych pop and tropicalia funk. This record got left a few people perplexed or wnderwhelmed on its release back in October, but the sense of joie de vivre and the lightness of touch with which it blends its influences have kept me coming back to it over the last few months. Packed full of charm and its best songs are unlike anything else released this year.
Recommended tracks: ‘Sunset of Our Troubles’, ‘Counting Smiles’, ‘Happy Living Things’, ‘Fish Eye’
18. Gun Outfit Dream All Over
The fourth album from the Olympia band led by guitarist / vocalist Dylan Sharp and Carrie Keith feels like riding through a sunblasted plain. You can feel the heat and taste the dust as the country noir and desert dreampop unfolds over 41 minutes with twelve songs that bear the imprint of folk, Sonic Youth, psych and krautrock. The near-motorik beats and meadnering guitars of ‘Gotta Wanna’, the sitar-like sounds of ‘Matters to a Head’, the slow stoned sprawl of ‘Scorpios Vegas’ and the closing ‘Only Ever Over’ are just some of the highlights.
Recommended tracks: ‘Gotta Wanna’, ‘Matters to a Head’, ‘Scorpios Vegas’, ‘Only Ever Over’.
17. Protomartyr The Agent Intellect
Detroit post-punk infuenced band’s third album bridges the gap between Girls Against Boys and Cop Shoot Cop. Unlike those band’s there’s no twin bass attack, but there are unhinged rhythms, and a cold, jagged, metallic edge to the guitars while Joe Casey’s vocal style is part declamatory, part detached observer.
Recommended tracks: ‘Cowards Starve’, ‘I Forgive You’, ‘The Devil in His Youth’
16. Wolf Alice My Love Is Cool
The north London band retain some of the grunge-influences of their earlier EPs on their debut album – particularly on ‘Your Loves Whore’, ‘Fluffy’, ‘You’re A Germ’ and the alt-rock muscularity of ‘Giant Peach’. But they also deliver the claustrophobic noir of ‘Silk’ and bring an assured pop sensibility to the likes of ‘Freazy’, ‘Bros’ and the breezily upbeat ode to stalkerish obsession ‘Lisbon’. It’s an excellent debut that defies attempts at pigeonholing.
Recommended tracks: ‘Bros’, ‘Lisbon’, ‘Silk’, ‘Your Loves Whore’
15. La Luz Weirdo Shrine
Surf rock meets pop noir on the Seattle band’s second album. Produced by sometime tour companion Ty Segall, who encouraged the band to take a more relaxed, less perfectionist attitude into the studio and talked singer / guitarist Shana Cleveland into embracing judicious use of a fuzz pedal. Coupled with lyrics in part inspired by Black Hole (Charles Burns’ allegorical graphic novel about a mutation-causing STI) this is one of 2015’s most beguiling albums.
Recommended tracks: ‘Sleep Till They Die’, ‘I Wanna Be Alone (With You)’, ‘Don’t Wanna Be Anywhere’, ‘I’ll Be True’
14. Low Ones and Sixes
Over 20 years on from their slowcore origins, Low continue to develop their sound. Ones and Sixes assimilates all the elements of their past while continuing to move forward. There’s barely restrained anger and beauty in the music, frustration and love running through the lyrics. Drums are sometimes processed or replaced by machines, guitars and piano are distorted and an air of menace or at least foreboding underpins many of the songs (‘Gentle’, ‘No Comprende’, ‘Innocents’), even the prettiest of pop songs ‘What Part of Me’ has something dark stirring beneath the surface. But as with all Low records, beauty is never far away in the voices of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, whose shared vocals hit a high on the wonderful ‘Lies’.
Recommended tracks: ‘Lies’, ‘Innocents’, ‘No Comprende’, ‘Congregation’, ‘What Part of Me’
13. Sufjan Stevens Carrie and Lowell
Inspired by the brief time spent with his schizophrenic, alcoholic mother and her husband when Stevens was still a child, this album can’t help but at first appear like a complete downer. Drum-free and relying (mainly) on acoustic instrumentation, lyrics touching on religion, loss, mental illness and death, this isn’t always an easy listen and it’s not something that you can just put on in the background. But what saves it from ultimate wrist-slitter status are the vocals (even the “we’re all going to die” refrain of ‘Fourth of July’ sounds more beautiful than bleak) and some sparse yet nuanced arrangements (especially on the relatively uplifting ‘The Only Thing’ and ‘Eugene’). If you make it through the first time, each successive listen is more rewarding as the album reveals its complex moods. You might want to follow it up with some Carly Rae Jepson, though.
Recommended tracks: ‘Fourth of July’, ‘The Only Thing’, ‘Should Have Known Better’
12. Hop Along Painted Shut
Like Courtney Barnett, Kurt Vile, The Drink’s Derbhla Minogue and Royal Headache’s Shogun, Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan’s is a voice apart in 2015. A band with a distinctive sound that owes something to the 90s alt rock and even emo, on this their second album much of the power comes from the balance of restraint and release employed by Quinlan and her band as these ten compelling vignettes, touching on blues and jazz musicians, waffle house doppelgangers, humiliation and uncannily radiant teenagers, depression and abuse.
Recommended tracks: ‘Horseshoe Crabs’, ‘Waitress’, ‘Powerful Man’, ‘The Knock’
11. Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
A singular talent whose keen eye finds relatable detail in the mundane details of both extraordinary and everyday situations and combines it with a storytelling ability that is at once quintessentially Australian and oddly universal in its appeal. Add the sometimes laidback / sometimes enervated singing style and her stellar guitar playing to create one of the most compelling artists of the decade (at least). Since the bundling of her first two EPs as A Sea of Split Peas, the world has been awaiting this debut album proper and, while the production doesn’t always do the live versions of the songs justice (and ‘Depreston’ is near-murdered by the shuffle beat and country-twang), this is still a great album.
Recommended tracks: ‘Elevator Operator’, ‘Pedestrian at Best’, ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party’, ‘Aqua Profunda!’, ‘Dead Fox’
10. Beach House Depression Cherry
The first of two albums released this year by the Baltimore duo. For me, this one just edges out Thank Your Lucky Stars. Warm keyboard washes and drones and Victoria Legrand’s enveloping vocals contrast with drum machine beats and Alex Scally’s distorted guitar tones to create woozy, otherworldly dreampop. An initially comforting and familiar listen that reveals its idiosyncrasies on repeated listens (the girl-group like spoken intro to ‘PPP’, the indecipherable vocal loop that intros and runs through ‘Spark’). Like its predecessor, Bloom (2012), this feels like a gentle pushing of the boundaries of the sound that they first fully realised on third album Teen Dream (2010).
Recommended tracks: ‘Levitation’, ‘Spark’, ‘Space Song’, ‘PPP’.
9. Kurt Vile b’lieve i’m goin’ down
Even more so than Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze (2013), B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down feels like the release that should bring Kurt Vile to a wider audience. Despite being recorded at six different studios with a variety of producers, engineers, mixers and musicians (including Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa) this album sounds seamless. Though Vile is (quite rightly) noted for his electric guitar playing, he’s no slouch on the acoustic (‘That’s Life, tho’, ‘Kidding Around’), banjo (‘I’m an Outlaw’) and piano (‘Lost My Head There’, ‘Bad Omens’). The lyrics are often self-referential and full of humour, with first single and opener ‘Pretty Pimpin’’ he’s written a classic slacker anthem and one of 2015’s best tunes. But just as importantly, he’s maintained that high level of songwriting across the record, an achievement that even extends to the triple-album version’s bonus tracks. Essential.
Recommended tracks: ‘Pretty Pimpin”, ‘Lost My Head There’, ‘Dust Bunnies’, ‘That’s Life tho”
8. Royal Headache High
Four years on from their brilliant debut, Sydney’s premier garage-punk-soul band return with the second album that almost didn’t happen. Clocking in at just under half an hour, there’s an urgency to these ten songs that is lacking from much of what else is out there. ‘Need You’ and ‘Love Her If I Tried’ are northern soul as played by a bunch of garage punks; ‘Garbage’ swaps out the soul for filthy, distorted, metallic guitar; ‘Carolina’ is breezy, elegiac pop while ‘Another World’ alternates between disgust and longing with its “You ate my face to take my place so you can shine in another world / Cause you can’t discern I need a friend who makes me wanna fly to another world” refrain. All of it is elevated by a melodic sensibility and Shogun’s full-throated vocals.
Recommended tracks: ‘Love Her If I Tried’, ‘Another World’, ‘Garbage’, ‘Carolina’
7. Torres Sprinter
Two years on from her excellent debut, Mackenzie Scott returns with a follow up that finds an artist really coming into her own. All the elements – songwriting, lyrics, vocals, performance, arrangements – have moved on from the debut. If not entirely confessional (Scott is as likely to sing in character as she is in the first person) these are deeply personal songs, with lyrics that deal directly or tangentially with identity and finding one’s place in the world; relationships; fear of loss, betrayal. For the album, Scott enlisted original PJ Harvey drummer and bass player Robert Ellis and Ian Oliver (the former also in the producer’s chair) plus Portishead’s Adrian Utley. Their support is felt the most on the triumvirate of most rocking numbers (‘Strange Hellos’, ‘New Skin’ and the title track) as well as the assured and understated ‘Ferris Wheel’ and the re-recorded ‘The Harshest Light’ (previously available in demo form as an RSD 7”). But Sprinter’s most affecting number, the closing ‘The Exchange’, finds Scott solo with acoustic guitar (and some accompanying, ambient birdsong) touching on all the album’s themes through the prism of her adoptive mother’s own adoption.
Recommended tracks: ‘Sprinter’,’New Skin’, ‘Harshest Light’, ‘The Exchange’, ‘Ferris Wheel’, ‘Strange Hellos’
6. Dick Diver Melbourne Florida
Melbourne, Asutralia purveyors of superior, literate guitar pop manages to leap forward while looking backwards. Previously, the band had been compared with the lo-fi jangle of early Go-Betweens and the more melodic of the vintage Flying Nun bands (esp. The Clean, though it’s an influence the band refute). On this their third album they have expanded the scope of their sound and while there’s still plenty of jangle, there’s also some harmonic psych pop chiming on the likes of ‘Waste The Alphabet’ and ‘Tearing The Posters Down’ which recalls first-album era-The Church while ‘Year in Pictures’ has people citing Icehouse’s ‘Great Southern Land’. Mainly-drummer Steph Hughes lead vocals may only appear on a couple of tracks but, as with ‘Gap Life’ on Calendar Days, ‘Leftovers’ leaves an indelible impression.
Recommended tracks: all of them, but try any of ‘Waste The Alphabet’, ‘Year In Pictures’, ‘Competition’, ‘Tearing The Posters Down’, ‘Leftovers’, ‘Private Number’
5. Tame Impala Currents
After two essential albums of guitar-heavy psychedelic rock, Kevin Parker shifts styles on the third Tame Impala album to embrace elements of 70s soul and 80s electronic pop. Despite the electronic production techniques that gave the earlier records much of their distinct flavour (and despite the fact that they have never really translated those solo studio creations into a compelling live experience) the lack of obvious rock guitar has polarized fans. Both of the band’s previous albums made my personal top five’s in their respective year of release and I’d consider them to both be near perfect. The same goes for Currents. I’ll admit, I don’t think I even registered exactly how different and relegated the guitars are from this album until I’d listened to it a few times. It’s such a dense, encapsulating listening experience, and even though they are expressed differently, the influence of psychedelia and late-period Beatles are as strong as ever. As is the quality of the song writing and construction. It comes across as an obvious (but no less brilliant) evolution.
Recommended tracks: ‘Let It Happen’, ‘Eventually’, ‘Disciples’, ‘Reality In Motion’:
4. Desperate Journalist Desperate Journalist
The jangle and chime of Rob Hardy’s 12 string Rickenbaker and Jo Bevan’s impassioned vocals often recall the pairing of Morrissey and Marr at their peak, but there’s also the influence of early-R.E.M., 90s alternative bands and the gothier end of post-punk (the name’s a Cure reference and you can hear the imprint of Joy Division, Siouxsie and The Banshees and The Cult’s Billy Duffy in there too). This debut album’s eleven songs bring a power, beauty, brightness and focus to a quintessentially English-take on post-punk and early-80s indie. If this isn’t on your end of year list, you just haven’t heard it yet, baby.
Recommended tracks: ‘Control’, ‘Cristina’, ‘Eulogy’
3. Father John Misty I Love You, Honeybear
A marriage of concept, songwriting, performance and arrangement that few artists manage to achieve, yet alone sustain for an entire album. This is a leap forward from 2012’s excellent Fear Fun (and even further forward from the stripped down solo works as J. Tillman). From the lush orchestrated title track, to the mariachi horns and strings that adorn ‘Chateau Lobby #4’ to the 80s-influenced synth pop of ‘True Affection’, to the soulful backing vocals and mournful guitar that permeate ‘When You’re Smiling and Astride Me’, to the rising hysteria and stabbing keyboards of ‘The Ideal Husband’ to the near acapella ‘Bored in the USA’ and the acoustic-backed stream of consciousness platitudes / treatise on life and love that is ‘Holy Shit’. This is a diverse album that works as a whole. Some will label this Americana, but that would be inappropriate for an album whose strongest sonic influence appears to be late period Beatles.
Recommended tracks: all of them, but you could start with ‘Chateau Lobby #4’, ‘Bored in the USA’, ‘Ideal Husband’, ‘Holy Shit’
2. Joanna Newsom Divers
Five years on from her magnum opus triple album Have One On Me, Joanna Newsom returned, with what initially looked like a modest record for such a long time away, but soon revealed itself as a major triumph. The songs herein (many about love, place and time) are all of the highest quality, and Newsom’s playing is exceptional, not only on the harp but also a variety of instruments from Moog to Mellotron to Marxophone (and that’s just the Ms). While spending a lot of time mixing a record is usually a sign that the whole project is fucked, on Divers the extension of that period from two weeks to four months has paid off (read a great, non-nerdy article on the process here). As ever, her lyrics are esoteric, full of obscure historical references that often require one key phrase to be deciphered to reveal what the whole is about, but the songs also work on their own, knowing what they are about is not a pre-requisite for falling in love with them. And while her voice will probably always have its detractors, Newsom now has more range and subtly exhibits control without losing any of the character that is so important to the delivery of the songs.
Recommended tracks: all of them, but you could start with ‘A Pin-Light Bent’, ‘Leaving The City’, ‘Goose Eggs’, ‘Divers’.
1. The Drink Capital
After last year’s exceptional compilation Company, London-based three-piece The Drink released their debut album proper in November. Where Company was more angular, with much of the energy derived by how the guitar lines sat at odds with the rest of the instruments, Capital’s performances are more sinuous and fluid, the songs emboldened by the confidence and experience of the players, with elements of post-punk, afropop, goth, and prog rock feeding into their “odd, dark folk pop”.This is an album (not unlike Life Without Buildings’ Any Other City) that combines previously unrelated sweet spots from music’s past into something that sounds like it could only have been made in 2015. If there’s a song at the heart of the album it’s ‘You Won’t Come Back at All’, which builds to the extended instrumental outro on the last minute-and-a-half as Derbhla Minogue runs free with her guitar, weaving in and out of the rhythm laid down by Daniel Fordham (drums) and David Stewart (bass). It’s a lesson in the power of economy, like Neil Young playing a free range one-note guitar solo while Crazy Horse keep it locked in, or more recently, like Hospitality’s ‘I Miss Your Bones’. ‘The Coming Rain’ manages to skirt prog and disco funk and at the same time remain a sing-along indie pop song, while the closing ‘No Memory’ is propelled by a near constant minor tone of deep psych fuzz organ.
Recommended tracks: All of them – this album is ten near-perfect tracks, but if you aren’t hooked by the opening trio of ‘Like A River’, ‘You Won’t Come Back at All’ and ‘Potter’s Grave’, I don’t know what to tell ya.
1I listened to nearly 500 new albums in 2015. Most of them were rubbish, but there were many great albums that didn’t quite reach the heights of the twenty above. Here’s an incomplete list of some of the best of the rest: Speedy Ortiz Foil Deer, !!! As If, Ryley Walker Primrose Green, Beach House Thank Your Lucky Stars, The Dodos Individ, Sleater-Kinney No Cities to Love, Novella Land, Julia Holter Have You In My Wilderness, Shunkan The Pink Noise, Cold Beat Into The Air, Battles La Di Da Di, Twerps Range Anxiety, Radical Dads Universal Coolers, Colleen Captain of None, Mondo Drag Mondo Drag, All Dogs Kicking Everyday, Soccer Team Real Lessons in Cynicism, Sports All of Something, Fidlar Too, TRAAMS Modern Dancing, U.S. Girls Half Free, Empress Of Me, Robert Forster Songs to Play, Shannon and the Clams Gone By the Dawn, Martin Courtney Many Moons, PWR BTTM Ugly Cherries, Lana Del Rey Honeymoon, Destroyer Poison Season, Au.Ra Jane’s Lament, Sarah Neufeld / Colin Stetson Never Were The Way She Was, Best Coast California Nights, White Reaper White Reaper Do It Again, Wilco Star Wars, White Fang Chunks,Lower Dens Escape From Evil, Houndstooth No News from Home, The Mountain Goats Beat The Champ, My Morning Jacket The Waterfall, The Decemberists What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, Built to Spill Untethered Moon, Ducktails St Catherine.
Pitchfork 2015: fewer albums reviewed, fewer of them terrible
Love them or loathe them, Pitchfork are still one of the biggest champions of the album format: Lots of words on lots of albums, that’s their strapline*. At the end of 2012 I wrote a piece on whether we could keep a check on the health of the album by analysing data from Pitchfork’s reviews since 2010. I did the same at the end of 2013 and 2014 and made some predictions based on the results. Below are the 2015 numbers, and the results of how those predictions panned out:
- Total: Pitchfork reviewed 1192 albums albums in 2015 – down a couple of percent on recent years and largely down to the fact they published reviews on fewer days in 2015.1
- Average: As predicted, in 2015 the average (mean) score awarded to an album was 7.1 – the exact same as in 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 (7.0 in 2010).
- Brilliant: As predicted, less than 1% of new albums were awarded 9.0 or above (actually, less than half of one percent).
- Well Below Average: I got this one wrong. Only 223 albums in 2015 were awarded a score of 6.4 or lower2. That’s 18.7% and what I thought was a blip is now looking like a downward trend from a six year high of 25.4% in 2010.
- Perfect Score: As predicted, there was no 10 score given out to a new album this year. That makes it over five years since they handed out a perfect score (for Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
For 2016, I predict we’ll see the average score stay the same at 7.1, with the number of albums scoring 9.0 or above staying below 1% (I reckon between 5 and 8 albums). I’m guessing that we’ll see a similar number of publishing days next year, which should mean a similar number of reviews (i.e. slightly down on previous years), unless they make a lurch further into the pop market
Will there be another 10 awarded in 2016? I’m going to say no, because I think they’ve lost their nerve. But I’ll hedge a little here and say that If they do hand one out, it’ll either go to a fairly mainstream artist or a solo female artist. With Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepson clearly taking them by surprise in recent years and the fact that they are now owned by Conde Naste who see the brand as a way of “engaging high-value millennial audiences”, I think it’s safe to assume we are past the days where …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead could earn a 10 review. Shame.
Will we continue to see the percentage of albums scoring 6.4 or lower continue to shrink? That’s a hard one. The trend says yes, but my heart says no. It can’t be a good thing to squeeze everything into the middle, and, y’know…some albums are just a bit shit.
Pitchfork’s Best Albums of 2015
Pitchfork’s Top 50 albums list3 used to closely tally with their highest rated albums of the year (with a few albums that fall out of favour or are bumped higher up the list), but last year it appeared that they changed the way they compiled it. Not all the Best New Music tagged albums figured in the top 504, and the order they appear does not necessarily equate to their score. The golden rule is, don’t release a metal album.
- Timing: For 2014 the best time of year to release an album was October followed by March: 11 of the top 50 albums were released in October, 8 in March. The highest average scores were awarded in October and December.5
- Grower: Of the albums Pitchfork reviewed at time of release, Carly Rae Jepson’s E*Mo*Tion was the album judged to have improved the most this year. Despite only scoring 0.3 above the average of 7.1 back in August, it jumped from 529th place to secure the number 37 spot in the end of year review.
- Permanence: D’Angelo / The Vanguard’s Black Messiah was the big winner here. Pitchfork changed the rules so that this album, released in December 2014, could be included in the list (footnote). It was the reviewed on December 19 last year, got a score higher than any other album on the list (9.4) and managed to make the no.7 spot in the year end list .
- Unlucky: Once again, metal albums were the big losers: Tribulation The Children of The Night (8.4), Baroness Purple (8.5) were overlooked completely.
- Waning Charms: Viet Cong’s Viet Cong, (8.5 back in January) and Prurient’s Frozen Niagara Falls (8.5 in May) were the biggest losers, both failing to make the top 50, being beaten by behind 26 albums that scored lower. In the case of Viet Cong, it looks political (they were judged by some to have handled poorly a controversy around their name). In the case of Prurient, it’s probably guilt-by-association in that the release is on renowned Canadian metal label, Profound Lore.
- Surprise: The inclusion of FKA Twigs M3LL155X EP at number 16 and Kelela’s Hallucinogen EP at 31 are the biggest surprises. For review purposes, Pitchfork has always treated EPs the same as albums. But they are not the same and they shouldn’t be judged as such.
1Pitchfork review five albums a day each weekday excluding American public holidays, a summer break in August and and none during the industry down time of the last 2-3 weeks of December when practically no new albums are released. Plus, this year they didn’t start the new reviews until a week later than 2014 and may have taken some extra time off around the Pitchfork festivals, publishing reviews on only 226 days versus 2014’s 233 in 2014 (when they managed to score 1224 albums). Individual albums in a box set will often get individual scores, hence the slight variance in each year’s review numbers.
2I call a score of <6.5 ‘The Everrett True mark of failure’ after the music critic who ranted about “a world full of music critics lazily and cravenly praising everything in their path … for if they don’t, their editors won’t run the review or feature or article. Look around you. It’s already happened. How many reviews graded below 6.5 stars do you think Pitchfork runs?” His opposition to what Pitchfork does having coloured his views of a an easily verifiable fact. i.e. even Pitchfork thinks that a quarter of the albums they review aren’t very good and are unafraid to say so.
Here’s the breakdown for previous years:
2010: 307 / 1216 scored 6.4 or lower (25.4%).
2011: 294 / 1210 scored 6.4 or lower (24.2%)
2012: 314 / 1256 scored 6.4 or lower (25% exactly)
2013: 305 / 1226 scored 6.4 or lower (24.87765%)
2014: 275 / 1224 scored 6.4 or lower (22.5%)
3 Called ‘The 50 Best Albums’, and no longer qualified as “based on the impassioned and knowledgable opinions of our writers and editors” but “Presenting our list of the Top 50 Albums of the Year. Records released this year and records that made their greatest impact in 2015 were eligible.” Filed, as in previous years, under Staff Lists.
4 D’Angelo’s album missed out as it was released after the list was compiled. Don;t expect to see it next year as
5 The best time of year to release an album in previous years:
2014 – October, followed by March (17 of the top 50 end of year albums)
2013 – October and May (16 out of 50).
2012 – October and April (17 out of 50)
2011 June and January (14 out of 50)
2010 May and September (15 out of 50).
Guilty pleasures? Pitchfork’s relationship with metal
Scoring 8.3 or above on Pitchfork, usually gets you a ‘Best New Music’ designation¹ and nearly always guarantees a place in their end of year top 50 albums. Unless you are a metal band.
Last year, five metal bands: Thou, Old Man Gloom, The Inter Arma, Tombs, and Agalloch scored 8.3 or above but missed out on the end of year list (and BNM designation). Only one non-metal act managed this feat (Detroit dance music producer Theo Parrish).
This year only one metal album² scored over 8.3, Tribulation’s The Children of The Night (8.4), but a surprising number just missed out. Of the 14 scores of 8.2 handed out six of them went to metal artists: Horrendous, VHOL, Dead to a Dying World, Krallice, Locrian,and Bell Witch. Is there a glass ceiling for metal bands?
I’m not expecting to see The Children of The Night make the end of year list (which is out due out later this week, possibly today) and expect it will be the highest scored album of new music not to make the list.
The question is, if you aren’t going to treat this genre of music as equal, why cover it at all? It’s not like they cover ever other genre, so why cover metal only to stick it in a ghetto?
I’m going to assume it’s some kind of brand perception issue, which frankly, is kind of depressing.
¹They’ve slightly muddied the water this year by giving a BNM to an album that scored 8.2, Empress Of’s Me
²I’m not including metal-influenced crossover acts like Baroness or Deafheaven
In The Pharmacy #92 – Late November 2015
New music from the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. New music from Shunkan (pictured), Grimes, TRAAMS, Mystic Braves, Male Gaze, King Gizzard and the Wizzard Lizzard, She-Devils, Soccer Team, Honey Radar, Nap Eyes, Bibio, Port St. Willow. Psych pop, psych rock, indie pop, indie rock, electronic pop, post-punk, and dreampop.
New Zealand indie rock outfit led by LA ex-pat Marina Sakimoto with a great shout-along highlight of debut album The Pink Noise (out now, Art is Hard).
Grimes ‘Kill V. Maim’
It’s fair to say that Grimes’ new album Art Angels has divided long time fans with its embrace of pop and rejection of the darker sounds prevalent on her breakthrough Visions. But like ‘Flesh Without Blood’ (ITP #91), this track seems to appeal to both old and new fans alike.
TRAAMS ‘Modern Dancing’
Opening track from the Chichester post-punk trio’s second album Grin (out now, FatCat).
Mystic Braves ‘5 Minute Dream Girl’
From the LA psychedelic pop band’s third album, Days of Yesteryear (out now digitally, physical release in February).
Male Gaze ‘Mr Wrong’
Taken from the San Franciso band’s debut Castleface album, the Spooneristically titled Gale Maze (out now).
King Gizzard and the Wizzard Lizzard ‘Sense’
Melbourne psychedelicists with a track from their second album of 2015, the mainly unplugged Paper Mâché Dream Balloon (out now, via Bandcamp).
[King Gizzard and the Wizzard Lizzard]
Montreal retro pop duo. Taken from their debut EP (out January 16).
Soccer Team ‘Nose to Chin’
Another stand out track from the DC-based indie rockers Real Lessons in Cynicism (out now, Dischord Records).
Honey Radar ‘Milk Maid’
Lo-fi jangle pop from Indiana band’s new single on Third Uncle records (out now).
Nap Eyes ‘Mixer’
Halifax, Nova Scotia band with a track from their forthcoming Thought Rock Fish Scale album (Feb 5, 2016, Paradise of Bachelors)
Warp-signed West Midlander electronic producer Stephen Wilkinson with psych pop folktronica. Taken from a yet to be titled new album due next year.
Port St. Willow ‘Ume’
First featured here back in June 2012 with ‘Amawalk’ (ITP #11) Port St, Willow (aka Brooklyn-based Nick Principe) returns with his follow-up to Holiday (2012), Syncope (out now, People Teeth).
[Port St. Willow]