Top 10 albums of 2015

For what it’s worth, here are my top 10 albums of the year.

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Sunn O)))

Kannon (Southern Lord)

More blissful brutality from the hooded Seattle drone masters. As opener, Kannon 1, smoulders like a glacial avalanche across almost 13 minutes, you can’t help but marvel at how something so slow and exquisitely static can be so powerful and heavy. This follow up to last year’s excellent Soused (which was a collaboration with Scott Walker) is in keeping with Sunn O)))’s punishing trademark minimalism and is best listened to loud, on headphones, and in one sitting with a glass or two of the hard stuff beside you ready to go.

Listen to Kannon here

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UMO

Multi Love (Jagjaguwar)

There’s nothing that sounds like UMO. And this third album is band leader Ruban Nielson’s most self assured and fully realised record to date. He well and truly nails down the lo fi, scratchy old sound, yet somehow makes it big, dynamic, and danceable. The cute and glitchy boogie woogie of Can’t Keep Checking My Telephone will have you and the kids dancing round the kitchen table for years to come, and the delightful whimsy of the album as a whole makes this one of the most irresistible records of the year. You really can’t help but multi love it.

Watch Can’t Keep Checking My Telephone

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Grimes

Art Angels (4AD)

Like a Taylor Swift album for freaks and weirdos. Or for old middle aged buggers like me who like their pop music a little twisted yet catchy. That’s Grimes for you. On the back of 2012’s Visions she was touted as one of the next big things – problem was, she didn’t have the songs to back it up. On Art Angels, with its vast sonic scope that takes in everything from the cooing head nodding pop of Flesh Without Blood through to the industrial clamour and double dutch of SCREAM, she could just be the new Taylor – only sicker, grimier, and better.

Watch Flesh Without Blood

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Napalm Death

Apex Predator – Easy Meat (Century Media)

An absolute brute of an album – and considering these guys have been making brutish, grinding, and cathartic metal for almost 30 years across 15 albums, that’s saying something. At times warped, with opener and title track a rigorous and disturbing listen, then unhinged (Smash A Single Digit moves from fast and heavy to harrowing), and always raging. But as with anything Napalm Death, the fury is tempered by the thrilling and fun chest beating music that they make.

Watch Smash A Single Digit

Kendrick_Lamar_-_To_Pimp_a_ButterflyKendrick Lamar

To Pimp A Butterfly (Top Dawg)

Yeah, yeah, he’s on everyone’s best of list I know. But the thing about Kendrick Lamar is he’s more than just a rapper. He’s a clever and wily vocalist, and a musician with a vision. To Pimp A Butterfly is so dizzying and dense, even after endless listens there’s still so much to discover. Although as quick fixes go, a song like King Kunta – with its beat, funk, and cocky vocal – is a stand out and candidate for track of the year.

Watch King Kunta

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Jamie XX

In Colour (Young Turks)

Similar to Kendrick Lamar’s King Kunta, Jamie XX’s Loud Places is a song you can listen to over and over. The soothing calm that escalates into an anthemic, loved up chorus, makes it a feel good hit of summer. But In Colour also indulges the producers love of awkward beats, dance oonst, and bits and pieces of sound, that he brings together to make the most intriguing and magical electronic music around.

Watch Loud Places

Deafheaven
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New Bermuda (ANTI-)

What do you do to follow up Sunbather, one of 2013’s most doted on records? Make a more intense album that’s more listenable of course. Yes, while the San Fransisco band, who mix black metal, beautiful metal, and shoe gaze, still let rip with outbursts of blood curdling screams, there’s a refined sense of clarity to this set of songs. For starters, the timing of when they stand on the throat of a song, and refuse to let go, is more calculated. Baby Blue builds beautifully in a Jakob vein before it is held down and plied with riffs and screams. At more than 10 minutes, never has a long song not been long enough. Thrilling stuff.

Listen to Baby Blue

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Mbongwana Star

From Kinshasa (World Circuit)

As you’d expect with music that comes from the streets of Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s raw, exciting, and has a relentless pulse running through the entire album. Mbongwana Star, which includes members of street band Staff Benda Bilili, take you to the heart of Kinshasa with the brain rattling bustle of Malukayi (featuring Konono No.1), Kimpala is unnerving yet alluring, and with Kala you finally arrive at the dance party. So pack your bags, this is one hell of a trip.

Watch Kala

Ghost_Culture_Album_ArtworkGhost Culture

Ghost Culture (Phantasy Sound)

This debut album from British electronica boffin James Greenwood mixes whimsy and melancholy (similar to the mood Damon Albarn’s The Good, The Bad, and The Queen project conjures), playful synths, and simmering trancey grooves with Answer sounding like Kraftwerk’s Autobahn has taken a detour through an endless field of flowers. The album also makes my top 10 list for the simple reason it’s one of the records I’ve listened to most this year, and because Greenwood is another current musician – like Jamie XX – whose making intriguing electronica with soul.

Watch Lucky by Ghost Culture

imgres-1Killing Joke

Pylon (Spine Farm)

Killing Joke continue their run of second career album highs with a record that harks back to the anthemic Love Like Blood-era on tracks like New Cold War and New Jerusalem, albeit underpinned with a more energetic grind and groove than the band’s mid 80s canon. However, Pylon escalates into a more frantic and intense mood where Jaz Coleman and the band do what they do best – and that’s whip up a lyrical maelstrom and a fine musical racket.

Listen to New Jerusalem

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Shellac – Live at Kings Arms

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The last time Shellac played in Auckland it was at the beautiful Mandalay ballroom in Newmarket in March 2001. Sadly the venue is long gone, but the memory of Shellac’s angular attack and searing assault has been etched permanently in the recesses of my rock’n’roll mind.

So the return of the band led by Steve Albini – the former frontman of nice’n’nasty noise makers Big Black, producer to the stars (Nirvana’s In Utero, Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, and, um, Bush), and the man whose lent a unique bite to the sound of numerous bands (Fugazi, Mogwai, and our own HDU to name a few) – is long awaited to say the least.

Indeed, that night at the Mandalay, Shellac were supported by HDU who were at the height of their volatile sonic tenure following the release of the Albani-produced Fire Works.

While HDU split up, and will reunite for next year’s Laneway, Shellac have never gone away and these days they are no different. Perhaps a little less confronting as people, but still musically abrasive, uncompromising, and riveting. It’s the sort of music that makes you feel tough.

In the 15 years since their last visit, Albini and band, also made up of drummer Todd Trainer and bass player Bob Weston, have only released two albums, including this year’s Dude Incredible. And they play some new songs, including the creepy stealth of album highlight, Riding Bikes, but the set is more of a trawl through the band’s beautifully caustic canon.

The mangled, throat wrecking shriek of Canada sets the tone for the night with classic Albini lines like, “Imagine there was a time your cigar was ironic. You’ve been at it so long, it’s chronic”.

Yet Shellac are just as capable of full blown theatrics and utter self-indulgence as they are of making their famously discordant racket.

The epic (and seemingly endless) End of Radio is a minimal masterpiece made up of Weston thrumming three chords, Albini soliloquising, and Trainer stalking the stage with a portable snare drum. It might sound a little pretentious, but it’s just Shellac toying with you, getting inside your head, and casting their spell of unease.

And besides, it’s not all serious music geek fodder. There are many laughs and even sentimental moments. During Weston’s impromptu Q&A sessions between songs we find out his favourite memory is the first time he kissed his wife.

But a Shellac show isn’t about telling stories, it’s about the songs. And few bands are capable of whipping songs into powerful pieces of ammunition like Shellac does tonight on My Black Ass from 1994’s At Action Park. It’s masterful, with guitar, drums and bass slugging it out in perfect unison.

You could even say, “Dude. Incredible”.