Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to be sharing our top 5s of 2015, from everyone who writes here at The Lost Lighthouse. This time Adam goes through his favourite 5 albums of the year.
I’m taking a quick break from the depths of writing my PhD thesis to write about some of the things I actually cared about this year. This time it’s my favourite albums released in 2015. I spend a lot of time listening to music while I work (more soundtracks this year than normal, I’ll get to that later) so it was fairly difficult to narrow this list down!
5. If I Should Go Before You – City and Colour
I’ve been a Dallas Green fan for a long time now. I have an Alexisonfire tattoo, that band being one of my very favourites (despite the whole ‘we’re back but not really’ thing this year) and Green’s voice is a large part of that. I think his vocals are one of the most unique in modern music, and he’s certainly one of if not my actual favourite singers. Green’s solo project has in it’s own right always been a love of mine too, its gut-wrenching and sombre songs cutting right to the core of the howling abyss where my emotions should probably be. His sophomore album Bring Me Your Love is one of my desert island discs, which I was very kindly given this year on vinyl for Christmas.
This year he and his band released their fifth studio album If I Should Go Before You (marvelously depressing album title), and it’s pretty good! I’d say it’s their best since Little Hell. It opens with the slow burning (if a little self indulgent) ‘Woman’, and threads through a series of blues tinged country-folk songs about love and death, without a skippable track on the record. The tracks that hit me the most are the confusingly titled ‘Mizzy C’ which has mind-blowingly good bluesy vocal work in the last chorus, the incredibly depressing titular track ‘If I Should Go Before You’ and the stripped down and ethereal closer ‘Blood’. The latter to me is the strongest track on the album, as it harkens back to the first couple of City and Colour albums. The last two or three haven’t hit me as hard as his earlier records, which is why this latest one only makes it to fifth on my list.
4. Shedding Skin – Ghostpoet
I was first introduced to Ghostpoet a few years ago by a good friend of mine, whom I only share a slightly overlapping music taste with (the above being one of them) but he has an uncanny knack of recommending artists to be that I may not ordinarily come across but end up loving. I fell in love with ‘Survive This’, and when I saw Shedding Skin pop up on Spotify I gave it a listen straight away.
It’s a haunting, almost lackadaisical trip of an album that leans and sways and feels like it’s telling a story I haven’t quite figured out yet, relayed over late night drinks. Obaro Ejimiwe’s soft vocals laid over the thick, dense music makes for a really atmospheric experience. The track I enjoy the most is probably ‘The Pleasure in Pleather’, which just builds and builds while dripping with mood, but really the whole album is excellent.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road Soundtrack – Junkie XL
I mentioned that I’ve listened to a lot of soundtracks this year, largely because music with vocals is distracting when I’m trying to work. This album is actually not a good example of music I can listen to while working, I tend to get more done listening to MCU soundtracks like Age of Ultron or Ant-Man (or more recently the excellent John Williams score for The Force Awakens). So while I may have ended up listening to those albums the most, Junkie XL’s score for the incredible Mad Max: Fury Road is probably the best and most enjoyable of the year for me.
Part of the enjoyment is obviously that it evokes the film it scores, which I think for many is one of the best genre films of the year (more on that in a couple of days with my top 5 films. Spoiler: Fury Road is one of them). But on the flip side, a big part of what made the film so good was the excellent score. Junkie XL’s soundtrack is thumping, claustrophobic and brooding, setting the mood for relentless action. For me the stand out track is ‘Storm is Coming’, again probably because it lays in the background of one of the best scenes of the movie, but it’s just a storming (forgive me), hugely atmospheric piece of music.
2. The Color Before the Sun – Coheed and Cambria
Coheed are one of my favourite bands, certainly out of the ones who are actually still actively making music. Claudio Sanchez and company make hugely ambitious, progressive rock music that is inventive and fist-pumping in it’s intensity at the same time. For me, that’s enough. But on top of that, all of their albums up until now have formed part of a high-concept sci-fi story that I’m still trying to piece together. It helps that I finally understand the right order to follow in terms of the plot (not at all in order of release). This year’s The Color Before the Sun was the first album that Coheed have done that wasn’t part of this sprawling sci-fi concept work, eschewing it for a slightly poppier album lyrically dealing with various changes in Sanchez’s life.
The result of this shake up (which I enjoyed, but am glad that the moody and proggy sci-fi concept will return) is a more light-hearted affair that is admittedly more connected to reality and ultimately feels more personal. The album is more hopeful, despite lyrics like “nobody gives a fuck who you are” in ‘You’ve Got Spirit Kid’. The opener ‘Island’ is insanely uplifting, even if lyrically it sounds overwhelmed and panicked, and the closer ‘Peace to the Mountain’ is more pondering and accepting. ‘Atlas’ is definitely the strongest track on the album, a massively energetic and brutally honest song about Sanchez’s worries regarding missing his son when he’s away on tour. Great stuff.
1. Grievances – Rolo Tomassi
My favourite album of this year is also the heaviest by quite a long stretch. Rolo Tomassi are an insanely inventive mathcore band with jazz sensibilities. Fronted by Eva Spence and her brother James, the visceral vocals from the pair are combined with intricate timings and aggressive moody music. I usually manage to catch them on tour once or twice a year, and they are superb live.
This year’s Grievances is their most cohesive album to date, but that doesn’t make it any less experimental than their previous efforts. ‘Estranged’ opens up the album like someone grabbed you by the back of the head and just kept punching you for two and a half minutes, and others like ‘Stage Knives’ are face-melters too (and me and my buddy Chris instinctively air drum the immensely satisfying splash near the end of the song), while calm interludes or more reserved songs like ‘Opalescent’ serve as calms before the next storm. As good as the closing ‘All That Has Gone Before’ is (and Rolo Tomassi are excellent at huge atmospheric album closers), my favourite track on the album and favourite song of the year is the penultimate ‘Funereal’. It’s just a brilliant layered track with so many moving parts rammed into its five minutes that never feel crowded or like a different song entirely, building to a beautifully discordant climax.