Music 2015, a quarterly report


Driving, running, and writing, music is my major backdrop.

In 2015’s first three months, I’ve listened to perhaps 70 new albums — many of them not all the way through but some many times over — and here is what I still like.

Catchiest song: While I don’t favour the Death Cab for Cutie album overall, Black Sun has been a repeated play for weeks now.

Best discoveries: Desperate Journalist, a thrashing rock foursome from England with a female singer who channels Morrissey at times; Ibeyi, Cuban-French twin sisters with jazz, beats and Latin flavour behind wonderful voices; James Bay, a British singer who has a great sense of melody; Petite Noir, a South African modern pop singer.

Most intriguing concept album: Public Service Broadcasting’s The Race for Space, which samples speeches, ground control-to-spaceship conversations and propaganda from the 1960s venture to outer limits and embeds them in mostly lush sound with the occasional funk detour.

Best collaboration: The Chopin Project from Ólafur Arnalds and Alice Sara Ott, striking and lovely interpretations of the classical compositions, with a little bit of their playfulness in the mix.

One-word welcome-backs of great recordings: Bill Fay (warmth), Drake (drama), Godspeed You! Black Emperor (intensity), Laura Marling (electrified), Sufjan Stevens (grounded).

Album most of the 21st century: Future Brown, the self-titled debut from the Los Angeles-based production group, which grafts music from every continent but Antarctica. A truly global-sounding hip-hop recording.

The most talked-about: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly will take some time to unpack, but it plays like a novel, a documentary and a stage production at once. It is the most insightful music I heard in the year.

Two great rugged records: Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, is an exceptionally sharp and droll recording, laced with Aussie attitude; Waxahatchee’s Ivy Tripp is a great step forward for Katie Crutchfield and places her in the front ranks of emerging American writers.

Which brings me to: Björk, and Vulnicura, my favourite by far so far in 2015. Memo to the world: Don’t break up with her, because she will get the last word. While her recent work flagged from excessive experiment, Vulnicura is accessible, stirring, sentimental, angry and sorrowful. Its centrepiece, the extraordinary 10-minute Black Lake, is as strong as anything she’s produced. And, paired with producer Arca, the blend of electronic and strings doesn’t render a weak moment.


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