I’ve felt music like a puncture this year. In a good way. A release. The way a song, or just a note or sound can release something from inside. A breath out. Close my eyes and breathe out. Most of the music I want to point out from 2015 perform this function in some form, throughout a range of genres.
I don't know about you, but 2015 for me was a year of new friends and experiences, some difficult decisions, many good things and all-togethor, a rich depth of beauty that I can hardly do enough to appreciate now in hindsight . I am blessed to have what I have. Looking back through my favourite music from the year has been a good part of reflection.
As you will see, I am not choosing my favourite 2015 releases rather, these are the records that meant the most to me in 2015. A bit of a soundtrack to the year perhaps.
You might like them too.
Tragedy Will Find Us (2015)
It was late 2014 when I discovered Counterparts, a headline tour stopping just a quick pedal down the road from my house. With their national headline tour picking up some of my favourite local bands, I paid $10 for a ticket and witnessed one of the tightest performances I had ever seen and have seen since. Their new record came out some six months later, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one eagerly awaiting its release. Tragedy Will Find Us hit home immediately, with the singles Burn and Collapse leaving me wanting more and getting me even keener for the release of the full length. Another 6 months later, its become one of those albums that I keep coming back to. It just keeps hitting the spot. And it’s definitely my favourite heavy album of the year. This offering from Counterparts is a good example of what I love about heavy music. It’s a beautiful expression that other styles and genres don’t have.
Counterparts have their own sound. And its good. and the sound they have moved into with this record is good enough to build a record on. Tragedy Will Find Us displays this unique Counterparts sound in sublime execution. Within the album, there is really little deviation. It’s good. It’s a sound of depth that deserves a record such as this. As a whole, the construction of this album is what makes it such a beautiful thing for me. The movement in parts of melody, rhythm and tone, driven by an intensely powerful passion. It is clear the boys from Canada have spent quite some time on it. Once your tuned into this album, it is ridiculous how well it picks you up and carries you through emotionally. The whole album is just full of shiver moments.
The stirring guitar parts that particularly drive the likes of Burn and Tragedy quickly go into destroyer mode as distinct and recognisable Counterparts rhythms swing arms and rip holes into walls. The guitars dance in a stunning duet throughout the record, and alongside Bilans drums, it stands as a breathtaking sum of parts. What Bilan has written on drums accompanying the guitar work creates a phenomenal combination. Here we find real meat of their work I think. And live, it's this connection that provides the foundation for their incredible tight performance. With this record, Bilan has become one of my favourite drummers. Instrumentally, this record can break your heart. But as Murphy steps in, he tells you why, and puts words and gives personal direction to those feelings. His lyrics and delivery are raw and powerful with erratic perfection throughout as he switches between poetic outcry and a direct confrontation of some other. Murphy brings out the rage of my depths in Choke and the gut-wrenching cries of Solace that finish up the record are as genuine as they come.
Sometimes it’s just the small things, like the timing of the snare in and the changes in tempo that occur like a recurring motif throughout the record. Each song has a moment, where I stop and think “Woah wait up, what was that” and my ears turn their heads. I’m not sure its worth going into detail on these moments, I think its a personal thing. I hope you find some for yourself.
Source this record however you can legitimately, go for a drive and dive in deep into what it has to say.
I wish I were a better man, I am a coward masked in courage and just admitting this will not save me this time. So free me from my tired mind and let me learn the difference between a single tear and the runoff of an ocean. Weak and weary from my predatory nature. So bless me with abandonment in my greatest time of need.
(Lyrics from Stranger)
Stems Project (2012)
A compilation of fan-made remixes of Bon Iver's 2011 album, this record has really brought the groove this year. It probably made me dance more than anything else in the last twelve months. These songs spent some notable time filling the ambient space of my lounge room and my head. The original Bon Iver record is one of my all time favourites and this collaboration mix is like a beautiful evolution. It's a wonderful idea, allowing fans to contribute creatively to a work in this way.
Some songs work from the melodic foundation of the original tracks, some deviate strongly. The creative reconstruction and threads of smooth beats, aswell as a handful of new vocal parts complement Bon Iver's written pieces wonderfully. A couple of highlights for me are Teen Daze’s remix of Perth, and the work of Stop the Car on Towers.
Unfortunately its has been taken off most online distribution sources, but can still be found on Youtube in an unofficial playlist that contains most, if not all, of the songs.
Self Record (2005)
My love of this mans creativity is such that his work covers two of five records in this list (him being the primary song writing genius behind Bon Iver). Its been over ten years since its small-scale release and it feels almost a privilege to have to access to it. A few years older than his work in Bon Iver, this is an eclectic mix of acoustic and electronic, with live recordings and even a cover of Springsteen’s I’m on Fire. Given its variation, I took some time to enter and engage with this album but once I was in, it quickly became of my favourite records of the year, and one I’ve spent alot of quiet time with. Self-Record gives hints of what we would soon find in his highly acclaimed Bon Iver releases, and strong links to his blues roots.
Theres a rawness, a realness to this record. Some songs like Sweet Magdalene and Sides tell powerful and sad stories of love and betrayal. And others, Vernon has also chosen to not exclude bits and pieces from the studio recordings which, for me, act as a reminder of the person behind the songs. In this way, they reveal to me more of the artist, after I fell in love with his popular works.
It's on Youtube here.
Like a whisper in a lonely town, you brush it off but it's so loud. That's your ticker, wishing don't give up. This is more than can fill you up. More than this I would ask in turn, minds too busy to stop and learn. Slight of hand and a gentle push, the lines of promise turn to crush.
Sell my car to the moving man. I’m the sea and you're japan. No great morning, no rising sun. No gatsby in me, I’m running from.
(Lyrics from The Orient And The Gatsby's Slew Of Choices)
Carrie and Lowell (2015)
In Carrie and Lowell Stevens explores the nature of desire, love and loss in a record that was pieced together two years after his mother passed away. It is said that the lips of the poets are so formed that when they cry out in grief, beautiful music comes out. And when we ask them to sing again, we ask more tragedies to befall them (adapted quote). It’s albums like this that can help us deal with grief in our own lives. A deeply personal expression of childhood memories and core relationships in question, Carrie and Lowell demands you stop and take a breath, sit down on a couch and close your eyes.
This is Stevens’ most stripped back work, built with rawly recorded strips of acoustic guitar and piano alongside his haunting voice. Carrie and Lowell poetically tells the story of his family and reveals his struggle of scattered connection with his mother, and role of his step-father.
Should I tear my eyes out now? Before I see too much. Should I tear my arms out now? I want to feel your touch. Should I tear my eyes out now? Everything I see returns to you somehow. Should I tear my heart out now? Everything I feel returns to you somehow.
(Lyrics from Eugene)
Given my work with Newcastle musicians in the last couple of years, there was always going to be something locally-made in this mix. And I couldn’t go past Integration.
Tim and this record really took me by surprise last year. I was shooting The Sounds of Newcastle, he contacted me with an application and I found his album online. The beautiful and unique music Tim has self-produced in these tracks are a spectacle of wonder. Having not heard of him previously, and noticing he didn’t have huge Facebook following (it turns out he has more fans overseas via the soundcloud community), I was a little stunned by the depth of quality in the record, both musically and production-wise. I could hear the tribute his music gave to Imogen Heap, and he reminded me of James Blake; both very good things. I began to spend more time with the album, and dived deeper into its emotional and lyrical riches.
Later that year, Tim went on to really impress me with his live performance, giving a wonderful contribution to the web series, and we produced a music video together for the deluxe release of the record. It was a privilege to collaborate visually with his work. Meeting and sharing life and ideas with Tim gave me a glimpse not only into the amount of that went into the record, but exactly how much it means to him personally.
The songs are bursting with breathtaking melodic and atmospheric creativity. Tim has mixed and beautifully twisted all kinds of sounds from life and applied his voice to establish spaces of wonder, introspect and hope.
Please, allow yourself sometime to open this book. Perhaps a still, dark place next to a window with a view that stretches to a horizon beyond sight.
Nils Frahm and Olafur Arnalds // are Frendz (2015)
Damien Rice // My Favorite Faded Fantasy (2014)
Nathaniel Rateliff // In Memory of Loss (2010) and Falling Faster Than You Can Run (2013)
Night Beds // Country Sleep (2013)
David Ramirez // Apologies (2012)
Jarryd James // Thirty One (2015)
Byren // In Solitude, Least Alone (2015)
Jason Lowe // Jason Lowe (2012)
Noah Gunderson // Carry the Ghost (2015)
Kiasmos // Kiasmos (2014)
Vancouver Sleep Clinic // Winter (2014)