It’s December again, and the world is just as fucked as ever. Possibly slightly more, possibly slightly less. I guess it’s easy to lose track of these things without an ordered list to tell you what to think.Having been precariously perched on the 2015 bar stool for quite some time now, we’ll soon be staring down the menacing barrel of 2016. So how best to celebrate yet another successful orbit around the Sun?
We thought about publishing an objectively correct ranking of the year’s best records. But sadly we couldn’t get hold of any doof doof scientists to determine what the metrics should be. Instead, we’ve fallen back on our Top 8 Whatevers. You know the score – our trusted team of R$N scribes pitch in with lists of music they’ve enjoyed, petty grievances they want to air, obscure interests they want to highlight. Basically whatever’s on their mind. Let’s do this. Here's Chris's Top 8 albums of 2015:
THE PRE NEW - THE MALE EUNUCH
The Pre New's second album saw them kicking against the pricks in a gloriously grumpy old man kind of way. Formed from the ashes of two sorely missed acts, Earl Brutus and World of Twist, the Pre New touch on the sound of both bands, but without nostalgia, or genre boundaries getting in the way. The Male Eunuch throws itself into all kinds of sound, grinding krautrock, pounding electro, The Fall when they were good, they even manage to blag themselves a tune by adding the clanking sound of an MRI machine over the hymn Jerusalem.
Throwing in references to various Farrow and Ball paint colours, Asos, estate agents, amazing song titles like “Middle Class Heavy Metal on Antidepressants”, and thoroughly unsavoury characters such as Heroin Stan (“stabbed his mam”), this is middle-aged angst set to music, taking no prisoners, no stone left unturned.
TAMARYN - CRANEKISS
The reverbed monochrome fug of Tamaryn’s two previous albums - 2010’s The Waves and Tender New Signs two years later were nowhere to be seen on her third album Cranekiss. A kind of shiny gothic pop treat, guitars were mainly put to one side as synths, electronics and reverbed shimmers were brought to the fore. The title track uses the kind of harsh beats that made School of Seven Bells stand out so much, while the likes of “Hands All Over Me” plunders through that overused bag of arpeggiated Moroder sounds to come up with something that sounds like Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” covered by Trent Reznor. The grey of her past material has now been splattered with glorious technicolour, good move as this is her best album so far.
PALE BLUE - THE PAST WE LEAVE BEHIND
When Mike Simonetti announced he was starting a new label (Two Mikes Records) with Mike Sniper, the quality expectation was high, as you’d expect with Simonetti’s previous involvement with the Italian’s Do It Better imprint, and Sniper being in charge of the Captured Tracks label.
The Pale Blue album, a collab with Elizabeth Wight of Silver Hands takes its cue from the IDIB label’s key act, Chromatics. The majority of tracks on this album could quite easily sit on either of the Chromatics albums if they’d moved towards a dancier slant. The same components are here, the monotone vocals, the unexpected cover versions (the track “Tougher” is a reinterpretation of Bruce Springsteen’s 1987 cut “Tougher Than The Rest”), the icy atmospherics…the late night disco tension. With Johnny Jewel failing on his promise to release on the long awaited third Chromatics this February, Pale Blue took an opportunistic chance to fill in the gap and passed with flying colours.
KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS - NOW I'M READY
Greek duo Keep Shelly In Athens (named after Kypseli, in Athens) effectively split after their impressive 2012 debut “At Home” with vocalist Sarah P leaving to pursue a solo career. Luckily producer RnR saw there were plenty more Shelly’s in the sea and just went off and found another vocalist who sounded just like her. Shoegaze tinged guitars, heartbroken synths played as strings, jittery new wave pop, lounge, drum n’ bass, Middle Eastern mysticism and kitchen sinks are all thrown into the mix, coming up with a collection of mascara stained pop music that you’ll keep going back to.
SPECTRES - DYING
Before the needle hits, you can guess where this debut from Devon born, Bristol based band is going. The album title, the grimy black and white sleeve depicting what looks like a man about to drown... there’s even a track called "This Purgatory”. We don’t need any further clues - these definitely aren’t your 'popular at parties' kinda guys. This aint the kind of album to put on and have on in the background, you have to mentally prepare for this, its loud, dirgy, some of it isn’t even that pleasant, which makes the challenge of listening to it especially satisfying. MBV, The Mary Chain, Loop, Sonic Youth, all at their most discordant inform the content of “Dying”. However, scratch beneath the intimidating, claustrophobic surface and you’ll find surprising amounts of melody, something they showed off with their alternative James Bond theme, “Spectre”, they’re called Spectres…see? Extra points for killing various Radio One ‘personalities’ in this vid too.
LONELADY - HINTERLAND
There was little indication back in 2010 that inside Julie Campbell AKA LoneLady, laid a dormant pop star just waiting to make a collection of sleek pop songs, entrenched in funk, designed to make you dance but Hinterland was just that. A love letter to her Manchester home, the cold industrialism of Manchester bleeds through these tracks. Not the shiny new Manchester of posh bars and shiny architecture, more the grey Manchester of 1982, failed nights at the Hacienda, Factory Records album tracks from the likes of Section 25 and A Certain Ratio, and visions of dirty rain coats flapping in the wind.
The full fat funk of lead single “Groove It Out” is a kind of twenty-first century reboot of Moloko's “Sing It Back”, her lost, lonely quiver on the dramatic “Flee!” provides a dramatic highlight, her vocals close, but also detached, perfectly matching the John Cale influenced viola drone and the sounds of distant, efficient machinery. Informed by ESG’s New York cool, Martin Hannett’s icy vision of a 70's Manchester, the heavy basslines of The Slits, and forgotten Italo tracks from 1983, LoneLady came up with an evocative pop record full of complexity and heavy on the groove.
GIRL BAND - HOLDING HANDS WITH JAMIE
After a couple of years of being an OK band, the Dublin four piece seemed to transform into a screaming mess of brilliant existential angst at the same time as their horror-rock cover of Blawan’s “Why They Hide Their Bodies in My Garage”. Using the same kind of approach as minimal techno, Girl Band, used the 4/4 drum patterns to underpin vocalist Dara Keily’s inner turmoil to thrilling effect. “Pears for Lunch” is a note of his activities while suffering a mental breakdown – binge eating “garlic, cheese, curry, chips” while having sad wanks to the show Top Gear. But the highlight on Holding Hands with Jamie is the track “Paul”, a brooding seven minutes of Keily’s howling over a thrilling aural head-fuck of vomit inducing basslines and blistering white noise, the accompanying Chris Cunningham influenced video will make sure you never see Peppa Pig in the same light. If death had a sound, it’d be pretty similar to this.
THE SOFT MOON - DEEPER
Luis Vasquez’s debut album as The Soft Moon back in 2010 was a creeped-out fusion of krautrock merged with the electronic sounds of cold wave and mid ‘80’s EBM, drenched in misery. After a mis-step with 2012’s Zeros (more of the same, just not as good), he decamped to Berlin where he now resides. That muse re-discovering act that has worked for so many others in the past also worked for Vasquez, Deeper is his most focused work to date. The eager rush of "Far", like The Cure on speed, is testament to this (it even has something resembling a chorus), the despair of "Waste" plunges the same kind of depths that Smashing Pumpkins did so well on their '98 album, Adore. “Feel”, a propulsive, driving piece of new wave synth rock might be the most accessible track musically, but its Vasquez at his most sullen (“I feel like I’m dying inside / I feel so shallow inside / why are we alive?”). Suicide, paranoia, inner turmoil, feelings of worthlessness, it’s all here for our delectation. His pain: our gain.