My favorite genre!
This is where numbers tend to fail. There are no reasonable metrics to compare the music of John Zorn with that of other composers. I've never put any of his works in year-end lists before, probably because he is so separate from everything else and ideally his entire body of work is a single ever-evolving organism, the "album of the life", in Kanye parlance. This new Simulacrum trio project must be acknowledged, though. Its praises must be sung. It seems to have shaken John Medeski right out of his middle-aged happy cocktail jazz phase and back into realms of dark experimentation, which in itself is great news. It plays to the math-grind strengths of Cleric guitarist Matt Hollenberg. And since drummer Kenny Grohowski evidently has no stylistic weaknesses, this trio was bound to be brilliant. As list season approached, I figured I would end up arbitrarily choosing one of the three albums this group put out this year--and honestly, you could combine them as my number two album of 2015 if you want--but in the end, the addition of one of my favorite bass players on Earth, Trevor Dunn, and all-around curmudgeon wizard genius Marc Ribot on guitar, sets The True Discoveries Of Witches And Demons slightly above the other two. This is Zorn's most metallic endeavor in quite some time, and a truly synergistic combo has emerged. I'm not sure if they're finished after three albums or not; these are guys who flit from band to band like, well, people who want to make a living playing un-mass-marketable music, but congrats to everyone involved on making some astounding music.
There's no way to claim Simulacrum is better than Floating Points, though, even though I'm sort of doing it. I had planned on putting FP's Elaenia album in the electronic section; it does play like an experimental ambient album, especially on the first couple listens, and of course it is the work of one mastermind, DJ Sam Shepherd. Over time, though, the jazz elements start to stand out (IS THIS NU JAZZ), the remarkable percussive finesse, and the gorgeous string parts in "For Marmish", and then the post-rock rush of the finale comes along and you just throw up your hands. Every time I hear "Peroration Six" begin I feel a twinge of panic--NO, IT CAN'T BE OVER ALREADY...so Shepherd has no choice but to start his next album exactly where this one left off, and I don't know if I can ever feel complete as a human being until he releases it.
On a somewhat similar computer/wood hybrid thing, only also completely different, there's this Vessels album called Dilate. It's much more upbeat and danceable, frequently similar to something electrojam bands like STS9 or Future Rock might create--but don't worry, The Quietus reviewed this album so you can admit that you listened to it. We're talking about a post-rock band transitioning into EDM and sounding like it's all they've been doing it for years. I can't think of another example of this phenomenon; even Mogwai's electronic elements were merely there to serve their usual M.O., not as a new direction per se. Dilate is very refreshing in every respect, even if it's only my distant second-favorite album called Dilate.
There was a great album that came out last spring that enticed me by claiming a pedigree of ex-Xiu Xiu members, and it turned out to sound absolutely nothing like Xiu Xiu. At the time, silly springtime me thought for sure this would be a top-tenner, largely because it was so different from anything I could think of. Peptalk's Islet is a mostly lighthearted and quirky bunch of instrumental tunes, and even though it didn't turn out to be important or mind-blowing, I juuuuuust love it. Instant cheer-up, like 'look what these cool imaginative people have created for probably not enough money to live on, to brighten my day'. Faith in the universe: restored.
I realize that Kamasi Washington's The Epic can easily be categorized as jazz, but since it's the only jazz album any major music publication has written a word about since the sixties, I don't feel bad lumping it in here. Cheers to Kendrick for making the press aware that jazz still exists! And if this is what it sounds like these days, holy shit. The album title is more about the power of it than the length, but it's the length that has prevented me from justifying a vinyl purchase thus far...hello, tax return? There have been times while listening to this album that I've been overwhelmed, like a psychedelic experience that goes a little harder than you were ready for. It's glorious. In my experience, unprecedented. But what do I know.
Have you guys heard of rate your music dot com? I love that site. I'm sad that I only have like two friends who utilize it. It's how I discovered Mbongwana Star's From Kinshasa, because early in the year it was ranked highly on the charts. It's this crazy prog-African (according to RYM, its genre is “tradi-modern”; really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) masterpiece that I might never have heard if a bunch of RYM nerds hadn't rated it so highly. (Okay, yes, The Quietus reviewed this one, too, but still.) So yes, this album blows away all zero other albums made in the Congo that I've ever heard. Whatever genre it is, it's the best example of it of all time, landing it squarely somewhere in my top twenty for 2015.
What's that? You say you're sensing sarcasm? No, not exactly. It's more like an incredulous delirium at the limitless potential for future music discovery for this sheltered Wisconsinite. I'm through lamenting the devaluation of music. I'm gonna keep buying it and so will others who give a shit. To hell with the rest of you. Meanwhile, look at what the omnipresence of all musicks is already doing for our lilwaukee scene. The best bands in town are fusing cultures and genres to create ridiculous new movements that could never have happened ten years ago. It could be all subconscious but it's real. Let's be clear, the world is going to shit, but in music we are thriving like crazy, in our little community here we are rising up. Let's see if we can time our artistic peak with the moment of planetary collapse. It might be a way off, so let's keep cranking, okay?
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
1. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly
2. John Zorn/Simulacrum: The True Discoveries Of Witches And Demons
3. Floating Points: Elaenia
4. Lanterns On The Lake: Beings
5. Zatokrev: Silk Spiders Underwater
6. Death Grips: The Powers That B
7. Blanck Mass: Dumb Flesh
8. Vince Staples: Summertime '06
9. Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa
10. Chelsea Wolfe: Abyss
11. Kamasi Washington: The Epic
12. Panopticon: Autumn Eternal
13. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell
14. Larry Gus: I Need New Eyes
15. Dungen: Allas Sak
16. Jamie xx: In Colour
17. Krallice: Ygg Huur
18. Oneohtrix Point Never: Garden Of Delete
19. Vessels: Dilate
20. Pyramids: A Northern Meadow
CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATORY LAST.FM STATISTICAL MOST-LISTENED-TO ALBUMS OF 2015
1. Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp a Butterfly
2. Dogs In Ecstasy — Welcome 2 Hell
3. D'Angelo — Black Messiah
4. Group of the Altos — r u person or not
5. Midwives — Midwives
6. Wilco — Roadcase 044 - 2012-12-11 Chicago, IL
7. Vince Staples — Summertime '06
8. The Scarring Party — End Times
9. Flying Lotus — You're Dead
10. Peptalk — Islet
11. Tame Impala — Currents
12. Liz Phair — Exile in Guyville
13. The Delphines — Hush
14. Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell
15. Mount Eerie — Sauna
16. U2 — Songs of Innocence
17. Stone Temple Pilots — No. 4
18. Mbongwana Star — From Kinshasa
19. Midnight Reruns — Force Of Nurture
20. Platinum Boys — Future Hits
(tie!) John Lennon — John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band