by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Spotify continues to impact hugely on how we access music these days. This year I found it massively difficult to select the albums that might merit a spot on my Top 10 for 2015 as, in most cases, I listened to playlists and individual tracks and therefore missed the overall effect of a fully integrated album of songs. In fact to compile this list I had to track backwards from individual songs to the album that spawned them and then re-evaluate the collection as a whole.
As usual this list is not ranked. As usual, too, it’s highly influenced by a small number of “miglior fabbri” (to paraphrase T.S. Eliot quoting Dante) whose musical palette is a lot more sophisticated and discerning than my own. So big thanks to Nialler9, Dara Lawlor, Andrew Basquille and Taylor Black. @735Songs aka Tony Curtis is excused in 2015 on account of far more important fatherly duties.
John Howard & The Night Mail, John Howard & The Night Mail
I don’t recall where or how I found this album but now it’s on this year’s list. John Howard is a come-back artist having first come to prominence in 1975 with Kid in a Big World, considered a chamber pop masterpiece. This eponymous album is a collection of great pop songs with clever lyrics that tell stories recalling the likes of The Kinks and The Divine Comedy. Piano is prominent in the mix giving the album an early Elton John feel.
Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
Most lists that I’ve looked at for 2015 include this album and it’s no surprise. It’s an extraordinary paen to loss and grief delivered in that characteristic Sufjan Stevens lo-fi style with gentle, whispered vocals. You feel you’re an intimate confidante of a most private event and you feel both uncomfortable and privileged as a result. This is definitely NOT an album to get your party going but it’s testimony to the power of music to transform profound pain into something poignantly beautiful.
Kasey Musgrave, Pageant Material
Like Taylor Swift, Kasey Musgrave started writing original country songs as a child. Unlike Taylor Swift, she keeps the traditional country idiom but challenges the conventional country notions of feminine beauty, high hair and fake smiles. “I ain’t pageant material” she sings in the title track stating that she’s often higher than her hair. This is a brilliant album of great songs laced with attitude.
EL VY, Return to the Moon
Matt Berninger’s distinctive baritone is the de facto signature of his band, The National. EL VY is a side project (a very common thing these days!) with Brent Knopf of Menomena/Ramona Falls (neither of whom I know) which effectively frees both from the defining sound of their day job and allows some playful experimentation. You’ll hear snatches of Talking Heads and early Beck in here and that’s not a bad thing at all. There’s relief here from the heavy but often beautiful doom and gloom of The National with flippant but ultimately hilarious lyrics on tracks such as “I’m the Man to be”.
Austin Plaine, Austin Plaine
I owe Taylor Black of Extraordinary Events for this recommendation. This is Austin Plaine’s debut and it’s a wonderfully mature collection of fine songs in the folk – pop vein, recalling Josh Rouse and Josh Ritter. With a prominent Bruce Springsteen-esque rock’n’roll chin and a great contemporary Nashville sound, Austin Plaine is destined for stardom and I’m thrilled to have announced it here. Austin, apparently, is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota but has put Law School on hold while he pursues this new musical dream.
Tame Impala, Currents
Australian band Tame Impala is really another name for writer, musician and producer Kevin Parker who does everything on this album, Tame Impala’s third. The press compare his voice to John Lennon and it’s a fair comparison. I came to the album retrospectively tracking back there from “The Less I know the better” a super track I found on Spotify with an incredible bass line and white disco groove. The 7 minute opening track “Let it happen” could be New Order with its heavy electro-pop and searching lyrics.
Jack Garratt, Worry and Various Singles
Here’s the impact of Spotify once again. Jack Garratt hasn’t yet completed a full length album but, during 2015, released a bunch of singles and EPs that I listened to repeatedly, especially the singles, “Weathered” and “Worry”. The album, “Phase” will be out mid February and could be for 2016 what Hozier’s debut was for 2014. Garratt writes brilliant songs that fuse guitar singer-songwriter sounds with soaring electronica. He’s confirmed for the Electric Picnic next September but watch his star rise in 2016.
Ryan Adams, 1989
Ryan Adams has never failed to break the mould. Here’s one of contemporary music’s most respected original singer-songwriters covering an entire album by a mainstream female pop artist! The result is an outstanding album that showcases both Ryan Adams profound musicianship and interpretative skills while uncovering new meaning, darkness and depth in the apparently frivolous pop songs of Taylor Swift and her co-writers. Just listen to what he does to “Shake it off” – suddenly it sounds like a Bruce Springsteen song.
Grimes, Art Angels
Much more accessible than her previous albums, Art Angels is Canadian, Claire Boucher’s, fourth release. It’s a can’t-stand-still collection of wonderful synth-pop tracks with guest appearances by rapper Aristophanes and Janelle Monaé. This album is great value with 14 pulsating, dance-oriented numbers that’ll insinuate themselves into your brain and play repeatedly in there.
Friends of Emmet, The Happening Sea
Sometimes bands needs to leave their hometown to find success. This is what happened with Irish bands The Script and Kodaline and it looks like it’ll happen with Friends of Emmet too. Dublin formed, but now LA resident, FOE released their debut album in 2014 but I didn’t discover it until 2015 via the EP, “The Happening Sea”. This is classic guitar-band, A.O.R. rock with Bruce Springsteen sounding vocals and there’s nothing wrong with that!
Also Appreciated …
This is the fifth successive post on my favourite albums of the year. Check out previous posts on Best of … here: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011. I usually name check other albums that I’ve liked this year so here they are: Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I sit and think and Sometimes I just sit; Marc Carroll, Love is all or Love is not at all; Destroyer, Poison Season; Silversuns Pickups, Better Nature; Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Alone in the Universe; Gus Garvey, Courting the Squall; Kurt Vile, b’lieve I’m going down; The Butcherettes, A Raw Youth
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua. SoolNua is a boutique consultancy offering strategy, marketing and training for venues, destinations and hotels.