The fact that most of my selections lean towards ambient, or quiet, music must say something about where I’m at in my life. I really do crave ambient music as a way to help form a type of isolation. A stretch of silence away from the daily grind of digital culture and the media madness we’re faced with every minute of the day. Maybe I’m just getting older, fulfilled with my comfort level for noise and loud music. Even a great record like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly just didn’t resonate with me because I simply can’t relate to the aggressive nature of the lyrical content. (Compare that to 1989, when I couldn’t stop listening to It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy.) Nowadays hip hop, or rock, has to have a laidback vibe for me to really get into it. If there are lyrics, they have to be enigmatic and loose—generating rhythm and melody. The quiet mix sets me at ease, so I’m open and available to work, read, sleep, dream, whatever. Noise canceling was a must for me in 2015, so with a good pair of headphones and this stellar mix in hand, the world was manageable and I was in control.
In no particular order…the best albums of 2015
Rachel Grimes – The Clearing (Temporary Residence)
Filled with a series of “airs” that string the record into a whole piece, Rachel Grimes took risks, outed her jazz tendencies, and gave us one of the best records of the year. This is classical music for the digital generation. Grimes sounds as though she’s out at sea on an emotional raft swirling in minimalism, avant-garde and experimentation, a journey to be had.
Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Starts (Sub Pop)
The better of two great albums released this year by the best indie band of the moment. This one leans towards a raw, sparse, minimal sound that at times playfully winks at Cocteau Twins and the spaced out vibe of shoegazing.
Suzanne Kraft – Talk From Home (Melody As Truth)
Quiet, dense, retro and American. Suzanne Kraft is LA-based producer Diego Herrera making beautiful instrumental music that at times had me wondering if I was listening to some lost TV soundtrack from the 1980s.
Jonny Nash – Exit Strategies (Melody As Truth)
When I spoke to Jonny Nash earlier in the year he had transported his life to Bali, surprisingly before these two perfect EPs were
released. They sound like a man hovering near a beach in Bali combing the sand for pebbles and jetsam. A drifter doesn’t have to go out to sea, he just has to wander, and this is the soundtrack to a wandering spirit.
Destroyer – Poison Season (Merge Records)
Too deep for the indie world, and too cynical for the pop world, Dan Bejar’s Destroyer will forever be misunderstood. With hints of Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen, Bejar went on a limb adding showtunes, rock, pop, lots of horns and great attitude to his already growing arson of talent.
Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness (Domino)
This is a testament to artist development and maturation. With three heavily experimental records behind her, Holter felt comfortable knocking on Pop’s door but remained dedicated to her art-house roots. Check out the strings on the opener “Feel.” No one can touch her right now—she’s Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, and Laurie Anderson all rolled into one.
Bambi Davidson – Brunswick (Claremont 56)
A late discovery from one of the best labels around, Claremont 56. German, Electronic, Motorik, all the fixings for a Krautrock classic, in 2015. Go figure.
Colleen – Captain of None (Thrill Jockey)
This record is so unique compared to anything you’ve heard this year. Who else uses a viola fed through effects to get their sound? It’s a breath of fresh air—what sounds electronic and synthetic is actually quite organic and rich with texture.
Len Leise – Lingua Franca (International Feel Recordings)
One of the most overlooked records this year came out of Melbourne, but oozing with Balearic sleight of hand. This is a great electronic record that can fit nicely into any downtempo mix but still feel exploratory and deep.
Goldmund – Sometimes (Western Vinyl)
When melodies live outside of vocals like this they seep under your skin. Keith Kenniff has been releasing Goldmund records with little fanfare over the last 10 years. He deserves an award for the wonderful work he’s doing under this moniker and also as Helios. When I spoke to him about his music I was struck by the hard working ethos of being a musician in today’s downloadable world.