Part one Albums 20-11 appeared a couple of days ago. Now the Top ten.
A couple more near misses though. Tamikrest put out an excellent live album for Record Store Day but in the absence of new material it didn’t quite fit the Top 20. From the same part of the world many lists have included Africa Express presents In C Mali but the digital version was out in 2014 and was high up last year’s ranking for me.
10 Drenge – Undertow
Muscular new wave now with added bass on another second album to make this list. At times sounding like heavier Joy Division with dark pop melodies I even think I heard a momentary echo (sic) of Martha & The Muffins.
9 Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
I’m not a hip hop fan in the sense of following it closely, but every so often something catches my ear. Lamar’s lyrics are diverse but consistent in passion & intelligence. Add a rich organic tapestry of jazz & funk classicism and you get a great album.
8 Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space
It isn’t much remarked on but there’s a jazz tinge and some classical structure to PSB’s electronic arrangements. It’s the deft use of transmission recordings from 60s & 70s space missions that bring the emotion & drama though. Most years there’s an album that sounds like very little or nothing else around. PSB are that band this year.
7 Jane Weaver – The Silver Globe
In a year of great female auteurs (see also Björk, Joanna Newsom, Grimes and others) there was a point where Weaver might have been even higher ranked.
Jane Weaver at Cloudspotting (photo by me)
6 Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
Ignore the backstory about Bruce’s cancer, for 10 tracks this is the best Maiden album in an years. There were great songs on previous albums but less coherence. I said 10 tracks, because it gets better on track 11 is the 18 minute epic piano led Empire of The Clouds about the R101 that is among the finest things Maiden have done (yet!)
As reviewed previously Bathymetry’s debut is sweetly deceptive, chiming guitars and intricate basslines, harmonies concealing dark lyrics and a fine-tuned indie pop sensibility.
Ariel Bathymetry at The Joiner’s Arms, Lazonby (photo by me)
4 Lianne LaHavas – Blood
Ok whodathunk it? Me, the arch obscurist putting a genuine pop hit artist in the Top 5? Discovered Lahavas by chance at Hay, was impressed, bought the album when it hit #2 in the charts. Catchy, soul folk tunes, a glorious warm voice a standard template but a well above standard usage. Saw her again in Manchester’s Albert Hall and was even more blown away.
Lianne Lahavas at The Albert Hall, Manchester (photo by me)
3 Kamasi Washington – The Epic
A triple album. The man responsible for much of the gorgeous arrangements on Kendrick Lamar’s album above also put out his own magnificent, up to date yet classic post-Coltrane jazz album. It soars.
2 Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – Ba Power
Rock album of the year made by four guys playing proto-banjos that look like homemade cricket bats with strings. Kouyate and his family have taken the Ngoni to multiple new levels though, and just like Chicago blues begat rock’n’roll they’ve taken desert blues to new places too. And Kouyate’s wife Amy Sacko stands comparison with any and all the great singers already noted.
Amy Sacko & Bassekou Kouyate at Electrowerz, London (photo by me)
And at number 1 Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
If there’s a theme running through this list it’s a nuanced multi genre eclecticism about most of the artists here. Julia Holter’s been compared to Kate Bush but I also hear In A Silent Way era Miles. Keyboards harmonizing with a powerful voice, instrumental passages taking off in directions you don’t expect but make perfect sense. Complex but totally accessible tunes like nobody else achieves.
Turns out 2015 was a pretty good year. Some great voices and amazing musicianship and for me a blend of classic and modern that goes somewhere.