Top Ten Albums of 2015:
The Best: Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
For all his brilliance, Sufjan Stevens has often hid himself in his music – whether weaving compelling folk tales from the states of Illinoise and Michigan or diving deep into the mind of schizophrenic artist Royal Robertson in the masterful Age of Adz. Thus the intimacy of Carrie & Lowell, Stevens’ finest album and the most harrowing and beautiful American folk record in many, many years, is startling. Centered around the death of his mother, who left his family at a young age and battled mental illness her whole life, Stevens’ gentle voice carries us through ten autobiographical songs wrestling with suicidal thoughts, deathbed confessions, childhood abandonment and, as on “Should Have Known Better,” brief bursts of illumination. The songwriting, performance and lyrics on Carrie & Lowell are unimpeachable, and in its centerpiece “Fourth of July” – told as an imagined deathbed conversation between Stevens and his mother – the emotions are so harrowing that it reduced me to tears when I first heard it. This is a difficult, important, stunning album – an instant classic, and the best album of the year by a long margin.
Aphex Twin – Computer Controlled Instruments, Vol. 2
Richard D. James has come out of hiding in a big way the last couple of years, and Computer Controlled Instruments, Vol 2 is the wonky, busy, creepy counterpoint to the comparatively warm Syro
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
Aussie newcomer Courtney Barnett combines wise-ass asides and mundane observations into wicked rock n’ roll.
Deerhunter – Faded Frontier
Faded Frontier is easily Deerhunter’s most accessible album, and by stripping some of the more sonic confrontational elements from their palette and focusing on songwriting, it’s also one of their most consistently enjoyable
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder Sweet and Other Distress
Now several years into their unlikely comeback, Godspeed released one of the strongest albums of their career in Asunder Sweet and Other Distress – a four song suite that plays more like one epic piece with a spectacular climax
My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
MMJ has been such a great live band for such a long time that their albums sort of feel like afterthoughts. Not so with The Waterfall, the band’s best and most confident collection of songs in ages
The Tallest Man on Earth – Dark Bird is Home
Scaling up to a full band often leads to bloat for folk singers, but Kristian Matsson’s songwriting has never been more focused than it is on Dark Bird is Home, and the lush arrangements fit his voice and acoustic guitar like a warm sweater on a cold day
Tame Impala – Currents
Kevin Parker’s sultry voice and immaculate studio resourcefulness has quickly brought his band Tame Impala to the big leagues, and the lounge-y, bass and synth driven compositions on Currents add new dimension to the band’s impressive catalogue.
Wilco – Star Wars
Wilco have gracefully aged into one of the most reliably great live rock bands in the world, but their albums lately have dipped uncomfortably toward Dad-rock. Not so with Star Wars, a quickly release fuzz-bomb that features Jeff Tweedy’s most idiosyncratic songwriting since A Ghost is Born
Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss
Sounding something like Kate Bush fronting Godflesh, Chelsea Wolfe signature howl raises goosebumps through the darkly lush, sometimes downright imposing record Abyss