Top 50 of 2015 - Ryan H.

1. Rachel Grimes - The Clearing (Temporary Residence, LTD)

There has been nothing that I have heard recently that has been as gripping or cathartic as Rachel Grimes’ (that is the Rachel in Rachel’s y’all) newest solo album. Every time I listen to it (tapered down to about 1xday now) I am held under its sway of emotive/half-improvised, percussive piano lines, swelling strings that ring out with crystal-eyed intent. Rachel’s always kept post-rock and classical music in productive tension with each other. Stripped from the auspices of post-rock, however, a Rachel Grimes’ solo record is everything you expect it to be: a genius, cohesive 21st century composer’s exploration of wordless landscapes, evocative temperament and flawless production

 

2. Alex Cobb - Chantepleure (Students of Decay)

Chantepleure is a French word meaning to sing and to cry simultaneously. Although it’s totally instrumental with tonal passages and movements unfolding in the time it takes for a candle to fully dissipate, Cobb creates gorgeous synth and guitar sounds somewhere in that fuzzy line of emotional demarcation of a beautiful song gurgling up through sobbing tears.

 

3. King Woman - Doubt (The Flenser)

Doubt. It is a bitter, soul-searching, caustic and ultimately cathartic debut that takes us through all of the anger, sadness and empty self-liberation of a breakup in 20 minutes of drone-metal riffs, post-rock epicness and funeral-slow percussion...Esfandiari’s impassioned croon channels smoky hints of PJ Harvey that float over feedback-drenched landscapes, slow-motion thrash riffs and percussion tuned to the sick thud of a punch thrown against a brick wall.

 

4. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)

“Fuck me, I’m falling apart” could be Stevens’ most satisfying lines he has ever uttered as measured both by delivery (recorded onto an iPhone in an Oregon hotel room) and in context (a hymn of wavering faith). It was also my personal mantra for this year. What makes Carrie & Lowell—a record by admittedly devout Christian—such an amazing album to soundtrack your faith crisis is that it dredges so much ambiguity and ambivalence in the face of personal and existential loss. Where does one go from here?

 

5. Holly Herndon - Platform (4AD/RVNG INTL)

There was little in 2015 that approached Herndon's mastery of outre dance music as a platform to shoehorn in some of the years' wildest compositional twists and turns without sacrificing compelling listenability on a variety of levels. This is the experimental pop music that I imagined we would be swimming in the future we don't deserve and probably will never have.

 

6. Vales - Vales (Shatter Your Leaves)

If there was one album that put a loss of faith in the universal yet agonizingly personal realm of the loss of a loved one, it was Asa Horvitz’s chamber-pop ode to the death of his best friend at the age of 23. It’s full of hyper-contextual, young-dude-in-2015 recollections of moving to Brooklyn, getting into bike accidents and having real friends held in tension. Vales offers call-and-response contrast to crushing existential questions about the fragility and randomness of existence with knotty, fully fleshed orchestral compositions held under the sway of Horvitz’s beautifully unpolished and striving vocals.

 

7. Steve Hauschildt - Where All is Fled (Kranky)

I think it can be pretty well argued that Emeralds reached some kind of watershed in American experimental music. The output by each member post-Emeralds is a testament to the talent that collectively pooled there. Hauschildt's latest for Kranky is nothing less than an emotional synth masterpiece. A collection of slow-drifting, elegant songs full of gorgeous washes and bubbling arpeggios that are completely arresting - drawing you into fully formed landscapes of fully rendered mountains and valleys of sound.

 

8. Ruhe - Patriarchs (Eilean Rec)

Portland, Oregon minimalist composer Bryan Ruhe creates cavernous spaces between his carefully selected piano notes and ebullient drones to hurl a life’s worth of insecurities into. Patriarchs is a stately album centered around simple and stark piano lines with electroacoustic flourishes bolstered by choral pieces and a notable lyrical meditation on venerated patriarchs that, in reality, are “rotten to the core/but somehow still the chosen ones.” Killing our idols never seemed so important as it did in 2015.

 

9. Head Dress - Mesa (Horror Fiction)

Creeping and crawling riffs heavier than a death in the family and holier than the flames from 1,000 sacred texts. Head Dress takes the dense Barn Owl/Sunn O))) inspired guitar drones and rolls it across the great expanses of the American Southwest making this the best unintentional Country Western record of 2015.

 

10. Liturgy - Ark Work (Thrill Jockey)

Ark Work is a triumphant, bewildering and, yes, transcendent, album that stands heads and shoulders above anything else in their discography and delivers on any promise ever given that Liturgy would bring something new to metal but create a new kind of music created and driven by a prevailing philosophy which consumes itself like a snake eating its own tail. On Ark Work Hunt-Hendrix and Greg Fox finally do this. Marrying electronically augmented blast-beats over Mahler-inspired keyboard and horn passages with Hunt-Hendrix's rapid-fire vocal delivery more akin polysyllabic Midwestern rap than any kind of metal trope. Phew. It is intense.

11. Boduf Songs - Stench of Exist (The Flenser)

Stench of Exist is a coming storm that never quite breaks. Mat Sweet's songs are both intimate and sweeping at the same time. Sweet's voice is a breathy, plaintive one that comes down hard on each syllable and then hangs and dissipates slowly. Stench of Exist's move from simple piano and guitar songs with electronic flourishes to full-band, depthless compositions that are ambitious and cryptic as they are laid-open in confessional bloodletting. 

 

12. Rafael Anton Irisaari - A Fragile Geography (Room40)

Irisaari's latest album is said to explore "the tensions of contemporary America, contrasting passages of great beauty and calm with harrowing waves of density and pressure.” To me, this record seems to strike squarely in the diminishing after-effects of both events. The nameless ennui that takes place in many of America's tranquil and beautiful geographic locations and the feeling of being utterly alone in the universe after some harrowing incident involving violence or the threat thereof...Something all too common in America.

 

13. 夕方の犬 (Dog in the Evening) - Oct. 16th. 1964 (Spring Break Tapes!)

An absolutely stunning ambient-protest record. Compositions written to bring attention to China's violation of a 100 country agreement to ban atmospheric nuclear testing by the Japanese sound-artist 夕方の犬 highlight experimental music's ability to contextualize issues without a single word or power chord. Serene, clarion-clear tones sound through processed field recordings and wavering fluctuations in the atmosphere. An incredibly powerful record given the context. 

 

14. Jim O'Rourke - Simple Songs (Drag City)

It is both extremely hard and incredibly easy to describe why this is such a great record. One Youtube comment I read hit the nail on the head (which is a very strange place to find wisdom), "Jim O'Rourke is like an abstract painter who occasionally likes to remind you he can paint in hyper-realism too". Recorded in Japan, Simple Songs is reminiscent of the best moments of Todd Rundgren or Harry Nilsson without having to wade through a sagging shelf worth of discography. Perfect and heartbreakingly good.

 

15. Trupa Trupa - Headache (Blue Tapes/X-Ray Records)

In a year that indie rock seemed to be fully and completely dead, Headache by the Polish band Trupa Trupa seemed to revive some life in the bloated genre. Located somewhere between Clinic, Can andLouisville KY's barbed take on American post-punk, Headache is a pulverizing and sonically enveloping record that encapsulates the actual potential of four guys with guitar, bass, keys, drums and real ideas can deliver on. Buy this.

 

16. Shampoo Boy - Crack (Blackest Ever Black)

The 2015 follow up to the brutalizing Licht, Crack is a thick, unyieldingly heavy and cantankerous album. Three long-form compositions full of subterranean crackling electronics, submerged drones and fucking heavy as rocks lead-guitar (if such a thing exists in the noise/drone universe) providing feedback-drenched overtones or sky-cracking lead shredding over a rolling sea of disturbed electronics and spooked bass lines make up the body of this strange animal. 

 

17. Rob Mazurek - Vortice of the Faun (Astral Spirits)

Mazurek has subversively utilized electronic music as frontier-pushing element to further the experimental and improvisational nature of jazz and free music. Untethered from any live acoustic instrumentation, it is fascinating to hear how Mazurek channels and decides where sounds and textures go on a highly composed tape that sounds like it could shatter into a million pieces of improvised squalor at any moment. Instead, Vortice of the Faun spends equal time in harsh chaos as much as softened droning passages that are easy on the ears and psyche. It is a tape worth wasting an entire afternoon in.

 

18. Shilpa Ray - Last Year's Savage (Northern Spy)

One of the few powerful voices that still exist in rock music, Ray's voice can go from coo to war-torn sneer in a minuscule movement, but damn, does it stick. Last Year's Savage is an album that meditates on rock-dude-at-the-top posturing and alter-ego skewering in the world of twitter-fights and patriarchy's masked removed to reveal a very scared pharma-bro on a perp walk. An engrossing triumph of the ego. 

 

19. Sparkling Wide Pressure - Clouds and Stairs (No Kings)

Clouds and Stairs is an album that never really left my turntable. The versatility of the record, released in spring, is one of the few that can take you through the entire year - from windows wide open summer mornings to hunkered hibernation watching the snow fall, this record was a soundtrack that simply made sense for all of these. Truly a high watermark on a remarkable career.

 

20. Lesionread - Greatest Hits Vol. 1 (Live God)

I wish I had the confidence of Lesionread. Seriously. This is one of the most self-confident, fully-realized, lived-in worlds created by someone probably a lot younger than me with boundless energy and a touch of mania. Greatest Hits is auteur on god-mode. How many minutes are on a tape? Fuck it, run that thing til it runs off the spools. Vol. II is probably rotting away on his computer just waiting to see the light of day and Vol. 15 is already in the works. The only comparison I can give to the sheer audacity of this record is Jerry Paper's Big Pop for Chameleon World, Sir Benedick the Moor's El Negro or...Justin Timberlake. A tape that trawls all genres and knows no boundaries.

21. Benoît Pioulard - Sonnet (Kranky)

22. Boan - Mentiras (Holodeck)

23. Circuit des Yeux - In Plain Speech (Thrill Jockey)

24. Kill West - Smoke Beach (Dismal Niche)

25. Sister Grotto & braeyden jae - Born to Lose/Born to Leave (Antiquated Future)

26. Ilyas Ahmed - I am All Your Own (Immune Recordings)

27. Hidden Persuaders - Elegies and Curses (A Giant Fern)

28. Drowse - Soon Asleep (Apneic Void)

29. Clay Rendering - Snowthorn (Hospital Productions)

30. Valet - Nature (Kranky)

31. Föllakzoid - III (Sacred Bones)

32. Dag Rosenqvist - The Forest Diaries (Eilean Rec)

33. Viet Cong - Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar)

34. Leb Laze - When Doves Fly (Geographic North)

35. Xua - Mekong Moon (Debacle)

36. High aura'd & Mike Shiflet - Awake (Type)

37. Raphi Gottesman - Signed, Noisemaker (Fluere Tapes)

38. Nico Niquo - Epitaph (Orange Milk)

39. Amulets - The Old Testament/59 Fields of Ruin (Self-Released)

40. Mamaleek - Via Delorosa (The Flenser)

41. Selaroda - viaje a través de sonidos transportative (Inner Islands)

42. Félicia Atkinson - A Readymade Ceremony (Shelter Press)

43. PERILS - PERILS (Desire Path)

44. More Eaze - '(Frail)' (Already Dead) 

45. Spheruleus - Peripheres (Eilean Rec)

46. Powerdove - Arrest (Sick Room Records)

47. Our Love Will Destroy the World - Carnivorous Rainbows (Ba Da Bing!)

48. Bell Witch - Four Phantoms (Profound Lore)

49. Angelo Harmsworth - Cerrillos Disco (Lime Lodge)

50. anthéne - repose (Polar Seas Recordings)

December 16th, 2015