Music 2015

I’m old fashioned. I listen to albums rather than tracks. I discovered a lot of new music — new to me, in 2015: thank you internet. In fact: thank you Curated YouTube. Amoeba records’ What’s in My Bag video series is a great way to find new music, as are The Needle Drop, KEXP or NPR Music. The amount of great music, old and new, available on YouTube these days is just unbelievable…

In the “oldish” category, I spent quite some time with Joni Mitchell, in particular her 1976 Hejira album, which she did with jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius. It’s a beautiful album about road trips, more jazzy than folk, but still very tight and accessible. I also listened to Steve Reich a lot — but that’s a given any year. In the new albums by older bands, I liked the Thurston Moore Band’s The Best Day. It obviously reminds one of Sonic Youth, but it still feel fresh, energetic, and new.

Other than that, it was all new music and new artists for me. Not necessarily new-new, but at least new to me. Apparently there’s a whole psychedelic-garage-rock revival going on. And it’s not just nostalgia, it’s also very inventive. In that loose category, I especially liked Ty Segall’s Manipulator album (from 2014, but eh, I was late…), Thee Oh Sees Mutilator Defeated at Last  (most adventurous), and Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Multi-Love  (most funky).

Singer-songwriters? Yes! Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit was great. It was funny and smart. As was Mac Demarco’s Another One. Not funny, but unbelievably emotional was Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There (late again: 2014). I mean that voice, the tension in it and the honesty!

But the best two albums this year for me were by two African-American musicians — who both come from Los Angeles, have known each other for some time it seems, and have worked together this past year.

Kamasi Washington, The Epic

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Three hours of jazz. Big band. A big string section, a choir. Big cover art — with planets. Everything is big here. With buckets of love for 1970s fusion jazz, Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sun Ra, etc. Great solos, great virtuosity, but at the same time powerful, firing on all cylinders, very intense, not at all sleek and tidy. Maybe over-ambitious? Bloated you say? I didn’t feel that problem at all while listening to it, but it’s hard to know how this particular album is going to be listened to in a few years. Nice video of a 2-hour concert playing this record: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YbPSIXQ4q4

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

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Instant classic. 1 hour 20 minutes of great great rap music, with funk and jazz in it (Kamasi Washington again), critical success, commercial success, really struggling, searching and honest about fame, race, and money in America in 2015, the year that #BlackLivesMatter happened. A timeless record “of the moment”, if such a thing can exist.

And it also puts to rest the idea that only tracks matter now: it’s an album.

I don’t always agree with Pitchfork, but they selected it as their best album of the year, saying that

It’s an album with such gravitas that the runaway success of Adele’s 25 seems inconsequential. It’s not just the album of the year; it’s the voice of a moment in time.

Couldn’t agree more.

So, 2015 was a lot of great music for me.