FLOOD’s Best of 2015: Music (#25–5)
Sure, Vulnicura is a breakup record, but Björk would never do anything so insipid as whine about a broken heart. In fact, the enormous visceral power of Vulnicura lies perhaps in its utter lack of pity play; she transforms every emotion into a monumetnal sonic peak or valley. As this stunningly affecting work once again proves, nothing—from monogamy to museum walls—could ever contain her tremendous spirit.
That LA theater-pop lifers Sparks would team up with Scottish dance-rock revivalists Franz Ferdinand might come as a surprise initially, but upon listening to the supergroup’s excellent musical results, all doubts vanish. Not only does FFS make one sit up and take notice, it excites fans of either (or both) halves as they think about the potential experiments and releases of the future.
Deerhunter’s seventh studio album Fading Frontier has all the markings of the typical “righting the ship” release. Whereas 2013’s Monomania was a gritty and bluesy blast of garage rock, the new album finds the band tinkering with more brightly festooned melodies. After some time in the wilderness, this is frontman Bradford Cox’s triumphant return, and it’s heartening to see the enigmatic singer back in the saddle.
All the way down to its title, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper seems to mark the resolution of a sequence that began with 2004’s Young Prayer. As Noah Lennox takes us along on deeper and increasingly fluid explorations into the vernacular of electronic music, he’s somewhat paradoxically revealed a tether to the monastic origins of his singular vocal style. Put differently, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper shows that no matter how far out Lennox gets, he’s never far from home.
11. Courtney Barnett — Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (MOM + POP)
Last year’s international release of Courtney Barnett’s compilation The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas showed the Australian singer to be an innovative artist who knows to wring every possible drop of drama out of the most banal of sources. This spirit continues on Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. With this record, she sidesteps any quaint expectations and delivers a true debut album that can surprise listeners with its depth and universality.
As Battles enters their thirteenth year, the experimental group sounds more at ease than ever before. At no point in La Di Da Di does their sound come across as anxiously cluttered or antagonistically minimal; in fact, bleeps and bloops have never sounded so naturally birthed.
Since her 2004 debut The Milk-Eyed Mender, Joanna Newsom’s music has expanded into an orchestral whirl of melodic diversions, ten-dollar words, and that voice, which has grown into something more mellifluous than it once was. The kinds of fable-like songs that marked her early career are expanded on Divers into Joycean exercises. The title track, a seven-minute harp and piano excursion that converges Eastern melody and Western pop-ballad pageantry, feels like the pinnacle of her remarkable career.
Ruban Neilson’s mastered ability with soul and R&B is what separates Multi-Love from Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s previous releases. The seven-minute jam “Puzzles” eases from sound collage to deep disco beats and back out to an ornate folk final, and across the album, drums are either encased in fuzz or so solidly in the pocket, you’d think they were sampling breaks. While they’ve flirted with big moves beyond the bedroom psych realm before, Multi-Love really transports listeners into lush zones filled with hypnotic future-funk.
While it retains the magic of 2013’s conceptual jazz nocturne Loud City Song, Julia Holter’s fourth album finds her confidently stepping into her own as a storyteller. Newer, more eclectic influences—like Talk Talk’s eerie post-rock or the 1958 film Gigi—have seeped into her sound, but Holter’s animated voice and talents as a pianist remain at the core of what she does.
On Wilco’s eleventh LP, Jeff Tweedy has pushed forward as the definitive, driving force of the Chicago band once again—and by no coincidence, it’s his best set of music since the 2004 classic A Ghost is Born. Each song contributes to the portrait of a painfully professional songwriter, and each arrangement seems to emanate from a place of relaxed focus on behalf of the rest of the sextet. Nothing feels forced, and that’s likely because there was little to prove on this—a surprise, free album.
Carrie & Lowell—Sufjan Stevens’s seventh conventional album in a long line of releases that include Christmas LPs and one-off projects—is a heartbreaking and, at times, unbearably painful account of his attempts to process the death of his mother in 2012. The considerable weight of Stevens’s grief is supported only by the light architecture of fingerpicked guitars and occasional keyboards, and is insulated by processed found sound that swells wordlessly between songs. He rarely raises his voice above a whisper. It goes without saying that this stuff risks being maudlin and overwrought, precious at best. But Carrie & Lowell is a miracle of aesthetic balance—a calm and considered confession.