This year in review is going to be a little different than my previous ones. As always there’s tons of discussion about whether or not 2015 was a good year for music, always a fun discussion, but for me the answer is unquestionably yes. New albums by a lot of my favorites, including Susumu Hirasawa, Echolyn, Rip Slyme, Magma, Glass Hammer, Dan Deacon, Flynt Flossy, Todd Rundgren, They Might be Giants (twice!), and Datarock (sort of), among other stuff I’m a fan of, like The Tangent, Dam-Funk, Steven Wilson, Sons of Kemet, Towa Tei, The Orb, Sufjan Stevens, The Black Dog, Beardfish, Battles, IZZ, and Squarepusher. Among several others I can’t remember right now. Now none of this is making the year-end lists, except of course the Sufjan album. Sadly I’m not really able to make a list myself, as there’s just been so much good stuff that I haven’t really been able to digest it all, not that I’ve been able to the last couple years either. I have no clue what my “album of the year” is going to be and probably won’t until we’re well into 2017. It’s just been that sort of year. So instead, I figured I’d put together some disparate thoughts on a few albums I’ve listened to this year and call it a day. Year end lists are kinda dumb anyway. So let’s get started:
Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer
I wrote about two of this guy’s albums this year and I had a lot of fun doing it. Gliss Riffer is either the man’s 4th album or his 12th, depending on what you count, and I think it’s time to acknowledge that whether you find him utterly brilliant or insufferably obnoxious (there is not a whole lot of middle ground here), he’s here to stay. Riffer feels like the sort of album that Deacon can make a lot of, especially in contrast to his last two, which featured an entire ensemble. It’s still as dense as ever, just with samples and chopped up voices in place of some of the instruments. No epics here along the lines of “Wham City”, “Snookered”, or “USA”, making the album a little less overwhelming than his previous work, though no less great. The middle section (“Meme Generator”, “Mind on Fire”, “Learning to Relax”) is the high point, but all eight tunes here have plenty to offer, often within a fairly short space – the entire album is 44 minutes long, but it feels a lot shorter. “Steely Blues” has got to be the song title of the year, at least if you’ve ever tried searching for his music in the past. Great stuff and an early AOTY contender.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
This one’s appearing on a lot of the big year-end lists, and for good reason. I love that Sufjan’s stayed one step ahead of his critics – when he started to get pigeonholed as twee and precious after Illinois, he responded with the bonkers Age of Adz. Then he started to get labeled as a hopeless eccentric, so now we get Carrie and Lowell; stripped back (most of this is just guitar and voice) and intensely personal. Sufjan digs deep and reveals the kind of stuff I wouldn’t even feel comfortable telling my best friends, but he’s such a great lyricist that it can’t help but be captivating. Incredibly emotional and very certainly a great album, albeit one I can’t bring myself to listen to too often, as it’s the sort of album that demands your full attention, and in doing that it’s really a punch to the gut. But if you haven’t heard it yet, don’t hesitate.
Flynt Flossy – Internatioknown
Flynt Flossy is the breakout star of the Turquoise Jeep collective so it’s no surprise he’d do something on his own. Though this “solo” release is hardly distinguishable from the Jeep stuff, given that Flossy’s on most of it anyway, and Internatioknown features Jeep riders Slick Mahoney, Whatchyamacallit, Moonrock, and Tummiscratch. Anyway, “My Favorite Sweater” is a total jam, one of my favorite singles of the year, and “Mama Bird” and “The Cleaning Lady Hates Me” are pretty great as well. The back half is surprisingly straight for a member of the Jeep, with some interesting beats here and there (“Tropicana in my Pocket”). But “Orange Soda” hits on one of my pet peeves – tough to believe you’re so heartbroken about getting cheated on when nearly every song you write is about A) having sex, or B) how many girls you’ve had sex with. Oh well. Always good to hear more from the Floss.
The Orb – Moonbuilding 2703 AD
The Orb’s 21st Century work tends to get reviewed in two ways – either “crazy how far they have fallen” or “it’s their best since Orblivion, though nobody’s going to hear it”. Funny how the ones that fall into the latter category always seem to involve Thomas Fehlmann, who I would guess does 90% of the work on those albums, creating a deep, dub-like atmosphere that pulses and grooves. Then I imagine Patterson puts some samples over the top or does his creative mixing or whatever. Point is, this is one of those discs – four tracks, four deep grooves that are in a different sonic world than the Orb’s classic work, but the spacey, tripped out atmosphere is the same.
They Might be Giants – Glean
I had “She’s An Angel” by TMBG stuck in my head during the entire summer of 2004. I remember this because I worked in a factory that year, and they didn’t allow us to listen to any music (one of the few OSHA regulations that actually followed), so the song just followed me around day in and day out. I really can’t explain it, the tune is certainly an earworm but I’ve never experienced anything like that exactly. Until now that is, with Glean and the song “Unpronounceable”, which has been running through my brain for about two months now, and again I can’t really explain it, especially since I’ve been listening to so much lately. Amazing to me that they can put together songs like that 29 years apart. I wrote a bunch more on the album here.