Throughout the year, I’ve probably bought more new music than I have in previous years — restarting my music production has brought me into contact with dozens of musicians and music lovers who have opened my eyes to music I’ve found both interesting and inspirational. While some have split their lists into rock and non-rock, when I tried doing so, the dividing lines were rather blurry, so I thought it best to make a straight Top 10 list instead.
10. musicformessier and Cousin Silas – Leaving the I.S.S.
In the Autumn Netaudio Revue, I said this about the album: “[the album] turns its cameras towards the Earth itself, capturing the peacefulness of the planet viewed from such a distance. All of this is achieved with luscious waves of synthesizer that have an air of retro sci-fi to them, and some delicately-plucked guitars that chime contentedly.”
9. Phillip Wilkerson – Deliquesce
Two long pieces, made up of a number of smaller vignettes, each with their own unique set of attributes, combining field recordings, discreetly flowing pads and a dozen other textures. Although I’m used to Phil’s softer and more transcendent works (and I realize I have only scratched the surface of his oeuvre), the organic sounds within each vignette acted as a trigger to the imagination.
8. Ascendant – Source Transmission
When I was listening to this album, it was like my cerebellum was having to take over as my head was totally absorbed inside the music. Outside, the usual chaos of the rush-hour commute just seemed so unnecessary. Without argument, this blissfully laid-back and transcendent debut is a must-hear for anyone who listens to beat-driven electronic music but can appreciate the music between the beats.
7. Matthew Vandenbrook – Without Sin
This is, without doubt, one of the most intense and gripping recordings I’ve heard this year. Its harrowing and tortured tones whitewash over nothing, painting an image of the Passion in your imagination so frighteningly stark and realistic that it can literally bring you to the edge of your seat yet still provoke thoughts and emotions moments after it’s finished. If you’ve got the stomach for it, it’s a must-hear.
6. Ade Hodges – Fog Music 9
In August’s Netaudio Revue, I said that “Listening to [this piece] brought back memories of watching a lighthouse in operation on the Devonshire coast, with its powerful light circling out to sea, yet Ade’s piece took me away from the shoreline and onto one of the ships being guided away from danger. It was so blindingly dense that you couldn’t see what lies ahead, yet you still felt the comfort of having someone there with you, watching out for you and keeping you safe.”
5. White Origins – Fog Music 16/Deluxe Bars Suite
In the Autumn Netaudio Revue, I described this as: “a ghostly and gossamer yet highly original sound, played with so many twists and turns that it keeps the listener alert through its enveloping tones. It’s haunting but also pleasingly meditative.”
4. “Weird Al” Yankovic – Mandatory Fun
In a year where two of my favourite artists of all time, Mike Oldfield and Yes, both released new albums, it’s rather disappointing that neither made it into this Top 10 list … yet the prince of parody did. Yes, I’ll admit it — I do really like Yankovic (must be the childlike sense of humour), and this was a major improvement over the ambivalence of Alpocalypse. His humour was much sharper, incisive and, in one case, unsettling. Now let’s polka … Gangnam style!
3. Cousin Silas – Weaving Portraits
Stray Theories – We Never Left
I’ve clamped these two together as the reasons I enjoyed them so much are rather similar. Both albums scored highly on what I call the “Homer Simpson” scale — going on how transcendent the music makes you feel, just like when Homer Simpson is offered a box of donuts. Silas’s lush guitar-driven atmospherics were so inviting, you couldn’t help but get lost inside them, while Stray Theories’ EP is like pressing the ‘Pause’ button on a moment you want to stay in forever.
1. Pink Floyd – The Endless River
Yes, I know — Roger Waters isn’t on it, it’s all made of Division Bell outtakes and it’s not “proper” Pink Floyd … but I really liked it. I found it quite a positive way to bow out — outtakes they may be, but they’re assembled in such a way that it’s like looking into a mirror reflecting upon their fifty-year career with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
I listened to soooo many albums this year, I tried to keep track of them all, which was nearly impossible.
This list is by no means complete — there are still a pile of albums that I never got around to hearing, and I feel bad I won’t be able to include them, but that’s the way it goes in this world so much music.
The Top 10 Albums were the ones that stuck with me the most, while the honourable mentions are also perfectly enjoyable in their own right and I recommend checking them out as well.
I’ve made a 10-song mix of the top albums over here.
10. The Hit Parade – Cornish Pop Songs
Another Sarah Records alum, pop genius Julian Henry delivers a wonderful buoyant collection of poppy tunes that snap and bounce, with a clever side of cheekiness. Hard to believe his day job is a consultant for celebrities like the Beckhams.
9. Orenda Fink – Blue Dream
I wasn’t expecting to like this album, as I’ve heard previous albums by Orenda that were more bordering on the experimental and dissonant — but this one sounds more like something her Azure Ray bandmate Maria Taylor might do (who is actually sounding more experimental these days!). Quietly moving, hushed, and enveloping luscious sounds with melodies that float above everything that sneak up on you — I actually had heard this album numerous times before I realized how much I liked it.
8. Ian William Craig – A Turn Of Breath
A relatively new discovery to me — an experimental but quite lovely collection of songs that feature Ian’s voice manipulated and mutated through tape deterioration. Often too much noise is introduced into creations like this, but Ian keeps things on a gentle pace with some minor dark moments; overall it’s hauntingly beautiful.
7. Carrie Newcomer – A Permeable Life
Carrie is one of the wisest and grounded people in the universe, and her songwriting and her voice reflects a calmness and balance that is desperately needed today. There are not many artists that I will support by giving my money before hearing a note. But when Carrie is concerned, I have nothing to fear.
6. The Orchids – Beatitude #9
The Orchids are back … again! They really don’t record enough albums, but each one they release is a quality affair. If you’re familiar with them or any band on the legendary Sarah Records label, then you don’t need me to tell you anything.
I really got into synthwave this year, starting with this album by D/A/D [http://dadmusic.bandcamp.com/] (which technically came out in 2013, otherwise it would be on this list). If you’re not familiar with synthwave, it’s a genre that is mostly instrumental synth-based dance/pop songs (Harold Faltermeyer, Paul Hardcastle, 80s library music) that have a distinct and shameless 80s feel. While most was underwhelming, this album by Swedish artist Mitch Murder had variety, innovation and it was just a lot of fun to listen to. If you listen to KPM music for fun, then this is for you.
4. Shari Ulrich – Everywhere I Go
Over 40 years in the biz, Shari knows how to write a song. Besides being one of the nicest people on the planet, she teaches songwriting here in BC, widely respected for her insightful and timeless lyrics. She makes it look effortless and I highly recommend any of her albums from her catalog.
3. The Pearlfishers – Open up your colouring book
Again, another example of consummate pop songwriting by David Scott, who’s been doing the Pearlfishers outfit for a while now and seems to still be unknown (except in twee pop circles). Like the Zebras album, it’s hard to just pick one highlight, there are so many — which is a special feat considering the length of this album, which never overstays its welcome. Early-seventies Beach Boys fans would really enjoy this.
2. Dold – Sickle Moon
On first glace, this German-based group fronted by Rebecca Dold on vocals and guitar, you could make easy comparisons to fellow female singer/songwriters like Dar Williams and Suzanne Vega. But I also hear echoes of Dan Fogelberg (especially in the harmonies), a man whose songwriting talent is vastly underappreciated. Warm, smart and mature with some very cool jazzy moments.
1. The Zebras – Siesta
I am a sucker for a well-written pop song, just around 3 minutes, with super-catchy jangly melodies. And when I say pop music, we’re talking the classic 60s pop school of writing. If you’re a fan of Swedish pop groups like Acid House Kings (in fact, at times the male vocalist in the Zebras bears a strong resemblance to Johan Angergard), you will fall in love with this. One of those albums that I find it nearly impossible to just pick one tune and never get sick of playing.
Kristine – Deepest Blue (ep)
Electric Youth – Innerworld
Westy Reflector – Particle Theory
Luxembourg Signal – s/t
The Gateless Gate- Myrrh
Beth Nielsen Chapman – Uncovered
Rosanne Cash – The river and the thread
Catherine MacLellan – The Raven’s Sun
Marti Jones – You’re not the Bossa Me
Sophie Zelmani – Everywhere
Heather Kropf – Chrysalis
Imandra Lake – Avane
The Popguns – Pop Fiction
The Rentals – Lost in Alphaville
Matt Berry – Music for Insomniacs
Unland – s/t