Here's my list of favorite releases for this past year, presented in alphabetical order:
Lucrecia Dalt - Ou
This is filmic, cinematic music. Sounds creep in and out of view with the seamless rhythm of the best film editors. Texture and grit are key ingredients but harmonies do sometimes emerge to lend a familiar emotional anchor to the abstraction. There's a radiophonic wooziness that bathes the whole affair in nostalgia.
Dr. Yen Lo - Days with Dr. Yen Lo
A collaboration between rapper Ka and producer Preservation, Days of Dr. Yen Lo is a dimly lit set of loops which perfectly support the deadpan lyrical sleight of hand. There's hardly any percussion to speak of for most of the album and that leaves comprehension room for the listener. Ka's mind twists and turns within every line but it is all so effortless and casual that it could easily slip past you. Removing the temptation to get lost in the beat is a brilliant move and you end up nodding your head to the lyrics.
fLako - Natureboy
This was the first 2015 release I jotted down to start this list and it still sounds great to me. It sounds simultaneously timeless and completely contemporary. The beats sound fresh and new but are not trendy genre tracks. There is a strong musicality behind every song. The live instruments and programmed elements blend seamlessly to create an organic whole.
King Midas Sound & Fennesz - Edition 1
King Midas Sound is already a haunted combo of dread, bass, and vulnerability. This first in a series of forthcoming collaborative releases sees The Bug's customary weight, menace, and texture wedded to the deconstructed mist of Fennesz's sound world. Looking forward to the next editions.
Laddio Bolocko - Live and Unreleased 1997-2000
A great document of an extremely interesting band. I was a big fan of drummer Blake Fleming's work with his previous band Dazzling Killmen. This is a very different animal but the subtleties of his drumming are what drew me into both projects. Hard and heavy but detailed and groovy.
Hailu Mergia - Hailu/Yegle Nesh
I was under the impression that this was a reissue but it is in fact new material by the legendary Ethiopian jazz musician. Moody, dark funk vibes on 7-inch vinyl.
Rodinia - Drumside/Dreamside
Post-rock ambient math-funk? The Drumside half of this record is filled with odd time signature grooves that mix the feel of krautrock motorik pulse with raw breakbeat crispiness. The Dreamside has a late 90s ambient vibe and it floats and soars without ever falling into New Age-iness. Great execution in both worlds.
Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
A lovely, confident album. The vocal melodies are gentle but stately, never fragile. My favorite moments feature a muffled piano that sounds like you are inside the guts of the instrument. I thought at first that they had put contact mics on the tines of an electric piano to get so intimate a sound.
Andrea Taeggi - Mama Matrix Most Mysterious
A heady exploration of dance music possibilities, this album plays almost as a set of variations on the theme of minimal techno in odd time signatures. The sound design is familiar but twisted into new shapes that don't roll smoothly, creating new movements.