As is now traditional, here's my view of the best of 2015 – twenty albums, in a loose interpretation of the term, featured in reverse order. We’ve posted albums 20 – 11 (featuring the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sir Richard Bishop) and now the final countdown, complete with Spotify playlist (embedded below). Enjoy!
10: Loop – 'Array 1'
Veteran band led by Robert Hampson with a brand spanking new line-up featuring The Heads’ wonderful rhythm section of Hugo Morgan and Wayne Maskell plus guitarist Dan Boyd. Reinvigorated by the changes, 'Array 1' exhibits an urgency all too often missing from psyched-out rock. Just four songs and not a wasted note – these guys really know exactly how to play. Ideal festive fare.
Essential: 'Precession', 'Aphelion', 'Coma'
9: Mutoid Man - 'Bleeder'
Cave In’s Stephen Brodsky is a rare genius, with an equally prolific career in side projects, solo performances & albums and this band, formed with Converge’s drummer Ben Koller, and now a three piece with the addition of Nick Cageao on bass guitar. This is their debut album and it’s really sweet. It’s a stunning 30 minute tour de force in a completely understated way – it could just as easily have topped this list.
Essential: 'Bridgeburner', 'Reptilian Soul', '1000 Mile Stare'
8: Anthroprophh - 'UFO'
Paul Allen, guitarist with The Heads, links up with Bristol’s Big Naturals, Gareth Turner and Jesse Webb, in a one of a kind combo that marries psychedelic perversity to the tightest rhythm section you’re likely to hear. Songs develop from drones and motorik bass lines to full on wig outs in less than the time it takes to roll a joint. This album celebrates UFO sightings in the UK with each song commemorating a singular event. Spooky, danceable and rather brilliant. (In 2014, their album 'Outside The Circle' also made the cut.)
Essential: '14/10/54 Southend-on-Sea', '17/7/55 Bexleyheath', '22/9/78 Weedon Bec'
7: Sumac – 'The Deal'
Back in May we said: ‘When Aaron Turner put Sumac together with drummer Nick Yacyshyn it was unclear whether it was a one-off recording project or a live band. I hope it turns out to be the latter as the record they produced – with Russian Circles’ Brian Cook on bass – is a stormer. Very much at the heavy end of post-metal it is deep in sludge without being muddy. Guitar lines have bite and clarity and the vocals are growled but intelligible – all up, this is heavy as fuck but totally distinctive.’ This record has stood up all year as one of our absolute favourites, and we hear there’s another on the way. Hooray.
Essential: 'Thorn In The Lion’s Paw', 'The Deal', 'The Radiance Of Being'
6: Clutch – 'Psychic Warfare'
Clutch can legitimately claim to be the best rock and roll band in the world. Consistent, relentless, sardonic riff-fuelled songs fill their back catalogue to overflowing. This record, superbly produced by Machine, deservedly gives a lot of space to Dan Maines’ sinuous bass lines and Jean-Paul Gaster’s matchless percussive groove. Tim Sult cracks out the precise guitar lines and Neil Fallon sounds in great voice and contributes terrific lyrics. Their eleventh studio album shows them to be absolutely as good as ever – how refreshing is that?
Essential: 'X-Ray Visions', 'A Quick Death In Texas', 'Son Of Virginia'
5: Hey Colossus – 'In Black & Gold'
Yes they’re back after appearing in part one – this time with February’s release that is closer to the model of their previous recordings and is our personal favourite of 2015’s two releases. The songs take time to develop but they’re so eyecatching once they emerge – caterpillars, butterflies, you get my drift. This album is a real joy from start to finish and the confidence and commitment with which it is delivered makes it a hugely rewarding listen.
Essential: 'Sisters And Brothers', 'Hey, Dead Eyes, Up!', 'Black And Gold', 'Eat It'
4: Riwen – 'The Cold'
Riwen is the project of Cult Of Luna main man Johannes Persson. The idea is to reconnect with the hardcore roots whence post-metal sprang. So no fifteen minute songs here – it’s hard and low and aimed squarely at the moshpit. The strength of the album is in the team that JP has assembled to make it happen, taking it way beyond Cult Of Luna reworking some old hardcore numbers. It’s really well played, with rock solid drum and bass foundations. For our money, vocalist Frederik Lindkvist is the star of the show – ferocity and articulation don’t often go together in music like this. This is a totally invigorating album.
Essential: 'Crucifix', 'Hades Trail', 'Stalking A Wounded Wolf', 'Rise Up'
3: Corrections House – 'Know How To Carry A Whip'
Corrections House made this list in 2013 with debut album 'Last City Zero'. Sophomore effort 'Know How To Carry A Whip' is an altogether darker and yet funkier record. Imagine Ministry and Calexico hang out together in the desert, supping mescaline from the peyote cactus – then this album is the result.
Corrections House is another side project that features Neurosis’ Scott Kelly and Mike IX Williams, frontman from Eyehategod, aided by drums and keys from Sanford Parker and the saxophone of Bruce Lamont. It’s a potent mix and here Williams is in outstanding form. Lyrics of supreme discontent and anger overlay a mighty brew of industrial metal spiked with horns. The intensity dial goes all the way to 11 and beyond.
Essential: 'Crossing My One Good Finger', 'Superglued Tooth', 'White Man’s Gonna Lose', 'I Was Never Good At Meth'
2: Hey Colossus / Hotel Wrecking City Traders – 'Split 12”'
I feel this is the best list I’ve put together for a number of years, with so many outstanding albums. So this album isn’t so much a diamond in the rough as the second most striking gem in the box. Put together as a limited vinyl release by Australian label Wild Animals Records (but also on download) it features just two tracks.
Side 1 is a ten minute exploration by the aforementioned Hey Colossus and it’s a really thoughtful piece of music that draws you right to its core. Side 2 is an extended twenty minute jam from Australian band Hotel Wrecking City Traders, whom I saw deliver a hugely impressive set in the unpromising setting of the Vans store at Camden’s Desertfest a couple of years back. A variation on the guitar/drums two man band, driven by loops and tasty rhythms, this is the tightest twenty minutes you’ll ever hear. Block rockin beats to end.
Essential: 'Heaven Blows', 'Droned & Disowned (Pt.2)' – and um, that’s it.
1: CHVE – 'Rasa'
CHVE is Colin H. van Eeckhout, the vocalist (you couldn’t call him a frontman since he faces away from the audience to sing) of Belgian post rock maestros Amenra. This record – a late entry to the list – is his first solo album (leaving aside a rather weak singer-songwriter single track a few years back) and it has at its core a very evidently spiritual journey that is unashamedly stripped back to its bones.
'Rasa' features voice, hurdy-gurdy and drums, combined to create a powerful sense of purpose and meaning. If that all sounds a bit esoteric and, well, fey, then actually it’s anything but. It is a really moving piece of music that has the great merit of being honest and totally uncompromising. In other words it’s exactly the kind of music that I most admire.
Essential: It’s not that kind of album – it’s all or nothing and highly recommended.
ICYMI, click this link to read part one of the list. Find more Simon Opie goodness here, and on @nxgater.