In 2015 we played 1,112 pieces of music on Eclectic Kettle. Not all of them were brand new, some of them came from the same albums. But even accounting for that, it's a tremendous quantity of great music to distill into just 5 for the year. On air, Simon and I took two end of year shows to try and review 2015 with any justice. (You can listen to those shows in the archive here and here.)
A “Top 5” then? As I look over those last two shows of the year and try to think which of those records I would insist on taking with me to the next place it's not terribly easy. But here are five that if you come here from space, or the past (or the future, Doctor) you might think that 2015 was a pretty solid year for this strange Earth-magic we call music.
From “Shedding Skin” (Pias America)
I'm back in my home nation of England for Christmas with family, and also spending a significant amount of time in Obaro Ejimiwe's home city of London. “Shedding Skin”, his Mercury-nominated, third record as Ghostpoet is a magnificent work carrying a mood and pulse that resonates perfectly in the wintery capital. It provokes homesickness and spiritual lift in me all at once. To be clear, that doesn't make the record any less good when played back in our perpetual sunshine of California, but know that this is a sound that comes from a place and it's momentous to recognize it in your surroundings.
The careful metre of his vocals over genre-bending beats and alternative instrumentation and indie collaborations (such Maxïmo Park's Paul Smith on the stellar “Be Right Back”) may have you thinking of Massive Attack and Tricky at their peaks, which are entirely worthy references.
From “All Under One Roof Raving 12"” (Young Turks)
Jamie xx has been DJ-ing and putting out 12"s for a few years now, finally culminating in the album “In Colour” this year, a showcase of his broad production talents and gift for numerous styles of electronic and dance music, a record that includes multiple huge summer hits alongside atmospheric wobbling synths, and some attention grabbing references to the early-nineties British rave scene. Ubiquitous in his live shows but absent from the record was this track in the latter genre, the stellar “All Under One a Roof Raving”. It's a track that treads a delicate line between celebration of scene and gimmicky use of vocal samples but for me pulls it off with great satisfaction, and when in the middle his distinctive—signature, even—wibbling synths slip in underneath you get chills.
From “A Special Episode” (Mello Music)
You can watch us on the newsfeeds
Fucking y'all's mornings up
Until America admits that it likes dogs more than us
And I can see the Super Bowls of the future:
The Ferguson blacks vs. Missouri State Troopers
The privacy rights vs. the personal computers
Concussion researchers vs. university boosters
I graduated college, I purchased all the extra books
I'm supposed to be living in a house with a breakfast nook
I'm writing up this top-5 in the last few days of 2015, the day after a grand jury in Cleveland cleared two Police officers of wrongdoing over the shooting of 12-year-old black child Tamir Rice. Just as with Mike Brown before him, deeply entrenched institutionally racist power structures are newly visible to more naked eyes that they hadn't been before. Not that baring witness is delivering any justice, yet, but that's where we are right now.
“Dark Comedy Late Show” is my tune of the year. Not just because it's my standout favourite track but because it captures 2015. All of it. On every level it's a masterpiece. It's got an addictive hook, it's got pace and drive and vocal delivery that as someone who is frankly not an expert in rap, has me gripped. And the lyrics. An onslaught of chaotic pop culture experiences and brutal truth, sandwiched so tightly that is simultaneously hilarious and only emphasises the unreal/all-too-real absurdity of its subjects, and accurately represents how our news is: The live coverage of racist murders interspersed with sports updates and soap operas and #WhatIfMoviesButTooMuch hashtag games on Twitter, which the TV news echoes verbatim. It's mad. It's absurd and intense. It's all a bit much. It's a ferris wheel rolling into the sea and half the people on board are cheering. It's funny because fuck, how else do you comprehend all of this happening at once?
And we quit asking for the reasons
And clicked the Constitution's terms of service agreement
We're dreaming from sundown to high noon
And woke up by U2 albums all in your iTunes
And it's close to a all out war
With kids being murdered just for being black and tall outdoors
They respond to demonstrations wearing kevlar briefs
When the main problem is nobody respects our grief
From “Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit” (Mom & Pop Records)
We've been fans of Courtney Barnett on Kettle for a while, since Johan first played us (the still brilliant) “Avant Gardener” back in 2013 along with a brash and energetic performance at Outside Lands, anticipation for a full album has been high.
“Sometimes I Sit And Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” is a very good record, opened up by this, “Pedestrian at Best”, perhaps the finest track of Barnett's career. It's got a great, head-nodding riff and ear-busting distortion, but then knocks you off-kilter with a tumbling, high-velocity delivery of witty, clever, entangled lyrics.
From “White Men Are Black Men Too” (Big Dada)
When we played this on the show, I called out that the clincher for getting into our end of year show was the memories it triggers of Young Father's overwhelming energetic performance at The Independent early this year. A great show, for a fantastic album, and though they carry a great reputation nothing could quite prepare you for the energy of Young Fathers' live set.
“Shame” represents the unrestrained, dancing, musically ecstatic side of “White Men Are Black Men Too”, an album of real diversity from tracks like this to sparse, irregular percussive foundation of title track “Old Rock n Roll”.
Far from just being a great live performance memory though, “Shame” and the record it comes from is great release.
2016 has a lot to of work to do, frankly, but at least musically there's something to live up to.