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Vince Staples

Saw a lot of live music this year, with well over 100 different bands represented.  These were the best of the bunch:

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25. Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

Waxahatchee - Ivy TrippIvy Tripp is DIY singer/songwriter that draws on Katie Crutchfield’s punk past.  Lyrically, the album continues her exploration of feminist ideas, and uses her experiences, or more specifically her mistakes, to demonstrate how a strong, independent woman is formed in today’s society.

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Here is my top 20 music releases for 2015, with no claim that they are somehow objectively the best or that I listened to everything anyone else did. I have found things that delighted me on other people’s lists, and the point of the exercise is not to replicate or compete with those lists but to highlight some things you may not have found, things that might delight you. The sequence changed every time I made a shortlist, so take the numbers with a pinch of salt – all of them could be at least plus or minus 5 on a given day.

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14

Dec

2015

Review: City of Brides by En

By David Smith. Posted in Ambient, Drone, Electronic, Reviews | No Comments »
City of Brides by En

City of Brides by En

En’s last album, Already Gone, (review here) was notable both for its distinctive palette of sounds and for its cohesion. It offered a succession of tracks of increasing length, culminating and resolving in a 20-minute meditation on Elysium, the mythical Greek isle of the blessed. City of Brides (the title of the new double LP and of its closing track – another eschatological tinge, I wonder?) is less linear. Indeed it thrives on a restless exploration of shifting and contrasting sounds, skipping from noise to clarity, from stasis to rippling motion, from soft to abrasive as we wander from moment to moment and from track to track. And yet there remains a sense of deep unity, as if the various tracks are somehow probing the same question, prodding at the same possibility.

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Inscriptions by Wil Bolton

Inscriptions by Wil Bolton

I didn’t plan to write a review tonight. But the CD was playing and it caught me up and carried me away and I had to write…

Wil Bolton’s music is part of the texture of my world. I always enjoy his releases to one degree or another, but a handful of them have risen from “this is nice” to “this is one of my favorite things”. The expressive chimes of Time Lapse and Chimes for a Wall Drawing call forth wonder and remain in my listening rotation years after their release.

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Arovane - dwell_tevvel_structure

dwell_tevvel_structure by Arovane

Germany’s Arovane has been putting out some striking ambient material of late, including the recent dwell_tevvel_structure on the UK label …txt recordings. I have no idea what a tevvel is, and neither does Google; it’s an anagram of velvet and bears a passing resemblance to the Dutch teviel (“too much”), but who knows if that is relevant. Dwelling, in the sense of settling down and taking time, and structure, here in the form of careful layers of sound, are both terms that illuminate the music on this album. The album consists of four long sound pieces (ranging from 14 to 20 minutes), each with its own distinct character yet tied together sonically in an arc that suggests four movements of a whole. The first opens with a gently undulating drift and fluttering patters of brightness – perhaps it’s the cover art, but I find it hard not to think of sunlight sparkling on waves.

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Omar Souleyman - Bahdeni NamiOmar Souleyman – Bahdeni Nami

The best known Syrian dabke wedding singer, now based in Turkey due to the Syrian civil war, is back with his second studio recording following 147,692 (number approximate) tape releases in his native country.  Souleyman, who uses electronics and his soulful voice to craft fun, incredibly danceable tunes, again worked with Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden on Bahdeni Nami and the album does not disappoint.  Souleyman’s lyrics are, of course, in Arabic, so very few native English speakers will be able to understand them, but the sound of his voice blends so well the music’s high pitched keyboard sounds that their meaning is really irrelevant.  All that matters is the music irresistibly makes hips shake and heads bob.

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Jenny Hval - Apocalypse, girlJenny Hval – Apocalypse, girl

Norwegian Jenny Hval makes experimental music made up of gentle, often ethereal, synths and uncompromising lyrics focusing on sex, gender, aging, religion, and other deep personal subjects (the word “cunt” is startlingly used on multiple tracks).  This combination of the otherworldly and fully human creates an unsettling, fascinating whole.  Apocalypse, girl, Hval’s third release under her own name, she previously recorded as Rockettothesky and along with Håvard Volden as Nude on Sand, is her best work to date.  In fact, much of Apocalypse, girl merges all the above topics into one massive exploration of the female condition.  This is not music for idle listening, but requires time and focus.  That time and focus are rewarded, however, with one of the most lyrically interesting albums of the year thus far.

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Jamie xx - In CoulourJamie xx – In Colour

Electronic artist Jamie xx is best known as a member of The xx, but started gaining solo fame in 2010 with the release of his Gil Scott-Heron remix album We’re New HereIn Colour is Jamie’s solo debut and while there are moments reminiscent of The xx, especially when bandmates Romy Croft or Oliver Sim handle vocals, this is most assuredly not an xx album.  Jamie brings together all the various UK electronic styles (UK garage, wonky, dubstep, house, etc.), but adds different sounds to them (most interestingly a steel drum on “Just Saying” and guests Young Thug and Popcaan on lead single “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”) to add a rare freshness that elevates the album to a new level.  Listening to In Colour is reminiscent of the first 2013 listens to Disclosure’s Settle (in excitement much more than sound), and it seems likely In Colour will have as large an impact on popular music as Settle did.

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Shamir - RatchetShamir – Ratchet

Shamir has been the next big thing in dance pop for a minute now, going from unknown to releasing a single on small NYC label Godmode to signing with indie titan XL Recordings in the blink of an eye.  Happily, Ratchet is a worthy capstone to such a meteoric rise.  Largely made up of very of the moment synth and drum machine sounds, but highlighted by Shamir’s contralto vocals, Ratchet is sexy, smooth, laid back fun.  In other words, it’s summer party music at its finest.

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