The Best Music of 2015

Like last year, my year has been framed more by songs than full albums. Lyrically it was a magnificent year, and one where so many established greats quietly released new records (Decembrists, My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Low). It was also a rocking year for female vocalists and bands, and my Top 30 Best Songs Playlist reflects that.

1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

sufjan

Sufjan Stevens released the most moving record of the year, a devastatingly sad and beautiful return to his singer/songwriter roots. Stevens unpacks issues surrounding mental illness and the reasons his mother abandoned him with ice cold honesty. Becoming a parent opens up all sorts of emotional vulnerabilities and at least for me, seeing this record performed live was a life-changing experience. For further reading you can’t do better than this Pitchfork interview.

2. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit

courtney barnett

Courtney Barnett released the best debut album of 2015, a confident and casual authentic celebration of rock. The raw guitars and basic progressions are the best thing to happen to Garage Rock in a long time. Barnett’s thick Australian accent and direct lyrics encourage the most unlikely singable moments (and my favourite lyric of the year) “I think you’re a joke but I don’t find you very funny.”

3. Ryan Adams – 1989

1989

Ryan Adams’ cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 is the best guilty pleasure of 2015. When he sings “That’s How You Get The Girl,” he’s really saying how he lost the girl, and much of the album is this kind of antithesis/call and response that plays with Swift’s original. It’s basically the best pop record turned into the best breakup record.

4. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m going down

b'lieve

Kurt Vile is the most sophisticated slacker on this list. He ditched his electric guitar for a more mellow sound incorporating piano and banjos. It’s a perfect alluring record that balances fun and soothing in a lazy acoustic fashion.

5. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
6. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
7. Olafur Arnalds & Alice Sarah Ott – The Chopin Project

5-6-7

Father John Misty’s cheeky and wry record was constant positive highlight of the year, filled with love and a healthy dose of cynicism. Alabama Shakes’ second record turned out to be a ballsy swamp-Rock statement that they’re edgy and soulful and ready to experiment. Olafur Arnalds and Alice Sarah Ott released the most inviting Classical Pop album of the year. The simplicity in their approach to Chopin come across as effortless and familiar while the acoustic detail they capture with their instruments is an audio feast.

8. Sleater-Kinney – No City To Love
9. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress
10. Torres – Sprinter

8-9-10

Sleater-Kinney reformed this year to release a tight collection of hooks and melodies. I don’t know their back catalogue but this record starts, goes determinedly forth and conquers in just over 30 badass minutes. The new Godspeed album is the most succinct record of their sound to date, immediately recognisable but more refined. It’s beauty lies in the band favouring a more subtle classical approach rather than their familiar Noise Rock style. Torres released an impressive debut album filled with honest songwriting and raw emotional delivery. She keeps it mature though and along with her minimalist band she created the best Grunge song ever (see playlist).

There are still many of this year’s releases that I’m listening to. I’m not quite into the Wilco yet but I’m a big fan and I’m trying. I’ve just discovered Youth Lagoon and Rhiannon Giddens, both of whom may have made the Top 10. Finally it’s long overdue but I’m also getting into these artist’s records: Natalie Prass, Shamir, Fred Thomas, Joan Shelley, Julia Holter.

Below are the Spotify, Apple Music and iTunes playlist versions of my top 30 Best Songs of 2015. I did sequence them but feel free to hit shuffle if that’s how you roll. Some are from my best albums, most are songs that consistently had me turning up the volume.

Here’s the Apple Music playlist, I’ve just noticed that “Harrison Ford” by Darlingside isn’t available on Apple Music or iTunes but you can listen to it here on YouTube. I’ll add a Youtube playlist next year when all of the songs are available or have videos. You can also buy the rest of these songs on iTunes.

Update: Here’s the Soundsgood player with all the tracks across various platforms.
https://soundsgood.co/embed/574c9c2c9c98dacc1ebafd1c

Best Music Of 2014 (a little more, a little less)

There are so many firsts for this year. This is the first year that I’ve felt really overwhelmed with the amount of albums I didn’t get a chance to listen to. This is the first year with a with a toddler in the house. This is the first year I’m posting a Best Songs playlist (see the end of the post), and in some respects I feel like I had more time for songs than for albums.

So with that introduction, the 2014 albums that went from a blossoming romance to lifelong partners are:

1. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

war-on-drugs

2. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

angel-olsen

3. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams

ryan-adams-new-album

These albums got under my skin. Ryan Adams was
the incredible soundtrack to my first trip to the US (where I also saw him live). Angel Olsen’s beautiful voice held my hand while I made some difficult decisions this year. The War On Drugs was my constant companion through my most challenging professional, and most rewarding personal year. I bought all these albums on vinyl.

All the runner-up lovers, in no particular order

  • Beck – Morning Phase
  • Hozier – Hozier
  • Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso
  • Elbow – The Take Off And Landing Of Everything
  • Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
  • Weezer – Everything Will Be All Right in the End
  • Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

The nice albums that just didn’t stick

  • Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
  • First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
  • Rosanne Cash – River & the Thread
  • Jack White – Lazaretto
  • Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain

Albums that went over my head

  • St. Vincent – St. Vincent
  • FKA Twigs – LP1
  • Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
  • Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
  • The Black Keys – Turn Blue

Albums I still need to listen to. Some of these may have made THE list, but…toddler

  • Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
  • Swans – To Be Kind
  • Sun Kil Moon – Benji
  • Luluc – Passerby
  • Rodrigo Amarante – Cavalo
  • The Antlers – Familiars
  • Tweedy – Sukierae
  • Hurray for the Riff Raff – Small Town Heroes
  • Flying Lotus – You’re Dead
  • Alvvays – Alvvays
  • Thurston Moore – The Best Day
  • Ty Segall – Manipulator
  • Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems
  • Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
  • Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes
  • Mogwai – Rave Tapes
  • Eagulls – Eagulls
  • Robert Plant – Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar
  • The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
  • Damien Jurado – Brothers And Sisters Of The Eternal Son
  • Foxygen – …And Star Power
  • The Flaming Lips – With A Little Help From My Fwends

For the rest, here’s my Best Songs of 2014 playlist

I leave you with a 2 hour playlist of my Top 30 Tracks. Technically a Top 29, because GRMLN’s “Of Nothing” isn’t available on YouTube (yes, this is still happening). You can however listen to it on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/carparkrecords/07-of-nothing

A last final note…

The Decemberists snuck in two tracks this year from their forthcoming album (January 2015). I thought it was a little unfair to include it into the top tracks because they’ve just come along, but yeah, this is my new crush…

Late Again: The Best Albums of 2013

I’ll never live it down if I don’t document the best albums of the year that my son was born in, so here goes…

1. David Bowie – The Next Day

David_Bowie_-_The_Next_Day

2. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

Push_the_Sky_Away

3. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

vampire-weekend

4. Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

Queens_of_the_Stone_Age_-_…Like_Clockwork

Low – The Invisible Way

low

6. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

the national

7. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Random_Access_Memories

8. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

ArcadeFireReflektor

9. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Neko Case

10. Dawes – Stories Don’t End

dawes-stories-dont-end

Special mention to Haim and 65daysofstatic for great albums that just didn’t make the top 10.Haim+65

Better Late Than Never: Best Albums of 2012

1. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend 

1. Godspeed

2. Shearwater – Animal Life

2. Shearwater

3. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

3. Fiona Apple

4. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas

4. Leonard Cohen

5. Tame Impala – Lonerism

5. Tame Impala

6. Richard Hawley – Standing At The Sky’s Edge

6. Richard Hawley

7. Animal Collective – Centipede Hz

7. Animal Collective

8. Dry The River – Shallow Bed

8. Dry The River

9. The Lumineers – The Lumineers

9. Lumineers

10. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls

10. Alabama Shakes

Special mentions go to Japandroids and Alt-J for almost making the list.

special-mentions

Best Albums of 2011

1. My Morning Jacket – Circuital

my morning jacket

2. Wilco – The Whole Love

wilco

3. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

iron and wine

4. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

fleet foxes

5. The Black Keys – El Camino

black keys

6. Decemberists – The King Is Dead

decemberists

7. The Antlers – Burst Apart

antlers

8. Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi – Rome

rome

9. TV On The Radio – Nine Types Of Light

tvotr

10. Lady Gaga – Born This Way

lady gaga

Special mention goes to The Naked And Famous for their debut album Passive Me, Aggressive You. It really is a gem, but it missed the top 10 by a drum beat.

naked and famous

KONGOS. Rock. Pretoria.

This weekend past the KONGOS killed at Park Acoustics. If you were there, good on you. You’re part of a crowing number of people joining the movement. If you weren’t able to make it, perhaps you’ll join us next year for a Sunday picnic with great music in our beautiful city.

The KONGOS are four brothers: Danny, Dylan, Jesse and Johnny (Kongos) from Phoenix, Arizona. Their song “I’m Only Joking” has been cutting through the airwaves everywhere recently, and I suspect their new single, “Come With Me Now” might do the same. Their dad John Kongos is a South African who looks a little like John Lennon and wrote a few international hits in his day.

The KONGOS debut album ‘Lunatic’ is so much more than the sound of “I’m Only Joking” though, and so is their live performance. You can expect everything from world music and folk inspired melodies to foot-stomping, powerful drum-driven rock.

Check out the snaps I took of their gig at Park Acoustics below. Since they’re here they’ll be doing a few shows, so while you’re checking out their tour dates on www.kongos.com sign up with your email address. The KONGOS are such nice guys, they’ll give you 5 free tracks! Win!

They also did a great interview with Blimpfilms for us!

Park Acoustics have an event every month at the Voortrekker Monument. Unfortunately this was the last one for the year, but join the conversation with us at www.facebook.com/park.acoustics

Drugs with benefits

I’ve just written my marketing exam. It’s the second exam since I was a student squillion years ago. It’ll probably be at least another 5-7 years for the course I’m doing, and this is where I’ll record the sometimes horrible but hugely rewarding experience.

It’s been a little difficult getting back into the swing of studying, but there are a few things that make it more tolerable. These are summer, NRG and Biral.

Herbalife’s NRG is the student’s best friend, made of guarana powder with some other stuff that’s good for you. Drink it and focus for 3 hours solid. Best known as a coffee substitute, it works much better than you’d think a health product would, and it’s also really great for hangovers.

Due to stupid standards of excellence, I stress about the exam a lot, which is where Biral steps in. It allows one to calm the hell down and blurt everything you know out on paper in a coherent and logical fashion. Priceless clarity during an exam.

Summer of course needs no explanation, because everything is just better during an African summer. Braais outside, watermelon and Christmas, summer is always where the fun is at (after the exam). I’m not sure what subject I’ll do next, but summer probably won’t be part of the equasion.