Albums of 2015

I’m not really a fan of list blogs, and never agree with any of the end of year lists for anything. I was reluctant to post my own ‘albums of the year’ because, well, frankly, who gives a crap?

Because I haven’t heard every album released, or even all of the big’ albums of the year because I’ve been busy discovering new and emerging acts independently, my list doesn’t feature our favourite band or album, and I make no apologies for this. During 2015, I penned some 622 music reviews, which probably accounted for a third to a quarter of the material I was sent. I attended some 40 live shows (and invariably saw all of the support acts), including two all-day cosmopolitan festivals: at each of these I packed in some 13 bands on each day. I covered most of them, however briefly. I can’t remember a fraction of the artists I’ve heard or seen, but I’d like to think my commitment to supporting live music and new artists is self-apparent.

Anyone who says there’s no good new music is wrong. The chances are that they’re locked in a previous era (usually the years between the age of 16 and 30) and are looking in the wrong place. Take it from me: there’s never been more exciting new music than now. Sometimes you have to wade through endless dreck to discover it, but that’s a key part of my ‘job’.

The albums listed here aren’t necessarily the ‘best’ albums of the year, or the ones fans or critics have unanimously frothed over, but they’re the ones which have had the greatest impact and stuck with me over the course of the year. They’re presented in in more or less chronological order or release. Enjoy.

Special thanks got to Lauren Barley (Rarely Unable), Ed Bendorff (Dense Promotions), Simon Glacken (I Like Press) and Andy at Riot Season for providing me with disproportionate quantities of great music over the last 12 months. Here’s looking to another marvellous year for music in 2016.

 

Disappears – Irreal

Disappears truly cast off the last vestiges of their garage rock beginnings with Irreal, dismantling the very structures of rock ‘n’ roll with this sparse art-rock offering. Challenging, but rewarding.

The Twilight Sad – Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave

Almost universally acclaimed, and deservedly so, The Twilight Sad’s fourth album isn’t my favourite by any stretch. But it deservedly provided the band with their commercial and critical breakthrough and scored them a US tour with The Cure. Perhaps more importantly, it’s an album that’s aching with pained emotion and draws together all of the elements of their previous work to powerful effect.

Henry Blacker – Summer Tombs

Released on vinyl for record store day, hey Colossus offshoot power trio Henry Blacker really excelled with Summer Tombs, a grimy, sweaty, grunged-out psychedelic take on the classic rock template. The CD release which followed is doubly cool by virtue of the fact it features debut album Hungry Dogs Will Eat Dirty Puddings as its bonus tracks, and thus features the gnarly masterpiece that is ‘Pullin’ Like a Dray’ and means I can also shoehorn this album into my list for the year.

A Place To Bury Strangers – Transfixiation

New York purveyors of feedback-strewn demolition indie rock certainly didn’t sell out with their eardrum-shredding, tinnitus-inducing fourth album.

Slow Readers Club – Cavalcade

Dark, brooding post-punk / new-wave / electro-infused indie par excellence:Cavalcade is bursting with songs of a rare quality.

New Politicians – Remission

The best Interpol album not recorded by Interpol. Chilling, atmospheric, brilliant.

Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls

Every element of Prurient’s previous output distilled into a double album of pain and beauty. Perseverance essential.

Sleaford Mods – Key Markets

This is no bandwagon-hopping throw-in: Sleaford Mods are without question one of, if not THE most significant acts going. Key Markets encapsulates everything that makes the Mods ace, and despite their rising popularity, they’ve done nothing to pander to critical or commercial demands on their latest offering, while expanding their scope with tracks like ‘Tarantula Deadly Cargo’.

Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss

Immensely powerful stuff.

 

Primitive Race – Primitive Race

Industrial / goth / 80s crossover mega-collaboration featuring Josh Bradford (Revolting Cocks, Stayte, Simple Shelter), Mark Brooks (Warlock Pinchers, Foreskin 500, Night Club), Mark Gemini Thwaite (Peter Murphy, The Mission UK, Tricky), Dave Ogilvie (Skinny Puppy, Jakalope), and Chris Kniker. Off the back of an EP with PIG (aka Raymond Watts), the debut album proved to be diverse and really rather good.

Blacklisters – Adult

Leeds’ premier purveyors of nasty noise returned with a killer second album. Still making a nod to The Jesus Lizard and Shellac, with gritty riffs in abundance, but with denser production than its predecessor. I’m not messing around here…

Post War Glamour Girls – Feeling Strange

Following swiftly on from their storming debut, Leeds’ Post War Glamour Girls delivered an equally storming second album. At times bleak, at times angry, it proved to be adventurous, daring and accomplished.

Swans – The Gate

No need to explain or justify this one. Swan have been going from strength to strength, and while the Filth reissue was also a contender, this collection of live recordings and demos for the next album is all about looking forward. It also captures the immense power of the band’s current incarnation live with remarkable accuracy, although it’s fair to say nothing can fully convey the force of their unassailable volume. You don’t know loud until you’ve experienced Swans. There really is no other band who have ever, or will ever, touch Swans. Yes, I’m a total fanboy.

Killing Joke – Pylon

Killing Joke were always the band of the apocalypse, the angry but articulate voice of dissent to political corruption and cultural greed. Pylon is perfectly timed and absolutely on the money, with some cracking – not to mention fittingly heavy – tunes to boot. With punishing riffs galore, the original lineup are on fine form here.

Kowloon Walled City – Grievances

Post-metal par excellence. By turns delicate and punishing, Kowloon Walled City’s Grievances is the sound of pain, conveyed in a way that resonates to the very core of the soul.

Sunn O))) – Kannon

Krushing.

 

You want more? Auralaggravation.com is a good place to start….

Not in it for the Money: Getting Aggro

I was faced with a dilemma. Back in 2008, having written a couple of largely unread music reviews on my MySpace Blog, I started writing as a reviewer for Whisperin’ and Hollerin’. It came naturally: I’d written music reviews for a few local and regional papers and so on in the past. And so before long, I was cranking out a review a day on average, and sometimes more. Landing more reviewing slots for other websites alongside, I independently built up a substantial PR network over the next few years. While continuing to receive streams and CDs and all other gubbins for review from editors and various PRs, and moving up to an average of two reviews a day, I couldn’t help but feel I was holding back on occasion. That isn’t to say I wasn’t loving my work, and the various sites are all outstanding in their ways, commanding respect and a decent readership.

But the reviews I was holding back on were more journalistic, essay-like pieces which felt appropriate for some of the releases I was receiving, but posting the 450+ word pieces I wanted to write didn’t feel entirely right even on the sites I had free reign on.

For a long period of time, I deliberated running my own site, and laid claim to Aural Aggravation in 2013 with a view to launching my own site devoted to covering the niche bands I liked but felt warranted a more specialist review space over sites that covered everything. I had a sense of how the site should look, feel and navigate. I suppose you might say I’m a control freak: I’d argue against that, but sometimes feel the need to impose my creative ideas on the world – albeit usually only a very small corner of it.

It was listening to the new Philip Jeck album while simultaneously reading Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life that spurred me to write a very different kind of review. More contemplative, academic, even. And much longer – somewhere between a longform review and an essay, you might say. I immediately realised that this was the kind of review I wanted to write. Not always, but sometimes.

And so Aural Aggravation was born and the site went live – public – with a couple of album reviews, a single review courtesy of James Wells, and a couple of audio / video streams. Boom.

I’m not ditching W&H or S4M any stretch, and I’m most certainly continuing to work in my various fiction projects and build The Rage Monologues (more of which very soon). But I am branching out in the reviewing world.

Aural Aggravation won’t be for everyone. And I’m happy with that. It will never reach a huge audience, either. The aim isn’t to be a mainstream site, either in the music if covers or in the way it covers it. Both aspects of the site are purposefully niche, and the fact that reviewing difficult music in reviews that will take more than a minute and a half to read, and don’t even use any kind of rating system runs completely contra to everything that’s going on in the media right now, from the ‘net to the debased print version of the NME. And that is precisely why I’m doing it. There’s a gap in the market, so to speak. Small and specialist it may be, but it’s one that I’m looking to step into in some way – for the love, not the money.

Aural Aggravation Website: http://auralaggravation.com/

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