The Best Albums of 2015
It has been an excellent year for lovers of pop music outside of the Anglo-Saxon mainstream. Although lately I personally have been concentrating on the Japanese indie scene mainly, I have discovered many exciting acts from all over the world, mostly due to my favorite web-site Beehype, but also on SoundCloud and Bandcamp.
Unfortunately, despite globalization and the fact that it should take no effort at all to get good music from outside of Europe or the US because of, you know, THE INTERNET, it’s still often extremely hard to get your hands on good albums from Africa or Asia. For instance, I still haven’t been able to purchase the two – from what I’ve heard great – albums brought out this year by Japanese group Batman Winks. And to get the latest album by Indonesian band Ramayana Soul I would have to go to Indonesia and get the cassette tape and in order to play that tape I would have to purchase a cassette tape player. I didn’t even know they make those anymore.
Anyway, I can’t complain, I’ve been spoilt with a lot of delicious music of all kinds, from hip-hop to jazz-rock to post-punk and ambient. What follows is a list of ten albums I have liked most.
10: Cicada ‘Bed Room‘
Yes, I know this is not a perfect album. The drumming is too nervous and obtrusive and there’s this old-fashioned, ugly synthesizer sound on some tracks, but I still like this sexy, jazzy, funky album a lot, not in the least because of singer Akiko Kido with her soft, whimpering voice. And these are just very good, well-written songs.
9: Rhymester ‘Bitter, Sweet & Beautiful‘
Since I saw that monument of a movie Tokyo Tribe (my favorite movie of 2014) I’ve been obsessed (a little) by Japanese hip-hop. Rhymester is one of the groups featured in the movie. The group is pretty big in Japan and it’s been around for quite a while too.
Their latest album, ‘Bitter, Sweet & Beautiful‘ is nothing world shocking and you might even call it a crowd pleaser but it’s pure fun, with plenty of variation and full of little surprises, like for instance a sample starring a folksy hee-hawing fiddle-player. Quite melodious too.
I find it an extremely satisfying album, a musical box of chocolates in pretty wrappers that has me smile all the time. Also it’s impossible to sit still listening to it. Buy it here.
8: Various Artists ‘V.A. Tanukineiri Shiori (Book) Sampler 下 〜冒険の旅〜（INNER WORLD）‘
One of a diptych by Tanukineiri, a manufacturer of table ware (seriously!) that also dabbles in alternative music, most is downloadable for free, absolutely amazing and innovative and this album is a sampler of Tanukineiri’s catalogue, also free. Of the two samplers I chose this one because of one sublime track by Ryoma Sakou, Kabe. Sakou also brought out a new album this year that’s quite good and free, here.
7: Stars and Rabbit ‘Constellation‘
This amazing band from Indonesia plays beautiful melancholic songs that seem to have a clear North American folk influence but everyone who is a bit familiar with traditional South East Asian folk music recognizes a distinctive South East Asian sound. I have elaborated on it here. Buy the album here.
6: Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto ‘Classical Punk and Echoes Under the Beauty‘
This album is exactly as pretentious as its title, which is certainly not to say it is not a stunning album. More classical than Punk, full of pathos, very compelling, bombastic, with nothing but grand gestures. Perhaps I want to have this played at my funeral, to make sure everybody’s bawling his eyes out. Buy the album here.
5: Cero ‘Obscure ride‘
From the pretentious to the absolute pretentious-less. Obscure ride is a smooth, funky, jazzy exercise in laidbackiness. I don’t know what else to say. It’s definitely a feel-good album, to be played in your car, on the way to the beach. Buy it here.
4: Spangle Call Lilli Line ‘Ghost is Dead‘
Ghost is Dead is filled with funky, sometimes jazzy rockers, rather complex, but in no way inaccessible, driven by bass, guitar and drums mostly, softened by singer Kana Otsubo’s soothing, dreamy voice. For a little summer in winter. Buy here.
3: Noah ‘Sivutie‘
Sivutie is like a watery ghost wandering through a wintry landscape. This is so fucking beautiful I cannot do anything but lay down and let the music engulf my whole being when I hear it. Noah’s real name is Ayuko Kurasaki and she’s from Hokkaido in the north of Japan, where I’ve never been but I imagine it’s like this album, cold and still and just beautiful and maybe a bit lonely when you’re used to Tokyo. Here.
2: Tricot ‘And‘
These girls rock! It’s called math-rock and I can see why because the members of Tricot know exactly where to put their notes in their tightly and elaborately composed songs and how many to put there.
But their music certainly also has a warm and throbbing heart and it’s full of power and fury and als very funky. I can never resist making a fool of my self playing air bass and air drums when I listen to this album. Very hazukashi. Singer Ikumi Nakajima sings in a very loud voice, seemingly effortlessly reaching very high notes, it’s incredible. Buy it here.
1: Remigai ‘Fenestica‘
This album I have played most often these past months. It’s a happy album full of intricately composed songs with nice twists that make your heart skip a beat. There’s an Irish fiddle, there’s lots of very exciting percussion, there’s a reggae tune, the songs are full of twists and extra layers, the compositions may sound easy but are complicated little clockworks, perfectly timed.
Very fragile and pretty robust at the same time. There are English lyrics that I think Remigai would have done well asking a native English speaker to take a look at. It’s not unusual to see infants in Japan wearing T-shirts with rather profane texts on it but ‘be my baby, fuck my ass’? Someone’s been having devilish fun at your cost, dear Remigai people! Also it’s time for a new video, don’t you think.
Download the album here.
That’s my list, folks. On another day it could have been a different list, or slightly different. Honorable mentions for Don Matsuo who had a very exciting album out this year, much better than the usual fare of his band The Zoobombs; Triple Fire, which ended up high on my list in 2014, brought out a nice third album which is, however more of the same. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I like surprises is all.
Also fantastic were the new albums by Kendrick Lamar, the only Western artist who had an album I was very, very excited about, Hakuchi, the aforementioned Batman Winks, the Piqnic, that weird duo Sayuu, the band that sounds like they’re from Northern England, Ykiki Beat, hardcore garage rockers Deviation, electronic ambient disco beast LLLL, and PIKA☆ and so much more.
Oh fuck, I forgot The Extruders. Should have definitely been in the Top 10. Such a fine album.
As I said, it was a very satisfying musical year.
op 01 01 2016 at 02:21 schreef Gert:
Jij hebt wat met Japan. Iets wat vroeger mensen met Frankrijk hadden. (Niet lullig bedoeld)
op 02 01 2016 at 16:21 schreef Rena Breed:
Ik luister nog steeds graag naar Soil and Pimp ;) Ook uit Japan. Vooral live echt niersteenvergruizend. haha
op 03 01 2016 at 18:08 schreef machiel:
Ik vind dat je nu toch echt te ver bent gegaan! Je bent helemaal deze vergeten: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crosseyed_Heart
op 11 01 2016 at 09:44 schreef Thomas E:
‘….and of course David Bowie.’
Dit zal een dag van rouw voor jou zijn, Peter.