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The best albums of 2015 by some guy on the Internet (*finally*)

Cover art to Jamie XX's In Colour 

[Horribly delayed, I realize…]

I avoided this exercise last year in favor of...well, nothing in particular. I don’t know: I was focused on my new job, intent on maximizing my free time in a new city, and keen on ingesting the last bit of counterculture cool my then-neighborhood, the rapidly gentrifying Capitol Hill, had to offer, all of which left me unenthused with the prospect of enumerating the musical highlights of the preceding 12 months. Oh, sure, I started a list, which I’m fairly certain topped off at Swans’ To Be Kind, the lethal power cords, dislocating polyrhythms, and foreboding prophet-of-doom lyrics of which distilled the apocalyptic trajectory of 2014’s global political realities better than the news media itself.

But that was 2014. This is was 2015. Now I’m settled in a north Seattle, “we’re not suburbia, we just look like suburbia,” neighborhood, saddled with and luxuriating in all the trappings of the landed bourgeoisie (mortgage, runs to the hardware store and IKEA, a 75-lb Golden Retriever…). I need to make an effort to stay abreast of new music, and the fruit of such effort now sounds like more of an accomplishment than it ever has.

In a departure from past lists, I’m only including 10 albums, because I feel like anything beyond 10 is merely something I listened to and enjoyed. These are 10 albums that I *loved* from the past year, which was a very rich one.

So, here we go:
Everybody loved Jamie XX’s long-awaited debut LP, and everybody referred to it as “long-awaited.” For me, and perhaps for those whose lists it also topped, it’s the way Jamie democratizes and future proofs the notion of and various styles associated with rave and rave culture that make In Colour the most impressive offering of the year. In the hands of its most capable practitioners, electronic music makes a compelling case that time is indeed cyclical, not linear. Seen in this light, the 25-year old drum n’ bass rhythms of lead-off track “Gosh” or the dubstep of “Girl” aren’t embarrassing anachronisms or waning subegenres, respectively, but rather, rich troves of influence that can be mined ad infinitum provided the taste level is there.

Prins Thomas, who similarly seeks to celebrate ghosts of electronic music past, treats his job as DJ-cum-curator both very seriously and very goofily (have you seen the cover art to Paradise Goulash?). The consistency of the three long mixes is what really land this for me; each is a finely executed work of exceptional curation and manages, as Prins always has, to bring disco to the euphoric heights generally reserved for more buttoned-up electronic subgenres.

Oneohtrix Point Never’s Garden of Delete is far from my favorite from Daniel Lopatin’s signature project, but, of all his densely cerebral electronic explorations, it’s the one that I can relate to most from a biographical standpoint. Each track sounds like some variant of the generalized memory pool one attained growing up in the musical landscape of the 1990s. Listening to this album is akin to shoving Nine Inch Nails, Underworld, and any number of period R&B and grunge acts into a blender, leaving the top off, and being assaulted by flecks of the unholy melange you’ve just created.

I love The Orb and am counting on Dr. Alex Patterson and Thomas Felhmann, both of whom are nearing 60, to keep doing exactly what they are doing for another 15-20 years. Moonbuilding 2703 AD is some of their very best post-Island years’ work, with enjoyable ambient-techno grooves and oddball sci-fi voiceovers leading you on a pleasant journey through the nearby cosmos. The tempo never breaks an andante -- this is music for work or for daily constitutionals. There’s nothing new under the sun, but with some competent and loving execution, you’ll be hard-pressed to complain.

Everything I’ve covered up til now, with the arguable exception of Oneohtrix, falls thematically into either “loving homage to electronic genres of yore” or “more of a good thing.” So, let me leave you with JLin’s “Dark Energy”, which is exciting in so many ways, including: 1) its creator is prodigiously talented and young, and 2) it triumphs in taking the spare sonic palette of footwork to compellingly intricate and emotionally resonant new territory. As much reassurance I find in the eternal return of yesterday’s electronic sounds (hey, it keeps me from feeling old), the sense that JLin is actually creating something discernibly new is incredibly exciting.

Alright, that's enough. Enjoy [the rest of] 2016.
  1. Jamie XX - In Colour 
  2. Prins Thomas - Paradise Goulash 
  3. Oneohtrix Point Never - Garden of Delete 
  4. The Orb - Moonbuilding 2703 AD 
  5. Jlin - Dark Energy 
  6. Future - DS2 
  7. Viet Cong - Viet Cong 
  8. Mbongwana Star - From Kinshasa 
  9. Floating Points - Elaenia 
  10. DJ Koze - DJ Kicks

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