Jefre Cantu-Ledesma is one of the most creative guitarists alive, perhaps the preeminent abstract painter when it comes to using the instrument as a brush.
His music transcends basic understanding of what guitar music can be, transporting listeners to realms buffeted by noise and gauzy atmospherics, spaces where traditional notions of the instrument are blasted away like a sandstorm. His latest album, On The Echoing Green, aims that sense of free-form exploration in a refreshingly melodic direction. It’s a change that results in his best work yet.
I haven’t posted a weekly update in a while, so it’s about time. A lot happened, but I’ll stick to the highlights.
I hung out in wine country, biked about 500 miles, and finally saw my Japanese metal superheroes Boris in concert. Then I found myself on an extended deep dive into all the 60s jazz that I skipped over in the past. This total immersion is resulting in another evolution of taste.
The Jesus and Mary Chain’s first hit, Just Like Honey, is one of the greatest rock songs of all time. This is as close to objective fact as you can get in the music world.
If you’re not familiar, you’ll know what I mean:
When Taylor Swift dropped 1989 a year and a half ago, I was kind of awestruck. I’d enjoyed a few songs of hers before, but now she was onto a whole new level. While the entire album isn’t perfect, the first half is a breathtaking run of near-perfect pop gems.
At the center lies Out of the Woods, a song that gripped me immediately and never let go. I tried to share it before, but her record label was way too good at getting streams taken down. However, just this week someone pointed out that she finally made a video for the song. So here it is in all its glorious, wolf-chasing, hot nonsense:
2015 was an incredible year for music, full of surprises and second comings, weird new genres and unbelievable evolutions of existing sounds. Of course, every year is great for music as long as you’re open to new sounds. That’s how this whole thing works.
Every year, I enjoy writing down my favorites as I go along, adding them to a simple text file on my laptop. Sometimes I add stars to the albums when I realize I’m completely mad for them. For some albums, this means I find myself listening day after day, racking up dozens of plays. For others, this means that I’m struck so deeply on an emotional, intellectual, or even physical level that I can’t bring myself to listen again for a few days. Both experiences bring lasting rewards, especially when considered in the long view. This is why I love looking back and appreciating the permanent impact from these powerful pieces of music.
As it turned out, this year’s list included over twenty starred albums. I left a handful for my Best of 2015 Honorable Mention list, but the rest were simply indispensable. My list would not be complete without all of these albums.
So please, read on and enjoy. These are the 17 best albums of 2015.
Cocteau Twins made some of the most unique music of all time. I could hear a two second clip from any song in their catalog and know instantly who it is. This is the only dream pop band that sounds like it came from actual dreams. People tend to love everything they’ve done, or nothing at all. I’ve been addicted for years.
I forgot how much I loved this song.
Despite the title, the lyrics are actually about all sorts of insecurities that we find ourselves plagued with. The song happily dances upon the surface of existential loathing, a buoyant celebration of being weird and alone and, on rare occasion, freaking out and having some unbridled fun.
I’d never seen the video before today, so I’m thankful I thought to look it up. The band members star as put-upon losers who let loose a bit of anarchy in the driving, instrumental second half of the tune. It’s basically what I saw in my head every time the song played, a cathartic release of tension and inhibitions. After all these years, it’s still a burst of joy.
The Boo Radleys may be remembered in Britpop history for their 1995 breakthrough Wake Up!, but I’ve always had a much softer spot for the previous album, Giant Steps. Wish I Was Skinny is a bit of a red herring, since the rest of the album is a turbulent, dizzying race through a dense series of wild sound worlds.
It’s an incredibly ambitious psychedelic pop album, veering from washed out shoegaze to broken jazz explosions, infused with an uncanny pop sensibility that makes even the noisiest parts endearing. It was ballsy to name an album after the John Coltrane masterpiece, but if anyone in the world of 90s British rock deserved to use it, it was this band.
If you become nauseous at the mere mention of Oasis, don’t worry. These guys have more in common with Mercury Rev or My Bloody Valentine than those lamentable torch-bearers for British pop overseas.