Darryl Zero’s Top Albums of 2015.

10) Sannhet – Revisionist

Operatic instrumental post-metal isn’t new, nor is melodramatic sweeping post-rock, but Sannhet manages to make both interesting and vigorous with Revisionist.  Starting intense and staying that way throughout, the album concisely rips through nine tracks without overstaying its welcome or falling victim to the indulgence that usually plagues musicians as good as they are.

9) The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ

I’m not the O-est of John Darnielle fans (The Coroner’s Gambit was my introduction and, while we are being candid, I think the first Extra Glenns record is still my favorite longform JD release), but I’ve been around long enough.  I love the hi-fi tMG releases and, while none of them have had the impact Tallahassee did, they have gotten qualitatively better.  Is it fair to call Beat The Champ the best Mountain Goats album ever?  Debatable, but possible.

8) Xibalba – Tierra y Libertad

Beatdown hardcore bros Xibalba have a pretty linear formula–downtuned guitars, fist-in-the-air lyrics, and fist-down-your-throat aggression. 2012’s Hasta La Muerte was a surprising revelation–three years later, Tierra y Libertad is even better.  It’s uni-dimensional, its sole purpose is to put you in a mind to bludgeon (although, in typical hardcore fashion, its targets are well-deserving).

7) Battles – La Di Da Di

As everyone knows, I hated Battles’ Gloss Drop almost as much as I hate all of the press that seems to ignore the fact that the band existed for five years before Mirrored came out.  The band notoriously says the album they were recording until Tyondai Braxton’s abrupt departure was equal parts uninspired and not very good; hilariously, I thought those two descriptors were perfect for Gloss Drop. So, as you can imagine, I approached La Di Da Di with open, eye-rolling cynicism.  much to my surprise, it’s not only coherent and good, but also extremely inspired.  In short, it’s the album I wanted Battles to make instead of Gloss Drop.  Tracks like “Flora > Fauna” and “Tyne Wear” harken back to the taught interplay of the band’s debut EPs, but “The Yabba” and “Megatouch” push the band in interesting new directions.

6) Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss

Wolfe is good at the slow burn, but decides to sear rather than smolder with Abyss.  Having John Congleton as co-producer helps.  While Congleton’s presence alone doesn’t elevate Wolfe’s fifth studio album above her other excellent releases, it does give a different voice to her experimental influences than what was present on previous releases.  Oh, screw it, I won’t mince words–Wolfe adds a bit more heavy to her goth here, and Zero likes it a lot.

5) Kowloon Walled City – Grievances

Bay Area bludgeoners Kowloon Walled City are the musical love child of a pickaxe and a sledgehammer; if the pressure of their detuned grit doesn’t get you, the piercing yelp of frontman Scott Evans absolutely will.  Self-producing their most recent album (and first for Neurot), Evans coaxes guitar tones so intimate you can practically feel the strings bending and stretching.  Grievances is yet another step in a more pensive direction for KWC, following up on 2012’s Container Ships with more patient, deliberate arrangements, and surprisingly intricate guitar work (without getting too noodley).

4) Björk – Vulnicura

As much as I love Björk as a singer, songwriter, and mind-blower, I’ve been somewhat underwhelmed by most of her output post-Homogenic.  I’ve liked her albums better than most others that have come out in the years they’ve been released, but that’s been less due to them being better than her previous output and more to the fact that Björk albums are just generally better than most music, period.  As terrible as it sounds, one need only go back to 2001’s Vespertine–partially penned in tribute to the singer’s relationship with filmmaker Matthew Barney–to find the change in her paradigm.  In short: happy Björk is still Björk–genius–but sad Björk (the kind of sadness and distress created by someone trying to kill you as they kill themselves, for instance) is indescribable.

From Vespertine, skip ahead 14 years; her relationship with Barney ends, and sad Björk returns with a vengeance.  Enlisting Arca and The Haxan Cloak, she constructs an album detailing her emotional state before during, and after the breakup.  The album leaks, she surprise-releases it shortly thereafter.  And it’s amazing.

3) KEN Mode – Success

Winnepeg’s finest shape-shifting crushers specialize in curveballs–are they hardcore?  Artcore?  Thrash?  Thrashy Hardcore Art?–shift into their finest form yet on their sixth album, paying tribute to AmRep bands like Jesus Lizard and (especially) Cows while simultaneously ripping listeners’ eardrums in inimitable KEN Mode fashion.  The band’s usual quiet/loud dynamics aren’t as extreme as they were on Entrench, and frontman Jesse Matthewson’s voice sneers more often than it barks (both welcome changes), but the band, in their obvious effort to look backward, ironically propels them further than most of their peers.  Drummer Shane Matthewson (Jesse’s brother) benefits most from the sonic change, with Steve Albini’s engineering turning his drum kit into an artillery battalion; in contrast, Jesse’s voice, more conversational than on albums past, veers nearly into the melodic on multiple occasions.

2) Oddisee – The Good Fight

I think the best descriptor for Brooklyn-via-DC hip hop stalwart Oddisee would be “consistent.”  Amir Mohamed el Khalifa’s output is so consistently excellent that he can put out instrumental mixtapes (Rock Creek Park, The Beauty In All) and not feel like he’s coasting.  So, what makes The Good Fight so transcendent?  Well, for starters, Oddisee stands largely on his on here, largely dispensing with the endless stream of Diamond District cohorts who, while talented, often distract from Mohamed’s own unique voice.  It doesn’t hurt that the beats are as impeccably-crafted as the pensive, Rakim-recalling rhymes.


1)  Cloakroom – Further Out

My biggest beef with so-called “indie rock” these days is how boring, sterile, and empty it all feels.  Forget J. Mascis or Lou Barlow–there was a point at which even bands like Built To Spill and Pavement weren’t afraid to make their guitars roar.  At some point in time, college radio became ruled by a combination of jangle-pop and soulless synths, which pushed people like me toward metal faster than you can say “Helmet.”  Cloakroom is one of those delightful exceptions, a band unafraid to actually rock.  Further Out cribs shamelessly from the playbook of arguably the most legitimately loud, rockin’ indie band ever–HUM–even going so far as to enlist the production skills and studio of Matt Talbot.  And it works beautifully.  Every second of the album is eminently listenable, from the subtle sketches of interludes “Sylph” and “Mesmer” to the bludgeoning “Moon Funeral.”  The album’s first and last tracks are the true highlights, though; “Paperweight” bludgeons, cushions, and bludgeons again, while “Deep Sea Station” is a glorious spiral of roaring noise soaring around the deceptively lulling voice of Doyle Martin. It came out early in the year, but Further Out can’t leave my rotation.


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