A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Monday, 28 December 2015

My Favourite 100 Albums Of 2015

I always seem to begin these end of year album lists by remarking on how good a year it was for music. In this respect 2015 was no different to previous years, proving that if you have the time and desire to seek out and listen to music there’s an absolute abundance of stuff to discover. It was also no different to previous years in that the pace and volume of releases made keeping up a challenge. There were lots of albums ‘on my radar’ that probably would have featured here that I simply just didn’t get round to listening to due to lack of time/lack of cash to buy etc.

There are lots of familiar names on this list that have regularly appeared in my end of year round ups since I started them back in 2009. It also features many of my favourite bands. It also features lots of new artists/bands that I discovered for the first time in 2015. In the end, my favourite band of all time narrowly eclipsed arguably my favourite band of the 90s to claim top spot. Ones And Sixes by Low proved they are one of the most consistent and enduring bands of the last two decades. It saw them refocus on their core strengths whilst introducing newer elements and had everything you’d want from a Low album. It may seem like a predictable choice (especially given posts like this) but it’s actually the first Low album to top my list (other albums have been edged out into second and third place in 2013 and 2011 retrospectively). In a way it’s a shame that Modern Nature by The Charlatans didn't get past it to claim number one position – it’s a fantastic album that also re-establishes a classic, immediately identifiable sound. Given their recent history its positive, euphoric, feel-good nature is even more remarkable and it would have been a justified number one.

Elsewhere, the two bands that I’d rank as my second and third favourite bands of all time (Yo La Tengo and Mercury Rev) returned with solid offerings and other recent favourites like Beach House, Jaga Jazzist and Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat also released excellent albums. Albums by bands/artists I’ve admired for a long time like Sleater-Kinney, Sufjan Stevens and Calexico also all stood out.

There were also two excellent releases by two of the key players in contemporary, experimental classical music – Bang On A Can All Stars and Eighth Blackbird - and the adjacent genre of neo/modern classical continued to be productive with notable releases by the likes of Rachel Grimes, Lubomyr Melnyk, Michael Price, Iskra String Quartet and Nils Frahm. 

In terms of global music I really enjoyed the albums by Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Segal, Trio Chemirani, Bixiga 70, Mbongwana Star and Shye Ben Tzur/Jonny Greenwood & Rajasthan Express. Two big musical names from India – Anoushka Shankar and Jyotsna Srikanth - also impressed once again. And then there were those excellent albums that either came out of nowhere or were pleasing difficult to easily categorise – Ian William Craig, Matana Roberts, The Internet, Finland, Kathryn Joseph, Felicia Atkinson and Petrels just to name a few.

Anyway, here’s the list including links to reviews I wrote for musicOMH.

100) Biosphere/Deathprod - Stator
99) Nadine Shah – Fast Food - album review
98) Helen – The Original Faces
97) Jib Kidder – Teaspoon To The Ocean - live review
96) Terakaft - Alone (Ténéré)
95) Luke Abbott – Music For A Flat Landscape
94) Arca - Mutant
93) Mount Eerie - Sauna
92) Romare - Projections
91) Tyondai Braxton – HIVE1
90) Linden – Rest And Be Thankful
89) Jyotsna Srikanth – Bangalore Dreams
88) Bixiga 70 – III
87) Sexwitch - Sexwitch
86) Polar Bear – Same As You
85) Philip Jeck - Cardinal
84) Jeremy Young & Aaron Martin – Pulse Passes From Hand To Hand
83) Eivind Aarset – I.E.
82) Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band – Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band
81) Yo La Tengo – Stuff Like That There
80) Colin Stetson/Sarah Neufeld – Never Were The Way She Was
79) Thundercat – The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam
78) Portico – Living Fields
77) Ibeyi - Ibeyi - album review
76) Various Artists – A Guide To The Birdsong Of South America
75) Kathryn Williams - Hypoxia
74) Anoushka Shankar - Home
73) Felicia Atkinson – A Readymade Ceremony
72) Goldmund - Sometimes
71) Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – Ba Power - album review
70) L A N D - Anoxia
69) Erland Dahlen – Blossom Bells
68) Steve Hauschildt – Where All Is Fled
67) Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress
66) Jan St Werner - Miscontinuum
65) Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets Grim Reaper - live review
64) Pure Bathing Culture – Pray For Rain - album review
63) Haiku Salut – Etch And Etch Deep
62) Mercury Rev – The Light In You
61) Secret Pyramid – The Silent March
60) Cass – Magical Magical
59) Cinerama - Valentina
58) Nils Frahm - Solo - blog post & Prom 27 review
57) Huntsville - Pond
56) Bruce Brubaker – Glass Piano
55) Flying Saucer Attack – Instrumentals 2015
54) Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
53) David John Sheppard – Vertical Land
52) Olan Mill - Hiraeth
51) Iskra String Quartet - Iskra
50) Jerusalem In My Heart – If He Dies, If, If, If, If, If, If
49) Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh
48) Eric Chenaux - Skullsplitter
47) Ryley Walker – Primrose Green
46) Björk - Vulnicura
45) Michael Price - Entanglement - album review
44) Esmerine – Lost Voices - album review
43) Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer
42) John Carpenter – Lost Themes
41) Tame Impala - Currents
40) Ian William Craig – Cradle For The Wanting
39) Lau – The Bell That Never Rang
38) Inventions – Maze Of Woods
37) Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
36) Eighth Blackbird - Filament
35) John Grant – Grey Tickles Black Pressure
34) Rival Consoles - Howl - album review
33) Trio Chemirani - Dawar
32) Ballake Sissoko & Vincet Segal – Musique de Nuit
31) Christina Vantzou – No. 3
30) Floating Points - Elaenia
29) Eska - Eska
28) Colleen – Captain Of None
27) Calexico – Edge Of The Sun
26) John Metcalfe – The Appearance Of Colour - album review
25) Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
24) Petrels – Flailing Tomb
23) Holly Herndon - Platform
22) Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Chapter Three
21) Kamasi Washington – The Epic
20) Helios - Yume
19) Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood & Rajasthan Express - Junun
18) Julia Kent – Asperities
17) Lubomyr Melnyk – Rivers And Streams - album review
16) Mbongwana Star – From Kinshasa
15) Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat – The Most Important Place In The World - album review
14) Mark McGuire – Beyond Belief
13) Finland – Rainy Omen
12) Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
11) Rachel Grimes – The Clearing
10)The Go! Team – The Scene Between - live review
9) The Internet – Ego Death
8) Kathryn Joseph – Bones You Have Thrown Me And Blood I’ve Spilled
7) Vetiver – Complete Strangers - album review
6) Joanna Newsom - Divers - live review
5) Jaga Jazzist – Starfire
4) Bang On A Can Allstars – Field Recordings
3) Beach House – Depression Cherry
2) The Charlatans – Modern Nature - live review
1) Low – Ones And Sixes - interview with Alan Sparhawk

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Bach To Baby

I'm sure I've said before on this blog that one of the things I like best about living in London is being able to take my children to so many concerts and musical events designed especially with them in mind. Most recently, I took my 5 year old son to the Barbican to see the New York Philharmonic and Giants Are Small play Petrushka by Igor Stravinsky in a quite brilliantly theatrical concert (witness his excitement in the below pre-concert photograph). Over the last few years I've also taken him to see a Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, various concerts across the Southbank Centre, several Daylight Music shows at Union Chapel, child-friendly concerts at Kings Place and two outdoor music festivals (End Of The Road 2012 and WOMAD 2013).

Clearly, my 8 month old daughter has a little bit of catching up to do with her brother on this front. We took her to her first concert in February - one of the 'For Crying Out Loud' shows for babies at Wigmore Hall and earlier today we took her to her second concert - one of the excellent Bach To Baby shows at St. John of Jerusalem church in Hackney.

Bach To Baby promises "outstanding musicians, exhilarating performances and inspiring locations across London and the South East" and on the basis of today's show all pledges were comfortably met. It is the idea of pianist (and mum) Miaomiao Yu who wanted to be able to expose her own children to the type of concert she would enjoy. I totally understand this - if I'm honest the main reason I've taken Dhruv and Fiza to all of the wonderful places mentioned above is that I love experiencing concerts in these venues myself and get a special, additional thrill from experiencing them with my children - seriously, I remember practically being in tears when I took Dhruv to Union Chapel for the first time back in 2011. And also when we first went to the Royal Albert Hall for the CBeebies Prom last year. And also when we went to the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre for a children's Impropera show. I could go on...

I read a story in the press recently where musician Nicola Benedetti argued young children should be exposed to classical music whether they like it or not. I can understand the point she was trying to convey but I'm not sure I agree with how she worded aspects of her argument. Doing it in a positive, relaxed, non-confrontational way is quite important I think (as is being able to accept any initial disinterest). James Rhodes covers this quite well in this piece and makes some other good points (especially on debunking the lazy assumption that listening to classical music automatically makes a person/child 'more intelligent'). 

I would definitely agree however that showing children that music can be a source of huge enjoyment from an early age is a good thing. What I've enjoyed doing with my son is playing him different pieces/genres of music and letting him work out for himself if he likes it/what he thinks of it/how he would describe it (and then seeing what he asks to listen to going forward). I think the different sensory/shared/social experiences of a live music performance must contain some positives at a very basic level for babies/children (gaining a greater awareness of sounds and instruments, getting more experience of concentrating on something not necessarily visual and simply spending time in a different environment away from the familiar distractions of home for example). 

Anyway, back to Bach To Baby - today's concert featured Miaomiao on piano and Katie Stillman on violin playing an all Mozart programme. It may have understandably featured Mozart's junior crowd-pleaser of 12 variations on "Ah vous dirai-je Mamam" (more commonly known as 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star') but there was no sense of dumbing down - the music ran for over an hour, included context and background on each piece in a way both adults and children could appreciate and featured a full Violin Concerto (Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219).

To begin with Fiza sat with her mum on the carpet in between the rows of pews at the front of St John Of Jerusalem and clapped her approval throughout the early stages, clearly interested by what was happening in front of her (and by the other babies surrounding her). Later, I held her and she showed her appreciation of Mozart's Violin Sonata No. 17 in C major, K 296 by dropping pieces of wet, half-eaten raspberry rice cakes down my shirt and wiping her sticky fingers over my face. Lovely.

The excitement all got a bit too much for her towards the end and she fell asleep for the last 15 minutes (missing sadly the final stages where the children are encouraged to gather around the piano to hear their favourite nursery rhymes).

I think it's clear that the quality of the overall Bach To Baby experience was reflected in its popularity - I think today's concert was attended by over 40 Mums (and a couple of Dads). The venue was beautiful also - a spacious, well maintained Victorian church. There are currently Bach To Baby concerts programmed up to July - if you have small children I'd recommend trying to get to one. I'm already trying to single out some dates in June...

More details can be found here and photographs from today's concert are available to view here.