2015 Album Of The Year Tournament (Part One)

Note: My final summary listing of the 20 best albums of 2015 was developed via a six-part analytical tournament involving 32 contending albums. Complete narrative related to this final listing is accessible via the following links:

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixSummary

With December 1 around the corner, this is the time of year when I begin to frame my annual Albums of the Year report. 2015 will mark the 24th year that I’ve published a report in either traditional print or digital formats, so it’s a venerable personal tradition for me, and it’s always nice to see that these pieces are typically among the most widely read items on my various websites.  I don’t wait until the very end of the year to do my list, since I think it takes at least a solid month or more of listening before I feel comfortable that something meets both the “strong first impression” and “stands up to repeated listening” tests that I apply in rating albums — so albums released in the last six weeks of the year get bumped into the following year’s report.

For background perspective on what you might expect to see on the 2015 roster, here is the complete list of my “Albums of the Year” from 1992 to 2014. With 20/20 hindsight, I don’t quite know what I was thinking in some of those years, but I stand by my picks as historic facts, for better or for worse:

1992: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Henry’s Dream

1993: Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville

1994: Ween, Chocolate and Cheese

1995: Björk, Post

1996: R.E.M., New Adventures in Hi-Fi

1997: Geraldine Fibbers, Butch

1998: Jarboe, Anhedoniac

1999: Static-X, Wisconsin Death Trip

2000: Warren Zevon, Life’ll Kill Ya

2001: Björk, Vespertine

2002: The Residents, Demons Dance Alone

2003: Wire, Send

2004: The Fall, The Real New Fall LP (Formerly “Country on the Click”)

2005: Mindless Self Indulgence, You’ll Rebel to Anything

2006: Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere

2007: Max Eider, III: Back in the Bedroom

2008: Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight

2009: Mos Def, The Ecstatic

2010: Snog, Last Of The Great Romantics

2011: Planningtorock, W

2012: Goat, World Music

2013: David Bowie, The Next Day

2014: First Aid Kit, Stay Gold

On a macro basis, 2015 is posing me a couple of interesting challenges. I usually rank 20 albums in my final list, but the year has been filled with so many rich and enjoyable choices that I’m actually having a hard time boiling it down to so few discs. On the flip side, though, no one album has really risen for me as the standout, clear candidate for the top spot on the list, despite ongoing deep listening and repeated conversations on the topic with both real world and online musical friends.

So this year, I’m going to combine two of the things that have defined my musical writing here on the blog: lists and head-to-head contests. Instead of writing a single year-end report, I’m going to run a 2015 Album of the Year Tournament, starting with 32 very worthy contenders, and then pitting them comparatively against each other until I’ve identified the best of the best by process of elimination. As I normally do with such tournaments (see March of the Mellotrons for the longest example of the form) , once I get to a Final Four, I will compete all four of them against each other round robin style, rather than single elimination. I think this provides a more fair and well-justified end game.

As I note here every year: these articles will obviously be based on the things that I actually listen to, and as musically omnivorous and curious as I am, there are some genres of music that I just don’t experience much, and they’re not going to be represented here. So please resist the urge to castigate me as a tasteless cultural imperialist bastard because I do not recognize the genius of your favorite Bolivian queercore free jazz ukulele and church bell skronk collective. I’m glad you enjoy them, and hope they top your own list when you write it. Also, yes, I already know that this is all subjective. All music criticism is subjective. If there were objective measurements of “good music,” we’d all listen to exactly the same things, and the music industry’s A&R and marketing people would be out of jobs, along with us critics. You don’t need to write to tell me that either. Thank you.

With those preambles out of the way, here are the 32 exceptional 2015 albums I will evaluate as part of the tournament. Worthy contenders, all of them, and I highly commend them for your listening pleasures:

Bop English, Constant Bop

Brandon Flowers, The Desired Effect

Bring Me The Horizon, That’s The Spirit

Clutch, Psychic Warfare

Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock

Death Grips, Jenny Death (The Powers That B)

Eternal Summers, Gold and Stone

Ezra Furman, Perpetual Motion People

The Fall, Sub-Lingual Tablet

Flo Morrissey, Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful

Gangrene, You Disgust Me

Girlpool, Before The World Was Big

Hey Colossus, Radio Static High

Kate Pierson, Guitars and Microphones

Lightning Bolt, Fantasy Empire

Matthewmaticus, The Sanctified Tape (EP)

Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat

Only Real, Jerk at the End of the Line

Ought, Sun Coming Down

Panda Bear, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

Protomartyr, The Agent Intellect

Public Enemy, Man Plans God Laughs

Public Service Broadcasting, The Race For Space

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls

Shriekback, Without Real String or Fish

Sleaford Mods, Key Markets

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities To Love

Thighpaulsandra, The Golden Communion

Vulkano, Iridescence

The Weasels, Also Sprach Larrythustra (EP)

Wire, Wire

I will use a random number generator in each round to select the pairings, so I don’t unintentionally give one record a fast pipeline to the finals. Fair is fair, after all. I’ve got a busy travel schedule ahead for the remainder of November, so I will try to shoot for an update a week, with a goal of naming the Album of the Year on or around December 1. The next update will define the first round pairings, and then move us on to a Sweet Sixteen listing. Stay tuned . . . I think it will be a fun exercise!

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