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:
I’ve got an hour of downtime this afternoon between the closing of the exhibition floor and the evening’s receptions at my conference in Pittsburgh, so with only four contests to document this round, I’m going to give it a quick stab to move us along in the tournament. I had originally envisioned this tournament taking a while longer, but I guess I should know from experience that once it gets lodged in my head, I tend to want to get it back out and on the written page as quickly as I can. Since the Final Four are handled as a single round, this is the penultimate report before I select my 2015 Album Of The Year. Exciting!
The links at the top of the page will take you to the prior installments if you’re jumping in late and want to see how we got from the original 32 albums to the eight I will review today. Preambles dispatched, let’s get critiquing!
Thighpaulsandra, The Golden Communion vs Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat: The two most challenging records remaining in contention get a head-to-head death match here that guarantees something at the disturbing end of the spectrum is going to be competing in the Final Four Round Robin. As noted in early installments, former Spiritualized and COIL keyboardist Thighpaulsandra’s The Golden Communion is a sprawling two-hour beast, filled with long, slow-developing songs that were nearly a decade in development. It’s a truly ambitious project that incorporates a variety of sounds and stylings ranging from edgy ambient all the way over to metallic riff-mongering, and its lyrical concerns are as edgy as its instrumental settings. Napalm Death’s Apex Predator — Easy Meat is a career highlight for the esteemed fathers of grindcore, and it’s filled with all of the strong sociopolitical ruminations that fans would expect from this most dogmatic of metal bands. Neither of these albums wins a lot of spins on the family iPod, but they’re headphone favorites for me during my commutes and workouts. In picking between them, I come down to the matters of density and familiarity: there are a few cuts on The Golden Communion that I tend to skip (it’s hard to often make the mental commitment to a 24-minute long song), while I play Apex Predator all the way through regularly, and have been doing so for much longer since it was an early 2015 release. Grind on, Barney, Danny, Shane and Mitch. You’re going to the Final Four. Winner: Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat.
The Fall, Sub-Lingual Tablet vs David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock: The Fall emerged in those heady post-punk days after the Sex Pistols, Damned, Clash and other English fathers of the genre demonstrated to their young British brethren that high gloss and technical chops were not required to make a compelling musical racket. The punks tended to be socially and musically reactionary, and one of the things they were rebelling against was the cultural hegemony of group’s like David Gilmour’s Pink Floyd. In a 2012 article in The Quietus, Fall front man Mark E. Smith summed up the general sentiment of the era with typical MES concision: “Pink Floyd? Crap!” Of course, as much as I love The Fall, I don’t agree with MES’s assessment, and Gilmour’s voice and guitar are among my favorite elements of one of my favorite band’s music. I’m on the record as naming Gilmour, Robert Fripp and Paul Leary as my high holy trinity of lead guitar players, each fascinating and distinctive in their own special ways. Rattle That Lock does not disappoint on this front, filled as it is with choice solos deployed atop an interesting combo platter of musical styles. Gilmour’s songwriting (often with his wife, novelist Polly Samson, handling the lyrics) is also strong here, and the overall impact of his fourth solo album is warm, emotional, engaging and uplifting. He’s a slow worker when it comes to his recorded output, so there’s no telling when we’ll hear from him again — while The Fall tend to be clockwork prolific, offering their fandom an album or so each year. Sub-Lingual Tablet is one of their finest offerings in some time, and I enjoy it very much, but as a sheer musical accomplishment of note and merit, Rattle That Lock is the stronger and, dare I say it, more important record. Winner: David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock.
Girlpool, Before The World Was Big vs Ezra Furman, Perpetual Motion People: This is a tough contest for me between worthy albums by a pair of impressive young artists. Before I decided to take a tournament approach to my 2015 Album Of The Year report, I had both of these records in my mental file cabinet as possible contenders for the top of the pile, so they both likely could have been in the top four if they didn’t have the misfortune of meeting here. Both records are quirky and engaging in both their songwriting and performances, and both feature fun, observational songwriting about a variety of personal and inter-personal matters of the heart and soul. Girlpool are making their long-playing debut here, while Ezra Furman is deeper into his career, and making a much appreciated return to band format with these recordings. Ultimately, it’s the band that edges Ezra ahead of Girlpool for me, as they provide a higher degree of variety and texture than the somewhat monochrome voice-guitar-bass sound of Before The World Was Big. I think Girlpool have an impressive career ahead of them, and if they’re fortunate, a few albums in they will reach the degree of mature confidence that Ezra Furman exudes on Perpetual Motion People. I love their first forays into recording, and I look forward to following along to see where it takes them — but in the right here, right now, Ezra Furman and The Boy-Friends carry the current contest. Winner: Ezra Furman, Perpetual Motion People.
Clutch, Psychic Warfare vs Hey Colossus, Radio Static High: This here’s a battle of heavy bands making massive guitar-based noises in service to huge songs, so there’s a lot of bigness to go around. I’ve been listening to Clutch actively for nearly 20 years now, and know that they’re absolute titans of the stage, delivering one of the most compelling blends of guitar-bass-drum-voice noise that I’ve ever experienced in a concert setting. Hey Colossus are new to me in 2015, but I’m eager to explore their back catalog, as Radio Static High has been a real eye-opener and ear-pummeler for me since I first discovered and spun it. It’s hard to hit as hard as they do, and even harder to capture that energy and heft in the recording studio. Unfortunately for them, though, Clutch are probably one of the tiny numbers of bands capable of doing each of those things just a tiny bit better, and on Psychic Warfare, they have the extra benefit of a one of their greatest collection of songs working on their behalf, so in this battle of the behemoths, age and treacherous rock fury carry the day over youth and exuberant riff-mastery. (Edit: They’re not as young as I thought they were . . . but yet still exuberant, and quite possibly not treacherous). The Winner: Clutch, Psychic Warfare.
And with that contest done, I now proudly present our Final Four for the 2015 Album Of The Year Title:
Clutch, Psychic Warfare
Ezra Furman, Perpetual Motion People
David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock
Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat
A reminder that for my Final Fours in these sorts of writing projects, I will shift to a round robin format to select the winner. Each of the four finalists will be pitted head-to-head against the other three records, with two points available in each mini-tourney: winner gets two, loser gets zero, and ties provide one point to each. The record with the most posts in the round robin will be named the Album of the Year for 2015.If I end up with a tie between albums, I will do a sudden death song-by-song analysis to pick the better of the two. If I’m still tied at that point, then, hell, I’ll just pick something.
One more post and we’re done! I’m not sure how the next couple of days will go work-wise, but if I can get ‘er done, then I’ll get ‘er done!