Here’s the stuff I was into in two thousand and fifteen, in no particular order. Let’s get on with it.
Spraynard – Mable (Jade Tree)
Spraynard are up there amongst the very finest of punk bands of recent years. The kind of band that make you love your friends more, that help you accept yourself a little more, that make the anxiety subside even if just for a few songs, the band for the punk kids that struggle.
I won’t patronise anyone by saying Mable is more ‘mature’ than previous records (there’s still a reference to a burning bag of shit within five seconds) but the level of songwriting keeps getting better; it’s so packed with truly great songs that it’s almost obnoxious. There is not one single bad track. Not even an average one.
A rundown of my highlights, however, would include the impossibly catchy moments of Buried and Everywhere, the inescapable sadness in the delivery of ‘I want to see you next to me’ in Bench, and the quite literally perfect Lost Boys.
Tigers Jaw – Studio 4 Acoustic Session (Memory Music)
One of my favourite things about music is being proved wrong. Like many that have come before, I got Tigers Jaw wrong. So wrong. They were always one of those bands I just didn’t get. I enjoyed 2014’s Charmer, but in a kind of passive, non-committal way. Then one night I sat and listened, really listened, to this acoustic record and it clicked. There was a week in July where I listened to Nervous Kids hundreds of times, I swear. I still prefer this version to the original.
This newfound enthusiasm served as an excuse to go back and re-listen to 2010’s self-titled. The Sun, I Saw Water, Plane vs. Tank vs. Submarine, all on fresh ears like I’d just discovered a new band and all of the excitement that comes along with that.
The Wonder Years – No Closer To Heaven (Hopeless Records)
This is a record about death. It came out on September 4th 2015.
On September 22nd 2015, I came out of a meeting to three missed calls and a message from my Mum, asking to call her. I sat on a step on a very steep hill and she told me my uncle had been found dead in his flat.
Music is one of those things that makes you feel everything in detail. Love, sadness, excitement, grief. After September 22nd I couldn’t listen to this record. I couldn’t get through 30 seconds of Brothers without feeling utterly devastated.
I couldn’t listen to any music for weeks. I’d lost people dear to me before, but this time the shock was suffocating. Listening to the lyrics in Cardinals was like looking at myself in the mirror. Regretful.
“I should have been there when you needed a friend.”
I regret I didn’t spend more time with him in recent years. I regret that I wasn’t around when he was struggling with his mental health (he died of natural causes, I should clarify). I regret that I couldn’t find better words to say to my cousin at the funeral.
I could have told him things about his Dad that he wouldn’t have remembered because he was too young, like when he lived with us and would always bring me home apple doughnuts from the bakery he worked at. About how we used to argue over football. About how he would listen to the same songs on repeat.
I could have said
“I want those years back.”
The ‘woah-oh’s in A Song For Patsy Cline made me feel more than some entire records have in 2015. It’s still a tough listen, but I’m really glad it’s here.
Svalbard – One Day All This Will End (Holy Roar)
So this year I started writing for Upset magazine, and this was my first review for them. You could probably go read it there. Spoiler alert: it’s great.
Carson Wells – Tread A Northern Path (so many labels)
Carson Wells are probably the most exciting emo band in the UK. For real. Following 2012’s Wonderkid, Tread A Northern Path isn’t a huge departure or a rewritten book, more so a continuation of challenging post-hardcore which avoids predictability. The driving, frantic guitars, furious and emotive in the actual meaning of the word, from stirring opener Palmistry to the standout Northern Path, Southern Lens – more delicate in tone but equal in anger and urgency. A seriously overlooked record.
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (Top Dawg/Aftermath)
To Pimp A Butterfly isn’t an easy listen, and certainly isn’t enjoyable in same way the way that good kid, m.A.A.d city is. As intrinsic as the funk bassline of King Kunta, the ferocity of The Blacker the Berry, and the defiant optimism of Alright, is a detailed and personal examination of race, power, and one’s relationship with oneself, and if listening to it doesn’t make you uncomfortable, go back and listen again. A demanding record, but one that makes it almost impossible to deny that Kendrick Lamar is a genuinely peerless artist.
Lord Snow – Winterhold (Self-released)
Chicago’s Lord Snow do that classic type of chaotic, endearingly awkward screamo and asmr request is easily my favourite song of the genre in 2015. The frenetic gang vocals and crashing guitars will end you. They’re currently recording a new full-length in 2016, and I wouldn’t recommend sleeping on it.
Alimony Hustle – Gutter Gutter Strike Strike Gutter Gutter (Self-released)
This kind of fell into my lap on the internet (so 2015, right?) and became one of my great discoveries this year, getting me through many bleak commutes. Catchy indie-punk with Braid-like melodies, fucking great lyrics and probably the best Bandcamp bio ever.
Nicki Minaj – The Pinkprint (Young Money/Cash Money)
(I know this came out in December 2014 but, quiet, no-one asked you.)
I could write for days about the deep personal and political reasons for my total adoration of Nicki Minaj. I’ll rein it in here, because I’m planning a 2016 zine project about her and need material for that, like, but The Pinkprint really is a masterpiece. It’s Nicki at her best, with the divide between her hardcore rap and pop identities bridged by great production, songwriting and collaborations (The Crying Game, Buy A Heart) and Only, where Nicki, much like her appearance on Kanye West’s Monster, embarrasses everyone else on the track.
Feeling Myself is my song of 2015. There’s so much to love here – not least the unabashed girl-love and mutual respect as artists between her and Beyoncé – but also the ownership of sexuality, the permission for self-love without shame, and Nicki’s razor-sharp flow. Perfection.
Sleep Kit – II (Big Scary Monsters)
It’s going to be super hard to not just write ‘This band, though’ and be done with it, but that’s the general vibe though, so settle in.
II is a triumphant follow-up from 2014’s self-titled EP from start to finish – the propulsive emo-punk of Discontent/Disconnect, to the more reflective and charming moments as seen in Foster Ghost Plan, Solsbury Chill and I’d Called You Eti, Erik. Masters of the climactic moments, Sleep Kit peak on this record, and as a band, on Piñata Beehive.
Dikembe – Ledge (Jeremy Records)
As long as Dikembe keep making records, they’ll keep appearing in my lists. Worst In The Fury was one of my favourite tracks of the year, with the EP as a whole keeping in the vein of Dikembe’s slower, more subtle sound. I could get lost in those vocals for days. I probably did.
I did some honourable mentions so we wouldn’t be here all day: Foxing – Dealer, Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, TWIABP – Harmlessness, CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye plus all the stuff I probably forgot about.