Favorite Albums of 2015

The Weather Station - Loyalty

Some of the best lyrics of the decade, sung by one of the best voices of the century.

The Cairo Gang - Goes Missing

Sturdy power pop with an undercurrent of desolation, like if Chris Bell had been born in the 70's.

Jamie xx - In Colour

Jamie xx takes his rightful place with Kieran Hebden, Axel Willner, Dan Snaith, Nick Zammuto and others in making electronic music that seems not only to remix but to fetishize the physical world.

Shana Cleveland and the Sandcastles - Oh Man, Cover The Ground

This album is a testament to constancy, showing how much musical material a talented songwriter can wring from inhabiting a single chordal world. 

Joanna Newsom - Divers

Dense, generous, expansive, and able to be defined only in relation to herself. My favorite of her albums.

Jim O'Rourke - Simple Songs

O'Rourke is back with a casually awe-inspiring album  that stacks up favorably against his other Drag City releases, all of which are brilliant in individual and self-contained ways that defy explanation.

Steve Hauschildt - Where All Is Fled

Perhaps the best ambient album of the year. Put it on and let it drift through your subconscious.

Olivia Chaney - The Longest River

More earnest and dexterous truthtelling from this English songwriter, following up on and in some cases reiterating the promise of her earlier releases.

Julia Holter - Have You In My Wilderness

What once might have struck me as artifice on previous albums has turned into something incredibly moving. Brilliantly austere and detached.

Joan Shelley - Over and Even

Beautiful, bucolic, and unadorned songwriting, singing and playing here from Shelley, with lovely and restrained accompaniment from Nathan Salsburg, one of America's best living acoustic guitarists.

Floating Points - Elaenia

Like Jamie xx, Floating Points is fusing genres to incredibly naturalistic effect here.

Wilder Maker - Everyday Crimes Against Objects of Desire, Vols 2 and 3

Gabe Birnbaum and his band redefine Americana as a genre, making it more expressive and subtle in the process. Volume 2 is as neat and tidy as Volume 3 is refracted and broken, reminding me of the transition Big Star made from #1 Record and Radio City into Third.

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

I know, I know--another token inclusion of Kendrick Lamar on a white boy's best of list--it is what it is. This album is remarkable and transcends genre, which is why I, as an extremely casual hip hop listener almost entirely unversed in the idiom, got sucked into Lamar's turbulent, conflicted narrative. The ambiguity and sense of dread is what gives this music its power over me.

Tigue - Peaks

This is a classically trained percussion trio that upends any expectations one might have about what a record by a classically trained percussion trio might sound like. Polyrhythms upon polyrhythms--so tasty.

Tame Impala - Currents

OK, so I've listened to this album to death and perhaps it doesn't sound quite so innovative to me as it once did. But it's still got some pretty great songs on it, and listen to those drums! Holy cow, how did he do that?

Aphex Twin - Computer Controlled Instruments PT2 EP

I've always loved when Richard D. James uses a palette of organic timbres rather than synthetic ones. This "EP" presents the best of both worlds--the ideas are executed with robotic precision precisely because they are not being played by humans, but they retain the humanity of physical instruments moving sound waves in real air.

Spencer Radcliffe - Looking In

I know literally nothing about this guy, and I haven't read up on him yet, but his album reminds me of the smell of friends' basements in high school. That's enough for me. The songs are impeccably constructed, too, which doesn't hurt.

Martin Crane - Physical Therapy

Martin is nothing if not omnivorous. As much as any other album this year, Physical Therapy is filled with ideas from unexpected places. Don't sleep on this one.

EDIT 12/7: Things I have neglected to list here just because I forgot: This Is The Kit, Zachary Cale, Rozi Plain, Natalie Prass, Meg Baird, Jesse Berlin, Yo La Tengo. There will be more, probably. 


I write a lot of lists. Lists of movies to watch with my girlfriend, lists of songs to record and re-record, lists of things I need to do in order to get my insurance to cover the doctors I need to see in this godforsaken country, lists of music to listen to, or listen to again, or lists of the best music I have heard in the last six months or the last year or the last week. Lists of chores, lists of recipes I want to try, lists of smells that make me nostalgic. Some lists are more abstract--painters that have informed how I try to write lyrics or how I want my music to feel in a pseudovisual sense, or general lists of inspiration while I try to complete this task or the other. Right now I am writing for strings, specifically, for string quintet. Who will be playing in this quintet, I don't know yet. All I know is that these arrangements that I am working on have become the backbone for a new approach to a lot of the songs that I have been writing, and so far this approach feels really good--it feels new, even.

And so I have been listing things--pieces of music that I want to listen to again in order to figure out how they work, or painters that I want to look at while I am in the composition process, or movies that I am currently obsessed with. A lot of Jonny Greenwood's film music has textural riddles in it that I want to solve, without actually ordering the scores and seeing how he notates things. Conversely, Philip Glass's string quartets are so beautifully self-contained and so simple on the surface that delving into their scores helps me understand what makes them structurally complex, beyond the simplicity of the notation. Bill Forsyth's movie Local Hero is so funny and bittersweet that it makes me wonder how he did it while maintaining an air of naturalism. Stanislav Zhukowsky's paintings of winter have such a nice light in them; it makes me wonder if there is a quality I can imbue my music with that will have a similar emotional effect. And so on. 

So--listmaking. I recommend it, if you're the sort of person who doesn't necessarily hoard objects, but tries, against the ceaseless pull of memory, to hoard the perceptions of other people's works of art.

Two Songs

These are two recordings, abandoned and frozen in time, from a studio session in March 2015. While at one point these two songs were to be included on my sixth full length album, I decided a while ago to venture out in a different, more personally fulfilling direction, and so these two songs are now a standalone, Bandcamp-exclusive release, sort of like a signpost, should I ever need to find my way back.