2015, the year that may be remembered for: a horrific shooting at a music venue which shocked the world, Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen becoming “cool”, an N.W.A. biopic appearing in our cinemas accompanied with Dr. Dre releasing an album after nearly 15 years, Ryan Adams covering Taylor Swift’s 1989 in full and “bubblegum bass” becoming an Internet spawned genre alongside witch house, vaporwave and seapunk. 2015 was a good year for music releases, but unfortunately I couldn’t get into many of the hyped albums so my opinion of the year as a whole will only amount to “great”. There were some fine moments here and there so here are my picks of the albums I enjoyed.
35. Mutoid Man – Bleeder
Hyperactive stoner rock group Mutoid Man released one of the funnest albums of the year with Bleeder. Stephen Brodsky (Cave In) and Ben Koller (namely Converge) play riff after riff of breakneck, groovy yet off kilter rock that doesn’t grow tiresome or outstay its welcome. Don’t pass on this one, especially if you enjoy both the technical and pop sharpness of sludge/stoner groups such as Mastodon, Torche, Baroness and if you’re a fan of Koller’s Doomriders work.
34. Lil Ugly Mane – Third Side of Tape
Third Side of Tape is the assembly of Lil Ugly Mane’s various songs into a continuous compilation mixtape. Genre wise, it can be best described as experimental hip-hop but it encompasses snippets from every genre imaginable (including black metal, punk, techno, industrial and so on…) into some form of lo-fi, mostly instrumental hip-hop piece. Third Side of the Tape highlights Lil Ugly Mane’s competence as a musician and not just a hyped internet trend.
34. Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful
Action Bronson’s major label inauguration Mr. Wonderful wasn’t as acclaimed as his other material, but I’m not sure why. Sure, it’s slightly poppier and it doesn’t match the brilliant Dr. Lecter and Blue Chips mixtapes, but the soulful, east coast sounding beats and the usual attentions to food and a racketeer lifestyle are still present. Perhaps people were expecting something a bit harder edged from Bronson but I appreciate the new aspects of sound such as the expressive guitar sampling and the crossover appeal, especially in ‘Baby Blue’, one of the songs of the year for sure.
32. Monolord – Vænir
If you’re looking for dense and heavy doom metal with flourishes of stoner rock and psychedelia, then go no further; Monolord’s Vænir is the one for you. I reviewed it in full here, so feel free to check out a detailed account of it.
31. Ghost – Meliora
Meliora is a dramatic, sinister and excellently produced album from Swedish occult hard rock band Ghost. It’s theatrical, but that’s the point of Ghost’s music, only adding to the enjoyment. The sound is less doomy yet more seventies progressive rock influenced, whilst retaining the heavy psych of groups such as Blue Öyster Cult. I’ve only previously liked Ghost a bit and respected them as live performers but Meliora has definitely turned me into a fan.
30. Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect
Just over a decade ago, briefly relevant, pop-centric landfill groups became part of the make-up of indie rock in the genres now referred to as the post-punk and garage rock revivals. Thankfully, 2015 has seen a return of artier, boundary pushing post-punk groups like Viet Cong, Ought and Protomartyr, who have all achieved prodigious acclaim by making memorable art punk, all with a unique twist. The Agent Intellect is discordant, bleak and sincere, qualities directed by vocalist Joe Casey.
29. Tempel – The Moon Lit Our Path
Tempel are an Arizona two-piece who make music just as compelling as their album art, specialising in instrumental compositions influenced by post, sludge and black metal with a progressive flourish. Instead of pandering to the usual crescendo-core principles of this variety of music, they create vivid riffs, genre hop fluidly, add folky acoustic elements and make their solos shine with pretence-free creativity. The Moon Lit Our Path is one of the biggest surprise of 2015 and hopefully Tempel will gain more recognition for their work in the future.
28. BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul
With BADBADNOTGOOD being my favourite modern jazz group and Ghostface Killah being one of my favourite rappers of all time, I was expecting great things from this album and hoping it would be a classic upon its release, especially as the singles ‘Gunshowers’ and ‘Six Degrees’ were perfect. I was expecting another Madvillainy sort of record, but unfortunately it didn’t match that greatness. Ghostface seems lethargic and his lyrics are rarely clever; BBNG’s performance far outweighs him throughout. Needless to say, it is at times a great album with excellent beats and instrumental parts, it was just a shame it was inconsistent and lacked chemistry.
27. Turnover – Peripheral Vision
Peripheral Vision is such a step up from Turnover’s previous work, owing to new directions in sound which are heavily indebted to dream pop and late eighties indie rock. Unlike Title Fight, who recently traded their song-writing chops for a more “mature sound”, Turnover improve and fit more comfortably in this style, creating a pleasant, dreamy, wistful and most importantly, an enjoyable album.
26. Windhand – Grief’s Infernal Flower
On Grief’s Infernal Flower, the vocals ascend over the thick, ominous riffs to create doom metal with a notable difference. The record is brooding rather than simply being an impenetrable wall of fuzzy noise like their Electric Wizard influenced previous work, with Dorthia Cottrell’s assorted array of mood inducing vocals being the key element. Sure, it has its fill of irresistible stoner riffs such as in the oddly syncopated ‘Hyperion’ and the elongated double strokes of ‘Hesperus’ and ‘Kingfisher’, but folk moments such as ‘Sparrow’ and ‘Aition’ bring mood to the forefront.
26. Czarface – Every Hero Needs A Villain
Following in the footsteps of the superhero narrative of MF DOOM, hip-hop triple threat Czarface (consisting of Inspectah Deck, 7L and Esoteric) deliver an enjoyable sophomore album of futuristic yet soulful beats, clever wordplay and humorous comic book samples. It’s like the Wu-Tang Clan mixed with DOOM and it’s the best Wu-Tang record since, well, the last Czarface album; surprising considering Inspectah Deck is never held in as high regard as fellow Wu-Tang members Ghostface Killah, Raekwon or the GZA. ‘Escape From Czarkham Asylum’ is a mini comic book story in itself, few rap tracks that length can match its magnitude.
24. Kadavar – Berlin
The album title and art, song titles and choice of cover immediately scream ‘art rock’, invoking thoughts of the urbane capital, The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed (who has a classic album of the same name), Nico (who Kadaver cover on the final track) and Warhol’s iconic banana. Berlin, however shuns art rock pretentions in favour of forthright hard rock. In 2012, Kadavar released their self-titled debut of almost lo-fi stoner rock with its primal, retro-rock production. In Berlin however, the riffs sound bigger and bassier thanks to adopting a contemporary producing approach whilst still retaining that crucial “live” sound. The album, despite overflowing with riffs and sounding unashamedly 70s hard rock, remains fresh and diverse enough to keep it stimulating.
23. Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
2015 was a great year for Sleaford Mods, performing in front of thousands at Glastonbury, getting mainstream radio play, selling out Nottingham’s Rock City, gaining high profile support slots for numerous bands and releasing the acclaimed album Key Markets. Not bad for a duo consisting of a bloke with a laptop and an acid tongued frontman whose vocals verge on spoken word poetry. The last time I heard Sleaford Mods was in 2013 when they released Austerity Dogs which I wasn’t too impressed with. Key Markets is an improvement on all fronts: better beats, more memorable basslines and sharper lyrics. They expand and advance their simple formula of minimal beats and vocals and show how far they can run with it.
22. Milo – so the flies don’t come
Milo’s sophomore album is the first time I’ve listened to him and I’m definitely thinking it’s the best hip-hop album of the year. Milo’s nerdy, nonfigurative and almost philosophical lyrics are delivered through his inventive flow above imaginative jazzy beats. An example of these traits can be heard in the pops and crackles which imitate a record player on ‘An Encyclopedia’ or the string section sample on ‘Going No Place’. If you’re a fan of the more leftfield side of hip-hop, don’t let this one go under your radar. On a side note, that album art is unreal, definitely the best looking of 2015.
21. MAKE – The Golden Veil
Similarly to Tempel, MAKE’s The Golden Veil is a post-metal album with a difference, and both didn’t get the widespread acclaim they deserved. Their eclectic influences, including some of my favourite bands such as Spacemen 3, guide them to creating mood inducing music which navigates through dense heaviness and dreamy atmosphere.
Reviewed in full here.
20. High on Fire – Luminiferous
High on Fire return with their ferocious take on extreme music, reveling in a heavy hybrid of dense stoner and doom metal with the breakneck speed of thrash. Luminiferous, like other High on Fire albums, keeps to their template whilst adding minor differences in sound such as the harmonious bass introduction and sitar-like guitars on ‘The Cave’, the gang vocals on ‘Slave the Hive’ and driving melodic vocals on ‘The Falconist’. Another great album from these guys, however I really hope Matt Pike brings out some new Sleep material next year.
19. Girlpool – Before the World Was Big
Mellow, twee as hell indie pop from duo Girlpool. It’s hard to pin them down stylistically; they only feature electric guitar and bass instrumentation and even with a lot of vocal harmonies, it would be wrong to describe them as similar to Simon & Garfunkel. Either way, Before the World Was Big is a warm, short and sweetly satisfying album from a group making original pop music.
18. Jeff Rosenstock – We Cool?
Jeff Rosenstock’s debut album We Cool? is a testament to youthfulness: anxious energy, getting drunk, graduating, sleeping on sofas, suburban life, the monotony and boredoms of maturity and adulthood, moving out, house parties, drinking alone, self-reflection, comparing yourself in a lackluster fashion to friends, getting more drunk etc etc. The music is lively, fun and angst ridden yet Jeff is reflective and serious, wearing his heart on his sleeve and thinking of the would haves/could haves that have shaped his life.
17. Floating Points – Elaenia
The first time even hearing about Floating Points was seeing the glowing acclaim for this album, I’d never heard the name before but apparently he’s been making waves in several electronic dance subgenres such as UK bass, deep house and garage. This album is completely different to those genres, instead Floating Points (aka Sam Shepherd) creates music more suited for the home than the dancefloor, seamlessly combining electronic and jazzy sounds in an ambient and progressive nature. The suite ‘Silhouettes (I, II & III)’ are reminiscent of the modern jazz of Amon Tobin and St Germain, ‘Argent?’ and ‘Thin Air’ will throw you off guard with their clever volume shift and the concluding track ‘Peroration Six’ seamlessly combines glitzy live jazz drumming with industrial clamour. Elaenia cements Floating Points ability as both a skilful album arranger and a brilliant club DJ.
16. Viet Cong – Viet Cong
2015 has been a year of highs and lows for post-punkers Viet Cong. They gained acclaim for their debut self-titled album yet were met with controversy and protests due to their band name being deemed offensive. Sure, you could compare them to numerous other post-punk bands, but when making this type of music in 2015 you’re hardly going to be creating anything entirely original. Instead Viet Cong craft an album appreciative of experimental rock, post-punk, industrial and art rock bands, taking snippets of each and creating a collage of mesmerising, cold, murky, detached and gratifying music.
15. Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh
Noisy, heavy and dense are all adjectives that could perfectly describe Fuck Buttons member Blanck Mass’ sophomore album but Dumb Flesh will appeal to fans of IDM, techno and industrial. It pounds with 4/4 repetitive club techno yet screams with the noise and darkness of a John Carpenter soundtrack. ‘Dead Format’ is an incredible song that jumps straight into hammering rhythms, ‘No Lite’ saunters with repetitive drum machines and the layers of sound to ‘Atrophies’ are mesmerising. This was definitely the biggest surprise of the year for me and seeing him perform live (I say “seeing” but there was so much smoke in the festival tent you could barely decipher an outline) was an incredible and overwhelming experience.
14. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Quarters and Paper Mâché Dream Balloon
Quarters structure and layout of four songs of equal length (ten minutes ten seconds each) with entirely different concepts for each makes it the most ambitious album of the year. It’s highly 60s inspired psychedelic rock with jazz-rock and Latin influences. It has the conceptual set up and sounds of progressive rock yet its lo-fi recording is more akin to their garage rock roots. Opener ‘The River’ sounds like Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ being performed by Santana, ‘God is in the Rhythm’ sounds like the best song Unknown Mortal Orchestra they never wrote and ‘Lonely Sheet Flyer’ has a free and vague feel to it.
Paper Mâché Dream Balloon is entirely different, it mostly consists of psychedelic pop by means of folk instrumentation (including prominent flutes), with most songs clocking in at under three minutes. Like the title and album art suggests, it’s a cartoonist and playful trip into hippie style psych, at times it even sounds like an optimistic Nick Drake. Again, it’s really great to see bands that can deliver albums within the space of a few months whilst keeping ideas fresh and diverse.
13. Deafheaven – New Bermuda
Sunbather; with its constantly imitated iconic cover and indie crossover appeal was Deafheaven’s Unknown Pleasures. New Bermuda however is their Closer. It’s darker, heavier, grittier and may not appeal to fans who enjoyed the clearer shoegaze with black metal hybrid of their previous album. ‘Brought To Water’ sets out the climate for the entire record, with ringing church bells trailed by Immortal-esque riffs, then chugging thrash paired with the emergence of increased malevolence of George Clarke’s vocals. Elsewhere, there is overwhelming persisting aggression, swirling chords and bends, Mogwai inspired clean instrumentals (such as in ‘Baby Blue’), classic metal style guitar solos (‘Come Back’), chiming percussive intricacies (heard in the ride cymbal hits of ‘Luna’) and dynamic paradoxes in heaviness (‘Gifts For The Earth’). The ideas are more straightforward and more cleverly executed, it’s welcoming that they didn’t opt for a Sunbather part two.
12. WAND – Golem and 1000 Days
It’s so refreshing to see the prolific nature of certain bands these days, especially the new wave of garage/psychedelic rock bands. You start to wonder if the likes of Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees and the already mentioned King Gizzard are even alive if they haven’t released an album that year. Golem blew my mind upon first listen due to its heavier take on psychedelia; it verges on doom or sludge metal in parts as a lot of it is very heavily Black Sabbath and Melvins inspired.
Its successor 1000 Days, was released a mere 6 months after confirms they aren’t ones to repeat the same trick twice, offering a calmer record with psychedelic pop sensibilities. Both are equally great albums, but for entirely different reasons.
11. Ought – Sun Coming Down
Canadian post-punkers Ought return with a noisier, aggressive follow up to their impressive debut More Than Any Other Day. The vocals are slurred and in your face, even when they revolve around seemingly menial things, reminiscent of the cynical ramblings of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith. The instrumentation backs away from the clean, sparkling guitar tendencies of early new wave/post punk groups and clear Ought influencers Television and the Talking Heads and instead sees the band taking a more novel, raucous approach with noisy and discordant guitars, showing Ought are becoming their own band and not just an enjoyable assembly of pronounced influences.
10. Tame Impala – Currents
I have many different conflicting views on this album. I could say a lot of negative things about Currents: for example it’s a huge step down in quality from Lonerism, it’s inconsistent, some of the ideas aren’t fully formed and it can be really tacky at times, however it is still a great album for many reasons. The production is perfect and the non-filler songs really are special. ‘Yes I’m Changing’ is gorgeous, ‘Eventually’ is dreamily danceable and ‘The Less I Know The Better’ has one of the funkiest basslines ever. Tame Impala changed their sound from a psychedelic rock/pop band to genres more closely resembling synth-pop, funk, R&B, dream pop and even vaporwave, with clear influences from Ariel Pink, Air and Prince. It’s great to see a band changing their sonic identity with each release (compare this to their first Cream influenced EP) and even though I loved Lonerism, I’m glad it isn’t a direct sequel to it. This isn’t quite “their Kid A” but Tame Impala will keep their fan base intrigued by mixing varying their sound for as long as they exist.
9. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
Julia Holter’s work is acknowledged as coming from the genre known as “art pop”. Pop is an imprecise description for Have You In My Wilderness, which sees Holter writing lush, elegant songs with an experimental flair that sound brilliant as both individual pieces and as a collective. Certain songs such as ‘Vasquez’ have a jazz feel about them, whereas others are sparse and melancholic like ‘Betsy on the Roof’. Julia’s voice is subtle and refined, never overhauling the graceful orchestrated instrumentation, which range from cellos and viola to Charles Mingus like double bass refrains. The first time I’ve listened to Holter, I’ll be sure to check out her prior work. She has created an album simultaneously diverse and cohesive, offering a unique take on being a songwriter and pop musician.
8. Joanna Newsom – Divers
The half-decade wait from 2010s triple album Have One On Me was finally over when celebrated harp virtuoso Joanna Newsom released Divers late this year, achieving elated acclaim (let’s be honest, she isn’t going to release anything that won’t be deservedly praised). Thankfully, this is under half the length of Have One On Me which although loved by fans, overwhelmed more casual listeners like myself. Length and structure wise, this is comparable to her debut, The Milk Eyed Mender, my personal favourite album of Joanna’s. This is Newsom at her utmost orchestrated and percussive, with most tracks heavily featuring performances from a variety of baroque-era instruments, in addition to contributions from Prague’s Philharmonic Orchestra. Out of all the albums this year that have attracted mass praise (often unjustly), Divers is the album that justifies it the most.
7. Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated at Last
It isn’t often a song comes on the radio that stops me in my tracks, making me listen intently to the DJ announcing who it was by. In this case (and to my disbelief) it was Thee Oh Sees’ ‘Sticky Hulks’, a grand, psychedelic piece with chirping guitars, hushed singing and swirling organs that will make you think of The Doors at their finest. It surprised me as it was worlds apart from the noisy garage punk of their earlier work and their last effort Floating Coffin. Ever prolific, they released their sixteenth album this year and it makes me want to immerse myself into every single one of those sixteen. It features hallucinogenic mellowness, noisy garage rock, twisted vocals and fantastic rhythm performances in its entirety. Thee Oh Sees are less raucous on Mutilator Defeated at Last but this in turn makes them more refined and allows them to showcase their more suited psychedelic side.
6. Jamie xx – In Colour
In Colour seems part appropriation of the UK underground dance music scene, part post-club soundtrack. It ranges from the UK bass of ‘Gosh’ and ‘Girl’ to the gentler tracks like ‘Loud Places’ and those such as ‘SeeSaw’ which could suit either context. At its heart, In Colour is a dance record featuring sounds from house, downtempo and future garage yet they echo with subtleness, emotion, steady pace and various layers. It feels like a homage to performing and attending clubs and raves: glitzy eyed, united audience members and passionate connections to venues and their resonances perfectly fit In Colour’s narrative. The conflicting sounds make you wonder if Jamie xx wanted to create a record to dance to or an IDM/trip-hop-like album for those on a descent from post-club sobriety. Despite the contradictory position of In Colour, it is an excellent album and as I could never appreciate any of the XX’s work, it surprisingly became one of my favourites of the year.
5. Baroness – Purple
It’s been an eventful few years for Baroness since the release of their excellent 2012 double album Yellow & Green: a near fatal tour bus accident left nine crew and band members seriously injured, leading to two band members leaving and the remaining two having to undergo massive reconstructive surgical procedures and physical therapy which meant re-learning their instruments. Instead of calling it quits, they went back on tour as soon as physically possible, recruited a new rhythm section (Nick Jost and Sebastian Thompson) and recorded the excellent Purple. On their fourth album, they effortlessly match the melodic mellowness of Yellow & Green with the ferocity of Blue and Red, whilst offering a new flair of progressive and psychedelic rock (possibly due to the production influence of long time Flaming Lips producer and Tame Impala mixer Dave Fridmann). From the razor sharp riffs of ‘Kerosene’, elevated melodicism of ‘Chlorine and Wine’ and ‘Shock Me’ through to the rhythmically peculiar ‘Desperation Burns’, Purple is characterised by soaring choruses and exceptional metal song-writing that feels entirely positive.
4. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
Most re-unions in music are usually suspicious cash grabbing schemes, however Sleater-Kinney returned after a ten year hiatus (for the second time now) and gave us the brilliant No Cities to Love. The noise and classic rock sounds of previous album The Woods are gone and instead, Sleater-Kinney opt for their signature blend of the angular sharpness of post-punk, the energy of punk, riot grrrl and hardcore, the twin guitars of rock and the melodicism of indie. No Cities to Love is the poppier parallel to their classic record Dig Me Out, racing through amazingly catchy yet destructive songs with highly original musicianship (not even Iron Maiden or Thin Lizzy can match the strength of vocal and guitar interplay of Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein). 2015 will be the year Sleater-Kinney will be remembered for schooling everyone on how to correctly execute a re-union; making a great album, performing sold out and critically acclaimed live shows whilst enjoying every minute of it in the process.
3. Uncle Acid – The Night Creeper
Uncle Acid return with their fourth album and once again, the distinct retro production, psychedelic tinged stoner/doom metal instrumentation and helium vocals are as present as ever. Another conceptual effort, the story is based on a fictional urban folk devil who indulges in stalking and murder, the perfect narrative to accompany Uncle Acid’s grimy music. The band build and improve on the sound created on Mind Control with some key elements of evolution to their sound; such as the instrumental ‘Yellow Moon’, the garage rock trudge of ‘Inside’ and the cinematic epic closer ‘Slow Death’. This is definitely not to be missed by any fans of the more traditional side of doom metal, yet it can appeal to any fan of stoner rock. The album transports the listener straight into a psychotic, depraved and bizarre noir film; they dropped the Deadbeats moniker but deliver an album which is simultaneously diverse, murky and intriguing.
2. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down…
OK, so everything about the album art and title is hilarious. Kurt Vile sits there clutching his resonator guitar with a cheeky smirk on his face and above him is some scribbled text (complete with a star to dot the “i”) that would look more suitable on a Year 8 girl’s pencil case. Apart from all that though, this is a great slow burner of an album and my favourite of Vile’s and easily one of my most listened to of 2015. It’s relaxed folk for slackers, like Neil Young or even Dinosaur Jr. with the fuzz pedals turned off. Vile elaborates upon in his life in a carefree manner in his Philadelphia twang over fingerpicked guitar stylings where this time around the psychedelic reminiscent reverb is toned down in favour of a more folk rock and Americana approach. Also, ‘Pretty Pimpin’ with its seemingly simple lyrics is not only the best album opener this year, it’s the best song/single by far.
So, here’s number 1…
Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
If you had told me at the start of 2015 that a member of Animal Collective’s album would be my favourite of the year, I would have burst out laughing with disbelief. After picking Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper up on double-LP for the bargain price of £7 and playing it around four times that week, I had a complete U-turn in opinion for the work of Panda Bear and Animal Collective as a whole and now enjoy a great deal of their discographies, especially this one.
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper at its core is a psychedelic album, albeit with a very modern approach. It is vastly different to psychedelic rock as it features no guitar instrumentation, instead Panda Bear (real name Noah Lennox) takes an electronic approach; utilising synthesisers, keyboards, drum machines and moogs to create a dense, layered, echoing and breezily vibrant sound. Most importantly, Noah’s vocals lead the music. They harmonise themselves in characteristic falsetto with vocal jigsaws which have brought about numerous comparisons to The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson.
Noah wanted to create an album with a more positive and ‘busier’ sound than his previous record, Tomboy but both feature the production of Spacemen 3 mastermind Peter Kember (aka Sonic Boom). Structurally, it is similar to Tomboy yet in sound it resembles Person Pitch in its summery take on psychedelic pop, possibly due to the subconscious influence of the climate in Panda’s Lisbon residence. There is a distinct dub sound, with snare echoes and groove-emphasised atmosphere, made all the more clearer by the fact that the album’s title is a homage to King Tubby and Augustus Pablo’s classic King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown. Along with dub reggae, hip-hop is a crucial influence to the sonic template. Whether it be the jazzy boom-bap of nineties groups such as Gang Starr, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth and A Tribe Called Quest or the choppy skew of J Dilla influenced production, the percussion is formed into minimalist beats that become the pillar of the record. Lyrically, Panda Bear deals with topics of the unknown: fatherhood, middle age and issues seldom discussed in society such as diagnosis, death and grief.
The songs work exceptionally well as stand-alone pieces of music but despite the fluctuations in sound and four clear “acts” emerging, …Meets the Grim Reaper comes together remarkably as a whole. In particular, ‘Mr Noah’ features whimpering dog samples, over the top of squelching synths and a brilliant descending vocal hook, ‘Boys Latin’ sees Panda performing a choral call-and-response with himself, ‘Principe Real’ showcases acid house rhythms made with exaggerated hand-claps and shuffling hip-hop beats characterise ‘Crosswords’ and ‘Come To Your Senses’. The centerpiece of the album are the tracks of ‘Tropic of Cancer’ and ‘Lonely Wanderer’, which form a beautiful suite which deviate from the electronic sounds that illustrate the majority of the album. On ‘Tropic of Cancer’, harp samples from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet suite are looped whilst Panda gives his finest vocal performance to date, singing with stunning heightened emotion which deliberates upon the frustrations of his fathers’ cancer diagnosis. ‘Lonely Wanderer’ similarly features gorgeous looping techniques, yet conversely uses trickling piano samples from Claude DeBussy’s classical composition ‘Arabesque No. 1’ that descend into murkier territories with the juxtaposition of warped keyboard oscillations.
So there you have it, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is my favourite album of the year, and by quite a longshot as well. Sure it’s not as out-there or as ground-breaking and best of the 2000s contender Person Pitch, but its more straightforward song-writing approach turned me into a big fan of Panda and his band. The EPs ‘Crosswords’ and ‘Mr Noah’ which both preceded and followed are also pretty great, serving as worthy accompaniments. The only criticism I can have is minor; the album art isn’t that great but it does support the over-the-top, colourful nature of its content. I would still have preferred the booklet art (featured below), though.
- Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper was released on Domino Records worldwide on January 9th, 2015
- Mini-documentary on the making of the album
- Panda Bear Boiler Room set