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2015 Year-End List

No, I am not resuming reviewing duties, but I wasn’t able to resist – after 20 years of radio work, you kind of have that gotta-do-a-year-end-list thing embedded in your brain, and heart. So, I retired from music journalism (web and radio) in May 2015, at which point I almost completely stopped receiving promos AND started going back to old loves – prog rock, psych rock, and the likes.

These are my 12 favourite records of 2015. All highly recommended. And they cover a wide spectrum, of course.

Julie Blanche            (Coyote)
A wonderful debut album by Quebecer Julie Blanche, an atmospheric pop singer with a gorgeous soft voice, good songwriting ideas, and a stellar band (featuring members of post-rockers Torngat).

JOANNA NEWSOM           
Divers  (Drag City)
Finally!!! It’s been SOOOO long since Have One on Me that I had given up hope for some new Newsom. If Divers had come out last spring, it would most probably rank higher in my year-end list, but Newsom’s records need time to bloom, and this one is no exception. It has everything you came to expect from Newsom, including some puzzling lyrics.

Ghosts (ind.)
Montreal-based trumpeter Craig Pedersen delivered a GEM this year in Ghosts, a 16-minute EP of beautiful modern jazz. With Lindsay Wellman, Joel Kerr, and Eric Thibodeau. Some of his best songwriting is on this album, backed by great musicianship. And it’s an easy listen, even though it has plenty of edge. More at www.craigpedersen.com.

Apocalypse, Girl (Sacred Bones)
Norwegian songstress Jenny Hval has an already long career behind her, and she featured in last year’s year-end list with a collaboration with Susanna Wallumrød. I usually find her solo albums fine, and that’s it, but Apocalypse, Girl ups the ante... and then some. Sparse songs over an explicit discourse on female sexuality and perception. A captivating listen as a whole and song by song. The most accomplished thing I have heard from her to this day.

Walking on Light (Cuchabata)
It’s been a long time coming, this debut album by Montreal band Odd Limbs, but it was definitely worth the wait. Alexein P. Oris and co. deliver a bunch of great post-new wave songs. The songs can be a bit too long at times, but that’s a minor quabble. Now, give these guys a decent budget and they will produce a knock-out follow-up. http://oddlimbs.bandcamp.com.

Seven (Disques Victo)
What can I say? This concert was a highlight of the 2014 edition of FIMAV. The recording sounds amazing and confirms how strong the performance was. Way up there with the best European/lowercase improvisation on the market. www.victo.qc.ca. Sorry, Victo never release excerpts.

Mud, Dirt & Hiss (cat|sun)
A gorgeous, gorgeous, just plain gorgeous album of minimal electronics and field recordings. Everything here makes sense to my ears, producing its own logic as it goes along. I am surprised at the number of times I came back to this CD through the year.

Vestigium (Discus)
Againt, what can I say? I have been championing this duo from the start. This is this duo’s fourth album, and their string of releases keeps getting better and better. Julie’s magical lyrics and wonderful vocals paired with Archer’s studio constructions of electroacoustics, beats, and avant-jazz-meets-prog-rock. More here: http://discus-music.co.uk/catalogue-mobile/dis48cd-detail.

Wolflight (Inside Out)
I love progressive rock. You guys know that. Well, Mr. Hackett delivered the goods this year with a very strong solo album. I have had to brush over the bombastic production – come on, you can’t take those arena rock drums seriously! –  but the songwriting on this one is SOOO good! If only Hackett would hire Echolyn to produce his next album...

Slag Tanz (Seventh/Jazz Village)
2015 was the Year of Magma. A worldwide tour that brought them to the Province of Quebec for the first time ever (isn’t that unbelievable?), a 12-CD live box set, and this new studio EP that commits to tape the official version of Slag Tanz, a composition that has been featured live for quite a while now. I think I still prefer the earlier live version found on the Epok V DVD, but this studio take is still a breathtaking ride. (There are no audio excerpts on the web, but here’s an excerpt from Epok V.)

Merlin Atmos (Esoteric Recordings)
I scream MONSTER! 2015 has been a slow year for VDGG/Peter Hammill – no studio releases, no concerts save for ONE solo Hammill performance a couple weeks ago. But in early 2015 came out this incredible double live album featuring the power trio performing “Flight” and “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” among other cuts. Phenomenal.

I Heard You Listening (ind.)
In 2015, you could hear me listening to I Heard You Listening everywhere – and ALL the time when it came last summer. This is the album I had been waiting for from them every since As the World. Excellent SHORT prog rock songs – it’s an art in itself. Great lyrics, fabulous vocal harmonies, not a single clunker in the bunch. The band never released a bad album, but they did fall in ruts at times and bit more than they could chew at others. Not of that here: just top-shelf songwriting, stellar production, and only the best of what you can expect from these prog rock legends. Yeah, legends. http://echolyn.bandcamp.com.