Saturday, January 16, 2016

Favorite Music of 2015

Music is my third passion, after my marriage and movies. It was cultivated through the years by many, but mostly by a few. For some years after college I abandoned it, but eventually it came back to me. It combined with my passion for movies to a degree that recently I’ve found myself including motion picture scores in with my favorite albums of each year. This year there were so many favorites of each, traditional albums and original motion picture soundtracks, that I decided to compile two favorite ten lists.

Even more so with music than with movies, it is impossible to hear everything that is released within a year’s time. This is why I avoid calling this a “top ten” list or a “best of” list. I could hardly claim these are the best of the lot. Not only is there too much material out there to make such a claim, but also each album and soundtrack score needs time to breathe. You need to spend time with them before you can claim to truly know them. I guess they’re like people that way. I think in the past that need to spend time with them has favored albums that were released earlier in the year. Those are the ones I got to spend the most time with. However, it seems this year I’ve bucked that trend and find more late-year albums on each list than I have in the past. This makes me feel I’ve done a better and fairer job of judging these albums than ever before.

I usually don’t write anything about the individual albums I pick each year. I like to let the music speak for itself. Plus, I reviewed a few albums in college; and despite my ability to analyze film; I’ve never felt I had the knowledge of music to write good album reviews. I don’t pay much attention to the details so much as the feeling they give me. Sometimes I don’t even hear the lyrics of a song until years after my first listen. This is probably why I’m drawn to soundtrack scores as much as I am.

There are a few things I’d like to say about a couple of the albums this year though.

First, in regard to Ryan Adams’ “1989”—I was surprised not to see this album on more “Best of” lists at the end of the year. I get the feeling people thought an entire cover album of another artist’s songs was a lame idea, or maybe it’s more because it was an incredibly popular artist’s album. I don’t know, but this is my favorite album from Ryan Adams in a long time. This is a guy who is a perennial favorite of mine, so that’s saying something. What Adams does here is not only make each and every one of Taylor Swift’s songs his own, but he highlights the incredible musical ability that went into composing each song. His arrangements are for the most part vastly different from Swift’s, but by removing her particular pop music sensibilities, it’s easier to see just what a rare talent she is.

I think it should also be noted that Adams didn’t spend the entire year copying someone else’s catalogue. For the past year and a half, before the release of his self-titled album in the fall of 2014, Adams has been releasing three track EPs every two or three months that have exemplified a remarkable range of original material, even for Adams. These eight EPs each take a different tone and have further impressed me about the musical abilities of this artist who has been making fine music for over a quarter of a century at this point.

Second, in regard to the Blackhat Original Motion Picture Soundtrack—For some reason this soundtrack has yet to be released in any album format. The tracks are out there, and it might be possible to piece together a playlist of this soundtrack album. There may be legal reasons behind the lack of a release for this remarkable soundtrack, however. Harry Gregson-Williams is credited as the film’s score composer. When he saw the final cut of the film, he was shocked to find almost none of his music was used. He set to twitter to complain about Michael Mann, who has a reputation for slicing and dicing his composers’ scores with electronic music. Rumor is that Mann brought Atticus Ross in to edit the music together and compose some replacement music for Gregson-Williams’ more traditional score, but it appears most of the score music was composed by electronic artist Ryan Amon, whose previous credits include the score to the film “Elysium” and to the video games “Assassin’s Creed: Unity” and “Bloodborn”. I hope any legal wrangling doesn’t keep this soundtrack from surfacing in an album format eventually. Until it does, you’ll just have to watch the movie to hear it.


Primrose Green
Artist: Ryley Walker
Label: Dead Oceans
Dropped: March 31

Coming Home
Artist: Leon Bridges
Label: Columbia
Dropped: June 23

Artist: Ryan Adams
Label: Blue Note
Dropped: September 21

Lost Themes
Artist: John Carpenter
Label: Sacred Bones Records
Dropped: February 3

Dying Surfer Meets His Maker
Artist: All Them Witches
Label: New West Records
Dropped: October 30

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Artist: Courtney Barnett
Label: Mom & Pop Music
Dropped: March 23

Artist: Tamaryn
Label: Mexican Summer
Dropped: August 28

…is Doomed
Artist: Black Wing
Label: The Flenser
Dropped: September 25

Beyond Belief
Artist: Mark McGuire
Label: Dead Oceans
Dropped: November 13

Blowing Inside
Artist: Chicos de Nazca
Label: BYM Records
Dropped: October 26

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight
Artists: Ennio Morricone (score), cast (dialogue)
Label: Verve
Dropped: December 18

It Follows
Artist: Disasterpeace
Label: Milan Records
Dropped: March 23

Mad Max: Fury Road
Artist: Tom Holkenberg (aka Junkie XL)
Label: WaterTower Music
Dropped: May 12

Love & Mercy
Artists: Atticus Ross (score), Brian Wilson (songs), The Beach Boys (songs)
Label: Capitol
Dropped: September 18

The Revenant
Artists: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, Bryce Dessner
Label: Milan Records
Dropped: December 25

Artist: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Label: Varese Sarabande
Dropped: September 18

Artists: Ryan Amon (score (uncredited)), Harry Gregson-Williams (score (credited)), various artists (additional music)
Label: N/A
Dropped: N/A (maybe someday)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Artist: John Williams
Label: Walt Disney Records
Dropped: December 18

Ex Machina
Artists: Ben Salisbury and Geoff Darrow
Label: Silva Screen
Dropped: May 26

Artist: Michael Brook
Label: Lakeshore Records
Dropped: November 6

All albums and soundtracks except Blackhat Original Motion Picture Soundtrack available through most major music services, including Spotify, Amazon, and iTunes

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