The annual list of the best for Higher Plain Music this year is extended from 25 to 30 because this year, the majority are new artists I’ve discovered over the past year. Almost all of the them have small dedicated followings and each and everyone one of them deserves some love. This year I decided to not include singles, but EP’s and albums are in. Two albums I got for Christmas are not included because I haven’t had time to really evaluate them – but they both good. Failure’s “The Heart is a Monster” and Meg Myers “Sorry”. Also out are deluxe editions of albums that came out in 2014, which is a shame for Rebekka Karijold whose “We Become Ourselves” is absolutely stunning. Check them out if you have the time. Right – onwards and enjoy – there’s a definite Scottish folk theme for 2015!
30) Completions – Completions
Shaun Alpay’s amazing début “Completions” see’s him work his voice and cello into multiple layers of beautiful work. It’s home brewed but with that comes everything you want in an emotionally charged album. The fact it’s all one man just makes it all the more impressive and the cover of “A Case Of You” is a unique interpretation.
29) Ringo Deathstarr – Pure Mood
Shoegazing into a new era, Ringo Deathstarr’s latest album showcases just how you can reverb a guitar to infinity with elegance. Crammed with catchy hooks and superb melodies, Pure Mood gets me in the mood to take on the world with full force.
28) Ibeyi – Ibeyi
If you’d have asked me if a French Cuban duo would appear on my top albums list I’d have probably said “deliver me those goods” but deliver Ibeyi did. Sultry, sexy, ghostly and groovy – their potent mix of minimalist beats and worldly voices grows on you very quickly. I was initially underwhelmed on the first play but it hooked me once the songs had stopped and now they are on heavy repeat.
27) Murray Kyle – Arrow to the Sun
Australian Murray Kyle channels more roots from the ground to the ear in a single song than most other artists can dream of. Most of the album uses traditional instruments and that’s where the magic lies as Murray’s voice fits perfectly when weaving a poetic peace. Although “Arrow to the Sun” can be classified as devotional music, as someone that has no religious faith, the music and thought process stands strong without it and that’s a sign of classic music.
26) Olivia Chaney – The Longest River
Olivia’s knack for taking traditional and original tracks and working with them in something that is just slightly off the usual 4/4 beat is uncanny. The result is that The Longest River flows like a current of emotion that speeds up and slows down to evoke all of your feels in all the right places. Magical folk with a splash of Joni Mitchell for good measure.
25) Euzen – Metamorph
Euzen created the pagan pop genre for me by bursting onto my speakers with their unusual melodies, synth heavy power chords and witchy lyrics and delivery. The sole reason this album isn’t higher is that some of the album’s production is so focused on the dark tones it misses some of the top end shimmer and as a result loses a bit of its dynamic power.
24) Paper Aeroplanes – Joy
Welsh duo Paper Aeroplanes have still not hit the big time and I’ve no idea why. They have been crafting perfect pop rock for years and with Joy they move back away from the folkier side of the music to a more electro acoustic pop. It’s their most direct album to date and is crammed with future singles. Sarah’s voice is divine and their production is top notch.
23) Moonbabies – Wizards on the Beach
Sweedish dream pop duo (I’ve read somewhere it’s a husband and wife duo too) Moonbabies were my go to pop album for 2015. The deluxe version given to all the original bandcamp buyers for free doubles the tracks with remixes and alternative versions of some of the most deliriously happy and groovy space dance this year. “Playground Dropouts” nearly out does The Go! Team at their own genre too.
22) Flo Morrissey – Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful
Distinctive voices are a blessing and a curse. Flo’s is angelic and almost alien. She also loves to use the high register to the point where it could be seen as overwrought and a little yodel-ish. However it’s these creature like moans and groans where she refuses to keep to the easiest way to sing something that really sells her as a unique artist. She’s one of the least easiest easy listening singer/songwriters of the year but Pages of Gold is the easiest place to start.
21) Iain Morrison – Eas
A stunningly beautiful and humble album from the Outer Herbrides, Iain Morrison takes such an intimate approach with retelling how his father taught him to play the pipes it feels like listening to a time capsule. This is a truly Scottish masterpiece of story telling.
20) Jessica Curry – Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture
A symphonic game soundtrack to an emotional story about the end of all things, Jessica Curry takes beautiful motifs and weaves them into a classical dream. In a year where most game music left me cold, or felt a bit forced retro wise, this soundtrack was a breath of fresh air… and that game made me ball my eyes out!
19) Bjork – Vulnicura
A fascinating blood smear down a wall, Vulnicura is symphonic and indulgent in a way Bjork hasn’t quite done before. It requires attention, patience and open heart. Whilst for many lists I’ve seen it as album of the year, I struggled initially to embrace a couple of the songs and some of the percussive work I’m still not a fan of – but each time I listen I fall in love again a little bit more. Vulnicura strikes me as an album that will suddenly click without warning.
18) Portrayal – To the Black Sea
I can’t find an image of the band anywhere online but then their album is a sleeper hit too. Part shoegaze rockers, part electro indie – the UK based gang created a fantastic vibe of ever changing rock fixtures. It’s polished and reminds me of when I discovered Duologue last year and wondered where they’d been all my life! They need a music video to spread some hype please!
17) Penka Kouneva – The Woman Astronaut
My classical album of 2015, Penka’s mixture of cultures and influences that worked so well for her previous solo album “The Warriors Odyssey” are perfected here in a way that is only bettered by Christopher Tin’s classical world. It’s a rousing, pulse racing affair as themes, instruments and motifs become staples and show an understanding of the musical craft that is rare to find. I haven’t had much time with it, otherwise it would be higher – but game music fans, classical music fans and film score collectors need this album in their lives. Spellbinding.
16) Son Lux – Bones
It shows the class of a musician that my least favourite album of Son Lux still is in the top tier of albums in a year. Ryan Lott’s ability to create chaos on a speaker is as potent as ever – just try to not reuse so many lyrics or chord structures from other songs next time please! I am all for recurring themes and fan service where it is appropriate but I that element did not enhance the already 8.5/10 album into something higher.
15) Lila Rose – We Animals
Removing pianos for more bass initially didn’t sit well for me but Lila knew better as repeated listens ensured each track’s percussion was battered into my soul for what I will class as “angry pop”. Lila Rose’s popularity continues to grow and I really hope her third album sees a breakthrough for her without moving the needle too far from the tree.
14) Torres – Sprinter
In a year where most of my rockers were AWOL, Torres stepped up with her second album Sprinter taking me right back to when 90’s grungy alt rock was king. She kicks out riff after riff with pop perfection without ever sounding poppy at all. Infact, she reminds me MTV early 90s. When it was amazing… and a bit of Shirley Manson.
13) Sarah Kirkland Snider – Unremembered
When a gang of your favourite artists ( including Shara Worden and DM Stith) get together to record a bizarre chamber orchestra song cycle you know you’re in for something completely unique and random. Sarah Kirkland Snider is at the helm composing the hypnotic score that bends and twists around electronic and vocal operatics that make much of the album feel like a claustrophobic horror movie. It’s an utterly unique musical experience that will warp your mind.
12) Sam Lee – The Fade In Time
I’ve had this album for four weeks and I am instantly in love. Sam Lee’s ability to layer so many instruments to create something that’s clearly rootsy and earthy yet massively diverse and clever is second to none. Each time I listen I pick out new quirks and Sam’s voice is a quirk of its own. It cuts right through everything like the vocal equivalent of Michael Caine. It’s so fitting though – highly recommended for any folk or world music fan.
11) This Is the Kit – Bashed Out
This has become my go to album for the softest punches to be blown in 2015. Kate has such a beautifully smooth voice and when paired with the lush guitar and softly muted drums, it comes together like a band aid for the pain. Achingly beautiful.
10) Miracles of Modern Science – Mean Dreams
A rock band that swapped all the guitars for strings. Several albums in and they continue to find new ways to rock out with their unique sound. This album is like a kawaii party for Camden crowd – only not stupid. The guys clearly have a great sense of humour and every chord shines as a result. Their YouTube channel has a ton of great covers regularly too but their original music is what really hooked me in.
09) Chelsea Sue Allen – Lonely Ages
Practically unknown singer/songwriter Chelsea blew me away with her latest album Lonely Ages. Her guitar and treacle like vocal tone is gorgeous to listen to and unlike the live performance below, the album is full of nifty production and tight writing that makes each track hit home in a slightly disquieting way.
08) Georgia – Georgia
Angry artistic paranoid pop is how I describe Georgia. She doesn’t stay in a genre but everything is highly technically produced in a grubby and dank workmanlike fashion – and it works. I wanted to riot, start an army, change the world and fall in love in just 40 minutes. A cracking début that a bit like SOHN last year, has such a wide palette I am genuinely excited and intrigued to see what comes next.
07) The Go! Team – The Scene Between
Working with loads of guest singers and finally crafting more traditionally structured tracks, The Scene Between is the album The Go! Team has been working towards. It is joyously happy, full of beans and doesn’t change the core sound that the team have been crafting as the singers all channel the beauty and passion the band have. Your party album!
06) Susanne Sundfor – Ten Love Songs
Norway’s finest pop singer returns to her dramatic cinematic pop after her stripped down album and it’s a triumphant return to form. She’s at her creative best trying out all kinds of tech wizardary and doing things that aren’t really pop any more and Ten Love Songs smashes the best of both worlds together. Now she’s getting end credit work for films hopefully her creativity and popularity will continue to explode.
05) Rosemary & Garlic – The Kingfisher
Five utterly beautiful tracks from a completely unknown duo. However I don’t think the world can keep something this sumptuous ad delicate a secret for long. Each track is filled with emotion and when I reviewed it earlier this year, I knew then that this little EP that could would only get better with age and be standing tall in the end of year lists. If you want to check out one completely unknown musical artist from 2015 – I urge you to make it this.
04) Eska – Eska
Easily my favourite new voical discovery of 2015, Eska’s voice has such power and poise you aren’t quite prepared for when you are next going to be wowed by it. More excitingly is that the album itself is really daring with its choices. The song’s vary in tone, structure, instrumentation and genre but they all have an experimental flavour that run through it be it a reggae groove or a vocal only collage – even the single has a 15/8 time signature. I fell in love on the first listen and I never plan on falling back out again.
03) C Duncan – Architect
An album that is so well balanced and put together it enhances each song as a whole, C Duncan’s Architect is an acoustic rock joy to behold. However aside from the heady hooks and his airy vocals that sound like a summer breeze, there is always a hint 70’s psychedelia hiding behind the main track. If it’s in an organ or a synth or some weird tech wizardary, it’s there and it makes each track really interesting to listen to behind the main melodies.
02) Kathryn Joseph – Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled
A cathartic bloodbath of emotions that seep into your soul, Kathryn’s piano based songs are so rawly recorded you can hear bits and bobs of the piano creaking and moaning under the strain of it all. As a listener though, you’ll be lapping it up with every moan, cry, breathe and murmur. Joseph’s singing style is so cryptic as its like a child whom hasn’t quite the patience to form the words before she has to get them out. As a result trying to discover the lyrics and interpretating her work is part of the journey. The reasons this isn’t my number one album yet is partly because it’s relatively new to my collection and because my favourite song (The Worm) was on the AA single and not on the album and so I’ve included that below as they are all part of the same fabric. Astonishing talent – I am a huge fan.
01) Kristin McClement – The Wild Grips
Kristin McClement’s devastingly haunting The Wild Grips is utterly gripping for one reason – it takes its time to crawl under your skin. Songs often have specific sections and complete tonal changes. Others drip and drip and drip onto each of your feels like a tortured lullaby. Each one of the ten tracks have a unique feel and tone although they all fit under the broad-stroke of folk, but McClement’s arrangements gone beyond tradition and they have stayed with me throughout the year as some of the best pieces of music of the decade.