This is a personal list of my favourite musical releases this year regardless of genre. There were many surprises this year, upon hindsight, and I found some new awareness and appreciation for genres I never even knew existed (case in point: darkwave). Please note that this is not a ranking; I simply cannot choose which is better here. All are likeable albums in any case. Without further ado:
Dead Can Dance - Anastasis [Darkwave]
This was an album that floored me upon first listen. Headed by male-female vocal duo Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, Dead Can Dance has been around for quite a while already but this is their first album in a decade. The wait was, however, worth it. Boasting majestic vocals, lush and diverse instrumentation and dark atmospheres, Anastasis is the perfect movie soundtrack to the apocalypse. Special credit must be given to Gerrard, who gets across her message wordlessly.
Death Grips - The Money Store / No Love Deep Web [Hip - Hop]
Another band that came quite recently, Death Grips' futuristic approach to rap with MC Stefan's in your face vocal delivery and Zach Hill's half metal half jazz drums is an exhibition in musical creativity. What seperates the duo from every other idiot rapper is their emphasis on the music and not just the rap, and the collaboration is electrifying. Welcome to the future!
Blut Aus Nord - What Once Was... Liber II [Avant-Garde Black Metal]
Whilst there is a big commotion over the band's genre-eluding 777: Cosmosophy, the grand finale to the epic 777 trilogy consisting of 777: Sect(s) and 777: Desanctification, nobody paid much attention to this limited press vinyl that was released a few months earlier. And what the band is trying to prove baffles me; while Cosmosophy was an excellent record with its shoegaze elements and dense production, What Once Was... Liber II is the obvious direction of the band, using the new found melodic and dreamy textures of their recent trilogy and fusing it with the dissonance they are known for. Cosmosophy was grand, but this 2-track EP is a definite winner.
Swans - The Seer [Noise Rock]
Enough has been said about the epic scale of this monster record, with its taut dynamics and interesting layering. Whilst by no means a desirable record for attentive listening, this 2CD masterpiece makes for a fantastic background when working or studying. Especially at night.
BBNG - BBNG2 [Hip-hop Jazz Fusion]
Elitists have always insisted that true instrumental jazz must follow the revered style of John Coltrane in the 60s, with indifferent and groovy tunes and rhythms. Jazz is now a dying genre thanks to the elitists' stubborness. However, BBNG set themselves apart, by using source material from hip-hop songs, rather than relying on the same old jazz methods. The instrumentation is energetic and pounding, not the meditative kind. The drums are amazingly fast and hard, the keyboards are shrill and piercing, like shooting at glass walls, and the bass is huge and thick, sounding more like rock than jazz. The rhythm changes in 'UWM', the vitality on 'Flashing Lights'. the drumming on 'DMZ', there are numerous memorable moments on this fantastic hip-hop jazz album.
Krallice - Years Past Matter [Transcendental Black Metal]
Krallice has been slowly evolving to be one of my favourite bands over the past few years, and by their fourth record, it's hard to believe that the band is only five years old. Mick Barr and Colin Marston have probably more material released under different bands and names and the practice sessions and countless trials show fruit in their futuristic playing here. The final track, IIIIIIIIIIII is by far the best track I've had the pleasure of listening to this year.
Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory [Pop-Punk]
Another genre that I cannot say I am a fan of, Cloud Nothings proved me wrong with this excellent record. Band leader Dylan Baldi has a ear for melody on the more aggressive tracks like 'Wasted Days'. The album's defining moments are in its hooks, and the abundance of these more than make up for the seemingly immature lyrics, or the scope, of the album.
Lotus Plaza - Spooky Action At A Distance [Indie Rock]
Having listened repeatedly to Deerhunter's Desire Lines since 2010, it was a dream come true when Lockett Pundt released his second solo album. SAaaD has beautiful songs that bring to mind Alcest's beautiful debut in 2007. Pundt's songwriting is focused but he does not compromise introspective space in the midst of his warm keyboard lines and riffs. A lot of material sounds similar to Deerhunter's latest albums, but this isn't much of a problem for me.
Hail Spirit Noir - Pneuma [Psychedelic Black Metal]
With funky classic keyboards, guitar solos that were clearly still inspired by Jimmy Page, and, surprise, black metal screams and blastbeats, this album drops any anger and kvlt theatrics other black metal bands have been tirelessly practising for years. Instead, it's laidback, trippy, and the kind that brings warm smiles during the cold holidays days ahead. What metal has clearly neglected for a very long time, in its persistent search for truth and breaking drumming speeds and over-the-top compositions, is some beautiful catchy melodies. Believe me when I say this album may even appeal to fans of radio pop music.
A Forest Of Stars - A Shadowplay For Yesterdays [Psychedelic Black Metal]
Possibly continuing where Cradle Of Filth left of since their green era, A Shadowplay may not exactly be exciting on first listen mainly because of the vocal delivery, which at times sound weak and barbaric, but with repeated listens, they form a nice contrast to the beautiful violin and English folk moments, and the times when violins and keyboards pop out are downright astonishing and more well-integrated than, say, this year's Portal Of I. But more than all of that, Gatherer Of The Pure is one of the most painful, emotional black metal songs I've heard in years, something I've possibly not felt since hearing Cradle's Her Ghost In The Fog.
Pig Destroyer - Book Burner [Deathgrind]
This might be a little mainstream, but unlike mainstream bands that get attention by commercializing their music, Pig Destroyer earned their fanbase by doing the exact opposite; Book Burner is an ugly, devastating exercise in power, precision and lots and lots of anger. Scott Hull rises to the ranks of guitar god, churning out riff after riff effortlessly, but with not one wasted riff. Likewise, Adam Jarvis adopts a start-stop drum pattern instead of mindless blastbeats and his foot dexterity, combined with Hull's riffs and J R Heyes' ever insightful lyrics, make for a bludgeoning record that is as extreme in both brawn and brain.
Scott Walker - Bish Bosch [Experimental]
Scott Walker's transformation from baroque pop heart throb to an evil genius that has major influence on the most unlikely of artistes (Akerfedlt of Opeth stated that Walker's last album The Drift was what he hoped to parallel on Watershed but it was far too difficult, but you can see the touches in this year's Storm Corrosion). The album's introduction alone was worth my money, but the twist genius of the 21 minute epic SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter) is the real draw here. Difficult to digest, but the refreshing innovation of Scott Walker simply demands your attention.
Cannibal Corpse - Torture [Death Metal]
This band has far too many detractors for no other reason other than its mainstream appeal. People have accused Cannibal Corpse for being commercial, generic and untalented. This may be true when Cannibal Corpse experienced a slum after Chris Barnes' departure from the mid 90s to around 2006, before the fantastic come-back album Kill, and despite a slight misfire in Evisceration Plague, Torture is Cannibal Corpse's best album in two decades. With a refined heaviness, extremely sharp songwriting, NOTE, songs, not lame showcases for guitar wankery or overly technical rubbish that people see as an excuse to showcase their technical flair, but real, actual, bloody songs. SONGS. Each track is memorable and has its own characteristic hook and melody. They are at once accessible but not without depth. Whether or not you choose to be open-minded, I highly appreciate this album for its insistence on groovy, sexy death metal over sped up songs without value. Chuck would have been proud.
Cloak Of Altering - Ancient Paths Through Timeless Voids [Industrial Black Metal]
This, I admit, may be the most controversial choice I have listed here, but this black metal album was written so well, for a ridiculously low price of $2 or more. With industrial flair, and not in the electronic touches like Fear Factory, but some really hardcore techno, seamlessly mixed with black metal tremolo picking, the album features doom-laden passages that are perfect for a lonely night. It's well written because the techno does not contradict the black metal elements, and may be another creative interpretation on a genre showing vast growth in the last decade.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! [Post Rock]
I have never listened to this band prior to this album but an easy search will most definitely state that it's been a decade long wait for fans since their last record, Yanqui U.X.O., and the new album already has two long tracks that has been part of the post-rocker repertoire since 2002-2003 when on tour. Stumbling upon it suddenly, I can only wonder how grateful it must be for a fan since the record blew my mind away since its first listen.