Here it is - a lot of listening later!!! And a work in progress ...
Most of these are on a Spotify playlist, so if you're on Spotify, set it on shuffle and let er rip: http://open.spotify.com/user/123785190/playlist/3p4fIydB3gQueOxXqAKzbR.
I included a link to check out music on the ones that aren't on Spotify.
Further listening needed on most of these!
MY FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2015 (in rough order)
KAMASI WASHINGTON - The Epic
This is what I've really been missing from the music world since the early 70’s - sprawling, cosmic, funky, soulful, and yes EPIC feeling from a large ensemble, at times as many as 30? people on some of these tracks with a full choir and string section. Strongly recalling the spirit of early 70’s visionaries like Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane. Alternately sublime, fierce, funky, and sweet, this is my favorite new voice this year.
XAVIER RUDD - Nanna
He’s speaking of the things that matter, bringing it with solid grooves and lots of love. From punchy horn-filled reggae rockers to dreamy acoustic meditations, a masterful collection.
IAN WILLIAM CRAIG - Cradle For The Wanting
Hauntingly beautiful dreamworlds. Deep ambient soundscapes created mainly with voice, processed and effected.
AYUB OGADA - Kodhi
At long last one of my favorite African string players returns. Both relaxed and dynamic with a surprising diversity of grooves. Ayub’s nyatiti harp blends with guitar from Trevor Warren, a meeting at Ayub’s home in Kenya. Sometimes seeming like a village jam session, this is a snapshot of masters at work and play.
HEATHER HOUSTON - Prayers For The Water
Bringing it back to the heart, this is a warm and watery journey of communion. Beautiful vocals over a sweet variety of guitar, piano, cello and more. All with a subtle groove suitable for some swirling epiphanies.
D’ANGELO AND THE VANGUARD - Black Messiah
Damn the man is back in a big way. The kind of music you wish Prince was still making - funky, playful, soulful, sexy, sweet, and at times heavy with the woes of these times.
SANDRAYATI FAY - Hearth
Strong and delicate at once, a sublime acoustic serenade with a subtle rollercoaster of emotion.
GLENN SMITH - Burning Alive
I’m kinda personally involved in this one, but i must say everytime it comes up in my shuffle I think hey that’s pretty damned good! Mostly improvised songs and journeys, mostly created by looping layers in real time. A few piano pieces and some acapella serenades which reach deep.
RISING APPALACHIA - Wider Circles
Another dose of those rootsy harmonies and the funky fusion of Appalachia meets wherever. All with a heartfelt acoustic delivery.
PETER GREGSON - Touch
Deep dives into emotionally-rich ambient terrain, with beautiful glistening strings and piano nudging the heart into the light. Epic, ethereal, and entrancing.
PEIA - Four Great Winds
Drawing from various world traditions, Peia weaves a magical sound centered around her amazing vocals. Whether it’s a Middle Eastern lament or celtic-flavored sweetness, she reaches deep and pulls out a gem.
KENDRIK LAMAR - To Pimp A Butterfly
The bomb that dropped in 2015, full of fire, fury, sweetness, sorrow, confusion - and an array of some of LA’s finest jazz-funk-fusion instrumentalists taking it to the next level.
BASSEKOU KOUYATE & NGONI BA - Ba Power
More of Kouyate’s distinctive funky rockin’ sound from Mali, with amplified ngoni pulse and prick, and the powerful female vocals putting it over the top.
CHRISTIAN SCOTT - Stretch Music
Some serious grooves here, led by trumpeter Scott. From fusion funk a la Miles to sweet serenades to slinky funky jams to swingin’ Latin grooves to N’Orleans groove, it’s all here.
LAURA CANNELL - Beneath Swooping Talons
The solemn and dark beauty of these musical meditations on fiddle and double recorder is quite sublime. Early music meets the music of this moment - perfect for contemplation of the mysteries before us - the dark, the light, the solemn, the wild, the wind and rain and sun.
HAMSA LILA - Aurora
One of my festival favorites of the 00’s returns with some slinky east-meets-west grooves, filled out with an array of instruments and entrancing vocals, often as a dreamy chant. Expanding from their Moroccan-fusion beginnings to a wider palette of sound.
BALLAKE SISSOKO AND VINCENT SEGAL - Musique de Nuit
Kora and cello duets - a lovely combination, and these 2 masters sail through a variety of textures and rhythms.
SAM LEE & FRIENDS - The Fade In Time
A voice that cuts straight to the heart, reviving old English tunes and breathing them full of new life with beautiful instrumentation and intriguing combinations of sounds.
SARAH KIRKLAND SNIDER - Unremembered
Beautifully dramatic pieces with strong vocal emphasis, and a full orchestra. Bjork comes to mind more than anyone, but with more of a neo-classical feel.
ALIREZA GHORBANI - Lost In Love (Persian Love Songs)
From Iran, an excellent shot into the dark passionate swirl of persian classical music, with enough innovative touches to keep me enthralled. Obviously a master, with his vocals exuding the powerful emotional pull of the form. Combined with the stringed tar?, kamancheh, and subtle percussion, this will take you there and then some.
JOHN LUTHER ADAMS - The Wind In High Places
Surrender to the strings of sun and moon. Music for an Arctic vision-quest, or maybe just for a blissful float in warm water? Either way, it envelops you in its sound world, with strings slowly circling around you, wrapping you up, and carrying you to a better place, with a few dark detours along the way.
SUFJAN STEVENS - Carrie and Lowell
I passed on all the Sufjan hype until now, when this sweet and sorrowful homage to his recently passed mama caught my ear. Full of conflicted emotions, but the music consistently touches the heart, especially on “Fourth of July,” an exquisitely bittersweet song.
THUNDERCAT - The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam
Sweet glowing bass-led grooves, with a balance of dark and light that draws me in. Expressive vocals with an ethereal feel. Plays with Kamasi Washington - nuff said!
ELDERFLUX - ELDERFLUX
Well-crafted, spacious, chilled electronica grooves which integrate a variety of acoustic and electric instruments, such as ngoni, violin, mbira, acoustic guitar, keyboards. And the vocals (both female and male) featured on some tracks are an exquisite addition.
SONGHOY BLUES - Music In Exile
From the new (and ancient) funk-rock capital of the world in western Africa, these displaced Malians are delivering some passionate music, building on the legacy of Ali Farka Toure and (more recently) Tinariwen. It’s always a wonder to see the blues (sourced from Africa) returning back to Africa in a new and exciting form. And the closing tracks are exquisitely beautiful - like the closing ode to Mali in a time of fundamentalist siege.
CONSTANTINOPLE & ABLAYE CISSOKO - Jardins Migrateurs
Lovely cross-cultural meeting, where the traditions of Senegal and Iran meet and meld. The musicians stretch to meet each other and some fine fusion emerges.
KAKI KING - The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body
Kaki has always combined guitar wizardry with adventurous sonics. From ethereal to driving, a wide range of moods and textures here. “Trying to Speak” is an epic sweeping, swirling song that will carry you away to a sweet spot.
XAOS - XAOS
Diving into the dark underbelly of Greek traditions, with modern sensibilities. The instrumentation is fantastic, with everything from microtonally tuned keyboards to detuned dobro, nays and flutes, fretless guitar, greek bagpipes, clarinet, double bass, lyra, kaval, and much more. Ancient meets modern for an entrancing journey. They’re calling it “post world ambient” and that sounds about right. Also “Greek Microtonal Electronic Blues” - can’t beat that!
JOSHUA ABRAMS - Magnetoception
Entrancing mix of Moroccan gnawan grooves on the sintir bass with a mix of jazz and ambient approaches.
HIATUS KAIYOTE - Choose Your Weapon
Tweaked and tight soul / funk grooves with plenty of sophistication. Endlessly creative without sacrificing the groove. Prince is a fan, and so am I.
RYLEY WALKER - Primrose Green
Sounds like the great lost folk-jazz-rock album of 1969. Shades of Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, Van Morrison, Grateful Dead - and yet, his punk roots occasionally shine through, as on the blistering crescendo of Sweet Satisfaction. A thoroughly enjoyable listen with a summertime feel
GLEN HANSARD - Didn’t He Ramble
More bittersweet beauty from one of the finest songwriters of our time. Love, longing, loss, passion, heartbreak, joy, and a few more things … with a bit of Irish fiddle to remind you of his native land, and the fact that he’s carrying on in the wake of Van Morrison.
OLIVIA CHANEY - The Longest River
Beautifully crafted and performed songs, coming out of the English folk tradition but diving into another depth of feeling. Her vocals are exquisite, and the instrumentation is quite lovely.
ARVO PART - Babel
The maestro of medieval-meets-modern strikes again with this glorious choral collection. Music for the end (or the beginning) of the world as we know it. Evocative and solemn at the same time. Sometimes hard to believe this is all just voices, as it is a complete world of sound - the strong resonant recording conditions (probably a giant cathedral somewhere) expand the voices into the ethers.
LOBO MARINO - We Hear The Ocean
Drones and chants rarely sounded so good, as here in the hands of this duo. Folk-world-fusion, fueled mainly fueled by harmonium, bass drum, flutes, voice, gongs, percussion, and other goodies.
TINA MALIA - Bridge To Vallabha
Sublime grooves with her angelic voice floating over. A welcome (by me) return to a more acoustic blend, with guitar, piano, violin, harmonium, and more.
MANOSE - Call Within
Simple, sparse, and sublime - musical meditations, with different pieces exploring the subtleties of different instruments - bamboo flute, hang drum, kalimba, ukelele, singing bowls, voice, and a soft bed of nature sounds.
AFRICA EXPRESS - Africa Express Presents Terry Riley’s “In C Mali”
A re-imagining of Riley’s classic pulsing piece, here all on African instruments and voices. One very long journey which will take you a long way towards a state of ecstatic union. I loved hearing instruments usually played on traditional west African pieces coming into a whole new world of sound. I’ve never heard anything quite like it.
GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress
Entrancing noisy soundscapes from the realms of beyond. One epic track - “Piss Crowns” - starts off feeling like a dark apocalyptic ode to a dying world, with majestic melodies over a wall of churning distorted riffs, and somehow transforms into heavenly noise by the end. I’m still trying to figure out how that happened. For fans of Neurosis, Savage Republic, Sonic Youth, and Sigur Ros.
FLOATING POINTS - Elaenia
Sublime electro-jazz grooves that could have shown up on a Radiohead album. Entrancing and intriguing.
MBONGWANA STAR - From Kinshasa
Taking the adventures of Konono, with their distorted mbira grooves, even further afield, this is Congolese music as you’ve never heard - the pulsing, insistent rhythms are there (including some guest appearances by Konono) but surrounded by echo-y vocals and a dreamy kind of ambience.
MADALA KUNENE - 1959
After a long absence, the “king of the zulu guitar” is back, with a rather laid-back and sweet set of tunes, despite it being based on the forced relocation of his youth. Still there’s plenty of solid grooves here, with just the light touch of acoustic guitars as well as some jaw harp, flute, percussion, and more. It’s his first album recorded in South Africa in over 20 years, and lots of friends dropped by to join in the fun.
MAGIC CARPATHIANS - Biotop
My favorite Eastern European sound explorers are back with another (mostly) acoustic journey that is trancy and dynamic, psychedelic and rooted, playful and reverent. Beautiful vocals, plus didjeridu, reeds and woodwinds, guitar, sarangi?, tambura, trumpet, analog sound generators, tabla, violin, bells, and much more.
BJORK - Vulnicura
Not my favorite Bjork, but still she delivers a compelling and challenging dive into the depths of her post-breakup world. The mood is mostly bleak, but her injection of emotion makes it take off in some beautiful directions.
BOLO - Bolo
A natural hybrid of many styles from around the world, with influences from jazz as well as African and Middle Eastern traditions. Displaying a mastery on an all-acoustic bevy of instruments, from African harp and kalimba to upright bass, oud, ney and bansuri flutes, drum kit, vocals and more. Great music for movement, light and joyful with heart and soul.
RAURY - All We Need
Barely out of high school, this is a stunning debut full of complexity. Spanning soul / funk / folk / hip-hop / r’n’b and a few other things, with an emotional maturity way beyond his years.
SARATONE - Good Way
The kind of West Coast groove that brings me joy - heart and soul with some delectable rhythms, and an earth consciousness keepin’ it real. The “yang” side of her work - danceable grooves and vocal punch. Often going the reggae route, with some great horns and churning rhythm. But I love the more open musical vibe of “Malama Aina,” with its sweetly soulful groove - a kind of cross between Joules Graves and Tina Malia.
ALEXA SUNSHINE ROSE - The Flowers Of The Waters
Just a bunch of sweet songs. ‘Tis a pleasure to listen to these softly flowing gems with guitar and beautiful vocal harmonies, plus some fiddle, bass, and percussion. Similar to Rising Appalachia, she mixed Appalachian-style folk with a more modern sense of groove. For fans of Mamuse, Saratone, Tina Malia, and Joules Graves.
POLAR BEAR - Same As You
Trancy jazz-rock journeys, extended ambient grooves which are very easy on the ears.
KILA - Suas Sios
A healthy dose of sweet celtic serenades and rockers, or both in one like on “Skinheads” which starts out as a flowing dreamy flute-led piece before charging into a rollicking rocker. Oh sure there’s bagpipes, fiddle, bodhran, mandolin, guitar, flutes, and lovely vocals.
ERYKAH BADU - But You Caint Use My Phone (Mixtape)
Ya know it’s gonna be super sweet soulful funky goodness, and indeed it is.
OUMOU SANGARE - Worotan
One of Africa’s most famous singers delivers another potent album of powerful vocals and sweet grooves. The music rocks with the native kamelengoni (a six-stringed harp), flute, fiddles and more modern guitars, plus more horns than i’ve heard previously.
DAVE STRINGER - Brink
An adventurous approach to devotional music, which can cross from celtic folk to raga-like meditation to persian flourish, sometimes all in the course of one song, such as “Corpse Waiting to Happen.”
MAALEM MAHMOUD GUINIA, FLOATING POINTS, & JAMES HOLDEN - Marhaba
A successful merger of ancient Moroccan Gnawa grooves with compelling (and sparse) electronica additions.
APHEX TWIN - Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt. 2
Another unpredictable turn - this time some pretty funky cool tracks, with the title supplying the supposed method. However it happened, I like these disembodied grooves. Call it “data funk.”
CHANTEL ACDA - The Sparkle In Our Flaws
Veering between sorrow and sweetness, in a most pleasant way. Softly serenading the soul with some beautiful vocals (both male and female).
THE EX & FENDIKA - Lale Guma / Addis Hum (Single)
How often do you hear an Amsterdam avant-punk band collaborating with Ethiopian musicians? Only here! Choppy punk thrust with Fendika providing the one-stringed masinko, kobero drums and vocals. Based on traditional and contemporary Ethiopian tunes.
KANDIA KOUYATE - Renascence
One of Mali’s finest voices with a strong mix of traditional music, and a few bits of “modern” instrumentation which only seem to detract but since it’s just a little ornamentation over a great base t’s all good.
FOUR TET - Morning / Evening
These two extended pieces are in no hurry to get anywhere, content to just unfold in their own sublime time. An instrumentalist turned electronic artist with a strong sense of texture, space, subtlety, and when to kick the groove into high gear.
ROBERT GLASPER - Covered
Covers they may be, but as re-imagined here they are full of new life. Their take on the Radiohead song “Reckoner” does not veer too far from the original until the end when it is unfortunately faded out just when the more outside jazz piano kicks in.
DIRTWIRE - Riptide
A cross of acoustic and electronic, with a boatload of instruments from around the world mixed with relatively subtle electronics.
TERAKRAFT - Alone (Tenere)
Even more rockin’ and funky than their predecessors (like Tinariwen), these Tuaregs know how to milk a groove for all it’s worth. With their churning rhythms, soaring leads, and communal vocals, you can’t go wrong.
MILO - So The Flies Don’t Come
Definitely need to check this - some playfully profound poetry flowing rapid-fire over some unusually interesting grooves.
ROOMFUL OF TEETH - Render
Traversing a world of vocal styles with innovative compositions, this is ensemble acapella music with a broader range than any I’ve heard. The pieces are compelling and interesting, and some are truly moving. Similar to Meredith Monk but with more integration of many vocal styles which they have studied.
JOANNA NEWSOM - Divers
No one sounds quite like her - a singular talent a la Kate Bush. Exquisite harp playing and vocals, with an off-kilter melodic sense. I’m intrigued by the unexpected twists and turns.
ELEVENTH DREAM DAY - Works For Tomorrow
One of my favorite rock bands of the 90’s is back with another batch of rockers which span roots/indie/sonic rock worlds. If you’re game for some good “old-fashioned” distorted rock a la Velvet Underground / Neil Young / Stooges / Sonic Youth, look no further.
SCOTT HUCKABAY - Synesthesia
Sometimes otherwordly, sometimes touching, these are guitar pieces from a veteran musical explorer. I used to see him blowing people’s minds with his shamanic musical journeys, and he’s still doing it, albeit in a more restrained fashion. Sublime sonic serenades.
RUBBLEBUCKET - Survival Sounds
Big joyous pop riot, best experienced via their crazy fun live show, but this is some fun listening if you need some music to jump around and sing with.
CATRIN FINCH - Tides
The flowing rhythms of harp meet the dramatic sweep of strings in a lovely dance.
STICK IN THE WHEEL - From Here
You could call it “folk-punk” but I can’t think of anyone else who does it quite this way. A raw and ragged approach, full of rollicking rhythms and raspy vocals. Simple instrumentation that often holds down some trance-like grooves, often with a dark edge.
EMEFE - EMEFE
A compelling combination of Afrobeat with a broader swath of rhythmic influences.
ESKA - Eska
Adventurous and soulful grooves here with deep and penetrating vocals. Quite a mix of styles explored.
VIEUX FARKA TOURE & JULIA EASTERLIN - Touristes
An interesting collaboration, bringing together Vieux’s Malian guitar wizardry with the strong vocal sensibilites of Julia Easterlin.
HEATHER MALONEY - Making Me Break
Dreamy rock with plenty of feeling and soul
LANGHORNE SLIM & THE LAW - The Spirit Moves
Passionate and rootsy in a Bruce Springsteen meets Mumford & Sons kind of a way. High-energy romps with emotional wallop, and swaying swooners with a good-old-time vibe.
SONG OF THE SEA (VARIOUS ARTISTS)
The movie was magical, and the music played a large part in that
VESSELS - Dilate
Blissful motorik grooves suitable for an entrancing dance journey. Vintage synths and a live feel give this the edge over a lot of the computer-produced music in the same ballpark. They incorporate a bit of hand-drumming and some thumb piano in the mix.
HELM - Olympic Mess
Dense yet light layers of sound with slowly evolving melodies and soft pulsing rhythms. Reaching the angelic realms on a wall of wah.
COLLEEN - Captain Of None
Entrancing looped rhythms on the viola da gamba with an overlay of dreamy vocals and pleasant plucking.
BRANDI CARLILE - The Firewatcher’s Daughter
Potent songwriting and strong delivery with an anthemic punch.
JOSE GONZALEZ - Vestiges & Claws
More of the same dreamy acoustic guitar with flowing rhythms and lovely voice. Can’t go too far wrong with this formula by this man. Somber, sweet, and swaying.
ROBERTO FONSECA, FATOUMATA DIAWARA - At Home (Live in Marciac)
Cuba meets Mali in this great collaboration
BATTLES - La Di Da Di
Math-rockers go to the circus - again - more intricate rhythms and a swirl of jagged sounds via keyboard and guitar. And as always the heavy drum punch.
TYONDAI BRAXTON - HIVE1
Adventurous and entrancing electronic soundscapes, like dance music from another world. At times veers a little too far into disembodied bleakness, but often quite compelling.
DARLINGSIDE - Birds Say
Shimmering acoustic folk-pop gems, with lovely vocal harmonies, at times 4-part.
TENGGER CAVALRY - Overture for Carnegie Unplugged
Taking the pulsing churn of traditional Mongolian and Tuvan music into a harder rock groove, though that is tempered here by the acoustic nature of this set. All your favorite elements of Mongolian music are here - great throat singing, the igil fiddle, and the churning strings of the morin khuur, along with guitar and bass.
VIJAY IYER - Break Stuff
A lot of different territories are explored here - a trio with a lot of great dynamics. Overall, it veers towards the slightly somber and dark side, but there are some great lighter moments too.
AUDREY HARRER - Alphabet Rain
A well-crafted collection of slightly otherwordly songs - expressive vocals with a dramatic and dreamy musical landscape. A bit of a theatrical sensibility, and a good sense of musical dynamics.
WILDLIGHT - The Tide
Bringing together Ayla Nereo and The Polish Ambassador. Sweet vocals over smooth electronic stylings. Sometimes a revelation, sometimes just pleasant.
DAN DEACON - Gliss Riffer
Some crazily infectious romps here, with enough energy to fill a stadium. A well-crafted mix of indie-rock adventure with some techno-jags and the odd acoustic insertion.
FOALS - What Went Down
Sounding like a cross between old and new Radiohead, and that’s not too bad.
JILL SCOTT - Woman
Strong soul jams from one of the modern masters. Get out the way, she gonna rock this joint. Sounding a little more old-school on this one, and that ain’t such a bad thing.
FUCKED UP - Year of the Hare
From their noisy punky past they emerge into a psychedelic wonderland drenched with echoing flutes and power chords.
MAKAYA MCCRAVEN - In The Moment
Entrancing jazzy journeys, with emphasis on a consistent pulse. Vibes and horn over a steady rhythm section groove.
DAYME AROCENA - Nueva Era
Some nice new flavors mixed with an Afro-Cuban background - funk/soul/jazz, sweet energy and evocative vocals
BOMBA ESTEREO - Amanecer
Some fun stuff here, infectious grooves via Bogota, Colombia.
THE BAD PLUS JOSHUA REDMAN
A potent collaboration - Redman’s sax is a great addition to The Bad Plus’ dynamic. Jazz with a sense of longing and wonder, at times sublime.
THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH - Dark Bird Is Home
It’s the high, thin voice that wins me over - a sweet voice over a dreamy mix of guitar with atmospheric haze
BILAL - In Another Life
A nice mix of old-and-new school r’n’b
DOWNTOWN BOYS - Full Communism
Some good old-school punk fervor, complete with saxophones! Harkens back to the era when punk was more about having fun thrashing about. They add some political righteousness to the mix for extra fist-pumping fervor.
RED BARAAT - Gaadi Of Truth
Funky-ass brass band Indian style. Best experienced live.
LUBOMYR MELNYK - Rivers and Streams
Entrancing piano journeys
DAVID NEWMAN - Love Is Awake
Good feeling music - words from the heart over some sweet rootsy-rock-grooves