By Antony. This year I didn’t fall in love with many albums, but when I did, that album dominated my listening for weeks upon weeks and colored the life I was living. Glen Hansard’s Didn’t He Ramble is set to become the auditory anchor to late 2015. My wife and I went to see him perform at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in early November. It was truly a religious experience for me. Hansard and his band spent half the show unplugged from the amps because the venue’s acoustics were so good—like a campfire with several thousand people. The fiddle player’s solo at the end of “McCormick’s Wall” was absolutely arresting. The show didn’t change me; it confirmed everything I’ve come to know and believe.
1. Glen Hansard – Didn’t He Ramble
2. Villagers – Darling Arithmetic
3. Josh Ritter – Sermon On The Rocks
4. Jamie xx – In Colour
5. Idlewild – Everything Ever Written (Modified Version)
6. The Staves – If I Was
7. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
Above I shared my personal connection to Didn’t He Ramble, but more objectively, it’s the cleanest, best distillation of the music Glen Hansard has been making for several decades. Check out The Frames’ Longitude, a best of compilation to celebrate his original band’s 25th anniversary. The new song “None But I” is a victory lap.
Villagers’ Darling Arithmetic is a set of moving songs about losing love. I like that this album thrives on the universality of love, and it’s only after a few listens that it dawns on you that its specific context is the dissolution of a same sex relationship. It’s the quiet revolution of the normal.
Josh Ritter’s Sermon On The Mount threw me for a loop. I’d seen Josh Ritter live several months before the album came out, and he played most of the songs acoustically. I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. It turns out that Sermon is Ritter’s most experimental album, playing with sonic texture in new ways—and it works. Oh, and “Getting Ready To Get Down” is the song of the year for me.
Jamie xx’s In Colour was rightfully lauded as a throwback to the spirit and sound of turn-of-the-century raving while still managing to sound contemporary. I totally agree. One late-night, headphone listen, I again felt the flooding sensation that makes the rave a sacred space. It’s easily the best electronica album of the year (were there any competitors?).
So, Spencer dislikes my habit of including “modified versions” of albums in my Year-in-Music lists because it suggests the album as a whole piece falls short. He’s right, but to me, the list is about what I listened to the most. And in the case of Idlewild’s Everything Ever Written, with modifications I think I found a great record that I’ll keep returning to hidden within a pretty good one. How to modify your own version at home: Cut tracks 1, 2, 7, and 9. I even happen to like the first two songs, but they just don’t fit in the loose, folky masterpiece that remains. Idlewild continues to warm my Scottish soul.
The Staves found their voice on If I Was. Much is made about the fact that Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) produced it. The credit is deserved. The songs’ arrangements reflect his influence. However, don’t let his presence distract you from what the Staveley-Taylor sisters have accomplished. They wrote strong songs and sharpened their perfect harmonies into a weapon. Watch them on A Take Away Show playing “Black And White” in a Parisian brasserie. It’s everything the romantic in me adores.
Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free was harder for me to find my way into than his instant-classic Southeastern (2013). I found the record driving up the Oregon coast. Far from home, on a strange road, with my wife sleeping in the passenger seat, the art of Isbell’s storytelling revealed itself. I’d like to see Isbell and Springsteen hang out and talk songwriting.
Worth Getting To Know
Leon Bridges – Coming Home / Findlay Brown – Slow Light / Andrew Combs – All These Dreams / Phil Cook – Southland Mission / EL VY – Return To The Moon / Jose Gonzalez – Vestiges & Claws / Laura Marling – Short Movie / Joan Shelley – Over & Even / Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
There are lots of reasons why an album might end up among my favorites but not on the official list. Sometimes it’s timing—muscled out by a more dominant album. That’s the case for Phil Cook, Findlay Brown, and Joan Shelley. Great folk records, but they didn’t get the time they deserved because I couldn’t stop listening to the Hansard and Ritter albums. Other times, the record divides me. EL VY is this type of album. It’s the side project of The National’s Matt Berninger. It took me time to get it at all, and in the end I absolutely love half of it, appreciate a few other songs, and can’t stand the others. Maybe I should craft a “modified version” and see if it climbs the ranks. I never gave enough time to Sleater Kinney’s triumphant return, but I always enjoy it when I put it on. Same is true except on the other side of the sonic spectrum for Jose Gonzalez’s lovely philosophical meditation, Vestiges & Claws. The long year caused Andrew Combs, Leon Bridges, and Laura Marling to lose a little steam for me. I spun them a lot earlier in the year and hope to return to them soon.
Too late to really know: Adele’s 25. It has conquered the world, but I do not yet know if it has conquered me.