December 11, 2015

best of 2015

Just a few days shy of Other Music's 20th anniversary, we are excited to publish another year-end roundup of our favorite new music, a diverse lineup of our staff's picks of the best, most surprising and enjoyable releases of 2015. It's an egalitarian process here, and once again this list reflects the broad tastes of our staff, from improvised pipe organ to Grammy-nominated hip-hop, and everything in between. There are a ton of amazing albums that we could not fit on our top 30, so please drop by the shop or click through to our website to hear about more great new music. Stay tuned for upcoming lists of our favorite reissues of 2015, as well as a look back at the year for Other Music Recording Co, and much more. In the meantime, read on to discover some great records we've been loving at the shop. (Please note albums are listed alphabetically, not in numeric order, and all of our Best of 2015 releases are priced on sale.)

free shipping

Purchase any release off of Other Music's Best of 2015 list and your entire order ships free. Enter the discount code "BEST2015" at check out. (Offer good through December 31, 2015, for up to $20 off shipping charge, domestic orders only.)

gift certificates


Available year-round, Other Music Gift Certificates are redeemable for purchases made both in the store and off We offer our traditional paper Gift Certificates, or you may also choose to have one emailed to you as a PDF file, which you can then pass along to a friend or loved one via email or print it out yourself. Purchase either type of Gift Certificate here on our mail-order site, where you'll see a choice of increments between $15 and $200. (Email if you would like an amount not listed as an option.) When purchasing a Gift Certificate, don't forget to include the recipient's name in the "Additional Comments" box on the checkout page. If you are choosing a traditional paper certificate and would like to have it mailed directly to the recipient, please include that address in the "Shipping Info" section.

best new albums of 2015


From the very first play of Mutant in the shop, it was pretty much a given that the new album from this groundbreaking Venezuelan electronic producer would be landing on our Best of 2015 list. It was no surprise, really, given his high-profile productions and collaborations over the past few years with Kanye West, FKA Twigs and most recently on Bjork's Vulnicura, not to mention his own excellent debut, 2014's Xen. Alejandro "Arca" Ghersi's skill of morphing, processing, and mutating strings, pianos, harpsichords, samples, and many unknown sources has never been this sharp or precise, however, and the results are highly emotional. It's pretty otherworldly too, yet his music still feels rooted in classical arrangements and instrumentation; amidst lots of high-end processing and time stretching, these 20 tracks dissolve into a sort of modern, stuttering orchestral suite. (Listen)

$13.99 CD ON SALE

Depression Cherry
(Sub Pop)

Perhaps Beach House were making up for their three-year absence, delivering not one but two excellent albums in 2015. Released in late August, Depression Cherry found the Baltimore duo reining in the expansive sound of 2012's Bloom, and instead taking an insular sonic turn. While some of the '90s shoegaze references -- particularly Slowdive -- may have seemed apparent on the surface, Beach House managed to internalize the dynamics and sense of pacing from the gentle end of the genre and infused it into their own distinctly dreamy sound. Less than two months later came an unexpected surprise by way of the unannounced Thank Your Lucky Stars, an even sparser affair focused on Victoria Legrand's breathy, nostalgia-inducing vocals and Alex Scally's delicate guitar lines. (Listen)

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(Drag City)

Both Natural Information Society and Bitchin Bajas had been building their own personal Dream Houses for several years, so it was fitting that the two Chicago collectives joined forces for this gorgeous collaborative LP. Steeped in the minimalist moves of La Monte Young, Terry Riley and Henry Flynt, Automaginary kicks off with "On No Fade," an ever-changing sidelong drone that drifts along beautifully for 20-plus minutes. The second side is made up of shorter pieces, but the sparks between the two groups continue to fly as they navigate the lively, Riley-esque pulses of "Anemometer" and the free-flowing, almost jazzy cadences of the title track.

$20.99 LP ON SALE

Electronic Recordings from Maui Jungle Vol. 1
(Editions Mego)

While Anthony Child is best known for his trailblazing techno productions as Surgeon, he's been expanding his approach over the past few years, creating music that deals with concerns beyond the dance floor. For his first release on Editions Mego, he traveled to the jungle in Maui to achieve an intermingling of machines and nature. Child has been vocal about his love of Coil and his reverence for their cosmic synthscapes can be felt throughout this set, while the 15-minute "Eternal Note" consists of an ecstatic drone that has a more devotional feel. Electronic Recordings from Maui Jungle ultimately transcends its influences, though, existing as a document of a personal journey towards spiritual awakening.

$30.99 2LP ON SALE
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Invite the Light
(Stones Throw)

Six years after his epic 2CD/5LP debut, TOEACHIZOWN, L.A. producer/DJ Damon Riddick b/k/a Dam-Funk finally returned with his anticipated follow-up. Having honed his productions skills in the interim with releases featuring Snoop Dogg (7 Days of Funk) and Steve Arrington (Higher), Invite the Light turned out to be a more song-oriented affair filled with plenty of vocals spots from Dam-Funk, as well as Q-Tip, Ariel Pink, Snoop, Joi, Jody Watley, Nite Jewel, Junie Morrison, I'Ced, and Leon Sylvers III and his son (Leon Sylvers IV). Still a purveyor of '70s funk and '80s electro boogie, DF always brings the party to you, with tracks that are as sensual as they are futuristic and welcoming. (Listen)

$34.99 3LP ON SALE
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Positive Energy
(Iron Lung)

A late but very worthy entry onto our Best of 2015 list, as this just went out on our shelves, but Positive Energy is far too good to let slip through the cracks. This Berlin-based Australian trio more than delivers on the promise of their early singles with their first proper full-length. Diat's melodic, intelligent post-punk will appeal to fans of bands like Total Control and Iceage, and they have just delivered one of the most impressive rock debuts of 2015.

$18.99 LP ON SALE

Allas Sak
(Mexican Summer)

Had it really been five years since the last Dungen full-length? The answer was yes and Allas Sak found singer and multi-instrumentalist Gustav Ejstes and his band offering us their most expansive set of Swedish psychedelia to date. From the richly layered, rocking title track propelled by lush strums of a harp, baritone saxes and Ejstes' soaring vocals, to the Turkish psych-funk-inspired instrumental "Franks Kaktus," Dungen showed us that their spacious, vibrant universe is still as welcoming and mind-blowing as ever.

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Calling Out
(Captured Tracks)

A good power trio is hard to find: a band whose minimal approach still approximates the bombastic moves of arena rockers or just three musicians who intuitively play off each other's strengths and keep it simple and strong. With their great debut full-length, Calling Out, Brooklyn power poppers EZTV exemplified this particular type of rock 'n' roll status by spinning deceptively simple motifs into killer AM radio anthems. In the great tradition of '90s bands like Teenage Fanclub or Lemonheads who themselves updated the heart-on-your-sleeve pop sound of Flamin' Groovies, Badfinger or the Raspberries, EZTV effortlessly carried the torch into the new millennium. (Listen)

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(Sacred Bones)

This Chilean psych outfit continued their drift away from the chunky rock & roll of their early years, towards something more spacious and loopy -- a churning Krautrock dream, helped along here by producer Uwe Schmidt, a/k/a Atom(tm). Pulsing, swirling, layered and intensely focused, the record is dark and moody without ever really pummeling, with deeply repetitive drumming that owes as much to minimal techno as it does rock, driving this beast forward. (Listen)

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(Planet Mu)

Best known for his production work with Hype Williams (and Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland in solo form), John T. Gast's debut long-player for Planet Mu found this London-based artist/producer piecing together different motifs and styles into a cohesive whole. Moving through ominous ambient works, vibrant house tracks, warped vocal samples, dubby electro, and guitar- and string-filled downtempo, Gast's magnetic, diverse approach really holds together. This is a full-fledged, full-length journey -- a sleeper gem that unsuspectingly lures you in and keeps you close throughout. (Listen)

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Dream All Over
(Paradise of Bachelors)

Gun Outfit stepped away from some of the '90s college rock influences (Dinosaur Jr., K Records) of their earlier releases, and here embraced the sad, twanging sounds of Lucinda Williams and Richard and Linda Thompson. With vocal duties split between Dylan Sharp and Carrie Keith, on Dream All Over the L.A. band bounces back and forth between Sharp's straight-faced, wry lyrical delivery and the Keith's hazy breathy style. The group is definitely "guitar driven" but the songs have lots of space; the drumming is precise and tasteful with the bass playing accentuating the simple rhythms. It's such a great album from start to finish, ripe with one-liners, memorable guitar licks and songs that demand replay. (Listen)

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We Are Not the First
(RVNG Intl.)

For We Are Not the First, Chicago house's outsider hero Jamal Moss teamed up with legendary Arkestra-bandleader Marshall Allen on sax and keys, longtime Cecil Taylor collaborator Elliott Levin on flute and sax, and Marc Ribot protégée Shahzad Ismaily on guitar and bass. Add to the line-up occasional contributions from vocalists Shelley Hirsch and Rafael Sanchez, modular synth wizard Ben Vida, and drummer Greg Fox, and here we find the J.I.T.U. Ahn-Sahm-Buhl (the Journey into the Unexpected Ensemble) taking Sun Ra's philosophy and singular musical vision to the next frenetic level: feverish avant-jazz noir that leaves the boundaries of house and techno well behind. (Listen)

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In Colour
(Young Turks)

The very anticipated first solo full-length from Jamie xx kicked summer into high gear, coming across like a Technicolor inverse of the dark silhouettes cast by his moody pop band. The London producer truly mastered his pristine sound design here, with his now-trademark blend of UK garage and Caribbean flavors, soul samples, tight and tumbling percussion, shuffling rhythms, filtered throbs, and soothing, oft-nostalgic melodic layers all in place and delivered with a distinctly uplifting flair.

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Edition 1
(Ninja Tune)

The first of four collaborative albums by King Midas Sound found the trio of producer Kevin "The Bug" Martin and vocalists Roger Robinson and Kiki Hitom wandering the wastelands with Austrian guitarist/electronic composer Christian Fennesz. Utilizing samples, unreleased material, and improvised guitar pulled from the Fennesz archive, Martin fashions a soft, subtle, and subdued sonic landscape that at times feels like a desert storm, with tiny pebbles of sonic textures that wash and spin, swirl and shift across the barren landscapes. (Listen)

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Hud Dreems
(Stones Throw)

Following J Dilla's Donuts or Madlib's Beat Konducta series, Knxwledge is the next great, original producer in line who's at his best when crafting vibrant, urban collages out of cut-up vintage soul and jazz, contemporary hip-hop and R&B, and little sprinkles of film dialogue. His edits feel organic and live, reflecting many late nights spent in front of a sampler with a crate of records at his feet, and it's all sequenced together to create a nice journey of soulful vibes. KNX has been a rising favorite through the years and this official debut, for a label that's made the chop-n-slice beat banger a genre unto itself, is right on point. (Also not to be missed, Knxwledge's Anthology. Featuring 50 tracks culled from his Bandcamp releases circa 2009-20013, the sold-out double cassette is now available on 2LP.)

$21.99 2LP ON SALE

To Pimp a Butterfly

One of the most anticipated releases of the year, Kendrick Lamar exceeded all expectations. With a cast of contributors including George Clinton, Thundercat, Bilal, Flying Lotus, Pharrell, Snoop Dogg, Pete Rock, Lalah Hathaway, Taz Arnold (Sa-Ra), Knxwledge, Anna Wise, Dr. Dre, and more, To Pimp a Butterfly proved to be both of the moment and simultaneously indebted to the vintage pro-black psychedelic albums of Funkadelic, James Brown, Fela, Prince, Marvin Gaye, and Curtis Mayfield. A true artistic statement delivered in such a direct and impassioned way, this is a prime example of 'conscious' hip-hop done right. (Listen)

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(Growing Bin)

LA's Wes Gray, a/k/a Moon B, is the only contemporary artist on the reissue-based PPU label family. A crate digger at heart, his magnetic, vibey productions feature a strong use of analog gear, and though he usually creates a mix of electro, funk, boogie and/or house, on Life World he went above and beyond the norm. The results are wonderful: a hearty stew of chopped-and-screwed grooves, with world music, ambient, soundtracks, soul, and more expertly fused into a partially mixed tapestry of slowed-down funk, inner city grit, and celestial wonderment. (Listen)

Nozinja Lodge

The main producer from Honest Jon's much-loved Shangaan Electro compilation brought us his own album of dance music that's just as feverish, frantic and fluorescent. With hypnotic rhythms that range from 120 to 180 beats per minute, the Shangaan sound has a lot common with the music of Chicago's footwork scene, and much like footwork, the dancers inform the melodies as much as the producer. Male and female vocals are sped up and accompanied by hyper rhythms and sounds that dart and weave around each other, creating a rich tapestry of love and dance songs. It all makes for a bright re-imagining of Afro-pop inspired by the sweet melodies of South African music and the region's D.I.Y. electronic scene. (Listen)

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Music for Church Cleaners Vol. I and II
(Mie Music)

Doubling the album length of the original cassette version first released on Fort Evil Fruit, Music for Church Cleaners is a beautiful, transporting set that sounds as old as the circa 1820s house of worship it was recorded in, but still feels fresh and alive. For a few months, Áine O'Dwyer serenaded the cleaners at St. Mark's Church in Islington with these improvised pieces, exploring the sonic possibilities of the pipe organ. These are very much field recordings, as the organ duets with the ambient sounds of vacuum cleaners, frolicking children and occasionally a grouchy church employee. It's hard not to use the term "funereal" when talking about the music here, and while some of it is certainly doomy, O'Dwyer also manages to locate a lightness and loveliness in her instrument -- the aural equivalent of sunlight filtered through stained glass windows.

On Your Own Love Again
(Drag City)

Jessica Pratt's self-titled debut was a universal favorite at the shop -- so good in fact that we were all a little nervous to hear how she would follow it up, but we were not disappointed. With a new home on Drag City, the L.A.-based singer/songwriter did step up her fidelity, but for the most part she stuck to her tried-and-true formula of intimate guitar work and layered voice, with her wavering vocal delivery sitting right up front in the mix. The album glides along in hypnotic beauty, with the occasional tempo shift and genre jump, yet everything works -- from "Game That I Play," which utilizes a haunting cadence, approximating Vashti Bunyan with a darkened melody and confessional lyricism, to the baroque, almost Spanish guitar inflection of "Jacquelyn in the Background." Anyone looking for a contemporary folk singer following the classic lineage of Karen Dalton, Sibylle Baier, Linda Perhacs or even Joni Mitchell shouldn't think twice. (Listen)

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Frozen Niagara Falls
(Profound Lore)

This year, Dominick Fernow brought us the most fully realized transmission in his lengthy Prurient discography. While the harsher moments are perhaps more chaotic and noisier than anything on 2011's Bermuda Drain, there are also tracks comprised of 12-string acoustic guitar, fretless bass and field recordings of crackling fires. Coming in at 92 minutes, this is an overwhelming listen, in the best possible way, and there are many sections that will sound insane even to the most jaded veteran of extreme composition. Fernow really outdid himself, and Frozen Niagara Falls may well stand as his masterpiece. (Listen)

$43.99 3LP ON SALE
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Tomeka Reid Quartet
(Thirsty Ear)

Cellist Tomeka Reid's debut album as a bandleader has been a sleeper hit in Other Music's jazz section. It's in heavy rotation on our shop stereo anytime we have it in stock, and subsequently sells out before we can give it a proper review in our Update. This Chicago-based musician is a part of the current generation of A.A.C.M. players and educators, who continue to push and extend the life and livelihood of the jazz tradition. With her quartet of guitar, bass, drums, and cello, Reid's arrangements weave and flow from sweeping grooves and propelled vibrancy to classically informed passages of warm emotion, with lots of rich rhythms and potent beauty throughout.

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Coin Coin Chapter Three: River Run Thee

River Run Thee, the third chapter in Matana Roberts' ongoing 12-part Coin Coin series, was inspired by her recent travels across Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana by way of the thumb, road and rail, and then composed in a houseboat off mainland Brooklyn. As the title implies, this time-traveling, trance-inducing journey is filled with a sense of still water and pathways trapped inland, yet alive with memories of slavery and rooted in American history. Sound samples from icons like Malcolm X, and also unknown homeless Roberts' encountered, are included, while she speaks and sings text from an 1873 slave trade captain and public domain songs like "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Lift E'vry Voice and Sing." The first in the series to be a solo offering, she mainly uses electronics, an early 1990s Archambault upright piano, and her trusty alto saxophone to create a "fever dream" where sound, atmosphere, song and text are woven together with purpose and intent. (Listen)

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Black Moon Days
(Feeding Tube)

Perhaps best known for her live and recorded collaborations with Dean Blunt, painter, singer and songwriter Joanne Robertson released her second solo long-player, Black Moon Days, a song-cycle of mostly bare vocal and guitar poetry, with the occasional drum machine, as on the Blunt-produced "Hi Watt." Elsewhere, however, Robertson is alone within an introspective world, offering soft yet sometimes-bitter words, open-chord finger picking, an intimate vocal delivery and a haunting ambiance. Like the psych-folk of Sibylle Baier, Robertson captures a lonesome beauty in her songs, and her delivery is visceral, leaving the actual words and meaning to be discovered upon repeated listens. (Listen)

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(What's Your Rupture?)

The late-August arrival of Royal Headache's new album was perfectly timed to be the ultimate cure for the end-of-summer blues! (And it's still working -- just check out the unseasonable 63 degrees forecast for what should normally be a chilly December weekend ahead.) Hailing from Australia, Royal Headache runs with the current crop of diverse, solid bands like Total Control, Dick Diver, Deaf Wish, etc., and they represent their own tiny niche by providing the pop supplement to the post-punk feel of the aforementioned. Put this thing right up next to classics from Buzzcocks, Cocksparrer, Elvis Costello, the Marked Men, and Exploding Hearts in terms of its power-popping longevity and timelessness. (Listen)

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Key Markets
(Harbinger Sound)

With their third album for the UK-based Harbinger Sound label, confrontational Nottingham rap/post-punk duo Sleaford Mods came up with their most musically expansive, genuinely fun (and funny) record to date. Granted, vocalist Jason Williamson is still angry as hell here, but with a little commercial success behind them, he found himself outside the cubicle and more willing to cut up on London mayor Boris Johnson, the horror shelf at the video store, and bloated pop celebrities (one of the many gems he drops within: "You look like Rocket from the Crypt"). Indeed, hearing that voice of ceaseless dissent in this modern era of publicist-driven good times proved to be exactly what we needed in 2015. (Listen)

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Primrose Green
(Dead Oceans)

Primrose Green, the sophomore album by 25-year-old singer-songwriter Ryley Walker, is at times reminiscent of the most ambitious work of Tim Buckley, John Martyn, Pentangle, Terry Callier, Nick Drake, et al. Yet the sound is totally lived in, embodying its influences but with a confidence that remains entirely Walker's own and which elevates the songs beyond mere simulacrum. Working with a crack band that features some of Chicago's finest jazz improvisers, the music is earthy and roiling, with a finely controlled and nuanced looseness that nearly belies the dazzling technical ability that these guys possess. Just when you thought there was no more gold to be sifted from this particular kind of river, no more veins to be mined in the mountainous expanse of early-'70s folk music, Primrose Green came along to mark Walker's arrival as a huge talent. (Listen)

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The Epic

A mainstay of the L.A. scene, saxophonist, composer, and arranger Kamasi Washington is one of the major players behind Flying Lotus' Cosmogramma and You're Dead, as well as Kendrick Lamar's jazz-funk-rap opus To Pimp a Butterfly. For his debut release as a bandleader, Washington offered an expansive journey in contemporary jazz, weaving many influences and decades together in a way that befits the album title, The Epic. With a 20-person choir and 32-piece ensemble made up of South Central-based musicians, among them Thundercat and his brother, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., echoes of Alice and John Coltrane, Doug Carn, Fela, Eddie Gale, George Duke, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler and Weather Report flow throughout the 17 tracks of this 3CD/3LP set, making for an incredible jazz odyssey that this generation has been long missing. (Listen)

$38.99 3LP ON SALE
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Mix Takes
(Fat Beats)

Led by trumpeter Sam Beaubien, this group performs live regularly throughout Detroit and in the studio with contemporaries such as Black Milk, Danny Brown, Slum Village and Mayer Hawthorne. Dedicated to the deep funk and soul embedded in hip-hop, Will Sessions first caught our ears back in 2011 with The Elmatic Instrumentals, a live instrumental tribute to the original songs that were sampled for Nas' classic Illmatic, and this follow-up of sorts combines their subsequent Mix Takes 1 / 2 and 3 / 4 into one complete set. The band flawlessly tackles a bunch of classic block party jams here -- dissecting music from the worlds of jazz, soul and funk -- and strings them together with choice moments from more contemporary songs. A hard-hitting updating of the old school, fans of similarly minded albums from El Michels Affair and Adrian Younge/Ghostface Killah need this.

$12.99 CD ON SALE

I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces
(Third Man)

We're not sure if Third Man's Instagram followers will see eye-to-eye with us about our love of Wolf Eyes' newest album -- on the weekend before the record's release, the band took over the label's IG account, flooding the feed with hilariously ridiculous "trip metal" images and subsequently generating over 1000 "unfollows." But hey, Jack White's a longtime fan and so are we. With their first release on White's label, these Detroit noise stalwarts successfully entered a new phase, drawing more on a late-night psychedelic vibe than ever before. Much of I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces leans towards a kind of post-apocalyptic blues-rock. That's not to say Wolf Eyes are forging a traditional 12-bar style, but rather getting at the heart of a bluesy swagger built around their arsenal of junk. The homemade rhythm boxes are still present, as are John Olson's free jazz flourishes, but they serve a slightly more song-based structure here. I Am a Problem really is a testament to their talent; after all these years and hundreds of releases, Wolf Eyes are still finding new avenues to explore. (Listen)

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the big picture