Culture, Gaming

Best albums of 2015: honourable mentions

AOTY 2015 - Hon college: Shareefa Energy, Masayoshi Fujita, Wondaland, Tara Busch (1448x815)Where did 2015 go, ay? It seems like only yesterday that I was writing about my lofty ambitions to hear 150-plus albums this year, and pointing out the absurdity of that goal. Well, I managed to listen to a fair number of the albums on my original preview list, and I’ve soaked up an even greater number than last year. But still, with an ever-growing to-listen-to-list, I’ve been in a state of never-ending improbability to hear all of the records that have come into my orbit this year.

Still, here we are once again, after a year of trials and tribulations, hurt and pain, success stories and retirements, sorrows and separations, fading dreams and whispers of hope, quiet triumphs and steady commitments – and that’s just the news.

In the world of music, things have been as turbulent and trying as ever, while still being encouraged and unimaginably fruitful. They’ve been new streaming services, new business models, new artists and, of course, new albums. Once again, I’m here to offer my thoughts on latter, with the hope that you’ll discover a piece of music that makes your life that much brighter.

Saturday begins my annual albums of the year round-up in earnest, where I run down 50 albums I’ve heard this year and deem to be among the year’s best. But, starting this year, I’ve decided to precede my main list with a selection of honourable mentions.

This unranked appetiser, which includes albums, EPs, mixtapes and even a spoken word poetry piece, is a chance to recommend a shade more 2015 releases that are worth listening to.

Honourable mentions
Bishop Nehru – The Nehruvian EP
Charlene Soraia – Love is the Law
FKA Twigs – M3LL155X EP
I Speak Machine – The Silence
Kaleida – Think EP
Leona Lewis – I Am
Masayoshi Fujita – Apologues
Sexwitch – Sexwitch
Shareefa Energy & Meandou – Reasoning with Self EP
Various Artists – The Eephus EP

Bishop Nehru - The Nehruvian EP, 500Bishop Nehru – The Nehruvian EP
Markel Scott (aka Bishop Nehru) continues to demonstrate why he’s got the likes of MF Doom and Nas backing him. Barely a month has gone by without him releasing a weighty cover or remix, and his The Nehruvian EP is full of smooth loops and sharp wit. Alongside Earl Sweatshirt and newcomer, Raury, Nehru is one of hip hops’ hottest talents.

Charlene Soraia - Love is the Law, 500Charlene Soraia – Love is the Law
After a long, protracted gestation, London singer-songwriter Charlene Soraia’s second album is a patchy affair. The heavy use of overt electro-pop, particularly in the first half of the record, loses much of what made Soraia’s music unique. She recaptures some of her magic in later tracks, ‘Ghost’, ‘Halo’ and the sincere title number. Though, sadly an unspectacular effort from a singer who’s capable of more, Love is the Law is still worth a listen.

FKA Twigs - M3LL155X EP, 500FKA Twigs – M3LL155X EP
FKA Twigs (aka Tahliah Barnett) continued her campaign to infatuate fashionistas, enthusiasts of left-field music and those with a disposition for surreal artistic personalities. Her MOBO Awards performance was a small taste of the weird, wild and edgy songs that lie within her M3LL155X EP. Part veiled, fantasy dominatrix, part femme fatale, part R&B diva, this temptress is a master of her twisted domain.

I Speak Machine - The Silence, 500I Speak Machine – The Silence
My view: “A horror record that will leave you panic-stricken at best, or, at worst, feeling like you’re being sucked, feetfirst, into a bottomless swamp, down, down, into the depths of hell. The morose synths and goose bump-inducing whispers on The Silence conjure terrors to match the daddies of the genre. In the guise of I Speak Machine, Tara Busch will have horror enthusiasts at her mercy.”

Kaleida - Think EP, 500Kaleida – Think EP
Electro-pop duo, Kaleida (vocalist Christina Wood and keyboardist Cicely Goulder), presented one of the year’s most captivating EPs, with their melodic, tropical, stirring synth-pop productions, that lie somewhere in between SBTRKT, Four Tet, Little Boots and Duran Duran. Expect kaleidoscopic rhythms from these ladies.

Leona Lewis - I Am, 500Leona Lewis – I Am
I must confess that I’ve not appreciated much of Leona Lewis’ music to date. But during one of my pop binges this year I found myself taken with Britain’s Mariah Carey-alike. I Am is Lewis’s first album since separating from the leathery grip of Simon Cowell’s Syco imprint, but it’s a predictable affair, full of self-gratifying songs about liberation and newfound empowerment. Sam Smith and Ella Eyre have stolen her thunder on occasion, too. Even so, rhythmically and vocally grand in spots, you may be compelled to give it more than a spin or two.

Masayoshi Fujita - Apologues, 500Masayoshi Fujita – Apologues
The second solo album from Berlin-based, Japanese vibraphone player, Masayoshi Fujita, is a marvel of stately scene-setting. Fujita said his main idea was to “evoke images, atmospheres, sceneries and stories in the listener”, and that’s exactly what he does. From soft mallet strikes of ‘Tears of Unicorn’ – inspired by a painting from the Studio Ghibli animation Kiki’s Delivery Service, to the echoes of ‘Beautiful Shimmer’, to the evening ambience of ‘Knight and Spirit of Lake’, these instrumental arrangements put your mind into a serene calm. Apologues exists in the vein of Nils Frahm, Cinematic Orchestra, David Lowe and Nitin Sawhney, but it also feels profoundly Eastern, calling to mind, at least for me, the work of Japanese composers, such as Tomohito Nishiura (Rogue Galaxy, Professor Layton) and Michiru Ōshima (Ico). A thoroughly absorbing album of instrumental expression.

Sexwitch - Sexwitch, 500Sexwitch – Sexwitch
Sexwitch is Natasha Khan (aka Bat for Lashes), rock band Toy and producer Dan Carey. The group’s six-track debut is a collection of 1970s psych and folk songs from Iran, Morocco, Thailand and the US. Over the driving rhythms, Khan howls, clicks and shrieks her way through these non-Latin syllables for a curious half-hour of primal worship. An acquired taste, for sure, but more gripping than you might suspect.

Shareefa Energy - Reasoning with Self, 500Shareefa Energy & Meandou – Reasoning with Self EP
Collaborating with London producer Meandou, spoken word poet Shareefa Energy produced one of the 2015’s most impactful poetry projects with her debut EP. Reasoning with Self is chock-full of eloquent observations, stirring phrases and impassioned resolutions. A genuine diamond in the rough.

Various Artists (Wondaland) - The Eephus EP, 500Various Artists – The Eephus EP
The Eephus EP (baseball terminology for a “slow pitcher”) serves as an introduction to four of the artists on Janelle Monáe’s freshly launched imprint, Wondaland Records. It features songs from funk rockers Deep Cotton, dream-pop duo St Beauty, alternative soul producer and vocalist Roman GianArthur, and the new originator of swanky music, Jidenna, with his chart-topping single, ‘Classic Man‘. Catch it quick and get down on it.

Share your thoughts in the comments section below or via @dk33per.

See my entire albums of 2015 series.

Images: college (clockwise from top left) Shareefa Energy (Shareefa Energy); Masayoshi Fujita (Alexander Schneider); Wondaland (Epic); Tara Busch (aka I Speak Machine) (Lex). Images and photos belong to respective parties