Idol Threat's Top 20 Albums of 2015 - Idol Threat: Warning Shots at the Mainstream


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Idol Threat's Top 20 Albums of 2015

It's only a few days later than when last year's list was posted, but we made it just under the wire! This past year's Top 20 list took awhile to put together so we won't add on needlessly with a long intro. So without further ado, here is Idol Threat's Top 20 Albums of 2015 in no particular order:

Beauty Pill – Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are
I want more life, fucker.”  That quote from Bladerunner is the first lyric for the “Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are” album.  It’s a pretty appropriate movie quote for an album that’s so electronically organic. That phrase seems even more apropos when you realize that years ago the mastermind behind Beauty Pill Chad Clark was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy and had to undergo emergency open heart surgery to save his life.  The surgery is one of the main reasons it took so long to record this new album, which is the band’s first release since 2004.  Their artsy, electronically-inflected indie rock was a strange fit on the legendary Washington, D.C.-based hardcore label Dischord, so they opted for a more fitting home for this release with Butterscotch Records.  This album is so full of life, colors, and joy that it transforms the opening phrase into a declaration of exuberance as opposed to rage.  Beauty Pill Describes… seems so celebratory that it manages to make words like fuck, junkie and asshole sound almost innocent.  With its thick yet sleek production, inventive rhythms and nuances this album is definitely more appreciated within headphones.  “Describes Things As They Are” is lush, fresh, extremely listenable and engrossing.

Endon – MAMA
MAMA was originally released last year in Japan on CD through renowned Japanese label Daymare Recordings. This album was produced by Atsuo the drummer of the famed Japanese band Boris. It also garnered so much attention that it received a worldwide release via Hydra Head in 2015, which is considerable since they technically closed their doors as a label in 2012. There seems to be a lot of star power that believes in Endon and for good reason. The Japanese quartet's sound is intense. So much so that it often defies categorization. Endon are about noise. There's some black metal there, and some grindcore and a dash of hardcore too but they're mostly about noise. Despite this fact you would be hard pressed to call their music noise metal. They don't sound like Today Is The Day, Unsane or Ken Mode, so calling them noise metal would be more of an understatement to the term noise. There are lots of bands that sound like the sum of their influences, but it is rare for one to sound like all of them playing at the same time. Guitar riffs are enveloped or beaten into submission by distortion as harsh electronics whirr and stutter. Often times the drummer sounds like he’s playing blast beats in a typhoon as schizophrenic screams and tongues spoken with both anger and anguish terrorize the tracks. That isn't to say that this album was put together haphazardly, there's an obvious method behind the madness. There is structure underneath all the chaos. Yet there is also more madness behind the madness as well. This is very challenging anti-music so proceed with caution.

Rapper Big Pooh & Nottz - Home Sweet Home
Little Brother came onto the scene at an opportune time.  The North Carolina trio was credited for bringing positive throwback Hip Hop back to the forefront at a time when it was sorely lacking.  Even their name itself was an ode to the 'big brothers' of Hip Hop they admired; A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, De La Soul etc. With the group's disbandment it was no question that the members would thrive on their own with 9th Wonder producing for Mary J. Blige, Jay Z and Destiny's Child and Phonte creating his own Grammy nominated duo The Foreign Exchange.  With the meteoric rise of the two it would be easy to assume that the lesser noticed Rapper Big Pooh would be left by the wayside.  Pooh had done quite the opposite actually dropping a multitude of mixtapes and albums while proving himself to be a strong solo artist.  "Home Sweet Home" touches on more personal subject matter, making it highly relatable.  Memory lane is definitely the major theme that is driven over on this album as songs about home, high school and nostalgia dominate the release. In the opening verse to 'Welcome Home' Pooh raps “all respect due to the elders in the room” before rapping about coming home to family - when's the last time you heard a Hip Hop artist give respect to their elders?  That respect is reflected in Rapper's music as well as his life and is quite refreshing to hear. But Big Pooh’s wise and insightful lines would be nothing without the hard-hitting production from Nottz, who’s break-heavy beats pushes this album from a solid one to one of our top albums of the year.

Elder - Lore
Those expecting the sludgy, sleazy psych of Dead Roots Stirring and their self-titled 2008 record will be surprised to find a more refined and diverse Elder playing on their new album Lore. The sludge and psych are definitely still there, but this time it's evolved with elaborate structures and more cultivated songwriting. Stoner rock guitar solos intermix with ambitious post-metal, psych-prog passages, sophisticated shifts and dynamic compositions. The 5 songs on this hour-long album are quite expansive so it is best considered as a whole, but it's not an album you can easily abandon or something that can be dipped into with short bursts. The songs are so great however that you won't want to stop as you get lost in the wake of it's twists and turns. Lore seems to stream effortlessly from beginning to end despite its sweeping changes and colossal framework. Riffs are repeated but nothing overstays it’s welcome as heavy breakdowns offer just the right amount of time away from the intricate riffage and ebb and flow. This mostly instrumental recording moves very much like the sea and you can get lost in the tide and the sounds of its sirens. Nick DiSalvo, Jack Donovan and Matt Couto work insanely well together and you can tell that their decade of playing as a unit has forged them into a formidable group. This is the sound of a band that knows each other inside out.

John Zorn – Simulacrum
Simulacrum is a John Zorn album but there aren’t any squealing saxophones to be heard here, or any horns for that matter.  Instead Zorn takes time off playing and composes a trio consisting of Matt Hollenberg on guitar, Kenny Grohowski on drums, and the legendary John Medeski (of Medeski, Martin & Wood) on organ.  Most Zorn albums are avant-garde affairs, but this one merely flirts with free Jazz and concentrates on the heavier aspects of prog and metal.  Thundering double-bass drums and blast beats provides the backdrop for guitars both distorted and not, with the organ cutting through well from within the whirlwind of virtuosity. Medeski's organ actually sounds surprisingly appropriate in its unfamiliar surroundings, more than holding it's own against its heavier counterparts. Fans of weird math rock and experimental metal such as Dysrhythmia, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Fantômas will find a lot to like here.  This instrumental trio brings a fresh sound to its kind and apparently this is only one of at least three compositions Zorn has written for them. John Zorn has shown that he can play and compose everything from classical to jazz, middle-eastern music, ambient soundtracks and more so this foray into prog metal madness should come as no surprise to his repertoire.

Christian Scott – Stretch Music
Christian Scott has always been ahead of his time.  At age 13 he was already a proficient enough trumpet player to sit in with his uncle’s band (famed saxophonist Donald Harrison) and record with him when he was only 16.  Christian also released his first album as a leader when he was barely 19. Throughout his career he would further push boundaries and collaborate with disparate artists such as Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Prince, Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mos Def/Yasiin Bey and Cypress Hill's DJ Muggs.  He’s even invented his own horns that he currently plays with – the siren, the sirenette, and the reverse flugelhorn.  Apparently tradition could not keep up with his innovations. With all that in mind it’s no wonder that Scott’s album “Stretch Music” retains that cutting edge.  Jazz combines with oscillating guitars, distortion and even 808 drumbeats as you start to get a sense as to why Christian has chosen the term ‘stretch’ to describe his music.  Genres aren’t blurred so much as absorbed, as traces of indie rock, Hip Hop, world music and more blends into the sounds and polyrhythms of Scott and his young ensemble.  He’s so futuristic the man even has an iOS app for his album!  An open mind like this may be just what is needed to bring a younger audience into Jazz.

Mutoid Man – Bleeder
Mutoid Man comes in with some heavy DNA.  The vocalist/guitarist Stephen Brodsky is a founding member of the seminal metallic hardcore band Cave In and also served a short stint with fellow Massachusetts band Converge. Drummer Ben Koller is also a member of the legendary Converge in addition to being a member of All Pigs Must Die and a rumored member of the secretive band United Nations.  The trio is rounded out by bassist Nick Cageao the soundman for Brooklyn bar Saint Vitus.  With all this you would expect the group to be a heavy hardcore affair but that's not necessarily the case.  What results instead is more of a mixture of the metallic hardcore the main contributors made famous, and the classic rock that no doubt inspired them. Wailing, thrashy guitar braggadocio gets punctuated with crushing low end, as overtones of heavy doom is tempered with speed, sleaze and sludge. Monster choruses gets surrounded with soaring, anthemic singing and the occasional raspy scream. All backed by one of the best drummers in the biz driving the band with an abundance of tempo and time signature changes. Bleeder seems to draw some parallels to Cave In's various incarnations. You can definitely hear the ambitious rock of their Jupiter album, the polished songwriting of Antennae and the edge and energy of their classic Until Your Heart Stops. All in all their various influences boils down into one amazing album and one hell of a ride.

Son Lux - Bones
Ryan Lott (aka Son Lux) started his career making music for commercials before becoming a film score composer and producer. Though the classically trained musician has worked with many artists during his career Son Lux has remained very much a solo project up until this album. Guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang joined Lott on his last tour, and the three must have had great chemistry since Lott decided to record this new album with the two. The addition of these two musicians combined with Lott's classical background adds a wider scope to Son Lux's brand of electro-pop. Synth notes hover, play in reverse, and repeat with drum machine-like delay.  Layers of choral samples and instruments pile on top of drums that pound, crunch and clap with steady beats, sometimes double-timed and other times rhythmically skittering.  At one point they even sound slightly tribal and in one song there’s even a mid-paced techno breakdown. Ryan Lott has a wonderful vulnerable quality in his voice, and when he sings it sometimes quivers like he’s pleading and praising at the same time.  It provides an excellent foil to the dark soundscapes throughout. This album is cinematic, symphonic and grandiose with just a tinge of melancholy.  Post rock, avant-pop or what have you is often considered “unfit” for the mainstream, for whatever reason, and this is something that should just not be. Bones proves that you can push the envelope without sacrificing mass appeal, this is what pop music should sound like.

Blu/MED/Madlib – Bad Neighbor
Bad Neighbor is producer Madlib’s collaboration with rappers Blu and MED.  An album released by any one of these artists could have year-end list potential, let alone one from all three. Add on top of that a roster of guest artists that include Phonte, MF Doom, Aloe Blacc, Dam Funk and Mayer Hawthorne you have a bona fide banger!  MED (aka Medaphoar) is a frequent collaborator of Madlib’s and Blu has been on a few of his tracks (with an apparent project called UCLA that may or may not have been produced by Madlib) so the pair are no strangers to his production. Blu's new school lyrical swag, MED's poetic slang and Madlib's funky, heavy, blunted-out beats blend well together as the trio proves to be a great fit. This album drips with west side slur and sway with 'Lib only making a few detours to channel the late great Dilla on "Streets" and Little Brother on "Finer Things." Madlib always does a great job tailoring his beats to the artists while retaining his signature sound and Bad Neighbor is no exception to this rule. It's not just the beats that shine here as nearly all of the 13 songs have highly memorable hooks; with each rapper and guest offering inspired verses and quotables. Whether it's serving dope or dope lyrics, getting money, relationships falling apart from overzealous women, riding in whips or hanging in their homies cribs these Left Coast laureates feel right at home with any subject.

Gorod - A Maze Of Recycled Creeds
France seems to be home to two of our favorite technical/ progressive metal bands.  In 2012 we named Gojira’s album L'Enfant Sauvage as one of our top albums, and this year Gorod enters our list with their latest: A Maze of Recycled Creeds.  Gorod is able to separate themselves from the rest of the tech death crowd by not letting their prowess get in the way of writing a good song.  This album doesn’t merely blast through without a breath or get lost in endless noodling, each song has its own sections and structures slipping in just enough groove and repetition while still being technical. Distortion and blinding speed give way to precision and agility which may scare away the more traditional death metal fans, especially when taking the cleaner production sound into consideration.  Fortunately brutality isn’t completely sacrificed in the process, with Julien "Nutz" Deyres’ guttural growls handling most of the heavy lifting.  In fact the brighter production helps the guitars cut through the music better highlighting each acrobatic note and riff.   This is their first album to feature Karol Diers on drums and he is a welcome addition, bringing a new depth of personality and dynamic sensibility that complements the band well.  Although it isn’t as relentless as it’s two predecessors, it sounds more deliberate and is fun without being too whimsical.  Overall "A Maze of Recycled Creeds" is more varied and less muted than their other outings, proving to be a melodically manic and memorable album.

...and here are the rest of the top 20, again in no particular order:

Zu – Cortar Todo
Corrections House - Know How To Carry A Whip
Thou &a The Body - Released From Love / You, Whom I Have Always Hated
Noisem - Blossoming Decay
Tortoise – The Catastrophist
Antigama - The Insolent
Talib Kweli & 9th Wonder - Present Indie 500
Napalm Death - Apex Predator: Easy Meat
Action Bronson - Mr. Wonderful
Bell Witch – Four Phantoms

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