2015 – a year in listening

2015 wasn’t a vintage year for new music in my humble opinion. I have 35 albums in iTunes listed as released this year, but only 16 that I have much regard for or think I’ll continue to listen to. Of these, I’ve listened to The Unthanks most though it’s not their strongest album, I feel similarly about Colleen’s and Ibrahim Maalouf’s latest. I’m relistening to Jlin, Jenny Hval and Matana Roberts because of praise in other end of year lists and glad that I am. I’ve not heard Eivind Aarset’s I.E. enough yet to judge it, but it sounds promising, likewise Natasha Atlas and Food. I’ve really enjoyed The Mountain Goats, Laurel Halo’s long-awaited – at least by me – return to recording and Ibeyi’s eponymous debut.

This year’s recordings that I think are genuinely extraordinary are:

David Torn’s Only Sky (criminally unmentioned in any critical appraisals I’ve seen)
Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus’ Bonita (oh I wish they’d come and play in the UK), and
Mette Henriette’s amazing debut.

2015 also saw the sad departure of Ornette Coleman from this earth. Yet he remains so damn alive and so vital in all his recordings. Prompted by his death, I listened afresh to his last albums – the Sound Museum pair and his final Sound Grammar – and found great pleasure in them where previously I’d found them disappointing. I firmly believe now that he remained vital and fascinating to the end. I feel honoured to have heard him play a few times over the years. The last time was at the Royal Festival Hall with Dan, when he curated a South Bank Meltdown, I think it was the same band as Sound Grammar, two basses and Denardo on drums. He let them play for a bit at the start, then when he himself began to play I had the oddest sensation of everything ‘shifting sideways’, it was as though my sense of reality briefly changed. Remarkable. Ornette was one of the great artists of the 20th century. I only wish his work could benefit from the sort of treatment accorded to Miles Davis via those delightful box sets. Unfortunately, due to the number of different companies he recorded for, it’s unlikely to ever happen. I did feel a degree of frustration as I read the various appraisals and obituaries at the authors’ failure to engage in any meaningful way with Ornette’s work from 70s Prime Time onwards. Again, where Miles’ 70s work was critically reclaimed, Ornette has suffered, his early innovations and blues expressiveness obscuring the breadth and depth of his long and admirable career’s challenging achievements.

This year’s joyful discoveries/opening of my ears included Joni Mitchell, Sidsel Endresen, The Unthanks and Ibrahim Maalouf who I expect to continue to listen to in the coming year. The tail end of the year saw my attention turn to Arabic music including Yasmine Hamdan, Dhafer Youssef, Natacha Atlas, Anouar Brahem and the aforementioned and rather marvellous Maalouf.


2015 is the first year in far too long that I’ve attended anything more than a handful of concerts. Long may that continue. * = favourites.

Sidsel Endresen and Jan Bang (King’s Place, April) *
Buika (Barbican, April)
Savages, Unthanks, The Gluts * and others (Latitude, July)
Suicide (Barbican, July) *
Arto Lindsay (Cafe Oto, August)
Esperanza Spalding (Shepherds Bush Empire, November) *
Wim Mertens (King’s Place, November) *
James Holden, Polar Bear (Electric Brixton, November)
Mountain Goats (Shepherds Bush Empire, November)
Annette Peacock (Cafe Oto, November) *
The Unthanks (Scala, December)

New releases

Colleen: Captain of None
David Torn: Only Sky
Eivind Aarset: I.E.
Food: This Is Not a Miracle
Ibeyi: Ibeyi
Ibrahim Maalouf: Kalthoum, Red & Black Light
Jenny Hval: Apocalypse Girl
Jlin: Dark Energy
Julia Holter: Have You In My Wilderness
Laurel Halo: In Situ
Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Three
Mette Henriette: Mette Henriette
The Mountain Goats: Beat The Champ
Natasha Atlas: Myriad Road
Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus: Bonita
The Unthanks: Mount The Air

Most listened to artists

Five artists appear in this year’s and last year’s top 20.

1. Joni Mitchell (2,019)
2. Ornette Coleman (1,694)
3. The Unthanks (1,150)
4. Sidsel Endresen (958)
5. June Tabor (622)
6. Buika (593)
7. Cibelle (510)
8. Pat Metheny Group (476)
9. Madredeus (460)
10. Mette Henriette (412)
11. Eivind Aarset (353)
12. Susanna (349)
13. Ibrahim Maalouf (309)
14. Róisín Murphy (306)
15. Mariza (285)
16. Scott Walker (243)
17. Jan Garbarek (225)
18. Laurel Halo (225)
19. Colleen (209)
20. Lee Gamble (208)

Thanks to last.fm whose protracted redesign seems finally to be an improvement on the previous version.

Previous years

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