Pretty Good Year: Kelly's Best of 2015 picks...

Posted by Kells, January 9, 2016 04:49pm | Post a Comment
It seems like 2015 came to a close less than a little more than a week ago...wait, didn't it? Where does the time go? It came and went in another trip around the sun, with the seasons fully cycled and another twelve-month accumulation of art, music, and enjoyment to show for the passage. Listed below are the leaders of the pack where the year in my ears is, er, was concerned. These the repeat-listen flat plastic friends stuck with me thru thick and thin. Oh, and there's a book thrown in the mix as well! Did you dig any of these selections?

Jessica Pratt
- On your Own Love Again
(Drag City)

There's always one or three endlessly flip-able records that never quite stay filed away, maintaining rather an easy reach in the rotation pile nearby the home hi-fi. Jessica Pratt's sophomore offering On Your Own Love Again is one such record. Built in part of nearly inaudible ambient street sounds indicating a subtle genesis rooted in home-recordings, the layered, spacial delivery of Pratt's soft-plucked folk edged in opaque psychedelia eddies and billows in a cosmos of mellow zones, at times reaching near-exotic levels of effect, but ever retaining a familiar quality. Here and there accompanying lyrics seem to reveal something of the singer-songwriter's personal inspirations, but these revelations are islands in a stream of vocal stylings, lilting like tendrils through a tapestry of rhythmic strums, droning, hums, and filigree. A muted monument of home-spun, dyed-in-the-wool California by way of the Milky Way sound, Jessica Pratt may be compared to many a laudable singer-songwriter forebear, but she is most definitely in a league of her own.

- A Self-Taught, Decathlon Hard Rock Musician (Stoned Circle)

Sounding like what I imagine to be Ariel Pink's ideal funeral shuffle, there is no limit to the number of times I can listen to Leland Yoshitsu's "I've Got Some Happiness"—it's a nodding rock hallucination comfortably lodged in it's own should'a would'a could'a laze, but so striking and real. Originally appearing on his ultra-rare 1976 self-funded, self-titled debut album, as well as on the equally rare 1978 reissue of said debut titled This is My World, this life-lending track and many other unequivocal druggy rippers, are now freely repeatable on this remastered expanded re-reissue what also includes the raw and unbridled Live At Mabuhay Gardens, S.F.circa 1979. Extensive liner notes and bonus photos of this psychedelic superhero abound! Not a 100% new release, but the title alone gives it a free pass re: best of 2015.

Mondo Drag - Mondo Drag
(Riding Easy Records)

If you're a high fantasy rock band, this is the kind of album cover that will most likely rivet the record shop RPG set with enough curiosity to guarantee at least a cursory listen. Of course, you'd better have the "No Quarter" meets "Highway Star" chops to back artwork like this up. Not only does Mondo Drag deliver on this their 2nd release, they've also already cut a killer debut and a third gunning to drop in February. This self-titled dank nugg is chock full of heavy desert mysticism, stratospheric psych appeal, gypsy crystal visions, pounding progressive allusions, pillars of riffage, smokey fluted corridors echoing pinwheeled guitarmonies, and a jingle-jangle bag of percussive holding. It could be a bit more demonic, but I like it just the way it is; otherworldly and titanic.

(Finders Keepers)

Bizarre, occult, sexually explicit, and really pretty. Such is the 1973 Japanese "witchcraft animation" film Belladonna Of Sadness (Kanashimi no Belladonna) directed by anime screenwriter Eiichi Yamamoto. Equally bizarre,  erotic, and far out is the original soundtrack to the film, a groovy, avant garden of free jazz in bloom composed by jazz pianist Masahiko Sato. Inspired by the 1862 non-fiction book La Sorcière (The Witch) by Jules Michelet, the film follows the tragic story of Jeanne, a peasant woman whose life is violently marred by rape, accusations of witchcraft, and a pact with the devil. The soundtrack is very much aligned with the catastrophic nature of the film, but it also tempers the brutality, like draping pain with gossamer shades of rosé champagne.

(Castle Face Records)

Before even getting my ears on, in, and around this album I confess I was inclined to love it simply because the whole enchilada was recorded track by track covertly at Guitar Center by way of concealed recording device(s) and untold subterfuge and strategery. To successfully pull a secret stunt like this off, it takes a special blend of skill, humor, skill, discretion, confidence, and did I mention skill? Bonus if you can make a record that doesn't suck. Kudos and then some to the maker for not only does this record not suck even an iota of suckage, but it is a behemoth of instrumental sound explorations unhindered by its experimental provenance, tripping balls between known genres, and deftly carving up the difference. Genius.

Eleventeen Eston - Delta Horizon
(Not Not Fun)

Although this dropped in 2014, it didn't reach me until late Spring of 2015, which should technically exclude it from this list. However, given the heavy impact this album had upon my Summer soundtrack, which it completely ruled, I feel compelled to include it here because it is absolutely amazing and for some reason its release was limited to just 100 cassette tapes! I understand the appeal of a limited run when it comes to something special, and just like Bodhi and his 50 year storm, there's no escaping the exquisite rush of the infinitely ride-able Faltermeyer-level synth waves washing over dappled, beach-bleached beats and bottom-turning bass toughs swelling with and against galaxies of free-gliding guitar frothery that colors every groove on this record several shades of gnar. I get it, it's precious, but it could do with a wider release already.


Errant surfer, visual artist, musician, and camper shell enthusiast Kyle Field cannot be topped when it comes to spitting free-flowing lyrical collages over malleable, little-bit-country, little-bit-WTFolk fireside acoustic jammers. His latest stone soup recipe, Explains, is not a hard departure from the post-Soft Pow'r sound that Little Wings has grown into since the moon shined on Black Grass, but the lush brushstroke vibes of the multi-layered instrumentation here seem surprisingly muted, whispered swooshes and pocketed inside-jokes notwithstanding. Still, hanging loose in his guru-level guitar guy zone, revisiting a fogbank of thematic musings, as always, Field sees to it, doing his thing like a natural-born Renaissance ramblin' man. And that's what's the what.

(Empty Cellar)

There's not much I can say about this, the third and final (*sniffle*) full-length album by SF's beloved old time, weirdo garage-folk trio The Sandwitches, that I haven't already said here. It's a dark n' lusty collection of slow roasted porch rockers, throaty front room confessionals, smouldering saloon shufflers and one grade A certified lonely barn-burner. Though they've called it quits, here's hoping they continue to seek out and explore their sonic inclinations individually.

Come what may, we'll always have this last slice of Toast, as well as equally delicious Cookies, Goose, and Sadcake to chew on from here to eternity. Rest in Peace (-_-;)

Joanna Newsom
- Divers
(Drag City)

Joanna Newsom's music is not for casual listening. But if you've felt the full hunger of the more than five year wait between her last record and this gargantuan "amora obscura" called Divers, then you likely devoured this release just as eagerly as I did. From the mourning dove's call that closes the loop at both ends of this conceptual life/love/death song cycle, every detail seems deliberately piqued to impress, emote, and delight by design. Even those facets that would induce a cursory rolling of the eyes at first listen become as precious as the rawest jewels in this rich strata of motley instrumentation (it's the least harp-heavy of her albums), borderline insane polyrhythmic compositions, and lyrical proficiency that just won't quit. Just how high can the bar be raised? To infinity and beyond, apparently.  

Cold Beat - Into The Air
(Crime On The Moon)

Sunnier than their debut album Over Me, but still vaporizing glacial contrails across both the known and the as-yet-undiscovered space punk galaxy, Into The Air is a clean shot of sparse yet lavish SciFi pop rife with lush girl/boy harmonies, cold wave surf guitars, and data streams of turbulent noise. With a voice crystalline and clear as a clarion call, singer/bassist and band visionary Hannah Lew (formerly of Grass Widow) sings assertively of parting waves, wandering broken lines, tasting blood, and resurrecting days wasted on walls. You can see these walls come down in the on-the-grid TRON-like video for the album centerpiece track, "Cracks", directed by Lew herself.

(Thrill Jockey)

With this second full-length release Golden Void seem to pick up where their self-titled debut left off—fetching riffs deftly adorn tight ensemble navigation, the foursome continuing to explore epic odes to the magic of Mother Nature in high-climbing arrangements peaked with (former Earthless guitarist) Isaiah Mitchell's soaring solos, descending in heavy-plodding rhythmic crashes and resonant free falls. However, there is something a bit more visceral about the way this record plays, possibly owing to it's slightly longer length and/or a positive side effect of extensive touring as the recording retains a distinct "live" sound (which may have something or everything to do with Tim Green (of the Fucking Champs) involvement with the process. Whatever's in the water, it's boss, hoss.

(Spiritual Pajamas)

I'm still sinking my teeth into this one, it's a good go-to for following Golden Void's Berkana in that that it's another swelling eruption of, for lack of a better/more over-used word, "epic" slab of National Park altar rock with tracks that clock in at nearly or over the twenty minute mark. The last Mammatus record, Heady Mental, was pretty great, but this, their fourth album uses the force, or something—the force is strong with this one (Star Wars is getting on everything), move along. Moving along, tempo-shifting spacial instrumentals shimmer and burst in thunderous undulating guitar furls, precipitous synth surges, far out smoking horizons flashing ever nearer with each cymbal splash, rupturing free of heavy metal chains link by link. Recorded by life coach Phil Manley.

Magic Trick - Half Man Half Machine
(Spiritual Pajamas)

San Francisco's prolific free wheelin' visionary and singer-songwriter Tim Cohen has once again summoned his slight of band side project, Magic Trick, resulting in a quiet caravan of random inner space jams that is absolutely the best albuyet. Surreal, spiritually unfettered, and darkly whimsical, Half Man Half Machine treads cyclic and droning, with raga-esque leanings and patches of melody reminiscent of OOIOO's elementary sound patterns. Sometimes shaking like a bowl full of jingle-jangle pop, sometimes wallowing in shameless Dad-rock sentimentality, Tim Cohen's never wastes his faculties on sonic facsimile, such would this record's purity suggest.

Tamaryn - Cranekiss
(Mexican Summer)

If you've ever enjoyed, really enjoyed, making out to The Cure's Disintegration, you're probably going to really really enjoy making out to this record. Tamaryn may have moved from San Francisco to New York (I miss those days when I'd chance to hear her sing Fleetwood Mac in my local SF karaoke dive), but she keeps consistent to her dreamy shoegaze curve with this, her third full-length album, arguably her best yet. If you are hopelessly prone to romantic bouts of 1990s nostalgia trips, I prescribe Cranekiss for soothing your horror headaches, relieving any eyes-without-a-face itchiness, and coating your woefully un-bloodied valentines. Also great for making out.

Like other University of Vice compilations, this excellent collection of "early exotica" not only broadens the scope of what defines Exotica as a genre, but also serves to flesh out some of the gaps created by said expansion. Though Exotica is largely considered to begin with the likes of Les Baxter, Martin Denny, and Arthur Lyman, the enchanting strains and questionably idealized songs of the noble savage first drummed up international interest via World's Fairs and Exhibitions where musicians from far flung locales would perform local melodies with traditional instruments, often mixing vaudevillian variety with riqué dances, resulting a slew of early recordings of an escapist slant pre-dating the Exotica by a few decades. All culled from 78 rpm records, most of the 14 tracks on this comp have never been reissued.

(Sahel Sounds)
Translated to English, the title reads "Rain the Color of Blue with a little Red in it” = Purple Rain = it's hard to not want to suspiciously dig this record right away. When you get into it, it's way more than a novel remake of the infamous Prince-led film/soundtrack that marked a revolutionary moment for pop music circa the summer of 1984. This soundtrack recording, and the film by the same name, tells the purple-tinted story of Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar and his rise to fame in city of Agadez, the largest city in central Niger. Like Purple Rain, it is about guitars and motorcycles, but like other releases on the Sahel Sounds label, it is also about cellphones and sharing the entrancing heavy sound of some supremely sublime music made in this region of our planet Earth—"the music of a new generation."

The Yule Logs - Up All Night

For a woefully under-appreciated holiday band, I'm beginning to suspect the Yule Logs are less jazzed on Christmas and Hanukkah than casual listens to any of their records might suggest. More than the other four Yule Logs albums, Up All Night rides a sentimental rollercoaster through a collection of songs, classic and original compositions, that play more like a series of catchy 45rpm singles. These soulful, poptatsic sides belie any simple semblance of surface holiday theming with smart song arrangements that indicate the high taste levels of the four calling birds at work behind the curtain, not to mention the usual windfall of witty lyrics rife with a clever innuendo and heartily obscured dark undercurrents. Of course, the whole is pageant of joy, as is the title track.

Bobbie Gentry's Ode to Billie Joe by Tara Murtha
(33 1/3/Bloomsbury)

"This is one of the very best books I've read in the 33 1/3 series," said just about everyone who has something to say about this book, including me. Murtha's journalism background and passion for getting it right regarding this exploration of Gentry's life, creative pursuits, legendary status, and mysterious disappearance completely eclipsed any prior expectations I had prior to reading this book. That is to say, I want to know what every hardcore Bobbie Gentry fan wants to know about and beyond her 1967 smash hit "Ode to Billie Joe," and regardless of what questions remain, I got much more out of this book than I ever imagined possible. For example, I never knew Gentry had at one time formed and performed in an Exotica ensemble, studying traditional hula dancing under Lani McIntire and surfing the Tiki craze by way of working the archipelago of tropical island themed lounges and restaurants that once flourished along the West Coast in the 1960s. I was also floored by the tales of Gentry's over the top Vegas years, especially the details of one of her shows called "Diamonds by Tiffany, Jeans by Levi Strauss" wherein Gentry performed wearing denim studded in genuine, million-dollar Tiffany diamonds that were ceremoniously sewn onto her jeans, under heavy security, every night before each show. These are but two trivial nuggets of a veritable smorgasbord of Gentry facts, fiction, and sundry muse-worthy points in between that make this book worthy of any music nerds shelf, and an absolute must-read for anyone preoccupied by an inquiring mind regarding all things Gentry. Murtha has unraveled, unearthed, and exhumed more about Bobbie Gentry than perhaps Gentry herself will ever come to reveal, including this worn, but exuberant window into Gentry's Vegas era:

Relevant Tags

Tara Murtha (1), The Yule Logs (1), Magic Trick (4), Masahiko Sato (1), The Sandwitches (11), Best Of 2015 (14), Leland Yoshitsu (1), Eleventeen Eston (1), Joanna Newsom (36), Cold Beat (12), Little Wings (15), Golden Void (5), Mondo Drag (1), Mdou Moctar (4), Jessica Pratt (10), Tamaryn (8), Apprentice Destroyer (1), Primitive Paradise (1), Bobbie Gentry (6), Mammatus (3)