The Best of 2015

Man, 2015 was an absolutely fantastic year.  Holly and I got to do some traveling, going to Portland (OR) and Salt Lake City to see concerts, doing some record shopping in Ireland and Paris, and of course attending our seventh consecutive Iceland Airwaves Music Festival.  We went to shows with friends, listened to new music, and discovered new bands.  So with all that in mind, here’s a recap of Life in the Vinyl Lane’s musical year.

Top 5 New Releases in 2015

1.  Halleluwah – Halleluwah
2.  Lífsins Þungu Spor – Dulvitund
3.  .A:A. Mix. 1 – Alexandra Atnif
4.  II – Albino Father
5.  Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – John Grant

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A lot of great music came out in 2014, and I had a hard time whittling down my initial list of a dozen albums to pick the Top 5.  In fact I thought I had my list ready to go until I played Lífsins Þungu Spor for the first time about two weeks ago, and it actually bumped another album off of the list.  I was confident in my choice of Halleluwah for the top spot because I’ve been playing their debut (not available on vinyl at this time) a ton, and it’s actually the second time they’ve made my year end best of list, with their 10″ K2R (which stylistically is miles away from Halleluwah) held down the #4 spot on my 2012 list.  Dulvitund, Alexandra Atnif, and Albino Father were all performers I encountered for the first time in 2015, and John Grant rounds it out with his second appearance on one of my Top 5 New Releases lists.

I’m particularly happy with this list because, unintentionally, all the performers fall into different genres.  Halleluwah brings a sort of old school popular music sound, something that reminds me of an updated version of Edith Piaf; Dulvitund is electro darkwave; Alexandra Atnif creates some edgy experimental industrial beats; Albin Father is the second coming of garage psych rock; and of course John Grant is John Grant in all of his loquacious brilliance.  There’s something for just about everyone on that list.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

1.  Alexandra Atnif (US/Romania)
2.  No Stayer (US)
3.  Captain Moonlight (Ireland)
4.  SGNLS (US)
5.  Kælan Mikla (Iceland)

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This was a super-tough list for me this year.  The first two choices were easy.  We discovered Atnif this summer when we picked up one of her split tapes at Amoeba down in Los Angeles, and acquired two more of her cassettes over the course of the year.  She’s super talented and isn’t afraid to experiment with some very severe sounds.  No Stayer also came to me via a cassette (Rogue) when my friends over at Philadelphia’s Sit & Spin Records sent it my way.  I was down with their style of hard rock/metal, but then sort of forgot about them for a bit before re-discovering them on my iPod a few weeks back, and I’ve pretty much been listening to them every day since.  Captain Moonlight’s working class, Irish-issues-themed hip hop was a refreshing return of hip hop to being social protest music.  I enjoyed SGNLs synth punk enough to pick up two of their records this year, SGNLS and II (not to be confused by the Albino Father album of the same name).  Kælan Mikla was sort of a darkwave dark horse on this list, because they don’t currently have any physical releases (though they do have a track on Iceland Whatever, Vol. 1), but I was very impressed by their live show at Airwaves and can’t stop thinking about them.

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

1.  Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1 – Various
2.  Lengi Lifi – HAM
3.  Hype! Boxed Set – Various
4.  W.C. Monster – Bootlegs
5.  Great White Wonder – Les Rallizes Denudes

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OK, I’m cheating a bit here, because my top choice is a cassette, and my #2 pick is a CD.  But both of those were important additions for me this year.  Philly’s Dopest Shit turned me on to a ton of great bands like No Stayer, SGNLS, Ruby Buff, and Spent Flesh.  Lengi Lifi is a very difficult to find, CD-only HAM live album and was the last one I needed to complete the HAM discography.  The Hype! Boxed Set was an opportunity for me to reconnect with some great Sub Pop 7″ records and exorcise those demons that still haunt me after selling my Sub Pop singles 20 years ago.  W.C. Monster is a collectible Icelandic thrash record, while the Great White Wonder box set is just a flat-out psych noise trip from Japan’s Les Rallizes Denudes.

Top 5 Live Shows

1.  The Kills – Roseland Theatre, Portland OR
2.  Bubbi & DIMMA – NASA, Reykjavik
3.  Bo Ningen – KEX Hostel, Reykjavik
4.  The Sonics – Easy Street Records, Seattle
5.  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City UT

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This is the second consecutive year that The Kills (right) have taken the top spot in my Top 5 Live Shows, and I kind of feel like any year that I see them live, they’ll probably be my number one pick – they’re quite simply that damn good.  At Airwaves the combination of Bubbi Morthens and DIMMA was a perfect blend of old school punk rock and new school technical metal, while Bo Ningen played the most insane, high energy set of crazy that I’ve ever seen.  Easy Street Records crammed 200 people into their shop for show benefitting KEXP radio, and The Sonics played along with a veritable who’s who of Seattle rockers, including Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.  And BRMC… well, they’d been at the top of my list of bands I wanted to see for years and years, and this summer we were able to use some airline points to basically get down to Salt Lake City for free to see them live, and they were outstanding.

This was probably the toughest list for me to put together, because we saw so many great shows this year.  Agent Fresco, Hot Chip, Thievery Corporation, Steel Panther, HAM, Halleluwah… there were just so many awesome performances to choose from.  But the five that made the final cut all had something special about them that took them to that next level and made them more memorable.

Top 5 Favorite Places to Buy Records

North America
1.  Easy Street, Seattle
2.  Silver Platters, Seattle
3.  Diabolical, Salt Lake City
4.  Fingerprints, Long Beach (CA)
5.  Amoeba, Los Angeles

The Rest of the World
1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Reykjavik Record Shop, Reykjavik
3.  Bell, Book & Candle, Galway (Ireland)
4.  Syncrophone, Paris
5.  All City, Dublin

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Easy Street and Silver Platters are my regular local haunts, so it will be hard for them to ever get knocked out of the top spots.  The same is true for Lucky and Reykjavik Record Shop – any year that we make it to Reykjavik, these two are likely to be at the top of list.  One thing that all these places have in common is that they’re very supportive of their local scenes, and that’s important to me because when I travel I like to look for local music.  Plus they had some cool and knowledgeable people, people who are obviously passionate about music.

Top 5 Music Books

1.  Girl in a Band:  A Memoir, by Kim Gordon
2.  Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs, by Brendan Mullen
3.  For Whom the Cowbell Tolls: 25 Years of Paul’s Boutique, by Dan LeRoy
4.  The Truth of Revolution, Brother: The Philosophies of Punk, by Robin Ryde, Lisa Sofianos, and Charlie Waterhouse
5.  Crate Digger: An Obsession With Punk Records, by Bob Suren

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I probably read about 15-20 music books in 2015, and the above were easily the best of the bunch.  And of these five, Kim Gordon’s was by far the most compelling, probably more so as the story of an artist’s life and struggles than for anything specifically related to Sonic Youth.  Truth be told, I’ve never owned a Sonic Youth album, and I couldn’t name single one of their songs if I tried (I may have to give up my music blogging card for that admission, but whatever), so I wasn’t particularly predisposed to feel any particular way about Girl in a Band.  The Truth of Revolution, Brother is a pretty unique project, one that I sponsored via Kickstarter.  Part of the appeal was that a couple of OG Icelandic punks were interviewed in it, specifically Einar Örn Benediktsson and Jón Gnarr.  It was an interesting take on punk philosophy, which resonated even more so after hearing Einar Örn talk for a few minutes prior to a Ghostigital show about what being a punk means to him.

 

This year Holly asked if she could contribute a few lists of her own, and it seemed like a great idea to me since her perspective is often quite different from mine.  So with minimal commentary, here are some of her top musical picks for 2015.

Top 5 New Releases in 2015 (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  Dodge and Burn – The Dead Weather
2.  FFS – FFS
3.  Born Under Saturn – Django Django
4.  Adjust to the Light – Fufanu
5.  “Inside Paul’s Boutique”

We didn’t have any albums in common in our Top 5 lists, and in fact she only had one album I’ve even written about on hers!  Number five is an outlier – it’s the roughly 12 hour incredible show that KEXP radio did in which they deconstructed all of Paul’s Boutique, literally playing in full every single song sampled by the Beastie Boys on that album, in the order they appeared on it.  It’s epic.  Don’t believe us?  Check it out for yourself HERE.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  East India Youth (UK)
2.  Islam Chipsy (Egypt)
3.  russian.girls (Iceland)
4.  Alexandra Atnif (US/Romania)
5.  Operators (US/Canada)

Again, not much overlap between the his-and-hers lists, only Alexandra Atnif.  That being said, all four of the other bands here made it to my initial list as well, they just ultimately didn’t crack my personal Top 5.

Top 5 Live Shows (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  The Kills – Roseland Theatre, Portland OR
2.  Thievery Corporation – Showbox Sodo, Seattle
3.  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City UT
4.  East India Youth – NASA, Reykjavik
5.  Bubbi & DIMMA – NASA, Reykjavik

We actually have quite a bit of overlap her, and both Thievery Corporation and East India Youth made to to my short list.  There were just so many good shows in 2015.

 

So there you have it, ladies and gents.  Another fantastic year is almost in the books, and I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for us.  And since we’ve already purchased our tickets for Iceland Airwaves 2016 and to see Devil Makes Three at Red Rocks in Colorado in May, I suspect it’s going to be pretty excellent.

Iceland Airwaves 2015 – Day 3

How did we get to Day 3 already?

We’ve been away from home for a little over a week now, and I have to say that other than missing our dog, I have not missed the day-to-day of being there one little bit.  This isn’t some boo-hoo complaint about my life – far from it.  I have a pretty outstanding life full of amazing people, and I get to do things like travel to Iceland to go to music festivals. But a week or so of not going to or thinking about work, paying bills, cleaning clogged gutters, and trying to figure out if the milk in the fridge is safe enough for one more bowl of cereal, well… travel has its benefits.

The weather has turned from mostly dry to mostly hit-and-miss, but that won’t keep us inside.  We wandered town a bit before I caught up with Life in the Vinyl Lane reader and someone I email with regularly, Arni, who was down the street at Reykjavik Record Store.  We hung out with shop owner Reynir for a bit and talked about music and records and their mutual disbelief that I still don’t own any Sigur Rós records.  It was great to finally meet him in person.

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Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

From there Norberto and I headed down to KEX Hostel to see one of my favorite all-time Icelandic bands (and frankly just bands period) Agent Fresco (above).  I reviewed their new album Destrier a few months ago and have been loving it.  We got there about 45 minutes before show time, which was good enough to secure spots in the second “row” of standing fans – which if you’ve never been to KEX means we were maybe six feet front the band.  Being close to the action is important at KEX since there is no stage and the performers are at floor level, and I wanted to make sure I could get a few pictures, so an early arrival was a must.  As expected, they killed it with their emotional, high-energy six-song set, which I’m almost certain was all drawn from the new album.  After 25 minutes they were all soaked in sweat and the crowd was hoarse from cheering.  While Holly opted not to join us (the room at KEX can get packed to the point where it’s a bit uncomfortable at times), she followed along online because Seattle’s KEXP radio station broadcast the entire thing live.  The video of the performance will likely be out in the next month or two, so keep your eyes open for it on YouTube!.

We headed back to the apartment, picked up Holly, and then it was a dash two blocks down the street to the Geysir clothing store to see another of our Icelandic favorites, Berndsen, who performed a happy, smiling set of electro-pop.  The store was already packed when we arrived, but eventually we managed to wiggle our way inside so we could get a bit closer and hear the sound better.  Most of Berndsen’s act was drawn from his most recent album Planet Earth, but he also reached back to his debut Lover in the Dark to play my favorite of his songs, “Supertime.”  And, as always, by the end he ended up shirtless and touching people’s faces in the crowd.  “It’s ten Euro to touch my body… or you can buy one of our CDs instead,” he told us at the end of the show.  Love that guy. But I think I’ll stick with the CD.  Thanks.

Our last off-venue show of the day involved a trip back to KEX to see the Japanese acid punk band Bo Ningen (I believe this is pronounced “bo-nin-yin”).  I was intrigued by the clips of their music I heard prior to the trip, and when we’d been at KEX earlier in the day our friend Jim from KEXP told us they were expecting a big turnout for the show.  And Jim was right – we were about four or five people deep in the crowd when we arrived 30 minutes before show time.

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And (un)holy hell, what a show!  This was one of those moments you live for as a music fan, when you go into a show with minimal expectations and something incredible happens.  Because Bo Ningen brings it in a way I’ve never seen anyone bring it before, and when they kicked into gear it’s like they had battery acid burning through their veins and were flailing about trying to get it out.  Taigen (above) was like a possessed cult leader on bass and vocals, summoning demonic spirits to come up to KEX and fry our minds with a sheer wall of noise.  Taigen played the bass behind the back… over the head… upside down… holding it out like a gun… and almost decapitated the camera man not once but twice, and when the guitarist started windmilling his guitar (not his arm in the act of playing it… swinging the entire guitar in circles) in that confined space I was fairly certain someone was going to end up with a concussion.  But it held together until the end, and the cheering that erupted from the crowd at the conclusion of the set was the loudest I’ve ever, ever heard at KEX.  Bo Ningen.  I’ll be buying some of your music as soon as I get home.

For the evening on-venue program we visited Harpa and caught the folk band Árstíðir, the sort of adult contemporary-ish Hjaltalín, and finally Seattle’s own Perfume Genius.  After nearly three long days of festival going we were all a bit tired, though, and the quiet music played by these three performers didn’t do much to help our flagging energy levels, so we walked up the street, got a few slices of pizza, and called it a night.

We’re past the half way point of Iceland Airwaves 2015 now, and it seems like we just got here.  With the normally sparse off-venue on Sunday, and the big blow-out already planned for Sunday night, that leaves us with just one more day to truly pick and choose.  I hope we choose wisely…