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 2

This is the seventh consecutive Airwaves I’ve attended with Holly and our friend Norberto. Counting the first two nights of this year’s festival, that means we’ve seen 32 nights worth of official, on-venue performances – over a months worth.  And last night as we walked home, tired but fortified with late night street hot dogs, we all agreed on one simple fact:

The line-up at NASA last night (Thursday) was the the BEST full slate of bands, start-to-finish, we’ve ever seen playing together at the same location.  Ever.

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But NASA wasn’t our first stop of Day 2 of Iceland Airwaves.  Instead it was Mengi, a small space created and managed by artists used for intimate musical and other artistic performances.  It was a great little location, and on this night hosted a showcase of artists associated with one of my favorite labels, Lady Boy Records.  The first two hours were given over to a menagerie of individuals working together, moving in and out of the performance area, including Nicolas Kunysz, Sindri Geirsson, and Frímann Frímannsson (a.k.a. “Harry Knuckles“) that yielded a range of experimental electronic sounds, some beat driven and others not.  Next up was russian.girls (above), a side project by Guðlaugur Halldór Einarsson of Fufanu fame.  His set was exceptional – some heavy beats, at times moving into industrial, and also utilizing his guitar and effects pedals to contribute to the music in some very un-guitar-like ways.  Holly and I are big fans of the tape he put out with Lady Boy, and his performance last night just solidified russian.girls as a band to watch in our minds.

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Then it was off to NASA.  I wrote yesterday about our excitement that NASA is back open and part of Airwaves, and while we were certainly going to make sure to see some shows there, it was just kind of a scheduling fluke that we found ourselves posted up there for both of the first two nights.  Norberto and I really wanted to see Bubbi & DIMMA and HAM, while Holly was stoked to see Operators, so we figured we’d get there early and stake out a good location.  The fact that Börn was opening the night made it that much of an easier decision.  We’ve seen them live before and I’ve reviewed some of their music on the blog.  Börn’s style of raw punk rock has attracted some international attention, with a nice interview by Noisey and a recent month-long US tour as evidence.  They played a high-energy set that seemed to be over before it began even though it ran a good 25 or so minutes.  Next up were Icelandic post-metallers Kontinuum.  I’d heard of them before and seen them on various Airwaves schedules, but for whatever reason we’d never caught them live.  And after last night I’d like to travel back in time to some of those past Airwaves and tell myself to stop being a douche and to get out and see Kontinuum, because I dug their set.  The five-pieces includes three guitar players and they make full use of everything that offers, putting up a wall of dense and at times intricate guitar sounds.  A very pleasant surprise.

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Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

That moved us into the heart of the night’s line-up, starting with the relatively recent partnership known as Bubbi & DIMMA (above), which last night featured most of the members of Icelandic metal band DIMMA (minus lead singer Stefán Jakobsson), with the man who is one of the originators of punk rock in Iceland, Bubbi Morthens, doing vocals.  We weren’t entirely sure what to expect from this pairing, but figured with this much musical talent in one place it had to be good.  And it was outstanding.  Bubbi burst out like a caged animal, rocking a Ramones t-shirt and looking more than a little like Stone Cold Steve Austin, and he exploded all over stage throughout the set with his energy and intensity.  I believe most of the songs, if not all, were from Bubbi’s extensive catalog, and the fans, both young and the not so young, sang along throughout.  Musically I stand by my assertion that Ingo Geirdal is probably the absolute best guitarist on the planet who you’ve probably never heard of, and his shredding was all over the music, so much so that at times I found myself watching him and not the prowling Bubbi.  The three of us agreed, without any need for detailed discussion or debate, that this set was one of the five best individual musical performances we’ve ever seen at Airwaves.  Period.

That brought us to the American/Canadian group Operators who are all the rage right now, and after their set I can see why.  A little bit of the Kills, a little Bloodgroup, and a lot of great beats and synths had the crowd dancing throughout their 30+ minutes.  I will definitely be checking out more of their music when we get back home.

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Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

All of which led us to the apex of the night, the inverted pinnacle of hell that is the doom metal of HAM.  We are HAM!  We’d secured a spot up on one of the side risers just to the left of the stage, which was the perfect venue for watching the band, watching the crowd, and going deaf.  They opened with one of my favorites, “Dauð Hóra,” getting the head banging off to an aggressive start and the floor ate it up.  From there it was a ten-ton metal assault on our ears as the band tore through a briskly paced set that ran roughly 40 minutes.  The crowd seemed to wane a bit at the half way mark, and it felt like they would be running on fumes across the finish line… at least that is until HAM began their final song of the night and played the opening chords of their arguably all-time classic “Partýbær” (in English – “Party Town”), a song prominently featured in the popular Icelandic movie Sódóma Reykjavík.  A mosh pit immediately erupted on the floor in front of the stage which quickly engulfed roughly 30 or so active participants as well as a number who were in-and-out at various times.  It got somewhat intense, but showing all the characteristics of a classy pit when two people hit the floor late in the song a space immediately opened up and others reached down to pull them onto their feet.  We are HAM.  You are HAM.

We left NASA spent by happy, and partially deaf in our left ears.  Day 2 of Iceland Airwave is in the books, and it was a doozy.  I can’t wait to see what Day 3 brings.