2015, a dynamically strong year in music, full of resonating sounds from decade-spanning legends and fresh talent alike. Just as we emerge into the new year, we see the rock n’ roll era shift and become forever altered.
While authoring this year-end list, it started to feel slightly foreshadowed and curated. Just as this post was about to be published, with Bowie appropriately topping the list of songs from 2015, news broke of his unfortunate passing, succumbing to an 18 month battle with cancer, which he kept under the wraps as he finished his “swan-song” album, Blackstar. This shattering news was beyond devastating, catching rock purists off guard, just as we were all attempting to process Lemmy’s death, which occurred only a week or so prior. Both David Bowie and Lemmy Kilmister were close in age, both recently celebrating their birthdays, 69 and 70 respectively. There’s many morbid coincidences, but most importantly, both artists set the archetype for blurring musical genres and becoming massively prolific in their discographies, at an exceedingly high standard. You’ve probably already read a dozen or more year-end lists on other sites, so we’re not reinventing the content-wheel here, nor attempting to write obituaries, but as The Chelsea Tribe’s inaugural post, here is a select list of memorable songs that spurred many repeated listens over the year. Also, check out our friends at Antiquiet for some of their staff picks, which share some of these same artists.
David Bowie – “Lazarus” – Blackstar
Editors note: Below is my initial blurb about “Lazarus”, before Bowie departed our blue planet.
Hearing this song on KCRW, I was immediately absorbed with the meticulous instrumentation and I almost thought it might have been a new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds track, that is until one hears the haunting synthesized brass arrangements and of course, Bowie’s incomparable voice. Blackstar is already getting heavy praise, it’s release coinciding with the new year, so it’ll be dominating many playlists into 2016. The Next Day, Bowie’s last release from 2013, felt a little too experimental, possibly due to a huge gap in Bowie’s discography, it being 10 years between Reality and The Next Day. Blackstar sounds like Bowie is re-familiarizing himself with his signature, pristine songwriting and production, with a significant measure of confidence that ripens with age, yet it also feels like closure. Martyn LeNoble, Bassist of Soulsavers / Porno For Pyros, probably described Bowie’s latest masterpiece best:
I love David Bowie’s Blackstar. But it also feels like a goodbye. I pray and hope I’m wrong. If not…it’s a beautiful way to say farewell.
— Martyn LeNoble (@martynlenoble) January 9, 2016
Editors Note: Martyn’s tweet has since been deleted. As news broke about Bowie, it was understandably a huge shock to all contemporary musicians, especially those deeply influenced by Bowie’s entire output. In a brief Twitter exchange with Martyn, regarding his insightful quote, he said, “I deleted it because I didn’t want it to be true. It sounded like a goodbye. I cried when I heard Blackstar, RIP David Bowie”. Bowie’s long time Co-Producer, Tony Visconti, has poetically confirmed that Blackstar is Bowie’s “parting gift” to the world. It’s a release that was undoubtedly acclaimed at the tail-end of 2015 and now symbolically represents Bowie envisioning death as his final masterpiece. Rest in peace, The Thin White Duke.
The Night Beats – “Power Child” – Who Sold My Generation
Seattle-trio, Night Beats, are set to have a huge year with their impending album release, Who Sold My Generation, which is co-produced by Robert Levon Been of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who also apparently plays bass on some of the tracks. The production is sounding a bit similar to B.R.M.C. The previous release, Sonic Bloom, drew a significant psychedelic crowd, with “Real Change” being a particularly stand-out track. The latest single, “Power Child”, released in the tail-end of 2015, hints at some exciting prospects, especially now that the Night Beats are signed to Heavenly Recordings. They just played The Echo here in L.A., with more dates scheduled soon.
Thee Oh Sees – “Web” – Mutilator Defeated at Last
Of all the incredible bands that played at Levitation 2015 in Austin (and there were plenty), Thee Oh Sees’ first teaser, “Web”, off their latest album, Mutilator Defeated at Last, really struck a chord in a live setting. The song is ominous, yet reverberates with raw power. The tempo change after the intro, transports you right back to their great album, Carrion Crawler / The Dream.
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Chelsea Wolfe – “Grey Days” – Abyss
After Chelsea Wolfe’s release of Pain is Beauty, it was a near certainty that the follow-up would excel beyond the dark, moody tones and aesthetic. Chelsea has accordingly received high praise on numerous top ten lists for 2015, and with tours with Queens of the Stone Age, Russian Circles, the band is cementing their body of work to be a unanimous influence amongst their contemporaries. It’s a testament to a hard working band, whose concept for Abyss, exudes delightful tones on “Grey Days”.
Disappears – “Irreal” – Irreal
Truth be told, their prior album from 2013, Era, is a more accessible introduction to the Chicago-based band, Disappears, but their entire catalog is worth checking out, dating back to Lux in 2010. Sonic Youth’s long-time drummer, Steve Shelley, played on their particularly strong album, Pre-Language, which is a great starting point for first-time listeners. The latest, Irreal, stretches way into the area of orchestrated, long-form noise, not unlike Swans and Public Image Ltd., in some respects. Irreal is not a failure by any stretch of the imagination and succeeds when you’re in the mood for a challenging listen. However, the track “Irreal”, from the album of the same name, is a pleasant highlight. Also, Disappears recently put out another full-length album this past year, in which they cover David Bowie’s Low live. With Bowie’s recent passing, the album honors the late music icon’s influence over countless generations of bands. In absence of official online audio for “Irreal”, I give you a video from Disappears Low performance:
The Cult – “Dark Energy” – Hidden City
The Cult’s track “Dark Energy”is a testament to Billy Duffy’s flair for killer guitar hooks and Ian Astbury’s classic vocals. This track is an example of the Cult doing what they simply do best. The chorus lyrics, “Every soul alive burns bright in this life / (Baby) Make them crawl to you, make them beg for you / It’ll come to life, let it come to life” is strongly soulful and ethereal. Seeing The Cult co-headline a tour with Primal Scream in 2015 was such a perfect match that it’s a dying shame that it took until this past year for it to happen, especially considering the overlapping careers of both bands.
Metz – “Acetate” – Metz II
Get a hold of either their self-titled debut, Metz, or their latest album, Metz II. They’re both equally solid, fueled by heavy riffs, and on Sub-Pop. If you’re unfamiliar with Metz, they’re a three-piece in the vain of Nirvana or The Jesus Lizard, but effortlessly seem to carry the authenticity and weight of both those influences. I could have practically picked any track off of Metz II, so I went for the first track off the album, “Acetate”.