MAGNET’s #19 Album Of 2015: Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress”

Godspeed

The reason Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress is one of the best albums of 2015 begins three minutes and 15 seconds or so into “Peasantry Or ‘Light! Inside Of Light!’” (the first of the record’s four tracks). After a few passes at the song’s thunderous chord progression, the band lowers the noise for the first of what will be several feedback-and-fuzzladen—but deliberately melodic—guitar lines. When that solo breaks through, the sensation is like a hot wire passing through the palm of the hand: arresting, jolting and jarringly intimate. When Sophie Trudeau’s violin begins to intertwine with that solo, the layers build again, like a tideswell, through the song’s slow fading conclusion. The rest of the album unrolls just this way—in slow, controlled surges and recessions. Godspeed You! Black Emperor has been recording stately, ambient post-rock since 1997, but Asunder, its fifth album, takes a turn toward compositional complexity that’s both surprisingly melodic and surprisingly mature, as if the birdsong at the heart of the noise had been there all along, and we’d only now begun to hear it. It’s sweeping, gorgeous stuff, like a film score for a half-remembered dream, or a static-filled radio transmission from the bottom of the ocean. —Eric Waggoner

MAGNET’s #20 Album Of 2015: Meg Baird’s “Don’t Weigh Down The Light”

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I’d like to tell you how good the words are on Don’t Weigh Down The Light. After all, both on her own and through her associations with Espers and the Baird Sisters, Meg Baird has already proved herself to be strong writer and an astute selector and interpreter of other people’s songs. But every time I try to catch a few more lines, some aspect of the music distracts me. It could be her voice, which is often multi-tracked into harmonies that swerve and swoop like a flock of swallows. It might be the melodies, which unfold with an implacable patience that keeps you hanging on the next note. Maybe it’s the immaculate perfection of her sparse, but perfectly balanced arrangements, or the rich guitar tones. Put them all together and you have music so persuasive that surrender is inevitable. But, of course, the more you spin the more you hear, and behind the sensual pleasures of Baird’s elemental folk tunes are elegantly framed reflections upon the pain of parting and the joys of finding out what comes next. —Bill Meyer

MAGNET’s #21 Album Of 2015: Kurt Vile’s “b’lieve i’m goin down…”

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No one calls Steve Miller the space cowboy, but they might say it about Kurt Vile. His midnight rambles on this ho-humming tome of lowercase sapience could just as easily inspire a cult as lullaby a crib: One minute he’s hang-gliding into the valley of ashes, a certified badass pillboxer out for a night on the town; the next he’s rolling around on a furry carpet or turning on the couch, moving in on his cutie for a kiss on the mouth. Vile’s a fleeting thinker with a wild imagination, and he loses his head on the regular; a seasoned veteran of the War On Drugs, he occasionally finds himself in a “medication situation.” Don’t b’lieve it all—he’d also have you think he falls on his instruments and a dozen ear-burrowing songs walk out. (Seriously, “Pretty Pimpin”?) Halfway through one called “Kidding Around,” he interrupts some bullshit mysticism to question his own motives, and every music critic ever blushes: “What’s the meaning of this song? … I don’t care, it sounds so pretty/Its change is so sublime/What was the meaning of that last line?” Recently at the Fillmore, a crowd tried clapping along with his band the Violators; Vile ended that nonsense by shaking his head and saying, softly, “No.” Drugger, dreamer, drunkard, schemer; joker, smoker, midnight toker. All in a daze work. —Noah Bonaparte Pais

MAGNET’s #22 Album Of 2015: Björk’s “Vulnicura”

Bjork

Divorce albums are not rare. Dylan, Springsteen, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, George Jones and Tammy Wynette (separately), and Richard and Linda Thompson (together!) compacted the torment and tussle of committed love’s finality into neatly arranged, psychically discordant packages. Nothing, though, was ever neat about Björk. Why should her divorce be so? Veering from radiantly subtle to wrenchingly ham-fisted (sometimes within seconds of the other), the Icelandic chanteuse and electronic orchestrator turns a black light on the disintegration of her marriage to artist Matthew Barney with Vulnicura in the same way that Vespertine heralded that union of similarly disposed souls with neon brights. Bleak and cold, spacious and smothering, Vulnicura has a tactile shroud that you can almost touch, as Björk unites emotional unrest and physical distress in a manner that once made albums such as 1995’s Post blissfully sexual-sensual. A small team of vocalists and producers (Antony, Arca, Haxan Cloak, etc.) fill in dots on the testy treatises of “Stonemilker,” “History Of Touches,” “Lionsong” and the like. Yet, the gut-shot disgust of a marriage on its short heels is all Björk, alone at the end. Isn’t that what the closure of divorce truly tastes like anyway? —A.D. Amorosi

MAGNET’s #23 Album Of 2015: Belle And Sebastian’s “Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance”

BelleAndSebastian

There’s a devout sect of Belle And Sebastian devotees who still feel betrayed by the departure of founding members Stuart David and Isobel Campbell, who pine for the willful amateurism of, say, The Boy With The Arab Strap (coincidentally one of their weakest albums), and who were positively mortified by the relative professionalism of Dear Catastrophe Waitress (which was 12 fucking years ago). God only knows how they dealt with this then, B&S’ most unashamedly big, bold and brassy pop album yet. One can only imagine entire hordes of winsome bedsit romantics reduced to tears of apoplexy. And frankly, that’s their loss, as Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance is the band’s most consistent album in almost a decade. It’s the sound of a group rejuvenated, as intimate and heartfelt as ever, with all the old reference points intact (Velvets, Love, Nick Drake), but giddily embracing a kind of bastardized Euro-disco more often practiced by the likes of Saint Etienne and the Pet Shop Boys. And this, it should be pointed out, is a good thing. Vibrant and triumphant throughout, it’s a collective testament to frontman Stuart Murdoch’s unwavering faith in the redemptive powers of cheap pop music. —Neil Ferguson

MAGNET’s #24 Album Of 2015: Jason Isbell’s “Something More Than Free”

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Jason Isbell’s fifth solo album—and his second since kicking booze—has the bones of a fairly conventional singer/ songwriter outing. It’s nuanced, more prone to the soft than the loud dynamic, and decidedly more subtle and measured than 2013’s Southeastern. But it’s just that rocksolid, sober grounding that gives Something More Than Free its extraordinary heart and intestinal fortitude. It’s the not-always-pleasant sound of a lucid, intelligent, (daresay) God-fearing dude taking stock of the destruction his addiction has wrought, trying to make amends with those he hurt, and appreciate the here and now, all while acknowledging that he’s far from perfect and may yet stumble off the straight-and-narrow. Something rarely rocks out—the only obvious single is the mid-tempo “24 Frames,” in part about the perils of his former life, drink in hand (“When everything you built for show goes up in flames, in 24 frames”). That Isbell is mature beyond his years still holds true 15 years after he first hit the road with Drive-By Truckers. Now, at 36, he’s found an honest, hardearned groove that should carry him through to that inevitable midlife crisis. —Hobart Rowland

MAGNET’s #25 Album Of 2015: Chastity Belt’s “Time To Go Home”

ChastityBelt

Did you ever have That Hilarious Friend (you know the one—off color jokes at inappropriate moments, lampshade-on-head drunk antics, their life equals a four alarm Technicolor dumpster fire, etc.), only to find that one day they were all growed up, fully formed, with actual Things To Say? Chastity Belt, the Seattle all-girl quartet whose previous work was marked by songs about sex and partying (“Pussy Weed Beer”) when it wasn’t attempting an obnoxious inside caper of epic proportions (“Giant Vagina”), followed up on the punk-lite promise of its debut with a sophomore release that immediately vaulted the band into Voices Worth Hearing territory. Sophisticated and sultry (the title track, “Joke”), in possession of a fierce brand of interpersonal politics that mostly went missing on the debut (the sex-positive “Cool Slut,” the majestic “Drone,” which offhandedly skewers mansplainers everywhere: “He was just another man tryin’ to teach me something”), and featuring the kind of non-flash—but melodically brilliant and sonically stripped-down—guitar playing that grabs me every time, Time To Go Home shows a band in full command of its powers. This time around, they mean it, man. —Corey duBrowa