Five Debut Albums You Missed in 2015

by Finn Dickinson

2015 has been a great year for music. It’s seen some splendid releases by familiar names such as Kendrick Lamar, Adele, Blur, Dr. Dre and Bob Dylan. Yet, unsurprisingly, there have been plenty of brilliant releases which haven’t enjoyed the commercial or critical attention they deserve. In this list I’ll be running through five of the best obscure debut albums released this year, in an attempt to bring them a little more exposure.

Gavin Harrison – Cheating the Polygraph

If you’re familiar with Steven Wilson – whose 2015 masterwork unfortunately doesn’t meet the criteria for this list – you may know Harrison as the drummer of Wilson’s old band, Porcupine Tree. For many years he provided the group with complex and jazz-inflected drumming, and he has also been one of the drummers for prog-rock royalty King Crimson for some time now. Given this is his musical tenure, it is unsurprising that his debut album, Cheating The Polygraph, is a collection of rhythmically boggling big-band jazz pieces. Despite each track being a reworking of a different Porcupine Tree song, Harrison’s clever arrangements keep each piece feeling totally original, and oftentimes as good as or better than the original tracks. From the vibrant, bright flow of Sound Of Muzak/So Called Friend to the intricate windings of The Pills I’m Taking, the backing band swings effortlessly into action, providing a wondrous backdrop to the focal point of Harrison’s drumming. The album’s contemporary structural approach combined with classic big-band instrumentation makes it an enthralling listen, and of all the jazz records released this year, this is one of the most unique and alluring.

Album highlight: Hatesong/Halo Where you can get it: iTunes

VOLA – Inmazes

VOLA have been causing quite a stir in the progressive music scene this year. Unfortunately, anyone who knows progressive rock will know that even the most successful bands in the genre can struggle to make a living nowadays. VOLA are the quintessentially plucky modern prog band. Starting from essentially nothing, they’ve released their debut for free online, and (with the exception of Euroblast festival) haven’t followed it up with a great deal of touring. This lack of concern for financial support is either very healthy or quite worrying – I’m not sure which. Their debut Inmazes is a refreshing take on modern rock and metal music, combining polyrhythmic Meshuggah-like guitar riffs with smooth, clean-cut Deftones-like vocals. The album combines the complex, non-linear approach of progressive rock with left-field experimentation and a great deal of melody. The gentle ambience which permeates tracks like Starburn and Emily is brilliantly complementary of the harsher riffs and anthemic refrains of the LP, whilst contemporary electronic flourishes provide some interesting twists and turns. If this is where modern progressive rock is headed, there could be a lot to look forward to in the coming years.

Album highlight: Owls

Where you can get it: Available as a pay-what-you-can download from the group’s Bandcamp

Injury Reserve – Live From The Dentist Office

The most obscure album on this list might just be my favourite. Arizona based three-piece Injury Reserve have come out of nowhere onto the experimental hip-hop scene and put out one of the best – if not the best – underground rap debuts of the year. One of the greatest triumphs of this record is that, unlike many releases from peers in the experimental hip-hop field, it doesn’t reveal a great deal of its nature straight away. With a group like Young Fathers or Death Grips, you know what you’re getting from the first track: off-kilter melodies, abrasive rhythms and general sonic oddities. However, Live From The Dentist Office starts off sounding like a straight up hip-hop record. The feel good bounce of Yo and laid-back delivery of Whatever Dude might even leave the listener thinking they’re in for a simple listen. Yet, by the time Friday comes around, its sudden metamorphosis, jittery piano and strange sound effects give the impression that there’s much more at play here. The album’s lyrics are brilliant, striking a perfect mix between being tongue-in-cheek, insightful and foreboding. For me, this record has one of the best lyrics of any album released this year.

“Shit, I know I’m everything you want and more I’m the type of dude that’ll open up the car door Momma raised a gentleman, yeah that’s for certain I’m lying, I do it ‘cause my driver’s side ain’t working”

The end of the LP will leave listeners wondering how they ended up from the jovial atmosphere of Yo to the dark, edgy mist of Falling, possibly without even noticing. If the album wasn’t so damn good from start to finish, I’d almost say it was this year’s biggest musical bait-and-switch.

Album highlight: Ttktv

Where you can get it: Available as a free Mediafire download via the trio’s website.

Misþyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu 

Ah, Iceland. I can’t bring to mind a country that has such a large concentration of incredible and diverse musical acts. This year alone has seen impressive releases from melodic folk songstress Sóley, minimalist techno duo Kiasmos and art-rock musicians Agent Fresco. Not to mention the band leading the way in Iceland’s black metal scene – Misþyrming. Despite having a thoroughly unpronounceable name, this band have released one of the most impressive black metal albums I have heard in a long time. I feel I should add a disclaimer here: if you listen to music mainly for the lyrics, you may want to give this one a miss. I’d be impressed if anyone could discern meaning from the tortured screams of most black metal bands, and it doesn’t help that these guys are screaming in their native tongue.

That being said, the music of Söngvar elds og óreiðu is first-class. Foresaking the traditional, lo-fi style of recording common in black metal, the band have managed to embellish these tracks with excellent production. The band mix things up even further by their common implementation of twists, turns and surprises. The familiar ferocity of black metal is interspersed with ethereal, Halloween-esque, winding guitar interludes on Söngur heiftar, whilst Endalokasálmar benefits from an out of tune and genuinely creepy piano outro. Not to mention the wonderfully paranoid and harrowing atmospheric pieces of Frostauðn and Stjörnuþoka – the latter of which I feel would be not at all out of place in a soundtrack to a Stanley Kubrick film. Non-traditional elements aside, the black metal aesthetic of the LP remains, and it is very intense indeed. If the abstract concepts of pain and evil were to physically manifest, grow mouths, and learn to talk, this album is what their screams would sound like.

Album highlight: Ég byggði dyr í eyðimörkinni

Where you can get it: Available as a pay-what-you-can download from the group’s Bandcamp

ANAMAI – Sallows

Despite being the only act mentioned here to have actually garnered enough critical attention to have a metascore to their name (and a considerable one at that), ANAMAI has essentially enjoyed no commercial success whatsoever. This is a real shame, but an understandable one. Folk is a niche enough genre as it is nowadays, without adding the prefix ‘neo’ and having some industrial influences thrown in. Commercial appeal aside, there are very few artists who have a sound I would genuinely describe as otherworldly. Not in the sense that their music is ‘out of this world’ in quality - simply in the sound of the music and the feelings it evokes. Boards of Canada, Alcest and Nils Frahm come to mind. After hearing Sallows, ANAMAI are one of these acts. From the cold yet dulcet tones of the first few seconds of opening track Lucia, an atmosphere of desolation and calm is established. These two descriptors are the main ones for the entire album, and endure throughout, despite the changing timbres of individual songs. From the hazy and dreamlike tones of Altar Coals to the crushing darkness of Black Crow and Dirt, the album always feels somehow post-apocalyptic and tranquil simultaneously. One of the most memorable lines of the LP comes from opening track Lucia – “Oh, you let me down sometimes”. But this album certainly doesn’t.

Album highlight: Altar Coals

Where you can get it: iTunes