Fishmans – Uchu Nippon Setagaya

Have you ever heard of Fishmans? If not, that’s okay, because you’re here. I’m sharing their most incredible album. Uchu Nippon Setagaya is pure dub nirvana from Japan.

As a true believer in dub in all its permutations, I wholeheartedly consider this one of the best examples of the genre. Fishmans lit a constellation spanning the night sky from Kingston and Tokyo, mixing lush electronics, deep, wobbly bass lines, and the utterly distinct, androgynous vocals of lead singer Shinji Sato. Their final album may be the purest expression of this unmistakable sound.

Witness the coalescence of their finest single, Weather Report, named after one of the greatest jazz fusion bands of all time:

Incredible, right?

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Gabriel Saloman – Movement Building Vol. 2

Here’s an album that received so little mention upon its release, I’m surprised to learn that anyone else got to hear it. Gabriel Saloman’s Movement Building Vol. 2 is a self-contained explosion. It made my best of 2015 list, but I didn’t see it on literally any other. Here’s my bid for wider recognition.

This is the full album:

This is experimental chamber music for walking the streets of dystopian megacities. The music feels borne from some fantasy ideal of jazz, conjured by traditional Japanese instrumentation, blasted through an industrial framework.

Coming from one half of the late, great noise titans Yellow Swans, you might be expecting extreme cacophony, howling drone tunnels, or feedback for days. Instead, there’s a spare delicacy at play, with each instrument living and breathing in its own space, slowly converging on a distant supernova. While the music eventually gets to that heavy moment, the chaos is contained, laser focused. All sounds are pressed into a flat circle as the album crescendos. And then he ends with a crumbling yet elegant cover of My Funny Valentine.

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Although I think nearly anyone with interest in jazz, drone, or experimental music of any sort will appreciate the album, it comes highly recommended for fans of Bee Mask, Morton Feldman, and John Coltrane. I can feel elements of all three of these disparate composers in the shuffling landscapes planted across a slim 31 minutes.

Released by Shelter Press, you can purchase the album digitally or on vinyl right on the label’s Bandcamp page.

Best of 2015: 25 More Great Albums

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I hear a lot of great music almost every day, and it really adds up. I might not be rich or famous, but my life is wealthy with incredible music. I want to make everyone else as wealthy, too. Every single year, there are so many great albums that I’d recommend anyone, far more than I’d feel comfortable putting on a top ten list.

So here we are, my “honorable mention” list of 2015 albums. Every one of these albums are worth your time. Unlike my top list, they appear in the order that I heard them.

After you’ve checked this out, make sure to see the 17 Best Albums of 2015 here.

Read on to hear the best of the rest of 2015:

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17 Best Albums Of 2015

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2015  was an incredible year for music, full of surprises and second comings, weird new genres and unbelievable evolutions of existing sounds. Of course, every year is great for music as long as you’re open to new sounds. That’s how this whole thing works.

Every year, I enjoy writing down my favorites as I go along, adding them to a simple text file on my laptop. Sometimes I add stars to the albums when I realize I’m completely mad for them. For some albums, this means I find myself listening day after day, racking up dozens of plays. For others, this means that I’m struck so deeply on an emotional, intellectual, or even physical level that I can’t bring myself to listen again for a few days. Both experiences bring lasting rewards, especially when considered in the long view. This is why I love looking back and appreciating the permanent impact from these powerful pieces of music.

As it turned out, this year’s list included over twenty starred albums. I left a handful for my Best of 2015 Honorable Mention list, but the rest were simply indispensable. My list would not be complete without all of these albums.

So please, read on and enjoy. These are the 17 best albums of 2015.

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DJ Paypal – Sold Out

I haven’t listened to footwork this bracing since the first time I heard DJ Rashad.

That thought ran through my head mere minutes into this incredible set by DJ Paypal, the brief but incredibly energetic Sold Out. If you’re familiar with the Rashad and the wider genre at all, you’ll know how bold of a statement this is. The guy was the first genre superstar, and a true auteur. His sudden death in 2014 cast a pall over the relatively tight-knit community. Surprisingly, the first artist to step out of his shadow is not from Chicago but Berlin, Germany. Lacking a geographic one, Paypal still has a direction connection to the more well known artists: he met the rest of the famed Teklife crew, including DJ Spinn and Rashad, through a footwork Facebook group.

Here’s his debut album, Sold Out. It’s 37 minutes of light speed bliss that will have you hyperventilating.

I’m caught up, soaring over shattered landscapes on fast-foward, somewhere in the middle of second track Ahhhhhhh, when it hits me. I’m riding a crest of vertical samples, sharp points of horns and vocals, strung together with a piano solo, out of control and on my back. Hysterical. It’s the same inexorable rush that hits when you realize you’ve truly gotten carried away in the torrent of a great wild jazz tune. It’s that rare experience: behold! a gang of vital, angry, and independent pieces slam together in unthinkable clockwork precision.  This sort of rollercoaster used to be conjured by the likes of Pharoah Sanders’ The Creator Has A Master Plan.

This album is another brick in the fortress of evidence that jazz never died; its simply outgrew its constrictive, recognizable forms. While it’s true that the fun stuff has seen a revival, thanks in no small part to artists like Kamasi Washington, reincarnating the structures of free jazz at its commercial peak, the real innovation is happening in unexpected ways. When DJ Rashad broke through half a decade ago, it wasn’t because he was the best, most skilled footwork artist. He brought visibility to the genre because he evolved it in unexpected ways, adding melodic hooks while setting the often rigidly hyperspeed template on its ear. He bent the known playbook. He played with our perception of time.

This is the exploratory heart of what makes the best free jazz so revelatory. It’s also what I’m hearing in a new album for the first time since Rashad died. Sold Out does more than stand on the shoulders of a great artist. The album earns my ecstatic response by leaping beyond, exploring past the horizons we’ve heard from Chicago so far.

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If you google DJ Paypal, you might notice that he seems like a very private person, to put it lightly. “I just don’t want pictures of my face posted everywhere, I’m opting out,” he told Meaghan Garvey in an interview for Pitchfork. He hasn’t given out his real name and currently enjoys an anonymity previously only known by Burial. I admire his humility, and his deference to the original Chicago footwork community, but he’s got to know, deep down, how special his work is. Continuing in the same interview about Rashad, after describing the day he died, Paypal says, “his role is not going to be filled by anybody else. It can’t be. So we’re gonna work harder, because it’s not going to be easy.”

The album just dropped on November 13th, so I’m a little late but hopefully not before everyone’s made their best of the year lists. I’ve got a feeling this might make an appearance on mine. You can pick up the vinyl or digital version from the Bandcamp page.

Don Cherry’s Spiritual Jazz Masterpiece: Brown Rice

Today is Don Cherry‘s birthday. He would have been 79 years old. To celebrate the inimitable jazz explorer’s life, I’m sharing my favorite album of his.

Here’s Brown Rice streaming in full. It’s one of the most warmly engaging releases of the entire free jazz universe and, as such, is a great entry point for those who have yet to experience the furthest reaches of the genre.

While many people not-incorrectly associate free jazz with confrontational, abrasive music, the notion only reveals a sliver of the big picture. It’s an umbrella term that eventually encompassed everything from John Coltrane’s latter experiments in dissonance and noise to the devotional new age purr of his widow, Alice Coltrane, in the late 70s and early 80s. Cherry’s work, at various times, covers the entire spectrum. His Eternal Rhythm was a fiery gauntlet thrown down in the wake of Coltrane’s passing, carving raucous jams into thought sculptures that are still picked apart today. This album, however, floats somewhere in the interstellar in-between.

Right from the opening notes of that space age electric piano, the album goes out of its way to pull the listener into its world. Even when floating off the surface, exploring its own textures in a meandering, introspective passage at the heart of the album, the sound is compulsively engaging.

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There’s a definite Eastern tinge to the whole affair, a nod toward the alien-to-American tones that were infiltrating many forward looking jazz releases of the day. It’s used more as texture than anything, lending an otherness to the lightly funky album. Cherry’s pocket trumpet is the star, of course, erupting in crystalline crescendos against both the tightly coiled opening and closing tracks, and the atmospheric soundscapes filling out the middle of the set. The similarity of his tone to peak-era Miles Davis was what initially attracted me to the artist, but here he makes the spacey vanguard all his own. Once you’ve heard this album, you’ll never associate the sound with anyone else.

The album has unfortunately never been properly reissued or remastered for vinyl, but you can pick up the “jazz heritage” CD edition from 1989 for very cheap, like I did. It’s a perfectly adequate mastering and the only way to properly enjoy the album at the moment. I’ve got my eyes to the horizon, though, vigilant for a nice vinyl edition. With a smattering of his work being reissued in the past couple years, it’s a definite possibility.

The Best Music From Fallout

We’re in the final stretch, guys. Fallout 4 will arrive in just three days. The hype train is barreling full steam ahead, and I don’t mind feeling caught up. The last two games in the series are easily the most played in my adult life. Also, have you seen that launch trailer?

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The above screenshot is from my last play through of Fallout: New Vegas. My character is a hard-nosed woman named Scotch, who often travels with a flying eyebot and a cowgirl who chugs whiskey. I’ve got 234 hours logged, according to Steam, and I’d be happy to double that if there weren’t so many other great games to play.

I’m avoiding replaying the old games in this final stretch, but not in an effort to cultivate a fresher experience. Instead, I’m trying to finish Witcher 3 in a last-ditch weekend effort. This game is easily the best open world I’ve experienced since the last Fallout game, a universe more rich with storytelling than any game before it. Sure, the world is massive and full of things to do, but it’s the sharp writing and rich sense of narrative that makes this game special. If you’re a literary type who enjoys games, often lamenting their shortcomings in this area, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I mention this game only to show how high the stakes are. Bethesda could release the same old game in a new setting and it would be fun, but 8 years since their last developed Fallout game, the world has changed. A handful of games have shown that even chaotic, open ended structures can yield moments of beauty, insight, and wonder. I remember how wrapped up I got with Fallout 3 and New Vegas and think, they’re going to nail this. I have high hopes that the sequel to the only other open world I’ve been totally drawn into will deliver on the storytelling front.

Because I was ridiculous and ordered that Pip-Boy edition, I’m even looking forward to wearing an actual, no-shit Pip-Boy on my wrist one single time before probably putting it on display at the office. If any coworkers are reading this, consider it fair warning for your inevitable eye rolling.

I felt like indulging in a bit of nostalgia today, listening to some of my favorite songs from the last two games. I’ve got to seriously credit the former for getting me into Billie Holiday, now one of my favorite vocalists of all time. I always enjoyed hearing her, to be sure, but I never understood the stark beauty of her music until hearing it in that game. Billie’s heartbreaking laments soundtracked my often aimless wandering through a desolate, bombed out wasteland, the most striking juxtaposition of music and visuals I’d ever known in a video game.

The seven following songs are my very favorites from Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas:

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