Tiger’s Year in Music 2015

by tigermanifesto

Two trends marked 2015 for me.

  1. Listening to less music than I have in several years, especially new music.
  2. More emphasis on listening to artists and albums from decades gone by.

Availability has always been an important driver of my musical taste. When I was primarily buying my music on eMusic Canada, for example, albums were priced based on how many tracks they had regardless of the length of said tracks. This incentivized buying jazz, classical, and avant-garde albums that had few songs but still boasted an LP length. Why spend $15 per month on one album when you could get five with a little creativity?

Lately, however, my main sources of music have been streaming sources and more stringent download stores like iTunes. Trends one and two both stem largely from this shift in availability. Streaming services that interrupt your listening with ads are tolerable for listening to singles and short albums, particularly in the pop genre, but tend to ruin the experience of a jazz album for me, with classical simply being a no-go; I never want to be listening to Mahler when decontextualized ads hurt my years between symphonic movements.

A more hectic and harried lifestyle also contributed to this shift, which tended to push me towards “comfortable” music that did not demand as much attention from me. I spent far less time isolated and listening to music for its own sake than in previous years, which meant that I gravitated to more immediately flashy and striking work, ignoring, perhaps, the value of less explosive music.

Despite these two trends, however, I can still look at 2015 as a year where music had a considerable impact on my life and defined many of my key emotional moments. For this post, I’ll highlight three of the more powerful pieces I’ve had the pleasure of hearing this year below, bringing especial attention to those that I feel have been either neglected or obscured by buzzier competition. Enjoying music should never be a frazzled and consumption-driven activity, bent on following tends or keeping up with the rapidly-evolving conversation, and I hope to become a bit more disengaged from the hype machine in 2016.

Polar Bear: “The First Steps”

British band Polar Bear is new to me, but has been producing eclectic genre explorations within a loose jazz framework for many years. Same as You, the album from which this is taken, consists of six tracks that use sparseness and, occasionally, vast amounts of time (with a long average track length) to explore dub and ambient music at a relaxed pace. Grooves and simple saxophone lines coexist with drones and a bevy of percussive ticks and snaps, lending the album a great deal of coherence despite it being difficult to pin down. Pushing onto some of the same territory that post-rock bands like Chicago’s Tortoise have previously explored, the feeling on “The First Steps” is nonetheless a much warmer and more inviting one, taking the listener to strange places but with a firm and reassuring hand.

Dâm-Funk: “Just Ease Your Mind From All Negativity”

Invite the Light has the rare quality of being 90 minutes long and endlessly re-playable. Around the same time this record dropped, I dug into 1970s Stevie Wonder for the first time, and found they generated similar emotional spaces. Dâm-Funk’s productions and lyrics radiate positivity, often without much subtlety. It’s music that’s conscious of life’s difficulties but attempts to deal with them with an easygoing attitude. Encouraging a more optimistic and affirmational approach to life––certainly not my normal M.O.––this track stuck with me all year as ear candy that wasn’t just “think positive” claptrap. It’s simple and direct, relatively grounded, and impossible to stop listening to once it starts.

Kamasi Washington: “The Rhythm Changes”

For a time this year I worked a job with an excessive commute. Most of the time, I would listen to music and read on the bus to pass the time. When I checked the statistics at the end of last week, Kendrick Lamar’s “Institutionalized” was my most frequently-played track, but by far my favourite song to put on while sitting for hours on the bus or standing in the cold waiting for said bus to arrive was “The Rhythm Changes.” Every track on The Epic is full, often combining it soul-jazz revival instrumentals with rousing choral or individual singing and political speeches. Whether this year’s one jazz-pop crossover hit portends better things for jazz labels and artists in the coming year is anyone’s guess, though I have my doubts. What is sure is that Kamasi Washington will not be soon forgotten, and “The Rhythm Changes” in particular has become permanently lodged in my brain. It’s an anthem about both embracing fluidity and seizing fast to what is worthwhile in life, a message we cannot ignore here in the bleak times we inhabit.