2015 was rife with fruitful creative intersections. In hip-hop, a genre already somewhat predicated on collaboration, album-length pairings yielded deeply considered conceptual explorations (L’Orange, in particular, enjoyed a banner year), and several compilations pointed to footwork’s ever-evolving inclinations. In punk and hardcore, savvy label operators corralled regional missives into rewarding documents of the genre zeitgeist almost as soon as it’s defined on discrete, limited tape releases. Further, benefit compilations reigned across genres, suggesting an emphasis on self-care and community nurturing that defies boomer cynicism about supposedly millennial narcissism.
Here are the best splits, compilations, and collaborations of 2015 in no particular order:
Cavanaugh, Time & Materials
Cavanaugh is composed of Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti, or David Cohn. Paired on Time & Materials, there’s a heavy conceptual conceit: Mike and Dave are handymen at Cavanaugh, a mixed-income housing development; these raps implicitly relay their observations and experiences of class dynamics, with each emcee cleverly inhabiting the crushing mundanity and considerable stress of a highly stratified society. This idea could go terribly awry—towards didacticism or unchecked assumptions or both—but it doesn’t; an inventive and sensitive understanding of fiction as a vehicle to at once engage and provoke wins out.
Lumpy & the Dumpers/Ausmuteants split flexi
A flimsy, green disc featuring Lumpy & the Dumpers, foremost stylists of filth; and Ausmuteants, Australia’s answer to Devo’s idea of Hardcore, this split flexi release accompanied the first issue of No Friends, a Chicago fanzine founded by onetime Maximum Rocknroll coordinator Ray Martinez. Flexi-discs—making something of a comeback in the punk scene of late—have historically accompanied magazines as semi-disposable promotional fodder. In that light, they’re nicely suited for artists who vocally relish trash.
Radiator Hospital & Martha split 7-inch
Released conveniently in time for a joint EU tour, Sam Cook-Parrott’s Radiator Hospital teamed up with Martha for this cross-continental split. Recorded with Hookworms‘ MJ at Suburban Home Studio in Leeds, England, the vinyl contains three songs from the former and two from the later, including “Chekhov’s Hangnail”, which features backing vocals from Trust Fund‘s Ellis Jones.
The Body & Thou, You, Whom I Have Always Hated
Perhaps the most rewarding serial collaborators in metal, The Body teamed with English producer The Haxan Cloak for I Shall Die Here—an eviscerated electronic deconstruction of the Portland duo’s particular doom—and then issued titles in collaboration with Krieg and Sandworm. Earlier this year, they paired with Southern metal act Thou for You, Whom I Have Always Hated. A mighty record, The Body’s sense for lacerating vocals and tectonic riffs augment Thou’s studied sludge in a not altogether congruous way; the collision, however, yields weird gems and plentiful rubble.
Madlib & Hemlock Ernst, Trouble Knows Me
Sam Herring, best-known for his membership in Future Islands, also raps as Hemlock Ernst. And 2015 involved major coup for the latter persona: Trouble Knows Me, a 12-inch collaboration with the estimable Madlib. The title-track features rich low-end and brass punctuation while Ernst’s swift but clearly-articulated flow details interpersonal politicking after last-call. The EP, which features three vocal tracks alongside beats and instrumentals, appeared via Madlib Invazion.
V/A, Bughouse 1
A public service from Not Normal Tapes—one of the finest labels in underground punk and hardcore—Bughouse 1 compiles a dizzying thirty-eight tracks by artists such as The Bug, Negative Scanner, American Hate, The Coltranes, Mystic Inane, Orden Mundial, and Tenement. Featuring all previously unreleased, scarce, or alternate takes, there’s no better document of contemporary punk’s tendency towards collapse and aestheticized sickliness.
Meredith Graves & Kevin Devine, Devinyl Splits No. 2
Meredith Graves had a very productive 2015, and one of the few people who might be able to boast just as a prolific year is Kevin Devine. Which is why the pairing was almost as inevitable as it is pleasing to the ear. The second in Devine’s six-part 7-inch series on Bad Timing Records (coyly named Devinyl Splits), showcases the Perfect Pussy frontwoman’s less aggressive side, wrapping her always insightful words in a shoegaze bubble wrap. While the B-side features Devine’s first new original track since the double release of Bubblegum and Bulldozer.
Nickelus F & Shawn Kemp, Trick Dice
Shawn Kemp is the production moniker of Lyle Ugleman, who raps as Lil Ugly Mane. On Trick Dice, his sense for murky, humorless atmosphere cut by needling, dour beats proves perfectly suited to Richmond rapper Nickelus, whose trenchant flow twists into even more imposing shapes than usual. Lil Ugly Mane’s high-profile cosigns be damned, Trick Dice sounds like the limited cassette release it is—forbidding and almost prohibitively dark.
La Luz & Scully, LAMC #16
The running Famous Class Records‘ LAMC 7-inch series always pairs great bands for a great cause, but the La Luz and Scully combo was of particular excellence. The split’s songs play contradictory to each other as La Luz’s “Believe My Eyes” offers an airy alternative for the Seattle garage rockers, while Scully’s B-side, “Don’t Want That”, shreds with BBQ ambitions. Earlier this year Scully told us, “the whole idea behind collaboration is really integral to the way we aim to function as a band.” And as always, 100% of the digital proceeds do to the memorial fund for late Less Artists More Condos founder Ariel Panero at VH1 Save the Music.
V/A, Next Life
The late DJ Rashad is a deservedly hallowed name. And some of the best footwork releases have appeared in his honor. Next Life, a compilation co-released by Teklife and Hyperdub for the benefit of Rashad, is no exception. The release, which appeared on vinyl in 2015, features celebrated figures such as Traxman, DJ Spinn, and RP Boo alongside relative newcomers DJs Earl, Taye, and Paypal. Though footwork is global and withstanding plenty of stylistic exchange, Next Life affirms its core Chicago constituents and artists in the orbit of Teklife as among its chief practitioners.
Bill Orcutt & Jacob Felix Heule, Colonial Donuts
Colonial Donuts pairs a couple of singular instrumentalists to dazzling effect. Bill Orcutt, once the driving force of Harry Pussy, wields the guitar with little regard for convention, conjuring metallic timbres with an inimitable picking style; and fellow Bay Area player Jacob Felix Heule, familiar to the improvised music community, proves similarly expressive on the drum kit, which sounds locomotive or else wild and clamorous. Together on Colonial Donuts, they articulate a new vernacular altogether.
Kool Keith & L’Orange, Time? Astonishing!
On Time? Astonishing!, the chameleonic Kool Keith pairs with North Carolina producer L’Orange, whose cobbled samples suit the elder emcee’s serpentine logic and halting flow quite well. On “The Wanderer”, Keith’s chorus is a mere murmur, a subtle shoulder-roll to L’Orange’s skittish piano sample, while his evocative verses coolly probe the fringes of coherence. It’s garnered comparisons to Keith’s early proclivities as Dr. Octagon—high praise, to be sure—though the horror here is of a more insidious sort, working slowly so as to be most potent when it’s fully revealed.
Parquet Courts & Joey Pizza Slice split 7-inch
Another band shacking up with a scheduled array of partners in 2015 was Parquet Courts, who released two split 7-inches this year. One a live recording in Brooklyn alongside Big Ups, and the other a cover-swap with conceptual art-popist Joey Pizza Slice. For their part, Parquet Courts covered the Son of Salami’s “Pretty Girls is a Motherfucker”, while Joey covered the Courts’ “Picture of Health.” The later, released as a limited edition 7-inch of 500 units by Wharf Cat, sold out quickly. Luckily it still exists in the digisphere.
V/A, Crack III
Based in the outlying East Bay city of Vallejo, Sela is a beatmaker and producer responsible for a voluble stream of ambient excursions and sample-based assemblages. He’s also the operator behind Crack, a free compilation series featuring early footwork tracks combed from derelict Myspace and Imeem pages. The third and final installment technically appeared in December 2014, but it’s an illuminating look at the homespun style in its earlier, raw, and least inhibited incarnation. (Sela never profited directly from the unofficial compilations; however, a note on his Bandcamp indicates that he removed the stream “out of respect for Rashad’s legacy.”)
Jeremiah Jae & L’Orange, The Night Took Us In Like Family
On this project, Jeremiah Jae cedes production duties to L’Orange, who opts for noir-inspired, smoky atmosphere evocative of lounges lit so poorly that the stains don’t show. And Jeremiah Jae luxuriates in the setting, his lugubrious rapping unfurling downcast imagery while horns and piano faintly flicker, like lighthouses beckoning lost ships on the inky sea. L’Orange also issued an album-length collaboration with Kool Keith in 2015, making it something of a banner year for the artist.
Sylvan Esso & Flock of Dimes, AV Club Undercover split 7-inch
Sylvan Esso and Flock of Dimes may be two of the most underrated songwriting teams on the east coast. Underrated is a poor way of saying they deserve more attention, and someone at AV Club was certainly paying attention when they paired up the Durham duo with Jenn Wasner‘s (Wye Oak) Flock for their Undercover live series. Together they covered Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free” and Crowded House’s 1986 hit “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. The results were so good, Partisan Records decided to release the recordings on limited edition wax.
V/A, Catcher of the Fade
The roster here is staggering: Milo, Open Mike Eagle, Nick Diamonds, Busdriver, Kenny Segal, Nalepa. A gesture of regional solidarity from the mostly Angeleno figures, Catcher of the Fade assembles seemingly most of the indie-rappers worth watching closely in 2015. The four-track EP appeared over summer and endures as one of the year’s most rewarding freebies. As Blake Gillespie wrote back in August, “The Team Supreme production from Penthouse Penthouse, Promnite, Nalepa, and Great Dane uproots the historical context for an animated modern magnificence of warped, Alpha-Pup endorsed Low End Theorist progressions and codeine-dose r&b inflections.”
V/A, Community Records Compilation Vol. 5
New Orleans label Community Records emphasizes pop falling into shambles and punk glistening in hooks. Community Records Compilation Vol. 5 features twenty-four tracks along these lines. It begins with Woozy’s rousingly dynamic “Venom”, highlights the heaving riffs of favorites such as Ovlov, and celebrates students of indie such as Donavon Wolfington. Like the label’s catalog at large, the compilation is an appendix to the encyclopedia entry about history’s homespun pop groups whose songs defy the sum of their parts.