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NPR Arts & Life

2015 All Songs Considered Holiday Extravaganza

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And let's get onto a, maybe you could say, a higher note. Before we say goodbye to 2015, let's remember some of the year's best music. Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton from NPR Music, take it away.

ROBIN HILTON, BYLINE: Bob Boilen, there is more great music in 2015 than we could ever get to hear, but let's start with a couple of the albums that we agree on without a doubt.

BOB BOILEN, BYLINE: Absolutely. The one from very early on was Courtney Barnett, "Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit." This is the Australian's debut album, and it's just blistering, and the lyrics are brilliant. Let's just play a little bit of a song called "Pedestrian At Best."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PEDESTRIAN AT BEST")

COURTNEY BARNETT: (Singing) I must confess I've made a mess of what should be a small success, but I digress. At least I've tried my very best, I guess.

BOILEN: What I love about Courtney Barnett, she's really funny.

HILTON: Yeah.

BOILEN: Her lyrics are great. She's a storyteller and a brilliant guitar player with a fantastic band behind her. That's such a rocking record. Another one we agree on is a complete polar opposite mood-wise, and that's Sufjan Stevens.

HILTON: Sufjan Stevens put a record out in March called "Carrie And Lowell." And by far, for me, it was the year's most heartbreaking album and also the most inspiring. Sufjan Stevens' mother abandoned him when he was just a small child, and this record reflects on the years of just devastating heartache. They were reunited many years later, and he was by her side when she died of cancer in 2012. And on this song - it's called "Fourth Of July" - Sufjan Stevens has this imagined conversation with his mother. He sings in falsetto. It's her voice speaking to him from beyond the grave, and she just wants to know that he had a good life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOURTH OF JULY")

SUFJAN STEVENS: (Singing) Did you get enough love, my little dove? Why do you cry? And I'm sorry I left, but it was for the best though it never felt right.

HILTON: I say that this record "Carrie And Lowell" is inspiring because Sufjan Stevens could be very bitter about his mother leaving him. But on this record, he ultimately has nothing but love for her and really love for everybody.

BOILEN: Those two albums were both on our list. One album I had on my list that I'm not sure you found this year was this record called the "Chopin Project." It's a project by Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds. Though he loves the music of Chopin, he's really gotten tired of the perfect way in which Chopin's music has been recorded. He tried to do something different. He went on a hunt for old pianos, out-of-tune bar pianos. You hear the creaks of benches in the recordings. This is a piece of music called "Reminiscence." It was written by Olafur Arnalds, but it's inspired by a Chopin nocturne.

(SOUNDBITE OF OLAFUR ARNALDS SONG, "REMINISCENCE")

BOILEN: It just changes the mood of the room, just makes life actually a lot more beautiful.

HILTON: Well, this year's dark horse on my list is Bill Ryder-Jones. He's a British composer. And this year, he's released "West Kirby County Primary." And it's a very funny name for a record. But on this one, he digs down deep into what he admits is off in his own very troubled mind. In his mid-20s, he was diagnosed with a dissociative disorder that really left him questioning his own reality.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SATELLITES")

BILL RYDER-JONES: (Singing) That safety is the thought that something somewhere must be happening.

HILTON: This song is called "Satellites." He sings there that safety is the thought that something somewhere must be happening. Those are the words of Bill Ryder-Jones's girlfriend used to say to him to calm him down. He was repeatedly haunted by the feeling that his own life wasn't real. But she said the very fact he was experiencing these feelings meant that everything was real. It's sort of a take on Descartes I think, therefore I am.

BOILEN: Powerful words, in a year of powerful words, sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit.

MONTAGNE: Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton, the hosts of All Songs Considered, talking about 2015's best music. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.