Monday, 21 December 2015

Albums Of The Year 2015

It seems weird to be posting a non-Star Wars related piece of content at the moment, but here we are -  another year and another list of albums. More so than ever before it's been difficult to narrow this down to a mere 20. As such really good albums from Wolf Alice and Sleater-Kinney are missing. Maybe you could think of them as #21 and #22.

As always I make no attempt at objectivity here. This is simply where I try to make sense of the music that I've enjoyed the most in the last 12 months presented as a list. Because I like lists. It's how my brain works.

20. The Darkness - Last Of Our Kind
The opening pair of tracks on Last Of Our Kind, 'Barbarian' and 'Open Fire', are easily the best that The Darkness have recorded since their seminal début, Permission To Land. Had the rest of the album maintained this standard then we would, no question, be looking at the album of the year. Unfortunately despite containing some of their bravest and most varied material yet Last Of Our Kind fails to live up to the brilliance of its initial salvo.

19. Desperate Journalist - Desperate Journalist
Desperate Journalist pack a lot into the 38 minute running time of their début album, not least an edge and sense of excitement that has been largely missing from British indie rock since it lost itself to landfill. One may suspect that the best is yet to come from this band, but for now we can rejoice in razor sharp tunes like 'Cristina', 'Hesitate' and 'Control'.

18. Colleen Green - I Want To Grow Up
I kinda just want to write “Feels” to describe this album and leave it at that. But in order to give those unfamiliar more of an idea what to expect I'll instead say that it contains power-pop brilliance ('Pay Attention') and the best and bleakest examples of DIY bedroom pop that I've encountered in some time ('Deeper Than Love'). Essential for anyone struggling to be an adult.

17. FFS – FFS
Franz Ferdinand have always managed to keep their sound fresh, but in teaming up with Sparks they've managed to make an album that's like a début all over again. Granted, some moments sound more like one of the two bands than the other, but when they're both going at full-pelt on tracks such as 'Piss Off' they're an unbeatable combination of art rock and glam pop. Refreshing and as idiosyncratic as you'd hope from that acronym.

16. Tellison - Hope Fading Nightly
Tellison finally made a welcome return this year, following up The Wages Of Fear with their first album for Alcopop! Records. Whilst it's perhaps not as consistent as it's predecessor Hope Fading Nightly contains some of the best and most emotive rock songs of the year with 'Boy' and 'Tact Is Dead'. Let's just hope that we don't have to wait another four years for the next album.

15. Menace Beach – Ratworld
Leeds 'super-group' Menace Beach finally unleashed their début album this year after a couple of years of singles and EPs. Thankfully it more than lives up to the expectation with tunes and noise aplenty. Comparisons have been drawn to a range of bands, but Menace Beach only really sound like themselves. Since Ratworld they've already released another EP, so hopefully we won't have long to wait for even more.

14. Hop Along - Painted Shut
Thanks in part to Frances Quininlan's voice Hop Along are a hard band to pigeon-hole (see their Wikipedia page where someone has come up with 'grunge folk'), so it's a good job that I rarely try. What's really important however is that there's not a bad track on Painted Shut, which at forty minutes long, flies by, and with closing number 'Sister Cities', saves the best for last.

13. Grimes - Art Angels
Perhaps a somewhat low placing considering Art Angels critical supremacy but after only a couple of weeks living with this record I can't help but feel that not all of it works. That said, when everything does come together (on tracks such as 'Flesh Without Blood', 'Kill Vs Main' and 'Venus Fly') Grimes can lay claim to have recorded some of the most compelling pop music of the last few years.

12. The Decemberists - What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
There's something delightfully old fashioned about the seventh album from Portland's finest. Where many artists have been more sonically exploitative or playful with new technology The Decemberists have focused on good old songwriting with strong melodies and exquisite vocal harmonies. 'Make You Better' is the greatest example of this, but the whole album is a refreshing treat.

11. Paul Smith & The Intimations – Contradictions
Contradictions is without a doubt the strongest and most consistent album that the Maxïmo Park frontman has released in quite some time. Looser sounding than the records he puts out on the day job it feels as though Smith is perhaps being more true to his music tastes. With nods towards Prefab Sprout and Aztec Camera there's more than one instance of pop perfection.

10. Gaz Coombes – Matador
Matador has gained the former Supergrass singer his biggest critical hit since the early days of his former band and it's easy to see why. His best album since Road To Rouen (perhaps longer) it's combination of digital and acoustic instrumentation delivers all that last year's boring Damon Albarn record failed to. Complex, interesting and emotive it's a record that rewards multiple close listens.

09. CHVRCHES - Every Open Eye
The Bones Of What You Believe is probably the greatest début album of the decade so far, so there's no shame on CHVRCHES in failing to match it. Every Open Eye comes close enough however with even the deluxe edition failing to include a duff track. Solid and consistent, it especially glows on 'Make Them Gold', but it's only really 'Empty Threat' that has the edge that their début had.

08. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Artists as singularly talented as Courtney Barnett are few and far between. Perhaps they come along once in a generation. Even if that's the case then this generation is lucky to have Courtney. It's her particularly brilliant lyrics that gain her the most attention, but on Sometimes I Sit And Think... her guitar playing easily matches them. Favourite track? Well it's hard to pick just one, isn't it?

07. Blur - The Magic Whip
It was a long road to get here, but well and truly worth it - Blur have finally delivered a worthwhile follow up to their seminal 13. It's not perfect ('New World Towers' is a bit of a drag) but delivers much more than one would expect from a Blur album. 'Pyongyang' and 'Thought I Was A Spaceman' are particularly moving, whilst 'There Are Too Many Of Us' addresses the biggest problem on the planet without sounding preachy.

06. Chastity Belt - Time To Go Home
Time To Go Home is the main record from this list that I'm surprised to see missing from most other End of Year round-ups. On the surface this is simply another American indiepop record, but rewards multiple listens with perennial earworms. Chastity Belt will sit nicely alongside Alvvays, Waxahatchee and Honeyblood in anyone's record collection without sounding like any of them. A real gem.

05. Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp
Another slow burner, Ivy Tripp by Waxahatchee feels already like a minor classic. Not the sort perhaps that makes the Mojo Top 100, but the sort that real people will return to and reference in years and decades to come. The sound is varied and the songs intimate, this is an album to get lost in.

04. Ash – Kablammo!
Not for the first time on this list, this album is one of my favourite artists at the best that they've been in a number of years. In the case of Ash Kablammo! is their finest 'proper' album since the seminal Free All Angels. Whether it's the driven pop rock of 'Cocoon', the Muse-without-the-wankiness instrumental of 'Evel Knievell', or the emotional frankness evident on 'Dispatch' this is a fantastic collection of songs that it's easy to imagine revisiting with regularity for years to come.

03. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
It feels like THE pop album of the year has come from an unlikely place. I had Carly Rae Jepsen pegged as a one-hit wonder and have been proven spectacularly wrong. Emotion not only rarely puts a foot wrong but manages to sound like more than just a collection of incredible singles. Understandably this record has drawn comparisons to Taylor Swift's 1989, but this doesn't sit in anyone's shadow. How this underperformed in the charts will be one of the great pop mysteries and injustices of the 21st Century.

02. Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space
Clearly the sky was never the limit for Public Service Broadcasting. Only on album number two and they've already covered one of mankind’s greatest endeavours. Whether it's the successes or failures of the space missions PSB place the listener right there, sharing in the seat-edge suspense of the Apollo 8 orbiting the moon ('The Other Side'), the devastation of Apollo 1 ('Fire In The Cockpit') or the elation of actually putting a man in space (the funky 'Gagarin'). I can't wait to see where they go next.

01. Ezra Furman - Perpetual Motion People
And finally onto my album of the year. More so than any previous year it's been hard to decide on a favourite, but Perpetual Motion People it is. Furman has described himself as 'a weirdo Springsteen', and to an extent one can see where he's coming from as this record exudes a love of classic rock and roll and is crammed full of excellent songwriting. For me this feels more akin to a glam era Lou Reed, but however you approach this record it's impossible to deny – it's of the few albums from this year that has really caught the ears of my fiancé – and one that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone.

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