Friday, 28 August 2015

Best of 2015 so far (and a taste of what's to come)

Hello everyone, apologies for the lack of updates (it's been a pretty hectic summer) but thankfully things have started to quiet down and I am ready to plug some more music! Despite my absence my page views have really shot up over the past few months so thanks for that. 

For those who don't know me off the internet I am also highly passionate about politics and so am working on a few pieces for some political publications, more on this soon...

Since we're over half way through the year I thought it'd be a good idea to compile a list of my favourite releases of the year so far, as well as a summary of the incredibly exciting releases still to come. This list is in no particular order because my mind is constantly changing about which are my absolute favourites, so they're all pretty damn good.

Jaakko Eino Kalevi - Jaakko Eino Kalevi 

What is so remarkable about Jaakko Eino Kalevi is that there aren’t actually that many standout tracks in the traditional sense (besides the three singles), yet every track plays a vital roll in pulling the listener into the surreal dream-pop universe created by this synth-pop troubadour. Whether it be the icy synths of the unofficial theme tune JEK or the jazzy outro of the closing track, there are plenty of astonishing artistic achievements scattered across this excellent record. This is undoubtedly one of the best debuts of the year so far and one that simply must grace your summer playlist.

Jamie xx - In Colour

In Colour, though composed of a mixture of pre-released material (Girl, Sleep Sound), club bangers (Gosh, Good Times) as well as a handful of tracks which could just as easily been featured on a new xx record (Seesaw, Stranger in a Room, Loud Places), works immaculately as one cohesive body of work. Despite its many standouts, one can't help but listen to the LP in its entirety, that's the only way one can appreciate the triumph that this record is.

Holly Herndon - Platform

The range of sounds and styles Holly experiments with on Platform are what make it such an exciting and engaging listen. Over the course of 10 tracks she explores elements of  new-age, break-beat, techno, glitch-hop, choral pop, trip-hop, avante-garde, house and even ASMR. There are easily accessible and almost anthemic moments to be found on tracks like Chorus, An Exit and Morning Sun as well as bizarre left-turns on tracks like 'Lonely At The Top'. Some of her experiments are more successful than others, but overall this is an essential listen for anyone seeking to sonically explore the digital age we currently live in from a perspective which is both critical and celebratory. 

Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass

What tops this album off is its rather unique back story; if you are wondering why this record sounds so nostalgic and warm, it could be because it was in fact recorded years ago...three to be exact. Since 2012 it had been sitting with Matthew E. White's Spacebomb label, who cruelly kept it under raps in order to promote the latter's 2012 breakthrough record Big Inner, and rightfully so, that album was a masterpiece in its own right. And even though White is releasing his new record later this year (which I'll be reviewing too), to me 2015 finally is Prass' time to shine. With such an accomplished debut, is see no reason why whatever she releases in the future won't be even better, as long as she's used this time productively, I'm expecting big things from this rising chanteuse.

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

Ever since I heard Seven Swans I was hooked on this guy's music. His inventive combinations of traditional folk, chamber pop and the occasional electronic elements, for me, always set him apart from the bog-standard 'dude with a guitar' acts. When it was first announced that Carrie and Lowell would 'a return to his folk roots', I had no idea how true this statement would be; this is the most bare and raw I've ever heard Stevens sound. As a mummy's boy myself, this is a truly devastating listen with absolutely no break from the darkness in its 42 minute running time. But I must admit, praising this record for its rawness and its relentlessness makes me somewhat of a hypocrite when I criticised Sun Kil Moon's Benji for the exact same reasons. The difference is that Sufjan balances the bleakness of these tracks with far more engaging melodies and his signature paper-thin falsetto, which makes the tone much cozier than it should be.

Florence + The Machine - How Big How Blue How Beautiful

With such an ambitious title and such a long absence, it is just as well that Florence and the Machine have in fact come through with a record which is big, blue and beautiful (I went there). With only 11 tracks on the standard edition, every track is vital to the flow and momentum of the record; gentle and reflective cuts like “St Jude” and “Caught” ensure that there is emotional diversity whilst the more anthemic tracks like “Third Eye” and “Queen Of Peace” retain the mainstream appeal of the band’s older sound, striking the perfect balance between appeasing loyal fans and including those who didn’t quite get the oddball charm of the band’s earlier material.

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly

The ongoing class war in the UK and the race issues in America have defined 2015 so far and I have no doubt they'll continue to be prominent areas of debate among members my generation, and rightfully so. Growing up in an area which is both ethically and economically diverse, I recognise the need for enlightened social commentators like Kendrick Lamar. Even though I didn't get the hype over his last record, both lyrically and production-wise this stands heads and shoulders above Good Kid M.A.AD City. Inevitably his music won't appeal to a cynical and often ignorant older generation, but what is important is that we take notice of Kendrick's message and be inspired to speak about the issues that concern us.

Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

After his breakthrough solo LP Fear Fun, Josh Tillman has delivered yet another excellent singer/songwriter LP. Sonically it isn't much of a departure from his previous material, however he does keep it interesting and throws a few curve balls in there, namely the electronica-tinged 'True Affection'. Best of all is the unashamedly soppy title track, which despite the sickly sweet lyrics is one of the most satisfying and engaging tracks in his discography. 

Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp

Even if Ivy Tripp didn't exactly grab me at first listen, once you warm up to its quirks it becomes utterly captivating, almost like an ugly pet that you can't help but love. And having had time to take it all in, I can honestly say that I do love this record. I love that I haven't been able to stop playing La Loose (still listening to it as I type), I love that it feels like I've been loosing my shit to Poison for a year already and I love that Air is already an absolute classic, in my book at least. At its core Ivy Tripp is a beast and it will consume you hole once you let your guard down, which is ironic considering that this is one of Crutchfield's for defiant and stoic records lyrically. Well I assume that is the case, there is a lyric on the track 'Less Than' (<) which has perplexed me since the day I heard it; I'm not sure if "you're less than me, I am nothing' is empowering or self-deprecating, but regardless it's a powerful sentiment and one which I feel sums up Ivy Tripp as a whole.

Lower Dens - Escape From Evil

What is most commendable about Lower Dens on this record is the ease with which they are able to achieve such a distinct atmosphere and sustain it throughout, especially when so many others try so hard to convey any sort of mood whatsoever and fail. Where Escape From Evil shines brightest is when the band let go and embrace a lighter, more euphoric aspect of their sound, particularly on the melancholic yet therapeutic sheen of “To Die in LA”. My only wish is that they capitalized upon this sonic breakthrough with a record full of tracks of this calibre, which makes the fact that they didn't somewhat frustrating. That being said, knowing that Lower Dens have the potential to create melancholic pop perfection is comforting in itself.

My favourite tracks of the year so far

Beach House - Sparks

If you journey back to 2014, you may remember me speaking of my love for this band and my anticipation for their up-and-coming record, which later turned out to be the wonderful Depression Cherry (review coming soon). One of the best songs of their career thus far; Sparks recalls the glory days of My Bloody Valentine with it's suffocating layered production and piercing overriding guitars, while Victoria's ever-stunning vocals never fail to captivate me. This is easily my favourite track of the year so far, 

Warpaint - I'll Start Believing

OK, so I have an embarrassing confession to make...I only just discovered this track a week ago. The embarrassing part comes once you factor that I named their last record Warpaint as my favourite album of 2014 less than 9 months ago. If you want an explanation for my foolishness I'm sorry, I haven't got one. But I am bloody well making up for it now, I've been playing the shit out of this track for the last 7 days. It's everything I love about Warpaint; it's brooding, bewitching, intricate and still melodic and, dare I say, catchy. This is a total earworm and will stay with you for quite some time after listening, so be warned. I still believe, girls. 


Lower Dens - To Die In LA

How do you define euphoria? According to Google it is 'a feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness', this is often associated with music or other forms of art, namely visual. Good music, usually in the genres of dream pop, techno, house or even chamber pop, tends to have the ability to transform your entire mental state for just a few short moments. But great music, like this track, has the ability to take me to another place entirely, and this motion is so powerful that it resonates far beyond the moment the track finishes. See for yourself:

Puro Instinct (feat. Christian Rich) - Lake Como

God, this is just gorgeous. Now I'm always partial to a bit of dream pop but this really is outstanding. The duo have been quiet for so long that I kinda forgot about them, but with this stunner they are back with a vengeance. As aggressive as that sounds, 'Lake Como' is a slow, sultry and dreamy mid-tempo with rolling 80's style synths and a majestic chorus. 'Over and over I under your spell, don't know you do it you do it so well', my thoughts exactly ladies, my thoughts exactly...

Jaakko Eino Kalevi - Deep Shadows

I was initially trying to avoid putting tracks by artists who made the albums list in this one...but yet I've already failed, TWICE. In fairness, if there's a track worth defying the 'rules' I set myself, it's this. Deeper Shadows is everything I love in a pop song; it's weird, it's funky, it's full of hooks and IT FEATURES PANPIPES! Seriously incredible stuff, just like the record it sits within, but you already know I love that.

Julia Holter - Feel You

Speaking of bewitching tracks, here's another one. This time it's from the wonderful and extremely talented Julia Holter, who's last record Loud City Song is still one of the best albums I have ever heard. Moving away from a less abstract and more earthy~ sound, 'Feel You' is a sweet and romantic ditty with spine-tingling harpsichord lacing the instrumentation. From what I know of Have You In My Wilderness, her forthcoming LP, we are in for an absolute treat. 

NoMBe - California Girls

Before you jump to any conclusions here, this is NOT a Katy Perry cover. What it is however is a hazy, woozy and gripping piece of electronic blues-rock. The way the song unravels and progresses whilst retaining its intoxicating intimacy is really special. Don't even get me started on that breakdown at the end, it's truly masterful, but I wish it lasted a little longer. I can't wait to put this on blast for the next 4 months, I recommend you save this one for your summer playlist.

Waxahatchee - Summer Of Love

If you trace back to the end of 2013, you'll remember that I placed Katie Crutchfield's sophomore album at number 1 on my favourite albums of 2013 list. Though Ivy Tripp didn't quite meet my expectations, it was [and is] still an excellent record that absolutely deserves your attention. 'Air' or 'La Loose' would've probably been more obvious cuts to feature on my list, but Summer Of Love is the song that really stuck with me and I am still returning to it every other day. It's just so powerful and captivating. Apologies for the lack of recorded version, you'll just have to settle for this wonderful session version instead. 

Rosie Lowe - Who's That Girl

Yet another killer track from rising UK soulstress Rosie Lowe and this could well be her best track to date. She has confirmed that her debut album will be out this year and has given us the excellent 'Who's That Girl' to quench our thirst for the moment. The production, as ever, treads the line between now and the future, with icy beats and subtle vocal manipulation complementing Rosie's vocals impeccably. I need this album, and so do you.

Tame Impala - Let It Happen

God I love this band. Lonerism is still the official sponsor of my summer (i.e me eating ice cream and pretzels in my room, listening music and watching old TV shows, alone). But it's so much more than that, it is able to mentally transport me to a psychedelic dream world (like some kind of trippy escapism from reality). Even though there has been no official announcement of their new record, Let It Happen, at 8 minutes, is long enough to quench my thirst for the moment. 

So there you have it folks, a highly condensed list of the music I've been loving from between January and July this year. I fully intend of producing a massive list for the end of the year write-up to compensate for my inconsistency and flakiness this year. Until then I'll be trying my best to write at least one new review every month. Stay tuned. 

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