Sunday, 20 December 2015

Best albums of 2015

Hello everyone!

Last week I posted my top 30 songs of 2015 (a lot of which I now regret, placement-wise...oops). So now, as promised, here is my top 30 albums of 2015. Like with the songs list, I opted to only do write-ups for the top 10. 

I've also included a playlist of the standout tracks from each featured record, located below the list:

30. Eskimeaux - O.K. 
29. Doldrums - The Air Conditioned Nightmare
28. Kamasi Washington - The Epic
27. Hop Along - Painted Shut
26. Florence + The Machine - How Big How Blue How Beautiful 
25. Adele - 25 (ha)
24. Chvrches - Every Open Eye
23. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
22. Trembling Bells - The Sovereign Self
21. Sean Nicholas Savage - Other Death
20. The Weeknd - Beauty Behind the Madness
19. Lower Dens - Escape From Evil
18. Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp
17. Georgia - Georgia
16. Gwenno - Y Dydd Olaf
15. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
14. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
13. Baroness - Purple
12. Nadine Shah - Fast Food
11. Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss

10. Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass

Usually albums with awkward release dates (i.e. the very start or very end of the year) are very easily overlooked by the end of the release year. But with the self-titled debut from Natalie Prass, this was far from the case. Instead, this record sent Natalie’s talent into public domain, gracing Later…with Jools Holland and iTunes' best of 2015 feature among others. This success is remarkable for such a…well…pretty and delicate album. That's not to say this record doesn't have bite, but sonically there is a certain Disney-like quality, especially on the closer. Since 2012 this album had been sitting with Matthew E. White's Spacebomb label, who cruelly kept it under wraps 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 also dropped an album this year year, 2015 was 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; I'm expecting even more big things from this rising chanteuse.

Standout track - My Baby Don't Understand Me

9. Holly Herndon - Platform

The range of sounds and styles Holly Herndon 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 '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. 

Standout track - Chorus

8. Joanna Newsom – Divers

There is no doubt that Joanna Newsom is one of the greatest songwriters of our time. I didn't even need her to release another masterpiece to prove this, but she darn-well did it anyway. At 11 tracks, Divers is her first attempt at a conventional album structure since her debut, the charming and highly nostalgic, The Milk-Eyed Mender. As ever, the songs of Divers are hearty, rich and beautiful, with Newsom's incredible lyrics remaining the focal point. Aside from the traditional wistful ballads, Divers also offers big pop moments in the form of 'Sapokanikan' and 'Leaving the City'. The fact that the opening track and closer link together lyrically is yet another stunning detail. 

Standout track - Goose Eggs

7. Oneohtrix Point Never - Garden of Delete

I tried to avoid placing albums released so late in the year this high but I can't help but give this album the love it deserves. Even if there is an element of recency bias, I'm sure this record will still hold up in a year's time. I can confidently say that I've enjoyed all of Daniel Lopatin's albums thus far, but Garden of Delete is on a whole new level. Far more urgent than anything he's produced thus far, this record pulsates and crushes throughout its exhilarating 45-minute-and-16-second run time. As well as the record flows, 'Ezra' is definitely the standout moment, hence why it also made my tracks of the year list.

Standout track - Ezra

6. Empress Of - Me

Those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I was (and still am) completely and utterly slain by this album. With the sheer volume of pop music that is being churned out at the moment it is easy to get swallowed up, but Lorely Rodriguez stands out from the crowd and fully asserts her presence with this record. Her production is absolutely on point throughout. This album encompasses the best things about pop in a beautiful package; it's crisp, catchy, funky, modern, emotive, passionate and, above all, it's really fun. And I'll tell you something else, Empress Of has no time for filler whatsoever. All ten tracks are killer, but 'How Do You Do It' and 'Make Up' are the standouts. 

Standout track - How Do you Do It

5. Carly Rae Jepsen - EMOTION

Like I mentioned in the tracks of the year write-up, I really didn't expect to enjoy this album as much as I did. 'Call Me Maybe' was once everyone's guilty pleasure, but 3 years later the 'guilt' has evolved into pure joy - 44 minutes of it to be exact. EMOTION has single-handedly redefined 'all killer, no filler'; from start to finish this album is 80's-tinged perfection and is packed with hooks and melodic flair. There is no clear standout because every track becomes your favourite at one point or another, but the opener 'Run Away With Me' is a very special moment indeed.

Standout track - Run Away With Me

4. 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. Also, the fact that 'Colour' was spelled the correct way brought it up the list by at least 2 spots. 

Standout track - Gosh

3. Jaakko Eino Kaveli - Jaakko Eino Kaveli

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 and one that simply must grace your summer playlist in 2016.

Standout track - Hush Down

2. Grimes - Art Angels

As is the case with Garden Of Delete, there is a possibility of recency bias at play here. Regardless, this album is a fricking masterpiece. Over a year ago now I wrote about how much I was anticipating the follow up to Visions, but little did I know that it would be this good. Like Carly Rae Jepsen, Clair Boucher kills it with every single track, even the Taiwanese rap-dominated 'SCREAM'. Not only is the music outstanding, the packaging is also incredible, allowing me to stare at it as I blast it. My only concern now is how Grimes could possibly top this? But then again, I said the same thing last time and look how that turned out...

Standout track - Flesh Without Blood

1. Julia Holter - Have You In My Wilderness

I knew this record would be amazing from the moment it was announced, this belief was strengthened by the gleaming reviews that began to spring up all over social media. Now that it's finally out, I can confirm that it is in fact…well…incredible. Now, 'amazing' has been over-used to the point where all meaning is now practically void, it's almost a bit tacky and redundant. So instead I'm gonna go with 'awe-inspiring' instead. 

Julia first caught my attention with 2013's slow-burning Loud City Song, which opened me up to the weird and wonderful world of avante garde, from which I haven't turned back. But enough about the past, now is the time to appreciate this absolute beauty of an album. From the opening 'Feel You' and it's gorgeous refrain to the ethereal and left-field closer, this record is consistently bold, elegant and majestic in a classic way, but the clarity and purity of these tracks makes them extremely modern and fresh at the same time. This is my album of the year and it will take a lot to change my mind. 

Standout track - Feel You

Monday, 14 December 2015

Best tracks of 2015

So here we are, at the end of what has been both a wonderful and dreadful year in equal measure. With the world moving in the direction it's going, there is no doubt that music will continue to be my go-to escape.

After much debate (...with myself), I managed to settle on the 30 tracks that defined my year. Looking at the list, I can proudly say that my music taste have diversified a lot in the past year; this not only reflects my taste in general but my interests and priorities too. I now value the power of a downbeat and reflective jam as much as I do an uptempo banger. 

In the interest of space I decided to make it one song per artist and in the interest of time I only did write-ups for the top 10.

I also made a handy spotify playlist of all the tracks below the list. Enjoy! 

30. Holly Herndon - Morning Sun
29. Empress Of - How Do You Do It
28. Martha Ffion - So Long
27. US Girls - Damn That Valley
26. Frances - Grow
25. Daughter - Numbers
24. NoMBe - California Girls
23. Chelsea Wolfe - Iron Moon
22. Bully - Trying
21. Lapsley - Hurt Me
20. Oneothrix Point Never - Ezra
19. Puro Instinct (feat. Christian Rich) - Lake Como
18. Waxahatchee - Summer Of Love
17. Kendrick Lamar - King Kunta
16. Grimes - Pin
15. Sufjan Stevens - Should've Known Better
14. Jamie xx - Seesaw
13. Noonie Bao - Pyramids
12. The Weeknd - Can't Feel My Face
11. Beach House - Sparks

10. Nadine Shah - Fool

If you followed my blog back in 2013, you'd know that I was head over heals in love with Nadine Shah's fantastic debut Love Your Dum and Mad. Two years on and this is still very much the case. Fool is a characteristically dark and macabre affair, but there is an element of humor and fire here which makes it a remarkable leap forward in her sound. The combination of the piercing guitars with her rich, smoky tone is just magical. 

9. Drake - Hotline Bling

Like a said earlier, this list is about the songs that defined 2015, so I couldn't possibly leave Hotline Bling off. From the iconic video to Drake's signature sleek delivery, this track sums up the movement that is happening in popular music, where beats and personality triumph over dull, white middle class indie bands. Oh, and who could forget the incredible gifs the video produced?

8. Chromatics - I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around

So instead of doing what they were supposed to do, Chromatics thought it would be fun to tease us all for a year and so still haven't dropped the fucking album. Funny, huh? In spite of this I couldn't do this list without featuring one of their fantastic singles from this year. Out of all of them, I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around is the track that has kept me checking for updates; the driving, pulsating synths ensure that my excitement is still very much alive.

7. 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 my favourite records of all time. 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 beautifully. As you will soon see, the parent album did very well on my year-end list.

6. 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, a lot. 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.

5. Tame Impala - Eventually

Three years on, 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 escape from reality). There are a handful of tracks on Currents which are able to capture the magic of its predecessor, and Eventually is definitely one of them. Shout out to Let It Happen and The Less I Know The Better, the latter actually features on the playlist because I screwed it up. Silly me.

4. Warpaint - I'll Start Believing

A year ago, when I named Warpaint as my favourite album of 2014, I honestly didn't they'd be coming back for more so soon. Embarrassingly, it took me like 5 months to find out this song existed. 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 ever since. It's everything I love about Warpaint; it's brooding, bewitching, intricate and yet 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. 

3. Lower Dens - To Die In LA

How does one 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 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.

2. Carly Rae Jepsen - Run Away With Me

As you all probably remember, 2012 was pretty much dominated by Carly Rae Jepsen's mega-hit Call Me Maybe, which I still bop to occasionally (well often...I'm not proud of myself). Three years later, in two the most unexpected moments of the year 1) Carly Rae Jepsen reappeared and 2) Carly Rae Jepsen dropped one of the best pop songs/albums ever made. An overreaction? Perhaps. But the bottom line is that this track is fucking incredible and has been incredible for quite some time now. Carly Rae Jepsen is no longer a guilty pleasure ladies and gentlemen, now bop to your heart's content (skip to track 11 because I screwed up the playlist, again). 

1. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love

Here it is, my song of 2015. I had many options and sounds that I could've picked that would've been as deserving but ultimately I decided to plump for the song that I felt would bring me back to this year whenever I heard it. From the moment I first heard the opening piano riff I knew this track would be special, the infectious chorus went on to confirm this. The fact that this isn't ordinarily a band I'd listen to a lot nor did I particularly enjoy the record this features on is unusual, but I cannot deny how much I love this track.