Dan Bejar sounds effortlessly cool as he moves through Poison Season. Gone are the retro synths from 2011’s world-beating Kaputt; in their place are lavish string arrangements that give his semi-spoken, completely impenetrable words room to breathe. Bookended by orchestral versions of its centrepiece ‘Times Square’, the album feels like a self-contained world in which Bejar is the sole occupant, doomed to muse, wander and drink. “I’m not really into funny shit”, he said in a recent interview. Slipping in a line like “Oh shit, here comes the sun” though, you have to wonder whether the joke might be on us.
This offering from the Montreal outfit followed just one year after their widely acclaimed debut – a testament to the band’s productivity. Output, however, has not come at the cost of quality. Sun Coming Down is a mind-bending arrangement of post-punk influences. Held together by lead singer Tim Darcy’s dry wit, the album provides a sharp insight into the contradictory vibrancy and banality of modern life. Lines such as “I am talking out of my ass because my heart is not open” seem simple enough on paper. But, coupled with Darcy’s delivery atop the beautifully balanced dynamics of jagged guitar lines and morphing song structures, they’re rallying cries – uplifting testaments of defiance against the age of rapid change and constant disaffection.
Prog rock of old can be a dry and demanding listening experience, but Coma Ecliptic revitalises the classic form with stunning panache. Half sprawling rock opera, half metal-meets-jazz cross-breeding, BTBAM’s seventh LP sidesteps the temptation of regurgitating their well-established sound and ventures into challenging new territory. Coma Ecliptic tells the story of a man stuck in a coma reliving his haunting past. It feels experimental without being too contrived. Bizarre synth patches, obscure guitar pedals, and a masterful mix lend themselves to a sound that finally affords vocalist Tommy Rogers the chance to test his sonic versatility and lead the band confidently somewhere familiar but fresh.
It’s been four years since Wilco’s last studio album and despite its ‘70’s throwback title and distinctly retro sound, Star Wars is a record that both defines and is defined by 2015. One initially gets the sense that it could have been written, recorded, and released within the last 2 weeks; especially following the technical accomplishment and studio mastery displayed in every Wilco album since 2001’s seminal Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. However, it soon becomes clear that Star Wars is the end product of much thought and consideration. This album proves that, even after 20 years, Wilco are still releasing some of the best and most inventive music of their career. I challenge you to find a better release in 2015 called Star Wars… Oh.
Slaves pleased a lot of people this year by re-introducing a grittier and more sincere kind of music to the British mainstream. Despite being active since 2012, 2015 is the year that saw the punk-duo really breakthrough and their debut album Are You Satisfied? is a very exciting record. Delivering a sound reminiscent of the lost days of The Sex Pistols and The Clash with a modern twist, Slaves do well to tap into British punk nostalgia whilst simultaneously cultivating a sound that is very much their own and producing a diverse record that is guaranteed to get your head bobbing.
“Yes UK massive. Yes UK massive. Push it.” Then the bass tumbles in, juxtaposing with the propulsive, pounding, jerking beat of opening track ‘Gosh’, which ultimately culminates in an electronic fanfare that at its highest pitch seems to celebrate love, loss, (London) and every other emotion available on the spectrum of human life. As too does the rest of In Colour for that matter. From the twinkle of the piano on ‘The Rest Is Noise’ to the club-anthemic thuds on ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’, it encapsulates the essence of everything. It’s for dancing, for dying, for laughing, for crying. Oh my gosh. What a record.
Australia’s best rock export since Nick Cave, Tame Impala (or Kevin Parker), has brought psychedelic rock to the mainstream with his finest album yet, Currents. Highlights include lead single ‘Let It Happen’, ‘Eventually’ and ‘Reality in Motion’, which all contribute towards a dreamy experience that makes me think Currents is best enjoyed lying in a field of daisies. However, this is certainly their danciest record yet, as Parker has transitioned to more experimental sounds, resulting in a thoroughly deserved Grammy nomination for the album. Currents is a display of undoubted musical ingenuity and prowess: all hail the ever-impressive Kevin Parker.
Much like sibling bands Swim Deep and Spector, Peace are rebranding the traditional teenage rock scene with their charity shop furs and positive lyrics for a generation that spent its pre-pubescent listening to Paramore and crying. ‘O You’ the album’s opening song is an upbeat melodic tune that sets an optimistic vibe for the rest of the record, the album’s 11th song ‘Love Me’ follows on with the same rosy persona contrasting the excellent guitar riffs with the bands almost pop vibe. Happy People redefines modern indie music culture supporting a revamp of hippie culture blended with 90s Oasis, Blur and Pulp affection.
What a year it’s been for Bring Me The Horizon. Blowing Metallica out of the water and selling out Alexandra Palace in the same week is no mean feat, but it pales in comparison to the critical and commercial reception given to the quintet’s fifth album. While Oli Sykes’s brilliant vocal performance has grabbed the attention of many, keyboardist and electronics maestro Jordan fish is behind many of the album’s stand out moments, particularly on tracks like ‘Throne’ and ‘Run’. While there will always be some who yearn for their old style, this year Bring Me the Horizon proved that rock isn’t dead just yet.
“I’ve seen you around – what’s your name?” Josh Tillman croons. He recalls his first conversation with his wife Emma in the closing lines of his sophomore album as Father John Misty – “I Love You, Honeybear” – in one of the sweetest portrayals of intimacy in 2015, and a song very capable of making lonely people endlessly jealous. Tillman presents eleven tracks littered with humour, cynicism, and satire, especially in standouts “Bored in the USA” and “The Night Josh Tillman came to Our Apartment”. The major key to the record’s success, in my opinion, is that Tillman is always sincere throughout, culminating in the delivery one of the most cohesive and interesting albums of the year.
Grimes’ fourth studio album, Art Angels, is her strongest, most technicolour release to date. It’s weird and wonderful, fun and fascinating yet more accessible than her previous work, which perhaps explains its huge commercial success. However, Art Angels still remains loyal to Grimes’s unique DIY technical expertise and composition, as well as her experimental influences. Each song assumes a different character in a refreshing alternative synth-pop style. Stand out track ‘Kill V. Maim’ is fiery and fearless, packed with energetic hooks, yet set against a celestial and sugary background. Every single song on the album is a shimmering hit, each one revealing new depths after each listen.
Carly Rae Jepsen’s third studio album shows the Canadian singer stronger than ever. E•MO•TION is manufactured to perfection, with tracks like the title tune and ‘I Really Like You’ (one of this year’s best and most Tom Hanks-filled hits) proving to be as infectious as ‘Call Me Maybe’ – however, the clear 80s influence and strong hooks mean every song is as strong as the next. Acclaimed by critics, E•MO•TION is undoubtedly an example of pop at its best – warm and fun, and guaranteed to leave the listener with a positive vibe.
What Went Down finally sees Foals merge their earlier, more eloquent math-rock elements with their heavier – and career defining – live shows. Albeit it the collision of fuzzy riffs and sweeping soundscapes in ‘A Knife in the Ocean’, or Yannis’ distant screams over a danceable rhythm a la ‘Night Swimmers’, it’s a confident record. Whilst many will scoff at the departure from more conventional indie-pop, it sees the band find new feet as an aggressive, almost progressive, rock act. It’s also empirical proof that Foals remain, above else, one of the most interesting UK bands around.
Often seen as one of the most controversial acts in hip-hop today, Death Grips’ double-album drives every aspect of their wild and experimental soundscape to its zenith. Part 1 (N***as on the Moon) is the band’s most subtle and intricate album yet, completed with sporadic electronic beats and a highly unusual use of sampling made up almost entirely of vocal tracks from art pop icon, Björk. As a direct contrast to this, Part 2 (Jenny Death) turns the band’s uncontrollable power up to 11, making for some of their loudest and heaviest music by far. Many fans have even dubbed it as ‘cyberpunk’, due to the immense fusion of electronic elements with punk aggression and guitar driven themes. Overall, The Powers That B may be far from the friendliest release for first-timers, but for those who can tackle its non-conventionality and wish to hear hip-hop pushed to its unconceived limits, it’s an essential double-album which truly does provide the best of both worlds
From Jamie xx to his unlikely collaborator Young Thug, 2015 was a good year for those who dare to be different. With Vulnicura, Icelandic icon Bjork reminded us that alternative pop crossovers are nothing new to the industry; like no one else, she’s been departing far from the obvious while sustaining popular presence for decades, and she’s still doing it better than anyone who’s tried it since. Her voice in turns thundering and fragile, her arrangements more lush and textured than ever, Bjork’s ninth release is perhaps her most human: a gorgeously produced breakup album of merciless emotional substance.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t think much of Everything Everything until recently. I listened to ‘Qwerty Finger’ pretty much once before I dismissed them almost entirely. ‘Distant Past’ actually grated on me for a while for some reason. But, once I listened to Get To Heaven in full, something clicked and I started to appreciate their wonderful weirdness. The first half of Get To Heaven is one of the best straight runs of songs on an album in the last year; Jonathan Higgs’s strange falsetto punctuating each catchy, intricately constructed track perfectly. The rest is pretty amazing too.
Carrie & Lowell does not share the elaborate and diverse sound of previous releases in the Sufjan Stevens discography; Sufjan’s voice and guitar are the main actors on this album. This stripped down sound has the effect of highlighting his extraordinary talent for writing and creation of melodies. On Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens reflects on his mother’s passing, through nostalgic childhood tales, and grief-ridden introspection on depression, love and regret. This album might bring a tear to your eye and leave you with goose bumps; it is as stunningly beautiful as it is profoundly sad.
“Keep your beady eyes on me,” singer Ellie Rowsell tempts on opener ‘Turn To Dust’; perhaps a foreshadowing of Wolf Alice’s success in 2015. Fans waited a long time for My Love Is Cool to finally emerge, and it did not disappoint. A handful of oldies (‘Bros’, ‘Fluffy’, and ‘Giant Peach’) are interspersed with the raucous ‘You’re A Germ’ ending in Ellie’s bloodthirsty cackle, ‘Lisbon’’s contrasting innocent melody and aggressive lyrics (“Feel like going out and smashing windows”), and the swirling ‘Your Loves Whore’ crying “I can only love you more!” All this madness is pierced with ‘Swallowtail’, where drummer Joel Amey’s haunting vocals bring some sort of calm to the centre of the tumultuous storm. It’s a rollercoaster, and Wolf Alice’s refusal to pick just one genre is something only this band of misfits could pull off so well.
If someone mentioned the phrase ‘Mini Mansions’ before this year, you’d be forgiven for thinking it one of Kanye West’s latest exploits to ensure his as-of-yet unborn child experienced stratospheric luxury. But fast forward to the dawn of 2016 and Mini Mansions have established themselves as fresh faced champions of the American Indie scene, with second album The Great Pretenders combining innovative song-writing with general appeal. The headlines are stolen by one Alex Turner’s cameo on ‘Vertigo’ a song that swoons and croons with synth lines built around the icon’s Northern accent and perhaps plays a little on his post-AM ‘Sex Symbol’ status. Nevertheless, the band more than stand up by themselves with the infectious drumbeat and frenetic falsetto of ‘Honey I’m Home’ and the catchy choral calls of “I’ve been down” in single ‘Freakout!’. The end result is an album so accomplished they dropped the title track as a B-side. The ambition in pursuing their own sound and style without derivation gives me hope for the future of American Alternative Music.
To Pimp a Butterfly is undeniably the most important album of 2015: no release has better captured contemporary racial discord. Yet this political timeliness would count for little if the songs didn’t shine. Fortunately, there’s no problem here. Lamar celebrates black music by way of hip-hop, from the smooth funk of ‘King Kunta’ to the free jazz of ‘For Free?’ to the stand-out single ‘Alright’, already an anthem for the rising Black Lives Matter movement. Somehow surpassing his previous effort, good kid, m.A.A.d city, To Pimp a Butterfly is the most impressive artistic statement of 2015, perhaps of the decade.