The 2016 Nearlies

 2016 will perhaps be remembered more for its many famous celebrity deaths rather than a year of quality music. But, as I started to put my list together I found (thankfully) that there were more than enough albums to make up my top 20. In this little section I reveal some of the artists that will be kicking themselves to have just missed out on my lucrative, potentially life changing list.

One of the most anticipated albums of the year was Bon Iver’s “22, A Million”. It’s an interesting new direction for the Indie Folk fella as he turned his back on banjos and the like to plug in his drum machine and synths and look towards the more glitchy electronic pop world for inspiration. While I enjoyed the album, I thought it felt more like an EP. It runs for only around 30 minutes and it’s over before you know it. Perhaps fans of experimental pop-tronica would be better off listening to Nicola Jaar‘s, “Sirens” which I found a more compelling listen.

Mercury Award winning Skepta came close to my Top 20 with his album “Konichiwa”. Skepta is doing great things for the UK rap and Grime scene and for anyone not familiar with this genre, it’s a great little intro. On a similar(ish) note was the third in a trilogy of Dawn Richard albums. “Redemption,” is an uplifting, smartly produced, dancey collection of arty RnB tracks. It’s definitely my favourite in the trilogy and certainly worth a listen. Staying with the upbeat theme, it had been a long 7 years since Canadian Tiga had released an album. I’ve always been a fan of his work and I must say I wasn’t disappointed with, “No Fantasy Required”. On this, Tiga brings back his brand of sleazy electro-house and the album spawned some huge international dancefloors hits like Bugatti and Planet E.

On a heavier note, and to another band that had been out the lime light for a while was Deftones. Their latest album “Gore” was a pleasant surprise. These guys have been making music for close to 30 years and to be honest, I thought their best days were behind them. But, I gotta give it to them, their latest album is one of their finest, with a great sound, layers of smart guitar riffs under Chino Moreno’s distinctive vocals. The second hard rock ‘nearly’ this time comes from Norwegian band Kvelertak who dropped a great little record in 2016. “Nattesferd” blends all elements of hard and heavy music, from classic 80s sounding power metal, to punk to black metal. It’s a catchy and infectious listen this one. Lastly, and perhaps in an ideal world I would have stuck this in my Top 20, is The Body with “No One Deserves Happiness”. This is an experimental album, even for the Portland duo’s standards, infusing electronic, drone, doom and elements of pop into a grueling listen.

Last but not least are three little synth-pop gems. First up is Niki and The Dove‘s second album “Everybody’s Heart Is Broken Now”. It’s not a massive change in direction for the Swedes but this whole album sounds more polished, well-rounded and slick. Also, there can be no denying that the Kate Bush-esque vocals are some of the best in pop music. “Moth” by Chairlift. Odd name for a band, but these guys are now on their third album and are making some quality chilled out pop music, with a rather funky undertone. Finally Jessy Lanza dropped her latest album, “Oh No”. It’s co-produce by fellow Canadian Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys, a band that I have long admired. His electro-pop influences can be heard on this album, but there are different moods going here from 80s sounding ballads to 90s inspired bangers. A must for fans of Grime, FKA Twigs or sod it, even Madonna!

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Top 20 Albums 2015: #10-1

#1. Grimes – Art Angels

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Canadian Claire Boucher aka Grimes brings us her 4th album and there is no doubt that each record has seen a real improvement and maturation since her debut in 2010. Her first records were rather experimental, electronic records with some wacky vocals. Her last album, “Visions,” in 2012 found Boucher switching things up a bit and adopting a more 80’s synth-pop style which worked for her. Now, “Art Angels” this has proven to be her biggest success to date and although it contains more a lot more classic pop influences it’s by no means a sell-out album. This is a diverse collection of pumping, jacking pop tunes, with euro dance beats, catchy guitar chords layered under her characteristic high pitched vocals. Grimes admits this is her most political album to date, and you’ll hear her slating the media and women’s portrayals in the media etc. “Art Angels,” is the perfect pop album, inventive, imaginative, captivating and, best of all, super catchy. Best of 2015 for me!!!

 #2. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

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I was a little taken back when I first listened to Kendrick Lamar’s new album, “To Pimp a Butterfly”. His last record from 2012, “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” was a contemporary hip-hop album with addictive hooks and big beats which was quickly dubbed as a hip-hop classic on release. Now, three years later you’d might have expect Kendrick to stick to this winning formula, but no, that was chucked out of the window in favour of a proper old school vibe. Incorporating aspects of funk, jazz and soul, he’s completely re-invented himself. This record wasn’t intended to spawn massive global hits like his last, in fact, it’s like he’s made it for the true music fans out there. TPAB is so complex, with its multitude of layers, instruments and styles and it becomes better with each listen. It seems like the man has done it again, this is certainly another classic for the hip-hop archives.

#3. Deafheaven – New Bermuda

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The critically acclaimed San Francisco metal band are back, bringing with them their mix of shoegaze tinged black metal. It’s without doubt the most compelling metal album of the year. Their highly successful 2013 album, “Sunbather,” was, as mentioned, lauded by many critics, however they also received a fair amount of stick from metal purists, labelling them as ‘hipsters’ and ruining the reputation of black metal. I didn’t buy into this nonsense. Yes, it’s not your typical black metal album, but things evolve and this is a great adaptation of the underground genre. It has brought black metal music to the attention of more people but it’s still true to its roots. “New Bermuda,” has outstanding melodic riffs, chugging guitars, huge blastbeats and its ability to switch between moods and atmosphere is mesmerizing. The five piece band have opted not to give us a sequel to the seminal, “Sunbather,” and they have refused to pander to the metal community but instead, stuck to what they believe in and delivered an album that is just as experimental and powerful.

 #4. FKA Twigs – M3LL155X

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Ok, so M3LL155X (pronounced Melissa) isn’t exactly an album but a five track EP running just short of 20 minutes. So why include it in you album of the year list you may ask? Well, if I answer with, “because I want to,” isn’t good enough reason, then I have no answer for you. If you’ve never heard of FKA Twigs I would suggest this would be a decent place to start. Think of her as a trippy, R & B version of Bjork or something. The whole EP is accompanied by a full length mini short film, which features some great dance moves, oddly dressed old ladies, sex dolls and a very unusual pregnancy. If this is good enough reason to check out one of the UK’s brightest stars then I’m not sure what is.

#5. Health – Death Magic

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HEALTH are another band I have trouble describing. Lets go for Industrial noise pop. Hmm, that sounds kinda crappy but gonna just ride with that for now. I believe this is their third studio album, however, they have done a couple of remix albums and rather recently the very well received Max Payne 3 soundtrack. I would say their music sits somewhere in between Trent Reznor’s cold, industrial distorted guitars of Nine Inch Nails to early Depeche Mode but strangely this is paired with some very sweet delicate vocals a la Neil Tennent style (Pet Shop Boys). So yeah, that is why I find them hard to describe. Basically they sound like they are from the future! I would also say that Death Magic is possibly their easiest listen to date with some notably popier tracks present, take “Dark Enough” and “Life” as an example. Meanwhile the lead singles “Stonefist” and “New Coke” are both huge, stadium sounding electro rock beasts. The whole album is really slickly produced and it stands out as one of the most original records of the year.

 #6. Ho99o9 – Dead Bodies In The Lake

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If you’re confused by the spelling of Ho99o9 it’s pronounced, “Horror”. These guys are a New Jersey duo who make a mixture of hip-hop and hardcore punk. Yep, I know what you are thinking, it sounds odd, and it is odd, however, pushing boundaries is exciting and the reason why these guys are in at No.7. Ho99o9 only appeared on my radar a couple of months back when a friend of mine recommended I gave them a listen. Not having the faintest idea of who they were, I turned to YouTube and started off with their biggest *cough* hit, “Bone Collector”. Here I was met with some massive deep base lines, big beats, ruckus gig footage and dead bodies in sacks. Immediately I knew these guys were gonna be good. Next up on my playlist, the bizarrely named, “Da Blue Nigga From Hellboy”. It’s a real creepy and sinister sounding tune which is accompanied by a similarly disturbing video and from then I was sold. These tracks feature on previous EPs but the latest, “Dead Bodies In The Lake,” album is an electrifying mix of thrash guitars, punk, beats and hip-hop. Fans of Black Flag, Death Grips, Odd Future and even, “Fat of the Land,” era Prodigy will no doubt be into this one.

 #7. Susanne Sundfør – Ten Love Songs

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If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, the Scandinavians don’t just make good TV but make the BEST pop music. Susanne Sundfør only came to my attention when she featured on fellow Norwegian’s, Royksopp’s cracking album, “The Inevitable End,” last year. This is Sundfør’s third album to date and without doubt her best (in my humble opinion). Ten Love Songs covers all the pop basses, from the Euro-dance of, “Kamikaze,” the shimmering disco of, “Fade Away,” the electro pop genius of, “Deliverance,” and the epic, powerful ballad, “Memorial”. Yes, there are ten love songs, but they’re not the sloppy stuff you’d expect from a bog standard pop record. Sundfør’s work is far more left-field and the lyrics on the whole are pretty dark and obsessive.

 #8. Bully – Feels Like

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It’s fairly easy to see where Bully get their inspiration from. That garage rock sound was pretty familiar in the 90s with bands such as Weezer, Nirvana and Hole leading the way. The four piece band was formed in Nashville, Tennessee and is fronted by the striking blonde figure of Alicia Bognanno. With a degree in Audio Recording and as the bands singer, songwriter, guitarist, engineer and producer, its easy to see who wears the trousers in this group. “Feels Like,” is a collection of 11 quality grunge pop / rock fuelled tunes, with Bognanno incredibly powerful and uplifting vocals giving us pre-millennials a real nostalgic feel.

 #9. Christine & The Queens – Christine & The Queens

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Christine & The Queens is a one woman, synth-pop solo project by Héloïse Letissier, hailing from Nantes, France. After leaving theatre school in Paris and struggling with depression, she found herself befriending drag acts in London and was motivated by these people to begin writing music. They performed with her on stage initially and where known as her “Queens”, hence the alias. Although her debut album, “Chaleur Humaine,” was released in France in June of 2014, her follow up eponymous album was released this year. Its basically a re-issued with almost the same songs but with more English vocals and a couple of new tracks, one of which featuring my no.1 artist from last year, Perfume Genius, who she duets with on, “Jonathan”. This is a brilliant dark, brooding and graceful track. “Saint Claude,” her biggest hit to date is accompanied by a video of Héloïse in a sharp suit and shoes, which is characteristic of the shy woman who likes to come across very asexual. She certainly isn’t your everyday pop star, melancholic, very much a recluse, focused on the performance and music. But this really is a stunning and beautiful record worth checking out.

 #10. Young Galaxy – False Work

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Amazingly, this will be the Canadian’s fifth studio album. Having only released their first in 2005, that makes them pretty prolific in my book. Over the past three records they’ve really found their mojo and have been putting out their best work. Young Galaxy craft sublime dream pop, with melodic Balearic style sythns and finished with the delicate vocals of Catherine McCandless. The previous album, “Ultramarine,” was one of my favourite albums of 2013 and began with a cracker of a track, “Pretty Boy”. Although, “Falsework,” isn’t quite as good, it still opens with a really strong song, “Wear Out the Ground”. Another highlight for me is the summery and uplifting, “Ready to Shine,”. These guys are great songwriters and this could be a great little album to blow away your winter blues or to bring the summer in.

Top 20 Albums 2015: #20-11

#11. Benjamin Clementine – At Least For Now

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I’ll be honest with you, I had absolutely no idea who north Londoner Benjamin Clementine was until he was nominated for the 2015 Mercury Music Prize. But, that is the great thing about this award, it can propel otherwise under the radar artists to the recognition and success they deserve. Strangely, “At Least For Now,” performed very well across Europe, while it seemed to go unnoticed in the UK. It was top 10 in Italy, Holland, Belgium and Switzerland with the album proving even more successful in France where it hit the no.1 spot. Clementine’s vagabond lifestyle enabled him to write over 500 songs and he picked out some of his best works for this debut. A mixture of spoken work, chamber pop, soul and powerful piano driven ballads, makes this a unique and captivating listen.

 

#12. Myrkur – M

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More black metal, this time from a solitary Danish chick, Amalie Bruun. This is quite the change of direction for the ex-model as her previous albums were not metal, but more shoegaze in style. Myrkur, meaning ‘darkness’ in Icelandic has an angelic voice and can do a great Enya like impression. That is, until she gets mad, then she unleashes a tirade of high pitch screams which pierce through the atmospheric tremolo guitar riffs like a needle. With production from some legendary black metal pioneers like Garm of Ulver and Mayhem it’s no wonder that this record sounds so good. Alluring vocals, beautifully sweet piano riffs, and then crushing guitars, it’s a good one!

 

#13. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness

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A return to form for the Weekend, this album launched him to huge international success with hits like, “Can’t Feel My Face,” “Losers,” and “Earned It,” which appeared on various soundtracks to crappy films like, “Fifty Shade of Grey,” and “Hunger Games”. Perhaps this was due to him taking a more commercial turn working with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Labarinth and Lana Del Rey, but there are still some exceptional tracks on here, which hark back to his dark, moody and bleak days like, “The Hills,” which would fit perfectly into his debut Trilogy album. I’ve always thought Abel Tesfaye, sounded like Michael Jackson and now he’s proving to be a successful as him too. The guy has a great voice, the album is slickly produced but man is it seedy.

#14. Jamie xx – In Colour

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Fans of early rave and 90s dance, dust your off your Discman and get your baggy t-shirts out, as this is a record that pays homage to that era in excellent fashion. From the opening track, “Gosh,” filled with old school jungle samples, retro synths and drum patterns to the the wonky and tripy, “obvs,” you’ll be filled with highs and lows as Jamie Smith, formerly of The XX takes you on this historic journey. “Hold Tight,” is another example of classic early techno / rave which he manages to craft so well. Jamie was quoted saying that he is happy with music as long as it, “makes me feel something,” and that’s pretty much spot on with my understanding of, “In Colour”.

#15. Girlpool – Before The World Was Big

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Girlpool are a young girlie due comprising of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad both of whom are in their late teens. Hailing from LA, their music oozes Americana with flashes of punk. The girls don’t have a drummer or use any percussion but only a guitar and bass. This may sound all bit too lo-fi and simplistic, but their harmonies and melodies are just soo good that this makes it one of the best short albums I’ve ever heard for ages. Fans of The Mouldy Peaches should definitely give this a play as its half an hour of loveliness!

#16. John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

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If you’re a fan of alternative folk electro country then this will be right up your street. Also fans of Gary Numan (as I am) will probably dig this! After the split of his band The Czar, John Grant put out his first solo album in 2010 with the amazing, “Queen of Denmark”. It wasn’t until his second, more electronic album, “Pale Green Ghosts,” did he start getting the recognition he deserved. This is probably his most sensual, cheeky and fun album to date. I mean, just take the lyrics, “You and Hitler ought to get together. You ought to learn to knit and wear matching sweaters.” Quirky, engaging and eclectic, John Grant delivers the goods again.

#17. The Body & Thou – Released From Love / You, Whom I Have Always Hated

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Skip this review right now if you are not one for humongously heavy, doom noise metal. There are no real words that can describe the power and intensity of this album, its just bloody MASSIVE! I find the wailing vocals of The Body’s Chip King a little difficult at times but there can be no doubting the sheer genius of the huge guitars, drums and bass that these guys combined bring. This is one hell of black, dark and terrifying album that will blow your socks off for the entire 40 minutes. Not for the faint hearted!

#18. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06

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Fresh off the back of the fantastic 2014, “Hell Can Wait,” EP I had really high expectations for the Long Beach, CA rapper. Coming to prominence through working with rappers such as Earl Sweatshirt, he decided to finally go it alone after rapper pals and fans urged him to do so. And what a good idea it was as his debut, Summertime ’06 turned out to be one of the best rap albums of the year. Comprising of 20 songs, over 2 CDs its quite a prolific piece of work from such a young man (21). He deals with matter such as drug dealing, racial profiling and his troubled upbringing. Its a dark and bass heavy hip-hop record with some chilling hooks. This guy is gonna go far for sure!

#19. Deluge – Æther

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The only reason I had heard about French band Deluge was because of my deep bromance for Neige of Alcest, who features on this album. I thought, if they are good enough for him, then they will probably be good enough for me. I wasn’t disappointed, whilst a lot heavier and faster (and for that matter, nothing like Alcest) Deluge make some pretty complex, progressive atmospheric black metal, with huge riffs and pounding drums. Its not all crazy fast paced stuff however, and tracks like the genius 9 minute, “Klarträumer,” would sound not too out of place on a Cure record (well kinda). Anyway, this is great debut album ofr this new band and I must say I bloomin’ love the art work on the album!

#20. Purity Ring – Another Eternity

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There are a lot of bands out there doing electro pop and in 2015 bands like Years & Year and Chvrches properly got established and reached audiences well beyond the UK. “Another Eternity,” is probably trying to do just that as this is a much brighter, more commercial and accessible album than their 2012 debut, “Shrines”. The Canadian duo still have that familiar sound, with their off tempo, trippy beats mixed in with some really uplifting synth sounds. This is evidently clear on the singles, “Bodyache,” and, “Begin Again”. Also interesting is the flirtation with hip-hop and R & B styles on tracks like, “Flood the Floor,” and “Repetition”. This combination of styles and influences has distinguished Purity Ring from the bog standard synth pop acts kicking around, and for that reason they have sneaked into my top 20!

Hello, I’m new

Hello,

Firstly, thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope you will find future posts enjoyable, informative and perhaps help expand your musical horizon.

My name is Rocco and I like music. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a simple music blog for a while. I’m into various types of music really. My first love being all things synth / pop / electro but my tastes have widened a fair amount and I also enjoy a bit of indie, rock, hip-hop and metal these days. So, at the very least I will be making lists of my favourite albums of the year or by genre and maybe discuss up and coming bands that I’m excited about. Living in Glasgow means I’m really spoiled for choice for new, cutting edge music and gigs.

So here goes nothing. I will begin proceeding by making a list of my most liked albums of 2014. I would really love to hear your comments, so please feel free to reply to anything you read, be it if you agree with me or not!

Ciao4now,

R.