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 of 2014: #10-1

It’s the last day of the year, so a fitting moment to reveal the last of my favourite records of 2014. Agree or disagree with my Top 10? Well, let me know! Just click on the post title and leave a comment.

#1. Perfume Genius – Too Bright

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Perfume Genius is the stage name of Seattle based Mike Hadreas and Too Bright is the third album since his first release in 2010. There has been a real natural progression in his music since then and his latest is another step up on so many levels. Lyrically, its pretty hard hitting, the arraignments are smart and clever and its simply a wonderfully produced album. The first single to be released from the new album, “Queen” was unlike all his previous releases. It’s a dark and menacing pop record with a huge distorted baseline, synthetic harpsichord melodies and angry shrieking backing choirs. There are several tracks on this record that I just love, take the track, “Fool” a finger snapping grooving pop gem and then there’s the much much darker, “My Body” which wouldn’t be out of place in a horror film. “Grid” too, with its industrial sounds, shrilling vocals and chanting children is potentially the stuff of nightmares. If all of this is painting a pretty frightening and bleak picture, have no fear, the end product, despite being dark and noisy is pretty beautiful and truly captivating. Hadreas hasn’t quite packed away his piano for this record and tracks reminiscent of previous albums can still be found on this record. Take the title track, another beautiful and dreamy stripped back number and the album as a whole is a great balance of these contrasting songs. A modern day classic? I think so.

#2. Ásgeir – In The Silence

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The easiest way for me to describe Ásgeir is basically that he is the Icelandic equivalent of Bon Iver. I’m kinda annoyed with myself for comparing the two as no doubt everyone else has already done so, but vocally and even musically, they seem to be very similar. This is Ásgeir’s first album in English and has already firmly established himself as a huge star in his home country. In The Silence is a sunning laid back, chilled acoustic record with sweeping sythns, gentle percussion and some of the sweetest melodies you’re likely to hear. Its just the perfect album to unwind to.

#3 Future Islands – Singles

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From the opening lead single, “Seasons (Waiting on You)” you just know this is going to be another belter of an album from Future islands. The opening track is anthemic and melodic, with wonderful angelic synths and modulating bass lines. Vocals from lead singer Samuel Herring are, as always, passionate and emotive and the theme continues through pretty much the entire album. Every song on this record is excellent from the production, to the arrangement and melodies. This is new wave music done at its very best.

#4. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time

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Funky, fun, clever that’s probably the easiest way to describe Todd Terje’s debut nu-disco album. This is the Norwegian’s first, however, he has been churning out singles and remixes for the likes of Hot Chip, Roxy Music and Bombay Bicycle Club for the past 10 years or so. On this record we have a great collection of Italo disco, Giorgio Moroder influenced and piano house tracks. It pays great homage to a genre that was, in my opinion, not given the credit it deserved. Tracks like, “Delorean Dynamite” and “Oh Joy” are a perfect example. P.S. I dare anyone not to loose complete control to the quirky track “Svensk Sås” a deranged calypso number that just hits you out of the blue.

#5. Trust – Joyland

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Trust, is Canadian synthpop artist Robert Alfons. I ain’t talking about the French heavy metal band on this occasion. Trust started off as a duet with Maya Postepski of the band Austra and released their debut album TRST in 2012, which, I was a huge fan of. Two years later Maya left the band leaving Robert Alfons to continue as a solo project. This, the second record, seems to have a more polished sound to it and Alfons took the project up a notch. First and foremost this is a synthpop record, however, it’s a very dark and eerie one. Alfons’ vocals are twisted and creepy and his range is pretty extraordinary often breaking into ridiculously high falsettos. Influences of eurodance (yup believe it), techno, 90s rave and trance with some outstanding melodies and the aforementioned wacky vocals meant this was one of my most played and loved records of the year. Perhaps not everyone’s cup of team, but for me a record that I really grew to love.

#6. Young Fathers – Dead

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Its feels great to have a Scottish band in my top 10 list for 2014 and it’s not because I’m biased, it’s because there guys are making some of the coolest hip-hop music on the planet right now. Tracks have a lo-fi production feel, with odd drum patterns, distorted weird samples and synthesizers, however they often come across soulful. Lyrically its nice to hear a hip-hop group that don’t rap solely about drugs and sex and there isn’t much profanity on this record (again refreshing to hear). As mentioned these guys definitely have that soulful and gospel vibe and create nice vocal harmonies on top of that very electronic music backdrop. Young Fathers are truly unique and have done well to create their own sound that completely distinguishes themselves in the hip-hop world.

#7. Godflesh – A World Lit Only By Fire

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If you like the opening track, “New Dark Ages” on the latest Godflesh offering then its safe to say this album is for you. After a hiatus of 13 years this English industrial metal band are back with a walloper. Possibly this is their heaviest album to date and it features some massive guitar riffs that are truly addictive. Tracks like “Shut me Down” are exactly what industrial metal is all about. That mechanical drum beat, raw power and heavy guitar sound is currently music to my ears. A truly wonderful comeback that was well worth the wait.

#8. FKA Twigs – LP1

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Q1. Who was the most hyped artist of 2014?  A. FKA Twigs.
Q2. Was it merited?  A. Yes, absolutely.
As a refreshing change, the hype did live up to the claim that Gloucestershire born, Tahliah Barnett, aka FKA Twigs would be this years shining star. Her album LP1 came off the back of some pretty stunning, but musically challenging EPs. I wasn’t too into these, however, I found LP1 much more accessible and really enjoyable. FKA makes alternative, heavily electronic R&B with some tracks reminiscent of 90s trip-hop. However you want to label her, she made some of the most original music of the year and for this reason you should definitely check her out.

#9. Woman’s Hour – Conversations

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It took these guys three long years to get from releasing their initial single to delivering their first studio album. To be honest, I had completely forgotten about their existence, until reading about them again in a national newspaper. Woman’s Hour are a 4 piece band from Kendal in the Lake District. They make beautiful chilled out pop music backed up with the sweetest vocals from singer Fiona Burgess. I think it would be fair of me to say that they sound a tad like a modern day Sade and many tracks ooze that 80s soul vibe. Younger readers may compare them to bands like London Grammar or The XX. There are 11 blissfully produced and elegantly constructed songs on this debut release which make this one heck of a smooth album.

#10. EMA – The Future’s Void

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There’s something about Erika M Anderson aka EMA. Whether it’s her ability to make fantastic 90s garage rock tracks like, “So Blonde” or the screechy electronic opener, “Satellites” or perhaps the blissful piano tinged “3Jane”. It’s hard to put EMA into one box, she sits in-between different genres. The girl is talented and ultra cool and clearly has her own ideas about what a music album should comprise of these days. As the album title suggests, there seems to be a sci-fi, futuristic feel about her new album, which is very forward thinking both musically and lyrically.