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.

The 2015 Nearlies

This is the section where I talk about some albums that I loved in 2015, but, didn’t quite manage to scrape into my top 20 list. So, until I get my finger out and expand my list to a top 30 or 40 these are the ones that only just fell short…..

First up its rapper Earl Sweatshirt with the album, “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside,” not quite up there with the debut, “Doris,” but still a great laid back and classic sounding hip-hop album. I think the stoners amongst us will love this as its super chilled. Also worth a mention is workaholic hip-hop artist Future with his album, “DS2”. The guy put out 4 mix tapes, 5 singles and 1 album in 2015, quite the feat! Hopefully he won’t be too furious that I snubbed him, but its quality not quantity I’ve after here.

I listened to a fair amount of metal in 2015 and it’s definitely a genre that I’ve been growing really fond of as I get older. Doom band Bell Witch came out with their second full-length album, “Four Phatoms,” this year. There may only be four song on the record, but two run for over 10minutes and the other two run for over 20! That’s what I call epic. Also worth a mention is the fabulous Bosse-de-Nage record, “All Fours.” The San Francisco based band make some intriguing atmospheric black metal / post metal type stuff, not a million miles away from Deafheaven, and if you like this type of stuff, Ghost Bath’s album, “Moonlover,” is also worth a listen. These guys made a bit of a name for themselves when they initially marketed themselves as being from China before revealing they were just Americans, ha. One last metal album that I dug this year was the untitled debut album by black metallers False. Although the vocals are rather grating it’s sonically a damn good album. Perfect for your angrier moments.

Onto some more conventional, easier listening nearlies now…..let’s start with super cool, surf rock chick Colleen Green. She’s a one woman band who can make a heck of a lot of noise with just one distorted, scuzzy guitar and a drum machine. Anyway, if this intrigues you I would suggest listening to her latest album, “I Want to Grow Up”. It’s very tongue and cheek and great fun. Another album which I was rather fond of this year was Samuel Eastgate’s solo project LA Priest with “Inji”. Fans of “new rave” may remember him fronting the pretty successful Late of The Pier back in 2008. Anyway, this is a pretty cool, psychedelic, funky electro pop album.

Not surprisingly Carly Rae Jepsen‘s latest album, “E•MO•TION,” turned out to be a bit of a pop belter in 2015. Twelve perfectly produced, 80s pop tinged songs that I have no shame in saying are darn excellent! The last nearly is another debut this time by Ghost Culture which features on Erol Alkan’s Phantasy record label. If you’re a fan of Matthew Dear or Depeche mode do give this a spin.

 

Top 20 Albums of 2014: #20-11

So here is the bottom half of my Top Albums of 2014. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my choices and thanks again for reading. Stay tuned for the Top 10 coming very soon…….

#11. Röyksopp – The Inevitable End

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As the title of Röyksopp’s latest album suggests, could the end be nigh for Norway’s finest electro-pop duo? Well, from what I’ve been hearing it could well be their last album, but it does not necessarily mean they will be hanging up their synthesisers for good. Thank goodness for that! Rather, the duo were quoted saying that they were, “not going to stop making music, but the album format as such….is the last thing from us”. Take from that what you will. Their latest offering has a dark feel to it. Tracks such as the wonderful “Monument” featuring Swedish pop princess Robyn is an electro-pop gem and has an almost Jean Michel Jarre feel to it. I’ve always admired that Röyksopp seem to find such amazing vocalists to feature on their tracks. Previous albums have included the Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson, Lykke Li and Kings of Convenience singer Erlend Øye. On this album we find the talented Jamie McDermott of art-pop collective The Irrepressibles and up-and-coming Norwegian singer Susanne Sundfør. An altogether mini electronic dance music masterpiece and a fine way to sign things off from these nice chaps.

#12. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2

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Run The Jewels are American rapper Killer Mike and rapper / producer El-P. Both have been on the hip-hop scene for some time but only came together as a duo last year, releasing their well received and imaginatively named “Run The Jewels 1” debut album. A year on from their first album and they sound better than ever. Their sound is very electronic (perhaps one of the main reasons I enjoyed it so much) and has some with some wonderful hooks, riffs, massive bass lines and nice, old-school hip-hops sounds. At only 39 minutes long, this is one dark and fierce flowing record. P.S there is an

#13. Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden

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I’ll admit it, I don’t know a heck of a lot about metal music, but, in the past 2 years I have been listening to a good fair bit of it. Pallbearer are fairly accessible if you’ve never really listened to much metal. They are an American ‘Doom Metal’ band from Arkansas, now into their second album. Doom metal, is a slower and heavier form of metal and Pallbearer do it with sheer perfection. Despite there only being 6 tracks on this album, it lasts a surprisingly long 55 minutes (including 12 minute closing track, “Vanished”). It fair to say this fits into the “progressive” style of music with tracks building, gaining momentum and power and creating a great sense of atmosphere with some amazing 90s style metal guitar riffs. This. Album. Truly. Rocks. HARD!

#14. La Roux – Trouble In Paradise

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Being a massive synth-pop fan, I was really wishing and hoping that this much anticipated new La Roux album would, well, be half decent. I was amazed and delighted to hear that it wasn’t just decent, but bloody good and far superior to the self titled debut album. It’s been a long wait for the second album, 5 years to be exact. In that time, the duo have become a solo act, and Elly Jackson shows no sign of weakness with this top-notch effort. Influences of 70s disco, with catchy 80s style hooks and choruses, I found myself listening to this playful and upbeat album on many an occasion.

#15. Liars – Mess

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Amazingly, this is Liars 7th studio album. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, this dance-punk, electronic outfit seem to be working their assess off since forming in the early 2000s. This is an album of pure electronic sounds. Totally artificial and synthetic, with massive squidgy synth, pulsing beats and cold, almost Gary Numan-esque vocals. The album starts with so much energy and perhaps peaks early with one of the stand-out tracks, “I’m No Good” with its big organs sounds, bleeps and hard hitting kick drum. The album does not quite repeat this high energy pattern as it signs off with a few down beat tracks, each of which are exquisite however. Probably the best pure electronic album of the year.

#16. Metronomy – Love Letters

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Metronomy are back with this, their 4th album. Love Letters is a nicely constructed and arranged indie, synth-pop record which seems to nab influences from several different genres (think disco, 70s electro and baroque pop), which I think will appeal to many people. Arguably this is Britain’s coolest and most forward thinking pop group and I have been impressed with all their records to date.

#17. Charli XCX – Sucker

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I was pretty surprised to see that Charli XCX put out another album so soon after releasing her excellent, “True Romance” record just last year (2013). I also wasn’t expecting anything anywhere near as good, but, I will admit it, I was pleasantly surprised. This is a really nice pop album with uplifting rock rifts, massive electronic sounds and loud shout-y vocals which seems to be inspired by all the best bits of the 80s / 90s and beyond. This pop heroine certainly has some darn fine producers working for her, of particular note a super-Swede, Patrik Berger who has worked with artists like Robyn, Icona Piop and Lana Del Rey. Arguably the Swedes make the best pop music in the world so I have to hand it to them yet again. This is a great pop record which is full of cool attitude!

#18. The Coathangers – Suck My Shirt

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Ok, so at number 19 we had what I think is the coolest name in music and at #18, we have The Coathangers. From the name you probably won’t be surprised to learn that this all girl punk band from Atlanta formed as a bit of a joke. Now into their 4th album, its fair to say their music has matured massively over the years, however, they haven’t quite lost that fun, punky, garage edge. Obviously with an album title like “Suck My Shirt” you can’t expect something totally serious and, all in all this is a fun record. The album is playful, upbeat and furiously fierce and just seems a little bit more polished that predecessors. A great choice of album for anyone wanting to rock out.

#19. Planningtorock – All Love’s Legal

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Firstly, I’d just like to say that I think Planningtorock is the coolest name for a music artist. Planningtorock is English born Janine Rostron who now calls herself ‘Jam’ Rostron, as you do. Based in Germany, I have been following her music for some time and I absolutely loved her 2011 album, “W”. Although I feel her latest album isn’t quite as good its still pretty darn fine. Fans of The Knife should like her style. Her warped, distorted vocals sound very masculine as she mutters lyrics like “lets talk about gender baby” (which may I add is a tune) over plucking guitar chords, fat bassline and stabbing synth sounds. Planningtorock truly is a unique artists, especially in the world of electronic music as her lyrics seem to take centre stage focusing on love and gender politics.

#20. Jungle – Jungle

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Never in my wildest dreams did I think that a funk album would be one of my favourite albums of 2014. However, Jungle are just that, an ultra slick and groovy funk duo from London formed by members Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson. They broke onto the scene in 2013 with some pretty outstanding video’s for tracks like “Bust Earnin’” and “Platoon” which kinda went viral. These are both well worth checking out if you have’t seen them. I wasn’t really sure what to expect after hearing these songs, but its fair to say all the lead singles are the real stand-out tracks. This album oozes sunshine with its shimmering synths, lovely falsetto vocals and almost tropical beats. It will definitely be going with me on my next holiday, that’s for sure.

The 2014 Nearlies

It is with great pleasure I bring to you the 2014 nearly list. The albums which I definitely enjoyed, but just failed to squeak into my top 20 album list for 2014…..

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And so, to begin, some controversy perhaps? St Vincent‘s self titled and fourth album is quite a peach, however, I find myself favouring 2011’s “Strange Mercy”. If you have no idea what Art Pop is all about, well, give these guys a spin, you won’t be disappointed. Think about it as top quality pop music for middle aged people. I hope that doesn’t sound too patronising.

In 2014 I also found myslef listening to some rather fine hip-hop. A feat I had never really thought would be possible a few years back. Certainly artists like Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar helped widen my appeal for a genre I had virtually no interest in. Two noticeable albums came in the form of “Honest” by Atlanta rapper Future. Its aurally beautiful and synth heavy, however as with many rap artists I find some of the lyrics a tad abrasive. Nonetheless, I played this album countless times this year. The other hip-hop album would be from a certain Schoolboy Q, member of West Coast hip-hop collective Black Hippy alongside rappers Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar. His 2014 album Oxymoron has a really nice old school hip-hop feel, not to mention the fact the guy is a fantastic rapper and lyricist.

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Electronic albums which have not quite made my top 20 this year include Hercules & Love Affair’s new album “The Feast Of The Broken Heart,” which has a great nu-disco, Chicago house, party vibe about it, “Otherness” by Kindness and Die Antwoord‘s “Donker Mag”, which is more of the same rap-rave shenanigans from the crazy South African duo.

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Two rather pleasantly chilled albums that I enjoyed this year came from wacky French pioneer Sébastien Tellier with his album L’Aeventura and “Shelter” by French, once black metal-ers now shoe-gaze chillsters Alcest. If that makes any sense at all? Thought not.

So that was it, my nearly list and first proper post. Do you agree with the above. Did you enjoy an of these albums. If so let me know and we’ll have a little chat.

Ciao4now,

R.