Top 20 Albums 2016: #10-1

#1. Cobalt – Slow Forever

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In a year with few great heavy metal releases Cobalt re-appeared from a 7-year absence and delivered what could be considered a masterpiece in any given year. They were a band on the brink of splitting up after their former singer was forced to leave the group, leaving just multi-instrumentalist; Erik Wunder. Fate perhaps had a part in what happened next as Charlie Fell was also kicked out of his band, Lord Mantis, but before you know it he was enlisted as the new member of Cobalt. The chemistry between Wunder with his Tool / Neurosis influenced writing and Fell’s blood churning vocals is captivating. They have made a record that sounds almost radio friendly with a 90s heavy metal style, country, and blues influence and with excellent polished production. What makes it slightly less radio friendly is the presence of Fell’s chilling and savage vocals. The man is an accomplished singer that gives Cobalt a much bigger presence than ever before. Slow Forever is a double album, spanning a whopping 1 hour and 25 minutes. I mean who even makes double albums anymore? I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that 12 eight minute songs would be overkill, but, in reality, the album sounds cohesive and there are no fillers to be heard. Cobalt have managed to create a metal album that sounds timeless, varied and doesn’t fit into any one particular music camp. For this reason, this fantastic album takes the No.1 spot!

#2. Anohni – Hopelessness

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Anohni is Antony Hegarty, formerly of Anotony and the Johnsons. This time she has renounced gender, (in a way) and is being referred to a ‘she’ rather than a ‘he’ now. Anyway, this is her first solo project under the new alias of Anohni and it’s a pretty powerful and dramatic listen as she sings about all the problems of the day, such as global warming, war, Obama’s presidency, animal welfare and even the death penalty. Despite these rather demanding themes, it’s still a really pleasant listen. Anohni’s smooth vibrato vocals and imaginative electronic production make this record sound like some kind of weird operatic theater production set in the next century. For anyone that would like to expand their pop pallet, this is a must.

#3. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

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The most daring man in hip-hop returns with his fourth album and this time he’s gone truly dark. Brown has signed to Warp Records for this release, a label which specialises predominately in experimental electronica so you get a sense of the direction the man is wanting to go in. Brown joins label mates such as Aphex Twin, Autechre and Boards of Canada and in a way, his new style isn’t a million miles from these artists. Atrocity Exhibition is pretty experimental and is really pushing the boundaries of hip-hop. The new album contains elements of techno, punk, disco and grime. His vocals are high-pitched, frantic but on point and every song sounds uniquely different which makes this a real surprising and fresh listen each time.

#4. Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow

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I was lucky enough to see many great bands perform in Glasgow throughout 2016 and of the dozens of gigs I attended, the most stoned and f#cked up of the lot were these chaps. I would probably also give them the honorable accolade of worst singers too, however, there was something really likable about these shoegazing stoners from Philadelphia. In fact, I recall during the gig they even joked about their terrible live performances and how they often get stick for it. They seemed too screwed up to care and that kind of attitude comes across on the album and the lyrical content which can be pretty dark and gloomy. Take for instance my favourite track. “OCD” (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) with lyrics such as “Here we are again, someone find the cure ’cause you know me and I am not well, I always knew, I’d eventually hurt you.” There is some proper self-loathing stuff on here yet the uplifting, melodic fuzzy guitars make this a complex and incredible listen.

#5. James Blake – The Colour in Anything

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In a pretty impressive and fairly short career so far for James Blake and in that time he’s accomplished quite a bit. His last album, “Overgrown,” picked up a Mercury music award in 2013, before that when starting out he was pushing the boundaries of electronic dance music with his clever lyrics, piano moods and dub-step grooves. Now into his third album, it’s impressive to see Blake sticking to a sound that is distinctly his own and gaining praises from music influencers such as Frank Ocean and Bon Iver, (both of whom appear on this record). The opening track, “Radio Silence,” sets the tone nicely for the whole album, as he sings about the breakup of a deep relationship. Standing at 17 tracks long, it seems like a lot of pain and heartbreak to take in, but its deeply compelling and his clever way with delicate piano melodies and electronic beats means the listeners attention is easily kept for h whole album.

#6. Graves at Sea – The Curse That Is

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The Curse That Is, 8 tracks and 76 minutes of meaty, heavy, distorted, guitar riffs. Despite the fact this band have been around for over 10 years, they have finally managed to delivered a full length album. Once again, the good old city of Portland has produced another cutting metal band. Its like Ozzy Osborne is going around impregnating all the women in the city, such is the multitude of talent from here! As a fan of sludge metal, this was one of the metal albums I was really looking forward to in 2016 and it TOTALLY delivered. Frontman Nathan Misterek’s vocals are outstanding and alternate between throat scraping rasps and deeper growls. This, paired with the bass heavy, filthy chugging guitars makes for a massive winner. I for one was happy to wait the long agonising wait for this one to finally drop.

#7. NAO – For All We Know

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Quite possibly east London based singer NAO has produced one of the coolest records of the year. The album just exhumes confidences, swagger and funk. Despite the fact the album harks back to the past in terms of style, its production is so good that it is unmistakeably fresh and current. Yes, its what everyone has been calling, “Future RnB,” but I think on this occasion NAO has done a stellar job at doing just that and has brought something fresh to this genre. NAO’s high-pitched vocals sit wonderfully on top of wonky baselines and rippling synths and despite the length of the album (18 tracks) there are no weak tracks and on more that one occasion I’ve found myself totally bopping along to the infectious groove.

#8. Frank Ocean – Blonde

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Well, this was pretty unexpected from Frank Ocean! In my humble opinion he’s one of the most talented artists on the planet and certainly capable of reaching, “King of Pop” status. Its been 4 years now since the incredible, “channel ORANGE,” was released, an album that projected him to genius status (in my book anyway). With this new found fame came hype from across the globe and lets face it, a tonne of cash. But, instead of buying flash cars and bling, Ocean seemed happy to retreat back and work away on a new album. However, after bust ups with his record label (Def Jam) many thought it would never happen, until this year when a visual album, “Endless,” was released to satisfy the conditions of his contract. This bizarre ambient album was certainly not what fans wanted by thankfully Ocean had, “Blonde,” up his sleeve which was released independently only a day later and to critical acclaim! “Blonde,” is a big change in direction from the last album, there are no epic dancefloor tracks like Pyramids on here, instead, its a sparse, chilled out neo-soul album filled with moody sounds of keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars. Its really is a great late night listen and an album that I just keep getting more fond of.

#9. Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP

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Schoolboy Q is certainly a hip-hop artist that is maturing with age. Each album has been better than the last, and now Blank Face LP, Q’s fourth album is clearly his best to date. For a long time Schoolboy Q has stood in the shadows of fellow Black Hippy and label mate Kendrick Lamar’s shadow but now is really his time to come to the fore. Blank Face LP is his most ambitious album to date, he has worked with a plethora of stars on this record (Kendrick, Miguel, Anderson Paak and Vince Staples to name but a few) and the album spans an impressive 70 minutes. Despite the huge amount of talent on the album Schoolboy Q is clearly in control and is still the protagonist on this record. Lyrically brilliant and sonically sweet, hip-hop fans will adore this.

#10. Alcest – Kodama

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We begin the top 10 with one of my favourite bands of the last decade. In the space of less than ten years, Alcest have released a now whopping 5 albums and at the same time have turned heavy metal music on its head and caused all sorts of arguments with metal enthusiasts. The reason, well, some describe their music as metal and some don’t. Anyone with a love of dreamy shoegaze, blissful, progressive melodies, powerful guitars and haunting vocals should give them a shot. While their last album, “Shelter,” was purely a shoegaze album, the latest effort harks back to their older work, which combines elements of black metal into the mix. This is one of the French bands strongest work to date and found it imaginative and magically uplifting.

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Top 20 Albums 2016: #20-11

#11. Kuedo – Slow Knife

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If a retro-futuristic sounding album which sounds like the score of some obscure sci-fi film is likely to excite you then read on. Kuedo clearly takes inspiration from great composers like Mike Oldfield, Vangellis and Jean-Michel Jarre but puts his spin on it with different more ‘modern’ style drum patterns and loops, influence from dubstep and trap music. The stand out track is “In Your Sleep,” perhaps because it’s the only one to feature any vocals. These are provided, quite unexpectedly, by Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe, an unlikely pairing but one that works perfectly. Other great tracks include “Floating Forest” a haunting and eery dubstep effort which would not sound totally out of place in a Burial record.

#12. dvsn – Sept. 5th

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dsvn are a fairly elusive and media shy RnB act comprised of vocalist Daniel Daley and song writer / producer Nineteen85 from Toronto. After releasing several singles in 2015 they were picked up by fellow countryman Drake and signed to his OVO label. From then on dvsn (pronounced division) have never really looked back. Sept 5th is a slow, moody and slick piece of RnB inspired by the 90s which seems to be right on trend at the moment. Stand out tracks for me are “Try / Effortless,” and “Hallucinations,” which showcase Daley’s mesmerizing vocals and falsettos. The slickest RnB record of the year for me!

#13. Eight Bells – Landless

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Its seems like every other great metal band comes from Portland, Oregon at the moment and these 3 chicks are doing their city proud once more. Eight Bells make progressive, moody and melodic doom with uniquely sweet female vocals. In fact, I think their whole sound is pretty original as it cannot really be placed firmly into one particular metal genre. “Landless,” is so breath-taking that I think even non-metal fans would like it. A great piece of work that seems to get better with each listen and a must for anyone dabbling with metal music.

#14. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

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Blood Orange is British-American singer / songwriter Dev Hynes. You may not have heard much of his own work but the guy is prolific and has written written for artists such as Solange Knowles, Sky Ferreira, FKA twigs, Florence and the Machine, Carly Rae Jepsen, The Chemical Brothers and Kylie to name but a few. So, you get the picture, this guy is ridiculously talented. Blood Orange is Hynes’ electronic RnB project which is now into the third album. Sonically, this album has a little bit of everything, inspired by funk, soul, disco and artists like Michael Jackson and Prince. “Freetown Sound,” also features a multitude of guest vocalists from Debbie Harry to Carly Rae Jepsen and even Nelly Furtado which give it almost a mixtape like feel. There are certainly many different ideas and themes going on this record, yet the album is concise, slick and a great listen.

#15. Sleigh Bells – Jessica Rabbit

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What do you get when you cross a hardcore punk guitarist with a former teen-pop group member? The answer is Sleigh Bells, who are a very noisy noisepop band. Now into their 4th album their sound has developed somewhat, the massive guitar sounds are still evident on genius tracks like, “It’s Just Us Now,” and “I Just Can’t Stand It,” but there is also some more synthy pop numbers in the mix too. Initially I thought these guys would just be some sort of novelty, one album wonder band, but their longevity is proving and this is their best release since the first with some outstanding head banging riffs that make it the most kick ass pop record of the year.

#16. Abra – Princess

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Anyone who knows me knows I’m a dead sucker for 80s pop and with the release of the single, “Cry Baby,” earlier this year my 80s pop cravings were met, big time! Abra is a female, solo project hailing from Atlanta and produces and writes all her music at home. It certainly gives the album a rather rugged, unpolished and bedroom pop type feel. Her style is very much in the RnB camp but with a huge emphasis on drum patterns and big synth which you’d get on many pop tracks of the 80s. “Princess,” only contains 6 tracks and lasts a mere 22 minutes, so it almost feels like a work in progress EP than a full blown album. But I can’t help but feel that Abra is leading up to something bigger and better in the future. Fans of early Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Janet Jackson and FKA Twigs should really dig this.

#17. Astronoid – Air

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Astronoid’s “Air” is a bit of an odd one for me. On paper it sounded genius, with bands such as Deafheaven and Alcest being the main influences, in reality I wasn’t quite sure, however, after several listens I found it to be one of the most uplifting and euphoric albums of 2016. Astronoid are a five piece band from Boston, they make rather tricky to describe music without sounding like a bit of a fud. Basically, if you like the idea of dream-pop, black metal and space rock all mixed up together then, this may just float your boat. Tracks are wonderfully melodic, powerful and mesmerising and for me, this is one of the most original albums of the year. So much so in fact that the terms, “dream-thrash” are getting branded about to describe their unique style. Anyway, call it what you want, I’m still a huge fan of this record regardless of what the latest hipsters are calling it.

#18. The Radio Dept. – Running Out of Love

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Many, including myself thought it would never happen. After 6 years in hiatus, the Swedish dream pop masters are back with their 4th album. This is their most electronic album to date and their most politically charged too. Tracks like, “Swedish Guns,” pan the gun industry in their home country and “We’ve Got Game,” focusing on racism and oppression, definitely not the images we are used to hearing about from the country. This album just oozes nostalgia with hazy synths, dancehall grooves and trippy beats and it may just be The Radio Dept. most cohesive album to date.

#19. Mr Oizo – All Wet

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Quentin Dupieux, aka Mr Oizo; DJ, film maker, film producer extraordinaire and dance music composer is back with his sixth full length album. Many of you will remember Mr Oizo from the massive Levis jeans advert back in 1999 featuring a certain fluffy character, Flat Eric. Well, its been a while since we’ve seen Flat Eric but he’s managed to land himself on the cover of the brand new LP. The latest effort from Oizo is pretty different from his previous, “The Church”, which was basically a full on minimal techno record. Most tracks on “All Wet,” include some sort of collaborations with some of the biggest names in pop and dance music. Guests include Charlie XCX, Peaches, Skrillex and Italian rapper Phra to name but a few. “All Wet,” is a glitchy, funky, electro-pop mashed up piece of frenetic fun. For me, Mr Oizo never disappoints and can always get a party started.

#20. Factory Floor – 25 25

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Listening to Factory Floor makes me feel a bit old. Should I still like this type of music? Is it still relevant? Is the reminiscing clouding my judgement? I’m not sure, but I know I’ve really enjoyed listening to 25-25 blaring out of my stereo on more than a few occasions this year. Factory Floor are signed to the legendary James Murphy’s (i.e. LCD Soundsystem) label, DFA Records, who is well known for picking up great electronic artists. It’s the London-based bands second album and its filled with hypnotic, minimal acid house and techno tracks that will have you flashbacking to warehouse rave parties of the 90s. It’s pretty evident that the 90s is making a comeback, whether that’s influenced in fashion, or music and these guys are doing the early dance music of the time a total justice with this latest release.

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!

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!

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.