Although they technically became ‘Chemical Brother’ after Ed Simons returned to academia, the ‘90s dance institution followed up a barnstorming Other Stage headline set at Glastonbury with a dazzling re-statement of the Chems’ founding principles – mixing house music with psychedelia, funk, hip-hop and indie. Born In The Echoes felt faintly unsettling all the way through, with some of the darkest soundscapes they’d explored since 1997’s seminal Dig Your Own Hole. However, with guest stars ranging from Q-Tip and Ali Love to Beck and St. Vincent, their knack for memorable collaborations was retained, making the record an unexpected triumph. (EB) (LISTEN)
A labyrinthine structure hewn from drone rock, garage rock and post-punk, Canadian group Viet Cong quietly dropped this acccomplished debut right at the start of the year, but very few guitar debuts have topped it since. Recorded in a barn in rural Canada, the growling bass tones and gnarled, twisted song structures made for a monochrome yet cinematic experience, with 11-minute closer ‘Death’ going through a number of startling mood changes and transcending to a different plane altogether. Though the group is being forced to change its name in the future, this self-titled effort fully deserved its place on the ten-strong Polaris Music Prize shortlist and ought to be remembered. (EB) (LISTEN)
Wasting no time in following up their surprise victory at 2014’s Mercury Music Prize with Dead, Young Fathers managed to top themselves second time around. Featuring the same grimy yet colourful mixtape vibe that made their debut such a strange delight, White Men Are Black Men Too revisited the same goldmine they had struck the first time round. Indeed, despite the flaws in sound quality, Young Fathers almost willed themselves to greatness, with its all-out sonic assault of tape loops, crunching beats and crazed preacher-man lyrics. A superbly entertaining victory lap. (EB) (LISTEN)
Given his busy solo career and last year’s successful Lazaretto, it came as a surprise to many that Jack White had time to spare to revisit his bluesy, moody supergroup The Dead Weather at all. Lyrically and musically, the album closes in on the spirit of White’s solo career, with ghoulish melodrama and power tool guitars. The group’s coffin-raider aesthetic was still the look here, but here they pulled it off with a greater sense of fun, and a visceral guitars-drums-vocals union with Alison Mosshart that left no space for the maudlin lamentations into which Sea Of Cowards sometimes slipped. That White is coming up with his best material since the sun set on The White Stripes is a sentiment that should be whispered carefully, but it’s hard to argue that his musical separation with Meg hasn’t yielded some fascinating collaborations. (Lauren James) (LISTEN)
Released quietly back in February, The Race For Space was the second critically acclaimed album by London instrumentalists Public Service Broadcasting, telling the story of the American and Soviet space race between 1957 and 1972. Featuring excerpts from the British Film Institute’s catalogue, the theme, tones and instrumentation perfectly depicted Cold War tension and the sense of uneasy wonder at mankind’s burgeoning technological achievements. Individual set-pieces such as ‘Gagarin’ and ‘The Other Side’ had Eno-esque qualities in their arrangement and economical soundscapes. The record reached a high of #11 in the UK album charts and also topped the indie album charts, proving itself to be one of the sleeper hits of the year. (ML) (LISTEN)
Though she was pretty much ordered to stop with all the water references, Florence Welch’s new album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful certainly rocked the boat through its constant biblical allusions and violent intensity. Compared to Lungs and Ceremonials, Florence created her most raw and stripped down album yet; her lyrics illustrated a more mature awareness towards her wild emotions compared to previous albums, but at the same time the extra space allowed her songs to become larger than life. Using Markus Dravs at the production desk, who turned Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons into some of the biggest festival acts on the circuit, Welch and her band created music capable of filling the very biggest spaces, as shown by that electrifying, impromptu Glastonbury headline set, pointing them towards a new and exciting era. (Hannah Binns) (LISTEN)
Can there be anybody left in 2015 who isn’t yet convinced of the brilliance of Richard Hawley? Hollow Meadows saw the Sheffield native produce yet another album of exquisite songwriting and craftsmanship, but it also saw him revisit the bittersweet romance of Coles Corner and Lady’s Bridge, the two albums which brought him to prominence about ten years ago. While the familiarity might have initially disappointed some, the widescreen, windswept balladry and Hawley’s rich, haunting baritone soon made you forget all about that. Another triumph from one of Britain’s most consistently excellent performers. (EB) (LISTEN)
The beguiling Benjamin Clementine provided one of the most richly deserved Mercury wins in recent memory. People will continue to debate whether or not the Prize itself truly has relevance, but one thing has remained clear: whoever actually wins the £20,000 has released a fantastic record worthy of anybody’s album of the year longlist. People who have listened to At Least For Now will be more than aware of the greatness of the record and why it was a worthy winner; through its fifty minutes, the enigmatic London-born singer takes you on a journey during which we see him discover himself – a thoroughly rewarding process for those prepared to join him. At Least For Now is a dramatic piano-led album of majesty and intrigue and after listening can inspire: if a man with a backstory such as Clementine can make it, with no help (he taught himself the piano) then anyone can make it. Sometimes dreams do come true. (JT) (LISTEN)
Following on the back of the success of his 2013 record Day Of The Dog, Ezra Furman has picked up plenty of advocates over the last year including various DJs from BBC 6Music. With songwriting blend of Jonathan Richman and Lou Reed, Furman carried on when he left off with a lithe collection of rock ‘n’ roll tinged pop, tinged with the eccentricity of David Byrne. ‘Lousy Connection’ was a distorted doo-wop classic, whilst Furman explored darker territories on ‘One Day I Will Sin No More’. ‘Restless Year’, on the poppier side of things, is one of his finest singles to date. It typified Ezra Furman as an artist that jumps straight into different genres, in which he’s laying down his insecurities and problems. (ML) (LISTEN)
Having self-released their debut Consumer Complaints in 2013, East London three-piece Shopping were snapped up by prestigious indie imprint Fatcat and came up with something mesmerising for their second. A razor-sharp concoction of wiry indie and danceable rhythms in the vein of early Bloc Party, they couched their rebellion in the same language as the consumerism they’re fighting against – hardly surprising, as theirs is the most targeted generation in terms of marketing in history. Why Choose was a fiercely intelligent and highly entertaining critique of their environment – so much choice, yet no cultural room to truly be an individual. Perhaps they can make the next step up to be the great band of their time. (EB) (LISTEN)
Tags: albums of the year, Angel Haze, Beach House, Benjamin Clementine, best albums of 2015, Bjork, Blur, Chemical Brothers, Courtney Barnett, Deafheaven, Deerhunter, Dr. Dre, Drenge, Ed Biggs, Empress Of, Ezra Furman, Father John Misty, FFS, Florence + The Machine, Foals, Gengahr, Ghostpoet, Grimes, Hannah Binns, Holly Herndon, Idlewild, Jamie xx, Joanna Newsom, John Tindale, Julia Holter, Kagoule, Kendrick Lamar, Kurt Vile, Lana Del Rey, Laura Marling, Lauren James, Majical Cloudz, Matthew Langham, Mini Mansions, Panda Bear, Pond, Public Service Broadcasting, Richard Hawley, Shopping, Sleaford Mods, Sleater-Kinney, Speedy Ortiz, Sufjan Stevens, Tame Impala, The Cribs, The Dead Weather, The Maccabees, Titus Andronicus, Top 50 albums of 2015, U.S. Girls, Viet Cong, Wolf Alice, Young Fathers
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