2013’s spectacular album Impersonator allowed Canadian writer Devon Welsh the opportunity to take his Majical Cloudz project, with instrumentalist Matthew Otto, on a world tour with Lorde last year. His unnervingly up-close and personal style, set to fragile, minimalist electronic landscapes, was intact from last time out, but this time it was a meditation upon a single theme – loneliness. Occasional thumps of bass, drones of keyboards and lonely piano tinkles provided the backdrop, as Welsh’s stark and empathetic lyrics recast solitude as something to be embraced, rather than feared. Unmistakably sad, but never bleak, and often as spellbinding as its predecessor, Are You Alone? was highly emotionally resonant for the introverted among us. (EB) (LISTEN)
With thudding drums and infectious guitar riffs, Drenge’s second effort Undertow exceeded their first by deepening their sound and expanding their musical range. Proving that they aren’t just a one trick pony, the Loveless brothers adding childhood friend Rob Graham to form a three-piece, and created a collection of bloody, earworm melodies. At the same time, Undertow displayed a softer underbelly that wasn’t present on their debut, capable of appealing to new fans as well as old. Songs such as ‘We Can Do What We Want’ captured their mentality towards the music industry, providing the same raw, alienated teenage angst that was apparent in Drenge. As Eoin Loveless tantrums and spits venomous verbs in form of lyrics, there was an underlying feeling of confidence, suggesting that there are no limits for this band as they go forward. (HB) (LISTEN)
London newcomers Gengahr have put themselves on the map this year, ahead of all the other callow amateurs toting guitars out there, with their highly anticipated and accomplished album A Dream Outside. With sentimental and metaphorical lyrics, Gengahr tried to escape reality and impending adulthood within this album, naming themselves after their favourite Pokémon. As for the music, songs start off shyly with perfect harmonies then boom out in volume while preserving that mood of unease: a combination which would make your gran spill her cuppa tea in shock. On the whole, the album suggests that Gengahr are ones to watch in 2016 – I for one, am excited to see what they do next. (HB) (LISTEN)
Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper was an alternative album that reeked of fun. From the choppy vocal of ‘Mr. Noah’ to the skewed pop of ‘Crosswords’, Panda Bear (aka. Noah Lennox) managed to culminate everything that made him and his main band Animal Collective great for so many years, all the while providing an interesting insight into the inner workings of his mind. Despite the anonymity of the cut-up lyrics and ethereal vocal delivery, …Grim Reaper feels like a confessional record, one which sees Lennox reflect on himself – especially during seven minute epic ‘Come To Your Senses’ where he questions: “Are you mad?”, before finally answering with “Yeah, I’m mad”. During its 51 minutes, we were treated to an alternative wave of excellently crafted alt-pop, one that is certainly a great addition to Lennox’s already significant collection. (JT) (LISTEN)
After ten years of refining and polishing their trademark sound, and producing two of the best albums of the decade so far in Teen Dream and Bloom, Beach House had to do something different for their next record. Choosing to refine their sound rather than revolutionise it, they dialled back the percussion to a faint, insistent pulse and went further down the ethereal route of My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins for Depression Cherry. While this shift was most detectable on the coiled, anxious lead single ‘Sparks’, the old familiar magic could still be found on the likes of the gorgeous, gospel-tinged ‘Levitation’, with Victoria Legrand’s vocals as sorrowful and expressive as ever. To make it a bumper year, Beach House dropped a surprise follow-up record Thank Your Lucky Stars just a few weeks later. (EB) (LISTEN)
Recorded in the Elephant & Castle area of London, The Maccabees long-awaited fourth album took over three years to make following a period of uncertainty over their newly written material. The record pays tribute to the rapid development and gentrification of the area in which it was written, and the long gestation period paid off for the band as Marks To Prove It reached #1 in the UK album charts. Whilst 2012’s Given To The Wild had a more grandiose approach with regards to scope, Marks To Prove It had a much more cohesive sound as a full body of work. The melodic decline of the title track led perfectly into the quieter, piano-led hits including ‘Spit It Out’ and ‘Something Like Happiness’. Though it took a while to come, it was The Maccabees picking up where they left off, in the best form of their career. (ML) (LISTEN)
The Australian psychedelic band maintained their prodigious output rate with sixth album Man It Feels Like Space Again. With its infectious riffs and all manner of trippy effects, the album flutters across boundaries willy-nilly, with contrasting moods which almost made the listener crave for Pond to return to planet Earth before they go loopy with confusion – if only it wasn’t goddamned fun. But, this is what makes the album great: no song is the same in any way shape or form, and while people may see the album on the whole as a jubilant mess, it is actually ingenious, albeit in a totally disconnected, blowout kinda way. (HB) (LISTEN)
Coming up with their second masterpiece in half a decade, Titus Andronicus’ Patrick Stickles bared his soul for this grandiose statement. A 29-track, 93-minute long rock opera about a tormented character meeting a psychologically straight doppelganger divided into five ‘acts’, The Most Lamentable Tragedy acted as a metaphor for its creator’s ravaged mental state – a crazy concept album about being crazy. Stickles channelled his anxiety and self-loathing through raging, bilious seas of post-hardcore and melodic punk underscored by dark, bloody imagery akin to the Shakespeare play from which the band takes its name. Reminiscent of Hüsker Dü’s ‘80s underground classic Zen Arcade, it fully restored Titus Andronicus in the eyes of their fans, and was easily as great as 2010’s The Monitor which had made them such an underground phenomenon in the first place. (EB) (LISTEN)
San Francisco’s Deafheaven may have emerged from the black metal scene, but their glorious sonic assault was also constructed from elements of goth, shoegaze, post-rock and punk, meaning that their sound was a broad church. New Bermuda followed on from 2013’s breakthrough Sunbather, and consisted of five massive tracks spread-eagled over 47 minutes. Full of deftly executed contrasts between light and dark, pain and ecstasy, beauty and ugliness, Deafheaven are just as effective when they’re quiet as they are at full-throttle, all-channels-open distortion mode, and New Bermuda was another skyscraping demonstration of their vast emotional power and technical ability. (EB) (LISTEN)
The debut album by New York-based Lorely Rodriguez more than delivered on the promise of her early song sketches and Systems EP. Like an avant-garde take on R&B, Me was constructed from pounding beats, MIDI triggers and crystalline synth figures, Rodriguez took us on an emotional tour de force dealing with a relationship fallout and taking ownership of her experiences. Ranging from the self-reliance manual ‘Need Myself’ to the harrowing ‘Kitty Kat’, where she recounts being shouted at and followed home by creepy men, the level of the writing belied her tender age. But crucially, for all its humanistic intelligence and empathy, Me was also accessible on the more immediate level of pure pop songwriting, as these earworms burrowed themselves deep inside your consciousness and refused to die. Given the chance, Rodriguez’s future is unbelievably bright. (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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