15. Porcelain Raft – Strange Weekend
Strange Weekend is an excellent excercise in versatility. Mauro Remiddi, AKA Porcelain Raft, brings so many different ideas to the table on his full-length solo debut. That, in itself, would be worth applauding, but it’s the fact that he does it all with such expertise and precision that must be commended. The sonic planes he travels are so distant from one another, but they’re all centred around a distinct 80’s vibe, with M83-esque dream-pop elements perpetuating it. Read my full review HERE.
14. How To Dress Well – Total Loss
Tom Krell‘s brand of stripped-down, hypnotic R’n’B is instantly recognisable as his own, and as How To Dress Well, he’s helped pioneer a genre that didn’t really exist before his appearance. His falsetto vocals are immediately recognisable and characterise the sorrow and yearning that his music embodies. There’s an overwhelming sense of sadness and foreboding that haunts Total Loss, and the songwriting conveys that as well. Krell‘s compositions on Total Loss are breathtaking, with harps, violins, piano, electronics and his own vocals blending together to create music that is hard to describe without actually hearing it. On his second effort, Krell is more personal and vulnerable than on his 2010 debut Love Remains, and it helps document the feelings of this troubled soul, who’s dealing with the losss of friends and family in the most cathartic manner. While he certainly wears his inspirations on his sleeves, they’re dismantled in a way that is totally energizing to hear put down on record.
13. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
All hype aside, this is one of the most triumphant and cohesive hip hop albums I’ve heard in recent years. At only twelve tracks, it allows every track to be as fleshed-out as possible, and together as a whole they tell quite a story. Kendrick Lamar fills each track with so much detail that you’ll feel like you actually grew up in Compton with Kendrick by the end of the track. With Dr Dre on primary production duties there is certainly some pedigree backing up this major label debut. Kendrick Lamar expands on many of the themes covered on last year’s excellent Section.80 with a vibe very much remeniscent of OutKast circa ATLiens/Aquemini. Every track just flows into one other so seemlessly; it all has a natural progression that seems almost perfect. Skits are scattered throughout the record to give further context to the songs, it all feels so masterfully put together. Features are scarce on the album, with verses from fellow Black Hippy collective member Jay Rock, as well as Drake and Dr Dre himself, but Kendrick Lamar is without doubt the star of this show. With good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar has been thrust into the spotlight and he’s really thriving on it. He’s quickly becoming one of the most popular new hip-hop stars, and no one really deserves it more.
12. Wild Nothing – Nocturne
Although a lot of bands claim to create ‘dream-pop’, none of them personify it quite like Jack Tatum, AKA Wild Nothing. Nocturne truly is an ethereal experience, best listened to late at night. The album slowly grows and grows upon each listen, with higher production values than his debut. This record really shows how Tatum has grown as a songwriter, both through the more ambitious melodies and the deeper, more poignant lyrics. Although some might feel alienated by the more polished studio-sheen of the music at first, it slowly but surely all makes sense in the end. Lush string arrangements pervade ‘Shadow‘, while ‘Paradise‘ is one of the most invigorating songs of the year. Though he is still obviously very nostalgic for the 80’s, Tatum moves things forward in a very significant way with Nocturne. The production is so precise; every element seems to have been calculated and re-organised until it was absolutely right. As Wild Nothing, Jack Tatum is quickly turning into one of the most accomplished artists currently working today.
11. Fantasy Rainbow – Bos Taurus
When I listen to Bos Taurus, I hear elements of pretty much every alternative rock band I’ve ever admired, all at once. Fantasy Rainbow is the brainchild of Manchester native Oliver Catt, who primarily records from the comfort of his own bedroom. After only just over a year of creating and performing music, Catt was flown off to Sputnik Sound Studios in Nashville by Vance Powell (producer of Jack White‘s Blunderbuss, most notably) in order to record his debut album. There’s elements of Modest Mouse, Weezer, Pavement and Bright Eyes in his music, while all being tied together with a youthful outlook that is instantly refreshing. Packed with more hooks than a Peter Pan convention, Bos Taurus is an extremely accomplished debut for someone of just nineteen years old. Passion fills Catt‘s voice on the latter half of ‘Nothing But‘, while the lo-fi production of ‘Bread Biscuit‘ sees a more ferocious, angst-filled side to his voice, harking back to early Brand New. The fact that this guy isn’t more exposed than he is at the moment is baffling; he has all the components of an act that could be mega-popular. Hopefully as time passes and word of mouth travels, he will catch a decent break. For now, Fantasy Rainbow can remain England’s best kept secret.
As the year draws to a close, it’s time for me to look back over the past 12 months and remember fondly the records that I’ve enjoyed the most this year. I’m going to make a separate list for mixtapes, singles, EPs and maybe even videos. Here are the first five albums on the list:
25. Holy Other – Held
The way Holy Other uses a blend of ambient electronics and sampled vocals to create dark, disconcerting music on his debut LP, Held, is rather unique. The closest comparison would be that of How To Dress Well, with both sharing the ghostly RnB vibes, while Holy Other is less concerned with the lyrical meaning behind the music and more concerned with just creating an eerie, supernatural atmosphere. Held provides 35 minutes of music perfect for taking long late-night walks and cements the UK at the forefront of the electronic music scene.
24. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse
Ty Segall is the only person on the list who I actually had trouble picking just one album from to include this list. Probably one of the most prolific musicians currently working in the business, Ty Segall released not one, not two, but three records this year. Slaughterhouse is the definitive release this year, and maybe even the best album that Segall has ever produced. As the unofficial king of San Franciscan garage freak-folk (which is a much less of a niche than you would imagine) Segall commands his newfound gang of cohorts through 40 minutes of unleashed madness, complete with bone crushing riffs, plenty of wailing and screeching and a few covers thrown in for good measure. Behind a wall of distortion and fuzz is some of the tightest and fastest guitar work of the year. It’s all just an exhillarating joy-ride, culminating in the excessive 10-minute feedback-fest Fuzz War. THIS is proof as to why Ty Segall deserves his reputation. Bravo, sir.
23. Beach House – Bloom
Few albums this year have mezmerised me quite like Bloom. Instead of reinventing themselves with this release, Baltimore’s Beach House chose to hone and perfect their craft, creating an album that is one of the dreamiest albums of the year. Each track sees Victoria Legrand’s heavenly vocals blend seemlessly with lush arrangements of guitars, keyboards and percussion, creating some of the most soothingly beautiful melodies of recent years. Read my review HERE.
22. Woods – Bend Beyond
After releasing albums year in, year out, Woods really struck gold with Bend Beyond. Mixing raw, unharnessed guitar work with their folk-rock roots, Woods have streamlined their sound for the greater good. By focusing on a more straight-forward direction, Woods will undoubtedly gain attention from more than a few new fans, but they make no comprimises in doing so. Frontman Jeremy Earl’s voice really comes into its own on this record, leaving behind the trepidation that he so often hid behind on previous releases. There are still moments of warming sincerity throughout, with “It Ain’t Easy” being a prime example – it has an I’m Wide Awake-era Bright Eyes vibe to it that fans of the band (such as myself) will find instantly endearing, while tracks like “Find Them Empty” reveals the bands’ more psychadelic side once again. Bend Beyond is the most coherent and instantly enjoyable album that they’ve ever put out.
21. METZ – METZ
There’s a good chance that the way METZ stylise their name isn’t intentional; the capital letters and abruptness of ‘METZ’ sort of reflects on the impact the band hope to deliver with their debut, and the result is one and the same. With their debut on the legendary Sub-Pop Records, METZ thrash through eleven face-crushing tracks that pack enough punch to put IceAge in their place. Leaving no room to breathe, this self-titled album is definitely not for the faint hearted. The fact that three dudes from Canada can make so much noise is quite an accomplishment. Between the fuzz-filled guitars, pounding drums and screeched vocals, the band certainly make quite a racket – in the best possible way.
Come back soon to see the next 5 on the list, as well as the top singles, EPs, mixtapes and MORE!