The problem with these End of Year lists is their confidence in being definitive. The only thing they can be sure about is that any albums from the first half of the year have been forgotten about. This is actually the definitive list. Discard all others.
To be fair they’re not the only ones forgetting when things were released. Last year I wrote a piece on 2013’s best albums, awarding Destroyer’s Kaputt the pole position, until some wag pointed out it had been released in 2011
To be fair, these are albums I’ve bought, so there’s plenty I’ve not heard, such as Kendrick Lemar’s album, which as a sitting tenant in all other 2015 lists, I will be buying. I already can’t sleep as a result of being SO out of the loop.
Caribou‘s Our Love was hailed as the 2nd coming , yet barely appears. I hope the real second coming (and I don’t mean the Stone Roses) won’t suffer from lack of interest 6 months later. It’s a sumptuous mix of house and folk, with tunes your Mum can hum, and a warm, simple production… (actually, rather embarrassingly, I’ve since noted that this came out in 2014. Still, it’s bloody great. It’s a better version of the bland, cloudy and experiential Tame Impala Currents album which is the sort of pop music sanctioned by 6 music, and did make all the top 10s, and more importantly did come out in 2015.)
A-ha have obviously been discounted from lists, and not because of their awkward reappearance 5 years after the perfectly named final tour – Ending on a high note. Rather that critics and radio playlist gurus believe no one in pop music over 40 has anything to say, unless they’re Elbow. It’s shame, as there’s a louche knowledge that Bryan Ferry, Neil Tennant and others bring to the autumnal years of pop. Cast in Steel was produced by Alan Tarney who worked on their first 3 albums, including the otherworldy and frankly bonkers Scoundrel Days. It’s a grower, with the Bond-esque strings of title track dumping on Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the wall from the sort of height 007 is normally jumping from. It’s easily an equal to the Living Daylights. Elsewhere the simple riffs of Forest Fire and deceptively simple Door Ajar are like the band never grew up, yet the hypnotic Mythomania and swooping beauty of Shadow Endeavours makes you glad they never did.
Another band possibly suffering from being talented enough to still be around is Hot Chip. Why make sense? not only succeeded in pulling Green Gartside from Scritti Politti off his sofa, but also De La Soul, on Love is the Future. They came good on their long-lingering promise with impossibly tuneful songs of depth, warmth and soul; all the things critics like to suggest electronic music lacks, at least until they take their evening meds.
The electronica of Brolin couldn’t be any purer if it was a branch of Maplins. Delta is the soundtrack to a slightly sadder, less neon Drive. It throbs with heartache, and is the work of a mysterious chap, who wears a mask, which seems de rigeur these days. It’s all orchestral backdrops and airy synths. The track names are places, (NYC, Reykjavik, Kingston..) adding to the timeless, otherworldly feel. Do be warned however, it’s a little Google resistant and you may risk buying the BROLIN BR20C Dehumidifier, which although gets 5 stars, it’s definitely not as elegant as this perfect album, best listened to alone.
Major label moody chap Rhodes explored the thin line between affecting and depressing, occasionally blurring it to the point of no return. Still it’s polished, assured indie-folk, even if it doesn’t come good on the promise of his excellent singles.
Continuing on the folk tip, brotherly duo Champs left Isle of Wight for the mainland and a low key gig in Brunel’s Rotherhithe tunnel’s drop shaft that required crawling through a 3 foot hole in the pavement. Competing with Victorian industrial wonders can be a tough gig, but not when it’s baroque a cappella harmonies dovetailing like a rediscovered Simon and Garfunkel. They recorded their 2nd album in Ventnor, a seaside town that possibly off the tourist map in Victorian times. They capture some of its strange little world. Vamala is stuffed with heart-stoppingly elegant winter hymns of Bon Ivor or Fleet Foxes, with hints of the early Bee Gees. There’s not a single duff track.
While the Killers only hinted at a love for smooth AOR, Brandon Flowers’ second album the Desired Effect screams it. I can change is impossible to hear without scrunching up your shirt-front and singing into a wind fan, and that’s before the sample of synth pop’s finest moment (Bronski Beat’s Small Town Boy) kicks in. It’s a John Hughes film in 4 minutes. The glorious synth pop of Lonely Town could be Hall and Oates, and there are echoes of Everything but the girl on the gentle pain of Never get you right. It’s superb fun, and further evidence that Flowers could write a song on a chainsaw.
Meanwhile, the effortless lad electro-pop of Real Lies is Balearic pop heaven. Their debut, Real Life is more literate than library, you can throw darts at their lyrics blindfold and unfailingly hit gold – ‘Comedown’s the same, no matter the county.’ (from the midnight regrets of dreamy beats and echoed lyrics on Deeper, or the unashamed romance of Black Market Blues – ‘You are the straight through crew, not the Time Out crowd.’ Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, One Club Town samples Bass O Matic’s Fascinating Rhythm. Pet Shop Geezers, as they were described.
Pointing out lyrics out is inadvisable on New Order‘s latest album, Music Complete as Bernard Sumner reaches the back of his lyrical notebook. It’s not all bad, particularly on the shimmering, itchy guitars of Academic, which harks back to the synth-fused rock of their underrated Get Ready (2001), and even Joy Division. But he generally sounds like someone’s slipped him a ’91 grade E. However, musically its a blast. It could have done without the grating Unlearn this Hatred, but the joyous Italo-disco of Tutti Frutti more than compensates. Its the excitable cousin of Technique’s Fine Time, with more synth drops than a drunk roadie, anthemic hooks and La Roux lending backing vocals somehow without giggling with joy. Elsewhere Richrd X and Chemical Brothers lend a polished hand.
More survivors of Madchester were the Charlatans with Human Nature. Much like the band, I thought this album had been around forever, but was actually released this year. From the disconcerting warmth of the sinister opener Talking in Tones, to the sultry gospel of Come Home it is a hugely satisfying set that compensates for Tim Burgess’ on going blonde bob that no one’s told him looks terrible. The pure funk wig-out of Let the Good Times be Never Ending, even flirts with a groove that could underpin eternity.
- Hot Chip – Why make sense?
- Real Lies – Real Life
- New order – Music Complete
- Brolin – Delta
- A-Ha – Cast in Steel
- Champs – Vamala
- Brandon Flowers – the Desired Effect
- the Charlatans – Human Nature
- Rhodes – Rhodes
- Caribou – Our Love
There you go. I’ll keep waking up thinking of albums that should have made it throughout 2016, but here’s to another great year in music. Feel free to add those I’ve missed.