With 2016 rapidly drawing to a close, Getintothis present their annual rundown of the top albums of the year.
After a week of publishing our list in stages, not solely to draw out the tension but also to present it in more digestible bite-size chunks, we are able to finally reveal, in all its controversy-causing glory, our albums of the year list, from 1 right down to 100.
As we alluded to previously, 2016 has been a traumatic year. Too many cherished icons of music have been taken away from us, some prematurely others at a ripe old age yet still demonstrating their capacity for creativity. Grief has thus hung heavily in the air, informing artistic output like never before as well as forcing us to question how we react to and perceive music.
David Bowie‘s Blackstar and Leonard Cohen‘s You Want it Darker were both released so close to their death and do unquestionably deal in themes of mortality that it becomes difficult to listen to them with an open mind – indeed in the case of Bowie many have avoided it altogether such has been their sense of grief. While we’re certain that both records would stand proud and tall irrespective of circumstance, subsequent death has changed the way they are perceived.
Many see them as final statements, almost as last will and testaments. Accordingly there is the temptation to listen from an entirely singular perspective. Yet Blackstar in particular revealed that right up to the end Bowie‘s creative spark remained undimmed with its experimental jazz sounding unlike anything that he had ever done before. If it tells us anything it is that age should never be seen as a limiting factor. The very best artists are able to resist the lure of the nostalgia market and can continue to create truly inspiring art right up to their death.
2016 was one of the best years in recent memory for the album, with a number of exciting and rewarding releases proving that music can act as a welcome anti-dote to the global turmoil and reactionary political environment. It is unrealistic to necessarily expect overtly political albums – too often they can grate – but they retain the capacity to unite people across borders, offering introductions to different cultures and ideas. Music can take a stand against narrow insularity and promote, through creative art, an open-mindedness and a deeper understanding of the human condition.
The year has been a challenging one for smaller artists and labels, struggling as ever to make a living out of an increasingly devalued music industry. There seems a prevailing attitude that music is a disposable commodity and the creative process does not have a value for which we should pay to consume. The vinyl revival is a curiosity, yet elements of the opposition to it speak volumes.
Expense and price of new vinyl records are often held as criticisms of the format. Yet are they really that costly? Is it that we value it so little, that qualms about price says more about our reluctance to contribute to the industry than anything else. After all, the price of a freshly pressed vinyl record often costs only marginally more than a CD album did in the 1990s. Recent statistics show a trend towards streaming services in favour of purchasing new releases, despite best efforts to portray it as an upturn in the vinyl record sales.
We recognise that times are not the easiest, the post-Brexit economic outlook far from certain. There are ever-competing demands on our hard-earned dough. Real wage stagnation is making it harder to afford to the essentials never mind the perceived luxuries. We need to find a way to better support the creators, in a way that reflects the change in our listening methods. Not everyone wants a vinyl collection, or has the space to store it. Others are content to stream, adapting to the freedoms and advantages of technological advances. What is clear is the need to provide a more sustainable solution, which most likely involves paying more for unlimited streaming services.
The upshot is that smaller labels face a bleak future, which is why it all the more important to promote and support the outsider, the unusual and free-spirited over the bland and mainstream. To reinforce the fact that we live in a diverse world and our lives are ultimately enriched by sharing and understanding the culture of others rather than steadfastly sticking to what we know.
To an extent, that’s the purpose of this list, to plumb the depths. To prove that there’s life outside the mainstream and that variety is the spice of life.
We also shouldn’t forget that we are Liverpool-based, and fortunate to be so such has been the continued flow of excellent of albums from our city. From She Drew the Gun to Ex-Easter Island Head, Lapsley to Mugstar and Barberos, Liverpool’s music community continues to punch above its weight seriously enhancing all of our lives week-in-week-out. That Liverpool is so well represented is testament not only to the talents of the artists themselves, but also to those working hard behind the scenes to support and sustain music in Liverpool.
In recent times there have been many threats, closures of venues and rehearsal spaces and the continuing redevelopment of the city centre. Working together as a community we have largely overcome these challenges. New venues have opened, vibrant pockets of creativity have emerged amid the disused warehouses of the city’s northern dockland areas, and there seems to be a council-led initiative to support and nurture the creative and artistic industries. In the mere twelve months since the closure of The Kazimier, optimism seems to have supplanted negativity and it feels like we can, as a musical city, look forward to the next year with confidence. Paul Higham
1. Whitney: Light Upon The Lake
It’s a common contemplation in contemporary pop culture to moan about the relentlessness at which we quite literally consume real life. Are we living life or merely being eaten up by the machinations of our very existence? I dunno. It certainly seemed easier when adventures involving Panda Shandy and dicking about down the back field were genuine childhood escapism options.
Whitney, a Chicago outfit shaped around singing drummer Julian Ehrlich and former Smith Westerns guitarist Max Kakacek, seem to hark back to world where time didn’t just leisurely pass you by, but near stood still; a time when looking out the train window meant taking in the passing fields not thinking what administrative computer chores you had to attend to upon arriving home. Here is a band who seem transported from gentler times, they capture a changing of Spring to Summer, breezy and fresh with a mournful whiff of wistfulness. They’re cool and almost carefree.
What makes No Woman such a wonderful debut collection is not just its seeming simplicity and considered brevity but a sequence of magnificent musical motifs; the sweeping strings of Golden Days, the bottleneck bluesy stomp of Dave’s Song, Red Moon‘s 90 seconds of tootling trumpet and the title track’s burst of brass which decorates the album like early morning sunshine.
“I left drinking on the city train, to spend some time on the road,” sings Ehrlich on the album’s opener – this is an album to dream the days away, think of simpler times and escape. And it sounds simply divine. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Whitney
2. Bon Iver: 22, A Million
There’s been a copious amount of bullshit written about Bon Iver‘s third album. ‘Departure’, ‘difficult’ and ‘disappointing’ have all been associated with 22, A Million – but we’d suggest it is actually his most direct – and also continuing the natural path Justin Vernon has been exploring for some years.
His debut For Emma, Forever Ago may have been aligned to that of a traditional folk album but his work since then has been layered with electronic expansion and the introduction of vocoder and treated effects have been apparent since his stop gap EP Blood Bank back in 2009.
The fact is, 22, A Million reaffirms what Justin Vernon is about – an uncertain, anxious and often troubled mind creating quite visionary, beautiful music which has that rare gift to sound widescreen and multi-faceted yet so intimate you’d swear he’s penned these tracks just for you.
This time around, the vocal production shares much of the studio trickery he’s been drafted in while working with Kanye – it’s a suite of personas and vocal operatics all gliding in and out of focus; atop of one another and using a variety of tones – the effect can be disarming but it’s engrossing and the result is his most realised album yet.
Especially given the depth of song-writing; at just 34 minutes 22, A Million may seem slight – but there’s more ideas packed into these wondrous works than many artists pack into a career.
Where Vernon goes next is perhaps the only worrying aspect of 22, A Million, for the self-doubt and uncertainty is awash on his third album – but once again it posits him as one of contemporary music’s finest talents – and he joins that ultra-rare clutch of song-writers who’ve laid down three gold standard albums on the trot. He’s one in a million. And more. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Bon Iver
3. Kaytranada: 99.9%
In any year, David Bowie’s Blackstar would rightly be the best album released, such is its wonder and built in futurism. An album to pore over in 25 years time. But for me, the best album I have heard all year is 99.9% by Kaytranada. K is 24 years old, from Montreal, and a four year overnight sensation. I first became aware of him via his remix of Janet Jackson’s If, which fair blew me away at the time, his manipulation of the remix format different and refreshing. Now, following a swathe of production and remix credits, we reach his debut album offering.
It invokes the free thinking, spiritual high of De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising. Putting that sunshine high in modern context, and channeling some of the most wondrous pop-soul I’ve heard in modern times. It features collaborations with Vic Mensa, BADBADNOTGOOD and the newly resurgent Craig David – but don’t let that put you off. There’s a seam of very dark, claustrophobic r’n’b that can thankfully make you feel uncomfortable about the music you are listening to. With 99.9% Kaytrananda has dispensed with all of that, opened the curtain and let the sunshine in.
It’s difficult to convey its wonder in such a short space. Just open yourself to the massive expanse of audio this kid has created. Amazeballs. Bernie Connor
Getintothis on Kaytranada
4. The Magnetic North: Prospect of Skelmersdale
Full Time Hobby
Let’s face it; 2016 has been a bit of crappy year to say the least.
The loss of Bowie and Prince, an election in the UK that left people reeling, the drawbridges of isolationalism being pulled up post that referendum vote and the next President of the US is someone who is both a buffoon and dangerously unhinged (a lethal combination, but one which Trump has managed to pull off.) It’s all very grim and we seem to be heading back to 1979 as fast as possible
Yet within all this grimness, there are still faint rays of hope.
There’s always music to give us hope.
And in 2016, it came in the unlikely shape of a concept album about Skelmersdale.
At first blush, and if you were going to jump to trite and simplistic conclusions, then a record about a the birth of a “new town” in the late 1960’s, and in particular, one about Skem itself, wouldn’t necessarily fill you with unalloyed joy.
But this album by The Magnetic North does and continues to do so in spades the more you listen to it.
The Magnetic North–Erland Cooper (Erland & the Carnival), guitar wizard Simon Tong (ex of The Verve) and Hannah Peel (composer and arranger) – steered clear from all the clichés about Skem and in writing about the town where Tong moved to at a young age and grew up in, have produced a record that deals with dreams, hope and visions of a better world.
By assiduously researching not only Tong’s childhood but also going to Skem and speaking with people who where there at the birth of the new town, immersing themselves in the place, The Magnetic North came up with a suite of songs that will live in your memory for a very long time.
There’s a constant thread throughout the album that things should be better and can be better and will be better. Its memories of half-remembered past, of Tong’s childhood and of a world that seems half-lost in mist, but is still out there, somewhere.
It’s difficult to isolate just one or two tracks for deserve special mention as the whole thing hangs together so well, but Sandy Lane, Signs and especially Little Jerusalem, where Peel’s crystal clear and diamond sharp voice, evokes both a weariness of the present and hope for the future and melts the iciest of hearts.
Prospect of Skelmersdale is a follow-up to what was intended to be a one-off album about Elrand Cooper’s birthplace (Orkney: Symphony of The Magnetic North) and with the tantalising prospect of a new Magnetic North album dealing with Hannah Peel’s childhood in the works, we at Getintothis can look forward to 2017 turning out a lot better than 2016.
There is always hope. Rick Leach
Getintothis on The Magnetic North
5. How To Dress Well: Care
Tom Krell‘s transformation into Michael Jackson pop is complete. While he showed distinct glimpses on 2014’s What Is This Heart, push forward two years and he’s utterly in the throws of raptures to MJ vocal ticks and chrome-plated slick-beat pop. You can almost hear the white socks being pulled on.
Care is a far cry from his introductory statement in 2010 with the gloomy, understated electro murk of the superlative Love Remains; instead his new album positively oozes Dangerous-era dance-floor shimmies – it’s illuminating and strident with big melancholic wonder.
Like Justin Timberlake, Krell is embracing MJ‘s directness while fusing his lyrics with self-doubt and tales of the night. The Ruins is like a gritty cousin of Dirty Diana, I Was Terrible a bubble-gum machine-gun which could light up multi-coloured disco floorboards, and the tremoring piano duel with sky-shattering Slash-via-Beat-It guitar solo arrives via the majestic killer Lost You / Lost Youth. They’ll Take Everything You Have, meanwhile, could be a 2016 update for Man In The Mirror.
Make no mistake though, this is far from pastiche, How To Dress Well albums are too strong for that and there’s enough tricks of musicality to keep long-time fans interested. Take Made A Lifetime with its treated funk synth line married to a cool vocal drip it’s as refreshing as cloudy lemonade on a summer’s afternoon.
Forget Corey Feldman‘s wild (and brilliantly honest) US TV performance, Krell is indie-electronica’s chameleon absolutely stealing The King Of Pop‘s throne. Peter Guy
Getintothis on How To Dress Well
6. Ulver: ATGCLVLSSCAP
House of Mythology
Ulver‘s ATGCLVLSSCAP – a whopping 80 minute leviathan of grooves, ambience and rhythmic thunder largely improvised during an 11-date European tour and later sculpted into the finished piece by Daniel O’Sullivan.
There’s barely a coherent strand running through the Norwegian collective’s twelfth studio album which they poignantly describe as “a hallucinatory travelogue“. Yet, the collated whole is nothing short of astonishing as you’re immersed into an abyss-like chasm of progressive instrumentalism and, crucially, an array of actual songs which tie the whole demented saga together.
All bases are covered; Om Hanumate Namah fuses voodoo blues, spectral echo-laden whispers and kraut textures, Glammer Hammer twins anvil-heavy guitar crashes amid electrical dissonance, Nowhere (Sweet Sixteen) is glorious Euro stadium rock while Desert Dawn is an operatic symphony of Goblin-inspired synths.
The musical scope is quite remarkable and the album reaches its zenith during the near 10-minute Cromagnosis which charts metallic tribal grooves which build to an undulating tremor only for a demonic latin percussive rumble to interrupt proceedings and stampede into a tidal wave of barbaric riffs. It’s monumentally huge.
In a so-daft-it’s-fantastic moment, penultimate track, Ecclesiastes (A Vernal Catnap) adds ’80s ballad complete with spoken word, gothic pianos and chest-beating vocal to the mix which would be all too much were it not so fucking brilliant. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Ulver
7. The Early Years: II
Not all Psych is good Psych. In fact there’s a fair bit of flimsy half-baked Psych out there – and some are calling for a Psych cull in what’s an already saturated market. But then again, there is, actually a lot of good Psych too.
Like gluttons we’re feasting on a bounty of Psychedelic platters. And yet no matter how much we fill our overloaded bellies with gratuitous levels of swollen Psych suppers there’s no end to this conveyor belt of Psych.
Just as well for The Early Years then, who rather than waiting for a gap in the market, have returned 10 years after their debut with an album rife with prime, tender Psych. What differentiates this from other Psych is that it’s really, really, really good Psych. The Best of Psych.
This is T-bone Psych. Natural History Museum Psych. Usain Psych. Gold Frankinpsych and Myrrh. 1000% Psych. Peter Guy
Getintothis on The Early Years
8. Ulrika Spacek: The Album Paranoia
The Album Paranoia must surely rank as one of the best debut albums of the year. A heady moulding of various styles, this a record that is at times hazy and blissfully laid-back such as on Porcelain with its breezily melodic guitar line that locks on to a head-filling groove and is laced with a just-right amount of fuzz and distortion. She’s a Cult meanwhile is a tightly coiled spring of tension loaded for release, full of choppy, distortion-heavy guitars and edgy krautrock rhythms.
The sparse intro to Circa 1954 reveals a group keenly aware of how to trade in layered textures and broody atmospherics, holding enough back rather than trying to force the issue. While on Strawberry Glue Ulrika Spacek stray into Deerhunter territory, or at least into territory formerly occupied by Deerhunter. A taut and tense union of understated motorik and jittery guitar encased within a bittersweet melancholia. Its very ambiguity is addictive, the vocals are beautiful and dreamy while the music alludes to an underlying anxiety.
We could go on for the album continues its embrace of motorik, psychedelia, shoegaze, which fit in happily alongside noise rock and avant-garde leanings. All without ever coming across as confused or uncertain. With the band variously located between Berlin and London, you sense an exploratory freedom. An amalgamation of various elements of currently fashionable scenes without ever truly sounding like a part of any of them.
The Album Paranoia is as distinctive as it is measured, as restrained as it is elegant. A sure-footedly assured voyage of a record in which everything has its place; there are no extraneous elements and barely a moment is wasted. This is a woozily distorted ride and we can’t recommend it highly enough.
Getintothis on Ulrika Spacek
9. Christine & The Queens: Chaleur Humaine
Christine and the Queens, the recording name of French musician Héloïse Letissier, is a huge mainstream star in her native France. With a stream of top 40 hits and high profile industry awards behind them, Christine and the Queens are a big deal.
With records like Chaleur Humaine, an English translation of a French language album of the same name, it surely won’t be long before that’s the case over here too. It’s an astonishing piece of work in whichever way you decide to take it, whether as a deeply honest and explorative album about gender, identity and sexual orientation by a pan-sexual woman, or just as a collection of great, intelligent pop songs, you can’t help but wanting to keep listening and look deeper.
Tracks such as No Harm Is Done, her collaboration with rapper Tunji Ige, is a brooding and smothered in RnB influences, with sharp electronics dancing over stammering beats, while album opener iT showcases Letissier’s stunning vocals.
It’s a brilliant album, and what it lacks in obvious UK chart hit material it makes up for with charm, intelligence and inventive melodies. It is genuinely refreshing and forward thinking pop and deserves to be heard by ears from far further than the French borders. Take note, Britain. Adam Lowerson
Getintothis on Christine & The Queens
10. Three Trapped Tigers: Silent Earthling
Mesmerising from beginning to end, this is an astonishing record. It exudes an intricate and technical complexity that it wears with an assured lightness of touch. Despite the immense musicianship on display this isn’t a showy record, it dextrously avoids any hubristic pitfalls ensuring the focus remains on the songs allowing its prodigious creators to bask unassumingly in the shadows.
Ostensibly a noise rock outfit, Three Trapped Tigers sound lives up to its name. Much like a prowling caged beast there is a built-up tension around mightily ferocious drumming, double-jointed riffing and brightly enveloping synth and keyboards. Immediately and relentlessly gripping the opening side is awe-inspiring as almighty riffs twist and turn with glee through a myriad of time signatures. The title track sets things off perfectly as guitar and synth, at turns bright at others deep and resonant, interact with each other seamlessly.
Kraken raises the bar several notches. Deep and pounding with lots of delay, the twin assault of guitar and drums suggest the ferocity of a Lightning Bolt while the contrast of bright synth and keys keep everything in check, making for a harmonious contrast.
Often compared to Battles, Three Trapped Tigers adeptly transcend the noise-rock genre and demonstrate more strings to their bow than your average math-rock trio. Pushing back the boundaries with more delicate pieces as the album progresses, the ferocity subsides and dense synth-led electronica takes over.
Engrams is a perfect example of their art. Dextrous synths twist and turn with direction-altering adroitness as sonic layers are added, climaxing in an almost intoxicating ambience. It’s a tour de force. We could go on. Rainbow Road is a swirling whirlwind of noise that suggests a gargantuan confrontation between chaos and order yet, somehow, Three Trapped Tigers remain perfectly in control.
Three Trapped Tigers make big prowling noise and nimble electronica coalesce in absolute majesty. Undeniably talented, they might just be one of the best bands out there right now. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Three Trapped Tigers
11. David Bowie: ★
ISO Records / Columbia / Sony Music
As strange and somewhat sacrilegious as it may seem, not everybody was (or is, even now) a lifelong fan of David Bowie, this writer included.
Some of us just didn’t get Bowie, didn’t really fall into that bracket of seeing him as an innovator throughout his career and didn’t fall for the outsider challenging conventions thing. Maybe it was hearing The Laughing Gnome at an early age that put us off.
There may have been a few tracks, a couple of songs that we quite liked, but overall Bowie was irrelevant to us.
It was a shock to the system therefore upon hearing Blackstar. This was not what was expected.
Released on January 8, his 69th birthday, Blackstar sounded like something unlike Bowie. This wasn’t the Bowie that has passed us by. Blackstar had the sound of relevance and of purpose. This wasn’t a record that was messing about-there was a certain urgency and vitality about it all.
In a time where the boundaries between jazz and rock became increasing blurred-Kamasi Washington being a fine example- Blackstar wears its experimental jazz heart firmly on its sleeve, whether in the intense percussive drumming in Sue... or the saxophone attack in Tis A Pity She Was A Whore.
There’s a hardness about the whole album; a sense of taut energy which surprisingly made it an exciting listen from the get go. Even from its day of release, on that first time that it spun its way through those seven tracks, this was a Bowie album like no other.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Within two days of its release, David Bowie had died, yet it’s too easy to fall into that reductive trap of seeing it as his Requiem. It’s simplistic beyond extreme to read it as his aural last will and testament to his fans; but really, like death itself, you can’t escape the inescapable.
Blackstar will forever be seen as that. Bowie’s poignant reflection on the very nature of a life slipping away and as a rage against the dying of the light.
For the very few of us who didn’t venerate Bowie during what by any account was a staggeringly successful career, then we really should give Blackstar a go. It is a record that’s quite remarkable and one that bears repeated listening, not just in 2016, but for a long time into the future. Rick Leach
Getintothis on David Bowie
12. Thee Oh Sees: A Weird Exits
Castle Face Records
Following the announcement by John Dwyer that Thee Oh Sees were to go on indefinite haitus, they have contrarily been busier than ever since reemerging with a pulsatingly blistering two drummer line-up. In 2016 alone they have release two studio albums and one live album.
There first studio offering, A Weird Exits sees the newly reconfigured band make sure but subtle changes to the band’s core sound. The two-drummer effect is noticeable from the outset, there is a greater propulsive dynamic and a more pronounced sense of groove. Although it has its moments, A Weird Exits isn’t merely a fast-paced race to the finishing line that accelerates mercilessly with each completed lap, it is more subtle and more explorative.
Spaced-out synth-led elements are added to the trademark garage-psych whirlwinds which make for a more dynamically varied recording. Jammed Entrance is a warped and twisted cosmic synth voyage into the unknown, making like the missing link between Thee Oh Sees and Dwyer‘s Damaged Bug-monikered output. While the droning Crawl Out From The Fall Out reveals a more cinematic side. Far from a tightly-hewn spring-coiled tautness, this gives the album’s twin-drumming heartbeat something of a break in favour of rumbling dystopian atmospherics.
The album also marks Dwyer out as a memorable guitarist, furious yet never show-y solos permeate throughout pacing songs and pushing them forward with each frenzied yelp and ignition-twisting press on his Fuzzbox. Yet what characterises the album is not the unhinged blow-outs (of which there are, in Dwyer’s own words, “a few face-fuckers“) but the tendency to pull-back and embrace a cosmically spaced-out vibe, pushing themselves into extra evolutionary dimensions.
Getintothis on Thee Oh Sees
13. Liima: ii
‘Post-millennial’ – a phrase which in cultural terms resonates like some digital pestilence. Anxiety, bank crashes, moral panics, technological warfare, Thom Yorke – we’re all in the suffocating grip of some inexplicable dystopian crisis and all we can do is keep legging it round that hamster wheel called Life.
Liima feel our pain exuding chronic unease and fidgety emotive angst channeling it through their profoundly affecting groove-orientated cyborg rock. The band, which unites Finnish percussionist Tatu Rönkkö and Danish outfit Efterklang, come off like Talk Talk jamming with Yeasayer; it’s an intense, seductive ride with enough understated euphoria amid the gloom.
Tracks Trains in the Dark and 513 are foreboding grinders while Amerika wouldn’t sound out of place on Achtung Baby such is it’s epic electronic balladry. In short, 4AD have unearthed another gem which will keep you buzzing. Like a fridge. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Liima
14. Ryley Walker: Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, a follow-up to 2015’s acclaimed Primrose Green, finds Ryley Walker at a creative cross-roads.
Album opener The Halfwit in Me is easily one of the best songs of the year and a marked progression from anything he has previously committed to tape. This is an urgent, progressively lolloping free-form folk song that succeeds on account of its intstrumental shapeshifting relentlessness. It amalgamates jazz and psych-folk into a powerfully inventive concoction that strays into the avant-garde, relying on rhythmically building loops of intensity than any dextrous finger-picking showmanship.
Elsewhere there is a leap forwards from the jazz-folk arrangements of the late-1960s. Although there are still nods to the past – his vocal delivery can’t help but bring to mind Van Morrison – here Walker posits himself in mid-90s Chicago leaning with equal weight on the alternative culture of that decade. The tracks place great emphasis on his lyrics and their languid stream of consciousness intonations bears comparison to Red House Painters‘ Mark Kozelek. Nonetheless the jazzily fluid and loose arrangements remind most of The Sea and Cake while capturing the essence of his live performances.
Songs are afforded space, the music meanders as if under its own direction rather than that of the player. Subtle piano-led numbers such as Funny Thing She Said roll like an ebbing tide across a smokily atmospheric haze while there is an unresolved tension between voice and instrument as if each are competing for equal billing.
The album isn’t perfect by any stretch, its flaws are the sound of Walker striving and pushing himself to the occasional point of over-extension. We’re only critical to the extent that his evident talent is so prodigious we are in danger of expecting too much. Nonetheless its an album that enthralls and captivates in equal measure and certainly one of our 2016 favourites.
Getintothis on Ryley Walker
15. Gold Panda: Good Luck And Do Your Best
Gold Panda‘s fourth album, Good Luck and Do Your Best has its roots in a trip to Japan with the title deriving from a Japanese taxi driver’s farewell on leaving his cab. Gold Panda made the trip to the Land of the Rising Sun with photographer Laura Lewis in 2014 ostensibly to gather sight and sound recordings for an intended documentary.
The unintended outcome of the trip however is this album of warm and luscious electronica that seems to bask in a perpetual golden glow. Its glitchily sparse structures are never harsh. They amble at a relaxed holiday pace, pausing to reflect upon the sights and sounds rather than allowing them to race by unnoticed. Delicate and thoughtful it evokes a time and place, distilling memory into a series of affecting sonic vignettes as if musing on the distortion of reality that time spent away from our daily routines can elicit.
One of the year’s most seductive releases and laced with oriental flourishes, this is a record to put on late at night and allow its nostalgic crackles, warm and fuzzy aromas and jazzy undertones to relieve the everyday pressures.
Getintothis on Gold Panda
16. American Football: American Football
Polyvinyl / Wichita
By rights we should hate this album. It’s an incessant moan, flips the math-rock-lite thing which gotten boring last decade and is stuffed to the brim with whiny Yank vocals. In fact the whole thing is one big mope. More bed-wetting than the official Travis Fan Club.
But the songs are undeniable. Like, really fucking, undeniably good. And it doesn’t stick around long enough for you to get pissed off yourself.
The irony is, like good emo, it’s actually really uplifting, and who doesn’t need a big hug this time of year.
There’s even a song called Give Me The Gun which when you play backwards has the refrain ‘So I can shoot Donald Trump right in the shitter.‘ Touchdown. Peter Guy
Getintothis on American Football
17. Jherek Bischoff: Cistern
The Leaf Label
LA’s Jherek Bischoff specialises in orchestral pop, be it on the ukulele or grandiose musical theatre scores. His latest collection on Cistern is redolent of Johann Johannsson‘s work both sonically combining vast string collages with meditative soothing ambience, and literally with the album being recorded in an empty church.
Where he departs from Johannsson is that much of the music on Cistern arcs into great swells of neo-post-rock voids – and if that all sounds tremendously serious, don’t be put off as it’s simply wondrous and far from a difficult listen. Take the quite magnificent Headless which in itself could soundtrack an entire series of David Attenborough‘s wildlife wonders.
Elsewhere, opener Automatism combines chilling piano stabs with rich violin pageantry, The Wolf is a slow, stalking Hitchcockian terror, closer The Sea’s Son is one long warm release of rippling orchestration while Closer To Closure sways eerily among woodwind and yet more oceans of strings.
Apparently, Bischoff drew inspiration from his time submerged in an ‘empty two million gallon underground water tank‘ – if that sounds incredulous, take a listen to Cistern – you’ll find it an unforgettably immersive experience. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Jherek Bischoff
18. Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool
Slow, almost sluggish, A Moon Shaped Pool is an album which entices you, ensnaring you with every listen as layer upon layer of subtlety grips you tighter. It locks you in its detail. Save for the darting waspish opener Burn The Witch there’s barely a track which gets gets out of second gear, yet this is without doubt its appeal as Yorke and co. have crafted a tomb which demands you stop and pour all your attention into some of the most beautifully crafted songs they’ve ever produced.
There’s a succession of tracks which mellifluously meander by yet form the spine and set the tone; Glass Eyes barely registers above a hum as cello deftly weaves among bubbling synth and Yorke‘s barely-there vocal, Daydreaming recalls Aphex Twin with its shapeshifting loops and disorientating melody while Tinker Tailor is a distant cousin of Pyramid Song yet underplayed with a sinister sweeping string section. There’s further unease as Ful Stop harks back to Kid A all itchy rattle-n-fizz, Decks Dark is a piano waltz groove while Identik recalls the rhythmic pangs of In Rainbows yet it’s stripped to the bare bones save for a multi-tracked choral and synth outro.
Much has been made of the fan favourite ‘lost track’ and live thriller True Love Waits and while there’s no denying it’s simplistic majesty, we’d argue the centre-piece lies with the quite magnificent The Numbers a track which emerges from a dancing piano intro into a malevolent jazzy John Martyn number which erupts into a strident fanfare of power chords, trumpet blasts and luscious orchestration. Albeit rocking somewhat relatively gently.
For much of their career Radiohead have been likened to Pink Floyd, and while we’ve seen the likeness in their ambition, musically it seemed tenuous. Yet on A Moon Shaped Pool this is the closest they’ve come by marrying the ambience of Eno and the studio trickery of the Floyd they’ve produced an album which is very much the delicate sound of thunder. And it’s shockingly brilliant. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Radiohead
19. Newmoon: Space
PIAS / Mayfly Records
Chocolate, fine ales, Tintin and Eden Hazard – add spacerock to Belgium’s range of superlative exports.
Hailing from Ghent and Antwerp, quintet Newmoon specialise in all things supersonic – notably walls of seismic melodic noise.
While there’s not much new on their debut Space, it’s a wondrous listen and it positively rockets by powered by a dizzying array of shimmering guitars and swaggering somewhat Northern soul.
Cherry-picking influences from the likes of Ride, Chapterhouse and Catherine Wheel, they imbue a certain swagger through singer Bert Cannaerts‘ Ian Brown-like beatific drawl.
Yet while there’s no mistaking the shoegaze influence, Newmoon‘s closest relative is The Smashing Pumpkins– and most acutely, that devastating debut album Siamese Dream – check out the cataclysmic crunch of Life In The Sun as it starbursts immediately upon opening or the blistering fuzz of Skin.
Like Corgan‘s outfit, there is though enough tenderness and moments of deft subtlety to allow the listener respite particularly on the chiming penultimate One Thousand or instrumental Hi which sounds like shards of dust scattering into space itself. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Newmoon
20. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard: Nonagon Infinity
As a child I loved playing cowboys and indians. And despite the rather elaborate wooden fort, which clipped together with old-fashioned carpentry you rarely see exhibited on the shelves of Toys R Us, the native warriors never lost in my fantasy world.
I mean how could anyone with feathered spear, warpaint and a name like Geronimo lose? After all if you’re going out hunting buffalo for your breakfast, there’s no way some goon in a daft hat and chaps is going to stand a chance.
Nonagon Infinity is essentially 43 minutes of Sioux warrior tribesmen raining deliciously and rather bloodthirstily down your lug holes with seismic thunder. Ferocious tomahawk guitar chops trade with leathery relentless padded drums echoing across scorched plains as howling Apache war-cries reverberate among the chaotic storm. Factor in King Gizzard sound like they’ve been dropping copious amounts of speed and you’ll soon realise this is one hell of a rush.
I was going to pick up the rather half-arsed native American Indian metaphor but to be honest I’ve been having so much fun listening to this album for the last three weeks I’m not even gonna bother. Turn it up, dance in your pants and revel in this glorious bundle of utter lunacy. Peter Guy
Getintothis on King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
21. LUH: Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing
Ellery James Roberts‘ band WU LYF felt like the real deal. A colossal debut album, an equally impressive live set up (their Kazimier show highlighted such potential) and a cultivated mystique which drew as many sneers as supporters meant – whether you liked them or not – they warranted your attention. So it was surprising when they self-combusted in the centre of their own hype machine in November 2012.
Roberts returns alongside his girlfriend and co-vocalist Ebony Hoorn on LUH (Lost Under Heaven, duh!) and it’s remarkable how he’s honed some of WU LYF‘s central ideas – MASSIVE hooks, CATACLYSMIC percussive beats and BLOCKBUSTING choruses and aligned it with his characteristic roar – if you’ve yet to hear it consider a wolf gargling razors after downing a bottle of bourbon with a nasty throat infection (it’s not for everyone). The result is stadium size bombastic brilliance.
LUH may not be a complete reinvention for Roberts but it is a near revelation. Peter Guy
Getintothis on LUH
22. Mugstar: Magnetic Seasons
Magnetic Seasons is sound of those perennial old reliables Mugstar expanding, experimenting and pushing forward their sounds to the new horizons. Fore-runners of the turn-of-the-millennium psych revival in many ways, Mugstar were one of the first of a new wave of spaced-out trendsetters able to take their seat at the back of the bandwagon long before it became standing room only and perilously over-crowded.
Just when you feared that Mugstar might be overtaken by more experimental young upstarts they have returned seemingly emboldened after a collaboration with Damo Suzuki to produce a record of staggeringly gargantuan proportions; a heady concoction of space-rock stylings, swirling kosmische and propulsive motorik. It’s confidently ambitious fare, its 70-or-so minutes spread over a mere nine tracks.
Yet Magnetic Seasons is more restrained and nuanced than their reputation would have you believe and it’s when the foot relaxes on the gas that the album finds its best moments. Deftly exploring the spaces and using keyboard and synth to expose dramatically widened vistas, as on the magnificent Flemish Weaves, this is the work of a band very much at the top of their game.
Getintothis on Mugstar
23. Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation: Mirage
Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation‘s Mirage is one of those records that locks on to a singular groove throughout and does not allow itself to deviate from it. Indeed, much of their songs don’t stray too far from the formula and are more often variations on a theme rather than any great reinvention. Not that we’re complaining as the effect is nothing short of hypnotically transfixing.
With a near omnipresent motorik beat, pulsating bass-lines and distorted droning walls of shoe-gaze guitars their sound is full and enveloping. Yet the real star is Josefin Ohrn, and her voice is a perfect match, adding a beautiful serenity to the squalling Looking For You. There is something strongly redolent of the likes of Broadcast and Jane Weaver about the whole affair, as Mirage proves that last year’s superlative Horse Dance was no flash in the pan.
Getintothis on Josefin Ohrn
24. Solange: A Seat at the Table
Saint / Columbia Records
Yes, baby sister to the biggest popstar of the twenty-first century, Solange Knowles, quietly released her third album A Seat at the Table back in September. To be frank, we’ve never listened to any of the other Solange LPs, but the sheer amount of recognition this one was getting so soon after its release made us wonder. We know Solange as the more ‘natural’ or afro-centric of the two Knowles sisters, but we’ve always assumed this to be a marketing strategy to differentiate herself from her squeaky clean sibling. More style over substance, we thought.
But, after being quite heavily addicted to A Seat at the Table since that first listen, we can now say that if it is all style – it is impeccable. Solange has released a racially charged album like no other, in the way that there’s hardly any aggression to the sound. The lyrics are undoubtedly angry, but they’re delivered with much sweetness. It’s been described as neo-soul, modern or psychedelic soul. There’s some gospel, a smattering of funk, strings, horns, modern electronica, 80s sounding synth and a generous helping of hip hop beats. It is a truly delicious album.
Knowles’s vocals are delicate and authentic, fluttering from track to track with ease. She confidently plays with melody in a way that showcases her training without showing off. Taking several years to complete, Solange has admitted that A Seat at the Table is representative of a difficult period in her life. At aged 30, this is her coming-of-age album or ‘Saturn’s return’. On it we hear not the baby sister of Beyoncé attempting to get in on the fame, but a black female artist in her own right with something important to say.
Whatever the motive behind it, this is political statement: an elixir for a diasporic black community in crisis. Janaya Pickett
Getintothis on Solange
25. Anderson .Paak: Malibu
Steel Wool Records
Right at the beginning of the year we were given a everlasting gob stopper of a treat in the form of Anderson .Paak’s Malibu. We’ve been sucking on it ever since. Aged just 30, .Paak’s back catalogue is extensive and his stellar production skills has seen him teaming up with the likes of Dr. Dre. It was on Dre’s 2015 album Compton that .Paak came to light.
.Paak couldn’t be more different than Dre in style however. Where one is known for his thuggish ways, the other is sensitive, sexual and socially conscious. From the outset, in The Bird, .Paak is nostalgic, addressing a troubled childhood “my sister used to sing to Whitney, my mama caught that gamblin bug, we came up in a lonely castle , my poppa was behind them bars”. This theme of nostalgia and dysfunction is continued on tracks The Season/Carry Me and the album’s final track The Dreamer.
The other theme .Paak explores is a sexual one. Like trailblazers before him (notably Prince and D’Angelo) he uses RnB as a platform to explore feminine sexuality as equal to its masculine counterpart. Rather than dominating or using females in the sense that Dre does .Paak recognises their agency and the power that stems from this. Songs like Heart Don’t Stand A Chance, Silicon Valley and the infamous Water Fall (Interluuube) are a lesson in intimacy between consenting individuals rather than .Paak getting his nut. Stylish, intelligent, eclectic and most of all made for dancing this album more than deserve its place as one of the best records of the year. Janaya Pickett
Getintothis on Anderson .Paak
26. Mogwai: Atomic
Mogwai‘s recent emphasis on producing soundtracks has had a rejuvenating effect on their career. From Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait through to Les Revenants, the medium has proved inspirational challenging the band to push themselves to ever greater heights.
Like Mogwai‘s other acclaimed soundtracks, Atomic has the capacity to stand alone and be viewed as a work in its own right. It does not need the film for it to succeed. Yet it is impossible to listen to Atomic without visualising the concept, one of a nuclear apocalypse and mutually assured destruction.
However Mogwai largely avoid the obvious representations. In the main this is a subtle, restrained and artfully reflective piece that symbolises the magnitude of its subject matter through its sheer majestic beauty. It dwells on the dystopian effects rather than the act itself, using drones and vintage synths to profoundly dramatic effect without ever feeling bound by any narrow post-rock restrictions. Atomic is right up there with the very best that Mogwai have produced.
Getintothis on Mogwai
27. Xam Duo: Xam Duo
A recent trip to Sheffield produced one of the most exhilarating night time drives in Getintothis‘ lifetime.
Bear in mind we’ve wazzed through the Atlas Mountains, the San Antonio freeway and the French Alps all around 3am in various states of disarray (as a mere passenger dear reader, we’re not *that* reckless) and the choice of stereo sonic accompaniment has always been equally wild.
Yet, this recent motorik excursion saw us battling with ferocious winds at around 3.45am driving through a several hundred foot drop as the chasmic and geographical wonder of the Snake Pass surrounded our view. It was pitch black. But you could still see the colossal shadows of the mountains, endless curtain-like treelines and the vast drop below to nothing.
Low lights, save for our car’s full beam, lit the road ahead as we cruised our way home after a fantastic evening of revelry and as we hit the motorway, escaping the Tolkien-like backdrop the second suite of I Extend My Arms kicked in in exhilarating, triumphantly cool fashion. It felt like we’d shot out into the next frontier; like a jet breaking through nature’s barriers. A rush – beat that Kowalski.
The track is the 23-minute centre-piece of the self-titled debut album by Xam Duo (consisting Matthew Benn of Hookworms and Christopher Duffin of Deadwall) – a sprawling undulating epic that’ll have krautrock fans chewing their pillow with delight as it injects them with warm gushes of hyper-kinetic electronic endorphins.
There’s a further 18 minuter named Rene – presumably after a famous waiter – which is equally incredible.
Released on the perma-delicious Sonic Cathedral, Xam Duo have created a cocktail of ambience, space-jazz, brass jams and future-kraut that once served up, is impossible to put down. A head-spinning masterclass. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Xam Duo
28. Michael Kiwanuka: Love & Hate
Michael Kiwanuka‘s Love & Hate is a sprawling yet profoundly affecting and personal voyage of love, loss and heartbreak. Shrouded in an orchestral warmth and spattered with 70s soulful vibes, Kiwanuka‘s voice is allowed to shine and drips with emotional resonance and a weathered worldly-wise honesty and authenticity. Where lyrical themes dwell on melancholia the passing of time and the turmoil of the breakdown of relationships, it never feels too downhearted or maudlin.
The beauty of the arrangements hint at the resolute nature of the human spirit. Kiwanuka, it appears, does not want to wallow in upset, but rather use the experience of it positively to shape his future direction. As well as the personal, broader themes are tackled such as racial identity on Black Man in a White World which is nonetheless loaded with the personal experience of growing up in a largely white area of London.
Getintothis on Michael Kiwanuka
29. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree
Bad Seed Ltd
Much has been made of the circumstances surrounding Nick Cave’s 16th studio album, coming after the tragic death of his son Arthur. But Skeleton Tree is not a requiem, it is at once an articulate, restrained choke of grief, a determined response and a defiant stance. It is also proof, if any were needed, that its creator is a driven man. Inaction, it seems, was not an option.
Skeleton Tree takes the form of the most harrowing album of recent times. This is not an easy album to take in, it is not something that one could listen to casually. It engages the listener, stirs their emotions and places them in the epicentre of a world of confused pain.
In many ways, Skeleton Tree is the perfect record for 2016, a decade that has been characterised by seemingly endless tragedy, by death and loss, both of friends and of heroes (the personal and impersonal). 2016 deserves a record like this as its soundtrack, an elegy for the year’s fallen.
To find art in the midst of despair is a rare gift indeed, but it is one that Cave manages with dignity and poise. Skeleton Tree is a simply stunning album. Banjo
Getintothis on Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
30. Chance The Rapper: Colouring Book
With Colouring Book, Chance creates a spiritual vibrancy that set him apart from the rest. It’s easy to see why Yeezy was so inspired by it, with The Life of Pablo heavily picking away at Colouring Book.
Where once Chance was consumed with the deep Chicago booms as demonstrated on Acid Rap, here he has opened his arms to gospel and the warming tones of Southern rap to create a sublime record. In a scene so easy to conform to the norm, he is a chameleon of musical styles.
Getintothis on Chance The Rapper
31. Hannah Peel: Awake But Always Dreaming
My Own Pleasure
Hannah Peel‘s solo LP Awake But Always Dreaming is built around the concept of memory and in particular its fragile vulnerability and our own inability to control our own thoughts, the record takes form around supremely affecting sound collages, distorted instrumentation, found sounds and alien, sometimes jarring sometimes beautiful, synth work. It is an all encompassing persistent listen that demands your time and invites you to be wrapped in its charms.
The concept is derived from Peel‘s personal experiences of watching her grandmother’s slow decline, suffering from the debilitating illness of dementia. The subject matter is dealt with most directly on the heart-wrenching yet achingly beautiful Conversations which sees Peel at her most stripped bare recounting the dual impact for both sufferer and carer alike. Such is its devastating rawness that Peel can’t envisage a time when she will be able to perform it live. Elsewhere the entirely instrumental Octavia charts the descent into the darkness of dementia, the analogue synths and clarinets mirroring a jumbled mind incapable of summoning any articulacy.
Notwithstanding, this the album wears its concept lightly and is remarkably subtle in its use of sonic abstractions to suggest the fragmented nature of memory and the capacity for dark thoughts to triumph over light. All the while it is held together by Peel’s often wistful, always beautiful vocals which add a peaceful sense of serenity to often confused chaos suggested by the music.
This is a substantial record that develops with each listen and is easily a surefire contender to be one of the albums of the year. A magnificent piece of work. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Hannah Peel
32. Blood Orange: Freetown Sound
The first time we saw Dev Hynes was around 2005 with his band Test Icicles supporting Arctic Monkeys for some Zane Lowe hosted MTV affair in Liverpool’s Masque Theatre (now the Arts Club). It was a catastrophic car-crash of a gig as he and his band-mates drunkenly wrecked their instruments, swore at the audience and made perhaps the worst noise imaginable. It was so bad it went past the point of funny straight back to bad.
Fast forward several years and various incarnations, and we’re quite dumbfounded to think about what he’s become – perhaps, in our world anyways, in the top five most vital songwriters in pop. By moving to New York and escaping the vacuous swallow-em-up-hole-and-spit-em-out-devoured English press, he’s transformed into a chameleonic force penning tracks for the likes of Kylie, Chemical Brothers, girlfriend and former Friends star Samantha Urbani, Carly Rae Jepson, Sky Ferreira and under his own pseudonym Blood Orange.
It was on 2013’s Cupid Deluxe that his knack for a perfect pop groove was cemented imbuing neon-infused Prince disco-funk with winsome aplomb and now he’s back with the ludicrously ambitious 17-track opus Freetown Sound. On paper, there’s not *too* much of a departure – the sultry percussive pads are twinned to sultry and very often dirty 80s synth grinders yet the sheer amount of music on view is both overwhelming and rather dazzling.
It’s only after several listens that the political overtones shine through – Hands Up references the killing of Trayvon Martin while the ballsy horns flittering of Love Ya samples writer Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ toils of being a black man just doing routine things aligning Freetown Sound to the likes of To Pimp A Butterfly.
However, musically, it all comes back to Grade A Pop. But You could have dropped off peak-era Michael Jackson, Thank You is a delectable slow-jam slice of finger-popping neo-soul and Augustine is the bastard cousin of Prince‘s Lady Cab Driver with a massive injection of spaced out gospel. Of the guest tracks (Nelly Furtado, Carly Rae and even Debby Harry all feature) it’s the body-jerking hip hop rumba of Best To You which works best as Empress Of‘s high-pitched choral vocal sounds positively radiant amid the treated wood-block assisted beats.
In truth, we’ve not yet fully digested this opus of sounds and layers, but for every listen we take Freetown Sound reveals yet more delights – and surely that can only be a good thing. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Blood Orange
33. Cavern Of Anti-Matter: Void Beats / Invocation Trex
Although 2013 saw a number of limited vinyl releases from ex-Stereolab-bers Tim Gane and Joe Dilworth‘s new band Cavern of Anti-Matter (the line up completed by synth player Holger Zapf), Void Beats/Invocation Trex represents their debut album. From the opening chimes of Tardis Cymbals the listener is clearly in for a feast of krautrock-inspired noise, as the twelve minute track slowly builds and bursts into the kind of propulsive and expansive sounds that make this type of music so exhilarating.
Mainly instrumental, the album features vocals on two tracks. On Liquid Gate Deerhunter‘s Bradford Cox, provides the LP’s sole conventional rock moments and it has to be said, its one incongruous misstep. Planetary Folklore, on the other hand, enters more unsettling territory thanks to the claustrophobic delivery of Sonic Boom.
Clocking in at a total of 72 minutes this is an album which by turns excites, soothes and intrigues. A complex amalgam of drone and grooves, recalling not only krautrock but also techno and 1960s garage rock. Much like his best work with Stereolab, Gane remains adept at looking to the future by borrowing from the past all the while being firmly planted in the present. A terrific album. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Cavern Of Anti-Matter
34. Daniel Woolhouse: What’s That Sound?
Woolhouse, aka Deptford Goth, was reputable for downbeat, languid electronica not a galaxy away from the likes of James Blake. Yet he’s returned with something far grander and bold. Here he’s stripped away the cloak of cool and flings out a raft of melodic pop widescreen songs.
By abandoning the obtuse archness of some of his contemporaries he’s instead gone for the heart – and gut – with a 40 minute collection which hits hard and warrants instant repeat listens. Take Oh These Landscapes – it’s a mid-temp luscious almost MoR electro-rock song which recalls The National at their deftness. Opener Crazy Water skirts along on a breezy wave of choral harmonies while the title track is a jazzy piano-led groovy beast crying out for Patrick Bateman to dance along to while hacking up an unsuspecting accountant.
Sure there’s still array of chest-burning torch-songs but this time the orchestration is vast and warm; Map of the Moon just one example of a neo-gospel love song which is epic and defies the listener to sing along upon first listen. Elsewhere, Graffiti recalls the electronic fuzz of 4AD’s Liima in its skillful combination of soaring keyboards and stadium-sized balladry all the while never appearing saccharine or insincere.
The curveball arrives midway through with a Thom Yorke-infused acoustic strum entitled Skeleton which is beautiful in its bare simplicity. Yet perhaps herein lies the key: by adopting his own name, and in turn, completely opening up his songbook, Woolhouse has served up a treat of easy-on-the-ear winners. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Daniel Woolhouse
35. Stephen Steinbrink: Anagrams
It must be time for someone far more adept with words to come up with a better term than ‘singer-songwriter’. Hell, how many listeners have been put off by those two words being attached to some poor soul making music. ‘Singer-songwriter’ is right up there with ‘paedo-butcher’, city banker and Margaret Thatcher in the lexicography of two words you never want to be referred to.
Phoenix’s Stephen Steinbrink has presumably fallen victim to this curse as he’s on to album number and still lingering beneath most people’s radar which is both unfathomable and cruel. For not only does he know how to write exquisite songs but they sound so rich and full and far too bold to emanate from a simple SINGER SONGWRITER. No, Steinbrink isn’t a singer-songwriter – he’s a titanic vacuum of melody spunking out golden warmth of aural sunshine guaranteed to turn your day into a blissed out daydream.
On Anagrams he builds upon the beauty of 2013’s Arranged Waves with his debut for the vastly underrated Manchester label Melodic Records (home to the disparate talents of K-X-P, Malcolm Middleton and George Verts) turning in chiming, iridescent Americana.
Clocking in a little over 40 minutes, Anagrams positively chases by and its riches are overflowing; Canopy can’t help but recall the brooding melancholy of Elliot Smith while Disassociate Blues has the wistful appeal of Simon and Garfunkel, Impossible Hand is a jaunty stroll through the backyards of small town America while the title track is two and a half minutes of radiating REM bouncy pop.
The biggest departure arrives on the album’s closing track, Next New Sun, a near six minute drenched in echo near-ballad which is both mournful and yet heartbreakingly uplifting given Steinbrink‘s characteristic honey-soaked vocal. It is outstanding.
Sure, there’s little on Anagrams which will test the ears but you’ll do well to find a collection of songs that are this affecting all year. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Stephen Steinbrink
36. LNZNDRF: LNZNDRF
Comprised of brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf, the rhythm section behind The National, as well as Beirut‘s Ben Lanz, this is an album that was produced inside of three days. It sounds like it too – in a good way that is. It carries the feel of a jamming session turned into songs, spontaneous and improvised without being self indulgent.
At the core is, of course, the rhythm section. Playing with a freedom and a looseness, far from the studied restraint of The National, this is impressive fare. The album is built around a motorik propulsion, yet this is coupled with a fluidity of playing that marks Bryan Devendorf as one of the most distinctive drummers.
There is a sense of new found freedom as the album explores sound, rhythm and texture in the way is perhaps not possible with The National. Sonic references are to The National – it is difficult to hear any Beirut influence here – yet without the imposing presence of Matt Berninger, brooding atmospheres are created amid largely instrumental vistas.
In its repetitive dynamics it strongly recalls another side project, Last Ex albeit without some of the latter’s more experimental tendencies while the brain-burrowing intensity mirrors the likes of Follakzoid. This is not perfect by any stretch. The vocals that feature on half of the tracks appear as an after thought and, by interrupting the instrumental, break the flow of the album unnecessarily.
Yet this should not overly detract from what is a rich yet nuanced release that celebrates textures, depth and dynamics through an insistent Krautrock lens. Now If only we knew how to pronounce it. Paul Higham
Getintothis on LNZNDRF
37. Lambchop: Flotus
Artistic changes are sometimes met a sense of incredulous insincerity, yet you could not level accusations of cynicism at the door of Lambchop. Flotus is not a bandwagon-jumping genre-hopping album produced for the sake of latching onto whatever the prevailing mood is. In its mood and atmospheres it is unmistakably Lambchop, portraying a sensitive marriage of expansive yet subtle electronica to sultry cinematic warmth.
It is the characteristic warmth that defines this album and much like trying on a new outfit, it’s recognisably the same band, only slightly different. Electronic instrumentation, which is to the fore in the pared down group, is never harsh and clinical but rich, warm and imbued with an autumnal mellowness. Subtlety is the watchword here, and as a result nothing is overdone, no efforts made to gild the lily.
In fusing elements of hip-hop and avant-jazz with glitchy electronica, Kurt Wagner has somehow created one of the most beautiful records of a long and illustrious career. This is exemplified on album closer the beautifully abstract The Hustle, which in its 18 minutes pushes the boundaries of what Lambchop is about, rendering futile any lazy attempts to pigeonhole. If not quite a rage against the dying of the light, Wagner is not yet ready to go gently into that goodnight. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Lambchop
38. DIIV: Is The Is Are
Clocking in at well over an hour in duration, DIIV‘s long awaited second album is certainly a lengthily ambitious double album. But don’t let that put you off. Where with most double albums you would gladly condense into a single album Is The Is Are seems to justify the length. It refuses any inclination to sprawl, instead working effectively as a single suite of songs.
What most impresses is the sonic stylings. This is a record that clearly knows just how it wants to sound and the care and commitment to art comes across while remaining that lightness of touch that prevents everything sounding too contrived. It stock-in-trade is dream-pop atmospherics and lightly drug-inflected soundscapes that have a tendency to sound both euphoric and resignedly melancholic in equal measure.
Guitars glimmer and glisten in their insouciant haze while the rhythm section pushes creates enough energy to push things along without ever threatening to overwhelm the mood. This balancing act is key to the record’s success and here DIIV show that they have a sure enough touch to pull it off.
Getintothis on DIIV
39. Goat: Requiem
Goat are the Rentaghost of rock music. A band of mystical lunatics falling into broom cupboards and making a right ol’ racket all at the same time. It’s fun and somewhat gratuitous on the senses as you never really know what’s going to happen next.
Problem is, when they burst out of Korpilombolo armed with the behemoth debut outing World Music few had heard much like it – now three albums in and there’s a slight wane on the mystery and intrigue – they’re still batshit crazy with a load of pan-pipes, bongos and freakout guitars – but we know that already, right?
That’s not to say Requiem isn’t a hoot – it hoots alright, just there’s less WTF per track. Still long time fans will find much to admire, not least on two seven-minute monsters; Goatband and Goatfuzz which could have dropped straight off that debut. Elsewhere, the latest elements added to the Goat cauldron are the African swing ofTrouble In The Streets (our favourite track, which recalls Fela Kuti) and the tabla mantra of Goodbye – while closing track Ubuntu is the nearest the band have come to ambient folk as the seven minutes unfold amid collaged vocals, loops, tapping piano and wind-swept dissonance.
If on the whole we sound in anyway dismissive that’d be unfair, for here is a band who’ve once again embraced a truly global expanse of noise and chaos; but by becoming accustomed to this riot we’d come to expect nothing less. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Goat
40. DMA’s: Hills End
Hailing from Sydney, The DMA’s are a white-hot riot of steely melodies, sports casuals, bracing power chords and snarly vocals. If this sounds familiar, so it should, they’re brazen Oasis fans – and firmly in the Liam camp. Which given the fact Noel Gallagher‘s already declared he’s going to boo them from the side of the stage can only be a good thing, as every band he gets behind is about as appealing as a pint of warm diarrhea.
The irony is, like Sleaford Mods, this is a band Noel should be rooting for as The DMA’s have got it in spades; opener Timeless is a cannonball run of Bring It On Down bluster, In The Moment channels lager and lines in the summer heat, Step Up The Morphine is a breathy Beatles beauty, Straight Dimensions could well have dropped off any Mick Head record while Melbourne is positively glistens with Definitely Maybe swagger.
If there’s a BUT which prevents Hills End being a timeless classic in the making it’s that there’s no landmark moment, no Slide Away guitar intro, no Life’s An Ocean bass run, no I Am The Resurrection group dynamic.
What there are, is two absolute diamond singles: The Switch a soaring, sky-chasing anthem in the vein of Live Forever and, best of all, Delete, a swelling semi-acoustic stadium behemoth which drips unbridled determination and belonging. It’ll inspire kids across the land to posture in front of a mirror and believe in themselves – and that’s no bad thing at all. Peter Guy
Getintothis on DMA’s
41. Tim Hecker: Love Streams
Genius is a much overused term in music, bandied about with abandon often to describe those of undoubted but all too unproven talent. Yet if one modern artist more than befits the term it is surely Montreal’s finest exponent of delicately immersive ambient drone.
Love Streams is Hecker‘s first since finding a new home on 4AD and the relocation ushers a subtle change of focus, albeit within some familiar sonic constructs. Continuing his fascination with religious observance and, in particular, the sonic effect of recording in the very buildings designed for reverential worship, the album has a strong liturgical theme. This is most apparent on Violet Monumental I and Violet Monumental II which juxtapose vocal arrangements from the Icelandic Choir Ensemble with droning organ, what sounds like processed deep woodwind and bright synth arpeggios.
The vocal arrangements are a notable highlight. With the choir having been given latin lyrics the readings are cut, chopped and rearranged in a way that is haunting and disorienting without being overbearing. The effect on Castrati Stack is startling in its beauty as Hecker experiments in subtle contrasts.
Produced by Ben Frost this is a world away from the dense and apocalyptic sounds of some and his and Hecker‘s earlier works. Indeed, it celebrates light as much as dark, alluding perhaps to the perpetual daylight of the Nordic land in which it was recorded and the unsettling effect that can have. Crafted with all the careful consideration of a classical composition, Love Streams takes medieval religious mantras and rearranges and subverts while retaining a sure handed understanding of texture and contrast. A modern masterpiece. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Tim Hecker
42. Ex-Easter Island Head: Twenty Two Strings
With Twenty-Two Strings, Liverpool’s Ex-Easter Island Head cement their reputation of one of the UK’s most innovative and imaginative bands. Starkly minimal in song title (Four Guitars, Ten Bells, Two Coins) and indeed in stage set-up, their music reveals a breadth of ideas that belie any perceived simplicity.
Anyone who has seen them play live will understand how their sound is created: guitars laid flat on trestle tables rhythmically struck using a combination of mallets and sticks to provide both a framework and amorphic timbres, as freeform echoes fill the void with undulating waves of hesitantly fragile wasps of yearning. Yet any perception of gimmickry is cast aside by this most superlative of records. All nagging feelings that there were natural limits to where they could take their sound are easily put asunder.
This is a special album. One of careful construct, never overfilling the space. It reveals a confidence in its composers coupled with a clear understanding of what they want to produce. As a record it is perfectly paced. The minimalism builds in intensity as it holds you firm in its grasp and hypnotic beauty. Its rhythmic structures imply certainty while the slowly enveloping sounds, almost timorous in character, add a juxtaposing sense of foreboding unease.
Twenty-Two Strings is a brave, bold and imaginative album that might deservedly see Ex-Easter Island Head kick on to the next level. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Ex-Easter Island Head
43. A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here, Thank You for Your Service
We Got It From Here, Thank You for Your Service is a deeply personal record that embodies all the elements of the hip hop pioneers. In a career spanning reflection, they show how to unite a nation while pin-pointing its frailties like no other group can. This grand finale is easily their best.
Getintothis on A Tribe Called Quest
44. Låpsley: Long Way Home
Despite the reputation 19 year old Holly Låpsley Fletcher has built as a talented songwriter through her handful of singles and demos released over the past couple of years, not many would have expected the mature, refined sound of her debut album Long Way Home.
Released on XL Records, home of another certain pop sensation whose first record was released at 19 in Adele, Long Way Home takes the minimalist, electronic pop elements from early singles such as Station and Falling Short, and builds upon them to create a soulful, RnB tinged sound. Tell Me The Truth features Lápsley duetting with her trademark pitch-shifted male alter ego, where Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me) is a complete departure from the rest of the record, mixing warm, grooving basslines and disco rhythms to make for a genuine pop banger.
Hurt Me and the majestic pop ballad Love Is Blind both feel they have the potential to be real big hits, while Silverlake showcases Lápsley‘s maturity in putting together well crafted songs, with layer upon layer of harmony and counter-melody, it’s a massively intelligent tune topping off what is a brilliant debut record. Adam Lowerson
Getintothis on Låpsley
45. Sex Swing: Sex Swing
The Quietus Phonographic Corporation
When you combine members of Earth, Mugstar, Part Chimp and Dethscalator with an avant-jazz saxophonist you might be forgiven for having a fair idea what to expect. Yet nothing, NOTHING, prepares you for the full-blooded and inhospitable intensity of the self-titled debut album from Sex Swing.
It is the aural equivalent of the walls closing in on you, the sacrificial offering to some malevolently omnipotent underworld god. As the track peaks you can almost hear the screams amid the post-industrial dystopian imagery that is conjured.
Undeniably a psych record, Sex Swing operate at the brutal end of the scale. Flowers and free-love have given way to squalor and disease, to murder and satanic ritual. Hippy festivals of light and space are replaced by urban oppression, tall buildings that smoulder in their smothering darkness. There is no sun here, only rain and the bitter acrid stench of dank stagnant water.
If this startlingly good Sex Swing album represents a vision of our future then we should be afraid. Very afraid. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Sex Swing
46. Kendrick Lamar: Untitled Unmastered
Top Dawg Entertainment / Aftermath Entertainment / Interscope Records
The surprise return of Kendrick Lamar saw the Compton rapper prove that he is more then capable of living up to the huge weight resting on his shoulders, with his most wide ranging album to date. From the jazz of the 1920s through to Cuban-infused Funk, it’s a broad spectrum of styles that shows an artist at the top of his powers.
Getintothis on Kendrick Lamar
47. Hooton Tennis Club: Big Box Of Chocolates
Hooton Tennis Club’s follow up to last summer’s Highest Point In Cliff Town impresses, and with Edwyn Collinson production duties they have realised their true pop potential. Messy is too severe a description for their first record, but its looseness is still evident on Big Box of Chocolates, but made shiny and new under Collins’ watchful eye.
With no difficult second album issues, Hooton Tennis Club made massive strides in short fourteen months since Cliff Town. Live they’re more disciplined while retaining that engaging sense of fun, and on this album, lyricists Ryan Murphy and James Madden‘s always sideways observations of life, are as clever as ever. Each track on Big Box of Chocolates is a short story of sorts, emotions laid more honestly here than by its predecessor, showing a growing confidence and – dare we say it, maturity? Tales of friendships, the notion of an era at an end as a flatmate moves out in Katy-Anne Bellis carries a coming of age melancholia, a sense of innocence now passed.
Statue Of The Greatest Woman I Know presents us with a surf guitar surprise, and Lauren, I’m In Love! brings out the biggest smiles, a cute Happy Days love letter to the 6 Music presenter. O Man, Won’t You Melt Me? touches the tenderest spot, and breaks our hearts. ‘I can tell that her man’s not me, it’s not me / Why would she change it all for me?’ Blimey, woman – whoever you are, give the lad a break, will you?
It’s only the final song on the record, the title track, on the album though feels like a slight hangover from Highest Point In Cliff Town, dragging its feet in an effort to keep up. But the album Big Box of Chocolates, for the most part, is proof Hooton Tennis Club are reaching maturity. This is a bloody good record. Cath Bore
Getintothis on Hooton Tennis Club
48. James Blake: The Colour In Anything
James Blake released his third album, The Colour In Anything, with little fanfare on May 6. Word spread of its impending release just a couple of days prior, as well as admiration for the stunning artwork created by illustrator Quentin Blake. The two Blakes, we should add, are not related.
The album was written and produced over a two year period and the track list is pretty much in chronological order. The themes centre around the breakdown of a relationship, its aftermath and the beginnings of a new one. It has already been heralded by critics as Blake’s coming of age album. Although the ‘sad boy’ or ‘blubstep’ is still very much evident, The Colour In Anything, shows Blake’s sound maturing as he grows into his craft.
This is music you pore over. Song so meticulously layered that the casual listen does not do it justice. It is consumed best at an exceptional volume or through headphones. Every track feels like a mini album within itself and at 17 tracks long (running over an hour), it takes a while to digest. The progession of theme is subtle, starting out with the heavy breakdown of his relationship and towards the end picking up a more sunny tone in songs like Two Men Down and Always, where he finally concedes “it’s a sweet world”. Janaya Pickett
Getintothis on James Blake
49. Camera: Phantom of Liberty
Camera are a band of impeccable pedigree. First attracting our attention when performing alongside legendary Krautrock pioneer Michael Rother, the experimental Berlin underground collective have since forged a worthy solo career and latest album, Phantom of Liberty, finds them approaching the peak of their powers.
An entirely modern and refreshingly revitalised take on the Krautrock tradition, opening track Affenfaust hits its stride immediately with blistering synths and hypnotic repetitive beats. This sets the tone for what is an urgent and intense listen that adroitly sidesteps any suggestion of it being too derivative and neatly avoids the formulaic. It is a record laced with a bristling sense of imagination and ideas kept firmly on the front foot by Michael Drummer‘s vibrant rhythms but which heads off in varied sonic directions.
Festus sees the band look eastwards and explores a delicately fractured ambience amid a framework of swirlingly discombobulating psychedelia while Nevernine expertly marries brightly explorative synths that overlay an abrasive exhibition of drumming of extraordinary power and intensity.
With an almost cinematic scope feeling like a lost soundtrack to a dystopian horror film, the enormous diversity of sounds continues making this a thoroughly rewarding and genuinely exciting listen. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Camera
50. Tim Burgess & Peter Gordon: Same Language, Different Worlds
Tim Burgess has long spoken of his love for Arthur Russell and having met the pioneer’s long-time collaborator Peter Gordon in 2012 it was only natural, that The Charlatans frontman team up for what must be his 139th collaborative project since the turn of the year.
You think we’re joking. Read his new book. After the coffee, new band stages, record label, remixes, writing, talks, tours, exhibitions and not to mention the day job with his band, you’d think there’s a chance of spin-off side-projects coming across kinda throwaway. Not a chance with Gordon at the helm. For anyone who witnessed his Instrumental reimaginings of Russell‘s work you know there’s something seriously special about his craft and those he teams up with. We saw them at the Kazimier last year and it was one of those nights.
On Same Language, Different Worlds, Gordon reassembles some of that cast, most notably trombonist Peter Zummo, who’s atmospheric flourishes – which veer between soft and sensual to squalling savageness – are all over the album. And it’s this mixture of the delicate warmth and the chaotic improvisational madness that makes it such a satisfying listen.
Take the tribal oddball jazz of the near nine minute Being Unguarded and compare it to the aural comfort blanket of Love Is All Around Me which offers you a big hug with it’s trumpeting cushioned beats. Then there’s the 12 minute free-form dub-riot of Temperature High which is reminiscent of Vanishing Point era Primals jamming with Can. Flip round the corner and you’ll find Burgess all breathy and leading a beatific pop song on opener Begin while later he’s dodging in and out of Tracks Of My Past‘s dancing piano and Bernard Herrmann orchestrated hypnosis.
If all this experimentation results in a slightly disjointed affair the pay off arrives on closing and finest track, Oh Men – a cosmic quite transcendental number with a falsetto finale so clean and pure it’ll have you reaching for the repeat button. We did, you should too. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Tim Burgess & Peter Gordon
51. Kanye West: The Life Of Pablo
GOOD Music, Def Jam
Raw and unpredictable throughout, Yeezy‘s most disjointed effort to date finds him go from future pop to classic soul at the drop of a hat. In a year filled with moments, TLOP provides an album of moments that juxtapose to give a clear indication of its creator’s erratic genius at its best.
Getintothis on Kanye West
52. Nonkeen: The Gamble
The product of reunion of Nils Frahm with his childhood friends, Nonkeen‘s The Gamble is a sparse yet deeply atmospheric album that combines delightful ambience and delicate timbres of decaying tape with understatedly propulsive beats. The overall character of the album is as an enveloping whole, with individual instruments never quite taking over.
For while keys, synths and guitar lines blend in and out of each other, the overriding impression is of a gentle mellowness. The sort of easy understanding you only get with old friends, those with whom you have the space and time to be yourself. That is the case here. Nothing tries too hard, songs aren’t searching restlessly for an ending and there is a naturalness to the compositions as everything is afforded room to breathe.
Don’t confuse mellow for comfortable however. It is an uncertain and thought provoking album providing insight into time, perception and friendship. A quite remarkable recording. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Nonkeen
53. Money: Suicide Songs
Psych and synth free Money rely on old fashioned virtues and assert their own identity. Built around sweeping orchestral suites of delightfully emotional arrangements, second album Suicide Songs is the work of a confident band sure in their artistic vision. Bold, grand and ambitious it owes clear debts to the sweeping majesty of Echo and the Bunnymen, the bar room bluster of Shane MacGowan, the intense melancholia of The National as well as the gravelly jazz-rock of Tom Waits.
The skill lies in Jamie Lee‘s ability to navigate such raw emotions through increasingly beautiful and ornate songs. You feel the pain and believe the angst. This is sincere stuff, free from calculated affectation and it is this raw honesty that keeps everything the right side of earnestness. And if you’re in need of a dose of festive cheer, check out A Cocaine Christmas and an Alcoholic’s New Year, an unsentimental reboot of Fairytale of New York
Getintothis on Money
54. Let’s Eat Grandma: I, Gemini
There’s something a bit creepy about Let’s Eat Grandma. Their name, for starters. But their eerie childlike vocals matched with a quirky psych tinged, folk sound but with hints of electronica, shouldn’t really work. Yet it does. And the result of I, Gemini is one of the most catchy new records of the year. The teenage Norwich duo are instantly likeable and the ideas involved in their debut record hint at a very bright future.
Getintothis on Let’s Eat Grandma
55. Julianna Barwick: Will
Julianna Barwick‘s Will builds on the successes of Nepenthe and The Magic Place but, in so doing makes subtle sonic advances. At its core it remains constructed around Barwick‘s voice, all freeform and expansive in its range emphasising its sound and texture rather than a vehicle to convey a lyrical message. If it is usually little more than cliche to suggest that her voice is used as an instrument in its own right, in Barwick‘s case it is undeniable.
The looping and seductive vocal melodies remain present, weaving and soaring in an enchantingly never-ending echo, yet this work offers more than its predecessors. It is based on a broader range of instrumentation than before introducing synth and piano that serve to elevate the overall sonic effect. In addition, the inclusion of more conventional singing adds additional meaning and purpose without undermining the feel of her work.
The overall impression retains the characteristic hazy and delicate ambience lending the whole recording a dreamlike quality. It has that rare almost indefinable quality of being carefully arranged while also meandering in a near aimless fashion. A record that insists on wrapping itself around you and enveloping you, it exists in space it floats and surrounds you filling available gaps with its mellifluous and amorphous echoes.
Undeniably beautiful and utterly enchanting it is as captivating a record that you will hear all year. A work of precise imprecision and a masterful piece of art. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Julianna Barwick
56. Savages: Adore Life
“Don’t try to change” is the refrain barked repeatedly by Jehnny Beth on second song Evil.
Yet it is clear that second album Adore Life finds Savages in more natural even relaxed mood. The songs remain pulled tight with a tension that you feel could snap at any moment. The intensity remains, as do the familiar post-punk touchstones and the sense of indignant anger. Yet there is a more spacious feel to the recording and with it a more pronounced sense of humanity that strips away the coats of pretension that characterised their debut album.
This is more balanced and varied without diluting. It is a record that doesn’t look to rehash the fully-formed formula of their debut but is the sound of a band challenging themselves and their own sound, pushing themselves in new directions.
Getintothis on Savages
57. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial
Teens of Denial is technically the thirteenth album by Car Seat Headrest‘s Will Toledo, a prodigious output for someone of such young years. It is his second release for Matador and the first to be composed of entirely new music, with his label debut being comprised of rerecorded songs from his self-released DIY albums.
Teens of Denial is a strikingly freewheeling ride through alternative Americana gorging on the likes of Pavement and Pixies as freely as The Beach Boys and Talking Heads. The songs reek of a worldly-wise sincerity that encapsulates the angst of growing up in small town America in songs that touch on depression, isolation, and drug use all imbued with an infectious slacker charm. One of the best surprise releases of the year.
Getintothis on Car Seat Headrest
58. Grumbling Fur: Furfour
Grumbling Fur‘s Furfour is undoubtedly a pop record and is stacked full of pure melodies that resonate and bask in their perfection. Yet the instrumentation remains unnerving, uncertain and hesitant, behind the melodic perfection lies vacillating doubt and unease. Crystal clear and yearning vocals betray a latent melancholic spirit that works dramatically alongside juxtaposing disquietingly sampled vocal loops.
In constructing something fully formed yet as strikingly stark as FurFour you’re increasingly convinced that Grumbling Fur operate in a world of their own, making music that stretches any definition of popular music to the point of absurdity. FurFour works on so many levels that it feels like a piece of modern classical music, such are the perfect intricacies of its composition.
It is a record that reveals its inventive experimentalism with every turn, yet you never feel like calling on the standard touchstone references. A Syd Barrett psych-pop pastiche this is not. Indeed Grumbling Fur are worthy of far higher acclaim.
They have taken a popular art-form and, miraculously, have created something that feels very different without ever pursuing experimental blind alleys. In so doing have created possibly their best record yet; a pop masterclass that subverts so quietly you barely notice. Marvellous. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Grumbling Fur
59. Anna Meredith: Varmints
Moshi Moshi Records
In a decisive career move Meredith has changed from being a lauded classical composer with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra to a creator of some of the most experimental cross-over pop-tronica compositions you’ll hear all year. In many ways however Varmints represents a joyously natural career progression the culmination of a desire to rebel against the strait-laced rarefied snobbery of the classical world community.
Her debut reveals a keen composer’s ear, most evident on the pomp and grandeur of Nautilus, yet marries this with playful electronic pop rhythms that are as fun as they are accessible. Take Something Helpful, for example, which is a moment of genuine pop-catchiness. It is this fusion of the pop, the classical and the experimental that defines the album. On paper no mean feat to pull off, yet Meredith manages it with assuredly natural ease.
Getintothis on Anna Meredith
60. DD Dumbo: Utopia Defeated
It’s been two long years since Australian Oliver Hugh Perry, aka D.D Dumbo, released his first EP, Tropical Oceans. Fair to say then, that Utopia Defeated, his first full length release, has been pretty highly anticipated. For whatever reason it’s taken Perry this long to put the record out, it’s been well worth the wait, as the result is a painstakingly well crafted pop gem.
The first thing noticeable about Utopia Defeated is Perry’s voice. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Floating perfectly above his unusual instrumentations, the Aussie songwriter shows off his talent for unusual and adventurous melodies, and has hints of Sting and Paul Simon.
Packed with grooves, the odd stomping beat and infectious tunes, Utopia Defeated is an immensely enjoyable listen without having to delve in too deep. With its sweeping soundscapes it works perfectly in the background, but to listen to it in this way seems like a bit of a way. There’s so many layers to the textured, intricate sound, that’s it’s one of those records that gets better with every listen.
The highlight is The Day I First Found God, a track which brings together every one of the styles that make up the rest of the record into a perfect piece of dreamy, atmospheric pop. With its chiming guitars and shuffling drums, it almost has the kind of spacey-Americana feel that the War on Drugs do so well. With so many sounds and ideas packed in together to make up the record, it’s a credit to the production that it still sounds spacious and vast. It’s a sound that you can completely immerse yourself in, and well worth the two year wait. Adam Lowerson
Getintothis on DD Dumbo
61. Frank Ocean: Blonde
Boys Don’t Cry
Ambiguous and enigmatic, Frank Ocean teased about his second album release for the best part of four years, the cryptic clues, workshop live stream and surprise visual album of recent weeks punctuating the juncture of fans beginning to finally lose their shit and Ocean realising he’d tinkered all he could.
Those so vociferously demanding the album on social media may feel let down by Blonde’s lack of standalones – though Ocean has never troubled the singles chart, this is more conceptual than predecessor Channel Orange. When you start to peel away each layer, the hooks are all still there in abundance as well as the hazy windows into Ocean’s psyche, sexuality and musings set to druggy, avant-garde pop, evident instantly from opener and lead single, Nikes.
Along with Kanye West, Ocean is responsible for pushing boundaries within the mainstream, yet where West‘sLife of Pablo failed to vocalise the plethora of ideas in a fully cohesive way, Blonde takes half a step back from the edge allowing the minimalist digital washes, effects, guitar licks and delicate keys to breathe and form a unified, achingly beautiful collage of sounds.
Following a voicemail interlude from his auntie, where she strongly condemns drug use, Ocean goes straight into Solo, a track loaded with acid and weed references in what is an example of the rebellious narrative of this record, starting with the torment of the marketing campaign and continuing in the defiance of preceding personal and genre rules.
You see, Ocean has unique and ambitious ideologies on how to construct a song, who else would useBeyoncé only to provide ethereal, wordless harmonies at the end of the breezy Pink + White, and Kendrick Lamar as a distant, echoing voice in the backdrop of Skyline To. His interruption of mellow grooves with meticulously placed electronic glitches and warps mean it’s easy to place him with the likes of Radiohead, whose guitarist Jonny Greenwood features on Blonde also, in the introvert, visionary and experimentalist bracket.
Lines borrowed from The Beatles’ Here, There and Everywhere on White Ferrari and Elliot Smith’s Fond Farewellon Siegfried are more nods to songs that are meaningful to him than rip-offs. Blonde is a masterclass in how to channel a smorgasbord of influences and tie them into your own style to create something remarkable and classic in its own right. Tom Konstantynowicz
Getintothis on Frank Ocean
62. The Coral: Distance Inbetween
t’s easy to forgot *just* how mighty, and how young, The Coral were when they exploded on to an unsuspecting British public back in 2002.
Brit Award album nominations, Jools Holland performances, festival headlining, world tours, Electric Proms with Noel Gallagher and all the while playing a barnstorming mix of the Coolest Pothead Jams In The World Ever – all in their late teens and early 20s.
By melding a classic compilation of Beefheart, Love, Floyd, Romantic poetry, sea-shanties and bowl hair-cuts, they were a blast from a slightly forgotten past but injected with the gang’s dynamism they positively oozed now.
Fast-forward to 2016, and their timing is impeccable, for while there’s never been a more fertile period for new psychedelic pomp, The Coral steadfastly remain their own singular ship – a careering tidal wave, still out of step with their kaleidoscopic peers, yet sounding utterly fresh – and this new vigour is all over Distance Inbetween – their first album proper in six years. And boy, does it boot.
As evidenced in the thundering Chasing The Tail Of A Dream, the album is muscular, loaded with meaty riffs and easily the band’s weightiest effort yet all the while retaining their characteristic nous for a pop tune and instantly hummable harmonies.
White Bird and Connector kicking things off with two Hail Mary’s; the latter a stampeding organ droner (the album is rife with lazer-gun keyboards set to stun), the former a fuzz-laden axe-chop to the belly while Miss Fortuneemploys Paul Molloy’s searing guitars to full tremouring effect. Fear Machine, meanwhile, could have dropped off any Black Mountain album, such is its colossal leaden delivery.
But amid the bluster, as per, there’s several softer diamonds – as James Skelly once again shows his hand as one of the UK’s finest song-writers; Beyond The Sun a case in point which exudes a melancholic mourning twinned to a strident Caravan-like Nick Power keys motif – it’d be the perfect tune if Neil Diamond were ever to ride singing into a medieval battlefield.
In truth, there’s barely a weak spot on Distance Inbetween, and credit must go to Parr Street Studio‘s Richard Turvey for cataloguing this set of very heavy jams but retaining their effervescence and pop sensibility – too often in the new psychedelic movement band’s output can be reduced to a stew of ideas and mush of inconsequential nothingness. Distance Inbetween is nothing of the sort – it’s a record which sees The Coral at the peak of their powers – something to cherish. Peter Guy
Getintothis on The Coral
63. Skepta: Konnichiwa
Boy Better Know
There was a point, a few years back, when grime burst out into the musical spectrum before being swiftly brought to a shuddering halt, thanks to the likes of Robbie Williams and co trying their hand at the latest scene to be given a break.
Thankfully that time has long since gone. Questionably, the main player in the second coming of grime is London MC and Drake’s new best mate, Skepta. His Mercury Prize winning fourth album Konnichiwa may possibly be an album that will define a generation.
With Konnichiwa, Skepta not only manages to prove that the appeal of grime is now global, but also that the hype surrounding the release of the album is more than justified. Menacing, ferocious rhymes are spelled out with breath taking effect on tracks like That’s Not Me and Lyrics. He delivers well aimed, direct blows to his rivals throughout, but on Text Me Back, he proves that grime is more than just rude boys running through the streets.
Yes, he could now probably get Kanye, Drake and Pharrell together for a Nandos, but he still maintains a tone of Britain that flows throughout. On Konnichiwa, Skepta stays true to his roots and although he has now taken grime back to the mainstream, you feel that this time it’s for the right reasons. Craig MacDonald
Getintothis on Skepta
64. White Denim: Stiff
In one of the most inappropriately titled albums of the year, Stiff finds Austin’s White Denim in their loosest form yet. A recurring criticism of the band has been that their technical mastery has had the tendency to cast a long shadow over their output and that their musical virtuosity leaves their records as something less than the sum of its parts. Yet here there is a sense of freedom and relaxed spontaneity, perhaps on account of their trimmed down line-up following the departure of guitarist Austin Jenkins.
It feels the work of a re-energised band, reacquainted with the vibrant garage-rock energy of their early material. Later period elements remain, such as the soulful Take It Easy, and there remains a melting pot of sounds of the American south incorporating blues, swing, jazz and funk. Yet this feels more cohesive than D and punchier than Corsicana Lemonade. Downplaying the need to show off, the songs come to the fore, none more so than on the Southern Rock stomp of Holda You (I’m Psycho) or the infectious garage-blues of Mirrored in Reverse.
Getintothis on White Denim
65. Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition
Danny Brown isn’t a cartoon character despite his reputation, he’s a human being, and as Atrocity Exhibition shows, an incredibly talented human being.
Brown’s reputation and cartoonish voice, along with his moving into party anthem territory on Old, has painted him to some as a larger than life excess machine, smoking blunt after blunt, yet there has always been a darker undercurrent to his music. His hedonism comes from a deep desire for escapism from his own existential and personal woes. Atrocity Exhibition brings this to the surface and lays it bare. The outrageousness is still present, but lines like “Lick the clit and she do the Macarena” are now bittersweet jabs slipped in between the raw honesty.
Make no mistake this album isn’t for everyone. Danny’s voice might be a hurdle for some, with its high pitched elastic qualities, though he does have two other modes, one deep voiced and smooth, and one in between that comes off rather like André 3000 and the instrumentals are so far from the usual wheelhouse of modern hip hop, or hip hop in general, and Get Hi is a bit of a dud, though in a 15 track album, one dud is hardly anything to complain about.
If you give it the time, Atrocity Exhibition has endless depth and astounding quality. Danny Brown, take a bow. Michael Edward
Getintothis on Danny Brown
66. Baltic Fleet: The Dear One
Blow Up Records
The new album from former GIT Award winners Baltic Fleet finds the band in more expansive form, trading the industrial landscapes of Towers for a pennine wilderness. The album takes its name and draws inspiration from a nineteenth century diary and introduces a heavier sound constructed through an array of vintage instruments as the band explore themes of loss, isolation and escapism through familiar musical touchstones. The likes of Neu!, New Order, Tangerine Dream and Daft Punk are strongly recalled.
Getintothis on Baltic Fleet
67. Imarhan: Imarhan
Imarhan are a fierce, blistering sextet who draw on the traditional music of their native North African Tuareg culture – rich percussion and drones of swirling string instruments – with an injection of emphatic desert rock, when in full flow their self-titled debut album is an unstoppable storm of a listen.
There’s plenty of pining, downtempo beauty to Imarhan’s music, such as the longing opener Tarha Tadagh and the hypnotic, hazy spin of Assossamagh, frontman Iyad Moussa Ben Abderahmane, aka Sadam, boasting a sublime low vocal as at ease with a gentle intimacy as in a detached, evocative drift.
Fantastic as they are in their slower moments, it’s when the band bolt into a faster gear that the record is nothing short of euphoric. A rich vein of groove runs throughout the record, lending the more sombre tracks a vital edge, but when second track Tahabort takes an irresistible, choppy riff and runs with the polyrhythm to a headier pace the record hits searing new heights.
Title track Imarhan is even wilder, the now familiar phenomenal twists of guitar distorted to a blistering desert haze that kicks quickly to a relentless, inexorable powerhouse of a drive. At other times, too, the band will drift effortlessly in to a longer, middle-ground groove
Whatever their guise, Imarhan’s debut is like nothing released this year. Though Tuareg music has long been accessible on these shores thanks to groups like the brilliant Tinariwen, whom Sadam joined on tour when the conflict in northern Mali prevented some members’ travel, Imarhan have an eye for progression, seizing all manner of influence for a truly magnificent melting pot of a record. Patrick Clarke
Getintothis on Imarhan
68. School of Seven Bells: SVIIB
Death hangs heavily over several records released this year, none more so than on the fourth and final record from School of Seven Bells, SVIIB, the songs of which were written shortly before the death of founder Benjamin Curtis in 2013. Album opener Ablaze ripples with poignant intensity over trademark wall of sound and Alejandra Deheza‘s breathy vocals.
“You saw the stars in me when I had sunk into the black / you never thought to leave“, although written before the death of Curtis context is everything. Despite the tragic circumstances and the emotional sadness that pervades the record, it feels ultimately uplifting. A joyful tribute to our capacity to cope and deal with adversity; to feel sad, to pay tribute, not to forget but to remember, but ultimately to move on. More than a manual on dealing with grief, SVIIB is also a great record and a fitting final chapter for School of Seven Bells.
Getintothis on School of Seven Bells
69. Factory Floor: 25 25
Who’s the best live band in the UK? Tough question. But few can match Factory Floor.
We’ve seen them four times in four very different spaces and three of which were so good they made our end of year top five. They destroyed Nation, decimated the Furnace at Psych Fest and did something so extraordinary at the Kazimier we nearly had an out of body experience.
Problem was, the last time we caught them synth man Dominic Butler had departed meaning engine room drumming leviathan Gabriel Gurnsey switched to electric pads and all the ‘human’ element of their sound was gone. Now there wasn’t much humane sounding originally to their incessant mechanical techno. But the visual ferocity and a certain something was absent last time round. Instead they’d truly become a 100% robotic death disco machine.
Oddly, and rather pleasantly surprising album number two, 25 25 seeks to address that, and if anything it’s a more accessible, slightly easier to digest beast than their ferocious eponymous debut – primarily because Nik Colk Void lends her fractured vocals to a number of the pieces on display.
Take Wave – a thrilling trip gliding among 303 howls, cowbells and what sounds like Prince‘s LinnDrum malfunctioning in the bath tub. Elsewhere, the likes of Dial Me In (the band’s funkiest effort to date), Ya (the sound of Hot Chip remixed by Throbbing Gristle) and the title track’s dancing cheeky blurts and pops are reminiscent of coming up at 2am.
If we’re making it sound too much like pop fun, forget it, this is still lacerating, hard-edged, cement-mixer noise – but at least you know there’s a human heart thumping behind the beats. It’ll make yours do the same. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Factory Floor
70. Oliver Coates: Upstepping
It is fair to say that Oliver Coates is not your run-of-the-mill classical musician. Neither is Upstepping your standard album of cello recitals. Indeed such is the breadth of the ideas at play and the willingness to chop, change and convert the everyday into something new, you’d be forgiven for not, on first listen, hearing a cello at all.
In its essence Upstepping is an album of minimal electronica that offers only the merest hint of its creator’s background in classical music. It is a strikingly experimental album that steals and borrows from the likes of Four Tet while creating something so unusual in both construct and sound that it feels unique and quite unlike anything we’ve heard before.
As if concocted in a melting pot of mind altering alchemy, his cello is twisted, mangled and rearranged in wilful dissections of pitch and timbre. This is against a backdrop of glitchy electronica that at is at times jittery and edgy and elsewhere carries the abandon of house music. If Bambi 2046 presents the sound at its most full-on, a riotous cavalcade of jerk and confusion before descending into heavy doom, Memorial to Hitchens is altogether more regal revealing more of the composers background in the classical world. Elsewhere vocal arrangements are utilised to discombobulating effect.
Despite an at times an unclear direction and a lack of sonic cohesion, the album is a guarded success. Amid the sparseness and the unfamiliarly perplexing array of sounds there are frissons of energy, a vibrancy of momentum and an air of unpredictability that do not fail to command your attention. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Oliver Coates
71. The Comet Is Coming: Channel The Spirits
The Leaf Label
On their debut album Channel The Spirits, London space-jazz trio summon up the ghost of Sun Ra with a heady fusion of swirling kosmische, freeform jazz and afro-beat rhythms. With saxophonist and sometime member of the Sun Ra Arkestra, Shabaka Hutchings forming part of the trio there is substance and credibility behind the source of their inspiration. Yet they embrace the avant-garde with infectious enthusiasm, proving that jazz can find a home on the dancefloor as well as in more rarefied jazz club settings.
Getintothis on The Comet Is Coming
72. The Invisible: Patience
Following their 2012 album Rispah, a record very much inspired by death and grieving, Patience sees the Invisible somewhat more optimistic and joyful. With an expansive and eclectic sound taking aspects of post-punk, jazz, RnB and electro-pop amongst many other styles, the album is a massively listenable yet experimental take on pop. It’s intricate with a lot of different and unusual ideas coming into play, yet it flows like a classic pop record should. It’s a record you can spend a lot of time with, and still find something new about it to enjoy with each listen.
Getintothis on The Invisible
73. Steve Mason: Meet The Humans
Double Six Records
Steve Mason has often been a difficult artist to listen to. Not that he is necessarily challenging in the conventional sense, more that he finds it difficult to disguise his emotions, his songs often providing an outlet from and an insight into a troubled mind. The pleasure of Meet The Humans is in its simple, unaffected joyful happiness. This is a man finally in a good place, seemingly trouble free with any past darkness left in the rearview mirror.
“Alive” seems to symbolise the revived Mason. The lyric “Don’t you want to see me alive, I only want to see me alive“, reminds that mental ill-health remains the single biggest killer of young men while the message coupled with the bouyant vibrancy of the music suggests he has found an inner-tranquility. Meet The Humans is far from Mason‘s best work, yet it has a celebratory feel and basks in the everyday joy in being alive. For this reason alone it is a quiet triumph.
Getintothis on Steve Mason
74. Fumaça Preta: Impuros Fanáticos
Impuros Fanáticos is the latest chapter in the typically bonkers psychedelic world of Fumaça Preta. And what a world it is. Where too many participants in this scene are content not only to retread old ground but also retread the same old ground as their contemporaries Fumaça Preta dare to be different and look to breathe fresh life into a congested scene.
Embracing their latin heritage, Impuros Fanáticos transports the listener to another world, a world in which an anarchic melting pot of styles has taken hold. Voodoo, Tropicalia, garage-punk, samba, cumbia compete with layers of guitar fuzz, repetitively chanted vocal mantras and punishing rhythms and synth. This is wild and untamed rather than a well-studied copy, sure it’s messy and often incoherent but it is all the more engaging and interesting as a result.
Getintothis on Fumaça Preta
75. RY X: Dawn
Sweepingly orchestral, Dawn is a masterful collection of delicately affecting folk missives draped in an echoing reverberative warmth. RY X, otherwise known as Ry Cumming, is blessed with a magnificent voice that veers from tremulous falsetto to deep tenor. Here it is used to devastatingly emotive effect transforming deeply personal and intimate tales of heartbreak into something overwhelmingly dark and rich. The repeated refrain of “I was only falling in love” from Only is a case in point. It is as though he speaks for us all, a spokesman for the human condition. A wonderful LP.
Getintothis on RY X
76. Parlour: Parlour
Formed in 1995 by Tim Furnish, Louisville’s Parlour are an avalanche of clanging, angular riffs at war with rampaging saxophones, abrasive synths and steely percussion. Do we need to say more?
Okay, so they’ve been on kinda hiatus for a while but are back under the wings of perma-awesome label Temporary Residence which should serve as a fitting tribute as to the kind of noise that Parlour make – it’s crunching, disarming, metallic and brutal – there’s not a single moment of their self-titled album which doesn’t stir with disquiet.
Yet for all its visceral intent, Parlour is a hugely fun listen; escapist even. Fempire injects comic-book John Carpenter-esque synths aligning them with wrecking ball riffs while opener New Syntax Preserves sounds like a bomb detonating inside a guitar factory. Nadeemed, meanwhile, comes on like Oceansize playing inside an asylum with the fire alarm going off.
If there’s a criticism the incessant repetition – which is of course a motif used deliberately – can induce migraine symptoms should you not be in the mood for a full-throttle aural attack. Yet, despite most the tracks clocking in around the 7 minute mark, Parlour is a bracing, thriller of a record which jolts and entertains at every ferocious turn. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Parlour
77. Holy Fuck: Congrats
Holy Fuck‘s first new album since 2010’s Latin finds the band in familiar territory. A suitably fried and gnarled head-spin of a record that assaults the senses at every turn. Opening track Chimes Broken sets the stall out early, a sizzling blur of electronic noise over frenetically chaotic drumming that accelerates in an all-out hedonistic race to the finish. It’s a battering ram of a song, a breathless and invigorating ride.
Perhaps wisely Holy Fuck don’t attempt to keep pace. Elsewhere is a more nuanced and explorative journey into the crevices of electronic-led alternative music, delving into the troughs as well as scaling the peaks. Caught Up ends the record almost as it began. Mangled machine-gun beats and twisted electronic pyrotechnics ensure that it all ends in a euphoric rave-up. Congrats will prove a treasure-trove of delights for those who miss the heady New York days of DFA-inspired delights.
Getintothis on Holy Fuck
78. Merchandise: A Corpse Wired For Sound
When Merchandise signed for 4AD and released After The End it appeared a match made in college rock heaven. Big tunes, punk ethos and a vitality which lived up to the hype.
Push forward two years and much has changed; core members Carson Cox and Dave Vassalotti have been writing from different corners of the globe and the result A Corpse Wired For Sound sounds like it – dark, disparate, echo-laden and drenched in something foreboding. Gone is upbeat swagger of their previous album replaced by a characteristic 4AD traditional gothic-rock approach. And it will force listeners to wrestle and work that bit much harder.
But persist and there’s an ocean to get lost in. Right Back To The Start is a neon late night Berlin throbber while Lonesome Sound is a serrated rocker were the guitars literally sound like chainsaws. And this is indicative of the wider sound, as guitars and electronics are twisted and drenched in messy fuzz, cold washes of distortion and throbbing electronica. You’d imagine Silence of Lambs chap Jamie Gumb would love this shit.
There is but one track which stands alone and harks back to After The End, the penultimate I Will Sleep Here – a hearbreaking, semi-acoustic ballad which rests upon Carson Cox‘s beautiful poetry and a chorus which will grip you tight and leave you gasping for breath. It’s possibly the finest music they’ve written.
What the future holds for Merchandise is unknown, but if they continue to make music like this – no matter which parts of the world they all exist in – we’re all the better for it. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Merchandise
79. Kikagaku Moyo: House in the Tall Grass
House in the Tall Grass by Japanese psych-folk outfit Kikagaku Moyo could be seen as initially disappointing, for this release reins in the band’s experimental and challenging tendencies, replacing it with what could, at face value be perceived as a more straightforward down-the-middle psych rock album.
Yet, like all the best records, it’s slow to reveal its charms. It teases us before unveiling its delicate and fragile beauty that is as enchanting as it is beguiling. With heavy use of sitars – albeit in a subtle, non-clichéd manner – this is a record that is preoccupied with the gentle, exploring the edges of human emotions through delicate slow-building tracks that grow and envelope almost imperceptibly. Laced with an eloquent sadness and wistful longing, it revels in a lush quiet undercharged beauty that reminds that slow and suggestive can be as overwhelming as loud and heavy.
Getintothis on Kikagaku Moyo
80. Virginia Wing: Forward Constant Motion
On standout track Miserable World Alice Merida Richards sings “You’ve got to keep ahead in this miserable world / your time is too scarce to stay in one place“. More than just a throwaway lyric, it seems to define the reinvention of Virginia Wing.
Forward Constant Motion, as the very title suggests is the sound of a band striving pushing itself on to new levels. Startlingly bold and ambitious, Virginia Wing has produced an album far removed in scope and breadth from the moody atmospherics of their 2014 debut Measures of Joy. With the dream pop meets krautrock template having been shredded, this is an anxiety-inducing jitterbug affair of synth-pop and electronica that works as an explosion of noise pulling itself in every which direction in an often bewildering array of rhythm and texture.
It sounds chaotic, it often is. Yet amid the avant-garde experimentalism is the sound of organised chaos. Darkness and light coalesce amid a strident concoction of melancholy and euphoria. At times edgily introspective and formless, such as the looping uncertainty that underpins Permaboss, elsewhere Hammer a Nail is a brilliant fusion of confused clattering with bright synth-led melodic intent.
What pulls it all together is Richards‘ almost aloof vocal delivery, the Trish Keenan-inspired presentation the common thread between this and Measures of Joy. As if exerting a powerful centrifugal force, it holds everything together amid the otherworldly off-kilter sonic experiments. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Virginia Wing
81. C Duncan: The Midnight Sun
Second albums. The age old issue, how to capitalise or build on what’s gone before, to break new ground and find new inspirations. There must surely be an added stress if your first production was Mercury nominated and took you from the security and obscurity of the bedroom studio to the five star flavoured columns of critics, and the welcoming hearts and minds of new found fans. With this new offering, The Midnight Sun, Christoper Duncan has found inspiration in American Sci-Fi showThe Twilight Zone. The album is named after an episode of the show. It makes perfect sense that Duncan would find so much to inspire there. Full circle, maybe, given the drama and moods conjured by his first outing.
Again, those luscious sweeping layers of strings, and perfect harmonies, the orchestral arrangements of the instrumentation, the eerie atmospheric soundscape which surrounds and envelopes each instrument, those elements we found so beguiling on Architect are thankfully all still in place.
Lyrically stronger perhaps, he’s found comfort in a place where he can discuss such issues as a past relationship, as on Last To Leave, opening with a delicate droning sweep synth line which passes into the background as an insistent bass pulse takes the foreground. The warm, heavenly vocal on Do I Hear offer the melody up, while analogue synths form an interplay around a simple plucked acoustic guitar. With every layer, the atmosphere grows and develops into the whole, and the album feels somehow more whole than its predecessor, but no less beautiful because of that.
An album inspired and inspiring in equal measure. Paul Fitzgerald
Getintothis on C Duncan
82. The KVB: …Of Desire
Such is their mining of past sounds it would be easy to accuse The KVB of being derivative. On this the duo’s second album for Geoff Barrow’s Invada label the key touchstone references are apparent. Joy Division, The Cure and Suicide are easily if lazily recalled. Yet it shouldn’t and doesn’t matter.
…Of Desire is a brutal, looping and relentless record, unyielding in its intensity, that is immediately fuller and more expansive than anything they have hitherto produced. Heavy in reverb and distortion, guitars and synth interweave to suggest disturbingly apocalyptic vistas all set over mind-batteringly motorik rhythms. Yet there is a pop-sensibility here too, at least the sort of dark noir free, from the sugar-coated requirements of modern tastes, that would have passed for pop-music in the not-too-distant past.
Getintothis on The KVB
83. She Drew The Gun: Memories Of The Future
Big expectations from She Drew The Gun‘s Memories Of The Future are conquered almost immediately with some of the most honest, raw songwriting this country has seen in quite some time.
Poem takes immediate aim at the injustices of austerity, “Protect the banks, bring out the tanks if they disagree / While we’re at it let’s invest some more in military / All our friends have shares so why shouldn’t we” Roach empowers. Rhymed and timed to almost John Cooper Clarke level precision, there our thousands of heads nodding away right across the country, be sure of that.
That’s how the inner workings here, well…work. Each melody memorable, from the sumptuously upbeat Chainsto the mellow acoustics of Pebbles. Each lyric, from personal tribulations to cultured socio-political views, sung with the same passion and intensity. You hear every word and Roach‘s motives are never left unknown.
Another high comes in the form of outright banger Pit Pony, a unique change of pace for the record. Again featuring Roach‘s assured, poetically fluent vocal, this time against rhythmic palette oozing drone-like synth loops, and more pop-edged dynamics. If You Could See, first released over a year ago, is still a fuzzy highlight too.
All in all, this is a record that has an effect on its listener from start to finish, that in a sense is the greatest compliment it could receive in its infancy. Couple that with Memories Of The Future boasting some of the finest lyrical work of recent time and it’s not much of a surprise to have seen this record, Louisa Roach and She Drew The Gun having hit whole new heights this year. Jake Marley
Getintothis on She Drew The Gun
84. Glass Animals: How To Be A Human Being
How To Be A Human Being shrugs off any notion of the challenging second album with confident ease. How To Be A Human Being is as joyously uplifting and infectious a pop record you’ll hear all year.
Getintothis on Glass Animals
85. Minor Victories: Minor Victories
Play It Again Sam / Fat Possum
A collaborative album featuring Mogwai‘s Stuart Braithwaite, Rachel Goswell of Slowdive and Mojave 3 and Editors‘ Justin Lockey it is built around driving and edgily-noir percussive propulsion and Braithwaite‘s walls of distinctive sonic noise. Holding it all together is Goswell‘s effecting vocals that ride the crest of the sonic noise without ever becoming suffocated within it. Songs such as A Hundred Ropes positively zip along revealing a striking pop sensibility that takes Mogwai‘s recent forays into explorative synth in a new direction.
Minor Victories will perhaps stand the test of time as a rare example of a collaborative album that succeeds, perhaps on account of the space afforded in its making and mainly because it doesn’t feel like watered down variants of the parent bands. This stands proud on its own merits and is all the better for it. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Minor Victories
86. BadBadNotGood: IV
IV by BadBadNotGood offers an exemplary lesson in how to assimilate a variety of styles without ever sounding forced or contrived. What in lesser hands would be a mess of chaotic sonic confusion comes together here as a tribute to exuberant excess, unbridled ambition and excited panache.
This is a marriage of fluid hip-hop rhythms with loose and louche jazz and lounge elements that feels as unpredictable as it is carefully considered and tightly arranged. A not insubstantial skill to pull off, yet when done expertly cannot fail to impress. The guest vocalists work well, such as Future Islands‘ Sam Herring on Time Moves Slow which signals their crooning intent, yet it is the jazzy, freeform and unshackled jams, such as the saxaphone-rich Confessions Pt II that work best here.
Getintothis on BadBadNotGood
87. Barberos: Barberos
It’s fair to say that Barberos have only gone and pulled it off. The band, so honed and practised in the live arena – their shows are renowned for their pummelling intensity and technical complexities – have managed to transfer aspects of their live sound onto record while also augmenting it with added depth, texture, nuance and subtlety.
Admittedly the record is less full throttle, you don’t necessarily feel like your cheeks are being pressed back to your ears or that you’re being pinned to the wall, but that isn’t necessarily a band thing. Nonetheless the opening statements – two pieces that merge into one – The Return of the Ladius and The Ladius are trademark Barberos.
Synth-led electronica builds with a mounting sense of unease over restrained yet insistent rhythmic beats and cymbals as the tension is gradually ratcheted up. This is interspersed with playfully melodic interludes that pull you back from the precipice before launching you ever forwards again. The Ladius twists and subverts, careering down side alleys before u-turning and continuing the relentless forward progression, accelerating in almost breathless fashion over the rhythmic hammers of synth and drums amid a sea of all-encompassing noise experiments. Quite magnificent.
Hoyl sees the band slow the pace if not their willingness to experiment. Lowering the volume to little more than a haunting rumble it drips with eerie atmospherics over spoken word narration from This Heat‘s Charles Hayward. It is quite unlike anything Barberos have ever done before and amid the low rumbles you can almost hear the nods of approval from one legend of experimental rock to the new pretenders.
The rest of the album sees the band return to familiar, if not safe, territory. It remains a cataclysm of mind-bending rhythm, corrugated synth and furious keyboard. A heady mix of experimental dynamism without ever going fully for the jugular. Perhaps that on reflection is the only real criticism, is it slightly too reserved the production a little too clinical.
But that is to nit-pick Barberos remains a thrilling ride from beginning to end, predictable only in its unpredictability. A joy from one of Liverpool’s best. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Barberos
88. Tycho: Epoch
For more than a decade now Scott Hansen has been releasing some of the most beautifully-crafted instrumental electronica we’ve come across.
The San Fran artist fuses kraut Godfafthers and Eno-like ambience with contemporary dance-floor fillers producing widescreen predominantly breathtakingly uplifting narratives which could soundtrack the break of dawn or late night motorway drives zipping along to nothing but flickers of headlights.
His latest offering Epoch is his third for the superlative Ghostly International (home to the likes of Matthew Dear, Gold Panda and Tobacco) follows on from Awake and 2011’s incredible breakthrough Dive and once again features his trademark cascading synths and warm, break-beats which mix disco and choppy guitar riffs.
What makes Tycho‘s albums so durable is his ear for a hook and accessibility – take Slack four minutes of fret-dancing and propulsive sun-kissed melodica which is the very epitome of Cali-pop. Similarly to much of the record the tracks build gradually before bursting into effervescent radiating colour.
If there’s a criticism, several tracks repeat the motif while the second half of the record lags somewhat – Local appears half-baked while Continuum is a tad inconsequential. However, with the likes of neon thunder of Glider, the strident undulating boogie of Rings and sci-fi menace of Division, there’s ample here to delight fans new and old. Mega. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Tycho
89. Mmoths: Luneworks
Sprawling electronic ambience coupled with a warm enveloping and richly textured soulful beauty characterise this extraordinary debut album by Dublin-based producer Jack Colleran, otherwise known as Mmoths. Luneworks is an album that works as a collective whole and it feels churlish to single out specific tracks such is the ease in which they seamlessly integrate into something altogether greater.
Yet Para Polaris stands out, strikingly eerie and oppressively suffocating on the one hand, overwhelming in its hazy synth-led beauty on the other. In a way its juxtapositions sum up the whole album: a dextrously harmonious blend of light and shade, of space and oppression.
Getintothis on Mmoths
90. YG: Still Brazy
Def Jam Recordings
Most artists find their second album a slog, with plenty falling well shy on the promise their debut offered or succumbing to the deadly witchcraft of writers block.
Thankfully Compton’s YG does not suffer from such futile matters on his triumphant sophomore long player Still Brazy, with the rapper having to deal with more pressing issues. Like being shot.
Having survived the shoot out, YG has managed to evolve upon the G-funk laden cuts on his debut My Krazy Life and turn in one of the albums of the year.
Although many would have questioned his decision to part ways with producer DJ Mustard, on Still Brazy YG justifies his choice with a sharpened sound and progressive lyrics that create a sound more true to California’s greats then anything Kendrick Lamar has managed thus far, with G-funk banger Twist My Finger proving an instant West Coast classic.
Filled with opportune paranoia, Still Brazy is awash with dramatic anxiety, that evokes images of the trouble times YG lives in. On the Trump bashing FDT (Fuck Donald Trump), YG is able to unite those who Trumpseemingly loathes, with a force not seen since NWA’s hey day in possibly the first great protest song in this new era. With the secret service becoming involved due to its strong content, it seems to have done its job.
Similarly on Police Get Away Wit Murder, YG doesn’t shirk away, naming victims of police brutality under his lyrical tirade.
Although there is no doubt that Still Brazy covers some dark material, musically it is glowing with summertime synths and glitching beats that glisten throughout. It is further proof that unlike the majority of recent West Coast rappers, YG is not riding on the tailcoats of its legends but creating his own legacy. Craig MacDonald
Getintothis on YG
91. Ultimate Painting: Dusk
Trouble In Mind
Sometimes side dishes are more memorable than the main course, the small plates filled with more treats than the belly-busting platter. So is the case with Ultimate Painting, a union of Jack Cooper and James Hoare from Mazes and Veronica Falls. A delightful fusion of the melodic with the motorik in a blissful approximation of the post-Cale Velvet Underground, easily elevates this above each member’s day band.
Dusk does not prove a radical departure from the duo’s first two outings yet it reinforces our favourable impressions, that of mellow, languid and effortlessly crafted melodies that subscribe to the less-is-more school of thought. Yet it also subverts; scrape away the beautiful veneer to find an existential dread and a stultifying sense of loneliness.
Getintothis on Ultimate Painting
92. Margo Price: MidWest Farmer’s Daughter
Third Man Records
Such is the emotional authenticity of Margo Price‘s MidWest Farmer’s Daughter it feels a direct response to the over-commercialised and sanitised rut that Nashville has got itself in. The seeds of its dysfunction have long been sown and have even been documented in lyric by outsider country artists (see Dale Watson) and it is from this outlaw country tradition that Price borrows most heavily.
Indeed there is evidence of a clear lineage from the independent spirit of the great matriarchs of country music, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lyn right through to Caitlin Rose that permeates Price‘s work. Throughout there are staple country music hooks, both musically and lyrically and that might put some people off. But this is far from clichéd Nashville fare.
It bristles with an autobiographical honesty, telling the story of the rural dispossessed, of hardship and bleak hopelessness. Little wonder then that Price wants “to turn back the clock on the cruel hands of time” and buy back the farm taken from her father when she was two. Since You Put Me Down and Hurtin’ (On the Bottle) tell the story of the descent into alcoholism following the break-up of a relationship. Examining the conflict between well-raised morality and the perceived immorality of alcohol dependency, there is nonetheless evidence of an inextinguishable spirit of defiant positivity that underpins this and the record. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Margo Price
93. Peter J Smyth: Black Smoke
Emerging Liverpool record label God Unknown announced themselves to the world with a series of split-seven inch singles championing some of the finest psych acts around. This is a label determined to uncover the dark underbelly of the genre, intent on delving its deepest recesses to shine a light on the heaviest and most mind-altering acts.
It therefore might surprise that one of its first full length releases comprises a man armed with little more powerful than a solo acoustic guitar. Perhaps you’d be less surprised to learn that Peter J. Smyth is otherwise engaged as the frontman of Liverpool’s foremost space-rock travellers Mugstar.
Not content with having already played a part in one of the best releases of the year, Mugstar‘s Magnetic Seasons, Smyth shows he is capable of something more intricate and less bludgeoning. Revealing honest and openly observational lyrics and a finger-picking style this could, on the one hand, fall into the standard singer-songwriter blandness trap.
Yet it doesn’t. Sonically it is more interesting. The guitar lines are delivered with just that little bit of force, an intensity that hints at a tension and a bristling anger. The background rumble of ambient electronic dissonance adds to an ill-at-ease atmosphere. While the recording perfectly captures a sense of intimacy, the ghostly echoes, sense of space and the screech of fingers on the fretboard.
Middle of the road this ain’t. A quiet and understated triumph it most assuredly is. If you like what you hear and physical LPs are your thing then this is a limited to 500 pressing on glorious red vinyl – so don’t hang around. PH
Getintothis on Peter J Smyth
94. Explosions in the Sky: The Wilderness
Temporary Residence Limited
The Wilderness is Explosions in the Sky‘s first full length album since 2011’s mutedly received Take Care, Take Care, Take Care and it is apparent that their absence has resulted in a subtle reinvention of the band’s trademark sounds.
The Wilderness downplays the traditional and well-practised loud/quiet post-rock dynamic motifs for a more introspectively nuanced and at times vulnerable soundstage. While the big crescendoes and emotional releases have not been entirely sacrificed, the fragility and wistful meandering seem more accurate chroniclers of our increasingly anxious and uncertain world.
Getintothis on Explosions in the Sky
95. Spring King: Tell Me If You Like To
The debut long-player from Manchester’s Spring King is a retro-indie fan’s delight. Capturing the frenetic energy of a live performances on record is never an easy task such that some don’t even try. Yet too often debut LPs can feel like a let-down to fans who have radiated to a band on the basis of their live reputation. It is thus a relief that Tell Me If You Like To possesses a rawly coiled spring-like energy of a tightly-honed band, bristling with post-punk tensions and fizzing with garage rock energy. Intense, distorted and squalling, this is a thrilling ride and you can’t help but surf the waves of the band’s youthful enthusiasm.
Getintothis on Spring King
96. Leonard Cohen: You Want it Darker
Much like David Bowie‘s Blackstar with hindsight is it easy to read Leonard Cohen‘s valedictory statement as a last will and testament, a coming to terms with his impending mortality through the medium of song. Although it is difficult to interpret lines such as “I’m ready, my Lord” in any other way, You Want It Darker explores lyrical territory that has preoccupied Cohen for much of his career.
There is a rich gothic darkness laden with ambiguously poetic references to religion, death, sex and sins of the flesh. Rich, compelling and movingly profound there is an orchestral splendour that coats everything in a beautiful gravitas. The result is that You Want It Darker stands high taking worthy place alongside the revered works of Cohen‘s prime.
Getintothis on Leonard Cohen
97. Yeasayer: Amen & Goodbye
Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance, TV on the Radio, Dirty Projectors… New York, and more specifically Brooklyn, saw a conveyor belt of boss bands during a heady 2007. In the years that have passed it’s hard to see where these artists fit – sure they produced superlative albums; but they seem very much of a time and place – and musical revisionists maybe quick to dismiss them as hype stars for the Pitchfork Generation.
Not so, for this writer, but it’ll be intriguing to see how things shape up in years to come. Another of those Brooklynites who seemed to be on the cusp of greatness, only to retreat into mid-tier relative obscurity are Yeasayer – a curious band who’ve leapt from progressive neo-world guitar rock into thumping electronic pop and for their last effort obtuse WTF-ness. A band almost too clever for their own good, Yeasayer have gradually excelled in knowing an incredible song before ripping it and making it barely listenable. But this experimental bent appeared to back-fire on the impenetrable Fragrant World – and for their fourth offering they appear intent on clawing back the listener.
The evidence wass clear with opening single I Am Chemistry – a song which employed their grinding, mechanical rhythms but set it to their multi-tracked harmonies and a FUCKING CHOIR. If in doubt, always get a choir.
Indeed, Yeasayer have never been shy to throw the kitchen sink at it, and Amen Goodbye is rife with wild instrumentation and odd orchestration. All folky strings, chattering pianos and off-kilter guitars, Gerson’s Whistleis akin to Canterbury prog channeled through Wayne Coyne‘s mind while Cold Night begins with a Beck-like boogie before rolling into a chamber-pop strum. The peak arrives early doors with Half Asleep – a woozy strut reminiscent of their best moments on All Hour Cymbals – complete with female vocal harmonies and woodwind Eastern pageantry.
But, alas, this is no return to those early career peaks, there’s far too much clutter and incidental segues (four of the 13 amount to little but filler) which vie for attention leaving a record which is ironically overly-formed and could do with strimming back. Ultimately, Amen Goodbye is a reminder of a band worth sticking with – let’s hope others do too, for the next album, could lift them to those lofty peaks of ten years ago. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Yeasayer
98. Field Music: Commontime
Commontime is something of a deserved breakthrough from the brothers Brewis. A worthy follow up to the Mercury nominated Plumb, this release finds the band on more confident and assured form than ever before. Familiar stylings are turned up a notch. The funkily danceable rhythms are catchy and intoxicating, none more so than on opener and lead single The Noisy Days Are Over, while the musical complexity always remains the right side of showmanship. Blessed with an effortlessly fluid pop sensibility it is easy to see why the late Prince was a late convert to their talents.
Getintothis on Field Music
99. Mothers: When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired
Grand Jury Music
Haunted, fractured and fragile folk musings are the order of the day on this striking debut from Athens, Georgia based Mothers. Rich in delicate atmospherics this is high on personal emotions without ever coming across as over-wrought or insincere. It showcases singer Kristine Leschper‘s vocal talents while musically offering more variety than first may appear. A striking debut that fans of the likes of Sharon Van Etten will surely lap up.
Getintothis on Mothers
100. Beyoncé: Lemonade
Pakwood / Columbia
Beyoncé‘s Lemonade is a record made by someone artistically liberated by their status, however the music here is not the sound of liberation, least not until its finale. Instead it loosely tracks the Kübler-Ross 5 stages of grief. Beyoncé is singing the blues here, fuelled mostly by marital strife.
The opening line reads “You can taste the dishonesty / It’s all over your breath”. The minimal drum machine, subtle strings and vocal arrangements lay an atmosphere that’s both soothing and uneasy. Hell hath no fury like the Jack White featuring Don’t Hurt Yourself. Instrumentally, this blindsided me. It comes on like a lazer-focused hybrid of Massive Attack’s creeping swagger and Led Zeppelin’s bombast, her delivery recalling Janis Joplin’s primal scream.
Throughout the record there are multiple moments where her voice is remarkably raw, especially for a major label artist. In ballad Sandcastles her voice cracks in visceral fashion. In 6 Inch, a song underpinned by a wonderfully employed Isaac Hayes sample warped into something far darker, her repetition of the words “Come Back” at the end sounds wounding, and all the more so being placed in an empowerment anthem. Freedom, with a fantastic Kendrick Lamar feature that spins vivid imagery of police racial profiling, is gigantic. Militaristic drums and organ back a performance more defiant than anything she’s done before.
The album is by no means perfect. Daddy Lessons verges near pastiche of both jazz and country. There are touches that don’t quite sit right: the klaxons in Hold Up, the hook in Sorry, that Formation feels tacked on after the final sounding All Night, but this is an album of remarkable scope, ambitious production and phenomenal passion. May it depose all that is beige in pop. Michael Edward
Getintothis on Beyoncé
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