Albums Of The Year 2016

Woah! This year I bought 86 albums… so, I’ve had to delete 46 albums I liked enough to buy just to get to the list below. There are NO losers on this list, every one deserves your ears and money!

(Once again, thanks to Robin Newman for spotifying this list)

40. Beacon – Escapements

Floaty, dreamy electronica, verging into synthpop.

39. Kaytranada – 99.9%

Exquisitely languorous beats, sweet, sweet samples. A rare delicacy.

38. Napoleon – Newborn Mind

Yeah, I’m NOT gonna go with the band’s genre and call this “melodiposipassiongroove” but what I will say is that it’s riff-heavy, shouty greatness.

37. Greys – Outer Heaven

Very ’90s yank indie rock, like an angry baby Pavement. I like it!

36. Eefje de Visser – Nachtlicht

Umm, I love this album but since I don’t speak Dutch, I don’t know what Eefje is singing about. Could be “KILL ALL FAT BROWN MEN!” but even if it is, damn, it’s catchy!

35. Blittz, Big Tobz – Case Closed

Another big year for grime and this album keeps up the UK’s stellar standard. Standout track, ‘Nobody,’ transcends genre cliches to deliver a genuinely unsettling, fucked-up love song.

34. Tycho – Epoch

Tycho’s strength has always been the blending of guitar and electronics. That’s in full force here: ‘Local’ just fucking soars…

33. STRFKR – Being No One, Going Nowhere

I dunno if all the desert odyssey back story to this is genuine. What I do know is that this is fundamentally a journey album. It’s a road trip, take it.

32. Ulrich Schnauss – No Further Ahead Than Today

I mean, what can I fucking say? The mastery of synthesis and production… of time and space is, as ever, astounding. ‘Thoughtless Motion’ is Satie with a sequencer.

31. Field Music – Commontime

Any major dude will tell you this is a great pop album. Even if it is a bit stealy, man. I hope they can do it again.

PEG!

30. Russian Circles – Guidance

Wherein Russian Circles approach such epic, dark heaviness that they start bending light. Occasional breathers like ‘Overboard’ are more than countered by battering rams like ‘Vorel.’

29. Loscil – Monument Buliders

This is a fucking heartbreak of an album. Desolate synths, wailing to the skies, insect legs beating out doomed sequences in military cadences.

28. D.D Dumbo – Utopia Defeated

I put this on in my car and asked passengers to guess when it was from. 1983 – 1987 was the result. Yep. But, DAMN, if you love an amalgam of prime Thomas Dolby, The Blue Nile and Sting, you’re gonna love this.

27. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

In the litany of the lost musicians of 2016, Phife Dawg often gets omitted. The added tragedy is that this album, recorded before his death, is the best fucking album Tribe have done in YEARS. 

Political, personal, it is astonishing to see elder statesmen of hip hop not resting but attacking. This is ferocious, righteous and essential.

26. Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing

Probably the only thing that qualifies as indiepop on my list this year and it’s because, unlike its genre peers, it deals with reality in its lyrics. Whether it’s musing or outright confrontation, this is very welcome.

25. Frisco – System Killer

Solid slice of tracks, loads of guest spots from people you may have heard of (Skepta? Wiley?) lol. I defy you not to dance to this.

BOY BETTTTTTTER KNOWWWWWW

24. The Operators – Blue Wave

I mean, yes, of course this is ’80s. But look beyond that, see the songs and hear the lights and you’ve got a catchy pop album. And, yes, I did notice a cheeky Operators’ track at the end of a ‘Halt And Catch Fire’ ep, you lil minxes…

 

23. Knocked Loose – Laugh Tracks

Wonderfully heavy, ridiculous tempo changes and breakdowns, lovely shouting. Oh, and PROPER GUITAR RIFFS that make you want to learn guitar and be a rock god. This is one refreshing heavy album.

22. Lone – Levitate

Do you remember dance music that was electronic, that you could dance to? No, not EDM or some other shitty, invented-by-rock-critics genre. HAPPY HARDCORE. JUNGLE. DRUMNBASS. If you want to have a proper rave in your front room, get this album.

21. Masta Ace – The Falling Season

Well, how am I *not* going to have Masta Ace in my best of? It would be impossible. Take just ONE FUCKING TRACK off this album, take ‘Young Black Intelligent.’ From the Souls sample to the tribute Tribe cadences, this one track does more than a thousand boasting albums from modern trap lords. Never mind Torae guesting, or AG or Chuck fucking D… *sigh*

20. Oscar – Cut And Paste

Take the ramshackle lo-fi charm of early Say Hi To Your Mom and couple that with some of the intimate drama of Baths and you have maybe 6/10ths of Oscar. The rest is Oscar Scheller’s gorgeous Newley-esque grumblings and flirting. Obviously, he’s gonna be famous, like proper famous, one day.

19. Skepta – Konnichiwa

….speaking of which, this album is RIDICULOUS. You skip from track to track and every track has killed the club you’ve been in when it’s come on, every track has got people bobbing and singing along.

The sheer power of Skepta, his ability to earworm you to infinity is humongous. This is an album that listens like a best of. And it is!

18. Pinkshinyultrablast – Grandfeathered

Blown-out, magnificent nu-gaze with more than a dollop of neo-psych. But unlike a lot of nu-gaze, there’s also a touch of childhood madness here. There’s an edge of something wild and giggly that you wouldn’t want to give anything pointy too.

I like that menace. More please.

17. Quilt – Plaza

…Speaking of times that never really existed, this album rocks into view and instantly evokes every ’60s cliche every non-American, non-Boomer has about those phantasmetaphorical times. 

The vocal harmonies echo the best of Head-era Monkees, you know, when they went really fucking mad.

I LOVE that this is an upbeat, poppy album. It could so easily have been ambient psych bobbins, pedal-hoarder pestilence.

I mean, ‘Searching For’ has the same golden sorrow of ‘Door Into Summer.’ 

Do you know how rarely that lightning strikes? I cannot give higher praise.

 

16. Bam Spacey – Eden

Again, my Swedish is non-existent so this lot could be singing about stomping babies or punching puppies. I really hope they’re not as this is one of the catchiest synthpop albums I’ve heard in years. It’s beauty lies in its willingness to leave space, space for countermelodies, space for monophonic density to build and also space for space. Well fucking done.

15. Teleman – Brilliant Sanity

I didn’t even know Pete & The Pirates had morphed into this band! As soon as I heard the vocals, though, I was like “WHAT?” and hit that there ole google. And, yep, they’re back but with a leaner, cleaner sound. There’s still the same humour and sadness, as witnessed in opener ‘Dusseldorf,’ which is a glass of water in a desert of TV adverts consisting of infantile acoustic cover versions. 

This is woody, gnarly indie in a style only British bands can pull off: simultaneously laconic and passionate. Did I mention that it’s also very, very, very catchy?

14. Paul Haslinger – Halt And Catch Fire

The soundtrack to the BEST TV SHOW OF 2016 that you didn’t watch, you absolute shitters. 

Yes, I loved ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘Westworld’ but ‘Halt And Catch Fire’ was in a totally higher electron shell.

Paul Haslinger’s soundtrack fits the show perfectly but it’s also a great solo listen. The fact that the pieces were written for radically different feels enhances the scope of the album without it being disjointed.

13. ZAO – The Well-Intentioned Virus

If you’ve been reading this blog for THIRTEEN BLOODY YEARS then you may have spotted Zao in my playlists.

So, I was a little worried when I heard about the new album. No original members – what would it sound like? 

WHAT IF THEY’D GONE JAZZ? 

Thankfully, ZAO are still about making a fucking racket. It’s impressive that a band with this history, this age can give the young pups a run for their money when it comes to chunky, grunty riffs.   

12. TRIM – 1-800 DINOSAUR Presents TRIM

It’s a weird collision; Trim and James Blake. I’m a fan of the former and definitely not a fan of the latter soooo… trepidation set in. That this is at number 12 shows that Trim succeeds despite some occasionally very unsympathetic production. 

We all know Trim can do grime in his sleep. His talent is *supernatural.* It’s where he stretches and breathes, where he takes risks that I love him on this record.

I can tell you this: fuck knows what he’ll be doing in five years but it won’t be grime. This is an artist that doesn’t give a fuck in the best possible way.

 

11. Vektor – Terminal Redux

LOOK AT THAT COVER (PART ONE)! Look at it! It’s a burning spaceship! IT’S A SPACESHIP! ON FIRE! 

Then ‘LCD’ (LIQUID CRYSTAL DISEASE!) comes on and frantic 8-bit guitar riffs give way to a heavenly thrash odyssey. 

IT IS BEAUTIFUL, MAN!

I love metal like this, I love its unashamed revelry in the geekiness that’s most epitomised by lonely 13yo boys doodling tie fighters on their exercise books. I love its speed, its energy and the way it’s *exactly* like running downhill full pelt at a brick wall.

10. Wild Nothing – Life Of Pause

“You can’t be sad for everyone,” croons Jack Tatum on the third Wild Nothing album. But he’s going to give it a good old college try, bless him. 

I’ve seen a lot of reviews of this record that glaringly miss the point, saying that it’s trying to be soul or 1970s or whatnot. That’s all bullshit. What this record is, is ’80s DREAMPOP. If you ever sang along with Prefab Sprout, you will be entirely comfortable with this album. 

Similarly, when it does get funky, it doesn’t sound like Chic, it sounds like Japan.

So, in 2016, we have, like the D.D Dumbo album, another great ’80s album. That’s good enough. But then you have a wonderful track like ‘Japanese Alice’ and you become excited at the possibilities of this songwriter. If he can chuck out this singalong loveliness, redolent of prime Bill Pritchard or even The Monochrome Set, where’s he gonna go for the next album?

9. Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus

I hesitate to comment on this as I know fuck-all about contemporary jazz.

BUT

What I do know is that keyboardist Kamaal Williams and drummer Yussef Dayes have created a seductive, groove-based record that has enough repetition to draw me in and enough variation to count as jazz. So much so that I want opener ‘Black Focus’ to last at least three minutes longer than its 4.34. 

Philistine that I (probably) am, I love this record because a lot of it sounds like acoustic drumnbass, hip hop or breaks to me. And that is strange because I fucking hate it when people play electronic music on acoustic instruments (see every session band ever of bored musos). 

The other thing this album is… it’s the best soundtrack to a film that’s never been made that I’ve ever heard. I swear, parts of it capture the muscular deftness of Roy Budd or Lalo Schifrin at their peak. It is superbly evocative, atmospheric music.

 

8. Moderat – III

I actually got the chance to DJ this out and I went with track two, ‘Running.’ It starts with a staccato choir stab interleaved with floaty vocals and a bassless kick. When the bass does kick in, the whole track rears into clay life, like when you watch a tower block being demolished in reverse. As I was playing it, four people came to ask me what it was. If that’s not pop music, what is? 

This album is all about images and micro-moments like that being stretched and pulled as surely as individual phonemes are. We’re listening at multiple tempos, polyrhythms overlapping in 5s and 3s till the inevitable 4/4 heart kicks back into life.

It’s a view of a sunny afternoon through your window as you work. You can see the golden sunshine, it’s orangey red. But when you get outside, it’s gone and you’re in the cold blue.

7. Beneficence – Basement Chemistry

When I say this is a solid hip hop album, I mean it is a unified, cohesive work of art with an aesthetic gamut which does not limit, it expands.

I mean that it’s nineteen tracks, the overwhelming majority of which will get your head nodding in the first thirty seconds, unless you’re fucking dead. The beats are undeniable, the lyrics are existential, the logic is irrefutable. 

There are guests; hello Masta Ace, hello Inspectah Deck, hello Chubb fucking Rock. Just hearing those voices freaks me out. That’s solid.

But don’t ever mistake that solidity for clumping, hobbled weight. This album just flies, every production touch dovetailing minutely to bolster the lyrics and vice versa. Just beautiful.

 

6. Mystery Jets – Curve Of The Earth

If you take a look here, you’ll see some Mystery Jets pics I took when I went to see them ELEVEN FUCKING YEARS AGO. 

Jesus, when did everyone get old? ZAO, Mystery Jets, me… 

This is my fave MJ album. So far. I loved the others, of course, whether its the Duran pop of ‘Twenty One’ or the reflective moments of ‘Radlands.’ But ‘Curve Of The Earth’ takes all of Mystery Jets so far and distills something that’s the perfect MJ album: it is indie, it is funky, it’s dubby, it’s psych… but, ultimately, it’s a great pop record.

Lyrically, it hit me fucking hard. I had to stop listening a couple of times because it reminded me too much of my Dad’s death in April. ‘Bubblegum’ killed me:

I’m always on the outside looking in 

It’s where I’ve always been 

But the edge is where all the sparks fly 

When the wheel spins 

Deep down I know I should leave the past behind
Maybe in time
If only I could learn to let go of the hand that first held mine

In every way I can think of, this is Mystery Jets at their best. Restless, inventive, daring and yet always returning to the emotional power of a superb hook. Without that hook, we drift and become uninterested. Mystery Jets are experts at balancing unfamiliar with familiar, freak-out with hook.

Beautifully written, performed and produced – what else do you want?

5. TEEN – Love Yes

So, when I wanted to be happy this year, when I wanted to sing and dance and leap around a bit, I put this album on.

Because it’s the massed girl vocals, it’s the beats, it’s those basslines that make me just want to invent incredible dance routines. Except I haven’t got the hips to do them cos I’m a boy, bah. 

This is the most cheering, upbeat record of 2016. I used it like a drug when I was in very bad places. This record took me by the hand, gave me a hug and then took me dancing. TEEN get what Devo got, they know how to make synths and guitars jig into place like bits of an an engine. A lot of groups try to do that and fail, quite horribly. TEEN make it sound effortless. They have that RIFF POWER. 

I really hope this album breaks them to a huge, huge pop audience. They deserve it. They deserve to be all over adverts and films. This album is the happy that indiepop mostly fakes. To be able to drink in the real thing is gorgeous.

4. Basement – Promise Everything

I knew this would be in my top albums from the very first time I heard it, months ago. It’s a strange record in that parts of it are the poppiest and most accessible Basement have ever been but it’s also more un-compromising and potentially more alienating to the casual rock listener. 

They’ve opened up clear water between themselves and generic pop punk. This is obvious sonically, where the record echoes grunge and even late Dinosaur Jr. but far more lyrically. There are some top pop punk bands who have never and will never write a decent lyric; every song is the same dodgy shite about how mean girls are. It’s not bad to write about loss but, for fuck’s sake, don’t use someone else’s template. 

Basement make their own way. In ‘Hanging Around,’ they capture that frustrating fucking time we all have where we hate someone but love them but want to keep the fuck away from them but want to be with them. It’s the aching duality they express so well, so horribly. 

The best track is ‘Promise Everything’ which is 2.37 of total fucking agonybliss. You can’t listen to it quietly. When it comes on in a club, it’s destroying to dance to. It’s an angry scab of a song, something you return to not because it feels any better but because you have to, you can’t leave it alone. It’s a fuck you, a declamatory howl of existence:

Win me with a smile,
burn me with your eyes.
Living just to please.
Turn and make me leave.

When I’m high, I’m high.
When I’m low, I’m low.
Hot or cold, it’s going to show.

Promise everything,
until tomorrow comes again.

I won’t ask for love,
I know it’s there just covered up.

When I’m high, I’m high.
When I’m low, I’m low.
Hot or cold, it’s going to show.

Feeling like a child.
Tremble in the night.
I love you but you try,
to kill me every time.

Turn around and end as you begin.

Promise nothing.

Yes. Fuck, yes.

 

3. Kvelertak – Nattesferd

LOOK AT THAT COVER (PART TWO)! Look at it! It’s a gnarly viking god troll rock monster thingy! WITH A FUCKING OWL! ON SOME MOUNTAINS! 

I grew up with metal. When I was a kid, metal was really in the process of being invented. We went from heavy rock and then distilled it from here. Some of that early heavy rock was Rainbow, some was Judas Priest, some was Maiden. 

I believe that Kvelertak are familiar with all those bands. 

Moreover, I believe that Kvelertak have been transported to our time from 1980. And that their manifesto is to remind us when METAL WAS FUCKING FUN and made you GRIN and made you PUMP YOUR FUCKING FIST IN THE AIR and WEAR DOUBLE DENIM PROUDLY. 

Dude, this album is everything that is redemptive, that is cathartic, that is communal about heavy rock. First, it’s the opener of ‘Dendrofil For Yggdrasil,’ with it’s beautiful Yes-like coda. 

And then we have ‘1985.’ 21 seconds in and THAT guitar run makes me just SMILE and and bob my head and, truthfully, cry. I did, the first time I heard it, I cried. I felt this track reach out and punch its way through the cloud of emo Dementors surrounding me, I felt this track grasp me by the hand and say, ‘BRO, IT’LL BE OKAY! NO WORRIES!’ The bastard progeny of Rush and AC/DC, this motherfucker will never let me down. If this track doesn’t get you playing air guitar, YOU ARE NOT HUMAN, YOU HAVE NO SOUL. 

Over the course of the album, Kvelertak repeats the trick of mixing proper shouty vocals with the most stupidly catchy guitar riffs so many times you wonder if they can actually *ever* be un-catchy. They hint at many forebears, a bit of Sabbath here, a bit of Focus there or even Spirit. It’s all good; it’s all good rocking shit. 

Listen to the middle of ‘Svartmesse’ and you’ll hear a tremulous harmony around two minutes, the faintest notes and it’s this kind of detail that makes ‘Nattesferd’ such a deeply satisfying album. You have the visceral impact of the rock but then you have the layers that may not be evident on first listen but slowly appear. 

This is a beautiful record. A gem of endless facets.

2. Mr. Lif – Don’t Look Down

Lif, who I first heard as part of The Perceptionists, returns with more stories that are more concerned with actuality than aspiration, with explanation rather than exhortation. I love the documentary tendencies that Lif, at his highest, excels at. And he’s there with this album. Reminds me of that old quote of Chuck D.’s, saying that hip hop is “black people’s CNN.”

There’s no revelling in the down here, rather an honest, no-bullshit vibe like on the super-hooky ‘Everyday We Pray.’ I mean, how could you not connect to this:

It’s been a bad day, got me feeling shook and I’m looking for
My emotions to stop the plots of this crooked war
Furthermore depression nipping at my heels and I can feel
The sentiments that I conceal, I’m wondering if I can deal
My appeal to a higher power was delayed an hour
Rallied up and took a shower, plus I’m hoping not to cower
Ever been so hungry that your eyes feel slumped in?
Fridge full of food but your soul craving something
Much more touch more thoughts through delirium…

That isn’t a song, it’s a fucking screenplay. 

Tie all those lyrics into Lif’s majestic, don’t give a fuck flow and you have this rotating hyper-tesseract of meaning that has to be concurrently viewed from a myriad perspectives to render up even a tiny proportion of its encoded message. It’s singularity-dense with meaning, it’s lyrical neutronium. 

Honestly, it makes me angry that poets like Lif are ignored when lesser talents get sucked-off by every media outlet extant. I mean, he’s probably not bothered as long as he can make art he loves but it does my nut in. Look at this:

I see codes clear as there’s an ebb and a flow
Extend my arms to cradle knowledge that we never will know
And from my fingertips drips, eclipse
Upon dawn’s lips, nuclear grips on her bronze hips
As she lusts for the dusk the the light becomes cosmic
The beams gleam data? Then prophets switch topics
Stop to just watch it and marvel in awe
If I’m asleep when I hear a beat, it tastes like stars
I’m Pi with these bars, I’m slightly ajar
You want more .one four the decimals of luster and lore
As decibels pour through speaker cones to leave you clones
DNA poem coffers of capillaries & bone
Offer ancillaries and tones that are pliable the sky is too low
That’s why dimensions keep my fires aglow
As the answers float just beyond halcyon
My knowledge drifts as I glimpse at the cliffs of Albion

What the fuck is that? That is beyond pretty much everything on this plane of existence.

 

1. Gojira – Magma

SO… 2016, eh?

What a fucker of a year. 

So many famous people we loved died. Then B R E X I T. Then Trump and his supporters actually sieg-heiling and the President Elect not condemning them for that.

I had all that and my Dad died in April. 

I can say that 2016 has been the worst year in my life this far. Many, many times, I’ve felt like walking into traffic or jumping off something. And one of the reasons I haven’t is this album.

That may sound like hyperbole if you’re not a music fan, if music doesn’t hit you like pure heroin, like it does me. But this year was so dark for me, so relentlessly, meaninglessly horrible that I reached out to music to make a connection. I couldn’t burden the few humans I know with the truth, the whole ugly truth of my emotions. But ‘Magma’ was waiting. ‘Magma’ didn’t require me to censor the worst parts of myself. 

I’ve loved Gojira for years but on ‘Magma’ they take all their prog skill and focus it like a laser. When they’re simple, it’s with an authority, a gravitas that is undeniable and based on their ridiculous technical prowess. You can feel that weight in the title track which pounds along after the eerie tube harmonics opening. They get pretty close to a heavy Floyd vibe here, massed monk vocals and all. 

I love that this record isn’t cartoon heavy; it’s not blast beats and invocations to silly non-existent religious entities. It’s not some Nazi fuckwit gibbering over Pro-Tools. The heaviness is adult, is real, it is comprehensible and that’s how I could connect to it. The pain in this record is where I found solace. The silence is where I found respite.

So I drove round for hours listening to it because I can have it as loud as I want in my car without disturbing neighbours. I could have it loud enough that the kicks shook my guts and that every lead line was like sheet metal being ripped next to my ear. My ears would ring afterwards but, fuck it, I’d damage myself for a hit of that shit. 

‘Silvera’ pummelled me and made me feel better. ‘When you change yourself, your change the world,’ they shouted at me. So I reversed this and changed my world, hoping to change myself. Little by little, this stopped being an album, stopped being a collection of songs recorded in a studio and became the sound inside my head. I would be walking in town and hear the double kicks inside me, I came to need to hear them to stop from panicking if I actually had to talk to a human. 

Yes, this is epic metal. It’s more machinelike than Mastodon, more melodramatic than Pelican but it shares the same blunt, calloused hands, the same familiarity with pain. When ‘Pain’ actually starts, it’s with a chirp of flute and it could be an old rave track about to kick in, under the eighths. Then the staccato kicks hit along with the toms and you’re gone. After the relatively sedate verse, the chorus is flailing fucking mayhem again, the sense of controlled violence erupting into that moment when you know you’re going to punch the wall just to see if you’ll leave a mark. Just to see if you actually fucking exist to anyone or anything any more. 

Thank you, Gojira. Thank you for keeping me alive. 

Albums Of The Year 2015

This year, I bought 91 albums. I heard way more than that but those 91 were the ones I chose to invest in, to own.

So, it’s with great sadness that I had to take 51 outside and quietly push them off the cliff of NO REMEMBRANCE.

If an album appears below, it’s a winner. It made the cut. *phew*

Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh

40. Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh

Glorious walls of pulsating, wet, thundering noise.

ASC - Imagine the Future

39. ASC – Imagine the Future

The mantras enfold you, as do the hypnorhythms.

Kid Wave - Wonderlust

38. Kid Wave – Wonderlust

Far more straight ’80s indie than the shoegaze they’re tagged with, glory in Lea Emmery’s marvellously disdainful crooning.

Colder - Many Colours

37. Colder – Many Colours

Slightly, er, warmer than previous Colder, there are still many stark moments of beauty and lovely Frenchitude here.

Action Bronson - Mr. Wonderful

36. Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful

I played Brand New Car to a goth mate of mine in the car. She nearly cried. What higher recommendation can I sling your way. Hip hop with not so much a swagger as a burp.

Container - LP

35. Container – LP

Look, you either love Container’s noise or you don’t. If you haven’t heard it, it’s a bit like throwing a load of coins in a clothes dryer and then sticking your head in till you die. Lovely.

Fort Romeau - Insides

34. Fort Romeau – Insides

Deceptively accessible, there’s some lovely fuckery going on in the background of this album. Meandering electronica in the best possible sense of that.

Counterparts - Tragedy Will Find Us

33. Counterparts – Tragedy Will Find Us

Stocked with riffs, breakdowns and the inevitable muttering slightly off-mic, if you like your hardcore spare and raw, buy this.

Shunkan - The Pink Noise

32. Shunkan – The Pink Noise

Pure, fresh indiepop. But also with slower tracks that drift into proper post-pinkness. Er… post-punkness.

Eternal Summers - Gold and Stone

31. Eternal Summers – Gold and Stone

Chiming guitars, floaty vocals… yes! INDIE SUMMER DREAMPOP MAGIC IN A BOTTLE!

yup!

Bansheebeat - Lumine

30. Bansheebeat – Lumine

Look, no matter what people tag this, I’m NOT gonna call it ‘sputnikcore’ cos that’s silly. What it sounds like is more like the rambling, beautiful game music that comes on the pause screen when you’re out of the room but when you come back it stops. And you never hear it again.

Hanne Kolstø - While We Still Have Light

29. Hanne Kolstø – While We Still Have Light

The sound of an assured powerful singer-songwriter finding the perfect arrangements for her work. Just great songs.

Infinity Girl - Harm

28. Infinity Girl – Harm

Yes, more nugaze but I’m not gonna complain if it’s all as catchy, poppy and wonderfully swoony as Infinity Girl. Got to see these live.

Goodbye Tomorrow - A Journey Through The Mind Of A Non Believer

27. Goodbye Tomorrow – A Journey Through The Mind Of A Non Believer

First time I heard GT’s ‘Jay Z,’ I knew it’d be a hit. But I had no idea who Goodbye Tomorrow are. I still don’t but, eh, does it matter? Solid hip hop. Mmm…

Nai Harvest - Hairball

26. Nai Harvest – Hairball

There’s sooo much energy on this album, it’s a sprawling, gunky mess of a record in all the best ways. Sometimes sounding like Dinosaur Jr., sometimes like someone raised Husker Du on J-pop, it’s an essential pop punk record.

Öxxö Xööx - Nämïdäë

25. Öxxö Xööx – Nämïdäë

One of two albums in this list that features the throbbing, itching brain of Gautier Serre, this record is doom incarnate, planets exploding, a furious whale flying through the sky, hailstones made out of human skulls. Drink it in.

A Place to Bury Strangers - Transfixiation

24. A Place to Bury Strangers – Transfixiation

Straining, violent with obvious echoes of both Joy Division and early New Order. But standout track ‘Straight’ shows they have their own, beautifully arrogant thing going on. The energy of this record is perfect at 4am when you’re driving around like a fat, ugly Ryan Gosling.

Sannhet - Revisionist

23. Sannhet – Revisionist

Where Sannhet > Deafheaven and the others in their metalgaze cohort is the ferociousness of the prog elements of what they do. I don’t know how this will, er, progress. At the moment, one has to strain to hear it. Will they go cleaner and progger or noisier and less twiddly. That whole debate is in this album.

Reso - Ricochet

22. Reso – Ricochet

A beautiful … what album? DnB? Some bits… Electronica… some bits? Trancey floatiness… yessss…. Hell, there’s some gritty shit going on here too and some absolutely mental manipulation that, a few years ago, only people like Venetian Snares and Igorrr were doing. The genius of this album, the genius of Reso is the sheer musicality of it all. Everything is subsumed by the song, the track. Everything serves the mood. Thus… a great album with it’s own atmosphere absolutely nailed in place.

And So I Watch You From Afar - Heirs

21. And So I Watch You From Afar – Heirs

When it comes to my twiddly postrock / mathjammms, I’ve always had a soft spot for ASIWYFA. The thing is, they have this sense of pure fucking joy that so few others do. Post rock can be such a dour, beardy, chinrubbing genre. ASIWYFA make it sing like qawwali, they tap into some kind of spiritual shit. On ‘Heirs,’ they can throw off the hyper pop of ‘Fucking Lifer’ and then follow it with ‘A Beacon…’ and it all works. It shouldn’t but it does. They should be ambassadors for their entire fucking genre.

Susanne Sundfør - Ten Love Songs

20. Susanne Sundför – Ten Love Songs

The minute I heard ‘Delirious,’ I was hooked. I did wonder why it had the THX intro and then it all made sense: this was the soundtrack to a future cyberpunk version of James Bond. Unashamedly melodramatic from the machine-gun snare fills to the the lyrical allusions to homicidal mayhem.

And ‘Delirious’ is only one of the delicious offerings Sundför offers up, all wrapped in her icy katana of a voice. This album just floats on her voice, soaring over so many desperate ’80s wannabes by being actually better than the ’80s were. Buy this if you love synth opera. She really, really needs to do a cover of ‘Vienna’….

Everything Everything - Get To Heaven

19. Everything Everything – Get To Heaven

The follow up to ‘Arc’ is a much poppier affair overall but it still doesn’t lack EE’s trademark  squawks, shrieks and reallyfastbitswhereyou’renotquitesurewhatthey’resingingGIBBONwaitdidhesaygibbon?

That’s the joy of Everything Everything. They are the reincarnation of XTC, coming steaming in with straight-ahead pop (‘Making Plans’ / ‘MY KZ’) and then wandering off into not prog but not pop, a twinkly hinterland where anything goes as long as it’s inventive and poppy.

Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space

18. Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space

I usually loathe the ‘spoken samples over beats’ genre as it all seems very lazy and 1990 and haven’t we all done that. But PSB marry their sampling with such sublime and appropriate soundtracks that all is forgiven. This album is an actual soundtrack. If you give it time and space (heh), it will expand around you and you’ll feel like you just watched ‘The Right Stuff.’

Standout track is ‘Yuri Gagarin’ because it’s the kind of soultastic workout that At The Drive In could have kicked out in their prime. I need to dance to this in a club. I probably never will just as I’ll never set foot on the moon.

guilty

17. Guilty Simpson – Detroit’s Son

Way, way overlooked which I don’t get at all; this album has such a cinematic feel. Every track is proper, finished, not just a scratchpad of will-this-do trap sounds thrown over whatever (you know what I’m talking about).

But when it comes down to it, don’t judge this record on all that, judge it on the lyrics that cut you, the beats that bump you and the whole aesthetic which is as idgaf as any hardcore band. That’s why I love it.

Miaoux Miaoux - School Of Velocity

16. Miaoux Miaoux – School Of Velocity

The best soundtrack for an AU ever: float through cityscapes patrolled by flying cars and disturbed by the occasional mortar blast. Though everything seems so shiny and beautiful and perfect, we know from the lyrics that life isn’t that simple.

It’s this bittersweet groove that Miaoux Miaoux completely, utterly rules on ‘School Of Velocity.’ The crystalline synths combined with the wheezing, fluttering percussion and then the voice riding over it all, indecisive and argumentative; it all works together.

Beliefs - Leaper

15. Beliefs – Leaper

Unashamed nugaze, a band that formed over love of everything MBV and shimmery, Beliefs have still managed to make a surprising album. Granted, it is shoegaze but it also reaches and explores, sometimes slipping into more Cocteaus, 4AD dream pop territory.

Maruta - Remain Dystopian

14. Maruta – Remain Dystopian

If, by now, you don’t like grindcore, I doubt this album will change your mind. But if you’re open-minded to all music, think there’s space for all moods and feelings, give this a listen. I think you’ll appreciate the energy. And you’re not gonna get bored since most of the songs are around one minute long.

It’s this compression of time which marks Maruta out for me. In those sixty or so seconds, they cover so much fucking ground. If you took one of these tracks and timestretched it to six minutes, you’d probably have the greatest postrock track ever. The breaks and fills, the guitar riffs, everything is so on point.

When I listen to this album, I feel totally alive afterwards, like I need to go out and punch a bridge or something. It’s lovely.

Corpo-Mente - Corpo-Mente

13. Corpo-Mente – Corpo-Mente

This is the other album touched by Gauiter Serre. Corpo-Mente is, um, electronic operatic metal. I’m sure someone else will come up with a snappier genre tag (they’re certainly not trip-hop!).

This is one of my favourite albums because it is unlike anything I’ve heard in 2015. It’s soundscapes of classical instruments (Benjamin Violet)  over which the beautiful voice of Laure Le Prunenec rises and falls, threnodies twisting over the gnarled, dead trees.

Basically, if you loved the alien opera singer in ‘The Fifth Element,’ I think this’ll be right up your alley.

Tame Impala - Currents

12. Tame Impala – Currents

A restrained erection of an album, ‘Currents’ is all throb, throb, c’mon, c’mon. Seeing where Parker started off, in psych territory, it’s bewildering to find him so masterful in this neosoul landscape. Yet, he is.

Standout track, ‘Cause I’m A Man’ is humpingly slow and wonderfully, wobblingly obese. That bassline could suffocate you. And those creamy synths… oh my! It’s a way more organic funk than that of Daft Punk, more meaty and less cheesy.

It’s also a testament to Parker’s sheer pop skills that he throws away one of the kookiest tracks (‘Disciples’) after a mere 1.48. Every time it finishes, I’m like ‘WHAT?? WHERE’S THE REST, MOTHERFUCKER???’

 

Shinobu - 10 Thermidor

11. Shinobu – 10 Thermidor

And then skittering in the door come Shinobu, making every old Pavement fan’s eyes moisten and even a few Promise Ring fans well up. And, yes, there’s obviously some Weezer in there too, how could there not be?

But around their influences, they’ve built their own house with their own colours and a pretty cool doormat. The songs they sing are more accessibly personal than Pavement, less sarcastic than Weezer and more remorsefully realistic than The Promise Ring.

It’s like they know all that stuff, they know we know it all too. So, let’s take that shit as read and see where we can go that’s new, that’s now and that is possibly way weirder.

I like that. I’m going with them.

Soko - My Dreams Dictate My Reality

10. Soko – My Dreams Dictate My Reality

I knew zilch about Soko so I had to google her – apparently she is foremost an actress and only started singing while in a film. Well, if this album is by a part-time musician, maybe we need to put some of the people in the charts on three-day-weeks.

Soko’s voice is as versatile as her songwriting and she covers a broad range with both here.  ‘Who Wears The Pants?’ is the track I play to other Soko newbies because it’s so defiant, post-punk and in your face. But then you have a song like Monster Love which is just beautiful and quiet and like a lost Cure b-side from 1980.

Speaking of which… It is a very ’80s post-punk / protogoth Cure-ish album. But that’s no bad thing because Soko’s lyrics don’t pretend to be lost in time. She’s now even as she’s then. So we get this wild mix that’s more like Siouxsie and then that’s weird because, of course, Bob worked with her too… argh, ’80s AU manifesting… eject…

BUT WAIT – here’s ‘Keaton’s Song’ where she sounds completely different and like Hello Saferide and utterly vulnerable. Guess we can’t just pigeonhole her neatly after all, eh?

Menace Beach - Ratworld

9. Menace Beach – Ratworld

DISCLOSURE – I am biased because the bassist from this band is a mate of mine and I know a couple of the other members. That being said, if I didn’t like the album, I would have left it off the list because I’m horrible like that, ask anyone.

Ratworld is  a beefy, sinewy indie album. I wouldn’t call it indie rock but it’s way too alt to be indiepop. It’s in its own little sphere. Even though they sound nothing alike, this album most reminds of McClusky in that it has its own little world and seems quite content to flick Vs at the other kids in bands.

My fave track is ‘Tennis Court’ cos it has all my fave bits in it: stops and starts, disjointed riffery, floaty girl vocals, feedback and a slider bass bit. Yaaay! I’d say start here if you’ve never heard the band before as it’s very accessible.

Then you have the slow burn of ‘Blue Eye’ which is all tender, sparkly build-up and then lovely nasty guitar comes in. It’s all a bit Loop. OR IS IT? (it is)

It’s very hard for me to genre-ise MB because, frankly, they’re all over the shop. There are elements of psych, shoegaze, prog and even post rock going on but it’s all syncretically eclectic, with biscuits, even.

Widowspeak - All Yours

8. Widowspeak – All Yours

So, I bought this album, stuck it on and… from the opening beats of ‘All Yours’ and Molly Hamilton’s vocal arpeggio, I was hooked.

This duo is lush beyond lushness, dreamy isn’t even coming close. Everything on this album from the songs to the reverb tails seems tailored to seduce you into the pillow talk universe of Widowspeak.

Even when the tempo rises, like on ‘Borrowed World,’ the feel is still intimate. This isn’t stadium rock. It’s as shyly tiny as The Cure’s ‘Close To Me.’ I love that Widowspeak have looked at the album as a whole, as a feeling and have made sure that the groove, the dreams carry on from song to song. Bizarrely, this reminds me of the Tame Impala album, not at all for timbres and themes but for the strict preservation of aesthetic.

Obviously, a huge part of this is Molly Hamilton’s effortless vocals. She is languid and lonesome, she is winsome and coquettish. She is wherever the song takes her; the perfect unreliable narrator.

More than anything, Widowspeak have delivered an album of songs that are way more than reverb and effects. These are songs that will be treasured and sung by others, songs to be covered.

 

Soak - Before We Forgot How To Dream

7. Soak – Before We Forgot How To Dream

Bridie Monds-Watson has a simply stunning voice and she’s an adept, powerful songwriter too. Not bad at 19 and it’s not like she’s gonna get any worse, is it?

The first thing I heard by Soak was ‘Blud’ and it was one of those moments where a song burns into you. It could be the lyrics, could be the chords – fuck knows what it was. But I do remember having to pull the car over as it had upset me. The good kind of upset where you know you have to think about shit you’ve been running from for months. Maybe years.

So, I was a little apprehensive when I got this album. What if that one song was it? What if the rest were merely okay, without the cruel power of ‘Blud?’ Well, my fears were foolish. ‘Before We Forgot How To Dream’ is a jewel of a debut album. Yes, you have the slow, brooders like ‘Blud’ and ‘B a noBody’ but you also have upbeat, less-introspective tracks like ‘Garden.’

I’m jealous of Monds-Watson’s talents, I’m particularly jealous of her voice. If I look back at the songs I was writing when I was 19… well, I’m glad there isn’t an album of them, put it that way.

I’m looking forward to where she goes from here. She couldn’t have requested a better start.

 

Jakub Zytecki - Wishful Lotus Proof

6. Jakub Zytecki – Wishful Lotus Proof

A huge album! Covering a lot of ground from heavy djent riffing to far more flowing, free jazz forms. Take the track ‘Majin,’ the intro and riff are pure, lovely metal. You need to bang your head, to punch stuff. The energy is all up in your chest and it needs to come out.

Then the very next track, Eywa O.F.F. is clean and sparkling, the notes like cascades of water over the top of a waterfall, both measured and rushing under Zytecki’s expert hands.  A lot of people would assume these tracks were from different bands, let alone different albums. But then, around halfway, the heavy solo kicks in and we’re definitely rocking now. This is flowing, unashamed prog. The twists and turns, the cascades and hinted modalities are simply stunning. If I try to listen as a musician, I get overwhelmed, I cannot process it all. But that’s listening and Zytecki is actually playing this mad shit!

If I had to say one track to listen to (which is ridiculous with an album as varied as this), it would be ‘Satya’s Diary.’ The intro sets the scene: dark and moody but then the track proper starts and it opens out, folds back leaves of space. The atmosphere morphs to one that is simultaneously open and airy and dense and scary. The long, sustained keyboard note (not quite ostinato but getting there) contrast with both the guitar and guttural vocals.

This whole album is a fucking rush, it makes me want to make crazy videos for it, full of massive spaceships and suns going supernova. Honestly, if this isn’t the soundtrack album for some mad future space opera, there is no justice!

 

Band Of Gold - Band of Gold

5. Band Of Gold – Band of Gold

Nina Mortvedt helms this album which is such a curiosity that I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. The songs are classic, catchy, they remind me of the best of The Carpenters or Abba. But then the arrangements and production call to mind Fleetwood Mac or even Al Stewart or sometimes Hall & Oates or Prince and I’m so lost in time(s) that I don’t where now is.

In the end, you have to trust the artist and let go. Just sit back, listen to Mortvedt’s pristine vocals and the similarly magical arrangements weave through the air around you and see if your world doesn’t shine a little more brightly.

There’s only one band this album reminds me of: Komeda. At their height, they could switch as effortlessly between genres and times without sounding forces, just as Band Of Gold do. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t find any metal on here or any drill’n’bass. It’s all very dreamy and wafty and adult and complex without being prog. But the songs themselves are varied and the production seeks to support that but also find some kind of unity throughout.

And it works. It never fails to hook you. At its best, on tracks like ‘Surface Me,’ it surpasses its obvious antecedents and makes something new but still classic.

Title Fight - Hyperview

4. Title Fight – Hyperview

I saw Title Fight live in 2013, they were touring their last album then, Floral Green and I loved it’s Fugazi-esque sound. (In fact, it made my Best Of 2012, look here!)

I was surprised when I first heard Hyperview. Where Floral Green had still been definitely hardcore in its vocals, Hyperview features the most indie-ish vocals they’ve delivered (so far). But you know what? I like it when bands I love change and take chances. And If I had to pick a top nugaze / shoegaze album for 2015, Title Fight would win because they have the songs as well as the trems, flangers and huge sonic cathedrals of sound.

Royal Headache - High

3. Royal Headache – High

These are labelled garage cos they’re Aussies but, over here, they’d go down a fucking storm at Indietracks. Tracks like ‘Another World’ are pure, genius Buzzcocks without being a carbon copy: it’s the energy they have, the rawness.

But more than that, Royal Headache’s singer Shogun knows how to be vulnerable. When he holds back, it’s magical. And then, when he goes for it, the passion is real, the passion is infectious and makes your heart pound.

This is the best indie(pop) record this year and I think it’s a fucking tragedy that more indie fans won’t hear it than will. This record has it all, soul, dreams, dancing, love, heartbreak. What more do you want? What more could you take?

ornage

2. L’Orange & Kool Keith – Time? Astonishing!

Time travel is real. How do I know? I have this album, right here in front of me and it’s full of tales of the chasms of time, the betrayals of the seconds by his majesty Kool Keith.

This is a fucking wonderful album.

Producer L’Orange reminds me most of Prince Paul at his De La height. The cuts he picks, the way he sews them up and makes the new, it’s a magic trick, it’s a miracle. Remember when you worked out how many loops made up ‘Eye Know?’ You’ll be doing that with this album, seriously. The ripping snares, those low, low kicks… it’s all so sweet and slow and in the slot. Perfectly.

Then, you have Kool Keith taking all that and being inspired by it, pure just going off on jaunts that are as wild as anything old Dr. Oct did but not so showy, way more assured.

If you’ve only got time to listen to one track, check out ‘Dr. Bipolar.’ It just fucking rocks along on that kick and gated, shitty snare. That tom fill is wrecked but totally fits. Then that cool guitar riff with kooler Keith sliding over it. WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED?

If you’ve ever liked any hip hop ever, just buy this record. You need to. You have to.

Andrew Combs - All These Dreams

1. Andrew Combs – All These Dreams

When it comes down to it, I love pop songs. And that’s why Andrew Combs is the top artist in this chart, because he’s written the best songs I’ve heard in 2015.

What’s the album like? Well, it’s pure country. It’s not alt, it’s not indie, it’s not some hipsters in Brooklyn who’ve put on stetsons and ridiculous drawls and “gone country.” Combs is a  kid (he’s only 29, recorded this when he was 27/28, I’m guessing) who’s country through and through, moved to Nashville to pursue his dream of being a proper writer.

Unlike a lot of his generation, his inspiration is classic songwriters, whether that’s Kristofferson or Paul Simon or Guy Clark. The result is an album of songs that are melancholy gems. This is the country that also the blues, it lifts you up by helping you see you’re not alone, not that strange, not as fucked as you think you are.

Here’s the end refrain from ‘Foolin’ :

I do a line have a drink

Tell the world what I think

Keep it fast keep it mean

I don’t mean what I’m saying baby

Somebody save me…

Well, we’ve all been there, haven’t we, even without the coke and JD?

When I listen to this album and Combs assured, soulful delivery I’m reminded of Nilsson and Fred Neil. When I listen to the songs, I’m reminded of Newman and Nesmith. And, sometimes, at his most keening and sorrowful, Combs channels Orbison which I would never say lightly.

This is a singer and songwriter who is already gold and only going to get more golden. And that’s why ‘All These Dreams’ is my top album of 2015.

Albums Of The Year 2014

This year, I had to cull this top forty from 108 albums I bought. Can you imagine how fucking painful that was? I had to leave out a lot of music that found a place in my heart. So, anything, everything you see below is worthy of owning, doesn’t matter if it’s number 40 or number 1. The bandnames link through to Last.fm so please do give them a listen if you have time, they are all immensely talented artists.

2014, it’s been a fucking riot! OH MY EARS!

EDIT – thanks to Robbie for spotifying the list! HERE YOU GO! 

hauschka
40. Hauschka – Abandoned City
Wherein abandoned cities are each given varying prepared piano homages. Some work better than others (Pripyat is the most moving for me) but they’re all perfect in their own, tiny ways.

sand
39. Homeboy Sandman – Hallways
Delightfully meandering and IDGAF hip hop from HS. A crucial antagonist.

tiff
38. D. Tiffany – S/T
The almighty net has given me fuck-all background about D. Tiffany apart from this techno opus came out on cassette. It certainly sounds like this was dubbed from one. But that just adds to the charm.

lad
37. La Dispute – Rooms Of The House
Call them tradcore, call them neoscreamo or whatevercore, this is a damn fine album of shouty angst. Very hooky!

clark
36. Clark – Clark
All you really need to know is that is some fucking beautiful electronic noise going on here. If that has ever meant anything to you, get this record. Is this a Clark pop record??

goya
35. Termanology – Mas Goya
Beautiful, jazzy breaks that hark back to prime Tribe seems to be a thing this year. But Mas Goya couples that with actual lyrics. You know, like Tribe had.

tycho
34. Tycho – Awake
One of my top emowalking albums of this year. Insanely addictive flowing, thrumming electronic landscapes.

vyne
33. Leon Vynehall – Music For The Uninvited
A far more ‘hands in the air’ proposition than Tycho but behind the beats is a sense of whimsy and nostalgia that echoes the best of Music Has The Right To Children.

tops
32. The Tops – Picture You Staring
When I first heard Tops’ Blind Faze, I thought I was hearing a previously un-released Fleetwood Mac demo, circa Lies. Yes, it’s that poppy.

serc
31. Integral – Sercosa
This album is too disconcerting to be classed as ambient, to troubling to be new age. Yes, there are washes and pleasing melodic elements but behind these are always tiny creatures stridulating and waiting to claw your flesh.

summ
30. Eternal Summers – The Drop Beneath
Just a huge slab of ’80s-influenced indie, the most poppy track being Gouge which has a definite touch of the Bob Smith about it.

thee
29. Thee Oh Sees – Drop
Well, they never put a fucking foot wrong, do they? Another mad, psyched-up, stupid, lovely record.

dag
28. Dag Savage – E&J
Exile on the beats, Johaz on the mic and also on some horribly intense lyrics. This isn’t party hip hop but listen on a train journey and your world will be different after.

wrest
27. Let’s Wrestle – Let’s Wrestle
Pull Through For You is perfect Let’s Wrestle ~ wry, sarcastic, doomed, misanthropic indiepop. Lovely.

cyne
26. CYNE – All My Angles Are Right
I’ve loved CYNE for a while now and this was ten dollars well-spent on Bandcamp. It’s that knife-edge balance between beats and rhyme that they always, always get right. The lyrics… man. Oh and CYNE, angles… geddit?

cymb
25. Cymbals – The Age Of Fracture
A joyful, innocent indie record that kind of reminds me of very early XTC in its geeky jumpiness.

brok
24. Broken Bells – After The Disco
I really am unsure why Mercer and DM aren’t hogging the radio with their pop tunes. This is just a supremely catchy album. At least use it for beds, lazy TV people! C’MON!

fatima
23. Fatima – Yellow Memories
A beautiful soul record. Intimate and also universal with a few wiggy fusiony excursions. Mmm…

obj
22. Objekt – Flatland
Minimal, shimmering, dreamy with the occasional muttering glitches or vast creatures sloshing around in the background. Quite, quite yummy!

people
21. People Under The Stairs – 12 Step Program
This is unassailable, unmissable. Like they always deliver. Another band that should be a household name and not in the lesser-known bin.

deer
20. Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita
Deerhoof were weirdly absent from my 2013 list because they didn’t record an album. Yes, they are that consistent. They’re consistently mental. THANKS, ‘HOOF!

copeland
19. Copeland – Because I’m Worth It
An assured, powerful album that melds deliberately unsettling drones and ticks with catchier riffs and lyrics. Not hugely poppy but hugely moreish, weirdly. The city is yours…

alvv
18. Alvvays – Alvvays
AlWays? AlVays? ELVIS? This is the best Elvis album since Feral Pop Frenzy. Just lovely, summery, swirly indiepop. These are going to be all over quirky, indie romcoms, aren’t they?

kishi
17. Kishi Bashi – Lighght
This is one my mate Lozzer put my way and so it sounds like a thousand happy mice Rockettes putting on a loose musical based on old Bonzo Dog b-sides. In other words, AWESOME!

with
16. Withered Hand – New Gods
“Some of you guys should get with my god, he hates about everything” was my gateway lyric to this album. If the idea of crossing Springsteen anthems with Kinks-ian vignettes appeals to you, this is your album, mate.

black
15. Black Milk – If There’s A Hell Below
The interplay between BM’s beats and his frenetic, almost machined delivery is at a height here. And all the guest spots work too. Fucking hell.

hidd
14. The Hidden Cameras – Age
Whether it’s the cruel opera of Gay Goth Scene or the Gahan dancefloor drawl of Carpe Jugular, Joel and co. manage to surprise and destabilise and be poppy. This is a perfect electropop album. Somewhere, Martin Gore is weeping.

cope
13. Manchester Orchestra – Cope
I’ve listened the shit out of this album, it’s so fucking addictive. With a fairly straight, guitar-band production, I should maybe get bored of it. But the riffs! And the lyrics! And Andy Hull’s voice! Shows how much you can do with rock, if you’re clever enough.

malk
12. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Wig Out At Jagbags
Speaking of clever.. Hello, Malkmus! Look, you either love Pavement/Malkmus or you don’t. This album doesn’t push sonic cathedrelic boundaries but it does present some of his finest songs that make you cry when you recognise he’s talking about you. Yeah, you, in your Sonics shirt. You.

main
11. Main Flow – The Cincinnati Kid
Usually, I approach albums that are 71 minutes long with trepidation. Usually, they’re an exercise in never mind the quality feel the width, like a terrible buffet that costs a tenner. But with Main Flow (and assorted guests), that isn’t the case. Tracks like Boomtown just kick your door down and give you a mad, shiteating grin. How can you not like them?

trap
10. Trap Them – Blissfucker
Look, they were always mental as fuck but adding Brad Fickeisen (ex-Red Chord, another of my faves) just seems to work a strange magic on Blissfucker. Whether it’s the full-blast freak outs or breakdowns, Trap Them have this majestic, arrogant edge. They swagger, they saunter, they don’t give a fuck about you. Raw and ragged, this is a perfect heavy record.

akro
9. Akrobatik – Built To Last
It’s hard to believe I first heard AK in The Perceptionists, waaay back in ’05. He was a master then and it’s not like he’s been getting any worse. On Built, he switches and swerves, weaving the kind of magic lesser rappers will never cast. And he makes it all seem effortless. Which is some trick when you’re rapping next to Masta Ace. Add to that a soundscape that eschews hip hop cliche, that actually tries to do something fresh, something more than quotidian beats and you have a supreme album.
Every track has a hook, every track has a killer lyric.

nois
8. Noisia – Purpose
I never listen to this when I’m driving because the stuttering beats and howling, grumbling synths would make me instantly ram any cars around me before climbing on the roofs and masturbating onto their fractured windscreens. So, I warned you.

plan
7. Planningtorock – All Love’s Legal
I got this earlier in the year, liked it but didn’t love it. Then, I found myself going back to it. It wasn’t the politics although they’re obviously relevant to my interests. It’s the way Jam Rostron makes stupid, funky disco music and slips the tricky stuff in around the corners. The sheer subversive gall makes me smile. It’s the classic sugar-coated pill. These are pop songs that misogynists will dance to and, thus, find themselves singing along to lyrics calling for the dismantling of patriarchy. How beautiful is that?

jack
6. Jack Jetson – Adventures Of Johnny Strange
Before I even knew anything about him, I thought, hold on, this accent sounds a bit familiar, innit? And it turns out Jack Jetson is a Notts lad emigrated to Brum. Whatever ~ I’m not a petty regionalist and his locality doesn’t usurp his mentality which is to deliver my fave hip hop album of 2014.

Of course, I’m a sucker for Leaf Dog’s production, too. There’s just this weird juxtaposition where LD takes something so soulful, so intrinsically American like the riff behind Blue Moon and converts it into this Midlands vibe. That sounds really wanky but it’s true: this is definitely and defiantly a British rap record and for that, we can all bow down. Because if hip hop is about anything, it’s about truth. Whether it’s grimy shit or paeans to the actual art of the rhyme, Jetson has it bashing out, his confidence perfectly matched by his ability. And when him and BVA get fucking going… maaaaate….

kiasmos
5. Kiasmos – Kiasmos
This album is a soundtrack waiting for a film. Sadly, Zimmer got Interstellar so it’s cruelly robbed of the herculean tides it demands to frame.

I’ve listened to this album emowalking. I’ve listened to it driving around at 4am, trying to see if there’s anything to keep me on this planet. I’ve listened to it falling asleep into another universe full of the colour and love that this one lacks.

Every time, I hear different things. And I’m caught by the contrast between the more classical, ambient side and the pulsing, electronic rhythmic side. It’s a beautiful contrast, one flows from the other gracefully, never feeling squashed or inappropriate. That contrast also helps the album in terms of growing on you because you mis-remember as being “ooh, floaty” or “ooh minimal tech house” and then you re-listen and realise the delicacy of its little chimeric beak. This is why it’s my favourite electronic album of 2014.

Sadly, I’m a shit filmmaker. Otherwise…

goldsmall
4. Gold-Bears – Dalliance
Earlier this year, I DJed at HDIF. And I’d just got this album so I did my normal thing: skipping through the tracks to find very poppy, immediate songs that I thought indiekids would love on first listening.

And there were too many.

Every song on this album is poppy. Even the very quiet I Hope They’re Right, you could play at the end of a night, a bittersweet closer. And the rest of them? ALL BANGERS, MATE!

If you have ever liked any form of guitar-based indie or alternative rock, you need this album in your life. Whether you’re a badly-ageing C86-er like me or some young, dapper whippersnapper cutting a rug, this is an album you must own.

baby
3. Babymetal – Babymetal
You can blame my mate Matt for this entry being here at all. I was absolutely oblivious the the metalbabies until he introduced me to their fabulous collision of JPop and metal. I was instantly hooked by the melodies because, not being fluent in Japanese, the lyrics went over my head.

And it’s the melodies and the sheer metal awesomeness of Babymetal the album that makes it transcend novelty and lodge itself awkwardly into weird, like a fishbone harpooning your gum. This is basically the most expensive outsider music record ever made. If you’re open-minded enough to groove to Shooby Taylor non-ironically, then Babymetal are for you. If you dance to Abba ironically, this is not for you.

Where do I start? Every track is perfect, every track is mental. The track line! is one of the most schizoid, strange things I’ve heard in a pop record, it skips through genres like pop stars skip through worthy causes. Every person I’ve played it to has just done this face at me of WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK? Kind of pisses on Venetian Snares and Igorrr in that regard.

Then take the absolutely beautiful Head Bangya!!, this is a chorus that is absurdly, insanely catchy. You will find yourself singing it as you do your shopping and, unless you actually are a teenage Japanese girl, that’s going to make you look pretty fucking weird. Gimme Chocolate transforms a simple sugary comestible request into a surreal hymn to THE ICHOR OF LORD THEOBROMOS. Why is it so catchy? I DON’T KNOW! Why am I singing it in Marks & Sparks till baby grebs give me evils? BECAUSE I HAVE TO!

What the hell are they going to do for their next album? They invented THIS, how do they follow that??

cheat
2. Cheatahs – Cheatahs
Now I’m old, I see falsified, particular versions of history I’ve lived through. I’m disproportionately  annoyed that every baby greb knows Nirvana because of 5SOS but none of them are wearing Mudhoney, Tad or Melvins shirts. Part of this revisionism is how Loveless is the MBV album talked about hyperbolically when, as everyone who was there at the time knows, it was Isn’t Anything that was the real shit. If you agree with me on that, you will probably love Cheatahs because they are unafraid to shoegaze. But there’s no loose, baggy dance rhythms here. It’s more about ferocious, flailing machine gun snare fills and sticking your head into a jet engine. Good.

Even on their slowies like Mission Creep, they echo lost shoegaze bands like The Boo Radley or the godlike Smashing Orange rather than later MBV. The thing is, you could write them off as being rockist curators if the damned songs weren’t so good. Over forty-six minutes, Cheatahs build a coherent, cohesive narrative. This, like Kiasmos, is soundtrack music. It’s been my album of choice when driving home from clubbing because it doesn’t feel like you’re listening to music, it just is. It has achieved that highest form of art in that it deceives you into thinking it has not been constructed.

So, I get in my car, press start and after the little intro, Geographic storms into the air around me, through the car and beyond. Midpointer The Swan starts with a Mouldy/Sugary riff that just kicks and twists and shimmers and oooh, look at that, the rear brakelights are flashing in time. When it finishes, you’re home. And you’re home.

There’s a lot of shit muttered about nugaze. I generally agree with it, partially because White Town ripped off Sonic Youth, MBV and Ride shamelessly when we first started as a guitar band and I’m jealous of other people’s success. But if you hear anyone, anyone talking shit about Cheatahs, just take a few minutes to point out that they have chewed-up the genre and spat out something perfect, which is something a lot of the bands who were original shoegazers failed to do.

martha
1. Martha – Courting Strong
I had the privilege of seeing Martha rule the Main Stage at Indietracks last year so I know they are one the best live bands I have ever seen. Their frantic, often ragged punk polemics are as warm and funny as they are totally, completely serious. And I love their politics, I love their straight-edgeness, I love their stupidly posicore spirit. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they can deliver a brilliant album. Will all that energy translate, will it captivate when we can’t see them jumping round like knobheads?

Yes.

Courting Strong is the best  album of 2014 because it is the complete, auteurist expression of intelligent, awesome people. Compromise, zero. Pandering, zero. Weird, fake American accents, zero. Heteronormative cliches, zero. Here, fucking finally, is an indiepop band, a punk band which remembers that those genres were founded on political bases. I see so many indiepop bands who ape the aesthetic or instrumentation of the C-86 era while conveniently ignoring everything political about those times. And, truly, who wants a bunch of Tory fucks in cardigans mewling about some imaginary girl who wouldn’t suck them off?

Take the last bit of Present Tense:

You lost your lucky purple lighter/On the Megabus to Brighton/But on the way you read a zine that made you think/You’d be a good Anarcho writer/But not even Voltairine de Cleyre/Could successfully get you there/Without a list of aspirations gushing out of your pen/As you stewed in that sticky chair/Regretting the choices that we made, 

You’re wishing your life away/Or longing for bygone days/Oh would you give me a fucking break? Cause they won’t come back/ 
So give me something that lasts/You’re searching for answers in tough circumstances but I just need something that lasts/so give me something that lasts.

It’s hardly “boo hoo, some mean girl fucked someone who wasn’t me” is it?

Couple Martha’s lyrical prowess with a gazillion pop hooks that any living motherfucker would find irresistible and you have this rare thing, a niche record that is also a proper pop record.  If Dust, Juice, Bones, Hair made it onto an advert or primetime Radio 1, it would be an instant hit. I have no doubt.

This is the pop music I love: I can sing along to it, I can dance to it and it makes me think. Most stuff I hear can manage two out of three at most. Chart pop, generally one, if that. But how often does pop music leave you musing for days after, trying to pick out what was being said or, more importantly, why?

Courting Strong is flicking vs at your mates, it’s rolling up your skirt at the waist as soon as you’re in school and your Mum can’t see, it’s oinking when you pass a copper, it’s telling the rest of the world to fuck off because this, right here, this is important. It’s as fundamentally British and Durham as it is Internationalist and intersectional. Buy it now, here.

Albums Of The Year 2013

As ever, there are no losers here. Since I’ve cut this list down from around sixty albums, just to be on here means that I think the album will enrich your life, wherever it is on the list.

Each band name is a hyperlink to their page on Last.fm so go ahead and click away!

Also, Robbie has Spotified the entire list (apart from London Grammar) so you can listen here.

2013, thank you for all the great tunes! 😀


40. The Heights – Old Lies For Young Lives
Raw, ripping. They are fucking amazing live, mesmerising.


39. Daniel Avery – Drone Logic
Where this year’s Boards and Hopkins’ albums fell off the bottom of my list, Daniel Avery made it because this album is chocker with melody.


38. Thee Oh Sees – Thumb Buster
Effortlessly poppy and grungeypsychweird. Thank you.


37. Russian Circles – Memorial
Enormous, bludgeoning. If there was a soundtrack to get me up a mountain, this would be it.


36. The Story So Far – What You Don’t See
TSSF steer a little too close to USAD on their follow up but it still has some marvellous tunes on it!


35. Samiyam – Wish You Were Here
Loping, lolloping beats and the occasional laconic rap. Wish there were more.


34. Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
Catchy hooks, rites-of-passage lyrics, classic pop punk.


33. Pelican – Forever Becoming
It’s that Pelican swagger I love. Pure rock, pure T-800 putting his motherfucking shades on.


32. Prodigy & Alchemist – Albert Einstein
P, A and illustrious guests deliver brick-heavy hip hop.


31. Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! – Pardon My French
Wherein the cheeky French chappies show the world of poppunk how to make an album that is both poppy *and* a progression from the previous one. Take note, connardzzz!


30. Dick Diver – Calendar Days
There’s so much simple pop here: Richman, Herman Dune, Pastels but DD do their own twist. Instant indiepop disco love.


29. Knockout Kid – It Comes With The Job Description
KK make stupidly catchy poppunk – riffs, choruses, the whole lovely, meaty mess. Mmmm…


28. Crystal Stilts – Nature Noir
More reflective than their last album but still plenty of glowering, twangy grooves to do your best existentialist twist to.


27. London Grammar – If You Wait
I got a little obsessed with LG earlier this year so you should read this.


26. Mixtapes – Ordinary Silence
Genres are funny things, aren’t they? If Mixtapes were Brits, they’d probably be touring with Martha and playing Indietracks. As it is, they remain a cruelly-slept-on and wonderful poppunk beat combo.


25. Kid Tsunami – The Chase
El Da Sensei, Kool G, Kool Keith… coupled with Tsunami’s frankly ridiculous beats, hip hop heaven?


24. Deafheaven – Sunbather
Metalgaze may seem like a peculiar genre for me to embrace but all I know is that this album makes my head hurt in a quite beautiful way. I’m surprised it doesn’t give me nosebleeds.


23. The Pastels – Slow Summits
How the fuck have The Pastels kept making sublime pop songs for over thirty years now? MOTHERFUCKERS!


22. Disclosure – Settle
I first heard Disclosure out clubbing and having their beats shake my guts is the best way to experience them, I fell in love then. Thankfully, so did Radio One so you’ll know most of this album of hooky electropop already.


21. Kettel – Ibb & Obb
I think this is the first ever time I’ve had a soundtrack album in a best of and one for a video game at that. I haven’t played the game but I can tell you that this one hour and fourteen minutes of Kettel is magical.


20. Rogue Wave – Nightingale Floors
I can’t believe I’ve loved Rogue Wave for a decade now. Fuck. I also can’t believe they can still make pop songs as effervescently summery as ‘College.’ Looking forward to the next decade, peeps.


19. Moderat – II
Apparat’s 2013 album was on my list but fell off the bottom but his second collab with Modeselektor makes it because it’s shitloads poppier. You know, for kids.


18. Black Milk – No Poison No Paradise
Steady-footed, sureshot hip hop that is, like all the best hip hop, unafraid of fucking with you, your ears or your lyrical and sonic preconceptions. If you prefer your genres monolithic, best avoided.


17. Altars – Something More
This is my top shouty album this year and it’s because I’ve listened to it the most, mostly on emowalks. I’ll skip through my iPhone, trying to find something heavy but also something that’ll involve me over the length of the album. An actual album rather than a collation of potential singles.

Altars have delivered that with ‘Something More.’ And, like all my fave albums this year, they wrongfoot me continually. On ‘Sent To Destroy,’ the song morphs into an almost DM bridge before the coda. Lovely!


16. Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
Maaaan, if I could see a gig with these, Deafheaven, Pelican and Russian Circles, I think I could easily die and be transported straight to the Valhalla of marvellously epic soundtracks to asteroid storms. FB’s synths peep out of their flight cases, longing to taste your vanilla marrow.


15. Factory Floor – Factory Floor
Stark, naked electronics that eschew dreaminess for pounding icicles into your ears. Semiquavers all over the fucking shop, hardsynced arpeggios that enrich in their passing-note minimalism. I love the dancefloor imperative here, so often avoided by chin-stroking IDMers. Fuck that shit.


14. The Front Bottoms – Talon Of The Hawk
Again, dunno where these bleeders would be if they were Brits, they’re so hard to pigeonhole. Of course punk, of course indie in the non-NME-haircut-band sense. Ultimately, it’s the narratives that draw one in, as voyeur and conspirator.

“I wanna be stronger than your Dad was for your Mom.”

Fuck.


13. Gesaffelstein – Aleph
Listen to ‘Pursuit’ off ‘Aleph’ and it’s everything I love about electronic music: it’s robotic, funky, machined, precise, relentless, repetitive and undeniable. It’s the kind of track I avoid listening to when I’m driving on motorways because it makes me want to drive faster and faster, searching for some road/strobe synchronicity. ‘Hellifornia’ reminds me of Huroratron at his stupidest but even bleaker and even less human. Beautiful.

I seriously wish I had made this album.


12. Everything Everything – Arc
I’ll admit, it took me a while to get into ‘Arc.’ I emowalked it a few times and nothing really clicked. But gradually, I found myself singing bits from it in my very awful fractured falsetto. It crept up on me like the NSA, rifled through my brain and left behind a series of pictures of cats and Manchurian Candidate trigger words.

“And that eureka moment hits you like a cop car.”


11. CHVRCHES – The Bones Of What You Believe
Argh, this album makes me mad. Firstly, because I’m jealous that Chvrches have melded a beautiful, delicate female vocal with rich, melodic synthpop. I’ve been trying to find a female singer for over a decade now but one just can’t find the staff nowadays, donchaknow.

Secondly, Chvrches annoy me because they’re too good. I’ve never seen Mayberry’s bands but I saw Aereogramme live and they were also awesome at what they did, the fuckers. And The Twilight Sad are beautiful! How are Chvrches equally good? It really isn’t fair, is it?

Thirdly, and lastly, you may think you’ve heard all the popness from this album on the radio. You haven’t. It’s all fucking poppy. ‘We Sink’ is easily as catchy as any of the singles.

The fuckers.


10. Latyrx – The Second Album
Wherein Lateef and Lyrics Born shit over their biters, detractors and debtors with a hippo-sized spray of ideas, any one of which most other artists would stretch out for a song rather than for a line.

‘Deliberate Gibberish’ is a masterclass in saying, ‘oh, you want to go there ~ sure, we can go there… huh, why?’ Contrast that with tracks actually about the non-rap world, less meta and more matter and that will give you the breadth of this album.

All of that would leave me interested but cold if it wasn’t laced up with some simply golden soundscapes. It all fits together, no gaps, no filler, no fucking about.


9. The State Champs – The Finer Things
As you can tell, this has been a fine year for new poppunk. The State Champs album builds on their earlier super-catchiness with more riffs, cleaner, clearer dynamics and lyrics that bleed poppunk:

“I fell asleep in a city that doesn’t
Thought I was special but you know I wasn’t.”

They sound more assured, more focussed and like their heads are up and they’re ready to take on the world.


8. Cloud Control – Dream Cave
This album wraps me up, it’s kept me warm on cold walks. Cloud Control lazily brilliant in that these songs don’t sound written, they sound like they’ve been discovered. In the saucily-titled ‘Dojo Rising,’ the slamming car-door drums form a perfect anchor for the stacks of harmonies, guitar noodling and almost gospel piano figures.

But through the album, Cloud Control pull this magic trick again and again, directing the listener in one direction, making us think we know what’s going to happen but they they sneak all kinds of twinkling frippery in to the soundscape. It’s often harmonies but it might be a cheesy organ arpeggio or even a super-wibbly guitar solo.

Look, if you hate Cali harmonies and sunshine, you’re going to loathe this album. But if you’ve ever sung along to the ‘baa-baa-baaaaaa’ bit of any pop song ever, this album is pretty much an essential purchase.


7. Serengeti – Kenny Dennis LP
Serengeti expands on the debut EP of his alter-ego Kenny Dennis with a whole album. When I first heard Kenny, I didn’t know who the fuck it was. I actually thought it was Carl from ATHF. Or maybe big moustache dude from The Lordz of Brooklyn But while there are undoubtedly similarities in the Fauvist declamations these characters make, this album takes KD’s character to a different place.

We get a lot more of Kenny’s story and a lot of it isn’t played for laughs. It’s a strange journey, I started listening to the album expecting more lols and by halfway through I was genuinely sad for the dude.

Even though he doesn’t exist.


6. Bastille – Bad Blood
This is a vast, muscular steamroller of a pop album. Look, you’ll know all these songs from their breakthrough ‘Pompeii’ through ‘Laura Palmer’ and the other singles.

They are undeniably poppy. I’ve sung along to this album so many times in my car, trying to match singer dude trill for trill, serious face for serious face. Can’t do it. I can almost do it but… no…

And that’s where Bastille overtake their mainstream indie peers. The other bands nipping at their heels may have the looks and the quiffs and the pipe cleaner bodies de-rigeur for the genre but Bastille have better songs.

One thing, though ~ if they don’t release ‘Weight Of Living II’ as a single, they’re idiots. C’mon!


5. The Little Ones – The Dawn Sang Along
The Little Ones take the US alt-indie-rock blueprint and stuff it as full of melody, twiddly bits and harmonies as Bastille do for the UK counterpart. Now, whether they over-egg the pudding is a matter of taste. For me, they’re spot on. Sounds like ‘Boy On Wheel’ are just the right side of smug to still be winsome. But then, I love indiepop, which is blatantly what this album is, albeit with different production values.

This is an album for picnics, road-trip singsongs and pretending your life is actually way more fun than it is. Often, as I’ve been walking, soaked by the rain and whipped by the wind, just hearing the synthbass of ‘Little Souls’ will cheer me up with its Sailor-like joy.

I guess the most obvious comparisons would be old MGMT or now Vampire Weekend but that’s only an approximation. I find The Little Ones to be way poppier and less arch than either of those acts. That’s both refreshing and liberating.


4. Real Friends – Put Yourself Back Together
I guess I’m pretty fucking emo because I’m hooked on Real Friends’ brutally, despairingly honest lyrics. You can’t be this honest in mainstream indie because everything there is arch / ironic / a Duran Duran reference. What poppunk bands like Real Friends do is flense the flesh from their skinny mallrat bodies to provide some kind of zomboid emotional meat for us to swallow.

Sometimes… well, most of the time, that is disturbing. I find myself singing along to something like:

“Maybe I’ll run away from it all and fake my own death, see if you really care
A week goes by and I doubt if you’ll be waiting at all…
…because everything you said was a lie.”

..and I catch myself and think, what the fuck? I’m not a kid, why does this connect? But like their peers TSSF, Real Friends have a way of singing what you feel and making you deal with it, even though it’s often ugly, stupid and clumsy.

But at least it’s honest.

“I write songs about you all the time,
I bet I don’t even run through your mind.
…It’s been a lonely year…”

*sigh*


3. Ghettosocks – For You Pretty Things
Very, very nearly my fave hip hop of 2013, Ghettosocks’ ‘FYPT’ is a solid monster, seventeen tracks of intricate beats, deft rhyming and IDEAS. It doesn’t matter if he’s over a Premier-style minimal jazz beat like ‘Youth In Asia’ or feelgood Ugly Duckling groove like ‘Human Sacrifice,’ Ghettosocks remains unflappable, unstoppable. And he’s also a great relationship counsellor:

“I’m down for trips to the zoo and boob touching,
but ain’t you heard the old saying: fools rush in?”

The guests flesh out the album but always complement rather than dominate. Some albums suffer from acute guesteritis, hoping to cover over deficiencies with a list of known names. This isn’t one of them. Whether it’s El Da Sensei, Sadat X, Moka Only or whoever, the collab is always natural and fun. Less business, more smiles.

Hats off to the track ‘Poutine’ for combining the Canadian delicacy with delicious synth blarts. It’s these little jumps and skips, turning left instead of right that make ‘FYPT’ consistent, stupid fun.


2. Verb T – I Remain
What the fuck? Verb T released ‘The Morning Process’ last year and it reached number three on my best albums of 2012. Now, here he is with a whole new album!

If you like UK hip hop, you’ve probably been listening to Verb for years, even if you didn’t know it. Whether it’s with Braintax, Food Records, Low Life or, now, High Focus, he’s been consistently brilliant. And on this new album, he’s even self-producing the beats, a fact he plays up nicely on the middle skit of ‘Toast Jazz.’

Just watch this vid for ‘Old And Grumpy’:

This is why I fucking love Verb T:

“Ooh, you getting fucked up?
Cor, that’s exciting!
Gang of weird kids on horse tranquillisers,
False advertising, saying that it’s popping off,
Dancing about dressed up like a proper knob,
Wear what ya want,
But i don’t see why your kid,
Tuck his jeans in his socks,
If he ain’t a cyclist
Frame ain’t changed but you wear tighter shit
Once XL, now you’re medium, why is this?
Why is it relevant who your designer is?
Oh I see!
Cos there’s eager kids buying this.”

More than anything, I love Verb T because he is who he is. So many Brits sing in fake American accents, so many Brits rap with fake American twangs or drop slang no bugger who lives here uses. Verb T, on the other hand, drops ‘cor’ and ‘proper knob’ into his rhyme and I’m laughing as I’m listening as I’m loving as I am understanding.

He also pulls off the same trick Braintax managed with aplomb: he preaches truth whilst never, ever, for even a nanosecond claiming he’s better than the divs he’s criticising. That’s a move of some finesse, those are acrobatics most rappers flail at, flip-flopping from self-proclaimed messiah to proud fuck-up, all the while their eyes on the headlines.

I cannot believe he’s come out with this whole new album in a year. It makes me feel stupidly un-productive in that he can maintain this quality level and output. All I want now is a new Four Owls album. Maaaaaan.

If you buy only one hip hop album from 2013, make sure this is it.


1. Baths – Obsidian
Okay, I’m a sucker for synthpop, electro, whatever you goddamn kids call it this week. I’m also a sucker for immaculate, perfect pop songs that are as unsettling as they are catchy. That’s why Baths’ ‘Obsidian’ is my number one album of 2013. Will Weisenfeld, the genius behind Baths wraps the most painful of private confessions in the most perfect sugar coatings. If there is a modern-day heir to Gore’s ‘Black Celebration’ electro-goth noir, it’s Baths. Look, if you really want a cookie-cutter, easy-sell handle about it, imagine a very depressed, maimingly honest Postal Service with 100% more lyrics about needy erections.

This is my top album partly because it’s been the key to my lock. When you’re walking around your suburb hoping you’ll be Regina Georged by a passing bus, you need lyrics in your ears that aren’t facile. You don’t care if they’re uncomfortable or scratchy, crawling into your head and tickling alive memories you thought you’d drowned, as long as they’re real. You need lyrics like this:

“You don’t do anything with your life
Fascinating, terrible – your stupid idling mind
I can prod your hurt all night
Or resign and find
Any other stupid thing to do with my time
I was never poetic and never kind

Scared of how little I care for you
Scared of how little I care for you
Scared of how little I care for you
I am elsewhere.”

Please check out ‘Miasma Sky’ if nothing else from this album. I cannot believe any human who has ever loved pop music will be immune to its skittering, baleful charms.

Apart from that, I find it hard to single out what to recommend from an album of such riches. A lot of people have and will call this a depressing album. I don’t feel it to be. On the contrary, at my lowest ebb, this album has come to me at random times and punched me on the arm and made me feel a little less ridiculous and ugly.

“It gets all in the way, the pit in my throat
This isn’t the adulthood I thought I wrote
And I never see your face, but I just might be okay with that
I have no eyes, I have no love, I have no hope

And it is not a matter of
If you need it
But it is only a matter of
Come and fuck me
And it is not a matter of
If you love me
But it is only a matter of
My fix.”

A little.

Albums Of The Year 2012

Soooo much great new hip hop this year, a lot of it UK! Not much shouty metal, more pop punkness. But, as ever, if an album appears anywhere on here, no matter what position, it’s a winner as I had to cut out at least 25 albums I loved this year.

Every artist name is also a linky to Last.fm AND my friend Robbie Snug has done a Spotify playlist here. And now…

Ladies and gentlemen: THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2012!


40. Field Music – Plumb
FM’s trademark skewed popness really marks them out as the modern-day XTC. Catchy but you don’t quite know how because it’s never easy listening.


39. With The Punches – Seams & Stitches
Frenetic, urgent pop punk. Some of the lyrical themes remind me of The Wonder Years but WTP are a bit more raw, a bit more angry.


38. Ka – Grief Pedigree
I love the eclecticism of this. Just awesome hip hop, check it out.


37. Metric – Synthetica
Metric kind of converge on Ladytron territory here which is no bad thing. I also like the concepty long tracks near the end, nice change-up!


36. NZCA/Lines – NZCA/Lines
Kind of reminds me of the first Pacific album, shiny synthpop but with floaty, neosoul song structures.


35. Photek – KU:PALM
Photek creates a space and then drops many wild things into it, often apparently at random. I like this.


34. Vitalic – Rave Age
As ever, Monsieur Vitalic kicks the crap out of his sound sources and delivers violently happy dancey fun. Mmmm!


33. DJ Format – Statement of Intent
Dancey, funbulous beats, lovely guesting on the vocals, awesome!


32. Homeboy Sandman – First Of A Living Breed
There’s a lightness of touch both in the beats and the imagery of this album. HS crams in so many twists and turns per line, you really have to listen a few times. Good!


31. Motion City Soundtrack – Go
As MCS mature, I wish they’d break through more, away from their initial pop punk fanbase. Songs like ‘Son Of A Gun’ just need to be on one film soundtrack and that’d do it. Just one!


30. Zombie Nation – RGB
Who doesn’t love ‘Kernkraft 400?’ Lovely to hear ZN is still delivering dance anthems on his new album but not just churning out cookie-cutter clones.


29. Débruit – From The Horizon
In places, utterly ramshackle and lopsided but perfectly so. Skittering electronic percussion plays against moogalicious bass riffing and snatched vocal chants and invocations. As modern as it is (and it is), a very spiritual record. Neovoudoun could be the coming thing.


28. The Presets – Pacifica
Not as catchy as their last album, which is why it isn’t higher. But still good, knobular fun!


27. School of Seven Bells – Ghostory
A ghost tory? URGH! But no, no hymns to deceased right-wingers here, more SOSB trying to drive themselves forward. They’re more spacious but also more aggressive. I’m interested to see where they go next!


26. Slagmalsklubben – The Garage
Imagine if Sid’s Frankentoys from ‘Toy Story’ had made an album. Wonderful.


25. Forever Came Calling – Contender
Ferocious pop punk as toothy as their cover star, the drums blam away stupidly fast, the guitars form a wedding arch of majesty and it’s all topped-off by catchy lyrics and melodies. Pop punk that’s both poppy and punky – good work!


24. Big Cakes – CCC
UK hip hop, BC’s flow which is alternately jazzy and raw, lays over wonderfully interlocking beats. Sometimes reminding me of old Nas and maybe old Camp Lo, this is yet another grounded, true UK hip hop album.


23. Handguns – Angst
More than a touch of Promise Ring here in the angsty (ho ho) anthems Handguns deliver. But, boy, do they have a way with a rousing chorus!


22. Two Door Cinema Club – Beacon
I bought this album purely because I fell in love with ‘Sun’ and found myself singing it. It is the best track but the other tracks are well worth your time and money. Spookily like a Death Cab album in places though, Gibbard needs to sue.


21. Chilly Gonzales – Solo Piano II
More simple, flowing beauty from Maestro Gonzales. I really don’t want to overegg this review but if you’ve ever loved Debussy, Satie or Chopin, you’ll probably love this. And even if you don’t think you’re a classical head, give it a listen… plenty of earworms here.


20. Jam Baxter – Gruesome Features
This is a treasure-trove of hip hop, the ornate, fluttering beats are coupled with a pantheon of rappers. My fave joint is the one featuring Verb T because I do love Four Owls and V doesn’t disappoint. Another essential hip hop album, been a good fucking year for them!


19. Allo Darlin’ – Europe
AD’s second album is warm, sunny and definite progression from their first. Again, I’m biased as I’ve gigged alongside AD a few times and Elizabeth has sung with me live and been in one of my pop vids. Phew! So, yeah, probably not going to get objectivity here. But if you like lyrics chocker with beautiful imagery, proper choruses and music with real, real, real heart, check out this album.


18. Huoratron – Cryptocracy
Wherein Mr. H lubes up a load of mad old synths and fingers them till their diodes shatter quite deliciously. This is pure dancefloor, if this doesn’t make you want to act out a dodgy nightclub scene from a movie (possibly with a vampire fight, definitely with chains), I don’t know what will make your dead arse move. Buy this album if you have ever danced to any electronic music ever.


17. Kindness – World You Need A Change Of Mind
I played ‘Gee Up’ when I DJed HDIF and it went down a fucking storm, even though loose-limbed electrofunk isn’t the usual province of indiepop London. This album is alternately smooth and crystal and then swings onto weird rails that lead off to fuck knows where. All of which is why you must buy it. Oh yes.


16. Masta Ace – Ma Doom: Son of Yvonne
Not an actual collab, from what I know, Ace used pre-existing Doom beats for this beautiful album about the passing of his mother. ‘Nineteen Seventy Something’ is perfect, Ace recalling his kid days and the sound of EWF and The Emotions through his house. I love hip hop that takes chances like this. “Mom’s on the rampage, looking for her Parliament.”


15. Melanin 9 – Magna Carta
Love the beats, love the rhymes, love the imagery. Again, like my other fave hip hop albums of 2012, M9 takes chances, this is not a straight-forward listen, there are levels on levels here. That’s what makes it rock.


14. The Men – Open Your Heart
Garagey, psychey and at times wandering to shoegaze, a beautiful noise. If I filmed a video for it, it would have to rip off Brakhage shamelessly as this record is colours in sound.


13. Porcelain Raft – Strange Weekend
Very, very School Of Seven Bells but perhaps more minimal and intense than SOSB’s cinematic epicness. Tiny and lovely shoegazey electronica.


12. Stick To Your Guns – Diamond
This has been my go-to SHOUTY album this year, so many great riffs. And it helps that, unlike a lot of hc bands, STYG are actually singing about real shit. Standout track for me is ‘Life In A Box,’ all one minute, twenty-nine seconds of it.


11. Such Gold – Misadventures
If you like your pop punk ridiculously twiddly and with Wedding Present-speed strumming, this album is for you. They have their popness, obviously but it’s mostly wrapped in layers of ATDI arsing about. Which is just fine by me.


10. Title Fight – Floral Green
I know this album has polarised people but I love it. It’s been called shoegaze or ‘90s alt or whatever. If I had to say what it reminded me of, it’d probably be late Fugazi but via Dinosaur Jr. ‘Secret Society’ is a massive fucking track. Soooo good.
Vee Kay – Fade Out


9. Mystro – Mystrogen
It’s weird to think I’ve been listening to Mystro for at least ten years now so it feels wrong to call this his debut LP but it appears to be true! What? From guesting on Low Life tracks through all his subsequent work, Mystro has maintained a quality control and playfulness that has sadly evaded other UK rappers. Fucking lovely.


8. Deerhoof – Breakup Song
Yes, I know. Every year, Deerhoof do a new bloody album and every bloody year, it’s in my top albums list. But I can’t help it: they’re so poppy! ‘Fete Adieu’ of this year’s killer is prime ‘Hoof, offbeat, wtf, I can’t dance to this coupled with a supersingalong chorus. I found myself singing this on the escalator in the Westfield the other day. But this album.


7. DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles – Kolexxxion
I’ll miss Guru forever but it’s sooo good to hear Premo firing on every available cylinder with BK’s rhymes fleshing out the scenarios. An essential album.


6. Holograms – Holograms
I could easily dismiss Holograms for their obvious fetishisation of 1980 post-punk aesthetics apart from the awkward fact that they write really fucking catchy pop songs. DAMN YOUU!


5. Vee Kay – Fade Out
VK’s swansong and what a great way to bow out. There’s a knowledge evidently at work here that makes the album stand out way above its peers. Couple that with great guests and it’s a lovely thing to behear. And it’s a FREE DOWNLOAD. What are you waiting for, dude?


4. Clark – Iradelphic
This is such a journey of an album: there are solo piano tracks like ‘Black Stone’ where Clark gets a bit Gonzales on our asses and then that’s followed by ‘The Pining pt. 1’ which is a sublimey jazzy, beaty mess of percussion, acoustica and electronica. There are even tracks which are definitely a bit trip-hoppy, so wide is Clark’s gamut. A beautiful, brave piece of work.


3. Verb T – Morning Process
If you love Four Owls like I do, you’ll love this album featuring feathered brethren Verb. I put this album on and it’s everything I love about UK hip hop: spare, confident, itself and no other, masterful. You have to buy this.


2. Akira Kiteshi – Industrial Avenue
Declaration of bias: I interviewed Tommy for Sound On Sound magazine and I’m a huge fan of AK since I first heard ‘Pinball.’ His debut album doesn’t disappoint, it’s got all the grunty, vomitty basslines dubstep heads would want but it also varies into different tempos, different atmospheres. ‘Snaggletooth’ is just pure electro heaven, all stuttering bass slaps, hubcap snares and solid kicks. Lovely stuff!


1. Diamond Rings – Free Dimensional
If there was any justice, DR would be bigger than Lady Gaga and Maroon 5 put together. He’s got fabulous synthpop songs, a voice like a charming, adolescent bear and he’s cute too. ‘All The Time’ is pure, pure, purest pop: intelligent verses matched with seductive, let’s-take-our-clothes-off-now-please choruses. ‘Runaway Love’ was obviously a massive ‘80s anthem in some parallel universe. Why can’t we make it come true in this one? But this album if you love pop music, choruses and shaking your ass in an outrageous fashion.

EDIT:

Gojira‘s ‘L’enfant Sauvage’ should be in there somewhere but for some reason my iTunes 2012 smartlist excluded it. DAMN YOU, APPLE! Well, I’m a long-time fan of Gojira and their newie is deft, powerful, passionate metal. It’s certainly a worthy successor to 2008’s ‘Way Of All Flesh,’ which is one of my fave metal albums ever. Buy it!

Albums Of The Year 2011

This year, I was stupid busy finishing off my new album so I didn’t have time to DJ for the last half of the year. But still, fuckloads of amazing new music came my way, both from new artists and old faves. As ever, although there is an order to this list, just to get on here is doing well as I had to narrow it down to forty albums out of around ninety!

These were my fave albums of 2011, click the bandname for more info!

40. Ladytron – Gravity The Seducer


More floaty than their previous album, glacial with an edge of electronic menace.

39. Roll The Dice – In Dust


Brooding, pulsating, minimal electronic soundscapes. Some bits remind me of Terry Riley.

38. Com Truise – Galactic Melt


The opposite end of electronica, defiantly ’80s, phat and throbbing. In the best possible way, Miami Vice incidental music.

37. Africa Hitech – 93 Million Miles


Dubby, toasty, blobby, farty and wonderful!

36. Little Dragon – Ritual Union


I don’t understand why this lot don’t get more hype – they’ve got lovely little pop songs, clad in the finest of bloopery and rattley reverb.

35. Parts and Labor – Constant Future


Such a fucking great pop band! And to be this shouty and loose but still catchy is a lovely surprise!

34. Her Space Holiday – Her Space Holiday


Marc Bianchi has this knack of being intimate and universal at the same time. Check this out if you’ve ever liked any indie pop/rock ever. Hints of Jon Brion too!

33. Egyptrixx – Bible Eyes


Fuck, I love this album! But how do I sell it to you? It’s beaty, electronic pop that’s a bit askew, like an off-centre wheel. There ya go!

32. Cut Copy – Zonoscope


This is a disco album, a funk album, an electronic album a dance album. Cut Copy keep on flowing, effortless pop.

31. Acid House Kings – Music Sounds Better With You


AHK are mistresses and masters of twee, summery, golden indiepop. And if you like that, you’ll love this.

30. REKS – Rhymatic Eternal King Supreme


I’ve loved Reks for goddamn years and here he ropes in Premier and other luminaries to frame his awesome delivery with majestically awesome beats. Fuck.

29. Crystal Stilts – In Love With Oblivion


Although I’d heard them, I didn’t really “get” CS till I saw them play a storming gig at Indietracks 2011. Now I’m in love with their dour channelling of Echo & The Bunnymen doing Felt covers.

28. Asobi Seksu – Fluorescence


More off-kilter pop. Some of it a bit scary, to be honest. But mmmm…

27. Robag Wruhme – Thora Vukk


This is minimal, intimate electronic music. It whispers in your ear as it strokes the back of your knee. Oh, Robag!

26. Set Your Goals – Burning At Both Ends


SYG rock! Awesome live, too. Standout track, ‘Product Of The ’80s.’ Which I don’t really understand unless they’re all old fuckers like me?

25. Moustache of Insanity – Album Of Death


If you can listen to ‘Talk-Along’ without getting a bit sniffly, your heart is made of dogpoo. Beautiful, heartfelt songs!

24. Beneficence – Sidewalk Science


This is all that’s good about hip hop in 2011: rubbery, flubbery beats that make your head nod coupled with lyrics that echo around your head for weeks.

23. Ochre – Early Learning


Ochre has this knack of constructing nanosymphonies of joy/sorrow, played by happy-faced millipedes. Clicky, leggy, often stridulating electronic beauty.

22. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong


Why haven’t Pains broken through to Radio One? Plenty of people that rip them off shamelessly seem to have done just that this year. But those biters haven’t got their class or, most importantly, knack with a killer chorus.

21. The Ladybug Transistor – Clutching Stems


Seven albums in and TLT sound like a band who find making lyrical, swoonsome pop music easy. The bastards.

20. Cuba Cuba – Where Else Is Safe But The Road?


Welsh popsters CC sound sooo fucking assured on this album, it’s chocker with little twiddly bits, massive choruses and a skipload of heart.

19. Blind Pilot – We Are The Tide


Laid back, country-tinged folkpop. Like being wrapped in a warm towel by your lover prior to a ravishing.

18. The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing


I love pop punk. Sometimes, people take the piss out of me for this. But as if I care ~ it means I’ve known perfect little worlds like the ones shared with me on this album.

17. DTMD – Makin’ Dollas


Beautiful hip hop, can’t fault it. The beats, the rhymes, the life described in precise, sharp detail. Reminds me a bit of Native Tongues which is always good.

16. M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming


I can’t pigeonhole M83 easily. Yeah, the electro foundations are there but there’s so much else going on. Anguish, celebration, snippets of atmosphere between the songs proper. All of it great.

15. Death Cab for Cutie – Codes And Keys


DCFC (heh) seem to be exploring more Krautrocky directions lately, whether it’s on ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’ from the last album or ‘Doors Unlocked And Open’ from this one. Whatever, they twist it into their own shape. When the chorus kicks in, that’s pure sunny delight!

14. Evidence – Cats And Dogs


Absconding from Dilated Peoples for a minute, Evidence uses his holiday to… well, make yet more fucking great hip hop. THANKS, EV!

13. Comet Gain – Howl Of The Lonely Crowd


CG are perfectly, raggedly raw on this album. ‘Yoona Baines’ just clangs and shreds along, all twisted tendons and bleeding lips. Shows the scope within the pop known as indie.

12. Blitzen Trapper – American Goldwing


Fuck, I hate how BT can just launch into a song and within thirty seconds I’m singing along like I’ve been a country rock fan all my life. This album is irresistible pop.

11. Apparat Organ Quartet – Pólýfónía


I love AOQ but this album stunned me. The Kraftwerkian vocoders floating over the intertwining melodies before being battered by distortion, the pounding beach drums, all of it makes me want to jump around till I hit my head. As I said, stunning.

10. Digitalism – I Love You, Dude


I fell in love with Digitalism the day I heard ‘Zdarlight’ and they don’t break my heart here. I fucking love them even more just for bringing a track as stupidly, four-on-the-floor addictive as ‘Blitz’ into my life. I lost myself in this album.

9. Metermaids – Rooftop Shake


Alumni of Sage Francis’ label, Metermaids rock it hard and heavy. But their hip hop is as thoughtful as it is uncompromising. Immense lyrics.

8. Holy Ghost! – Holy Ghost!


Sublime, sunny synthpop, overflowing with catchy riffs and ‘eh?’ lyrics (the best kind). Do yourself a favour and check out ‘Wait And See’ at the very least.

7. Erland & The Carnival – Nightingale


Brilliant, wonky guitar pop. Whenever I DJed ‘This Night’ earlier in the year, I’d always get peeps asking who it was. That’s great pop for you!

6. Army Navy – The Last Place


Now, I must declare bias here: I loved this album so much that I got in touch with the band. And I’m meant to be remixing a track of it. But, in my defence, I have done fuck-all as I’ve been too busy making my own music. But if you’ve ever loved The Beatles, The Monkees, The Lemonheads, Teenage Fanclub or any other amazing guitar (power) pop, buy this album!

5. Deerhoof – Deerhoof vs. Evil


Another year, another Deerhoof album in my top albums list. STOP BEING SO FUCKING AMAZING, DEERHOOF! If you don’t like this album, you’re insane.

4. Maritime – Human Hearts


My favourite indie / rock / guitar album of 2011. I have sung along to this sooo many times in the car. Take ‘Annihilation Eyes’ ~ I’ve played this to everyone and every time, they sit up, perk up and want to know who it is. And then they’re singing along by the end of the song. Davey von Bohlen, you are a pop genius and I love you.

3. The Four Owls – Nature’s Greatest Mystery


Pure UK hip hop that makes me sooo fucking proud to be British. The skills on display here are formidable, the imagery is visceral without being literal. If you have ever liked any hip hop ever, you better fucking buy this album.

2. MC Esoteric – Boston Pharoah


Dude’s got to be my favourite current hip hop artist. His choice of samples, his flow, his themes, his humour, his heart, his sincerity. He makes every other rapper look paper-thin and silly. This is what should be on every radio and TV station, not the pimped, preening pretenders who aren’t even fit to suck Eso’s little toe. If you don’t buy this album, your life will be immeasurably more impoverished.

1. Yelle – Safari Disco Club


I have listened to this album more than any other this year. I have driven mates barmy by hitting repeat in my car. I have watched all Yelle’s vids and of course, I’m in love with Julie and would like her to have my fat, brown babies.

This is a perfect electropop album. Nothing is wasted, everything works together. Every note hammers home Yelle’s agenda of (primarily) sexy dance fun. The synths weave around Julie Budet’s incredible voice like lovers’ arms, tickling and teasing. The beats are undeniable, every fibre of your body starts pumping in resonance.

I’ve sung along so many times to ‘Comme Un Enfant’ in my terrible French, it’s ridiculous! How can you not love these lyrics:

“J’aime les fraises tagada et je rêve d’un
Wayne’s world 3, je veux une méga happy
End enlacée dans tes bras
J’en ai pas de dents de sagesse, ça ne me
Manque pas, quand je mords la nuit à
Pleines dents pour faire la nouba
Je suis un enfant, comme un adolescent
Je suis un adulte, comme un adolescent
Faut-il vraiment choisir son camp (choisir son camp)
Le faut-il vraiment, comme un adolescent
Je chante et je pleure, comme un enfant

Je joue à me faire peur,
Comme un enfant, comme un enfant
Je pense tout et son contraire,
Comme un enfant, comme un enfant
Je danse, j’ai le coeur à l’envers,
Comme un enfant, comme un enfant”

Here, sing along for yourself:

Yelle have made the best pop album of 2011 and they have made me sad with their mastery of electropop. It means I have to try much fucking harder!

Enjoy Yelle and the rest of my 2011 albums. But hands off Julie, she’s mine! 🙂 ♥♥♥

Albums Of The Year 2010

Another bonzer year for new music, had to whittle 75+ albums into this top 40. So, as usual, even though there is an order, just to be on here means the album is a winner and you should buy it.

The band names are links to Last.fm so you can actually hear them. Get clicking!

(EDIT – and Robbie has done a Spotify playlist, whoop! Click here!)

40. Toro y Moi – Causers Of This


Floaty, like a cross between Animal Collective and MGMT.

39. Gifthorse – Mountain Of Youth


Thrumming and My Morning Jacketish indie rock. Standout is ‘Missionaries.’

38. Monty – 2010


Swedie pop, sugary and lovely. SCREAM MY NAME!

37. Kero One – Kinetic World


Solid hip hop from Cali. Niiice lyrics.

36. Zeller – Turbulences


Intense and scary in places, bassy and messy. Love it. Not really dubstep but you’ll probably like it if you like a bit of WOOB.

35. FACT – In The Blink Of An Eye


Love this band, such fucking energy! Listened to this in the car loads!

34. Darker My Love – Alive As You Are


If you love Buffalo Springfield or CSNY or mid-period Shins, you’ll probably love this. Harmonies, tunes!

33. Chaos Theory– Retaliation


Love the riffs on this. Unapologetic, hard-hitting metal. Does it every time for me.

32. Eagle Scout – New Hands


Twiddly and tasty, dunno if they’re phc or indie or what. Just know I like their tunes.

31. Citay – Get Together


Yet more Californians – ey, let the rest of the world have a chance, eh? Yeah, psychy, summery goodness. Looong songs!

30. Calories – Basic Nature


‘Orchard Girls’ is a tune of 2010. I love the simplicity of their riffery, the beauty of their economy.

29. Big Troubles – Worry


Oooh, shoegazey noisy and what sounds like classic minimal drum machine programming (but it could be a drummer). NOISE!

28. Kid Liberty – Fight With Your Fists


Pop punk greatness, check ’em out if you like FYS, SYG or suchlike. Dudes.

27. ComputeHer – Modemoiselle


Wow! I just love the way Michelle (she is ComputHer) layers and weaves and winds through her electro world. Class!

26. Discover America – Future Paths


Excellent singer-songwriterness fleshed out into a moving album, maybe a bit like early Say Hi To Your Mom? Certainly touches of Apples here and maybe even Maritime?

25. Anoraak – Wherever The Sun Sets


Oh my… this is such swoony, sweet synthpop. It’s like I’ve found a long-lost Space (of Magic Fly, not the other one) album. If you like synthiness, you’ll probably like this.

24. The Wonder Years – The Upsides


Another great pop-punk album this year. ‘My Last Semester’ is pure class and the lyrical standard is matched by the rest of the album. Really want to hear this shit out in a club!

23. Medications – Completely Removed


I love the interlocking guitar, the meandering melodies and, occasionally, a rush of nervous energy. Check if you like the twiddly.

22. Annuals – Count The Rings


This is almost over-done. ‘Eyes In The Darkness’ is disturbingly layered. Even though it’s such a sweet album, there’s something deeply weird going on. Like a psycho Postal Service. ‘Loxstep’ is genius.

21. Mesak – Dada Wheel


Mesak doesn’t seem to do much but does. I stick the album on and even though the songs are long, before I know it it’s done. Deftly arranged electronic loveliness.

20. Ellen Allien – Dust


I can’t not have Allien in here. She’s never done a duff album. And this one is right up there. If anything, she’s gone a bit more pop with the electroness!

19. Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love


‘I Didn’t See It Coming’ is another tune of the year. I’ve sung that fucker a gazillion times in the car. B&S keep writing pop standards, not just pop songs.

18. I Am Abomination – To Our Forefathers


Metal riffery, squealing solos, thudding kicks, overblown arrangements. I love this! MOAR!

17. Standard Fare – The Noyelle Beat


Any band good enough to be on Waterloo Road deserve a place in here. A bittersweet album overflowing with vulnerable, painful vignettes.

16. Four Year Strong – Enemy Of The World


Dude… really? Do I really have to tell you how much I love FYS? Killer album. ‘Suck’ is pure, refined awesome!

15. Pugs Atomz – The Decade


Intelligent lyrics, devious flows and some right good beats make this a hip hop essential!

14. Pacific – Narcissus


Not as poppy as their debut but a definite journey into sound. Retro synthpop in the same way as Anoraak but Pacific seem to be channelling Sex-era Telex. Which is just dandy with me.

13. Allo Darlin’ – Allo Darlin’


I am biased because, like most people, I’m a little bit in love with Elizabeth Darlin.’ Nevertheless, this is a great album. Full of tunes. Full.

12. We Have Band – WHB


Dancey, slightly silly and great fun to have on in the car and pretend you’re an escaped robot to.

11. His Statue Falls – Collisions


I love this band’s slab-heavy guitar married to ravey synthiness. Check if you like Shikari or similar. Yeah!

10. Anarbor – The Words You Don’t Swallow


‘Drugstore Diet,’ if there was any justice, should have been an international number one. An amazing pop punk band.

9. Best Coast – Crazy For You


Swoony and slightly loony, a bit like a more surfy Giant Drag.

8. 1000 robota – Ufo


Aw, man! I love this album. It’s classic postpunkness with a knowing Krautrock edge. Which is okay, cos they is Germans.

7. Diversion Tactics – Careful On The Way Up


Wonderful UK hip hop. Every time I’ve DJed them, peeps have come over to ask who it is. They’re that catchy. Class lyrics.

6. Faded Paper Figures – New Medium


Not just because they incorporates ‘sous rature’ into their lyrics. A sleeper of an American indie album, shimmery and wonderful.

5. School of Seven Bells – Disconnect From Desire


Finally, people are catching on to this band. With the swagger of ‘Loveless’-era MBV and more than a hint of early Cocteaus, I hope they make it into the proper charts soon.

4. Super Chron Flight Brothers – Cape Verde


It’s albums like this that make me realise why I love hip hop. The pure fun with words, the imagery, the sheer playfulness of these fuckers, you have to get this album. And the excellently-inserted presenter freak-out… oh my! 🙂

3. Huoratron – Prevenge


Massive, dirty, electroness. If you buy only one electronic album this year, please make it this one. It’s dripping in shit and used condoms. Soooo tasty!

2. MC Esoteric – Fly Casualties


My top hip hop album of this year, Esoteric is so eclectic, so omnivorous. Whether it’s Gang of Four or Numan, or Le Tigre, this album demonstrates that hip hop doesn’t need to keep trotting the same old samples out. And then marry that to his lyrics: incisive, heartbreaking, funny as fuck. A classic album

1. Everything Everything – Man Alive


I went to see this band (click here) and even though I already loved the album, it came alive in a special way.

‘Man Alive’ covers such an enormous gamut, both musically and lyrically. Yes, it’s all indie rock / pop but there’s so much else going on here. The harmonies, the integration of the electronics (never showy, always organic), the energy that seeps out of every tiny, non-repeated noise. I hear all those things that the band have put in. And I appreciate them.

They make ‘Man Alive’ the best album of 2010. 🙂

Albums Of The Year 2009

Compiling this year’s best of was the usual gargantuan task. I had to whittle the 152 albums I bought this year down to a top forty. In the process, I’ve had to get rid of *loads* of albums that I thought were wonderful. So, just to be on here is to be a winner. The competition is heinous!

(EDIT! Lovely Robbie has made a Spotify playlist of available tracks. It’s not everything but it’s a fair chunk! Thanks, Robbie!)

This year, every band name is a link that goes to their Last.fm page so you should be able to hear clips for free. A couple of the links don’t do that because the band was too obscure for Last.fm. However, this list isn’t me being hipper than thou: there are artists in it that have a few hundred listeners, some that have hundreds of thousands. I likes what I likes! 🙂

Also, my chart is not linked to adverts, who bought me what or who my mates are. That being said, I wish I was mates with every artist in there as they’ve all produced wonderful music which has sustained me through a very difficult year. Thank you for making my year brighter!

Ladies and gentlemen, the best albums of 2009!

40. The Lonely Forest – We Sing The Body Electric!


Singalong pop, reminds me of Sebadoh!

39. Kettel – Myam James 2


Part one was in last year’s best of and part two continues the hypermelodic electronic vibe. Soo poppy!

38. White Rabbits – It’s Frightening


Ahh, some great tunes and a bit of Burundi drumming too!

37. Settle – At Home We Are Tourists


Anthemic, singalong punkiness. Played it in my car loooads!

36. The Fresh & Onlys – The Fresh & Onlys


Psych/garage stupidness in the best way possible. NANANANANANANANANAAAAAH!

35. K-Os – Yes!


Lovely rhymes, funny as shit. Beautiful hip hop. We all love Natalie Portman, innit?

34. Nosaj Thing – Drift


When you need a bit of a glitch and perhaps to robot round your room, stick this on.

33. Taking Back Sunday – New Again


I’ve listened to ‘Sink Into Me’ so many times, it’s ridiculous. And the album is equally good.

32. Anti-Pop Consortium – Fluorescent Black


There’s a kind of SF vibe going on with a lot of hip hop now and this album has shitloads. Spooky, dancey fun!

31. Voks – Astra & Knyst


This is what probably got the most complaints when I DJed it this year. Because it sounds like mental mice playing out-of-tune egg slicers. Which is why I love it.

30. The Crayon Fields – All The Pleasures Of The World


Great sixties-ish pop songs coupled with an extensive over-use of spring reverbs – what’s not to like!?

29. Lusine – A Certain Distance


Flowing, dreamy but also slyly unsettling electronica. Lusine is ace.

28. Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing


A mixed album, from chugging rock anthems like ‘Tony The Tiger’ to tiny, reflective pieces. All good.

27. Tiga – Ciao!


What’s that sound? I like that sound! It’s the sound of Tiga. Batshit electro.

26. Austrian Death Machine – Double Brutal


And *another* entry for ADM. There’s a certain mood of metal stupid that only they can satisfy in me. COHAAGEN!

25. War From A Harlots Mouth – In Shoals


In places, this goes beyond progness into mad fucking jazz metal. I should therefore hate it but I love it!

24. The Gift of Gab – Escape 2 Mars


More SF hip hop, that’s SF as in sci-fi not San Fran. This album is a marvellous journey, let it take you there.

23. A Place to Bury Strangers – Exploding Head


Easily the best neo-shoegaze album this year. But not just MBV-cloning, APTBS have their own, dark edge.

22. Ochre – Like Dust of the Balance


Intricate and beautiful, electronic ticks, clicks and laments.

21. The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love


As prog as you like but saved by popness!

20. Canadian Invasion – Three Cheers For The Invisible Hand


Elements of Teenage Fanclub, Buffalo Springfield and other singalong (indie)rock class. Supremely catchy and with great lyrics!

19. The Hidden Cameras – Origin:Orphan


More drum machiney, adds to the intimacy of this flowing, cinematic album. Great indiepop.

18. Freeland – Cope


Thrumming, scintillating electro pop.

17. Swollen Members – Armed to the Teeth


SM deliver a comeback to the form they displayed on Balance. Solid hip hop.

16. The Bear Quartet – 89


Twenty years after forming, still nasty, still making disturbing, catchy pop. Sweet beef?

15. Endwell – Consequences


This album makes me want to punch walls and head-butt tigers. Piledriving heaviness.

14. Metric – Fantasies


Metric continue to come up with startling, catchy indierock that’s actually about something. Lovely.

13. The Bloody Beetroots – Romborama


DJing TBB always makes me smile. It’s great to watch peeps just start jigging along. Undeniable booty shakingness.

12. Arise Horror – Sleeping Waters


My fave heavy album of the year, a great mix of anger, horror and Lovecraftian weird. A wonderful, unique album.

11. The Elephants – Take It!


Oh my god – such a super-poppy album! Instant hooks.

10. People Under The Stairs – Carried Away


I’ve loved these buggers for years and they just seem to get better and better! Surely ‘DQMOT’ is one of the top hip hop tunes of ’09? Fab album!

9. Moss – Never Be Scared / Don’t Be A Hero


Again, classic sixties-ish poppiness combined with more meandering bits. Reminds me of XTC!

8. Zombie Nation – Zombielicious


Pure fun. I defy you not to dance!

7. Mr. Lif – I Heard it Today


Sad there’s no new Perceptionists but HAPPY there’s a new Mr. Lif. Brilliant rapping, insightful, painful lyrics. What hip hop is all about.

6. Butcher Boy – React or Die


I was converted to BB after seeing them play a storming set at this year’s Indietracks. I went and got the album off Emusic and fell in love!

5. Recordkingz – Heavyweight


So many solid cuts off this one album. Apart from being a who’s-who of hip hop, it’s simply sublime.

4. Cats On Fire – Our Temperance Movement


Standard bias declaration: I was a guest keyboardist for Cats On Fire for one gig in the UK. And Ville (Cats’ guitarist) has helped me out when I’ve played in Scandinavia. But let me elaborate and say that I don’t tickle the ivories for just anyone. It was this way around: I got to know Cats On Fire because I love their music – I don’t love their music because they’re showbiz mates.

Phew…

This album from CoF shows them maturing and progressing, I feel it’s deeper lyrically than their debut. ‘Borders Of This Land’ is a stunning song I’d be proud to have written. They can go from a Beatlesy crowd-pleaser like ‘Tears In Your Cup’ to the quietly vicious ‘Fabric’ without effort, there’s an enormous range here. It would have been my top indie album of ’09 but it was just pipped at the post by…

3. Burning Hearts – Aboa Sleeping


… Burning Hearts, which is Jessika and Henry (Cats On Fire’s drummer). What edges this album ahead for me is the soundscapes: listening, I feel like I’m on a train, watching the scenery go by. Which, incidentally, makes it a great train album. The mix of indiepop, synthpop and Scandi pop sensibility is perfect. And the lyrical imagery… oh my! ‘Iris’ never fails to remind me of the time I was a tiny Swedish girl, running to my parents’ lake house. 🙂

2. Wienzeile – Gestalten Gestalten


I am ashamed to say that I don’t own this album legally as I can’t seem to find it anywhere. It’s not on Amazon, iTunes or Emusic. Wienzeile, if you’re reading this – I want to give you money for making may fave hip hop album of 2009! Help me!

Now, my German isn’t great but I can follow the gist of what Austria’s Wienzeile are on about. And even if I couldn’t, how could I ignore the electric synergy between the beats and the rhymes? From the first second of the first track I heard, I knew I would love this record. ‘Geisterbahn’ is fucking relentless – trying to rap along with that one track has taught me more German than five years doing it at school! Please, please check this album out if you’ve ever liked any hip hop. And send them your money, if you can!

1. Vitalic – Flashmob


This is what I said about Vitalic when I made him my top track at Bzangy a while back:

I’m guessing it’s not inspired by Larry Niven but even so, it’s my fave electronic record of 2009 (so far!). It’s dancey, demented, dissonant deliciousness. The track ‘Flashmob’ itself sounds like Louis and Bebe Barron discovered the funk in a Krell basement somewhere, humping some fat Idmonsters. It’s such a good album, a perfect antidote to the reams of generic electrodancewhatnot out there.

‘Flashmob’ is my top album of 2009 because it’s connected with me at a cellular level. Walking to and from Uni, round town, wherever, I’ve listened to each and every track so many times that I know every second. I don’t need to skip any because they’re all that good. As a synthesist myself, the sound design makes me jizz with happiness. You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear electronic music and not be able to name every preset and every Garageband break.

Throughout this genre-corrupting classic, there is an organic, fleshy slithering of filters and oscillators, tortured into an S&M come-fest. Every time I listen to it, I hear new details, tiny grace-squawks and passing-howls. This record is *alive!* Buy it now and listen to it on infinite loop forever!

Thank you, Vitalic, for being a mad enough bastard to produce a work of art this powerful and seductive.

Albums Of The Year 2008

Good evening! There’s less than an hour of 2008 left and so it’s time for my traditional Best Albums list. This year, I had to whittle it down from 63 albums to the final forty below. Therefore, every album below is a winner, no matter the placing, I had to leave a lot out that I loved!

This year, I loved:

40. Late Of The Pier – Fantasy Black Channel

Late Of The Pier
A fabulous electroprogpop album that is as poppy as it is off-kilter. Probably the only band operating now that approaches the aesthetic of Devo.

39. Girl Talk – Feed The Animals

Girl Talk
I got so many requests for tracks from this album this year when I was DJing and it’s easy to see why: the beats are undeniable and the mashing is, unlike so many others, sophisticated and musically lovely.

38. Burning Skies – Greed. Filth. Abuse. Corruption

Burning Skies
Ahhh, clean out your lugholes with this fine barrage of METAL! Some lovely riffery here coupled with a great, simple ferocity.

37. The Primary 5 – High Five

Primary 5
Take some Soup Dragons’ playfulness and some Teenage Fanclub melody, mix it up with a slew of sunny, warm pop songs and you have this lovely, lovely album. High five indeed…

36. A Different Breed Of Killer – I, Colossus

A Different Breed Of Killer
More metal mayhem that deserves a space in anyone’s collection. Standout track: ‘Omega.’ Just perfect!

35. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

The Hold Steady
Yes, it’s Springsteeny (as are a lot of albums at the mo) but what makes this album different from the herd is the lyrics. Some beautiful imagery there and I love the lack of embarrassment. More like this, please!

34. Ghosty – Answers

Ghosty
If you’ve ever liked Weezer, Pavement, MMJ or any American indie rock, you owe it to yourself to check out Ghosty and in particular this stormer of an album.

33. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Pershing

Yeltsin
More summery indie rock, this time with a touch more Beach Boys and perhaps even Ben Folds about it? Whatever, there’s some catchy shit on here!

32. Sons And Daughters – This Gift

Sons
Moving from their early, folkier sound to a more ragged, urgent rock, Sons And Daughters remind me in places of The Poppy Family channelling John Leyton. Which is, of course, a huge compliment.

31. Austrian Death Machine – Total Brutal

Austrian Death Machine
A thrash band fronted by Arnie himself? (errr…) Every song a classic line from one of the Governator’s films? How can you not like this album, eh? COME WITH ME IF YOU WANT TO LIIIIIVE!

30. The Fairline Parkway – A Memory Of Open Spaces

The Fairline Parkway
And, as a complete contrast, welcome to the whisper-quiet, vibraphone-padded heaven of The Fairline Parkway. A pretty safe bet if you’ve ever loved any American Analog Set or any similar quiet magnificence.

29. The Girls – Yes, No, Yes, No, Yes, No

The Girls
Wow. Just some great, angular, jerky, catchy pop songs on this album. Every time I’ve DJed ‘Not I,’ someone has come and asked me what the band is. That’s pop!

28. Division Of Laura Lee – Violence Is Timeless

Division Of Laura Lee
Bizarrely, I met the drummer of DOLL in an Apple Shop on Aveny in Gothenburg a couple of years ago. Lovely guy… umm, well, nothing to do with this action-packed album that you should check out if you’ve ever liked rocking in a melodic hardcore-y way. Hell, it’s just fine pop music!

27. Cyne – Pretty Dark Things

Cyne
Cyne have been making damn excellent hip hop for years now and they keep up their standards with this album. And, yes, ‘Excite Me’ does just that.

26. Mystic Man & Eshamanjaro- In Heavy Weather

Mystic Man
Mystic Man on the beats, Eshamanjaro rapping, this is a damn near perfect hip hop album. That’s it’s a debut and that it’s UK hip hop only makes me happier. ‘Cheshire Cat’ should be everywhere all the time.

25. Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours

Cut Copy
This is the first of two magnificent Aussie synthpop albums in this year’s best-of. Cut Copy’s second album is pure, swooning ’80s-ness, sometimes drifting through Fiction Factory through B Movie via Lotus Eater-y melodies. Oh, and it’s bloody good to dance to, too! Tutu!

24. Orion – Esperanza

Orion
Independent hip hop putting the big, corporate artists to shame. Check out Orion if you love hip hop but you’re bored of hearing the same lame chattering over and over again. Solid.

23. Dosh – Wolves And Wishes

Dosh
Anticon’s Dosh delivers an album that sounds as fresh as it is catchy. ‘Waiting For The Needle To Drop’ is seductively, deceptively simple sounding at first until the meld of drums and tuned percussion just draws you in. This is cinematic.

22. Sebastien Tellier – Sexuality

Tellier
France’s greatest ever Eurovision entry, Tellier’s sweeping synthpop is playful and yet still sincere. That’s quite a trick. But if you listen to tracks like ‘Divine’ or ‘Sexual Sportswear,’ there’s real heart there.

21. These New Puritans – Beat Pyramid

These New Puritans
Heavy beats, Barnett’s marvellous sneer of a voice, lawnmower rhythm guitar, These New Puritans take a host of disparate, jarring elements and bake us a fine, dancey cake. As an old man, it’s great to hear something as novel as this.

20. Ladytron – Velocifero

Ladytron
You can always rely on Ladytron to deliver some fab, catchy pop and frame it in novel ways. My fave track from this gem of an album is ‘Ghosts,’ I must have listened to it a gazillion times in the car. Such a swagger and sway!

19. Modcam – Six Minute City

Modcam
For more info about this album, click here!

18. Mystery Jets – Twenty One

Mystery Jets
Why you should love this band: here and here!

17. Kettel – Myam James Part 1

Kettel
Blissful, dreamy electronic music that sounds like lullabies you’ve forgotten. Check out ‘The Wombat.’ If that doesn’t move you, nowt will!

16. Deerhoof – Offend Maggie

Deerhoof
Another best-of, another Deerhoof album! How do these bleeders keep making experimental pop music that pushes things but never retreats into technique for technique’s sake? Again, some lovely pop songs on here.

15. Russian Circles – Station

russian
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve played ‘Harper Lewis’ when I’ve DJed this year. From the first time I heard it, I fell in love with the grandeur and power. I’m not a postrock fan so I hesitate to label Russian Circles as such, though that’s where they come from. They’re just hugely more interesting than most of their genre brethren.

14. Neon Neon – Stainless Style

Neon Neon
More classy synthpop, this time of a more shiny, aerodynamic bent. Top tracks: ‘I Lust U’ and ‘Alderaan.’ Stick this on and start throwing shapes in your bedroom.

13. Deerhunter – Microcastle

Deerhunter
I dunno why, but this album reminds me loads of late-period Delgados. It has the same catchiness, the same unpredictability from track to track and the same mix of sombreness and err.. fun?

12. Max Tundra – Parallax Error Beheads You

Max Tundra
Do you like the idea of Nick Drake singing over a glitching laptop once owned by Frazier Chorus? If so, buy this excitable balloon of an album.

11. Blitzen Trapper – Furr

Blitzen Trapper
I loved the first Blitzen Trapper album and this one is even poppier! Mixing country, rock, country-rock and anything else they can get their hands on, Blitzen Trapper frame great pop songs in erratic, fractious settings. Works for me!

10. Why? – Alopecia

Why?
Jonathon Wolf can’t be tied to any one genre. And that eclectic rambling is what makes every Why? album a rare treat. Is it indierock? Is it hip hop? Is it electronica? Who cares – it’s brilliant.

9. MC Chris – MC Chris Is Dead

MC Chris
More great rapping, this time from the absolute monarch of geek hip hop, MC Chris. His rap skills are awesome, his imagery is pure magic. Forget all the nerdcore hoo-haa, this is simply brilliant hip hop.

8. Ratatat – LP3

Ratatat
I’ve listened to this sublime album so many times this year, often when I’m writing or tidying or whatever. It starts off as perfect backgroundy music for that kind of activity but eventually I’ll end up stopping what I’m doing and just listening. Utterly captivating.

7. The Presets – Apocalypso

The Presets
Why I love these Aussie synthateers here.

6. School Of Seven Bells – Alpinisms

School Of Seven Bells
A very late entry in this list, I have to put it so high because SOSB’s album clicks, ticks and whirrs along on a shimmery bed of grunty synths and girly harmonies. What’s not to like?

5. Pacific! – Reveries

Pacific!
‘Hotlips’ was one of the top songs of the year and it comes from an album just as poppy and just as fantastic. Stomping, singalong Swedie synthpop, you have to check this album out.

4. Billie The Vision And The Dancers – I Used To Wander These Streets

Billie
I’ve already rambled about this band here and here.

3. Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs

Death Cab
I often get accused of being deliberately obscure in these best-of lists. Not so! It’s just my tastes don’t often coincide with the big sellers. But here’s a bona-fide US number-one album that is also one of the best albums of the year. This one deserves every one of its sales. Every one.

2. Hello Saferide – More Modern Short Stories From…

Hello Saferide
Easily the best indie / pop / rock album of the year, ‘More Modern Stories From…’ is what I wish more guitar-rock music would be like: honest. Sometimes painfully honest as in the horribly intimate ‘Anna’:

You know, we could have had a daughter
And we could have named her Anna
And she would have been a sweetheart
But with punk rock manners

You could have taught her to play hockey
I could have taught her the guitar
And her granddad could have shown her the way to the bar
She could have supported us when we retire, bought us a cottage near the countryside

…which is about a child that never got to be. It’s all the more effective for the non-goth framing, the song lulls you into expecting just another wispy indie singalong and then kicks you in the head.

Really, if you’ve ever loved Leonard Cohen or Tim Hardin or Martin Gore or… well, any songwriter who deals with the extremely personal and intense, you need to own this album. Every song is a perfect vignette, every lyric a poem.

1. Braintax – My Last And Best Album

Braintax
It was close but Braintax’ album is definitely, defiantly the best album of 2008. The lyricism, the beats, the concepts… this is an artist at the top of his game. All the sadder then that the following appears to be true:

In 2008 Braintax suddenly announced his retirement with the release of his final album titled My Last And Best Album and also the end of Low Life Records to the disappointment of many UK Hip-Hop fans.
(Source: Wikipedia)

If he has given up, the world, not only the UK, has lost one of its best rappers. He runs circles round all of the major-label corporate rappers clogging up the airwaves, Braintax is as nimble as they are plodding, as erudite as they are incoherent. Think I’m hyping him too much? Check out these lyrics:

Spit ’bout crimes we forget for the sake of our own little tragedy’s
Incidental maladies
Irrelevant like a fucking Akon ballad is
The biggest shame of this society we live in
While we act all spiritual when we’re money driven
It’s the way we forget in a hell of a rush
Like ‘If it ain’t affecting me, then I ain’t too fussed’
Then there’s bombs on the street and us Brits get shaky
But how can we be shocked – Check our leadership lately?
They’re rattling the sabres, talking ’bout Jesus
Fundamentalist believers acting like crusaders
Memories are short over here
The zeitgeist is a truck that the media steer
So we ain’t on the streets protesting – We’re stuck in front of TV sets digesting
Forgetting about the lies and the unfound weapons
Suggestions, the questions we should be asking journalists a second
I’m (BRAAAIIIIN) taxing – the opposite of aspirin
Blood is on the streets and the East End soaking it up
Bush making me a target – and I’m not too pleased
There’s no peace when the beast is us.

And that’s just one verse from one song off this truly stunning, seminal album. How he comes up with this shit, I really don’t know. This is stellar songwriting, these are lyrics I’m going to remember snatches of years from now.

Braintax, I’ll miss you. Thank you for some of the best music I’ve ever heard in my life. I hope Australia brings you what you’re looking for.

Albums Of The Year 2007

Oh groinkers! It’s taken me bastard hours to compile my best-of list this year!

Why?

Because 2007 was a great year for new music! 😀

I’ve whittled this list down to from around ninety albums to fifty. I had to make some very painful cuts to get it down to that number. Really. 🙁

So, I must emphasise, every album on this list is a winner, regardless of position. I think your life would be enriched if you went out and bought each and every one. I’ve not bunged anything in to try and make an impressively large list, quite the opposite.

Now, let’s get to it!

50. Apathy & Celph Titled – No Place Like Chrome

Apathy & Celph Titled
Solid, grabby hip hop distinguished by some very hooky (not hokey) samples.

49. Mr 76ix – 3 (Minority Of 1)

Mr. 76ix
Wonderful electronic gubbins, ‘Traits’ and ‘Time Cycle’ are my faves. Veers from melodic blippiness to surging electrofuzz.

48. Common – Finding Forever

Common
Common drops a standout album. Wasn’t this top of the charts in the US? Just listen to his masterful timing on ‘The Game.’ Essential hip hop.

47. The Saps – C’mon Already, Start A Fire

The Saps
Breezy, summery indiepop. Check ’em out if you like The Shins or early New Pornographers.

46. The Fucking Champs – VI

The Fucking Champs
Shreddddd! Well, TFC give us yet more masterful guitar widdling, interspersed with some rather nice ’80s-tastic moods.

45. Wir Sind Helden – Soundso

Wir Sind Helden
A very poppy album by a band who, if they sang in English, would be getting wanked off left right and centre by the Brit indie media.

44. Manchester Orchestra – I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child

Manchester Orchestra – I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child
Wow – this is some debut album! MO have catchy melodies, soaring choruses and close, downy lyrics. Yes, it’s a largely melancholic affair but there’s a hope in the clouds. No, they’re not from Manchester.

43. Melt-Banana – Bambi’s Dilemma

Melt-Banana – Bambi’s Dilemma
I know this has got slagged as being too “indie” but it’s hardly the fucking Fratellis, is it? If anything, I think MB are pushing the boat out further into new, difficult territories of catchiness and stupidity. Brilliant!

42. Mixtapes & Cellmates – Mixtapes & Cellmates

Mixtapes & Cellmates
Inevitably, these Swedish funkateers have been compared with The Postal Service, Kings of Convenience and other stars of quiet, heartfelt pop. Yep, that’s all there but they also have their own thing. A thing I like and that I think you should check out.

41. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Ahhh… Of Montreal, contrarily cased and even more willfully mental. Prog pop isn’t a huge genre but there isn’t much doubt that OM are the current kings (well, maybe Fiery Furnaces out-weird them). This is strange pop at its best.

40. Blue Scholars – Bayani

Blue Scholars – Bayani
From the first few seconds of hearing ‘Back Home,’ I knew I’d love this band. And couple undeniable, unshakeable head-nodding beats with lyrics that move and explain without preaching and you’ve got a great hip hop album.

39. The Twilight Sad – Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters

The Twilight Sad – Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters
Beautifully sad, elegaic and wistful. Assured without being bored, The Twilight Sad sound like they’ve been at this for years. Not bad for a debut album!

38. Noisettes – What’s The Time, Mr Wolf?

Noisettes – What’s The Time, Mr Wolf?
I had the privilege of seeing Noisettes live and, fuck me, their album actually manages to capture some of that lightning in a bottle. This is the kind of indie/punky guitar rock you just have to jump up and down on your bed to.

37. LMNO – Workethic

LMNO – Workethic
In a fair world, hip hop like wot LMNO makes would be famous and the paper-thin superstar rappers would be stacking shelves. Rock on, LMNO. I loves ya.

36. The Atari Star – Aniseed

The Atari Star – Aniseed
How do The Atari Star make guitar pop seem so effortless and… instant. They seem to achieve what so many lumbering bands evade: catchiness without corniness, off-kilter without token progness. Buy!

35. The Fall Of Troy – Manipulator

Fall Of Troy – Manipulator
Recently, I had a Halo 3 Big Team Battle where some kid was slagging off The Fall Of Troy for the whole bastard game. He’s a fucking idiot. This is simply an essential emoscreamometalcorewhatever classic. Buy it if you’ve ever played air guitar to anything ever. Don’t buy it if you’re that kid.

34. Nick Lowe – At My Age

Nick Lowe – At My Age
Wherein Mr. Lowe managed to make me cry yet again thanks to his way with a lyric. I don’t think there are many writers that capture the essential crapness of being a bloke as well as Nick Lowe. At his age, he’s a genius.

33. Parts & Labor – Mapmaker

Parts & Labor – Mapmaker
P&L sound to me like Husker Du crossed with the Sex Clark Five via The Dave Howard Singers so, of course, I love the album. You mad bastards.

32. Fineprint – Fineprint

Fineprint
There’s no doubt, this has been a stellar year for hip hop. Yeah, the mainstream stuff has been as dull and leaden as usual. But then I hear an album like Fineprint‘s and I just get this huge, shit-eating grin. Thanks, dudes!

31. The One Am Radio – This Too Will Pass

One Am Radio – This Too Will Pass
Hrishikesh Hirway produces delicate, shimmery songs. They’re a bit like those skeletal leaves you find at the end of autumn: almost not there and yet compellingly gorgeous.

30. High Tension Wires – Midnight Cashier

High Tension Wires – Midnight Cashier
Unashamed old-school punk that reminds me of The Dead Boys, Buzzcocks or Devo circa ‘Duty Now.’ Just intensely catchy and dancey. Why aren’t they famous? Eh?

29. Stars – In Our Bedroom After The War

Stars – In Our Bedroom After The War
Stars seem to me like more intense, less sarcastic Prefab Sprout. And I love the Sprout – there aren’t many bands who can produce huge dreamy pop songs that engage your heart, head and feet. Stars can and they’re getting better at it with ever album.

28. The Upstarts – The Know How

The Upstarts – The Know How
Hah! The minute this album started, I was reminded of Tribe’s ‘Jam’ and the jazz-guitar vibe continues, melding with irresistible beats and lovely, lovely lyrics. *swoon*

27. I Am The Ocean – …And Your City Needs Swallowing

I Am The Ocean – …And Your City Needs Swallowing
I hear ‘Scribble Jack’ and I’m simultaneously liberated and pummelled. Yeah! IATO are, apparently, ‘post hardcore prog rock.’ I assure you, any label you try to hang on them doesn’t fit. They’re heavy, they’re precise as jackhammers, they’re wonderful.

26. Dyme Def – Space Music

Dyme Def – Space Music
Look, I know lazy advertising slags read Bzangy. I beg you, get Dyme Def’s album and stick ‘GetDown’ behind something you want to sell. This is a group that needs to be heard. These three MCs are clever, sharp, catchy and tag-team effortlessly. And the BEATS! Oh man, this album is sooo good…

25. Rushjet1 – Out There

Rushjet1 – Out There
Yeah, yeah, I know “computer game music” isn’t everyone’s bag. But give this album a chance. It’s got spiralling melodies, wonderful harmonies and pure, 8-bit soul. And it’s free!

24. Funkola – Funkola

Funkola – Funkola
What’s in a name, indeed? For Aussies Funkola, it’s a source of pride and lyrics. I love that these lads don’t try to sound American, it’s so cool to hear UK rappers with UK accents, Aussie rappers with defiant Aussie tones. Might mean they lose some dollars but then it’s not about a salary, it’s all about reality. Innit?

23. Akala – Freedom Lasso

Akala – Freedom Lasso
…and, as if I’d planned it, here comes UK rapper Akala with a little bastard gem of an album. Buzzing and frizzing, sometimes grimy, sometimes just mental (‘Bit By Bit’ is bloody intense), this is the kind of hip hop I love: it’s got heart. “We are sad for the things we can’t have but we are not sad for Baghdad.”

22. The Fiery Furnaces – Widow City

Fiery Furnaces – Widow City
I’ve played this to quite a few peeps and they listen and say that they wish it wasn’t so strange. I disagree: it’s the strange that makes it glow and glimmer. Pop that’s quite, quite startling.

21. Laakso – Mother Am I Good Looking

Laakso – Mother Am I Good Looking
Fuck me – this a damn catchy record. And it sprawls over so much of pop, I find it quite hard to describe to you. Demis Roussos sings Springsteen on ‘Death Of Us,’ ‘Dancing Queen’ starts off like Erasure then veers into The Cure channelling The Associates. It’s wonderful to hear pop music as unashamed and adventurous, as free and wild as this.

20. Brother Reade – Rap Music

Brother Reade – Rap Music
My god! Another essential hip hop album! BR have magnificent lyrics coupled with genuinely different framing. Rhyme and music combine and produce… well, magic. I love the little reverby touches, the sparkles that drop every now and then, spooking and highlighting certain lyrics. This lot are going to get ripped-off something chronic.

19. Dora Flood – We Live Now

Dora Flood – We Live Now
Do you like shoegazey music? Do you like psych? Do you like pop? Then you’re going to love this album. Dora Flood have been compared to Ride and Swervedriver but to my ears they sound like Loop hanging out with early Primal Scream. Yep! Collision flower groove!

18. Holy Roman Empire – The Long Duree

Holy Roman Empire – The Long Duree
The Paramore comparisons are inevitable (there aren’t that many post-emo, female-fronted rock acts, after all) but rather inaccurate. THRE are doing their own thing. Emily Schambra’s voice veers from crystal closeness to raw, swooping power. And the rest of the band aren’t slouches either. Damn poppy songs help seal the deal.

17. Sea Wolf – Leaves In The River

Sea Wolf – Leaves In The River
Whenever I’ve played ‘You’re A Wolf’ while I’m DJing, I’ve always had people ask me who it is. It’s one of those kinds of songs, like ‘Elephant Gun’ by Beirut. I’m very, very happy to say that Sea Wolf‘s full album backs up the promise of that EP track. ‘Leaves’ is sombre and chugging, reflective without being narcissistic. It’s thrumming, humming, intimate guitar pop.

16. The Mary Onettes – The Mary Onettes

The Mary Onettes – The Mary Onettes
I find it strange that ’60s retro is fine, ’70s retro is waycool but when bands love the ’80s as much as The Mary Onettes obviously do, this gets them slaps instead of plaudits. Let’s leave the window-dressing to one side: these are catchy, swoonsome pop songs. Yes, I can hear New Order and The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen but so what? Just listen to the songs, goddammit!

15. Evergreen Terrace – Wolfbiker

Evergreen Terrace – Wolfbiker
Hah! Sometimes, I just need a dose of something as stupidly heavy but still melodic as ET. This album is a kick in the knackers with a hobnail boot. Er… a boot with good tunes… And we all need that done to us occasionally, don’t we? Rip This!

14. Access Immortal – American Me

Access Immortal – American Me
‘Acc The Villain’ rolls into your brain like beta endorphins. One verse and you’re hooked. Acc’s bounce and verve on this whole album leave me slackjawed. I’ve had to rewind verses two or three times to fully get the deftness of his rhythm, the shades of his lyrics.

13. The Tub Ring – The Great Filter

The Tub Ring – The Great Filter
There’s some mathtastic action here but it’s always subservient to a good choon and a bizarre lyric. Angular, daft, punky and sometimes bewilderingly playful, if you like your guitar rock poppy with a big helping of molybdenum, buy this. Ah, okay… it sounds sometimes like Help She Can’t Swim doing John Barry covers. Yep, that good!

12. Field Music – Tones Of Town

Field Music – Tones Of Town
Oh wow. What a fantastic album. And what an absolute, ragged shame that Field Music aren’t more famous. Because, seriously, this album could make millions of people happy, sad, thoughful and even rhumba. Marvellous harmonies weave through unfamiliar landscapes. This is definitely prog pop, inasmuch as XTC, early Floyd and Jon Brion are prog pop. The reason it’s so high in my charts is that Field Music never sacrifice pop for showing off.

11. Example – What We Made

Example – What We Made
Example‘s got quite a bit of shit for… well, talking about his life and experiences. Funny, I thought that was the entire fucking point of hip hop. Or must we sacrifice honesty on the altar of gangster cool? This bloke can rap with the best and his lyrics cover huge emotional ground. He can take the piss out of himself on one track and then drop something as haunting as ‘What We Made.’ That’s a territory ten times wider than a lot of rappers who get big press and big bucks. You can find yourself in this UK hip hop far more easily than in current Brit indie.

10. Deerhoof – Friend Opportunity

Deerhoof – Friend Opportunity
Another best-of list, another Deerhoof album! How do these motherfuckers keep coming up with pop tune after pop tune, album after album? Whether it’s the Munster-organ driven ‘The Perfect Me’ or the porno-flick swagger of ‘Believe E.S.P.’ Deerhoof never fail. Never fail. I’m sooo jealous!

9. The Narrator – All That To The Wall

The Narrator – All That To The Wall
When you see titles like ‘Panic At Puppy Beach’ and ‘Surfjew,’ it might make you expect something more fratboy than The Narrator actually deliver. Whereas, ‘Surfjew’ is undoubtedly one of the catchiest alt guitar pop songs I’ve heard in my life, the lyrics recalling childhood indignities over insistent, delightful distorted twiddling. Again, every time I’ve played The Narrator when I’ve DJed, kids have asked who they were. They are that bastard catchy!

8. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
In some ways, I think of Spoon as an American Field Music. Or are Field Music a British Spoon, hmm? Whatever, I often get accused of being willfully obscure in these best-of lists. So here’s a bona-fide Top 10 US album. And it’s absolutely brilliant! You don’t have to be a dancing robot to appreciate that Spoon make some of the danciest guitar pop going. Their rhythm section is pure gold. Then take that rock-solid foundation and add Britt Daniel’s rough-smooth, high-low, big-small voice and you have pop pefection. I know I’ll be listening to this album years from now. You should too!

7. Keepin’ 6 – Uncensored

Keepin’ 6 – Uncensored
‘Uncensored’ is a deftly arranged and beautifully played collection of songs that vary from pop punk through old-school hardcore via… well, immense catchiness. Every song has a little twist, a tweak that makes it compelling. If you’ve ever bopped to Capdown, Less Than Jake or Lightyear, check out Keepin’ 6.

6. Modeselektor – Happy Birthday!

Modeselektor – Happy Birthday!
I love this album because it makes “serious” IDM fans frown more than a Happy Hardcore comp. Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary are unafraid, they’ll go anywhere and do anything musically. This is the kind of band that spawns entire micro-genres without even breaking a sweat. On ‘Happy Birthday!’ you get great slabs of music that invades your spine, generating more uncontrollable arse-shaking than a dodgy uncle at a wedding reception. Ohmygod, I larve this record!

5. The High Strung – Get The Guests

The High Strung – Get The Guests
Reminding me of early Of Montreal, The High Strung come gambolling into this chart higher than them because… well, they’ve got better songs. I heard ‘Raise The Bar’ and I knew I’d be DJing it. Everyone loved it. I heard ‘Rimbaud / Rambo’ and laughed. I heard ‘He’s Got No Soul’ and revelled in the rabid riffery. I mean, come on – if you don’t like this album, you should probably avoid all guitar-pop for the rest of your life.

4. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala

Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala
From the opening timpani roll, I fell in love all over again with Jens. I listened to it first walking round the Westfield. Riding up and down the escalators pointlessly, listening to this album for the first time will be a special, bizarre memory for me. Then, when ‘Your Arms Around Me’ came on, I had to go and sit down or I would have blubbed. And then they would have come to get me with the nets. Again.

3. Copperpot – WYLA

Copperpot – WYLA
It’s records like this that create. I’m too bastard old, but kids will get hold of this and want to do this. They’ll want to make beats as relentlessly sub-zero cool as Daniel Kuypers, they’ll want to rap as gloriously as Rodney P and Braintax. Sure, it sounds ace loud on speakers but you really need to listen to this album on some good headphones. Only then will you hear the nuances, the tiny flams and rimshots, all the touches that wrap round the guests to make an intense hip hop album.

2. Cats On Fire – The Province Complains

Cats On Fire – The Province Complains
DISCLAIMER: I was a guest keyboardist for Cats On Fire on their last UK tour. And Ville (Cats’ guitarist) has helped me out when I’ve played in Scandinavia. But let me elaborate and say that I don’t tickle the ivories for just anyone. It was this way around: I got to know Cats On Fire because I love their music – I don’t love their music because they’re showbiz mates.

Phew…

Now that’s out of the way, let me introduce you to the best indie / rock / guitar / pop album of 2007.

‘The Province Complains’ wears its influences on its sleeve. There’s some Felt in there, some Aztec Camera. The Smiths comparisons are, again, lazy and inaccurate: there’s more McCarthy and Monochrome Set here.

The reason this album is at number 2 is that there are no fillers. Every song is catchy, every song is about something. Yep! Now, when’s the last time you could say that about an indie album? Every person in the band works brilliantly, resulting in a whole that is transformative and revelatory. Whether it’s Mattias’ soaring, gorgeous declarations, Ville’s fluid, urbane guitar, Kenneth’s tight, happy bass or Henry’s superb beats, each part gels with the other. This is what makes the album so varied even though Cats don’t do a lot of genre-hopping. The variation is in the ability of the players and the arrangements.

The final thing that made it so high is Mattias’ lyrics. I love his stories, I love the way he draws me into the narratives. They aren’t in-jokes or references, they’re not weighed down with the dead hand of hypertrophied postmodernism that squashes so much indie music. This is what makes the songs so clear, so catchy, so pop. They’re un-embarrassed and therefore irresistible.

1. IRS – The World Is Theirs

IRS – The World Is Theirs
This album just pipped Cats On Fire to the number one spot. And I love that album. So what’s so special about IRS?

Let me tell you.

Have you ever found yourself in music? Been forgiven and accepted by a song? When you feel like a stranger everywhere you go, you put a certain album on and you’re home?

That’s ‘The World Is Theirs’ for me.

I’ve been walking round on my own a lot this year. Inevitably, I’ve been skipping tracks on my iPod. But every time IRS came on, I didn’t skip. Gradually, I realised that I like this album. No – I love it. And it’s not as if it’s party hip hop: this is no happy-clappy album. The overall tone is closer to Joy Division than it is to De La Soul.

So I love it. For all the same reasons that I love Cats On Fire. That may sound strange as Cats are doing indie guitar pop and IRS are doing down-and-dirty UK hip hop. But the lyrics! Yeah, the beats are compelling, I do love them. But I’ve listened to the lyrics time and time again. Lyrics like those in the title track:

“I’m living day by day,
Earning to live,
Ten percent of my tax
Goes on murdering kids
Dropping bombs over Baghdad
They’re burning the bridge.”

Or from ‘Music’:

“It’s nice to know
Any way I might go
I’ve got music to see me through the highs and lows
Holding the microphone
I’m right at home
I’m happy in the thought I’ll never die alone.”

Which is exactly how I feel about music and me. Exactly.

Of course, you’ve got to hear these lyrics in context. Seeing them written down, you’re missing half the story. When I listen to this album, I am transported. I also feel welcomed, like I’ve met some old mates. And that’s not a feeling I get that often: I often feel excluded by a lot of the music I listen to.

If you’ve ever liked any hip hop ever, I urge you to check out this album. And even if you haven’t, if you’ve got an open mind, I’m convinced that IRS will connect with it. It isn’t an easy album, it can be very bleak at times but there’s a communion in that melancholy. And in that communion, a rare beauty.

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And with that, I wish you, dear readers, a happy and healthy 2008! 😀