Top 20 Albums of 2015
Formulating a list of your favourite records of the year isn’t particularly easy. However many times I crossed out an album on a shabby sheet of paper, I eventually managed to scribble down what I’d consider the Premier League of 2015’s music, if you will. So, here it is – la crème de la crème of aural output from this year, with a countdown from twenty to one.
20) Shark Tape – Marathon
Albums that make the cut on these sorts of lists are generally those you could have played repeatedly without an element of boredom arising. This offering in particular was one of a bucketload (and I am not exaggerating) of records I reviewed for RocknReel and one that’s stuck since. Its perpetual angst had a strange flavour of catchiness to it (Bronco, for example, ticks this box in spades), which made it an extremely melodic playlist favourite when sorting my outfit for my pre-Graduation uni Summer Ball. Punchy rock with some vibrant punk for good measure – what’s not to enjoy?
19) Rick Ross – Black Market
Although this was hardly tipped to smash the most prestigious rap charts, there are some instant belters. Ricky Rozay’s trademark grunts aren’t quite aplenty as usual, but his deep tones are as effervescent as ever. Bizarrely enough, enlisting Chris Brown’s help was also a top idea, because Sorry, despite its circulating looped verses, is such an easy listen. John Legend’s assistance, as well as that of hip-hop bigwig, Nas, is equally palatable, too. So, although it’s number 19, the semi-commercialism of this record is not off-putting; there are harsh portions and some real grit, so this isn’t cheesy Maybach music righteousness, it’s in fact one to get acquainted with.
18) Mumford & Sons – Wilder Mind
From my perspective, the tweaks made to Mumford & Sons’ instrumental arsenal sent this band careering towards more pats on the back this year. The anti-banjo accolades I’ve openly bequeathed to Marcus and his men aren’t just controversial notions; I firmly believe that this is their best album and should be recognised as so. The energy of the guitars is only penetrable through Marcus’ vocals; each track is anthemic and gorgeous, with properly constructed lyrics and a feeling of fresh confidence. From The Wolf to Just Smoke, all the way to Hot Gates, bursts of awesomeness can be detected.
17) Everything Everything – Get to Heaven
Zany artwork aside, this third record from Everything Everything is ace. As follow-ups go, bands either churn out something rushed and a bit pants, or they excel themselves and show off their fresh skills; these chaps have managed the latter. Phew. Lyrically, the situation is a bit mental and totally comedic, but you somehow find yourself not being fussed when you’re gifted such enthusiastic indie-pop with the emphatic screeches so typical of the band. Everything Everything have been on my radar way before their debut, and don’t look set to go off the boil any time soon, for this recent collection is wildly superb, from Get to Heaven itself to Regret.
16) Years & Years – Communion
Guilty pleasures are certainly worthy of Top 20 places, so, this uni throwback has earned its spot. Granted, most of these tracks are synth-pop numbers designed to tempt the club-goers through the door, but each one is well crafted and bloody addictive. King is the obvious choice, and one that reminds me hugely of the final Bilingualism assessment of my degree, but Real, Worship, Ties and Eyes Shut are simply sublime. So, although this is a bit beyond my general pigeonhole, Olly and co have produced something so violently captivating that it shouldn’t be brushed aside.
15) Ellie Goulding – Delirium
I can’t exactly confirm that there isn’t just a teeny, tiny bit of bias here (she is a Goulding, after all), but the lady has done well. My third trip to see Ellie onstage took place in Dubai, in a rather elaborate venue, as part of the Emirate’s Music Week, and she performed On My Mind, which really sealed it for that particular track. However, if you’ve bought the deluxe edition, then you’ll be in the knowledge that the remainder of her newest offerings are phenomenal, too. The blonde bombshell is loose-limbed and can throw some serious shapes, but she is ludicrously talented when delivering trance-injected pop. Aftertaste is sugary and wistful all at once, whilst Devotion typifies Goulding’s recent style. I can’t fault this, I’ve just got a handful of other albums I must commend more so up the ranks.
14) The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness
When The Hills dropped, I was suddenly so excited. I knew it would be the beginning of Abel Tesfaye’s relentless pre-album promo, and that was a tantalising prospect. This track has received mega kudos since its release, and has been the pick on Spotify after way too many drinks, the warm-down selection whilst cycling and something I’ve had on repeat on an embarrassing tally of occasions. The album itself isn’t quite the unadulterated trippy genius I had hoped it would be, though. I don’t know what the thought process was when Tesfaye employed Ed Sheeran for a collaboration, nor why he ditched his usual mojo on the latter half of the record, but the singles were the focal points. I still rate this massively, but Can’t Feel My Face will have undoubtedly swayed this decision favourably. It could have been better, but hey, it’s still The Weeknd, so that’ll do nicely for me.
13) Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
The only thing more fundamentally cool than Vince Staples’ Tweets is his album. This swagger-fused, carefree rap record is grimy, trippy but honest. Trading in the usual blueprint of yawn-inspiring verses about females in tight clothing and how many shots of whiskey sunk in a minute straight, this young man has pace and is without fear on the mic. His delivery is sharp and on the money in this modern hip-hop era, so his rise to fame is certainly justified, especially when he’s able to craft such gems, including Dopeman and Señorita.
12) A$AP Rocky – At.Long.Last.A$AP
The self-confessed pretty boy soared to new, dizzying heights when he gave us this follow-up. With a grill of gold teeth and a wardrobe filled with enviously sexy denim and leather jackets, this guy is Vogue-worthy, but has an insanely great flow and can operate killer collaborations. With help from major figures such as M.I.A, Rod Stewart, Miguel, and so forth, Rocky has mastered the art of creating good music, with Everyday being such a sizzling example (I mean, that ‘Pimp Squad’ video reference!). So, although it wasn’t quite as neat as his debut, this was one to capture ears with haste.
11) Nothing But Thieves – Nothing But Thieves
I hail this album this year’s answer to Royal Blood, simply because of its breadth of quality and great rock output. Decent heavier instrumentals can’t often be found, but generally lack proper gusto and conviction, so it was a fabulous find when I was emailed this to review for RocknReel. These chaps have really beavered away to make this album as incredible as it could be, with a deluxe version also available, but, regardless of either, Itch is still my clear winner. Vocally, this record is up-to-date and has some really unique, insightful sections, but it’s the guitar riffs that really hammer it.
10) Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down
You don’t have to delve far into this album to pinpoint one of its real talking points, for Pretty Pimpin is just priceless, and it’s certainly my favourite. An intelligent amalgamation of soft-rock, country and indie is definitely Vile’s remit, with each song on this record being a banger. Rich riffs are ten-a-penny here, which is no criticism; it’s difficult to find an artist who can manipulate acoustic strings as effortlessly as Kurt Vile, and it’s what makes him succeed. This album is slow, gentle and charismatic, and that’s what makes me return to it. Sheer calibre.
9) My Brothers & I – Don’t Dream Alone
I have had the pleasure of chatting to My Brothers & I on a couple of occasions previously, and they’re such great guys. Fact. Their album, however, is even greater. Embracing soulful, funk vibes and merging them with melodic riffs, solid drum beats and luxurious vocals is what’s afforded this band the top feedback they’ve received this year. Although Nowhere to Run and Stay Here are the resounding stand-out tracks for me, I find the entire collection relaxing and comforting. Each inch of this album is properly tempered, composed and seamlessly engaging.
8) Gary Clark Jr. – The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
This is one fellow I consider a modern day Jimi Hendrix. His mixture of heavy rock and blues sandwiches two powerful genres together in such smashing harmony, which is what has helped the second album along its path. The richness of Clark Jr.’s vocals is another sublime element, and these are so dazzling on The Healing, which also blends an amazing slice of hip-hop in the beat. This album has so clearly been influenced by many blues heavyweights before him, and will probably go on to do the same to upcoming musicians seeking a future in this particular genre. Mr. Clark Jr., this is hard-hitting and humble at the same time, so, good job.
7) The Neighbourhood – Wiped Out!
Tearjerker, uplifter, awe-inspirer: the leopard-print-coat-wearing grungers, The Neighbourhood, hit back this year with a really feisty collection of tracks. Instead of being a meek, under-produced set of embellished indie-pop offerings that just failed to deliver, this follow-up was devilishly in keeping with their usual melodies. From the pulsating sadness of The Beach and Daddy Issues, to the blazing beat and handsome bluster of Greetings from Califournia, this is one hell of a tidy record. The seaside vibes are as omnipresent as before, but there are some balladic portions, not least in the modern-era testament of youngsters, R.I.P. 2 My Youth.
6) Coldplay – A Head Full of Dreams
Top albums are oftentimes those most played and, despite its recent release date, Coldplay’s latest has ticked that box. Its heavenly melodies are almost prescription Coldplay; their instrumentals are much more honed than their shoegazy, depressing indie of the early millennium, and this record showcases their newfound character and spice very well. Of course, enlisting Beyoncé was a smart stunt, as she is really, albeit subtly, stunning on Hymn for the Weekend. Their use of jingling biro-on-glass sounds is also very welcome indeed, which peppers this album with all of the creativity of a magnificent collection. So, simply because I can’t stop humming Adventure of a Lifetime, and also have much praise for the other ten tracks, this has cemented its place on the list.
5) Dr. Dre – Compton: A Soundtrack
This man redefined rap, and has since been hugely successful musically and financially, especially following the launch of his Beats headphones range. So, his return was hotly awaited and his soundtrack for the Straight Outta Compton biopic was exactly what the film required. Enlisting Eminem, Ice Cube himself, Snoop Dogg and so forth was wise, whilst lesser known figures such as Anderson .Paak littered this collection with some fresher pizzazz. Plus, .Paak’s album that dropped back in August also became a firm favourite of mine. Talk About It, Just Another Day and Medicine Man are certainly stellar tunes to dog-ear here.
4) Tame Impala – Currents
Aussie wavy indie-dance generators, Tame Impala, have been on my radar for ages, but none of their prior releases have stuck so readily. This particular record is banging from start to finish, and has been a regular resident of my brother’s car discs selection – and rightly so. From trippy melodies to proper indie-rock beats, this is solid gold fulfilment. The Less I Know The Better remains the most crisp, enlightening track of all (for me), but Let It Happen is another belter.
3) Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
I was once asked whether I thought this album was decent or not, and remembered pondering how I could consider it anything less than absolute, utter genius. Kendrick Lamar has an epic propensity and ability to forge a set of lyrics so crude, yet so humble and raw that it hits every nails on the head, and simultaneously rips apart the issues so many face in the USA. For this reason, he has received much flack, especially from those who believe he’s creating race problems for the American population, but, although I cannot personally identify with many of the topics he tackles, I do appreciate his stance and would, truthfully, follow him anywhere. His coarse vocals are so unique, whilst his hooks and beats are really prevalent in an age where electronics can fuel hip-hop rhymes so ideally. King Kunta is such an ace track, in very basic terms, whilst i is uplifting and inspiring. But, it’s The Blacker the Berry that oozes the wow factor. Each and every detail he raises is pinpoint accurate, and his criminally masterful approach to unveiling the reality of situations is just spellbinding. The only reason, controversially I’m sure, that I haven’t selected him for my top album is simply that I have enjoyed and relished two albums that slight bit more. However, K Dot, you are an incredible force. Keep doing what you’re doing.
2) Miguel – Wildheart
It’s okay to cherish melodies that upset you a bit. Miguel has managed to attract the attention of many this year, whether these clusters of people were fans already or not, for his synth manipulation and sugary, smooth and angelic male tones are soulful and cutting at once. He has regained R’n’B, snatching the title, and made the genre relevant again, even through his more saddening offerings. From his own 11/10 record to collaborations with A$AP Rocky and Disclosure, and a very rough performance on Jools Holland’s Later… show, this gent has been highlighted vastly in the media, but for very good reason. He isn’t just another ripped American with a penchant for a sleazy tune; he is a man who slices deeper into the emotions that many don’t wish to discuss, and turns those feelings into tales of mystery, misery and honesty on a page made of harmonious instruments. Coffee, leaves and Simple Things are top examples of this, whilst Miguel can also conjure up some cheerful vibes and pump them into bright, energetic hits, such as waves and gfg. So, purely because this album was so bloody majestic throughout, and because employing Lenny Kravitz for a bit of string assistance has such audacity and is, thus, so riotously cool, it sits very regally in the silver spot.
1) Purity Ring – Another Eternity
I was dreadfully hungover (for the second day, I might add) when I was first exposed to this utter magic. In my mind, Purity Ring have been this really exciting, more expensive version of Chvrches, who collaborated with Danny Brown and instantly appeared big players. However, I rapidly realised that this vision was somewhat warped and rather unfair in equal measure after buying this record, for I could literally not stop hearing these tracks on loop in my head for weeks (and no, the alcohol wasn’t still in my system then). I’m often disillusioned by female vocalists, simply because they can sound corny and way too girly, but the lyrics here are projected in such ethereal nature that I can’t help but find them great. Bodyache, Push Pull, Begin Again and Flood on the Floor are at least four reasons to exploit the hell out of this album and push the repeat button each time it finishes, but there is much more packed into this record. Listening to Repetition is an insight in itself; the very arrogance of the words “Watching me is like watching the fire take your eyes from you…” is so dastardly self-confident that it takes this album from merely being musical excellence to morphing into a fabulous literary enigma. Once I had reconciled that, I knew this album would take some massive coup to rid it of its top placed position, and I was right. So, here it is: my Top Album of 2015.