Friday, December 18, 2015

Top 10 Albums of 2015

2015 has been an excellent year for new music, and selecting just 10 outstanding albums from the riches lately lavished upon my ears was no easy task. Several deserving LPs have cruelly been excluded here, but rules is rules (even if I made them up) and only 10 records can make the final cut.

So here they are: The Album Wall's Top 10 Albums of 2015. How many have you heard?

10) The Sovereign Self by Trembling Bells

This is a glorious folk-proggy mess of an album. The Sovereign Self finds Trembling Bells straddling the river of history, dipping a big net in the water, and throwing everything they catch into the pot. Straightahead krautrock, medieval ballads, psychedelic hard's all here, bubbling noisily away, and the resulting stew is quite remarkable indeed.

Best Tracks: I is Someone Else // Killing Time in London Fields // Sweet Death Polka

9) Don't Believe the Hyperreal by Ariel Sharratt & Mathias Kom

This album's cover is a collage of famous couples: Han and Leia, Marge and Homer, John and Yoko. The eight tracks snuggled underneath that cover are, collectively, a pretty good case for Ariel and Mathias's inclusion in any future enumerations of the all-time greatest couples; most of those songs are super- (but never sickly-) sweet duets, and their voices go so well together you wonder if they just spend all of their days sitting around and singing to each other.

Best Tracks: Eugene & Maurice // Fuck the Government, I Love You // In the Future

8) Kind of Blah by Frog

Blurred genius.

Best Tracks: Wish Upon a Bar // All Dogs Go to Heaven // Judy Garland

7) True Romance by Estelle

True Romance is an intoxicating brew of genres - uptempo dance, smooth R&B, chart-conquering pop, and even a bit of reggae - that I don't usually listen to. Not only does Estelle juggle all of these different styles very well, she actually manages to bring them all together to create a very strong, smart rumination on the concept of true love and how the passage of time affects it.

Best Tracks: Conqueror // Time After Time // All That Matters

6) Beat the Champ by The Mountain Goats

I's a concept album about professional wrestling, what else needs to be said? I really admire how John Darnielle focuses on the sadness, the nastiness, and the grit inherent in the wrestling world instead of just getting all starry-eyed about championship belts and silly storylines.

Best Tracks: Foreign Object // Southwestern Territory // Heel Turn 2

5) Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance by Belle & Sebastian

Concept albums are great - and don't worry, there are more to come - but sometimes the best approach is to just write a dozen ace pop songs and commit them to record. That appears to be what Belle & Sebastian did with Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance; maybe there's some sort of red thread tethering these tracks together, but I'm always too busy wiggling rhythmically in my seat to notice. Like the titular girls in peacetime, I just want to dance.

Best Tracks: Play for Today // The Everlasting Muse // Enter Sylvia Plath

4) All of Something by SPORTS

The first time you hear this album, it sounds euphorically happy, all sunshine and sugary cereal and weekends that never turn into weeks. But All of Something feels sadder and wearier with each new listen; lines about empty spaces and nervousness and pretending not to care become harder to ignore, and you begin to realise that the breakneck pop-punk stuff is just a front for a very jaded - bummed out, if you will - set of songs. A gem within a gem.

Best Tracks: Reality TV // Get Bummed Out // GDP

3) My Love is Cool by Wolf Alice

Prior to the release of My Love is Cool, Wolf Alice were just 'that grungey band people keep talking about who I should probably listen to at some point'. Now, having not just heard the album but lived with it for several months, I consider Wolf Alice to be one of the best rock bands in the UK. The grungey stuff that I was expecting is present and correct on tracks like Fluffy, but it's mingled in with all sorts of other sounds, too; Giant Peach and Your Love's Whore flirt with kraut and stadium rock, respectively, while Soapy Water and Turn to Dust are heavenly, ultra-modern cuts that are heavy on synths and light on guitars.

My Love is Cool is a mixed bag in the best possible sense: it effortlessly showcases the breadth of WA's capabilities and remains fresh for the duration of its 50-odd minute runtime. A superb debut.

Best Tracks: Silk // You're a Germ // Giant Peach

2) The Most Lamentable Tragedy by Titus Andronicus

Gawd, I was thrilled when Titus Andronicus announced that they were recording a 2-disc* rock opera, and in spite of my ludicrously high expectations, The Most Lamentable Tragedy somehow didn't disappoint. A little homework is required if you really want to understand what's happening here, but to the album's eternal credit, you can kind of feel your way through the story and appreciate its dramatic ebb and flow even if you haven't read Patrick Stickles' explanation of the whole monstrosity.

And, unlike many 'proper' concept albums, TMLT is mercifully generous with its bangers. For every skippable interludey bit (I'm looking at you, The Fall), there are several Dimed Outs, Fired Ups, and Fatal Flaws. Even if you hate overblown rock operas with pretentious narratives, you'll still find plenty to love on those 2* discs...and if, like me, you love that pretentious crap, you'll find even more to get your silly teeth into.

*Or 3 if you bought the vinyl edition.

Best Tracks: Dimed Out // No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant // (S)he Said / (S)he Said

1) The Race for Space by Public Service Broadcasting

Topping this year's list is yet another concept album, and The Race for Space is truly a credit to the form. Public Service Broadcasting's second LP displays remarkable attention detail; every word, every note, every spidery riff and thwack of the drumkit has been thoroughly considered and perfectly, flawlessly recorded for our pleasure. This is an album with nary a hair out of place.

Given the level of precision that went into the making of TRfS, you'd be forgiven for expecting the results to be somewhat cold and lifeless. But this couldn't be further from the truth; The Race for Space is, at its raw, beating heart, a deeply emotional album. It begins with a rousing speech from John F. Kennedy before evoking Cold War paranoia (Sputnik), celebrating boundary-pushing heroism (Gagarin), and mourning the tragic cost of progress (Fire in the Cockpit). And that's just the first half - you've still got the baited-breath tension of The Other Side, the ecstatic tech team thrum of Go!, and goodness knows what else to come.

The Race for Space achieves something I've often thought impossible: taking precise, highly technical musicianship and imbuing with a firey, emotive verve that would stir the dead surface of the Moon itself

Best Tracks: Gagarin // Go! // The Other Side

So that's my list. What were YOUR favourite albums of 2015?

No comments:

Post a Comment