And so to the most recent entry. This has been much raved about in the press (at last count, five #1 spots on critics’ end of year lists), and rightfully so as it is an album with wide appeal but also a phenomenal level of creativity and artistic endeavour. It is as if Grimes has digested all of pop music over the last 20 years and painstakingly remade it to fit her own vision, making the manufactured sound totally personal.
Keith Kenniff makes music as Helios with wonderful poise and composition. He’s not doing anything ground-breaking here but listening to this album is like sinking into a warm bath. His tracks are laid-back in tempo but impeccably constructed with great depth, elevating them above anodyne ‘chill out’.
In which Kevin Parker‘s Tame Impala make a seamless transition from psychedelic rock into psychedelic synth-infused electro-pop-disco-soul-something (let’s not get too bogged down in genres, eh?). It sounds so natural that the first time through I didn’t even notice that he’d almost abandoned his guitar – it’s still there, of course, but now it is the synths that shoulder the majority of the burden. He’s a damn good songwriter and as this album makes clear, a fantastic, meticulous producer as well.
A refreshing and thrilling antidote to any stereotypical notions of what African music ‘should’ sound like. This is so comfortable and adept in its mixing of African and Western instruments, with a grubby, greasy but ultimately needle-sharp production. I love the hypnotic rhythms, anxious guitar work and distorted thumb pianos. Ultimately, though, it’s just a great collection of songs from another world.
Another not released this year – although house veteran Maurice Fulton did release an album under his BOOF alias (The Hydrangeas Whisper), I preferred this one from 2011. This is as much space funk as it is house music and the live drumming really pops out of the mix.
As one half of Fuck Buttons, Benjamin John Power produced 2013’s excellent dystopian vision, Slow Focus. With Dumb Flesh he takes us into the nightclub. The cover’s weirdly unidentifiable flesh portrays something visceral and weirdly futuristic, which is an apt metaphor for the music itself. There’s a muscular power and intensity throughout, which may at first seem brutal but always turns out to be compellingly listenable. Case in point: the abruptly terrifying audio assault at the start of lead single Dead Format, which gradually morphs into a sleek tribal groove; when the noise returns it fits seamlessly into the track’s structure, effectively as the ‘chorus’.
Gorgeous and sad. Sufjan completely strips back his sound from the technicolour head-fuck of Age Of Adz for this extremely personal account of his mother’s death. And he’s such a talented songwriter and producer that it still sounds utterly absorbing, his meticulous finger picks and multi-tracked vocals ever-so-gently augmented by electronics.