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December 2015

The 2015 Round-Up: Albums of the Year (10)

Grimes - Art Angels
Grimes – Art Angels

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.

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The 2015 Round-Up: Albums of the Year (9)

Helios - Yume
Helios – Yume

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’.

The 2015 Round-Up: Albums of the Year (8)

Tame Impala - Currents
Tame Impala – Currents

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.

The 2015 Round-Up: Albums of the Year (7)

Mbongwana Star - From Kinshasa
Mbongwana Star – From Kinshasa

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.

The 2015 Round-Up: Albums of the Year (6)

BOOF - Shhh, Dandelions At Play
BOOF – Shhh, Dandelions At Play

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.

The 2015 Round-Up: Albums of the Year (5)

Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh
Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh

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’.

The 2015 Round-Up: Albums of the Year (4)

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

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.

The 2015 Round-Up: Albums of the Year (3)

Vessels - Dilate
Vessels – Dilate

In which (previously) math-y post-rock quintet Vessels leave their guitars behind and bridge the narrow gap to pastures electronic. Another one that is difficult to place genre-wise, sitting somewhere in the techno-house-electronica triangle. The influence of post rock is still to be felt in the build-and-release structure of many of these tracks, even if the highs are subtly restrained to give an overall feeling of twilit brooding – with only early highlight Elliptic really cutting loose.

The 2015 Round-Up: Albums of the Year (2)

Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space
Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space

Public Service Broadcasting could so easily have become just a novelty act – their debut album Inform, Educate, Entertain was full of tremendously fun dance/rock hybrids sampling RP dialogue from (early) 20th century Britain’s airwaves, but could have been dismissed as light entertainment. Another album of that might have seen them typecast as goofballs. However, by adopting an overarching (serious) concept on The Race For Space they have found the perfect avenue for their talents, without having to jettison their sense of fun. The music fits the samples and vice versa, and it captures the excitement, danger, glamour and awe at humanity’s achievements in the golden era of space exploration. Highlights include full horn-section augmented funk for earth-orbiting superstar Yuri Gagarin; celebrating the ‘backroom’ team for the moon landings on the terrific Go and finally the spine-tingling moment when man first successfully orbited The Other Side of the moon.

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