5. Slowdive – Slowdive
The shoegaze veterans return with their first record in 22 years, and immediately show everyone that it takes more than a few pedals and a breathy vocal. The album certainly has those things, but it’s the somewhat stripped-back music and strong songcraft that make this a standout album. The laid-back, confident warmth of the instrumentations, the strength of the song-writing, and the naturalistic flow of the track-listing make this comeback a swooning, dreamy success.
4. Arca – Arca
Perhaps inspired by recent collaborations with Icelandic experimentalist Bjork, the Venezuelan producer Arca has released this collection of beautiful songs in which his vocals are at the forefront for the first time. This self-titled release functions as a possible new direction for the singer-songwriter album as we think of it, pairing his powerful, tuneful vocals with Arca’s distinctive plunging, chittering beats.
3. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Compton hip-hop superstar Lamar follows up the genre and era-defining masterpiece that is To Pimp a Butterfly, a sprawling, angry, jazz-infused odyssey, with a tight, self-examining collection of tracks that recreates the scale of the previous album from a more personal, poppy context. On DAMN., Lamar examines ideas of loyalty, religion, politics, and their relation to the self in a series of hook-filled, razor sharp tracks.
2. The Magnetic Fields – 50 Song Memoir
Magnetic Fields leader Stephin Merritt finally allows a peek behind the curtain with his new concept album, in which 50 songs are each inspired by one year of his life. However, Merritt is no less tantalisingly inscrutable due to the sheer humour and pop genius brevity with which each track is imbued. It remains fresh throughout its 5-CD length, boasting some of the most memorable, funny, poignant pop songs of the year.
1. Richard Dawson – Peasant
Ogres, beggars, scientists, and prostitutes cavort and lament amid scratched strings, battered detuned guitars, and rousing pagan choruses in Dawson’s freaked-out avant-folk opus. Described as a concept-album about the chaos of post-Roman Britain, Dawson reclaims folk for the folk themselves, crafting a sonic and lyrical landscape wherein despair and hope cut capers around Wicker Man meets Velvet Underground noise.
5. Mac DeMarco - This Old Dog
This has been my the-world-is-too-stressful-and-I-need-to-chill-out record of the year. The guitar riffs warm the heart, the vocals are soft, unobtrusive and lyrically strong, and the melodies are playful throughout. There are some serious topics addressed in the album, but it’s still difficult to listen to it without breaking into a smile.
4. Four Tet - New Energy
I’ve been a huge fan of Four Tet’s music for the past few years but his releases often make for pretty intense listening. You just need to look at his last album, Morning/Evening, which came out in 2015 and only had two tracks - each roughly 20 minutes long. New Energy on the other hand sees the artist revisit the sounds that made me love his music - the jazz influences, the warm synths - but put them in a format that’s much more accessible and easier to digest.
3. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
It was never going to be easy to follow To Pimp A Butterfly but this was a record I was into from the get-go. The narrative structure is something I absolutely loved. The spoken word section that introduces the album was something I found particularly engaging and the way Kendrick flows from that intro into the music is explosive. I distinctly remember dancing down a street in Amsterdam on first listen to this. DAMN. is an album which tackles big social questions in the best way possible.
2. Bonobo - Migration
Bonobo is a man who can do little wrong in my eyes and his latest album only reminded me why. Migration runs wonderfully from start to finish. It’s got that Bonobo trait of making for easy listening and being able to fit pretty much any mood perfectly while also translating into a booming live experience. The collabs are well thought out (‘No Reason’ with Nick Murphy in particular!) and the vocals are not overdone either.
1. Loyle Carner - Yesterday’s Gone
I’ve listened to this record on repeat more times than I can remember. Truth be told, I’ve probably heard each individual song from Loyle Carner’s debut album more times this year than any track on any other record. The poet/rapper’s lyrics are refreshingly intimate and personal, and I find his tempo and varying rhyming schemes so original and catchy. This is a clever yet accessible album, and for me the best debut album from any artist for quite some time. Also, Loyle Carner runs cooking classes for kids with ADHD. He’s impossible to dislike.
Honourable mentions: London Grammar, The XX, Alt-J, Stormzy, Laura Marling, Nick Murphy, Angus & Julia Stone, Foo Fighters.