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.
5. Bonobo – Migration
Bonobo can do no wrong for me so this was almost certainly going to end up being one of my favourite albums of the year. As with most of his music I find the tracks without vocals the best. In particular ‘Kerela’ stands out as my favourite track of the album and probably my song of the year. It doesn’t hurt that his music videos are also incredible (see Kerela and No Reason for proof).
4. Sampha – Process
This was another album that seemed to be in the pipeline for ages but was worth the wait. Like a lot of people, I first heard Sampha on SBTRKT’s great track ‘Hold on’ back in 2011 and have been waiting to hear his solo work every since. I enjoy this album a lot because it has such a mix of track, from the reflective ballad ‘No One Knows Me Like the Piano’ to the anxious and jittery ‘Blood On Me’. It’s not an easy listen but one which I think further establishes Sampha as an amazing songwriter.
3. Big Thief – Capacity
I had never heard of Big Thief before hearing one of the singles of this album ‘Mary’ on a podcast earlier this year. It’s a moving album with lots of standout tracks that lead singer Adrianne Lenker fills with incredibly emotional lyrics and an amazing voice.
2. Susanne Sundfør - Music For People In Trouble
Susanne’s last album was a full on electro pop extravaganza so I was slightly disappointed when I first heard how stripped back this album felt. However, any initial disappointment soon ameliorated once I had heard it a few times through and it’s now been on firm repeat for the last few months.
1. Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives
I’d been waiting for this album for a couple of years and it did not disappoint. Before the release I had heard a few of the new songs in a live setting but hadn’t been particularly taken by them, however, once the album came out I fell in love with it. It’s the type of album that seems simple at first but with every listen you find more and more to become obsessed with. A 10/10 album for me, every song is a winner.
Honourable mentions: Sylvan Esso, Four Tet, Kelela, Alt-J, Fever Ray, Loyle Carner
5. Wolf Alice - Visions of A Life
Wolf Alice's second album goes far to cement the north-London outfit's place at the forefront of current UK rock music. 'Heavenward' is a gentle and pretty opener, with Ellie Rowsell's vocals taking centre stage. The album takes a harder turn with 'Yuk Foo', and its punk-tinged aesthetic. Admittedly, each song does come as a bit of a surprise, with none really flowing on from the last. But no-one claimed this is a concept album. Songs like 'Don't Delete the Kisses', and 'Visions of a Life' are gorgeous and intoxicating.
4. LCD Soundsystem - American Dream
The Brooklyn-based band returned from retirement for the fourth studio album, and I for one am ecstatic that they did. American Dream is a typically ironic choice of title, with each song on the record taking a look at different forms of loss. Intense, brooding, and introspective, you are invited to lose yourself in an immersive electronic-rock soundscape. The music complements the lyrics beautifully, demonstrating James Murphy's skill in musical architecture.
3. Lorde - Melodrama
Though this album received less popular attention than 2013's Pure Heroine, it is a beautifully put-together album. The electronic base to Lorde's music is still there, but there is a richer and fuller sound to this record. The leading single 'Green Light' is simultaneously meloncholy and upbeat, setting the tone for the following tracks. The album is (loosely) a concept album, exploring loneliness, solitude, and rejection. But in her inimitable way Lorde manages to leave you feeling hopeful, and with several tunes running around your head hours after listening.
2. Laura Marling - Semper Femina
With every album Marling seems to grow as a songwriter. To such an extent that it seems impossible to overstate her ability to drag you into her world of beautiful melodies and heartbreaking lyrics. Semper Femina is a love-letter to women, and explores the different relationships with women. This is a record you can't help fall in love with. It is simply too seductive right from the first drum beats of 'Soothing' to the very last notes. Overall, though, it's a soulful and heartfelt look at the pain of loving.
1. Kasabian - For Crying Out Loud
Kasabian's fifth straight UK number one album is perhaps the Leicester boys' best record yet. Opening with swagger and bravado, it is a series of addicting songs from start to finish. There are no low points, or fillers here, just joyful anthems. The lyrics are as mad as ever, but it's hard to deny that this is one of the most stylish of albums of the year. For Crying Out Loud is an all-out party-rock album, and you'll find yourself wanting to dance and sing 'til your lungs burst. A truly massive record from a truly massive band.