Jamie XX – In Colour
After emerging from the shadow of his Mercury Prize winning bandmates, Jamie XX’s full-length debut has proved that all along he has been the brains of the organisation. An album with melodies this year unmatched that has led the way for electronic music in 2015. The diversity of this record amazes, containing extremes from the floor-filling Good Times with Young Thug to the delicate SeeSaw and the ironically soft collaboration with bandmate Romy, Loud Places. This record is probably the easiest on which to reflect this year as truly every song on this record is a delicately crafted masterpiece. Without a moment of filler, this album is well deserving of the widespread critical acclaim it has received and its place within, if not atop, this list.
The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness
No one can claim to have dominated the musical mainstream this year more than Abel Tesfaye. His fifth full length record whilst entertaining dark discourses about drug abuse and sexual power in singles ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ and ‘Often’ respectively has become one of the biggest selling albums of 2015. Furthermore this record has earned a well-deserved Grammy nomination. This is ann emotive record filled with reflection on Tesfaye’s personal struggles, never more obvious than in ‘Real Life’ where he declared “every woman that loved me…I seemed to push them away”. In a year which has been dominated by the unique, this album whilst explicit and raw in places is one to be cherished. Its unique sound has propelled Tesfaye to music’s summit, a move which has been coming since the release of his debut mixtape House of Balloons. A true triumph.
Grimes – Art Angels
Claire Bouchard never fails to surprise. ‘Art Angels’, whilst being different from everything Bouchard has ever produced, is still wholly unique and, this year, has been met with widespread critical acclaim. This is the record that the alternative dancefloor has been crying out for, with its big beats and extraordinary vocals. Its uplifting and poppy nature, most obvious in World Princess Part II (a complete contrast from Part I), has divided opinion amongst older fans, many of whom have rejected Bouchard’s new direction. But with tracks such as Flesh without Blood and Kill vs Maim, Bouchard has gained many new fans, and might even have a claim for two of the best songs of 2015.
Thundercat – The Beyond/Where Giants Roam
Whilst not strictly a full-length album, the dying art of the EP justifies Stefen Bruner’s inclusion on this list. After featuring on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ early in 2015, the former Suicidal Tendencies man came out all guns blazing and left nothing in the locker in this sixteen minutes of magic. The songs contained within this record, being light and cheerful at the same time, leave dark subliminal messages, exemplified by the moving vocal opening in Hard Times. In contrast to the rest of the record is the sublime yet subtle funk heard in Them Changes – possibly one of the best beats that has been produced in a long while, and probably the best three and a half minutes of music released this year.
Justin Bieber – Purpose
It is with a bitter taste in my mouth that I begrudgingly include Bieber’s latest offering on this list. However, the thoughts of many have echoed loud in my ears “If Bieber keeps dropping bangers, I’m going to start liking him”. No one likes to admit it, but they secretly love What do you mean? and Sorry. 2015 has been the year where Bieber has come into his own. No longer is he the pop-brat once adored by pre-teen girls alone. He has proved he has what it takes to dominate the charts, the dancefloors and well…music once more (albeit with a little help from Diplo & Skrillex). Bieber’s sound has shifted from his traditional whiny pop sound and taken inspiration from both R&B and electro. Without a doubt, this album has saved Bieber’s career and much of this is owed to his producers.
Slaves – Are You Satisfied?
This angry punk-rock duo is electrifying live. Frontman Isaac Holman drums standing up and tells stories between songs, while Laurie Vincent alternates between nonchalantly strumming and crowd surfing. On record, Slaves are just as exciting. ‘Are You Satisfied?’ is Slaves’ official debut album, but they’ve been around since their self-released EP ‘Sugar Coated Bitter Truth’ in 2012. Since then, the well-deserved hype surrounding Slaves has grown. The opening track The Hunter sets the tone with the accusatory lyrics ‘You don’t like what we do/ Because we say what we are thinking/ And that shocks and frightens you’. The catchy Sockets is similarly ruthless. And just when you thought Slaves wanted to kick you in the face with their Doc Martens, title track Are You Satisfied? surprises everyone with its gentle acoustics and murmuring backing vocals. On this album, Holman sounds like a cross between Joe Strummer and Jamie T, and it works brilliantly.
Swim Deep – Mothers
‘Mothers’ is an effortless psych-pop classic, and insanely likeable. Birmingham band Swim Deep have pushed the boundaries of their indie-pop debut in 2013, ‘Where The Heaven Are We’, and broken out into the realms of acid house and galactic dreams. Tracks like the other-worldly dream sequence of Is There Anybody Out There and the poppy, upbeat brilliance of Namaste firmly place this album as one of the best of the year. Perhaps the most impressive track is the understated, almost acoustic Green Conduit – a summery, atmospheric joy, which surreally questions: ‘Why the f**k have we got thumbs?…When does gold turn silver?’ It is also worth mentioning Everything is Possible, which is dreamily life-affirming. This fun album transports you to a world where life is sun-bleached, and dreams and reality collide – perfect for struggling through Durham weather and the summative season.
Drenge – Undertow
The Castleton-based brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless have gone from strength to strength since their debut album ‘Drenge’ in 2013, returning this year with a fuller sound, thanks to the introduction of bassist Rob Graham. Impressively orchestrated with crunching guitar and violent drums, ‘Undertow’ has an urban feel but its lyrics remain faithful to the band’s Peak District origins, with local references and even a dead sheep. From the ballsy Running Wild to the brilliantly unapologetic We Can Do What We Want, the atmosphere throughout is one of thinly-veiled frustration and fear. Meanwhile, Standing in the Cold is unexpectedly softer, with heart-breaking lyrics such as “and I saw your eyes/ and they said it all” slicing through the darker tone of the rest of the record. ‘Undertow’ is anything but polished, and far from commercial. Rather, it is a ferociously authentic, deadpan commentary on disillusionment, defiance, and the boredom of living in rural towns.
Little Comets – Hope Is Just A State Of Mind
Little Comets stand as the band I’ve seen live most often; a trio of socially conscious Geordies who, very rarely for a band nowadays, manage to sound completely unique. Their third album, ‘Hope is Just a State of Mind’ (cheerful title) came out in February, and I got a copy with a lovely hand-written message on it (thanks guys!). It’s full of gorgeously layered vocal harmonies and oodles of guitar texture. Comets have two kinds of song. They have upbeat, jangly songs, which they nailed from day one. Their second type of song are those that take issues (I mean BIG issues, like rape and domestic abuse) and try to package them in a hard-hitting, but musically good, way. At this point, they’ve now managed to perfect those. I defy anybody not to shiver when they listen to Salt or The Blur, the Line and the Thickest of Onions. It’s not always easy to sum up Little Comets in words, so I only urge you to listen to this album.
Spector – Moth Boys
There’s been a long gap between Spector’s first and second albums. The second, ‘Moth Boys’, came out in August, and sounds a bit like Joy Division and The Killers have had a clandestine baby. A point to measure good lyrics, is that they are able to say something that you have felt, but better than you are able to sum up yourself. The first two magnificent tracks are All the Sad Young Men, a club track that gives up the pretence that everybody is fine, and Stay High, an intensely acerbic anti-love song that looks at millennial relationships through thoroughly jaded eyes. The rest of the album wanders morosely through a series of regretful relationships and one-night stands framed with singer Fred Macpherson’s heavy baritone.
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
Despite the album’s tongue in cheek title and the misconception that she is a “slacker rock songstress”, Courtney Barnett’s second album is a far more livelier affair than the genre she is associated with. The combination of scuzzy electric guitars, thumping drums, and Barnett’s deadpan delivery of wryly amusing lyrics produces vibrant, enjoyable songs which are perfect for the summer. The distorted screams of electric guitar which accompany the majority of the catalogue reveal elements of grunge in Barnett’s sound, as reflected in Pedestrian at Best and Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party. However, songs such as Depreston and Boxing Day Blues turn down the volume and provide softer contributions as an intriguing contrast to the more frenetic tracks on the LP. All in all, this album is great fun and a refreshing slice of garage pop for the summer.
Palma Violets – Danger in the Club
Rowdy, bouncy, and delightfully reckless, ‘Danger in the Club’ is exactly what Palma Violets’ devoted followers were desperate to hear in their sophomore album. While they have matured in some ways since their debut, it’s hard to disagree with the opinion of Sam Fryers, the lead: “No producer in the world could make us sound professional”. You wouldn’t wish that upon this bubbly group of mid-twenty year olds. The loud passion of songs including Hollywood (I got it) and Gout! Gang! Go! matches brilliantly with the chilled, Libertines-esque vibes of The Jacket Song as well as Matador – the perfect song for a mosh pit full of insomniacs. All in all, ‘Danger in the Club’ is exactly what a Palmas gig is all about: full of anthems an animation, it needs to be loud. They’ve left all their fans buzzing to hear more content (hopefully) in the near future.