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Seren’s Top 15 Albums of 2015

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15. Hudson Mohawke – Lantern

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This latest instalment from Glaswegian producer Hudson Mohawke has had unanimously mixed reviews. It’s no surprise. With fourteen tracks and a handful of features, you’re never going to win over everyone… although it did win over me.

I’ve heard an assortment of electronic albums this year, and Lanterns, for me, is immeasurably bracing, probably because a sizeable portion of these tracks feature that orchestral synth that was in the DJ’s 2014 single, Chimes, which sports more of a club-banger quality. However, in Lanterns, it’s all different. Hudson seamlessly weaves these almost cavernous harmonies all the way through tracks like Scud Books and Kettles.

Lanterns can be intrusive at times, some might say overly so, but there’s also some very indulgent moments to be had here. Deepspace is perhaps the best example. It features Miguel, however, I can’t help but feel it would have charted higher if someone like Nick Jonas sang on it.

14. LA Priest – Inji

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LA Priest’s debut Inji is just straight forward synth-pop bliss.

Considering LA Priest, A.K.A Samuel Eastgate, has spent the last 5 years in some form of solitary musical hiding, this album is frighteningly good.

We’ve had an array of love-themed albums this year. This is another one (and don’t worry, there’s a few more in this list). You can get them remarkably right or intolerably wrong. It’s safe to assume that Eastgate has very much nailed it.

Inji is brimming with eccentricities. My favourite point in this album is about 3 minutes into Party Zute / Learning To Love, where a peculiar sample of Eastgate’s voice floats over the top of a funky disco beat, slightly paying homage to Daft Punk’s groovy Homework era. At least I think it’s his voice. It does also sound like a range of poorly edited dog barks.

If you want a solemn love track from Inji, then Lady’s In Trouble With The Law is your one. LA Priest lyrically captures the mentality of a love-bereft lone wolf in what is a whimsical explosion of synth.

 

13. Shunkan – The Pink Noise

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I’m upset at how under the radar this LP has gone. Shunkan brings fuzz to the fore in what is hands down one of the best debuts of the year.

I reviewed this album late last year, and, if anything, my opinion of it is stronger than before.

Not only is The Pink Noise a hazy rock masterpiece, it ages like a fine wine. Tracks like Blue just keep unravelling with every listen. I can’t help but be absorbed by the sombre wave of deep, bassy tones underneath Shunkan’s harrowing vocals.

This album has a lot of compromise musically, and I mean that in a good way. Where there’s madness, there’s composure. Where there’s manic noise, there’s profound subtlety. It gives this project an overriding sense of balance.

Even the name ‘The Pink Noise’ suits Shunkan’s sound down to the ground; ferocious but feminine.

 

12. Rae Morris – Unguarded

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Despite receiving some reasonably favourable reviews, English singer-songwriter Rae Morris’ album Unguarded hasn’t appeared in many end of year lists for 2015, so it’s going in mine.

It’s textbook pop, but it’s got a melancholic edge. It’s uncanny how much Love Again has the blueprint for an archetypal ‘summer dance hit’. For me, it’s what makes it such an enchanting track. Those reverb lavished keys maintain the gloomy atmosphere that the rest of the album delivers.

Don’t take your dancing shoes off just yet. After all, it charted at 9 in the UK Albums chart for a reason. Under The Shadows will definitely get you moving, the constant beat layered behind the instrumental won’t let you stop.

This is merely a dazzling projection of things to come from Morris. She’s managed to produce a middle-of-the-road album that still cherishes a heartfelt integrity.

 

11. Georgia – Georgia

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Electro-pop. Art pop. Even grime-pop. Georgia’s 2015 self-titled album has been touted as a project with numerous genre crossovers. Above all though, it resonates with the screams of urban youth. You can hear Georgia’s South London roots spread right through the skeleton of this LP.

What’s even more impressive about this record is that it’s all down to one person: Georgia herself. No mean feat, even if your dad is Neil Barnes of Leftfield.

As a talented percussionist who’s drummed for acts such as Kate Tempest, it’s not surprising to see such a refined palate for beats on this album, beats that you could only describe as ‘industrial’. If it wasn’t common knowledge that she recorded all these tracks in her bedroom, I’d probably have assumed she went to a metal scrapheap with a pair of drumsticks.

I’ll be honest, it was a lot to digest. Upon first listen, it was pure, raging chaos. But I promise that underneath its boisterous exterior is some real beauty. Don’t believe me? Listen to Heart Wrecking Animals, one of the more tender moments on this album, especially lyrically.

 

10. Torres – Sprinter

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I feel guilty enjoying Sprinter sometimes, despite the fact that this album showcases some very innovative song-writing and gripping production. It’s really about Torres’ voice, her tone, her lyrics, and her pain.

Sprinter does contain some flurries of aggression, however, there always seems to be a lingering undercurrent of angst. As much as you try to detach yourself from the wounded aura of Torres’ lyricism, you’re always brought spiralling back by the patches of tense silence peppered throughout the album.

Ferris Wheel is true testament to this. At various points, I’m expecting heavy guitars to wrench behind the ambient synth and take the song in an alternative direction. But they don’t, and it’s saddening how accurately that represents the theme of this album. An album of isolation, of loss, of dismay.

 

9. Grimes – Art Angels

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I needed some time to chew this album over. Any Grimes fans will know that Art Angels is a monumental step away from the ethereal vibes of Visions or Halifaxa. Three months and one fairly approving review later, I concede. This LP should now be the benchmark for pop music.

Rarely do I admit I’m wrong, usually because I rarely am… That’s a lie. It’s mainly because I don’t want to admit it, but I’ll hold my hands up. Grimes proved me wrong with Art Angels. It’s downright sublime.

It was pleasant to see some integral elements of Grimes remain untouched, the opening track, laughing and not being normal, plunges Claire Boucher’s reverb-soaked vocals directly to the forefront.

Art Angels is still very much as conceptual as previous work. It’s just been engineered accessibly. Thus, presenting the majesty of this album, anybody should be able to enjoy it, despite not being an atypical ‘sell-out’ record.

 

8. Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful

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Ginger bearded former chef and now rapper Action Bronson is cocky, brash, and borderline offensive. Does he care? Of course not. He’s got his tracksuit on, mic in one hand and blunt in the other. It’s undeniable that Bronson is simply Mr. Wonderful.

Firstly, it has to be said, that rarely does a major label debut retain the same tenacity of the mixtapes that precede it. Not everyone shares that opinion, but I honestly believe Bronson brings it home here.

He’s been given increased resources in the form of veteran producer Mark Ronson, and that’s undoubtedly facilitated the construction of what feels like an authentic Action Bronson sound but with added glamour.

The instrumentals on A Light in The Addict are utterly sumptuous, and, coupled with Bronson’s crude witticisms, it really is an absolutely beautiful juxtaposition.

You’ve only got to get 30 seconds into first track, Brand New Car, to hear the lyrical hilarity: “Yo f**k this jacket/I turn this s**t to 85 napkins!”

 

7. Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too

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In these times of uncertainty, 2015 needed a care-free, animalistic dance-a-thon. Young Fathers continue to re-invent themselves in a political and bold abstract hip-hop frenzy. Introducing White Men Are Black Men Too.

Young Fathers are the closest thing to a modern day soul revival you’ll hear. Maybe not sonically but fundamentally, this album is what soul was trying to say on slightly more mellow terms. Nevertheless, if you really want a soul-esque track from this LP, then Nest is your best bet.

There’s a couple of earnest political messages amongst these tracks. In fact, the Scottish trio decided to dedicate their single, Shame (On You), to the current prime minister at their Bestival set last September.

Regardless of the underlying ideas in this album, the instrumentation is what makes White Men Are Black Men Too a delight. The way Young Fathers transpose pop and hip-pop with distorted gospel and rampant percussion summon your body to move.

 

6. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

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I Love You, Honeybear is an indie-folk record that’s sneeringly hilarious and an austere, cynical two fingers to love. It’s lamenting, ironic, hopeful, and, most importantly, weathered by trivial First World relationships and their meaningless drivel.

If you want a ballad, this isn’t the right place. Father John Misty, otherwise known as J. Tillman, shoots down any imaginable promise and puts de-humanized sarcasm in its place: “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity.”

If you’re not fan of puns, comedy, the odd innuendo, and general brusqueness; this album isn’t just about the anecdotes.

Tilman’s knack of constructing a staggering melody is as evident as ever. Indie-folk is such a broad term for I Love You, Honeybear. I prefer ‘folk-opera’. Immediately into the opening track – which is also the title track – you’re slapped round the face with bursts of rich keys, bellowing brass, and extravagant violin. Forget the lyrical elements if you really must, this album is a stunning listen regardless.

 

5. Ghost Culture – Ghost Culture

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It’s not really house. It’s not really EDM. To be honest, it’s not really anything. Ghost Culture is an incredible yet eerie electronic album that I imagine Andy Murray would dance to, as it’s lively if not a tiny bit glum. Sorry Andy!

The ten tracks on this album transform into a homogenised vortex of sound, mainly down to the consistent production style from James Greenwood. It’s an approach that can be risky. You can risk the album sounding like one 44-minute song. However, I’d say Ghost Culture pulls it off. Each track is comprised of a pool of these little delicacies, whether it be a bit of ambience or an elusive synth in the background. It retains a certain measure of distinctiveness and turns this LP into an experience.

The standout moment has got to be Glaciers. I beg you to listen to it. Wispy synths and murmuring vocals are drowned by an overriding sinister atmosphere. It’s a disconcerting but charming lullaby.

 

4. Tame Impala – Currents

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Before Currents, I was only a spontaneous Tame Impala listener. Currents was an album that split loyal followers down the middle and made the impassive masses sit up and take notice.

Kevin Parker and company depart from that trademark psychedelic-rock sound that’s been a winning formula for the past five years and supress it with a bizarre neo-soul psych-pop fusion.

Currents is an album completely occupied by contagious melodies, and not just one per song; Eventually, for example, has various diversions that fragment the track into a sequence of phrases, almost like a handful of songs within one.

The arrangements are flawless, the song writing is accomplished, and the amalgamation of wavy R&B synths and rhythmic psych riffs is impeccable. Parker has evolved to become one of the most sophisticated producers of 2015. He’s so good, that we nearly didn’t notice.

 

3. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love

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No! Not another love album! We don’t want another one!

If you want the theme of love but want it ensconced in glitter, wrapped in a rainbow, and beaten with a bass guitar, stay here.

The stark contrast between Multi-Love and Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s previous two albums is astounding. Multi-Love is so lavish in comparison that the soundscape of every individual component seems to have expanded tenfold. Necessary Evil probably highlights this instrumental makeover the most. For a song with so few fundamental layers, the final sound is unwarrantedly comprehensive.

If you want one reason to go and listen to this album, then I’d say, it’s just a fun album.

There’s so many pleasures to be found in Multi-Love. From the outlandish guitar work to the zany lyrics: “You and I are meant to burn/Like white people in the sun (Ooh ooh)” is a particular line that had me chuckling halfway through Like Acid Rain.

And let’s not forget the drums. Some of the beats on Multi-Love sound as irregular as putting your ear to a bowl of Rice Krispies.

 

2. Clarence Clarity – NO NOW

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Drafted from a parallel reality, NO NOW is a glitch-riddled enigma, and, beneath its interlinking folds of art pop distortion, lays an assembly of 2015’s catchiest hooks.

NO NOW really does crave your attention, because it can be an incessant parasite that cripples your senses. Give it a listen, give it one more, and then another one. Each time, you’ll pull back a veil or open a door inside Clarence Clarity’s musical limbo. After that, what you’ll actually find beneath the debris of warped noise are a plethora of wonderfully crafted and genuinely innovative pop songs. ‘Diamond in the rough’: it’s a cliché term, but the shoe definitely fits.

Clarity has recorded twenty tracks that all feel so radically different yet so blatantly connected. There’s a transparent through line streaming through the veins of this album, and it’s enchantingly cryptic. Time and time again, snippets of the same sounds are dropped in repeatedly during mid-track, possibly trying to echo the relentlessness of life.

Cancer in The Water is without doubt the track of the album. Consisting of a single verse that, according to interviews, reveals Clarity’s desire to avenge the injustice of loss, it recites the same words across three minutes of emphatic synth: “Before you got out/I’ll put cancer in the water/Before you got out/You put cancer in me.”

 

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

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To Pimp A Butterfly is a landmark for modern hip-hop. It exploits the graves of instrumentation, lyrical themes, and cultural perceptions that have been absent in music for too long. But Kendrick hasn’t imitated history. He’s made it.

Technically it’s an album of music, but make no mistake, To Pimp A Butterfly is a far-reaching piece of art, carrying with it multiple dimensions that each embrace limitless interpretations. It’s an auditory feature film, littered with characters, narratives, monologues, and a unique aesthetic to match.

Consume this album how you wish. On one hand, it’s a compassionate journey into Kendrick’s introspective state on which you view the world’s inequality through his eyes. On the other, it’s an album with sixteen simply great songs. You can’t lose.

Tracks like For Free? (Interlude) may seem obscene at first. I understand why the phrase “This D**k Ain’t Free” could be quite off-putting. However, away from its literal meaning is a cunning metaphor for oppression in America. These kind of playful motifs keep cropping up across the album.

Instrumentally, To Pimp A Butterfly is a huge nod to jazz pioneers such as Miles Davis. There’s most likely some horns in every track, but don’t quote me on that. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome change in hip-hop, a change that years from now will be cited as essential listening.

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Finnian Shardlow

Music Editor 2015-17

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