Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Remy's Top 10 International Albums, 2015

Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper Vinyl 2015

It's been a bit of an unusual year for me with regard to listening to albums from 'established' artists, mostly due to the big jump of reviews on the blog which went from 131 in 2014 to almost 300 this year at time of writing. In a nutshell more time was spent listening to independent and unsigned music than me leisurely seeking out new releases each month, a good position for me to be in to be perfectly honest.

Although I didn't do a similar list last year, which is odd because I think 2014 was a better year for stand-out albums compared to this year, there was enough to comfortably make a Top 10. As always, I'm not saying these are definitively the best albums of 2015, nobody can compile such a list, but the 10 albums that had an impact on me the most, for a variety of reasons. Some will be more than familiar and hopefully some will be a brand new discovery for you, the more of the latter the better, they're in order of release date to save me the procrastination of slotting ten albums from favourite to least! I hope each of them or more click with people, and I'd love to read your recommendations in the comments below so I can find some whopper tunage for myself!

1) Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper (January, 13th)

Panda Bear - Mr Noah

Key tracks: Mr Noah, Crosswords, Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker, Boys Latin

Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper was a bit of a lucky find for me, as a fan of (without being crazy about them) Animal Collective, I was looking through the first releases of the year and decided to check out what was surprisingly Noah Lennox's seventh solo album under the moniker of Panda Bear. It turned out to be a juicy find, from the opening track 'Sequential Circuits' you travel on one of the most psychedelic and dizzying trips of the year. Whilst the album does wane slightly towards the end in terms of maintaining your interest, the first two thirds alone are worth taking the time to get to know. This would be in the Top 5 if this list were shorter!

Panda Bear Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

2) Gaz Coombes - Matador (January 26th)

Gaz Coombes - 20 /20

Key Tracks: Buffalo, 20/20, The English Ruse, To The Wire

It's been a mixed bag over the past few years with former Britpop frontmen such as Noel Gallagher, Damon Albarn and now Supergrass' Gaz Coombes dipping their toes in the solo pool. As a huge fan of the Oxford bands In It For The Money album (still listened to regularly) I was curious about what Coombes might come up with. Before Matador was fully released he shared 'Buffalo' and '20/20' on SoundCloud, both more than enough to whet my appetite and would still be my favourite two tracks on the album today. The thing I liked most about this album was that it compartmentalised only the smallest ounce of the Supergrass sound in places, enough for you to enjoy it without concluding that this was just a stripped down version of the band. What we have here is an album that's simultaneously instantly appealing and a bit of a grower, and also shows that the creative well has far from dried up for Coombes.

Gaz Coombes Matador

Gaz endorses

3) Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear (February 10th)

Father John Misty - The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment

Key tracks: I ended up typing the first five here so, just all of them, seriously 

It was a gradual but sure conclusion for me that Father John Misty's I Love You, Honeybear became my favourite album of 2015. I still remember first hearing the album, I was in work on a Saturday and after completing pleasantries with my co-workers I popped on my headphones and put on Honeybear, I'd heard a lot about it and now was as good a time as any to see what the fuss was. It was an instant 'woah' reaction, from start to finish, I listened to the whole album, and then again on my way home, I was in love! It's always a huge bonus to find an album on which every track is just as enjoyable as the last, all filler, and this is what you get here. A witty, satirical, acerbic and humorous series of character assassinations from Fleet Foxes' J.Tillman with lyrics that leave you in wonder at times, there's also some kind of weird Jim Morrison thing going on, and it's more the shades than the beard I think...if you only listen to one album on this list, this is it. (and is that Glen Hansard on the cover??)

4) Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly (March 15th)

Kendrick Lamar - These Walls

Key tracks: King Kunta, These Walls, Complexion, i

A lot of people (understandably) lost interest in hip-hop during the previous decade, as MTV become flooded with videos of ho's, dolla's and pimped rides the genre, in the popular sense, became banal and without a message, we ran for our NWA and Public Enemy albums for comfort. Thankfully the tide has turned in the right direction again with people like Kendrick Lamar and Killer Mike leading the way. Hip-hop has depth again and some political and social bite. Whilst Lamar's excellent debut Section.80 dealt with these themes in a hard-hitting way, To Pimp A Butterfly sees him focus more on embracing different types of music like soul, funk, and disco with a less serious veneer. This is his third excellent album in a row and will be many people's No.1 for 2015.

Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Butterfly

5) Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell (March 31st)

Sufjan Stevens - Fourth of July

Key tracks: Death With Dignity, Should Have Known Better, All of Me Wants All of You, Fourth of July

Right up there with Father John Misty for album of the year alongside one more which I'll get to below. Sufjan Stevens has always been an ambitious musician, at one point early in his career he announced he was going to record an album in each of the 50 U.S. States, he managed two, Ohio and Illinois, the second of which many will regard as his best album to date. I liked Sufjan Stevens' sound without ever becoming overly interested in his albums, until I heard Carrie & Lowell. This album destroyed me like a meat pounder on the heart. My first listen or two were without knowledge of the background, but I still found the lyrics and music heart-breakingly sad and beautiful. 

The delivery of the line; 'Did you get enough love, my little dove, why do you cry, and I'm sorry I left, but it was for the best, though it never felt right, my little Versailles' on 'Fourth of July' (above) is a kicker as Stevens makes his way through conversations with various winged creatures who presumably represent different people who have passed away in his life. The album is based on the death of his mother Carrie who died in 2012, his childhood trips to Oregon, his step-father Lowell, and the memories of all three subjects combined together, overwhelmingly personal, it's certain to be regarded as one of the finest pieces of song-writing of this decade.  

Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell

6) Young Fathers - White Men Are Black Men Too (April 6th)

Young Fathers - Rain or Shine

Key tracks: Shame, Feasting, Rain or Shine, Liberated, John Doe

All of the fuss that surrounded Glasgow act Young Fathers' 2011 debut album Tape One seems to have been justified completely with their fourth album in as many years, White Men Are Black Men Too. When I first heard 'Deadline' from Tape One I hadn't really heard that type of sound before, a mix of indie, experimental hip-hop and electronica. From that point onwards Young Fathers just kept churning out great singles across all of their subsequent albums, making music that everyone could like but with far out twists, an example of which would be the occasional bubblegum pop vocals (see 'Dare Me') that should really not work at all, but do, because everything is chaotic anyway, so why not! WMABMT has all the ingredients you'd want, lots of standout and instantly pleasurable tracks, their trademark industrial sound, and head-scratching intrigue to keep you occupied for numerous, repeated listens.

Young Fathers White Men Are Black Men Too

7) Thee Oh Sees - Mutilator Defeated at Last (May 18th)

Key tracks: Web, Withered Hand, Turned Out Light, Sticky Hulks

Yikes, where did this come from? Well seeing as Mutilator Defeated at Last is San Francisco band Thee Oh Sees 12th album, it's really a case of I'm Johnny Come Lately with these guys and have a lot of catching up to do, but not before I've played this album to death, which is inevitable. This was the rare yet wonderful case of bang, there's a 30 minute album you'll love, courtesy of some website's Albums of the Year so far list a while back that I can't remember. Anyway, Thee Oh Sees basically take your psych and punk rock from the likes of King Crimson, Alice Cooper, The Cult & Joy Division, put it into a new age sonic filter and these are the results. Mutilator is a gloriously chaotic and frenetic starburst that works perfectly on every single track, there's no skipping to the next song on this one.

Thee Oh Sees Mutilator Defeated at Last

8) Tame Impala - Currents (July 17th)

Tame Impala - Let It Happen

Key tracks: Let It Happen, The Moment, Yes I'm Changing, The Less I Know The Better, Cause I'm A Man

At first I played 'Let It Happen' on loop for over a month (the album version on the below Spotify playlist is a must), is was that long before I was able to move on to the rest of Tame Impala's Currents. Then there were many more instantly likeable tracks, 'The Moment', (all of the above really), and the simple yet pointed chorus of 'Cause I'm A Man' which uses the songs title and merely adds, 'woman', to the end of the sentence. Currents is undoubtedly the most generous alternative pop album I've heard in years, it's like a drug for any one who just wants unadulterated candy bliss passing through their ears. 

Main man Kevin Parker incorporates funk, disco, soul, and lashings of psych sounds whilst using intricate experimentation on many of the albums tracks. Kind of what I'd imagine a 20-year-old Prince to release if he were starting out in 2015 with all of the modern tools available to him. It's also ridiculously tripped out and conversely just what you need to get give yourself a dart of energy, or just chill out ('Yes, I'm Changing'). Unsurprisingly it made the Number 4 spot in the Billboard charts upon release, Tame Impala's first time in the Top 10, and also went to number one in the Vinyl Albums chart with 33% (14,000) of the albums copies being sold in the format in its first 2 weeks.

Tame Impala Currents

9) Astronauts etc., - Mind Out Wandering (September 18th)

Astronauts, etc. - Shake It Loose

Key tracks: If I Run, No Justice, I Know, Eye to Eye, Shake It Loose, Control

This year Toro Y Moi keyboardist Anthony Ferraro embarked on a new solo project called Astronauts, etc., releasing a slew of singles in the lead up to his debut album release, Mind Out Wandering. I had the pleasure of reviewing each of the singles here before finally, and a long wait it seemed due to impatience, the album itself in October. I was both surprised and not surprised when I listened to the album in its entirety, to see that the quality of the four previously released singles was replicated with ease across the remainder of the albums 10 tracks. Ferraro's voice is soothing yet desperately sad ('Control') and pained, the music melds a raw stripped-down musical and vocal experience with uplifting and mellow electronica ('See You'). There are tracks here that you will enjoy at first listen, but it doesn't take long before the album works from start to finish seamlessly for the listener and just clicks.

Mind Out Wandering Astronauts, etc.

10)  Bill-Ryder Jones - West Kirby County Primary (November 6th)

Bill Ryder-Jones - Two To Birkenhead

Key tracks: Two To Birkenhead, Let's Get Away From Here, You Can't Hide A Light In The Dark, Satellites

A late-runner and a bit of a wildcard comes from former The Choral guitarist, Bill-Ryder Jones on his fourth studio album (outside his two soundtracks), West Kirby County Primary. The Liverpudlian adopts influences from Pavement, The Strokes, Pixies to name a few across the album. It appealed to my inner nostalgia with regard to a fixed late 90-s early-00's period, when I was knee-deep in indie rock, but it's not just the comfort of looking back with rose-tinted glasses, it's seeing a musician from the era embracing music that preceded the time and acknowledging where they are from without just rebooting the song-writing process. I've always been puzzled by the lack of music to break through certain barriers from a city like Liverpool given it's glorious past, but Bill Ryder-Jones gives us a promising helping on West Kirby County Primary which helps question that idea somewhat. I'm still at early doors with this recording due to it's recent release but can certainly see myself reaching for it when a certain mood overcomes me.

Bill-Ryder Jones West Kirby County Primary

Honourable mentions in case you found nothing above!

11) The Dead Weather - Dodge and Burn (September, 2015)

Info: It was make or break for my personal like of Jack White's music after the huge disappointment of last years solo album, Lazaretto, there's enough here to bring me back, but essentially it's a very good re-hashing of old sounds, thoroughly enjoyable in a comb in the mirror kind of way, but nothing new.

12) Kamasi Washington - The Epic (May, 2015)

Kamasi Washington - Change of the Guard

Info: So close to making my Top 10, Kamasi Washington's The Epic is a lovely modern take on classical jazz that really wouldn't be amiss if it was residing in the 1970's. Out of these 'honourable mentions' this album is definitely the most highly recommended. While a lot of people would consider jazz a slightly inaccessible genre, this is a great starting point for anyone with an interest.

13) Ghost Culture - Ghost Culture (January, 2015)

Ghost Culture - Arms

Info: While I wouldn't say I was close to including London act Ghost Culture's self-titled debut, I did consider it. There are a lot of good tracks on this album, 'Mouth', 'Giudecca', 'Arms' (above), and 'Answer', there just wasn't enough to retain long-term interest, if it was an EP I would be more than excited about the imagine forthcoming album. Still, some of the tracks are pure quality.

14) Younghusband - Dissolver (October, 2015)

Younghusband - Waverley Street

Info: London band Younghusband unashamedly adopt 1970's American & UK sounds on their sophomore album, Dissolver. There's a strong hint of The Beatles, especially on second track 'Heavy Expectations', partly the reason I enjoyed this album so much, it's an admirable homage to a certain feeling you'd associate with the era, and every track brings you to the right place with no distractions. Have a listen to 'Blonde Blending' and 'Orange Flare'.

The reward for getting this far is a Spotify playlist, initially of the featured tracks (apart from Thee Oh See whose latest album isn't up yet), and after those, all of the recommended key tracks in one handy...spot....enjoy!