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Top Ten Albums Of The Year

  • Written by  Steve Warnham


A couple more hairs have turned grey narrowing this down, but here are my top 10 albums of the year. Give them a listen, if you haven’t already.

10. EL VYReturn To The Moon

Pronounced like the plural of Elvis, El Vy is a side project for The National’s Matt Berninger and Ramona FallsBrent Knopf. The result of a long friendship, and years of music being sent to-and-fro, Return To The Moon certainly sounds like a side-project in the fluctuation of styles. That being said, Knopf’s production and varied instrumentals give a surprisingly different slant to the scornful wit of Berninger, which the album packs in abundance. Return To The Moon doesn’t scratch the surface of The National’s back catalogue, but few records do. What it does do, is deliver some great tunes.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Return To the Moon’, ‘I’m The Man To Be’, ‘Need A Friend’

 9. WaxahatcheeIvy Tripp

In early 2015 Waxahatchee, A.K.A the effortlessly cool Katie Crutchfield, released her third solo record, Ivy Tripp.

The intimacy of her earlier releases is still there, but the whole package is much bigger. Her backing band continues to grow from 2013’s Cerulean Salt and Crutchfield’s southern voice, sounding as rough as it does soft, only continues to improve. Sure, the angst is still there, but this is a songwriter confident that she is mastering her craft.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Under A Rock’, ‘La Loose’, ‘Air’

8. OughtSun Coming Down

Montreal’s Ought released Sun Coming Down in September 2015. The album has a DIY college-party feel to it, but the mechanical tones of vocalist Tim Darcy give the sound mesmerising gravitas. He sounds like an old wireless news presenter at the end of his tether as he rants over the band’s hostile tunes.

Reading like a shopping list, the standout track is ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’, in which Darcy expertly tackles the tedium of small-talk. He builds into a frenzy repeating, “How’s the family? How’s your health been? Fancy seeing you here! Beautiful weather today, beautiful weather today, beautiful weather today!”

He concludes over a simple drum beat, “I’m no longer afraid to die, because that is all I have left. YES.” Based on this record though, it’s safe to assume he has much more left to come.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Beautiful Blue Sky’, ‘Men For Miles’, ‘Passionate Turn’

 7. The DistrictsA Flourish And A Spoil

Indie-Americana outfit The Districts released A Flourish And A Spoil in early 2015. Tinged with blues and the scrappiness of youth, the album is a superb follow up to 2013’s self-released Telephone. Opening track ‘4th And Roebling’ is a remarkably catchy song, achieving that oft-sought after haven of being both a sing-along and utterly chaotic. The rest of the album has ramshackle highs and a couple of uncertain lows. Given their teenage years, the potential is there, and The Districts are certainly a band to watch.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘4th And Roebling’, ‘Peaches’, ‘Suburban Smell’

6. Unknown Mortal OrchestraMulti-Love

Almost certainly the year’s funkiest release, psych-experimentalists Unknown Mortal Orchestra released Multi-Love. The album explores Ruban Neilson’s polyamorous relationship and as fans of the Kiwi have come to expect, it remains absolutely gripping throughout. The guitars are soulful and groovy, though often fully absorbed by the highly polished synths; but flashes of drum and trumpet solos – played by Neilson’s brother and father respectively – adds another dimension.

Many, many more people will be growing to love Ruban Neilson, following these catchy hooks.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Multi-Love’, ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’, ‘The World Is Crowded’

 5. Kurt VileB’lieve I’m Goin' Down

Released in September, B’lieve I’m Goin' Down is Kurt Vile’s most articulate album to date. Though it’s styled with the same endearingly hazy Americana, the record has a softer touch and a greater depth to previous releases. Spearheaded by the massively catchy ‘Pretty Pimpin‘ and closing with the tender ‘Wild Imagination’, the record is a magnificent collection of songs.  It’s less psychedelic than Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze, and with introspective lyrics backed by a picked-upon acoustic guitar; the record has a much more melancholic finish. Proving himself to be a prolific songwriter, you can expect to see Vile on next year’s list too.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Pretty Pimpin’, ‘Wild Imagination’, ‘That’s life, Tho (Almost Hate To Say)’

4. Leon BridgesComing Home 

Grammy nominated Leon Bridges released his debut album in June 2015. A soul artist in the vein of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, the record is wonderfully nostalgic and packed with stunning Sunday afternoon soul.

For fans of classic R&B, the record is bursting with gospel singers, horn arrangements, organs and even a few doo-wops. Though it’s worth saying that it doesn’t feel as though it is ‘cashing in’ on a retro-revival, but instead it’s delivered by an artist with such class and charm, as to feel like it’s literally lifted out of the 1960s.

Where Bridges goes from here will be interesting, as he could very well be a successor to Amy Winehouse in bringing the golden age to modern audiences.

The gospel-infused final track, ‘River’ is one of the most rousing songs you’ll hear this year, and is a must listen for anyone with a bit of soul in them.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘River’, ‘Coming Home’, ‘Better Man’

 3. Courtney BarnettSometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit

Conversational and deadpan, Courtney Barnett consistently brings the mundane to life. Her storytelling covers the morning commute, swimming and even offhand remarks about playing the noughties classic, Sim City. Delivered in a soft Australian accent over edgy garage rock, Sometimes I sit… is one of the year’s most rewarding records to listen to.

‘Depreston’, a song about rising house prices and the tedium of viewing property in the suburbs, is a real contender for song of the year. This in itself is a credit to Barnett. She delivers it with such wit and imagery that it’s bizarrely stirring. You can imagine her smirk as she sings, “it's got a lovely garden, a garage for two cars to park in…Or a lot of room for storage if you've just got one.”

You’d be remiss to label this as slacker rock, with the attention of a hawk the morbidly funny Barnett systematically deconstructs, and reconstructs everyday life and makes damn catchy songs in the process.

The album is her first full release, after previous EPs caught attention outside of her native Australia. She soon became Pitchfork’s lord and saviour, but with this attention and pressure she has delivered another haul of gems. In ‘Pedestrian At Best’, she barks, “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you” we have, but she really hasn’t.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Depreston’, ‘Elevator Operator’, ‘Pedestrian At Best’

2. Sufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell

By far, this year’s most intense listen. Sufjan Stevens’ latest release leaves brass and the vigour of earlier releases behind. Carrie & Lowell was written following the death of his mother, and it’s appropriately bleak.

His mother abandoned him when he was only 3 or 4 years old (“She left us at that video store”, he sings), and this collection of songs is Stevens’ parting letter to her. Be warned, it’s heavy.

It’s very raw to listen to, as if you’re listening to something you shouldn’t be. But the excellence of Stevens’ songwriting puts any uneasiness aside with a truly absorbing album.

Delicate and powerful, Carrie & Lowell is a sensational record - just not one for a dinner party.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Should Have Known Better’, ‘The Fourth Of July’, ‘Death With Dignity’

 1. Father John MistyI Love You, Honeybear

In 2012 former Fleet-Foxes drummer Josh Tillman was reborn as idiosyncratic troubadour Father John Misty and his second release I Love You, Honeybear is in Tillman’s own words, “a concept album about a guy named Josh Tillman.”

As the misleadingly saccharine title would lead you to believe, this is a love album – but not like any you’ve heard before. Written following Tillman’s marriage, every single line uttered is irreverent, but dumbfoundingly poignant. He is the one to share those things you don’t hear in love songs. “I haven’t hated all the same things as somebody else since I can remember. What are you doing with your whole life? How about forever?”

The record is soulful, hugely satirical and crammed with grandiose musical arrangements. In doing so, Father John Misty delivers brutally honest insights which are beautiful in parts, and obscene in others. Written by a self-confessed misanthrope, the key themes are sex and the emotional turmoil of falling in love, as part of a whistle-stop tour of the male psyche. Lyrically, it works perfectly to reaffirm your faith in love, and in the power it holds.

He pins his unorthodox colours to the mast early on, opening the title track, singing like an old crooner, “Honeybear, oh honeybear. Mascara, blood, ash and cum on the Rorschach sheets where we made love.”

From here on he masterfully swings between profanity and the exquisitely romantic, between the absurd and the everyday feelings that love evokes.

Poetically, in the closing track, ‘I Went To The Store One Day’, which is a tender love song to bookend the record, he goes back to the beginning of it all and describes the moment he met his wife. It is absolutely fitting that the last line of the album is him recalling this moment simply stating, “I’ve seen you around, what’s your name?”

It’s tender and it’s warped as the real Josh Tillman is truly exposed, leaving it a no-brainer for the funniest and most touching record of 2015, not to mention the best.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins)’, I Went To The Store One Day’, ‘The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.”

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