40 Benjamin Clementine
At Least For Now
This year’s Mercury Prize Winner is an opus of soul-wrenching vocals, chamber hall piano, and artisan lyrics. Exuberant, raw and intense, Clementine’s songs tell of a life woven from tragedy into eleven triumphalist passages, accompanied by piano arpeggios. Years of hardship are condensed into a series of songs that sound utterly unlike anything else you’ll hear in the charts. The stories of hardship and his trials latch onto you and generate a unique atmosphere, made even more striking by the fact that for most of the album we are alone with just a piano and his voice. And what a voice it is. A razor-sharp, schizophrenic tenor, it is equally apt at soulful diatribes as it is at erupting into cries of controlled pain and guttural grimaces. Expanding and shrinking at the drop of a hat, Clementine is able to drown the room seconds before drying it out. It’s a factor that greatly aids him, particularly owing to the theatrically bombastic nature of songs like ‘Cornerstone’. Dramatic but never over-zealous, Clementine’s songs boast a swelling pomp that asserts authority completely unlike many musicians in today’s world. Its pseudo-classical grandeur compels the listener to continue their explorations, and furthers the compelling narratives Clementine weaves. Drawing upon and modernising elements of Debussy and Chopin, and fusing them with Nina Simone-like soul and London vernacular, Clementine provides for a captivating and unforgettable listening session. Bold, brave, and often brilliant, this is an artist to watch. A unique talent.
The Magic Whip
Following countless reunion shows and festival appearances over the last few years, The Magic Whip sees the return of Britpop heavyweights Blur, giving their first output as the full, original lineup since 1999’s 13. After all embarking on solo projects, and in the case of bassist Alex James, cheese-making, Blur fully realize their true musical prowess in this album, the sound that made them such icons in the 90s with this Chinese inspired, sci-fi tinged outing. With an ode to the Britpop era (‘Lonesome Street’), melancholic ballads (‘My Terracotta Heart’), electronic layering (‘Ice Cream Man’) and hook-laden anthems (‘Ong Ong’), The Magic Whip is a progressive album yet still very much accessible to fans of their bigger hits like ‘Coffee and TV’ or ‘Country House’. However, there is definitely a persevering solemn tone to the album, reflected in Albarn’s far more mature and observant lyrics such as in the poignant ‘There are Too Many of Us’ and the ghostly ‘Pyongyang’, a great departure from the band’s days of singing about party holidays in Greece. The Magic Whip is the triumphant return of one of the most iconic, truly great British bands of all time, still innovating after all of these years, with time only serving to make them wiser.
38 Car Seat Headrest
Teens of Style
It’s slightly odd that this album should make our ‘best of 2015’ list, considering it’s technically a compilation album of mostly older Car Seat Headrest material, revived from its lo-fi internet obscurity via new (slightly) cleaner recordings that render Will Toledo’s verbose, musical inventiveness far more accessible to the casual listener. Peppered with a few new tracks for good measure, including the wry, bass driven “Times To Die”, Teens of Style marks underground cult hero Toledo’s ‘official’ entrance into the indie rock scene, courtesy of the esteemed Matador Records, and it certainly is a victorious one. The collection has all the hallmarks of a musician entirely reconciled to his personal creative process, but just as uncomfortable in his own skin, creating a tension between confidence and anxiety that runs throughout. Single “Something Soon”, for instance, is honest in the extreme: “I want to close my head in the car door, I want to sing this song like I’m dying”, whilst “No Passion” makes use of a delicate organ and charming, muttered vocals delivered in Toledo’s distinctive lower register. Musically, Car Seat take their cues from wobbly, left-of-center bands like Guided By Voices and Archers Of Loaf, sharing their penchant for seemingly obvious but entirely unmatchable melodies. This is indie rock, though, that doesn’t forget to rock: “The Drum” is LOUD, dense and remarkably tuneful all at once. Teens of Style is a veritable fountain of ideas from a presence who has too long been confined to 1s and 0s, and it promises great things for 2016’s entirely original LP, Teens of Denial.
Ours is Chrome
The latest album from Superheaven, formerly known as Daylight, is brimming with the band’s signature chunky fuzzy guitars, thunderous drums and intensely catchy hooks that make them such a popular band in the U.K. grunge scene. Their first release since their name change in 2014, Ours Is Chrome does not particularly showcase a change in sound for the Pennsylvania four-piece from their first record Jar, but does however sound far fuller, more in-your-face and beefier than anything the band have released since their formation in 2008. The album is consistent in its execution, with vocalist Taylor Madison showcasing his gruff vocals and sombre lyrics on album opener ‘I’ve Been Bored’, “They killed everything. I’m falling asleep”. This sums up the mood of the record, with lyricists Madison and Clarke tackling tough and sensitive subjects in a similarly gritty and determined fashion to how Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins delivered their own brand of grunge back in the 1990s. What makes Ours Is Chrome a fantastic album is how the catchiness is reinforced with genuinely well-written melodic instrumentation and great lyrics.
Read our interview with Superheaven here.
36 The Libertines
Anthems For Doomed Youth
Eleven years is a long interval in the world of music. In that time we have seen the rise, success and demise, then rising again of many different artists over a range of tastes, none more so than London based Indie-post-punk-garage rock band The Libertines. The mercurial talents, fronted by famed tabloid focal point Pete Doherty, released their last album, the eponymously named The Libertines in late August 2004. The second in the band’s discography, it enjoyed huge commercial success, rising instantly to #1 in the UK and receiving substantial critical acclaim. Since then they went through what can be grossly understated “rough-patch”, through growing tensions between Doherty and other members, ultimately leading to their disbandment in December 2004. So it came as great surprise, not only that Doherty had begun to clean up his act, but that the band released a new album under new label Virgin EMI Records. A fresh new drive, coupled with a fresh-yet-rooted sound have re-injected (no pun intended) a new life into the previously thought dead and buried group. Anthems for a Doomed Youth, although not perfect, is a highly enjoyable listen to lifelong fans and any new listener. Focusing on the band’s troubled past-most notably between Doherty and co-frontman Carl Barât- and burying of the hatchet, the album is an engaging insight with powerful self-portraying lyrics and their signature sound still going strong. A pleasing and unexpected surprise from one of music’s most troubled artists.
Read our full review of The Libertines’ Anthems For Doomed Youth here.
35 Django Django
Born Under Saturn
May of this year brought us Born Under Saturn, Django Django’s much-anticipated second album, and the pressure was on to deliver an album as surprisingly energetic and refreshingly original as their Mercury Prize nominated debut. Not the type of album to ease you in gently, Born Under Saturn opens with hypnotic prominent drum lines and the clear-cut harmonies the band have become synonymous with. Django Django have taken the chaotic and yet still pleasantly cohesive sound from their self-titled debut and put it into overdrive for Born Under Saturn. Certain tracks such as ‘Found You’ have a more mellow vibe, there is an undercurrent of frenetic energy that pervades the whole album. ‘Reflections’ is a highlight, with its brief jazzy sax solo providing a depth of sound that can be lost in the constant keyboard synths and resounding drum beats. At times the album offers a sense of melancholy – ‘Shot Down’ repeats its trudging beat and retrospective lyrics: “The day I quit weighs on my mind heavily/ Deceived, run short of luck, double crossed.” Relentless may be the best word to describe Born Under Saturn; by barely giving you a second to think beyond the complicated percussive arrangements, it proves itself an hour long rush through a sometimes-overwhelming wall of sound. This is an album worth taking your time over. A few listens reveals the intricacy and brilliancy of each single sound, creating almost a puzzle effect for the listener to unravel and, in turn, marvel at. Born Under Saturn is an album that’ll surprise in fresh ways every time, and from one of the most original bands out there at the moment, that is truly something worth waiting for.
Read our interview with Django Django from the archives here.
Upon an initial listen to the album, the thoughts “it’s like Tori Amos and Two Door Cinema Club awkwardly bumped into Lucy Rose” screamed in my mind. Although the scenario itself is not entirely undesirable, I couldn’t help but feel like the metaphorical product of such a meeting was. My opinion quickly changed. O.K. by Eskimeaux is, to put it simply, a powerful expression of emotion. Very rarely do you come across an artist is who is so capable of illustrating a song simply through the strained desperation behind the vocals, particularly in ‘The Thunder Answered Back’, in which Felix Walworth’s heavy drumbeats leads us dramatically through the “thunder” to a lyrical climax: “But who are you? From where do you come?” leaving an eerie yet welcome chill. The lyrics aren’t the only powerful asset to the album. The contrast of the soft vocals and the heavy drum beats tie O.K. together into a musical knot that encapsulates a variety of genres. They move gracefully from ‘folk’ to ‘indie pop’ whilst retaining this melancholic, yet artistic characterisation of the album. The LP is far from perfect, but it is clear how much Smith has grown as an artist, and no longer does she appear the onlooker of a musical mess. Although likely a feature of many people’s “sad” playlist, the album is certainly impressive. And if you feel the same as I did upon my first listen of the album – then be patient, and have another try.
Whatever Will Happen
Have you ever imagined cruising down the west coast with translucent lakes to your left, forests to your right and Mount Rainier behind you? I have literally done that, but regardless, if you have not, Zach Burba’s project iji is probably as close as you could get. Hailing from Seattle, iji’s central sound hasn’t changed much since 2013’s Soft Approach. The project still focuses on reverb and chorus-soaked guitars, casually delivered vocals that are slightly reminiscent of Morrissey, and a clear focus on west coast culture. However, if the main ingredients for a good iji record haven’t changed then the instrumental density has. This time round, iji feels less like a home-recorded project, incorporating more than ever before. His usual mellow approach is supplemented by elements of jazz, as well as a heavy use of synths. Tracks like ‘All the Light’ end up sounding like an 80s nu-wave track, accompanied by iji’s usual surf rock style. At the same time the lead single, ‘Parking Lot Palms’, begins stripped back, allowing you to focus on lyrics that fantastically meditate on the touring experience. Yet iji is always full of surprises, as the song goes into a section of twangy, guitar-driven chaos, not at all anticipated by the lavish string sections before this shift. iji is not for everyone. Some might find Burba’s vocal delivery an instant turn off – it sounds uncertain of itself, and it is not focused on melody. However, for me, iji doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is. This album is far more ambitious and successful than Burba probably planned it to be.
Spector launch into their second album with echoing synths and the smooth voice of Fred Macpherson on ‘All The Sad Young Men’. “I knew it was a good title,” Macpherson states, “and obviously F. Scott Fitzgerald also thought it was a good title, so we’re on the same level there”. A typical anthemic indie rock track featuring consistent, solid snares and melodic chorus synths, the opening track could have easily been made by Brandon Flowers and company. The second track ‘Stay High’ trails on nicely with a soft catchy guitar riff and self-acknowledging lyrics: “We don’t need roads, set menus, or two for one codes”, “I’ll stay awkward, you stay awesome”. There are better lyricists out there, but it fits with the rest of the album, which becomes samey by ‘Don’t Make Me Try’. 80s vibes cling to ‘Cocktail Party/Heads Interlude’, inspiration leaking from the likes of Roxy Music. Spector admit Moth Boys won’t refine a generation or become a ‘classic’ but have hit the nail on the head wanting to produce just a ‘good’ album. It’s a step up from tongue-in-cheek debut Enjoy It While It Lasts, and they just about manage to get over the difficult second album stigma, but it suggests of better things to come of the London based five-piece.
31 Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes
Blossom encapsulates hardcore punk at its very finest, displaying raw emotion and limitless energy throughout its ten tracks. From beginning to end, the listener gets the feeling that they are in the same room as the band, with Carter screaming the vocals in their face. The opening track ‘Juggernaut’ could not have a more suitable name: it begins with a monstrous groove that’ll give you spinal injury, and boasts an anthemic chorus that’ll have you screaming the words after a single listen. The next standout track ‘Fangs’ – themed about Carter’s experience with a prostitute – was the Rattlesnakes’ first released single and continues with groovy riffs and catchy vocals. The album takes a break from the guitar driven grooves with ‘Beautiful Death’ – starting off soft and dissonant both in terms of vocals and rhythm – then building up to a heart wrenching chorus with Carter’s vocals heavily distorting. The album terminates with the suitably named ‘I hate you’, and judging by Carter’s explicit vocals you get the impression that he really means it. As the longest track on the album (4:48) and also one of the quieter tracks, it provides an interesting contrast and a more relaxed ending to the record.
Read our live review of Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes here.