Albums of the Year – the Top Ten!

And now ...the Top Ten

 

 

 

  1. Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack
    Scottish indie rockers Frightened Rabbit have been going for ten years and more with their dark, impassioned and often gloomy but very distinctive style. Painting of a Panic Attack is their fifth album and is produced by the National's Aaron Dessner, who brings more warmth to the sound and along with some of the strongest tunes they've ever written, makes this their best to date. Songs like "An Otherwise Disappointing Life" are actually strangely uplifting, with a deadpan humour evident too, and this is one of the most under-rated rock bands around now.
  2. Catfish and the Bottlemen – Ride
    Very few lists will have this in the top 10, as the typical music critic sees it as unsophisticated, sub-Oasis indie, with little finesse or originality. (Although to be fair to Will Hodgkinson of the Times, he is pretty positive about Catfish). And there is something in that view. However, it is also engaging, instantly enjoyable, unpretentious with great tunes and lyrics you can sing along to after one hearing, goes down great live, and appeals to millions of young (mainly) people. We’ve followed their progress from the BBC Introducing stage and the Boilerroom at Guildford to stardom, and we’re very happy for them!
  3. Drive-by Truckers - American Band
  4. This is their eleventh album and the Truckers in sales terms remain at barely more than cult status, making them one of the most under-rated bands in the US, although they have a dedicated live following. Their style is “alternative country / southern rock” with shades of both the early Eagles and bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd. From Alabama, with a fierce pride in their “south” yet also showing a considerable intelligence and interest in history, this is quite a political album with commentary on issues such as the killing of young black men by the police. The music is a lot more rock than country, tuneful and tough, which combined with the always interesting lyrics makes it perhaps their best since Southern Rock Opera in 2001.

  5. Glass Animals – How to Be A Human Being
    This is electronic pop-dance with joie de vie, synths, beats and mainly falsetto vocals, but with a real lightness of touch. Clever musical ideas burst out, alongside strong tunes, making it highly enjoyable for both concentrated study or background working music. Dave Bayley, their main man, trained in neuroscience and he recorded hundreds of stories from people he met to create the themes for each track here. So sort of a "concept album", but it wears its intelligence lightly; it is a delightful album.
  6. The 1975 – I Like It when You Sleep
    Or I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, to give it its full title which sums up the level of ambition and pretension contained in this young British band. Combining pop, 1980s disco and funk, ambient interludes a la Brian Eno, this is a sprawling, self-indulgent 75 minutes’ worth of music – yet it was number 1 not only in the UK, but the US, Australia, Canada … that’s because they are different and they know how to write a great pop tune, but keep things interesting, and have a genuine star in Matthew Healy. They’ll headline Glastonbury and/or Reading within three years, I reckon. (And we saw them at the West End Centre, Aldershot …)
  7. Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
    A huge step forward from his debut, this is a collection of very strong songs encompassing soul, rock, a touch of folk even. Kiwanuka has a great voice (Gaye, Mayfield, Withers …) and there is a real passion and political awareness in some songs, and overall it is a very polished yet involving album. It was brave to start with several minutes of pure instrumental, part of a nine minute long track, but Cold Little Heart (live version below) is one of my songs of the year (or any year). And if I knew nothing at all about somebody’s musical tastes, this is the album in our top 20 that I would buy to have the greatest chance of them enjoying my gift! (If you see what I mean …) It’s not bland but it has wide appeal.
  8. Let’s Eat Grandma – I, Gemini
    Two seventeen year old girls from Norwich, with songs written in some cases when they were 13, playing glockenspiels, saxophone, recorders and singing about monkeys, chocolate cake, and mushrooms. It should have been an 'unlistenable' mess. Instead, it was perhaps the most innovative and odd album in our list, with a faint dream-like air of menace at times; they can rap pretty convincingly, and the dreams turn into nightmares very easily. “My cat is dead, my father hit me, I ran away, I’m really hungry” they wail on Rapunzel. Typically, this comes after a simple and lovely tinkly piano solo. There are strong melodies and a variety of styles and rhythms, but some will not like the little-girl vocals they tend to use. Can’t wait to see what they do next.
  9. Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree
    Cave says most of this album was written before last year’s tragic death of his teenage son, but a mood of despair and deep sorrow pervades this album, and the lyrics overtly cover these dark topics. Despite this, I found it compulsive and stunning in every sense. It draws you into its own claustrophobic world, and it is nothing like anything else on this list. The music is subdued, often using electronic loops and “ambient” type sounds, whilst Cave’s (often half-spoken) vocal is well forward in the mix but unsurprisingly often sounds broken and hesitant. Heart-breaking, but brilliant.
  10. Bon Iver - 22 A Million
    His second great album out of three released – not bad going. Much more complex than his debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, and this is pretty uncategorisable stuff. Is it folk, R&B, electronic classical, soul …? It is very odd in places, with song titles that use symbols as well as words, but has beautiful tunes sprinkled throughout the album, yet also a couple of tracks I really didn’t like much at all. Then you get a track like this one (below) and you forgive him almost anything. Of everything released this year, this is one of the three or four albums that I have no doubt will still be played in 20 or 30 years’ time.
  11. Christine and the Queens – Chaleur Humaine
    Gosh, it was a tough call between this and Bon Iver for the number one slot. I think history may judge Bon Iver’s album as the better, but this is for me simply the most listenable and enjoyable album of the year. Heloise Letissier (Christine) burst into our consciousness with her star-making performance on the BBC Later show (see below) – one of those moments when you sit there and think “wow! Who on earth is she and where has she been?”

    The album lived up to that first impression. Danceable pop that is lively but contemplative, clever but immediate, lyrics informed by her sexuality but not preachy, great tunes – “what pop music should sound like in 2016” as Elton John said, and we can’t put it better than that. And she is an absolute delight personally, from her interviews to her dancing to her great interpretations of other writers' songs (see YouTube for some examples before she made it big outside France). Her emergence into the musical world outside France has been one of the highlights of a depressing year!

  12. See here and here for the other albums in our Top 30

Voices (2)

  1. Alex:

    Not only have I never heard of any of these albums but i’ve only heard of about three of these bands! Thank you for educating me!

  2. Andy Spriggs:

    Peter, a worthy list, much enjoyed. Still startled by your ringing endorsement of Beyoncé’s latest, but that has certainly piqued my interest and I am off to Spotify now – was also fascinated by the attached video which made me think that, if I was Jay Z, I would keep baseball bats out of the family home…

    Heloise/Christine is a marvellous find and thanks for bringing her to our collective attention – it really is a great album and will continue to be enjoyed for a very long time… much too early to say, but there is something of the enigmatic Bowie about her personality.

    Haven’t heard as many of the albums as I would like, but enjoyed Esmé Patterson (perhaps better than her more shouty live performance), Bastille, Bowie and Bon Iver. I must admit to disappointment in the Leonard Cohen, though.

    One possible candidate (perhaps coming in as the fourth 30=) – Bear’s Den – Red Earth & Pouring Rain?

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