Albums of the Year – Numbers 20 to 11

Today, we continue our countdown of the very best albums of 2015 (in our opinion of course). It is numbers 20 to 11 today, and just scroll down the page if you want to see the previous three installments of this series.

And don't forget tomorrow - the top ten!

20 Bring Me The Horizon                             That’s The Spirit

BMTH have transitioned from a cult “screamo” metal band to one of the biggest rock bands in the world, with a wider range of songs, tempos, styles and (mainly) singing rather than screaming! Use of electronics as well as heavy guitars and even dance-type touches make this appealing to a range of generations, but in the main this is big rock songs written for big stages, and one for anyone who likes “metal” in all its forms.

 19  Night Terrors of 1927      Everything’s Coming Up Roses

One of our neglected gems from 2015. Jarrod Gorbel (ex-front man for Brooklyn outfit The Honorary Title) and former Rilo Kiley guitarist Blake Sennett came together to form the Night Terrors, and we loved this 80s influenced electronic and guitar rock album. It sounds almost prime period U2 or Simple Minds at times but much more indie at others, all underpinned with ridiculously catchy tunes and surprisingly dark lyrics. Here is a great example of exactly that combination.

18 Laura Marling                                           Short Movie

Those of us who are perhaps unhealthily fond of Ms Marling (in a fatherly sense, you understand, as she is almost exactly the same age as my daughter) are still waiting for her masterpiece, which will surely come one day. This isn’t it, but it is another collection of strong songs, despite her slightly odd US accent used in some songs (she wrote much of the album whilst travelling in the States). It is more rock than folk this time, although Joni Mitchell is still a key reference point. With five albums under her belt (and she is amazingly still only 25) there is still time for Marling to outrank Mitchell on the all-time list of greats. Here is the track that sounds a bit like Dire Straits!

17  Brandi Carlile              The Firewatchers Daughter

If you have never heard Turpentine or The Story from Carlile’s second album go and listen to those first – two of the greatest vocal performances of this millennium. OK. Her latest is a grower, I found, with quite a raw country-rock vibe and tunes that you find stick with you after two or three listens. Songs vary from almost a “punk-country” feel to beautiful ballads (see below), and production is pretty simple in the main, allowing that great voice to shine through.

 16  Nothing But Thieves                Nothing But Thieves

Nothing really original about them, but this year’s best UK rock debut album, influenced by Queen, Muse, QOTSA and (on the more sensitive side ) Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake. Singer Conor Mason has a great Mercury / Bellamy type voice (and he can do it live too, as we saw with their excellent Reading performance) and the songs are both credibly heavy for the rock fans and catchy enough to be played on Radio 1.

15  Rhiannon Giddens                   Tomorrow Is My Turn

And talking of great voices, the third in a row in our list. Giddens is the fiddle player and vocalist with the “old-time” music group Carolina Chocolate Drops, but her talents had not perhaps been fully recognised till this stunning record came out, showcasing a truly amazing voice. She is classically trained and can adapt her voice to sound amazing on blues, rock, country, folk and soul songs alike. This is a collection of covers bar one original song, and she tackles a “feminist tour of the American roots canon” as Rolling Stone put it, from gospel to Dolly Parton. The video shows she can do it live too (and I think I’m in love...)

14  Stornoway                                   Bonxie

A low-profile and under-rated band from Oxford (not Scotland), but you get the feeling that lack of hype probably suits the highly educated five-piece whose quietly literate indie-folk songs can be joyous yet carry a hard to describe beguiling wistfulness. Their songs are always catchy and tuneful, but this, their third album, uses somewhat more complex instrumentation, making it a bit less folky and moves towards a deeper, bigger, more complex almost Arcade Fire feel at times. An excellent album from start to finish, with not a single weak track.

 13  Circa Waves                               Young Chasers

Yes, there is still a place for straightforward, bouncy, jangly, energetic indie-pop in our charts and this is 2015’s best example. The debut album from the young(ish) Liverpool foursome, tracks such as T-Shirt Weather are insanely catchy - it is the tunes above all that have to carry this sort of music, and they certainly do that here. Great fun, both on record and live.

 12  Susanne Sundfør       Ten Love Songs

And the female artists keep on coming, this one however being the only Norwegian in our top 40. Twenty-nine year old Sundfor is huge in Norway, this is her sixth album, and has a beautiful, smooth, voice. But she obviously has an eccentric side as well; this album covers everything from a couple of songs that sounds like (great) undiscovered Abba tracks, a ten-minute track which includes a four minute chamber orchestra interlude, a handful of what I‘m reliably informed are called “synthpop club bangers” (i.e. would sound great on the dance-floor) and a final track that sounds like Radiohead at their weirdest. It all somehow works and adds up to a brilliant, very enjoyable and stimulating 44 minutes!

11 Rae Morris                                Unguarded

We thought this deserved a bit more critical acclaim and public attention than it got. Morris was Bombay Bicycle Club’s backing singer – they certainly know how to pick them – but here she lays down her own mark with an excellent “intelligent pop/rock” album. It is quite dance influenced in places and is very much keyboard driven – Morris, from Blackpool, is an accomplished pianist as well as having a pretty amazing voice. Kate Bush and Beth Orton come to mind, maybe Joan Armatrading in Rae’s quieter moments, Ellie Goulding or Marina (and her Diamonds) would be more current comparators. (Am I allowed to say I love her hair too?)

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