Our Albums of the Year – the Top Ten!

Continuing our run-down of the Spend Matters Albums of the Year. Today, the Top Ten! Yes, we have finally reached that moment. Do let us know what you think of our selection, have we missed anything important, are we raving bonkers etc. All comments gratefully received.  (Five solo female artists and two bands with female lead singers and co-songwriters in the top 10 ...)

10 Blur                                                 The Magic Whip

The first Blur album since 2003 was surprisingly excellent. Some tracks sound like the “old” Blur, whilst others seem much closer to Damon Albarn’s solo Gorillaz work. There is a sense of alienation here, perhaps because the album was put together during a Far East tour, but there is also plenty of life and fun in tracks such as Ong Ong and Go Out; as a whole it is intelligent, interesting and varied whilst still recognisably Blur. (I love the video too).

 

9 Alabama Shakes                          Sound and Colour

Their first album was very good but definitely “retro-soul” in its 60’s bluesy sound, but this time the band have managed to find a way of sounding much more contemporary whilst still highlighting Brittany Howard’s stunning vocals. This time round they use touches of strange electronics, strings, songs that sounds like the Stones’ Exile on Main Street period, an outright punk number and generally sound very much like a 2015 band. Strong songs, that amazing voice, and one of the rock albums of the year.


 

8 Florence & the Machine                          How Big, How Bold, How Beautiful

Are we taking Florence for granted, three albums into her career? Whilst this was a huge hit around the world, some critics seem to have got a bit “ho hum” about her. We seem to have forgotten both how eccentric and wonderful she is, a truly original creative talent. Whilst rumours were that this was a bit more of a restrained album, that proved to be not totally true, it was still gloriously OTT – read this, my favourite and laugh out loud album review of the year from Alexis Petridis of the Guardian! I quote: ““What kind of man,” she keeps demanding to know, “loves like THEEEEEEEES?” Occasionally you start sympathising with the man who loves like theeeeees. “You’re driving me away!” she roars on Queen of Peace, and you think: I’m not surprised, he’s probably worried about getting a perforated eardrum”. Her videos are works of art in their own right too.

 

7   Grimes                            Art Angels

And talking of eccentricity and genius ... after her reflective, introverted but brilliant last album, the young Canadian is back with a huge in your face album of pop tunes that Katy Perry or Madonna would die for, odd dance-rock tracks and a flat out thrash metal number with a Korean rapper providing the vocals. Uncategorisable, but NME’s album of the year understandably, and another treat from perhaps the most creative woman on the planet.

 

6 Du Blonde                      Welcome Back to Milk

A bit like Grimes, a re-invention here. Beth Jean Houghton’s previous album with her band the Hooves of Destiny was an interesting, fairly gentle orchestral folk-pop work. Now she has undergone a Ziggy type transformation (following a breakdown) into the fierce rock chic, Du Blonde. There are beautiful ballads here, glam rock and a touch of punk, all done with channelled aggression, a touch of humour and great energy and creativity. Some very rude lyrics too (on “Young Entertainment”) which I can’t possibly repeat here.

 

5  Julia Holter                    Have You In My Wilderness

This is high in the end of year lists for many critics, unlike some others in our top ten. Her previous works have put here in the “experimental contemporary” classification, but this is her most accessible album yet. It has moments of her previous stranger stuff, but is generally a collection of somewhat more orthodox but clever singer songwriter material, covering quite a range of styles. A fascinating album with depths; I’m still discovering new elements on each listen.

 

4  The Districts                  A Flourish and a Spoil

An unexpectedly superb debut album from the young US indie / rock band. The maturity of songwriting, smart lyrics, and musical variety all belie their age (around 21). The more pretentious rock websites were a bit sniffy about this – “bar-room rock” was one comment (although they all gave it OK reviews). NME liked it a lot I’m pleased to say; there’s a place for great tunes, played well by kids who sound fully into what they’re doing (cf early Kings of Leon or even Oasis).

 

3  Courtney Barnett        Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit

A young Australian poet / performer, whose lyrics are some of the best we’ve heard for many years. Many of the songs are like short stories, and most hit the mark: Depreston was our single favourite track of the year. She can make you laugh, think, or bring a tear to the eye with a few carefully chosen words. The music arguably comes second but it always suits the lyrics and is enjoyable indie with some gutsy guitar work, and a quieter style when it suits the lyrics. A huge talent if she can stay sane given all the adulation she’s had this year. “Give me all your money and I’ll make some origami, honey”.

2  Maccabees                     Marks to Prove It

So nearly our number one! A collection of strong, tuneful rock songs that display a mature but still young band at the height of their powers. Great tunes, a real depth of sound even though this is largely a guitar driven album, and an ability to create different atmospheres and emotions with the music and lyrics. Their live set at was voted the best of the festival at Reading, deservedly, by NME readers – the Maccabees are simply one of the best half-dozen rock bands on the planet at the moment, live or recorded. Basically, if you like pop / rock / indie it seems hard to believe that you won’t love this.

1  Wolf Alice                      My Love Is Cool

.. And that last comment applies also to our Album of the Year. Expectations were fairly high for this, the band’s debut, but the reality just exceeded anything we’d expected. It is the variation that is so impressive, from tuneful mid-tempo rock ballads to floaty almost psychedelic songs, to grungy flat-out Pixies type thrash. Ellie Rowsell is a charismatic and versatile vocalist, but it is very much a band here, and it all carries a definite Wolf Alice personality. The top three albums here were hard to separate, but finally I decided this is the album from this year that I would least like to never hear again (if you see what I mean!)

First Voice

  1. Alex Kleiner:

    Thanks again for compiling the annual list Peter. I have now listened to all 40+ albums in your suggested order, including the near misses. As with a great Advent calendar, I tried not to ‘peek ahead.’ I look forward to discussing the list when we next get a chance (good call on Wolf Alice and Nothing but Thieves). Happy New Year Peter & all Spend Matters.

    Regards, AFK3

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