I’m going to open this appraisal with some big statements: despite all talk of security and social benefits, the party that wins any election will be the one that appeals most to the voters’ inherent selfishness; The Sopranos is the greatest TV show of all time and anyone who doesn’t like the ending is an idiot; responding to any violent act with a violent reprisal does not ‘even the score’, it simply means it is now violence 2 humanity 0; Manchester United will never return to the successes they once enjoyed until Wayne Rooney leaves; if you’re against refugees leaving Syria then you’re staunchly on the side of ISIS; Susan Boyle’s version of ‘Wild Horses‘ is superior to the Stones original; there is something racist about being angered by immigration, and anyone who says there isn’t needs to read up on their definitions; any steps you make to helping the environment are probably the easiest ones that make the smallest amount of difference; Tom from accounting is a right prick; soy sauce is actually a vastly underrated condiment; all other cheeses pale in comparison to brie; the success of a crisp brand rises and falls on the strength of its salt and vinegar. OK, now you’ve been softened up a bit I can finish with one last big statement: despite an extraordinarily accomplished back catalogue, ‘Carrie & Lowell’ is by quite a distance the best Sufjan Stevens album.
To say it’s the best album of the year is hardly a big statement though, in fact it towers so magnificently over all other recorded music released this year that to say it’s the best is- if anything- an almost offensively obvious statement. Stevens strips back his music here until at many points it’s little more than a voice and an acoustic guitar, like Sufjan has taken the styles he’s honed from making BIGGER and more orchestrally driven music and utilised the lessons learned here, as despite the more intimate production the songs here still sound huge. The lyrics concern the feelings Sufjan struggled with after being abandoned by his mother Carrie, who passed away in 2012, but also references the role played by Carrie’s husband and Sufjan’s stepfather Lowell (who is also the co-founder of Stevens’ record label Asthmatic Kitty. Yeah, we’ll just ignore that name). ‘C&L’ is nakedly and starkly autobiographical, but while that sounds as if it’d repel, it in fact allures, enchants and seduces, the universal themes of grief, sadness, depression and, ultimately, hope will speak to anyone listening. While technically it concerns Sufjan’s mother’s disappearance and eventual death, there are messages here that will connect with anyone struggling with the death of any person, any relationship. Unless you’re an unholy monster, there will have a particular moment of ‘S&L’ that will see you break down bawling, be it the assertion of ‘No Shade In the Shadow of the Cross‘ ‘There’s blood on that blade/Fuck me I’m falling apart’, the plaintive ‘When I was three/Three maybe four/She left me at the video store’ of ‘Should Have Known Better‘, or simply the devastatingly beautiful falsetto call on closer ‘Blue Bucket of Gold‘. It isn’t all sadness though, ‘Should Have Known Better‘ sees the possibilities of the future: ‘My brother had a daughter/The beauty that she brings, illumination’. ‘Carrie & Lowell’ is cast-iron masterpiece, every track here is either a minor or a major classic, Mr. Stevens has sailed perilously close to symphonic perfection.
‘Fun’ Fact: I refuse to believe even Sufjan himself spells his name correctly every time
He he, what’s the name of that track where he says ‘you checked your texts while I masturbated’? Looooooool! ‘Laugh out out out out out out out out loud’? You’re not getting an easy option this time buddy, just listen to the whole album.
Do you capitalise the ‘love’ in ‘multi-love’ if the hyphenated word itself is capitalised? Wish I’d paid more attention in English class. Or, you know, all those years I was an English teacher…
This work of absolute genius came out of near nowhere, UMO were a perfectly serviceable indie rock band that occasionally sounded a little too in thrall with their influences and made music that seemed to try its absolute best to sound like it was released in 1977 (I ranked their last album at number 32 in 2013 and remarked it was “unfocused and skittish, and probably the record on this list with music most difficult to claim to be modern”), it seemed that only Pete Postlethwaite was less likely to release a classic album in 2015 than Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
This is absolutely majestic, indulging more synths and pop production into their sound and creating exactly the sort of genre-hopping bonkers pop music that Prince should be making in 2015- just imagine how perfect all existence would suddenly be if Prince came back with a song as weirdly brilliant as ‘Ur Life One Night‘: they’ve even got the spelling correct! ‘Multi-Love’ is packed with slight and subtle references and gestures that alludes to pretty much every single musical movement of the past 100 years. Despite all of the genre-hopping and breathtaking musical variety ‘Multi-Love’ never once sounds disjointed, the album is always pulled together by amazing pop songs that are always an absolute joy to listen to, mainly because of Ruben Nielson’s absolute mastery of choruses. If you see any other end of year list (though you know I don’t really like you seeing other people) that doesn’t have this album at least in the top 10 you should burn the magazine/website/television you saw it on and send the writer the bill as the list is automatically rendered obsolete.
‘Fun’ Fact: UMO are not in any circumstances to be confused with the United Macedonians Organization
I fancy a sing-along, and also at the same time an underwhelming reveal of where this list’s name came from: Let’s stick ‘Necessary Evil‘ on then
We should probably be thankful that Jamie Smith even bothers to still make music, as the royalties he receives from The XX’s ‘Intro‘ being played over every fucking thing ever for the entire duration of time itself ensures he can live the rest of his life reclining atop a giant ivory statue of his own forehead while being lovingly fellated by an embarrassment of gold-plated pandas (’embarrassment’ really is the collective noun). Instead though he gives us this inarguable masterpiece, a 42 minute perfectly succinct and legitimately dazzling art statement. The thesaurus simply does not contain enough examples of hyperbolic appreciation I could bestow upon this album, it’s one of the greatest ever albums to show the kaleidoscopic and euphoric possibilities of dance music. It’s one of the greatest ever albums period. Jamie’s music manages to gorgeously combine marvellous musicianship with the wide-eyed thrill of someone discovering the art form for the first time, marrying outrageous talent with the excitement of the newly attuned. I should warn you that this is not an album best appreciated as the background music to your daily Pilates or try and sneak in a crafty wank before the spouse gets home, this is an album to completely lose yourself in: book a fortnight off work, cancel that trip to the Cotswold, surrender yourself completely, this is your life now.
‘Fun’ Fact: ‘Obvs‘ proves once again that the steel drum is the greatest musical instrument and every song that uses it is automatically amazing
Let’s hold each other tight, forget about all the bad things in the world and celebrate humanity’s underlying goodness: Hey, we might argue a bit, but it’s only because the love I feel for you makes me so passionate, you know? ‘I go to loud places/To find someone/To be quiet with’
Jesus suffering Christ I adore this album, even listening to it now I can feel myself gaining horrendous and despicable super powers as my very brain melds with the music’s inimical influence and mutates me into Palmadon, the evil destroyer of worlds who gains his horrific powers by sucking the vascular tonic out of newborn baby’s eyeballs through his 12 inch hollow fangs. Palmadon wears an all-over tight black Spandex™ body suit but with a square hole cut around his groin so he is always displaying his hideously deformed gigantic genitals to the world as he carries out his diabolical deeds. Palmadon is a huge fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and if he spots you in a pub he’ll frequently bring over his flagon of real ale with a name like ‘Old Pedro’s Dramatic Chromosome’ and explain to you that actually the EU are a far bigger threat to the world than ISIS.
Where was I?
As half of the wonderful Fuck Buttons (who won this silly old thing back in 2009, as if you’d ever forget) Benjamin John Power has done as much as anybody to redefine what exactly constitutes listenable- and even likeable- music and his third record of solo work continues his exemplary work. Powers work is pretty much an astonishingly welcome gentrification of extreme music, sowing undeniable beauty from such antagonistic rages of cacophony. The most challenging moments here are merely promises of euphoria if you dedicate yourself, and more often than not exhilarate on their own. This is an album to lose yourself within, to cast away all your possessions and abandon your family for, this promises more than your pathetic life ever could, join me in drinking Blanck Mass’s Cool Aid. Join me and Palmadon…
‘Fun’ Fact: Palmadon was once considered for the Bullingdon Club while studying ‘French and Antagonism’ at Oxford, but refused to partake in the initiation ceremony of over inflating an obvious lie about bestiality in order to take attention away from his ghastly and threatening policies.
Ooh, I’ll give you a while to wipe that burning satire out of your mouth! You should be on ‘Mock the Week’. You know the drill by now, recommend a track you feel best sums up the album’s modus operandi: ‘Detritus‘ is pure noise terrorism morphing into transcendent beauty.
I think I’m legally obliged to start this review with some awful, lazy and borderline offensive joke about Swedish pop stars, but I think I’m going to buck the trend here and instead open up with a joke about Belarus:
‘Hey, that Belarusian woman is going to get cold in this typically brisk Belarus winter weather’
‘You’re right, she should be wearing her Minsk coat!!!’
I didn’t say it was going to be a good joke…
OK, we can start now: ‘Kiddo’ is an absolutely monumental pop album. Styrke finished third on Swedish Pop Idol in 2009* and her 2010 debut was a standard by-the-numbers committee penned cash-in that was predictably about as artistically inspired as that sock you keep underneath the bed that your partner doesn’t know about. Unlike most people in her position initially pushed to semi-stardom Styrke (I’m sure I’ve never once spelled that correctly) decided that rather than milk her 15 minutes she’d instead retreat from the limelight and work on an album she felt better represented the type of pop star she wanted to be. Her comeback in 2014 with the stormer ‘Even If I’m Loud It Doesn’t Mean I’m Talking to You‘ hinted that what she wanted to be was amazing. ‘Kiddo’ boasts so much charisma, so much explosive performance, so much personality. And the personality it boasts is chiefly one of explicit, hard-line and aggressively confrontational feminism, ‘Kiddo’ is constantly and angrily confronting patriarchal assumptions and attempts to control. This is EXACTLY what pop music should be: strong and impassioned, view points shouted over pristine production. Most importantly: the pop production is pristine, Tove Styrke is absolute perfection.
*I was all ready to make the joke that Britain can expect an album of this quality next year from whoever came third in 2010’s X Factor, until a bit of research showed that third placed that year were One Direction and I lost all faith in the bit.
‘Fun’ Fact: OK, back to Sweden: how am I only just finding out about the Eriksson twins (apparently not related to Sven)? That story freaked me out something rotten…
Not really a ‘fact’ per se is it? And only an extremely tenuously linked to Tove: Yeah I know, I just literally first heard about it yesterday and it’s been really playing on my mind. Still, there’s no trouble in the world when I listen to ‘Ain’t Got No‘
John Grant is absolutely one of the finest things in the world, I love him more than that sculpture of John Goodman that I sculpted out of discarded peanut husks that I keep next to my bed so that I can lick it last thing at night for good luck. The consistent quality of his three albums to date is astonishing, and ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ (a combination of the literal English translations of the Icelandic for ‘mid life crisis’ and the Turkish for ‘nightmare’. John Grant is a bit of a polyglot, so why not show off a little here and there?) is just another one that at least enters into the argument of being his very best. What is beyond argument though is that Grant is absolutely the greatest lyricist working today, something he proves again and again and again (and again) here. If you entered the album unsure you would be confronted with the only artist in the world who would open an album (after a layered vocal quote a line from Corinthians 13) with the killer line “I did not think I was/The one being addressed/In haemorrhoid commercials/On the TV set” before the gorgeous and previously extremely radio friendly title track concerned with the importance of avoiding self-pity in the wake of his HIV diagnosis comes together masterfully with a chorus of “And there are children who have cancer/And so all bets are off/Cause I can’t compete with that”. To be honest, I’d be quite happy to spend many thousands of words here just picking out and highlighting my particular favourite lyrics, though I think that Courtney Barrett’s (who Grant outshines a thousandfold as a lyricist) album showed previously that a great way with words isn’t enough to propel an album to greatness. Thankfully the music on ‘Grey…’ is equally as magnificence and breathtaking, jumping from a different genre in each track though never sounding detached as Grant’s considerable presence always binds the songs together. Though as on his previous album the pure electronica such as ‘Snug Slacks‘ fails to work quite as well, it still serves as a great stage for the magnificence of his perhaps under-appreciated voice. At the end of the day Adele needs to have words with John Grant if she wants to learn a different yet no less emotionally affecting way to convey heartbreak.
‘Fun’ Fact: This still isn’t quite his best album, as it lacks a chorus quite as magnificent as ‘GMF‘
Polyglot? What difference does it make how many wives he has? You idiot, you’re getting mixed up with a polytheist. Or is it a polygon? Listen to ‘Down Here‘ while I try and think
‘Currents’ is arguably the most joyous album ever released that’s mainly concerned with melancholy and isolation, at least since Scott Walker’s 1996 album ‘Get To Fuck You Complete Barms’, which contained the disco stomper ‘My Willy Hurts When I Pee‘ that really blew up in Ibiza that summer after it was remixed by Todd Terry. The Australian band’s (‘band’ is an extremely loose term when used in reference to Tame Impala, the ‘band’ is essentially Kevin Parker and whatever handful people he happened to bump into on the way to the Post Office that morning) is a blessed leap into fully synthesised pop music, with guitars ditched almost completely. The thrilling opening track ‘Let It Happen‘ could sit happily on Daft Punk’s last album (and be the best track) while you can quite easily imagine Justin Bieber taking on ‘The Moment‘ (but not owning the song anywhere near as beautifully as Parker does). I’ve little to say on this album, it’s near pure pop perfection, and the musical arrangements are just outrageously superb, as you move down the track listing it’s just one monumental achievement after the next.
‘Fun’ Fact: Kevin Parker claims in a period of writers’ block he wrote an entire album for Kylie Minogue. For fuck’s sake Kevin! You can’t tease us with that and then not set the collaboration up!
Surely ‘BB Talk‘ by Miley Cyrus is the best spoken word song of the year? I dunno, ‘Past Life‘ runs it pretty close
There is no artist on this countdown- few on this Earth- with a greater disparity between the quality of their work and the level of their fame than Hannah Cohen. Cohen’s songs are so ridiculously fantastic that her music should be as inescapable as whatever nonsense John Lewis has squirted out as their latest Christmas add… no, wait, Hannah Cohen should be in the John Lewis advert, standing on the moon charming the entire Earth with a singing of ‘Keepsake‘ before eventually destroying the solar system with gamma rays shot from her very eyes as John Lewis reminds us that Acana Moth Control Trap is now half price.
I fear I may have gone off on a little bit of a tangent there…
‘Pleasure Boy’ is absolutely magnificent piece of work, an ingenious mix of synthesisers and jazz music but also much better than that sounds. Cohen had previously preferred to work with simple musical arrangements to reflect the simple and raw emotions she was attempting to convey, but on her second album a magnificent wall of sound powers the heartache to sheer celestial levels. I can imagine some people might consider the naked emotion on display here occasionally overbearing, but these people are obviously idiots and their opinion should be aggressively discounted: ‘Pleasure Boy’ simply makes you swoon as it veers from the exquisite to the exhilarating.
‘Fun’ Fact: The way ‘Watching You Fall‘ climaxes at 3:31 with ‘But you’re still my baby!’ is the greatest thing that’s ever happened.
So is this your pick of some obscure and unlistenable artist I’ve never heard of because you think it makes you sound cool? Not at all, listen to ‘Take The Rest‘ and tell me it’s in any way difficult to listen to
After a the polite introduction of a gorgeous little instrumental opener acts as a polite cough to ensure you’re listening Wasalu Jaco’s fifth album kicks into ‘Mural‘ and immediately sets out what to expect from the entire set. It’s one of three tracks here to pass eight minutes, yet like the other two- and indeed the album itself- not a second feels overlong or out of place, and there is little in the way of a hook or chorus, just Lupe shooting out rhymes and wordplay that sometimes sound like free association or just sometimes sheer nonsense (“I like my pancakes cut in swirls/Moroccan moles and undercover squirrels/I like cartoons, southern cities with large moons/Faith healers, ex-female drug dealers and art booms/Apologize for my weird mix/What taste like hot dogs and tear drips/And looks like pantomime and clear bricks/And smells like shotguns and deer piss”) that’s never less than absolutely thrilling to listen to. Fiasco is so obviously in deep love with the very craft of rapping, and ‘Tetsuo & Youth’ is essentially on long 78 minute example of just how thrilling and engrossing the art form can be. Aside from the extraordinary rhymes though, the reason ‘Tetsuo & Youth’ succeeds so comprehensively is because the songs are so dazzling and the production so rich, the album sounds almost aggressively focused and absolutely sure of itself and what it intends to achieve. Lupe’s lyrical concerns are not just gibberish though- you could spend days raking over every line of ‘Prisoner 1&2‘ (the second song to beak eight minutes) for just one example- and there is a overriding theme of the sad realities of black youths in America, though not without hope that the future could see change for the better. ‘Tetsuo & Youth’ constructs a thrilling and bewitching world both lyrically and musically that even after nearly an hour and a half rambling its hills you only want to spend more time within.
‘Fun’ Fact: You’ve no doubt heard all the rumours and assumed it was some kind of internet urban legend, but I can confirm that, yes, Lupe was born on the same day Agatha Barbara became the first female president of Malta
So what was it you said about CHVRCHES changing their name? Jesus, will you just leave it? Listen to ‘Deliver‘, isn’t that just one of the most perfect songs you’ve ever heard? Both lyrically and musically it blows my tiny mind.
“We will take the best parts of ourselves/And make them gold”
I have to say it saves me a lot of time when artists include reviews of their own music within the album itself, if only the new Prince had a song with the chorus ‘This shit took my ten minutes/I wrote it between scratching my ass/To be honest you should just give it a pass’ or if the title track on Carly Rae Jepson’s latest was a sing-a-long of ‘Insert lyric here/Insert lyric here/The fact I lack personality is already clear/So please insert lyric here’ then it would act as a great help to reviewers (although to be fair Adele’s album does contain the line ‘This is never ending/We’ve been here before’). And CHVRCHES outline their modus operandi clearly on ‘Make Them Gold‘: they intend to affirm and accentuate the glistening qualities of 2013’s debut that first brought them to the brisk of massive popularity. It’s so refreshing to see a band pull an ‘anti-MGMT’: to embrace rather than shun their poppier qualities. Their second album is an astonishing collection of some of the year’s best pop music. CHVRCHES may have sanded some of the jagged edges off their sound slightly since their debut was equally as storming, but this is still an amazing synthesised sound collage that should start to see them universally accepted as one of Britain’s best bands. The first three tracks here are almost impossibly exciting, and while the album can’t possibly remain on quite the same level, it’s still a remarkably consistent collection of killer songs: even co-songwriter Martin Doherty’s attempt on the microphone is forgiveable (generally because the song’s so brilliant), as is their pilfering of the odd Depeche Mode synth line. Absolutely brilliant.
‘Fun’ Fact: While recording Doherty described ‘Every Open Eye’ as a ‘deep, thoughtful, dark’ album. The only way he could possibly consider this album ‘dark’ is if he were referring to the slightly shadowy cover art.
Why didn’t you use that fact about them putting a ‘v’ into ‘Churches’ to make the band easier to search for on Google? Because I already made a joke about that when I reviewed their debut album 2 years ago- a pretty damn good joke too- and even if no fucker read it I don’t want to repeat material, no matter how gold it it. Apropos of nothing ‘Empty Threat‘ is the best track after the initial three.