I was kind of dreading writing this year’s list, under the impression it had been kind of a lacklustre year for music. At least the kind I’m into.
So over the last few weeks, I went out of my way to listen to as much stuff popping up in other people’s best-of lists that piqued my interest. And I was wrong – it’s been a pretty great year!
That in mind, there’s every chance as time goes on, I’ll realise I have these albums in totally the wrong order. Such is life.
10. Ryan Adams – 1989
Before you ask, no, I didn’t like the Taylor Swift original. No, I hadn’t heard her version beforehand. No, this doesn’t invalidate my opinion.
A lot of the time people say they like a piece of music, it’s got nothing to do with the song – it’s the recording, the production, where they were and how much they’d drunk the time they first heard it. I can’t stand the sound/production of the original 1989;; I suspected this would be the case, so didn’t bother listening to it until Ryan Adams showed there were some good tunes in there. Gave it a go, didn’t like it.
Like the sad-sack white-boy-with-guitar version though. *shrugs*
9. Silversun Pickup – Better Nature
I’ve always found the Silversun Pickups to be one of those bands in the background who seem to have all the pieces of a great album in them, but it never really comes together. The sound is there, the style, but not the songs.
Without dramatically changing their sound, I think Better Nature will probably as be as close as they come. Songs like ‘Connection’, ‘Nightlight’ and the title track nail the smoother end of grunge-pop, while ‘Circadian Rhythm’ points at a new direction for the band with bassist Nikki Monninger taking the lead. ‘Tapedeck’ also suggests an Adore-style complete makeover.
If they want to stick with being 2015’s Smashing Placebo though, ‘Latchkey Kids and ‘Ragamuffin’ work.
8. Blur – The Magic Whip
There are perhaps three songs on the reunion Blur record that sound like the band people like me grew up with – opener ‘Lonesome Street’ is half self-titled album, half-Parklife; ‘Go Out’ is a ‘Music is My Radar’ revamp by way of 13; and ‘I Broadcast’ the ‘Chinese Bombs’/’E.M.I.’/’Bank Holiday’ stand-in pretty much all of their records (bar The Great Escape) seem to have.
The rest though aren’t unrecognisably Blur; in a lot of ways, The Magic Whip is what 2003’s Think Tank should have been. There’s a lot of that album’s loose experimental flavour, but the pseudo-world music indulgences have been swapped out for a good dose of The Good, the Bad and the Queen, megaphone effects and reverb-drenched keyboards.
It’s good – not the place to start if you’re wondering why Blur are so revered, but more interesting than Damon Albarn’s solo record, and it makes you wonder what Parklife would sound like were it recorded by this middle-aged version of the band.
7. Muse – Drones
Promoted as the band’s return to rock, it seemed strange the first single was the Depeche Mode-esque ‘Dead Inside’. It all started to make sense when Drones dropped – it was the best song.
Follow-up singles ‘Psycho’ – a decent, but derivative and too-long rocker – and ‘Mercy’ – a ‘Starlight’ rewrite with a fraction the charm of the original – didn’t bode well, but a mediocre Muse album still has its moments, and there are enough on Drones to justify its place on this list.
And it’s a list ending in ‘list’: the robotic backing vocals on ‘Reapers’, the blatant Queen-isms of ‘Defector’, from 2.20 of the otherwise plodding dirge ‘The Handler’, the disjointed entirety of ‘The Globalist’.
It sounds strangely dismissive of a #7 album to call it ‘mediocre’, but with a back catalogue including Absolution and Black Holes and Revelations, it would be odd not to use the term of Drones, as enjoyable as it is. Fanboy, I guess?
6. Drenge – Undertow
This is one of those records I discovered quite recently, and it took a few listens to sink in. What really converted me to the cause though was this live gig I found on YouTube last night. In contrast, the album has a muted, swampy and dark sound – if Steve Albini or Butch Vig were at the controls, it would have been so much better.
But even as it is, it’s infectious, heavy and unrelenting, and well worth checking out if you miss the raucous, sinister end of the early ’90s grunge boom.
I’m not sure what the band’s name means, but it suits their sound most excellently.
5. Cage the Elephant – Tell Me I’m Pretty
I’d literally never heard of these guys until a few weeks ago. Caught ‘Cigarette Daydreams’ in the car, sought out the band and found they had a new album out. Listened to the album, wondered where the song was, only to realise it was a couple of years old already!
Love it when that happens – I get two ‘new’ albums to check out for the price of one song. Didn’t like the old one, but the new one – without ‘Cigarette Daydreams’ has loads of other good songs. Typically the ones that sound like the Beatles, of course.
So that’s ‘Sweetie Little Jean’, ‘How Are You True’ and ‘Trouble’, while ‘Mess Around’ is for all intents and purposes the best Black Keys song of the last few years, and there’s a track near the end which might as well be the Troggs.
These are all good things, by the way.
4. New Order – Music Complete
Peter Hook left, the remaining band members’ other gig – Bad Lieutenant – sucked, the clock ticked over to 2015… none of these things suggested New Order were about to put out the best album they’ve done in nearly three decades. But that’s what they did with Music Complete, with a little help from uber-fans Brandon Flowers, La Roux and the Chemical Brothers; and randomly, Iggy Pop.
Much has been written about the hard-hitting opening trio of songs, but for me the highlights are ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Academic’. The former’s a pop gem in the vein of ‘True Faith’ (still their best song), the latter a jangly thing that appears to be going nowhere until the chorus lifts it to classic status.
I hope the album title’s not prophetic and they can keep going,. Hook might be gone, but the hooks aren’t.
3. YACHT – I Thought the Future Would be Cooler
I have no idea what this album cover is meant to mean. The album’s a lot better than it would suggest.
Shangri-La from a few years back was the first album I heard by YACHT, and loved it – if LCD Soundsystem aren’t going to put out new albums, what does it matter when there are other bands doing the same thing just as good?
I Thought the Future Would be Cooler is arguably even better despite a sharper turn towards pop, strangely enough.
A song like ‘Ringtone’ should be aggravating, but it works. The opening track is longer than ‘Hey Jude’, but never gets boring.
‘Don’t Be Rude’ is the standout though – it’s the closest thing to classic indie-pop on the album, playing it straight on an album full of sonic and lyrical quirks.
2. Noel Gallagher – Chasing Yesterday
Speaking of playing it straight, Mr Dad-Rock himself vastly improved on his solo debut with Chasing Yesterday – and much like Drenge totally suit their name, a better phrase has probably never been coined to describe Noel Gallagher’s entire shtick.
It opens with a Beatles lyric (‘There’s something in the way she moves me…’), pinches a song title from Led Zeppelin (‘While the Song Remains the Same’) and largely rests on the Oasis formula of mixing a bit of Kinks, a bit of T Rex and a whole lot of the Fab Four – I wouldn’t expect anything less from Noel – but there’s saxophones and David Gilmour-style solos (‘Riverman’), a bit of Bacharach pop-jazz (‘The Right Stuff’) and some murky dance-rock (‘Ballad of the Mighty I’).
‘You Know We Can’t go Back’ is ironically the closest thing to an early Oasis-style rocker, and ‘The Girl With X-Ray Eyes’ is essentially ‘The Masterplan’ with a new coat of paint. Both are great. So is b-side ‘Leave My Guitar Alone’. I’m yet to decide if he was robbed or had a nasty break-up.
Taken alongside the second, highly underrated Beady Eye album, I guess the Gallaghers have it over Blur for the time being.
1. Wolf Alice – My Love is Cool
This record floored me. I’d never heard of Wolf Alice a month ago, and saw their record My Love is Cool pop up in one of those premature best-of lists published at the start of December.
Within one listen I knew it’d feature on my own (literal) end-of-year round-up, and a few later, there’s no place for it but at the top. It’s that good.
It won’t win any production awards, but nor would Arcade Fire’s Funeral, which is probably the closest analogue I can think of for My Love is Cool. It’s an epic first album, lurching from ethereal folk to speaker-shredding Pixies-style freakouts – often in the same song. There’s My Bloody Valentine levels of distortion, with Nirvana riffs and Blonde Redhead melodies and mood.
It’s all good, and if Wolf Alice can hook up with a producer like Rich Costey, even greater things could be in store.
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Anyway, that’s my list. Let me know anything else I should check out – @radioovermoscow on Twitter. And no, I didn’t forget to put Coldplay’s latest record on this list – last year’s Ghost Stories was great, but A Head Full Of Dreams is pretty much a marginally improved Mylo Xyloto. Marginally.