There’s never going to be enough time to discover and listen to all the wonderful music that already exists. And then people keep making more of it. What can you do?
Well I reckon that you can listen to all the music you can, as much as you can, whenever you can. The number of people my age (clue: not that young) who tell me that there just isn’t any good music around these days is depressing. There’s loads, there’s never been more, it’s everywhere and it’s dead easy to find. The golden age of music? You’re bloody living in it! Whatever kind of music you like there’s thousands of people out there making it right now and all you need to do is have a quick search on your computer to find it.
So, before I get into a rant about how I had to tape stuff off of John Peel back in the day I’ll just roll out the best albums I discovered this year. I loved all of this, I hope there’s some stuff you like here too, that’s why I do this.
Numbered lists get a bit silly when you’re deciding on the relative merits of totally different types of music (and, to be honest, I couldn’t be bothered ranking everything) so what we have here is a top ten of what I thought was absolutely knock-yer-socks off brilliant this year and another 70 or so records that were just extremely marvellous.
Feedback’s great so you’re welcome to mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any suggestions, comments, whatever.
Here we go.
1) The Heliocentrics – A World of Masks
I might have to go on a bit here. See, this record absolutely blew me away. I’ve never really heard anything quite like it. I guess if you took the swooning, sultry delights of the track “Sly” from Massive Attack’s Protection and just went off and imagined a whole world based on it you’d have a start at getting the feel of this brilliant album.
You know when every track flows on and it seems like the only possible music you could listen to between the track before and the track after – this is like that. This is all about mystery and secrecy and you never quite know what’s going on.
Heliocentrics have made great music before but never anything as engrossing and all-encompassing as this. The Slovakian singer Barbora Patkova is a marvellous choice, her strong yet plaintive style is just perfect for the strange world conjured up with such brilliance by this album.
So there you go, album of the year*
* Full disclosure: it’s Jazz. Moral of the story is never say never!
2) Run The Jewels – RTJ3
El-P and Killer Mike started Run The Jewels for a laugh (check out their Meow the Jewels) and then realised that they worked amazingly well together. By their third album they sound completely seamless, riffing off one another’s lines in a dizzying flow of furious wordcraft. The beats are ironclad as you’d expect from El-P’s production wizardry and Zac De La Rocha puts in a great guest appearance. This is a fierce and angry call to action and a proper sign of the times.
Download here for free – https://runthejewels.com/
3) Ulrika Spacek – Modern English Decoration
Something of a sleeper this one in that you play it and it sounds good but then it reveals it’s excellence on repeat listens. It isn’t wildly innovative slotting firmly into independent English guitar rock, but it is very good indeed.
4) Vanishing Twin – Choose Your Own Adventure
More mystery. Vanishing Twin are named after the syndrome of the same name where one twin is absorbed by the other during their development in the womb. A strange syndrome that has produced the inspiration for some beautiful and strange music. There’s gorgeous vocals from singer Cathy Lucas and her own vanished twin provides the subject matter of the album. Every track seems to be plucked from a different musical style but all of it meshes together into… loveliness.
5) Venn – Runes
The debut album by Manchester’s Venn is deeply rooted in 80’s era electronic independent music. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t sound absolutely contemporary, it does. There’s more groove and funk underpinning their sound than with their obvious Manchester antecedents and catchy tunes propel themselves forward with compulsion and furious energy. They’ll go far this lot.
6) James Holden and the Spirit Animals – The Animal Spirits
This is one of those moments when an artist you like just nails it and you can tell they’ve finally achieved what they have been working towards. Electronic musician James Holden has previously experimented with producing a synthesis of tribal, natural music and rhythm and his vintage swirling electronic sounds. Here he gets a bunch of virtuoso musicians together in a room with him and lets everyone go wild. It is totally exhilarating stuff and not much like anything else you’ll hear anywhere. Wonderful.
7) Jane Weaver – Modern Cosmology
Jane Weaver found her sound with last year’s excellent The Silver Globe. She kept the folkiness of previous releases but turned up the dial a bit and brought in some psych rock mystery and a welter of fine tunes. And, she’s done it again. Not much messing with that formula since it reallt didn’t need to be messed with. This is just a great album.
8) The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Don’t Get Lost
Anton Newcombe’s late-era purple patch continues with this terrific album. The reworking, with Tess Parks on vocals, of “Dropping Bombs on the Sun” from one of his earlier albums is the best track I heard this year, blissed out and beautiful.
9) Julie’s Haircut – Invocation and Ritual Dance of My Demon Twin
There’s so much great music out there that you just can’t hope to know about all the stuff that’s around. The plus side of that is that every so often you discover a brilliant band who have been around for years and have a huge, varied and wonderful history of releases. Enter Italy’s Julie’s Haircut. Starting in the late 90’s with a kind of new wave sound a gradually morphing into a more exploratory and experimental sound. By now they’re at the very top of their game and this is a rewarding album of adventurous psychedelic music.
10) Moonlandingz- Interplanetary Class Classics
This err, “supergroup” is comprised of members of Fat White Family and the Eccentronic Research Council. The band was originally designed as a concept act for the Eccentronic Research Council’s fifth album Johnny Rocket, Narcissist and Music Machine…I’m Your Biggest Fan. But the band continued to play and tour together and this album was eventually made, I guess, because they realised how absolutely fabulous they sound. The music is a kind of gutter rockabilly with some deeply silly and seedy lyrics andeveryone hamming it up bigtime. But it works incredibly well. You won’t here a funner or more catchy album this year.
…and, in alphabetical order (mainly so I don’t put anything in twice) here’s loads more for you.
Adult – Detroit House Guests
Moody, chanty electronic mantras. Genuinely eerie and spooky.
All Them Witches – Sleeping Through The War
All Them Witches cherry-pick the best bits from a number of different musical genres. There’s a bit of blues rock, a bit of stoner rock, even traces of meandering Grateful Deadery. Sounds weird but they’ve crafted a distinctive sound for themselves and this album swaggers with confidence and, more importantly, with excellent tunes.
Balmorhea – Clear Language
Classical Americana? Something like that I suppose. Over the course of their career Balmorhea have become gradually more confident in their ability to achieve more with less and so this istrumental album is elegant and restrained but still stirring.
Ben Frost – The Center Cannot Hold
You’ll need some decent bass speakers for this. That’s the first thing you realise about 5 seconds into “Theshold of Faith” when the first sonic depth charge implodes. This is probably Frost’s most brutal work since “By The Throat”. It’s an uncomfortable, edgy and extremely rewarding electronic album. A Steve Albini production.
Big:Brave – Ardor
Primal, almost primitive music spread over three lengthy tracks. These Canadians lay the raw, emotive and quite unique vocals of Robin Wattie over skeletal extended guitar wails and thudding drums. Hypnotic and compelling.
Brainwaltzera – Aescoba EP / Outdives EP
This is a delightful revisit to early 80’s acid house sounds that are used to create gentle ear fillers rather than belting floor fillers. The tunes are excellent and you’ll have it on repeat before you know it.
The Bug and Earth – Concrete Desert
A mighty mighty collaboration. Dylan Carson’s glacial guitar drones were just made for the rugged programmed soundscapes of The Bug. This huge album is packed with brutal evocations of industrial growrth and decay. It’s ferocious and overwhelming and totally absorbing.
Causa Sui – Vibraciones Doradas
Musical virtuosity and adventurous compositions are the keystones of this Danish psych outfit.
Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – Dreaming in the Non-Dream
Chris Forsyth is an accomplished guitarist whose work evokes 70’s radio and long freeway drives, tumbleweeds and all of that.
Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex
What a dreadful, dreadful, band name. So bad you could be forgiven for not even bothering to listen, as I nearly did. After all, if you name your band that then you can’t have any taste in music, or can you? Actually, yes, as it turns out.
This is an album of simple and pretty lovelorn songs in the vein of Galaxie 500. And it’s done extremely well indeed.
Circuit Des Yeux – Reaching for Indigo
Hayley Fohr has a simply amazing voice which she can employ across loads of octaves in loads of registers from a whisper to an almighty howl. She can also compose some of the most complex arrangements and subtle to brutal shifts that you can imagine. On this album she exercises restraint to wonderful effect and the whole album gradually invites you into her wonderful and frightening world.
Circle – Terminal
You just can’t dislike these Finnish lunatics. They dress like crazy glam rockers. They’ve made about a million albums – at least one of which was by another band that they leased their name out to for a laugh. Clearly they have a refreshing lack of self-importance.
But, perhaps surprisingly, their music is very good indeed. This is a belter of a psych-rock album with more than a hint of the progressive rock leanings of European innovators like Goblin. You’ll love ’em.
The Clientele – Music For The Age of Miracles
The Clientele are finally getting the recognition their meticulously-crafted music deserves. This is wistful and erudite pop perfection.
Cloakroom – Time Well
Lots of shoegaze around this year. Stupidest genre name ever? This is a good example though. Crunchy off-key guitars, murky bass, whispery vocals and very good songs.
Colin Stetson – All This I do For Glory
Colin Stetson is the Conan the Barbarian of the saxaphone. Not for him your smooth and sexy Baker Street style solos. He wrestles notes out of his sax like he’s trying to fell a bear. He has this continuous breathing thing going on and he makes his own percussion by slapping, wailing and wringing every bit of sound out of the thing. At least part of the appeal is in knowing that all the sounds on here were created by one person and one instrument without any fancy stuff but the musical compositions themselves rise above this and reward repeated listens as all kinds of subtelties emerge. If you like this then check out his Ex Eye collaboration also released this year – tougher than tough .
The Cosmic Dead – Psych is Dead
Scotland’s Cosmic Dead are consummate psych-jam wizards and this is a fine example of just that.
They don’t really think psych is dead, they’re just messing with ya.
Dalek – Endangered Phiosophies
OK I’ll admit that Dalek are too clever for me. Those umlauts above the “A” mean that their name is pronounced “Dialek”. Clever eh? Not surprising really since their rhyming flow has a linguistic complexity that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. And the words flow over a murky wreckage of broken beats and industrial noise. So if you’re looking for mainstream hip-hop you’ll be disappointed but if you want thoughtful, compelling wordsmithery then give ’em a whirl.
Dead Sea Apes – Sixth Side of The Pentagon
It’s great when bands ignore genre conventions and just make what the hell kind of music they want. This is, I suppose, a deep dub reggae album made by these Mancunian psychedelic explorers.
Do Make Say Think – Stubborn Persistent Illusions
Perhaps, like me, you feel your spirit to live being eroded by the standard “Post Rock” album. There’s just so much of it around and so little of it is different from anything else. All that grandiose, po-faced, quiet, loud stuff sucks the marrow from my bones. Which is why I found this album so refreshing. The music is fun, fresh and not at all formulaic. It’s like a bunch of good musicians got together and jammed out some music, saw where it was going and turned it all into some really rewarding songs.
Ecstatic Vision – Raw Rock Fury
I think Ecstatic Vision are extremely keen to impress on you that they are rock musicians and that this is a rock album. Thankfully they are quite right. They are, and it is. And a very good one at that. It’s all overdriven 70’s style hard psychedelic rock that grabs you and shakes you around a bit.
Elder – Reflections of a Floating World
Well, well; another great band discovery of the year. Elder started out as a fairly standard stoner/doom band but I think after a while they realised that they were really, really good at playing the guitar and making epic sprawling rock songs. That’s what’s on here. I mean, it’s almost prog rock but doesn’t go off on one into little interlude bits that annoy the piss out of you. A ten minute Elder song is all killer and no filler and features a dizzying array of compelling guitar riffs and styles that all mesh in seamlessly. If you love guitar rock I urge you to give this a go.
Electric Wizard – Wizard Bloody Wizard
Doom behemoths Electric Wizard don’t break the Sabbath formula much on this one. I thank that’s their point actually. Where, in the past, they have taken the form to all kinds of wild and gory extremes here they grind out six (relatively) concise doom dirges strung around slow hypnotic riffs. Isn’t it about time to give them MBE’s?
Forest Swords – Compassion
A welcome return to the strange off-kilter programmed world of Forest Swords. Hushed and lovely, mournful and orchestral – this doesn’t sound like anything else but itself.
Four Tet – New Energy
Anything new by Kieran Hebden is a major event. You never know what the ever-shifting electronic maestro will come up with next. This isn’t his most experimental work but it’s still pretty fine.
Gary Newman – Savage (Songs From a Broken World)
In the video old Gary appears to be losing a battle with a flock of backpacker’s money belts, or is it back support braces? in the Sahara!
But he’s a rugged veteran and I’m sure he got his face free in the end.
This album, the third in his celebrated career resurgence, is very good. The sound, pleasingly, continues in the industrial electronic style of the last two and there’s some good tunes on here.
Gnoomes – Tschak!
Russia’s Gnoomes deserve a big hug for gracing us with this delightful and inventive album. It’s too effervescent to stick a badge or label on other than to say that it’s a thoroughly modern and hugely varied album that you should listen to right now.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers
Godspeed.. are producing new stuff at a dizzying rate by their previous standards. Given the state of the world then I’m sure they feel that they need to. What is interesting is that this is their most optimistic and generous album ever. I read at Norman Records and then couldn’t get out of my head that album centre “Bosses Hang” sounds like a post rock version of “With a little help from my friends”. It does, in a marvellously good way. They should make an album a year for ever, or until the end of the world, whichever comes first.
Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
Goldfrapp are always up for trying new sounds out and I’ve lots of time for experimentation and not resting on your laurels. Having said that it was very nice to hear that on this album they’ve gone back to the electro-funk-pop sound they do so very well. It goes without saying that they slot back into it perfectly and there are some belters on here.
Here Lies Man – Here Lies Man
This is a chunky and distinctive album by a band who base their sound on 70’s Afro-funk with a healthy stir of psych.
Hey Colossus – The Guillotine
Noise-rock stalwarts Hey Colossus continue to invade post-punk territory with this splendid spiky little beast of an album. England’s finest band at the moment? I reckon so. The best commentary on Brexit you’ll ever hear is “Englishman”.
The Horrors – V
I have a soft spot for The Horrors. Sure, they take themselves a bit seriously and that but they make jolly 80’s infuenced gothy stuff that’s very easy on the ear.
Hotel Wrecking City Traders – Passage to Agartha
Terrific name for a band. Melbourne’s Hotel Wrecking City Traders are almost certainly not city traders, since this is a driving album of propulsive psych jams played to perfection.
Husker Du – Savage Young Du
If you’re unfortunate enough to have never encountered the mighty Husker Du then maybe don’t start here, check out their later stuff from New Day Rising onwards. But if, like me, you recognise them as the primary source of The Pixies and Grunge and a whole slew of subsequent alternative music driven by melody and great songs then this huge anthology of unreleased early material is a real treasure trove. Conventional wisdom has it that they started out with just hardcore noise and then gradually discovered songcraft. This album proves, with little gems scattered throughout, that Bob Mould and the recently departed, much lamented genius, Grant Hart, were brilliant songsmiths from the word go.
Ibibio Sound Machine – Uyai
Splendid poppy African band, release another excellent album.
John Richardson – The Fold
This is a strangely beguiling piece of work from this Swedish singer/songwriter. On first play it doesn’t seem like there’s much to it, but the songs are pretty special and it’s a real grower.
Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society – Simultonality
Ooh this is lovely. A bit of Jazz, a bit of kosmiche and a bit of Nyman/Gass all melded together to wonderful effect.
Juana Molina – Halo
How can I have missed out on Argentina’s Juana Molina for over two decades!? She makes wonderful off kilter pop music.
JuJu – Our Mother Was A Plant
Intense instrumental Italian psych rock based around an urgent rhythmic core.
Menace Beach – Lemon Memory
Brash shouty alt-pop from Leeds. This is even more in-your-face than their first album. They have a very distinctive sound and they’re willing to try new stuff. Fresh and vital.
The Myrrors – Hasta La Victoria
Repetition, repetition, repetition. The Myrrors want to lull you into a strange state with their intense cycling music. Let them in.
The National – Sleep Well Beast
Professional sadsacks the National are the world heavyweight champions of poignant songs of the loves and losses of everyday man. On this album they introduce electronic instrumentation for the first time and… don’t really sound different at all. You know what you’re getting, it’s sad, but it’s good for you. Now take the medicine.
LCD Sound System – American Dream
He wasn’t going to make any more music. Then he did. And, almost inevitably, it’s excellent.
Les Amazones D’Afrique – Republique Amazon
A proper modern African album featuring the astonishing voices of a bunch of the best female singers on the continent. The Voodoo Ray referencing first track is great.
Lorde – Melodrama
No really, this is great. It’s easy to forget that chart-topping R&B influenced pop doesn’t have to be crap. Lorde is a sharp one and she’s produced something pretty special here.
PC Worship – Buried Wish
This New York mob make a messy and shambling Surfers and Pavement influenced racket.
Penguin Cafe – The Imperfect Sea
Penguin Cafe leader Arthur Jeffes carries on the peerless work of his father Arthur’s Penguin Cafe Orchestra. This is splendid modern classical music that focuses on elegance and accessibilty, expanding the form by popularisation rather than by wild experimentation. Lovely calming stuff.
Pigs Pigs PIgs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Feed The Rats
What a silly name! These Newcastle sludge monsters have spawned a dirty great mess of a raucous din. There are two huge, slow, messy dins with a four minute Sabbath doom reprieve called Sweet Relief in the middle. All in all it’s a right tasty sandwich.
Power Trip – Nightmare Logic
Remember how much fun thrash metal used to be? Me too. Play this.
Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley
I’ll be honest, I passed over this one the first time I heard about it. I mean, it’s a concept album about the decline and fall of the Welsh coal industry. But then I got round to listening to it and, it’s really good. Speeches, recordings and guest vocals are weaved together by some lovely tunes that suddenly get big on you. A bold premise carried off so well that even the presence of James Dean Bradfield can’t spoil it.
PWR BTTM – Pageant
Bright and shiny hook-laden dance pop.
The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions
If you’ve read any of these reviews before you’ll have noticed that anything by New Pornographers gets on here. That’s because they have been consistently the best writers of hook laden pop gems for, I don’t know, decades. They have never, ever, made a bad album and they’ve managed to evolve whilst staying the same.
Pumarosa – The Witch
No year would be complete without a new indie-rock saviour bursting onto the scene all laden with hooks and hormones. So let’s welcome the excellent Pumarosa.
Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
QOTSA aren’t what they used to be. But then who is? The menace and swagger of their first couple of albums really isn’t something anyone could hope to keep up and survive.
In their current incarnation they make spare and precise, almost mainstream, rock music that happens to be very good.
The Radiation Flowers – Summer Loop
The poppy end of the shoegaze spectrum gets a good working over on this excellent album.
REZN – Let it Burn
Pop sludge stoner doom – if you need a category it has to be that I’m afraid. Female vocals really suit this style of music I reckon and the singer has a great voice. This stands out from the syrupy morass of other wannabe slow-coaches.
Sasquatch – Maneuvers
A straight up driving hard rock album. Think of Soundgarden, QOTSA, Audioslave. Nothing new here – just a great example of how great this stuff is when it’s done well.
Sherwood and Pitch – Man vs. Sofa
Adriane Sherwood has pursued a singular path through the murky margins of modern music seemingly forever. His wildly innovative and influential lable On U Sound created new musical genres like it weren’t no thing. This collaboration with Dubstep maestro Rob Ellis takes vast slabs of dub and runs them through all kinds of industrial transformations to produce a warped and novel futuristic throb.
The Shins – Heartworms
A welcome return from these pop gem craftsmen. Whilst this isn’t quite up there with Chutes Too Narrow there’s still some great tunes.
Shit and Shine – Total Shit
Off the wall, filthy, ultra-repetitive dance music tapping into a well of deep strangeness. And if this isn’t twisted enough for you then try this psychotic collaboration of theirs with King Coffey.
Slowdive – Slowdive
Newton’s fourth law states that every band will eventually reform, survival permitting. The latest is 90’s shoegazers Slowdive. You have to wonder what they’ve been doing in the meantime because this is a hugely accomplished return.
Soft Power – In a Brown Study
Calm, strange, Finnish avant jazz. This is an understated and unique album that slowly gets a grip on you.
Spectres – Condition
Spectres build a wall of noise like few others these days but you know there are some great songs lurking beneath the wailing wall of feedback.
St Vincent – Masseduction
Oof. This is a heady, sexy swirl of lust and power, confession and self-assertion. Annie Clarke comes over all Prince at times on this bold and often thrilling album. I haven’t been convinced by St. Vincent in the past but this is great stuff.
The Swan and the Lake – Clouds Over
This is ambient music that comes from boiling down house music until there’s almost nothing left but euphoria. It’s very sparse in terms of sound and every little bit of it has been placed with meticulous care. It’s calming, positive, lovely stuff.
This is music for the party after the party after the after party.
This is the Kit – Moonshine Freeze
Highly distinctive album from Bristol’s Kate Stables. Quirky folk-pop nuggets abound.
Throwing Snow – Embers
Super inventive leftfield dance music. Probably the best electronic album of the year.
Trans Am – California Hotel
Another band sounding fresh and inventive some 20 years into their career. Trans Am’s brand of instrumental music effortlessly grabs an emotional response. This one’s kind of sad and angry and with just eight tracks it gets in, does it’s thing and leaves.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Mogwai, Gustavo Santaolalla- Before The Flood
Trent Reznor’s electronic music thrives when it’s pared back from the seething boil of Nine Inch Nails to the level of restraint required of a Movie soundtrack. Mogwai also are becoming specialists in soundtracks, last year’s Atomic was excellent. This is the soundtrack to a documentary about global warming and does a great job of conveying the sadness and horror of our predicament.
Ufomammut – 8
Italy’s Ufomammut have cropped up on a few of these lists now with their blend of looming psych and blasting rock. On 8 (yes, you guessed, it’s their 8th album) there’s no filler just lots and lots of right meaty rock noise.
Widowspeak – Expect the Best
Folky, country torch songs. It would be lazy and reductive to mention Mazzy Star – so I won’t.
Wire – Silver/Lead
Wire can do no wrong. This is extremely accomplished modern music and they continue to refine the paramaters of their current incarnation. I expect them to throw all that away and try something wildly new soon though.
Yagow – Yagow
Swirly downtuned shoegazy psych that’s catchy as hell. You know when you start playing an album whilst you’re still trying to decide what to play? It’s one of those ones.
So there you have it. If you enjoyed this do me a favour annd let me know about something I missed so I can give it a listen. Cheers!