Here's a list of my 15 favourite albums/EPs/mixtapes that caressed my eardrums over the last 12 or so months. I recommend listening to every single one at least 5 times cuz dey worth it. I spent hours doing this by the way so please take a bit of time to read it, even though it was really a labour of love.
15. Action Bronson & Alchemist
- Rare Chandeliers
Yeeeaaaah son. Rare Chandeliers. The reason Good Kid m.A.A.d City or Duality didn't make the list is because of this mammoth of a (FREE) mixtape, and the reason is memorability. Alchemists' beats would make Madlib proud, having a dusty '90s hip-hop film over them while lending themselves incredibly well to Bronsons' acid rhymes. And the RHYMES. Action Bronson seems like he's constantly about to burst a vein with the intensity of his rapping, slinging slippery tongue-twisters and killer punchlines left, right and centre. 'BITCH, I DESERVE YOU'. Best recognise.
Best Track - Randy The Musical
14. KASHIWA Daisuke
I only heard this a couple of days ago, but it's going straight on the list. Kashiwa Daisuke is one of the few artists who is a definite contender for the title of 'musical genius'. This is the guy who can produce something like Program Music I
as well as a masterful solo piano album, 88
. 'Re:' sums up his sound very well, incorporating everything from funky '90s hip-hop beats to ear-piercing glitch to beautiful solo piano works and ethereal guest vocals, often in the same song. The only complaint I have is that he's done a lot of this before, this is just all of it condensed into one album. one GREAT album, though. Well worth a try if you're looking for something ambitious or beautiful.
Best Track - something is lost
13. Tame Impala
Having only listened to it today, I also felt that this should go in the list at such short notice. I moderately enjoyed Tame Impala's debut, Innerspeaker, as it was a fresh take on an older genre and jam-packed with solid tracks. This new one, Lonerism, is a logical progression, expanding into newer, synthier territory while still remaining firmly grounded in modern psych-rock. Tracks like Endors Toi
showcase their cosmic, shimmering psychedelic stylings while Elephant
bring the listener right back down to earth with bluesy riffing and tight production. While still not a masterpiece by any means, it shows Kevin Parker maturing and injecting even more interest into his already heady cocktail of new and old musical stylings.
Best Track - Endors Toi
12. Jeremiah Jae
- Raw Money Raps
Uh wow. This album, man. I didn't really have a clue what to make of it when I first heard it. Was it twisted, subverted genius or a mess of undeveloped ideas and hazy, stream-of-consciousness wordplay? In the end I settled for 'weird as hell but pretty cool, I guess'. Jeremiah Jae's first full-length on legendary hip-hop label Brainfeeder
sounds like Madvillainy's tripped-out younger brother with its unorthodox structures, abstract rhymes and sampling style. it's pretty damn impressive how the dude manages to combine classic hip-hop stylings with severe experimentation and sound design. However, Jae's at his best when he reverts back to conventionality for a bit, like on Cat Fight
, which features production from the man himself, Flying Lotus, or Greetings ft. Tre
with its powerhouse beat and slurred rhyming from Jae. It's a weirdy, but a goody.
Best Track - Greetings ft. Tre
- Lonely at the Top
Lukid's been my soundtrack to university for the last month, his hazy, urban style has been a great soundtrack to wandering around cities, procrastinating for ridiculous amounts of time and seeing so many new faces and places that everything starts to become a hazy blur. Like his music. this new release from him sees him refining his sound, incorporating a little bit more clarity in his mixes while still maintaining the repetitive, hypnotic, DIY style that I love his music for. Tracks like the opener Bless My Heart
display his penchant for very heavy, rhythmic tracks that strike a balance between instrumental hip-hop and all sorts of dubby UK Bass influences. Highly recommended.
Best Track - Lonely at the Top
10. Dark Time Sunshine
On the opposite end of the spectrum to Action Bronson & Alchemists' neck-breaking beats and acid-tongued rhymes lies ANX, the latest album from abstract hip-hop duo Dark Time Sunshine. To be honest, this album came so far into the list on the strength of just a few tracks which I constantly find myself listening to, but the whole thing (when I do get past those tracks) is an invigorating, refreshing take on hip-hop, showing just a small preview of what can still be done with the genre. Zavalas' beats are typified by very spacey, reverberated and ethereal melodic content, pinned down with crunchy breakbeats. Impressively, a lot of the playing on the album is recorded live rather than sampled, which is clearly heard in how crystal-clear and tailor-made it sounds for the music overall. Onry Ozzborn's rhyming matches the music well, with a lower-register, deadpan delivery and some very spacey lyrical content. Overlordian and Valiant are the two outstanding tracks I mentioned earlier and I personally found that the rest of the album was overshadowed by these clear 10/10 tracks, but otherwise the album is consistently impressive, if a little monotone.
Best Track - Valiant (feat. Child Actor)
9. Portico Quartet
- Portico Quartet
It took me a while to listen to Portico Quartet's self-titled third album and when I did, I was a little skeptical. For a so-called 'jazz' album (admittedly a genre i don't know too much about, especially contemporary jazz), I was surprised to find heavy repetition and gradual progression being the main features of the tracks, rather than the usual lightning-fast soloing, meandering structures and drum kit freakouts. When I realised what the group were going for though, it suddenly became a great album. The emphasis on rhythmic techniques and texture with pinpoint precision is a treat for the ears, especially on tracks like 'Spinner'. The chiptune/drum thrashing of 'Rubidium' is a particular highlight.
Best Track - Rubidium
- Kindred EP
Having taken a music technology course in the UK, surrounded by people who know a ridiculous amount about the current UK electronic music scene, I hear the name Burial a lot. And I'm totally fine with it. Untrue was one of the best albums ever, perfectly encapsulating the gritty, monotone mood of urban Britain and Kindred is a perfect follow-up. The most obvious difference is the length of the tracks. Two are over eleven minutes, while 'Loner' clocks in at 7:30. The main difference though, is Burial's progression as a songwriter and producer. The production here is magnificent, the percussion as snappy and clattering as ever, the vocal melodies even more memorable and fragmented and the lower frequencies crunchier and floor-shaking. Moment like the angelic opening chords of 'Kindred' are a clear sign that Burial is hoping to capture more than just the urban melancholy of Britain with this release. To me, the overall tone is far more dystopian and escapist than the gritty reality of Untrue and the self-titled, which is something I actually prefer. If you don't have this, get it now, play it through headphones and pay attention to every little fragment of sound, every mournful vocal cut and every splintering rhythm.
Best Track - Kindred
7. Kishi Bashi
Even seeing the album art for this thing puts me in a great mood. This is easily the most life-affirming and just, well, happiest
album I've heard this year by far. 151a is top-quality indie pop, but the twist is the K. Ishibashi's violin-and-loop-pedal combo which he uses to create entire orchestral backdrops and massive vocal harmonies for his super happy-clappy tunes. It would be just far too sweet and sugary if it weren't for the fact that Mr. Ishibashi is a fantastic songwriter though. The huge vocal hook of 'It All Began With A Burst' is impossible not to sing along to, while 'Wonder Woman, Wonder Me''s heavily layered vocals and plucked violin is shockingly delicate and beautiful. Get this album, I guarantee, if nothing else, it will brighten your day considerably.
Best Track - Wonder Woman, Wonder Me
6. Jam City
- Classical Curves
I picked up this album knowing little about it except that it was mean tto be quite good, and it turned out to be one of the best things I've heard all year. Everything is very robotic, inhuman and emotionally void at first, but with repeated listens, the album gradually opens up and becomes a lot more fun
. The sledgehammer repeating kick drum and camera clicks of 'Her', the oddly beautiful, wonky '80s homage of 'Strawberries' and the two nostalgic, shimmering chords and ringing notes of 'Club Thanz' - every little vocal cut, rhythm or melody on this album sounds like it has been perfectly sculpted and measured for the listeners' enjoyment to the extent that the pure, aesthetic audial joy that results from it is actually pretty unsettling, in an unexplainable kind of way. But no really it's a great album.
Best Track - Strawberries
- Vacation EP
I love Shlohmo's dense, lo-fi sound, how he builds huge, cascading layers of sound out of some simple synths, some guitar and some recordings of him clicking his fingers or dropping stuff on his desk. I was a little shocked when he took all this away on this EP, replacing it with sparser textures and more reliance on 808s and synths. It still kept the same melancholic, very-late-at-night mood of his usual stuff though, but it was just so much more stripped-down. It quickly grew on me though, and became one of my favourite releases in his already substantial discography. The opener, 'The Way U Do', progresses brilliantly, building up quickly, then releasing into a chilled trap-style breakdown, then building up again with a vocal sample contorted to sound like a guitar solo. 'Rained The Whole Time' has a shuffling, earthy beat straight out of an unreleased Burial tune. 'Wen Uuu' is the only slight letdown on the 3-song EP, as it doesn't really bring anything special to the table. For three songs, this EP (well, single apparently) is a serious heavyweight. Highly recommended if you want to get into Shlohmo's stuff.
Best Track - The Way U Do
4. Cloud Nothings
- Attack on Memory
Being mainly an electronic fan, it takes a lot for something like a post-hardcore/indie rock throwback to the '90s to truly pique my attention nowadays, but Dylan Baldi and crew easily did so. The best thing about this album is how each track has a very clear role to play in the whole album which makes the thing as a while sound very cohesive, tight and complete despite having only eight tracks. 'Wasted Days' is the centrepiece, starting as a shouty post-hardcore anthem then breaking down into a huge buildup, then exploding into a huge singalong freakout, 'Stay Useless' is the designated lead single with a catchy chorus and simple riffage, while 'No Sentiment' is the crunchy, heavy one. While Baldi's lyrics aren't poetic genius, the dude really knows how to write a hook, and if you listen to his earlier work, it is clear that his songwriting has progressed a serious amount. Finish it off with typical Steve Albini production and you have one of the best albums of the year. It'll be very interesting to see what these guys come up with for their next release.
Best Track - Wasted Days
- Galaxy Garden
Galaxy Garden is one of those albums which makes you feel something you can't really put into words. The chord progressions, the tones, textures and rhythms all induce a kind of euphoria, as if you were pulled suddenly from the earth and hurled through space, seeing a kaleidoscope of stars/colours/dimensions all flash before your eyes, kind of like that scene towards the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, except a lot more fun and life-affirming. All the weird cosmic musings aside, this is a ridiculously fun albums with a lot of depth and replay value, and it is a huge progression for Lone as an artist. It sounds like his artistic vision he's been cultivating over the substantial amount he's been producing has finally been realised. Every track is perfectly produced, structured and all have that euphoric, nostalgic style that Lone always had from the start. I can't really put into words how this album affects me, so I recommend just giving it a listen and getting lost in it for forty-something minutes.
Best Track - this is a toughie, they're all so great, but it's going to have to be Dream Girl / Sky Surfer
for those amazing opening chords.
I was incredibly hyped up for this release, months before the release. Having listened obsessively to Hudson Mohawke's solo material for the previous few months, hearing he was teaming up with other top producer Lunice sounded like pretty much the greatest thing since anything. When I finally got around to listening to it though, I was a little perplexed. It sounded nothing like HudMo's other stuff and it was much more lopsided and, well, different
to anything I had heard before. After a few listens though, i was hooked forever. Incredible meticulous and professional, yet energetic and manic, it was exactly what I was looking for. 'Goooo' builds into a monster of a track towards the end, where every element comes together, bound together with acidic trancey synths and huge low-end, 'Higher Ground''s vocal cuts and synth trumpet forces your body to move independently of your brain, 'Bugg'n' is the ultimate head bobber and has a real nice, spacey, minimal vibe, as if the whole track has been dipped underwater for a little bit in the production process. The closer 'Easy Easy' ends on a very high note, with gun-cocking samples, glass breaking and explosions all over the place, low vocal loops with a strange, descending melody tying it together. While in lesser producers' hands, this track would sound like a joke, HudMo and Lunice turn it into something strangely hypnotic with a serious amount low-end muscle behind it. The only thing that isn't perfect with this EP is that opening track, Top Floor, which I feel doesn't really accomplish much. Other than that though, 10/10.
Best Track - Bugg'n
1. Flying Lotus
- Until the Quiet Comes
Probably my most eagerly anticipated album of all time, and it didn't disappoint. Rather than going further down the manic electro-jazz route of Cosmogramma
, Steven Ellison toned things down a little bit on Until The Quiet Comes
, retaining the jazzy vibes but directing attention much more towards the minutiae of his tracks, which was arguably the best decision he could have made. Every sound is so meticulously placed, processed and well-used, hearing so many little parts work together in tandem and come together as a whole on tracks like 'All The Secrets' is almost overwhelming. That's not to say that the album doesn't have its fair share of straight-up bangers though, 'Getting There' has the closest thing to a hip-hop beat on the album while cosmic melodies float of in all directions with Niki Randa's vocal contribution soaring through the mix, while 'The Nightcaller' starts off as a dancey number but suddenly breaks down into a sticky hip-hop breakdown which forces your face into an involuntary gurn of appreciation. The second best thing about this album though is the cohesion. Every track is placed perfectly, complementing the previous one perfectly while bringing something entirely new to the table. The best thing is how each track still stands so strongly on its own, as they are all so intricate and subtle, rewarding countless listens. Nothing I can say really does the album justice though, even when I say that this was easily the best release this year.
Best Track - All of them. I couldn't possibly pick a single one.
Thanks for reading :)