Top Albums of 2015: Editor’s Picks

By on Monday, 21st December 2015 at 11:00 am
 

It’s definitely been a roller coaster of a year, full of highs and lows of surprises and emotional moments. So when it came time for me to sit down and consider which would be my top albums of 2015, the qualities I was looking for were a little different as they have been in the last 5 years I’ve offered my end of year choices. (To have a read of my best of lists in 2010-2014 while I’ve presided as Editor at TGTF, go here.)

While the following five albums all met my usual primary of criterion of, “will I listen to this album again and again in years to come?”, it was important to me this year, more than any other time in the past, to choose albums that I felt truly emotionally connected to that I feel that you, the readers, will feel too.

Fictonian Desire Lines cover1. Fictonian‘Desire Lines’ (Distiller Records)
Fictonian coverage on TGTF

When we approach the start of summer or winter, I get a nervous but inescapably excited feeling in the pit of my stomach, probably much like the feeling the members of the Academy Award nominee committee have as they head towards Christmas. To me, it should be a no-brainer that any album released during or right before summer should be written with the intention that one would listen to it blaring from an open-top convertible, just as the best released near the holidays should be the one you’re listening to with your loved ones while trimming the tree.

Glen Powers’ debut as Fictonian, ‘Desire Lines’ released in mid-November, definitely fits the bill for the latter. What makes ‘Desire Lines’ a stroke of brilliance is as its demonstration of Powers’ talent. It has moments of true beauty: you will want to hold close to your heart the smoky emotional haze of ‘I Remember’, gently tempered by the sweeping gorgeousness of more upbeat ‘Make It Be Ours’. This album was crafted lovingly in rural Herefordshire, and it shows.

On the other side of the spectrum are the wonky melody of ‘Mrs. Jones’ and the playful rolling beats of ‘Little Black Book’, showing off the whimsical side of Fictonian songwriting. He’s the kind of artist you expect to be knocking back a couple of Oscars for best song or best score from a film chosen by that same committee I mentioned earlier. Suffice to say, I’m truly excited to hear more from him.

East India Youth Culture of Volume cover2. East India Youth‘Culture of Volume’ (XL Recordings)
East India Youth coverage on TGTF

Where do you go from a Mercury Prize nomination? Luckily for William Doyle, aka East India Youth, this wasn’t an issue: his sophomore album ‘Culture of Volume’ and the follow-up to last year’s hugely feted ‘Total Strife Forever’ was already written by the time Young Fathers were announced as the surprise winners of the industry gong in November 2014.

While we’ll never know for sure if the gravity of potentially winning the Mercury Prize looming over him would have made a difference in the finished product, ‘Culture of Volume’ will stand as an interesting milestone in East India Youth’s career because it’s so different – and refreshingly so – from his admittedly somewhat inaccessible Mercury-nominated debut.

Taking advantage of what I feel is one of his unsung strengths (no pun intended), the pop sensibility in Doyle’s voice shines like a beacon of light in the darkness of ‘Carousel’, and it’s impossible not feel the pain of leaving a lover in the words of ‘Turn Away’. He also indulged in his love for industrial techno in instrumental ‘Entirety’ after the pulse-pounding ‘Hearts That Never’, while also channeling the Pet Shop Boys in ‘Beaming White’. I’m alternately intrigued and terrified of what the third East India Youth album will sound like. The rumours indicate we’ll hear nothing until 2017, so we’ve got some time to wait.

Public Service Broadcasting Race for Space cover3. Public Service Broadcasting‘The Race for Space’ (Test Card Recordings); Public Service Broadcasting coverage on TGTF

Novelty is still one of the unique characteristics distinguishing indie from mainstream music. Public Service Broadcasting first came to prominence to 6 Music listeners through the single ‘Spitfire’, a driving toe-tapper highlighting the British invention of a single-seat fighter plane developed for use in World War II, using archived footage from public information films from a bygone era. The song went on to appear on the duo’s ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’, released on the act’s own Test Card Recordings. They became, in my mind, the poster boys for music for the thinking man.

In February, their second outing ‘The Race for Space’ cemented in the public consciousness Public Service Broadcasting’s ability to write a cohesive and impressive set of songs highlighting humankind’s innovation while looking towards the heavens. Russian (‘Sputnik’, ‘Gagarin’, ‘Valentina’) and American accomplishments (‘Go!’, ‘Tomorrow’) during the Cold War were equally lauded, and this is important to note, given the political climate we find ourselves in now. How incredible that music written with the help of propanganda clips, clips originally created to provoke nationalist sentiment, could be repurposed to applaud the human spirit? Fantastic.

Cut Ribbons We Want to Watch Something We Loved Burn cover4. Cut Ribbons‘We Want to Watch Something We Loved Burn’ (Kissability)
Cut Ribbons coverage on TGTF

It’s a funny thing that in the year New Order decided to return with a new album (I know, I know, without Peter Hook), a far younger band from Wales came out with their own debut in the genre of synthpop that Bernard Sumner and co. were one of the vanguards of in the ‘80s. And totally obliterated any other competition they might have had in the same genre, adding anthemic and dream pop elements to further bolster their sound.

The booming bombast of slower tempoed, well restrained ‘Clouds’ provides a welcome contrast to the cardiovascular workout and title track ‘We Want to Watch Something We Loved Burn’. Overall, including ‘Walking on Wires’ below, this is an optimistic set of songs, that I appreciate as a jolt of sunniness during the darker times.

Broken Hands Turbulence cover5. Broken Hands‘Turbulence’ (SO Recordings)
Broken Hands coverage on TGTF

It might seem strange to go from the lightness of a synthpop album into the deep, dark recesses of a hard rock album, but stay with me here. Being a Led Zeppelin fan from way back, my hard rock litmus test is difficult to pass, because, Led Zep set the bar pretty high. As a result, it’s difficult for me to cosy up to just any hard rock band. They have to prove themselves to me, and Broken Hands has done just that with ‘Turbulence’.

A searing live rendition of ‘Meteor’ at SXSW 2014 melted my face, and its recorded version does not disappoint (have a watch and listen below), and neither does single ‘Who Sent You’. But this band is no one-trick pony, proven by the grandeur of surprising ballad ‘Impact’. Excellent stuff.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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