The annual, absurdly specific, woefully incomplete wrapup to music this year.
Believe the Hype Award: CHVRCHES – The Bones Of What You Believe
It’s insanely catchy, it’s well-written, well-programmed, well-mixed, and Lauren Mayberry’s voice is a perfect balance of soulful and twee for the music. One of my favorite albums of the year. There was a lot of music press hype around this one, and I was entirely skeptical that it would come close, but for the most part, it did. A few minor missteps (The Doherty-led “Under the Tide” doesn’t really mesh with the rest of the album, and “Strong Hand” is way too good to be a bonus track) but for a debut by a young band? Duuuuuude.
Slow Burn Award: London Grammar – If You Wait
One of my other favorite albums of the year. Spare, minimal, and anchored by Hannah Reid’s soulful voice, it swoops between genres while maintaining a strong identity. At first listen I classed it as “well, it’s pretty good, but nothing I’d really want to listen to a lot” and then I listened to it a lot. Almost every song on the album builds from a mellow ballad to some sort of epic pronouncement. Their cover of Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” is one of the best songs of the year.
Better Than It Has Any Right To Be Award: Lorde – Pure Heroine
Ella Yellich -O’Connor was 16 when she co-wrote most of this. It’s remarkably assured, confident, and features far more gravitas than any 16-year old pop star has. Or most 25-year-old pop stars. Or 40-year-old pop stars. While the woozy, minimal programming and deftly spartan production can be credited to Joel Little, O’Connor’s voice and lyrics are clearly the stars of the show, and they should be.
Party Like It’s 1993 Award: Scuba – Update
It harkens back to everything I loved about techno in its formative years. The bass on this is practically tangible, and while the album awash in punchy retro drum machines and the sort of repetitive samples that wouldn’t sound out of place at a 1993 rave, it still somehow sits well in a playlist with of-the-moment dubstep and house.
There’s Something About Iceland Award: Olafur Arnalds – For Now I Am Winter
I stumbled into Arnalds’ work via the soundtrack to the british series “Broadchurch” – the combination of modern orchestral composition and haunting electronics worked well to underscore the series’ seedy tone (although it was often a bit too on-the-nose). Digging a bit deeper, Arnalds’ solo album runs with the concept, mixing orchestral melodies with occasionally disquieting ambient electronics and once in a while the slightly unearthly falsetto of Arnor Dan. What on earth is in the water up there?
Upstairs at Guy Sigsworth’s Award: Alison Moyet – The Minutes
At first I wasn’t sure about this one – the first single “When I Was Your Girl” was decent, but leaned a little to AOR for my tastes, and seemed like more of the singer-songwriterish material Moyet has been putting out since her post-Yaz days. But listening to the full album, it’s clear that collaborating with Guy Sigsworth was the right move – it has a lot of the sonic hallmarks of the lone Frou Frou album, but slightly more anchored and earthy, thanks to Moyet’s powerful contralto.
Who-jobb? Award: Architect – Mine
This is really the album Daniel Myer was born to make. It’s walks a fine line between “challenging IDM” and “melodic electronica”, and does it well. This competes with “Solutions For a Small Planet” for my favorite bit of Myer’s output, and that’s saying something.
Good Album But Hard To Spell Award: Maps – Vicissitude
Picking up the mantle of electronic neo-shoegaze where M83 left off, Maps’ latest winds from 4AD-era Xymox territory through some of the more hushed Kitsune tracks, without sounding like a throwback.
Welcome Back Award: Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
Hey everyone, Trent’s back! And he didn’t go soft on us!
Best Band Named After A Year In Which None of Them Were Born Yet Award: The 1975 – IV
The buoyant madchester-y britpop of “Chocolate” with its goofy singalong chorus and numerous drug references is the perfect summer song; but for my money the darker leadoff track “The City” is catchier and more likely to age well. And “Sex” sums up young urban hipster hookups as well as any episode of “Girls.”
Best Album I Recorded Award: Null Device – Perihelion
I’d be pretty stupid not to mention this. But seriously it’s really good and you should get it.
This Tornado Loves Awards: Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
I mean, c’mon, it’s Neko Case. She’s got The Voice, and she still writes heartfelt songs of longing and ambivalence. The new album is a little grittier, a little more melancholy, but it’s still basically Neko Case.
The Bad (And Disappointments)
Polished Too Clean: BT – A Song Across Wires
The godfather of trance collaborates with a bunch of rising stars to make a technically perfect, yet utterly soulless boilerplate collection of trance, electrohouse and dubstep tracks. I don’t know why I keep buying his albums.
Such Promise, Such Disappointment: The 1975 – The 1975
All the good tracks were on “IV.” Really. All of them. The rest sounds kinda like a paean to Huey Lewis. It’s not awful, but doesn’t live up to the EP by a long shot.
For Once The Gear Porn Kind of Bored Me: Pretty Lights – Color Map of the Sun
It’s actually pretty good. But the hype around it and the process involved in making it got kind of outsized. Okay, really outsized. It’s a good Pretty Lights album, but if you’re going to spend all that time recording new jazz and funk material for the express purpose of turning it into samples, and then making a big deal about how it’s going to redefine electronic music, I’d want something more than just a “good” Pretty Lights album.
I Actually Like Neil Gaiman A Little Less Because Of This: Everything Amanda Palmer Did this Year, particularly the “Poem For Dzokhar.”
Seriously that was a shitty poem.
Not Before The Heat Death Of The Universe: It would be physically impossible to listen to everything Caustic and Caustic-related released this year before you died. It’s like 9,134,229 albums.
AtomTM – Pop HD
The spectre of Kraftwerk looms large, and that’s not a bad thing. Although did we really need another version of “Hard Disk Rock”, even if it’s called “Stop (Imperialist Pop)”?
Depeche Mode – Delta Machine
It’s a good album, one of their best in recent years. I particularly enjoyed it the first few times I listened to it, but it didn’t quite make the top of the list, as it just hasn’t held on to me the way other stuff has this year.
Juno Reactor – Golden Sun of the Great East
It’s not the best thing Ben Watkins has ever done, but after the fairly flaccid “Gods and Monsters” it’s a nice return to form, and the inclusion of a heavy dose of north Indian influences distinguish it from earlier albums.
Young Galaxy – Ultramarine
The first half of this album, if taken by itself, would be a best of the year. It’s perfect synth-wave stuff, great for soundtracking, oh, I dunno, a doomed summer teenage romance or something. But it sort of fizzles out on the back half a bit. “Pretty Boy” and “New Summer” are stellar tracks, though.
Hate Dept – New Ghost
OMG A NEW HATE DEPT ALBUM. It’s good, real good.
Xyzzy – Obelus
Mad synth genius and beer expert Andrew Sega brings us an album of IDM slightly more experimental than his alphaConspiracy moniker.
I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Something important.