Friday, January 1, 2016

Discopop Directory: Top 10 Albums of 2015

Happy new year! And now that 2015 is finally behind us, here is a "definitive" list of the year's best albums, as dictated by my iTunes play counts.

I'm afraid it's bad news for Adele.

10) Lana Del Rey - Honeymoon
The modern flourishes and hip-hop beats have been erased, allowing Lana to plunge headfirst into her oily black pool of languorous melodrama. The songs are stronger, the melodies more memorable, her vocals more confidently authored. And anyone who accuses her of being submissive isn’t listening properly. “The truth is,” she sighs. "I never bought into your bullshit.” Well, quite.

9) Wolf Alice - Our Love Is Cool
Wolf Alice were so confident in their debut album that they left off their best single - Moaning Lisa Smile. The fact you don’t miss it only validates their chutzpah. Four years in the making, My Love Is Cool mixes up the grunge-lite of their early EPs with ethereal, melodic rock and - on Freazy - blissed out psych-pop. A surprisingly accessible rock record.

8) Years & Years - Communion
Olly Alexander paints a depressing picture of 21st century romance, with lyrics like "I'll do what you like if you stay the night" and "Let me take your heart / Love you in the dark / No one has to see." But, to be honest, I didn't notice until I wrote this list. The words wash over you - but the music is crisp, smart and surprisingly deep.

7) Ibeyi - Ibeyi
French-Cuban twins Lisa and Naomi Díaz sing in a mixture of Yoruba and English, mixing deep soul with African tradition, Cuban jazz and electronic samples. It shouldn't work - but the result is one of the most textured, original albums of the year.

6) Chvrches - Every Open Eye
Juddering synth-pop with a soft centre, thanks to Lauren Mayberry’s songbird vocals, which somehow manage to convey strength and vulnerability at the same time. Every Open Eye is essentially a streamlined version of Chvrches' debut album, with value-addded stadium-ready choruses. Even the one where the bloke sings isn’t that bad.

5) Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
The best record, lyrically-speaking, of the year. It opens with Courtney trying to stop a suicidal teenager jumping off a building - only to discover he’s just admiring the view. Later, she trains an acerbic eye on people moving to the suburbs and buying organic vegetables. It’s like a Woody Allen film, set to sloppy lo-fi punk. In other words: Magnificent.

4) Carly Rae Jepsen - E•MO•TION
In the making of this album, Carly Rae Jepsen recorded and rejected songs with Swedish pop overlord Max Martin. That should give you an idea of the quality threshold. She beats Taylor Swift at her own game, crafting a hazy 80s wonderland, full of reverberant saxophones and ridiculous synth hits - but never puts her baby toe over the cheese threshold. The lyrics constantly subvert pop cliche ("I think I broke up with my boyfriend today - but I've got worse problems"), while Your Type is a more heartbreaking than 7.8 million Adele albums combined.

3) Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly
Police violence, white fear, black hypocrisy, media manipulation, the devil's temptation, fame, sex, depression, income tax... Is there a topic To Pimp A Butterfly doesn't tackle? The year's biggest album - conceptually and musically - is initially hard to digest, but proffers fresh rewards every time you listen. Bonus points for extended use of jazz clarinet.

2) Janet Jackson - Unbreakable
A solid gold return to form after a run of hopeless misfires. What changed? Well, for the first time since The Velvet Rope, Janet has something to say - musing on the nature of love and loss after a decidedly dark decade. Broken Hearts Heal, her tribute to Michael, is philosophical ("Broken hearts live longer") without being cloying; while Lessons Learned is a nuanced examination of domestic abuse. Add to that the slinky No Sleeep and the Sly Stone tribute Gon B Alright and you have an album as classy as it is catchy. (Although you could trim off tracks 11, 12, 13 and 15 and never miss them).

1) Tove Styrke - Kiddo
Fierce, funny and irresistible - Kiddo is Swedish pop with the autopilot smashed to smithereens. Tove Styrke mocks her Swedish Idol background ("Hijack the idea of a girl that obeys / Ha-ha-ha-ha oh my / Laugh it in the face") and spits venom at the self-obsessed ("I hope you hit the ground hard when you fell for yourself.") If you like the kilter of your pop set to "off", this is a perfect package.

Well, there you go. If you'd asked me before I consulted iTunes, I'd have said Kendrick Lamar would be number one, and that Marina and the Diamonds or The Staves would creep into the Top 10. But there you go, the play counts don't lie. Turns out I really, really like the Tove Styrke album - and the Years & Years one is good for doing the dishes to. Take that, 2015.

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