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1. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
It says something when an artist gives a non-debut album an eponymous title, and so with Annie Clark’s fourth solo album, St. Vincent by St. Vincent feels like a restatement, a culmination of all that has gone before into some perfect representation of what St. Vincent means. And what it means is spiky, vibrant, gorgeous rock, with consistently killer tunes throughout. While it’s clear that her collaboration with David Byrne on Love This Giant has contributed to her craft and showmanship, this is still its own beast entirely. From the rambunctious likes of ‘Digital Witness’, ‘Bring Me Your Loves’ and ‘Birth in Reverse’ to the moving and haunting ‘Prince Johnny’, there’s a creativity at play in both music and lyrics that is completely individual. Ladies and gentlemen, this is St. Vincent. And she’s awesome.
2. Porter Robinson – Worlds
With its conceptual mix of Japanese videogames, virtual reality and vocaloid, Worlds succeeds in evoking an emotional response for something that has not yet existed. Can you be nostalgic about the future? While it’s ‘Sad Machine’ that got the most attention around the chiptune and synth blogosphere, there are better tracks here, dramatic opener ‘Divinity’, personal favourite ‘Flicker’ and the power pop of ‘Lionhearted’ just a few examples. It’s big, unabashed, electronic anthems, brimming with confidence and energy, and if you like CHVRCHES and M83, comes highly recommended.
3. Prince – ART OFFICIAL AGE
It’s fair to say London (and Manchester) was hit with a spell of purple fever earlier this year as Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL embarked on a string of hit-and-run dates, and this continued with the announcement of not one but two albums. And while the 3RDEYEGIRL release is good, it’s ART OFFICIAL AGE is the must-listen of the two. It’s indulgent, demented, and excessive, but in all the right ways (yup, one minute in and there goes the cheesy air horn), deploying as many wacky production tricks and effects as can be permitted by health and safety. And if it sometimes overextends its reach, the highs it does achieve in the process are magnificent – the lazer-blast bolstered ballad ‘BREAKDOWN’, the sexiest song about the most important meal of the day ‘BREAKFAST CAN WAIT’, and whatever the fuck ‘FUNKNROLL’ is supposed to be beyond the ultimate party song. In the words of the man himself “I might be small, but so is dynamite!”
4. TV On the Radio – Seeds
After a difficult period for the band following the tragic death of bassist Gerard Smith, the TVOTR team regrouped and with Seeds released an album that might be their most accessible yet, filled with hope and positivity and, most importantly, really good songs: ‘Careful You’, ‘Happy Idiot’ and ‘Lazerray’ among their best work.
5. Beck – Morning Phase
In terms of songwriting and execution, Morning Phase might be the most dreamy and beautiful album of the year. Simply wonderful.
6. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
Cheerfully acknowledging that it had reached a point where a full-length release was inevitable, DJ and producer Todd Terje brings together old favourites and new classics in this compendium of cheerful, groovy, classy disco lounge par excellence. ‘Oh Joy’ indeed.
7. Aphex Twin – Syro
The return of Richard D. James was cause for much celebration amongst those who like their electronic music cerebral, uncompromising, and a tiny bit weird, but if Syro is not necessarily an evolution of what had come before, it’ still unlike anything else around. There’s so much going on at any one time yet it manages to retain a focus and clarity that sees it never come unstuck as blips and beats come at you from every direction.
8. Astroskeleton – You Are Not Alone
As I venture ever deeper into the chiptune realm seeking new music to play at the Gamerdisco club nights where I DJ monthly (and here’s a relevant Spotify playlist!), it was this release from astroskeleton that served as a reminder that a great chiptune song needs to be a great song first and foremost. If the wait for the new Anamanaguchi album is too much, you are not alone’s blend of rock and 8bit emotion gave just as good and sometimes even better.
9. Last Ex – Last Ex
I am a sucker for music that sounds cinematic, so this instrumental off-shoot of Timber Timbre (borne out of an unused score for The Last Exorcism Part II of all things), with its mix of Lalo Schifrin-style drums and off-kilter blues rock, is right up my dark and spooky alleyway. Cool and creepy in equal measure.
10. Neil Cicierega – Mouth Sounds / Mouth Silence
Internet viral pioneer Neil Cicierega (he of Potter Puppet Pals and the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny) released his masterworks in the form of Mouth Sounds and Mouth Silence. If Mouth Silence is more straightforward mash-ups and silliness (samples of newscasters talking about Pokemon to the tune of ‘I Want You Back’, or simply chopping around the lyrics of ‘Wonderwall’), it is Mouth Sounds, in which Smash Mouth’s ubiquitous (circa 1999-2001) blight on mankind ‘All Star’ is inserted into the likes of ‘Float On’ and ‘Imagine’, that best demonstrates the strange artistry and audacity at play. Trolling through music it may be, unapologetically puerile, and barely listenable in places too, but also very smart at being very dumb.