Springsteen melodies, Krautrock production and Dylanesque vocals – that’s how Lost in the Dream was described to me by a friend, and it didn’t disappoint. There are so many touch-points on the album, but it’s much more than just the sum of its influences. Tracks like Red Eyes and Under The Pressure are bursting with energy, whilst slower numbers Lost in the Dream and In Reverse are beautifully written and perfectly executed. An Ocean In Between The Waves may be the standout track – the dreamy chord sequence in its coda is one of many truly transcendent moments on the album.
For the best part of two years at university, for myself and many others, Black Sands was the soundtrack to the hours between 4 and 7am. No one makes this type of end-of-the-night music as well as Bonobo, and, though he had offered up some great tracks on previous albums, Black Sands is by far his most consistent effort yet, effortlessly incorporating elements from hip-hop, jazz, and electronica. Standout track We Could Forever is more ambitious than anything Bonobo had attempted on previous albums, and the album features more live instrumentation, creating a much fuller, richer sound.
Arctic Monkeys are the band of our generation. For anyone who spent their early adolescence drunkenly singing along to every word of Whatever People Say I Am, every album they release is something of an event. AM is probably the best thing they’ve done since their debut and it’s fascinating to see how much they’ve evolved from cocky seventeen year olds singing about nights out in Sheffield to international rock stars. AM is ostensibly a break-up album, and the various pictures of relationships it paints are all dysfunctional and unhealthy in their own way – from the unquestioning devotion of I Wanna Be Yours to the possessive jealousy of R U Mine. Musically, it’s more diverse than any of their previous work, moving from the leather jacket swagger of Do I Wanna Know to the Velvet Underground-like guitars and keys of Mad Sounds.
For those who, like me, came to Chromatics through Drive –Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2011 film – the pairing felt entirely natural. Drive’s soundtrack was rightly hailed at the time, and no one makes the type of black matte midnight music which featured so prominently in the film better than Chromatics. Kill For Love has such a well-defined and singular sound, it’s no surprise that band-leader Johnny Jewel runs his own label, Italians Do It Better, putting out this kind of clinical electro on a regular basis. More than anything, Chromatics just sound so fucking cool – their whole aesthetic is so well conceived and so polished, but they’ve also got the tunes to back it up. Standout tracks such as Lady and the epic These Streets Will Never Look The Same combine shuffling Italo beats, propulsive bass, and glorious, glistening synth lines, and bathe it all in layers of reverb and vinyl crackle to create a very specific mood – reminiscent, appropriately, of driving late at night.
Few artists have put out such a consistently high quality of material over the last five years as How To Dress Well. His first album though, whilst not offering up anything as immediate as Words I Don’t Remember or Cold Nites, is his most genuinely original and affecting piece of work to date. Nothing else sounds like Love Remains – it is a challenging listen at times, but given the right mood, it is a truly haunting and truly wonderful album. It has similarities with Burial in that it is, to a degree, music about listening to music, about the way that we experience and remember music, and the way that those memories are warped and distorted over time and by our experiences. But listening to Love Remains is by no means a purely cerebral exercise. There are moments of pure bliss on the album, none more so than the incredible Ready For The World, which is as euphoric as it is deeply unsettling. Love Remains is How To Dress Well at his other-worldly best, making music that only he can make.
Beach House make beautiful music – both Teen Dream and 2012’s Bloom are blissful, dreamy albums, all pretty melodies, hazy production, and Victoria Legrand’s gorgeous, sorrowful voice. When she sings, “It is happening again”, on Silver Soul over that organ and that lazy guitar line, it’s enough to bring me to my knees. In truth, there’s not much to choose between the two albums, but Teen Dream edges it, partly due to Walk in the Park, their most affecting and powerful song to date. It’s a truly beautiful break-up song – “In a matter of time, you will slip from my mind”, Legrand sings on the song’s chorus. It sounds brutal, but they know it’s never that easy: “The world that you love to behold, cannot hold you any more”, she sings heartbreakingly, as you fall in love all over again.
Halcyon Digest is Deerhunter’s strongest and most consistent album to date – there’s not a weak track on there. Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt, both of whom have also put out excellent solo albums over the last five years, share songwriting duties, and it is a treat from start to finish. There are so many great hooks, and so many infectious melodies – it’s more overtly pop than anything else the band have done but without compromising any of the idiosyncrasies that make them great. The production is note-perfect as well, with everything bathed in layers of reverb and heavy Suicide-like delay on Cox’s vocals.
Open may just be the best song released over the last five years – those finger clicks, that warm bass, that flickering guitar, but most of all, that voice. Milosh sings in a register that few men are capable of reaching, and many initially assumed that it was a woman’s voice on the track. It is a spectacular voice, but it is framed perfectly by Robin Hannibal’s sparse, sexy production. It moves between sleek R&B, late-night funk, and elegant soul, with Milosh’s voice always at the centre. It’s music about being in love, but it’s never soppy or sentimental. Admittedly, the second half doesn’t quite match up to the strength of the first five or six tracks, but there’s enough on songs like The Fall, Last Dance and Major Minor Love to keep coming back to over and over again.
Like all the best music, Psychic feels utterly uncategorizable – it is totally unconstrained by genre or by time period. On the first song, Golden Arrow, Darkside give a pretty good idea of the scope and ambition of the album. The 11 minute track starts with almost four minutes of atmosphere and ambience until the moment when the beat kicks in. A barely-there guitar line follows and then almost monastic-sounding chanting fades in – it all builds so gradually you barely notice it happening until it releases eight or nine minutes in. What makes Psychic stand out though is that it’s a proper album. There’s a very consistent mood and feel running through the whole thing – whether it’s on the creepy blues-rock of Paper Trails, the proggy Greek Light or the psychedelic funk of The Only Shrine I’ve Seen, the album is best experienced as a whole. You can really lose yourself in this album, in tracks like Golden Arrow and Freak, Go Home. The whole thing moves with the build-and-release sensibilities of dance music, whilst Jaar’s singular vocals and the production lend it a spookily atmospheric feel. Perhaps surprisingly for an album with so many reference points, it genuinely sounds like nothing else.
You would go a long way to find a five-track stretch on any album as strong as the first five songs on Swim. Has anything over the last five years been simultaneously as weird and as pop as Odessa? There’s so much going on in the track – clattering percussion, heavily effected guitars, 90s rave piano, and an eerie sample which sounds vaguely like a distorted scream – that it shouldn’t work, but it all just fits perfectly. Swim is what pop music should sound like – from the gloriously infectious synths on Sun to the heavily delayed guitar and vocals on Found Out. It’s all built around such accessible, immediate melodies but everything just feels that little bit off-kilter, with Snaith constantly fading different elements in and out of the mix, like the vocals on Sun or the percussion on Bowls. The standout track though is Kaili, a truly devastating picture of a slowly deteriorating relationship. “And he keeps himself held back, for both their peace of mind, but he’s no less quick than her to begrudge her what he finds”, Snaith sings in his signature falsetto, as the song crescendos around him – that wailing oboe at the end is vintage Caribou, mirroring perfectly the kind of intense sadness that only love and heartbreak are capable of producing.