Top 40 Albums of 2017

It was a reoccurring bit last year to mention how horrible the past 12 months had been, what with the rise of Trump, Brexit, and other horrible tragedies, and it wouldn’t be amiss to make the same critique about 2017: in a year where racism has been rifer than ever, or maybe just more in our face, along with the exposure of horrible abusers in some of the highest walks of life, the news has been a catalyst for our misery. 

Thankfully on the flip side of the coin, a lot of amazing art has been the product of this horribleness and has given many an outlet to process this misery, or maybe escape it altogether. We’ve been lucky enough to cover the best of it and while there’s been a lot of good, we sadly had to cut it down to a select few; well, 40 to be exact.

Over the course of the next however-long-it-takes-you-to-read-this, we’ll be doing our best to justify each and every record’s place on this list which originally clocked in at over 100 albums. In addition, we’ll have some special guests nominated for AOTY to give us their favourite record(s) of the year.

So strap yourself in, grab your beverage of choice, and sink your teeth into this big ol’ boy…

40. Bravado
by Kirin J. Callinan
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Chances are if you listened to Bravado this year, it was no doubt down to the Best Music Meme of 2017™ that was Jimmy Barnes iconic scream on Big Enough and while that was how most of the team came across this album, it was so much more than just a meme vessel.

The real catalyst for Bravado‘s appeal comes down to Kirin J. Callinan‘s ability to take the piss out of himself (maybe quite literally if the album is anything to go by) as well as others: S.A.D is a wonderful jab at ambiguous-but-totally-not-ambiguous radio hits about drugs while also being a delightful party tune with apt production and vocal warping. Following up this is Down 2 Hang, a song that takes the expression to chill a bit too literally with some black humour about nooses and resembling some Louvre art, showcasing the up and comer’s ability to captivate and entertain.

Don’t get us wrong: Big Enough is a beautiful over the top marvel with a clusterfuck of influences and perfect features from Alex Cameron and the aforementioned Barnes but to play Callinan‘s LP off as solely that would be a cardinal sin. – Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)

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39. Arca
by Arca
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If you’ve been smart enough to listen to Arca‘s self-titled effort before reading this, the production of it will not surprise you: regularly visiting and hanging out by the cemetery near his London flat, the young Venezuelan artist found inspiration in the surrounding environments, notably the decomposing trees thatare much more beautiful than any other kind of texture.

If you haven’t dived into this album then this information will be starkly clear as soon as it starts: Piel is an ever-expanding landscape, spine-chilling yet strangely gorgeous vocals lightly piercing your ears, regardless of your ability to speak Spanish, while the backing instrumentals start to tune themselves in, becoming borderline intimidating as the song reaches its end. 

Even when Arca touches into his party animal side, there’s a still darkness dwelling inside, notably on Desafio with echoing, warped vocals booming over as lines such as “there’s an abyss inside me” bounce off his self-imposed, claustrophobic walls. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a producer behind artists like Kanye West would be able to deliver an album like this, but it sure as hell is eerie how it’s presented. – LM

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38. Melancholia Hymns
by Arcane Roots
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A start to finish epic, Arcane Roots‘ latest release has a lot of touches that help to make it one of the most magical releases of the year. Melancholia Hymns is an amazing atmospheric marvel that plays on a lot of synth sounds yet still pulls through with a heavy and math-rock influence.

The harsh, attacking songs like Everything (All at Once), with Andrew Groves soaring vocals over the top of a battleground of instruments, really punches you a new one. What makes the song so impressive is how it follows up Fireflies which is undoubtedly the calmest of the bunch, truly displaying the variety this band can offer.

Technically and production wise this album is tight as it’s got your classic rock band instruments but with that technological twist with industrial drums and drum machine clicks. Groves learned the piano epically to add a new dimension to the rock outfit’s music which you can hear in the dreamier and more synth-heavy sound they found while discovering this album. All of this ends up resulting in it being the perfect culmination of the act so far with some much-welcomed twists. – Will Sexton (@willshesleeps)

FULL REVIEW HERE

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37. Forever
by Code Orange
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It’s often said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but when it comes to Code Orange‘s third studio album Forever, you definitely should: with it being nearly solely black and white bar the red blood gushing from the mouth, it evokes a sense of Sin City-esque visceral-ness.

The album definitely follows through with this promise on nearly every front: there are the usual roars and harsh vocal deliveries that fans of metalcore will be used to and fond of but the way they mesh with some borderline heavy alt-rock instrumentals makes it refreshing to those familiar and accessible for those wanting to dip their toes in.

Tracks like Bleeding In The Blur are undeniably catchy while having some edge to it while something like Real is a straight up colossus that leaves no doubts in your mind how relentless this Pensylvania act are willing to go. Regardless of your regular genre foray, the work Code Orange provide and show off on their comeback LP. – LM

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36. Any Joy
by Pronto Mama
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A Scottish act well worth smothering in love, Pronto Mama did a very good job at not only filling the Bombay Bicycle Club hole left in our hearts but somehow surpassing this comparison, becoming a wholly unique band in their own right and a force to be reckoned with.

On Any Joy, we see the indie rock label have every fiber of its being stretched: yes, they may be on a small label, shoutout to Electric Honey, with some unmistakable rock elements to them but the sound this Glasgow act go for is something else. This is best summed up by the single Arabesque which goes about some familiar topics such as relationships but goes around it in an incredibly enjoyable way, what with its layered performances lead by the incredibly strong, Glaswegian pipes from Marc Rooney. 

There’s an abundance of highlights, a particular favourite being Bottom Feeder that packs in some visceral lyrics, and for a band to be capable of something like this so early on, it’s enough to make even someone with a stone cold heart excited. – LM

Also…

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FULL REVIEW HERE

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35. Eternity In Your Arms
by Creeper
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Regarded by many as the most exciting debut album of 2017, goth punks Creeper staked their claim for album of the year early on. Defined as “horror punk“, but taking cues from glam rock, post-hardcore and good old-fashioned punk, Eternity, In Your Arms is a rip-roaring ride from start to finish with the soft piano of Black Rain leading you in, to the bombastic, Queen-esque piano of I Choose To Live.

The meat (or meat-free alternative) and potatoes of any album are the vocals, and the combination of Will Gould and Hannah Greenwood is sublime, with the latter taking a solo turn on the soulful Crickets. Best just to stick this album on and let it consume you, but the real highlights are Black Rain, Poison Pens, Misery, Crickets, I Choose to Live and Suzanne. Easily one of the best albums of 2017, Creeper won’t be leaving your conscience any time soon. – Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

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34. After Laughter
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Paramore has somehow remained at the forefront of pop punk since 2005. But 12 years and two band members later, the Tennessee band finally have a new sound. After Laughter shakes off the act’s angsty teenage image and replaces it with something simple but undeniably refreshing. The album is unbelievably sunny, a continuous loop of chirpy 80’s inspired bangers as Hayley William’s, forever impressive, vocals continue to look at sadness and anger but from a more grown-up perspective.

Most of the songs are upbeat but a calm sense of relief and acceptance is consistent throughout. After Laughter feels like the album Paramore have been wanting to make for years. It’s vibrant, fun and bold but still moody enough to appeal to their original fan base. Like their audience, Paramore have grown up.

This album shows that despite change to their sound and their line-up, Paramore remain a go to band for when you just need to feel something, no matter if that is happiness, sadness or anything in-between. – Isabella McHardy (@isabellamchardy)

FULL REVIEW HERE

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33. Orc
by Oh Sees
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The newest release from Oh Sees (formerly ‘Thee Oh Sees’) titled Orc shows that John Dwyer and his new-look lineup have no intentions of slowing down. After 20 years of great albums, the band has remained both high energy and consistent with their releases. Whilst others look to slow down, John Dwyer throttles his guitar and ramps up the intensity on his newest record.

The California garage rockers have produced one of the most hectically brilliant psychedelic albums of the year. In perfect harmony, the band proceeds to blow minds with their psychedelic jams and continue to impress with their ever-evolving sound. Animated Violence, Nite Expo, and The Static God stand out as album highlights amongst a great track listing, starting the album off with a bang.

With recent years producing perhaps some of the bands best work, it is clear that Oh Sees are royalty in the garage and psych community. With the band changing name, appearance, and sound, it is fair to assume that John Dwyer is still focussed on pushing the band to their limit and consistently releasing great records. Hopefully, this great streak continues into 2018, following the footsteps of A Weird Exists and Orc. – Ewan Blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

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32. Full Day, Cool Times
by MC Almond Milk
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Scottish hip-hop may sound like a funny concept to some but considering the meteoric rise of Young Fathers, the arrival of MC Almond Milk and his place on this list wasn’t so much a question of if, rather when.

You may assume that a Scottish rapper would be more akin to those diss tracks everyone would share via Bluetooth than anything else but you’d be wrong; tracks like 1995 go to show just how mature James Scott’s songs really are as he reminisces on days gone by with the track starting to reach an anxiety-inducing climax as he dwells on current issues. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s all serious all the time with Scott managing to hit out with some comedic lines and even an upbeat belter in the form of Black Coffee.

With some of the best production to be heard in this genre all year, a particular highlight being on Wet Wednesday Pt. 2 with its jagged crackly guitar and solid keys, Full Day, Cool Times is as close to a claustrophobic listen as you’ll get in 2017. – LM

FULL REVIEW HERE

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Also…

2017-12-22

31. You Are We
by While She Sleeps

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An incredibly successful album from one of the most exciting bands in metal, While She Sleeps really burst back onto the scene with You Are We. The album is fully crowd-funded, self-released and recorded in friends houses and their own warehouse they built themselves which makes the album feel formidable. While She Sleeps have albums that make you feel like you’re one of their family, but this contribution to their discography really cemented you are a brother/sister.

The album is brilliant. It is powerful, thought-provoking and my oh my is it heavy. The fact the album was made through blood sweat and tears and off their own fanbase really adds a dimension that most albums don’t have nowadays. Even down to fans having the opportunity to appear as crowd vocals on the album shows they are truly dedicated to us and their art. They impress with every release and show us all how much they have grown and surprised us by keeping a slightly oversaturated genre feeling refreshing and new. – WS

FULL REVIEW HERE

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30. Come Over When You’re Sober (Pt.1)
by Lil Peep

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As Lil Peep gained traction in the music industry over the past couple of years, he was met with as much love as he was hate. History has shown that artists that have come through with different and new music can be panned in their early career only years later to be hailed as revolutionary and pioneering. Lil Peep seems like he will be remembered as one of these artists and not just because of his untimely death but because his music was truly unique and innovative.

His music would blend the sounds of emo and sad rock with modern trap rap, sampling from artists such as The Microphones, Modest Mouse and many others usually tending to sample the melancholy guitar interlude passages from the artists. C.O.W.Y.S showcased Peep’s best songs to date and successfully portrayed how his music took the trap banger formula and made it into something more moody and introspective that other artists in the genre hadn’t achieved before him.

The C.O.W.Y.S released this year was only labeled as part 1, signifying Peep was only just getting started with his musical path and it goes without saying how heart-breaking it is knowing that he never lived long enough to put out more, however; his legacy although short will live on. – Liam Toner (@tonerliam)

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29. Trumpeting Ecstasy
by Full Of Hell

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Now to be considered as staples of the genre, grindcore band Full Of Hell released Trumpeting Ecstasy this year, one of the most succinct, brutal projects of heavy rock music for some time. Having released joint projects with extreme music legends like The Body and Merzbow, Full Of Hell combine all of their past sounds onto this blistering eleven track album.

Crawling Back To God is a standout track on the album, featuring one of the catchiest metal riffs of the year, punctuating the beginning and end of the track, adding to a culmination that is both frantic and almost satisfying. The title track is a perfect example of their past collaborations coming into fruition. Nicole Dollaganger provides subtle, swooping vocals over eerie, lo-fi noise, to then fall out onto punishing guitar stabs and screams, this track showing the band’s power-violence past, and giving a real, meaty kick into the listener’s consciousness.

Trumpeting Ecstasy should stand out in Full Of Hell’s already extensive discography, and with their second collaborative release with The Body also coming out this year, it can be easily said that they have had an electrifying 2017. – Charlie Leach (@YungBuchan)

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28. You’re Not As ___ As You Think
by Sorority Noise

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Sorority Noise have always dared to translate taboo subjects and themes into anthemic tracks, but You’re Not As _____ As You Think delves deep into the darkest crevices of the human mind.

Openly referencing his mental health on stage, Cameron Boucher honestly, and sometimes brutally, has put this into ten heart-wrenching anthems. Intertwining the in-your-face ballad-y likes of No Halo and the more ambient, stripped back First Letter From St. Sean displays their versatility and ability to pour passion into anything they do.

From A Portrait Of’s hindsight-ical tale of despair and desperation to losing “a basketball team to heaven” (Disappeared), YNA_AYT is one of, if not THE most important ‘alternative’ records of the past decade.

Sorority Noise offers the perfect accompanying soundtrack for doleful evenings spent reflecting on past experiences and by the blissful closer, New Room, you realise that maybe, just maybe, You’re Not As _____ As You Think. – Callum Thornhill (@cal_thornhill)

FULL REVIEW HERE

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27. English Tapas
by Sleaford Mods

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Same old Sleafords, but with a more professional feel to it, English Tapas perfectly dialed into the zeitgeist of Broken Britain. It was still the same mix of Andrew Fearn producing the beats and Jason Williams with the venomous vitriol, but the beats felt cleaner and the vocals felt dirtier.

No one is safe from the Mods’ attack, taking aim at “pretentious little bastards on social medias” in Just Like We Do, Boris Johnson in Moptop, and no prizes for who’s taking the flak in B.H.S. But as per, there’s also getting out on the piss in Army Nights & Messy Anywhere.

Wanna talk an evolution in sound? Look no further than I Feel So Wrong, which actually features a bit of crooning from our man Jase and the quite frankly weird, yet exciting Drayton Manored. As always, we dream of a world where Sleaford Mods‘ commentary isn’t needed, but for the now, we’re so happy to have them. – OB

FULL REVIEW HERE

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26. Ofbeldi
by Dauðyflin

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If you love the sound of noisy distortion and rampaging hardcore punk then Ofbeldi is the album for you. The album begins with screeching feedback and snarling vocals and quickly launches into complete sonic annihilation in the form of ripping hardcore punk. The track only lasts a mere 55 seconds but is a perfect statement of purpose letting the listener get used to the raw chaos that will continue screaming all the way to the album’s end.

Each member of the band is just performing so wild and cacophonously here. Whether it’s the venomous vocal work, the screaming guitar or the melodically tinged but equally aggressive bass work, the band come together as a tightknit but ear-splitting unit. The band sounds totally loose, which is not to be confused with sloppy, and they constantly sound like they’re about to go off the rails (but never do). Even when the band falls into slower tempo sections they still manage to sound just as vicious as they do when blasting along at punk speeds.

With 11 short songs, Ofbeldi is over in a mere 18 minutes of distorted chaos leaving its mark as one of the noisiest punk records of 2017. – LT

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25. MASSEDUCTION
by St. Vincent

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St Vincent takes a step further down the rabbit hole that is electro-pop. Each single is coupled with an arty video filled with as much colour as the record’s album cover, which features the behind of a woman in fluorescent pink tights, inviting the world to effectively kiss her arse.

Usually writing in the style of Kate Bush, from the perspective of a character, this album is one of her most personal records to date. While being overtly sexual in places, she creates an open intimacy with the listener. This is particularly prevalent on Saviour, a track drenched in sleazy synths and synthetic fetish imagery.

This body of work has cemented Annie Clark as a seminal voice of the femme experience of this generation. – Tilly O’Connor (@Tilly_Oconnor)

FULL REVIEW HERE

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24. Half Light
by Rostam

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It always feels like a backhanded compliment to mention Vampire Weekend next to Rostam’s name. Rostam Batmanglij is so much more than the éminence grise for one of the ‘00s most consistent indie groups. He’s produced tracks for Carly Rae Jepsen, Frank Ocean, and Charli XCX, among others; he’s one half of the one-off electronic band Discovery; and in September 2017, he released his first solo album Half-Light.

Half-Light didn’t catapult Rostam into the stratum of pop stardom he may have wanted, the music was too culturally diverse, too experimental, too masterful. But though the album didn’t give us a manifest chart-topping single, it reasserted the scrutiny and passion Batmanglij has always put into his work as a producer and songwriter. Wood leaps between continents to find the through line between Indian and Western European classical music. Rudy propels a Queer bildungsroman with the vim of Zydeco horns and Don’t Let It Get to You offers a pick-me-up ensconced in a sample from Paul Simon, that longstanding reference point in Vampire Weekend’s music.

Above all else, Half-Light is Rostam’s first real step out of VW’s shadow onto the path of what looks to be a promising solo career. – Sean Hannah (@shun_handsome)

FULL REVIEW HERE

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23. Brutalism
by Idles

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The album title of Idles’ breakout album from this year is an apt description of the aural experience they deliver. From the opener Heel/Heal (one of the best opening tracks of the year), Idles present themselves to British music in all their glory. With not providing much respite, Brutalism entered 2017 with a distinctive message: Idles are one of the most exciting British bands to appear in the last few years.

Though (as it has been said previously on many a music website) the band might wear their influences on their sleeves, they do so with such aplomb. Their sound is loud, and at times quite chaotic, they have developed an excellent balancing act, in which their post-punk sound never veers into the messy and unlistenable. With excellent hooks provided by the guitar work on the album, the visceral vocal talents of lead vocalist Joe Talbot and the frantic yet perfectly grounded bass and drums from by Adam Devonshire and Jon Beavis respectively, this is a truly excellent listen. If you want an album containing the best song ever written about TV chef Mary Berry, look no further! – CL

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22. Mourn
by Corbin

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There have been a lot of miserable albums this year (ones that evoke or explore that emotion, not make you feel it cause you’re suffering through it) and Mourn is no exception. The product of Corbin, formerly known as Spooky Black, this record is one fuelled by the sadness it creates via two important features.

The first of these is the fantastic set of vocals that are omnipresent on this album; they bleed with passion, sorrow, and fear, consistently creating this uneasy atmosphere that makes you feel terrified but at the same time will have you weirdly entranced. When he screams about how much he’s trying on Giving Up, you can feel the exhaustion and on Revenge Song, a particular highlight, Corbin‘s rage is bubbling under the surface with his true sadness being untenable.

An album that will sadly fall under the radar for many, Mourn is a challenging record that will have you in awe when it doesn’t have you biting your nails in un-easement. – LM

FULL REVIEW HERE

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21. A Black Mile To The Surface
by Manchester Orchestra

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Being one of the 21st centuries most prolific indie/emo acts, the pressure was on Manchester Orchestra to deliver. And deliver they did. A Black Mile to the Surface is a soaring, anthemic, bold and deeply sad album. An amalgamation of everything that Manchester Orchestra has done in the past, but it somehow sounds as fresh as MO always have.

Andy Hull’s lyrics are always debatably the best part of any project he touches, be it Manchester Orchestra, Bad Books or Right Away, Great Captain!, and that hasn’t changed. Whether he’s singing to his infant child (on The Sunshine), weaving a tale of an attack/suicide attempt at a supermarket (on album highlight The Grocery) or reviewing a love gone sour (The Gold), the words he uses are never, ever wasted.

Instrumentally, the band strays from what’s expected of them multiple times. The aforementioned The Sunshine, for example, has a shuffling drum beat and a killer groove to it, whereas album opener The Maze is a slice of arms-in-the-air, stadium-ready atmospheric rock.

In short, Manchester Orchestra continue to better themselves with each album. This is a truly stellar, vital album that I’d recommend to absolutely anyone. – Jake Cordiner (@jjjjaketh)

FULL REVIEW HERE

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20. Music From Before The Storm
by Daughter

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Music from Before the Storm is the soundtrack to the game Life is Strange, but it manages to stand by itself as one of the best albums of the year. The majority of the album is eerily instrumental. Elena’s voice only sweeping in occasionally to add to the vast atmosphere of the album. The songs flicker between from one extreme to the other; some being loaded with heavy distortion, others comfortingly soft and spaced out.

The real magic behind the album is how it is composed. Instruments, samples, and voices layer upon each other beautifully. Like most of Daughter’s music, Music from Before the Storm is heart-wrenching.

This album is bold and self-assured. When there are vocals, they flow in chants and echoes. You never know where the next song will take you. Although it was made to play along to a video game, this album is special as it is. – IM

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19. Gang Signs & Prayer
by Stormzy

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We all knew that Stormzy had chops when he dropped Shut Up (currently at 70,000,000 views on YouTube), but little did we know he had more chops than a butcher’s when he dropped his debut album, Gang Signs and Prayer. First things first, the album gets off to a flying start with First Things First, with the beats heavy & the flow as smooth as silk.

The best thing about this album though is its raw honesty, whether it’s Stormz being open about his mental health in Lay Me Bare, which many of us can relate to in the lyrics, or even, no matter what your beliefs are, how true he is to his faith in Blinded by Your Grace (Pt 1 & 2). He also pays tribute to his dear mum in 100 Bags, so it feels like just such a wholesome, honest & real album. No fronting, just one man opening the door on his life.

One of the highlights of this album is, you guessed it, Big For Your Boots. It’s a dancey bop that warns everyone to stay out of Big Mike’s way. Be real with yourself, you’ve loudly shouted “Rudeboy you’re never too big for Adele“, and you’re just waiting to tell someone “you’re getting way too old for a diss

The only drawback with this album is that it’s too broadly well produced, written & mixed to try and single tracks out. Sure, you might not listen to Mr. Skeng as much as Shut Up, but could you get rid of either?

UK Grime is only getting bigger & bigger and more into the public consciousness, and Stormzy is going to be one of the artists leading the charge, and one that will no doubt go down in history. – OB

FULL REVIEW HERE

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18. A Deeper Understanding
by The War On Drugs

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The newest War on Drugs album, A Deeper Understanding takes listeners on an hour-long journey of atmospheric sounding synths and guitar. Accompanying the beautiful instrumentals are Adam Granduciel’s dreamy vocals and intimate lyrics, which sound just as good as the 2014 release, Lost in the Dream.

At the time, it may have seemed that the previous album would be hard to top, but A Deeper Understanding certainly comes close. There are so many different layers to each song, every one meticulously crafted by Granduciel. It truly is his manic attention to detail that creates the unique atmosphere present throughout the album. This newest project definitely feels more optimistic and romantic than Lost in the Dream, which dealt with a rough breakup. The tracks are long and sweeping, littered with tiny details that must have made for a painstaking studio process for Adam Granduciel.

The War on Drugs have developed a more complete sound and matched their previous best album with this newest album. It’s great to hear the band continuing to put out amazing albums, although it may be another three years before their fans get another one. – EB

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17. Forced Witness
by Alex Cameron

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The success of Alex Cameron in 2017 can be put down to any number of things: his sleazy on-stage dance moves, his co-writing contributions to The Killers latest, his fantastically absurd and breathy Big Enough cameo.

But what cannot be overlooked is the sheer strength of the songwriting on his sophomore effort, Forced Witness. Musically, every song has an unshakeably addictive melody that you’ll find yourself singing long after the opening bass chug of Candy May kicks in, coupled with an appropriately cheesy instrumental that couples self-serious indie-songwriter with cheap 80s synth-rock that somehow manages to sound like plastic doused in inexpensive aftershave.

However, the heart and the soul of the record that will truly win you over is Cameron’s lyrics; having abandoned the sole persona of a failed entertainer from his debut to focus on several scummy narrators orbiting themes of toxic masculinity, fragile egos and insecure romances that simultaneously critique and make fun of such behaviour without every normalising it into making it acceptable – case in point on the disco strut of The Chihuahua: “Our love was like a fire, I pissed on it so I could sleep.”

The two elements come together in impeccable harmony on Stranger’s Kiss, a duet with Angel Olson that is as heartbreaking as it is hilarious, and leaves us in anticipation for Cameron’s next perfectly poised move. – Josh Adams (@jxshadams)

 

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2017-12-21

16. Sleep Well Beast
by The National

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Following the release of Trouble Will Find Me and a period of intense touring, a breather was on the cards for The National. Their hiatus, albeit brief, spawned several side projects: Matt Berninger formed indie supergroup El Vy while the Dessner twins produced an ambitious Grateful Dead cover album.

Far from acting as a distraction, these extracurricular activities became vital ingredients of Sleep Well Beast. The goal was never to reinvent the wheel, as keen observers of the Cincinnati-via-Brooklyn sad dad quintet should be well aware if they’ve been paying attention since Alligator.

Instead, they’ve mastered the art of gradual evolution, adapting to new conditions with every new release. Berninger’s lyrics, grandiose and cryptic yet strangely familiar, cover the entire spectrum of human emotion – the optimism of youth, the crippling anxiety of marriage and parenthood, the awkward nature of social interaction. Whereas before he was brash and defiant in the face of adversity, now he sings with a sigh of resignation.

At the risk of sounding platitudinous, most The National albums are growers, arguably none more so than Sleep Well Beast; however, with repeated listens each and every song on this record reveals itself and, all of a sudden, it becomes a thing of breathtaking beauty and despair. – Kieran Cannon (@kiercannon)

FULL REVIEW HERE

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15. American Dream 
by LCD Soundsystem

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After their much-publicised Madison Square Garden farewell in 2011, it looked like LCD Soundsystem were no more.

Many years passed, speculation lingered and rumours swirled until eventually frontman James Murphy posted at great length on Facebook, confirming the reunion everyone was waiting for – well, almost everyone. Some fans were left disgruntled, especially those who attended that high profile final hurrah but when the late, great David Bowie commands it, who are we to argue? 

American Dream is a triumphant return to the spotlight for Murphy et al. and a fitting tribute to Bowie, the man who was instrumental in getting LCD to reform and whose musical legacy pervades the entire album. In Change Yr MindMurphy considers his place in the world as the onset of old age marches on: is he still as “dangerous now”? Absolutely. His razor-sharp wit and bombastic delivery are still as effective as ever, toing and froing between twisted Robert Fripp-esque bursts of guitar and apprehensive drumming. 

Call The Police and Tonite conjure up LCD tracks of old while How Do You Sleep? is the sprawling epicentre of the album. As it happens, though, the crowning achievement is the very first track – the crooning Oh Baby, arguably the finest song on the album and without doubt among the best material they’ve released to date. – KC

FULL REVIEW HERE

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14. Antisocialites
by ALVVAYS

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Alvvays’ hook-heavy, jangly take on dream pop is an amalgamation of many bands before them. A bricolage of trickle-down influence, the Ontarian dream pop group finds the cohesion between obvious forebears The Byrds and The Cranberries along with more inconspicuous acts such as Camper Van Beethoven and Vivian Girls. But in spite of the panoply of predecessors, Alvvays forged an inimitable, indelible sound on their sophomore effort Antisocialites.

Frontwoman Molly Rankin learns the stakes of true love on the shoegaze power pop anthem In Undertow, an epiphany that informs the rest of the record. Love can be elusive (Dreams Tonite), it can be saccharine (Lollipop (Ode to Jim)), but above all else, it can’t be forced. For all of the group’s lyrics, which range from cloying heartbreak to unbridled exultation, Alvvays succeed by virtue of their symbiotic musicianship. The band’s guileless, solid rhythm section lays the groundwork for Television-inspired guitar conversations and retro synth lines.

They may have slipped under the radar after the release of their eponymous debut, but Antisocialites proved that Alvvays are a band worthy of our attention. – SH

FULL REVIEW HERE

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13. After The Party
by The Menzingers

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There comes a time in the lives of all beer-swigging, crowd-surfing, amp-breaking rock bands, when a difficult question must be asked; ‘are we too old to be doing this?’. Different bands deal with this conundrum in different ways. Some, see Green Day, choose to ignore it completely. Others, see Blink-182, elect to grow up a little and are all the better for it (we’re ignoring the travesty of last years comeback record here). And then you have The Menzingers.
Moving away from their usual subject matter of all the emo cliches under the sun, the Scranton natives spent 2017 tackling the age question head-on, with their fifth album After the Party. And in doing so, they managed to produce the most universally resonant, and perhaps best, album of their career. 
All catchy melodies and thumping riffs as usual, what really marks the record as a standout is its sentiment. The whole thing is just packed full of sincerity, and while occasionally straying into cheesy territory, all 13 tracks serve as near-perfect illustrations of the bittersweet acceptance of growing older. – Rory McArthur (@rorymeep)

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12. CTRL
by SZA

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The debut album from SZA, CTRL was the breath of fresh air to R&B that 2017 needed. Exploring themes of insecurity, infidelity, and self-identity is nothing new but SZA’s unique approach is endlessly fascinating.

On CTRL, SZA discusses these topics with brutal honesty and is never kind to herself, laying her demons on the table for everyone to see, which makes the album so powerful, by showing that she will no longer allow herself to be ashamed of who she is, and if she lets the entire world see her insecurities then she can finally own them and overcome them.

In a saturated genre, SZA demands attention with an intricately detailed album, which includes various contributions from her mother who is giving her daughter advice throughout the album which relate to the themes SZA explores. With each listen, the album becomes more and more personal and it becomes almost overwhelming how much personality SZA poured into it.

There are so many little details that set SZA apart from her contemporaries and even though this is just her first attempt, she has already produced a classic. – Ethan Woodford (@human_dis4ster)

FULL REVIEW HERE

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11. Greatest Hits
by Remo Drive

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Remo Drive are an alt-rock three-piece from Minnesota who have come out of fucking NOWHERE with an album chock full of angsty bangers. Breakout single Yer Killin’ Me (which I also wrote about for the sites song of the year list, cheeky wee plug) set standards high prior to the release of the band’s debut studio full-length Greatest Hits (such a good bloody title), and thankfully those standards were met with ease.

Songs like Art School, Trying 2 Fool U and Summertime perfectly convey how it feels to be a pissed off 20 something. But they don’t just go for angst, the boys have a cracking ear for melody and, when the time’s right, can lay down a kick ass breakdown or two. The shouted vocals do well to make sure the listener pays attention to the sad and often hilarious lyrics and the instrumentation throughout is stellar.

I cannot say enough good things about this band and this album, genuinely. A bloody sensational debut from you and your dad’s new favourite band. – JC

FULL REVIEW HERE

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10. The Ooz
by King Krule

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The “Lounge Music” genre has long bore implications of class elitism and cultural appropriation. A diluted form of jazz used to fill the silences of parties feting middle-management promotions and quinquagenarian birthday celebrations, lounge music held no connection to working-class England.

But in mid-October, Archy Marshall (d/b/a King Krule) released The OOZ, a grime-covered, vitriolic reconfiguration of easy listening forged in the mind of a twenty-something savant with equal admiration for James Chance and Mark E. Smith. Replete with an imperious saxophone, murky but steady basslines, and a cockney voice harsh enough to shake all of London (and some of America) to attention, King Krule took lounge music from the ceramic-tiled living rooms of the upper middle class and transposes it into the seedy world of derelict youths.

The dramatis personae of The OOZ are the lowest of lowlifes; there’s the criminal who forgets his burner phone at the crime scene on Biscuit Town, the indigent transient of Logos, and the rapacious cross-species hybrid from Half Man Half Shark. But rather than cast conceited moral judgment on these misfits, Marshall sings almost empathetically about them. He knows he’s not much different from them. Maybe none of us are. – SH

FULL REVIEW HERE

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9. Flying Microtonal Banana
by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

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When the first of King Gizzard’s 4 (5?) records of 2017 was announced, alongside the release of lead single Rattlesnake, at the tail end of last year, there were more than a few questions being asked. Microtones? What the hell are microtones? Is this out of tune? How many fucking frets are there on that guitar? Rattlesnake? Rattlesnake? Rattlesnake?
After the monumental success of the frenetic psych-punk of Nonagon Infinity, fans were perhaps expecting a continuation of that sound. Instead, the Australians crafted a slower, groovier record, one that required a little bit more time to grow on you. But give it the time and attention it needs, and this is an album you’ll be coming back to long after some of their other releases have been lost in their ever-growing discography.
From the tightly wound grooves of Nuclear Fusion to the towering darkness of Open Water, the record contains some of the finest moments not just of the band’s career, but of 2017 in general. Even when the songs don’t quite hit the mark as on Doom City, there remains the alluringly off-kilter clang of the microtones, keeping things interesting right through to the closing notes. – RM

FULL REVIEW HERE

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8. Visions Of A Life
by Wolf Alice

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Following up their critically adored debut My Love Is Cool, Wolf Alice returned this year with a follow-up that matched the potential they had shown the first time around.

Being a band that refuses to be defined by a genre, the London indie rock outfit continues that trend on Visions Of A Life, each track either harking back to sounds from their debut and building upon them or going in completely new directions ranging from angry grunge rock to folk. What sets Visions Of A Life apart from the myriads of other indie rock albums to come out this year is the sheer passion Wolf Alice have. Each track just had this special aura to it that sucks you in with each listen, and Ellie Rowsell’s status as one of the most exciting lead singers today is solidified with an incredibly versatile performance across the album that increases the effectiveness of the album significantly.

On this album Wolf Alice prove themselves to be an anomaly in British rock music right now, a band that constantly improves and make music that stands out on its own and feels important not only now, but no doubt in the foreseeable future. – EW

FULL REVIEW HERE

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7. Pure Comedy
by Father John Misty

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Father John Misty revels in being 10 steps ahead of everyone, and his position has never been as secure as it was with the release of Pure Comedy, the record that no one knew they needed until they got it. Josh Tillman’s 70-minute exploration of the human condition at large is witty, calculated, scathing, ironic and hopeful – sometimes all at the same time.

Sonically, Pure Comedy is incredibly cohesive while never repetitive; composed of grandiose piano ballads which feel distinct from one another due to the stunning horn and string sections which Tillman enlists on all of the record’s tracks, but never used to better effect than on emotional centrepiece, Leaving LA. The 10-verse track barely feels half that – the orchestra providing the perfect foil for Tillman’s uncharacteristically fragile vocal.
The lyrics are undoubtedly the record’s main selling point, however – with Leaving LA hearing Tillman introspectively exploring his past, condemning LA and mocking the song itself throughout its mammoth 13-minute run time. The lyrics never fail to grab the attention, whether Tillman is branding humans “demented monkeys”, or brutally holding God to account, it’s difficult not to hang on to his every word. – Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

FULL REVIEW HERE

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6. A Crow Looked At Me
by Mount Eerie

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In a particularly miserable year, it’s rather apt that one of the best albums we came across was one riddled with grief; enter the stage Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked At Me, something that we’re hesitant to even call a record considering how raw a document this is of Phil Elverum’s coping process after losing his wife.

There’s nothing ambiguous about the album: over the course of the 11 tracks, we see Elverum’s ability, or lack thereof, to come to terms with what has happened as clothes are given away, memories are fondly looked back upon and their daughter is left in a scary, new situation. As the closing track Crow flies above, it’s impossible not to feel a smidge of the same weight Elverum’s has painted for you be lifted from your shoulders.

It isn’t an easy listen but if you’re up for the challenge and want to witness this organic mish-mash of music and poetry then this is the art for you. – LM

FULL REVIEW HERE

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5. Melodrama 
by Lorde

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The title of 2017’s best pop record goes to Lorde, whose sophomore record Melodrama excels in just how self-aware a pop record it is. That shouldn’t be surprising, given Lorde rose to superstardom from megahit Royals, penned about her disillusionment from the lyrical content in much of the hip-hop which she loves.

The best word that can be used to describe Melodrama, both musically and lyrically, is meta. Lorde seems to mock the hallmarks of modern pop music, and revels in doing so. Sonically, it is heavily electronic and synthetic and while tracks like Sober and Homemade Dynamite could loosely be described as bangers, they revel in darkness and subtlety, rather than bright maxamalism like contemporaries such as Carly Rae Jepsen.

The Louvre is perhaps the past example of this where the verses masterfully build tension to what could be a huge chorus, only for the guitar to fade, leaving only a synthetic drumbeat over which Lorde nonchalantly sneers “broadcast the boom-boom-boom-boom, make ‘em all dance to it” in an apparent dig at what she sees contemporaries doing.

The album’s lyrics are just as smart throughout – with more than a few striving to the record’s title – “I hate the headlines and the weather” is a highlight, coming from closer Perfect Places, which serves as Lorde’s 101 of how to write a great pop song – with the quality of Melodrama, it’s a lesson many would be wise to listen to. – AB

FULL REVIEW HERE

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4. DAMN.
by Kendrick Lamar

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In a post To Pimp a Butterfly world, you could forgive Kendrick Lamar for taking it easy on whatever he decided to follow it up with. Be it the long rumoured collaborative album with J Cole (still waiting for that yin boys) or… the long-awaited collaborative album with Kanye West (again, still bloody waiting), whatever he decided to do, excitement was at fever pitch. 
Along comes DAMN. then, and it’s chuffing marvelous. If To Pimp a Butterfly was Kendrick staking his claim as the GOAT, DAMN. is him cementing his place at the top of the pile. It’s all go, from the spoken word intro BLOOD. to the confessional and pitch black DUCKWORTH. not a bar, nor a beat is wasted. And with only 3 features (including a great turn by Rihanna on LOYALTY. and, for some fucking mental reason, BONO on the brilliant anti-gun track XXX.), it’s almost entirely Kenny doing what Kenny does best: doing the hip hops better than anyone else.
We could throw as many superlatives as possible at Kendrick and this album but the music speaks for itself. Kenny’s lyricism and flow are leagues above almost everyone else in the rap game at the moment, and DAMN. proves that without a dog gamn shadow of a doubt. – JC

FULL REVIEW HERE

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3. Flower Boy
by Tyler The Creator

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Flower Boy roundly made tabloid headlines for Tyler’s apparent coming out on I Ain’t Got Time! (“I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004”), when the real headline should have been the fact that Flower Boy saw Tyler finally release a record mature enough for an admission like coming out.

Flower Boy hears Tyler far grown in every sense imaginable; lyrically, sonically, and as a result, artistically. Sonically, Flower Boy is radiant and gorgeous, with the instrumentals of many tracks (Garden Shed, See You Again) leaning towards Frank Ocean-esque R&B than brash hip-hop. Speaking of Tyler’s former Odd Future collaborator, Ocean pops up on highlight 911 / Mr Lonely, a disarmingly catchy and upbeat track where Tyler declares he is the “loneliest man alive”.

911 is an excellent microcosm for the record, as Ocean sounds gorgeous, but the Blonde mastermind sings little more than “Chirp chirp!”. Flower Boy is full of features but is a lesson in how to use them perfectly. Big names pop up such as Rex Orange County and ASAP Rocky, and undoubtedly add to the tracks they appear on; however, their appearances merely feel like cameos on the Tyler show, a show which he runs with glee throughout undoubtedly the best record of his career so far; it’s no wonder he feels like Glitter. – AB

FULL REVIEW HERE

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2. Big Fish Theory
by Vince Staples

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The real appeal of an album like Big Fish Theory is that from a totally superficial level, you’ll have an absolute joy from start to finish without putting much thought into your surroundings.

Tracks like Love Can Be are, from a surface level, absolutely bangers that aren’t so much sprinkled but aptly drowned in their influences, specifically UK dance and Detroit techno. The hooks on here are monumental, no doubt etching themselves into your cranium without a moment’s hesitation.

Upon further listens, and thorough analysis, it’ll be difficult not to find yourself admiring the lavish, almost avant-garde production or the nihilistic dark lyrics of Mr. Vince Staples. It’s a mesh that really shouldn’t work but it miraculously does, especially on the likes of BagBak that packs in a near untamable banging bass while Staples fires out beautiful lyrics to his future baby mama one minute and making his political aspirations for his brothers clear the next.

Big Fish Theory is without a doubt one of the most compact, well-made pieces of art 2017 has provided with us, easily balancing social awareness, introspective interest and some of the best hip-hop production we’ve experienced this decade. – LM

FULL REVIEW HERE

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1. SATURATION I
by Brockhampton

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BROCKHAMPTON, a fourteen man strong boyband who met on a Kanye West fan page ended up being the surprise package that 2017 needed. Despite most of the members being basically unknown, they made themselves impossible to ignore by releasing three albums in one year, titling the collective the Saturation trilogy.

Any one of the three albums could have made this list but looking back, I feels the most significant. Announcing the arrival of “America’s favourite boyband” Saturation is a collection of hip-hop bangers that calls back to classics such as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Each member, whether it be Matt, Kevin, Ameer, Dom, Merlyn or JOBA, have their own strengths and personalities and it creates such an exhilarating listen as each track brings new surprises and they prove time and time again that they are capable of producing fresh, exciting hip hop that the genre desperately needed.

Everything on this album is done with near perfection, from the intelligence of the lyrics to the intricacy in the production, there is so much to appreciate about Saturation and is especially commendable when they somehow managed to make two other albums that were just as good all in one year, 2017 certainly felt the presence of BROCKHAMPTON.

FULL REVIEW HERE

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If you want to listen to any of the albums mentioned then follow our playlist down below:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/111518578/playlist/4ZoDUvJwXpxJGBWEmYBj3D

 

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Gig Review: Sleaford Mods & Nachtexenpunx @ O2 Institute, Birmingham

Nobody quite does it like Sleaford Mods. From the bare bones, raw musical set up from Andrew Fearn to the inch-perfect lyrical delivery from Jason Williamson, there’s a certain uniqueness about their running commentary on the state of broken Brexit Britain, and their gig at the O2 Institue in Birmingham on Thursday proves that they are indeed, in Jason’s own words, our “loyal public servants”.

You could have easily told me that the gig had been cancelled, due to the fact the stage was completely empty, bar a microphone and a box. But the eruption from the crowd as Andrew Fearn came on stage to place his trusty laptop down showed that it was on like Donkey Kong. No pomp, no circumstance, just one man tending to the laptop, beer in hand, whilst another man delivered his sermons with the same rage and venom as always.

English Tapas felt like an evolution from Sleaford Mods, it kept the same dancey beats, simple yet effective production and enraged rants that make them so likeable, but it just felt they’d moved up a level. Shortly after appearing on stage, there was no real fanfare as Jason Williamson jumped into I Feel So Wrong, sounding inch perfect, clutching the mic as he channelled all his energy into his performance. Seriously, at some points, you could see his entire body tense as he laced every word in copious amounts of venom.

The setlist was quite literally a tapas of English Tapas, with Army NightsJust Like We DoSnout, Moptop, Dull and Carlton Touts being delivered one after another, sounding as crisp and brilliant as they do on the record. I think it’s the fact that there’s no posing as well that makes them so likeable. Andrew could probably have some sort of flash set up, but instead, he stands with his trusty laptop, dropping each beat and grinning his face off, beer in hand. Jason could probably wear some kind of suit, but instead, he comes out in trackies & a t-shirt, because face it, you’re going to get the same songs anyway. There’s no bullshit, pretending or overblown production, just the choice cuts, delivered raw.


I’ll give you a quick intermission to tell you how much I enjoyed one of the supports, Nachtexenpunx, who are a disco-punk? Electro-punk? Disco electro punk? Something along those lines, singing about lad culture, social anxiety amongst other things whilst the vocalist, sipped on a can of Dark Fruits between songs. Find me a more relevant band in 2017, I dare you. But they were great. Highly recommend them, but I’m sure you’ll hear them sooner or later.


 

Thankfully, they dropped in Jolly Fucker after T.C.R & I Can Tell, because everyone around me wouldn’t stop shouting ‘Jolly Fucker‘ and ‘Jobseeker‘. Whether or not they were asking for those specific songs or just trying to heckle is still unsure, but thankfully, both those songs were played. They’re brilliant songs, but when someone’s been shouting them in your ear for close to 40 minutes, you’re just thankful that they got played.

Dropping a few more off English Tapas including the weird and wacky Drayton Manored and the amazing B.H.S, a clear dig at fatcats like Philip Green, the Mods came back on for an encore. Usually it’s eight minutes long, but Jason made sure it was seven minutes, because some of us had trains to get. Fan service at its finest, and I bet you we all got home safe and sound.

Rounding off the show with Jobseeker, Tied Up in Nottz and Tweet Tweet Tweet, there was rapturous applause from the audience. Some people like to scoff whenever Sleaford Mods are brought up because oh it’s so funny that they’ve got a song called Jolly Fucker and the guy just stands there with a beer, but everyone inside that room knew it’s more than that. They hold a cracked mirror to the face of Broken Britain and provide a running commentary on the state of the nation. Now, more than ever, we need Sleaford Mods to narrate our slow descent into the fires of hell.

rating 9

ALBUM REVIEW: English Tapas by Sleaford Mods

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Whilst Sleaford Mods won’t go as far to allege that they ‘tap into the vein of austerity Britan’, it’s certainly fair to say that they hold a cracked mirror up to the pock-marked face of modern Britain, with Jason Williamson’s impassioned rants expertly capturing the anger & betrayal of the modern working class over Andrew Fearn’s minimalist beats.

Though we all yearn for a world where songs on unemployment, austerity, Boris Johnson and waking up with shit in your sock outside the Polish off-licence have no meaning, Sleaford Mods provide a fantastic, aggressive commentary on the State of the Rapidly Disintegrating Union, and with their ninth studio release, English Tapas, it’s business as usual for the Nottinghamshire duo.

Many (whom enjoy dull, bland love songs, sung over the same three chords, missionary sex and floppy-haired middle-class kids with mummy-funded equipment) are quick to criticise Sleaford Mods for the raw, simplistic and rough delivery of their bruising tirades, but that’s what makes their craft so beautiful; for most people, the world is an ugly, unforgiving place, which is communicated through Williamson’s words. A blunt instrument? Absolutely, but a sledgehammer makes more impact than a feather duster, doesn’t it?

Despite less than two years separating English Tapas and their last offering, Key Markets, the world is a different place. We now live in post-Brexit, full-Tory Britain, where across the pond, the only man to ever lose money running a casino is now running America, sinking faster than a squealer wearing concrete shoes.

Poking fun at the Snapchat wankers, fitness freaks and Boris Johnsons of the world in songs like ‘Snout‘, ‘Army Nights‘ & ‘Moptop‘, this album retains the Mods’, specifically Jason Williamson’s policy of providing an honest assessment of the country in which we live. Whilst the fraudulent, moneyed men will try to win you over with their ‘man in a pub’ routine to convince you that they represent the working class, Sleaford Mods speak for those who have been let down by the elite and the establishment, as demonstrated in penultimate track ‘B.H.S‘.

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English Tapas has also seen them push their creative boundaries a little more. Alongside bullet quick rants and spoken word diatribes, Williamson is employing his singing voice a bit more than previously, with Fearn utilising more experimental sounds and beats, most notably in the eerie-sounding ‘Drayton Manored‘.

One of the most enjoyable things about any Sleaford Mods record is the comedy that gets mixed in with the rapid-fire anger. Poetry and piss-taking are on the menu for English Tapas, with not even the usually well-received NME safe in ‘Dull‘, which also takes aim at the elderly who vote for the exact same people who want to fuck them over. Whilst opinion is well divided between people who do and don’t “get” what Sleaford Mods are doing, there’s no denying that they represent a downtrodden, disillusioned and depressed Britain, which, if trends continue the way they are, they won’t be going anywhere.

Whilst this album isn’t the best album they’ve produced, it’s yet again a pointed, brutal & honest rundown of modern life, and the exact tonic to help wash down the bitter realities of modern Britain.

8/10


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GR8 MUSIC M8: January 2017

A new segment where I’ll be taking a look at any albums, EPs and singles that were my favourites of the past month. Want something reviewed? Let me know via twitter.

By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

Albums

Run The Jewels – RTJ3

“We’re in sync so much now, after two records and several tours – and this new one felt like we hit that point in the Rocky training montage when he’s just killing shit,” said El-P in an interview with The Guardian and RTJ3 very much feels like the point where both him and Killer Mike have managed to catch the chicken. Showing sincerity, awareness, and aggression all at once, RTJ are the epitome of every liberal’s worst nightmare: they’re an answer to the intolerance that has infected America since its birth and do not give a fuck who disagrees. Their music is sure to be the soundtrack to the revolution and what a fucking soundtrack that is.

FULL REVIEW HERE

10/10

Code Orange – Forever *

Having had no prior knowledge of Code Orange or any previous interest in metalcore, it came as a total surprise to me that Forever would be one of the first music gems of 2017. Managing to balance off the hardcore punk sound that appears on the vast majority of these tracks by dipping their toes into some alt-rock waters as heard on Bleeding In The BlurForever is a true tour de force, putting aside any worries fans may have had after the act moved onto a major label. If there were any doubts about Code Orange being on their best form then Forever puts them all to rest, under a tsunami of sheer fury.

9/10

The XX – I See You

While there are many changes that are apparent on I See You, what’s utterly remarkable and something that should be commended is the fact that The XX are simultaneously pushing themselves out of their comfort zone while staying true to their humble roots. The sampling on display and subsequent alterations to the sound make it feel like an R&B album more than an alt rock one but the emotional voices that manage to project both passion and insecurities feel so quintessentially XX. There are tracks that feel like they could have been ripped straight off of their debut like ‘Performance’ while others like ‘Dangerous’ and ‘On Hold’ feel like they’ve landed from a parallel universe where the band are far less timid.

FULL REVIEW HERE

8/10

Wiley – Godfather *

Even though he may hit out with the threat of retiring as frequently as Donald Trump tweets out a potential World War 3 catalyst, Wiley has still continued to make music and Godfather may be his magnum opus. Most members of the public no doubt know of the grime artist via his chart hits such as Rolex and Heatwave but it does the artist a complete disservice not to recognise the impact he has had on the genre, being there from practically the beginning and surviving both the boom, death and subsequent revival of Grime. Featuring some of the darkest production to appear on a grime record in quite some time, Wiley offers up a variety of different sounds as well as some amusing and hard-hitting lyricism. Speakerboxx may very well be 2017’s Shutdown as it packs in an Arabic sounding flute, which feels like it was taken straight out of Banjo and Kazooie’s Gobi’s Valley, alongside a dominating and intimidating Wiley who chats about his youth selling drugs while comparing himself to the Bob Marley of Grime. With an output and influence as huge as Wiley’s, it really says something when an album such as Godfather can do him justice.

9/10

Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart Of Life *

While it may not be as groundbreaking or solid as their past releases, Japandroids have avoided falling into the pitfall that many bands do after taking a break of half a decade away with their third record Near To The Wild Heart Of Life. There are some obvious complaints: there’s a clear lack of witty lyricism from King and it feels far too polished, not a granule of grit to be found. That’s not to say that what is on display isn’t ambitious as the American punk act do all they can to push themselves out their comfort zone and bring new life to a genre many have said is stagnant. Dig beneath the surface and you may find the rock record that you’ll be comparing every subsequent release this year to.

7/10


EPs

David Bowie – No Plan *

Ever wondered what it would sound like if David Bowie had written a James Bond theme tune? Then look no further than No Plan, an EP that marks what would have been the artist’s 70th birthday. Featuring the aforementioned Bond-esque Killing A Little Time as well as the beautiful title track, No Plan manages to display all different facets of Bowie’s musicianship, reassuring all that his legacy will live on.

9/10

Cabbage – Young, Dumb And Full Of… *

Acting as a compilation of all the band’s work thus far, Young, Dumb And Full Off…demonstrates the prowess and sheer energy that Manchester rock outfit Cabbage possess this early in their career. Not just a release full of sad romantic songs about girls, Cabbage touch upon a wide array of political and social matters such as the monarchy, NHS, Austerity and a certain tangerine president with whimsy and appeal, making Cabbage not only one of the most exciting bands in the UK but one of the most aware too.

8/10

Boosegumps – on the way to meet you*

While certain seconds on this EP would give you the feeling that this Heeyoon fronted project had been recorded in a bedroom then swiftly left in the loft for a few years, this only adds to the utter enchantment on the way to meet you offers. Concluding track Happy embodies this EP’s message, with the lines “I am so positive/ I am so happy/ I tell myself every day/ I’m starting to believe me,” being both relaxing and resonant. Lasting only a brief few minutes, Boosegumps EP is very much like its artwork: alluring, soft and calming, full to the brim with positivity.

8/10


Singles

Sleaford Mods – BHS 

With their follow up to Key Markets set to drop in March, Sleaford Mods dropped another tease as to what to expect from English Tapas. BHS, which is clearly in reference to the now defunct UK chain of stores, takes a stab at the 1% and offers the politically aware alternative that Fat White Family constantly slated various other indie rock acts for. On top of that, the rather stripped back drum machine and guitars gives the track the serious vibe needed to carry the duo’s message across and does so wonderfully.

FKA Twigs – Trust In Me

It may have only appeared in the latest Nike ad for what feels like a few seconds but it’s truly a testament to FKA Twigs that this brief amount of time is all she needs to make an impact. While details on her upcoming album are scarce, if the vocals are as beautiful as they are here and the instrumentals just as jarring, unsettling yet alluring then it’ll no doubt be one of the best releases of the year.

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Father John Misty’s latest eponymous cut off his upcoming third LP Pure Comedy is a relatively simple piano ballad that holds no punches when discussing its subject matter, delivering some particularly beautiful and thought provoking lines like only Misty can. With 2016 being infamous to say the least, it’s a relief to see that something can come of it and Pure Comedy is sure to be one of many pieces of art that stands as a reflection of what has been and a glimmer of hope of what is to come.

Joey Bada$$ – Land Of The Free

Dropping around the time of President Trump’s inauguration, Joey BadA$$ has undoubtedly provided the best political track of the year so far which touches upon topics of mass incarceration and racism, delivered witfully such as the line on his first verse “Two A’s, Three K’s in AmeriKKKa”. Finish that off with some killer production from Kirk Knight and you have yourself a track that cannot be slept on. 

Mac DeMarco – My Old Man

Making sure to leave fans with more than enough music to keep them content until the album’s release in a few months time, DeMarco dropped the reflective title track My Old Man. While not as stripped back as This Old Dog, My Old Man incorporates some simple synths that, in the context of the album’s concept, shine through as utterly delightful, showing that less can indeed be more. The lyrics, which are usually DeMarco’s strong point, are as touching and introspective as always, in no small part due to the different way he went about writing this album.


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Best of 2015

2015 has been one of the most eventful years in recent history. A year just as full of tragedy  as it was brimming with joyous occasions that put a smile on our faces.

An annual event since 2013 when I made my first compilation of best albums, here’s another Best Of from us here at blinkclyro.com. As always, we have another great cast of talented writers who have helped with this list of sorts with more contributors than ever. I’ll be giving my favourite of each respective category at the end of the month because my real aim in all of this isn’t to further inflate my already tiny ego: it’s to be a platform for opinions and that’s what will be on show today. Don’t agree with any of them? Then leave your rage induced comment down below.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started.

Film

If 2014 didn’t please you enough, 2015 had the return of not one but two gigantic series: Mad Max and Star Wars, both of which have been critically lauded. With this in mind, let’s see what entertained us most on the big screen.

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Ryan Connolly (@RyanC826)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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You may think this choice comes from either fanboyism or nostalgia, and while both of those things are true, after one showing I can say that the Force Awakens is better than all of the prequels combined.

The plot is very reminiscent and will feel familiar to fans of the original Star Wars, but with that said the power of this film to play on the hearts of fans cannot be underestimated. To be back in the universe that I love is such a great feeling. JJ has achieved what he set out to do, with use of practical effects and shooting on location, everything is real! From the sweat on Finn’s face on Jakku to the bitter cold of the Starkiller base. The Force has awakened. Have you felt it?

Sicario

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What can be said about Sicario that has not already been said? it’s a great exploration of both suspenseful filmmaking and unexpected character development that twists and turns at every chance it gets. Emily Blunt, an FBI agent is thrown into the deep end of the Cartel infested pool of Juarez Mexico. Alongside a CIA spook played brilliantly by the overbearing and charismatic Benecio Del Toro, Blunt finds the lines of morality blurred as a shooting at the Mexico/US border leaves her startled and losing a grip on her own sense of purpose and life. Film of the year so far, presented brilliantly by Denis Villenevue.

Mad Max: Fury Road

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This summer’s blockbuster season was ‘mediocre’ in the words of Fury Road’s main antagonist, Immortan Joe. At least Mad Max redeems it somewhat. Fury Road is almost a documentary on how create a world with only a camera and practical effects. Through visionary George Miller’s keen eye for detail, what he creates is an adrenaline fuelled punch to the senses and then a hefty dose of nitrous oxide to our bodies. With real vehicles pushed to almost 200mph and a hell of a lot of stunt actors jumping across the chase vehicles rode by our main protagonists played by Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, Fury Road is one hell of a motherf****** ride.

Straight Outta Compton

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I don’t think anyone expected this. Not even me. Straight Outta Compton is the story behind some of the past centuries’ greatest hip-hop artists including: Dr.Dre, Ice Cube, Tupac and Eazy-E. The story of why these Niggas With Attitude became so famous is one that will definitely pull your heartstrings right out of your chest. Come to think of it now, I don’t think there has been another film this year that has moved me the way this film did. The struggle of a movement, powered through music and brutal words that speak of a reality known to many back in the 80’s, Straight Outta Compton is a must see for everyone. Emphasis on Must see.

The Martian

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From book to film, it’s another one of these adaptations. Only this one is superbly done, like really well done! Of course, one expects nothing less from Ridley Scott, even if he has been letting himself down lately (I won’t even go into his Prometheus shenanigans) The Martian throws Matt Damon onto our red neighbouring planet as a stranded astronaut who must survive for over 300 days on a planet that doesn’t support life. Now this sounds like another gritty Gravity type scenario, but it’s far from. While it’s visually just as beautiful, it takes the more light hearted route and gives us a feel good space film, distancing itself from both the past two years massive budget sci-fi films. The Martian is definitely a beautiful and just god damn fun film to watch. So go watch!

~

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Elle Wrightston (@c0mmonweather)

6 Years

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6 years is a powerful film from 2015, starring the likes of Taissa Farmiga, better known for her role in American Horror Story and Ben Rosenfield. The story follows a couple who hold a ‘perfect’ and idyllic relationship. Their love seems to hold no ends while they engage in ‘typical’ teenage life; parties, friendships and careers. Director, Hannah Fidell, really leaves you feeling like this is what you want in your own life.

Yet as the plot unravels we view their relationship to turn sour and, more importantly, violent. New sides of the characters are evident as their conflictions tear their relationship apart, until eventually they break up.

Ultimately, 6 years, leaves the viewer understanding that violence can be present in any relationship, at any point, while personally feeling the loss and pain that the characters suffered, as simultaneously their relationship and who they are unravelled.

Absolutely Anything

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Absolutely Anything was an easy choice for me, despite the bad reviews it received that made me neglect watching it until only weeks ago. It’s a typical film starring Simon Pegg – funny, touching (in a strange way), but it leaves you wanting more and wondering ‘what if that was me’. The plot follows a school teacher, whose life seems to be going not so well, until aliens provide him with powers to do anything.

We see he struggles to comprehend this initially, which portrays how differently his life is under this influence, including his romantic interests and work relationships. His now talking dog was a favourite of mine, bringing a whole new life to the wonder of what pets actually think.

Absolutely Anything is a feel good film that will definitely get you laughing.

Paper Towns

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Paper Towns was an eagerly awaited film of 2015 due to being based upon John Green’s book of the same title. John Green also wrote ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ which was also adapted into a film the previous year.

Director, Jake Schreier, creates a moving yet powerful film that explores the mysteries of people and life in general, as we follow the adventures that emerge when childhood friends, Quentin and Margo, are reunited. The inherently young adult nature of the film provokes a definite sense of growing up, (and ultimately moving on). Yet it shows you to make the most of what you have as we see Quentin’s character evolve with confidence and happiness. Ultimately, Paper Towns leaves you feeling nostalgic, and sad in a strange ‘did I do enough’ way, yet it is equally beautiful in the characters present and the way it appears upon screen.

Music

In a year that saw the rise of grime, a barrage of AAA rock releases and a terrorist attack at a gig (the heart of the art), here’s the best albums 2015 had to offer.

 

Jake Cordiner (@jjjjaketh)

 

5. Bring Me The Horizon – That’s the Spirit

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I don’t know how this happened. BMTH are a band I thought i’d grown out of, but here they are in 2015, dragging me back. This record is an absolute slobberknocker. 11 songs of sheer melodic metal mastery. Frontman Oli Sykes and the boys have been noticeably improving with each album they’ve released since 2006’s ‘Count Your Blessings’, and this is the album where their talents are truly realised.

In my humble opinion, this is the years essential metal album. Cracking stuff.

4. The Cribs – For All My Sisters

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Ah, The Cribs. Anyone who knows me knows that my love for the Jarman brothers and their musical output knows no bounds, and this album does not disappoint. Recorded with The Cars Ric Ocasek, this is by far The Cribs poppiest album, filled to the brim with fantastic melodies (see album opener Finally Free, what a bloody chorus). However, the guitar work on this album shines brightest for me. Some of the riffs on this thing are sublime (That’s not to say Gary and Ross aren’t exceptional, however.)

In short, for all my sisters is the Cribs at their best: heavy, poppy, brilliant.

3. Sleaford Mods – Key Markets

What a fucking album this is. For those out of the know, Sleaford Mods are a two piece, politically charged post-punk band from Nottingham, England. Members Jordan Williamson and Andrew Fearn are angry. Very angry. Attacking a variety of well deserving targets (Tories to people being cunts at their gigs), the boys desecrate their chosen victims with scathing aplomb. The most surprising thing about this album, for me, is just how funny it is. Williamson’s wit really shines on Key Markets (“You live in Carlton you twat, you’re not Snake fucking Plissken”).

But it’s not all fun and games with Sleaford Mods, and that’s maybe what I like about them. They don’t take themselves too seriously, but they’d never let you think that. Slaves who?

2. Foals – What Went Down

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What Went Down is the result of a band realising their full potential. This is Foals magnum opus, an absolute joy of a record. One thing I’ve always admired about Foals is their ability to go from skullfuckingly heavy (What Went Down) to utterly, utterly gorgeous (London Thunder) on the same album. It sounds like two different bands at the same time as it sounds distinctly Foals.

They’re dancey, they’re powerful, they’re beautiful, they’re Foals. And, simply put, they’re one of the best bands on the planet.

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

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It couldn’t be anything else, could it? Leagues above anything else released this year, TPAB is quite simply one of the best albums of all time. There really isn’t much I can say about this album that hasn’t been said countless times by countless other journalists. There are not enough superlatives in the English language to describe what Kendrick managed to create with this album.

Tackling his inner demons head on, the songs truly seem to serve as a release for Lamar, he bares his very soul on some tracks on here (particularly “U”, “The Blacker the Berry” and the ending speech from lead single “i”). To Pimp a Butterfly is as funny as it is politically minded. Lamar really has struck a perfect balance between #Banger and social consciousness.

If, for any reason you haven’t listened to this album. I heartily advise you do so. I can almost guarantee you’ll love it.

~

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Tom Fraser (@crimeturtle)

 

Wavves and Cloud Nothings- No Life for Me

I guess it’s technically an EP and not an album but I’ll include it anyway because I march to the beat of my own decisions, as they say. Wavves have always been one of those airy-fairy-here-we-go-touch-the-surf-man kind of bands for me but with the addition, and dare I say guidance, of Cloud Nothings something magical happens- like when someone actually touches the surf, man. The title track is a stand out with a ridiculous amount of drive and energy from the very start. It blends the two bands’ sounds like a lovely audio cake mix, ready to be put in the oven at gas mark fun.

The closing track “Nothing Hurts” takes a more sombre approach leaving behind the drum heavy sound of the rest of the EP in favour of jangly guitars and a warm layer of synth which is uncharacteristically evocative for a song that doesn’t even last 2 minutes (which is the amount of time it’s supposed to take you to brush your teeth but who does that? Am I right?).

Trust Fund- Seems Unfair

It’s quite hard to write about this one to be honest. Seems Unfair only came out at the end of October but I’ve already killed it for myself by having it on repeat for the last few weeks. I guess this is a testament to the album in a way- there was nothing else I wanted to listen to when I knew that I could be treating my ears to this gem. This is the second Trust Fund album of the year and the progression is pretty apparent: The drum sound is noticeably better, the songs are, at times, a little darker and the tone of the album as a whole is a bit more coherent. I know it’s a cliché but it sounds like the band has grown up a lot since February. I bloody love it.

(Side note- I missed Trust Fund supporting Speedy Ortiz earlier in the year but I caught Ellis after the gig and promised to bake them a loaf of bread for the next time they play in Glasgow. I’m a man of my word and now a man of yeast and flour).

 

Sufjan Stevens- Carrie and Lowell

Lots of people weren’t all that keen on Age of Adz (2010) because it was such a departure from Stevens’ usual laid back, haunting style. This album sees a return to the utterly-melancholic following the death of Sufjan’s mother some years back. This tragic stimulus inspired some of his most beautiful songs to date as the album veers from heart wrenching (Blue Bucket of Gold) to lilting/terrifying (Fourth of July) and back again with the grace of seven swans (see what I did there? I don’t know if it counts as a joke but it’s a reference at the very least). It’s definitely not one to listen to alone on your birthday in a dark room round the back of the butchers.

I promise this didn’t happen to me, but if it had happened my reviews would be written in shit on a wall because of the immense emotional vulnerability that I’d be overcome with. Once again, this didn’t happen to me. It didn’t. I’m fine. Just let it go.

Honourable mention: Built To Spill- Untethered Moon

THIS BAND IS STILL WRITING GREAT MUSIC HOW DO THEY DO IT.

~

Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

 

 

1 – Motӧrhead – Bad Magic

Forty years. That’s how long Lemmy & friends have been plugging it in, turning it up, and playing it loud. Recent health scares have caused the big man to discard his trademark diet of whiskey and speed, but couldn’t water down the sonic force that is Motӧrhead. This year saw the release of Bad Magic, the 22nd studio offering from the band, but still as raw as the eponymous debut album in 1977. Before you’ve even sat down to experience another rock ‘n’ roll punch to the face, Lemmy’s scream of ‘Victory or Die’, followed by a shock & awe aural assault.


The most notable highlight of a solid a 22nd album that any band could offer is the slowed down, lighters up, tears in your eyes ‘Til the End’, the most emotional Motӧrhead track ever penned, and one of the diamonds on the album. There’s nothing more to be said for a band, and more specifically a man, that is a true blue rock and roll star. Not a stereotype, not a poser, just a man who plays it loud, blows your eardrums out, and steals your girlfriend. God bless Lemmy Kilmister.

2 – Enter Shikari – The Mindsweep

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They just can’t make a bad album, can old Shikari. Their youthful aggression has been channelled into a sonic rebellion, and 2015’s The Mindsweep was no stranger to the danger we all face. If nothing else, Rou and the gang are hardwired into the dire state of affairs this world is in.

In a rallying cry to dispel hate & care for your fellow human, ‘The Appeal & The Mindsweep I’ starts off a frank & noisy tour through the current state of affairs, screaming at the idea of privatised healthcare in ‘Anaesthetist’, refusing to be beaten in ‘The Last Garrison’, talking about the emperor & the arctic fox, and more seriously, the perils of global in ‘Myopia’, the absolutely thrashing fistfight that is ‘There’s A Price on Your Head’, and the only track that’s made me cry repeatedly this year, ‘Dear Future Historians’, which is probably one of the best tracks Shikari have ever put out. Also tipping my fedora to the iTunes bonus track ‘Slipshod’ & the video for offering a bit of comedy on an album that could be a political manifesto for one of the good parties.

Referencing only a few tracks on this album hasn’t done the album justice, because the whole album is a finely-crafted masterpiece, so do yourself a favour and get mindswept.

(Honourable mention for the Hospitalised version of this record)

3 – Broken Hands – Turbulence

CURVEBALL TIME. This was literally a fatal four-way between Foals, BMTH, Muse & these guys for my final album of the year, but the scrappy underdog just powerbombed those behemoths through the canvas. If you’ve heard of Broken Hands, you’ll be smugly pursing your lips, nodding in agreeance that Broken Hands are probably the most exciting band you’ve never listened to. Below will be a brief overview of their album, but don’t worry about that, just grab a copy of Turbulence & crack on. Doing a concept album is brave. Doing a concept album as your debut album is exceedingly brave, but what’s fear to Broken Hands, they’ve supported the Rolling Stones! They’re influenced by Hawkwind! WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS?

The album references flight & planes throughout, with the first track ‘Spectrum’ kicks off with ‘There’s a jet engine in my head’, and we’ve all felt like that in some way shape or form. We then journey into the bouncy little jam they call ‘Meteor’, a slowed down singalong for ‘Impact’, which I’d gladly slowdance at my wedding to, another moody tome in the form of ‘747’ where the sustaining voice of Dale Norton prays for doom, death and destruction to come soon and keeps erm, sustaining (honestly he can hold a note longer than Arsene Wenger can hold a job. Really nice guy too, had a chat with all of them and they’re a great bunch of lads, even if they were terrible musicians you’d want them to do well because they’re nice guys).

The fact that in my twisted worldview, their debut is enough to trump some of modern rock’s biggest heavyweights, take influence from some of the rock and roll gods including Hawkwind, Sabbath and Motӧrhead and turn it into an experience, and that says a lot about their future.

Beth Ellis (@0mgbeth)

 

3. Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon

Typically lugubrious though Ultraviolence was, Del Rey truly bought her A-game back with her third album in three years. Where Ultraviolence fell down with its tendency for bland album tracks, Honeymoon was full of heart-wrenching and nostalgic tunes such as The Blackest Day, Salvatore and the Bond theme-esque 24.

It’s Elizabeth Grant doing what she does best: pining about drug lords and establishing her iron-clad aesthetic as the all-American girl stuck in the wrong era. Beautiful,elegiac and razor-edged.

2. Peace – Happy People

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The Birmingham quartet have firmly established themselves as major players on the indie music scene. Happy People, their second album, sees them continue with their breezy, catchy brand of indie pop. Gems include the radio-friendly Lost on Me and Money, in which satire is made of the modern day careerist mindset: ‘You’re going to be happy, you’re going to be rich.’

The light-heartedness of Harrison Koisser and co. make them a refreshing change from some of the more glum faced present day rock bands, and this album shows their potential as a crowd-pleasing headliner.

1. Grimes – Art Angels

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The second female artist on this list with a kooky alias, Grimes somehow managed to outdo Visions, the demonic album that your religious aunt would probably frown upon, and one that took her from underground to mainstream with its heavy beats and otherworldly music videos. The long awaited Art Angels is Visions with added sweetness and a pair of fangs: it is Claire Boucher, established and unafraid of mixing the feminine with the fierce.

Instead of deep voice distortions we have tinny electronic instrumentals and girlish Taiwanese rap, and it somehow all works perfectly.

TV

Television was once seen as the inferior alternative when compared to movies: now TV gives the cinema experience a run for its money with some brilliantly made shows gracing our screens. Was 2015 any different? Let’s find out.

 

William Hardie

William Hardie (@netflixandwill)

 

I’m a student; a university student, to be exact, and if there’s one thing that my £9,000 a year education (bloody Tories) has taught me so far, it’s that there’s a hell of a lot of TV waiting to be watched when I have essays that need doing. With that said, it’s time to dive in to my retrospective on the top five TV shows of 2015.

 

#5 Louie (Season 5)

Even in its fifth season, when the majority of sitcoms begin to run out of steam, Louie only gets better. More comedic than the fourth, the fifth season proves that there is still endless comic potential in a show about a sad, white father (it’s funny, trust me).

 

#4 Empire (Seasons 1 and 2)

The numbers don’t lie; Empire is the first series in at least 23 years to gain viewers each week for its first five episodes. A gritty, dramatic soap opera for the 2010s, it’s caught fire extremely quickly, and it’s easy to see why; Taraji P. Henson’s iconic turn as Cookie Lyon has cemented her position as one of the most talented actresses right now. 50 Cent might think there’s “too much gay stuff” (really, Fiddy?) but the rest of us can’t get enough.

#3 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 1)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fills the 30 Rock-sized hole in my heart, in a very good way; the dizzying, interlocking jokes have Tina Fey’s wonderful fingerprints all over them. It’s a blindingly funny tale of a girl finding her way in New York after spending the majority of her life in an underground Doomsday cult, but for my money, it’s the flawless Titus Andromedon that steals the show. Trust me, you’ll have Pinot Noir in your head for weeks, and you’ll soon be counting down the days until the next season is available for streaming (Spring 2016, folks)

#2 BoJack Horseman (Season 2)

The second season of BoJack Horseman, another golden dingleberry from the gloriously clean Netflix Original butthole, is dark, layered, and hilarious. It’s the type of show that rewards the viewer for watching; its fast, densely-packed dialogue reveals more and more upon each subsequent watch, and every episode guarantees you a startling cocktail of belly laughter and deeply emotional introspection. It’s odd to think that in 2015, the TV show that provides the most accurate portrayal of mental health issues is an animated sitcom about a talking horse played by Will Arnett, but that’s where we are right now, and I love it.

#1 Master of None (Season 1)

Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix sitcom has it all: pasta, relationships, pasta, informed feminist rhetoric, pasta, Eric Wareheim, and pasta. The dude loves pasta. He tackles important subjects such as interracial dating, sexual harassment, racism in the media, and most importantly, how to get the best tacos in New York City. Most of all, however, Master of None is fucking real; Aziz approaches problem subjects like racism and sexism and handles them with a refreshing openness and honesty that’s unlike anything on network television, while not straying into preachy territory. Aziz changed the god-damn game with this one.

Sean Donohoe (@silentb0b_)

 

It’s been over a year since the beginning of the television spin-off to the Coen brothers’ cult film Fargo and as its second season comes to an end, Lorne Malvo and Lester Nygaard are names of the past. Many were anxious that the second season in Noah Hawley’s darkly comical anthology would not live up to the first due to it’s new cast and storyline set almost thirty years before the first. However, those worries were put to rest within the first couple of episodes as Fargo season two has proven to be one of the best shows on television this winter.

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This time the story follows a young Lou Salverson (Patrick Wilson) in 1979 as he is caught up in the struggle between the menacing Gerhardt clan and the Kansas City Mob. Wilson is not alone in this all star ensemble however as he is joined by the likes of Kirsten Dunst and Ted Danson who along with the rest of the cast, thoroughly display their talent throughout. Bruce Campbell also pops up to do his best Ronald Regan in the season’s fifth episode.

Once again writer Noah Hawley gives us an enticing and entertaining story from start to finish with his clever dialogue and colourful characters. From the paranoia between accidental murderers Peggy and Ed Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons respectively) to the insidious journey of the hired hand, Hanzee (Zahn McClarnon) there is plenty going on throughout, but it all comes together in the thrilling penultimate episode. There’s also a subplot involving UFO’s but let’s not get into that right now. The Coens themselves are only executive producers on the show but fear not Coen fans as there are multiple references to their films throughout (most notably through the choice of music used this season).

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Along with the stellar acting and cleverly woven script the show is also visually appealing, once again filmed in the beautiful Calgary, Alberta. The snow-covered landscapes and coniferous forests contrast with the violent events that develop around them.

One worry many people (including myself) was that nobody could top Billy Bob Thornton’s performance as Lorne Malvo last season. While this is arguable, there are several characters who definitely come close, most notably the previously mentioned Hanzee and the silver-tongued Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine). These two characters contrast each other, the former being silent and reserved while the other is talkative and extravagant, although they rarely ever interact they certainly make just as good villains as Malvo in the previous season. There are other memorable roles such as Campbell’s Ronald Regan and the always entertaining Nick Offerman as the paranoid Karl Weathers, a character reminiscent of Walter Sobchack from another Coen brother’s film, The Big Lebowski.

The final episode of this season may come across as underwhelming to some, most characters are essentially where they were at the beginning, but that’s most likely why it’s titled Pallindrome. It wraps up some things but also leaves a lot of loose ends that leave viewers thinking, maybe Hawley will give us some closure if a third season happens but as The Soprano’s once proved, sometimes less is more.

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Definitely living up to it’s previous season and opening multiple doors for a third, the second season of Fargo has been one of the highlights of television in 2015. Noah Hawley once again creates a variety of colourful and contrasting characters that he uses to weave his darkly comical crime story against the snowy Minnesota backdrop. Those who loved season one will love this one just the same despite the absence of fan favourite Billy Bob Thornton, they may even love it more.

It has some minor issues such as certain characters and plots being underdeveloped but all in all, Fargo season two is a unique and entertaining experience which has been a pleasure to watch from start to finish.

Big love, Liam x

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