My Top 50 Albums of 2015 (30–21)

THIRTY TO TWENTY ONE

30. Lianne La Havas — Blood

To mindlessly say that Lianne La Havas makes ‘love songs’ is a crime of colossal proportions. In the millennial age, love songs are typically the flimsy here’s-my-number-so-call-me-maybe sentiment of teenage antipathy, or rappers contrasting the everlasting affections for their ‘main chick’ with the ephemeral titillation their groupies provide. No, La Havas is concerned with that seemingly antiquated, chivalric notion of love as an overwhelming sensation, taking cues from the uninhibited howls of Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You’ and the open diary vulnerability of Joni Mitchell’s Blue. La Havas generated enough applause, applause after her 2012 debut Is Your Love Big Enough was named album of the year by iTunes and Prince enlisted her help for his Art Official Age record, but her new album Blood is a shampooed and renewed artistic transcendence, inevitably commanding a higher degree of r-e-s-p-e-c-t.

29. Empress Of — Me

True to its title, Me is a vessel for Rodriguez’s most personal thoughts; she wrote these songs during an extended sojourn to central Mexico, where she lived alone for five weeks at a friend’s house in a remote small town. The intense isolation provided the opportunity to reflect upon her life back in Brooklyn with great clarity, as she laments the financial hardships of trying to make rent in a gentrified city (the steamy slow jam “Standard”) while acknowledging the luxury of living in a country with potable H20 (the rippling house of “Water Water”). But for the most part, Me is a requiem for a doomed romance, and the greatest measure of Rodriguez’s confidence is just how candid and vulnerable she allows herself to be here.

28. Lower Dens — Escape from Evil

Hunter is a charismatic singer willing to deal in grand, sweeping gestures and also idiosyncratic specifics. Escape From Evil is a vivid world of queer retrofuturism, a wide open space that offers access the emotionality of the recent past without subscribing to its violence. Hunter embraces retro-pop as a channel of escape from the power that routes us in our mundane outer lives. In the world of this album, no one will tell you who to be or where to go; it’s all yours to become.

27. Valet — Nature

Valet accomplished what many modern musicians and producers struggle with everyday: purposefulness. With the exponential growth of technology in the production of music, it is far too easy to add in sounds, beats, and instruments simply because you can. If the purpose of your song/album is to highlight this fact, then more power to you. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. Valet took their past musical knowledge and forged an expansive record that created its own little universe instead of trying to fill the infinite vacuum of our own. And while I did have to take several listens to gather together lyrics, I can appreciate the commitment to form and function when it came to Nature. Valet’s third LP is proof that hazy guitars and dream-pop vocals aren’t just for smoke-filled basements. When done right, anyone can take the journey and float with the music rather than get buried inside.

26. Israel Nash — Silver Season

Recorded at Nash’s Texas ranch with his regular four piece touring band, the richly textured yet never less than thoroughly organic album (Nash’s fourth) aims to rekindle a point at the very early 70’s when heartfelt, substantial songwriting met organic recording techniques that favoured spontaneity over excess finesse. A fair few drops of psychedelic bafflement are chucked in for extra nutrition; mellotron makes a few discreet appearances for added period authenticity amongst Nash and co.’s vibrant, psychedelically mellowed-out bar band grooves and sumptuous Crosby, Stills and Nash-style harmonising.

25. Carla Morrison — Amor Supremo

A towering standout on Carla Morrison’s new album, Amor Supremo, “No Vuelvo Jamás” is a pining anthem that opens with the Mexican singer-songwriter delivering a cascade of wordless syllables that sound less like a human voice than a wind instrument. Her overture is punctuated by an emphatic drumbeat and ominous piano chords, then an electric guitar crashes down around her. Yet, she remains unfazed by the commotion, as she half-whispers lyrics about losing herself in lovelorn madness (“locura desmedida”) and succumbing to a yearning that hurt worse (“más dolor”) than physical wounds. Morrison’s voice wavers and twirls, suggesting a less forceful Florence Welch or a more grounded Jeff Buckley. This is pop music with a healthy sense of grandeur.

24. Lanterns on the Lake — Beings

There’s something glorious about listening to an album which sounds coherent, cohesive, in which all of the songs make sense individually and within the context of the whole. Sure, there might be standout moments, but the deepest satisfaction is derived from taking in the piece as a whole. Sadly, this is all too rare in my experience, but at least with Beings, the new album from Newcastle sextet Lanterns on the Lake, the latter part of 2015 has been graced with one such artistic statement. If you’re on the lookout for songs to consume in a fit of musical gluttony, this album isn’t for you. Instead it’s a succulent, sumptuous repast to be savoured.

23. Tobias Jesso Jr — Goon

What Tobias Jesso Jr. is doing here on ‘Goon’ is far from unique. However, his contemporaries (with any significant longevity) existed four decades ago, suggesting the sentimental male pianist persona required an independent audit of sorts. Call it fate or pure luck, but his Californian disappointments have resulted in Jesso being just the right man for the job. One does have to wonder if that impartial detachment flies out the window now that the shaggy-haired songwriter is a musician on the rise with friends in high places. However, negating that concern with regards to future prospects is the high room for improvement factor, especially concerning Jesso’s simple lyrics and lack of vocal confidence. With the timeless vocals of lead single ‘How Could You Babe?’ and the deceptively perceptive ‘Can We Still Be Friends?’ recalling Lennon & McCartney respectively, then we could just well have a prodigious talent on our hands!

22. Puscifer — Money Shot

Still, the desert-weary feel that these songs hold, undoubtedly stirred up by Keenan’s home state of Arizona, is very much present — look no further than the bare bones “Smoke and Mirrors” and the forceful outlaw wit of “The Remedy.” This intangible is perhaps best displayed on “Grand Canyon” through the echoing vocals, guitars and lyrics concerned with personal insignificance when “standing on the edge of forever.” Forever may be too long to wait for Keenan’s other work, but it would be wrong to say Money Shot is any less rewarding.

21. Dan Mangan + Blacksmith — Club Meds

Dan Mangan transcended the singer-songwriter label three years ago with Oh, Fortune. Now that his band have equal footing perhaps people will start to appreciate that his work involves rich musicianship which gives the music an extra dimension and depth. Club Meds is deliberately dense and cluttered and at times confusing. The fact that it manages to be beautiful and intriguing at the same time is quite a feat.

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