As usual, it was a tough task picking a Best Of the year. In the end, I did it purely on the scores the albums were given at time of review. Putting in 20 would have been unfair on three albums, and yet again waiting until the end of the year before issuing the list has seen a couple of brilliant albums creep in.
Once more, the albums are in no particular order, although American Teeth by Superhand was an instant contender as soon as I heard it back in May. The debut from Radio Europa also became a favourite from the first listening, and may prove to be more than just a brilliant album to me as 2016 unfolds.
I discovered the amazing Pulco this year and the genius that is Ashley Reaks has two albums in the list. Old favourites like Martin Stephenson, Princess Chelsea and Blancmange made the final cut too
Several classic reggae and dub albums were released during the year and a near orgasmic re-release schedule from On U-sound often had me punching the air.
So, here it is, the 2015 Top 23. Click on the title to read the review or just press play to give yourself a treat.....
In danger of
being lost over the Xmas silly season are three EPs of quite outstanding
quality. hiapop Blog thinks they deserve to be heard and gives you a quick resume
below. Don’t be a pudding, make sure you
hear them all.
– Feral Is As Feral Does So Yeah Up Your Chuff EP
9 / 10
are just never happy. As if releasing
one of the year’s best albums in Rise Of The Gutterzz Press And The Death Of
Modern Thought less than two months ago wasn’t enough, Radio Europa returns
with a five track EP of weirdness for your pay-what-you-like delectation.
‘get the EP out there’, the band have exclusively revealed that they are now working
on their second album. That’s quite some
output, but with the wealth of ideas that the act clearly as, it’s no surprise.
The new EP
has less of the anger of the album, but as much of the eccentricity, distortion
and originality of its father. Opener, Story
Time Is In Session With Radio Europa tantalisingly sets the scene as a single
fuzzed out tone sees the tracks introduced.
Swine The Time Is Thus combines weird with a pulsing bass line and a vocal that
maybe takes its lead from the early Fats Comet releases, and Our Furry Little
Friends Will Pass On The Disease Of Life is pure horror.
by punk and the like, Radio Europa are daring to be different, and different
they certainly are. Genius fighting to
break free – remember the name.
born, London based Fifi Rong has one eye on the commercial and one eye firm in
the alternative on the brilliant new five track EP. The artist that has worked with the likes of
Boris Blank, Tricky and Roots Manuva has assembled a mini journey through
trip-hop related themes tinged with eastern delights.
At times she
has more than a passing sound of Martina Topley-Bird on her incredible Quixotic
album as Once bounds along with poppy abandon and ‘that’ voice which will no
doubt become a main focal point. But,
beneath the unique voice are fascinating delights.
The EP is
some trip as opener Intro later reveals itself as a ‘premix’ to Once with
contains samples of following tracks Slow Poison and Since When. Since When
then makes a further appearance in a remixed version entitled Outro.
super stuff and will have you hooked from the off. Yes, it’s poppy and yes it’s easy to listen
to, but it also displays a huge talent and a head full of stunning ideas. It’s one of the most creative song collections
of the year and one which certainly makes mouth-watering prospects at the
thought of an album.
ticktock – Fault Lines
EP (The Big Oil Recording Company)
8.5 / 10
electronica artist Sebastian Zieler (aka ticktock) has assembled an interesting
and affectionate grasp of five low-key but highly polished alternative pop
tracks. Both vocally and instrumentally
there’s a hint of The Beloved led by the sweet voice of Jon Marsh.
Opt In Opt Out Opt Not is a catchy little thing gently brushing past like a
soft breeze against your cold cheeks. With a lovely bassline, the track slowly
builds from gentile beginnings to a fuller more complete sound. Synth effects shoot in and fly out and the
sound of the track switches midway from calm to dark.
Off The Map
takes things clinically too, as the sound of ticktock is one of high quality
and perfectionism. A drumbeat enters as
the track closes together with heightened voices before lead-track Pastel
Clouds a generous slab of weirdness with a treated vocals and randomly
scattered blips and bleeps. It confirms
Zieler as a clever musician who is capable of writing some stirring stuff.
With the wonderfully
entitled Stripped Of Reuptake Inhibitions the pace is lifted with a more
prolific, though still restricted percussive beat and, closer Everything Free
And Perfect Lover takes a more dreamt approach.
Experimental drone/folk act release their new
‘Dramatic’ is one of many words that could
describe the new album from Year Of Glad.
With obvious comparisons to the mighty Sigur Ros, Old Growth holds its
own against any parallels and establishes itself as one fine album.
Led by A.P. Bergeron, the Montreal based
collective originally self-released the album back in 2014 to widespread and
deserved critical acclaim, now remixed the album is available on UK release and
is once again setting the reviewer flame alight.
Album opener, Deth is a powerful prelude to the
ensuing six tracks album. It soars,
creating massive desolate soundscapes and expansive imaginings as the near instrumental
builds on doom and psychedelia influences.
Blending seamlessly into Gorge, the theme continues albeit on a subtler
level where a more droning feel takes shape.
Prolonged notes shimmer to and fro as the childhood memories of
Bergeron’s Nova Scotia seem all to evident – dereliction, abandonment and
With the title track, a clear Peter Gabriel influence
emerges, no bad thing, in fact the elevated vocals add an enormous supremacy to
the piece at the same time as projecting a warmth and close sensitivity. Like much else on the album, it is dramatic
and pours with emotion and sentiment.
Album highlight, Blythe also conveys incredible
feeling and the almost withdrawn vocals become the main focal point. Impressive electronica, a towering choir and artificial
orchestra also combine to make a quite amazing centre section to the
Closers, Canon and Swim take on a progressive
feel, but only a small enough of a hint to keep it interesting and void of
slumber. A repetitive shimmering hook to
Canon allows it to act as almost a connection rather than a track in its own
right. Swim glides through peaks and
troughs of mellow and uplifting sounds and voices providing a fitting end to a
well-worked and striking album.
Reaks and Joe Hakim – Cultural Thrift (Metal Postcard Records)
post-punk musician teams up with poet/writer.
be put off by the opening bars of Abba’s SOS emanating from Nature Poem, the
first track on the collaboration between Ashley Reaks and Joe Hakim, this is no
pop album. Not for the first time, the
two come together with eight tracks built up from the music of Reaks and the
hard-hitting poetry of Hull poet Hakim.
together with the duo are a clutch of fine musicians who have a history with
Reaks – the remarkable voice of Norwegian Maria Jardardottir, saxophone from
Dave Kemp and guitars from Nick Dunne.
All these artists appeared on Reaks’ stunning Before Koresh album from
earlier this year.
the idea of putting music to poetry and prose isn’t unusual but, with the
sounds of the brilliant Radio Europa still buzzing in our ears, it maybe marks
a new genre heading our way. A slower,
more confident version of rap perhaps, the blending of Hakim’s down-to-earth
words with often quirky music is an absolute joy.
has a voice like no other, her involvement in Albert Hoffmann’s Bicycle for
instance is refreshing as she presents a freeform jazz like ending to the
track, and Kemps saxophone provides another edge to the sounds.
words are spot-on, entirely relevant about everyday people in everyday situations,
he has the ability to write not in the conventional sense, but rhyming words
after short or longer lines and sometimes midway. In a similar way to Faithless’ Maxi Jazz,
Hakim inserts rhymes halfway through lines creating enthralling couplet patterns
Let describes homelessness and the moving round of room to room where varying
degrees of lettings are portrayed –
never really had a home just a series of
rooms in which I’ve stayed,
in which ideas have played
in which dreams have decayed”
on Imposter Syndrome, Hakim throws the suggesting that someone may want to be
the mix of Joe Strummer and John Cooper Clarke, and that mix is potentially
what Hakim is. Punk attitude feet firmly
too is a rare talent. His music fits the
poetry perfectly, often with an edge – listen to the wonderful bass line on
Imposter Syndrome or the subtle reggae backing to To Let or Albert Hoffman’s
Bicycle and insist that there isn’t a genius lying beneath the surface.
Season to be jolly, or release an EP it would seem. With the danger of great albums getting lost
under the radar during the festivities, it seems the wiser thing to do is take
a gamble with a mini collection.
We take a look at some of the best Extended Plays around
from England, France and America.
Murray – It’s About Time
8 / 10
Murray has already attracted the attention of several interesting names in
music. Sandie Shaw describes the 20
year-old as “astonishing” and Paul Carrack called her “a great new artist”. Neither are wrong.
new EP has led to comparisons with Suzanne Vega and even hints of Sheryl Crowe
as her talent for writing well-constructed, catchy songs belies her tender
years. It’s About Time contains five
tracks slow to medium paced, with a voice that is as pure as the illusive Xmas
I Don’t Wanna Lose You does have an Xmas feel about it – swaying and rolling
with a crisp sound and a gorgeous string section to boot. The title track picks
up the pace with an almost Country/folk feel and again with a melody that is difficult
to shake, a trademark of Murray’s writing it would seem.
is performed beautifully, and every one easy to hear, and it’s perhaps those qualities
that make her work so listenable. Worlds
Apart is yet again exquisite and it’s difficult to have any criticisms.
Franck Rabeyrolles – Third
Skin EP (Wool Recordings)
8 / 10
and pop are the preferred choices from France’s Franck Rabeyrolles. There is clearly time and affection poured
into everything he does, and each of the five tracks on the Third Skin EP is
well-thought out and lovingly crafted.
Built To Swim is a dramatic brooding affair, sounds and voices layer upon layer
creating an often overwhelming effect which is full of interest and enchantment. The title track is another haunting piece
which too concentrates on adding sound after sound which quickly becomes a
trait of Rabeyrolles.
is slightly more vocalised that its predecessors with both male and female
voices, hypnotising spirals of sound and beguiling tunnels of fascination. Far be it for anyone to compare Franck to
fellow countryman Jean-Michel Jarre but the links will be expected and,
entirely justified as Phosphorus demonstrates.
a remixed version of Avalanche by Dirty Knees (aka Stephane Kouchian and Arthur
Sapirstein) an often experimental electro episode, the Third Skin EP offers not
only an insight into the undoubted talent of Franck but also a mini collection
that will warrant several listens.
guitar riffs and thumping drums are your thing, then here are Empty Trail from
Not for the
faint hearted, they are good old rock/pop with a slightly modern twist which should
not only appeal to metal diehards but also has the chance to attract a few younger
listeners too. Maybe more down the
‘noise’ side than melodic, there is no doubting the bands ability to knock out
a powerful tune or two.
contains six such beasts giving more of a mini-album than an EP and great value
for money. Each song follows much the same
formula with frontman Rick Lambert exercising an impressive voice which stands
proud above the mammoth backing sounds.
The Rain stands out from the bunch with a melody that sticks well after playing
and a throbbing bassline gelling everything together.