ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2015: No. 30-21

30. Florence & The Machine – 'How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful'


What We Said...

After four years since her last studio album 'Ceremonials', we became used to the fact that the legacy of Florence & The Machine had been completed but boy were we wrong. Now returning with her third studio effort 'How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful', Florence Welsh has managed to rekindle the euphoric energy of her previous work and return with one of her biggest albums to date.

While the energy that made you dance like a lunatic has been quashed on this new record, its uplifting and rapturous vocal harmonies have excelled themselves and gives this new release a whole new outlook. Concentrating more on Welsh's own vocals, 'How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful' seems like a far more intimate listen and content in delivering a more emotional direction than one that gets you out of your seat and onto a dancefloor.

And although it doesn't immediately hit you like her previous material, it shows far more growth and purpose in its new direction. A succinct and powerful release in its own way, this new album shows that Welsh's commitment to make engaging music is far from over.

29. Shamir - 'Ratchet'


What We Said...

When the falsetto-voiced Shamir first caught our attention with his breakthrough single 'On A Regular' back in 2014, we knew that this young Las Vegas native was going to be something special. And after a short push of follow up tracks, Shamir has now delivered his incredibly likeable debut album 'Ratchet'.

Opening with a slow and winding homage to his hometown with 'Vegas', the record soon opens up and breaks out into an incredibly diverse party album with various influences and inspirations taking hold of each track. With a subtle tipping of a hat to 80s and 90s production styles, 'Ratchet' has this incredible ability to feel nostalgic and contemporary all at the same time, almost sounding like what Prince would be like if he was born in this generation.

With a minimal approach to production and keeping the songwriting engaging throughout, Shamir has managed to create an accessible and easy to digester debut, despite how leftfield it initially comes across. It is definitely one of the stand-out releases of the year so far, and will no doubt be the beginning of a great career for this young talent.

28. Purity Ring – 'Another Eternity'


What We Said...

While it was no surprise that Purity Ring's 2012 debut album 'Shrines' was an undeniable worldwide success, the band themselves seem to have opted for a more progressive approach to their new album. Delivering something that looks to extend their sound rather than simply recreate it. While vocalist Megan James has kept the serenity in her delivery, the production from Corin Roddick seems to have a far more invasive impact and gives the record a more juxtaposed direction.

'Another Eternity' seems to show a band looking for more acceptance in contemporary electronic music, taking inspiration from the trap movement that has become fully ingrained in the stateside EDM and hip-hop scenes. But with the duo's underlying intention to conceive an atmospheric approach, the result is two-sided affair where the songwriting and production style clash in a glorious mix of interests and manages to create an anthemic sounding record.

It may seem like a harder pill to swallow than their previous work, but it definitely showcases a band that aren't happy sitting still and want to continue growing their sound. A pop record with some serious bite and encouraging listen throughout.

27. Peace – 'Happy People'


What We Said...

After Peace released their stunning debut album 'In Love' back in 2013, the Birmingham four-piece have been the darlings of the underground British indie scene. With a varied and competent sound, the band's genre has been impossible to pin down and has given them an eclectic repertoire of music to start their career. Thankfully that same attitude to songwriting has carried on into their second full-length, but in what direction have they sent this new release in?

While 'Happy People' likes to blur the lines between pop-rock and indie music throughout each of the tracks, this new record is definitely a solid evolution of the band's already forward-thinking sound. Despite their debut producing a great benchmark of fantastic songwriting with a diverse approach, this new album has far more memorable material on it and makes for a collection of songs you find it difficult to leave your head long after you've finished listening.

The difficult second album may be a daunting prospect for a lot of bands, but this new release has seen Peace take on the challenge with gusto and produce a record of near equal quality to their first. A fantastic achievement that should definitely become the bulk of their live set-lists for years to come.

26. Jonny Greenwood, Shye Ben Tzur And The Rajasthan Express – ‘Junun’


What We Said...

Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood has always been one to push the boundaries of modern music. Whether its in Radiohead, his solo work or collaborations like this one with Israeli composer and musician Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express, a group of indian Qawwali-musicians. Produced as the soundtrack to the new Paul Thomas Anderson of the same name, 'Junun' aims to bridge the gap between western and eastern sounds to create an album of incredible musical fusion.

While focusing mainly on the traditional influences of the middle eastern region where the film was made, it is mainly on the production and seldom seen electronic moments where you get to see Greenwood make his mark. He has aimed to make another culture's musical direction as palatable as possible and from just a few listens, you can tell that this is a work of brilliance throughout.

'Junun' is certainly a record that aims to prove a point, that under it all there are certainly elements of music we all find appealing and this release shows that to be true. A brilliant snapshot of culture and vibrancy through all involved.

25. Toro Y Moi – 'What For?'


What We Said...

After spending much of 2014 promoting his more electronic side-project Les Sins, producer Chaz Bundick has returned to his spiritual guise of Toro Y Moi to deliver the fourth studio album under that name. But while fans of Toro Y Moi will remember a project steeped in chillwave ambience and synth pop hooks, this new full-length sees the artist take on an unfamiliar direction that will set this new album apart from anything we have previously heard.

Those that heard the previous singles from this release, 'Empty Nesters' and 'Buffalo', will have already noticed the distinctly nostalgic avenue the producer has already begun to work on and this new record is no different. Adopting that 90s indie sound, similar to the likes of Teenage Fanclub and REM, and splicing it with a distinctly disco influenced backdrop, 'What For?' shows a far more uplifting side to the producer's repertoire and sets a precedent for where he is planning to take this project.

Regardless of whether you are familiar with his previous work or not, this new album will certainly get your attention. Its laid-back yet engaging style of songwriting makes it one of the diverse and enjoyable records we have heard this year, and will no doubt become the perfect soundtrack to your summer.

24. Ibeyi – 'Ibeyi'


What We Said...

A lot of noise has been made about the emergence of Ibeyi over the last few months. The Cuban-French twin sisters have managed to create a sound that is not only unique in the current musical climate, but is also overflowing with a sombre soul that has made them one of the most engaging new acts on the scene. And now with the release of their self-titled debut, the duo are now looking to display exactly what kind of group they are.

Taking a strong influence from their own cultural background, 'Ibeyi' is infused with an African-inspired groove that gives the album a slow but intriguing sound. With comparisons to the likes of FKA Twigs prior to this release, it may seem like you would already have a clear understanding of what to expect, but their own irreverence shines through on every track and leaves you with a collection songs that maintain a core sound yet all have their own direction and influence.

As far as debut albums go, this one certainly makes a bold statement throughout. It's diverse, interesting and enigmatic style seems to not fit anywhere in modern western music, yet you feel like it is something that should have been made years ago. A brilliant start for these two, who we feel are just warming themselves up.

23. Battles – 'La Di Da Di'


What We Said...

After setting themselves up brilliantly as the future of abstract and experimental rock music with their debut album 'Mirrored' and its subsequent follow-up 'Gloss Drop', the Battles camp seemed to go quiet for quite some time. Now returning four years after their second studio release, the band have reinvented their sound once again and look to take us on an audible journey unlike any other with their latest full-length 'La Di Da Di'.

While the debut featured former member Tyondai Braxton on vocals, he was replaced with a series of guests for their follow up. But this time, there are no guests and no vocals at all. 'La Di Da Di' is a completely instrumental release with all the challenges you would expect to keep a lyric-less rock record entertaining. But if there is any band you can rely on to reach into the depth of musical exploration, it is Battles as this new album shows them unleash a whole range within their musical dexterity to release an ever-changing record of loops, riffs and explosive drums.

The band do ultimately admit that a repetitive nature has always been the core to their sound, but this album feels a lot different. The constant, unending rhythms that swell to gargantuan size are restrained to a few bars as each track simply aims to push the boundaries of their own creativity and create more of an improvised experience. It is certainly something hard to find the words to explain but brilliant in almost every way.

22. Twin Shadow – 'Eclipse'


What We Said...

While Twin Shadow has made a name for himself by combining the 80s new wave sound with a more modern ethereal approach, this third album sees the artist take on a more epic side to his sound. Taking inspiration from the power ballads of old, 'Eclipse' is a louder and more anthemic full-length than we have previously heard from him and makes for an incredibly engaging release.

Rather than simply follow the path he originally set for himself on previous albums 'Forget' and 'Confess', this new work shows an artist in the middle of his own musical revolution. While their are still hints and samples that mirror his former self, the overall tone of this new release is so much more aggressive than you may be expecting. With harsh percussion and soaring vocals, much of this new album aims to challenge the preconceptions of what his fans might be expecting and gives an incredibly well-produced snapshot of his current state of mind.

If their was one word to sum up 'Eclipse', it would be epic. Rich with a nostalgic angle to bold and uplifting pop music, the record takes you on a journey of discovery which seems to run in tandem with the artist at the centre of it. Showing that there is more to his sound than he had previously let on and doing so with such incredible aplomb.

21. The Staves – 'If I Was'


What We Said...

With the likes of Ed Sheeran and Mumford & Sons popularising their version of the folk music sound over the last few years, it is refreshing to hear an act that is looking to bring the original down-tempo ambience of the genre back to the 21st century. The second outing for sisterly trio The Staves is one of the most authentically sounding folk records we have heard this year and is brought to life by the siblings own unwavering ability to harmonise with the most effortless finesse.

While fans of the group will already be familiar with their unique singing style, 'If I Was' seems to keep this element of their overall sound at the centre of all the new material. With minimal instrumentation and seldom seem percussion, this new release is focused purely on the sisters and their incredible vocals. Holding notes for war seems like an eternity in places, each voice plays off the back of the one underneath and results in one of the most beautifully constructed albums of the year so far.

Fans of Bon Iver and Civil Wars will be all over this new release. Breathtaking throughout, The Staves have managed to breathe energy and atmosphere into such a modest genre and given it a new lease of life for this millennium.

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