The annual round up of the year’s best tunes as decided by the Somethin' Else staff.
Here we go again! The time has come for that annual occasion beloved by Somethin’ Else’s chin stroking contingent but so feared by judgement-dodgers – it’s our Records of the Year, 2015. And my word, we’ve picked a smörgåsbord of amazing tunes and albums. Let’s get to it.
ALBUM: Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Flying Lotus and his Brainfeeder crew are doing an incredibly consistent job of finding exceptional instrumental talent and providing them with an environment to flourish. His latest discovery, the prodigious Kamasi Washington leaves nothing to chance on this record; the saxophonist’s mesmerising ten-piece band includes his instantly identifiable label alumni Thundercat and on certain songs they are accompanied by scores more choral or orchestral performers. Too many cooks can allegedly spoil even the sweetest broth, but the substance, quality and listenability of ’The Epic’ are otherworldly. Despite the clutter of players involved, Washington’s ambitious and futuristic jazz project never descends into chaos, and this is testament to his vision and composition. I can’t remember listening to a more thrilling and enjoyable debut album in years, from start to finish – after the seventeen expansive songs on this record, you’re genuinely left wanting more.
TRACK: Bicep – Just
As we all know, choosing a favourite song across twelve months is a more or less impossible task. I am sitting here poring over ten or twenty tracks that have stuck out for me in 2015, including George FitzGerald’s ‘Full Circle’, Sam Gellaitry’s ‘Long Distance’, Mano Le Tough’s ‘Energy Flow’, Pumarosa’s ‘Priestess’… I can’t really find any criteria to choose between them; it’s brutal. I am going to go with my gut and choose the track that I’ve undeniably returned to the most since first hearing it and gets me every time. With ‘Just’, Bicep have done what so many timeless dance classics do, luring you in with addictive simplicity before subtly introducing more complex elements, and in this case that culminates in a sexy, euphoric, nostalgic record that works in the club, on headphones or in the bath. Triple threat.
ALBUM: Heaven Hotel presents God Owes us a Swimming Pool
Some might say choosing a compilation album is against the rules for this sort of list, however, I am a rebel and this album is a bit special. Heaven Hotel is a relatively small but reputable and amazing label from Antwerp, the birthplace of several of my favourite bands and home to a rather incredible and very unique music scene. This year, to mark its 20th anniversary, the label released this celebration of Antwerp’s finest from the last 20 years and it represents everything I love about Belgian musicians. A bit jazz, a bit indie rock, and completely original, it’s left of centre, experimental and genius…with just a touch of madness. It sounds like Antwerp; Belgium’s best kept secret and possibly the coolest place on the planet. Featuring a balance between the more well known artists (in Belgium at least) such as Dead Man Ray, Daan and Mitsoobishy Jacson, and the more obscure, it’s a really interesting album that just makes you wish you were one of them. I can’t recommend it enough. Best experienced whilst sipping a De Koninck on the terrace of an Antwerpen bar. But if you can’t do that, you can stream it here and pretend: https://heavenhotel.bandcamp.com/releases.
TRACK: Sharko – Friend
There weren’t many releases this year that warranted an immediate and overly excited phone call to my boyfriend to make sure he’d heard it, but this was definitely one of them. Not only because it’s a great tune, and it is, just listen to it, but because Sharko haven’t released anything for about five years and with this, they’re back and playing live and that’s really exciting. This song is a work of art. It’s classic Sharko and I love it.
ALBUM: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
In what has been a rich year for albums, the one that stands out is Kendrick’s. It’s full of moments (‘King Kunta’, ‘These Walls’, ‘Wesley’s Theory’) that most hip-hop records only have once, let alone four or five times. More impressively is that at Reading this year, he managed to translate the album into an live set that was worthy of topping any festival, again no mean feat for a hip hop artist. He’s clearly a dude of the highest order and I could listen to this record all day (when I’m not listening to Robbie Williams on loop).
TRACK: Foals – Mountain At My Gates
When I’m not listening to Robbie Williams on loop, I like to get some guitars in my life and they don’t come much better than those belonging to Foals. Foals are the band I would be in, were it not for my lack of rhythm and musicality. They have consistently been brilliant for ten years and this song makes me feel a bit giddy every time it comes on. There’s a line: ‘Give me some time / Show me the foothold from which I can climb / Yeah, when I feel low / You show me a signpost for where I should go’ and it gets me right here *punches chest* every time.
ALBUM: Gaz Coombes – Matador
This man knows how to write a song and make a record.
Out of all the albums released in 2015 this is the one I’ve enjoyed the most, It’s 38mins long and it’s solid from start to finish.
TRACK: Leon Bridges – Coming Home
This track has that lovely 1960s soul throwback vibe going on. It’s beautifully recorded and reminds me of summer!
ALBUM: BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul
Dredge Undertow, Pops Staples Don’t Lose This were another two I could have picked. But this album has an abundance of what Big Narstie would call… vibes. Live instruments from jazz-trio BadBadNotGood make it feel like a classic Wu-Tang album, the kind you wish they still made. Don’t think there’s enough interesting collaborative-albums or ‘collalbums’ a term I’ve just coined. There should be more artists hook up for full albums… but I suppose it’s tough to top Barbra Streisand & Kris Kristofferson.
TRACK: Skepta – Shutdown
The man and this song have helped to shine a light on a side of UK music which isn’t either Adele or Coldplay.
ALBUM: Romain Virgo – Lifted
TRACK: Charly Black – Gyal You A Party Animal
ALBUM: Jon Hopkins – Late Night Tales
This year has been a great year for albums, from Mano Le Tough to the Biebs (yes seriously), but my favourite album has to be Jon Hopkins’ Late Night Tales compilation. There’s lots of reasons why this is one of the best things of all time. 1) I still have to pinch myself when I think about producing him on Radio 1 (career highlight: getting a shout out over an Enya-Burial mashup). 2) It is impossible to listen to without feeling both insanely relaxed and intensely emotional. 3) It features incredible tracks from artists like A Winged Victory for The Sullen, Nils Frahm and Darkstar. It holds a very special place in my heart and if you haven’t listened to it you 100% need to. Like now. Seriously. Stop reading this and go listen!
TRACK: Red Velvet – Ice Cream Cake
I could play it cool and mention the haunting Woebegone Wanderers II by Wild Beasts, Ghost Culture’s beautiful Lucky, Kwabs’ heartbreaking Perfect Ruin, but let’s keep it real and go for the track my iTunes play count tells me was my favourite. ‘Ice Cream Cake’ was a standout hit for my favourite KPop group, the ridiculously adorable Red Velvet. In a year where Japanese teenage metal bands like Babymetal & LadyBaby were all the rage, this song stands out as PROPERLY GOOD, totally bonkers pop from Northeast Asia.
ALBUM: Fading Frontier – Deerhunter
Deerhunter are always fantastic and Fading Frontier is possibly their best and most accessible record yet. It’s big, bright and surprisingly uplifting, somehow without losing any of what makes them the band they are (i.e. a bit dark and miserable). Something about it just taps into me at a very deep level. If there’s an issue with the album it’s that – having only 9 tracks – it’s all over too quickly.
TRACK: Ziggy Starfish – Open Mike Eagle (prod. Gold Panda)
I love Open Mike Eagle; he’s one of the most interesting, intelligent and witty rappers working today. I’ll snap up anything he releases. He’s great at picking collaborators too, and Gold Panda’s signature sound on Ziggy Starfish just makes it an absolute stand-out.
ALBUM: Kamasi Washington – The Epic
I’ve chosen this not because it’s actually my favourite music of the year but because it represents a bunch of interesting things. Kamasi is the next big Jazz crossover star after Robert Glasper. But his music is altogether less immediate and well “pop” than Glasper’s. A saxophonist, he comes from the West Coast and has played extensively with the likes of Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamaar. He’s on Kendrick’s album and is signed to FlyLo’s label.
The Epic is appropriately titled. Three CDs. An orchestra. A Choir. Hours of music. It’s huge, uplifting, but also pompous and overdone at times. It’s retro in that it harks back to a 70s “spiritual sound” of labels like Black Jazz and Strata East. But it’s also contemporary and infused with the language of modern R and B.
Jazz isn’t in the habit of creating “stars”. Gregory Porter has managed it, perhaps against the odds but at the end of the day he sings songs. But Kamasi is an instrumentalist. Those who saw his debut live show at the recent London Jazz Festival witnessed something unusual – a crowd of all ages and backgrounds whipped up in the hype and almost hysterical in their reception. For those of us who love Jazz these moments are rare and to be cherished.
ALBUM: Thomas Stronen – Time is a Blind Guide
I was *this* close to picking the overhyped-yet-really-good-yet-also-quite-familiar-sounding Kamasi Washington. But it is overhyped and quite familiar sounding (although really good). Instead, something quieter, subtler and stunningly beautiful. I’ve just realised that like Washington, this one also has strings, drums and jazz rhythm section but it’s on a different planet – folky, reflective, and ultimately, Norwegian.
ALBUM: Fall Out Boy – American Beauty / American Psycho
Yes this year we have had ‘Jamie XX’ and the latest album of Bieber that we are all ashamed to love so much. BUT you can keep all that thanks. In the shadows, Fallout Boy dropped this album that is none stop classic FOB bangers. Not only have they kept the passion from early 2000’s (Who cannot love ‘Sugar were going down’), but have almost perfected their art. When performing live they appeal to all ages. With diehard fans now in their 40’s, and pre-teens at their first gigs without their dads. Everyone loves them. They know what they are doing and they are sick.
ALBUM/EP: FKA Twigs – M3LL155X
Because it’s not just an EP, it’s a feminist statement and a work of art with beautiful / insanely choreographed videos to match, plus its a good listen.
TRACK: Tink – Million
It’s addictive and has great chill R&B vibes and lush vocals.
ALBUM: Kamasi Washington – The Epic
This record is topping all the jazz lists of 2015 for good reason.
It’s a huge record by all standards, running to about 100 minutes, featuring an orchestra and a choir and our fave cuddliest psychedelic super-hero bass player Thundercat, with the charisma of Kamasi himself at the centre of it. It has an uplifting, ebullient quality to it which has made it particularly useful with all that has been happening this year. No wonder it has sold squillions.
TRACK: Malukayi – Mbongwana Star (Feat. Konono N 1)
African drum music is – obviously – the original form of dance music and happily of late some quality electronic producers have been returning to the source to create high production value interpretations of contemporary african music. This is a great example of what some people are calling “Congotronica”: heavy drums with big stero-tastic production and a hypnotic electro-marimba. You’ll want to listen to it again and again.
ALBUM: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
Best psychedelic/disco album of 2015.
TRACK: Skepta – Shutdown
Sound of the Sticks 2015
ALBUM: Justin Bieber – Purpose
Jamie xx, Kendrick, The Weeknd, Maccabees, Wolf Alice, Woon, Florence… Even Adele, man. They all had a shot but – and I may live to regret this* – they’ve been pipped to the post by Justin Bieber. I really, really wasn’t interested in this album but after numerous prompts to listen, I was amazed to find something I wanted to hear over and over again. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying I’ve warmed to the guy on a personal level**, but his fourth album ‘Purpose’ is full of pulsing tropical beats, instantly recognisable little vocal hooks and an almost implausible level of contrition. If he really is as sorry as he says he is, I forgive him. And so should Selena***.
*I am 100% living to regret this already. I think maybe I think it should be Jamie xx after all…
**He illegally owned a monkey, dudes. Whilst that is my life’s dream, I am also able to appreciate that it’s not much fun for the monkey.
***If I’ve learnt anything from the internet, it’s that it is important to have opinions about Selena if you’re going to have opinions about Biebs.
TRACK: Stormzy – Shut Up Jamie Woon – Sharpness
Up until August, Stormzy would have clinched this for me I reckon (thanks @ohdanmoss for the recommend)… Approx. 12m of the well over 13m views are me I should have thought. But then, at the beginning of August, along comes Jamie Woon with the first single from his second album ‘Making Time’, and I am in love. Reviewers have called it ‘pillowy’, ‘silky’, ‘sensuous’ and various other adjectives invoking the bedroom – which is bang on I’d say, given that this is definitely the sexiest song of 2015. I defy you not to do a sultry shoulder sway when you’re listening to it, and heaven forbid you’re in close proximity to someone you have a crush on. Dangerous.
ALBUM: Jamie xx – In Colour
This time last year, almost to the day, I jumped off a coach in Dalston headed to the Somethin Else Christmas Party and onto a train headed to Manchester to see Jamie xx at Warehouse Project. Judging by how quickly his most recent shows sold out, it’s a good thing I did. I’ll have to ask Santa nicely to steal me a ticket for Christmas if I want to experience this album live any time soon. The words gold & dust spring to mind.
The xx will always have a special place in my heart. Their debut album kept me company when I moved to London 5 years ago as a shy BBC Trainee with only a few friends & a daunting future in the capital city. ‘Loud Places’ featuring Romy takes me right back to that time and gives me pure goosebumps. With this album Jamie xx has captured both the essence of the current UK rave scene, and moments of magical nostalgia, all at once.
TRACK: Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – Fangs
Swaaaaaaay your hips from side to side! 2015 marked the return of Frank Carter, the ex-frontman of Gallows and Pure Love. We had the exclusive first play of this debut single on the Radio 1 Rock Show and it’s exactly what the world needed. Frank is one of the most aggressive and humble artists out there, in equal measure. Teamed with friend and songwriter Dean Richardson he achieved a Top 20 UK album, which is the very antidote to the likes of Meghan Trainor. Welcome back angry Frank!
ALBUM: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
This has been a great driving album this year, narrowly beating Scott Joplin’s Piano Rags. Though, that doesn’t quite carry the same musical diversity or narrative journey that TPAB does. His album’s always flow in the most musical and beautiful way, interweaving with monologues and dead rude lyrics. You wouldn’t play it to your mum. Has the best video of the year by a mile for ‘Alright’. And that it is.
ALBUM: Faith No More – Sol Invictus
Their first album since 1997! That’s like, fucking AGES! But it’s easily one of their finest. Improving with age, like the best of us.
Honourable mentions to Boxed In’s self-titled album, Blur’s “The Magic Whip”, Half Moon Run’s “Sun Leads Me On”, and of course Jamie XX and Kendrick. It’s been a good year.
TRACK: Jamie Woon, Kendrick Lamar & Drake
Literally – LITERALLY – impossible to pick. As I say, it’s been a good year. But special shout outs to Kendrick “I” (for the fun times), Jamie Woon “Sharpness” (for the sexy times) and Drake “Hotline Bling” (for the meme times).
ALBUM: Joey Bada$$ – B4.DA.$$
In a year where I’ve listened to more albums than ever before (mainly old), my pick is going to the first album I listened to in 2015. A huge shoutout to Jamie Woon, Kendrick and Leon Bridges for their releases, but Joey Bada$$’ first LP will go down as one of the best hip-hop debuts in recent history. Following on from his two near flawless mixtapes, Joey delivered a raw and powerful lyrical masterclass, backed by a stunning selection of producers and beats. The sign of a great hip-hop album is that is sounds best listened to from start to finish, but also makes sense and works when you listen to individual tracks and/or on shuffle. B4.DA.$$ does just that and will no doubt go down as a great album in years to come, with Joey having the potential to become one of the new all-time great MCs.
TRACK: George FitzGerald – Full Circle (Feat. Boxed In)
There are countless straight-up house/techno tracks that have been destroying clubs this year, along with incredible pieces of pop (Bieber, yep) and a number of other standout moments, most notably ‘Perfect Ruin’ by Kwabs and more recently the Tom Misch/Zak Abel rework of Kwabs’ ‘Cheating On Me’. However, my favourite song of the year goes to George FitzGerald with ‘Full Circle’, which still sounds as fresh as it did the first time I heard it. Forward thinking, beautifully put together and one of those songs you can imagine warming your heart when you rediscover it in 20/30 years time. 2015 has been another great year for music, with the UK leading the way (again).
ALBUM: Jamie xx – In Colour
While the tale and methods of In Colour are well-worn, Jamie xx, like Burial and Four Tet before him, proves himself a master storyteller. This is the sound of dance music liberated from its dull rituals, but the genius is in the way he makes it seem so minimalist, and so spacious. Complete from start to finish, it was the stand out album for me in 2015. To the hero, the spoils.
TRACK: Dusky – Skin Deep
On hearing ‘Skin Deep’ for the first time, it instantly became my track of the summer, and now year. The track has it all; soulful vocals, deep drum progressions, a wonderful melody and it has that really light and airy feeling that just has a real groove about it. The way in which the track progresses and builds is just masterful, and it’ll be stuck in your head after hearing it, that’s for sure.