Albums of 2015 #5 - Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool

Wolf Alice
My Love Is Cool
Released June 22, 2015
Dirty Hit

Guitar music has long needed a band to hit the mainstream (or almost the mainstream) who just rock. Wolf Alice are that band. My Love Is Cool is a record that took some time to arrive, it was back in 2012 that they were a buzz word amongst bloggers and perhaps their slow rise up the circuit has helped them, given them time to hone their craft and produce what is frankly a dazzling debut LP.

Wolf Alice are masters at combining powerful grunge laden guitar noise and alluring vocals to potent effect, rich and heavenly one moment then feral and roaring the next. It captivates from first to last and in Ellie Roswell they have the most dominating lead of any rock band today. Tracks like “Fluffy” and “Bros” may be old ones but they deserve their place amongst the album and were truly monstrous at their break-out Glastonbury show.

“Fluffy" is anything but the light and airy nature of its title bursts straight out of the gates leaves little to the imagination with pummelling drums and monster guitar hooks then doesn't let up for its entire three minute duration. “Bros” is simply a tune, perfect, driving power-pop with hooky choruses and bristling with adrenaline filled excitement.

My Love is Cool is diverse and brilliant throughout, a masterclass in loud/quiet dynamic from the driving, raging assault that is “You’re A Germ” and the ferocious 90’s homage “Giant Peach” to the melodic “Freazy” and the intoxicating opening track “Turn to Dust”. It is tracks like “Lisbon” and “Your Loves Whore” that find the band at their finest, sweetness & light counter-balanced with a powerful, raw energy.

Tremendous is the word to best describe it I think. 

Albums of 2015 #6 - Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss

Chelsea Wolfe
Released August 7, 2015
Sargent House

Abyss sees Chelsea Wolfe fully embrace the darkness. The transformation from haunting, ethereal 'experimental' dark-folk to almost full-on metal that was more than hinted at on last year’s Pain is Beauty is complete and Abyss offers her most unwavering statement of intent to date. Here the guitars are back at the fore and the sound is as bleak as the album’s title alone indicates. The three tracks which open proceedings, "Carrion Flowers", "Iron Moon" and “Dragged Out” are enough to leave the listener a trembling, quivering mess alone.

 “Carrion Flowers” is terrifying, opening with pulverising, industrial noise and shuddering rhythms amongst shadowy, defiant vocals. A bigger opening track you will not hear this year. “Iron Moon” is a masterclass in the loud/quiet dynamic and keeps you on edge throughout. At its peak there are these frankly disturbing noises which beg you into submission, filled with heavy sludge-laden guitars and colossal vocal howls filled with intensity and then suddenly the track breaks and instead of dense maelstroms of brutal instrumentation you're listening to a tortured, naked voice with minimal accompaniment, raw, primal and shiveringly intimate. Despite her embrace of all things Gothic, there is emotional beauty never too far away.

On my review of her debut LP Apokalypsis four years ago now I said that Chelsea ‘recalls a PJ Harvey that has signed her life away to the occult’ and you can almost hear that on the likes of “Maw”, “Simple Death” and “Crazy Love”, the starkest tracks here, they act like the calm after the storm, both eerie guitar, atmosphere and vocal death-ballads that act as a breakwater to the brutality heard elsewhere and fill you with cavernous optimism and desire.

The atmosphere continues on the foreboding “Survive” and the rumbling guitars and military beats of “Grey Days” equally rewards yet the nightmarish vision of “Color of Blood” complete with fuzzy synths and distorted vocals. There’s much more that could be said about this outstanding album from this beguiling talent. Let’s leave it with an obvious statement. Chelsea Wolfe remains one of the most complete, ambitious and prolific artists around, we’re lucky to have her.

Albums of 2015 #7 - Novella - Land

Released 11th May, 2015

An album four years in the making Land finally confirms Novella amongst the finest purveyors of grunge-laden shoegaze around on a record that is a welcome combination of wonderful repetitive grooves and infectious hooks all wrapped up in a sumptuous cocktail of powerful, sugary vocals. Land is a brilliant, distinctive sounding psyche album in a time where  dreamy psyche-pop has almost hit saturation point.

“Follow” highlights the bands progression from the more succinct earlier material and is very much akin to their formidable live show, it simply lets the music do the talking. There’s a long winding introduction full of raw, sprawling guitars and hypnotic rhythms which infect your head and refuse to let go and it's over two minutes before you hear any vocals at all.

"Land Gone" is similarly rewarding, propelling itself forward with a heady tapestry of scintillating guitars and machine gun percussion set amongst Hollie's nonchalant vocals. They sit higher up in the mix on Land in comparison to the bands earlier releases, soaring, shimmering and confident, the result hypnotises from first to last.

While the rockier edge and hooky pop chorus of the driving “Something Must Change" may be the most memorable moment on Land there's intricate, seductive guitar and experimental textures at almost every turn, "Sentences" is a luscious, spacious psychedelic number and "Blue Swallows" is another highlight, slowly revealing itself around layers of rhythms and bass to a rich, soaring chorus.

Land is an album that keeps on giving and is well worth its long gestation period, go and see the band play live too. You will not be disappointed. 

Albums of 2015 #8 - Torres - Sprinter

Released May 5th, 2015
Partisan Records

Sprinter sees Mackenzie Scott aka Torres spread her wings and produce a brilliant, versatile album that beguiles from first to last. Where her 2013 self-titled debut was a white knuckle ride of stark power and raw, heartfelt mood that hit right in your gut Sprinter is incrementally rockier and fierce, full of unwinding guitar hooks, big, beefy drums and direct, aggressive vocals.

"Strange Hellos" starts with the familiar sounds of sparse guitar plucks, bruised lyrics and Mackenzie Scott's incredible vocal whispers before exploding into a surging Nirvana esque fuzz-rock monster. Her vocals become a tool to release anger, snarling and searing at every turn amongst a quagmire of bellowing instrumentation and razor-sharp lyrics. It completely knocks your socks off.

The gritty atmosphere and dark, introspective lyrics are never far away, the wonderful “New Skin” is both hypnotic and tense with an escalating chorus which intensifies in drama and emotion while the title track sees Torres releasing, or at least attempt to shed some of the shackles of her youth, full of equal parts aggression and fearless spirit, it's a brilliant and compelling listen.

On “Cowboy Guilt” you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d just turned the new St Vincent album on with playful guitars and bouncing rhythms cascading amongst metronomic beats, it’s the albums shortest, most concise moment and yet it is "Ferris Wheel" that is probably my highlight, the chorus of “I’ve got the sadness too” cuts through each time, so much depth, so much emotion, so much pain. Bring tissues.

Albums of 2015 #9 - Julien Baker - Sprained Ankle

Julien Baker
Sprained Ankle
Released October 23, 2015
6131 Records

Julien Baker’s debut LP Sprained Ankle is one of those albums that slowly reaches up inside and leaves the hairs on the back of your neck standing on high, her voice kills me, an emotive and beautiful vocal that touches deep within.

It starts as minimal as can be, little more than that extraordinary vocal and sparse guitar melodies, “Blacktop” is all the more raw and gut-wrenching as a result, an intoxicating mood wraps around you and you find yourself absolutely addictive to hearing everyone of Julien’s heart-breaking words.

"Sprained Ankle” is a sweetly soothing lullaby where a circling guitar pattern creeps around butterfly soft vocals, warm and caressing, it is the loveliest track I’ve heard in some time and it’s powerful lyrics “Sprinter, learning to wait, Marathon runner and my ankles are sprained” is both the perfect metaphor for life and overcoming it’s difficulties and directly, for me at least, something I’ve had to do all year thanks to injuries that I cannot overcome

"Vessels” is a slow, unrushed beauty and “Brittle Boned” sees a return to the stark and forlorn melancholy at its opening but soon becomes the most expansive track on the record, taking a leaf out of Sharon Von Etten’s handbook to raise to a soaring conclusion while “Good News” similarly lays it all out in the open, like Sprained Ankle as a whole, it is all about feelings and boy, does it make you feel throughout. What an exquisite, real and beautiful debut LP this is. Don’t let it pass you by. 

Albums of 2015 #10 - The Staves - If I Was

The Staves
If I Was
Released 23 March, 2015

Hertfordshire’s finest three-part harmony group The Staves show they are much more than delicate acoustic and pure voice on their second LP If I Was. Take opening track “Blood I Bled” for example, which begins in familiar fashion with finger-plucked guitars woven around haunting vocals and rich, heart-melting harmonies before slowly unveiling layers of flourishing strings and dramatic instrumentation.

The trio recorded the album with the help of Justin Vernon and his influence is apparent, combining alt-Americana which is spacious yet fresh and natural with rocking instrumentation that is louder and more upfront than we’re accustomed to but that also remembers to utilise the abundance of charm and wonder that is the sister’s pared voices, they remain the key throughout as they come apart and unite over and over again, the result is magical.

“Black and White” highlights that bolder dynamic with fuzzy guitars and full-blooded percussion, ‘Steady’ has found a permanent place in my mind already with its infectious chorus and ringing guitar line whilst “Make It Holy” (which features Justin Vernon himself) almost sounds like a Bon Iver track with its slowly rumbling rhythm and forthright, emotive songcraft.

I’m a sucker for those harmonies however and the beguiling “Damn It All” and sweetening “No Me, No You, No More” are my favourites, highlighting The Staves at their most beautiful. “Damn It All” with a haunting accordion backing that fills the track with atmosphere before the sisters voices entwine together in the latter half and “No Me, No You, No More” may be a lament but it fills you with some emotion that the intimacy feels so warm and welcome.

Closing track "Sadness Don't Own Me" is a beautiful piano led ballad that deserve special mention to, the tone throughout the track (and album as a whole) is exquisite. An album to sit back with and truly enjoy as one.

Albums of 2015 #12 - Miya Folick - Strange Darling

Miya Folick
Strange Darling
Released December 3rd, 2015

I almost let this six track EP slip me by, Miya Folick has featured on these pages throughout the year with a slow-drip of releases throughout the year and it wasn’t until I was finalising this list that I saw a six track EP Strange Darling had been snuck out just last week. The collection immediately found a home amongst my finest.

It opens with the first track of Miya’s I heard, the sublime “Talking with Strangers”. A near six minute journey of heartbreak and sublime songcraft that is constructed similarly to Sharon Van Etten's most explosive work, it sees swelling guitar licks circle around Miya's show-stopping vocal, completely captivating as it exudes a full spectrum of emotion throughout. Empowering, haunting, vulnerability, desire, the songs versatility lingers long after the end is signalled by a crescendo of crashing percussion, ringing guitar and the repeated calls of "how did I miss this lesson when I was young". 

There are two new tracks to me, “What I Have To” and “I Think This Is The Dream Where I Met You”, the former a gritty, rumbling track complete with a harder edge thanks to deep percussion, fuzzy guitar and wrought vocals and the latter a woozy, country leaning ballad with a stunning vocal delivery that sounds as timeless as Nancy Sinatra.

The other tracks I already knew and love and none refuse to stand still or be pigeonholed, from the melodic yearning of "I Got Drunk" (which is perhaps the highlight), complete with growling guitars, confessional lyrics and direct vocals that sums up the emotion and passion stirred by perhaps one too many whereas "Strange Darling" is starker, prettier, more comforting and yet it remains just as captivating, capturing your heart with fluttering instrumentation and soft-focus vocals. It's just beautiful.

“Oceans” similarly crosses genre-lines, covering a full spectrum of gut-wrenching emotion from the outset with confessional lyrics and vulnerability oozing from every pore before suddenly taking a turn for the dramatic with expansive instrumentation and anguished vocals before fading away amongst soft, ringing guitar patterns, it's simply stunning. It sums up the versatility and talent of this young LA based songwriter, I’m already excited at what a potential debut full length can offer. 

Albums of 2015 #14 - Lana Del Rey - Honeymoon

Lana Del Rey
Released 18 September, 2015

With Born to Die my favourite album of 2012 and follow up Ultraviolence my fourth favourite of 2014, it is safe to say anticipation and expectation was high ahead of Honeymoon, the third LP from Lana Del Rey. Was I satisfied with its result? Yes and no. Yes, I’m a big fan of the soft, walking daydream sound that resonates throughout Honeymoon but there is perhaps a lack of a ‘killer single’ that propelled her earlier records.

Don’t let that take anything away from Honeymoon though, it is a wonderfully cohesive album, a mature listening experience to be enjoyed whole and at odds with most major artists idea of creating singles and not really worrying about much else. The title track is pure Lana, more Born to Die than Ultraviolence in terms of its lush, slow-motion dramatics with languid piano and orchestral strings sighing amongst Lana’s velvety vocals. There’s room for a little dig at her critics too within the tracks opening line “we both know that it’s unfashionable to love me”.  “Honeymoon” is an open page of bruised, sorrowful lament but one that is typically beautiful to listen to and feels like a trip you’ll want to make time and time again.

The languorous atmosphere prevails throughout, the sparse instrumentation and orchestration of the wonderful “Salvatore” allow Lana’s fabulous vocal to shine, it is her voice that is the star throughout, a rich, sumptuous beauty that is often unfairly attacked by would-be nay-sayers. The tracks run at full length, adding to the sleepy haze that the cinematic tracks wash over you, be it the dimly lit “Freak”, the seductive "God Knows I Tried" or the brilliant “Terrence Loves You” (complete with David Bowie homage), Lana Del Rey has created a masterclass in atmosphere that reveals a little bit more of itself with each play.