Albums of 2015 #1 - Ryan Adams - 1989

Ryan Adams
1989
Released September 21st, 2015
PAX AM

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What makes your personal album of the year? Is it a record that you think sounds incredible for its time but is quite difficult to digest in one sitting? Is it a record that has lauded critical acclaim at every corner? Or is it simply a record you've played to death and cannot get enough of? In my case it is always the latter, my favourite records are the ones I play over and over and over again. I really couldn't care less what other reviewers say, what other people think or the fact that my favourite record of 2015 is a cover album of Taylor Swift's 1989.

I wasn't convinced before I heard it, I'm not even a big Ryan Adams fan and my love of Taylor Swift doesn't go too much past "Shake It Off', "Wildest Dreams" and "Blank Space". Taylor's album is too mechanical for me, the distorted, processed vocals and synthetic beats aren't my thing but Ryan Adams has taken some quite spectacular songs, re-imagined them and made them feel like my own, an indie album to hit this indie kid right in the gut.

The album flutters between full of swaggering indie-rock instrumentation ("Style") to stripped back guitars full of aching, burning atmosphere ("Blank Space", "This Love"), the result is an emotional tour-de-force that stays long after listening. A complete, cohesive experience and an album I've listened to more than twice the amount than any other record this year - if that isn't your favourite record of the year, what is?

"Welcome to New York" is incredible, sounding like Springsteen at his full pomp with shimmering, echoing guitars and a truly outstanding vocal delivery. "Out of the Woods" is two minutes longer, purposely drawn out and transformed into a slowly waltzing, wounded ballad full of hurt amongst the repeated "Are we out of the woods? Are we in the clear yet? Good" before an inspired instrumental outro full of strings.

"All You Had to Do Was Stay" sounds like the delivery of a man who'd just gone through a painful break-up - of course Adams' had - rumbling percussion, jangly guitars and impassioned, yearning vocals. It's one of the obvious highlights. The other is similar in its heartbreak, "I Wish You Would" sees Ryan Adams' voice front and centre, bruised, fragile and beautiful.

Of the big hits, in my opinion, it is "Wildest Dreams" that works the best, a rich, mid-pace jangle that shines around it's hooky verses and sublime chorus. "How You Get the Girl" sounds like something Ryan Adams would write - he's probably pissed he didn't - heartfelt and emotive it's also brilliant - it's a running theme throughout - and I have to mention the creeping "Clean" too. Like the entire album Adams sings it straight up and from deep inside, it finds the inner sorrow and strength that the shiny originals hide beneath neon synths and digital processing.

This 1989 highlights the genuine artistic talents of both Adams and Swift to new audiences respectively, the best cover album I've ever heard. My album of 2015. 

Albums of 2015 #2 - Anna Von Hausswolff - The Miraculous

Anna Von Hausswolff
The Miraculous
Released November 13, 2015
City Slang

If 2013’s Ceremony was Anna Von Hausswolff offering (and I quote my own review) ‘a captivating, uncompromising vision of darkness and the morose that combines dramatic, vastly ambitious cinematic soundscapes with intense vocals and lyrical themes that come across as a study of loss and death’ then just what is the 2015 follow-up The Miraculous? Vastly more ambitious, Gothic and monstrous for a start. A rock opera to challenge even Jim Steinman.

Its centre-piece is the first track we heard from it, actually two songs, a cover with an original entwined within it “Come Wander With Me/Deliverance”. The track feels like a combination and extension of Anna’s first two records, it is big (of course it is), bombastic and evokes earth-shattering emotion throughout, it’s both heavy and light, dark and celestial. An eleven minute opus of long, dense instrumentals and shivery organ chords that reach far beyond this realm and it leaves the listener completely breathless.

Opening track “Discovery” is the other outstanding epic, only nine minutes this time and some seven minutes before Anna’s haunting vocals enter the fray, by that time the untrained ear may be exhausted. The track belongs in Star Wars, a spacey, deathly procession that would capture the atmosphere of a battleship fight perfectly.

In comparison “Evocation” is a rather fleeting three minutes in length yet the terrifying howls that opens proceeds lets you know it’s coming to pack its punch within that time. There’s thick organ drones and murky guitars amongst Anna’s towering, deeply emotive vocals. Anna Von Hausswolff has a master of light and dark light no other, combining the chilly, natural feeling of her native Scandinavian landscapes with frankly terrifying howls and noises. You feel like you’ve landed north of the wall in Game of Thrones and the White Walkers are watching you.

"An Oath" is impassioned vocals that collide to an utterly gargantuan storm of noise yet it’s not until the last track of the album that we hit even a remotely accessible moment, “Stranger” ends the album with an acoustic, softly whispered tale that calms and soothes after the transcendental darkness before it.

The Miraculous is without doubt not an album for all but is without doubt a (nother) masterpiece from this most magnificent of artists. 

Albums of 2015 #3 - Lanterns on the Lake - Beings

Lanterns on the Lake
Beings
Released November 13th, 2015
Bella Union

Lanterns on the Lake have long known how to produce a cohesive, flowing album that rewards the listener with a consistently interesting and engaging experience, powerful yet melodic, dramatic yet beautiful, haunting yet heart-warming, Beings, the Newcastle bands third full-length might just be the most wholesome yet.

“Of Dust & Matter” sets the decidedly sombre tone, a darkened, glistening look into a sound that is perhaps starker than their earlier material but intensely captivating and more direct too. The brilliant single “Faultlines” immediately bursts into life and sees twinkling piano keys combine with dense, gripping atmosphere and bristling guitars. Ever-bold and innovative, on “Faultlines” Lanterns manage to sound rawer and more aggressive yet still conjure up some of the most beautiful, emotional noise possible.

The focus throughout is coherent theme and atmosphere, the subtle yet sprawling "I'll Stall Them” with its eerie electric guitar whilst the devastating “Send Me Home” is Lanterns at their most minimalistic and charming, it leads into the brilliant “Through The Cellar Door” with a quick one-two straight in the gut. Full of evocative, deeply layered soundscapes that sees the band flit between their trademark crescendos and quiet intersections where a haunting beauty truly hits the fore.

It almost feels wrong not to mention all of the tracks, “Stepping Down” is a spectral electronic number that’s completely different to anything the band have done before it, intensely intoxicating with its dark, tense mood. “The Crawl” is a return to the bands signature slow-burn, emotional and melodic and then there is the incredible title-track, glacial twinkles and tense atmosphere collide in a a wide-ranging, dynamic journey that sums up Lanterns on the Lake, there’s simple few bands around who are this consistently brilliant.

Albums of 2015 #4 - Kid Wave - Wonderlust

Kid Wave
Wonderlust
Released June 1st, 2015
Heavenly

Kid Wave’s debut album Wonderlust is a record guaranteed to improve your mood, a joyous blend of grunge laden guitars and swirling, catchy hooks pared with unrelenting beats and cool, breathy vocals. It’s the sort of record you reach for over and over again as hit upon hit cross your ears with heart-warming results.

Take the opening and title track, three minutes in which the band encapsulate the spirit of youth, full of carefree abandon and blissful optimism, rushing headlong with surging guitars and galloping beats amongst Lea Emmery's heady vocals.

There are singles and nostalgic turns almost at will, “Honey" is a similarly marvelous concoction, a melodious blend of beautiful, hazy textures and bright jangly instrumentation wrapped up in ear-worm vocals. The dreamy, yearning mood only continues on “Best Friend” and the soaring “All I Want” complete with juggernaut beats and shimmering riffs, whilst “Gloom” is anything but.

Wonderlust, however, is not a one trick pony, “Sway” is a gorgeously rich, strutting waltz and “Walk on Fire” is a glorious slow-burn track which spends much of its duration as a sultry ballad before climaxing with an anthemic conclusion and "I'm Trying To Break Your Heart" it sees  lush rhythms and wistful melody combine to breezy, effortlessly effect, both glittery and embracing, it leaves you all gooey and excited inside. 

Those listeners with a love of melody will find so much to desire here. Such an enjoyable, rewarding debut.

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
Abyss
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

Novella
Land
Released 11th May, 2015
Sinderlyn

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.