Firstly, thanks to I Heart Noise for asking me to submit my choice of albums of the year. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever tried doing this and I have discovered it’s harder than I thought.
There has been a lot of chat in Twitter music circles recently about end of year lists: people furious that their favorite album isn’t someone else’s favorite, disbelief someone might like something you don’t, or others simply taking the approach that these lists are just a way to advertise some people creating great things.
I’m taking the final approach. Are these the best albums of the year? I’ve struggled to decide what best even means. These are albums that mean something to me. Albums that have made me feel happy, sad, and everything in between.
Whatever they are, I hope you find something new.
Every time I’ve played this to people they are transfixed by the opening vocals. Shrieks fly out of the speakers backed by a slow cosmic beat emerging. Then that riff which creates a smooth groove that runs throughout the album. BOD describe themselves as ‘Trans-penine hypnotic music’. Wherever you are from, this is music for wandering through the woods, climbing up hills, or simply getting lost in the moment.
Last year I moved back to the North of England, Leeds to be precise. I started to investigate the local music scene. One of the first people I came across – also driven by my interest in nature related music – was Phil Legard. Phil, along with Layla Legard, make up the wonderful Hawthonn. This is an album that slowly opens itself up to you, images of rivers, forest and woods emerge from slow drones and burst into beautiful flourishes. This is an album to spend some time with and get lost in.
I bet you’ve never asked yourself what you would get if you mixed folk with the vocoder styles of Kanye West, right? Well, I’m gonna tell you what it would be: the Modern Folk. Built around multi instrumentalist J Moss, the Modern Folk bring a great new slant to Americana. I would struggle to do full justice to his sound, but the track ‘Peggy O’ alone is worth the admission price. Oh, and don’t let the Kanye reference put you off, this is special stuff.
Further Reading: Roy Peak
I have soft spot for nature themed music. So, when I heard about this one – each track is named after a bird from Cooper’s home of Orkney – I was intrigued. From the outset lush strings and pianos create a sound that washes over you. As recordings of birds join the mix you feel like you are standing on the cliff side looking out. This is a beautiful album that really crept up on me. On my first listen I enjoyed, but wasn’t hooked. After a couple of plays I was truly captivated, and this has become one of my most listened of the year.
Like a number of my selections, these are songs about place. What is not important is knowing where the place is, but recognising we all have places we want to go, or return to. I struggle to find more recent folk albums that resonate with me, but this one is top stuff.
Big change of pace here: pop punk? Sort of. Emo? More so. Wall to wall bangers? Definitely In the late 90/ early 00s I was really into the vagrant end of emo. Whilst I might not have a much of an eye on it now, a friend keeps me in the loop on the good stuff, and this is one of them. These are songs to sing till you lose your voice, and songs to punch your fist too. We all need some of them.
Further Reading: The Bad Copy
As suggested earlier, I’m wary of a picking a ‘best’; however, I’m going to slightly go back on that and say this album has my favourite song of the year: ‘on the day you saw the dead whale’. I love the title, and I love the slow, gorgeous sounds that accompany it. It’s a song that paints a vivid picture, and one that hits home every time. This is a truly beautiful album.
Further Reading: Downbeat Magazine
Back in 2011, I read an article about Richard Skelton in Wire magazine. At this time, I was not really engaged with experimental or ambient music. Through his work, and subsequent explorations further afield, I was exposed to a great deal of the music I am interested in now. This is another great release in which slow drones build and envelop you, and everything around you. I would also recommend checking out Corbel Stone Press, his music and poetry publishing house with Autumn Richardson.
Further Reading: 15 Questions
I first heard this album when I was in bed with a heavy cold. The soothing tone was exactly what I needed. Much like the pre raphaelite inspired cover it felt like I was submerged in a wonderful world. Thankfully, the feeling was not just the drugs. This is a beguiling album that floats around you. It feels like a lazy comparison, but there is something of the Kate Bush about it. Not so much in terms of the sound, but that feeling you are being transported somewhere else. Somewhere you definitely want to spend some time.
Further Reading: Spex
If you are looking for a perfect pop rock album, look no further. With soaring melodies, heart felt lyrics and pounding drums, this album has everything. From the second I heard this I loved it and it has been a big favourite in our house. Like Martha, the Beths really know how to pull together song that gets under your skin.
Further Reading: Soundblab
The Penance Stare bandcamp describes this album as, amongst other things, Darkwave. It’s safe to say this is not a genre I know much about. However, after hearing about their previous EP in a a zine, I went off to explore. The sound of this album falls very much outside what I would normally listen to, but I could sense the same themes of nature and darkness evident in much of what I like. In fact, I liked it so much I am the proud owner of a Penance Stare t-shirt. This was, at the time, one of only two music shirts I think I’d bought in my adult life. If that isn’t a recommendation, what is?
Further Reading: Whitelight//Whiteheat
I’ve never been to a rave. I’ve barely even be up late at a nightclub. However, in recent years I’ve started to enjoy a lot of music that is potentially rooted in club culture, particularly stuff on Manchester based Modern Love. At the heart of this label is Demdike Stare. Whilst their earlier stuff is much more folklore themed, and sample based, their more recent stuff is dropping floor fillers for every angle, with heavy beats merging into syncopated rhythms. You won’t find me at a late night show, but let’s meet the day after and discuss how good it was. I’ll want to hear every detail.
Further Reading: Rewind Forward
Next up, another one from Modern Love – this time cellist Lucy Railton. This is another one that took some time for me to really engage with. However, I persisted. What ended up being presented to me was a layered, and mesmerizing album that sounds like deconstructed classical music being played in a warehouse AKA the good stuff. I was also lucky to see her live late this year. Like my exploration of the album the set took time to hook me in, but again, by the end, I was completely in the moment. She stopped, and the whole room felt silent, and motionless. Beautiful stuff.
Further Reading: Fluid Radio
From the second I saw the artwork on the Primitive Knot Bandcamp page I was hooked. I wasn’t 100% sure what was going on, but there was something I wanted to delve into. From driving fuzzed up rock, to slow ritualistic chanting, Primitive Knot know how to create an unsettling, but captivating, world. I could have picked any of his releases this year, and I would recommend going and checking them all out. Oh, and try his live show. It’s a wild experience.
Further Reading: Invisible Oranges
Like big riffs and great band names? If so, Pigs X 7 are the band for you. This one – their second on Rocket Recordings – is a banquet of good time, big riffs. Like Black Sabbath if they were formed in the North of England. This is an album to play loud and proud. I’m seeing them for the first time next year and have heard great things about their live show, so I’m very excited.
Further Reading: The Student Playlist
If you want to walk around feeling like you are in Blade Runner, this is the album for you. I don’t really know how I can sell this album more than that. Everything Thomas Ragsdale does is great, and I could easily have added his album from earlier in the year, ‘Honley Civic Archives Volume 1’. However, there is something about this one that really clicked. Oh, and the fact it’s on my list but came out in December shows how good it is.
Further Reading: Shiny Beast
I’ve heard so many great albums this year, and I could go on all day. These are a snippet of some of these, but I hope you find something you enjoy. If you do, come and say hello over at