As it’s the end of the year and the album release schedule has slowed right down, we figured we’d do a roundup of the year. The albums below are some of our favourites from the past 12 months, and they’ve all been featured extensively in a range of our venues. They’re in no particular order, and our plans for a Top Ten quickly turned into trying to cut a list down to just 20. Check them out…
Neneh Cherry - Blank Project
It’s been a full 16 years since her last solo release, yet it would be impossible for Neneh Cherry to start from a blank slate. Most famous perhaps for the international hit ‘7 Seconds’ with Youssou N’Dour, or even for her own ‘Buffalo Stance’, over the years Neneh has had her hand in making Punk, Trip-hop, Electronica and Pop what they are. Now she has teamed up with Kieran Hebden of Four Tet on production for some heartfelt Electronica that bristles with deep Hip-hop influenced beats, while her ever soulful vocal flow is endearing and emotive as ever. Check out her collab. single with Robyn here.
Moodymann – Moodymann
Eventually given a digital release, this is soulful House that tends towards the downbeat rather than the dancefloor. The highlights here are languid and fluid, and at times marked with a personable sense of humour. While the track titles take a leaf out of Prince’s book, look no further than ‘Ulooklykicecreaminthesummertyme’ for proof, the real magic of this album is the collaboration with other great figures of Soul, Funkadelic. Tight as ever, and resolutely political, ‘Sloppy Cosmic’ is a wonderful expression of all that is great about this sound and Moodymann’s production ensures it’s a powerfully groove-inducing star. Check it out here.
Lafayette Gilchrist - The View from Here
The versatility of the piano is often forgotten. Not so for Jazz pianist Lafayette Gilchrist who grabs the attention as much with his left hand, through his remarkable mastery of the bass register, as with the whirling melodies emanating from his right hand. This is instrumental Jazz as far away from 12-bar standards as you can get as the bass keys stab, pulse or drone. His absorption in Hip-hop culture has clearly played a part in this, and at times lively Jazz gives way to what can only be described as flitting breakbeats. Check out ‘The view From Here/DC Slick’ on Soundcloud.
Tony Allen – Film of Life
How many drummers have successfully produced solo albums that capture the imagination as well as their beats capture the feet? We don’t mean Phil Collins’ broad Pop here, but instead taking what all great drummers are best at; creating sounds that impact the body and using them to move the head and the heart. If ever that were possible it would be in the style of Afro-beat, where West African percussive rhythms meld with slinky Funk basslines and Global horn sections to create a music that for so many hits the body, mind, and the soul. With this latest album by the Afro-beat drummer Tony Allen (Fela Kuti, Africa 70) we’re as close as we can get to music completely in check with all of the bodies rhythms. Check out ‘Go Back’ featuring Damon Albarn to get the feel.
Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems
Now at 80 years old, it should be impressive enough that Cohen is still touring, that he’s managed to release his best album in 20 years is more impressive still. That touring seems to have done him some good, as his voice remains rich, though softly spoken yet capable of the occasional growl. Whilst mainly an intimate, narrative driven Folk album, there’s the Downtempo electronic pulse of ‘Nevermind’ to mix things up. It’s a lascivious creeper of a track, with light hand drums with a sense of Africa about them that makes it a close runner up to key track ‘Samson in New Orleans’ with its affecting post-Katrina narrative. Check out ‘Nevermind’ here.
Perfume Genius – Too Bright
Moving away from the more delicate work that has proceeded it, Too Bright showcases flashes of energy in tracks like ‘Queen’ and ‘Grid’ while retaining the melancholic fragility that has so strongly characterised Mike Hadreas’ music thus far. Despite those flashes, this latest begins with a measured pace in ‘I Decline’ and continues, for the most part, with soft key driven songwriting. Highlight track ‘All Along’ oozes with an intimate warmth before the final forlorn line resolutely declares “I want you to listen”. It’s a reasonable request, as the subtle nature of this characterful album demands keen ears, and rewards them repeatedly. Check out first single ‘Queen’ here.
Sinkane – Mean Love
It’s rare we come across such a disparate and leftfield collection of influences and styles in one package. Even rarer for that package to be as coherent as this. These mid-tempo compositions flit between Soul, R&B, Country, and Electronica, while retaining an Afro-funk sense of rhythm. There’s a heavy dose of nostalgia running throughout this enigma of an album, and not since The Clash were in their heyday has such a muddled sound of 60s America been so entertaining. First single ‘How We Be’ is a wonderful exemplar of the personable yet worldly vibe just waiting to be discovered. Check it out here.
Jungle – Jungle
If you’ve caught yourself wondering what that cool Indie R&B you’ve been hearing all summer is, there’s a good chance the answer is Jungle. Filled with warmth and groove, this is a hook laden album with a focus more on the functions of Pop than on the styles that have influenced it. Nowhere is this more true than on ‘Son of a Gun’, which is just off-kilter enough to feel timelessly modern rather than hollow and uncanny. It’s a fine line to walk, but when you can cultivate soul filled vibes like these, the end result will always be in your favour. Check out single ‘Busy Earnin’ here.
Richard Thompson – Acoustic Classics
A summary of a career rather than a Greatest Hits per se, this collection takes tracks from the 40 year career of the venerable star and gives them a new, acoustic, life. Created due to a lack of adequate recordings of his growing habit for playing acoustic shows, these are newly recorded works that showcase Thompson’s fantastic skills with a guitar as well as his songwriting prowess. Taking in Americana, hints of Country and Jazz, as well as Blues Rock, and Folk if you haven’t heard Richard Thompson before, there are worse places to start. Check out the classic ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightening’ here.
BANKS – Goddess
The long awaited debut from the much hyped BANKS, who came 3rd in the BBCs ‘Sound Of 2014’ list, is now with us. Squeezing into a singular gap between Indie Pop, R&B, and creeping Downtempo bass beats, Goddess is as good a Pop album as any to kick start the second half of the year. While BANKS’ vocals, and heartfelt personal lyrics, push that modern R&B sound, Lil Silva’s production keeps the mood deep and slow, but rarely heavy. While BANKS may be a rising star, it’s those beats that’ll ensure she burns bright for a good while yet. Check out ‘Begging for Thread’ here.
James Yorkston – The Cellardyke Recording And Wassailing Society (Domino)
The long established man from the East Neuk of Fife Folk scene has teamed up with some of his closest local companions (The Pictish Trail, KT Tunstall) to record an album reflecting on life so far and those closest to home. Relying heavily on acoustic guitar and the harmonised vocals of Yorkston and his friends, these are simple and straight up Folk tunes that showcase emotion at every turn. ‘Broken Wave (A Blues for Doogie) shows this wonderfully as simple fingerpicked arpeggios turn into a delicate fiddle break. The sublime production, by Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, is intimate enough to hear the squeak of fingers on strings – you can almost smell the logs burning in the grate. Check out ‘Fellow Man’ here.
Lone - Reality Testing
Taking the classic sounds of Detroit Techno and mixing them up with skittering Hip Hop beats may not be innovative but in the hands of Lone it sure makes for an entrancing sound. This latest album of mainly instrumental cuts, his sixth to date, flits between swollen grooves, entangling melodies, and rhythmic stabs which together build an absorbingly dynamic atmosphere. The exemplary ‘Meeker Warm Energy’ is almost loungey, yet its back-to-basics Hip Hop pulse keeps it focused until the static-filled ending on bare key chords. The standout for us, however, is ‘Vengeance Video’s’ slurred bassline lurking below the attention grabbing arpeggiated melody – check it out here.
Friends From Rio Project
(Far Out Recordings)
Friends From Rio was the first title released by Far Out back in 1994. 20 years on and the folks at Far Out decided it was time to celebrate the diversity of Rio’s musical culture once more. Filled to the brim with Bossa and Funk grooves alongside some cracking Batucadas, this really is an album that makes you want to move your feet and shake your hips. While most of this energy has been channelled into new compositions, a little has been reserved for a fantastic reworking of the classic ‘Mas Que Nada’. Featuring brilliant group vocals, stylish keys, an incredibly rich flute melody and energetic percussion it’s as good a version of the track as we’ve ever heard. Better than the Jorge Ben original? Very possibly. Get a taster of what else is on offer by checking out ‘Casino Bangu’ here.
Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband
Now four albums in, Little Dragon have their style of Indie Electronica down and this latest release see’s them honing their skills and setting their sights a little closer to the dancefloor. Lead single ‘Klapp Klapp’ has been all over our playlists for a while, and the album follows in a similar fashion of laid back rolling beats, simple synth melodies and Yukimi Nagano’s much loved vocals. The highlight has to be the chill of ‘Pretty Girls’ which really lets Nagano’s voice shine. We’re going to be playing it everywhere. Check it out here.
Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
Having been around for a fair while it’s nice to see Todd Terje eventually releasing a full length LP even if some of the tracks will be familiar to both dancefloors and fans. The title, in many ways, says all that needs to be said as Terje connects Electro, Disco and House cuts together into an upbeat and broadly instrumental record. The collaboration with Bryan Ferry on a cover of Robert Palmer’s ‘Johnny and Mary’ may be new but the older ‘Inspector Norse’, with its synth-driven classic House sound, is the highlight here. Check out that Bryan Ferry collaboration here.
Ibibio Sound Machine – Ibibio Sound Machine (Soundway)
When Funk meets Electro a sense of fun and excitement is typically on the cards. When that Electro-Funk is combined with a heavy African influence, particularly Highlife and Afro-Beat, then an irresistible groove is all but guaranteed. It is through these infectious influences, and a keen sense of rhythm, that Eno Williams weaves her songs with stories from the Nigerian folk tales told to her by her mother. In many ways it makes a great contemporary companion to last year’s excellent William Onyeabor record. That alone makes it worth a spin. Check out ‘Let’s Dance’ on Soundcloud.
Tycho – Awake
One of the great things about this time of year is that the light, upbeat records that encourage thoughts of summer days have started to be released. Often amongst those early releases will be a record that will see us through until autumn and Awake stands a fair chance of being one of those this year. Tycho’s instrumental Electro and downtempo Electronica is both light and airy with synthetic washes and analogue bass leading the way. Put simply, this is a happy record worth spending some springtime with. Check out ‘Awake’ here.
Kelis – Food (Ninja Tune)
By teaming up with producer Dave Sitek, of TV on the Radio fame, Kelis has delivered an album that is designed to incite nostalgia with its rootsy form of soulful pop. Featuring horns and light electronic touches throughout, it has warmth and depth that makes it a pleasurable and involving listen. New single ‘Rumble’ is a highlight with its simple piano-led melody and low-end bass groove allowing Kelis’ vocals to take the reins and inject the bite that keeps the listeners attention throughout this surprising record. Much like Neneh Cheery last month, Kelis has shown that time can be a kind and supportive accomplace. Check out ‘Rumble’ here.
Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
As a man of many names and a master of many styles Dev Hynes, a former member of Test Icicles and perhaps better known as Lightspeed Champion, here releases his second album under his current Blood Orange moniker. While the first album was a clear step away from his earlier indie-electro work, taking in a pop sound, the latest record mixes the soul, funk, R&B and hip-hop influences of the first into an altogether more interesting and quality listen. While this latest release won’t lose Hynes the many comparisons to Prince, in particular his NPG-era, that have been made in the past, on this showing that is no bad thing. Check out the video for ‘Time Will Tell’ here.
Redinho – Redinho
The long awaited debut from Redinho finally arrives and the wait has been worth it. The cross pollination of R&B, Electro, Hip Hop and House has resulted in many fine records in the past, but also a fair few duds. Mention the addition of a Talkbox and normally alarm bells would be ringing but, while OTT in some hands, here it serves to meld those soulful vocals into constant conversation with the beats around them. Those beats are as inviting as they come too, sucking the listener into an electronic harmony worth basking in. Check out ‘Playing With Fire’ here.