The xx — I See You
Whichever aspect of the xx it is you care about, prepare for I See You, the band’s third album challenges the band’s established characteristics of minimalism and sweet yet awkward mumblings.
Buoyed by Jamie xx’s recent solo album In Colour, I See You embraces that textured sampled approach. Familiar elements of guitar, bass and drums are cranked up, space isn’t left to its own devices.
Expecting people not to grow up and remain shy teenagers into their adulthood would be unfair on their mental health and creativity. Throughout I See You, Madley-Croft and Sim sing out, a result of them growing as people. They croon with confidence. The shy dancers are swaying with less worry or self-consciousness.
Drake – More Life
Billed as a playlist when it dropped as opposed to an album or mixtape, More Life maybe as a result of those semantics, feels freer and unburdened by expectation unlike the overbeared by statement of Views. Does it help that there’s less Drake? Either way, Drake is at his best bringing in guests like Giggs, Skepta, Jorja Smith, Lionel Richie, Kanye, Quavo, Sampha and Young Thug across a release that has some of his best production work with Nineteen85’s production a standout (full credits). The run from ‘Passionfruit’ to ‘4422’ is as solid as Drake has gotten in his career, and while his lyrics are often plagued by his woes, he’s left enough of them off for More Life to shine.
Overcoats – Young
New Yorkers Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell have been developing their harmonic folk pop since before they spent a summer in Ireland two years ago. Their debut album arrives on respected Canadian label Arts & Crafts and the pair have built on the momentum of touring with Maggie Rogers and others with this strong debut. Co-production by Nicolas Vernhes (The War On Drugs, Dirty Projectors) and Autre Ne Veut have added some body to their songs including those previously featured here. That sharpness and precision in the production which adds suitable electronic touches and dynamism, is also reflected in the harmonic relationship of Elion and Mitchell. Their voices together blend in ways that channel country, vintage folk and modern pop.
New Jackson – From Night To Night
The other side to David Kitt finally emerges in full-length form. After some electronic releases on European labels Hivern and Permanent Vacation, he brings it all back home. Not only does From Night To Night come out on Dublin’s All City label but the 11 songs featured here were created very much at home in Dublin. Specifically Kitt’s bedroom, overlooking Dublin bay in the small hours of the morning.
These analogue night-time constructions have a graceful intimacy to them. The title track could have started on an acoustic and reworked as a rolling synth house number; Put The Love In It is loose electronic pop happy to bop along, Found The One and Sp2represent the dance-workout side while Anya’s Piano and the DJ Shadow-referencing After Midnight In A Perfect World are both muted headphone electronic that could work at a loud volume.
Run The Jewels – RTJ3
Three long-players in, Run The Jewels as a foundation is as hard as cement. If RTJ2 was “two buddies, operating at their creative peak,” then RTJ3 is the sound of Run The Jewels digging in deeper, digging their heels and delivering an album with the same immediate resonance as the first two releases but with a wider palette and the same antagonistic spirit. More downtrodden but resolutely and thrillingly hostile.
James Vincent McMorrow – True Care
A surprise release from an Irish artist who only released his third full-length We Move in September, True Care is an album five months in construction that feels unburdened by the need to make a large impact or statement, by virtue of being tied into the singles/albums cycle, and it’s all the better for it.
True Care is McMorrow at his most direct. Lyrically, as annotated in advance of release via the album’s Genius page, McMorrow is at his most vulnerable, referencing nights spent listening to The National, drinking by himself spilling wine on someone else’s carpet and sharing his nightmares involving airplanes. Vocally, McMorrow adds a conversationalist tone on some songs, as well as his established falsetto while musically, his compositions are increasingly hard to easily categorise but are in the realms of electronic soul with sharp and soft-edged synth notes, rousing self-sung harmonic choruses and spatial arrangements. McMorrow’s journey from folk-style musician to 21st century balladeer has entered a new phase.
Talos – Wild Alee
Since appearing with Tethered Bones, an emotional electronic ballad three years ago, Cork man Eoin French aka Talos has been refining and developing that style with every release. Now, on his debut album, produced by Ross Dowling, French makes the case that patience is a virtue for building slow-moving anthem-leaning songs flourished largely with guitar, synths and drums. Tethered Bones is the centrepiece of the debut album but its surrounded by equally beautifully-scaped sounds. Bringing it all together is the supple falsetto of the man himself, a brittle, powerful voice that can move between engulfing glacial shades and warm tones.
Sampha – Process
The long-awaited debut album from the English singer and musician. Is there a debut-releasing artist in recent years who his audience are more intimately familiar with his voice than Sampha? Thanks to collaborations with Jessie Ware, SBTRKT, Drake, Kanye and Solange, Sampha’s voice has been everywhere else and how he’s brought it back into focus on a fine solo debut of substance.
Sampha has suffered with anxiety in recent years, his mother passed away of cancer in September 2015 after a few years of fighting the disease and Process manifests those experiences on the paranoid ‘Blood On Me’ and the piano ballad to the instrument and his mother ‘No-One Knows Me (Like The Piano)’. Sampha worries about family, his health, his mortality and explores his grief.
There are moments of SBTRKT-style sonics so it’s if you were expect an album of all piano ballads, this isn’t it. Sampha’s soft voice is the kind that warms the soul and the main reason why Process is such a pleasure despite any heaviness under the surface.
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
After the sprawling jazz conscious album To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick delivers an album that stays woke but delivers it with more established rap production and mainstream guests like U2, Badbadnotgood, James Blake and Rihanna.
One of the main reasons I never got around to writing about that album even though it was my favourite of 2015, was that there was a lot to unpack and DAMN. is no different. It continues to nourish the soul and brain.
DAMN. suggests Kendrick is going to continue to be a voice of a people and a generation for years to come and remains a master of the album narrative, three albums in.
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Rappers have tried to embrace dance music textures and electronic rhythms before but after hearing Big Fish Theory, which was only released Friday, it’d be hard to think of an album that didn’t make those genres work for it as well as this album. Sophie, Flume, Jimmy Edgar, GTA and even Justin Vernon provide some production while Damon Albarn, Kendrick and Kilo Kish add vocal touches.
The overarching takeaway here is that Staples rides some electrifying beats and tempos with authority and ease, that doesn’t feel forced and begs the question – how come no-one has really managed this before?
A standout track – ‘Yeah Right’, which brings Sophie’s clattering fizzling metallic production with Kendrick Lamar and a chorus shouting the title and some distorted bass encapsulates how different this album is and how much of a sonic weapon Staples has deployed.
Lorde – Melodrama
The second album from the New Zealand 20 year-old could have easily slipped into the comfort of mainstream pop that Lorde has been courted by since the release of her debut album, which had a healthy distance to mainstream pop culture.
Instead, Melodrama digs in and delivers an even more singular pop vision. Built around a house party and the hedonistic fallout and heartbreak that follows, Lorde is on her best vocal form, moving between her bewitched tones, Kate Bush histrionics, adlibbing booms, sly murmurs and snarky talk.
Coproducer Jack Antonoff delivers on all fronts, drawing from brooding orchestrals, trap-style beats, deep bass and fragile piano intimacy. There are flourishes of sonic imagination throughout. Melodrama is a vivid magnetising pop album and one of the best of the year to be sure.
Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog
The Canadian king of slacker indie-pop’s fifth album offers immense comfort in its meandering and superbly-written arrangements. DeMarco is a better songwriter than his goofy reputation suggests and This Old Dog is proof. This has slowly creeped up on me. lLike all Demarco’s albums, they seep under your skin and become a comfort album, and their majesty is revealed upon each listen.
Sorca McGrath and Simon Cullen have been making music together for five years and they’ve now hit the milestone of a debut album release. And my, is it worth the wait. Precession is one of the most beautiful and dynamic sounding records you’ll hear this year. Its production is detailed with lots of little sonic treats that easy to pick up on but hard to create.
Characterised by synthesiser-driven electronic pop, the nine songs here have groove, funk and space, which draws from the past and sounds very much of the now. Whether its the gleaming disco-funk of ‘All Will Be’, the psychedelic space-rock of ‘I Can Never’ which is reminiscent of Tame Impala, the deep peaks of ‘Around This World’ or the electro delay of ‘None Of It Real’, McGrath and Cullen deliver commanding vocal performances too that bury these triumphant tunes deeper. Precession is easily one of my records of the year.