As you may remember, last year, I did a rundown of five albums that would rightly sit under any Christmas tree. Well, the end of the year—and the world, apparently—is near, so let’s give that concept another go.
5. Chromatics – Kill for Love
There’s no denying one’s roots, so straightaway, here’s some absolute killer electronic music. At number five, we have Portland-based synthpop formation Chromatics’ album Kill for Love.
My first encounter with this band was through Tick of the Clock, one of the more memorable pieces on the soundtrack to the motion picture Drive. Their third album Kill for Love takes a slightly more organic and vocal approach, capturing you in an atmosphere which is perhaps best compared to a pleasant moonlit drizzle. Extended downtempo interludes contribute to the somewhat lukewarm, yet at the same time tender welcome, which is guaranteed to envelop you right from those precious first few notes.
Must-hear track: These Streets Will Never Look the Same
4. Django Django – Django Django
I’ll be honest. A previously unknown band called Django Django releasing an eponymous album isn’t something I would’ve labeled as a recipe for success a year ago. But I would’ve been so wrong.
This quirky British quartet has managed to put out an album that has a rare constant sense of maturity to it—a sort of completeness you might only find in musicians that have been around for decades. And that’s no small feat when ultimately, your band could rightfully be described as a modern-day version of the Beach Boys. Personally, I can’t wait for a worthy successor to top-notch tracks such as Hail Bop, Love’s Dart, and, of course, the whimsical Default.
Must-hear track: Storm
3. Δ – An Awesome Wave
Capital delta, indeed. Actually, you’re supposed to call these guys from Leeds Alt-J. Despite the horrific name, the unique blend of styles that is the Mercury Prize-awarded An Awesome Wave also earns it a third place here.
An Awesome Wave is laced with intimacy—intimacy which steadily progresses from an ever-present undercurrent into a culmination of
ever so recognizable emotions. The warmth to Alt-J’s delicately polished arrangements and lyrics is perhaps best experienced when deprived of all other senses. Do yourself a favor and give this one an intense listen—or two—with your eyes closed. I guarantee it will be profound.
Must-hear track: Taro
2. Grimes – Visions
Looking beyond all the hype that Claire Boucher’s solo project has been subjected to, you still have to admit that this Canadian’s solo artist’s debut Visions is among the most impressive releases of this past year. Consequently, I think this number two spot is well-deserved.
If humankind ever needed a soundtrack to the digital age, Visions would probably be on the shortlist. Boucher’s slightly desolate falsetto is a perfect match for the often breathtaking synth sequences on this album, which are in turn augmented by minutiously compressed percussion. There’s a certain ambience to Visions which, honestly, I can’t fully grasp or describe, and perhaps that’s precisely the reason why the album has nested in many an eardrum over the past couple of months.
Must-hear track: Oblivion
1. Hot Chip – In Our Heads
Do I need to defend myself for putting Hot Chip right at the top of my list for two consecutive years? You know what? I really don’t. Whether or not you consider the fact that I am unquestionably a die-hard fan of these Londoners, In Our Heads is an absolute gem.
Last year, I wrote “Hot Chip are here to stay,” and frankly, the band couldn’t have delivered on that statement in a better way. Their fifth album manages to add secret sauce to a recipe that they’d already been perfecting for years. It soars to a climactic splendor that is so distinctive that by now, it’s safe to say that Hot Chip have established their own unique genre, which is bound to influence the music scene for years to come. If you only listen to one album before the year is over, let it be this one.
Must-hear track: Let Me Be Him
Bonus: Single Top Five
Obviously, there’s a host of albums that didn’t make the cut for the above list. Many of those feature some absolutely lovely tracks, but perhaps fail to maintain that quality throughout. For that reason, here are five such tracks, which left a lasting impression this year.
5. Crystal Castles – Violent Youth
As far as I’m concerned, the third Crystal Castles album was one too many. But it has its moments, isolated as they may be, and this is one of them.
4. Trust – Sulk
I’m not a huge fan of synthpop duo Trust’s dark vocals, but if you give their debut album TRST a listen, I think you’ll certainly agree that these guys know how to work a synthesizer.
3. Daphni – Yes, I Know
Caribou was in my top five last year, but Jiaolong, this year’s release under the Daphni moniker, is less to my taste. However, it’s got a distinctive sound that merits your attention.
2. The 2 Bears – Work
With Be Strong, Joe Goddard—yes, of Hot Chip fame—and Raf Rundell deliver some lovely house tunes, of which Work is certainly the most catchy one. Sometimes, repetition just works.
1. The xx – Angels
It seems like The xx’s second album Coexist has been criticized left, right and center, and I still can’t quite figure out why. Frankly, I had a hard time picking just the one track for this list.
What does your top five look like? Leave a comment!