With the Christmas celebrations drawing to an end and the new year ever drawing closer, here is the music team’s Hannah Bradridge carrying on our feature and telling us why these 5 albums were her favourites of the year:
The Skints – FM
The Skints have been mashing up Reggae, Ska, Dub, Punk and Hip-Hop to bless our ears with sunny vibrations and infectious grooves for 8 years now. The East London artists, have had an absolutely mental 2015, a year which finally saw them headline the acclaimed Lion’s Den at Boomtown Festival, a slot that had their names on it, ever since they started playing the festival back in 2011 – they were captivating, energetic and solid, their live performances are otherworldly and second to none; effortlessly they have pulled their colourful, vibrant and innovative sound into their third full length album FM. FM is, for me, the defining album of 2015, the concept is flawless and each track brings something new to the table – a truly diverse set of songs that explore and capture The Skints’ many musical influences from British Grime to Roots Reggae, and even artist Lily Allen. The Skints pull all their influences together with mesmerising ease, an ease which leaves the album with a refreshing sound that pays homage to past genres while continuing to sound original and new.
Beyond the albums diversity, FM deserves to be recognised as 2015’s defining album for the concept that it captures. Conceptually, FM is more than your average album, it takes you on a journey through one summer’s day in London, listening to a pirate radio station that is ‘Radio Skints’. Starting with the morning show “FM: DJ Mr. Versatile Breakfast Show” the album features interruptions from the “Grime Hour” and “Dancehall Dilemmas” and ends with DJ Mr. Versatile’s “Evening Show”. The unique concept gives the album a dynamic element that sets it apart from any other release in 2015, while also allowing The Skints to play to their strengths and show the world the many different sounds they are capable of capturing. With production from legend Prince Fatty, the album has a clear Dub influence, with production fine-tuned and bright, evident in tracks like “This Town” and “The Forest For The Trees”. Prince Fatty’s talent ensures an enjoyable and captivating listen from start to finish. Although, every song on the album deserves a mention, the albums lead single “This Town” is especially strong, with Tippa Irie & Horseman joining The Skints on the track – its addictive hook creates an infectious groove that leaves you playing it again and again. FM is a truly creative and genius album, that sets The Skints apart from any other band out there at the moment; they deserve all the praise they get.
Best Tracks: The Forest For The Trees / My War / Tazer Beam (feat. Tippa Irie)
Foals – What Went Down
Foals dominated 2015 with the release of their fourth studio album What Went Down, an album that is an accumulation of everything the band have achieved so far. What Went Down seems to be Foals’ defining sound, carving a genre all of their own, long gone is the small indie band, now we have a new beast that has nothing left to prove. With each record released, Foals have grown and grown, and finally they have a flawless album that is able to keep up with the ambition and ideas of lead singer Yannis Philippakis – instead of straining and sometimes failing against the bands ambitious sound. What Went Down is delivered to us in a strange and dark package, that’s aggressive and impressive, but incredibly bold – there isn’t one song on the album that lets it down, each track is a new stadium anthem that reaffirms Foals place at the top of Festival line-ups.
The heavy sound that creeps out of this record, seems to come from Yannis’ determination to push the band’s sound into further ‘extremes’ and ensure that the ‘heavier songs are heavier’. The ‘extremes’ that Yannis eludes to is perfectly indicated in the differing and diverse sounds that bleed out from the record, with tracks like “Night Swimmers”, “Snake Oil” and “London Thunder” all sitting next to each other but all taking the listener to completely different worlds. The explosive introduction that comes in the form of the track “What Went Down” of the same name as the album, seems to say everything the band want you to know. It’s fiery and ferocious, intense and addictive, loud and determined to be heard – the hammering drumbeat and heavy guitars push the sound into an intense and lurid dream that’s complimented by Yannis’ dreamy lyrics and explosive vocals, What Went Down is the introduction to what’s about to ensue. Overall, the album is sensational, combining Yannis’ incredible lyrical talent and vocals with the bands progressive growth. Foals are well and truly here to stay.
Best Tracks: London Thunder / Birch Tree / Mountain at My Gates
The Four Owls – Natural Order
Described by their record label, High Focus, as a ‘band of owls [who] hover in cypher circles gripping microphones with their iron talons, leaving humans in the wake of their earthly knowledge’ The Four Owls are British Hip-Hop’s super group, that push the boundaries of anything you thought you knew, and captivate an alienated generation. After the incredible release of Nature’s Greatest Mystery, The Four Owls had everything and nothing left to prove with the release of Natural Order. High Focus described the group’s second release as ‘a wave of hip hop unlike anything you mere humans have heard before’ a statement that perfectly captures The Four Owls’ mysterious, and innovative nature. Natural Order, lived up to the hype, going straight to number one in the iTunes hip-hop chart a mere day after its release – a credit to the groups new mind-blowing monster that is Natural Order.
Produced by Hip-Hop legend Leaf Dog, the group’s most recent album reaffirms their ideology to question everything we know, and pave a new road for how we see and listen to Hip Hop, while dropping some of the realist lyrics heard this year. The high level of artistry is heavily engrained within the album, the clever and unified use of sample, melody and lyricism shows The Four Owls’, sincere and intelligent understanding of art and Hip-Hop, elevating the album far above most releases this year simply because of its true and honest depth.
Overall, unity comes across as the clearest message from the many to be found in the album, from the production to the lyrics, the idea that these four rappers are now ‘four brothers’ is boldly pursued. From, the lyrical unity that rolls between the rappers individual verses, to the unity between tracks, the higher and abstract exploration and understating of unity within the world is explored and even evoked by the album title Natural Order while the differing styles of each rapper (Verb T, Fliptrix, BVA, Leaf Dog, who all bring something completely different to the table) remind us that even in our incredible differences there is always a unity. It would be missing the point of The Four Owls to understand only one teaching from their album, and there’s a massive variety of technique used and subjects explored in Natural Order, that makes it one of this years must listens. If you’ve never delved into Hip-Hop or Rap, Natural Order is the best place to start, an insightful and incredibly hard hitting album, it’s hard to leave The Four Owls alone. This is Hip-Hop history in the making.
Best Tracks: Rice Torture / Old Earth / Open Book
Lianne La Havas – Blood
Blood is a beautiful and whimsical little album, that’s your answer to a breezy summer day in British winter time, from young British artist Lianne La Havas. Graceful, haunting and dreamy La Havas’ vocals are perfectly complimented by neo-soul and R&B in her second album Blood. Blood feels like a coming of age album, expressive and explorative, the album delves through lost love, relationships, growing up and identity exemplified successfully in tracks like “Green and Gold” and “Wonderful”. The album is full of nostalgia and melancholy at every turn. La Havas’ soft yet powerful vocals draw you in to the album, with the albums melodies growing to support La Havas’ untamed voice.
The whole album is an expressive trip into the cosmos, it feels like we enter La Havas’ own little bubble, full of touches of jazz and elements of electronic music the album is soft, sweet, youthful and hard to stop listening too. Blood deserves a place in the top 5 for its simple and easy ability to grip you, with its gorgeous tracks and ability to create a whole new world, La Havas has gracefully created a place for herself amongst this year’s finest releases.
Best Tracks: Green & Gold / Grow / Wonderful
Jamie XX – In Colour
Jamie XX has been killing the electronic scene as DJ and producer for many years now, well-known and loved for the music he gifted the world, with his band ‘The XX’, a debut album has been long awaited. Finally, after almost a year of teasing fans with tracks “Girl” and “Sleep Sound”, 2015 saw Jamie XX finally release his debut album In Colour. In Colour takes you on an existential and euphoric trip through a vast sea of nuanced rave music, that’s full of emotion, vulnerability, aloneness and feeling. The album takes you to a moment, a sound, and holds you there, reminding you that life is happening now, suspending you in the songs and drawing you in; it’s an incredibly enthralling experience.
In Colour is extremely vivid, at points it feels like you’re thrown into a kaleidoscope of synth sounds and break beats with noise all around you, you feel like you might just be that tiny white block surrounding by the colour of the album art-work. There are other points, where the album is uplifting, like the track “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” which features American Rapper ‘Young Thug’, Jamie XX’s electronic sound is intriguingly complimented by Thug’s vocals, and the track seems to break (momentarily) from the spell that In Colour puts you under. The album even features collaborations from The XX members Romy Croft and Oliver Sim, reminding fans of the creative diversity that Jamie XX can produce. The Album seems to be an intimate journey, through the many different layers and textures of sound, its ambitious, delightful, over-whelming and modest, it’s the album that Jamie XX fans have been waiting for.
Best Tracks: Obvs / Sleep Sound / Girl