Continuing with our feature ,where 9 of our writers will be looking back at their favourite albums in the countdown to 2016, here is our Head of Tech, Calum Ridyard talking about his choices:
2015 has certainly been a mixed year for music: some impressive debut singles led to a few lacklustre albums (see Circa Waves and Galantis) and highly anticipated comebacks took the world by inexplicable storms (kind of Bring Me The Horizon, but, also, what was that with Adele?). Some of my favourite artists of the year have held off on albums for now (look up Martin Solveig’s recent tracks or new-kid-on-the-block Sigala), plus a couple I’d never taken an interest in really managed to impress (CHVRCHES, Don Broco and – dare I say it – Justin Bieber). So, after some careful deliberation, here’s my definitive list of the top 5 albums of the year!
Years & Years – Communion
I first discovered Years & Years back in the Spring shortly after they won the BBC Sound of 2015 award. They were guests on The Graham Norton Show and I was utterly blown away by their live performance of King. I had to buy Communion as soon as it came out and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The album is bookended by two fantastic expositions of Olly Alexander’s emotion-filled voice in Foundation and Memo (the Deluxe edition holds on to this by ending on a gorgeous acoustic version of King). Shine harks of eighties synthpop – particularly Kate Bush; both King and Desire are big singalong hits and their most recent release, Eyes Shut affirms that “nothing’s gonna hurt me with my eyes shut”. Throughout the record, R&B and House beats bubble away underneath complex synths and each track is carefully balanced and well produced. Hopefully future releases from these guys will continue to impress.
Top 2 tracks: King and Foundation
Fall Out Boy – American Beauty / American Psycho
Chicago’s much-loved pop punk poster boys returned this year with their 6th studio album – feeling a little less “dubstep” than Save Rock and Roll (2013). In writing AB/AP, Patrick Stump (vocals, guitar) and Pete Wentz (bass, vocals) have pulled no punches in making something punky yet relevant. The popularity of tracks like Centuries and Uma Thurman are clear indicators that they got something right this time. The album’s horn-filled opener, Irresistible, supposedly written about the relationship between Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, is a perfect arena rocker which they used effectively on their UK tour in the Autumn. Tracks like The Kids Aren’t Alright and Jet Pack Blues allow for a welcome change of pace without detracting from the others. Pop culture fans out there will be pleased that Immortals (from the Big Hero 6 Soundtrack (2014)) is included as the penultimate track.
Top 2 tracks: Uma Thurman and Irresistible
Zebrahead – Walk The Plank
With the title Walk The Plank and a cover depicting a ship ensnared by some sort of kraken, you’d be hard pushed to call this album anything more than angsty, pirate punk, but don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. The opener (Who Brings A Knife To A Gunfight?) delivers a serious punch to the face – more rapcore than anything else – but it’s carefully followed up with the much pop punkier Worse Than This. Zebrahead have nearly twenty years of experience doing this kind of thing though, so the combination holds together well. So What gives another example of this as happy-go-lucky, relatively calm track, sandwiched between the powerful Running With Wolves and Save Your Breath, which both present very contrasting sentiments. A lot of effort is put into cohesive transitions; Ali Tabatabaee and Matty Lewis’ vocals sit well alongside each other, and the punchy Beastie Boys-style rhythms keep the record fairly fast-paced. The album tails off slightly through the last few tracks which is slightly disappointing, but this might be slightly to do with how impressed I was with almost every one of the first 10 songs. On the first few listens through, I probably would have been content with it ending at Walk The Plank, however Freak Show has grown on me and the last third of the record is certainly not bad by all means.
Top 2 tracks: Worse Than This and Walk The Plank
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday
Honestly, I’d almost forgotten that Noel Gallagher was still making music until earlier this year. NGHFB brought us a slightly unimpressive self-titled debut back in 2011 and then pretty much disappeared off my musical radar but the release of Ballad Of The Mighty I at the beginning of the year reinvigorated my interest. The album’s opener, Riverman, feels a little more like old Oasis than the rest of the record, but I appreciated the familiarity. In contrast, The Mexican feels more like a modern indie rock track. A couple of tracks, such as The Girl With X-Ray Eyes, smell slightly of Noel’s infamous arrogance, but not so much as to take away from the record as a whole. The latest release, The Dying Of The Light, is a pretty, Autumnal tune showcasing gentle piano and almost heartfelt lyrics. Overall, the record is laid back and refreshing when compared with a lot of other releases this year.
Top 2 tracks: Ballad Of The Mighty I and Riverman
All Time Low – Future Hearts
The Baltimore boys were back this year with a pretty damn impressive record. Having completed their return to form after the disappointing blip that was Dirty Work (2011), ATL have shown that they’re not afraid to return to their roots – in particular, Something’s Gotta Give brings back fond memories of early noughties pop-punk. Their February UK tour alongside You Me At Six and Walk The Moon certainly didn’t do them any harm with the promotion and gave them a chance to showcase more of their new stuff before the record was released in April. Whilst a certain “same-ness” between a few of the tracks mean that there aren’t as many stand outs as on some of their earlier works, both singles released (Something’s Gotta Give and Kids In The Dark) are great singalong songs and certainly Runaways and Kicking & Screaming made me want to see them perform it live in 2016. It was a close call for 5th place in my list between this and Automatic (Don Broco), but the finale of Old Scars / Future Hearts just helped All Time Low pull the victory. The boys are definitely on an upward trajectory again.
Top 2 tracks: Kids In The Dark and Runaways
One final shout out has to go to Walk The Moon with their record Talking Is Hard. I wasn’t sure if I could include it in this list as its official release was December 2014, but it wasn’t released in the UK until June 2015 – 6 months after the rest of the world! It’s a great album and would probably knock All Time Low out of my top 5 here.