With the world in turmoil, it’s easy to forget that 2015 was a year when historic changes were afoot in the UK. At one point it seemed like our union of nations might fray like a dog-eared Union Jack - the remnants of the TeamGB, Murray-mania, etc now buried six foot beneath Hadrian's Wall.
However, despite all the passionate debate and rhetorical bluster, The Scottish referendum and the discussion about the break up of Europe (Brexit?!?), seems like a quaint first-world-problem in a year filled with headlines about beheadings, mass shootings, and the imminent arrival of World War 3 starring Donald Trump versus an evil formerly known as Isis. Fortunately, us British tea-drinkers are still 'all in it together, bruv' and most importantly we don’t need to awkwardly title this list of UK-ish releases (correction: ok, I made the stupid mistake of thinking Dublin was in the UK), which includes more than a few of our ‘pals’ from north of the border, not to mention our buddies from Ireland, and one album all in Welsh.
Without wanting to sound like nationalists or bunting-waving members of Britain First (LOL at them getting banned from Facebook), 2015 has been a mighty fine year for music from the UK and Ireland. And yet, if your filtered version of the internet is similar to mine, the numerous bestest albums of the year lists that are flickering through your social media feeds appear to be filled with Americans alongside super cool Swedes, post-kooky Canadians, angsty Antipodeans, and Adele. Even our own list that is often topped by Brits and Europeans (do not fret, it is coming in the next few days - join the mailing list to get a nudge when it’s live), is guilty of a heavy American bias in its upper echelons this year. There are homegrown heroes, for sure, but despite record UK sales stats, the royal "we" don’t seem to be universally topping as many other lists the year…
When "one" asked the DiS team which albums made by musicians from the United Kingdom they thought were the best of the year, we were overwhelmed by the suggestions filled with character, cheek and the sort of ill-fitting but effortless cool that we've become known for around the globe. Also, as we didn’t get chance to do our annual alt-Mercury Neptune prize, here are our favourite UK and Irish Albums of 2015. There’s a full list of our 50 favourites below (there's also a Spotify playlist here) (and yes, a list with no geographical parameters still to come!), but first here’s a little more detail about our top 20….
Darling Arithmetic (Domino)
“Returning to roots and equipment - all songs were recorded and mixed on a 16-track recorder purchased at age 19 - O'Brien effectively gives his band a holiday for album number three and adopts a pensive DIY approach, turning individual demos into full-fledged personal statements… Talk of ego, sweet relief and paying whatever toll consequences demand of us swell with the soundtrack but you're never out of O'Brien's direct earshot, never afforded the opportunity to shy away from his confessions. And yet this is no maudlin indulgence, nor gloomy stroll through difficult trenches…. Alone in his loft, O'Brien shines light on issues private and public, contentious and chaotic. 'Hot Scary Summer', in particular, hits close to home. "Remember kissing on the cobblestone in the heat of the night?", he recalls along to one of the record's more inviting guitar lines. "And all the pretty young homophobes looking out for a fight".
19) BLANCK MASS
Dumb Flesh (Sacred Bones)
“With his debut album, Blanck Mass almost inadvertently created a stone cold classic in the epic instrumental synth music genre, easily ranking alongside the epochal likes of Jarre’s Oxygène, Schulze’s TImewind or Vangelis’ Blade Runner score, all from an entire generation ago. It felt like a trip to the melodic beating heart of Ben Power’s other band, Fuck Buttons, surgically removing almost every beat, and injecting a heavy dose of benzodiazepine in the process, leaving behind ten slow-moving, drone-heavy atmospheres… From the beginning of ‘Loam’, it’s clear Blanck Mass has undergone a serious identity shift. A slowed down, sludgy vocal sample traces the outline of a looping lethargic melody, contorted into semi human form… This is hugely muscular electronic music, and it takes on the idea of engaging with a theme (beyond, “hey, dance to this!”) better than the vast majority of modern electronic musicians muster.
Everything Ever Written (Empty Words)
"There’s a triumph to their uniquely Scottish sadness, a stretching for something just out of the reach of the fingers – “Every little must mean something more than enough”. When they push themselves further away from their usual comfort zones they, happily, surprise and excel. ‘Left Like Roses’ could be best described as luxuriant, near-Yacht rock; ‘(Use It) If You Can Use It’ is a Hebridean/Californian hybrid of Eighties pop in the mould of Prefab Sprout or, perhaps more pointedly, Aztec Camera. This is extremely sophisticated songwriting abetted by production sheen that helps it skip, pebble-like across the surface of a number of genres; Jones is at hand to dirty up his own production with ravaged guitars on the latter, Woomble dropping compelling, confusing lines like “I’m in that photograph but it was taken before I was actually alive”; the band spread out into a Wilco-like breakdown/buildup ending and somehow pull off the Seventies-style jam with aplomb… Everything Ever Written is a genre-traversing, surprising, melodic, poetic, anthemic record with heart, smarts and soul."
Related Read: Scotch Broth: Idlewild discuss Everything Ever Written
17) TRUST FUND
Seems Unfair (Turnstile)
"Two albums in eight months is good going. Two great albums in eight months is exceptional. This is exactly what Ellis Jones aka Trust Fund has done. In February he released No One's Coming for Us. It was 30 minutes of devastatingly simple lyrics, that had the added punch of Jones’ ability to tap right into the us and make his experiences feel like ours and vice versa… Seems Unfair not only trumps No One's Coming for Us lyrically, but musically too. Yes the comparisons for Waxahatchee are still there, but now Jones feels more comfortable and confident with his style of song writing and is starting to come into his own."
16) EVERYTHING EVERYTHING
Get To Heaven (RCA)
"Day-glo. Neon. Technicolor. Kaleidoscopic. It’s difficult to write about Everything Everything’s eclectic music without being tempted to go into reckless adjectival overload to emphasise the chromatic range of their vivid art rock. So let’s use an analogy instead. Theirs is a musical Fauvism; songs painted in broad, bold strokes and splattered with ideas like a breathless novice paintballer tangling with dead-eye experts. The issue was that what was being painted wasn’t always quite as important as how it was demonstrably being done. That’s now changed… Everything Everything have gradually reined in their initial bent to do, well, everything just because they could, gradually sanding down the clever-clever math-rock of quixotic kitchen sink debut Man Alive. They now harness their energy and admirable imagination to serve a song as precision-engineered pop chops have displaced the wilfully outre."
15) LANTERNS ON THE LAKE
Beings (Bella Union)
“There's something glorious about listening to an album which sounds coherent, cohesive, in which all of the songs make sense individually and within the context of the whole. Sure, there might be standout moments, but the deepest satisfaction is derived from taking in the piece as a whole. Sadly, this is all too rare in my experience, but at least with Beings, the new album from Newcastle sextet Lanterns on the Lake, the latter part of 2015 has been graced with one such artistic statement. If you're on the lookout for songs to consume in a fit of musical gluttony, this album isn't for you. Instead it's a succulent, sumptuous repast to be savoured.”
"London ambient stalwart Petrels’ Flailing Tomb sees Oli Barrett take his project in a series of new directions whilst still retaining the wonderful drone textures of previous albums like Onkalo and Mima."
13) DU BLONDE
Welcome Back To Milk
“Our first taste of Houghton’s new project is a confident and brilliantly delivered collection of songs. What she does next really is anyone’s guess - perhaps she doesn’t even know herself. Ultimately, though, I guess this complete lack of predictability is a big part of what makes Beth Jeans Houghton such a great artist. There aren’t many musicians in the country as creative and as interesting as her at this point in time, and Welcome Back To Milk represents another triumph in her weird and wonderful saga.“
Marks To Prove It (Fiction)
"With Marks to Prove It, The Maccabees have created a record of gritty intimacy. While there are moments of astonishing beauty (the sizzling brass and ethereal vocals of ‘Dawn Chorus’ is one of many examples), true intimacy means getting close to something, often in spite of its flaws. In Elephant and Castle, The Maccabees have both found perfect foil and delivered. The Latchmere may have a wave machine, but The Elephant offers all the ingredients for a potentially career-defining album."
Y Dydd Olaf (Heavenly)
“Apart from one track in Cornish, Y Dydd Olaf is written wholly in Gwenno Saunders’ native Welsh – a minority language that has long punched above its weight in the indie music stakes, from Gruff Rhys to Gorky’s. So as a non-Welsh speaker (and, indeed, non-Cornish speaker) how does the listener approach these songs? The album’s publicity tells how Gwenno was inspired by an obscure sci-fi novel from the Seventies to create this concept album, focussing on politics and feminism in modern-day Britain, by means of a dystopian tale of robots and cloning… This is music that the listener can plunge into and summon up her own images and sense from. ”
What Went Down (Warner/Transgressive)
“Alternating between pulsating, gripping guitar music and more reflective, mellower moments has been Foals’ modus operandi from the very start, and, having long shed that peculiar math-rock tag and their association to the mid-Noughties Skins party scene, they’ve certainly evolved into a band equipped with the power to stun their listeners from seemingly from out of nowhere. It’s certainly the case with closer ‘Knife in the Ocean’, the big, big finish that a record of What Went Down’s ambition so desperately requires. It’s a glorious piece of music that begins with tender guitar lines and distant bells, before Bevan – that man again – powers in with a relentless going-over of his snare drum that continues into a wheezing yet achingly-beautiful chorus. As a piece of music it evokes audio-visual comparisons with the titular nomadic chateaux from Howl’s Moving Castle: an anthropomorphised being of massive proportion that roams a beautifully-crafted world.”
9) GIRL BAND
Holding Hands With Jamie (Rough Trade)
“Dublin's most immoral purveyors of aural brutality… In frontman Dara Kiely they had the possessed spirit of a young, healthier looking Mark E Smith within their ranks. Around him three co-conspirators responsible for making the most unholy racket this side of the last Whitehouse LP. In fact, one could almost be forgiven in thinking this was a side-project for the aforementioned industrial experimentalists, such was the visceral nature of Girl Band's music. The $64 million question being whether Girl Band could capture the full-on intensity of their show on record aside, anyone present at either of those shows discovered their favourite new band that day… Senses pummelled and synapses shredded, Holding Hands With Jamie represents anything but an easy ride. But then reputations aren't earned lightly, and Girl Band have earned theirs as the most excitingly coarse noise rock outfit on the planet through sheer guts and tenacity. Now it's our turn to reap the benefits.”
8) LAURA MARLING
Short Movie (Virgin)
“With Short Movie the Hampshire native has, for the fifth consecutive time, made the strongest album of her career, expanding her palette to include electric-guitar-led alt rock (‘False Hope,’ ‘Don’t Let Me Bring You Down’) and percussive drones (‘Strange’, ‘Short Movie’) while retaining the English-rose folk that made her name (‘Walk Alone,’ ‘Easy.’) There’s a clear through-line to her earliest work, yet a clearer progression that points to an evolving artist - which is how it’s supposed to go, of course, but is rarely the case with a Brit-winning major-label star… This is Marling at her finest, but as she’s proved five times in a row, the best is always yet to come.”
7) THE LUCID DREAM
The Lucid Dream (Holy Are You)
“Regulars on the psych rock circuit long before it became fashionable; they're the only act to have played all three of Liverpool's International Festivals of Psychedelia since the first one in 2012. Nevertheless, listen to their records in chronological order from that first release five years ago and the progression is there for all to see and hear. Granted, some comparisons are inevitable. For example Spacemen 3 and Spectrum – the latter of who they've shared a stage with – as well as The Black Angels and Darker My Love. However, The Lucid Dream is brimming with diversity throughout its eight pieces and is anything but another psych-by-numbers record as a result.”
6) KATHRYN JOSEPH
Bones You’ve Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled (Hits The Fan)
Sean Adams writes:
"Earlier this year I was invited to judge the Scottish Album of the Year (SAY Awards). When last year’s Twilight Sad record didn’t make the shortlist, I began paying much closer attention to those records that did. At first Kathryn Joseph’s album seemed like a pleasant Antony, Coco Rosie or Tori Amos-ish piano record, but then I started reading about it, and every listen became this intense and visceral experience. It’s an understated masterpiece that wears it heart, guts and those of everyone we’ve lost on its sleeve, torso, cheek, lips, hair, and you can probably see the entrails hanging from its belt, dripping blood on its feet. Its pain is vivid and stark, but it probably won’t pierce your skin on first listen."
5) YOUNG FATHERS
White Men Are Black Men Too (Big Dada)
"Despite the weight of their subject matter, Young Fathers are too careful to let it overwhelm their music. They understand that you’ll need a way in. This is the best thing they’ve released, and I have no caveats to insert after that statement. ‘Shame’ is the fucked-up younger brother of Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya,’ and the most summery-sounding song ever to feature the word ‘cunt… Like DEAD before it, White Men… is an elusive beast. It’s more immediate, more instantly gratifying and more technically proficient, but there are also dark, difficult corners which hint at hidden terror. Little details emerge from the fog each time you put it on, and it’s impossible to keep it confined to the background. The beats are closer to krautrock than hip-hop and everything is just that little bit too loud, regardless of the volume at which it’s played. One suspects this may be intentional.'"
4) HAIKU SALUT
Etch And Etch Deep (How Does It Feel To Be Loved?)
“With luminous vibes and electronics that chime, strum, sparkle, dance and glow, the trio evoke worlds within our own, places we don’t usually hear… The subtlety is what separates the trio from their louder peers – indeed, from most genres, too. You may not absorb the whole ingenuity behind “Things Were Happening and They Were Strange” until you sit down with it and realize that, why yes, things are happening that don’t often happen in the space of one track. Three acoustic guitar lines (or is it four?) loop and interweave over a quiet storm of drums, while the ghostly wind vocals glide on top – and then a synth and accordion march in tandem. Quirky, but in the loveliest of ways. That silvery web of moods, methinks, is something music conveys as no other medium can, and Etch and Etch Deeper pokes its nose down every nook.”
The Magic Whip (Parlophone)
“I don’t think The Magic Whip is Blur’s best album, though you might. But there has been no artistic dip. The laborious way in which it was strung together has, perversely, given a feeling of freshness and spontaneity – the highest compliment you can pay it, I think, is that it doesn’t sound like a comeback album or a ‘statement’ record. There are comparisons to be made with other Blur records, but it doesn’t sound particularly like any of them, and Albarn’s lyrical preoccupation with the far east – abstract, rather than patronising – means it’s completely adrift from any sort of ‘Blur are back, bee-atches!’ gestures… fuck it, let’s just enjoy it: we’ve got a new Blur album, and it’s good. Really good. Will there be another, I wonder? I dunno. 13 sounded like the end of a band. Think Tank sounded like the end of a band. The Magic Whip does not sound like the end of a band.”
2) CHARLI XCX
“Forget what you’ve read: Taylor Swift didn’t make the best pop album of 2014 – Charli XCX did (it then came out two months after the US release in the UK)… The biggest development here is Charli’s shift towards guitars, likely inspired by the punk record she reportedly wrote and shelved prior to starting Sucker. There’s the brilliantly bratty, Bow Wow Wow-ish ‘Breaking Up’, the frenetic pogo of ‘London Queen’, and the low-slung swagger of Rivers Cuomo-collaboration ‘Hanging Around’. Best of the bunch is ‘Body Of My Own’. Essentially a celebration of female masturbation, the chorus’ Eastern-inspired chord progression posits it as a 21st century take on ‘Turning Japanese’… an artist who’s proven – with quite brutal efficiency – that she knows her way around a killer hook. As Charli herself told the NME, at the start of 2014, 'I can write a fucking hit song. And I'm going to write some for me now.' There are 13 of them here; take your pick, suckers.”
1) WOLF ALICE
My Love Is Cool (Dirty Hit)
“Wolf Alice have been erroneously dubbed a grunge revival act and it's understandable why people are conflating their sensibility with needless nostalgia. If Cobain’s ambition was to make music that sounded like The Beatles and Black Sabbath, then Wolf Alice have upped the ante by making a record that sounds like the Cocteau Twins and Motörhead. ‘Fluffy’ may sound like The Pixies having a riff-fight with Sonic Youth whilst ‘Turn to Dust’ has a brief Lynchian moment with a sniff of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’, but unlike many of their contemporaries nothing about My Love Is Cool feels like a homage to the past. Retromania, this is not. In fact, it’s a forward-leaning record that’s very much in the moment, magpieing up the music and experiences that they love, ingesting it all, twisting around, and throwing it all up with aplomb. If you could spew gracefully, this is what it would sound like. Whereas Noel wanted to start a Beatles-indebted revolution from his bed (on a comedown from night before no doubt) and Alex Turner wanted to reinvigorate rock & roll; Ellie Rowsell (high on life, love, literature and the rejuvenating power of angst) wants you to start appreciating how good you’ve got it.”
Here’s the list of our 50 Favourite UK Albums in full…
1) Wolf Alice My Love Is Cool
2) Charli XCX Sucker
3) Blur The Magic Whip
4) Haiku Salut Etch And Etch Deep
5) Young Fathers White Men Are Black Men Too
6) Kathryn Joseph Bones You’ve Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled
7) The Lucid Dream The Lucid Dream
8) Laura Marling Short Movie
9) GIRL BAND Holding Hands With Jamie
10) Foals What Went Down
11) Gwenno Y Dydd Olaf
12) Maccabees Marks To Prove It
13) Du Blonde Welcome Back To Milk
14) Petrels Flailing Tomb
15) Lanterns on the Lake Beings
16) Everything Everything Get To Heaven
17) Trust Fund Seems Unfair
18) Idlewild Everything Ever Written
19) Blanck Mass Dumb Flesh
20) Villagers Darling Arithmetic
21) Floating Points Elaenia
22) Ghostpoet Shedding Skin
23) Marina and the Diamonds Froot
24) The Libertines Anthems For Doomed Youth
25) Lonelady Hinterland
26) Errors Lease of Life
27) Joanna Gruesome Peanut Butter
28) Chvrches Every Open Eye
29) JME Integrity
30) Gaz Coombes Matador
31) Nadine Shah Fast Food
32) Jamie xx In Colour
33) PINS Wild Nights
34) SOAK Before We Forgot How To Dream
35) Ghost Culture Ghost Culture
36) Belle & Sebastian Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
37) New Order Music Complete
38) Tellison Hope Fading Nightly
39) Spectres Dying
40) Presents For Sally Colours & Changes
41) 93MillionMilesFromTheSun Fall Into Nothing
42) Autobahn Dissemble
43) The Telescopes Hidden Fields
44) Debris Slide Araido
45) Spector Moth Boys
46) Sauna Youth Distractions
47) TRAAMS Modern Dancing
48) LA Priest Inji
49) Benjamin Clementine At Least For Now
50) Little Simz A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons
Vote now: DiSsers Album of the Year - Reader Poll.
Listen to our special Best of 2015 - podcast as a Spotify playlist with commentary.