Best of 2015 so far...

Essential albums

If we were to sum up the first half of the year in just one word, that word would be “intense”. From the tear-stained confessionals of Sufjan and Björk to D’Angelo and Kendrick’s outpourings of politically-focused fury, our favourite albums of 2015 so far have run the gamut of human emotions. Take a deep breath and dive in below.

The Top 10

  • Blur - The Magic Whip
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    Comebacks are risky business. Worst case scenario, the artist irreparably sullies their legacy; best case scenario, they blow their previous work out of the water; most common scenario, their new material rehashes past glories and feels pallid in comparison. On their first album in 12 years, Blur have managed to avoid doing any of the above, offering a glut of fresh ideas while still delivering several knowing winks to their own back catalogue. Yes, ‘My Terracotta Heart’ could be taken from the Think Tank sessions and the jaunty ‘Lonesome Street’ wouldn’t sound out of place on 1997’s self-titled effort, but the ghostly sprawl of ‘Pyongyang’ and swampy swagger of ‘Go Out’ see the quartet exploring new territory entirely. The Magic Whip probably won’t be anybody’s favourite Blur album, but it’s a gem nonetheless.
  • Soak - Before We Forgot How To Dream
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    Though only 16 when she released her debut EP in 2014, Bridie Monds-Watson had been a firm fixture on the Derry gig circuit since the age of 14. Now a nationally-recognised talent, the Northern Irish singer-songwriter is releasing her beautifully-understated debut through Rough Trade Records. Exhibiting her multi-instrumentalist talents, the wistfully-named Before How We Forgot How To Dream sees Soak interspersing her delicate strain of indie-folk with string-laden instrumentals, laced between poignant lyrics. Long-time fans, look out for the revamped version of 'Sea Creatures', her heartfelt ode to a troubled friend.
  • Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly (Explicit)Contains explicit content
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    Dispelling the myth that braggadocio and solipsism are inseparable from major league rap, To Pimp A Butterfly finds Kendrick Lamar picking over personal struggles and societal injustice, to deliver an unflinching examination of what it means to be a black American in 2015. In the wake of the recent events in Ferguson and the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin (which is explicitly referenced on ‘The Blacker The Berry’), it’s no surprise that racial prejudice and police brutality loom large here. What might surprise the million-plus people who bought Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, is Lamar’s integration of esoteric musical influences to create ambitious, atypical arrangements, frequently rooted in free jazz and P-Funk. Combine these with the Compton rapper’s dexterous, deeply-inventive vocal delivery, and you have a dense yet richly-rewarding listen.
  • VILLAGERS - Darling Arithmetic
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    Where 2013’s {Awayland} saw Conor O’Brien expanding Villagers into a collaborative project, and upsizing his arrangements, this follow-up marks a return to his solo roots. Self-recorded at home in Malahide, near Dublin, Darling Arithmetic finds O’Brien favouring the intimacy of acoustic guitar and piano, and deliberately eschewing figurative language in order to deal candidly with former relationships. As both the title-track and album opener ‘Courage’ attest, the sparser the arrangements, the more devastating the listening. The fact these deeply-personal stories feel universal can only be testament to O’Brien’s skill as a songwriter.
  • Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
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    Speaking about his new album to Pitchfork, Sufjan Stevens stated, “This is not my art project; this is my life.” The moment ‘Death With Dignity’ ripples through the speakers, you’ve no choice but to believe him. Dealing with the loss of his mother to cancer, and picking over the details of their complex relationship, Carrie & Lowell is as personal a record as you’ll hear in 2015, and likely one of the most beautiful too. Peeling back the ornate arrangements and dense electronics of 2010’s Age Of Adz, here Stevens largely relies on fragile, acoustic guitar arpeggios and tremulous vocals to relay his grief, frustration and fear. The results are simultaneously totally spellbinding and utterly heartbreaking.
  • Jamie xx - In Colour (Explicit)Contains explicit content
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    As full-time beat-maker in The xx, Jamie Smith has long been content to lurk in the shadows behind his band-mates, while quietly pursuing personal production projects on the side. This solo debut-proper marks the moment that his musical hobby becomes a genuine limelight-stealer. Boasting both emotional depth and an impressively progressive sonic scope, In Colour seamlessly weaves a broad spectrum of styles, moods, samples and types of instrumentation into one brilliantly cohesive electronic album. From the Popcaan and Young Thug-starring ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times’ to Romy Madley-Croft co-write ‘Loud Places’, this is the soundtrack to the summer and beyond.

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