the best of 2015
Here it is, our comprehensive list of the best albums of 2015, the Top Of The Fopps, as voted for by staff in all of our eight stores, compiled here in all its glory.
You can read about our favourite albums in more depth in this month’s Best of 2015 edition of The Fopp List – available for FREE in all of our stores.
1. Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space
While the notion of outer space has been at the centre of many albums, from Eno’s Apollo to Hawkwind’s In Search Of Space, few have dealt with it so specifically as the excellent second from London’s Public Service Broadcasting. As much a history lesson as a concept album, The Race For Space sees multi-instrumentalists J Willgoose Esq and Wrigglesworth mix samples from America, Russia and shuttle cockpits in the great beyond with infectious, electronic kosmische tones.
Things begin subtly with the title track, featuring John F Kennedy’s rousing speech to the public announcing the space race, here mixed with celestial drones and choirs. “Sputnik” fittingly builds from a simple synth pulse and satellite beeping to end as full-band rock, while “Fire In The Cockpit”, which pays tribute to the American astronauts killed in a launchpad fire at Cape Kennedy in January 1967, is an ominous drone piece slowly joined by Godspeed-esque strings.
Much of the album is more upbeat, however, and sometimes suitably celebratory – “Gagarin” is a slice of horn-driven funk complete with amusingly stern Russian broadcast samples, while “The Other Side” is a six-minute crescendo layered with buzzing, insistent synths. Smoke Fairies help out with vocals on the gorgeous, Mogwai-like “Valentina”, inspired by cosmonaut Valentina Tereshka, the first woman in space. As we reach the peak of the space race, the epic “Go!” chronicles the moon landing with NASA samples, while wistful closer “Tomorrow” seems to lament the end of our journeys to the moon in the ’70s.
When heard in one go, The Race For Space is a stunning ride; one that sees Public Service Broadcasting moving their sound on, away from the guitar-driven likes of “Signal 30” or “Spitfire”, and harnessing even more electronics and samples to create a multi-textual marvel. Sehr kosmische, indeed.
2. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
Over the course of three swiftly released albums, California’s Julia Holter has moved from the bedroom to the studio, from synths to sweeping orchestral arrangements. She’s a singer-songwriter, but not a confessional one – instead, she’s interested in telling stories at once moving and mysterious; 2011’s Tragedy mined Greek drama Hippolytus, while 2013’s Loud City Song was bizarrely based around the musical Gigi.
Fourth album Have You In My Wilderness might not feature an obvious overarching theme, but it’s undoubtedly Holter’s most welcoming, majestic set so far. Opener Feel You is an art-pop delight, with skittish drums, regal harpsichord and keening strings underpinning Holter’s icily detached voice. Things soon get stranger with the misty, disconnected Lucette Stranded On The Island, its violins, harp and piano echoed into a gorgeous haze, and How Long, with Holter sounding positively Nico-esque over dramatic, churning strings. As the album draws to a close, the jaunty Everytime Boots ups the tempo with swinging piano and drums, but soon twists and turns unexpectedly, before twinkling, echoed electric piano notes pinprick the melancholic space of Vasquez.
Compared to the left-field synth experiments of Ekstasis or the more freeform, jazz-influenced Loud City Song, Have You In My Wilderness is relatively accessible. Yet none of the songwriter’s personality has been sacrificed for this; her training in composition means all sorts of lush harmonies and unexpected chords continue to surprise, while the standard textures of strings, piano, harpsichord and double bass are continually warped with inventive arrangements. The result suggests that Holter, placid at the centre of all these swooping sounds, now deserves to be classed alongside past sonic adventurers in song such as Joni Mitchell or Robert Wyatt.
3. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie And Lowell
The album – named for his mother and stepfather – is a return to Stevens’ folk roots. Thematically the 11 songs address life and death, love and loss, and the artist’s struggle to make sense of the beauty and ugliness of love. Sufjan’s gauzy double-tracked vocals wash across the dashboard of long-finned, drop-top Americana, yet as we race towards the coast we are reminded that sunshine leads to shadow, for this is a landscape of terminal roads, unsteady bridges, traumatic video stores, and unhappy beds that provide the scenery for tales of jackknifed cars, funerals, and forgiveness for the dead.
Each track in this collection of eleven songs begins with a fragile melody that gathers steam until it becomes nothing less than a modern hymn. Sufjan recounts the indignities of our world, of technological distraction and sad sex, of an age without neither myths nor miracle – and this time around, his voice carries the burden of wisdom. ‘Carrie and Lowell’ accomplishes the rare thing that any art should achieve, particularly in these noisy and fragmented days: by seeking to understand, Sufjan makes us feel less alone.
4. Tame Impala – Currents
Much has changed since Tame Impala first emerged with an EP of dusty home recordings in 2008. By and large Kevin Parker’s approach to recording has not, though the sound coming out of his home studio has vastly expanded, as has the number of people anticipating the fruits of his labour.
On Currents Parker addresses a blindingly colourful panorama of transition in the most audacious, adventurous fashion. Dense with heady lyrical introspection, musically the most playful, bold and varied Tame Impala record to date, Currents is Parker putting down his weapons and embracing change as the only constant – sonically, thematically and personally.
Musically, Currents sounds like the work of a player on top of his game and having a blast. Again operating as a one man studio band, Parker’s resultant record calls to mind contemporary hip hop production, Thriller, fried 70s funk, the irreverent playground Daft Punk presented on Discovery, swathes of future pop and emotional 80s balladry, all filtered through a thoroughly modern psychedelic third eye – it’s exhilarating new territory for Tame Impala.
5. Bjork – Vulnicura
The universally critically acclaimed ‘Vulnicura’ is as dark and ominous as one might come to expect from a Björk album (especially one boasting involvement from Arca and The Haxan Cloak), yet it’s filled with delicate, shining moments within its darkened overtones. It is loosely arranged around the chronology of a relationship: the period before the breakup, the dazed moments after, the slow recovery. ‘Vulnicura’ is humanity at its most volatilely sublime.
Discussing the intensely personal nature of the album’s themes of heartbreak and separation, she explains to UNCUT that she hopes it will help others in similar situations. “First I was worried it would be too self-indulgent,” she says, “but then I felt it might make it even more universal. “And hopefully the songs could be a help, a crutch to others and prove how biological this process is: the wound and the healing of the wound, psychologically and physically. It has a stubborn clock attached to it.”
6. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
7. Kurt Vile – B’Lieve I’m Goin Down
8. Jamie XX – In Colour
9. Joanna Newsom – Divers
10. John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
11. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
12. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
13. Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
14. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
15. Beach House – Depression Cherry
16. Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool
17. New Order – Music Complete
18. Low – Ones & Sixes
19. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier
20. Roisin Murphy – Hairless Toys
21. Ghostpoet – Shedding Skin
22. Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too
23. Bob Dylan – Shadows In The Night
24. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
25. Drenge – Undertow
26. Songhoy Blues – Music In Exile
27. FFS – FFS
28. Django Django – Born Under Saturn
29. Belle & Sebastian – Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance
30. Leftfield – Alternative Light Source
31. Public Image Ltd – What The World Needs Now
32. Battles – La Di Da Di
33. Wilco – Star Wars
34. My Morning Jacket – Waterfall
35. Destroyer – Poison Season
36. Ryley Walker – Primrose Green
37. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
38. Richard Hawley – Hollow Meadows
39. Matthew E. White – Fresh Blood
40. IBEYI – IBEYI
41. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
42. Ultimate Painting – Green Lanes
43. Four Tet – Morning / Evening
44. Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon
45. Dr Dre – Compton: A Soundtrack
46. Moon Duo – Shadow Of The Sun
47. Blur – The Magic Whip
48. Slaves – Are You Satisfied?
49. Mbongwana Star – From Kinshasa
50. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress
51. Sun Kil Moon – Universal Themes
52. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
53. Richard Thompson – Still
54. C Duncan – Architect
55. Chvrches – Every Open Eye
56. Death Cab For Cutie – Kintsugi
57. Lonelady – Hinterland
58. Frazey Ford – Indian Ocean
59. Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
60. The Waterboys – Modern Blues
61. Faith No More – Sol Invictus
62. Ryan Adams – 1989
63. Beirut – No, No, No
64. Owiny Sigoma Band – Nyanza
65. Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People
66. Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe – I Declare Nothing
67. Olafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm – Collaborative Works
68. The Maccabees – Marks To Prove It
69. The Go! Team – The Scene Between
70. Viet Cong – Viet Cong
71. Calexico – Edge Of The Sun
72. Frank Turner – Positive Songs For Negative People
73. David Gilmour – Rattle That Lock
74. Max Richter – From Sleep
75. Susanne Sundfor – Ten Love Songs
76. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material
77. BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul
78. The Charlatans – Modern Nature
79. Stornoway – Bonxie
80. The Vaccines – English Graffiti
81. Ben Folds – So There
82. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets Grim Reaper
83. Everything Everything – Get To Heaven
84. Dave Gahan And Soulsavers – Angels & Ghosts
85. Van Morrison – Duets: Re-working The Catalogue
86. Paul Weller – Saturns Pattern
87. Du Blonde – Welcome Back To Milk
88. Gaz Coombes – Matador
89. Benjamin Clementine – At Least For Now
90. Girl Band – Holding Hands With Jamie
91. John Carpenter – Lost Themes
92. The Decemberists – What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
93. Modest Mouse – Strangers To Ourselves
94. Foals – What Went Down
95. Laura Marling – Short Movie
96. The Prodigy – The Day Is My Enemy
97. The Libertines – Anthems For Doomed Youth
98. Counterparts – Tragedy Will Find Us
99. Omar Souleyman – Bahdeini Nami
100. Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last