1. Clark - Clark
Chris Clark (the musician, not the bit-part Aberdeen footballer) is just 35, but incredibly his stunning self-titled effort is his eighth full-length record. Glitchy and nervous, Clark feels like it could go full Avicii at any moment, but instead tends toward the off-kilter; always standing too close to the edge, but never toppling over. There’s a strange, alluring imbalance in this record, almost deliberately unsure of itself and what side it wants to stand on, where it wants to go next. After thirteen years of producing, even Clark himself doesn’t seem to know.
2. Wild Beasts - Present Tense
I didn’t like this album on first playthrough. Perhaps I was expecting a return to the tight, collected storyline ideal of breakthrough album Two Dancers after the departure of Smother a few years ago. But after a while, it started to make sense. Wild Beasts are a band evolving, still trying to find a balance between their niche and something the public will buy into. Hayden’s operatic voice tends to take a backseat to Tom’s gruffer tones on this album. This works well on standout track Daughters, though songs like Mecca remind us Hayden’s still able, and willing, to steal a show.
3. Caribou - Our Love
Our Love feels weird. When something feels weird, that’s usually a bad sign. But Dan Snaith’s fourth record as Caribou — four years after previous effort Swim — seems to encompass the best of “weird”. Our Love is a muted, cautious affair, always threatening to wreak havoc, but instead steeling itself and holding its breath, as though caught under a mason jar. Ambitious though restrained, determined yet collected; this is a confident, if circumspect, return to form, and an ode and tribute to the very concept of love itself.
4. Todd Terje - It’s Album Time
Perhaps by this point a pattern is starting to emerge in this list. But Todd Terje ticks a number of crucial (to this reviewer, at least) boxes. Music you can feasibly tap your feet to while you work? Check. A vaguely-retro theme running throughout? Check. Invention without being pretentious? Check. It’s Album Time never seeks to be more than the sum of its parts, to do so would be to miss the point. Instead, it’s a synth-fuelled record that, unlike Aphex Twin’s Syro, isn’t trying to be clever. This is just a record filled to the brim with groovy tunes.
5. The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream
Imagine if, and bear with me on this one, Coldplay were fronted by a dude from Philly with an affinity for reverb, pedalboards and songs that are for some reason six minutes long. That’s at least some way towards pigeonholing what The War On Drugs sound like. Lost In The Dream encapsulates a lo-fi post-hardcore sound that previously belonged to Cloud Nothings, but instead of being relentlessly visceral is far more approachable. Kind of like an angry bear that just wants a bit of a cuddle instead of to rip some hitchhikers apart. …Kind of.
6. Swans - To Be Kind
It’s hard to say more about Swan’s thirteenth(!) studio album than has already been said. It is nothing less than a behemoth, strolling forward relentlessly, dragging its arms through countryside and trampling villages in its wake. It’s not an easy listen — it’s more than two hours long for Christ’s sake — but it’s worth the effort.
7. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Swans is a nice segue onto St Vincent, whose freakish persona is now even more pronounced than on Strange Mercy. While St. Vincent isn’t quite the same calibre of record, it can still marry standalone, bonafide pop songs — like Digital Witness and Birth in Reverse — with more experimental, uneasy work into a tight overall union.
8. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2
By virtue of being an album of rap music that isn’t totally awful, Run the Jewels 2 gets eighth spot. More seriously, the partnership of El-P and Killer Mike is just fantastic — laconic, aggressive lyricisms overlaid on trademark quirky production is a recipe for success. At one point there’s a Pacman soundbyte accompanying a lyric about death. Need I say more?
9. Royal Blood – Royal Blood
Not often does a band break into the spotlight this quickly, let alone a garage rock band. Despite comprising just two members (a bassist and a drummer, in fact), they craft an enormous sound and have an excellent ear for catchy hooks. Pop music for angsty people, in the most respectable sense.
10. Alt-J - This is All Yours
This entry has a disclaimer — this is far from a perfect album. But by virtue of having listened to it on repeat for a good part of this year, it makes the cut. The Alt-J sound has perhaps been a little jumped-up to suit the masses, but it doesn’t make Warm Foothills and The Gospel of John Hurt any less awesome.