Sunday, 13 December 2015

Hey, Colossus: The Riviera's Top 15 LP's of 2015

Image credit: Johdrew Flickr 

It's that time of year again! Instead of pre-empting the list with a rambling post about my year in music, or what music has meant in 2015 etc, I've decided to just make a couple of short and sweet points about this list.

1) These albums are ranked purely based on how many times I've revisited/ wanted to go back to these albums, for whatever reason. They're the ones I've gotten the most enjoyment and emotion from and have had on repeat throughout the year, even 10 or 11 months down the line.

2) There's no Young Thug, Julia Holter or Deafheaven in this list.

3) The albums listed below in the "Honourable mentions" section are all records which I've really enjoyed and think are good to great, but for whatever reason I haven't given them the time they deserve. Given more time with some of these records, I'm sure I could have made a top 20 or top 25 album list.

Honourable Mentions:
A$AP Rocky- At.Long.Last.A$AP.
Carly Rae Jepson- Emotion
Coheed and Cambria- The Colour Before The Sun
Father John Misty- I Love You, Honeybear
Foals- What Went Down
Iron Maiden- The Book of Souls
Jay Rock- 90059
Jlin- Dark Energy
Palm Reader- Beside The Ones We Love
Roots Manuva- Bleeds
Spectres- Dying
TesseracT- Polaris

So, without further ado, read my guide to the top 15 albums that have thrilled me most this year. As ever, a huge thank you to those who continue to support this blog! All kind words are received very warmly indeed and I'll buy you all a beer at some point.

15. Kendrick Lamar- To Pimp A Butterfly

How Kendrick Lamar would follow 2012's 'Good Kid M.A.A.D. City', considered by many to be a modern classic, was a burning question right from the very second that album finished. It should never have been doubted though; sprawling, forward thinking and culturally vital is what Lamar does best, and although 'To Pimp A Butterfly' didn't possess as much replay value for this listener as his previous full-lengths, it was certainly all of those things. It speaks volumes, in a number of different ways, that Barack Obama chose 'How Much a Dollar Cost' as his favourite song of the year. 

14. Chelsea Wolfe- Abyss
Los Angeles singer- songwriter Chelsea Wolfe has always enjoyed a sort of cult crossover appeal, championed by both blogosphere hipsters and the Heavy metal press simultaneously. Her darkest, heaviest but also most diverse work to date, 'Abyss' is a sometimes nightmarish, often beautiful and always atmospheric ode to loss, heartbreak and depression, her vision as a writer and composer marks her out as an entity that thinly traverses the line between Earthy and other-worldly. 

13. High On Fire- Luminiferous

In perhaps the way that everybody hoped it would, 'Luminiferous' made good on the notion of perfecting the art they were going for 'De Vermis Mysteriis'. Although Matt Pike's post-Sleep trio have always been consistent in the realms of crushing heaviness, bleak historical story-telling and churning out hulking grooves and riffs, 'Luminiferous' contains some of the most melodic, memorable and fist-clenching songs they've written to date. From the glorious anthemic quality of the likes of 'The Sunless Years' (a contender for Metal track of the year for my money) to the unbridled thrash fury of 'Slave The Hive' to the shimmering, thick balladry of 'The Cave', this is High On Fire's most wholesome album thus far. 

12. Everything Everything- Get To Heaven

For a band who have always seemed to be almost TOO intelligent (or too pretentious, depending on who you ask) for their own good, it's an absolute joy to be able to include Manchester art-poppers Everything Everything's third full-length in this list. A bleak, often disturbing and strange narrative based on the idea that the world is truly going to shit, 'Get To Heaven' is a sigh of disgruntlement, a morose observational on-looker as world politics enters a prominently strange, disorientating time. But compositionally it sees the band take a huge step forward as well. This is undeniably their most accessible work to date (both 'Distant Past' and 'Regret' made it on to the Radio 1 A playlist), but their unashamed forays into indulgent weirdness are present and correct without detracting anything from most of these songs. The staggeringly beautiful 'No Reptiles' is probably their finest moment to date. 

11. RP Boo- Fingers, Bank Pads and Shoe Prints
Footwork can claim to be one of the only genres in recent times that has become a VICTIM of hyperbolic media coverage, and so much of that is down to juke pioneer RP Boo, a notion carried out whole-heartedly and beautifully across the 13 tracks of his 'Fingers...'. Aggressive, disjointed and eerie yet consistently danceable and banging, it's almost the perfect amalgamation of the odd exterior but soulful core of this Chicago music movement. Though it's a multi-faceted genre for sure, 'Fingers...''s confrontational, cocksure joy is certainly a cornerstone in the genres evolution. 

10. FKA Twigs- M3LL155A

Many times has Twigs' visionary and near re-invention of modern r'n'b been praised glowingly by this writer, and although it only stands as a five track EP, 'M3LL155A' is another cog in the masterfully oiled machine. As socially conscious, courageous and self-indulgent as ever, Twigs' ruminations on femininity, sex and culture over a distinctly odd set of productions felt almost dystopian, like a siren looking down upon the Earth post-apocalypse and pin-pointing the reasons for the fall and rising above it while being personal and distant enough to the wider picture to really be remorseful. The 16-minute video that accompanied it's official release is as appropriate a visual brother as any. 
9. Cult Leader- Lightless Walk

Though Deathwish Inc.'s roster is by no means lacking in savage Hardcore/sludge crossover bleakness, Cult Leader's debut full-length 'Lightless Walk' is the most terrifying, destructive and remorseless "no light at the end of the tunnel" record to emerge from that label this year. An unrelenting, disgustingly precise exercise in sheer brutality, it's nails on the blackboard like appetite for un-appeasable darkness is commendable alone for that. To show that they are far from one-trick ponies though they've included the doom-laden, Neurosis-esque closing partnership of 'How Deep it Runs' and the 7-minute title track which, if they don't add any hope to the equation, they certainly add another dimension to the record's soul. 

8. Faith No More- Sol Invictus

Perhaps one of the most triumphant occurances and realisations in 2015 was that comebacks and re-unions don't always half to be half-arsed or anything to do with a pay check. In the case of Mike Patton's iconic alt-metal originators Faith No More it felt like they'd never been away. There are so many facets, layers and glorious things about 'Sol Invictus', but perhaps the real thing to be celebrated is just how vital, fresh and un-rivaled in the realm of weird, untouchably unique social, political and ambiguous story telling they are. The word genius is used far too often these days, but it's impossible to listen to the likes of 'Separation Anxiety', 'Cone of Shame' or 'Matador' and no be prompted in the direction of that word. 

7. Algiers- Algiers

Speaking further of innovation with addictive tunes, very few albums this year melded together two genres as seamlessly and naturally as post-punk/soul trio Algiers. Tinged with industrial brutality, almost endlessly dark story telling and eerie poeticisms, the band's self-titled full-length was as refreshing a statement of intent as they come. It quite often seems like we don't have a band in 2015 who are totally unafraid of stepping into their wider societal debate, and in a mirror image of true post-punk embodiment, Algiers took it upon themselves as a duty to be an artful, disturbing representative of metaphorical disillusionment, particularly on the rattling 'When You Fall'. 

6. Kuedo- Assertion of a Surrounding Presence

Beamed from UK electronic music hero Jamie Teasdale under his Kuedo guise like a hologram depiction from a distant planet, the 7-track 'Assertion of a Surrounding Presence' was the most life-affirming, daunting and near-spiritual electronica release of the year. It felt like the encompassing of an entire alien world, where political borders don't exist and dystopian, futuristic life-forms live in a dog-eat-dog world immersed in surveillance, inequality and a "survival of the fittest" style society. It's a testament to Teasdale's ability that across a span of 7-tracks he manages to make a crisp and thought-provoking *ahem* assertion. 

5. Black Breath- Slaves Beyond Death

A bit like Kendrick Lamar, Black Breath were a band who had the weight of expectation thrust upon them after 2012's 'Sentenced To Life', one of the best Metal records of the last few years. The rather more muted response to 'Slaves Beyond Death', which takes the band's hard-as-nails, blisteringly heavy thrash-meets-hardcore-meets-sludge aesthetic and extends it to a slightly longer, more mid-paced but altogether darker and more horrible place, was somewhat to be expected then. But despite all of that, this was certainly Black Breath's most consistent, coherent and macabre work to date, and although it did very little re-inventing of the wheel, it's an album that proves that if you're great at something, the smallest amount of innovation can go a thrillingly long way. 

4. My Disco- Severe

Australian experimental rock trio My Disco's latest full-length was perhaps the most aptly titled album of the year. 'Severe', 9 tracks of arty, gruelling, spacious noise rock distinctly more subterranean in terms of down-tuned sound and style than their previous full-length (2011's 'Little Joy') 'Severe' was an absolute masterclass in the kind of repetition as resonant with a band like Swans as it is with much modern techno and dance music. The space between the brutal sequences on the likes of 'King Sound' are Grade A examples of how less is so often more, and there's a sort of spiritual entity lurking behind the eyes of this record that propels it forward with more momentum and understanding than probably any other record on this list. 

3. Uncommon Nasa- Halfway
New York MC Uncommon Nasa has been slowly building his reputation as one of the most esoteric and diverse rappers in the game over the past few years, and 'Halfway' is his strongest, most personal and arguably most well-thought out work to date. Centralising around Nasa's awareness of his own mortality and various notions of life and death and the meaning of both, it's a deep, textured and conscious record in terms of both Nasa's rhymes and Black Tokyo's stellar production. It's the kind of hip-hop record that is very hard to do justice to with just mere words, so have a read of my interview with Nasa for Bearded Gent Music here to get a far better insight from the man himself. Essentially though, it has proven to be the most entertaining, energetic and thought-provoking hip-hop album of the year for me. 

2. Leviathan- Scar Sighted

So much of music fandom and writing is based around an evaluation of the musicians personal attributes and values. In the case of Leviathan, sole member Wrest's tortured and violent past is likely to be enough to prevent some from ever listening to his music. If any fans of Black Metal are that way inclined though it's a mighty shame, because removed from everything else, 'Scar Sighted' is THE extreme music masterpiece of the year. As fans will have come to expect, it's an unbelievably depressive, grim, horrible, nightmarish and torturous piece of work, but there's so much a sense of musical talent and conviction as well as *whisper it* melody here that it transcends words just how unbelievably well crafted this record is. It's not like it's entirely innovative or a particularly new sound, certainly not for Leviathan at least, but it's destructive, soulless macabre music and it's very most wholesome, exhilarating and beautiful. 

1. Sufjan Stevens- Carrie & Lowell

Having never really known much about Sufjan Stevens music before the hype surrounding this album struck enough of a chord for me to actually go and listen to it, I was almost convinced I wouldn't like it. None of Stevens' tracks which I'd heard previously had stuck with me particularly, and, to my shame, I'd kind of written him off as one of those Elliot Smith types. Though that comparison isn't totally unfair, 'Carrie & Lowell' is the most blisteringly heartfelt, crushed, sad record of the year, and in turn also the most beautiful, resonant and brilliant. Informed by the recent death of his mother, who he reportedly didn't enjoy a particularly fruitful relationship with, Sufjan's 7th full-length is powerful enough to make one feel it's sensitivity and vulnerability seep through every pour in a way that's direct but employs a carefully offered amount of pathos which feels the album with space, emotion and suspense. Though for the most part it is just Sufjan with a guitar and some electronics, the elegance with which he plays and informs the dynamics is mesmerising. And the fact that he performs the whole thing with a shudder emanating from his chest and sometimes sounds like he's holding back tears is a demarkation of making an album this personal. 

Top 15 Albums Of The Year

1. Sufjan Stevens- Carrie & Lowell
2. Leviathan- Scar Sighted
3. Uncommon Nasa- Halfway
4. My Disco- Severe
5. Black Breath- Slaves Beyond Death
6. Kuedo- Assertion of a Surrounding Presence
7. Algiers- Algiers
8. Faith No More- Sol Invictus
9. Cult Leader- Lightless Walk
10. FKA Twigs- M3LL155A
11. RP Boo- Fingers, Bank Pads & Shoe Prints
12. Everything Everything- Get To Heaven
13. High On Fire- Luminiferous
14. Chelsea Wolfe- Abyss
15. Kendrick Lamar- To Pimp A Butterfly

You can listen to all of my top 15 albums of the year (save for Kuedo) via the Spotify playlist here.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

HEAR NOW: Pusha T- M.F.T.R. (More Famous Than Rich) (ft. The-Dream)

G.O.O.D. Music MC Pusha T has dropped the second single to be released from his forthcoming album 'Darkest Before Dawn' (out December 18th). entitled 'M.F.T.R. (More Famous Than Rich)'. He had previously unveiled 'Untouchable' as the lead single from the record.

Co-produced by Hudson Mohawke and Boi-1da, the beat is a fusion of hypnotic, airy synths with a minimal but grimy bass undertow. The-Dream offers a fiery countenance on the hook, closing his gambit with "N*ggas ain't been to church in a minute but it's funny how a Tech make these n*ggas get religious".

It's Pusha himself though that steals the show. Like all his finest work, it will take four or five listens before one picks up on all the references he drops here. His esoteric wordplay flits between the poetic, braggadocious and intelligent at all times, and flow wise his laid-back but cocksure demeanor is as addictive as you like. In the second verse he raps of "remote control blinds that turn on a time lapse controlled by an ipad", before in the third verse he asserts "they say it's sick but it's these well dressed snakes that learnt to walk on concrete... you ain't know you been coached through it".

'Darkest Before Dawn' is the first of two upcoming full-lengths from Pusha T. The second is titled 'King Push' and is slated for release in April 2016. Listen to the absolutely ace 'M.F.T.R.' via Consequence of Sound HERE.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Black Breath- Slaves Beyond Death

Artist: Black Breath
Album: Slaves Beyond Death
Record Label: Southern Lord
Release Date: 24/9/2015

Masterful Seattle crossover quintet strike a deathly blow once again with their longest, darkest album to date

When Black Breath released their second album 'Sentenced To Life' in 2012, the metal community seemed to find it's new favourite to perpetuate the crusty, filthy thrash/hardcore hybrid that Southern Lord have been particularly prolific in pushing in recent times. One of the gnarliest, grooviest heavy records of the last few years, 'Sentenced...' was a no holds barred 35-minute spasm that put even the likes of later-era Slayer to shame. 

Which may be why 'Slaves Beyond Death' has received a somewhat reserved reception by comparison. Their longest and grimmest album to date, the Seattle quintet replace 3-minute ragers with 5 or 6 minute bull-dozers, atmospherics and more sludgy, mid-paced heavyweights. Having said that, this album contains the most cohesive song-writing of any Black Breath album to date and is actually a rather masterful piece of art for it. 

The extended, hulking riff-o-rama that kicks off 'Pleasure, Pain, Disease' finds them in characteristically filthy form, and the infectious BM tremolo picking-meets D-Beat crust crossover immediately adds another string to their bow. The blood-pumpingly triumphant 'Reaping Flesh' near perfectly marries death 'n'roll with darkly anthemic sludge. Rarely do the longer form tracks out-stay their welcome, particularly via the bleak savagery of 'Arc of Violence' and the epic story-telling on 'A Place of Insane Cruelty'. 

With only penultimate track 'Burning Hate' failing to add much diversity in to the equation, Black Breath have produced a macabre sentinel that strays just far enough from their favoured blue-print to expand their song-writing and stay refreshing, but remains close enough to home to include all the electrifying, primal ingredients. That's a hat-trick for them and a hat-trick for heavy metal consistency. 


Key Tracks: Reaping Flesh, Arc of Violence, A Place of Insane Cruelty
For Fans of: Dismember, Trap Them, High On Fire

Sunday, 6 December 2015

HEAR NOW: Kendrick Lamar/ J.Cole- Black Friday

In accordance with this year's Black Friday event, MC's Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole decided to do a switch up and write a rap/free-style for a beat selected from each other's back catalogue. Lamar chose J.Cole's eerie 'A Tale of 2 Cities' beat, produced by Vinyls on his 2014 album '2014 Forest Hills Drive'. Cole chose Kendrick's trap/jazz fusion track 'Alright' for his version, produced by Williams & Sounwave for Lamar's celebrated 'To Pimp A Butterfly', which dropped earlier this year. 

In the vain of previous singles like 'King Kunte' and 'Backseat Freestyle', 'Black Friday' finds Lamar in less introspective and slightly more braggadocious, shallow guise as he raps lyrics like "I'm yelling vote Kanye West for president, he'll probably let me get some head in the residence". Just like those previous singles however, there are hints splattered here and there with the literary genius that his full-lengths expose in abundance. It's almost exactly what one would expect from Lamar, complete with super-fast flows and ability. 

Image Credit: DeShaun Craddock flickr 

J.Cole's variation of 'Black Friday' sees him rapping with slightly more energy and fire than has previously been expected. He sounds disenfranchised as he spits "Fuck you know about my pain?" and more direct jibes like "no snakes in the grass 'cause I mowed it N*gga". He ends the track tentatively indeed, as he rasps "This February shit gon' get scary when I drop-" before he's cut out by a long, high pitched bleep. If there is a new J.Cole project arriving shortly then here's to hoping we see more of this vitriol within the tracklisting.

You can hear both Kendrick and J. Cole's versions of 'Black Friday' below.

HEAR NOW: Foals- Give It All (Clint Mansell Remix)

'Give It All' is the latest song from Foals' excellent album 'What Went Down' (released earlier this year) to be released as a single, and this week a stunning treat emerged from the Foals camp after legendary composer Clint Mansell gave it the re-work treatment. Extending the track into an 8 minute ambient soundscape, Mansell's renowned understanding of dynamics and scope is at full strength here even without the backing of an orchestra. Stripping away almost all of the vocals, Mansell leaves in their wake washes of synth, distant bleeps and mournful, glacial one-fingered piano melodies. This is the sound of the world being washed away, unstoppable in its motion and all the more beautiful for it. 

You can listen to the gorgeous adaptation via The Fader here.

Image Credit: Alyse & Remi Flickr

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Idles- Meat EP

Artist: Idles
Album: Meat EP
Record Label: Self- released
Release Date: 30/10/2015

Bristol post-punkers Idles marry occasionally brilliant song-writing with pure and honest authenticity on their debut EP

As with most genre revivals, authenticity is usually one of the highest-scoring cards played by naysayers. In the case of the resurfacing of post-punk in recent years, it's been almost too easy to join that chorus, but bands like Crystal Stilts and more recently Spectres certainly seem to have an elemental understanding of what they're creating in relation to their predecessors. Bristol-based band Idles safely fall in to that category as well; 'Meat', their debut four track EP, both sounds like it was recorded by disenfranchised youth in a garage on a slow summer's day and wears a deep love of its music on its sleeve. 

Diversity isn't always imperative if an artist is good at what they do, and sometimes Idles' song-writing is so well crafted here that it matters next to nothing that you can easily pin-point their influences. Opener 'Queens' straddles the line between blood-pumping '70s UK punk and grinding shoegaze, complete with Rage Against the Machine references and dark, Nick Cave-esque thoughts like "I dream of burying you in a forest". 'Romantic Gestures' brings in dense guitar harmonics that recall a more clean-cut My Bloody Valentine at their most stratospheric. Closer 'Nice Man' is perhaps the most bitter moment here, propelled by dark, grimy countenance and bleak wit; "Is that what you'll tell your kids? That he's only violent when he's wasted?"

The real winning thing about 'Meat' is that not only does it sound pure and honest but it feels like there's a deeply set vision within the band. There's a sense that although their aesthetic is nothing new, there's plenty more scope and ideas for a full-length simmering. These days, that's just about all you can ask for from a young guitar band. 


Key Tracks: Queens, Nice Man
For Fans Of: Wire, The Buzzcocks


NEVERMEN, the super-group comprised of TV on the Radio's Tunde Adepimbe, Faith No More's Mike Patton and rapper Doseone, have dropped a new track entitled 'Mr. Mistake'. It's a rather absurd, acid-drenched skronk a la Animal Collective that also manages to be pleasantly tuneful, gibing an insight into the slightly visionary grasp all of these musicians have on song-writing. There's also perhaps a political undercurrent beneath the outlandish-ness between lyrics like "if it's between give and take, you take take take..." and ruminations of a "nuclear winter". You can stream the track via Youtube here.

The band have also announced their self-titled debut full-length LP, which is due to hit shelves on January 29th via Ipecac Recordings. This track follows on from the lead-off single released earlier this year, 'Tough Towns'.

Image Credit: Peter Hinson via Stereogum.

Friday, 4 December 2015

HEAR NOW: Glassjaw- New White Extremity

Post-Hardcore heroes Glassjaw have returned with what looks to be the first airing of material from their first studio album since 2002's celebrated 'Worship & Tribute'. Since that album, Glassjaw have released a random splattering of EPs every now and again, but in 2012 front man Daryl Palumbo told Kerrang! that full-length records and the album/tour cycle were "becoming irrelevant". However, when NPR premiered the new track, 'New White Extremity', on December 1st it was accompanied by a statement that promised "a new, as-yet-untitled record, with no release date, no label information and no band line-up other than founding guitarist Justin Beck". While the band are (perhaps intentionally) keeping a barrier of ambiguity between fans and any actual information about new material, Palumbo did say of the new track that it was "The sound of walking out your front door". 

And what a sound that is. 'New White Extremity' is powerful not just because it's a furious, noisy, groove-ridden and bitter sounding sucker punch to the gut, but it SOUNDS like old-school Glassjaw. What is perhaps even more promising is that it sounds like Glassjaw not in a nostalgic sense, but as a refreshing, revitalised and polished unit in 2015. In a world where comebacks are more opinion splitting than perhaps they ever have been, to hear Glassjaw return without even a whiff of insecurity is a beautiful thing. It contains all the melody, cohesion and yet spazzy abandon that their two full-lengths had in spades. 

You can stream the track via Soundcloud by clicking on the link below.

HEAR NOW: Turbonegro- Hot For Nietzsche

Oslo party-starting rockers Turbonegro have always been the purist of rock stars. Never ones to be thrust into the mainstream rock limelight (probably due to, you know, THAT name choice), their cult following has been built on a basis of fist-pumping anthems and an excess-centric aesthetic that almost anybody with a passion for rock music and drinking can relate to. 

It will come as no surprise to the aforementioned senechaux that 'Hot For Nietzsche', their new single, panders to that aesthetic in beautiful fashion. It's full to the brim with shit-grinning cheesily catchy AC/DC-esque riffing and lyrics like "if this weekend doesn't kill me it'll only make me stronger" and a chorus that sounds sort of like Elvis Costello covering 'Bohemian Like You' by The Dandy Warhols. 

Watch the video for 'Hot For Nietzsche' via the link below: