ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2015: No. 50-41

50. Villagers - 'Darling Arithmetic'


What We Said...

Having had both of his previous albums 'Becoming A Jackal' and 'Awayland' nominated for the illustrious Mercury Music Prize, singer-songwriter Conor O'Brien is going for the hat-trick with his latest effort 'Darling Arithmetic'. With previous records being pitched as a full band, O'Brien has now adopted the Villagers name as his own solo project, helping gather the focus onto himself and creating a far more unified sound than previous works.

Taking the rich and beautiful history of Irish folk music and giving it a modern twist has been the hallmark of the Villagers sound, but it seems that this time he looked to expand his influences to include a mix of modern Bob Dylan-esque storytelling and a general pace that reflects even more contemporary acts like Arcade Fire. The result is an eclectic and diverse collection of tracks that look to add a process of evolution into the band's sound. There is a transition of intentions happening on this new record and it suits O'Brien songwriting down to a tee.

While fans of his previous work will still appreciate what he has created here, it is definitely sounding like a band looking to create a fresh start within their musical direction. But regardless of whether you are familiar with his older albums, 'Darling Arithmetic' is a bold and beautiful record just yearning for that next Mercury Prize nomination.

49. Speedy Ortiz - 'Foil Deer'


What We Said...

After gathering a huge amount of support for their debut album 'Major Arcana' back in 2013, US indie outfit Speedy Ortiz return with their sophomore release 'Foil Deer' and this time, look keen to build on their already solid foundations. Receiving fair comparisons to the likes of Best Coast and Pixies, Speedy Ortiz's new material shows a far more advanced level of diversity within their chosen sound and gives us an incredibly impressive new release.

With a mix of screeching and leisurely played guitars under the harmonious vocals of frontwoman Sadie Dupuis, the album likes to encourage the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic of grunge-era rock but with a contemporary twist. The band have opted to create a record that seems to pay homage to the American rock sound of the last twenty years, dabbling in the favoured post-punk and emo inspirations that have proven so popular in recent times.

Ultimately it is hard to pin down exactly what kind of band they are this time. There is so much experimentation between the tracks that listening to it could result in loving or hating it. But regardless of that, they have shown a great level of songwriting prowess throughout and made one of the most interesting records we have heard so far this year.

48. Eaves - 'What Green Feels Like'


What We Said...

After receiving a huge amount of acclaim for his single releases throughout this year, Leeds-based singer-songwriter Eaves has wasted no time in delivering his debut studio album 'What Green Feels Like'. With a transcendent voice and rich tapestry of instrumentation, the Eaves' sound is something you don't forget in a hurry and this first outing on a full-length record shows exactly how versatile he is as an artist.

Coupling the classic folk sound with a modern indie-rock twist gives the impression that Eaves is a full band with all the multiplied years of experience that go with it. But being just one man with youth on his side, he has managed to create an album that shows an abundance of wisdom far beyond his years and conceived one of the most mystical and engaging albums of the year so far. The beauty and harmony within his voice and arrangement give the impression he has been doing this for decades, and has resulted in an album that shows off his effortless talents from beginning to end.

While he has already been impressing many with his singles 'Pylons' and 'Timber', 'What Green Feels Like' is another level entirely. It's diversity and mixture of influences give it a multifaceted approach that very few have comes close to in the past.

47. Adele - '25'


What We Said...

After what seemed like eons but was in fact just four years, Adele has returned with a quickly released new album. It was only around this time last month that we were being teased with snippets of her lead single 'Hello', and now here we are with the new album '25' in our hands. Obviously not one to draw out suspense, '25' is the long-awaited follow-up to this century's biggest selling album, '21'. Making it the most high-profile release of the last few years and more importantly, the album with the most to lose for Adele.

We need to remember that '21' was such a smash for two reasons; one, its brilliantly conceived songwriting and production, and two, its ability to engage with the listener. The stories and narratives told on '21' were so identifiable, they became part of what people discussed when sharing the music. And so for Adele herself, those heartbreaking tales have lead her on to a bigger and better life, which in turns gives us the pretence for '25'.

And while songs like 'Hello' may seem like the same old Adele, this record has far more to show than heart-wrenching ballads. Even by track two, 'Send My Love (To Your Lover)', she already breaks the dark shackles and takes on some glossy pop production the Disney Channel would be proud of. Essentially this is Adele growing as an artist and not wanting to be seen as a one-trick pony. Even the album's finale, 'Sweetest Devotion', shows off her euphoric side and actually produces the best tracks on this new release.

While it seems like Adele is still up to her old game, there seems to be a little more going on under the surface here. She seems bigger, bolder and more confident within her sound, a far step away from the vulnerability of '21' and '19'. And ultimately has returned as the fully-formed artist we all knew she could be.

46. Disclosure - 'Caracal'


What We Said...

After releasing their debut album 'Settle' back in 2013, Disclosure became the name that was responsible for making dance music cool again. Their silky production mixed with a garage and 2-step influence was a game-changer for music at that time and brought with it a huge resurge within the genre. Now onto album number two and it is clear that the brothers don't want to be known simply as another house act.

While the debut album did stretch itself musically in places, it seems extremely safe when compared to 'Caracal', which seems more focused on a general vibe than a structured BPM. Once again filling the record with exceptional guest vocalists, which this time include The Weeknd, Lorde, Kwabs and old friend Sam Smith, the album seems to be searching for more of an RnB sound as each track adds more and more soul to itself and generally being just a little lighter on the ears than before.

It may not be the Disclosure we are familiar with, but it is quite an exceptional return. The quality of their beats is still second to none as this new release once again shows exactly why these two were such a big deal two years ago.

45. Raury - 'All We Need'


What We Said...

Ever since emerging in the latter half of last year with his mixtape 'Indigo Child', teenage singer/rapper Raury has been one of the hottest talents to emerge throughout 2015. Now after a number of small single releases, the Atlanta-based frontman has delivered his debut album 'All We Need', and from just a few listens, it is clear to see that this young man is hardly another passing talent.

Mixing a whole range of influences including hip-hop, soul and RnB, 'All We Need' aims to highlight a level of social commentary that only the likes of Kendrick Lamar has been able to enunciate so far this year. Creating a backdrop of simple rhythms and beautifully constructed melodies, the album's production sits firmly in the back of this record, allowing the frontman to really be heard as he embarks to deliver his frustrations and commendations of modern culture and society.

For someone who has yet to turn 20-years-old, he seems to show a great deal of maturity, both within his sound and lyrical content. It is clear that we are seeing the beginning of a truly great and adventurous artist who certainly has a lot more to give.

44. St Germain - 'St Germain'


What We Said...

After proving himself extremely prolific and groundbreaking during the latter half of the 90s, French producer St Germain has been largely silent up until now. Occasionally releasing the odd EP and remix, this self-titled new full-length is the producer's fourth album to date and his first since 2000's 'Tourist'. But given what has happened in the world of electronic music since then, what kind of sound has the successful beatmaker returned with?

Always one to fuse the conventional house rhythm with a more worldly influence, 'St Germain' is more of the same in all respects. Keeping that cohesion very much the focus of his latest release, the record aims to create a soothing yet uplifting vibe through a mixture of infectious percussion and subtle hooks. With clear nods to his original jazz influences throughout, the album is more about creating a bold and exciting atmosphere than making you want to dance, and it is that concentration of direction that helps keep this album focused on its sound.

Some might say that it is more experimental than his previous work, and that might be the case for some of these tracks. But ultimately the record is a brilliant snapshot of a producer who has been away for far too long now, and we welcome him back with aplomb.

43. Beirut - 'No No No'


What We Said...

It has been a very turbulent time for Beirut frontman Zach Condon since they released their last studio album 'The Rip Tide' in 2011. In those last four years, Condon has found himself divorced and briefly admitted to hospital due to exhaustion. However, by his own admissions, he has made a full recovery thanks to his return to New York and this new album seems to reflect the songwriter's new beginning.

While the record will seem like business as usual to any Beirut fan, there are the odd moments of intrigue that play throughout. Whether its the completely instrumental 'As Needed' or the fluttering electronics of title track 'No No No', the album seems to be in a constant state of discovery and play. Its lack of pretence sets its itself up as a brilliantly open record that invites the listener to join the band as they look to find the sound that fits their musical disposition.

And while those four years may have been hard on Condon, it is clear that we are listening to a whole new man on this release. 'No No No' has this fresh sense of optimism about it and gives us a truly wonderful listen in the process.

42. Richard Hawley - 'Hollow Meadows'


What We Said...

As one of the stalwarts of English crooners, Richard Hawley's soft yet rugged voice has always been the focus of his music. But after his 2012 release 'Standing At The Sky's Edge', with its loud guitars and more rock based direction, we thought we were seeing a new side to Hawley's musical journey. But he is back to deliver what he does best on this new release, and it is brilliant to hear.

Having spent the last few years providing vocals to tracks for the Arctic Monkeys and Manic Street Preachers, it doesn't take long for you to realise why his vocals are in such high demand. His rich vocals swim happily over a bed of reversed guitars and light production, giving it the full attention it deserves and allowing him to create a record that shows exactly what he is capable of. Bouncing melodies with a touch of subtle soundscaping have given 'Hollow Meadows' a feel that is divine in almost every way.

While this new release may not have the variety of some of his previous records, it still highlights his talents in an incredible way and allows him to show how brilliant and dexterous his songwriting is.

41. Baio - 'The Names'


What We Said...

While he has most undoubted made his name as the bass player in Vampire Weekend, Chris Baio has been releasing his own solo material under the name Baio for nearly as long as his band has been going. And after a number of short EPs and singles over the past few years, Baio has now unveiled his first studio album and fans of Vampire Weekend may been pleasantly surprised.

The album's lead single 'Sister Of Pearl' may have given the impression of a record filled with Vampire Weekend-esque riffs and eccentricities, but the majority of this new album is a far more electronic affair. Sticking mainly to high frequency melodies, which may seem strange for a bass player, the record blurs the lines between indie and electronica with a sheer brilliant finesse and sounds like it could have been recorded in the sun-drenched beach bars of Ibiza this summer.

While it is most definitely a step away from his other work in VW, 'The Names' is a real insight into the mind and talent of this successful musician. His direction and confidence within his work is astounding and makes for an incredibly enjoyable listen.

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