Monday, January 25, 2016

Albums 2015 - Runners Up & Honorable Mention

In alphabetical order. . . .

The Arcs: Yours, Dreamily, (6.5/10)

Dan Auerbach, front-man of blues rock duo The Black Keys, temporarily ditched his longtime drummer pal Patrick Carney and launched a new collaborative side-project last year - The Arcs. The band's debut Yours, Dreamly, bests the Keys' recent material, exploring more soulful textures. It doesn't all work, but its lush slow jams and vintage aesthetic make the journey worthwhile.

Artificial Intelligence: Timeline (7/10)

North London drum & bass duo Artificial Intelligence released their second LP, Timeline, last year - their first for revered label Metalheadz. Timeline shifts easily between sunny liquid rollers and dank breakbeat workouts and though it doesn't shatter many molds stylistically, the album is superbly consistent and stirring from start to finish. Easily one of Metalheadz's best artist albums since Goldie's Timeless.

The Atomic Bitchwax: Gravitron (7/10) 

Despite their ridiculous name, The Atomic Bitchwax are no joke. Formed in Long Branch, NJ, in the wake of Kyuss' early 90's stoner rock genesis, a throwback hard rock genre built for outlaws and burnouts riding Harleys and muscle cars, these guys have been unleashing dependable rock fury for a while now. Packed with galloping drums, killer riffs, and blazing solos, their sixth album Gravitron just cooks. Perfect for high-speed road trips down desert highways in your vintage Camaro.

Break: Simpler Times (7/10)

Much of the appeal of drum & bass is the genre's fussy obsession with aural minutiae and next-level sound design, but it takes uncommon talent to combine technical prowess with actual songcraft. Genre stalwart Break does just that on his third LP Simpler Times, comprising a dozen tracks that draw liberally from dancehall, reggae, dub, drum funk, neuro, liquid, garage, and throwback jungle. Break does occasionally dip into new age and jazz-fusion tropes - rain sticks, wind chimes, wah wah guitars - but that's easily forgiven on a long player so engaging and well produced.

Disclosure: Caracal (6.5/10)

English brothers Disclosure took the pop world by storm in 2013 with their breakout debut Settle, exposing international charts to the underground sensibilities of UK garage while introducing many listeners to eventual superstar Sam Smith. Forgoing a futile attempt to recreate the success of that album, the duo released an understated follow up last year - Caracal. Enlisting the vocal talents of a menagerie of pop stars like The Weeknd, Lorde, Miguel, and Sam Smith, Caracal presents a solid collection of late night grooves that fortifies Disclosure's status as a pop music powerhouse.

Jamie xx: In Colour (6.5/10)

In 2006 experimental dubstep producer Burial dropped his acclaimed self-titled debut and ignited a nostalgic reverence among young bedroom producers for a bygone era of pirate radio and underground raves they never experienced firsthand. So it is that Jamie xx, co-founder and producer of mopey indie-pop group The xx, cut a solo record in 2015 that mines the same territory Burial did nearly a decade back - sampled breakbeats, menacing hoover bass lines, vintage jungle MC chatter, contorted r&b vocals - only this time polished for Coachella crowds and top-40 radio.

John Tejada: Signs Under Test (6.5/10)

John Tejada's tenth album Signs Under Test, issued via microhouse and minimal techno institution Kompakt, was the soundtrack for the winter season upon its release last February. An icey mixture of brittle snares, muffled kicks, and glistening electronics, Signs Under Test is a rare beauty - baring a gratifying resemblance to UK techno duo Orbital's mid-90's classics Snivilisation and In Sides.

Mark System: Final Approach (6.5/10)

UK drum & bass producer Mark System's debut LP, Final Approach, is an exercise in assured minimalism. No wailing r&b singers or brooding MCs, no spastic drum edits or flatulent bass freakouts, no tangents into dubstep, juke, or any other dancefloor trend - just deep subs, snappy breaks, and crystal clear production. The album glides patiently, ascending and diving with a warmth and simplicity increasingly rare in the genre.

Swervedriver: I Wasn't Born to Lose You (6.5/10)

Shoe gaze always evoked a sense of accelerated motion. All that distorted electric guitar and white noise conjured the roar of engines or the rush of wind. Swervedriver knew this - incorporating hi-octane riffs and automotive references all over their 90's repertoire. So it makes sense that the cover of their long awaited comeback depicts bare feet through an open car window off a remote desert highway. This time the vibe is placid contentment, so on their fifth album the band ease back with a drowsy set of songs that detour through psychedelia and blues rock.

Torche: Restarter (6.5/10)

Torche's last album, Harmonicraft, was excellent due to its atypical pop-punk sensibilities and frontman Steve Brooks' refusal to stay in the closet. Despite the band's tough sludge metal pedigree, that album featured cartoons and rainbows on its cover and songs titles like "Kiss Me Dudely." The band play it much safer on Restarter - a more conservative fourth outing mostly comprised of grinding riffs sure to appease fans that grumbled when the band took a left turn last time. Still, there's monolithic beauty here, and the band did put a fun number on there called "Loose Men."

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