10. Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool
Wolf Alice are becoming a colossal outfit. Bit by bit, they’re infusing the music scene with their quirky, atmospheric songs that are bold and lyrically vivid. Front-woman Ellie Roswell showcases beautiful subtlety throughout the band’s debut album ‘My Love Is Cool’ but also rises with attitude and flair, throwing her music like a grenade, exploding colourful confetti.
And there are plenty of bands out there that try to dance for the alternative rock crown. Wolf Alice seem like frontrunners. They seem different, obscure and original, marking their territory, opening up musical pathways and ‘My Love Is Cool’ is a statement of intent, a debut that has been fixed into place and radically made to entertain and to provoke a response.
The album can be soft then rush into mania. The sound represents a story that could be perceived as being pessimistic, a fable that has been churned like a stomach full of butterflies. And if you’re accustomed to music that makes you want to write down your feelings on a notepad covered in stale beer and cigarette burns, then Wolf Alice are your go-to band. They also have that sound you’d hear in the movies that showcase love being ruined and guilt festering like a rotten apple.
The instrumentals on the album are composed with competency. They strike an urgency into the heart and those beautiful drumbeats and seductive guitar lines are plentiful and endearing, complementing the wonderful vocal work from Roswell – a voice that is calming and tuned finely.
‘Turn To Dust’ opens proceedings. It’s haunting and lyrically gratifying. Roswell sings as the beat rises, giving a calming start to an album that holds louder and more complex songs. ‘Bros’ begins with an acoustic guitar influence that doesn’t falter or become lost, it becomes even more apparent. The vocals are beautifully melancholic too, with sadness rubbing the underbelly of the track. ‘Lisbon’ offers the same vibe: punchy, and the tight musicianship is clear as the guitar sound is lifted during parts of the contribution. It starts to become louder as it progresses. ‘Silk’ dazzles. It opens with powerful interlude. Then Roswell sings about lost love and sickening feelings. Her voice rises at points and the instrumentals becomes even more progressive and razor-sharp. It ends softly. ‘Freazy’ commences with an infectious guitar lick flowing well and executed with great lyrical meaning.
Wolf Alice are becoming a force. They’re also shooting for the stars with their distinctive sound, pushing their art to the front line of rock scene. And with ‘My Love Is Cool’, the act from North London have created an album that will live long in the ears.
Words: Mark McConville
9. Laura Marling – Short Movie
British folk singer songwriter Laura Marling released her 5th studio album in March, 2015, entitled “Short Movie”, Marling produced the album herself alongside studio engineers Dan Cox and Matt Ingram. Being the first record Marling has written on an electric guitar (her father’s old Gibson 355), there is a distinguished difference in this record from the previous, it sounds more grown up.
The opening track of the record is soft, fluttering, and incredibly innocuous. Marling’s vocals have an intensity and confidence to them that can be piercing, her lyrics are heart achingly honest, and at times verge on feeling like they are secrets being whispered in your ear. “Warrior” sings the story of men as purveyors of violence, warriors riding out to war, positioning women as the steeds they mistreat. It has a certain sense of mountain ranges to it, there is something grand about the gestures the music, and the lyrics make.
Clearly influenced by her time in America, the record invokes the feeling of a long road trip, it isn’t rough or difficult, the road, and the music just flow away. One of the faster, quick strum filled, tracks on the record, ‘Strange’, appears to address an affair with a married man, and implores the listener to question the good in people, with the lines of “no I don’t believe we were born equally” and “those who do good will be treated accordingly”. The lyrics on the album are all quite jaded, like relationships run over by 16-wheeler trucks. There is a distinct feeling that some of the songs are very much targeting people in Marling’s life, which is a recurrent theme in her writing. She likes to warn boys (some would say men, but can men ever be warned?) of the perils of falling in love with her.
Previously described as the queen of the nu-folk scene, Laura Marling’s new sound is less plugged into a socket, and more plugged into an electrical storm, thunderclouds a plenty. ‘Easy’ feels particularly honest with its lyrics, Marling sings “when we were young we belonged to someone, it was easy”. It is a statement both heartbreaking and true. Many dubbed this record Marling’s quarter life crisis, she travelled a lot prior to its inception, taking time off from music completely, before finding herself full circle back in the recording studio with more to say.
‘Divine’ is my favourite track on the record, it is slightly more upbeat than the others, though the lyrics are a touch cheesy, and simply rhymed, they are divine in their own right. Plus the repetitive strum throughout is one of those familiar sounds that is instantly relaxing.
Each song on “Short Movie” plays out like a scene, each its own vignette of life. They circle around each other without ever touching, relatives that do not speak. That’s not to say they don’t compile a beautiful album – just that each seems to have been thought of as an individual, without a consideration for the whole.
8. The Maccabees – Marks to Prove It
Three years on from ‘Given To The Wild’ The Maccabees this year returned with the much anticipated ‘Marks To Prove it’.
The record marked a big change of pace for the outfit, a much more grown up, considered with great precision kind of record that highlighted how far they have come from the ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ days of 2007.
The title track was the first indication of a vastly modernised sound, a hectic, fast paced whirlwind of a track. Not just a stand out track on this record, but easily a stand out track of 2015 as a whole, one that oozed genuine excitement around their latest piece of work.
‘Spit It Out’ shows a much more intense attitude, the steady build from the deceptively calm opening chords, progressively grows into something fearsome compared to the more lackadaisical, happy go lucky tunes that seemed to be the bands niche earlier on.
Alongside the intensity there’s an added drama to the whole production of the record. Beautifully epitomised by ‘River Song’. Chained together with orchestral horns and an atmospheric, chant like vocals; “You’re not getting any wiser, truth is we’ve all done the same” ringing throughout, suggesting a newfound seriousness.
The all-round seriousness of the lyrics side of things is something that’s a recurring factor throughout. ‘WW1 Portraits’ marking a high point in the world play, a stunningly poetic ode of appreciation and love “You live your life to the letter writ on the back of your hand” a particular stand out line.
‘Marks To Prove It’ really is a massive stand up and be counted record for The Maccabees. One that could have so easily catapulted them into a complete different universe musically, a hugely impressive different one at that.
Take nothing away from the band for their past work, not at all, they were undoubtedly one of the mightily impressive stand outs of the whole noughties indie influx. This though proves they do have the tools behind them to survive the depleting want for upbeat alternative bands which has taken so many of their predecessors.
Much more than that it’s proof what stunning songwriters and musicians The Maccabees are. As it genuinely is one of the most impressive, exciting, calculated and all round stunningly put together albums we’ve heard for a while.
Words: Bradley Lengden
7. Brawlers – Romantic Errors of Our Youth
Brawlers hit the scene running this year at Nottingham’s Hit The Deck festival, coming onto the stage harbouring a precious commodity, a brand new album.
These guys looked kind of intimidating; with their stature, turned up jeans, beanies and a general serious-guy demeanour… Then they hit into this crazy album. And everything changed.
‘Romantic Errors Of Our Youth’ is the perfect title for this record, it’s everything you’d want from a Punk (with a slight Pop edge) album. It’s a blast of icy air, it hits you and before you know it, it’s gone, and you need more. The music is thrashy and spunky and the vocals are sweet and smooth whilst still somehow manly and gritty. But the real beauty of these tracks and the record they create combined is it’s sentiment, sounding like it’s based on someone’s life, the lyrics follow a very romance focused path.
Making it unlike other albums of its genre, this record speaks to your feet, your head and your heart. Super sweet, super fun and ridiculously addictive, if I only listened to one album this year, ‘Romantic Errors Of Our Youth’ was it, and it may be next year’s too.
Words: Kimberley Bayliss
6. Sleater–Kinney – No Cities to Love
Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time researching, reading, and learning about the Riot Grrrl Movement. Having grown up in the 90s and early 00s, I was influenced by pop princesses who bared their midriffs and had glitter coming out of their eyeballs to act a certain way and to become a certain type of woman. I was supposed to be polite, wear makeup, and (most importantly) be thin. For so long, I idolized women like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera because I thought that’s what I was supposed to look and act like when I grew up.
Well, I wasn’t that girl then, and am not that girl today (even though society really wanted me to be a glitter-covered, brainwashed wet dream). Much to my mother’s dismay, around 2008, I started to found solace in bands like Sonic Youth, Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill, though bummed out that two out of three of these bands were not touring nor even still a band at that time. Not only were they females who were completely turning the punk and indie rock scene on its head, they were addressing issues that women were bringing to light at that time, such as rape, sexuality and female empowerment.
I remember watching Sleater-Kinney in volume 3 of Burn to Shine, a series of music DVDs as a result of the collaboration between Christopher Green and ex-Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty. They performed ‘Modern Girl’ and I had never felt so emotionally close to a band before. The way that guitarist Carrie Brownstein, lead singer and bassist Corin Tucker, and drummer Janet Weiss released all inhibitions and emotion through their music was so powerful to watch, even through pixelated fog of my living room television.
So grew my love of Sleater-Kinney. But, my dreams came true when I heard they were releasing a new album. This band I had been jamming for years was finally going to make new music—and they were going to on tour? Holy. Crap. I picked up ‘No Cities to Love’ as soon as I possibly could, and dropped the needle on this record so fast. Granted, I had high expectations as ‘The Hot Rock’ and ‘All Hands on the Bad One’ are two of my all-time favorite albums.
Damn, was I impressed. These girls still had a lot of fight left in them, and the Riot Grrrl Movement was still pulsing through their veins. The album jets off with ‘Price Tag’ with Tucker’s high-pitch, soprano-wrapped lyrics present a sharp case against consumerism and ‘the man/establishment’. Whipping right through to ‘Fangless’ and ‘Surface Envy’, the band has clearly adapted their unwashed 90s vibe to 2015’s minimalist aesthetic.
Title track ‘No Cities to Love’ speaks strongly to the emptiness of living in an over-populated city, but feeling completely alone. Brownstein’s wiry guitar and thrashing vocals develop a moody and grey landscape, and lyrics like “I’ve grown afraid of everything that I love” depict a story of bitter devotion and sour desperation.
Sliding back up the fret is ‘A New Wave’, which showcases Brownstein’s vocal variety and the band’s sonically diverse talent. ‘No Anthems’ and ‘Gimme Love’ spiral us back to the original Sleater-Kinney with its snaking guitars matched with Weiss’s snare-heavy drumming. If I were asked what my favorite was on the album, it would easily be ‘Bury Your Friends’. From its dirty-nailed verses to its oily chorus, I can’t help but relate highly to this track. It is, in my opinion, the most Riot Grrl song on this album. Tucker and Brownstein share lyrics, and their harmony is so on key that it physically gives me goosebumps. Weiss’s bass-to-snare ratio increases and you can distinctly hear the vivaciousness of this band’s passion flood your headphones and creep into your ears.
The album rounds out nicely with tracks ‘Hey Darling’ and ‘Fade’, which resemble the swirling vocal rhythm of Wolf Parade and Modest Mouse, but energized nonetheless. The hall effect being used in production makes a strong contrast to the remainder of the album’s static, distortion-clouded backdrop.
I am overjoyed that such a talented, meaningful band has chosen to come back together and create overwhelmingly amazing music that I can jam out to on the train to work. I can’t thank Sleater-Kinney and other bands of the Riot Grrrl movement enough for giving me to something greater to believe in than pop music and the general deterioration of music talent as a result of mainstream and societal infection. And for this, Sleater-Kinney’s ‘No Cities to Love’ is one of my and VultureHound’s top 10 albums of 2015.
Words: Jaclyn O’Connell
5. Bring Me The Horizon That’s The Spirit
Bring Me The Horizon’s ‘That’s The Spirit’ both polarised audiences, and skyrocketed them into the charts.
BMTH has a history of splitting opinions, notably in 2009 they won both ‘Best British Band’ and ‘Worst British Band’ in a Rock Sound readers poll. And let us not forget Sandpit Turtle of 2014. ‘That’s the Spirit’ is BMTH’s most successful album yet, making it to #2 in the UK, and #1 in Australia.
Ditching metal core in favour of a more pop centric sound the album was an unpredicted direction for the band – and frankly, not many people are complaining. BMTH has changed their sound with every release, and this incarnation is, in my opinion, the best fit for Oli Syke’s vocals. The songs are catchy, heavy enough to mosh along to, and importantly, accessible to the bands target audience.
Let’s not mess around here, the music industry is sales driven, and BMTH have hit their target audience with a bullseye. This album is full of anthem-esque absolute bangers that are just angst-fuelled enough to have crowds screaming back “WHO WILL FIX ME NOW?”
Almost every track on the album screams to have its lyrics printed on t-shirts, scrawled on notebooks, and inked into regrettable tattoos. ‘Doomed’ the opening track of the album has a pulsating almost slow techno introduction, never fear though, at around a minute and a half, what you were expecting kicks in. ‘Doomed’ is my least favourite track on the album, and I wish they had opened it with the more obvious choice of track two – ‘Happy Song’.
‘True Friends’ is another one of the best tracks on the album, it is a little bit orchestral, and a lot of alt-rock. I am positive that at least one person already has ‘True friends stab you in the front’ tattooed on them (probably fake Oli Sykes TBH).
For a softer track check out ‘Avalanche’, it still packs a punch, but isn’t as in your face as the others are. Sykes’ voice really has undergone a transformation since the inception of BMTH, and while changes to his vocals may have been medically motivated, this new, softer style really does him justice.
‘Blasphemy’ and the final track of ‘Oh No’ really close out the album strongly. ‘Oh No’ has a touch of disco and is the perfect way to close off what is essentially a happy-pop-metal album. It makes you wanna dance and there is a touch of saxophone, isn’t that what everyone wants from Bring Me these days?
Words: Rhian Wilkinson
4. Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes – Blossom
2015 saw the return of everybody’s favourite tattooed angry ginger punk, Mr Frank Carter, and this time he is backed by a riotous pit of ferocious Rattlesnakes. He is not trying to just sell another record, or to please critics, Carter is just being himself, and we love it.
‘Blossom’ is the exact polar opposite of what the word brings to mind, this brutal masterpiece is a raw, intensely cathartic, hardcore punk rock symphony. Carter has cut away all the bullshit with his latest project, no major label, no manager, he’s doing it all and funding it all himself and the opening track ‘Juggernaut’ smashes his intentions home as he spits the venomous lyrics ‘Even on my own/ You can’t stop me/ Even on my own/ I am a juggernaut.’ You know he means it.
When Carter left the Gallows he said he was ‘tired of singing about hate’ but now he is back and angrier than ever and not without good reason. His abhorrence and repulsion of suicide bombers and the state of the world is all too clear in the screeches of ‘Trouble and Paradise’, and even more disturbingly significant in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. ‘You coward fucking scum’ he audibly gobs at the microphone before continuing, ‘Your paradise does not exist.’
Loss provides an unexpected turn on the record, taking us down a devastating road of pain and grief including ‘Beautiful Death’. During the live performance of this song in Manchester Carter had the entire room sit down on the floor as he stood in the centre and lamented the loss of his father-in-law.
‘And I’m sorry I can’t tell you/ That I love you anymore/ Or that I care about you more now / Than I ever did before / If you can hear my crying/ Then I’m sorry if it hurts/ Although your pain has lifted/ I feel worse.’ He fought tearfully through every word before breaking down, which brought a deafening but respectful silence upon the room. It was uncomfortable and unsettling but beautifully pure, honest rawness.
Ready to shake off the emotion Frank returned to the stage ready to scream his way through the rest of the record, including ‘Fangs’, a fierce heated recollection of a striptease he received from his wife and of course, the killer bluesy obscenity-ridden finale that gets everyone riled up, ‘I Hate You’.
So quite simply, ‘Blossom’ is exquisite. Frank Carter at his absolute best. Roll on 2016!
Words: Rai Jayne Hearse
3. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down
Nothing is new anymore, nothing good at least.
So this leaves us with those artists who can combine old things to new effect and cement themselves as modern greats, classics of the Now. Kurt Vile combines everything that was wonderful about sixties American folk and rock n roll with unplugged Grunge. It’s not a combination I ever thought to try, despite these being my three main staples growing up. And I am not talking about Hole covering Donovan in the early Nineties. This is something else entirely. Some sort of hybrid. Forgive me the introduction of Vile’s sound- I’m still dealing with the shock of no one sitting me down and making me listen to him until this year. I am dealing with regret that I didn’t listen sooner. I live for music like this.
The bass drum on Dust Bunnies has a lovely beaten up suitcase feel to the tone. This record is beautifully produced with beautiful riffs appearing all over the mix in layers dancing through my headphones as I listen – amazingly none of this has resulted in that sanitised effect so many records are killed by these days. This record has a soul and that soul has been preserved – the perfect combination of effortless authenticity captured, still sounding like it has enough rough edges to be real and finessed enough to be considered a masterpiece.
Kurt Vile’s voice is telling stories of his experiences and attitudes as he travels down imagined or real Midwestern highways. And you journey with him through his laid back perfectly flawed and beautiful voice. It’s the perfect escapism. The sound of someone watching the world go by with acceptance of all that is, yet sarcastic opinions. Lyrically ‘That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say)’ is philosophical and resigned. It’s comforting to listen to. I love the percussion on this record. It’s beautifully simple, mellow toned and warm. When Kurt sings about being alone in a crowd on ‘Wheelhouse’ it’s a feeling we can all relate to at times in our lives. I can imagine this album getting you through an existential crisis.
The guitar melodies are rhythmic and beautiful. This is acoustic music but in its own unique unassuming way, it has an edge than many cannot muster. The pace picks up for catchy foot-tapper ‘Life Like This’- it’s a highlight. I want to get in a car with Kurt Vile and drive across open planes of America listening to this record. The vulnerability of Kurt’s voice on ‘All in a Daze Work’ catches me off guard. If the last song was Kurt dancing at a party, this is Kurt sitting chatting to you telling you the secrets of his soul at 5am. It’s intimate. This is a record that deserves to be listened to on vinyl. It already sounds more vinyl than most mp3s which says a lot. ‘Lost my Head there’ is a sensitive and joyous song about mental illness that sounds like what the light at the end of the tunnel would be like to step into for those experiencing such a thing. The piano sounds warm. It sounds old and part of the digital age at the same time. ‘Stand Inside’ vocally channels a saner American Syd Barrett. The best records take you on a journey. Your imagination is left to drift through through American scenery on instrumental interlude song Bad Omens. Kurt Vile mixes elements of the Velvet Underground, Dylan, Lemonheads, Syd Barratt, Iggy Pop, Nirvana Unplugged on b’lieve i’m goin down… The record has a pace that makes you feel like you are passing things in a car catching fleeting glimpses of them through the window as you move onwards to God-knows-where.
The record comes to a close with ‘Wild Imagination’ the rhythm to the singing in that beautiful and true voice of his is unexpected and satisfying as hell. It captures the exact kind of romance that actually counts for something in this world. I think that’s my favourite song on the album. All these overblown love songs in the charts year in year out, all this drama and professed feelings of love… and this low key upbeat closer portrays what we really want from lover – shared moments on porches, sharing stories from our past with someone we care about and who cares about us. Those quiet little moments in life that come without fanfare but are the things that really matter… and I think Kurt Vile’s genius is in capturing the things that matter in life on b’lieve i’m going down… making it one of the Albums of the Year.
Words: Hannah Golightly
2. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Although it was released in February, it’s more than fitting that I’m writing about Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear in what the shops call the Christmas season. Because it’s a very Christmassy album, the arrangements ringing out like multi-instrumental sleigh bells and J Tillman’s voice harmonising with the backing vocals like a well-tuned band of roving carol singers.
It’s not a Christmas album, of course. Rather it’s a deeply-personal slice of very personal storytelling. Not so much confessional as autobiographical, although I’m sure there are secrets and lines that would shock Tillman’s close friends, it’s a collection of set pieces about relationships – primarily with his wife, Emma – and experiences. Some are regretful, some told in a matter-of-fact style that belies their oddness and consequence, but all beautifully-structured, and produced in a timeless style that could place their recording in Big Pink in 1972 as easily as 21st century Los Angeles.
Tillman is a rare breed – a solo artist who joined a successful band (Fleet Foxes) and left again, forming another band and hardly missing a step. From 2004’s I Will Return (self-released under his own name) to this latest, soulful opus, he started out strong and has grown with every release. I Love You, Honeybear is his highest climb yet, but you wouldn’t bet on him eclipsing it next time out.
Words: Alan Boon
1. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Dear Courtney Barnett,
I’m writing to declare my love. In fact, I think I can safely say that pretty much all of the team here at VultureHound will happily agree with me when I say that we think you’re pretty great. So great, that we’ve made your album our number one of the year. Even though it might pale in comparison to your Grammy nomination, but I do hope that it might charm you to think that this little magazine really really loves you.
The thing is ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit’, is just really, really sort of lovely. To many people you sort of came out of nowhere, and then suddenly you couldn’t avoid hearing that wonderful Aussie lilt on every radio, and those posters on every wall and tube line. It’s sort of entirely juxtaposed to the whole persona though – you’re someone who doesn’t look or act like any famous pop OR rock stars these days, and that’s really sort of important in these days of rather all or nothing-ness in music. And I mean I don’t think you want to be do you? Which is also pretty awesome. We wouldn’t have it any other way, believe me, Courtney.
One of the most charming things about your album, is the way you weave those little stories through all your songs. It’s like listening to an old friend tell me all the more average parts of their lives on my sofa over tea, a little bit tispy, just sort of musing about life. I think one of my favourite lines ever is yours: ‘I don’t know quite who I am, oh but man I am trying’. You’ve produced an album of songs that it’s hard not to relate to on some level, regardless of who/what/where/when you are. You’ve written about house hunting, and not wanting to go out to parties but still being bored, and that general anxiety about life we’ve all felt at some point. It’s something we’ve all felt at some point, put into a rambling tune, told endearing and at points heart-wrenching. Witty, with a dash of black humour, like the perfect coffee. And also, let me tell you it’s wonderful to have an album of guitar music that is so effortless without being uncomplex. It’s a real talent, poetry not just lyrically, but in all those trills and turns, it atmospheric structures and ever drifting guitar lines. I get the feeling that you’ve actually carefully thought out this lack of care, though to perfection. No matter what the press say, you’re definitely no slacker. You’ve made an album that already feels timeless, and its astonishing how I can’t seem to stop listening without being totally drawn in and enchanted.
Courtney Barnett, you’re really something special, and so is that little album you put out this year. Believe us when we say you deserve the hype.
Lots of Love,
Words: Poppy Waring