Musically, it has been a strange year – the ways in which we consume music, what is deemed to be popular, the charts and the way in which they operate have shifted into otherness.
Some great albums appeared this year, the latest Kelly Clarkson record is really superb, Tove Lo’s surprise album is a delight and Bleachers shone across his second solo outing. St Vincent released her most accessible record and Beth Ditto unveiled an array of sounds and ideas within her debut.
Music has always been a great joy but for lovers of music, it has become trickier to source this year. The focus in choosing these six records was clearly about how we felt about them, what they taught or offered.
The six below (in NO particular order of preference), are not only the six finest albums of the year, but six of the finest you will be likely to encounter ever, ever!
Loreen – Ride
With ‘Ride’, Loreen has produced an opus that is achingly beautiful, it broods with longing intensity and revels in the ethereal, sensual and atmospheric.
The distorted and ambiguous vocal is unmistakable – a beacon throughout the ten tracks as it transforms tone, shape and colour to reflect the lyrical narrative and the longing emotion felt – Loreen uses every aspect of her gift and it is astounding to encounter. The slow burning, lo-fi sounds mapped against vivid, cinematic string arrangements are thrillingly elegant. These are modern day torch songs that speak of yearning, need and death – it is refreshingly honest and open.
‘Ride’ is an unmatched beauty and it boldly showcases the sound of an artist creatively fluid and enriched by her freedom, embracing the limitless possibilities of her enrapturing talent. This album is EVERYTHING.
Sheryl Crow – Be Myself
‘Be Myself’ is a social commentary about modern values and perceptions of reality. Across the eleven tracks, Sheryl explores her own place in the world as a result of the advancement and decline in a seemingly self obsessed, egocentric society.
Sheryl’s vocal radiates warmth throughout and as is typical for a Sheryl Crow record, there is bite, urgency and insight in the lyrics. She liberally spreads the iconic lyrical phrases across the set (‘Did you ever see a man have a heart attack? It’ll open your eyes and stop you in your tracks’), these punctuate the verses which are set against big, sing-a-long choruses. The varied production styles and techniques ooze class and timelessness.
There is genuine tenderness and affection in tracks such as ‘Love Will Save The Day’, which offers comfort and hope “Feels like a boat that is lost, being tossed out on the waves. Grab my hand if you can, hold it tightly, and be brave, for a time, time can change”. The raw vocal and distortions on ‘Heartbeart Away’ will rouse the spirit. It’s also a fun, playful, tongue-in-cheek record, which is most evident in tracks such as ‘Woo Woo’ or ‘Grow Up’. ‘Be Myself’ is Sheryl at her most present, focused and arresting.
Steps – Tears Of The Dancefloor
We all know that nostalgia is for losers – stop looking backwards, it really wasn’t that great! ‘Tears On The Dancefloor’ represents Steps in the present and showcases a band together and strong. With this album, Steps have produced a focused, concept record with a clear sense of direction and purpose and which holds together as their strongest, most cohesive work to date. It’s modern, effortlessly classy and retains the groups knack for producing high quality, infectiously catchy pop.
Faye, Lisa, Lee and H share vocal duties and use the opportunity to showcase their impressive abilities, naturally Clare’s powerhouse vocal, soars and intrigues throughout.
The musical journey explores the pain of love that ends and subsequent heartbreak such as ‘Happy’, ‘Story Of A Heart’, ‘Glitter and Gold’ to finding your feet again with tracks ‘Firefly’, ‘No More Tears On The Dancefloor’, ‘I Will Love Again’, being prime examples – it is sorrowful yet joyful at the same time and dancing your tears away has never sounded so fabulous.
Forget your perceptions and embrace this record – it will bring you the greatest happiness and freedom in doing so.
Nelly Furtado – The Ride
‘The Ride’ is a record of liberation with Nelly in full control. As a result, she has revealed her most personal, bare and autobiographical record to date. The lyrics are informed from experiences that have shaped her and her writing transcend so these observations result in a record of openness, acceptance, being true whilst honouring your own individual self.
It is a seemingly sad record – there are lyrics, aspects of delivery and production flourishes which will break your spirit but ultimately make it stronger; ‘Tap Dancing’ will destroy you – it is forlorn with a hopeful sincerity. ‘Carnival Games’ cleverly inspires the need for questioning what you encounter and value. ‘Phoenix’ is hypnotising, sounding like a prayer or promise. Whilst ‘Cold Hard Truth’, ‘Flatline’ and ‘Right Road’ offer a unflinching, unapologetic focused attitude.
This is a pop record at heart whilst the Jon Congleton production adds a stylistic hue and it is a joyous connection. ‘The Ride’ endures – it is an album you will return to and often in order to glean knowledge or gain understanding from its expressive tales, wisdoms and truths.
The Sound Of Arrows – Stay Free
“I believe in you, I believe in me, I believe there is so much life to see and I don’t know yet who I want to be, so I’ll stay free”
…these lyrics are evidence enough of what sort of almighty triumph this album is.
Sonically, the duo explore a varied landscape – the grandeur of strings add depth to 90s house, trip hop beats and synth led pop. Thematically, the album documents snapshots of feelings which explore pain, fear and self doubt alongside the need for individuality, being true to yourself and never compromising. It is a wonderful exploration of the complexities of being alive – the stories told transcend, so they offer succour in the here and now but will still be a true friend, relevant in the years ahead.
‘Don’t Worry’ and ‘Hold On’ are poignant, heartfelt anthems borne from life experience both of which contain example of what are surely the saddest yet uplifting lyrics ever, “don’t worry, give it one more day and we will be okay”. With such uplifting melancholy throughout, the band have created the most beautiful album.
Nerina Pallot – Stay Lucky
Nerina’s self produced record is a elegantly gorgeous affair and ranks as her finest musical offering to date. There is beauty and majesty within the writing, the stories told can be deconstructed in varying ways and each listen reveals fresh perspective. There is a sweeping, grandeur to the songs which have a timeless, classic and enigmatic quality. Similarly, the multi-layered instrumentation and arrangements are incredible and captivating. ‘The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter’ is as broken, tender and bittersweet as the title suggests, ‘Man Didn’t Walk On The Moon’ is spine-tingling, sun-soaked gorgeousness whilst the strings across ‘Bring Him Fire’ add urgency to match the passion within the lyric. The album is bookmarked with songs that reference nature, and this cleverly gives the record a sense of purpose and completion.
Nerina’s vocal is supreme throughout and is an instrument captivating and unafraid, and which makes ‘Stay Lucky’ such an irresistible listen.