Direct Links to Albums (updated as they become live) : 25 - 22 // 21 - 18 // 17 - 14 // 13 - 10 // 9 - 6 // 5 - 2 // 1
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Indie-Pop royalty Camera Obscura announced their return earlier this year with their fifth (and first since 2009's My Maudlin Career) Desire Lines, the first that I've discovered in real-time after coming to the band somewhat late. With its combination of truly fantastic lyrical melodies, perfectly restrained instrumentation and Tracy-Anne Campbell's crystal-clear pure vocals sure to provide a winning formula for listeners all over the world.
"This Is Love (Feels Alright)" kicks off the album with a typically swoon-some blend of timeless, natural melody and heartfelt voices, it leaves you feeling all gooey with sentiment and good feelings. It's pretty much the same mood that prevails throughout, "Troublemaker" floats with fizzing guitar and soft percussive grace whilst "New Year's Resolution" is similarly heavenly.
If you were to look up beautiful in a song dictionary you'd probably see "Fifth in Line to the Throne" as the example, a bittersweet ballad that is arguably the most gorgeous track of the year while the albums lead single "Do It Again" is a slice of exhilarating, full blown fun that will have you running for the dancefloor. In simple summation Desire Lines is a complete triumph.
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You'd probably have forgiven Zola Jesus for taking the year off after last years Conatus LP, instead Nika Roza Danilova headed straight back into the studio along with composer JG Thirlwell for a collaboration album Versions which sees pared-down versions of tracks from her catalogue reconfigured with the help of a string quartet.
Kicking off with a beautiful, goose-bump inducing version of "Avalanche", slowed down with the original's pummeling synth menace gone, instead comes a bare-boned, heart of the sleeve vocal with Nika's voice crystal clear and pure emotion amongst equally stark, ethereal instrumentation - the sort of thing that can bring tears to grown men.
"Fall Back" grows from similarly beautiful beginnings as gradually the string section grows to a screeching, frenetic climax amongst Nika's repeated Meat Loaf inspired (perhaps?!) cries of "I would do anything to be the one with you". There's a re-working of my favourite ZJ track too, "Night" is stripped of the epic, apocalyptic backing of the original and is transformed by dramatic and breathless violin whilst "Run Me Out" and "Collapse" become more effecting and intimate than ever before drenched in luscious strings and empassioned vocals.
From darkness to the (half) light Versions is a beautiful, natural album that commands repeated listen from one of our generations finest artists.
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Canadian singer-songwriter Basia Bulat's third album Tall Tall Shadow served as my introductory point earlier in the year, I'm not quite sure how I managed to miss her for so long and now I'm kicking myself in the face at missing a few intimate London gigs earlier this year. The title-track opens the album and is the perfect introduction, armed with the most natural of voices and a transcendent melody that builds and sparkles with an uplifting spirit and beauty full of strength and charm building to the most triumphant of conclusions.
Fellow single "Wires" similarly bristles with life and a rich, rousing melody, where guitar, organ and an instrument I couldn't possibly name propel the track with a sense of freedom and fun - it's great to see musicians with a smile on their face and I think Basia has one on just about every video of hers I've seen - you can sense that enjoyment throughout.
Elsewhere the release is more melancholic and affecting, as shown on the devastating "It Can't Be You", highlighting Basia's extraordinary tone and voice amongst sparser, delightfully picked arrangements. "Someone" is another favourite, retrained and heart-stirring, it's an album that shows two sides to an artist I really should have discovered sooner.
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I've long been a devote follower of the electrifying PINS and their debut album Girls Like Us lives up to the hyperbole which has surrounded the Manchester quartet from day one. The album kicks off with a dark, brooding intro before exploding into life with the track track where tribal drums, swarming guitars and a deep bass-line all wrap around Faith's ferocious, tension-filled vocals. The same electrifying energy and heavy noir-pop hooks run throughout the record, thrilling and terrifying in equal measure with little room for rest-bite.
Pins are tighter and slicker than ever, vocals sneer with an addictive yet uncompromising bite backed by propulsive beats and guitar thrills, it makes for a relentless roller-coaster of a ride. The double a side single tracks "Stay True" and "Get With Me" are the perfect example where shimmering guitars collide with Faith's snarling/seducing vocals while the wonderful "I Want It All" (not a Queen over) hypnotises with metronomic rhythms and swarming bass.
Perhaps my favourite moment though is the Pulp-esque "Velvet Morning", a real creature of the night with spoken-word lyrics/poem (I'm not sure who's speaking, I don't think it is vocalist Faith) perfect for those late night walks through dark, desolate streets (you might want to make sure they are lit though). In summation, Girls Like Us is a pretty awesome debut from a progressive band likely to thrill us for years to come.