What have the Reader's Digest team been listening to this year? Find out our thoughts on some of the best releases from 2015.
The Best: Bjork – Vulnicura
Notable mention: Algiers - Algiers
Vulnicura carries a strange aura. Its beauty is immediately apparent with seductive string arrangements set against electronic beats by the third track, the album takes a stark turn.
Sensuous but disingenuous lyrics couple with ominous, punchy and disjointed synth. Instruments mimic Björk's vocal, adding the emotional depth that her voice lacks. All is not right.
One cannot ignore the power that Björk delivers on this album. She is candid in her lyrics, to the extent that the listening is almost a voyeuristic experience.
With references throughout to her own body, ideas of loss, and even the suggestive wound-like image across Björk’s chest on the album cover, this album is one of femininity, healing, and astounding musical accomplishment.
Read the full Vulnicura review
Pop: Mark Ronson – Uptown Special
Notable mention: Adele - 25
2015 has been the year of the female artist as far as pop music is concerned, but Mark Ronson’s come back album Uptown Special takes the top spot for its feel-good factor.
This genre-spanning album borrows from Motown soul to Rick James Funk, featuring heavyweight stars such as Stevie Wonder and Bruno Mars, combining to create a familiar-sounding, crowd-pleasing, foot-tapping nostalgia.
Female artist: Carly Rae Jepson – E•MO•TION
Notable mention: Marina and the Diamonds - Froot
Although very much part of today’s pop revolution, Carly Rae Jepsen’s new album could easily sit in the tape deck of a 1980s American convertible. It’s a surprising direction for the singer associated with school-disco favourite 'Call Me Maybe'. Although still comprised of songs about boys, E•MO•TION marks a transition from teenybopper to mature artist.
Title track 'Emotion' is the most reminiscent of her pop background, but made cool through dream-pop synths, muted guitar and a funky drumbeat. Elsewhere, the songs are minimal—understated melodies lifted by catchy vocals that once again emphasise Jepsen’s mass appeal.
Hip Hop: Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment – Surf
Notable mention: Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Ignoring the typical bad-boy tropes of hip hop, Surf is a happy collaboration between a group of musicians, helped along by the popularity of Social Experiment member Chance the Rapper.
Surf depicts the sensitive side of hip hop, leaving a strong emotive impact that can take your breath away and get you dancing within the same melody.
Folk: Laura Marling – Short Movie
Notable mention: Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
The singer-songwriter goes electric on her fifth studio album. It’s a candid outing for Marling, who has a standoffish reputation. Her newfound openness lends itself beautifully to this sparse, stunning record.
Short Movie has the power to pull you into its world and drift into Marling’s deeper emotions and quarter-life revelations
Indie: Deerhunter – Fading Frontiers
Notable mention: Tame Impala – Currents
The seventh long player from Deerhunter positions itself in a dreamy domain. It’s more accessible than the snarling ambience of previous albums, and tracks such as 'Take Care' and 'Ad Astra' glisten in the ears of the listener, leaving a brighter, mellower feel.
Deerhunter’s ability to write catchy melodies against a subtle upheaval of instruments has made them monarchs of the art-rock genre. The songs are simple enough at face value, but a closer listen reveals a complicated soundscape: tape recordings, oscillating synth, grungy bass and even moments of Motown. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
Rock: Alabama Shakes – Sound & Colour
Notable mention: Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
Alabama Shakes’ long awaited second album moves them away from the 60s revival tag their debut earned.
Sound & Colour brings the band bang up-to-date, sounding contemporary but still oozing the soul, thanks largely to incredible vocal performance, and subtle musical references through guitar and organ.
World: Songhoy Blues – Music in Exile
Notable mention: Mbongwana Star – From Kishasa
A part of the desert blues movement, which broke out in the Sahara about 10 years ago, Songhoy Blues belong to the marginalised Songhoy group.
The band fled from their homes to escape the Islamic militia, who’d introduced severe penalties for playing western-influenced guitar music. In spite of the tense conditions that brought the record into being, it’s jubilant throughout.
A celebration of Songhoy through blues reworkings of traditional songs.
Classical: S T A R G A Z E
S t a r g a z e are a neo-classical collective while Greg Saunier is a composer and drummer in the experimental US band Deerhoof.
Together, they have produced a series of new classical arrangements drawn from Deerhoof’s 13-album back catalogue. Although some may view this as a glorified remix project, Deerhoof lend themselves perfectly to this sort of thing, with their non-linear style jumping suddenly and joyously between movements.
The result is a fantastic, otherworldly and slightly more palatable introduction to Deerhoof, and absolute treat for existing fans.