RRW’s Top 5 Albums of 2015

brandonflowers

Better late than never, right? Right?? I’m hoping that you’ll all have been so sick of hearing about everyone’s favourite albums in the last week of 2015, that you’ve had a break and are now actually keen to read about my albums of the (last) year, ahem, about two weeks into 2016. Sorry about that, but it’s no easy task to narrow down a year of great releases, especially when many of those releases came from some of my favourite bands and artists anyway. Despite my favourites continuing to bring out exceptional work, they actually had a lot of competition in 2015. Bands and artists who I’d known of for a while but never invested much time into crept into my stereo again and again.

I’ve managed to pick my five favourite albums of 2015, I don’t want to brag, but I also think they happen to be some of the best releases of the year. Albums that didn’t quite make my ‘Top 5′ but still deserve a nod are: Imagine Dragons – ‘Smoke + Mirrors‘, Big Talk – ‘Straight In No Kissin’‘, Young Guns – ‘Ones and Zeros‘, The Maine – ‘American Candy‘ (which didn’t make my list, but it did make Dora’s), Hollywood Vampires – ‘Hollywood Vampires‘, Keith Richards – ‘Crosseyed Heart‘ and of course, I’ve not even had the chance to buy Adele‘s ‘25‘ yet, but I’m sure if I had, it would have made the list.

Anyway, back to the ones who made the cut, here are my top five favourite albums of 2015:

 

FT
The album title alone is just ‘me’ all over. Frank Turner is one of those artists who I’ve been following for a while, but over the last year or so he’s crept his way up the ranks to become one of my favourites. Frank’s albums never disappoint and his Summer 2015 offering ‘Positive Songs For Negative People‘ was no exception; opening with the beautifully fragile ‘The Angel Islington‘ which instantly captivates you with its raw yet tender acoustic sound and Frank’s signature, naturally emotive vocals. 
 
Emotion is a recurring theme throughout the album, although expressed in varying forms. In contrast to the gentle ‘The Angel Islington‘, the following track, ‘Get Better‘ is loud and powerful. Despite Frank’s aggressive vocals, ‘Get Better‘ feels as though Frank is shouting with you, rather than at you, and he’s shouting words of encouragement and motivation throughout the whole album that many listeners will identify with.
 
Lyrics have always been my favourite element of Frank’s songs; they’re honest, personal and more than anything else, they’re real. I always connect with Frank’s songs because of the lyrics, and ‘Positive Songs For Negative People‘ has, for me, pushed Frank Turner further towards becoming one of my favourite lyricists of all time. Songs that stand out to me lyrically are ‘The Next Storm‘ and the heartbreaking, ‘Song For Josh‘ which Frank wrote in memory of his friend, Josh Burdette, who passed away in 2013. The song was recorded live at Josh’s place of work, the 9:30 Club in Washington, where he was – and still remains, well-known and well-loved.

 

As well as expressing his sadness over the loss of his friend, Frank also draws much-needed attention to mental health through ‘Song For Josh‘. Frank has been passionate about mental health awareness for some time, as well as being an ambassador for CALM, he is continually open about his own mental health both off stage and on stage. Many of his songs carry themes portraying the struggle of mental health. One of the things I admire most about Frank is his ability (and consideration) to write about mental health issues and sing about how they make you feel without glamorising the subject, which is something a lot of artists fail to grasp, whereas Frank seems to have pretty much mastered it. 
 
If, however, lyrics aren’t all that important to you and you’re just looking for something to tap your toes to or stick on in the car, you’ll still appreciate and enjoy ‘Positive Songs For Negative People‘. It’s full of uplifting melodies, acoustic tones and anthems with big, catchy ‘sing-it-back-as-loud-as-you-can’ choruses, typical of Frank’s previous work, but with enough progression in his musical style and skill to push him further towards becoming one of the UK’s greatest singer songwriters. 
 
 DD
I find that the more music a band release, the more nerve-wracking it is for fans (and for the band too, I imagine) in the run-up to a new album; especially when that band is as brilliant and as long-lived as the mighty, Duran Duran.  The nerves that come with a 2015 release from a band who have been around since the late 70s are, to an extent, understandable, especially for the older generation of fans; some worry that the music the band release today won’t be ‘the same’ or won’t be as good as the music they made 30 years ago, which they fell in love with. But development within musical (and hair) style is inevitable when you’re as skilled as Duran Duran and progression is essential to the longevity of a band.
 
As soon as the first single from ‘Paper Gods‘, ‘Pressure Off’, was released, the few nerves (that I had, at least) were instantly danced away. ‘Pressure Off’, remains my favourite (and one of the best, if not the best*) single of 2015.

*This may be Duran Duran induced delirium, but I stand by what I said. At the very least, ‘Pressure Off’ showcases that change,no matter how big or small and when done well, is a good thing and shouldn’t be feared, it should stir excitement. And Duran Duran are a perfect example of exactly that.

Having Mr Hudson, Mark Ronson, Joshua Blair and Nile Rogers on hand to produce the album, ‘Paper Gods‘ is a cocktail of vintage 80s spirit and fresh, modern flavours. Double measures of ‘old’ Duran Duran – heavy basslines, melodic, synth-filled disco anthems, stirred up with shots of ‘new’ Duran Duran, who now have the technology to experiment with sounds to create noises that simply weren’t available to them in the 80s.

Songs of note include the title track and seven minute album opener – ‘Paper Gods‘; featuring the deep, haunting guest vocals of producer, Mr Hudson. Paper Gods offers some darker, thought-provoking lyrics in comparison to Duran Duran’s usual classic, catchy pop anthems – not that there’s anything wrong with a good ol’ pop anthem, of course. The melodic, powerful ‘Last Night In The City’, featuring Kiesza and ‘Face For Today will resonate with fans of Duran Duran’s older dancefloor-filling hits. Whereas fans looking to see the softer side of Duran Duran will enjoy two of my personal favourite tracks, ‘What Are The Chances‘ and ‘You Kill Me With Silence. Duran Duran encapsulate the spirit of these songs through emotive lyrics and sombre melodies. The contrast between Simon Le Bon‘s vocals on the upbeat tracks and these more mellow tracks, triggers your emotions when listening even more strongly because the words feel genuine. Duran Duran, a band who you would normally associate with euphoric, feel-good anthems, can also make beautifully tear-jerking pop tunes.

Paper Gods sounds like Duran Duran being able to musically express ideas that have been trapped in their heads for years, that they haven’t been able to free until now. The broadening of music production over the years means Duran Duran have been able to team their good, old fashioned and undeniable ability, with technology and create a new but familiar sound that they’re happy with. They’re stepping out into the future, if you like. ‘Paper Gods’, is Duran Duran as they should be in 2015, it’s fun, brilliantly executed, electro-pop masterclass.

 

 KTVA
Similarly with Duran Duran, the “new release nerves” kicked in whilst I was waiting for Stereophonics’ new album. Although they’ve not been around quite as long as Duran Duran just yet, they still have an highly impressive discography (nine studio albums). 2015’s release, ‘Keep The Village Alive‘, is volume two to their 2013 album ‘Graffiti On The Train‘. I didn’t know this at the time of ‘Keep The Village Alive”s release, in fact, I’ve just found out right now, as I type. ‘Graffiti On The Train‘ is one of my lesser played Stereophonics albums and yet, after having ‘Keep The Village Alive‘ on repeat for weeks after its release, I then found myself digging out ‘Graffiti On The Train‘, caving in to a sudden urge to listen to it over and over again. I now enjoy ‘Graffiti On The Train‘ much more than I did when it was first released. So with ‘Keep The Village Alive‘ as a part two to it, and myself being totally unaware of that fact when I went searching for ‘Graffiti On The Train’…I’d say that’s a job well done for Stereophonics. Albums in two or more volumes are often hard to pull off, they can feel disjointed, especially when releases are scattered, resulting in the volumes feeling too separate from each other to really work together. But ‘Graffiti On The Train‘ and ‘Keep The Village Alive‘ piece together beautifully as volumes whilst at the same time, holding up as very strong stand-alone albums.
 
Anyway, back to ‘Keep The Village Alive‘, which opens with the most lively and cheerful track on the whole album, ‘C’est La Vie‘ is not an accurate representation of the nature of the album at all, I’m sure there’s some subtle symbolism in the album opening with a bang and then mellowing down, but I haven’t quite figured it out yet. After ‘C’est La Vie‘, ‘Keep The Village Alive‘ slows right down, the lights are dimmed and the curtains are drawn for more or less the next nine tracks, with a couple of exceptions – I hasten to add, this is far from a bad thing. Stereophonics are masters of the melancholy melody, combined with Kelly Jones’ raw, rustic vocals and their captivating lyrics – The Phonics are not only storytellers, they make you a part of the tale. Each song on ‘Keep The Village Alive‘ makes you want to weep, but drink heavily and dance wildly, all at the same time.
 
Songs of note are; ‘White Lies‘, which comes after ‘C’est La Vie‘, its slower, more serious nature is a huge contrast to ‘C’est La Vie‘. This really makes that lump in your throat all the more hard to swallow and that sets the tone for the songs to follow, including my favourite single and one of my favourite songs on the album, ‘I Wanna Get Lost With You. I was completely floored when I first heard it, it’s hard for a melody to be agonising and somehow still addictive, but ‘I Wanna Get Lost With You‘ manages it, the lyrics are equally stunning. It’s hard not to feel an emotional connection to Stereophonics songs with voice as genuine as Kelly’s, it’s as if he knows your vulnerabilities and voices them for you, and he does it so beautifully because he feels them too. 
 
A similar story is told with the album-closer ‘Mr And Mrs Smith‘, which is probably my favourite song on the whole album. It somehow manages to intertwine sombre lyrics and a sweet, joyous melody. It was the mixture of emotions I felt when listening to it that really drew me to this song in particular, that and the gorgeous instrumental finish that stretches out for just over two minutes, it’s the perfect outro to the album; slowly and gently easing you up and out from ‘Keep The Village Alive‘, opening the curtains and turning the lights back up, ready for you to go straight back to track one. C’est La Vie…
 
ND
 
Ok, I’m going to have to take a few deep breaths before I type this, I’m so excited about this album that it’s hard to be even semi-professional when talking about it. No Devotion’s debut album, ‘Permanence‘ is nothing short of genius. It’s dark, elegant and musically, sonically and lyrically astounding. 11/10. The end.
 
Just kidding, but seriously, if I don’t at least try to keep this short, I’ll end up writing an essay, and ‘Permanence‘ is worthy of a dissertation. It combines obvious elements of the dark side of 80s new wave and modern, technical electronic sounds – you can pinpoint the origins and list the terminology to describe the noises, and yet, you’ve still never heard anything quite like this. 
To be able to describe an album as “unique” is quite a (albeit cliche) feat in 2015/16, especially when all members of No Devotion have past experience in other successful bands. However there is no hint of previous work leaking through, but rather the two separate entities combining their expertise to create something wholly beautiful and truly unparalleled. 
 
Permanence‘ opens with a mostly instrumental track, ‘Break’. As it progresses, Geoff Rickley‘s mesmeric vocals bleed through the sounds, creating an ambience that the tracks to follow will blend into with ease. Most of the tracks on ‘Permanence‘ follow a similar (and pretty good) formula of: emotive, resonant vocals + evocative lyrics x by the contrast with dynamic melodies + plenty of synth. The similarities in the songs are close enough to tie up an arrangement of sounds and turn it into an album, but not so close that there’s a repetitive feel to it. Everything, even down to the transitions between tracks and the pace of the album, is perfectly executed. It’s hard to imagine listening to songs from ‘Permanence‘ by themselves, and not as part of an album, because it all fits together so perfectly, but somehow each track is strong and distinct enough to hold its own as well. It’s kind of like an orange, when you first peel it, it’s whole, but you can devour it segment by segment and it still tastes just as damn juicy. 
 
Songs of note are (the whole album) ‘Eyeshadow‘, ‘I Wanna Be Your God‘, and the heartbreaking ‘10,000 Summers‘. Songs like ‘Stay and Addition‘ shine a tiny but bright light on the more upbeat, uptempo, up-to-the-dancefloor offerings on ‘Permanence‘ before coming to a close with the dark closing track, ‘Grand Central‘, which is reminiscent of ‘Break‘ in the sense that it’s also heavily instrumental and beautifully harrowing. 
 
I know i just mentioned about three quarters of the album there, but it’s all good stuff. Seriously, guys, take a bow. Albums like this are the reason music is classed as art, and ‘Permanence‘ is a masterpiece. 
 
 BF

Bet you didn’t see that one coming! Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I’m a huge Brandon Flowers fan, if he releases an album, then it’s almost certain that that album will top my ‘favourites list’ that year. Not, however, just out of loyalty and certainly not to stand on ceremony, but because his releases, whether solo or with The Killers, are consistently outstanding.

Just one of my many favourite things about Brandon is that he’s never afraid to experiment with his sound; none of his work, solo or otherwise, sounds like any work previous to it, and he just so happens to have the ability to carry those experiments off. It never feels as if he’s merely ticking off a musical checklist, he’s simply one of the most skillful and diverse artists around today, everything he touches turns to gold, diamond encrusted gold.

Brandon’s 2015 release and second album, ‘The Desired Effect‘, opens with all the glitz you’d expect from a born and bred Las Vegas entertainer, in fact, you can even hear it shimmer (no, really, listen). The brass section thrusts you into ‘Dreams Come True‘ and carries you straight through to that huge, fist-pumping chorus. The anthemic pop tone of the album continues into the next track, and the first single from the album, ‘Can’t Deny My Love. This single would have given fans the first full taste of what to expect from ‘The Desired Effect‘, which is very different to Brandon’s first album, the country-infused ‘Flamingo‘, but when you’re a fan of Brandon Flowers, you learn to prepare for anything.

Although, you could almost predict what kind of direction Brandon might have been inclined to go in with ‘The Desired Effect‘… Hiring Ariel Rechtshaid (HAIM, Vampire Weekend, Madonna) as producer was a big clue. Pair that with Brandon’s love for the 80s, previously noting some of his influences as David Bowie, Morrissey, New Order and Pet Shop Boys – and you’ve got a winning formula for one thing: pop.

And ‘The Desired Effectis glorious pop music. It’s modern and refreshing and exciting, debuting at number one in the UK charts in 2015, but somehow still wouldn’t feel out of place back in the 80s charts, worthy to stand alongside some of Brandon’s own influences. In fact, he did stand alongside some of his influences on ‘The Desired Effect‘. Track three,I Can Change’, as well as sampling Bronski Beat‘s ‘Smalltown Boy, features one of Brandon’s musical idols and now good friends, Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys, you have to admire Brandon’s commitment to the authenticity of the strongly 80s-esque track.

You can hear elements of the 80s, keys, synth and heavy, rhythmic instrumentals in every track on ‘The Desired Effect‘, but each song is still definable by its own distinct character, energy and above all else, melody. Brandon Flowers is a melodic master, he has been ever since he came out of his cage. One of the tracks that stands out on ‘The Desired Effect‘ with regards to melody is ‘Still Want You.

Dedicated followers of Brandon will recall the teasers published in the run-up to ‘The Desired Effect‘, at the time, we didn’t know these teasers were for the soon-to-be-single, ‘Still Want You’, but they built up a powerful momentum both inside and outside Brandon’s direct fanbase. To see the finished product of the teasers set free with the release of ‘Still Want You’, felt like you’d just found that last piece of a puzzle you’d been working on for ages, and finally getting to step back and admire the now work of art in front of your eyes (and ears).

Still Want You’ is pretty much as close as you’re going to get to a perfect indie pop tune, it’s an example of what is actually possible when you dare to experiment with elements of different genres; pop, soul, indie, new wave, in ways you wouldn’t usually think of combining them, just to see if it works, and it does. But it might only work if you’re Brandon Flowers.

As ‘Still Want You’ ends, it drifts gently into my favourite track on the album, ‘Between Me And You’. ‘Between Me And You’ is one of the more tender moments on ‘The Desired Effect‘, lyrically and musically. Brandon’s lyrics could often be described as metaphorical, conjuring up imagery that varies from person to person, and that’s a fantastic skill for a lyricist to have. But ‘Between Me And You’, to me at least, is quite literal by comparison to his other songwriting. Maybe it’s just that my own interpretation of the lyrics is really boring, but I feel that ‘Between Me And You’ is like a confession. It’s almost as if you can hear Brandon’s insecurities or worries, whatever they may be, as he bares his vulnerabilities to the world; those thoughts that he would normally only whisper to those closest to him in a lullaby.

The soft, subtle melody of ‘Between Me And You’ somehow matches that open, almost exposed feel to the song, it’s a song that I personally feel very connected to, and I know a lot of Brandon’s fans feel similarly. Regardless of whether you can relate to the words or not, the song’s courage and honesty is something we can all hope to identify with.

Hastily sealing the crack in the shell, Brandon lightens the mood and brings the pace back up again for ‘Lonely Town’, I kind of felt like I was dancing on a kitchen table in a 70s indie film when I first heard this song, there’s something very elegant about ‘Lonely Town’... right up until the point where someone turns the autotune on. Now, I’ve already said I admire Brandon’s experiments, I love him for it, there’s never a dull moment. I don’t think the autotune ‘ruined’ the song, but with such natural sounding reverb and soulful harmonies, I felt it was misplaced and didn’t necessarily add anything to the song. Aside from the slight glitch, it’s still my favourite single and one of my favourite songs on the album.

Contrasting from the natural air of ‘Lonely Town’, the opening to the next track is far from soothing. Sirens blare into your ears and an electric rhythm surges through your veins into your fingers and toes, turning you into a puppet on the end of Brandon’s strings, it’sDigging Up The Heart’. Arguably the bravest track on the album, ‘Digging Up The Heart’ is one of Brandon’s best and most fun songs to date. In substance, it’s reminiscent of some of his earlier work in the sense that it tells a story; much like ‘Flamingo”s ‘Jilted Lovers And Broken Hearts and ‘Magdalena, only at an even higher voltage.

‘Digging Up The Heart’
is the most fun live song from ‘The Desired Effect‘ and probably one of the most fun of Brandon’s songs live in general. I was fortunate enough to see Brandon Flowers play live a fair few times on the UK leg of ‘The Desired Effect‘ tour and ‘Digging Up The Heart’ frequented the setlist. Considering the majority of the crowd weren’t as familiar with album tracks from ‘The Desired Effect‘ as they were with Brandon’s older work, ‘Digging Up The Heart’ could amp up the entire crowd, and Brandon looked like he was having a great time too. It’s the perfect song for a true showman like Brandon Flowers to present himself as one of the greatest live acts around today.

Of course, ‘Digging Up The Heart’ wasn’t the only song that proved just as strong (if not stronger) live, as it is on the album. Almost every song sounded sensational, I only say “almost” because one album song still remains absent from the setlist and it just so happens to be another one of my favourites. ‘Never Get You Right’ has been played live, but less than a handful of times.

It’s another one of the more gentle moments on the album, though not quite as tear-jerking as ‘Between Me And You’, Brandon’s vocals are so emotive on this track that you feel as though he’s in the same room, singing just to you. Maybe that’s why I like it so much? On a serious note, Brandon’s ability to sing such heartfelt lyrics over the top of a simple, sweet and upbeat melody and make it work as well as ‘Never Get You Right’ works, amazes me. ‘Never Get You Right’ feels like a cocoon to me, it’s comforting when you’re most vulnerable but at the same time, it’s toughening you up, so when you emerge, you feel like you can take on anything.

Another setlist rarity (though not quite as rare as ‘Never Get You Right’), ‘Untangled Love’, launches us straight back onto the dancefloor. If I was to have one tiny criticism of ‘The Desired Effect‘, and this is me being really fussy, (like when you’re so good at a subject in school that the teacher is harder on you than the rest of the class), it would be the arrangement.
The track order on the second half of the album is very much like a rollercoaster (both emotional and physical), but it’s a short rollercoaster and you don’t really mind being hurled upwards, thrown upside down, and then plunged immediately back down again, because the ride itself was so damn good.

It must be really hard to settle on a perfect order of songs to arrange an album, especially when you’ve experimented with such a wide range of sounds across the board; the songs are incredibly diverse as well as being strong individual songs in their own right, so you can understand, and almost expect, some sections of the album to feel a little disjointed by comparison.

So, basically, if it means the songs are as brilliant as they are on ‘The Desired Effect‘, Brandon can throw me upside down and leave me dangling there if he wants, as long as I have a good pair of headphones whilst the blood is rushing to my head.


Now for one of the most beautiful moments on the album (and that’s saying something), ‘The Way It’s Always Been’ is the only track the album Brandon produced by himself and it’s a perfect cool-down to close ‘The Desired Effect‘, you can’t help but sway as you sing along as though you’re sat around a campfire under the stars listening to Brandon tell the story. In fact, he did kind of do that for us on the UK tour, without the fire, but plenty of stars.

As if Brandon hadn’t already been too good to us, ‘The Desired Effect‘ has one more gift to offer, even after the album has finished. The title track, ‘The Desired Effect, a triumphant parade of everything the album has to offer, encapsulated in a few minutes, and it’s not even on the album. It’s magnificent and I have no idea where I can buy it here in the UK, and I hate not buying music, you’ve gotta help me out here, Brandon.


So, that was the magnificent ‘The Desired Effect‘, we’ll have to wait until The Killers’ next album before we have the privilege of experiencing Brandon’s mastery again, and even longer for his next solo album (if there is to be one, I really hope so). After years of following the work of both The Killers and Brandon Flowers, it doesn’t matter how much higher my expectations get, they are always exceeded, and they appear to be exceeded with ease. I’m sure it’s not actually an easy task to make music as consistently excellent as this, but Brandon Flowers sure as hell makes it look so, who knows, maybe that’s the desired effect.

RRW
By RRW.