Beats, Grimes and basslines: Ed Power's top 10 albums of 2015

He had mixed feelings about some of the year’s big sellers, so music writer Ed Power selected a personal list of the best albums of 2015

Beats, Grimes and basslines: Ed Power's top 10 albums of 2015

No — what was significant was that Martin had chosen to express his life after Gwynnie through the medium of uptempo pop. With production from Rihanna collaborators Stargate and a palette that had more in common with Katy Perry than The Clash, A Head Full Of Dreams seemed to ring a gentle death knell. When not even Coldplay can bother to sound anthemic and heartfelt, you know rock is in a dark place.

However, what of Adele, perhaps the last remaining artist on the planet capable of cajoling the public into paying for music? With over six million copies of her third album, 25, sold in just over a month, there’s no arguing with her box office.

Still, one wonders whether audiences are drawn to Adele or to the IDEA of Adele: That is, a real singer, singing real songs (that you are listening to on an actual CD purchased in a real shop).

Music’s answer to a piece of vintage furniture, there’s an argument that we love Adele because she represents something tangible in a world where so much else is fleeting and virtual. She’s real and, regardless of the quality of her repertoire, maybe that’s enough.

1: Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly

The second album from the Compton rapper took the listener on a breathless tour of 70 years of African-American music, moving with a certain stateliness through jazz, blues R&B, Afro-futurism and hip-hop.

For a poor kid from a violent corner of Los Angeles, Lamar’s eclecticism was practically a political statement unto itself. We’re not the only ones to think so: President Obama recently name-checked Lamar as one of his favourite artists of 2015.

2: Grimes, Art Angels

The great thing about avant-garde pop music is that the artiness and pretension really only work if the music is aggressively catchy. That was certainly the case with this fourth record from Canada’s Claire Boucher.

The weirdest thing about Art Angels was the three-eyed self-portrait of Boucher adorning the cover. Otherwise, Art Angels was slinky and slippery – Kylie Minogue if she’d passed through that black-hole at the end of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.

3: Jamie xx, In Colour

After two downbeat collections with the xx, the group’s resident beat-master sets out on his own (the full band return with a new LP in 2016).

Casting off his figurative black trench-coat Smith shuffles blinking into the light, as The xx’s trademark ennui is replaced by lissom beats, quirky samples and euphoria dispensed by the bucketful.

4: Sufjan Stevens, Carrie and Lowell

“We’re all going to die,” croons Sufjan Stevens on the most immediate number from his new record. It doesn’t get any sunnier, as Stevens ruminates on his troubled relationship with his recently deceased mother.

Again and again, the singer lays his heart out on a slab; the listener would have to be carved from marble not to be deeply touched.

5: Miguel, Wildheart

With Prince busy burnishing his reputation for high-concept eccentricity, it falls to Miguel to give us the pop Casanova we deserve.

This he does with agreeable swagger on a record that blisteringly moves through indie rock, epic R&B and straight-up pop. Even when it’s perfectly conventional — as it often is — Wildheart is always irresistible.

6: Adele, 25

Included, not because we dig her music, particularly — or at all, in fact — but in acknowledgement for what a phenomenon the 27-year-old Londoner has become.

An enigma in a constellation of over-sharers, she splices meat-and-potatoes tunefulness with a carefully-woven air of mystery. Who could argue with the juggernaut she has created?

7: Kamasi Washington, The Epic

Stepping out on his own, Kendrick Lamar’s saxophonist and arranger conjures spiral galaxies of blues-pop-jazz crossover.

Equally inspired by Miles Davis and The Jackson Five, The Epic is a smart, soulful and, in places, almost sinfully slinky. You quickly became lost in its eerie contours and bonkers ululations.

8: Floating Points, Elaenia

Doctor of neuroscience by day, DJ and producer by night, the debut album from Floating Points Sam Shepherd is an assuredly complicated affair, splicing house music, jazz piano and star-gazing wonder.

It functions both as a straight-ahead dance record, but also as something deeper and smarter, with its cinematic flourishes and breathless eclecticism.

9: Jlin, Dark Energy

The debut long-player from Gary Indiana producer Jerrilynn Patton is a tour de force of clattering, grinding house music that feels forever on the brink of collapse, yet always pulls back just in time.

Patton tempers the extremes with hooks that you can sink your teeth into and grooves as immediately agreeable as anything encountered on morning radio. Dark Energy is smart and challenging. More than that, however, it is compelling from the moment you slap it on.

10: Julia Holter, Have You In My Wilderness

A sort of American Bjork, Holter has a gift for making sophisticated music accessible. Her art-school quirkiness comes with a patina of vulnerability.

This is the crossover record she has long threatened. Expect her profile to soar in the months ahead.

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