As summer becomes a faint memory and Autumn takes hold, it’s a good time to look back at the last few months of music.
Each quarter FACT pools our favorite albums of the season; 2015’s first quarter report appeared back in March and featured treats from Dawn Richard (now D∆WN), Jlin, and Father, among others; the second report was equally as strong, with Helm, Abra, Fis and more.
Thankfully, the last three months have gifted us with even more essential albums, from Dr. Dre’s long-awaited Compton and Future’s bounce back DS2 to M.E.S.H.’s outstanding Piteous Gate and Laurel Halo’s uncompromising In Situ. There’s almost something for everyone.
We’ve also put together a handy YouTube playlist, containing a track from the majority of the albums on the list.
(Olde English Spelling Bee)
“The album’s moments of total sensory overload are many (see ‘Bo Bo Bones’ and ‘Tash Tack’ for two wildly different examples), but Koosha connects those bursts with sinewy contemplation. ‘Stain’ starts with vocals as manipulated and warped as something from PC Music, but works backwards from there to try and regain some faded sense of humanity…
… It’s right in the album’s final 30 seconds, when he’s aware that the groove is starting to hypnotize you, that everything explodes into a blitz of shrieking synths and gravity-defying throbs. The final note blares out like the jump sound in a glitching video game, but the record ends in mid-air. Who knows where or when Koosha will land, but after GUUD we’ll be watching.” Read the full review.
Beach House are a band that move in graceful half-steps. After proving their potential on their self-titled debut, they provided the even richer Devotion; when Teen Dream showed what they sounded like with full studio power behind them, they used Bloom to go even bigger and wider. Now we have Depression Cherry, the next careful step into the unknown. It’s an album that uses all the power behind their studio records to explore the intimacy of their early work in a way we’ve never heard before. It’s not that it’s a better album – they’ve moved past such questions – but it proves once again that Beach House are a better band.
Carly Rae Jepsen
After the uneven Kiss, Carly Rae Jepsen proves that ‘Call Me Maybe’ wasn’t a fluke with the pristine pop of E*MO*TION. Jepsen and friends (Ariel Rechtshaid, Dev Hynes, etc.) craft 12 cuts of ripped-from-the-80s dance pop with peerless melodies and plenty of ‘Boy Problems’.
“People were surprised that DJ Richard should be releasing his debut album on Dial, and for good reason. On White Material he released tracks like ‘Leech2’ and ‘Nailed To The Floor’, ghetto house-inspired productions that had little to do with Dial’s delicate, umber sound. I’m not sure whether DJ Richard consciously set out to make a “Dial” album or not, but Grind is probably my favourite record on the label since John Roberts’ brilliant Glass Eights, balancing irradiated ambient tracks like ‘Waiting For the Green Flash’ with yearning club tracks like ‘Vampire Dub’.” Read the full review.
With Straight Outta Compton reminding the world of a time when Dr. Dre was more associated with hip-hop than headphones, the producer-rapper picked the perfect time to finally deliver his mythical third album, capping off a three-decade career with a record that is more timely and enjoyable than we would have imagined.
“For nearly half a decade, Future has been the most influential rapper in rap’s most important city, and DS2 is the crowning achievement of a movement that began with the first Dirty Sprite back in 2011. If Honest is the tale of a hustler-with-a-heart-of-gold that finally made it, DS2 is our protagonist’s disillusioned return to the world that made him. It may be a cautionary tale, but at least it’s honest.” Read the full review.
Holding Hands With Jamie
In a world less cruel and indecipherable, the relaunched NME would’ve seized the opportunity to plaster the pallid young faces of Dublin’s greatest band this side of the 90s on every Topman counter and commuter thoroughfare in the UK. As it stands, Girl Band’s visceral, cryptic, Moyles-unfriendly noise-rock is exactly the kind of brain-hosing the public at large needs but does not deserve; their debut album is nine tracks of squealing guitar abuse and slice-of-life punk poetry that taps into the white-hottest bits of early SY, The Fall and Dead Kennedys while still essentially sounding like a gang of soon-to-be-expelled sixth formers fronted by a V-neck-wearing nerd barking “Nutella! Nutella! Nutella!!!” It’s that good.
(The Lauren Bacall)
“Like Frank & Tony and Galcher Lustwerk, Grant distills the essence of deep house into something that puts a fresh spin on a vintage feel. It’s deep house that’s content to settle into a sumptuous groove and let it play out to the end, but it’s also got a sound that’s more homespun than consciously lo-fi.” Read the full review.
The Original Faces
Grouper starts a band and casually throws out one of the coolest fuzz-pop albums we’ve ever heard, because she’s fucking Grouper. Liz Harris knows how to get you right in the feels with her dream-whisper vocals and melodies that curl up in your ears for days, and backed by a band who strike a sweet spot between sunny 60s beat-pop, bleary Galaxie 500-esque shoegaze and that one really good Lush track, it’s a winning ticket.
(Purple Tape Pedigree)
New York City-based club veteran and vogue house rep Joey Labeija surprises with the dense Shattered Dreams, burying his club influences in a fog of reverb and chattering effects. Labeija has described the album as more like a movie and it’s hard to disagree; anyone who found solace in records from M.E.S.H., Lotic and Rabit this year would do well to investigate further. The bizarre cover of TLC’s classic ‘No Scrubs’ is just the cherry on top.
Plenty has been made of Bashmore’s unique position: an underground house producer who unwittingly made one of the biggest festival anthems on the decade, both winning and alienating fans at a rate of knots. Bashmore, of course, has always kept his ear to what’s good (releases by Kowton, FunkinEven and more on his Broadwalk label is proof of that) and Knockin’ Boots is a pop-house record done his way, taking inspiration from classic disco, Roule and his beloved Prince and Michael Jackson. No festival bangers here, but plenty to fall in love with.
King Midas Sound & Fennesz
The first of King Midas Sound’s planned quartet of album collaborations meets Kevin Martin back on the gloomy, largely ambient A-side of last year’s Angels & Devils, and dark clouds are gathering. Martin’s shuddering bass provides the dread foundations to anchor Fennesz’s drifting guitar-fuzz, allowing singers Kiki Hitomi and Roger Robinson maximum space to ponder and fret and wallow in the fog. It’s an intimate, soul-searching record, relentlessly greyscale, but absolutely the right selection for lonely journeys home.
Assertion Of A Surrounding Presence
Kuedo creates a dystopic future on Assertion Of A Surrounding Presence, casting away the opulent 80s synths of Severant in favour of something darker by harnessing elements of digitized gamelan (‘Vertical Stack’), 90s tech-step (‘Boundary Regulation’) and shadowy IDM. Heavy sci-fi vibes remain, but this time accessible arrangements make way for structures more cinematic and unsettling – Chicago drill and fractured footwork rhythms surface in momentary echoes, while the short centrepiece ‘Case Type Classification’ provides a momentary suspension of time in Kuedo’s vivid alternative future.
Over the past few years Laurel Halo has been drifting away from the colourful synth constructions of her early career into something a lot more concentrated on rhythm. While 2013’s Chance Of Rain felt like a bold step towards a very singular kind of techno, the eight tracks across In Situ refine her fascination with abstract beat construction into what’s some of the year’s most adventurous club music. Combine Errorsmith’s strange timbres with Basic Channel’s dub texture, add a dash of Autechre, and you’re only part way to imagining how good this record is.
Following on from last year’s uncompromising Scythians, Piteous Gate cements the work that M.E.S.H. has been doing to deconstruct the last few decades of club tropes and fashion them into harsh, uninhabitable alien landscapes. This ain’t yer da’s club music; M.E.S.H. is pushing things forward, whether we like it or not.
Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz
Miley Cyrus’s 2015 VMAs performance was another car crash, but the album she quietly (compared to her outfits, at least) snuck out the same night is the occasion that deserves attention. Dead Petz is still a Miley Cyrus album, so there are naturally low points (for Bangerz’s ‘4×4’ and ‘#GETITRIGHT’, see ‘Dooo It’, ‘I’m So Drunk’ and ‘Milky Milky Milk’), but ‘Bang Me Box’ and ‘Fweaky’ are lusty hippie bangers of the very highest order, and you try to name another artist of Miley’s stature who would write an ode to a dead blowfish and end it in tears. What’s good, Miley? Two albums in a row better than The Pinkprint, that’s what’s good.
“More Eaze is the curious project of Austin-based composer Marcus Rubio. His plan is to release three albums this year and he’s on track with this second album, Accidental Prizes. Though it’s in the middle, it’s hard to think of a better introduction than ‘2 In Tents’, which opens this release. After cutting a looping sample into a rhythm and letting dissonant electronics bounce off one another, you think you know what you’re in for — and then what you thought you knew is overcome by cello, and then more strings, as electronic hums and creaks bleed through like sunlight. It’s the first overwhelming moment of beauty and ingenuity here and not even close to the last.” Read the full review.
Natasha Kmeto returns with another collection of electronic soul with deep grooves, warm synths and even warmer vocals. More personally honest and sonically cohesive than 2013’s Crisis, Inevitable is driven by Kmeto’s sultry vocal work as songs build, layer by layer, to ecstatic crescendos.
(Fade To Mind)
On his proper debut, Fade to Mind’s Rizzla translates personal traumas and political history into Iron Cages, a brutal-but-beautiful EP of club constructions that draw from his usual palette but paint pictures even more primal, violent and post-apocalyptic.
It’s easy to sit back and let the meticulously crafted sonic candy of Currents wash over you. At this point Kevin Parker has proven to be a virtuoso at simply playing the pleasure receptors of our brains, but it’s to his credit that he uses his best album to date to deliver his most honest and direct lyrics. These songs never hide behind their dazzling arrangements; rather, Parker uses them to capture the cathartic release of his self-examinations. It’s there in the rocket-blast drums on the breakup song ‘Eventually’, the endlessly smooth admission of weakness on ‘Cause I’m A Man’, and most of all it’s there in the locked groove mantra of ‘Let It Happen’. From the very start Currents captures Parker’s ecstatic bliss in letting go of his anxiety, of rockstar pressures, and his past relationship, and provided a shot of adrenaline for anyone struggling to do the same.
Theo Burt’s Summer Mix, under the moniker The Automatic’s Group, paired emotive music with a seductively clever concept: trance hits by Swedish House Mafia and Deadmau5 processed into snowy, ambient storms. Gloss, his proper debut released through Lorenzo Senni’s label Presto!?, isn’t tied to any hard concept but soars higher than any of his previous work. Burt’s revolving synth pulses and pointillistic rushes stand toe-to-toe with anyone taking an axe to conceptions of club music, from the Janus crew to Senni’s own work on last year’s Superimpositions, but once you learn that Gloss was complete and sitting unreleased for half a decade it becomes difficult to fathom Burt’s forward-thinking genius. Few have ever found a way to show so much heart with such abstract forms, as on the delicate, blinking synths of ‘A4’. It’s simultaneously one of the most alien releases of the year and the most human.
“Rather than the Miami bass-meets-strip club balladry of 3 Live Krew, S.A.Q. sets its sights on a revival of snap music, the millennial sound derided by Real Hip-Hop Heads but influential to a generation of Atlanta rappers. Mr. 2-17 lays down ringtone melodies, truck-rattling bass blasts and no-frills drum beats and the members of Travis Porter swag out, stay “strapped like huarache” and shout-out Uncle Luke.
There’s not a dull moment, but start with posse cut ‘Holy Moley’, Bankroll Fresh’s ‘Walked In’ and the bedroom boogie of ‘Things You Do’ and go from there.” Read the full review.
Wen’s debut album Signals had some undeniable bangers, but the overall impression was of an EP’s worth of quality filled out to make an album. The young producer has really stepped his game up since though, and although ‘Pace Myself’ announces Senary Cycles as “a new vibe… back to the basics”, there’s nothing basic about the moonlit ‘She Giv’ or the twisted sine experiments of ‘Lunar Tide Cycle’. If it was once easy to spot the reference points with Wen, this is the record where he fully enters his own zone.
Cascade / The Deluge
Few artists capture wrought emotion as well as William Basinski, and his latest missive might be his most tear-jerking to date. The key, as always, is the simplicity. Basinski is able to eke out every last bit of heart from the simplest loop; the repetition only serves to refresh the well of tears. You might need a stiff drink afterwards, but that’s hardly a downside.
“Thug handles the time well, recapturing the lightning-in-a-bottle unpredictability of 1017 Thug while retaining the slickness of Barter 6. This isn’t a sloppy collection of loosies a la the 1017 Thug sequels, it’s a weighty 18-track street album with very little filler. Supposedly moments before the release of his next album proper Hy!£UN35, he has to be applauded for being able to hand out such a belter of a record for free.” Read the full review.