10. Cold Specks - I Predict a Graceful Expulsion
Al Spx actually hails from suburban Toronto - but you would never guess it from her sublime, yearning voice, right out of the heart Midwest in the civil rights-era America. In the hands of most others, the songs here could be mediocre indie-folk fare, but thanks to her voice, and some lovely orchestral touches, they never are here.
9. Polica - Give You the Ghost
You know you've done well when you can count among your biggest fans both bedwetters' fave, Mr Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) - "the best band I've ever heard" - and Mr Hip Hop, Jay-Z. But this seems strangely appropriate for this Minneapolis band, who create a cool, fittingly spectral sound out of auto-tune - like Bon Iver on much of his last album, reclaiming the studio trick from the likes of T-Pain and Cher - and who ally it to some unstoppably foot-tapping electronic/indie grooves which it's not too outlandish to imagine Mister Zed might lay out a verse or two on.
8. Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream
Since Prince, or whatever the hell he calls himself now, has been reduced to anaemic pastiches of his former genius in Mail on Sunday freebies, the mantle of recreating the pint-sized singer's innovative brilliance has been taken up by Miguel (real name Miguel Pimentel). And this is what the Californian does on Kaleidoscope Dream - a fitting name for an album full of colour and fantasy - with Miguel's soulful falsetto playing over a mix of piano, funky drum beats, and reverbed guitar. May not be everyone's cup of tea, but, in short, smoother than Bond in a freshly pressed suited with a Martini in hand.
7. The xx - Coexist
Everyone's favourite miserablists were back this year - fittingly, in September; heralding the post-Olympics malaise, the rain and the shorter nights. But the silver lining is that this is a fine soundtrack to ennui, successfully negotiating the ever-tricky path between heartbreak and warmth; introspection and connection. Some were slightly disappointed that it was not more of a departure, lyrically or sonically, from their sleeper-hit, self-titled first album, but there was some interesting electronic touches courtesy of uber-producer Jamie XX.
6. The Weeknd - Trilogy
It's quite an achievement if you can unite self-styled hipsters and musos with the type of people who still buy Chris Brown records and for whom 'YOLO' is a regular (and unironic) part of their lexicon. But this is what the enigmatic Canadian Abel Tesfaye has done under his nom de Guerre, The Weeknd. This, as the name suggests, is a bumper collection of three albums, all released as free downloads over the last two years - The Weeknd being of a new brand of musicians confident/generous enough to give music away for free online. Perhaps because of this, though, the album in this physical form didn't gain much fanfare here, debuting at only 37 in the UK chart, then quickly exiting it. Which is a shame, because for the price of a tenner it's a very generous - and handsomely-presented - collection of Noir&B, as some have dubbed The Weeknd's unique style; intoxicating nocturnal tales of love and lust set to a backdrop of atmospheric electronica mixed with R&B. Like Prince on the comedown from a wild, psychadelic night in some underground German techno club, as one observer put it - and if that doesn't sell it to you, you either need to listen to vintage Prince or you're never gonna be convinced...
5. Niki & the Dove - Instinct
Sweden has excelled itself of late in a distinctive brand of left-field indie-tronica, if you will, with the likes of Lykke Li, The Knife, Fever Ray, and this year, the latest on the sterling production line, Niki & The Dove. But - beneath all the weird strained vocals, visuals the Mighty Boost may turn down as too ridiculous and talk of being animals or musical instruments - this is, at its heart, just a great pop album, with echoes of everything from Fleetwood Mac to Prince.
4. Hot Chip - In Our Heads
Apparently, Hot Chip are trying to break America. Part of me hopes they make it because they are obviously nice blokes and they sure as hell deserve the success, but part of me hopes they don't so we can claim the Putney lads as purely our own, free from the clutches of West Coast hipsters and young girls who have just discovered Deadmaus and David Guetta. Because they really are a national treasure, up there with the NHS, stamps, pints, Cornish pasties and John Motson with their quintessentially British warm eccentricity. Their fifth studio album, a tribute to staying young while growing up and getting married, has a few dull syrupy moments, but mostly shows the band at their best; making dance music for the hearts as well as the feet.
3. Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man
Natasha Khan appeared on the cover of this album, probably the most ambitious cover art of the year, naked, except for an unaware man draped artistically over her shoulder and modesty. The image signalled an album stripped a little of the mystical production and sometimes bizarre lyrical creations of her previous two albums, to reveal some truly great songwriting to orchestral and electronic instrumentation, like a great, modern-day Kate Bush.
2. Jessie Ware - Devotion
Making the strange move from journalism to singing (rather than the other way round), this North Londoner earnt her chops touring with electronic producer, SBTRKT. And it shows, as Ware mixes the best of modern production - synths, piano, guitar riffs and multi-layered vocals - with classic female soul singing, to create something sophisticated, sexy and catchy, and distinctly her own.
1. Bobby Womack - The Bravest Man In The Universe
The age-old adage 'good things come to those who wait' certainly holds true here. This is the soul artist's first original material since 1994, and he's certainly amassed some stories to tell in that time, with his diabetes and pneumonia, and subsequently getting colon cancer (thankfully since free from), in addition to controversially marrying Sam Cooke's widow, a son committing suicide, frequent drug abuse and even more. This tells his many tales via is a superb blend of soul and electronic, which manages to combine the heart of the former with the innovation of the latter, produced with the magic touch of a certain Mr Albarn. So, not dissimilar from Jamie XX's clever reworking of Gil Scott Heron (who features here too) on last year's We're New Here. With others such as James Blake and The Weeknd mixing classic soul with innovative modern production, let's hope the trend doesn't get old.
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