1. DJ Koze – Amygdala
Amygdala is a complex part of the brain that processes memories and emotions and the album named after it by German producer DJ Koze aims to stimulate this with its semi-conscious state. Featuring strong features from an impressive range of artists including vocals from Caribou, Matthew Dear and Apparat, it’s a record packed full of ideas and manages to execute all of them really well. The hazy atmospherics make listening a dream-like experience, often-slurred vocals sounding like the listener is drifting in and out of consciousness. Just when it starts heading into particularly dreamy territory, razor-sharp beats punctuate the songs and bring them back into focus. A particular highlight is ‘Magical Boy’, with Matthew Dear’s rasping vocal snippets giving the track its unsettling charm.
2. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
It feels strange to listen to this album now in any other setting than travelling through the pitch-black, desolate fields in Scotland on a freezing winter night. Similar to the natural imagery that has inspired the Scottish duo’s music throughout their career, the darkness is something that seems especially present on their new album Tomorrow’s Harvest. My first listen was sat in complete darkness watching the live Youtube stream as barely visible vocals glided across the screen – it felt like an event, which few album releases do nowadays. The idyllic, child-like tone of their earlier music has been abandoned for richer tones on their first album in 8 years. Full of painstakingly slaved over beats that are equal amounts sinister, glitchy and nostalgic – Boards of Canada show their contemporaries how it’s really done.
3. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
First off, there’s something so monumentally great about a male middle-aged frontman writing a song that caters to and is about broken hearted teenage girls. ‘Pink Rabbits’ is lyrical genius and one of the best songs they’ve ever written. Trouble Will Find Me somehow manages to beat the lyrical prowess of their masterpiece High Violet. With frontman Matt Berninger faltering as he reaches the pivotal lyric on single ‘Demons’, “When I walk into a room, I do not light it up… Fuck”, lamenting “I’ll never be anything you ever want me to be” on ‘Slipped’ and “You’re fireproof, nothing breaks your heart”, the album is insanely quotable and relatable that it’s hard not to get sucked into it.
4. Phoenix – Bankrupt!
“Bankrupt!” say Phoenix, it’s an interesting statement for a band to make when the way in which people buy music is increasingly being skewed towards illegal downloading and free streaming sites, making it harder for musicians to make money. Their fifth album certainly isn’t bankrupt of ideas, with the first line being “Headline from this day on”, referring to all the headline slots they played at festivals this year. The production is the musical representation of the pixelated TV screen you get when there’s no signal but the hooks are massive in contrast. The focus may have been on Daft Punk but Phoenix were French artist of the year for me.
5. Jon Hopkins – Immunity
Jon Hopkins is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to making electronic music breathe and evoke real emotional weight. Balancing between propulsive, mechanic beats and more tender moments showcasing Hopkins’ delicate piano skills – his immaculate production pulsates with life as layers of nuances reveal themselves slowly. This juxtaposition of acoustic and electronic space is what makes Immunity such a compelling listen, the human aspect placed within a very machine-orientated genre.