Wavegirl Albums Of 2015

Demolishing the old myth that “modern music is rubbish” 2015 has offered some quality albums. Here’s Wavegirl’s take on the best the year had to offer…


chelsea_cyber_600ALBUM OF THE YEAR

1. The Great Cybernetic Depression – Princess Chelsea

With the electronic music scene often top-heavy from ‘retro electro’ acts, New Zealand’s Princess Chelsea has surprised everyone by capturing lightning in a bottle twice – first with 2011’s Lil’ Golden Book and in 2015 with the bleak splendour that is The Great Cybernetic Depression.

As one of our finest contemporary electronic musicians, Princess Chelsea delivers a solid collection of tunes that trade on themes of lost love and regret. At the same time, there’s a dry wit at work expressed through some of her more pointed lyrical content. Songs like ‘Too Many People’ with its jaunty space synths aims directly at the world of social networking and the attention-seeking antics of the people that inhabit it.

Meanwhile, the widescreen pop appeal of ‘We Are Strangers’ offers a sepulchral wall of synth for a lyrical foray into the world of relationships. If Jonathan Bree’s heartfelt delivery of lines like “I would kill technology/Just to know you well” don’t raise the hairs on your neck, then nothing will.

2015 has seen a healthy upturn in the quality of contemporary electronic artists and The Great Cybernetic Depression demonstrates that Princess Chelsea is one of our brightest stars.

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2. Art Angels – Grimes

grimes_angels_300We had to wait a long time for the inevitable follow-up to 2012’s amazing Visions album, but Claire Boucher managed to circumvent expectations of Visions II by creating an album of tunes that bounced between contemporary flourishes as well as experimenting with new ideas.

‘Flesh without Blood’ offers bassy rhythms and rolling percussion – a perfect foundation for Boucher’s strong yet airy vocals. Meanwhile, Grimes goes electropop for ‘Kill V. Maim’ with its harsh percussion and insistent bass beat, sounding as if Hooky had dropped by the studio for a session.

The Wavegirl review surmised that Art Angels had certainly invited debate amongst her fans, some of whom feel that Grimes has wandered too far from the quirk and charm of her earlier work. These arguments are not without merit, although Art Angels offers up rewards for the music enthusiast willing to mine for them.

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3. Ten Love Songs – Susanne Sundfør

sundfor_ten_300Norweigian artist Sundfør swiftly delivered one of 2015’s finest albums with the release of Ten Love Songs in February. Operating from a distinctly electronic foundation to music only sweetened the deal, particularly as Sundfør embraces a contemporary approach that’s left similar artists struggling to grasp why sounding exactly like Depeche Mode hasn’t seen them enjoying a similar level of success (and, it should be noted, Sundfør can outgun even the likes of Basildon’s finest, if the Röyksopp version of ‘Ice Machine’ is anything to go by).

Exactly as it says on the tin, Ten Love Songs features 10 compositions that range from the buzzy electropop of ‘Fade Away’, the percussive ‘Delirious’ , the evocative ‘Slowly’ and the album’s finest moment in ‘Memorial’ – a heartbreaking 10-minute hymn to a breakup that weaves together classical arrangements with bittersweet lyrics.

Perhaps the real challenge for Sundfør is how she can now match the bar set by Ten Love Songs, but meanwhile the album continues to deliver even on heavy rotation on your favourite hi-fi gear of choice.

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4. Progress – Princess Century

princess_century-progressSetting aside the minimal aesthetic of 2013’s Lossless, Maya Postepksi returned with a much more expansive and bolder vision in Progress.

Described as “minimalist cosmic disco psychedelia”, the Wavegirl review picked over its best moments suggesting that the broody and moody ‘Sunrise 101/Last Disco’ delivers one of the album’s strongest tracks with its warm wash of synths and chugging rhythms. Equally, songs such as ‘Rose’ offer a great combo of dubby percussion and atmosphere while ‘Domestic’ offers an unsettling detuned synth sound over its repetitive rhythms and warm, electronic heart.

Unlike Lossless, Postepski has also kept the new material lyric free. Rather than being a weakness of the album, this gives the tracks more of a cohesive element – as well as a cryptic air to them.

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5. Lost In Translation – Lola Dutronic

lola_lost-300While the transatlantic electronic duo of Lola Dutronic have been active for a number of years, their 2015 album has managed to achieve perhaps their finest moment. Oddly sidestepped by many music blogs that dabble in the electronic genre, Lost In Translation is easily one of the year’s best electropop releases.

The throbbing beats of ‘Reality TV’, explore the obsession with fame and celebrity in the modern age. Meanwhile, ‘I Believe’ offers a straightforward love song with a yearning vocal from Stephanie B. “I believe that we could last forever/if we could only get together” could be viewed as an adolescent lyric on paper, but it’s given a particular charm and a particular power on this serving of wistful pop.

It’s this ability to combine simple, yet catchy electronic melodies with quirky lyrical narratives that have crafted Lola Dutronic’s own unique sound (and certainly sets them apart from the landfill electro that’s everywhere these days).

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6. Froot – Marina & The Diamonds

marina-frootDespite attempts to dress her up as the UK’s answer to Katy Perry, Marina Diamandis has doggedly sidestepped expectations and has continued to deliver her own particular take on pop – which this year resulted in the juicy wonder that was Froot.

As an album, Froot also serves up self-doubt and introspection that picks at darker themes. ‘I’m A Ruin’ shows guilt at breaking up a relationship with Marina’s airy vocals soaring over spacey rhythms and melodies. Meanwhile, there’s pure, unabashed pop appeal on the percussive melodies of ‘Better Than That’.

Ultimately, Froot is an album that manages the tricky task of straddling intimacy and reflection with some full-on power pop bangers. The polished production, with its use of space and mood, finishes the job with style.

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7. Cast In Steel – A-Ha

aha_castinsteel
2010 appeared to herald the swansong of Norwegian electropop masters a-ha, yet this retirement was set aside for the band to reunite – and which paved the way for the Cast In Steel album this year. Whether cynical marketing ploy or artistic intent, it’s clear that the latest album boasts some strong moments.

Cast In Steel delivers an album of melancholic pop that won favour in Wavegirl’s own review. The biggest surprise of the album is the songwriting input from Morten – ‘The Wake’ is a fine pop single with an excellent chorus, while the beautiful, shimmering ‘Living At The End Of The World’ is one of the highlights of the album”.

While many of their contemporaries are delivering ploddy excuses that masquerade as electropop, a-ha appear to have acknowledged that their strengths lie in crafting their unique take on electronic melancholia.

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8. The Scene Between – The Go! Team

goteam_scene-300Despite taking time out to work in the world of J-pop, Ian Parton has kept his samples and music collage project The Go! Team active with the release of their fourth album The Scene Between.

Keeping to the idea that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, the latest album delivers the trademark Go! Team sound of vibrant indie pop that blends in old school instrumentation with solid tunes. All of it sounding as if it had been recorded through a fax machine.

Along the way, the album pulls in a rolling stage of guest female singers that often gives the songs a nod to 60s girl-pop goodness. Despite the diverse voices, The Scene Between manages to deliver a cohesive album of pop tunes that sees its finest moments on the charged energy of ‘Blowtorch’ and the wistful beauty of ‘Did You Know?’

While The Go! Team can often be viewed as very much a Marmite band, The Scene Between demonstrates which side of the bread we like our spread on.

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9. My Love Is Cool – Wolf Alice

wolf_alice_love_300

For a long time, rock music in the UK seemed to have taken a wrong turn from a legacy that had previously served up everything from The Smiths through to Lush. It’s difficult to track where indie rock went wrong in the UK, although the likely culprits are Oasis and their boring blokey tunes.

It’s only in recent years that a new generation of guitar acts have managed to rescue the crown. Take four-piece alternative rock outfit Wolf Alice. The breathy vocals of Ellie Rowsell tie together some superb tunes on their debut album My Love Is Cool. Cultivating a diverse number of sounds and influences, the album bounces between the quirky shout-out to adolescent friendship on ‘Bros’ through the frenetic Pixies-fuelled ‘You’re A Germ’ and the fuzzy guitar goodness of ‘Freazy’.

But there’s also some leftfield electronic pop thrown in there, particularly on the powerful ode to anxiety that is ‘Soapy Water’.

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10. Every Open Eye – Chvrches

chvrches_every_300
The band with the Scrabble-winning title managed to surprise everyone a few years back by putting electronic pop front and centre, notably with the release of 2013’s The Bones Of What You Believe.

Every Open Eye is essentially a continuation of the template laid down by its 2013 forebear and yet supersedes it in terms of a smoother sound. It’s a polished affair that delivers strident electropop on tunes such as ‘Never Ending Circles’ and the ice machine melodies of ‘Clearest Blue’. Meanwhile, Lauren Mayberry’s distinctive vocals come into their own on the sharp pop of ‘Leave A Trace’.

Contemporary electronic music has had a tough journey in recent years, battling between an entrenched school of music journalism that have derided the return of electronic music on the one hand, while bizarrely also fighting against a rising fundamentalist element from within electronic music itself that’s decreed all electronic music has to pay homage to the classic 80s period (prizes for all the Chvrches reviews that cannot help themselves in comparing the band to the synthpop outfits of 40 years ago). Despite all this buffoonery, contemporary electronic music continues to open new frontiers – and Chvrches are the pioneering spirits of the new Golden Age.

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Paul Browne

Wavegirl founder Paul Browne spent his formative years indulging in fanzine culture before branching out into both writing and graphic design.

He is responsible for design outfit Arc23 as well as writing for outlets such as J-Pop Go, Electronic Sound, All The Anime, Manga Entertainment and The Electricity Club.

He has been featured in a variety of press and media features including the Metro and Japan Update Weekly.
Paul Browne

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