At the year’s half way point we take a look back on some of our favourite albums of the year so far. There’s been a distinct up turn in pop amongst our largely indie and alternative releases, with Franz Ferdnand and Spark’s collaboration and the return of Go! Team and They Might Be Giants amongst the standouts. We also feature an homage to arguably the UK’s golden era of pop, a concept album about wrestling, some prog rock, some teen angst, a bit of adult angst and another regular placing for Robert Pollard, who retains his tag as rock’s most productive artist. Watch out for our end of year list in December.
20. Mammoth Penguins – Hide and Seek
Mammoth Penguins, the new band formed by Standard Fare’s Emma Kupa, are one of the best new acts to emerge this year. At it’s heart it’s basic indie pop of drums, crunchy guitar chords, bass and bitter sweet lyrics. But an elevation comes from Kupa’s distinct vocals, which here seem clearer and more powerful than on Standard Fare releases. Plus there seems to be a sharper focus to the songs as well, which pack a real punch. Read our full review here.
19. Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color
Our contributor Sarah Robertson’s favourite album of the year launches itself into our top 20 thanks to its “timeless, soulful” sound and a range of songs “that could provide the backdrop to a cult road trip film.” Read our full review here.
18. The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ
Fronted by John Darnielle and still very much a three piece, with Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster in tow, the Mountain Goats’s latest is a concept album about the very human tales of wrestling, from their young fans to the stars of the ring themselves. Heartbreaking and joyous. Read our full review here.
17. The Bevis Frond – Miasma and Inner Marshland Reissues
Welcome reissue for the cult 1980s prog rock act’s first two albums. The band’s driving force Nick Salomon is still very much guitar noodling and plays for the second time in two years at Glastonbury this year. Read our full review here to find out why his band is so adored by guitar luminaries such as Jay Mascis.
16. Matt Creer – The Leeward Tide
As calms after the storm go this latest album by Isle of Man singer songwriter Matt Creer is just about perfect. We first heard his beautiful take on folk music via a Tweet from Chris TT. We hope this placing in our Top 20 albums of the year so far prompts others to discover his remarkable talent. Read our full review here.
15. They Might Be Giants – Glean
The iconic pop duo have revisited and updated their 1980s dial-a-song idea to release a song a week throughout 2015. Glean rounds up the best of those released so far and reveals they have lost none of their pop credentials. Read our full review here.
14. Papernut Cambridge – Nutlets (1967-1980)
So it appears Hot Chocolate used to be cool. Who knew? Well, Ian Button, who releases under the Papernut Cambridge moniker, did. The former Death in Vegas/Thrashing Doves man is something of a 1970s pop expert and this fine collection features ten covers of his favourites from around that time. Read our full review here.
13. SLUG- Ripe
Any album that is connected with Field Music is likely to be enthusiastically received at Neon Filler towers. The band have produced some of our favourite music over the last decade. Ripe is the twisted brain child o their touring bass player Ian Black and has both Brewis Brothers on board for the ride. Imagine Queen producing their music in 21st Century Sunderland and you get a flavour of what is on show here.
12. Calexico – Edge of the Sun
You know what you are going to get when you play a Calexico album, the smooth sounds of Californian country rock with a consistent undercurrent of Marichi brass. Edge of the Sun offers no surprises, but is their most satisfying release in years. Iron And Wine’s Sam Beam, Neko Case and Gaby Moreno all pitch in with vocal support on an album that would sound best listened to in a desert.
11. The Tigercats – Mysteries
Now signed to Fortuna Pop and with Allo Darlin’s Paul Rains in their ranks the London band have managed to nail the potentially tricky second album after the critical success of their debut Isle of Dogs. It sounds great and as ever the songwriting and lyrics are superb. Read our full review here.
10. Evans the Death – Expect Delays
The despair for young people under coalition and now Conservative government since 2010 is embedded in every scream, guitar riff and drum beat on this incendiary latest album from the London four piece. This is what it feels like to be young and pissed off in all its magnificent angst. Read our full review here.
9. Ralegh Long – Hoverance
Gare Du Nord label artist Ralegh Long takes the listener into the world of the English countryside for a beautiful, rural inspired collection of romantic and thoughtful songs. Read our full review here.
8. Southern Tenant Folk Union – The Chuck Norris Project
The Folk and bluegrass collective took a bold step using the film titles of right wing action star Chuck Norris to take on the weighty issues of the world, from gun crime to racism. Thankfully it worked, especially on Slaughter on San Francisco, where their singer Rory Butler delivers one of the vocal performances of the year. Read our full review here.
7. The Wave Pictures – Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon
Is this the best dirty rock n roll album of the year? We declared as such back in February and so far few have come close. With Billy Childish on board for production duties the trio get down and dirty and even roll out a couple of Creedence Clearwater Revival numbers. Read our full review here.
6. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
His 2010 album The Age of Adz may have been his most successful to date but it never sat quite easy with us. Granted its electronica was innovative but Stevens always sounds best to us with a stripped back sound and a hanky to wipe away the tears from his sad lyrics. Here he reveals his most intimate album yet focusing on his uneasy relationship with his late mother Carrie and his adoration for his step father Lowell Brams, who he runs his label Asthmatic Kitty with. This album is magnificently sad and uplifting in equal measure, as all great Sufjan Stevens albums should be.
5. Belle and Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
Following a five year break between albums the Scottish indie pop legends were back with one of the best releases. With added disco chic on The Party Line they even dip their toe into politics, with The Cat with the Cream and its heart breaking take on coalition government era Britain.
4. Villagers – Darling Arithmatic
There’s something so wonderfully precise about Villagers’ frontman Conor O’Brien’s voice. Each line is told with such clarity and on this, their third album, the messag O’Brien wants to convey is loud and clear; this is a love album and one made by a gay man from Ireland. Read our full review here.
3. Robert Pollard – Faulty Superheroes
Like Joan Jett and the Blackhearts I too love rock and roll. But sometimes the idea of putting another dime in the juke box baby fills me with horror. Then just when you’d almost given up hope an album comes along and renews your faith in rock and roll. This is that album. Read our full review here.
2. FFS – FFS
This merging of art rockers Franz Ferdinand with 1970s oddball pop duo Sparks is one of the few collaborations in music that works. The Sparks brothers of Ron and Russell Mael look to have the upper hand in directing this, at times utterly bonkers, collection of pop songs. Alex Kapranos and co seem content to follow their lead and enjoy the ride. Read our full review here.
1. The Go! Team – The Scene Between
The whole album from start to finish is teaming with singles, with wonderful hooks, riffs and choruses shining throughout. Its perfect pop and we challenge anyone who professes to have any form of appreciation for a good pop song to dislike this album. This gained a rare 10/10 from us when released. Read our full review here.