1) New Order, Music Complete
It’s possible that you may have forgotten about these guys some years ago, but they’ve produced a simply masterful album that I’ve been unable to leave alone since its release. Combining the ingredients of a winning formula from the past (minus the missing ingredient of Peter Hook) and the ability to tap into what’s appealing in the current market, Music Complete has the ingredients that made the band unique 30 years ago, but has the dance element to bring it up to date. There are complex electronic statements, and just enough of the sinister bass to remind you who you’re listening to. The old pros still know how to get under your skin.
Top three tracks: People on the High Line, Plastic, Academic.
2) Drenge, Undertow
I can’t help finding these boys incredibly fun and likeable on social media. They’re hard working chaps too, having toured extensively this year with Wolf Alice and TheMaccabees. They have a brand of northern depression which borders on the suggestion of a psychotic episode. The album cover picture of the abandoned car makes you wonder what might happen if you went down to the woods today. (Hint – it’s more Blair Witch Project than a teddy bear’s picnic). In this album they honed the grungy tendencies into a sharper, more potent weapon. Drenge have, in musical terms, gone to the gym and beefed up their sound.
Top three tracks: Side By Side, Never Awake, Undertow.
3) Muse, Drones
A superbly cohesive piece of storytelling which is begging to be made into a rock opera. Big guitars, big ambition and a big story, not just about the ethics of remote killing machines, but the story of a band cutting the glitz, grabbing their instruments of choice and allowing themselves to revert to being a rock threesome again. Well, almost. There is a monster ten minute track called The Globalist, which starts with the image of a whistling cowboy from the Wild West and steps up with the musical equivalent of the Battle of Little Bighorn. Oh and an operatic choral piece to finish. I guess they couldn’t resist some flourishes.
Top three tracks: The Handler, Defector, Psycho.
4) Editors, In Dream
I almost abandoned this one. My first two or three listens left me feeling cold and detached, but if you stick with it, there are rewards. It’s atmospheric, heavily synth based and, in its own way, as beautiful, intense and aloof as Greta Garbo. The band took themselves off to a remote part of Scotland to create this, and you get the sense that this isolation allowed them to come up with a “one end of the spectrum” album with space for the listener to let the sound flow through, while indulging in thought and reflection. There’s no hint of appealing to the masses here, just a group going their own way, and that kind of creative independence deserves praise.
Top three tracks: Forgiveness, All The Kings, Salvation.
5) Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Chasing Yesterday
Music’s most quotable individual has given us many moments of fun this year, but most importantly has done the business with the sound waves. Cutting the mustard at his age pretty much gives him the kudos to say whatever he damn well likes. The album is full of guitar solos, unexpected sax and melody. Although it’s most definitely not Oasis, there are enough “shades of” to give you that warm feeling inside. I’d buy the album purely to hear The Right Stuff, which is just gorgeous.
Top three tracks: The Right Stuff, Riverman, The Mexican.