We’re just halfway through 2015, but it’s already been a top year for music. There have been smashing comebacks from Blur, career highs from Björk and great debut albums from the likes of Shamir. But it’s also been the year of the follow-up: Kendrick Lamar and others established themselves in the first six months of the year with superb second albums. We’ve rounded up ten of the best of 2015 so far, ordered chronologically (we won’t start playing favourites until the end of the year).
Björk, Vulnicura (January 20) The latest emission from planet Björk – her ninth album, following her split from long-term partner Matthew Barney – is huge and intimate all at once. We’re treated to precision-tooled electronics and slightly sliding strings, lending Vulnicura all the grandeur of the musician’s greatest work. But a human heartbeat surfaces in the form of anguished vocals and frank, personal lyrics. Leave it to Björk to break the break-up album mould.
Drake, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late (February 13) February brought a new Drake album, which saw the Canadian rapper lock down his position at the top table of hip-hop. Thanks to its sudden, zero publicity launch, many at the time assumed it was a dud – intended to break him from his contract at Cash Money. How wrong they were. Drake was on fire, and subtly aiming shots at Tyga, Kanye, Diddy and Jay Z. It was Drake who ended up smiling though – despite being facially assaulted by Madonna that time.
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly (March 15) Lamar’s follow-up to 2012’s adored Good Kid, M.A.A.D City rages through race, politics, fame and consumerism – and makes no attempt at the charts. Instead, it’s aimed squarely at the musical canon world’s attention, ‘So I’ma say somethin’ that’s vital,’ raps Kendrick. In that, and so much else, he succeeds.
Blur, The Magic Whip (April 27) Marooned in Hong Kong for five days in 2013, Damon, Alex, Dave and Graham locked themselves in a studio and pressed record for the first time in ten years. The result was a gem of a record and a worthy addition to the band’s canon. Mellow earworms abound, but it’s Graham Coxon’s vital, eclectic playing that steals the show.
Various artists, PC Music, Vol 1 (May 2) The first full-length release by London pop pranksters, PC Music is a sonic sugar rush: a ten-track blend of ’90s Europop, J-Pop and chopped-up electronica. It should be awful, and in some ways it kind of is. But it’s also unbelievably catchy and a pointed futurist retort to anyone who thought music had finally run out of road.
Landshapes, Heyoon (May 4) After their 2013 debut, this indie outfit have delivered the cracking LP we knew they were capable of. Heyoon is confident, creative and filled with catchy, clever indie that hits the difficult middle-ground between arty Deerhoof experimentalism and simple, stripped-back and brilliant pop.
Shamir, Ratchet (May 18) Not au fait with the term ‘ratchet’? Allow 20-year-old disco-pop prodigy Shamir Bailey to provide a definition: ‘It’s used in a negative way, describing a girl who is a hot mess and kinda ghetto.’ If you’re still none the wiser, don’t worry: just stick on the Vegas dude’s ultra-funky debut album and let his androgynous countertenor and fierce grooves be your guide.
Florence and The Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (May 29) By now, we know all the keywords used around Florence Welch: kooky, loud, bohemian, baroque. What we rarely hear is the word ‘songwriter’, and that’s a monumental diss. Florence and her band have crafted an album with more hooks than a fishing town. It deserves your time.
Jaakko Eino, Jaakko Eino Kalevi (June 15) JEK is a producer, singer and former tram driver from Helsinki who’s now based in Berlin. We still can’t pronounce his name, but his sonic world – with its pulsing synths, shimmering guitars and murmuring vocals – is somewhere we’d gladly spend a two-week holiday. Plug in and bask.
Royce Wood Junior, The Ashen Tang (June 22) Don’t know him, do you? You soon will after this accomplished debut. It’s an album that finds an ambitious musician and producer – who’s worked with Kwabs and Jamie Woon – bounding through colourful, Prince-endowed funk, singing like Sly Stone and dabbling in glitchy electronics that Flying Lotus would dig. Yet somehow, it never sounds derivative.