Mark Stead's head full of 2015

Album of the Year: John Grant, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (Bella Union) Electro-pop, orchestras, funk, ballads, bitterness, and scathing, sardonic humour. One of the most accomplished, unconventional, interesting, and thought-provoking songwriters around is simply incapable of making a run-of-the-mill album. And this one resets the bar for brutal, unnerving quality.

The "Remember That Bloke With The Beard Who Used To Play Bass For Us? No. Me Neither" Award: New Order, Music Complete (Mute).

The "My Ex-Partner Gave It A Listen And Thought It Was A Bit Harsh, To Say The Least" Award: Bjork, Vulnicura (One Little Indian).

The "It Was Acceptable In The Eighties And, As Far As I'm Concerned, It's Still Acceptable In Whatever We're Calling This Decade" Award: Brandon Flowers, The Desired Effect (Virgin EMI).

The "Tonight, Matthew, We're Going To Be Coldplay-Go-Country" Award: My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall (ATO Records).


Dan Bean's feast of favourites in 2015

Album of the Year: VanGoffey, Take Your Jacket Off And Get Into It 
Supergrass alumnus Danny Goffey shows it’s not just the front man who can ace a solo album. Veering between Gary Numan, The Beatles and Ian Dury, Goffey’s fun and unusual debut album sticks in the memory. How many other artists would open their album with the first-person account of a sperm racing towards an egg, or talk about drug-fuelled media luvvies and bankers in a way they’d probably enjoy?
In short, it’s fun, funny, catchy and quirky, helping it stand out among the usual quagmire of releases. Truthfully, it was between this and Kurt Vile’s excellent B’lieve I’m Going Down. Goffey just edged it as a pleasing unknown quantity against Vile’s usual brilliance.

The More of the Same Award: Joint winners Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Vonda Shepherd and Muse.

The Where Has He Been?’ Award: Seal's 7.

The Pleasant Surprise Award: Heath Common, Encounters With Light.

The This’ll Do Award: BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge.

Reissue of the Year: The Sound Of McAlmont & Butler.


The Matt Clark Five 
Album of the year: F-F-S, F-F-S (Domino).
ALSO the most unlikely, at least conceptually. But somehow Franz Ferdinand and Sparks, for it is they, have pulled off an extraordinary feat by sounding precisely like each other, simultaneously. As you would expect from the Mael brothers, this is full of art-house experimentation, some working better than others, but the high spots are some of the highest ever scaled.
Take Johnny Delusional which is perfect pop music allied with pithy, spiteful lyrics. This is pure Sparks, complemented by Alex Kapranos's spikey, Andy Gill-alike guitar. Then there are the trademark Sparks oblique cul de sacs such as Call Girl, which is about no such person, or the marvellously ironic Collaborations Don't Work. Oh yes they do.

Veteran proggers album of the year: Van Der Graaf Generator, Merlin Atmos (Esoteric).

Modern proggers album of the year: Tame Impala, Currents (Fiction).

Still crazy after all these years of the year: The Fall, Sub-Lingual Tablet, (Cherry Red).

Difficult second album relief-all-round of the year: Public Service Broadcasting, The Race For Space (Test Card).


Charles Hutchinson's hot spots of 2015
Album of the Year: Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit (Marathon Artists)
Move over the incessant dripping tap of wet, wan, fey, airy-fairy Brit singer-songwriters, here comes a gobby Aussie shot in the arm from a Melbourne maelstrom. Fearless, frank songwriting with stinging hooks and caustic, humorous lyrics as literate and conversational as Dylan, delivered with slacker cool as Courtney muses on doubts, insecurities and environmental concerns.

York Press:

Courtney Barnett

Far better than The Shires, English nouveau country album of the year: The Staves, If I Was (Atlantic Records).

Most beautiful birdsong of the year: Stornoway, Bonxie (Cooking Vinyl).

New summer soundtrack discovery of the year: C Duncan, Architect (Fat Cat Records).

Private battle for album of the year: American dream-poppers Beach House quickly followed August's disappointing Depression Cherry (Bella Union) with October's far superior Thank Your Lucky Stars (Bella Union).


Paul Rhodes's four of the best from 2015 and one dud
Album of the year: Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free (Southeastern Records)
While a critics' favourite, this exceptional record also has real working man’s appeal. Moving away from first-and confessionals, these character songs find Isbell at the top of his game. Comparisons with Springsteen are for once appropriate.
Beautifully sung and arranged, there is real light and shade. If you were ever tired of over-earnest singer=songwriters laying themselves bare (assuming for a moment this was possible), then Isbell’s ‘play it again and again’ album is something more than essential.

Verbose but brilliant award: Josh Ritter, Sermon on the Rocks (Pytheas Recordings).

A breakthrough record that didn’t: The Decemberists, What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World (Rough Trade Records).

Darker circles, music for new parents: The Wainwright Sisters, Songs In The Dark (PIAS).

Not Just for Christmas, Ladies and Gentlemen, we give you… Richard Durrant, A Quiet Word from the 13th Century (Burning Deck)
The dullest moment of 2015 (and the decade so far): Bill Wyman, Back to Basics (Proper Records).


Ian Sime's best times of 2015
Album of the Year: Adele, 25 (XL Recordings)
Destined to win several Grammy and BRIT awards, and easily the most anticipated album for many a year, 25 instantly became the best-selling CD globally in the pre-Christmas rush. Depending on the listener's views, the omnipresent third studio set by Adele Atkins is equally the most cherished and loathed collection of 2015, but regardless Hello, When We Were Young, Remedy and Love In The Dark have made this design classic of our times the iconic album of the year.

York Press:

Something to Shout about: Lulu, Making Life Rhyme (Decca).

Two Aussie favourites on one record: Olivia Newton-John and John Farnham, Two Strong Hearts (Universal).

Sir Ian McKellen and Billy Bragg made guest appearances on: Tom Robinson, Only The Now (Absolute/Castaway).

…. As did Sia, Kylie and Britney on: Giorgio Moroder, Déjà Vu (RCA/Sony).


Steve Carroll's nuggets of 2015
Album of the Year: Fall Out Boy, American Beauty/American Psycho (Virgin)
Propelled along in no small way thanks to the blistering Centuries, which became the theme tune to ESPN’s coverage of the college football playoffs (and was consequently massively overplayed), Fall Out Boy’s sixth album was far from a one-hit wonder.
The title track, along with the curiously named Uma Thurman, Fourth Of July and Novocaine showed a four piece still finding new ways to express themselves despite continuing to be attached to the pop-punk movement.
It’s an effort helped massively by Patrick Stump’s ability to craft a catchy melody and, much in the same way as Blink 182 years ago, it’s a hook that overpowers the lyrics.
Shifting half a million units in the US, American Beauty/American Psycho also cemented Fall Out Boy’s position this side of the pond as well and bigger things await in 2016.

Comeback kings: Blur, The Magic Whip (Parlophone).

Biggest surprise: Gaz Coombes, Matador (Hot Fruit).

The Endurance Award: Paul Weller, Saturns Pattern (Parlophone).

What’s Next Award: The Vaccines, English Graffiti (Columbia).


John Marley's jazziest five of 2015
Album of the Year: Verneri Pohjola, Bullhorn 
Edition Records has developed into one of the most vital record labels in jazz music. On Bullhorn, Helsinki-based trumpeter Verneri Pohjola has created a unique album blending traditional swing and jazz harmony with folk and that unmistakeable Scandinavian atmosphere. Pohjola has developed a sound that is simultaneously powerful and touching. 
Throughout the record, Pohjola is ably supported by the relaxed rhythmic confidence of the trio. Aki Rissanen provides subtle piano accompaniment when required but his powerful McCoy Tyner-style left-hand stabs take the listener straight back to the sound of 1960s' bost bop. 
Many listeners criticise modern jazz for its disregard of tradition. This is not an accusation one could throw at Verneri Pohjola, who has taken all the essential elements of jazz and brought them in to the present day.

Best Vocal Jazz Album: Liane Carroll, Seaside.

Best Local Jazz Album: The Wildflower Sextet, Wildflower.

Best Debut Album: Misha Mullov Abbado, New Ansonia.

Best Big Band Album: Colin Towns Mask Orchestra, Drama.