10) Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett – Over Everything
A charming, sunny jam that finds common ground between both artists in terms of finding comfort in solitude, and the reflective space it allows you to occupy. The guitar work is compelling, with some frenetic, Neil Young-esque riffing adding an energy to the gentle, core riff that gives the track a sense of sprawling progression. A truly collaborative effort, both feed off each other and urge the track onward with the freewheeling spirit that comes with enjoying something you love.
9) Stormzy – Big for your Boots
‘Big For Your Boots’ is like a fight-or-flight scenario, Stormzy showcasing his abilities as though under the influence of instinct alone. The pitch raised vocal sample that functions in the beat is a classic grime trait, and it functions here to give a dramatic, operatic edge to the track. Stormzy is undoubtedly at home over this, giving a commanding, swaggering lyrical performance that sees him drop wide ranging pop culture references and even a clever allusion to the African motherland.
8) Feist – Pleasure
Rawness is the key to Leslie Feist’s ‘Pleasure’. This is apparent both in the DIY approach to production, and the way she strips back emotion to ponder the very raw question of whether our actions are all dictated by the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. She doesn’t advocate a hedonistic outlook so much as attempt to understand it, particularly how the experience of pleasure differs from individual to individual. Undoubtedly though, those wonderfully, gritty blues guitar riffs and Feist’s rather dramatic shifts in vocal tone, play pleasurably upon the senses of most regardless of the subjectivity of experience.
7) King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Crumbling Castle
In an enormous year for Gizzard, this dark, progressive monster of a track was their crowning jewel. Its near 11 minute running length features so many different transitions that shows their creativity, far from being used up, is only just approaching the apex. It is at once familiar in its thunderous drums and furious, harmonica incorporating section, but also distant with the use of 1980’s synthesisers that give the track a deeper sense of musical history. The final, earth-shaking minute sounds like Satan himself is collaborating with the band, perhaps an ominous sign of what is still left up the Gizzard sleeve.
6) The National – The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
The National extend their scope with this artful track that makes use of gentle, subtle shifts in layering. The backing female vocals, the shrills of the strings and those stabs of high octave guitar are all new flourishes that give added depth to a sound that is already highly evocative. The focus is highly relevant, and Berninger’s variation of vocal pitch is expressive of a focus upon the frustrations of modern life, and how individual feeling is often suppressed by the ‘system’. This is the track that most openly shows The National moving in a new direction.
5) King Krule – Dum Surfer
On ‘Dum Surfer’, Archy Marshall extracts jazz’s capacity to produce evocative, nightmarish soundscapes and brings it to the forefront. The flourishes of saxophone, the demonic call and response vocals, the quivering guitar solo; all enhance the effect of the disturbing, highly impressionistic lyrics that conjure up imagery of dark alleyways and losing oneself in a labyrinth of dimly lit backstreets. Often underappreciated is Marshall’s ability to deliver a unique melodicism with his vocals, and the overall result is a dark, unsettling experience that you nonetheless can’t help but come back to.
4) Fleet Foxes – Third of May/Odaigahara
Robin Pecknold is a highly talented and intellectual songwriter, and on ‘Third of May/Odaigahara’ experimentation comes to the forefront. His focus is on how time changes how we percieve events and relationships, and Pecknold’s non-linear approach to this makes for a beautifully fragmented track that represents how we reflect and understand experiences. The track suddenly breaks down at regular intervals, Pecknold often changes the octave he sings in, a sweeping wave of guitar enters midway, and a lush outro with Japanese influence closes the track out; all of these portraying the tracks occupation with the subjectivity of the experience of time.
3) The War on Drugs – Thinking of a Place
This is a War on Drugs track that doesn’t ride on soaring guitar riffs or even attempt to sound huge and anthemic,which is unusual for the band considering the song’s length. Its quivering, breezy synths and gentle strumming lulls you into a hazy state that feels transcendent, as though in between a state of dreaming and awake. Adam Granduciel is concerned with love, but the way it is expressed it is as though it haunts him and remains never completely able to be grasped. Voices whisper at the edge of the track, a harmonica eases in and out; this is a musical experience that has been crafted with the utmost care.
2) Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – French Press
The best rock track of the year is everything great about the genre. There is some highly skillful guitar play courtesy of an unusual three pronged attack, allowing the band to create a sprawling web of different textures that is equally capable of evoking atmosphere and melody. It is highly controlled chaos, chugging with an intensity not too dissimilar to punk rock. The influence from outfits such as The Go-Betweens gives it an unmistakably Australian character, as does the witty but dry sense of humour delivered in a conversational tone that gives the track’s themes of disconnection and tuning out a humble and original edge. In terms of Australian up-and-comers, Rolling Blackout’s first full length can’t come soon enough.
1) Kendrick Lamar – Humble.
With ‘Humble’, Kendrick went back to basics with a hard, punchy beat from Mike Will Made-It, with no free jazz or funk to be heard. This allowed him to absolutely unleash, producing one of the great flow patterns complete with almost every poetic technique you can think of (especially note the extensive use of assonance and alliteration). Kendrick’s already established himself as an exceptionally astute social commentator, and with ‘Humble’ he focused solely on another convention of hip-hop – blowing away the competition. There’s an element of performative aestheticism, an emphasis on the effect of the track over the message. It exists as a show of style, of what the greatest contemporary rapper is capable of. However like all Kendrick projects there’s an underlying cleverness. His high pitched persona treats humbleness in a very non humble fashion, satirising false projections of legitimacy of anyone from rappers to politicians. With hip hop’s popularity reaching all time heights, Kendrick again raised the bar.