Feature: Top 20 albums of the year – Backseat Mafia staff pick

How do you judge what were the best albums of the year? Well, here at Backseat Mafia its a collaborative affair, where everyone that writes for us has as much of a say as everyone else (how did I let that happen?). Happily, in line with the widely and wildly varied nature of our ethos and our site, our end of year list is just that – widely and wildly varied. Long may it continue.

Lanterns on the Lake – Beings (= 15 )

A late addition to our favourite albums of 2015, released only last month, “Beings” is the Newcastle quartet’s 3rd full length album, following on from 2013’s Until The Colours Run. It’s a very dynamic, earnest (but not in a bad way, mind…) record, with its gorgeous piano melodies and searing, Sigur Ros-esque guitars, showing a band comfortable in themselves and finding a confidence perhaps lacking in their earlier work. As the band themselves say: “At its darkest points, we wanted it to feel like you’d dived into the deepest part our dreams and were taking a look around. At its lightest we wanted it to feel like you were coming up for air.” I can attest that it works brilliantly live, I’ve seen LOTL four or five times over the last few years, and their recent gig in Manchester was easily the best I’ve seen of them.

Having garnered positive reviews across the board on its release, this album deserves to make many end of year lists, and should hopefully propel LOTL from one of the best kept secrets in British music, to more mainstream success. (Steve Barnes)

Read more about Lanterns On The Lake (click here)

Joywave – How Do You Feel Now? (= 15 )


Joywave know how to kick things off. From the opening bars of fuzzy guitars on ‘Somebody New,’ it is already obvious that ‘How Do You Feel Now’ is going to be an energetic and catchy collection of tracks. It fuses together indie-rock with electronic music, with a huge mix of random sounds and bleeps. It is a mixing pot of ideas, and seems to slow effortlessly for huge dance tracks such as KOPPS collaboration ‘Tongues’ by the stripped back techno of album closer ‘Bad Dreams’. Every single track gets you excited for the next, never quite knowing which direction it’s going to move in. (Kevin Paterson)

Read the original Joywave review (click here)

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit (= 15 )


Forever frank and blunt, Courtney Barnett’s long awaited debut album didn’t fail to impress. The aptly titled Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit encapsulated Barnett’s darkly humorous take on modern Rock music. The surreal, nearly spoken word lyrics work surprisingly well with Barnett’s shredding guitar, and even better on the darker tracks, such as ‘Kim’s Caravan’. Barnett’s music is laden with humour and down-to-earth statements about life, it’s light-sensibility making it one of the finest Rock albums of the year. (Andrew Noel)

Knuckle Puck – Copacetic (= 15 )


Delivered with a high dose of energy with its heavier tracks and a solid level of integrity for its quieter ones, this album brings back the ingenuity that I’ve missed from bands in this genre. From the great performances with the instruments to the addictive quality of the lyrics and their delivery, Copacetic has me discovering more aspects I missed the first time around with each listen. (Alex Brade)

Knuckle Puck live review (click here)

Outfit – Slowness (= 15)


This album by Liverpudlian band Outfit is a very well worked hybrid of many musical styles and genres. Fusing together the likes of later Talk Talk, The Cinematic Orchestra and Blue Nile with urban beats and jazz breaks; this is an album that overcomes the initial impression that it is somehow lightweight, since repeated listens reveal that this is anything but. Full of beautiful melodies and sensitive musicianship this is an album that will caress and comfort you and slowly become a firm and long-standing friend. Put it on repeat! (Simon Delic)

B C Camplight – How to Die in the North (= 15)


Having retreated from the music industry, Brian Christinzio relocated to Manchester in 2011, from where he gradually plotted his return and eventually signed to Bella Union in 2014. The resulting album, How to Die in the North was released in the first few weeks of the year, and is an exercise in gloriously compellingly kaleidoscopic grown-up pop that brings to mind past masters such as Brian Wilson and Harry Nilsson, while still being very much its own thing. (Jon Bryan)

Read the original album review (click here)

Sarah Cracknell – Red Kite (= 9)


It’s been nineteen years since the release of Sarah Cracknell’s debut solo outing ‘Lipslide’, so when earlier this year she announced she was releasing its follow-up, it’s fair to say that no one was expecting it. And it couldn’t be more different to its disco-infused predecessor. ‘Red Kite’ is the sound of an artist who has grown up. Whilst there are still those big upbeat pop songs that we are used to as the singer of Saint Etienne (for example the Nicky Wire collaboration ‘Nothing Left To Talk About’), album number two is a far more chilled out affair. More acoustic-based tracks such as ‘Take The Silver’ and ‘The Mutineer’ show a whole new side to Ms. Cracknell. Essentially what she does has always been quirky, clever and well produced pop music. This album is just that, but with a whole new dimension to her previous work. Let’s hope it’s not as long a wait between this album and the next. (Kevin Paterson)

Read the original review (click here)

Prides – The Way Back Up (= 9)


If you like to dance when your heart is breaking, look no further than Prides’ debut album The Way Back Up. Emotive lyrics, strong tempo and addictive synth-pop melodies make this album a strong release from the Scottish trio. This LP features everything from their greatest hit ‘Messiah’ to melancholic ballads in the form of ‘The Kite String and The Anchor Rope’; there’s something for everyone on this remarkable debut. (Penny Blakemore)

Read the original review in full (click here)

New Order – Music Complete (= 9)


From the Moroder-esque ‘Plastic’, to the ‘Lowlife’-era shades of ‘Restless’ and ‘Nothing but a Fool’, New Order are back on form and back on the dancefloor. Electronics are at the fore with the return of Gillian Gilbert, and though that Hook is no longer present, there are hooks aplenty of the musical kind. Collaborations from Iggy Pop, Brandon Flowers and La Roux’s Ellie Jackson add spice to the pot, but it’s essentially a “classic” New Order album, sprinkled liberally with flashes of the hallmark elements that have served to define them, and that feels so extraordinary! (Briandroid )

For the full review click here

The Unthanks – Mount the Air (= 9)


An album of staggeringly ambitious chamber folk, Mount the Air strikes a balance between almost symphonic orchestrations and the Unthank sisters crystal clear vocals. Underpinned by the piano work of arranger Adrian McNally, Mount the Air finds The Unthanks transporting the listener to epic windswept vistas, leaving the listener somewhat breathless yet utterly exhilarated by the end of the journey. (Jon Bryan)

Read the original album review (click here)

Sextile – A Thousand Hands (= 9)


One of the best bits about doing stuff for BMafia is discovering and sharing new music, especially when you are given the nod on bands such as Sextile. I first heard their debut release ‘I Can’t Take It’ back in June. It genuinely blew me away and left me not wanting, but needing more. I didn’t have to wait long and when I got my hands on the album I just couldn’t stop listening to it (still can’t). Invoking very fond memories of the bands I fell in love with as a teenager, and immediately filling all the gaps that I didn’t necessarily realise were missing from the current music scene, in an instant I knew I’d got my hands on something very special. It’s a bold statement, but forget 2015, ‘A Thousand Hands’ is genuinely the best album I’ve heard in years. Dark, moody, haunting it is for me the epitome of post-punk/alternative music.

I’ve played the album to anyone and everyone who I’ve been in contact with, including as the filler between bands at a couple of gigs. On every single occasion the reception has been the same – “Wow!” I’ve even had complete strangers come up and ask me who it is and where they can get a copy. I originally gave it a 10/10 and immediately hailed it as a classic. I stand by those words and eagerly look forward to more from Sextile in the coming year.

Hopefully someone will have the sense to get this band over to the UK in 2016 – hell; I might even start a crowd funder to do it myself! – If they do I’ll see you down the front. Awesome! (stAn)

Read the original review (click here)

Killing Joke – Pylon (= 9)


Killing Joke collectively are alchemists who come together to share their separate learning to produce a worldview that is unique in its breadth and depth. It is an outlook that informs both the music and philosophy of ‘Pylon’ and, for me, is the most complete realisation of the band’s vision so far. Only time will tell whether it is Coleman, Walker, Glover and Ferguson’s collective masterpiece. At this point, however, the signs are good. (Simon Delic)

See the original review (click here)

Lonelady – Hinterland (8)


Drawing on her experiences of walking around suburban and desolate cityscapes, Julie Campbell (AKA Lonelady) has produced a compelling and wonderfully contemporary take on the forgotten decaying built environment of the past. A Mancunian herself, she has, with Hinterland, produced an album of great beauty within that city’s musical tradition of fusing dance rhythms with rock and pop to deliver an set that stands out as a paean to what used to be without ever succumbing to any grim nostalgia that might go with it. If anything this is an uplighting album and a celebration of that which is often hidden in plain sight. (Simon Delic)

See the original review (click here)

Calexico – Edge of the Sun (7)


There’s a reason Calexico have been called “Desert Noir”. At their best, half close your eyes, and you can imagine an oppressive dusty heat rising from your speakers. The songs belong under red skies, during late evenings, travelling a deserted highway in a beat-up car. And Edge of The Sun really is Calexico at their best.

Edge of the Sun was probably my most anticipated album of 2015, particularly when early reviews started to compare it to Feast Of Wire. Right from the plaintive start to “Falling From the Sky” you’re gripped. Maybe it’s the slide guitar, through the horn crescendos, the jangling percussion and even the electronic touches? It’s an album that I had to listen to from the start again immediately after the last track finished. It’s an album packed with highlights, every listen allows new favourites to scramble for attention, as you notice a new musical motif or a particular lyric hits home. The lush Mariachi production never overshadows the uneasy listening of these vignettes on depression (“Moon Never Rises”), loneliness (“Miles From the Sea”), and paranoia (“Tapping On The Line”). It can only be a Calexico album. (Adrian Spink)

Read our live review of Calexico (click here)

Halsey – Badlands (= 5)


Halsey is the queen we’ve always needed. Badlands is an album that conveys what every 20-something is feeling, taking you through the frenzied, neon lights of self-destruction and carrying you through to the other side. Halsey is the outsider, but she’s not alone; she has united a generation in a dystopian world, offering an alternative for those who have been disillusioned with reality. Join the ‘New Americana’ and you won’t be disappointed. (Penny Blakemore)

See the original review (click here)

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (= 5)


Kendrick Lamar had already established himself as one of rap’s biggest names after 2012’s incredible Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. But Lamar took himself to a high plane with To Pimp A Butterfly. His status evolved into social commentator, TPAB linked the racial struggles in America to Lamar’s own newfound fame and how he handles this new recognition. Undeniably excellent, TPAB not only has some killer rhymes from Kendrick, but also delves into the realms of Jazz fusion and spoken word. Musically diverse and lyrically relevant, To Pimp a Butterfly is one of the finest albums of the year. (Andrew Noel)

For original review click here

Desperate Journalist – Desperate Journalist (= 3)


Released at the very beginning of the year, Desperate Journalist’s eponymous debut album has rarely been far from our turntable, as well as the CD player in the car, and has provided more than the odd bliss filled headphone moment. Back when it first came out I gave it 9.9 out of 10, ‘almost perfect’. I’ve had more time to reflect on it now, and I’d like to take back what I said – just one word of it. The more I’ve played it, compared it, dissected it, I realise I was a tad unfair. Let’s get rid of the ‘almost’ and just leave it at ‘perfect’.

Desperate Journalist have given us not only one of the best albums of 2015, but also an all-time essential album for all fans of indie music. The comparisons to great bands of the past come quick fast and easy, but they are so much more than a band conjuring up the nostalgia of years gone by. Desperate Journalist take melodic guitars and heartfelt vocals to a level that will have you whisked away to the dizziest heights of the indie spectrum.  Just listen to the opening bars of ‘Control’ and I’m sure you’ll agree. (stAn)

Read our original review (click here)

CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye


This sophomore album is full of triumphant pop-tunes that’ll break your heart and get you dancing. Full of defiance and strong-willed pop, CHVRCHES are only getting more confident, erasing their self-doubt and replacing it with a strong belief in what they do. If that’s not compelling, what is? ‘Make Them Gold’ stands out, providing a sense of unity that paints a golden light at the end of the lonely tunnel. (Penny Blakemore)

Read our original review (click here)

Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space (2)


The Race For Space was one of the first releases of 2015 and is an entertaining, epic, engaging, educational and emotional outing by Public Service Broadcasting who created something very special/ It was definitely a fitting tribute to the heroes and heroines of the greatest era of space exploration.

As on their other albums, the PSB duo of Willgoose and Wrigglesworth weave samples from archival footage, public information films and propaganda material into tunes layered with synths, beats and real instruments to create thematic and stunning narrative soundscapes. As part of the creative process for ‘The Race for Space’, PSB were granted unique access to historic footage from the British Film Institute archives which allowed them to go back in time and explore the period when the USA and USSR fought to gain the upper hand in a new frontier – space.

And whilst you can learn a lot about human history and endeavour from listening to The Race to Space, PSB mission controller Willgoose wants us to remember that they are also here to entertain. And boy do they. (Mark Gannon)

Read our original review (click here)

Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (1)


Effectively J Tillman’s musical autobiography, I Love You, Honeybear skillfully manages to avoid the self indulgence which can often blight such exercises. Dense, confessional, narrative driven, headswimmingly romantic, starkly personal and untroubled by a weak spot, by tapping into the emotional core of the listener, I Love You, Honeybear is a prime demonstration of how vital the album format remains, and how Father John Misty has catapulted himself to the forefront of the very finest acts in the world today. (Jon Bryan)

To read our original review click here

To see more album reviews covering both the latest releases, classic albums and forgotten gems from the past visit our Album Review pages (click here)

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