It’s been one hell of a year, hasn’t it?
Written during a period of flux for the British artist, Migration borrows sounds from Simon Green’s time on the road, including an airboat from New Orleans, fireworks in Los Angeles, and a tumble dryer from an Atlanta hotel. The result is a blend of beautifully arranged beats, reimagining elements from traditional garage tracks with off-kilter hums and thuds, reworked vocal samples, and ambient strings and horns. It’s experimental without being pretentious, perfect for everything from dance floors to dinner parties.
Party Beck is back. Gone are the mellow tones of Morning Phase—officially the least inspiring record ever to be awarded a Grammy for album of the year—in favour of a particularly, um, colourful feel from the king of reinvention. Foster the People producer and album collaborator Greg Kurstin injects catchy choruses and poppy hooks into up-tempo stompers: think Midnight Vultures, but with fewer horns. Out to get people on their feet, the album is Beck’s most radio-friendly: a challenge that he purposefully set himself. “Anybody can make a track with a dance beat,” he told the Straight earlier this year, “but it’s like building an airplane—you can put together the frame, but can you make something that flies?”
Maya Jane Coles
Sure, you might think you know Maya Jane Coles from that sample on Nicki Minaj’s “Truffle Butter”—but that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the U.K. producer. Take Flight is Coles’s first record since 2013, but, with the release clocking in at 23 tracks and more than two hours of listening, it’s clear she hasn’t been slacking. Yes, much of the outing draws from a similar sound palette—moody bass lines, heavily reverbed synth jolts, and Coles’s own breathy vocals—but when you have a winning formula, why change?
Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett
Lotta Sea Lice
It’s easy to get behind this power pairing. Barnett has the rare ability to make the everyday exciting, distilling her life into pithy, heart-wrenching sentences. Vile’s talent comes from ear-tugging guitar lines, energized with a lazy power. Both artists are on vocal and instrumental duties, and unlike most male-female duets, not one song—thank God—features any cheesy he-said-she-said dialogue or forced flirting. Instead, each track is an equal discussion between the two, offering statements that sometimes overlap, but—very endearingly—are often completely irrelevant.
Amadou & Mariam
Because they sing in a combination of Bambara, French, Spanish, and several other Malian and African languages, we have literally zero idea what Amadou and Mariam are saying—but we’ve never had the inclination to look things up. That’s mainly because this blind husband-and-wife duo produces Afro-pop music so upbeat and harmonically astute that we don’t want to spoil the magic. In a year when artists like Ed Sheeran have appropriated African beats to whitewash their way to Top 10 hits, there’s nothing more refreshing than the pair’s choice to eschew previous collaborators like TV on the Radio and Santigold in favour of kora player Djeli Moussa Diawara and n’goni performer Youssouf Diabaté. Plus the lyrics are probably also great. We’ll just never know.
A summer record with the longevity to remain in heavy rotation through the winter, Generate is a four-track EP rather than a full-length album, but it would be seriously remiss to omit it from this list. The deep house producer is flexing his considerable musical muscle on this collection, weaving warm string pads with ready-for-the-floor kick drums. The title track was supposedly written on Luttrell’s return from last year’s Burning Man—which probably tells you all you need to know about the rest of the collection.
This Old Dog
One of slacker indie’s most endearing individuals, Mac DeMarco propels his records forward with his laid-back charm. Relaxed and conversational, the former Vancouverite may not have given his home address out on this new record à la precursor Another One, but it still feels like he’s speaking to the listener as a personal friend. Granted, it’s not much of a leap forward musically from, well, any of his previous albums, but hey—when there’s a whole generation of kids trying to copy you, why not show them how it’s done?
I M U R
Since the Weeknd (that’s not a typo—it’s how his stage name is spelled) put Canadian R&B back onto A-list playlists and Torontonian Daniel Caesar scooped two nominations at the Grammys, SoundCloud has played host to a spate of poorly produced copycat records. Vancouver trio I M U R’s Little Death is not one of them. Warm jazz chords and minimal hip-hop drums whimsically complement singer Jenny Lea’s airy vocals, creating a sound that is, in a word, sexy.
Anjunadeep’s latest collection should be prescribed listening for those who suggest that electronic music has no soul. Label stalwarts Jody Wisternoff and James Grant have curated a dreamy deep house compilation that ebbs and flows from floor-filling tracks like Dusky’s breakbeat “Square Miso” to Neil Quigley’s euphoric “The Sky Calls to Us”. The resonant grand-piano chords that begin the record return throughout, weaving through the continuous mix to braid the (thoroughly varied) tracks into something artfully cohesive.
Trio da Kali and Kronos Quartet
The combination of a classical string quartet and a traditional Malian trio—balafon (xylophone), bass n’goni (lute), and singer—hardly seems Top 10–worthy stuff on paper. In reality, this record showcases how different musical traditions can deeply enrich each other. Borrowing grooves and melodies from each style, the album is an intense back-and-forth between the musicians, creating tracks that are at once powerfully modern and steeped in age-old customs. Bet you can’t name one other album without drums or percussion that makes you want to move this much.
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays