Album reviews: New releases rated
Drake – Views
2015 WAS a triumphant year for Drake; three platinum-selling singles, two successful surprise mix tapes and one of the most memorable music videos of recent times (who didn't try the Hotline Bling dance?).
After such staggering success, there was a lot of hype for his fourth studio album, Views, to live up to: Drake's 20 track offering is a massive mixing pot of perfect-for-radio pop (Too Good feat Rihanna), straight rap songs (Grammys feat Future) experimentation with dancehall (Controlla) and his trademark special – thinking about your ex and wallowing (Child's Play and Redemption).
Fans have been quick to compare Views to Drake's rich back catalogue of critically acclaimed mixtapes and albums – some claiming it doesn't match up to previous efforts, others praising him for conquering new musical ground.
Either way, you're probably doing OK if your biggest competition is your own discography.
Jealous of The Birds – Parma Violets
NOT to be confused with indie kids Palma Violets, Jealous Of The Birds is actually singer songwriter and multi–instrumentalist Naomi Hamilton from Co Armagh.
This, her debut record, is an inoffensive collection of songs that tends to err on the side of twee. There are sparks that reveal a lyrical talent that, if taken in a less folksy, traditional direction, could have rivalled the likes of angsty Aussie marvel Courtney Barnett – but it doesn't quite get there.
Goji Berry Sunset is the most sing-a-long tune on the record, snappy and sweet, while the pretty Miss Misanthrope sways liltingly.
Gregory Porter – Take Me To The Alley
GREGORY Porter makes jazz that's hard not to roll your shoulders to, even if you hate the shuffling, scudding, hippity–hop of traditional jazz music.
Take Me To The Alley is a bewitching, pared-down record, spilling the sophisticated kind of music you'd want playing in the background when your dinner guests turn up.
The American singer and Grammy Award winner (for 2013 album Liquid Spirit) pours out luxurious, soulful vocals with what seems to be incredible ease.
Consequence Of Love ripples with emotion, punctuated with a sax that yanks on your heartstrings, In Fashion ups the tempo, jauntily riffing, the chorus plinking away, while the warming Holding On yearns and soars.
It's a romantic and soothing set of songs brilliantly crafted, so if you and Porter are yet to be introduced, now's the time.
The Boxer Rebellion – Ocean by Ocean
OCEAN By Ocean, The Boxer Rebellion's fifth studio album, is undoubtedly their best and most cohesive since they formed in 2001.
Clearly influenced by the likes of Muse, Radiohead and The National, these boys' guitar and keyboard-driven indie rock is made for big arenas, although Tennessee-born Nathan Nicholson on guitar and vocals, lead guitarist Andrew Smith, bassist Adam Harrison and drummer Piers Hewitt have yet to join the likes of The Killers and Coldplay in rock music's A division.
Nicholson's falsetto actually draws favourable comparison with Chris Martin, while the band's knack for penning catchy sing-along songs suggests their time has come with Ocean By Ocean, which is uniformly excellent.
Guitars and synths to the fore, Weapon gets things off to a flying start with Nicholson in fine voice and the band swiftly hitting their stride; Pull Yourself Together is another corker, whilst Keep Me Close is a belter of a tune designed to be played loud at every opportunity.
All in all, Ocean By Ocean is a quantum leap forward from their last album, Promises, and could – indeed should – make them major players.
Mike Posner – At Night, Alone
ONLY those who haven't turned on the radio this year might have not heard Mike Posner's comeback track I Took A Pill In Ibiza (Seeb remix) which topped charts worldwide.
The catchy chart-topper demonstrates the other side of fame and has re-introduced the American singer-songwriter and producer to the ears of many.
Posner hasn't been resting on his laurels during the six-year sabbatical since his hit single Cooler Than Me made it into the top 10: in fact, he's helped pen a number of smash songs for artists including Justin Bieber, Labrinth and Maroon 5.
His latest album At Night, Alone is a mixture of sounds from the dance heavy I Took A Pill to the more stripped-back, acoustic tones of Buried in Detroit.
Be As You Are has a punchy drumbeat and big band feel, whilst In The Arms Of A Stranger shows off Posner's vocal range and is a stand-out track.
A one-trick pony Posner certainly is not.
The Lumineers – Cleopatra
CRAZY though it is to believe, it's been four years since The Lumineers shot onto the music scene with sweet Ho Hey.
The Denver folk-rock band's brand of Americana translated well across the pond, with their debut single going platinum in the British charts – and now they're back with new album, Cleopatra.
Their sound has grown in the time they've been away: title track Cleopatra is reminiscent of The Gaslight Anthem's melodic rock sound, Ophelia has a catchy keyboard riff, whilst Sleep On The Floor has a strong drum beat.
Upbeat In The Light and Angela are stand-out tracks, with fans also likely to be happy to hear Gale Song and Patience, which are laced with the romance we're used to from the band.
In the last four years, the market has been flooded with folk-rock and acoustic performers.
However, Cleopatra proves The Lumineers really do have staying power.