Romantic tension has always played a part in the xx’s music. A little over four years since their last album, the group’s latest work, I See You, addresses this subject more directly than ever, with a soul-bearing collection of songs about reconciliation and the start of something new.
The curse of the difficult-second-album hangs over Frank Ocean’s Blonde like an unforgiving spectre. As if following up his critically acclaimed debut, Channel Orange, wasn’t hard enough already: there was the endless rumours, the delays and the never-ending storm of desire and derision on social media. No wonder Ocean prefers to keep himself to himself these days.
For better and worse, Ocean’s second album is the product of personal struggle under the weight of intense expectation. It doesn’t reach the dizzying perfection of his 2012 debut, but it is a profound listen nonetheless.
Contrary to what the collage above may lead you to think, albums 20 to 11 are not an all-black soirée – I just wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to get the gorgeous faces of Raury, Lianne La Havas, Dornik and Eska on a single spread.
We’re steaming towards the top-crop by way of these first 10 phenomenal records, which include avant-garde works, retro-chic disco and stupendous acts of personal atonement.
20. Golden Rules – Golden Ticket
19. Jamie xx – In Colour
18. Dornik – Dornik
17. Paul Weller – Saturns Pattern
16. Eska – Eska
15. Raury – All We Need
14. The Milk – Favourite Worry
13. Björk – Vulnicura
12. Lianne La Havas – Blood
11. Rae Morris – Unguarded