The first time I became aware of Cloud Boat was way back in Feb 2011, when they supported James Blake at his catapult-to-brilliance matinee gig. They were pretty good - a few technical errors, a few problems with levels - but all in all they seemed alright. Fast-forward 28 months and they're just about ready to release their debut album, Book of Hours. The James Blake comparisons are nigh on impossible to get away from, yet when I received this record and gave it a first listen, I never thought that I'd be recommending it as better than Blake's latest release. It most likely is, and it's most likely one of the best albums released this year.

Opening with the ferocious 'Lions on the Beach', Cloud Boat utilise pacey snares not all that dissimilar to the likes of Burial, yet there's an ominous indication that things are going to get a bit deeper. An elaborate synth chord splices straight through the middle breakdown, and then you finally get a taste of what makes this album so great. A distorted vocal sample cuts in and repeats, with the lead vocal then dropping in adjacently. This lead is incredibly strong, and a good amount more masculine than what we're used to hearing on these tracks - the textures created when it's crashed into the other elements being absolutely beautiful.

Second track 'Youthern' highlights the other thing that will make this album stand out a million miles from the rest. That guitar. It has a much more prominent use in comparison to the other artists drinking from the same waterhole, not once feeling added in as a final touch, more used as the foundation for the tracks. It is much slower, and sprawls out with a simple clicking melody, and again, it is the vocal that shines through. 'Bastion' starts in the vein as the last, almost verging on acoustic folk for a while. Then out of nowhere, sounding like something taken straight from the core of Portishead's motherboard drops this swelling bass accompanied by another high pitched female sample. As the drums clatter in behind it a la Machine Gun, that smooth vocal floats back over. It's fucking brilliant.

At this point I'm not quite sure what's going on. I have no defendable reason to feel as connected to this album as I do. There's no affiliation to the band, I haven't followed them intrepidly for years. I turn it off, and blame severe lack of sleep for an apparent sense of calm only comparable to being inside the womb when listening. It isn't sleep deprivation though. With every listen the album sounds stronger, subtle intricacies coming to the fore in each track. It makes it extremely difficult to pick out the strongest tracks.

'Amber Road' has this epic Hans Zimmer sounding bass which keeps pulsating through the track before it spills out and overflows into a landscape of chords. The previously released 'Wanderlust' is magical, with 'Godhead' displaying some entirely sublime harmonies towards the end. The penultimate two parted 'Pink Grin' is probably the best thing on here. It starts with an all encompassing riff all echo and reverb, sounding like some sort gargantuan motion picture soundtrack. Then it stops, making way for shrieks and bellows of that vocal, as much lighter guitars froth in and out creating this misty coating of sound. Things pick up a little as the guitars throb a little more, then that breakbeat pattern we saw earlier stabs back into the fore. Vocals pitch up again, only to drop and invite a much deeper sample - if this sound can be recreated live, revellers will be in for a serious treat.

All in all, it's a stunning effort. There are so many different sounds to each track, and whilst being fused together effortlessly, as individual components they could take the band in any direction from hereon out. As far as albums go, it's 100% one of the best releases this year to date. As far as debut albums go, it's 100% one of the best I've ever heard. The bar may have been set unbelievably high by those who came before, but Cloud Boat just became the unmistakable pacesetters.