Sunday, 1 February 2015

Best of January

No one likes January. January is like that relative that no one likes but kind of has to be invited to social gatherings, during which they proceed to ruin everyone else's fun. This year I expected nothing less and was preparing myself for the worst. But something about the month just gone felt very different it, if anything, felt promising and dare I say...exciting. From Bjork's new album being leaked 2 months early to that hideous Rihanna single, there was certainly a lot to talk about, not to mention the promising new album announcements from the likes of Torres, Sufjan Stevens, Waxahatchee and Purity Ring; one thing's for sure, 2015 is here...and it isn't messing around.

Albums of the month

First and foremost, shout out to the new Sleater Kinney, Panda Bear and Bjork albums, which despite having several excellent moments between them didn't really grab me in the way I would've hoped.

Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass

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What tops this album off is its rather unique back story; if you are wondering why this record sounds so nostalgic and warm, it could be because it was in fact recorded years ago...three to be exact. Since 2012 it had been sitting with Matthew E. White's Spacebomb label, who cruelly kept it under raps in order to promote the latter's 2012 breakthrough record Big Inner, and rightfully so, that album was a masterpiece in its own right. And even though White is releasing his new record later this year (which I'll be reviewing too), to me 2015 finally is Prass' time to shine. With such an accomplished debut, is see no reason why whatever she releases in the future won't be even better, as long as she's used this time productively, I'm expecting big things from this rising chanteuse.

Full review here

Jessica Pratt - On Your Own Love Again

There is certainly a timeless quality to Pratt's music and though I've never been an advocate for the 'real music' brigade who dismiss anything with a trace of synth, Pratt's ~traditional~ sound is certainly a breath of fresh air my my mostly-electronic music library. That's not to say that Pratt doesn't experiment at all; tracks like 'I've Got A Feeling' and the aptly titled 'Strange Melody' toy with nauseating guitar textures and multi-layered vocalization. With only 9 tracks this album, to me at least, feels like more of a taste of what's to come from Pratt, and if 'Strange Melody' and 'Back, Baby' are anything to go by, there will be a lot more excellent material to come.

Menace Beach - Ratworld

The contrast between songs like “Lowtalkin'” and “Blue Eye” shows that Menace Beach are a lot more versatile than their peers in the psych-rock world. While the former is punchy, aggressive and raw, the latter is much softer, lighter and even ethereal in the way of Slow Dive. Without a doubt “Fortune Teller” is the album’s best song and finds the band adopting a grunge-meets-MBV shoegaze sound to add a new dynamic to the record. With indie rock being such a crowded genre, I really hope Menace Beach continue to experiment with their sound and push the envelope further on future releases, as “Fortune Teller” is proof that it will pay off.

Full review over on Earbuddy

Songs of the month

Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp

Waxahatchee - Air

If you trace back to the end of 2013, you'll remember that I placed Katie Crutchfield's sophomore album at number 1 on my favourite albums of 2013 list. Now she's back with a new album in April titled Ivy Tripp (see artwork above), having signed with Merge records, I was expecting a radical departure from her lo-fi grunge sound from which she made her name, and I wasn't far wrong. 'Air' sounds very much like a Waxahatchee song, though it certainly feels a lot bigger than her previous tracks, there is a confidence her which feels as if Crutchfield has really found her stride. 

Marika Hackman - Animal Fear

Following the release of her excellent EP That Iron Taste back in 2013, I have been waiting for Marika Hackman to drop her debut album. Since then she has released a string of EPs, all of which were great, but nothing grabbed me as much as her debut single 'Bath is Black', but this changed as of this month. 'Animal Fear' is possibly the finest track Hackman has released to date, now her debut cannot come sooner.

Torres - Strange Hellos

Mackenzie Scott is back, and guess what...she's pissed. The first taste of her new record Sprinter is a rip-roaring package of spite and attitude, and it's excellent. Half the time it sounds as if her teeth are gritted, to the point where the words are incomprehensible, but the sentiment is clear none-the-less.

Lower Dens - To Die In LA

At this point, I am very much over Winter and I want Spring. So until I have perfected my time-shifting skills I'll just have to listen to this track on repeat to stimulate the season until it actually comes. The band have adopted a much more euphoric and light sound, reminiscent to Cocteau Twins by the way Ballet School. I am also a sucker for visuals and their artwork game is incredibly strong at the moment.

 


Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - Love After Love

In case you didn't know, dark ambient is one of my favourite genres, and at this point in time I'm assuming Jefre Cantu-Ledesma will be filling the void that has been lingering in my music library for the last 5 or so months. Packed with texture and depth, Pale Flower is a tantalizing taste of what I'm sure will be one of my favourite albums of the year. 

Purity Ring - Begin Again

Though I didn't totally ~love~ their critically debut Shrines, it certainly did have some very strong moments (plus the artwork was pretty). 'Begin Again' is already my favourite song of theirs, production-wise it's now less about the glitchiness and more of the melodic noir-pop aspect of their original sound, and I like it,

Courtney Barnett - Pedestrian At Best

Much like Marika Hackman a ~proper~ album release from Aussie slacker queen Courtney Barnett has been a long time coming. This is certainly one of my favourite tracks from her to date and I am very much looking forward to more of her witticism/cynicism. I am now fully committed to repeating the line "I think you're a joke, but I don't find you very funny" as a put-down at some point this year, just a heads up. 

 


Diet Cig - Scene Sick

*Insert obligatory comment about my love or straight-up Indie Rock*

No but seriously, this is a really great track. It's nice to see an Indie band taking a stab at the scene that would be the most likely to embrace and champion them, plus the sentiment of 'I don't care' is always a welcomed one.

Petite Meller - Baby Love

When I wrote about Petite Meller's brassy track 'Backpack' late last year, I didn't expect her release a full-on banger, but she has proved me wrong with 'Baby Love'. Very catchy. Very fun. Very French.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Album review: Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass

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Going into 2015 there were many albums I was anticipating, and this was not one of them. To be fair, I hadn't heard of Nashville-based songstress Natalie Prass until a week or so ago, but the more I discover the more I kick myself for not knowing about her sooner. The term 'Nashville-based' instantly invites affiliations with country music, a genre I personally find rather tedious and dated (thankfully this record is anything but). It would be difficult to ignore that there are traces of country music throughout this record, but it is done in a subtle and tasteful manner which blends seamlessly into the record's aesthetic. Listening to this record you'd think Prass was one her twelfth release, which makes this debut even more impressive.

The album opens in a grand style with the epic 'My Baby Don't Understand Me', easily the best track on the album which sets the standard for 2015, let alone the record it opens, impeccably high. “Our love is a long goodbye” she sighs over gently pulsating strings, horns and woodwinds (courtesy of Muscle Shoals, the Spacebomb house band), which soar in the chorus as she asks “What do you do when that happens / where do you go? / when the only home that you know is with a stranger”. Many, if not all, tracks on this record follow this progressive and grand style, yet the album remains diverse and exciting throughout.

Soul and country are not the only styles Prass experiments with however, 'Christy' toys with Joanna Newsom-style baroque pop with twinkling harp flourishes, rich string arrangements and Prass' enchanting upper-register. Elsewhere the excellent 'Why Don't You Believe In Me', one of the more confrontational tracks, incorporates a multitude of different styles including soul, R&B, jazz and pop. Prass also dips her toe (albeit briefly) into the avant garde pool on the track 'Reprise', which would've fit seamlessly on Julia Holter's groundbreaking Loud City Song with it's fluttering melody and off-kilter vocal delivery. The closing track 'It's You' is so sweet it could give you toothache on repeating listens, channeling Snow White/Disney princess chamber pop. Though the arrangements of these tracks differ, the sentiment is the same; these are 9 fully developed, compelling and masterfully produced love songs with a backbone.

What tops this album off it its rather unique back story; if you are wondering why this record sounds so nostalgic and warm, it could be because it was in fact recorded years ago...three to be exact. Since 2012 it had been sitting with Matthew E. White's Spacebomb label, who cruelly kept it under raps in order to promote the latter's 2012 breakthrough record Big Inner, and rightfully so, that album was a masterpiece in its own right. And even though White is releasing his new record later this year (which I'll be reviewing too), to me 2015 finally is Prass' time to shine. With such an accomplished debut, is see no reason why whatever she releases in the future won't be even better, as long as she's used this time productively, I'm expecting big things from this rising chanteuse.

Best Tracks: My Baby Don't Understand Me, Christy, Why Don't You Believe In Me, Violently, Reprise, It's You

8.6

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Best Albums of 2014

A little later than originally planned (I kept changing my mind), here is a list of the albums I most enjoyed this year, with a few special mentions to start with...

Special Mentions

Real Estate - Atlas
Alvvays - Alvvays
Caribou - Our Love
Sharon Van Etten - Are We There
How To Dress Well - "What Is This Heart?"
Fear Of Men - Loom
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Days Of Abandon
Honeyblood - Honeyblood
Grouper - Ruins
My Brightest Diamond - This Is My Hand
Actress - Ghettoville

15. Lykke Li - I Never Learn

Despite this album's flaws (I.E: the lack of bangers), I do admire Li's boldness; not only is this album raw and powerful in sound, but she really does bear her soul in the lyrics. In all the sorrow she still manages to maintain her sharp ear for melody and killer choruses (see 'Gunshot' and 'Heart Of Steel'). As much I would of loved another 'I Follow Rivers' and God knows how happy another 'Get Some' would have made me, Lykke Li has stayed true to herself and for that I respect her. As this is 'the last in a sonic trilogy', I have no idea what's next for Li, but whatever happens she can be proud that she has created some of the most honest and powerful pop albums of the last decade.

14. GOAT - Commune

Picking up were their incredible debut World Music left off; Commune is a trippy exploration of musical styles from around the globe, from Western surf-rock, African tribal drums to psychedelic guitar twangs with Eastern flavours. With such a melting pot of cultural sounds, it would be easy to cheapen and trivialize their significance, but GOAT do them justice throughout, in the most celebratory way possible. Though I must admit that I preferred it's predecessor, Commune definitely feature some of their best material to date.

13. Aphex Twin - Syro

Though (as many reviews have already stated) this is hardly anything particularly ground breaking for the genius that is Richard D James, it is certainly one of his most accessible records to date (song titles aside). From sparse ambient moments like 'aisatsana [102]' to the more dense acid-techno bangers like '180db_[130]' and the healthy in between in the form of lead single 'minipops'. With more music allegedly on the way, these are exciting times to be an Aphex fan. I'd also recommend Selected Ambient Works for anyone looking to get into his music.

12. La Roux - Trouble In Paradise

If you journey back to January, I wrote a post about the albums I hoped would surface at some point in 2014, one of those being a new album from La Roux. So you can imagine my delight (and surprise) when La Roux returned earlier this year (as a solo artist) and released this masterpiece. Ok, maybe it's not a ~masterpiece~, but it's still pretty darn good. After 5 years, the pop scene is almost unrecognizable, so for her to come out with a bold tropical-pop record of this calibre is pretty impressive. 

11. Neneh Cherry - Blank Project

With the help of cutting-edge producer Four Tet, one of my all-time favourite producers, early 90's hip-hop/pop siren Neneh Cherry returned back in February with one of the most audacious comeback records in years. From the trip-hop recalling 'Weightless', the souring pop of 'Out of the Black' (featuring fellow Swede heavyweight Robyn) to the immaculately sharp 'Blank Project', this album is bold, masterful and effortlessly cool. If you, like me, particularly dug the production I recommend checking out Four Tet's discography.

10. Mac Demarco - Salad Days

It's been 2 years since the Canadian crooner released his critically acclaimed album and he has not disappointed in the slightest. Like Mac's previous material, Salad Days is light and uplifting, yet the added psychedelia injects some extra darkness into the mix (see 'Chamber of Reflection'). This is easily Mac's most textured and impressive output to date. On a side-note he recently put his disheveled red Vans on Ebay for charity and bidding reached about $10,000 within a few days, just thought I'd mention that.

9. Pharmakon - Bestial Burden

Bestial Burden, though intense and uncompromising, is also visceral and has moments of true beauty. It certainly feels more like an ‘album’ than it's predecessor ever did, with each song contributing a different idea and insight into the concept of the record. Though there is immense contrast between the sparser, otherworldly tracks (“Vacuum” and “Bestial Burden”) and the face-melting, bone crushing ones (“Autoimmune”), the album feels cohesive and fluid in its tone, every track serves its purpose. Most importantly, Bestial Burden is a piece of art, and the artwork itself is just the beginning, the arrangements and sounds hit hard and leave a lasting impression. This is most certainly not everyone’s thing, but like all great art, it provokes thought and debate, achieving much more than just a disposable file on your computer.

8. Perfume Genius - Too Bright

What makes Too Bright special is its ability to shift between these aforementioned off-kilter avante-pop tracks and more stripped back balladry, meaning that the content shows heaps of progression without alienating his prior fanbase. Despite the immense levels of confidence he exhumes on the more instrumentally dense tracks, we still see moments of emotional vulnerability and self-loathing on the piano ballads, a familiar territory for Hadreas. Album standout 'Too Bright' uses subtle synth flourishes to enrich the melody and give the track an almost spiritual and medicinal feel, despite the cryptic and sparse lyrics this is one of the most powerful tracks on the entire album. Suffice to say, seeing Perfume Genius' music grow both sonically and visually has been an absolute delight. 

7. Flying Lotus - You're Dead!

Over the last decade LA producer Steven Ellison (A.K.A Flying Lotus) has dropped some of the most interesting and ambitious electronic/hip-hop records [arguably] of all time (Los AngelesCosmogramma), though his last record Until The Quiet Comes was a lot tamer he has certainly upped the ante with his latest release. The entire record screams boldness and liveliness, from the explosive cover art to the excessive use of retro video game samples as well as off-kilter synths and drum patterns - Fly-Lo's specialty. This record isn't all style however, the substance is pretty damn good also; You're Dead! contains some of his finest tracks to date with the likes of 'Coronus, the Terminator', 'Siren Song' and his massive Kendrick Lamar collaboration 'Never Catch Me', which sounds even better in the context of the album. An essential jazz-fusion record which feels like a worthy successor J-Dilla's iconic Donuts.  

6. EMA - The Future's Void
Following-up a boundary-pushing debut like the Past Life Martyred Saints was never going to be easy; for Erica M Anderson there was only one way to do it and that was bigger, much bigger. Though you may not realize it now, The Future's Void was one of the most important releases of this year; in an age where our lives are pretty much dictated by the internet, TFV provides 43 minutes and 31 seconds of reflection and contemplation on what the world has become as well as what could potentially lay ahead. This is sometimes surreal ('Satellites'), sometimes sobering ('3jane') and often startlingly accurate ('Dead Celebrity'). This may all sound very heavy but EMA also does an excellent job of adding satire ('So Blonde') and straight up attitude ('Neuromancer') in order to create an eclectic and thought-provoking modern masterpiece which demands to be heard. 

5. FKA Twigs - LP1
So as you may have gathered by now, I am (still) pretty much infatuated with this record, but don't take my word for it; the world of FKA Twigs is ready and waiting to be delved into. But what I can offer you is the following advice: If new to Twigs, give it time (perhaps less than two weeks, ha) and you will reap the rewards. If already accustomed to her artistry, you'll agree it's a masterpiece and want to marry it. And if none of the above don't apply, I simply do not know. I've listened to this record relentlessly and can assure you that there are no weak spots, each track is special and will become your favourite at one time or another, that's the beauty of it. 

4. Lone - Reality Testing
There is an immense confidence felt throughout this record, a self-assurance in Matt Cutler's flawless production which makes Reality Testing feel more entrancing and engaging than your average electronic record. Not since Jon Hopkin's astonishing Mercury-nominated Immunity have I felt such warmth and depth from an electronic record. With Reality Testing there is a real sense of balance between paying tribute to older scenes such as Detroit techno and Chicago House and innovating new sounds. As a result I feel this record will stand the test of time, to the extent where it already feels somewhat of a classic, to me anyway. Hopefully between this and the popularity of acts such as Disclosure and Julio Bashmore, mainstream dance will regain its credibility once again. 

3. St Vincent - St Vincent
With a discography as strong as Annie Clark's, there was never any doubt in my mind that St Vincent would be yet another solid offering from the reigning queen of art rock. Despite technically being ~her major label debut~, St Vincent is her most experimental solo record to date lyrically, melodically and not to mention imagery-wise. This album is every bit as cohesive and fluid as its predecessor, yet each track is unique and presents its own set of ideas; from the ridged indie rock of ‘Birth In Reverse’, the off-kilter pop of ‘Bring Me Your Loves’ and the sheer euphoria of ‘Psychopath’, every second is something to be taken in and savored. Best of all however is its pop sensibility; If you cut past the muffled (and sometimes blazing) guitar riffs you'll see the gooey pop center and like every accomplished pop record St Vincent goes out in a blaze of glory in the form of the deceptively sweet ‘Severed Crossed Fingers’, a career highlight. 

2. Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Shock? Well not really, my number 1 choice changed like the British weather over the course of the year and is likely to continue changing...in fact I'm not so sure this is such a good ideas...but anyhow this record in particular had a fair share of time at the top. Both cohesive and wonderfully diverse; there is so much to be taken from this record, from the the glorious highs ('Hi-Five') to the devastating lows ('White Fire'); Burn Your Fire...'s genius is in it's ability to strike the perfect balance between the two. Whilst her debut was crippling at times ('Safe In The Womb' in particular); Burn Your Fire... turns despair into triumph as it sticks up her middle finger to loneliness and sorrow before leaving them behind on the wonderfully uplifting 'Windows'. 

1. Warpaint - Warpaint
Just over a year ago you may recall me banging on about my excitement following the announcement of a new Warpaint album (which just-so happens to be my most-read post yet). With such excitement over a record it is often the case that the record itself feels rather underwhelming in comparison to the hype which preceded it. Fortunately, 12 months on I still cannot get enough of this bloody thing; Hypnotic, rich and often intoxicating this record is a class effort form the Cali quartet, everything about it feels so unique compared to anything else released this year. From the stunning imagery to the execution of the music itself; they simply aren't bothered about being in-tune all the time because the atmosphere takes precedence and I for one support this completely. From the pulsating lead-single 'Love Is To Die' to the badass growl of 'Disco//Very' this album is full of witchy goodness.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Best Songs of 2014

Happy list week folks! I haven't posted for a while but I have two mega-posts to compensate (with my best albums of 2014 coming shortly). What a year it has been, this was an incredibly difficult list to write and there were a lot of last minute shuffles (hence the mess that this the spotify playlist). But I've finally got my s#!t (and incidentally, my list) together, so without further ado I present my favourite songs of the last year...

OK so like I said I am insanely indecisive so I felt it necessary to create a sub-list with a few special mentions (in no particular order), I am aware that 15 is a weird number and there is very little justification for it besides the fact that I had ran out of trendy adjectives by number 15. 

MOVING SWIFTLY ON...

Special Mentions

  • Taylor Swift (see what I did there) - New Romantics (seriously though what a chorus)
  • Holly Herndon - Chorus
  • Lady Lamb The Beekeeper - Billions Of Eyes (as this only dropped a couple of days ago it would have been a bit unfair to put it in my main list)
  • St Vincent - Huey Newton (tough call but there can only be one track per artist in my elusive top 15 *hint*)
  • Daughter – Winter (Warpaint Remix) (same as before)
  • EMA - When She Comes (albums list makes up for it)
  • Jessica Pratt - Back, Baby (same as Lady Lamb)
  • Rosie Lowe - Water Came Down (again, a little too fresh)
  • AlunaGeorge - Supernatural 
  • My Brightest Diamond - Lover/Killer
  • Panda Bear - Mr Noah
  • Lykke Li - Gunshot
  • SOPHIE - Hard
  • Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks - Little Fang
  • Lyla Foy - Feather Tongue
  • How To Dress Well - Repeat Pleasure
  • White Hinterland - David (such a beauty)
  • Kyla La Grange - The Knife
  • Little Dragon - Klapp Klapp
  • The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Until The Sun Explodes
  • Fatima Al Qadiri - Szechuan (Bloody love this one)
  • Shunkan - Dust In Your Eyes
  • Lily & Madeleine - The Wolf Is Free

15. Mac DeMarco - Passing Out Pieces
What a man...and what a track; Mac DeMarco was always somewhat of an unlikely hero but his ascension from Canadian goofball to a cult hero is remarkable and well deserved. Don't get me wrong, he is still very much a complete clown but his audience has certainly grown much larger than your bog-standard kids party, so to speak. This track, with it's hazy melody and driving horns/synths made 'Passing out Pieces' a premature summer jam. 




14. Caribou - Our Love
The first of many obscure choices on my list; Although it would have made a lot more sense to have featured the certified IDM monster that was 'Can't Do Without You', I can't help but prefer this track, which I feel was unfairly eclipsed by the lead single. The groove feels a bit off, but that only adds to the charm of this track. 



13. Screaming Females - Wishing Well
A late entry to my list; Screaming Females have certainly pulled it out of the bag with this track, which is easily their most straight-forward and accessible to date. Though it must be noted that any of the pre-released tracks from Rose Mountain could have made it onto my list, this one is still my favorite by far. 


12. Hockeysmith - But Blood
One of my favourite iplugtoyou 'Ones To Watch' alumni; Cornish sisterly duo Hockeysmith have undergone a serious level of artistic progression since they first came on the scene. 'But Blood' feels miles away from their ambient alt-pop routes but equally entrancing, and these riffs could've easily belonged to Slowdive or MBV in their prime. 



11. Perfume Genius - Too Bright
It would've been all too easy for me to feature the massive 'Queen', but I for one much prefer the more ethereal title track from Perfume Genius' breakthrough record Too Bright. The simple yet completely glorious melody, flourished with masterful synth-work exemplify Mike Hadreas' ~journey~ from his low-key 2009 debut to a cult hero in 2014. 

Ironically, this song isn't available anywhere except spotify so 'Queen' it is then:



10. Robyn & Foyksopp - Do It Again
Ok time for a banger, well, a conventional banger. Robyn is hands-down the best pop star on the planet and to hear her ~slaying the airwaves~ with this tune was a complete joy. This is the perfect summer anthem, it's punchy, fun and relentlessly dance-able. It would probably be a little higher if it wasn't winter and I wasn't in the midst of a horrible cold, but there you go.



9. Warpaint - Son
I bloody love Warpaint, me. 'Love Is To Die' is still on heavy rotation and is quickly becoming one of my favorite tracks of all time, but as it was technically released in 2013, it cannot be featured (according to the tragic set of rules I set for myself before I wrote this list, sad but true). Anyways, this track is pretty damn great too and makes perfect driving music. 



8. FKA Twigs - Kicks
iplugtoyou - doing things differently since 2013; when all other lists glorify the (admittedly amazing) lead single 'Two Weeks', it was the closing track which really caught my attention back in August. I mean, what a breakdown (Portishead realness) and a not-so-subtle lyrical theme of masturbation is always welcome. 




7. Angel Olsen - Windows
*ANGEL OLSEN KLAXON*
I'm sure this comes as no surprise to any of my regular readers (I know you're out there somewhere), Angel Olsen is 2014 for me (*Spoiler alert*). 'Hi-Five' might be great but as an ~original fan~ I will always have an infirmity for her ethereal folk stuff. Yes, it's all a bit melancholic and sad but then again so am I, hence my love for her discography. This track acts as a perfect bookend for a rather bleak and reflective record, you can truly feel her ~letting go~ as the song progresses.   




6. The War On Drugs - Red Eyes
Now it wouldn't be a best of 2014 list without The War On Drugs making their obligatory appearance now would it? I honestly tried avoiding them this year (this song in particular) but back in July I caved in and consequently fell in love (with this track anyway). The shimmering melody and mostly incomprehensible make it the musical equivalent of late-summer afternoons, which are now distant memories for us Brits. 




5. St Vincent - Psychopath
I originally wasn't going to feature album tracks from record which rank highly on my best albums list but I couldn't resist this one; often overshadowed by 'Digital Witness' or 'Prince Johnny' (which, yes, are still very wonderful), this track really ought to get a lot more recognition for how lovely it is in every possible way. The chorus in particular is orgasmic, seriously, well done Annie.   



4. Alvvays - Archie, Marry Me
The concept of 'a perfect pop song' is wholly subjective, for some it's a huge EDM banger in the way of Ariana Grande and Zedd's admittedly huge 'Break Free', while for others it's the jingle-jangle pop of The Smiths' classic 'This Charming Man'. For me pop perfection is personified by Toronto outfit Alvvays, with this track in particular being an absolute clanger. It's almost 3 minutes and 20 seconds of pure hook, from the bird-chirping intro to the perfectly arranged and delivered "Hey, Hey"s in the chorus, this song is pretty-much immaculate.




3. Lone - 2 is 8
Following his seminal album Galaxy Garden, Nottingham producer Lone would have a mammoth task in releasing a follow-up to equal the standard he had set so early on in his discography, but fortunately he came through with the euphoric Reality Testing. The uppity '2 is 8' is a definite highlight, along with 'Jaded' this acts as a key access point for the stream of conscious that is this record with production which not only lends to the golden age of the Manchester dance scene but looks towards the future in equal measure.



2. Real Estate - Talking Backwards
If you trace your minds back to late February you may recall me badgering on about this track; half-way in between a late autumnal jam and a premature summer anthem 'Talking Backwards' was an important track in 2014 by an equally important band (having produced some of my favourite records of all time). This is jingle-jangle pop at it's very finest - with a hint of melancholy in the chord progression for good measure.


 
1. Arca - Thievery
As you are probably aware, I have listened to a hell of a lot of songs this year, but not one of them has even come close to this one; the beat, the guttering synths, the schizophrenic pace and of course, that video. Even though Xen as a whole was kind of underwhelming the fact that this track is on it is enough to make it one of the best releases of the year. I now wonder if there will ever be a moment where this track will not be ingrained in my head (nor the weird big-arsed creature, for that matter). 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Best of October

October was yet another very strong month for new releases, many of which should be making quite an impact on a few end of year lists (including mine). Yes, from the experimental hip-hop duo Run The Jewels to Caribou's alt-house and Taylor Swift's bubblegum pop, that's right, I said Taylor Swift. It is also that time of year were we start hearing snippets for whats to come next year, namely Panda Bear and AlunaGeorge among others. So without further adieu, here is the music I've been thoroughly enjoying this past month (in no particular order):

Albums of the month (playlist below):



























Flying Lotus - You're Dead!

Over the last decade LA producer Steven Ellison (A.K.A Flying Lotus) has dropped some of the most interesting and ambitious electronic/hip-hop records [arguably] of all time (Los Angeles, Cosmogramma), though his last record Until The Quiet Comes was a lot tamer he has certainly upped the ante with his latest release. The entire record screams boldness and liveliness, from the explosive cover art to the excessive use of retro video game samples as well as off-kilter synths and drum patterns - Fly-Lo's specialty. This record isn't all style however, the substance is pretty damn good also; You're Dead! contains some of his finest tracks to date with the likes of 'Coronus, the Terminator', 'Siren Song' and his massive Kendrick Lamar collaboration 'Never Catch Me', which sounds even better in the context of the album. 

Pharmakon - Bestial Burden

Anyone who took the time to check this out is probably thinking WTF at this point, and rightfully so, this is an extremely difficult record from one of the most difficult and inaccessible sub-genres (power electronics). What makes me like this record so much is how visceral it is; you can really feel with every listen the passion and energy Margaret Chardiet is putting into the creation of her music. From the rhythmic beats and out-and-out growling on 'Intent or Instinct' and 'Autoimmune', gagging and retching on interlude 'Primitive Struggle' to what can be best described as a Disney princess having a mental breakdown of some kind on the closing track, there is never a dull moment with this record. 

Caribou - Our Love

Electronic music veteran Dan Snaith has been releasing lush and eclectic folktronica/house records for well over ten years and this, his seventh studio album in total Our Love is easily his most straight-forward 'dance' record yet. Though this doesn't come close to the greatness of Swim or Andorra, tracks such as 'Mars', 'Second Chance' and the title track are some of the best he's ever put out.

Grouper - Ruins

Liz Harris (A.K.A Grouper) has one of the most consistently excellent discographies of any contemporary artist. In ten(!) releases she has never failed to deliver moving, skillful and engaging ambient/drone pieces with a strong sense of melody (particularly on her later releases). Ruins, a collection of tracks Harris recorded a few years ago during a residency in Portugal is no exception; the instrumentation is mainly subtle piano yet Harris never fails to hold my full attention.

Run The Jewels - RTJ 2

There really isn't much to say about this record other than that EL-P and Killer Mike have delivered yet another solid experimental hip-hop record which is both 'out-there' and accessible, even to those who care little about rap. The increase number of guest features ensures that there is a healthy progression from their debut. 

Songs of the month (playlist below)



Panda Bear - Mr Noah

Following the rather disappointing Tomboy, it appears Panda Bear is back on top form (a la Person Pitch) with 'Mr Noah', the lead single from his forthcoming 2015 album Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper. With its driving beat and disorientating chorus, could his latest output be his strongest release to date?

AlunaGeorge - Supernatural

After over a year of constant hype, AlunaGeorge released their debut album Body Music to a lukewarm reception, and rightfully so, it wasn't very good. At this point I was pretty sure that would be the end of the duo, but thankfully it wasn't and last month they returned with their best track yet. 'Supernatural' shows that there is plenty still to come from this duo.

Rosie Lowe - How'd You Like It

Hot off the musical press, iplugtoyou favourite Rosie Lowe continues to fly the flag for underrated home-grown talent with new track 'How'd You Like It', which contains her most audacious and confident vocal delivery to date and like all of her tracks thus far is backed by stirring hypnotic production. With a new EP this month and a debut album to follow next year, Rosie continues to be one to look out for. 


Screaming Females - Wishing Well

Ugly was one of the best indie rock albums of the last decade, and now Screaming Females are back with a new single and the promise of a follow up in the new year. With an increased emphasis on melody and an explosive chorus; 'Wishing Well' is easily their most accessible track to date. I predict that their new album could be yet another corker.

Shura - Indecision

If you've been keeping up with these posts I'm sure you'll vaguely recall me talking about up-and-coming pop chanteuse and her very excellent single 'Just Once'. Well now she's bringing us back to the 80's (not like I've ever been there but whatever); subtle tropical soundscapes and breathy vocals create yet another stunning listening experience.  

Find below a handy playlist of the best things I heard in October, with a playlist of my vlogs below that:



Monday, 13 October 2014

Pharmakon - Bestial Burden Review



Where do I start with Pharmakon? Well, I would categorize her as an artist I love, but no one else I know does (in fact I once made the mistake of playing “Milkweed/It Hangs Heavy” to one of my friends and they haven’t looked at me the same way since). Regardless of your opinion of her music, to feel this excited about a new(ish) artist is rare and should be commended. Anyway, for a while I thought Abandon would be the only ‘noise/power electrics’ record I needed in my life (mainly because a vast majority of the acts in those respective genres are pretty much garbage to me) but on Bestial Burden Margaret Chardiet has upped the ante and delivered one of the most powerful records of the year.

Abandon was a strange little record, literally; it was only 4 tracks long (with the exception of the ‘bonus track’ “Sour Sap”, which was a whopping 27 minutes long) and the music itself was deranged. Abandon was not an easy record either. Much like going to the gym, the first few times are a real struggle but you eventually adjust and begin to reap the rewards, not like I would actually know but it felt like an apt analogy, so there. While Bestial Burden isn’t worlds apart from its predecessor, it truly is a completely different experience, and this is made very clear from the very first second.

Bestial Burden is certainly a lot darker; I always felt Abandon had a kind of earthy quality, mainly due to the muffled synths and gritty textures (not to mention the maggot-heavy imagery) which gave it a mild sense of warmth. In contrast, Bestial Burden is just cold. The combination of sharper production and clearer mixing of the vocals give Bestial Burden a more industrial and confrontational feel. Following the panicked, breathy and almost ambient intro track “Vacuum”, you are confronted by the rusty clang of “Intent or Instinct”, which is essentially 8 minutes of utter terror. On this particular track Margaret ditches her usual screams and instead delivers a sort of growl reminiscent of a pitbull in its final stages of rabies, just begging to be put out of its misery. This is a breeze compared to “Primitive Struggle”, the most uncomfortable and grotesque track I have ever experienced…in the best possible way of course. I mean, if anyone could make coughing, spitting and gagging over power electronics awesome, it’s Margaret.

You are then hit with the tribal stomp of “Autoimmune”, the most direct track we’ve heard from her yet; no real intro, no real build up, it just goes. It is relentless and extremely dense, yet still has an added element of ~accessibility~ through the circular song structure. The way in which she asserts the line, “I’m a surgeon/ In this vessel,” is also completely badass. There are also moments on Bestial Burden were Margaret makes the full transition from industrial noise to dark ambient, such as the Armageddon-channeling “Body Betrays Itself” and of course, the jarring title track. On the latter, the instrumentation is heavy and bleak, but the vocals are ethereal and spacey with a few schizophrenic bellows of “I don’t belong here/ In the hands of nothing!” Menacing samples of laughter thrown in for good measure. In this track we hear her truly nail the record’s aesthetic and encapsulate an acute sense of anguish and fear — the sonic decay of the tracks show just how fragile our bodies are and the lack of control we have when they begin to fail. It’s a terrifying idea and a bleak reminder of its inevitability, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop it.

Bestial Burden, though intense and uncompromising, is also visceral and has moments of true beauty. It certainly feels more like an ‘album’ than Abandon ever did with each song contributing a different idea and insight into the concept of the record. Though there is immense contrast between the sparser, otherworldly tracks (“Vacuum” and “Bestial Burden”) and the face-melting, bone crushing ones (“Autoimmune”), the album feels cohesive and fluid in its tone, every track serves its purpose. Most importantly, Bestial Burden is a piece of art, and the artwork itself is just the beginning, the arrangements and sounds hit hard and leave a lasting impression. This is most certainly not everyone’s thing, but like all great art, it provokes thought and debate, achieving much more than just a disposable file on your computer.

9.0/10

Best Tracks: Intent or Instinct, Body Betrays Itself, Autoimmune, Bestial Burden

I know this is difficult stuff, but if you like what you've heard so  far and want to start exploring darker music, I have crafted a handy little playlist which will ease you in nicely. 

Good luck!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Best Of September

A little later than usual but I hope to make up for that soon, here are my favourite tracks and albums of September. This month I feel was more about quality rather than quantity; all the albums and tracks in this posts are pretty much guaranteed to place highly on my best of 2014 lists. The playlist at the end of the post will feature tracks from every artist for a change. Enjoy!

Albums of the month



Perfume Genius - Too Bright

What makes Too Bright special is its ability to shift between these aforementioned off-kilter avante-pop tracks and more stripped back balladry, meaning that the content shows heaps of progression without alienating his prior fanbase. Despite the immense levels of confidence he exhumes on the more instrumentally dense tracks ('Queen', 'Grid', 'Longpig'), we still see moments of emotional vulnerability and self-loathing on the piano ballads, a familiar territory for Hadreas. Closing track 'All Along' has a very similar effect to that of 'Windows', the closer on Angel Olsen's Burn Your Fire For No Witness; through the majestic instrumentation and the defiant sentiment of "I don't need your love, I don't need you to understand, I need you to listen", the album becomes a statement of where Hadreas is with himself, which adds a new level of satisfaction to the record.

Read my full review here.

Aphex Twin - Syro

I'll keep this one brief because this release has been all over the music media since it was announced and yeah, you should believe the hype. Though (as many reviews have already stated) this is hardly anything particularly ground breaking for the genius that is Richard D James, but it is certainly one of his most accessible records to date (song titles aside). From sparse ambient moments like 'aisatsana [102]' to the more dense acid-techno bangers like '180db_[130]' and the healthy in between in the form of lead single 'minipops'. With more music allegedly on the way, these are exciting times to be an Aphex fan.

GOAT - Commune

Picking up were their incredible debut World Music left off; Commune is a trippy exploration of styles from around the globe, from Western surf-rock, African tribal drums to psychedelic guitar twangs with Eastern flavours. With such a melting pot of cultural sounds, it would be easy to cheapen and trivialize their significance, but GOAT do them justice throughout, in the most celebratory way possible.

My Brightest Diamond - This Is My Hand

On her fifth LP, Shara Worden embraces pop sensibilities like never before, yet she still incorporates the classical and chamber pop elements which made her previous output so classy and authentic. The usual woodwind and horn sections are accompanied by marching bands, choirs and synths, taking her theatrics to a whole new level.

Songs of the month



Arca - Thievery

Following some stellar production work with FKA Twigs as well as two phenomenal solo EPs, Arca is finally releasing his debut album Xen in November. As the disturbing artwork and single 'Thievery' suggest, this album is expected to push the boundaries of experimental electronica further than ever before. And judging by this track, Xen could be a late contender for album of the year.

Flying Lotus - Coronus, the Terminator

While pretty much everyone on the internet continue to loose their minds over Fly-lo's Kendrick Lamar collab 'Never Gonna Catch Me', I on the other hand much prefer this slow burning jazz fusion masterpiece. Despite being a mere 2 minutes 40 seconds in length, 'Coronus, the Terminator' manages to change the entire pace of his latest LP You're Dead! and is certainly an album highlight. 

Rosie Lowe - Water Came Down

You may vaguely recall me badgering on about Rosie Lowe and her wonderful EP Right Thing late last year, well after a year of gigging and recording she has finally put out a new track in preparation for her debut album (due sometime next year). 'Water Came Down' is the most uptempo track she's produced to date, yet her soulful twang still maintains the sensuality which made her a name to watch in the first place. 

Kendrick Lamar - i

When I first heard 'i' I thought I was listening to an Outkast track, I am yet to determine whether this is a good thing or not but then again, I like Outkast and I like Kendrick, so I guess it's the best of both worlds. Stepping away from the grit of his seminal Good Kid M.A.A.D City; 'i' sees Kendrick explore a more positive vibe with the refrain 'I love myself'. Regardless of your thoughts on this track, the prospect of a new Kendrick album is still a very exciting prospect. 




Deers - Barn

Now it wouldn't be an iplugtoyou post without a female-fronted indie rock band of some kind, so here's a band from Spain called Deers. There is a surprising amount of hype surrounding these guys and though I am a little confused by it all, their output thus far has been consistently catchy and fun, with 'Barn' being no exception.