Sunday, 29 March 2015

Best of March

March was without a doubt the most spectacular months for music in a long while, some might say it's the new February 2014, but I'm not quite convinced yet. But my God was some great music dropped this month, from electronica (Jamie XX, Holly Herndon) to folk (Sufjan Stevens, Laura Marling) and psychedelia (Tame Impala, The Holydrug Couple), there was a little something for everyone.

Albums of the month















Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell

Ever since I heard Seven Swans I was hooked on this guy's music. His invented combinations of traditional folk, chamber pop and the occasional electronic elements, for me, always set him apart from the bog-standard 'dude with a guitar' act. When it was announced that Carrie and Lowell would 'a return to his folk roots', I had no idea how true this statement would be; this is the most bare and raw I've ever heard Stevens sound. As a mummy's boy myself, this is a truly devastating listen with absolutely no break from the darkness in it's 42 minute running time. But I must admit, praising this record for it's rawness and it's relentlessness makes me somewhat of a hypocrite when I criticised Sun Kil Moon's Benji for the exact same reasons. The difference is that Sufjan balances the bleakness of these tracks with melodic guitar-work and his paper-thin falsetto, which makes the tone much cozier than it should.

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

The ongoing class war in the UK and the race issues in America have defined 2015 so far and I have no doubt they'll continue to be prominent areas of debate among members my generation, and rightfully so. Growing up in an area which is both ethically and economically diverse, I recognise the need for enlightened social commentators like Kendrick Lamar. Even though I didn't get the hype over his last record, both lyrically and production-wise this stands heads and shoulders above Good Kid M.A.AD City. Inevitably his music won't appeal to a cynical and often ignorant older generation, but what is important is that we take notice of Kendrick's message and be inspired to speak about the issues that concern us.

Lower Dens - Escape From Evil

What is most commendable about Lower Dens on this record is the ease with which they are able to achieve such a distinct atmosphere and sustain it throughout, especially when so many others try so hard to convey any sort of mood whatsoever and fail. Where this record shines brightest is when the band let go and embrace lighter, more euphoric aspect of their sound, particularly on the melancholic yet therapeutic sheen of “To Die in LA”. My only wish is that they capitalized upon this sonic breakthrough with a record full of tracks of this caliber, which makes the fact that they didn’t somewhat frustrating. That being said, knowing that Lower Dens have the potential to create melancholic pop perfection is comforting in itself.

Laura Marling - Short Movie

With her debut album, Laura Marling didn't quite 'burst' but 'politely step' onto the scene, gradually she won over fans and critics with her 'British rose with an edge' charm. Fast forward to 2013 and she's musically evolved into a middle-age, troubled American crooner on 'Once, I Was An Eagle'. With such an epic predecessor, I had high hopes for 'Short Movie' and fortunately I was not disappointed. The best thing about this record, especially for a long-term fan like me, is that it is apparent how Marling's confidence has grown, both lyrically and vocally. The real gem here is 'False Hope', continuing the crunchy and aggressive folk-rock vibe from Once, I Was An Eagle but with even more bite. 

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper

Though After feels far more mature and developed than it’s predecessor, it does have a few big moments, namely the tense, bitter and uncompromising stomp of “Batter”. Lead single “Billions of Eyes” is probably the most straight forward track she’s released to date, the carefree chants and general breeziness of the production make it a summer anthem waiting to happen. “Spat Out Spit” features one of the record’s biggest choruses, laced with horns, hand-claps and rolling guitar. The subtle lyrical references to Ripley Pine tracks scattered throughout the record in many ways cement After as the coming of age record for Spaltro’s Lady Lamb project, which at this stage in her career is pretty damn impressive.

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Though the Aussie chanteuse only just released her debut album, Courtney Barnett has already become somewhat of a cult hero in the indie scene.  As expected debut LP is full of razor-sharp, clear, and clever songwriting that crystallizes the world around us with a sly wink and a smile. Sometimes I Sit and Think... sits comfortably between the romantic and tongue and cheek fun of Father John Misty's I Love You, Honeybear and Alvvays' feelings of confusion and uncertainty of being a 20-something in the 21st century. Barnett recognizes the tedium of normal life (Depreston), but still finds a way to revel in the everyday (Pedestrian At Best).

Songs of the month



Jamie XX - Gosh

Jamie XX has finally announced the details of his debut LP after teasing us time after time with bangers such as 'Girl' and 'Under One Roof Raving' (which unfortunately didn't make it onto the record). Along with the announcement of In Colour, Jamie dropped not one, but two brand new tracks, but whilst everyone lost their shit over 'Loud Places' (which was basically an XX reunion as it features Romy) I was (and still am) mesmerized by 'Gosh', possibly his finest track to date. One of the best thing about Jamie's style is how well he uses samples, but with this track he takes it to a new level, the base and the aggression on this track, as well as the epic outro, really encapsulates exactly why he's one of the best producers in the UK right now.

Jenny Hval - The Battle Is Over

Following the release of her breakthrough LP Innocence Is Kinky in 2013, I have been eagerly anticipating her next solo album. Even though her collaborative album with Susanna Meshes of Voices was nice, it was not exactly what I was hoping for. Fortunately though her new solo record Apocalypse, Girl is shaping up nicely, with this, it's lead single being one of her strongest to date (as well as one of the best tracks of 2015 to date). Lyrically this track is a goldmine, to the point where I can't pick just one to feature; with themes ranging from feminism to socialism I cannot wait to here this new record when it drops.    

Holly Herndon - Interference


Holly Herndon really is on a roll with these new tracks, isn't she? Both 'Chorus' (still amazing) and 'Home' will feature on her upcoming 4AD debut Platforms along with Interference, yet another clinical exploration of the digital age we live in. With every new track and every interview I read/watch I am captivated by Herndon's artistry and her whole process; her approach to her art is so fresh and innovative, it is no surprise that she is so highly acclaimed.  

Tame Impala - Let It Happen


God I love this band. Lonerism is still the official sponsor of my summer (i.e me eating ice cream and pretzels in my room, listening music and watching old TV shows, alone). But it's so much more than that, it is able to mentally transport me to a psychedelic dream world (like some kind of trippy escapism from reality). Even though there has been no official announcement of their new record, Let It Happen, at 8 minutes, is long enough to quench my thirst for the moment. 

Grimes - REALiTi

For the record I actually really liked Go, but I (like many) was relieved when Grimes announced not only that it would not feature on her next record but that it did not represent how said album would sound. I, on the other hand, was fricking ecstatic when this absolute banger entered my life. I may* be getting ahead of myself here but this is the best Grimes song ever and I cannot even begin to explain how exited I am to hear the 're-made' version which she was kinda forced to make. When you're ready, Claire!



Girlpool - Ideal World

"Tranquilize me with your ideal world", even though I am yet to hear Girlpool's debut LP I get the feeling this lyric sums the general sentiment up pretty well. With the lego-themed art direction as well as the title itself, I get the idea that Before The World Was Big has something to do with growing up (or perhaps not wanting to grow up). As 'Chinatown' was pretty bleak (still great though), I'm glad Ideal World is a bit more chilled and easier to digest. One thing's for sure, this album's gonna be a corker.

Novella - Sentences

Less than a month after putting out 'Land Gone', Novella have released yet another taster from their upcoming debut Land. I don't usually like to feature buzz tracks and singles from the same acts in succession but I just couldn't help myself with this one. Yet another hazy and euphoric number from these guys, drenched in reverb and shoegazing guitars I am once again reminded why I love these guys so damn much. 


Kero Kero Bonito - Picture This

What better way to celebrate (or mock?) the vain, insecure and self-obsessed generation we are than making a fun J-Pop track about it? Well that's what Kero Kero Bonito have done here. I tend to affiliate this band with the PC Music group who have been taking the internet by storm with their sickly sweet, colourful and downright bonkers approach to pop music.

The Holydrug Couple - Dreamy

I don't know too much about these guys so I'll keep this brief. Firstly, they're from Chile, secondly they are signed to the ever-hip Sacred Bones Records and thirdly, they sound like Tame Impala. So to sum up, they're a more chilled and Chilean answer to Tame Impala, got it? Great. 

Shunkan

You may vaguely remember me gush about Kiwi/LA/Japanese badass Shunkan a while back, well now she's back with yet another excellent, albeit painfully short, indie rock gem. I hate to compare artists (even though I do it all the time) but this track really does sound like a much happier Waxahatchee, which is a massive complement because I love a bit of Katie Crutchfield.  



Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Double Album Review - After by Lady Lamb the Beekeeper and Another Eternity by Purity Ring


This week two very good sophomore albums were released, one by Canadian duo Purity Ring and one from rising singer/songwriter Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. I've never done this before but releasing a second album which isn't a massive disappointment is no mean feat so we may as well celebrate it. Before we start, here's a playlist to get us all in the mood:




Though Maine native Aly Spaltro has been releasing music in various forms for a few years now (starting with her first homemade CD back in 2007), it was her electrifying live shows in the last couple of years which really got people talking. Though I haven’t yet been fortunate enough to catch her live, I can imagine that her music would translate incredibly well, after all, her debut record Ripely Pine was one of the finest debuts in years.  Spaltro really utilized the backing band on said record, making every song unique and memorable through an eclectic range of instrumentation and song structures. With moods varying between tracks, one thing that always came through was that Spaltro was truly passionate about what she was singing; there were points of immense vulnerability where her voice was barely a whisper and other points where she would scream at the top of her lungs. This equated to an immensely dynamic and engaging listening experience, which she has only capitalized upon with her sophomore record.

After opens with a bang in the form of “Vena Cava”, with gentle guitar plucks and stripped back vocals erupting into the gritty and heavy chorus. There is a greater confidence in Spaltro’s vocals, with the gorgeous raspy quality of her voice being increasingly prominent on this record.  Similarly obscure in composition is “Violet Clementine”, which begins with Spaltro’s A Capella vocals before the banjo, yes banjo, kicks in and ramps up the pace of the track, with more layers of instrumentation and vocals being added as it progresses. This isn’t to say that After doesn’t feature some down moments to balance out the chaos; “Sunday Shoes” being the prime example. Though there are less of these tracks than on Ripely Pine, they still play a pivotal role on the record and like in the case of the former, they showcase Spaltro’s vocals in the most intimate of ways with only the guitar to back her up. The stunning “Ten” features one of her strongest vocal performances to date, showing that she is more than capable of creating a moment without the need for a dense instrumental backing.


Though After feels far more mature and developed than it’s predecessor, it does have a few big moments, namely the tense, bitter and uncompromising stomp of “Batter”. Lead single “Billions of Eyes” is probably the most straight forward track she’s released to date, the carefree chants and general breeziness of the production make it a summer anthem waiting to happen. “Spat Out Spit” features one of the record’s biggest choruses, laced with horns, hand-claps and rolling guitar. The subtle lyrical references to Ripley Pine tracks scattered throughout the record are another fun touch, the reference to personal favorite “Aubergine” in “Vena Cave” — “There ain’t no aubergine in my blood” — being an example which sticks to mind. This in many ways cements After as the coming of age record for Spaltro’s Lady Lamb project, which at this stage in her career is pretty damn impressive.



8.0

Best Tracks: Vena Cava, Violet Clementine, Heretic, Spat Out Spit, Dear Arkansas Daughter, Ten, Batter, Atlas

Saying Canadian duo Purity Ring made a mark on the pop landscape when they dropped their critically acclaimed debut Shrines back in 2012 is an understatement, they mastered the 'bedroom beats' sound without sounding try-hard or lazy. For me at least, it set a bar for both indie and mainstream pop 'bangers' to reach, and to this day very few do. With tracks like 'Fine Shrines' still getting regular airplay and exposure (mainly on brooding ads), I was fully expecting the duo's next record to smash, not only the 'blogosphere' but the mainstream charts also, they are certainly good enough. With Another Eternity, they've done just that - created a record full of ambitious and dynamic pop songs, all of which have the potential to set the charts alight. 

'Push Pull' is one of the most straight forward pop tracks the duo have produced so far, melodically it is catchy and easy to digest, it also sees the qlitchy soundscapes which were at the heart of Shrines take somewhat of a backseat whilst Megan James' vocals take centre stage. One of my favourite things about Shrines was the contrast between James' sugary-sweet vocals and her graphic anatomical lyrics, "you push and you pull and you tell yourself no, it's like when you lie down, the veins grow in slow" she sings on one of the record's finest hooks.  Corin Roddick's production ensures that every track has a spectacular moment, from the trap-influenced 'Stranger Than Earth' and 'Flood on the Floor' to the dance floor ready stomp of 'Begin Again' and 'Sea Castle, this album certainly contains some earth-shattering pop moments. 

That being said, there seems to be an indescribable disconnect between the production, the vocals and to an extent, the tracks themselves. This is somewhat ironic considering the duo were apart when creating their debut, perhaps this is which it feels as if the intimacy that album had from the 'bedroom beats' vibe is lost here entirely. Of course the tracks are all great and this is a solid pop record, but I can't help feel that this was a lost opportunity and that the better tracks could've been showcased better. 

7.4

Best tracks: Bodyache, Push Pull, Flood On the Floor, Sea Castle

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Best of February


Albums of the month


Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

After his breakthrough solo LP Fear Fun, Josh Tillman has delivered yet another excellent singer/songwriter LP. Sonically it isn't much of a departure from his previous material, however he does keep it interesting and throws a few curve balls in there, namely the electronica-tinged 'True Affection'. Best of all is the unashamedly soppy title track, which despite the sickly sweet lyrics is one of the most satisfying and engaging tracks in his discography. 

Ibeyi - Ibeyi

The other day I indulged in a binge interview-watching session on YouTube, and it was here where I fell in love with Ibeyi. Their sound is inventive and fresh; singing in both English and Yoruba and combining elements of folk, vocal, electronica and hip-hop, making their debut record is like nothing I've heard before. They are also incredibly endearing, breaking into song every-so-often, completing each other's sentences and just seeming to happy to be where they are. My personal favourite track is 'Stranger/Lover' for its stunning piano melody, though every track is pretty solid in its own right. 




Marika Hackman - We Slept At Last

I've been harping on about Marika for a while now and the time has finally come for her to release her long-awaited debut We Slept At Last. When following a new artist for a few years it's always a concern that their debut won't live up to the bar you sub-consciously set for them, fortunately this isn't the case here. Featuring only unreleased tracks on your debut album is always a risk, but it certainly paid off here, with album highlights including 'Animal Fear', 'Ophelia' and 'Open Wide'.

Screaming Females - Rose Mountain

Ugly, the debut album from Screaming Females' 2012 breakout record divided listeners, many loved the hard-hitting attitude that oozed from every track whilst others couldn't stomach Marissa Paternoster's marmite vocal style. With Rose Mountain however, it is very much the opposite; some of the band's older fans feel it doesn't go hard enough whilst others (like myself) appreciate its accessibility. Well one thing I think we can all agree on is that 'Wishing Well' is an absolute tune and is one of the best tracks of the last year. 

Tracks of the month



Kendrick Lamar - The Blacker the Berry

The ongoing class war in the UK and the race issues in America have defined 2015 so far and I have no doubt they'll continue to be prominent areas of debate among members my generation, and rightfully so. Growing up in an area which is both ethically and economically diverse, I recognise the need for enlightened social commentators like Kendrick Lamar. This could well be his best track yet, both lyrically and production-wise it stands heads and shoulders over the output of his contemporaries. Inevitably his music won't appeal to a cynical and often ignorant older generation, but what is important is that we take notice of Kendrick's message and be inspired to speak about the issues that concern us. 

Rosie Lowe - Who's That Girl

Yet another killer track from rising UK soulstress Rosie Lowe and this could well be her best track to date. She has confirmed that her debut album will be out this year and has given us the excellent 'Who's That Girl' to quench our thirst for the moment. The production, as ever, treads the line between now and the future, with icy beats and subtle vocal manipulation complementing Rosie's vocals impeccably. I need this album, and so do you.

Sufjan Stevens - No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross

Following the announcement of his new record Carrie & Lowell, inspired by none other than his mum, Sufjan Stevens stated that it was a 'return to [his] folk roots'. Following the envelop-pushing and highly divisive The Age of Adz (my favourite album of his), I do feel this is a good route to take for Sufjan and could help him to reach a wider audience. In terms of the track itself, it's very intimate, very dreamy, very melodic and very Sufjan. 

Chromatics - Just Like You

My first encounter with Chromatics was their track 'Tick of the Clock' from the excellent Drive soundtrack. The pulsating beats and the nocturnal vibe of the production made it an obvious standout and naturally I was very excited to see what else the band would put out. 'Just Like You' is far more dreamy yet equally hypnotic as the former, the vocals also become the focus of the track (the former is an instrumental) and make it more dream pop than electronic. There is currently a lot of hype surrounding this release so I hope Dear Tommy will deliver. 

Braids - Miniskirt

Yet another unashamedly political track to reflect the times we are currently living in; this time against sexism, the idea of double standards in particular. This may defy the purpose of this song somewhat but what really grabs me about 'Miniskirt' is the production. It is certainly a lot more forthcoming and bold than the band's previous material, both production-wise and lyric-wise and I have to say, it sounds very promising indeed. 

Novella - Land Gone

Having praised their very excellent single 'Follow' to the high heavens back in 2013 (let that sink in...), the shoegazing marvels have finally announced their debut album Land (with some pretty epic artwork). The lead single is yet another progressive track, with a surf-rock/psychedelic vibe which suits the album's May release date pretty damn well. It's always reassuring to know that I will have a nice summer-y record to cry about my upcoming exams to (silver linings and all that).

Undiscovered gem

Jane Weaver - The Silver Globe (2014)

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Having graced multiple 'Albums you may have missed' lists late last year, I have finally taken the time to actually hear the wonder that is Jane Weaver. This, her sixth album, is a ambitious concept album with all 10 tracks being as innovative and engaging as the other. If (like me) you were a bit late on Jane Weaver train you'll be glad to know that she's re-releasing the album with 10 extra tracks next month with a fancy repressing and everything. 

Next month, look out for:

New albums from
Sufjan Stevens 
Purity Ring
Lady Lamb the Beekeeper
Moon Duo
Clarence Clarity
Matthew E. White
Twin Shadow
Wand
The Go! Team
Courtney Barnett
Laura Marling
Lower Dens

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).