Category Archives: Album Review

The Best of 2012 (Part Two)

Happy New Year folks. Dramatic Internet issues in late 2012/early 2013 has delayed this somewhat, so sorry about that. I thought I would embed the entire album for each of the top 10.  How about that then?  Also see the footnote below, regarding some of the other albums that didn’t make the top 20, but have still made very good listening this year. So here we are:  numbers 10-1.

 10: Alabama Shakes – “Boys and Girls”.  Having closely monitored this band, since August 2011, I am thrilled to buttons that the release of their debut album has made such an impact this year.  Not that they have produced a new innovate sound, but that there vintage country rock soul blues knees up hootenanny sound about partying, loving, fucking and fighting has a tremendous energy and grit with Brittany Howard’s drawl and prowess to croon and snarl with the greatest ease.  “Hold on”, “Heartbreaker” “You Ain’t Alone” “Hang Loose” and “Boys and Girls” will give you a sense of what this lot are all about for starters. Not to be missed, and the next stage is to try and catch these cats live, where the party will undoubtedly come to life even more. So get down and sweaty at your nearest barn dance, grab a beer, and your partner and enjoy this, boys and girls.

 “Oh why can’t you see/that I’m not trying to be/No kind of bother/I’m just trying to save what was left between you and me”

9: Paul Banks – “Banks”.  Having set aside his Julian Plenti moniker, the release of Paul Bank’s new solo album under his own name hears a fresh selection of sound and influences.  With one of the most interesting voices in music, it’s impossible not to associate the Interpol front man with… Interpol, surprisingly.  Just as well I love Interpol then.  Yet “Banks” cements Banks as a solo artist of his own accord, with an awakening of swelling guitar lines and beautiful arrangements. He sings about the passing of time and missed opportunities (“Over My Shoulder” and “Young Again”) but also interspersed with hope and optimism (“Arise, Awake” and “Summertime is Coming”). As well as an insanely intense instrumental “Lisbon”, the album boasts “The Base”, one of the best tracks I’ve heard this year.  The guitar hook alone, will make you melt, but the four plus layers to this song with bass, violins and keys blending beautifully together as Banks hypnotic tones sets fire to this delightful solo effort.

“Now and then I can see the truth above the lies/Now and then, oh I feel, you’re truly anesthetised”

8:  Bat for Lashes – “The Haunted Man”.  Natasha Khan’s highly anticipated third outing draws on a variety of influences.  The connections to Bjork have been abundant since the release of “Fur and Gold”, but the spirits of Bush, Harvey, Smith, Joplin, Goldfrapp and Merchant shine through in this LP. Khan, while wearing these icons on one sleeve demonstrates her most compelling music to date up the other. Naked album sleeve aside, the tracks are striking in themselves, each offering a different sound and energy.  “All Your Gold” – an angry and relentless tribal drum backed with spooky synth and an increasingly powerful set of Khaaaaaaaaaan lungs. Compare this with the stripped back (naked almost) “Laura”: one piano, one voice (and a few horns here and there) – heart wrenching and beautiful, it remains a simple but no less startling single.  “Winter Fields” hears her sing fondly of her roots on the Sussex Coast, filled with a complex arrangement by contrast, with pipes, violins and some mega bass drum action, while “Marilyn” and “Rest Your Head” (the latter is very Kate Bush) are both awesome examples of Khan’s abilities to deliver some seriously intense rhythmic synth pop. The Haunted Man” is a slick and rich return to the fray for Bat For Lashes.

“Drape your arms around me and softly say/Can we dance upon the tables again?”

7:  The xx – “Coexist”.  It was always going to be difficult for any band, let alone The xx, to top their masterful debut, and let’s be clear, while “Coexist” certainly is not an improvement, it delicately demonstrates a quiet and subtle evolution.  Lyrically, the subject of love loss and separation is evident, sung to breathtaking perfection by Romy Madly Croft and the increasingly prominent and confident Oliver Sim.  Working tirelessly in the background, Jamie Smith offers, at times, less minimal and more BPM on tracks like “Ficton” and “Sunset”, just one glimmer of the band’s tantalising progression.  The electrifying signature suspense of their sonic soundscaping (too much) remain with “Missing” and “Unfold” offering us “oh classic xx darling, classic”, not to mention that xx guitar sound which cannot and must not be replicated elsewhere on “Angels” and “Reunion” (the latter featuring a fetching set of steel drums, no less).  Aesthetically pleasing on the ears, and rich in atmosphere, The xx are going to keep on doing this, you know that right?

“I always thought it was sad/The way we act like strangers/After all that we had/We act like we had never met”

6: Richard Hawley – “Standing at the Sky’s Edge”. Holy hell, Richard.  A storm. A beautiful, dark shimmering storm thou hath released.   Hawley embarks on a dramatic departure from the likes of “Trueloves Gutter” with an explosion of euphoric noise, psychedelic reverb and wavy Eastern strings and drones.  This album has to be played extremely loud.  Sky’s Edge hears a tremendous release of energy with Hawley breaking out some serious amps and mega power chords. The anger on tracks such as “Down in the Woods” seems removed from the soft crooning seductions we know and love.  The psychedelic “She Brings the Sunlight” is a wonderful opener, that slowly builds and builds, and a strong indication of the album’s direction, but Hawelites will be pleased that a couple of familiar sounding tracks exist on “Seek It” and “Before”.  Interestingly, “Don’t Stare At The Sun” bridges the gap between the two styles very well, containing one of the sweetest melodies you’ll hear this year (and the guitar line at 4.30 is just epic).  The title track as with most of the album also proves once again that Hawley can tell a good story. In that familiar, comforting, rich baritone, Hawley offers us ominous tales of love, loss, redemption, anger, hatred and outer body experiences, making it a certain highlight this year.

“He was standing at the sky’s edge/And out there who knows what he’s thinking/He was sliding down the razor’s edge/And watched his life slowly sinking”

5: We Are Augustines – “Rise Ye Sunken Ships”.  Nothing has come close to capturing such a euphoric sadness than the debut offering from Brooklyn’s We Are Augustines.  It’s proper heart on sleeve music, as Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson channel their similar traumatic family upbringings, with the main subjects surrounding McCarthy’s schizophrenic and institutionalised brother, James (who killed himself during recording) and alcoholic mother (who died in a homeless shelter when McCarthy was nineteen).  He also never met his father, so one can see that life hasn’t been too kind on McCarthy. Unlike albums, which centre around heartbreak, and remain focussed on the tragedy itself, “Rise Ye Sunken Shapes” is more exultant and seeks redemption, and focuses on hope through lively guitar lines, propulsive drums and strained, howled vocals.   “Book Of James” is heart-wrenching account of a moment between Billy and James, while “Headlong into the Abyss” sounds like the car journey Billy drives to rescue his brother, his voice hoarse as if about to, or having just cried his eyes out.  All songs conclude with a sense of light at the end of a murky tunnel, even “The Instrumental” which tales off the album.  This will really have a go at your heart, and has done so to mine throughout the year (Note: the UK release was 2012, despite it coming out in the US in 2011).

“Well call the police, go ahead call your shrink/Call whoever you want but I won’t stop the car/Well call the police, go ahead call your priest/Call whoever you want, call in the National Guard”    

4: Grizzly Bear – “Shields”.  Oh sweet hells yeah.  The triumphant return of Grizzly Bear was joyful this year.  The General Managers’ of Expectations, the album is a chaotic departure from “Veckatimest” and utterly enthralling. Flourishes of the word of the year (or so it would seem for these past two posts) psychedelica and distortion, stamped with classic Bear manoeuvres like Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste’s melting falsetto harmonies, as well as the inventive fusion of folk and pop. “A Simple Answer” is delightful, marching and upbeat, while “Yet Again” is about as pop as the band will go, and stands out as one of the best songs I’ve heard this year, from start to end, this is quite special.  “Gun Shy” is awesome and demonstrates an inventive variety of instruments and shimmers along a hallucinogenic trip, while the concluding songs “Half-Gate” and “Sun In Your Eyes” are both wonderfully expansive and comforting. “Shields”, demonstrates the band’s relentless energy and craft, combining familiarity with new directions. “And I can’t help myself” sings Rossen on the swirly soundscape of opener “Sleeping Ute”.   It’s a powerful return to the fore, as I wrote here.

“The sky keeps staring at me/Frozen in my tracks/Nothing else to see/And when I move my face left/You’re always standing there/A shadow I can’t see/And even then I can’t trace/You’re walking away”

3:  Django Django – “Django Django”.  Trendy trippy time-warped avant-garde robot psychedelic (!) rattle and roll science fiction cowboy pop – in sum. From intense harmonies, tickly guitar, glitches, blips, synth and tribal drumming, this fine debut offers much. “Default” will seal the deal with a choppy guitar line that goes straight into your eardrums. In fact the whole album is toe-tapping and infectious, full of irresistible and rhythm centric melodies. “Waveforms” captures the essence of the band’s creativity, a whirlpool of sound and inventiveness exploding from one’s speakers, but the menacing opening to “WOR” – the first song I heard way back in September 2011 gripped me into a Django death grip. “Firewater” and “Love’s Dart”, provide further proof of a band pushing boundaries with this confident and heady eponymous debut, and well worthy as one of the innovators of 2012.

“Take one for the team/You’re a cog in the machine/It’s like a default”

2: Alt-J – “An Awesome Wave”.  What a fitting name for an album.  Alt-J have taken over this year, with a debut to savour.  Worthy winners of a strong shortlist of Mercury nominees, the band from Leeds and or Cambridge have demonstrated an endless cascading creativity and a sign of change (literally: ∆).  Intelligent, sophisticated lyrics are matched with an exciting variety of sounds, samples and instruments. The music is an exciting concoction, which often builds from a quiet intensity to an explosion of electricity and passion.  There is a lot going on, but rather than overwhelming, it is absorbing.   You can dance to this; you can sit on a beanbag; wake up or fall asleep to the likes of “Tessellate” or “Matilda”.  The energetic “Fitzpleasure” or “Breezeblocks” cemented their name on blogs, and began the hype, and rightly so, but the brilliance of the ‘folkstep’ “Dissolve Me” and “Taro” must be experienced.  Each song offers something different, maintaining the album’s elegance.  References to life experiences abound from childhood (special mention must be made to “Where the Wild Things Are” on “Fitzpleasure), escapism, love, passion and loss.  Alt-J have successful produced one of the most rewarding sounds of recent times, and we can only wait for more.

“She bruises, coughs, she splutters pistol shots/ But hold her down with soggy clothes and breezeblocks/She’s morphine, queen of my vaccine, my love, my love, love, love”

1: Beach House – “Bloom”.  Every now and then, you need to remain loyal to those you love.  Despite Django Django and Alt-J, producing two innovative sounds in 2012, my soul became entombed to the sounds of Beach House and their fourth album “Bloom”.  It is impossible for me to not to love this album, and while you may think that I’m not looking at this objectively, and I’ve not given the nineteen who preceded any justice because of bias or blind loyalty, you’re probably right.  The album remains fixed in its dreamy ways, but delightfully sees an added texture, not previously heard in Beach House records.  The husky vocals and epic lungs attached to Victoria Legrand are matched with a spine-tingling combination of synth and shimmering guitar from Alex Scally.  Yet closer inspection reveals more surface and layers to their music, including some seriously heartfelt lyrics, an aspect often overlooked on dream-pop as a genre.  From opener and soothing “Myth”:  “You can’t keep hanging on, to all that’s dead and gone” to “Troublemaker” both discloses a fading relationship: “In the night we stick together/the walls are shaking in their skin” while “Wild” takes your breath aware, with surprisingly brazen guitar from Scally and lyrics such as: “Our father won’t come home/Because he’s seeing double”.  Each song contains flickerings of utter beauty, and is difficult to isolate individual songs which make the album complete and oh so charming.  The songs are tightly woven to work off or through each other, and indeed the ways in which each song could probably tumble on forever, is certainly no coincidence.  Filled with an atmosphere suitable for all occasions, Legrand and Scally have produced their most complete albums to date.  You could spend an eternity listening to it, and it might feel like time has suspended itself on your behalf.  There is something entirely comforting about a band who continue to do what they do, so very well and as closer “Irene” suggests, Beach House selflessly create a “strange paradise” for us all.

“All I wanted, comes in colours/Vanish everyday/I keep these promises, these promises/ Stranger things will come before you/Always out of the way/We keep these promises, these promises”

And that’s the year that was.  I’ve already heard some forum murmurings about the sort of comebacks, which may be gracing us for 2013, as well as some breakthrough artists to enjoy, so I confidently look forward to what the year holds in store.  Well done, 2012, you did me proud. Be sure to check out Radio Juan shortly for more on the top 10 albums.

Footnote: Those who didn’t, but deserve mention:

Jesse Ware – “Devotion”

The Black Keys – “El Camino”

Best Coast – “The Only Place”

Friends – “Mainfest!”

Dogtanion – “Japan”

First Aid Kit – “The Lion’s Roar”

Tame Impala – “Lonerism”

The Maccabees – “Given to The Wild”

Beth Jean Houghton And The Hooves of Destiny – “Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose”

Paul Weller – “Sonik Kicks”

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The Best of 2012 (Part One)

As I casually toasted 2012 in last year’s digest, I could not have forseen the quite brilliant variety of sounds, styles, comebacks and arrivals this year has provided.  Here are 20 albums which defined my year through good times and bad, though in the interest of time, there have been so many more, which I will happily write in a lengthy footnote on request. Also, in the interest of suspense and amazement, I’ve chosen to break it down into two, mainly because the top ten will be featured on Radio Juan across two shows in late 2012/early 2013.  Sorry for a lack of action since August.

20: The Mystery Jets – “Radlands”.  Maybe I’m just a sentimental old fool, but Blaine and the boys have squeezed into the final list because of consistently producing music, which I cherish without much thought.  Ever since “Making Dens”, The Mystery Jets have been a consistent player in my music collection, and while the trip to America on their fourth outing is by no means their best album, it demonstrates a progression, which I feel I have been a part of.  People will remember the clever lyrics of “Greatest Hits”, and the slightly marmitey lead single “Someone Purer” but spare a moment for the sheer brilliance of “The Nothing”, the vocal harmonies of “Take me Where the Roses Grow” and the Pixies inspired “Lost in Austin”.  The American influences are there for all to hear, but stamped with that striking London poetry I have always admired.

“I never said I was a fallen angel/with a halo and a broken wing/but I’m not like all the other people/ with their skinny coffees and their Nurofen”

19:  Of Monsters and Men – “My Head is an Animal”.   HEY! WOAH!  We all like a bit of boy/girl singing, a bit of brass and a good old chorus, which rouses you from your beds in the morning.  Step forward the Icelandic six-piece Of Monsters and Men.  Having made it pretty big in Scandinavia and most of Europe, it seems the Brits have arrived late in the day, but my how we have embraced the feel good euphoric mountain sounds.  Even the most hardened pessimistic pretentious music junky will be tempted to turn this album up when feeling blue, with tracks such as the bouncy “Mountain Sound”, “Little Talks” or “Six Weeks” complimenting the slightly softer numbers such as “Lakehouse” or “Yellow Lights”.  Even the more atmospheric ballads, while mega cheesy like “Slow and Steady” have its appeal. Cuddly, whimsical and filling up the feel-good feeling in summer and beyond, Of Monsters and Men have already got to you, you just need to acknowledge it so.

“There’s an old voice in my head that’s holding me back, Well tell her that I miss our little talks/ Soon it will be over and buried with our past/We used to play outside when we were young/ And full of life and full of love”

 

18:  Yeasayer – “Fragrant World”.  Be patient, and you will slowly succumb to the sound of Brookyln’s Yeasayer, with their third album “Fragrant World”.  Though creeping forward with slightly new sounds, which sadly feel incomplete and insecure at times, they retain their famous electronica experimentations.  Unlike the euphoric “Odd Blood”, this offering is dark and twisted, with chaotic bursts of synth and drum beats overlapping fraught and tense vocals from Chris Teating.  Surprisingly the references to historical figures such as Henrietta Lacks or Ronald Reagan on “Henrietta” and “Reagan’s Skeleton” respectively, are actually the best tracks on the album, but the signs are there for new directions with “Blue Paper” and “No Bones”.  Yeasayer need to make the brave leap for their next LP, and not be afraid of the consequences.

“You’re making them rich, they throw you away/The magic is gone, but you’re here to stay”

 

17: Stumbeline – “Spiderwebbed”. Some late night radio tuning, gave the greatest pleasure of stumbling upon this Bristol based producer, responsible for some of the most dreamy electronic sounds this year.  Syncopating beats, which glide alongside distorted guitar lines, delicate synth and soulful vocals, this album has proven itself as an appeasement and accompaniment to train travel in particular: with chaos on the Northern Line and a sweet lullaby to long train journeys gazing at the West Country respectively.  Particular highlights include “Capulet”, the Mazy Star cover “Fade Into You” and the insanely wonderful “Catherine Wheel”.

“Fade into you/I think it’s strange you never knew”


16: Two Wounded Birds – “Two Wounded Birds”.  Wax that surf-board, and head down to…Margate beach?  Yep.  The quartet from Kent made waves (eugh) this year with an fast-paced cheery, yet also slightly broody surf pop sound, which is smeared with nostalgic memories of growing up, being in love and being alone. While The Lively Ones (of “Pulp Fiction” fame) were probably catching waves in shorts off sunny California, drinking ice cold bottled beer, the kids from Margate were probably body boarding with wetsuits on a shingled beach, huddling around a six-pack of Tesco lager and a disposable barbecue.  It’s that contrast between fresh US West coast sounds against a backdrop of gloomy British East coast, which appeals. They channel that 50s do-wop, Spector inspired R&B vibe very well, but should also be congratulated for breathing some fresh life into a well-worn sound, which in itself makes it timeless.  Look out for the upbeat “Together Forever” and the peculiarly titled “Daddy’s Junk” but don’t be put off by those tinged with darkness, from “My Lonesome” to “If Only We Remain”.

Alone, Aloooooooone/All alone, with nobody at home/Because I’m on my lonesome, tonight”

15: Echo Lake – “Wild Peace”. Prepare to get numb, as this amazing LP washes over you.  Marred in tragedy, following the untimely death of their drummer, Pete Hayes, the album is a wonderful long exhale of shoe-gazing dream pop, which echoes everything from Beach House to My Bloody Valentine.  Thom Hill and Linda Jarvis give us the beautiful, the calm and the euphoric and eases your head against a soft wave of sound. Apart from a fitting tribute to the memory of Hayes, songs such as “Another Day”, “Last Song of The Year” and “Just Kids” puts one in a comatose like state of tranquillity as the tumultuous year draws to a close. Echo Lake have tremendous potential to be a truly mesmerising force, and one can only hope that tragedy does not tear this band apart.


14: Field Music – “Plumb”. This is one of those “heard the name, but didn’t really know, until they made the Mercury shortlist” kind of entries.  Having since partaken in an enormous backcataslog, their fourth album, “Plumb”, makes clear both a band who fully deserved to be shortlisted for the coveted prize, but one who has worked hard on progressing their sound, with each LP.  On first listen, you may struggle to piece together 15 songs in 35 minutes. It is a very complex, but no less impressive art-rock prog-pop album full of tempo shifts, glitches, orchestras, synth, tireless bass lines that flourishes everything from 80s electronica, funk to psychedelica – plenty to whet one’s musical pallet. With each listen, I both dismay and rejoice at choosing a new highlight each time and right now, it’s “Sorry Again, Mate” but don’t for a second think about not checking out “(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing”, “Who’ll Pay the Bills” or the marvellous “A New Town”.

“I was counting the days/ and I was counting the reasons/ I was satisfied everything was fine/But you should’ve never come”.

 

13: Peter and Kerry – “La Trimouille”.  A delightful pair of London-based storytellers, who stole my heart this summer, with delightful little ditties which evoke 80’s bands such as The Human League and The Pet Shop Boys, full of synth, beats and guitar and a enchanting understanding and connection between the duo.  The debut from London’s Peter and Kerry offers much from upbeat electro pop (the delightful “I Don’t Know”) to emotive and heartfelt such as the glitch, static infused and all so defiant “Cirque”, and the mesmerising  tale with a beautiful guitar line of “Connecticut” – all  demonstrating an effortless ability to transcend time, space and genres with their sound. Read a little more here.

“Its been about five weeks, I’ve just about given up/ I walk the same route, but I can barely stand up/The things  see around me, that I seem to recognise/Are what keep me connected, and let me know that I won’t forget”

12: Jack White – “Blunderbus”.  The review I wrote for Jack back in May summed up my feelings. As I wrote them, I have absolutely no qualms in using them again. What I will add, is that I think he is a wonderful, talented and entirely eccentric man, who deserves a musical knighthood equivalent. Filled with hard riffs, loopy lyrics, corrupted organs, no Meg, and interestingly a release of tremendous energy and “real emotions”. His recent divorce has slightly crept into his music and many have labelled this as Jack’s “Blood on the Tracks”.  All the famous eccentricities come out in songs like “Freedom at 21”, the “Trash Tongue Talker” while “Sixteen Saltines” and the Little Willie John cover “I’m Shakin’” are wonderfully gritty: “I’m noivouss” says Jack, just like that.  The plunk of the pianee (there’s a difference from piano) makes a welcome intrusion with the brilliantly titled “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” and “Weep Themselves to Sleep”, which drowns out Jack’s usually prominent guitar. More than anything Blunderbuss demonstrates a more grounded album, closer to reality than all of my favourite White Stripes albums put together (which is all of them). This new-found source of material certainly cements Jack the innovator, confirms Jack the genius, and offers us Jack the human being. Maybe he should get divorced more often?

“Well I get into the game, but it’s always the same/I’m the man with the name, Hip Eponymous Poor Boy (poor boy)”

 

11:  Grimes – “Visions”. Intense.  Relentless. Fascinating.  Claire Boucher’s third album in two years as Grimes is a glorious exploration of sound with her haunting falsetto, being accompanied by a warehouse of influences from techno, dubstep to mainstream pop and euphoric dance.  Any of the tracks on “Visions”, needs to be listened to initially in a dark room, with some seriously good headphones.  Only then, can one hear the many layers which makes up Boucher’s compositions, none more so than the breath-taking “Circumambient” But hold your breath during the likes of  “Genesis”, “Nightmusic” and the unnerving “Colour of Moonlight” – all amazing. These and the entire album demonstrate serious hard work and imagination, and despite a slightly unhinged sound, remains one of the most fresh and innovative works this year.

“Oh baby I can’t say/that everything is okay/cause I have a problem/and I don’t know where to start from”

 

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An Awesome Wave: Album Review

Cascading an endless creativity, step forth the new sound of 2012, “An Awesome Wave” from the triangle loving Alt J (∆ on all good computers) as lead singer Joe Newton swirls his soft falsetto tones on the extraordinary “Tessellate”: “triangles are my favourite shape/three points where two lines meet/toe to toe, back to back, lets go my love, it’s very late/’til morning comes, let’s tessellate”.  This intelligent songwriting is matched by an equally brilliant and indeed awesome wave of inventive sounds, samples, instruments and harmonies, which will have genre-ists scratching their heads as to which genre list to place this hotly tipped to be amazing Leeds/Cambridgeshire outfit, who have detonated on to the scene this year.

The music is an exciting concoction, which often builds from a quiet intensity to an explosion of electricity and passion as the blandly titled, though certainly absorbing “Intro” performs. That might ease you into the choppy jacuzzi of an “Awesome Wave”, as the rest of the album is  rather hyperactive; pulling in a variety of influences and sounds from distorted base, hard folk, brooding synth, strange samples and hard arse guitar, from the furious “Fitzpleasure” to the sweet sounding ‘ode to a bull-fight’ summer ballad “Estocada”.  These stark contrasts of styles and indulgences in what has become increasingly known as “folk step” (hear “Dissolve Me”, especially) and will compel you to listen carefully to Alt-J this summer and beyond.  With lyrics referencing everything from Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” (“Breezeblocks”), to Luc Besson’s “Leon” (“Matilda”), the band are certainly not short of intellectual, highly entertaining (Please don’t go/I’ll eat you whole) if not slightly pretentious references, but then again they all graduated with English Literature degrees – bloody students.

Yet despite the musical additives akin to a delicious ready meal, there is also a delightful elegance in “An Awesome Wave”‘s progression. Charmingly broken up with short interludes, the album has a formulaic approach (harking back to their love for maths and angles and stuff).  A very tightly woven album, where songs never extend the four minute mark, the music gives that impression of a giant Hawaiian wave crashing slowly in front of you (we’ve all been there, right?) the hidden closer “Handmade” providing the moment the surf gets sucked out to an endless ocean, as the sun slowly sets. The more you listen, the more you will profit from the extended meaning, the beauty and the sheer originality of this masterful debut offering.

“An Awesome Wave” is out now on Infectious Records

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Quick Fire Review Part 2

Jack White and Beach House have also been lapped up in recent weeks.  Whatsthatabout? Let’s find out.

Jack White, “Blunderbuss:” Jack White is slightly mad.  And that’s how I like him.  Not when he’s semi-serious for The Dead Weather, or 007 soundtracks.  Thankfully he regresses in his zany debut “Blunderbuss”. A blunderbuss is a gun.  Did you know that? I did not.  I thought it was a bus driver who had taken a wrong turn.  Filled with hard riffs, loopy lyrics, corrupted organs, no Meg, and interestingly a release of tremendous energy and “real emotions”. His recent divorce has slightly crept into his music and many have labeled this as Jack’s “Blood on the Tracks”.  All the famous eccentricities come out in songs like “Freedom at 21”, the “Trash Tongue Talker” while “Sixteen Saltines” and the Little Willie John cover “I’m Shakin’” are wonderfully gritty: “I’m noivouss” says Jack, just like that.  The plunk of the pianee (there’s a difference from piano) makes a welcome intrusion with the brilliantly titled “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” and “Weep themselves to Sleep”, which drowns out Jack’s usually prominent guitar. More than anything Blunderbuss demonstrates a more grounded album, closer to reality than all of  my favourite White Stripes albums put together (which is all of them).  There are flashes of Elephant and the sheer craziness of Icky Thump, but White turns a lot of his attention to some woman, who seems to be causing him a lot of anguish (his ex, Karen Elson sings on a couple of the songs – ouchy), like “Love Interruption” featuring the lyrics “I want love to grab my fingers gently/ slam them in a doorway/ put my face into the ground”.  This new-found source of material certainly cements Jack the innovator, confirms Jack the genius, and offers us Jack the human being. Maybe he should get divorced more often?

Beach House, “Bloom”. Being a long time admirer of Beach House and their incredibly relaxing and beautiful ambient dream pop, means I don’t give two hoots if they stay in their comfort snug zone, with extra padding, bubble wrap and pillows. In fact, I would definitely join them.  Sounds amazing. Victoria Legrand has such a reassuring voice that just hearing it makes it hard for me to critically examine the Baltimore duos’ latest offering.    And yes, it isn’t that much of a leap from the exceptional “Teen Dream”, filled with soft keyboard, dreamy synth, and neat little guitar lines from Alex Scally.  But it doesn’t make the album any less brilliant.  Opener “Myth” eases you into comfort, with those delightful loops swirling around Legrand’s tender lullaby-like voice.  This is the mere scratching of the surface.  A closer inspection reveals a vast plain of emotions: “You can’t keep hanging on, to all that’s dead and gone”.  “Troublemaker” discloses a fading relationship: “In the night we stick together/the walls are shaking in their skin/ Does it become you troublemaker/Watch them unravel you/Pulling everything apart” while one of the certain highlights “Wild” takes your breath aware, with surprisingly brazen guitar from Scally and heartfelt lyrics from Legrand: “Our father won’t come home/because he’s seeing double”.  Other highlights like the Enya epic “Lazuli” (Note, I don’t like Enya much) and the beautiful “New Year” cement the album as cozy for all occasions, floating out to sea, burying a pet, watching the rain, waking up, going to sleep, having a nip of bourbon at 4 in the afternoon.  You could spend an eternity listening to it, and it might feel like time has suspended itself on your behalf.  As closer “Irene” suggests, Beach House selflessly create a “strange paradise” for us all.

Redemption?  I’ll step up, I promise.  Based on these five, i think there will be a few more delights this year.

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Quick fire album snippet review apology sorry, sorry, sorry.

Oh Hi.

Yes, I know, May is a long way from January.  Having started the new year with a flourish with a top 20 album digest of 2011, a silly picture of David Bowie musing at the oldest computer in the world AND the first sitandupandlisten of 2012, I went a little bit quiet on the Western Front.  Fewer trenches, but more other writing gigs, internships and the latest craze, Twitter.  It’s no excuse, and I would tie myself to a gun carriage, but I can’t type at the same time.

Despite vowing to spend less money on CDs in 2012, I have already bought five.  And as an olive branch, dove flying rainbow suspender, long haired, free love, white flag gesture, I thought I might share my thoughts on them. If this goes well, I don’t see why situpandlisten can’t occur by the end of the week.  I mean, I’m always sitting up and listening to music.  Let’s have a look shall we? Starting with We Are Augustines and Alabama Shakes and the Mystery Jets.

We Are Augustines,  “Rise Ye Sunken Ships”:  Oozing a dreadful, yet beautiful sadness, the Brooklyn outfit has grabbed hold of my heart during spring.  Lead singer Billy McCarthy recounts his arduous family life, and his tender, strained voice sounds hoarse as if about to, or having just cried his eyes out.  The debut album covers everything shiny from depression, love loss to suicide.  “Book of James” and many songs on the album harks a distant and fresh-faced Bruce Springsteen.  Massive tick.  Possibly a smidgen of EARLY U2.  Slight tick. Baby tick. Maybe just a bit of a tick (v) or (/). But like The Boss, We Are Augustines strain a flicker of euphoria through the candid tales of heartache beautifully played and sung.  Opener “Chapel Song” entices you with that guitar hook, while “Juarez” will really take your breath away (he hasn’t got cathedrals in his arse, by the way), while “Headlong into the Abyss” epitomises this light at the end of the murky tunnel mentality the band have captured so well.

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Alabama Shakes, “Boys and Girls”.  I don’t want to sound like a really annoying person,  but I HEARD THIS BAND IN AUGUST LAST YEAR AND LIKED THEM BEFORE YOU.  Sorry.  When I discovered the beautiful “You Ain’t Alone” they were still called The Shakes, but due to some legal voodoo mumbo-jumbo small print, they had to change it, because the other Shakes were upset and in a suey kind of mood.  Cleverly they stuck their homeland in front of the title.  And they really tap into that country bluesy soulful hootenanny deep-south vibe.  And I love it.  The charisma of lead singer Brittany Howard is a joy to listen to and everything from “Hold On” to my favouritest “Hang Loose” all makes you want to go to your nearest barn dance, or at least dance around your room or workspace.  They can also do sensual “You Aint Alone” as one example but the brilliant title track demonstrates a marvelous songwriting ability and cements this album as one of the finest of 2012.  Even though it’s May (sorry, sorry, sorry).

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Mystery Jets,  “Radlands”.  People often ask me if I have a guilty pleasure.  I usually say bacon fat, before I realise they’re talking about music.  Mystery Jets just might be my musical bacon fat.  But I don’t know why.  I have always liked them.  I shouldn’t feel guilty.  Or should I?  I don’t know. I think the Mystery Jets were a readily stable part of my youth.  I made dens with them, I looked a day over 21 and felt like half my life was gone, I came up really hard and now Im often gripped with a bitter fear.  They were always there in those years, when I needed some music to accompany me.   And end scene.  Their new album Radlands, see them depart from Eel Pie Island and take a trip to Austin, Texas.  And there is a notable progress from the jangle plastic pop of the first two albums and Serotonin’s crooning ballads.  It’s not all country rock and slidy steel guitar though.  Dark Opener “Radlands” is far removed and more Arcade Fire than the rest of the album’s more country-ish feel.  There’s a bit of double denim disco in The Hale Bop, while “The Greatest Hits”, while painfully stuck between “Stuck in the Middle of You” and “Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da” will swiftly become “Two Doors Down” in no time, as Blaine Harrison brilliantly describes a break up and subsequent dividing of records. “You can keep ‘No Need to Argue’ and I’ll keep ‘The Aeroplane Over the Sea’/But hold on to ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’ cos I’m holding on to ‘Village Green’ ”.  The quality alternates betweens high and low with the ridiculous “The Ballad of Emerson Lonestar” and the exceptional “Take Me Where the Roses Grow” (OK, I’ve found my bacon fat, I just love the harmonies on the chorus).  Ultimately the Mystery Jets haven’t forgotten who they are, by trying to reinvent their sound completely, and the album marks a real progression in the music. Many bands have left the sunny shores of Blightly for a crack at the US, and many have failed.  “Exile On Main Street” it ain’t , and “Aladdin Sane” no flippin’ way, but Blaine, Will, Kapil and vacant bass player position apply within (Kai left the day before the record came out on panto/soap opera proportions) have done a decent job.  YEEEHAllo there.

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Part two pending. I promise. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

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Crazy Clown Time: Album Review

Despite an impressive back catalogue in which he has composed original music and collaborated on various projects such as the mighty 2010 effort Dark Night of the Soul with the late great Mark Linkous and Danger Mouse, the recently released Crazy Clown Time is by and large a solo effort from filmmaker David Lynch.  And you would not be surprised to know, it’s pretty darn bizarre. As with his films, David Lynch’s music is twisted, sinister, dark and saturated with disturbing images and peculiar flashes of a fantastic mind unhinged.

Having said this, opening track Pinky’s Dream is sung by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and is the most impressive song on the album, describing a disturbed character’s last thoughts and moments as his car speeds down a highway.  It’s obviously dark, mysterious with a menacing guitar, and Karen O’s whispers, murmurs and shrieks unsettle the listener from the outset.  Lead single Good Day Today sees Lynch take control, and delivers a repetitive techno hook with auto-tuned lyrics interspersed with machinegun fire.  Despite that, and the sinister elements within: ‘So tired of fearing, so tired of dark’, it’s positively chirpy, all things considered, and could feature in a club near you. The formulaic nature of the single would initially have Lynchonians confused.   Yet beyond this song lies a more familiar menacing mood, which will have DJs cowering under their decks.  Noah’s Ark hears Lynch hissing his way through a repetitive and disturbing song, while the wacky Strange and Unproductive Thinking is a seven and a half minute auto-tune rant which makes for rather uncomfortable listening, as he covers a range of subjects including the social implications of oral hygiene.

The album, quite unsurprisingly, is extremely filmic, as heard on instrumental The Night Bell With Lightning, and adds a certain appeal to a broadly uncomfortable album to endure.  Yet the surreptitious use of electronica and murky backcountry blues combined with rasping and disturbing vocals is awkwardly engaging.  The title track is like rubbernecking a car-crash, as one can’t help but listen intently, as Lynch sings falsetto child-like unhinged words’ ‘Daddy poured beer all over Sally’ with intimidating and slow country music interjected with orgasmic moans and groans.  Don’t play this one with the grand-parents in the room:  ‘Was that a…’ ‘ No I don’t think so’.

Lynch’s crossing over new and old sounds on Crazy Clown Time is a notable effort of experimentation.  His own transition as a filmmaker from film to digital has been well documented as seen in this interview with Reverse Shot, and in many ways the album is a testament to this journey. It provides a suitable soundtrack to the life and mindset of David Lynch. And could indeed provide a suitable soundtrack to any of his films.  Crazy Clown Time however still remains somewhat a mystery after four very draining listens.  The fans will enjoy it, even if they don’t quite get it, everyone else less so.  As someone in-between appreciator and ignorant of Lynch’s work, his ability to exploit sound to create an atmosphere, however sinister, and however bizarre is a credible achievement in both his films and now in his music. Yet as a stand-alone album, Crazy Clown Time is very difficult to enjoy.

Suffice to say, this isn’t one for a Spotify playlist party, but a vigorous David Lynch film night, may help to unfathom the enigma further.

Crazy Clown Time is out now on Play It Again Sam

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Welcome to Condale: Album Review

Did you ever feel like the 1980s American high school phase completely bypassed you?  Speaking as a Londoner born in 1988, I feel like I’m way over due my fix, which no amount of John Hughes or Cameron Crowe could provide.  Welcome to Senior High, Summer Camp: a lo-fi chillwave duo from London who make 80s dance-pop sound damn right cool and very much their own on their debut album, Welcome To Condale, and makes me feel all Lloyd Dobler all of a sudden.

The album hears a couple of Freshmen in lead singer Elizabeth Sankey and real life partner Jeremy Warmsley slide through all those angst ridden teenage moments you just can’t get enough of.  From the lovesick loser to the psychotic stalker, the cruel arrogant jock to the gum-popping, spoilt bitch, Summer Camp’s debut could well be some kind of musical version of Weird Science.

Like so many of the high-school films, Welcome To Condale is a very quotable album.  Opener Better Off Without You sprints out of the proverbial class, with not even a hint of a hall-pass.  The delicious rock and roll hooks injected with timely synths accompanies Sankey’s plea with an unknown former flame to leave her alone, ‘You’re so annoying when you whine/You were always wasting my time’. The song is infectious, and Sankey’s adolescent complaints contextualises the album’s mood effectively.  The particular draw is that, despite Sankey being quite cruel towards this individual, we are compelled to take her side.  While Sankey ridicules the annoying ex in the opener, the roles are reversed on the fantastically disconcerting I Want You, which takes stalker-ish behavior to the next level. It has a pulsating and trance-inducing synth drive throughout, yet the overwhelming feature is Sankey’s disturbing declarations such as ‘I’d wrap my arms around you, and snap every bone in your back.  Lovely.

But we shouldn’t hold this against Sankey.  Her smooth, seductive sexy voice is an endearing feature on the album.  I Want You is hard to fully enjoy because of the lyrics, but the voice makes you consider the prospect of seeing your name written in blood on the evening news – for a while.  Summer Camp sees Sankey belting out lyrics with terrific aplomb, while the title track features an impressive wistful chorus as she impressively slides down the scale, with Debby Harry-style ease.

Like a teenager at the height of puberty, the mood of the album swings consistently. Nobody Knows You appears angry (about an outsider called Louis), Down is energetic, defiant, and quite ludicrously catchy,  while Done Forever is tragic and lamenting.  Though we are made plainly aware of the context (a lot of Summer Camp’s music as seen on their Young EP has very obvious and unsubtle sound-bites from cult classics), the variety of emotion and style makes this an incredibly engaging and listenable album.  Ghost Train, the delightful pre-fame ditty, hears Sankey croon: ‘Autumn brought you to me/Speed from land to sea/Land and sea and back again/And now there’s only me/Alone’ is pure poetry, while finally, FINALLY those born in 1988 have a marvelous anthem to call their own.

A quick word for Jeremy Warmsley, whose backing vocals play a vital role on the album.  Yet he more than holds his own as the Jock-ridden ultimator Brian Krakow, and also features in the exceptional Last of The American Virgins, featuring a playful and dreamy whistle which you cant help but imitate, tasty synth claps and chimes while Warmsley shows remarkable slide in his own voice, matching Sankey’s: ‘They don’t know/where we go/where the lights turn low’.  The song encapsulates a long hot American summer in a way I never thought possible.

The one track that somehow manages to pip the other very fine songs to the post features a sumptuous duetLosing My Mind is a fantastic and clever exchange, where the couple argues in some kind of anti Danny and Sandy You’re the One That I Want.  Whether this is based on a real-life argument or not remains to be seen (the band are notoriously secretive) but ‘This house isn’t big enough for the both of us/if you wanna leave, then I guess you must’ adds an extra dimension to their creativity and source of inspiration.

Summer Camp’s ability to romanticise is neither too over-done nor generic.  In fact it’s positively fresh and innovative. This draw to the sounds and style of the 1980s (as alluded below) can provide the ultimate escapism to a simpler time where society could be microcosmed within those high-school walls.  One should not cite this attempt to snapshot this period as pretentious or lazy.  Maybe, just maybe, music needs to look backwards to look forward.

Welcome To Condale is out now on Apricot/Mushi Mushi Records

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