Tag Archives: Beach House

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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You really had something there: from “wow” to “wasters”

We all want to make it. Secretly. Even if you possess no real music talent, you want to be a rock and roll star. Why? Why the heck not? What an incredible lifestyle. We all become slightly jealous of all your favourite scenester bands that are increasingly becoming the same age as you, went to your school, met on your campus, played their first gig at your union bar, went out with your best mate’s ex-girlfriend for three and a half months, wrote their debut single’s lyrics on the back of a napkin in your favourite bar in Shoreditch. What a life: hype, mini tour, radio sessions, viral YouTube sensations, debut release, larger tour, festivals, new material recording in a chateau in the Dordogne, 2nd album, 3rd album, greatest hits and so on. But as much as they can be embraced by the warm bosom of the music world and above all it’s critics, the loyal fans, at the bat of an extended fake trendy eyelash, they can also get chewed up and spat out quite as easily:

“Wow [insert band name] what an incredible debut album. So fresh and new and exciting. I am totally [insert relevant and current adjective] for the follow up. I’m not even going to read anything about it. I’m going to [preferred music outlet] blindly and will purchase this album, safe in the knowledge that it will rock my summer of [insert appropriate year]. Here we go… Oh… well… it’s good…I think. I like the first song. I just need to listen to it some more… Oh. My. God. This [insert relevant and current adjective]. I don’t like it very much. Lazy. They’re not even trying. I’m so despondent. You were the voice of my generation. Now you’re just wasters”.

Evil cruel mistress, thy name is music industry. From “wow” to “wasters” in the space of 18 months, why is it that so many bands seem to fail to follow up some incredible early success? Is the industry moving so fast, that when a new sound is sprawled across the radio waves, people simply aren’t impressed by a few months later? Or is it a case of the musicians not being creatively capable of bettering or even matching their first outing? OR IS IT JUST ME?

Growing up, I’ve been hurt in a non-emo way, by a lot of bands that simply couldn’t do it again. Do we exist in a conveyor belt industry, where everything has to sound amazingly new and fresh? That by the time Bloc Party released A Weekend in the City” every band had bought a synth and pedal effect sound sampler 3000. Are we in a culture of masterful debuts, followed by flat difficult second albums, followed by anonymous third and new direction fourths? Not entirely.

An enormous plethora of bands I love, continue to impress and improve in little tiny ways or even produce similar sounding material, which nonetheless take your breath away. From Arcade Fire, Beach House, Arctic Monkeys, to Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, Mystery Jets, The National and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I don’t think if you like a band that much, and are loyal from the outset, that it’s possible to find fault in their follow ups. There are many people, for example who will punch you if you suggest that The Stone Roses’ Second Coming was a five year miserable anti-climatic pile of manure, while I will happily claim that there’s no such thing as a bad David Bowie album (in fact, if anything, his “best material” starts at “Hunky Dory” – album number four), and I will challenge you to knives at dawn anyone who badmouths “Icky Thump”. Flaws there may be, but I don’t want to know. The White Stripes were always there for me, and I will defend them to the hilt. So what, you ask was the point of that stream of consciousness?

OK. I know what happened here. The other day I was listening to what I can only describe as my ‘growing up music’. These were the tender years 2000 – 2006, where music was like, my identity, you know? I looked for heroes, and proudly displayed them on my wall or on my chest, and crouched for warmth in some dingy ally-way outside the Shepherd’s Bush Empire for a glimpse of said heroes at the grave risk of missing the last northbound train and gaining hyperthermia. Maybe apart from the abovementioned, a lot of the featured in the expansive playlist just seemed to fall into a murky decline.

Bloc Party. The 2005 debut “Silent Alarm” full of ‘conversational’ guitar and some furious percussion, with some intense poetic lyrics, followed by a disappointing sink into synth and electronica on “A Weekend in the City” and “Intimacy”, and those stand alone singles “Flux” and “One More Chance” all drowning out the qualities which made the band so powerful and captivating. Here’s hoping that this year’s comeback; the fourth album entitled “Fourth” (sigh) will drag back to the glory days. Similarly Maximo Park with the wonderful art-rock debut “A Certain Trigger, may have finally come full circle again with the release of The National Health this year. The Strokes released probably one of the most important albums of my generation in 2001 with Is This It, an energetic powerhouse of a record, dipping into the glamorous and wild New York scene, somehow beautifully crammed into forty odd minutes. It’s funny, its touching, its brilliantly written, its how we all felt in those tender years; restless and energetic. If that was “it” I certainly felt like my life was complete. Tragically, the band dubbed “the greatest rock and roll band since The Rolling Stones” went on a catastrophic decline, churning out disheartening follows up over an eight-year period, and not even looking capable of revisiting the glorious summer of 2001, in which I actually visited New York!!!!! PLEASE sort it out, guys.

Elsewhere, you look at the debut offerings from bands such as Johnny Borrell’s Razorlight, the city lyefffff of The Rakes, The “fun-time” Futureheads, the echo-reverb shoe-gazers, The Music and my lovable Liverpudlians, The Zutons and see what happened next chokes me up. Even The Ordinary Boys. Yes, judge the young buck that I was, I really enjoyed Over the Counter Culture”, with it’s combination of cheeky lyrics about the everyday, brass and joyful guitar was smashing (my choice of word for summer 2004). Even listening to it now, it ain’t that bad. Yet the follow up Brass Bound – awful, just awful, and the latest one, I don’t even know, and quite frankly, I don’t want to know, not to mention the figure of Simon Amstell ridicule fodder that lead singer Preston has become. Finally, three bands who boast a respectable longevity, and two, maybe three, maybe even four quality opening albums, but who have slipped into states of almost self-parody: step forward The Killers*, Muse, and Kings of Leon.

* I happen to think that the second Killers album Sam’s Town is better than their debut Hot Fuss”. Just saying.

This might sound a wee bit harsh and a classic blogger’s rant. After all, who am I to sit here and demand continued perfection from every band who has the honour of gracing my eardrums? And this is of course, is an insight into my own music taste, which is obviously not gospel and therefore cannot possibly reflect music as a whole. There are also, of course a multitude of factors, which affect the quality of an album, from timing of release, to the handling and management of record companies. Yet it’s something I’ve noticed with these bands, and obviously something that’s worth sharing with you lucky people.

Maybe I did expect too much. Maybe I love too much. Bands can’t go on forever. And the important thing is that at some point, they made a significant impact on someone’s music taste, even if the follow up failed to live up to my expectations anyway. Then again, if you were a staunch defender of the realm of Bloc Party, you would argue, like I would with The White Stripes, that all the material is awesome. What kind of a conclusion is this really? Rant, rant, rant followed by “oh but it all comes down to the music taste of the individual and spare a thought for the pressured lifestyles these musicians have in a highly demanding industry”. I’m going round in circles. Lets end it with this:

“Wow [insert band name]. I really liked your first album. But your new stuff really does [insert relevant and current adjective]. Yet somehow, I feel I have a permanent soft spot for you. Maybe it’s because I was discovering who I was when I first heard you. I owe a lot to you. And I can’t really hold (what I see as) your sad decline against you, because you brought me so much [insert relevant and current adjective] early on. I love you. I’m going to listen to you right now, and make an awesome playlist called [insert awesome name here] in which you feature heavily”.

Part two coming up shortly.

http://www.mojobar.co.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/TheStrokes.jpg

“Guys, I think he died from disappointment”

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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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