Tag Archives: Mystery Jets

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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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.

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“Guys, I think he died from disappointment”

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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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