Tag Archives: New Music

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: “but, I don’t want you to go”

There is something else: the rather tragic instance when a band, for whatever reason, just when things are starting to kick off, decides to pack it in.  Those bands who, upon hearing the news of the split, catapult you into five stages of grief:  

1) Denial:

“pffff , stupid internet forum rumours”

2) Over the top realisation and reaction: 

[Sobbing] but I don’t want you to go, I, I, I love you and your vision.  Oh curse you, foul music industry temptress! A pox, a pox on your houses! I’m building a shrine in my kitchen”.  I need a lyric for my MySpace profile NOW”

3) Backcataslog © – Loud and Proud:

“What do you mean ‘turn it down’? Haven’t you heard the news?  Show some respect for their bootleg EP I downloaded and debut album I was given at a free concert”.

4) Philosophically facing the truth:

[Smoking a pipe, gazing out of the window, holding a photo of said band in-between your thumb and forefinger] I truly wonder how far they might have gone.  This is a sad loss to the industry”.

5) Moving on: 

Well these things weren’t meant to be.  Let’s see what else is out there…”

*Google searches ‘hot new indie bands’*

Luke took the news of N’ Sync’s breakup very badly; getting his newly found father to cut his hand off, then chucked himself down an air shaft.

Of course, over time, short-lived bands have made quite an short, sharp and oh so meaningful impact: Buddy Holly and The Crickets; Cream; The Jimi Hendrix Experience; Joy Division; Nirvana, amongst others, and of course, the band which quite probably defined my youth: the whirlwind adventures sailing on the Good Ship Albion with my boys in the band, The Libertines, sadly sunk after drugs and break-ins replaced the music I cherished. We all know about that little episode, so here for you, are three other bands I loved and lost too quickly, also brought to you by the letter “L”.

Les Incompétents

Around the same time as I was listening to the Libs, acing my A-levels and kissing girls for the first time, I was heavily immersed in the chaotic sound of London’s six piece, Les Incompétents.  The sound in question was bawdy, raucous, full of intellectual drunken ramblings from a bunch of guys who at the best of times were comically dressed and pissed on stage.  And I sucked it all in.  Around the time when nights out began to mean something to me, Les Incompétents were a welcome inclusion into this world I had just discovered.  Their debut single, the swirly, boozy “Reunion” gave terrific insight into the kind of ramshackle outfit London had on its hands, a cross between The Pogues, Adam and The Ants, Tenpole Tudor and The Coral having a session.  And not the right kind of session.

“How It All Went Wrong” remains fondest in my memories, with lead singers Billy Leeson and Fred Macpherson stumbling through a night out, and coming to blows with Andy (?) the disco queen (“drinking Braaandy”).  It’s a wonderfully unruly song, one that I had the pleasure of seeing live at a venue I can’t remember the name of, possibly in Camden, maybe at the Camden Crawl.  It was my first stage invasion and the first time I had my hair washed with cheap lager, made friends with the guy who pulled me from the heaving crowd, and walked away with ripped clothing and bruises on my body.  Riotous would have been an understatement, as they injected a heck of a lot of life into London’s live music scene.  I also saw them support Babyshambles in a comparatively placid set.

And so where did it all go wrong?  Well foremost, lead singer Billy Leeson was disturbingly assaulted and put into a coma for several weeks, after an altercation on a bus. It also became clear, that members of the band were having the classic “creative differences”.  After Leeson had recovered from his attack, Les Inc played their farewell gig at the 100 Club off Oxford Street, and that was that.  A posthumous release of their only album, “End of an Error” featuring everything they had ever recorded was followed by Leeson heading Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man, while Macpherson later went on to form one of my new favourite bands, Spector.  Short, but happy whirlwind times had by all with London’s Les Inc. *see comment regarding the formation of Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man – Thanks for this, Neil Martin.

London’s Les Inc outfit appreciates St. Pauls Cathedral (whilst probably drinking Braaaannnnndddy)

Larrikin Love 

What first attracted me to Larrikin Love was the sheer amount of energy poured into their music.  The fusion of Irish romantic gypsy folk calypso punk ska sea shanty reggae bluesgrass was so refreshing and exciting, and something, which we might never hear again.  I had heard a series of rough demos and drooled over the prospect of a polished studio version, yet also felt the rough sound of the demos suited their style of music and deportment.  Songs such as “Edwould”, “Meet Me By The Getaway Car”, “On Sussex Downs”, and the brilliant “Downing Street Kindling” – a vitriolic rant at Tony Blair (of all people) were perfect examples of what the band were doing.  The language from Ed Larrikin remains beautiful; poetic and heartfelt, covering a variety of areas from identity, love, politics, to child abduction, all complemented with incredible melodies and such a wide array of instruments and rhythms.

Seeing them live at Reading Festival in 2006 was completely awesome, losing myself in the sheer passion and liveliness the band created in a flash of a fiddle, or puff of a pipe.  A month later, they released “The Freedom Spark” and it met all my expectations.  Featuring assistance from the likes of Patrick Wolf and Jamie T, the album made it’s way to the top of my pile. Presenting itself like prose, with a story like shift between emotions, the record was a mesmerising adventure captivating you even further.  Destined for greatness, they surely were.

Not long after this, sadly, the band announced out of the blue, they were going their separate ways.  It was a bitter blow, considering I had monitored their progress carefully, and moved with the hype and expectation chronologically from demo, lives performance to debut release.  Each went off to explore new musical outings including Ed Larrkin pursuing his new band, Pan I Am.  Sorely missed.

“Yes? May we help you with something?” Larrikin Love and their short lived Irish romantic gypsy folk calypso punk ska sea shanty reggae bluesgrass sound.

The Long Blondes

It’s easy to get upset about a break-up of a band, especially when you are utterly and unashamedly besotted with the lead singer.  Kate Jackson of The Long Blondes was, and most likely still is, cool, feisty, chic and dresses extremely well – a sort of sexy librarian, if you could imagine. Her charisma on stage was matched by a cracking voice and a group of similarly cool looking cats, who most likely owned vintage fashion shops or were part time teachers or art students, or models.  Dorian Cox, the hardworking, broody, unruffled lead guitarist and co-singer/songwriter, Rennie Hollis and Emma Chaplin often stood there glamorously playing synth, bass or rhythm guitar, while the drummer Screech Louder (real name Mark Turvey!) completed the outfit.   The Sheffield quintet caught my attention early 2006 with a glamorous art indie pop dance sound, crammed full with clever and sophisticated literary and pop culture references, everything from Alfred Hitchcock, Edie Sedgwick to Bobby George and Scott Walker. The debut “Someone To Drive You Home” dealt with everything from jealousy, seduction, useless loveless relationships, suspicion, faded glamour, aspirations and looks. Plenty of feedback, pulsating rhythms and all the hallmarks of an eighties tinged disco pop band, a Blondie, Human League, Roxy music fusion.   Puuuufffeeect.  “Lust In The Movies” summed this up well, as well as “Giddy Stratospheres”, the popular “Weekend Without Makeup” and the fantastic “You Could Have Both” with a delicious and bold spoken word section towards the end. It was a fearless and relentless debut, an album for misfits across the country.

Seeing them live was a lot of fun. I saw them in a small tent in Reading, a big stage in Glastonbury, in Leeds and in a small converted church in Brighton, in which during the set, she bent down to the crowd, singled me out, looked into my eyes and STROKED MY FACE.  Just goes to show, it pays to turn up super early to get the best spot in the crowd. Needless to say, it was the best thing that has ever happened to me.  No matter where they played, they had an enthralled, suave following, they commanded the stage and always a set to match.   The follow up, “Couples” (the use of the quotation marks in the title was a tribute to Bowie’s “Heroes” = instant win) toed the line and provided a similar energy, containing a bit more synth aesthetic (Erol Alkan produced it), rather than Cox’s guitar.  It still had that quirky fantasy pop tinge to it, with songs like “The Couples”, or the seductive “Too Clever By Half” There was a hint of new direction with the minimalist stripped back “Round The Hairpin”. With two neat little albums plus a host of unreleased demos later put out on “Singles”, (“Christmas Is Cancelled” was one of the first song Long Blondes songs I heard, and is brilliant) and a Phillip Hall Radar Award from the 2006 NME awards, previously won by Franz Ferdinand and The Kaiser Chiefs, the band were set to continue their success, and develop their cult following, in like, the coolest way possible.  Before Rough Trade snapped them up they were probably the greatest unsigned band of the time (post-Monkeys watershed).

But guess what?  It wasn’t to be.  Dorian Cox unfortunately suffered a stroke, which led to a series of cancelled gigs.  The band felt they could not go on, as Cox underwent physiotherapy to learn how to play guitar again.  The band went off in different directions, forming new projects.  Jackson is working on her new solo album, which I know will be awesome and Cox is, I believe, recovering well and performing in his new band, Milkteeth.  But the audacity in their approach to their music, outlook and generally being utterly absorbing and interesting without, it seems, a great deal of effort makes the legacy of The Long Blondes something that British music itself should miss dreadfully, as well as me.

“I’m sorry. The library is closed. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave”.

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