Half Term Report – Top 10 albums of the year so far

For me 2014 has already eclipsed the previous year for musical diversity, creativity and innovation about all aspects of the craft; whether it’s through the production or lyrics, it has been a far better year already. The most obvious evidence is the lack of full marks in 2013 and the two full marks we’ve had already this year. On top of this, the average rating of 2013’s top 10 albums was 8.85 while the first half of 2014 has already produced a score of 9.05 and I’m sure that will rise by the time we get to December. So here are some of the contenders so far.

10. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow

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Despite having a slight knack of becoming a little too bogged down in similar subdued moments, it bats those moments back with some wonderful atmospheric bursts and rhythms that encapsulate so many unexpected hooks. Another change of direction and one of their best yet.

9. Kasabian 48:13

Another marvellous piece of re-imagination after the false start of their last album; 48:13 delivers their vision almost perfectly. It’s bold, in your face and you can’t ignore it. At other times it’s unsettling and thought provoking. Whether it’s driven through eerie electronica or EDM-enthused hard rock, it works. This is even more true live.

8. Damon AlbarnEveryday Robots

Full of mystery, intrigue, reflection and honest cynicism. An album that remains slightly lost in the thoughts and feelings of Damon Albarn, but what a place to be lost in. It flows or even trickles along from one song into the next and through peek some moments of real beauty. For a debut album too? Remember the name…. he’ll go far this one….

7. Warpaint – Warpaint

An accomplished piece of expansive art rock. Despite it’s growing and expanding sounds that they produce with ease; this album usually incorporates a captivating central element to it’s songs that filter out a hopeful atmosphere into a murky and lingering gloom that keeps you perched on the edge of your seat. A perfect example of production discipline and manipulation.

6. Bastard Mountain – Farewell Bastard Mountain

Admittedly this album by the British folk collective was something I wasn’t expecting to blow me away and in reality it didn’t. It did, however immerse me into the raw and natural soundscapes that were produced by more traditional means. An album that is inherently beautiful and a credit to their capable musicianship. As simple as that.

5. The Horrors – Luminous

Luminous was a slightly odd turn for The Horrors to take but one you would have imagined was going to come. They stopped and pondered. They looked at Skying and thought they could make it better. They did. The added sense of rhythm and connection with these songs are brilliant along with the revelation that was Faris’ vocal development and added ability. It just about justified the three year wait and despite not having the effortless soars and sweeps of their previous album, nor the varied and innovative nature of the sublime Primary Colours; it is still a wondrous creation as you’d expect from The Horrors, even if it was weirdly familiar.

4. Wild Beasts – Present Tense

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Wild Beasts produced an album that remained close and intimate as it kept all the bursts, transitions and awesome shifts in sound right by you. Not in a distant and fading manner that is far off and out of reach, but something you felt coarse right through you as it bounces and shoots about your head with every synth glow and crisp riff. On top of this, it has an excellent lyrical dimension to it too which focuses it in even further.

3. Manic Street Preachers – Futurology

All hail the Manics! For they are back and better than ever. These are words I’d never imagined uttering again as I witnessed one of the legendary British bands sink slowly into their comfort zone. Leaving their dynamism and lyrical daring safely in the 1990’s. If last year’s Rewind The Film gave us a clue to this album then it still caught me off guard. They deliver their European sound gloriously and in a fluctuating way with each song as it either enthuses and delights the senses or drops you from emotional highs. Lyrically relevant and challenging as they always have been too. They’ll have to clear a space next to the Holy Bible, Everything Must Go and This is my Truth Tell Me Yours  trio as Futurology is about to join them on that mantle.

2. Beck – Morning Phase

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Beck makes a long awaited return to steal you dangerously from this planet and into the soaring and unfamiliar unknowns. You don’t pass through each song, but it passes through you. From the bold, roaring and frightful instrumentals to the warm and radiant expansive ballads and down to the comforting acoustic tracks; this album takes you on a journey like no other album has this year. It evokes so many different emotions that you almost feel empty and cold by the end of some tracks. The best vocal and instrumental delivery of any album so far this year.

1. St Vincent – St. Vincent

Annie Clark has always given off little bits of wonder and innovation but this album is those things through and through. It’s the only thing you can rely on in this album for it is not linear in any way at all. Whether it is her swooning and creepy harmonious tracks, her synth driven visions, her lyrically marvelling and vocally outlandish tracks or those songs with guitars that pick you up by your collar and throw you into a mass of undulation, fusion, blocky fuzz or melodic distortion; it’s always fresh, urgent and unrelenting. In a time when so many pretenders mindlessly recycle and replay well documented sounds of the past; here you have the sound of progress. The sound of modernity. The sound of 2014.

 

Kasabian – 48:13 Review

Kasabian are back with yet another hotly anticipated album, this time their fifth with 48:13. A decade on from their debut; this album looks to be a stripped back and hard hitting affair with Serge Pizzorno talking of how they’ve stripped layers back rather than add things on. Amongst other things I can imagine this more streamlined sound accentuating Tom’s provocative and in your face vocals. This should also signal another change of direction from the Leicester band who are not known for hanging around with a sound for a few albums. This has generally worked well for them and they’ve maintain a lot of their commercial success in the process, yet it is never a guarantee of a solid album  and given their experience and reputation, this album will probably be their most painstakingly analysed yet.

The first track to emerge from the album was ‘Eez-eh’ It features a reverberating trance beat, expanded percussion and an undulating, vibrated bass line. On top of this is a slightly wacky and eccentric style that’s born out of the songs structure and progression. Musically it’s a different route for them and it’s catchy and rapid. The vocals though, really seem out of kilter with the whole song and are poorly produced when you consider the music behind it. It sort of detaches the song from itself. Some of the lyrics are pretty humorous and a little witty too. The main identifiable difference is how there is no real musical flow but more of a beat laden chant about it. It’s such a change that people’s automatic reaction is to criticize, but it should be given a chance, though you’d expect much stronger and better delivered singles from them despite the undeniable punch it packs. ‘Bumblebeee’ explodes into motion with crashing percussion, grating guitars and vocal chants and sinister shouts that reverb through the colliding sounds. Tom’s vocals are heavily distorted as a fires out the lyrics of the chorus. The song all so easily falls into a neat and more gradual progression and feel of the verses with the nudging synths and sharp percussion along with the clean vocal sound. The build up of sound back towards the chaotic chorus is something that can almost never fail, but they’ve done well to maintain a vague connection between the structure of the verse and chorus. It’s just that the chorus is positively mental in comparison. The transitions are what make this song and they’ve released their importance and emphasised them to great effect.

‘Glass’ sees Serge take the lead with the vocals and the feel of the track is much more expansive and growing than the direct hits of the previous two tracks. Grinding electronic pulses open the track before giving way to echoed, wiry guitars and washed out synths and echo. Serge’s vocals continue to expand the sound, recorded in a distant and airy fashion. The verses evoke images of medieval rhymes and ballads in a chilling and detached state. These are backed by march-like drums along occasional flurries of acute synth blasts that become a pulverized infusion. The lyrics are delivered in an environment befitting them. Talking of how we don’t fight things we don’t agree with and ‘going nowhere fast’ as a result. The spoken word at the end focuses upon this and the instrumentals rotate out to a conclusion, leaving the words in isolation. ‘Glass’ is a track with real potency that is matched by it’s thought provoking lyrics. ‘Clouds’ slowly comes to life via phonically and sonically charged synths that turn into grinding oscillations before beginning a more guitar driven remainder of the song with a rumbling rhythm section and fuzzy sounding bass line. The songs leads up to pronounced guitars solos, flanked by flashing and rotating synths. Tom and Serge’s vocals in unison have a slight echo on them and they usher in the electronically charged bursts of power and sound that kick the song on to it’s conclusion. An unsymmetrical structure and layout that they utilise to keep the song fresh and intriguing throughout. Dramatic and anthemic strings and brass are used to open ‘Stevie’ before launching into a heavily distorted and reverberating guitar and these come together in the chorus. They master the more built up instrumental moments just as well as the barer situations and the transitions between them but this song is designed more for a never ending sea of people to sing back at them more than anything else and it works exceptionally well in that sense. ‘Bow’ features Serge again and the undulating spring of the riff leading the song in creates the atmosphere for the hit in the chorus as he explores his vocal limits across shimming electronica. ‘Explodes’ begins with more electronic purity and features harpsichord like synths, brief EDM like bursts and drum samples and siren-like moog synths. Unlike the last album; 48:13 maintains it’s flow and urgency throughout. Each track is delivered faithfully to what they set out to do and for the most part it worked to maximum effect thanks to immaculate production on pretty much every track apart from ‘Eez-eh’; but that’s experimentation for you. With that in mind, you can only appreciate that they’re trying new things and not sitting in the musical comfort zone and I think this album is more of a natural step forward from their self titled debut and certainly one of their best.

Kasabian – 48: 13 = 8.5/10

Image from www.gigwise.com

 

Single Review – Kasabian – Eez-eh

Kasabian are back this week as they begin the run up towards the release of their new album 48:13 from which they’ve released a very sparse and simple album artwork. The first track to emerge from their highly anticipated fifth album was ‘Eez-eh’ It features a reverberating trance beat, expanded percussion and an undulating bass. On top of this is a slightly wacky and eccentric style that’s born out of the songs structure and progression. Musically it’s a different route for them and it’s catchy and rapid. The vocals though, really seem out of kilter with the whole song and are poorly produced when you consider the music behind it. It sort of detaches the song from itself. Some of the lyrics are pretty humorous and a little witty too. It’s such a change that people’s automatic reaction is to criticize, but it should be given a chance, but you’d expect much stronger and better delivered singles from them.

  http://youtu.be/91zMHsS7O2s

Image from musicis.pl