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.

 

Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow Review

 

Bombay Bicycle Club

Bombay Bicycle Club have altered their sound in some way with each of their previous three albums, but it would seem that their new fourth album see’s them take on their biggest change of sound and style. Their changing ways have been criticised from varying angles as not having any identity or soul while also being accused as changing for the sake of it and the songs being hollow and lifeless as a result. In many ways I think this criticism is a little unfair while perhaps having a point. With the sate music is in at the moment; we should all be thankful for the fact they are altering their sound even if it isn’t entirely original. Perhaps that is what the critics are picking up on. I do think that perhaps it is time to put their efforts into a fresh and exciting sound and master it rather than rolling through different things that have already been done in some form or another. Hopefully this will be the case so their sound can match their talent.

With ‘Carry Me’ it seems that they might have done just that. They’ve produced a song that opens with whirring samples and synths before the guitars and dual percussion come in. It goes into the chorus with the fine jangling of guitars and the deeper churning of synths that, along with the cymbals; expand and spread the sound out well. The vocals do this in their repetitive and faded out manner. The softer quality does just enough to sit higher than the music but blend into the sounds with ease too. It has a fluctuating and rapid style leaves you at the mercy of the chorus with the infectious beat and rhythm before pulling you through the gradual and on edge build up of sound that is led by the vocals through the verses. There is a lot of sounds and textures going on but they are much controlled than perhaps they have been in the past. Each sound is isolated on its own but blends with others cleanly instead of a mad cacophony of sounds. A great move in the right direction. ‘Luna’ opens in a light and airy fashion with the soft vocal with which everything sounds a little muffled. It soon develops into a 80’s pop track with the rise and fall of the bass lines and the traditional backing vocals. They go and take on their own role to help drive the song. The shimmering synths and the pop like vocals and harmonies make it a refined piece of pop music, if not as refined and profound as ‘Carry Me’. Having said that it does open a new and happier tone against the more serious disciplined opening single.

‘It’s Alright Now’ starts with the light flow of synths and the echoed and drawn out vocal. There is another great culmination to the ultimate sound with the introduction of the bass and the extra vocals in the background. The whole affair is a spacious and feathery experience and perhaps even more so than ‘Luna’. Slow, bouncy synths open the title track. After this the soft and wavering vocals embark a wave of slow atmospheric illusion before the percussion is brought in. From this the synths become much sharper and cut through the atmosphere and a dance track emerges from it with the repetitive backing vocals. The lead doesn’t react to the upturn of tone and gets drowned out slightly, but then it becomes the point of continuity as the song shifts and moves to different places. Its unconventional but effective. ‘Home By Now’ evokes a style similar to that of hip hop turned pop tune. Again the vocals and the general clashes of sound are easy on the ear and packed with sugary melody but intercepted with a deeper feel. There is a slight feel that there is too many muted and subdued moments and they do seem to drag a little and still lack and deeper feel to get lost up in. It is an excellent album that is produced with great consideration and understanding and one that has just enough variations to keep you as on edge as you were with ‘Carry Me’. As an album it progresses wonderfully and is probably the best so far this year. There is a long way to go though…

Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow = 8.5/10

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Images from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24805462 / //www.nme.com

Forget What The NME Says. This Is The True Face of Musical Progression.

I won’t get bogged down in the details, but I recently wrote an article about how musical progression, on the face of it is in grave decline compared to the second half of the twentieth century and it seems many are living in some ignorant bliss about it all. In what was largely a rant against the ‘Indie Hipster’ I did paint a pretty bleak picture about the majority of those who weren’t pushing music forward so I thought I’d redress that and show you who is.

 

Factory Floor and The Knife

Dark and gritty synthetic churnings and grindings of an industrial nature. A collage and a deep texture of different electronic sounds burrowing beneath the song or fire out from it in a laser like fashion. There isn’t really a traditional base or middling sound and if there is it isn’t playing centre stage. Songs that are pretty lengthy and play on sensory and emotive vulnerabilities. These are enhanced by the very different ways the vocals are packaged. Only inserted at intervals to enhance the sound or scare you half to death.

 

Bombay Bicycle Club

Though perhaps not making such a huge difference to the progression of music before; they certainly are now. They could almost act as the in-between or the transition from the ‘Hipster’ culture to the progressive and forward thinking culture and the highly futuristic nature of Factory Floor and The Knife. They are slightly less shocking and assertive in their approach and they act in a much more accessible and melodic fashion particularly with ‘Carry Me’ with a sustained vocal but still with a great focus on the music and an untraditional approach to verses.

 

Pinkunoizu

A great combination and clashing of different sounds to forge a new type of music but one that still has a large air of familiarity to it. Combining the punk and krautrock elements with the neo-psychedelic, shoegazing and even folk elements but in a much matter of fact way rather than making a mockery of the respected genres in the process. It results in direct and easy to grasp song progression but one that is much more complex and varied.

 

Warpaint

A fantastic proprietor of the atmospheric and of the expanded sound. They don’t plug a cheap atmosphere using the same default echo and distortion that most bands who think they are of the same banner. They in fact utilise the natural sound of their vocal as well as the differing effects that they have at their disposal. The also do this with the natural rotating rhythms and in using sounds to build up textures that are fluid and drawn out. Sometimes the atmospheric quality comes from the vocal, the guitars, the bass, percussion, synths etc. This can allow them to control the type of atmospheric quality of each song. Sometimes it can change mid-song, but they have the ability to produce completely spaced out and unlimited sounds and much more bottled up and immediate atmospheric moments.

 

The Horrors

Psychedelic music of the future. They have already went through a rapid personal musical progression and it would be a crime to leave them out of this list. The free flowing synths and the layering atop of it can be complex or simple but divulges the sound perfectly in a way original psychedelica has not. Combine that with the wizardry of guitarist Joshua Hayward. To a passing ear it just sounds like an aggressive shoegaze style, but it does so much more. Instead of acting as a side show of the rest of the song he uses it as the songs engine to grind out a tune from the reverb and to act as an added melodic element. You just have to look at the abundance of pedals he has to see where he is taking guitar music as a whole to an age of the intelligent and disciplined guitarist. The bass is always less obvious in it’s bass lines and Faris’ vocals speak for themselves for a fresh vocal style.

 

Rose Elinor Dougall

Not only was her debut album Without Why a great rejigging of outlooks on genres with brilliant combinations and fresh approaches on each; but her 2013 EP Future Vanishes is a great example of a new type of pop music. One that is more intelligent and does so much more than provide the quick fix people look for. Lyrically capable as always; she moulds songs that are infectious in their beat, rhythm, groove and melodic feel. You can sing a long and you can dance along to them. There is also a great spaced out quality to her music from which you can be totally immersed and lost in. Something that is rooted deeper by her lyrics. That doesn’t detract from those infectious qualities and if anything she cleverly utilises and manipulates this to enhance such things.

 

Damon Albarn

Already a legendary innovator in several guises; he has recently shown he can still do just that as we all set about embarking on his solo venture. Songs like ‘Everyday Robots’ are broken and off beat with their melodies and the mismatch of percussion going on at the same time. He combines the traditional strings and piano with the samples and lets them sit separately and unifying them with his easy listening vocal to smooth everything over. He has much more to give and much more to show younger generations currently driving music backwards.

That was just a few off the top of my head but there are such artists out there. You just have to find them and go to their gigs and so on for they are the true driving forces of music. Even if they are behind the scenes they are the forward thinkers and the progressives like generations before them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tracks of 2013 – Top 10

It is now time to wrap up the year of music 2013 has given us and what better way to start than with my top 10 tracks of the year. Out of the top 10 there have been tracks that have struck me for their imagination, innovation, risk-taking, melodic mastery and so on. They come from worldwide heavyweights to the more obscure crafters of music and they’ve all been picked from those I have looked at, so please don’t despair if there are any missing artists as they might just have passed me by this year.

10. Paul McCartney – Appreciate

 

Yes. He is 71. Yes. It is from his album New. No. It isn’t what you are thinking. If you look upon McCartney’s 2013 album; full of nostalgic forays into the past decades of his career, then you’ll see that the man of innovation and risk taking is still there. Appreciate is a hidden gem within the New album. It’s neo-psychedlica curled around a hip hop beat and it has more freshness about it than many of the young artists releasing music this year. That is either a sign of McCartney’s prowess or a sign of the lack of it amongst the new musicians of today. http://youtu.be/3Aq-iiDXo7I

9. Gaz Coombes – Buffalo

Despite plying his Britpop trade around 20 years ago, Gaz is probably making the most profound and elaborate music of his career. Buffalo is to be a single off his upcoming album which is he is currently working on. If this track is anything to go by then he looks set to expand upon the firm foundations of his debut album from 2012. A dramatic and atmospheric glow as the song progresses through it’s stages of varied tone. http://youtu.be/xi8AH-peorY

8. Arctic Monkeys – Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?

They perhaps needed to do something bold and different after many saw their fourth album as their comparative worst effort. What I like about this track is that it’s not obviously crammed with reverbing guitars or with Alex Turner rapidly delivering his vocal around it. There’s no hint of desert rock here either. It’s driven by a different source which gives the song an indelible groove while giving it bags of space for a more developed and tuneful vocal from Alex. Perfect example of less being more in terms of production. http://youtu.be/2spbZbOPu_w

7. Daft Punk featuring Julian Casablancas – Instant Crush

This one of the best tracks off Random Access Memories and it best combines the 70’s and 80’s influences with the typical Daft Punk sound and style. Throw in Julian Casalancas and you have one of the most tuneful and melodic tracks they’ve ever produced. You’re left vulnerable to the plucked, churning of the rhythm much like Andy Summers of The Police produced with Every Breath You Take in 1983. The vocoded vocal is poised in perfect balance to the synths and you can still detect the character of Julian’s voice beneath it. A fantastic piece of electro pop and a change of direction that worked for Daft Punk. http://youtu.be/a5uQMwRMHcs

6. Bombay Bicycle Club – Carry Me

Bombay Bicycle Club

A great progression of their music was suggested with Carry Me. Retaining the elements that make them successful is key and they did that. But the re-evaluation was not only needed but works to great results. A mix of subtlety and sheer boldness. All the fine raw elements clashing with the bold industrial sounds while still forging a great spacious and floating harmony and atmosphere. The result of a complex song being instantly accessible through recording skill. http://youtu.be/OZCfqhRgJ0Q

5. Savages – Husbands

Dark, angry , gritty and everything else. This song features the deep rooted bass line which remains about the only constant throughout. Above it is the grinding and screeching guitars with the clashing percussion. Smashing through it are the snarling and bold vocals that evoke a real raw and emotive feel that is shoved right up into your face http://youtu.be/rmJ_mcvRQsI

4. TOY – Endlessly

TOY followed their debut with a solid second effort in Join The Dots. It gave them a chance to refine and let their sound grow with Endlessly being the prime example of that. That theme of organised chaos holds true again here, yet it is directed into a more distinguished melody which makes it all the more enjoyable. Wonderfully spaced out and atmospheric despite the various elements in action. http://youtu.be/o1Yre4Gmb-E

3. Jagwar Ma – Man I Need

Man I Need’ is one of the standout tracks from Howlin which instantly sets the tone with the psychedelic whirring along with the wide scope and relaxed urgency of the percussion which is pretty typical of a psychedelic style. The rhythm makes an indelible groove, the percussion plies at it too. Also a magnificent clash of influences to create something new. A standout track from a standout album. http://youtu.be/K8KCPw9kYpo

2. The Knife – Full of Fire

This brother and sister duo from Sweden took the traditional notions of song structure, style and context and shredded them into a million pieces. They didn’t just progress their sound to the next level, but to the next light-year. It’s deep, dark and gritty. The industrial grinding of the lower pitched synths and set against the flashing synths sounds above them. The vocals combine with the instrumentals in such a eerie and unfamiliar way that it is at times a wonderfully terrifying experience. The fact it is a ten minute affair only enhances it as you lay on edge at each development of sound. It is almost too advanced to contemplate for some. But at least we now have a possible avenue for musical progression instead of recycling the last 50 years to no end. http://youtu.be/DoH6k6eIUS4

1. Rose Elinor Dougall – Future Vanishes

I have to admit that I initially had this track placed further down the top ten. But only after I listened to all the tracks again did I realise that this song was still ingrained in my mind. It then hit me that this track actually fulfils all the criteria I asked for. It has melodies and hook at every turn, it has a magnificent atmospheric quality to it, imaginative in it’s forms and lyrics and innovative in terms of combining pop and electronic features to a psychedelic track. On top of all this is it’s beautiful contradiction of its self. It can send you into an atmospheric and psychedelic trip into the depths of your thoughts or can leave you at the mercy of it’s rhythm and deep rooted groove. It does everything you ask for. Why shouldn’t this track top my list? Is it because she doesn’t sell out arenas or headline Reading and Leeds, or grace the top of the charts? I don’t think so. That’s not what I’m about, but this song is. http://youtu.be/JUqVhh0kuNA

Single Review – Bombay Bicycle Club – Carry Me

Bombay Bicycle Club

Bombay Bicycle Club are to move on to their fourth albeit unexpected album in 2014. Their previous three have consisted very much of modern day Indie and folk influences in general and a fourth album is a good a time as any for a rethink or a change of perspective and with the first single ‘Carry Me’; it seems that they might have done just that. They’ve produced a song that opens with whirring samples and synths before the guitars and dual percussion come in. It goes into the chorus with the fine jangling of guitars and the deeper churning of synths that, along with the cymbals; expand and spread the sound out well. The vocals do this in their repetitive and faded out manner. The softer quality do just enough to sit higher than the music but blend into the sounds with ease too. Some have been pretty sceptical about the change of direction, but I think groups should be encouraged to do such a thing. Even more so when it works as well as it has done for them.

http://youtu.be/MHv74-9tfYE

Image from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24805462