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.

 

Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots Review

Amazingly, this is the great mans first solo outing with Everyday Robots which will be released tomorrow. It will be one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year when you consider the guys scale and experience from the progression of Blur, Gorillaz, Africa Express and so on. I’m sure it won’t disappoint and the fact that he’s claimed to have written around seventy tracks for this album should act as a guarantor. He still remains an unresolved character for many people who all seem to think there is something he’s not telling them or that his inner thoughts hold the holy grail of music or something. As far as I’m concerned he’s just a little reserved and would much rather speak with his music. You did get the feeling he was on to something new and different though upon releasing the title track back in January. The question now would be; has he pushed this throughout the album?

The title track is typically subdued and a little off beat, yet all so melodic at the same time. The mismatch of percussion and the eerie strings and other sounds stand side by side with Damon’s resigned, considered and nostalgic vocal. All the parts and samples are very isolated and separate from one another, yet wind together at certain points before unravelling on their own path again. It is pretty unconventional and even more so it is doing something different and see’s him utilising his imagination. Yet again it would seem we largely can’t really on the younger generations to provide anything to make you sit up and take notice and so with my eagerness for this song, there is a tinge of bleakness at why others don’t follow the example of their idols rather than copying them. ‘Lonely Press Play’ has a similar broken and mis-matched rhythm engages in a more shuffling and crisp fashion than the more wired sounds of ‘Everyday Robots’. This type of rhythm is clashed with more natural sounds from the piano and the strings and their melodic characteristics. Damon’s loose and contented vocals slot in to the song’s structure and add a gentle fluidity to the conflicting dynamics of the song. A different angle of the approach he used for the title track and with results just as worthy.

‘Hollow Ponds’ starts with softly rotating acoustic riff and a light whirring from an organ along with clasping percussion. The vocals are really focus of this track with Damon’s more narrative sound taking precedence over the simple instrumentals. These narrative tones that deliver the considered and intimate lyrics develop into the more melodic and involved bursts which he still delivers with that exasperated melody that he possesses. ‘The Selfish Giant’ has a pulse mimicking bass line with harmonious piano chords wrapped around them. Damon’s vocals are even more isolated and intimate than the last track and from this the song expands the shimming synths and samples, as well as being backed up by vocals from the brilliant Natasha Khan aka Bat For Lashes. The song is wonderfully subdued and tinged with a lighter and more hopeful melody. Tracks such as ‘Hostiles’ has a delicate acoustic riff tied up by Damon’s more wistful vocal but offset by clunky yet perfectly placed percussion. ‘Heavy Seas of Love’ have Albarn’s vocals given greater depth from Brian Eno’s in a track that turns a little anthemic, euphoric and optimistic. ‘Mr Tembo’ however is more like Albarn performing a Ben Howard song which is welcome in terms of the light being provided as opposed to the shade. Of course he makes it his own and makes it sound much better than it should, but it seems like very trodden ground for someone like Damon yet it’s still a good song. The album is a mysterious and subdued affair that uses methods that should leave you cold but instead radiate warmth. A lot of that has to do with his earthy and often close vocal, but he has combined conflicting elements pretty effectively. There’s one of two dips that are still very worthy tracks but on the whole hey! It is a bloody fantastic effort for a debut is it not? Haha.

Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots = 8.5/10

images from consequenceofsound.net / www.thelineofbestfit.com

 

This Weeks Music Video

This Weeks Music Video. From Damon Albarn with Everyday Robots, Pixies with Magdalena, Marissa Nadler with Dead City Emily and British Sea Power with A Light Above Descending

This Weeks Music Video

This Weeks Music Video. Offerings from Damon Albarn with Everyday Robots, Savages with Strife and Elbow with Fly Boy Blue / Lunette

Single Review – Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

Amazingly, this is the great mans first solo outing with his debut album called Everyday Robots which will be released in late April. It will be one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year when you consider the guys scale and experience and I’m sure it won’t disappoint and the fact that he’s claimed to have written around seventy tracks for this album should act as a guarantor. The first track he is revealing from the album is the title track. It is typically subdued and a little off beat, yet all so melodic at the same time. The mismatch of percussion and the eerie strings and other sounds stand side by side with Damon’s resigned, considered and nostalgic vocal. It is pretty unconventional and even more so it is doing something different and see’s him utilising his imagination. Yet again it would seem we largely can’t really on the younger generations to provide anything to make you sit up and take notice and so with my eagerness for this song, there is a tinge of bleakness at why others don’t follow the example of their idols rather than copying them.

http://youtu.be/rjbiUj-FD-o

Image from www.maxazine.nl