Beach House - Bloom
Four albums in and Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, AKA Beach House, have hit their stride with Bloom, following last record Teen Dream in ambitious style. This time, the music is much more focused and the production is the biggest 'upgrade' to the band's mesmerising and shimmering sound. Legrand's androgynous vocals are a constant wonder, augmented by Scally who creates slow swirling guitar hooks and intricate arrangements. From opener Myth, one of the best tracks, the scene is set and rarely strays. The five-minute Lazuli is another early gem with breathless choral vocals added to the mix and Legrand in seemingly prosaic mood. The arrangement shifts in the second half to build to a wondrous blend of music and vocals. The Hours introduces another vocal style and highlights the group's vague yet compelling song writing: "Made in your reflection so that you can feel. Mad in your intentions; feel it isn't real. All the recollections spinning in a field. Left in your possession, till it isn't real; say it isn't real". Continuing the trend of 'every other song being a hit', New Year verges on pop perfection. In between, there are plenty of great moments with the brilliant guitars, retro-drums and storytelling of Wild ("Our father won't come home because he's seeing double...") and On The Sea breaking the formula by adding vulnerability to Legrand's otherwise polished vocal. Closer Irene is a huge cymbal-filled finale. This is more than just going through the motions and washing everything in thick obscure production. This is a band on top form.
Top Tracks: Lazuli, Myth, The Hours.
Soulsavers - The Light The Dead See
Soulsavers (Rich Machin and Ian Glover), brought in Mark Lanegan and other distinguished guests (Jason Pierce, Richard Hawley, Red Ghost et al) for 2009's Broken. This proved to be another mixed bag of producer/vocalist collaborations. This time, for The Light The Dead See, the duo have settled on one man to provide a voice (and indeed all lyrics) for their music: Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode. Not only does this add much needed consistency and direction but proves to be a revelatory move. Gahan is full-blooded and committed from the start; the dramatic opener In The Morning building furiously before the quiet descends, and the brooding apocalyptic Longest Day complete with choir for the choruses. Presence of God completes the impressive trio with Gahan in typical redemptive mood, crooning over acoustic guitars (this continues later with the less impressive and slightly disjointed, Bitterman). Another example of this collaboration working brilliantly is Take Me Back Home, all serious, dramatic and ending in a chilling vocal finale. In the final trio, I Can't Stay is a spirited and ethereal ballad, Take adds dramatic piano to Gahan's self-loathing and closer Tonight brings it all together into an impressive swansong. Elsewhere the album is filled with interesting moments: Just Try borrows from Baby Bird's Gorgeous and fuses in a Spiritualized arrangement while Gone Too Far is sparse and quiet and then explodes, and the opener La Ribera coupled with Point Sur Part 1, are both wonderful instrumentals. Another example of when producer and artist combine to great effect.
Top Tracks: Longest Day, Presence Of God and Tonight.
Gaz Coombs Presents... - Here Come The Bombs
In 2010, after six albums and seventeen years of music, the band Supergrass split. Gaz Coombes, former lead singer with the band, is now a solo artist and Here Come The Bombs is his début solo album... and he really is going it alone having written and performed every song. The first thing that strikes you is how diverse and varied the music is, from the smooth shimmering opener Bombs, to pop-rock masterpiece Hot Fruit, to the eclectic Radiohead-esque Universal Cinema, to the perfectly judged White Noise and the U2-doing-euro-pop Break The Silence, to closing piano ballad Sleeping Giant. This should come as no surprise at all considering Coombs and Supergrass have always 'reinvented' themselves and done something different, not just from album to album, but single to single. Only the crass, inelegant Whore and Simulator grate a little on the choruses but the latter in particular is interesting and creative enough to get by. Here Come The Bombs is a wonderful celebration of Coombes' brilliance as a maker of music and as a truly solo effort should be the start of a wonderful new career.
Top Tracks: Hot Fruit, Universal Cinema, White Noise.
Niki And The Dove - Instinct
The Swedish three-piece Niki And The Dove release their much anticipated début album Instinct, which features seven songs already released on three early singles. They sound like one of the most exiting bands this year, effortlessly blending the current trend of 80s electronic revival with modern textures and arrangements. Singer Malin Dahlström has an astonishing energy, from opener Tomorrow into recent EP lead track The Drummer, a superb creation of futuristic arrangement, 'staccato' vocals and nu-folk. To complete the wonderful start In Our Eyes brings back memories of Stevie Nicks... if she was ever managed by Stock, Aitkin and Waterman. From here the album opens up even more as the epic Mother Protect, the frantic spiky Somebody, and brilliant single DJ Ease My Mind form the solid core. It is clear from the outset that Niki And The Dove have a sound and they are sticking to it, mainly due to Dahlström's intense unique vocals. But the last trio show some shift from the formula. Winterheart is a calmer take on an established sound, The Fox is dark and sinister storytelling blending industrial beats with an upbeat chorus, and closer Under The Bridges is a gorgeous drum-filled multi-vocal love song to finish. An excellent début.
Top Tracks: The Drummer, In Our Eyes, DJ Ease My Mind.
The Temper Trap - The Temper Trap
Australian band The Temper Trap have chosen to go eponymous for their 'difficult' second album. Following the accomplished but often flawed Conditions, The Temper Trap is much more determined and focused than its predecessor, opening in some style with the big single Need Your Love, which builds over three minutes into an energetic swirl of Dougy Mandagi's vocals, guitars and keyboards. Unfortunately this early momentum is lost with the hapless London's Burning, which instantly proves that music and politics rarely mix and is often a disastrous combination. Featuring samples of David Cameron and a 'rioter', a horrible football-terrace chorus and ugly falsetto vocals, this fails on almost every level. A massive blot on an otherwise good collection of songs. The big emotional Trembling Hands tries to claw back some dignity and only succeeds thanks to Mandagi's stunning vocal performance. The Sea Is Calling is equally intense and dramatic, the falsetto is back for the sparse delicate Miracle before the prosaic drone of This Isn't Happiness proves to be accurate. Things pick up with the pop-soul of Where Do We Go From Here, with echoes of early Depeche Mode and Erasure. This 80s revival continues with Never Again and the spirited, yet repetitive, Dreams (OMD meets ABC), which builds to a last minute of vocals and keyboards. Rabbit Hole takes a while to get going but when it does, Mandagi delivers another wonderful vocal over a wall of guitars, I'm Gonna Wait threatens to be another great song but falls just short, and closer Leaving Heartbreak Hotel provides a much needed final lift. Great piano and vocals before an excellent last minute of guitars and keyboards. A mixed 'difficult' album from a band still trying to break through.
Top Tracks: Need Your Love, Trembling Hands, Leaving Heartbreak Hotel