Saturday, 30 June 2012

2012 Music Chart - June

Lots of new stuff this month including new Patti Smith and Neil Young albums and an impressive second album from Japandroids.
  1. Shallow Bed by Dry The River 
  2. Valtari by Sigur Ros
  3. The Lion's Roar by First Aid Kit
  4. Bloom by Beach House 
  5. Ssss by Vcmg
  6. Generation Freakshow by Feeder
  7. Celebration Rock by Japandroids
  8. The Ghost In Daylight by Gravenhurst
  9. Sweet Heart Sweet Light by Spiritualized
  10. Ghostory by School of Seven Bells
  11. Born And Raised by John Mayer
  12. Like Drawing Blood by Gotye 
  13. An Awesome Wave by Alt-J
  14. Banga by Patti Smith
  15. Instinct by Niki And The Dove
  16. Electric Cables by Lightships 
  17. Blood Speaks by Smoke Fairies
  18. The Light The Dead Can See by Soulsavers
  19. Sounds From Nowheresville by The Ting Tings
  20. WIXIW by Liars
  21. Young Man In America by Anais Mitchell
  22. The Sister by Marissa Nadler
  23. Americana by Neil Young and Crazy Horse
  24. Little Broken Hearts by Norah Jones 
  25. Words And Music by Saint Etienne
  26. Wonky by Orbital 
  27. Crown And Treaty by Sweet Billy Pilgrim
  28. Standing At The Sky's Edge by Richard Hawley
  29. Internal Logic by Grass Widow
  30. Strangeland by Keane
  31. Here Come The Bombs by Gaz Coombes
  32. Tough Love by Pulled Apart by Horses
  33. Interstellar by Frankie Rose
  34. Dub Egg by The Young
  35. Born Villain by Marilyn Manson
  36. Let It Break by Gemma Hayes 
  37. Manifest! by Friends
  38. Clear Moon by Mount Eerie
  39. Tree Bursts In Snow by Admiral Fallow
  40. Human Don't Be Angry by Human Don't Be Angry
  41. The Family Tree: The Roots by Radical Face
  42. Weapons by Lostprophets
  43. Blues Funeral by Mark Lanegan Band
  44. A Monument by Tu Fawning
  45. Aufheben by The Brian Jonestown Massacre
  46. Have Some Faith In Magic by Errors
  47. Hello Cruel World by Gretchen Peters
  48. Voyageur by Kathleen Edwards
  49. Fossil Of Girl by Sarah Donner
  50. Blunderbuss by Jack White
  51. Here I Am by Oli Brown 
  52. Spirits by Plankton Wat
  53. Visions by Grimes
  54. Tales From The Barrel House by Seth Lakeman 
  55. The Temper Trap by The Temper Trap
  56. ¿Which Side Are You On? by Ani Difranco
  57. Eighty One by Yppah
  58. Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen
  59. First Serve by De La Soul's Plug 1 and Plug 2
  60. Kin Con by Alex Winston
  61. Not Your Kind Of People by Garbage
  62. Underwater Sunshine by Counting Crows
  63. Siberia by LIGHTS 
  64. Europe by Allo Darlin'
  65. The Something Rain by Tindersticks
  66. Something by Chairlift
  67. Anxiety by Ladyhawke
  68. Fear Fun by Father John Misty
  69. California 37 by Train
  70. Break It Yourself by Andrew Bird
  71. Reign Of Terror by Sleigh Bells
  72. Given To The Wild by The Maccabees
  73. Through The Night by Ren Harvieu
  74. Personality by Scuba
  75. America Give Up by Howler
  76. Black Light by Diagrams

Monday, 25 June 2012

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir (June 2012)

June's song for all us lucky Angels is another cover, this time from Mike Scott (Waterboys). This is Thea's rather softened take on the original which can be found on the 2006 album Book Of Lightning. If anything I expected this version to be a bit more darkly venomous and cynical but instead there is a lightness to it. Scott's vocal on his version is wonderfully direct and dramatic and musically it is more robust but I like what Thea has done with this. An acoustic guitar and a voice with a much more engaging chorus that gives a completely new perspective. And it slowly builds to the end without the need for a big guitar solo. Excellent.

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir (May 2012)

May's Angels song was a tad late due to the dreaded 'unforeseen technical difficulties' but here it is...

In Thea's own words: "The first is my Meatloaf moment!.. not from a soundslike point of view.. but a 'what was it he wouldn't do?' perspective! So here is The Word.. and if anyone can guess what the word is, they're a better poet than I am. Answers on a postcard."

The Word is undeniably beautiful, an uncluttered, slickly produced piano ballad with an infectious repetitive chorus in which Thea issues the simple refrain: "There's a word for this". So is the word 'love'? That would be too easy but maybe the point is that things are not that simple and cannot be summed up in a single word.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Music Report - June 2012 Part 2

Friends - Manifest!

The much anticipated début album from new Brooklyn band Friends is going to be a disappointment no matter how great it is, mainly due to the hype surrounding the quintet like a sea-fog. There hasn't been this much excitement about a band since The Strokes appeared, yet this is more akin to the bandwagon-inducing arrival of Yeah Yeah Yeahs with Samantha Urbani the new Karen O. Musically everything is comparable to big single I'm His Girl which is easily the best song on the album - and consequently does not fit with the rest. But there is much to gain from Manifest! which shows that Friends are not just a one song band. From cool opener Friend Crush, with its sassy vocal/guitar chorus, and the fragile sparse tones of Sorry (with ridiculous backing vocals and inane repetition, only to break into jungle beats late into the third minute), to the funk-soul Prince chic of Home, it is clear that there is more variation to Friends than expected. A Thing Like This is a great, if dated sounding, pop song with Urbani showing her vocals perfectly, while Ideas On Ghosts is the goth take on the same idea (a slice of Donna Summer disco fronted by Robert Smith), and the Graceland-esque Stay Dreaming is beautiful and precise. Decent stuff but not without its faults; A Light and Proud/Ashamed are both agonisingly dull and forgettable and Ruins is a complete mess. The curious Van Fan Gör Du tries a similar upbeat funk style, followed by the irritatingly catchy Mind Control to provide a good finish to an album that could be much better than it is - but that wouldn't be cool enough, so instead Manifest! simply hits the middle ground running. 

Top Tracks: I'm His Girl, Stay Dreaming and Mind Control.

Liars - WIXIW

Three-piece dance-punk band Liars are another to hail from the thriving Brooklyn music scene. WIXIW is their sixth album and yet another that sees them heading somewhere different, fusing electronica and choral vocals - something attempted in the early days of Liars (hence the album is a palindrome, albeit an odd one, showing a circular 'journey'); starting with the opening duo of The Exact Colour Of Doubt, an ambient introduction, followed by the ghostly Radiohead-inspired Octagon (see Kid A era). The first single from the album No. 1 Against The Rush is all elements of a post-Joy Division world in one track, with a bit of 'Wish You Were Here' Floyd with a bit Gary Numan, but all good, veering into a cool instrumental outro at the end. The rest of the album unfolds in similar downbeat style, like a bunch of LCD Soundsystem post-chill demos - A Ring On Every Finger is great, the swirling experimental title track, all drunken orchestra and front man Angus Andrew's vocals, is bizarre and compelling, but His And Mine Sensations is an excellent coming together of ideas and textures. Getting even more eclectic and diverse, Flood To Flood takes the album into darker and weirder land, Who Is The Hunter is minimalist and Brats attempts upbeat Euro-dance festival with limited success. Closer Annual Moon Words is typically and predictably arranged to bring WIXIW to a fitting conclusion.   

Top Tracks: His And Mine Sensations, A Ring On Every Finger and Octagon.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Americana

Trying to introduce Neil Young in a music review is broken pencil time, and given that Americana is Young's thirty-fourth album, a review of his back-catalogue is equally without purpose. This is the first album with band Crazy Horse since Greendale in 2003 and while not as accomplished as the brilliant Sleeps With Angels, Americana shows us again this superb collaboration and what a great band they are. Now at sixty six, Young is still as tenacious and determined as ever and this is his best work in years, as a stalwart Canadian legend covering traditional songs, such as Clementine (given a venomous treatment), Travel On, Wayfarin' Stranger and Jesus' Chariot (She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain). This may not sound like a thrilling prospect but the point is to restore these classics of modern America to their original dark stories with evil characters and twisted plots, and not the sanitised versions most people know. This works terrifically well, as the band (Young included) blend to create an enormous torrent of enthusiastic guitar folk and much of Americana sounds like a live performance (High Flyin' Bird is especially shambolic between amazing guitar pieces) with Young moving in and out of mic. Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land is the late highlight. Closing with a spirited rendition of God Save The Queen, the tune used for My Country, 'Tis Of Thee (aka America), one of the American national anthems before The Star Spangled Banner.

Top Tracks: This Land Is Your Land, Clementine and Travel On.

Marissa Nadler - The Sister

Marissa Nadler first rose to prominence with the 2009 album Little Hells, an album of heartbreaking beauty and exquisite song writing, before returning with an equally compelling eponymous album two years later. It is this album that provides the inspiration for The Sister; the companion to the previous collection of songs. From the soft delicate opening of The Wrecking Ball Company which builds like a drama through its near five minute running time, to the Jenny Lewis country balladry of Christine, to the Everybody Hurts inspired To A Road, Love, to the closing Your Heart Is A Twisted Vine, Nadler's voice is overwhelming in its control and clarity. The Sister rarely strays from the comfortable road, with each song blending together into an eight-piece montage of storytelling and timelessness. The early highlight is the achingly wonderful Love Again, There Is A Fire.

Top Tracks: Christine, Love Again, There Is A Fire and Your Heart Is a Twisted Vine.

Tu Fawning - A Monument

The astonishing talent from Portland, Oregon is never ending. The four-piece band Tu Fawning featuring the talents of Corrina Repp and Jo Haege is yet another wonderful export. Blending guitar folk with tribal rhythms (see Bat For Lashes, MGMT and Yeasayer et al), the effect is spellbinding and otherworldly. Opener Anchor is a great introduction, a slow-burning operetta with combined vocals and harmonies, pounding drums and rattling percussion. A Monument is the band's second album, quickly following 2011's Hearts On Hold - a much darker, almost menacing and experimental work. This time, the band has settled for a more playful style, lighter and exploring more pop-based melodies. Blood Stains is as soft as it is spiky with big guitars and direct vocals, all pinned together with a terrific brass section. A Pose For No One continues the trend, sounding like Florence in subdued mood, building to a great vocal/percussion section in the fourth minute. Build A Great Cliff is gloriously over-the-top drama, changing halfway into a completely different song like Mars Volta at their most mischievous. The final trio which make up nearly twenty minutes of The Monument's running time, is an album in itself, with In The Center Of Powder White and To Break Into serving as the slow building intro to closer Bones, seven and half minutes of clattering percussion, grinding guitars and a final vocal arrangement. Sublime.

Top Tracks: A Pose For No One, Blood Stains and Bones.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Music Report - June 2012 Part 1

Sigur Rós - Valtari

Icelandic maestros Sigur Rós return after a brief hiatus with Valtari (meaning 'Roller' in their invented language Vonlenska, or Hopelandic in English), the follow-up to Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust ('With a buzz in our ears we play endlessly'). Valtari is much more ambient and subtle, even by Sigur Rós standards, with wonderful drifting soundscapes and a quiet elegant complexity. Singer Jónsi is magnificent throughout, his delicate falsetto an ever-present 'other' instrument within the guitars, keyboards and strings that form the band's eclectic and often alien music. The early combination of Ég anda and Ekki Múkk serve as a great introduction as the start of the album builds to the mighty Varúð which transforms a slow melodic choral first-half into a crashing crescendo and back again with elegant precision. The drums/piano/strings combination across the five minute point is astonishing. This is followed by Rembihnútur, building in a similar way to vibrant chorus of Jónsi and curious industrial machinery. The title track is eight minutes of minimalism, wind chimes becoming strings and electronica, and the gorgeous closer Fjögur píanó is equally uncluttered. Not as vibrant as Takk but echoing the band's early work magnificently.

Top tracks: Varúð, Fjögur píanó and Ekki Múkk.

John Mayer - Born And Raised

Singer, songwriter, guitarist and all-round renaissance man John Mayer has returned to his Americana roots with new album Born And Raised. After a brief illness and a few early distractions to experiment with some badly-judged musical themes and ideas, Mayer is now back doing something slightly different and the result is his most focused album of his five album career so far. Grounded and honest Country-rock seems to be the best outlet for his talent. The opening trio of Queen Of California, The Age Of Worry and Shadow Days show the diversity of Mayer's song writing talents with the latter the most impressive of the three; a great mid-tempo Country-blues guitar fuelled song about life in the school of hard knocks. Speak For Me has echoes of Josh Ritter with acoustic guitars and delicate wordless lyrics and the bluesy love song Something Like Olivia is sublime. The mournful tones of If I Ever Get Around To Living change the tone before the trite Love Is A Verb shifts the album too far into the 'obvious'. Thankfully Mayer comes back strong with the brilliant storytelling of Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967 and the best song on the album, closer A Face To Call Home. Mayer's most complete and accomplished album to date.

Top Tracks: A Face To Call Home, Shadow Days and Something Like Olivia.

Mount Eerie - Clear Moon

The first of two albums from lo-fi indie band Mount Eerie in 2012, Clear Moon builds upon nearly ten years of ambling experimentation and living in the musician wilderness. Finally it looks as if Phil Elverum, formerly known as Microphones, has made a commercially acceptable collection of songs and musical interludes to form a connected work. Elverum's wistful, oddly distant and beautiful vocals (akin to Stephen Immerwahr from Codeine) are at the core of Clear Moon. From epic opener Through The Trees Pt. 2 and equally epic The Place I Live, complete with added female vocal at the end, to the dark mysterious title track and slow reflective Yawning Sky, this is atmospheric and absorbing music. Only the choral Over Dark Water breaks the ambient mould, with buzzing guitars and intertwined vocal arrangement, Lone Bell borrows from Death In Vegas and the light breezy House Shape is also impressive. Holding this together are a few perfectly placed instrumentals; two merely titled '(something)' and closer '(Synthesizer)'. At last, a well-formed album of songs and not just a random collection of ideas.

Top Tracks: The Place I Live, Over Dark Water and Lone Bell.

Admiral Fallow - Tree Bursts In Snow

Tree Bursts In Snow is the second album from Scottish quintet Admiral Fallow, following the band's impressive début Boots Met My Face (an album which deftly juxtaposes childhood innocence and shocking violence - see Subbuteo). This new album blends wonderful pop melodies with melancholy delivered by the cultural tones of Louis Abbott and the fragile voice of flautist Sarah Hayes (think Frightened Rabbit meets Belle & Sebastian). Opener Tree Bursts is a slow-burning six-minute introduction which builds into the second half as a wonderful arrangement of 'prog' piano/guitar and both contrasting vocalists. The Paper Trench and Guest Of The Government are brilliant pop songs, the former kicking off the chorus with 'Holy Moses and Holy cow...', and the latter mixing radio-friendly melodies with less-than radio-friendly (but superb) lyrics. Again Abbott and Hayes blend perfectly as required. The mid-tempo single Beetle In The Box is just as arresting, as is the epic Old Fools, with building guitars and strings, and Isn't This World Enough?? is a tongue-in-cheek slice of sing-along nu-folk which quickly turns into an end-of-night drunken lock-in. In the final third, The Way You Were Raised is stirring, Burn is a nostalgia-fuelled sprawling swirling ballad and closer Oh, Oscar is a downbeat ending. Proof that there are more strings to the collective Admiral Fallow bow.

Top Tracks: Guest Of The Government, Tree Bursts and Burn

Smoke Fairies - Blood Speaks

Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, aka Smoke Fairies, from Chichester now based in London via Vancouver, New Orleans and... Sidmouth, have discovered their talent for producing a unique blend of blues and folk with second album Blood Speaks. The duo have certainly built upon the success of Through Low Light And Trees and the Jack White backed single Gastown/River Song; consequently Blood Speaks is a more robust concept. Vocally, Blamire and Davies have a traditional folk quality, showcased on the opening songs Let Me Know and Awake; against the backdrop of more modern blues. This comes to the fore in The Three Of Us, with its glorious blend of budget thriller storytelling and sparkling guitars. Smoke Fairies are at their best when this polished, precise, almost operatic vocal is offset by gritty lyrics and hard-edged guitar-work. It all comes together for the epic title track, strangely unique in approach as it is neither blues or folk, from a wonderful acoustic/vocal opening to a more powerful vocal. In contrast Take Me Down When You Go is a perfect slow blend, like Pentangle backed by The Black Keys. The delicious vocals of Hideaway jump and dance against the more sinister morose music, another example of Smoke Fairies' sound working perfectly, and the closing pair of Version Of The Future and Film Reel create an oddly ethereal ending to the album. A promising follow-up.

Top Tracks: The Three Of Us, Hideaway and Take Me Down When You Go.