Tuesday, March 10, 2015

5 Best New Albums in February 2015

So far what I like most about the musical year of 2015 is how efficient the first couple months have been. New releases are trickling in, and I have not had to sift through a typically large amount of good to average new records in order to decide on my top fives. As a year it is shaping up to be a pretty high quality one in my opinion. Here are five I thought were tops last month in February.

Black Rivers - Black Rivers

Doves always seemed like one of those bands who were more popular than you might think, but never as popular as they should have been. Their current hiatus saw Jim Goodwin release a solo album last year, and now the other two Doves members, Andy and Jez Williams, have formed Black Rivers. Like with the Goodwin album, there is a familiarity with Jez's voice that will be unmistakable for fans of the Manchester trio. The songs here, are a bit more aligned with the Doves sound, whereas Goodwin stretched a bit more on his record (for better and worse). Most of the songs drift a bit in the best way here, and there seems to be a clear lack of pressure on the lads to produce hit style hooks on this outing. "The Ship" was released last year, well in advance of the full album. It typifies the lovely melancholy that runs through most of these songs. A very competent release from the Brit veterans, that sounds exactly like what a break away from your main band should sound like. Still, like many, I hope Doves plan on recording together again. It feels like they have unfinished business.





Humans - Noontide

I quite enjoyed the first album by Humans, but I remember thinking they had untapped potential and had not completely found their footing just yet. Noontide feels like them un-tapping that potential. At its opening, one could almost assume the record is more of a modern groove based indie pop record than an electro-pop type record. The truth is, it is both, and never to the detriment of the overall flow and feel. These two dudes from Vancouver even venture into some interesting dark synth territory in spots, like on "Over Again." I am not sure if there have been any comparisons made to Brooklyn's Bear in Heaven, but that was one of the first places my ears went, and that is a good thing. This is a really listenable record, without compromising certain song lengths in order to say what they need to. There is a good chance I will be seeing these cats on Saturday night here in Halifax. I will be curious to see how they translate this work to stage. Regardless, this is all class from a talented young Canadian band worth watching.




Gaz Coombes - Matador

I always quite liked Supergrass, but I am not sure I ever loved Supergrass. It always seemed like sometimes their playfulness made it confusing when they decided they wanted to write less playful and mature stuff. Fair or not, none of it matters, because on Matador, Coombes shines with all the real and perceived capability of a bonafide quality songwriter. This sounds like the record he has always wanted to make, and the stars aligned perfectly in every way. Some might suggest there are shades of Radiohead or more likely Thom Yorke's solo work on the album. Beyond their voices having similar tone, and some of the tracks feeling similarly sombre, I would suggest the parallels are strictly coincidental. The lead single, "Detroit" showcases everything I love about this record. Grown up melodies, soulfully blended background vocals, lush strings, and a carefree air that feels rooted in every track. I was not expecting this to be one of my favourite records in 2015, but with each listen it is shaping up as a possibility for just that.




Dutch Uncles - O Shudder

A couple years ago when Dutch Uncles released their third album, Out of Touch In The Wild (the first I had heard at the time), I recall wondering why more people were not raving about them. Well they are back, so clearly and thankfully someone else is listening. Another Manchester act, these kids are part of an ever growing small group of Brit fantastic art rock bands who are making accessible music that doesn't fit easily into standard playlist formatting. Initially, as they do again here on O Shudder, they remind me of an almost perfect blend of Hot Chip and Field Music. Super competent musicianship which is likely where some of the "math pop" labelling comes from. Eleven quirky and jaunty songs that make full use of the fun sound pallet. This record brims with confidence from a band that was already sounding mature beyond its years. Love these guys. Love this album.




Dan Deacon - Gliss Riffer

Previously I have never been able to completely warm up to Deacon's work. I respected his ambition and creativity, but everything just felt scattered. Not surprising then, that critics are describing Gliss Riffer as more pop focused, which would tend to put it much more in my wheel house. There is an amazing mix of old synths and layers of strange sounds that other electronic artists do not seem able to pull off in quite the same way. This is a tricky style to create a signature around, yet there are some extremely clever things happening on this record. A song like "Sheathed Wings" is about two steps away from being obnoxious and contrived, but manages to stay on the listenable path with admiral discipline. I think every track teeters on chaos perfectly, making you want to see where he plans on taking the weirdness. It is also a rare skill to use so much process and mechanism, yet still have your record sound largely organic and fluid. This is not a recording for everyone, but if you can suspend your perceived need for perfectly round circles and square boxes, Gliss Riffer  is a fascinating and rewarding listen.




Honourable:

Hilotrons - To Trip With Terpsichore
Peace - Happy People
The Mavericks - Mono







Monday, February 16, 2015

5 Best New Albums in January 2015

A brand new year brings another shot for me to try writing a little bit each month about five albums I thought were exceptional and noteworthy for whatever reason. Here we go 2015.

Bjork - Vulnicura

Bjork lost me a little bit over her last few albums. A friend introduced me to Homogenic some time after its release, and it became my favourite work of hers. I enjoyed Vespertine enough, and even everything that followed, but nothing captivated me as a listener the same as her first three albums from the 90's. Vulnicura, albeit a dark record, rooted in a personal relationship break-up, also feels like some sort of aggregation of the different things she has tried over the last 15-20 years. It is very much the album she needed to make at this point in her career, thematically and artistically. The songs take as much time as they need to tell their story, without ever seeming to meander even when they push eight to ten minutes. Many of the orchestral elements are reminiscent of Homogenic, but often less plush, they seem to flow much more from themes of anxiety and uncertainty. Vulnicura is not a quick fix album. It is enjoyable on a first listen, but also offers you the chance to grow into it and hear something new each time you spend time with it. This is a powerful and ambitious recording from one of the most important artists of the last twenty years.




Viet Cong - Viet Cong

I have been reading some reviews of this record, and more often than not, even on favourable reviews, it gets relegated to the nouveau post-punk bucket. No question, there is post-punk influence on Viet Cong, new and old, but there is so much more going on here. "Newspaper Spoons" opens the album with big crashing tom drums and chanty distorted vocals, but never shifts into the obligatory Joy Division meets Interpol hook fest (not that there's anything wrong with that of course). These cats have that combo in their bag of tricks, but it never feels like the over arching intent. There are times the record feels stylized, yet it is balanced perfectly with lo-fi without ever being gratuitously sloppy or noisy. The songs are listenable, but never slick. There is also some really nice muli-track vocal layering on songs "Pointless Experience" and "March of Progress" would make the  most hardcore dark synth jammers proud. Seven tight and eclectic songs from Calgary, Alberta. Nice work lads. 




Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

I was trying to recall if I have written about any of the other Panda Bear albums previously. If I have, it was likely about how I am an interested yet passive Animal Collective fan, and far more prefer the work Panda Bear produces on his solo records. This is Lennox's most focused work to date in my opinion. There are still dense layers of sound, but there seems to a much more conscious open-ness to engaging with the listener on these songs. "Boys Latin" for instance, is a pop song, plain and simple. He still uses repetition better than most, and the dreamy Pet Sounds-esque vocals never stray too far from what we are used to. This is a very confident sounding album, and like everything Panda has done on his own and with AC, most definitely not for everyone, but worth it if you are feeling especially weird and curious.




Ghost Culture - Ghost Culture

A friend introduced me to Ghost Culture in the first part of 2015. An early candidate for one of the best electronic albums we might expect this year. Some reviews have played up the album's eighties-ness. Any synth heavy recording is bound to draw Kraftwerk and Depeche comparisons I suppose, but this is a very 2000's collection of electro tracks. Most of the album is dance floor ready, yet there are none of the shiny trappings lately associated with songs that are clearly almost scientifically written to elicit certain dance behaviours and precise junctures within the song. This is a very organic sounding album that makes you bob your head because you want to, not because you are being manipulated into it by equal parts hype and algorithm. A sombre, dreamy and refreshing synth album.




Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love

I do not know all that many people who have waved the Sleater-Kinney flag endlessly and passionately over the last twenty years, but I also cannot say I know anyone who dislikes their music, or at a minimum does not respect what they represent or what they have been able to accomplish. I saw an online interview where a really old person described the band as "indie rock." There is a side semantics discussion one could have about music genres, but when I think of what indie rock is, was, or should be, I think of bands like Sleater-Kinney. Whatever that means, No Cities To Love feels like a quintessentially indie rock record. 

The band never ever lost their sense of urgency, but the layoff since their hiatus also did nothing to push them into complacency. These are ten compact passionate songs that burn along furiously for thirty two filler-less minutes. I always liked the balance between Carrie and Corin vocally, and it continues to work really well here. Janet is also still quite possibly the best drummer in rock music (there are some ridiculous monster fills and rolls on "New Wave"). You can hear the sound of mature contentment in these songs, without even an inkling of complacency or pandering. Sleater-Kinney are back and everything feels right. They are absolutely still the real deal. 




Honourable:

The Charlatans - Modern Nature
Belle and Sebastian - Girls in Peacetime Love to Dance





Monday, December 15, 2014

Top 100 Songs of 2014

Weird year for songs. 2014 felt like a solid year for well rounded and interesting albums, but less so for stand out on their own type tracks. At least more than last year perhaps.

That said, there were still some really fantastic songs written in 2014. I had planned to double or triple up on songs by certain artists, rather than having 100 songs by 100 different artists on this list, but opted for the latter after all.

Probably more songs over 5 minutes than I have had on here in any previous years, but let's not overthink that bit.

This list is also compiled as a playlist here for Rdio users.


SongArtist
100Wonderlandceo
99Hang UpPeter Murphy
98NottSamaris
97EnemyMerchandise
96FeelThe Soft Moon
95AloneThe Foreign Resort
94Feel RealMovement
93CastlesGlass Towers
92Silly GamesTricky
91Two WeeksFKA Twigs
90Turn Me UpTwin Shadow
89Deep In My HeartThe Drums
88Shelter SongTemples
87WaterfallFear of Men
86Paper HeartChloe Howl
85TribeTheophilus London
84IllumeLust For LIfe
83You've Got A Lot On Your MindSloan
82Frozen BritainJames
81Pony RideNeil Finn
80You & I (Forever)Jessie Ware
79Frequent FlyerChromeo
78MikoThe Chain Gang of 1974
77Fall In LovePhantogram
76Every StoneManchester Orchestra
75Trainwreck 1979Death From Above 1979
74ControllerCheatahs
73Left Hand Freealt-J
72Simple and SureThe Pains of Being Pure At Heart
71Figure It OutRoyal Blood
70Are You Gonna Be Someone?Knight
69LunaBombay Bicycle Club
68Coming Up For AirZoot Woman
67Dancehall DomineNew Pornographers
66Forever BeKelis
65D.R.E.A.M.Phraroahe Monch
64minipops 67Aphex Twin
63Coming DownClap Your Hands Say Yeah
62Garden GraysWIldcat! Wildact!
61Here So RainBlack Submarine
60SatellitesEMA
59TorrentAsgeir
58Daddy's CarEno - Hyde
57ArtificeSohn
56This HazePatterns
55ParadiseWhite Hex
54After The DiscoBroken Bells
53West CoastLana Del Rey
52Land Of The BlindInformation Society
51SpiralsTeledrome
50Climb To MePattern is Movement
49ParisLittle Dragon
48SacredErasure
47CrumblerJungle
46CapitolTR/ST
45Close Your Eyes (and Count To Fuck)Run The Jewels
44I Try To Talk To YouHercules & Love Affair
43Mess On A MissionLiars
42Love Stops HereThe Juan MacLean
41Uptight DowntownLa Roux
40Heavy Seas of LoveDamon Albarn
39Feels Like FireRyan Adams
38Boys In Her FanclubSweet Apple
37Don't WannaHowler
36DynamoJohnny Marr
35MilwaukeeThe Both
34WeightlessNeneh Cherry
33In InfancyMuseum of Love
32Do It AgainRoyksopp & Robyn
31Uptown FunkMark Ronson
30Dress UpSchool Of Language
29A Million VoicesEngineers
28Time BetweenBear In Heaven
27FaustI Love You But I've Chosen Darkness
26GougeEternal Summers
25fuckmylife666Against Me!
24GodivaEugene McGuinness
23I Don't Know You AnymoreBob Mould
22SprinklesWe Are Scientists
21Tough LuckEagulls
20Long HairDrowners
19Happy IdiotTV On The Radio
18Rimbaud EyesDum Dum Girls
17Do YouSpoon
16New York MorningElbow
15Digital WitnessSt. Vincent
14Can't Do Without YouCaribou
13It's Been So LongToy
12DrippingBlonde Redhead
11The Bullfighter DiesMorrissey
10DovesFuture Islands
9AnywhereInterpol
8Broken Glass ParkSimple Minds
7Got Well SoonBreton
6TreatKasabian
5Unkinder (A Tougher Love)Thumpers
4The MistakesArmy Navy
3A Simple Beautiful TruthWild Beasts
2Like An AnimalCymbals
1So Now You KnowThe Horrors

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Top 100 Albums of 2014

So I was only going to do a top 50 this year.

My list honestly started as a top 50 this year.

As with every year, the top 50 is really what was going to count this year.

People have been asking when I will be posting my top 100 this year.

I listened to a whole lot of cool new music again this year.

Looks like my list is a top 100 once again this year.




ArtistTitle

100
Nina PerrsonAnimal Heart
99Information Society_hello world
98MogwaiRave Tapes
97Pure XAngel
96ceoWonderland
95BeckMorning Phase
94Sweet AppleThe Golden Age of Glitter
93The Pains of Being Pure At HeartDays of Abandon
92FKA TwigsLp1
91Hercules & Love AffairThe Feast Of The Broken Heart
90TrickyAdrian Thaws
89The New PornographersBrill Bruisers
88Neil FinnDizzy Heights
87Clap Your Hands Say YeahOnly Run
86Maximo ParkToo Much Information
85Pattern Is MovementPattern Is Movement
84HospitalityTrouble
83Pharoahe MonchePTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
82EMAThe Future's Void
81New BuildPour It On
80Bryan FerryAvonmore
79SamarisSilkidrangar
78PhantogramVoices
77TychoAwake
76TemplesSun Structures
75Philip SelwayWeatherhouse
74Theophilus LondonVibes
73Alt-JThis Is All Yours
72MonomythSaturnalia Regalia!
71Young LiarsTidal Wave
70MerchandiseAfter The End
69Ryan AdamsRyan Adams
68Lust For YouthInternational
67Fear Of MenLoom
66I Break HorsesChiaroscuro
65Jessie WareTough Love
64White HexGold Nights
63The DrumsEncyclopedia
62Her Name Is CallaNavigator
61Lana Del ReyUltraviolence
60Zoot WomanStar Climbing
59Kasabian48:13
58Echo & The BunnymenMeteorites
57Blonde RedheadBarragan
56The War On DrugsLost In The Dream
55Run The JewelsRun The Jewels 2
54TR/STJoyland
53DrownersDrowners
52Todd TerjeIt's Album Time
51School Of LanguageOld Fears
50Johnny MarrPlayland
49AsgeirIn The Silence
48SohnTremors
47Little DragonNabuma Rubberband
46EngineersAlways Returning
45A Sunny Day In GlasgowSea When Absent
44GusGusMexico
43LambBackspace Unwind
42JJV
41Aphex TwinSyro
40ToyJoin The Dots
39RoyksoppThe Inevitable End
38Thom YorkeTomorrow's Modern Boxes
37TV On The RadioSeeds
36SpoonThey Want My Soul
35Wildcat! Wildcat!No Moon At All
34ElbowThe Take Off & Landing of Everything
33TeledromeTeledrome
32Bob MouldBeauty & Ruin
31Black SubmarineNew Shores
30The AcidLiminal
29Eugene McGuinnessChroma
28Damon AlbarnEveryday Robots
27WarpaintWarpaint
26ErasureThe Violet Flame
25The Juan MacleanIn A Dream
24Neneh CherryBlank Project
23EagullsEagulls
22Museum Of LoveMuseum Of Love
21St. VincentSt. Vincent
20I Love You But I've Chosen DarknessDust
19Against Me!Transgender Dysphoria Blues
18JungleJungle
17Simple MindsBig Music
16We Are ScientistsTv En Francais
15InterpolEl Pintor
14La RouxTrouble In Paradise
13CaribouOur Love
12Dum Dum GirlsToo True
11The HorrorsLuminous
10MorrisseyWorld Peace Is None of Your Business
9PatternsWaking Lines
8LiarsMess
7BretonWar Room Stories
6Future IslandsSingles
5ThumpersGalore
4CymbalsThe Age Of Fracture
3Bear In HeavenTime Is Over One Day Old
2Army NavyThe Wilderness Inside
1Wild BeastsPresent Tense

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Best 5 Albums in August 2014

August was a bit light, and even some of these releases are not necessarily as strong as some from earlier months this year, but still some great writing and interesting songs on all of these.

Bear In Heaven - Time Is Over One Day Old


The three previous records by Bear In Heaven have all been rooted in dark synth tendencies, but on Time Is Over One Day Old, they really spend some time playing in a moodier sandbox. They never veer into the ranks of the downtrodden, but where I Love You, It's Cool saw them leaning a bit toward more upbeat electro pop, this one sees the Brooklyn lads exploring deamier and jammier stuff. Even with some of the sprawl, only a couple tracks cross up over five minutes. This is the most mature and focused Bear In Heaven have sounded to me. Like a band settling nicely into their skin after taking a few records to try some things.




Merchandise - After The End

Much has ben made of Merchandise's nods to late 80's Manchester bands. To be honest, it is probably what put them on my radar to begin with. Unlike some of their earlier material however, After The End  sounds borrowed from some of the less high profile Brit and Aussie acts from that era, like The Mission and The Church. Influences aside, Merchandise sound like a band more comfortable with who they are than a band of their tenure should. The record sounds polished enough that it could sit nicely on modern rock radio, and even make someone some money in the process, yet the melodies speak to artists past and present like Lloyd Cole or The Mighty Lemondrops, who had all the makings of commercial success, but maybe all the wrong timing. Regardless, a band this young from Tampa has no business producing a record this strong or this British.




JJ - V

Just about every month this year, since I started attempting to write a bit about five cool new albums each month, I have shamelessly ranted and raved about some great Swedish band or artist, with unapologetic hyperbole. Here is this month's version of that rant. This is the third release from JJ and like both of its predecessors, V manages to flow seamlessly from start to finish. Also like the two records before it, this one projects a listenability without ever veering into the over glossed world of modern cookie cutter club pop. The subtle hip and trip hop influences are still here, and their airy mystique hovers above just about every track. Lovely record from start to finish.



Spoon - They Want My Soul

One of the most common ways critics, reviewers, and fans choose to describe Spoon is consistent. The changes they make from album to album tend to be subtle, but each record ends up having its own sense of character, while never sounding like anything other than Spoon. Their last album, Transference,  was the first in a while that seemed to lack the solid song craft fans expect from Spoon. They Want My Soul sounds like a rested band getting back to what they do well. "Do You" is classic Spoon, yet they can also drop in a track like "Inside out" that really does not sound quite like any song they have written before. I was actually ready to not like this record. I had in my head and heart that maybe the boys were on the downside and their best years are past. To this view, They Want My Soul is actually proof that Spoon is still one of the most consistent and clever song focused bands of the last twenty years



Zoot Woman - Start Climbing

This is perhaps the least strong of the now four Zoot Woman releases, but it still speaks to a calibre of song and production in an electro pop group that sadly gets over shadowed by higher profile (quality) bands like Cut Copy and Hot Chip. The electro pop space seems more cluttered than when Zoot Woman started. When they sounded more like Human League crossed with Hall and Oates. Perhaps that is why Start Climbing might not sound terribly ground breaking in 2014. Nonetheless, on a track like "Silhouette", you can hear can the influence of the work Stuart Price has done with artists like Madonna and Pet Shop Boys. His penchant for 80's pop is still evident here, just perhaps made less outwardly obvious at every turn of the record. Still quality craft and warm production start to finish.




Honourable:
The New Pornographers - Bill Bruisers
Childhood - Lacuna
The Rosebuds - Sand + Silence





Saturday, August 23, 2014

5 Best Albums in July 2014

Summer months tend to be quiet, at least in terms of the volume of new music releases compared to other months, but this past July was an incredibly efficient month for new music, with some surprisingly strong records from old farts and exciting sounds from new kids on the block.

Morrissey - World Peace is None of Your Business

I had planned to be very much disappointed by this album. Contrary to popular belief, I do not fall into the blind following obsessive category of Morrissey fandom. I will say, time off serves him well. Much like after the five plus year layoff ahead of You Are The Quarry, Moz sounds refreshed and full of well earned signature pomposity. He still turns a phrase better than just about any young working lyricist, and has managed to infuse these songs with musical sounds not strictly explored on previous works. It feels like maybe it should be a swan song effort, but if one watches the daily press, he is still happy to run his mouth with unpopular opinions, perhaps in the strict interest of trying to remain relevant. So it seems unlikely he is done just yet. Morrissey makes it hard for a lot of people to like him, but this record is very hard to hate. As a friend said to me recently, "what else is he going to do? It's not like he would have any friends."




Army Navy - The Wilderness Inside

This is the third album by Army Navy. Like the previous two efforts, there is absolutely no incentive here to make anything weird, contrived, pretentious, or trendy. This is a guitar pop record. Army Navy make the best kind of guitar pop records. They stay in the song and they do not apologize for not kicking in any muscle or distortion to distract from their sincerity. Ironically, no matter how familiar these songs feel, there is nothing the least bit derivative about what these lads do, and against the current landscape of bands, there is not a single other relatively well known band doing anything like this. "The Mistakes" will inevitably end up in the top five part of my 100 favourite songs this year. No one makes this kind of music to get rich. They make this kind of music because they care about writing wonderful timeless pop songs, for people like me who care more than we should about bands who write wonderful timeless pop songs.  




Jungle - Jungle

I never feel strictly qualified to write thoughts on records like this, even though I do not even really write proper publication style music reviews. I think it has something to do with a perceived need for cred and legitimacy and for really knowing your electronic/club/dance/dj stuff. I feel on the periphery of most music like Jungle, so my angle with stuff like this is much more simplistic. For a couple Brit dudes who seem to know their way around a production board, they also seem to have a profound sense for how to pull in 70's inflected soul and funk vocals and grooves. This is unquestionably an album that belongs in 2014, but anyone with Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye or Earth Wind & Fire albums can throw this on and feel not only like they belong here, but that were part of the experiences that went into these songs sounding the way they do. A tremendously consistent recording, with razor sharp focus yet it never feels anything short of organic and hand crafted.




Eugene McGuinness - Chroma

Apparently this bloke has made three records prior to this one. Based on how much this one resides smack dab in the middle of my power pop wheel house, it is sort of embarrassing to never have heard of him. Better late than never though as they say. A comparison to Halifax legends and Sub Pop signees, Hardship Post, would be lost on most, but the opening track unknowingly channels that very band along with equal parts Day Tripper and saucier Costello songs. This is a compact set of songs, full of hooks and bouncy bits. Occasionally it feels like he still has untapped potential, but keeping these songs on a proper even scale without the temptation to pump them full of dumb stadium rock swagger keeps this recording grounded in all the right stuff for the type of sound it initially promises up. 




The Acid - Liminal

In the circles where bands like The Acid get talked about, they have been described a number of ways, but "shadowy" is the one description that sticks with me when I listen to Liminal. This is a complex set of songs that engage with the listener for sure, but require effort and investment well beyond some of the other albums I am highlighting this month. There are some surprisingly soulful moments here, mostly in the vocal lines. There are not a lot of spikes in the style between tracks, yet not one of these songs is remotely similar. A song like "Fame" carries with it such a profound warm sadness, while something like "Red" feels much more vast and expansive with soaring synths and gorgeously blended vocals. This is a fascinating record. Perhaps not for everyone, but completely rewarding if you stick with it.






Honourable:
La Roux - Trouble In Paradise
Monomyth - Saturnalia Regalia!
The Raveonettes - Pe'ahi
Slow Club - Complete Surrender