Saturday, June 28, 2014

5 Best Albums in May 2014

Still catching up. May was a quiet month for new music releases, but there were still a few bands making some interesting noise.

The Horrors - Luminous

Knowing this album was due to be released in 2014, it was one of my most anticipated records for the year, well in advance of the start of the new music season. I listen to this album a lot and The Horrors have become one of my five favourite active bands currently making new music. I don't think it is as strong as their last effort, Skying, but it is still a fantastic mix of psych, dream pop, post-punk and like Skying, continues to unabashedly highlight Simple Minds and Bunnymen influences. The songs here have tremendous confidence and swagger, while being counter balanced with a clever aloofness that never slips into faked disinterest. A song like "Change Your Mind" shows they can still push their luck and do things that seem outside their core compliment.

Little Dragon - Nabuam Rubberband

I was aware of and had even sampled music by Little Dragon prior to this record, but honestly did not know they had made four albums previously. Even without a solid reference point, Nabuam Rubberband is one of those albums that sounds like a band coming into their own. Interesting that fellow Swedish country person Neneh Cherry released an album this year for the first time in years, since the album's opener "Mirror", and other tracks, show a respectful similarity in sound and possible influence. I would say the band's strong pop sensibilities flavour all the songs here, without this being a strict pop album. At times a challenging, yet amazingly rewarding listen, that never strays into unlistenable and feels very much like a culmination of all the things they have tried before, but with flawless execution now. This is nice work right here.

Her Name Is Calla - Navigator

There are a number of things that make this album a perfect fit for my ears, and some aspects that make it a stretch. Some of the troubadour-esque type more folk offerings like the album's opener, "I Was On The Back of A Nightingale" are generally well outside my typical listening wheelhouse. Each and every track here though, regardless of it's musical slant is completely and absolutely engaging. "The Roots Run Deep" brings in more electronic and layered production elements, so the complete sound juxtaposition even between the first two tracks is fascinating. There is a care taken though with every detail on this record which makes it truly a powerful listen. It is almost like the band has no idea they should not be able to get away with grandiose compositions, yet they are doing it with ease here.

Echo & The Bunnymen - Meteorites

Former Killing Joke bassist Youth has been busy this year, producing not only this record, but Peter Murphy's Lion as well (this former with to much more positive effect). I have heard some say the end result is a record that sits nicely alongside the band's epic run of albums in the 80's. I would suggest not quite, but it is nonetheless an album that many bands from that era who are still active, would love to be able to make in 2014. Echo & The Bunnymen have steadily released music since their heyday, and have never really made any bad records. They also have not made anything quite as brilliant as Ocean Rain or their self titled record from '87. Meteorites captures the essence of a band sounding like they should sound for their age. McCulloch's vocals are as timeless as ever. They still feel like the most successful yet underrated UK alternative band of the 80's, even after all these years. Much like Siberia from 2005, this record feels like the band reminding everyone they can still do what they do way better than all the young bands who have quietly gotten away with ripping them off for years. 

Robyn & Royksopp - Do It Again

For no real good reason, I tend not to include mini albums or e.p.'s when I make best of lists. Similarly, there was no good for not highlighting the new mini album project with fellow Swedes, Royksopp and Robyn. There are so many reasons I love this recording. The highly polished and competent work of Royksopp as top tier electronic musicians. The awe inspiring ability of Robyn to move seamlessly from clever bubble gum pop recordings to an album like this with limited commercial appeal and electronic and synth chops worthy of the most hidden away underground dance clubs. These are pros, doing whatever they want, because they can. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

5 Best Albums in April 2014

I am clearly running almost three months behind on these monthly bits. That was probably inevitable, but I am committed to highlighting five great records that were released each month for the balance of 2014, so here are some from April. Given my propensity to lag behind and get wrapped up in real life matters of far lesser consequence than music, this challenge may prove the ultimate lever for forcing a greater sense of brevity in these reviews on my part.

School Of Language - Old Fears

The regular gig for David Brewis is with his mates in the Brit art rock outfit, Field Music. The similarities start and overlap with his vocals obviously, but a solo project like School of Language has proven, as it does for so many other artists requiring an additional outlet, to be just the trick for Brewis to release some slightly quirkier and off kilter art pop. His voice reminds me at times of Brian Eno in his pre-ambient 70's pop period. This is a very listenable record, with wonderful melody flow, but there is nothing standard about how all the pieces have been put together. I expect Old Fears will be heavily overlooked this year, which is really too bad.

Fear of Men - Loom

I have seen Fear of Men described commonly as dream pop. That is not entirely unfair, nor are the shoegaze references. Just the same, there is a tweeness just as reminiscent of early days Belle & Sebastien, but with a bit more punch. Loom is the type of recording that could easily get lost in the shuffle of a recent barrage of soft female double tone vocal outfits, with jangly minor based chording. Like Frankie Rose and few others however, there is a depth to these songs that pull them away from standard gloomy lo-fi meandering. There is also a lyrical sincerity here that also elevates their charming simplicity of song structure. Lovely album this one.

Sweet Apple - The Golden Age of Glitter

The first Sweet Apple record went largely unnoticed, especially compared to the modest attention this year's The Golden Age of Glitter has garnered. To be fair, this attention mostly seems to have been from fans of Guided by Voices, Dinosaur Jr. and other bands whose members make up the ranks of Sweet Apple. I would suggest this album is a classically power pop tinged rocker with bits of hard rock, compared to the debut which was likely the other way around. Lots of hooks and solos, without any wank or gratuitous feedback. Fans of Cheap Trick, Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, Bad Finger, and any number of other power pop big hitters should enjoy this one. Mommy's alright, daddy's alright, and this record is really friggin fun.

Todd Terje - It's About Time

A now approximate ten year veteran of the Scandinavian electronic music scene, this is the long awaited full length, self penned debut offering from Terje, and it is a fabulous manic mess of wonderfulness. Most discussions for this record talk about the seamless shift from style to style, from track to track. There is salsa, lounge, dance floor, and even some shit that sounds like the Knight Rider opening theme. This is an ambitious project that feels more like a record Terje has had dancing around in his own head for ten years, but was finally able to map it all out in a way that should never work, but absolutely works in every way.

Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots

It is hard to know what type of record fans from his various projects (Blur, Gorillaz, etc) were expecting from Albarn for his first proper solo release. For my part this sounds like the record he always wanted to release, but he needed to have gone through and captured certain life experiences for the timing to be right. Much has been (fairly) made of the lyrical subject matter on some tracks, and Albarn's candour with respect to things like substance abuse. To me what makes this a special project is his unwillingness to venture into previous sound territories that would have been safe and diehard fan appeasing. Every song on this record has a unique sonic approach, all bringing an interesting level of listener engagement, blended brilliantly with a respectful standoffishness which challenges the listener to spend some non casual time with these songs. Brilliant album.

EMA - The Future's Void
Kelis - Food
The Both - The Both