Things I’m Liking – C-check It Out

1283430228_dungenDungen – Skit I Allt (2010)

I’ve been aware of the Swedish band for years but it was one of those bands that I’d just overlook – sometimes listening to new things is daunting, right?. Anyway, ‘Skit I Allt’ (which translates to Fuck It All) is one of those all-consuming psychedelic rock albums full of fuzzy and flourishing guitars and hazy sound scapes with a little 60’s folk rock thrown in there for good measure. It’s a solid album throughout and just basically needs to be listened to.

Best songs: Marken Låg Stilla (this song is fucking gorgeous), Min Enda Vän

Perfect+Prescription+spacemenSpacemen 3 – The Perfect Prescription (1987)

I’ve always been a huge Justin Pierce fan, Spiritualized were such an eye opening band in my formative years. So, recently I’ve been listening to a lot of  psychedelic albums and this was one of them that really made me pay attention. There are quite a few genius moments with the Lou Reed-influenced “Ode to Street Hassle” and the Bob Dylan-borrowed  gospel-tinged “Walkin’ With Jesus”. This album does solidify just how talented Justin Pierce is.

Best songs: Ode to Street Hassle, Walkin’ With Jesus Take Me to the Other Side

187419_1_fVashti Bunyan – Lookaftering (2005)

This was the second full-length album of new material since Bunyan’s 1970 debut “Just Another Diamond Day” 35 years ago. With the influence of her contemporaries such as Devendra Banhart, Piano Magic and Joanna Newsom, Vashti relieved an album full of beautiful, pensive songs that are heartfelt and genuine. I mean, would you expect anything less from the dubbed “godmother of freak folk”?

Best Songs: If I Were, Hidden, Lately, Feet of Clay

BEST ALBUMS OF 2012 – Honourable Mentions

Firstly, I have to say that this year has been a great one for music. This year was full of comebacks, follow-ups, outstanding debuts and brilliant collaborations. To begin the countdown to what I felt was the best albums of the year, I’ve made a list of some albums I felt were still strong releases and are worth checking out. In no particular order;

actress_RIP_1329831774_crop_500x500Actress – R.I.P

British electronic artist Darren Cunningham packed a punch with ‘RIP’ churning out pulsating beats and twisted grooves, it has stood out as one of the years most solid electronic records. Showing shades of Flying Lotus’ most abstract work (Marble Plexus) to glimmers of the same kind of eccentricity Björk brings to her work (Jardin) and even a nod to straightforward house music (The Lord’s Graffiti) . It’s definitely worth a listen.

1323820115nownow_threads_hiresNow, Now – Threads

On the surface, this album would probably seem like an unoriginal project full of over-thought songs but the Minnesota band present their debut album as one of the most earnest releases of the year. Full of swelling pop songs with clean, coherent production. Now, Now blend dream pop  and rock elements to form a promising debut. Their song Prehistoric sounds like a nod to Death Cab for Cutie (specifically their song Title Track) which is ironic as ‘Death Cabber’ Chris Walla signed the band to his label Trans Records.

3916167Simone White –  Silver Silver

After a lengthy tour folk singer Simone White finally pieced together the follow-up to her 2009 album ‘Yakiimo’. ‘Silver Silver’ although, not a departure from the previous album is more like a continuation of a sonic scape that works, with some experimental elements thrown in for good measure. The fragile-voiced singer teams up with fellow troubadour and tour companion Andrew Bird on the beautiful title track that runs a lengthy but rewarding 7 minutes. As well as the ethereal ‘In the Water Where the City Ends‘ and the honest ‘Never Be That Tough‘  White’s song writing shines brighter and stronger.

R-3771086-1343743875-4229Oddisee – People Hear What They See

Somewhat of a quiet release that didn’t get the kudos it deserves. Five albums deep rapper/producer Oddisee churns out another consistent, soulful hip-hop record which sees a departure from the straight  instrumental albums, this time he flexes his emcee chops with relative ease and sincerity. Back with an array of interesting and laid back beats, Oddisee definitely deserves some spins, especially the laid back ‘Maybes‘.

alt-jAlt-J – An Awesome Wave

The mercury music prize-winning band’s debut album is interesting, which sonically has more in common with freak folk artists like Devendra Banhart and Akron/Family than their contemporaries like The Maccabees and Bombay Bicycle Club. In fact, ‘An Awesome Wave’ has the confidence and the bravado that you’d expect from a new band, without being cocky and forced.

BRANDY-TWO-ELEVEN-ALBUM-COVER

Brandy – Two Eleven

It’s been a surprisingly big year for me in terms of R&B. I’ve always had a soft spot for Brandy, she has a great voice, husky and melodic which sets her apart from her unoriginal contemporaries. She isn’t afraid to take a risk production-wise and that’s very inspiring. The production on ‘Two Eleven’ is slick and eclectic from the woozy and slightly sexy “So Sick” and the club-ready Chris Brown collaboration “Put it Down” to the Frank Ocean-penned ballad “Scared of Beautiful” she even samples Lykke Li on “Let Me Go“, Brandy has definitely not lost her edge.

packshotThe xx – Coexist

‘Coexist’ shows a confidence that was laying dormant on their debut album, which was full of hushed intimate declarations. While that hasn’t changed much in terms of song writing, The xx bring a much more dance sensibility to their new songs. Songs like “Reunion” and “Chained” gives producer Jamie xx more room to show what he’d learned working with Gil-Scott Heron and remixing but still clinging to the intimacy on moments like “Angels” and “Fiction“. A strong release.

Album Review – Mount Eerie: Clear Moon (2012 Albums of the Year)

There’s no doubt about it that Phil Elverum can write an amazing song. Throughout his many projects and monikers he has racked up a considerably interesting and respected catalogue of music that requires a lot of thought and dedication to really absorb properly.

“Clear Moon” is the fifth official album under the ‘Mount Eerie’ name and serves as a companion piece to “Ocean Roar” an album that will be released later on in the year.

“Clear Moon” is a step away from the harsher sounds of 2009’s Wind’s Poem that had a heavy black metal influence which was an album full of isolation and introspection in which Elverum left the claustrophobic city life and began living in a cabin away from civilisation in rural Washington – on that album you can hear the despondent solitude and the complex thoughts that swirl around in your head when too much time has passed without interaction with others.“Wind’s Poem” seems to have really informed the direction and sound that this album has gone in.

While there are still some heavy, brooding moments here, it feels less obstructive and a lot more mindful – if “Wind’s Poem” was the drunken thoughts from the night before, full of confusion and anger “Clear Moon” is definitely the sobering morning after.

BEST SONGS: Through the Trees Pt. 2, The Place I Live, Lone Bell, House Shape, Clear Moon

If you like this you’ll like: Grouper, Scout Niblett, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Smog, Nick Drake

8/10

Album Review – Sharon Van Etten: Tramp (2012 Albums of the Year)

I remember when I first heard her debut album “Because I Was In Love” a heartbreaking lament of lost love and unresolved feelings. It had such a resonating quality to it, I guess, there are albums that are released or discovered at the right times that seem to chronicle what is going on in the listeners head – I definitely felt a kinship with Van Etten.

“Because I was in Love” had a much more skeletal approach which basically consisted of Van Etten on vocals and guitar and not much else. I was captivated – especially for someone who tends to lean towards more singer songwriter stuff, and if it’s slightly melancholic I’m all ears. Comparisons to other female singers are inevitable – a reference point is always good though. Van Etten poses the same pretty, dreamy vocals that makes Hope Sandoval so adored, but with ‘Tramp’ it’s amped up more almost harking back to the PJ Harvey of the ‘Is This Desire?’ days.

A song like the opener ‘Warsaw’ is a prime example of that. “Magic Chords” is a stand out song, the marching band-esque nature of the drums throughout the song mixed with the dub-like synths wrap around her ethereal voice effortlessly – it’s beautiful.

While “Tramp” still retains those days of old feeling, Van Etten still remains vulnerable and candid, even with a more fleshed out sound it doesn’t detract from the emotional and beautiful song writing – which I might add as only got stronger with each album – it really has no weak spot at all, which its very rare especially these days. With help from well known musicians like the Dessner twins from The National, Zach Condon from Beiut and Wye Oak’s Jen Wasner “Tramp” becomes an utter triumph and more focussed and stronger Van Etten only makes for multiple listens.

BEST SONGS: Warsaw, Serpents, Leonard, In Line, All I Can, We Are Fine, Magic Chords, Ask

If you like this you’ll like: Mazzy Star, Hope Sandoval, PJ Harvey, The National, Wye Oak

9/10

Album Review – Best Coast: The Only Place

 You would think that working with Jon Brion would bring out the best in a band. Considering, his impressive roster of people he has worked with and made seminal, respected albums – Fiona Apple and Aimee Mann being only the tip of the iceberg. So when Californian duo Best Coast announced that they were working with the famed producer it seemed like a natural progression and could be interesting to step away from the fuzzy, sun drenched sound of their critically acclaimed debut “Crazy for You” and could actually work.

With the release of their second effort the bulk of the material lacks the energy of their first, the reverb and distortion is gone instead a cleaner more sterile sound. While frontwoman Bethany Consentino doesn’t really change up her song writing here, which mostly consists on singing about her love for her home state of California and her boy crazy escapades, it doesn’t come across as genuine as it did on “Crazy for You”.

It’s as if these songs were made as demo’s for other artists to sing. The whole album isn’t a complete disappointment though. The first single and title track “The Only Place” an ode to California is as happy-go-lucky you can be, with it’s sun-drenched girl group sound it’s a near-perfect beach song. “Dreaming Your Life Away” is another highlight that has a dreamy sound that does actually sound like an Aimee Mann song, sonically – Magnolia era.

Maybe it was recording in a professional studio that stunted their music potential, or maybe it was working with a super producer that they felt they had to fit into his sound box, in any case it’s nice to hear the band back making music, hopefully these songs won’t be as flaccid live, peppered in between tracks from “Crazy For You” it might work better, but on record – no so much.

Listen if you like: The Beach Boys, The Ronettes (or any 60s girl group, really), Best Coast’ earlier stuff

4/10

Album Review – Perfume Genius: Put Your Back N 2 It

Singer songwriter Mike Hadreas released his debut album “Learning” to critical acclaim. An album that wasn’t so easy to listen to – not because it was bad, but because of how overwhelmingly sad it was. With songs like ‘Mr. Peterson’  which chronicled a sexual relationship between Hadreas and a teacher who eventually commits suicide. Yeah, I know not exactly a barrel of laughs.

This sophomore release under the Perfume Genius name, Hadreas really lays on the torch balladry thick. Of course, comparisons to Antony and the Johnson’s singer Antony Hegarty are abundant and rightly so. It’s definitely the go-to response and for people who love Antony’s melodrama. The song “No Tear” will be the best starting point. Poised with emotional longing and self-deprecation that will sustain those of us who like to quench our melancholic thirsts. There are time’s when you feel a little bit cheated.

With a song like “No Tear” that only runs at a measly 1 minute and 49 seconds, Hadreas doesn’t give the listener enough time to really sink into the songs that leaves no room for them to be mulled over or bonded with. Every song on ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ (worse album title by the way) is under 3 minutes and 30 seconds this is a little frustrating  which kind of leaves you wanting more.

It’s a good listen. Don’t be fooled by the album title it’s not going to be a party album so don’t get mad when Hadreas doesn’t get his Diamond Rings on. But for something a little more frail and contemplative definitely turn to this.

Listen if you like: Antony and the Johnsons, Sufjan Stevens, Daniel Johnston, Baby Dee, Arthur Russell, Grizzly Bear

7/10

Album Review – The Antlers: Burst Apart

THE ANTLERS BURST APART

I don’t really know how The Antlers 2009 album ‘Hospice’ made everyone else feel, but for me that album was much like how The Angels of Light album ‘How I Loved You’ makes me feel – detrimentally sad, but in a really good way. I always feel that if music can conjure up those types of feelings then the musicians are probably doing something very right. Anyway, Brooklynites the Antlers are known in the indie community for this delicate, melancholic sound even in there seemingly more joyous moments there’s this underlying sadness .With ‘Burst Apart’ they seem to take the ambient soundscapes of their sophomore record ‘In the Attic of the Universe’ and the use the melancholia of ‘Hospice’ and tangle it together to make this deluge of beauty that floats throughout the entire record. Songs like ‘No Widows’ and ‘Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out’ are prime examples of this, though the latter is definitely one of ‘Burst Apart’ more upbeat moments still this fragility seems to lay just below the surface bobbing up for air every now and then.

I think the overall feeling I get from this album has a lot to do with front man Peter Silberman’s vocals he has this cadence in his voice which echoes shades of Thom Yorke (yes, I know controversial) flecks of this comparison grace the song ‘Tiptoe’ it’s probably more of a feeling than an actual sound, I just felt it was a little bit Kid A-ish (yes, again I know). The song that really stood out for me was the closer ‘Putting the Dog to Sleep’ I just love how sincere it is, how ungrudgingly sincere Silberman sounds, it also has this weird 60s/70s soul rock sound to it like maybe something from Ike Turner or one of those soul guys who played guitar. I have to say I’ve given this many listens and it’s my favourite album of the year so far, its honesty is what I gravitated towards and that dash of sadness only sweetens the deal.

8.5/10

BEST SONGS: I Don’t Wanna Love, Parentheses, No Widows, Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out, Tiptoe, Hounds, Putting the Dog to Sleep    

Album Review – Bright Eyes: The People’s Key

BRIGHT EYES THE PEOPLE’S KEY

After the release of 2007s ‘Cassadaga’ the Bright Eyes moniker has been on somewhat of a hiatus while front man and wunderkind Conor Oberst explored other projects including a solo record, a project with the Mystic Valley Band and supergroup Monsters of Folk which included Bright Eyes alum Mike Mogis, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and frequent collaborator M. Ward.

Oberst really steps away from his folky and alternative country roots and explores a much more rounded, full band sound and even comes back with the use of synths that was featured so prominently on ‘Digital Ash in a Digital Urn’. Admittedly the anticipation for ‘The People’s Key’ has really outweighed the music the opener ‘Firewall’ has a long monologue which is somewhat usual for Bright Eyes (At the Bottom of Everything, Claraudience respectively) but it really seems to drone relentlessly for seven minutes without actually going anywhere.

‘A Machine Spiritual (in the People’s Key)’ lacks the intimacy that made Oberst so famous. It also, can be an overbearing in its pantheistic message. ‘Shell Games’ is probably Oberst at his most jubilant its hard not to hear Patrick Wolf woven in the chorus and the instrumentation another good moment comes from ‘Ladder Song’ a heart wrenching lament about a friend close to Oberst who killed themself. In addition to that his political tendencies as well as the emotional fragility that made him everyone’s favourite sad kid with a guitar, it can be both nostalgic and angsty while still being philosophical and universal.

If The People’s Key is indeed the last release under the Bright Eyes name, they have gone out on a low, which is disappointing, it’s definitely not their crowning glory though it has some great moments, it also has some lazy, almost thoughtless ones too.

6/10

Best Tracks: Shell Games, Jejune Stars, Approximate Sunlight, Beginners Mind, Ladder Song

Album Review – Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me

JOANNA NEWSOM HAVE ONE ON ME


While only three albums deep, Joanna Newsom has already established herself as one of today’s most ambitious recording artists. ‘Have One on Me’ is eighteen songs worth of material spanning over 3 discs of enchanting stories and delicately played melodies that feel like her most ethereal material to date, but it can feel like an almost Herculean task to get through and can prove a little bit daunting to the untrained ‘Newsom’ ear but for fans its pretty much a musical orgasm. The first disc is probably the most cohesive set of songs with ‘Easy’ showcases Newsom’s strength both in song writing and her piano playing which makes a makes a triumphant appearance as it was almost non-existent on ‘Ys’. Newsom has lost the vocal awkwardness and naiveté that was splattered abundantly on her début ‘The Milk-Eyed Mender’. The title track the is the crowning moment, in terms of fluidity and grandeur with simple vocal/harp intro that turns into a Renaissance jam fest which features instruments from the Middle-Ages such as the vielle and rebec. Towards the end you can almost picture Newsom playing this at a Renaissance Royal occasion full of dancing and mead drinking, some speculate that she has time travelled to bring this brand of music to the uneducated.

Newsom has really challenged her musical chops on this album from the delicate balladry of ‘Kingfisher’ and ‘Jackrabbits’ to the full band Arthurian nature of ‘Soft As Chalk’ . Even with the Motown flavoured ‘Good Intentions Paving Company’ still feels a part of the package she flirts with this style once again on later songs such as ‘Baby Birch’ and ‘Esme’. While the third disc is probably the less enthralling than the other two, the last song ‘Does Not Suffice’ rounds off the eighteen songs nicely and harks back to ‘This Side of The Blue’ where the piano is really the only thing you hear, aside from her voice of course. ‘Go Long’ shines its lament over lost love is Newsom at her most vulnerable, still using the imagery of Blue Beard and Indian princesses and even the karma sutra bounce around her harp and highlight a loneliness listeners aren’t used to. There are also references to fellow folk artist Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy albums ‘Ease Down the Road’, ‘Master and Everyone’ and ‘The Letting Go’ maybe this song is about her admiration for Will Oldham, who knows.

9/10

Best Tracks: Easy, Good Intentions Paving Company, Baby Birch, Go Long, Jackrabbits

Album Review – Sufjan Stevens: Age of Adz

SUFJAN STEVENS THE AGE OF ADZ


Everyone’s favourite troubadour released ‘All Delighted People’ out of the blue in August. And this perplexing release started to make indie kids mouths water in preparation for a full album release just two months later. The Age of Adz (pronounced Odds). Comes five years after his fifth real studio album ‘Illinois’ (although a b-side record as well as a mixed media music piece was released as a love letter to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway). A huge departure from his orchestral familiarity, sees Stevens treading old ground and drawing influence from his all-electronic album “Enjoy Your Rabbit” and while ..Adz does still hold those orchestral sounds and tones, a blanket of electronic samples and drones surrounds the whole record. The title track is one of the crowing moments with its fuzzy distortion mixing with choral chants and woodwind sections fluttering all over the 8 minute opus. This new mix of eletronica and instrumentation follows through most notably on the song “Get Real, Get Right” where the lyrics reflect right back to the hyper-religious “Seven Swans” as he sings “I must do myself a favour and get real/Get right with the Lord”.

The last song ‘Impossible Soul’ is a multi-layered, almost schizophrenic party of many different styles like pop, rock, folk, and even disco. If features a lot of harmonising and group singing. I think I even heard some auto-tune thrown into the sound gumbo. As well Shara Nelson of My Brightest Diamond graces the song with her soulful vocal acrobatics. As the song ends it goes from being quite industrial to what we all known him best for, folky-pop with twangy guitars and percussion. A stellar album from someone who rarely disappoints and a contender for best album of the year.

8/10

Best Tracks: Futile Devices, Too Much, I Walked, Get Real Get Right, I Want to Be Well, Impossible Soul