Archive for the ‘Album Review’ Category
Eps kinda piss me off so I don’t tend to get very many of them but here are 5 from 2011 (in no order) that are definitely worth checking out.
Childish Gambino – EP
Frustratingly this is probably his best release to date.
Holy Other – With U
Burial – Street Halo
More cross-genre genius from William Bevan.
Grimes – Darkbloom
Gonna be big in 2012.
Hudson Mohawke – Satin Panthers
40) Austra – Feel it Break
39) Tom Waits – Bad as Me
38) Toro Y Moi – Underneath the Pine
37) Yuck – Yuck
36) Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi
35) Childish Gambino – CAMP
34) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong
33) Bing K.R.I.T. – Return of 4Eva
32) Drake – Take Care
31) Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place
30) TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light
29) Neon Indian – Era Extraña
28) Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die but You Will
27) Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
26) Girls – Father, Son and Holy Ghost
25) Friendly Fires – Pala
24) Jamie Woon – Mirrorwriting
23) Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact
22) Frank Ocean – Nostalgia/ultra
21) A$AP Rocky – LiveLoveA$AP Mixtape
20) tUnE-yArDs – WHOKILL
19) Tyler, The Creator – Goblin
18) Beirut – The Rip Tide
17) Metronomy – The English Riviera
16) St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
15) Balam Acab – Wander / Wonder
14) Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape
13) Cults – Cults
12) Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation
11) Washed Out – Eyes Be Closed
10) M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming
Covers a range of moods from the childlike excitement of ‘Raconte-Moi Une Histoire‘ to the agony of ‘Wait‘ with plenty of dancefloor gems in between. Most impressively of all, this album brings 80’s dance back to our headphones but actually manages to make it sound good. Another triumph from M83 which sits comfortably in between dance and rock.
9) Gil Scott-Heron And Jamie XX – We’re New Here
A brave endeavour which could easily have backfired. Instead these two diverse artists combined to produce a stunning LP with Jamie bringing his customary loops and bass-heavy beats to the table but managing to let them interact with Heron’s vocals and not overpower them. 2010’s I’m New Here brought Heron back into the spotlight. In May 2011 he passed away but not before he had left the world with one last piece of magic. For Jamie XX to recognise the potential for this audacious remix album and to pull it off confirms his status as one of the most exciting talents in modern electronic music.
8] Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Lykke Li was always capable of producing a great tune, a powerful indie pop anthem, ‘Until we Bleed‘ and ‘Little Bit‘ provided ample proof of that. What Wounded Rhymes clarifies is that Li can make a proper album which draws you in right from the start and holds your interest until the last note. Li finds a perfect balance of bangers – ‘Youth Knows No Pain‘, ‘I Follow Rivers‘, ‘Rich Kids Blues‘ and slow burners ‘Unrequited Love‘, ‘Silent my Song‘.
7) EMA – Past Life Martyed Saints
Drawing influences from a variety of genres and touching on diverse themes in its lyrical content, Past Life Martyed Saints is an incredibly polished debut from Erika M Anderson. The sudden change of mood in curtain raiser ‘The Grey Ship‘ signal’s Anderson’s intent to produce the unexpected. It may only have 9 tracks but these songs are refreshingly diverse, from the haunting chant of ‘Anteroom‘ to the magnificently lazy sound of ‘Breakfast‘.
6) Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne
Full review here. A 16 track LP bursting with hits. Virtually any track off WTT would have punters flocking to the dancefloor, throwing shapes to some of Kanye’s finest beats as the duo bounce off each other perfectly to create tracks oozing with style. ‘Otis, ‘Ni**as in Paris‘, ‘Murder to Excellence‘ just three of the many highlights on this impressive collaboration.
5) PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
This album is so good that even though it celebrates the old enemy you can’t help but love it. Let England Shake landed Harvey the Mercury Prize and it’s not hard to see why when you listen to these 12 tracks. Each provides something new, the theme of the album remains the only constant as Harvey digs into her musical arsenal to produce new tricks at every opportunity. Her voice dictates the mood with everything else following suit, from the ominous ‘Let England Shake‘ to the mournful cry of ‘England‘.
4) WU LYF – Go Tell Fire to the Mountain
One of the most striking and original sounds to emerge in 2011. GTFTTM is a collection of hugely atmospheric tracks which lean on various genres. There’s more than a hint of post-rock structure to the songs but WU LYF also dabble in more catchy uptempo numbers. The shredding howl of the vocals combines perfectly with the echoing drums and beautifully layered guitar to produce an album that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.
3) Bon Iver – Bon Iver
How do you follow an album like 2008’s For Emma Forever Ago? Justin Vernon’s debut LP as Bon Iver transported him for the isolation of that famous log cabin in Wisconsin to superstardom. He couldn’t try to do the same again, it simply wouldn’t have worked, the rawness of Vernon’s pain is what made For Emma… so engaging, 3 years on we’re expecting some progress and Bon Iver delivers it. It continues the transition signalled by the Blood Bank EP to a bigger production and a bigger sound. Vernon’s vocals are now backed by an army of instruments, the songs may have changed but the impact is the same.
2) James Blake – James Blake
Full review here. His 2010 EP’s guaranteed his status as one of the most hyped/blogged artists of 2011 but rather than stick to the formula which made those releases so popular, Blake opted to put a more introspective, personal touch to his brand of post-dubstep which he somehow manages to combine with a folk sound to brilliant effect to create an LP that is as moving as it is original.
1) SBTRKT – SBTRKT
Full review here.Top spot on this list was pretty much sealed after my first listen to SBTRKT’s (Aaron Jerome’s) stunning debut album. Like Blake, Jerome doesn’t shy away from the inclusion of heartfelt lyrics but SBTRKT offers that extra bit of variety. ‘Wildfire‘ and ‘Trials of the Past‘ are two of the year’s massive dancefloor anthems while ‘Hold On‘ and ‘Something Goes Right‘ provide a more subdued but equally brilliant listen. Pop/House number ‘Pharoahs‘ and tribal call to arms ‘Go Bang‘ further prove Jerome’s capacity to diversify his electronic sound. A treat from start to finish.
It was too hard to predict what the final product would be when raps two biggest superstars came together. Sure, the lads have always had an input in each others work but a split album with both names sharing equal status on the cover marked a different collaboration. Would it be a Black album or a Blueprint 3? Thankfully, it’s in the league of the former.
Filler, the very thing which made Jay-Z’s later Blueprint releases tiresome, doesn’t rear its head once in this 16 track triumph. Like Kanye’s MBDTF, there’s a sense that any track could follow ‘Otis’ and ‘Why I Love You’ as a potential single. The variation across the LP makes this release all the more impressive.
In tracks 2, 3 and 4 the duo take us from feel good heights of the epic ‘Lift Off’, through the gritty charm of ‘Ni**as in Paris’ and into the soulful masterpiece ‘Otis’, where both manage to hit new levels of suave.
The bar never really drops throughout the album. Even 2.21 minute ‘Gotta Have It’ and ‘New Day’ with it’s autotune sample of ‘Feeling Good’ retain the head-bouncing charisma of opening track ‘No Church in the Wild.’
Anyone who has read this blog with any degree of regularity will know that I’m more than a bit of a fan of Will Wisenfeld aka Baths, and his 2010 album Cerulean. I still remember my first time giving the album a listen and waiting for the filler to arrive but each track proved breathtaking in its own way. Cerulean came out at a time when, thanks to the likes of Flying Lotus and Teebs, glitch-hop was at the forefront of electronic music but Wisenfeld managed to stand out from the masses with an original and engaging spin on the genre.
British producer Aaron Jerome who performs as SBTRKT (pronounced Subtract) has achieved the same feat with his stunning debut self-titled album. As contemporary electronic music continues to draw influence from all different directions the genre game grows more and more farcical with this album likely to be lumped into the post-dubstep category alongside the likes of James Blake and Mount Kimbie. Regardless of its genre, SBTRKT’ is a compelling LP which at various stages boasts a hint of house, funk, soul, dubstep, electronica and just about everything else.
Comparisons with James Blake are inevitable given Jerome’s use of heavy-bass loops fused with his soulful vocals, but SBTRKT offers an approach more akin to Blake’s earlier EP releases than his more subdued self-titled album. Tunes like Wildfire and Right Thing To Do are underground dance floor anthems while the mournful Hold On and funky gem Trials Of The Past display Jerome’s more introspective songwriting capabilities.
Just when you think you’ve got the album figured out pop tune ‘Pharoahs’ makes an appearance with a Dizzee Rascal-esque beat blended with sing along trance vocals calling to mind Katy B’s chart single ‘Lights On’, but better.
Will Wisenfeld was a relatively unknown 21-year old when he released Cerulean, one of the most compelling albums of the past decade. Aaron Jerome was equally anonymous prior to this debut release but you get the feeling he’ll be bringing his exotic headwear to more festivals on the back of what is already, unquestionably one of the albums of 2011.
Taking Back Sunday were never likely to produce the album of 2011. Let’s face it, emo has had its day. Sure, there are still a few traces lying around from the early noughties when the genre was rampant. However the majority of acts have either broken up or changed direction. Not these guys though, despite countless facelifts with members coming and going, Taking Back Sunday have survived this change of musical landscape. Thankfully this self-titled album marks something of a return to their early form.
Read review in full here.
I recently started writing for Goldenplec.com, but I plan to keep tipping away on this auld yoke all the same. Here’s my first album review for the site.
Having formed in 2004 and with three EPs under the belt, it was about time Northern Ireland’s Mojo Fury released their debut album. That said, when we consider the face-lift the band has experienced,going from a three piece to foursome with Michael Mormecha migrating from behind the drum kit to front the band as vocalist and guitarist, the delay becomes understandable….
Read the review in full here.
A brief run though of some of the 2011 albums I’ve been enjoying while struggling to find time to write full reviews.
Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi
One of the most hyped artists online so far this year. Bloggers can’t seem to get enough of her. Her debut self-titled album offers something refreshingly different to what dominates the hipster universe these days. Soulful songs which hinge as much on the retro instrumentation as Calvi’s powerful, passionate, unwavering voice. Not one to suit all moods but a thoroughly impressive debut.
Gil Scott-Heron And Jaime Xx – We’re New Here
Having missed out on 2010’s I’m New Here, this marks my first venture into the wrold of Gil-Scott Heron. Jaime Xx has taken his masterful capacity to remake tunes into something altogether different to another level with this outstanding LP. Perhpas a few too many interludes but an undeniably compelling listen sure to make a lot of end of year lists.
Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place
If you played The Magic Place to a 7-year-old kid on his birthday after two litres of Tanora he’d still be powerless to resist the soothing, calming sound of Julianna Barwick. A glorious blend of hushed mystical vocals
and minimal effects. With the greatest respect to the album it’s virtually impossible to stay awake throughout, but the dreams induced are sure to be sweet.
Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Probably my favourite album of 2011. This suave Swede knows how to work a crowd live but her talent clearly comes alive in studio too. From danceable party-starters “Youth Knows No Pain” and “I Follow River” to delicate stories “Unrequited Love” and “Silent My Song” this album offers plenty and never disappoints.
The Weeknd – House of Balloons
R&B, where to begin? I mean I don’t hate the genre, but I rarely like it. It’s essentially pop music which piggy backs on Rap to seem cool. Don’t get me wrong I think, there have been butloads of great pop tunes from R&B artists over the years but in general I’m bored by it. The Weeknd (aka Abdel Tesfaye) tick the annoying boxes of overkill on the high-pitched moaning and forced voice-quiver but make up for it in other aspects. Divergence into glithy/electronic beats and samples provides more than the generic R&B sound. It mightn’t be the years most played album but gets points for a fresh approach and some moments of genuine quality.
Adele – 21
It is what it is. A triumph for Grey’s Anatomy fans everywhere but before I get disgustingly pretentious it must be conceded that this young Lady knows how to write a serious pop song. 14 tracks without too much filler and a surprising degree of variety with the LP split between slow, mournful heartbreak tales and funky upbeat numbers like “Rumour Has It”.
Tv on the Radio – Nine Types of Light
It jumps, twirls, soars and washes over the listener at every opportunity, Nine Types of Light is a cracking album from a band that are so fucking cool. Bring whatever obscure tastes you may have to the table and there will be something for you to chew on. A compelling, funkadelic way to spend 43 minutes. Rest in peace Gerard Smith.
Katy B – On a Mission
I’m sure there are plenty people who are sick to their stomach by the mention of the word dubstep let alone hearing the music itself. This is one bandwagon that has gathered amazing momentum but still struggles to offer enough. The internet is plagued by the generic “Woob” in a remix. Under the guidance on Benga and Skream, Katy B has made an LP better than anything the Magnetic Men have thrown up lately. Singles ‘Katy on a Mission’ and ‘Perfect Stranger’ capture the 21-year old’s knack for mixing a dirty baseline with catchy pop hooks. Half pop half dub this album strikes the perfect balance.
It’s more than a little clichéd to refer to post-rock as “epic” or “cinematic” but few adjectives better describe the near tangible presence of an Explosions in the Sky song. The Texas-based four-piece seem to have a copyright over the sound of marching snare rolls set against delicate layering of guitar. Their range has shown little divergence since 2000’s How Strange, Innocence but this lack of variety has done little to damage their popularity. You know what to expect from Explosions, it’ll be all crests and troughs building to a screeching climax. This predictability should render the music somewhat stale but the fact is they write damn good tunes, just ask any fan of Friday Night Lights.
Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is the bands first release since 2007’s All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, and you get the feeling the niche to which they have limited themselves is finally getting a little cramped. It’s not that this six track LP lacks the quality of the previous five but for the first time there is a distinct feeling of deja entendu. When adhering to such a tight framework, there’s only so much re-arranging of sound and re-tuning of guitars that can be done.
Third track ‘Trembling Hands’ sticks out like a sore thumb as the “something new.” It’s by a distance the shortest track, clocking just 3.31 and is the only offering of vocals on the album. Much like Mogwai’s recent voyage into unknown territory, this experiment takes away from an otherwise solid post-rock compilation. Almost as if in a rush to get back to what they do best, ‘Trembling Hands’ takes the established Explosions in the Sky blueprint and speeds it up with the questionable, or perhaps more accurately, unnecessary inclusion of vocals.
The other five tracks all work their magic in their own way. ‘Postcard From 1952′ takes two minutes to find its voice before coming to life in a celebration of guitars with the incessant crashing of cymbals. Album closer’ Let Me Back In’ grows more engaging with every listen while ‘Human Qualities’ playfully pokes and jabs before delivering a spectacular knockout punch. The stats read five tried and tested tunes to one experimental and five triumphs to one disappointment. Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is a consuming post-rock album but falls just short of the heights reached by The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place and All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, unlike those LP’s this one shows signs of a band confined to sound which is running low on room for creative expression.
Several acts can lay claim to a devoted cult following, with Mogwai it’s more like an army with separate factions. While it is almost universally accepted that the Glasgow outfit’s debut LP Young Team, released in 1997 is their best to date, subsequent releases have proved more than a bit divisive. Having stretched the boundaries of their post-rock sound over five other albums you got the feeling they were going to try something a little different this time round. While Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will takes the prize for best title so far, the album is the weakest to date.
Disappointingly it’s these ventures into pastures new that inspire the album’s downfall. Over the last 15 years Stuart Braithwaite and company have mastered both ends of the post-rock spectrum. From the haunting delicacy of tunes like Cody to the teeth-grinding roar of numbers such as Glasgow Mega Snake. Vitally however, every album had a clear direction, a coherence. HWNDBYW loses itself somewhere between the classic Mogwai sound and a fresh start. Guarding the two most experimental tracks “Mexican Grand Prix” and “George Square Thatcher Death Party” are tunes which would fit seamlessly into other Mogwai albums, the result however is an LP that lacks its own identity.
Effects-laden vocals and an electronic beat mark new territory in “Mexican Grand Prix”, falling somewhere in between Radiohead and Liars. The fancy new tricks will do little to engage new listeners or impress seasoned followers as the track lacks any edge or imagination. More frustratingly on “George Square Thatcher Death Party” the tiresome synth and irritating auto-tuned vocals interfere with a stomping guitar riff.
It shouldn’t go unmentioned that HWNDBYW has its high points, “Death Rays” showcases Mogwai’s expertise in blending the loud with the timid and “San Pedro” packs a real punch once it gets its act together half way through. The problem is that even the moments of inspiration seem out-of-place on the album and you can’t help thinking how much cosier theywould be in one of the previous offerings. Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will is not a bad album, it’s just not a great album and due to the standards they have set themselves, many people expect greatness. In the many factions of the Mogwai army, there will be very few flying the flag for this release.
Three stunning EP releases in 2010 earned James Blake revered status in the indie circles as bloggers, DJs and music lovers raved about his ultra contemporary sound.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this self-titled album is that Blake hasn’t relied on his strong suit of sample-fuelled electronica, which brought him such acclaim last year. Unsurprisingly questions were asked of the decision to release three EPs in one year and not an album, but Blake’s logic has revealed itself through this masterful debut LP. James Blake harnesses the techniques the Londoner has previously displayed to create a more cohesive, introspective sound. While his previous works fit in somewhere between the dance floor and horror film, this album is a gentler beast, providing an insight into the man himself.
“My brother and my sister don’t speak to me, but I don’t blame them.” This opening line in I ‘Never Learnt To Share’ epitomises the deeply personal nature of Blake’s lyrical content. More striking however, is the fact that he himself proclaims the words. Gone are the frenetic samples, replaced by the heart-felt and utterly self-deprecating vocals of Blake.
Minimalism prevails throughout the eleven tracks. Each song possesses a patience and delicacy with Blake refusing to rush or force his message. The sorrowful repetition of insecurity in ‘Wilhelm’s Scream’ avoids the trap of sounding unimaginative, on the contrary the slow bass build becomes consuming as the words “All that I know is I’m falling” embed themselves in the listeners mind.
Blake’s mournful vocals are the only constant in the album, accompaniment takes the form of varied instrumentation and a plethora of effects, rendering it virtually impossible to know what new age gadgets are being availed of at any one time. Despite the variety of sounds implemented, Blake manages not to overcrowd the LP.
‘Limit to Your Love’, the first single to be taken from the album encapsulates the minimalist nature of the LP. A brief piano intro is greeted by Blake’s proclamation “There’s a limit to your love, like a waterfall in slow motion.” His delivery is so patient the listener almost wants to drag the words out. The electronic beat is hushed beneath the repetitive piano, which in turn bows to the superiority of Blake’s voice. After this beautiful opening comes the part that will isolate the grannies from the indie kids, a booming, quivering bass line jumps out of nowhere pulling the song in a new direction without isolating the introspective sensibility.
In truth aspects of this album have no place on a pretentious teenager’s iPod. Curtain closer’ Measurements’ is a celebration of voices and echoes blended with double bass which could have been recorded at a Gospel Choir’s rehearsal.
It’s possible that with this refreshingly original production, forcing emotion where it was never allowed before, James Blake has pushed the boundaries of contemporary electronic music.