Archive for the ‘Album’ Tag

Album: SBTRKT – SBTKRT

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.

Album: Taking Back Sunday – Taking Back Sunday

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.

Album: Former Monarchs – The Wisdom of Crowds

They say our generation are too lazy or cowardly to take to the streets in rebellion against the political forces which have left our country in its present dire state. They may not have been waving placards outside Leinster House, but the lads in Former Monarchs were doing the other things synonymous with economic depressions, like the musicians of Seattle and Toronto in times past,they used their frustration to fuel their creativity. The result is EP opener ‘My Friend Has No Job’,an ultra-aggressive yet touchingly poignant portrayal of what the recession means for so many of the ‘lost generation.’

Read the rest of the review here.

Album: Mojo Fury – Visiting Hours of a Travelling Circus

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.

Album Roundup

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.

Album: Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

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.

 

 

Album: Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will

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.

Album: James Blake – James Blake

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.

Choice Music Prize 2010 Shortlist

Today saw the release of the 10 albums in the running for the 2010 Choice Music Prize. This is the first year the co-founder Jim Carroll isn’t involved in the selection process, the beautiful headache of chairing the Prize has been passed onto Jim’s Irish Times colleague Tony Clayton-Lea. He and the rest of the panel arrived at the following:

Adebisi Shank – This is the Second Album of a band called Adebisi Shank
The Cast of Cheers – Chariot
Cathy Davey – The Nameless
Fight Like Apes – The Body of Christ & The Legs of Tina Turner
Halves – It Goes, It Goes (Forever & Ever)
Imelda May – Mayhem
James Vincent McMorrow – Early in the Morning
O Emperor – Hither Thither
Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History
Villagers – Becoming a Jackal

Considering the landmark year in Irish music that was 2010 it was always going to be difficult to pick ten albums out of the crowd of sumptuous LPs. As expected the list has already been subjected to the “I can’t believe _ wasn’t included” treatment. For my part I’m pretty happy with the list. The sad fact is the list of Irish albums I missed out on in 2010 is too long, hence the lack of an ‘Irish Albums of 2010′ list on this blog. I would love to be in a position to support all the great Irish acts out there but the reality is on a student budget it’s just not possible, what with my penchant for food and shelter and all. Somadrone, Meljoann, Thread Pulls, Halves, Strands, Windings, Fight Like Apes, these are just some of the albums that have eluded me. With that in mind I’m not in a position to say what 10 should have been listed.

I will however, say that were I to make a top 10 of the Irish albums I did encounter last year Adebisi Shank, Villagers, Two Door Cinema Club, Cathy Davey, James Vincent McMorrow and The Cast of Cheers would certainly all appear. The lack of recognition for the considerable quality of Irish electronic albums last year will not go unnoticed by punters. Personally Solar Bears’ She Was Coloured In was my pick of home-grown albums in 2010 and Nouveaunoise were not far behind with Paraphrase Accolade. The post-rock jem We’ve Been Talking from Enemies was another personal fave.

Villagers not winning is about as likely as Paul McShane clinching the Ballon d’Or in 2011.

Good list and a great year for Irish music, let’s just hope the list in 12 months time is just as hard to compile for the very same reason.

Top 30 Albums of 2010

30) Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
29) Zola Jesus – Stridulum II
28) James Vincent McMorrow – Early in the Morning
27) Warpaint – The Fool
26) Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History
25) Glasser – Ring
24) Nouveaunoise – Paraphrase Accolade
23) Liars – Sisterworld
22) Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
21) Enemies – We’ve Been Talking
20) Villagers – Becoming a Jackal
19) Das Racist – Sit Down, Man
18) Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
17) Surfer Blood – Astrocoast
16) Solar Bears – She Was Coloured In
15) Mount Kimbie – Crooks & Lovers
14) Foals – Total Life Forever
13) How to Dress Well – Love Remains
12) Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
11) LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening

10) Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

The Outkast member who didn’t sing Hey Ya, if that’s how Antwan Andre Patton, aka Big Boi, was destined to be remembered, then his latest album shows scant regard for fulfilling destiny. From melodic slow-burners like Be Stilland ‘Hustle Blood’ to feel good floor fillers ‘Shine Blockas’ Sir Lucious Left Foot boasts a diversity so often lacking in contemporary hip-hop and never takes a step out of place.

 

 

9) Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Every now and again an album will come out that is so widely popular that to openly admit to not being a fan would amount to social suicide. While I did and still do enjoy listening to 2004’s Funeral it never blew me away the way it did so many. Six years and one average album later the Canadian outfit have produced a gem. Reflecting on a suburban upbringing and questioning the desirability of today’s hi-tech, hi-speed society, Win Butler and co create a blend of melodic poignancy and upbeat enthusiasm, applying their customary subtlety and variation.

 

8) Caribou – Swim

Daniel Victor Snaith wanted to create an album with a water-like quality when recording Swim. While only he can judge can compare his final work with his target, the rest of us can enjoy one of the most creative albums of 2010. From the jolting bass of opening track ‘Odessa’ to the haunting, swirling cymbals of curtain closer ‘Jamelia’, Snaith has produced an LP that ebbs, flows, soars and jigs, remaining at all times utterly engaging.

 

 

7) Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner

Inspired by the solitude endured whilst in Japan, Lucky Shiner is about as introspective as electronic music gets. This much is apparent from the contrast between optimistic opener ‘You’ and the last track of the same name which strikes a much more desolate note. Though Panda claims to write his tunes quickly there’s not so much as a hint of  rush in the album which has numerous highlights and in ‘Snow & Taxis’ boasts one of the most compelling songs of the year.

 

 

6) four tet – there is love in you

In a year which has produced an army of good electronic albums you get the feeling four tet aka Kieran Hebden did his fair share of inspiring. It’s somewhat fitting therefore that London born musician can lay claim to one of the albums of the year. there is love in you bares utmost fidelity to Hebden’s
post-rock/electronic influence. Each song takes the listener on a unique journey, slow-building and intricate.

 

 

5) Sleigh Bells – Treats

Sometimes artists come around with a sound so huge, it reminds us that music is not confined to the boundaries of whatever fade or genre is currently doing the rounds. Sleigh Bells burst onto the scene in 2010 with the massive anthem ‘Crown on the Ground.’ Obnoxiously loud and abrasive effects-laden guitar matched by a crashing, stop-start beat creates a whole new style of danceable alternative bliss

 

 

 

4) The National – High Violet

These New Yorkers have for years been the darlings of a sizeable and devout cult following. Such is the quality and appeal of High Violet that no number of brass instruments could keep The National from tipping into the mainstream. By their fifth studio album, the band have progressed to a level of understanding and cohesion which must be the envy of the indie/rock scene. Berninger’s unwavering baritone vocals set against atmospheric instrumentation give’s each track an undeniable presence.

 

 

3) Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Full review here.

His biggest, boldest and best to date. From ultimate party anthems ‘All of the Lights’ and ‘Power’ to the unravelling stories ‘Blame Game’ and ‘So Appalled’, the album doesn’t put a beat, swear or loop wrong. The big question is can he match it?

 

 

2) Beach House – Teen Dream

Teen Dream is a collection of songs so emotional, so delicate that it’s almost rude not to give every second of this LP undivided attention. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have been making beautiful music as Beach House since 2004. Teen Dream exhibits an appreciation of musical craft which hinges on the vocal range of Legrand. It’s music with obvious power, just calling out for inclusion in the right cinematic venture.

 

 

 

1) Baths – Cerulean

Full review here.

As the glitch-hop sound became more widespread and more one-dimensional one man emerged with a vision, creativity and musical intelligence to stand out among the rest. 21-year-old Will Wisenfeld wasn’t afraid to branch out beyond the loops and off-time beats made popular by the likes of Flying Lotus, and add minimal piano, guitar and heartfelt lyrics. The result is Cerulean, a breathtakingly original and diverse album which grows more and more engaging with every listen.