My favourite new releases of 2014

Caddywhompus – Feathering a Nest
Wonderfully quirky, probably what people would call psychedelic, but all I hear are great, weird, catchy songs with an awesome guitar sound.

The Fierce And The Dead – Spooky Action
Sounds a bit mathy but keep listening and the album grows on you incredibly, with tunes that really hooked me in, each piece develops into something else and keeps going. Really want to see this band live in 2015.

St. Vincent – St. Vincent
I love St. Vincent and this album is superb. Playing it on vinyl I hear a huge level of attention to detail in the sounds which makes the songs engaging, fun and well crafted.

Kate Tempest – Everybody Down
Didn’t like her voice at first but it took all of 30 seconds for me to realise this is one incredible story-telling rapper whose album I just want to hear from start to end each time. And against a backdrop of really good beats and real music.

Alpha Male Tea Party – Droids
One of the best bands I saw live this year, getting their kit off in a tiny hot pub in Southsea…fantastic heavy guitar based anthems which drag you along in sheer enjoyment.

Run the Jewels 2
Such great beats combined with such a great rap style, I loved Killer Mike’s LP, loved Run the Jewels and this is even better.

New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
Such a beautiful sounding album, really gets me feeling things I don’t want to be feeling. It’s so hard for me to describe this sound, it feels completely alien and the words, even though I hear them, make absolutely no sense to me. But the whole thing is captivating. I absolutely love the song “Born with a Sound” featuring singer Amber Webber.

Hex Horizontal – Act Natural
Experimental droney guitar and drums, but really gets going and pulls me into it. The recorded sound is incredible too.

Constant Lovers – Experience Feelings
Great guitary punk sound with great songs.

Dead Rider – Chills on Glass
I love the weird, stabbing, glitchy nature of Dead Rider’s albums where the songs seem to come together and fall apart.

Sisyphus – Sisyphus
The combination of Serengeti’s rap, Sufjan Stevens’ singing and Son Lux’s awesome music arrangement delivers really quite experimental album.

Letlive – The Blackest Beautiful

As if to undermine any credibility I imagine I have, I am admitting to buying this record as a form of bloodletting.

Listen to it at your peril.

The cover tells you not to buy it.

I have been listening to noisy music of late and in a momentary regression to the 15 year old version of myself I chose it over the new record by Mazes.

So musically, in the first instance,  it exhudes more than a slight wiff of Rage against the Machine as produced for modern emo kids. I listened to RATM straight afterwards to check, and they have far more breathing space around the instruments and nothing like the density of sound, so they are more like brittle ancestors. This record is designed to make you smash things.

I was trying to work out a way to describe what happens during the songs and this is the best I can do: the band are fast and hard and screamy, but the choruses are catchy and drenched in vocal effects that conjure up something like Justin Timberlake. I don’t know what he sounds like, so maybe just imagine heavy rain, a cliff and auto-tuning.

The way they achieve their sound is by processing the guitars until they sound like Lancaster Bombers and sharpening the drums so they cut through with terrific aggression.  On one track there is a guitar riff that has absolutely no definition, yet still makes me want to throw bricks into the face of the ‘man’. Grrr.

There is something really successful about the synthetic rage that fuels this record.  however, If you like any of the other records in this blog, you are unlikely to like this one.

I love it, but it wears off a bit as it goes on. They do come back right at the end with a great extended last track though.

Lightning Dust – Fantasy

Amber Weber and Joshua Wells, the 2 people responsible for this record, have proved themselves.  This is a beautiful record.

Amber has a voice that would draw even a siren onto the rocks, on all of their albums it is allowed to breath against restrained instrumentation.  Here the pair have restricted themselves to analogue keyboard sounds and the result is crushingly fulfilling.

For anyone who has ever derived childlike fulfillment from playing all the squelchy sounds on an analogue keyboard, you are hardwired to enjoy the music here.

The album is largely drum free and notable for being such. It is elegant and mesmerising. At this point in time I think Amber’s voice sounds better than any of her previous work, but I am given to emphatic responses. So judge or yourself.

21 Crows – Sons of Liberty

From what I can gather, this is a Brighton band. I bought this record at the soon to be defunct Edgeworld records in the lanes, upon recommendation from the proprietor. Physically, it is a seductive package on vinyl: screen printed; free CD; picture of a ship; lovingly crafted, no doubt.

Musically, the band are defined by the vocals, these are deep and strong, but sung with reservation, like Navigator or the inevitable first band to mind, Tindersticks. But don’t let that parallel define your prejudgement. I was sold it as ‘like Nick Cave but obviously better.’ Better than Nick Cave? I think the recommender in question has let Mr Cave’s success cloud his perception. Anyway, the vocal style and lyrical content suggest this influence, but this is kinder to the ear.

The music is more in the tradition of non-twee folk, with accordian, acoustic guitar…that sort of thing, but robust rather than flaky. I suppose the melodrama of Cave or the Triffids is in there too.

As with everything I like, it all comes down to melody, and this record is no exception. A great local band who ought to get beyond this status soon.

JB’s Ten best albums of 2011 in no particular order

Son Lux – We Are Rising
Yes, created in 28 days during the month of February, Ryan Lott created this brilliantly inventive album combining real instruments and his understanding of beats. Almost certainly my favourite album of the year.

Hella – Tripper
Zach Hill’s insane noise fest of drumming and guitars delivers something I love in music, but rarely find – the kind of chaos and feeling of falling completely apart which then magically resolves into something coherent and musical and then falls apart again. Fleeting magic.

Tune-Yards – Whokill
Merril Garbus’s superb second album of vocal inventiveness and hip-hop beats, building and layering loops into something really special.

Pete and the Pirates – One Thousand Pictures
I don’t think we reviewed this yet but Pete and the Pirates second album delivers almost compulsively catchy spine tingling songs. Thomas Sanders’ singing has an incredible purity – he should not be allowed to do anything else!

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes it work so well for me but the vocals and rocking out guitars deliver a kind of wistful sensibility, reminiscent of Pink Floyd and Grandaddy, a kind of haunting feeling that grips and won’t let me go.

Battles – Gloss Drop
Yes, Battles lost Tyondai Braxton and regrouped to deliver this album which is more about a feeling and a sound than anything else. I get lost in the complex loops they build up into amazing grooves of power, the whole sound of echoing drums and guitars beautifully captured.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Somehow a lot more than just another Fleet Foxes album with its rich harmonies, this is constructed of powerful songs with structure, which really drive forward, resolving into emotional zeniths and great finishes.

Three Trapped Tigers – Route One Or Die
Taking the sound they forged in their first three EPs and turning it into a massive set of almost classical compositions, this is a scary yet brilliant album.

Adebisi Shank – This is the Second Album of a band called Adebisi Shank
As far as technical, math rock type albums go (and I am a real sucker for them) this band has created one of the best. It’s a lot of fun and highly inventive, certainly not your run of the mill math rock band, with great interplay of sounds.

Cartographer – Hats, Capes, Dark Arts
Massive, crushingly heavy sound, with drums pounding away like heavy artillery combined with hilarious lyrics makes this one of my favourite slabs of noise in 2011.


Okkervil River “I Am Very Far”

It is great when a band finds a new way to be themselves.  On this record, Okkervil have again moved forward in song dynamics and sound, but I feel that after a few listens it will all sit perfectly with their work to date.  They fly out of the traps and barely slow down to take a breath.  The music is thick and layered, guitars are there, but don’t dictate the feeling of the record. Brass, strings and a multitude of other sounds throng each piece and the effect is grand.  It reminds me of a Phil Spector or Motown production.  I don’t know if I am qualified to say this.
The band project themselves with decisive authority.  Will Sheff’s words boldly twist through the music as he deploys them with confidence, with tuning conceeding ground to impact.
Melodies have found their way here via folk, indie, country and stadium.  The exultant shift that Black Sheep Boy started has just thrived within this fertile collective.  It is gripping stuff.
On a more personal note, the verses of the song ‘Wake and be fine’ reminds me a songs I have been involved with that just sound awful unless the timing is perfect.  I listen to it and imagine the band hearing the first tentative demos and quietly wondering where it might end up.  It is a song pulling in all different directions.

Son Lux “We Are Rising”

I began this by wondering, how do I possibly write about a new album by Son Lux which follows his previous album, probably my favourite release of 2008, the stunning “At War with Walls and Mazes”.

This is a new album which, not only have I looked forward to for over two years, but which was then recorded in 28 days in February (in response to something called the RPM Challenge) and quite extensively blogged about with video and audio clips by Ryan Lott, the artist behind Son Lux.

As I read, watched and listened to the writing and recording process on the blog I became more and more excited about the prospect of this new album, teased and tantalised by the snippets of audio.

It was bound to end in disaster, let’s face it. Nothing which I’ve hyped up in my mind so heavily has ever turned out well. The last album I invested so much time into bigging up in my own head was a real disappointment, and not because it was bad (it is actually very good indeed) but because I’d spent so much time blowing up the bubble of my own imagined hype the record was bound never to live up to that. So, things did not look good even at the outset. Imagine being thwarted thus by your own, supposedly useful, imagination.

So, you might have the tiniest inkling of just how happy I was when I finally heard “We Are Rising” and knew it was every bit as good as I had dared hope. And here’s why…

I know from my own experience that having a blank sheet with no creative constraints makes it pretty much impossible to create something for yourself. You don’t know where to start, when to end – your mind chokes when trying to encompass the vastness of the possibilities.

In rising to the challenge of writing and recording this album in 28 days it must have given Ryan enough creative constraint to enable him to focus on the task at hand. At least, that is my theory! I believe the deadline conspired to enable him to produce something wonderful.

“At War with Walls and Mazes” was an incredible fusion of hip-hop style beats and modern classical composition. This new album seems to take that style as a starting point and goes to great new places with it.

The songs are hung around a central melody, and most often it is Ryan’s own voice which provides the thread which hangs the songs together, with his distinctively fragile vocal (which he says is “ugly in maybe a cool way”). He then weaves instruments around this, include woodwind, brass, strings, bells, chimes, guitars and drums which, importantly, are real instruments, played by real people, creating textures and tones you can aurally hook onto, which excite the brain in a way which just doesn’t happen with glossy, perfect samples in my opinion.

To achieve this, Ryan called on many collaborators and friends to record parts including vocals from DM Stith, Katie Chastain (Faux Fix), wind and strings from the yMusic ensemble, and drummers Darren King (Mutemath) and Mckenzie Smith (Midlake).

But interestingly, Ryan has taken some of these instruments a step further, playing around with them, not in the digital domain but by getting the musicians to play in unusual ways –  highly trilled piccolo, horn stabs, cyclical passages of arpeggiated notes, choppy strings. The same with voices. Voices are recorded as instruments, they sound like trumpets, they wah, they are slowed down, speeded up. His vision drives these sounds into new spaces and shapes.

He then spins these elements into the fabric of the songs, sometimes in a way which puts me in mind of Michael Nyman or Philip Glass, with phrases repeating and building tension and emotion. What I find particularly interesting this time is that Ryan has really used vocals as much as other instruments to drive and thread the songs together.

Finally, Ryan’s wonderfully inventive construction of beats which hooked me into his first album, are present here underpinning and driving the whole thing forward.

Compared to his first album, “We Are Rising” doesn’t have the same feeling of following a single thread, with the songs as more distinct entities, but always with a tinge of melancholy and nostalgia.

The overwhelming feeling I have is that the album is composed, directed and constructed with a masterful vision, with all these seemingly disparate elements woven together to create a coherent yet incredibly inventive record.

Gable “Cute Horse Cut” and Tune-Yards “Whokill”

Two bands with two things in common.They both sport terrible mixed up capitals and lower case names – I thought this went out of fashion years ago – and they both have released wonderfully inventive new albums.

Gablé “Cute Horse Cut”

I’ve been into the LOAF label for some time, enjoying the poppy quirkiness of their artists. Well, one of their artists, Gablé is certainly no exception and their new album, “Cute Horse Cut” has recently arrived in the post. Their previous two albums “Seven Guitars With A Cloud Of Milk” and “I’m OK” etched themselves very vividly into my brain with their craziness.

They put together songs in a loose, ramshackle, almost scrapbook approach, with cut up samples and a multitude of instruments pasted together in a seemingly haphazard manner but one which results in extremely catchy songs. Ears are barraged with motorbikes, screaming, acoustic guitar, piano, cello, shouting, vacuum cleaners, electronic beats, brass and many home-made percussive noises.

The songs tell lovingly of subjects like fighting, killing, food, domestic violence with dark, disturbing lyrics but are delivered in such a whimsical, lighthearted voice that my ears are at odds with my brain.

Somehow the whole thing works brilliantly, despite being made up of such disparate elements, ending up as a collection of subversively fun and dark, collaged-together scenes – not wide vistas but untidy back gardens, chaotic bike rides through tiny villages, cats bringing animals into the house and chasing them around.

Tune-Yards “WHOKILL”

So, this is Merril Garbus’s second album as Tune-Yards. By the way, I refuse to write the name in the daft mixed case manner. Being aware of her African influenced vocal and beats style of her first album I was very interested to hear this new release.

My first impression of “WHOKILL” was of hip-hop style beats, jerky, stumbling, tripping forward with Merril’s distinctive vocals. But, I think it is fair to say, I very rapidly realised the massive creativity of the album was in the process of bearing down upon my ears – it was not an album I had to work at in the slightest but one which grabbed me instantly and just kept ramming the ideas down my canals until I was propelled along with the music .

The melodic bass, with voice echoing the rhythm in that African style gives it such a distinct feeling yet it is not this which makes the album such a stand-out piece of brilliance.

There is something else – the cut down, broken down sparseness of it all. The way the sounds move, instruments and voices passing one melody thread to another such that the fluidity of the song is unbroken, such that it flows along like a stream defining its own course as it goes.

It builds and skips as it goes, and I go tumbling along with it, the individual parts twisting and turning, flowing around multiple routes and catching up again giving a wonderful sense of the whole piece.

One of the best albums this year for me, I highly recommend it.

Colin Stetson “New History Warfare Vol.2: Judges”

Now I’ve seen and heard a few interesting saxophonists such as Peter Brötzmann and Matana Roberts but nothing like Colin Stetson has ever passed my ears or made such an impression.

How to describe this music of his second album “New History Warfare Vol.2: Judges”? Unearthly and incredibly gripping, it swirls about me and my head, invading my senses, driving deep into my consciousness.

Stetson presents an entirely new take on this instrument, building up layers of cyclical sounds, he repeats phrases whilst the emphasis changes all the while from thumping keys to eerie mechanical tones, fraying reedy textures to massively sonorous and intensely pure sounds. I understand the sounds are extracted from a multiple microphone recording technique – it’s extremely powerful, ripping through me in a surprisingly emotional manner.

You wouldn’t believe that a saxophone could sound like this – and there’s only one way to find out and I highly recommend you do so.

Mohave 3

This record is called ‘Spoon and Rafter’, it’s from 2003 and I am going to write about it because of the first song on it, which is called ‘Bluebird of Happiness’.

I can’t remember anything else about it because that song is so good it has purged me of all other memories.

I’ve just had to wash a strange patch of something off the record that was ruining side one.  I am meticulous with my records – I have absolutely no idea how it could have got there.

I’ve had an on/off interest with this band.  Their first record as Mohave 3 was wonderful – slow, warm, piano rich with male and female vocals.  Their following records didn’t really live up to my expectations, although I bought them all, of course.  Then I gave up on them completely, but not for long enough for them to release an album, so I ended up giving up on them inbetween albums and then buying their next album in a weak moment because I found it on vinyl.  What a weak-willed fool I am.

The twist was that the first song on that album is the one that has led me to dig it out and write this, eight years after its release.  All these words and not a single helpful one about the record.

Neil Halstead famously has a lovely voice, gentle and melodious.  The music here is thoughful and spacious:  brittle drums, soothing guitars, lazy bass, piano and keys with a sprinkling of guest instruments to add colour.  The female vocals are provided by Rachel something or other who is less in evidence here, but still enriches the whole package.

Despite its low key nature it is quite a characterful album, much more interesting and varied than their first one.  It is quite capable of invoking melancholy or of lifting one’s mood, depending on circumstances.  It’s sound reminds me of the side of Meddle by Pink Floyd with all the songs on.  I am really enjoying side two, it’s as if it is a new album.

It did turn out to be my last Mohave 3 album, I don’t clearly remember if they did any more, although I have vague recollections of trying not to buy another album buy them in Resident records in Brighton at some point in the past.