Dibder's 2010: Winter/Spring


25 mars 2010, 14h32m

Hello anyone and everyone; have been keeping my profile rather low lately, and I'd like to say it was through absolutely no fault of my own, but I did spend the first two months of the year re-rating my iTunes library. A brief absence of Internet at home put paid to my loggings-on also, and have made a point of listening to new music away from last.fm this year so as not to scrobble anything immediately without even a first impression. That and becoming more than a little obsessed with the likes of Being Human (best TV drama in recent memory... YES, INCLUDING DOCTOR WHO!), Glee (best TV comedy in recent memory... if it survives the Madonna episode AND the inevitable Glee-themed live episode of American Idol), the fabulous awesomeness that is Lacey Turner on Eastenders, iamamiwhoami's rather awesome virals (despite the initial disappointment, am slowly but surely getting over the fact that it actually isn't Christina Aguilera) and, rather tragically, by how so many young celebrities have shifted their mortal coils recently, notably (and rather more horribly) the passings of Alexander McQueen and Mark 'Sparklehorse' Linkous. R.I.P...

But I digress, of the albums I have listened to, some have indeed been very good, including a couple of contenders for my Top 10 at the end of the year. A special thanks to users Nialloleary and Babs_05 for keeping abreast of all of the new releases over the past three months, especially Babs for taking on my foolhardy method of intense journalising last year; be sure to check their journals out as, 1) they're more frequent and 2) they feature more music... ;^)

God, it feels like forever since I last did this sort of stuff, but here we go! Just as a brief disclaimer, rather than reviewing every album I hear every month, I am simply going to write quarterly entries every three months featuring my favorite music of said amont of time. Highlights of the said albums will be featured on a CD-shaped playlist that kicks the blog entry off, after which I'll have a few words to say thereafter. So, without further ado here is:

Dibder's Playlist For Winter/Spring 2010
01) Annie's Box by The Knife
02) The Journey by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
03) Schildergasse by Triola
04) Circling by Four Tet
05) A Nomad's Retreat by Pantha du Prince
06) Yun Yun Nan Nan by Sa Dingding
07) I Wanna Life by Goldfrapp
08) Alley Cats by Hot Chip
09) I Remember by Yeasayer
10) Giving up the Gun by Vampire Weekend
11) This Momentary by Delphic
12) White Flag (Feat. Bashy, Kano and The National Orchestra For Arabic Music) by Gorillaz
13) Focus by Nneka
14) New York Is Killing Me by Gil Scott-Heron
15) October by Broken Bells
16) In Another Time by Sade

• • • • •

Almost as a reference point, I shall start by noting the latest effort from a band that happens to feature the singer who created the Best Album Of 2009. Fans of media-unfriendly electronic duo The Knife will know and undoubtedly love them for their consistently creative curveballs, not to mention their positively oddball public appearances (I know it’s been floating around the web for sometime, but not even Lady Gaga would go this far…) Having said that Tomorrow, in a Year, the group’s collaboration with fellow pop-art enfant terribles Mt. Sims and Planningtorock, will befuddle pretty much anyone who listens to it, even possibly more so after digging a little deeper to find out what this mass of glitchy noise, screeching sound design and modern operatics could be all about (see here for more, but don’t try to pretend that you can decipher any specific correlation between the tome and this adaptation!)

Written for Kirsten Denholm’s Hotel Pro Forma performance art collective, there is very little here that distinguishes itself as part of The Knife’s particular oeuvre of nervy pop. However, this isn’t to say that Tomorrow isn’t anything less than a triumph for all involved; it’s the kind of music that infuriates, enthrals, leaves one agog with either adulatory wonder or furrowed bemusement, but never without more than a semblance of pure awe. Rest assured though that by the second half, the album begins to feel a little more, shall we say, Knife-y; particularly on the one-two of the charismatic world-pop percussion found on Colouring of Pigeons (a certain lock for Fever Ray fans as it also contains Karin’s only vocal performance) being followed by the minimal dance-beat thrust and steel-drum twinkle of Seeds. The Knife refuse to answer to anyone, and whilst Tomorrow may in the short term annoy more fans than it initially does beguile, there’s no arguing over it being recognised in the long term as an important stepping stone in the sibling duo’s discography. For more on the making of the album, including a twenty-one minute interview between all four key players, click here!

The Knife's Official Site: http://www.theknife.net/

• • • • •

When rock stars take it upon themselves to become film score composers, it’s always greeted with a modicum of interest from the music world, not least because they have often contributed some of the finer music scores of recent years but also because when these guys take the reins at composing, they more often than not forget to adopt certain guidelines that so-called ‘professional’ film score composers do. One such facet found on previous scores from the likes of Damon Albarn, Clint Mansell and especially regarding Cave and Ellis' spellbinding work for John Hillcoat’s The Road - Original Film Score (that's not the actual name of the rather brilliant film but I had to get the album tagged in here somehow!), is that they too often call attention to themselves as something to be heard in their own right rather than simply complementing the action onscreen. However, unlike say former Buggles member Hans Zimmer’s work for Jerry Bruckheimer which often ascends to such OTT heights as to warrant earplugs at the worst of times, Cave and Ellis have taken care to create something rather beautiful here that can be listened to on its own but stays just on the right side of honouring the compelling images it accompanies.

Based on Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel of the same name, The Road pits Viggo Mortensen and his pre-teen son against a present day apocalypse, travelling south to find better living conditions from the wintry weather whilst avoiding all manner of fearful characters along the way, including a particularly gruesome bunch of cannibalistic farmers. The film takes on a more realistic, less fantastic and ultimately grittier perspective than most other examples of its genre, enhanced in no small part by the elegantly stark accompanying music. Predominantly led by string and piano motifs, Cave and Ellis do well to obstruct orchestral bells and whistles from ever invading their soundscapes, singularly intensifying their focus on the bleak journey ahead of its two main characters and tackling whatever horrors they encounter head on, not without restraint but admirably never adhering to punching the buttons of forlorn schmaltz or “sturm und drang” obviousness (be they the yearning evoked on the ornate Memory and The Bath or the full-on assault of The Cannibals or The Cellar).

The Road film's Official Site: http://www.theroad-movie.com/

• • • • •

Next it's more electronic loveliness courtesy of über-hip minimal-techno dance label Kompakt; perhaps in reverence to the lo-fi delights to be enjoyed on Pop Ambient 2010 (and also most likely due to not being particularly bothered in re-typing the already-noted emergence of Kompakt from humble German techno label/production house into an internationally recognised quality brand), the gush will be kept to a paltry minimum here. I’ll just let it be said that for post-club/work/coital/slaughter chill-out soundtracks, this is what the year 2010 sounds like. Of the artists here, only Andrew Thomas has released anything new this year to look out for so far (and his exclusive track on this compilation Clouds Across Face is a notable highlight), but until then, just relax and unwind…

Kompakt Records Official Site: http://www.kompakt.fm/

• • • • •

Working within the realms of electronic music for the best part of twelve years, wherein he attracted a fair few high profile admirers (including Radiohead, who enlisted him to open for them on their 2003 tour, and David Arnold, with whom he worked on the score for the last Bond film, Quantum Of Solace) and helped the media coin the term “folktronica” in light of his sophomore release Pause, Kieran Hebden’s work has done well to stay relatively hidden for the past decade despite adulatory reviews and loud plaudits from web-based trendsetters. This is most likely due to Hebden’s endearing insistence to never remain in the same place; diverting further away from the lighter meter of his well-received earlier works (and no doubt partly inspired by the more urban soundscapes he contributed alongside Burial himself Will Bevan in the stunning two-punch combo of Moth and Wolf Cub), There Is Love in You sees Hebden get a little glitchier and embrace the mainstream that little bit more with his characteristically sweet, lo-fi club jams.

With regards to the album’s emotional meter and modus operandi, Hebden did well to release Love Cry as the lead off single back in November last year to give listeners an idea of where his sixth album would take them; pulsating with a strangely warm unease as the sampled vocals punctuate the slow build of beats and bass, it glides past with disarming loveliness, at times tempered by worldlier sentiments but still charmingly earnest in its good feeling. Further examples can be found on the even lovelier Circling and This Unfolds, especially the latter in its beginning with a simple drum beat before blossoming into one of the most ornately beautiful sequences of bell-like synths and programming to be heard recently. If there is a rub with Hebden’s work here, it could be that it straddles the lines between dance-lite electronica and ambient doodling a little too well, in that it at times takes a track longer than two-minutes to reveal itself as to what sort of lo-fi masterpiece it is. Even with the finest ambient masterworks you’re instantly taken to a new place with the first few moments, but Hebden’s work takes a little more time to settle into its groove than others. Once you find it though, or once it finds you, it will take more than a few listens for you to gorge yourself silly on soundscapes this beguiling.

Four Tet's Official Site: http://www.fourtet.net/

• • • • •

Acting almost as a counterpoint to Hebden’s city-fuelled piece, German techno DJ and producer Hendrik Weber for his third album (his first released via the perma-cool Rough Trade label) is said to have been inspired by nature itself, or rather the parts of nature inaudible to the human species that can dictate everything from fine weather to natural disasters; or as Weber has so coined with the title, the Black Noise. Riffing on the top of field recordings from the Swiss Alps with a few select special guests (among them Panda Bear himself Noah Lennox) as well as improvisational jams, Weber’s main brief regarding his third album’s raison d’être is one that lends the work a rustic, acoustic aesthetic, seemingly conjuring one of the most organic techno music releases in recent memory. Turning acoustic percussion jams into dance-friendly compositions via a febrile attention to detail with regards to mixing and sampling is a tricky negotiation; for making it sound for the most part effortless and at certain times beautiful though warrants more than a certain amount of praise.

Having courted more than his fair share of critical garlands since his debut release six years ago, Weber has made no secret about his affinity for alternative music beyond the conventional dance spectrum, specifically the reverb-drenched soulsearching propagated by the shoegaze movement. And though there are certain punchier affairs that you could possibly throw some shapes to on Black Noise (notably bang in the middle between highlight A Nomad's Retreat and Satellite Snyper), most of the album holds true, adhering as much to longing synth signatures as it does to a whole host of ambient noise effects to help shape the syncopated rhythms of the sampled acousticisms. Despite the fine work on display though, the album does have a few minor problems that prevent it from being an absolute success. The main one being it is too long, or rather a few of the tracks tend to indulge in their tripped-out gorgeousness quite a bit more than strictly necessary, making it a little harder to swallow than it ought to be. Whilst this mars the listening experience from being purely enjoyable somewhat, it shouldn’t take away from its finer moments, which are among the best to see release so far this year.

Pantha Du Prince's Official Site: http://www.panthaduprince.com/

• • • • •

The lovely Sa Dingding first came to prominence on the international music scene when her sophomore album, 2008’s Alive, managed to break through to the Western world and also helped her garner a BBC Radio World Music Award for her troubles. A thoroughly winning mix of various ancient Oriental dialects, traditional instrumentation and dance-pop style programming and beats, the success was more than well-deserved, at once heralding her culture but leaning towards a broader spectrum of music that wouldn’t restrict her listeners to her home country. One notable fan was super-producer Marius de Vries, who lends his peerless production smarts and credentials to this follow-up album Harmony, which could very well upset a few fans of her earlier work.

To say that Sa has taken a more Westernised approach for her third album is by no means an understatement (she even makes her English language debut with the mercurially barmy Lucky Day); De Vries’ customary spit-and-polish is all over this album, and from a dance-pop perspective, it works fabulously, particularly on the raucous noise of Xi Carnival and the simply wonderful Pomegranate Woman. As a result, some may yet accuse Sa of selling out, caving in to the glamour of Westernised culture and want for international superstardom at the cost of her roots. One cannot really dwell on such matters though given that, aside from the aforementioned song, Sa has retained her various native dialects throughout the album, not to mention the traditional Oriental arrangements and instrumentation particularly on the ballads, so any questions regarding legitimacy or integrity are pretty much confined to nitpicking. The one thing that may invite argument towards Sa’s Westernisation in her music is the fact that, regardless of the language barrier, there are too many resplendently beautiful pop moments on this album for the world to ignore…

Sa Dingding's MySpace Page: http://www.myspace.com/dingdingsa

• • • • •

It seems that with every release of a new album from electro-pop duo Goldfrapp, there is always an initial huff of disappointment; if Black Cherry was too radical a departure from Felt Mountain, then Supernature felt neutered in comparison to the former and Seventh Tree was simply too folky for fans of the disco cuts to stomach (even if it’s actually their best LP to date, natch). And so arrives Alison and Will’s fifth effort Head First, already lauded by some as a successful cross-breed between the third and forth CDs, and derided by others a tepid rehash of ‘80s-inspired pop that feels frustratingly safer than Supernature. One thing appears to be certain though; Felt Mountain fans are still going to be very pissed off!

After Seventh Tree’s bucolic loveliness, wherein Alison and Will actually composed songs with a greater degree of empathy and more heartfelt emotion than previously heard before, Head First sees them play the same idyllic psychedelia card but this time with a hand more informed by synths, keyboards and snazzy effects than guitar based folktronica. Now there’s no denying that Head is in fact Goldfrapp’s lesser album to date; the songs feel a little more anodyne, somewhat less special and there are fewer standout moments than on previous works. However, it won’t be until the joyous self-discovery found when I Wanna Life’s ascending chorus hits that you realise the trick Alison and Will have pulled off here; it’s an at-times perfect pop confection that’s gossamer light, unfettered by moodiness and as lovely as can be. Only the finale Voicething comes anywhere close (and not very) to emulating the envelope-pushing noiseniks that ingratiated themselves on to the UK pop music scene ten years ago, but then, we can’t surely expect Alison to be the sexually wanton, theremin-wielding slattern forever, can we? For those willing to leave thoughts on previous albums at the door, it’s still as good or better than most pop being released right now…

Goldfrapp's Official Site: http://www.goldfrapp.com/

• • • • •

There is something genuinely moving about bands like Hot Chip being as popular as they are. Revelling in a unique mixture of alternative dance music and past efforts in commercial house and rave culture that is then synthesised into such a singularly identifiable sound that is at once danceworthy, ruminative and informed by an at-times genius pop sensibility, their music is like how comfort food would be like if it was spiritually nourishing. You might not know where they’re taking you when you first hear their songs, but you instinctively know where you are when you listen to a Hot Chip album for the first time; warm, safe and ready to party. Just as well then that the emperors of geek chic continue their winning streak on album four, which leaves behind the ballad-led Made in the Dark to get back to the dancefloor in soulfully uptemo swoon mode.

The band have divulged in interviews that One Life Stand has benefited from the fact that founding members Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard had predominantly taken the reins with regards to the writing of the songs, with all of the band collectively jumping in thereafter to co-produce all of the work together. Not only has this resulted in some of the more affecting songs to appear in Hot Chip’s back catalogue with regards to some of the songs’ narrative focus (particularly on the hopeful finale Take It In and on the beautifully subtle Alley Cats, which Taylor has been quoted as saying is Goddard’s tribute to his late mother), but it has encouraged the production and arrangements surrounding them to embrace evermore inventive avenues. As ever some of the better compositions both harken back to dance movements of the past (bop-friendly opener Thieves in the Night has more than a few shades of early-‘90s rave about it) and humorously jibe at current trends (the latest single I Feel Better with it’s dramatic string-synth opening and almost-comically Autotuned vocals both slights and pays tribute to the current R&B pop sound). It’s a near-enough all around triumph for the band (only the semi-dithering ballad Slush attempts to put a dampener on proceedings, but not by very much), and surely their most accomplished LP to date.

Hot Chip's Official Site: http://hotchip.co.uk/

• • • • •

The warm avant-dance-pop marathon continues with this experimental rock trio from Brooklyn, following up the Middle Eastern ambience of their debut All Hour Cymbals with an album that, for lack of a better summing-up statement, is one of the finest straight-up pop releases of the year thus far. Mixing psychedelia, electro, rock and sporting some really quite beautiful pop hooks and choruses (I dare you not to sway on the lovelorn refrain swathed throughout standout track I Remember), there’s no reason why Yeasayer cannot follow the likes of MGMT and Animal Collective before them in staking their claims early as the trendy rock group of the moment, their work just as comfortably straddling the lines between so-called indie credibility and euphoric pop excellence with effortless ease.

If I was trying to be facile in trying to heap even more praise on the group’s sophomore effort using MGMT and Animal Collective as a reference point, I could go so far as to say it is the perfect counter balance of what both of those acts offered previously. Odd Blood isn’t as overtly pop-laden as Oracular Spectacular, nor does it positively ripple with as many psychedelic tropes as Merriweather Post Pavilion, rather it strikes the perfect balance between both of them, all the while plying a heavier accent on electro pop and dance music to present itself as its very own alt-pop gem. You have spacey balladry in the aforementioned I Remember, indie-rock based rabble on Rome, a classy on-the-pull anthem in Love Me Girl, token weird track for the loftier art-rock listeners on opener The Children; in short, rather awesomely, you kind of have everything, crystallised into a forty-minute-long rock pop marvel.

Yeasayer's Official Site: http://www.yeasayer.net/

• • • • •

Since their eponymous debut took over alternative radio stations around the world in 2008, it would appear that the Columbia University alumnus four-piece indie band have gone out of their way to prove just how diverse their musical fancies are. Lead singer Ezra Koenig did well to collaborate with the likes of Kid Cudi and The Very Best last year, as well as contribute to fellow member Rostam Batmanglij’s R&B blogpop project Discovery. Not a beat too soon though, the Weekend were soon back on everyone’s must hear list once their follow-up disc was announced for release just in time to bring in the New Year. And, whilst I realise I’m harping on about an album you’ve most probably already heard more than once over the past couple of months, the good news is that Contra is one of those sequels that betters the original in every possible way, bar that lovely falsetto trill on Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.

Weekend sound more confident here, still working their ornate world pop rock acoustics prevalent on their debut (single Horchata even sounding a little like the band’s own version of one of those “Previously On…” bulletins you find on American TV shows), but also finds them ready to evolve and ingratiate a little more of an agreeable party into the proceedings. Especially the album’s end exemplifies this with the one-two combo of current single Giving Up The Gun (which comes so very close to besting Kwassa as their best single yet, but is still pretty amazing) and the cheeky R&B influence of Diplomat's Son, only to give way to the plaintive break-up ballad I Think Ur a Contra. It’s a perfectly light diversion; justly deserved of the laurels it has received already and further cements the group’s reputation as one of indie pop’s most talented acts.

Vampire Weekend's Official Site: http://www.vampireweekend.com/

• • • • •

Well, so far for me, it’s one-and-a-half out of five on the BBC Sound Of 2010 checklist; having said that, this was the same hive of pop researchers who predicted that White Lies were going to be bigger than Lady GaGa in the UK last year, soooo… With regards to their top five artists though, I’ve yet to hear anything from Hurts (who’ve been courting some very encouraging hype) and The Drums, whilst head of the class Ellie Goulding disappointed (let’s just say that though they’d be ineligible to appear on the chart, album-wise Sa Dingding, Goldfrapp and somewhat surprisingly Gabriella Cilmi have released far superior work) and Marina and the Diamonds merely disarmed. Thankfully, third place victors Delphic have seen fit to deliver an engagingly great album of indie-dance-rock, justifying their recent sold-out live shows and considerable hype with a song selection that belittles the snooty New Order comparisons with just enough verve and disco-based virtuosity to be taken on its own terms. Which is saying a heck of a lot, especially for a debut album…

What impresses most about Acolyte is the band’s clear confidence in their efforts to take somewhat radical chances with the songs they’ve come up with, just as content to offer radio-friendly singles such as the recent This Momentary alongside behemoth dance-rock monsters such as the title track (another great thing about the album; it has the rare thing of actually naming itself after the best track on it). It must be said though that most of the standout moments belong to the slow-build reliant six-minute plus mini-epics, tinged with the kind of elated euphoria that could fill an entire stadium never mind a busy nightclub, notable instances of this vein including Red Lights and the finale Remain. To sum up, it’s the first debut album of the year to take genuine note of, provided that the Mancunian trio are able to follow through on the immense promise they’ve conjured based on this release.

Delphic's Official Site: http://delphic.cc/

• • • • •

The side-project that simply refuses to die, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s virtual band return with the most deranged party album of the year thus far with the trouble-making Murdoc seemingly back at the helm and steering us pitiful humans towards the beauteous Plastic Beach, described as the ultimate holiday resort located secretly amidst the bounteous blue of the Pacific. For those not so willing to invest in Murdoc, 2D, Noodle and Russel as real-life personalities though, this is actually Albarn operating under the ethos of making the most “pop” album he’s ever done, though not without its fair share of “depth”. Somewhat snooty admissions of pop music’s shallow nature aside, Albarn has sought to do this by employing a consistently impressive roster of collaborators both established (Lou Reed, The Fall's Mark E. Smith, Snoop Dogg) and up-and-coming (Little Dragon, Bashy), as well as classical orchestras from all over the world to contribute, no doubt influenced by his previous work with Mali Music and Chen Shi-zheng on Monkey's Journey To The West.

If the first album was Albarn tentatively making his first foray into the world or reggae, hip hop and ska, and the follow-up Demon Days was a darker, almost spiteful reaction to the Gorillaz’s initial success (which is made ironic by the fact that it’s almost outsold the first effort worldwide by two-to-one), Plastic Beach throws every conceivable spanner into the works to make sure there is nothing but a raucous good time to be had throughout. Beautifully sensitive moments can be found on the gorgeous Empire Ants (feat. Little Dragon) and future single On Melancholy Hill, but this will most likely be remembered both for the return of Bobby Womack (featured on lead single Stylo (feat. Bobby Womack and Mos Def) and the penultimate Cloud of Unknowing (Feat. Bobby Womack and sinfonia ViVA) on wonderfully howling form), as well as the likes of Snoop Dogg, Kano and Mos Def battling for space alongside Mark E. Smith and members of The Clash on such a wonderfully weird explosion of an album. Let’s just hope that when Murdoc and company crash and burn back down to Earth for the next album, they’re still in a good mood (or not)…

Gorillaz's Official Site: http://gorillaz.com/

• • • • •

Courting attention in 2003 after opening for Sean Paul in Hamburg, Nigerian singer/rapper Nneka Egbuna has been enjoying a steady stream of under-the-radar success ever since, releasing two albums in Europe to considerable acclaim and even earning a Top 20 single on the UK Singles Chart with her song Heartbeat. Now seemingly ready to ingratiate herself into the US market, she has drawn highlights from her two previous efforts for her first long-player release in that territory, Concrete Jungle and if there was any justice in the music world (don’t laugh!), her heartening mix of hip hop, soul and smart lyrics concerning capitalism, war and domestic violence ought to find an audience. It should be noted that the songs culled from her second album No Longer At Ease perhaps sound a little more fluid and coherent than those from debut Victim Of Truth (certainly true of standouts Come With Me and Focus), but you wouldn’t honestly think that this CD was actually consisted of work from two different LPs, so consistent is Nneka’s musicality, quality and singularity of vision in her work.

Nneka's Official Site: http://www.nnekaworld.com/uk/home

• • • • •

Arriving amidst some of the most deafening fanfare to be contributed by critics so far this year (most noted and quoted being The Guardian’s Jude Rogers proclamation of the album being one of the best of “the next decade”), Gil Scott-Heron’s first solo-fronted studio album in sixteen years is one of the very few event records of the year that can actually lay claim to being just that. Produced by XL Recordings founder Richard Russell, it details booze-soaked, cigarette-stained confessionals from the 60-year-old “Godfather of Rap”, and is at times rather uncomfortable to listen to if only for the tremulous, woozy delivery of Scott-Heron, never mind what he’s actually singing or the ominous backing tracks that he and Russell have come up with, which detour from string-complemented samples, to rhythmic gospel claps, to stripped-bare acoustic guitars. It essentially sounds like a hip hop alternative to what the latest Johnny Cash album should have sounded like if it wasn’t just a collection of songs collated from sessions from five years ago.

The only major grind against I'm New Here though is the spareness of the running time. Stolen moments such as Where Did the Night Go and Your Soul and Mine could easily have been opened up into more sprawling, epic pieces of profound neuroses certainly and the interludes really can’t be called as such given that neither lasts as long as twenty seconds. One gets the impression though that Scott-Heron and Russell wouldn’t have compromised anything about the final product that they have made together, nor can anyone argue that this isn’t the most authentically felt recording by a singer so far this year. The sheer gravitas felt on single Me and the Devil and the moving tributes to his grandmother that bookend the half-hour long set do well to try and deter any misgivings the rest of the album may have, and Russell’s stirring production never falters once throughout.

Gil Scott-Heron's Official Site: http://gilscottheron.net/

• • • • •

As if being a hotly sought-after and respected producer wasn’t enough, Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton has done well to boost his indie-cred with founding various side-projects that have added a multitude of impressive strings to his bow. Since the well-received The Beatles/Jay-Z mash-up and the paranoid frenzy of hip hop funk he’s concocted with Cee-Lo as Gnarls Barkley brought him to worldwide attention, he’s produced albums for The Shortwave Set and Martina Topley-Bird, and most notably collaborated with Mark Linkous on the head-scratchingly brilliant Dark Night Of The Soul project. Now, he’s co-founded Broken Bells with one of the latter album’s featured guests, The Shins frontman James Mercer, and helped to create a psychedelic folk-pop group with elements of the electro-funk customary with his prior dealings with Cee-Lo; and on the whole, it’s every bit as impressive as those credentials have promised.

Apparently meeting at a festival a few years ago after being long-time fans of one another, Burton and Mercer’s other commitments have previously kept them apart until now, which is a shame, if only because the evident chemistry between Mercer’s voice and Burton’s typically-peerless production is something the music world could have done with some time ago. And though Burton deserves more than his fair share of credit when it comes to the quality with which these songs are produced and arranged (the liner notes reveal he is behind most of the instrumentation), Mercer deserves praise also for turning in a consistently handsome performance throughout, ducking and diving between the R&B funk-lite of The Ghost Inside and the organ-fuelled alt-rock shadings of October (and everywhere else in between) with almost-enviable ease. It’s a pairing that may seem unlikely on paper (though given Burton’s track record, that seems to be the only way he in particular works), but has heralded one of the loveliest surprises this year, and certainly sure to gain more exposure on their festival run.

Broken Bells' Official Site: http://www.brokenbells.com/

• • • • •

Seemingly content to simply release one album per decade now since 1992’s Love Deluxe now that namesake lead singer Sade Adu appears to have left all pretense of her professional retirement behind her, the release of new material from English R&B group Sade always seems to be met with a tidal wave of rapt expectation and adulation (Maxwell and Kanye West being key prognosticators of it this time around). Ten years after their last effort Lovers Rock, Soldier of Love provides further proof if it were needed of the band’s reputation as one of the superior R&B collectives the music world has to offer. Much like the release of Maxwell’s long-awaited BLACKsummers'night last year, the reaction has been overwhelming, selling half a million copies in its first week in the US alone; and for once, the hype and reaction go hand in hand in being richly deserved.

The success can be (albeit rather cynically) attributed to the album’s inviting moodiness and beautifully arranged ruminations of loss and heartache, the kind of comfort soul food that manipulatively taps into listeners’ own hurt feelings. Yet the sheer class with which the group conveys each and every emotion behind the songs on offer here, particularly with Adu’s still-beautifully tremulous vocals, doesn’t feel like they’re cheating the listener’s emotions at all. True, Sade are still at their finest with their mournful ballads (particular classics-in-waiting her being Be That Easy and the gorgeous In Another Time), but the album does take care to still sound relevant to today’s sounds on the punchier efforts, most notably on the marching beats found on the title track, the smooth sultriness of Skin and the album’s most joyous moment, Babyfather, which helps to mix in a charming childrens choir amidst some light reggae influence. It’s the lasting gracenote of a great band when they don’t sound out of sync with the rest of the world but still retain their identity nearly thirty years down the line, and with this album, Sade have proved it for all to hear.

Sade's Official Site: http://www.sade.com/gb/home/

• • • • •

So that's the long (and long, and longer still) and short of my first three months of 2010. I feel I should include a few special mentions of albums that were otherwise very good, but couldn't quite make it onto the shortlist above:

These Hopeful Machines by BT
Ultra-commercial dance rock; urge to dance is impossible to resist...
Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You by Lightspeed Champion
Troubadour-style indie-rock from put-upon songsmith...
End Times by EELS
Elegaic folk-rock from America's moodiest beardyman...
IRM by Charlotte Gainsbourg
Gorgeous French actress makes gorgeous album with Beck...
Ten by Gabriella Cilmi
About three times as good as her debut; at-times peerless pop perfection...
Heligoland by Massive Attack
Moody alt-pop; far from their greatest, but still very, very good...
The Monitor by Titus Andronicus
Ambitious scuzzy guitar pop; impossible to dislike...
Fang Island by Fang Island
Less ambitious scuzzy guitar pop; still impossible to dislike...

• • • • •

And with that, I'll see you in June, bitches!!! Have a fantastic summer! xxx


  • Orange_Anubis

    I like those Sade, Gil Scott-Heron, Yeasayer and Gorillaz albums a lot too (are you still writing in a rough ascending order of preference?) but I couldn't recommend Broken Bells to anybody with a clear conscience and Nneka was too dry and worthy for me. Hot Chip's and Vampire Weekend's new albums were another couple of disappointing ones I reckoned, very dreary and unmemorable, especially considering how good they've both been in the past. Have you not heard Corinne Bailey Rae's? I don't see her in your stats, but now that you've revealed you're listening to music secretively and not scrobbling it, it's hard to tell whether to recommend you something or whether you just don't like it. :-(

    25 mars 2010, 17h25m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    Hey, B! Just so you know, the track order isn't according to ascending/descending order of preference; just a vain effort to try and get all of the songs to fit together seamlessly... I feel I've succeeded but others may not think so! Odd how we feel entirely differently about Chip and Weekend; I'd definitely put my hand on heart saying I like their new ones better than their previous albums as albums, though they've had better stand alone moments on previous work. As for Corinne, I have heard it and was quite taken by it, but not so much as to warrant its inclusion here; if Babs is asking me to relisten to Heligoland, I'll be sure to give The Sea another one too... So no sad typefaces just yet, OK? ;^)

    25 mars 2010, 17h43m
  • Orange_Anubis

    Hell yeah, I definitely recommend giving The Sea another go. It's a big, sad, passionate album; powerful but delicately judged too. I was sure you'd like it, with you being into that whole Lizz Wright scene and all :)

    25 mars 2010, 18h40m
  • Babs_05

    Minor correction - Massive Attack are trip-hop. I'm one of [i]those[/i] fans. ; ) Great journal, thanks for this, and thanks also for the mention. You're right - writing monthly journals of albums I've heard is exhausting. I see why you're not doing it this year, though I miss them greatly. I'm not even putting as much effort into mine as you did, I'm just writing brief notes, but still, it's the listening, then interpreting that and describing. Hard work! I agree with Bertie, The Sea is a great album, very subtle though, probably best left for a quiet Sunday afternoon or late at night before you turn in, for it to reveal itself. It will be lost in everyday noise otherwise. I must recommend Gonjasufi - A Sufi and a Killer. It's proper blow your mind stuff. Where's Laura Marling?!

    25 mars 2010, 19h28m
  • brennivin85

    your one-liners were more to the point than all that waffle at the start.

    25 mars 2010, 21h12m
  • brennivin85

    oh and you sir are no prognosticator!

    25 mars 2010, 21h12m
  • brennivin85

    and stop stealing music, the industry stands to lose 10,000 jobs over thenext 5 years because of piracy and illegal downloading.

    25 mars 2010, 21h13m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    Hey, Babs! I know Attack are infamous for their birthing of trip-hop, but I didn't find anything particularly 'trippy' about their latest, sorry! Did spot Gonjasufi soaking up praise on your blogs so will make a point of listening to that at some point... And maybe Laura Marling too; but let's just say if you're allowed to hate Frankmusik, I'm allowed to rag on Marling! And brennivin85; glad you stuck with it until you found the easy-to-read notes at the end (did you spot your mate in there?) The general tone of all of my entries isn't to try and make myself sound like a snobby tastemaker though; so even if I use terms like 'prognosticator', it's meant to be conveyed with tongue firmly rooted in cheek... And a whole bustling, healthy industry is to lose 10,000 jobs over five years? Gosh, that turnover is shocking! And this is after they revealed a sales-dip in albums of 0.8% between 2008 and 2009?? And this was in Music Week, the publication whom record companies actually pay so that their press offices can write stuff in there??? The same Music Week who told you Lindsay Lohan's third album was actually going to get released?!?!? Sheesh... I'd better get my shit together! Sort of makes you wish the Internet never happened!! But before we descend into caricatures of Perez Hilton and Lily Allen, know that I love you... ;^)

    26 mars 2010, 11h37m
  • brennivin85

    Cvalda, you seriously can't stick your head in the sand and ignore the fact that stealing music is indeed having a terrible effect on the music industry. Also, I stand by Music Week as an industry standard magazine that reports facts and figures. Perhaps if you bothered to read it you would know something about that. Attacking the messenger doesn't change the fact that when it comes to job cuts, yours is at the top. There's nothing to justify the rate at which you steal music. Does music have any value to you at all? what is the point of this journal anyway, Is it to inform people what they should or shouldn't bother downloading for free? I really don't see what makes you above paying for music, is it just pure greed? You don't even have to PAY for music anymore, with all the ad-based streaming services around...

    26 mars 2010, 18h22m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    I understand that Music Week does hold sway in the music business (and I have read it from time to time on my lunch breaks as we get weekly subscription for it); plus, unless I turn up to work with a crack pipe hanging out of my mouth or something, I'm pretty sure that my job is secure. I just wanted to point out that the music industry is far from being in tatters; record companies just need to invest in better technologies, artist deals and evolve beyond simple unit shifts of albums. Live performances and tours from their acts help this... Music does need investing in though, and I do my share, thank you very much. If music didn't matter to me, why would I write this journal? I know and appreciate that there are lots of streaming sites around, and I do stream, before you start slinging your hooks and back me into a corner. I write the journal out of fun for myself and ask people to listen to stuff and discuss; how they obtain it is their business. I can't quite believe you would be so rude and publicly sling mud at me in this way, if I'm honest... Who's to say I haven't streamed these? Who's to say I haven't actually bought some of these albums?? I understand how passionate you are about music, but seriously, you are being unbelievably hostile now. If you want to discuss the music I've mentioned in this article, or recommend other albums I should *listen* to, fine. Otherwise, don't bother.

    26 mars 2010, 19h03m
  • brennivin85

    Your job is far from secure when there's no money in the machine, you think they'll axe the fat cats first? and they have invested in better technologies, unless you mean better technologies that make it easier for you to steal music. The sad fact is, unit shifts DO matter, an album costs money to make and promote, how does stealing that album and reviewing it help the artist recover their costs so that maybe, they can go on tour? And lets put aside the pretense that you stream or buy music, I do know you better than that. You may blame the way labels count on sales figures, but what's the consolation or compensation for the artist who's been dropped because of it? You can tell them "I love your music and I'm so sorry you got dropped, by the way I didn't buy your album, but you're better off without them anyway, go work in a chippy 7 days a week to save money and release the album yourself, then I'll download it again, because frankly, I think music is worthless... I do love your new album though..."

    26 mars 2010, 19h41m
  • Nialloleary

    Hey George-Thank you for the props-excellent thorough journal as always. Really you have pinpointed my favorite albums of the year. However from your write up-I'm tempted to try The Knife-(as you know I'm not a huge fan.) Four Tet has just been replaced by Scuba as my album of the year(but that depends on where you stand)-also I'd elevate Heligoland to your premier league albums-but that's just a quibble. I think the amazing thing is Hot Chip/Yeasayer/Vampire Weekend/Gorillaz/Pantha Du Prince have all made albums that take things forward.

    26 mars 2010, 19h53m
  • brennivin85

    Oh I forgot to mention... I used to eat extremely sour yoghurts!

    26 mars 2010, 21h06m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    Well brennivin85, given how frequently you turn up to company meetings and such, I'm quite shocked how misinformed you are with regards to the state of my work's finances! I can honestly say that any company in trouble wouldn't employ three new members of staff if it was falling on tough times or bracing itself for a bumpy future... Also, I should say that, above all costs, they always make sure that the artist is paid for every appearance/concert/tour that they endeavor to do; some of the most successful artists on our roster are completely independent, absent of label interference. Record labels need to realize that they are not the full stop on an artist's success and stop bullying artists into paying their way for them... And, hey Niall! PLEASE give The Knife another chance; it's just so above any other album this year with regards to musical ideologies, presentation and sheer nerve! Keep up the good journalizing!

    26 mars 2010, 22h53m
  • brennivin85

    name names, I wanna know which of these most succesful artists are free of any labels. So by stealing artists music you're really teaching the labels a lesson then? You've completely failed to answer any of my questions, how can you justify stealing this much music and give nothing back? (what was your fair share?) I used to eat extremely sour yoghurts, and you could tell by my face that I wasn't enjoying it at all!

    27 mars 2010, 1h17m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    And so now it has devolved into a personal attack on me, again... Firstly, if you did *your* research (as in finding out facts other than what Music Week are spoon-feeding you), you would know who these artists are. I'm not going to bother rattling off names because it is inconsequential... If I've failed to answer any of your questions (which if I'm honest, I more than have!) then it's your own fault for dragging all of this out! I am simply hurt because you are my friend and you have publicly tried to humiliate me. But thank you for breaking my "Journal Comments" record!

    27 mars 2010, 2h43m
  • brennivin85

    You said there are succesful acts without label interference, so prove it. And music week does spoon feed me facts, do you think i'm better off copy-pasting wikipedia? You still haven't answered the question: how do you justify stealing this much music?

    27 mars 2010, 11h18m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    Fine, you win! You have cottoned on to my nefarious plans to rid the world of music as an art-form and influence lowly drones who think their opinions actually matter when they should just live as Wiki-sponsored automatons for the sake of bringing my evil schemes to fruition. It's people of such balanced integrity and sturdy moral compasses like you who are going to save the record labels from themselves and make people see the light... But seriously, to answer your initial question in more explicit terms, with music so readily available for people to hear online or on the radio as you say, is your quest for so-called justification necessary? As for artists who are successful without label interference, Dizzee had his most successful year so far in 2009 and that was all on his own Dirty Stank arm followed by a sell-out tour; Basement Jaxx were able to sell-out the O2 Arena last year despite only one out of five of their studio albums going platinum, prompting them to say in interviews that they are starting their own label as they make more money through touring and DJ-ing anyway; The Knife/Fever Ray have self-released all of their work via Rabid Records and are so in demand that they're one of the headliners playing Coachella this year; M.I.A. has founded Neet Records, which released one of the biggest-selling soundtracks of last year in Slumdog Millionaire, a labor of love as that film was going to be relegated to straight-to-DVD status and a soundtrack release would have been too costly if both the film and the music weren't so bloody awesome; Ingrid Michaelson is one of the most successful independent artists in the world because she self-produces and releases her own work (over a million copies sold in the US), and her tour ethic is particularly strong (you probably haven't heard of her, but she sold out The Scala last time she was over in London)... Sometimes talent and ingenuity do win out, you know? I honestly think that some artists are too reliant on labels to put two-and-two together to get their music out there.

    27 mars 2010, 15h15m
  • brennivin85

    All the artists you mention started with a lot of label help to establish themselves before going independant darling, and Ingrid as you say sold over a million copies in the US, as opposed to letting a million people download her work gratis. And it does need justification, radio is funded by advertisement or liscence fee, my quest is to stop people like you shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to artists they like. If all the Fever Ray fans, or Dizee fans or whoever chose to download their works for free, would they even have the opportunities they have now? I think you're too used to getting music for free, that you've no regards for the people who make it, let alone for the people who pay for it.

    27 mars 2010, 19h39m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    You know, you actually don't listen to me at all or you've forgotten a lot of the stuff I've told you in the past... I have bought albums, I have bought tickets to see people live (you were at one of them recently!), I have contributed to this so-called ailing music industry. So your accusing me of not doing so is misinformed in the harshest degree... It's not a question of knowing me better, it's a question of listening to what another person has to say. Sadly, you seem quite incapable of this and have taken it upon yourself to try and shoot me down as it were, rather than stop me from shooting myself in the foot... It's quite clear that you are not interested in what I have to say and will only hear what you want to hear; nevermind that the web is actually giving listeners all over the world better opportunities to listen to music they normally wouldn't be able to listen to unless they pay extortionate amounts of money on import, be it via streaming or downloading. And to tell someone who actually works in the music industry that they don't care about the artists who make it is actually grossly offensive... My point in the earlier comment, by the way, was that these artists have taken it upon themselves and earned revenue outside of the label system and, in particular with Dizzee, Ingrid and Fever, it's because of their hardworking tour schedule more than anything. But I guess you have your mind made up as to what I have to say...

    27 mars 2010, 20h40m
  • brennivin85

    And yet, with all these points you STILL think it's ok to download 50 albums for free in the space of 3 months? And as someone who works in the music industry you should know better, I'm embarrased for you. Extortionate imports? please! don't even make me laugh at that. You act like I'm against the web, when in fact I'm against stealing music. The web has given you an opportunity to support your artists by buying their music in MP3 from iTunes, We7, Napster, HMV, Amazon, but I don't see you taking advantage of that side, which is the whole friggin argument. That last gig, H-Boogie right? I don't wanna sling shit at you on a personal level, so I'll just say that we all know how you felt about paying for that gig.

    27 mars 2010, 21h55m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    Just because you don't see me, doesn't mean I'm not taking advantage of all you've just written about... and the H-Boogie gig, I was bummed because you told me we were meeting at a pub, not going to a gig; I was initially annoyed that I wasn't told what was happening and being shown up for a fool at the door, but I ultimately was NOT annoyed at having to pay, thanks. As I say, you've clearly made your mind up and won't even entertain the fact that you may have me wrong on more than a few things...

    27 mars 2010, 22h18m
  • Orange_Anubis

    Hey it was me that sent you the arrangements for that night, not Aria. I know the details were sketchy and I'm sorry, I hadn't realised it was such an issue, I thought it was just something we had a bit of a laugh about at the time.

    27 mars 2010, 23h52m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    B, as I said, initially, for about a minute really, I was annoyed only because I didn't realize I had to pay and two of the snooty organizers showed me up at the door about it, I know it wasn't either of you guys' fault; A and I have just blown this out of proportion on here and it's not worth arguing about...

    28 mars 2010, 13h50m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    You're welcome, Tom! Had to grab Sa's latest, thanks to your plugging Alive two years ago to me... Has it really been that long?? Gabriella's is indeed worth checking out though; she suits the electro-pop sound extremely well.

    1 avr. 2010, 9h34m
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