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  • Favourite Tunes of 2014 (January 2015)

    9 jan. 2015, 0h32m

  • Favourite Albums of 2012 (January 2013)

    2 jan. 2013, 20h52m

    It's been a great year for music - and the best stuff is as diverse as ever. There have been comebacks (Orbital and Saint Etienne), epics (Swans - The Seer and Chromatics - Kill for Love), very good albums from genres I don't usually listen to, such as hip hop (Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city) and R&B (Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE and How to Dress Well - Total Loss), plenty of 80s and 90s-influenced sounds (Chromatics - Kill for Love, Wild Nothing - Nocturne, DIIV - Oshin and School of Seven Bells - Ghostory), excellent singer-songwriter albums (Sharon Van Etten - Tramp and Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do) and some truly ground-breaking electronic music (Burial - Kindred, TNGHT - TNGHT and Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes).

    My top 30 is perhaps more varied than in previous years. That could be due to my tastes changing or simply the quality of crossover albums. It's been a lot of fun listening to all of the different sounds and very difficult trying to rank them when there are so few common reference points.

    Having said all of that, I still don't think that 2012 has produced a classic album. There are far more albums that are closer to that standard than there were in 2011 but I'm still to hear anything that matches Fever Ray - Fever Ray from 2009 or Beach House - Teen Dream from 2010. Maybe it's difficult to appreciate the classics in the year they are released; maybe I'm difficult to please.

    So, overall, a great year for music without a clear front-runner. And that's better than a poor year with a classic album, in my book.


    30. Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It
    29. Actress - R.I.P.
    28. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
    27. Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes
    26. How to Dress Well - Total Loss
    25. Liars - WIXIW
    24. School of Seven Bells - Ghostory
    23. DIIV - Oshin
    22. VCMG - SSSS
    21. Swans - The Seer

    20. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (III)
    Crystal Castles have come a long way since their debut. Crystal Castles (III) is generally more melodic and easier on the ear than previous albums and the shouting and 8-bit effects are largely relegated to a single track. The beats are better too; Affection actually sounds like a Clams Casino collaboration. Whilst most of the good tracks (like Kerosene and Transgender) are a logical extension to what has gone before, the closing track, Child I Will Hurt You, is quite a departure – almost hymn-like in its serenity and featuring some lovely, twinkling electronics.

    19. Memory Tapes - Grace/Confusion
    Dayve Hawk wants you to ignore his third album. First off, he releases it in the first week of December, exactly when every music journalist is poring over his or her end of year lists. Secondly, his last album, Player Piano, was so limp that most people were quite happy to label Memory Tapes as chillwave garbage. Thirdly, he’s called Dayve. D-a-y-v-e. All of this adds up to one of the most underrated albums of the year. Whilst Grace/Confusion doesn’t quite scale the dizzy heights of 2009’s Seek Magic, it’s clear that Hawk has ditched the song-based, retro sounds of his second album for a return to the more progressive structures and blissful electronics of his debut. At its best, Grace/Confusion invokes New Order and, oddly, even Boards of Canada (for the first couple of minutes of Safety). Thru The Fields is punchy and the closer, Follow Me, is rich, melodic and wistful. I still believe that Memory Tapes has another album in him to match Seek Magic; I just think that he may have to stop trying so hard and he will make it.

    18. John Talabot - ƒin
    ƒin is a slow-burner, full of seductive Balearic house. Maybe Talabot's secret is that he's consistently good at what he does and understands subtlety. The first two tracks are excellent: Depak Ine has a lovely, dark, tropical build to it and Destiny is perfect vocal house. Although nothing that follows is astonishing, there's lots of flowing excellence, with a run of 6 tracks in the middle of the album that work beautifully, from Journeys (featuring fellow Spaniard and Delorean vocalist Ekhi Lopetegi) to H.O.R.S.E.

    17. Julia Holter - Ekstasis
    Ekstasis is one of the biggest growers of the year, for me. I was rather sidetracked by picking it up at the same time as Laurel Halo’s Quarantine, whose odd sounds I became obsessed with – and I lazily labelled Ekstasis as odd too. It was only when I came back to it in the autumn that I realised how beautiful and well-constructed Ekstasis is. There’s something about Holter’s staccato delivery and delicate electronic music that sounds both Germanic and magical – like Christmas or crisp, frosty mornings, such as the beautiful, wide-eyed little solo on Moni Mon Amie. Boy in the Moon is a long vocal-led ambient piece the builds slowly over its first half until Holter intones, “this plane is taking off” and the music itself lifts and swells, then hangs for a few moments above the clouds; the mastery of emotional tension and release in the music is reminiscent of both Kate Bush and Brian Eno. The highlight is also the most traditional song, in terms of structure, anyway: Goddess Eyes II includes the sad refrain, “I can see you but my eyes are not allowed to cry” and builds to a wonderful crescendo, with Holter whooping over the chorus, before the layers strip away.

    16. Grimes - Visions
    Visions is both another step-up for Claire Boucher and a slight disappointment. I think that she is one of most original artists out there at the moment, with a huge amount of creativity and ambition. In 2011, she was responsible for one of the tunes of the year in Vanessa; here, she goes one better with both Oblivion and Genesis. She’s only 23 and Visions is self-produced. All of these things are great signs, but she isn’t a great artist yet: there’s just a slight lack of consistency across these 13 tunes. Most of the tunes have strong melodies and hooks but feel a little bit truncated or under-produced, rendering Visions more of a sketch-book of ideas than a finished article. I believe that the next album will be great; this one is merely very good.

    15. Motion Sickness of Time Travel - Motion Sickness of Time Travel
    Motion Sickness of Time Travel is ambient artist Rachel Evans, who has been prolific in the four years she has been been making music, with approximately 20 releases to her name. Her self-titled album is an ambient feast, 90 minutes long with each of the four long tracks comprising multiple parts. There are no beats whatsoever but, instead, a collection of richly melodic drones, chimes, synth lines, and, occasionally, Evans’ ethereal vocals. The sound is almost always organic and the music on Motion Sickness of Time Travel feels very human – and very feminine. The highlight is The Center, which includes a first section underpinned by a Spiritualized-style organ sound and featuring a first section full of (relatively) wild dancing synth-lines, whoops and clicks – and then gives way to the main section, based around a warm synth buzz that is almost womb-like in its enveloping calm, gradually joined by Evan’s layered, abstract vocals. At its worst, Motion Sickness of Time Travel sounds like it is straying close to new age music, but even this is tasteful, and always progressive.

    14. iamamiwhoami - kin
    Apparently there was a viral marketing campaign involving frequent YouTube video postings a couple of years ago, but I missed that; I only found out about iamamiwhoami after kin dropped in the summer. iamamiwhoami are Swedes Jonna Lee and Claes Björklund and they come off sounding like an exact hybrid of The Knife and Royksöpp. I assure you, that’s not a lazy comparison based on their Scandinavian roots, and it’s also a complement – the quality control is extremely high, here. in due order is combative, with a buzzing bassline and rolling rhythm, Lee’s steely voice laying down the gauntlet with, “we don't ask for anything”; the key change half-way through the track is stunning, too. rascal is delicate, with a soaring chorus and the closer, goods, actually sounds a bit disco, showing some great variety. The production sounds a little muddy but that’s a small quibble.

    13. Matthew Dear - Beams
    Beams is more song-based than Black City, slightly closer to the Brian Eno, David Byrne and David Bowie influences and more distanced from Dear’s techno roots, yet no less danceable. In fact, Matthew Dear packs so many knowing little hooks and tricks into his tracks – especially the sounds and samples in his rhythms – that it’s difficult to keep still when this is on. Her Fantasy is a case in point: clicks, whistles, whoops and a looped sample, buried deep and underpinning a sweet four-chord intro, before the bass drops and Dear’s American drawl welcomes us to the show. He’s in a slightly more relaxed, and contented mood than he was on his last album, typified by easy swagger of Do the Right Thing and the calming closer, Temptation, on which he sings of epiphany: “I held out for time that I knew was right. I knelt down in the temple and a voice spoke loud of all things passed. I knew everything for the first time.”

    12. TNGHT - TNGHT
    This debut EP from TNGHT, a collaboration between Hudson Mohawke and Lunice, is some of the craziest, most catchy, most infectious dance music you are ever likely to hear. The 5 tracks, covering 16 minutes, include enough hooks for an album and, in Higher Ground and Goooo, 2 utterly brilliant earworms that lodge themselves after about 5 listens and won’t let go. I had never previously heard any Lunice and my only exposure to Hudson Mohawke was 2009’s album, Butter. There’s far more focus and dancefloor-savvy on TNGHT than Butter and, frankly, the quality control is floors higher. I really hope that these two produce an album together in 2013.

    11. Bat for Lashes - The Haunted Man
    With The Haunted Man, Natasha Khan has consolidated the position she established for herself with Two Suns. She seems to get a lot of criticism for not being Kate Bush but the comparison is slightly lazy – just because both are independently-minded British female singer-songwriters who dabble in the mystical, it doesn’t make them peers. Khan has actually dropped a lot of the mystical elements of her previous album for The Haunted Man. Instead, we get raw emotion, earnestness and a lot of strong, focused songwriting – heralded by her exclamation, “thank God I’m alive” on the opener, Lilies. The muted funk of All Your Gold owes a lot to a Gotye – but its chorus really flies and the subtle strings and electronics that develop throughout the tune’s second half are exquisite. Laura is stunning – my tune of the year. It’s a deeply affecting piano ballad whose meaning is slightly obscure. One the one hand, it is clearly a tribute, a love song even, to the title character. On another, the Laura character seems to be an ageing star, unable to let go of her vibrant youth (or perhaps her showbusiness life). I’ve read an interesting interpretation that this is about Nell (Laura) Campbell, who played Columbia in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The other major highlight on the album is Winter Fields, which evokes imagery of the British countryside and, like the best songs on this album, has a strong emotional core to it.

    10. Hot Chip - In Our Heads
    This could possibly be Hot Chip's best album, topping even The Warning. I've realised that I much prefer Hot Chip when they have one eye on the dancefloor, rather than when they churn out the ballads. The balance betwen the two is, of course, the hallmark of any decent (and traditional) pop act, and Hot Chip are well-established now. So much so that they're skilled enough to mimic both Blur (Look At Where We Are) and Paul McCartney (Always Been Your Love) when they want to. What I really like about In Our Heads is that on top of a salvo of strong opening tracks (just as on previous albums), there are some brilliant, longer tunes too in Flutes and Let Me Be Him.

    9. Chairlift - Something
    I keep returning to Something and I think the reason is that it is a great combination of hooks and distinctive mid-to-late 80's instrumentation - but the subtler, more intriguing kind, with riffing bass and percussion flourishes, rather than the overblown and bland 'big drums' sound that Summer Camp hit upon last year. There’s always something new to find, the variety of styles is refreshing and Something has consistently good songs. It reminds me a little bit of early a-ha, in some ways. I can't get enough of Caroline Polachek's voice and I also love the awkwardness of the album art. This awkwardness also crops up on a couple of the best songs: I Belong in Your Arms and Amanaemonesia both seem to have verses and choruses stitched together but both parts work so well in isolation that it doesn't matter. The chorus to Amanaemonesia is stunning - Polachek swooping and soaring with her vocal, and great mood-changing keyboard stabs. Elsewhere, Turning does a pretty great impression of a Robin Guthrie-produced Lush. There's good variety across the 11 tracks and the only average tune is Cool as a Fire which, tellingly, is the only point on Something where Chairlift try to play it straight.

    8. Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE
    This is the first of two surprises (for me) in my top 10. I never thought that I liked R&B, nor hip hop, but I guess I do. Frank Ocean is such a good songwriter and performer though, that it is difficult to deny the greatness of channel ORANGE. From the love letter of Thinkin Bout You to the satirical Sweet Life and its nod to Stevie Wonder, the first half of the album breezes by. Things get a little deeper in the second half, however, with the stunning Bad Religion, on which the lines, “I can never make him love me… It’s a bad religion, to be in love with someone who could never love you” are gloriously ambiguous: we know that Frank came out prior to the album’s release, but is this about his relationship with God (because he is gay) or does it use religion as a metaphor for his unrequited love for another man? Elsewhere, Lost is a great, simple slice of pop and Pyramids is an ambitious, 10-minute track that combines Egyptian imagery with a story of a prostitute in Las Vegas (I assume) who Frank has fallen for.
    Overall, there are so many good songs on channel ORANGE and Ocean’s performance is brilliant. This is another album that I expected to tire of as the year went on but I have come back to it a few times now and have reaped the rewards each time.

    7. Beach House - Bloom
    Bloom is very, very good. There is something mystifying about the melodies that Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand conjure up. They are instantly gratifying, yet also draw you in, revealing more on each listen. Tunes like Wishes, for example, only sink in after a few plays whereas others, like Wild, were instantaneous. As an aside, I used to own a basic Casio keyboard in the late 1980's and recognise the rhythms from both Wild and Lazuli. I think they were called 'rock 2' and 'rock 1', unless I'm mistaken...somebody out there must know!
    Bloom also sounds very very similar to Teen Dream. I'm not being lazy in comparing the two albums; at times there are specific sounds and motifs that mimic tunes from Teen Dream - compare New Year and Norway, for example. On the one hand, this is no bad thing: their last album was a classic, in my opinion and, since the strength of their music is based on melody rather than production, a similar sounding collection of brilliant tunes is good enough for me. On the other hand, I think that Beach House now find themselves at a crossroads. They can either continue to remake the same album, for diminishing returns, or can try something new.
    My highlights are Wild, Lazuli, New Year and Irene.

    6. Orbital - Wonky
    Have you ever heard a comeback album this good? Wonky exceeds expectations (I'd have settled for less) and manages to blend a little bit of every stage of Orbital's career with some forward-leaning tunes. I've read one or two reviews of this album on RYM that are critical of Orbital's dated style. I don't mind that, having been a fan pretty much from the start, but I think this overlooks the the Hartnoll brothers' experimentation with dubstep (Beelzedub) and, er, wonky (Wonky). Both tracks work for me, especially Wonky. Orbital have always dipped into other genres of dance music, a sign of their punk attitude, and it keeps them vibrant. They've been trying to perfect the short-form track for a few albums now and, for the first time, it works really well here. The standout tracks Straight Sun and Where Is It Going?, for example, waste no time getting going and don't hang around either. I do get the feeling that the looking-back, looking-forward approach on Wonky is a one-off and I expect the next album to converge more on a particular direction. I just hope they don't take another 8 years to release it!

    5. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city
    I'm not that much into hip hop, but good kid, m.A.A.d. city is brilliant and the 2 key reasons are that it has a strong concept and is musically interesting.. Kendrick Lamar is a 25 year-old rapper from Compton, Los Angeles, yet the concept is about the downward spiral that the 16- or 17-year-old Kendrick (or K-Dot, as he called himself) was locked into - until he realized that he needed to remove himself from his situation. Some of the tracks see Kendrick rapping as K-Dot, oblivious to what's happening to him, obsessed with sex, hanging with his homies and on the edge of being drawn into crime, drugs and gang culture.

    There’s a loose story arc that I’m yet to fully understand – I get the bit about his relationship with Sherane and how he gets jumped at the end of Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter by her cousin, and also the way he is torn between standing back from the gang culture and becoming embroiled in it (in the contrast between good kid and M.A.A.D. City), and also his battle with drink (as on the brilliant Swimming Pools (Drank) but I get the feeling that there are plenty more layers here to peel back. I also love the use of skits on the album; as we get towards the end, we get more of his elders advising him and less of Kendrick on the street.

    4. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp
    Sharon Van Etten is yet another artist that I hadn’t previously heard of before this year. She came to my attention around the same time as did Fiona Apple – and I’ve come to compare their 2012 albums, since both are New York singer-songwriters. The comparison is interesting, especially now the end-of-year-lists are in, because Fiona Apple seems to find greater favour with the US music critics, whereas Sharon Van Etten seems to chime with the UK writers. I prefer Tramp because it is more desolate, heartbroken (rather than angry) and candid. It is also full of great lines and subtle production by The National’s Aaron Dessner.

    Tramp begins in claustrophobic style. Sharon's melancholic, driving vocals leave little space to breathe on the Kristin Hersh-style opening salvo of Warsaw and Give Out, the latter including the wonderful line, "you're the reason why I'll move to the city or why I'll need to leave". Serpents uses the trick of a gradual yet relentless build of the same vocal hook, which adds to the intensity of Tramp's opening.

    The highlight of the first half is Leonard. van Etten lays the bones of a relationship bare, running through a range of emotions, from confusion, frustration, surprise, shame and, overall, deep sadness. The chorus is utterly beautiful; van Etten's voice rises and falls as she sings, "well, well, I am bad. Well, well, hell, I am bad at loving you."

    Tramp features a couple of duets with Beirut's Zach Condon on the relatively jaunty We Are Fine and Magic Chords but the closing trio of songs are better, contrasting subtly with the album's opening trio. Here, there is no less intensity, but it is provided by the swelling, droning instrumentation (Aaron Dessner's fingerprints are most obvious, here) rather than Sharon's voice; the overarching mood is one of resignation rather than frustration. Ask uses the same trick as on Serpents but with less anger, whilst the mournful, swelling, layered brass on I’m Wrong and the delicate strings and brass on Joke or a Lie heighten the burnt-out emotion and make Tramp a difficult album to finish, but an exquisite listen at the same time.

    In summary, it is utterly beautiful, heartbreaking and compelling.

    3. Burial - Kindred
    My friend electrophile888 has convinced me that EP's deserve their place on 'best albums...' lists; in the age of the MP3, with its focus on individual tracks, singles don't mean as much anymore and EP's would risk being overlooked if they weren't held up against albums. Kindred more than stands up to the rest. Burial's sound has developed; it's a fuller sound, with stronger hints of techno and (it pains me to use this acronym) IDM. The three tracks are very different but equally engaging. Kindred is Burial's dubstep sound taken forward a few paces, Loner is reminiscent of early 90's The Black Dog and Ashtray Wasp is... well, it's that good that it defies description.

    2. Wild Nothing - Nocturne
    Good songwriting always wins. Hardly a week has gone by that I haven’t played Nocturne since I picked it up in September and, like all brilliant albums, it has revealed its different sides, and new favourites, in stages. Whilst 2010’s Gemini rather passed me by – it sounded overly twee and, well, rather weak as far as the songs were concerned – Jeff Tatum has raised his game in every department for his second album.
    The sound of Nocturne is stunning. It is firmly rooted in the late-80s, combining jangling indie with the punch and sheen of more mainstream pop. I would start to real off a list of bands but my problem is that I'm a couple of years too young to have completely absorbed the music from that era. The best I can offer is New Order, The Cure and The Field Mice but am aware that the gaps between the three are vast; perhaps one reason Nocturne is so compelling is that I know the sound inside-out but it still feels novel. The attention to detail is wonderful. The jangling guitars sound lush, the drums punchy, the bass melodic, the synths full of colour and the guitar lines dazzling.
    All of this is just fine - and has been filed under 'dream pop' by many people, seemingly without much thought - but it is the songwriting on Nocturne that lifts it above the rest. My three standout songs are Nocturne, Only Heather and Paradise. The title track is full of hooks, such as the simple, incisive guitar line, Tatum's imploring "you can have me" and the dreamy breakdown. Only Heather is more straight-up jangle pop and one of the biggest growers on the album; you can't help but admire the intricacy of the guitar line and the way the organ swells beneath it - and the effortless cool of the chorus. Paradise is slightly more experimental, backed by lush synth chords (not unlike early Pet Shop Boys), funky guitar and a long, wistful, ambient section in the middle, where the chords almost become washed away and you are left hanging for the beautiful drop back into the track's finale.
    These three tunes mark out a glorious middle section to the album. Other highlights here include the acoustic guitar solo of Through the Grass and the Cure-like guitars of Disappear Always. Elsewhere, Shadow and Counting Days sound like a more direct update on the Gemini sound.
    Nocturne has earwormed its way into my consciousness this year. It almost pipped Chromatics as my favourite album of the year because of the consistency and tightness of the songwriting. Really looking forward to Tatum's next effort.

    1. Chromatics - Kill for Love
    Album of the year, Kill for Love is full of gems. Main man Johnny Jewel said that he actually held back a whole stack of pop tunes from this album so that it didn't sound too samey. Whilst I wouldn't have had a problem with that, I wonder if the presence of the longer instrumental tracks over the 90-minute running time gives much needed space for the pop tunes to breathe?
    Chromatics open with a bold statement - a cover of Neil Young's Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black), renamed simply Into the Black. You get Chromatics's trademark guitar sound, very much a Disintegration-era The Cure sound, Ruth Radalet's half-angelic, half-bored vocals and, just when you were starting to wonder why the album has been described as Italo-disco, in come the electronics to see the tune out. Kill for Love follows, opening with a fanfare of electronics, and is a very tight, very melodic New Order / Depeche Mode-style tune. You'd think it would have to go downhill from there but the first 6 tracks are, in fact, excellent. I adore the simplicity of Lady, the mournfulness of Back From the Grave and the glam rock style of The Page. These Streets Will Never Look the Same has been a real grower for me, the most Italo-disco thing on the album. It opens with an Edge of Seventeen guitar lick, piano and metronomic rhythm, before a heavily auto-tuned male voice (not sure if it's Jewel himself) sings of heartbreak - but the best thing about it is the build from about 4 minutes in, with arpeggiated synths taking us home. Well, you couldn't have Italo-disco without arpeggio, could you?
    Another major highlight comes near the end of the album: in The River, Ruth Radalet is waiting for a lost love, all alone is a big, beautiful, desolate world; the imagery of the moon, a freight train, headlights, streets and the river capture this perfectly, and her vocals combine with the guitar line beautifully. It's essentially the same tune as Symmetry's Streets Of Fire, and the desert sunset/sunrise scene on the cover art of Themes For An Imaginary Film always come to mind when I hear the tune.
    If I was being picky, I'd say that, overall, the lyrics of Kill for Love are sometimes slightly cliché, but I've always valued melody, rhythm and emotional weight of the music over words (my favourite band is New Order, after all). Kill for Love oozes all of these things.
  • Favourite Tunes of 2012 (December 2012)

    27 déc. 2012, 23h47m

  • Favourite Albums of the first half of 2012

    1 juin 2012, 8h51m

    Plenty of artists have slipped under my radar. From the time I stopped buying the NME (about 1997) to about 2007, I listened pretty much exclusively to dance music and vinyl became my thing by the turn of the millennium. I didn't buy too many albums, had no idea what Pitchfork or Drowned In Sound were and had never heard the word "hipster". So it was no shock that there was a whole world of music waiting from the point, about 5 years ago, when I took up my old listening habits again. Given the normal release cycle for artists, it was taking a few years for some bands to even register but, by 2012, I thought that surely there was nothing new to pick up on - unless it was a brand new artist, of course. How wrong I was. Enter Chromatics, Chairlift, School of Seven Bells and a few others. So, pleasant surprises has been one theme of the past 6 months.

    Another has been the resurgence of established British bands. I'm talking about Orbital, Saint Etienne and Hot Chip (who can now surely call themselves 'established' after a brilliant fifth album in 8 years, possibly their best). On the same theme, all it would take now to complete 2012 is a return-to-form for Underworld with their Olympics project (well, the music is coming), a cheeky Autechre album (unlikely) and a breathtaking return from Boards of Canada (less likely than that).

    The last theme, though, is that the bar has been raised. 2012 is a much, much better year than 2011 already.

    1. Chromatics - Kill for Love
    A very strong contender for album of the year, Kill for Love is full of gems. Main man Johnny Jewel said that he actually held back a whole stack of pop tunes from this album so that it didn't sound too samey. Whilst I wouldn't have had a problem with that, I wonder if the presence of the longer instrumental tracks over the 90-minute running time gives much needed space for the pop tunes to breathe?
    Chromatics open with a bold statement - a cover of Neil Young's Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black), renamed simply Into the Black. You get Chromatics's trademark guitar sound, very much a Disintegration-era The Cure sound, Ruth Radalet's half-angelic, half-bored vocals and, just when you were starting to wonder why the album has been described as Italo-disco, in come the electronics to see the tune out. Kill for Love follows, opening with a fanfare of electronics, and is a very tight, very melodic New Order / Depeche Mode-style tune. You'd think it would have to go downhill from there but the first 6 tracks are, in fact, excellent. I adore the simplicity of Lady, the mournfulness of Back From the Grave and the glam rock style of The Page. These Streets Will Never Look the Same has been a real grower for me, the most Italo-disco thing on the album. It opens with an Edge of Seventeen guitar lick, piano and metronomic rhythm, before a heavily auto-tuned male voice (not sure if it's Jewel himself) sings of heartbreak - but the best thing about it is the build from about 4 minutes in, with arpeggiated synths taking us home. Well, you couldn't have Italo-disco without arpeggio, could you?
    Another major highlight comes near the end of the album: in The River, Ruth Radalet is waiting for a lost love, all alone is a big, beautiful, desolate world; the imagery of the moon, a freight train, headlights, streets and the river capture this perfectly, and her vocals combine with the guitar line beautifully. It's essentially the same tune as Symmetry's Streets Of Fire, and the desert sunset/sunrise scene on the cover art of Themes For An Imaginary Film always come to mind when I hear the tune.
    If I was being picky, I'd say that, overall, the lyrics of Kill for Love are sometimes slightly cliché, but I've always valued melody, rhythm and emotional weight of the music over words (my favourite band is New Order, after all). Kill for Love oozes all of these things.

    2. Burial - Kindred
    My friend electrophile888 has convinced me that EP's deserve their place on 'best albums...' lists; in the age of the MP3, with its focus on individual tracks, singles don't mean as much anymore and EP's would risk being overlooked if they weren't held up against albums. Kindred more than stands up to the rest. Burial's sound has developed; it's a fuller sound, with stronger hints of techno and (it pains me to use this acronym) IDM. The three tracks are very different but equally engaging. Kindred is Burial's dubstep sound taken forward a few paces, Loner is reminiscent of early 90's The Black Dog and Ashtray Wasp is... well, it's that good that it defies description.

    3. Chairlift - Something
    I'm just listening to this album again after a gap of a few months and it's even better than I remember. Something has consistently good songs, most of which have distinct mid-to-late 80's instrumentation - but the subtler, more intriguing kind, with riffing bass and percussion flourishes, rather than the overblown and bland 'big drums' sound that Summer Camp hit upon last year. It reminds me a little bit of early a-ha, in some ways. I can't get enough of Caroline Polachek's voice and I also love the awkwardness of the album art. This awkwardness also crops up on a couple of the best songs: I Belong in Your Arms and Amanaemonesia both seem to have verses and choruses stitched together but both parts work so well in isolation that it doesn't matter. The chorus to Amanaemonesia is stunning - Polachek swooping and soaring with her vocal, and great mood-changing keyboard stabs. Elsewhere, Turning does a pretty great impression of a Robin Guthrie-produced Lush. There's good variety across the 11 tracks and the only average tune is Cool as a Fire which, tellingly, is the only point on Something where Chairlift try to play it straight.

    4. Orbital - Wonky
    Have you ever heard a comeback album this good? Wonky exceeds expectations (I'd have settled for less) and manages to blend a little bit of every stage of Orbital's career with some forward-leaning tunes. I've read one or two reviews of this album on RYM that are critical of Orbital's dated style. I don't mind that, having been a fan pretty much from the start, but I think this overlooks the the Hartnoll brothers' experimentation with dubstep (Beelzedub) and, er, wonky (Wonky). Both tracks work for me, especially Wonky. Orbital have always dipped into other genres of dance music, a sign of their punk attitude, and it keeps them vibrant. They've been trying to perfect the short-form track for a few albums now and, for the first time, it works really well here. The standout tracks Straight Sun and Where Is It Going?, for example, waste no time getting going and don't hang around either. I do get the feeling that the looking-back, looking-forward approach on Wonky is a one-off and I expect the next album to converge more on a particular direction. I just hope they don't take another 8 years to release it!

    5. Beach House - Bloom
    Bloom is very, very good. There is something mystifying about the melodies that Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand conjure up. They are instantly gratifying, yet also draw you in, revealing more on each listen. Tunes like Wishes, for example, only sink in after a few plays whereas others, like Wild, were instantaneous. As an aside, I used to own a basic Casio keyboard in the late 1980's and recognise the rhythms from both Wild and Lazuli. I think they were called 'rock 2' and 'rock 1', unless I'm mistaken...somebody out there must know!
    Bloom also sounds very very similar to Teen Dream. I'm not being lazy in comparing the two albums; at times there are specific sounds and motifs that mimic tunes from Teen Dream - compare New Year and Norway, for example. On the one hand, this is no bad thing: their last album was a classic, in my opinion and, since the strength of their music is based on melody rather than production, a similar sounding collection of brilliant tunes is good enough for me. On the other hand, I think that Beach House now find themselves at a crossroads. They can either continue to remake the same album, for diminishing returns, or can try something new.

    6. Hot Chip - In Our Heads
    I'm only a few listens in and already I'm thinking that this could possibly be Hot Chip's best album, topping even The Warning. I've realised that I much prefer Hot Chip when they have one eye on the dancefloor, rather than when they churn out the ballads. The balance betwen the two is, of course, the hallmark of any decent (and traditional) pop act, and Hot Chip are well-established now. So much so that they're skilled enough to mimic both Blur (Look At Where We Are) and Paul McCartney (Always Been Your Love) when they want to. What I really like about In Our Heads is that on top of a salvo of strong opening tracks (just as on previous albums), there are some brilliant, longer tunes too in Flutes and Let Me Be Him.

    7. John Talabot - ƒin
    This is a slow-burner. I was surprised to see that I've played the album about 16 times since the spring because I've never really gone crazy about it. Maybe Talabot's secret is that he's consistently good at what he does and understands subtlety. Apart from one standout (Destiny), nothing else is astonishing but there's lots of flowing excellence, with a run of 6 tracks in the middle of the album, from Journeys to H.O.R.S.E. that work beautifully.

    8. School of Seven Bells - Ghostory
    Right, let's get this out of the way first: Ghostory sounds like Curve. I happen to love early Curve, although haven't listened to anything beyond Doppelgänger because I didn't really take to it as much as their first 3 EP's. Nor have I heard any School of Seven Bells before Ghostory. But what I have heard is a very close match; it's uncanny. My last.fm friend alin1 doesn't think it matters, and he's a bigger fan of both bands than I am, so I'm not going to argue.
    He's got a point, because this is a great album. It is constructed from the bottom-up. Tight, shivering, crashing rhythms. Lush, driving, melodic bass. Shoegazing, jangling, chiming guitars. Double-tracked, breathy, angelic yet steely vocals. Fragments of melody, but the best thing about the tunes is the combination of these fragments into a layered whole. Lyrics I have hardly noticed, but then I was never going to. This isn't the kind of music you need lyrics for; you just need the voice. The Night has every single ingredient I've just mentioned, and the bell chimes of Benjamin Curtis's guitar mark out the space in the tune. Lafaye is nothing short of a great pop song, with a lovely, purring low end and a chorus that lets Alejandra Deheza stretch her voice out; it's a liberating sound. Low Times is another highlight for me. It reverberates with energy and urgency, driven by pulsing bass (on the off-beat, as with many a trance tune) and Alejandra's spelling lesson. The only slight misstep is the My Bloody Valentine-impersonating When You Sing, which follows the formula of Soon just a bit too closely.

    9. Liars - WIXIW
    I'm a newcomer to Liars, really, having only dipped into Sisterworld on Spotify and I was put off by the jarring blasts of guitar. WIXIW is a different kind of sound, dominated by claustrophobic electronics, clipped rhythms, brooding bass, ghostly guitars and Angus Andrew's desolate voice. After low-key beginnings, the first highlight is the single, No.1 Against the Rush, with it's muted funk and ascending synth line. A Ring On Every Finger is close to Matthew Dear territory and WIXIW is the most oppressive, discordant tune on the album. His and Mine Sensations is another very good track with a tight, minimal groove, underwater bass and a brilliant picked guitar line. It's a coherent album that nods in the direction of Kid A and that's no bad thing.

    10. Saint Etienne - Words and Music by Saint Etienne
    After a gap of 7 years, Saint Etienne prove that not only do they still have it, but that they are enjoying their music as much as ever. This is a concept album about what pop music means to people who are absorbed in the culture - or rather, what it means (and meant) to Bob, Pete and Sarah, and their 80's references overlap with mine. It's probably the most 'pop' album they've made and Tim Powell and Nick Coler (ex-Xenomania) and Richard X have a hand in 8 of the tracks, including the perfect pop of Tonight, DJ and When I Was Seventeen. They're not to everybody's tastes, and maybe you had to grow up with them, I'm not sure, but I don't think Saint Etienne will ever do any wrong, for me.
  • Favourite Tunes of 2011 (December 2011)

    26 août 2011, 15h39m

  • Favourite Albums of 2011 (December 2011)

    25 jui. 2011, 21h24m

    Oh boy, 2011 has been a problematic year as far as choosing favourite albums was concerned. There seemed to be two themes to the year, for me. The first was that there was a lot of good music but very little great music. The traditional autumn surge of brilliant albums never really materialized and plenty were slightly disappointing, or impenetrable, or both (such as Björk’s effort). The second theme was an increasing tendency for retro sounds. Apart from a handful of electronic albums that weren’t actually good enough to be in my favourites, there was little music that didn’t strongly reference a previous musical period. This is not a criticism; retro influences can produce brilliant music, and many of the albums in my top 10 did this, but it does make picking out the innovative a difficult task. M83, Destroyer and Rustie, in particular, took imitation to the limits and all three just managed to steer clear of pastiche.

    20. Biosphere - N-Plants
    19. Clams Casino - Instrumentals
    18. Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972
    17. New LookNew Look
    16. The HorrorsSkying
    15. tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l
    14. EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints
    13. Kurt VileSmoke Ring for My Halo
    12. Wild BeastsSmother
    11. TychoDive

    10. RustieGlass Swords
    Where to start with this album? It’s on Warp and sounds a little bit like label-mate Hudson Mohawke but then again, it sounds like nothing else. The absolute antithesis of glitch, minimal and microhouse, Glass Swords is all about big, out-of-place sounds (the electric slap bass from Seinfeld features), almost but never-quite cheesy 80s melodies and enough ideas to fill a couple of albums with. I’ve heard this described as “digital maximalism”, which seems about right. Single Ultra Thizz is still a killer and, elsewhere, Surph and All Nite really hit the mark too.

    9. Destroyer - Kaputt
    There are a lot of layers to this set of tunes. It took me a few listens to acclimatise to Dan Bejar's weary voice and strange phrasing but the music reeled me in straight away - it's like a tour of the worst musical directions of the 80s, but somehow Bejar makes soft rock sound essential. Maybe I like it because I lived through the 80s, I'm not sure. Chinatown is a great opener with the refrain “you can’t walk away, I can’t walk away”. My favourite, Savage Night At The Opera is a relatively compact tune, given Bejar’s propensity for sprawling stream-of-consciousness numbers, and I like the guitar solo (words that I don’t often utter). Elsewhere, the title track is particularly well-polished. This is expertly-judged stuff that could have come off as cheesy but never once falls into that trap.

    8. The Field - Looping State of Mind
    Axel Willner has developed his sound in steps, and on this, his third album, he has achieved a near-perfect balance between his earlier techno-based loops and more expansive electronic sounds, including house and ambient. The loops are still there of course, and it’s fun to try to guess the original tune (I think that Bruce Springsteen is mashed up on Burned Out) but Willner now introduces far more structure into his tunes, with longer basslines, more pronounced breakdowns and more layers. A few tracks, such as the opener Is This Power even have a groove about them, which you couldn’t really argue about his debut. Even when the old formula is used, such as one the first six minutes of It’s Up There, everything feels more at ease and you realise that Willner is playing with house bpms as well as structures. The biggest surprise of the album is Then It’s White, a piano-led, almost ambient tune that works very well indeed.

    7. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
    Annie Clark is a highly talented multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, with an angular, artistic guitar style, and a soothing voice that complements the rough edges to the songs. Clark’s lyrics make me think of American Beauty and Desperate Housewives – stories about a mistress in the afternoon, depression, the objectification of women and breaking away from the beauty queen stereotype have the same theme of tortured lives behind a veneer of normality. Cruel is the outstanding tune here, although Surgeon and Strange Mercy are also wonderful. There are clever and ambiguous lyrics, like “I spent the summer on my back”, which has at least three meanings in the context of the song (Surgeon) and plenty of other great one-liners, all of which makes Strange Mercy one of the picks of the year.

    6. Radiohead - The King of Limbs
    I’ve maintained a distance from Radiohead since Pablo Honey, which is the last album of theirs that I actually bought before The King of Limbs. That’s nothing to do with Radiohead – I was simply into more dance and electronic forms of music at the time and can say almost exactly the same thing about PJ Harvey. All that means is that I came to this not as a diehard Radiohead fan, not even really a fan, so I listened without any preconceptions at all. Watching the blogfest after the release of The King of Limbs was hilarious, although it was saddening just how much people seemed to want to distance themselves from the album just because they didn’t get it on play number one. Yeah, so I heard a rumour that it's not their best but I'm fortunate enough not to have all of that baggage when listening. I happen to love it. There’s a hell of a lot more detail in each track than a few listens can reveal. The skittering, feather-light electronica of the first half is interesting if not always captivating, but the delicate and melodic second half is just brilliant, kicking off with the almost militaristic rhythms and clapping of Lotus Flower, which hold back the pent-up Yorke until he lets go with “slowly we unfurl as lotus flowers”. Codex is the most immediate thing here (I only found out later that it was essentially a remake of Pyramid Song), Give Up the Ghost is a campfire lament and the best track, Separator, hangs back on the wonderful picked guitar line until mid-song, after which point Yorke keeps us all guessing with “if you think this is over then you are wrong”.

    5. A Winged Victory for the SullenA Winged Victory for the Sullen
    A Winged Victory for the Sullen are Adam Wiltzie from Stars of the Lid and American pianist/composer Dustin O’Halloran and their collaboration marries the emotive drone ambient of the former with the modern classical compositions of the latter. I’m a big fan of Stars of the Lid and the focus that O’Halloran (presumably) brings to A Winged Victory for the Sullen improves on the formula, with Requiem For The Static King Part Two encapsulating this perfectly: after a couple of minutes of trademark Stars of the Lid two-chord drone, O’Halloran’s descending piano line is draped over the top, and the effect is wonderful. Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears provides perhaps the emotional heart of the album and, elsewhere, there are variations, with opener We Played Some Open Chords and Rejoiced, for the Earth Had Circled the Sun Yet Another Year (yes, honestly) seemingly providing a showcase for O’Halloran. It’s difficult music to describe and I don’t have the vocabulary for it, but I find this to be a beautiful piece of work.

    4. Cut Copy - Zonoscope
    They haven't lost any of their touch since In Ghost Colours, thank goodness, and this is a real grower. At first I judged Zonoscope to be less playful, less laden with ideas than the predecessor, but 10 months on I’ve come to view it as a more focused, richer piece of work. Need You Now starts slowly, drifting in like Underworld’s Cowgirl but builds and builds to a fantastic crescendo. Then we have the expertly crafted Men at Work / Fleetwood Macimpersonating Take Me Over, which in common with Pharaohs & Pyramids (and, more generally, with many of New Order’s best tunes) has a big finale. Elsewhere, Alisa is great in a New Wave-y style and the ambitious 15-minute Sun God is an unreserved success. Friendly Fires must wish this lot didn't exist.

    3. The Antlers - Burst Apart
    Peter Silberman is a brilliant lyricist and, whilst the subject matter isn't as harrowing as Hospice, he knows how to describe the unease (disease?) in relationships. The first half of the album is almost flawless, kicking off with I Don’t Want Love, which captures Silberman in a emotionally numb sexual relationship that he sounds like he hates as much as the other person wants more from him. French Exit is lighter and more melodic, even if the sentiment isn’t that different from before. I was thrilled to read about some of the influences on the music; the beat of No Widows is very Boards of Canada. The middle section is less captivating, with Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out sounding a little mainstream by The Antlers’ standards, and there are some pretty, mainly-instrumental tunes that follow. The final two tunes are excellent, however, with Corsicana especially touching, using the metaphor of a burning room to signify the end of a relationship.

    2. M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
    At first, this album didn’t stand out at all, maybe because it’s a sprawling double album of 22 tunes and maybe because it was released in the middle of a disappointing autumn of new music. It’s only recently that I’ve come to appreciate what a complete work of art it is, covering seemingly every angle where dance, pop and rock intersect. And as a double, it’s hardly a marathon at 74 minutes. The problem that the new listener faces is that there are simply too many ideas to process, but this is exactly the reward if you give Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming time to grow. I can’t name a single bad tune or dull moment on the album. Intro has Anthony Gonzalez going head-to-head with Zola Jesus and the way he belts out the vocals is surprising and refreshing. He sounds like a man who has found his voice. Midnight City follows, surely one of the tunes of the year, and it’s here that Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming stamps it’s mid-80s, US stadium synthpop sound. This is an era I live through and remember, and I can hear a number of these tunes soundtracking lots of Brat Pack and Michael J. Fox films, most of all New Map, with its spangly synths and frantic drumrolls, the triumphant, Howard Jones-sounding OK Pal and the epic Steve McQueen. Elsewhere, Wait sounds like Coldplay, in a good way, Raconte-moi une histoire has a little girl narrating a story of getting high from touching a frog and then there are the instrumental pieces that serve to keep emotions running high as you move from section to section through the album. Wonderful.

    1. Metronomy - The English Riviera
    Joe Mount comes from Totnes, which is halfway between Dartmoor and Torbay, and looked to the coast for the concept behind this album. It’s very English, in a good way, and traditionally pop, i.e. infectious and clever, with plenty of melody and some great – and often quirky – lyrics. Metronomy also succeed in melding a number of disparate styles, whilst building a strong identity for the album as a whole. Singles The Look and The Bay are both expertly crafted, the former building so carefully that the bassline is held back for half of the song. Everything Goes My Way is a duet between Mount and Roxanne Clifford of Veronica Falls, who sounds a lot like Charlotte Gainsbourg singing one of Serge’s melodies. Corinne sounds, bizarrely, like Pixies and Mount sings “they kicked me out of the forces when I laid a hand on you” – so is Corinne a girl or a gun? The back end of the album is more experimental, with Some Written meandering wonderfully into a Wurlitzer-led melody and Love Underlined signalling the most electronic, least retro references of the album. Compare that to the 70s rock of We Broke Free and you realise just how much ground Metronomy have covered in 45 minutes. In a year dominated by merely ‘good’ albums, The English Riviera is one of the few exceptions.
  • Favourite Albums of 2010 (July 2011)

    31 déc. 2010, 0h20m

    11. Matthew Dear - Black City
    Black City is dark, brooding and, at times, filthy music, sitting somewhere between experimental pop and dance, and every inch the oily urban sound that its title conjures up. It also achieves the feat of sounding incredibly modern whilst obviously indebted to Brian Eno and David Bowie. Little People (Black City) is the first major highlight of the album – a brilliant three-part tune that begins with easy, chugging synth-pop before moving into a Lodger-era Bowie vocal and, following a breakdown, returns with the menacing final part, backed by an eerie vocal sample and featuring Dear chanting, “talk is complication, you get carried away”. The other major highlight is You Put a Smell on Me, which is one of the dirtiest, grinding dance tunes of the year, with a lyric to match: “…come with me, to my big black house, on the big black sea, I would like you to put on, something nice that's soft and warm… little red night gown.” Whilst some reviewers don't get on with Matthew Dear's voice, I think that it is perfectly suited to the music.

    10. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
    I’ll be honest – I was disappointed when I first heard this album. There were seemingly no killer tunes and James Murphy’s lyrics were just a little bit too knowing for my liking. But then I realized that I was was going through the same thing that most Arsenal fans go through these days – frustration at not winning silverware despite finishing ahead of the vast majority of the opposition. This Is Happening is a very good album and if it had been released before the invincible Sound Of Silver, rather than after, I would have loved it from the start. Seven months on from its release, though, it sounds very good indeed, with the Brian Eno and David Bowie influences shining through more strongly than ever. Drunk Girls is tight punk funk, One Touch is driven disco and All I Want manages to eulogize “Heroes” without sounding cheesy. Surprisingly, the more conventional synth-pop cuts of I Can Change and Home are my favourites from the album. Murphy has now signed off with LCD Soundsystem and I’m looking forward to the next chapter.

    9. Gonjasufi - A Sufi and a Killer
    This unclassifiable album blew me away when I first heard it back in the spring. Gonjasufi’s voice may not be the best, but his vocal style is incredible – bluesy, tripped out, breathy, cracked, crooning and psychotic at times. The music is also a feast of styles, as you would expect with three producers on board, with each given a carefully crafted lo-fi edge.. The Gaslamp Killer serves up blues and psychedelic rock with a smattering of broken beats and his tracks dominate the first half of the album. The second half is split between the cheesy funk and instrumental hip hop of Mainframe’s tracks before we return to The Gaslamp Killer for a slightly more updated sound on the closers, with I’ve Given being a real treat. Flying Lotus’s sole track (Ancestors) is also very good. Gonjasufi is apparently a yoga teacher and comes across as a cracked mystic on most of the album, which also features snatches of Indian-sounding melodies. It’s difficult to tell how much of the album is down to Gonjasufi himself (the title suggests a collaborative effort) so it will be interesting to hear the next installment. One of the most interesting debuts of the year.

    8. Foals - Total Life Forever
    Foals have moved on since Antidotes. Total Life Forever seems to involve about half as many notes but twice as much depth as their debut album. The critics were all over this album in the end-of-year lists, a sign that this album is a real grower. I seem to be in a minority in preferring Antidotes over this but such is my love of Foals that Total Life Forever easily makes my top 10. On the first play I hated it, though. The first shock was the amount of space in the tunes; the second was that Yannis spends far more time singing than shouting – and actually sounds like a different person in the process. Blue Blood and Spanish Sahara, in particular, begin very quietly and build slowly, the former to a Talking Heads-style funk workout, the latter to a soaring vocal. These are followed, and thereby offset, by a couple of pop tunes in Miami and This Orient. Black Gold and After Glow are perhaps closest to Antidotes in energy and Foals reprise their homage to The Cure’s A Forest in 2 Trees (first encountered in Two Steps Twice). Repeated listens may have pushed this album even further up the list, but I am a confirmed Antidotes fan and slightly miss the frantic rhythms, complicated guitar lines and the electronics of the debut.

    7. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
    It’s entirely fitting that Deerhunter are signed to 4AD because this album could have been released on the same label at any time between 1988 and 1991 and nobody would have batted an eyelid. This is perhaps testament to the band's love of that coming-of-age period for indie music: opener Earthquake owes a debt to Cocteau Twins and standout track Desire Lines features a guitar outro reminiscent of the ending of Number 13 Baby from Pixies' Doolittle. The fact that I was also into 4AD bands during this time means that I automatically love Halcyon Digest. Bradford Cox's love for the 50s and 60s is also obvious, with snatches of Motown and even The Everly Brothers. Helicopter uses drum machine inventively to back a harpsichord-led lullaby and He Would Have Laughed is a lovely rambling tribute to recently deceased Jay Reatard. Cox is rightly lauded as a modern musical genius (although it is noted that Desire Lines was written by guitarist Lockett Pundt) and, with Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter are at the top of their game.

    6. Pantha du Prince - Black Noise
    From the lakeside alpine scene of the cover art to the subtly crafted, minimal techno of the 11 tracks, Black Noise is deeply engrossing – a complete experience rather than an album. I’ve rarely dipped into it, rather I’ve played it from end to end, enjoying every minute. Hendrik Weber’s sound on this album is relatively organic for a minimal techno piece, with bells and other found sounds prominent on many of the tracks; the rhythms are also sometimes fragmented and often subtle, to the point that the first track (Lay in a Shimmer) seems to emerge, rather than begin with any distinct structure. Weber continues to layer his sound through the next two tracks, until we reach Stick to My Side, which features Panda Bear on vocals. This tune has received a lot of unfair criticism in my opinion and, whilst the overly clean vocal sounds slightly out-of-place here, it still builds to a lovely climax. The best, and chunkiest, tunes sit in the middle of the album: A Nomad’s Retreat and Behind the Stars. Black Noise would not feature as highly on my list as this, however, without the wonderful change of gear for the last three tunes. Welt am Draht, Im Bann and Es schneit are all haunting, the latter infused with the mesmeric clanging of bells and atonal whispers that grow louder throughout its duration.

    5. Vampire Weekend - Contra
    Perhaps one advantage of being completely out of touch with guitar-based music for most of the last decade is that I haven’t been caught up in the hype – and associated backlash – directed at certain bands and have been able to listen without any distraction. I fell in love with Contra from the first play and only became aware of the anti-Ivy League vitriol directed at Vampire Weekend over the following months. It’s not actually that important though: the melodies are wonderful, the lyrics are witty and the album manages the strange trick of being light, efficient and compact whilst revealing something new on every listen – a good sign of a classic. The electronics are more prevalent here than on the debut – on Diplomat’s Son, for example – thanks to Rostam Batmanglij’s excursion with Discovery last year, and this gives Vampire Weekend a broader palette to showcase their talents.

    4. Delorean - Subiza
    I had no idea who Spanish band Delorean were before seeing reviews of the Ayrton Senna EP late last year and Subiza was the first music of theirs I’d ever heard. Since tracking back through their career to Transatlantic KK in 2007, it sounds as if Subiza was the result of an epiphany that involved (a) blissing out in Ibiza and (b) listening to Animal Collective. Whilst their previous album was full of minimal, angular guitar over the top of weighty beats, Subiza is infused with early 90s Balearic piano, multitracked reverbed vox and plenty of atmosphere. It’s light without being fluffy (there’s still a big bottom-end sound to the album) and incredibly uplifting without ever going anywhere near clichéd. Stay Close opens the album in bright style before Real Love introduces a massive space between bass and the chopped-up vocal riff for Ekhi Lopetegi to weave his Panda Bear-like vocals. The core of the album is infused with energy, with Warmer Places sounding triumphant and closer It’s All Ours providing a perfect comedown. Whilst nothing quite reaches the heights of Seasun from Ayrton Senna, Subiza confirms that Delorean’s transformation is complete.

    3. The Radio Dept. - Clinging to a Scheme
    I only discovered this band in early 2011 after they brought out their retrospective, Passive Aggressive. Having listened to their development over the last 9 years, it's clear that this album sees the band fully realizing their sound. The singles David, Heaven's On Fire and Never Follow Suit are perfect, perfect pop tunes. Johan Duncanson's vocals are still treated and relatively low in the mix but there's a new-found confidence in the arrangements and production. Never Follow Suit pinches from Saint Etienne's cover of Only Love Can Break Your Heart and Heaven's On Fire opens with a Thurston Moore sample. Elsewhere, This Time Around updates their early 90s indie sound with an insistent drum machine and The Video Dept. is layered with lush guitars. The only reason I'd never heard of this bunch of Swedes before was that I was a dance music disciple for much of the last decade. They are the missing link between New Order and The Smiths, and they've been doing it for years.

    2. Janelle Monáe - The ArchAndroid
    It is an amazing feat that Janelle Monáe has pulled off in delivering an album that matches up to its towering ambition, both as a concept album and a showcase of multiple genres. After the first play of The ArchAndroid I was convinced that Monáe is in the same league as Prince and one look on YouTube at her performance of Tightrope on Letterman confirmed that she has the performance to match the songs and the voice. No wonder that she has been championed by P Diddy and Outkast. There’s funk, pop, rock, soul, hip hop, psychedelia and even orchestral arrangements across the 18 tracks, with shades of everything from Michael Jackson to Shirley Bassey. Following the orchestral overture, the album proper opens with a medley: Dance or Die, Faster and Locked Inside – and the transition from each track into the next is incredibly tight. Tightrope, featuring Big Boi, is the highlight of the album and packs a lot of ideas into its four-and-a-half minutes. Quite how Monáe isn’t more famous off the back of this effort is beyond me because this is big, mainstream stuff that everybody should love.

    1. Beach House - Teen Dream
    Beach House’s third album was, apparently, recorded in an upstate New York church and its sound – intimate, tender, haunting, hymnal – couldn’t have been imagined anywhere else. I hadn’t really listened to much Beach House before I came to Teen Dream and I played the whole album before I realized that I was listening to a female singer; Victoria Legrand’s wonderful voice is reminiscent of Nico and the mix blurs its edges without losing any of its power. Whilst the sound of the album isn’t very different from 2008’s Devotion (which I listened to later) it’s the intensity of the emotion and the richness of melody on Teen Dream that lifts it above all others to make it my album of 2010. Zebra begins the album perfectly, a haunting acoustic guitar line joined by a chorus of “aaahs”, gentle organ and Beach House’s trademark drum machine – but then Legrand begins to sing and the song completely lifts off. Walk in the Park even eclipses the opener. Whilst perhaps the simplest song on the album, the metronomic rhythm and organ lock you in to the degree that you feel completely exhilarated when the chorus soars – and the coda, with swelling chord changes and Legrand intoning, “more, you want more”, is breathtaking. I read that Teen Dream was described as “girlfriend music” and I kind of recognize the sentiment: I started listening to it a couple of weeks before my first child was born and it provided a highly emotional soundtrack to the most emotional time of my life.
  • Favourite Albums (December 2011)

    10 sept. 2010, 23h18m

  • 2010 a-z

    19 mai 2010, 13h14m

    Candidate tunes on 18/12:

    A. Ancestors - Gonjasufi / A Nomad's Retreat - Pantha du Prince / A/B Machines - Sleigh Bells / After Glow - Foals
    B. Black Gold - Foals / Bird 1 - Underworld / Baptism - Crystal Castles / Big Flash - Diskjokke
    C. Circling - Four Tet / Colouring of Pigeons - The Knife In Collaboration with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock / Cousins - Vampire Weekend / Chasing The Tear - Portishead
    D. Desire Lines - Deerhunter / Doubt - Delphic / Diplomat's Son - Vampire Weekend
    E. Empire Ants - Gorillaz
    F. Fire With Fire - Scissor Sisters / Fire-Power - These New Puritans
    G. Giving Up The Gun - Vampire Weekend / Grace - Underworld / Grow - Delorean
    H. History - Groove Armada / Hang With Me - Robyn / Helicopter - Deerhunter
    I. I Can Change - LCD Soundsystem / I Want To - Best Coast
    J. Joy FM - Oriol / Julia (The Very Best remix) - Das Racist
    K. K+D+B - The Chemical Brothers / Klowds - Gonjasufi
    L. Love Cry - Four Tet / Little People (Black City) - Matthew Dear
    M. Moon In Water - Underworld / Miami - Foals
    N. Norway - Beach House / North - Darkstar / Night Work - Scissor Sisters
    O. On Melancholy Hill - Gorillaz / One Life Stand - Hot Chip / Odessa - Caribou
    P. Paper Romance - Groove Armada / Pain Fan - The Chap
    Q. Qwerty Finger - Everything Everything / qplay - Autechre
    R. Rill Rill - Sleigh Bells / Run - Vampire Weekend / Rosenrød - Diskjokke / Round & Round - Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti
    S. Stick To My Side - Pantha du Prince / Spanish Sahara - Foals / Stay Close - Delorean/ Shutterbug - Big Boi
    T. Treale - Autechre / Tightrope - Janelle Monáe / Take Em Up - Shit Robot / Time Of The Assassins - Charlotte Gainsbourg
    U. Under One Roof - Darkstar / Undertow - Warpaint
    V. Vanilla Minus - Gold Panda / Voicething - Goldfrapp
    W. Wondaland - Janelle Monáe / Walk In The Park - Beach House / We Want War - These New Puritans
    X. Xelerate - Richard Durand
    Y. You Put A Smell On Me - Matthew Dear / You - Gold Panda
    Z. Zebra - Beach House
  • 2009 a-z

    9 jan. 2010, 11h38m