Archive | December, 2015

My Favourite Albums of 2015

24 Dec

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
2. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
3. Grimes – Art Angela
4. Bjork – Vulnicura
5. Tame impala – Currents
6. Car seat Headrest – Teens of Style
7. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think…
8. Alvvays – Alvvays
9. Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass
10. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
11. Wolf Alice – My Love is Cool
12. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
13. Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again
14. Brandon flowers – The Desired Effect
15. Susanne Sundfor – Ten Love Songs
16. The libertines – Anthems for Doomed Youth
17. Ryan Adams – 1989
18. Chrvches – Every Open Eye
19. Songhoy Blues – Music in Exile
20. Spector – Moth Boys
21. Modern Baseball – The Perfect Cast
22. Ought – Sun Coming Down
23. Carly Rae Jepson – Emotion
24. Adele – 25
25. Royal headache – High
26. New Order – Music Complete
27. Blur – The Magic Whip
28. Bully – Feels Like
29. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness
30. Tobias Jesso Jr – Goon
31. Circa Waves – Young Chasers
32. Miguel -Wildheart
33. Jamie XX – In Colour
34. Majical clouds – Are You Alone?
35. Florance and the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
36. Janet Jackson – Unbreakable
37. Drake – If You’re Reading This, it’s Too Late
38. Panda Bear – Meets the Grim Reaper
39. Tanlines – Highlights
40. Gwenno – Y Ddyd Olaf
41. Christopher Owens – Chrissybaby
42. Peace – Happy People
43. Albert Hammond Jr – Momentary Masters
44. Wilco – Star Wars
45. Palma Violets – Danger in the Club
46. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
47. Benjamin clementine – At Least For Now
48. Kacey Musgraves – Pagent Material
49. Jay Cole – Forest Hills Drive
50. Mourn – Mourn

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My Favourite Singles of 2015

23 Dec

1. Grimes – flesh without blood
2. Ought- Beautiful Blue Sky
3. Sufjan stevens – Should Have Known Better
4. Carly Rae Jepson – I really love you
5. The Weeknd – Can’t Feel My Face
6. Courtney Barnett – Depreston
7. Drake – Hotline Bling
8. Jamie XX – I Know There’s Gonna be Good Times
9. Brandon flowers – still want you
10. Skepta – shutdown
11. Natalie prass – my baby don’t understand me
12. Hinds – Bamboo
13. Shura – touch
14. Kendrick Lamar – King Kunta
15. Alvvays – Archie marry me
16. Miguel – Coffee
17 Bully – I Remember
18. Circa Waves – Tshirt Weather
19. Tanlines – Slipping away
20. Jason durelo – want to want me
21. Modern Baseball – The Wonder Boy Returns
22. The Maccabees – Something Like Hapiness
23. The Vaccines – 20/20
24. Palma Violets – Girl You Couldn’t Do Much Better on the Beach
25. Becky G – Shower
26. Janet Jackson – No Sleep
27. Tame Impala – Cos I’m a man
28. Peace – Someday
29. Wolf Alice – Lisbon
30. The libertines – the heart of the matter
31. Father – Please Stop Wearing Fake Versace
32. Dmas – Delete
33. Blur – Lonesome Street
34. Tobias Jessie Jr – Without You
35. OMI – Cheerleader
36. Hudson Mohawke – Ryderz
37. Panda Bear – Tropic of Cancer
38. Jme – man don’t Care
39. The 1975 – Love Me
40. Eagles of Death Metal – I love you all the time
41. Disclosure – Holding On
42. Kanye West – only one
43. Yak – Hungry Heart
44. Ekkah – Last Chance to Dance
45. White reaper – Make Me Wanna Die
46. Yawn – Summer Heat
47. Walk the Moon -Shut Up and Dance
48. Drenge – We can do what we want
49. Mumford and Sons – Didimus
50. Wiz Khalifa – See you Again

Coldplay ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ – Review

21 Dec

Firstly, let’s dispel the idea that Coldplay are boring. They have been consistently more adventurous than many people have given them credit for. What started off on ‘Parachutes’ as simple, lush acoustic balladry was expanded and amplified through ‘Rush of Blood to the Head’s post-punk soundscapes and ‘X&Y’s bloated anthems. If that initial trilogy served as a lesson in steady musical development then the albums since have been master classes in consolidating success through brave reinvention. Not convinced? Compare their three biggest selling singles, ‘Paradise’, ‘Viva la Vida’ and ‘Yellow’ – they sound nothing like one another. Most recently, there was ‘Ghost Stories’, a lovely if somewhat slight record that will be best remembered as the one that tried to reimagine the break up album as the ‘conscious uncoupling’ album.

‘Ghost Stories’ was the build up and ‘Head Full of Dreams’ is the release. It’s a musical embodiment of that euphoric rush you get when you realise the worst is over and things are starting to get better. As such it’s filled with vague platitudes and optimistic waffle along the lines of ‘we don’t need words, we’ll be birds’ and ‘try and see the forest there in every seed’. For most most naturally cynical rock fans this would be unappealing but Coldplay have always pumped their songs with saccharine guff and it doesn’t seem to have done them any harm. The problem is that if anything it’s too watered down this time around. There isn’t anything as brilliantly silly as ‘I want to be a comma instead of a full stop’ or as amusingly perplexing as ‘if you could see it then you’d understand’. Nor is there a line as bluntly powerful as ‘for you I’d bleed myself dry’ or ‘I will try to fix you.’ It’s all soft edges and mushy nothingness and Coldplay treat the material with far more reverence and seriousness than it truthfully deserves.

But this is Coldplay’s seventh album and it bares all the hallmarks of a band with six number one albums and two number one singles under their belts. The songwriting is solid and the production is glimmering and exquisite throughout. Despite the variety of styles and assortment of sounds nothing makes the band fall flat on their face. If you think about it, it’s actually quite amazing that they can turn their hand to pop, EDM, r&b and indie and never sound out of their depth. In fact, despite their love of sounding like other bands, they always sound utterly Coldplay-ish. They are a hugely accomplished band with an undervalued experimental streak and an even larger populist sensibility that makes ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ enjoyable from start to finish.

There is interesting diversity on ‘Head Full of Dreams’; ‘Up and up’ sneakily borrows a melody from 5ive’s ‘Keep on Moving’ of all places (Chris Martin once admitted to being a Take that fan, now we know they weren’t the only boy band he listens to). ‘Amazing Day’ and ‘Afterglow’ are positively ethereal with a glittering assortment of synths and fluorescent guitar licks. ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ is vaguely psychedelic, ‘Army of One’ hiccups its way to the heavens and ‘Birds’ propels itself there like an arrow through a blue sky.

Previously it’s been easiest to describe the sound of Coldplay albums by referencing other artists – U2, Oasis, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Bon Iver – their blatant borrowing has always been cheeky and acknowledged. But this is the first Coldplay album where the easiest comparison to make is with Coldplay themselves, and I don’t mean this positively. It certainly isn’t their first album to be overly referential to the past, but it is the first to sound overly referential to THEIR past. ‘Hymn for the weekend’ features Beyonce and isn’t half as memorable as the equally exuberant ‘Princess of China’, which featured a far more daring appearance by Rihanna. Likewise, the unmemorable lead single ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ feels like an almost cut and paste remake of ‘Paradise’. ‘Birds’ and ‘Up and Up’ could no doubt be played in sync to resemble ‘Up with the Birds’ from ‘Mylo Xylto’. Only the unusual ‘X Marks the Spot’ seeks out genuinely new ground but it’s only interesting to the extent that it’s novel and unsettling to hear a white bread Coldplay melody over the top of a trap beat. Otherwise the day-glow synths and chiming guitars, lovely as they are, are tried and tested features going back to the Viva la Vida days

It’s as hard to imagine someone listening to this and hating it as it is to imagine somebody loving it. It is that word so regularly ridiculed and readily associated with Coldplay – nice. The band hedge all their bets and the result is a thoroughly well made, moderately interesting pop record. But It’s also their most underwhelming album to date. The reserved ‘Ghost Stories’ had more going for it; an obvious concept, interesting backstory and the sense that something new was being attempted.

For a band as politically active and in thrall to U2 as Coldplay are, they are totally apolitical when it comes to their actual music. It’s particularly noticeable on ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ because it reminds you what an excellent communicator Chris Martin is – if only he’d use that to skill to a more useful end on this album. He’s a master at feeling something, expressing that feeling and imparting it on the listener. Maybe you can remember the joy you felt singing along to ‘Clocks’ in a muddy field in Glastonbury or the heartbreak you experienced alone in your room listening to ‘Fix You’ for the first time. His voice and melodies are almost beyond compare. However, the lack of import or meaning at the core of ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ ultimately leaves it an insignificant destination and one I probably won’t be returning to. It has a beautiful, silky surface but, surprisingly for a Coldplay album, it’s hollow at the core.

6/10

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Car Seat Headrest ‘Teens of Style’ – Rview

10 Dec

There are so many bandcamp, lo-fi indie rockers currently putting music online that it takes something really special to cut through the noise. Especially because this type of music is inherently modest, unambitious and unfussy. The kind of people who make this stuff and release it for free aren’t particularly seeking out record deals or acclaim and they rarely have anything of import to add to the conversation. So for someone to find an audience, they have to be very good and kind of lucky. Car Seat Headrest is both.

Car seat Headrest, aka Will Toledo, has been making music for a few years now. He is what they call prolific. And then some. To date he has released eleven albums, all of them divergent in style – from extended space jams and prog rock to bratty pop punk – but all featuring the same distorted aesthetic that speaks to an cute apathy at the heart of this album. ‘Teens of Style’ is a compilation of tracks mainly taken from ‘Menomania’ and ‘My Back is Killing Me’, allegedly the best of his earliest releases (I haven’t heard them all yet) but not entirely representative of his varied output. It’s a focused and intriguing introduction to a genuine talent.

Toeldo has a Similar tone and gravity to Julian Casablancas, a similarity encouraged by the way in which his voice has been recorded. Musically though Car Seat Headrest has little in common with The Strokes. The guitars are loud and not at all nuanced, the bass hovers shyly below the surface and the drums are little more than clicks, hiccups and thuds. Together this is an oddly charming mix. It’s a slacker approach to production that nonetheless somewhat conceals a sparkling eye for detail – the sax synth that breaks the quiet three minutes in to ‘Maud’s Gone’, the volume shift one minute in to ‘Sunburned Shirts’, the harmonic complexity in the second half of ‘Times to Die’. These wonderful moments betray a thoughtful and precisely calculated musical ideology behind the barely bothered facade.

Over these five years Toledo has established a lyrical voice that is truly his own. There is a directness to his lyricism but he isn’t afraid of a good metaphor or pun. He’s funny when he needs to be and stone cold serious at other moments. At times he comes over as the 2015 update of Bright Eyes Connor Oberst, especially with on the nose one liners like ‘God is a director he just found out about us, he spoke to our agents but he don’t know much about us.’

Like many songwriters his age, on the edge of real life, Toledo Is unduly concerned with age. ‘Times to Die’ expresses this most explicitly but many of the songs share anxieties about growing up and falling apart. He sees all his friends getting married, he worries about his lack of achievements and decaying imagination, is in the grip of nostalgia, on the verge of depression and frets that he’s wasting his days binging on trashy TV. Toledo is self-aware to a nauseating degree – his songs are referential to older songs, he refers to himself in the third person and self annotates all his lyrics on genius.com. But then he is whip-smart without being didactic and sensitive with a sense of humour. His style might be slightly pretentious, but he’s earned the right to be.

The lyrics are stellar but it’s the melodies that are the real calling card of ‘Teens of Style’ – bright, fluid and instantly hummable, they will stick in your head for weeks. His compositions are imaginative but mainly serve to highlight these melodies. He draws from a broad palette of sounds, whether pinching dodgy 80s synths on the ballad ‘Maud’s Gone’ or tinsel-town piano on the gorgeous finale ‘Oh! Starving’, it’s an eclectic mix. As an album ‘Teens of Style’ a little rough around the edges – some of the songs are surely far too long and the cheap sonics occasionally get in the listener’s way of making out what he’s saying – but it’s the most arresting debut of 2015, in a year where indie rock has been disappointingly infertile ground for new artists.

8.5/10

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El-Vy ‘Return to the Moon’ – Review

6 Dec

‘Return to the Moon’, the side project of The National’s Matt Berninger and Brent Knompf, Is a missed opportunity. Berninger has made a career out of his own unique brand of miserablism and this El-vy album could have been a chance for him to do something totally different, freed of his band’s self imposed stylistic restrictions. Instead, the record retreads lyrical ideas already explored to death on previous National albums, with melodies that feel gratingly familiar. They rub up awkwardly against mawkish synth lines and dull arrangements that are dragged out at a tiresome pace.

The band’s name, album’s title and sometimes wacky lyrics lend ‘return to the Moon’ the air of a light hearted pop throwaway, but it doesn’t feel like that after fifty minutes in its company. You can hear joyous possibility in the title track’s funky baseline and ‘I’m the man to be’s wisecracks but these are nothing more than red herrings. El-vy take themselves far too seriously and this is ultimately the product of two ├╝ber-serious middle aged men.

Matt Berninger is a charismatic frontman, brilliant songwriter and the finest American lyricist of his generation but ‘Return to the Moon’ reveals his limitations. Of course this isn’t a complete write off – he is far too talented for that – and In many ways ‘Return the Moon’ poses a lot of interesting ‘what could have been’ questions. It is for example Berginger’s most autobiographical record to date and you wonder what might have happened if he’d run even further with this concept. On the revealing ‘Paul is Alive’ he sings about his mother and a youth spent ‘crying in my 7up’. It is a moving portrait of growing up. There are other reasons to give ‘Return the Moon’ a chance; ‘I’m the Man to Be’ is funny, ‘Need a Friend’ is revealing and ‘No time to Crank the Sun’ is beautiful – moments of muted brilliance on an otherwise grey and mundane vanity project. It could and should be so much more.

5/10

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Deafheaven ‘New Bermuda’ – Review

3 Dec

Deafheaven received tremendous acclaim a couple of years ago for ‘Sunbather’, an album that mixed post-rock, shoegaze and black Metal. The praise was well deserved. With its flagrant disregard for genre conventions, the cover art’s salmon Pink colour scheme and the band’s decidedly non-metal hairdos, the group messed with genre conventions and fanboys in a way we hadn’t seen for years. Its follow up, ‘New Bermuda’ doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel – it picks up where ‘Sunbather’ left off and generously tries to lure the metalheads back.

‘Brought to the Water’ and ‘Luna’ feature some crunching, bone breaking RIFFS – the type of rifffage that will scare off the hipsters and posers. Once their metal credentials are established they subtly work in some slide guitar and sugar sweet piano. They are all small parts of a bigger picture. ‘Sunbather’ was either ornate or bruising and nowhere in between. On ‘New Bermuda’ there is less of a distinction between (for want of better terms) the pretty moments and the heavy ones. For that reason the album becomes less shocking and less groundbreaking but somewhat more engaging. It’s not as interested in extreme contrast and more interested in the shades of grey. It’s a dense and difficult album but, wow, it’s consuming.

8/10

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