The clock is ticking on 2014 and we would like to present to you some artists that, with no full length album under their belt yet, have found a prominent place on the Last.fm community libraries and have been featured on our tastemaker’s Hype Chart. We hope you’ll find an artist from the list below that will become a regular in your 2015 libraries! We’re especially looking forward to kicking off the new year with Iain Woods‘ (aka Psychologist) debut album “Psychologist”, released just after the stroke of midnight. With an already impressive two EPs out there, Woods introduces a “bigger rockier” sound to his songs, which we think is a sign of things to come during the next twelve months. Judge for yourself by listening to the first single off the album “Worlds Away”.
After the outstanding “Outlaws EP” released last spring and featuring on a Chase & Status single, we have included an album by Ed Thomas on our 2015 list. Another male artist we would like to see breaking in the near future is Ofei. His “London EP” and single “WOW” are raw and full of passion without touching any of the urban-soul cliches coming from both sides of the Atlantic. Very promising.
Onto the ladies, then. Already with 10 tracks scattered over two EPs, Ellie Ingram has delivered a serious tune this year with “When it was dark”, a track included on “The Doghouse”, which could easily resume the urban-soul revival of 2014. Moko has also had a well deserved good year, helped by some spot-on live performances during the summer festival season and the dancefloor/radio friendly “Your Love”.
At the other side of the spectrum we also expect good things to come from Sophie Jaimeson. Having learned her craft through the folk scene around Cambridge University, her sound has now expanded to a four-piece. It has also being a long time coming for Findlay; do not hesitate to catch her explosive live shows if in a town near you.
Just as electric on the stage, Dolomite Minor haven’t been the most prolific in terms of recorded music, but their festival appearances have certainly caught your eye and interest. Check their single “Let Me Go” for a taster of things to come. Klo, another duo (this time from down under) burst onto the radio playlists with the subdued “Make Me Wonder”. With another EP on the cards for 2015 and visits to Europe during the summer, we are looking forward to their new output.
On a very similar tip 14th, pioneers of the UK 90s house and garage revival, have recently collaborated with Mao Ra Sun on the track “Ways Of Seeing”. Lastly, on the guitar front, the six piece HAUS, the Scottish trio Tuff Love and Spanish bands Wild Bambina and Deers (pictured above) bring to a close the list of the fifteen acts we hope blossom in 2015.
If you would like to dig deeper on the artists who made it to the Last.fm Hype Charts in 2014, press play below … Have a good holiday and a great year!
Hello everyone! Welcome to this wonderful tradition of number crunching. A precious opportunity for yours truly to rant outside of my own head in a long form medium that's not limited to 140 characters.
2011 was definitely more varied than our last recap with a lot more diversity, thanks in big part to my new BFF Spotify. But there's always a downside: too much variety means not much repetition and this year we have the first ever recount without a song reaching 100 plays and don't even think about a single album passing 1000 scrobbles!
There were also all those albums that were released so late, there was no point in listening, like Atlas Sound - Parallax, The Black Keys - El Camino and Arms - Summer Skills. Not to count all those other that had songs I digged but never got around to playing the album much. All this music is... overwhelming. Oh, well. No point in dwelling on these past mistakes. Let's move forward.
Before we do that, here's the formula I use for this rank:
average plays = round(total plays/total tracks)
In case of ties, the upper hand was given to total scrobbles. I'd like to add that I had to disqualify two albums because half of their tracks were released in 2010 so it was damn near impossible to determine which plays came from the full release. I'm talking about Panda Bear - Tomboy and Cameras - In Your Room. It pained me because I enjoyed them both quite a bit.
Intro over. Here we goooooo!
Most Played Albums of 2011 25. tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l Played 101 times. Averaged 10 plays per track. The electric vocal loops, and the softer side, all make a comeback. Most played:Gangsta - 31 plays
24. Ringo Deathstarr - Colour Trip Played 119 times. Averaged 11 plays per track. Twee pop to make heads bop or bodies sway in slow motion. Most played:So High - 41 plays
23. Zola Jesus - Conatus Played 148 times. Averaged 13 plays per track. Less echo-y darkness, more robotic screeching and vocal melodies. Most played:Hikikomori - 26 plays
22. Wild Flag - Wild Flag Played 170 times. Averaged 17 plays per track. Next best thing to the real thing. I'll take it. Most played:Future Crimes - 37 plays
21. Active Child - You Are All I See Played 174 times. Averaged 17 plays per track. Enigmatic... choked up falsetto... mysterious... synths... haunting... harps. Most played:Hanging On - 40 plays
20. Wye Oak - Civilian Played 174 times. Averaged 17 plays per track. Raspy voiced pop rock... with guitar breakdowns for added awesome factor. Most played:Dogs Eyes - 50 plays
18. Battles - Gloss Drop Played 207 times. Averaged 17 plays per track. Anything would pale on comparison to their last monster but you eventually get around to appreciating this one. It may happen too late to make it into the top 15, though. Most played:Sweetie & Shag (Featuring Kazu Makino) - 32 plays
17. Jamie Woon - Mirrorwriting Played 232 times. Averaged 19 plays per track. In its broad spectrum, I'd say this could be considered a companion to the SBTRK album but it's a lot more downbeat, filled with heavier RnB and soul influences. Runner-up in 2 important categories: most beautiful voice of the year and biggest jam anthem - Lady Luck - to a song that will be later mentioned in this journal. Most played:Street - 41 plays
And barely missing out on the Top 15...
16. Still Corners - Creatures of an Hour Played 198 times. Averaged 20 plays per track. It's got the classic dream pop element of ethereal vocals mixed with some clearer guitar melodies that makes you think more of the 60s than the 80s. Most played:The Twilight Hour - 31 plays
I would like to extent my most sincere congratulations to Maybeshewill. They're the first band to be featured three albums in a row on these countdown journals! They really got a head start by releasing their debut and sophomore two years in a row. In my 2009 recap, I noted their second album was more of the same - in a positive way - now, they shook things up a bit with this one. It still retains some of that exhilarating energy but they've added some textured, delicate arrangements that makes it sound even uplifting.
No, I'm not too cool. I discovered them after their vocalist collaborated on my favorite song off Gorillaz's Plastic Beach last year. I was initially intrigued by an old song called Blinking Pigs but got truly hooked on the catchy beats of this album. Even the slow tempo tracks can be quite catchy and they'd better be because there are quite a handful of them. The devil is in the repetition in this case.
Even though their last album left quite a mark in my stats, it took me a while to get around to this one, probably because I wasn't too thrilled by the first single. Upon further listening, it's a very logical - and enjoyable - progression for their style. I didn't find the melodies to carry the same level of memorable qualities that made Two Dancers such a great album, though; with notable exceptions like Bed of Nails and Reach a Bit Further that bridged the gap quite nicely. In the end, b-side Catherine Wheel ended up as my most played song of theirs in this past year. The album has been getting more plays as of late so there's still a chance I may fall head over heels for it.
Do you ever get tired of the trickery behind electronic music/arrangements? I do, from time to time. That's why it's a good idea to have a straight up record like Anna Calvi's debut album lying around. If you take a look at the No. 4 artist of my overall charts, I'd say this is right up my alley. Her retro, blues-y sound combined with her sometimes seductive voice are very inviting.
Geez, how annoying is it that a lot of people seem to think that unless it's a knock your socks off masterpiece, a Radiohead album is a disappointment? I know, I know, I remember what I wrote about Battles. I personally found myself enjoying their approach to this album, filled with darkly hypnotic and catchy songs. You can get chills by a simple "ooooohhhhhh", you know. Is it a Kid A or OK Computer? No, get over it already! Those are likely never to be matched. There were moments I honestly found myself enjoying this album a lot more than In Rainbows and Hail to the Thief.
This album was its own worst enemy. The first three songs blew... me.. away. The rest? Not that much. Things start falling, falling, falling fairly quick with following tracks, Lindisfarne I & II, only fans of Volcano Choir and Bon Iver's Blood Bank EP could ever love those songs. After those two, the album looses steam and, although there are some other solid songs in the back end, it just never lives up to the promise of those three songs. *DEEP* ... *SIGH* But I don't blame him. But I don't blame him. But I don't blame him. For as fast as you can skip the LindYouRuinedTheAlbum songs, you will be very close to melancholic electro heaven. Where I am, where I am, where I am.
The most enigmatic of the albums on this list. People will compare her aesthetics and distorted vocals to Fever Ray, no doubt about it. Would these comparisons stop if the vocals were different? Probably not. But there's a lot more to this album than those first impressions in similarities, darn it! I find it to be more pop aware, if that even makes sense, than FR. It can also be evocative, mystifying, seductive, cryptic and, most importantly, addictive!
I think this is a great showcase of his ample pop/shoegaze/ambient repertoire. One moment, it can turn evocative and moving, the next be filled with a genuinely uplifting and hopeful sound. It's a stark contrast with the more melancholic Saturdays = Youth. The pop songs are as catchy as ever, while others aspire not to reach beyond the sky in full grandiosity. Listening to Splendor is like watching a sunset while the ocean breeze caresses your skin. Skip to Raconte-Moi Une Historie or Reunion and it's damn near impossible to stay still! It's a truly cinematic and eventful album.
I don't usually love double albums as much as I do with this one. I figured the trick here is songs like Klaus I Love You that are a lot of shorter yet manage to leave you wanting more. I would definitely put it right behind Before The Dawn Heels Us for my favorite M83 record!
This is a good opportunity to show off my autographed cd...
Winner of most awesomely named album, of course! There's a fairly good mix of kraut rock-leaning songs and the atmospherics, slow build-ups driven tracks. It includes some of the most immediate songs they've released since Mr. Beast... ok, there's only been one record in between those two, Mr. Observation. It could definitely be called Catchy Songs For Catchy People. Certainly a big step up from The Hawk is Howling, as far as cohesiveness is concerned. There's no lagging in the middle, good rhythm in the track list and highlights can be found all the way through the album. The only disappointment here? I have not been able to listen to any of these new songs live due to two consecutive cancelations and no reschedule yet. WHYYYYYYY?!
I remember listening to pbrnb band How to Dress Well last year and being disappointed by the lack of most drepressed man in the world gravitas from his last.fm gallery. Here we have Washed Out, aka Ernest Greene, who seems to fit the package rather well. Even the songs with uplifting lyrics, like Amor Fati, sound depressed. It does suffers, however, of the Wild Nothing syndrome, where the vocals can get somewhat anemic. That's part of the chill aesthetics, we can't frown upon it that much. And where WN's Jack Tantum sounds trapped in a fasting period, this man at the very least had some crackers in the morning. I have to add the cover art also fits the mood of the music.
Whoa! What a solid turn out for these newcomers! Love this album but thought it would fall victim to a late release date, surely it was helped by early promo hit mp3 Harsh Realm. Looking back to this countdown - we are already near the top 5! - I'd say Widowspeak's sound could be described as the union of Anna Calvi and Still Corners. It's a mellow, old-fashioned style full of easygoing and melancholic melodies but also more upbeat head boppers. It is very well balanced.
As my 2009 recap can testify, I was won over by the sheer force generated by the waves of distortion from their second album, Primary Colours. This album builds on, moves on. There's a bit more clarity in the reverb, some nicely added synth to add texture and horns to diversify, it even includes a guest spot from the second most skilled music instrument - the tambourine (the tambourine is second to the triangle, in case you were wondering). It's very put together, sounds cerebral but immensely enjoyable to listen. I also hear this is their first foray into self-production. Nice work, guys! From now on, you can save those production fees and get to gush and take every bit of credit.
Though I was initially intrigued by the debut EP, this album is a complete turn. Even the EP title song has been reedited to achieve maximum eerie and claustrophobic doom status. Others sound intriguing and almost otherworldly, like Shoot the Water that never fails to remind me of the Fifth Element opera. Ultimately the combination of her soprano and vocalizations really make this record stand out amongst the other releases this year.
The power lies in the short track list! Mind you, not that this is a short stroll in the park here. There are so many ups and downs, turns and twists that a single song can drain you.
Just like Mogwai did this year as well, they dabbled with uptempo - and (gasp!) vocalization - but it did not translate to much of a departure for the album as a whole. The songs should still be considered one single epic that has been divided in chapters. Not so say there's no merit to the stand alone tracks, I simply find them to be more mesmerizing when listened without interruptions. I must say that Trembling Hands does stick out a bit in the middle but things quickly fall back into place to culminate in its most ecstatic moment with Let Me Back In.
For what it's worth, this was the second year in a row where a mainstreamer released an album with almost the exact same title as the small roasted potatoes I usually listen to. You know who they are.
It's been a long time coming! What a rise they've had in my charts for the past 3 years, all the way to #3 in my charts, finally crowned by a chart topping album.
There are certainly some interesting moments here, like some gospel backdrops and plenty of stabbed guitars that want to smear you with the blood of its sacrifice. I must put into writing that's one of my favorite things about their music: how the guitars can sound like the notes were beaten out of them at times.
Where things don't seem to gel for me is songs like Heart Is a Beating Drum and Nail in My Coffin, the latter sounding a little bit like a Dead Weather spilled over - and you all know how I feel about that project (if you didn't, you can now risk a guess). Don't know how those made it instead of great b-side Blue Moon! So, is this the best they have to offer? Certainly not but it is still a strong offering that should keep me on board their band wagon. Beep, beep!
And then there’s my favourite album of 2011, the second release this year from a peerless icon who has always forged ahead on her own path of sonic enlightenment. Though that first LP proved controversial, sparking its fair share of debates with regards to its qualities and merit, the promise of a second album in time for the Christmas did well to assuage any misgivings from those left unimpressed. And with its wintry fables of heartbreak and chilling beauty, featuring a snowman lothario and wayward yeti amongst its cast of characters, it helped to prove just why we fell in love with this enigmatic girl in the first place. So, at the premier point of my chart, I present…
And here I am, ready and willing to divulge my opinions on some of the best music to have seen release over the last twelve months. It’s a time of reflection for many, and though I’d like to think there is some unintentional emotional continuity with regards to my specific choices here (be they personal, topical or fanciful), all I can honestly say is that the music featured in this article (bar one horrid exemption) is rather brilliant. But enough lollygagging, here are my annual virtual bestowments for 2011:
Alternative Album Of The Year
Cat's Eyes by Cat's Eyes Classically-trained Canadian-Italian soprano hooks up (musically and literally) with frontman of The UK's Next Genuinely Great Rock Band, only to deliver a beauteous collection of alt-surfer-rock, sad-eyed orchestral pop and ominous psychedelic bombast. Endorsed by the Vatican and snubbed of a Mercury Prize nomination (now how many times can you write that about an album?), its charms are as plaintively soothing as they are deliciously disturbing.
Dance Album Of The Year
Knee Deep by WhoMadeWho Their first release under the über-cool Kompakt banner, the Danish disco triumvirate delivered a mini-marvel of glitchily-tripped-out Eurodance after coasting around with previously agreeable-yet-unremarkable results, almost sounding like they believe they can be genuinely great. A shame then that it remains otherwise undiscovered by most, as beat pummeling this pleasantly, unadulteratedly euphoric is something to be celebrated.
Electronic Album Of The Year
Replica by Oneohtrix Point Never New York-based alternative electronica musician's sixth solo album in four years, using old-school synthesizers and otherworldly samples to create a perfect would-be score to the best existential, martial arts-heavy, sci-fi anime epic that Stanley Kubrick didn't get round to making. A sublime enmeshing of ambient electronica and tsunamic drone, it's a fine evocation of what both sub-genres have still got to offer to the pantheon of electronic music.
Folk Album Of The Year
Bon Iver, Bon Iver by Bon Iver Cumbersome title aside, singer-songwriter-producer Justin Vernon opens up the emotional sonic realms found on his icily-remote debut solo release from 2008 with inspirational results, creating an album that traverses an immense emotional spectrum as well as a sumptuously-varied palette of genres without raising itself higher than that of a wizened, noble whisper. Fragile-yet-strong, intimate-yet-soul-stirringly epic, its amazing that the Grammys even noticed it, but thankfully they did.
Hip Hop/Rap Album Of The Year
Take Care by Drake Rap music's most endearingly-reluctant superstar (not in a pretentious way obviously, he just happens to be that sexily charismatic) fully delivers after the minor disappointment of his debut LP last year with a mighty-fine album of soul-hop-pop trading in self-effacing rhymes, admirably emotional contemplation and production/arrangement wares from the recent spate of introspective R&B/pop upstarts (alongside main producer Noah "40" Shebib, you have fluorishes from the likes of Jamie xx and The Weeknd too). It'd all be for nought though if it weren't for the mercurial wordsmith at its centre.
Pop Album Of The Year
Voyage by The Sound of Arrows Swedish synthpop duo earmarked as the natural successors to Pet Shop Boys make a debut album of utmostly joyous self-discovery and it goes largely ignored by the general public. Whilst everyone somewhat-justly fell in love with M83's double-album opus this year, Messrs Gullstrand and Storm created an album that similarly evoked wide-eyed wonder and giddy awe, but let you rather unreservedly dance to it like an album about such things undoubtedly should.
R&B Album Of The Year
Thursday by The Weeknd Though the first installment of this prodigious talent's 2011 mixtape trilogy is the most critically revered (and also because I hadn't actually listened to the third effort Echoes of Silence until after I first announced my nominations), I reserve my right to laud this second album-because-come-on-that's-what-it-really-is on the grounds of its being more sprawling, uncompromising and violently traumatic than its predecessor. We're so very lucky to have three of these to savour anyhoo, right?
Rock Album Of The Year
skying by The Horrors And we're back to The UK's Next Genuinely Great Rock Band with their third album, which presents an even more psychedlic evolution of the 80s-style alt-rock of their second game-changer album Primary Colours. Nimbly traversing the fine line between honourable homage and timeless rock-pop grandeur whilst still sounding gorgeously fresh, this is their "We Have Arrived" moment of artistic revelation, following through on the promises made earlier and triumphantly surging ahead.
Single Of The Year
Video Games by Lana Del Rey Lana Del Rey or Lizzie Grant? Faded-glamourous alt-pop mastermind or cynically-minded cash-in musician? Without sounding too much like a fence-sitting shill, what does it matter? Much like the aforementioned Cat's Eyes' work, it's a modern throwback to the gorgeous Hollywood torch anthems that its worldliest dames were singing of decades ago, an anthem of all-consuming, passive-aggressive love that renders any and every listener starstruck in their tracks.
Video Of The Year
Song of Los by Apparat / Directed by Saman Keshavarz There are videos that turn shit songs into great ones and rather good ones into excellent ones, but rarely does it occur when a video enhances a song already so excellently fraught with emotion and resonance. But director Keshavarz does that rather amazingly here, using Apparat's hyper-electro-ballad as a soundtrack to a short life that takes in all of the joy and horror that existence can give any single person. On top of all that, it contains the most heartbreaking use of emoticons this side of Moon.
Collaboration Of The Year
My Cloud by Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx I can be called up on this being considered a genuine collaboration on account of it, along with the entirety of its parent album We're New Here, being a remix from The xx's frontman with minimal involvement from its key progenitor, though he contractually takes a co-headline credit. That being said, it was more-than canny of Scott-Heron to tap Jamie Smith in the first place, turning this b-side from the Godfather Of Rap's last album of his lifetime into a prettily-percolating, soulful triumph. R.I.P. Gil. :,(
Best Bit-In-A-Song Of The Year
The "You Wan' A Key-Change? I'll Give Your Four!!" finale on Love on Top by Beyoncé Despite, Knowles' LP not catching the world on fire quite like it should have done, this proteanly-giddy midtempo ballad has finally been dragging some attention back towards it. An infectiously joyous R&B pop ballad reminiscent of the early Mariah Carey years, its reputation as a future-wedding-reception-floor-filler is cemented by the almost-demented vocal powerhouse finale; there's been no other more impressive moment for a pop singer this year as when Knowles ascends those octaves in effortless bounds, trust.
Diminutive in stature and music-press profile she may have been at the start of 2011, but Ms Calvi rode the enormous hype propagated by her epmonymous debut album incredibly well, thanks in no small part to bewitching performances that constituted a lengthy European tour. I was able to catch her third of four London dates at Bush Hall and can honestly say that you haven't heard this girl do herself justice unless she's strumming that guitar and wailing like a lovelorn banshee right in front of you.
"Where Have You Been All My Life" Award The Weeknd To think, this time last year most people didn't even know who or what Abel Tesfaye's alt-R&B project was; twelve months later (alongside established production hands Doc McKinney and Illangelo), he's delivered three whole albums for our delectation. His beautifully frank odes to debauched nights out of drinking, taking drugs, screwing strippers and cataclismyc heartbreak became an essential part of any wannabe-cool-dude's Best Of 2011 playlist. To quote Kanye West himself: Could he get much higher?
Producer Of The Year Justin Vernon Whether the songs therein are beautiful or not, the main reason for Bon Iver, Bon Iver's success this year was down to the hard work done by its progenitor on the album's production. Working with more foreign elements and players than his previous tome, Vernon's smarts as a producer brought all the disparate elements (acoustic folk, sunset-coated Americana, glitchy electronica, electro-pop synths) together to create a beautifully yearning whole.
"Get On With It Already!" Award Burial Though post-dubstep pioneer Will Bevan did well to actually release some new material via his Street Halo EP earlier this year, given that it's been four years since his last album, the blisteringly wonderful breakout success Untrue, it's a case of too-little-too-late. And seeing as he's been plying his dusty wares on various other projects of late in collaboration with the likes of Four Tet, Thom Yorke, Breakage, Jamie Woon and Massive Attack, there really isn't even a smidgeon of an excuse against it.
Villain Of The Year Jessie J It's not that I don't like pop stars who clearly think they are at the centre of everything that we know to be absolutely magnificent in our world; it's that I don't wish to be reminded of it every five seconds with a melismic klaxon of a human voice that trades in ear-splitting volume and snotty brattishness for earnest emotion and profound experience whilst singing ballads filled with enough platitudes to make even the least-sincere self-help guru cringe. How the rest of the world has fallen for it is genuinely beyond me!
House of Balloons by The Weeknd Seeing as he's given us three albums this year, it only seems fair I acknowledge Tesfaye three(?) times in my end-of-year blog, but what else is there left to say? Well, with regards to House, the album that single-handedly put him on the musicworld map, there is the fact that for a debut album, its statement of intent with regards to its creator's sound is so sublime, vicious and ultimately beautiful, that it'll stay with you for months to come after your first listen.
Group Album Of The Year
Eye Contact by Gang Gang Dance There are so many intoxicating facets to Gang Gang Dance's sound that one has trouble trying to come up with what to label them as, other than the ever-sheltering, pigeonholing umbrella of "Electronic" music. Do they make dance music, synth-driven drone, alt-electronic world pop, swoonsome avant-R&B or indie-electro gone pulsatingly, gorgeously mad? Or do they synthesize all of this into a wonderful concoction? Ahh bollocks, let's just call them Fucking Awesome, and have done with it.
Solo Male Album Of The Year
Looping State of Mind by The Field It's more-than-something of an immeasurably sweet irony that Swedish DJ Axel Willner has been able to create some of the very, very best dance music of recent years purely via the old adage of looping, especially seeing as his brand of finite twiddling is so peerlessly excellent, he feels no need to deviate too much away from with it. Taking isolated moments of pop excellence and spinning them into sonic opuses all of his own is his gift to the world. I wonder if he takes requests?
Solo Female Album Of The Year
Biophilia by Björk Björk's latest LP prompted as many genuinely intrigued reactions as she did typical eye-rolling from those too stuck in the mud to want to bite. And though the iPad-app-based multimedia aspect provided a fascinating enough PR launch for this particular work (which ironically enough knotted its lyrical themes more than ever to her love of nature), the spine-tingling mix of cutting-edge electronica, robust melodies and especially that iconic voice of hers remains just as beguiling as it always has.
And then there was The Album Of The Year…
Which will be revealed in a short while along with my Top 50 Albums Of 2011… You didn’t think I’d give everything away now, did you?
What with the Grammy nominations due to be released in a few hours, I thought it customary to get my two cents in before the announcement in an effort to get my word out on a few of the finer examples of new music to come our way over the past year, rather than get into the typically blog-centric spirit of things with lengthy Top 50 charts and such. Alas, there will be no live telecast or glamorous awards ceremony at the end of the year in which these awards will be bestowed upon their oblivious recipients, but I've always had a thing about the pat-on-the-back pageantry since I was a young boy who used to stay up late and watch the Oscars live early on the last Monday morning of February, and until I marry wealthy enough to make such things a reality, the web will have to do for such inconsequential piffle. But enough already, may I present to you the nominees for the Vessalis Music Awards 2011:
Live Act Of The Year Anna Calvi - Bush Hall, London, 27th April Beth Ditto - Lovebox Festival, London, 17th June Björk - Manchester International Festival, Manchester, 10th July Katy B - Lovebox Festival, London, 16th June The Naked and Famous - Wireless Festival, London, 3rd July
And there you have it; R&B superstar-in-waiting The Weeknd leads the haul with six nominations (not including the production nomination for both of his albums for Doc McKinney and Illangelo), with multiple nods also going to baroque troubadour Anna Calvi, pioneering alt-electro goddess Björk, Kanye West's new best friend Bon Iver, misunderstood cuddly lothario Drake, R&B/dance upstart Katy B, swoonsome pop duo The Sounds Of Arrows, gothic retro-pop outfit Cat's Eyes and hip hop music's very own Eeyore Ghostpoet.
Winners, as well as a breakdown of the awards already announced, will be announced before the year is out. Until then... xxxo.
The end is in sight, my dears!! And in preparation for a busy month ahead, have put together one last quarterly playlist to share with you all. Excuse the bluntness with which I proceed, but I promised myself I'd just get straight to it this time. But don't worry, there's more from me to come in December. Until then though...
Starting off the soundtrack to the winter months absolutely fittingly is the inimitable Kate Bush with a cut from her tenth studio album 50 Words for Snow, an LP that has every right to become the go-to alternative Yuletide album for those who aren't so easily subsumed by the crudely commercial holiday cheer of your typically superficial Christmas. Playing more like an audio compendium of wintry fables, each of them concerning the awe-striking majesty and destructiveness of one of nature's most powerful forces whilst marrying these with magically bittersweet affairs of the human heart, one of the most startlingly emotional examples is this hauntingly spectral duet with Elton John that sees himself and Bush as star-crossed lovers traversing the world and time itself only to fall in love and lose one another again. It's stirringly beautiful stuff that not only brings out John's most powerful vocal performance in years, but single-handedly wipes away all doubt that Bush may have left when she came out with the Director's Cut collection earlier this year.
Easing us back in from the cold now is some slow-burning folk-rock from Leslie Feist, she of the international breakthrough via iPod Nano advert back in 2007. As evidenced by this emotional piece through, gone is the cutesy guitar pop that warranted a still-charming appearance on Sesame Street and in its place is a more muscular, angular norm, her new album Metals featuring work from established cohorts Gonzales and Mocky as well as newfound compatriot Valgier Sigurðsson. Though many have welcomed the rustic, rough-hewn "chaos" that pervades the album's earlier moments, like that of lead single How Come You Never Go There, it's in the album's quieter pieces where Feist's lyrical authority and songwriting talents genuinely shine bright. Not to mention that crystal clear voice of hers, which hasn't sounded so rapt and true with emotion as it does on this particular track, negotiating the spare opening of snare and bass before the track ascends into a plaintive clash of guitars and strings only to travel back down to its humble sonic origins with typically assured grace.
Whilst the rest of the world fell in love with Adele's gracious-yet-sad (and very possibly questionably-sane) paean to lost love in her over-played wrought-fest Someone Like You, Australia's biggest unlikely hit of the year was a tale of heartache encased in vitriol and bitterness that saw its protagonist confusedly yelling at the object of his frustrated affections with the kind of toxic pallor that is as immediately relatable as it is affronting. Responsible for this icepick of a lovesong is Wally "Gotye" De Backer, an Australian-Belgian alt-pop musician who's been coasting breakout success for a good few years now (you may know his last hit Learnalilgivinanlovin from its prominent use in movies starring Drew Barrymore), but with this breakout second single from parent album Making Mirrors, he appears to have finally scored, and richly deserved it is too. A natural successor to Peter Gabriel's brand of pop that manages to cross folk, rock and soul together into an intoxicating whole (well, when he used to be good anyway), Gotye's success appeared to catch everyone in Australia by surprise; let's hope that 2012 has him branch out of his homeland with similar results.
4)Virus by Björk ***CAN'T FIND A LINK WITH AUDIO FOR THIS SONG, SO PLEASE JUST TRUST ME ON IT*** Continuing the present theme about the nature of love and its adverse affects on humanity is a cut from perhaps the most polarizing release by a single popstar so far this year in Björk's Biophilia, though if an album from this particular chanteuse were to elicit anything less than such a reaction, it would roundly be considered by all to be something of a failure. Though much has been made of the LP's sonic construction as well as its interactive multimedia applications that allow the more adventurous listeners to isolate, manipulate or explode specific elements from each of its ten songs via touch-screen technology on their iPhones/iPads (which also happens to serve as confirmation that even boundary-pushing artists can't seem to innovate without Apple's influence), there's still more than enough of Björk's proven mettle as a songwriter of intellectual and emotional velocity for the more Luddite-hearted fan to console themselves with. Virus is one of the album's particular highlights; evoking love's indefatigable thrall on the human heart by comparing it to a rogue germ's attack on the human nervous system, it's a knowingly quixotic metaphor rendered lovingly, bravely and typically true of its maverick progenitor.
Lana Del Rey has been something of an enigma for the music press to categorize since her video for Video Games infiltrated the blogosphere with a truly bombastic response of adulation. There are those that flocked to see her on her first European tour last month (which completely sold out... on the back of a mere two songs) and heralded her as 2012'a Princess Of Pop In Waiting, and there are those who have claimed to cracked through her label's elaborate efforts to package her as an indie starlet in the "brokedown Hollywood" vein, seeing nothing more than a prettily-singing shill out to gain instant notoriety and plumbing extremely cynical depths to do so. Well, after seeing her live in London, I can confirm a few things; she may not yet be the Princess that those who caved in to the hype thought she'd be, but she's still a mighty fine vocalist with an arresting ear and delivery for heartbroken love ballads, and given the right songs, there's no stopping her. Plus, Video Games is definitely the best song of the year, so the haters can just shut the fuck up.
So how awesome is Zola Jesus? Well, if the above video hasn't confirmed anything for you yet, how's about comparing her work to that of what Lady Gaga, Florence + the Machine and The Knife would sound like after being thrown into a sonic blender, and you're about a third of the way there. After courting "Next Big Thing" notices last year for her well received Stridulum - EP and album, as well as taking in a handful of well-received festival appearances and support slots with Ms. The Knife herself, Fever Ray, Nika Roza Danilova's solo project retreated back to the studio almost immediately to craft her third LP. Despite not catching fire quite as brightly as the tastemakers predicted last year, Conatus is a more strident, confident album from the 22-year-old(!!) singer-songwriter, reinstating the industrial goth-pop that beguiled everyone last time whilst exhibiting a more mature clarity and authority, effortlessly balancing light and dark to create an at-times marvelous listen that doesn't alienate either the hardcore or the passing listeners of her sublime vein of electro balladry. Admit it, the song above is truly awesome, right?
One newbie who stands one hell of a chance to inherit Zola's crown of Songwriter Whom Blogs Will Be Forever In Love With Until Someone Newer Comes Along for 2011 is Trevor Powers, whose debut LP The Year of Hibernation has managed to catch the wind and spread its audio spoils like wildfire amongst music blogs all over the world (two of his keener champions being Pitchfork and Disco Naivete). And I could be snarky about how vociferous the praise surrounding this young lad (another 22-year-old!) has been if it weren't for the fact that he has managed to craft an album that is as dense and melancholy as it is bright and hopeful, as much prone to chirpy whistles and effusive guitar lines as it is to laboured moans and discontented malaise. One of the album's most sterling examples is this track; a song that starts as mournful as they come before ascending a crescendo of gorgeous lo-fi-ness with such beatific simplicity that it warmly blind-sides you with its newfound sense of worldly loveliness, the homemade production (it was recorded in his garage) imbuing the song with an almost alarming intimacy.
*Skip to 16:13 for the specific track* Coming to noted prominence last year with his fifth solo album (in three years) Returnal, one-man-band Daniel Lopatin's music is credited by many as representing a significant contribution to the ambient drone sub-genre of electronica. His second album to see release this year (the other a collaboration with Tigercity's Joel Ford, Channel Pressure), Replica's ominously soothing symphonies can best be described as the lost soundtrack created for an existentialist urban anime sci-fi noir helmed by Stanley Kubrick, what with the sounds emanating from each of these pieces being so otherworldly, cold, arresting and yet oddly calming and bewitching at the same time. It takes a while to get used to, but the second half of the album in particular is something bewilderingly fascinating, not least this transcendent finale. Admittedly, it is one of the more purely clandestine and easily accessible songs of the collection (reminiscent of a drugged-up, neon-lit version of 1/2 from Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports), but no less spellbinding for it.
Despite the commercial success of his debut album Thank Me Later last year (propagated probably more by the revolving door of collaborations on other artists songs such as Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and especially Rihanna than any work on his solo endeavour), Aubrey Graham has gone on record saying that his premier LP of self-effacing rhymes concerning newfound fame and complicated booty business wasn't one that he was entirely happy with. However, on sophomore effort Take Care, Drake not only fulfils the promise made on his 2009 mixtape So Far Gone but goes so far as to deliver one of the most breathtakingly sincere, gorgeous and soulful hip hop albums of the past few years. Much hoo-ha was made in the press on the announcement of Jamie xx and The Weeknd's contributions to the album (and both turn in fine work too, particular the former on the title track that samples his work from the Gil Scott-Heron project We're New Here), but this is Drake's show. His mixture of the candid and the tender has never been bettered as it has here, a woozily atmospheric VIP-room ballad that goes beyond sexy into something mournful and profoundly moving.
And just before you can try to judge me for being a soporific sod music-wise, busting raucously out of leftfield we have British producer Thomas Bell's title track from his second album, Watch Me Dance. Hailing from the Yorkshire city of Sheffield, Bell's DJ moniker was bestowed upon him by his fellow local disc-spinners with regards to the prodigious upstart's youth, manning the decks at clubs and glam parties by the time was just 16-years-old. Since then, not only did he hook up with BBC Radio 1's Annie Mac to form one of the cuter couples in dance music, but he has also forged an impressive oeuvre as a producer for some of the UK's most successful urban dance acts, some of whom return the favour on his sophomore LP to form a valuable cadre of collaborators from which Bell is inspired to craft some of the best feelgood dance music you'll hear this year. One such co-conspirator is the one and only Rodney Smith, featured here in fine fetter amidst a rabble-rousing chorus of guitars and whoops that provides an saucily warm invitation to the rest of the album's head-noddingly fine mix of hip hop, R&B and dancehall.
And now we follow through with something a little grimier and dirtier, courtesy of the German DJ duo who continue to defy easy genre-pigeonholing more than ever with their third LP, Monkeytown. After a justly-celebrated collaboration with one my last playlist's featured guests, electronic solo artist Apparat, yielded one of the finest dances of 2009, Messrs Bornsert and Szary have been hard at work on album three, which shares the name of their own fledgling label as well as constitutes as the outfit's most variedly head-turning collection of dance tunes they've yet released, mixing in typically tweaked-out IDM, minimal techno and urban dancehall whilst taking in vocals turns from returning collaborators Apparat and Thom Yorke (an early champion of the duo who has stayed remarkably loyal since) as well as perfs from urban artists such as Busdriver and Miss Platnum. One of the better cuts though is this lyric-less, surging rush of synths complemented by possibly the finest flurry of beat signatures that 2011 has seen fit to listen to; though some of the album sees the talented beatsmiths have a little more irreverant fun, it's heartening to hear them hit straight through with something galvanizingly awesome when they put their demented heads together.
And the third successive track from a DJ outfit on this list actually comes from a trio (am I channeling Feist with this sequencing??), them being Los Angeles-based party-starters The Glitch Mob, whom after enjoying an incredible 2010 that saw the release of their rather-amazing debut album Drink the Sea have been hard at work slaying crowds on tour as well as working diligently on new material for the follow-up album. Releasing a clutch of new songs earlier this year on their We Can Make The World Stop - EP, the most well-received of the troika of tunes was this title track, which as you can surely attest, is just as good as the better moments from the debut LP. We await the second album with baited breath, lads...
And as we hit the home-stretch, there's still a little more time to dance around, courtesy of electro-rock-punk husband-and-wife duo Handsome Furs and this cut from their third studio album, Sound Kapitol. Written entirely on keyboards both to necessitate tour-bound songwriting sessions that in turn allowed a more instantaneous sense of inspiration from the world around them as well as pushing their prior guitar-driven sound into something a little more vital and eclectic (no worries though, as their customarily crunchy riffs can still be found in generous supply throughout the LP), Kapitol sees the band embrace electronic music far more than they have done previously, but still retains the fierce energy of their previous work, making for engaging results for those willing to take the plunge. Repatriated is one the album's more emotional moments, stopping and starting with its shuddering bears whilst the synths soar overhead and singer Dan Boeckner's dulcet intonations keep the whole shebang in order.
And despite my miserable protestations, even I couldn't end this 2011 series on such a downer, so to cap it all off we have this gorgeous epic ballad from The Sound Of Arrows, a duo from Sweden who specialize in wondrous, wide-eyed synth-pop that is so unabashedly bursting with ethereal goodness that even when the children's choirs come crashing in key moments, you can't help but grin ear to ear as if you're the Cheshire Cat's extremely giddy younger sibling. An enchanting cross between Pet Shop Boys and M83, thematically Arrow's debut album Voyage has a lot in common with the latter group's latest album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, in its sublime journey through its progenitors' beauteous soundscapes, but steadfastly attaches itself to the dreamy delights of Europop to enhance its nostalgic loveliness rather than hide behind more indie-credible electro leanings. For the record, the M83 album is still fantastic (and is responsible for one of the year's best singles) but Voyage is an album that manages to explore the same territory with less filler and a more direct emotional appeal. And you can dance to it a lot easier than the other, it ought to be said...
And there you have it! My 2011, is officially over... Or is it!?!? Check back in a couple of days when the End Of Year madness really begins!
Alas, the summer is officially over. And in spite of my wanting to spend it in as foul a mood as possible, it actually turned into something rather wonderful. Amongst the most purely amazing was Björk herself singing Jóga directly at me when I went to see her with my good friend Omissi0n at one of her sold-out shows in Manchester as part of a two-week residency to promote her new album Biophilia (of which I’m sure I’ll be writing about in my next installment). Amongst the most slap-the-forehead horrible was that no matter how often I bleached my hair, I came to realize that I’ll never look as cute as Simon Pegg did in Spaced, never mind Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element. Then there was the horrid realization upon tearing up my living room carpet of just how much my dog had marked his territory since we first welcomed him into our family four years ago… you’d think after searing my nasal passages with the stench of hair-burning peroxide for six months I’d be used to such trenchant ammonia-based smells, but no.
However, the most sublimely bittersweet was bearing witness to my mother’s reaction on the day that the world lost Amy Winehouse. Instantly upon hearing of Winehouse’s passing, my mother ended up calling everyone that she knew, imparting the news to all who would listen with the kind of wounded reverance one would normally reserve for close friends and dear family. Such was the power of Winehouse’s music, she was able to inspire such resolute feeling and heartbroken loyalty in a random person whom she would never even meet. So, despite the tragedy of her death, I can’t help but be heartened by such emotional spontaneity, however minute or inconsequential it may seem to the world at large. I’m sure Winehouse herself would be honoured (or perhaps more likely a little embarrassed) that her songs have provided such a sterling example of the power of music and that it could still herald such a poignant outburst of emotion. Much better than that shockingly bad tribute to her at the MTV Video Music Awards by freakish manchild Bruno Mars, anyway.
By way of some sonic verisimilitude after his latest side-project Cat's Eyes closed things up rather ominously on my last playlist, first up we have Faris Badwan returning to the fray with a cut from The Horrors’ latest opus, Skying, an album that pretty much confirms the young five-piece band as one of the UK’s most genuinely accomplished acts of their generation. Tipping their unruly-haired heads further towards the warm 80′s-sponsored psychedelia of previous effort Primary Colours and away from the bilious garage-punk rabble of their debut LP Strange House, Skying in its best moments delivers the kind of timeless sweetness that pervaded the best alternative rock and electronic pop music from twenty years ago. One such example is this lead single, a five minute slice of epicness that trades on benevolent euphoria, the percussion loping genially along as the reversed guitars sing in the background, making way for those strikingly lovely synths that do well to transport you back into your teenage self, redolent with frustrated wonder and anticipation. Few bands can take you back to those feelings with such authenticity, so the fact that this appears to be the only way The Horrors can create music is something to be applauded.
Now a little late arriving to this lovely young girl’s party I may be, but I can still count myself as one of the rightly-riled music fans who can’t understand why someone responsible for bright pop music as delightful as that found on Anita Blay’s debut album has gone unnoticed by most listeners. A most disarming mix of sweetness and tartness wherein a sly wit pervades throughout, Blay’s album is a joyous throwback to 90′s indie urban pop, holding court herself with an assured voice that eschews typical octave-vaulting for something more approachable and endearing. It helps that she has a catchy ear for melody too, as evidenced on this track with its adorable synths bouncing around the tight harmonies on the chorus, featuring Blay imploring the object of her frustrated desire to “work it out” with such effortless guile as to make the listener question said subject’s apparent absentmindedness. Adulthood is the rare debut album that doesn’t rely on eye-rolling “look-at-me” moments that smack of desperation and obnoxiousness to get its heroine’s personality across; instead it is a beyond-charming portrait of a self-effacingly confident young woman that the rest of the world could do with getting to know a bit better than it currently does.
Sharing some of the same songwriters and production staff as Blay’s album is Cinderella's Eyes, the solo debut from Miss Roberts also fuses an arch indie wit and irresistible girliness together to create one of the best pop albums of the year. Known rather unfairly by most as the miserable-looking one from Girls Aloud, many of the band’s smarter fans earmarked Nicola as the pop behemoth’s true solo star-in-waiting, and though comparing her premier disc to those of bandmates Cheryl Cole and Nadine Coyle is doing her fabulous work here a disservice, it’s the best way to highlight just how natural a pop star she is. Whereas Cole’s music felt more like an afterthought to her celebrity profile and Coyle’s album fell flat due to it’s prominent whiff of desperation, Roberts’ LP is an enjoyably-cohesive little pop trifle that despite the multitude of know-alls behind the scenes doesn’t feel like it could possibly be carried by anyone else. Sugary sweet and at times rather silly, but still in possession of enough self-mocking awareness, intuition and heart to make it all deliciously easy to swallow, it’s an album you wish you could listen to as an eight-year-old girl just to get the absolute utmost pleasure out of it. And this anthem in particular is a succinct summation of all its charms.
4)I Kill Your Love, Baby! by I Break Horses ***CAN'T FIND A VIDEO LINK FOR THIS SONG, SO PLEASE JUST TRUST ME ON IT*** Some homemade Scandinavian alternative pop now from Swedish musicians Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck, of whom little is still known but for the encouraging buzz emanating around their debut album, Hearts. It’s the kind of delicate wide-eyed thing that would do well to soundtrack nestling inside on a cold winter’s night with a loved one just before sunrise, abounding with expansive sonic vistas of reverb-drenched guitars, ethereal vocals and soul-searching synths. Though the public at large doesn’t know very much about the shoegaze duo yet, what with their not having even performed their pieces live for press or public (though there are videos of “bedroom sessions” on Youtube and a blurb on the website big enough to describe Lindén as “a shit-kicker in high fidelity” whilst acknowledging the group’s musical debts to the likes of My Bloody Valentine), rest assured that their sounds should be reverberating around the hippest of after-parties for the rest of the year. This track in particular showcases the duo’s command of sonic textures and arrangements, building with plenty of curiously ominous luminescence until finally rewarding the listener with a tremulous wave of audio sublimity.
More eye-moistening electronica now, courtesy of German noisenik Sascha Ring, fresh from his stint in the excellent Moderat project with dance-duo Modeselektor. The Devil's Walk (named so after a poem written by nineteenth-century English Romantic Percy Bysshe Shelley) is his fifth album, his first to be released by English label Mute Records and quite the emotional sojourn into bubbly electro, orchestral flourishes and tear-stained balladry it is, lead single Song of Los already inspiring one the best and certainly most heartbreaking accompanying videos of the year so far. However, despite even a stirring collaboration with Soap&Skin‘s Anja Plaschg surfacing pretty early on the album (and by the way, where’s your second album, Miss?), it is with this track that the breadth of Ring’s musicality is truly revealed, at once achingly intimate and incredibly grand, offering more moments of almost-painful quietness and sweeping beauty within a single piece than most albums this year can claim to have done in their entire duration.
And just in time before everyone gets a little too emotional to carry on (we’re only a third of the way through here, people!), let’s hand it over to the US’ latest alternative music star, Ernest Greene, a young man who has been fanning generous plaudits from bloggers the world over for the past two years via his well-received EP’s consisting of what has been coined by whatever hipster got there first as “chillwave”. Signing with the label Sub Pop last year, 2011 saw the drop of his debut album, Within and Without, upon whom its progenitor was bestowed with even more critical garlands for its intoxicating mix of ambient chilled-out electronica, hip hop beats and trance-style signatures, with Greene’s vocals flowing over the top to provide yet another layer of soporific sultriness to the proceedings. The LP itself is probably the single most successful amalgamation of disparate genres that has created a universally-friendly whole that the world has heard this year, feeling as much at home on mainstream radio as it would in the clubs or at the hazy after-party. The best example of Greene’s work at its most mellifluously mesmerizing has to be this track; caution, it may actually make you feel a little happy inside again.
Continuing the theme of electronic one-man projects, we now have Alan Palomo and his plucky electro-bandmates with they’re sophomore LP, Era Extraña, arriving two years after their debut Psychic Chasms found favour with electro-fans the world over with its characteristic blend of arty chillwave synthpop. For his second sonic tome, Palomo holed himself up in Helsinki for four weeks, prompting a severe case of cabin fever that was punctuated by the intermittent stalking of a hobo. Not that such personal tolls on the man found their way on to his second album though, with the majority of it being as upbeat and resonant as any electro-geek would like their music to be, very much in the vein of the punchy ambience offered by Washed Out’s track earlier, but with more of a heavy lean towards 80′s electro and cacophonous arcade samples (the latter best exemplified by the closer Arcade Blues (single)). However, the standout from the album that made it on to my playlist is this slice of electro-dance, complete with mantra-style intonations and vocal layering alongside some rather appreciable toe-tapping beats.
One artist whose modus operandi seems to offer no end of sonic delights for his faithful listeners is that of Axel Willner, the Swedish DJ/musician who can take a single particular moment from a popular song and through his superlative brand of hypnotizing loops turn it into something head-noddingly epic (one of his better examples being this cut from his debut LP From Here We Go Sublime that doesn’t reveal its origins until the very end, prompting one of the most laugh-out-loud moments in dance music for recent years). Granted, since his universally-acclaimed first album Willner’s compositions have been getting longer and more intimidating, something that the more passing dancehead won’t necessarily be down with. Having said that, once you’re caught within Willner’s thrall of sequenced looping, even the tracks that last as long as eleven minutes still fly past, be they extended moments of chilled-out euphoria (like this one) or shape-throwing efforts of dancey propulsion. Looping Is A State Of Mind; and you’ll be lucky to find yourself enjoying the kind of pulses racing their way through Willner’s.
Does anyone still remember when bloggers and musos were getting excited about that new sub-genre of electronic dance music, “witch house”? Last year, when it was gathering up some steam for its heady mix of chopped ‘n’ screwed hip hop beats, ambient industrial shoegaze and disembodied vocals, one of the artists people were getting more excited by was 20 year-old Alec Koone. After coming out with the well received Birds EP late last year, Koone released his debut LP WANDER/WONDER and though the initial critical reaction may have been cooler in accordance with the hype dying down around the whole witch-house movement, there’s no denying that there’s still plenty of head-turningly wonderful stuff to be found. What’s somewhat gratefully missing from this full-length effort though is the harsher side of this so-called genre, Koone leaving behind the grimier side of the dusted beats and processed vocals for something a lot more soothing and wistful. It might not strictly adhere to the witch-house aesthetic, but alongside the more ambient works of his peers such as How to Dress Well (a fellow labelmate with white-hot imprint tri angle) and Baths, it’s still pretty fucking gorgeous; just listen to this track and you’ll see.
One feels that 2011 is the year when R&B and hip hop music began to take a dramatically exciting new direction. The debut artists creating genuine heat these days seem to be informed by a disillusioned stance against the world, informed as much by the elegiac soundscapes of ambient dream-pop and reverb-soaked post rock as they are the typical genre tropes of booties, bitches, money, drugs and thuggery. Without doubt the most impressive of these new prognosticators is The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye, the 21 year-old musician who is only on his second mixtape but quite rightly has the Internet waiting with baited breath on his next move. His debut House of Balloons is the best-reviewed full-length release this year and his second effort, Thursday, is every bit as beautifully dystopian, emotionally haggard and sensuously sinister as its predecessor, perhaps even more so. Standout track The Zone also happens to feature fellow Canadian wordsmith Drake, who not only delivers one of his more eloquently powerful verses ever, but also excitingly helps to cement Tesfaye’s reputation as someone the music world is willing to take very seriously by his appearance here. And we’ve still got one more album to come from him before the year’s out…
After enjoying a steady head of hype since their eponymous debut of lo-fi soulful grooves in 2007, this five-piece electro-pop band from Sweden received some breakthrough recognition last year when they featured twice on one of 2010′s biggest releases, virtual-pop juggernauts Gorillaz’s expansively-realized Plastic Beach (on which their collaboration Empire Ants (feat. Little Dragon) repped as one of that album’s hidden treasures). Since then, not before stopping off for a couple of guest spots on both Dave Sitek‘s one-man-dance-project Maximum Balloon and London-based producer SBTRKT‘s debut from earlier this year, they’ve finally released their third album proper, Ritual Union, which sees the group embrace an even more minimalist sound than previously, marrying nu-soul R&B with the hypnotic beats and bass dominating the loftier echelons of the post-dubstep movement. This track in particular bears the finer virtues of the group’s new direction, consisting of little more than a rustling beat shuddering away as Yukimi Nagano’s vocals moan plaintively under Autotuned duress and an ominous synth continuously swoops throughout it all before delicately submitting itself into a jazzy percussion breakdown.
Though it’s seemingly hip to belittle the UK’s Mercury Prize every year as much for the omissions as it is for the nominees and eventual winner (though it was rather nice that despite most people having their favourites, everyone who was bothered enough to keep track was happy for PJ Harvey‘s win this year), it must be said that they do well to throw the spotlight on certain acts whom the general music-buying public would otherwise ignore. 28 year-old Obaro Ejimiwe is one such musician whose debut album, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, near-silently crept into the world in February this year and, despite several adulatory notices, was due to be largely forgotten until it received a nomination. Granted, this didn’t necessarily translate into amazing unit shifts or anything but at least it granted some valuable media time to one of the most warmly observant, poignant and humbly impressive albums of 2011, Ejimiwe being very much a rapper of the introverted variety á la Roots Manuva. This track is the finale to the LP, as much a critique of the songwriting process as it is of the more vacuous poetry flowing through others MC rhymes these days, of which no one can accuse Ejimiwe of being so.
And the introspective hip hop continues, this time from across the Atlantic by rap collective CunninLynguists and their fifth album, Oneirology, taking its name from the scientific study of dreams. Despite making music for over a decade and all the while receiving plenty of worthy notices from publications like The Source and The Onion A.V. Club, you’d be forgiven for not knowing who this hardworking trio of Kentucky-based MCs are, which only makes the at-times amazing work on this album all the more powerful. Entirely produced by founding member KNO (and on it’s own, the production serves as a marvelous showcase for the man’s talents as a beatsmith), it’s an album that finds its progenitors and its guests navigating through the nightmares of everyday life, simply living and getting by, occasionally dreaming ahead and striving to attain something better, but never once losing their integrity and nobly resisting to glamourize the violence often portrayed. Such honourable and intelligent conviction is on ample display in the above track, if you fancy a listen.
And before finishing up, we’ll have just a couple of verses from Brandon McCartney, a young rapper from California who was able to collect a few death threats from homophobic hip hop enthusiasts and budding MCs when he declared that his latest album was to be titled I'm Gay (I'm Happy), even dedicating it to his fans in the LGBT community (and just for the record, he’s what The Lonely Island would call “no homo”). However, whilst Lil B does in part earn a spot on this playlist for his devil-may-care showmanship and heartening bonhomie (as well as some personal brownie points for being the first rapper to remind me of a Fry & Laurie sketch), it would only take away from album that is in of itself a strikingly personal tome of a young man trying to deal with the world and everything that it throws at him, his rhymes refreshingly shot through with surging passages of hope and optimism despite crippling moments of doubt. I had to include this track above all others though, if only for marrying Obama’s victorious election speech (given more power for sadly seeming so long ago already) with Joe Hisaishi’s enchanting score for Hayao Miyazaki’s epic Spirited Away in a stroke of emotive genius.
15)Turn It Off by The Original Broadway Cast Of The Book Of Mormon
And just when you thought this playlist couldn’t get any more queer, eh? Well, considering this song actually comes from a brand new musical from the creators of South Park and Avenue Q, you can rest assured that it’s place on this list is thoroughly justified. The big winner at this year’s Tony awards (the American version of the Oliviers… what do you mean you’ve never heard of them??), Messrs Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez’s satirical play concerns Mormon missionaries preaching the good word in the grim, war-torn environs of Uganda, taking potshots at the hypocrisy of organized religion and those who preach purely out of selfishness, whilst also appreciating the restorative power faith can have in peoples lives. The score itself is a mighty fine collection of pastiches from previous Broadway hots (specifically those adapted from Disney films), but they all happen to be shot through with incredibly dark, subversive humour, not least in this number wherein the missionaries thwart their own personal demons of domestic violence, cancer and homosexual desires with their artificially-programmed optimism. Hopefully all of this jet-black farce will remain intact for its inevitable West End run, but how well it’ll play outside of America will be interesting to see.
And there you have it my patient friends! Hope you enjoyed reading that one and I’ll see you back in November for part four. Until then… xxxo