Wednesday, July 16, 2014

2014 - The Best So Far : Part Two

1. Kate Tempest - Everbody Down
The difference between a good record and a great one is that the latter will force you to stop what you're doing and marvel at the brilliance unfolding in front of you, a grin creeping across your face as you fall in love with something that is inspirational as opposed to merely satisfying. In a nutshell Kate Tempest is like Mike Skinner reborn ten years down the line but she's much more than a simple revamp of past majesty, 'Everybody Down' taking the story album template of The Streets' 'A Grand Don't Come For Free' and layering in staggeringly accurate detail and penetrative personal analysis. She's got a vocabulary to rival Countdown's Suzi Dench and mic skills on a par with mid 90s Wu Tang Clan, the two interlinking here to craft a record that is peerless in today's music scene - her long form debut will blow your mind on first listen but will leave you struggling to put your finger on exactly what it is about it you love so much, her skills leaving you speechless whilst her insight will have you going away pondering what you've heard until you come back for more. We're pretty great at ruining this sort of stuff in the UK, piling on hyperbole without ever really understanding the material at hand so I'll shut up and just tell you to get on this one before it gathers too much attention and gets drowned in its own press acclaim. Tempest is ridiculously talented and admirably human and 'Everybody Down' is a deftly executed spectacle that deserves your undivided attention from beginning to end. Absolutely superb.

2. Eagulls - s/t

Does 'indie' even mean anything these days? Picking up a guitar and forming a band with your mates is regarded as a total waste of time by much of the music press, a wave of heard-it-all-before cynicism setting in before anyone's even heard the record. So it's even more of a joy when someone knocks out an album this good to make the pundits shut up and take notice. Leeds' Eagulls make music for our times, a feeling of suffocated rage filling every note of their debut as directionless tension reverberates around their raucous post punk clatter, a joyous catharsis to counteract the apathy and helplessness of modern Britain. This is the perfect piss and vinegar cocktail to throw back at everything you hate about the UK music scene right now - 'Eagulls' isn't just good, it's downright fucking indispensable.

3. Behemoth - The Satanist

Behemoth frontman Nergal had already piloted his band through a peerless course of Death Metal brilliance before being struck down with leukaemia a couple of years back so for him to come back from illness and make a record this good is nothing short of incredible. 'The Satanist' turns weakness into strength, his Black Metal past resurfacing in some terrifyingly caustic passages whilst the towering majesty of their more recent material remains firmly intact. The cover art even features the vocalist's own blood from his medical tests but you don't need to know the back story to appreciate 'The Satanist' - this is the sound of a true pioneer taking Metal to the next stage in its evolution. Utterly sublime.

4. Warpaint - s/t

Warpaint's debut seemed like a lifetime away when their stellar follow-up emerged in January, the campfire cool of 'Undertow' left behind for something way more expansive. I still can't wrap my head around this album, it feels like they've packed in so many sublevels that each listen strips back a layer to reveal something new and enchanting. Their debut blew my mind but 'Warpaint' sounds like music to lure Argonauts to their death, an intoxicating cocktail of grooves, beats and enraptured vocals that will make you feel like you're listening to a different band entirely. They've kept their profile up to stay big without ever becoming huge and this spellbinding second helping will have you falling in love all over again. There is still nobody like them out there.

5. Eno/Hyde - Someday World

Wading through a sea of 'bank advert indie' bands trying to recreate the elegant majesty of yesterday's electronic pioneers it's refreshing to see the old guard come back and show them all how it should be done. Brian Eno's ambient dreamscapes informed Underworld's earlier work and so matching him with frontman Karl Hyde couldn't fail to deliver, the two locking into a divine groove of lush production and hypnotic grace. Hyde's vocals lead the dance through sprightly revamps of Underworld's more beanbag friendly material and elsewhere they take off into the stratosphere to rival Eno at his cloud-touching zenith. 'Someday World' deserves to be seen as more than a mere side project, there's enough fuel in the tank for these two eggheads to go a whole lot further in this vein.

6. Mac Demarco - Salad Days

I'm normally not one for the mellow stuff, I like my music upbeat as a general rule but we all need to take our foot off the pedal from time to time and take some time to chill. Mac Demarco is all about taking life easy and he's got the perfect musical accompaniment for his chilled worldview, 'Salad Days' building on an already impressive back catalogue to ease you through the day. His delivery is gentle without being twee and every track lets you float on down the river nice and easy, memorable hooks drifting in like rays of sunlight as he weaves his magic. Mac's got one of those gap-toothed grins and you can picture him smiling his way through every moment of this gorgeous ride. You cool, cool bastard you.

7. Gallon Drunk - The Soul Of The Hour

Gallon Drunk are the sort of band you're happy to see back in action, their absence triggering concerns that they've split up or perhaps more conceivably shuffled off this mortal coil through a catalogue of vices. Thankfully they're still alive and kicking and 'The Soul Of The Hour' is perhaps their best work yet, a glorious spectacle of dishevelled brilliance. James Johnston and co stagger their way through seven slabs of mesmeric late night drama, tracks spiralling off into a haze of booze fuelled romance and thundering pathos. They're not afraid to spread their weight over longer songs here, building up into howling epics that'll leave you stunned and amazed. File this one against the Nick Cave and Mazzy Star records from last year as another one to listen to with a bottle of whisky in the wee small hours. 

8. Tripykon - Melana Chasmata

Extreme Metal visionary Thomas Gabriel Fischer has locked into a reliable schedule of dropping another masterpiece every World Cup year, although unlike World Cups they're all consistently fantastic. 'Melana Chasmata' follows Tripykon's staggering 2010 debut and the Celtic Frost's equally wonderful comeback record from 2006 to deliver once again with a barrage of colossal riffs, doomy ambiance and elephantine weight that'll have you cowering behind the sofa in terror. Unlike many Metal veterans who burn out or simply end up recycling their old ideas Fischer seems to be improving with age - I can't wait to hear him banging 'em out at 80 with a lifetime of woe behind him.

9. Lockah - Yahoo Or The Highway

Bedroom electronics seems to be the new outlet for today's youth with a universe of bleeps and drum effects ripe for exploitation by creative young minds. Aberdeen's Lockah aims for the livelier end of the spectrum, throwing out chunky piano riffs and twirling synths over a solid base of House rhythms with added bounce to make his debut a thoroughly enjoyable ride from beginning to end. We've got the moodier end of dance music catered for already so it's nice to see someone turn their talents to making stuff you can actually dance to. 'Yahoo....' is a pleasant surprise, a bout of electro gymnastics that'll have you picking a different favourite every time you stick it on for another run.

10. Gardens and Villa - Dunes

Electropop songwriting has been back in vogue for a while but there are still precious few bands capable of writing material that doesn't sound like vapid tripe fit for an afternoon stuck in the underwear section at American Apparel. Gardens and Villa sound like an outdoor furniture outlet but make silky synth pop worthy of Talk Talk and Bronski Beat back in the day, delectable hooks chiming in with a sublime recreation of the stick mic 'n' pink neon vibe of Top Of The Pops circa 1984. 'Dunes' is the soundtrack to a debonair aperitif rather than a late night bosh-out but there's plenty of substance behind the style and this is one that has enough to withstand multiple listens as the year wears on.

Monday, July 14, 2014

2014 - The Best So Far : Part One

Morning all,

We're halfway through 2014 already and there's been plenty of cracking music to lend an ear to so far so here's a run through twenty of my favourites. Part two to follow shortly.

11. Cheatahs - s/t

Did we really need another proto-Shoegaze act to pad out the ranks? I don't care! Music is for WANTS not needs and if a bunch of stylish young coves are going to offer a modern rerun of Swervedriver's 'Raise' with better hooks and smoother execution then I'm not about to knock their hand away ungratefully. Cheatahs aren't reinventing the (Catherine) Wheel but their debut packs enough gorgeous fuzz and melodic crunch to make it worth your while anyway, swooshing effortlessly through the best parts of indie's class of 1991. With Slowdive touring again there's no better time to inhale another dose of blissful dream pop and Cheatahs have just what it takes to make your cares drift away once more.

12. Lone - Reality Testing

Lone's been shitting out slabs of storming revivalist breakbeat  for a few years now but his latest sees him smooth some of the edges down for a more streamlined rush through glossy Techno nirvana. This dude sounds like a Sega Megadrive souped up and let loose in a modern day recording studio - those 90s piano hooks and silky surges are still there but he's moved on in his mind from the gassy menace of '92 era breakbeat to the classier, more expansive realms of 1994's epic dancefloor tapestries. Imagine Slo Moshun's 'Bells of New York' brought back to life and let loose over twelve tracks and you're getting close - there are no bangers like 2012's 'Raindance' to blow your mind but 'Reality Testing' might be his most consistent and fulfilling release to date.

13. Teleman - Breakfast

Did someone lend out their copy of 'The Best of OMD' during the final days of late noughties London indie and never get it back? Because I think I might know who has it - Teleman made up most of skinny jean also rans Pete and the Pirates back then but have thankfully acknowledged the passing of time and boned up on early 80s art house synth pop and a fair smattering of 70s Bowie to come back with an absolute corker of a debut that picks up on oddities from pop's past in the same vein as fellow record store foragers Dutch Uncles.  'Breakfast' finds its bearings between decadent, eccentric and preposterously catchy before firing through a flawless run of modern pop that'll start your day off nicely. 

14. Temples - Sun Structures

Ever wish Tame Impala could put down the bong and focus for long enough to pen some catchy new shit in the vein of their oft-overlooked debut 'Innerspeaker'? Temples have got you covered and then some - 'Sun Structures' is so fucking slick I had to check that some indie svengali wasn't just using these guys as a front for his studio labours after years in the business. They may have peaked too early already so enjoy it while you can - every track on here is an absolute killer, an instantly gratifying mix of psychedelic wig out rock and early 70s crossover glam. They've knocked out about half a dozen singles off it already and show no signs of running out of ideas - nobody gives that much of a fuck about indie guitar music anymore but even that won't stop Temples from owning 2014.

15. Martyn - The Air Between Worlds

When did Ninja Tune get their mojo back all of a sudden?? I'd gotten into the habit of hiding my old DJ Food and Coldcut CDs for fear of showing my age but the label's younger charges have picked up the mantle and gone boldly forward with a modern take on their jazzy scratchadelia. Martyn breaks out the hi hats and organ samples for some laid-back Gilles Peterson style grooves here but he's got some floor filling tricks up his sleeves too and drops in some chunky piano hooks and a refreshing dose of early House effervescence. 'The Air Between Worlds' starts well and gets better over ten tracks of deftly executed modern day House magic - there's a tune for every occasion here and anyone with a pair of dancing shoes to hand will get plenty of mileage of out this wee beauty.

16. Skye Ferreira - Night Time, My Time

In these days of post-everything pop it's difficult to know exactly how to react to the stuff that's coming out - is there any such thing as innocent fun anymore? Not if you've spent your formative years hanging round with Michael Jackson there isn't - Skye Ferreira got onto the Hollwyood pop roundabout way too early and has seen the fame machine at its most crude and exploitative. You'd expect her long form debut to sound like an unlistenable mess of auto tune and diet pills but remarkably 'Night Time, My Time' is a thoroughly engaging tour through modern pop that sounds like Madonna's 'True Blue' shot through with the cynicism of today's MTV culture. Pigeonholing it is nigh on possible and that's perhaps the point - pop's role is still to challenge and intrigue and this is one that is well worth scratching your head over. Misery pop? No, coping pop and all the better for it.

17. Plaid - Reachy Prints

Whilst guitar music seems to be stuck in a quagmire of 90s nostalgia embodied by endless reunions tours and younger bands simply aping past tricks electronic music has maintained a more graceful relationship with its past, savvy youngsters popping up to pay tribute to the genre's golden era whilst the pioneers of old keep coming back with cracking new material. Plaid have been twiddling those knobs for nigh on 20 years now and 'Reachy Prints' is a spirited rerun through the glory years of bleep electro, tracking back through Spooky, Underworld and the cheerier side of Autechre for an invigorating blast of past vs present.

18. The Men - Tomorrow's Hits

Remember back in the day when you could expect at least one killer record a year from the bands you liked? Well they're back! The Men are the hardest working dudes in Brooklyn and seem to come back around with another reassuringly honest dose of dive bar R'n'R every Spring to the point where you kinda start to take them for granted. If they didn't have such a stonking back catalogue behind them already then I'd be pimping 'Tomorrow's Hits' as Album Of The Year - as things stand it's simply another feather in their cap, eight tracks of explosive garage rock, grimy country and grotty electric blues. I met them on tour and apparently they're taking a time out from recording in 2015 so expect their next release to be a masterpiece of 'Physical Graffiti' proportions. I can't wait!

19. Eomac - Spectre

Oooh we had a good little run of Techno releases back in April didn't we? 'Spectre' pared things back to a cold, stark vein a la Plastikman but throbbed with an insistent pulse that beckoned you closer and closer as the deep electric night drew in. Eomac covers the dead of night slot where minimal beats and fridge light paranoia fuse with the sound of pounding club anthems heard through a thick granite wall - this is music to listen to whilst you're being kicked down the stairs of your local nightspot after necking a cocktail of rodent sedative and stool softener pimped as something more elegant. There's rave era hooks buried under layers of bass bin smoke and menacing lighting but this is no lesson in nostalgia, it's a thumping headache of a record that'll torment you until you give in to its illicit charms.

20. September Girls - Cursing The Sea

Echo pedals, Wall of Sound guitars, might think you've heard it all before but Dublin's September Girls come packing enough hooks and ideas to make you wanna get on up and shake it like it's still 2010. 'Cursing The Sea' comes across like an infectious mix of the debuts from The Horrors and Dum Dum Girls, all monochrome echo and howling organ shot through with a sense of pop dynamics that gives each tracks its own gorgeous aura of sugar-coated gloom. These gals are still in their teens and their debut is a bubbling cauldron of cheap vodka, Kohl eyeliner and copious amounts of dry ice - they're still getting their ideas together and may well change tack to serve up something totally different in a year or so but for now 'Cursing' is a satisfying blast of Gothed-up lo-fi indie.