Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012 albums: at a glance

Diagrams - Black Light (UK release 16/1)
Guided By Voices - Let's Go Eat The Factory (16/1)
First Aid Kit - Lions Roar (23/1)
Islet - Illuminated People (23/1)
The Kabeedies - Soap (23/1)
Pulled Apart By Horses - Tough Love (23/1)
Errors - Have Some Faith In Magic (30/1)
Lana Del Rey - Born To Die (30/1)
Beth Jeans Houghton - Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose (6/2)
Hooray For Earth - True Loves (6/2)
Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory (13/2)
Field Music - Plumb (13/2)
Shearwater - Animal Joy (13/2)
Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror (13/2)
Internet Forever - Internet Forever (20/2)
Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It (20/2)
Tindersticks - The Something Rain (20/2)
Fanfarlo - Rooms Filled With Light (27/2)
Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself (5/3)
Dirty Three - Look Toward The Low Sun (5/3)
Jonquil - Point Of Go (5/3)
The Magnetic Fields - Love at the Bottom of the Sea (5/3)
The Wedding Present - Valentina (12/3)
Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light (19/3)
Breton - Other People's Problems (26/3)
The Cornshed Sisters - Tell Tales (9/4)
Evans The Death - tba (April)
Allo Darlin' - Europe (May)
Shrag - Canines (May)
The Chap - We Are Nobody (tba)
Darren Hayman - The Violence (tba)
Future Of The Left - The Plot Against Common Sense (tba)

Best Coast
The Cast Of Cheers
Cat Power
Cats On Fire
Clock Opera
Dog Is Dead
Edwyn Collins
The Indelicates
Napoleon IIIrd
No Age
Piano Magic
Saint Etienne
The School
Tall Ships
The xx

Animal Collective
Atoms For Peace
Blood Red Shoes
Blue Roses
Broken Records
Eugene McGuinness
Grizzly Bear
Jens Lekman
Jetplane Landing
Local Natives
Love Ends Disaster!
Lucky Soul
The National
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Public Image Ltd
Rose Elinor Dougall
The Walkmen
Yeah Yeah Yeahs

The Acorn
The Avalanches
Bat For Lashes
Blonde Redhead
Camera Obscura
Damon Albarn
Dexys Midnight Runners
Dirty Projectors
Echo Lake
Franz Ferdinand
The Futureheads
Graham Coxon
Let's Buy Happiness
Marques Toliver
Mission Of Burma
Modest Mouse
Pagan Wanderer Lu
Trophy Wife
The Wave Pictures

Happy new year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2011

50 Bill Callahan - Apocalypse
49 Remember Remember - The Quickening
48 The Leisure Society - Into The Murky Water
47 The Wave Pictures - Beer In The Breakers
46 Wake The President - Zumutung!
45 Wire - Red Barked Tree
44 Bibio - Mind Bokeh
43 TV On The Radio - Nine Types Of Light
42 Colourmusic - My _____ Is Pink
41 Sacred Harp - Window's A Fall
40 Comet Gain - The Howl Of The Lonely Crowd
39 Honour Before Glory - This Is Broken Lines
38 Sons And Daughters - Mirror Mirror
37 Low - C'Mon
36 Peggy Sue - Acrobats
35 Okkervil River - I Am Very Far
34 Trips And Falls - People Have To Be Told
33 Fujiya & Miyagi - Ventriloquizzing
32 Gruff Rhys - Hotel Shampoo
31 Sean Rowe - Magic
30 Battles - Gloss Drop
29 tUnE-YarDs - w h o k i l l
28 The Lovely Eggs - Cob Dominos
27 The Indelicates - David Koresh Superstar
26 Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
25 Three Trapped Tigers - Route One Or Die
24 Still Corners - Creatures Of An Hour
23 Fair Ohs - Everything Is Dancing
22 Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys!
21 Ace Bushy Striptease - The Words That You Said Are Still Wet In My Head
20 Maybeshewill - I Was Here For A Moment, Then I Was Gone
19 Runaround Kids - Linked Arms
18 Help Stamp Out Loneliness - Help Stamp Out Loneliness
17 I Break Horses - Hearts
16 A Classic Education - Call It Blazing
15 Fashoda Crisis - Him Make They Learn Read
14 Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know
13 Summer Camp - Welcome To Condale
12 Dananananaykroyd - There Is A Way
11 Wild Flag - Wild Flag
10 The Victorian English Gentlemens Club - Bag Of Meat
9 Standard Fare - Out Of Sight, Out Of Town
8 Slow Club - Paradise
7 Other Lives - Tamer Animals
6 Emmy The Great - Virtue
5 David Thomas Broughton - Outbreeding
4 Wild Beasts - Smother
3 Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness
2 Johnny Foreigner - Johnny Foreigner vs Everything
1 PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

And here is a Spotify playlist featuring a track from every album on this list that's on there, plus whatever came up from the other tracks list.

STN Albums Of The Year no.1: PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

Let England Shake is an album about war, but not in the usual browbeating fashion. It's an album about England, but four of its songs are based at Gallipoli. Since its Valentine's Day release there have been plenty of efforts to tie it in with various news events of the year but it won't adequately fit any of them. What it is is one of those rare moments of absolute working order, an inventive, alive songwriter with ideas both playful and pitch-black allying them to a band in perfect interlocking order and a sympathetic producer who makes the result sound like something new has been mined from a vocal-guitar/autoharp-bass-keys-drums setup (and if you're casting for lightly doomed backing musicians you could do a lot worse than Mick Harvey and John Parish), airy enough to almost qualify as minimal, hazy melodies remoulded into songs that sound like Eastern Bloc field worker folk chants and songs that sound like dreampop if the reverb and synths were phased out, topped off with Harvey's recently discovered detached tremulous higher register. Harvey interviewed former soldiers while writing the album but doesn't just reinterpret their words, more synthesises them as secondhand narrator into the locale of the battlefield, the mess hopes, the grown over fields where war once flourished. One song that samples Niney The Observer's fire and brimstone prediction of social chaos Blood And Fire, another borrows a quote from the Four Lads' version of Istanbul (Not Constantinople). One interpolates a line from Summertime Blues as a caustic comment on international relations, another includes a bugle call recorded as if fading in through time and to hell that it's not in time with the rhythm. As much as this is a new range for her Harvey's previous album White Chalk was a memento of the cliffs, fog laden fields and darkness on the edge of town that is her idea of old England; this time it's an international briefing of what secrets, memories and repeated lost hopes of peace lie behind its histories and cause celebres, one that leaves mysteries and curiosities facing up to the very awkward truths.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.2: Johnny Foreigner - Johnny Foreigner vs Everything

Just as their sometime running mates Los Campesinos! did last year, Johnny Foreigner have somehow found wriggle room in a packed output schedule to take stock, work out where to go from their body of work to date and compact that knowledge into an album that takes maybe a trifle too long (17 tracks!) but so forcefully makes its individual point that it feels like a natural bringing together of everything they do best at its most heartfelt and personally meaningful. Perhaps more so here, as everything they write about seems directly drawn from the same lives as you, whether that be head spinning on the sticky floor of some gig dive or watching the girl slip out the door, an absolute, intense capsule of who and what they've got. They've absolutely got their eyes on the prize, the justly routed chaos theory musical palette of right hand only arpeggios, frantic drumming around the machine and Alexei and Kelly shouting across each other lampshaded by moments that refer back to the lost debut album's weird Americana and the electronically underpinned horizons they've tampered with before. It's all in Alexei's broken sounding chorus of 200x: "I'm not done with this, I'm not giving in, I'm not giving up on you, we just got older". One day, perhaps now, we might be defeated; until then we have belief in the moment.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.3: Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness

She destroyed the hopes and dreams of a generation of faux-romantics and he's not pleased. It's not as much of a diversion as many assumed, as longtime followers will know - they've done breakup songs (Straight In At 101), self pity (Miserabilia) and slowed down musical introspection (Who Fell Asleep In) before, it's just the circumstances of Gareth's lyric writing were made more public this time. He's even resourced the title Every Defeat A Divorce before. All the same it feels like a continuation, albeit a very dark at times one, of what we wrote about last year at about this time, the way their albums plot the band's collective growing process from naive joy to young adulthood mental hammer blows. Throughout there are dead bodies, mutilation and Olympian levels of spite and jealousy but also a certain level of good memories where the lines of the body are "cartography in every scar" (and, because this is the poetry of a pathologically honest man, where the hope is she'll remember him for the oral sex), while behind the band stretch out, languid marches and sometimes National-recalling elegance in numbers replacing the sugar rush. In Heat Rash #1, discussing In Medias Res, Gareth wrote "I seem to spend my life flitting between complete nihilism and a debilitating yearning for happiness and contentment". Yeah, that's about it.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.4: Wild Beasts - Smother

Already a team of all the interplay talents - those voices, Ben Little's chiming guitar, Chris Talbot's metronomic drums - Wild Beasts chose at a commercial and critical peak to take a step back from widespread approachability. Just four years after being introduced as an arrhythmic, angular band with a music hall sensibility, they've located a coherency in serenity. The arpeggiated guitars and propulsive drumming are still present but for the most part Smother strips away the excess angularity and finds a happy place where they can be their own men. The ambience, unfolding at its own pace and produced with extreme care to highlight every element and layer, takes influence from uncomfortable slow motion Talk Talk-like sparsity on one hand and subtly glowing, fluttering electronics on the other. Meanwhile Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming are at new peaks both vocally, Thorpe reining in his celebrated wayward countertenor falsetto into an almost lascivious come-on, and lyrically, refining their gregarious ideas about love and taking sentiments into darker, more internally conflicted places, sex as a tool of self-distrust rather than of quick pleasure. Completely wrapped in their own ideas of love gone sour and/or about to be taken in hand. It's no easy, passing listen, but it rewards all the effort.


Monday, December 26, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.5: David Thomas Broughton - Outbreeding

Anyone who's seen Broughton's live act, in which a completely deadpan man with a Jake Thackray baritone plays gorgeous folk melodies and then loops dischords and feedback over it before going on a wander round the back of the room, might be forgiven for wondering how it transfers to record. Well, it doesn't, it's nearly streamlined, but that brings those songs into a glorious technicolour spotlight. Laced with idealistic love and self-loathing, only some of it wry ("I am a perfect louse, I will bleed the goodness from your body"), it may be but that allows Broughton to dip into his poetic mind and rich turn of Yorkshire intonation, often in equal measure ("a stronghold we claim, is it a stronghold we've got? Is it balls") Meanwhile there's always something happening when their extended nature allows the songs to get going in their own sweet time, as unidentified noises wander into the sonic field from leftfield still trying not to disturb the elegantly crafted fingerpicked melodies. These songs, journeys of self-discovery that end up getting horribly lost in the dark for a bit, tear themselves apart but always find a kernel of self-questing truth at heart, delivered through peculiarly gripping and absolutely singular circumstances.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

The rest of the best

Whether from an album that didn't quite make the top 50, a single or a demo or whatever, here's 150 (yeah, I know) other tracks that shaped the STN year (not counting those from our own album, for fairness):

2:54 - On A Wire
Alessi's Ark - Wire
Allo Darlin' - Darren
Alright The Captain - Rostov Could Get It
Backyards - Heavy Handed
Banjo Or Freakout - Can't Be Mad For Nothing
Bastardgeist - COPS
Beaty Heart - 2 Good
Benjamin Shaw - How To Test The Depth Of A Well
Beth Jeans Houghton - Dodecahedron
The Birthday Kiss - Can You Keep A Secret
The Bitter Springs - Gary Glitter Fan Convention (Spotify)
Bon Iver - Calgary
Breton - Kensington System
Carousels - Here To Me
Cat's Eyes - Over You
Chad Valley - Now That I'm Real (How Does It Feel)
Chapter 24 - Love (Spotify)
Clock Opera - Belongings
Cue Fanfare - Robot
Cults - Abducted
Dark Dark Dark - In Your Dreams
Darren Hayman - I Know I Fucked Up (feat. Elizabeth Morris)
Daughter - Landfill
Deaf Club - Hana
Dent May - Fun
Diagrams - Antelope
Dog Is Dead - River Jordan
The Early Years - Complicity
Echo Lake - Young Silence
Elephant - Assembly
EMA - The Grey Ship
Eugene McGuinness - Lion
Evans The Death - Threads
Everyone To The Anderson - People Person
Exlovers - Blowing Kisses
Explosions In The Sky - Last Known Surroundings
Fanfarlo - Replicate
Field Music - (I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing
Fighting Kites - Conquers
Fire Island Pines - Bratislava
Fixers - Crystals
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Frankie & The Heartstrings - Want You Back
Friends - Friend Crush
Future Of The Left - Polymers Are Forever
Gallops - Joust
Gang Of Four - I Can't Forget Your Lonely Face
Girls Names - Seance On A Wet Afternoon
Givers - Up Up Up
Golden Fable - The Chill Pt. 2
The Go! Team - T.O.R.N.A.D.O.
Guillemots - The Basket
Haiku Salut - Snaffle
Half Man Half Biscuit - Rock And Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools
Her Name Is Calla - Maw
The High Llamas - Berry Adams
His Clancyness - Carve A Peach
Hold Your Horse Is - Forgive And Forget
Hooray For Earth - True Loves
Howard Hughes & David Tattersall - He Can See Her
Hymns - A Punch To The Temple
Iceage - Collapse
Ice, Sea, Dead People - Ultra Silence
Icona Pop - Manners
Internet Forever - Break Bones
Is Tropical - The Greeks
Jack Hayter - I Stole The Cutty Sark
Jamie N Commons - The Preacher
Jeffrey Lewis - So What If I Couldn't Take It (Spotify)
Jens Lekman - Waiting For Kirsten
Joan As Police Woman - Flash (Spotify)
Jonny - Candyfloss
Josh T Pearson - Women, When I've Raised Hell
The Kabeedies - Santiago
Katie Malco - For Just One Minute There
Kill It Kid - Pray On Me
King Post Kitsch - Don't You Touch My Fucking Honeytone
La Decadanse feat. Gwenno Saunders - Pretty Pretty
Lana Del Rey - Video Games
Laura Hocking - Strongmen And Acrobats
Le Reno Amps - Never Be Alone
Let's Buy Happiness - Fast Fast
Lia Ices - Bag Of Wind (Spotify)
Liechtenstein - Meantime
The Lionheart Brothers - The Desert
Love Inks - Skeleton Key
The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh
Luke Haines - Inside The Restless Mind Of Rollerball Rocco
The Magic Lantern - Cut From Stone
Mammal Club - Hang
Mary Hampton - Honey In The Rock
Matthew C H Tong - Present And Correct
Marques Toliver - Charter Magic (Spotify)
The Megaphonic Thrift - Talks Like A Weed King
The Middle East - Hunger Song
Minotaurs - Horsesshoes
Mitchell Museum - What They Built
Mogwai - Mexican Grand Prix
Moscow Youth Cult - Iris
The Mountain Goats - Beautiful Gas Mask
Mozart Parties - Black Cloud
Nicola Roberts - Beat Of My Drum
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Heaven's Gonna Happen Now
Paisley & Charlie - Stone Lions
Panda Bear - Friendship Bracelet
Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences - The Beginnings Of Mr Hyde
Pinkunoizu - Time Is Like A Melody
Pocketbooks - Promises, Promises
Prince Edward Island - You Look Like I Need A Drink
Pris - Crying After Kennedy
Race Horses - Benidorm
Ralegh Long - Sprawl
Red Shoe Diaries - The Love That You Read About
Richmond Fontaine - Lost In The Trees
The Rock Of Travolta - Last March Of The Acolytes (Spotify)
The Rosie Taylor Project - Sleep
Roxy Rawson - Fingers
Sam Airey - The Blackout
Sarah Nixey - Gathering Shadows
She Keeps Bees - Saturn Return
Shy And The Fight - How To Stop An Imploding Man
Sin Fang - Always Everything
Singing Adams - I Need Your Mind
The Son(s) - Radar
Sparrow And The Workshop - Snakes In The Grass
Spotlight Kid - Cold Steel Rain (Spotify)
St Vincent - Cheerleader
Stairs To Korea - Guy Fawkes
Strange News From Another Star - I Am Weatherproof!
T E Morris - Every Second, Forever
Talkers - Lido
Tall Ships - Hit The Floor
Thank You - Birth Reunion
Theme Park - A Mountain We Love
This Many Boyfriends - Young Lovers Go Pop!
Those Dancing Days - I Know Where You Live Pt. 2
Toy - Left Myself Behind
Trophy Wife - The Quiet Earth
Under Alien Skies - When She Wears
The Understudies - Everyone Deserves At Least One Summer Of Love
Victories At Sea - Swim
Vivian Girls - I Heard You Say
The Voluntary Butler Scheme - To The Height Of A Frisbee
Wartgore Hellsnicker - Karl vs Groucho
Weird Dreams - Holding Nails
The Wind-Up Birds - Meet Me At The Depot
Widowspeak - Nightcrawlers
Woodkid - Iron

STN Albums Of The Year no.6: Emmy The Great - Virtue

Interesting how many of the albums up this end of the list deal with growing up quickly and discovering the dark of the wider world. Emma-Lee Moss has always been a good first person storyteller and user of small detail, but Virtue has her bring a new set of imagery to the table, one of fantastical allusion and classical character reference bringing out the central concept of what the meaning of love and the concept of femininity actually are. The music has blossomed with her, downplaying the pretty, folky subset in favour of a grander while still pastoral sound that never gets crowded no matter what strings or choirs are involved, songs allowed to unfold in their own time rather than arrange themselves around Moss. Cathartic in the moment as trying to think things over may be (closer Trellick Tower directly reflects Moss being left by her fiance in favour of God), it's something that very much suits her.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.7: Other Lives - Tamer Animals

While it's tempting to put Other Lives' pastoral, harmonic arrangements and Jesse Tabish's wisftul voice down to a Fleet Foxes constituency, the grand panorama within which Tamer Animals' sonic field resides is much wider, a lushly arranged chamber odd-folk in which every layer, voice and instrument adds something to the cinematic scope. Every production nuance is beautifully crafted and conceived, a richly majestic palette of underplayed strings, propelling horns and percussion filling in the gaps textured by a post-Grizzly Bear sweep of keyboard textures and multi-instrumental washes in which atmosphere almost creates melody but always remembers to place actual instrumentation at or near the centre. From under audible huge skies and on wide prairies is located a blissfully transient collection that values stillness as much as propulsion. The year's sleeper hit.


Friday, December 23, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.8: Slow Club - Paradise

Rebecca and Charles have done a lot of growing up since Yeah, So. Their musical palette is deeper and richer, the vocals are more confident and mature (Taylor's especially) and the emotional range is less hyper, more grounded and fragile. Yet despite such development their essential Slow Club-ness, the playing off each other with tremeloed rock'n'roll guitar sound and rattling tom-toms and that slight raggedness round the edges, remains intact when they get a jog on. It's the ballads which provide the extra flavouring - they did this before on occasion (Sorry About The Doom) but they now seem to have a greater emotional connection, spare and affecting in their hopeless resignation. Beautifully constructed, even when it seems like they're tagging onto each other for fun and companionship, it's evidence of both growing into themselves and giving themselves room to grow.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Festive Tracklist: Napoleon IIIrd - Deck The Halls

James Mabbett has recently moved to London and set up his own studio in Stoke Newington, where he works on his third album set for 2012. In the meantime he offers up a version of the holly-favouring traditional song which decorates the tune with arpeggiating old synths, music box loops and vaguely threatening choral fa-la-la-las. As with Christiania, as intricate and glorious as his craft is you wouldn't want to disagree with him.

Napoleon IIIrd - Deck The Halls by brainlove

STN Albums Of The Year no.9: Standard Fare - Out Of Sight, Out Of Town

The proper release has just been moved back to 24th January but as the preorder includes immediate download and I couldn't be bothered to rewrite everything it still counts

What Standard Fare do isn't rocket science but to make records from a basic indie trio setup that still seems vital, exciting and also intelligent and laced like cyanide with emotional estrangement is much harder than you've been led to imagine. This second album is less regularly immediate than The Noyelle Beat, greater ability and confidence - centrepiece Darth Vader is a slow paen to co-dependency and nobody else's idea of an advance single - enabling greater internal examination of vulnerability. Not that there aren't still riffs designed to send an indiepop crowd nuts but when they come tied to lyrics about split families, knowing unfaithfulness, dead end lives and the Holocaust, all encased within subtly reeled in hooks, it's clear putting thought into it is the paramount importance however much the proportion of flailing bodies may suffer. Except it won't, because they're often just as keen really.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.10: The Victorian English Gentlemens Club - Bag Of Meat

Having emerged as art schooled Pixies acolytes, TVEGC are increasingly intent on bringing the whole wiry trio edifice down with them. Unlike most bands who cite Wire as inspirations Bag Of Meat sounds like the processed electric shocks that band's first three albums progressed towards. The bass sounds alone could power small villages, so when coupled with treated, demented guitar sounds that whip from metallic riffage to wobbly precision and Adam and Louise often not so much duetting as holding each other by the collar in manaiacal glee daring the other to give way first, sometimes it sounds positively evil. Recalling a whole heap of post-punk bands who preferred sonic abandon to disco hi-hats (Pere Ubu, the No Wave Scene), it's the disjointedness that makes it spin together, the wholehearted abandon to the forces of the wild-eyed. Also, there's a song about this.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.11: Wild Flag - Wild Flag

The best thing that can be said about Wild Flag is that it's exactly the sort of album you expected a band of their background to make, and more. With apologies to Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole, accomplished both, it's about the Sleater-Kinney connection - Carrie Brownstein tosses off mini-solos of bravado, Janet Weiss thumps seven shades of faeces out of her kit. Not that this is S-K retreads in any way. Taking not only from the music they made at the time but Nuggets garage, mod psychedelia and surf influences, every track flies out of the traps and produces a set of hooks big enough to hold the listener in a submission hold. None of these women have anything to prove, which is key - they're having fun with it, resulting in a set of solar plexus punches that give the vast majority of 2011's trad indie rock a Standard rocket up the backside.


Monday, December 19, 2011

One new track festive, one not

The Birthday Kiss, Leeds' boxfresh swooning lovelorn indiepop home for ex-Research and Lodger members, have put out a Christmas tune. Sentimental Christmastime illustrates the death of both youthful festive excitement and an adult relationship in something you could waltz to.

Sentimental Christmastime by The Birthday Kiss

It's been a banner year for Grace Petrie, incorporating playing the Glastonbury Leftfield at Billy Bragg's invitation and having him claim she "stole the fucking show", tour supporting Emmy The Great and accompanying Josie Long on her guerrilla Alternative Reality Tour, and tomorrow and Wednesday she's joining in with Robin Ince's Nine Lessons And Carols For Godless People at the Bloomsbury. From all that you can pretty much surmise the content of her fourth album Mark My Words - angry leftie folk with direct love songs smuggled in between. Just the type of songwriter the acoustic legions urgently require, in other words. Love song or protest song? Let's pick out one of each.

STN Albums Of The Year no.12: Dananananaykroyd - There Is A Way

The fight-pop avatars' dissolvement last month may have robbed us of a universally acclaimed spectacular live band, but they could turn that controlled chaos on in the studio just as well. Ross Robinson's production aided a sense that everyone is pulling melodically together more by luck than judgement, as while the razor sharp riffs are more straight ahead and most of the hooks more radio friendly and less likely to imminently come to pieces Calum Gunn and John Baillie Jnr are still bellowing over each other in accents thick enough to sound both friendly and threatening. An assault on the senses at times but their indie-positive hardcore tornado may be unique in execution, taut high wire theatrics charging for the deep run heart of the most exhiliarating spiky post-hardcore people with an eye on a curious idea of pop melody can manage. You'll tell your kids about them one day and they'll be amazed.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.13: Summer Camp - Welcome To Condale

When people refer to Messrs Sankey and Warmsley making songs for fictional John Hughes movies, they don't/shouldn't mean Don't You Forget About Me. In fact they're closest to the use of Yello on Ferris Bueller's Day Off, po-mo synthpop with melodic invention underneath. But that's not half the story either, given Elizabeth's proclivities towards obsessional adoration and its polar opposite. There's far more than a hipster Hurts going on musically too, borrowing overdriven analogue keyboards, bubblegum pop choruses, Ze Records dark disco, pre-Eurohouse club beats and New Wave oddness while working up a teen fiction storyline as the album goes on, not that you necessarily need to listen to it in order or of a piece. Borrowed nostalgia for an unremembered Eighties, sure, but it turns out that's the best approach.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Catchup session (2)

Bear Cavalry - Roman Summer

Gosport's Bear Cavalry count Nick Grimshaw as a fan, have covered Skrillex with his backing, supported Rizzle Kicks and been remixed by Kissy Sellout. And yet we're still giving them the time of day. That's because this cut from debut EP Maple Trails takes from the Tall Ships playbook of harnessing complex math guitar part interplay, post-punk rhythms, big ol' infectious choruses and a nagging sense that all isn't quite correct.

Roman Summer by Bear Cavalry

Jethro Fox - Before

There's a lot of listening gone into Liverpudlian Fox's work, which somehow resembles a cleaned up and verse-chorus-versed Panda Bear or home studio'd Local Natives, matching sampled rhythms to anthemic chord changes, sinuous guitar parts and simple choruses big on held notes and wordless appellations. This could be going somewhere really quite interesting.

Before by Jethro Fox

Peter Wyeth - Sing To Me

Part of Humming New Time EP, the first release on Tom Morris of Her Name Is Calla's own label Olynka Records. Wyeth has been playing around the Leicester scene (including, full disclosure, an STN gig) for a while creating subtle magic out of acoustic guitar, loop pedals and field recording found sounds. the EP is "a collection of improvisations recorded on an iphone and a handheld recorder", but if that sounds too dry don't worry about that, it's imbued with invention that retains an experimental, questing edge around its self-imposed pastoral sparsity parameters.

Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny - Sweet Tooth Bird

Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose is now so close - 6th February, to be exact - you can almost touch it (maybe), but there's just time for another single, a big rousing thing clocking in at just over two minutes (yes, I know what the YouTube timer says) that were it not for the tone of Houghton's voice would bear precious little comparison to the folk regime she arrived in. Warning: contains vomiting scene.

The Cornshed Sisters - Dance At My Wedding

Meanwhile the trad alt-folk (it makes sense to us) revival continues apace with another north-eastern set, a Newcastle female foursome newly signed to Memphis Industries and with an album in April produced by that label/area's high achiever Peter Brewis. It apparently contains "wondrous tales of waterbabies, beekeeping, marriage, soothsayers, men in sequined suits, making pies out of people and the axis of love and bombs"; the debut single incorporates both lyrical heartbreak and a three-part harmony on the line "good job on the gravy".

Dance At My Wedding by thecornshedsisters

STN Albums Of The Year no.14: Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know

So it turns out Laura didn't already know who she was after all in more than title. Another slight shift along the confessional folk-rock panorama, A Creature I Don't Know is looser than I Speak Because I Can and more openly influenced by Americana, specifically the holy duality of Bob and Joni, jazzier and lyrically more confused about what's happening to her and trying to free herself from pasts and expectations as she ages. There's new sides to her psyche being unravelled - The Beast, say, five and a half minutes of shudderinglt dark maelstrom in electric minor chords - while the songs pared back to acoustic guitar and classically yearning vocal retain a lot more weight. It's not quite cathartic, Marling is still bringing too much on herself quite for that, but there's a wicked glee lurking under its surface.


Friday, December 16, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.15: Fashoda Crisis - Him Make They Learn Read

There's a distinct shortage of compromise about Southend trio Fashoda Crisis. Herein someone is described by articulate berserker in chief Sim Ralph as "a Ralph Steadman illustration of a man" and Vernon Kay's skin is worn while "on my knees wanking like a primate". With a song named, with permission, after a Stewart Lee line and a sound hewn from the full frontal electric shock trio cliff face of Mclusky and Shellac, Him Make They Learn Read (which, by the way, is classed as an album as that's what they call it, despite being seven tracks and 25 minutes long) is made of laser targeted vitriol, discordant riffage that takes as much from sludge rock as from Sonic Youth, cheesewire bass, athletically fierce drumming and the odd unrestrained scream of anger into the cultural void. As all Albini acolytes should, it feels like smashing your skull into a wall.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.16: A Classic Education - Call It Blazing

Setting aside the orchestral pomp of their first releases, Bologna's A Classic Education take on a similar power alt-rock with murky depths ballpark to Modest Mouse or the Shins by way of pastoral XTC. Given a well rounded and filled out production, there's considerably more going on than first listen will willingly give up - the snappy guitars, the satisfied but still ambitious warmth in Jonathan Clancy's voice, the washes of subtle dreampop noise and sharply jangling 60s garage rock that make a good few of these songs with their instantly hookish melodies sound like newly recovered Nuggets garage rock gone askew. An Instragam haze and naturalesque reverb give it a hip touch but it's a more timless, less immediate skin they fully inhabit.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.17: I Break Horses - Hearts

Some have attempted to shoehorn Stockholm duo I Break Horses into the 'nu-gaze' scene on the basis of their electronic washes and sequencers, but that's to underestimate the very human emotion invested into the machines. The layers of processed noise effects pulse and shimmer with a certain degree of heart, swelling with emotion and seductively winding down while somehow still keeping its internal pulse alive. The delicacy with which a track like I Kill Love, Baby! (alright, some of the titles kind of spoil the mood) slowly builds with church-like hymnality that conveys an underlying sadness can't be done by setting up a laptop to full MBV/M83 blast and retreating, after all. It's all in the very basics of feeling that this rises above the cliched norm.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas wrapping-up

Bet this won't be one in a series of one either, the rate the kids with their Bandcamps go at these days, but this is the best of what's emerged so far...

The Leisure Society - Christmas Mistakes

Musically jolly, lyrically wry and less quite sure, this is Nick Hemming and co's contribution to this year's For Folk's Sake Christmas album, in aid of the Integrated Cancer Centre and also featuring Darren Hayman, Caitlin Rose, Kathryn Williams and Neill MacColl, Devon Sproule and Cocos Lovers.

Oxo Foxo - Snow Days

Having followed her fragile dreamscape demos with a CD of covers of children's songs it's becoming quite tricky to pin Sheffield's Oxo Foxo down. This free download festive song with its self-harmonising loops, snatches of odd instrumentation and ethereal touches hovers around becoming a winter season country cousin to chillwave, via Glasser and Bat For Lashes.

Snow Days by oxo_foxo

Tellison - Good Luck It's Christmas

Great a math-emo (old style) band as they can be, there's something calming about Tellison in their more restrained moments. The notion of Christmas being a time of joy as a point of hope is the pivot for their festive effort, available on a pay what you want basis with all proceeds to CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).

Also worth a mention: A Special Indiecater Christmas Gift, A Very Cherry Christmas 7, Aidan John Moffat's Oh! What A Not So Silent Night Before Christmas EP

STN Albums Of The Year no.18: Help Stamp Out Loneliness - Help Stamp Out Loneliness

Everyone says D Lucille Campbell sings like Nico, not entirely averted by Cottonopolis + Promises' "won't you let me be your Nico?", but hers is a more versatile, warmer timbre. Much like her band, actually, taking optimistic indiepop ingredients well served and bringing something fresh - quasi-motorik rhythms, glacial synths, dark undertow and a selection of disturbed lyrical preoccupations where the indie disco lingua franca of heartbreak transmutes into obsession, desperate appeal and pining for doomed love on the occasion that the other party knows about it at all. Somehow not flabby at all despite stretching out to 53 minutes or derivative despite the reference points and closing lyrical steal from The First Big Weekend, it's enthusiastically gorgeous, gloriously simple whirling melodies counterbalanced by the pinings of a deeply unsure self having found glamour glinting in the dirt.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Catchup session (1)

The blogs and magazines may be in Christmas/end of year list mode, but new music doesn't stop just because we're taking the role of time-specific artistic judge. We've got an inbox full of stuff, which we've spilled out onto the floor, examined with a jeweller's eyepiece and picked out a few fresh cuts, in full knowledge we'll have to do this again before the countdown fortnight is out:

Jonquil - It's My Part

At long last, the third Jonquil album! Lions (the second, following the comfortably sub-radar Sunny Casinos) came out in 2007, the EP that signalled a stylistic shift was mid-2009 and half the band have gone off to become Trophy Wife in the meantime, not to mention Hugo Manuel's Chad Valley project becoming the more celebrated. Point Of Go is set for March 5th on the new Blessing Force label and on the evidence of this first taste they've taken plenty from both the leftfield tropical syncopation blossoming around them and from sharing a home base with Foals. If chillwave's beach haze could be re-aligned to encompass hi-life guitars and all that entails it'd be like this and might still be active.

Jonquil - It's My Part by Blessing Force

The Cast Of Cheers - Family

If last year's free download album Chariot, which reputedly ended up being downloaded some 150,000 times, pitched the idea of an even more electric Irish Foals, this first Luke Smith-produced taste of debut album proper takes that framework and stretches and compresses it into something that somehow remains tauter than your average but marks them out as their own electrified intricate post-post-punk men.

†Hymns† - Miracles

'Atheist rock' duo †Hymns†, as covered on here a couple of times before, have finally put out their debut album this week through Big Scary Monsters, Cardinal Sins/Contrary Virtues a double album statement of intent where the more familiar ferociousness is given levity with quieter material such as this that stretches out and considers what it really want to say while still chomping at the bit. Barbed religious references remain littered throughout.

Yeti Lane - Analog Wheel

You need to stick with and trust this one, it only really gets going around the two minute mark, but when it does those ambient synthscapes and glitchy beats turn into a rolling kaleidoscope of digital Krautrock as patterns build and develop, rhythms ebb and flow and the whole thing coasts several feet above the ground leading into shimmering shards of a psychedelic outro. The French duo's second album The Echo Show is out on Sonic Cathedral on March 5th.

Yeti Lane 'Analog Wheel' by Sonic Cathedral

Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences - You Can't Make Somebody Love You

Due on Audio Antihero next Monday - yes, this is both Hawkins and Jamie Halliday's idea of a jolly Christmas single - one of the older songs from Hawkins' howlingly twisted garage cabaret is given a live dusting down and found to be that muddy anyway. Like an epileptic Stooges. Here he/they are doing it at Latitude 2008. SOMEONE INVITED PAUL HAWKINS TO PLAY LATITUDE.

STN Albums Of The Year no.19: Runaround Kids - Linked Arms

And welcome this year's big entrant into the pantheon, some say clique, of spiky, sparky British bands touting their electrifying American 90s alt-rock records as something to expand upon. Wakefield trio Runaround Kids are in the Johnny Foreigner/Copy Haho compartment, taking their Pavement and Arts & Crafts Records influences and producing something on the grounds of manicured guitar riff noise, semi-hidden pop melodies, obtuse (dual) delivery of barbed lyrics and intricate dynamic interplay based on breakdowns, fuzz-outs and shaggy mini-pyrotechnics. It's been done before often but when got right there's little like it for guitar-bass-drums excitement with its eyes on a prize that has little to do with commercial residual and everything to do with the love of - nay, need to - communicating this stuff.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.20: Maybeshewill - I Was Here For A Moment, Then I Was Gone

Bringing an emotionally intense core to instrumental rock, Maybeshewill's third album sees them refine and refract their slow build into attack mode workings. Shorn of the film samples and glitches of yore, bolstered by the Her Name Is Calla string section and Philip Glass-ian keys motifs but rarely if ever straying into the overlong self-consciously 'epic' no matter how vainglorious soundtrack-like, the metallic gone math riffs seem all the more monolithic, the release more overwhelming. If the sonic field pushes against the red limiter it's more often to do with how much has been structured, layered and interlocked to create flyover music for impassable structures. They do in four or five minutes what fellow travellers need twelve or more for, only with a crushing intensity and belief.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.21: Ace Bushy Striptease - The Words That You Said Are Still Wet In My Head

14 tracks in 23 minutes? Birmingham 'cuddlecore' merchants ABS don't hang around, as they don't see any need to. These tiny nuggets are the work of people with maybe ADHD, certainly a love of elaborate song titles, but definitely record collections that err on the side of the excitably wonky. Slanted And Enchanted has doubtless been worn out, a heap of smart pop-punk records, Waited Up Til It Was Light too, all sellotaped together, crumpled up and compacted up so it's just the most immediate, direct bits. And yet the glorious hooks, the enthralling rushes, the intriguing lyrics and vocal back and forths are all still there and in some way intact with barely a pause for breath.


STN Albums Of The Year no.22: Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys!

Once you're arena size, which way to go? Elbow's uncommon answer to becoming a populist success to go alongside their critical love was to dial the commerciality back. There's only one rousing chorus a la One Day Like This, a lot of working back through their late Talk Talk and Peter Gabriel influences and emotive lyrics that instead of taking the usual broad all-encompassing view zero in on little street stories, Guy Garvey's theme being nostalgia for personal development in youth, the forming of affairs of the heart and quiet joy of that which is socially achieved. Melodies and static while lovingly textured keyboard patterns seem to drift in a kind of rationalist spirituality until splitting wide open to let the sunshine through. Even at this size and reach Elbow could never be Snow Patrol, as that would require cynicism and radio straightforwardness.


Friday, December 09, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.23: Fair Ohs - Everything Is Dancing

Everyone does tropical guitar pop based on hi-life chords so there's no way such indie kid cultural tourism could convince any more, right? Well, Eddy Frankel runs the African redistribution label Dream Beach Records and used to be frontman in chaotic electro-grindcore outfit Cutting Pink With Knives, and Fair Ohs started out as the sort of underground London band whose songs rarely last more than a minute. These songs are much longer, clearly, but bring a whole new slant to Afro-post-punk's westernisation. The production is simultaneously minimal in its repetition of killer intricate riffs and small gobbets of phrasing while the rhythm section lock into effortlessly funky shapes and the guitar reverberates and slides up and down the trebly, punchy spectrum so the playing seems both complex and intuitive. It's music precision targeted for unthinking movement and summer joy.


STN Albums Of The Year no.24: Still Corners - Creatures Of An Hour

In the year that began with the sad loss of Trish Keenan, the influence of Broadcast's exploratory, floating retro-futurism was felt keenly in Still Corners' debut. Equally playing with 60s lounge exotica stylings subsumed into the whirr of slight seconded keyboards, Tessa Murray's voice possesses a haunting quality that keeps afloat the lulls and wafts along the rushes, her soothing vocal melodies drawing the listener towards... well, what? The ominous rumbling of the lower registers, the shafts of reverberating guitar and vintage organ that fall across the melody, the insistent motorik drumming... certainly nothing as calming as hoped, it all suggests that however airy things get there's always something lurking in the margins, not least on the hanging European suspense of Velveteen. An album for the twilight hours.


Thursday, December 08, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.25: Three Trapped Tigers - Route One Or Die

If Three Trapped Tigers follow a formula we're used to from another source in synapse melting analogue electronic instrumentals - spectacular drumming, tectonic shift basslines, mightily sequenced synth lines, all in imperfect disharmony - theirs is more techno influenced, taking a lot of hard work pieceing together the individual ferocious parts in such a way as they seem improvised through intuition. Ridiculously proficient moments of skyscraping lie back to back with textured ambient floating, euphoric codas come in off the back of spaced out keyboard drones while Adam Betts crashes like a man posssessed to underpin the whole notionally unstable charabanc. Too organic by half for IDM, too much like a cartoon dustcloud with limbs made of riffs, sequences and the joy of finding some new pattern by instant trial and error sticking out at improbable angles to become in any way useable as background music, it's capture and release overload in circuit board form.


STN Albums Of The Year no.26: Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

Lykke's promise on advance single Get Some that "I'm your prostitute" turned out to be early doors desperation. Wounded Rhymes builds on foundations of heartbreak and the consequent loss of self-composure, spelt out in booming off-centre drums, mighty whirring synths - the first half sounds like the Crystals backed by laptop and percussionist - and a sense Li chooses to put herself at the heart of darkness, more commonly begging out of hope than experience. Grandiose wall of sound statements lie next to and occasionally merge with bleak broken balladry and coexist spendidly, Li often belting it out in defiance of whatever. In youth is pleasure, maybe, but Li knows and exploits the detail from the other side of the mountain.


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.27: The Indelicates - David Koresh Superstar

Why does it somehow feel inevitable that the Indelicates would one day make a concept album/musical/rock opera about Waco? We follow Koresh's journey from origins through conversion to standoff to end through just about as many musical landscapes - Broadway mock-oleaginousness, piano ballads, bits that continue the Luke Haines comparisons by moving onto Baader-Meinhof, a mighty cover of John The Revelator to close - and possibly even more internal emotions, spectacular self-belief clashing against paranoia, good and evil failing to find their standpoint. Being the Indelicates it can veer into the blackest of tragi-comedy but they know what roads they've chosen to follow. In the accompanying booklet it's stated they didn't come to any definite conclusions about the situation, and there's an underlying compassion and understanding humanisation of how things came to that place and that ending.

[Corporate Records]

STN Albums Of The Year no.28: The Lovely Eggs - Cob Dominos

Nobody makes music like the Lovely Eggs make music. It both is this modish concept of twee and is about as far from it as possible, Holly Ross singing about little things in nursery rhyme rhythmic metre before getting bored, turning up the distortion pedal and shouting in her creamy Lancastrian accent. And then it turns out most of them have an underlying message anyway. Playful melodies turn into detuned hellage riffing at a moment's notice as Ross' play-sing-song voice goes from nursery rhyme to profane at similar switchover. The most sombre, slow, stadium worthy track on the album is called, and liberally and repeatedly choruses with, Fuck It. The whole thing averages out at roughly two minutes per track. It's hilarious and singular and faux-naive to the point of ridiculousness, all while simultaneously being inventive and surreal and idiosyncratic.


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.29: tUnE-yArDs - W H O K I L L

Yeah, alright, typography, give it a rest. Merrill Garbus' musical mind is an extraordinary rainbow-coloured whirl, darting with legibility barely aforethought from African rhythms to Diplo-style worldly hip-hop moves to Dirty Projectors-like installation of the obscure and oblique in already pretty fractured grooves. The best bits run on polyphonic cut and paste jobs, off kilter rhythms barely matched to scat-sung syllables and scratchy instrumentation of varying standards of tuning. Even when it doesn't work there's the underlying assumption in the shifting tones that something is about to happen and knock the place silly. At its heights an advert for what sort of controlled mess can be created in the digital age, Garbus singing to her own tunes as things fly wildly overhead and flash like hijacked emergency vehicles.


STN Albums Of The Year no.30: Battles - Gloss Drop

With Tyondai Braxton gone the remaining Battles trio chose a more playful route than the jazzily obtuse moments that afflicted Mirrored. With John Stanier's precision drumming front and centre, the rhythms push out like unstable pistons while around it dance implausibly intricate guitar sounds and keyboard patterns, the sound of carnival fairgrounds gone haywire. It works like a machine, just one that hasn't worked out mathematical precision but will send sparks everywhere, structures sometimes stretched out into Reich-ambient, sometimes bunched up into rushing busily. The decision to bring in guest singers isn't entirely necessary and not just because of how well previous vocals acted like just another effect - Sweetie & Shag sounds like a more hurried take on singer Kazu Makino's own Blonde Redhead - but because it detracts from the act of instrumental pattern forming as quantum physics.


Monday, December 05, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.31: Sean Rowe - Magic

New Yorker Sean Rowe is in possession of one of those deep baritone, warm while sonorously expressive voices that can never be put to use in light, carefree songwriting. Guesses as to who it's most resonant of range from Bill Callahan to Gil Scott-Heron; whoever, it adds extra emotional heft to the detailed storytelling with soul, blues and Springsteen echoes that he deals in, produced with a same-room aura and recorded rewardingly close to the strings and voice. Like bar piano lizard era Tom Waits he's wordy and expressively creative even when raking over those old love and displacement chestnuts again. Listening in reveals some bleak scenes being set out (and, true, the odd jarring moment), but it's the wider picture that'll really reach in and tear at the soul.


Blog Sound Of 2012

The blogosphere being as it is you might have seen this laid out today already, but as one of the central triumverate let me elucidate...

When Andy, Robin and myself collectively came up with this idea about a year ago and moved it forward so we had time to get things done for this year, the idea was to see how those who write about this stuff with some knowledge would compare and contrast with the 180 'tastemakers' the BBC send their forms out to every year, seeing as their list (and here's their Sound Of 2012 list) is pretty much a self-fulfilling prophecy (even if this year is interestingly short on Adelealikes and longer than usual on frankly uncommercial acts) and a fait accompli for labels who've planned their Octobers and Novembers around getting on the list. Of course this enterprise is a hugely flawed idea, as we accept - the line between tipping for obvious success and tipping for qualitative greatness is a thin and askew one. However, by providing an alternative we also give a platform for avatars of new music and for introducing a whole new front of artists that exhibit enough to suggest big things ahead in quality rather than quantity.

Oh, and yes, the UK Blogger Albums Of The Year poll is going ahead for this year and will very shortly be creaking into life.

Anyway, here's the 15 strong longlist, the top five to be revealed in the first week of January. Complaints about how white and middle class everyone is should be kept to yourselves:

Not easy classifiable Leeds unit slipping from dark art-rock to slippery grooves to glitchy beats, with bluesy vocal atop

Deceptively simple electronic pop from one Dan Smith that pits big soaring hooks against chopped up beats

Beth Jeans Houghton
Already much experienced Geordie songstress taking folk into wildly varying outposts, debut album in February

Elena Tonra by name, taking the post-Marling folk singer-songwriter template to sparser, darker areas

French Wives
Joyously deep and mini-epic Glaswegians, from those that brought you Snow Patrol, Belle & Sebastian and Biffy Clyro

Percussively polyrhythmic summery Brooklynites borrowing from early 80s New York post-punk disco and tropical pop

The Good Natured
Long gestating gothic electro-pop trio fronted by ice maiden in waiting Sarah McIntosh

Houdini Dax
Sharp-suited Cardiff teenagers playing pin-sharp beat revival rock'n'roll with New Wave and Brit psychedelia touches

The Jezabels
From Sydney comes epically emotive gothic romance and melodrama fronted by the huge voice and presence of Hayley Mary

Lianne La Havas
Gorgeously jazz-soulful, heartstring-playing London singer-songwriter loved by the opposing tenets Gary Barlow and Bon Iver

Lucy Rose
Bombay Bicycle Club collaborator with a pure, fragile voice and a straightforwardly sincere writing style

With a third album due next year, the Edinburgh collective can switch from cracked acoustic laments to broken beat hugeness

Liverpool's most wanted, an idiosyncratic skewed indie-noir recalling Wild Beasts with greater dark pop nous

Theme Park
Livewire alt-funk of Talking Heads plus tropical, percussively syncopated post-punk from new Transgressive signings

Megan Washington, in fact, a quirkily lovelorn Melbourne singer-songwriter-pianist and Best Female Artist ARIA winner

And those who made the list that way: Breaking More Waves, God Is In the TV, Sweeping The Nation, The Von Pip Musical Express, The Recommender, Faded Glamour, Drunken Werewolf, Flying With Anna, Not Many Experts, Underclassed Idle Ideas, Sonic Masala, Mudkiss, The Pop Cop, The Ring Master, Both Bars On, Music From A Green Window, Dots And Dashes, The Daily Growl, And Everyone's A DJ, Kowolskiy, Just Music That I Like, Cruel Rhythm, The Blue Walrus, Music Fans Mic, Seventeen Seconds, Eaten By Monsters, Seven Sevens, Unpeeled, Nu Rave Brain Wave, Peenko, Music Liberation, Song By Toad.

STN Albums Of The Year no.32: Gruff Rhys - Hotel Shampoo

Despite the settling into middle age process apparent in both operations, the classic melodies underpinning Gruff's solo material makes it still identifiably different from the outward lounge electronica bounds of Super Furry Animals' recent output. While it takes many a stylistic detour - Beatles psychedelia, surf-scorched tropicalia, Tex-Mex bar band pop, alien planet pastoral - there's a plaintive warmth and even tenderness at its heart, buoyed by a voice that's matured into something that might in another life have a go at Bacharach. As much as he follows his genre wanderlust and off-beam lyrical preoccupations he can't help finding a secretly romantic ground where everything will be OK whatever.


STN Albums Of The Year no.33: Fujiya & Miyagi - Ventriloquizzing

Fujiya & Miyagi were always disquieting before, something about the unyielding motorik and the displaced, inscrutable stage whisper of David Best's voice and lyrics. This time around they've pushed the whole thing down a dark alleyway and left it paranoid and shivering. The taut spirit of Neu! is still ever present but the analogue sounds clang and feel their way along with more purpose than just to accompany the beat, switching from spy soundtrack to underground lounge club noise in a heartbeat. Best, still at one pace removed from the music, does his bit by expanding on his ability to read broodingly fathomless fear into non-sequitur aphorisms. In a way they actually seem to mean something, and it's not something heartening.


STN Albums Of The Year no.34: Trips And Falls - People Have To Be Told

Following the precision eclecticism of He Was Always Such A Quiet Boy was always going to be tricky, especially with a lineup change along the way, but if People Have To Be Told feels more streamlined it's not settled down much. Explosions of quasi-psychedelic guitar noise push against and generally get in the way of the tight woven melodies and folk influenced male/female crosshatched harmonies plus lyrics that can get very dark and dismissive indeed. Very carefully produced so everything gets its own stereo space, they use the form to play around with structure, subtle movements audibly straining at the leash while trying to present an outward face of normality and failing miserably.

[direct from the label]

Sunday, December 04, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.35: Okkervil River - I Am Very Far

For a band who've previously been defined for their subtlety and light touch, the enormous gated snare sound that kicks The Valley's doors in is an earpricking new touch. If the record's small army of musicians is an attempt at harnessing the Big Music now Arcade Fire are winning Grammys it's a peculiarly awkward shot at mass communication, Will Sheff's lyrics still densely allusive, containing more than the RDA of accusation, permeated sickness, bad intentions from both parties and cross-references to the diseased whore of the music business. Somewhere amid the mass of electrified sound, which is somehow never allowed to messily overwhelm, there's still a heart even if it burns or is turning black.


STN Albums Of The Year no.36: Peggy Sue - Acrobats

So John Parish was involved in more than one stylistic realigning based on reamplifying the basics this year. Yes, Acrobats has hints of a less razor-tipped PJ Harvey, but there's far more than getting the name in as replication. Peggy Sue used to be a sweet-sourly harmonising acoustic duo; now they've gone electric in more than the amped up sense, as electronic whirrs play underneath and Rosa and Katy sense something lurking in the lengthening shadows. Sparky riffing finds a natural resting place with keening harmonies as garage blues influences are newly brought to the fore and when things do slow down keening cello and lyrical matters of the broken bodied ensure we're being kept thoroughly on our toes.


STN Albums Of The Year no.37: Low - C'Mon

We haven't heard Low attempt to channel inner turmoil quite like this for a while, largely because of Alan Sparhawk's gradual easing up of the volume knobs. That now seems to have been taken into account and found a way to co-exist with a pace that doesn't quite match their earlier slowcore sketching out but boasts a hefty emotive pull and human connection. A certain extra layer of directness has come into their world map, Sparhawk and to a lesser extent Mimi Parker being far more willing to expose their hearts in express terms, so that even the distortion pedal exercises feel weepier. They're channelling intensity in a more focused way than they have for a while.


STN Albums Of The Year no.38: Sons And Daughters - Mirror Mirror

S&D's claustrophobic garage-country girl-pop was given a complete once-over on their third album. It starts like a spell, or at least a dire set of threats, and from there works in electronic elements, dark grooves, slashing elasticated rhythmic and synthesized menace. The punch-up in a roots bar element hasn't completely been lost but JD Twitch's production, using atmosphere as the oppressor rather than pedal-aided noise, lends an air of the great lost Argento horror soundtrack, playing in typewriter keys and white noise (see Ink Free) just to ratchet up the dank tension. It's a gothic album, not in the post-Zola Jesus sense but the creepiness, the sense that an indefinite evil lurks among the cinematographised spires and cobwebs.


Saturday, December 03, 2011

STN Albums Of The Year no.39: Honour Before Glory - This Is Broken Lines

Whiskas, once of ¡Forward, Russia!, almost casually eked this solo record in all but name out in July and has spoken of how a lot of it is driven by working out what studio stuff does. In that case he's on the right track before he knows it, as This Is Broken Lines elegantly sketches a pathway between textural, spidery synth-washed electronics and oppressive maxi-pop with a Canadian tint, where every listen brings out a new quirk. For a beginner's work the sound is impressively opaque, filling out the waveform with dreampop's heavy drift effect before opening wide spaces with subtly effective aereated synths or Low at their loudest-style power chords. It may deviate across the pulsing spectrum but it finds light and shade amid the buzzes and spaces alike.

[only available from Bandcamp]

STN Albums Of The Year no.40: Comet Gain - The Howl Of The Lonely Crowd

Celebratedly unreliable scene-within-a-scene band they may be, but Comet Gain have earned friends in high places (Edwyn Collins and Ryan Jarman produce here) through their give-a-fuck appeals from the edge of polite society. David Feck sings about working class belief, life wasted and ultimate kitchen sink futility like his very soul depends on every statement as his band work their learnings from northern soul, mod soundtracks, Dexys and typically Scottish 1980s indie, as well as some well thumbed art school/Beat Generation hero texts, into a low budget miasma that reflects their co-leader's earnest outsider fists-in-the-pocket belief, and they can pull off a late night what-it-all-means ballad too. Calling a song Some Of Us Don't Want To Be Saved defines and delinates them on the spot.


STN Albums Of The Year no.41: Sacred Harp - Window's A Fall

Oslo's Sacred Harp don't like to make things too slow. Yes, the pool they largely draw from is the considered ice floe textural somnambulance of Low, Red House Painters and Mew's calmer moments, but theirs is equally a cinematic scope and one which likes to throw the unwary off course. Jessica Sligter's voice is a more straightforwardly emotive Beth Gibbons-like in its spooked out torch song quality while her band know when to throw in a slow burn fanfare of something new - strings, synths, found sounds, a barnstorming Americana guitar riff - and when to turn on the lachrymosity. And then there's Red/Three, an ESG-like dance-post-punk interlude that I'm still not convinced isn't from a different album altogether.