Posts Tagged ‘Best albums of 2014’

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Ultra-lo-fi, but Happyness’ ‘Weird Little Birthday’ is nonetheless stuffed full of rich melodies and arch lyrical observations. The band Happyness are a 3 piece band from South London, formed of multi-instrumentalists Ash Cooper, Benji Compston and Jonny Allan. After forming in early 1973, the band went on hiatus pending their births and the sufficient progress of the affordable digital audio interface market. Regrouping in 2013, the band spent Saturday nights playing under a railway bridge in Bermondsey. By mid-2013, having written “most of an album” they rented out an unused church with the intention of setting up a studio and finishing the record there. That ended after less than a week with only one song tracked – they were driven out by “the bitter cold and an unconvinced congregation of the dead”. (Unintentionally significantly the song was “Baby, Jesus (Jelly Boy)”).


Relocating to their affectionately named “Jelly Boy Studios” (a one-time carpentry warehouse and butterfly commune an hour or so outside of London), the band self-produced their debut album and the songs that would become their debut EP.
Before the recording sessions, the band had played a handful of shows under a variety of names (“something to put on the flyers”), but the name Happyness wasn’t used until November 2013, when the band started playing live in the build up to the release of their eponymous EP – mixed by Ed Harcourt.

The album – “Weird Little Birthday” – was mixed by Adam Lasus (Yo La Tengo, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah) and features Ed Harcourt singing on “Pumpkin Noir” and was released to great acclaim in the UK in the Summer of 2014. They have made various attempts to spread the rumour that Jonny Allan is the forgotten son and heir to the Terry Richardson empire, but those have all failed pretty conclusively. Their approach to writing and recording music means that roles within the band are fairly fluid, but Jonny Allan and Benji Compston do lead vocals and Ash Cooper does drums.

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Considering it was a debut album there were shockingly high expectations for Fear In Bliss. Following the earlier superb EP, “Grow Deep Grow Wild”, and a jaw dropping support slot with Midlake at Shepherds Bush Empire, we anticipated something good, maybe even something great, , but it exceeded beyond even our wildest expectation the release was frankly remarkable.

The Oklahoma based five-piece created an album deeply routed in the traditions of American alternative music, both old and new, it simultaneously recalled the true greats, artists like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen and the more modern classic, with shades of Fleet Foxes, Beach House and Grizzly Bear. The album managed to balance experimentation, the almost acapella “Already Dead”, the buzzing synths and low-key vocal of closing track “Warm Regards”, So with songs that fitted perfectly with their previous output, the likes of “Human Geographer” and stand-out track “Dead Drum” wouldn’t sound out of place on their previous recordings, but they sounded more refined, better recorded and just stronger examples of song-writing.

If musically it was a varied collection, it was all pinned together by both the voice and lyrics of front-man Cameron Neal. His voice is not a classically trained beauty, but it’s powerful, and carries an emotional weight like almost no other. Lyrically he delves into issues many songwriters wont touch, there were flirtations with religion, mortality and growing up with unshared doubts about the reality of all you are told.

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Comprised of previously released EPs and previously released as an album overseas before finally receiving a stateside street date from Mom + Pop records in 2014, “A Sea of Split Peas”  it’s the kind of album that withstands endlessly repeated listens, it doesn’t much matter. Serving as Australian Courtney Barnett’s debut,

A Sea Of Split Peas introduces the world to the (s)lackadaisical troubadour’s unforgettable steez: droll and dreamy, with the perfectly worn feel of your favorite hoodie. Courtney Barnett plays guitar and sings, and the shrug with which she delivers her wry observations obscures how incisive they can be. “I’m having trouble breathing in,” she frets, ostensibly about an asthma attack, on “Avant Gardner,” a rolling, note-perfect rock song wherein a well-intentioned day in the yard becomes a metaphor for just trying to get by in the world. Such gems abound on Peas, sprouting like the vegetables Barnett so earnestly wishes she could grow. Courtney Barnett is an Australian singer-songwriter and guitarist from Melbourne. Known for her witty, rambling lyrics and deadpan singing style,

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This debut from Adult Jazz shows a lightness of touch that’s few and far between on first albums. The songs seem to start at a small point in an undefined centre before pulsing outwards in all directions, changing form and structure as they go, it’s almost impossible to describe what this music sounds like, or how it might make you feel.

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You get the feeling that the next record might be entirely different given how unpredictable this one is, but for now, here, this is an album without boundaries .

“It feels like “Gist”  came out of nowhere, fully formed. Full of wonder and joy – it’s both texturally ravishing and textually fascinating: songs, in other words, that tackle big subjects – the mediation of (homo)sexuality by church and society; what it means to be a man – with a transporting grace and music whose unexpected richness, space and invention creates a profound resonance.”

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Five piece The Asteroid No 4 – once of Philly and now relocated to San Francisco have been conjuring this kind of cosmicness since the mid-Nineties. Over a period of eight albums, including a 2013 collaboration with psych royalty Peter Daltrey of 60’s acid prog act Kaleidoscope (who’s ’67 classic Tangerine Dream named that band), they’ve peddled a krautrocky, proggy, psych sound throughout. Unfashionable for many of those years, and always slightly overshadowed by Anton Newcombe’s Brian Jonestown Massacre, the timing is perfect this time. Krautrock’s re-emergence as a favoured sound is in turn leading to a slow re-acceptance of kraut’s much unloved cousin, prog rock, and this self-titled release has them excelling in such sounds.

Ranging from grimy Spaceman 3 influences (note their influence on their name) and stoner rock to Asian vibes and metronomic rhythms, “The River” even takes in Deep South country rock and The Beta Band’s baggy shuffle, with backwards guitar and sitar sounds. This ain’t Kasabian we’re talking about – a far more hippyish air pervades the whole affair. The grungy “Rukma Vimana” is driving psychedelic rock with quasi-mystical lyrics referencing a Sanskrit text about flying machines which will “Take you to places that you’ve never seen”, and “The Windmill of the Autumn Sky” is lovely, lilting country-tinged Americana, taking references from Gram Parsons and Fleet Foxes and encasing them in a smoky fragrant fog. It’s the least ‘out there’ track, but it nonetheless proves to be a highlight.

Their Americana and Asian influences are most apparent on the Rickenbacker and sitar-led “Ropeless Free Climber” – which manages to contemporise the raga rock of a late 60’s Byrds – and “Mount Maru”, a lysergic piece of 5am desert rock and wordless chants augmented by tabla, sitar and a spooked-out spoken word passage which indulges their passions of both Syd Barrett and a 1968 George Harrison to eerie, bummed out effect. It’s not all looking at the castles in your cortex or whatever – they operate just as effectively when they come across as snotty. The grinding riffs on “Back Of Uour Mind” (yes, really), give the album a much welcome kick of The Stooges rock swagger, and “Revolution Prevail” is a welcome break from all things double denim led, sharp, oppressive and druggy.

Through dogged determination, The Asteroid No. 4 have continued down their particular path, managing to avoid being written off as revisionist. It’s encouraging that the success of the likes of Tame Impala and Ty Segall has led to precursors such as these also getting a look in  guys have been doing it for so long now that they could, certainly on the evidence of this album, be cast as one of the originators of the new psych scene.

TRACKLIST

The River – 0:00
Rukma Vimana – 5:45
Ghost of Dos Erres – 12:33
The Windmill of the Autumn Sky – 16:49
Mount Meru – 22:54
Back of Your Mind – 26:37
Ropeless Free Climber – 31:09
Ode to Cosmo – 36:08
Revolution Prevail – 38:05
Yuba – 41:37

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This American singer-songwriter released her sixth studio album in February 2014 titled simply “July”  and not surprisingly was on most peoples list  Its just wonderful .The latest full length album from Marissa, July, is out on Sacred Bones in North America and on the brilliant  Bella Union everywhere else.
This record was produced by Randall Dunn (Wolves In The Throne Room, Earth, Sunn O)))) in Seattle, WA.

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Marissa Nadler lays the listener – and herself – on the line with ‘July’, her sixth full-length album in nearly a decade. Recorded at Seattle’s Avast Studio, the album pairs  Marissa Nadler for the first time with producer Randall Dunn (Earth, Sunn O))), Wolves In The Throne Room). Dunn matches Nadler’s darkness by creating a multi-coloured sonic palette that infuses new dimensions into her songs. Eyvand Kang’s strings, Steve Moore’s synths and Phil Wandscher’s guitar lines escalate the whole affair to a panoramic level of beautiful, eerie wonder. The results are astonishing and occasionally reminiscent of  being in a David Lynch movie.

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Its a sublime gothy-folky feel this singer songwriter manages to be a melange of fragile, brittle, sad, delicate, punchy, catchy, eerie.songs and sounds .Frequently quivering with an indefinable nostalgia, never merely wispy, perhaps weighted with the wistful, hints of melancholy hanging in the air like mist or fog. Imagine a sad silvery sound, occasionally lingering, acoustic autumnal sounds without overbearing mournful dirges.
Perhaps the musical equivalent of a discarded remnant of a lace bodice or unfettered veil fluttering over the ground, only to be captured with repeated attempts, to reveal a tatter of shroud. Totally original to herself, Marissa Nadler this album is a pure gem.

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With “Burn Your Fire For No Witness”, Angel Olsen has assembled a record she says felt wholly representative of her vision, a set of songs that take on the shape and skin of punk and country and folk music, sung through a slew of different microphones. Declarations of independence are often bracing, but rarely do they illuminate so ferociously the lonesome reality of being on your own.

There is a lot of heartbreak on “Burn Your Fire For No Witness”, as well as a lot of pleasing anachronism; a lot of hard-won resignation and what you might call stern vulnerability, a quality that Angel Olsen shares with other songwriters like Joni Mitchell without sounding at all like Mitchell. Her soprano can be a delicate and ghostly thing … but Olsen’s quaver holds your gaze, using her vibrato for effect, not whining or crumbling.” I love the track “Windows”  Angel Olsen’s previous 2012 album “Half Way Home” was a quiet, plaintive affair — a low-key country waltz with minimal, yet affecting instrumentation. Conversely, “Burn Your Fire” found her plugging in and turning up the faders. An album of closeness and distance, heartache and heartbreak. Olsen navigates these ups and downs with her voice as captain. It’s a mesmerizing instrument, sweet, tranquil then suddenly intense in an ascendant vibrato

 

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There’s a relatively simplistic formula at work on the debut long-player from Woman’s Hour, but it’s executed with sensitivity and a rich narrative that allures the listener from start to finish. “Conversations” succeeds in capturing – entirely  – a humanity that’s both poetic and grounded. It’s simply astounding that they’ve pulled it of so perfectly, without a trace of lull.

Fans of dreamy, Synth Pop and  soulful indie-pop should tune in to ‘Conversations’, the captivatingly delicate debut by Cumbria’s Woman’s Hour.They are not your average band. The first clue comes in the name of the London-based swoon-pop four-piece, taken from a beloved female-focussed news and culture show on BBC Radio 4. The second is in their graphic, striking monochrome visuals, meticulously curated in collaboration with TATE and MOMA certified fine artists Oliver Chanarin and Adam Broomberg. These play with shape and texture, much like their powerful, iridescent music. On their excellent debut album ‘Conversations’, this has the intricate construction and intimacy of The xx and the iridescent shimmer of summer-defining indie pop.

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Irishman James Vincent McMorrow, who released a folk-ish album in 2011 called “Early in the Morning” that topped the charts in his home country. While the songwriting for this follow-up isn’t radically different from his debut’s slower moments, he’s flipped the script entirely in a stylistic sense, moving into a space somewhere between How to Dress Well’s falsetto choirs and the winter wonderlands of Bon Iver’s For “Emma, Forever Ago”.

The real magic is in his voice, or rather voices: Possessed of a sky-scraping falsetto that draws audible gasps from crowds at his shows, he often begins these songs quietly around gentle keyboard chords that build and grow as he piles on the harmonies, turning virtually whispered melodies into giant crescendos with lush, wordless backdrops sung by armies of overdubbed McMorrows. At no point does his voice drop anywhere near a standard male range. Both chilly and warm, soulful and soft, “Post Tropical” is an intricate ice sculpture of an album, and a fantasy come true for anyone who’s ever misted up over Maxwell’s version of “This Woman’s Work.”

Sometimes a hushed near-whisper and sometimes anything but, with What Is This Heart? Tom Krell makes the move from indie R&B to pop. A little glitchiness and experimentation make their way into the album, but overall, it retains a spacious, emotional quietness. The higher production value is evident in the crispness of the instrumentation lending a cinematic quality to the larger pop tunes. His confessional and candid vocals take front and center on each track, usually in a sweeping, floating falsetto that lends to the feeling of Krell baring his naked soul to the listener.

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