Exciting upcoming albums for February and March

The end and start of the year are always a bit quiet when it comes to music releases, although sometimes this can be a nice time to go back and listen to albums you perhaps didn’t give enough attention to earlier.

So far this year, the only new album I’ve listened to quite a lot is Mark Ronson’s new album, Uptown Special – a very 70s soul and funk affair, including collaborations with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars and Kevin Parker (of Tame Impala/Pond fame). But there are four albums coming up soon which I am very, very excited about and so I thought I would explain to you why as well as show you a sneak peek from each!

Laura+Marling+Short+MovieLaura Marling – Short Movie

This will be Laura Marling’s fifth album, released on March 23 before she is even 25 years of age – a remarkable feat in itself. In her late teens you could have categorised her as a slightly folky singer-songwriter, but she has become so much more than that as she has matured. Her songwriting style is powerful and evocative and makes full use of her deep vocals and storytelling abilities. Some of you who might remember that her last album “Once I Was An Eagle” was my favourite album of 2013. My hopes are high for this new work, but I don’t think I’m going to be disappointed. Watch the title track and see what you think – it builds slowly at first but is an amazing song overall.

Hand Cannot EraseSteven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase

Another album for which I have incredibly high hopes, this one is due out on March 2 for most of the world. Steven Wilson’s last album came second on my favourite albums of 2013 (so I’m half expecting the top two spots this year to be these same two artists again, but we’ll see) but his album in 2011 was my favourite that year, and my favourite 2012 album was the duo Storm Corrosion of which he was one half. Although his last album was a strong mix of jazz and progressive rock, this, his fourth solo effort (having only gone solo 20 years into his career) seems to be cutting back on the jazz but includes a mixture of all his musical styles, including elements of pop and mainstream rock, electronic, prog rock and so on. The concept is apparently based on a real story of a girl who died in her apartment but wasn’t discovered for years – as he has said it says a lot about society, and so I am guessing he is exploring ideas connected with this. This clip is the first of three videos, and it includes a little bit of recording footage, followed by an interview and some peeks at what the album might sound like – skip ahead to about 3 or 4 minutes if you want to hear the music more.

José González - Vestiges & ClawsJosé González – Vestiges & Claws

Now onto someone a little closer to home, the Swedish songwriter (who lives in Gothenburg just an hour or two north of where I live) will be releasing his third solo effort on February 17, nearly 8 years since his last. He has spent a lot of the intervening time working on other projects, such as the band Junip, but this album sees him not only spreading out in terms of musical style but also producing his own album, giving him a lot more freedom and supposedly lending a bit of looseness to the album although still retaining that classic, dreamy acoustic sound that won him fans the world over. Check out his first song off the album, and its cool clip (which has a story behind it too), and see what you think!

Next Year PeopleColin Hay – Next Year People

I love the idea behind the title track of this album, which is a tribute to the depression-era farmers who kept going only by holding on to the hope that “next year would be better”. As someone who has spent most of their life in Australia, I grew up listening to Hay’s unusual but amazing vocals with the Men At Work songs (which should not be judged just by Down Under – so many of those songs were beautifully written pieces of music as anybody who has seen that Scrubs episode where he plays Overkill could probably attest to). But for the last decade or two, he has released a string of albums which for me just keep getting better. The perfect blend of folk music and pop songs, his music has proved intelligent and catchy and has earned him new legions of fans the world over. This album, due for release on February 17 as well (a good day for releases it seems), probably won’t be my favourite album of the year but it could very well end up in my favourites list all the same!

What music releases this year are you looking forward to?

Are you interesting in any of these upcoming albums I have listed?

Laura Marling’s “Once I Was An Eagle”

Once I Was An EagleAt the age of just 23, Laura Marling has unleashed her fourth (yes, fourth) album upon the world. And it is her most ambitious, mature and most powerful work yet, a record which I have spent the last week listening to and slowly absorbing while coming to realise that this is one of the best albums of the year.

The first thing I noticed about Once I Was An Eagle was its length – at 16 tracks and 63 minutes, it is substantially longer than her previous work, which filled me with concern. Then I noticed that in the middle of the album was an interlude track, which I found rather curious. Then I figured I should stop looking at the cover and just put it on already, and I must say I wasn’t quite ready for what I heard (but this is a good thing).

The album has a strong narrative running through it, of a character who in the first half of the album shuns love and speaks of the naivety that comes with such feelings (and it is clear that this character is coming out of a poisonous relationship which fuels her anger), but who by the second half suddenly yearns for this vulnerable state of opening up to someone else again. The music works well with the lyrics – the first half is dark and melancholy, with the sad sound of a cello (which combined with her voice reminds me a lot of Nick Drake) on most songs, a strong eastern sound, and blues riffs very reminiscent of the acoustic side of Led Zeppelin, but the second half is more upbeat, with a sense of hopefulness stemming from the ascending strumming of the guitar. What is really impressive is that she recorded all the vocals and guitars live in single takes, which is incredible when you listen to how fiery her performances are throughout this piece.

To see what I mean about some of the sounds that come through in the first half of the album, listen to this first single off the album, the song “Master Hunter”:

The lyrics are both deeply intelligent and utterly fascinating, and I probably should never have listened to this album in the car as I found myself trying to decode the imagery in the songs. She constantly refers to the devil throughout the album, particularly in the first half as she tries to suggest emotional isolation, a sense of toughening oneself up against such feelings. She speaks of hunters and hunted, of making love both a predator and a saviour. By the final song, “Saved These Words”, she finds a balance between the two sides of the album, by suggesting that love with due caution is the way to go, and the music matches this perfectly as it reaches a fusion of the darker first half and lighter second half, and ends the whole thing on a slow-building and almost triumphant note.

I refused to read any reviews or look at what any critics had to say about this album until I started to write this review, as I wanted to build up my own opinion free from the thoughts of others, but I have found that the critical reception to this album has been much the same as my own – overwhelmingly positive. Most critics love it, and even those who don’t like it as much are admitting it is a very clever work of art. This was a very daring move by Laura Marling, but she’s pulled it off amazingly and deserves full recognition for her incredible talent and creativity. If you don’t listen to this album, you are missing out on one of the most intelligent pieces of music that will be released this year.

I’m finishing this review off with the short film, “When Brave Bird Saved”, that goes with the four-song suite that opens the album, including the songs “Take The Night Off”, “I Was An Eagle”, “You Know” and “Breathe”. I would love to hear people’s thoughts of the film, the songs I’ve linked to, and the whole album for those who have heard it!

(The very first) Music Monday!

Well here we are, the very first weekly music post. I’ll probably be tweaking the structure of these posts for a little while until I am happy with them, but for now I will discuss new albums I have bought, other music I have been listening to, and I might do a classic album of the week sort of thing too. As always, I would love to hear if you’ve heard these albums, and what your thoughts are on them. Enjoy!

New music

I bought two new albums this week, including one that has come along quite suddenly, but which I have anticipated all the same – the second album by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, an American folk/psychedelia/whoknowswhatelse band led by Alex Ebert (also from Ima Robot, and more recently on his own as simply Alexander). Titled Here, it’s the follow up to their successful 2009 debut album Up From Below, which featured the hugely successful single “Home” that appeared on many television shows, commercials, film trailers, and which also placed 15th on the Australian Triple J Hottest 100 Countdown, one of the biggest music polls in the world.

Back to the new album, Here features nine new songs, continuing along in the same vein of the first album and Ebert’s solo effort. The songs are quirky, slightly psychedelic folk music. They are all generally upbeat, and although quiet in sound are actually quite complexly layered – the current band has ten permanent musicians (and it makes for quite a live show, as I discovered a couple of years ago). While Ebert takes lead vocals on many of the songs, some are also led by Jade Castrinos, who has a remarkably different voice that actually complements Ebert’s quite well. It took me a while to warm up to this album (more so than the first), but it is growing on me, and it has done well on the Billboard charts, debuting at #5 (the first album only peaked at #74).

Check out the official video for “Man on Fire” off Here, here:

The other new album I bought was by Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and is titled Americana. I will admit I like some of Neil Young’s work, but not all of it, and so I always feel I am taking a risk when I buy his albums. This one is a covers album of classic Americana songs, as the title suggests, including songs such as “Oh Susannah” and “This Land Is Your Land”. The feel of the album is more garage rock, something not unusual when he teams up with Crazy Horse, and so the interpretations are quite energetic and different to what one might expect. I’d be lying if I said I loved this album, but it’s pretty decent. If you’re a big enough fan of the songs or of Neil Young you’ll probably love this.

Other music I’ve been listening to

The main other artist I have been listening to a lot who I would like to recommend this week is Laura Marling. At the age of 22, she has already appeared in several bands, most notably being part of the original line up of Noah and the Whale, and has three solo albums under her belt, all of which have been nominated for various awards and in some cases even won her major awards. Alas I Cannot Swim was released in 2008, followed in 2010 by the more mature I Speak Because I Can and in 2011 by her third (and my personal favourite) album A Creature I Don’t Know. All three albums are heavily folk-oriented music, and her songwriting skills are exceptional, the songs and instrumentation varying enough to keep every song interesting, and her vocals deep and soulful, with a maturity far beyond her years. I love every song on all three of these albums, though my favourites would have to be “Don’t Ask Me Why” and “The Beast” off her latest album, and also “Devil’s Spoke” and “Rambling Man” off her second album.

If you haven’t listened to Laura Marling, you really are missing out on a huge talent. Check out the music video for the single “Devil’s Spoke” here:

Classic Album of the week

For this week, I’m going to choose one of my personal favourite albums as the classic album of the week – Supertramp’s 1974 classic Crime of the Century. After the first two albums by the band were unsuccessful, they broke up, and the two frontmen and songwriters, Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies, re-formed the band with new members. The new band created the sound that they would become famous for – progressive rock, with the trademark combination of keys and saxophone (and sometimes other woodwind instruments) bringing something unique to the music. The album, which dealt with themes of loneliness and mental and emotional instability, reached #4 on the UK Charts and #38 on the Billboard charts, and is considered by many to be the band’s finest album. It includes the singles “Dreamer” and “Bloody Well Right”, although my favourite song on the album is “Rudy”, a seven minute long song which gives just about every instrument a moment to shine as it progresses, really defining what the band’s sound was about.

Listen to “Rudy” here to see just what I mean (the film clip isn’t official, though, but the sound quality seems okay):

What music have you been listening to recently?