This week sees some pretty interesting releases in the world of music. One of them, the album Vestiges & Claws by José González, seems to not be available just yet on Spotify so it might be a genuine worldwide release next Tuesday. But here are three other albums you might like, all available from this week onwards.
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
While this is his second album under this particular pseudonym, J. Tillman also has several albums to his real name and was a member of much loved band Fleet Foxes until his departure in 2011. I love his work as J. Tillman, but as Father John Misty he has tapped into a much louder and upbeat sound. The folky feel of his other projects is still there of course, but there is a strong 70s vibe and on many songs I find the style a little reminiscent of the older (and better) material of Elton John. Have a listen and see what you think, but personally I think this will be one of the bigger folk releases of the year:
Peace – Happy People
Another indie rock quartet from England, this is the band’s second album and follow up to 2013’s In Love. Already receiving mixed reviews, it will strike a chord with those who are fans of that scene in general as the band is often compared to others such as Vampire Weekend, The Maccabees and Foals, although I dare say they don’t quite possess the talent their comparisons often showcase. It’s not bad, but it’s not particularly amazing or ground-breaking either. Easy to listen to, it’ll be a crowd-pleaser all the same.
Colin Hay – Next Year People
I mentioned this album, Hay’s 12th solo album, a couple of weeks ago, and it has finally been released on Spotify (although sadly no clips are up on Youtube and only the same clip that I have already shown you on SoundCloud). It sounds great -Colin Hay is one of those artists who just keeps getting better with age. Continuing the folk sound of his last couple of albums, this album has an optimistic energy with just a small amount of melancholy lurking beneath as he addresses themes of people going through rough times holding out for something better in the near future (hence the title). His voice is, as always, the most awe-inducing aspect of this album. Nice easy listening from an artist who has found what he is good at and sticks to it.
After saying something in an earlier post about how little music is released at this time of year, I’ve gone on to discover over a dozen new albums that I am really enjoying! So here’s a quick taste of some of those albums – I think it’s about time I did regular music recommendations again, yes?
This week I have three singer-songwriters who have all blown me away as well as a psychedelic band who you might half-know…not in that order though. As always all albums have clips of songs and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Pond – Man It Feels Like Space Again
The Aussie psychedelic rockers (who share members with Tame Impala, as their sound suggests) are back with another winner. Released in late January, this one taps more into the upbeat energy of their albums from a few years ago while also keeping a more accessible sound (similar to TI in that respect) so that you don’t quite feel like you’re losing your mind while listening. Almost, but not quite. As for this weird video….erm…watch at your own risk? (It’s mostly fun)
Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass
I stumbled across this stunning American singer-songwriter mostly by chance last week as she released her debut, self titled album around the world, but to be honest I was likely to have discovered her eventually anyway. With a soulful voice and slightly jazzy instrumentation she makes music that is at once sweet and melancholy and is easily some of the most intelligent pop music I have heard in a long time. For me, this is an instant classic. About 30 seconds into this song I found myself just smiling at how good it is. The clip is very thought provoking too:
Andy Shauf – The Bearer Of Bad News
Okay, this is new-ish. It was actually released a couple of years ago, but from what I can gather only in Canada from where this songwriter comes. Which is strange for an album he spent four years on, when you think about it. But finally he has released it in America and around the world as of this week – thank goodness for that. He himself cites the likes of Wilco, Elliot Smith and Neil Young as his influences although he has also been favourably compared to Nick Drake, but while his music is mostly folk there are elements of pop and other genres lurking beneath the surface, plus some very lush instrumentation as the songs go on.
Robin Bacior – Water Dreams
A haunting album of melancholy songs that are hard to place into any one genre, this American songwriter has captivated me since this release a couple of weeks ago. Her voice is powerful and yet gentle, reminding me vaguely of Dolores O’Riordan (singer from The Cranberries), while the music is very evocative of snow capped mountains, glaciers and, as the title suggests, the dark depths of the oceans. This is already a favourite album of this year so far – give it a listen and see why!
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 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.
Steven 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 & 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!
Colin 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?
If you missed part one, in which I listed #20 to #11 of my Top 20 Albums this year (as well as explaining why I couldn’t limit it to a Top 10 this time), you can read that post here. Otherwise, I shall simply get on with revealing my Top 10 for this year. Again, I’ll feature a clip for a song from each album that will likely be an official video of a studio recording but if necessary may be a live recording or something similar. Enjoy!
10 – Ed Sheeran – X
Whether you like him or not, it’s been pretty hard not to notice Ed Sheeran this last year. He surely made some sort of record by having one of the nerdiest ever hit songs off a soundtrack to last year’s second part of The Hobbit films, in the form of “I See Fire” which currently has some 120 million views on Youtube and 170 million listens on Spotify. Then he released an album that has since yielded the songs “Sing”, “Don’t” and “Thinking Out Loud” that have become equally as popular. To say he is a mega-star is an understatement, but in this case the hype is actually worth it. I was curious to see how he would follow up his mostly calm and mellow first album, but he has come out with something that darts between genres, playing with funk and rap and everything in between while still keeping a few good slow songs to keep the original fans happy. A surprisingly good second album that has cemented his position in the music world – Ed Sheeran is here to stay, folks.
9 – The Pineapple Thief – Magnolia
The Pineapple Thief have been around for a while now, starting as a slow burning progressive rock act in 1999. Over the last 15 years they have released 10 albums, each one improving from the last as they built up a bigger following and became acquainted with others in the prog rock scene such as Riverside and Steven Wilson (all of whom have shared record labels). 2012’s All The Wars marked a dramatic shift away from prog rock overall, featuring shorter and sharper songs and a 22-piece orchestra, but this latest album completes the transformation to a different kind of rock band, one that cannot be categorised so simply any longer. Soord’s songwriting is at its very best here as the album gracefully soars from hard hitting rockers to heart-breaking ballads, and again there is not one dud song on here. I am so impressed by this album. If you’re looking for a good rock act with a genuine sound of their own, this is a pretty good place to start.
8 – David Gray – Mutineers
It’s always fascinated me to think that David Gray intended on ending his career back in 1998 with the album White Ladder (the final song was intended as a farewell to the music industry). Little did he know that this album would become a phenomenon worldwide and that in 2014 he would still be releasing music. My favourite of his has long been 2005’s Life In Slow Motion, and although I have liked his albums since they have felt a little lacklustre in comparison. Mutineers, luckily, is one of the most daring albums he has ever done. It is quiet, eerily quiet, but not in a stripped back acoustic manner like his older music. He has chosen to work with quiet instrumentation so that his epic voice can shine, and the music makes me think of wide oceans, glaciers, winter – just one listen and you’ll know what I mean. A breathtakingly beautiful return to form.
7 – Luluc – Passerby
Luluc are another of the many duos who have made it onto my list this year, this time from Australia. Like many of the other duos, they consist of a male and female combination with the female (Zoë Randell) doing the vocals. Vaguely considered part of the indie folk crowd, this second album has been released on the Sub Pop label which has come to be associated with folk music thanks to signings like Fleet Foxes. There is something very special about this duo though. While they have achieved moderate commercial success, critically they have garnered rave reviews with many reviewers claiming they cannot stop listening to this quietly timeless and beautiful set of songs. Another stunning album that is perfect for the long dark nights!
6 – Neil Finn – Dizzy Heights
One of the first releases this year that truly blew me away, I could never have prepared myself for this album. Neil Finn is perhaps most famous as the frontman of much loved Aussie band Crowded House, a band which my generation grew up listening to on the radio with their sweet but simple beatlesque pop songs. Neil has since done other projects, with his brother as The Finn Brothers, with his wife in Pajama Club, and as a solo artist, to mention but a few. This, his third solo release, comes after a 13 year absence on the solo scene. But it might be the most daring album he has ever made, far removed from the simpler pop music of his hey day. His songs waver between experimental instrumentation and some of his best vocals yet (at one point pushing himself to sing most of a song in falsetto), yet with that same ability to hook the listener with his never-aging voice and catchy melodies. Intelligent, emotional and accessible. If you don’t listen to this, you’re missing out.
5 – Lewis Watson – The Morning
Another one of the young guns to release their debut album this year, I was very impressed with this 22 year old’s first full release. Last year he released 4 EPs of simple, melancholy folk music that along with extensive touring and a signing to Warner Bros helped him build a solid fan base. His album though is not just a rehash of old songs – the old songs are polished and recorded again, while there are newer songs added in as well. More importantly, he has added a lot of extra layers and instrumentation that bring the songs to life in a whole new way, adding greater emotional depth and downright broodiness to make this album something far more mature than one would expect. I also was lucky enough to see him live on a quick trip to Nottingham in England earlier this year – he is even better live! Listen to this album, then go see him live – you won’t regret it!
4 – Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy
The beloved Irish singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who won over hearts back in 2002 with songs like “The Blower’s Daughter” has finally returned this year with his third album and his first in eight years. In the intervening years he spent a lot of time collaborating with other artists, which perhaps is part of the reason he feels so refreshed on this album. The eight songs on here rank among his absolute best – every song is beautifully arranged with so many little details you’ll find something new in every listen of the album, and his voice soars to greater heights than he managed on his first two albums. If you’ve never heard him before, start with this album. If you loved his older stuff you will be blown away by his newer stuff.
3 – First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
Call me biased if you must, after my move to Sweden earlier this year, but this Swedish sister folk-duo released a stunning third album earlier this year that not only took Sweden by storm by also won quite a few fans abroad, going number 1 in Sweden and Norway, Top 10 in Australia, Finland and Denmark and Top 20 in UK. For a pair of girls who are only 24 and 21 years old, this album is a surprisingly mature and personal shift from their previous work in both lyrics and composition. Their earlier albums were written for a three-piece live band but they have now changed this with two extra permanent members and a 13-piece orchestra used on some of the songs here. They tap even further into the Americana sound they have already been developing, but with a sunnier disposition than before that makes this album shine as bright as it’s namesake.
2 – Sia – 1000 Forms Of Fear
For most of this year, I considered this album the top of my list (it was trumped at the last minute). After going through personal hell with anxiety issues that turned into alcohol and depression problems, Sia withdrew from the public world and spent time writing some huge hits for other artists. This year she returned with an album that makes it seem like she saved the best for herself. Her personal life simmers through this set of mostly dark songs, her voice cracked and pushed to its limit to bring out a full emotional depth. At the same time, she is such a master of songwriting that her songs remain catchy and enormously successful, Chandelier clocking up some 400 million views on Youtube. One of the best modern albums by one of the best modern songwriters and singers, hands down.
1 – Robert Plant – lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar
I must confess, I’m quite surprised to see this album at the top of my list this year. Robert Plant, once the singer of Led Zeppelin, has made an incredible solo career over the last few decades that seems to have peaked in his last few albums. “The Mighty Rearranger” was a stunning, rocking return to form in 2005, then in 2007 he released Raising Sand with Alison Krauss which went on to win the Album of the Year at the Grammys. His latest album might very well be his last according to Plant himself. If so, it’s a hell of an album to end his career on – a mixture of folk, rock, blues and soul with considerable use of Eastern instrumentation and even a very small amount of electronic music. It is a deeply personal album, many of the songs commenting on Plant’s feelings at this end of his career as well as his recent break up with Patty Griffin, and you can feel the intensity of his feelings through his aging, haunting but still powerful voice. After 45 years of singing and song writing, this could be the best release of what has already been an incredible career. My favourite album of the year was obvious from the moment I heard it.
Well, there we have it! My Top Twenty albums of 2014 are out in the open! So my question to you is this: What were your favourite albums of this year? Why did you like them so much? And have you liked any of my favourites?
For the first time ever, I am doing a double blog post about the best music of this year because there is simply too much to limit myself to just 10 albums (and any more than that in one post is just overkill). My long-list of favourite albums this year was around 120, my short-list numbering 45. To say it has been an amazing year for music would be an understatement. Of course, there is more to it than that. Having moved from Australia, where music streaming services are still slowly taking off and CDs are still a main source of music listening, to Sweden where CDs basically don’t exist and almost the whole country uses Spotify now, my ways of searching out new music have broadened and improved significantly.
So, without further ado, I give you #20 to #11 on my list today and the Top 10 will go online in the next couple of days. This is by far the most difficult list I have written in a long time, but it is a good mix of different genres as well as debut artists and older artists (I think the age range is from about 20 to 70). All of them will have a song, but some of the songs may be live clips if the studio recording isn’t available on Youtube to embed. I hope you all find something on this list you will enjoy!
20 – Horse Thief – Fear In Bliss
Earlier this year, I went hunting for a lot of new folk bands that I had not yet discovered, using the “related artists” function on Spotify. This band came up a lot, related to other folky artists with animals in their names like Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses but with other obvious influences such as Neil Young. The album feels like a slightly psychedelic and slightly rock flavoured folk sound but catchy enough in the style of songwriting to ensure it remains crisp in sound and isn’t drowned out too much by swirling guitars, instead using the melodies and soft vocals to drive the music. A great new discovery for me!
19 – French For Rabbits – Spirits
French For Rabbits are a dream-pop duo who hail from New Zealand, which is suggested in their music which sounds like a warmth amidst the cold of the sea and the mountains. The delicate vocals of Brooke Singer (perfect name for her job) are balanced perfectly against the warm guitars and instrumentation from John Fitzgerald and other band members to create something altogether ethereal and beautiful. They themselves name similar artists as Mazzy Star, Laura Marling and Daughter, to give you some clues as to whether you may like this amazing debut album.
18 – Snowbird – Moon
Snowbird primarily comprises of British keys player Simon Raymonde (perhaps best known for Cocteau Twins back in the 1980s-1990s) and the American singer-songwriter Stephanie Dosen. While older Snowbird songs seemed sweet but simple acoustic songs, this debut album is a deeply layered and beautifully textured work of art. Dosen sings in a manner simultaneously delicate and lush that glides gently over Raymonde’s haunting piano for most of the album, but with enough surreal instrumentation to make this a perfect album evocative of winter and places of mystic and wonder.
17 – Augie March – Havens Dumb
The Aussie band Augie March have had a strange history. Difficult to put into a single genre (and often put in the alternative and folk groups, although they defy conventions of both), they never strived for any kind of popularity. Then in 2006 their third album yielded the song One Crowded Hour which shot them to huge levels of fame nationally, and this led to an album in 2008 that was out of sorts and fairly unpopular. They took a long hiatus but this year returned with Havens Dumb – an album they have been working on for 3 years and which in my eyes is a return to form. The elegant but witty songwriting is back in full force and while the music is quirky and layered as ever, there is real beauty to be found in the instrumentation and especially the vocal harmonies. I was pleasantly surprised by this one.
16 – Vashti Bunyan – Heartleap
Bunyan has said that this, her third album, will be her last. Her second album was released some 9 years ago in 2005, but her first album was released a whopping 44 years ago, in 1970. She gained huge popularity at the turn of the century when her sole album was re-released and she gained a sudden cult following among fans of the freak-folk movement that featured the likes of Devendra Banhart and Animal Collective (on whose records she has since featured). Despite these enormous lapses between albums, her style has remained similar between all three and this album is an absolute masterpiece. Her vocals are often described as being closer to whispering, shimmering over music that is both intense and hushed. A reminder that subtle is not the same as simple.
15 – Jamie Cullum – Interlude
I have been listening to Jamie Cullum for a long time, since I was a teenager and he was mostly doing jazz covers of famous songs. Then he started writing more and more of his albums, producing my two favourite albums of his in 2005’s Catching Tales and 2009’s The Pursuit, both daring, funky and bold pop-jazz albums in their own way. Last year, his album Momentum totally failed to grab me. This year, he recorded what he himself refers to as his first pure jazz record. Each track here was recorded completely and organically with a single take and he has focused on lesser known jazz songs that mean something to him more personally. A clear highlight is “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” which sees him collaborate vocally with Gregory Porter. Definitely my favourite of his covers focused albums.
14 – Hozier – Hozier
If you haven’t heard of Hozier or at least his most popular single “Take Me To Church” chances are you’ve been living under a rock. The Irish singer-songwriter has released a stunning album that seems a blend of blues, soul, rock and jazz, but trying to categorise the album is ultimately pointless. His voice is always the centre of his music as he showcases an enormous range from dark growling depths to soaring howls. He sounds far too mature for someone only 24 years of age, but it’s all part of the charm. This is an album that demands your attention from start to finish. Amazing debut.
13 – George Ezra – Wanted On Voyage
George Ezra is another young singer, this time a 21 year old from England, who also possesses a deep and dark voice way beyond his years as his strongest musical weapon. His album is surprisingly easy to listen to overall, with some fairly average songs and some amazing sounding songs. But if you go underneath the surface you will find a darker side lurking behind most of his lyrics which add a haunting feel to his broody vocals. From daydreams of killing someone in the song Drawing Board to the intentionally misleading Cassy O which turns out to be about a clock and time itself and not a girl, he shows himself to be a songwriter of impressive depth which may just be the key to his longevity in this era of acoustic near-overkill. Of course, that voice will help as well! Also, you might want to watch this clip – Ian McKellen appears and is very funny!
12 – Megan Washington – There There
Megan Washington broke into the Australian music scene in 2008 with her beautiful sweeping vocals, sometimes brutally honest song-writing and some playfulness in the way she told narratives with each song. After the mostly upbeat first album “I Believe You Liar” and the darker “Insomnia” long EP to follow up, her second album finds her at her absolute best. Half upbeat, half melancholy and slow, this album is filled with the sounds, tones and synths of a lot of 80s music without feeling like she is just copying it – she makes that sound new and current, urgent and very catchy. This album is quirky, clever, beautiful and masterful.
11 – Ray LaMontagne – Supernova
I’ve spent the better part of the last decade listening to Ray LaMontagne’s seventies-inspired melancholy crooning, his husky and emotive voice warming many the cold, wintry night. But for his latest album, he has teamed up with producer Dan Auerbach (also one half of mega rock band The Black Keys) to come up with an album positively bursting with sun-drenched melodies reminiscent of the sixties. There’s still a cosiness to these songs but more of a beach than a campfire cosiness. At times the bright and loud music threatens to drown out his voice, but overall this is a triumphant shift in sound for this bearded singer that was certainly part of my summer soundtrack.
That’s it for now! The remaining ten albums will appear in part two of this blog which I will write and post in the next couple of days. If you have listened to any of these albums I would love to hear from you – what did you think of them?
Aussie girl turned international superstar, Sia is best known for solo hits such as “Breathe Me” and more recently “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart”, working with Zero 7 for the better part of the decade and penning a bunch of songs for artists such as Christina Aguilera, David Guetta and Rihanna’s hit “Diamonds”. Both her incredible creative songwriting capacity and her huge soaring voice have gained her a huge following all around the world.
But the faceless cover of her latest album, 1000 Forms of Fear, suggests some of the pain she has been through in recent years. After her last album in 2010, she began to struggle with the fame which conflicted with her shy personality, becoming unable to tour and taking to drugs and alcohol. After almost committing suicide, she laid low for a few years writing songs for other artists until she felt ready to re-emerge with this stunning album – an emotionally raw and powerful comeback. She’s put her past behind her, put a paper bag over her face when posing (which is an interesting message in itself), and achieved something quite extraordinary.
The album is so different to anything she’s ever done before, but then Sia has been known for reinventing herself. But even within the album the music jumps up and down, from the booming album-opener and lead single “Chandelier” (which has already gathered 25 million listens on Spotify and 49 million on Youtube, before the album is even released in most of the world), to the slow and almost meditative “Eye of the Needle”, the fast-paced and upbeat “Hostage” and the dramatic but beautiful ballad “Straight For The Knife”. The album will be classified under Pop, but it’s so much harder to categorize than that – it is almost flawless pop, sounding very contemporary but still classy with her raspy and croaky voice bringing out the full emotion on every track. I think sometimes there just needs to be a genre called “Good Music” for albums like this.
Recently she performed on the Ellen DeGeneres Show with her back to the audience, her first live performance in quite a long time. But even more amazingly, she has signed a contract with RCA that says she will not have to tour or do any press regarding the album – quite possibly a world first, and a decision she has made to help avoid another breakdown.
But with an album this good, I’m pretty sure she’s not going to lose any fans over her lack of touring. I’m happy I got to see her perform live twice, quite some years ago now back in Australia, but this album proves that success does not have to control a songwriter’s life and I’m happy to see her getting the recognition and help from the industry that she needs – maybe it’ll help other struggling musicians to find the courage to make similar decisions with their careers.
Listen to this album. Listen to it fully, from start to finish, in one go, and try to tell me it’s not amazing. You won’t be able to do it. You probably won’t be able to talk for a little while.
1000 Forms Of Fear is available worldwide from July 8, 2014 (and in some places as of today – it’s up on Spotify for those who use that).
I have written while listening to a lot of different kinds of music, but lately my writing music is steering towards the highly emotive but often lyricless – if it does have lyrics it has to build up a lot of atmosphere. Whether or not this affects the stories I write I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect it does on some level.
One artist in particular I’ve been listening to is Nils Frahm. Rather than tell you about him, just listen to him – I think you’ll see why I like writing to this music. The first song is called Re, the second is called Ambre:
Another band I have discovered recently is Midlake, who have a very folky sound with a slightly prog rock feel too – almost Celtic in places. But while they do sing, they build up a very distinct atmosphere which is nice to write to, as well. This song is called Winter Dies:
So, with Camp NaNoWriMo around the corner (again!), and with so many of my awesome readers writing stories all the time, I ask again what I asked in my title – what music do you listen to when writing? What qualities in the music do you look for?
I’ve decided to get back into reviewing music on here, but when I feel like it and in a much shorter form. So the music I review might not always be brand new, but I’m hoping it will be at least good.
High Highs are an indie band from Sydney, Australia (so very local for me up until recently) who released their first EP back in 2011 (I am quite sure I reviewed that at some point in the last two years). Somehow though I failed to notice that they released a full length album early last year, so I’ve finally managed to get my hands on it and listen to it and WOW!
The band is essentially a duo comprising of Jack Milas and Oli Chang, and their music is very quiet and atmospheric, fitting into that strange realm of folk music that is occupied by the likes of Bon Iver, although with vocal harmonies and a sweetness to their song writing that seems more reminiscent of the likes of The Beach Boys. This is one of those strange albums where you find yourself feeling cosy and smiling despite a definite twinge of melancholy permeating throughout most songs.
With the title track Open Season having garnered worldwide success through use in several commercials and featuring on the soundtrack of Pitch Perfect, it’s the most appropriate song with which to end this brief review! Enjoy!
This is another hard one to answer, which sort of makes me think that maybe I’m a bit stubborn if it’s that hard to change my opinion about something. Or maybe I’m just firm in what I think. Oh well.
My mind has ended up flittering to biographies, which can often change your mind about a person – you can ending up liking them more or finding them more interesting (because one of these two must be true for you to have read the book in the first place), or you can end up loathing the person, or thinking they’re the dullest person to ever walk the earth. Sadly, when I read Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis, I found the latter of these two possibilities happened.
I grew up listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers, the band which Kiedis fronts and sings for and has done for over 30 years now. I remember hearing Under The Bridge as a kid and loving it, even though I had no idea what darker meanings were lurking beneath those lyrics. As a teenager, Californication was one of those albums that was just everywhere you went, for a solid year or two, and even now, 15 years later, that album is still played heavily on the radio around the world. I saw the band perform in 2002, and it was one of my favourite ever concerts and easily my first big stadium concert.
So I was pretty disappointed when I read Kiedis’ autobiography and realised he’s basically a self-indulgent brat. I mean, okay, I understand that a lot of rockstars are this way, and a lot of rockstar biographies read more or less the same, but Kiedis was just horrible to so many people and he doesn’t seem to understand what he did wrong half the time. About halfway through the book you stop caring that he’s yet again become addicted to drugs for the twenty billionth time, or that another girl has left him because she’s realised she can do better. It’s like through all his experiences he should have learnt a few more lessons than he did, that he should have grown more as a person so he would have something more profound to say about himself. But he didn’t, and he doesn’t.
Funnily enough, not too long after I read this, I lost interest in RHCP a bit. I mean, I still like a lot of their music, but their last couple of albums were lacklustre to say the least. And as for this book, while I’m glad I read it, I don’t intend on reading it again. My mind is definitely made up now.
What’s a book that changed your opinion about something?
It’s hard to believe, but it’s time for my Top Ten Albums list for 2013 already. With only two weeks left of the year (edit: geeze it’s taken me nearly two weeks to write this post), the next notable album releases (at least on my agenda) aren’t until next year, and with a longlist of over forty albums, which took two attempts to cut down to just ten, I think it’s safe to say 2013 was a great year for music.
As usual I’ll post a song clip for each album, but most of these albums need to be heard from start to finish to be fully appreciated. And also as usual the styles of music here do jump around a little, but I’d like to think there’s at least one album on this list that each of you would like.
Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Enjoy!
10. Josh Pyke – The Beginning And The End Of Everything
Josh Pyke has been one of my favourite Australian singer/songwriters for quite a few years now, and as much as I hate to use this phrase it is true that this, his fourth album, is a return to his roots. It’s easily his most upbeat album since his debut and the eleven songs throughout contain his usual mix of thoughtful lyrics, beautiful and increasingly harmonised vocals and deeply layered and colourful music. I don’t know many people who play an instrument and don’t look up to Pyke as a gifted songwriter and musician. Give his music a go, you won’t regret it.
9. Eskimo Joe – Wastelands
Aussie band (I know it’s been all Aussies so far, I promise there’s bands from the rest of the world very soon) Eskimo Joe have always been ones to reinvent themselves which each new album. On their sixth album though, they seem to shift genres entirely from the indie rock/alternative rock they are known for to…I don’t really know what to call it. A little bit retro and 80s, a little bit funky, a little bit dancey and electronic…and yet still definitely Eskimo Joe. Although I must admit on my first listen I thought I’d bought the wrong thing somehow, after a couple of listens through the whole album I found myself thoroughly addicted to their new, upbeat sound. A bold move, and one that I hope pays off.
8. David Bowie – The Next Day
I’m not enough of a hardcore Bowie fan to place this much higher on my list, but I think a lot of ‘Top albums of 2013’ lists will include this surprise hit of an album. At the age of 66, this was Bowie’s first album of new material in over a decade, and the recording of it was kept secret for a long time before he announced the impending release on his birthday. Upon its release, it went number one in 20 countries, number two in a handful more countries, and it made its way into the digital charts in over 60 countries – the critical reception was mostly positive as well. More of a rock album, it’s quite easy to get into while still as quirky as one would expect a Bowie album to be. Seems there’s plenty of life in him yet! Just a note regarding this film clip – the song doesn’t actually start until two minutes into the clip!
7. Riverside – Shrine Of New Generation Slaves
As long time readers of my blog will know, I have been drawn to the darker, thought provoking sounds of prog rock music for some time now. My curiosity in this genre inevitably led me to Riverside, a brilliant band from Poland (I think) who earlier this year released their fifth album. It manages to keep a great balance between emotions such as anger and melancholy, while being intelligent in thematically and lyrically and producing highly evocative music to capture all of this. I also love the singer’s voice, which adds to the depth of the music. A great album, even if it’s not necessarily one to make me smile.
6. Jake Bugg – Shangri La
Jake Bugg has just recently released this, his second album, barely a year after his debut, which is quite impressive for a 19 year old. I didn’t mind his first album, but it did sound like he was still trying to find his feet musically and only half of the songs on the album were particularly memorable or notable. But this second record works much more holistically and Bugg sounds more in command of his music. While the obvious influences, such as Bob Dylan, are still there, he is also starting to push out into new territory as well. The music is naive and nothing ground breaking, but it’s a lot of fun and full of energy. Bugg’s reputation is growing rapidly, and he’s definitely a name to look out for in future years.
5. Iron & Wine – Ghost On Ghost
Although Iron & Wine (which is just a stage name for Sam Beam) began his musical life as a folk artist, in recent years he has moved into increasingly diverse territory. While the last album was dipping its toes in the water of other genres such as jazz, in this album he has just dived straight into the lake with no boundaries. The result? One of the bravest and most exciting releases all year. Sure, it might alienate some listeners who love only his old stuff. But really, he couldn’t have made five albums of the same thing over and over, and the shift has been coming for several albums now. I for one love this, and consider it his finest work so far. If you don’t at least try it, you are missing out. It’s that simple.
4. Volcano Choir – Repave
Volcano Choir are a band which, to be honest, I only noticed at all because I knew Justin Vernon (the creative force and frontman of Bon Iver) was among the band members. There is a certain similarity to Bon Iver, and perhaps to the bands of the other members, but on this second album they are definitely striking out with their own unique sound. And, as much as I’m surprising myself by saying this, I prefer this album to anything by Bon Iver so far (and I love both Bon Iver albums). Can I describe what the music sounds like? Erm. Not really. Thoughtful, complex and deeply layered. When you listen to this album, don’t do things while you listen – just lie down and soak in the music. It’s one of those albums. The song I’ve included doesn’t have a video clip to go with it, but it is my favourite song on the album, Acetate.
3. The Cat Empire – Steal The Light
The Cat Empire are an Aussie jazz/ska/latin/indie/whoknowswhatelse band who have been wowing Australian audiences for over a decade now. Though I’ve always loved them, their last album from a couple of years ago was the first time I felt a little disappointed. So it was a nice surprise to find this year they really returned to form, releasing their most solid, upbeat, danceable album since their debut all those years ago. This is just an amazing album that perfectly captures everything the band is about, and as a result serves as a pretty good introduction to them if you’ve never heard them before.
2. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)
Steven Wilson’s second solo album took the top spot in my 2011 Top Ten Albums list (which was on another website which is sadly no longer with us), and his collaboration with Opeth frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt, under the name of Storm Corrosion, took the top spot in my 2012 list (which can be found on this blog). So it comes as no surprise really that his third solo album would rank so high this year, as well. In fact, so far as I’m concerned, this album is the best thing the prog-rock genius has ever made. Containing six songs, three around the ten minute mark and three a bit shorter, each song tells its own story as Wilson’s arrangements pull us through more genres of music than we can count, but most notably a strong fusion of jazz and prog-rock – this is easily the jazziest record he has ever made. It was on rotation in my car for several months earlier this year, and the song The Watchmaker is probably my favourite song of the year. Listen to it from start to finish and you’ll see why.
1. Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
At the age of 23, Laura Marling has released her fourth (yes, fourth) album, and blown the competition clean out of the water. Not only is this album much deeper and more mature than her previous works lyrically, but musically as well. The album begins with an incredible four song suite that sets the tone for the remaining twelve tracks on the album, as she darts around ferociously with that deep, almost growling voice to the backing of a complete melting pot of instruments, from eastern music to celtic sounding moments to a whole host of seventies influences. The album does tell a running story, which is interesting in itself as well, but it really is the music that pulls you in on this album. Just watch When Brave Bird Saved – a short film backed by the opening song suite of the album, and you’ll hopefully see why this album just had to be at the number one spot this year.