New Music Releases 13/02/15

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.

What have you been listening to this week?

New Album releases!

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!

What have you been listening to lately?

Top Albums of 2014 Part Two: The Top Ten

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!

Ed Sheeran X10 – 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.

The Pineapple Thief Magnolia9 – 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.

David Gray Mutineers8 – 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.

Print7 – 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!

Neil Finn Dizzy Heights6 – 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.

Lewis Watson The Morning5 – 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!

Damien Rice My Favourite Faded Fantasy4 – 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.

First Aid Kit Stay Gold3 – 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.

sia-1000-forms-of-fear2 – 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.

Robert Plant lullaby and The Ceaseless Roar1 – 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?

Top Albums of 2014 Part One: #20 – #11

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!

Horse_Thief_Fear_in_bliss20 – 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!

French For Rabbits Spirits19 – 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.

Snowbird_-_Moon18 – 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.

Augie March Havens Dumb17 – 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.

Vashti Bunyan Heartleap16 – 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.

Jamie Cullum Interlude15 – 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.

Hozier Hozier14 – 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.

Wanted_on_Voyage13 – 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!

There-There-Megan-Washington12 – 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.

Ray LaMontagne Supernova11 – 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?

Music Review: Sia’s “1000 Forms Of Fear” is simply amazing

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.

Sia 1000 Forms Of FearBut 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).

Top Ten Albums of 2013

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!

josh-pyke-the-beginning-and-the-end-of-everything-201310. 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.

eskimojoe_wastelands9. 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.

David Bowie's The Next Day8. 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!

Riverside Shrine Of New Generation Slaves7. 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.

Jake-Bugg-Shangri-La6. 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.

Iron-and-Wine-Ghost-on-Ghost5. 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.

Volcano-Choir-Repave4. 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.

The-Cat-Empire-Steal-the-Light3. 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.

The Raven That Refused To Sing2. 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.

Once I Was An Eagle1. 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.

What are your thoughts on this list?

Did you enjoy any of these albums this year?

What would you add to the list?

Paul McCartney’s still rocking out on “New”

NewThere’s just no slowing 71 year old Sir Paul McCartney down. You could forgive him if he felt he was done – after all, he is considered to be the most successful composer and songwriter of all time, selling hundreds of millions of albums and singles (literally), dozens of number one hits, and holding the record for the most covered song of all time (Yesterday, which has officially been covered over 2200 times).

But as a recent Rolling Stone article pointed out, the man churns out music so fast even in his 70s that he puts musicians a quarter of his age to shame. And when the first single of his album, the title-track New, was released a couple of months ago it became clear he still had plenty of energy.

The album itself was released a couple of weeks ago now, and it turns out most of the album has a similar feel. It kicks off with the downright electric song Save Us, before moving onto an urgent and quirky sounding Alligator which dives into a darker atmosphere which keeps resurfacing throughout the record. After the rather typical acoustic number, On My Way To Work, it moves onto the second single, Queenie Eye – a song which has grown on me through subsequent listens. Check it out here (you’ll recognise a number of faces in the clip):

After this, it slows down again for the acoustic and nostalgic Early Days, moves on to the title-track and then onto the weird, slightly funky number AppreciateEverybody Out There is a loud rock song with a perfect chanting part that I imagine will go down well live, and after the slower Hosanna the album springs back with I Can Bet. Looking at Her is sweet and a little bluesy, but then Road ends up being one of the darkest, most unusual ways McCartney has ever finished an album. Unless you have the deluxe version with two more tracks…and then another bonus track. So the album will have either 12, 14 or 15 songs – my one has 15 and while I do like the three extra songs, the album definitely feels like it ended properly back with Road.

This is McCartney’s 24th post-Beatles album, but somehow he has managed to keep the music interesting, different, relevant and yet still very much the same style of songwriting which has made people fall in love with him for over half a century. While some artists desperately need to stop embarrassing themselves as they age (especially certain bands), McCartney can keep on making music and we’ll keep listening to it. The Queenie Eye clip I posted above has shot over a million views in 3 days, and while it’s not as big as other songs these days it’s not bad for an old rocker.

If you missed my last post when I showed it, here is the clip for his first single, New:

What are your thoughts on Paul McCartney’s new music?

From Here To Now To You – Why I was always going to like Jack Johnson’s latest album

From Here To Now To YouI’ve always thought it must be really difficult for a lot of songwriters out there. If they try to do something different and unexpected with their music, they lose a lot of fans who claim “they sold out”, and if they try to sound the same every time they get told they need to do something different – it’s a lose-lose situation.

But some artists seem to find a way to get past such criticism, and Jack Johnson is one such musician. Sure, over his six albums his style has changed a little, with the addition of a keys player, the introduction of playing the electric guitar from time to time, and a more mature songwriting style overall. But really, he has released pretty much the same kind of music every time, and has only gone from strength to strength – I know I will continue to buy every album he ever makes.

From Here To Now To You is his 6th studio album (not counting all his soundtracks and live albums of course), and was released about a week ago around most of the world (and a week and a half ago in Australia and New Zealand, because we’re special). The album opener is also the first single, “I Got You”, released a couple of months ago, and is a typically chilled out Jack Johnson song with a slow acoustic melody, sweet lyrics and whistling to match.

From here, the album becomes a lot louder and more pop-oriented with the songs “Washing Dishes” (which should definitely be a single) and “Shot Reverse Shot”, both of which make me think of the upbeat sort of stuff he was writing back around the In Between Dreams period. This album then slows a little with “Never Fade” before a very fun, entertaining and foot stomping song, “Tape Deck”, which tells of a group of young musicians trying to form a punk band with little money or talent. It then slows a little for a couple of songs, before the cute “You Remind Me Of You”, clearly about his child, and the very upbeat song “Radiate” which is one of my favourites and which is, so I have heard, the second single off the album (as soon as I find a more official video, I’ll replace this upcoming video with that one, but for now listen to the song anyway):

After that, the album finishes off with the darker sounding “Ones and Zeros” and “Change” (which features Ben Harper), before ending, somewhat oddly, on a newly recorded version of his classic song “Home” (which featured as a bonus track on some versions of the Sleep Through The Static album and has been a regular live song). At only 12 tracks, this album might feel a little short compared to some of his others, but it is more than a full enough album in my opinion.

So what can I say? If you like Jack Johnson, you’ll probably like this album. There’s a few new sounds, but nothing ground-breaking – and that’s why I like him so much! This will definitely be on my spring and summer playlist over the next few months!

Are you a fan of Jack Johnson? If so, what’s your favourite song/album? What are your thoughts of his new material so far?

Paul McCartney’s ‘New’ Song

As many of my long time followers will know (and newer followers will now find out), The Beatles have long been and will long be my favourite band. So naturally, when I hear news of a new Paul McCartney album, I get quite excited.

Although McCartney has done an album with his side project The Fireman, a ballet (Ocean’s Kingdom), and a brilliant covers album (Kisses On The Bottom), it’s been six long years since he released an album of his own original pop songs. And it seems he has titled this new album, and song, “New”.

The song has been on Youtube for a week and has garnered almost a million views, which isn’t too bad for someone in their seventies. The thing that always amazes me with McCartney is that his voice is exactly the same now as it was 50 years ago when the world first heard it. His song writing style hasn’t changed much, but who says that’s a bad thing?

Anyway, here’s the song – let me know your thoughts on it in the comments section! I myself am very excited for the new album, which is due out next month.

Music Monday #2: Folk music, blues music, and Aussie music

With four new (well, new-ish in some cases) albums attained this last week, this week’s Music Monday will focus entirely upon these albums. Included in the list are Glen Hansard’s new solo album, a tribute album to Fats Domino, and two albums by two awesome Australian artists, Ash Grunwald and Xavier Rudd. Hope you find something you like!

Rhythm and Repose by Glen Hansard

First up is Glen Hansard’s solo album, Rhythm and Repose. Glen Hansard is perhaps best known as the frontman of Irish group The Frames, and is also one half of folk duo The Swell Season. On top of this, he starred in the film Once, for which his song “Falling Slowly” won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Despite being in the music business for over twenty years (and longer if you count his teenage years he spent busking on the streets of Dublin), this new album is his first solo venture.

The overall sound of Hansard’s latest work is very mellow, quieter than both The Frames and The Swell Season (the latter of which was fairly mellow as well). As a result, the album feels very intimate and personal, and frankly quite beautiful. Perhaps my favourite song on the album is the second song, “Maybe Not Tonight”, with its haunting piano and slide guitar that oddly reminds me of Pink Floyd and perhaps some of David Gilmour’s solo work, but there are some great songs with more energy too, such as “Talking With The Wolves” and “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting”.

If you’re a fan of his earlier work, definitely buy this album. If you’ve never heard of him or the bands he’s been in, what better time to find out if you like his style of music than right now? Check out the rather silly and fun video for “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting” here:

The Lil’ Band O’ Gold Plays Fats by The Lil’ Band O’ Gold (and Very Special Guests)

When I was in the music store, I heard a song come on which clearly had the vocals of one of my favourite singers of all time, Robert Plant (famous for his solo albums, his Grammy-winning album with Alison Krauss, and of course, being the lead singer for Led Zeppelin). When I asked about what the album was, I discovered it was actually a tribute album to Fats Domino by Louisiana supergroup The Lil’ Band O’ Gold, on which Robert Plant sung two songs. This awesome blues tribute album also features guest appearances by Jimmy Barnes, Tim Rogers and more, as well as many songs performed by the core group, who are all talented musicians in their own rights. If you want a fun, foot stomping album, you need go no further than this. I bought it after hearing a single song, and I don’t regret it one bit.

Below is a live video of Robert Plant singing “I’ve Been Around” with The Lil’ Band O’ Gold. Just try and watch it without smiling:

Trouble’s Door by Ash Grunwald

Ash Grunwald is an Australian blues musician, who has built up a huge fanbase and reputation for awesome live shows in Australia and overseas over the past decade (something I can attest to, as well). With a unique bluesy voice, and the use of guitars, lapsteel slide guitars, harmonica, stomp box and more, it’s almost impossible not to want to get up and dance to his songs. This, his latest album, is no exception, and with songs such as “Shake That Thing”, and songs with a more dance and funk inspired twist such as “Longtime”, I suspect it’s part of his intention to make people want to move to his music.

Check out the first single off the album, “Longtime”, (featuring appearances in the film clip of other well-known Australian musicians) here:

Spirit Bird by Xavier Rudd

Xavier Rudd is another Aussie songwriter and musician, also with an impressive live reputation, and a multi-instrumentalist who plays several instruments simultaneously even on stage. His music drifts between folk music, blues music, and various other genres, and he commonly plays the yidaki (a didgeridoo), adding a very Australian flavour to the music, which often complements the lyrics with themes of Aboriginal rights and environmentalism. Spirit Bird, his latest offering, continues this same winning formula, and what I found really cool was the use of “bird samples” – recordings of bird sounds being used on some of the songs, often in the opening moments, adding a very natural feel to the music.

Check out the video for the song “Follow The Sun” here (and listen out for the bird sounds at the start):

What are your thoughts of the albums/artists/songs I’ve discussed here?

What music have you been listening to this last week?