Exciting upcoming albums for February and March

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

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

Laura+Marling+Short+MovieLaura Marling – Short Movie

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

Hand Cannot EraseSteven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase

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

José González - Vestiges & ClawsJosé González – Vestiges & Claws

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

Next Year PeopleColin Hay – Next Year People

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

What music releases this year are you looking forward to?

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

Tuesday Tunes: New albums from Steven Wilson, Iron & Wine and The Flaming Lips

The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) by Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson is one of the busiest people in the music business, almost constantly either working on a new album with one of his various bands (Porcupine Tree, Blackfield and Storm Corrosion to name but a few), or helping produce, mix or remaster albums by many other progressive rock bands new and old. This is his third solo effort, less than two years after the highly successful Grace For Drowning, and if you liked that work you’ll love this. It has six songs, averaging close to ten minutes a song and jumping around in genre between prog rock and jazz and everything in between. Each song tells a story of sorts, all of which are of the usual dark themes one would expect from Wilson. I absolutely love this album, and it is definitely going to be in my top ten albums of the year. If you’re looking for intelligent music, go no further than this! The clip I’m including is of the song Luminol, being played live last year long before the release of the album – even at this point the song was pretty tight:

Ghost On Ghost by Iron & Wine

With his last album, Kiss Each Other Clean, Iron & Wine moved away from his folk roots and towards a more 1970s pop sound. With this, his fifth (or is it sixth) offering, he continues this direction only adding more elements of jazz and even funk into his music. While many who have been listening to him from his earliest beginnings a decade ago might be disappointed by this new turn in his sound, I personally love it, and love the fact that he was daring enough to try something so different. The song I’m going to include is called Lovers’ Revolution, and is a pretty good example of what to expect from the rest of the album:

The Terror by The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips are a very strange band. They always have been very weird and quirky, and have been about as alternative as you can get, but I quite liked a number of their albums, particularly last decade with the likes of The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and At War With The Mystics. But then they released Embryonic, and things just got a bit too weird even for me. The Terror is one of those albums which addresses all sorts of interesting existential issues, and had so much potential as a concept, but simply isn’t pleasant to listen to, which I tend to think is the primary objective of music. I like to be challenged with music (Steven Wilson is awfully good at this), but I just listened to this with a look of despair and confusion on my face. Perhaps some Flaming Lips fans will love this, but it isn’t for me. Not terror-ble (sorry, I had to make the joke), but nothing amazing. The clip I’m including is at least entertaining to watch, and is of a song called Try To Explain:

Are you a fan of any of these artists? What are your thoughts on their new directions?

30 Day Music Challenge Day 21: A band/artist you wished more people listened to

For this one, I am going to pick both a band and an artist who are essentially one and the same – the band is Porcupine Tree, and the artist is Steven Wilson. For over twenty years Steven Wilson has been the frontman for Porcupine Tree, as well as being involved in other projects such as Blackfield, No-Man, Bass Communion, and most recently Storm Corrosion. However, he has also released two amazing solo albums, and has just finished writing songs for his third solo album, due out sometime in early 2013.

Why am I picking Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson? Because their (and his) music falls into the progressive rock genre, a genre that seems to be ignored by a lot of people, for a variety of reasons. To be fair, as with any genre, there is plenty of rubbish prog rock out there, but to me Steven Wilson and all his various bands are in a league of their own – he is taking his music to new and exciting places, constantly reinventing himself while retaining that trademark sound and intelligence brimming behind the songwriting. He also has a deep understanding of the production process, which allows him to actually come close to producing music that matches his ambitious musical vision.

He has certainly become a lot more well known in recent times, however, with Porcupine Tree having been on a major label (Roadrunner) for the past decade, and with his music, both studio and live shows, constantly getting strong reviews online and in music magazines. Considering the song from one of his solo albums I am posting on this has nearly 700,000 views, I think it’s safe to say he has gained more than a cult following. But, I still do find that except for my friends who also love his (and their) music, many simply do not know who this is, and that is why I wish more people would listen to it.

I’m including two songs here, the first is a live version of one of my favourite Porcupine Tree songs, “Trains” (it’s somehow more brilliant with the broken string bit in the middle of the clip), and the second song is the video for “Harmony Korine”, which is off Steven Wilson’s first solo album. But don’t stop here, it’s worth listening to a lot more of his/their music, as it is all fantastic.

Have you heard of/listened to much music by Porcupine Tree or Steven Wilson? What are your thoughts if so?

What bands/artists do you wish more people listened to?

30 Day Music Challenge Day 1: Favourite album of the year so far

With half of 2012 already over (really? How did that happen?), it’s far enough into the year to actually have a selection of albums from which to choose for this first topic. While I can already guess what album will be my favourite released this year – Ben Folds Five’s new album due out in a few months time – this album is not yet finished, so the album I choose for this will likely be second favourite for the year, which is an odd thing to realise already.

But I digress. There are many albums I could choose from these past six months, including (but not limited to) Rufus Wainwright’s upbeat return to pop music with Out Of The Game, Chairlift’s quirky but danceable Something, Glen Hansard’s intimate and touching Rhythm and Repose, and the self-titled album by Rocket Juice & The Moon, the funky collaboration between Damon Albarn, Flea, and Tony Allen.

But the album which takes it out, for me, is the self-titled debut album by Storm Corrosion, the collaboration between Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt, and Steven Wilson, solo artist and frontman of Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, and numerous other projects. Despite their musical backgrounds consisting mostly of metal and progressive rock, this album, which for me can only be described as beautiful (if not a little haunting), is a very quiet affair, mostly ambient and meditative, with flourishes of orchestral sounds thrown in, and barely any drums at all (which gives you an idea of just how quiet we are talking). The album consists of six songs, all averaging around seven to ten minutes, and despite the song lengths, there is something entrancing about this music that stops you from becoming bored.

Below is my favourite song on the album, Ljudet Innan. It’s long, but listen to it in full and you’ll see why I describe this album as beautiful:

If you really want to treat yourself to a music experience, play this album at high volume from start to finish, lie down in the dark, and let the music wash over you. You won’t regret it, I promise.

What is your favourite album of the year so far?