27 November 2008

MMVIII: albums

We're approaching December, the end of a rather enjoyable year in terms of music (not so much when talking about the economy). Since there aren't any major, major albums being released from now until 2009 (well apart from Fall Out Boy's Foile A Deux, but the less said about that, the better) I thought I'd give a review of the past 331 days, starting with albums....


Glasvegas - Glasvegas
called them "Britain's best loved band". That may not strictly be true (as I can't find anyone who wants to go to see them in 2 weeks), they have the potential to become an classic band. An intriguing mixture of The Clash, The Jesus And Mary Chain and Oasis, the band tell stories of life on the streets of Glasgow, from absent fathers to knife crime, all under shimmering guitars, rumbling bass and thundering drums. "A furious Wall of Sound" in their own words, and one that's here to stay.

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
A hefty dollop of prime American rock, following on from their breakthrough third album Boys And Girls In America. Craig Finn's distinctive Boston drawl and clever lyrics drives the songs across Stay Positive. Fans of the band will know what to expect musically; crunchy riffs, Slash-like solos, E Street-channeling piano. but a few curveballs are thrown every now and again, showing the progression of the band since their debut, and where they're headed. A harpsichord on "One For The Cutters", an amazing talkbox solo during "Joke About Jamaica" and the Zeppelin-like "Both Crosses". It's an album packed with future classics from a band destined for stadiums and headline slots, but the best is save for last on "Slapped Actress". The
pièce de résistance and closing track, it sums up everything great about The Hold Steady; clever, catchy rock anthems. And who could say no to that?

Bloc Party - Intimacy
The Bloc should be commended for this album, and not just for it's content. Released online a few months before physically going on sale, it was a brave move for the band, this being only their third album. But the move has paid off as the album was acclaimed by both fans and critics alike (although some might disagree) for the new dancefloor-centric direction of the album. There was much grumbling from fanboys over lead single "Mercury", despite it not even being one of the best tracks on the album, but still a piece of genius in my opinion. "Intimacy" swings from Klaxon-aping choons such as "Ares", to heartfelt dance-balladry in "Signs" (did I just create a genre? I think I'm turning into NME) and finally, to a perfect distillation of every element of Bloc Party, "Talons". The jittery post-post-punk guitar, intricate and danceable beat and Kele's angsty howl (which is a good thing).

Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster...

The jerky indie-punk continues with the debut from the Cardiff seven piece (although none of them actually come from Cardiff). Drawing their inspiration from hardcore punk bands such as Black Flag to classic indie bands like Pavement and The Fiery Furnaces, they make an absolutely wonderful racket. Not something you'll ever find on Radio 1, but they don't seem to care. They revel in obscurity and going against the norm (they've released their second album just last month, although it doesn't match up to this). They could be classified as typically studenty, but they're far too good for that tag.

Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires

Imagine a band who's primary influences are dance music, "lush shoegaze melodies" and classic pop. That's Friendly Fires. All the euphoria of a late 80's rave with carnival spirit and massive pop hooks, from 3 guys from St. Albans. I guess in a sentence the album is a anthemic cowbell-heavy party record for anytime of the year. Latest single "Paris" is definitely a contender for song of the year, if the past 8 years .

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

After the breakup of his band, his relationship and a bout with illness, Justin Vernon left his home and moved into his father's cabin in the woods of northern Wisconsin. Not intending to write any music at all during that time, he came out with this beautiful album. Only 9 tracks long but full of haunting vocals and sparse acoustic guitar, it's destined to become a classic album. Highlights include "Skinny Love" and the sublime "Re: Stacks", which may sound like it should be on the soundtrack to House or something...mainly because it has been. But don't let that deter you from "For Emma, Forever Ago". It may not be zeitgeist-straddling indie rock or the soundtrack to your next rave, but it's just as good as any of the bands that fit into those categories.

Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip - Angles

Looking at the two of them, you wouldn't think that they're one of the best hip-hop groups in Britain, but trust me they are. Le Sac and Pip first came to people's attention with their underground hit "Thou Shalt Always Kill" late last year (don't worry Daily Mail readers, that doesn't mean the country's teenagers are going to go on a kill crazy rampage, "kill" means do your best on stage), a satirical attack on 21st Century Britain that sometimes contradicts but never bores. Slaying the legends of music ("The Beatles: just a band...The Clash: just a band"), it proves that Le Sac & Pip are planning on staying for a while and the rest of the album will help them to do just that. They're a hip-hop act with some soul; a rare thing these days, as shown on the title track and various others. Their fingers are on the pulse of modern day Britain, and coupled with a keen wit and some ingenious beats/sampling, they've created something different and even more brilliant for it

Foals - Antidotes
Ahhh one of the biggest hype bands of 2008 definitely came up with the goods, but they differed to people's expectations. Drafting in producer du jour Dave Sitek may have been a step in the wrong direction, seeing as his mix apparently was too reverb-y and sounded like it had been "recorded in the Grand Canyon". But what eventually ended up on the record is a totally different beast to the demos and earlier singles. Of course there's still dancefloor hits in the likes of "Cassius" and "Balloons" but the rest of the tracks have a Radiohead-ish feel too them. Intricate beats and guitar work intertwining with obscure, opaque lyrics ("the lighthouse is an accident" anyone?). Another unexpected addition to the band's canon was a brass section. Trumpets and saxophones augment quite a few early tracks without changing Foals' blueprint for "ballet with beats" and add something different to them; something to keep them apart from the math-rock/indie chasing pack

Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
Not just here because of their Mercury triumph (although that was what got me to listen to their album the whole way through and actually listen), Elbow have achieved overnight success after 18 years of hard work. And you can't say they don't deserve it. Just based on this album alone, they should be headlining festivals left right and centre, such is the anthemic, hug-yer-mates-but-in-a-manly-way quality of the songs on the album. Guy Garvey's lyrics border on classic throughout, especially on "One Day Like This", Elbow's "first big hit". "The Seldom Seen Kid" almost borders on epic, such is the arrangement of many of the songs; luscious strings, pounding drums and a bonafide anthem in "Grounds For Divorce". Elbow look set to grow and grow in stature in the future

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

The final of the big three hype bands this year. The preppy purveyors of
Afrobeat-inflected college indie were pretty much the suprise package in terms of albums. They had little hype before "Vampire Weekend" was released, and only then did it pass by word of mouth across this here blogosphere (that's such an oxymoron, I know). Coming out in January, it didn't seem too likely that it would last the distance, but the quailty of the record made sure it did. Which other record in the past...well...50 years of rock 'n' roll references the Falklands War and modern architecture in the first track? Exactly, none (that I know of). The album is packed to the brim with the ultimate summer songs; both laid-back and bouncy. One of which is pretty much a defining song of the year: A-Punk. It may haunt the band for years to come, but I doubt they'll care. Most people may not have a clue what Erza Koenig is singing about, but they're damned if they care. It's too joyous of a song really. I could waffle on about every song on the album, but I'd bore you so I'll leave it at that.


Hadouken! - Music For An Accelrated Culture
Only if your culture is as accelerated as the school bus for Ronald House at a red light, really. Basically H! are a bunch of wannabee LDN scene kids, who think that rapping about house parties, getting wasted and basically what they see in the capital. Which obviously isn't too inspiring to them. Hell, even Razorlight's thrid album was better than this mush. Without James Smith rambling his way over the top, the band do have some good riffs and songs in them, but it's just their need to be "down wid da kidz" that ruins them. Namechecking such 21st Century innovations as the iTunes library, MySpace profile songs, MSN Messenger, Trojan viruses, and ringtones will jsut date them even quicker than expected. I can only hop the credit crunch gets to them sooner rather than later.

A lot of albums were hyped up beyond belief this year, with only a few weathering the media storm. One band who didn't make it were Kings Of Leon, the one time ramshackles "Southern Strokes". On thrid album "Because Of The Times", they changed their image to a slick arena rock band and it definitely worked for them. But this years fourth effort "Only By The Night" may change the band forever. The songs are more streamlined, the writing less interesting and their image is that of a rough boy band really. The album continues their "half good, half bad" formula, and basically, they're writing songs for U2 now. It may have won them a Number One and a lot of new "different" fans, but it's lost them a hell of a lot of old ones. Another over-hyped album from the last 12 months is "Off With Their Heads" by Kaiser Chiefs. You'd think with their Elland Road homecoming gigs, McCartney support slot and the help of Mark Ronson, they'd have come up with something more that "What do you want for tea/I want crisps!". Undoubtedly they'll continue to get bigger by the album, but once again the songs may suffer as a result.

Reviews of: 2008's best songs, best bands and tips for next year coming soon!


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