6 October 2009

Album Pile-Up (warning: extremly positive reviews here)

There have been a LOT of albums I've neglected to review over the last few months, partly due to not listening to them enough, partly due to sheer laziness. But to clear the backlog and put my mind at ease, here they all are, in the bare minimum of what constitutes a review

WILD BEASTS - TWO DANCERSWho: Divisive Kendal quartet, with challenging falsetto vocals
What: "Two Dancers" is Wild Beasts' second album after last year's debut "Limbo Panto". The fluid guitar work and operatic vocals of that record led to a few sticking "The new Smiths" tag on the band. A lot to live up to for any band, but they've surpassed what could be seen as lazy pigeonholing to create, in what is a year of great second albums, an amazing sophomore effort that sounds like nothing else around right now. Dreamlike in parts and sexed up in others, the jump in quality is astounding, especially when considering "Limbo Panto" was a very good debut. Hayden Thorpe's falsetto will still either endear or prove and instant point of hate for new listeners, but those who endeavour to keep listening are in for a wonderful treat.
Key Tracks: The sublime "Hooting & Howling", "We've Still Got The Dancing On Our Tongues", "All The Kings Men"

JAMIE T - KINGS & QUEENSWho: The "one man Clash" or as he's probably known to his mum, James Treays
What: Yet another fantastic second album, this time from the baseball-capped bard of Wimbledon. "Kings & Queens" is just as eclectic and carefree as Treays' debut "Panic Prevention", just enhanced and improved. And to those of you who have listened to "Panic Prevention", you'll know improving on it is no mean feat. "Kings & Queens" has more than it's fair share of possible hits ("368" and "Hocus Pocus" are right up there with the cold for catchiness) but what's interesting is the amount of ballads on the album. Ballads probably isn't the right term, but introspective, acoustic songs that aren't as rabble-rousing as the rest of the album is a bit of a mouthful. It's tracks like "Emily's Heart" and "Jilly Armeen" that showcase Treays' tender side (probably why he has such a big "female following") as well as giving evidence that he isn't a one-trick pony
Key Tracks: "368", "Sticks N Stones", "Emily's Heart", "Chaka Demus", "Spider's Web", "Castro Dies", "British Intelligence", "Jilly Armeen"

JAY-Z - THE BLUEPRINT 3Who: In his own words:'For those that didn't get the memo my name is Jay-Z and I'm pretty fucking awesome'
What: The final part of Jay-Z's "Blueprint" trilogy, which features an all-star cast, from Luke Steele (of Empire Of The State fame), Alicia Keys, Mr Hudson, Kid Cudi, Pharrell, Rihanna and meme-of-the-moment Kanye West. Had this album come out two years ago, then Jigga's Glastonbury set would have been an even bigger success, such is the amount of moments of genius here. "D.O.A" is one of his best, everyone knows "Run This Town" by now (having the three biggest names in hip-hop and R&B was always going to result in a hit) and pretty much every other song has a great beat and a killer line. It's safe to say that "TB3" further cements Jay-Z's position at the top of the game.
Key Tracks: "Thank You", "D.O.A", "Run This Town", "Empire State Of Mind", "Real As It Gets", "A Star Is Born", "Young Forever"

Who: The latest one to watch in the "shoegaze" pigeonhole
What: Another year, another moody group in leather jackets with loud guitars. Not that this is in any way a bad thing, after all rock 'n' roll is built on that template. TBP have described this album as a "future soul record", an attempt to 'mix up their favourite two genres of music' in soul and noise. It's safe to say they've succeeded in that. " A Brief History..." does have a doomed love story feel to most of its songs, probably due to the apocalyptic guitar feedback they're drowned in. This isn't an easy listen, it's an album of heartbreak, melancholy and skyscraping noise and straight-up pop moments are hard to come by, other than the inescapable "Dominos", "Velvet" and "At War With The Sun". "A Brief History Of Love" probably isn't what your girlfriend/boyfriend would want you listening to, since they'd think you were a miserable bastard and isn't what your parents would want you listening to after a break-up, for fear you'd start wearing studded leathers and end up hating everything. But I digress, The Big Pink have crafted an amazing debut that stands up to almost any other released this year
Key Tracks: "Too Young To Love", "Dominos", "Love In Vain", "At War With The Sun", "Velvet", "A Brief History Of Love", "Tonight", "Count Backwards From Ten"

Who: Underrated folk-poppers, damned for all eternity to be associated with "5 Years Time"
What: Once again, it's a second album that surpasses its predecessor. "Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down" was a good, if underrated debut from NATW, unfortunately eclipsed by the aforementioned single. Little over a year later, "The First Days Of Spring" was released, and quite frankly, it's an astonishing record. From the funereal, "Be My Baby"-esque beat of the opening title track to the orchestral middle section and the hopefulness of album closer "My Door Is Always Open", this is an album deserving of all the plaudits it gains. Whereas you may have thought of NATW as a one-song, bland pop band, listening to this will almost definitely change your opinion. At the risk of descending into extreme hyperbole, "The First Days Of Spring" is one of the best albums of the last decade; grand, majestic, heartbreakingly honest and powerful lyrics ("This is a song for anyone who can't get out of bed/I'll do anything to be happy", "This is the last song while I'm still in love with you/This is the last song that I write whilst your even on my mind", "I'd be anyone to be at your side/I need your life in my life/Need your light in my life"). As you can tell this isn't the happiest album ever, and it's pretty clear it tells the story of a break-up (most likely the one of lead singer Charlie Fink and Laura Marling). But as with pretty much all great pop, it deals with the sour side of love and is all the more perfect for it.
Key Tracks: All of it, including the accompanying short film. It's worth it.

Who: Another band dressed in all black, and another band that sound like noone else around
What: The debut of the hotly tipped, barely-out-of-school London foursome, The xx are unique in the music scene at the minute. The only way to describe them is Radiohead and Florence Welch covering R&B/pop songs with Burial producing. But that's waaaaay too NME for my liking. The fairly lo-fi production and use of artificial beats gives The xx (yep, that's right, no capitals) a dubstep feel without delving too much into that overrated genre. The simple guitar lines sound almost fragile and yet push the songs forward, usually acting as the main melody. Romy Croft and Oliver Sim's hushed vocals intertwine for the best boy-girl vocals this side of Los Campesinos! debut album, and give "xx" a sultry, sexy feel. Whilst in broad daylight, the album is merely very good, it comes into its own when listened to in the early hours of the morning, I'm not too sure why this is, but come midnight, "xx" is a magical record. The tense atmosphere and downbeat mood take on a life of their own, whilst the sparseness of each song seems perfectly suited for dark winter nights. The xx will have a very tough job on their hands bettering this, but I look forward to the results
Key Tracks: "Intro", "VCR", "Crystalised", "Islands", "Shelter", "Basic Space", "Infinity", "Night Time", "Stars"

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