Sunday, 30 December 2012

2012: ALBUMS OF THE YEAR - Top 50


50. JASON LYTLE - DEPT. OF DISAPPEARANCE
BBC - "Grandaddy frontman’s second solo LP is a set of impressive depth and scale..." Read the BBC review HERE.

49. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - WRECKING BALL
"With a career spanning four decades Bruce Springsteen is undeniably one of music's premier forces, yet despite the many of millions in the bank his lyrical focus has always reflected the struggles and pride of the common man. 'Wrecking Ball' is his 17th studio album and finds The Boss in most confrontational form. What he once said about 'the American dream' only being achieveable for a small minority stands even more true over a decade in to the 21st century, and across the first half of this album Springsteen delivers a set of defiant blue blooded protest songs, beginning with the unambiguous bombast of 'We Take Care Of Our Own'. Subtlety is not on the agenda lyrically or musically as the strident arrangement matches those of the 80s Springsteen, as supersized as stadium anthems come.There are moments that will make you cringe and as a whole this record won't stand up to his best work, but 'Wrecking Ball' still shows an artist eager to prove many strong points on an album which soundtracks modern day America very well..."

48. FIELD MUSIC - PLUMB
BBC - "Album four ploughs furrows that band and listeners have explored together before..." Read the BBC review HERE.

47. MUSE - THE 2ND LAW
BBC - "Intergalactic rockers return with a typically outlandish sixth album..." Read the BBC review HERE.

46. JOHN FOXX AND THE MATHS - EVIDENCE
FlipsideFlipside Reviews - "This is another gratifying, refreshing and beautifully-packaged anthology of this pair's take on mechanized romanticism. Evidence is evidently splendid..." Read the FlipsideFlipside Review HERE.

45. THE BEACH BOYS - THAT'S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO

"The later days of The Beach Boys' recording career reflected a sad decline. 1992's nauseating 'Summer In Paradise' proved that after the 80's they should have stayed well away from the studio. It looked like The Beach Boys were doomed to be a poor nostalgia act, reduced to a brand name with the only remaining members being Bruce Johnson and the deeply unpopular Mike Love. The group getting back together was miraculous enough, but the news of a brand new album to mark the band's 50th anniversary sounded like it was probably just going to lead to a collection of unnecessary re-recordings of their classic hits. Luckily this is not the case, and these 12 new songs ensure that the tragic period of the 80's and 90's were not to be the last days of the group, instead this album gives them the chance to end their recording career on a relative high. But is their first proper LP in 27 years any good? This isn't Pet Sounds, SMiLE or a similar groundbreaking work of creative exploration, this is five old friends getting back together for a misty eyed trip down memory lane. Sure, not all of the tracks are quite as perfect as the final three songs, and this album isn't a masterpiece, but only the coldest of hearts could dislike this touching collection of songs. The story has a happy ending after all..."


44. LUKE RITCHIE - THE WATER'S EDGE
"Luke Ritchie's debut album was originally released digitally in November last year, and finally gets a physical release in July. 'The Water's Edge' was born out of an experiment by Ritchie where he would compose a new song every week for 6 months, and the resulting 26 tracks were eventually whittled down to the 11 very best ones. At times his music does bear hints of certain other artists but Ritchie's style and approach is very much his own. It's a well crafted collection of songs that are delivered with a humble warmth and blessed with irresistibly exquisite arrangements that compliment the engaging vocals perfectly. Never once sounding forced or awkward, it's an equal combination of folk, rock, indie and pop that is sure to win this brightly talented singer songwriter many new fans..."

43. DAMON ALBARN - DR DEE
BBC - "A well-researched soundtrack piece full of memorable melodies..." Read the BBC review HERE.

42. THE BLOOD CHOIR - NO WINDOWS TO THE OLD WORLD
"The debut album from The Blood Choir is certainly an interesting piece of work that suggests a band well worth keeping an eye on. Consisting of Rob Maddicott and Joe Mountain, the group are augmented on a number of tracks by Port Erin's Reuben and Jacob Tyghe, who boosted the band's sound before the arrival of new recruits Rod Brakes and Sam Selby. Conjuring up images of black clouds gathering over colossal landscapes, the music is intelligent, emotional and often pleasingly progressive. The epic opener 'Wellwisher' is like some sort of vast atmospheric blues, calmed by some wonderfully lamenting vocals and reminiscent of 'A Northern Soul'-era Verve. It's one of three clear highlights, the second being the excellent 'Horror Head', where looming shadows and sweeping layers of guitar support the dark simplicity of a chorus that's not unlike Radiohead meeting the Jesus And Mary Chain. It's a pleasing album with a number of tracks rising above the rest, and displays a band who one strongly expects will have plenty more of great moments to come..."


41. THE CRIBS - IN THE BELLY OF THE BRAZEN BULL
BBC - "Lung-busting choruses abound on this tunefully angular fifth LP..." Read the BBC review HERE.

40. ALLAH LAS - ALLAH LAS
AllMusic - "It might be nice to hear them amp it up a bit on their next record for a change of pace, but this works just fine as a bummed-out garage trip..." Read the AllMusic review HERE.

39. OPOSSOM - ELECTRIC HAWAII
"'Electric Hawaii' is the debut album from Opossom, a project that is mostly the work of former Mint Chicks multi-instrumentalist Kody Nielson. It's an album of upbeat, summery psychedelic pop that will bring sunshine to even the darkest of places. At just over 30 minutes long 'Electric Hawaii' doesn't become at all tiresome, despite two or three tracks not providing the same sun-soaked psychedelic pop thrills that the rest of the album delivers. It's a record worth seeking out if you want to hear something both retro and modern that also mostly succeeds at being experimental and accessible at the same time..."

38. BLOC PARTY - FOUR
"At 40 minutes long 'Four' doesn't outstay its welcome, and overall it represents a more vital album than the previous two. It does fall short of matching 'Silent Alarm' in terms of quality, but it's the closest they've come yet. It's an album that takes a few plays to sink in, and leaning towards a harder edged rock sound is a brave move, but there's no doubting that Bloc Party sound revitalised, re-energised and like they've found their way back on to the path again..."

37. CROCODILES - ENDLESS FLOWERS
BBC - "Noise duo turns down the racket (a little) for LP three..." Read the BBC review HERE.

36. BEAK> - >>
In direct contrast to his other band Portishead and their lengthy gaps between releases, Geoff Barrow's other band Beak> recorded their second album in just one afternoon. However fans of his best known group will be glad that Beak's second album (an album title that this blogging platform won't let me type) sticks to the familiar dark tones and gloomy atmospherics, but undoubtedly presents itself in a different way. Expect uneasy claustrophobia, droning post-rock bass, Krautrock rhythms and often harsh analogue synths in great measures. 

35. THE HYSTERICAL INJURY - DEAD WOLF SITUATION
A brother sister duo consisting of drummer Tom Gardiner and bassist-vocalist Annie Gardiner, The Hysterical Injury sure know how to whip up a raw psychotic racket as well as being able to deliver ear-caressing melodies and immediate hooks. Their debut 'Dead Wolf Situation' begins with a steady beat, a fat riff and angelic little girl vocals  which give way to the thunderous menace of its chorus. This is 'Halo Alkanes' and during its course the song throws up at least three chunky memorable bass hooks. To think this band doesn't have a guitarist makes the sound they achieve all the more impressive. 

34. JACK WHITE - BLUNDERBUSS
BBC - "After all these years, there's still nobody quite like him..." Read the BBC review HERE.

33. TALL SHIPS - EVERYTHING TOUCHING
BBC - "The boffin-rocking trio’s debut displays dizzying craftsmanship..." Read the BBC review HERE.

32. BRETON - OTHER PEOPLE'S PROBLEMS
BBC - "This south London outfit has crafted a distinctive debut rich in mass-appeal potential..." Read the BBC review HERE.

31. DEXYS - ONE DAY I'M GOING TO SOAR
BBC - "Dexys are back with wisdom and wings. Some of us never doubted..." Read the BBC review HERE.

30. ROCKETJUICE AND THE MOON - ROCKETJUICE AND THE MOON
If you're not keen on funk this album is not for you. If you don't take kindly to improvisation and spectacularly loose jamming then you may also want to steer clear of this record. Don't expect anything even remotely resembling 'Parklife', because this is Damon exploring completely different areas and coming out of it with a rather odd bag of musical treats as well as adding another fine project to his extensive CV. Is there anything this man can't do? That's probably what he's trying to find out himself as he continues his diverse musical journey...

29. TAME IMPALA - LONERISM
BBC - "Superbly psychedelic second set with a very British-sounding soul..." Read the BBC review HERE.

28. ALT J - AN AWESOME WAVE
BBC - "A deeply exciting, original and inventive debut from recommended ones to watch..." Read the BBC review HERE.

27. CAST - TROUBLED TIMES
"Cast seem to have discovered that simple British rock and roll is what they always did best, and with 'Troubled Times' they've put things right and made sure 2001's diabolical 'Beetroot' wasn't the last we ever heard from them. Whether they continue to make more records after this or not, 'Troubled Times' restores a great deal of faith in their abilities, although it falls slightly short of being the classic comeback record that fans had been hoping for. Maybe it's the lack of a big epic, or the fact that a couple of the songs tend to blend into one and repeat themselves musically and lyrically. This record certainly wouldn't win any prizes for diversity either. Minor criticisms aside, it's great to have Cast back. They don't need to reinvent themselves and pleasingly it seems they've finally realised that...."


26. BLACK REINDEER - MUSIC FROM THE FILM THAT NEVER GOT MADE
Earlier this year, the underrated, misrepresented genius that is Stephen Jones announced that he was laying Babybird to rest for a second time. Luckily for us Stephen is continuing to create more beautiful new music, and this superb 16 track album signalled his first new material since Babybird's final album last year. A collection of wonderfully atmospheric, achingly beautiful and mostly instrumental pieces, all who were lucky enough to hear this lovely record were instantly charmed. Stephen is recording more Black Reindeer material, and also has plans to release a brand new Death Of The Neighbourhood album in 2013 through ATIC Records. We look forward to it... Listen and buy the album HERE.


25. TOM WILLIAMS AND THE BOAT - TEENAGE BLOOD
"Where do Tom Williams And The Boat fit in with the rest of the relatively new UK guitar bands? Too heavy to be grouped in with any folk acts, yet too sincere to be classed as a rock band. With their second album 'Teenage Blood' it seems that they are making music that further defines the band's own sound and characteristics. They certainly aren't trying to follow any trends, and perhaps as a result of faith in their musical instincts the songs display a grown confidence. Most of the album's second half almost brings to mind a hungrier, more interesting version of Snow Patrol, but overall Tom Williams And The Boat offer more than that, from the greater lyrical depth to the passionate delivery and the intelligent arrangements. This second album displays a growth in confidence, and represents a step forward that may push this particular boat out to a wider ocean..."


24. GRAHAM COXON - A+E
"With his eighth solo outing 'A+E', Graham Coxon's solo career has now produced one more album than that of his career so far with Blur, and while many saw those early solo albums as an exercise to distance himself from the mainstream success of his iconic band, his last few records have seen him simply exploring his love of various different genres and sounds. Following on from the largely acoustic 'The Spinning Top', this time around Coxon turns his attentions to angular post-punk, new wave and Krautrock while adding plenty of his own characteristics. It's dark, dirty and possibly his grittiest work to date..."

23. GAZ COOMBES - HERE COME THE BOMBS
"With this record, those who loved Supergrass will be glad that know that the magic still lives on and that Gaz Coombes has maintained the quality of much of his former band's output. It manages to balance surprising left field elements and experimentation with infectiously melodic hooks and a great instinct for writing brilliant pop songs. His debut solo album is a record that fans will often want to revisit for some time to come, and stands as the man's finest offering for years as well as a more revealing insight into his range of tastes.."


22. JIMMY CLIFF - REBIRTH
"When musicians become producers, working with their heroes will always be somewhere on the wishlist and when it happens it can often produce interesting results. Especially if that hero happens to have been a massive influence on the music they've been making throughout their careers. Rancid's Tim Armstrong is part of many generations that have been inspired by Jimmy Cliff, a legend who has now been in the business for more than years. On 'Rebirth', Armstrong provides Cliff with the perfect musical partner and lends his new album a lively and crisp production that packs many punches. It's like two kindred spirits from different eras setting off on a musical journey together, or even like a student teaching his master some tricks of his own. This album is no modern overhaul of the reggae veteran's style and perhaps isn't exactly the Rebirth that its title suggests. However it is a return to his roots and certainly a reinvigoration of his sound, revisiting the golden age of reggae and throwing away the bland crossover material that has filled the gap between the late 70's and now. It's less of an interesting record, more like an instantly likeable and often highly enjoyable one. Now five decades into his career, Jimmy sounds truly revitalised and in truly fine voice on this wonderful album. Throughout this record the man sounds alive and passionate, and the music reveals a living legend back in truly great form once again..."

21. MARK LANEGAN - BLUES FUNERAL
BBC - "A mighty voice of formidably expressive multitudes, here given room to roar..." Read the BBC review HERE.


20. SPIRITUALIZED - SWEET HEART SWEET LIGHT
"Drugs, prescribed or otherwise have always been a reoccuring theme when it comes to the music of Spiritualized, from the song 'Medication' to the tablet-like packaging for their 1997 classic 'Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space'. Following a lengthy hospitalisation with near fatal pneumonia in 2005, Jason Pierce revealed that due to a liver disease, he had to take life saving drugs during the writing and recording of his latest record. The lyrical themes are familiar: Jesus, rock and roll, drugs, heartbreak and wasted years. This time Jason Pierce is exorcising demons and finding ways of fighting through sadness and finding new hope. It's quite fair to say that if you've heard Spiritualized before and didn't enjoy it, then 'Sweet' is probably not going to change your mind. It is an album for fans of Pierce's previous work, but parts of it are more than capable of appealing to those who haven't heard Spiritualized before.This record doesn't exactly bring many new ideas to the table, but in most cases Pierce doesn't need to. This is more a case of expanding on old ideas and attempting to perfect his musical trademarks further. More often than not he succeeds, making 'Sweet Heart Sweet Light' the strongest Spiritualized album since 2001's superb 'Let It Come Down'..."

19. JAKE BUGG - JAKE BUGG
BBC - "Ubiquity may beckon for this rising Nottingham singer-songwriter..." Read the BBC review HERE

18. CLINIC - FREE REIGN

This Is Fake DIY: "Free Reign is kaleidoscopic, warped and utterly brilliant..." Read the This Is Fake DIY review HERE.


17. DIIV - OSHIN
Pitchfork - "Oshin isn't just a gorgeous and unusually melodic dream-pop record; it's an interesting experiment in whether a band based on voice/guitar/bass/drums can rely on the guitar to carry the song's meaning...". Read the Pitchfork review HERE.

16. TWO WOUNDED BIRDS - TWO WOUNDED BIRDS
"Hailing from the crumbling seaside town of Margate, the group have since undergone a couple of line up changes and  have continued to build on their musical promise with more great singles and plenty of well received live shows. Two Wounded Birds look to the past for their inspiration, but the way in which all these influences are blended produces a sound that is very much their own. It is an album you will want to revisit in the future for sure, and confirms that Two Wounded Birds are one of the finest and most promising acts to have emerged in recent years..."


15. LEVELLERS - STATIC ON THE AIRWAVES
"Not a lot of people are aware of the fact that the Levellers scored more gold and platinum than any other act during the 90's. Now regarded in some quarters as national treasures, the band have spent the last few years continuing to thrill audiences with their incredible live shows, as well as hosting their own very successful Beautiful Days festival each year. After a solo album from singer Mark Chadwick and a side project from co-frontman Simon Friend, the band have returned with a record that demonstrates an outfit at the top of their game. 'Static On The Airwaves' is their 10th studio album and possibly their finest work in over 15 years. This is music of the times, although the themes of war, anti capitalism, abandoned sections of society and life as a traveller have always been at the heart of the band's music since they formed way back in 1988. Nearly 25 years into their career their latest work marks a fine period in the group's existence and delivers another creative and artistic highlight. As well as serving up a number of their best songs in at least a decade, 'Static On The Airwaves' provides us with the Levellers' finest and most consistent record since 1995's classic 'Zeitgeist'..."

14. SIMON FOWLER'S MERRYMOUTH - SIMON FOWLER'S MERRYMOUTH
"With this beautiful folk-flavoured record, Ocean Colour Scene's vocalist has found himself an excellent alternative. Of course it's never going to be a million miles from OCS, but when the songs reach the same heights as their best work, that can only be a good thing. If you're looking for 'Hundred Mile High City' or 'Riverboat Song'-style riff-o-rama then you may wish to look elsewhere than this album, but there is no doubting the quality and sincerity that characterise many songs from Fowler's new offering..."

13. PAUL WELLER - SONIK KICKS
"You don't need me to tell you that Paul Weller is an absolute legend. Now twenty years in to his solo career and Weller sounds more alive and hungry than most musicians half his age. The late 90s and 2000s saw him scoring hit albums despite the fact that critics dismissed them as boring and uninspired, but the release of 2008's '22 Dreams' and 2010's 'Wake Up The Nation' changed that, two albums that saw the Modfather trying out new things while still doing what he's always done best. 'Sonik Kicks' follows these and makes up the final part in this fantastic trilogy of albums that have seen this truly timeless artist in a rich vein of form. He explores endless possibilities, knowing that experiments conducted by the most instinctive of minds can create truly thrilling music. The musical landscape of 'Sonik Kicks' is hard to define, and therein lies part of its genius. Bold and well defined pop melodies are combined with brave experimental arrangements to produce an enjoyably kaleidoscopic musical vision.

Overall 'Sonik Kicks' is more consistent than '22 Dreams' and more diverse than 'Wake Up The Nation', continuing another interesting and entertaining period in Weller's career. It's an adventurous and inventive collection of songs that show that after over 30 years in music, this iconic figure is showing no signs of giving up just yet. His search for new sounds is a quest which has resulted in a truly electrifying record, and not many artists his age are capable of sounding anywhere near this vibrant and imaginative."


12. THE VACCINES - COME OF AGE

BBC Review - "Foursome delivers its second album in 18 months – but why delay when it’s this great?". BBC Review HERE


11. ERRORS - HAVE SOME FAITH IN MAGIC
"The third album from Errors sees them expand on the finest elements of their sound, producing their most accomplished work to date. Working around their familiar template and adding new and refreshing ideas to embellish things to most pleasing effect, this record portrays a group shaping their sound into something that is their own. It's an album you can (sometimes) dance to AND appreciate as a clever, progressive and forward-looking piece of work. If you're not yet familiar with Errors, then now is surely the best time..."


10. ORBITAL - WONKY
"Eight years ago when the Hartnoll brothers released 'The Blue Album' and called it quits, most thought that Orbital really couldn't have had any more great music in them. 'Wonky' proves that the extended break has done them a world of good, as many of these tracks comprise of their most vital moments yet. Rejuvenated and refuelled, the duo resurrect many of the familiar sounds that made them electronic icons while also embracing enough modern elements for this album not to sound outdated. There are one or two minor complaints but even so, it is certainly one of the best dance records in recent years and when it's at its best, the often exhilarating music can easily stand alongside Orbital's finest work..."

9. TOY - TOY

BBC Review - "
Strongly tipped Londoners deliver their stunning debut album..." BBC Review HERE.



8. NICK BURBRIDGE AND TIM COTTERELL - GATHERED
"Brighton-based singer songwriter Nick Burbridge is a prolific fellow. Following six albums with his band McDermott's 2 Hours (including collaborations with British folk legends The Levellers) Burbridge teams up with multi-instrumentalist and producer Tim Cotterell for this wonderfully organic and characteristically acoustic collection of contemporary folk songs. Beautiful opener 'Last Train Home' is a stunning acoustic waltz where the "believers clasp their hands and try to pray", "a poet crumpled in the corner says "you know, I've had this dream, then falls into a fit"" and "the rich kids snort a line", lyrical imagery bringing to life a varying cast of characters that somehow come together in the same place as each verse restates the song's brilliance. Here, and through the course of this lovely album Burbridge demonstrates his incredible lyrical abilities with ease, painting wonderfully scenic pictures with his inspired words. Tim Cotterell, producing the record's 12 tracks also provides musical backing on a range of instruments. Listeners who have time to hear this album in a peaceful setting will soon come to love this collection of understated and organic songs, and possibly lose themselves in the lyrical scenery. It's a humble, engaging record full of pastoral beauty and strong instinctive songwriting, each listen reveals more depth and more about Burbridge's poetic and musical intelligence. Also a good starting point if you haven't yet heard any of Burbridge's previous work yet..."


7. MARTIN ROSSITER - THE DEFENSTRATION OF ST MARTIN
BBC Review - "A high-quality, stripped-back solo debut from the Gene frontman..." BBC Review HERE.

6. RICHARD HAWLEY - STANDING AT THE SKY'S EDGE

BBC Review - 
"Sheffield crooner turns up the amps..." BBC Review HERE



5. ULTRASOUND - PLAY FOR TODAY

Ultrasound are certainly not your average indie band. They are in fact a one-off. You may remember them from the front covers of music papers in the late 90's, when the music press were hailing them as the next British rock phenomenon. After a string of immaculate singles the NME and Melody Maker hoped for more epic pop anthems, but what they got instead was 1999's sprawling debut album 'Everything Picture'. It was a vast, prog-heavy record that caused much confusion, and its over-ambition probably played a part in the band's break-up. Before too long it seemed that their dreams had faded, and the members of Ultrasound once again found themselves having to earn themselves a living through ordinary jobs and state benefits. 

A decade after they imploded, the group surprised many when they reunited and immediately found their old magic again, a magic that it seems was never lost, just temporarily misplaced. A new album arrives 13 years after the debut, and make no mistake, they still have the power to win over many hearts. There is sadness, anger, love, defiance and joy in their music and no other band can serve it all up in such a unique way as these five people do. They make some sort of psychedelic glam prog punk with tendencies for epic explosions of emotion. This time round it's certainly a case of quality over quantity. It's half as long as 'Everything Picture', yet somehow it is even more epic. It packs more into its 51 glorious minutes than its 13 year old predecessor did in its sprawling 102, and as a result of its superior consistency, 'Play For Today' has a far greater impact. After a few plays of this superb album, resistance is not an option. If 'Play For Today' takes a couple of listens for these excellent songs to make their impact, then you will be truly rewarded for your patience. We've waited well over a decade for another Ultrasound record, so living with these songs for a while and waiting for them to imprint themselves into your heart is time well spent. And when they do gain your affections, you will be thankful that you gave them the chance they deserve. 

After such a long time how have they not lost their touch one bit? Even more startlingly, how have they managed to actually improve on that magic in such a big way? Maybe that fire has been burning inside them for all these years, waiting to rise high once again when these remarkable musicians reunited. This time we can think ourselves lucky that we've been given another chance to experience their magic, and only hope that they don't desert us again.


4. DJANGO DJANGO - DJANGO DJANGO
"There have been some fantastic debut albums over the last few years but when was the last time you heard one that also created its own genre, unique and completely different from everything else out there? Here Django Django seem to be carrying on the unfinished business The Beta Band left behind, but without a doubt they have a rather different musical formula, and a style that is very much their own. This record is certainly the most excitingly interesting debut for a very long time, and truly stands out amongst the output of the rest of this generation's rising acts. It combines genres effortlessly, brimming with peculiar, random and weird sounds while still offering the most melodically rich and infectious hooks. 

The sound is unique, fresh and often a lot of fun while the overall vibe is intelligent, inventive, slightly arty and knowingly cool. Sometimes the music can sound so bizarre that attempting to describe it in words becomes rather challenging, they certainly have their own unmistakable blend of magic. Deep grooves, strange arrangements, infectious melodies and the perfect combination of the unusual and the immediate. This startlingly great debut album is a refreshing, superbly crafted piece of work that sticks with you after just a couple of listens and leaves you wanting more..."

3. MICHAEL KIWANUKA - HOME AGAIN
"For quite a few decades now the sound of soul music has changed for the worse, becoming bland, homogenised and nothing like the quality of the genre's all time greats. But at last an artist has arrived, an artist who possesses an incredible voice, fantastic songwriting abilities and a sound that revives the classic soul sound. Michael Kiwanuka has spent the last couple of years releasing brilliant EPs and singles that have won him a great deal of acclaim and attention from the music world. Then recently Kiwanuka was voted the winner of the BBC's Sound Of 2012, sparking another wave of interest in this truly gifted 24 year old. For such a man of his age you wonder what experiences have shaped this young man's deep and world-wise tone. His passion is engrained in every note he sings, and a maturity shines through the tone of the superbly arranged music. Overall 'Home Again' is a relaxing and rewarding listen, and every song is touched with a natural warmth and sincerity. The organic production and authentic vintage melodies are a refreshing antidote to the sound of most modern music in 2012, and for sure this is an artist who deserves majorly big success...

2. DODGY - STAND UPRIGHT IN A COOL PLACE
"During the wonderful mid 90's power pop trio Dodgy were pretty much a household name. With their inescapable summer anthems, fun jubilant festival performances and their down to earth personalities, they were never seen to be as cool or credible as some of Britpop's other luminaries. A follow up to 1996's hit album 'Free Peace Sweet' was expected a couple of years later but instead in 1998 the band issued a 'best of' album and a final single before the three piece split up at the height of their success. Thankfully about a decade later old wounds were healed and the original line up were reunited once again. After all those years away Dodgy knew that they had to take their time to come back with something great and they have certainly succeeded. Reflections and regrets translate into the introspective tone of much of the album, and learning many lessons from life has resulted in the best music of their career.

But instead of attempting to rehash the sound of the Britpop years they decided to stay true to themselves and make an album representing the natural sound of where they stand musically in 2012, and the result of the group now being older and wiser. While the group have matured like a fine wine, the songs still represent what people loved about the band during the 90s and that is their strong melodies and well crafted tunes. In fact their advancing years have made them even better songwriters than they were all those years ago, and as musicians their confidence and imagination has also expanded. 'Stand Upright In A Cool Place' will surprise a lot of people, even the most stubborn of cynics. It is also their tidiest and most cohesive work to date, and from start to finish is an absolute joy to experience. A most welcome and refreshing comeback..."



1. BELL GARDENS - FULL SUNDOWN ASSEMBLY



Bell Gardens are a band based around the duo of Brian McBride (one half of drone outfit Stars of the Lid) and Kenneth James Gibson, a member of 1990's dream-noise act The Furrys as well as a man responsible for various other projects. A press release reveals that the duo were "trying to stay faithful to a time period in which songs had been recorded. Wanting to experiment in what they believed to be a classic type of sound, the two used mainly live instrumentation, thinking about what was available in studios from the 50s to the mid 70s. Preset software sounds were rejected for their own recording of pianos, strings and horns." 

The result is a wonderfully natural sound as well as a joyous, subtle mixture of styles. At eight tracks long, there's no filler, just beautiful and well-crafted songs which often leave themselves plenty of space to breathe, while still bearing a pleasing amount of strikingly majestic arrangements. It's a record that sees a welcome revival of classic pop while still drawing from a palette of interesting and intelligent sounds. Seductive melodies flow through the engaging delicacy of opener 'Clinging To The Almost', an instrumental that sets the tone nicely and comes complete with the sort of strings that transport the listener to a dream world. 'Differently Tonight' is a warm, strummed lullaby that sees the introduction of Gibson's soothingly captivating vocals, resting on a genuinely touching melody, before the gorgeously emotive piano notes and mysterious elegance of 'Bobby' takes a walk into melodic post-rock territory. 'Nowhere' begins with blissful harmonies and pretty instrumentation before softly launching into a stunning Spiritualized-esque hymn. 


'Fruitcup', with its sumptuous slide guitar and hazy ambience, is largely instrumental except for its lyricless choral vocals, and is almost like Primal Scream's 'Screamadelica' if it was written with Brian Wilson. Then there's the magnificent single 'Through The Rain', which also hints at 'Pet Sounds'-era Beach Boys and the Velvet Underground's 'Sunday Morning', but rises above any comparisons, charming you gently during its sweet verse and capturing your heart with its beautiful harmony driven chorus. It is quite simply one of the finest examples of music in recent times and an indispensable burst of sunshine confirming that Bell Gardens have a real gift. 

'South' is a real grower, wonderfully atmospheric brass complimenting a tearful melody and mournful vocals, while 'To Land''s swooning guitar lends itself nicely to the comforting strings and slow burning charm of its spacious beauty. Here is an example of two hugely talented musical minds coming together to make a lovely record that is sure to find a special place in the hearts of those who are lucky enough to hear it. A triumph.

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Saturday, 29 December 2012

SONG FOR TODAY: Jack White - Sixteen Saltines

Taken from this year's solo album 'Blunderbuss', which has been in many people's 2012 Album Of The Year lists, in fact it came top of MOJO Magazine's. My own Top 50 albums of 2012 will be unveiled over the next two days, but in the meantime here is Jack White with 'Sixteen Saltines', the second single from Blunderbuss. It was when White first played this song on Saturday Night Live that the album had a surge in popularity. In December 2012, the song was named by the Rolling Stone Magazine as the eighth best song of the year.

Jack White told NME about the inspiration for the lyrics: "My daughter asked for a snack, and I said, 'what do you want to have?', and she said, 'I think I'll have 16 saltine crackers.' And I said, 'You'll have three!' At times I imagined that character was eating cracker rations on a lifeboat and he's remembering all these other things." White also told UK newspaper The Sun that he played the song to his daughter the day after she'd asked her dad for '16 saltine crackers': "I said, 'Listen, I wrote a song for you,'" he recalled, "and I played it back for her. She blushed and turned away. The next time I played the song for her, she said, 'Yeah, I never said that!'"

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Tuesday, 25 December 2012

MERRY CHRISTMAS: Advent Calendar compilation and The O'Jays - Christmas Ain't Christmas

It's Christmas Day and I would like to wish all readers a wonderful Christmas. If you would like a perfect soundtrack to your festivities (and if you're not completely sick of seasonal music by now) then take a listen to my 'Advent Calendar' compilation, featuring the 24 finest xmas tracks you'll ever hear... 

As an extra treat, give this amazing O Jay's classic a listen too... According to Ravi at Allmusic.com: "Neptune Records released this holiday theme just in time for Xmas 1970. It was the first such recording by the O'Jays and was well received where it got airplay. It was their eighth and final release on Neptune, where they hit the RandB charts with "One Night Affair" and "Deeper in Love With You." The record is typical O'Jays, not a happy song, but the high-energy vocals and a bouncy cadence masks the down-in-the-dumps lyrics. Gamble and Huff released this same song a year later on the Ebonys on the songsmiths' fledging Philadelphia International label; the renditions are nearly identical..."






Saturday, 22 December 2012

SONG FOR TODAY: Alabama Shakes - Hold On

"Hold On" is a song by Alabama Shakes. The track was first released on February 6, 2012 in the United Kingdom as the lead single from the studio album Boys And Girls, which was released on April 9, 2012. The album peaked to number 8 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and number 3 on the UK Albums Chart. Rolling Stone listed "Hold On" as the best song of 2012 in their list of the 50 Best Songs of 2012. Alabama Shakes is an American rock band formed in Athens, Alabama in 2009. The group consists of lead singer Brittany Howard, guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell, and drummer Steve Johnson. The group received three nominations for the 2013 Grammy Awards: one for best new artist; one for best rock performance, for "Hold On"; and one for best recording package with their first album, Boys And Girls.



Friday, 21 December 2012

SONG FOR TODAY: Fanfarlo - Tightrope

Taken from their second album 'Rooms Filled With Light', here are Fanfarlo with the brilliant 'Tightrope'. The band have just finished recording their third album, due for release next year... 

Fanfarlo are a London-based indie/alternative band formed in 2006 by Swedish musician Simon Balthazar, and Giles J Davis (who subsequently left before the release of the first single). They fuse elements of folk, indie rock and post-punk using eclectic instrumentation including trumpet, violin, mandolin, musical saw and clarinet. The band, whose name comes from the Charles Baudelaire novella La Fanfarlo, started performing live in small London indie clubs in 2006, and released 'Rooms Filled With Light' earlier this year in February...

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