Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014: The Albums Of The Year - 30-1

So yet another music site publishes yet another Albums Of The Year list. Except this one is quite a different 'end of year list', since it has been put together at the end of the year as opposed to in October/November like many music websites hurriedly opted to. Some people forget that the world of music doesn't simply come to a complete stop during the last two months of the year. This way everything that has reached my ears in 2014 has a chance to feature in the end-of-year list. My tracks of the year can be heard on a two-part Best Of 2014 mixtape, which you can find HERE. Here are the 50 albums that rocked RW/FF's world over the last 12 months...

30. Mogwai - 'Rave Tapes' (Rock Action Records)
Having been a fan of theirs since the late 90's, it was brilliant to see Scottish legends Mogwai score their very first Top 10 album with 'Rave Tapes'. The Skinny said: "'Rave Tapes' is filled with expert contrasts, making this a pulse-quickening return from a band that’s still evolving, and still amazing", while MusicOMH commented that "'Rave Tapes' might not be a complete change in direction for Mogwai, but it is different enough to suggest that there’s plenty of inventiveness left in the band yet'. Tim Russell at God Is In The TV gave it a 3 out of 5 (which I think is a bit of a lower score than it deserves) and gave the following advice: "For those who prefer the speaker-shredding, face-melting, Blur-baiting Mog of yore will find little joy in Rave Tapes which, despite a moniker promising glowstick-waving hands-in-the-air exuberance, is a mature, restrained affair, much closer in tone to their wonderful Les Revenants soundtrack than the balls-on-the-monitor rock thrills of 'Hardcore Will Never Die...'. It reveals its delights slowly. But when it clicks, oh man, it clicks." Eventually, in a chart compiled from the combined votes of many writers, 'Rave Tapes' topped GIITTV's Albums Of 2014 list, which can be found HERE. Listen to the album HERE.

29. Further Reductions - 'Woodwork' (Cititrax Records)
Shawn O’Sullivan and Katie Rose formed Further Reductions in 2008 as an outlet for their shared passion of electronic dance music and their 'Woodwork' album proved to be a great listen after The Quietus recommended it in a review that said: "Even considering the short running time of Woodwork, Further Reductions have given listeners great deal of diverse material to dig into. The duo have a profound grasp on the history of techno, house, and dark electronic music, and their ability to pay homage to these historical moments while at the same time sounding contemporary puts them clearly ahead of many artists whose work remains closer to revivalism in spite of modern sound ideas." Listen to the album HERE.

28. Pixies - 'Indie Cindy' (Pixiesmusic Records)
U.S rock legends the Pixies returned with their first album of new material in 23 years. God Is In The TV gave it a 4 out of 5 rating, remarking that "Comebacks are usually the result of ‘cleanness’ – i.e. the band have finally got themselves enough clarity and headspace to return to the studio. Thankfully, Pixies have remembered that madness, perversity and edginess are what made them great in the first place: they were always more John Waters than Ron Howard, and they’ve brought along enough smoke and mirrors to make 'Indie Cindy' a welcome return.' Listen to the album on Spotify HERE.

27. Bell Gardens - 'Slow Dawns For Lost Conclusions' (Rocket Girl Records)

Bell Gardens combines the musical visions of Kenneth James Gibson (formerly of Furry Things, now recording as [a]pendics.shuffle, dubLoner and Eight Frozen Modules) and Brian McBride (one half of Stars of the Lid). This Californian duo's debut album 'Full Sundown Assembly' was my favourite record of 2012, and they followed it nicely this year with this more expansive effort that set remarkable arrangements to sublime harmonies. Sean BW Parker from Monolith Cocktail wrote: "Bell Gardens are craftspeople, sculpting sound, a very big sound, and leaving nothing to chance. This sound is a comforting, lush field... there isn’t any palpable ego on display, but a tangible desire for equality and gentility, from the (somewhat chintzy) album cover to album highlight ‘She Does’. The album is one long feeling, and there are no major divergences – if you liked The Cure’s Disintegration or The Verve’s Urban Hymns, but found them, either too moan-y, pompous or grandiose, SDFLC is very much for you." Read the rest of that review HERE and listen to the album HERE.

26. The Asteroid #4 - 'The Asteroid #4' (Bad Vibrations Records)
It's surprising that it's taken 16 years for me to discover the California-based outfit The Asteroid #4, and it's also likely that many reading this article won't have experienced their music yet. So it's a good job that their new self titled album found their way onto my radar, since it is something of a treat. Their eighth full length since their formation back in 1998 is a diverse record that's linked together by a psychedelic thread, taking various genres to far out territories.Apparently it blends the space-rock of their debut with the variety of their later work, but since this is the first Asteroid #4 record I've heard, that is something I can't offer any comment on. However, what is apparent on this record is the sound of the kind of confidence and versatility that comes with experience, while there are also the bright sparks of vitality that you would usually expect from newly formed bands. A newfound sense of purpose is what fuels this album, which seems to have been self titled to represent a definitive work. Delving into country, folk, krautrock and shoegaze, a much welcome sense of variety allows the psychedelic sound of this eponymous work to take the listener on an enjoyable, rewarding and often blissful trip. Read the full review and listen to a few tracks HERE.

25. Eels - 'The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett' (PIAS/ EWorks Records)
The strongest and most consistent Eels record in at least a decade, and Everett's most introspective and profound effort since 1998's classic 'Electro Shock Blues'. DIY Magazine said: "Everett’s impeccable songwriting talents are such that it’s also possible to forego any lyrical themes – although there’s many a chord change to induce waterworks, beware – and just enjoy ‘The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett’ as it is: a gorgeous, luscious Eels record, sounding every bit as familiar as any of that suggests, the country-tinged guitars, the organs, piano, sprinkling of xylophone and those comfortingly gravelly vocals..." Listen to the album via Spotify HERE.

24. The Hobbes Fanclub - 'Up At Lagrange' (Shelflife Records)
The Bradford-based trio The Hobbes Fanclub conjure up a dreamy, reverb-dipped and melodic sound on their debut album 'Up At Lagrange', which harks back to the restrained production values and style of late 80s/early 90s shoegaze pop. On the very focused 'Up At Lagrage', sunset-lit shoegaze vibes and melodic alt-rock sounds are wired together to create a type of reverb-laden guitar pop that evokes the true indie of decades past, while picking up plenty of influences from more recent years. A delightful slow burning beauty of an album. Read the full review and listen to the album HERE.

23. Horse Party - 'Cover Your Eyes' (Integrity Records)
The debut album from Suffolk-based trio Horse Party is a treat for those who like ragged guitars, sultry vocals and bags of attitude. After admiring their musical output for a while, it was a surprise to learn that band member Seymour Quigley was formerly the frontman of Miss Black America, a name I remember vaguely from the John Peel show years ago. Surprising because I assumed all the members of Horse Party were just getting started in the music world. Not because they're sloppy or amateur in any way, but because of the hungry energy and vigour that bursts out of their songs. After causing a buzz over recent years with a string of top quality singles, it's good to see that the band have made sure they're all present here. At just over 30 minutes in length and comprising eight accessible, often exciting tracks, 'Cover Your Eyes' doesn't take long to listen to, and strongly encourages to give it another play right after the last track has come to an end. And since a few of these numbers are growers rather than instant winners, giving half an hour to this LP every so often will reap rewards in the long run. Read the full review HERE and listen to the album HERE.

22. Merrymouth - 'Wenlock Hill' (Navigator Records)
Originally formed as a backing group for a folk-flavoured Simon Fowler solo project, Merrymouth soon evolved into a great band in their own right, partly due to the creative urges of Fowler's Ocean Colour Scene bandmate Dan Sealey, himself a very talented songwriter and vocalist. 'Wenlock Hill' is their second album and follows on from 2012's self titled debut, which was released as 'Simon Fowler's Merrymouth'. Opening up and embracing a more diverse range of sounds, 'Wenlock Hill' is an unmistakeably English record that offers a more undiluted taste of Fowler's favoured folk style, and delivers moments that will surprise and charm even those who (for some unknown reason) usually dread the very thought of Ocean Colour Scene. Don't expect this to be a bunch of leftovers that didn't make the latest OCS album, because something tells me that Fowler and co have been saving these up for a special occasion... It certainly puts many of the Ocean Colour Scene albums from the last decade in the shade. After hearing the splendid 'Wenlock Hill', you'll know that is not just a mere side project, but a clear snapshot of where the minds of these three musicians are currently at. Read the full review HERE, and listen to 'Wenlock Hill' HERE.

21. Towns - 'Get By' (Howling Owl Records)
Towns were a band made up of four childhood friends from the Somerset seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare. Wanting to create an exciting sound as an escape from their humdrum surroundings, on the strength of two demos, the highly promising group were hyped by the NME before they even played their first gig. Maybe they were cursed. A booking agent stole a thousand pounds of the band's money, and following this crushing setback, their label arranged for them to record with Oasis/Verve producer Owen Morris, only for the sessions to be cancelled after the label was taken over by a major. It's fair to say that their experiences of the music industry were not pleasant ones, so they opted to record their debut album with friends from Bristol and release it on the city's Howling Owl Records. 

The resulting twelve tracks have a low budget edge that lends the record a raw honesty, as the band combine baggy, shoegaze and psychedelica with a strong pop aesthetic. So you'd think that the future would be an outstandingly bright one for Towns. Instead, the band split up exactly one week after releasing the album, gone before I could even complete my scheduled review of their debut. Whether they decided that they weren't appreciated enough, or frustrated that music by great new bands isn't able to reach the masses anymore, or possibly just worn down by bad luck and the rotten reality of the music business, it's obvious that this is the public's loss. Perhaps they'd planned all along to record a great album and split just after its release, cementing their magic for others to discover in future years. Maybe word of  mouth will see 'Get By' grow in popularity and become something of a lost gem. Gutted to know that we aren't going to be hearing any more music from Towns, but what a fine piece of work they left us with. Read the full review and listen to the album HERE.

20. Jupiter Lion - 'Brighter' (B-Core Discs)
The excellent Valencia-based trio Jupiter Lion first captured RW/FF's ears early in 2013 after the release of their impressive self titled debut album. 'Brighter' is their second full length effort, and takes their Krautrock-infused sound to new heights and further dimensions. If driving rhythms, relentless bass, nagging synths and beautifully elevating melodies are your tonic, then this cosmic helping of Spanish post-psychedelic krautrock is something you will need to hear. Pushing into new galaxies and leaving an awe-inspiring trail of light, 'Brighter' is a ball of momentum that flies with powerful trajectory. Read the full review and listen to 'Brighter' HERE.

19. The Hosts - 'Softly Softly' (Fierce Panda Records)
Having grown up in the golden age of indie guitar music, it's fair to say that a lot of the more traditional alternative pop bands of the last few days just don't give me the same thrill that the Britpop bands of my teen years did. Many of the new guitar groups that have emerged over the last few years just don't have the tunes, or any real distinguishing features. The Hosts are different. A quartet from Sheffield who channel 50's romanticism through their charming indie epics, their debut LP follows on from two excellent singles which are both present here. Two tracks were produced by Richard Hawley, who has clearly had a massive influence on the four piece's sound. Demand more magic from your indie music. If you want nothing less than brilliance, give The Hosts a chance and they may just be the band for you. Read the full review HERE,and listen to the album HERE.

18. Beck - 'Morning Phase' (Capitol Records)
After six years without the release of an album, it's evident that Beck Hansen wanted to return with his strongest collection of songs possible, and his new offering turns out to be an absolute pleasure to bask in. On the smartly cohesive 'Morning Phase' he puts the genre-splicing to one side in favour of a more direct, reflective sound flavoured by the sun-dazed vibes of vintage West Coast rock and Americana. Throughout the album shades of the Byrds, Crosby Stills And Nash, Gram Parsons and Neil Young are blended into alluring arrangements that lend the songs a rich atmospheric character. Returning with one of his strongest records to date, Beck reprises moods from 2002's much loved 'Sea Change' to create not just a more positive companion piece of sorts, but a fine album in its own right. Read the review HERE and listen to the album HERE.

17. The Crookes - 'Soapbox'  (Fierce Panda Records)
Combining 50s era romance with vibes from the indie disco is something that Sheffield four piece The Crookes have been doing rather well for the last few years. They've produced some very promising moments, yet stretching the magic out over the course of a whole album seemed to prove a challenge for them. So while 2011's 'Chasing After Ghosts' and its follow up 'Hold Fast' certainly had a few high points, neither felt consistent enough to really hit the mark. With their third album the band realise their potential and move themselves up to a new level. A sense of isolation emerges every so often, maybe due to the LP being recorded in an old abandoned church located in the Italian Alps. But there are other things that characterise 'Soapbox', as guitarist and lyricist Danny Hopewell explains: “The most obvious theme that runs through the entire album is the idea of The Outsider. As a band that seems to suit us…never invited inside, but never wanting to be. I can empathise more with the madman standing on his soapbox, slowly gaining an audience by speaking with passion and honesty”. Something has happened to The Crookes. They've moved up more than a few notches to the point where they are no longer a promising indie band, but a great one. Read the full review and listen to 'Soapbox' HERE.

16. The Diaphanoids - 'LSME' (Tirk Recordings)
The Diaphanoids are an Italian duo with very interesting backgrounds. One of them (Andrea Bellentani) wrote songs for Pavarotti, and the other half of the duo (Marco 'Simon' Maccari) is an Italian dance producer who worked with 'Ride On Time' hitmakers Black Box. So to many people, it would seem unlikely that a pair with such form could make one of the most immersive psychedelic records of recent times. But they've done it. Consisting of eight trippy instrumentals, 'LSME' is described as an "acid psychallucisergic album full of seventies kosmische flavours fuzzed-out guitars and motorik rhythms." Its creators have also dubbed it "ferocious. Masterful. Demented." They're not wrong. Simultaneously repetitive and progressive, it's brilliantly inspired music embedded with a power that picks the listener up and carries them along into other dimensions. Dynamic peaks and troughs counteract with nagging rhythms and unstoppable beats, while prog, krautrock and 90s electro sounds cruise their way through a series of awesome psychedelic explosions. In short, an excellent record. Read the full review and hear the album HERE.

15. Manic Street Preachers - 'Futurology' (Sony Records)
They've had plenty of experience at bouncing back, trying to make a fresh start, and changing people's perception of what they "should" be. Wasn't a lot of 'Everything Must Go' about that? Maybe it's impossible to "escape from a history" as eventful and astonishing as the one the Manics have had, but 'Futurology' ensures that they can still stay significant and relevant, proving that their continued existence is not only necessary, but hugely vital. The difference between this and the preceding album is immediately apparent from the outset. Of course they never really went away, 'Futurology' is about finding a new sense of purpose. Lyrically it often sees them trying to make some sense of their current position, asking themselves questions, reflecting on their own history, and taking a leap forward into unknown territories, excited by the uncertainty of what the future holds. Fully aware that "old songs leave long shadows", it's an album that sets out to cross new bridges, defy expectations and not be afraid to take risks. While 'Rewind The Film' was a more consistent and focused album, 'Futurology' strikes the most powerful blows, but gets points deducted for a few wobbly moments. Still, you can't expect them to try new things and not make the odd error. As well as movements in new directions, we still get all the things that have always made the Manics great: the incredible tunes, the slogans, the values, and of course James Dean Bradfield's magnificent voice. I'll say that these last two albums both stand as their strongest works since the 90s. Reignited once again, with 'Futurology' the Manics have written one of the most interesting chapters in their fascinating and eventful story. Read the full review HERE, and listen to the album HERE.

14. Plaid - 'Reachy Prints' (Warp Records)
In an enjoyably fruitful time for left field electronic music, Plaid returned with their tenth album 'Reachy Prints'. It marked a decade since the London-based duo consisting of Andy Turner and Ed Handley signed to Warp Records, and 20 years since the two men began music together. A fine album from one of electronica's most consistent leading lights, 'Reachy Prints' offers something slightly different with each track, yet it also maintains a supernaturally dreamlike thread throughout. Plenty to be enjoyed here. Read the full review and listen to the album HERE.

13. Horseman - 'Dawn Of The Dread' (Mr Bongo Records)
Following three decades of working with the creme de la creme of the reggae world, Winston Williams aka Horseman released his first LP in November 2014. As fearsome a drummer as he is an MC, Horseman has worked with musicians and producers Tippa Irie, Max Romeo, Gregory Isaacs, Sugar Minott, Jah Shaka, Mad Professor, Barrington Levy, Eeka Mouse and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with John Holt - to name but a few - most recently performing with Hollie Cook and Prince Fatty. It was while playing with renowned outfit The Ruff Cut Band in 2003 that he met producer and long term colaborater Mike 'Prince Fatty' Pelanconi. 'Dawn Of The Dread' was recorded at Studio Dub in Thailand before being mixed at Prince Fatty's Ironworks studio in Brighton. "Mike just asked, "you ever been to Thailand?" and we went. There were great vibes, we walked in and it all fell into place. We were looking to get that 80s digital sound and all that original equipment was just there waiting for us. It was fate". Listen to 'Dawn Of The Dread' HERE.

12. The Horrors - 'Luminous' (XL Recordings)
'Luminous' is the fourth studio album from The Horrors, their first since 2011's universally acclaimed 'Skying'. While they have been part of the recent psychedelic revival, they are a band who still exist in their own musical world. 'Luminous' sees them take things to truly stratospheric levels: “It has a goal, which is to take a listener on an ascent in some ways,” says Rhys Webb. “For us, if a DJ is to play a set, his role is to elevate. We were inspired by how we could incorporate that into our music - we like the idea of elevation and euphoria and how our sound can make you feel.” Taking things higher is something that 'Luminous' succeeds at. "It’s not so much about heavier guitars as a heavier potency…" said Webb, "We want to make music you can dance to, music that elevates…" With this, they've certainly not failed. Read the review HERE, and listen to the album HERE.

11. Superfood - 'Don't Say That' (Infectious Records)
After discovering their music on a friend's internet radio show, within a few days I had gone out and bought a copy of this Birmingham four piece's debut album. While 'Don't Say That' is heavily evocative of the Britpop era, it's also spiced with enough freshness and originality to make it perfectly relevant. 
The Line Of Best Fit said: "There’s seldom a note of Superfood’s dynamic live shows during which they – and their devout following – are not visibly ecstatic. The likes of “Mood Bomb” and “Right On Satellite” give you the feeling that the same sentiment was heavily present in the studio too. Both serve as concrete assertions of Superfood’s own brand of Britpop brilliance – they clearly nod nostalgically to that bygone era but they ooze originality and ingenuity to such an extent that it’s a tough task to bring any other band into play by way of comparison." Listen to the album HERE.

10. The Black Keys - 'Turn Blue'
'Turn Blue' was the eighth studio album by The Black Keys, and the duo's fourth collaboration with producer Danger Mouse. The sessions coincided with singer Dan Auerbach's divorce from his wife, which seems to have inspired much of the album's more melancholy lyrics and moody tone. Holding a crap posthumous Michael Jackson LP off the top spot, the album debuted at number one in the United States and Australia, becoming the duo's first record to top the charts in either country. A seductive, hook-laden blend of heartbroken soul, RnB, southern rock and funk that comes with an added psychedelic twist, 'Turn Blue' proves itself to be their masterpiece, pushing the quality of their songwriting to new levels while adding refreshing new ingredients. Irresistibly funky, with a raw, soul bleeding vibe, the LP displays a duo who have become even better at doing the things they were already great at. 

9. Plank - 'Hivemind' (Akoustik Anarkhy Records)
Manchester trio Plank! released a debut album entitled 'Animalism' in 2012 and elaborate on these themes of nature with the follow-up 'Hivemind', a superb album inspired by "the millions of arthropods without which our global eco-system could not survive." And indeed the 10 track LP is rather insect-like in a lot of ways: its movements are rhythmically odd, it has many legs, and like some insects, it is also capable of flying exploratively. A masterfully crafted blend of prog, post-rock, electronica and Krautrock, 'Hivemind' succeeds in exploring structural possibilities and forever journeying to different habitats, yet it's also a cohesive set of songs that fit together superbly as one inspired idea. Read the full review and listen to the album HERE.

8. D-Pulse - 'Consequenced' (Vernal Records)
'Consequenced' is the long awaited debut album from Saint-Petersburg based trio D-Pulse. For the past few years the band's melancholic sound, echoing from the numerous factories and forests of their home city, Izhevsk, fused with exceptional production, has established D-Pulse as one of the most vivid and respected live acts on the contemporary Russian indie and electronic music scene. Championed by the likes of Laurant Garnier, Paul Oakenfold, James Zabiela, Sandy Riviera, Gui Borrato and Snoop Dogg, for the 'Consequenced' album D-Pulse focused on exploring relations between sound and visuals, adding lots of generative algorithms into their live audiovisual performance. DJ Times called it "a nine-track journey through experimental soundscapes. Fusing organic elements with analog synths and drum machines, the trio delivers a set of rich, chilled-out productions... Consequenced is a deep and emotional trip perfect for the onset of fall. Listen to the album HERE.

7. Mark Morriss - 'A Flash Of Darkness' (Acid Jazz Records)
Life after Britpop has been kind to some and cruel to others. The Bluetones didn't do too badly as they continued all through the 00's with a faithful fanbase in tow, but had to make do without any hit singles and TV appearances after 2003. Deciding that they had done as much as they could, the band called it a day with a triumphant 'lap of honour' tour in 2011. Frontman Mark Morriss certainly doesn't seem lost without his former bandmates on his new solo album, where his ear for infectious melodies remains very much intact. It's just as enjoyable as his former band's work and contains some of his all-time greatest moments. Although 'A Flash Of Darkness' is his first post-Bluetones outing, his solo debut was a folk-infused record from 2008 called 'Memory Muscle', a low key affair that seemed more like a relaxed side project. Now, with all his creative energy going into his solo work, his new one is definitely a more assured and full bodied work that will undoubtedly please all Bluetones fans, and an album strong and confident enough to also win him new converts. It seems that carrying on by himself has gifted Mark Morriss a whole new lease of life, and 'A Flash Of Darkness' has confirmed him to be a great solo artist in his own right. Out of all the musical figures who emerged in the 90s, here is one still very much on top form. And he's certainly showing the more recent crop of guitar bands how memorable indie pop is done. Read the full review HERE and listen to the album HERE.

6. Damon Albarn - 'Everyday Robots' (XL Recordings)
It's been 11 years since the last Blur album, 20 years since 'Parklife' and 25 years since the illustrious musical career of Damon Albarn began. So it's unusual that it's taken so long for his first full solo LP to emerge. But this is a man who over the last decade has kept himself busy with Gorillaz, The Good The Bad And The Queen, Rocketjuice And The Moon, DRC Music and various other projects, as well as a couple of previous low key solo outings. 2000's 'Democrazy' was a limited edition mini album of demos, with a number of tracks later being fully fleshed out as Gorillaz songs. Meanwhile, 2012's 'Dr Dee' was a "folk opera" based on the life of a Victorian scientist, but half of the tracks were operatic pieces performed by the cast. All other Albarn projects have featured bandmates, collaborators and special guests, making the superb 'Everyday Robots' the British icon's first proper solo record. Again, he gives us something slightly different. When Damon first revealed he was making a solo album in 2011, he initially claimed that it revolved around a concept of "empty club music", and later in 2013 revealed that it had a "folk-soul" sound. With the album complete and hitting the shops this week, it proves itself to be an introspective delight, with each song rooted in Albarn's real-life experiences: "lyrically it took me a long time. I wanted it to be about my life, in a way, and I went right back to... it sort of starts in 1976." 

The instrumentation throughout is often minimal and beautifully organic, with subtle and cleverly placed touches of electronics that emphasise a human vs machine theme. Continuing to prove that there is life beyond Britpop, he sounds liberated by finally putting his own name to an album and being able to say "this is Damon Albarn". With a wistfully poetic thread running through it, 'Everyday Robots' is a wonderfully profound piece of work that and another record that Albarn can add to his catalogue of greats. At last he has let us into his own world, and judging by this evidence, we can only be thankful for that. Read the full review HERE and listen to the album HERE.

5. East India Youth - 'Total Strife Forever' (The Quietus Phonographic Corporation)
It's always sad when a great band breaks up, especially if they never achieved the success they deserved. British indie combo Doyle And The Fourfathers were a hugely promising group who split in 2012 after one wonderful, but unnoticed debut album. However, there was a major silver lining around the cloud as frontman William Doyle returned with a bold and unexpected new electronic solo project that has already gained him more acclaim than ever before. And when I first heard his work as East India Youth, I was hugely impressed at how natural Doyle sounded within his new musical surroundings, taking to a majorly new way of working like a duck to water. On the brilliantly inventive 'Total Strife Forever', he lets his imagination free and demonstrates his effortless flexibility as a musician. With his previous work in mind, starting a debut solo album with the glitchy beauty and digital/analogue drones of 'Glitter Recession' is something that demonstrates a great deal of confidence. Sounding like a man determined to make his work as unclassifiable as possible, Doyle fuses genres and influences effortlessly to create something that sounds very much like 2014 should. Clever, enjoyable, uncompromising and highly recommended. Read the full review HERE and listen to the album HERE.

4. James - 'La Petite Mort' (Cooking Vinyl Records)
'La Petite Mort' is the 11th full-length effort from Manchester indie legends James, and their first new material in four years. It was written after frontman Tim Booth had to come to terms with the deaths of both his mother and one of his closest friends, experiences that have shaped and influenced the themes and tones of this elevating new record. "They were two very opposite experiences," says Booth, "my mother died in my arms at the age of 90. It was a quite beautiful experience, euphoric; it felt like a birth. And then my friend went. She had kept her cancer from me, and I didn’t get to say goodbye. I was devastated.”

Overwhelming emotions can bring something out from the soul, leading to rich flows of inspiration that can translate into powerful artistic expression. But 'La Petite Mort' never sounds morbid, and although it's sometimes dark, sad and thought provoking, it's actually an inspiring, uplifting and euphoric piece of work that (amongst other things) looks at the idea that death may not be the end. A definite rejuvenation also coincides with the group all recording together again, following two mini albums from 2010 which involved the band members sending each other their individual ideas to work on. As a result of reconnecting with each other, this is a set of songs that succeeds in capturing their seismic live energy. Over 30 years into their career, and James are making some of their best music. Although they split for six years in the early 2000's, not many bands last as long as James have, and to hear them making music as strong and potent as this after 30 years is an absolute joy. 'La Petite Mort' is a dazzling addition to their discography and easily their finest collection of songs in years. Read the full review HERE and listen to the album HERE.

3. The Phantom Band - 'Strange Friend' (Chemikal Underground Records)
There are a lot of bands who attempt to mix various genres together and end up with an interesting, yet often messy result. Then there are lots of others who are good with melodies but too ordinary to stand out from the rest. Glasgow six piece The Phantom Band are neither of these things. What they are is an open minded, forward thinking outfit with the ability to create a unique, cohesive sound from a range of styles that really shouldn't fit together, while threading it all together with the sort of ear grabbing tunes that only truly great songwriting can produce. Admittedly their third LP 'Strange Friend' is a grower that takes time to absorb, but aren't all the best albums these days? It's their first new material in over 3 years and follows 2010's highly impressive 'The Wants'. And this time they've nailed it. In terms of songwriting, they've clearly reached a new level. Wonderfully constructed mixtures of folk, krautrock, prog, indie, power pop and psychedelica are lit up by magnificent instrumentation, as the band's musical chemistry takes the songs in fascinating directions. 'Strange Friend' is one of those records that really will bring you joy. Don't deprive yourself of its magic. Read the full review and listen to the album HERE.

2. Stephen Jones - 'Ambition Expired' (Bandcamp, Self Released)
The first full-length album to bear ex Babybird cult hero Stephen Jones' own name since 2003's 'Almost Cured Of Sadness' finds the Sheffield-based musical genius delivering a breathtaking set of strange, beautiful and transcendental pieces. 

As well as recording under the familiar Babybird moniker, Jones has also made music as Death Of The Neighbourhood, The Great Sadness, Trucker and Black Reindeer, each project offering something a little different. As well as releasing at least 13 albums under the latter alias over the last couple of years, the bafflingly underrated songwriter and musician has long been promising a new project that "will replace" Babybird, but this is not it. It's nothing like 'Almost Cured Of Sadness' either. Instead, it's something beautifully unique that Jones recorded at home and released via his BandCamp page. Don't be fooled by the low key nature of the release, this record is a superb piece of work, and one of Jones' finest. There is no press release accompanying 'Ambition Expired', just a doodle and some jotted words that describe this work as "an album with mind altering musical substance" that "involves no effort from the listener" since "ears will throw aside the mind for one simple hour". On BandCamp, a short blurb lists it as "a trip, not an album". 
It's not as moody and cinematic as Black Reindeer, nor is it anything like the twisted pop songs of Babybird, what 'Ambition Expired' offers is an hour of music to lose yourself in. Before listening, you must free yourself of all distractions. Relax. Put on a pair of headphones. Press play and don't do anything else for the next 60 minutes. 
Despite selling over two million records worldwide, Jones has never compromised the intelligence of his music for the mainstream, and has a deep hatred of mass marketed insipidness. With his talent for the unusal, why would he want to conform to sounding like everyone else? We need people like this man, who make this world a more interesting place by challenging the norm and going against the grain. It's not likely to sell truckloads of copies and you're not going to be hearing any of it on the radio. It's one of those well kept secrets tucked away in a weird little corner of the internet that you might be lucky enough to discover. Treat yourself to something different and let Stephen Jones take you on a journey that many others are unfortunate enough to be missing out on. 'Ambition Expired' is immersive, euphoric and magical. Read the full review and listen to the album HERE.

1. Temples - 'Sun Structures' (Heavenly Recordings)
Away from the spotlight of the mainstream, the last few years have seen the growth of a new psychedelic movement which has taken alternative music back to more interesting and ambitious places. Following on from the successes of The Horrors and Tame Impala as well as the emergence of many other nu-psych acts comes the arrival of a band who could take the whole thing to new levels.Temples only formed two years ago and have since blazed their way to critical acclaim with a number of outstanding singles, all of which are present on this, their awe inspiring debut album. 

Songwriters James Bagshaw (vocals/guitar) and Thomas Warmsley (bass/vocals) were previously members of mod revivalists The Moons, so a fondness for retro is something the pair have been known for. But there's a vitalising power in the music of Temples that transcends it above being a mere replica or imitation of the past. If anything, it invents its own version of the present, reconnecting with the far-out vibes of the 60's while bringing new ideas into the mix and always employing a refreshingly forward-thinking approach. By embedding an ear-catching sense of melody into their music and wiring the past to the present in an imaginative yet accessible way, Temples have raised the bar. The new wave of 21st century psychedelica produces a modern classic. Read the full review HERE and listen to 'Sun Structures' HERE.

50 - 41 can be found HERE.
40 - 31 can be found HERE.
RW/FF's favourite tracks of 2014 can be heard on this mixtape HERE.

LISTEN: 2014: The Best Of

My favourite tracks of the year, compiled into two highly enjoyable compilations. To hear truly great new music in 2014, you often had to dig very deep for it. While the mainstream missed out, those lucky enough to hear this year's finest sounds enjoyed a bumper year. RW/FF managed to find so many amazing records over the past year, that it was incredibly hard to narrow it all down to a simple two part compilation. 

While part 1 journeys through psychedelica, dance, Krautrock and electronica, the 2nd part takes a more indie-based route. There's some very interesting stuff in here many won't have had the chance to hear before, so listen and enjoy.

Both parts can be played via Mixcloud below.

RW/FF's top 50 Albums Of 2014 can be found HERE.
and an expanded 2014 playlist featuring over 100 tracks can be found HERE on Spotify: 



Sunday, 28 December 2014

2014: The Albums Of The Year - 40-31

So yet another music site publishes yet another Albums Of The Year list. Except this one is quite a different 'end of year list', since it has been put together at the end of the year as opposed to in October/November like many music websites hurriedly opted to. Some people forget that the world of music doesn't simply come to a complete stop during the last two months of the year. This way everything that has reached my ears in 2014 has a chance to feature in the end-of-year list. My tracks of the year can be heard on a two-part Best Of 2014 mixtape, which you can find HERE. Here are the 50 albums that rocked RW/FF's world over the last 12 months...

40. Mark Chadwick - 'Moment' (On The Fiddle Recordings)
Levellers frontman Mark Chadwick released his second solo LP earlier this year. For Mark, the album is ‘an honest look at drink, life and love’ and particularly his relationship with the former and its effects on the latter two. Don’t go expecting a ‘rehab’ record however, for Mark that process is ‘one-size fits all and I did not fit the size’ , trusting instead to confront that addiction and its cure through his music, ‘in a sensible and a, hopefully, insightful way’. As a songwriter and recording artist for over 25 years the ten tracks also see Mark taking stock of his journey to date and, to a degree, looking forward to the next chapter. Listen to 'Moment' via Spotify HERE.

39. Sophie Ellis Bextor - 'Wanderlust' (EBGB's Records)
People will be surprised at how brilliant this record is. 'Wanderlust' is her fifth album and was co-written with Ed Harcourt, featuring 11 wonderfully atmospheric songs that bring out the very best in SEB's talents. It has to be said that there are a couple of dodgy moments, but the highlights make up for its flaws. On this album Bextor abandons the disco-pop in favour of beautifully organic moments that are perfectly suited to her voice and sometimes recall her early days as lead singer of late 90's post-Britpop indie types theaudience. I still love that band and always will. 'Wanderlust' debuted on the UK Albums Chart at number four, becoming her highest-charting solo album since 2001's 'Read My Lips'... Listen to 'Wanderlust' via Spotify HERE.

38. Headman/Robi Insinna - '6' (Relish Recordings)
Swiss DJ and producer Robi Insinna has been remixing the likes of Doves, Franz Ferdinand and many others under his Headman alias for over a decade now, yet there are aren't many who will be aware of his own music, let alone the fact that he is now on his fifth album. Despite being his fifth, it's entitled '6' and is released via his own Relish Recordings label. It's an eclectic and highly collaborative work that was created largely using analogue electronics and even a bit of good old fashioned tape delay. Overall it's eclectic and multi faceted, while retaining a sense of identity with the use of analogue electronic sounds, and the collaborators all seem to bring their own shades of colour to the record. One or two overlong and under-par moments, but mostly '6' is an entertaining and irresistibly movement-inducing set of tunes. Read the full review, and listen to the album HERE.

37. Gulp - 'Season Sun'
Back in April, RW/FF discovered Gulp for the first time: "Sometimes there are still rare occasions when the musical world does feel like a small place. Like over the last few days I have been listening to an amazing track from a band called Gulp, without having read any info about this group. All I knew was that the deliciously moody 'Vast Space' is a darkly wondrous thing blending surf guitars with driving psychedelic vibes. So imagine my amazement when I found out that Gulp are in fact a side project of Super Furry Animals bassist Guto Pryce. With SFA currently still on a lengthy hiatus, it's good to see that it's not just Gruff keeping himself busy...". The album arrived a while later, with Louder Than War declaring it "an agreeable blend of compelling melodies and subtle twists that ensure that Gulp have produced a debut that shows originality and huge potential." Read their review HERE, and stream the album on Spotify HERE.

36. Dark Horses - 'Hail Lucid State'
Described as "sonic soul art rockers", the UK five piece Dark Horses follow up last year's debut 'Black Music' with a strengthy second full-length that sees them deliver on their promise in a way their first offering failed to. Venturing into similar territories visited by the likes of Esben And The Witch, Savages and (somewhat surprisingly) the Sneaker Pimps, there are also heavy shades of shoegaze-infused post punk combined with touches of dark psychedelica. 'Hail Lucid State' was produced by Death In Vegas man Richard Fearless, who lends the band's sound a unique edge. While their debut LP from last year gave only occasional glimpses of their potential, Dark Horses have developed a more accomplished sound, and a standard of songwriting that has moved them up to a new level. Melodic, dark, atmospheric, and with stellar production from Fearless, it's post-punk psych rock burning with soul and energy. Read the full review and hear the album HERE.

35. Cherry Ghost - 'Herd Runners' (Heavenly Recordings)
A lovely record, beautifully melancholic but dreamily hopeful. 'Herd Runners' is the band's third album. "Exploring different styles has helped my own songs,” says frontman and songwriter Simon Aldred, “Musicians need to stretch themselves and keep on learning... These songs aren’t as dark as those on previous records. This time round I thought it was important to keep a real empathy for the people I’m writing about.” Recorded in Sheffield with long-term Richard Hawley collaborator Colin Elliot and mixed in Bath with Dan Austin, 'Herd Runners' is described in a press release as "ten perfectly crafted tales of heartbreak and hope." Listen to the album in full via Spotify HERE.

34. Camera - 'Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide' (Bureau B Records)
Repetitive yet progressively explorative, the debut album from the Berlin-based group Camera is a brilliant thing. 'Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide' combines recrafted jams and impulsive improvisation to great effect across the 12 tracks to create what sounds very much to my ears like a modern Krautrock classic. During the forceful 'Roehre', a chunky driving rhythm provides the momentum as snarling drones of bass and guitar do battle with squealing free jazz sax and subtle electronics. Explosive and sensationally addictive. The album was released via the brilliant Bureau B label. Tagged "Krautrock Guerillas" by fellow Berliners for crashing award ceremonies and jamming in Berlin Train stations, the excellent Camera are beyond hipster tags. Have a listen to the album on Spotify HERE.

33. Jimi Goodwin - 'Odludek' (Heavenly Records)
A lot of the time when a frontman of a well loved group goes solo, the resulting material can sometimes end up sounding a bit like their usual band but not quite as good. While Manchester trio Doves have been on hiatus for the last four years, Jimi Goodwin steps out into the musical world with his very own debut offering. It's by no means a low-key affair either, more of a wild adventure at times. “I wanted it to be like that crazy mixtape you’d make your mate which had everything from Duke Ellington to some mad hip-hop track you’d just heard, and back again,” says Goodwin. “That’s how I listen to music, and I wanted to make an album that reflected that. The last thing I wanted it to sound like was some geezer who was in a band. I don’t like being pegged.” A surprising, diverse and strongly assured solo debut from a man who has defied and surpassed expectations. At times a slow burner perhaps, but plenty to enjoy. Read the full review HERE, and listen to the album via Spotify HERE.

32. NLF3 - 'Pink Renaissance' (Prohibited Records)
Each new album from French trio NLF3 holds the promise of some “cinema for your ears”, banishing any impressions of having heard it all before, and 'Pink Renaissance' is no exception to the rule, with its vow of a “new start”, a synthetic synthesis where the electronic melts into the organic. With 'Pink Renaissance' they drag themselves from the darkness and walk into light, a veritable kaleidoscope of light in fact, sporting generous electronics and heavy bass. Pulsing with hope, calm and freedom, yet tinged with a little of the sadness that always accompanies a time of transition, Pink Renaissance is surprising in the current climate of gloominess: sensitive and sensual. Listen to the album in full via Spotify HERE.

31. Trucker - 'Songs To Truck To' (Self Released, Bandcamp)
It doesn't take long for former Babybird man Stephen Jones to make albums. I've lost count of the amount of music he's released during 2014. However, this one doesn't bear his name, neither is it another instrumental set of atmospheric pieces from his Black Reindeer project. This is another alter-ego, Trucker. The beautifully understated 'Radioactive Stars' is pretty much the only track of its kind on 'Songs To Truck To', a spacious and euphoric electro lullaby that glows sweetly. It feels slightly out of place amongst the other pieces here, and could probably be considered relatively normal compared to what surrounds it. The remainder of the 72 minute drive provides us with some of Jones' strangest work to date, heavily electronic and themed entirely around trucking. These ideas must come from a part of his brain that other people don't have.

As well as intergalactic ambient techno, nocturnal garage grooves, warped hip hop, spacey synth ballads, and dreamy piano laments, there's the acid house trucking anthem 'I Like To Truck', and the genuinely sinister 'Something's In The Back Of My Truck' which conjures up all sorts of dark images, as well as capturing the heavy weariness of long distance overnight driving. The spoken word bit at the end is particularly exceptionally twisted. All vocals are delivered in a seedy deep Southern USA accent, highlighting Jones' ability to slip into the roles of convincing characters. Amongst many other diverse and weird things, we get the acid electronica of the spiralling 'Motherfuckingtruckerfucker' and the unsettling varispeed vocals on 'I Dream About My Truck When I'm Driving Her', describing a scene in a motel room, sticking "duct tape newspaper to the window" and keeping "a gun under my pillow, next to a picture of my third wife". It's moments like these that make you wonder if Jones leaves his windows open whilst recording the bizarre vocals and creepy spoken word segments. What must his neighbours think? Only a true maverick like Jones could create something this fucked-up and brilliant. Listen to the album via Bandcamp HERE.

30-1 can be found HERE.
50-41 can be found HERE.
RW/FF's favourite tracks of 2014 can be heard on this mixtape HERE.