The year’s closing in on us like night on day, and the internet is breathing in music and breathing out list upon list of the best music to have emerged in the last twelve months. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we kind of like lists. They’re our currency, what we work with and what we work towards. So the end of the year is a fun time for us here at WWL. Today we launch our Albums Of The Year list, and soon enough we’ll hold both the We Write Lists Awards and throw our soothsayer’s hat into the ring with our Tips For 2011. I almost wrote ’2001′ there, so maybe we’ll throw that in too. Tips For 2001. Should be a pretty safe bet, no? (I’m hearing good things about this Nelly Furtado…)
Anyway, 2010 has been a spectacular year for music, and limiting ourselves to twenty albums has been painful – it’s meant that some of our favourite artists (Sufjan Stevens, Allison Crowe, Joanna Newsom, Belle & Sebastian…) didn’t quite make the cut. There are a couple of surprise entries here and, of course, no less than twenty phenomenal albums. You’d do well to go out and buy each and every one of them.
20. The School – Loveless Unbeliever
The debut album by Cardiff band The School is a fresh burst of the shimmering Sixties pop that Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura have been throwing our way for the past few years. There are certainly elements of both in Loveless Unbeliever, and the album arguably sounds more like Belle and Sebastian the band’s own 2010 effort. But there’s more to the band than an instantly recognisable sound – The School throw in a few more handclaps, an irresistable innocence and some really wonderful hooks, best demonstrated here on ‘Hoping and Praying’ and ‘I Want You Back’. Loveless Unbeliever is perhaps not the most groundbreaking album of the year, but it’s certainly one of the most fun.
19. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
As a rule, we at WWL try not to judge musicians on their personal lives. If we did, we probably wouldn’t listen to all that much music. We judge musicians, controversially, on their music. Strange, I know. And so, fresh back from all his Imma Gonna Let You Finish-ing, we approach Kanye West’s latest album with open ears. And how happy we were with the results. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a breathtaking album. Over the course of just over an hour, West rips apart the genre and stitches it right back up again in an altogether more exciting and invigorating package. West has never sounded better.
18. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
For all the brilliance of Kanye’s album, it should have donated its title to Monae’s The ArchAndroid. Not since Ziggy Stardust has such a beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy existed. One of two concept albums on the list this year, Monae’s record is a hugely impressive feat. Stunning and expansive, it’s the most imaginative album WWL has heard in a long time. The ArchAndroid flicks from genre to genre with an easy mixture of glee and effortlessness. On tracks like ‘Faster’ and ‘Tightrope’ Monae demonstrates her abilities not just as a singer but as a modern interpreter of the soul and R&B genres. Though The ArchAndroid deserves to be noted simply for the brilliance that lies within, it should also be given credit for bringing to light the most exciting artist of the next few years.
17. Julia Stone – The Memory Machine
A solo effort from either of the Stone siblings, best known as the duo Angus and Julia, is worth at least a listen. In the case of The Memory Machine it’s worth a fair few repeat listens, too. A slight step away from her work with Angus, the album is woozy, and beautiful, and though it offers perhaps nothing too original, what it does offer is a sterling collection of songs that will suit your ears as well for the cold winter as they will the warm summer evenings. There are echoes of Newsom at times, and Stone’s dulcet tones are key to the inherent loveliness of the record. The Memory Machine is a record with arms. And if that doesn’t quite make sense to you, buy it, and listen to it, and experience the wonder of being hugged by an album. Cosiness has never been so heartfelt.
16. Our Broken Garden – Golden Sea
From the tidal piano that opens the album to lead singer Anna Bronsted’s haunting vocals, Our Broken Garden’s debut album is bewitching. There are elements of some truly fantastic musicians here – certainly one could pick out the influences of Radiohead or Bjork from the woozy sadness of Golden Sea, but the unique qualities that make the album such a rare moment in music are all the band’s own. One of the most underrated albums of 2010, Golden Sea has found a home in the hearts of WWL, and will be soundtracking late night train journeys and walks through cold winter landscapes for years to come yet.
15. She & Him – Volume Two
Two years ago we were posting our Best Of 2008 lists over at the now defunct This Fine Social Scene, and top of the album list by some way was She & Him’s spectacular debut. As its title hints, Volume Two is the band’s second record, and though it lacks some of the sentimentality and soulful longing of Volume One the album is still a fine collection of recorded music. Opener ‘Theives’ captures singer Zooey Deschanel’s unique and bewilderingly gorgeous voice at its best, and carries it wonderfully across originals and covers alike. Listen after listen Volume Two holds up, and grows. It takes some fifteen plays for the listener to realise it, but the closing lullaby ‘If You Can’t Sleep’ deserves to be sung lovingly in children’s bedrooms up and down the country.
14. Marina & the Diamonds – The Family Jewels
A debut that has been a long-time coming, WWL has been following Marina Diamandis since first we heard ‘Obsessions’ back in late 2007. It was a slow-burning ballad to human flaws, and in many ways the theme continues throughout The Family Jewels. Usually the ‘Isn’t Fame Difficult?’ album doesn’t reveal itself until the second or third release by an artist, but Marina throws herself into the modern world of celebrity with equal parts awe and disgust. The album rockets along, with key tracks ‘Are You Satisfied’, ‘Shampain’ and breakthrough hit ‘Hollywood’ all swiping cynically at the world Diamandis is trying so desperately to be a part of. If any fresh talent deserves a moment of celebrity though, its Marina & the Diamonds, and anyone who disagrees can listen to the grandeur of ‘Numb’ and realise that we have here a talent unlike most.
13. Sleigh Bells – Treats
And with a musical explosion, and the volume way up, Treats opens. It’s reinvigorating – music on a sugar high, exciting and violent. ‘Tell ‘Em’ first caught our attention tearing through the 6 Music playlist like a shark through the ocean, blood in the water. Sleigh Bells make you want to move, but you can’t quite work out in which way. They make you want to sing, but there’s something too unpredictable about it all. They are music to soundtrack experiences beyond that which you might ever have. They are entirely uninterested in trends and charts. They are the coolest band of the year. They are the only people who I will ever let sample Funkadelic, on the euphoric ‘Rill Rill’. In a year when Bombay Bicycle Club took to reviewing their own album with its very title (Flaws), Sleigh Bells followed suit and released a much needed injection into the music world.
12. The Living Sisters – Love To Live
A world apart from the aural invasion of Sleigh Bells, The Living Sisters take inspiration for debut Love To Live from vocal harmony groups of days long past. Though their position in this chart confirms better albums have been released this year, none have been lovelier than Love To Live. There’s such a familial feel to the record – though the sisters in question aren’t actually related, the album has the consistency of an act who know and love each other as though they did share parents. As much indebted to friends of the band She & Him as they are to Les Paul, or The Andrews Sisters, Love To Live is an album to share, and an album to keep, and an album to love.
11. Ed Harcourt – Lustre
There was a time when Ed Harcourt was the critics’ darling, loved in reviews but barely acknowledged by the public. Now, unfortunately, nobody seems to pay much attention at all. It’s a devastating shame because both musically and lyrically Harcourt has never been better. We needn’t cover the title track here – we’ll get to that another time – but across the course of the album’s eleven tracks Harcourt crafts a near-perfect pop record for grown-ups. He has matured in every aspect – a fact evidenced by the wonderful final track ‘Fears of a Father’, but the album is at its best when Harcourt lets go with enthusiastic pop choruses, as with ‘Do As I Say Not What I Do’. Hopefully Lustre will be enough to make sure that his next album goes noticed, but we won’t be holding our breath.
10. Rumer – Seasons Of My Soul
As long as WWL is involved in music we will be proud to say that we had Rumer’s first ever online interview – not simply because it was a real coup, and the mark of how far our little website had come in a year, but also because we genuinely believe Rumer to be one of the most talented singers of the new millennium so far. It’s easy enough for critics to claim Rumer is little more than a Karen Carpenter impersonator, but should they ever have to provide evidence, they’ll struggle. Seasons Of My Soul demonstrates Rumer as what she really is – a magnificent singer and songwriter. A friend recently likened the album to Carole King’s Tapestry and in many ways he was right. ‘Goodbye Girl’ is a deceptively simple song that works exceptionally and, alongside ‘Slow’ and ‘Aretha’ could well be standards in the English songbook just a few short years from now. In most any other year, Seasons Of My Soul would be in the top three of this list, but all that goes to demonstrate is the quality of the albums left to go…
9. Stornoway – Beachcomber’s Windowsill
Oxford boys singing under the name of a rural town on a Scottish island were always going to be a folk band of sorts, but they certainly didn’t have to be this good. A surprise of the year, Beachcomber’s Windowsill is an absolutely exceptional record. ‘Zorbing’ is exhuberent and yet restrained, with a cheerful brass section and Vince Guaraldi’s piano flittering about occasionally. ‘We Are The Battery Human’ is possibly the most enjoyable cynical statement of the year – a call to arms against, well, sitting inside typing away on your keyboard. I feel guilty already. Too many comparisons have been made between Stornoway and Mumford & Sons, though – there is perhaps a little more sentiment in the former’s work, a little more heart. Beachcomber’s Windowsill was one of the year’s most unexpected treats, and 2010 was all the better for it.
8. School of Seven Bells – Disconnect From Desire
It’s hard to tell just who the key to School of Seven Bells is. It could be Benjamin Curtis, the guitarist formerly of Secret Machines and Tripping Daisy. Listen carefully and you can certainly pick up the influence of the latter – a band led by The Polyphonic Spree’s Tim Delaughter – on the altogether more dream pop sound of SoSB. There’s a dark sort of glee to tracks like ‘Windstorm’ and ‘I L U’. But then, perhaps the key is the set of twins at the centre of the band’s vocals – a key factor on the eerie beauty of much of the album’s content. Regardless, Disconnect From Desire is an album that takes you at once, and wraps itself around you, engulfing you in a warming arithmetic of music and vocals, sound and lyrical imagery. As with all the best aritsts, SoSB manage to elicit emotion from the listener – here it’s a heady mixture of sadness and euphoria.
7. Lucky Soul – A Coming Of Age
The year’s underrated genre has certainly been retro-pop, though perhaps this is a good thing – that description has never quite done justice to the sound of bands like The School or Lucky Soul. A Coming Of Age is Lucky Soul’s second album, and in many ways a big step up from their already great debut. Here is an album bold and brave with its hooks and themes – a record that, had it been released around the time of Duffy’s 2008 album could have been absolutely massive. ‘Love³’ is jubilant and wary, and as such entirely representative of the album as a whole – bright pop tunes underlined with much darker lyrics. There are moments of great country music (‘Upon Hilly Fields’), slow-burning big band (‘Could Be I Don’t Belong Anywhere’) and, in the utterly tremendous title track, the greatest Bond theme never to be written for a Bond film. Anyone who doesn’t think the next Bond film should be called A Coming Of Age is entirely wrong.
6. The Pipettes – Earth Vs. The Pipettes
Left-field choice alert! With their sophmore record, The Pipettes presented an almost entirely different experience to their fans – gone were polka dots, two of the three band members and Spectoresque production, in came remaining member Gwenno’s little sister, an altogether more 80s sound and songs so lively that they make the band’s debut look like a collection of b-sides by The Smiths. Cynics should never listen to Earth Vs. The Pipettes – they’d risk going extinct. Whether or not this is credible pop is up for debate (probably not) but like it or not, there isn’t a single person in England who could keep their feet still during ‘Ain’t No Talkin”, ‘Call Me’, ‘Finding My Way’, ‘History’ or… well, most of the songs present here. You remember earlier when we called The School’s album ‘one of the most fun albums of the year’? Earth Vs. The Pipettes is the sole reason we couldn’t be more definitive. A fantastic, fun and utterly irresistable record.
5. John Grant – Queen Of Denmark
It’s almost upsetting to think that for a while there John Grant wasn’t going to make more music; it took Midlake to draw him back to touring and then, fortunately for us all, to the studio. The resulting album, Queen Of Denmark, is the most gorgeous of records. Drenched in heartbreak and sadness, Grant sings with great emotion and great humour. The songs are everything a song should be – witty, dry, intelligently written and gorgeously played (by backing band Midlake). ‘I Wanna Go To Marz’ is as inspiring as it is devastating, all Exorcist piano and Twin Peaks guitars. ‘Sigourney Weaver’ is the most beautiful song ever to use an actress as a metaphor for life’s bigger issues, and ‘JC Hates Faggots’ is synth-filled, and wonderful, and wry, and angry, and at once so singular and yet so representative of everyone that is so boldly exhilarating about Queen of Denmark.
4. Anaïs Mitchell – Hadestown
Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid was certainly the year’s most ambitious concept album – its original story conceived through solid R&B songs, but it’s in Hadestown that we find the year’s most coherent, and best, concept album. Mitchell, previously behind three albums of enjoyable but unremarkable folk. With Hadestown she has now presented to us an elaborate opera (complete with an A-list folk cast featuring Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, a member of The Low Anthem and Ani DiFranco, amongst others) reimagining the classical tale of Orpheus and Eurydice in a prohibition-era America. It’s an odd career decision, but also the best one Mitchell is ever likely to make – the record is equal parts ethereal and raucous (the latter best demonstrated on ‘Way Down Hadestown’ and ‘Our Lady Of The Underground’. Mitchell gets the most out of her cast, most notably on album highlight ‘Why We Build The Wall’ in which Greg Brown’s gravelly voice leads a brainwashing chant unlike anything else put on record in recent years. But then, that’s what Hadestown is, through and through: a unique album, conceived and executed flawlessly.
3. Midlake – The Courage Of Others
In a sense, this is Midlake’s second appearance in the top five (if we include their pivotal role in the creation of Queen of Denmark). It’s well deserved too – not many bands could find themselves so heavily involved in two of the best albums of the year, let alone manage to record them both at the same time. But Midlake recorded Queen of Denmark with John Grant in the evenings between working on this, their third record. There’s something very dark and restrained about The Courage of Others, and it feels very much like a private work of art, something that wasn’t meant for outside consumption. This unique sound is vital to the success of the record, though, drawing the listener into a sort of darkness, a form, almost, of sensory deprivation. When one listens to The Courage Of Others one feels, albeit for just 42 minutes, as if there is nothing else beyond it. The best tracks are those that are incomparable, and almost indescribable – the title track, the opening track and ‘Rulers, Ruling All Things’. Elsewhere, though, ‘Bring Down’ is perhaps the most like mid-nineties Radiohead that folk is ever likely to get.
2. Music Go Music – Expressions
Every tube journey. Every single one. We palm the yellow pad with our oyster card, step through the barriers and place our headphones over our ears. Expressions is what we put on. Every. Single. Time. The debut album from L.A.’s Music Go Music is unlike anything else being released right now. It is, however, quite a bit like a great deal of things released thirty-five odd years ago. There’s Blondie, there’s a little ELO, there’s a heck of a lot of Abba and, in one glorious closing moment, there’s a fair bit of The Carpenters too. But there’s more to Expressions than retrospective joy. The album is an unstoppable force, musically, throwing itself from song to song with the sort of enthusiasm most bands fail to muster over the course of their entire career. Expressions is a singalong record, and a dancealong record, and a try-you-damnedest-to-not-freak-out-the-other-tube-passengers-with-your-dancing record. Take any song from this album and there’s a ready-made single; it’s a feat of horrific marketing that more people don’t own it. ‘Light Of Love’ and ‘Explorers Of The Heart’ could earn a place in any old disco fan’s heart as easily as they could in any young pop fan’s. ‘Warm In The Shadows’ is cultivated for clubs. ‘Goodbye, Everybody’ could have been Radio 2′s most popular song of the year. Buy Music Go Music. See Music Go Music. Do whatever you can to get Music Go Music into your life. They deserve it and you know what? So do you.
1. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
In the simplest of terms, I Speak Because I Can is one of the greatest records ever made. It would seem hyperbolic to make such a claim about any other album that had only been out for only nine months, but with Marling’s second effort it seems almost an understatement. In fact, even calling the album her ‘second effort’ seems wrong, because there isn’t a single moment on the record that seems to fit that – nothing is forced, nothing is out of place. Each note falls exactly as it should, Marling’s vocals are delivered with the conviction of a woman who believes in not only every word she sings but every in emotion she alludes to, and in every single sound that makes it onto the recording, right down to the tiny breaths she takes between lines. From the humble beginnings of Alas I Cannot Swim Marling has gone on to understand the fine art in music, the anticipation of sound that makes a record truly special. Don’t ask us to name a favourite track – we’ll just list all ten, in a different order each time. We suppose it was inevitable, inviting our favourite musicians onto the site each week to write about their six favourite albums, that eventually we’d come to consider our own. Here’s a clue, though: I Speak Because I Can has a firm place on our Six Albums list, and it’s going to take some beating to knock it off.
And with that, we round off our Best Albums of 201o list. Are we right? (Yes) Are we wrong? (No) Feel free to drop your favourite albums of the year in the comments section. And there are more lists to come! Next Wednesday we’ll announce our Songs Of The Year, and then soon after you’ll be seeing the WWL Tips For 2011.
December 8, 2010 1 Comment
Well, we’re decided. It was a painful 48 hours locked back in the WWL secret bunker, and someone chewed off a bit of my left index finger, but the Hg music panel – comprised of six judges from every corner of my Twitter friends list – have come to a decision. Using a variety of judging techniques, varying from spin-the-bottle to a version of Guess Who? that comprised entirely of popular French celebrities, we eventually narrowed our twelve competitors, drawn from the cream of Britain’s musical crop, down to one winner.
And so, without any more fuss, the winner of this year’s Hg Music Prize is… Laura Marling, for her phenomenal second album I Speak Because I Can! Laura wins the eternal respect of WWL, as well as a pint of the beer or cider of her choice*!
Though I cannot speak for my fellow judges, I was not prepared for I Speak Because I Can. Though I enjoyed Marling’s previous work, particularly ‘Ghosts’ and her vocals on fellow nominees Mystery Jets’ ‘Young Love’, there was something about her that I never quite caught on to, no matter how much my friends loved her. And so her second album hit me hard – a newer, more confident Marling armed now with powerful songs that were, in her own words, about ‘the responsiblity of womanhood’. How was I supposed to relate to such things? I don’t understand what it’s like to be a woman! I once had a wolf-whistle in the street, but I’m fairly sure that was sarcastic.
And yet I was drawn in. Marling’s lyrics drew me like a moth to a flame. I was, and still am, fascinated. How I could empathise so much with something I had such little experience of. But there is more to I Speak Because I Can than the power of Marling’s words – her vocals are gorgeous, and so very hers that they are bound to inspire legions of copycat Marlings over the next few years. The music has developed, too, a rich and varied sound, moving and breathing across the length of the album – changing from one song to another. Like all the best albums, there are no stand-out tracks on I Speak Because I Can – each song is life-enriching, and encouraging, and heart-breaking, and perfect.
I find it almost impossible to talk about our winning album, because I cannot quite hope to cover my love for the record. When I listen to it I am happy, but I am also sad. I am smiling, always, but my eyes are also always a little wetter than normal. I feature on this site, every week, the favourite Six Albums of singers and musicians. Perhaps the clearest way for me to define how I feel about the album is this: though only five and a half months old, I Speak Because I Can is one of my Six Albums.
As ever though, this is not to say anything negative about the eleven albums that did not win. Each of the albums nominated is an album I love – after all, I chose them from every English album released between August 2009 and July 2010. And, as I have said, the Hg is a prize chosen by a panel of judges, all of whom loved different albums, supported different artists. Laura Marling is the collaborative winner, but she found herself amidst tough competition.
The Top Half-Dozen:
1. ‘I Speak Because I Can’ – Laura Marling
2. ‘Sky At Night’ – I Am Kloot
3. ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’ – Stornoway
4. ‘Sigh No More’ – Mumford & Sons
5. ‘The First Days Of Spring’ – Noah and the Whale
6. ‘xx’ – The xx
*Pub, Laura? Whenever you like – I’m in London, for ease’s sake…
September 7, 2010 2 Comments
It has been just under a year since We Write Lists first burst forth into this world, crying and unsure quite what to do with itself. After the intial clean-up, our first action, way back in July 2009, was to create the Hg Music Prize – a periodic table-inspired rip-off of the Barclaycard Mercury Prize. Last year’s Hg went to the wonderful Emmy the Great, for her debut album First Love.
Much like the Mercury Prize, the Hg is open only to British acts who have released albums in the last twelve months – that is August 1st onwards, seeing as last years nominees were announced on July 30th. Albums can be of any genre, though there is this year a strong supply of folk-orientated music. Mainly because folk-orientated music is ruddy brilliant.
The award will ultimately be decided by a panel of friends, bloggers, maybe a musician or two, and myself – so though the result may not directly reflect my choice, it will at least be slightly fairer than my end of year list, during which I essentially run around my bedroom shouting out the name of my favourite album until I feel light-headed. Which is normally after about two circuits.
So, without further ado, the nominees for the Stephen Thomas Hg Music Prize 2010, complete with Spotify links for your enjoyment.
Ed Harcourt – Lustre (Spotify)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Spotify)
I Am Kloot – Sky at Night (Spotify)
Marina & the Diamonds – The Family Jewels (Spotify)
Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can (Spotify)
Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More (Spotify)
Mystery Jets – Serotonin (Spotify)
Noah and the Whale – First Days of Spring (Spotify)
Noisettes – Wild Young Hearts (Spotify)
Portico Quartet - Isla (Spotify)
Stornoway – Beachcomber’s Windowsill (Spotify)
The xx – xx (Spotify)
So, as you can see, a varied selection with a definite folk slant that also leaves room for pop, indie, alternative rock and instrumental jazz. Enjoy all of the albums, and the winner will be announced on September the 7th.
July 20, 2010 No Comments
I have a terrible tendency to jump on a bandwagon when it’s almost empty, and then brag to all the other riders once it starts to fill up. To this end, when I first heard a demo of Marina & the Diamond’s ‘Obsessions’ sometime in early 2008, I spent months telling everyone about how brilliant the song was, and then later many more months reminding them of how I was going on about Marina long before anyone else was, and aren’t I clever, and she actually is really succesful, unlike that time I went on about Alphabeat for months, right?
Still, satisfying my need to feel smug is not good enough a reason to go out of one’s way to catch Marina at Glasto this year. Instead, perhaps, go for the music – bursting with originality. Or the wry sense of self-deprecation ripe throughout Marina’s music. Or, simply Marina herself, who is really very pretty and likely to induce some dizzying sense of is-this-love-oh-wait-it-isn’t-but-still-she’s-very-pretty-isn’t-she? over the course of your average Diamonds show.
June 11, 2010 No Comments
It might just be the result of lazy journalism, or maybe it stems from the tendency for all verbose male singer-songwriters to be called ‘The new Dylan’, but it often seems that a female-led musical act that does not define itself instantly as pop is doomed to being burdened with the ‘new Kate Bush’ tag. Actually, this might not be entirely fair – many are described as the new Joni Mitchell, or Carol King. Still, there is a definite trend amongst journalists to describe acts that frequently feature flourishes of orchestration, unusual vocal techniques or a fashion sense that might seem out of place on the street as just another new Kate Bush. In the spirit of this (or rather, violently against the spirit of this) I present nine people who are very much not Kate Bush.
1. Joanna Newsom
Perhaps the most strikingly obvious a comparison in many senses, Newsom’s music is often compared to Bush’s for it’s unusual bucking of musical conventions (much of it is led by Newsom’s own harp, and many songs pass ten minutes in length) and for Newsom’s distinctive voice. So high-pitched that I’ve had to replace windows in my house after playing her before, Newsom is certainly a unique voice in contemporary music. Ironic, then, that it is her voice that brings the most references to Bush. Newsom deserves better than this, though – she is an intelligent writer of literate songs that are orchestrated sumptuously and breathtaking in scope.
Key track: ‘Emily’ (Ys, 2006)
2. Bat For Lashes
Bat For Lashes is actually Natasha Khan, dressed like an extra from Labyrinth, running around in the background as Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie test each other’s wits. With sparkling make-up around her eyes and her trademark fashion sense, Khan has been unfairly compared to Kate Bush as much for her aesthetics as for her quirky music. In reality, however, Khan is an artist whose vibrancy oozes an imaginative bent rarely seen in music. Along with her contemporary, Patrick Wolf, Bat For Lashes has been carving out a new genre on the frontier of dream pop.
Key track: ‘Peace of Mind’ (Two Suns, 2009)
3. Florence and the Machine
Performance-wise, there is in fact much inspiration taken from Bush’s style by Florence Welch of …and the Machine fame. The flowing clothes that seem to float around her as she dances, the expressive and experimental videos. Still, Welch is an impressive musican in her own right. In fact, her best music is far heavier than one might expect from a Bushite, as seen on singles ‘Dog Days Are Over’ and ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’.
Key track: ‘Kiss With A Fist’ (Lungs, 2009)
4. Marina and the Diamonds
Marina Diamandis often cites Kate Bush amongst her influences, and it’s worth pointing out that almost all of the artists here will consider Bush an influence of sorts – but bear in mind Diamandis also references Daniel Johnston, The Distillers and Britney Spears amongst her sources of inspiration. One influence does not an artist make. In fact, musicianship must come from a wide variety of sources, musical and otherwise, if an artist is ever going to create a sound of their own. Marina and the Diamonds certainly have this: a distinctive pop act, Diamandis is instantly recognisable on the radio, whilst songs as varied as ‘Obsessions’ and ‘I Am Not A Robot’ prove she is not an artist stuck in one mindset, or trapped by one influence.
Key track: ‘Shampain’ (The Family Jewels, 2009)
5. St. Vincent
St. Vincent’s Annie Clark is certainly as musically unpredictable as Bush, but then is not also David Bowie? Or the Middle Eastern conflict? Simply being unpredictable isn’t enough to link an artist. Perhaps it is Clark’s dis-jointed music, her unusual songs that bring the comparison. Regardless, Clark is a fine musician and singer – she has worked independently from her St. Vincent persona with The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens. As varied an artist as any working today, Annie Clark is an oddity, but one worth a listen.
Key track: ‘Now, Now’ (Marry Me, 2007)
6. My Brightest Diamond
The second of three diamond-related artists on this list, My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden is also the second act to have worked with Sufjan Stevens. Her chamber pop music is compared to the softer side of Bush, but unusually for a female singer-songwriter it is when she sings other people’s songs that Worden really comes into her own. Whether it be her covers of Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ or eden ahbez’s classic ‘Nature Boy’, Worden always manages to redefine the songs she sings.
Key track: ‘Feeling Good’ (Dark Was The Night compilation, 2009)
7. Lavender Diamond
The ethereal Becky Stark heads up folk quartet Lavender Diamond, a band who came about as the result of a play Stark wrote with a puppeteer named Xander Marro. I mention the puppeteer almost entirely because of his name. Let’s just hear it again. Xander Marro. Amazing. He sounds like the mixture of a magician and one of the X-Men. Anyway. Lavender Diamond’s whimsical music bears little comparison to Bush’s, and yet the nature of their very existence is enough to make the connection for some. Regardless, Stark is a fantastic musician, and her best work in fact finds itself in her work as part of trio The Living Sisters.
Key track: ‘Double Knots’ (Love To Live, with The Living Sisters, 2010)
Possibly the best known act here, internationally, Feist is most renowned for her hit single ’1,2,3,4′, which was launched into astronomic sales by it’s starring role in an iPod advert. Though far more ‘pop’ than Bush, the angular nature of her songs, spiky and different from many of her contemporaries, has defined her as being of the same league. She certainly isn’t, though that may not be a bad as thing as it sounds. Leslie Feist is a talented musician and writer of great songs. Though they are perhaps ultimately more conventional than many of the others on this list, they stand the test of Good Music and, in the end, isn’t that all that matters?
Key track: ‘Mushaboom’ (Let It Die, 2004)
9. Blue Roses
I have saved here the best until last. Laura Groves, aka Blue Roses, is the sort of musician that excites you from first listen. It is, once again, the literate nature of her songwriting, and the beautiful orchestration that bares comparison to Bush. If anything, Groves is a more accessible alternative to Newsom. Of course, this is grossly unfair to both artists, and does little to define just how unique Groves’ music is. Possibly the most aurally pleasent album of 2009, Blue Roses’ self-titled debut was my 8th favourite record of the year and 43rd of the decade. Like many of the artists here, we can only hope that Groves continues to find her own musical voice – there’s so much promise in her, it’s exciting to be on the edge of what will hopefully become a long and lasting career.
Key track: ‘Greatest Thoughts’ (Blue Roses, 2009)
April 25, 2010 No Comments
In day to day life I spend a great deal of my time telling various friends, colleagues and homeless people in the street which up-and-coming musicians they should be listening out for. It’s a self-serving activity at heart – I’m always desperately hoping the acts will be the next big thing, but more often than not I do so not purely supporting the artist, but also so I can run back to my friend, colleague or local hobo months later and say ‘I told you so-and-so was going to be huge. I told you, and I was right. Suck on it.’
Problem is, the music business is more fickle with new acts than a toddler is with broccoli, and most of the time my endless ramblings amount to little more than a couple of moderately performing albums and, if the artist is particularly lucky, a top ten single.
At the moment, then, I’m enjoying a rare bit of gloating – Marina & the Diamonds are on the verge of what I can only hope is endless success. And, perhaps even more pleasing is the fact that I’m happier still for Marina herself – having been following her for a while now, and having seen her live twice, I know first-hand just how much Marina Diamandis deserves every ruddy single sale she gets. Twice over. Live, Marina is a formidable force, engaging, with excellent stage prescence. Also, she’s a little bit perfect.
Musically, the songs speak for themselves. Please, please, please buy her debut album The Family Jewels on its release next week. If you do it, I won’t necessarily be your best friend, but I’ll at least respect you a little more. And lord knows you could do with all the respect you can get. Yeah, you heard me.
Marina & the Diamonds: The Six Essentials
5. I Am Not A Robot
4. Hollywood (Acoustic)
February 5, 2010 No Comments
1. Massive Attack – Heligoland
If I were to take a guess – and believe me, that is precisely what I am about to do – I would put my money on Massive Attack to headline the Other Stage one night at Glastonbury this summer. The epitome of the Other Stage’s attitude to music, Massive Attack prove that sometimes magnificently successful music doesn’t have to be guns-blaring hip-hop or crowd-friendly brash rock. Heligoland, due out early in February, features amongst others Damon Albarn, Martina Topley-Bird and national treasure in the making Guy Garvey on vocals. Maybe it’s the last of those acts that excites me most, but frankly Heligoland looks to be wonderful with or without Garvey’s smoke-cracked dulcet tones.
2. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Damon Albarn again, this time front and centre with his cartoon troupe Gorillaz. With names such as Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Lou Reed and Barry Gibb all lined up to guest, Plastic Beach sounds like it could be the most curious album of the year. Whether or not the album can live up to the success of its two predecessors will come down to the music itself – though rumours are that this record will be much poppier than those before it. Damon Albarn doing pop music with Barry Gibb on board? This can only be great.
3. Fleet Foxes – TBA
Fleet Foxes owned 2008 like John Hughes owned the 80s. Their storming success is largely responsible for the current trend for bloody excellent popular folk music (see: Mumford and Sons, The Low Anthem), and for this I will always love Fleet Foxes. They’ve made it cool to be me. I’m all for any album that continues to push the boundaries of what can be played on Radio 1, and that is something this yet-untitled album will certainly be doing come its release.
4. Marina & The Diamonds – The Family Jewels
Undoubtably the best live act I saw in 2009, Marina Diamandis’ debut album, by her stage name of Marina & The Diamonds, will be brilliant. How do I know this? I’ve seen most of the tracks performed live. I have more demos of them than I have of any other artist put together. I know. Marina’s album will be the spring’s pop triumph – quirky, irresistable and a darned sight sexier than anything Lady Gaga or La Roux have to offer, thankyouverymuch.
5. Allison Crowe - Spiral
I’ve been a fan of Allison Crowe since around 2004, and have never looked back since. Crowe’s philosophy mirrors mine perfectly: ‘Why music? Why breathing?’ Though not widely known outside of her native Canada, Crowe’s speciality is startlingly beautiful piano-based songs that sort of make you wonder why you bother with anything else. A new album from Crowe is a treat in the same vein as a new cake in your favourite tea room, or a hug from a friend you’ve not seen for years.
6. Girls Aloud – TBA
2010 is already shaping up to be a brilliant year in pop music, with Marina & The Diamonds alternapop debut out in February. On the more commercial front, new albums from Britney and Christina look likely to be overshadowed – in England, at least – by the return of Girls Aloud: arguably the greatest girl group ever. After a year out that saw the release of Cheryl Cole’s officially-not-bad solo debut, the band are set to return at some point this year with a new record. Their last album was their best too date, and despite their sabattical the girls have still managed to hold off rivals Sugababes (admittedly held back by their ‘three in the bed and the little one said ‘roll over’ style of personell management) and new girls The Saturdays. Nevertheless, expect a big pop album looking to confirm their position at the top of the proverbial heap*.
7. MGMT – Congratulations
It is perhaps understandable if you have by now bored of MGMT – in certain media circles they have been as unavoidable. They are a group that have been adopted by hipsters like an African orphan by Angelina Jolie – more for aesthetics than for love. Still, return to their original Time To Pretend EP and there is a wealth of originality, of boldness and ostentatiousness. If MGMT can ignore their own hype, make music purely for the love of it – as was stunningly apparent the case with Oracular Spectacular – we could be in for a treat.
8. Goldfrapp - Head First
Like Madonna and Kylie before her, Allison Goldfrapp has time and again proven herself a master (or, I suppose, mistress) of reinvention. From dance to dance to folktronica and now, with Head First, back to dance, Goldfrapp as a band are as versatile as any other you may care to mention. Their real success, of course, is not in their ability to revamp their sound on such a regular basis, but their ability to do so with such consistent quality. Head First should be the first real dance-pop treat of the new decade.
9. Fyfe Dangerfield – Fly Yellow Moon
A riskier choice here, the magnificently monikered Dangerfield is best known as the lead singer from Guillemots. With said band, Dangerfield produced my fourth favourite album of the noughties. More recently, however, was the band’s second record – a much less impressive affair beyond single Kriss Kross. With his first solo album, I will be hoping Dangerfield can replicate the brilliance of Through The Windowpane, and not the mismatched disappointment of Red. We don’t have too long to wait, however – the album is due out in a mere five days.
10. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
Undoubtably my favourite Californian harpist to find fame in the twenty-first century, Joanna Newsom has in the past six years released just two albums – both brilliant. With The Milk-Eyed Mender, Newsom presented a semi-traditional album of twelve songs. The curious vocals and charming sounds led to many being utilised in adverts. 2006′s Ys was a considerably different affair – five tracks, of which none was shorter than seven minutes. The tracklisting for Have One On Me is yet to be released, but whether we’re treated to a five track opus or a more traditional record, it’s certain to be wonderful.
11. Music Go Music – Expressions
I’ll be honest here: I’ve already heard the entirity of Music Go Music’s absorbingly brilliant debut, and it’s already front-runner for album of the year. Had the release fallen last year, Expressions would have been my third favourite album OF THE DECADE. Both heart-stoppingly original and instantly recognisible, Music Go Music stand to start a trend of seventies revivalist pop to rival 2009′s eighties equivalent. The album isn’t out for now, but you can still get tickets for their two upcoming London shows this February – I really couldn’t recommend buying these tickets enough…
12. She & Him – Volume 2
Notable for being my second favourite album of the entire noughties, She & Him’s brilliant Volume One was a slow-burning grower that went from being an almost forgettable record to finding its way into my heart for the rest of my musical life. I therefore have extremely high expectations for the duo’s follow-up. Thus far, it doesn’t seem likely that the enchanting Zooey Deschanel and her rather pleasant strings-man M. Ward will let me down. The tracklisting reveals two covers, and a guest spot for the excellent Tilly and the Wall. There is, as is apparent, much competition this year – it’s now simply a case of sitting back in a reclining chair with headphones in hand**. 2010 has never looked more promising…
*A proverbial heap that most men would give their left leg to be a part of.
** Or, more accurately, on ears.
January 13, 2010 1 Comment
A couple of weekends back I found myself at the annual Ben & Jerry’s music festival in London. This is not my way of saying that I was walking across Clapham Common on Saturday 25th of June and suddenly realised I was surrounded by stalls giving out free Chunky Monkey. In so far as my being there, I had in fact been planning the trip for some time.
What I suppose I meant to say was that during the fantastic set by Marina & the Diamonds, one of Neon Gold’s finest, I suddenly became very aware of who I am right now – musically, at least. And it surprised me.
I’m the man my father was at my age. Except where he had Kate Bush, I have Marina. Where he had The Three Degrees, I have Girls Aloud. The Saturdays. Where he had punk, I have folk. There’s not all that much difference, if you think about it – especially between the last two. Both are the popular genres on the fringe of their respective modern societies. Both take the world as it is and solve their problems with it through their songs.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’m turning into my father, and it was one of my favourite artists who showed me this. I suppose it’s all okay, as long as I only follow my father’s wiser musical choices.
Avoid the Streisand. That can be my motto.
Anyway, it was Marina’s stunning live performance of ‘The Shampain Sleeper’ that awoke said realisation; it only makes sense that now I share the song with you. It’s not like much you’ll have heard recently, and by recently I mean ‘in the last thirty years’. So enjoy it – it’s not often you get to hear one of your favourite songs for the first time.
mp3: ‘The Shampain Sleeper’ by Marina & the Diamonds
Half A Dozen Artists My Dad Loves That I Used To Hate, But Now Have To Admit Are Pretty Ruddy Brilliant:
1. David Bowie
2. Simon and Garfunkel
4. Bruce Springsteen
August 10, 2009 No Comments