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
It’s the hang that gives Portico Quartet they’re distinctive sound – a 21st century Swiss instrument that makes percussion the central focus of this jazz group’s sound. On the simplest of levels, there is no other artist in the world today that sounds quite like Portico Quartet – not least because so few others have access to the hang.
Mercury-nominated, Portico Quartet have released now two albums of soothing and innovative modern jazz, perfect music for a Sunday afternoon in the Pilton countryside. Portico Quartet are the perfect example of Glastonbury’s diverse musical selection – you won’t find anyone else like them at the festival this year, which is a shame, but only because it means there are no other bands like Portico Quartet in the world.
June 18, 2010 No Comments
1. The Future Folk Icon
It’s easy enough to compare a musician to someone from the past. Someone of similar success, from a similar genre. Laura Marling has had more comparisons than most. Not being male, ‘the new Bob Dylan’ tag has never really been given to her, though that hasn’t stopped her being compared to Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez. Of course, Marling is her own person, and whilst her music is certainly drenched in the folk of days now passed, she has managed also to craft a sound that is uniquely her own. With frequent airplay on BBC’s Radio 1, Marling has crossed over without ever trying. In three to four years, Laura Marling will be recognised across this country. Give it a decade or so, she’ll be a national treasure. For now, though, we’re happy for her just to be the most consistent folk artist in the world today.
2. The Future Soul Icon
This is a list dedicated to possibilities – a list unburdened by the footnotes of the past. Every artist on this list is here for their talent and ability in the present tense, and for the chances their music offers them in the future. Based on this, the only true heir to the soul icon throne is Californian multi-instrumentalist Mayer Hawthorne. With last year’s debut album A Strange Arrangement, Hawthorne immediately cemented his place amongst the freshest new artists of the century so far – no mean feat for an artist so heavily inspired by the golden days of Stax and Motown.
3. The Future Electronic Icons
When Hurts performed their first live gig ever earlier this year, they experienced a debut unlike that of any other. Such was the buzz around their demos and clever PR campaign, the venue was entirely sold out. Packed to the rafters with music executives and the press, Hurts had clearly hyped themselves into a place where there was a lot to prove. Fortunately, the band are destined to be massive. Ice cold disco lento tracks and a steely aesthetic has brought about comparisons to Pet Shop Boys. The difference here, though, is that Hurts will hit the scene without a hint of irony, proving that you can be as earnest as you like as long as your music is unprecedanted in its stature.
4. The Future Jazz Icons
Jazz is always a hard genre to generalise. So wide is its scope, so varied the sounds within, that to keep ones finger on the pulse of the scene, to keep entirely up to date with upcoming acts is always a difficult task. Still, over the past two years one name has risen again and again. Portico Quartet. A London based group finding their unique selling point in the hang, a rare 21st century Swiss instrument, Portico Quartet were nominated for the Mercury in 2008, and in that same year were awarded ‘Best Jazz Album of the Year’ by Time Out. But this doesn’t make for a future icon. That’ll be defined by the unique possibilities the band hold as the one of the only artists in the world today to fully understand the potential of the new instrument they have in their possession.
5. The Future Pop Icon
It will come as no surprise when I tell you Lady Gaga is set for years of chart domination, though it may surprise you that I, for one, will welcome this. Yes, she may dress like a cross between catwalk fashionista and Timmy Mallet, but she also understands pop music and makes distinctly original and chart-topping singles on a regular basis. Dedicated to touring in a way most other pop musicians are not, Lady Gaga may not be the only iconic pop artist in the charts today, but she’s certainly the only one of her kind.
6. The Future Rock Icons
In 2006, American rock group The Hold Steady released their third studio album to much critical acclaim. Boys And Girls In America remains the most underrated album of the last ten years. Since then the band have released two more albums – neither anywhere near as good as Boys And Girls In America, but both still remarkable records in their own right. The band have recently lost keyboardist Franz Nicolay, but now have a unique chance to find themselves all over again. In recent years we’ve seen quieter rock acts such as Elbow break through to the mainstream, as well as middle of the road Southern rock in the form of Kings Of Leon. The Hold Steady have an opportunity now to make the music they’ve been headed towards for their entire career – literate, anthemic rock that I believe could genuinely break the mainstream.
May 26, 2010 2 Comments
1. Blue Roses – Blue Roses
The key thing to recognise her is that just because an album is great to fall asleep to, it doesn’t make it boring. There’s a difference between an album that sends you to sleep and an album that soothes you into one. Laura Groves’ debut as Blue Roses is a prime cut of soothing folk music, the perfect example of music that is at once beautiful, distinctive, endlessly enjoyable and deeply soothing. So soothing, in fact, that the album once spent three solid months in the CD player by my bedside.
2. Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen
Nebraska is, I suppose, a rock album. But it’s a very quiet one. An oasis amongst the majority of Springsteen’s back catalogue, Nebraska is everything Springsteen stands for, only a little bit subtler. The key track is the second, ‘Atlantic City’ – a song early enough on the record to be heard before you sleep, leaving you thinking dark but hopeful thoughts as you fall asleep. Everything dies, that’s a fact/Maybe everything that dies, someday comes back.
3. Long Gone Before Daylight – The Cardigans
Sometime around 2003 I caught, entirely by chance, what was probably the only UK screening of the music video for The Cardigans’ ‘For What It’s Worth’, the lead single from their fifth studio album. Though one of the weakest tracks on the album, it must have affected me somehow, because a couple of months later I spent the last of my pocket money on it in a French supermarket. The album, it turned out, was phenomenal. A step away from the band’s more cheerful earlier sound, Long Gone Before Daylight is a mature and warming country-pop record, and has been in steady rotation through my ears on a regular basis ever since that first purchase.
4. Isla – Portico Quartet
In many ways, Portico Quartet’s softmore record is the most conventional choice on this list. Wordless music is always more closely associated with sleep than its less instrumental counterpart. But there’s an important reason to choose Portico Quartet over any number of other jazz instrumental records: it’s unique. Nothing sounds quite like Portico Quartet, a selling point that comes down almost entirely to their use of a ‘hang’, a very modern instrument that produces a very distinct sound. It’s soothing, yes, but Portico Quartet’s music is also endlessly interesting and makes for sumptuous listening.
5. Seven Swans – Sufjan Stevens
Almost any Sufjan Stevens album will serve you will come the late of the night. Recently I’ve been enjoying his BQE record as a source of contemporary instrumentation, and it has sent me off to plenty of pleasant night’s dreams. Illinois‘ constant appearances on my bedside player leaves it as the album I have listened to in my life more than any other. But for simple, sweet goodnights, few albums better Seven Swans, a collection of devotional songs that are a benchmark in contemporary Christian music – loved just as much by atheists, agnostics and those of different faiths as it is by the Christian community itself. Maybe it’s because Stevens has always taken a very liberal approach to his faith – ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’, from Illinois, talks of struggling with faith when a teenage friend gets cancer. Seven Swans is perhaps a little lighter, topically, but is still very much the beautiful sort of music that Stevens is renowned for in his circle.
6. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Folk was always going to play a heavy role in this list. More folk songs have been sung around late night campfires than songs of any other genre. It’s precisely this communal harmonising that makes Fleet Foxes’ debut album such a great album to fall asleep to. It’s comforting, the sound of these protecting bodies around you. Also, it’s beautiful, beautiful music.
May 9, 2010 No Comments
5. God Help The Girl – God Help The Girl
As curious a project as any other this year, God Help The Girl is the soundtrack to an as-yet non-existent film. Masterminded by Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, God Help The Girl bears not only musical similarities with the band, but also some of the same songs. The Life Pursuit‘s ‘Act of the Apostle’ and ‘Funny Little Frog’ are given new life by the wonderful vocal cast gathered by Murdoch – a cast headed up by marvellous new talent Catherine Ireton. The lyrics, as any Belle and Sebastian fan might expect, are charmingly quirky, and the accompanying music only serves to hype up what could be one of the most curiously anticipated indie films of 2010.
4. Oh My God, Charlie Darwin – The Low Anthem
The Low Anthem have had an unfair battle with lazy journalists in 2009. Too many music reviewers have put on the constantly surprising Oh My God, Charlie Darwin and, on the basis of what can only really be the opening two tracks, have turned it off and noted down ‘the new Fleet Foxes’. The Low Anthem are the new Fleet Foxes in the same way that Music Go Music are the new Abba – the sound is certainly there, and noticably so, but it’s mixed in amongst a beautiful myriad of other influences. Every turn the album takes is unexpected – sometimes content to stick to folksy roots, often willing to throw in some garage rock emotions, sometimes content just to put out some of the most touching songwriting of the decade.
3. Isla – Portico Quartet
Last year I had enjoyed Portico Quartet’s Mercury-nominated debut so much I ignored its 2007 release date to include it on my end of year list (at a respectable seven). What Portico Quartet proved then – and now again with Isla - is that no matter how long it has been around for, music is always able to surprise with new, fantastic genres and bold, terrific sounds. Portico Quartet are uniquely themselves – there isn’t another band around today releasing music this satisfying to listen to, this refreshing to hear. Put it on in your car on a long, miserable journey; in your bedside CD player after a dull, dreary day. Nothing this year will refresh your mind and emotions so pleasingly as Isla.
2. My Maudlin Career – Camera Obscura
Once upon a time, Camera Obscura were another twee cousin in Belle and Sebastian’s little Scottish family. With this, their fourth studio album, the band finally find their footing on the staircase to another level. Kicking off with the livewire ‘French Navy’, My Maudlin Career does all it can to establish the band as something entirely different from anything else in music today. Maybe they don’t quite succeed in that, but amongst lush strings and clever lyrics Camera Obscura at least prove themselves as capable of brilliance in the most pleasant surprise of the year.
1. First Love – Emmy The Great
It had been a long time coming when, in February, Emmy the Great finally released her debut album. It struck me from first listen as something special. I had planned to play it on my CD player as I wrote up an important essay on my laptop. Approximately thirty-two seconds into the opening track, ‘Absentee’, I scrapped said plan and chose instead to lie on my bed next to the music, reading the lyrics as I soaked in a fair mix of songs I had never heard before but instantly loved and songs I loved but had never heard before as they played out now. First Love is a minor masterpiece in modern British folk music. A rare case in which recommending an album’s best tracks simply isn’t possible – as a collection of songs, First Love is as near perfection as most people dare to get.
December 14, 2009 No Comments
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve not been typing much around these parts of late. Unfortunately most of the stuff I write about on here involves music. And most of the time writing about music requires the ability to listen to music. A few weeks ago my laptop died, and so until I find a replacement my ability to listen to music; to consider, review and write about music is severely diminished. Soon I shall return in shining glory, and until then I might flirt with the keys of my temporary computer once or twice. For now though, I’ll drop a short list of the albums that I might not find time to write about once I’m back on my blogging feet. These are fantastic albums that have recently found their way onto my CD player, the music I’ve been wanting to write about, but have lacked the capability to do so for. I recommend all of these, old and new, with the sort of enthusiasm I usually reserve for describing Natalie Portman, or maybe Die Hard.
Sit Down And Listen Up:
1. Isla – Portico Quartet
2. Sigh No More – Mumford & Sons
3. Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, A Paris - Martha Wainwright
4. Run Rabbit Run – Osso
5. Silent Movie - Quiet Village
November 24, 2009 No Comments