Perhaps the cruellest trick fate has yet played on Rumer has been the critics’ soundbites. Though adorned almost universally with much-deserved praise almost everyone has described as something akin to Karen Carpenter with a healthy body image. Though it’s true that Rumer’s voice is often hauntingly similar to Carpenter’s, the depth of her musical knowledge and inspirations has always run far deeper than the Bacharach-esque touch that holds such sway on her music.
The iTunes festival must be an unusual place for any musician to play – tickets given away for free, often to people who have approached the ballot with an olympic approach of applying to anything they can. The result is that many come for a few songs, middling in the centre of the crowd, disgruntled not to have Swedish House Mafia tickets. Others, unburdened by money spent don’t even come at all.
Rumer finds herself onstage in front of a reasonable crowd, though it is surprisingly sparse round the back. Perhaps this is due to a strange fallacy with Rumer; no matter how many albums she sells there remains a strange demographic of people who by all means would love her music but for some reason are oblivious to her. It’s a great shame – her singles play out tonight like old standards. ‘Slow’ remains an effortless paean to the pace of love; ‘Am I Forgiven?’ plays out deceptively breezy.
It’s ‘Aretha’ that should be considered Rumer’s calling card, the song that best represents what she stands for as a musician. You see, Rumer loves music more than almost anyone recording today. Where similar artists will list the same three acts as their inspiration (Nina Simone, Etta James and, of course, The Beatles), she draws her sound from decades of acts both once-loved and never-known. Her great musical love is Laura Nyro, who’s song ‘Stone Cold Picnic’ provides Rumer one of her covers for the evening.
Now, it might be that Rumer doesn’t understand the purpose of covers in a live show. It’s either she’s got it wrong or everyone else has it off. After all, other acts will use familiar songs to fill out sets, or pull back interest in waning shows. They’ll chose well know standards; we’ve already seen I Want You Back twice this year already, and Jolene another four. Rumer doesn’t play this game, preferring to choose obscurer tracks that she loves. It’s the right way of doing things – covers should be about sharing a song you love; a cover should be about the music, not the listener. Tonight Rumer gives us Nyro, Al Green, Hall & Oates and – best of all – a rousing take on Smokey Robinson’s ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’. It’s on the Robinson cover that Rumer has the most fun, playing off the sound of She & Him and eventually moulding it into a unique and satisfyingly clunking version of her own.
Rumer is not a tribute act. Nor is she an original songs covers band, paying respect to her favourite musician by echoing everything they ever did, like Oasis or The Thrills. What Rumer has managed is a stunning mix of her every musical love and her iTunes gig represents a microcosm for her career so far – old classics, new standards and an endless respect for beautiful music.
July 26, 2011 No Comments
I laugh when I hear good music. Not everytime, but often. It’s probably a little unnerving if you’re standing nearby me, but I try and keep it to myself. It just escapes me – sometimes I just can’t take in how much music can affect me. The last time we did it was last night, and the time before that was a week and a half back. Some might say that we do the Hg Prize here at We Write Lists just to leech off of the success of the Mercury Prize. I don’t think that’s it. I mean, it is. Obviously it is. We’re shameless hussies for that sort of thing here. But it’s also because I want to celebrate the music that affects me so much that I laugh, or cry, or feel slightly better for the rest of the day for it. The twelve albums nominated for this year’s award have all affected me in one way or another. They’ve changed my mood, or even on a deeper level, maybe. So, come the 6th of September one of these albums will be voted, by our panel of music experts, as the best British album of the last twelve months. Incidentally, those two acts who last made me laugh – both of them are nominated. They deserve it, too. And who knows, maybe one of the will win the grand prize. One pint, courtesy of We Write Lists.
Adele – 21 The UK hasn’t managed much by way of big soul music for some time. In fact, it’s never really been able to compete with the grand sounds and big vocals of the American greats. Until, that is, Ultimate Londoner Adele Adkins came along. This year’s Hg is punctuated regularly with second albums that have made a big step up in quality, and Adele is a perfect example of this trend. Where her debut was undoubtably soulful, it presented itself very much as the lost-in-love, the hurt-and-mourning. 21 blasts forth with anger and spirit and, above all, relish. The British soul scene has never been so commanding.
Matt Berry – Witchazel Generally ignored by the press, no doubt as an unintentional result of the artist’s primary connection with comedy series like The Mighty Boosh and The I.T. Crowd, Matt Berry’s wonderous first record deserves a second, third, fourth and fifth listen. Taking folksy inspiration from the earliest works of David Bowie and the solo music of Syd Barrett, Berry’s curiousity of an album draws the listener in to something that is both remarkably original and instantly evocative of Great Britain, in a way few acts have managed since The Kinks at their prime.
Josienne Clarke – One Light Is Gone Josienne Clarke’s haunting debut is one that has escaped most ears. A fugitive amongst trad folk, Clarke’s original compositions would not feel out of place amongst tracks a few hundred years older, so timeless are her lyrics and so perfect is her voice. A beautifully sung and beautifully played folk record that defies so many of the stuffier ideals that have formed around the traditional end of the genre. A spring of fresh water bringing life to the dry ground about it.
CocknBullKid – Adulthood It’s almost impossible to describe CocknBullKid’s debut record with any sort of accuracy. It’s not quite pop – possessive of much more soul and wit than most anything currently troubling the charts. It’s not hip-hop, though the elements of the genre are all present and correct. To call it R&B would undermine, perhaps, it’s universal and contemporary natures. Whatever it is, Anita Blay’s debut album is the sort of record for which the word ‘romp’ was originally conceived. That and the phrase ‘really bloody brilliant, thank you very much’.
Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys! If Bono is the universal pariah of our time, Guy Garvey is the new national treasure. It’s a rather wonderful collision of collective emotions – where once musical heroes were awarded affection according to how easy it was to chant their lyrics while holding a pint in one hand, Elbow have achieved the status based around their undeniably lovable and hard-working personalities. Their fifth studio album matches the pop hits of their last record with the slow-burning post-prog rock of their first two albums. The result is a credible alternative rock album that is also intensely listenable – perhaps the first time this has happened since Radiohead’s The Bends or Coldplay’s A Rush Of Blood To The Head.
Emmy the Great – Virtue There’s a moment remarkably early on in Emmy the Great’s second record at which the listener can’t help but feel a little nauseuous. It’s not a bad thing, we promise. Rather, the swooning guitars that open the first track (incongruously titled ‘Dinosaur Sex’) have a hauntingly vertiginous tendency to them. This is the effect of Virtue – often you feel overcome with joy at the simple beauty of Emma-Lee Moss’ painfully honest lyrics, and occasionally they catch you delirously, affecting you and stealing control of your emotions, like alcohol, or the end of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. A sort of happy/sad that it is impossible not to welcome.
The Leisure Society – Into The Murky Water We were big fans of The Leisure Society’s debut album The Sleeper – it found itself the runner-up in our inaugeral Hg Prize. Still, as we said in our review of the new album, The Sleeper was all about Nick Hemming’s wonderful lyrics. On the band’s endearing sophemore record the accessible-but-not-cliched lyrics strike a perfect balance with orchestrally-minded, charismatic instrumentation. It feels as if the band are spreading some sort of a cult amongst their listeners. But like all the best cults, the deeper you are drawn into it, the more you want to stay.
James Vincent McMorrow – Early In The Morning Opening with the stark and devastating ‘If I had a Boat’, James Vincent McMorrow’s mainstream debut has drawn many a comparison to Bon Iver. In our opinion he’s actually a little better – unafraid of pop melodies and slow-build ballads, McMorrow’s record is as accessible to Radio 2 listeners as it is to fans of For Emily, Forever Ago. Through a perfectly balanced mix of Coldplay pianos and smoky high vocals, McMorrow builds a record that almost suffers from its own listenable nature. Ignore any instincts that poorer singer-songwriters have instilled in you, and you’ll struggle not to fall in love.
Noah and the Whale – Last Night On Earth Noah and the Whale have been at the receiving end of a fair amount of slack since the release of Last Night On Earth, mostly from fans disappointed in the further departure from the band’s folk roots. But Noah and the Whale have proved one thing over their three albums to date – they have no fear of change. Where their debut album struck at the folk pop sound, and their Hg-nominated follow-up was a bold and varied break-up record, Last Night on Earth is a Roxy Music-inspired record of pop hits. An instantly engaging and wonderfully curated collection of radio-worthy singles, Last Night On Earth is as intelligent as it is inclusive.
Rumer – Seasons Of The Soul Perhaps a little more mainstream than much of the albums on our Hg shortlist this year, Rumer’s debut album is nonetheless a wonderful collection of songs. The comparisons with other acts are unavoidable, and there is no doubt Carpenters/Bacharach sound of the record has helped sales tremendously. Nevertheless, Rumer’s record is much more than a coy tribute to a long-lost sound. Writing all her own music, Rumer creates a record as ripe with originality as it is with homely nostalgia and warm, cosy tones.
Sound of Rum – Balance Consider ‘Random Hip-Hop Entry’ the Hg Prize equivalent of ‘That Jazz Album Even The Band’s Mothers Hadn’t Heard Of’ in the Mercury. Take this, and Speech Debelle’s wonderful album of 2009, and you’ve got the makings of the most exciting new scene in the world. Sound Of Rum’s debut album is impossibly engaging, and likeable; the Jake Gyllenhaal of London-based music. We haven’t quite found the words yet to describe how we feel about Sound Of Rum, but hopefully this nomination is a start.
Aaron Wright - Aaron Wright Perhaps 2011′s most unconventional pop star, when we interviewed Aaron Wright for a forthcoming WWL feature he admitted to being wary of writing grand pop hooks. It’s a shame, because his self-titled debut comes to life most of all during the songs that closest resemble singalong moments. ‘Go On Yerself’ remains a hundred times better than anything fellow countrymen The Proclaimers released, and bringing in members of Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura as his backing band only lends to the subtler pop tendencies of the record.
Twelve albums there. All worth knowing. Give them a listen, and on September 6th we’ll honour the best with the grand sum of one pint. But, you know, at London prices that’s a heck of a thing to be offering.
July 19, 2011 1 Comment
It’s late in the day here on the northern borders of London, and the snow that fell for only the briefest period earlier now owns our streets, and our pavements, and everything feels wonderful and homely. Outside there’s a dim purple light illuminating the icy blanket and inside we’re sitting cosy, looking back over what has been a wonderful year for We Write Lists. Arguably our proudest achievements have all fallen within our Six Albums series, held here, on this very digital spot, every Friday. Today we round off the last Six Albums of 2010 not with a new collaboration, but with a clip show of sorts – six of our favourite recommendations by six of our favourite contributors from the last twelve months of Six Albums. We’ve a few more posts for you before we bugger off elsewhere for Christmas and New Year’s, but for now you can enjoy the best of Six Albums in 2010.
Paul Simon – Paul Simon (as chosen by Rolf Klausener of The Acorn)
My father weaned me on Simon & Garfunkel, dinner parties, road trips, and bratwurst. I’m not sure if it was the harmonies, or simply the timbre of Simon’s voice, but it was one of the few things that Bernhard knew would shut me up on long drives. At 11, I sang all of “Graceland” to my father during a 5 hour train ride through the Swiss Alps, perhaps the single biggest testament to his stoic patience I ever witnessed. Paul’s solo debut is musically schizophrenic, and was almost certainly a deep post-Garfunkel catharsis. You hear it all on this record: deeply personal lyrics that keep the listener at arms length, some serious prestidigitation, lovely audio vérité moments as in ‘Armistice Day’ where he pulls away from the mic and scratches his face; you don’t really hear this kind of Paul Simon again on any record. At the end of it all he congratulates himself, with just a pinch of New York sarcasm, of how easy it is to walk into the same old walls.
Tracy Chapman – Crossroads (as chosen by Rumer)
When I was a little girl I had six older brothers and sisters who were all really creative and into music, and because I was the smallest they had to babysit me a lot. My older brother, who must have been around 19 or 20 years old, was told he had to babysit me for a weekend, but he really wanted to go on a road trip to Scotland to visit his friend who was living in a monastery. In the end he decided to just put me in the car and take me with him. I was about eight. I sat in the front, my feet not touching the floor. It was a 16 hour round trip and the only tape we had in the car was the first Tracy Chapman album. When we got back I scoured the tape racks at my local Woolworths looking for it. I thought I had found it when I came across Crossroads, which was in fact her second record. My initial disappointment disappeared soon after. I found her songs heartfelt and meaningful and they inspired me to teach myself the guitar. That same brother gave me the guitar that 20 years later I would write the whole of my first album on.
Kate Bush — Hounds of Love (as chosen by John Grant)
This is an album that totally blew my mind. It is a cohesive unit and it flows from beginning to end and it is a masterpiece (so is The Dreaming, in my humble opinion). There are lots of bleak landscapes but there are also times when there is a little hole in the thick, gray cloud cover and the sun shines through. I’d never heard a voice like hers, I’d never heard such longing and melancholy and beauty, plus it was primarily listened to during long trips late at night on the road to take home the boy I was in love with at the time. He didn’t love me, I don’t know if he even liked me and he was just using me because he needed someone to drive him back to the sticks where he lived. There was no one else on the road that late out in the country and I just remember the light from the dashboard hitting his face and his hand on my arm, because he knew he had to invest a little something to get what he wanted.
Department Of Eagles – In Ear Park (as chosen by Christian Hardy of The Leisure Society)
Daniel Rossen sings like a Muppet version of Roy Orbison. The guitars sound like they’re being played in your room and it’s 1930 and we’re floating in a zeppelin and everything is possible and nothing can go wrong. One of my producer heroes is Jeff Lynne, whose ambition was always backed by his skill. I think Chris Taylor has the same ability. When I met him at Green Man I wanted to say that, but it came out as a choked sycophantic gurgle.
Soul Coughing - Ruby Vroom (as chosen by Mountain Man)
Shoves the listener into a tight space and overwhelms them with imagery, color, and unexpected violent kisses. Pretty soon the devil shows up and takes us on a field trip to LA. Everyone in this band is amazing, and each time I listen to this record some new idea or flavor worms its way out of the tightly woven sound wall. Yuval Gabay’s percussion is particularly incredible. M. Doughty’s lyrics and the way with which he wields his voice lifts you up. How often can half sung counting make you want to punch someone in the mouth and dance around the room?! The only other example I can think of would be Bob Dorough’s ‘Multiplication Rock’, but that involves less punching and more hand holding.
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (as chosen by Hamilton Leithauser of The Walkmen)
I went to Show Time at the Apollo last summer. It was like 105 degrees in the balcony. It was amateur night so they brought out act after act of like amateur Soul music…a lot of Bill Withers tunes, Stevie Wonder, En Vogue, even the Righteous Brothers. Then they announced the next act was this ten year old boy. He had a stratocaster and this pint-sized amp that the stage hand helped him set up. He was so tiny. Anyhow, he sort of whispered into the mic “I’m going to do a song called Maggot Brain” and he just went into that slow chord progression…just note for note. Anyhow it’s a really long quiet song (until the end), and everyone was talking and it wasn’t exactly wowing the crowd–but when he got to the solo part he clicked his tiny distortion peddle and just shredded it out for like 5 minutes. Everyone went berserk. There was so much light beer spilled all over the place I left right after.
We’ve had a great year with Six Albums, and it will return after a short break on January 7th with a post by one of our very favourite musicians of the last year, Anaïs Mitchell. We’ll be bringing you Six Albums every Friday next year with bigger names, different artists (maybe a few less Kate Bush recommendations? Who knows?) and the same intrinsic love of music that every entry so far has been rooted in.
December 17, 2010 No Comments
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
Let’s be honest, nobody releasing a single this week really needs to find love – they’re all unfeasibly attractive people chiselled from porcelain by the very gods themselves. Nevertheless, their music needs love. Your love. And so, once more we delve into the week’s releases to play matchmaker to the music.
Cheryl Cole – Promise This (Polydor) Recently divorced pop star WLTM music fans who think Lady Gaga is a little ‘too out there’. Will find instead a legion of girls in need of a role model and boys in need of a girlfriend.
James Blunt – Stay The Night (Atlantic) Ex-soldier with his own rhyming slang wants to be remembered. ISO middle-aged women who don’t mind America’s most populous state being pronounced ‘Californ-i-ay’. Looking to romanticise the one-night stand.
Lykke Li – Get Some (LL Recordings) Underrated gem of a pop star looking to make a name for herself second time around. With a song about prostitutes. Unlike the subject matter, this one is being given away free at Lykke Li’s website.
The Pierces – Love You More (Polydor) Two sisters looking, apparently, for an intense relationship. ISO fans of dark and stormy alt rock. Must like White Stripes, melody and brooding about the place.
Rihanna – Only Girl (In The World) (Island Def Jam) America’s most consistent pop star WLTM the sticky and strobe-lit floors of every club in the world with a solid dance track. Likely to find them, too.
Rumer – Aretha (Atlantic) Former Six Albums alumni looking for love with soul legends, fans of Karen Carpenter and anyone who simply enjoys the coming together of beautiful music and delectable lyrics. *Single of the Week*
Tim Berg – Seek Bromance (Armada) Tim Berg, who if vocals on this single are anything to go by is probably a woman, seeks… well… bromance. Ideally with men who take muscle protein powders and are known, on occasion, to shout CHOON! Probably not to this, though.
October 25, 2010 No Comments
In recent years the music industry has become increasingly lazy. More and more they’ve been selling the records they think people want to hear and not taking risks on the records they think people need to hear. This just doesn’t work, because they majority of the public know, if you’ll excuse the language, jack shit about quality. Need evidence? Look at the circulation of The Daily Express.
And so maybe this is why Rumer is so refreshing – because she is very definitely not what the public want to hear. Or, more accurately, Rumer is not what the public think they want to hear – but they do, and give lead single Slow a good chunk of Radio 2′s airtime and you’ll convince them of just that. There was a reason why the crowd at the Bloomsbury looked like they knew their Ken Bruces from their Terry Wogans, and that was almost certainly it. Well, that and Rumer’s obvious love for the music of the Seventies, a decade most of the audience certainly were able to recollect with an air of grey-haired nostalgia.
Rumer takes the stage with a bashful stroll, a few seconds after her band – a full set, complete with piano, mini horn section and backing singers. She wears a long blue-green dress that flows, and suits her music a little better, perhaps, than it suits her. Rumer is modest onstage – though a veteran of the music game, she is clearly new to the audience numbers that sit before her now. These numbers are plentiful – the concert sold out within hours of going online.
The music is, of course, wonderful. Soft, and soulful, and reminscent of a thousand different artists, but not quite the same as any of them. There is a small barrier to cross – there are no big sounds amongst the smooth beauty that is soon to be released on debut album Seasons of my Soul. But then there is a realisation – that even without the big sounds there is no musician like Rumer making music today, and the consistency present in the evening’s set is unlikely to be found elsewhere in a soul album this year. Across the set, flourished with songs of despair and loneliness (Aretha, a song about finding comfort in music when no-one else is there is a particular highlight), it’s impossible not to see the beauty.
Rumer is new to the business, and it’s apparent, but not in anyway that is detrimental to the performance – in fact it only serves to remind us why she is here tonight. Rumer is here not for a polished performance, but because, refreshingly, the label think we need to hear her. Judging by tonight’s show, they might just be right.
September 16, 2010 No Comments
A lot of people say that pop music, like fashion, comes in circles. That the 90s were inflicted with the colouful, vibrant influences of the 60s, that the last decade was tinged first by the 70s and then, later, by the more questionable 80s. Just like Woman’s Weekly, I do not subscribe to this. Music is something infinitely more diverse than fashion. There are only so many ways you can cover (or actively not cover) the human body before you’re forced to find originality in someone else’s work from some time ago. There are millions of different ways to put a song together though, and so influences can be collected, and used to build together a new sound that is at once timely and timeless, in much the same way that today’s Six Albums guest is. Rumer, whose debut single ‘Slow’ is literally the best thing we’ve heard on Radio 2 all year, builds her sound from those she was brought up with, resulting in something as much influenced by her parent’s record collection as it is her own. Borne from a life tinged with sadness, Slow is set to be remembered as the last thing Rumer did before she became massive. We’re counting ourselves incredibly lucky to feature Rumer as our guest this week, even if she did flounce the rules a little bit in order to bring us her Seven Albums…
Terry Reid - Seed of Memory I love Terry Reid. When the Terry Reid revival happens I will be one standing at the front wearing the T shirt! This album, which was produced by Graham Nash, (and has his top harmony vocals all over it) has been called a “lost masterpiece” . I particularly love the title track “Seed of Memory” and a song called Brave Awakening, which he wrote for his grandmother about the coal mines.. He was the guy who introduced Robert Plant to Jimmy Page, after turning town the job of singer for what would become Led Zeppelin. I love Robert Plant’s voice but Terry’s is on another level; pure raw passion. I love the all drums on the record as well, played by James Gadson and Soko Richardson.
Van Morrison - Astral Weeks I was just about to go and record my album with a particular and very experienced producer when he casually mentioned that he didn’t like Astral Weeks. I immediately cancelled the project. He called me up the next day “How can you make a judgement based on the fact that I don’t like Astral Weeks? That’s ridiculous”. But to me it’s a massive indicator. Astral Weeks is wonderful. it’s a full body of work, a rambling stream of consciousness, an improvisation that’s wild and unrestrained. I love that ridiculously loud bass, and how it goes against everything a mixing engineer would do now. It’s all over the place. I am inspired a lot by Van’s kind of storytelling; his turn of phrase. I admire the simplicity of his lines. “Gone for cigarettes and matches in the shops”. The whole album just carries you on this fantastically vivid and wonderful journey through scrambled imagery and poetry and waves of unrestrained, beautiful music.
Judee Sill - Heartfood I first heard Judee Sill in an eccentric local wine bar in South London back in 98, where I was working as a waitress. I heard a lot of great music there as the owner was a very interesting lady who played me some great records. It was in that same bar I first heard ‘Wedding Bell Blues’, by the Fifth Dimension and a lot of great music actually. The first ever Judee track I heard was “Jesus was a Crossmaker” which Graham Nash Produced, and that led me to look up all her albums. Heartfood is a beautiful piece of work. When they re released it they added some of the demos which were better. She writes these Bach inspired soaring melodies and fantastically vivid and colourful lyrics. “a silver chariot soars, through mercury ripples of sky..” I think of them as psychedelic hymns. They are exalting, perhaps not fully realized, and may not be now, as she died tragically of a drug overdose in 1979.
Miles Davis – In a Silent Way This record has the most magical atmosphere; in the moment. What I think I appreciate the most about it is that it conveys a profound relationship between the people in the room playing together. You get a sense of the depth of the communication between the musicians. It sounds so original now, so I can only image how original it must have sounded at the time. I heard it for the first time in the middle of a London summer; it was a heatwave, around three in the morning. I was staying over at a writer friend’s house. We were deep in conversation. I can still see the stripes from the window blind casting shadows over the room, the street lamp outside, and cigarette smoke hanging in the air… and this record humming away in the background…
Joni Mitchell – Hejiera I think songs like the title song ‘Hejiera’ are wonderful. That song made me feel like I too, could write a rambling poetic melody over a two chord meditation. I admire the originality in this album, and I like Joni’s contemplative, poetic, visual writing. “Snow gathers like bolts of lace, waltzing on a ballroom girl” It’s a full bodied work of art from beginning to end.. This record gave me permission to be experimental. It made me feel like it was okay to write a song as it were a poem set to music, and that was not defined in structure.
Laura Nyro and Labelle – It’s Gonna Take A Miracle I love the way this album was recorded. It was recorded with all the girls round one microphone, and the band played live. When they ran over budget, Patti LaBelle bet the producer $1,000 that they could record all the vocals in one day. I read somewhere that every single vocal on that record is a first take. I love the combination of Laura and Patti’s voices. My favourite is “The Bells”, which really knocks me out, its so passionate, so feminine… and a really sassy version of “You’ve really got a hold on me” by The Miracles. It’s a wonderfully raw and intimate record; you really feel like you’re there in the room.
Tracy Chapman – Crossroads When I was a little girl I had six older brothers and sisters who were all really creative and into music, and because I was the smallest they had to babysit me a lot. My older brother, who must have been around 19 or 20 years old, was told he had to babysit me for a weekend, but he really wanted to go on a road trip to Scotland to visit his friend who was living in a monastery. In the end he decided to just put me in the car and take me with him. I was about eight. I sat in the front, my feet not touching the floor. It was a 16 hour round trip and the only tape we had in the car was the first Tracy Chapman album. When we got back I scoured the tape racks at my local Woolworths looking for it. I thought I had found it when I came across Crossroads, which was in fact her second record. My initial disappointment disappeared soon after. I found her songs heartfelt and meaningful and they inspired me to teach myself the guitar. That same brother gave me the guitar that 20 years later, I wrote the whole of my first album on.
Rumer is absolutely ruddy brilliant. Her debut single, ‘Slow’, is out on August 23rd, with her album to follow soon after. Download ‘Long Long Day’ for free over at her MySpace.
August 6, 2010 2 Comments