September – Chris

Yes, I’m late, but it’s worth it, I hope. This album is the first artist to land a second AOTM, and after the effect the first had on all of us, it seemed almost too obvious to revisit it when there’s so much other music around. However, it’s actually a choice that makes so much sense, because really, there’s a definitive break from the past, and perhaps the appearance of one of the most exciting pop music artists for a long while.

So, what did we learn from Christine And The Queens’ sparkling debut in 2016? An album that was a spring sleeper hit (two years after it surfaced in France), relaunched in a post-Brexit haze where we all needed some musical escapism. In my case, I was one of those wandering around in a teary, beery, existentialist haze at Glastonbury whose day was transformed by one of those ‘moments’ that makes the festival so magical. Christine And The Queens’ set on the Other Stage as the rain fell was one that’ll stay long in the memory. There’s no way a French artist complete with slickly choreographed dancers should’ve melted muddy hearts but Tilted, iT, Narcissus Is Back and Here were pop music of the absolute finest. Rubbery synths, crisp percussion, and beguiling vocals singing about love and loss that sounded as enticing in English as in French. A star was born. But… what next?

The answer, flippantly, would be ‘Chris’. But for Héloïse Letissier it was more than just a change of title. The relentless touring and punishing nightly dance moves had transformed her into a leaner being, and with her success came sexual conquests too, but not man or woman, more whichever took her fancy. Pansexuality, freedom and inspiration. Yet the sonic inspiration for Chris – ‘Christine’s androgynous, confident, male-world-view alter-ego – harks back to the 80s and 90s, where r’n’b was in a renaissance with Michael and Janet Jackson at the fore. You can almost hear the Jam and Lewis influence in tracks like Girlfriend and Doesn’t Matter. But it’s original, punchy hooks and oblique lyrical references that are all her own rather than borrowed from the past, as she explores pansexual conquests from the side of the male gaze.

The result is an album that feels it could only be made by a French artist, such is the ambition, and openly artistic musings that would be sniffed at in England. A staggeringly individual collection of songs where Letissier writes, performs and produces almost every single note, and that should fire her even higher into the pop firmament. Fantastique!

August – The Internet ‘Hive Mind’

Welcome brothers. Happy August, happy Summer. Please may I introduce ‘The Internet’

Why have I only just come across these guys?  I had not heard of ‘The Internet’ until Wednesday. I reviewed my Spotify ‘listened to in 2018’ folder where I keep all of the new music I am listening to and from which I then chose to buy the best of. Each album that I loved and considered for AOTM I then qualified-out for one reason or the other.

I considered Tove Stryke ‘Sway’, pure unadulterated Scandi-Pop. I decided no as it is only really a mini-album of 8 tracks, one of which is a demo-cover so 7 tracks really. They’re all perfect 3 minute pop songs but I talked myself out of it when I realised the main reason I love it is that my son can’t not dance when it’s on so it’s getting a lot of air-time in Casa Story. My other thought was the new Yo Lo Tengo, which I love, but good god is it a ‘me’ album which I am also sure means it’s not a brothers album. It’s a bit dense, noodly and by a million miles not their best so it seemed an odd choice. I also considered the new Twin Shadow and a few others but my heart was not in them and I could not 100% ‘stand behind’ them.

So I started looking for new music reviews that excited me and found ‘Hive Mind’ by the Internet. There are lots of facts and figures that I could copy and paste about these guys … but I won’t as it means nothing to me. What does mean something is that I put this on to road-test it and feel immediately in-love with it. Where has music like this been? It’s probably there but just not been in my world. Between Weds evening and now (Friday lunch time) I think I’ve listened to this at least 12 times, start to finish. I love it.

This ticks so many boxes for me. The groove, the beat, lovely vocals, strong lyrics, humour and a ‘proper’ 13 track-album. You’ll hear lots of things in this album. David, lots of lovely nods to much of what we spent much time playing back in the day of 90’s R&B/Pop. They seem to have distilled all the best, most credible elements of mainstream R&B and blended them into something that feels referential as well as fresh.

I’ve been waiting a long time for something to grab me like Lucy Pearl did and while this doesn’t have the obvious bangers like ‘Dance Tonite’ or ‘Don’t Mess With My Man’ the beautiful, luscious soundscape is there.

Some albums are summer albums, some winter albums. Some music is morning music, some night music. Background music vs. headphone tracks. This feels universal to me. So far, I find it to be a stunner and hope you enjoy living with it to.

Have a look at their vids on YouTube as it reveals more about them and made me fall even deeper for them.

Happy Hive Mind.

JULY: Rebound by Eleanor Friedberger

Hello sunshine. Hello Eleanor.

So. I don’t know how well The Brothers know The Fiery Furnaces, the wilfully leftfield band that consisted of Eleanor and her brother, Matthew. They were like nothing else – a knotty indie band that wrote dense, weird songs with names like “Chief Inspector Blancheflower”, “The Philadelphia Grand Jury” and “The Old Hag is Sleeping”. Their songs’ lyrics sounded like they were some little known novel, and the structure of their songs were often really strange, veering off into different time frames or arranged in several parts.

Now, that makes them sound WAY harder work than they were. They were a bit eccentric, but they were surprisingly easy to love. Well, by me, anyway. Marc Riley used to play them loads on 6Music and I fell for them, bit by bit.

Adam Buxton, on his excellent podcast, recently did an episode with Eleanor F – one that was actually recorded a couple of years back, but for some reason, he wasn’t happy with. I don’t know, I found it charming and it really got to the heart of his subject. As an intro to Eleanor, you couldn’t do any better. I’d strongly recommend listening:

What’s clear from that is that her brother was quite the control freak in the band, and she felt trapped and straitjacketed in the band. Since their seemingly permanent hiatus, she’s started to carve out a strong solo career of her own, with a series of increasingly accessible solo albums, of which is the 4th, and in my opinion, the strongest.

Despite her brother’s control freakery, you can hear in Eleanor’s solo work that she was very much a big part of the Fiery Furnaces’s sound, not least because her beguiling vocals define so much of their output. She’s still fond of obtuse lyrics at times, and slightly wonky music. But what she has done is grown in confidence in writing more direct pop songs – and unlike the FF, this more pop than rock, I think. As you know, I think the P word is much maligned and is one of the highest art forms on Earth! Writing the perfect pop song: what a skill.

So what we have here is Friedberger at her warmest, her most human, her most direct. She hasn’t lost her leftfield edge, and to me, this still feels unusual and far from generic. But has she ever written as out and out a cracking pop tune as ‘Make Me A Song’? There’s a lovely mix of slow jams and uptempo numbers, and the songwriting throughout is A class. Great for lazy summer days too.

Hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am. This Furnace is perhaps less fiery these days, and more smouldering. It’s working for me.