December: Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars

Good evening. Welcome to Beach House – Thank your lucky stars.

9 years ago I was checking out what was happening in Manchester that coming weekend. ‘Beach House’ were playing at Day and Night that Saturday. I googled them, came up with a you tube or two and ordered the album as I liked what I heard and wanted to know more before going to the gig with Stacey. I loved the album …. but we never went to the gig. Can’t recall why.

That 1st album was a very honest, raw affair. It was early enough in the whole ‘dream-pop’ (yuk) ‘low-fi’ (puke) thing that many of the tropes of the genre had not warn thin. The 2nd album didn’t move it on and I didn’t love it. Then they released ‘Teen Dream’ that everyone except for David loved. Teen Dream was a big step forward and played with lots of the same ideas but paired them with some really strong, catchy pop songs. Literally everyone who has heard it at our house has gone out and bought it.

2 years later they released ‘Bloom’ which annoyed the shit out of me. They released the same album again but with a different cover. There was nothing new. It was embarrassing how formula driven it was. Love affair over.

In August of this year they released ‘Depression Cherry’ I was excited as Beach House have such a big place in my heart … but was disappointed again as there was once again nothing new and the formula had been trotted out yet again. So it was with disgust and huge frustration that they released another album 2 months later! WTF! Quality control anyone?

However, when I listened to this one I heard what I had wanted to hear for the last 2 albums. Some new ideas, playing with some new instruments, possibly a bit darker return to their debut that I loved so much. A couple of tracks blew my socks off (‘All your yeahs’ and Elegy to the void’). It felt more honest and real than anything that they’d released since their debut. In some ways it feels like a debut. I’ve had this on hard rotation. My wife adores it and reminds her of our early days which always helps. I am conscious that this may be more of a ‘heart’ choice than a ‘head’ choice as Album of the Month but what the hell. Live dangerously.

Merry Xmas.

 

NOVEMBER: Susanne Sundfor – Ten Love Songs

There are periods in musical history when a certain country or part of the world suddenly has a flourishing of incredible output. British rock in the 60s, French electronica of the late 90s/early 2000s, Brazilian tropicalia of the late 60s, German krautrock of the 70s, the late 80s/early 90s golden age of hip-hop.

To add to that, I honestly think we might have to start thinking of Scandi pop of the noughties and teens (WTF are we calling this decade? Can someone please decide – we’re half way through!). The extraordinary explosion in electronic pop from the icy inlets of Northern Europe is really quite something. From Robyn to Royksopp to Annie to Fever Ray, not to mention Swedish Karl Martin Sandberg and his Norwegian cohorts who have written more pop music for American artists than anyone else in the last decade – the breadth, the quality and the standard of their output puts everyone else to shame.

What I love most about it is that there IS a unifying feel and sound, even if the bubblegum of Annie and the icy krautrock arthouse of Fever Ray couldn’t be further apart. There’s a love of melody – and – for me, this is the clincher – there’s a melancholy at the heart of it all that tugs at your hearstrings. Hell, think back to ABBA. They did just that. Perhaps that’s in the DNA of every Scandi performer somewhere!

Also notable is how female fronted this wave is. And somewhere in the midst of all this, here is Susanne Sundfor, sitting RIGHT in the sweet spot of everything I’ve described. The fact that this stunning album – there’s no other word for it – is not a million seller around the world is testament to the embarrassment of riches coming from her part of the world. But do note that in her native Norway, she is a MASSIVE star and this album sold by the truckload.

So, yes, I’m a fan of this kind of stuff, that sounds so effortless but has been toiled over so expertly. But how can this not beguile? From the chugging motorik of Accelerate to the aching pop of Kamikaze, to the grand balladeering of Silence, Sundfor has a wide palette to draw upon, and she doesn’t put a foot wrong. This is undoubtedly one of my albums of the year, and I’m so looking forward to delving into her back catalogue

Finally, one moment that makes my heart skip every time – when the fierce OTT pop madness of Accelerate slips into the chugging, bubbling beginning of Fade Away and you know you’re heading into an entirely different tune. And yes, there IS a touch of ABBA in Fade Away. Why not? You can always learn from the masters.