Tagged: Album of the month

APRIL: GREY Area by Little Simz

Well, well, well. What a little belter this is.

Little Simz AKA Simbiatu “Simbi” Abisola Abiola Ajikawo (can see why she went for the shortened nickname) has been knocking around for a few years. I heard a couple of tracks that I really liked without falling in love with. She did stand out from her peers by seeming less interested in the beats of grime and more the classic beats of old skool hip hop.

So I admit it – I initially dismissed her a bit as a promising UK hip hop like a million before her that was full of promise but hadn’t quite delivered THAT track.

And then I heard OFFENCE. Jesus H Christ. What a ridiculous beast of a track that is. It became a genuine crossover that was being played on 6Music AND Radio 1 AND Capital (which I know, thanks to my kids).

Still, I approached this album expecting 10 tracks of more of the same. What I wasn’t expecting was such a rich, inventive brew, so full of creativity and painted on such a wide canvas.

Influences? Oh man, where to start? The nu-soul meets hip hop of Anderson .Paak and K-Os (of old!) on tracks like WOUNDS. SELFISH is basically a gorgeous RnB pop song but with a rap holding it together. VENOM’s flow feels like a grime style and BOSS is a great track 2 choice, smacking you right in the face. FLOWERS could be a collaboration with Cinematic Orchestra, and obvs Michael Kiwanuka is always a seal of quality.

So much to love on here – the live band and instrumentation gives it a blaxploitation film score vibe. Everywhere there are surprises – fresh samples, unusual arrangements. This is a really ambitious album made to aim high, and it nearly completely delivers.

Finally – oh joy of joy – it’s got NO SKITS and it’s a tight, punch 35 minutes long. How many hip hop albums could learn from this?

I notice she right at the top of the bill of one of the Coachella stages. She’s that good. Not surprised the US is noticing.

Any criticisms? Maybe her delivery and flow is a little bit monotonous at times, but lyrically it’s bloody brilliant – and she works around that by making each song such a uniquely constructed entity.

So yeah. I LOVE this album and I’m sure it’ll end up in my top 10 at the end of the year. How about you, Brothers?

DECEMBER: Be The Cowboy by MITSKI

So just as we chose this for December, then comes along old Pitchfork to make this their #1 album of the whole year:

https://pitchfork.com/features/lists-and-guides/the-50-best-albums-of-2018/?page=5

Let’s get one thing straight. I don’t think this is the album of the year. I think it is VERY good. But I’m not sure I would go as far as Pitchfork. I always get the impression Pitchfork is so painfully curated as to hit its demographic, it’s hard to take their lists seriously. Mitski certainly hits all the right 2018 buttons – strong female voice, big leap forward musically with new album, touching on angst and loneliness and anger. You can see why they chose it.

I’ve been aware of Mitski for a while, and thought I’ve liked what I’ve heard, I’ve maybe not loved it. She’s certainly an interesting voice, but I’ve found her songs a little bit too indie and angular and maybe I’m searching for a touch more from them. But that is based on not spending a lot of time with them, so that could be hugely unfair.

And then I heard NOBODY. Oh boy. What a song. WHAT a song. It might be a late entry into my song of the year. Hell, it might even just knock GIRLFRIEND off the top spot. Aching, painful, searing loneliness that starts off plaintive and then turns into a bloody grandstanding DISCO song, complete with two key changes that take my breath away every time I hear them.

So maybe now I get Mitski.

NOBODY is probably an outlier on the album – it’s not choc-a-block with similar tracks – but there is something really interesting going on here. The album starts off with a song that I could take or leave, GEYSER, that suggests something generically indie, but it quickly picks up after that. WHY DIDN’T YOU STOP ME? is a stomping slab of St Vincent-style wonky pop. And off the album goes in all kinds of fabulous directions. Other highlights: include ME AND MY HUSBAND – a piano led belter of a pop song, PINK IN THE NIGHT – huge, emotional indie torch tune, LONESOME LOVE, which goes proper alt-country. And finally, closer TWO SLOW DANCERS is a lovely, electronic ballad that’s a fitting closer.

Another wonderful plus: song length! I love that so many of these songs don’t outstay their welcome. Thanks you Mitski for writing 2 minute songs that are exactly the right length. Please please God can some bloated rock dudes take note. You don’t need 2 guitar solos, a middle eight and a lengthy outro every time, got it?

However, those brief song lengths can occasionally be a hindrance – there are some songs that feel half-formed or don’t quite earn their place on what is a very good album. And that’s, for me, why it isn’t quite album of the year material.

Still, a strong end to a pretty strong year, I thought. Over to you…

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FINALLY: As a side discussion, shall we have an albums of the year chat, Brothers? Oh yes, I think we should!

Tuung – Songs You Make at Night

I offer a belated welcome to November my dear Brothers and a further welcome to ‘Songs You Make at Night’ by Tuung.

I know Brother David has a soft spot for a bit of Tuung, I don’t think Guy is familiar and I am not sure of Nolan’s history with the band but it was his post of ABOP on this blog that alerted me to the fact that this new album existed. I knew it was coming as they released Flatland earlier in the year and my wife and son loved it.  I was looking forward to it as I do with all Tuung albums but I will be totally honest, they usually fit into the ‘nice to listen to’ rather than ‘have to / love to listen to’. They are ‘nice’ albums, they go well with a Sunday roast with company that you’re unsure of (musically speaking). Almost nobody would actively dislike it. However, I think this album takes them across that ‘nice to listen to’ threshold into something else. I think this is my favourite Tuung album (heart) and I think it may be their best (head) too.

So what do you get? Folktronica. A term that makes my skin crawl so best to get it out the way early. Over successive albums they have become slowly more ‘tronica’ but only in their instrumentation. The tunes are still folksy but in an unmistakably Tuung way. There aren’t many (any?) bands that sound like Tuung. I have found a couple but they turned out to be Tuung side projects.

I find this album enchanting. Its a slice of calm and prettiness that I always find welcoming. It’s got all the lyrical quirkiness that I love (‘Crow’ is a lovely example). It’s got the bleeps and squelches accompanying the acoustic guitars and occasional woodwind that still sit so comfortably together. It’s more upbeat moments like Dark Heart that manage to feel part of the whole and not jarring.

The thing that made me choose this is that it is 11 strong tracks. The stand out tracks change each time you listen to it. I would like to think that this make it accessible  and enjoyable for all.  It won’t end up on may best of lists as i don’t think its breaking new ground but for me, its one of the albums that will come with me into 2019 and beyond.

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.

June Album: DJ Koze – Knock Knock

DJ Koze has over recent memory won hearts of the vast majority of dance music fans through his releases on his own label Pampa Records as well as  remixes such as Lapsley’s ‘Operator’ which was hands down last summers most played dance record. Intriguingly he’s done all this whilst keeping very much to himself and keeping up the reputation of dance music’s most recluse character. On a personal note I came across Pampa Records about 7 years ago and was instantly hooked, my love over DJ Koze naturally aligned with this.  Pampa and more specific Koze has always had the ability to find something wonderful in the weird and make things work that shouldn’t. His approach is fresh yet familiar.

Keeping all of the above in mind I approached this album sceptically. Long players are tough in dance music and there have been few that have pulled it off. The lead single ‘Pick Up’ is a born winner, perhaps the anthem of the summer, but where do you go from there I kept in asking myself?  

In short my approach was wrong. This isn’t a dance album. This is an album. This is a well thought out journey into the mind of Koze and friends. He has assembled a strong cast of guest vocalist that range from Jose Gonzales, Speech from Arrested Development and Roisin Murphy to name a few. Sure there is an over all 4/4 pace, and he delves into his techno and house background on tracks but seems to hold it to a level that there is a presence but it doesn’t take over. 

Arguably there are more elements of Hip Hop, which makes sense as the few interviews that I have read about the recluse DJ Koze is that his roots firmly sit in this genre. I think this sits more on the side of heavy sampling and making something out of nothing.  

1 month into this album I’m discovering new pieces to what is a complex collection of songs that each hold there own but majestically sit very well together.  

I hope you all enjoy this as much as me. I find it has been a welcome friend with a gin and tonic in hand outside on an evening and also when I’m getting the kids ready for school in the morning.

MARCH: Microshift – HOOKWORMS

Sometimes you enjoy a band, but you know they could be so much more. And you will them into becoming that thing, and so often, that just doesn’t happen. They plough the same furrow with decreasingly fruitful results, until, by album three, you feel something die inside you and you know your relationship with them is over.

I’m always keeping an eye on the local music scene in Leeds. It’s not a bad scene and it always has some bands worth listening to, but often they peter out before they get going. I first noticed there was a bit new psyche thing going a few years ago, and some of it actually seemed really good. At the forefront of that were Hookworms. They’ve made two really solid albums, the first building on the first and expanding its sound. But they were solidly PSYCH albums, sounding something like this:

I’d seen them live and I’m partial to a bit of Krautrock, so it was right in my wheelhouse, but they are REALLY good live, and a lot more punky that you might think, but they weren’t exactly inventing the wheel (to complete the wheel related references). I remember thinking, rather fancifully like a twat, that they were ‘Austerity Psych’ – psych rock channelling the anger of our era in a Northern city.

And then an absence of a couple of years. And then, a month or two ago, I hear THIS on 6Music:

And my mind is blown. THAT is Hookworms? Sweet Jesus, yes. It’s Hookworms having babies with New Order, LCD Soundsystem and every other slice of dance rock heaven you could ever imagine. Everything has gone widescreen. The lead singer, MJ, one of rock’s more unlikely looking lead singers, has no longer hidden his voice behind acres of reverb, and wow, he actually has an amazing voice. The ANGER and the punk attitude is still there (this is, after all, about depression and dealing with the death of a friend), but what a canvas to paint it on.

And then came the album, and the fear that this one truly amazing song would be sat amongst a load of psych songs of old, standing out like a sore thing. Not a bit of it. STATIC RESISTANCE is probably the closest thing to Hookworms of old, but even that has crispness and urgency to it that really stands out. It’s a GREAT Track 2:

It doesn’t let up from there. ULLSWATER is another banger, to rival NEGATIVE SPACE, as is OPENER, which feels almost joyful. And then there’s the other surprise – the soft, almost balladeering underbelly of a band that with hitherto all hard Krautrock beats. THE SOFT SEASON is sweet and moving, and EACH TIME WE PASS is, well, actually quite dreamy!

I think this a major piece of work. It works totally as an album and a vision, and it’s rewarded me every time I’ve played it.

Finally, can we talk about the sequencing? Brother Joey, I know it’s a bugbear of yours and mine when a good album is badly sequenced. Just how beautifully sequenced is this? ULLSWATER as a Track 3 basically says – yes, the whole album is as good as this. And then THE SOFT SEASON is that sudden blast of tenderness that opens out the whole album’s palette. And at the back end, SHORTCOMINGS has got to be the best closer to an album I’ve heard in a long time. It’s up there with my favourite songs on the whole thing – James Murphy would be proud of that one.

It’s only March but I can’t see this not being one of my albums of the year.

So yeah, sometimes those bands you invest in do reward you by turning into something much bigger than you’d ever imagined…