Sunday, May 19, 2013

Top Albums & EPs May 2013

Top 25 Albums

1) The National Trouble Will Find Me (Indie Rock) 10/10
I found it difficult to envisage that The National could release an album I love even more than High Violet, but in stripping back their lush strings, they've produced something even more personal and moving. It takes their melancholy side even further, and I'm moved immensely by its shear beauty. This is easily my favourite album of 2013 so far, and is destined to become a classic.

2) Savages Silence Yourself (Post Punk) 9/10
Savages is a band you really need to see live- I was astonished by their energy at Coachella. Their punk influenced music might not be particularly original, but it's delivered brutally and makes quite an impact. The band has inexplicably removed their SoundCloud stream, but you can listen to No Face here.

3) Ghostpoet Some I So I Say Light (Electronic) 9/10

Britain's Obaro Ejimiwe second album is a work of art, combining spoken lyrics with dark electronics. It's emotional power recalls How to Dress Well: the subject matter is often dark, and the musical influences wide (including Radiohead). The agitated atmosphere doesn't always make for easy listening, but it's the product of a fertile imagination and easily merits your attention.

4) Treetop Flyers The Mountain Moves (Alt Country) 9/10
I recently had a magical live experience with Treetop Flyers, and their début album has influences of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young despite coming from London. It has a nostalgic feel, and lead singer Reid Morrison sings with passion. This doesn't break new ground, but that's irrelevant when it's so engaging.

5) John Murray The Graceless Age (Alt Country) 9/10
Oddly, this Missippi musician released his album last year in the UK, but only recently in the US. It's country with a dreamy feel, and literary connections (John Murray is a distant relative of William Faulkner). California is my favourite track, but the album stands up as a coherent whole, and has a powerful emotional effect.

6) Jai Paul Self-Titled (Indietronica) 9/10
Jai Paul's debut album was leaked on Bandcamp and quickly withdrawn. It's possible this was a publicity stunt, but it sounds too polished to believe that they were demos from a stolen laptop. It makes heavy use of samples and has quite a playful feel: what's seems certain is that when the Brit's finished album is released by XL, the anticipation will have been justified.

7) Houses A Quiet Darkness (Indie Pop)  9/10

A Quiet Darkness has been the victim of a Pitchfork injustice: they called it a dirge, whereas it's actually incredibly beautiful, sad and subtle. It's nearly an hour long, and whilst there's limited variety of mood, it's an immerse experience, with intelligent lyrics. Sometimes it's very necessary to let life slow down.

8) Deptford Goth Life After Defo (Electronic) 8/10

This debut album from London's Daniel Woodhouse owes something to James Blake. It's dark electro pop with dub step influences, which paints a dark, moody picture. It's often restrained, and muted, which only adds to its stark beauty.

9) Fossil Collective Tell Where I Lie (Indie Folk) 8/10

This folk rock album has instant appeal with its Fleet Foxes melodies, varied acoustic instrumentation,a and sunny feel. Some might wish to be challenged more, but this band from Leeds wears its Fleetwood Mac influences easily, and didn't set out to break new ground.

10) Junip self titled (Indie Pop) 8/10
Sweden's Jose Gonzalez has created a subtle, understated album with restrained vocals and a focus on his own and the drummer and keyboard player's instrumentals. It rewards repeated listening: instead of being showy, it focuses on gradual development, and I particularly enjoy the more laid back tracks such as Beginnings.

11) Little Boots Nocturnes (Synth Pop) 8/10

I enjoyed this dance pop album far more than I expected: Victoria Hesketh's comeback album after her 2009 debut is fun and upbeat, but also has depth, as she balances disco with darker elements. It would be a pity if her moment had passed, since Nocturnesis has mainstream appeal and musical merit.

12) Youngblood Hawke Wake Up (Indie Pop) 7.5/10

As the title suggestions, Wake Up is energetic, upbeat pop with catchy melodies, unashamedly seeking mass appeal. I can see it being much fun at a festival, however if you're listening alone, don't expect to discover any hidden emotional depths. It's synth driven, outgoing and exuberant.

13) Laura Stevenson & The Cans Wheel (Indie Folk) 7.5/10

This old time country learning album is actually the work of an artist with a background in punk rock. This occasionally manifests itself in the vocals, but the melodies are folk like. Pitchfork criticised it for blandness, yet actually the lyrics are often tragic, the dark undercurrents give real depth, and the the songs gradually build to thunderous climaxes.

14) The Highest Order If It's Real (Indie Folk) 7.5/10
This is female fronted country from Toronto with a psychedelic twist. Simone Schmidt has a rich, sultry voice, creating a powerfully melancholy mood. This recently formed band deserves recognition outside Canada. There are two covers on this album, but the original material is strong too.

15) The Haxan Cloak Excavation (Electronic) 7.5/10

This is the kind of demanding, experimental record that Pitchfork loves. Don't let this put you off exploring it: as the cover suggests, it's a traumatic experience with amazing production (you need a subwoofer to feel the bass). There's much noise, drones and apocalyptic electronic sounds, but if you open your mind you may find it transports you.

16) Belle Starr Self Titled (Folk, Country) 7/10

Here's another country album from Canada: it's much fun and I can't understand why it's received so little online attention. It includes Miranda Mulholland from Great Lake Swimmers, and two other talented female fiddle players. The rhythms are foot tapping, the melodies catchy and the vocal work strong.

17) Bonobo The North Borders (Electronic) 7/10

This is the UK producer's fifth album; he includes Erykah Badu as a guest performer. It's electronic music with a human face, melancholic and dreamy, with an English understated quality. This beauty shouldn't be mistaken (as Pitchfork did) for a lack of energy.

18) Noah &The Whale Heart of Nowhere (Indie Folk) 7/10

I couldn't help but feel disappointed that Heart of Nowhere doesn't really advance Noah and The Whale's style. It's predicable, but fun, and the catchy tunes will work well in a live context. Yet, given Charlie Fink's talent, and the pleasure this album will give, I can't help but feel this was a wasted opportunity.

19) Majical Cloudz Impersonator (Electronic) 7/10

The duo from Montreal makes much use of fragmented loops on their second album, giving an uneasy atmosphere. It's experimental in feel, perhaps a little self conscious. This minimalism is greatly enhanced by Devon Welsh's vocals, who incidentally is a friend of Grimes, sharing her confidence to branch out in his own direction.

20) Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires of the City (Indie Rock) 7/10

Vampire Weekend has produced the surprise of the year for me: I'm not a huge fan of their music, but in reigning in their brash, superficial side they have gained immensely in subtlety. Recommended.

21) Jenn Rawling & Basho Parks Tarantula Arms (Folk) 7/10

This relatively straightforward folk music from a the couple consisting of Jenn's pure vocals and Basho accompanying on violin. They are utterly charming, the music natural and unforced, and soothing in effect.

22) Ruth Moody These Wilder Things (Folk) 7/10
This rootsy album has beautiful fiddle, mandolin and banjo playing, and is the work of a member of The Wailin' Jennys. The mood is gentle, the arrangements lo-fi: another gorgeous folk album from Canada. If you enjoy Kathleen Edwards, this will be to your taste.

23) Handsome Family Wilderness (Alt Country) 7/10
Wilderness is rootsy, with folklore lyrics, each song taking the title from an animal. It's mostly dark, often psychedelic and dominated by Brett's baritone voice, and the beautiful harmonies.

24) Vondelpark Seabed (Electronic) 6.5/10

The established UK trio debut album is essentially electronic R&B. They have plenty of hipster appeal, and often feels nebulous and hazy. This restraint doesn't immediately draw you in, but instead you can revel in the subtle detail of an album which has been far from rushed out.

25) Small Black Limits of Desire (Indie Pop) 6/10

I'm not always drawn into chillwave, and Limits of Desire has attracted mixed reviews. It lacks some of the distinctiveness of their Moon Killer mixtape, and they overdo the reverb at times, yet it's an attractive accompaniment to a late night drive.

Top 5 EPs

1) Alt-J iTunes Session (Indie Rock) 9/10

I'm such a fan of Alt-J that any new material is eagerly awaited. The main attraction here is the new song Buffalo, and the existing material is only subtly reworked. Yet, if you share my admiration for band, you'll want to buy this EP.

2) Torches If The People Stare (Indie Rock) 8/10

I should credit The Owl Mag for discovering this LA guitar band. There's no excuse not to explore this enjoyable EP, since it's a free download from Bandcamp.

3) Dark Dark Dark What I Needed (Indie Folk) 8/10

This supplements their highly recommended 2012 break up album Who Needs Who, following tours with Low and The National. The Minneapolis trio create a romantic feel, with folk and jazz influences.

4) Wild Nothing Empty Estate (Dream Pop) 7/10

For lovers of dream pop, this EP is more upbeat than their last full length Nocturne, and makes greater use of synths. Recommended for their fans, whilst they await a third album.

5) Electric Guest Good America (Indie Pop) 7/10

I was recently blown away by my first experience of Electric Guest live: this is an enjoyable companion to the short Mondo album, with three new songs, a cover, a remix of The Bait and two excellent acoustic versions.

Commended
  • Alessi's Ark The Still Life
  • Blue Hawaii Untogether
  • The Boxer Rebellion Promises
  • Brooke Waggoner Originator
  • Daft Punk Random Access Memories
  • Eluvium Nightmare Ending
  • Hands Synthesia
  • Hanni el Khatib Head in the Dirt
  • MS MR Secondhand Rapture
  • The Neighbourhood I Love You
  • Seasick Steve Hubcap Music
  • The Statesboro Revue Rumble on Privilege Creek
  • Thea Gilmore Regardless
  • The Veils Time Stays, We Go
  • The Weeks Dear Bo Jackson
  • Wheeler Brothers Gold Boots Glitter
  • Young Galaxy Ultramarine


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