Top 10 Albums Of 2016

10. Hinds – Leave Me Alone

homepage_large-21b15074In their oversized t-shirts, smudged eye-liner and beers-in-hand, the sleeve art of Leave Me Alone might as well be a photo of your best girl mates outside that sticky uni club on a Wednesday night. But this sort of dirty dilettante vibe is exactly what fuels Hinds’ appeal. They are the sort of girls you could get along really well with, whipping your hair back and forth or going vintage shopping, as well as being a grungy, Madrid-based quartet that also make really cool music. They’re not preened pop princesses. They’re girls you know. And like all the more for it. Their debut album is just as unfocused as the album cover; playful, haphazard, home-video-style, with sleepy, beach-y melodies (homage to Mac DeMarco) and whimsical, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. The raucous, strident percussion and occasional chorus-chanting is often chaotic, with sounds and voices competing to be heard, but the album holds together so well because it’s undeniably theirs. It’s their heart, soul, sweat and saliva that’s gone into the production of it. Call them dishevelled. Call it careless. But whatever insouciant brand of garage these girls are operating under, they’re owning it. And whatever they’re selling, I’m buying.

9. Rihanna – ANTI

rihanna_-_antiR.Kelly once sang that “after the show its the after party, And after the party its the hotel lobby, Around about 4 you gotta clear the lobby, Then head take it to your room and freak somebody”. To me, ANTI is Rihanna soundtracking that hook-up. She’s not written this album for the sell-out stadium shows, or for Grammy nominations, or for the millions of devotees that like to slut-drop to Rude Boy. This is purely for herself, and whoever has the good fortune to be invited back to her and Mary Jane’s lair. In Rihanna’s post-pop, post-language rebirth she’s created something subdued, introspective and soulful. There’s none of the flashy, chart-topping anthems that we’ve come to expect from her, mechanically engineered, year after year since 2005. Instead, rejecting the mould of badass pop star that has been built for her, and which she’s so magnificently inhabited, Rihanna has made an anti-commercial, anti-mainstream, anti-Taylor-Swift’s-cutesy-girl-gang album. And if it’s not the triumphant, catchy, provocative music you’re used to, well that’s exactly the point. That doesn’t mean the songs are bad. Consideration, Kiss It Better and Work simmer and throb with the kind of woozy sensuality that Rihanna is so brilliant at. But if ANTI does anything brilliantly, it’s give space to allow Rihanna’s voice to shine (bright like a diamond). My favourite song of hers by far is “FourFiveSeconds” in which she belted with raw, unabashed feeling, only serving to amplify the level of vulnerability and soul in her voice. Here, she builds on that foundation, revealing a side of her – though don’t be fooled, this is just how she wants you to currently see her – we’ve rarely had the joy to behold. ANTI is a brazen, bold statement of intent, and an ANTIdote to the manufactured pop of Rihanna’s yesteryears.

eliot-sumner-information8. Eliot Sumner – Information

Sting’s prodigal daughter burst onto the music scene as I Blame Coco. But in shedding the cutesy moniker and opting to work under her given name, she returns with a moody, melodramatic and ambitious sophomore album that plays like a coruscating fever dream. Having honed in on and toned down her ‘sound’, Sumner produces an album of astonishing singularity, pulsating with vulnerability and searing synth-hooks that play to the strengths of her distinctive, husky vocals.

58764-the-altar7. Banks – The Altar

Brooding, menacing, searing synths and infectious pop hooks only serve to showcase Bank’s vocal talent, as she dishes up a platter of deliveries, cadences, and range over dissonant strings and thumping bass. But for all its experimental production and deeply-honest lyrics, this is an album to make you feel empowered.

6. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

985e010aBon Iver, a.k.a Justin Vernon’s latest musical offering sounds like it was born out of Netflix’s Stranger Things sinister parallel universe, The Upside Down. This isn’t the Bon Iver we know and love – impressionistic, mournful, spiritual, trading in acoustic hums and strums – and it’s taken a bit of getting used. But if you can overcome your purist reservations there’s a lot to love here. Despite the glitchy, dissonant and electronic surface, the architecture of Bon Iver’s music remains visible; pastoral themes explored with a penetrating uncertainty. It clocks in at a mere 35 minutes long, but in spite of its brevity, Iver never loses the meditative quality that permeates his previous albums. Synth-heavy and processed it might be, but in pushing beyond the borders of the genre to which we’ve acclimatised ourselves to in relation to Iver, he creates something revelatory, surprising and adventurous. Which surely is what the best music should be?

5. The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It

cover1400x1400-1Existing on the periphery of cool, you don’t lose all manner of dignity admitting you like The 1975, as you would with, say, One Direction, but certainly a big chunk of it would disappear. They’re like an edgier version of The Vamps or a grittier version of 5 Seconds of Summerexcept that I like their music. And as much as I could’ve earned more regard among peers by putting Kendrick or Chance or Kanye in the number 5 spot, I’ve given it to these weed-smoking, skinny-jean wearing lads because they’re a huge amount of fun. This is music I’d dance to. And lord knows I like to do that. And with their skittish, aspirational sophomore album (see above) they might just have crawled their way into the realms of reverence.

ILIWYSFYASBYSUOT (more effort than typing the actual title) is self-indulgent, sprawling, self-proclaimed ‘art’. It’s obscenely pretentious and it’s not hiding the fact. It riffs of the effervescent sounds of the 80s; all neon-drenched rhythms and resounding hooks, the gleaming glossiness of which is reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s 1989, just less neatly packaged and besieged by introspection, digression and experimentation. The ‘hits’ (The Sound, UGH) are interspersed with 6-minute spasms of instrumentals. It tackles BIG SERIOUS TOPICS like fame, faith, loss, love and sex with a trademark bluntness and wit and whilst the profundity the band might be aiming for doesn’t always come of, the playful wackiness certainly does. It’s hard to not to admire the sheer appetite for genre that The 1975 display and how earnest and eager they are to be irreverent. And for that reason they earn this (much coveted) spot.

4. Solange Knowles – A Seat at the Table

ed5cd56aba0fc1ca577a2a67dd5efe9c-1000x1000x1Solange (a.k.a. sister of Beyoncé) comes into her own with this Motown-esque, but thoroughly current album packed to the rafters with dreamy melodies and soulful laments. Not dissimilar from The 1975’s interlude-heavy artistic endeavour, almost every full length song is sandwiched between spoken word vignettes, memoirs depicting the reality of black lives and fragments of intensely personal experiences that often serve as context for the subsequent songs. I wanted to resist comparing it to Lemonade (more of which later), but its difficult when both albums are so determined to push the boundaries of what an ‘album’ is or can be. They subvert and remould and transform expectations. Both are bold statements of intent. Despite the soft, whispery vocals throughout, Solange’s statement is loud and clear. There’s a seething and simmering, but equally gentle and languid undercurrent as she traverses topics from gentrification, heritage, drugs and cultural appropriation. Yet A Seat at the Table never relinquishes its irresistibility in favour of politics, but rather becomes a pitch-perfect integration of the two.  In “Don’t Touch My Hair”, the sparse production, drowsy rhythms and barely-there falsetto gives birth to a song of poignant protest. Indeed the tenderness with which Solange performs the entire album makes it that much more resonant. A Seat at the Table occasionally suffers at the hand of its plaintive textures, but keep listening, keep revisiting and you’ll unearth a lavish feast of intricate harmonies, intimate interlocutions and elegiac lyricism. Pull up a chair.

3. Angel Olsen – My Woman

b536a49eGirl crush alert. Angel Olsen is amazing and this album is spectacular. I’m tempted to publish a litany of adjectives which reiterate as much. But I’ll try my hand at eloquence first.

Not dissimilar from the transformation undergone by Bon Iver in 22, A MillionAngel Olsen has emerged from her folk-rock makings and gone electric, a la Dylan circa 1965. From the brooding intensity of Intern onwards, Olsen doesn’t let up and track after track delivers something fitful, fevered and fierce. It might be heart-break fuelled, but it fizzes and flares with attitude, spunk and the conviction of an artist who is fully realising or harnessing her talent. Olsen has frequently explored the wrenching, conflicting nature of love, but never in such a way that displays all the sullen colours of her voice. Her vocals are at once soul-crushing and electrifying, and despite all the twinkly synths and burnished bass-lines, the staggering thing about the album is the rage Olsen unleashes. The line “hurts to be around you” in Give It Up is a perfect example of where upbeat guitars and riffs almost disguise the anguish this album deals with. It plunges you into the depths of Olsen’s emotions in all their raw, chaotic splendour and never loosens its grip. Which oddly becomes an exhilarating, rather than wearying experience. Amid murmurs, wails and swelling guitar solos, Olsen gifts us an intoxicating, bittersweet record. Fearless.

2.Beyoncé- Lemonade

beyonce-lemonade-album-cover-compressedAn anthemic manifesto. A film. A piece of concept art. A staggering achievement that cements Beyoncé as an artist at the height of her powers and influence. Who knows how the hell to define Lemonade. But lord am I glad life gave Bey some lemons. It’s punchier and more potent that anything she’s hitherto delivered; a visceral and profound insight into the speculated infidelities between her and Jay-Z and her subsequent journey through anger, revenge, jealously, acceptance, forgiveness, redemption and so much more. The whole album is a force to be reckoned with, but particularly tracks 2 – 6 are the best we’ve ever heard from Beyoncé (despite the shade it’s received, I’m a big fan of Daddy Lessons). Her vocal prowess is unprecedented. The sheer range when combined with her distinctive patois, individualistic inflections and overall poise confirm her as artist of singular talent. There is no-one like her. But equally Lemonade isn’t afraid to mix things up and incorporate artists as diverse as Kendrick Lamar, Jack White and James Blake, which never once dilutes this being completely Beyoncé’s album, but rather augments it. She emerges from the swirling flavours and samples a post-genre pop star, as comfortable singing country as hip-hop or soul. As sonically audacious as it is emotionally excavating, Beyoncé is at once the most human we’ve ever seen her and the most divine. An utterly transcendent experience.

1. Christine & The Queens – Chaleur Humaine

christine_and_the_queens_-_chaleur_humaine_600_600Swooping down and nabbing the No. 1 spot? Of course it’s something you can dance to.

Christine & The Queens, the adventurous, androgynous outfit of French songstress Héloïse Letissier, has been performing for a while in her native France. Reminiscent of St. Vincent’s self-titled album in its slick execution and infectious tapestry of beats, but equally inventive, Chaleur Humaine confirms Letissier as an artist deserving of mainstream attention. In exploring the liminal spaces and contours of one’s identity and sexuality, Letissier produces something quick-witted, subversive, joyous, colourful and empowering. Segueing from mesmeric ballads to jaunty pop anthems (try getting Titled or iT out of your head), don’t be fooled by the slinky exterior of these sparkling synth-pop productions, this is a formidable album from an enigmatic personality. Surrender yourself to the Queen.

The Playlist: What I’ve Been Listening To

Lera Lynn – Lately

Arguably the breakout star of True Detective‘s underwhelming series was not an actor, but the crooning, country singer echoing from the back of the bar. That voice belongs to Lera Lynn, a Nashville-based songstress whose moody, melancholic vibes and soulful twang earned her the attention of legendary musician T Bone Burnett. My favourite track from those she penned for the second instalment of HBO’s noir-ish hit, is Lately. Stripped back and haunting, the melody has a gothic edge, whilst the almost guttural timbre of her voice reverberates with nostalgia. Lately is an utterly mesmeric lullaby and by the far the most captivating element of the show.

Jess Glynne – Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

Best known for her distinctive vocals on Clean Bandit’s No.1 Rather Be, the copper-haired hit maker has just released her debut album I Cry When I Laugh, and its standout song for me, is the feel good anthem Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself.  This is the kind of sassy pop that will get you in the mood for a Saturday night.

Mac Demarco – Another One

Another One is Demarco’s self-recorded 8 track mini album that continues in the twangy, zany vein of Salad Days. He’s perfect the art of mellow melodies and whimsical vocals that make for something watery, reflective and joyfully simplistic. My favourite track is the upbeat, guitar-laced I’ve Been Waiting For Her.

Everything Everything – Regret

Slightly older, but no less magical than the other entries, this track from the band’s third album is pop perfection. With it’s effervescent percussion, throbbing drum beat and frenetic falsetto, Everything Everything have delivered something as dazzling as it is dizzying.

Chvrches – Never Ending Circles

The Glaswegian synth-pop trio return to fray with a glossy, whirlwind track from their upcoming sophomore album, Every Open Eye. It’s not a particularly noticeable departure from their debut material, and perhaps lacks the edge of Lies or Recover, but it’s beautifully produced and gets better with every listen.

Live Review: Kaiser Chiefs at Sandown

Kaiser Chiefs and horse-racing might seem like an obscure combination, but it made for an adrenalin-fuelled and energetic night of entertainment.

The Chiefs predominantly stuck to their roster of classics, belting out tunes such as Modern Way, Everyday I Love You Less and Less, and Ruby with the same vigour and enthusiasm as when they first graced the airwaves.

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Newer material was also trialled out – a particular favourite of mine being their recently unveiled single ‘Falling Awake’, a teaser for their forthcoming album. And the titular song from their LP Education, Education and War also made an appearance, though the slightly older crowd seemed less receptive to this than the golden oldies.

Still, the Kaiser Chiefs proved – not like they have to – the enduring popularity and allure of their music. They’re a down-to-earth man-band of passionate musicians and theirs is brand of music characterised by accessibility, catchiness and political undercurrents. Like a lovechild of The Jam, Pulp and The Specials; they take all the good bits and make it their own. A special, pulpy jam that is chiefly the Kaisers if you will.

Indeed, their stage presence or more precisely, frontman Ricky Wilson’s is what really sets them apart. Wilson bounds around the stage like a puppy on steroids and knows how to entertain a crowd. Sure the band play the anthems, but it’s Wilson who gets you singing and clapping along.

In fact the jubilance with which he prances around and jumps on the sound equipment belies the bittersweet and brutally frank lyrics.

With swagger and satire they continue to march to the beat of their indie-rock drum, and do so somewhat under the radar.

They’re a sly band the Kaiser Chiefs. It’s easy to forget just how good they are.

The Playlist: What I’ve Been Listening To

Seinabo Sey – Hard Time

Electro-soul from a Swedish songstress being labelled as the next ‘Adele’. It’s assured, sultry and downright rhythmic. This is Sey’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’.

Azealia Banks – Idle Delilah

Catchy as fuck, this is breezy, Caribbean-flavoured hip-hop that oozes with effortlessness.  Hard not to enjoy.

Catfish & The Bottlemen – Homesick

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhfXl1OefI8

Bubbling to a catchy, urgent crescendo; there’s something a little Imagine Dragons-by way of- Kings of Leon, about this gritty, growling tune. Listen out for the killer riff.

Palace – Veins

Low-key loveliness. Palace are a brooding quartet reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, and this slow-burner will hopefully become their trademark. That tinkly, guitar-strumming at the beginning is a sheer lullaby, and the bluesy blood pumping through their veins is nothing short of spiritual.

Paloma Faith – Only Love Can Hurt Like This

A proper decent ballad like. Soulful, flawless and this week’s guilty pleasure. That pitch change gives me tingles every single time.

Happy listening. Have a good weekend.

Jerry-Listening-to-Music

Album Review: The Bones Of What You Believe, Chvrches

Having “discovered” Chvrches back in January 2013 (when they placed fifth in the BBC’s ‘Sound of 2013’ poll, alongside a cluster of similarly talented breakthrough artists such as Haim and AlunaGeorge), trust me when I proclaim that the trio’s debut album has been long-awaited and much anticipated.

shareImageTeasing listeners with such vibrant releases as ‘The Mother We Share’ and ‘Recover’, Chvrches promised electro-pop at its finest: arousing, zingy and multi-faceted. And boy, have they made good on that promise: The Bones of What You Believe is alarmingly assured for a debut album. ’80s synth lines and infectious hooks are laced with the darker undertones of lyrics such as “I will be a gun / and it’s you I’ll come for”. Equally, frontwoman Lauren Mayberry’s voice perfectly accompanies this dichotomy: at once childlike and playful, yet hauntingly ethereal.

Each track defies and transcends one’s expectations, beginning as if building to a frenetic climax, before U-turning into something more restrained and introspective. Particularly notable in this regard is ‘Tether’, which swells and dips in volume and refrain in such dramatic fashion that one virtually has to check that the track is still playing. Similarly trance-like and pensive is ‘Night Sky’, which effervesces with a quiet intensity.

This makes for an interestingly diverse and re-playable album that suits a variety of moods and tones. I could just as easily find myself jumping up and down to ‘Lies’ at a festival or club, as I could let the atmospheric  and hypnotic ‘Under the Tide’ – in which Martin Doherty takes to the mike – nurture me through an essay.

Chvrches manage to pack a punch with a nuanced and textured listening experience, which could happily belong in any one of the past four decades.

There is a menace and emotional turmoil fuelling the appeal of each song: tapping into adolescent anxiety, but superseding some of the empty, effusive pop that the group’s peers have been guilty of. Reminiscent of Kate BushDepeche Mode, and – more recently – Purity RingChvrches manage to pack a punch with a nuanced and textured listening experience, which could happily belong in any one of the past four decades. And yet, there is something equally futuristic and forward-thinking about its aural appeal.

There’s room for development for the band to really mould or consolidate the slightly more experimental flavours at their disposal. ‘Science/Visions’ hints at a weak spot to rest on the laurels of the other songs, repeating some of the hooks previously heard and slightly less polished than its predecessors. But that’s a blip in an otherwise phenomenally phantasmagorical and accomplished album. Believe in these bones, because I suspect they’re something special.

Similar To: Purity Ring, Depeche Mode

MP3: ‘Lies’, ‘Gun’, ‘Recover’

LIVE REVIEW: Jake Bugg

Touring since October, local Notts boy Jake Bugg has already had quite a year, with his appeal quickly gaining momentum after making appearances stateside and performing to sell-out crowds across England. As a result, his rescheduled show at Birmingham’s Institute was greeted with high expectations.

Opening for the eponymous eighteen-year-old were folky Dubliners Hudson Taylor. No doubt riding on the crest that is the ‘Mumford movement’, their acoustic riffs and harmonies were toe-tapplingly catchy. Their charming Irish lilts came through strongly on the vocals – especially on the likes of ‘Chasing Rubies’ – and each song of their set was pacy and passionate, interrupted only by their repeatedly thanking the audience.

Tennessee-born Valerie June then took to the stage, with her feisty presence usurped only by her eye-catching Medusa-like hair. That is, until she started singing. Her voice was magnificently distinctive, reaching a volume one could hardly have expected. Her Deep South accent and roots were wonderfully palpable throughout as she combined playing on acoustic and electric guitars, as well as her “baby” banjo, on which she performed melodic gospel song ‘Somebody to Love’. Finishing on ‘Pushing Against The Stone’, the bass line seared through the audience as her sultry, almost-piercing voice continued to captivate: a delight to behold.

Jake-Bugg-albumThen arrived the boy we’d all been waiting for. Jake Bugg hardly acknowledged the audience’s cheers and hoots, instead fiddling with his guitar and launching straight into ‘Fire’. With his vocals as raw and sublime as they sound on record, he switched between acoustic and electric instruments with astonishing efficiency (if anything, he could have lingered on each crowd’s enjoyment of each number). Mesmerised and occasionally rowdy, the audience (of a surprisingly mixed age) sang along with zeal; at one point, a small group broke out with what I assume was a local Nottingham chant.

The atmosphere changed with each new song: mellow, tender tunes such as ‘Trouble Town’, ‘Simple As This’ and ‘Someplace’ were stripped back and evocative, sung under an ethereal spotlight and with a poignancy that belies Bugg’s age. He too transformed as the set ensued. He began almost-taciturn, if not just shy, speaking very little between each song, but he gradually warmed up to compliment the audience on their accompanying vocals, also introducing new single ‘Seen It All’. Barely moving from his central spot on the stage, he managed to transfix nonetheless with his Dylan-esque troubadour image and gritty vocal style.

With a flawless and beguiling confidence, Bugg went on to flow from the bluesy ‘Ballad Of Mr. Jones’ to the hypnotic ‘Slide’. Both were consistently brilliant and magnetic, but the addictive riffs of ‘Two Fingers’ and ‘Taste It’ found Bugg at his best. ‘Two Fingers’ in particular displayed his talent for complexity, opening with acoustic strumming before the tempo gradually kicked it up to a notch that saw the crowd dancing along enthusiastically.

What we’d really been waiting for, though, was the Olympic anthem that accompanied most of Usain’s triumphs in summer 2012: the utterly raucous ‘Lightning Bolt’, which Bugg rightly saved for last. This marked the only time that the crowd became particularly rowdy, and with riffs that electric, one could hardly blame them.

Bugg departed the stage to rapturous applause, quickly followed by chants for his return. Politely obliging, he returned to perform a mesmeric encore of ‘Broken’ and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, both of which showcased his country influences, as well as confirming that this young man is definitely a talent to watch