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2014 In Albums — The Features Editor's View

  • Published in Albums


Ahh, 2014. The times that we’ve had. In this case, I’m talking in specifically musical terms, and about five albums that have pleased my ears in the last year. My criteria for what makes a beloved album has changed drastically with time: where the sign of an album’s awesomeness was formerly its ability to turn me into a gibbering fan-girl who’d risk a heart attack by throwing herself about on the dance floor when one of its tracks blared out of the DJ box, an album’s greatness is now measured in how many times I’ll flip the record over on the turntable in a single sitting, and whether or not it’ll keep me going as I cycle up one of Edinburgh’s many infernal hills.

So, in no particular order are the albums that I've particularly enjoyed this year.

Simian GhostThe Veil.

This fabulous bunch of Swedes, led by Sebastian Arnström, released their third album this year — the long-awaited follow up to 2012’s fantastic Youth. Simian Ghost tread interesting ground: their music is pop with none of pop’s cloying simplicity, and indie with none of it’s tendency for introspection. What you end up with is an album of fantastic colours: awash with the fuzz of shoegaze, rich with fantastic vocal harmonies that have more than a shot of Brian Wilson’s solo work to them, and a great seam of musicality that takes the melodies off in directions that you least expect.

PrinceArt Official Age / Prince & 3rdeyegirlPlectrumelectrum.

I’m still smarting from the fact that a mate of mine managed to get into one of Prince’s surprise London shows at the Electric Ballroom, but even my rampant envy is swept away by my delight in the fact that we were treated to two Prince albums this year. While it’s not quite a return to the brilliance that was evident in his earlier work — which is now a slightly eye-watering 30 years old — both albums, despite a lack of focus that makes a bit of musical rambling set in now and then, have enough cuts of the Prince we all love to keep any fan happy. And Art Official Age’s concept (in which ‘Mr. Nelson’ wakes up from suspended animation after 45 years), is irresistibly and completely batty.


The War On DrugsLost In The Dream.

The War On Drugs have been aurally irresistible ever since the release of 2008 debut Wagonwheel Blues, and I’m still having a hard time shifting Slave Ambient off the stereo. Lost In The Dream goes along with the ‘It it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mantra, with Adam Granduciel continuing to combine the sounds of the '80s and '70s into something delicious, but here refines it into something much more interesting, as the little nods to Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty are lost in the more intriguing haze of the albums distinctive guitar-driven Americana shot through with Motorik rhythms.

CairbouOur Love.

Seven albums in, Caribou continues to do great things while remaining unconcerned with courting the mass market. Dan Snaith is a fascinating figure in his own right — a teetotaller who started out as a musician while completing his doctorate in pure mathematics at ICL — and his irresistable brand of electronica continues to delight the ears. What makes Caribou great is the fact that an assured grasp of what makes folk hit the dance floor is tempered with unexpected changes of mood and tempo that keeps things interesting and intriguing far beyond the record’s first spin.

Aphex TwinSyro.

Thirteen years — THIRTEEN years! — after the release of 2001’s sublime double LP Drukqs, Aphex Twin returned to a collective gasp of delight in 2014. And what a return it was, especially in confirming everything that’s great about Aphex Twin, the main thing being that Richard D James continues to make music that sounds like no-one else out there. Syro was a great album for long-time fans in that it still sounded unmistakeably and fantastically like Aphex Twin; sticking to the familiar sonic landscape and cheeky humour of previous albums, while throwing in plenty of musical curveballs. Marvellous.


The Weekly Froth - September #2

  • Published in Columns

The Weekly Froth! A weekly take on six tracks, most of which have recently popped up somewhere in the blogosphere. Bit of a mixed bag with a slight leaning towards house, disco, and remixes, but generally just anything that for some reason tickled the writer’s fancy.

Track of the week: ‘Dangerous Days’ by Zola Jesus (The Juan MacLean remix)

Both of these juggernauts are about to release a new album, so what better reason to team up then, eh? The Juan MacLean puts in the sounds verging on techno at the start, though it is that dull thudding sound that makes sure it doesn't sound too devoid of feel. From about the 1:20 mark you get this lovely synth sound, and twenty seconds later you get the impeccable vocals of Zola Jesus. Surprisingly, they mesh pretty well, even if the vocals are a long cry from the more rhythmic Nancy Whang. Here the vocals don’t add something to the rhythm, but they add some warmth, which counter balances the fairly “cold” sounds, without being negative about that. The Juan MacLean always has a certain industrial quality to his sound that I do really love. There are moments in this remix where the voice takes center stage, with The Juan MacLean stripping away all that makes you dance, later obviously coming back to that. It’s got the danceability you’d expect, and the vocals give it a bit of warmth to make it well worth the listen.


‘This Is Not About Us’ by Kindness

Kindness is gearing up to release his new album, Otherness, and this will give you an idea of what might be on there. He starts almost singer-songwriter like with just a piano and his dreamy vocals, but soon the rest comes in to give it some rhythm so you can do a slow little shuffle to it. I really like how he uses his vocals. First of all there’s this huge difference between the vocals in the verses and the chorus, where either they use multiple layers of vocals or there are some backing singers on there. But I also really like the way he alternates between almost pathetically admitting that “you should find someone new” to sometimes being on the verge of shouting it all out. Add to that the slight funk in the percussion that juxtaposes the vocal sound, and what you’ve got is yet another terribly good track by this guy, making the album one to look out for.


‘On&On&On&On’ by Baio

This one starts out like it wants to make you dance, as it immediately jumps in with the beat from the get go. After about twenty seconds the wood percussion gets some extra atmosphere as well, courtesy of the synths. From that point on you get an extra layer after about every so many seconds, putting down the vibe on this one. From about 1:20 you get into an almost tropical kind of sound, making you wish that summer was not yet over. There’s always something going on that a dancer can hold on to, with the bass or the percussion being in there underneath the layer of tropical synths. That is, until the break of course, which starts about three minutes in and which Baio is in no hurry to disturb, lasting over a minute. Then the tropical sounds come back in first, after which the bass is put in again for those needing something a little more sturdy to dance to. If you like your tropicana drinks free and with a slice of bass, then this might be something you’re into.


‘Spellbound’ by Justin Faust

This one puts you in dancing mode from just about the get go, and it even adds another dancing layer at about 30 to push it all out even more. Leave it to Justin Faust to keep the momentum up and happening by adding just a little bit of punch at exactly the right moments. After the first minute you already hear a bit of the vocals, and you’ll keep on hearing them as Faust is working up to the break by upping the volume of the synths more and more throughout the second minute of this one. Those synths and vocals (still fairly muted, as they will remain throughout the song) are the essence of the break, which he lifts to get all y’all dancing again. Second part of the song as well, at exactly the right moments he gives the track a little punch or smoothly transitions into a different main sound to dance to, and that keeps this one from losing any steam in its almost five minute running time. Though, near the end, he slowly builds this one down to then abruptly stop.


‘Can’t Do Without You’ by Caribou (Tale of Us & Mano le Tough remix)

Caribou is going to release his new album Our Love next month, and this is a cut off of that. As with most Caribou songs, they give you plenty of stuff, and the album versions are usually just slightly too off beat to get into unabased party mode. So then, obviously, you bring in Tale of Us and Mano le Tough, who know how to get the crowds out and moving. For this one they first let it build up, and the kick drum and all the other dance elements start to come from about 1:30 onwards. There’s also a deeper, lazy synth on top to give it some atmosphere, with Caribou repeating the title line “Can’t Do Without You’ almost obsessively. That synth line provides a nice contrast with the deeper beat, which gets stripped during the break at about 3:15, where they go with atmospheric sounds, a low volumed synth, and the voice that sings that he-- you guessed it-- “can’t do without you”. They keep with the atmospherics for a pretty long time, and then they start building it up towards the beat from about 4:30 again. With three heavy hitters on board this was always going to be worth listening, though don’t expect a full on party track, with Tale of Us and Mano le Tough keeping the vibe and feel still front and center. Though no one will deny that on 3/4ths of the track you can get some dancing done.


‘Worlds Apart’ by Seven Lions feat. Kerli (Bit Funk remix)

It starts with a batch of percussion, but after a few seconds it dials down for the first time, going for just piano and the vocals of Kerli. Bit Funk then slides the percussion under it again, and after the verse it gets a beat as the track almost moves into the pop arena here. And that’s probably how to look at it, a track that would get the people bouncing at the summer festivals. Also on the back of those vocals I reckon, which Bit Funk uses to the max and which are always going full throttle. As mentioned, there are moments where they tone it down and where the vocals and piano take center stage. Soon they work in the drums again, really going pop structure style I reckon. And it makes for a fresh, happy, catchy little tune not so much for the club. But for that summer festival and with live musicians I can see this happening no doubt.


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