Sunday, 2 March 2014

Best Of February 2014

I know I say this a lot but February 2014 has truly been a spectacular month for new music. Not only have we been teased by tantalizing future releases from the likes of Lykke Li, Sharon Van Etten and Lana Del Rey, but last week we were treated to one of the strongest single weeks for new releases in recent memory.  Now that Spring is upon us, lets look back on the month that has just passed, starting with the best albums:

Albums of the Month

1. St Vincent - St Vincent

Following the immaculate Strange Mercy with a record even better seemed like an impossible task, but fortunately Miss Clarke hasn't let us down in the slightest. St Vincent is a funky, melodic, eclectic and endlessly innovative record. Here we see Annie further expand her creative palate; from the horn-laden 'Digital Witness', the avant-garde 'I Prefer Your Love' and the charming indie-rock of 'Birth In Reverse', there is no ground left uncovered. Fundamentally, St Vincent has soul, she manages to go full on pop ('Psycopath', 'Every Tear Disappears') whilst still maintaining her credibility and most importantly, her charm.

Read my full review here.

2. Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness
After her slow burner of a debut album, 2012's folk gem Half Way Home, Missouri's finest Angel Olsen returns with her stunning new album. Far more eclectic than her debut; the styles here range from the skeletal ('White Fire', 'Enemy'), the erratic ('Forgiven/Forgotten') and the ethereal ('Windows'). Her ability to overcome the crippling loneliness which clouded her debut makes this album reflective and uplifting.

Read my full review here.

3. Neneh Cherry - Blank Project
With the help of cutting-edge producer Four Tet, early 90's hip-hop/pop siren Neneh Cherry returns with one of the most audacious comeback records in years. From the trip-hop recalling 'Weightless', the souring pop of 'Out of the Black' (featuring fellow Swede heavyweight Robyn) to the immaculately sharp 'Blank Project', this album is bold, masterful and effortlessly cool.

Read my full review on Earbuddy here.

 4. Wild Beasts - Present Tense
Whilst Hayden Thorpe's androgynous vocals are an acquired taste, you cannot fault that this album is bloody excellent. From the emotionally tender 'Sweet Spot' to the euphoric synth laden lead single 'Wanderlust' this album is easily the Kendal four piece's best offering to date. My early tip for this year's Mercury prize.

5. Katy B - Little Red
Whilst I feel this is an excellent record, it doesn't feel neither as innovative nor as accomplished as her debut. That being said, Little Red does feature some of the best songs Katy has ever produced ('Next Thing', '5AM', 'Everything', 'Still'). 

Read my full review here.

6. Marissa Nadler - July
Whilst Marissa Nadler's previous efforts didn't really catch me attention, July certainly made me take notice. Tracks like the stirring 'Was it a dream', 'Holiday In' and of course the stunning 'Dead City Emily are easily some of her best songs to date. Despite the lack of diversity between the tracks, I feel that Nadler has really mastered her craft here and this makes it her most satisfying release to date.

Read my full review on Earbuddy here.

7. Patten - Estoile Naiant
Patten was never going to put out a straightforward record, was he? Whilst Estoile Naiant is a difficult listen, it eventually does reep some rewards. Tracks like 'Drift', 'Agen' and the epic 'Key Embedded' are all brilliant examples of wonderfully weird off-beat IDM. 

8. Sun Kil Moon - Benji
Despite the heavy critical acclaim (most prominently the staggeringly high 9.2 score from Pitchfork) I find this album ridiculously dismal and depressing. By the sounds of it, Mark Kozelek has had a pretty rough deal; one family member burning do death from an exploding aerosol can is bad but TWO, wow...This aside, there are some sublime moments on here; 'Dogs' is a masterfully written account of pretty much every sexual encounter Kozelek has ever experienced and the horns towards the end of the closing track 'Ben's My Friend' is one of the best musical moments of 2014 so far.

EPs of the Month

1. LAW - Haters & Gangsters
There is no one making music like LAW. No one. This is probably because not many people have voices like she does. Her vocals possess a timeless quality and I'm sure any Brit School Amy Winehouse wannabe would kill for her soulful twang. Her style isn't just restricted to soul though, her production is very much abstract hip-hop-infuse electronic which lifts her gorgeous tone wonderfully. The EP is currently available on her Soundcloud page for FREE! I suggest you download it immediately. 

This was never gonna be anything less than excellent. Hot on the heels of their singles 'Bridges' and 'Never Gonna Change', Auckland's BROODS released their lovely debut EP this month, which features some of the best electro-pop of the year so far. With Lorde and Dan Smith already tipping them for big things, I'm sure 2014 will be their's for the taking.

3. Yumi Zouma - Yumi Zouma
The Kiwi's have really been knocking it out of the park lately, haven't they? New Zealand youngster Yumi Zouma released her debut EP on Cascine records to critical acclaim. This is no surprise really, her ethereal vocals and dreamy production make this a captivating and entrancing listen. 

Songs of the Month

1. St Vincent - Psycopath/ I Prefer Your Love/ Huey Newton
Let's face it, Annie Clarke wins life. February might as well be renamed 'Annie Clark Month'. The best songs I heard this month were all on her latest album and these three were the standouts. They all embody why St Vincent is awesome; she is badass ('Huey Newton'), she is an excellent vocalist ('I Prefer Your Love') and boy, she can write a mean hook ('Psycopath'). Prepare to fall in love with the wonder that is St Vincent: 

2. Neneh Cherry - Weightless
I've already explained why Neneh Cherry is great. But this song sums it up pretty well; the muddled riff, the nonchalant vocal delivery, the trip-hop beats in the chorus and that cowbell. On her phenomenal comeback record Blank Project, he truly proves that age is just a number, mostly because she blows all her competition out of the water, with such confidence and prowess; she isn't only Weightless, she is untouchable. 

3. Hockeysmith - But Blood
If you've been keeping up with earlier posts, you'd know that Cornish sisterly duo Hockeysmith were one of my tips for 2014. Good call right? Their latest track 'But Blood' from their debut  EP of the same title is an absolute corker. With it's prowling bassline it's their heaviest track to date (not difficult bearing in mind they only have four so far). Their ethereal vocals juxtapose the blazing riffs wonderfully. Seriously, if these guys weren't on your radar before then this is surely enough to make you sit up and pay attention.

4. Jungle - Busy Earnin'
Another band who I reckon are truly gonna take over pretty soon are Jungle. The London duo kept refreshingly coy despite the immense hype around them at the moment. This track further cements my belief that their debut album will be a classic. Believe the hype.

5. Indiana - Solo Dancing
Nottingham's Indiana was being tipped for 'Big Things' since early last year and has been slipping out some pretty good tunes (and a baby) in the meantime. 'Solo Dancing' for me is her big 'Popstar moment. It's big, flashy and very audacious, startlingly so. However, this is also one of the classiest electropop efforts since CHVRCHES came on the scene with 'Lies' back in 2012. This probably won't scale the charts, but who cares? It's too good for that anyway. 

6. Brody Dalle - Meet The Foetus/Oh The Joy
Ex-frontwoman of the Distillers and mother of Josh Homme's children; Brody Dalle is back with the lead single from her debut solo album Diploid Love. The song begins a fairly straightforward rock song before exploding around the three minute mark into a massive melodic chant (featuring vocals from Garbage's Shirley Mason) and dirty-as-fuck guitar riffs. Yep, Brody's back. 

7. Fear of Men - Atla/Waterfall
Brighton bliss-poppers Fear On Men have been putting out rich and elegant folk-tinged dream pop for a while now and I've always wondered why less interesting acts like Daughter and Arthur Beatrice have been hogging the spotlight. But if this is anything to go by, their debut album Loom will ensure that everyone finally takes notice of their craft. 

8. EMA - So Blonde
Past Life Martyred Saints pretty much soundtracked my existence for a while so I'm sure you can imagine my excitement when EMA announced the release of her second album The Future's Void. 'So Blonde' is a grungy guitar-laced tribute to LA slackers and valley girls who are 'SO BLONDE!' Despite being her most commercial track, it is no less genius than the more experimental 'Milkman' or 'Satellites'. The giff-tastic video is well worth your time too.

9. The Horrors - I See You
I'll be honest, I was never really a fan of The Horrors prior to this but they've really outdone themselves here. 'I See You' is a psychedelic, mid-tempo epic which, at 7 minutes 30 seconds, never outstays it's welcome. 

10. Honeyblood - Choker
Here's yet another delicious taste of Honeyblood's debut album (out May 19 on Fat Cat records), Choker is yet another hazy, sugar-coated grunge-pop delight with the added bite of slightly violent lyrics which add a pinch of spice. I'll stop the food puns now. 

11. Cousin Marnie - Cain
Another I Plug To You tip for 2014, Cousin Marnie's latest track 'Cain' is a dark, nocturnal electronic masterpiece. It starts off as a creepy, skeletal piano ballad before growing into a post-dub beast which recalls FKA Twigs' 'Papi Pacify'. Whilst the biblical reference to Cain and Able adds further intensity. Expect her to blow up at some point this year (much like the chorus on this track).

12. Real Estate - Primitive
The standout moment on their wonderful album Atlas. The ascending chord sequence on this track explains why they are one of the most skillful indie bands around.

13. Wild Beasts - Sweet Spot
One of my favourite tracks from their excellent LP Present Tense; 'Sweet Spot' is a swooning, synth-laden ballad. The subtle beats and gentle guitar licks complement Hayden Thorpe's quivering falsetto beautifully.  

14. Frankie cosmos - Birthday Song
Indie-pop chanteuse Frankie Cosmos' recent album Zentropy is one of the most satisfying power-pop records I've heard in a while. Here she manages to fit a hell-of-a-lot of angst, misery and fun into 69 seconds of excellence. It's short. It's sweet. It's essentially the musical equivalent of a hi-five.

15. Tweens - Forever
Following the excellent 'Be Mean', here's yet another batty thrash pop gem from Cincinnati punks Tweens. I seriously recommend you to check out their self-titled debut (due next month) it's irresistibly fun and full to the brim of excellent punk-pop hooks.  

16. Then Thickens - Tiny Legs
Male/female vocals are brilliant in an indie band format. Fact. So if you're into that sort of thing, here's the latest track from Then Thickens, taken from their wordy debut album Death Cap at Anglezarke. Nice.

17. Florrie - Sea Shells
I've said this before, but when pop is done well, it can be one of the most magical and glorious genres around. If you don't believe me, here's the latest track from Florrie. She's been experimenting with different styles and formats for the past three years and is finally back with a new EP Sirens. 'Sea Shells' is easily her most experimental track yet; it's Bollywood recalling meshed sample backdrop and Spanish guitar-led bridge prove why she's at the cutting edge if pop music in 2014.

18. Betty Who - Heartbreak Dream
Speaking of excellent pop, here's a new track from Betty Who. I rest my case.

19. Wye Oak - The Tower
Changing your sound is always a tricky business. Veering away form the crisp folk which dominated their last LP Civilian and into more synth-heavy territory, Wye Oak return sounding better than ever. 

20. Cate Le Bon - He's Leaving
Hot off the heels of her incredible LP Mug Museum, Wale's finest Cate Le Bon treats us with a lovely new/old track from the recording sessions of said album. It's pretty much business as usual and I don't think it would've really made the album any better (not like it needed to be improved) but it's lovely all the same. 

Beat that March! 

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