You don’t really need me to tell you that The National’s High Violet is one of the year’s most feverishly anticipated records, nor do you need it rehashed how 2005’s Alligator and 2007’s Boxer revealed their charms gradually, seeping into listener’s headphones and their hearts long after receiving initial spins. The enduring quality of the New Yorker’s previous long-players means that whether they like it or not, High Violet comes burdened with heavy expectation. It doesn’t just have to be a good album, it must be a brilliant one; it can’t just be better than what it follows, it needs to be an outright modern classic.
When I was at university my friend and I would play each other music constantly, usually accompanied by a Super Nintendo, a worn copy of Mario Kart and countless rolled up cigarettes. We had this running joke where every so often one of us would put on Grandaddy’s ‘Underneath the Weeping Willow’, leading us to engage in various stages of mock grief, staunching the imaginary tears that coursed down our cheeks. Of course, this wasn’t the only song that brought about such a reaction, and it wasn’t really a joke as such; more us amusing ourselves while tacitly recognising its parent album The Sophtware Slump as one of the saddest and most beautiful of the previous decade.
At some point in the planning stages, These New Puritans front man Jack Barnett must have said: 'Okay, we can either stick to our guns, make another pretty-decent record, or we can go for broke'. I mean, how else does writing a collection of songs around a bassoon come about? Bravado is always easier from the sidelines; that is, don’t dismiss the idea of making Beat Pyramid Part 2 out of hand. After all, TNPS’ debut was actually better than pretty-decent, ticking all the right electro-pop boxes. Mark E Smith vocals, scratchy Gang of Four guitars and strident synth rhythms jostled for space in a strangely evocative way. To be sure, Beat Pyramid was a promising shot across the bow, but no one could have predicted the carpet bombing TNPS intended to unleash.
If you’ve visited Shearwater’s website over the last couple of months, you’ll have been greeted by an arresting, scratchily-filmed series of images – of mist over mountains, damaged flags and roiling sea-waters; of travel journals and captains’ logs, bloodied bird carcasses and satellite grabs. It’s all part of the story.
If Sound of Silver was the sound of someone reaching far enough to make something just plain great, then This is Happening is the sound of a man with great taste who really understands music, making dumb body music with hidden depths if anyone cares to investigate.
The Age of Adz is not an unqualified success; occasionally it does feel like a little too much, and until the dust has settled it is difficult to say where it will sit in his discography as a whole.
A few nights ago, I decided that it would be a brilliant idea to write my review of Arcade Fire’s third album in real time. I would allot myself its not inconsiderable running length to bash out this article, whilst also, crucially, knocking back a finger of beer for each mention of “the kids” or “the suburbs” in Win Butler’s lyrics.
Detroit owes the dirty south. For, as Detroit's slump has hit the headlines, the Dirty South has hit a very different kind of headline: a movement of new hip hop artists, spearheaded by the inimitable L'il Wayne, has renewed airtime given to one of Detroit's finest and most American exports: the Cadillac. As more than one hip hop blog has announced: this Southern shit is getting out of hand.
Those who optimistically purchased Make Believe and Raditude will know that a good first single does not a great Weezer album make, but Hurley is packed solid, with a sense of fun and good-time melodies cropping up at every juncture.
For rap fans it's both a testament to the versatility of the genre and Kanye's own brilliance that he can make something so refreshingly different which still fits comfortably in the rap canon.
Every punk goes pro one day, and Crystal Castles are no exception. Upon emergence a couple of years back, Alice Glass and Ethan Kath came and glared at the world with the cynicism of Lydon, the nihilism of The Germs, and – in their harder moment – the brutal electronics of Atari Teenage Riot. Debut album Crystal Castles was a belligerently stitched together mix of chipcore fury, vaguely Satanic electro-pop and meandering ambient workouts. Even five years ago it might have only found an audience of about five 'troubled' European teens. In the heady d ays of 2008, however, teenage lifestyle brands Skins and NME cheerily latched onto ‘Alice Practise’ – CC’s most brutal, fuck-the-lot-of-you moment – and packaged it as an essential anthem for Top Shop shod-youth. There’s nothing really wrong with that, but when your harshest musical moment has been installed as soundtrack to a scene in a teen soap in which two boys get in touch with their feelings, and when you appear on said teen soap playing said song, it’s going to look sussed if you play the rebel card on your second album.
To paraphrase Joseph Goebbels, when I hear the words 'space opera' I reach for my revolver. Or perhaps, given the way in which Flying Lotus reflects a modern vision of the same combined spiritual ritual and synapse-frying freak-out expressed by Parliament-Funkadelic, the weapon of choice should be a bop gun. It’s staying holstered, though: while in science fiction the term denotes melodramatic claptrap, and its musical relation the rock opera is always melodramatic claptrap, FlyLo’s so self-described third album is a serious proposition. In fact, for over half its length it’s masterful.
Infra was originally conceived as a 25-minute score for a Royal Ballet collaboration between composer Max Richter, choreographer Wayne McGregor and visual artist Julian Opie which premiered in November 2008 and was also broadcast on BBC2. Fleshed out to just over 40 minutes through the inclusion of outtakes and extended sections, the soundtrack was recently revisited and recorded by Richter and a string quintet with a view to documenting the ballet and giving the musical accompaniment a life of its own. Unsurprisingly, he achieves this and more with his fourth studio album on FatCat's classical imprint 130701, further solidifying his reputation as one of Britain's most versatile and identifiable classical voices.
Yet I think conversely it’s Cox’s inability to totally connect to an audience that makes him such a spectacularly special songwriter.
Since the moment they uploaded a bold draft of first single 'Hummer' to their MySpace page almost four years ago, Oxford five-piece Foals have boasted an extraordinary confidence. From discharging Dave Sitek as producer of their first album, Antidotes, to frontman Yannis Philippakkis' Angry Young Man-esque onstage swagger, they have insisted on doing things in an 'our way or no way' style. But their instant endorsement by the yooth music media worked both to their advantage and detriment – at the same time as teenagers up and down the country were scrambling to book them for their famed houseparties, an equal number of jaundiced critics were dismissing them as a flash in the pan, as yet another angular-soun ding band of haircuts with arty pretensions. And, in planning their second album, Yannis, Ed, Jack, Jimmy and Walter have been a long time absent from the current scene, which changes with the tide – something sceptics who've got them down as a 'fashion' band would think unwise.
Whatever angle you examine it from, Lucky Shiner is an impressive statement, especially for a debut, and when Gold Panda lets the house beat sink into the background and experiments a little more with space and structure the results are gorgeous.
There’s a passage in Bill Drummond’s The 17 where he recalls traveling to Los Angeles in the mid 1980s, ostensibly to oversee the work of a hair metal band in his capacity as an A&R man for WEA. While trying to find the group in a labyrinthian studio complex, Drummond stumbled across a bloated Stevie Nicks, who was dancing eyes-closed to one of her own songs, lost to herself and the world. Ther e are many styles covered on this, the first album by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti since signing to 4AD, but that glassy Fleetwood Mac production, which flourished on Rumours, gloriously saturated their sound on Tusk, and continued to be an obsession for Lindsey Buckingham on later hits such as ‘Big Love’, is glazed all over Before Today.
The 'plot' of Janelle Monáe’s The Archandroid revolves around Cindi Mayweather; a character embodied by the staggeringly varied talents of Monáe herself. Cindi is actually cloned from the DNA of Monae, who had been kidnapped, cloned and then sent back to our time in the 21st century. The Archandroid is snippets of Cindi’s effort to realign the wrongs made in the year 2719 in the city of Metropolis by the Great Divide, 'a secret society which has been using time travel to suppress freedom and love throughout the ages'. It’s Cindi’s duty to bring them down. And, by default, Monáe’s to formulate an idea of the error of their ways.
As musical collaborations go, the one embarked upon by James Mercer, mercurial singer/songwriter with esteemed Portlanders The Shins, and Brian Burton, better known as producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse, has to go down as one of the most unlikely. While perhaps not in the sublime bracket of ridiculousness inhabited by Burt Bacharach's mutual love-in with Elvis Costello and Dr Dre that reared 2005's ill-advised At This Time or Bing Crosby and David Bowie uttering Christmas carols to one another, it certainly set the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons late last year when Mercer announced Broken Bells was a fully projected work in progress and an album would be imminent.
Everything In Between is undoubtedly a step onward from its predecessors – it’s more developed in every way, though admittedly lacks a little of the sheer raw bite that made Weirdo Rippers in particular so exhilarating.