Albums Of The Month
1. FATHER JOHN MISTY – I LOVE YOU, HONEYBEAR
On 2012′s Fear Fun, Josh Tillman introduced audiences to Father John Misty, a jaded and erudite, faux-bohemian retro-pop confectioner with a strong surrealist bent and an aptitude for capturing the American zeitgeist via wry couplets concerning the culturally and morally ambiguous wasteland of southern California. That penchant for gutter-highbrow confessionalism still looms large in the lyrically and musically bold and often quite beautiful, I Love You, Honeybear, but the drug-addled, disaffected Laurel Canyon drifter who served as the cruise director on Fear Fun has been replaced by a man trying to come to terms with the discombobulating effects of love. Produced with great care once again by Jonathan Wilson, Honeybear has the architecture of its predecessor, but features braver melodic choices, and at a pure pop level, is the far more challenging LP of the two, but it rewards the listener constantly, whether it’s delivering the yin and the yang via electro-pop tomfoolery (“True Affection”), ’70s soul-pop schmaltz (“When You’re Smiling and Astride Me”), or straight-up Randy Newman-inspired socio/political balladry (“Bored in the USA”), the latter of which even manages to incorporate a laugh track. Honeybear is conflicted music that leaves you with conflicted feelings. Tillman is funny, but his humour is driven by meanness and self-loathing; he’s sweet, but he can’t manage to say anything nice without smothering it in jokes. He opens the album by forecasting the apocalypse but most of the time comes off as the kind of mystic who gives up and embraces the debauchery. In the end though, his sincerity is a sharper weapon than his humour. Honeybear’s last couple of songs in particular arrive at the strange clarity people sometimes feel in the wake of drug trips, where life’s simplest lessons are suddenly presented to you, quiet and nude. Whether Tillman is maturing into the Father John Misty persona or vice versa is still up for debate, but there’s no denying his growth as an artist, and Honeybear is as powerful a statement about love in the vacuous, social media-obsessed early 21st century as it is a denouement of the detached hipster charlatan. However complex and torturous the thinking behind the lyrics gets, there’s an effortless ease about the tunes that bear them. It’s easy to stop worrying about who’s supposed to be talking to you, what they mean and indeed whether they mean it or not when ‘Holy Shit’ glides to its delirious climax, or indeed when the chorus of Bored in the USA arrives, short-circuiting the soaring strings with a doleful, resigned shrug. For all the layers of irony on I Love You, Honeybear, the biggest irony of all might be that such an ostensibly knotty and confusing album’s real strength lies in something as prosaic and transparent as its author’s ability to write a beautiful melody – whoever he is.
2. JESSICA PRATT – ON YOUR OWN LOVE AGAIN
Jessica Pratt is only 27 years old, but still her music carries the footnote that it was ever-so-close to being lost in time forever. Pratt’s gorgeous Drag City debut quietly rejects tradition. For all its folk touchstones, Pratt is more an aesthete than a poet—she sings of bleeding watercolours, blue geraniums—and accordingly On Your Own Love Again plays like acoustic dream-pop. Its warm, home-recorded atmosphere is more dramatic and distinctive than Jessica Pratt, her debut: finger-picked psychedelia, lucidly layered harmonies, hissy tape effects, an overcast haze. But Pratt’s songwriting is more cohesive and concise, her whispered secrets more alluring. The record’s cyclical nature gives On Your Own more momentum, as she sings sticky rock’n’roll hooks learned from Brian Wilson or the Hollies. (Pratt says she listened to Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle while at work on the album, like her Drag City labelmate Joanna Newsom did when making Ys). Her soprano is hard to pin in a folk context—it variously recalls the high-pitched eccentricities of Kate Bush, the grave depth of Nico—but she ultimately sounds like Vashti Bunyan or Nick Drake as found in the sleepy subconscious of Ariel Pink. “Sometimes I pray for the rain,” Pratt repeats near the end of this wintry album, which feels designed to soundtrack the slow-falling snow or any steadied act of nature. Much of what Pratt communicates is abstract, elliptical, or wordless. Sometimes her crystalline guitar strum sounds like a harp, each note falling quick and elegant like one of said snowflakes; sometimes the songs almost melt. Elsewhere, Pratt’s austere meditations conjure confusion, wrongness, illusive realities. She sings of lonely outsiders and starry-eyed boys she wants to love but audibly cannot. Pratt understands her own flaws and so seems to better understand those of others; it’s humanizing. ‘On Your Own Love Again’ is a timeless record by a remarkable talent only just starting to show what she can do.
3. MELANIE DE BIASIO – NO DEAL REMIXED
The mostly soothing, slightly baleful, ultimately seductive No Deal, the self-produced second album from songwriter, vocalist, and flutist Melanie De Biasio, reached number five on the Ultratop album chart in the artist’s native Belgium and gradually charmed DJs and publications in other territories. Released weeks after she performed at BBC DJ Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards ceremony and collected a trophy at the European Border Breakers Awards, this is a rare remix album that can be enjoyed from beginning to end, as an alternative version rather than as a clashing assortment of remixes. Arranged by Peterson, who called upon some of his favourite contemporary musicians and producers, No Deal Remixed presents all of the album’s songs in new form, identically sequenced, though Cinematic Orchestra’s weighty version of “I’m Gonna Leave You” — different from Clap! Clap!’s lighter, busier work earlier in the program — functions like a bonus track. Peterson and Simbad’s fusion of “With Love” and “Sweet Darling Pain” is central, the most dramatic and radical rework. Its tremulous juke patterns gradually intensify and fill the original’s space and pensiveness with nervous anxiety. Another striking remix comes from Eels (Mark Oliver Everett), who possibly took the first line of “I Feel You” — “I feel you/A deep echo in me” — as something of a cue. He makes the album opener sound decades old. Through its squally strings, one can envision a rapid playback of scenes from a past romance. Japanese Blue Note act Hex’s stuttering/driving revamp of “The Flow” places greater emphasis on De Biasio’s flute, while Seven Davis Jr.’s contribution with “No Deal” is a lean house track that treats her voice like a sample source.
4. POPS STAPLES – DON’T LOSE THIS
5. DUKE GARWOOD – HEAVY LOVE
6. THEESATISFACTION – EARTHEE
7. ROMARE – PROJECTIONS
8. BOB DYLAN – SHADOWS IN THE NIGHT
9. BADBADNOTGOOD + GHOSTFACE – SOUR SOUL
10. WAVE PICTURES – GREAT BIG FLAMINGO BURNING MOON
FULL LIST OF OUR TOP 100 ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2014 CLICK HERE. ALSO CHECK OUT UNDER AOTY2014 FOR OUR TOP 20 REISSUES, COMPILATION AND STAFF LISTS.
*****CHECK OUT OUR ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2013!*****
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