Albums Of The Month
1. RYLEY WALKER – PRIMROSE GREEN
Bert Jansch (and Pentangle), Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, John Martyn, Tim Hardin… these are just some of the ghosts that haunt the fringes of Primrose Green, the excellent second album from Chicago guitarist and songwriter Ryley Walker. Primrose Green performs an impressive double stunt in better showcasing both his song writing and singing on one hand, and his ambition to create something looser, freer and more spontaneous on the other. To achieve the latter, Walker has employed a high level, fluent and creative band of seasoned Chicago jazz players. The songs here are richly melodic, evocative and pastoral – the combination of inspired writing and productive improvising resulting in something freewheeling, psychedelic and fluid – music that is proud to wear its influences on its sleeve, but which also seems in its own way daring and personal. The musicians play fully and without restraint, but in such a way that offers support and commentary to Walker’s dreamy reverie. Ben Boye, who also plays in The Cairo Gang, offers a slightly distorted electric piano solo on Same Minds that would be abrasive were it not for the sensual, dreamy way it is subsumed into the surrounding waterfall of sound. In fact, that sense of blend is a feature common throughout Primrose Green as a whole (listen to the questing, expansive introduction to Love Can Be Cruel, where all the musicians are making strong individual contributions, but never at the expense of the overall sound and groove). It feels like the musicians are very much in control of their sound here, and it takes an assured production hand to get that sense across. Primrose Green may not be the most original of statements, but it definitely amounts to more than the sum of its parts and there is the lingering impression that Walker is only just getting started. Had Primrose Green been recorded in the era it’s influenced by, it could well be among the records Ryley Walker would now be drawing inspiration from; high praise indeed.
2. TOBIAS JESSO JR – GOON
Jesso has a knack for writing songs that you feel like you’ve heard before, even if you can’t quite pin down a precise antecedent. Which is another way of saying he writes songs that sound “classic” in the best sense of the word. The production treats his music with a simplicity that suggests utter confidence in the material. The songwriter’s voice, piano chords, and plucked acoustic are the focus, and bits of light drumming and the odd back-up vocal are often the only augmentation. The approach leads to songs that feel unusually whole. You couldn’t imagine taking anything away from these songs, and it’s equally hard to imagine adding anything. “Leaving LA” is a masterpiece of sonic understatement, moving between solo piano and a blissful interlude of voices and what sounds like harpsichord. “Bad Words” finds Jesso’s voice pinched and distant next to a Fender Rhodes and subtle drumming. His vocal line and piano move in unison on “For You” as a violin saws away in the background; it all bleeds together until it feels like a single, intricately textured sound. His voice couldn’t be any more suited to this kind of music if it was created in a lab, but beyond just hitting the notes he also has a great feel for inflection, how to squeeze the most out of every syllable and transition. With its clear debt to a specific era, Goon has a meta quality, an album of music that illustrates the power of music. While the songs are almost all about heartbreak, they could be more likely to have you ruminating about the role music plays in heartbreak instead of the emotional pain itself, but this distancing effect, in which the songs unfold so patiently, doesn’t diminish the record’s pleasures. Jesso’s approach is to state things plainly, dress them up in a gorgeous tune, and sit down and deliver it in the most spare and economical manner possible. Goon isn’t an album of layers; what you hear is what you get, which in this case turns out to be something special.
3. LAURA MARLING – SHORT MOVIE
Laura Marling has just embarked on another branch of her evolution. One expects nothing less from the famed folk singer, whose personal life has been the centre of her song-writing since her debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim. In the interim between 2013′s Once I Was An Eagle and her newest release Short Movie, Marling has had plenty of fodder. This thirteen-track album sees Marling taking her marked brand of folk spiced up with hints of punk style anger, less subtle than on previous records. For someone who consistently bears herself raw and ready for criticism in her music, Marling has crafted a completely unselfconscious album. It draws on the southern Californian sun, the palm trees, sand and the seedy city life of Los Angeles, intertwining it with London self-awareness and nostalgia. Marling evaporates into her music, just as much as it becomes her. More than anything else, it’s that restlessness, that fear of becoming too comfortable or complacent by staying in one place, which seems to define Marling. There’s no overarching narrative to ‘Short Movie’ – it plays out like a series of vignettes, of moods and moments, people and places – but there is a sense of a journey completed, with a hard-won wisdom at the end of it. Marling is her own protagonist – flawed, like anyone else, but utterly compelling all the same.
4. COURTNEY BARNETT – SOMETIMES I SIT AND THINK…
5. KENDRICK LAMAR – TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY
6. SURF CITY – JEKYLL ISLAND
7. D’ANGELO – BLACK MESSIAH
8. PORTICO LIVING FIELDS
9. SUFJAN STEVENS – CARRIE + LOWELL
10. BJORK – VULNICURA
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.
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