Albums Of The Month
Writing this after his death I am finding it near impossible to review this; his parting gift, this shadow that he has left of himself to stand over us, unbiasedly. To have written an album at any point in your life that is so bold, ahead of the curve and with such passion and vision is an achievement to last a lifetime. To do this with death standing beside you, watching the clock and at the age of 69 is unrivalled. Bowie, as the world has now celebrated at the top of its voice, has spent his career reinventing and transforming not only his own image and musical self but also mainstream and avant-garde cultures and movements. With Blackstar is has taken pockets of influence from his past triumphs and embroidered them with the clarity that mortality gave him and his love of jazz and of treading on un trodden ground. The result is 40 minutes of densely profound music. The messages are there, especially on the final tracks on the album but they don’t consume the songs, allowing you to enjoy them without the constant reminder of what we’ve lost. David Bowie is a genius, a heroe, a spaceman… all of those things but what he has reminded us of with Blackstar is that he was a humble human being too. Just the same as all of us. And if he could beat them, just for one day, then so can we.
The richly atmospheric, nicotine-stained quality of the Tindersticks’ music makes it an ideal complement to TV shows and films But on The Waiting Room, that dynamic is reversed: the band handed off its 11 tracks to various filmmaker friends (including Denis, Christoph Girardet, Pierre Vinour, and Gregorio Graziosi) as inspirational fodder for accompanying short films packaged with deluxe editions of the record. While this very contemporary concept has been utilised by the likes of Justin Bieber and Beyoncé in recent years, The Waiting Room is not an album which needs adornments: there is a simple, traditional pleasure in its earthy, untampered warmth – it is an album to be ingested in one sitting; the kind of immersive, intricately produced music designed to be listened to on some extravagantly priced, high-quality audio player. Injecting life into their usual louche romance, We Are Dreamers is dragged further into darkness with the addition of Jehnny Beth of Savages on barbed vocals, while Hey Lucinda – recorded with the late Lhasa De Sela – is an elegantly dishevelled duet, sung as if both are slumped across a bar. Its centrepiece – the smoky, soulful Help Yourself – is the triumphant declaration of a band shapeshifting with sophistication.
3. DYLAN LEBLANC – CAUTIONARY TALES
The third studio long-player from the Muscle Shoals-born crooner, the aptly named Cautionary Tale finds Dylan LeBlanc exorcizing some personal demons while injecting some pomp and circumstance into his signature blend of breezy, ’70s West Coast singer/songwriter pop and Bible Belt-bred gothic Americana. His high, husky voice recounts tales of hope and desperation over immaculate production that combines the staples of guitar, bass and drums with restrained washes of strings – about as far from the stifling, mainstream Nashville Sound as imaginable.
4. TRICKY – SKILLED MECHANICS
Skilled Mechanics, the eleventh album from trip hop veteran Tricky, is one that sees him step away from the role of chief architect and instead embark on a more collaborative way of working. It’s a move resulting in an album that feels creatively fresh. Where Tricky usually takes a back seat, allowing others to take centre stage when it comes to the supply of singing, this album is one that sees him take a more prominent step forward as a vocalist. It’s on the autobiographical “Boy” – whose lyrics are a true life document of his youth – that his sprechgesang vocals sit most poignantly, delicately layered over an atmospherically dark bed of synths and scattered beats. Twenty one years since his Mercury Prize nominated debut solo album Maxinquaye emerged, Tricky may have finally delivered one that can stand proudly equal alongside it.
As the song titles (Goodbye Goebbels, When Shipman Decides) on Fat White Family’s second album show, the south London squat-rockers love to provoke. Songs for Our Mothers, then, is nothing of the sort, its grimy fusion of Germanic disco (Whitest Boy on the Beach), demonic swamp rock (Duce) and drug-addled noise (We Must Learn to Rise) positing the band as a modern Throbbing Gristle. The five-piece most impress at their least confrontational. Hits Hits Hits, inspired by abusive relationships, is loose-limbed psych-funk with a shot of creepiness.
The Spanish garage rockers roll out an album of fuzzy, beer-soaked jams chock full of proto-punk goodness. Reverb-laden guitars fill the record, drenching Hinds pop riffs in a spooky, surf rock texture. The charm of Leave Me Alone lies in how much fun Hinds sound like they’re having here. It’s contagious; every song sounds like a party.
New Views musical touchstones are Neil Young and George Harrison and Friedberger’s voice is set to simple arrangements for acoustic, bass, drums and Wurlitzer organ. But if that sounds rather sedate, it shouldn’t; there’s some great hooky indie pop here and plenty of wit and mischief in the lyrics. Friedberger picks over love and relationships in ways that keep you guessing: strange flights of fancy are balanced by offbeat humour and there are startling moments of emotional directness that bring you up short.
8. BONNIE ‘PRINCE’ BILLY – POND SCUM
A selection of takes from various Peel sessions Pond Scum has enough variety to be pleasing to long-time fans and covers enough ground to be a great introduction to the man’s work for newcomers. This one may not end up on many best-of lists this year, but it certainly is a good way of showing why his other records have.
9. ALEX SMOKE – LOVE OVER WILL
A release of astute minimal techno, awash with rhythmic deconstructions and burgeoning texture that’s eternally rolling, ringing, and rife with dynamic and melodic variety at every end. Love Over Will offers a techno release beyond the noise, one that wrestles with vocal placement and layers chaos into algorithms and filtered metrics strung out in evolving time.
Seattle’s Night Beats are vintage through and through. They will generate keen interest from psych and R&B fans alike for their authentic, fuzzy swagger. Their brash, riffy psych-rock with plenty of attitude is their greatest strength, and their marriage of Nuggets-era sounds with the contemporary lo-fi aesthetic of 21st century garage revivalists puts them in league with other prominent West Coast acts like Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall.
FULL LIST OF OUR TOP 100 ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2015 CLICK HERE. ALSO CHECK OUT UNDER AOTY2015 FOR OUR TOP 20 REISSUES, COMPILATION AND STAFF LISTS.
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