Sunday, 21 December 2014

Albums of the Year 2014 #2 Broods - Evergreen

Our second most played album per month this year is Evergreen from New Zealand electronic pop duo Broods.

Despite the album achieving number 1 in the charts in their home country and number 5 in Australia, in the UK Broods hardly made any sort of dent in the public consciousness due to a promotional campaign that appeared to focus largely on Australasia and America rather than Europe. This is a shame, because with Evergreen Broods conjured up a record of swelling atmospheric synths, polished production (from Joel Little of Lorde fame) and most importantly some excellent melodic, hooky, memorable pop songwriting that has been the soundtrack to the second half of our year. Given the right exposure in the UK its commercial success elsewhere could have been repeated here.

There are moments of euphoria, melancholy, tenderness and sentimentality on this record that are touchingly brought to life through the simple joys of a pop song. Little’s production works perfectly, in the same way it did with Lorde’s debut;  he keeps things relatively sparse, the electronics sounding crisp and with a feeling of contemplation that suits lead singer Georgia Nott’s icy and subtly sensual tones well.

In 2013 Chvrches’ The Bones Of What You Believe was our album of the year. In 2014 Evergreen was the closest thing to that - a record that whilst being pop was underpinned by a darker more mature sound. It really should have been a worldwide hit, but if (in the UK at least) it’s the one that got away, we’re very glad that we found it.

Broods - Mother & Father

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Albums of the Year 2014 #3 Honeyblood - Honeyblood

“I will hate you forever, scumbag sleaze, slimeball grease. You really do disgust me!” sings Stina Tweedale on Super Rat, a hate fuelled anthem and in a nutshell we have what this album is all about; plenty of bitterness and garage guitars that make a good old fashioned scuzz-pop sound. 

There’s quite a few obvious comparisons that get drawn out of the bag when talking about Honeyblood, plenty of them American, even though the band are from Scotland; Throwing Muses, Best Coast, Juliana Hatfield and The Breeders and we wouldn’t disagree with any of those. But what makes Honeyblood such a success is the songs. There’s hooks, melodies, harmonies and something quite euphoric about many of the vitriolic tunes contained on this record. It’s a record to throw (and flop) yourself violently around to on the indie disco (or bedroom) floor, particularly on the energetic and fiery Killer Bangs or opening mosher Fall Forever. Yet whilst Honeyblood is an angry sounding record it never becomes either overbearing or too inward looking; it gets the balance right, the songs are kept short, sharp and exciting, the guttural guitars simple. 

Honeyblood takes third place on our Albums of the Year 2014 list. Not only is this a thrilling indie rock record but it suggests that Honeyblood could be a name for a future as well.

Honeyblood - Super Rat

Friday, 19 December 2014

Albums of the Year 2014 #4 Kate Tempest - Everybody Down

She once described it as just a crazy idea that she had, but Kate Tempest’s Everybody Down has probably exceeded the rapper / poet /playwright and author’s dreams in terms of the public recognition that it’s received, culminating in a nomination for the 2014 Mercury Music Prize. As we’ve said before, this year’s prize list was a particularly good one – Kate’s record is the third to feature on our albums of the year countdown from the nominations.

In case you haven’t heard Everybody Down or know very little about it, this is a record that shares some similarities with The Streets A Grand Don’t Come For Free, in so far as it’s a story and tells the tale of a bunch of characters whose lives interweave with each other. That story is centred around a dancer, masseuse and student called Becky. Think Trainspotting but told from a female London perspective.

Recorded with producer Dan Carey (Bat For Lashes, Hot Chip) the album starts with Becky meeting Harry, a drug dealer to the higher classes in a bar filled with ‘industry slimeballs, showbiz big-deals, the cool new band with the retro feel’ with Harry immediately falling for Becky, but Becky leaving with her friends in a cab, seemingly not interested. 

From there the narrative develops and within it Tempest manages to deliver mini-philosophies on life as well as a fair degree of sentiment, ending with an idea that is sweet but never feels sickly in her hands; that love can win through and help save us.

Carey’s electronic and techno computerised production, with snatches of guitar matches well with Tempest’s excellent wordplay, shifting in style and atmosphere depending on the part of the story, giving the whole thing a real sense of being believable. 

Kate has come a long way in the last 10 years. Her previous album with the band Sound of Rum wasn’t particularly well received in all parts, the NME suggesting her lyrics were ‘emblematic of everything bad you heard about poetry slams,’ but with Everybody Down there’s been  little critical negativity.

This is very much a complete album - individual tracks sound weaker when listened to on their own. It’s only when you fit the whole thing together and listen to it from start to finish in one go that you feel its density and everything falls into place. Like all the best stories it’s also one that needs far more than one listen to get everything out of it, probably why we've played it so much since we first heard it. That's why it's no.4 in our list of most played records of 2014.

Kate Tempest - The Beigeness

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Albums of the Year 2014 #5 La Roux - Trouble In Paradise

By now pretty much everyone knows the backstory to La Roux’s second album Trouble In Paradise; the five years it’s taken since Elly Jackson’s debut, her anxiety attacks, the false starts, the departure of co-writer and producer Ben Langmaid, the lack of support from BBC Radio 1 and then on its release the relative lack of sales, with the record free-falling in the UK charts.

But put all that aside, when listening to the music, this is an excellent pop record, albeit a pop record that seems out of time and out of touch with the majority of current pop trends. It would have been so easy for La Roux to have developed the 80’s tinny synth sound from the first LP to embrace smoochy R’n’B and had a go at becoming the UK’s version of Banks perhaps, or alternatively to have sidled up alongside the likes of Calvin Harris and produced some formulaic massive high-charting synth-pop bangers that would have guaranteed that the bank manager would have been happy. 

Thankfully La Roux chose a different route. Trouble In Paradise is a step to the left, grasping choppy funk, the later years of disco, Grace Jones, Nile Rogers, Amazulu, tropical pop, Tom Tom Club, Love Is The Drug by Roxy Music and Duran Duran. The instruments are far warmer sounding, Elly’s vocal less shrill, the production beefier and easier on the ears. Most importantly though the songwriting is generally excellent (with the exception of distinctly average closing track The Feeling which sounds like a b-side thrown on to make sure the record is a full album). Lyrically there’s plenty to dive into as well, Trouble In Paradise possesses an open vulnerability to it; Silent Partner seemingly addressing Elly’s relationship with Langmaid, whilst Let Me Down Gently, the track that bridges and connects first album La Roux to second finds Elly singing of wanting to be turned “into someone new, that’s what I really need.” 

Many pop albums don’t stand the test of time. They consist of a few hit singles and an awful lot of filler. Trouble In Paradise isn’t one of those albums – the good and great outweighs the bad by 89%. It’s a pop record to return to again and again and never tire of. 

La Roux - Tropical Chancer