Half Time Reflections: Albums Of The Year So Far (2014)

Jimmy Glass Carlisle Albums 2014

With over half the year already passed, it is ripe time for some half-time reflection on the many albums that have preoccupying my attention so far in 2014. As it is well overdue there is no need to waste and more time, here they are, in all their glory!

Sleaford Mods – ‘Divide & Exit’

Lo-fi English punk duo of Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn are Sleaford Mods, who’ve been grunting through gritted teeth since ’08. With their new album, Divide & Exit, they deliver a clever, often funny, foul mouthed and angry record, overloaded with attitude as their gripes and grievances with modern Britain (and beyond) are vehemently aired. Chief rabble-rouser, Williamson is both scathing and sardonic, who airs his many gripes and grievances, with a combination of vitriolic anger and acerbic wit. An extremely clever wordsmith, his righteous and infectious rantings are as quotable as Half Man Half Biscuit. You could argue forever as to what line in the gold-standard song is the greatest. This extremely clever wordplay is strewn among grimey beats and wiry post-punk guitars from Fearn. While owing as much to hip-hop and grime as to post-punk, and could be seen to be the the modern inheritors of the brilliance of Mark E Smith, The Streets, Shaun Ryder and HMHB. While there are traces of those artists here, there is, and never has been anything quite like Sleaford Mods. Top fucking class.

The Horrors – ‘Luminous’

On their fourth LP, The Horrors continue to refine sophisticated and colourful sound. The synthesisers are more to the fore, and a noticeably greater influence from electronic and dance music but without ever quite adapting dance-music tempos. The darkness which marks much of their previous work seems to have abated, except for Faris Badwan recoginzable brooding croon, replaced by a late ’80s tingle of euphoria, mellow synth sounds and a bouncy back-beats to create pulsating, danceable psychedelia. The Horrors are light years ahead of anyone else of the ‘indie guitar music’ canon. Tune in, drift away in this bliss of colourful groove.

Gruff Rhys – ‘American Interior’

After concept albums about a wealthy Italian Trotskyite, an eccentric car designer, and a movie in search of lost Welsh tribes in Argentina, nothing should surprise us when it comes to Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys. His fourth solo album is inspired by a recent discovery that he’s a descendent of John Evans, an 18th-century explorer, who mapped the Missouri river in a vain search for a mythical, Welsh-speaking American tribe. Concept aside, this record shares certain similarities with his previous work, cooking up lush pop songs with more immersive and introspective fare, beautiful orchestral moments and even a couple of more surreal, out-there moments. From the title track, the mournfully mesmerising ‘American Interior’ and it’s expansive, slightly melancholic rock with an infectious melody at its heart, to the rumbling rockabilly of ’100 Unread Messages’ on synth-splashed carnival tune ‘The Whether (Or Not)’ we’re treated to exemplary spectrum of his talents. American Interior reminds us how captivating a storyteller Rhys is, who wistfully spins wonderful narratives of being carried through new worlds and visions, and only adds to the particular idiosyncratic charm that this Welshman personifies.

Malachai – ‘Beyond Ugly’

Malachai‘s latest effort, Beyond Ugly serves as a closing chapter to the Bristol duo’s ‘Ugly’ triptych, an unplanned trilogy of albums and pre-dated by the excellent Ugly Side of Love (2010) and Return to the Ugly Side (2011). Beyond Ugly is enjoyable as a standalone record if you’re unfamiliar with the previous two. It’s an imaginative journey through controlled chaos which seamlessly flits between trip-hop, hip-hop, acoustic folk, ’60s psychedelia, dance-funk and XTRMNTR era Primal Scream doses of aggressive political anger within the same breath. Expect to witness lavish sonic mayhem and delicate, thought-provoking moments on love, loss, life, politics and society. Vacuous it isn’t, there’s quite a bit of substance behind the aural salvo. A fitting conclusion to this unlikely of trilogies, saying that, hopefully it isn’t the last we’ve heard from Malachai.

Coves – ‘Soft Friday’

There are plenty of bands of Coves‘ ilk about at the moment – boy-girl duo, spectral vocals, ’60s psychedelic influences, dreamy synths – but they are in a class of their own and their debut, Soft Friday, casts a chilling spell. Swirling psychedelia is met with sweeping grandeur, as Wood’s mellifluous cooing floats above as driving riffs mingle with propulsive electro beats, drones and flickers of electronics, in a gentle whirlpool of shimmering psychedelic and glacial atmospherics. Soft Friday is a fine debut. Atmospheric, distinctive and very enjoyable, and a worthy inclusion in any record collection.

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Lizzie And The Yes Men – ‘Walk Alone’

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After a number of contagious singles, a la ‘The Boardwalk‘ & ‘Deserts‘, Lizzie And The Yes Men are back with a brand new single ‘Walk Alone’. And it offers a little bit of a different side to the London based quartet. 

‘Walk Alone’ is the title track from their upcoming EP and while previous releases tended toward the catchy and infectious, their latest offering is conversely something more sullen and down-tempo. It is imbued with a rather weary and mournful disposition, filled with woe and a supreme emotional weight. Amidst the gentle strum, hum of bass and soft gloomy percussion the alluring vocals from lead singer Lizzie stand tallest, she delivers her most powerful and emotional vocal performance to date. A stunning, if somewhat different display from Lizzie and her Yes Men.  

The Walk Alone EP is out on August 4th through New York label ’100M Records’. You can try the title track out for size below.

Cate Le Bon – ‘Duke’

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Welsh songstress Cate Le Bon will release new single ‘Duke’ in September, the 4th to be taken from her album Mug Museum.

Mug Museum is a such sublime piece of work, filled with so much alluring charm, that although released last year, it has been the soundtrack to my 2014. And what of the new single ‘Duke’? Well, it is bestowed with all the wondrous majestic brilliance that makes Mug Museum such an irresistible and utterly bewitching, beguiling and beautiful record. It arrives with a sort of dazed drone of awkward, kind of funky rhythms met with precious, off-kilter melodies, which create a woozy haze, providing the perfect backdrop for Le Bon’s rich and beautiful vocals. There is something about her thick Welsh accent and lilting elocution that just makes her voice swirl around words and utterly consume you. Le Bon’s gentle delivery can make her seem like the shyest of characters at times but with ‘Duke’, we get two sides, as she sweeps from the gentle to belt out some high-pitched soprano notes with the climax of ‘Duke’. An absolutely marvellous talent, one that would exhaust the use of superlatives.

While we’re on the topic of Cate Le Bon, she will also be releasing a limited edition 7″ of ’He’s Leaving’ (which I previously waxed lyrical about here) and ‘Solitude’ (which is just a fantastic). It’s a tour-only seven inch pressing to coincide with her UK tour in September.

You can give both ‘Duke’ & ‘Solitude’ the once over below. And if you’ve not do so already, check out her latest LP Mug Museum here (and I strongly urge to do so).

Girl Band – ‘De Bom Bom’

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Dublin’s Girl Band have already proven themselves masterful in the way of scraping, dissonant noise-punk and clearly not content with releasing one of the best Irish songs produced this year, they’ve gone and done it again.

Girl Band have followed up their sprawling 6-minute plus industrial stomp of gut-wrenching and desolate post-punk rock that was ‘Lawman‘, with an abrasive three minute monster called ‘De Bom Bom’. Do not be deceived by the jovial title, ‘De Bom Bom’ is gruesomely intense. It is an agitated coming together of rattling guitars, fuzzed up bass and frenetic drumming, which are angrily spat over by Kiely’s screeching vocal, basking in the glorious industrial rhythm (one which Nialler9 rightly pointed out, comes across like Daft Punk’s ‘Rollin & Scratchin’). It is yet another stunning example of what Girl Band have in their arsenal -a characteristically loud and breathless mass of angry, brutal and ugly vented anger – in a good way of course.

‘De Bom Bom’ is out September 1st on Any Other City. Listen to it below & pre-order it here.

REID – ‘Singapore’ & ‘Fractures (Feat. Slow Skies)’

REID

It seems like an eternity since we heard anything from REID. It’s certainly been a while, far too long an absence in fact, but the Cork producer (he’s from there, he’s not a maker of cork) is set return with a new EP, Fractures.

The six-track Fractures EP will be released on August 11 through M:UK and will feature contributions from Slow Skies, Woman’s Hour and Sam Mason. Ahead of the EP’s forthcoming release REID has presented us with two tasters of what’s to come in the shape of ‘Singapore’ & ‘Fractures (Feat. Slow Skies)’. ‘Singapore’ is an instrumental affair with a nocturnal, late-night vibe to it as gentle bass hovers above some punchy piano chords and quite snappy percussion. While the aptly titled ‘Fractures’ is moodier, sounding and feeling delicate enough as though it could crumble at any moment, as it flirts with directing you to the dancefloor before shrinking back to skirt around the edges. Always one for the ghostly, dusky yet vivid cuts, REID has provided two superb tracks, what we’ve come to expect from the Irish producer and what has made him an exciting proposition. It’s good to have you back Sir.

You can stream both & download ‘Singapore’ below.

The Bug – ‘Void’ & ‘Function’

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The Bug is set to release his first new album in six years, the forthcoming Angels & Devils is due out August 29th on Ninja Tune, and follows 2008′s unforgettable, London Zoo (and last year’s superb Filthy EP notwithstanding).

Angels & Devils is said to be split into two distinct themes, exploring light and dark, and boasts a rather large list of collaborators – including Liz Harris of Grouper, Death Grips, Flowdan, Warrior Queen, and Manga among others. To get us even more in the mood The Bug has released two tracks from the new record, called ‘Void’ and ‘Function’. On ‘Void’, Grouper’s Liz Harris provides the angelic side, whose ethereal abstract vocals drift over an unusually restrained, almost ambient instrumental Bug backing. Uncharacteristic as it maybe, it works decidedly well. If ‘Void’ is the admittedly softer side to The Bug’s psyche, ‘Function’ is diametrically opposed, as we head into more familiar territory. ‘Function’ is an absolute beast. A brash, bruising beast of uncompromising rawness complete with huge distorted horns, hard-hitting drums and slick and frantic rapping from Manga. Together, the two songs demonstrate the diversity we can can expect from the Bug’s upcoming LP. Effortless originality and attitude, as ever from one of the most exciting producers on the planet.

Angels & Devils is out through Ninja Tune on August 25. Till then? Cast your eyes (and ears) below to stream ‘Void’ & ‘Function’.

Spies – ‘Moosehead’

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Spies have been one of the most promising young bands in Ireland for quite sometime and have always sounded like seasoned professionals, even back in their earliest beginnings around 2011/2012.

The Dublin five-piece Spies are back with a single called ‘Moosehead’, which is accompanied by b-side ‘Yearner’. The new single adds further dynamism, taking their searing post-punk/indie-rock sound toward the expansive, dark and dissonant regions of post-punk. The late ’80s style guitars soar epically above the krautrock-esque rhythm section that rumbles along at pace, giving it one hell of a groove, all the perfect backdrop for Broderick’s powerful and commanding vocals. Having been partial to these guys for quite sometime now, yet say apart from a fleeting mention here and there, Spies have remained rather bizarrely absent on here. Hopefully this goes some way to rectifying that situation. This is the sound of a great band, oozing with confidence and delivering with style.

‘Moosehead’ is released on August the 4th and you can listen to it, and b-side ‘Yearner’ below.

 

Gaz Coombes – ‘This Time Tomorrow’

Gaz Coombes 2014

Earlier this summer former Supergrass head honcho Gaz Coombes stepped out with a delightful cover version of ‘This Time Tomorrow’ by – who else? – The Kinks.

Over the years Coombes has proven he’s good value of a tasty cover, or a few, most notably on his thoroughly enjoyable covers side-project band Hot Rats, with fellow Supergrass man Danny Goffey. He’s also had no aversion to ads in the past, having appeared in a Toyota Yaris advert a few years back, and what does this have to do with anything you may ask? Well, this song is part of a series of ads celebrating department store John Lewis’ 150th birthday, which is of little personal interest. Coombes’ version of ‘This Time Tomorrow’ on the other hand, yes please.  While largely remaining faithful to the original, this take is a brisk run through with plenty of Coombes’ traditional energy and distinctive voice, and he’s arrived at something that sounds utterly delightful, noticeably British and joyously nostalgic in the best way possible. Who ever said covers are a waste of time? Maybe no one did? But, anyway, they were wrong whoever they were.

Coombes is reportedly in the studio working on his second solo album, and follow up to Here Comes The Bombs. You can preoccupy yourself meanwhile with ‘This Time Tomorrow’.

(Video) Jamie T – ‘Don’t You Find’

Jamie T 2014

Jamie T has signalled his return with a new single ‘Don’t You Find, and about bloody time, too.

It’s been almost five years since the release of the Londoner’s excellent album Kings & Queens, far too long an absence. And one that’s been thankfully been brought to an abrupt halt. With ‘Don’t You Find’ we find Jamie T in a much more downbeat and melancholic mood, somewhat different to the vast majority of his previous body of work, but it’s not a ‘bad different. ‘Don’t You Find’ is a lush composition with his smooth vocals floating nicely over some sumptuous strings and a distant sounding guitar pitted with beautiful female vocals. As one of my favourite artists over the past eight years or so, it’s really great to have him back, and with an album confirmed too, this Tuesday is certainly looking up.

‘Don’t You Find’ will be released on July 21st with an album to follow at a so far unknown date.

SlowPlaceLikeHome – ‘Luna’

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After a series of sublime EPs exploring  synthesizer driven electronic music, Donegal’s SlowPlaceLikeHome (aka Keith Mannion) has been building toward this point for sometime, and is finally poised to release his debut album called Romolo with Bluestack Records.

His latest offering ‘Luna’ provides an further insight to the forthcoming LP, following first single ‘She Comes In Colour Stereo‘, which was releasing roughly a month ago. Nurtured and influenced by his surrounding in the scenic countryside on the Atlantic North West coast of Ireland, ‘Luna’ is a woozy and smooth flowing track, combining soothing, sombre tones to create a ghostly and hypnotic shoegaze electronic vibe. While retaining the soft glowing haze of his previous work, the sort of bedroom-feel recordings that marked his EPs has been dispensed with somewhat, preferred instead is something more attune to a live sound. Having tracked SlowPlaceLikeHome for sometime, the impending release of his debut LP is one to keep an eye out for.

You can listen to ‘Luna’ below, and pre-order Romola, which is due out August 11th via Bluestack Records, here.