The ever reliable Johnny Feeney returns with another guest post, this time around he’s sharing three albums missed or overlooked on the blog. Take it away Johnny.
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
This quite astonishing debut album from English four-piece Alt-J has been earning rave reviews from near and far and recently, deservedly, won the 2012 Mercury Music Prize. It’s not difficult to see why. This is easy listening, but with backbone. Short, snappy drums propel the songs forward with shimmering layers piled on top along with lots of vocal repetitions, harmonies and lead singer’s Joe Newman’s unique, almost nasal vocals, which is a potent weapon in its own right.
The additional flourishes throughout make the album – the dreamy guitars and pianos on ‘Something Good’, the mantric repetition in ‘Breezeblocks’, the deliciously delicate xylophones in ‘MS’, the Eastern-style guitar line on the exceptional closer ‘Taro’, the squelchy synths in ‘Fitzpleasure’. Everything comes together effortlessly without a duff track in sight. Even the three short interludes are a class apart. Some of the lyrics are cryptic at best but with music this good it’s hard to complain. An Awesome Wave? An awesome album.
Richard Hawley – Standing At The Sky’s Edge
The seventh studio album from Richard Hawley is an interesting change of direction for the Sheffield singer-songwriter. Hazy psychedelia is the order of the day here and Hawley proves masterful at it. With only one track clocking in under five minutes, the songs are suffused with snarling, meandering guitars solos and Hawley’s distinctive vocals. The title track is a masterpiece telling tales of a man who kills his wife and kids, a hard-up prostitute who ends up in jail and a young man involved in inner city violence respectively.
‘Down in the Woods’ is a real rocker with a venomous Hawley sounding not unlike Mark Lanegan. There are moments of real beauty here too with the woozy rock of ‘Time Will Bring You Winter’, the delicate ‘Don’t Stare At the Sun’ and the haunting ‘The Wood Collier’s Grave’. It’s the rockier material here that really stands out though such as the excellent closer ‘Before’, which begins gently before a mazy guitar line comes in, ‘She Brings the Sunlight’ and ‘Leave Your Body Behind’. One wonders where Hawley will go next but it will certainly be interesting to find out.
Grizzly Bear – Shields
It’s three years since Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear released the superb Veckatimest. It seems Shields was not a straight forward follow-up, with news of a full album supposedly binned along the way. However this album could justifiably be called their strongest yet. With its dense, complex layers it’s certainly challenging but one that reaps rich rewards upon multiple listens. There’s certainly nothing as instantly accessible as ‘Two Weeks’ on here with no apparent radio-friendly songs, not that this is a bad thing.
The album opens with ‘Sleeping Ute’ and its disconcerting time signature is an indicator of what’s to follow You learn to expect the unexpected from Grizzly Bear. As always, vocals are shared between Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen with harmonies appearing throughout. The sublime ‘Yet Again’ has a really catchy chorus that can get stuck in your head for days. Album standout ‘Half Gate’ is a work of high art with its soaring, sweeping strings and jangling guitars. Brilliant stuff from a brilliant band.