Johnny Fenney’s Albums of 2018

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Aside from compiling my own end of year lists, I always look forward to checking out other people’s take on the year and none more so than that of Johnny Feeney.

A reliably insightful musical sage, Johnny’s guest appearances are always interesting and add an extra flavour to the blog and I look forward to reading – of which, surely I’m not alone?

A massive thanks to Johnny for taking time out to compile this list, and on that note, I’ll leave you with his Mr. Feeney’s favourite records of 2018.

10: Parquet Courts – ‘Wide Awake!’

New York City garage-rock outfit Parquet Courts enlisted the help of Danger Mouse on production duties for their sixth full-length studio album, with a more polished sound evident throughout. The band’s trademark spiky guitars are joined intermittently by keyboards, cowbells and whistles to create a highly entertaining and fun record.

Listen in full here

9: Django Django – ‘Marble Skies’

The kaleidoscopic third album from Django Django is a veritable smorgasbord ranging from the group’s distinctive, jangling Beach Boys-style surf rock to lilting dancehall to electronic club bangers. Although there are some slower moments of real beauty present, the high points are when the Djangos speed things up such as on ‘In Your Beat’.

Listen in full here

8: IDLES – ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’

The Bristol punk-rock quintet go from strength to strength with their second album, following up from last year’s brilliant debut Brutalism. The album’s twelve tracks of pummelling, angry punk are a furious state-of-the-nation address to post-Brexit Britain, with moments of lacerating wit thrown in for good measure by formidable lead singer Joe Talbot. Powerful.

Listen in full here

7: Dream Wife – ‘Dream Wife’

The debut album from this London-based all-female trio is punk-rock at the other end of the spectrum from IDLES but is nonetheless a fantastically good listen. Dream Wife specialise in melodic, (mostly) radio-friendly pop-punk with incredibly catchy hooks, lots of attitude and feminist undertones that may not become too apparent until you see the band live.

Listen in full here

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Albums of the Year 2018

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Yes, it’s that time of year again, lists, lists and well, more lists – and from every angle possible. That said, drawing up a list of my favourite records from throughout the year is one of the most enjoyable aspects to the blog.

There was lots of great music in 2018 (as is the case every year) but here are 18 of my favourite records from the year – 18 for 18 if you will.

Without further ado, here are my favourite records from 2018. Enjoy!

18: Conor Mason – ‘On The Surface’

Conceived, developed and rendered into life over eighteen months in his hometown of Derry, Conor Mason’s fourth album is a treasure trove of musicianship and songwriting craft and is very assured in his musical landscape, conjuring the wistful wonderment of Elliott Smith, Grandaddy, Villagers and Matthew Jay. In essence, it is an exploration living life with uncertainty; the highs and lows, curiosity and change, and significance, or insignificance, of humans in the universe. Flowing gently by, amid a sea of hushed lilting vocals, whispering lyrical poeticisms and subtle instrumentation, Mason reveals himself master of hook, harmony and heart. At times fragile, tender and touching, his songs are paradoxically permeated by an air of richness and comforting warmth, yet shrouded in melancholy, and draped in Mason’s intuitive song writing and storytelling abilities. A beautiful record.

Listen in full here.

17: The Coral – ‘Move Through The Dawn’

The Coral returned with their ninth studio album in 2018 and their prolific work rate and flair for psychedelic folk and classy pop songs shows no signs of abating. Move Through The Dawn glides along serenely, laden with seductive, sweet melodies and lush string arrangements, with the likes of ‘Reaching Out For a Friend’ and ‘Sweet Release’ bouncing around your head all day. While ‘Outside My Window’ and ‘Stormbreaker’ remind us on The Coral’s other side (and the closest relations to 2016’s Distance Inbetween); heavier riffs, jagged guitars and general air of menace. It is another wonderful and solid record from one of Britain’s most enduring and lovable bands.

Listen in full here.

16: Kneecap – ‘3CAG’

Comprised of Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap and DJ Provaí, Kneecap are a satirical hip-hop trio from Belfast who perform in Irish. The trio combine a fluency in Irish with an amazing delivery and a wry sense of humour to produce one of the most unique homegrown records of 2018. Over eight tracks, their mixtape 3CAG offers a satirical take on life for young people, with a particular west Belfast slant. If like me, your command of Irish leaves a lot to be desired, it doesn’t matter a jot. The beats are superb and so infectious, and the flow and lyrical skill on show is second to none, with plenty of laughs thrown in for good measure – anyone who might be sceptical to begin with will be easily won over, just press play.

Listen in full here.

15: Gwenno – ‘Le Kov’

Gwenno’s debut, 2015’s Y Dydd Olaf, was almost all in Welsh; Le Kov, sung in Cornish is just as stunning and serene a sonic dream. The music continues in a retro-futuristic psych-pop vein, but Le Kov is even more expansive sounding than Y Dydd Olaf. Gwenno’s calm, precise and often reverbed vocals navigate a whirlwind of electronic noise, intricately weaved mixture of moods, textures and pulsations, and soaring strings.The record feels alive, vital and organic, like a luminous dream, it is a place playfulness, shimmering beauty, mythology and modernity that are all interwoven with freeflowing ideas, synth-lines and electronic blips, and an undercurrent of poetical dissent. A stunning record – inviting and bubbling with creative ideas, energy and possibilities – from a unique talent.

Listen in full here.

14: Half Man Half Biscuit – ‘No One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin’ Hedge Cut’

Album number 14 from Half Man Half Biscuit sees Nigel Blackwell and company in top form with a collection of great, cheerful, upbeat tunes combined with witty, sardonic lyrics. Musically it picks up where Urge for Offal left off, a rocky, brash and pretty loud post-punk indie backdrop for sardonic but never cynical takes on everyday life. In short, it’s got what a HMHB LP always has; the irresistible wordplay, varying cultural references, surreal and improbable surreal tales, and the most quotable lyrics in the world. A real treasure.

Listen in full here.

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JOHNNY FEENEY’S ALBUMS OF 2017

albums of 2017

Aside from compiling my own end of year lists, I really do enjoy checking out other people’s take on the past 12 months and none more so than Mr. Johnny Feeney.

A reliably insightful musical sage, Johnny’s guest appearances are always interesting and add an extra flavour to the blog and I look forward to reading – of which, surely I’m not alone?

A massive thanks to Johnny for taking time out to compile this list, and on that note, I’ll leave you with his Mr. Feeney’s favourite records of 2017.

10. Grandaddy – Last Place

Previously split up in 2006, Grandaddy’s first album in eleven years saw the ever-eccentric, cult Californians return with a bang with their trademark, electronica-tinged alt-rock. The familiar sounds of Jason Lytle’s distinctive, melancholic vocals, chugging guitars and synth flourishes are all present and correct on a wonderful comeback album that was well worth the wait.

09. Fangclub – Fangclub

Dublin rockers, Fangclub, have been tearing up stages around the country and further afield for a while now and, thankfully, their self-titled debut album delivers on the promise of their raucous live shows. In a classic guitar/bass/drums set up, the trio display a keen ear for an infectious hook and make a thunderous racket not dissimilar to Nirvana. If you like it loud then look no further.

08. Wolf Alice – Visions Of A Life

The London four-piece’s sophomore album sees a fine follow up to 2015’s commercially successful, Mercury-nominated My Love Is Cool. The adaptability of vocalist Elise Rowell means the group are equally comfortable on the melodic, anthemic indie-rock side of things (‘Beautifully Unconventional’) as they are on the heavier material (‘Yuk Foo’) and anything in between. It’s this broad range that makes Wolf Alice such an interesting proposition.

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BarryGruff’s Albums of the Year 2017

Albums of the year 2017 graphics

Yes, it’s that time of year again, lists, lists and well, more lists – and from every angle possible. That said, compiling an annual list of my favourite records from throughout the year is one of the most enjoyable aspects to the blog.

There was lots of great music in 2017 (as with every year) but here are my 20 favourite records from the year. Also, I’m hoping the festive period will provide time to catch up on some records I’ve missed throughout the year, so feel free to recommend some listening material.

Without further ado, here are my favourite records from 2017:

20. Czarface – ‘First Weapon Drawn’

For album number four, Czarface (Esoteric, Inspectah Deck and 7L) teamed up with Marvel Comics to create a soundtrack to an actual hardcopy comic of the same name. The previous installments have featured rapping from Esoteric, Inspectah Deck and other guests, however, on this occasion it’s just the superbly evocative instrumentation, with narration tacked on throughout. In fact, 7L’s production is some of strongest found throughout all the releases. Not quite at the level of albums 1 – 3, it provides an excellent little stop gap while we await a new album proper.

[Stream on Spotify]

19. Nouveaunoise – ‘Nouveaunoise’

Galway duo Nouveaunoise – Conor Gaffney & Niall Conway – had earned themselves a rep for finely crafted electronic productions, intricately weaving crackling samples, jazz-sampling percussion and warm melodies and crisp beats a la Four Tet or Boards of Canada. The pair released their debut back in 2010 and their self-titled follow-up sees them continue to shine when it comes to elegant, lush and intricately produced pristine electronica. Eight years is a long time but it was worth the wait!

[Stream on Spotify]

18. The Courtneys – ‘The Courtneys II’

With their 2013 debut, The Courtneys peddled lo-fi fuzzy slacker garage-pop with the ’90s casting a pretty long shadow and for the follow-up, the Vancouver trio have repeated the trick. Endearingly ramshackle, the dreamy vocals and laid-back sunkissed vibes are pumped with fuzzed-up distorted guitars, sweet licks and heavy, driving bass lines. Rarely has ramshackle indie been so appealing and so pretty damn irresistible. This is the sound of long, hot summers.

[Stream on Spotify]

17. Girlpool – ‘Powerplant’

Girlpool’s sound gets bigger on their second LP, beefed up with addition of a drummer crafting that classic alt-rock loud-quiet-loudness throughout but Girlpool know where their true power lies: Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad’s voices still sit front and centre. The unsettling magic that exists between makes them Girlpool distinct, lending their patented fragility and vulnerability. Powerplant is sparse and explores the energy and shape of contrariety and emptiness.

[Stream on Spotify]

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SALES Share Single ‘Ivy’, Ahead of Debut LP on April 20th

Over the past 18 months or so Florida duo SALES, have repeatedly proven themselves to be a reliable and plentiful source of catchy, melodic and pleasantly chill dream-pop.

Now, with their long-awaited debut LP almost upon us, Lauren Morgan and Jordan Shih have shared new single ‘Ivy’. It is a pensive, slinky, free-flowing meander with a mildly distorted drumbeat and repeated guitar riff, undulating around Morgan’s gentle, gauzy and alluring vocals. It all softly splashes, swirls together, working perfectly with their pre-existing penchant for mellow guitar, bedroom pop. The pair couldn’t have created a more endearing tracking, it is simply wonderful. Not only that but it showcases everything that makes SALES such a wonderful band and exciting proposition, and why if you’re not already looking forward to the release of their debut album on April 20th, you probably should be.

SALES’ self-titled debut is out on April 20th but till then, you can check out the marvelous ‘Ivy’ below:

SALES’ have a whole host of live dates lined-up across North America, you can check the full list here.

 

Tuff Love – ‘Resort’

 

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Glaswegian scuzz-pop aficionados Tuff Love, have already graced us with a terrific trilogy of EPs in recent times. Those EPs – 2014’s ‘Junk’, and last year’s ‘Dross’ and ‘Dregs’ – marked them as one of the most exciting new bands around, all dazzling, fuzzy indie pop with sugar-sweet melodies and crunching choruses and shoegazey guitars galore.

This promise has been condensed into a single release, Resort. Ordered chronologically and marking the culmination of their hard work, it tells the Tuff Love story so far. Perhaps surprisingly, Resort sits together decidedly well as a ‘record’ in itself, especially considering the fragmented time in which they were recorded and originally released. Tuff Love strike a perfect balance between these contrasting ingredients of their sound. In all of three-and-a-half minutes, opener ‘Sweet Discontent’ outlines exactly what Tuff Love are all about. A racing melody is underpinned by a tattered grunge-echoing riff and a coarse, churning rhythm, and Julie Eisenstein’s dreamy, almost listlessness vocals, which exudes a sense of rage, sorrow and unhappiness. Raw yet dainty, blissfully rambunctious guitar-pop anthems, channeled through a haze of lo-fi recordings, is what they excel at. Of which any number of tracks from Resort will testify too; ‘Crocodile’, ‘Slammer’ or ‘Flamingo’, take your pick!

It’s not clear how far along Eisenstein and Bear are with a debut album proper, but Resort sits together rather nicely indeed. Not only does it allow us to draw a line under these excellent early EPs, it reminds us how good Tuff Love and you get the feeling they are destined for big things.

Resort is out now through Lost Map Records (buy or stream now).

BarryGruff Albums of the Year (2015)

BGs Albums of the year 2015So it is that time of year again, lists, lists and more lists. Well, not be out done, here are my 41 (yes 41, and yes it’s a weird number) albums of 2015.

It has been such a good year for new albums, probably the best since I started the blog back in 2010. So much so that there is very little difference between the top 5, top 10, top 15 and so on. So without further ado, here are my favourite records from 2015:

There is also a Spotify playlist of the Top 20 albums, to save you time and hassle (it’s here).

41. Only Real – Jerk At The End of the Line’

40. Rozi Plain – ‘Friend’

39. Wildling – ‘Molecules To Moon’

38. The School – ‘Wasting Away And Wondering’

37. Sweet Baboo – ‘Boombox Ballads’

36. The Stammer – ‘Days In Between’

35. SexWitch – Sex Witch’

34. Faith Healer – ‘Cosmic Troubles’

33. Girl Band – ‘Holding Hands With Jamie’

32. Joanna Gruesome – ‘Peanut Butter’

31. Fort Romeau – ‘Insides

30. Soft Serve – ‘S/t’

29. Applescal – ‘For’

28. Zefur Wolves – ‘Zefur Wolves’

27. Hot Chip – ‘Why Make Sense?’

26. Drenge – ‘Undertow’

25. The Charlatans – ‘Modern Nature’

24. Gaz Coombes – ‘Matador’

23. Bill Ryder-Jones – ‘West Kirby County Primary’

22. Drinks – ‘Hermits on Holiday’

21. The Expert – Dynamic Drift

20. Boxed In – ‘Boxed In’

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Guest Post: Justin Beats Talks ‘Jamie XX – In Colour’

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Every now and then I like to share my soapbox with other voices aside from my own, I’m nice like that. On this occasion it’s the turn of my good mate and fellow emigrant to Vancouver, Justin Beats, take a turn at the helm.

A craft beer, pastie and fast-food safari enthusiast, Beats also knows what’s what when it comes to music – sure it’s in his name (I’m here all week!). Well, that’s my cue to leave if there ever was one but before that, I’d like to thank Justin for taking the time to write this up. Now then, I’ll leave you in his capable hands as he talks up Jamie XX’s new record, In Colour. 

Jamie XX – In Colour

London’s Jamie Smith of XX fame, known for his solo work as ‘Jamie XX’, has deservedly carved out a name for himself. Back in 2011 his remix of Gil Scott Heron’s; ‘I’m New Here’ gained him plaudits and he has produced tracks for the likes of Alicia Keys and remixed for Radiohead and Florence & The Machine amongst others. His fan base eagerly awaited new output.

In Colour, released last month, marks his first LP offering. Essentially a house record, it is a beat driven collection of tracks with stylish future garage and deep house undertones. From the initial track ‘Gosh’, Smith establishes a penetrating baseline cut alongside choppy synth that wouldn’t seem out of place at a basement club in Croydon. Smith instead graduates his sound, as he does so effectively time again here, steadily drawing out layers of melody and well placed samples. Elements of his XX stylings are not lost; guitar loops echo throughout the steel-drum driven track ‘Obvs’, one that reminded me to revisit Skream’s first record. Stand out track ‘Loud Places’, has band mate Romy providing vocals; expect this synth drenched, 5am hand raiser to garner radio play. ‘Stranger In A Room’ however, feels so XX it could belong on their last LP, an overstatement of a track.

This record really excels in the tracks where Smith layers his brand of house and sampling to climactic ends. ‘Hold Tight’s fuzzy electronica sonically wavers so generously you may feel nauseas, in a good way! ‘The Rest is Noise’ builds around an irresistible thumping beat but is set against a tapestry of synth, and pauses for piano tinkering which evokes warm memories of mid nineties Robert Miles.

As a first full length release, Smith triumphs here. Consider this a soundtrack to your hazy 2015 summer evenings.

Listen on Spotify.

Guest Post: Johnny Feeney Picks 3 Albums (Father John Misty, Menace Beach & Viet Cong)

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The eminently knowledgeable musical savvy Johnny Feeney, returns to share with us, some albums which have caught his eye, or ear to be more precise. Always insightful and interesting, his posts definitely add an extra flavour the blog and I for one look forward to reading them – of which I’m surely not alone? Without further a due, here are three albums that have been taking his fancy of late. Thanks as ever to Johnny for taking the time to share his thoughts and with that, I’ll leave you in his very capable hands.

Father John Misty – ‘I Love You, Honeybear’

The second album from former Fleet Foxes drummer J Tillman is a dazzling roller-coaster ride of emotions. This is wonderfully produced and musically uplifting folk/Americana, while Tillman’s cutting lyrics have the ability to consistently knock you to the floor. The gorgeous opening title track is a case in point – swooning layers of acoustic guitars, luscious strings and pianos are accompanied by declarations of love and visions of impending doom (“Everything is doomed, and nothing will be spared, but I love you, honeybear”).

Tillman effortlessly switches moods throughout. There are some genuine moments of humour on here such as on ‘Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Thirsty Crow’ (“my baby … blackens pages like a Russian romantic, gets down more often than a blow-up doll”). The standout moments come towards the end of the album. ‘Bored in the USA’s withering commentary on modern America is played out over a beautifully delicate piano and, midway through, ironic canned laughter. The spellbinding ‘Holy Shit’ tackles organised religion amongst other things before its last verse closes euphorically on a wave of glorious strings. Stunning.

Menace Beach – ‘Ratworld’

Leeds indie-rockers Menace Beach certainly wear their influences on their sleeves on their debut album. Opener ‘Come On Give Up’ and ‘Elastic’ channel ’90s grunge in a revivalist manner similar to Yuck a few years back. Elsewhere ‘Blue Eye’ evokes the shoegaze of The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine. Fuzzy guitars and occasional earbleeding squalls of feedback abound as Ryan Needham and Liza Violet switch vocal duties throughout. Violet’s breathy, dreamy vocals, especially, rescue some of the tunes out of their murk.

The band have a clear ear for melody and album highlights include ‘Tennis Court’ which starts out as dream-pop before exploding into a filthier sound. The standout ‘Tastes Like Medicine’ is a more straight-up indie-rock affair with the extremely infectious chorus having a tendency to lodge in your head for days. With 12 tracks coming in at just over half an hour there’s no hanging around and the album’s the better for it. Although there’s nothing startlingly original on here, this is a highly promising debut nonetheless.

Viet Cong – ‘Viet Cong’

The self-titled debut album from Canadian post-punk four-piece Viet Cong, is certainly not one for the faint of heart. If Fuck Buttons were to make a guitar album it’d probably sound like this. The music is hypnotic, repetitive and bleak but absolutely compelling. Stuttering, industrial beats and mazing guitars come to the fore with lead singer Matt Flegel’s vocals way down and difficult to decipher. The unsettling, captivating ‘March of Progress’ opens with clangouring beats in a constant loop before it slowly moves into psychedelic territory with sinister Eastern strings.

The album’s most accessible songs, the brooding ‘Continental Shelf’ and the energetic ‘Silhouettes’, provide an almost welcome relief. This is brief respite before the aptly-named album closer ‘Death’ launches into its epic 11 minute journey – a relentless, bruising and punishing ride that will leave the listener exhausted and battered into submission. One could imagine going catatonic at their live shows. This definitely won’t be to everyone’s tastes. Turn it up loud.

BarryGruff’s Albums of the Year 2014

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So, it’s that time of year again, yeah, it’s favourite albums of the year time. Loads of great music this year, some old faces and plenty of new ones too but for those of you who care, here are my 25 albums of 2014. Enjoy!

25. Second Storey – ‘Double Divide’

24. Beach Day – ‘Native Echoes’

23. Globelamp – ‘Star Dust’

22. Sex Hands – ‘Pleh’

21. The #1s – ‘The #1s’

20. Attaque – ‘ON LY YOU’

19. Shit Robot – ‘We Got Love’

18. Mowbird – ‘Islander’

17. Oh Boland/Me & My Dog – ‘Delphi’

16. Jamie T – ‘Carry on the Grudge’

15. Pharoahe Monch – ‘PTSD’

Following on from his 2011’s W.A.R, comes fourth solo LP, PTSD (aka Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), a loose-concept album which sees Pharoahe Monch speaking as a weary independent warrior against the industry machine and dealing with the struggle of the black male experience in America. It’s dense, raw and sometimes painfully raw, as he relives harrowing memories of his struggle with addiction, depression and suicidal thoughts. It’s all draped with his familiar top-notch storytelling, cavernous vocabulary, thought-provoking rhymes, precise delivery and thought-provoking metaphors, placing him right up top of the current hip-hop pile.

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