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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Best of 2014: Johnny Feeney’s Albums of the Year

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The ever insightful Johnny Feeney pops up every now and then to share his musical musings with us, always adding an extra flavour to the blog and always a welcome one at that.

Ahead of my own albums of the year list, Johnny has kindly compiled his top ten albums from 2014 but before I leave you in Johnny’s very capable hands, I’d like to thank him for this, and all the other posts during the year, and of course the site’s renovation too.  So, without further ado, here are Johnny’s top ten albums of the year.

10. Sleaford Mods – ‘Divide and Exit’

2014 was certainly the year that Nottingham’s Sleaford Mods shot to prominence after years in the underground. Primitive programmed beats and Andrew Fearn’s menacing basslines provide the platform from which vocalist Jason Williamson volleys tirade upon aggressive tirade. Foul-mouthed, venom-spitting Williamson is the star turn here – a poet of the disenchanted lower classes in the UK. Powerful.

09. Miss Kenichi – ‘The Trail’

The third album from Berlin-based Miss Kenichi is a haunting, gloomy slow-paced affair reminiscent in parts to White Chalk-era PJ Harvey. Although sparse and dark on first listen, this album slowly reveals itself on repeat listens and is stunningly beautiful in places.

08. Benjamin Booker – ‘Benjamin Booker’

New Orleans-based Booker’s self-titled debut album is a treat of stomping, soulful blues rock. Sounding older than his 25 years, Booker’s voice is a magnetic presence throughout this record. The rollicking, rousing tunes are such good fun but Booker is equally as effective when he slows things down on tracks such as ‘Slow Coming’. Big things lie ahead for Booker, one imagines.

07. Brody Dalle – ‘Diploid Love’

Well-connected former Distillers frontwoman Dalle’s first solo album features guest appearances from the likes of the Strokes’ Nick Valensi and Garbage’s Shirley Manson but never for a moment is the spiky Dalle outshone on this fine rock record full of snarling vocals and thundering hooks.

06. Ultimate Painting – ‘Ultimate Painting’

Ultimate Painting are the very interesting side project from Jack Cooper of Mazes and James Hoare of Veronica Falls. Packed full of breezy, dreamy indie rock, lovely harmonies and incredibly infectious tunes are prevalent throughout. The easiest of easy listening.

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Albums Roundup: By The Sea, Second Storey & The #1s

 

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Back again with a few more albums that have been keeping me occupied over the past while.

Second Storey – ‘Double Divide’

Formerly going by the name Al Tourettes, London-based Alec Storey began life as Second Storey in 2013 with his Margosa Heights EP. Released but a few weeks ago, his debut LP, Double Divide, is a revelation. Both rich and complex in equal measure, it is steeped in electronic experimentation. Double Divide is a hybrid of styles and influences, shifting from a dreamy ambient side, while others clearly leaning towards the dancefloor, and back again. It success lies in finding a balance, a sweet one at that, between atmospheric soundscapes and ones more at home at a hedonistic club. An album of contrasts, it’s in its infectious, often unusual rhythms too, that binds the entire LP together. A finely crafted debut and an absolutely thrilling listening experience from start to finish.

By The Sea – ‘Endless Days, Crystal Sky’

With their second LP, we find By The Sea sounding bigger and fuller than ever before, as they expanded and refined their wistful yet driven psych-pop undulations. ‘Endless Days, Crystal Sky’ is a magnificent collection of melodic guitar pop songs, illuminated by drifting, dreamlike atmospherics, jangling guitars and bubbly bass. This is an album which should sit proudly with many of the greatest records to emerge from the banks of the Mersey. While the influences are worm well, the understated and shimmering synth work adds a more modern veneer to this retro fitted piece of dreamy indie-pop. This scintillating dreamy indie-pop is sometimes propulsive while punctuated by world-weary vocals, imbued with an aching sense of melancholy, creating a great sense of both depth and warmth. While unquestionably excellent, By The Sea’s debut managed a cult success, released back in August, the Wirral 5-piece’s follow-up deserves far greater acclaim and attention.

The #1s – The #1s

This foursome have been knocking around Dublin for a couple of years now, as The #1s and their various other groups like Cheap Freaks, the Pacifics, and Cian Nugent & the Cosmos. Their seasoned status shines through spectacularly on their self-titled debut, a short and snappy blend of racy punk, power-pop and lo-fi that owes a certain debt to Northern punk bands of the mid-to-late ’70s, like Rudi, The Outcasts and The Undertones. The #1s wear their influences well and openers, ‘I Wish I Was Lonely’, ‘Sixteen’ and ‘Heartsmash’, leave you in no doubt that were headed to a bouncy punk scene from 35 years ago. Frantic and fast paced, it’s all over before you know it, in under 20 minutes in fact but no sooner has it finished and you’ll be hitting play once again. Combing all the finest ingredients, it’s bratty and fun, raw yet tender and simultaneously sugary sweet and sour, they’ve come up trumps with a master class in power-pop punk, and a thrilling debut.