The ever reliable Johnny Feeney returns for another guest post to highlight his favourite albums of 2012 so far.
First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
Swedish country/folk duo First Aid Kit (sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg, aged 18 and 21 respectively) certainly had help from people in high places for their second album – The Lion’s Roar is produced by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk) with a guest appearance from Conor Oberst. Mogis adds flourishes throughout but the acoustic guitars and the remarkable intertwining voices of the Soderberg sisters are what rightfully come to the fore here.
One of the album highlights, ‘Emmylou’, is a song in thrall to country music with its sliding guitars and name checking of country greats such as Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris et al. The soaring harmonies on the gorgeous ‘To a Poet’ and ‘I Found a Way’ are breathtaking and heartbreaking in equal measure. The mainly melancholy lyrics of heartbreak and sadness on here are in almost complete contrast to the upbeat, cheerful music and it takes a few listens to realise the conflict. A delightful album from a band who sound much older than their years.
Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal
A debut album of rousing indie-folk/pop from this 6-piece band from Iceland. There will surely not be too many records released this year as constantly, positively uplifting. The joyous ‘Dirty Paws’ opens proceedings brightly and the mood rarely drops – there are lots of encouraging shouts, whistles and mass singalongs throughout. With a girl-boy dynamic switching vocals, the music is similar in places to Mumford & Sons with acoustic guitars, uplifting accordions and trumpets.
The impossibly catchy ‘Little Talks’ is an album standout along with the majestic, life-affirming ‘Lakehouse’, a song that builds and builds until it explodes into so much life it’s hard not to be affected by its contagious positivity. The band can tone it down too and do so with devastating effect in the beautifully sparse closer ‘Yellow Light’, reminiscent of the XX but if after taking their happy pills.
Grimes – Visions
It’s difficult to pigeon hole this album by Grimes, aka 24-year-old Canadian Claire Boucher, into any category other than electronic as the sound veers so wildly throughout. Clearly not sticking to any sort of template, the album is bristling with ideas and songs can change direction at any moment. When it clicks it’s sublime but understandably not everything does. However, you can only commend Boucher for her bold experimentations.
A highly danceable record with synths and beats dominating, there are some gems in here – the dreamy electro of ‘Genesis’, the squelchy ‘Oblivion’, the claustrophobic ‘Circumambient’, the spikily evil ‘Nightmusic’. Boucher’s high-pitched voice is almost indecipherable in places and frequently and effectively used in loops as added layers of sound. The tender R’n’B of ‘Skin’ comes out of nowhere towards the end and, in keeping with the rest of the album, pleasantly throws you off one final time.