YEAR IN REVIEW: Best Albums of the Year 2012 – #15-11

15. Porcelain Raft – Strange Weekend

holy other - heldStrange Weekend is an excellent excercise in versatility. Mauro Remiddi, AKA Porcelain Raft, brings so many different ideas to the table on his full-length solo debut. That, in itself, would be worth applauding, but it’s the fact that he does it all with such expertise and precision that must be commended. The sonic planes he travels are so distant from one another, but they’re all centred around a distinct 80′s vibe, with M83-esque dream-pop elements perpetuating it. Read my full review HERE.

14. How To Dress Well – Total Loss

holy other - held

Tom Krell‘s brand of stripped-down, hypnotic R’n’B is instantly recognisable as his own, and as How To Dress Well, he’s helped pioneer a genre that didn’t really exist before his appearance. His falsetto vocals are immediately recognisable and characterise the sorrow and yearning that his music embodies. There’s an overwhelming sense of sadness and foreboding that haunts Total Loss, and the songwriting conveys that as well. Krell‘s compositions on Total Loss are breathtaking, with harps, violins, piano, electronics and his own vocals blending together to create music that is hard to describe without actually hearing it. On his second effort, Krell is more personal and vulnerable than on his 2010 debut Love Remains, and it helps document the feelings of this troubled soul, who’s dealing with the losss of friends and family in the most cathartic manner. While he certainly wears his inspirations on his sleeves, they’re dismantled in a way that is totally energizing to hear put down on record.

13. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city

holy other - held

All hype aside, this is one of the most triumphant and cohesive hip hop albums I’ve heard in recent years. At only twelve tracks, it allows every track to be as fleshed-out as possible, and together as a whole they tell quite a story. Kendrick Lamar fills each track with so much detail that you’ll feel like you actually grew up in Compton with Kendrick by the end of the track. With Dr Dre on primary production duties there is certainly some pedigree backing up this major label debut. Kendrick Lamar expands on many of the themes covered on last year’s excellent Section.80 with a vibe very much remeniscent of OutKast circa ATLiens/Aquemini. Every track just flows into one other so seemlessly; it all has a natural progression that seems almost perfect. Skits are scattered throughout the record to give further context to the songs, it all feels so masterfully put together. Features are scarce on the album, with verses from fellow Black Hippy collective member Jay Rock, as well as Drake and Dr Dre himself, but Kendrick Lamar is without doubt the star of this show. With good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar has been thrust into the spotlight and he’s really thriving on it. He’s quickly becoming one of the most popular new hip-hop stars, and no one really deserves it more.

12. Wild Nothing – Nocturne

holy other - held

Although a lot of bands claim to create ‘dream-pop’, none of them personify it quite like Jack Tatum, AKA Wild Nothing. Nocturne truly is an ethereal experience, best listened to late at night. The album slowly grows and grows upon each listen, with higher production values than his debut. This record really shows how Tatum has grown as a songwriter, both through the more ambitious melodies and the deeper, more poignant lyrics. Although some might feel alienated by the more polished studio-sheen of the music at first, it slowly but surely all makes sense in the end. Lush string arrangements pervade ‘Shadow‘, while ‘Paradise‘ is one of the most invigorating songs of the year. Though he is still obviously very nostalgic for the 80′s, Tatum moves things forward in a very significant way with Nocturne. The production is so precise; every element seems to have been calculated and re-organised until it was absolutely right. As Wild Nothing, Jack Tatum is quickly turning into one of the most accomplished artists currently working today.

11. Fantasy Rainbow – Bos Taurus

holy other - held

When I listen to Bos Taurus, I hear elements of pretty much every alternative rock band I’ve ever admired, all at once. Fantasy Rainbow is the brainchild of Manchester native Oliver Catt, who primarily records from the comfort of his own bedroom. After only just over a year of creating and performing music, Catt was flown off to Sputnik Sound Studios in Nashville by Vance Powell (producer of Jack White‘s Blunderbuss, most notably) in order to record his debut album. There’s elements of Modest Mouse, Weezer, Pavement and Bright Eyes in his music, while all being tied together with a youthful outlook that is instantly refreshing. Packed with more hooks than a Peter Pan convention, Bos Taurus is an extremely accomplished debut for someone of just nineteen years old. Passion fills Catt‘s voice on the latter half of ‘Nothing But‘, while the lo-fi production of ‘Bread Biscuit‘ sees a more ferocious, angst-filled side to his voice, harking back to early Brand New. The fact that this guy isn’t more exposed than he is at the moment is baffling; he has all the components of an act that could be mega-popular. Hopefully as time passes and word of mouth travels, he will catch a decent break. For now, Fantasy Rainbow can remain England’s best kept secret.

LINKS:

Albums of the Year 2012 – #25-21

Albums of the Year 2012 – #20-16


YEAR IN REVIEW: Albums of the Year 2012 – #20-16

20. Aesop Rock – Skelethon

aesop rock - skelethon

On his sixth full-length, hip-hop veteran Ian Bavitz, A.K.A. Aesop Rock, proves that he’s got no intention of tripping up any time soon. Filled with clever wordplay, solid production and 100 mile-an-hour delivery that would make any listener feel inadequate indelivery, Skelethon can be put up there with the best of his work. Built on a foundation of loss and change, the album displays a vast array of emotion, while the lack of any guest features from other hip-hop artists on the album keeps the spotlight solely on him. The appearance of Kimya Dawson pleased my inner Juno-fanboy while also adding a nice hook to ‘Crows 1′.  It’s the most introspective of his work thus far, and definitely one of his most accessible.

19. The Men – Open Your Heart

the men - open your heart

With the follow-up to 2011′s Leave Home, The Men finally truly capitalise on the potential that shone through on the previous record(s). Where the former was jagged and untamed, Open Your Heart showed a more polished, confident sound. On ‘Animal‘, frontman Mark Perro‘s vocals resemble ex-Gallows man Frank Carter while ‘Candy‘ has a classic rock vibe that we haven’t seen from from him prior. This chameleon-like nature of his voice suits the album well, creating a collection of songs that are massively fun to listen to. The Men basically threw all the things they love about their favourite genres into a melting pot and Open Your Heart was the result – a fun, unpredictable and impressively ambitious record.

18. Holograms – Holograms

holograms - holograms

Captured Tracks were absolutely one of the highlights of the year for the artists they harbour and the albums they put out. Not only did they release records from the likes of Mac Demarco, DIIV, Wild Nothing and Naomi Punk, but they discovered Sweden’s Holograms and let the world hear their stellar debut album. The self-titled album is filled with a variety of styles all centred around 70′s and 80′s British punk music with a modern sheen. Yeah I know, been there, done that, right? Not quite. Holograms provide refreshing passion and enviable charm that injects the otherwise bleak subject matter with some much needed entertainment. The juxtaposition caused by the subjects covered in the lyrics, and the relatively upbeat nature of the music creates a delicate balance that the band keep afloat with aplomb. Frontman Anton Spetze doesn’t cower behind a veil of distortion, like so many other bands in similar brackets, and his voice has a raw quality that really suits the music. ‘Astray‘ is carried along by Ramones-esque guitar work while ‘Stress‘ has a bridge akin to Dead Kennedys. It’s obvious where Holograms‘ passions lie, and it’s exciting to think what they might accomplish next.

17. Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes

holy other - held

Until The Quiet Comes was such a highly anticipated album for me after the wonder that was Cosmogramma, and it delivered on all fronts. The kind of electronic music Steven Ellison conjures up as Flying Lotus on this record is so unique and soulful, there really isn’t anyone else making music quite like it. Ranging from Aphex Twin-esque ambience of ‘Tiny Tortures‘ to the cosmic space grooves of ‘The Nightcaller‘, it acts as a whistlestop tour of every bit of talent that Ellison possesses. Combining elements of jazz, hip-hop and everything in between, Until The Quiet Comes is a more than worthy follow-up to everything that has come before. The album features collaborations with returning artists such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Thundercat, but it all seems to be subtler, less bombastic than Cosmogramma. The cohesive nature of the album is what really drew me to it in the first place; it feels like drifting through a woozy soundscape rather than just a collection of songs. The immaculate production and sheer variety on display here creates such vivid images without actually saying many words at all. With this as well as that Captain Murphy mixtape he released a while ago, Flying Lotus has had a pretty good year, right?

16. Liars – WIXIW

holy other - held

Liars have to be commended on how versatile they truly are. Never ones to shy away from reinvention, WIXIW showed a side of the band that had never been seen before. Often ominous, the vast electronic spectrum that the band traverse was entirely different to previous albums, but retained the identity that the band have built up over their impressive career. WIXIW is perhaps their most divisive release to date, much like Radiohead‘s Kid A, with some hailing the brave change of direction and others cowering before the change. The album starts with a song that is perhaps suspciously bliss-filled, before submerging the listener in Liars‘ trademark sense of unease. Some moments hark back to the days when John Carpenter made good movies (‘Octagon‘), while others see the band treading on Underworld-esque territory (‘Brats‘). While some deplored the direction that Liars had chosen, WIXIW drew me in the way no Liars album has been able to before. What the band will sound like in another 2 years time is anyone’s guess, but I can’t wait to hear.

LINKS:

Albums of the Year 2012 – #25-21


REVIEW: Big Boi – Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors

On first glance at the track list for Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, one thing is immediately apparent; Big Boi wanted to make this album as big and extravagant as possible. With the variety and sheer volume of collaborations on display here, it would seem that Big Boi was over-compensating for something, but that’s far from the truth.

As a member of the now seemingly defunct OutKast, Big Boi was the more understated, yet undeniably talented, member of the duo. While Andre 3000 attracted more immediate attention from the press and casual onlookers, fans looked towards Big Boi to provide the more technical brilliance to the music. In a post-OutKast world, he has proved himself of this sufficiently with his brilliant solo debut ‘Sir Luscious Left Foot… the Son of Chico Dusty‘, while Andre 3000 floundered, seemingly sticking to collaborating occasionally. Now back for round two, Vicious Lies… is bigger and bolder than the former.

Big Boi has long since made his interests in the more alternative side of things apparent – from him apparently producing the new Modest Mouse record to him confessing his desire to work with the much maligned pseudo-folk band Mumford and Sons – it’s all reflected on the guest spots that appear on the new album. Female-fronted synth-pop bands Phantogram and Little Dragon assist on three tracks each, while lo-fi surf punk singer Nathan Williams, of Wavves fame, appears on one track. Big Boi really went outside of the norm with this release, with successful results for the most part.

Underneath the myriad guest spots on the list, Big Boi is the foundation on which this record was made. There’s a reason why he’s one of the most recognised and respected faces of southern hip-hop, and Vicious Lies… is a testament to that. His unique voice and great technique is the main reason to listen to the album, even if it is dressed up with maybe too many collaborative artists. ‘Apple of My Eye‘ is the only track which Big Boi tackles solo, and that fact alone makes it a highlight.

Undoubtedly, another highlight from the album is the bombastic ‘In the A‘. Sampling your own track is an odd way of crafting a new song, but Big Boi dismantles the hook from previous mega-hit ‘Shutterbugg‘ to create a TNGHT-esque, bass-heavy track that harks back to Sir Luscious Left Foot… in the best kind of way. Backed by trumpets, Big Boi joins forces with Ludacris and T.I. to provide the most undiluted experience on the album. By putting himself next to a lot of other rappers, it helps to see how good he really is at what he does. Ludicris and T.I. still have better verses on this track than they have done in quite a while, even as solo artists.

The most surprising collaboration to see on the album is no doubt with Wavves, on the track ‘Shoes For Running‘. Nathan Williams provides a hook on the track unlike most you would expect to hear on a typical hip-hop release. Whether this works in Big Boi‘s favour is kind-of up in the air. While Williams does a great job at what he does, his snotty vocals are rather divisive in general. To hear him not hiding behind a wall of fuzz and distorted production is a rare event, but his vocals seem to hold up in this unfamiliar situation, even having a slight Avey Tare quality about them. I mean, even B.o.B. doesn’t sound too bad on this song, which is quite a change from usual. The vocals towards the end seem to have a children’s choir singing along that would almost ruin it if that hook weren’t so damn addictive.

Big Boi‘s frequent pairing with Little Dragon singer Yukimi Nagano works wonders for the album, with the two artists sharing a great sense of coexistence. ‘Descending‘ is an honest, sentimental number that is unlike anything else found on the record. On the other hand, Phantogram seem to serve a similar purpose to Little Dragon on this release, but they just don’t seem to connect with Big Boi‘s style in the same way. All of the work they do on the album would be fine as Phantogram tracks, but they seem disconnected from Big Boi‘s work in a way that is hard to explain. A key example of this is ‘Lines‘; it has all the key ingredients to add up to a great song, but it all seems disjointed. Sure, A$AP Rocky‘s verse is great as usual, but his and Big Boi‘s verses just seem to sit alongside Phantogram‘s chorus instead of actually melding with it, to become one complete, flowing song.

The album represents Atlanta in a big way, with ‘In the A‘ being an ode to the city, while collaborations with other Atlanta natives are found scattered amongst the tracks. Notably, Killer Mike‘s presence on the album is especially nice to see. After several notable absences from OutKast/Big Boi releases as of late. Fresh off the hype surrounding R.A.P. Music, his latest release, Killer Mike delivers a killer (sorry)verse on ‘Thom Pettie‘, giving the track a much-needed injection of aggression.

That’s not to say this album doesn’t have a few false starts. ‘Higher Res‘ features a collaboration with burgeoning R’n’B star Jai Paul, whose vocals have a submerged quality to them. At only 2:24 long, it doesn’t really have enough time to develop as a song, before ending with a feeling that this was a blatant missed opportunity. It feels like it was a demo that was, for some reason, left on the album.

Secondly, the record seems to have less decidedly less enthusiasm than his previous release. From the offset, Big Boi starts the album with the expected amount of energy, but it seems to fluctuate throughout. The more solemn, self-reflective moments on the album (‘She Hates Me, ‘Descending’) provide a side to Big Boi we rarely see, but slow down things somewhat. Finally, because of all of the guest spots throughout the tracks, Big Boi’s true potential seems diluted. While that would have seemed impossible, it somehow has happened at points during Vicious Lies…

Overall, Vicious Lies… is certainly a very different album from his first solo record. It’s quite hard to give a definitive answer as to whether all of the risks and experimentation on display paid off in the end. There are aspects here that worked wonderfully, while some moments on the album weren’t executed quite  so successfully. Those of you hoping for a carbon copy of Sir Luscious Left Foot… will no doubt be disappointed, but with as much variation as there is on the album, there’s more than enough for anyone to enjoy. It’s a very ambitious and ultimately flawed, but kinda excellent, record.

 8/10


THE BIGGER PICTURE: Frightened Rabbit & Bear Driver

It’s a lot of people’s dream as a kid growing up to be in a famous band, right? Nothing but the open road and playing shows every other night around the world. While at first that might all seem like a very luxurious lifestyle, there’s a lot more to it. I caught up with Scott Hutchison, frontman of Scottish national treasures Frightened Rabbit, and Oli Deakin, frontman of burgeoning fuzz-pop band Bear Driver, to discuss touring, the ups and downs of being on the road, songwriting, and more.

Talking to these two people gave me unique insight into being in a band at two different points in their career. On one side we have Frightened Rabbit, a well established, critically-acclaimed indie folk group who are on the eve of their fourth album, and on the other, there’s Bear Driver, relative newcomers to touring and gigging, who have just released their debut album this past summer.

Being in successful bands has afforded both of the front-men the luxury of exploring territory away from their usual surroundings. This is no doubt one of the most obvious highpoints of being in a band. Scott said “I love exploring new places, trying the food and visiting cultural spots.” While Oli said “I think the further afield you go the more fun you have because of that sense of adventure”. With similar sentiments to Scott, he stated “the best thing about playing abroad is that you get to wander into strange motorway services and buy strange foods that you can’t pronounce or recognise. It’s a fun game”.

As with almost every job, there is always going to be some downsides, when asked what the most obvious example was, two different points were made. Scott said “There is a lot of time spent waiting and hanging around. It can be quite mundane and dull”, while Oli said “everything costs so much. We have no great aspirations to be rich rock stars but it’d be nice to always be able to afford the slightly nicer bus with a TV in it. Sometimes you have to settle for the dodgy banger”. This differs from Frightened Rabbits experiences now, as Scott said “there is more time now that we have a tour bus and it’s made a huge difference to my enjoyment of touring”. It just shows how far a band can come when they’re given time to grow and progress.

The bottom line is about enjoying what you do. I asked Scott what his favourite thing about touring was overall: “Meeting new people, seeing new places. Of course, the whole reason for going on tour is to play shows, which is fantastic, but it’s the good times that go with the shows that make it worthwhile.” While Oli added “you can’t beat it”.

It’s been well documented that there is a vast difference between experiences playing shows in America and playing shows in the UK. Scott said “They are quite different experiences. It’s always a wee bit more exciting to be travelling through the States, but as far as the audiences go, both have their merits.” While Oli said “playing in the US is always such an adventure that it feels more special regardless of how the shows go”.

For most bands, the most monotonous part of touring is all the parts in between actually playing the shows. With so much ground to cover while traversing different countries, there is a lot of downtime. Many bands have different ways of conquering this boredom, and Scott Hutchison’s method of choice is to “watch DVDs. Look out the window, think about stuff. It can be quite a contemplative time. We tend not to talk much in the van.”

Every career has a high point; that one moment in time that will stay with you forever. It’s no exception for Scott or Oli. Scott said ” I think the last time we played T in the Park in 2010 was incredibly special. I’ll never forget that” while Oli said ” There’s been a few really special gigs for us. We played with …And You Wil Know Us By The Trail Of Dead at SXSW and they let us use all their amps which was very cool.”

Over a band’s career, it only makes sense that it would get harder and harder to pick the songs that make it onto a set-list. While that’s not exactly an issue for Bear Driver yet, I asked Scott how he balances between the old and new: “The old stuff gets the crowd going, whilst new tunes feel exciting and fresh for us. It’s a good combination”.

Songwriting is a vital element to being in a band. Musicians find ways of being creative in a huge variety of different ways; I asked Scott his preferred method: “I generally like to go and write lyrics somewhere out of the house so it feels like I have my ‘writing head’ on, and there fewer potential distractions”. When I asked Oli how he came to write the band’s debut album, he said ” We had quite a lot of it written already but we did and extra burst just before recording to see what else we had in the  tank. From that came quite a few key songs for the album, and a couple that we’re working into the second one”.

A clear downside to being on the road is the sheer amount of hours spent travelling between shows. I asked each musician their preferred method of keeping monotony to a minimum. Oli said “We started watching quite a lot of Arrested Development on one tour. But most times its listening to and arguing about music.” While Scott said “I watch DVDs, look out the window, think about stuff. It can be quite a contemplative time. We tend not to talk much in the van”.

As the year is drawing to a close, I decided to quiz the two singers on what they’ve been enjoying the most from the last twelve months. Oli said “Sharon Van Etten – album of the year.” while Scott said “My favourite album this year was by Django Django, but I’ve been listening to Angel Olsen, This Is The Kit, Right Away Great Captain! and Richard Hawley, to name a few.”

Frightened Rabbit’s new album, The Pedestrian Verse, is out in February 2013, and they embark on an 18-date UK tour that month in support of it too. Bear Driver are in the process of recording their second album which is aiming for a 2013 release, you can listen to a song from it on their website.

Frightened Rabbit 2013 Tour Dates:

8/2/2013 – The Waterfront, Norwich
9/2/2013 – HMV Institute, Birmingham
11/2/2013 – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth
12/2/2013 – Concorde 2, Brighton
13/2/2013 – The Forum, London
14/2/2013 – The Junction, Cambridge
16/2/2013 – The Fleece, Bristol
17/2/2013 – Exeter Phoenix, Exeter
18/2/2013 – The Sugarmill, Stoke
20/2/2013 – Leeds Metropolitan University SU, Leeds
21/2/2013 – The Rescue Rooms, Nottingham
22/2/2013 – Gorilla, Manchester
23/2/2013 – O2 Academy Liverpool, Liverpool
25/2/2013 – The Sage Gateshead, Gateshead
26/2/2013 – HMV Picture House, Edinburgh
27/2/2013 – Aberdeen Music Hall, Aberdeen
28/2/2013 – Barrowland (1 & 2), Glasgow


YEAR IN REVIEW: Albums of the Year 2012 – #25-21

As the year draws to a close, it’s time for me to look back over the past 12 months and remember fondly the records that I’ve enjoyed the most this year. I’m going to make a separate list for mixtapes, singles, EPs and maybe even videos. Here are the first five albums on the list:

25. Holy Other – Held

holy other - held

The way Holy Other uses a blend of ambient electronics and sampled vocals to create dark, disconcerting music on his debut LP, Held, is rather unique. The closest comparison would be that of How To Dress Well, with both sharing the ghostly RnB vibes, while Holy Other is less concerned with the lyrical meaning behind the music and more concerned with just creating an eerie, supernatural atmosphere. Held provides 35 minutes of music perfect for taking long late-night walks and cements the UK at the forefront of the electronic music scene.

24. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse

ty segall - slaughterhouse

Ty Segall is the only person on the list who I actually had trouble picking just one album from to include this list. Probably one of the most prolific musicians currently working in the business, Ty Segall released not one, not two, but three records this year. Slaughterhouse is the definitive release this year, and maybe even the best album that Segall has ever produced. As the unofficial king of San Franciscan garage freak-folk (which is a much less of a niche than you would imagine) Segall commands his newfound gang of cohorts through 40 minutes of unleashed madness, complete with bone crushing riffs, plenty of wailing and screeching and a few covers thrown in for good measure. Behind a wall of distortion and fuzz is some of the tightest and fastest guitar work of the year. It’s all just an exhillarating joy-ride, culminating in the excessive 10-minute feedback-fest Fuzz War. THIS is proof as to why Ty Segall deserves his reputation. Bravo, sir.

23. Beach House – Bloom

beach house - bloom

Few albums this year have mezmerised me quite like Bloom. Instead of reinventing themselves with this release, Baltimore’s Beach House chose to hone and perfect their craft, creating an album that is one of the dreamiest albums of the year. Each track sees Victoria Legrand’s heavenly vocals blend seemlessly with lush arrangements of guitars, keyboards and percussion, creating some of the most soothingly beautiful melodies of recent years. Read my review HERE.

22. Woods – Bend Beyond

woods - bend beyond

After releasing albums year in, year out, Woods really struck gold with Bend Beyond. Mixing raw, unharnessed guitar work with their folk-rock roots, Woods have streamlined their sound for the greater good. By focusing on a more straight-forward direction, Woods will undoubtedly gain attention from more than a few new fans, but they make no comprimises in doing so. Frontman Jeremy Earl’s voice really comes into its own on this record, leaving behind the trepidation that he so often hid behind on previous releases. There are still moments of warming sincerity throughout, with “It Ain’t Easy” being a prime example – it has an I’m Wide Awake-era Bright Eyes vibe to it that fans of the band (such as myself) will find instantly endearing, while tracks like “Find Them Empty” reveals the bands’ more psychadelic side once again. Bend Beyond is the most coherent and instantly enjoyable album that they’ve ever put out.

21. METZ – METZ

holy other - held

There’s a good chance that the way METZ stylise their name isn’t intentional; the capital letters and abruptness of ‘METZ’ sort of reflects on the impact the band hope to deliver with their debut, and the result is one and the same. With their debut on the legendary Sub-Pop Records, METZ thrash through eleven face-crushing tracks that pack enough punch to put IceAge in their place. Leaving no room to breathe, this self-titled album is definitely not for the faint hearted. The fact that three dudes from Canada can make so much noise is quite an accomplishment. Between the fuzz-filled guitars, pounding drums and screeched vocals, the band certainly make quite a racket – in the best possible way.

Come back soon to see the next 5 on the list, as well as the top singles, EPs, mixtapes and MORE!


REVIEW: Titus Andronicus – Local Business


High ambitions are always a tell-tale way of separating the good artists from the great, and when Titus Andronicus released their sophomore effort, The Monitor, in 2010, it was clear that the band fell into the latter. The New Jersey punk band had crafted an epic, sprawling concept album based on the American civil war that, while slightly ridiculous, was lauded by many as one of the best albums of that year. Now back with Local Business, the band have streamlined their sound with mixed results.

Titus Andronicus, much like the Shakespeare tragedy their name is derived from, are a wonderfully pessimistic band. From the get-go, they make it obvious; “Okay I think by now we’ve established / everything is inherently worthless / and there’s nothing in the universe with any objective purpose” snarls frontman Patrick Stickles on album opener “Ecce Homo“. Never one to mince words, Stickles discusses topics such as eating disorders, apathy and mental health with the kind of honesty that is refreshing to hear put down on record.

Musically, the band haven’t wandered too far from where they were before. The record still holds that raw, hot-blooded passion that has now become synonymous with Titus Andronicus, and while they’ve always worn their influences on their sleeves, there’s enough here to make them stand out. The vast majority of songs carry a frantic merriment among them, which creates a juxtaposition with the lyrics.

Lead single ‘In a Big City‘ was the first indication of a new direction for the band. The song has a straightforward structure that would have seemed alien to the band in years past, but Stickle’s tenacity still shines through. ‘In a Small Body‘ shows a slower, more mellow side that is rare to see from the band, complete with soothing strings at the midpoint. There are glimmers of The Monitor here, especially on ‘My Eating Disorder‘, an 8-minute epic, complete with a chant of “spit it out” from Stickles ad infinitum and frequent guitar solos that add to the victorious feel of the album.

For those hoping for ‘The Monitor Part 2‘, this follow-up will no doubt come as a disappointment, but the smaller scope has given the band time to tighten their sound. The production is sleeker and they operate as a band rather than an ensemble this time around. Stickle‘s hilariously bleak outlooks will forever be worth listening to.

7/10


REVIEW: Patrick Wolf – Sun☽ark and Riverlight

It has been ten years since Patrick Wolf first forayed into being a recording artist. His debut LP, Lycanthropy, garnered him an abundance of well-deserved acclaim and intrigue, and in the time since then he has only grown as an artist and become more accomplished. His five full-lengths have all treaded different territory thematically, for better or for worse. From the lost, moody atmosphere of Wind in the Wires to the loved up, joy-filled sounds of Lupercalia, Patrick Wolf has always created within a broad spectrum. With such a diverse discography, it seems like the perfect time to take a breather and catch up on his accomplishments thus far.

The result of this milestone is Sundark and Riverlight, a greatest hits, of sorts – but not in the traditional sense. All of the songs on the double-album have been re-recorded and altered, composed primarily with violins, piano and guitars, as opposed to Wolf’s usual penchant for the more unusual instrumentation. Instead of just making this a “greatest hits”, he has instead chosen tracks carefully that are either fan favourites, personal favourites or tracks that he felt could benefit from being changed in this way.

Usually when artists release double albums, they end up being a little too much to get to grips with, but Wolf has made sure it doesn’t happen with this collection. Each of the discs are a mere eight tracks long, culminating in a running time of just over an hour. The way the tracks were chosen has helped avoid the age-old dilemma of double LPs having too much filler, instead we’re left with example after example of why Patrick Wolf is as well respected as he is as a songwriter.

With Sundark and Riverlight there’s a hard decision to make when reviewing it of whether to treat the tracks as unique songs in their own right, or to make constant references back to the originals. As a fan of Wolf for a very long time now, I have grown attached to a lot of the tracks throughout his recording career, so a natural “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude hazed me slightly, apologies. But even a complete novice to the work of Patrick Wolf would be able to see the merit of his work, if this is any indication.

Seeing Wolf’s usual grandeur and melodrama substituted for more subtle arrangements is a rare thing to see on record, and reveals a welcome vulnerability to the music that is less apparent on his usual releases. Detrimentally, it does make give all of the tracks on here a similar vibe, instrumentally speaking. Because of the timeframe that the tracks were initially composed, they came at very different times in Patrick Wolf’s life, but he manages to tie them all together and make them all feel like they belong together. They all have a well-orchestrated studio sheen, which earlier tracks in Wolf’s discography lacked, and it helps put the focus much more on the tales and imagery springing forth from his lyrics. Patrick Wolf’s voice is on full, unfiltered display here, and it flourishes nicely, displaying genuine passion throughout, along with great range. Aside from some peculiar vocal samples on Bermondsey Street, Wolf’s voice is the only one you’ll hear on this album. Tilda Swinton doesn’t even reprise her role as the narrator on Oblivion, but it gives off a very isolated feeling throughout. The main downside to this is of course that if you were a fan of the more glitchy, experimental side of Patrick Wolf, you’ll be sadden by the complete lack of a presence on this record.

The Big Ben piano chimes of ‘London’ find Patrick Wolf at his absolute best. A solemn tale of feeling lost in the big city, the words flow so perfectly. This re-recording lacks some of the emotional punch of the original version from his debut, and the added lyrics at the end soften the otherwise very climatic part of the original. That might just be a side-effect of becoming too attached to the original, if listened to with a fresh pair of ears.
The track that is improved the most through these re-workings is unanimously ‘Vulture’, a song that originally sounded to me at times like a scrapped idea for a Mighty Boosh number. The version recorded here is a more brooding, piano-saturated ballad. Gone are the goofy electric guitars, or the off-kilter vocal strains, replaced with melancholic longing and sparse instrumentation.

‘Bluebells’ is another song that benefits greatly from the more traditional recording. The passion in Wolf’s voice is apparent, and it’s beautifully recorded on this compilation. The firework sound effects and electronic beat from the original are instead replaced with lavish piano and violin arrangements. Vivid imagery looms around every second of the song; “Lucy, remember, the smell of that fall; the fires, the fungus and the rotting leaves”, the subtle details included make it an even more heartbreaking song than it was originally.

If you’re a complete novice when it comes to Patrick Wolf’s music, Sundark and Riverlight provides a pretty good jumping off point for getting to grips with his music. It lacks some of the more immediate pop hits, such as Get Lost, Tristan or Accident and Emergency, but for already-converted listeners, there’s a treasure trove of unique re-workings of the work that made you such a fan of Patrick Wolf in the first place. The inclusion of often overshadowed tracks like Wolf Song, Teignmouth and Bitten are a welcome addition amongst the more obvious choices.
If Wolf has never managed to grab your attention in the past, this collection will do little to sway your decision, but if you’ve been oblivious to his work prior to this, Sundark and Riverlight serves as a great way to celebrate ten years in the industry – here’s to the next ten.

8/10


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.