2010: A Year In Music Awesomeness: Update 2

There have been a number of events that have prevented me from posting recently. On top of the work leading to more work leading to exams, there’s been a number of personal troubles put to rest, and events attended. It’s important to note that this blog occurs because I want to be productive in times when I have nothing else to do. The lack of writing in the past 4 months is simply a sign that I have forced myself into doing more with my life, both social and educational, which has led to large cuts in my available time for musical writing. This is a good thing. Now that the academic year is over, however, I can turn my attentions to some of the things I enjoy doing in my spare time, and writing about music is one of them.

I’ve missed out something important. There’s another, more relevant, reason why I have not been writing about music recently. It’s because I’ve been too busy listening to the stuff. My God, this year has been good. In early February I was already pretty impressed with the year’s output, but since then it’s just kept coming. The volume of excellent albums grows by the week, both by established artists like The National and Joanna Newsom but also left-field, unanticipated acts such as The Tallest Man On Earth and Broken Bells. As with previous 2010 updates, I’ll try to keep this to a simple list of albums that have come out, with short reviews of each, followed by news on future album releases.

The National – High Violet

I would never be able to overstate my expectations for this album. Coming off the back of “Alligator” and “Boxer”, and with the likes of a QTV performance of “Runaway” and a Jimmy Fallon appearance (where they played opening track “Terrible Love”) to whet the appetite, it seemed The National could not fail.

And, of course, they didn’t. Another solemn set of indie-rock gems, Matt Berninger’s obliquely mesmerizing lyrics, (who else could mumble “I had a hole in the middle where the lightning went through, I told my friends not to worry” with such purpose?) and the reassuring pace provided by Bryan Devendorf’s drums are more than enough to carry this album into best of the year territory.

High Violet contains enough variety to keep interest throughout, unlike, some may argue, its predecessor Boxer, and it is also more consistent than Alligator, despite a noticeably weaker opening third. Where the album really hits its stride is in a run of songs from “Terrible Love” to the aforementioned “Runaway”, where The National open themselves up, delicately showcasing the emotions that connect them to their fanatic audience. Paranoia blending into fright as financial doom approaches (“I still owe money to the money to the money I owe”) almost as often as romantic troubles. Although don’t for a second think that Berninger has forgotten about the so-called Dirty Lovers, self-loathing was never expressed quite so effectively as on “Conversation 16”, again, you begin to wonder who else could get away with lines such as “I was afraid I’d eat your brains, because I’m evil”?

In all, a worthy addition to The National’s back catalogue, consistently powerful rock with overflowing with smarts. Essentially, everything you want from a new record by The National.

The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt

News that Justin Vernon will probably step out of the solo game and return to playing as part of a proper band mean that a solo guitarist with harsh tales of love and mournfully unique vocals need to take his place in the hearts of nu-folksters. Kristian Matsson, who goes under the name “The Tallest Man On Earth” despite being of merely average height, stakes a claim to be that person on this, his second album.

A fantastically consistent folk album, almost solely Matsson and his guitar, The Wild Hunt has a feel of classic Dylan, but also bares comparison to contemporaries such as Sam Beam and Devendra Banhart. There is a definite vigour to his strumming, he attacks the chords and the words he cries equally, and it’s hard not to align with his passion. Especially on the fearsome “King of Spain” and “Love is All”, which features lovelorn wails that not many folk singers would dare to put to record.

Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can

On first listen, I was worried that 20 year old folk singer/songwriter Laura Marling had become too hung up on all the allusions made to her age after the success of her debut release. It seemed that the result of that was an album desperately trying to sound mature, lost in a middle-aged malaise that did not fit well with a voice as youthful as this. No doubt the songs are good, the title track, which also closed the album, features a vicious self-assessment (“never rode my bike down to the sea, never figured out what I believed”) and a haunting piano to accompany the normal guitar, whist Hope In The Air is another bleak piece of cleverly-worded down-tempo folk. However it seemed that the enjoyment was missing, an attempt at maturity had sacrificed some of the charm and informality of Marling’s first record.

Luckily, repeat listens revealed that it was still there, downplayed but nevertheless available on tracks such as the catchy Darkness Descends. It’s a consistent album, that offers a new side to the singer, which is welcome, but I still prefer Alas I Cannot Swim, a record which offered a better balance between playful and ennui.

Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

It’s hard to write a mini-review about Have One On Me. It’s hard to do a mini-anything on this 3 disc, 120 minute goliath. Despite the length, it is less dense than previous Joanna Newsom work, and it is even possible to dip into single tracks, a thing that would have you accused of blasphemy and burned at the stake were you to try it with Ys.

The best way to summarise this album would be to say it contains a number of pop/folk songs, except seven minutes long, containing no discernible verses or choruses, and with harp being prominent. And with a skilled yet unique classical vocalist. So nothing like pop/folk, really.

Maybe the most important thing to take from this is that this album contains one of most unique love songs of recent years in Good Intentions Paving Company, and has been helpfully split into three separate discs that will not have to be listened to all in one go to be enjoyed. Other than that, all that can be said is listen to the damn thing. Only then will you understand why it’s so difficult to talk about.

Massive Attack – Heligoland

It’s tempting on parts of Massive Attack’s new album to ignore the music and play a game of “Which Special Guest Vocalist Is This?” This is as much a testament to the quality of vocalists on board for this album, Guy Garvey, Damon Albarn and Tunde Adebimpe, as well as repeat-offender Martina Topley-Bird, as it is to the music, which is something of an archetype of Massive Attack. What do you think of when you think of this band? More likely than not, what you have just thought is almost exactly what Heligoland sounds like. Not a bad thing, of course, but it does feel like the band are in third gear, churning out good songs that fit in with what is expected of them but without offering anything special to put this record in the leagues of Blue Lines and Mezzanine.

The only real exceptions are the Egyptian-mythology inspired “Psyche”, Martina Topley-Bird lullabying tales of an “old teal sea” as “the sun set a bigger me, and I was set to fall in” amongst competing guitars, and the closer “Atlas Air”, which is a conundrum, as it represents everything right and wrong about this album. Wrong in the sense that it is nothing we have not heard before from Massive Attack, all deep vocals and bass-heavy attack, but right in the sense that it is just so good.

I must reiterate at this point that there have been simply too many albums released to be contained in a single blog. I just wanted to make this note of all my favourite albums thus far (taking out Owen Pallett’s Heartland and Beach House’s Teen Dream for a second, I’d call those five albums my top five of 2010), and an Update 3 will be arriving post-haste offering my particular brand of bias on a number of other releases that did not hold my attention in quite the way that those listed above did.

News:

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (August 2)

A couple of weeks ago, amongst much fanfare, Arcade Fire announced the follow-up to Neon Bible, entitled The Suburbs (a play on the Neighbourhood theme that adorned funeral, perhaps?). They were even so kind as to offer snippets of two tracks from it. Eight second snippets, admittedly, but eight seconds that launched a thousand internet discussions.

Thankfully, Arcade Fire have filled us in a little more on their third record since then, tracks “The Suburbs” and “Month of May” were given a vinyl release, and two further tracks entitled “Ready To Start” and “We Used To Wait” were played by Zane Lowe just a couple of days ago. They have been warmly received, showing a refreshing variety and addictiveness lacking on Neon Bible, although at the moment few are expecting a classic in the mould of Funeral.

Wolf Parade – Expo 86 (June 28)

Not long until this is released, although a couple of months ago it seemed to be hearsay that it existed at all. Mount Zoomer was a step away from the universally lauded debut Apologies To The Queen Mary, in terms of both style and critical reception, and it is hoped that Spencer Krug will keep the theatrics to one side (ie Krug’s side-project Sunset Rubdown) on Wolf Parade’s third album, and return to writing the kind of emotional indie rock that personified their first release.

So hopefully this is the start of my return to writing about music. I certainly enjoy it, and this year’s albums seem to warrant it. If I can’t enjoy music in this golden period, when can I? Anyway, expect my return to the Wednesday Countdown fold this evening, as well as a 2010 in Music third update to contemplate albums from the likes of Broken Bells, Frightened Rabbit, Johnny Flynn, LCD Soundsystem and Broken Social Scene.

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The Wednesday Countdown: 2005

In conjunction with my Great Years In Music: 2005, I have a 2005 Wednesday Countdown. Pretty much just my top ten albums from 2005.

That’s all you need to know.

Top 10 Albums Of 2005:

10. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm

9. Kasabian – Kasabian

8. Elbow – Leaders Of The Free World

7. Andrew Bird – The Mysterious Production Of Eggs

6. Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene

5. LCD Soundsystem – LCD Soundsystem

4. Wolf Parade – Apologies To The Queen Mary

3. My Morning Jacket – Z

2. Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning

1. The National – Alligator

~

Tell me better 2005 albums in the commenter below.

Great Years In Music – 2005

The 2nd Great Year in Music is celebrating a year very much close to home. If the past is a foreign country, then 2005 would be a bordering land, one we affectionately mock and have rivalries with in a variety of sports. Unlike 1997 there was not a great broadening of genres, or progression of mainstream attitudes. What occurred in the middle of the recently-deceased decade was a specific genre from a specific country producing a number of excellent records, the volume and quality of which are astounding considering the mere 52 weeks that bands had to release them. Yes, yet again I turn to perhaps my favourite music movement, the great American Indie-Rock scene.

At the time I was just 15, slowly feeling my way into music geekery, content with the bare minimum Radiohead, Muse and The White Stripes, who released “Get Behind Me Satan” in June, a record which was down on their best work but still had the band’s classic pulsating power and addictive simplicity in spades. I’ve been catching up on 2005’s treats for the last few years, and given that I was a depressed teenage outcast at the time, maybe some of the downtrodden lyrics that typified the core of the scene would have hit home a little more.

That feeling of wishing I had poked and pried a little more behind the obvious choices when I was younger is no more acute than with The National, who I have spent the last 18 months listening to with growing awe and a mounting suspicion that I could have used their baritone magnificence earlier in life. Though their first album on a label that wasn’t their own, “Alligator”, didn’t cause much of a buzz when it was released in April of this year, it has swelled to become almost the definition of the term “a grower”, not giving away all its secrets too early and savouring the cerebral, the joyously inventive yet immature. It celebrates the adolescent mind trapped in an adult body, paranoid (“Secret Meeting”), drunkenly invincible (“All The Wine”) and abrasively neurotic (“Abel”) in equal measure, dripping in gorgeously obtuse lyrics and spidery Smiths-esque guitar lines. Easily my favourite album of 2005, probably the pinnacle of its genre and a serious contender for one of my all-time top five albums, it bears many similarities to its competitors in terms of style, but none match it for quality.

The majority of said competitors that were released in 2005 came from the same stable of American narrative-weaving indie. The one most commonly mentioned is Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois”, although personally I find it flat and extravagant. This may be a little to do with the expectations which surround it, as it certainly has moments of quality and surprising profundity, but these moments are hidden behind irritating smarm. Still, it is one of the best critically-received albums of all time, and transformed Sufjan Stevens, deservedly or otherwise, into the indie darling he is today.

Whilst Stevens was blowing folk out of proportion, there was a background resurgence in a more intimate and compelling style of folk, courtesy of Andrew Bird and Conor Oberst. Oberst’s band Bright Eyes simultaneously released two albums “Digital Ash In A Digital Urn” and “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning”, with the latter being particularly worthy of note. At times haunting, from the insecure spoken-word opening of “At The Bottom Of Everything” to the Beethoven-infused “Road To Joy”, “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” is consistent and shows Oberst’s capability at mixing simple, single-guitar folk with more monumental fare without making the record feel too scatter-gun. Andrew Bird’s “The Mysterious Production Of Eggs” is less consistent, but it hits similar highs, especially on “Fake Palindromes” with its rising strings and rhythms and its central call of “she’s got blood in her eyes, in her eyes for you”.

The wave of complex indie-rock that sailed through the decade was spearheaded, some might say, by collectives as opposed to static bands. Few bands have a line-up as fluid as Broken Social Scene, who released a self-titled album this year, which alongside “You Forgot It In People” formed one of the decade’s most lauded one-two combos. Another collective, Wolf Parade, (whose lead singer Spencer Krug has become a less visible version of Jack White amongst the indie landscape) upstaged this record, however, with their debut “Apologies To The Queen Mary”. Though it followed in the footsteps of much of the early decade of indie music, Modest Mouse in particular, the individual tracks hit a high enough quality to really make it stand out in the crowd, and the emotion worn by both the frantic guitars and Krug’s mournful vocals shot the album straight into the hearts of thousands. It would be a stretch to refer to My Morning Jacket as a collective, despite Jim James’ often erratic personal work, but it would not be a stretch to call “Z” an exceptional album that took on board enough prog to accommodate their talent but balanced it with classic rock skilfully enough to avoid alienating the audience.

The other ever-shifting band of note, although at the time they were not at all of note, as life-long fans are at pains to point out, are Animal Collective, who converged often enough in 2005 to release “Feels”, which went under the radar of many until “Merriweather Post Pavilion” last year, when suddenly all manner of hipsters were claiming it had always been their favourite album.

Other American indie bands were churning out excellent albums at the same time, the ever-reliable Spoon released “Gimme Fiction”, The Decemberists cemented their oddball persona with “Picaresque”, Beck put out the steady (if unspectacular by comparison) “Guero” and Okkervil River announced themselves fully with “Black Sheep Boy”, as unnerving as it is beautiful. Most other years these would be riding high in memory and in stature, but for 2005, this was merely the B-material.

And as this wealth of high-quality but narrowly-genred albums came about, there was going to be someone who came along to dig a little fun at it. And aren’t we all glad it was James Murphy who decided to do that? LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut infused electro-rock with a shock of danceable delights, daring the introverted indie kids to let loose to the pounding “Tribulations” or the emphatically swaggering “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”.

It would be churlish to completely overlook the British influence on the year, miniscule as it was in comparison. There arrived in 2005 two debuts which borrowed (read: stole) many ideas from bands from the past, often quite blatantly, but nevertheless caused a great sensation not just because they harked back to past masters but because they really brought them tearing into the new decade with aplomb. Kasabian’s self-titled debut gave Stone Roses’ fans a more relevant Second Coming, showcasing a viral swagger and making themselves known with forceful persistence and the odd controversial NME interview, whilst Bloc Party introduced themselves with “Silent Alarm”, a selection of classic rock shout-outs that, at its best, were powerful, smart and moving.

Outside my personal genre of preference there was more to discover. Kanye West almost lived up to his own hype with “Late Registration”, Sigur Ros had critics frothing at the mouth yet again with “Takk”, Kate Bush made a welcome return, her “Aerial” was close (but not close enough for some) to her best. But I must admit that it isn’t because of these albums that I put 2005 in my series of Great Years. It is because this year represented the undoubted height of a tidal wave of American indie records that has engrossed me ever since my discovery (which, alas, came a couple of years too late). It is my great wish that half a decade on some of these bands, and their successors, can coalesce to reproduce this fantastic year. And looking at some of the anticipated 2010 albums, that wish might not be so far-fetched…

2010: A Year In Music Awesomeness

I’m going to admit it straight away, I’ve spent a lot of time looking back at the decade that has just passed. I’ve pulled up lists of my favourite songs and albums of the decade, and hunted through the indie scenes’ most loved bands of the 00s for my inspiration. I think I may be beginning to feel the effects of noughties-overdose so, as a remedy to this malignant condition, I bring you a look into the future. Some of the following albums are confirmed, others merely rumoured, but if they do all pop up during the earliest 10% of the brave new decade we are about to encounter, then be thankful. Because it will mean 2010 will surely be an awesome time for good music.

Release Date Confirmed:

Vampire Weekend – Contra (January 12)

The self-titled debut goes down as a guilty pleasure for me. I had a bit of a garage-rock phase, Kings Of Leon and The Strokes and The White Stripes, which I like to think I have sort of got over. The elitist in me scoffs at my youthful folly, but I can’t help but enjoy Vampire Weekend’s energy and hooks, which makes their second album of particular interest to me. By the sounds of the first couple of released tracks, “Horchata” and “Cousins”, Contra will be more of the same, slight but memorable guitar-rock, but whether it will contain a hit the size of “A-Punk” is another matter.

Anticipation Factor: 7/10

Yeasayer – Odd Blood (February 9)

Though I wasn’t the biggest fan of Yeasayer’s debut, All Hour Cymbals, there were one or two tracks that successfully combined the catchiness of pop with eccentric instruments and surreal moods. It is with a mixture of hope and trepidation that I listened to their new offering, Ambling Alp, and it seems that the signs are good for the new album. Provided that Odd Blood shows some consistency, this second record could show Yeasayer step up a league in quality.

Anticipation Factor: 6/10

Massive Attack – Heligoland (February 9)

I should try and stop my brain from considering this to be Massive Attack’s Third. There are similarities, the long gap between albums, the cinematic side-projects, but unlike Portishead, Massive Attack have not had a particularly good pre-release build-up. Splitting The Atom EP was lethargic and mediocre, but the fact is it’s an EP and the material on it was clearly not considered good enough for the album. The odds are high that Massive Attack have a large amount of material stashed away, some of it is bound to be quality. And the cameo list alone (Damon Albarn, Tunde Adebimpe, Martina Topley-Bird, Guy Garvey) is worthy of note.

Anticipation Factor: 7/10

Frightened Rabbit – The Winter Of Mixed Drinks (March 1)

The step up from Sing The Greys to The Midnight Organ Fight was notable, if they could pull off another such leap this could be one of the biggest albums of the year. I’m expecting something on a par with Organ Fight myself, a few more basic bittersweet odes which seem to be their comfort zone. It is interesting to note that the band have hired a fifth member, whose purpose is to provide “various instruments”, which hints at a fuller, more layered sound. This is also backed up by a single, “Swim until You Can’t See Land”, which is a soft, slightly ethereal affair, driven by the sly couplet “are you a man or are you a bag of sand?”

Anticipation Factor: 8/10

Release Date TBA:

The National – Untitled

In an interview with Pitchfork, Bryce Dessner stated that “The album will definitely come out in 2010. It could be early. It’ll be some time between January and May, I think”. If they stick to that then we’re a maximum six months away from a new album by The National. Now I prefer Alligator to Boxer, so in terms of career trajectory they’re actually on a downward slope at the moment in my mind (only by a miniscule amount, of course), but still, if this is on a par with their back catalogue thus far, I would still happily shell out a stupid amount of money to get it the first day. A couple of videos of new tracks being played have surfaced around YouTube (search QTV Runaway for one particularly spellbinding track), and the material seems as strong as ever, although nothing that screams “first single”, which is the sort of track they need if they’re going to get the exposure they deserve. Either way, this is still the album that raises my pulse more than any other pencilled in for 2010.

Anticipation Factor: 10/10

LCD Soundsystem – Untitled

A recent release of “Bye Bye Bayou”, a cover of an Alan Vega track, did little to whet the general appetite for new LCD Soundsystem records, but leaving sensationally understated messages such as “back in nyc. in the studio. making record” on his (legitimate) Facebook page certainly did. No idea which direction it will be going in, what the tracks will sound like, or whether it’ll be more than just 50 minutes of silence. Still, there won’t be long to wait, as it is scheduled for sometime in March, but until then James Murphy will be keeping his filthy electro-rock cards close to his chest.

Anticipation factor: 9/10

Broken Social Scene – Untitled

BSS were in the studio back in May, and as a full band too, rather than the many side projects and split ends that seem to occupy most of Kevin Drew and co’s time. Even they have said it is too early to define the direction of their sound, or whether it is in fact staying in the same place, but the chance are this will be out before May. Not a lot of details on this, and not much new live material to go on, as the band members have been busy being other bands’ band members. Still, this album is worthy of note as Broken Social Scene are finally once again coming together as one entity to record.

Anticipation Factor: 8/10

Rumoured Releases:

Radiohead, Arcade Fire, My Bloody Valentine, Portishead, Wolf Parade, The Strokes

That is a hell of a list. A whole lot of music-lovers would give away prized possessions to see those bands pull out an album from the top of their creative drawers this year. Most of these bands have confirmed that they’re working on new albums, and are aiming for 2010 releases, so we could be seeing these albums popping up around a year from now.

Radiohead are, of course, a law unto themselves, so any attempt to predict their movements seems as futile as predicting the outcome of the LHC. What was “These Are My Twisted Words” anyway, a sign? A red herring? An experiment? A whole new branch of cryptography could be opened up trying to determine Thom Yorke’s methods of madness. In that particular field, I am but an amateur.

Arcade Fire have spent the time since making Neon Bible fairly wisely, writing part of the score for Richard Kelly’s “The Box”, indulging in side-projects and touring, which I hope means they will be able to pull out something less mediocre and tiresome come album three. A return to delicacy over fist-pumping politicking would be a good place to start. Nothing confirmed on album status, but rumour has it they have just spent three weeks recording in the Magic Shop studio. Which is news indeed.

Portishead have confirmed that they plan to release their new album in 2010, although this is of course open to delay, unfortunately. No new material has been released, and it is more likely that the album will not reach us until 2011, but I’d happily wait another 11 years if the end product is as good as Third. If they can build on the darkness and lush agony displayed on their last release then the new album may well be my early contender for best album of the decade 2010s, though.

News on the other three bands there seems to involve less strong words and more hushed whispers. A new My Bloody Valentine record would certainly be an event to make any critic and audiophile alike take a sharp intake of breath. A third Wolf Parade album would hopefully right the wrongs that Second Album Syndrome caused “Mount Zoomer”, and The Strokes IV (as hysterical NME kids dubbed it) would give Casablancas and co.  the opportunity to prove they can go beyond one-trick pony status.

All in all, and even ignoring the inevitable debut stunners of the ilk of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, 2010 will be amazing. There will be failures and successes amongst these albums, but the failures will at least be interesting ones, while we, the listeners, will watch over the evolution of some of the current decades best bands into the new decade with perhaps more anticipation than ever before.

EDIT:

How could I have missed out the new Laura Marling album? No title yet, but the new tracks are great live, she seems to have matured lyrically and the full band is being used more effectively than ever. The rumoured February release is not official, but it will surely be out in the first quarter of 2010. A lot of second albums are rushed out due to demands after successful debuts, but a bit of patience never harmed an album, so lets hope theres good reason for the extra few months wait.

Anticipation Factor: Sorry for forgetting you/10

The Video Bin

So I watch a lot of music videos and live music clips on YouTube. There are a lot of gems for fans of music as a visual artform as opposed to merely audio. And it is surprising how often the videos are high quality, as well. So as to link this particular medium of enjoying music with my blog, I have created The Video Bin, every now and again I will dump a few YouTube links here for your viewing pleasure, if you so wish. Recently there’s been a surplus of odd-ball music videos being made, perhaps to run parallel with the surplus of odd-ball bands. And where does that surplus end up? In The Video Bin, of course! What would be the point of this exercise if they didn’t?

Anyway, I’ve just drunk a litre of Tesco brand energy drink, and can’t focus too well. Have these various videos to while away the time between now and the release of the new album by The National. That’s coming out soon right? Please say it’s coming out soon, Matt Berninger. Please do.

Don’t ask if this will be a regular thing or not. I have no idea. Just enjoy the plasticine and sliding Jarvis Cocker. And the four-headed man. And Beth frikkin’ Gibbons. That should be enough for you.

Albums I discovered (Mid Oct – Mid Nov)

Title really explains it, this is my second post I’ve made regarding purchases/ first listens/ re-discoveries that I’ve made over the past month, along with my feelings on them. I did promise you one of these a month, and so I feel I’ve planned things quite nicely. 14th of every month expect an update on my wild and wacky music taste (please note, for reasons of clarity, that my music taste is neither wild nor wacky).

LCD Soundsystem – LCD Soundsystem

An immediately addictive mixture of electronic pulses and guitar anger, LCD Soundsystem typifies what his sound is about with a constant barrage of tracks crafted to encourage you to lose your senses. The peak of the opening is at the start, in 5 minutes “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” achieves more in the field of combining rock and dance than Hot Chip have managed in their entire career (bar “Over And Over”, of course). The album carries a frenetic sense of joy that is difficult not to fall for, but does not do so well at the other end of the emotional spectrum. It’s odd for me, having only heard “Sound Of Silver” beforehand, to think that James “All My Friends” Murphy would fail at portraying tenderness in his music, but those parts of the album that aim at wistful emotions are the ones that let it down, “Too Much Love” being a prime example. I would not want to hear a whole album of “Tribulations”-esque funk fun, but it has to be said that the weakest parts are when this formula is avoided. Overall though, a very good listen, and a great mood-enhancer.

The Antlers – In The Attic Of The Universe

Slow mood music is what drives The Antlers, and they are very skilled at creating sparse sounds and melodies. On this particular album, however, a sound is developed slightly, but never grows in the listener’s mind to be particularly enjoyable. Another album which I can appreciate the quality of without being able to say that the quality leaves a positive impact on me. The problem is that individual tracks fail at feeling like a piece of work in their own right. The opening and closing tracks, “In The Attic” and “Stairs To The Attic”, are very well written and atmospheric, but they bookend 17 minutes of what can be best described as a “lump” of music. It feels as if it just sits there, as a mass of sound without an actual purpose. Sure it is pleasant, but I couldn’t possibly assign it any purpose, not as a “lump”, nor as its constituent parts. And that is disappointing considering their skill and implies that potentially they can combine both long-period mood and individually interesting tracks.

Wolf Parade – Apologies To The Queen Mary

This is the sort of straightforward indie-rock album that starts off feeling ordinary and grows with each listen to become a very stirring record in its own right. If there is such a thing as a generic classic, this feels like it. The differences between Wolf Parade and the bands they will inevitably going to be compared with (Frog Eyes, The National), is wafer-thin, but with that wafer they manage to do enough to make their album feel special. “You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son” is a stop-start introduction to the band, the harsh vocals recall Isaac Brock (well, the man himself did provide the production after all), coughing out eccentric gems such as “I’ll build a house inside of you, I’ll go in through the mouth, I’ll draw three figures on your heart” whilst a slapped piano and stop-start drumming jerk the landscape every which way. If the top two or three tracks were removed this album would be consistently decent, with a slack ending (“Dinner Bells” over-extends itself more than once during its 7 1/2 minute duration), so the placing of the key songs is of utmost importance, and it is pulled off well, with the eerily dramatic stand-out “I’ll Believe In Anything” seeming to pull up the quality of the surrounding tracks as opposed to making them seem worse. Nothing you won’t have heard before, but if you want more of the same, this will give you it better than most other similar albums.

Islands – Vapours

“Vapours” arrives with me desperately wishing for Islands to slip back into pop sensibilities, to cut out the flab that weighed down the second album and to hear some of the variety in styles and lyrics that made “Return To The Sea” so compelling. Well, I would call “Vapours” patchy, but it is certainly a head in the right direction in comparison to “Arm’s Way”. The opener “Switched On” is an instant reminder that Islands have some electronica-influence also, crashing cymbals and tribal drums dancing around staccato piano and filthily-toned guitar, breaking suddenly away into a vocal croon and retro-synth. This settles down into more of what is expected from Thorburn’s vocals soon enough, and for the opening few minutes of the album it seems to be that the template of “Return To The Sea” would be the direction this record would take. The title track is a strong point, its stop-start nature allowing the various instruments to show off, and with the lyrics sounding crisp and coming in at under three minutes to remind the listener that this will be the welcome lean affair after the bloated “Arm’s Way”. The skill at taking a physical plotline and mixing it into the cauldron of music is shown most openly on “Disarming The Car Bomb”, fairly standard indie instruments surround almost laughably surreal lyrics such as “I had my doubts about it, when I heard your henchmen shout it”. For the most part the album does not reach these highs. Unconventional often enough to be interesting, there isn’t too much that is fantastic, and they are extended periods where ideas fail to hit their target. It has plenty of hooks, and there is pop abound here, but the gall to mix up the styles without warning or reason that helped “Return To The Sea” along is missing, and the best songs are good, not great. Plenty to enjoy, a definite improvement on “Arm’s Way”, but unfortunately too mediocre in too many places.

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

I really did want this to be as good as the hype has it be. The tide of positive opinion did indeed have me believing that this was a rebirth of Beach Boys style psychedelia, and that AC formed the third point of a triangle with Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes. I was underwhelmed. Perhaps because of these high expectations, or perhaps because this album is somewhat deceiving. It wants you to think it is far more complex than it in fact is, because what it is, is simple pop songs wrapped in layers of electronic haze like a force field between the listener and the song’s core. No doubt this method adds to the mood, and is a fundamental part of the style within which Animal Collective exist, but all I think as I listen is, did this wall of sonic sound really need to be there all the time? Could they not have at least felt around outside of their comfort zone a little? I am in shock that some refer to this album as experimental, mainly for the reason that this album does not even have the guts to experiment within its own genre, let alone within music as a whole. I’ve focused too much on the negatives because I want to make the point that this should not be anywhere near Veckatimest on end-of-year polls, but there’s certainly positives too, the oft-discussed “My Girls” and “Lion In A Coma” most notably. But the incessant sound and unflinching refusal to change really does grate by the albums end.

Don’t expect me back with another one of these on December 14th, as I am assuming plans for that day. Day after, though, I will be happy to provide you with a new months’ worth of discovered listening.