So, what happened in February in the world of music? Well, Gary Glitter was at it again, as he was sentenced to another sixteen years imprisonment for further indecent assaults on underage girls between 1975 and 1980, Bob Dylan became the oldest male singer ever, at the age of 73, to top the UK album charts with his Shadows In The Night album, and Lesley Gore of ‘It’s My Party’ fame sadly left this mortal coil. Put them all together and you have a nonce-top-party. Get it? Non-stop party? No? Oh forget it.
Anyway, here is a smattering of releases that we neglected to review back in this year’s age of Aquarius. Thanks to my fellow writers Andy Page, Jonathan Wright and Nick Roseblade, who ably assisted me in putting this piece together…
Is there a better way to promote your new album than to reform your original band? Probably, but this is exactly what Carl Barat has done. This is a bit of a shame, as Let It Reign by Barat, and his band The Jackals, isn’t actually that bad. Musically, it has a little bit more than his previous offerings, but lyrically, Barat badly misses that rapport he has with Pete Doherty. At best it’s a knees up down the pub, at worst it makes The Fratellis look like Led Zep.
Happy People was the second album by Worcester indie heroes Peace, following on from the success of their 2013 debut In Love and one of the sunniest albums ever to emerge in the dark depths of February.
Previewed the previous summer by the chart-friendly singles ‘Money’ and ‘Lost On Me’, the latter came with an ace video of the band being taught and performing boy band dance moves. It has been something of a surprise that a band with such a high daytime Radio 1 profile has not had an actual Top 40 hit, but these are the strange times that we live in.
Opener ‘Oh You’ bounces along with a veritable lust for life and is arguably the finest song that the band have ever put their name to, whereas ‘Perfect Skin’ is another winner, though sadly not a Lloyd Cole & The Commotions cover.
The album came in an optional deluxe package, as so many albums do nowadays, but this one was a real must as the bonus material turned out to be eight unreleased tracks easily of equal quality to the ‘proper’ album tracks, with a special mention for the wonderful ‘Flirting USA’. A delicious double coloured vinyl edition came with the nice touch of a download code on a fake Peace £50 note!
The real key to Peace’s success though is their absolutely joyful live performances, and I actually don’t think that they have quite captured that with either album so far. The next attempt may well be the one.
Kid Ink’s fourth album, Full Speed, came hot on the heels of his UK breakthrough album My Own Lane. It was packed with collaborations from current big names (Tinashe, Migos and Young Thug) and some older acts (Usher, R Kelly). Despite the impressive list of names, it’s throwaway, with songs varying from forgettable (‘Cool Back’, ‘Blunted’) to cheesy (‘Dolo’, ‘Hotel’) ‘Body Language’ sounds like it was heavily inspired by Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ and is the most memorable song — the combination of Usher and Tinashe’s vocals steals the show. Musically, ‘In Every City’ is suitably atmospheric, but it isn’t enough to break the boredom of the rest of this album. In a year when Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples have released incredible hip hop albums, Full Speed feels lightweight and uninspired. Kid Ink raps that he, “Just wants to bring cool back” –it would have been nice if he’d brought some memorable songs too.
When they originally exploded onto the scene in the late 1970s, Gang Of Four defined just what post-punk could be, with politically charged lyrics and angular guitar riffs. They returned with their eighth album in February, complete with new vocalist John “Gaoler” Sterry. While ‘What Happens Next‘ is not a BAD album in any respect, compared with their auspicious beginnings, this feels like a band going through the motions. For completists only.
For a 23-year old, Marika Hackman already has a highly impressive back catalogue, having released a string of mesmerising EPs and singles in advance of this first album proper (some of those tracks featured on the fantastic seven-track 2013 mini-album That Iron Taste).
Hackman made the brave decision to go for twelve brand new tracks for We Slept At Last, and a cohesive and spellbinding album is the result. It isn’t necessarily an immediate album, but after a few listens it reveals its details and incredible songs a little more.
‘Animal Fear’ was a playful precursor of a single that almost seems as if it was designed as a complete red herring to the rest of the album’s contents with its gunfire sounds and rolling drums. ‘Claude’s Girl’ is a touching song about a restless Marika being soothed to sleep by the sounds of Debussy. It is the arguable highlight of the album, with stiff competition from ‘Monday Afternoon’ which highlights perfectly the very dark lyrics that many of these beautiful melodies contain (‘I have no head, the forest floor is my bed, the leaves that fall I use as a blanket, for my bones are cold as lead’). The arrangements are stunning throughout, as is Hackman’s vocal. A masterpiece of a debut that already has me eagerly awaiting the follow-up.
It’s been almost three years since the release of Say Lou Lou’s first single, ‘After You’ and their debut album. Lucid Dreaming is a gorgeous dream pop album that has been worth the wait. Within the first few songs we get previous singles ‘Everything We Touch’ and ‘Games For Girls’ (featuring the incredible Lindstrøm), which are two of the catchiest singles of the last couple of years. Things slow down after that with the dramatic, ‘Julian’, a song that almost sounds like a power ballad. The album doesn’t change tempo until the penultimate song and latest single, ‘Nothing But A Heartbeat’. There are not as many upbeat songs on this album as I was expecting based on their previous singles, but Lucid Dreaming is an extremely charming and consistent record. It’s one of the year’s most impressive debut albums and it has plenty of touches that show that Say Lou Lou are brilliant songwriters. ‘Hard For A Man’s’ epic outro is unexpected and dramatic. The music washes over you like big shoegazey waves. Even better is Lucid Dreaming’s final and strongest song, ‘Skylights’. The repetition of the chorus “We gotta keep on moving on and on, we gotta keep on moving to stay strong” is so powerful that it’s hard not to want to go with them. Despite the strength of this album, I have a feeling their best is still to come.
Former Earlies member Sara Lowes returned in February with her third solo offering, The Joy Of Waiting. Opening with the orchestral, baroque sounds of the title track, Lowes set the tone for the rest of the album, an often otherworldy, breezy work that was just commercial enough to draw comparisons with Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac and even First Aid Kit. Billowing Hammond organs and lovely gentle harmonies converge on the albums standout tracks, though the sprightly pop of ‘Little Fishy‘ and the sombre piano ballad that follows it, ‘For The Seasons‘ are probably the pick of the bunch. Occasionally it feels like early hours at a London coffee/jazz bar, and often it’s merely the autumn breeze, but it’s always pretty, of that there is little doubt.
The Embers Of Time is Josh Rouse‘s eleventh full-length album, but even so would make a perfect starting point for anyone uninitiated in his classic song-writing.
Nebraksa-born Rouse moved to Spain a few years back, and it came through in his songwriting for a while, (the underrated 2010 album El Turista featured several songs in Spanish), but this album has him back more in his familiar Americana field.
A given with any Josh Rouse album is the quality of the melodies, (and indeed, lyrics), and The Embers Of Time is no exception. First track ‘Some Days I’m Golden All Night’ could easily have come from his 2004 career high point Nashville, while ‘New Young’ is a brilliant Neil Young pastiche that namechecks the veteran Canadian legend, with the humble line ‘Dreamt about Neil Young last night, rolled out of bed and rubbed my eyes, I’ll never be that good you know’.
Rouse is a master of the poignant yet honest lyric, the lovely ‘Time’ begins ‘Early forties, how you doing, and what’s the deal?’ and the melancholic ‘Ex-Pat Blues’ examines his Spanish tenure and whether it will ever feel like home.
The upbeat ‘Crystal Falls’ ends the album on a high note and namechecks the album’s title in its touching examination of one of Rouse’s old home towns.
Rouse’s albums never outstay their welcome, and The Embers Of Time has been and gone in 34 glorious tune-filled minutes. Long may he continue.
Susanne Sundfør’s sixth album, Ten Love Songs, was supposed to be an album about death until she realised she was writing about love instead. Albums with the theme of love have been done before. This is a remarkably fresh, ambitious and fully-realised record that stands out in a very strong year for albums. Her past collaborators, Anthony Gonzalez from M83 and Röyksopp, guest on Ten Love Songs. Over these ten songs she masters spellbinding ballads (‘Darlings’, ‘Trust Me’) that come across as a gothic ABBA. There are sad electro dance songs that sound like darker versions of something that Annie or Robyn might release (‘Delirious’, ‘Slowly’). Then there’s ‘Kamikaze’, which starts as a haunting ballad and soon shifts into a dance song with an amazing trance-like drop. She even pulls off a mini opera half way through the album on ‘Memorial’.
This is a record that has so many special moments: the thundering drums and outrageous church organ solo on ‘Accelerate’ are thrilling; the orchestral arrangement on ‘Silencer’ is breathtaking; and her vocal towards the end of ‘Slowly’ is astonishing. Best of all is ‘Fade Away’, which has one of the most effortlessly stunning choruses I’ve ever heard. When she sings, “This is the kind of love that never goes out of style”, I’m left wondering why she isn’t one of the biggest stars in music. It’s incredible how much Susanne fits in these ten songs – not a single second feels wasted. To say this album is an album of the year contender would be an understatement – for me, this is the album of the decade.