junior boys

2014 Songs of the Year: Part Six - 10 through 1

Just got here? Get up to speed with parts one, two, three, four and five.

Now that the full list is out check out the Spotify playlist, which includes every one of the full top 60 (plus the near misses) where they are available on Spotify. Click here or play via the embedded player below:

10. Ben's My Friend - Sun Kil Moon

Sun Kil Moon’s Benji was full of personal moments but none felt like they captured the maudlin sense of growing up and growing old in the same way as album closer Ben’s My Friend, complete with that lovely sax work. The way this song sets out the passing of time against Mark Kozelek’s friendship with Postal Service and Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard is both touching and frighteningly real… Anyone over-30 will likely be familiar with the work that goes into maintaining friendships and the complexity that gradually seeps into life as you age. What once seemed simple and obvious gradually becomes harder.

 

9. I Can Be Your Light - Hugh

I’ve championed Hugh and band-member Joshua Idehen’s other project Benin City for some time, but I Can Be Your Light from Hugh’s I Can’t Figure You Out EP marked their best moment yet. There’s only so much you can say about this song - it’s not complicated, it’s just beautiful. The openness and the generosity… No track this year came closer to bringing me closer to tears.

 

8. Bassically - Tei Shi

If there is one artist I’m excited for more than anyone else in 2015 it’s Tei Shi, who seems destined to pick up the hype train where FKA Twigs has got off. After a cover version of Beyoncé’s No Angel, Tei Shi ended up releasing Bassically - a track so fully realised it is incredible she doesn’t even have an album yet. Dark, brooding and incredibly sexy.

 

7. Brain - Banks

Banks’ momentum seemed to peter-out mid-way through 2014 but her album packs a whole slew of great tracks and Brain remains one of the most thrilling moments of pop music we heard this year, like something evil emerging from the blackness...

 

6. Putty Tart - Mouse On Mars & Junior Boys

Snuck onto Mouse On Mars’ celebratory collaborations project 21 Again was this glorious slice of electronic R&B, and it pretty much picks up where Junior Boys’ Banana Ripple left off. So much energy, so much sun, so much warmth. Love love love.

 

5. Two Weeks - FKA Twigs

Two Weeks felt like the realisation of all that FKA Twigs ambition… Taking the passion and creativity of those earlier tracks and applying it to the Twigs’ first real widescreen production… The music and video are both sexy as hell, and Twigs breathless delivery verges on sinister, particularly on that killer line: “I can fuck you better than her” she declared.

 

4. I See You - The Horrors

What a way to tease your forthcoming album… The first track taken from Luminous sounded like Simple Minds channeling Donna Summer, and I See You feels like a trip aboard the epic Saturn V once it kicks in. Sadly Luminous had showed it’s hand before it even came out - nothing else it contained came close… But you would struggle to find a more epic seven-and-a-half-minutes this year.

 

3. An Ocean Between Waves - The War On Drugs

Dad rock goes epic. The War On Drugs’ Lost In A Dream managed to take the template from Slave Ambient and make it feel more real and grounded, but the epic Krautrock sense of movement was all over it’s best track, An Ocean Between Waves. Adam Granduciel’s struggle to establish connection is almost tangible here in those closing lines: “I’m at the darkened hillside / And there’s a haze right between the trees / And I can barely see you / You’re like an ocean in between the waves”.

A touching moment that evolves into something even more epic as the song finally hits its stride in the closing minutes - you sense Granduciel maybe managed to mount one of those waves, and is surfing his way to a complete view of the ocean beneath him.

 

2. Words I Don't Remember - How To Dress Well

One of the most emotionally honest moments on How To Dress Well’s What Is This Heart. Words I Don’t Remember sounds like a lover struggling to piece back together the way they feel - hands slipping through the sensations and feelings… “Who knows if I love you baby, but you’re the one thing on my mind”. Much as with An Ocean Between Waves, Words I Don’t Remember launches out of that emotional insecurity into an epic instrumental closing third, and it’s a staggering moment.

 

1. Can't Do Without You - Caribou

On which Dan Snaith distills that very feeling of needing someone so bad it hurts… The obsession and neediness that turns love into something darker. Can’t Do Without You is both the most joyous, loved-up and celebratory thing I heard this year and the most desperately cloying. And if I take one thing from this song it is the human connection: we all feel this, for to love that hard is what it means to be human. And Snaith made it into the most addictively beautiful and optimistic sounding piece of sound created this year. Turn it up and forget about everything but the love you feel.

Album Review: It's All True - Junior Boys

Junior Boys are one of those few acts where I am frankly just happy for them to stay the same. Their slick take on eighties influenced pop feels like an alternative future where Spandau Ballet ruled the world. Despite this the slight change in direction It's All True represents feel like a definite change for the better.

Sonically this album radiates sunshine. Their most overtly sensual and warm album yet and the result is that things get suspiciously close to Balearic. Married to Johnny Greenspan's as-ever gorgeous vocals this is a very good thing indeed - an irresistible hit of relaxed, dry heat. The songs here vary from being loved up and snappy, as on the punchy rhythms of 'A Truly Happy Ending' to relaxed to the point of apathy. 'Playtime' is a perfect example of the latter - a track that feels like it has been left out in the sun to the point of near-total evaporation. It's almost as though there is nothing left, the crawl to it's conclusion only just about manageable.

Lyrically and emotionally then It's All True is the aural equivalent of the cat Garfield, trapped within a sunbeam that suddenly imparts such a warm feeling of apathy that he can no longer manage the energy needed to move beyond it's grasp. Greenspan sounds overwhelmed by his affections. On opener 'Itch Fingers' he sounds completely aware that his emotions may be being toyed with, yet embraces his feelings anyway. Similarly on 'You'll Improve Me' Greenspan's persistent chorus of "That's the way you'll improve me" is simultaneously cloying and naïve - sounding both like an unwelcome admirer and a victim all at once.

Sunshine and lies run through this album like a seam. The title appears to relate to not just one song but all of them - several making explicit references to truth and lies and the others depicting someone in a state of lying to themselves. It's All True is best when this is combined with warmth and funk however - 'Second Chance' with its tight percussion and bubbling bass line.

Things close with 'Banana Ripple'. I've already mentioned this track in a previous post but it bears highlighting it again - it isn't just the best thing the Junior Boys have ever done, it's probably the best track I've heard all year. 'Banana Ripple' is pure summer sunshine exuberance and it feels like the manifestation of a change in the band - like the straight guy losing fear and taking the dance floor for his own: suddenly they can dance! Huge keyboards, organs and beautiful muted guitar combine with Greenspan's calls: "You'll never see me go...", like he finally wised up and left. And it has that feeling - it's empowered and striking and goosebump inducing.

Call it hyperbole, but in my head this is what the first summer of love sounds like.

BP x

It's All True is released on Domino on 4 July in the UK and 14 June elsewhere, available for pre-order from Amazon.co.uk on CD and LP [affiliate links].

Comment: Banana Ripple - Junior Boys

Over the weekend I received a promo for the new Junior Boys album, It's All True, from Domino and I have to say it has rapidly become one of my favourite albums I have heard in a while. I'll definitely be doing a full review of this soon but it is so good that I can't help but want to get others as excited as I am.

A couple of months back I linked to the Domino site where you could download album track 'ep' so I thought I'd share another track off the album. This one you (sadly) can't download but it is well worth a stream over at Soundcloud. 'Banana Ripple' is the album closer and blends the Boys' usual warm, soft sound with a loved up sense of Ballearia. It's pure summer joy and I love it.

Junior Boys - Banana Ripple by DominoRecordCo

Get excited: summer's here.

BP x

News: Junior Boys to release new album

I've long been a fan of the Junior Boys sound - there is something about Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus' approach to songwriting and production. When at their best there music has an incredibly polished sound - not something I'd usually appreciate but in their case it really creates a spellbinding mood.

Thankfully a new album is on the way - entitled It's All True it will come out on Domino on 20 June 2011 but Domino are giving away album track 'ep' now. Head over and give up your email address to check it out.

'ep' is classic Junior Boys stuff - sun kissed vocal melodies and warm synths, it's kind of pointless to resist and whilst it doesn't suggest much of a departure in terms of sound it definitely has me excited for the album.

BP x

2009: The Best of the Year

BlackPlastic tends to vary its approach to the inevitable end-of-year wrap-up a bit each year. Sometimes we do a full detailed breakdown of the best albums and compilations, whereas other times it is less formal summary of all that was good in the past 12 months. 2009 will be treated using the latter approach - this is partly in reflection of the quality of the year but it as much simply a reflection of the way BlackPlastic feels like tackling it this year. Lists are unimportant and to stick to them can constrain what needs to be said.

2009 was not quite the same vintage as 2008 in BlackPlastic's opinion (for more on 2008 see here, here and here) but it did have some absolutely fantastic music all the same:

One of the great things about end of year reviews is that they afford BlackPlastic the opportunity to go back and comment on albums we unfortunately missed at the time. No record from 2009 deserves that more than Girls' first album. Entitled, erm, Album, it was one of those records that sounds like a compilation tape from a mate with impeccable taste. The style is inconsistent but the passion and inventiveness of the tunes more than make up for it. Many have said that the production of this album is somewhat vanilla, classic as opposed to contemporary, and as such this is a record all about the tunes. BlackPlastic doesn't buy that - frankly it just sounds too 2009 for such twaddle to wash. Yes, it may contain classical styles but they have been applied with a modern sensibility and there are hints of too many times, styles and genres for this album to be anything but modern. Track to check: 'Lauren Marie'.

One of 2009's surprise highlights was The Horrors' sophomore album, Primary Colours. Channelling Joy Division and Can what it lacked in originality it made up for in quality of execution. Check: 'Sea Within a Sea'.

Showing off David Sitek's production skills even more than the Yeah Yeah Yeah's rather ace It's Blitz!, one of 2009's best débuts came from Telepathe in the form of Dance Mother. Abstract, dubby and ambient yet accessible and infectious. Check: that sublime production on 'Chrome's On It'.

Junior Boys' third album is perhaps a tricky one to love - it feels like a streamlined version of their precious two. Yet listening to Begone Dull Care it is clear this is a duo at the top of their game - streamlined is actually refined, for nothing this year boasted as much brains, as pure a vision. Frankly it is the best intelligent dance album since Morgan Geist's Double Night Time. Check: 'Parallel Lines'.

And if the Junior Boys refined then the Dirty Projectors' let the chips lie where they fell. Bitte Orca built on previous album Rise Above by growing in every conceivable direction. It still sounds simultaneously timeless and unapologetically futuristic. Check: the R&B anthem 'Stillness Is The Move'.

Another one of those records that got away - Desire's II has only just found its way onto the BlackPlastic stereo but the slightly sinister vibe and dark take on Italo ensures it'll be on rotation well into this year. If you listen to just one track make it the emotive ballad that is 'Don't Call'.

Also dark but without the retro edge was Telefon Tel Aviv's Immolate Yourself. It's been years since BlackPlastic has heard IDM that packs such a punch. Sadly band member Charles Cooper died soon after finishing this album. Rumour has it that his death may have been suicide. Listen to 'You Are The Worst Thing In The World' and it almost feels as though the pain of his passing has infected the songs.

Heart stoppingly beautiful at times, no record made BlackPlastic laugh and almost cry at the same time as much as Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard's 'Em Are I. Check: 'Bugs & Flowers'

Two albums that managed to get BlackPlastic really gurning again: Nathan Fake's Hard Islands and Fuck Buttons' Tarot Sport. Making trance music sound like rock music flicked our switch. Check 'Castle Rising'and 'Olympians' respectively.

Overlooked by practically everyone else but saving a special place in our hearts is The Juan Maclean's The Future Will Come. It may not quite match the heights of 2005's 'Dance With Me' but it is still the best realised concept album from 2009. Check the muted brilliance of 'Tonight'.

It is seriously over-hyped and they were dangerously close to becoming 2009's Burial (stylistically coming off somewhat like the indie equivalent of Burial, too): the XX. Yet they still managed to tug on our heart strings on debut album XX. The atmospheric melancholy and loneliness is one thing but the XX never shine more than when the vocals demonstrate their heart, as on 'Heart Skipped a Beat'.

Some music does it for BlackPlastic simply by being incessantly joyful. That is the case for Passion Pit's Manners - not since Architecture in Helsinki released an album has anything sounded quite so ridiculously happy. Check 'Little Secrets'.

Barely scrapping into 2009, Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion is probably the oldest album on this list yet it is still very nearly took the top spot. From the ecstatic opening of 'In The Flowers' this was an album to lose yourself in. Dizzyingly creative and heart-warmingly joyful, it is telling that it has all but made us forget band member Panda Bear's almost as good solo album, Person Pitch. Most people will recommend 'My Girls' as the top tune but they are wrong - it has to be that delirious opener.

Snuck in at the other side of 2009, Lindstrøm & Christabelle's Real Life Is No Cool is this list's newest album. And glorious it is too, a sunny slither of disco perfection that turned out to be Lindstrøm's career highpoint to date. Check 'Keep It Up'.

Before the wrap with the album of the year a couple of compilations and a reissue deserve a mention.

The reissue is the Units' The Early Years of the Units 1977-1983, a set that proves there were legitimate challengers to Devo's creative dominance of the post-punk period. Seriously - this shit is essential, the cream from one of the best periods in music.

Compilation number one is Jay Haze's Fabric 47, which frankly came out of nowhere and blew BlackPlastic away. By the time this eclectic set arrives at the exclusive hip-hop track 'Something To Say' by Rockey that closes the album we were head over heels. Pure class.

Our other favourite compilation is Phoenix's Kitsuné Tabloid release. After a balls out start from Digitalism, Phoenix took the Tabloid series in a much, much more interesting direction. Featuring barely any tracks from recent years it instead manages to introductive the listener to some gems they won't know as well as reintroducing some they will. It also serves as a perfect autobiography for the band and, more to the point, sounds utterly gorgeous all the way through.

No contest for album of the year though. On BlackPlastic's first few listens it was great... A perfect fit like your favourite jeans. Yet it just got better and better. And better. No album kept us coming back quite like Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Performed live it is even better and it is telling that almost every track on the album is on the set list for the recent tour.

Putting your finger on what makes Wolfgang... so great is tricky, but BlackPlastic will try:

Producer Philippe Zdar (of Cassius) manages to distill a great band into a phenomenal one. Each track is so incredibly tight that it sounds like a band being covered by robots, in the best possible way. And at the same time Thomas Mars' vocals give the whole album a sense of urgency and vitality that most bands can only dream of. If they called it quits now Phoenix would still be one of the best bands of the last decade. Here is hoping they continue being fabulous.

BP x