war on drugs

2014 Albums of the Year: Part Two - 5 through 1

Following on from yesterday's part one post, here is the concluding part of my albums of the year list. Don't forget to check out my list of the of 2014 best songs, which starts with Part One.

 

5. What Is This Heart? - How To Dress Well

What Is This Heart? - How To Dress Well

Unashamedly emotional, What Is This Heart? managed to deliver on something conceptual, intelligent and populist all at once. One of the indie R&B's most fully realised albums yet - grand in scale and feeling.

Amazon [affilate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

 

4. Benji - Sun Kil Moon

Benji - Sun Kil Moon

Listening to Sun Kil Moon's Benji felt less like playing an album and more like sitting next to a bruised old school friend as he pours out his guts over a beer and a guitar. I'm a sucker for honesty, and they didn't get much more honest than this.

Amazon [affiliate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

 

3. Our Love - Caribou

Our Love - Caribou

Caribou's most 2014 album was the first to not change the formula - instead it fleshed out the style introduced on Swim. What we have is a little more refined and a whole lot more personal, and nothing else in recent memory has sounded quite as much like what I feel inside.

Amazon [affiliate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

 

2. Built on Glass - Chet Faker

Built On Glass - Chet Faker

Effortlessly funky and irresistibly sexy, Faker's beardy R&B does something wonderful to me. There is a variety through Built On Glass that betrays the talent that exists here, whether it is on the slinky, clipped beats and wandering sax of Talk Is Cheap, the sharp bumping synths of 1998 or the circular bluesy vocals of Cigarettes & Loneliness.

Amazon [affiliate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

 

1. Lost In The Dream - The War On Drugs

Lost In The Dream - The War On Drugs

Compared to Slave Ambient, Lost In The Dream felt a little restrained - the mix more balanced, the krautrock influence softened, the electronics turned down. Yet surprisingly all this gloss made it feel all the more real. It's dad rock, but it's fucking dad rock for listening to whilst you ride a rainbow comet through the clouds of the Milky Way.

Lost In The Dream asks for a moment of patience: a listen to hear, one to notice and one more to know. Every time I play Red Eyes or Burning or An Ocean Between Waves I feel like I hear them better, like a fuzzy AM signal that gradually gets polished to an original studio recording. These songs give you back every moment you give them and not a second poured into Lost In The Dream's hour duration feels wasted.

Amazon [affiliate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

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.

Comment: 2011's Best Songs

At the end of every year I tend to spend a bit of time contemplating how to suitably wrap things up. Sometimes it's a single post that just lists things that were particularly note-worthy, other years I have been much more formal and had a collection of top five lists. This year I feel like running with something a bit more free form so here is a list of my favourite songs from this year.

There are too many songs here to say something about all of them. I'll go into a bit of detail on a selection of the ones that meant the most to me and that will make the post long enough as it is. There is also a Spotify playlist that pulls all of these together to make it as easy as possible to have a listen. Nothing here is ordered based on 'best' - the playlist and this list were built to flow as well as is possible with such a diverse selection of music. Having said which, there was one song that stuck out for me more than any other this year... Read on to find out which...

'I Don't Want Love' - The Antlers
The opening track from The Antlers' Burst Apart was a contender for song of the year for me. It's a beautifully exposed and fragile track and the decision to stick such a piece at the start of an album still amazes me because it is so easy to miss just how staggering it is. There aren't many bands that come close to Thom Yorke's brand of experimental melancholy, but The Antlers come close.

'Collapse' - Iceage
Iceage's debut album was the kind of brash, rapid fire album that really encourages repeat listening, but it was the discordant melodies of 'Collapse' that I always longed for more of. This most surprising thing is how much is crammed into a two-minute record, from the frictional intro of the guitar to the closing bars at the end.

'Undertow' - Warpaint

'Codex' - Radiohead

'Share The Red' - Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

'Vomit' - Girls
Girls' second album saw them continue to expand their sound but nothing on that album came close to the gospel ambition of this needy and emotional indie cut.

'I Can See Through You' - The Horrors

'Montana' - Youth Lagoon

'Come To The City' - The War On Drugs
I said it all on the review last week but golly, does this flick my switches. It's difficult to judge something so close to a first listen but I'm confident that 'Come To The City' will stick out for years to come. The sound of a hand reaching out to pull you from the quick sand - an emotive wall of sound.

'It Takes Time To Be A Man' - The Rapture

'Ice Cream' - Battles feat. Matias Aguayo
When I saw Battles at Glastonbury the mechanical precision and strength of drummer John Stanier blew me away: this dude kicked the fucking doors off. Matias' vocals and percussion just took things to another level - this is math rock on spring break: sexy, wild and completely in control.

'Caffeinated Consciouness' - TV On The Radio

'Manifesto' - Planningtorock

'Saturday Love' - Toro Y Moi

'Manila' - Rough Fields

'Minnesota' - Bon Iver

'The Wilhelm Scream' - James Blake

'Video Games' - Lana Del Rey
Is she for real or faking? That question seemed to rumble around for months and yet everyone seems to have forgotten that real pop music is just a show anyway. I don't need to know her real name - Lana stole my heart as she laid a smack across my cheek with the line "It's you, it's you, it's all for you... Everything I do...". Sometimes popular music is best left with some mystery.

'Space Is Only Noise If You Can See' - Nicolas Jaar
Still Jaar's best record and 2011’s most unhinged vocal by far. Try as you might, this makes no sense but the space groove bass line and wonky lyrics made Nicolas Jaar one of our most exciting producers. The fact that he hasn't felt the need to do anything even remotely similar since only compounds the magnificence of it. Grab a calculator and fix yourself.

'Stay' - Gunnar Bjerk

'What I've Lost' - Benoit & Sergio
Everything Benoit & Sergio released this year was fantastic, but nothing came close to this track from side two of the Boy Trouble EP, a contemplative late night road trip through the old haunts with a new (potential) lover. If people ever tell you electronic music has no soul then play them this - a track full of heart and pain and a crucial hint of hopeful yearning.

'Need You Now' - Cut Copy

'Midnight City' - M83

'Hawaiian Air' - Friendly Fires

'All Nite' - Rustie

'Fallout' - Neon Indian

'Lonely Days (Drop Out Orchestra Vocal Remix)' - Mario Basanov
Mario's original was good but this shimmering sun baked disco remix is truly great. It's strength is that it simply hits that summery Ballearic vibe better than any other seven-minutes of music I heard this year. Throw in some excellent guitar work (more guitar solos on disco please!) and you've got something very vey good indeed.

'Basement L.O.V.E.' - Motor City Drum Ensemble
MCDE's DJ Kicks blew every other mix CD released this year out of the water with it's fantastic mixture of soulful jazz and subterranean house music for the heads. This separate remix of the 'L.O.V.E.' cut released on that mix as an exclusive is a brilliant taster for that mix even if doesn't actually appear on it. Loose and airy, it feels like a slowed down summer's day spent dancing on Mediterranean tiles after a night with no sleep.

'Arise' - Maceo Plex

'Far Nearer' - Jamie xx
2010 saw the xx break into the mainstream but in 2011 Jamie proved the best is yet to come. As good as the xx's debut record is, in my opinion it can't hold a candle to this solo track. Sounds like Paul Simon kicking back on a dubstep rumbling tropical island; this is Kia Ora, Five Alive and Rubicon rolled into one.

'Banana Ripple' - Junior Boys
As if Mario Basanov and Jamie's 'Far Nearer' weren't enough sun... 'Banana Ripple' easily takes my vote for song of the year. This unashamed summer disco dance track caps off an album of angst-ridden self-reflective electronic pop on It's All True like a glorious and carefree butterfly emerging from a self-absorbed chrysalis. 'Banana Ripple' is a song of three acts where each one is more fantastic than the last. The Hammond organ peaking towards the end never fails to give me goose bumps, and that is what music is about.

So, what did I miss?

BP x

Album Review: Slave Ambient - The War On Drugs

The War On Drugs' Slave Ambient comes on like a golden sun-drenched California-born-and-raised country album, the jaunty melodies kicking off with 'Best Night', swimming in shimmering guitar work and a humming percussion backing. 'Brothers' retains the feeling but adds a bit of psychedelia, sounding like The Byrds on one of the Beatles' acid trips.

But throughout Slave Ambient each song from The War On Drugs feels like it adds a different element. 'I Was There' is sloppily gambolling around like one of the Verve's more experimental tracks which, if you put your ego aside, is still a good thing. Things really move with 'Your Love Is Calling My Name' though - the melodies and rhythms becoming more intensely mechanical and singer Adam Granduciel's vocals becoming entwined with the instruments so they feel like part of the music as much as the instruments.

It feels like a jumping off point and from here on out the ground is no longer beneath our feet. There are short slices of ambient and distorted circular instrumental and a glorious moment on 'Baby Missiles' that is a good barometer for The War On Drugs: we are basically listening to Bruce Springsteen backed by Neu!

The anthemic 'Come To The City' and its post-rock reprise encapsulate this album best though. It's a dazzling and bewildering fist-in-the-air shout of triumphant determination wrapped up in a home-coming that hits you with a bloody smile and a punch to the gut all at once. If U2 early U2 had transformed into something amazing instead of shit they might be something like this.

BP x

Slave Ambient is out now, available from Amazon.co.uk on CD, LP and MP3 [affiliate links].