Wednesday, 24 December 2008

A Christmas Message

This is Breaking More Waves final blog of the year as we close down for Christmas. By the time this is auto uploaded to the net we will be on a plane on our way to warmer climes than cold old Blighty.

Thanks for visiting the site, especially if you are a regular visitor or have stuck with us through this mammoth advent blog this December, consuming vast amounts of sherry and mince pies as you go.

Here’s to loads of great music and gigs next year.

We will be back in January, but for now we shall leave you with a Christmas message from Beardyman. If you are easily offended please do not watch this.

Happy Christmas. Love Breaking More Waves.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Rose Elinor Dougall @ Brighton Prince Albert

Following the split of the original Pipettes to pursue other musical projects, previous member Rose Elinor Dougall has been first to throw off her musical shackles and venture out into new areas, playing a handful of solo gigs. This hometown show is the launch party for her limited edition debut single Another Version of Pop Song. The small venue with a crackling fire plus Christmas cheer downstairs with red drapes and a rotating glitter ball upstairs is ready to welcome an audience that includes Gwenno from The Pipettes, as well as giving Rose the opportunity to showcase the new material and find her feet on stage again.

Finding her feet at first seems a little complex; “I think my arse is going to fall onto the cymbal,” she giggles after her first song, but composure regained she coasts her way through a set of pleasant if not entirely groundbreaking Casio lead summery sounding indie pop songs that hark back to the days of late 80's / early 90's indie bands such as The Darling Buds and The Sundays. This material is far removed from The Pipettes, sounding more dreamy, mature and credible. There is the carousel quietness of May Holiday and the chiming indie guitars and handclap frenzy of To The Sea, which shows a boldness that asserts itself on first listen.

Physically not every aspect of The Pipettes has been removed. The polka dot dresses and schoolgirl dance routines may have disappeared, but Rose still comes across like a stern teacher when she places both her hands on her hips and raises her eyes skyward as she sings. Backed by a four piece band called The Distractions there are effects laden mandolins and almost Cure like guitars in places which give the music a slightly edgier tone, with Roses vocal having enough strength and depth to hold one’s attention without ever astounding.

These are early days for the ex Pipette, and whilst this performance suggests that she does not intend to gatecrash the charts, her new music may ultimately have more long term appeal than the retro pop thrills of her previous band.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Pop - A Dirty Word ? Breaking More Waves Says No !

So there you have it. Over the last 20 days or so we presented the Breaking More Waves Top 10 albums of this year and set out who we suspect may be rocking boats on UK shores in 2009.

As we said in a previous blog, 2009 is not so easy to call in terms of One’s To Watch as 2008 was. Even an act like Florence and the Machine, with her Brit Critics Award and NME tour slot is not guaranteed any success. In 2008 acts such as Duffy and Adele with big voices and big songs were easy to spot, having a broad mainstream appeal that were guaranteed to shift units. In 2009 there are no such obvious acts and therefore more risk for record companies. With financial global armegeddon striking all around us and illegal downloading becoming the norm for many, music sales are becoming an endangered species. The risks for record companies in developing and selling new artists has never been greater.

All of the acts listed in the Breaking More Waves Ones To Watch list, and several others that just missed our Top 10 have one simple thing in common however. The power of the song. Irrespective of musical genre, from the bluegrass of Mumford and Sons to the disco of Little Boots, each of these acts produce something distinctively melodic. In a way all of the 10 artists listed are pop, in the true sense of the word; they write songs that are engaging, memorable and melodic, irrespective of genre. Pop music continues to be a melting pot that borrows and assimilates elements and ideas from a wide range of musical styles and it is for this reason that Breaking More Waves will continue to be excited about a range of acts, not just one genre. This blog does not have a singular vision. It’s good to be all over the place, variety keeps things interesting.

Breaking More Waves has long held the view that pop does not just have to mean airbrushed vacuous acts formed and directed by record companies and TV shows. Pop is bigger than that. The Killers, Prince, Amy Winehouse, The Cure and Blur at their best are all great pop acts. Pop does not have to be a dirty word.

This does not mean however that Breaking More Waves will just be covering pop bands, even within our broad definition of pop. Other exciting noise makers exist out there that do not conform to pop structures. These artists very rarely break into the mainstream, and gazing into our crystal ball we cannot see many doing so in 2009, however where they excite us or engage us Breaking More Waves will be writing about them as well.

Ultimately it’s about music. Pop or non pop. Melodic or not. If we like. We write. If we don’t, we probably won’t.

And as we said back in our very first blog, we reserve the right to contradict ourselves. Remember, we do not have a singular vision. We reserve the right to change our minds. We reserve the right to be fluid and to not be constrained by pre conceived ideas. We repeat, we do not have singular vision. That is the beauty of music. It can take you anywhere.

Tomorrow, it takes us to Brighton !

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Marina and the Diamonds - Ones To Watch 2009

Breaking More Waves final one to watch for 2009 is Marina and the Diamonds. Blogged previously here, this maverick cat has already ruffled a few feathers with her blogs on Myspace, which she has now removed declaring that she is never opening her mouth again. These blogs ranted against various other female artists and celebrity culture. “I'm really sick, tired, depressed, uninspired by women," she wrote. "Vacant. Airbrushed. Empty. People. Getting. Paid. To talk. About fuck all. It's great that Eva Longoria looks hot in a bikini, but if the sun dies and the world plummets into darkness and ice, will anyone fucking care?" It seems that Marina has opinions, but has already decided that expressing them over the internet may not help her.

But enough of Marina’s rants, what about the music ? Well no doubt there will be comparisons with some of the artists that she ranted about on her blog as the industry looks for the next Allen / Nash or other female singer with her own mind who doesn’t conform to X Factor stereotypes. Her 6 track bedroom demo entitled Mermaid vs. Sailor showed some promise with its left of centre basic Regina Spektor meets Nina Hagen type leanings, particularly on the first two songs Seventeen and Horror Pop with its refrain of “You are a horror you are the same same same horoscope as me.” Since this demo her songs have evolved and improved and on February 14th Marina and the Diamonds will release their debut single Obsessions through a label that Breaking More Waves can’t get enough of at the moment - Neon Gold. The single has been produced with ex Sneaker Pimps man Liam Howe who has also written with Sophie Ellis-Bextor in the past, and with a deal signed Marina may well be on the way up.

Here is the video to the single.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Mumford and Sons - Ones To Watch 2009

Mumford and Sons are the sound of American post war folk, bluegrass and country music with a certain timeless quality. Yet they are from London and it seems that their time is now.

Having shared the live stage with Laura Marling where members of the band have provided backing, the group are now stepping out on their own with a melancholy and mournful sound that comes fully formed and note perfect. With two singles released through the Chess Club label, it would seem a natural progression for this band to go onwards and upwards, and when an album is finally released it would be no surprise to see it on the Mercury Award nominations list. They are that kind of act.

Lead singer and multi instrumentalist Marcus Mumford has a raw tender almost broken feel to his voice, slightly reminiscent of Dave Mathews, which adds significant weight to the words he sings. On the fearful Roll Away Your Stone he croons “Don’t leave me alone at this time, for I am afraid of what I will discover inside,” and you cannot help but shudder with the thought of looming darkness. His voice is backed by pitch perfect four part harmonies which combine with a masculine togetherness to provide a soundtrack that almost pacifies their old time instruments such as banjo and double bass.

Mumford and Sons carry buckets of elegant rabble rousing soul that will warm you deep inside, and therefore easily find a place on Breaking More Waves One’s To Watch list for 2009. Here's the song White Blank Page.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Florence And The Machine - Ones To Watch 2009

The typical first timer reaction after attending a Florence and the Machine gig tends to be “She’s stark raving bonkers.” This is because Florence Welch is a firework on stage. Once she is lit she explodes with a frenzy of primitive energy and ferocious colour, making her look like Nicola Roberts from Girls Aloud crazier sister. Past glories have seen her jumping fully clothed into a swimming pool at a gig at the South by South West Festival in Texas, play fighting with her keyboardist with attempts to rip the clothes off her, and stomping around stage with a lack of poise and co-ordination that is drunkenly refreshing. Combining this type of performance with an expressive bluesy shriek of a vocal far removed from her talking voice and small frame makes Florence and the Machine an exciting proposition.

Discovered by one of the Queens of Noise, Florence has busied herself in 2008 releasing two well received singles, Kiss With A Fist and Dog Days, both through Moshi Moshi and lighting that firework around stages in the UK. In 2009 things step up a gear with a debut album produced by James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, who has previously worked with Klaxons and Arctic Monkeys. Florence has described the recording as sounding like "A choir, a harp, some metal chains and a piano all put through a car crusher, then hit with wooden planks really hard." There's also the new artist critics award at the Brits (won by Adele last year) which she is due to pick up. She will also be on the so called bottom of the bill ‘lucky’ slot on the NME tour which has previously been filled by bands such as Kaiser Chiefs, Coldplay, The Coral and Franz Ferdinand. However it’s also easy to forget that the slot has also been filled by Mumm- Ra and Fluffy, so the ‘lucky’ tag does not always ring true.

However in Florence’s case Breaking More Waves feels that Florence And The Machine are more likely to be a commercial success than a failure, such is the star quality of Florence herself, although that ‘bonkers’ tag may be a little too much for a wide mainstream audience.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Alessi's Ark - Ones To Watch 2009

Having featured here on Breaking More Waves twice in the last two months, we feel compelled to place Alessi's Ark in our One’s To Watch list.

Alessi Laurent-Marke is unlikely to find huge commercial pop success, but is certainly an act that deserves to be championed. Her sweet ethereal childlike vocal and delicate dreamlike country-folk pop songs may find a place in the hearts of those who like vocalists such as Joanna Newsom and Junaita Stein of the Howling Bells, but also enjoy much of the current wave of new folk pop such as Noah and The Whale and Laura Marling. Another reference point is Bright Eyes, members of which Alessi has recorded with.

Alessi’s music is the kind of music that would work equally well on a cold autumn night wrapped up in blankets around a warm camp fire or when staring out at the first mists of a spring day. It has a natural and organic feel that bodes well for an entrancing wide eyed love affair of an album. She has recently released The Horse EP, of which the lead song clocking in a just 2 minutes is the highlight. An album Notes From The Treehouse is due for release in 2009.

Alessi has a blog. It’s called The Brain Bulletin. It contains pictures, video, music and snapshots of her world. Have a look.

Here is a live version of The Horse.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Skint and Demoralised - Ones To Watch 2009

Breaking More Waves sixth One To Watch for 2009 is Matt Abbott aka Skint and Demoralised. Matt is a man who claims that on his Christmas list this year he would quite like Sarah Harding, Cheryl Tweedy, Nicola Roberts, Kimberley Walsh and Nadine Coyle. C’mon Matt, all five of Girls Aloud is just a little greedy don’t you think ? And besides you are probably a little too young for them, after all, you are still a teenager. Breaking More Waves would still quite like Nicola, if she is going spare, but then we are certainly too old for the red haired miserable one.

Much championed by Steve Lamacq, who named Skint and Demoralised as his third favourite new act of this year, and blogged by Breaking More Waves at the time of release of his debut single The Thrill Of Thirty Seconds, which sold out almost immediately, you can catch him on tour early in 2009. His music is a chirpy poppy blend of jangling guitars indie disco drums and northern soul reference points not dissimilar to The Smiths with dry spoken word vocals delivered in a dry Yorkshire tone. Despite Matt's slightly long haired laddish look, his extract from a diary poems are sweet in their nature and no doubt many young lass will fall for him. An album Love and Other Catastrophe’s is due to follow.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

White Lies - Ones To Watch 2009

White Lies produce white boy gloomy indie rock with obvious reference points of Editors, Joy Division, Interpol, Simple Minds, Psychedelic Furs and Echo And The Bunnymen. They’ve been around for almost a year now, having played their first gig in London last February and signing a record deal just a month later. Formed from the remnants of the not particularly good Fear Of Flying, White Lies are a more attractive proposition than their previous form. This is a band who music marketing men can salivate over, such is the ease of knowing their position in the market. It’s very much a defined genre. However those marketing men must also be a little nervous. For in marketing terms what is White Lies unique selling point ?

However, maybe White Lies can destroy marketing theory and show that a unique selling point is irrelevant. As we approach the end of the noughties there is no truly original music anymore. Every note, every sound has been done before, with every artist referencing something from the past. As we look back over this decade, it’s musical identity will not be defined by particular movements such as acid house, psychedelic or punk, but by the way music is made, distributed and consumed. This was the decade where the internet revolutionised music, rather than music revolutionising on its own merits.

So if this sounds harshly critical of White Lies for not producing something incredibly inventive or original, it is not criticism of just White Lies, but virtually every other new band out there as well.

White Lies are included in this One’s To Watch list for a number of reasons. First, what they do, they do very well. Gloomy, cinematic music, neatly polished with a stadium sheen. Second, at this moment in time they are one of very few bands of their genre out there that are floating Breaking More Waves boat. Previous singles Death and Unfinished Business are both dramatic pieces of intensity with melodic hooks that engage. Finally, despite their darker sound, White Lies certainly have potential to be a commercial success both in the UK and worldwide. With backing from Fiction records, currently home to the likes of Snow Patrol, Elbow and Kate Nash they may achieve it. As the band say themselves, the reason for their name is because “White lies are common but quite dark, and that's how we see ourselves. We want to make our way into people's lives, but there's a dark undertone to what we do.”

Monday, 15 December 2008

Giantess - Ones To Watch 2009

Although for the second year running Breaking More Waves finds a large number of its One’s To Watch on the BBC Sound Of 2009 List, Giantess are a band that have yet to crop up significantly on many people’s radar, particularly in the UK. In fact Giantess are so new that at this moment in time they only have 210 friends on their Myspace page and played only their second ever gig in November.

They are another one of the crop of bands that continues to thrust sexily out from Boston, Massachusetts, and will soon put out their debut single Deceptive Man on Neon Gold in the US.

The people at Neon Gold are putting out some of the coolest of records right now, including yesterdays darlings Passion Pit and one more of Breaking More Waves future One's To Watch, which we have not yet named. The band have also been recording their debut album which they have described as sounding like what would happen if C+C Music Factory high-fived Michael Jackson in midair, with less "ooh baby's" and more "hey ladies." Fantastic.

Giantess bring washes of epic synths and handclaps with retro 80’s attitude to an indie dance floor and make them sound cool again. They sound so now, so fruitily disco. This four piece strut their funky attitude with their killer tune Tuff ‘n Stuff, which sounds like a mash up of Cameo, Jean Michel Jarre and Chromeo, as their lead singer flirts “I just want to say that you’re beautiful, your looking incredible, girl your making everybody’s day.”

It’s very early days for this band, but Breaking More Waves reckons their My Space friend count may soon be on the way up.

Here is the only video of the band in action that seems to be available at this moment in time

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Passion Pit - Ones To Watch 2009

The off kilter swirling pop of Passion Pit has been the talk of the blogosphere for some months now. Breaking More Waves has been at it, raving about them at the start of November, and elsewhere somewhat exaggerated claims of them being the future of music have been heard. All this before they have released anything in the UK.

But times are about to change and now that the band have signed to Columbia it looks like the Chunk of Change EP is finally going to get an official release on these shores in February. Of course the EP has been on I Tunes for some time and has been blasting from the Breaking More Waves stereo, but the physical release will get their tunes out to UK radio and a wider audience.

The band also have a UK support slot with Black Kids on their NME Show at Koko, London in February and will be playing at the South By South West Festival in Austin Texas in March.

To follow up the EP, the band have been spending time in the studio recording their debut album which they are writing a blog about . If the results of these recordings are anything as good as the distorted falsetto vocals, delirious devilish samples and deranged tunes such as Sleepyhead, I’ve Got Your Number and Cuddle Fuddle from the EP, the album should be a trippy electronic extravaganza for those who enjoy the mixed up dance floor fun of The Avalanches and The Go Team as well as the vocal stylings of bands such as Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev and MGMT.

Expect high larynx histrionics from Passion Pit in 2009. They will bring a lot of smiles, and if there is any justice Sleepyhead will be one of the songs of next year in the UK. We posted the video on our last blog about the band, but the video is so good we are posting it again here.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Little Boots - Ones To Watch 2009

Breaking More Waves second choice of artists to watch in 2009 is Victoria Hesketh aka Little Boots.

Whilst the UK music scene may not have any one overriding trend or scene at the moment, there are quite of few of these shiny disco ball belles bouncing around at the moment, yesterdays artist La Roux being one and Little Boots being another. She is without question the best. This lady brings technology and the dance floor to the top of the agenda, melting out any other business before it has even started.

Little Boots is exactly what Breaking More Waves wants our pop stars to be. She’s fifty per cent cool, gaining rave reviews in a whole variety of dance and fashion magazine’s, and fifty per cent geek, posting up videos of herself doing cover versions in her bedroom. With her tenorian, keytar and stylophone as pieces of kit used to create her music, and odd, sexy, innocent looks, she’ll probably soon have a whole bunch of geeky glasses wearing male science students queuing at her door.

As a live performer Little Boots is already extremely confident and accomplished as Breaking More Waves recently witnessed at a recent London gig. Furthermore, there is no Xenomania song writing team behind her, just a whole batch of quirky catchy songs that she writes herself. With Joe Goddard from Hot Chip on board to help with production, it seems that Victoria will soon be stepping out to trample whatever is in her way.

But lurking beneath the synth pop disco sound, there is a real talent who fulfils those old fashioned ideals of being able to write, play and sing.

Pop music has a new heroine come to save us from the evil of X Factor. Save us Little Boots, save us !

Here's a video that shows Victoria in a more acoustic reflective mood, stripping things back to the core with an almost Kate Bush like version of Stuck On Repeat.

Friday, 12 December 2008

La Roux - Ones To Watch 2009

The first of two cyber disco ladies on Breaking More Waves one’s to watch list for 2009 is La Roux. Elfin faced Tilda Swinton lookalike Elly Jackson is big on the synths and big on the beats. But what sets her apart from a multitude of dance floor kids is a pop sensibility that knows how to deliver a half decent tune. With a big 80’s influence that draws from The Human League, Prince and Yazoo, combined with a more modern sound not that dissimilar to The Knife, her new single Quicksand out on the Kitsune label on Dec 15th shows plenty of promise. With a major label deal with Polydor in the bag and a support slot on the Lily Allen tour in March, La Roux can be expected to take her space age electro pop to the masses.

2009 may just be the year that the girls hit the dance floor hard and Breaking More Waves is predicting that La Roux will be one of the two girls leading the charge.

Here's the single.

Ones To Watch 2009

Every year Breaking More Waves breaks into a gypsy caravan, grabs the tea leaves and crystal ball down from a shelf and looks into the musical future.

Last year the Breaking More Waves Top 10 One’s To Watch was published just a couple of days before the BBC Sound of 2008 list and we found a remarkable similarity. This year however there was a certainty that the Breaking More Waves choices would be significantly different to the BBC list, until the BBC published their Sound of 2009 earlier than expected and we stared in horror as 6 of our choices were also on Auntie Beeb’s top 15, although these will be whittled down to 10 in January. However in defence the Breaking More Waves list has been ready for a month now, and there have been quite a few hints as to who we would feature in previous blogs.

Maybe the BBC is using the same crystal ball.

This year Breaking More Waves found it harder to compile a definitive list of ten. In 2007 we thought it was easy to pick Kate Nash (although the BBC didn’t), and in 2008 Adele, Glasvegas and Duffy were easy to spot as well. In other years Coldplay and Franz Ferdinand had hands up from Breaking More Waves, although our selections of bands such as Astronaut and Agnes may now seem to have had a lack of vision.

This year there are another eight to twelve acts that we could have selected for this list, but eventually some had to be discarded. Ten is a number that sounds right for lists. The Breaking More Waves Top 17 to Watch just doesn’t sound right, does it? However for those we have not included, many will be written about in forthcoming blogs after our Christmas holidays.

So for now, grab another mince pie and another glass of sherry, sit back and read about Breaking More Waves Top 10 One’s To Watch. One artist will be published each day, with the first coming in just a short while!

And next year we intend to put our list out right at the start of December before the BBC can muscle in.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan @ Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms

As Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan take to the stage of Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms they barely acknowledge the audience, making it quickly apparent that tonight is all about the music. Lanegan’s tall brooding persona, with his eyes either shut or focussed on the floor and Campbell’s innocent girlishness create contrasting styles, yet both seem harmonious, almost like a long married couple. They interlock musically so well that they do not have to talk on stage to understand each other.

Dimly lit below a still hue of pink and blues both artists take on similar poses at their microphones, their hands clutching the stand for safety. The ambience tonight is almost one of invading a private rehearsal space. Campbell and Lanegan remain virtually silent between songs with only two small utterances of thank you and a brief name check of the band members. The only engagement is through the music.

So did the music work ? Well for the most part yes. Much has been made of the pairs contrasting voices. Campbell’s is reminiscent of innocent sounding 60’s French pop, layered with echo, whilst Lanegan’s is the deep gravely voice of midnight. Backed by a soundtrack of mid western dark folkish county blues the songs are atmospheric, sometimes black, and performed competently. However there was no sense of the live experience taking you on a journey any further than what had already been revealed on their two albums. Certainly the sophisticated sultry Come On Over (Turn Me On) was dangerously flirty and turned up a notch or two in the power stakes, Back Burner was hypnotically moody, and Keep Me In Mind, Sweetheart featured some fine whistling from Campbell and Johnny Cash style vocals from Lanegan, but there was no further emotional connection with the audience from either of the artists, apart from an appreciation of some well performed songs.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Album Of The Year 2008 #1 - Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Breaking More Waves album of the year is For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver. A remarkable debut, which divinely combines Justin Vernon’s haunting falsetto voice over simple but beautiful acoustic arrangements. Over the last six months this album, full of songs of solitude, has developed into the recording of the year. It is no surprise to find it perched at the top of a number of Album of the Year lists, including this one.

For the uninitiated, the well told tale of the creation of this album involves singer songwriter Justin Vernon imposing self inflicted exile on himself following a split with both his previous band and girlfriend. Living in an isolated cabin in the middle of a Wisconsin forest, he crafted and recorded these mellow melancholy songs assuming the name Bon Iver. From the very first notes, the listener can feel the sense of loneliness, the atmosphere of the surroundings permeating through the music, but also a thought that sometimes the most wonderful things come out of sad times.

This is a record that fully achieves the status of ultimate slow burner, an album that not only develops in your heart through the months, but also for Breaking More Waves has developed through experience. Probably never before has an artist played on the main stage of an outdoor music festival in the middle of the afternoon and completely silenced the audience in awe. As Justin said that day, it really was something special. From that moment, at this years End Of The Road Festival, For Emma, Forever Ago took on a whole new meaning for Breaking The Waves. It showed the power of music, not through heavy rock riffs or pumping beats but through the art of the subtlety of skilful song writing.

For Emma, Forever Ago is a musically perfect album, from the dull desolate thumping beat on Flume to Lump Sum where spacey choir vocals quickly dissolve into a pulsing cinematic acoustic sound. You can imagine this music being played over the opening credits of a film, the camera speeding above a vast ocean.

Lyrically it is obscurely personal and painful. Take Skinny Love where Justin sings “I tell my love to wreck it all, cut out all the ropes and let me fall.” On Re:Stacks “There’s a black crow sitting across from me; his wirey legs are crossed, and he’s dangling my keys, he even fakes a toss. Whatever could it be that has brought me to this loss?” It’s bleak stuff. Although the album may be a joy to listen to, it certainly hasn’t been created out of it. However, Justin finds hope at the end of The Wolves (Acts I and II) where his vocals repeat “What might have been lost,” to a gradually building cacophony, before finishing with “Doesn’t bother me.”

Words do not do this album justice, so instead Breaking More Waves asks you to listen to the music. There are no expensive record company financed videos available, as the songs breathe fully by themselves. So instead here is a film that sums up the album perfectly, a collection of images put together by a fan, to the wonderful song Blindsided.

So that was Breaking More Waves Top Ten Albums of 2008. To end here is a video of two of our top ten, Bon Iver and Lykke Li playing the Lykke Li song Dance Dance Dance. Enjoy. It’s almost time to look forward to 2009 as we gaze into our crystal ball, as well as slotting in the odd gig review before Christmas.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Album Of The Year 2008 #2 - Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid

Mercury Music Prize. There. Said it. Again. Now let’s move on.

The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow is one of the most elegant and masterful albums produced this year. If ever record companies want proof of the value of sticking with a band and not dropping them after one album fails to make the grade commercially, Elbow are that proof. Whilst every album they have created has had its moments, this, their fourth represents a band at its peak.

Guy Garvey and his cohorts have created a rich tapestry of often sombre sounding but beautiful songs which bubble with emotion. “The violets explode inside me when I meet your eyes. Then I’m spinning and I’m diving like a cloud of starlings. Darling is this love?” he sings on opening track Starlings. These lyrics are thoughtful, expressive and read as well as they are sung. Garvey’s often wry and poetic take on the world and his ability to make the personal seem so wondrous is the skill that makes him one of the country’s best contemporary songwriters.

The Seldom Seen Kid simply oozes quality. From the bluesy crunching Grounds For Divorce, to the incredibly gentle and delicate Weather To Fly, a song so criminally good it needs arresting. Then of course there is One Day Like This, which demonstrates that Elbow also know how to produce an anthem that will appeal to the masses. A string laden song which united a cast of thousands at festivals across the UK this summer with its repeated mantra of “So throw those curtains wide. One day like this a year would see me right.” It will make you well up inside, grab hold of whoever is next to you and tell them that you love them. You might even make babies to it.

The Seldom Seen Kid is one of the most life affirming and important albums released this year, that continues to improve with every listen as we march into 2009. It was almost Breaking More Waves number 1, but that is left to the ultimate ‘grower’ of the year.....

Here’s One Day Like This at Glastonbury. Watch this right to the end and be moved. If you are not, check your pulse. You must be dead.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Album Of The Year 2008 #3 - Glasvegas - Glasvegas

Breaking More Waves third favourite album of the year is the debut from Glasvegas.

When the album finally dropped this autumn many cynics were already writing them off, simply because of the hype they had received. However it is more realistic to replace the word ‘hype’ with the phrase ‘excitement and enthusiasm’ that was generated by a vastly impressive piece of work. The cynics missed an aural treat.

This is a record full of breathtaking, chest thumping anthems formed out of vintage rock and pop sounds that are loaded with emotion and fuzzy guitars. It fulfils all of the promise shown by their early singles and then some, packing musical punch after musical punch with a shimmering wall of sound, booming drums and James Allan’s vulgar but beautiful Scottish brogue. It is an album that is intensely masculine in its delivery and yet often wears its heart fully on its sleeve.

The reference points have been often quoted and are perfectly correct. It’s Jesus and the Mary Chain meets Phil Spector and the Shangri-La’s with a Scottish gangland mentality. But over this wonderful noise there are the songs. Brilliant, uplifting, bruising songs that seem to get bigger and more mountainous with every listen. Themes of social commentary, masculinity and wasted youth cut through the lyrics. The band introduce you to Geraldine, possibly the only song to be sung from the perspective of a social worker, the incredibly sad and poignant Flowers and Football Tops, which deals with the loss of a son and Go Square Go the most joyous song you will ever hear about violence, with it’s football terrace chorus of “Here we fucking go!”

Quite simply Glasvegas by Glasvegas is a staggering record that shows that after the hype at the start of the year, the band could deliver. Here we fucking go indeed !

Unfortunately the bands record company seem to have decided that none of their You Tube official videos can be embedded in blogs, so instead here's a clip of the band playing live on Later With Jools Holland, which lacks the bass heavy atmospheric punch of the album production, but at least gives a flavour.....

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Album Of The Year 2008 #4 - Laura Marling - Alas I Cannot Swim

Alas I Cannot Swim by Laura Marling is a bold and creative folk album from a singer songwriter who has arrived without significant hype and is all the better for it. Released last February the album has grown in stature over the year which culminated in a nomination for the Mercury Music prize. It was probably just as well that Marling didn’t win, as the teenager is a shy individual, and the exposure from it may have been too much for her.

Breaking More Waves first came across Marling after hearing New Romantic, which sadly was not included on the album. It has been a love affair with her songs ever since. Subtlety and simplicity is the essence of Marling’s work to date, from the understated backing from members of Noah And The Whale and Mumford and Sons, to the lyrics which are sung in gentle maturity. “And I’m sorry young man, I cannot be your friend, I don’t believe in a fairytale end,” she sings on My Manic And I. These are not the words of your typical happy teenager full of the joys and naiveties of life. This theme of her lack of belief in the permanency of relationships is continued on Ghosts; “Lover please do not fall to your knees, it's not like I believe in everlasting love", she sadly intones.

This sadness is rooted in the country folk heritage of introspection more usually listened to by those in their older years. Yet Marling’s youthfulness has also engaged a whole new young audience more used to bouncing around a moshpit and getting drunk than thoughtful preoccupation of life and its complexities to acoustic music.

Whatever your age, and whatever your thoughts on life however, it would be almost impossible to listen to Alas I Cannot Swim and not agree that it is one of the best albums of the year.

This is the song Night Terror, just one of the many highlights.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Album Of The Year 2008 #5 - Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

In the year when the British skinny jeans indie rock boys finally ran out of steam with their one idea, it was left to cardigan wearing Ivy League graduates Vampire Weekend from the USA to show that boys with guitars could still do something inventive.

Vampire Weekend’s self titled debut album is a smart, fun, infectious and ever so slightly ridiculous kaleidoscopic mix of Afrobeat, indie-funk and post-punk that triumphs with its cocktail of forms. Of course this is not the first time that African influences have been taken so far into the mainstream, Paul Simon got there years ago with Graceland, but this album still feels highly refreshing. Vampire Weekend has energy written through its core and it is praise indeed when one can say that this album sounds unlike anything else released this year.

God knows how they will follow this one up, Breaking More Waves suspects that it is going to be difficult as their chirpy clever rhythmic pop may wear thin after a short burst, but for now in 2008 Vampire Weekend is our fifth favourite album. Here's A Punk from the record.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Album Of The Year 2008 #6 - Scarlett Johansson - Anywhere I Lay My Head

When Scarlett Johansson revealed that she was releasing an album, memories of other film stars turned rock singer nightmares rose up. The Dogstar project of Keanu Reeves anyone ? Bruce Willis doing Under the Boardwalk ? Ok, actress Juliette Lewis makes a fairly decent front woman with her band The Licks, but by and large Hollywood cool doesn’t translate well in the sonic spectrum.

Intrigue and indie credentials were added to the project with the news that Anywhere I Lay My Head would, with the exception of one self penned number, consist entirely of Tom Waits tunes and production duties had been accredited to Dave Sitek of TV On The Radio. Guest appearances with Jesus And The Mary Chain cemented the fact that Ms Johansson’s record had a strategy that was as credible and sophisticated as her best film Lost In Translation.

On release the album took very mixed reviews in the media and initially Breaking More Waves found it rather lacklustre, particularly Johansson's inexpressive vocal. However, Anywhere I Lay My Head had other ideas about itself, and was not going to sit idly at the back of the CD collection. Six months on and it sits justifiably in this list of Top Ten albums of 2008. It’s a real grower.

Johansson’s monotonous throaty alto voice may be limited but it gives the album a dark atmosphere which is then extended by the music. Full of shoe gazing droning, reverb, multi instrumentation and a backing of electronic wash, Sitek’s production has created sounds that give the recording a ghostly, hazy feel that works perfectly. There are distant backing vocals from David Bowie on the haunting Fannin Street and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s adds guitar on a number of tracks to bolster the already impressive line up.

An impressive line up, and an impressive album that gets better with every listen. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it quenches Breaking More Waves musical thirst nicely. Here’s the song Falling Down....

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Album Of The Year 2008 #7 - Lykke Li - Youth Novels

As Breaking More Waves mulled over its one to watch list for 2008, two names that were flagged up were Fanfarlo and Lykke Li. Eventually neither act made it on the list, being narrowly pipped at the post by Glasvegas and The Ting Tings. Then in January both acts played a London gig together at the Hoxton Bar and Grill with Breaking More Waves in attendance. We swooned at Lykke Li and her seductively commanding set and the album due for release later in the year became a must buy.

Youth Novels didn’t disappoint. It’s an album of well crafted idiosyncratic stripped down pop music. Unlike much of pop today, this it is an album of presence and substance that doesn’t rely on overproduction, a few hit singles and a mass of X Factor TV style exposure to lodge itself in your brain. Much of this is down to the minimalist and light touch production of Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John fame, who leave space between the sounds to create a focus for what has been recorded. This production gives weight to Lykke Li’s cute fragile voice, her sad lyrics, the rhythmic percussion lines and simple but lovely melodies. From the obsessive love song of Little Bit to the hurting Hanging High where Lykke Li sings sadly “Oh thunder in my heart, these razors cutting sharp, leaves me with an ever bleeding scar, so soft so suddenly, so that I cannot breathe,” this is most certainly adult pop of the very best kind.

In 2008 Breaking More Waves fell in love with Lykke Li. Here is Little Bit, maybe you can see why....

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Album Of The Year 2008 #8 - James Yuill - Turning Down Water For Air

Turning Down Water For Air by James Yuill combines maverick electronic beats, gentle acoustic guitars and Yuill’s massage soothing vocals to produce Breaking More Waves eighth favourite album of the year. Like a one man Radiohead who strapped his acoustic guitar on his back but left the electronic ones at home, Yuill’s album will appeal to those who enjoy a groove to Aphex Twin or New Order, but also find songwriters such as Nick Drake in their album collection. It’s an inventive and clever album that manages to capture moments of restraint and an off your face dance floor madness.

With this winning formula Yuill manages to conjure surprises throughout, such as on the single No Pins Allowed, where dirty shuffling beats gradually build and a repeated guitar loop seems to set the pattern. Then the whole thing breaks down into a segue of mammoth robotic euphoric synth sounds; Aphex Twin himself would be proud of such moments like this. One can almost imagine Yuill as a mad scientist who has taken too many drugs at the disco.

Despite these manic moments, what makes this album work so well is that despite the computerised beats, the album feels warm and very human. The fragility of songs such as the xylophone lead Head Over Heels dispense with the electronica completely and even the pulsing No Surprise leaves a lasting impression of comfort.

Turning Down Water For Air is an album of contrasts that demonstrates perfectly that opposite sounds attract. If you haven’t heard of Yuill yet, this video to No Pins Allowed shows perfectly what he is about.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Album Of The Year 2008 #9 - Duffy - Rockferry

OK, if you are a regular visitor to Breaking More Waves you may well be cringing at the title of this blog. Yes, Breaking The Waves 9th favourite album of the year is Rockferry by Duffy.

The welsh songstress has sold bucket loads of albums this year, and her music was described in the press as an alternative to Dad Rock - yep, Mum Soul. Not the greatest title admittedly, and certainly Aimee Duffy is not producing cutting edge, inventive or original music. I’m sure many Radio 2 listening housewives have purchased Rockferry whilst shopping at Waitrose, and the music police will shoot them down for their actions. How can middle aged mums have such poor taste you may ask ? Is that what happens when you reach a certain age, does all quality control go out of the window? Well this middle aged dad is right with those mums and votes that Rockferry is really a rather good album, and that the quality control is working fine. I do not seek the approval of the music police. Sorry, I can’t help what I like, and sometimes my choices and arguments will contradict each other. Consistency is boring.

Essentially Rockferry is gorgeous piece of heavily produced retro sounding pop. Sure, there are a couple of songs that are just a little lacking in balls, and arguments remain about the authenticity of a girl who once appeared on the Welsh version of X Factor. But when Breaking More Waves leaves all prejudices aside and simply listens to the music with no preconceived ideas, there are some show stopping 60’s styled classic pop songs on this album. From the epic Distant Dreamer which is quite possibly the best song Bernard Butler has produced since Suede and the McAlmont and Butler projects, to the Lulu like hit single Mercy, with its “Yeah Yeah Yeah” chorus that gets deep inside your head (even if it was a little too similar to a certain Ms Winehouse’s “No, No,No,” refrain), this is a well constructed pop album that captures perfectly the sixties soul sound.

Sorry music police. I’m right, you’re wrong. Maybe thousands of middle aged housewives are right after all. But if you don’t agree maybe my No.8 choice will be more your cup of tea ? Here's why thousands love her.....and her performance on later with Jools.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Album Of The Year 2008 #10 - TV On The Radio - Dear Science

For many albums, the realisation of its greatness comes only after repeated listens. The subtle nuances, the deeper melodies and hidden joys that grow on you, over cheap pop thrills. Yet with TV On The Radio's Dear Science it takes just one listen to the opening track Halfway Home to know that this is going to be a great album. Heavy clattering war like drums punctuated with Beach Boys style “Ba Ba Ba” vocals propel the song forwards until a moment after exactly four minutes and twenty seconds Tunde Adebimpe sings softly “ Go on throw this stone, into this halfway home” and the song musically orgasms. The pace of the drums increases, squalling electric guitar crash over in waves, the bass suddenly drives home and the “Ba Ba Ba’s” become an almost chaotic mess. It leaves you feeling wasted, spent and totally exhilarated.

But one song does not make an album, and the New York quintet have with Dear Science produced an artistically complex album, where no two songs are the same but all are equally as good. It is a fully realised, often complex piece of work, loaded with giddy slightly sixth form political and cultural references. “Hey Jackboot, fuck your war. Cause I’m fat and I’m in love and no bombs are fallin’ on me for sure. But I’m scared to death that I’m livin’ a life not worth dying for,” Adebimpe sings on Red Dress hinting at many of the issues that the United States consciousness deals with in 2008.

Some have compared Dear Science to the work of Radiohead, but musically there are very few similarities. However what both bands do share here seems to be an ideology of making challenging artistic rock records that sit outside of the mainstream. In sound alone TV On The Radio sound more like Prince funking out at his best on Golden Age and a marching band singing about breaking beds and sucking skin on the climatic Lovers Day. And that’s the picture not even one twentieth painted.

The three best things about this album are first that despite its diversity of songs, its overall cohesiveness as an album works impressively. The second is that although it is in the main not an album of simple verses and catchy choruses, it is surprisingly instant to listen to, and yet remains addictive several months later. The third is that it is one of a very small number of albums on this list that is not a debut.

Whilst you would suspect that Breaking More Waves no.9 choice tomorrow will not feature in many critics end of year polls, Dear Science probably will, and I applaud anyone that shows faith in this exciting modern rock record. It neatly balances artistic intrigue with a sense of the commercial populist in the same way that, in the past, great American bands such as REM and Talking Heads have done.

Dancing Choose from Dear Science by TV On The Radio