Friday 28 November 2008

Top 10 Albums of the Year and One's to Watch 2009

Well it’s that time of year when it seems that everyone in the world of popular culture publishes their best of list, and here at Breaking More Waves we are no different. Since back in the 90’s we’ve been publishing yearly best of lists, be it in our old paper fanzine or now on the internet.

And as the cliché says, hindsight is a wonderful thing. In choosing Radiohead’s OK Computer and Blur’s Parklife as the respective albums of the year in 1997 and 1994 we feel well vindicated. However our selection of Baby Bird’s There’s Something Going On in 1998 now seems a little odd. And then of course two years ago our album of the year wasn’t even an album, but a My Space page. We stand by that choice though. It was the musical place where we had received the most pleasure through repeated listens in 2006 and we were trying to make a small statement about where music was at that particular year.

So grab yourself an early mince pie, a glass of sherry and begin the count down to Christmas with Breaking More Waves by reading about our Top 10 Albums of the Year and Top 10 One’s to Watch. We’ve spent the last month mulling it over before coming up with the final list. It’s a good one. Or at least we think so. Where, if at all, will the popular press favourite artists such as MGMT, Vampire Weekend and The Kings Of Leon feature? Will the debuts by artists in my previous One’s to Watch in 2008 make an appearance ? Last year I went on record saying that Adele and Laura Marling would both be nominated for the Mercury prize, before anyone had even heard their albums. I was right there, but will their albums feature in my list? And will there be some on the list that make people go “What ?”. Remember that Britney Spears has been in our Top 10 album lists the same number of times as Radiohead, with 3 each !

And as for the One’s To Watch list, this year we did very well with 90% of those acts chosen either producing decent debut albums or having commercial success. Mind you, for the first time ever the BBC Sound Of list significantly mirrored our own. This year things may not be quite as similar. As far as Breaking More Waves is concerned there are no obvious choices like last years with Duffy, Adele and Glasvegas. Mind you, at least last year we didn’t pick Joe Lean and The Jing Jang Jong which so many pundits did. Idiots. Crap band, crap name, crap music.

So from the 1st December enjoy our countdown of the Top 10 Albums of the Year, followed by our Top 10 One’s To Watch for 2009. Let's just hope we can find the time to write a blog a day for twenty days! It's a challenge !

Sunday 23 November 2008

Florence And The Machine - Dog Days

On the 1st December London’s Florence And The Machine release their second single Dog Days, on Moshi Moshi, although it is available to download now. Staring with a gentle mandolin refrain and delicate almost soulful voice, it soon develops into a triumph of handclaps and thumping Adam Ant style drumming with Florence’s distinctive Patti Smith bluesy styled vocals. This song has the potential to further pave her quirky way to stardom next year or at the very least serves as an appetiser for what could be a very fresh and exciting album. Backed with a harp touched cover of You’ve Got The Love, it is an essential purchase.

Having taken command of many festival audiences this summer, and a recent headlining tour where venues were decked out like a village fete with bunting, bird cages and floral posies, Florence has now signed to Virgin records. There is absolutely no doubt that she will be near the top of many “Sound of 2009” polls in the next month or so, including Breaking More Waves very own 10 to watch list.

Why Florence deserves to be a star is not is not just because of her vocal range that can produce floaty high pitched choral delights and gutsy sexy deeper tones, but also due to her complete natural madcap alt folk rock eccentricity. At Camp Bestival earlier this year Breaking More Waves witnessed Florence finish her set and then immediately go to the side of the stage to pose for photos, willingly throwing her arms around new found fans with genuine excitement and all this from a girl who sings“I took a knife and cut out her eye I took it home and watched it wither and die."

Be scared of Florence, but love her as well. Sometimes pagan, sometimes dreamy, sometimes like an overdose of adrenalin, sometimes just very unique Florence and the Machine deserve success and Dog Days propels her in the right direction. It remains to be seen if her excess of energy and crazy ways can find an appeal with the mainstream public, or if she will remain an engaging leftfield attraction. Here's the video to the single.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Little Boots @ London ICA

From the moment that the diminutive Victoria Hesketh aka Little Boots strides on stage to a sold out Institute Of Contemporary Arts, it’s clear that this girl may be tiny physically, but on stage she has a big charismatic presence. Dressed in an off the shoulder glittery blue dress, with braided hair and glitter make up, her short set confirms why she could well be crowned the new queen of pop. Armed with her keyboards, a tenorion, a Korg keytar (last seen in the 80’s) and backed by a live drummer and a further keyboard player, Little Boots brings Kate Bush meets Kylie Minogue vocals combined with Goldfrapp go clubbing electronica to get everyone dancing.

With not a guitar in sight Little Boots blasts out pulsing disco with massive pop songs. Click with its “Oh oh oh oh,” hook line sounds like a future hit in the making and final song Stuck On Repeat is more gorgeously Moroder than Moroder himself. In fact there is even more Moroder influence with a cover version of Freddie Mercury’s Love Kills, which Victoria admits is very camp, and she carries it of perfectly. For those who have become acquainted with Little Boots and her stylophone and piano for her appearance on Later With Jools program, tonight they see a much more Friday night, hard hitting, shake your ass version.

Despite her young age Victoria exudes confidence and is a consummate front woman. Rather than hiding behind her keyboards, she leaves much of the playing to her band, thus giving her the freedom to parade around the stage, encouraging the crowd with her arms aloft reaching for the stars.

To paraphrase S Club 7, she could soon become what she reaches out for.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Fight Like Apes @ Brighton Audio

There’s a whole choice of gigs in Brighton tonight, from Ryan Adams, Peggy Sue, Chairlift to The Airborne Toxic Event. However Breaking More Waves decides on one of our current favourites, hardcore synth mentalists Fight Like Apes at Audio, the only gig venue we know of that has a fish tank in the toilets. Unfortunately it seems that either this global armageddon of a recession is kicking in, people have chosen other gigs or simply that Fight Like Apes are not proving popular, as there are only about forty people at the venue.

After encouraging people to come to the front, the lack of punters doesn’t stop the band producing the most brutal primal assault on the ears, combined with a deep dark sense of humour, the end result of which is a deliciously leftfield pop thrill. Musically this is a set from the Irish underground that is deliciously out there, aggressive, but still fun and with enough inventiveness to rupture a few spleens.

The band are an intriguing visual prospect, with gothic looking lead singer MayKay, comical but scary keyboard player Pockets with his flashing light goggle glasses, a big haired bass player who is not afraid to wear both a headband and sweatband, and a drummer who looks like he would be better off in a punk rock band. During their set the band will get the audience to waltz to I’m Beginning To Think You Prefer Beverly Hills 90210 To Me, MayKay and Pockets will jump off stage to bash plastic milk crates against the stage barrier for extra percussion, and during Jake Summers Maykay will wander through the crowd before falling to the floor to sing “Hey baby you were the bedroom king, Well I'm so sorry for breaking your ding-a-ling-a-ling.” Obviously not a woman to be messed with boys.

Fight Like Apes whole show is perversely wrong, and all the better for it. I suspect they would be great fun to go out with for a night, but they would end up chaining you to a lamp post, stripping you naked and ramming a hot poker up your backside. And as wrong as that is, it would seem like a lot of fun. This after all is a band who are happy to sing “Did you fuck her, and did you stick things up her?” whilst aggressive synths create a wall of electro noise; it seems both natural, funny and horrendously right for Fight Like Apes.

The band finish with Battlestations, MayKay screaming into the microphone and jumping up and down on the spot like someone with a mental illness whilst Pockets tips over his keyboard before leaving the stage. Looking round the venue it would be easy to expect to see bodies strewn across the floor, guts hanging out, ear drums exploded, with vomit strewn across their bodies. If there was such a sight then there is no doubt that the bodies would have had a smile on their face. Luckily Fight Like Apes sound didn’t quite reach that a level of brutality, but the smiles were there. There was no need for an encore.

Saturday 15 November 2008

The Mummers vs Passion Pit

Two bands that have recently featured here at Breaking The Waves are the mutli layered orchestral harmonics of The Mummers from Brighton, UK and the mashed up madness of Passion Pit from Cambridge, USA. Both bands have the potential for commercial success and although they may not share musical similarities in their sound, they share similar visions; a production that is bold and adventurous, left of centre, but is still fundamentally accessible pop. At the moment however each band has a low profile in the UK. but next year this could change. I fancy an each way bet on Passion Pit to rise up and get people excited.

With Finger on the Pulse offering the song Sleepyhead from Passion Pit’s Chunk of Change Ep up for remix, The Mummers have just released their own version of the track via the internet. Not so much a remix, but a cover version combining with the original, it’s very good indeed. Raissa’s vocals intertwine with those of Michael Angelako’s whilst psychadellic grooves and symphonic brass collide. Spectacular - if only all pop music was like this. Have a listen at The Mummers Myspace whilst the track is still up there and see if you agree.

Alessi's Ark - The Horse Ep

Alessi's Ark came to the attention of Breaking The Waves just a few weeks ago, and we haven’t been able to stop drooling at her wonderful voice since. Characterised by a lightness and beauty reminiscent of Bjork and Juanita Stein of the Howling Bells fused in some warped folkish spell, Alessi Laurent-Marke makes sounds that are delicately addictive.

On December 8th Alessi’s Ark release The Horse Ep through Virgin. Clocking in at less than 2 minutes, the song is concise, dreamy and picturesque, with no space for worn out instrumentals or an over used chorus.

Over the last couple of years there has been an uprising of talented young artists such as Laura Marling, Noah and the Whale, Emmy the Great and Mumford And Sons producing gentle often serene acoustic based folk music. These artists have made an unfashionable genre of music usually associated with bearded men over forty accessible and almost hip. In doing so they have found a whole new audience. With the release of The Horse which you can buy here, Alessi’s Ark may be about to embrace that audience as well with one of the sweetest of kisses. Her album Notes From The Treehouse, which features backing from American alt county folk champions Bright Eyes is due spring 2009. This is the official video to accompany the song. Watch it, it will be the best 2 minutes you’ve spent today.

Monday 10 November 2008

Essie Jain - The Inbetween

In 2007 Essie Jain released We Made This Ourselves, a sparse minimalist album of delicate chamber folk music built around a captivating almost choral sounding jazzy vocal. Breaking More Waves only discovered this wonderful album earlier this year, having stumbled upon Essie at the End of the Road Festival. Next week the English woman in New York releases her second long player, entitled The Inbetween.

Once again the album is full of low key, incredibly tender pieces such as the haunting Goodbye, which is almost ghostly and baroque in its sound. The album is however a development from the first, being more varied and somewhat fuller with additional instrumentation. For fans of the first album, this increase in scope and several upbeat tracks such as Here We Go and The Rights may jar a little, but it may also bring her new fans. Two versions of We Made This Ourselves would also be ultimately pointless. The Inbetween is ultimately less introspective in its sound, with a greater degree of experimentation with strings, drums, guitar and horns tastefully added to the mix. It is however most certainly not a party album, and is still best listened to late at night on your own, as much of it invokes an incredible stillness in the listener.

The album, which was released earlier this year in the USA is being released on the Leaf label in the UK and a European tour is being planned for next year.

Sunday 9 November 2008

Red Light Company @ Portsmouth Cellars

Bursting out over the UK’s radio airwaves for the last couple of weeks you may well have heard the sounds of Red Light Company and their new single Scheme Eugene. A heady mix of Arcade Fire, The Kissaway Trail and Polyphonic Spree with maybe a hint of Placebo, Scheme Eugene is a euphoric rock song formed with a big pop sensibility and traditional song writing values. Everything about Red Light Company screams big. Big guitars. Big drums. Big tunes. But right now they are not playing big venues, as its still very much early days for the group.

Fronted by the tall, thin, slightly androgynous, pointy shoe wearing lead singer Richard Frenneaux, the band seem to have taken big crescendo’s of guitar noise, dirty bass and lightened it up a little for more mainstream acceptability. Unfortunately, Frenneaux despite his lankiness and cheekbones is not the most engaging of front men, staring straight ahead all the time in a way that makes it impossible to tell if he’s just really nervous, intense or completely focussed. He utters virtually nothing between songs except a short word of thanks and when introducing the current single. The problem with this lack of showmanship is that although the bands music is powerful, one doesn't feel fully emotionally involved with band. It is left to his fellow guitarists to provide the visual energy on the cramped small stage, with plenty of hair shaking and aggressive power riffing.

There are moments of 80’s bombastic dark rock in the Red Light Company's sound, but these moments are outweighed by mainstream catchy melodies, particularly on the uplifting dynamic Scheme Eugene and Meccano where Frenneaux sings “For crying out loud the weekend is over. Push it out, there's smiles to uncover.” The words could not be more perfectly pitched on a rainy Sunday evening in Portsmouth.

The biggest problem for a band like Red Light Company is that The Cellars is not particularly suited to their style of music. Best for quieter acoustic acts with the tables and chairs near the low stage, long bar in the middle of the room, and wide columns, the space imposes on a band who probably fare better in a traditional dark sweaty rock club with a wide open dancefloor for their hook laden widescreen rock to blast into.

Maybe if things go their way they may get that chance of doing things on a bigger scale.

Fight Like Apes - Fight Like Apes And The Mystery Of The Golden Medallion

When I wrote in my previous blog that Fight Like Apes were “like a pumped up fist f*ck against the wall of a pub, under CCTV cameras with your mum and dad watching from the other side of the street,” the band messaged me on my Myspace to tell me that it was the best thing that anyone had ever written about them, and then linked the piece from their website.

Well, I can now repay the compliment by saying that Fight Like Apes have just released an album entitled Fight Like Apes And The Mystery Of The Golden Medallion which is one most inventive and funny aural assaults of the year. A bombardment of synths, guitars and strident yelping vocals, with a polished production by John Goodmanson it just manages to stay on the right side of accessible. The record is currently only on release in Ireland, but thanks to those good people at Recordstore you can get it now before its UK release next year.

Since the previous blog, it has been a busy few months for the band, with festivals, support slots with The Ting Tings, their own tour under the Levi’s One To Watch banner and forthcoming support slots with The Prodigy, where the band are bound to gain some new friends with their uncompromising, chaotic electronic punk sound.

The beauty of Fight Like Apes album is that although their music is sometimes abrasive they match it with a delicious sense of dark fun. Lead singer MayKay may shriek and spit “Shit, shit, shit, shit, bang, bang,” as the chorus to Do You Karate, but elsewhere you can find her singing about how she likes plain toast with no cheese to an electronic backing track that sounds like a Woolworth’s Christmas TV advert with thrashy guitars played by drunk ramapaging 6 year olds. The album may have song titles like Digifucker and Snore Bore Whore and one ’song’ Megameanie may follow Napalm Death’s lead and last a sum total of 5 seconds, but it is all done with a warped smile. After a sample from the ‘so bad its good’ horror flick Plan 9 from Outer Space tells of an attack on a town by aliens during Battlestations, MayKay screams angrily that “The sample sounds like shit and I don’t want to hear it again.” It’s this kind of depreciating humour that gets my vote.

Fight Like Apes are not a band you would make love to. They are not even a band you would have a drunken shag to. Fight Like Apes are a band that you would have a wild abandoned f*ck to. On a bed of nails. And afterwards you may be sore, but hell, you’d have a big smile on your face.

See you down the front for one of their gigs soon. Here's the video to Jake Summers which sums up the band perfectly, with its mix of humour, aggression and warped pop.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Skint and Demoralised - New Waves @ Breaking More Waves

As the nights draw in Breaking More Waves huddles round the dwindling fire in the parlour, wondering if it is finally time to smash up the dining room table to create some more fuel to keep us warm in these dark, dark days. In the kitchen the cupboard is bare except for a lonely Pot Noodle, purchased in our affluent days as an ironic statement against Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food, which alas now looks delightfully edible. Yes, these are credit crunch times. And in such times a band with the name Skint and Demoralised should fit our mood perfectly.

Skint and Demoralised is front man and former performance poet Matt Abbott from Wakefield, and songwriter/producer Mini Dog from Sheffield. On the 17th November the duo release their debut single The Thrill Of Thirty Seconds, which is limited to 500 vinyl copies on indie label Another Music = Another Kitchen. The band however have a deal with a major label in the bag, and one has to wonder just how long it will be before the song is re-released for an attack on the charts.

The Thrill Of Thirty Seconds is a life affirming joyous pop song taken from their forthcoming long player Love And Other Catastrophes. The album was recorded in New York and will apparently feature Mike Skinner / Alex Turner type prose about lost / found love and let downs mixed with soulful, quirky pop tuneage with added instrumentation from session legends The Dap Kings, who were last heard playing on the last Amy Winehouse record. The single twitches with a spoken word verse, an irresistibly catchy chorus and loose jangling guitar that seem to have taken inspiration from The Housemartins, Johnny Marr and Jack Penate. It’s a song about the excitement and trembling anticipation of young love. “I‘ve never felt so scared, infatuated or excited, I felt just like a schoolboy and for some reason I liked it,” Matt sings and reminds us all of what those butterflies in your stomach can feel like. I suspect a few people will soon be having butterflies about Matt’s music. Here’s the video.

Sunday 2 November 2008

Black Kids + Ladyhawke @ Portsmouth Pyramids

At the back end of 2007 Black Kids and Ladyhawke both came to Breaking More Waves attention in a big way. Black Kids had released the fantastic Wizard of Ahhs, a free download E.P combining joyous indie pop sounds with a yelping vocal reminiscent of Robert Smith of The Cure. It was on the Breaking More Waves stereo for months. Ladyhawke was not at the time signed to a record label, but had put out a couple of tracks via Myspace that were full of such incredibly unhip 80’s references such as Bananarama and Stevie Nicks, that we loved her instantly simply for doing something a little different.

A year however can be a long time in pop music.

Black Kids, initially so full of colour and hope released Partie Traumatic, a Bernard Butler produced album that at best was merely average. Butlers production brought some pop sheen, reminiscent of Hot Hot Heat and the aforementioned Cure but many of the tracks had a missing spark. There were some highlights, such as I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You, but these highlights were songs that we had already heard on the free E.P. It seemed very much a case of first out of the blocks, but lacking the stamina to deliver at the finish line. Ladyhawke likewise got lots of tongues wagging when she was signed to Modular records, and a press flurry followed, but her live performances failed to dazzle, her lanky geekiness, lack of stage presence and reliance on guide backing vocals at subsequent live gigs raising questions about her true potential.

So as the two artists bumble into Portsmouth for a gig at the Pyramids Centre on the seafront, there is a chance to redeem themselves. A chance to kick some musical butt. Unfortunately both acts fail to hit where it hurts. That is not to say that either act is particularly poor, but watching them perform certainly doesn’t inspire either.

Ladyhawke underwhelms. Despite a slightly beefier sound than previous performances I’ve seen, the previously mentioned reliance on a guide vocal to flesh out the choruses and complete lack of personality leaves one feeling empty and short changed. Even songs like Back Of A Van and My Delirium which on record sound like potential hits become mundane and pedestrian.

Black Kids take to the stage with OMD's ABC Auto Industry blasting from the speakers before mop haired lead singer Reggie Youngblood gasps flirty lyrics of partying, kissing and dancing over the bands mix of choppy guitars and watery wavering synths. Unfortunately the overall effect lacks significant punch. Live Black Kids seem to occupy almost the same musical pop territory as Alphabeat, but without the energy, fizz or buzz to move a crowd. Even the vain attempts by the slightly hyperactive bouncy keyboard players to get the band clapping and jumping seem slightly cringe worthy and pathetic. The fact that the band have to plea to the crowd “Could you guys pretty pretty please dance with us,” for their final song says it all. One of the most unmemorable performances this year.

On the basis of this gig, I suspect the shelf life of Black Kids and Ladyhawke will be short unless they can find a few more keys to open new creative doors. It’s not that either act was poor, but average simply isn’t good enough.

Saturday 1 November 2008

Passion Pit - New Waves @ Breaking More Waves

Passion Pit are the hottest but geekiest looking indie dance pop kids from Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA to come under the Breaking More Waves radar. Essentially the brain child of one Michael Angelakos they have so far released one single state side; The Chunk of Change EP. It conjures up memories of the mix tape mash up of The Avalanches, 8o’s electro synth and MGMT. Their sound is so now, so left field pop, so compact, that it may even be their undoing. A backlash may even start before they’ve had a good crack at it. Originally conceived as a late valentine present for his girlfriend, then distributed to friends and via Myspace, Michaels’ songs ended up being released by Frenchkiss, the people who put out Les Savy Fav, Cut Off Your Hands and The Hold Steady. From the minimalist electro pop of I’ve Got Your Number, to the multi coloured collage construction psychedelic pop of Better Things, Angelakos sings with a fey high pitch affected vocal that at first may annoy, but quickly becomes highly addictive. You can hear this best on Sleepyhead a song that features infectious swirling synths, helium backing vocals and a highly creative video (below) which goes back in time when pictures were fixed to a spinning device to create the illusion of movement. Watch and be confused and amazed.