"Alright kids? Ho bloody ho to you an’ all. I’m afraid you’ll have to excooze me but bad old Santa has had one toooooo many sherries and is feeling a bit pissed tipsy today, so writing this bog, sorry blog, is gonna be a bit of a shizzle Christy-o-mess.
Now, the problem wiv all this Santa boozy, no, buizeynezzzz is chimneys. No one builds ‘em big enough for my fat old arse these days – and I’m meant to go down stacks of the things (geddit?). You’ve got to be Kate bloody Moss to get down ‘em now you know. So this year kids, if you want a present, leave the soddin’ front door open for me will you?
And another thing – if you’re leaving a drink out for dear old Santa, none of that nasty sherry crap from yer cheap supermarket. Otherwize all you’ll get from me is a present from the Poundland store sale - some edible red seasonal undies or summat - Santa is a man of expensive taste. Right?
Now apparently, I’m meant to be choooosing a tune for all you boyz and girlz to play today, and because I’ve had a few drinks I’m feeling a bit dirty, so I’m gonna drop something nasty this Christmas. None of that Jingle Bells shite today. Oh yes, Santa’s gonna rape your ears….
Happy f*ckin’ Christmas. I’m outta here. Yeaah the title of this song says it all. I really did you know. She's a goer all right. Still not as frisky as Rudolph though. He's a c*nt ain't he? The other reindeers don't play with him you know. Not because of his nose - just because he's a c*nt. Ho f*ckin' ho to the bloody lot of yer. Now f*ck of and leave me alone till next year, I'm off to force feed the elves yellow snow - pointy eared w*nkers. Luv Shhhhhanta."
“Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas readers. Your regular author of Breaking More Waves is taking a few days break over this festive yuletide and instead has left it to yours truly – dear old Santa - to curate a couple of tunes on this blog leading up to Christmas day. So big it up to me and my reindeers with the poncey names. Honestly - Prancer, Dancer and Rudolph. What was Mrs Claus thinking with those ? Anyway this blogging malarkey; personally I think it’s a little inconsiderate, what with me and the elves being so busy now - stuffing our bulging sacks and popping mice pies into our sherry-breathed mouths like it’s going out of fashion. All of this blog shenanigans before we make our deliveries is a little beyond me really.
So boy and girls, I hope you’ve been good this year? But don’t worry if you haven't, because actually what keeps me jolly is knowing where all the bad girls live, if you know what I mean. Oh yes, Santa likes them like that. Ho, ho, ho. To be honest, I’m getting a bit too old for all this sleigh riding stuff, or any sort of riding at all - particularly with those bad girls - surely there must be an easier way? I think next year I’ll just set up a website and the kids can choose what they want from that and I’ll pay for a courier company to deliver it all. Rudolph has some contacts he knows.
So I’d better get back on with all this rapping – Jay Z and Kanye have disappeared out the back somewhere, so it’s just me on my own, laying down the hot joints. What, hey? Oh, it’s wrapping, not rapping I’m meant to be doing? Ho, ho, ho I do love a cheesy Christmas cracker of a joke don’t you?
Anyway boys and girls, here’s what I believe you youngsters call a fine banger. It’s what Daft Punk would sound like if they did a Christmas song. Jingle-tastic ! Right, I’m off to give the old bird a good stuffing, and then see to old Rudolph after that.
See you fine folks tomorrow for another mince pie topped with brandy butter and my second Christmas tune. Ho, ho, ho and all that jiggery pockery I'm off for a medicinal sherry, so I may be a bit worse for wear when you find me on Christmas Eve. Tally ho! ”
High Violet is the fifth studio album by The National and is their best. Rather like REM, The National give substantial weight to the argument of letting bands slowly develop, perfecting their craft and growing in both critical and commercial stature.
High Violet is not a huge ballsy album that comes gate crashing the party through your front door, more the kind of recording that sits around in the back garden smoking with your friends and then as the evening develops, slowly sidles up, plants a gentle red wine kiss on your cheek and whispers “let’s go to bed.” It’s gradual and seductive charm is impossible to ignore.
With this record The National have produced a slow burning and addictive masterpiece. It’s a richly textured and utterly beguiling piece of work that relies on four simple ingredients - Matt Berninger’s baritone - reminiscent of Stuart Staples from the Tindersticks, intriguing lyrics that on paper often seem ridiculous but when performed make perfect sense, take for example Berninger intoning “I was afraid I’d eat your brains ’cos I’m evil,” on Conversation 16, plus the subtle and perfectly executed musicianship and songs.
What The National do with High Violet is show that it is still possible to make beautiful rock music formed from sadness and neuroses as adults. The touching piano led England talks of being “afraid of the house, stay the night with the sinners” and during Afraid of Everyone Berninger plays to his role as a parent as well as a rock singer when he sings of hoisting his “kid on my shoulders” before offering the slightly startling thought that “I don’t have the drugs to sort it out”. These songs grapple with the concept of mature life and sees Berninger cynical and self-depreciating “ I was a comfortable kid, but I don’t think about it much anymore,” he sings on Lemonworld, before adding “ Lay me on the table, put flowers in my mouth, and we can say that we invented a summer lovin' torture party.”
Despite the lyrics of High Violet having a fair degree of paranoia, the record never sounds cold – far from it, this is a record that despite its late night city ambience sounds very warm, such is the exceptional musical and human dynamic. It is this as much as anything else that makes us return to listen again and again.
When we first heard this record back in May we thought it was good. By July it was great. By October it was outstanding. By December High Violet by The National is our album of the year by a long mile.
There are two sorts of end of year list. The first is decided by aggregation – the panel vote. It’s the consensus that keeps everyone reasonably happy, but no one fully satisfied. It irons out the quirks and idiosyncrasies that sometimes can make a list interesting or controversial.
The second type of list is a personal one. A personal list never suffers from smoothing of the peaks and troughs. All of the quirks, the foibles and the oddities hold their heads up proudly and shout “I really don’t care what anyone else thinks, this is my list, representing my taste, so it’s pointless disagreeing with my choices, because saying I’m wrong misses the point. Yes my taste isn’t the same as yours, but that doesn’t mean it’s incorrect.”
This is why we are proud to place Happiness by Hurts as our no.2 album of the year. It’s a very personal choice.
It’s a pop album. It’s full of simple human themes of love, sadness, loss and yearning. Yet despite ‘just’ being a pop album, we’ve found it one of the most emotional listens of the year. This emotion is not formed from any intellectual analysis, but simply from the heart. When Theo Hutchcraft sings “Swim with your sorrows, and try delusion for a while, it’s such a beautiful lie,” on Illuminated he captures the essence of inhibition through the use of another medium (drugs, music, sex?) so simply that it’s easy to identify with. And when on Unspoken he sings “And nothing you can say can save us this time, I’d rather be lonely,” the words are desperately double-edged sad. But in pop music emotional lyrics don’t carry without the tunes – and Hurts have plenty of them. Big soaring ballads, grandiose electronic arrangements, weighty echoing drums and colossal climaxes suit the mood perfectly, recalling 80’s acts such as Tears For Fears, Double, Black, Alphaville, OMD, A-Ha, and Ultravox – a seam of music not often touched, often seen as being ‘uncool’. But we all know that being cool is just transient and false. Better to follow your heart and stick to what you believe in.
Whilst commercially in the UK Hurts may have not fully delivered on initial promise, elsewhere in Europe they have. Breaking More Waves may be based in England, but right now we’re agreeing with music lovers in the likes of Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Poland. According to one internet forum we read, in Poland they're the biggest UK band since Depeche Mode. Happiness by Hurts is one of our favourite albums of the year, and we really don’t care what anyone else thinks. In a world where 'alternative' often means recording some fuzzy guitar and wailing vocals and doing a blurred photo shoot, by doing something so uncool and opposite to what most music fans expect, Hurts are in an odd way a real alternative.
From the opening blast of electronic beats, primitive fuck-you electric guitar and girlish chanting you can get a very definite idea of where this album is going to take you – this is a journey of youthful noise, out on the town, with its knickers off, ready to shag against a wall. It’s brutal, hardcore and joyously exhilarating. If you’re fifteen it’s the record to lock yourself in the bedroom with, turn up the volume to the maximum and piss your parents off big time. If you’re thirty five it’s the record to love because of its incessantly poppy hooks that sit side by side the crunk, metal, cacophonous synths and ear shredding noise that you just know you’re going to annoy your neighbour with. Probably time to move out of the neighbourhood.
It’s easy to be dismissive about Sleigh Bells – a male female duo consisting of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss from Brooklyn, USA – because as they emerged the band received the kind of hipster blog orgasms that would make even the most open minded of music fans cynical. But get over that, because Treats is the sound of M.I.A, The Go Team, Crystal Castles and Extreme Noise Terror checking into a hotel, shooting a porn film there and somehow winning an Oscar for it.
Treats is a chaotic and pulverising album, yet it’s stuffed full of infectious pop thrills. The best headache you’ll have all year. A….er….treat.
There are some albums in end of year lists that are very of the moment, defining a particular sound or fashion that will be forever identified with that particular segment of time. Then there are opposites – timeless pieces of work that could have come from any decade. Tennessean Caitlin Rose released her debut album Own Side Now this summer and it falls very much into this second category of recording. It’s deeply genre specific – country music – but the ten songs present are full of supremely strong song craft, articulate crystal vocals reminiscent of legends such as Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and concise and unfussy instrumentation.
It’s an album that achieves for country music what the likes of Laura Marling and Mumford and Sons have done for folk music – making it accessible to a whole new younger audience whilst not alienating the Nashville worshipping flannel shirt, tight jeans, ten-gallon hat and cowboy boots brigade of the older generation. There’s acoustic, pedal steel and twangy guitars a plenty, with everything being constructed in a beautifully composed and accessible manner.
Ultimately though what makes Own Side Now stand out as a superior album is quite simply because of its royally wonderful songs. They deserve a place in the collection of anyone who loves great music – whatever its genre or era. Own Side Now is rooted in tradition and is hardly ground breaking, but that doesn't matter when its bedecked with this much quality.
‘Quite simply an album of near perfect songs.’ That’s how we described Stornoway’sBeachcomber’s Windowsill back in April. Now in December nothing has changed our mind.
Beachcomber’s Windowsill is a very honest record, full of themes of romance, travel and nature all narrated by the quietly charismatic vocal of Brian Briggs; it’s an album that the word lovely was invented for. Gentle acoustic pop songs with a folkish edge and occasional trumpet nuzzle your ears with autumnal tenderness. It’s as if Belle and Sebastian had decided to light up a campfire and read some books on the environment after they recorded If You’re Feeling Sinister.
There’s not a weak moment on Beachcomber’s Windowsill. Whether they’re rolling out banjo’s and gently thumping rhythm’s on We Are The Battery Human – a thoughtful song that touches on the ideas of freedom, over population and expressing your inner self, or the polite excitements of single Zorbing with its lyrics of “lying in your attic, I can feel the static, the storm has broken, heavens open, so electrifying, oh I'm nearly flying, lost my heart between the sheets of lightning,” everything Stornoway do is idyllic.
This time last year we named Stornoway in our Ones to Watch for 2010 describing them as a band that ‘could easily make a number of people swoon and gush with warm affection.’ With a top twenty album and sold out shows across the UK, we’re pretty confident that Stornoway did just that.
If you’re feeling bad about life this cold winter, put on Beachcomber’s Windowsill; it will warm your soul.
Named after a warped Italian 70’s film, Stridulum II by Zola Jesus has an equally warped and disturbing cover – a figure covered in an oily black graphic that looks like something out of a horror film. Zola Jesus (real name Nika Rosa Danilova) has been classified by a number of writers as goth and certainly the cover image does nothing to dispel the label. Yet if you define goth as being fundamentally about internal angst and darkness then the majority of Stridulum II doesn’t fall into that category. Even although the musical backdrop may be full of ominous brooding orchestral synths, the sounds of goblins whispering in the cupboard and heart-heavy drums, Nika’s Siouxsie Sioux styled operatics often flow with warmth and love. “When you’re lost, know I’ll be around,” she intones on Trust Me, whilst on I Can’t Stand (To See You This Way) she offers the hope of “It’s not easy to fall in love, but if you’re lucky you might find someone.” There’s a lot of positive spirit lurking there.
Stridulum II is on first listen a gloomy funeral full of slow building menace, but underneath that there’s a doomsday pop record full of emotion, vulnerability and accessible songs.
Laura Marling’s debut album featured in our top ten albums of 2008. Her second, I Speak Because I Can follows suit for 2010. This release shows an even greater maturity in Marling’s folk musicianship and lyricism than the first, Marling having stated that the album deals with “responsibility, particularly the responsibility of womanhood.” The production of the record matches her weighty development – not so much beefed up, but more deliberate, gently bolder and purposeful in its sound.
There’s just the right amount of variety in I Speak Because I Can to make every song stand out, yet also maintain cohesiveness. From the heavy Americana strum-downs of opening track Devil’s Spoke with its centrepiece lyric “ripping off each other’s clothes in the most peculiar way,” to the delicately strong Goodbye England(Covered In Snow) with its hushed strings and melodies – we’ll probably be playing this one at Christmas for years to come.
I Speak Because I Can succeeds because it is musically evocative. If it was a landscape it would be one of deep misty forests and tall craggy mountains, lit in deep sodium yellow. At times it feels virtually medieval, certainly stirring and haunting; there’s no doubt that a number of the stormier tracks bear the influence of Mumford & Sons, and Laura is currently stepping out with Marcus Mumford. However, unlike ‘The Sons’ the record is tempered with enough restraint to never have to resort to the full-on hoedown.
When I Speak Because I Can was released Laura announced that she intended to put a second record out in the same year. Whilst this didn’t materialise, when her third album does see the light of day we will be fascinated to see if she continues to develop at such a rate as she has between her first and second bodies of work. If she does it could be an absolute classic.
Ellie Goulding’s debut LP is the first of two albums on our end of year top 10 that probably won’t be appearing in many other media top 10’s. For pop music usually gets short changed in end of year lists; possibly because it’s not deemed worthy or real enough to be given consideration. It’s a real shame - because Lights is a quality pop album that stands up to the weight of hype.
What makes it quality? All those things that we want from a good pop record – good tunes, catchy hooks, moments that make you feel happy, moments that make you feel a little melancholy, moments that make you want to dance, moments that just make you feel good about life, moments that make you want to turn around to a complete stranger and tell them that you love them. Cap it off with Starsmith’s modern electro-whizz pop production and Goulding’s lovely feathery fluttering vocal and you have something that doesn’t lose anything with repeated listens. Much pop music is highly disposable, here today, forgotten tomorrow, yet since its release in early spring Lights has been on regular repeat wherever we are.
Back in March when we published our original review of the album, we expected to get a lot of negative comments, but instead the reaction from readers was highly favourable. With over 300,000 sales of the album now registered it seems that the difference between the so called ‘serious music critics’ (who weren't enamoured with Lights) and the public is significant.
As a music blogger, it gives a great sense of satisfaction to write about a new artist very early on in their career (in this case February 2009) and see them follow through with an album that becomes one of your favourites nearly two years later. Consider book one of the Ellie Goulding story closed with a happy ending.
One of the darkest and weirdest records of the year, King Night by Salem is like a druggy Halloween screw in a graveyard, full of destroyed synths, evil beats and out of it vocals. The Michigan trio of John Holland, Heather Marlatt and Jack Donoghue have created something close to a witch house masterpiece – a horror show of eerie soundtracks that the word headfuck was invented for.
This is creepy listening that surpasses expectations for a band that first appeared on a wave of underground hype. It’s experimental modern goth, treated with heavy slices of beats, bass and sinister shadows. From the moment that an Omen choir and distorted electronica pulverise your speakers on the opening title track, you can be sure that King Night is going to be as far away from radio friendly as you can imagine – the only time Fearne Cotton will be playing this on BBC Radio 1 is when she’s turned into a zombie-corpse with maggots poking through her eye sockets.
Yet despite the blackness of King Night there’s something here that is in places quite celebratory– be it the ethereal ghost vocals and haunted-noise synths on Frost or the way that Sick sounds like a pitchshifted séance slo-mo hip hop jam. Imagine Fever Ray and Sleigh Bells getting intimate under a black duvet to create a soundtrack to a new haunted house film where the geekily intelligent sexy-cute American girl who would normally solve the mystery gets her head sliced off in the first five minutes. It’s an album that certainly isn’t ever going to appeal to the mainstream, but for those who like to spend a little time in dark, spacey, mind altering places King Night is highly recommended.
The first time we heard Learning by Perfume Genius we almost didn’t listen again. It was a record that sounded sleight, rather pathetic and lacking in any melodic grace. Yet a number of months on, the album is in our top 10 of the year, having slowly wormed its way into our heart.
Learning is a sad, sparse and vulnerable record. Each listen seems almost voyeuristically wrong. Melancholic songs formed from simple piano or electronic arrangements and the weedy but affecting vocal of Mike Hadreas are given a lo-fi bedroom production which adds to the sense of uneasy closeness. The disturbing and intimate Mr Peterson, a song about a teacher Hadreas appears to have had a relationship with begins “He let me smoke weed in his truck, if I could convince him I loved him enough,” before pulling out one of the albums most shocking lines. “He made me a tape of Joy Division. He told me there was part of him missing. When I was 16, he jumped off a building.”
Learning is certainly not the party album of the year. It’s the angsty, fragile and rawness of its whole that makes it such a brilliantly affecting album. We’re glad we gave it time.
Creating a list of your top ten albums of the year should, on the face of it, be relatively easy. The biggest enemy is time. If an album released in February is still much treasured by December there’s a fair chance it’s going to remain a favourite. An album released only three or four weeks ago is harder to judge. Sometimes no matter how much you think you love something initially, time tells a different tale. Look back through your record collection and you’ll almost inevitably find something that will make you question your state of mind at the time. That’s OK though, records are like human relationships. Some form long term partnerships from the start, some grow on you and some start in a fury of passion but quickly die out.
The next biggest enemy is order. Is it really possible to say that X album is eighth best and Y is ninth? Wake up, roll over and on the next day X may be nine and Y seven.
Against this context, over the next ten days we present our ten albums of the year. Some will be no surprise to regular readers of the blog, but some may be. This is a personal list of the records that we’ve formed the best relationships with this year – be it something deep and long lasting or something a little more heady, giddy and spontaneous that will shortly fizzle out. A number of them appear on other published lists - after all a good album is a good album, and sometimes a number of people are going to agree. Right? Then there's taste. It's a funny old thing that maybe explains why one or two of our choices may be a little different. We're possibly going out on a limb with our #8 and #2 choices for example. It's not that our taste is good or bad, right or wrong - just different to some others, sometimes.
This time next year we may think differently about some of these albums, right now that’s impossible to tell, nobody can predict the future. However, we’re damn sure that the top 3 in our list will remain as our top 3. Whilst we might internally quarrel about the relative merits and positions of the albums listed between 4 and 10, our number 1 album stands majestically above everything else we’ve heard this year – and albums 2 and 3 are also solid in their positions.
But before that, here are five acts that didn't quite make our top ten, but whom all produced fine albums this year that would have certainly featured in our top 20. There are videos from Emeralds experimental sci-fi retro synth brilliance on Does It Look Like I'm Here ? and Foals development to a more expansive sound on Total Life Forever, plus streams fromKylie's solid pop on Aphrodite, our One's to Watch 2009 Marina and the Diamond's coming up trumps with her idiosyncratic debut and London's Revere showing just what can be done in terms of dynamics with their album Hey Selim!
Then below all that we recap our previous albums of the year from 2008 and 2009. Our countdown for this year starts tomorrow around 5pm GMT.
Here’s an erogenous and palpitating piece of electronica for you. Remember Run Toto Run and their Hype Machine storming cover version of Passion Pit’s Sleepyhead? It may have given the group a reputation as twee fun time hipsters, but there’s actually a lot more to them than that – they’re a band that continue to develop and explore the quirkier edges of d-i-y computerised pop. Now the Breaking More Waves favourites are back with a new song - no doubt if you’re a regular reader you’ll already be familiar with their recent output such as The Low Blow (here) and their David Bowie cover of Little Wonder (here)
The new Run Toto Run song is called This Is A Lull and comes complete with a raw trippy video (fans of the animal heads in the Sleepyhead video should be pleased to see who / what is holding the fan at the start of the film). The song starts off with one recurring minimal synth throb before halfway through taking an even more satisfying detour. It’s Robot-pop made by humans, a flirty mix of warm female vocals and magical modulations.
Run Toto Run are spending a significant amount of their time gigging between London and their home of Manchester and have now played with the likes of Ellie Goulding, The Noisettes, Everything Everything, Neon Indian and Gold Panda; we look forward to hearing more from the group in 2011 and hope that they make a return to our own south coast location at some point.
With our Ones to Watch 2011 list completed we’re about to start our run down of our Top 10 Albums of 2010, which we’ll be introducing in just a day or so.
But before that, please take a breather for a few moments and enjoy a couple of bits of new material to help round up the year. Starting with this.
We’ve written a couple of times about Sunday Girl before, exclusively announcing her passion for a bit of rough and tumble with music bloggers at the weekend, pork joint from Lidl supermarkets and her hatred for Little Boots which led to her allegations of the synth-geek-lady being a sperm bank for pigs. All of this was a pack of complete lies of course – but at least it made a few of you smile and stopped us regurgitating the same well known facts about Sunday Girl that were already all over the internet.
We recently caught up with Sunday Girl on Ellie Goulding’s recent UK tour. She impressed with her reasonably strong vocal, fashionable look and confidence although not every song fully engaged us on first listen. Next up, before the release of her next single Stop Hey on the sixteenth of January she’s put out a rather pulsing piece of electronic coolness with a cover of Everything Everything’s Photoshop Handsome.
Everything Everything was one act that featured in the 2010 BBC Sound of list and Sunday Girl had been muted in pop circles as being a possible candidate for the 2011 list, rather like Spark (who featured in the Breaking More Waves Ones to Watch list here). This didn’t eventually transpire – the published long list (here) features less melody based pop this year and veers further towards darker atmospheric tones. Maybe music fashion is moving on and Sunday Girl, despite her obvious pedigree in terms of the clothes she wears is a little less on trend musically? Only time and the public will ultimately decide that. For now enjoy this rhythmic slice of sexiness, as well as the now almost obligatory dubstep influenced version of the forthcoming single and keep an eye / ear out for another piece of saucy wiggling electronica on the blog later today before we move on to that albums list and then Christmas.
This time last year Spark aka Jess Morgan was still at school. Just a few months later she was on tour with Marina & The Diamonds. By November she had released two low key buzz singles - Shut out the Moon through Pure Groove plus Revolving through Neon Gold and had played a handful of gigs to screaming Diana Vickers fans. Next year will see the release of further ‘proper’ singles and an album. Things are beginning to explode for Spark. They may even go ‘boom,’ as her own catchphrase says.
Spark is no stranger to Breaking More Waves, and we’ve had a slightly turbulent relationship with her so far. Having suggested back in June (here) that as her career blossomed she would have to get used to the idea of media critics, we then did just that and reviewed one of her London shows, suggesting that the gig didn’t grab us by the balls fully (here). It was probably some of the first online criticism she had received.
Yet the reality is that very few artists are 100% fully formed when they start their careers. Sometimes it takes time. Unfortunately today’s fast turn-over pop culture often doesn’t give artists more than an album or so to develop.
But Spark has a chance. She’s her own person, strongly denying that she’s not a fully packaged production line pop artist that some have tried to pigeon hole her as – partly because she went to BRIT school. “BRIT is not what people think. It’s not a fame school. It’s not training. It’s just schooling,” she explained in an interview with Pop Culture Monster a while back.
Being aware of potential criticism for being plucked from BRIT and thrown straight into touring and promoting with a label and manager on board so quickly she wrote a now infamous blog last year explaining the way she believed things to be and the fact that she wasn’t manufactured. "If people think I've been manipulated or changed or altered or constructed or any of that, ahem, bullshit, then they mustn't have really known me in the first place,” she wrote passionately.
“I’m very, very fortunate to have a manager that is incredible and works her arse off. And everything goes through me and we work on everything together and we get everything done together and it’s a very equal and fair relationship and it works perfectly. I wouldn’t change it for anything, I’m so happy with her. But then I also have a label that has been completely supportive and took me on with all my songs – I’d written everything before I was signed,” the interview continued.
It’s those songs that she has written give the strongest suggestion that Spark is likely to be successful. There’s diversity to her tunes to show she’s not a one trick pop-pony and she possesses enough hooks and theatrics to appeal to a wide (possibly young female) audience.
Spark is our last One to Watch for 2011. Let's see how all 10 do next year.
How would you define ‘sexy’? Because as far as we’re concerned, the music that London based boy-girl duo Visions of Trees make is very sexy. Our penultimate choice in our Ones to Watch list create ambient soundscapes of woozy synths, mix and match beats and strong ethereal female vocals that dissolve into the brain like soothing Ibuprofen, taking away any pain and leaving just a calm beauty that will make you want to slowly sway-dance in the mists, or possibly make love in a forest. As we said, they are very sexy.
2010 has seen Visions of Trees receive significant blog coverage with a number of low key releases, festival slots, gigs and remixes including their brilliant reworking of See Spaces for Teeth (below). In 2011 their profile is likely to grow further. The first instalment of this will be the release of Sometimes It Kills / No Flag through Moshi Moshi in February with more to follow after that.
Vision of Trees consists of Joni Juden and Sara Atalar. The name is a reference to Joni’s childhood, spent living amongst trees and wild animals. He’s been quoted as loving the rawness and purity of nature, dreaming about running away and living in the woods.
Visions of Trees may not be the most obviously commercial band of our Ones to Watch 2011 but their seductive sound is probably going to do its best to coax you into some erotic musical fee-loving.
One question we often get asked by our less aware music loving friends and associates is “where do you discover all your new music from?” The answer is not so simple, because there simply isn’t one source. Yes, of course the internet has made things easier to access – from tracks we receive directly from bands, PR companies and record labels to reading other on line music publications and blogs. Yet still the best and most satisfying method of musical discovery is in the live environment. It’s the reason why we always turn up early at gigs to catch the support acts, travel significant distances to watch bands play half hour sets in grotty half full pubs on a rainy Monday night and will often journey to the smaller stages at festivals to watch the bands that we haven’t seen before. Sometimes this dedication brings rewards, such as the time we caught a virtually unknown band called Radiohead playing bottom of the bill in a small arts centre in Reading or more recently, Adele playing a 90 capacity upstairs room in a pub in Brighton.
It was this manner of discovery that we first came across our eighth One to Watch for 2011. D/R/U/G/S may not score many points for their name, but to use the well-worn cliché it’s the music that counts – a hallucinogenic flow of agile loops, beats and samples that hark back to the halcyon days of Orbital and the more modern thug beats and drone dance of Fuck Buttons. Rather like these other duo’s shows there may not be a guitar in site and most of their time is spent hunched over their gadgetry, heads bobbing, but they are quite stunning live – their semi-improvised radar pulse being spacey and hypnotically brilliant. D/R/U/G/S are two long term friends named Cal and George. In the past both have kicked around in other bands, but it was only when nine months ago that they started creating their new sample-sumptuous sound that they began to believe that they were creating something of artistic worth.
D/R/U/G/S sound is unlikely to infiltrate the mainstream, but give them a late night slot in a big top filled with dry ice and strobes at a summer festival in 2011 and D/R/U/G/S could take their audience to a better place.
Chelmsford may not have a particularly rich musical heritage, its biggest claim is hosting the overtly corporate festival monster that is V Festival, but residents The Milk are a band who put a bit of swagger into its heart.
The Milk do a superb take of 60s r'n'b and soul, a sound that refuses to go away and still proves incredibly commercial – with everyone from Plan B to Cee Lo Green taking reference points and delivering sales with it.
The band consist of Ricky Nunn (guitar, lead vocals), Mitch Ayling (drums, backing vocals), Luke Ayling (bass), Dan Le Gresley (guitar, vocals) and whilst it would be easy to accuse them of being simply northern soul revivalists, The Milk are very much of the here and now. They’ve been working with hip-hop/electronic DJ-remixer Brad Baloo from the Nextmen to give them a contemporary edge and from what we’ve heard their live gigs feature snatches of hip-hop breaks in between the songs to make the whole show flow in a constant.
As we identified back in September, our favourite song so far is Chip the Kids a brisk disco influenced groove that bounds with brassy gusto and tantalising secular rhythms. It’s impossible not to dance to and has the most authentic young soul rebel sound we’ve heard since Dexy’s Midnight Runners – and that’s quite a compliment. We understand that the band are currently beavering away to produce an album which should drop in 2011 and have dates lined up at South by South West in Texas as well as the Snowbombing Festival in Austria.
Bringing modern soul to the UK, The Milk could be the cats that get the cream. Their licks are full of goodness.
Today we disclose our sixth One to Watch for 2011. It's Newcastle’s Let’s Buy Happiness. They are another band that we’ve featured a significant number of times on the blog since February. With two releases to date – the No Hot Ashes EP and the Six Wolves single – both of which were self-released, it’s still very early days for the group, but their otherworldly guitar sound shows such promise that leaving them off the list was unthinkable. With songs that cover subject matter ranging from having a crush on Casper the Friendly Ghost (Devil Show) to pins and needles (Dead Legs) their layered music interlaces and weaves together to create a beautiful soft mesh of sound - it's a shimmering blanket for lead singer Sarah Hall’s wonderful girlish and angelic vocal to wrap itself in, with its distinct similarity to Harriet Wheeler of early 90’s band The Sundays.
Let’s Buy Happiness are a band that are breaking forth in an organic way, with a slow and gradual discovery of their songs by their audience through word of mouth, live shows, low-key radio play or blogs such as this – there's no hype, just a natural discovery. The growth also applies to their gigs - of the three shows we’ve seen them play, each has been better than the previous. As the band continue to develop there’s every chance that they may produce an album that will be both exquisite and enduring.
As well as playing the John Peel tent at this years Glastonbury plus Great Escape, Evolution, In The City and Southsea Fest, Let's Buy Happiness have garnered important support from BBC 6 Music - Six Wolves being made single of the week on the stations breakfast show - and Drowned In Sound website. That support is likely to flourish further next year.
Back in February 2010 we suggested that Let’s Buy Happiness were about to make you fall in love - that statement holds very true now - their sweet indie kiss is about to seduce you in 2011.
Rather like our #2 choice in our Ones to Watch list – James Blake – Starsmith is another producer turned artist in his own right who is probably best known for bringing the slick electronic wizardry to Ellie Goulding’s debut album. We’ve already given coverage to his Ritchie Family sampling debut single Give Me A Break (here) released via Neon Gold and his mellow piano and synth instrumental We Leave Tonight (here), both of which have shown different sides to that of much of his remix and production work. Yet it won’t be until 2011 when Starsmith releases his own album that he will find his own true voice – in terms of both a concept and a reality – as he has already hinted that many of the songs on the album won’t be sample based, but instead feature his own singing as well as a number of guests – rumours suggest that Ellie Goulding, Stine Bramsen from Alphabeat and Imogen Heap are all involved.
If Starsmith can take his production abilities – knowing exactly how much bass to drop at one particular moment, when to raise the synths to a higher level at another – and add songwriting skills, then he could very quickly become one of the UK’s premier pop exports on his own terms and no longer just be the backroom boy.
Hype. The marketing or promotion of a product using intensive or exaggerated publicity. It’s a common word in the world of new music and is often used in the context of a band or act being over-hyped - suggesting a deception of the public, attempting to con them into thinking something is good when actually it isn’t.
The word hype has been surrounding The Vaccines considerably the last few months in the UK at least – for here is a band that had half of indie-London clamouring to get into their rammed gig at The Flowerpot in Camden back in October and appeared on Later With Jools Holland before they had released a single. The Vaccines have created a mini media storm – but the band themselves see it a different way having told Drowned In Sound “The band don't create media interest - the media do, then funnily enough the media then complain about all the media interest!” There’s probably some truth in what The Vaccines say, but the media interest wouldn’t be there unless there was something to interest them. Hype chicken or hype egg ?
So why the hype? Why The Vaccines? There’s probably a combination of factors at play here. There’s a vacancy for some new guitar heroes in both the eyes of the UK media and the industry – a space left since landfill indie started decomposing and The Vaccines offer the possibility of filling the void. Also the last few months represent the time of year when the industry traditionally starts pushing out new acts as part of campaigns to get BBC Sound of 2011 / Brit Critics choice awards in January, before the treadmill of small venue tour (or in The Vaccines case NME tour) / album release / festivals / larger tour dates) begins and The Vaccines uprising fits neatly with this calendar. Furthermore with a big record label - Columbia – involved, a degree of heavy promotion is inevitable. But most importantly, although the number of pounding Strokes versus Ramones like stomps that the band currently have in their arsenal are small, some of them are pretty decent. And this is the fundamental point - unless there's something there, something of merit, something to get the heart racing, the hype (in the context of being something worth checking out) wouldn't happen.Whilst riding the see-saw in excitement, the danger with hype is that the wave builds in a scrum like frenzy, and at some point reaches the shore of over expectation until it breaks. The Vaccines are going to have to be skilled wave riders - they seem to be going about it the right way at the moment - not losing their heads and concentrating on playing gigs. They're a decent enough live band - not yet brilliant by any means, but significantly better than your average new indie rock group. Their sound is direct, raw, familiar and immediate - straight-up rock 'n' roll thrills are what The Vaccines cure is.
Only time will tell if their sound translates creatively or commercially – but because of the music and because of the hype - they're our fourth one to watch. Only the daftly complacent would begin predicting where they'll be in a years time. Let the public decide....