This is the final post on Breaking More Waves for 2011. It’s time to close down, get the mulled wine hot and wafting vapour through the house, put Phil Spector’s cracking A Christmas Gift for You on and forget about the world of new music for a while.
Thank you very much if you’ve visited, read what we’ve written and listened to the music that has been featured on the blog in 2011. We’ve had a great time curating and creating it. Just the other day someone said to us that “Breaking More Waves is like going down the pub for a chat and a laugh with your best music-obsessed friend,” and for us that is the biggest compliment. This blog may not be the biggest, the coolest, the classiest or even have the best ‘taste’ ( the worlds sneering self-appointed realmusic (yes it's one word now) fans must have the best taste, because according to their book My Taste Is Better Than Your Taste Because I Said So, they said so and therefore must be right). But we’re proud of what we’ve created. Our success is just finding time to post 435 times this year (that’s the equivalent of a medium sized 400 page novel) against a background of a life that primarily revolves around family, children, full time employment many miles away from music or writing and a busy and active social life.
Our next post will be on 1st January 2012 and then on the 2ndwe’ll be revealing the Top 5 artists in the Blog Sound of 2012 poll. Then for the next few days after that we’ll be introducing you to a whole bunch of new bands and artists in our New Waves feature, a number of which have had little or any UK based blog coverage. As January rolls on we’ll also be getting argumentative in a new feature, one that we’ve already sneakily started (here) called In Defence Of. It will be our regular ‘down the pub having a good old debate with friends about a musical issue’ post. We might even try and defend some pretty non-defendable subjects, like why Matt Cardle deserved to win the Guardian Readers album of the year poll. (Basically in summary, he deserved to because most people voted for him and that is what a poll is about. It doesn't mean it's 'the best' album, just that more people voted. That's democracy dear Guardian, so don't get all snobbish and claim as you have that PJ Harvey was 'the moral victor' because you invented the rules for the poll and a bunch of people felt passionate enough about Cardle (or joined in the fun for other reasons) to follow those rules and make him win. There was nothing immoral about that. Incidentally, the Breaking More Waves album of 2011 was Last by The Unthanks but no one else seems to think so according to the polls - but it's still 'the best' to us. That's taste for you Guardian, we're all different, there's no right or wrong and those who are congratulated for having excellent taste are normally only congratulated by those with similar tastes.
More of that in 2012, but for now it’s time to press pause. Have a really happy Christmas and a brilliant New Year. We’ll be back on Jan 1st, but if you really can’t wait till then why not follow us on Twitter, right here or see what we're listening to on Last Fm here?
We’ll leave you with 5 songs that we’ve featured on Breaking More Waves that you could loosely term our tracks of the year. In choosing them we have made no attempt to look back at what we have featured on the blog in case we missed something, but just chosen the songs that have stayed with us all year, and that we'll remember as being very much part of our 2011. We're not saying they're the best, just the ones that made our own personal 2011 a little special.
Lana Del Rey – Video Games
It wasn’t just about hype. The hype wouldn’t have existed if the song wasn’t utterly affecting.
Taste, quality, cool, good, bad, these are all qualitative concepts that we could argue about until the cows come home, but the bottom line HAS to be this. Did it move you?
But sometimes we need to stop talking and listen to the music.
Now is that time.
Lykke Li has released two albums. Both have featured in their respective Breaking More Waves albums of the year lists, for the reasons above. Now she has shared with the world some recordings from what she calls The Lost Sessions Vol 1. You can listen to (and download) these demo style songs below.
If there’s one track we’ve been waiting a long time for it’s this. It first appeared on Breaking More Waves in the dim and distant past of August 2010 as a You Tube stream (which has now been taken off line) and we assumed it was long buried (but never forgotten). Yet lo and behold, you can't keep a good song down, it’s the second coming, this is the resurrection, like the phoenix from the flames etc etc and every other rebirth cliche you can think of, for here it is in a newly spruced up and polished form. It's called Cloudbusting. The duo are Paper Crows.
There’s some very simple (and brilliant) musical maths going on here, so pay attention.
Kate Bush + Bjork + Paper Crows = Pop perfection.
As we said - simple and brilliant.
Really this shouldn’t work. It really shouldn’t. We should be screaming ‘sacrilege’, but we’re not. We’re screaming ‘bloody marvellous’.
And guess what. It’s the year 2011 (just) so that means even though something is bloody marvellous, nobody is going to be prepared to pay for it, so the band are giving it away as a free download.
Let’s do the maths again. Slightly more complex this time.
Kate Bush + Bjork + Paper Crows = Bloody marvellous free pop perfection.
You can’t do better than that. Unless of course bands start paying fans to download their free download single or album. That would never happen though, would it? Oh, hold on look here.
I know that I’m a bit late sending you this letter now, but to be honest in this day and age I thought you would have embraced technology and had the internet installed up at the North Pole. I’m sure Sky or Virgin would do you a good deal, even in your cold distant location.
However in the absence of email, this slow piece of snail mail is sent to wish you and all your elves and reindeer a very merry Christmas and to let you know that I’ve been a very good music blogger this year. I’ve not told any lies, have kept my room tidy and have left you a mince pie and a small sherry by the chimney when you visit. However after last year’s blog fiasco where you drank far too much, were very rude to all the nice Breaking More Waves readers and ended up claiming that you’d f*cked my mum I’m only leaving a very small sherry for you this time. I’m sure you’ll understand. It’s in everyone's best interests.
I’ve also been a good blogger this year as I’ve stuck to my beliefs of not blogging something just because it’s ‘cool’ or a ‘buzz’ track, but because I like the music (even if a couple of the artists I’ve written up have ended up a few months on becoming some of the biggest new acts of the year) and also not being afraid to blog about pure pop music as well as fuzzy lo-fi dirge, folk music, indie bands and melodic singer songwriters, because that represents my tastes. It’s why Santa, that I believe that fan journalism / blogging is a very different form of journalism from professional journalism and should be built around the ethos of supporting the artists you love and nothing more, whereas professional journalism has a different underlying core motive – to make money for the journalist.
So Father Christmas, please, please, please what I’d really like for Christmas are a whole bunch of ace new bands and tunes to tell those who visit my blog about. That would be lovely.
Have a good Christmas Santa, in return here’s our choice of three enjoyable Christmas songs for you to listen to whilst you finish off your last minute present wrapping, packing and sleigh adjustments prior to your gruelling day.
“Just in time for Christmas an anti-Christmas anthem for the cold and hungry this winter. Bah humbug and coal for all,” states an email that dropped into the Breaking More Waves in box a few days ago. Now we’re not sure what sort of music Ebenezer scrooge would like (probably none, after all music is meant to be enjoyed) but if he did then we imagine that this new track from Creatures of Love entitled Black Elf would be down his meagrely lit street.
Black Elf comes with a rather sinister video to accompany the bands menacing icy soundtrack – the polar opposite of Slade, Shakin’ Stevens and the Phil Spector Christmas Gift For You album. We’re 100% sure this won’t be played at any drunken office parties this week – and that’s a compliment.
Following their support slots with The Joy Formidable this year Creatures of Love next show will be at the Artrocker New Blood Festival at the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen on the 4th of January 2011.
Whether or not you like Ed Sheeran, (and some people really don't) what he demonstrated this year is a model for achieving commercial success for a young musician that doesn’t rely on initial record industry or blog buzz. By self-releasing material and gigging his backside off Sheeran got himself into a position where he already had a fan base before the major labels came knocking. We’re living in austere times and labels love the certainty that a fully formed fan base gives them – it certainly makes development and promotion easier. Look back at last year’s BBC Sound of 2011 list and Sheeran’s name is nowhere to be found. Even the more commercially aware blogs failed to pick up massively on Sheeran until late. He only first appeared on the Hype Machine in February and by the time we featured him in a New Waves feature in March there was a grand total of 2 listed blog posts about Sheeran on the infamous aggregator. Sheeran’s progress into the wider pop sphere was very organic and relied on his d-i-y efforts as much as his labels later involvement.
Now here’s another one who could possibly do a Mr Sheeran in the long term, although it’s pretty unlikely you’ll see her beat-boxing with Dot Rotten or Wiley. We first featured Gabrielle Aplin back in August and in January 2012 she’s due to release a new EP called Home, which like her previous output is self-released.
You only have to look at the number of You Tube views on Home (over 130,000 since it was put up a couple of weeks ago which is pretty high for an unsigned act) and the comments that are being made on it to realise that Aplin is connecting with a lot of people with her simple homespun songs of delicate beauty. “I just moved away from home a few months ago and every single time I hear this song I want to cry. This is probably my favourite song ever,” says one SamanthaKay915. “More than brilliant!” states KathyTheres93.
Home reminds us of other Breaking More Waves favourites and Ones to Watch for 2012 Lucy Rose and Rachel Sermanni with the guitar picking bearing a resemblance to New Romantic by Laura Marling, which we hope you’ll agree is fine company to be compared to, and Aplin deserves it. Of course receiving internet love and having nice comparisons doesn’t necessarily translate into a real live audience for a d-i-y artist, but Aplin has already sold out The Borderline in London and has a full UK tour booked for March including a date at the Bush Hall. If she packs them in there, she must be doing something right. Watch and listen to the video for Home and be prepared to feel the heart flutter a little it's the perfect antidote to winter. Shhh… just don’t tell any other music bloggers yet OK?
Between November 21th and December 17th Breaking More Waves has been going list-mental. Ones to Watch 2012 (15 of them in total), the Blog Sound of 2012 poll, the run down on our 10 favourite albums of the year and commentary on the BBC Sound of 2012 list, it feels like we’ve exhausted our ability to compile and order music to make some sort of sense of the world.
So now, up until Christmas, when a short break is in order, we get back to doing what we do. That is featuring our favourite new tunes together with the occasional debate and discursive piece on issues that surround our passion.
So following our Ones to Watch 2012 it’s probably worth reminding you of one of our Ones to Watch for 2011 and this lot. Chelmsford white-soul boys The Milk probably didn’t put out quite the volume of material we were hoping for last year although their one single (All I Wanted Was) Danger would have been in our top 10 tracks list, but we're fat and bloated with lists and can't take any more.
However 2012 looks mighty promising with the band having now put the ink on the line with a new imprint called Sign Of The Times, an alliance between Sony Music UK and Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment. Now the band have the backing to do what we’ve always wanted them to do and to get out of London (where they’ve been packing out sweating venues includingHoxton Bar & Kitchen, Jazz Cafe, XOYO and Barfly ) to show people what they’re made of. With a 28 date UK tour of all of the best and worst of toilet venues, there’s no excuse if you live in England, Scotland or Wales for not going out and catching The Milk. This is a band that plays the sweetest yet grittiest of contemporary soul-jams with signature hooks and brassy grooves that absolutely delight ears. Frankly if you press play on the video for Broke Up The Family below (an acoustic version of which will feature on the download version of the single) and don’t feel it, there’s something wrong with you.
The new single from The Milk is B Roads and is available on iTunes and 7” vinyl from today. Vintage crackles and police sirens sidle into a hipshaking retro-party groove complete with street-corner harmonies and funkaholic retro-riffs. Great stuff. Why not give yourself an early Christmas present and buy it now.
In short this is a blog post that says, yeah so the BBC Sound of List features lots of mainstream artists. Does that bother you ? If it does, get over it, go and look at your alt. blog or website that nobody except you and your indie snob friends reads. The Sound of List isn't really for you.
Still with us? Ok, read on....
Everyone has an opinion, right? And the internet is the demon tool for letting people express it, particularly if it’s negative. It’s so easy. Go on You Tube watch something you don’t like and type “This is sh*t.” Bosh, done in 5 seconds and now you can feel smug and self-satisfied that you’ve made your view known worldwide, irrespective of if anyone will value your insightful and well thought out argument. You’ve made your headline and that’s all that counts.
So it is every year with the BBC Sound of List. “The BBC Sound of 2012 list aims to highlight the most promising new music for the year ahead. The artists on the list were chosen by 184 UK-based tastemakers, who each named their favourite three new artists, with the top 15 artists making our longlist,” states the BBC website as it opens the floodgates of criticism.
Every year, the pattern remains the same. The angry mob is unleashed as soon as the BBC list is announced. For the 2012 list, amongst the usual ‘never heard of any of them they must be rubbish’ comments that have appeared on the internet one of the main criticisms was that the BBC list features too many mainstream acts. The Association of Independent Music Chairwoman Alison Wenham featured in a lot of the music press with her quote that the list was ‘completely meaningless’ and that she didn’t think it had much to do with music.
So let’s take a step back here and consider it a little more. Is it really meaningless? Does it really have very little to do with music?
To answer this question it’s important to consider the process of how the BBC Sound of List is created. First look at the ‘tastemakers’ who vote. They are chosen to represent different sectors of the UK music industry. Included amongst them are a number of pundits who could be considered likely to vote for independent acts. Yet as anyone who is a fan of independent music will know, as people move further away from the mainstream culture their tastes and knowledge become more diverse. It’s therefore unlikely that the tastemakers who vote for independent artists (if they choose to do so) will vote for the same artists. It follows then that independent artists are less likely to get on the list.
Secondly a high proportion of the tastemakers write, broadcast or work for mainstream media and are therefore likely to choose potential mainstream acts. This is what the BBC Sound of List is – a list that may interest the mainstream public and media. It raises the profile of the artists featured, just like any other piece of press does.
Yet that’s all it does; raise the artists profile for a short time. It doesn’t as some journalists suggest every year become ‘a self-fulfilling prophecy’. If it did, why are the likes of previously nominated Gemma Fox, Air Traffic, Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong and Kubb not household names? (Actually, one member of Kubb went on to form La Roux, so that BBC selection could at least be said to be half right).
If an artist creates music and puts it out in the public domain, it’s a reasonable assumption to make that the artist wants their music to be heard. The BBC Sound of List is one way of helping this to happen. It is therefore not meaningless. It is about the music and helping artists be heard.
The Association of Independent Music, who Alison Wenham represents states that it provides a collective voice for the UK’s independent music industry and ‘promotes this exciting and diverse sector globally and provides a range of services to members, enabling member companies to grow, grasp new opportunities and break into new markets.’ Maybe rather than bleating on like a bad loser, the Association could consider how it could achieve its objective of grasping new opportunities and break into new markets by giving good advice to its members on properly promoting, with targeted marketing, on limited budgets, their artists so that in 2013 the BBC list does contain more independent artists?
“I think it's very inconsequential because, even going back years, this list has not proven to be particularly accurate," she told NME. "The independents will do what they do, and I'm not all that bothered about these sorts of polls. I don't think it has very much to do with music, to be honest with you. They say 100 tastemakers put it together, but it essentially cannot be that those tastemakers manage to avoid an entire sector.”
They may not have done so Alison, but if all those that voted for independent artists voted for different artists they are not going to be recognised on the list. It’s the way committee votes work – the most votes get on the list. Obvious huh? If those who are likely to vote for independent acts vote for the same, they get on the list. Rather like when Esben and the Witch, an independent band, surprised everyone and sneaked in on the Sound of 2011 list. Read a very interesting view from their co-manager as to the impact of the BBC list a year on at this link. As he says “the Sound of… alone will not turn ambitions, dreams and talent into pound signs, into an upgraded tour bus or a slightly higher standard of hotel room. The general public still decides – the people who buy records and gig tickets.” And it’s these people – the general public – who the BBC list targets.
So let’s not criticise the BBC list, but accept that it’s a mainstream list (as most of the general public are) and it does what it does. This years was list was incredibly predictable – but only if you spend a lot of time in the world of new music. For the majority of the public at large these are still very much new artists and its profile helps introduce those artists.
*Footnote – As part of an experiment to see if a bunch of independent bloggers (many of whom cover non mainstream music) could come up with an alternative to the BBC list, 32 UK based bloggers, including ourselves voted for their own Blog Sound of 2012. The blog list contains a number of independent artists. Breaking More Waves would love to know what the Association of Independent Music thinks of thats? The 15 acts nominated included 2 on the BBC list and 13 that are not. Breaking More Waves own Ones to Watch list, which we issued in the run up to the announcement of the BBC list contains 5 acts on the BBC list and 3 on the Blog list. (You can see that list, obviously our favourite, here) Streaming below is the one artist who appeared on all three lists - Lianne La Havas.
Over the last 10 days we’ve counted down Breaking More Waves favourite 10 albums of the year. We even used a formula of sorts (see above) to calculate it. It's probably one of the more scientific album of the year lists you'll see this year. Yet even though we calculated it this way, our gut feeling on what would be our top 3 was correct. Sometimes you don't need maths to help determine what you really love. It would be like calculating if your boyfriend or girlfriend was marriage material based on a spreadsheet. Some things you just know. Here's a list of the end result.
If our top ten had run to twenty records the following would have been featured.
Summer Camp – Welcome To Condale, Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys, The Cure – Bestival Live 2011, Let England Shake – PJ Harvey, M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know, Yuck – Yuck, The Unthanks - The Songs of Robert Wyatt and Antony & The Johnsons Live From The Union Chapel, Cults – Cults, The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar.
That completes our lists for this year - we have just a few more blog posts between now and Christmas, starting with our thoughts tomorrow on this years BBC Sound of list.
So this is it. Our favourite album of the year is Last by Northumbrian folk group The Unthanks. It’s an album that sadly hasn't cropped up on many end of year lists, yet by quite some way Last is the recording that we’ve been most affected by in 2012.
Last is certainly not an album you’d put on at a party. Its sparse arrangements, constructed out of intense piano and haunting strings, accompanied by the tear-jerking and tender vocals of sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank, are incredibly beautiful. There’s a stillness and sadness in much of Last that demands a solitary quiet winter afternoon to listen to it properly, in one sitting with no distractions – as all best albums are. Last is by no means an instant album, there’s no big pop singles, no hype and its critical praise has been reasonably under the radar. Yet let’s be absolutely clear about this, Last is the most exquisite, emotional and uniquely beautiful recorded music we’ve heard all year.
As you slowly weave your way through this enchanting but melancholy repertoire of songs it’s easy to forget that most of the tunes are not originals – so deftly do The Unthanks make them sound like their own. There’s a consistently mournful sound, Becky's breathy sultry vocals in particular giving it this quality. Irrespective of if the band are interpreting prog-rockers King Crimson’s Starless or the Alex Glasgow penned Close the Coalhouse Door, which deals with the tragedy of a mining disaster. “Close the coalhouse door, there’s blood inside,” its compelling in nature. With no artificial reverb on any of the voices and the majority of the album being recorded at home there’s a real purity to Last that we haven’t heard on any other record in 2011.
With a new baby for two members of The Unthanks, a second album The Songs of Robert Wyatt and Antony & The Johnsons, Live From The Union Chapel released at the end of November and shows that have included performances with brass bands it’s been a busy year for The Unthanks.
In 2009 we named their album Here’s The Tender Coming as our eighth favourite album of the year, in 2011 Last goes seven better. As unsettling as it is beautiful, it proves without doubt, that often sad songs are the best songs. Album of the year.
What is left to say about Adele Adkins’s second album that hasn’t already been said? It sat at the top of the UK albums sales chart for a third of the year, has stayed in the top 10 for the rest of it, bagged 13 weeks in the US at number 1 and has been number 1 in pretty much every country that has a sales chart; only Hungary (no.11), Japan (no.53), Argentina (no.8),Russia (no.9), Mexico (no.4) and Spain (no.2) not fully succumbing to the charms of 21. It’s a phenomenal success story, particularly in an age when the perceived wisdom is that nobody is buying music anymore. 12 million sales and still counting, 21 has engaged and touched more people in the world than any other release this year.
The reason? It’s ridiculously simple; the music is sublime. Written in the aftermath of the singer's separation from a boyfriend, it deals with traditional themes of anger, revenge, despair, self-examination and forgiveness. Awash with vintage influences from Southern blues, country and soul, 21 is the perfect vehicle for her voice. Whereas 19, her debut album showed hints of greatness (Hometown Glory, Chasing Pavements, Make You Feel My Love), 21 is brimming with it. The music is perfectly weighted to allow Adele’s vocal to be blustery, sincere, insecure, beautiful and powerful; there’s a whole range of emotions on display, often within a single song. It’s one of two albums this year that have brought us to tears in our more vulnerable moments.
21 is a bloody marvellous album. Hell, it even includes a cover version of one of Breaking More Waves favourite bands ever – The Cure.
For once commercial sales and artistic brilliance go hand in hand.
Cinderella’s Eyes is the best pop album of the year by a country mile. After the artistically redundant failures of Cheryl Cole and the wasting-floor-space-of-Tesco middle of the road rubbish that was Nadine Coyle’s record, it was left to the ginger princess to demonstrate that sometimes a solo effort can produce something as good, if not better than the group together. Cinderella’s Eyes may have been a commercial flop but it’s an intriguing, confident and quirkily engaging album.
From the word go Cinderella’s Eyes sets out its stall with Beat of my Drum. Dealing with how at the age of 16 Nicola Roberts went from being just a normal kid from Halton Brook estate in Runcorn to being in one of Britain’s biggest girl bands via the TV show Popstars: The Rivals and how uncomfortable, unprepared and out of place she was. “Once upon a time I press rewind, two left feet I had no beat, baby in the corner learning quickly, keep up, keep up,” she sings explaining the steep learning curve she experienced. From that moment on we’re allowed a fascinating, voyeuristic and often upsetting look into her life with Girls Aloud. “Too young to by my own bottle of vodka, so I’d beg the driver please I need another, funny that I was too young for many things, yet you thought I’d cope with being told I’m ugly,” she pipes on Sticks & Stones. “Never been wrapped up in the way I look, so when I got down to London, had the press on my case, coz I didn’t walk round with a smile on my face, called me a rude ginger bitch and say I bought bigger tits, they’re gonna eat all their words, their talking absolute shit,” she spits on Take A Bite. This is Nicola Roberts 2011; defiant, a little analytical, brilliantly angry and having come through the process, a pop outsider ready to take on the world – bang to the beat of her drum indeed.
Whilst this insight into Roberts world may be fascinating, without the songs, you’re hardly likely to come back. This is what sets Cinderella’s Eyes apart. In a world full of beige and LOLpop this is pop at its best – it’s often brilliantly oddball and fearless in its attempts to not mimic the likes of Katy Perry, Rihanna and the like. Whether she’s grappling with Diplo, Metronomy or The Invisible Men, the songs are full of vocal hooks, exuberant classy synths and grab your balls beats and lots of weird ‘where did that come from’ moments of sound that make you want to go back and investigate again. Witty, catchy and just a little edgy Cinderella's Eyes shows how good pop music can be if it dares to jump off a cliff into the depths now and then.
Back in April we said of this album “We’re taking a punt here but it really wouldn’t surprise us if Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam picked up a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize later this year. There’s also a fair chance it’s going to crop up in our own end of year Top 10.” Our punt was right on both accounts.
Ghostpoet’s debut album is a very British, very untypical rap album. As Obaro Ejimiwe raps on I Just Don’t Know “Other MC’s want to talk about crime, but that ain’t me.” Instead Obaro’s languid stream consciousness delivery takes on subjects such as the thoughts of a lonely 44 year old man whose life hasn’t worked out the way he hoped it would (Survive It) and feeling sorry for himself hangovers (Cash and Carry Me Home) with a world-weary, philosophical approach over d-i-y, laptop created electronics and beats. It would be easy for the record’s downbeat delivery and lyrical themes to feel pretty depressing, but because of Ejimiwe’s softly spoken ‘just get on with it’ approach it ends up feeling uplifting and is incredibly engaging.
Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam is one of those rare things in music – an album that stamps its own identity on the map yet feels as welcoming and comfortable as something you’ve known for ages.
Gracious Tide Take Me Home by Lanterns on the Lake seems to have a watery connection with Breaking More Waves. Our coast loving persuasion is drawn to an album whose songs feature titles of Ships in the Rain, Not Going Back To The Harbour and on If I’ve Been Unkind lyrics that gently intone ‘when I sailed the seas, you were never even there’. However even if the band had been singing about steel-toe capped booted builders painting and decorating a castle we suspect we would have fallen head over heels with this album anyway.
Gracious Tide Take Me Home is the musical equivalent of a walk in winter, through frosty fresh air and red-brown scrunching fallen leaves with visible breath punctuating your steps, then returning home to crackling warmth created by the calming glow of a fire in the corner and hot steaming coffee served from chunky china mugs.
Gracious Tide Take Me Home is a sensual, near spiritual record that picks the fibres from post-rock, ambient, acoustic pop and folk and creates something blissfully calming and toughly rousing at the same time. Its gliding moods, set by unhurried piano, delicate glockenspiel, sweeping soaring strings and sad sounding guitars are cinematic and intimate, the kind of music that grabs you inside and pulls slowly and gently at your heartstrings.
Gracious Tide Take Me Home is a record to put on auto-repeat, lay back and swim in, floating around in its celestial beauty.
Gracious Tide Take Me Home is one of our favourite albums of the year.
Back in April after we had first heard Tamer Animals by Other Lives we described it as ‘a flawlessly subtle piece of work that becomes even more giddying and beautiful with every listen.’ Eight months on we resolutely stand by that statement. For Tamer Animals is one of those rich, evocative records that’s so immaculately crafted that once your ears have heard it once, they’ll want to be treated to its elegance many, many times more.
To apply a genre to Tamer Animals seems unfair insofar as it puts the shackles on this cinematic, suspenseful music, but if we had to then it would probably be filed under Americana. However really it should just be stored in the box labelled good music, so intricately is it fleshed out with arousing orchestration, warm harmonies and songs that seem ready to fill skies over deserts.
Capturing elements of Fleet Foxes, The National, Midlake and taking them to the Albert Hall to kiss them with string symphonies Tamer Animals is a record that seems perfect whatever season it is or wherever you hear it. One of our favourite albums of the year, from the word go.
It seems that we’re not the only ones to find favour with the band as well, with love gradually spreading via word of mouth, leading to the band playing a sold out show at London's St. Giles Church in November and being asked to support Radiohead on their US dates next year.
Back in 2008 when Florence & The Machine appeared in the Breaking More Waves Ones to Watch for 2009 list we suggested that Florence Welch was likely to go on to have some commercial success but was probably a little too eccentric to achieve mainstream popularity. Fast forward three years on and Florence & the Machine can be found appearing on X-Factor - which really is as mainstream as it gets. We were both right and wrong at the same time.
What is quite incredible is just how deep Florence has embedded herself into mainstream culture in the UK without ever really compromising what she does. Her second album Ceremonials is a gloriously bombastic piece of work that takes elements of her debut Lungs (namely Dog Days Are Over and Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) ) and expands them into a colossal sounding record, that’s almost too big and too grandiose. Ceremonials is the album for getting tipsy on red wine, running into a wild forest, ripping your clothes off by a lake and dancing in the rain with the beautiful people.
Whilst Ceremonials is huge, it works because in amongst the vast string arrangements, church bells, choirs, heavy impact drums and over-the-top dramatics there are tiny moments of subtlety and most importantly, some great songs. Shake It Out, apparently inspired by a hangover is everything a Florence & the Machine fan could want; a big chorus, hooks, passionate vocals, sticks that slam against drums with violence and a windswept panoramic production that is breathtaking, yet it starts with a gently rising organ sound and Florence singing a gentle lullaby. Likewise What the Water Gave Me, with its concept of children who are swept out to sea, and their parents go in to rescue them, is certainly no derivative shake-yer-booty-in-da-club attempt at singles chart compromise and continues to assert Florence as the queen of the colourful crazy goth-hippies. Ceremonials is an album full of songs similar to these, feeling like the logical conclusion to what was started on her debut album.
It’s an album that is fan pleasing without compromising who or what Florence is or does. Those who dislike her music and think she wails like an evil harpy, will only have their beliefs confirmed further, but those who loved Lungs (as we did) will have little to turn them against Flo either. The big question now is where will Florence go from here? Surely the peak of the sonic mountain has been reached and new musical landscapes will need to be found. That may prove more problematic for her.
At the back end of 2010 James Blake was the name on almost everyone’s lips. His version of Limit to Your Love had taken Blake from underground producer to potential mainstream artist. However, the resultant eponymous debut album was certainly no middle of the road commercial sell out, but neither did it leave Blake residing in the dubstep camp from where he started.
This album is very much a late night headphone album. There’s no excess, everything is stripped back to just leave just the right amount of sound. It’s not always an easy listen; the songs are sometimes slight, Blake’s vocals manipulated with effects in many places. It’s so sparse throughout that it can almost drift over you without notice. However, this is the albums beauty. James Blake is the musical version of awkward intimate first time nakedness, that as time goes on becomes more and more natural, more and more pleasant.
Blake has managed to transcend his roots, and whether he’s playing piano, utilising crackling haunted beats or warm melancholy electronica, his album whispers rather than screams. It’s all the better for it.
Back at the end of 2008 we named Lykke Li’s debut album Youth Novels as our seventh favourite of the year. In 2011 the follow up Wounded Rhymes crops up at number nine. Written in LA in early 2010 and recorded at Atlantis Studios in Stockholm, Wounded Rhymes is an album of shadowy pop songs that owes some debt to Phil Spector but never sounds fully retro. Retaining in part the rhythms and percussive beats of her debut, Wounded Rhymes finds Lykke Li heading off into different corners of fantasy and reality, her vocal sounding stronger, full of outwards confidence and yet also more melancholic and vulnerable. From the girl-gang sexy arrogance of Get Some with its chorus of ‘like a shotgun needs an outcome, I’m your prostitute you gonna get some,’ to the Dusty Springfield referencing torch song Sadness is A Blessing, Wounded Rhymes is an album that has at its core ten well-crafted songs filled an abundance of melodic and lyrical dexterity.
Whilst the main subjects of Wounded Rhymes, that of unrequited love, heartbreak and the pain of bruised and broken relationships clutter up the halls of pop music like old ladies queuing at a jumble sale, in 2011 almost nobody took these themes and handled them better than Lykke Li, except that is for one other person - more of that in a few days time.
Whokill by tUnE-yArDs is one of the most eccentric, inventive and bold albums of the year. Formed out of some sort of crazy cartwheeling self-confidence Merrill Garbus yelps, hollers and howls her way through an album that features moments of stomping jungle percussion, stop-start jitters, afro-punk, warped jazz and brutal strikes.
When Garbus performs live she often paints tribal streaks on her face and that tribalism can be heard within Whokill. It’s raw, edgy and full of freaky experimentation, yet it never veers too far away from pop. Whilst not sonically similar, the vision of tUnE-yArDs is similar to Bjork’s in that she is very much creating something completely of her own. Quite simply there are few musical comparisons. In a world where music has reached middle age, where nothing is truly original anymore, Whokill gets about as close as you can get to uniqueness without ever being unlistenable rubbish.
For the next ten days we’ll be running down the Breaking More Waves blog top 10 albums of the year.
What this top 10 list isn’t is a comprehensive analysis and consideration of every album that has been released this year. If you want to see what people who spend all day listening to music and analysing it to decide if it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ think are the ‘best’ albums of 2011 then visit the critics end of year polls. Most of these polls have been decided by a committee of journalists and therefore the eventual outcome smooths out the individual quirks, likes and passions of each individual as the albums with the most votes rise to the top of the pile.
Breaking More Waves is fan journalism. This means those quirks, likes and loves of the author / fan can be displayed brutally (and beautifully) on the internet, warts and all. This list isn’t a ‘best of’ list. It can’t possibly be. We’ve heard only a small handful of the hundreds / thousands of new albums that have been released this year. Our list represents all of our prejudices as a fan, it's formed through our emotional connections not only to the music, but the artists as well. For example a critic might write off Britney Spears latest album immediately because it’s in part flat generic pop music. However if you are a fan the chances are that when halfway through Femme Fatale the quality drops a little (ok, a lot) you’ll forgive her because it’s still Britney and Britney is amazing, full stop.
Of course that’s not to say that this list is simply a list of our ten all-time favourite bands that have released albums this year. As fans we can also be massively disappointed – love isn’t always blind. But the reality is that this is a list of favourite rather than best of albums that we’ve heard this year. We’ll be posting about one album each day until we reach our favourite at number 1.
So how have we chosen our top ten ? We've applied a little bit of musical mathematics. Our top 10 albums have been selected on three criteria. First, and most importantly, the musical quality and emotional connection - the critical judgement part. Second the number of times that we've played an album this year, divided by the number of months it has been since we first heard it. The theory here is that if an album is really a favourite we'll play it a lot. We've got the play counts figures from our Last FM page, which doesn't represent all of our listening, much of it having been done on CD players away from Last FM such as the car, but it gives a reasonable impression. Thirdly the fan factor - as we described with our Britney example. We've gone to extraordinary lengths to apply these three criteria, putting each one into an excel spreadsheet and listing every album we've heard this year that we think is good, then weighting each factor to give a score. So the musical quality is 55%, the number of times played is 30% and the fan factor is 15%. The output is our top 10 albums.
If you’re interested in what’s moved us this year, check back each day for the next ten days.
This year has seen a number of releases by artists that have featured in past favourite albums lists on the blog - from Bon Iver (our favourite album of 2008) to Florence & The Machine (in the top 10 in 2009). How do they fare in 2011 ? And what of some of our Ones to Watch from last year ? Only four of them - Clare Maguire, James Blake, Misty Miller and The Vaccines actually got as far as releasing an album - are any of those in our Top 10? And what of artists we've got excited about on twitter this year ? We've given a lot of love for Nicola Roberts, but her album flopped commercially. Could she make an appearance or was our love for Girls Aloud's finest just a passing one night stand ? To date her album has only cropped up on the Guardians top 50 albums at number 38 but of course pop and dance music very rarely finds goodwill from the critics.
We’re not asking you to agree with our choices, feel free to disagree or comment on them if you want, but never say that that we’re ‘wrong’ because these are the records we’ve connected with. This is personal.
Over the last 15 days Breaking More Waves has been publishing its very own selection of artists, musicians and bands that it believes are Ones to Watch for 2012.
New act tip lists seem to get more numerous every year and none is more ubiquitous than the BBC Sound of list, which we will be posting our thoughts on separately in a few weeks, after our traditional run down of our favourite ten albums of 2011.
Back at the end of 2010 a small bunch of independent music bloggers, including Breaking More Waves discussed the idea of collating the combined thoughts, knowledge and passions of the UK blogging community to create the Blog Sound of 2012. The idea was in no way intended as a platform to criticise the BBC’s Sound of List, which Breaking More Waves has previously been involved in and continues to support. The BBC’s list acts as an invaluable tool to help new artists gain strong media publicity for their music in a time when it’s becoming increasingly difficult for such acts to establish themselves. The Blog Sound of 2012 is more an experiment to decide if a pool of UK music bloggers can come up with some interesting alternatives.
From these blogs suggestions a most voted for long list of 15 artists has been collated, of which a top 5 will be published in a few weeks, with an eventual winner being announced. Because of the selection of blogs that voted, the final list has a fairly strong bias towards indie / rock and folk / acoustic music but there's still much variety within.
And here, in no particular order are the 15 artists that have been chosen as the Blog Sound of 2012.
Houdini Dax – Brit-Pop influenced rough n ready psychedelic indie rock (Link to Facebook)
Lianne La Havas – Soft acoustic songwriter with soul and jazz tinges (Link to website)
Theme Park – Indie band recalling Talking Heads with danceable tropical pop (Link to Facebook)
Beth Jeans Houghton – Leftfield alt folk with all sorts thrown in (Link to Facebook)
Outfit – Layered sounding indie group that have been compared to Wild Beasts. (Link to Facebook)
Of the 15 acts chosen 3 of them also appear on the Breaking More Waves Ones to Watch list ( Lucy Rose, Lianne La Havas and Outfit) with one of them (Beth Jeans Houghton) appearing on our own Ones To Watch list back in 2009. 8 of the 15 have appeared in some form or other on the blog this year, suggesting that the tastes of Breaking More Waves are not always that far removed from our blogging peer group.
As always with anything that we feature on the blog, we recommend that you listen to all of the artists above – maybe you’ll discover something that you haven’t heard before and love, which is ultimately the point of music blogs.
Keep a look out for the top 5 and winner of the Blog Sound of 2012, coming soon – in the meantime here are a couple of tracks of two of the nominated acts that we've never featured on Breaking More Waves before - The Jezabels and Friends.