Monday, 21 December 2015

Albums Of The Year 2015

It seems weird to be posting a non-Star Wars related piece of content at the moment, but here we are -  another year and another list of albums. More so than ever before it's been difficult to narrow this down to a mere 20. As such really good albums from Wolf Alice and Sleater-Kinney are missing. Maybe you could think of them as #21 and #22.

As always I make no attempt at objectivity here. This is simply where I try to make sense of the music that I've enjoyed the most in the last 12 months presented as a list. Because I like lists. It's how my brain works.

20. The Darkness - Last Of Our Kind
The opening pair of tracks on Last Of Our Kind, 'Barbarian' and 'Open Fire', are easily the best that The Darkness have recorded since their seminal début, Permission To Land. Had the rest of the album maintained this standard then we would, no question, be looking at the album of the year. Unfortunately despite containing some of their bravest and most varied material yet Last Of Our Kind fails to live up to the brilliance of its initial salvo.

19. Desperate Journalist - Desperate Journalist
Desperate Journalist pack a lot into the 38 minute running time of their début album, not least an edge and sense of excitement that has been largely missing from British indie rock since it lost itself to landfill. One may suspect that the best is yet to come from this band, but for now we can rejoice in razor sharp tunes like 'Cristina', 'Hesitate' and 'Control'.

18. Colleen Green - I Want To Grow Up
I kinda just want to write “Feels” to describe this album and leave it at that. But in order to give those unfamiliar more of an idea what to expect I'll instead say that it contains power-pop brilliance ('Pay Attention') and the best and bleakest examples of DIY bedroom pop that I've encountered in some time ('Deeper Than Love'). Essential for anyone struggling to be an adult.

17. FFS – FFS
Franz Ferdinand have always managed to keep their sound fresh, but in teaming up with Sparks they've managed to make an album that's like a début all over again. Granted, some moments sound more like one of the two bands than the other, but when they're both going at full-pelt on tracks such as 'Piss Off' they're an unbeatable combination of art rock and glam pop. Refreshing and as idiosyncratic as you'd hope from that acronym.

16. Tellison - Hope Fading Nightly
Tellison finally made a welcome return this year, following up The Wages Of Fear with their first album for Alcopop! Records. Whilst it's perhaps not as consistent as it's predecessor Hope Fading Nightly contains some of the best and most emotive rock songs of the year with 'Boy' and 'Tact Is Dead'. Let's just hope that we don't have to wait another four years for the next album.

15. Menace Beach – Ratworld
Leeds 'super-group' Menace Beach finally unleashed their début album this year after a couple of years of singles and EPs. Thankfully it more than lives up to the expectation with tunes and noise aplenty. Comparisons have been drawn to a range of bands, but Menace Beach only really sound like themselves. Since Ratworld they've already released another EP, so hopefully we won't have long to wait for even more.

14. Hop Along - Painted Shut
Thanks in part to Frances Quininlan's voice Hop Along are a hard band to pigeon-hole (see their Wikipedia page where someone has come up with 'grunge folk'), so it's a good job that I rarely try. What's really important however is that there's not a bad track on Painted Shut, which at forty minutes long, flies by, and with closing number 'Sister Cities', saves the best for last.

13. Grimes - Art Angels
Perhaps a somewhat low placing considering Art Angels critical supremacy but after only a couple of weeks living with this record I can't help but feel that not all of it works. That said, when everything does come together (on tracks such as 'Flesh Without Blood', 'Kill Vs Main' and 'Venus Fly') Grimes can lay claim to have recorded some of the most compelling pop music of the last few years.

12. The Decemberists - What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
There's something delightfully old fashioned about the seventh album from Portland's finest. Where many artists have been more sonically exploitative or playful with new technology The Decemberists have focused on good old songwriting with strong melodies and exquisite vocal harmonies. 'Make You Better' is the greatest example of this, but the whole album is a refreshing treat.

11. Paul Smith & The Intimations – Contradictions
Contradictions is without a doubt the strongest and most consistent album that the Maxïmo Park frontman has released in quite some time. Looser sounding than the records he puts out on the day job it feels as though Smith is perhaps being more true to his music tastes. With nods towards Prefab Sprout and Aztec Camera there's more than one instance of pop perfection.

10. Gaz Coombes – Matador
Matador has gained the former Supergrass singer his biggest critical hit since the early days of his former band and it's easy to see why. His best album since Road To Rouen (perhaps longer) it's combination of digital and acoustic instrumentation delivers all that last year's boring Damon Albarn record failed to. Complex, interesting and emotive it's a record that rewards multiple close listens.

09. CHVRCHES - Every Open Eye
The Bones Of What You Believe is probably the greatest début album of the decade so far, so there's no shame on CHVRCHES in failing to match it. Every Open Eye comes close enough however with even the deluxe edition failing to include a duff track. Solid and consistent, it especially glows on 'Make Them Gold', but it's only really 'Empty Threat' that has the edge that their début had.

08. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Artists as singularly talented as Courtney Barnett are few and far between. Perhaps they come along once in a generation. Even if that's the case then this generation is lucky to have Courtney. It's her particularly brilliant lyrics that gain her the most attention, but on Sometimes I Sit And Think... her guitar playing easily matches them. Favourite track? Well it's hard to pick just one, isn't it?

07. Blur - The Magic Whip
It was a long road to get here, but well and truly worth it - Blur have finally delivered a worthwhile follow up to their seminal 13. It's not perfect ('New World Towers' is a bit of a drag) but delivers much more than one would expect from a Blur album. 'Pyongyang' and 'Thought I Was A Spaceman' are particularly moving, whilst 'There Are Too Many Of Us' addresses the biggest problem on the planet without sounding preachy.

06. Chastity Belt - Time To Go Home
Time To Go Home is the main record from this list that I'm surprised to see missing from most other End of Year round-ups. On the surface this is simply another American indiepop record, but rewards multiple listens with perennial earworms. Chastity Belt will sit nicely alongside Alvvays, Waxahatchee and Honeyblood in anyone's record collection without sounding like any of them. A real gem.

05. Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp
Another slow burner, Ivy Tripp by Waxahatchee feels already like a minor classic. Not the sort perhaps that makes the Mojo Top 100, but the sort that real people will return to and reference in years and decades to come. The sound is varied and the songs intimate, this is an album to get lost in.

04. Ash – Kablammo!
Not for the first time on this list, this album is one of my favourite artists at the best that they've been in a number of years. In the case of Ash Kablammo! is their finest 'proper' album since the seminal Free All Angels. Whether it's the driven pop rock of 'Cocoon', the Muse-without-the-wankiness instrumental of 'Evel Knievell', or the emotional frankness evident on 'Dispatch' this is a fantastic collection of songs that it's easy to imagine revisiting with regularity for years to come.

03. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
It feels like THE pop album of the year has come from an unlikely place. I had Carly Rae Jepsen pegged as a one-hit wonder and have been proven spectacularly wrong. Emotion not only rarely puts a foot wrong but manages to sound like more than just a collection of incredible singles. Understandably this record has drawn comparisons to Taylor Swift's 1989, but this doesn't sit in anyone's shadow. How this underperformed in the charts will be one of the great pop mysteries and injustices of the 21st Century.

02. Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space
Clearly the sky was never the limit for Public Service Broadcasting. Only on album number two and they've already covered one of mankind’s greatest endeavours. Whether it's the successes or failures of the space missions PSB place the listener right there, sharing in the seat-edge suspense of the Apollo 8 orbiting the moon ('The Other Side'), the devastation of Apollo 1 ('Fire In The Cockpit') or the elation of actually putting a man in space (the funky 'Gagarin'). I can't wait to see where they go next.

01. Ezra Furman - Perpetual Motion People
And finally onto my album of the year. More so than any previous year it's been hard to decide on a favourite, but Perpetual Motion People it is. Furman has described himself as 'a weirdo Springsteen', and to an extent one can see where he's coming from as this record exudes a love of classic rock and roll and is crammed full of excellent songwriting. For me this feels more akin to a glam era Lou Reed, but however you approach this record it's impossible to deny – it's of the few albums from this year that has really caught the ears of my fiancé – and one that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone.

Friday, 4 December 2015

November 2015

Mitski – Townie
One of the highlights of this year's Halloween event at the Brudenell was solo artist Mitski, at what I believe was her first UK show. Unlike on record she performed with only an acoustic guitar, but still managed to lodge the chorus of 'Townie' in my head  where it has stayed since. From this year's album Bury Me At Makeout Creek it's a wonky, a little noisy and utterly captivating.

Protomartyr – The Devil In His Youth
Playing just below headliners Metz at the aforementioned Brudenell gig was the fantastic Protomartyr. Where Metz were all noisy thrash (I didn't stay until the end), Protomartyr were all about post-punk tension, translating their records superbly to the live arena. I struggle to recall when I was last this impressed by a live performance of a band that I was largely unfamiliar with. 'The Devil In His Youth' as the opening track from The Agent Intellect is as good a place as any to start with them.

Field Music – The Noisy Days Are Over
I've not been able to turn the radio on this last few weeks without hearing the latest single from Field Music. In many ways it's the band career to date in a nutshell; hard to pin down, it starts off brilliantly before becoming more complex and even better as it goes along. The album (due in January) is going to be great.

Los Campesinos! - We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
Preparing to go and see Los Campesinos! for the first time since around Romance Is Boring I got a little excited and decided to revisit their second record for the first time in what must be quite a few years. It was a timely reminder of its brilliance and by happy coincidence their set drew fairly heavily from the material, as did (for more feels) the latest issue of Phonogram which used quotes from WAB,WAD as well as The Long Blondes “Couples” for it's chapter headings.

Low – What Part Of Me
Aside from a charity shop purchased copy of C'mon, Low aren't really a band that I've spent any time listening to. 'What Part Of Me' came my way this month on a cover-mount CD that seemed to launch this year's End Of Year list deluge and simply sounds magical. It's minimal and Wintery with sublime vocal harmonies that I just want to sink into. It captivated me so much that I pretty much went straight out to purchase the album Ones And Sixes at a time when I'm really trying to do less of that.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

October 2015

October flew by with a flurry of work, sleep and gigs. Now we're in November and it's perilously close to End of Year List Season (never mind Xmas, it's this that gets earlier every year) and there's still a great amount of stuff from 2015 that I want to listen to. The below is some of what I've managed to spend some time with this month...

Tellison – Orion
Aside from the phenomenal 'Boy', which has been doing the rounds for a while, this track is a personal favourite from the new album Hope Fading Nightly. Building from a quiet intro with just voice and guitar, it gradually builds to an emotive rocker with nice dynamics. It's probably nothing you haven't heard before, but it's signature Tellison and more than welcome around these parts.

Carly Rae Jepsen – Run Away With Me
How naff is that opening saxophone part? It really shouldn't work, but perhaps that's what separates Carly from 99% of her pop contemporaries. This isn't overly focus-grouped lowest common denominator pap, but joyous, fantastic and timeless pop. This is just the opening track on Emotion, and from here it rarely slips below utterly ace.

Ezra Furman – Body Was Made
Perpetual Motion People currently sits at the top of the pile for albums in 2015 so far, and the fact that my better half is into it too meant that we jumped at the chance to go and see him live. Like with the album, it's hard to pick a particular highlight from his set, but I remember an especially positive crowd response to this number. Furman is a fantastic live performer and I strongly recommend that anyone who has the chance goes to see him.

Chastity Belt – Drone
Time To Go Home as revealed itself as a perfect autumn record that I've found myself coming back to repeatedly over the last month. Again it's hard to pick out a single highlight, but thanks to the lyric “He was just another man trying to teach me something”, 'Drone' does stand out. Almost too short, even at four and a half minutes long, it's a showcase for their brilliance as musicians and how together they're even greater than the sum of their parts.

Grimes – Flesh Without Blood / Life In The Vivid Dream
Aside from hearing the hits off the last album, somehow I've never managed to get around to listening to Grimes before now. Still I always try and check out the new tracks that seem to get everyone excited and this time I'm incredible glad I did. Vocal aside, 'Flesh Without Blood' sounds like Taylor Swift and as such is actually brilliant. Very much looking forward to this album – even though it doesn't get a physical release until December. BOO!

Pesky! - Keep Me
Talking of delayed physical releases, I've finally got the Pesky! album on CD. The band have an average age of 12, but musically they're damn great. There's a naivety about the album that's missing from pop these days, and as such this really stands out. This is the obvious hit from the record, and has taken up permanent residence in my brain. Easliy one of my favourite tracks from 2015.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

September 2015

It's been a long time since I've taken the time out to sit down and update Keep Pop Loud. Blame life getting in the way, a lack of ideas or just general burn out. As such this feature (which I've totally ripped off from The Album Wall, btw) is here chiefly as reason to get me to park myself at a keyboard once a month and put down some thoughts about the music I've been listening to.

Some of the music I'll write about here will likely be older, or having been doing the rounds for a while, but hopefully that's besides the point.

Paul Smith & The Intimations - The Deep End

I've eagerly followed Paul Smith's career for at least the last ten years, but somehow a gig at The Brudenell in Leeds at the start of the month was the first time I've seen him perform in any guise since Maxïmo Park were touring their debut album. Paul and backing band The Intimations played a cracking set that I was happy to see opened with this track, the highlight from recent album Contraditions which has been stuck in my head for most of the month as a result. The lyrics that document snapshots of a holiday perfectly complement the shimmering music, which is as refreshing as dipping into a pool on a hot day.

Kitty - Drink Tickets
I've got half a feeling that Kitty might actually be terrible, but I can't stop listening to this track at the moment. You might say that it was my jam, but I've got a feeling that has fallen out of parlance and there's something really now about Kitty. Named after the best member of the X-Men (she previously went under the name Kitty Pyrde) she makes electronic-y rap-pop that I'm sure Pitchfork hates. Dorky and very Tumblr this track bounces along on a nice pop groove and has lyrics about wearing fake jewellery and getting guest-list entry because you're skint. An album's in the works that will soon show if Kitty has any staying power, but for now this is on repeat.
Someone's uploaded it to youtube, but it's available as free download 3/19 in this year's Adult Swim Singles Project.

Stealing Sheep - Not Real
I picked up the Rough Trade Shops Heavenly 25 compilation as holiday listening for my trip to Barcelona this month, and whilst I can't say that I loved everything (I've never got the fuss about Temples) it introduced me to plenty of acts that I'd not normally have taken the time to listen to. Even by Heavenly Records standards Stealing Sheep, from the evidence of this track, are something of an oddity and as such stand out from the compilation as a highlight. A spectacularly wonky pop song, it features interesting vocal arrangements and a sound, that although feels part disco-y is also entirely un-placeable. Will investigate further.

CHVRCHES - Make Them Gold
Even though I've only just started listening to Every Open Eye I couldn't help but include CHVRCHES in this post. Whilst my initial feeling is that it's not as good as The Bones Of What You Believe it still manages to pack in enough sonic and emotional punch to keep them in my favourite acts of the last few years. 'Make Them Gold' is the track that makes my heart beat fastest at the moment and as such could well be the closest thing this record has to a 'The Mother We Share', but I'd like to refrain from any further judgement until I've listened to this record a lot more.

Keep Pop Loud

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Top 50 Songs Of 2014

Without further ado here is my Top 50 Songs of 2014. Some of the below you might note were on 2013 albums, but if they've had some sort of release or extensive radio play this year then I've included them. After all, it is my list. If you want to listen along then there's a  Spotify Playlist here or embedded at the bottom of the page (it's missing only Pris, Taylor Swift and T.O.Y.S).

50) Sounds Like There's A Pacman Crunching Away At Your Heart - Haiku Salut
49) Erdbeer Mund - Franz Ferdinand
48) Fake Your Death - My Chemical Romance
47) Don't Get Caught - Blood Red Shoes
46) Dripping Down - East India Youth
45) Do You Wanna Be In My Bland? - Pris
44) Fortune Teller - Menace Beach
43) Control The Radical - bis
42) Mistakes Of My Youth - Eels
41) Medicine - Tim Wheeler
40) Rimbaud Eyes - Dum Dum Girls
39) Anti-Parent Cowboy Killer - Joanna Gruesome
38) Delorean Dynamite - Todd Terje
37) We Sink - CHVRCHES
36) Unfurl - Blessa
35) Koko - T.O.Y.S
34) Skeleton Dance - Teleman
33) Bury Our Friends - Sleater-Kinney
32) Soweto - Screaming Maldini
31) When Christmas Comes - Los Campesinos!
30) The Party Line - Belle And Sebastian
29) Do It Again - Röyksopp & Robyn
28) Don't Blow It - We Are Scientists
27) Gloom - Kid Wave
26) Chimes At Midnight - Mastodon
25) Interference Fits - Perfect Pussy
24) TV Song - Robert Ellis
23) For One Night Only - King Creosote
22) Choker - Honeyblood
21) History Eraser - Courtney Barnett
20) Leave This Island - Maxïmo Park
19) 24 Hours - Sky Ferreira
18) Crouching Bees - Fight Like Apes
17) Digital Witness - St. Vincent
16) Opaque - Eagulls
15) Action Cat - Gerard Way
14) All The Rage Back Home - Interpol
13) Two Weeks - FKA Twigs
12) Until The Sun Explodes - The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
11) Boom Clap - Charlie XCX
10) Half Heart Necklace - Allo Darlin'
9) Bows & Arrows - Kaiser Chiefs
8) 1967, I Miss You I'm Lonely - Martha
7) To The Death - Johnny Foreigner
6) Blank Space - Taylor Swift
5) Everything Is Awesome!!! - Tegan And Sara feat. The Lonely Island
4) Seasons (Waiting On You) - Future Islands
3) Walk Me To The Bridge - Manic Street Preachers
2) Archie, Marry Me - Alvvays
1) The Pieces - Slow Club