Disclaimer: I’m still doing a degree, hence lack of posts. Although the interface has totally changed since last time I wrote anything, so this is perhaps a sign that it has been too long.
Released the tail end of last year, The Wave Machines’ Pollen truly came to life this year with the single release of Ill Fit. Easily one of 2013’s finest single releases, it’s funky, just a little bit sexy (‘Bite on a red lip, hold it…’) and a welcome burst of originality. 2009’s debut Wave If You’re Really There still stands up, but Pollen is a big step forward, covering everything from dreamy sentimentality (see Home) to slightly unsettling (Counting Birds). They’re excellent live, too.
Second album in two years from Rod Jones’s new venture, and A Conversation Well Rehearsed does not disappoint. Lead single Less Worthless Years hinted at significant game raising (try getting that chorus out of your head), and the quality barely dips across the album. It’s a similar mix to last year’s The Eleventh Hour: there’s punch the air euphoria on You Hear The Drum, gorgeous wistfulness on Out Of This World and balls-out rock on Uh-Huh Uh-Huh (which comes with some excellent screams), but everything is just that bit tighter, that bit better, a little more sure of itself.
Jones’s songwriting is going from strength to strength, with even the big dumb rock moments displaying real heart, and there’s an obvious sense of pride and pleasure in each note. If The Birthday Suit can keep this up, this may be just the start of something very exciting indeed.
Your correspondent has spent much of 2012 telling anyone who will listen about how devastatingly good Field Music’s Plumb is (see?), and it remains my favourite album of the year. Sheer staggering invention. They missed out on the Mercury, but that means nothing: all it has helped to do is get their name out there, and hopefully will encourage people to seek out their rich back catalogue as well.
Picking a favourite track wasn’t easy, but I Keep Thinking About A New Thing just edges ahead. It’s an intro with intent, giving way to a sort of steady funk (Field Music know basslines), topped with that circling, oddly hypnotic guitar. It’s optimistic, yet there’s something strangely downbeat, talking themselves into new possibilities, perhaps. Then, second verse, piano, percussion and a gorgeous breakdown all chime in, adding layer upon layer. On the face of it, it’s a simple pop song, and it sound be enjoyed as such, but getting it this right certainly can’t be easy, and the fact that Field Music do it so often shows what an exceptional band they are. For proof, see the delivery of “played so dumb I can’t bear to look”: the way the voice slides over the notes is shivers down the spine, aural swoon-inducingly perfect
Dee dee da-da-da! It’s Saturday Night for the first bar or so! But bear with it: few choruses this year can match the sheer joy of All of Me, with those strange, strained ‘yeahs’ being beamed in backwards. It borders on guilty pleasure territory (well, it’s certainly not cool, is it?), but what pleasure it is. Good old fashioned pop fun.
(Apologies for the rubbish photo video. There is an official video directed by The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt here, but there’s a pointless minute before the song kicks in.)
It’s not actually out until next year, but the second single from Everything Everything’s second album Arc has been doing the rounds since late October, and man, is it addictive. The “at the border, at the at the border” refrain makes it one of their catchiest moments to date, while that chorus “Kemosabe, I’m alone” is at once euphoric and desperate. Plus where else do you find the line “I’m genuflecting in a penitent way”? 2013 is already up on 2012 for having the official release of this.
Sometimes, only a bit of fluff will do. And what fluff. Niki and The Dove’s Instinct is platinum grade candyfloss, and is one of the most addictive albums of the year. By rights, it should be terrible. The lyrics are often a bit wonky, and Mother Protect features the worst synth pan pipe noise in existence, but it’s absolutely irresistible. The dreamy Last Night captures the atmosphere of Madonna’s Crazy For You, while The Fox shows that juddering cellos really aren’t used enough in pop these days. Somebody and Love to the Test are sugary pop just on the right side of cheese, while the aforementioned Mother Protect is worth putting up with the terrible synths for the execution of the pay off line “you can’t keep me down, I am young, I am furious”. Never has a vocal catch been so well deployed.
The best moment is perhaps The Drummer, driving, inventive and the owner of a chorus it’s impossible to stop singing. Drop your voice for “human” and you’ll understand: it’s far more fun that you ever thought it could be.
Another of this year’s highlights was Jesca Hoop’s third album The House That Jack Built. Perhaps more mature than her previous efforts, this is the sound of a woman finding her, well, sound. Her incredible voice seems to have new power, at once wonderfully free and ultra-precise. It’s an album of two very distinct sides: half mourning, half call to arms. The title track and DNR in particular deal with the recent death of her father with a startling lyrical honesty. While emptying her father’s house, she lists his possessions, lamenting “it’s not enough to know you through this”: simple, frank and devastating.
As for the call to arms, it’s a word that’s overused, but empowering is the only one that fits for Jesca in combative mood. See Peacemaker, in which women stop a war by witholding sex. Seriously. It shouldn’t work, but it’s threatening and terrifically sexy. And to let you know what you’re in for, opening track Born To is her best moment to date. It sounds like it was forged in a storm: a thundering sort of mandolin sound, that howl towards the end and that repeated assertion “I was born to, I was born to”. Born to what, we don’t find out, but whatever it is, you definitely believe her.