Monthly Archives: August 2009

Oasis = Noasis: Noel quits.

I’m sure this issue has probably already been tweeted to death in the half a day since the story broke, but for those who aren’t aware yet – Noel Gallagher has quit Oasis. No doubt this event pleased almost as many people as it upset – personally, I’m not exactly a massive fan, but I don’t hate their guts either. I just think that the way this has happened is pretty lame overall.

Now, I’m sure the ‘altercation’ that happened in Paris wasn’t enough in itself to force Noel to quit – rather, it was probably a case of “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. But, by snapping at this point, Noel has surely consigned Oasis to go out with the most pathetic of whimpers. Half of V Festival written off (unavoidably, admittedly) due to illness, and then the tail-end of the tour cancelled because of a hissy-fit backstage? Disappointing tens of thousands of fans isn’t exactly the ideal way to end your legacy is it? But hey, who am I to tell Noel that he should’ve at least stuck it out until the end of the tour – I don’t have to put up with Liam, after all.

So, what now for the band? Oasis as we know them are finished, one way or another. Much of the press coverage around the story suggests that the band will indeed split – but should Liam and the remaining members continue to use the Oasis name, the fact remains that the band has lost their principle songwriter. Even if a replacement lead guitarist is found, the band would still be left with Liam writing the songs – and while his contributions have steadily increased over recent years, there’s still only about an album’s worth of Liam-penned tunes in the entire Oasis back-catalogue. The other option would be to draft in another songwriter, but that would make using the name Oasis a stretch and would surely be opposed by Noel. Similarly, the band could feasibly continue to play live, but doing so without Noel on board would probably only serve to tarnish their reputation further.

Alan McGee, the man who signed them in the early days, reckons that the brothers will go their separate ways musically, but then eventually reform for a ‘reunion’ tour – ‘do a Blur’ if you will. Speaking of Blur, funny how the fortunes of the old Britpop rivals have so suddenly changed – after their well-received comeback shows this summer, the stage is set for Blur to do whatever they please, while Oasis have pretty much reached the lowest point possible. Still, the success of Blur’s comeback (and that of numerous other bands that seem to have reformed recently) shows that there’s always a place for nostalgia – hell, the continued success of Oasis before this point is testament to that. It might be a few years, but if the brothers do get round to reconciling their differences (or their bank balances need topping up), there’s every chance they’ll come swaggering back.

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Review: The Temper Trap – Conditions

The Temper Trap - Conditions

The Temper Trap - Conditions

The Temper Trap are the latest in a steady stream of recent Australian imports that has included such varied delights as Howling Bells, Cut Copy, Architecture In Helsinki and, er, Pendulum (ok, scrap that last one). Stylistically though, they share little with any of those bands – The Temper Trap have their sights firmly set on making grand, epic indie rock that wouldn’t be out of place on the world’s biggest stages.

Thankfully, rather than making charmless cock-rock, the band are defined as much by Dougy Mandagi’s sweetly-sung vocal as they are by the swooping strains of guitar that permeate their debut album, Conditions. ‘Sweet Disposition’ is the perfect example, shimmering along with a feel-good vibe that’s impossible to ignore, and it’s a feeling that runs throughout the album. ‘Love Lost’ builds up to a coda that’s palpably bursting with the joy and relief of being given an unexpected second chance, and crucially the band manage to deliver simple sentiment such as “Our love was lost/but now we’ve found it” without coming off as trite. Elsewhere, ‘Rest’ speeds by in a rush of shoegaze guitar, and ‘Fader’ proves instantly catchy with its poppy chorus of driving guitars and “ooh-ooh-ooh”s. Even when the tone takes a slightly darker turn, the tunes are still just as good – ‘Resurrection’ builds up from a quiet funk to something monumentally huge while ‘Science Of Fear’ has a racy, infectious paranoia about it that makes it a stand-out track on an album that’s already packed with great songs.

The album’s mid-section slows things down a little, but the band still pull it off effortlessly. ‘Down River’ has a definite air of Arcade Fire about it (to use that most overused of “epic”  band comparisons), while “Soldier On’ transforms from beautiful and melancholy to epic and heartfelt in the blink of an eye. Album-closer ‘Drum Song’, however, shows that The Temper Trap don’t even have to say anything to make affecting music, with a pounding, incessant drumbeat, humming bass and jagged guitars doing the talking.

Overall, Conditions is a fine debut effort, that, if there’s any justice, should see people start to take notice of The Temper Trap. It’s accessible enough for the mainstream (should they care to take notice), but also nuanced enough to please those who would consider themselves more discerning – and most importantly, it’s a record that not only sounds good, it also feels good. Make this the soundtrack to what’s left of your summer.

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Let’s Get Quizzical: Is Lady Gaga Ironic?

While I was secretly hoping for a legion of outraged Gaga fans to react angrily to my last post (I could have called it ‘Gagagate’!), in reality the increase in page views was already more than I could’ve hoped for. However, I did receive one comment that suggested that I was missing the irony of Lady Gaga and her music, and as such, I thought I’d explore that topic further.

I stated in my previous post that I couldn’t find a shred of irony anywhere on Lady Gaga’s debut album, The Fame. Upon reflection, that’s not quite true – ‘Paparazzi’ is somewhat ironic in that it apes the standard R’n’B love ballad, but is in fact about a stalkerish obsession with famous people and the fame that surrounds them. But elsewhere? I’m struggling to see it. I struggle to construe any of ‘Just Dance’s lyrics as ironic, and the fact that artists such as Maxïmo Park have covered the song with complete sincerity further supports that view in my eyes. And Lady Gaga has openly admitted that ‘Poker Face’ is about “bluffing with your sexuality”, surely indicating once again that it should be taken at face value.

So, while irony appears to be in short supply in the music itself, is there anything in Lady Gaga’s character that suggests that everything isn’t what it seems? There’s one moment in this interview with Jonathan Ross where she responds to rumours of transsexuality by deadpanning “well, I do have a really big donkey dick,” which may not necessarily be ironic, but at the very least indicates that she doesn’t take herself entirely seriously. However, while she comes across as more likeable than in the interview I posted in my previous post, she still appears utterly self-involved, wrapped up in her own little world without realising how unintentionally hilarious it can be for other people. And there doesn’t appear to be the need for further evidence – even though she (presumably) jokes about naked men fanning her and feeding her cherries, her answer to the final question in this interview seems to dismiss the possibility of irony entirely:

“I have a lot of complexities, and people constantly wonder if I’m putting up an act or something. But how I am on stage is exactly who I am, how I am living my life is exactly the way I had envisioned it to be. If people want to know me better, they have to get that.”

Now, it’s entirely possible that the above is a bare-faced lie, and Lady Gaga’s interview persona is as elaborately constructed as her costumes. But it just doesn’t seem plausible, particularly if you consider that if she was laughing behind everyone’s back, she’d probably prefer to be laughing all the way to the bank – and yet she’s apparently managed to bankrupt herself four times. How can someone who ploughs all the money she makes back into her stage show be doing it ironically?

But, I think the crucial thing about the concept of Lady Gaga being ironic is that if she isn’t perceived as such, then it’s all for naught – after all, in the eye of the beholder, perception is reality (what do you know, marketing did teach me something…). I highly doubt that Lady Gaga’s detractors are taking her music to be as ironic, and I surely can’t imagine that her fans are either. People aren’t praising Lady Gaga because her songs are some sort of wonderfully cutting tryst on fame and fortune. People aren’t buying her records because they’re ‘ironic’. The critical praise and the gargantuan sales come from the fact they’re infectiously catchy pop tunes – and, even if you dislike her as much as I do, that’s something you can’t really deny.

So, if you’d like to point out some irony in Lady Gaga’s music that I’ve evidently missed, then feel free – I’m all ears. But all the evidence I’ve found points to the exact opposite – she believes in what she’s doing with a commitment and sincerity that even I find begrudgingly admirable.

…doesn’t make her album any less irritating though.

(And with that, I’m hopefully done with Gaga. Next post will be about someone different, I promise.)

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Lady Gaga? *Insert your own joke here*

…because I couldn’t decided between any one of a number of terrible puns for the title.

My first exposure to Lady Gaga was in October last year, when I was watching a Swiss music channel with my girlfriend. ‘Just Dance’ popped up, and we spent a few minutes wondering who this stupid-looking woman was and why she was prancing around the remains of some house party – and then the next video came on and we thought nothing more of it. Come the beginning of 2009, I see her name in the BBC’s ‘Sound Of 2009’ poll, and wonder if it’s the same woman I saw before – then ‘Just Dance’ splurges itself all over the UK chart shortly after, and my fears are confirmed. By the time her album was released in April 2009, Gagamania had swept the nation, and she went straight in at number 1.

Now, before you read the rest of this article, this video is required viewing. Try to resist the urge to vomit, injure yourself or damage your computer, but go ahead and laugh by all means:

Finished? Good. Then you probably have some insight into why I think Lady Gaga is a despicable human being, a vapid slut who has shamelessly prostituted herself in front of both the media and the general public – only for them to not only happily bum her but then turn around afterwards and beg to be fucked up the arse with a strap-on.

…unfortunately, she also has an infuriatingly catchy way with a pop song.

Take the aforementioned ‘Just Dance’. Lyrically, it’s almost suspiciously tailored to the British public. Hey British people – ever got so battered that you’ve ended up on the floor, half-dressed, unable to remember where you are, and sans keys/phone/man? Of course you have! Here’s a song for you guys! Throw in a thumping beat, some garish synths and a gloriously dumb chorus hook (“Just dance/gonna be ok”) and you have a winning pop formula – well, except for poor bastards like me who hate the silly bitch but can’t get her irritatingly catchy songs out of their heads. ‘Poker Face’ is pretty much more of the same, except with lyrics about how she plays men like a deck of cards – if she wants to lose the ‘slut’ tag she’s not doing herself any favours. ‘LoveGame’ just reinforces that image, with the line “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick” cropping up within 5 seconds –  classy bird, eh? ‘Paparazzi’, on the other hand, slows the pace down a little bit to become an almost oddly affecting stalker-ballad – even if, musically, it’s the same beats ‘n’ synths style as before.

So yes, she’s got her slick pop formula down to a tee, but her music struggles to seem anything more than superficial in nature – and if you’re hoping for some respite from that on the rest of debut album The Fame, then forget it. Just one look down the tracklisting tells you all you need to know, with names like ‘Beautiful, Dirty, Rich’, ‘Money Honey’, and ‘Boys Boys Boys’ making it even more difficult to take her seriously.

Still, I resolved to at least try and listen to the album in full. Unsurprisingly, I failed – halfway through I became so sick of her that I resorted to listening to the first minute or so of each of the remaining tracks in order to speed up the torturous process. ‘Boys Boys Boys’ and ‘Money Honey’ sounded just as vapid as their titles suggested, and the only respite from the relentless beats/synths combo comes in the form of pointless balladry (‘Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)’, ‘Brown Eyes’) and the mind-numbing swagger of ‘Again Again’. The whole exercise is a frankly vomit-inducing insight into of how much Lady Gaga loves herself – it’s like listening to some air-head blather on about boys, sex, fame and money while someone beats you over the head with a synthesiser. Actually, it pretty much IS that – and crucially there’s not a shred of irony to be detected anywhere.

Still, at least having heard the album I feel more justified in my hatred of the woman. How we’re supposed to take her seriously when she goes on about ‘art’ is a mystery to me when her ‘art’ basically consists of her going on about how much she likes money, fame, and taking rides on ‘disco sticks’. One can only hope that the British public find a new obsession, so that she eventually disappears and takes her shallow, repetitive music with her. To quote Orwell’s 1984: “If there is hope, it lies with the proles.”

…fuck. I guess that means we’re going to be stuck with Lady Gaga and her ilk for a long, long time.

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Let’s Get Cynical About: The Mercury Prize

Yes, I’m a bit slow on the uptake I know. But I wanted to give each of the albums a reasonably thorough listening before spouting off about them, and I’d heard less than half the list beforehand. Unfortunately, Sensible Shoes by Led Bib isn’t to be found on Spotify, or Last FM, or anywhere else that I could think of, so I’ll have to leave it out of my critique. But here’s my take on the 11 other Mercury nominated albums, in reverse order of personal preference.

11. Glasvegas – Glasvegas

Glasvegas - Glasvegas

Glasvegas – Glasvegas

You may be surprised to find an ‘indie’ album at the bottom of this list, but in my opinion Glasvegas are shit.

Ok, maybe ‘shit’ is too strong a word when you consider the sweeping strains of ‘Geraldine’ and the heartfelt, tub-thumping bellow of ‘Daddy’s Gone’, but beyond that I honestly don’t think they’ve got much going for them. The swathes of guitar noise that define the album are too often dragged down by awkward nursery rhyme/playground chant lyrics – see ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’, which features James Allan singing “liar, liar pants on fire” more earnestly than any grown man ever should, or the mawkish chorus of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ that’s extraneously tacked onto the end of ‘Flowers And Football Tops’. And at worst, the album ignores the band’s strengths entirely – as on ‘Stabbed’, which is basically just Allan monologuing morbidly over Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’. By the time I’ve arrived at dreary album-closer ‘Ice Cream Van’, I’d pretty much fallen asleep – how Glasvegas have received such widespread praise for an album with so few highlights is beyond me.

10. La Roux – La Roux

La Roux - La Roux

La Roux – La Roux

Ah, La Roux. Catapulted into the spotlight and duly embraced by the British public after a string of admittedly very good singles (‘Quicksand’, ‘In For The Kill’, ‘Bulletproof’), I’d almost be disappointed that the quality of the singles hasn’t carried over to the album… if that fact wasn’t so damn predictable. Front-loaded to the extreme in typical pop record fashion, after it’s dispensed with its singles and ‘Tigerlily’, (which is fairly decent despite a bizarre ‘Thriller’ pastiche towards the end), it quickly tails off into dull, dull, dull territory. ‘Cover My Eyes’ is a yawnsome sub R’n’B ballad, ‘Armour Love’ is so sluggish that it makes me feel like I’ve been tranquillised, and there’s a song called ‘Fascination’ that’s so full of nothing that it makes me long for the Alphabeat track of the same name. And I love video game style synths as much as the next geek, but tracks like ‘I’m Not Your Toy’ and ‘As If By Magic’ just manage to make them sound trite and formulaic – not to mention that by the time that ‘Reflections Are Protection’ rolls around, there’s a nagging feeling that the album has descended into repetition.

Overall, I can sum up my opinion of La Roux’s nomination in four words: Little Boots was robbed.

9. Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew

Lisa Hannigan - Sea Sew

Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew

This year’s ‘token folk’ nomination is Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan, who (like me) you may have heard without realising – she made major contributions to Damien Rice’s first two albums. However, after their writing and touring partnership ended in 2007, she returned to Ireland to record her debut solo album, Sea Sew – and from its handmade patchwork artwork and the fact that it contains a song called ‘Splishy Splashy’, it’s clear without listening that it’s all going to be very lovely. Indeed, even after listening, the word ‘lovely’ is pretty much all that comes to mind. Hannigan’s quietly beautiful vocal glides over gentle acoustic strums and graceful strings – it’s all just rather nice really. Thankfully, just as the album threatens to make you zone out completely, it mixes things up a little – ‘I Don’t Know’ is cute, catchy and has a pleasing simplicity about it, and the minor key tones of ‘Keep It All’ make a welcome change. But then it returns to ‘lovely’ territory again – even album-closer ‘Lille’ is overshadowed by its cutesy pop-up book video.

It seems harsh to place this album so low largely for the crime of being ‘too nice’ – indeed, in my opinion it’s markedly better than the previous two albums – but unfortunately it just doesn’t grab me enough to warrant a higher position. Sorry about that, Lisa.

8. Florence & The Machine – Lungs

Florence & The Machine - Lungs

Florence & The Machine – Lungs

Like La Roux, Florence Welch (otherwise known as Florence & The Machine) was another female artist who was hotly-tipped at the beginning of the year, and she makes it higher on the list than the red-haired one largely on the basis that her Kate-Bush-lite schtick is more interesting than La Roux’s one-dimensional electro. ‘Dog Days Are Over’ and ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’, start the album compellingly enough with blissfully ethereal vocals, dreamy instrumentation and harmonious chanting. Thankfully, the quality doesn’t completely drop off after the first two tracks – ‘Howl’, ‘Drumming Song’ and ‘Cosmic Love’ are all suitably dramatic, and the scuzzy guitar of ‘Kiss With A Fist’ provide a good contrast to the rest of the album. It’s not without it’s duds, however – ‘I’m Not Calling You A Liar’ merely plods along, and ‘Girl With One Eye’ is a lethargic warbling exercise that’s also rather creepy. The decision to tack her cover of ‘You’ve Got The Love’ on the end is potentially a double-edged sword as well. It’s good, yes, but it threatens to become her ‘Hounds Of Love’ – except, unlike The Futureheads, she hasn’t truly made the song her own.

At the end of the day, however, the main reason I can’t place Lungs any higher than this on my list is that there’s already a far better ethereal pop album present (take a bow, Two Suns). Florence & The Machine’s effort is certainly far from unlistenable, but it lacks the truly jaw-dropping highlights that Natasha Khan’s record has in abundance.

7. Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Twice Born Men

Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Twice Born Men

Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Twice Born Men

I’d never heard anything at all about Sweet Billy Pilgrim prior to this year’s Mercury nominations, but upon listening to the opening track of Twice Born Men I was prepared to be blown away – ‘Here It Begins’, with its majestic instrumental build-up and world-weary, spoken word lyrics, almost signalled the beginning of something brilliant. As it turns out, I wasn’t quite as amazed by the rest of the album as I’d hoped – but I was nevertheless very pleasantly surprised. ‘Truth Only Smiles’ is a charming, pretty, multi-instrumental ballad, while ‘Bloodless Coup’ has an air of quiet melancholy about it. As a whole, the album is well composed, thoughtfully textured and beautifully played… and yet, it has a tendency to just drift past, barely noticed, like a quiet breeze. Depending on what you want from your music, that may or may not be what you’re looking for – for me, the shimmering beauty of Twice Born Men is easy to like, but difficult to truly fall in love with. Nevertheless, it’s an accomplished album that’s deserving of a place on the shortlist.

6. Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

Kasabian - West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

If you were surprised by Glasvegas’ placing then you may well be balking that Kasabian have even ended up this high. In truth, I wasn’t convinced by West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum at first – but with repeated listens the number of dud tracks seemed to steadily decrease. ‘Fire’ was an instant winner with its jaunty, wild-west verses and anthemic chorus, as were the fuzzy bass and thumping beats of ‘Vlad The Impaler’. ‘Take Aim’, ‘Underdog’ and ‘Fast Fuse’ were also fairly quick to impress, but it’s when the band attempt to break from their usual sonic template that the songs take a little longer to reveal their charms. Drowned in Sound pointed out that ‘Thick As Thieves’ has more than an air of The Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’ about it, but it works just about passably with the bands’ swaggering demeanour, while ‘Secret Alphabets’ isn’t any worse off for trying to sound a bit like psychadelic-era Beatles. On the other hand, ‘West Ryder Silver Bullet’ attempts to take a crack at being ‘epic’, but ultimately ends up sauntering around aimlessly for five minutes without really going anywhere. Album-closer ‘Happiness’ is also pretty much an outright dud, with the best word I can use to describe it being ‘nice’ – and when the Gospel choir kicks in you’ll probably think “WTF? This isn’t Kasabian.”

It’s good to see the band trying something a bit different, but most of the best tracks on West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum are the ones where they sound like the ‘old’ Kasabian. Maybe that opinion aligns me closer than I’d like to the lager-lads who the band seem to be perpetually linked with, but hey, I’m just calling it how I see it.

5. Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy

Speech Debelle - Speech Therapy

Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy

It’s good to see Speech Debelle continuing the trend of ‘token urban’ nominations that are far from ‘token’ (never mind the fact that I’ve no clue what ‘urban’ is supposed to mean these days). If there’s one thing that Speech Therapy does well is throw ‘urban’ stereotypes out of the window within its first two tracks – the plaintive guitar of opener ‘Searching’ is disarming, and second track ‘The Key’ features clarinets. Yes, clarinets! Bog-standard beats ‘n’ rhymes rap this ain’t. Of course, all that would count for very little if the eclectic instrumentation wasn’t matched with a solid flow – thankfully, Speech has effortlessly affecting rhymes in spades. And they’re spoken from the heart – ‘Go Then, Bye’ tackles break-ups without being trite, ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ is an emotionally raw, yet calmly restrained attack on Speech’s absent father, and title track ‘Speech Therapy’ is both a crucial insight into Speech’s motivations and a moving tribute to her mother.

To ignore Speech Debelle simply because she’s an ‘urban’ artist, or because she’s a rapper, would be foolish indeed – she provides an emotional and thought-provoking view into a world that you may not have even considered thinking about.

4. The Invisible – The Invisible

The Invisible - The Invisible

The Invisible – The Invisible

The Invisible were surely one of this year’s more unexpected nominations, but their self-titled debut is certainly deserving of the exposure. It takes a little while to get going – ‘Constant’ is a slow-burner that sounds like the moody, disaffected cousin of Bloc Party’s ‘Banquet’, but once the funky bass of ‘London Girl’ kicks in the album rarely looks back. ‘Baby Doll’ is subtly builds up to an understatedly anthemic chorus, ‘Monster’s Waltz’ bubbles along pleasingly before breaking out into a wall of guitars, and ‘Ok’ is just pure feel-good funk. The band also know how to switch things up a little – ‘Climate’ features oppressive synths building up to an urgent coda, while ‘Tally Of Souls’, shows that a sparse acoustic guitar also works well as a backdrop for David Okumu’s gently soulful voice. But just as you think the album’s pace has dropped off completely, ‘Time Waits’ smacks you in the face with a blast of raw guitar to take the album out on a high.

The Invisible may have been a surprising nomination, it would surely be an even more surprising winner – but that shouldn’t stop you from giving it a listen. You may well like what you hear.

3: Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires

Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires

Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires

In a review on my previous blog, I called the debut record by Friendly Fires “one of [2008’s] most effortlessly listenable albums”, and I’m sure anyone who’s had this album on repeat will agree with me. From the samba rhythms of ‘Jump In The Pool’, through the wide eyed, hopeful euphoria of ‘Paris’ and the Hot Chip-esque funk of ‘On Board’, all the way to the sinister guitar and dark emotion of ‘Ex Lover’, the band switch styles while maintaining an effortless sense of coherence and flow. Friendly Fires has both hands in the air moments (‘Skeleton Boy’) and touches of understated brilliance  (‘In The Hospital’) – indeed, the only reason that this album doesn’t rank as the best of the Mercury nominees this year in my eyes is that it doesn’t have anything quite as good as the best tracks on the two albums at the top of my list. But that’s just me nitpicking – in reality, the quality of songs on Friendly Fires is so consistently good that it would be as worthy winner as either Two Suns or Primary Colours.

2: Bat For Lashes – Two Suns

Bat For Lashes - Two Suns

Bat For Lashes – Two Suns

Bat For Lashes was a hot favourite to bag the Mercury Prize two years ago with her debut album Fur And Gold, and some would argue she was duly robbed by Klaxons (who, for the record, were surprising but worthy winners in my eyes). She more than deserves a second go round this time though – Two Suns is an absolutely stunning record. Bombastic, jaw-dropping centre-piece ‘Siren Song’ is almost worthy of the prize on its own, while ‘Glass’ and ‘Two Planets’ are both spectacular highlights, featuring thundering drums, atmospheric instrumentation and soaring vocals in equal measure. Crucially, she’s also capable of mixing her ethereal stylings with pop sensibilities, as demonstrated perfectly on singles ‘Daniel’ and ‘Sleep Alone’. She handles her slower numbers well too – ‘Moon And Moon’ is a beautiful piano ballad, and her fragile, haunting duet with Scott Walker on ‘The Big Sleep’ wraps up the album perfectly.

I would certainly have no complaints if Natasha Khan walked away a winner on her second try – the only reason that Two Suns doesn’t make the top of this list is that it’s not as startling a jump forward as Primary Colours is. What it is, however, is a masterful progression from the already very solid foundations of Fur And Gold – this album deserves your attention.

1: The Horrors – Primary Colours

The Horrors - Primary Colours

The Horrors – Primary Colours

Who’d have thought it? This time two years ago, I doubt the Mercury judges were rushing to nominate Strange House – although maybe they should have been, it was miles better than The View’s debut for fuck’s sake. However, two years and one almost completely different album later, The Horrors are on the shortlist, and it’s not hard to see why – critics have fallen head over heels with the band’s second album. Whatever influences you may pick out on Primary Colours, chances are that they were already present in their impressive record collections even around the time of Strange House. This is just them realising their potential by exploring a different set of influences and making a bloody brilliant album.

From the dark, queasy swirls of ‘Mirror’s Image’ through to the astonishing 8-minute soundscape of ‘Sea Within A Sea’, the album rarely falters. ‘Who Can Say’ sees Faris tackle fading love with surprising sincerity as his band create a wall of relentless beats and guitar fuzz, while ‘Scarlet Fields’ is a hazy masterpiece of understated bass and swirling synths. It’s not perfect of course – ‘I Only Think Of You’ drags on for a little too long and ‘I Can’t Control Myself’ isn’t quite as good as everything else in my opinion, but overall these are minor complaints. If you didn’t like The Horrors before, put aside any prejudice you previously had for them and give this a listen – and if you did like them before, prepare to fall in love with them in a whole new way.

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Grammatics vs. Blue Roses

It’s always a treat to see a collaborative performance by two great artists, and that’s exactly what we got at Nation Of Shopkeepers in Leeds on Monday night when Grammatics and Blue Roses (aka Laura Groves) got together to play a short but sweet set comprising of songs from the debut albums of both artists. It was the first time I’d visited the venue, and I must admit that it was a very charming place, with an outside terrace and interesting decor galore.

I’ll admit that I was largely there because of Grammatics, and although they only played three of their songs they didn’t disappoint. Beautiful B-side ‘Time Capsules And The Greater Truth’ got a rare airing, and fit the semi-acoustic feel of the evening perfectly – and Laura’s harmonies made it all the more special. ‘Broken Wing’ worked brilliantly too, with Laura’s vocal adding even more tenderness to the song’s already heartfelt tale of a long-distance relationship. However, if there was one song that this evening was made for, it’s ‘Inkjet Lakes’ – the song just wouldn’t work without Laura being there, and as such this was a delightful opportunity to hear the song played in a live setting.

However, considering that I knew very little about Blue Roses‘ material going into the set, I have to say that I was very impressed with her impassioned, fragile folk songs. Playing ‘Coast’ and another couple of numbers from her debut album, it was a perfect chance for her to demonstrate her own vocal abilities – and with Owen harmonising, the effect of both vocalists combined was stunning.

According to the Metro, the event had made mention of ‘a selection of covers’ being played, but apparently that was news to Owen. However, he made a good go of Echo And The Bunnymen’s ‘Under The Killing Moon’, in order to avoid, as Owen put it, “the backlash of Metro readers” – the fact that it was easily overshadowed by the original material on show tonight speaks volumes about the quality of songwriting that these two artists possess.

But really, this event was about those two wonderful voices – to have two such powerful, yet complimentary vocal talents in one room made it a truly special occasion.

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