Monthly Archives: December 2011

Let’s Get Cynical’s Albums Of The Year 2011

Here we are once again then, my top 10 albums of the year. Or rather, my top 11, thanks to the fact I’ve decided to have two number one albums, ignoring traditional numbering conventions in the process. I love the two albums in question for completely different reasons, and as such I couldn’t bring myself to pick between them. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s run through these albums in reverse order…

10. Battles – Gloss Drop

Battles - Gloss Drop

Despite the loss of Tyondai Braxton, the remaining three members of Battles soldiered on regardless, and Gloss Drop is the result. While perhaps not quite reaching the heights of debut full-length Mirrored, the new record feels undoubtedly more fun – and no more so than on the grin-inducing organised chaos of ‘Ice Cream’, which features the brilliantly nonsensical vocals of Matias Aguayo. Elsewhere, Gary Numan features on the blisteringly relentless ‘My Machines’, ‘Inchworm’ bounces playfully along, and album opener ‘Africastle’ sees the band sounding as tight as ever – just a few reasons why Gloss Drop is absolutely a triumph agains adversity.

9. Braids – Native Speaker

Braids - Native Speaker

On Native Speaker, Braids have provided one of the finest pairs of opening tracks you’ll hear all year. ‘Lemonade’ sees vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston cooing seductively over bubbling, sparkling backdrop, before ‘Plath Heart’ sees the band kick into mesmerising, oddball indie-pop mode in earnest. The rest of the album is pretty good too – the blissed out ambience of ‘Glass Deers’ and the clastrophobic menace of ‘Lammicken’ being particular highlights.

8. The Duke Spirit – Bruiser

The Duke Spirit - Bruiser

The Duke Spirit are perhaps one of the UK’s most undeservedly underrated bands, and listening to Bruiser will certainly do nothing to harm that reputation. The album makes its way from full-throttle bluesy rock numbers such as ‘Surrender’ and ‘Everybody’s Under Your Spell’ to more thoughtful, heartfelt tracks like ‘Villian’ and ‘Homecoming’, via the sultry stomp of ‘Procession’ and the dark, convulsing bassline of ‘Bodies’. The fact that all this comes together as a remarkably cohesive whole makes Bruiser one of the most consistently strong records I’ve heard all year.

7. Vessels – Helioscope

Vessels - Helioscope

The second full-length record from Leeds post-rock titans Vessels, Helioscope once again demonstrates the breadth and depth of their musical ambition, from the incessant, ever-shifting dynamics of opener ‘Monoform’ to the euphoric crescendo of ‘All Our Ends’. Of particular note is the beautifully understated ‘Meatman, Piano Tuner, Prostitute’, which features a gorgeous vocal turn from Stuart Warwick – but the album is a breathtaking ride from start to finish.

6. Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness

Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness

The most recent set from Los Campesinos! sees them adopt a more mature sound at points. Sure, Hello Sadness still features bursts of youthful exuberance (‘By Your Hand’, ‘Songs About Your Girlfriend’) and Gareth’s lyricism is as devastating as ever, particularly on the chorus of the title track. But songs like ‘The Black Bird, The Dark Slope’ and the heartwrenching ‘To Tundra’ feel like the sound of a band pushing harder than ever to surpass themselves – and succeeding.

5. Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See

Arctic Monkeys - Suck It And See

There is a school of thought that suggests that Arctic Monkeys have become progressively worse with each passing record. Anyone who thinks this, however, is utterly mistaken – Suck It And See is the sound of a band both very much comfortable in its own skin and sounding as effortlessly confident as ever. From gorgeous indie-pop (‘She’s Thunderstorms’) to wilfully ridiculous rock stompers (‘Brick By Brick’), they barely put a foot wrong here. Alex Turner is also on fine lyrical form, demonstrating his tender side with tracks like ‘Piledriver Waltz’ and ‘Love Is A Lazerquest’, as well as his trademark wit on ‘Reckless Serenade’ and ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’. Doubters gonna doubt, but Suck It And See is a fine addition to the Arctic Monkeys canon regardless of what they think.

4. The Horrors – Skying

The Horrors - Skying

While not the quantum leap forward that 2009’s Primary Colours represented, Skying saw The Horrors consolidate their sonic progression with another fine collection of songs – as well as finally earning a deserved chart breakthrough, (on their own terms, no less). From the driving, hook-laiden likes of ‘I Can See Through You’ and ‘Still Life’ to sprawling, brilliant epics ‘Moving Further Away’ and ‘Oceans Burning’, Skying moulds The Horrors’ myriad influences into a sound that is very much their own.

3. Wild Beasts – Smother

Wild Beasts - Smother

The baffling omission of Smother from the Mercury Prize shortlist turned out to be but a minor blip in the continued ascent of Wild Beasts. The band adopted a more pared down, less-is-more aesthetic than on previous records, which has been exquisitely combined with their thought-provoking, intimate lyricism to produce one of the year’s most stunningly beautiful records.

2. Zola Jesus – Conatus

Zola Jesus - Conatus

It’s impossible to talk about Zola Jesus without mentioning *that* voice, and for good reason – her operatic tones are some of the most powerful and distinctive you’ll hear today. But equally striking are the varied electronic soundscapes that she wraps around that arresting voice, and her third album Conatus proved to be no exception. Be it the spacious, ominous sounds of ‘Avalanche’, the glitchy industrial whirring of ‘Vessel’, the hypnotic likes of ‘Hikikomori’ and ‘Ixode’, or the fragile melancholy of ‘Skin’, it’s a consistently captivating record that deserves recognition as one of the year’s best.

1 (The Head). PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

Objectively speaking, Let England Shake is one of the year’s most outstanding artistic achievements, and I’d personally rank it as the best thing PJ Harvey has ever put her name to. To take on the subject of war without resorting to “WAR IZ BAD” tubthumping is commendable in itself – Harvey takes the far more restrained approach of narrating the horrors of war as seen through the eyes of the soldiers who were there. In doing so, however, she paints a more damning portrait of war than any protest song could ever hope to – and that’s the true genius of Let England Shake. I’ll stop there – it’s not as if I haven’t gushed about this album enough already.

1 (The Heart). Johnny Foreigner – Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything

Johnny Foreigner - Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything

For me, no band is better at making music that feels absolutely vital to my life than Johnny Foreigner, and with Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything, they’ve done it absolutely on their own terms. While there’s still plenty of the rapid-fire anthems they’re most well known for (‘What Drummers Get’, ‘You Vs Everything’), it’s the slower songs that really make this album for me – tracks like ‘200x’ and ‘Johnny Foreigner Vs You’ fit the band like a glove by allowing Alexei’s lyrical prowess to shine through. Deeply personal and yet instantly relatable, I can almost guarantee you’ll take far more than a handful of lines from these songs to heart – this is an emotional heavyweight of an album, but one you won’t mind being knocked off your feet by time and time again.

You can find a Spotify playlist containing all these albums right here.


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Local Artist Of The Whenever #14: Miaow Miaow

Miaow Miaow

It’s fair to say there aren’t enough perverse electro-pop bands in York – but luckily, we have Miaow Miaow to fill that particular gap in the market. Listening to their music, it’s quite clear they’ve got their sights set on other gaps to fill… I can’t believe I just wrote that. Anyway, the band was formed by the twisted minds of Aled Haywood and Pete Wise, who are aided and abetted in their affairs by Mikey Donnelly.

A recent recording session in Norwich resulted in a new Miaow Miaow track being unleashed onto the world – it’s called ‘Tiger Suit’, and you can hear it over on the band’s Myspace. It’s possibly about going out and having a good time whilst wearing one of those animal-print onesies (or maybe just a bit of good old-fashioned leopard print). “Oooh, don the pelt of a life more colourful” they coo, over spiky guitars and a regimented drumbeat – the falsetto chant of “animal, vegetable, or mineral?” in the song’s mid-section is also a goofy highlight. Of course, there’s more where that came from.’Ladventurin” sounds like Franz Ferdinand and Crystal Castles going on a particularly lary month-long bender, while ‘My Brains, Your Brawn’ mixes Foals-esque guitars with wonky Metronomy-style synths, and the lyrics will certainly raise a chuckle or two (my personal favourite being “My love for you’s largely asthetic/I like you best when you’re asleep”).

To celebrate the recording of ‘Tiger Suit’, the band will be hosting a gig at The Duchess in York on the 28th December. Support comes from Puppets, Twin Pines and Thomas Robinson, and the DJs from We Don’t Sleep At Night will be spinning some records after the show. Find out more details about the event here. Looking into 2012, they’ve got a gig lined up at 93 Feet East in London on the 31st January, which you can find out more about here. Also in the pipeline is a recording session with former Neon Plastix member Patrick Goss, which should yield some interesting results – hopefully it’ll be another opportunity for the band to hone their quirky, smirk-inducing style.

Find Miaow Miaow on Facebook here.

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Local Artist Of The Whenever #13: What The Cat Dragged In

What The Cat Dragged In

It’s always nice to see a band with an idiosyncratic style, and York-based five-piece What The Cat Dragged In certainly fit that bill – so much so, that their self-classification under the made-up musical genre of ‘Catdraggage’ seems pretty well justified. They also have a tendency to do pretty much everything themselves, which has resulted in two self-released records emerging this year – first, a three-track EP verbosely entitled The Abstract Nouns In My Concrete Metaphor, and more recently a two-track single, 17 & How Not To. Both of these are available on the WTCDI Bandcamp page, or have a listen to them below. There’s a variety of styles and sounds on display here, from twinkling slow-burner ‘Dérive’ to the scattershot post-punk of ‘How Not To’. The tense dramatics of ’17’ make it a personal favourite of mine, and the vocal interplay on ‘Jealousy’ is particularly wonderful.

The band’s DIY ethos doesn’t stop there, however. They also enjoy hosting gigs in unusual venues, and their latest and most ambitious project is the aptly titled A Gig In A Church. which will be hosted at St. Paul’s Church on Holgate Road in York on Tuesday 20th December. They’ve also got T.E. Morris (of Her Name Is Calla fame) playing main support, and ridiculously talented York youngsters Sombre will be opening the show. (As an aside, this gig will be Sombre’s final ever show – yet another good reason to get yourself down there.) Given the scale of the project, they’ve set up a page on indiegogo where you can contribute to the running of the show in exchange for various goodies – have a look here for more details. All in all, it looks to be a fine way to round off the year for What The Cat Dragged In – here’s hoping that 2012 sees them continue to succeed in doing things on their own terms.

Find What The Cat Dragged In on Facebook here.

Main photo courtesy of Adam Robinson (@Adam_Zed on Twitter).

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