Category Archives: Albums

2013 Catchup: The Emotional Desolation Of Banks

Banks - London EP

Banks – London

Confession time: I only got into Banks at the very beginning of this year – I’d seen that she was on the BBC’s Sound Of 2014 list, listened to ‘Warm Water’, thought it was alright and then moved on with my life. It was only after reading a DiS article on the aforementioned list and finally listening to ‘Waiting Game’ that my opinion did an immediate about face. Though ‘Waiting Game’ hit me instantly, I briefly remained unconvinced by the rest of last September’s London EP – but it wasn’t long before each of the other three tracks on it wormed their way irrecoverably into my head and heart.

But let’s rewind for a second and cover why ‘Waiting Game’ immediately connected with me. Its lyrics concerning separation, distance, and the nagging doubt that a relationship can only ever decline (“What if the way we started made it something cursed from the start? What if it only gets colder?”) are certainly relatable, and the stark piano chords and throbbing sub bass give Banks’ airy vocals plenty of space to breathe while further emphasising the feeling of loneliness that runs through the song.

‘This Is What It Feels Like’ comes next, and its woozy electronics and two-step beats provide a backdrop to another form of heartache – feeling like someone is pushing you away when you want them to hold you closer. “And when you saw that I felt the same/you pulled away, started acting like being with me was too hard,” Banks sings frustratedly, clearly wounded by opening her heart only to have her affection rebuffed. “Bring it now/bring it on,” she demands in the chorus, all the while knowing that her desires will no doubt go unfulfilled.

‘Bedroom Wall’ is the EP’s quietest track, with muted beats evoking a lonely room at 3am even as its synths attempt to sooth with a faint flicker of warmth. It’s absolutely the record’s most heart-on-sleeve moment, a softly desperate dedication to an unrequited love. Banks nervously but earnestly offers herself up to her potential lover (“I’ve been thinking ’bout, thinking ’bout/putting my body, body, body on top of yours”) before quietly mourning his blindness to her feelings with a repeated, fragile refrain – “Do I have to write it on your bedroom wall, you fool?”

It was ‘Change’ that took the longest to settle in, but perhaps hit the hardest – after I came to the uncomfortable realisation that, despite my best intentions, I’ve probably been that guy. You know, the one who makes promises to change, then never lives up to them and can only live to regret the consequences. Banks has clearly been on the other side of that relationship herself, and for all her lover’s apparent failings, she offers the harshest indictment of him by simply quoting his own words back at him – “Baby don’t go, I didn’t know, I’ll change I swear, I’ll change I swear.”

It’s strange to think that a four-track EP can pretty much sum up years of emotional and romantic frustrations and failings for me, and yet Banks has done exactly that with London. But whether or not you’re as much of a fuck-up as I am when it comes to relationships, her haunting, intimate and confessional lyrics will no doubt strike a chord somewhere along the line – by infusing her R’n’B with a deeply personal dark heart, Banks has come up with something truly special.

London is available now on Harvest Records/Good Years

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2013 Catchup: The Transportive Music Of Samaris

Samaris - Samaris

Samaris – Samaris

Ask someone to name a musician or band from Iceland and you can generally expect one of two answers: Björk or Sigur Rós. With those two artists as touchstones for our musical perceptions of the country, we may presume that all Icelandic artists are inspired by the unique, seemingly alien landscape of the island that they live on. However, that’s not always the case – neo-classical composer Ólafur Arnalds has admitted that one of his most beloved songs was, in fact, originally conceived with a far more pragmatic goal in mind, while electro-poppers Retro Stefson make music that would sound as at home on a Mediterranean beach as it does on the streets of Reykjavik.

Samaris, on the other hand, create the kind of Björk meets Fever Ray hybrid that feels like it could only have been conceived in this harsh yet beautiful climate – combining Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir’s haunting clarinet motifs, Þórður Kári Steinþórsson’s glacial electronica and the captivating vocals of Jófríður Ákadóttir, whose words are taken from 19th century Icelandic poems. Though they have stressed in interviews that they are not solely inspired by the nature of their country, it still seems somehow fitting to describe their self-titled debut release in terms of Iceland’s landscape – so let’s go on a journey…

At the outset, ‘Hljóma Þú’ serves as a perfect introduction to the atmosphere that Samaris create, calling to mind both the near-permanent darkness of Iceland’s winter and its vast areas of rugged basalt terrain. As if to complete this overall picture of the island, ‘Viltu Vitrast’ evokes the wide open sea that surrounds Iceland, with aquatic synthesisers bubbling underneath as a clarinet line soars above like a lone bird of prey. It’s ‘Góða Tungl’ that is the single most evocative piece on the album, however. Spacious, electronic beats reflect miles and miles of uninhabited landscape, the mournful clarinet sounds like a glacier slowly melting, rumbling bass echoes the tectonic activity that stirs between Iceland’s surface, and the ethereal vocals lend the whole thing an otherworldly feel.

The crystalline synths of ‘Stofnar Falla’ could represent frozen waterfalls, towering basalt columns or monumental ice flows, with the song’s dense atmosphere also conjuring up the bleak beauty of such distinctive landmarks. ’Vöggudub’, meanwhile, evokes the idea of finding respite from the bitter cold in other people, with Jófríður’s vocal shining like a beacon of humanity in an unforgiving expanse. As two takes on the same poem, ‘Sólhvörf (I)’ and ’Sólhvörf (II)’ feel like a slowly shifting lava field being depicted in two different ways – the former’s synths quiver and shudder in a way that evokes the dead of night, while the latter glistens like the first light of dawn, lending the imagined scenery a newfound serenity. Finally, we move to the very source of much of this natural beauty, with ‘Kælan Mikla’ sounding like the aftermath of a volcanic eruption – the vocals are more sombre and funereal than ever, with the synths like ash clouds slowly settling until they suddenly explode once again.

The last four tracks of this record are remixes by members of Iceland’s burgeoning electronic community, each of which throws a different filter on the pictures conjured up by these songs. Muted’s remix of ‘Hljóma Þú’ calls to mind an overcast, rainy day, while Futuregrapher’s version of ‘Viltu Viltrast’ is quite the opposite, bathing the song in the warm, comforting glow of summer. DJ Arfi turns ‘Góða Tungl’ on its head, his minor-key re-working making the landscape seem unnerving, with the threat of monstrous things lurking in the shadows cast by a distinctly bad moon – but the best of these remixes is Subminimal’s drum ’n’ bass refit of ’Stofnar Falla’, which offers not a change of mood but a change of pace. It evokes a feeling of travelling at great speed, with the rapid-fire beats akin to the foreground moving in fast-forward, while the vocals and clarinet remain implacable, distant and majestic, like mountains on the horizon.

And thus, Samaris comes to a close, as does our journey. But if you take one thing away from this piece of writing (or want a tl;dr version), let it be this – the music that Samaris create is truly transportive. You may not envision quite the same images as I do when you play this album, but I guarantee that what you see in your mind’s eye will be wonderful regardless.

Samaris is available now on One Little Indian records.

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Review: Various Artists – 12 Traditional Christmas Songs (In Aid Of Radio York’s Good Night’s Sleep Appeal)

Various Artists - 12 Traditional Christmas Songs

Various Artists – 12 Traditional Christmas Songs

I don’t know about you, but I’m still not feeling particularly festive – so I thought I’d give this BBC Radio York curated compilation a spin and see if it helped to change my mood. As the title suggests, 12 Traditional Christmas Songs is exactly that – but the twist is that each of these songs have been re-imagined by one of 12 local artists hand-picked from the many acts featured on BBC Introducing In York & North Yorkshire.

Naturally, each artist has a different take on these traditional carols – Union Jill play things straight by delivering a faithful version of ‘Coventry Carol’, while Bull exemplify their slacker-rock approach to ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ by only singing two lines from the original song. Elsewhere, Pip Mountjoy has her sights set on next year’s John Lewis advert with her rendition of ‘The Holly And The Ivy’, while BluesBeaten Redshaw offers an appropriately jaunty take on ‘I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In’. Other tracks distinctly suggest the influence of a particular artist: Littlemores channel early Arctic Monkeys on their version of ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’, Adam Chodan imagines how Noel Gallagher might sing along to ‘Away In A Manger’, King No-One‘s cover of ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ echoes Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’, and The Buccaneers take on ‘Jingle Bells’ in the style of ‘Birthday’ by The Beatles.

The best moments on the album are when the artists really make their own mark on their chosen song. Bear Station offer up a beautifully arranged version of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, while Gavin Loughlin enlists the aid of two female vocalists to deliver a harmonious, minimal take on ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’. Special mention must also go to Nathan Luke, whose stunning delivery makes his version of ‘Silent Night’ a real highlight – you can just imagine him bringing an entire congregation to a standstill with it. It’s The Blueprints who best succeed in putting their own stamp on their chosen song though, rendering ‘While Shepherd’s Watch’ in their signature propulsive indie-rock style – and also throwing in a little trademark humour by featuring some alternative lyrics you may remember from your school days and a cheeky nod to BBC Radio York DJ Jericho Keys.

As if all this festivity wasn’t enough on its own, all proceeds from sales of the album are going towards the BBC Radio York and St. Martin’s Hospice “Good Night’s Sleep” appeal, which you can find out more about here. You can get a copy of the album on CD from the St. Martin’s Hospice website, or download it on iTunes – and do so knowing that it won’t just be your face that it’ll help to put a smile on.

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Banger Police: A Brief Summary Of ‘Bangerz’ by Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus - Bangerz

Miley Cyrus – Bangerz

In the current end of year list-o-rama, the Guardian’s list caught my eye for the wrong reason – namely that their writers managed to collectively rank Miley Cyrus‘s most recent album Bangerz above Jon Hopkins‘ incredible Immunity. But rather than spew ill-informed hatred, I decided I should at least listen to Miley’s record. For science. So, here’s what I thought of it…

…honestly, I should probably just put a funny gif here and have done with it, but here’s a track-by-track summary instead.

  1. Soppy ballad.
  2. Rihanna off-cut. (I’ve honestly been assuming that this was a particularly mediocre Rihanna song up until now.)
  3. Embarrassing attempt at ‘edgy’ rap.
  4. Comical country/rap fusion.
  5. Soppy ballad that shamelessly cribs from ‘Stand By Me’.
  6. I CAME IN LIKE A WREEEEECKING BAAAALL! (Probably the best thing on the album, for what little it’s worth.)
  7. Dross.
  8. Something cobbled together from the scraps from Daft Punk’s (turn)table(s).
  9. Miley Cyrus goes dubstep/soppy ballad hybrid.
  10. ‘Delilah’ with a dubstep chorus.
  11. Generic euphoria/hollow self-belief/terrible rapping/even more dubstep. “STAY IN YOUR LANE BITCH!”
  12. Soppy ballad.
  13. Rave rave rave, yawn yawn yawn.
  14. …fuck off, you really think I’m going to listen to the ‘bonus’ tracks?

In summary, you can quite safely get self-righteous about Immunity (or any other album of your choice) being better than Bangerz because Bangerz isn’t even “just good pop”, it’s just shit. You want a “banger” Miley? THIS is a “banger” – and also the perfect palate cleanser after having wasted 50 minutes of my life on your shitty record.

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“Baby You Left Me Sad And High.” – An Overly Personal Look At My Top 6 Albums Of 2013

It’s easy to forget in the flurry of lists that inevitably appears at this time of year, but music is ultimately a personal thing (…I don’t think that’s the first time I’ve said something like that on this blog). All told, this has been a pretty blockbuster year, particularly when 2012 felt relatively lean in comparison (to me, at least). With so many great records around, how do you decide the most worthy of praise? Personally, I keep coming back to the albums that have the greatest emotional resonance – and in that regard, 2013 has conspired to produce half a dozen records that align with the various emotions I’ve often felt this year. “…But I will not spill my guts out.”  – though if you read between the lines, perhaps I’ve come a little closer to doing so than I’d care to admit…

6. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

A friend of mine compared the words of Nick Cave to the ramblings of a madman when I was playing this record on a drive home, and to be honest, I found it difficult to refute him – but then, the line between madness and genius is one that Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have often straddled. Cave’s lyrics on Push The Sky Away may seem impenetrable on first listen, but focus on them a little more intently and you’ll find some surprising moments of clarity – and I’m not just talking about the year’s most oddly prescient reference to Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus (on ‘Higgs Boson Blues’).

There’s the wounded pride of ‘Mermaids’, whose opening lines suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks one evening (“She was a catch, and we were a match. I was the match that would fire up her snatch. There was a catch: I was no match.”), or the desperate longing of ‘We Real Cool’, perhaps epitomised by the line “Wikipedia is heaven, when you don’t wanna remember no more.” But its most stirring moment comes at the close of the album, with ‘Push The Sky Away’ having the quiet yet bloody-minded determination of a man close to breaking point – “You’ve gotta just keep on pushing, keep on pushing, push the sky away.”

5. Daughter – If You Leave

Daughter - If You Leave

Daughter – If You Leave

Honestly, Daughter could pretty much have been designed by committee to appeal to me. Beautiful shrinking violet of a singer whose voice is gentle while still having an undeniable power? Check. Lyrics about love, loss and heartache? Check. Set to a backdrop of swooning guitars and tasteful percussion? Check. Thankfully, If You Leave never seems as cynically conceived as that – indeed, it’s a record of such sincerity that one can’t escape the feeling that vocalist Elena Tonra might be nursing some serious emotional wounds.

Don’t get me wrong, the music is gorgeous, but it’s the way it combines with Tonra’s lyrics that really makes this album so special. She’s at her most affecting when she’s making the kind of desperate pleas that will no doubt go unrecognised by the one person they’re aimed at: “Don’t bring tomorrow, ’cause I already know I’ll lose you.” / “Please take me back to when I was yours.” / “Give me touch, ’cause I’ve been missing it.” But she’s also equally moving when dealing with other aspects of loss and heartache, as evidenced by ‘Still’s portrayal of a disintegrating relationship or ‘Youth’s bitter inability to let go of the past. Even ‘Human’, the one moment of defiant resilience on If You Leave, ends in defeat – “Despite everything, I’m still human… but I think I’m dying here.”

4. Arctic Monkeys – AM

Arctic Monkeys - AM

Arctic Monkeys – AM

If Daughter have effortlessly captured the feeling of heartbreak on If You Leave , then Arctic Monkeys have created an unlikely yet perfect companion piece in AM – an album that focuses on romantic and sexual obsession. It’s there from the off with the sultry groove of ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ (“…if this feeling flows both ways?”), before ‘R U Mine?’ ramps up the ante and throws down the gauntlet to a desired partner – “Are you mine tomorrow, or just mine tonight?” It’s an album about being obsessed with someone whether you’re awake or asleep – “I dreamt about you nearly every night this week.” / “I just cannot manage to make it through the day without thinking of you lately.” – and also about trying to satisfy that desire (‘One For The Road’, ‘Knee Socks’).

But it also touches on the situations that would lead these thoughts to occupy your mind – being too close to the one who used to love you (‘Fireside’), seeing an old flame and feeling like they could do so much better than their current beau (‘Snap Out Of It’), or simply being completely wasted (‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’). In the end though, ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ closes the album with the admission that Turner is ultimately following his heart rather than his libido – though he’d certainly like to satisfy the latter in the process.

3. Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Jon Hopkins - Immunity

Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Wait a minute, isn’t this all supposed to be about feelings and emotions? What’s a largely wordless album of electronica doing here? And yet, the reason I love Immunity is precisely because Jon Hopkins manages to imbue his electronica with a sense of emotion. Perhaps it’s most obvious on the sensual, throbbing ‘Collider’, a song which bristles with a relentless sexual energy. It’s immediately followed by the most perfectly-placed comedown in ‘Abandon Window’, which is all stark pianos and ambient swells, together with the fireworks exploding in the distance, as if to emphasise some far-off celebration that the listener is barely part of. King Creosote also appears on the title track to add even more emotional weight to proceedings, with his distant, mournful voice delivering lines like “you said forever was unkind,” as the record comes to a beautiful climax.

But even outside of that, there’s joy to be had in the pure, propulsive techno of  ‘We Disappear’ and ‘Open Eye Signal’, or the way that the piano chords cut through ‘Breathe This Air’ like a moment of clarity. All told, Immunity combines relentless thrills with a melancholy comedown to create one of the year’s most smartly constructed and perfectly-paced records.

2. These New Puritans – Field Of Reeds

These New Puritans - Field Of Reeds

These New Puritans – Field Of Reeds

Again, the latest record from These New Puritans might seem like an odd fit in this list. Were it not for the sheer emotional power of my number one album, Field Of Reeds would probably take its place thanks to its unquestionable compositional mastery. But under the surface, it too is an emotional record – frontman and chief composer Jack Barnett has stressed as much in interviews. The album is able to match the power of classical music to create feelings without words – epitomised by the lump-in-your-throat moment when ‘Organ Eternal’ reaches its crescendo – with the ability to be explicit with words in the manner of a pop song, as on ‘Nothing Else’ (“I pray that just for a minute, real life and dreaming swap places”).

Make no mistake, These New Puritans have crafted an emotional journey on Field Of Reeds – just not in a conventional manner. But then, one shouldn’t expect anything remotely nearing ‘conventional’ from the band these days – and that’s another reason why I love them. (You can find many more reasons in my review of the record over on Soundsphere Magazine.)

1. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

The National - Trouble Will Find Me

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

Over the past five years, The National have gone from being a band I like and casually listen to now and again, to one I absolutely adore. 2010’s High Violet was the catalyst (as I’m sure it was for many others), slowly winning me over and causing me to re-visit the copies of Boxer and Alligator that I already owned but had yet to truly fall in love with. By the time I had attended the ATP event that the band curated at the end of 2012, they’d captured a permanent piece of my (medium-sized American English) heart. All of which leads us to Trouble Will Find Me, whose mere existence made it an almost certain contender for album of the year in my eyes – but that didn’t stop it from having the settling-in period that all records by The National seem to have. But when it hit, it hit hard.

Pretty much every single song on this album has at least something about it that yanks at my heart or sets my mind racing – and I’m hardly even going to have room to mention the wonderful sonics on display, such is the intense nature of this record’s lyrics. ‘Demons’ describes a feeling of social inadequacy, (“But when I walk into a room I do not light it up. FUCK.”), ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ cuts to the heart of emotional turmoil (“I have only two emotions: careful fear and dead devotion. I can’t get the balance right.”) and ‘Graceless’ tackles feelings of self-loathing (“You can’t imagine how I hate this, graceless.”).

But many of the record’s finest moments concern matters of the heart. ‘Fireproof’ portrays the devastating realisation of a gulf between two ex-lovers (“You’re a million miles away, doesn’t matter any more.), the final lines of ‘This Is The Last Time’ perfectly sum up the bittersweet nature of lost love (“Baby you gave me bad ideas. Baby you left me sad and high.”), ‘Slipped’ mourns a would-be relationship that will never come to fruition (“I’ll be a friend and a fuck and everything, but I’ll never be anything you ever want me to be.”), ‘I Need My Girl’ captures the way losing someone can make us feel incomplete (“I can’t get my head around it, I keep feeling smaller and smaller. I need my girl.”) – I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’ll just leave you with one final example, a line from ‘Hard To Find’ that caught me completely off-guard when I wasn’t even listening to the album – I saw it while reading through the lyrics. “I’m not holding out for you, but I’m still watching for the signs. If I tried, you’d probably be hard to find.” 

The lyric “And if you want to see me cry, play Let It Be or Nevermind,” appears in the chorus of ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ – and I can’t help but think that, years from now, Trouble Will Find Me might be cited by some future artist as being similarly tear-inducing. It certainly has that effect on me sometimes.

Find a Spotify playlist containing all these albums here.

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Let’s Get Cynical About: The Mercury Prize (2013 Edition)

It’s once again that time of year, where the Mercury Prize shortlist appears and we all bitch and moan about its strengths and weaknesses and argue about who should and shouldn’t have been included. For my money, These New Puritans have been robbed again, and I was expecting Daughter to be a shoo-in. One of the odder suggestions I saw a few people make was that Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds should have been nominated – while Push The Sky Away would have absolutely been deserving of a nod, its inclusion would have required some very lax interpretation of the nomination criteria. There’s also a prevailing train of thought that the Mercury panel has once again played it pretty safe – the list contains five number one albums, seven artists who have previously been nominated (if we include Jon Hopkins’ collaboration with King Creosote, Diamond Mine, which was nominated in 2011), and only one record that had sold less than 20,000 copies worldwide before the nominations were announced (thanks to Clash’s Mike Diver for that factoid – read his excellent article on the Mercury Prize here). It’s certainly not as bland or mediocre a list as last year’s, but it’s difficult to argue that it’s much more challenging. All that aside, however, the list has been chosen – so all that remains is to offer you my opinion on this year’s twelve shortlisted albums.

12. Laura Mvula – Sing To The Moon

Laura Mvula - Sing To The Moon

Laura Mvula – Sing To The Moon

Laura Mvula is in possession of a perfectly fine voice, but there’s really not a lot to be said about Sing To The Moon apart from that it’s terminally boring. Aside from the jazzy ‘Green Garden’ and the twinkly ‘She’, nothing really held my interest – I can only listen to so many ballads before I wish I was listening to something else. Definitely a slot that could have been taken by a far more exciting album – the idea that this got nominated ahead of the Daughter record just seems absolutely ridiculous to me.

11. Rudimental – Home

Rudimental - Home

Rudimental – Home

The fact that Rudimental are nominated for this year’s prize seems weird somehow. Let’s be clear, Home isn’t total dross or anything – it’s a mostly solid and surprisingly varied dance record that does a decent job of blending together different electronic genres –  but it doesn’t feel like it’s pushing any boundaries. Besides, the album already went to number one, and you’ve almost certainly heard its two best songs (‘Feel The Love’ and ‘Waiting All Night’) if you have found yourself located in ‘tha club’ at any point in the last year – add all of that up and you end up with an album that struggles to really justify its inclusion on the shortlist.

10. Jake Bugg – Jake Bugg

Jake Bugg - Jake Bugg

Jake Bugg – Jake Bugg

I’ll openly admit that Jake Bugg is the kind of artist who’s hyped to the point that I actually just want to find an excuse to dislike him – but his self-titled debut album isn’t it*. He does a pretty good line in skiffly, observational snapshots (‘Taste It, ‘Lightning Bolt’), but his attempts at balladry are a little bit more mixed, which is a shame, as the album seems to include more of the latter, with nary an upbeat song to be found after ‘Trouble Town’. The slightly psychedelic-sounding ‘Ballad Of Mr Jones’ suits Bugg’s voice fairly well, but ‘Broken’s overblown, maudlin backdrop seems to overstate his ability to tug at the heartstrings. While Bugg’s words generally seem authentic, it’s fair to say that the way they’re presented isn’t exactly original – all told, you’ll think Jake Bugg is amazing if you like Dylan-esque singer-songwriters and happen to think that Arctic Monkeys began and ended with Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (protip: they didn’t, but we’ll get to that later). Which is all well and good – but it’s not Mercury-winning material.

*The shoddy Arctic Monkeys rip-off he released as his latest single, on the other hand…

9. Disclosure – Settle

Disclosure - Settle

Disclosure – Settle

Much like Rudimental, my appreciation of Disclosure is mostly limited to their singles. They’ve got some undeniably good tunes, though ‘Latch’ and ‘White Noise’ probably remain the best, with an honourable mention going to the London Grammar-featuring ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’. But as it stands, I’m just not that interested in listening to a whole album of deep house, no matter how accomplished it may be. Sorry chaps.

8. Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle

Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle

Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle

It seems that Laura Marling has surpassed herself with Once I Was An Eagle – it’s both her longest and her most critically acclaimed album yet. But while the critical acclaim is pretty much spot on, the running time proves to be an issue – it honestly feels a bit drawn out, and you could absolutely split the record down the middle into two separate albums. However, if you can’t get enough of Marling’s timeless, world-weary songwriting then this record will prove to be a bountiful pleasure, as apart from the pointless ‘Interlude’ that’s pretty much what you get from start to finish. Myself? I can hardly fault the record, objectively speaking, but do I feel particularly compelled to come back to it? Not really.

7. Villagers – {Awayland}

Villagers - {Awayland}

Villagers – {Awayland}

I’m probably going to look a bit silly putting this above Laura Marling’s album, but for whatever reason I find Villagers to be the more engaging storytellers. I think it’s because, with Conor O’Brien involving his bandmates in the writing process more than last time round, the end result is a more expansive and varied sound. Highlights for me were ‘The Waves’, ‘Nothing Arrived’ and ‘The Bell’, but it’s a pretty solid listen throughout. If you like well-crafted, interesting folk-rock, then {Awayland} will definitely work for you.

6. David Bowie – The Next Day

David Bowie - The Next Day

David Bowie – The Next Day

While many of the other ‘token’ awards seem to have been done away with this year (there’s not a jazz act in sight, and both Laura Marling and Villagers can hardly be considered tokenistic, having both being nominated before), the ‘token veteran’ award is still alive and well. It’s fair enough in this case though, as 2013 has given us a doozy in the surprise return of David Bowie. Really, Bowie could have released an album of avant-garde spoken word or impenetrable noise and people would probably have still lapped it up, but we’re fortunate enough that The Next Day is actually pretty good – particularly in its more reflective moments (‘Where Are We Now’, ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’, ‘Heat’).

5. James Blake – Overgrown

James Blake - Overgrown

James Blake – Overgrown

If I had one major problem with the self-titled debut from James Blake, it was that it was a bit inconsistent. Fortunately, Overgrown addresses that problem fairly well. That’s not to say that there aren’t any definite standouts – step forward, ‘Retrograde’, ‘Overgrown’ and ‘Life Round Here’ – but there’s less of the weird quasi-experimental stuff and more actual tunes in general. ‘Retrograde’ in particular shows that Blake has a head for a hook, both instrumentally and vocally – and while there are times in the latter half of the record where you might wish him to demonstrate that more readily, it’s still a definite improvement over his debut.

4. Foals – Holy Fire

Foals - Holy Fire

Foals – Holy Fire

The more I think about it, the more I realise that the career trajectory of Foals is very similar to that of The Horrors – except without the critical derision of their first record. But if Total Life Forever was their Primary Colours, Holy Fire is very much their Skying – a confident, accomplished refinement of the expansive sound that they’d already demonstrated so well on the previous album. In Foals’ case, not only did their album hit number 2 in the UK, it also spawned a top 40 single (the infectious ‘My Number’) and acted as a prelude to their first major festival main-stage headline slot at Latitude. Not exactly what you might have predicted for a math-rock band from Oxford, but deserved success nevertheless.

3. Arctic Monkeys – AM

Arctic Monkeys - AM

Arctic Monkeys – AM

Let’s stop and be honest with ourselves here – Arctic Monkeys don’t need this nomination, particularly for an album that was released a mere two days before the shortlist was announced and was a pretty much guaranteed number one record. We’re not quite at Adele levels of monumental pointlessness, but we’re close. However, unlike 21, AM is actually a good album – it’s not an NME 10/10-they’re-basically-the-next-Beatles (though perhaps that review may yet prove prescient), but it’s definitely worth more than the 5/10 that Drowned In Sound’s Jazz Monroe gave it. In my eyes, it’s a solid 8 or maybe even a 9 – the only problem for me is one of pacing, in that the mid-section consists of the album’s only iffy track (‘I Want It All’), and two slow tracks back-to-back, which does both of the latter songs a disservice in my eyes. Still, it wears its hip-hop influences on its sleeve whilst still sounding very much like Arctic Monkeys, which is only a good thing in my eyes. It’s possible that AM might top both Silence Yourself and Immunity in my end-of-year list, but in terms of being nominated for the Mercury prize, it only seems right to put it below those two records.

2. Savages – Silence Yourself

Savages - Silence Yourself

Savages – Silence Yourself

At this point you probably fall firmly on one of two sides when it comes to Savages – the “they’re derivative and they suck!” side or the “they’re amazing!” side. If you’ve read anything I’ve written about them previously then you probably won’t be surprised to hear I fall into the latter camp. Either way, Silence Yourself is not about to change anyone’s opinion regarding the band. To these (naive?) ears, it sounds more urgent and vital as any post-punk record I’ve heard in quite some time, never mind the fact that they’re an all-female band (which ought not to be a big deal but is nevertheless all too noticeable in our present time). You can argue that it’s cynical and calculated all you want, but the end result is undeniably powerful.

1. Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Jon Hopkins - Immunity

Jon Hopkins – Immunity

I know I’ve been giving previous nominees a hard time this year (regardless of how good their album is), so logically speaking I should do the same to Jon Hopkins. However, there are two things that separate him from the other six artists with previous nominations – 1) he’s only been nominated for a collaborative work, not his solo material, and 2) remember that I mentioned how only one of these records had sold less than 20,000 copies before its nomination? That’s Immunity. Which is a crying shame because it’s a fantastic record – I’m by no means the biggest electronic music fan in the world, but something about this album really struck a chord with me. I think it’s the way that Hopkins somehow manages to imbue his music with a sense of emotion – no better emphasised than on ‘Collider’, which is possibly the most sexual song I’ve heard all year. And I don’t mean ‘sexual’ as an arbitrary positive adjective, I mean that it has all the intensity that you ought to associate with actually having sex. It also contains the most brilliantly-placed track on a record, with the sparse, reflective ‘Abandon Window’ providing the perfect comedown after the previous four tracks of pulsating, forward-thinking electronica. But not only would Immunity be a worthy winner in its own right, it also feels like the most deserving winner in terms of nudging the ‘general public’ towards music they may not have heard before – and I think, with a shortlist of increasingly obvious choices, Jon Hopkins might just be the winner the Mercury needs.

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Preview: Missing Kids – Girls In Their Twenties (EP)

Missing Kids

Missing Kids

You may remember that the first ever Local Artist Of The Whenever was a York-based band called Missing Kids. Equally, you may not remember that, and you may not even remember that said feature of my blog actually existed, but that’s beside the point. The point being that Missing Kids are back, and they’re now a three-piece, with original guitarist, vocalist and all-round lynchpin Dave Mudie being joined by Sam Coates on bass, with Danny Barton (moonlighting from his role as frontman of White Furs) rounding out the lineup on drums. They are a different band, and yet they are also very much the same band. If that sentence confuses you somewhat, here’s a new/old track called ‘Milk Teeth’ from their forthcoming EP Girls In Their Twenties that might help you make sense of things.

You see, ‘Milk Teeth’ is a long-time favourite of Missing Kids’ live sets, but it’s never been committed to record until now. By giving the track a lick of paint (or in this case, an additional helping of guitar fuzz) and enlisting local artist Jade Blood to provide some lovely backing vocals, they’ve given the song a fresh feeling while still maintaining its original poignancy.

Of course, there will also be brand new songs on the EP as well, and here’s one called ‘Felt’.

It’s clear from one listen that ‘Felt’ will slot seamlessly into the Missing Kids canon – it’s a sunny indie-pop anthem, buoyed by a relentless drumbeat and buzzing guitars yet lent a tinge of melancholy thanks to its bittersweet vocals. Expect to hear the above two tunes and two more besides when the EP comes out some time in August. The release comes via veteran York-based label Sea Records, who hope to have physical copies available for Missing Kids’ next live appearance on Saturday 10th August, when they play at The Woolpack in York alongside Scott & Charlene’s Wedding,Fawn Spots and H. Grimace.

As one of York’s most understatedly brilliant bands, it should go without saying that it’s a pleasure to see Missing Kids back in full force – their new EP sounds like one to keep an ear out for, if these two tracks are anything to go by.

Find Missing Kids on Facebook here.

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