Tag Archives: Grammatics

You Can Call This A Swan Song

As you may well be aware, the wonderful Grammatics are no more. Bowing out from the live arena with a series of shows in August, they have now closed the curtain on their career as a whole – but not before releasing one final EP, entitled KRUPT (in reference to the fact the band had gone bankrupt). The EP was fan-funded via Pledge Music and was recorded in a week with James Kenosha (the producer of their eponymous debut) at his studio near Bridlington. The band may have been struggling financially, but on this evidence they were far from creatively bankrupt.

‘Stalinesque’ kicks off the EP with a fuzzy bassline before exploding into a chorus of jagged guitars and staccato cello, while ‘Mutant Reverb’ is Grammatics in full-blown dramatic mode, building from understated melancholy into an all-encompassing maelstrom of noise. The band have never been ones to shy away from experimentation – Owen has wryly described ‘Church Of The Great I Am’ as “us going R’n’B”, and he’s not far off. It’s a hugely anthemic ballad that sees the band take a huge stride into pop territory – but it maintains that distinctive Grammatics feel thanks to Owen’s wonderful voice and some fantastic cello from Lins Wilson. ‘Cedars-Sinai’, meanwhile, pushes the boat out further, swathing everything in echo to create an almost shoegaze sound. Closing out the EP is the title track, ‘KRUPT’, which touches on the band’s demise (“When the game is over/and you’re haemorrhaging money”). It feels like a dignified finale, with Owen’s resigned vocal backed by a sombre piano and cello accompaniment, while the drums remain defiantly regimented.

Although KRUPT is a worthy send-off , it also provides us with a tantalising glimpse of the second album that might have been. On this evidence, I believe it would have been at least as good as their debut. At least, thanks to their fans, Grammatics were given the opportunity to go out with a bang rather than a whimper – and that’s something we should all be grateful for.

But don’t just take my word for it – check out ‘Stalinesque’ from the EP below (via Drowned In Sound).

KRUPT is available on iTunes now.

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New Grammatics songs? Yes please!

Well, this post was originally going to be me posting videos of the new songs that Grammatics played at their gigs in Leeds and York this week. However, due to unforeseen circumstances*, I’m going to have to resort to actually doing this whole journalism thing properly and describing them with words.

*The PA in Leeds being a bit crap, prompting Rory to kindly ask me to take the videos down. And also, me being a moron and charging my battery, but then forgetting to put it back in my camera for the York gig. Duuuh.

So, we were presented with five new songs by the band. Generally speaking, they’re heavier in sound than a lot of the tracks on their self-titled debut, and shy away from turning into sprawling epics a la ‘Polar Swelling’ or ‘Relentless Fours’ (fun Grammatics fact – Owen told me that these gigs are the first time in Grammatics’ history that they haven’t played ‘Relentless Fours’ during their set). In short, we’re looking at a punchier, harder-hitting version of the band – but that doesn’t mean they’re any less dynamic.’Stalinesque’ (bonus points for clever title) starts out with an infectious bassline and stop-start drumming, before a wiry guitar riff and dramatic cello stabs build the song into something with a great sense of urgency.

There are shades of older songs here too, of course, but they feel much darker and heavier – for example, ‘Mutant Reverb’ (working title?) sounds a bit like ‘Rosa Flood’s downbeat cousin, and another new song has an air of ‘Murderer’s beauty about it, but with a more melancholy feel overall. The heaviest of the new songs features a distinctive minor-key sound, with the cello adopting a sinister feel and and the bass just sounding plain dirty – at one point Owen even breaks out an almost metal-esque guitar riff that really hammers the tone home.

The last of the new songs is possibly my favourite. Entitled ‘Church Of The Great I Am’, Owen wryly described it as “us going R’n’B'” – and while he assured us he wasn’t joking, don’t fear that the band have gone all Beyonce on us. It’s definitely not a million miles away from a big pop ballad though with big, echoey drums and majestic, sweeping cello – Rory even swaps his bass for a synth and simulates hip-hop hi-hats with the world’s smallest triangle. But crucially, it’s earnest without being trite, and engaging rather than making you want to switch off. My only complaint? It perhaps ends a tad abruptly – it feels like it could quite happily go on for another 30 seconds or so. But perhaps that’s the point – I enjoyed the sprawling, yet measured excess of  the band’s longer tracks as much as the next fan, but as Owen pointed out to me when I spoke to him after the York gig, they take up too big a chunk of the band’s set time. Playing ‘Relentless Fours’ every night cuts down a half hour set to about 5 or 6 songs. Which is fine when you’re starting out – better to have 6 fantastic songs than padding the set out with filler – but when you’re trying to showcase new material alongside the old, it doesn’t really work. All things considered though, after these two shows I’m looking forward to the prospect of a new Grammatics record more than ever.

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My Songs Of The Decade, pt III: 2007-2009

I decided that attempting to compile any objective sort of list of the ‘best songs of the decade’ was was ultimately a futile effort, so instead you get this – a vague attempt to recount the songs that not only are great tunes (well, mostly), but in many cases have also had some personal relevance to my life. I’m going to list them year-by-year, so you’ll have to excuse the inevitable fragmentation of my own personal chronology, as I didn’t ‘get into’ many of these songs until years after they were released.

And yes, I’m aware that by this time ‘End of Decade’ lists are “so last decade”, but never mind.

2007

Arctic Monkeys – ‘Do Me A Favour’ – (Favourite Worst Nightmare)

Not only did ‘Do Me A Favour’ contain a pounding, almost tribal drumbeat, an infectious bass hook and lashings of atmospheric guitar, it also yet again showcased Alex Turner’s lyrical talent. It takes a certain something to come up with a line like “And to tear apart the ties that bind/perhaps fuck off might be too kind” – perfectly encapsulating the kind of situation you hope you never have to be in, whilst simultaneously making you wish for an opportunity to use the latter half of it as a bitter kiss-off. For me, this was the standout track on Favourite Worst Nightmare – and considering the overall quality of Arctic Monkeys’ second album, that’s saying something.

Battles – ‘Atlas’ – (Mirrored)

‘Atlas’ is pretty much a seven-minute summation of the genius of Battles. Jagged guitars, warped vocals and bursts of electronic noise are all underpinned by the biggest, bounciest drumbeat heard all decade to create one of the most maddeningly, brilliantly relentless tracks ever. I’m sure a lot of people couldn’t get past the smurf-like vocal hook, or simply just don’t ‘get’ Battles – but for me, hearing this is still as much of a raw thrill for me now as it was two years ago. Up there with ‘Idioteque’ in my hypothetical ‘definitive list’ of the best tracks of the decade.

Cardboard Radio – ‘Last Week’s Town’ – (Cardboard Radio LP)

It might seem odd to include a song by a local band who gained very little national exposure, but I’ve yet to find a song that encapsulates my own personal resentment for my hometown as well as ‘Last Week’s Town’. “I’m sick of hanging round in this town/With the pretence we’re keeping it real” is surely a sentiment that many people – from York or otherwise – can relate to.

GoodBooks – ‘The Illness’ – (Control)

The indie-disco anthem that never was from one of the decade’s most criminally overlooked bands. This sparkling electro-pop gem should have propelled GoodBooks to great heights – instead, the band would never even get to release their second record, leaving only their brilliant debut album as a reminder of what could have been. Curse you, music industry, and curse you too, fickle record-buying public!

Hadouken! – ‘That Boy That Girl’ – (Single)

There’s a reason I’ve cited the single release from 2007 rather than this song’s eventual inclusion on 2008’s Music For An Accelerated Culture – because it sounded far more fresh and vital at the beginning of 2007 than it did over a year later, packaged as part of a decidedly ‘meh’ debut effort. The band’s zeitgeist-skewering wit and infectious energy have rarely been as potent as they were here.

LCD Soundsystem – ‘All My Friends’ – (Sound Of Silver)

While spending New Year’s Eve 2007 in York with some friends, I recall managing to lose everyone else whilst heading to The Minster to see in the new year. I stuck this on my iPod, and as I wandered around, vaguely searching for people and taking in the celebratory atmosphere, I couldn’t help but smile when James Murphy asked “where are your friends tonight?”

It didn’t matter.

M.I.A. – Paper Planes – (Kala)

I could try to come up with some intellectual or intelligent reasons as to why I like this song, but what I’m actually going to say is ALL I WANNA DO IS *BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM* AND-A *KAH-CHING!* AND TAKE YOUR MONEY!

PJ Harvey – ‘Silence’ – (White Chalk)

By this point in her career it was already well established that PJ Harvey was in possession of a great voice, but White Chalk thrust it into the spotlight more than ever. Having basically learned the instrument from scratch for the album, her piano playing has a simple beauty about it – and crucially, it really allows her voice to shine. For me, this was most spine-tinglingly realised on ‘Silence’ – just listen to this live version of the track and you’ll hear exactly what I’m talking about.

Radiohead – ‘Videotape’ – (In Rainbows)

Prior to seeing Radiohead live, I didn’t really ‘get’ In Rainbows – apart from this song. ‘Videotape’ is, quite simply, one of the most poignant, touching things Radiohead have ever done. A plaintive piano ballad with subtle electronic accompaniment, it’s a showcase for Thom Yorke’s unique voice and lyrical talent. Amazingly affecting – one of those songs that I’d secretly love to cover but dare not even try for fear that I’d ruin it for both myself and everyone else involved.

2008

Crystal Castles – ‘Vanished’ – (Crystal Castles)

Can a synthesiser sound lonely? Crystal Castles certainly managed to capture that feeling here, with what basically sounds like a Pong machine in an echo chamber. The reverberating notes give the track a sense of space – and the feeling of isolation and emptiness is created by the fact that the only other things occupying said space are a minimal beat and choppy vocals. Absolutely masterful.

George Pringle – ‘We Could Have Been Heroes’ – (Poor EP, Poor EP Without A Name…)

George Pringle basically represents the logical conclusion of my love of spoken word sections, being, as she is, a spoken word artist. But that doesn’t mean she’s dull – far from it in fact, I find her absolutely engaging, riveting even. Whether or not you can actually relate to what she’s saying or just kinda wish that you could, she has the ability to leave you hanging on every word she says. Her Garageband-crafted instrumental backings are also worthy of mention. They’re often as crucial to the atmosphere of a song as the words themselves – and yet they never get in the way of them either.

Johnny Foreigner – ‘Salt, Peppa And Spinderalla’ – (Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light)

For me, it’s difficult to pick just one song from Johnny Foreigner’s debut full-length. In the end, however, I went with ‘Salt, Peppa And Spinderalla’ for one simple reason – the massive euphoria created by the song’s tension-and-release structure is perfectly centred around one sublime moment:

“Bring out the real fun; turn on the real drums.”

The Last Shadow Puppets – ‘The Age Of The Understatement’ – (The Age Of The Understatement)

‘The Age Of The Understatement’ saw The Last Shadow Puppets establish themselves as a band with ‘cinematic’ written all over them. The song basically sounds like the best James Bond theme tune that was never actually used for a Bond film – suggesting that the producers should draft Alex Turner and Miles Kane in to write the next one, or even call the next movie The Age Of The Understatement so they could just pinch this instead. But if the comparison to Bond themes has put you off, here’s an equation for you instead: Alex Turner  +  Miles Kane + a symphony orchestra + guitars that sound like The Coral + the drums from ‘Knights Of Cydonia’ = bloody brilliant.

Late Of The Pier – ‘Bathroom Gurgle’ – (Fantasy Black Channel)

‘Bathroom Gurgle’, in contrast with Fantasy Black Channel’s more brilliantly ridiculous moments, is simply an utterly sublime synth pop song. From the squelchy opening hooks to the infectious vocal hooks (“Find yourself a new boy!”), to the fact that it breaks down into a completely different song halfway through, it is pure genius. End of.

Los Campesinos! – You! Me! Dancing! – (Hold On Now, Youngster…)

I could have put this in 2007, as that’s when I first heard this song – but this entry not only represents the individual brilliance of ‘You! Me! Dancing!’, but of Hold On Now, Youngster… as a whole. Los Campesinos! are only matched for abundant, noisy exuberance and sheer lyrical relatability by Johnny Foreigner, so it’s no surprise that I gush like a fanboy about both bands. Oh, and yeah, there’s a bloody ace spoken word section at the end.

Los Campesinos! – ‘We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed’ – (We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed)

Because, well, if you release two outstanding albums within the space of a year, you kinda deserve two spots on my list. And really, how could I not include a song that so perfectly encapsulates the frustration, the uncertainty, the pain, the negativity, and the sheer desperation (“OH WE KID OURSELVES THERE’S FUTURE IN THE FUCKING/BUT THERE IS NO FUCKING FUTURE!”) that being in a long distance relationship can cause?

2009

Bat For Lashes – ‘Two Planets’ – (Two Suns)

This is the kind of song that can lend an instant sense of cinema to any moment – running through rainy city streets, travelling through hills on country roads, exploring an unfamilar town at night, watching a beautiful sunset. There’s always something about ‘Two Planets’ that makes it feel like a perfect soundtrack – be it the pounding, echoy drums, the otherworldly synths, or simply Natasha Khan’s wonderful voice.

The Big Pink – ‘Velvet’ – (A Brief History Of Love)

Hyped-up they may have been, but with songs like this The Big Pink arguably deserve it. Not only is ‘Velvet’ an epic, noisy shoegaze anthem that washes over you in a wave of sound, it also poignantly talks of disillusionment with love . “These arms of mine don’t mind who they hold/so should I maybe just leave love alone?” goes the chorus lyric – and I’m sure that a hell of a lot of people can relate to that last part in particular. What makes ‘Velvet’ truly great, however, is the fact that the sheer noise of the track acts as a catharsis to the troubled subject matter – there’s just something liberating about it all. Listen to this and let it blast away your troubles for four minutes.

Grammatics – ‘Broken Wing’ – (Grammatics)

Again, this arguably belongs in 2007 as that’s when it first came out (as a B-side to the original ‘Shadow Committee’ 7″) and it was certainly relevant at that time too. But given the personal nature of this list, ‘Broken Wing’ still gets the nod over other, equally worthy Grammatics songs because of its heartstring-tugging portrayal of a long distance relationship – starting out sparse and plaintive, and then suddenly bursting into a sweeping epic halfway through. Still sounds as tragically beautiful as the first time I heard it.

Fever Ray  – ‘Keep The Streets Empty For Me’ – (Fever Ray)

I’ve already gushed about how Karin Dreijer Andersson’s debut record as Fever Ray is an atmospheric masterpiece, and ‘Keep The Streets Empty For Me’ represents the album at its absolute zenith. With ominous synths and ghostly pan-pipes underpinned by an echoing drumbeat and a quietly strummed guitar, the song creates an almost tangible feeling of a bleak, empty landscape. The only thing cutting through this darkness is Karin’s distinctive voice – and yet, she wishes to cling on to her loneliness, to make it her own… “Morning, keep the streets empty for me.” Utterly mesmerising and stunningly beautiful.

The Horrors – ‘Sea Within A Sea’ – (Primary Colours)

I’ve probably said this before, but I’ll say it again – ‘Sea Within A Sea’ represents just how far The Horrors had come since their debut album. No-one was expecting an 8-minute, slow-burning but incessant soundscape from a band previously best known for snarling garage-punk nuggets. It was a giant ‘fuck you’ to their critics, many of whom I’m sure were quick to jump on the gushing bandwagon of praise that followed the release of Primary Colours. And you know what? The band deserved every word of praise flung their way. I can only hope that their next record turns out to be just as exciting.

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My Favourite Songs Of 2009, In Five Words.

I do appreciate that my posts can be very wordy, so I thought I’d impose a challenge on myself – describing some my favourite songs of the year in no more than five words. These are purely in alphabetical order – let’s go, shall we?

Animal Collective – ‘My Girls’

Album? Meh. Single? Utterly brilliant.

Bat For Lashes  – ‘Two Planets’

Makes any moment instantly cinematic.

The Big Pink – ‘Velvet’

Epic shoegaze meets emotional sensibility.

Dinosaur Pile-Up – ‘Summer Hit Single’

Feelgood hit of the summer.

Editors – ‘Papillon’

Monolithic synth-lead floor filler.

Fever Ray – ‘Keep The Streets Empty For Me’

Bleak, beautiful and simply stunning.

Grammatics – ‘Double Negative’

“HEY SUGAR! What d’you say?”

(Recorded version is on Myspace)

HEALTH – ‘Die Slow’

Convulsing, pounding, disco-noise headfuck.

The Horrors – ‘Sea Within A Sea’

Utterly compelling – a fantastic transformation.

Johnny Foreigner – ‘Criminals’

Their most vital song yet.

Los Campesinos! – ‘The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future’

Thoughtful, epic, and heartrendingly emotional.

Pulled Apart By Horses – ‘I Punched A Lion In The Throat’

Rage against the animal kingdom.

(Recorded version is on Myspace)

The Temper Trap – ‘Sweet Disposition’

Heart-swelling, uplifting indie-pop.

The XX – ‘Crystalised’

Sparce, intimate late-night confession.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Zero’

Instantly infectious and deliriously uplifting.

I could probably pick many more than these, but that’ll do for now I think.

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Obligatory End Of Year Megapost, pt II: Albums of the Year: 10-1

This is the second part of my end of year series, covering my personal top 10 albums of the year – you can find the previous 10 here. In fact, I’d recommend you read it first, if you haven’t already.

Done? Without further ado, then…

10. Editors – In This Light And On This Evening

Editors - In This Light And On This Evening

I’d imagine that there were quite a few people who balked at the fact that Editors were poised to ‘go electro’ on their third album – and I’d also imagine that some of these people continue to shun In This Light And On This Evening to this day. These people are silly, silly individuals who should open their minds a little and realise that the abundance of synthesisers on this album has done little to change the core essence of Editors’ sound – that is, the juxtaposition of gloom and hope that has been the band’s primary draw since The Back Room.

Indeed, the synths only help to focus and expand the band’s sound, whether it be on the sweeping majesty of ‘Bricks And Mortar’ or the queasy, sinister ‘The Big Exit’. They haven’t lost their knack for a hook either – ‘Papillon’ should, by rights, be as much of an indie-disco floor-filler as ‘Munich’, and the creepily-titled ‘Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool’ houses one of the biggest choruses the band has ever written. While many bands from the class of 2004/2005 have found their third album to be a bit of a stumbling block, I’d argue that Editors have succeeded in creating something that easily stands up to their previous work. And that’s not despite their new electro sound – it’s because of it.

9. The XX – XX

The XX - XX

It took me a while to get round to listening to this album, but since then XX has grown on me with every listen. The XX have combined fragile, plucked guitar, minimal beats and echoy electronics to create something that’s sparse and expansive in equal measure. However, the loneliness conjured up by the music is contrasted with the comforting warmth of the lyrics. The theme of quietly stated but undying affection runs throughout – “Don’t think that I’m pushing you away/When you’re the one that I’ve kept closest” sings Oliver Sim on ‘Crystalised’, while on ‘Islands’ Romy Madley Croft replies “I am yours now/So now I don’t ever have to leave.”

As a whole, the album feels like an intimate, personal confession – taking you to a secret place where two star-crossed lovers are tentatively baring their hearts to each other at three in the morning. XX is easily one of the best debut albums released this year – this is truly spine-tingling stuff.

8. Johnny Foreigner – Grace And The Bigger Picture

Johnny Foreigner - Grace And The Bigger Picture

You may think this represents somewhat of a fall from grace (ha ha) for Johnny Foreigner, given that their debut full-length Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light was unquestionably my album of the year in 2008. So let’s get this out of the way first – Grace And The Bigger Picture is not a bad album. It is in fact, a great album. However, even as a gushing Johnny Foreigner fanboy I’d be lying if I said it’s as good as their debut. This is due mainly to a somewhat patchy mid-section that contains two or three solid but unspectacular tunes amongst the good stuff.

There’s still enough brilliance on show to make up for it though – ‘Criminals’ is possibly the most vital-sounding thing the band have recorded yet, ‘Every Cloakroom Ever’ is a wonderful mix of poignant sentiment and fuzzy bass, and ‘The Coast Was Always Clear’ steps up to take the mantle of “epic last song” from Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light’s ‘Absolute Balance’. Even when they diverge from their normal formula it works – the beautifully fragile 40-second acoustic ‘(Graces)’ is a particular highlight. Grace And The Bigger Picture probably isn’t going to convince any doubters, and I’d recommend that newcomers start with the band’s first album – but for JoFo fans, this is more of the band you know and love.

7. Sky Larkin – The Golden Spike

Sky Larkin - The Golden Spike

I do sometimes wonder whether I’m overrating this album, but then every time I listen to The Golden Spike I’m reminded exactly why I love it – because it manages to be poppy without being cheesy, overblown or gratuitously in-your-face. Sky Larkin demonstrate quite brilliantly that you don’t have to be Beyoncé or Lady fucking Gaga to make music with a pop heart – and there definitely is one here, deep underneath all the band’s genuine indieness. But this is not the cold, calculated heart of manufactured pop – it’s natural, it’s instinctive, and it certainly doesn’t let the idea of ‘pop’ music get in the way of musicianship.

If a genre as oxymoronic as ‘indie-pop’ exists outside of faux-indie dross such as Scouting For Girls and The Hoosiers, then Sky Larkin should by all rights be held up as one of its champions. In some happy idealist place in my mind, the likes of ‘Fossil, I’, ‘Molten’ and ‘One Of Two’ shouldn’t so much sit happily alongside the year’s biggest-budget pop hits as playfully shove them out of the way and claim their rightful place in the public consciousness. I can dream, can’t I?

6. George Pringle – Salon Des Refusés

George Pringle - Salon Des Refusés

Even with all the great new music around these days, it’s rare that you get an artist that genuinely seems to represent a unique proposition. George Pringle is, arguably, that artist. A&R types were quick to pick up on that fact, only to then back off (one record label apparently dropped out at the 11th hour) because they simply didn’t know what to do with her. The fact that she’s manage to self-release her album anyway represents a triumphant “fuck you” to the industry – indeed, it adds another layer of meaning to the title, Salon Des Refusés (which translates to Salon Of The Rejected in English, for the curious).

Granted, there’s a certain feeling of “oh, I could have done that” about Pringle’s work, and that’s perhaps because of its very DIY nature. Her half-sung, half-spoken monologues are backed by home-made Garageband beats to create a style some commentators described as ‘blogtronica’. But, let’s be honest here – even if you had thought of it yourself, there’s no way you could have pulled it off as well as Pringle does. Whether or not you can actually relate directly to whatever she’s talking about, her delivery and way with words sure as hell makes you feel like you *want* to. Childhood, adolescence, suburban parties, going to university in a “dead little city”, nights down the indie disco (“everyone’s dancing to all the songs, two years too late”), and finally collapsing into a mire of introverted self-loathing on ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ – which features a suitably morbid, woozy backing track. Pringle covers all this and more in effortless, engaging prose, backed by surprisingly well-constructed electronica.

I’m sure some of you might be scratching your heads at this selection, but I genuinely love Salon Des Refusés – the only reason this record doesn’t make my personal top 5 is because I already owned about half the tracks (of course, I bought it anyway). But that doesn’t make it any less brilliant – whether you’re a newcomer to the world of George Pringle or you’ve been keeping an eye on her for a while now, this is absolutely essential.

5. Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport

Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport

While I did eventually come to like Fuck Buttons’ debut album Street Horrrsing, on Tarot Sport the duo made one adjustment to their sound that meant I couldn’t help but like them more – they got rid of the garbled toy microphone screaming. As such, what we’re left with is the fantastic purity of their pulsating electronic noise, has definitely taken on a more dancey aspect than their debut – it’s a noise record, sure, but it feels accessible, friendly almost. This is, simply, an album that builds, and builds, and then builds some more, like some sort of euphoric noise pile-up. Trying to describe Tarot Sport in conventional terms seems like a futile effort – the tracklisting is essentially a formality, as this is basically one long, constantly shifting, ever-evolving piece of music. You’ll either be blown away by this record or walk away wondering why you wasted about an hour of your life listening to it – for me, it’s most definitely the former.

4. Bat For Lashes – Two Suns

Bat For Lashes - Two Suns

Following on from the Mercury-nominated Fur And Gold was never going to be easy for Bat For Lashes, but Natasha Khan not only managed it but was awarded with a second nomination for her trouble. And the judges were quite right to do so – Two Suns is absolutely a big step up from Khan’s already brilliant first record. For me, its best moments are those where she really turns up the widescreen bombast – see jaw-dropping centrepiece ‘Siren Song’, or the thundering drums and almost palpable atmosphere created on ‘Glass’ and ‘Two Planets’. The album also contains Khan’s biggest pop number to date – ‘Daniel’ is effortlessly catchy whilst losing none of the ethereal sensibility that made us fall in love with Bat For Lashes in the first place. Add in fragile ballads like ‘Moon And Moon’ that really see her shine as a vocalist, and you’ve got a recipe for one of the year’s most captivating records – the end result is nothing short of stunning. In a year that almost seemed to make a mockery of the concept of ‘difficult second albums’, Two Suns stands out as one of the most masterful progressions, boldly staking its claim as one of the finest records released in 2009.

3. The Horrors – Primary Colours

The Horrors - Primary Colours

As much as I loved The Horrors’ debut album, Strange House, I have to admit that its raw garage rock sound would have struggled to sustain the band for a second record. They were essentially faced with the choice to evolve or die – but little did I realise just how spectacular the band’s evolution would be. In hindsight, it seems more obvious – the band are avid record collectors, so any influences here could probably have been picked out of their stashes of vinyl even around the time of Strange House.

But to say that The Horrors merely have a good collection of influences would be to undermine the quality of music on Primary Colours. Meticulous synths collide with sludgy guitar noise on ‘Mirror’s Image’, ‘Scarlet Fields’ builds itself up from a relentless bassline into a hazy, swirling masterpiece, and album-closer ‘Sea Within A Sea’ is frankly astonishing. This is a record that’s atmospheric, accomplished, and even (*gasp*) emotional in places – ‘Who Can Say’ sees Faris replaces his vicious snarl with a surprisingly sincere tone as he tackles the theme of fading love. Judged purely on its own merits, Primary Colours is a fantastic record – that it came from a band who the critics were all but ready to write off just makes it all the more of a victory for The Horrors.

2. Grammatics – Grammatics

Grammatics - Grammatics

Sometimes, you feel lucky – privileged even – to have caught a band in the early stages of their career. It was a feeling I definitely felt upon seeing Grammatics live for the first time, and having followed them since their first 7″ single (‘Shadow Committee’) I was absolutely thrilled to see the band’s talent come to fruition on their debut full-length. Their ambition shines through in the sheer diversity of their music, which effortlessly transitions between different styles and sounds – sometimes even mid-song.

And what songs they are. ‘Relentless Fours’ builds from a fragile, off-kilter keyboard loop all the way to histrionic howling and thrashed-out guitar, via an effortlessly graceful mid-section. The tense, paranoid atmosphere of ‘D.I.L.E.M.M.A.’ contrasts beautifully with the understated, sweetly-sung pop of ‘Murderer’,  and melancholy epic ‘Polar Swelling’ is aptly titled, building itself up to an emotional finale. Indeed, this is an album of gut-wrenching, heart-stopping emotion throughout, whether it be on the plaintive ‘Broken Wing’, the shimmering hope of ‘The Vague Archive’, or the brief but brilliant rollercoaster of ‘Rosa Flood’. Owen Brinley’s soaring voice is constantly underpinned by stirring, varied backdrops stuffed full of melodic hooks – and yet, on fragile acoustic track ‘Cruel Tricks Of The Light’, he proves that his voice is a beautiful instrument in its own right.

Grammatics is an unparalleled debut album from one of the most inventive new British bands in recent memory – but thrillingly, I can’t help but feel that they have every potential to better it. If there’s any justice, this should be just the beginning of something very, very special.

1. Fever Ray – Fever Ray

Fever Ray - Fever Ray

Mesmerising. Unsettling. Affecting. Bewildering. Brilliant.

I could throw descriptive language at you all day and still struggle to capture exactly what it is I love about Fever Ray’s self-titled album. Whether I listen to it in the hazy light of morning or the very dark of night, it never fails to come across as anything but completely, all-encompassingly atmospheric. Karin Dreijer Andersson has produced some of the densest, most richly layered soundscapes I’ve heard all year, but it’s her voice that’s the star of the show.

Whether maintaining her distinctive accented tones or warping them into a menacing, otherworldly growl, it’s absolutely captivating – as is the way her lyrics mix the mundane, the surreal and the fantastical with a constant sense of raw emotion. From the wide-eyed, childlike hope of ‘When I Grow Up’ to the oppressive claustrophobia of ‘Concrete Walls’, you’re constantly made to *feel* something – and if you manage to listen to ‘Keep The Streets Empty For Me’ without it stirring up *some* sort of emotion, then you should probably check your pulse. The fact that Fever Ray may well be a one-off solo record for Karin may be good news for fans of The Knife – but it also means we should treasure this wonderful piece of art all the more. Simply put, this is a record to lose yourself in – it’s nothing short of completely immersive and stunningly beautiful.

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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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