Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Top 10 albums of 2013

10. Cloud Control - Dream Cave
Following on from the success of their 2011 record, Bliss Release, Cloud Control have returned with another glorious pop album. Released in September, the album was the perfect soundtrack to late summer, with hazy guitars and synths. Although the sound is much the same as their first album, it's a formula that works - vibrant but laid-back music that is distinctly 'Cloud Control'.





9. Foals - Holy Fire
 With a much heavier and richer guitar sound than many of the albums on the list, Holy Fire is easily one of the most gritty albums of the year, making for an exciting sound - a progression from their earlier albums with catchier melodies, whilst still retaining a rawness that has become their trademark.





8. Dutch Uncles - Out Of Touch in The Wild
 The dancing in the music video for Flexxin should give a clue to the pulsing rhythms that drive the songs on the album. Hailing from Manchester, the band has branched out from the guitar rock with which the city has become so associated, instead creating a niche for themselves - violins intertwine with xylophones in unusual time signatures.




7. John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts
 Recorded in Reykjavik with Icelandic electronic musician, Birgir Þórarinsson, John Grant's second  album has a melancholic vibe to it. Grant's voice is beautifully melodic, seeming to sincerely believes every word he sings. With wonderful string sections the album sounds hugely atmospheric - one can hear the influence the Icelandic landscape has had on him, particularly on Glacier.

  


6. Sweet Baboo - Ships
 The fourth album from Sweet Baboo (AKA Stephen Black), Ships is a charming record with simple,  catchy melodies. With jangling guitars and trumpets, it's a triumphant sounding album that has been a firm favourite throughout the summer months. Despite the morbid title of If I Died..., it's a wonderfully quirky tune with a sense of fun that is carried across the whole album.



 
5. Owiny Sigoma Band - Power Punch
 A joint collaboration between musicians from London and Nairobi, Power Punch has a sound that encompasses the best of British pop and rhythmic Kenyan beats. The brainchild of musicians in electronic hip-hop collective, Elmore Judd, it's clear that electronic music has very much remained an influence in the album. The fusion of the two cultures brings refreshing sounds to the album, and sets the group out to be one to watch in 2014. 
 




4. Villagers - {Awayland}
Villagers’ second album, {Awayland}, is a clear progression from their debut. Although some critics disliked the fact they’ve departed from their acoustic roots, there’s definitely a grittier edge to the album which makes them seem wiser – perhaps the result of months on the road, touring. Stand-out track, Nothing Arrived, sounds fresh amongst the more electronic tracks on the album, with bluesy piano chords wonderfully contrasting with the crisp clarity of lead singer Conor O’Brien’s voice.



3. The Epstein - Murmurations
Alongside the line-up changing, The Epstein's original country vibe has also greatly evolved over the past few years, and in Murmurations, has found a new sense of sophistication. The tracks are refined whilst still retaining a slight rock'n'roll edge, showing that the band have truly found a niche for their music.






2. Stornoway - Tales From Terra Firma
 Sonically, Tales From Terra Firma is far removed from Beachomber's Windowsill, with a more poppish sound, but, much like their first, the album is full of maritime imagery – ironic for a band from Oxford, one of the furthest points from the sea in Britain. Recorded in old churches and a garage, Tales From Terra Firma is wonderfully rustic, with little quirks throughout that showcase the band’s extraordinary musical talent – a spoon solo features in Knock Me On The Head.


 
1. Everything Everything - Arc
 The explosive second album from Everything Everything is one of the most vibrant to hit the Mancunian music scene in a long time. With its pulsing drum beats and jangling basslines, the album is an exhilarating listen, and the almost chant like quality to the vocals provides a unique sound which makes Everything Everything one of the most exciting bands of the year. 

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Top 10 Singles of 2013

10. Peace - Vieux Farka Touré 


9. So Good At Being In Trouble - Unknown Mortal Orchestra


8. 22 - Night Beds


7. Calling Out Your Name - The Epstein


6. Harpoon Land - Owiny Sigoma Band 


5. Knock Me On The Head - Stornoway


4. Song For Zula- Phosphorescent


3. Flexxin - Dutch Uncles 


2. Don't Try - Everything Everything


1. Reflektor - Arcade Fire 

Monday, 16 December 2013

Review: For Folk's Sake Christmas Compilation


For Folk's Sake It's Christmas 2013 cover art

It’s  now just over a week until Christmas day, but December has already brought many treats - the smell of mince pies and mulled wine, the need for a roaring log fire, and the annual For Folk’s Sake Christmas compilation. Of course, the world is not short of festive tunes, and I’m the first to admit that when it comes to Christmas, my music taste tends to deteriorate – a tinsel length of Wham never hurt anyone. Despite this confession, I’m still able to know good music when I hear it, and this compilation includes much of just that. 

A mixture of covers and original songs, the album is a whole stocking worth of treats, with an eclectic range of sounds from the dulcet piano melodies of Howard Carter’s Adagio from Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, to Emperor Yes’ ‘Time Frog 4000’, a bizarre track, which sounds like it’s been composed by a psychedelic Santa after one too many.  

Sophie Jamieson’s version of ‘The First Noel’ has a Beth Jeans Houghton vibe to it, with aptly angelic vocals. Laish’s rendition of ‘Silent Night’ gives a more pessimistic view of the Christmas season with the lyrics, ‘Bitter winter has taken your cheer, tiresome company spoilt your beer’. One of my favourite carols, ‘Coventry Carol’ has been beautifully reinterpreted by Inti Rowland to have an almost Hispanic feel to it, accompanied by a simple but powerful guitar. 

As for original songs, Dark Dark Dark’s ‘Winter Coat’ is a haunting number with its piano accordion accompaniment, and intertwining male and female vocals. Much like Jens Lekman, Joe Innes & the Cavalcade have the perfect dose of whimsical lyrics and catchy melodies in ‘Santa Says Relax’, before slipping into a short rendition of ‘Santa Baby’. 

All the very best Christmas songs contain sumptuous vocal harmonies and twinkling piano riffs, and ‘Christmas All The Time’ by Pollyanna Band ticks all the boxes, sounding like it should be on the Love Actually soundtrack - no bad thing in my book.  Stornoway’s ‘Gondwanaland’ seems less overtly Christmassy than the other tracks, but with references to ‘silent snow’ and an ‘icy street’ it just about passes the wintry weather test, and nonetheless its gentle melody provides the perfect winter evening accompaniment. 

With profits from the album going to Medecins Sans Frontières, this compilation is the perfect gift for this Christmas. You can buy it now here.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Review: Sofar Sounds Tour - Oxford, 15th November 2013



On the fourth night of its tour, in which 3 up-and-coming bands travelled around the country, the Sofar Sounds team stopped off in Merton College's MCR - a beautiful old room with oak beams which provided a a quirky setting for the evening. With a small audience and banter amongst the bands, the atmosphere had a sense of the informality and intimacy for which Sofar nights are known.

Wolf Alice opened with an acoustic version of 'Fluffy', a beautifully haunting song, freshly interpreted from the studio version. The vocal harmonies carried well in the small room, and the mix of female and male voices created a rich sound despite the lack of amplification. Taken from their new EP, 'Blush' had an elegant simplicity, perfectly suiting relaxed nature of the evening.

Sivu, (the Finish translation for his surname, 'Page') followed with a single acoustic guitar and no accompaniment. He won over the audience not only with his melodious voice, but with his declaration that Oxford is nicer than Cambridge, despite coming from the latter.

Dancing Years are old hands on the Sofar circuit, having played at numerous evenings around the country already. Their set was beautifully gentle, almost like a lullaby, whilst still managing to engage with the audience. Honest and simple, their music provided the perfect send-off into the cold Autumn air outside.

Held in cities all over the world, Sofar nights have become renowned for their unique venues and performances. If you haven't yet attended one, it's worth checking out their website - it's a truly wonderful way of experiencing music without any commercialisation. Not only is it a chance to see bands play in smaller settings than they perhaps are used to, complete strangers are united by a love of music that ensures it's an evening you certainly won't forget.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Introducing: Jordan O'Shea

Desperation, My Dear cover art
Perfect Sunday evening listening comes in the form of Oxford's Jordan O'Shea who describes his music as 'music you can escape to'. Gentle and understated, his debut album, Desperation, My Dear, is a wonderful mix of acoustic guitar and melancholic melodies, whilst simple piano riffs anchor each song. The album as a whole is beautifully haunting, almost reminiscent of Bon Iver with breathy vocals and a tender, soothing quality. If you're in a dreamy mood, have a listen on his bandcamp. 





Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Mini-LP Review: You Don't Know Anything - Stornoway



Mini-LP: You Don't Know Anything
Release date: 11th November 2013
Rating: 9/10

After the success of their sophomore album, Tales From Terra Firma, (reviewed here back in March), Stornoway have returned with a mini-LP of songs which didn't quite  fit the 'mood' of their latest album.

Opener, When You Touch Down From Outer Space, has been a crowd favourite since it started being performed at gigs a few years back, but a studio version hasn't appeared until now. Despite the whimsical talk of 'cyborgs' and 'outer space', the lyrics convey a deeper and more emotional sense of exploration - lead-singer, Brian Briggs, wrote the song after the birth of his first child; singing 'I can't wait to introduce you to your new world', it's a touching ode to new life.

This theme of fresh beginnings is echoed in Waiting On The Clock, focusing on starting university and first love in a 'new found world'. However not everything is new; Stornoway have always found solace in the natural world, and we've come to anticipate this in each new release. 'So superior to beast and bird, drive them out unless they make us richer', Briggs sings on The Sixth Wave, whilst its marching beat could almost make it a Greenpeace anthem.

Tumbling Bay has a romantically nostalgic feel to it with talk of time machines 'to bring back Saturday'. It's a more laid-back vibe, creating the perfect breather in the middle of the album. The song seems to draw to a close, but an unexpected but nonetheless enchanting addition almost acts as a scene change into You Don't Know Anything, a song which has all the usual elements of a great Stornoway number - references to Oxford, vocal harmonies and trumpets. Clockwatching takes an entirely different approach, but is an exhilarating listen with a rather sinister edge to it, whilst Briggs' voice takes on a gruffer tone.

Tales From Terra Firma saw a clear progression from their debut album and again, You Don't Know Anything marks new territory for the band. Whilst these songs may be almost unrecognisable from those on Beachcomber's Windowsill, Stornoway touches still remain with trumpets striking up in triumphant fanfare across the album. It's a dramatic new sound from the band, and perhaps the most exciting one yet.

For more information visit: www.stornoway.eu
You can also read my interviews with Oli Steadman (bassist) and Rob Steadman (drummer)

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

EP Review: Contours - Toliesel

Contours

EP: Contours
Label: One Note Forever Records
Release date: 16th September 2013
Rating: 9/10

Mid-September saw the release of the glorious new EP, Contours, from Oxford's Toliesel.  As the first release for One Note Forever Records, it's a promising start for the label. Having added to their line-up over the past few years to include a new bassist and guitarist, the band have hit the ground running with their catchy hooks and beautiful harmonies.

It's not often that a band manages to produce an EP on which every track is as stunning as the last, but for Toliesel, it doesn't seem to have been difficult. Whispered Half Asleep is a wonderful opener with chilled vibes and crystal-clear vocals. The Light, despite having been around on the internet for a while, is still as exhilarating as on first listening. The Lighthouse is a more paired-back song, with a simple acoustic guitar intro that beautifully contrasts with the power of Jack Olchawski's voice, whilst the strings added later give it richly melancholic undertones. Final song, Brothers, continues this sense of malaise with ghoulish background vocals that gradually build up to create an epic spine-tingling finale.

Contours is unashamedly poppy, and whilst not breaking down any musical barriers, it's a sumptuous sixteen minutes of catchy riffs and jangling basslines. The music is vibrantly colourful, each musical layer melting into the next, creating a rich texture that provides the perfect pick-me-up in this cold weather. Summer may now have passed, but with the release of Contours, Toliesel have provided us with the means to enjoy the sunshine for a little while longer.

Contours is out now. For more information visit:

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Interview: Sweet Baboo

With the release of his fourth album, Ships, earlier this year, it has been a busy few months for Sweet Baboo (AKA Stephen Black). As well as playing his own gigs and appearing at numerous festivals, he has recently supported Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit on their UK tour. However, despite the busy schedule, Black took some time out to answer some questions for NotAnotherRainySunday. Line-up his gloriously upbeat melodies on the stereo, and read about the origin of 'Sweet Baboo', the Welsh music scene, and his musical recommendations. 

Let's kick off with the basics - where did the name Sweet Baboo come from?
I heard it used in the Charlie Brown cartoon when I was younger and thought it would be a good name for a band. It's a term of endearment in America. I've often thought about changing it to something more manly in recent years but I think we may have been through too much together.

I've noticed you also have a version of 'If I Died...' written in Welsh. Do you notice much of a difference writing in Welsh to songwriting in English?
This is an easy one to answer. Unfortunately I find it very difficult to write in Welsh, so much so that my friend Huw Evans (a.k.a. H.Hawkline) translated the lyrics for me I'm a fluent Welsh speaker but my vocabularly is not great. Welsh is such a lyrical and romantic language that I wouldn't have done the translation justice. Huw used artistic license in the translation and did a much better job that I would ever have done.

You've stated that you're a fan of fellow Welsh band, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, and have also worked with said band's leader, Euros Childs - how do you feel the Welsh  music scene fits into the British scene as a whole?
I'm not sure if I know much about the British scene really. The Welsh music scene must fit somewhere but I have no idea where. All I know is, to me, Wales makes the best pop music, oh and I'll extend that to the
rest of the world too. 

Both 'Let's Go Swimming Wild' and 'C'mon Let's Mosh!' have previously won BBC 6Music's weekly 'rebel playlist' competititions. How important do you think exposure on the radio is in reaching a wider audience in comparison with the internet?
Any exposure is good. If people hear you on the radio or read about you online and then come to a gig or buy an album then I can't complain.

On top of performing as Sweet Baboo you've also toured with Slow Club and Cate Le Bon in their live bands - do you prefer playing in groups or working individually? Do both have their benefits?
I think I like them equally. I suppose I put more pressure on my gigs, you know, hope that people will come, enjoy themselves, there's more to worry about but I get the same enjoyment out of playing in front of people no matter what band I play in really.

With the release of your fourth album, Ships, back in April, do you think your sound has changed greatly since your debut?
In some ways it has, it's a lot louder and, this album especially, a lot more brass heavy but I think the lyrical topics are similar and I can see similar bits and bobs running through all my albums really.

What are some bands we've probably never heard of, but that you'd recommend?
At the moment I'm mainly listening to Alex Dingley who's a singer from West Wales and the Oliver Wilde album which is out on Howling Owl records from Bristol. If you haven't heard of them then I'd recommend both.

I know you're currently in the midst of festival season. How do your festivals sets compare with the approach to your own tours? What can we be expecting when you tour in the Autumn?
We've been lucky enough to have a brass section for most of the festivals, something we're not able to do on tour so much. So festival sets have been louder and there's been a whole lot more of choreographed dance moves.

Sweet Baboo will be touring the UK in November. For more information visit www.sweetbaboo.co.uk

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Introducing: Port Isla

Port Isla - there's something about the romantically dreamy name and maritime connotations which instantly gives away a clue to what their music sounds like. Reminiscent of Fleet Foxes, the soulful vocals and punchy drumbeats provide the perfect injection of summer into their richly layered songs - guitars and pianos weave in and out of each other creating a sublime ocean of sound. If you're looking for a song to soundtrack a lazy summer's day spent in the garden, Sinking Ship could just be the answer.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Murmurations - The Epstein

 

Album: Murmurations
Label: Zawinul 

The Epstein have returned with their second album, Murmurations. Although there was no official release date for the album in the UK (it was previously released in Benelux by PIAS), it has already attracted widespread praise from fans and critics for its refreshing take on country music.  Despite dramatic line-up changes over the past few years (when I first saw the band play in 2011, they were missing a rhythm section) the band has steadily been gaining support here, but also particularly in mainland Europe, where numerous festival appearances and tours have cemented them as a fond favourite.

Alongside the line-up changing, The Epstein's original country vibe has also greatly evolved over the past few years, and in Murmurations, has found a new sense of sophistication. The tracks are refined whilst still retaining a slight rock'n'roll edge, showing that the band have truly found a niche for their music.

To read more of my thoughts on 'Murmurations', head over to Artrocker's website to read my review of the album launch earlier this month.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Spring Offensive curate Beard Museum - St John the Evangelist Church, Oxford 15th June 2013

Having previously played in a variety of quirky venues from living rooms to museums, a beautiful church in East Oxford seemed the perfect setting for a musical extravaganza hosted by local lads, Spring Offensive. With so many great releases coming out of Oxford lately, an evening of Oxford bands was sure to be a good one (it's worth checking out Seb Reynolds' musical guide to the city here).

The evening began with acoustic sets in the chapel of the church - a tiny room that made for an intimate environment. With The Ruby Kid acting as a compère, the audience were treated to some spoken-word poems, and despite only a few admitting to being hip hop fans, it was clear the crowd appreciated his impressive ability to spout such powerful lines so charismatically. 

The musical proceedings got under-way with the unconventional looking Sweet William. With his wild mop of ginger afro, I'm wasn't to sure what kind of music to be expecting, but he lived up to his name, with soothing vocals and an unassuming persona. Coming into the centre of the crowd to perform one of his songs was a nice touch, and I instantly warmed to his reserved and gentle, but nonetheless powerful music. 

Adam Barnes continued in much the same fashion with melancholic songs, and dulcet melodies, and yet the differences between the two singers were clear. Barnes, joined by a keyboard, sang with an assurance that exuded his confident, but humble manner. Playing acoustic versions of tracks off his latest EP, his stripped back set was refined but elegant, perfectly matching the ornate setting. 

The final band of the acoustic section was Salvation Bill, a western/country trio, whose energy was infectious. Littered with eccentricities (including a fake crow attached to the guitar strap of the lead singer), their set was one of the most fun I've witnessed in a long time. Dedicating a song to their neighbour's dog, they sang of a dog who howls throughout the night, even inputting some spectacularly accomplished howling into the song. 

Pixel Fix's set in the main body of the church marked a definite change in the tone of the evening, with their heavy guitars and sample pads. Despite being utterly charming (the lead singer repeated on numerous occasions what 'a pleasure' it was to be playing there), their music had an angrier edge to it, and a raw sound that was exhilarating and refreshing at the same time. They were clearly young lads, but their music was accomplished and assured, and they had a confidence which made it seem like they had been around for years - they're definitely one to keep an eye on in the coming year.

After the excitement of Pixel Fix's set, Peter & Kerry seemed a bit dreary in comparison. Whilst their songs had catchy melodies and pretty harmonies, it was all a bit too twee for me, and it was hard to distinguish one song from another.

By the time Spring Offensive took to the stage, the venue was packed not only with loyal Oxford fans, but fans from further afield as well - a testament to the success they have had in recent months and their increasing popularity as they finally gain the recognition they deserve. Lead singer, Lucas Whitworth, was the perfect front man - he had good banter with the crowd, and commanded the stage like a master conductor, though when you're well over 6 foot perhaps it isn't so hard to do..!

Opening with the beautifully haunting No Assets, the band instantly captivated the audience, and set a high standard which they maintained throughout their set. Playing Synapse to Synapse to a live crowd for the first time that evening was a daring move, but it paid off - the melancholic vocals fit perfectly in the majestic setting of the church, and it wasn't hard to see why they'd chosen that particular venue for their set.
Not Drowning But Waving closed their set, and despite having to restart after Matt Cooper accidentally pulled out his guitar lead, it was a stunning finish to a wonderful evening of Oxford music.

For more photos from the evening visit the NotAnotherRainySunday Facebook page
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