Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Top 10 Albums of 2014

10) Sivu - Something On High 
Sivu first came to NotAnotherRainySunday's attention at an intimate Sofar Sounds gig in Oxford, and since then the musician has moved from strength to strength. His debut album, Something On High, is hardly the most cheerful of albums, but its bleak lyrics are elevated by soaring melodies and intricate instrumentation. He's sure to be one to watch over the coming year. 





9) Toumani & Sidiki Diabate - Toumani & Sidiki 
Father and son duo, Toumani & Sidiki Diabate are two of Mali's best known musicians, and have found widespread praise in the west for their kora playing. The first time they've created a record together, their eponymous debut is a stunning showcase of Malian instrumentation. Toumani Diabate once described music as the "mineral wealth" of Mali, and the album as a whole is powerful proof of how important music is to the nation as part of their cultural heritage. 


8) Caribou - Our Love 
The sixth studio album from Dan Snaith (under his stage name, Caribou) is a vibrant and danceable album, which still retains a thoughfulness throughout all the tracks. Citing the birth of his daughter as inspiration for the more personal approach towards the album, Snaith points out that it's an album of reflection, making for wonderful listening. 





7) Elbow - The Take Off and Landing of Everything 
In recent years, Elbow's popularity has seen a dramatic surge, culminating in an arena tour of the UK in April 2014, and it's not hard to see why. The band are known for their power ballads, lending themselves well to huge venues. On their latest offering, The Take Off and Landing of Everything, 'New York Morning' follows this formula, but it still manages to sound fresh, a theme prevalent throughout the whole album. 



6) Metronomy - Love Letters 
For their fourth album, Metronomy stick to the similar roots of its predecessor, The English Riviera, and it's no bad thing. 'I'm Aquarius' is reminiscent of the previous album's 'Corrine'  as the vocals of leadsinger Joe Mount and drummer Anna Prior are beautifully intertwined. However, in some respects the latest release witnesses a progression in their sound - Love Letters is refined yet vibrant, and a truly triumphant album. 




5) Lykke Li - I Never Learn 
Written after a breakup, I Never Learn is an album of heartbreak. It's the shortest of Lykke Li's albums so far, but each song is a powerful ballad. Vocally, the singer could not be stronger, however her voice retains a delicacy which sweetens the harsh electronic backings. Across the album, Lykke Li proves that although it's short, it's her finest record yet.




4) Wild Beasts - Present Tense 
Present Tense is Wild Beasts' fourth album, and the band show no sign of slowing down. With each of their albums featuring widely on end of year "best album" lists, the Kendal band have proved that their music is like no other. The distinct falsetto of  leadsinger, Hayden Thorpe, which sets the band apart from so many, once again is sumptuously featured on their latest album. Present Tense is a richly textured album, with Thorpe singing on 'Wanderlust', "we're decadent beyond our means... we're high in our poverty". Even the simplest of Wild Beasts' songs sound like symphonies. 

3) Snowmine - Dialects Brooklyn five-piece Snowmine
triumphed with the release of 'Dialects'. Recorded in a church, the tracks on the album have a fresh and expansive sound. Across the album, the vocals are reminiscent of Vampire Weekend, but the comparisons end there. With strings and clarinets, the sound is rich and vibrant, with each song on the album seamlessly flowing into the next, meaning a unified sound spans the record. The album is perfectly produced, with recurring instruments providing overarching musical themes. However this isn't to say the tracks are repetitive. Each individual song is a masterpiece, meaning 'Dialects' is safely one of the best albums of 2014.

2) Spring Offensive - Young Animal Hearts 
In November, Spring Offensive sadly played their last gig after a decade together. However, 2014 proved to be a fantastic final year for the band, with the release of Young Animal Hearts in March, making their breakup even more poignant. The album opens with the darkly beautiful 'Not Drowning But Waving', a clever take on Stevie Smith's poem 'Not Waving But Drowning'. Spring Offensive are a poetic bunch - the band name is taken from the Wilfred Owen poem of the same name. Their songs follow great narratives, and refreshingly are not always about love. It's hard to fit Spring Offensive into an exact genre, but perhaps this was a blessing for the band. Although they are no longer together, their music can survive listen after listen without ever growing old. 

1) Francois & The Atlas Mountains -  Piano Ombre 
After gaining widespread critical acclaim for their last album, E Volo Love, Francois & The Atlas Mountains returned with a stunning follow-up in Piano Ombre. The first of their albums to be recorded with a professional producer, the album surprisingly doesn't sound too over-produced, as is often the case when musicians hand over the reigns. Instead, the raw beauty of E Volo Love remains. Piano Ombre is more paired-back than its predecessor, relying more on lead singer, Francois Marry's fragile voice, which expresses far more emotion that a sea of instrumentation ever could. A group combining musicians from both sides of the channel, the majority of the songs are in French with  the lilting lyrics adding to the sublime majesty of the music. However, even when singing in English, the subtleties of Marry's voice are not lost. It's a testament to his talent as a musician that the transition from French to English is seamless. There's something distinctively French about the minimalism of his music, which at the same time is so emotive. Although instrumentally simple, the melodies are consistently strong throughout the entire album. The serenity of Piano Ombre shows a development in their sound as the band has matured. It's an exquisite album, thoughtfully produced to perfection. 

Monday, 29 December 2014

Top 10 Singles of 2014

10) Metronomy - I'm Aquarius


9) Warpaint - Love Is To Die


8) The National - I Need My Girl


7) Belle & Sebastian - Nobody's Empire


6) Alvvays - Archie, Marry Me


5) Aquilo - You There


4) Francois & The Atlas Mountains - La Verite


3) Snowmine - Columbus


2) Spring Offensive - Hengelo



1) Lykke Li - No Rest For The Wicked 


Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Single review: Nobody's Empire - Belle & Sebastian

10/10 

The newest single from their upcoming album 'Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance', Nobody's Empire is a cheerful indicator of what Belle & Sebastian fans can expect when the album is released in January 2015. The song is a return to true Belle & Sebastian roots, after the previous single Party Line, a Hot Chip-esque track,  hinted at a more electro-pop sound from the band. According to lead singer, Stuart Murdoch, Nobody's Empire is the "most personal song" he's ever written, and it certainly seems it. The video has a nostalgic feels to it with old film reel setting the scene of an 80s Glasgow - the formative musical years of the band members. The band's ninth studio album will be released on 19th January, and you can currently catch the band on tour. For more information, visit their website



Monday, 20 October 2014

Review: Sofar Sounds Oxford

Sofar Sounds has developed a reputation for hosting gigs in unusual venues, and Friday night was no different. Held in Art Jericho, a small and intimate art gallery, it was the perfect location for an evening of acoustic music. Sofar never fails to disappoint with the bands and artists that are chosen - the organisation receives so submissions that the bands playing are sure to be of the highest calibre. 

The evening started with Duotone, a man with many instruments and a looping pedal; it was hard to believe that there was just one person playing. Starting with a cello, the music was wonderfully melancholic, appropriate for a rainy autumnal evening. Commenting on the "awkward silences" between songs, he claimed nervousness, but the set didn't seem awkward at all - in fact, the pauses between songs seemed a fitting tribute to the music - such emotional songs required silences to reflect on what had just been played. In later songs, the melodies were more upbeat - he played his cello as if in a ceilidh band with a balkan folk twist. It was a stunning opening to the evening, and he's definitely one to watch. 

Next followed Kimberly Anne whose vitality shone out with her beautiful personality and stage presence. Battling the rain pounding down on the sky lights, she turned the sound effect to her advantage, playing woeful ballads which perfectly fitted the weather outside. They weren't all sad songs though - her set contained a mixture of styles showcasing her musical ability. Sofar is known for its attentive audiences, and this proved particularly useful for Kimberly Anne who used the audience as her backing vocals on a number of songs. Giving out teabags after her set with free downloads, it was hard not to instantly warm to her. 

Tanya Wells' set brought together music from different cultures, singing Urdu alongside her mother-tongue of English. A beautiful language, Urdu seems to lend itself particularly well to music, and it was apt that one of her songs translated as 'Poetry' - the drum rhythms throughout her music danced in and out of the music in a beautifully poetic fashion. Having just returned from recording an album in the States, Wells will return to Oxford on 15th November, and is not one to miss. 

Sofar Sounds is a brilliant place to hear a whole variety of genres in one evening; the headline act, Archivist, brought a totally new sound to the night, with a healthy mix of jazz and soul. With soaring vocals weaving in and out of various instrumentation including a violin, the music was hugely atmospheric, and the expansive sound worked particularly well in the whitewashed art gallery adorned with paintings of wildlife. The band explained that it was a more acoustic setup than usual and so it'll be interesting to see how their sound is adapted when amplified. Only the fourth time the band had performed together, it was an impressive set, and a wonderful ending to the evening. 

For more information on Sofar Sounds visit www.sofarsounds.com

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Spring Offensive take an indefinite break



Wednesday brought the sad news that Oxford band Spring Offensive would be taking a break for the foreseeable future with an  open letter written by guitarist Matt Cooper and posted on the band's tumblr explaining the decision. The band's highlights have included a superb crowd-funded album, Young Animal Hearts, which received one of the highest album ratings on NotAnotherRainySunday, and shows all over Europe - a testament to the wide fanbase the band has attracted over the decade that it has existed. A favourite of this blog, the band will be sorely missed.

Over the next few months Spring Offensive will be playing their last shows. You can check out their dates below. For more Spring Offensive, read reviews and an interview with the band from over the years here.



19/10 - A Carefully Planned Festival, Manchester (UK)
24/10 - Muziekgieterij, Maastricht (NL) 
25/10 - Nürnberg Pop Festival (D) 
26/10 - Ancienne Belgique, Brussels (B) 
27/10 - Ponyhof, Frankfurt (D) 
28/10 - FZW, Dortmund (D) 
20/11 - O2 Academy, Oxford (UK) 
29/11 - The Courtyard Theatre, London (UK) 

I've Been Listening To...

Open - Rhye


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Glastonbury 2014 Highlights

It goes without saying that a weekend at Glastonbury was an incredible experience. Heavy rain only added to the festival package, and despite discovering that anoraks and wellies are only waterproof up to a certain extent, the music made up for the soaking I received. 

A true music blogger, I had a list filled with bands to see - sadly, as with any good festival, too many clashes meant I had to choose selectively. John Grant was the true highlight of the weekend. Singing songs from his most recent album, Pale Green Ghosts, and his previous album, Queen of Denmark, Grant had the perfect mix of songs throughout his set. His gentleness as a frontman also came across, matching the beautiful serenity of his voice. Lykke Li was also highly anticipated, and she didn't disappoint. Effortlessly cool, she was at ease on stage singing old favourites like 'Little Bit' and 'I Follow Rivers'; however, it was the rousing chorus of 'No Rest For The Wicked' that was the biggest crowd-pleaser of the set. Foster The People's set encountered difficulties when it was postponed for an hour due to an electrical storm over the festival site, but when they finally took to the Other Stage, it was a slick performance. With their songs being used for numerous adverts over the past few years, the audience knew all the words, perfect for a festival where crowd camaraderie is all part of the fun. 


On the Sunday afternoon, Dolly Parton attracted Glastonbury's largest ever audience for a show-stopping set. Old classics like 'Jolene' and 'Here You Come Again' were blended with newer material, pleasing everyone. Despite later hearing allegations of miming, for me the set was one of the highlights of the weekend. With over 50 years' experience behind her, Parton has perfected her role as a performer; happy to poke fun at herself, she is easy to warm to. 

Of course, Glastonbury isn't only famous for the big names it pulls for headline slots. The amount of exposure and support offered to lesser known bands is impressive. The BBC Introducing Stage is one of the ways in which the festival achieves this, with BBC DJs from around the country recommending some of the best up-and-coming bands of the moment. Aquilo, a duo from the Lake District, brought dreamy electronic pop and soulful vocals to Worthy Farm. They've had a number of festival dates over the summer, and are definitely ones to watch over the coming months; a sound as beautiful and expansive as theirs is unlikely to remain little known for long. Flights of Helios were another highlight from the BBC Introducing Stage. Their sound is almost a dark psychedelia, with 'Factory' having a grungy quality that provides an exhilarating listen. Amongst the famous acts at Glastonbury, it's inspiring to see so many bands at the beginning of their careers play at the world's most famous music festival - surely a dream for any musician. 

With over 60 stages, it was easy to stumble across bands I'd previously not heard of. In fact, as I had no expectations, these turned out to be some of the best sets of the weekend. The Woohoo Revue are an Australian band who play Balkan inspired music which wouldn't sound out of place in a 1920s speakeasy. Their energetic and vibrant music was enormous fun, and had audience members dancing enthusiastically. Peatbog Faeries, described by the introducer as playing 'electric céleidh music' were the last band I saw play at Glastonbury, and ended the weekend on an incredible high. I've always enjoyed traditional Scottish folk music, but the addition of electric guitars and basses was truly like nothing I've ever heard before. 


From Balkan music to Scottish folk and then onto Malian father and son duo Toumani & Sidiki Diabaté, all the bases of world music were covered. Playing purely instrumental music on koras, their set was a chance to take a step back from the intensity of the weekend, and their music was perfectly suited to the Sunday afternoon slot they had on the Pyramid Stage. Europop was also represented at the festival. French and Belgian fans were out in force for Belgian singer Stromae's set on the Sonic Stage. Huge on the continent, and yet not so famous over here, it was nice to see that English fans comprised about half of the audience. A quick poll by Stromae quickly established that about a third of the crowd spoke no French at all; a testament to the zesty and upbeat sounds of his songs, all of which are sung in French. 

The beauty of Glastonbury is the eclectic mix of genres throughout the weekend; the diversity opens up ones eyes to new bands and discoveries that they never would have considered listening to. From Dolly Parton to a DJ set by Disclosure to John Grant, the range of music I listened to and saw at Glastonbury ensured the weekend was an unforgettable one. When rain dampens spirits, music can always pick them up again.






















Information about buying tickets for Glastonbury 2015 will be released later this year

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Album review: Piano Ombre - Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains


10/10 
Record Label: Domino Records

After gaining widespread critical acclaim for their last album, E Volo Love, Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains have returned with a stunning follow-up in Piano Ombre. The first of their albums to be recorded with a professional producer, the album surprisingly doesn't sound too over-produced, as is often the case when musicians hand over the reigns. Instead, the raw beauty of E Volo Love remains. In fact, Piano Ombre is more paired-back than its predecessor, relying more on lead-singer, Frànçois Marry's fragile voice which expresses far more emotion than a sea of instrumentation ever could. 

A group combining musicians from both sides of the Channel, the album has a mixture of French and English lyrics. Surprisingly, this isn't particularly common, as bands trying to break into British or American markets often feel the need to sing completely in English. I was once contacted by a Cuban singer asking for feedback on his music - the americanised style of singing didn't suit the beautifully rich Cuban accent he already possessed; his own language would have utterly transformed his music for the better. In fact, singing in a foreign language can prove to be beneficial when finding a niche in English-speaking countries - to see how, one need only look at the successes of Sigur Rós and Amadou et Mariam in recent years. Refreshingly, the majority of the songs on Piano Ombre are in French. The lilting lyrics add to the sublime majesty of the music; even if not fluent in French, it can be particularly meditative focusing completely on the sounds of the words and how they fit with the flow of instrumentation. However, even when singing in English, the subtleties of  Marry's voice are not lost. It's a testament to his talent as a musician that the transition from French to English is effortless. There's something distinctly French about the minimalism of his music which at the same time is so emotive. Although instrumentally simple, the melodies are consistently strong throughout the entire album. 

The album opens with 'Bois'. Translating as 'wood', the song evokes the starkness of being alone, surrounded by trees, with an expansive sound and haunting vocals. The instrumentation gradually swells, with electronic sounds being added, the grungier of these effects almost making it sound a bit alien, whilst saxophones lend it a jazzy quality. It's an interesting new sound for the band, that works beautifully as an opener, and is heightened by its contrast with the following track. 'La Verite' is the most poppish of the songs on the album, and gloriously so. Recently added to the BBC6 music playlist, its vibrancy suits radio play and its refrain of 'la verité, en verité, en verité, la verité, tu ne la connais pas' is infectiously catchy. 

'La Fille aux Cheveux De Soie' pays homage to Debussy's piece 'La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin', and although it's probably not often that Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains are compared to early 19th century impressionist composers, there are subtle parallels between the two in terms of their sound - the glittering, sensuous piano  in 'La Fille aux Cheveux de Soie' is vaguely reminiscent of Debussy's oeuvre. 'Summer of a Heart' features the afro-beats that were so prevalent in E Volo Love, but the song as a whole has a hazy quality, perfect for the coming summer months, whilst the album's title track is wonderfully melancholic with echoing vocals making for an ethereal sound. 

The serenity of Piano Ombre shows a development in their sound as it has matured. It's an exquisite album, thoughtfully produced to perfection. Although E Volo Love was an equally wonderful album, the band have mellowed their sound since then, and the new style suits them well. With tour dates across Europe over the next few months, Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains' mellow pop is set to soundtrack the summer. 


Sunday, 9 March 2014

Album review: Young Animal Hearts - Spring Offensive


9/10 

The long-awaited debut album from Oxford's Spring Offensive will be released tomorrow (10th March) and although it's been a long time coming, it's certainly worth the wait. Having been recommended by fellow Oxford musicians Stornoway in an interview with NotAnotherRainySunday in 2011, Spring Offensive are only just releasing their first full-length record, demonstrating the meticulous preparation that has gone into making it. 

The album opens with the darkly beautiful 'Not Drowning But Waving', with the lyrics focusing on a man's guilt of letting someone drown. Frontman, Lucas Whitworth, sings "a freezing mist comes rolling in. I will be blamed for this one", the stark lyrics perfectly fitting with the richness of haunting four-part harmonies. A clever take on Stevie Smith's poem 'Not Waving But Drowning', Spring Offensive are a poetic bunch - the band name is taken from the Wilfred Owen poem of the same name. Their songs follow great narratives, and refreshingly are not always about love. 'Hengelo' is a case in point, written about 'Forest Boy', a mysterious young man who appeared in Berlin alone, claiming to have lived in the forest for five years.  

'Bodylifting' has a distinctive Spring Offensive feel to it, with sumptuous vocal harmonies mixed with grungy guitars. The song is a popular favourite on the album, gaining itself airtime on Radio 1 last week. The beauty of Spring Offensive's music is that songs like the punchy 'Bodylifting' can appear on the same album as songs with sweeter melodies like 'Carrier', showcasing the band's range in styles. Despite the gentler sounds of 'Carrier', the lyrics still retain a seductive melancholia that arches over the majority of the band's music, with Whitworth singing, "it works like a sick bug, I'm not feeling myself, it makes me curl up, it makes me wish I was dead". 

It's hard to fit Spring Offensive into an exact genre, but perhaps this is a blessing for the band. Their music is a unique mix of guitar rock and driving drum beats, without losing the elegance of simple and catchy melodies and vocal harmonies. With the album funded completely through crowd-sourcing, it's clear that the band's fanbase is rapidly growing, and it's no surprise why. Young Animal Hearts is a triumph with each song proving equally as thought-provoking as the previous. Spring Offensive not only make clever music, but music that can survive listen after listen without ever growing old. Be prepared to have to this album stuck on repeat. 

Head to Oxford's Truck Store at 6pm tomorrow where Spring Offensive will be playing to celebrate the release of Young Animal Hearts. 
Read NotAnotherRainySunday's interview with Spring Offensive back in 2012. 

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Album review: Dialects - Snowmine


9/10 

Brooklyn five-piece, Snowmine, have triumphed with the release of their new album, 'Dialects'. Recorded in a church, the tracks on the album have a fresh and expansive sound that seems very organic - the band pride themselves on the lack of borrowed samples; everything has been written and recorded by them, and it has paid off. 

Across the album, the vocals are reminiscent of Vampire Weekend, but the comparisons end there, for the song are unique in their arrangements of orchestral instruments. With strings and clarinets, the sound is rich and vibrant - opening track, 'To Hold An Ocean' is added to by the sound effects of a gently lapping ocean. Each song on the album seamlessly flows into the next, meaning a unified sound spans the record. 

'Columbus' is perhaps the most exciting song on the album. The melodic vocals are wonderfully contrasted with a thumping drumbeat and a jangling bassline. It's certainly a colourful track, with a lot going on. However, the various strands all fit neatly together, proving that the band are accomplished musicians. This is even more evident on 'Safety in a Open Mind', a purely instrumental track that is the perfect mix of electronic beats layered with flutes.

The album is perfectly produced, with recurring instruments providing overarching musical themes across the whole record. However, this isn't to say that the tracks are repetitive. Each individual track is a masterpiece, meaning 'Dialects' is safely one of the best albums of 2014 so far.


Sunday, 9 February 2014

Live video: Whispered Half Asleep - Toliesel


Recorded at Studio Focus, a wonderful live video for Toliesel's 'Whispered Half Asleep' has surfaced on the internet, which showcases the band's extraordinary sound. In a live setting, the song is a powerful and exhilarating listen, with rich layers of guitars and drums. A dreamy sounding introduction is a nice addition to the recorded version taken from the band's Contours EP, released last September and reviewed on NotAnotherRainySunday here

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Single review: Hengelo - Spring Offensive


10/10 

Whilst fans eagerly await the release of Spring Offensive's debut album, Young Animal Hearts, the band have released Hengelo, a mesmerising song that manages to be both energetic and reflective - Spring Offensive's trademark. The jangling bass-line provides a fast pace to the song, but the intensity of the music is wonderfully contrasted with melancholic lyrics. 

Inspired by the story of Hengelo's "Forest Boy", lead-singer, Lucas Whitworth, sings of the feeling of being lost. 'I'm at the gates, I wait in hope, frozen by the Eastern cold. I was in Berlin, I was on my own.' The lyrics are simple, and yet filled with emotion - when Whitworth sings, as much is conveyed in his voice as in the lyrics. 

The song as a whole is beautifully thought-provoking, and hints at the treats to come on their album. If Hengelo is anything to go by, Young Animal Hearts should show Spring Offensive to be worthy of more attention than they currently receive. 

Spring Offensive will play at the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen on 24th April. For more information visit http://springoffensive.co.uk/ 
Read NotAnotherRainySunday's interview with Spring Offensive here


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