Tracks of 2013 — #14 British Sea Power

Click here for Track 13

I ruddy love remembering certain bands exist. Not that British Sea Power have had much time in the dank dirty shadows of nowheresville as such. Unless I’ve taken my fingers off the pulse lately, I consider them to have followed the Gomez route, tucked away in a comfortable position away from the brightest lights with the only related six-figure number connected to their careers being YouTube viewing figures. No problem with that. Not in the bright lights, not rattling tins on Kickstarter.

How the might and eccentricity of British Sea Power failed to connect with a wider audience bemuses me something rotten. Bounding into view as a clump of over-eager Ecology Society members with the collected vocal sigh of Damon Gough, the first BSP album rocked up and chilled out to the vibe of the age without spilling a flake of whatever they were doubtlessly rolling into their exotic cigarillos. Why and how attention drifted away from them I can’t understand, although they probably caught the Curse of BBC Three Festival Presenters, infecting numerous next-big-things by close proximity to excitable blonde women of a certain age wishing the 1990s back into existence by pure force of will. How Mendip Council deals with the bodies of bassists found head-down in piles of plaid shirts and Comedy Club guest-passes I shudder to think.

What “Machineries of Joy” does is remind me how BSP maintain a very specific place in a narrow niche of music right now, away from the contrived farmers market twee at one side of the spectrum and polished advertisement soundtracks on the other. It’s a track of intelligence, they so often are, but one of joy and energy too. Taking little touches of Elbow in the strings adds the mainstream touch to an all round independent song. Romance penetrates (careful) with a bittersweet aftertaste (I said, stop it). This is very well seasoned.

Tracks of 2013 — #11 The National

Click here for Track 10

Wired into the mainframe of culture, as you know I am, nonetheless I have something to admit. Some of my buttons had been left undeployed, wires dangle, and some screws are missing.

I was all set to launch into a piece calling The National the next big thing, maybe the biggest you’ve never heard of before. Brand new sound, fresh as a daisy, first single from their deb….Oh, they’re quite old. Sixth studio album, eh? Sixth!

Research and investigation being the very core of my writing career, I launched myself into The National and came up gasping for air like a….a….jockey at the National Hunt racing at….The National. I was trying to…National…The Nati…Never mind. What I did hear with hurried YouTube album cramming rushed into and stayed settled in the brain; from country spliced with America’s interpretation of ‘indie’ (more educated, less melody), the highlights from everything since stop off at the dour rock end of the spectrum (that’ll be your American interpretation of ‘alternative’) through more commercially clothed stompers (that’ll be your record label noticing re-tweets and t-shirt sales). I would like to keep things mainstream by saying “And that’s where The National end up looking like Kings of Leon’s career trajectory acted as both lesson and warning” only to remember that The National have been around FOR SIX ALBUMS. So to nab a title from another potential influence in all this, there’s a clear case of ‘Master and Servant’.

“Trouble Will Find Me” is a cracker of an album with single ‘Don’t Swallow the Cap’ and the sharp ‘Sea of Love’ ticking plenty boxes. It’s ‘Fireproof’ that sticks with me though. There’s James Blake in there, and a dab of Thom Yorke. It’s a stone-cold lyric about the heat of rejection, briskly accepting of fate in a fashion not too dissimilar to ‘Black Holes in the Sand’ from Gravenhurst. Imagining The National as a new band releasing this to start with does seem rather daft when the album is taken for what it is – depth of an argument and breadth of a friendship, “Trouble Will Find Me” offers itself stripped of many contemporary pretences. Were this list in some kind of order, I think there’s a top three finish with this one…

Tracks of 2013 — #9 Golden Glow

Click here for Track 8

Don’t get me wrong, I like Manchester. Decent ales, some of which are affordable. The trams are good for the one day each week they run on time. Excellent gigs in tucked away/underground/squashed places which feel, to this Lancastrian, exciting even if the native audience just consider it another ordinary night.  You know Manchester, though, it’s good to leave. It’s because of – and you’ll see what I’ve done here – the scene.

Yes there is a ‘Manchester’ you all know from over-exposed photographs of maudlin singers smoke-plumed and solemn, but there’s a whole different side, and it thrives in spite of the image builders, not because of them. The true ‘Manchester”s narrative is best written by people too eager to jot down all the fine details, including Pierre Hall, I wouldn’t wonder, Golden Glow being by and large he.

All at once (it appears) gig organiser, lead singer of The Lead Balloons, Akoustic Anarchy stalwart, and “crowd surfing scenester” (NME’s words, not his), Hall’s fast-forward through Manchester looks to be a life very well lived. ‘The Scene’ is a press on the pause button. Hypnotic and suggestive of a poison-tipped love letter, the song builds on two questions floating on a repeated melody that echoes the sound of scenes from Manchester and beyond. Taken from the forthcoming Golden Glow release “Duty/Beauty EP”, this gentle punch is a beautiful and intriguing song, and I know more of the same will come in the new year.

Tracks of 2013 — #8 Daft Punk

Click here for Track 7

Honestly, cross my heart and all that, I was always going to nominate ‘Instant Crush’ rather than ‘Get Lucky’. Does this face look like it would be dishonest? Trust me, I’m a Liberal Democrat.

Clearly this nomination was destined to happen through fate and fortune, as Daft Punk went and released the video to ‘Instant Crush’ yesterday, and that was entirely within my rough-and-ready/don’t-really-have-one timetable. I have not always subscribed to the Daft Punk newsletter, to be honest. All the Big Hits from their archive bopped my head and dancing feet and that’s where I begin and end. Not ignorance, not investment, I subscribed to the existence of Daft Punk up-to-and-including the device through which their music was being played. Alas, reader, I did not, and do not, own any Daft Punk records.

This year seemed to start off with two unexpected albums being poured over with expert (and no so expert) analysis; Bowie’s “The Next Day” and Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories”, both of which welcomed as though the two had descended from the heavens. The reaction to the latter began to froth and bubble and then, noticeably, calm down. Was the roll call of supporting stars and featured artists indicative of a group needing a lift-up, or shrewd artists right on message? That song did more for the album than any teaser campaign at festivals ever could, raising a duo already considered well-known into new levels of notoriety and saturation, a result I think may have fed back into post-release expectations of the album.

At the first play through of “Random Access Memories” via the medium of Grooveshark and YouTube, two broad conclusions came up to meet me; the album is strong whilst not obviously future proofed; it’s consciously festival friendly and not necessarily all the worse for so being. The track “Instant Crush” did for me far more than that song did, it had a different feel, more substance and deeper, broader approach. Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas was reproduced as a vocoder robot, his singing voice barely left untouched as each verse and chorus folded onto and into each other. Where….[sighs]…”Get Lucky” bounded about in the fashion of a children’s television presenter, “Instant Crush” was the late night chatshow, threatening to go off-script but just about staying inside the lines.

The video is a curious little beast. Two wax models flirt with each other, insofar as they can, whilst Casablancas struts, poses, dances and hand-gestures his way through the song in rapidly edited cut-aways. It looks nice, if not entirely cool, and bless his multi-layered fabrics, but yer man can’t mime to save his life. Mixmag’s three reviewers were mixed on “Instant Crush” – “a wimpy soundtrack to a Converse…advert”, “super retro feel”, “seems a little dull”. If constant repeats of the other one brought discontent, hopefully the opposite result will come from this. I suspect for the good of the next album, were there to be one, it needs to succeed.

Tracks of 2013 — #6 The Empire State

Click here for Track 5

Lists are horrible. Landmines of the Internet, ready to explode if the contents of the list are enough for the producers of ‘Late Junction’ to send over an application form; ready to send limbs a-flying if it looks as though the contents have been compiled by only incorporating those single releases that made the Top 20. Lists trap writers into wanting to look both in touch and out the box. They’re here to Brendan in the Social Media Outreach and Digital Presence and Optimisation Department of Rab/Bit Communications can block send his press release before drinks at BrewDog’s new Ruislip and Pinner site.

Or something.

What I’m saying is, I’m including The Empire State in my list of Tracks of 2013 because of the principle belief that Lists Won’t Ensnare Me, Man. Yes, they’re very different from the others included here so far, as they’re unsigned, and a ‘local band’, and there’s no lavish YouTube video other than the one rolling around my head every time I play it (but enough of my simple pleasures).

I rate ‘That’s What You Did’ very highly. A rolling melody sighs along with light-touch melancholy, the shrug-shouldered disappointment of many indie miserablists with the possibility of redress running along underneath. Deceptive subtlety is the key to songs as nicely constructed as this, complexity of lyric and ease of melody put together so it carries itself well. The album from which this came (available still) jettisons the blues and heavier rock influences of its predecessor for much calmer, much deeper material, and flows very well for all of that. To sum up – when all the songs of 2013 flitter and flutter past my ears, “That’s What You Did” holds up very darn tooting well, so of course it’s on the list.

Direct link to song from Bandcamp

Tracks of 2013 (Index)

You don’t ask a stamp collector to ensure they hold every stamp ever published, so I can’t commit to remembering every decent track of the year. But I’m going to give it a jolly good go this month.

These tracks are being revealed in no particular order, in true reality show fashion

Track 1 – Lady Gaga, “Applause”
Track 2 – Savages, “Shut Up”

Track 3 – Arctic Monkeys, “Do I Wanna Know?”
Track 4 – Haim, “Falling”

Track 5 – Deerhunter, “Pensacola”
Track 6 – The Empire State, “That’s What You Did”

Track 7 – CHVRCHES, “The Mother We Share”
Track 8 – Daft Punk [ft. Julian Casablancas], “Instant Crush”

Track 9 – Golden Glow, “The Scene”
Track 10 – Y Pencadlys, “Mae Pawb yn Haeddu Glaw yn Waeth Na Fi”

Track 11 – The National, “Fireproof”
Track 12 – Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”

Track 13 – Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”
Track 14 – British Sea Power, “Machineries of Joy”

Track 15 – Charlotte Church, “Glitterbombed”
Track 16 – Fuck Buttons, “The Red Wing”

Track 17 – Alison Moyet, “When I Was Your Girl”
Track 18 – Veladrome, “Violent Deer”

Track 19 – Pet Shop Boys, “Love is a Bourgeois Construct”
Track 20 – Everything Everything, “Duet”

Track 21 – Boards of Canada, “Palace Posy”
Track 22 – David Bowie, “Valentine’s Day”

Track 23 – Lloyd Yates, “Runs Like Fire”
Track 24 – Biffy Clyro, “Victory Over the Sun”

Tracks of 2013 — #5 Deerhunter

Click here for Track 4

Hold on tight to your indie sensibilities, it’s another band with seat reservations at the Theatre of Post-Punk. Though Deerhunter have travelled many a place down the years, without making the impact I thought they would. It is odd (to me, so remember to convert your measurements into Normal Numbers) that a band with touches of Strokes, Interpol, and Kings of Leon never quite break into the bubble of the popular consciousness. Unless they are more established than I realise, it’s hard to fathom out when their Wikipedia article is viewed, on average, by 625 people a day.

This year’s ‘Monomania’ album was largely well received, its mood particularly set to “Dylan” with all the gruff, grainy and garage-y sounds that have not always been their stock in trade. Tracks such as “Leather Jacket II” and “Sleepwalking” show the range of the album, at turns wig-out and dirty, then expansive with lashings of melancholy. The stand out for me, “Pensacola”, tiptoes through southern rock and post-punk as though trying not to wake the neighbours, and for all of its subtlety (“I could be your boyfriend, or I could be your shame.”) doesn’t half pack a punch. If the word ‘swagger’ is misused in music reviewing, may I apologise on our behalf, it’s just with this track the word is perfectly apt.

Tracks of 2013 — #4 Haim

Click here for Track 3

I can’t remember whether 2013 is ‘the new 80s’ or ‘the new 90s’, but just like corded flares (out, in, out again, in, far way out, etc.), the concentric circles of fashion to turn towards the black hole of destiny rather than away. Little wonder people are confused.

The question is posed because Haim’s “Falling” is a little from column A, a little from column B, and I ruddy well love the result. The Haim sound has been called all sorts of things – as a former peruser of record label press releases, most of which came from ‘in house’ if you know what I mean – so if you know the song then you’ll be accustomed to its grooves and attitudes. Fusing the soul, MOR and rock vibes from the 80s with, dare I say it, the girl pow….No I can’t….the female-fronted rock of the 90s and sprinkled with pure pop, “Falling” is a true shoulder bopper. That guitar flickering near the end is their equivalent of the sax solo in “Waiting For A Falling Star”, and don’t you deny that for a second.

Fresh and achingly indie (despite the rather large industry backing), Haim have taken the undercurrents and bubbling-under charts by storm this year. Next year should be theirs to take fully.



Tracks of 2013 — #3 Arctic Monkeys

Click here for Track 2

Let’s talk about growing up. By which I mean natural maturing, not the plunged-into-re-evaluating your life suddenly BECAUSE OF REASONS.

Like a Harry Ramsdens opening opposite Ye Old Chippy, the Arctic Monkeys of Josh Homme-produced “AM” retain the basic ingredients (how I imagine cramming together the attitudes of Stewart Lee, Jack Dee and Les Dawson to a rock beat) with the slightly different flavours and serving suggestions of a bigger brand. From the corner of the Internet marked ‘professional malcontent’ comes the usual shrill moaping – “Oh they’ve changed!”, “Oh, they’re not like they used to be”, to which I have to reply, “Pfffffffttttttt”, or howsoever mature responses come about in such circumstances.

That they pushed so many teenage boys in provincial towns into Battle of the Bands competitions to play songs called “Ay oop petal” and “I Lost My Heart In Todmorden” shouldn’t be considered such a bad thing. Better that than Luke’s Friend (I read here).

The track ‘”Do I Wanna Know” is an absolute face-slapper, down and dirty with the romance of the first verse cut to shreds as the story unfolds.  Introducing Americans to “summut” and “settee” is just an extra bonus. With the album overflowing with crackers, it’s a hard choice to settle on just one song, so maybe I’ll bend my rules a little later on. For sheer force of will, this is one of the great Britrock songs of the age.

Make Me King – "The Whisper is the Hint"

Make Me King are a five-piece pop-punk types from Lancashire, whose take on the ubiquitous genre is particularly sharp. Long since a style given up for dead – oh lovely, another hand-clapped chorus – this fresh take should pique the most cynical of interests. It’s the theory of sour milk – everyone loves milk, tea drinkers or not, it’s the threat of the contents being sour which leads us all to give the bottle its surreptitious sniff, however involuntary. These lads are not the bad stuff, they’re fresh from the fridge refreshing.

And so before I hijack any more Rafa Benitez quotes on milk….

….I’ll start with “If You Can’t Be Good, Don’t Get Caught”, zipping and tip-toeing through an interchange between pointed ska and pop-punk, and throughout a variety much more surprising and mature than you’d first expect. The interplay and production quirks sprinkle through “Every Truth or Dare” (with its hint of blues in the vocal melody) and the stripped “Wake The World”.

There is particularly dangerous territory in these parts, because all groups have to do is time-signature-switch once too often and they’re trapped in Lost Prophets Hell; but follow the melody fairies down the lane with too many skips in the step and there’s the Fightstar comparisons hanging off every branch like torn sheep’s wool. Fair play to Make Me King for knowing how much of each influence to hat-tip whilst strutting along with their own confidence. It’s unfortunate that the title track is the weakest here, though with so many reasons to be cheerful it’s likely whispers will become shouts before long.

Make Me King’s “The Whisper is the Hint” is available on Riot Pop Records