A collaboration between Giorgio Moroder and Kylie Minogue is one of those which sounds like a dream on paper but in reality could have been a big let down. Glad to say that this is pretty great.
I didn’t discover Jane Weaver‘s terrific album The Silver Globe until the very end of 2014 which wasn’t enough listening time for it to make my best-of-year list. If it had done it would have been in a category called something like “Best Outer Space Garden Party” for the way it merges the cosmic with the folky and pastoral, sounding at times like Fairport Convention playing with droney, trippy electronics. For those like me missing the retro-futuristic sound of Broadcast this just might hit the spot.
I’d never heard of Weaver before but supposedly this is her sixth album and marks a departure from her previous work, pushing her usual Psych-Folk into more space-age territory. Let’s hope she stays on that rocket ship.
I got a bit bored doing the usual list of albums because it seems like such an old man thing to do and I hate being reminded that I’m an old man. So I’m mixing it up a bit with singles, bands, and other things. The envelopes please…
SAD GIRLS FINISH FIRST
Ultraviolence – Lana Del Rey
Lana is still singing melancholy songs about bad boys and the sad girls who love them, but on her second album she dumped the pop beats and annoying baby-girl voice that marred her first record and instead wrapped them in a gauzy haze of strings, Spaghetti-Western guitars, and narcotic tempos. The result was a stunning album of ethereal torch songs that surprised even fans like me with how good it all was. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and all the hater shit thrown at her seems to have given Lana the fuck-you creative strength to tear a telephone book in half — or at least make my favorite album of the year.
It’s appropriate that Annie Clark looked like some futuristic alien deity on the cover of her fourth album because that was the one where I crossed over from merely liking her to devoted worship. Streamlining her sound even more into sleek, diamond-hard art-rock, she sounded like the result of a lab experiment that spliced together the DNA of Laurie Anderson and Prince. Annie is probably the most outrageously talented being in the galaxy right now — of any gender or species.
UNLIKELY POP HERO
Seasons (Waiting On You) – Future Islands
The best single of the year was a synthpop tune sung by a gruff-voiced little bloke who looked like the love child of Marlon Brando and Bob Hoskins and danced as if he had faulty springs in his knees. Isn’t pop music great?
If St. Vincent is an alien then Angel Olsen is like some old-timey spirit conjured up in a seance instead of a recording studio that haunts your home through a crackly old radio. The intensity of her performances does suggest that she is possessed by something, and on her emotionally stirring Burn Your Fire For No Witness album this would be the ghosts of Roy Orbison, Link Wray, PJ Harvey, and that girl behind the counter in the record shop you’re too scared to talk to.
NICE SLEEVE, BUT…
LP1 — FKA Twigs
This stunning image was my favorite record sleeve of the year and I would love to have bought it in all it’s 12″ vinyl-sized glory but I’m afraid I have failed to be moved by hot-new-talent FKA Twigs. She’s striking for sure, and her records are full of pretty electronic textures, but it sounds to me like she forgot to write any actual tunes to go along with them so they just float by without leaving a mark. Am I right, or just an old fart not hip to the new thing?
FUCK ART, LET’S DANCE
PlectrumElectrum – Prince & 3rdEyeGirl
The always over-achieving Prince put out two albums this year and his solo effort got the best reviews because it was the most musically adventurous of the two, but I enjoyed the shit out of his 3rdEyeGirl collaboration way more. Prince playing freaky funk-rock with a group of girls recalled his glory days with The Revolution and the effortless way it jumped between genres — guitar jams, pop, R&B ballads — reminded the world that he still has more talent in a pimple on his bum than most entire groups have in their whole bodies — including their horn sections and roadies.
It’s been a long time since I’ve really liked a straight guitar band like Wolf Alice, but the London four-piece have a winning knack for melody and rock-song dynamics that hits a headbanging sweet spot I still have. They’ve honed and refined those skills on the singles and EPs they’ve released over the past two years, getting noticeably louder and more confident on the “Creature Songs” EP this year. They haven’t made an album yet but they’ve set a high bar for themselves. Don’t blow it, kids.
Sucker – Charli XCX
Charli’s ridiculously entertaining second album was originally due out in October but was put back to mid-December (and not until 2015 in the UK) which meant it got left off a lot of best-of-year lists where it deserved to be placed near the top. A very different record from her debut, full of brash and shouty pop-punk anthems that in the old days would have got parents banging a broom on the ceiling to get their teens to turn that rubbish down. In classic pop music tradition there’s even a song about masturbation.
If you’re a Chromatics fan like me you would have been happy to hear they have a new album called Dear Tommy due out early next year. On top of that, band leader Johnny Jewel continues to be a very generous man by giving away lots of music for free. The past few weeks he’s been clearing out his vaults by putting up unreleased tracks, demos, and alternate takes on his Soundcloud page for download.
Most of those tracks have now been collected on two albums called Drumless and Running From The Sun which you can buy on yummy coloured vinyl at their store for the measly price of $12 each.
This song doesn’t appear to be on either though, nor on the new album, which will surprise you when you hear how good it is.
Here’s an early Christmas present from you, a terrific new holiday song from Dum Dum Girls. Even better, you can download it for free, just use the button in the little player widget below.
They recorded it as part of an Xmas compilation put together by Converse, and unusually for them it’s a synthpop tune.
I must admit I haven’t heard much by Geordie folk group The Unthanks since their amazing 2007 album The Bairns but after hearing this new single I might have to go back and check out their other records too. Though this is based on a traditional Dorset folk song, The Unthanks merge the sound of Olde England with Jazz flourishes, particularly the cool sound of Sketches of Spain-era Miles Davis, to create something quite beautiful and new.
Forgot to mention in my Dum Dum Girls review that the support band Ex Cops were very good too. They’re a duo who play vaguely shoegazey indie rock with pop hooks and beats, or something like that.
They opened with this terrific song which is the lead single from their second album Daggers due out later this month. Lead singer Amalie Bruun (who is Danish) was wearing that very same t-shirt too.
PC Music are something of a “Marmite” record label, you either love or hate the high-fructose pop they put out. I’m firmly in the former camp and think their latest release “Hey QT” — a collaboration between producer AG Cook and Sophie (actually a bloke) — is one of the best pop records I’ve heard all year. It’s certainly the most insanely catchy.