When we approached the Ministry of Music Journalism with the interest of starting our own little website, they pulled aside before the final agreement and with a hushed voice said “…you do realise that you’ll have to write an Album of the Year list?” We nodded with staunch resolve, not fully understanding the scope of the task at hand. “Let’s do 50,” we said, thinking it was a large enough number that we’d be able to include every single album that rocked us in the year 2013. And yet, the task was like picking a favourite child, or a favourite flavour of Pringles. We know that we’ve omitted several top-class records, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that we are wholly confident and pleased with our top 50. The list isn’t just about our personal favourite music of the year, but a glistening plaque to commemorate our anniversary. So here’s to Noted, and here’s to quality music. Thanks to everyone for their dogged support, and here’s to hoping that 2014 is just as giddy.
50. Russian Circles – Memorial
The instrumental sonic zephyrs that Chicago’s Russian Circles conjure with just a guitar, bass & kit are magnificent. That’s not intended as a backhanded ‘bang for your buck’ pat on the head, but as a genuine tip of the hat — the spacial qualities afforded here by such punctuated minimalism cannot be understated. Memorial is a lonely ship battling across dark, stormy seas, with nothing but technically astute drum patterns as cannons, pulsating bass grooves as thick timber slabs, and a bi-polar lead guitar as Captain.
49. Barrow – Though I’m Alone
Few screamo outfits are capable of matching Barrow’s dynamic range, a band who, by all accounts, don’t do half-measures. When they’re going all out on Though I’m Alone, it’s a real cacophony of edges and angles — screams pierce with their sharp trajectories, cymbals crash and bounce in beautiful mayhem, and the leads paint greys and blacks with sombre resignation. When they’re not, the band dial back into periods of deep rumination; the once raucous snares slow to a calm heartbeat, glacial cleans drift in and out atop glistening restraint. It’s all possible due to the off/on, stop/start, fast/slow contrast of Travis Schuster and Zach Tobin, whose differing vocal frequencies provide such a rich, unique sound.
48. Cloudkicker – Subsume
Despite the long-winded and self-absorbed song titles, Subsume is a careful, densely-textured blend of Ben Sharp’s past and present musical experiments. He’s still a tinkerer at heart — the damp squibs of Loop and Hello that lurk his discography haven’t quelled his rampant desire — but he knows when to quit and he knows how to refine. Here is a collection of tracks which, whilst being familiar to aficionados of his methods, builds upon the heavier roots of Beacons and Discovery and fuses them into beautifully arching narratives that featured so heavily on Let Yourself Be Huge and Fade.
47. Shai Hulud – Reach beyond the Sun
Ask around in the right circles and you’ll discover pretty quickly that Shai Hulud’s status as metalcore pioneers is beyond reproach, the central reason being Matt Fox’s unwavering dedication to his craft over the past 18-odd years. He’s remained the lifeblood of the band’s artistic vision, standing tall whilst countless other members have come and gone like fleeting dots on a ship’s sonar. That’s really what makes Reach Beyond the Sun such a triumph — here’s a record that’s cohesive, courageous and downright angry, far removed from their earlier work by the decay of time, but still tethered to those same vitriolic ideals.
46. Agnes Obel – Aventine
The haunting stabs of the impatient strings and the brittle, encasing arrangements which Obel so confidently dances around with her rich, swelling swoons are the lifeblood of Aventine, an inescapably sad album which mesmerises in the same bittersweet way as a distant winter sunrise. There’s a hazy beauty here, a dusty glimpse of hope that hides behind the simple loops and patterns, reflected in the blocked-out glow of the cover art and fleshed out with a sustained determination. Such neo-classical minimalism has never felt so warm.
45. The Veils – Time Stays, We Go
I think The Veils are a bigger band in my head than they are in reality – their licorice-coloured take on indie rock has always been striking in its ready starkness, and I know many who would consider Nux Vomica a certified modern classic. It can’t be Finn Andrews’ charming, craggy voice that turns people away, nor their stout ability to quietly reflect in one instance and throw knives at the wall in another – whatever the reason may be, it’s possibly best left well alone so long as we’re treated to the jiving despondency of albums like Time Stays, We Go.
44. Coma Cinema – Posthumous Release
The negative space here between the jaunty DIY rock and the soul-deflating imagery that accompanies it would make for a stunning Rorschach ink-blot test, for Posthumous Release can drastically change its form depending on where your mind is at when you listen. Even if it’s Cothran’s own troubled past that forms its bones, it’s easy to resign yourself to sighs like “our ugly symmetry meant everything to me, but after all this time it’s come to mean nothing”. The most jarring moment comes on ‘Satan Made A Mansion’, which props the devil himself up against the mirage of jovial, rippling synths and delayed drums.
43. David Bowie – The Next Day
There’s just enough glittering showmanship on The Next Day to justify such divisive and ballsy cover art, an undoubted testament to David Bowie’s transcendent ability to alter his persona so readily. The radical artistic shifts of his magnetic 70s output manifest here as distant echoes , not the fully-blown jolts of Low or Hunky Dory perhaps, but rather micro-chasms of ingenuity; glimmers of magic from a familiar face like Gandalf returning to The Shire with a brand new firework to show-off to the expectant crowd. The Next Day is full of these little twists and turns, and proof that Bowie doesn’t need to reach for such extravagant heights to excel.
42. Young Knives – Sick Octave
It’s tiring isn’t it? When guitar bands find out what a synthesizer is and herald the chucked in bloops as a drastic creative shift, shrugging off the disinterested because they ‘don’t get’ the artistry behind the buggering. But Sick Octave is not your typical guitar-band-got-bored album; it’s anything but. Their entire career, the Young Knives have been held aloft by their own discrepancies, showcasing that sardonic sense of humour that Brits are renowned for. This, their first album afforded complete creative control, is a logical next step by virtue of its illogicality; there are creepy back-alley observations dressed up as pop songs and jolting projections of their fevered innards, but enough Young Knives of yore that you’re not completely lost.
41. Peace Arrow – ↑↓↑↓
Look too closely at ↑↓↑↓ and you might find yourself overcome with dizziness. There are a lot of elements at play, and they’re not all working on the same plane. But, like any mosaic, it’s the bigger picture that is the prettier one; what at first glance might seem busy is, from a distance, a work of art. As far as experimental indie cred goes, to take leaves from The Books and to sing into The Microphones is about the best thing you could do, but comparisons aside, Peace Arrow has its own legs to stand on. The marriage of analogue and digital is a subtle, endearing one, the converging confetti pieces each telling their own part of an ecompassing story.
40. Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
By now, you’ll most likely be familiar with the tropes of Fuck Buttons, whether you know it or not. Their music infiltrated the subconscious of millions watching the Olympic Opening Ceremony in 2012; an appropriate rush of grit and grandeur, their brand of amped up electronica managed to maintain identity in an often stagnant field. Even better then, that with Slow Focus the Hung/Powers duo have evolved their sound, dexterously so as to provide a new landscape that is still distinctly theirs. Though it strays from the sheer ascension and kaleidoscopic catharsis of Tarot Sport, it instead deliberates on the chasms of rhythm and the melding of unpleasantries into a charred, ominous, living entity.
39. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse
Since the release of The Midnight Organ Fight in 2008, Frightened Rabbit have become one of the most revered acts out of Scotland since Belle and Sebastien – unsurprising, really, given the everyman appeal of their music. Scott Hutchison’s stark, vivid-grey lyricism has always served as the twisted, chipped backbone of the group, but this time round sees the other band members taking a stab at it. Though the album falters in places, by and large it’s as compelling an album as we have come to expect from the Scots – the likes of ‘Acts of Man’, ‘Nitrous Gas’ and ‘State Hospital’ rank up there with the best of the Frabbit catalogue — and it finds the right balance between heady production and abraded fleshy bits.
38. This Routine is Hell – Howl
Howl’s informed literary roots are as in-your-face literal as they are empowering. Allen Ginsberg quotes glue together Noam Cohens’ discordant screams, the conceptual pillars on which the snarling, despondent riffs lean. Here’s punk at its most resolute — a deafening war-cry to a generation of broken men and a fuck-you to the establishment that made them that way. It’s intelligent in approach too, and whilst it may be raucous on the surface, there’s a steely deep-thought lurking beneath the blast beats which infects you with a desire to stand up and be counted.
37. These New Puritans – Field of Reeds
The path taken by These New Puritans is a really fascinating one. As their career started and they were hotshotted by the UK’s music magazines, they were naturally lumped in with the other breeding ground babes; it’s normally difficult to get on board with whoever the NME is championing, but Puritans stood out from the rest like a decorative floor tile turned 90 degrees. Their music bordered on amelodic, tinkering with tribal noises and negative space. It was dark, forboding and cryptic. Fields of Reeds is an about turn twice over, still adhered to spatiality but buffed into something transcendant, allowing room for different sounds to acquaint themselves with one another. Structures are waylaid in favour of constant progression and movement, and the result can be quite imposing for the unexpecting. But stay with it, and you may just find your weightless self drifting into the white expanse.
36. James Blake – Overgrown
You can almost hear James Blake shedding his skin on Overgrown, such is the boldness of this tempered step into unknown territory. The London-born producer rose to prominence on the back of moody, looping introspection, but here he’s opening up and almost showing-off. There’s fully fleshed-out songs here, crafted with flashes of bombast that previously would have been swallowed up by hypnotising keys and smoggy vocal layers — there’s even a guest spot for hip-hop stalwart RZA. But, for all the growing up Blake displays so unabashedly, there’s still fresh cells on this new layer of skin, most brightly manifested on the beautiful gospel swirls of ‘DLM’, a nod to his roots and a moment of clarity in an album which sounds so wonderfully scattershot.
35. The Real Danger – Down and Out
You know, I’d consider myself extremely open to listening to just about anything, but when you see ‘skate punk’ listed on a bands’ Bandcamp page as a way of tagging a release, it’s extremely difficult to react in an ‘..alright, fair enough, let’s see’ kinda way; it’s just too narrow and it’s usually dogshit. In the case of Down & Out though, these sweeping generalisations don’t apply, since it’s just about the most fun I’ve had with pop-punk, or skate-punk, since Say Anything last released something good. This is fast-paced, mostly-upbeat Dutch fun, with insanely catchy choruses that beg for rolled-down windows and equalisers turned up to the little red bars. It’s the moments of real, lasting sentiment which elevate Down & Out from being a throwaway pleasure though, like the pained chants of ‘If there’s one thing we all take for granted, it has got to be our sanity’. I fucking double-dare you to not sing-along.
34. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
For their unwavering down-in-the-mouth Monday-morning overcast sensibilities, The National could well lay claim to the title ‘kings of consistency’. Even more so than the likes of Spoon, The National have never done a great deal to move their sound. There’s no typical interjection of synths, no left-field alteration of foundations. The main different between Trouble Will Find Me and the rest of The National’s discog is that they’ve tampered with time signatures to keep themselves on their toes. And yes, many will disregard the act as boring self-pitiers, but the fact that they’ve lasted this long without succumbing to the apparent need for stadiumred self-indulgence from their compatriots is almost reason enough to stay invested.
33. Cult of Luna – Vertikal
Cult of Luna’s trudging, up-to-your-knees dystopia is framed by their ability to make lengthy passages of monotonous riffs and ominous screams seem like worthwhile journeys towards the light. As a result, Vertikal is not self-indulgent or filled with hubris, instead it’s a relatable tour-de-force of monolithic endeavour which carries more than a subtle dose of technical pizzazz; just enough to force your eyes open to wade through the mire, but not so much as to give you any reason to enjoy it. Luna have been around the block for a while now, and they’re well aware of how to straddle that wire.
32. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
At this point, it’s almost satire on the state of the pop industry that The 20/20 Experience was heralded by many based on track length alone. 6, 7, 8 minute tracks? On a pop record? Those sort of numbers just don’t compute with the unwashed masses! Still, getting down to brass tacks, the true reason Justin Timberlake should be considered one of the last bastions of contemporary pop music is that there’s a certain craftsmanship here that is seldom seen in these circles. Whilst he could have quite easily released a by-the-numbers moneymaker, sold on name alone, he opted instead for creativity. The crazy beats, the desire, and the sense of character is unmatched by other chart toppers. But for the sake of my argument… let’s not make eye contact with 20/20 Part II.
31. Jon Hopkins – Immunity
Immunity plots the arching narrative of night in such vivid technicolour that you’d swear you were an extra in every scene. It’s really Hopkins’ masterful use of electronics to frame the organic sounds of 4am which lend such potency, with the harsh reality of lorries, alarms and distant rumbles adding essential context to what melds to form this free-flowing and holistic set of compositions. The multifarious garage, ambience and glitch-work lives and breathes in an obviously urban setting, helped enormously by the production of Brian Eno who captures Hopkins’ ideas in full frame, whether they be amped-up dance grooves or sombre piano flutters.
30. Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge – Twelve Reasons to Die
There’s this weird advert on TV at the moment which salutes classic combinations — strawberries and cream, gin and tonic.. hotels combined (?!) — and whilst it may be nonsensical, I think their only error was not including Adrian Younge & Ghostface Killah, such is their glove-in-hand working relationship. On paper, Younge’s sprawling live band beats of western-inspired psychedelic soul (which hold up impressively as instrumentals) and Killah’s colourful revenge story of Tony Starks fighting back against an Italian crime syndicate may seem too off-the-wall to work, the reality is that it really, really does. Here’s an enthralling hip-hop narrative that is shot through the eye of a lens; Younge the enterprising director, Ghostface the accomplished method actor.
29. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
I have to admit, I got really caught up in the last-night YouTube launch of Tomorrow’s Harvest. The glitchy, abstract visuals which fleetingly illuminated the black screen became a surreal stage for 20,000 faceless victims to hunch over their Dell laptops and furiously type their little hearts out to proclaim Boards of Canada as the second-coming. It was really a perfect storm of effective marketing and enigmatic music which naturally evoked feeling on a higher plane through its electronic jabs and contorted structures, but in hindsight, no playthrough of Tomorrow’s Harvest has matched that initial experience, and hand-on-heart it pales when compared to the titanic gloom of Geogaddi or the revolutionary ambition of Music Has the Right to Children. What is here is a collection of very good tracks that only really become great when propped up with non-repeatable context. Still, that initial feeling of aural euphoria cannot be erased.
28. Gorguts – Colored Sands
Gorguts, the Quebec-based tech-death institution that Luc Lemay built way back in ’89, have always managed to wear a different mask with each new full-length. Granted, there are consistencies that are ingrained in the band’s psyche despite the ever-changing lineups — gritted-teeth riffs that strip wallpaper with their acidic spray, shot-to-fuck kick drums which hammer away with surgical precision, low-end growls that could summon Beelzebub — but there’s always an evolution. The question was whether, given the gap since previous output, Colored Sands could offer something fresh to an already glowing discography of musical exploration and pushed boundaries. Yes, basically; behold the mighty jazz-fusion influence, uncharacteristic clean passages of restraint, and a new-found penchant for the progressive.
27. All the Bright Lights – The Wind & The Waves
What’s especially great about All the Bright Lights is that they’re able to use familiar post-rock building blocks like tremolos, reverb and crescendos without making them sound artificially constructed or shoe-horned in to elicit a counterfeit emotional response. It’s an all-too common problem with a lot of instrumental music, and whilst this record isn’t devoid of lyrical content or hushed voices, The Wind & The Waves still lives and breaths in a way that most others don’t. These tracks vary in their persona, be it in the triumphant finale of the title track, or the clawing aggression of ‘Versus the Dark’. Track that live in an honest present tense and ebb and flow to natural, holistic conclusions. You really get the impression that this unassuming trio from North Carolina enjoy dwelling in the ethereal spaces they create — the stretched, weathered croons filling in the gaps of distant landscapes as light rain peppers the panorama.
26. Zennth – TRitual
There’s a certain uneasy quality to a lot of dark ambience, born from its lack of edges which deny you a solid grip. It flows and twists and turns and drones without a care in the world for the host, like nature’s law pressed directly onto wax by the weight of gravity. Ritual is no different, for it’s a clamouring, difficult listen that requires a certain level of sacrifice to enjoy; the sonic equivalent of a heavy breeze suffocating the damp forest leaves in the dead of night. But for all the demanding atmospherics that ZENИTH create, there are still moments of beauty behind the shroud, little pockets of light that hold your gaze before the next wave of despondency.
25. Oozing Wound – Retrash
I’m not convinced anyone creates interesting thrash metal anymore, probably because it takes itself way too seriously and follows the same played-out tropes. What happened to just playing fast and loud in your own style whilst trying to break shit? Chicago natives Oozing Wound seem to operate with a similar thought-process, a band that proudly litter their material with off-kilter in-jokes and topics that range from the logistics of buying drugs to how bands in New York are full of wankers. There’s a real crossover appeal here too, an authentic blend of punk and thrash that contains all the bear-hug riffs in the world whilst not being ashamed to display a really fucking questionable sense of humour. Oh and the cover is a space-skeleton being eviscerated by a giant centipede.
24. Deafheaven – Sunbather
Whether you would consider it to be a gateway record to introduce non-fans to the world of metal is beside the point; away from the hubbub surrounding it, Sunbather is above all else an indulgent genre-bend, the likes of which should be celebrated more than anything else. The album slams you from pillar to post as any black metal rightfully should, but the inclusion of post-rock grandeur provides a cushion not usually afforded by purveyors of screamed, thrased out noise. From the inside-eyelid hues of its artwork to the unleashed piety of its tones, Sunbather does its utmost to step aside from its peers and stretch what we thought we knew about music.
23. Strike to Survive – Yesterday’s News
Roughly twelve hours prior to writing this, Strike to Survive announced that they had chosen to call it a day. For fans of the band, the news was met with a cannon of raised arms and a few harsh profanities, not least because they’d not long released their fantastic debut LP. I suppose it’s a little eerie that it was called Yesterday’s News, but glitch in the Matrix aside, the young Santa Rosa outfit promised so much with their straight-talking hardcore punk aesthetic and larger-than-life disposition. We’ll certainly miss these angular melodic riffs and whirlwind snares.
22. Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve
With a six year wait, a well-publicised legal dispute with their label Victory Records, and one of the most dedicated and expectant fanbases in all of music, the pressure was certainly on for Streetlight Manifesto in the run-up to the release of The Hands That Thieve. Many expected their troubles and the decay of time to have blunted their bombastic ska edge, but in reality, they picked up exactly where they left off with Somewhere In The Between; a to-the-hilt furnace of raw brass energy, textured bass melodies, spellbinding percussion and Tomas Kalnoky’s infectious cadence. Basically, more of the same, and that’s okay.
21. The Ansion – When The Clyde Floods, We’ll All Get Carried Away
The wordless, breathless ambiance of When The Clyde Floods is as complete a sketch of Scotland as any other record from the bonnie country. That almost trademark sardonicism, whilst not explicit in the music itself, is reflected in titles like ‘The Everyday Heartache of Being Scottish’ and ‘Nothing Important Is Ever Going To Happen’. Adverse to that though is the plushness of the album as it coalesces layers together, like separate pitches of a whistling breeze, often underneath glitched drums and underlying bass. When afforded the added context of its home, When The Clyde Floods seems an entirely apt embodiment of it – the beauty of its unclad landscapes and the grey structures that have risen from it.
20. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
Built on hushed, bassy tones, eerie folk loops and twitchy build-ups, Push the Sky Away sees Nick Cave and his cohorts in dazzlingly confident mood; a huge, organic narrative in every sense of the word, full of that pre-Grinderhouse tension but with a raw, experimental candour than only broken boundaries can expose. Cave’s unusual pop-culture references return — there’s even a Miley Cyrus reference — unsettlingly cool regardless of context, and there’s plenty of Waits, Cohen and Cash being channeled in his thick, weighty baritone. Cave is the master of mood and a beacon of longevity, even without long-time collaborator Mick Harvey, a merit epitomised on the thick, tense closing title track, where he breaks down such a complex career into something we can all surely relate to: ‘And some people say it’s just rock ‘n roll / Oh but it gets you, right down to your soul’.
19. No Clear Mind – Mets
There’s not much that compares to the solemn resolve of a rib-rattling baritone, and when Vasilis Dokakis eventually makes his heard four tracks into Mets, it’s made all the more jarring by the stark aching of the orchestral billows that encompass it, the shuffling drums that underline the opulent melancholy and the menagerie of subtle, glistening instrumentation that soaks everything right into the edges of the canvas. You might want to call it cinematic, but that much seems unfair given that the purity of what’s on display seems more like it was born from intimate, human experiences than manufactured to simply accompany them.
18. Lux Interna – There Is Light In The Body, There Is Blood In The Sun
The concept behind the latest from Lux Interna is an impassioned, mammoth one. The title alone supposes that even the Sun, in all its massive, life-bearing glory, shares something in common with us lowly human beings in that we are both products of the same universe. And even if said concept is so colossal as to bowl you over and whittle you down to ash, the impressive divinity of the music accompanying it will act as a vessel to spread the light through your veins. Characterised by distortion and creaky, picked guitar, There Is Light is commanding in the way it ebbs and bellows, re-appropriating the shade and dancing round gas giants.
17. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze
In an alternate universe, Kurt Vile flings himself and his mane of hair around a floodlit stadium stage, screeching into his microphone and collecting the gratuitous amount of underwear being launched his way. His name just oozes that glam rock faux-machismo that anything else would be a missed opportunity, but in this particular timeline, he couldn’t be more different. On this album more than previously, Vile mumbles through his mop, each ‘puh’ and ‘buh’ an intrinsic part of his lineup. Blurred structures and winding tracks aplenty, Vile toe-taps to the beat of his own strum, not attempting any sort of revelation or upheaval, just letting the music make its own mind up about which direction it flows in.
16. Laura Stevenson – The Wheel
Backed by decidedly feistier backing band The Cans, who got unceremoniously dumped from being mentioned this time around (it used to be Laura Stevenson & The Cans, you see), Stevenson once more straddles the line between American sweetheart and crazed psychopath on a record which swirls with malice, redemption, love and hate. The themes here are deeply personal — absent family, knife-edge relationships, cold mortality — but the swagger and rousing nature of the folk-rock backing lifts The Wheel into what becomes a rich, fulfilling story where the central message is that life goes on.
15. NAILS – Abandon All Life
Abandon All Life’s manifesto is not that easy to stomach and it’s even harder to feel worthy when you’re sat there with your Senny’s on trying to survive its visceral contempt. It’s a real nasty maelstrom of anger; a jarring, deranged knife-in-the-gut job, fearless in approach and cut-throat in execution, partly thanks to Converge’s Kurt Ballou making everything sound so massive. The sheer technical prowess required to weld the grind, d-beat, hardcore and powerviolence parts into a brisk, satisfying whole is noteworthy, but its the white-hot fury in which war cries like “Drop out of the race / Burn through life as a knife to their faith” are screamed which make Abandon All Life so jaw-breakingly compelling. This is so coldly calculated that the fucking awful typography on the artwork is probably intentional just to piss you off.
14. Ruined Families – Blank Language
All the while western news outlets have all but ignored the ongoing societal meltdown taking place in Greece, Noted has been peering in inquisitively. Over the course of the year we were granted voyeuristic access into that society, not least from post-punk/hardcore outfit Ruined Families, and the unmitigated venom of Blank Language is the constantly dilated pupil that surveys the havoc. The force of the brazen guitars and passionate drumming certainly knock you flying, but the versatile, flowering bridges act as almost insincere moments of cordiality. As ineffectual bystanders, we can only scratch the surface as to what is happening over there, but Blank Language offers us the closest, if scratched, lens.
13. Touche Amore – Is Survived By
Just as Is Survived By takes all of the emblems of hardcore music and adds flesh, Jeremy Bolm punctuates his lyrics in a natural, social manner. The angst we’re used to seeing from the genre is shaped into grander ideas, stitched together by a faint and earnest optimism; the gravel of the instrumentation thickened with dexterity and intricacies. Take any one of the many quotables and you’ll find it reads like prose, and the weight of the album exudes a rich epiphany. Louder than any distorted guitar or fevered scream on the record is the effort and ambition; the rush of knowing that Touché Amoré have realised their purpose.
12. Captain, We’re Sinking – The Future is Cancelled
There’s a seemingly distant ambiguity that shrouds the more difficult themes of drug addiction and repent on The Future is Cancelled, perhaps serving as a last line of self-defence, or perhaps merely an over-thought on my behalf. Either way, there’s an undeniable feeling of catharsis here, raised aloft by the rousing sing-a-long punk choruses and deft, live-wire musicianship. You can hear everything from Fugazi to Nirvana to The Menzingers beneath the skin of these anthems; peppered influences that add further variety to one of the most consistently affecting punk records in recent memory.
11. There Will Be Fireworks – The Dark, Dark Bright
One for the everyman, The Dark, Dark Bright explores the lengths and breadths of becoming embittered with the place you live and have grown up in, its inhabitants, and the uncompromising memories that haunt your usual haunts. It’s a theme that resonates with an untold amount of people, made all the more incisive by the way it runs the gamut of despair. From the mounting, glass-shattering purge of ‘River’ to the hands-buried-in-pockets dusktime stroll of ‘Your House Was Aglow’, Nicky McManus fans out his lament; he brays for Glasgow in one breath and sighs for love lost in the next. When the Scotch accent isn’t sardonically sneering at its own misgivings over a pint, it can be an unparalleled vessel of fragile, human disposition.
10. Totem Skin – Still Waters Run Deep
You’ll need steel shoes cast in concrete and full chain link body armour in order to withstand the torrential onslaught of Still Waters Run Deep. Totem Skin plug their craft at breakneck speed, packing their unshackled pandemonium so densely that at any given point they could implode into a black hole. More than just being a mass of throat-ripping abrasion, Still Waters is the blacksmith that melds together the grinds of divergent influences – they self-identify as hardcore, and that in itself lends to the face-busting surprise of all the muck and mire that shells the record. Duelling screams, stomach-disintegrating distortion and manic drums forged in the caverns clash to form a darker shade of black that makes the word ‘hardcore’ seem like child’s play.
9. Typhoon – White Lighter
It’s difficult to engage with an album that you can’t entirely project your own image onto. Much of the time, the ones that really strike a chord are the ones that feel tailored to you; you apply them to your thoughts like a film’s OST, because they put into sound that which simmers in your mind unverbalised. White Lighter, though predisposed to provide light in the absence of it, to ask you to seek life when we know it is finite, is still ultimately born from Kyle Morton’s own hardships, of the body and of the mind. His childhood was tethered by a disease which almost claimed him, and that is a perspective shared by a minority. Still, his shivering sentiments, cushioned by the muse-like support of ten others, are humbling enough to make you reconsider what you’ll do with the time afforded to you.
8. Sed Non Satiata – Mappō
The stormy, spluttering European dynamics that have helped mark Sed Non Satiata as one of screamo’s most unpredictable and authentic bands is also the one trait that they repeatedly defy throughout Mappō. It’s seemingly in their idiosyncratic nature to contrast explosive, technically-astute outbursts with breathtakingly simple mid-tempo structures, a series of complex peaks and lucid troughs that continually restore balance as a by-product of its own internal structural struggle. When they lay it on thick, like on exhausting closer ‘Soma’, it’s always after a patient, mused build-up; here’s a band that sees the abrasive pay-off not as a necessity to reward you for sitting through the slow parts, but as an artistic tool to amplify the emotional strength of their duality.
7. Windhand – Soma
The primal shrieks of Dorthia Cottrell which soar above the sludging, tumultuous riffs are the howling winds which lift Soma’s iron-clad feet from the scorched earth and drag it upwards into the stormy skies. It’s a wickedly atmospheric record, full of earthy tones and exhausted refrains which simmer and toil under the sheer weight of composition. At its murkiest and most dense, a myriad of musical styles collide and battle in constant upheaval, everything from doom to grunge to stoner rock, all bearing bloody gums and threatening to bring the whole thing crashing back down to the barren wasteland.
6. State Faults – Resonate/Desperate
Resonate/Desperate, the second LP from Santa Rosa screamo outfit State Faults, is a frayed, raw insight into the head of Jonny Andrew; a but-gusting record that sees him tied to the most harrowing laws of nature and armed with a brittle, suffocating vocabulary which repeatedly forces us into the uncomfortable position of having to vicariously dwell on his struggles with mortality, failure and frenzied panic. It’s just as coarse in sound as Desolate Peaks was, with the forked, serrated guitars bustling with that same youthful energy, matched only by the jagged fervour of the stop/start percussion and Andrews’ shrill cadence. Perhaps the most weary moment comes on the mournful ‘Luminaria’ — ‘My heart is a desolate peak / life is a lonely disease’ — a devastatingly sad rhetoric regardless of whether you get the reference or not.
5. KU – Feathers
Smothered in the hazy Mediterranean sun and born from an obsessive intrigue, Feathers is an aural honey pot of dream-like wonder. It’s the brainchild of self-confessed audiophite Dimitris Papadatos, who cherry-picks nuances from the history of pop music and weaves them into an intoxicating patchwork of magnetic ambition. His warm, inviting croons constantly glisten above the shape-shifting instrumentals as he jumps between eras and experiments with what he finds, dazzling with an assured sense of direction and cohesion amid the thematic deviations. If you’re looking for an example of how Papadatos’ mind works when creating such varied compositions, then you’ll be looking for a long time, but perhaps the brightest glimpse is with standout track ‘Jerusalem’, a beautiful swirl of comforting notes and tones that infects with its child-like sense of discovery. The highest praise I can give is that when he’s singing ‘Bring me my bow of burning gold / Bring me my arrows of desire / Bring me my spear, O clouds unfold! / Bring me my chariot of fire’, you forget the words are William Blakes.
4. Local Natives – Hummingbird
Thinking about it, Hummingbird was a pretty left-field release for Local Natives. But it was not a drastic marketing ploy, no superficial changing of the band’s makeup for unsubstantiated ardour, but stand it next to its predecessor Gorilla Manor and there are some marked differences. Gorilla Manor was almost a composite of everything that constructed popular indie music. It had the rustic, energetic percussion, the three-part vocal harmonies, emboldening strings and flavourful subject matter. It rotated songs of bereavement so that they would face the sun, and it shrugged at the despondent musings of youth. Clearly, in that time between records, the penmen of Local Natives had to deal with personal hardships; namely the passing of Kelcey Ayer’s mother. For all of the bright, space-filling instrumentation and the danceability of its surface, Hummingbird’s tone was definitely bluer; but it was an organic shift. Without setting out to do so, the band proved that there was another side to their coin, and built upon the sunny indifference that characterised them with an optimistic frailty. Terrible things happen in the proceedings of life, but Hummingbird will always be there to soften the blow.
3. Darkside – Psychic
There’s an unshakeable oddity that haunts each probing note of Psychic, an enigmatic sense that whilst traces of human emotion are present, there’s something not quite right, like there’s an other-wordly entity possessing these constructions, mesmerising and controlling from the shadows. The puppeteers are multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington and empty-space electro-darling Nicolas Jaar, a pair who build tense fabrics of shuffling percussion and brittle-yet-groovy guitar licks with infectious flair. They’re not afraid to dance either, albeit most likely in deep concentration as they push and pull at the fragile seams of electronic music looking for cracks to fall into. This juxtaposition of live, organic sounds and the raft of prods and sweeps which shiver from Jaar’s synthesisers ripple beneath silky falsetto croons, all feeling like a very exclusive outer-space musical paradigm which we’re being given a glimpse of. If you’re looking to relate to something, then there’s a rare moment of clarity on ‘Paper Trails’ where Harrington seemingly reveals his most coveted need, ‘A wooden house to live in / A baby to care for’, but whether he’s referring to any house or baby on this earth is another matter entirely.
2. The Rational Academy – Winter Haunts
Without context, Winter Haunts is an aggressive semblance of shoegaze and noise rock, channelling its emotions like a cyclone and battering the landscape in its wake. It lifts you off the ground with it, knocking you around with its dense layers and the severity of its cacophony. “Who bruises now?” asks Benjamin Thompson, and it can be read as a statement of tables having turned, but learn the context of Winter Haunts and those bruises swell to a darker shade, and the cyclone grows in size as it absorbs the emotional weight. It’s the pronounced and thick full-stop at the end of Thompson’s perilous journey as he sets off to accomplish all that he’s dreamed of. To wear his bruises not as trophies but as callbacks. His brittle voice effuses the purple of his heartache, and the clamber of the drums and the throaty snarl of the guitars behind him carry the swelling of his burden. At its culmination, where past catches up to present and the two relinquish their disparity, there’s a gentle relief. And it’s earned.
1. Foxing – The Albatross
Foxing’s hushed restraint is the wistful sound of early-morning repent, the distant cries you hear at dawn if you listen hard enough to the empty space. If you’re the proactive type, then walk the remote parts and you’ll likely stumble across them, heads down, whispering apologies into the wind as they look for an emotional release at whatever cost. A menagerie of fluttering strings, half-mast trumpets and deft pianos drift in and out of this daunting, picturesque story, but what’s particularly affecting about The Albatross is how Conor Murphy’s strained confessions don’t feel like they’re intended for general admission at all, but now that you’re here, it’s as if he’s too polite not to offer you full disclosure. It’s not unusual for an emo record to come off this way — it’s natural to feel like an intruder even when a stranger is pouring his heart out willingly — but listen to the howling lament of ‘I swear I’m a good man’ on ‘Rory’ and you’ll find yourself washed-over with unshakable empathy, unable to do anything but believe him. It’s in moments like these where we really feel Murphy’s words.
Latest posts by Isaac Powell (see all)
- Yesteryear: Cracked Actor - 25th February 2015
- Whiplashed: Objectivity in Music - 19th February 2015
- Spotlight: Blacklisted – When People Grow, People Go - 12th February 2015