Posted in Listed

10 Favourite Songs of 2021

10. The Hold Steady – Unpleasant Breakfast:  The mid tempo track appears midway through the latest release from The Hold Steady, on an album that welcomes Franz Nicolay back to the fold. It’s a minimal track that gets amped up with “Woooo” in the chorus before adding a piano swing towards the end.

9. Chris Miles, Lil Xan – MISS ME:  When Lil Xan teamed up with Chris Miles, they managed to cross numerous musical boundaries including rap, trap, rock, emo, pop, etc. Lil Xan turns in a vulnerable second verse and it’s hard to deny the simple hook of Miles yelling “like yeah”.  An unexpected end of year favourite.

8. Japanese Breakfast – Paprika:  The lead track from Michelle Zauner’s critically acclaimed third album was all sweetness and light. It is hard to top the joy when Zauner hits the high notes in the chorus and her exclamation that “it’s a rush” just before the horns pour in.

7. Lana Del Rey – Dealer:  With two albums of songs to choose from in 2021, this Miles Kane duet is not the most obvious. Driven by bass and drums, the lazy 60s vibe builds as they sang “I gave you all my money” before Lana belts out the anguished chorus.

6. Wolf Alice – Delicious Things:  The second track on Wolf Alice’s excellent Blue Weekend album, sees the Ellie Roswell wondering whether her move to LA was the right decision.  Over an atmospheric chorus, Roswell ponders a feeling that many of us have felt while living in a new city – “would you believe I’m in Los Angeles?”

5.  Chvrches (Featuring Robert Smith) – How Not To Drown:  Another UK band that saw members move to LA, Chvrches second single added Robert Smith to the proceedings. A pounding piano breaks through the densely layered track. Even with a legend singing with her, it’s Lauren Mayberry that delivers the powerful opening line “I’m writing a book on how to stay conscious when you drown”.

4. Wet Leg – Chaise Longue: When readers on Instagram were asked by BBC6 what  their favourite new bands were, an overwhelming amount of commenters mentioned Wet Leg. The duo delivers hilarious lyrics in a monotone, deadpan style over one of the catchiest musical beds of the year. A few more excellent singles have followed making Wet Leg’s debut scheduled for 2022, one of the most anticipated of the new year.

3. Damon Albarn – Royal Morning Blue: A highlight off of Albarn’s first solo album in seven years, “Royal Morning Blue” rides a simple electronic drum beat but also adds swirls of sounds. The atmospheric track draws much heft from Albarn’s singing and hits an emotional note when he says, “…and nothing like this had ever happened”

2. The Felice Brothers – Jazz On The Autobahn:  The upbeat track from New York’s The Felice Brothers tells the story of a woman speaking of what the apocalypse will be like. A terrific drum beat moves the track along as it reaches the infectious chorus declaring the end of times will sound/not sound like “jazz, jazz, jazz…”.  If the end of the world sounds like this, I’m ready!

1. Middle Kids – Today We’re the Greatest:  Like the year before, 2021 was a rough go much of the time.  Still battling a pandemic, cut off from friends/family, endless fighting online, employment lost, travel plans cancelled. But Middle Kids breaks through the doom to declare that, “someday we’ll be gone, but today we’re the greatest”. It’s a poignant sentiment that we’ll all disappear and be forgotten about but just for today – we can be heroes. A hidden gem that will hopefully be discovered by more people needing a lift.

Posted in Listed

Favourite Albums of 2021

Blue Banisters (2LP)

5.  Lana Del Rey – Blue Banisters:  Lana Del Rey put her work foot down in 2021 and released two fine albums. Her second release, Blue Banisters, gets the slight nod for favourite of the year. What Lana does very well is create a vibe and feeling. Mixing new songs with older recordings, this was an album to sink into while drifting away.

Screen Violence (Vinyl)

4.  Chvrches – Screen Violence:  A few members of the Scottish band have relocated to LA but the band has continued through the travels. Lauren Mayberry’s voice adds a human element to their often dense, electronic sound. Robert Smith shows up on “How Not To Drown” and it’s a testament to the band that he adds to the track instead of overshadowing the younger Glaswegians.

Open Door Policy (Vinyl)

3.  The Hold Steady – Open Door Policy:  The Hold Steady’s first album with keyboardist Franz Nicolay was welcomed with open arms. The wordy wordplay of Craig Finn is punctuated with horns and flourishes that add an extra dose of excitement. It was an album to make some of us fall for the band all over again after not listening for a few years.

The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows

2.  Damon Albarn – The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows:  The blur and Gorillaz leader returns with his first solo album in seven years. The influence was Iceland but also his home in Devon and the lockdown. Paranoia and danger mixes with beauty and wonder on the minimal album that is not perfect but one that we returned to time and time again.

Blue Weekend [Softpack]

1.  Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend:  Right from first listen it was going to be hard to knock Wolf Alice off our list as the album of the year. The London band mixed many alternative rock styles from the last 30 years to create a memorable ride through their eclectic world. While, “Delicious Things” was the highlight, several other songs shone such as the blast of “Play The Greatest Hits” and the much softer “No Hard Feelings”. It all hangs together terrifically well as the band looks equally to the oil filled water in the gutter as they do the bright stadium lights.

Posted in Album Reviews

Lana Del Rey – Blue Banisters (2021)

Blue Banisters (2LP)

The second Lana Del Rey release of 2021, comes seven months after Chemtrails Over the Country Club. Blue Banisters is a lowkey affair with spare instrumentation, many tracks with just a piano and some strings. The album was preceded by a trio of singles including first track “Text Book”. Del Rey sings “And there we were/screamin’ black lives matter in the crowd” over a slow tempo that gets amped in the chorus as she remembers her Dad. “Blue Banisters” its slightly surreal lyrics of being with friends and painting her banisters blue.

Several of the tracks date back several years including both “Thunder” and “Dealer” that were recorded with the Last Shadow Puppets in 2017. The latter features Miles Kane on the verses and adds a funky drum/bass to the affair while Del Rey screams the chorus. Relationship stories appear regularly – an ex gets told “Don’t say you’re over me/When they all know you ain’t” before adding bit of horns on “If you Lie Down With Me”.  She sings of finding her life again after a break-up on the sweeping drama of “Violets For Roses”.

Like a lot of her work, Blue Banisters is a mood piece, a vibe. Her hazy torch songs evoke hanging out beneath the neon lights of a 7-11 but in black and white, while she wears a white dress and cars bumping hip hop slowly drive by.  It’s an album to listen to and not study, with occasional moments appearing to grab your attention like the Ennio Morricone interlude that adds a modern beat. Lana Del Rey keeps her steady work pace going and Blue Banisters is another fine collection of her particular style of pop song.

7.5/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over the Country Club (2021)

Chemtrails Over The Country Club

During the past year, all most of us have wanted to do is escape life for at least a little bit. The COVID pandemic has restricted not just daily life but the ability to explore other places.  Lana Del Rey is no exception to this with several tracks from her seventh studio album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club speaking of escaping. On “Let Me Love You Like a Woman” she sings, “80 miles north or south will do” and her voice floats over the percussive track “Tulsa Jesus Freak” where Del Rey remembers it’s Arkansas where “the kids in their hoodies, they dance super slow”. First single “White Dress” breathlessly escapes back to the early years of listening to jazz, The White Stripes (when they were white hot), and the Kings of Leon.

Once again working with Jack Antonoff for most of the tracks, Chemtrails gets better as it goes along. “The cameras have flashes, they cause the car crashes/but I’m not a star” she sings on what sounds like a fading 70s star falling apart. “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” borrows the title from a Tolkien quote and is mostly acoustic guitar and a repeated chorus. She works with Rick Nowels on the haunting “Yosemite” and adds a 70s strut to “Dance Til We Die” where she further namechecks Stevie Nicks, Joan Baez, Courtney Love and Joni Mitchell.

That last name is where the album ends, with a cover of Michell’s 1970 track “For Free” that she performs with Zella Day and Weyes Blood. While not as consistent as career highpoint Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Chemtrails still offers up it’s share of memorable moments. While the world seems to stop somedays, Del Rey keeps busy having released a poetry book/spoken word album last year and has already announced her next album will be out on July 4th.

7.5/10

Posted in Listed

Favourite Albums of 2019

5.  Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains:  The music world lost a lot of great musicians in 2019 including David Berman of Purple Mountains.  This was my first introduction to the man’s music and was touched by many of the lyrics contained here.  Knowing what happened to Berman soon after release makes some of the songs hard to listen to but this is part of his legacy that he passed on to us. Purple Mountains touches on many of the emotions we all feel from time to time and let’s us know we are not alone. This album will live on for a very long time.

4.  Robert Forster – Inferno:  Another long running musician that I was really hearing for the first time in 2019.  Ex of the much-loved Go-Betweens, Forster doesn’t sound dissimilar to Leonard Cohen and at times on tracks like “The Morning” and “Life Has Turned A Page” he offers much wisdom.  Like Cohen, Forster’s music is mature and on the cover he looks dapper as hell.  We can still aspire to be this cool.

3.  Vampire Weekend – Father Of The Bride:  This came out in May and was ready made for the summer. More complex musically than past releases and adding in a few cameos, most notably from Danielle Haim, this continues to increase the range of Vampire Weekend releases.  Many gems to be found here including “Sunflower”, “How Long”, and especially our song of the year – “Harmony Hall”.  Like most albums at 18 tracks long, there are a few that can be skipped but those are relatively few on an album that can be played on repeat for several hours.

2.  Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!:  This album is getting lots of love even from people who don’t normally show it to Del Rey. Admittedly, the last few albums can be a bit hit and miss at times but this one never lags and distills the best of her sound onto 12 songs. “Venice Bitch” was a favourite from last year and “Mariners Apartment Complex” sounds like a movie in four minutes. “California” and “The Greatest” are timeless tracks that could have been released at any time in the last 40 years.  This is Lana Del Rey’s best album.

1.  Fontaines D.C. – Dogrel:  It’s not very often a straight up rock record gets us this excited but Dublin’s Fontaines D.C. delivered blow after blow on their debut.  It’s amazing that this literary band released poem collections before forming a band, as they seem ready made for the big stages in the UK. “Hurricane Laughter”, “Chequeless Reckless”, and “Boys In The Better Land” are a roar heard across the world as people keep falling for the band’s charms.  This is the best rock album we’ve heard in years.