Q and Uncut Albums of 2011

November 30, 2011

It’s that time of the year again. Q and Uncut are the first music media to announce their favourite records of 2011. Glad to see some of my darlings on the lists (congrats Björk, James Blake, Kate Bush, Anna Calvi, Feist, Gang Gang Dance, Lykke Li, PJ, St. Vincent, Wild Beasts and others!). Click here:

http://www.albumoftheyear.org/list/73-qs-50-albums-of-the-year-2011.php

http://www.albumoftheyear.org/list/72-uncuts-top-50-albums-of-2011.php

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A concept album about ghosts, aptly titled Ghostory, hits the shelves on February 27. It will be their first LP as a duo. Read the full story on NME:

http://www.nme.com/news/school-of-seven-bells/60665

The second, also self-titled album by Crystal Castles was recorded in such places as a closed church in Iceland or a cabin in Ontario so it is natural that coldness penetrated these tracks for good. Vietnam is the best example of the new sound of the duo: a spine-chilling tale of terror with some icy synths, frigid electronic backing and unintelligible vocals. The Game Boy noises so audibly present on the previous effort are hard to find. Crystal Castles (2010) is much darker than its predecessor and it is a quite depressive affair. On every level, Alice and Ethan step forwards. Year of Silence is what you would expect from Sigur Rós’ Jónsi if he died and dug out of his grave as a singing zombie. Violent Dreams is ethereal and this kind of slumber that leaves you with unidentified anxiety. On I Am Made of Chalk Alice gurgles, I must cite Pitchfork, like the monster from J. J. Abrams’ Cloverfield. It is really disturbing as you cannot say if she is in pain or in rapture. Not in Love is terrific as far as you listen to the remix with Robert Smith of The Cure. The best reason to hear the album is, however, Celestica. It feels out of place and CC are yet to outdo this sublime masterpiece which starts with the following lyrics As we fall into sequence / And we’re eating our young to come up to a disorienting plea of a lost soul When it’s cold outside hold me / Don’t hold me / When I choose to rest my eyes coax me / Don’t coax me.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Celestica, Doe Deer, I Am Made of Chalk, Intimate, Not in Love, Vietnam, Violent Dreams, Year of Silence

Watch Celestica: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsxNUl1IHnE

Among the most distinctive acts to appear in the second half of the noughties were Crystal Castles. They are not really famous for music but for their riot-like gigs. Alice Glass, the vocalist, would scream, run, climb, dive, spit, and who knows what else. Even a serious injury could not stop her from playing. She is the face of the duo but as usual in such cases the mastermind stays in the shadow. Ethan Khan, the producer, is responsible for Crystal Castles’ bleeps and jarrings. Their music often sounds as if taken from a Nintendo video game: primitive but charming (Untrust Us). Unless it’s aggressive as a band of yobs smashing your car (Xxzxcuzx Me). They rely heavily on samples and are fond of voice manipulation which should not come as a surpsrise. Crystal Castles are meant to polarise. It is nothing special, however, that what is a salvation for some, it is a heresy for others. But all of them will be taken by the closing Tell Me What to Swallow. Beautiful stuff.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Alice Practice, Courtship Dating, Tell Me What to Swallow, Untrust Us, Xxzxcuzx Me

Watch Courtship Dating: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwiG9CUDo-I

We have already known that Rihanna likes spanking. Talk That Talk, album number six, extends our knowledge about the sexual habits of the Barbados Minister of Tourism: Suck my cockiness / Lick my persuasion (…) I love it when you eat it. Elsewhere she sings We All Want Love. So it’s business as usual, Rihanna sticking to the sex/love/sex theme. However, considering the fact she is a single, not album artist (just like Britney, Beyoncé, etc.), it is surprising how strong Talk That Talk is (far better than 2010 Loud). The four opening tracks are flawless, hot and ready-for-the-dancefloor. You Da One is one of the lightest offerings by Rihanna and has roots in reggae. Where Have You Been demands a club treatment. The lead song We Found Love seems to be ubiquitous and mostly its attention is fair. Talk That Talk featuring Jay-Z is basically Rude Boy, Pt. 2. So far, so good, yet there are no such instant classics as Only Girl (In the World) or What’s My Name? Extra points for sampling The xx on Drunk on Love.

hydrameter: 3/5

Key Tracks: Drunk on Love, Talk That Talk, We Found Love, Where Have You Been, You Da One

Watch We Found Love: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tg00YEETFzg&ob=av2e

You have to be really skilled to take a bunch of the ’80s ad samples and turn it into something gorgeous like Child Soldier, the penultimate track on this wonderful album. It incorporates some video game-like noises and a juvenile choir to an otherwordly effect. Oneohtrix Point Never has already established himself as the ambient master with releases such as Rifts (2009) or Returnal (2010) but this is not simply another position on an impressive list. Replica will shoot him into another galaxy. The mysterious opener Andro thankfully avoids New Age kitsch. Is the dramatic Power of Persuasion about dawn or dusk? Up is a rare moment of uptempo. Finally, there is the title track. I have read that you can hear a nuclear blast here. Elsewhere, it’s a genius piano-meets-drone tune. OPN is not aiming for the past here as his latest opus is not nostalgic at all. Daniel Lopatin opens a vortex to the future but the cover image suggests we may not be happy about what we will find there. With its “hauntology” it is fine to say that Replica is the antithesis to the pagan cacophony of Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Andro, Child Soldier, Power of Persuasion, Replica, Up

Watch Replica: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiwi7d0f91Y

November 18, 2011

The Future Crayon is the second compilation album by Broadcast which entered the music market one year after the unbelievable Tender Buttons. It gathers various tracks and b-sides previously released on EPs and singles. Many bands would sacrifice their drummers for some of those songs for almost none of them feel like a work of poorer quality. While there are no standouts like You Can Fall, Hawk or Black Cat, The Future Crayon is a very coherent and enjoyable listen. Most of the tracks are instrumental and they witness band’s eagerness to experiment. The first song, Illumination, is a standard Broadcast tune with Trish’s stable yet mesmeric voice playing the main role. She is even better on Distant Call. Here, the singer is only accompanied with drums and analogue echo (piano turns up later). The third non-instrumental track worth mentioning is called Poem of a Dead Song. One of the most adventurous works is Hammer Without a Master (great title). Chord Simple is very melancholic and beautiful. Finally, Dave’s Dream is quite a psychedelic odyssey through some intriguing mind(s). The Future Crayon might feel too long but this is the basic feature of a compilation.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Chord Simple, Dave’s Dream, Distant Call, Hammer Without a Master, Illumination, Poem of a Dead Song

Listen to Illumination: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hO09aqwTQo

Planningtorock “W” (2011)

November 15, 2011

I will try to write this review without mentioning a singer with whom Planningtorock aka Janine Rostron is compared far too often not to the advantage of the latter (hint for those who know little about what is going on in music recently: they collaborated on a 2010 album about Richard Dawkins’ hero). W is an ambitious record, equally bringing together avant-garde and pop, that reveals more with every spin. It is demanding and difficult at times but also fascinating. Planningtorock is an audio-visual artist so it would be necessary to witness her live to fully understand W. Planningtorock experiments with her voice, sounding very masculine here (like on Doorway) and feminine there. Antony Hegarty may come to mind easily. Indeed, W is an analysis on gender and as such it succeeds on almost every field. Tracks can be very sinister (just like Rostron’s prosthetic nose, the key image of W) and joyous, danceable. The opening Doorway achieves maximum effects with minimum efforts and slowly builds itself to fade away without reaching the expected climax. #9 is shaking and shimmering thanks to fantastic drumming and electronica. The Breaks, the best track, is a breathtaking experience with the dramatic horns being the centrepiece of W. They surely demand another listen. Planningtorock gladly uses both electronic noises and live instruments (strings, sax, etc.) to produce a remarkable vision.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: #9, Doorway, The Breaks

Watch The Breaks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWO9LweKzV8

November 14, 2011