BarryGruff’s Albums of the Year 2013

BarryGruff Albums of the year 2013

It’s that time of year once again when every music blog, website and magazine busy themselves with list making activities, and this blog is no different. Due to other commitments this year, especially the second half, it was rather difficult to keep on top of album reviews for the blog. Saying that, I reckon I’ve listened to as many records as any other year without finding the opportunity to share my thoughts on many of them.

Without further ado, here’s the BarryGruff ‘Albums of the Year’ for 2013.

25. Crystal Stilts – ‘Nature Noir’

24. Appelscal – ‘Dreaming In Key’

23. Trwbador – ‘Trwbador’

22. Mr. Huw – ‘Cariad Affaich’

21. King Krule – ‘6 Feet Beneath the Moon’

20. Channel Swimmer – ‘Alphabet’

19. Valeria June – ‘Pushin’ Against A Stone’

18. Veronica Falls – ‘Waiting for Something to Happen’

17. Arctic Monkeys – ‘AM’

16. Public Service Broadcasting – ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’

15. Marika Hackman – ‘That Iron Taste’

A collection potent songs of enigmatic beauty, That Iron Taste is a gorgeous and charmed introduction to the delectable talents of Marika Hackman. It is done so with a striking vocal delivery, sounding both wise and beautiful, imbued with a telling level of touching emotion. She channels something beautifully rich and dramatic in telling these rather dark poetic stories. Absolutely no substandard happy-clappy folk pop nonsense on show here, on the contrary, her debut (mini) album is quite frankly a haunting, numinous experience.

[Stream on Spotify]

14. The Pictish Trail – ‘Secret Soundz, Volume 2’

Most likely the greatest album to be recorded solely in a caravan, Secret Soundz, Volume 2, is the second LP from The Pictish Trail, the alter ego of Scottish musician Johnny Lynch. Throughout the LP, he’s in a contemplative, often melancholic mood, concerned with life’s ups and downs. In contrast, musically Secret Sounds is rather chipper, spurred on by a glorious melange of oddball sounds, sparks of frazzled electronics and instrumental breaks. A magnificent record; warm, inviting and full of charming quirks from an exceptional talent.

13. Biggles Flys Again – ‘Remember Saturday’

Ireland produces plenty of great bands but where it falls short, of say our Welsh neighbors, is when it comes to indie bands of the weird and wonderful variety. In Biggles Flys Again, the moniker of Conor Deasy, we’ve got a domestic talent flying that flag. Biggles’ debut album Remember Saturday displays real talent for 3 minute pop gems. It is brimming with enchanting and whimsical good old fashioned pop songs, filled with sinuous melodies and organic arrangement. This is pop in the old fashioned sense, played by a band, and with an assured sense of style.

[Stream on Spotify]

12. Akala – ‘The Thieves Banquet’

Since the release of his debut in 2006, Akala has proven himself as one of the most articulate, intelligent and talented MC’s around, a trend continued on his fourth LP. A potent wave of righteous fury crashes through The Thieves Banquet. The world is beset by many problems, varied and plentiful they may be but Akala manages to take plenty of them head on. He remains passionate, focused and sharp when tackling everything from a sense of powerlessness to change things, to berating imperialism,  slavery, capitalists, 3rd world dictators and the clergy. A very fine record indeed.

[Stream on Spotify]

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(Recap) Some Highly Recommended Albums: Cian Ciaran, Drenge & Curly Castro

I’ve been struggling to find the opportunity to share some of the albums I have been obsessing over recently so here’s three. A bit like buses my album posts. 

Cian Ciaran – ‘They Are Nothing Without Us’

For many familiar with Cian Ciaran‘s debut last year, Outside In, They Are Nothing Without Us may come as a bit of a surprise. The former was indebted to grandiose orchestral pop of the ’60s / ’70s, in contrast, the Super Furries man’s latest is spiky, angry but with shades of sweetness and sparkling ability for a pop song sewn throughout. This combination, with a dash of idiosyncratic Super Furry sparkle, makes the whole thing even more palatable. Where musically it opens with a rattling and rumbling fury before melting into psychedelic space territory as it progresses, lyrically, Ciaran is filled with anger throughout. He said this was his protest record and he has duly delivered that, while also producing one of his finest records to date (up there with SFA at their very best).

Drenge – ‘Drenge’

Drenge steadily impressed since the turn of the year with track after track of exhilarating punk-rock fury, and the debut album from sibling duo of brothers Eoin (guitar, vocals) and Rory (drums) Loveless, doesn’t disappoint. The record is a frenetic blitz of untamed rock ‘n roll, swathed in splashy cymbals and heavily distorted grungy guitar riffs. There’s a quite menacing threat to it all, hindered in no part by the opening salvo of four, under three minute bursts of coiled up aggression and fury. Although, it becomes more expansive the further through it progresses, climaxing with the eight minute ‘Let’s Pretend’, the album’s slowest and heaviest moment, and the softer, more melancholy of ‘Fuckabout’, which channels Hawley, Cocker & Turner. As spectacular debut record, as impressive as any band could hope for. 

Curly Castro – ‘Fidel’

There is scarcely enough space to pay full tribute to Curly Castro‘s latest album, Fidel, one of the finest hip hop records of the past few years. Raised in Brooklyn but residing in Philadelphia, Curly Castro’s music and lyrics explores a whole array of topics and themes; ranging from Black Nationalism, civil rights, racial issues, drugs, crime and autobiographical tales from his younger days, chronicling his journey to adulthood. Castro has plenty to say, but its not just what he’s saying, its the way he says it. Speaking with authority, an authority that makes you pay attention, his vision is delivered clearly and concisely, without ever sounding preachy or pretentious. His gruff vocal and impassioned delivery ensures added lyrical depth and musically, it doesn’t miss a beat and the production is top notch. You can download ‘Fidel’ from for free.

Mr Huw – ‘Cariad Afiach’


It is hardly stretching the bounds of reality to suggest that for many people outside of Wales, their first introduction to the Welsh language in musical form, was with the release of Super Furry Animals’ album Mwng. Welsh is a language that lends itself to music rather well, regardless of whether you can understand what the lyrics are all about.

In a roundabout sort of way that brings us to Mr Huw, a rather prolific Welsh language musician, and his fourth album in six years, Cariad Afiach. Mr Huw’s formula is pretty straightforward, write a catchy tune, sing lyrics over a catchy melody and hey presto, an album. It is an approach happily embraced by Mr Huw, and one that rewards with serious dividends on Cariad Afiach (or ‘Sick Love’ in English). The album remains accessible to non-Welsh speakers through of combination of tight arrangements and melodic bliss, and you can pick up on the mood of the songs/album even if when the lyrics remain a mystery.

There’s something familiar and retro-leaning about the songs throughout Cariad Afiach, while at the same time, it sounds entirely unfamiliar. The likes of ‘Cerrig Beddi’, ‘Cariad Afiach’ or Cyfrinachol set the tone, ragged, raw and edgy indie/post-punk tunes, filled with pointed riffs and broached with some swoonful melodies. Every track on here is so catchy, Mr Huw is perhaps the closest modern-day relative to the off-kilter genius of HMHB.

Cariad Afiach is an album filled with so many beguiling qualities. Regardless of whether you’re a Welsh speaker or not, it remains a fine indie/alternative record, just give it a chance. [Buy / Stream]

BarryGruff’s Best Albums of 2013 so far……


Due to various reasons I’ve been slacking with album reviews this year. That said, I’ve been listening to more than ever before but finding the time to pen some musings about some of them. In an attempt to redress this situation, here’s the ten albums that have impressed me the most so far this year.

10. Applescal – ‘Dreaming In Key’

Dreaming in Key is the third LP from young Dutch producer Applescal. Comprised of 11 tracks, the album isn’t too easy to pin down, finding itself in an ambiguous hinterland between electronica & techno; meaning it comes across as both dreamy and driving. It is also marked by the track’s complexity. Lavish layers of sound are met with impressive sound sequencing resulting in a warm, mellow vibe. Applescal is on top of his game.

[Stream on Spotify]

09. Trwbador – ‘Trwbador’

Mergers of folk and glitchy electronica can at times yield yawnsome middle of the road, chin stroking bollocks, but not so for Welsh duo Trwbador (aka Angharad Van Rijswijk & Owain Gwilym). Since forming in 2010, the pair have forged a distinctive and fruitful partnership for producing serenely beautiful, otherworldly music. It’s a trend carried through to their self-titled debut which sees warm folky sounds and whimsical vocals pinned to electronic glitches and loops. It contains a real sense of tenderness, twinkling and flickering simultaneously, it is both carefree and hypnotic. A magic and irresistibly beautiful album. This is absorbing music to get lost in.

[Stream on Spotify]

08. The Pictish Trail – ‘Secret Soundz, Volume 2’

Most likely the greatest album to be recorded in a caravan, Secret Soundz, Volume 2, is the second LP from The Pictish Trail, the alter ego of Scottish musician Johnny Lynch. Throughout the LP, he’s in a contemplative, often melancholic mood, concerned with life’s ups and downs. In contrast, musically Secret Sounds is rather chipper, spurred on by a glorious melange of oddball sounds, sparks of frazzled electronics and instrumental breaks. A magnificent record; warm, inviting and full of charming quirks from an exceptional talent.

07. Biggles Flys Again – ‘Remember Saturday’

Ireland certainly produces plenty of great bands, but for me, where it falls short of say our Welsh neighbours, is when it comes to indie bands of the weird and wonderful variety. But in Biggles Flys Again we’ve got a domestic talent expertly filling that void. Biggles Flys Again is the moniker of Dubliner Conor Deasy, who’s got a real talent for crafting 3 minute pop gems. Biggles’ debut album Remember Saturday is brimming with enchanting and whimsical good old fashioned pop songs, filled with sinuous melodies and organic arrangement. This is pop in the old fashioned sense, played by a band, and with an assured sense of style.

06. Sweet Baboo – ‘Ships’

Touted as a concept album about the sea, and yes, there are plenty of sea related moments but the songs are mainly concerned with love and relationships, usually with a bittersweet edge. Ships is a wry take on lost love and heartbreak, sliding from darkly funny to piercingly tender, this is one of the most perfectly crafted indie-pop you’re likely to hear all year. There are so many highlights, ’If I Died…..’ opens the album perfectly and features one of the best lyrics – “Daniel Johnston has written hundreds of great tunes, and I’ve got six, so I guess there’s some catching up to do” – and a delightful melody and irresistible swirls of brass. That’s followed the startlingly perky ‘The Morse Code For Love’ and ‘Let’s Go Swimming Wild’, shrouded in a woozy veil of melancholy before bursting into life with a brass-filled chorus that won’t leave your head anytime soon. The North Wales native is an idiosyncratic artist with an ear for a sparkling melody and a gift for an evocative lyrical turn.

[Stream on Spotify & Deezer]

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‘Czarface’ (7L & Esoteric and Inspectah Deck)

The ’90s is often cited as the golden age of hip hop and while this is a debate best left to another, it was this decade that thrust the likes of Gang Starr, Wu-Tang, Mos Def and J5 upon me. In doing so, it opened up a new and wonderful world before me. 

So, away from the trip down memory lane and back to the here and now. Inspectah Deck, 7L & Esoteric have come together as ‘Czarface’ and in doing so, taken ’90s East Coast Hip Hop as a blueprint, run it through the gauntlet and brought it right up to date. This is hip hop that makes you bop, with beats that have more bloody bounce than Zebedee. 7L’s production excels as he stitches together bits of dialogue to create a dark, aggressive and sinister subterranean-minded world that suits the two emcees to perfection. Lyrically it is filled with complex rhymes and similes, as Esoteric and Deck deliver verse after verse as a verbal art form. Add to this a pretty stellar supporting cast including Ghostface Killah, Roc Marciano, Action Bronson & Premier, and you’ve got one great record.

Yes it is a bit of a throwback record but it never sounds anything but inspired – enough chatter from me, just give it a go, I implore you. 

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Album of the Week: Eva Petersen – ‘Emerald Green Eyes’


Remember The Little Flames? Apart from a couple of great singles the Wirral band are now known best as the band Miles Kane cut his teeth with. But from the ashes of The Little Flames another solo career has emerged, that of Eva Peterson.

Petersen has been proclaimed ‘the greatest singer to come out of Liverpool in the 21st century’ by Will Sergeant of Echo & The Bunnymen (who co-wrote and produced the album). It is a claim not without merit, you will be hard pushed to find a finer voice than hers on Merseyside, or elsewhere. It is from this union that places her debut solo album Emerald Green Eyes, somewhere between post-punk and Northern Soul, as Petersen’s rich soulful voice drifts over Will’s recognizable guitar playing, cinematic tones and spectral synths.

It is this, that makes the record, like opener ‘Jewelled Moon’, ‘Emerald Green Eyes’ and emphatic closer ‘Melody’, familiar yet utterly distinctive. The whole record is glossed with a stylish ’60s lick which aids this air, especially ‘Too Late For Tears’, ‘Don’t Be Shy’, and superb Velvet Underground cover ‘Femme Fatale’. The foray through genres and styles is always secondary, ultimately it’s Petersen’s sultry voice which gives Emerald Green Eyes its star quality.

Petersen’s decision to take her time with this album, and to go in a different direction, has paid dividend. A trim eight songs it may be but Emerald Green Eyes, is a wonderful record of beguiling quality.

Album of the Week: The Pictish Trail – Secret Soundz, Volume 2


Ever wondered what the greatest album to be recorded in a caravan was? Didn’t think so, but the latest effort from The Pictish Trail, Secret Soundz, Volume 2 has to be the front runner for this, the most unlikely of accolades (if there are others, answers on a postcard please).

Touted as the follow up to 2008’s Secret Soundz, we find The Pictish Trail, the alter ego of Scottish musician Johnny Lynch, in a contemplative, often meloncholic mood, concerned with life’s ups and downs. In contrast, musically Secret Sounds is rather chipper, spurred on by a glorious melange of oddball sounds, sparks of frazzled electronics and instrumental breaks.

Opening with the bright and bouncy, instrumental electro ‘Secret Sounds #6’, this introduction is a bit misleading, it’s with ‘Sequels’ that the album kicks into gear. The oddball sounds and electronics remain but what’s clear is, they are not the focus here. They are but a platform, with Lynch’s wonderful singing voice firmly in the foreground. The premise firmly established, the album gently cascades through folk-influenced balladry and warm electronics of ‘Of Course You Exist’, ‘The Handstand Crowd’ and ‘Michael Rocket’. It is a real bag of tricks but never losing of the balance between curiosity and melancholic it is interspersed with equal doses of both.

Although a sequel, one doesn’t need to need to be acquainted with it’s earlier sibling. As a stand alone record it is magnificent record; warm, inviting and full of charming quirks from an artist of genuine exceptional talent.

Album of the Week: Sam Willis – Winterval

Winterval is the debut solo album from Sam Willis, one half of London-based Walls, and he’s gone and cooked up something rather special. Taking a host of house, techno, minimal and Balearic influences, Willis assimilates these familiar traits into otherworldly electronic music that is not easily defined. Winterval gracefully hovers in an ambiguous hinterland between subtly euphoric and vaguely ambient.

The music is cloaked in a shadowy mystique, flanked by the wispy near silence opener of ‘140 Miles Away’ and eerie closer ‘Twirled With Your Slight Fingers’. Although the more unnerving sides to his sound are maintained throughout, these haunting, atmospheric individual spurts are by no means the pulse of the album. Willis is the master of not missing a beat, sustaining the rhythm and protracting the promise of a euphoric climax, while keeping you captivated through repeated propulsive beats and swirls. None more so than the swirling synth and deep drones of ‘Weird Science’, the twinkling crystalline grandeur of ‘Fox Glissando’ and the spectacular ‘Frozen-Cirrus’.

Chiming notes resonate through every track and the beats are delivered with pin point accuracy. Willis has mixed the warm sounds with a crisp frosty elegance, creating a hypnotic, comforting sound collage. It is no way an exaggeration to say not only is Winterval one of the finest records of 2012, it is one of the most aesthetically complete electronic albums for quite some time.

Album of the Week: Stealing Sheep – Into The Diamond Sun

It’s difficult to know where to begin with Stealing Sheep but eclectic would be a good start. The Liverpool trio’s debut album Into The Diamond Sun is a heady cocktail of sounds, rather than been a scattered or confused, it is neatly sown together with layer upon layer of harmonies and a splendid array of psychedelic folk influences.

Into The Diamond Sun manages a perfect balance between the catchy and the interesting. Everything thing about their folk-tinged pop revolves around their vocal arrangements and the wonderfully dreamy three part harmonies, which are simply sublime. The album flows very nicely, peppered with electronic drones, hand claps and lavish guitar effects; it is these experimental eccentricities which embellish the record.

It feels both spooky yet somewhat uplifting, from the meandering ‘Circles’, ‘Gold’ and ‘Shark Song’, to the touch more lively ‘Genevieve’ and ‘Liven Up’. It is all crafted with a deft touch, like intricate brush strokes coming together to create a wonderful portrait. Lyrically too, Into The Diamond Sun is a just as colourful patchwork of vivid imagery.

Into The Diamond Sun is instantly lovable, in fact, it is utterly contagious. All in, a superb first effort.

Album of the Week: Knoxville Morning – Knoxville Morning

So, yeah, on the surface the idea of a young man from Newbridge spinning yarns about Austin, New York and New Orleans may sound a bit mmeh. For Ciaran Dwyer, chief songwriter in Band On An Island, it wields a far greater reward than one might expect.

A trip across the US left Dwyer with a collection of songs and stories, of a distinctly different varietyto those of BOAI, and so Knoxville Morning was born. Under this new alias, with Dwyer at the helm, he is joined by fellow BOAI members and the likes of The Mighty Stef, Gavin Elsted (We Are Losers), Brian Gallagher (Humanzi), Stephen Fahey (Super Extra Bonus Party) and Claire Prendergast.

The record amounts to a sweet blend of folk, country and Americana, and while it wears it’s US influences on it’s sleeve, Ciaran’s intuitive storytelling remains a cornerstone, for which the whole album is built on. It flows nicely, without a stale moment, peppered with illuminating trumpets on ‘Knoxville Morning’, ‘Tulsa (m.o.e.)’ and ‘Trumpets’. It is lifted here and there with an added vocal collaboration, especially on the beautifully soulful duet with Prendegast on ‘Baseball Song’, and ‘Alphabet City’ with The Mighty Stef. The album is tainted with an underlying air of mournfulness, not sadness mind, but a lamenting for better days and happier times long since gone. Something everyone can identify with.

Plenty of artists have attempted a project like this, many of which veer on the ridiculous, while some, like The Lost Brothers or Fionn Regan (specifically his second album Shadow of The Empire) found that perfect balance. Knoxville Morning like the latter two is a success, and without a cliche in sight. Knoxville Morning wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve and it maybe shouldn’t work, but it does, and remarkably well too, which is a credit to Dwyer and all involved.

Album of the Week: Imploded View – Picnics With Pylons

Picnics With Pylons is the debut album from Longford based producer Imploded View (aka Jerome McCormick), whose forte till now has been atmospheric downtempo electronic music, and he’s sticking to the script with his debut record.

Picnics With Pylons rarely if ever, emerges from first gear, preferring to meander through a vast and cloudy world of extremely chilled ambient sounds. An air of calmness permeates the entire record from openers ‘Astral Airways’ and ‘Can Drift Would Drift’ right through to ‘Dark Is The Light’, the album moves at it’s own pace. McCormick is certainly comfortable in this skin, he seems at peace, a feeling transposed to the listener as the airy productions wash over you with an ease, slowly and subliminally seeping into the listener’s mind. It all allows time for delicate detail, added emotional depth and mood and thought provoking atmospherics.

It is very much an after-hours record and feels very nocturnal but it does slink in a brighter direction with title track ‘Picnics With Pylons’ and ‘We Ivy’; rare glimmers of sunshine and optimism in an otherwise foggy downbeat world. The focus here is on creating moods, sound textures and ambient instrumentals.

Picnics With Pylons is an assured and composed debut with genuinely well thought out moments of ambience that make for an enjoyable listen. Imploded View is not a name many will be overly familiar with but hopefully this record goes someway to changing that.

Album of the Week: Nathan Conway & The River Valley Band – Sonny Boy

Sometimes we can all be a little guilty of preoccupying ourselves with seeking the next big innovation in music. Yet, by and large, most things in music tend to be borrowed from the past, and baring that in mind, we are left with music that’s either good or bad – surely that’s all that really matters at the end of day.

Nathan Conway & The River Valley Band certainly borrow from the past to create a timeless soulful country sound. Having teamed up with The River Valley Band after releasing Run on Diesel with The Bottlestoppers in 2011, Conway & Co. have found their niche. The tone is soulful country, set to overarching themes of demise and redemption, draped in Conway’s intuitive storytelling which paints vivid pictures with his words.

Mostly you feel that Conway and band are really working together, from the swinging, uptempo ‘Where’s the Love in My Heart’ and ‘It’ll All Come Back On Me, Someday’ to the less blustery, slower numbers ‘Song from the Engine of the Model T’ and ‘Lord I Got it Bad’ or ‘Freckles’. They have a rapport with one another; brass, percussion strings and Conway’s deep bellowed croon, all work in perfect tandem.

Sonny Boy requires a degree of patience, understanding and repeated listens to be fully appreciated. It is a beautiful, timeless and assured album. You can tell from the get go that the musicians know exactly what they’re doing. There might not be anything else like this around at the moment which only adds further measure to what they have achieved here.