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 Djbooth.net for free.

Mr Huw – ‘Cariad Afiach’

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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……

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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’

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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

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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.