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]

Continue reading

(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.

Cian Ciaran – ‘Sewn Up’

avatars-000047646642-hosacq-t500x500

Cian Ciaran of Super Furry Animals is gearing up to release his second solo album and follow up to last year’s excellent Outside In. The album is called They Are Nothing Without Us and Ciaran himself has proclaimed it as his ‘protest album’. 

The first track from the album to surface is ‘Sewn Up’. It got it’s first airing on Marc Riley’s BBC 6 Music show last night and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. The romantic overtures of his debut have been stripped away in favour of scathing politically charged lyrics, mean guitar riffs (very The Velvet Underground meets The Jesus and Mary Chain), while retaining the same lavishly layered vocals that marked Outside In. It is purposely filled with anger and rage at a world where the gulf between the haves and have-nots is widening, and at the system which perpetuates this exploitation. Powerful stuff indeed, which sets things up nicely with regard to the forthcoming album, which by the way, will be released on September 23rd through Strangetown Records

Ciaran recently surpassed his Pledge Music target for They Are Nothing Without Us but there are plenty of goodies still left, if you want, you can get involved here. Whatever the case, you can check out ‘Sewn Up’ below. 

Welsh Wizards | Mixtape

This is a quite odd post even by my standards. This day ten years ago I upped sticks and moved to Wales, Wrexham to be precise, which explains all the Wrexham related tweets for anyone who follows me on Twitter.

Although I’m back in Ireland a few years now, it was one of my smarter moves & I retain a fondness for Wales as a country and the music it produces (although I don’t get over half as much as I’d like these days). Welsh music features quite prominently on the blog, something regular visitors are probably aware of. Apart from anything else it got me thinking and I decided to knock together a mixtape/compilation of some Welsh favourites from the past few years, with one or two older tracks thrown in for good measure.

So, without further waffling, here it is, some mighty fine weekend listening. Diolch. Mwynhewch.

Continue reading

Album of the Week: Cian Ciaran – ‘Outside In’

For nearly two decades Cian Ciaran has been brightening our lives as Super Furry Animals’ resident electronic wizard and keyboardist. Outside In sees Ciaran come to the fore with a debut solo record under his own name.

It will come as quite a surprise anyone expecting an electronica album, but Outside In is a record indebted to grandious orchestral pop of the ’60s and John Lennon’s ’70s output. The record is a mix of down-tempo orchestral ballads of beguiling beauty and that idiosyncratic Super Furry sparkle.

Centered around his piano and subtle drumbeats, it swoons and sweeps, dripping with melody and harmony, allowing his wonderful lilting croon to blossom. It is permeated too, by an air of elegant richness, comforting tranquility and a hint of melancholy.

Album opener ‘You & Me’ epitomizes the fabric of Outside In; a blend of truly beautiful textures, swooning strings, elegant sounds and whispering lyrical laments for lost ideals. It seldom deviates from it’s course say for ‘Martina Franca’, which wouldn’t be out of place on an SFA release and the album closers ‘What Will Be’ and ‘Upside Downers’. Two positively exuberant tracks, imbued with joy and filled an array of horns and strings.

Outside In is a charming album that will warm the heart of anyone willing to give it the time it thoroughly deserves.

Cian Ciaran (SFA) – ‘You & Me’ + Debut Solo Album

Cian Ciaran from Super Furry Animals is set to release his debut solo album, Outside In, on July 30th.

The album is being released on his own Strange Town Records and will feature, among others, fellow Super Furries Daf and Guto. The first taste of things what to expect in July is ‘You & Me’, a song of lamenting lyrics with truly beautiful textures, strings and sounds. This a simply gorgeous composition, which does more than whet one’s appetite, his album could be something quite special.

You can check out or download ‘You & Me’ below and make up your own mind.