BarryGruff’s Irish Albums of the Year 2012

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Pretty self explanatory this one. There’s been a lot of great music released in Ireland over the past 12 months & here’s ten Irish albums I’ve enjoyed the most in 2012. You can also check out the ‘Albums of 2012‘ & ‘Irish Songs of 2012‘ if you want.

10. The Expert – ‘Neckbreakers’

Not strictly an album, more of a beat tape as it happens but who makes theses rules? Over seven glorious cuts of jazzy instrumentals The Expert takes us on a head nodding journey from start to finish. Having produced beats for over fifteen years, mainly with his band MJEX, it certainly shows. A worthy addition to any record collection.

09 Imploded View – ‘Picnics With Pylons’

Picnics With Pylons is the debut album from Longford based producer Imploded View (aka Jerome McCormick). Continuing with his forte for atmospheric downtempo electronic music, his debut 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. McCormick is certainly comfortable in this skin, he seems at peace, a feeling transposed to the listener as the airy productions wash over you, allowing time for delicate detail, added emotional depth and mood and thought provoking atmospherics. An assured and composed debut.

08 The P Affection – ‘Cakes For Occasions’

The P Affection’s debut was a scatter-shot of indie-pop, rock, ska, and folk, a very good one it must be said. While staying true to the influences of that record, with Cakes For Occasions, The P Affection have grown as a band and refined their sound. It’s a pretty irresistible and varied selection of power-pop and harder edge indie-rock coated in a mix of humorous and heartfelt lyrics. The P Affection continue to improve in all that they do, it’s going to be exciting to see where to next.

07 House of Dolls – ‘House of Dolls’

Taking their cue from the likes of The Chameleons, The Verve, Jesus & Mary Chain and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club; there is no messing around with House of Dolls. Equally adept in the psych-rock/shoegaze department or rip-roaring  dirty rocking guitar riffs. It is here where the albums persona lies, flipping seamlessly between the two styles, on the one hand the fired up brutish rock sounds and on the other, the more measured and steady but no less captivating psych-rock sounds. A very good album, one deserving of much greater exposure.

06  Our Krypton Son – ‘Our Krypton Son’

Our Krypton Son is Derry man Chris McConaghy, who on gathered close musician friends together to create the band in early 2010, they have taken time to produce their self-titled debut. It is a warm collection of alt-rock/folk songs, imbued with an eerie sense of melancholy and an autumnal feel. McConaghy proves himself an excellent songwriter and his voice is possess a real richness and warmth. Our Krypton Son is a solid debut with so much to like but, having seen them live, there is even more to come.

05 Knoxville Morning – ‘Knoxville Morning’

A trip across the US left Ciaran Dwyer of Band On An Island with a collection of songs and stories, of a distinctly different variety to 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 Mighty Stef, Gavin Elsted (We Are Losers), Brian Gallagher (Humanzi), Stephen Fahey (Super Extra Bonus Party) and Claire Prendergast. The record is 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 linchpin that holds everything together. It maybe shouldn’t work, but it does, and remarkably well too, which is a credit to Dwyer and all involved.

04 Lethal Dialect – LD 50 Part II

LD 50 Part II is the second record from Dublin rapper Lethal Dialect and it is extremely impressive. Composed, confident and intelligent, there is no bullshit bravado here, just great rap tunes. LD’s greatest asset is his voice, spitting salient bars above beats and samples, he utilises every breath to paint an all too realistic depiction of life in Dublin. Delving into a whole raft of topics and issues others tend to refrain from, he’s cool, calm, sometimes agitated and angry but always passionate. A refreshing and thought-provoking new voice, not only for Irish hip-hop but Irish music in general.

03 Ghost Estates – ‘Ghost Estates’

Prior to this release, Ghost Estates had already carved out quite a name for themselves, their debut album goes someways to realising their potential. With three songwriters in the band, stylistically it’s diverse, taking in a mix of new wavey sounds, reach for the sky guitar anthems and straight up indie rock. This amalgam has seen them arrive at their own distinct sound of hazy electronica edged indie which send a shiver down the spine. It is said two heads are better than one, well, judging by Ghost Estates’ debut, three are certainly better than two. Easily one of the best Irish indie album for some time.

02 Nathan Conway & The River Valley Band – ‘Nathan Conway & The River Valley Band’

Nathan Conway & The River Valley Band certainly borrow from the past to create a timeless soulful country sound, and 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 they are working together, from the swinging uptempo tracks to the less blustery, slower numbers. 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, but it is worth it. A beautiful, timeless and assured album.

01 Conor Mason – ‘Standstill’

Standstill continues where 2009’s When It’s Over left off, flowing gently by, amid a sea of soft lilting vocals, whispering lyrical poeticisms and subtle instrumentation. It is permeated by an air of richness, comforting tranquillity and shrouded in melancholy. Standstill is a slow burner and requires patience, understanding and repeated listens to be fully appreciated. Standstill is a beautiful, simplistic and assured album and sometimes that is quite enough.

BarryGruff’s Albums of the Year 2012

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So, yeah, this is pretty self-explanatory. It’s end of year list time and every website, blog and magazine are busy compiling them. So not to be left out, here are my favourite 25 albums from 2012. Feel free to leave your few cents worth in the comments section, if you  feel the need that is.

25. Dark Horses – ‘Black Music’

24. The Egg – Something To Do’

23. Attaque – ‘When Light Falls’

22. Stealing Sheep – ‘Into The Diamond Sun’

21. Gaz Coombes Presents – ‘Here Come The Bombs’

20. Session Victim – ‘The Haunted House of House’

19. Ghost Estates – ‘Ghost Estates’

18. Cian Ciaran – ‘Outside In’

17. Graham Coxon – ‘A+E’

16. The Futureheads – ‘Rant’

15. Mystery Jets – ‘Radlands’

Radlands saw Mystery Jets rediscover their sparkle following the mediocre Serotonin. Decamping to Texas to record the album, it sees them embrace a whole series of sweet Americana sounds. They haven’t lost sight of what made them such a great band in the first place; a blitz of wonderful indie, quirky eccentricity and a supreme ability to produce perfect pop songs. A thoroughly enjoyable and likeable record.

14. Eugene McGuinness – ‘Invitation To The Voyage’

Eugene McGuinness‘ second album Invitation To The Voyage was one of the more enjoyable of 2012. Nothing startling or groundbreaking but an enjoyable blend of quirky, left-of-centre indie with a glossy pop sheen. With bursts of brass, surf/’60s pop guitar, clever lyrical wordplay and a confident swagger; McGuinness found a perfect balance between catchy pop and exhilarating indie.

13. Cloud Nothings – ‘Attack On Memory’

Attack On Memory is a heavyweight and rather muscular record. A short, sharp shock to the system, a proverbial kick in the bollocks if you like, taking in post-rock, indie, post-punk and pure unadulterated noise. Interspersed with bursts of scuzzy powerful indie we are exposed to a barreling barrage of loud, pounding drums, raw guitars and a Dylan Baldi sounding like a young Jake Burns. It is in no way subtle, a terrific album nonetheless.

12. Nathan Conway & The River Valley Band – Nathan Conway & The River Valley Band

Nathan Conway & The River Valley Band certainly borrow from the past to create a timeless soulful country sound, and 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 they are working together, from the swinging uptempo tracks to the less blustery, slower numbers. 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, but it is worth it. A beautiful, timeless and assured album.

11. Tennis – ‘Young and Old’

Young & Old is Denver-based husband-and-wife duo, Tennis’, second LP. The album is swathed in soothing ’60s sounds, syrupy melodies and smart, soulful pop songs with captivating, richly melodic purr of singer Alaina Moore’s stunning voice at the fore. There is a very real retro vibe, yet not at one time does it feel old, stale or tired. It is bright, breezy, charming and uncomplicated, most importantly, it is damn fine record.

10. By The Sea – ‘By The Sea’

The banks of the Mersey has given rise to many great bands over the years, the latest to emerge from the production line are  By The Sea. Their self-titled debut album, produced by Bill Ryder Jones, hints at this Scouse heritage but this six-piece are very much their own band, with their own sound. The song titles like ‘Dream Waters’, ‘A Sail Floats and ‘Waltz Away’ set the tone, the album offers an elegant blend of dreamy, psychedelic and pastoral jams, this is music to get lost in. Liam Power’s voice, which has an uncanny resemblance to Shack’s Mick Head proves soothing and stirring as they waft across a hazy canvas of breezy, washed-out sounds.

09.The Heavy – ‘The Glorious Dead’

Wandering a retro path in the modern world can be tricky, there is little room for error. ‘Soul Rock’ is a minefield in itself. The Heavy have proven with two previous albums, while they do wear their influences on their sleeves, they make damn fine records. The Glorious Dead continues this trend. Meshing a clutch of hip hop breakbeats, slices of ’60s R&B, horns, riffs, zombie movie snippets, and soulful vocals into quality soulful, funk rock, of the highest order. What makes it so good? The wonderful execution, and it is oh so much fun, sometimes that really is quite enough.

08. Melody’s Echo Chamber – ‘Melody’s Echo Chamber’

Melody’s Echo Chamber is Parisian mullti-instrumentalist Melody Prochet. Teaming up with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker on production, her self-titled debut pushes her flair for dreamy pop into more experimental, spaced-out zones of hazy psych-pop. The album has Parker’s stamp all over it. Prochet’s light, inviting vocals are cast into a shifting series of settings, with beguiling results. At times everything is covered with a heavy blanket of reverb and fuzz, while others are a gentle whirlpool of shimmering psychedelic dream-pop. It is the combination of Parker’s inspired production and Prochet’s evocative voice which strike a perfect balance between pop and the psychedelic. A rather inspired and stunning debut.

07. Conor Mason – ‘Standstill’

Standstill continues where 2009’s When It’s Over left off, flowing gently by, amid a sea of soft lilting vocals, whispering lyrical poeticisms and subtle instrumentation. It is permeated by an air of richness, comforting tranquillity and shrouded in melancholy. Standstill is a slow burner and requires patience, understanding and repeated listens to be fully appreciated. Standstill is a beautiful, simplistic and assured album and sometimes that is quite enough.

06. Richard Hawley – ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’

The seventh studio album from Richard Hawley saw an interesting change of direction toward hazy psychedelia, something Hawley proves masterful at it. With only one track clocking in under five minutes, the songs are suffused with snarling, meandering guitars solos and Hawley’s distinctive vocals. The title track is a masterpiece telling tales of a man who kills his wife and kids, a hard-up prostitute who ends up in jail and a young man involved in inner city violence respectively. It’s the rockier material here that really stands out, like the excellent ‘Before’ and ‘Down in the Woods’. The latter is a real rocker with a venomous Hawley sounding not unlike Mark Lanegan. There are moments of real beauty here too, one wonders where Hawley will go next but it will certainly be interesting to find out. (Words edited from Johnny Feeney | Because I’m lazy)

05. Miaoux Miaoux – ‘Light of the North’

Light of the North is the debut record proper from 26-year-old Glasgow based producer, Miaoux Miaoux. Fluid and uplifting, these sounds evoke moods a million miles from dreary rain soaked city of its birth as he hops from genre to genre. It is a stunning record which delicately pieces together beats, electronics, synths and acoustic guitars, with his pristine vocals gliding through a heavenly mist of lush harmonies, melodies, beats and electronics. One for fans of Caribou, Hot Chip and Jape. An irresistible debut record, a bright future lies ahead.

04. The 2 Bears – ‘Be Strong’

The 2 Bears debut LP, Be Strong is a scatter shot across the entire scope of electronic music which feels like foraging through a fine record collection. It is a cheery, cheeky and joyous amalgam of sounds and a massive injection of positivity amidst a time of dreariness and uncertainty. It is a worthy ode to the past two decades of dance music, a fine soundtrack to any weekend and most importantly, a bloody excellent dance record.

03. Sam Willis – ‘Winterval’

Winterval is the debut solo album from Sam Willis, one half of London-based Walls. Taking a host of house, techno, minimal and Balearic influences, Willis assimilates these familiar traits into otherworldly electronic music that gracefully hovers in an ambiguous hinterland, between subtly euphoric and vaguely ambient. 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 Winterval is one of the most aesthetically complete electronic albums for quite some time.

02. Tame Impala – ‘Lonerism’

Where to begin with this one? Lonerism is a simply brilliant album. Their 2010 debut Innerspeaker set the standard for warped retro, yet futurist psychedelia. The follow-up is leaner, more confident as it sprawls into further exploratory psychedelic territories. It kind of goes everywhere while remaining fluid and cohesive throughout. From the rocking stomp of ‘Elephant’, to dazzling epics of ‘Apocalypse Dreams’ or Lennon/McCartney-esque ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’, Lonerism remains cohesive. It is an album which increasingly fascinates with every listen. Give it the time it deserves, it’s guaranteed not to disappoint. Truly stunning!

01. Django Django – ‘Django Django’

While Django Django’s debut album contains undeniable similarities with The Beta Band, they have far from copied or imitated. Part of the appeal is an ability to seamlessly blend genres and sounds from a melting pot of influences into a striking blend of understated indie, with an electro groove at its heart. Anchored by alluring harmonies and an undeniable groove which permeates the very core of this record, this is indie music to dance to. An inspired and wholly irresistible debut, and my album of 2012. Thank you!

Conor Mason – Standstill

Album review of Conor Mason’s ‘Standstill’ published for State.ie on March 30th 2012.

Despite this being his third album, Conor Mason is not a name many will be overly familiar with. Growing up in the historic walled city of Derry, music has been present in his life from a young age. Mason has now found his space on the musical landscape, not dissimilar to that occupied by luminaries Matthew Jay or Elliott Smith.

Standstill continues where 2009’s When It’s Over left off. It flows gently by, amid a sea of soft lilting vocals, whispering lyrical poeticisms and subtle instrumentation. It is permeated by an air of richness, comforting tranquillity and shrouded in melancholy.

While it is predominantly an acoustic affair, the beautiful soft acoustic ballads of ‘Standstill’, ‘Sundown’ and ‘Last to Leave’ lead the way. There is a willingness to branch out beyond the simplicity of ballads. ‘Misunderstood’ is much more ‘indie-rock’, as is ‘Words’ which begins softly with hushed vocals before picking up pace and descending into a Coral-esque freak out, yet neither sound out of place. It is this and Mason’s preference for embracing the whispering delicacies of mood and lyrical emotion, which bind the album and prevent it from slipping into tedium.

Standstill is a slow burner with Mason rarely going beyond first gear. It requires patience, understanding and repeated listens to be fully appreciated. Standstill is a beautiful, simplistic and assured album and sometimes that is quite enough.

Conor Mason – Standstill

Conor Mason – Words

Conor Mason – Misunderstood

Conor Mason releases his third album, Standstill, on Monday via Armellodie Records.

Standstill navigates similar waters to 2009’s When It’s Over, a slow burner, requiring patience and repeated listens to fully appreciate its richness and splendor. ‘Misunderstood’ is a little taste of things to come. It exudes richness and warmth with soft, lilting vocals gently flowing between a comforting sea of tranquility and a driving rhythm.

Mason is one of this country’s finest artist and while his delectable talents remain relatively under the radar, hopefully Standstill will go some way to rectifying the situation.

Download: Conor Mason – Misunderstood

New tracks from Conor Mason: ‘Words’ & ‘5AM’

Conor Mason is set to release Standstill, the follow-up to his 2009 debut When It’s Over, later this summer.

Mason, one of the shining lights at last years HWCH in Dublin, put on an exceptional show for a lucky crowd, affirming his position as one of my favourite artists in Ireland right now.

He is picking up where he left off with his debut, keeping the richness, warmth and wistfulness intact. Both ‘Words’ and ‘5AM’ see the intricate instrumentation and delicacy take centre stage once more as flowing melodies slide gracefully over a sea of soft velvet vocals.

It sounds as though he is eeking out more of that full-band sound especially on ‘Words’, just wait for the Coral-eque guitar solo to kick in. Things are certainly looking good for the album later in the summer, I for one, cannot wait.

Conor Mason – Words

Conor Mason – 5AM