Ten albums you cannot miss this month – July 2012
Part of the long-running DJ Kicks series from German label !K7, Tapes is a pallet-whetting precursor to Foal’s next studio LP – rumoured for potential release later this year. Tapes is really one for serious Foals fans and East London DJ’s with a taste for the mildly obscure. A mix-tape exhibiting some of Foal’s most disparate and diverse influences, from the likes of Tony Allen, Art Department and Caribou, it is sometimes tricky to see how occasionally nostalgic, verging on kitsch tunes influenced the cutting, mathematically direct sound of tracks like Hummer and Miami.
In a month when everybody has been jumping on the bandwagon to slate the misogynist musical failings of Chris Brown, thank goodness Frank Ocean is here to rebalance the musical equilibrium. Here is an album that is not only brave and refreshingly honest, but has stripped away the false macho bravado to make way for true soul. This is a complex and beautiful album, melding influence from jazz, hip-hop, and even 60s psychedelica. Channel Orange shouldn’t work, but it really, really does.
After the release of Hand Built By Robots back in 2007, Newton Faulkner established himself as a generally inoffensive, unadventurous musician, beloved by wealthy back-packers and wanna-be stoners. Only live did he break these shackles, surprising festival audiences with lively and exciting one-man-band performances and complex guitar percussions – and a fantastically brave rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody at Glastonbury 2008. Sadly, Write It On Your Skin has returned Faulkner to his previous comfort zones of pleasant but non-experimental vocals and polite little riffs. The only real stand-out track is Long Shot, where Faulkner’s apparently latent social and cultural opinions are allowed to take the floor.
It’s a shame that their early hobby-horsing into the limelight with the help of The Libertines has made The View almost impossible to take seriously. In this album, they really seem to have grown up, with surprisingly soft and complex vocals on some tracks and greater diversity across the album as a whole. It is unlikely, however, that fans will be able to forget the dullish tedium that was Hats Off To The Buskers. Listen to Wasted Little DJs and Tacky Tattoo back-to-back to see how far The View have come. Still, The View seem to struggle to find their own voice. Cheeky for a Reason is just as emulative of Arctic Monkeys as Hats Off To The Buskers was of The Libertines.
Having gathered their largest fan base back in 2008 after the release of The ’59 Sound, new album Handwritten, with its more tender Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen influences has been jarring to fans of the band’s previous grubby, rough garage-band sound. With orchestral backing on opening track The National Anthem and distinct Cohen-esque bluntly romanticised lyrics, the whole album feels melancholic and strangely nostalgic – the sound of a band looking back with hindsight. A strange mix of classic Americana sentimentality and lyrical subtly reminiscent of The National, Handwritten is a more complex album than it first appears.
Ill Manors, Plan B’s first serious stab at hip-hop storytelling deals with this almost clichéd genre in a thankfully fresh way. Subtly self-referential, title track Ill Manors delves between literally grabbing its listener with lyrics like “what you looking at, little rich boy” and expressing the problem of self-expression. At the same time, Plan B has completely avoided the trap of writing an album about writing an album (yawn!). Interesting piano sounds and artfully applied samples keep the album interesting throughout.
Conor Maynard has been called “the British Justin Beiber” for one very simple reason: he is. But don’t get mad at money-grabbing music producers; this is a winning formula. Ten-year-old girls in Britain love to get all giggly at Beiber’s sickly adolescent musings, so why not give them more of the same, but a bit closer to home? Asda is Walmart for British mums, so why not have Maynard as Beiber for British kids?
Underwater – Joshua Radin
With a breathy, suitably backgroundy voice, it’s no surprise that Joshua Radin has become the designated soundtrack of everything recently. It’s tracks like Let It Go that stop Joshua Radin from being compared to a mildly less abrasive James Blunt. With Bob Dylan style percussion and adept guitar and piano interplay, Radin just about manages to negotiate the gap between the spooky dissatisfaction of Bon Iver and the irritating optimism of Jack Johnson (remember him, annoying wasn’t he?).
Serj Tankian is a well-established “Big Daddy” among metal vocalists, having been awarded 26th place in the Hit Parade’s 100 Greatest Metal Vocalists of All Time countdown from his early beginnings with System of a Down. New album Harakari is his third solo album since 2007 and continues to exhibit his aggressive vocal style. Though some tracks seem to build towards little substance, others –such as opening track Figure It Out – are all guns blazing, shamelessly antagonistic rock, with flawlessly complex beats, riding a great heavy tail-wind in the style of Queens of the Stone Age.
Though Rebirth is a new album, comprised of new original tracks and well-chosen covers (such as an excellently realised reggae stomping version of Guns of Brixton), it has the feel of a retrospective from a man who never really left the musical limelight. Having sold over 25 million records world-wide to date, Jimmy Cliff is a reggae superstar. So Rebirth, rather than standing as a come-back album, seems to be Cliff’s musical connection to his past, fusing with the comfort and confidence he enjoys as a musician today – and in so doing, bringing the youthful wisdom of his genre very much to the forefront.