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End of Year lists – a lukewarm take

24 Nov

It’s that time of year again, when thoughts inevitably turn to lists. Lists for Santa, naughty lists and of course, year end lists on music blogs such as this one and beyond. The tradition of listing things has existed since man first learnt to count and cave walls were adorned with pieces such as “Top 10 Rocks in the valley” (number 7 will astound you). Yet the practice of presenting a year end list is not without controversy. Something that is especially true when ranking the previous year’s music.

Aside from the very obvious question of what criteria to use when determining your list; favourites, most played, most sing-along-able, best (whatever that actually means) there is also the very important question of when you should do your list.

Now, we have said somethings on twitter in the past about waiting as long as you can and making sure you have time to fully appreciate the art of an album etc etc. Naturally, that can sound fairly pretentious and really music is about whatever you want it to be. One man’s art for example, is another man’s Pitbull. That said, we do feel that albums need time to get lost in and to explore. On more than one occasion our opinions have changed on records we initially thought were amazing – but on repeat listen turned out to be less so.

We also stand by our comment about waiting to post a year end list, at least until the year has actually ended.

Just to clarify before we go any further, we are talking about year in review lists here. Best album, single, video and the like. We are not talking about Tips for the future lists. In our opinion they can be posted whenever you like. If you think someone has the potential to be successful, it doesn’t really matter when you tell people. Hell, shout it as soon as you think it if you want. No, this is just about lists that look back over the previous 12 months musical output, but don’t include all 12 months.

To our mind, you cannot really represent a full year’s music in your list when the year is not even over. Granted, it is impossible to represent a full years list as there is no way you can have listened to everything that has been released in that time period, but at least give yourself a chance.

We’ve done it ourselves before, of course. We have written and been involved in year end lists that were compiled well in advance so they could be posted in December. Yet in so doing we have missed many great records from our lists. For example, John Grant’s Queen of Denmark is one of our favourite albums of the last decade, yet never appeared on our end of year list. We had started compiling it so early that we never got round to listening before publication. More recently we have tried to wait until January to publish our lists, to use the holiday period to catch up on records we had missed, and to give more time to those we have loved in the year.

Yet the race to be first still exists within the blog and music journalism world. The desperate charge to get your opinion out first, to plant your flag and claim a narrative as your own dominates the internet.

Take a look at the list of albums still to be released this year. The 1975, Clean Bandit, Earl Sweatshirt are all scheduled to release music between now and 31 December. And that doesn’t allow for any surprise releases either. Despite this, some publications have already posted their best of 2018 lists.

It’s true that some of these lists are from retail outlets and those lists in particular are hard to read without a degree of cynicism. We know that the people involved are incredibly passionate about music and probably know more about it and hear more of it than 99% of the population. Yet, when you see a list released in mid-November that is dominated by records that coincidently happen to come with exclusive releases available only in that store, it’s hard to see it as little more than an attempt to increase sales before Christmas.

In reality, that may be where our frustration comes from most. Seeing high quality, reputable establishments jump ridiculously early to cash in. Maybe our ire is misplaced and in reality, grumbling about when people post their end of year lists is a futile exercise. As we said, music means different things to different people and we should all be allowed to interpret it, enjoy it and experience it however we like. Perhaps the same should be true of end of year lists. Just do whatever you want, whenever you want. Even if the year is only 90% complete.

‘V’ is for Vanity Fairy

12 Nov

Winter is the time of year when creatures snuggle down into hibernation. It is not the time of year when they emerge, awoken and ready to take on the world. Yet here we are, following a near two year hibernation and Daisy Victoria has stepped back into the light. She has also gone through something of a metamorphosis (if you will allow us this mixing of animal based metaphors). Now Daisy Capri, her musical persona has evolved to its new form, grown shimmering synthy wings, and stepped forth as Vanity Fairy.

Here, the sound is slinkier than before. The 80’s influences that were hinted at in “Pain of Dancers” have been fully embraced and given a subtle disco makeover as her vocals glide and twist in the breeze as one with light, gossamer melodies.

Debut track, “He Can Be Your Lady”, undulates gently, imploring you to sway as Capri’s vocals swoon and flutter. Bathed in disco ball lens flare and blessed with a Prince like synth flourish, it is delightfully catchy and bewitching. Elsewhere on the debut Vanity Fairy EP, Lust For Dust, we are treated to a soft, androgynous sultriness. It’s knowing, yet innocent at the same time.

“Milky Woe” is a late night, candle lit seduction, very soft focus and full of eye contact and fondue. “Loverman” and “Giant” similarly glisten and flicker with sensual synth lines, a heady concoction of romantic psychedelica.

Comparisons to Kate Bush are obvious but entirely fair, there is the same ethereal and otherworldly feel to each composition. Live too, there are similarities with Capri letting the Vanity Fairy persona take control. Her shows are as much about the character and the performance as they are about the music.

It’s an exhilarating and exciting transformation that Capri has undertaken to become Vanity Fairy. Her mew world is enticing and giddy and it’s one we love getting lost in.

”He Can Be Your Lady” is out now and will feature on the forthcoming debut Vanity Fairy EP, ‘Lust for Dust’, which is due for release on 7 December.

Get to know Vanity Fairy: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

‘E’ is for Eckoes

13 Sep

Hypnotic, infectious and stunning; the music of Eckoes sounds as if it comes from another world. Her deep, soulful electronica combines with pop hooks, dance beats and glorious vocals to entrance and enthrall.

London based Eckoes is an artist you may have heard of already. If not, she is someone you will definitely be hearing more of in the future. A successful songwriter for other artists, she has recently been scouted by Grammy Award winning producer Naughty Boy. This is in addition to being a FAC Advocate Artist who helps and advise other up and coming artists. Oh, and then of course there is her own music, which is incredible and has received support from 6Music and BBC Introducing as well as a slew of glowing and effusive posts from legitimate tastemakers.

Eckoes’ music has evolved over the years; her pop skin has been stripped back, exposing her bare electro endoskeleton to the world. In so doing, Eckoes has revealed a sound that is altogether darker, more intense and bewitching.

Taken from her forthcoming EP, Eckoes’ latest single “Black & Red” is a stark and seductively dangerous slice of electronica. Dystopian in its sensibility, it could easily be the soundtrack to a dark sci-fi opera (think Blade Runner meets Event Horizon). It is absolutely perfect for that moment where we focus entirely on the protagonist and blur the surroundings. It feels like being being isolated and alone whilst surrounded by the incessant noise and hubbub of a densely populated megalopolis. The layered, almost choral, vocal is utterly captivating. A thing of pristine beauty in this otherwise dark and twisted world.

The melody glows and hums like vast neon signs while the sparse, crisp electronic beats pulse like beacons in deep space. At times claustrophobic and intense, at others cinematic and boundless, “Black & Red” is one of those incredible pieces that offers the listener something new on each listen.

Earlier single “S.B.F” has a driving intensity to it. It throbs and pounds with a bristling menace, whilst rippling and undulating with a sensual intoxicity. Startlingly open and honest, it is a track that stirs the emotions, that simultaneously gives in and fights back, standing tall in defiant submission.

Travel further through the back catalogue and you will find the deep rooted pop aesthetic becomes more overt. “Nobody Else” has a delightfully subtle 90s dance feel to it, while “Pieces” is a gorgeously deep soulful cut, complete with an infectious, eyes closed and sing along chorus. Keep travelling back, past the multi-layered “Human”, past the sorrowful beauty of “Blue Deep”, keep going and eventually you will find a remarkable, and swoonsome, cover of Mr. Mister’s 1985 classic, “Broken Wings”. Trust us, it’s fantastic.

Her music is something we can get lost in. As she takes us to other worlds, to darker places and to the intimate recesses of her soul, the sounds hypnotise and captivate. Hairs stand up on the back of our neck, goose bumps tingle on our arm and our feet tap along incessantly. It is only fitting that an artist as incredible as Eckoes be part of our Alphabet.

Eckoes is playing Birthdays on Friday 14 September with fellow Alphabet Bands favourites, HEZEN and Hydra Lerna.
“Black & Red” is out now and available to buy or stream here.

Get to know Eckoes: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

10 Records in 10 Days: Day Ten

20 Feb

Welcome back to 10 Records in 10 Days. A Facebook chain-turned 10 day blog series. The concept is simple. ”Post an album a day covering your 10 all time favourite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list, even if only now and then? Post the cover, no need to explain, and nominate a person each day to do the same”.

We’ve been nominated but rather than post without explanation, we thought it would be more fun to provide a little context. That is just the first of the rules we plan to break in this series. We are also not nominating anyone else (if you want to join in, you are more than welcome to do so) and we are also not adhering to any of the other implied rules either.

For the purpose of this series, we’ll be posting in the first person.

Day 10 brings me to the end of this series and an opportunity to break all of the rules, both explicit and implied.

Various – All The Albums

Let’s be honest. There was no way I was ever going to keep this list down to a solid 10 records. There are just far too many that I adore and that mean so much to me that I could never willingly exclude some. In fact, I think I did pretty well just pulling this down to a solid nine records and only going crazy at the end.

Here then are a bunch of other records that have to feature in my list of favourites and those that really made an impact and remain on my rotation list.

Avec Sans – Heartbreak Hi The debut album from one of my favourite bands. I absolutely adore this record, play it regularly and it will forever be special as it marks the first time my name appeared in the liner notes for genuine reasons (i.e. without it being part of a pledgemusic campaign or similar).

John Grant – Queen of Denmark Just a beautiful album that introduced me to the incredible talent, lyricism and raw honesty of John Grant. His music is powerful, emotional and stunning.

Lyla Foy – Mirrors The Sky Another album that is just divine. Foy’s vocals are utterly gorgeous and the arrangements are heavenly. I seemingly hear something new on each listen and it just gets better and better.

Spring Offensive – Young Animal Hearts Another of my favourite bands and an album that I waited years and years for. It turned out to be everything I had hoped and more. That it also marked the end of the band only serves to make it more special.

Lo Fidelity Allstars – How To Operate With A Blown Mind An album I discovered in my late teens and that really fed my love and appreciation for leftfield electronica and big beats. I can’t help thinking of my university days when I listen to this and the assertion from a friend that it was weird, and very me.

Morcheeba – Big Calm Another album from my university days and one that makes me think of a certain group of friends and of a play I was in that another friend had written. Like Moon Safari it is a beautiful laidback and soothing delight. It also, randomly, introduced me to the work of poet Murray Lachlan Young (as he was featured on a special edition version of the album, interviewing the band).

Diana Ross – Diana Ross As a kid I knew Diana Ross for the sparkly campness of “Chain Reaction” and being unable to kick a ball in a straight line at the 1994 World Cup opening ceremony. As an adult I discovered why she was so revered and so important. The cover images of this album alone mark the beginning of her transition from shy, elfin talent, to sequined showstopper. It reawoke my love of motown and soul and has inspired many a session of crate digging at the local second hand record stores.

Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion Part II Part of my musical sponge period and a massive contributor to my my love of attitude fueled, swaggering rock. This was one of those albums that got passed around by my friends and was listened to secretly on walkmans in class.

Roxette – Joyride A stonking pop album from a superb pop band that was released smack bang in the middle of my youthful pop loving phase. They’ve sold billions of albums yet still Roxette seem to be massively underrated. I still love them.

TLC – Crazy Sexy Cool Another record that I associate with friends. This didn’t really feel like a hip hop album to me, more like a super funky pop record. It’s sensual, soulful, sexy and infectious. It’s full of passion and romance as well as hooks that you just cannot escape. Another that I still listen to today and that still sounds as good now as it did back then.

Bon Jovi – Bon Jovi An album that I had by accident. My aunt and uncle gave me a walkman and had clearly tested it with one of my cousin’s C60’s, which they had forgotten to remove. It felt illicit listening to it, especially as I would often sneakily listen after I was supposed to have gone to bed. From the opening synths of “Runaway” and that sliding guitar, I was enthralled. And so it was that I was introduced to hair metal and the early seeds that would become the staple of every wedding I would go to in my adult life. Jumping up and down and shouting along to classic rock. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

10 Records in 10 Days: Day Nine

19 Feb

Welcome back to 10 Records in 10 Days. A Facebook chain-turned 10 day blog series. The concept is simple. ”Post an album a day covering your 10 all time favourite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list, even if only now and then? Post the cover, no need to explain, and nominate a person each day to do the same”.

We’ve been nominated but rather than post without explanation, we thought it would be more fun to provide a little context. That is just the first of the rules we plan to break in this series. We are also not nominating anyone else (if you want to join in, you are more than welcome to do so) and we are also not adhering to any of the other implied rules either.

For the purpose of this series, we’ll be posting in the first person.

Day nine brings me to an album that really, I could have posted tomorrow.

Pearl Jam – Ten

There are many things I can and cannot do. One that I most definitely cannot do is sing. Listening to Ten, I not only think I can sing, I think I can sing like Eddie Vedder. So I do. Loudly.

It is another of my flat out favourites. It was a vast album at the time of release and it still sounds massive now. Even though the subject matter is heavy (homelessness, depression, loneliness and suicide, for example) each of the songs is absolutely huge.

There is definitely an element of nostalgia in my love for Ten. It was part of my musical sponge period where I soaked up everything, it was a massive hit with all my friends (as it was for so many others – 20 million copies sold) and would remain so long into our later teens and driving years. We would drive along and sing (loudly) to each track.

Despite being released before Nirvana’s seminal breakthrough, it is often derided and accused of riding Nevermind’s coattails. Yet Ten actually serves as a bridge from what went before to the harder, more impenetrable sound of Nevermind. It’s more melodic, more accessible and (whisper it) probably better. Certainly I would argue that, having not had the critical acclaim or hysteria that Nevermind did, the vast majority of Ten’s 20 million sales came from people who liked and wanted to own it. Rather than people who think they should own it.

There’s a reason Pearl Jam were considered one of the biggest bands in the world, and it wasn’t just because of the grunge explosion. Ten is full to bursting with incredible, epic songs. Like most of the albums featured in this series, it has aged well and I don’t think that is just the nostalgia talking.