Tag Archives: John Grant

2013 Albums of the Year: The Full List, and a little extra…

21 Dec

2013 Albums of the Year The Full List

Just as we did with our other lists this month, EPs of the Year and Tracks of the Year, we have decided to put all ten of our favourite albums of 2013 into one easy to read list. And, as with our 2014 Preview series, we have also added some honourable mentions of albums that we loved but didn’t quite make it into our final ten.

Every year when we sit down to work out our albums of the year, we always end up surprising ourselves in some way or other. This year was no different and one thing that caught our attention, though probably means very little, was the geographical make up of the list, with seven of the ten albums coming from the USA and only three from the UK, and how many (eight) were debut albums. Evidently we like new things from overseas very much.

Anyway, here you go, all in one place, our favourite albums of the year. Just click on the album title to be taken to the original post and to read more about each one.

Enjoy and see you next week for some regular blog posts and festive fun as well.


#10: Superhumanoids – Exhibitionists

”All throughout Exhibitionists, melodies swoop and swoon, flying to the sun and melting into considered and analytical lyrics. Light and dark meet, mix and leave hand-in-hand, carried off on the marbled tide of heady and vibrant synth-pop and more downtempo and icy soundscapes. The Los Angeles based band has created sounds that dance, sway and float in equal measure and the result is an absolute delight.”

#9: Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone

”Her vocals, so distinctive and unlike almost anything else you’ve ever heard, slip seamlessly from style to style. Warmth and frost, steel like determination and vulnerable insecurity, world weary wisdom and wide-eyed naivety; all feature and all feel entirely natural. She has paid her dues, taken her licks and learnt her lessons. This education, her talent and the fact that she probably bleeds music and Memphis has all come together in a glorious whole and the result is a fantastically varied and captivating album.”

#8: Caveman – Caveman

”Like a sprawling desert, Caveman is broad and spread out as far as the eye can see. Blissfully dreamy guitars wash away the world on lullabies of shimmering heat haze reverb, while the vocals of Matthew Iwanusa float wistfully through your mind and off to the distant horizon.”

#7: Rhye – Woman

”The songs are rich and smooth like a vintage red wine in the company of good friends. Robin Hannibal’s arrangements are deft, delicate and subtle, awash with a languid sophistication, offering glimpses into the intimacy of love, be it full and joyous or pained, private and profound.”

#6: London Grammar – If You Wait

”It is a groundswell of emotion, rising up to the sky and stirring the soul, sending shivers down spines and ripples of Goosebumps across arms. Particularly during moments of quiet, haunting breaths, like those that give way to a compelling, crashing rhythm on “Stay Awake”, or the simple piano intro to “Sights”.”

#5: Day Joy – Go To Sleep, Mess

” Songs trickle gently along, rippling before they unexpectedly swell and rise; lifting you high and carrying you away on a beautiful tide of delicate emotion. Their spectral melodies create a sense of blurriness, like the world seen through rain speckled glasses. Your mind is distorted and made fuzzy by the echoing, swirling sounds and vocals as they shimmer and float on the breeze.”

#4: Young Hunting – Hazel

”There is no urgency to Hazel, it is staid, serene like a lake with not a ripple on its surface but amongst the gorgeous and woozy instrumentals, there is darkness. It is dream-pop but laced with foreboding, a feeling that something is about to upset this idyllic scenario. This sense of unease is perhaps best represented by “Baby’s First Steps”, a track that sounds like a late drive along a 1950’s mountain road, loved one in the passenger seat after a pleasant evening with friends. The night is clear and the road is empty, but the audience knows all is not right.”

#3: Public Service Broadcasting – Inform – Educate – Entertain

”It is far too easy to get lost in the perceived gimmick of Public Service Broadcasting and to our mind that misses the point. The samples are critical of course, but the beauty and enjoyment comes from how they are used and woven into complimentary sounds to convey a narrative, emotion, excitement and energy.”

#2: Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe

” Chvrches are exciting. Martin Doherty and Iain Cook wield sonic weapons like a pair of skittish electro-ninjas; flipping, kicking and letting loose shurikens of rapid beats and synth lines with deadly precision while Lauren Mayberry’s sweet emotive vocals rise up above them as if summoned by some mystical enchantress.”

#1: John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts

”Here Grant plays with genres more than before as well. Stark electronic melodies and rough synths are juxtaposed with soft, mellifluous harmonies with the guesting (and understated wonderfulness of) Sinead O’Connor and his floating, winsome vocals. But this variety of styles embraced within the album could be seen as representation of the tumultuous variety of emotions and mood swings one undergoes when experiencing and coming to terms with heartbreak. For this is undeniably a break-up album. An album of a man who has been knifed in the heart by a shattered relationship and is coming to terms with the anger, depression, desire and love that remains in his soul.”


Honourable Mentions…

Vuvuvultures – Push / Pull

VVV-Strikethrough

There is a sense of foreboding, of death and of something much bigger than us, of something beyond our comprehension that is prevalent throughout. Be it the portentous, doom laden drum beats and bass sounds that awake “The Professional” or the foot-stomping bluesy sleaze of “Your Thoughts Are A Plague”, cataclysmic events are only moments away. Vuvuvultures have brought the end of this world with them and its noise is addictive.

Guitars shudder and grind, basslines throb and groove, drumbeats pound and scatter and above it all, vocals soar and caress. And within, sometimes buried, sometimes bursting forth beyond these instruments are the electronics, the ghosts in the machine that are desperate to break out. Little glitchy moments here, synthy wails there, digital flourishes that embellish and enhance. On “Tell No One” especially, the machines are coming and the electronics give it an extra feeling of danger, of despair and of impending menace.

Peppered within the album too are fleeting moments where they have taken over entirely, the A.I finding a way to circumvent its masters and the machines talk to one another. They appear at the end of the “Whatever You Will” and the slower undulations of the snake like “Empurrar/Puxar” (Push/Pull in Portuguese) which close the album give way to a minute or so of digital whirring and twitching, calling out to its brothers and signalling perhaps the next stage of Vuvuvultures evolution.

“Push/Pull” is on Energy Snake Records / Cadiz and can be ordered here.



Ms Mr – Secondhand Rapture

MS MR Secondhand Rapture

MS MR resides in a world of the macabre, a world of glitchy electronics, incessant rhythms, swirling strings and deliciously gloomy vocal harmonies. ”We really get off and thrive on a certain level of uneasiness and suspense” Lizzy told us, and that is apparent throughout Secondhand Rapture. Be it the upbeat, clap-happy fun of “Salty Sweet” or the slower melancholy of “Twenty Seven” and “This Isn’t Control”, there is always a sense of disquiet and drama within. It’s just how pop should be, full of big, majestic melodies and hooks big enough to catch a whale. The brilliantly brooding “BTSK” even contains a synth line that is oddly reminiscent of some unnecessarily successful 90s euro-dance, it sounds amazing.

There are so many highlights within; it is almost like a greatest hit compilation. Picking the next single is more taxing than trying a Rubik’s cube while drunk but our money would be on “No Trace”. It’s a beautiful and brutally theatrical piece of noir-pop, full of attitude and sass as well as trademark MS MR rhythms and striking film score-esque strings that urgently harry and batter the listener into sublime submission.

MS MR have been hitting home runs since they came out swinging last year and after the success and acclaim of their previous singles, videos and EP, with Secondhand Rapture they may well have just hit a grand slam.

Secondhand Rapture is available digitally from iTunes.



Little Tybee – For Distant Viewing

Little Tybee

After opening with some delightful, occasional tropical sounding, jazzy folk sounds, we are treated to four minutes of swooshing instrumentalism, laced with gentle prog-rock sensibilities on “Fantastic Planet”. “Herman” drips with aquatic, almost sonar style elements that complement the rich string orchestration before, seemingly out of no-where, dropping in a surprising moment of grinding reverb. It is as unexpected as it is perfect, but it remains the only fleeting moment of rough with the otherwise very smooth.

For Distant Viewing inculcates a care free attitude in its listener. Soothing, heavenly strings entwine with Brock Scott’s rich and slightly sweet vocals as they lick flame like around the rat-a-tat of percussion and the light twang of guitar. It feels fresh at every listen, as if it has just been conceived, improvised, jammed. It is an album that will make you smile, make you sway and hell, maybe even kick off your shoes and have a little shuffle.

Named after an island off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, the music of Little Tybee has a sun kissed feel, not bleached out and surf swept, but bright and breezy. Part Vampire Weekend, part Simon and Garfunkel, perhaps even part Juan Zelada (for they have his charm in their song writing), it is like a glorious summer’s day, it is to be revelled in.

’For Distant Viewing’ is out on Paper Garden Records and can be ordered here.



Cherokee Red – Cherokee Red

Cheroke Red

When you start swaying softly as soon as you start listening to an album, you know you are in for a treat, and so it is with the eponymous debut album of Pennsylvania’s Cherokee Red. It begins with the mellifluous gorgeousness of “Veya Con Dios” and closes with the so-soft-and-delicate-it-could-actually-be-a-lullaby “Blissful Blows”. In between are 9 more tracks of wistful and swoonsome beauty.

“Veya Con Dios” for example, is so pretty you could stick a crown on it and it would win pageants. It’s so beautiful you could frame it and hang it in the Louvre; it’s so … you get the idea, it’s gorgeous. The guitar strums softly as the melody floats like the proverbial wave lapping against the shore; there’s not a cloud in the sky as the sun glistens above you on this deserted beach. It is pure calm and relaxation, Christiana Bartolini’s vocals, from the opening ‘do do, do-do-do-do-do-do-do’, massages away your cares and worries. It’s dreamy, but not in a dreampop way, more a teenage girl describing the High School hunk kind of way.

Bartolini’s vocals are a spoonful of sugar that could make the worst news in the world seem utterly delightful and the arrangements are elegant and divine. Even “Heavy Soul”, with its momentary seconds of comparative angularity and wobbliness, is a tender piece of melody that culminates in the sounds of crickets chirping, preparing the quiet night time for the aforementioned lullaby of “Blissful Blows” which follows.

It caresses the brain and brings about a state of tranquillity in the listener. So laid back and luxuriantly relaxing is it that you may find yourself drifting off into a blissful slumber as you listen. It is the musical equivalent of The Little Book of Calm, except it actually works.

Cherokee Red is available to buy here.



2013 Albums of the Year #1: John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts

20 Dec

John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts

Our favourite album of the year comes from one of the most talented and honest songwriters we have had the pleasure to hear from in our lifetime. The openness with which John Grant has approached his solo work and the eloquence and beauty he conveys is, to our mind, unrivalled in modern music.

His second solo album had the unenviable task of living up to its predecessor, the divine sounding and emotionally wrought Queen of Denmark which itself topped end of year lists and prompted a collective critical swooning. Yet Pale Green Ghosts somehow manages to be even more candid and, as a result, disarming. Grant doesn’t so much wear his heart on his sleeve as place it in our hand and leave us to pour over it for hours whilst making us laugh, cry and melt with sounds and melodies that excite and soothe in equal measure.

Here Grant plays with genres more than before as well. Stark electronic melodies and rough synths are juxtaposed with soft, mellifluous harmonies with the guesting (and understated wonderfulness of) Sinead O’Connor and his floating, winsome vocals. But this variety of styles embraced within the album could be seen as representation of the tumultuous variety of emotions and mood swings one undergoes when experiencing and coming to terms with heartbreak. For this is undeniably a break-up album. An album of a man who has been knifed in the heart by a shattered relationship and is coming to terms with the anger, depression, desire and love that remains in his soul.

The honesty and reality of the emotion expressed so powerfully gives Pale Green Ghosts an accessibility and resonance that we may not have expected, and may give reason to its chart performance (it reached the top 20 here in the UK). That is not to mean Grant, an intellectual purveyor of lyrical dexterity, a wordsmith, has dumbed down and gone mainstream, far from it. It is that Pale Green Ghosts is a very human and relatable album, and one that sounds marvellous.

As far as songwriting goes Grant is as good as he has ever been, letting us see his world through black humour (“I Hate This Town”), defiance (“Blackbelt” is the lyrical equivalent of a Jerry Springer beatdown and the prejudice and homophobia he still suffers (the hauntingly beautiful and moving “Glacier” which gives us shivers each and every time we hear it). His writing is like those first 10 minutes of Up, it is so touching and real that only those with hearts of granite could fail to be affected. Heartstrings are not so much tugged at as plucked until tears begin to well up, then just as they begin to fall he will quickly tickle your funny bone and as you start to smile and chortle the emotion will come flooding out once more as Pale Green Ghosts is revealed in all its heart-wrenching magnificence.

It is an album we have genuinely laughed with, cried with, drummed along with, danced to and sung along to loudly. It, like Queen of Denmark, is an album we have come back to repeatedly since its release and, given its timeless quality, one we will continue to enjoy for years to come no doubt. For our money, John Grant is the finest songwriter of our generation and Pale Green Ghosts has only reinforced that view. It is quite simply sublime and undoubtedly our favourite and most loved album of 2013.

’Pale Green Ghosts’ is out on Bella Union and available to buy from Rough Trade


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2013 Tracks Of The Year – #20 – 16

9 Dec

Tracks of 2013 - 20-16

Here we go then with the second part of our Tracks of the Year countdown. After revealing the tracks that hit the spots marked 25 – 21 earlier today, it’s time to unveil the five songs that made it to the 20 – 16 places. But before we do, here’s a quick reminder of the random rules we have imposed upon ourselves.

The song doesn’t have to be an actual single and while that may seem a bit of a cheat, there’s a good reason behind it. We are looking at tracks that were released in one capacity or another over the last 12 months so that amazing album tracks will also be considered. We must note though, if a track was released online this year but will become a single next, then it won’t be included (“Anomaly” by Paper Crows fell foul of this rule for example). The only other arbitrary rule we have implemented is, one song per artist.

With that bit of admin out of the way, here are the songs we ranked from 20 – 16. Enjoy.


#20 Gems – “Medusa UN₡U₮”

We were originally going to put Gems’ “Medusa” here, but then, just a few days ago, they went and posted an uncut version of the track with an additional couple of minutes opening the track. Additional and different. The breathlessness is still there, the light as a feather monochrome beauty is still there but now the whole thing begins with something a bit more down to earth, a bit more base in tone. It’s still sparse but it doesn’t float, it is tethered to the ground, desperate to break free. These opening two minutes are like a walk through a long corridor in a stately home. Polished black and white tiles lead us to a great atrium where “Medusa” takes flight to the open sky above. It’s just wonderful.



#19 John Grant – “GMF”

He is the greatest motherfucker that we’re ever gonna meet (well, we hope to meet at least, it’s not happened yet) and on “GMF”, John Grant has no problem telling us. On an album that’s about as open and honest as it can get, “GMF” is one of many gorgeous and glorious highpoints. Introspective, self-depreciating, witty, angry, defiant, bombastic, broken, it runs a gamut of emotions while simultaneously sounding like one of the most sublime pieces of music around. The melody whispers and swirls like a solo waltz in the midst of shrapnel from a shattered and exploded relationship. Detritus lies all around, a memory here, a keepsake there, a heart still and cold discarded forlornly to one side as John stoically rises and falls through it all, bloodied but unbowed.



#18 Mononoke – “Alice”

Who Mononoke actually is, may remain a mystery for the time being but there’s nothing secretive about how sublime her debut track, “Alice” is. It’s a single tear of exquisite emotion with simple and stark chords alternating with finger clicks as the vocals caress the memories of a life that never was. It’s a beautifully haunting ballad that uses the imagery of Alice In Wonderland as a metaphor for something altogether more heart wrenching and bewitchingly beautiful.



#17 Mega Emotion – “Brains”

With their debut track, Mega Emotion announced themselves to the world with big seventies pop guitars and neo-disco basslines, brash, angular riffage and dark electro flashes. “Brains” is hyper addictive and bold, raw and powerful. The soft, cool (as the other side of the pillow) female vocals are superbly juxtaposed with the frenetic, non-stop energy of the track, and while you can’t get it out of your head, you still feel like it’s going to destroy you with its massive hooks and chaotically brilliant sound.



#16 Lorde – “Royals”

We came very late to the Lorde party this year, having somehow managed to not hear a damn thing by her until deep into autumn. We’d wondered what all the fuss was about and then, on hearing “Royals”, we got it. There have, evidently, been many arguments and discussions about her stance within the song (aspiration, envy, apathy etc) but all that is secondary to the quality of the music itself. For regardless of what else it may or may not be, or what people want it to be, it is a fantastic piece of pop. Lorde’s rich, soulful vocal resonates against the sparse beat and barely there tune. It’s bold and confident, yet restrained and understated. In fact, perfectly, it is the complete opposite of the brash in your face bombardment of the bling fuelled homogenised pop she is discussing in the song, and better than anything else that has come from those hit factories all year.



So that concludes the second part of our countdown, come back tomorrow for part three and the tracks we ranked 15 – 11.

Watch: John Grant – “Pale Green Ghosts”

19 Dec

John Grant

After the hullaballoo of the last few weeks, we thought this week would be the perfect time to just relax and catch up on some tracks and videos that came in while we were neck deep in best of 2012 lists and 2013 preview pieces. So, before we take a well deserved week off over the holiday period, we will spend a couple of days with some new music and some new twists on festive classics as well. What better way to start than with a brand new track and video from the wonderful and exceptionally talented John Grant?

Last week those lovely people over at Bella Union announced that John’s second solo album, Pale Green Ghosts will be released on Monday 11 March and while we were still making a note in our diary, we were treated to a video for the title track as well.

Queen Of Denmark is one of our favourite albums of the last few years and while it played gently with a range of musical styles, nothing on it really prepared us for “Pale Green Ghosts”. It was recorded in Iceland but feels significantly more teutonic with krautrocky electronics fizzing incessantly alongside an ominous sounding refrain of strings. It’s not what we expected, all fuzzy and glitchy, but we absolutely love it. Roll on 11 March.