Quarterly Report Part 1: 20 - 11 top records from Q1 2013

Albums 20 - 11 from the first quarter of 2013.

11. Foals - Holy Fire (Foals – Holy Fire)

The Math Rock merchants return from their haunting LP Total Life Forever with Holy Fire, a record that revists the old punk philosophy of to make it better make it LOUDER. I think Foals are well aware that they've ascended the staircase of British alternative music and entered the hallowed halls of royalty, rubbing shoulders with the countless great bands that inhabit these upper echelons. Simply put, there is now always pressure on them. It starts curiously, the initial 2 minutes actually bring to mind Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose's brilliant soundtrack to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Darker, danker, much more menacing than anything I've heard from them. Those dirty guitars enter and it feels like an aggressive, beasting track. It sets the tone for the entire record. Where Foals previous two albums have sounded light, airey, even dainty at times, this has much more substance to it, a sound rooted much deeper in Funk Rock, a genre largely discarded save for a few very high profile resuscitation jobs. That's not to say their overall objective has changed dramatically. Holy Fire feels much rawer, most bands usually release their less restrained work at the beginning of their career but here Foals revert to the 90s Grunge epidemic and channel their inner teenage selves. It's a compelling contrast to Total Life Forever and Antidotes. Propelled by the anthemic singles Inhaler and My Number, and tempered by atmospheric Out Of The Woods, the Spanish Sahara moment, with Yannis ditching any facades and discussing his journey from despair to greener pastures. Catchiness is an unavoidable symptom of all work they do, and it is a quality that is embraced rather than contained.
Best Tracks:  Out Of The Woods, Inhaler, Milk & Black Spiders, My Number
Sounds Like: Radiohead, Everything Everything, The Maccabees

12.  Dawn Richard - Goldenheart (Dawn Richard – Goldenheart)

My love of modern R&B knows no bounds. Dawn Richard comes to us during a fertile period for the entire genre, roots and all, and her previous experience with big labels and BIG hit makers, such as Bad Boy and Diddy, shine through but never stand in the way of the woman herself. She serenades me. A toned down Santigold, with no less gift or talent. The whole album surges along with an inherent energy that Richard provides at all times. Return Of A Queen, Riot, Warfare. This is a woman engaging in the fight of her life. It’s all about love, but this is no Taylor Swift/Adele croon along. She rarely sounds vulnerable, her voice oozes strength. I don’t want to tussle with this woman. Then she flips the entire script on closer Goldenheart. It has her desperately remembering the past, an urgent need to be there. It’s instantly relatable, and the use of Clair de lune by Debussey perfectly complements her rose-tinted view of the past she longs for. Brilliant closer.
Best Tracks: Riot, Warfare, Goldenheart
Sounds Like: Santigold, Solange, Kelly Rowland


 13. David Bowie - The Next Day (David Bowie – The Next Day)

The Next Day is not intended to make any statements, it doesn't exist as a testament to contemporary times nor does it house any revolutionary or even evolutionary content. For someone who has been instrumental in shaping pop music, this record is the perfect outward projection of a man contented and happy. Furthermore, it comes from a 66 year old man who has achieved all he surely set out to. There is no need for this record, but we thank the musical gods he was bitten by the bug again. Less rambunctious than his last LP Reality, Bowie is thoughtful and outwardly focused, only letting us in to his inner workings on the balladry of Where Are We Now? and once on If You Can See Me, claiming he has 'a fear of rear windows'. That's ok, his keen sense of history and thirst for knowledge mean he is never short on content, the brilliant I'd Rather Be High seeing him step in to the boots of a WWII infantryman and You Feel So Lonely You Could Die he displays a cold, emotionless honesty in describing how one reacts to the depression of someone close to them. Bowie is timeless, his most recent albums always seem to sit comfortably within the contemporary landscape without adhering to any rules or trends. The same is true of The Next Day.
Best Tracks: Where Are We Now?, I'd Rather Be High, You Feel So Lonely You Could Die
Sounds Like?: David Bowie!  

14. Ra Ra Riot - Beta Love (Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love)

Ra Ra Riot's cheesy, indie/electro pop has never enticed me before Beta Love, yet now everything I didn't really like seems to have been the inspiration for the creation of an energetic blast through 11 bright and bubbly party starters. Well I say 11, there are moments of lull, yet these, When I Dream for example, brilliantly utilise vast quantities of produced music to create a comforting, lush environment in which Wes Miles can put forth his still poppy love musings. 'When I dream it's not of you'. Beta Love is Digitalism on ecstasy, Angel, Please the perfect example, the strings and Miles' falsetto- approaching bleet reach for the stars from nowhere, and you're swept up inside it. Beta Love is a stunning summer soundtrack starter. Binary Mind is jittery in the same way Atoms For Peace are, yet Miles' gift for melody ensures it wouldn't be out of place on the local dance floor at 10pm. The refreshing thing is the lack of EDM synth mush, this is much closer to the Devo's and the Depeche Mode's of the 80s than the Gaudino's and the Felix's.
Best Tracks: Binary Mind, Beta Love, Angel, Please
Sounds Like: 80s synth pop, Digitalism, Devo, Erasure

15. Juelz Santana - God Willin' (Juelz Santana - God Willin')

Who cares where Juelz Santana has been for the last 5 years, he's back now and he sounds as fresh-faced as he did as a 19 year old on Hey Ma. God Willin' may not be what the game has been missing, but it's a damn fine return. His ferocious, aggressive delivery has in no way been dimmed, he sounds positively menacing on Bad Guy, and his clarity of voice, developed during the early 2000s when radio hits demanded such a skill, is a sight to behold next to Yo Gotti on Clickin. It's akin to watching HD TV after you've been cursed with SD, and it's ironic that it takes a man who hasn't released anything meaningful since 2005 to dispense it. The production is bog-standard 2012 fare, but it serves to highlight that Santana does bring a different quality to the mic compared with the Gucci Mane's and the Waka Flocka Flame's of the world. He even indulges in a rare showing of mortality on My Will, 'Just in case I get killed tonight / I'm writing my will tonight', 'Everyday is a fight, thrilla in manila / And if I die I pray for my killer'. Refreshing if fleeting. Never tiring, either, with 18 songs and 15 guest spots, including a lifeline thrown to Jim Jones, a delicious trip down memory lane on Turn It Up with Lloyd Banks and a focused, dynamic performance from Lil Wayne on standout track Black Out, Juelz has plenty of help. Not that he needs it, this is straight fire.
Best Tracks: Bad Guy, Black Out, Soft
Sounds Like?: You're favourite early 2000s pop rappers over the top of sparkling 2013 production

16. Rhye - Woman (Rhye – Woman)

My recent re-discovery of the genre of soul was enhanced wonderfully when Rhye released Woman.  Like a warm coffee shop on a bitterly cold winters day, Woman embraces you gently, hands you something warm and slowly ushers you in to oblivion for 36 minutes. The production flits around various historical influences, utilising 70s funk, 80s pop and synth sensibilities especially on the slightly bombastic flourishes of Last Dance, as well as fervently mining the work that defined trip hop from artists such as Massive Attack, Portishead and even Zero 7. There is a healthy mix of horns and strings that entice rather than enslave the listener to a particular mood or setting. However rather than anchoring too firmly in relaxation, the tempo is always slinking forwards. Over the top of all this, Michael Milosh, yes I said Michael, lays thick layers of smooth, soul-infused vocals detailing romantic, erotic moods that capture the obsessed honeymoon phase of love brilliantly. Never complicated, Milosh discards convoluted thoughts for a less is more approach similar to the xx, using his voice equally as a tool for expression and an extra instrument. Share a hot chocolate and some honeymoon love with Rhye, it's an absolute haven.
Best Tracks: The Fall, Last Dance, 3 Days
Sounds Like: Sade, Morcheeba, Zero 7

17. Jim James - Regions Of Light And Sound Of God (Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God)

Jim James is, and rightfully so at times, accused of not cherishing a gift. His voice is one of the most iconic in modern music, it's flawless qualities stunningly on display for anyone lucky enough to witness My Morning Jacket live in concert. A solo album then appears to be the perfect canvas on which to spread his vocal wings and treat us. Unfortunately, whilst we are blessed to hear its full glory on occasion, such as the haunting opener State Of The Art and the oddball All Is Forgiven, too often he retreats in to that MMJ mindset of burying his voice behind layers of sound and reverb. Still, it doesn't detract from the overall listening experience of this project. Journeying in to the mind of James we're greeted with this manic desire for control, from the ardent statement of the rejection of technology on the opener to his confident assurance to a troubled loved one on Dear One, 'Dear one, you always pushed the boundaries of my soul / We fly found love and finally gained control' and his sea-change dreams on A New Life. Packaging all this is an odd mix of sounds, James seems to leap from roots and all soul singer, languidly delivering over rising strings and guitars, to left field Middle Eastern influences that includes a severely over worked Oboe. Still, it creates an interesting mix, you won't be bored!
Best Tracks: State Of The Art (A.E.I.O.U.), A New Life, Know Til Now
Sounds Like: Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket, Matthew E. White

18.  Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse (Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse)

Never allow stereotypes to get in the way of good music. I had a friend who loved Frightened Rabbit, but I hated my friend. Therefore I hated Frightened Rabbit. Insanity. Pedestrian Verse is an exercise in the other side of UK alternative music. Big, giant sounding rock records, chasing the ever vanishing tale of U2. But Frightened Rabbit don't let that disappearing dream sour the experience, rather they relax and allow their insane guitars to breach the stratosphere and truly, well and truly, rock. If their live shows are anywhere close to their potential, dazed hipsters will be wandering around thinking they've just had a religious experience, similar to what you find after a Script gig. Centring the project is Scott Hutchison, who, if you're weary of elevated heart rates and sore hands from using your steering wheel as a drum kit, can finally deliver a matured version of every Scottish man's pillars: Love, War, Religion. On Backyard Skulls he is at his most venemous, digging amongst the muck of history and exposing the atrocities of those past. On Late March, Death March, he sings 'I cursed in church again, and the hand-claps all fell quiet / I watched the statue of you cry' as he struggles internally with a blatant split from religion that filled his younger life. This is Frightened Rabbit's best release, and I fear it may grow on me ever further as the year progresses.
Best Tracks: Woodpile, Holy, Acts Of Man
Sounds Like? Arcade Fire, Foals, U2

19. A$AP Rocky - LONG.LIVE.A$AP (A$AP Rocky – LONG.LIVE.A$AP (Deluxe Version)

Kenrick Lamar's influence may yet be seen for decades to come, yet already, merely months after his groundbreaking LP, A$AP Rocky has delivered a gem that, inadvertently giving the timings, follows GKMC's legendary blueprint. A more apt way to describe it would be the influence of the Black Hippy movement, and the idea now that records need to be crafted from all angles. To write a modern day classic it is no longer enough to enlist Pharrell and Dr. Dre and spit 16 of your best over whatever they come up with. Producers need to be handled carefully, an aesthetic needs to be built and maintained, and a theme needs to endure. We knew A$AP had the ability to invite us in to his VIP lounge with his slight drawl and laid-back delivery when Purple Swag came out. On LONG.LIVE.A$AP, he delivers an entire album that expertly mixes new age techniques from Clams Casino and T-Minus with genuine old school hard headedness, like the brilliant Fuckin' Problems or the 90s throwback 1Train, which even manages to survive a Yelawolf guest spot. There's even a beasting Skrillex number, you'll be rolling without rolling. Rocky doesn't scale the lyricals peaks that Lamar managed, he remains moored in the waters of drugs, girls, and money. When he does address the less glamorous side of life it is usually him languishing in the pursuit of fame or mired in its pitfalls, although the very first line is 'I thought I'd probably die in prison', which is a sobering yet slightly optimistic thought to being your first album with. It is an excellent record, well worth the wait, and the star-studded guest list is testament to the potential Rocky has.
Best Tracks: PMW, Fuckin' Problems, 1Train
Sounds Like: Black Hippy (Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar)


20. Curren$y - New Jet City (Curren$y - New Jet City) free mixtape

I've been listening to Curren$y's newest offering whilst running. This may seem extremely counter-productive, as Spitta's dulcet, weed-haze music seems like the antithesis to a high intensity work out. It actually provides the perfect escape. The instant you switch on his music you join his world, a wonderful fantasy land where all anxiety seeps away and you're almost meditative such is the hypnotic nature of his drone perfect flow. Much is written about the man's propensity towards a pre-determined sound. Whether Curren$y sets out directly to achieve this goal on each project, or whether it comes in to being as part of his process is unclear. He has an inherent gift to ride any beat. His hook work on NJC is focused and effective, and lyrically he is, as usual, witty, dry, dismissing, matching his guests (for the most) on wordplay. As Lil Wayne drifts deeper in to the abyss of a drug-addled mind, Spitta seems to have struck the perfect balance. He cuts through the weed haze when need be, but mainly likes to be viewed obscured by it.
Best Tracks: Three 60, Mary, These Bitches 
Sounds Like?: Whiz Khalifa, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q

 

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