This Week's Best Album Streams: 6th March 2013
I know what you're expecting. I can read you lot like an open book. Or maybe a hacked Kindle book. You think the top album stream I recommend you this week is The Next Day, the new David Bowie album that you can listen to in full on iTunes. But I like to confound expectations, ladies and gentleman, much like a magician, or a cruel parent who promises their child a new games console for Christmas and places a PlayStation Vita rather than... anything else, under the tree. You've all already heard The Next Day, and the artist formerly known as Davy Jones doesn't really need any more publicity. And what am I going to say about Bowie that hasn't already been said? All I have is my dream to one day have a birthday party where everybody dresses as a different incarnation of the singer, from Ziggy to the Thin White Duke. And that's not a review, that's just something I think about a lot when I wish I had friends. Here's some over, lesser-advertised album streams that have appeared in a puff of smoke online this week.
Rachel Zeffira – The Deserters (The Fader)
On Earth Prime, we got Skying, the third and least exciting album by the Horrors. Gone was the noise and scuzz of their Strange House, and the Jesus and Mary Chain psychocandydelia of Primary Colours. It was, in my opinion, pretty boring. What was way more exciting was the interloper from Earth-2, an alternate reality where front man Faris Badwan was a Phil Spector-like pop impresario – only with better hair, and less of a penchant for handguns. He teamed up with classically-trained singer Rachel Zeffira under the name Cat's Eyes, and released a brilliant album inspired by sixties girl groups, with a fine underlay of krautrock and distortion. I loved it. Now Faris is busy on Horrors LP #4, Zeffira has struck out on her own with a gorgeous solo record, The Deserters, which has the same delicate balance of melody and propulsion, like baroque/chamber pop you actually want to listen and dance to. Five stars.
Wild Belle – Isles (Exclaim!)
From one wall of sound to another, Chicagoan siblings Wild Belle's debut effort is like a Pick-n-Mix of genres – dubby rhythms and piano stabs, saxes where you can listen to the notes that are being played, some electro-pop synths, and the striking and adaptable vocal prowess of Natalie Bergman. It's like summer's already here! You've probably heard opener 'Keep You' plenty since it's all over the 6Music playlist like a heat rash, but it's a rash I highly recommend you keep scratching, because it's a brilliant pop song. Don't neglect the rest of the record, though – it's suffused with woozy beach baby tracks to hold an unseasonable barbecue too.
John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts (The Guardian)
Before listening to this I knew John Grant more as a beard than a man. I knew his first solo album, Queen of Denmark, was recorded with Midlake, who I like a lot. And I heard he was a bit 'dark'. Which turns out to be an understatement. Pale Green Ghosts sounds like Nick Cave if he chucked out all the Biblical stuff and turned to the more interesting sides of eighties electronica: Cabaret Voltaire, OMD, all that good stuff. This album was recorded under the shadow of Grant's diagnosis with HIV, which is addressed directly on the track 'Ernest Borgnine'. It's a remarkably well constructed record, by turns intense, witty, angry, catchy, and atmospheric. “John Grant has been through a hell of a lot in his 44 years and Pale Green Ghosts stands as a testament to being open, honest and creative when it matters most,” Andrew Hannah wrote in his review of the album. “There are many artists out there who would do well to take a leaf out of his book.”
Millionyoung – Variable (Consequence of Sound)
I'm pretty sure I've upturned this column before to stand on, soapbox like, and rant in defence of chillwave. But let me just reiterate the basic points: most of the music sounds lovely, the genre label isn't any more stupid than most generated in the past decade (nu-rave? Post-dubstep? Witch house?) even if it is a Hipster Runoff coinage, and the music is lovely. Millionyoung is almost classically chillwave, if that wasn't an incredibly silly thing to write about a sub-genre that's barely out of short pants. Mike Diaz is a one-man band (tick), native of Florida (sun-kissed tick), and self-released a couple of bedroom-recorded EPs (tick and tick) before his debut proper, 2011's Replicants. So, here is a list of things Variable, his third full-length, sounds like: Washed Out, tispy nights on a warm beach, Toro Y Moi, a mental montage of every ambient and chilled-out trip-hop track you ever heard, Panda Bear, happiness.
Sometimes I tweet. Do you tweet? If you want to tweet together sometime, my handle is @tennis_everyone.
So I guess iTunes is the proprietary platform for streaming albums now? Last week it was the place to hear the new Bowie, and this week it's holding an exclusive listening party for that guy from N*Sync's comeback record (which maybe isn't quite as anticipated as The Next Day, even if they both the performer in question turned out to be pretty good actors and have both had terrible haircuts). You know Justin Timberlake owns MySpace as well, right? [read more]
My Twitter feed has been jammed with people talking about one central topic this past week: the John Lewis Christmas Advert. Has this become a thing? Have we so lost sight of tradition through our free market capitalism that we no longer see Christmas as a magical time? A time when people come together for one single, special event which we can all share - the first airing of the Coca-Cola Christmas Advert? [read more]