I know, I know, the year is far from over. But in these crazy, high-octane times when information moves so fast that it can leave you with motion sickness, it is worth taking stock and listening to some of the best records to be released this year. Don’t wait and attempt to catch up when New Year’s Eve clocks on. Get with the program. Now.
The Physical World
Ten years after releasing their only full-length studio record, Sebastien Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler have reappeared with a fresh, uber-catchy and raw garage-rock barrage. These are 11 tracks of high-energy, punked up, balls-to-the-wall dancefloor stompers. Shortly after the Canadian duo’s lauded 2004 debut album, electro-rockers CSS penned a track called ‘Let’s Make Love and Listen To Death From Above’. It seems that, once again, it’s time to get down and dirty.
After last year’s mature acoustic opus Rewind The Film, Manic Street Preachers return with their trademark intellectual pomposity, robust musical innovations, unpredictable melodies and playful glam. With strong krautrock influences, Futurology is a mixed bag of sounds that demands repeated listens. Twelve albums into their career, the Welsh three-piece still defy categorisation and push sonic boundaries.
After the sweet pop-rock of their self-titled and criminally catchy debut record, The Magic Numbers started exploring darker moods and more expansive arrangements. With some sublime female vocal harmonies at their disposal and singer Romeo Stodart’s sturdy guitar chops, The Magic Numbers’ songwriting has potent elements. Fourth record Alias, opens with six-minute haunting epic ‘Wake Up’ before continuing to make some bold musical statements. Then The Magic Numbers really surprise when the strings of smooth disco anthem ‘E.N.D.’ appear. By the finale of the album you will have fallen in love with them all over again.
The Ocean at the End
After 10 years away, it would have been foolish to think Canada’s mystic prog-rockers The Tea Party would return with anything less than a bold, stadium-sized record. The Ocean at the End saw the band end their hiatus, bury the hatchet and lock themselves away for 18 months until they had an album worthy of their monstrous back catalogue. The Ocean at the End contains Jeff Martin’s spiritual lyrics and deep, melodramatic vocals, Burrows’ Bonham-esque drumming and Stuart Chatwood’s thundering bass. Welcome back, lads.
It takes serious balls to call your new record Singles. Is every track a potential single? Probably. But as radiant as this synth-pop album is, Future Islands are best experienced on stage. Singer Samuel Herring dresses like a Bible salesman, sings like Bobby Womack and gesticulates like a firebrand preacher. And while Singles is an adequate document of their sound, capturing the soulful quality of Herring’s voice, it has spacious, shimmering ’80s production that could add a dash of sex to any social gathering. Singles is surely the soundtrack of the coming summer.
Closing Forever Sky
On their 2009 debut record, The Bowery, Firekites gave us a sweet, wistful indie-folk record. With crisp acoustic guitar parts that playfully intertwined amid organic percussion and Tim McPhee and Jane Tyrrell’s vocals, the album captured fond suburban memories and small moments of significance. It was music best played at either sunrise or sunset. It was radiant. Closing Forever Sky is Firekites music that breathes best at night, deconstructing the pristine qualities of The Bowery and rebuilding them into a darker, more spacious and atmospheric layer cake. It’s as if the dream-like opening textures of Sonic Youth’s ‘Candle’ have been expanded into a full-length musical study. The result is something beautiful, hypnotic and meditative. Closing Forever Sky is likely to be in many Top 10 lists of 2014.
When Beck releases a new record, most music purists rightfully stop to sit down and absorb it. Morning Phase rewarded those listeners, with the consistently fascinating songwriter delivering a stunning dream-folk opus that returns to the sensibilities of 2002’s Sea Change. But, dare I say it, Morning Phase is even more wondrous. Using much of the same band as Sea Change, including both drummer Joey Waronker and his composer father David Campbell, Beck’s latest musical sojourn is essential listening.
Ironically, it feels like Exits might in fact be Steve Smyth’s grand entrance. He has one of the music world’s most impressive beards, but from it rolls one of music’s most unique and mesmeric voices. Anyone that has had the chance to see Smyth wail out a note-perfect, unaccompanied Sam Cooke number on stage knows that this guy is not just a musician, but a conduit that brings music into a spiritual realm. Exits shows off his vocal range, from the almost unsettling gravelled Tom Waits growl to the soaring, piercing Jeff Buckley-esque notes. His music fuses gypsy-folk with rock and everything in between, he pens incisive lyrics and his songwriting is beyond compare. Music nerds take note: this record also features Joey Waronker on the skins.
Lost In The Dream
It’s safe to assume that Lost In The Dream will feature large in most Top 10 lists this year. So it should. The third album from the Philadelphia quartet, led by mastermind Adam Granduciel, and counting Kurt Vile amongst its former members, is indeed an echoed, dreamy folk-rock album. It is a lush, layered excursion that straddles the influences of both Americana and some of Montreal’s grandiose indie-pop acts. It’s as if Kevin Shields collaborated and produced an Arcade Fire album. Though diverse in mood, from upbeat tracks like ‘Red Eyes’ to chiming slow-burners like ‘Suffering’, Lost In The Dream is cohesive and consistent, placing you in a trance from which you never want to wake.
From the first notes of opener ‘Cavalier’, it’s apparent that James Vincent McMorrow has given the world a stunning gift this year. His vocals across Post Tropical are fragile, like shards of melting glass, and bring the listener an ecstasy that is difficult to quantify. Leaving behind the acoustic folk of his previous release, the Irish singer-songwriter opts for icy, piercing vocal overdubs, stinging organ chords and vast, spacious production. His stunning voice floats across you, buoyed by transcendental melodies. And when you think Post Tropical can’t contain any more beauty it ends with ‘Outside, Digging’, a track that words will never do justice. Just listen to it and have your spirit uplifted.