Hell March was just too good. I can’t even…just… YOU GUYS! So as a consequence you’re getting a double blast of Five-Finger New Music Punch (perhaps even a triple if you count the B-Sides!). This isn’t even the very tip of the iceberg, but I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of the albums these tracks are from on this list will be cornerstones of this years End-of-Year lists – use this cheat-sheet to get ahead.
THE KNIFE – A Tooth For An Eye
Whilst it took me a while to really feel ‘Full of Fire’, maybe it was the woman peeing behind the car in the video (& hellip;and what – so sue me!), but the goddamn second single and opening tracking from the completely different sounding but still awesome Shaking The Habitual ‘A Tooth For An Eye’ is an absolute winner. Direct, impassioned, tropical, joyously memorable rather than wholly haunting. Add it to the pile with ‘Silent Shout’, ‘Heartbeats’ and ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’ as how-to guide to for your not-cool non-Knife-aware friends to start getting cool and Knife-aware.
JOHN GRANT – Black Belt
I reallllllyyy wasn’t expecting this. I had a pre-conceived idea of what John Grant sounded like from what I understood of his work and a brief memory of the dark and folksy Queen of Denmark (and fear due to the slightly terrifying album artwork). But this track and ‘Pale Green Ghost’s completely subverts those notions. This is quite simply a banger, with deliciously snarky lyrics delivered with magnificently cool, James Murphy-esque ease. I like the idea of the adaptable troubadour whose sound changes, and is healthily challenged depending on who they’re collaborating with. On Pale Green Ghosts he collaborates with Biggi Veira of electrohouse purveyors GusGus, and it often pays off with bountiful dividends whether the new sounds are employed at its most overt on this track, or elsewhere on the album when it’s more subtle.
DANNY BROWN – Kush Coma
Hearing Danny rap over beats this killer is thrilling, backing up his bucket-loads of personality with beats to match. XXX had some cool flavours – the upcoming Old is threatening to be pretty damn gourmet.
VAMPIRE WEEKEND – Diane Young
Vampire Weekend’s previous adventures in the realm of autotune-y experimentation with ‘California English’ off of Contra was met with a somewhat divisive response, but there’s a brilliance to the pitchshifting hook, here that’s just the cherry on top of the magnetic brilliance of ‘Diane Young’. It’s a rockabilly freakout with the exhiliratingly frantic madness of ‘Cousins’, translated through that ‘Upper West Side Soweto’ sound they’ve made their distinctive stamp. It does more remarkable, amusing, magnificent things in 2 minutes 40 seconds than some bands do on entire albums.
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE – Blue Ocean Floor
I was expecting some great things from The 20/20 Experience (and I got them: one of the most, if not the most ambitious and bold pop records of the 2000s, and regardless of your taste you should give it a spin) but this closing track has really caught my attention in a way that I hadn’t expected. It’s in a style evidently drawing from the rich vein of indie R&B that’s been doing the rounds the last few years, but it’s a guise that really, really suits JT. Romantic, rewinding, soporific production weaves its magic in the background, but at its most stripped back moment on the record, the vocal-work is at its most sublime, peaking on the chorus where chills and your spine will be making friends very soon. On a record with some awkward metaphors (“Blueberry Lollipop” eesh), the imagery here of heartbeats like sonar waves “If I can’t hear you through the white noise / Just send your heartbeat, I’ll go the blue ocean floor”is potent, heartrending and completely breath-taking, capturing that feeling that ‘you’ll do whatever it takes to get back to the one you love’ in a way that eliminates all the icky triteness from that sentence.
SCHOOLBOY Q – Yay Yay
There’s not a great deal of development from Habits & Contradictions evidenced here – the beat and thematic content (drugs) would have fit in perfectly with the likes of ‘There We Go’ and ‘My Hatin’ Joint’. But, fuelled no doubt by the runaway success of TDE last year and his recent placement in XXL’s Freshman class, the confidence with which ScHoolboy handles the track and delivers his rhymes is worth commendation.
SHLOHMO – Later
The whole Laid Out EP Shlohmo put out last month is pretty phenomenal – full of intriguing ideas executed with precision and charisma. Centrepiece ‘Later’ though is the standout track for me, symptomatic of everything else the EP sets out to achieve but elevated above it by its intensity. That wailing, distorted so as to be wheezingly indecipherable, vocal line sample is the defining feature of the track is immensely powerful – supremely emotive and yet somehow eminently danceable.
PHOSPHORESCENT – Song For Zula
Muchacho has earned the right to a thorough listening very soon (I’m a busy man okay?), because this song is quite simply beautiful burning with emotion– Matthew Houck’s distinctively Alabaman vocals are impassioned in their story-telling mode, and they’re backed here with grand and instrumentation that affords such passion: rhythm section soothingly simple, gorgeous strings expertly employed so that they work to both subtly infuse and then truly elevate the track.
DEVENDRA BANHART – Für Hildegard von Bingen
It was at this point, three tracks into Mala that I could really feel like Devendra was back in town. Loose, laidback and warm yet all somehow held together by a certain nervous energy – it’s a great little number. Disappointingly it could certainly benefit from really breaking out, bursting out of the seed on display here into a full-fledged work of some brilliance instead of fading out. The main reason frustration being that the groove picked up here is so great, it could run for miles and even suggests it might as the patient pace is accelerated at the halfway point, with drums fully kicking in and the bassline turned up a notch, but despite the apparently self-imposed limits on the song-writing there’s much here to be satisfied alone with, particularly when it’s followed up by ‘Never Seen Such Good Things’ and ‘Mi Negrita’ – man some of the songs on this album are great.
DAVID BOWIE – The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
Not only was The Next Day remarkable for being a startling reminder of Bowie’s musical capabilities after so long away, but also served as a prescient opportunity for an artist to take a look at themselves, but also to offer their take on the contemporary state of affairs. In this particular case, and for someone whose forged their reputation entirely off their talent and art brilliantly so, the omnipresence of celebrity culture “Gleaming like blackened sunshine” is taken on. Whilst his critiques and imagery are appropriately withering, it’s not so much given a skewering though, as refracted through a worldly analytical lens that exposes the expansive paradoxical world of the psychology, mechanisms and behaviour that underscore such a Babylonian entity. With each repetition of “stars” and each line a new layer is added, so that by the end: the public, the individuals involved, the paparazzi, the press and the machines of its operation, are all on display – a seemingly alien world broken down so that bundled links, lives toxicity, emotions, triumphs and follies that make it up are exposed, and all revealed to be ultimately human after all.
Mount Kimbie – Made To Stray
Sigur Rós – Brennisteinn
Bilal – West Side Girl
Daughter – Youth
Rhye – Hunger