Wednesday, 11 December 2013
2013 has been a good year for pop. Not the bland lowest common denominator pop that the likes of Will.i.am, Olly Murs and their like continue to peddle out, but pop that has a sense of substance, lyrical interest and a hint of thought beyond how to get a-list radio plays and subsequent chart to bargain bin sales.
No one artist has typified good pop more than Lorde. Royals, a song that shrugs off the aspirations of much of modern pop culture (“gold teeth, Grey Goose, tripping in the bathroom” or "Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timpiece, jet planes, islands, tiger's on a gold leash, we don't care, we aren't caught up in your love affair") went from free download / blog buzz hype track to worldwide chart topper over the course of about 11 months and has given its young protagonist Ella Yelich-O’Connor the opportunity to experience exactly the things she sang about if she wanted. But Ella appears to be cut from a different cloth. Her album Pure Heroine fights against the standard pop formula of glamour and romance; in a cooly detached voice she sings of being “kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air,” and “it’s a new art form, showing people how little we care.” It’s the type of album that only a bored 16 year old teenager living many miles from New York or London could make.
Despite its disenchanted lyrical approach, musically Pure Heroine is bang on the money. Sticking to a template of near minimalism, this record is all about subtle beats, effects and electronic simplicity with nods to both hip-hop and modern R ‘n’ B. Pure Heroine isn’t packed with variety – there’s one great idea carried through coloured in different shades – but that’s the point; it’s a great idea.
In a year when the best pop has matched other genres not only in its traditional battleground of the singles chart but with quality albums that deserve to be taken seriously, Lorde’s Pure Heroine has been part of that charge.
Lorde - Royals (Video)
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Released back in February, Holy Fire finds itself at number 10 in Breaking More Waves favourite albums of the year list. The third long player from the Oxford based five piece is their loosest sounding record and also their most ambitious. It doesn’t always strike the right chords, but like many other albums in our top 15 of 2013, sometimes it’s the faults in the record that are as endearing as the moments of perfection.
When a rock band’s record is labelled as ambitious, there’s a tendency to think of them aiming to be the next U2 or Coldplay; aiming for stadiums and music for the masses that will drink lager out of four pound plastic pints and bawl along to the big choruses. Holy Fire isn’t one of those records. It has songs that stood no chance of getting in the UK Top 40 - although the choppy grooves of My Number became the bands biggest hit in the UK at no.23. Instead their ambition is demonstrated in the way that Holy Fire sounds broader and sonically more confident that their previous work which was often twitchy, introverted and sounded as if too many barriers had been imposed by the band to enable themselves to really cut loose.
Take Milk & Black Spiders which spirals into something rather beautiful by its end or Inhaler a dirty claustrophobic rock song that shows just how muscular Foals can be. It's tunes like these that make Holy Fire a fantastic rock record.
In a year when indie rock has struggled to do anything more than simply repeat itself with ever decreasing returns, Holy Fire steps out of that circle and wins. The best British indie rock album of the year.
Foals - Inhaler
Monday, 9 December 2013
In an ideal world Breaking More Waves annual Ones to Watch feature would work like this:
1. We name an artist as One to Watch for a particular year.
2. The artist in question releases an album in the following 12 months.
3. We name the album as one of our favourites in the albums of the year list feature.
Back in 2008, we named Little Boots as One to Watch in 2009. That year she released Hands. It didn’t feature on our end of year list.
It’s taken until 2013 for a Little Boots album (her second) to get there. Better late than never.
Having parted ways with her record label Victoria Hesketh returned to the neon lit dance floors for Nocturnes. There she found the songs to create a highly sophisticated dance pop album. Nocturnes is an album of hypnotic grooves, catchy hooks and enough variety to maintain its momentum, yet it always feels wholly consistent as a piece of work. In short it's rather good.
From the dark pulses and throbs of Motorway (listen to it on headphones for full effect) to the closing slinky euphoric call of Satellite, Nocturnes is an album to put on when you want to feel alive. You don’t need the strobes and dry ice of the dancefloor to enjoy it though, it’s perfect for those hairbrush in hand, bedroom mirror moments as well.
For those who wrote off Little Boots after the initial hype and who haven’t heard Nocturnes, we highly recommend you reacquaint yourself with Miss Hesketh. Another victory for good pop in the war over bad pop. Our eleventh favourite of 2013.
Little Boots - Satellite (Video)
Sunday, 8 December 2013
Following on from the PSB (Public Service Broadcasting) at number 13 in the Breaking More Waves album of the year list we have another duo with the initials PSB at number 12. After Elysium, the band’s previous release, it looked like the Pet Shop Boys were dead musically. The record sounded tired; we assumed the synth pop legends had lost their zest.
We were wrong. 2013’s release Electric is a stormer. It found the band rediscovering their love for the dancefloor and high energy pop. Forget Miley Cyrus and her Bangerz, all the pop bangers you really need are on this record. From the opening pulses of Axis, which sounds like the MDMA version of Jean Michel Jarre, complete with a Kraftwerk like vocal intoning “electric energy", through to its euphoric final track Vocal, Electric finds the Pet Shop Boys reinvigorated, super-sharp and doing what they do best. Whilst there are obvious nods to their long and esteemed past on tracks like the West End Girls referencing Thursday (which features a guest vocal from Example) and the brilliant intelligent euro-disco of Love Is A Bourgeois Construct - a distant cousin of their cover of Go West - Electric is undeniably the Pet Shop Boys finest record for a very long time.
Pet Shop Boys - Thursday (Video)