Sunday, 31 December 2017

Favourite Albums of 2017 - A Summary List

We’ve nearly reached the end of 2017.

And I’ve finished with a series of posts highlighting some of my favourite albums of the past year. There’s been 15 of them uploaded on to the blog today. You can read them all by clicking here.

But for those of you who would prefer just a simple list with no explanations, let me oblige.

Breaking More Waves Favourite Albums of 2017

1. Lorde – Melodrama
2. Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia
3. Gang Of Youths – Go Farther In Lightness
4. Tom Adams – Silence
5. Lucy Rose – Something’s Changing
6. Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer
7. The Big Moon – Love In The 4th Dimension
8. Laura Marling – Semper Femina
9. Wolf Alice – Visions Of A Life
10. Alt-J – Relaxer
11. Brian Eno – Reflection
12. Alice jemima – Alice Jemima
13. AK/DK – Patterns / Harmonics
14. Ibeyi – Ash
15. Curxes – Gilded Cage

A Spotify playlist featuring a couple of tracks from each album can be found by clicking here.

Favourite Albums of 2017 #1 Lorde - Melodrama

And so there you have it. Lorde’s Melodrama is (by the thinnest of whiskers) my favourite album of the year.

Why? For one really simple reason. When I look back across 2017 it’s the record that has glued itself to me the most. It was undoubtedly the soundtrack to my summer, but in the cold of winter it’s still there. 

Melodrama is a pop record. There’s a school of thought, particularly amongst certain rock fans that all pop music is transient and disposable. But to adopt that view is blinkered; great pop can carry as much emotional and intellectual resonance as any record from so called ‘serious’ genres. And Melodrama carries its weight very well.

For anyone who has been living under a rock in 2017 Melodrama is Lorde’s second album, the follow up to her 2013 debut Pure Heroine, which was ninth on my end of year list.  It’s core themes are the highs and lows of relationships and using hedonism to block out the break-up lows. If that all sounds a bit ‘we kissed then split and I got drunk in da club’ boring then let’s remember that we’re talking about Lorde here and one of the things that makes her so special is her clear strength of character, intelligence and ability to pen fascinating turns of phrase. “Blow all my friendships to sit in hell with you, but we’re the greatest, they’ll hang us in the Louvre, down the back, but who cares, still the Louvre,” she sings in a line that is brilliantly reckless, self-aware and oddly positive on one of my favourite songs The Louvre. Oh, and from the some song: "I over think your punctuation use." I don't even know why I love this line so much, but maybe it's because my own punctuation is pretty appalling at times so what does that say about me?

As a listener and a fan, it’s inevitable that sometimes we have certain expectations of an artist. For example, if you’re a fan of The National you probably wouldn’t expect them to team up with Calvin Harris to produce an album of happy ravey house bangers ready for Ibiza and may well be disappointed if they did. My concern with Lorde after Pure Heroine was that essentially Pure Heroine had just 1 musical idea - a very strong idea – but only one. It was an album painted in the black and white of minimalist electronic pop. If she repeated that idea on album 2 the idea would soon get cold and as a listener I’d be putting on my coat and trudging off home. Melodrama needed more than just 1 USP for me and by gosh, it delivered on those expectations. It nearly went rainbow technicolour.  It had proper all out pop dance bangers like Green Light and Supercut, heartbreaking ballads like Liability: “They say you’re a little too much for me, you’re a liability….so they pull back, make other plans, I understand” but still carried the essence of the debut album on songs like Homemade Dynamite. Melodrama cast Lorde’s net wider and now gives her platform to go in many directions for album three. Even though this is an exceptional pop record it gives you the impression that there could be even better still to come.

Ultimately what has made Lorde’s Melodrama my album of the year is the same thing that has defined past favourites; great songs. Pure and simple. It hooked me in on first listen and hasn’t let go since. 

Lorde - Green Light

Lorde - Perfect Places (Video)

Favourite Albums of 2017 #2 Hannah Peel - Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia

In 2017 there was no other record quite like Hannah Peel’s Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia.

Whilst it’s listed as my 2nd favourite record of 2017, ask me on any alternate day and depending on my mood, thoughts and where I am it could quite easily be number 1.

This is an instrumental seven-movement piece composed for analogue synthesizers and a full traditional 29-piece colliery brass band, the brass being recorded live at The Barnsley Civic Theatre with Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio team. It is quite simply a breathtaking record. I know that word is over used in music writing, but in this case, believe me it’s true.

The album soundtracks the tale of an unknown, elderly, pioneering, electronic musical stargazer and her lifelong dream to leave her terraced home in the mining town of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, to see Cassiopeia for herself. On her journey she witnesses the sunrise through the dusty nebula, a deep space cluster and many more sights and sounds before eventually arriving at the planet of passed souls.

The juxtaposition of Hannah’s keyboards and the brass orchestra works perfectly together creating a hugely cinematic spectrum of music that has some gentle synergies with Also sprach Zarathustra, Op 30:Prelude by Richard Strauss.

Having seen Hannah talk about this album at her shows it seems that the concept behind it is linked to Hannah’s previous record Awake But Always Dreaming which was inspired by her grandmother’s dementia. When Hannah visited an Alzheimer’s Research Centre she saw that brain neurons observed through a microscope looked just like stars in space. So, this journey isn’t perhaps really an external one at all but an exploration taking place in the mind. If it is it certainly ends with the most exultant piece of music as life passes away to the planet of passed souls.

As I wrote in my previous post, there are two records this year that have made me shed a tear. This is the second one. Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia is an evocative and epic melancholy musical journey, one which I have travelled with many times this year. It’s an album that really needs to be absorbed in one sitting via headphones with no interruptions and no pauses, ideally whilst gazing up at the stars. Absolute perfection.

Hannah Peel - Sunrise Through The Dusty Nebula

Hannah Peel - Archid Orange Dwarf 

Favourite Albums of 2017 #3 Gang Of Youths - Go Farther In Lightness

Ever since the first end of year album lists were published in November (and I adopted my grumpy old man face whilst stamping up and down shouting ‘that’s not an end of year list there’s still a bloody month to go’) I’ve been busy scanning them all looking for one particular name. And of the fair amount that I’ve seen by UK and US authors that name is massively conspicuous by its absence. And why am I so certain that it should be on at least some lists? Because if you look at similar lists produced by publications in their homeland of Australia Gang of Youths second album Go Farther In Lightness is everywhere.

Is it really that US / UK critics and fans have such different tastes to our friends down under? I doubt it. I have a feeling that Go Farther in Lightness simply hasn’t had the sort of exposure it deserves here yet and that maybe we're not all quite as interconnected via the web as we're lead to believe. Yet despite the lack of US /UK press adoration the band have a show scheduled for the Forum in Kentish Town, London next May. Hardly a tiny club. Who needs the journalists eh?

So, if you’re reading this and thinking that you’ve never heard of this band or their music, and if you like rock groups such as The National, The Walkmen, Bruce Springsteen, Arcade Fire, a touch of U2, as well as classical music then you really need to seek out Go Farther in Lightness. It’s the greatest rock ‘n’ roll record you haven’t heard yet.

This album is a huge, sprawling double LP that deals in its widest sense with that thing that we call life. It’s hugely ambitious, poignant, raw, reflective, packed with emotion and in Dave Le’aupepe the band not only have a fine front man but someone who isn’t afraid to be beautifully honest. His heart isn't just open but ripped fully exposed and pounding hard. I’ve cried listening to two records this year. Admittedly both times I was incredibly tired and worn out, but those tears gave me life. This is one of those two records I cried to.

The whole of Go Farther in Lightness is so perfectly constructed and curated. From the opening Fear and Trembling, which bears some similarity to Springsteen’s Thunder Road and the belters of What Can I Do If The Fire Goes Out and Atlas Drowned through to closing Say Yes To Life (even the titles of these songs give me shivers) this is a record that takes you on a huge sweeping emotional journey that includes beautiful ballads, instrumental string arrangements that give nods to both Guns ‘N’ Roses as well as Phillip Glass, and even slightly groovy adult pop on Let Me Down Easy.

Six months ago I had never heard of Gang of Youths. It was thanks to a Twitter follower / blog reader and now subsequent real-life friend (@areyouokabi) that I discovered them when we took a chance together to go and watch them in a nightclub near where she lives. Now I just can’t stop playing Go Farther in Lightness.

A truly glorious record. A record full of all of the complexities of life. It’s number 3 in my list of favourite albums of 2017. 

Gang of Youths - Atlas Drowned

Gang of Youths - The Deepest, Sighs the Frankest Shadows (Video)

Favourite Albums of 2017 #4 Tom Adams - Silence

OK, so as we get closer to revealing my favourite record of the year I think now is an opportune moment to say that the top 4 records on this list were all very close to being number 1. There’s very little to choose between them. What made it even harder to choose was that all 4 records are so very different from each other.

But choose I must and so at number 4 is Silence by Tom Adams. It’s a record that I half expected to see crop up on a number of end of year lists, particularly on sites that support lesser known / independent artists, but for reasons unknown that hasn’t happened. 

Silence is Tom’s fully-fledged debut album and one I’ve become fully obsessed with since its Spring release this year. It’s a body of work full of calm, big spaces, shifting ruminative atmospheres and true beauty. It’s tender, celestial and the music, much of it formed through piano chords and ambient electronics manages to be both introspective and expansive at the same time. It’s a record that could appeal to fans of Sigur Ros, Jeff Buckley, Nils Frahm and Coldplay (or at least those who like Coldplay’s softer more intimate moments). 

Silence is such a beautiful thing it requires just that – absolute silence to listen to it. When you find yourself in a quiet space, this one fits perfectly.

Tom Adams - Tides

Favourite Albums of 2017 #5 Lucy Rose - Something's Changing

Up until the release of Lucy Rose’s third album Something’s Changing I’d always found a her a little bit of a frustrating artist. I loved so many of her songs (a quick trawl through this blog will show you how many times I’ve featured them over the years) yet when it came to pulling it all together and creating an album there was always a nagging feeling that something just wasn’t quite fitting correctly. Sometimes what an artist produces doesn’t match with your own expectations.

The title of her new record seemed entirely appropriate then, as third time round everything seems to have changed for me and fallen into place perfectly. Having signed to a major, recorded two albums, seemingly become a bit disillusioned with music, left the label, toured South America by playing gigs put on by fans (which she documented in a moving film which you can see by clicking here) and signed with Communion (a label that seems far more fitting with Lucy’s sound) Something’s Changing is a product of those experiences. That doesn’t mean that you’ll find all sorts of Latin American rumba and salsa noises on Something’s Changing. Far from it. What Lucy’s experiences seem to have taught her is that there is an audience out there for her, and that audience just want her to be true to herself; to write songs and play them in the way she knows.

Something’s Changing achieves exactly that. It’s arguably her least commercial album; there’s no attempt at an indie pop crossover hit on this one. Instead it is a calming, pure sounding collection of songs that features collorative work with Elena Tonra from Daughter, The Staves and Emma Gatrill from Matthew And The Atlas. It was all recorded with Tim Bidwell who some of you may remember from his work with Kate Walsh. There’s a lot of similarities between Lucy’s record and Kate’s album Tim’s House in that the arrangements of the songs are never over complicated, letting Lucy’s beautiful voice and the melodies to come to the fore. 

Something’s Changing is one of those records that despite it’s quality probably won’t feature on many end of year music publications lists. It’s probably not challenging or ground breaking enough for what a critic looks for. But for fans of Lucy, (and this blog is very much a fan blog not one which deals in complex critical anaylsis) Something’s Changing surely has to be up there.

Lucy Rose - Is This Called Home (Video)

Favourite Albums of 2017 #6 Stormzy - Gang Signs & Prayer

A Grime album might not be the sort of thing you expect to see in a list of my favourite records of 2017. Pop? Sure. Indie? Almost definitely. Folk? Highly likely. But maybe not Grime. However, the way I listen to music these days, thanks to streaming services, has changed everything. Now there’s no need to play safe. You can have a go at listening to virtually anything and find the good and great stuff in any genre, from any time period if you want to. 

Gang Signs & Prayer certainly fits the category of good and great. 

Why do I like it so much? Because it’s not just a series of claustrophobic heavy hitting bangers thrown together with little consideration as to how it will work as an album. Gang Signs & Prayer is a multi-faceted, layered album of some magnitude that shows a vulnerable and highly likeable side to Stormzy. From its referencing of The Last Supper on the cover artwork, to tracks that feature gospel, soul and talk about big subjects like mental health, his mother’s unconditional love and religion, Stormzy goes in deep. If that all sounds like it might be a little too over emo, there’s also humour and plenty of bravado as well with bangers like Shut Up, Big For Your Boots and Mr Skeng.

Ultimately what makes Gang Signs & Prayer such a good record is the balance of the tracks, Stormzy’s personality and of course his lyrical delivery – either rapped or sung. Even if you’re not a fan of Grime, this one is worth a listen.

Stormzy - Blinded By Your Grace Pt2 Ft MNEK

Favourite Albums of 2017 #7 The Big Moon - Love In The 4th Dimension

I didn’t think anyone was making records like Love in the 4th Dimension anymore. But The Big Moon have and I’m glad they did.

A trashy, scrappy, rollicking indie guitar pop miscellany of catchy tunes and mosh-pit fun this is a record that sounds like Sleeper, Kenickie or Elastica embracing sixties gang harmonies with a slight sprinkling of grunge and The Pixies. Sure, it’s hardly progressive (I’ve banged on enough in the past how I believe rock music has now reached middle age and hence there’s very little room for true innovation) but I dare you to put songs like Silent Move Susie and Cupid on the stereo loud and not throw your head back with a big old grin and find yourself hollering along. 

The Big Moon - Cupid

Favourite Albums of 2017 #8 Laura Marling - Semper Femina

There’s a school of thought out there that Laura Marling is the definition of consistency. If you look at the reviews for her records you’ll struggle to find much negativity. Yet after 2008’s Alas I Cannot Swim and 2010’s I Speak Because I Can I’ve struggled with her albums as a whole; they just didn’t connect.

Semper Femina is a different storey however. When Laura first started releasing music, the standard cliché to roll out was that she was ‘mature beyond her years’. Thankfully now she’s past her mid-twenties that sentence seems to have stopped, yet ironically this is arguably the most mature record she has produced. It’s a record about lost love, lessons learnt and looking back with the focus strongly on womanhood. It’s all sung with Laura’s trademark calm delivery and whilst much of the record sticks to her folk traditions it also takes some bold steps in other directions to create some of the finest songs she has ever recorded. 

The opening track and lead single, Soothing is just one such example, with its sensual jazzy double bass and swelling strings creating something that’s a long way from what we’d define folk music to be. The delivery reminds me a little bit of Portishead, something which crops up again on Don’t Pass Me By, the uneasy guitar and soft beats similar to something you might have found on Dummy.

Everything Marling does on Semper Femina is beautifully nuanced with a real attention to detail, both lyrically and musically. A number of the songs on it are my favourite pieces she has ever performed. Any superlatives that are thrown at Semper Femina are fully justified. It's why she's back on my albums of the year list after a gap of seven years.

Laura Marling - Soothing

Favourite Albums of 2017 #9 Wolf Alice - Visions Of A Life

At the back end of 2013 in my annual Ones to Watch posts my first tip for 2014 was Wolf Alice. At the time I suggested that what set them apart from a lot of indie bands was their songwriting ability. It’s that skill that has carried forward to 2017 and what makes their second record Visions of a Life such a triumph. Whether they’re playing savage shouty rock ‘n’ roll (Yuk Foo), dreamy shoegaze (Heavenward), cinematic experimental pop (Don’t Delete The Kisses) or darkwave synth (Sky Musings) there’s always a hook, a melody or something to latch onto. 

Visions of a Life, it could be argued, isn’t a particularly modern rock record; it encapsulates many classic sounds and ideas from a multitude of indie rock bands over the last twenty years. But it’s moulded so well into a finely balanced mix of moods, atmospheres and energies that it works as a fully formed body of work that never grows tiring and is a confident step forward from their debut.

Wolf Alice - Don't Delete The Kisses

Favourite Albums of 2017 #10 Alt-J - Relaxer

This is the second time this decade that Alt-J have appeared in the top 10 of my end of year album list. 2012’s An Awesome Wave was at number 8 and now in 2017 their third record, Relaxer, is in tenth. 

What’s so brilliant about Alt-J is that they show absolutely no sign of compromising, no sign of sounding like anyone else and no sign of writing an ‘obvious’ hit. Yet Alt-J are almost a contradiction of their own terms, for although Relaxer is even more weird, even more out there than their two previous releases they remain as popular as ever. 

Relaxer takes on medieval and pastoral folk, art-rock and loose jerky oddball tunes that reference the likes of Truman Capote and Shakespeare and throw in guest vocals by Ellie from Wolf Alice and Marika Hackman for good measure. It is one of those albums that you’ll either get or it will leave you scratching your head. (Pitchfork for example gave the record 4.5/10 and said: “Relaxer shows us what remains after the quirks are dialled back: some perfectly nice, perfectly blank lads who have no idea why they are standing in front of you and even less of an idea what to say.)” I think this is way off the mark, but that's taste and opinion for you - we're all different.

For me this is a brilliantly inventive piece of work created from a dizzying sonic palette that varies from the gentle hymnal to dirty sneering garage rock (relaxing as the title suggests it isn't - it will make you head whirl). It’s a difficult one to unravel, but if you spend some time with it (maybe Pitchfork didn't?), it brings reward and adds to the argument that Alt-J remain one of the UK’s more ambitious bands in terms of their ability to create music that sits outside the box.

Alt-J - In Cold Blood

Favourite Albums of 2017 #11 Brian Eno - Reflection

At over an hour long and formed from just one track, Brian Eno probably wasn’t going to be earning much money from Spotify streams for Reflection, his latest ambient opus, but that probably wasn’t his concern having had a long and sustained career in the music industry.

Eno described Reflection as 'generative' because whilst you can buy the recorded version on CD, vinyl or hit up the stream, Reflection was also available as an app where there were no restrictions, allowing the software to create an endless and constantly changing piece of music. Reflection’s gentle thrums create a slow release of soundscapes that are the equivalent of watching ripples of a pond; hypnotic, gentle and ever changing.

Released on New Year’s Day in 2017 it could be argued that Reflection was the perfect hangover cure album as it was so beautifully introspective and calming. But it wasn’t just designed for just that day. By the end of the year it’s still a record to come back to.

Brian Eno - Reflection

Favourite Albums of 2017 #12 Alice Jemima - Alice Jemima

It should come as absolutely no surprise that Alice Jemima’s debut long-player finds itself on the Breaking More Waves’ albums of 2017 list. After all this blog has undoubtedly featured more posts about Alice’s music than any other since I first wrote about her way back in 2011 and featured the songs Won’t take You For Granted and Ain’t It Funny.

The eponymous debut brings together eleven originals and her Soundcloud conquering cover of No Diggity (thankfully unaltered from the original bedroom studio version) with a chilled blend of post-XX singer songwriter guitar pop painted with flourishes of electronics. Working predominately with producer Roy Kerr, Alice has created a record that works best at each end of the day. The lusty So and the smooth When You Dance Like That can ease you out of bed gradually in the morning but also can coax you back much later with their intimate night time glow. Songs about falling in, being and falling out of love are the order of the day although the deviations into murder mysteries (Cocoa Liquor) and money and trying to please other people (Liquorice) not only provide lyrical diversions, but musical ones as well – Jemima even breaking out into spoken word / rap for the latter. 

If you like your pop subtle, feminine and always with one eye on keeping things simple, then Alice Jemima deserves your time. A lovely debut.

Alice Jemima - Dodged A Bullet

Alice Jemima - Electric

Favourite Albums of 2017 #13 AK/DK - Patterns / Harmonics

Crazy. Bonkers. Off-the-hook. Music for tripping space cadets. These are just some of the words that come to mind when trying to describe the freaked-out sound of AK/DK. Hard hitting drums, devilish synths and vocals that are used to create textures and rhythms as much as melodies mix to create a sound that is in parts psychedelic, motorik, punk and certainly out on an edge of its own. Whereas most electronic acts often have a very studio based sound and production, Patterns / Harmonics feels much more organic and live – as if a bunch of crazy scientists have been let loose on stage with the mission of creating the oddest, grooviest, garage party imaginable as witnessed on opening track Morphology and the sixties influenced blast that is Atomic DNA.

Wonky. Warped. Wonderful. Sometimes frantic. Get some AK/DK in your ears and dance like nobody is watching. It's number 13 on the Breaking More Waves end of year album list.

AK/DK - Morphology (Video)

AK/DK - Lagom

Favourite Albums of 2017 #14 Ibeyi - Ash

French-Cuban twins Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Diaz, better known as Ibeyi released their second album in 2017 and immediately stopped me in my tracks. With its gorgeous harmonies, booming organic beats and minimalist production, it sounds, to put it bluntly, absolutely f*cking amazing. Try playing this record loud on a high-quality stereo, stand well back and feel it as well as hear it. It connected with me in the same way as much as Bjork’s work often does, although ironically, despite much critical acclaim the new Bjork record has floated by me without really locking me in. 

Produced by Richard Russell and with guest appearances from the likes of Chilly Gonzales, Meshell Ndegeocello, Mala Rodriguez, and Kamasi Washington and Michelle Obama (albeit Michelle is just a sample) Ash is full of rhythm and unique songs – if I had one criticism it’s that some of the tracks almost seem a little too short and that the gaps between them aren’t long enough. I’d liked them to have just languidly grooved on for a few minutes longer and have had a bit more space to breathe, but I guess that doesn’t suit the modern way of jump to the next track listening thanks to streaming services. 

But that minor criticism aside (and it's not much of a criticism to say you want more of the same is it?) as the beats and dense harmonies draw you in on this record you’ll soon realise that Ash comes with a high focus on the current climate of injustice. In particular there is much emphasis on female equality. “The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls” says Michelle Obama in the previously mentioned sample. It's just one of many references to a strong female positive message on the album.

Ash is a record that is socially conscious, mixes tradition with modernism and has some great songs in the mix as well. If my criticism above had been taken into account it would have probably been in my top 10, but still 14th favourite of the year is still a big compliment.

Ibeyi - Away Away

Favourite Albums of 2017 #15 Curxes - Gilded Cage

Between 2011 and 2015 UK south coast electronic two-piece Curxes delivered a string of mainly self-released singles that hinted at an exciting debut album. Unfortunately, when Verxes arrived it was a relatively disappointing beast heading too far into confrontational shouty punk territory for many early fans.

However, with a couple of years away from the music, a relocation to the Isle of Wight and Curxes now being just a solo project of lead vocalist Roberta Fidora, 2017 saw a return to the fold with Gilded Cage, an album that went back to Curxes’ electronic roots, but with a much more singular experimental and less retro sound. In fact, on first listen it’s quite possible for Gilded Cage to leave the listener scratching their heads and wondering where the songs, hooks and melodies are such is the level of leftfield oddness. But they are there; they’re just subtler, weirder and less in your face. 

At Gilded Cage’s core is Roberta’s voice. In places it’s beautifully soft, sensual, creepy, pitch-shifted, ghostly, unsettling, dreamlike and gloomy. It's often difficult to understand what she's singing about, but that doesn't really matter - that just adds to the unsettling and somewhat menacing nature of the record. And the music itself? That could be described in a similar way. Don't expect bangers here - this is more unconventional. Fidora could, I'm sure, write a big pop tune if she wanted, but this new model suits her equally well.

So what can the listener find here? The instrumental Uniseum sounds like a modern-day version of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (the part that was used on The Exorcist) whilst Silent Running suggests that Roberta has spent a lot of the last few years gorging on dirty drugs and blood-thirsty horror flicks with its disturbing and heavy electronic pulses and weighty electronics. It’s not all so eerie and strange that it’s inaccessible though. In Your Neighbourhood is a delightfully gloomy but soothing spelling-bee electro pulse pop song with melancholy spectral vocals and Misery Mass would be worthy of featuring on an album by The Knife or Fever Ray.

Gilded Cage isn’t a record that is going to be ‘successful’ in the way that some people view success. The chances of it selling any significant numbers or having big streaming statistics are very low. It’s way too out there and way too experimental. Besides, it’s self-released with no major marketing budget behind it. However, in terms of being a coherent, interesting and inventive piece of outsider pop, it's very much a success.

You can buy / steram Gilded Cage via Bandcamp by clicking here

Curxes - In Your Neighbourhood

Curxes - Uniseum (Video)

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Why Most End Of Year Album Lists Are A Lie & Other Collected Geeky List Thoughts

By now you’re probably fed up of end of year album lists, so if you’re reading this, thank you for giving this post the attention. My full end of year list comes out tomorrow.

As regular readers will know, I’m a sucker for these lists and I spend way too much time thinking about them and reading / listening to others. Here’s a summary of the thoughts that sit behind the Breaking More Waves 2017 selection. Some of these thoughts are the same as other years, others are different or expanded. 

1. The Breaking More Waves’ albums of the year list isn’t just a list – it’s a series of blog posts, each one covering one album. There'll be a full summary list after the posts are all published.

2. An end of year list published in November isn’t an end of year list. It’s a January to November list. In fact any end of year list published before the end of the year is a lie. Not only are plenty of records released in December, but there’s a whole month of listening that you’ve missed out on, albeit there's an argument that if you only hear an album on Dec 26th and put it as your favourite of the year on the 31st that's not a very considered opinion - just an emotional rush of excitement. Thankfully I've yet to be in this position, and this year as it ends up there are no December releases on the list, although it was very close with one such record. It would have made a top 25 for sure.

3. Because of 2 above I’ve purposefully left my end of year list to the last day of the year. Then it’s as true to its title as it can be. However, for practicalities sake the blog posts that form this list are being written today in one mammoth writing session and the records to be included have been slowly forming in my head over time. Apologies for any typos in advance, the posts will be written very quickly and I'm recovering from a dose of flu! Each album featured in the list will be posted on the 31st December, starting at 9am and approximately every half hour thereafter. Or at least that's the plan. 

4. The albums will be posted from 15th to 1st. I know some people don’t like the idea of music as a competition, so apologies if you are one of those, but this is my blog not yours, and I like a league table. When I read an album of the year list I like to know what the author's real big favourites were - not just a collection of 20 or so records that they couldn’t pick between. Having said that, I'm going to slightly contradict my own beliefs now and say that I struggled this year to pick between my top 3 – each one of them could have potentially occupied the number 1 spot, but eventually I came to a decision. It was a very close call. 

5. The records I have listed / will be posting about are not ‘the best’. They’re my favourites. There’s a difference. Nobody can say something is the best, unless they have listened to every single record released this year. There’s plenty of critically acclaimed records that for one reason or another I’ve not got round to listening to, so if you were expecting to see something on this list and it’s not there, it might be because I’ve never heard it. Or maybe I just didn't like it as much as you did. For the record, I'll state now that I didn't get the fuss over the albums by Kendrick Lamar, St Vincent, SZA, Julie Byrne or The War On Drugs which seem to have cropped up on a lot of lists I've seen this year and I haven't listened to Jay-Z's or Kelela's albums. But that's fine. We're all different. 

6. I’ve chosen 15 records to post about. This is partly because of the limited time I have. Spending an average of 15-20 minutes writing each post plus 5-10 minutes formatting it and drinking copious tea / flu relief drinks means that doing this might take almost a full working day – which is as much as I can spare. Secondly, when I read other websites / people’s lists and they’re naming their 97th favourite record of the year all I can think of is that it can’t actually be particularly great then can it if it's only 97th? So, I’ve chosen 15. Last year I did 25 (the maximum) and the year before that 10 (probably the perfect number). I’d say 12 of the 15 are very enjoyable. The top 3 I think are truly great. If you haven’t heard any of my top 3 please go and listen to them. They’re fucking incredible. Each in very different ways as they're from very different genres.

7. What would be really good is once you’ve seen my whole list, if there are one or two you haven’t heard, give them a listen. That’s one of the points of this thing after all. And if you listen, do let me know if you like them or not. You’ll get extra brownie points if you tweet something like ‘”Just listened to xxxxxx after reading about it via the @BMWavesBlog end of year list. What a great / interesting / good / amazing record.” If you do I promise, for what it is worth, to share your tweets.

8. What makes something a favourite? In past years I’ve decided what a favourite is by complex spreadsheets with formulas through to counting the numbers of times I’ve played the record through to plain gut feeling – call it love if you must. This year it’s a combination of gut feeling and those which I’ve played lots since it’s been released, but there's no science behind it. 

9. There’s often a big disconnect between albums that are critically acclaimed and albums that have done well commercially. My list contains some that have been critically acclaimed, some that have done well commercially and some that have done both. It also contains some that have done neither. Make of that what you will, but please remember these are my favourite records, not anyone else’s and taste is a very personal thing.

10. Four acts that released albums that topped my past LPs of the year lists had new releases this year (The National, The Unthanks, Lane Del Rey and Oh Wonder). None of them have made my final 15, but that doesn’t mean that they are nothing but very solid records that I have enjoyed a lot.  If the list had gone to 25, they all would have featured. But someone had to miss out and as axe wielder in charge I had to make some harsh decisions. I'm particularly sorry to Oh Wonder who until today would have been at number 15, but I've had a last minute change of heart.

11. Album of the year lists are redundant. This is a thought that popped into my brain. It did so once before about 11 years ago, just before this blog started, when Myspace was in existence and I named someone's Myspace page as my favourite 'album' of the year, because of the great demos they had on it at the time. However, now we have the playlist. But, and it's a big but, for me the album still holds something special that a playlist doesn't. It's a body of work that can at its best say something way more than a bunch of songs pulled together by a curator. The top 3 albums on my list all do this. They say something about life that a playlist can't.

12. Besides providing some recommendations to you, the other reason for me doing this list is that I like documenting. By keeping a list on line I can look back in future years and see if I still agree with my choices. Looking back at my past favourite records (listed below) I'm pretty happy with those choices.

OK. Hopefully I'll see you here tomorrow at 9am for the first of my albums of the year posts. If it doesn't appear it's because this whole idea has gone stupidly wrong and I'm still trying to write the bloody things or have given up and will delete this post and pretend I never intended to do this. 

I have a piece of paper with 15 albums written on it. I'm off to go and write the posts about them now… wish me luck.

Breaking More Waves Previous Albums of the Year 2008-2016

2016 Clare Maguire – Stranger Things Have Happened
2015 Oh Wonder – Oh Wonder
2014 Young Fathers - Dead 
2013 Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe
2012  Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
2011 The Unthanks – Last
2010 The National – High Violet
2009 Blue Roses – Blue Roses
2008 Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Sunday, 24 December 2017

New Music: James Blake - Vincent (Video)

As Breaking More Waves shuts down for a few days over the Christmas period (although there’s still more to come before the end of the year with my end of year album list) here’s a new video from James Blake that dropped into my in box today. Following on from Laura Marling’s cover version yesterday, this is also a take on someone else’s song with Blake getting to grips with a cover of Don McClean’s Vincent. It’s a gorgeously warm and melancholy version of the much covered UK number 1 hit (even Rick Astley had a go) that was inspired by artist Vincent Van Gogh (Van Gogh painted Starry Night after committing himself to an asylum). Filmed and recorded live at Conway Studios, Los Angeles, in December 2017, it’s a beautifully soothing song to end your day with.

James Blake - Vincent (Video)

James Blake 'Vincent' from James Blake on Vimeo.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

New Music: Laura Marling - A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

Of all the artists that came forward from the British ‘New Folk’ scene a few years ago Laura Marling is arguably the most enduring. With six albums now under her belt, the latest Semper Fermina, released earlier this year, is undoubtedly my favourite since her first two. 

To finish off the year Laura delivers a cover of A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall by Bob Dylan which Laura tackles with some gusto, building to a rather stirring finish. This will probably upset the Dylan obsessives amongst you, but I prefer Laura’s version to his, but then maybe that’s just because I’ve always struggled with Dylan’s whine. 

The song featured in the BBC show Peaky Blinders.

Laura Marling - A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

Friday, 22 December 2017

12 Musical Highlights From Breaking More Waves Blog Posts In 2017

Over the last couple of years I’ve become convinced that wherever possible an end of year list shouldn’t be published till the end of the year. It makes sense right? Otherwise it’s a lie.

However, being pragmatic, this just isn’t always possible for most people writing about music – other commitments in life get in the way. 

I will be sticking to my guns though and won’t be forming my end of year album list until the day before Dec 31st and will then publish it in a series of blog posts (1 post about each album) on New Year’s Eve. Or at least that's the plan. It could go horribly wrong, but I like a challenge.

Before I get there though, I’m going slightly against my word. Here’s a songs of the year list, of sorts. It’s not a true songs of the year list, because some of my favourite songs of 2017 didn’t feature on Breaking More Waves (lack of spare time preventing me from writing about them) and this list just features tracks from the blog.

There are a couple of rules I’ve applied:

1. No artist can feature more than once (otherwise Sigrid and Confidence Man would have multiple entries)

2. The song must have had a video.

3. I've chosen 1 song from each month - which meant some tough choices. Some months had releases I preferred than others.

So this essentially is a ‘my best of Breaking More Waves 2017’ in video form.

Also, just for a change I’m not providing any written commentary. This is just a list for you to quickly scroll through and click on any of the tracks you may not have heard. There will be (hopefully) plenty of commentary on my end of year albums list instead.

January - Jain - Heads Up

February - Pale Waves - There's A Honey

March - Lorde - Green Light

April - Tom Adams - Come On Dreamer

May - Sigrid - Don't Kill My Vibe

June - Confidence Man - Boyfriend

July - Sofi Tukker - F*ck They

August - Gabrielle Aplin - Waking Up Slow

September - Curxes - In Your Neighbourhood

October - Gang Of Youths - The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows

November - Dream Wife - Let's Make Out

December - Johnny Marr & Maxine Peake - The Priest

Thursday, 21 December 2017

New Music: Introducing - Hachiku

Press play on Hachiku’s video for Al’s Wisdom List and if your brain works anything like mine you’ll probably immediately be thinking that Anika Ostendorf, who essentially is Hachiku, must be from Iceland or possibly Norway or Sweden. She just has that slightly idiosyncratic lilt to her voice. Yes, there's a hint of Bjork in there.

The reality is that Anika was born in Detroit and raised in Germany, had a spell in London and is currently located in Melbourne. You could therefore perhaps say her music as inter-continental. On her Facebook she describes it as ‘modern opera rock meets princess fairy pop’ which is closer than I could get. Whatever it is it’s certainly a little unorthodox, with touches of light whimsy, head swaying dreaminess. Ultimately is wonderfully pretty. It’s all created by Anika alone in portable home studio, although when she plays live Hachiku becomes a fully-fledged band.

Having released her debut 5 track EP in June this year through Milk records (which you can listen to on Bandcamp by clicking here), yesterday saw the release of a video for Al’s Wisdom List, one of the songs that features on the EP. Combining warm country guitar sounds with tiny beats, electronics, twinkling chimes and Anika’s delicately pleasing tones, it’s probably the only video you’ll see this year that features a yeti like creature in bed getting artistic.

Hachiku - Al's Wisdom List (Video)

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

New Music: Introducing - Lauren Auder

I’m not sure if Lauren Auder is this nineteen-year old’s real name or if the artist’s parents work for the police or as judges and just got a bit carried away. But irrespective of the moniker Lauren is not making the sort of music you’d necessarily expect of someone of this age. As soon as you see the words ‘inspired by the work of twentieth-century composer Maurice Durufle’ it’s pretty easy to guess that this debut song, The Baptist, released through the True Panther Sounds label isn’t going to be your typical autotuned piece of Spotify friendly pop, nor is it going to be celebrating drinking champagne in da club. That guess would be right.

Actually, Lauren’s parents don’t work for the police. In fact, according to an interview he did last year with Noisey they both come from a music journalism background. His mum used to work for the NME and his dad for Karrang, although he refused to name who they were. So maybe it isn’t entirely surprising that Lauren’s music isn’t from the mainstream if he grew up in an environment that was probably exposed to an awful lot of sounds at a young age. 

So, what does The Baptist sound like? It’s a slow-core piece of beauty. Gentle reflective piano sounds and cello provide the soundtrack for a mournful voice, which has some similarity to King Krule, as Auder sings. “If Christ died for me one time for my crimes, I doubt he would again.” It’s music for the thoughtful, the contemplative and those on the outside. It sounds refreshingly unique.

Lauren Auder - The Baptist

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

New Music: Introducing - Zoe Nash

Zoe Nash doesn’t mince her words on her debut single Rather Die: “I would rather die than be like you. ‘Cause you’re hateful, sitting high king of the hill, you’re just shameful, you won’t stop ‘till you’ve got your fill,” she croons, and with a voice like hers it’s no surprise she’s using it. There’s a similarity to Macy Gracy for sure, all huskily rasping and smoke-laden. It stands out a mile from the dreary auto-tuned soulless pap that pop music serves up so often these days and as a response to those who use their platforms to spread hate and ignorance it certainly lays out Zoe’s stall.

Having already featured on the G-Eazy track The Beautiful & Damned a month or so ago, Rather Die is Zoe’s first solo offering, and whilst the vocal here is undeniably scorching. the 27 year old from Los Angeles also has the tune to go with it – there’s a hooky backing chorus and a suitably laid back summery groove – suggesting perhaps that Zoe Nash might just be a name to put on your Ones to Watch for 2018 list if you haven’t done one yet. After all back in 2013 she tweeted that she was born to be a pop star. 4 years later that tweet looks incredibly true.

Zoe Nash - Rather Die

Saturday, 16 December 2017

New Music: Tom Adams - Fade (Ben Lukas Boysen Rework)

Silence by Tom Adams is a truly special album. Quiet, reflective and full of space, it’s a record that in many ways seems out of place in this fast-paced world. It is therefore all the better for it. This song, Fade, isn’t on Silence, but is from the earlier Voyages By Starlight EP. However, it is still very representative of Adams’ sensitive songs that you will find on the debut long player. 

This new rework by Ben Lukas Boysen starts from the most hushed of places and then builds to create something that is akin to Sigur Ros jamming with Nils Frahm, although I’m not sure if jamming is the right word – softly sculpting is probably a better choice. Hang on to every moment of this beautiful piece of work, you won’t regret it.

On his Facebook Tom has posted a small story about the photo above: “Ben and I decided to hit up a vintage photo booth in Berlin to try and get a cuddly team photo for this release. Unfortunately, some passers-by decided to get involved aggressively and this photo captures the moment someone reached into the booth to punch Ben. Proving the adage of 'don’t get a nice guy angry', Ben sorted it out like a champ and we got this shot to commemorate the occasion.” It's hard to imagine two men who create music like this getting into any sort of trouble. For me this is the sound of love.

Tom Adams - Fade (Ben Lukas Boysen Rework)

Friday, 15 December 2017

New Music: Poppy - Bleach Blonde Baby (Video)

“She is the sort of celebrity who could not have existed even half a decade ago: born of and beloved by the internet, and essentially unknown outside of it,” the Guardian wrote of Poppy the other day. They pretty much nailed it.

Poppy is not in a cult. She does not believe in cults. Or so she tells us in this very cult like video (here). Yet once you’ve entered her slightly creepy, alien, wooden world of pastel colours, a mannequin called Charlotte, a basil pot plant and a man called Titanic Sinclair it’s hard not to get sucked in. There’s something weirdly compulsive about her You Tube channel. It probably explains why she’s had over 230 million views on it and it's rising by the day. People love her. Just like she tells them to (in this disturbing video here)

I’ve often suggested both here and on Twitter that there’s a big disconnect between streaming statistics and punters who will actually turn up to a live show, but with so many streams it was perhaps inevitable that someone would want to see what Poppy does live and this week I went, mainly out of curiosity, with a whole bunch of Poppy obsessives, to see her first ever UK gig at The Garage in London. OK it's still only a 600 capacity venue, but at least punters did turn up.

Rather like Poppy’s musical output online, live she probably isn’t quite as odd as you might want her to be. Ultimately the gig was still a straightforward pop show with singing, dancing and flashing lights. But on the other hand there aren’t that many pop shows that start with an hour of Toto’s 80’s hit Africa being played on a loop, a DJ set by a mannequin, an artist asking numerous times ‘Do you love me?' And measuring the audiences love with a love meter, and a man telling the audience to shout Monster Energy drink in response to one of the artists videos (this one). 

To coincide with the gig Poppy has released a new music video. I’ve never featured the music of Poppy on the blog before, partly because a lot of it is just too cheesy, too saccharine, too Barby Girl-ish to be considered of any lasting merit, and whilst Bleach Blonde Baby still very much sits on that side of the fence there’s something (rather like her alternative universe conversation videos) that is ridiculously possessing about it. Maybe it’s the synth riff that sounds like a beginner learning to play Like A Virgin by Madonna, the lyrics that describe that if you cut her she’ll bleed pink and that one day her face will be on a million dollar bill, the way that the video sneaks in Charlotte the mannequin sitting in the congregation at the church of Poppy without you really noticing, or the stupidly happy looking people waving giant fluffy letters spelling the words ‘Everybody Dies'. Or maybe it’s just the fact that the whole thing, rather like the whole Poppy project, is just a very modern, very youthful, satirical take on celebrity culture. 

Poppy - Bleach Blonde Baby (Video)

Thursday, 14 December 2017

New Music: Johnny Marr & Maxine Peake - The Priest (Video)

I’ve had a few days away from the blog, but during that time there is one piece of music I heard that absolutely blew me away. So better late than never I'm casting it here. It’s the new collaborative single between Johnny Marr and actress Maxine Peake.

As time goes on and we all get that little bit older it seems that Johnny Marr is becoming ever more likeable and ever more wise, the opposite to Morrissey, the man he once had a special creative relationship with, who dives deeper and deeper into a world of hate and awfulness. 

Therefore, it should be no surprise to find that unlike Morrissey's at best patchy album, Marr has created something cinematic, powerful, intimate and graceful. It's staggeringly good. But more than that. The Priest is compelling because it’s so thoughtful. 

Taking as its starting point the words of Joe Gallagher, a man who was homeless, that has used his ability with words to make his life a bit better, and delivering them through a female voice from Peake, before casting a young actress in the video (20 year-old Molly Windsor), the whole piece avoids stereotypes and joins the dots between all types of people. This is pop music / art with a social conscience; and it makes you think that anyone could fall into this situation given a bad deal.

If only Morrissey could take a few lessons from Marr. This one gave me goose bumps. A very meaningful piece of work.

Johnny Marr & Maxine Peake - The Priest (Video)