Continuing to cast our net wide, this year’s polygenesis ‘choice’ list includes an entrancing mix of psychedelia and atavistic griot, neo-Krautrock interstellar voyages, Santa Fe road trips, Alabama Hip Hop, Congolese rumba, Tampa Bay switchblade dreamy pop, and….you get the idea.
No pushing at the back or stepping on each others toes, our list is displayed alphabetically. And is compiled this year by myself, Sean Bw Parker, Ayfer Simms and Ben P Scott.
In two parts, we invite you to peruse the first: Ariel Pink to King Creosote.
Click on the images where applicable for full reviews.
Ariel Pink Pom Pom (4AD)
Candid and mischievous, his gob playing catch-up, Ariel Pink‘s latest sordid and omnivorous pop nugget Pom Pom, has been overshadowed (if it’s a PR campaign, then its seriously backfired) by a raft of accident prone gaff riddled interviews and tweets. Falling out with fellow label signed artist Grimes, and for that matter the label themselves (taking drawl swipes at 4AD and management), the often venerated saviour of modern music has proven himself to be worthy of accolade. His spunk-stained hubba bubba latest can only be summed up as a Ken Russell envisioned glam-new-wave-garage rock opera.
Sean Bw Parker:
‘Ariel Pink is another of these lucky/unlucky recipients of the sherbet halo. Pink (or Rosenburg, if you prefer) has been churning out albums either ruthlessly bedroom-solo or with his live band Haunted Graffiti for over a decade now. His art lies in the borderline-Asperger’s-music fan-as-recording-artist box, his internalising of the entire oeuvre of Pink Floyd, Human League and his favourite band The Cure solidifying its writer-as-stubborn-mthrfckr rationale into an unstoppable drive to keep writing and recording, seemingly oblivious to or dismissive of reception.
It’s in the nature of his influences where we find the core of Pink. The aforementioned, nervy post-punk or post-hippie Brits held an angry, narcissistic angst at the core of everything they did, weaving their more accessible sounds around such inexpressible re/opp/ression. Ariel Pink can’t help but carry these sounds and feelings as an obsession – all the way to Los Angeles, where after a stint at performing arts school, assembled his Cobain-esque looks and slacker, nonchalant charm into twinkling, ADD, post-MGMT shapes.’
‘Reissue’: Martyn Bennett Grit (Real World Records)
Making no allowances or splitting our ‘choice’ list into sections, we also include the odd reissue that we felt deserved a worthy mention. Appraising a life cut tragically short, the Caledonian dance music star merged the ancestral recordings of the Highlands and Scottish Isles with contemporary uplifting – nee soaring – breaks and samples to produce an almost evangelic celebration of life and home. Surpassing Moby’s own gospel eulogy, Martyn Bennett was far closer to his source material. A poignant reminder and swan song that Real World Records honcho Peter Gabriel believed Grit was worth celebrating once again.
‘Released in 2003, just two-years before Bennett finally succumbed to his illness, the album received a fair share of acclaim – and rightly so. Hard to ignore, Grit sounds like the distant relative of Moby’s Play, which would also unearth lost or relatively unknown vocal performances from that artist’s own American archives– in this case, Moby would use old gospel recordings from the Deep South. Aping the bold vegan, discerning tea impresario’s ‘Go’, Bennett would open his own opus with the call to ‘Move’, hitting us with churning cyclonic thump of heavy beats, didgeridoo, exotic camouflaged clarion calls and the cut up voice of Shelia Stewart of Rattray – that seems to share some distinct ancestral tones with Africa. From then on in it’s a kaleidoscope of Josh Wink techno, dubstep, trip hop and Enya trance as Bennett manipulates the travelling ballads, auguries and handed down fables and recitals of the revered poets and singers, Lizzie Higgins, Mairi Morrison and Annie Watkins (amongst many others). Weaving to create something akin to a spiritual revelation, as the traditions of the Roma and Gaelteachd come together in a bubbling avalanche of breaks and synchronized rhythms.
Emerging from those veiled times the ghostly resonance of what should be a cherished and happy occasion, ‘Wedding’, sounds more elegiac, chiming with universal melancholy and minimal slow sustained fiddle and a gentle diaphanous piano: a song of poised resignation and regret perhaps? Bennett closes the album proper with the grim recorded parable of limb cutting, ‘Storyteller’, a nine-minute narrative built around a 1955 recording of the ancestral Daughter Doris as retold by Jimmie McBeath. Its’ only companion musically is the low whistling, windy accompaniment of a ghostly landscape.’
Blue Rose Code The Ballads Of Peckham Rye
Leaving its mark on our literary adroit novelist-in-waiting, Ayfer Simms, The Blue Rose Codes western lilted folk songbook, The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, didn’t so much attract a review, as a love letter from our critic. The Scottish troubadour earnestly writes new mythologies; lamenting on love and remembrance as he treads the cocaine laced streets of London’s Shoreditch and the south eastern borough of Southwark.
‘Throughout the album’s enchanting melodies, we quickly forget about assigning a genre to his music (Described by himself as Caledonian Soul), it is the Man himself that we get to know very intimately. This album is an open letter written from the darkest corner of his soul that unravels the journey of a troubled mind and the confession of serenity upon his return: We stand there bewildered, listening carefully. We understand we were the ones judging him for being astray, he was the main judge, and yet finally he comes through the dark, stronger despite the hard times. What emerges in this tale is a man who knew he was still “complete and gentle” while plunged in the abyss, and that despite his errands in the unsure gloom of the absinthe, he did try his best, even when he promised, “never again” he “meant every word of it”. There is love and forgiveness; there is wholeness and peace.’
The Bordellos Will.I.Am, You’re Really Nothing (Small Bear Records)
Grinding out a lament to our turbulent times; taking a Gangnam ‘drive-by’ style potshot at the current hubris of pop-lit totems, The Bordellos latest bedraggled songbook is a bittersweet condemnation. Whether they’re taking The Normal down to a seedy St.Helens nightclub or stripping the Human League of all their melodies, the trio evoke returning to the barricades once more, and throttling the life out of the mainstream.
‘The St.Helens, via a disjointed Merseybeat imbued lineage, family affair Bordellos replace the “happy-go-lucky” lightweight and deciding suspect women’s rights champion, totem of Pharrell Williams, Will.I.Am and all his partners in floppy platitude pop, rock and folk with the arch druid of counter-cultural esotericism and miscreant obscure musical sub-genres (Kraut to Jap via Detroit rebellious and experimental rock), Julian Cope. Grinding out a dedicated epistle to Cope, the trio’s sermon, ‘The Gospel According To Julian Cope’, prompts a road to Damascus conversion to the spirit of rock’n’roll, in all its most dangerous guises.’
Martin Carr ‘The Breaks’ (Tapete Records)
Emerging from the burning embers of Britpop, former Boo Radley, Martin Carr, strode the route of a solo performer/songwriter; gaining an adroit reputation for crafting subtly stirring folk and pop songs. From the Brave Captain to once again performing under his birthright, Carr has now produced a scenic and spiritual travail along the Santa Fe highway; his best, most honest and rallying work in years. His road trip takes in We Love Life era Pulp, the Divine Comedy, Motown and the jangled sun-dappled light of California as it muses on the pitfalls of making it in the digital age.
‘In 2014, Carr sounds like a happy, acquiescent, rather Zen fellow. On ‘Mainstream’, he accepts the bittersweet nature of compromised creativity – whilst acknowledging that however bitter the message, it can always be delivered in a wrong-footingly sweet way. With ‘Mountains’, we are in fully self-assured Simon & Garfunkel/Crowded House territory – a compliment – Carr ratcheting up the songwriting jack to full charm.
If contemporary Wayne Coyne had a little more real soul and a little less commercial ambition, he would turn in something as lovely, reflective whilst still experimental as ‘Sometimes It Pours’ – fireside, rainy British music at its best. He’s back into Boo’s/Morrissey territory for ‘Senseless Apprentice’ – a ‘drive time pop rocker’ if ever I heard one –, mixing dark observations with sunny vibes, Carr ably turns himself into a 21st century one-man Steely Dan.’
Cool Ghouls ‘A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye’ (Empty Cellar Records)
Out in the alpine wastes of garage and country rock, a cellar full of noiseniks shake the crammed, from wall to ceiling, party with perfectly scuzz-y psychedelic and boogie hits from beyond the calico wall. Tapping into their hometowns acid rock and west coast maverick storytelling fuzz pedlars heritage, the Cool Ghouls strum and twang some of the year’s most nostalgic yet thrillingly fresh goers.
‘Such aesthetic frivolity aside, A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye (what a beautiful image that is) is a very fine record indeed. Retro with a purpose and a passion, the Ghouls exploit their city’s hippy history with unabashed glee; The Eagles, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Byrds and Grateful Dead party on in brown corduroy along with Kings of Leon, Stephen Malkmus’ The Jicks and Mick Jagger sulking in the kitchen.
Early Dandy Warhols would be the closest touch point though. Courtney Taylor’s joyful apathy in vocal delivery and unaffected, open strummed electric guitar is spread slapdash all over the recording, with the early Stones insouciance revelling through the grooves. Opener ‘And It Grows’ slaps you back into a hammock with a long cold beer and a smoke of your choice, and the album never slips from there. The three-part harmonies are sexy-impeccable, every ode to relaxing and having a good time delivered with a secret intelligence belying the give-a-shit demeanour.’
Lukas Creswell-Rost ‘Go Dream’ (Plain Sailing Records)
An unassuming masterpiece, Lukas Creswell-Rost‘s loosely themed road map of misanthropic tragedy, cruises Rocks back pages to produce one of the most melodically sonorous albums of 2014. A Pacific Ocean Blues that continued into the 80s, this ambitious songbook soundtracks the misadventures of such egotistical miscreant rock stars as Yngwie Malmsteen, and charts the sad demise of 70s fallen balladeers Bad Finger, to a Steely Dan, Young Americans, Wings imbued backing. One of the sorely under-rated, if undiscovered, majestical albums of the year.
‘Travelling a well-worn highway; tuned into a radio station straight from in-between the 1970s covers of Rolling Stone, Creem and The Village Voice; accompanied by a cast of “misanthropic” characters, the former Leeds troubadour of deconstructed pop Lukas Creswell-Rost dreams up a most sophisticated songwriting opus. His relocation, five years ago, to the creative hive of Berlin has done the artist a world of good, this solid contextual collection of earnest dramas and lamentable episodes from the rock of ages, slowly but surely, unfurling its quality.’
De Staat ‘Vinticious Versions’ (Cool Green Recordings)
Re-intpreting their already omnivorous back catalogue (mostly picking songs from their last LP, I_Con), the rambunctious, ennui, Dutch group De Staat, add even more mayhem to their already cross-pollinated original. One minute a Carney Die Antwood, the next, Damon Albarn shimmying to kooky sheik rock; each song is remodelled with a new musical style. If anything, this is an improvement on the source; their Ill Communications era Baeste Boys homage, ‘Input Source Select’, crispier and bouncier.
‘In the blanded-out, anodyne landscape of ‘alternative’ music – roundly demarcated by Coldplay, Alt-J and Mumford & Sons – a Dutch studio maverick making headway after a music production degree would naturally set all alarm bells ringing. For this is what Torre Florim, De Staat’s main man is.
However, what he inserts into this all too auspicious introduction is…soul. And a most welcome degree of unhinged loonery, a la Beastie Boys (‘Paul’s Boutique’ era), G-Love & Special Sauce, and yes, the Fun Lovin’ Criminals. It feels like the eight tracks on the Vinticious Versions have been meticulously handpicked and sequenced to ensure that NO ONE ever gets bored – and this we must celebrate.
Musically speaking, the highlight is ‘Devil’s Blood’, a genuinely beguiling, evocative soul lament, minor piano chords and autotune intertwining to sublime hypnotic affect. Elsewhere, ‘Get It Together’, Sweat Shop’ and ‘Down Town’ stand out with their sass and streetwise jaywalking appeal.
Some old-school skank here, spooky whistling there – all perfectly summing up a very roots-y, postmodern perspective – the sound of London, Berlin and New York concentrated into an hour of unique, funky focus and vision.’
Dirt Music ‘Lion City’ (Glitterbeat Records)
Connecting the ‘dirt music’ environment of an unforgiving Australian outback with the Cajun swamplands, desert and bustling African townships, Glitterbeat Records co-founder and producer of their awe-inspiring roster of world music greats, Chris Eckman, leads his nomad troupe across esoteric and meditative terrain soundscapes. At times almost alien, their borderless approach to mixing rock, blues and (mostly) West African music in a seamless wash, creates something both mysterious and original. Recorded at the same time as their last LP, Troubles, in Bamako, Lion City couldn’t help but be guided politically and socially by the upheaval in Mali. A testament to the eerie developments and a lament that also offers hope, Dirt Music and their guests (which include such luminaries as the Ben Zabo Band and Samba Toura) prove that you can work alongside African artists without succumbing to condensation – looking at you Geldof et al.
‘Accentuated, stripped back and refined, their fourth album, Lion City, is a far more contemplative affair than previous efforts. With a pondered sonorous dirge they set the scene, opening with the equivalent of a Timbuktu version of Alexandro Jodorowsky and Don Cherry’s The Holy Mountain soundtrack, on the amorphous introduction, ‘Stars Of Gao’. Obscured through shrouds of mystical ambience, this track alone merges the Sub-Sahara and the Outback with the Cajun Louisiana swampland: Throat singers perhaps? Didgeridoo even? Or traditional Malian instruments, its never quite clear what you’re actually hearing. Only ever shifting up through the gears to shuffle mode they hypnotically glide or trek at a meditative pace, every song is a mirage, waiting to slowly unravel its true shape.’
Eat Lights Become Lights ‘Into Forever’ (Rocket Girl)
Purveyors of the most startling cosmic neo-Krautrock sonic journeys – both along intergalactic highways and into the inner space of the mind -, Eat Lights Become Lights once again make our ‘choice’ list. This year’s peregrination , Into Forever, literally blasts off, going at it hammer and tongs with a cannonade of motorik drums, before simmering down into Sky Records induced, wondrous meditation. Still finding much from their Teutonic imbued explorations to produce beguiling, organic and sometimes explosive instrumentals, the group confidently search beyond the source for new electronica horizons.
‘Informed by a litany of the great and good from the Krautrock cannon, the album’s Teutonic indulgences still sound intrinsically fresh and inventive. Those cerebral nuanced patterns both reliving but also searching for new harmonically interesting relationships. ‘time enough’ however not only evokes Tangerine Dream, but also has a touch of the trance-y Seefeel about it. The meditative skydiving ‘vapour trails’ is back on even more familiar ground, pitching the hallowed choral mystique of Popol Vuh and Ash Ra Temple atop of a misty veiled Machu Picchu. A caustic magnetic field pulsates and bounces to the tune of Zuckerzeit era Cluster on ‘you are disko’ and early shades of Kraftwerk and Klaus Schulze inform the light particle downpour eponymous title track.’
The Greg Foat Group ‘Live At Playboy Club, London’ (Jazzman Records)
A trio of firsts: the first live LP from Jazz pianist Greg Foat; the first LP to be recorded at the Playboy Club, London, in forty tears; and the first live album ever to make the Monolith Cocktail’s yearly choice lists. But this will be the third appearance by Foat on the blog: his stunning, Baroque escapist, concrete futurist imbued Dark Is The Sun, and well-thumbed Sci-fi paperback soundtrack, Girl And Robot With Flowers, both making previous top album lists. Playing to the crowd, the serendipitous modal composer and his erudite group dazzle with a litany of covers from Tubby Hayes, Pigbag and Ernie Clark; bringing the spiritual and funky rare grooves to the lounge set.
‘Devoid of any material from his own albums, Greg’s performance is cut from a diverse range of considered covers; rearranged from their source and at times absorbed into his own unique peregrinations. With reverent purpose, Greg pars down from his finely tuned, extended horn section, with a trio of bass guitar and drums to open proceedings with a shimmering, sheik-sauntering version of Ernie Clark’s spiritual paean ‘By The Grace Of God, I Am’. Elevating the original from its more sacrosanct somber tones to a looser rare groove jamboree, which soars as it reaches a tighter double time climax of twinkled cascading organ notes and break beat drums, the group make it one of their own. This flange-effected eastern trip is carried over into the ‘Exodus (Interlude)’ – a sort of cooling down exercise of sparkling 70s Afrocentric religious flitted keys and resonating cymbals, and also a prelude to the next odyssey – and continues through the progressive Arabian via flared-trouser period Miles Davies turn ‘Mr. Minor’. A tale of light and shade dynamics, the song travels through sustained periods of echo-y spiraling, snaking – and almost puffed inside out – harassed horns and floating keyboard couplets that serenely drift into the ether emanating from Greg’s drawn-out phrases. In a similar mode, the Rahsaan Roland Kirk inspired vortex of saxophone playing and soulfully reverberating cooed melody rich ‘Ingen Rekaim’ (“no advertising” in Swedish) loiters over imaginary North African sand dunes: via a Nordic detour.’
Fofoulah ‘Fofoulah’ (Glitterbeat Records)
Doing what the Glitterbeat Record label does best, the Fofoulah are another fine example of their borderless musical mantra. The London/Bristol quartet, produced and starring drummer David Smith – who also plays in Robert Planet’s own Sensational Space Shifters – boast some fine musicians, inspired by the sound of both Europe and Western Africa, and play host to an international line-up of guest including the Gambian master griot and riti player, Juldeh Camara and the Algerian/Parisian songstress Iness Mezel. Led by the sound of the atavistic “talking” and “communicative” sabar and tama drums and transversing vocals of the Senegalese born singer Batch Gueye, Fofoulah absorb reggae, Afro soul, esoteric percussive reverberations and Hip Hop on their debut, to create a universal soundtrack.
‘A blurring of cultural and musical boundaries, the cross-pollinated London/Bristol quintet Fofoulah, send ricocheting percussive shots echoing across a backing of West African and European landscapes on their eponymous debut LP. Part of the celebrated Glitterbeat Records roster, they share many traits with fellow global mind travellers, Dirt Music. But whereas Dirtmusic were all transcendental and moody abstracted guitars and esoteric blues, Fofoulah center their sound around the rhythmic phrased language of the Sabar and Tama drums – the sabar used to communicate messages between villages, through the centuries, by the Wolof people of Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania, and the Tama, a ‘talking drum’ that can be regulated to mimic the tone of a human voice.’
The Green Seed ‘Drapetomania’ (Communicating Vessels)
Seen and heard as a return to conscious Hip Hop, the Alabama outfit The Green Seed are indeed on-message; cleverly weaving articulate discourse on the internet generation by enacting the very best that US rap has to offer. Missing an LP review – our own dumb fault – we nevertheless featured their Jurassic 5 meets Wu-Tang Clan single ‘Jude Law’ earlier this year. Thankfully the album, Drapetomania, continuously astounds – imagine EL-P and Edan co-producing an on-form Kayne West – with its ambitions and themes, whether its a clever two-way dual paean and angry lament a on shared relationship or a the pratfalls and addiction to keeping constantly connected to the internet, The Green Seed have proven worthy accolades of our Hip Hop crown this year.
Grumbling Fur ‘Preternaturals’ (The Quietus Phonographic Corporation)
Inspired to lyrical prose, our adroit and keen critic Ayfer Simms was moved by the beguiling, broody magic of the Grumbling Furs mellotron, waltzing – and almost able to duck any form of classification – opus, Preternaturals. Taking Eno and a far more romantic, subterranean Depeche Mode, on a rowing boat across fictional tumultuous bottle green seas, the duo’s lilting, unbroken chain of sumptuous lyrics and steadily progressive musical suites soared.
‘Grumbling Fur is a gathering of Men under a vault, there’s the whizzing of a boiling kettle from the 50s, a door slamming on a windy day, a house in the middle of Siberia hurling and cracking while the cold chill brings in a frozen blizzard. A solid man hits a heavy iron hammer to build the tools of survival, he is cold but has no choice, nor is he complaining. This is the way of life, to build the human chain of evolution against the elements.
Grumbling fur is Asia worshipping a perfect god with bulging eyes and horns, the church men carrying their god in their hearts, the monks copying manuscripts in the heights of a deserted mountain, the labourers, the poor’s, the genius, the apes, the tools, the elements, our consciousness.
Grumbling fur’s heart is pure: “I have seen things you would not believe”. They have witnessed, they have ingested and given back their own vision of us, assembling the history of humanity, from the beginning of things to our present conception of the future. Once upon a time we were none, but Grumbling Fur has reignited our past with their own captivating sounds.’
‘Reissue’: Mick Harvey ‘Intoxicated Man/Pink Elephants’ (Mute)
Taking on the role of the louche titan of cool, Serge Gainsbourg, Mick Harvey and his Bardot, Birkin stand-ins foil Anita Lane – an antipodean muse in her own right – paid homage with the most impressive reappraisal of the French genius’ songbook yet. Originally germinating from Lane, the idea of a English language duet version of the infamous ‘Je T’aime…Moi Non Plus’ with Nick Cave in the mid 90s, soon spiralled out of control, as Harvey was encouraged to eventually record not just one but two volumes of his work: the Intoxicated Man and Pink Elephants moiety of albums. What could so easily be lost in translation is handled with aplomb and dedication by Harvey as he translates the French language quirks, phrases and play-on-words into not only a convincing but outstanding suite. With a contemporary backing, adding in some cases more power and bombast to the source material, the Gainsbourg legacy eneded up in safe hands, at a a time when Harvey was on fine form – something he’s returned again more recent times. These re-releases sparked by a slight revival of Gainsbourg in the anniversary year of his birth, and following on from Harvey’s 2013 Yeah Yeah Yeahs curated ATP performance revisit and final show this material live, in the summer of this year, hasn’t left the Monolith Cocktail’s turntable all year.
‘Huskily delivered by our troubadour and caressed by Lane’s sultry enchantress tones, the deadpan Harvey begins as he means to go on, with the opening double-entendre chanson, ’60 Erotic Year’. Flitting and flirting between erotically charged, metaphorical, pop and wanton lust, it proves the ideal introduction. Highlights are frequent, the chariot-to-the-gods, motorcycle riot, ‘Harley Davidson’, a petulant enough anthem of the ‘die young stay pretty’ variety – a rollicking union of Transvision Vamp and Saint Etienne -, just one of the many great three-minute bursts of rebel-rousing freedom. A predilection for auto-erotica persists with the arousing tribute to the Ford Mustang, and with the unfortunate plunge off the cliff road on the way to Monte Carlo, amusing ‘Jazz In The Ravine’ – ‘At dawn, they used a spoon to scrape up the remains.’
‘From the earliest incarnations via the various troubled and sexually heightened duets, Harvey cast his net wide, choosing a varied feast of delectable and lustfully spurned soliloquies and contemptuous exchanges between lovers. Mambo to disco-noir, each manifestation of the troubled, often objectionable and drunkenly debauched, flawed genius’ work, is masterfully handled by the ensemble. Translating those quirks of language, phrases and cadence can’t have been easy, and though Harvey doesn’t exactly treat the source material with kid gloves or reverence, his dedication and love for Gainsbourg shines through every note and verse: It’s really quite an accomplishment and resounding success.’
‘Reissue’: Grace Jones ‘Nightclubbing Deluxe’ (Island/Universal)
An odd year to celebrate, arguably, Grace Jones most accomplished and iconic album, but we’re not complaining; especially when they throw in the previously obscured and lost yacht reggae pop song ‘If You Wanna Be My Lover’, and tropical swayed cover of Gary Numan’s synth lament, ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’. Part of the fabled and creatively successful Bahamas trinity of recordings, produced with the Compass Point Allstars (whose ranks featured the might Sly & Robbie), Jones’ polygenesis, prowling nocturnal panther of a salacious record lapped up the Tango, calypso, dub, and melting pot of genres that made New York king in the early 80s, to create a work of art. The reason it’s on the list is both a triumph and symptom of the lack of anything new and promising to replace it; ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ still the defacto bump and grind, car horny-tonking dance floor filler, 33-years on.
‘Very much a snapshot of its time yet resonating with a timeless quality too, Nightclubbing encapsulated – as did many of Jones’ recordings – the cross-pollination of art and music, at the turn of the 80s. The middle LP of a Bahamas recorded cycle – viewed as the androgyne polymaths most important and influential – the album is a sophisticated nocturnal beast. Ms.Jones prowling like a panther on heat, the sentinel chiselled android whose vocal intonation and monotone cadence (a binary mix of Édith Piaf, Eartha Kitt, Ann Peebles and Nico) proves that there is indeed a soul at the heart of the machine, slopes up and down on a deep, cool, backtrack of dub, calypso, Tango, funk and ominous skulking new wave.’
Stephen Jones ‘Ambition Expired’
Ben P Scott writes: ‘The first full-length album to bear ex Babybird cult hero Stephen Jones‘ own name since 2003’s Almost Cured Of Sadness finds the Sheffield-based musical genius delivering a breathtaking set of strange, beautiful and transcendental pieces.
Don’t be fooled by the low key nature of the release, this record is a superb piece of work, and one of Jones’ finest. There is no press release accompanying Ambition Expired, just a doodle and some jotted words that describe this work as “an album with mind altering musical substance” that “involves no effort from the listener” since “ears will throw aside the mind for one simple hour”. On BandCamp, a short blurb lists it as “a trip, not an album”. Even the tracks that clock in at around quarter of an hour each seem to take hold of the senses in such a way, that you’re always happy to stay wherever the music takes you. The time and room given to these freely flowing song structures allow the listener to soak up the growing, evolving atmospheres for maximum impact.
Despite selling over two million records worldwide, Jones has never compromised the intelligence of his music for the mainstream, and has a deep hatred of mass marketed insipidness. With his talent for the unusal, why would he want to conform to sounding like everyone else? We need people like this man, who make this world a more interesting place by challenging the norm and going against the grain. It’s not likely to sell truckloads of copies and you’re not going to be hearing any of it on the radio. It’s one of those well kept secrets tucked away in a weird little corner of the internet that you might be lucky enough to discover. ‘Ambition Expired’ is immersive, euphoric and magical.’
King Creosote ‘From Scotland With Love’ (Domino)
Depending on which side of the divide you stood, Scotland has either snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and is suffering an eternal hangover, or they’ve escaped a calamitous decision. Despite the vote for independence result, Scotland enjoyed a memorable year in the spotlight. Continuing with the goodwill gesture of hosting the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and a package of incentives from the UK government and institutions such as the BBC to stay in the “union”, but also seeing their most prestige (and internationally renowned) Glasgow School of Art burn down, the blessings have been mixed. Celebrating the heart and soul of the forgotten voices in this shouting match, the placable songwriter Kenny Anderson, under his King Creosote moniker, composed an alternative to the misty-eyed recollections and shortbread tin stereotypes of his homeland. Commissioned as part of the Commonwealth Games extended programme of cultural promotion, and accompanying a nostalgic but endearing film, From Scotland With Love is an accomplished paean to the real Scotland. Dreamily spinning a tale of self-determination, tenacity and at times gloriously penning the most warm and fond memories of everyday life – ‘One Night Only’ one of those life-affirming numbers that just makes you swell up with pride and joy – Anderson swoons between craggy, almost so fragile it may just evaporate, folk and whirling uptempo charleston to build a poignant love letter.