April sees the quality of releases turned up to 11. With Record Store Day also happening, the month is rapidly becoming the most likely month to hear something really special.
Album of the Month – blur The Magic Whip.
Its been a very long time since blur produced anything, their comebacks have usually been about great live events (Glastonbury was a triumph) and there was a lot of excitement in this house when it was announced recently that they had quietly brought together a new collection. Early signs were great, Lonesome Street and Go Out gave clear clues that this was blur as we all love. Then as the release got nearer and more stuff was being played it became clear that they were not just going back to the old day. The influence from Damon’s Everyday Robots was also very easy to spot. Thought I was a Spaceman is a great example of this. However this isn’t the only jewel. To be honest the whole album is quite brilliant, superbly put together and even brilliantly packaged. Blur have returned and gone straight to the top table. I hope that this is a return for ever.
A band very much on the rise are Drenge who followed up their viciously brilliant debut with a second collection, Undertow. Again the pace is relentless, breathtaking even. Moving from a menacing intro into Running Wild through the really quite brilliant We Can Do What We Want this may well be the time for Drenge to stop being a name-check for MPs and finally take them into the big time alongside Royal Blood. Well worth a listen.
Female singers are having a strong year, last month the rather brilliant Courtney Barnett brought out her debut. This month there are more great pieces from beautifully voiced singers. Emily Barker, taking a break from her band has pulled together a lovely collection The Toerag Sessions. Utilising the wonderful 50’s and 60’s technology at Toerag, where the White Stripes recorded Elephant and recording directly to vinyl gives this collections real warmth. But, as per usual, it’s the wonderfully intimate lyrics and truly beautiful voice that Emily has that makes this a real stand out record. I was lucky to capture her playing some at the Pie And Vinyl record store day event and I feel fortunate that I did. No less superb is Waxahatchee’s haunting Ivy Tripp. Reading up it seems that Katie Crutchfield has not had an easy time of late, yet on first listen this has a real warmth to it that under the surface does show an element of determined hurt. Breathless shows this more than anywhere.
A couple of years ago Alabama Shakes came out with a great record, Boy’s and Girls. It was a superb modern uptake on the old southern blues music that made you feel warm and full of the joys of summer. The returned this month with their second album, Sound & Colour. This one has moved away from the blue element and in its place is southern rock done very well indeed. In fact there is an awful lot of early Kings of Leon (you know before Sex on Fire ruined them!) and Brittany Howard’s unique and soulful voice feels just as at home as it did on their debut.
On the subject of personal, intimate and heartbroken Conor O’Brien returns with the third, and to date, best Villagers album Darling Arithmetic. Whilst his previous efforts gave real,warmth and pleasure, this time the largely acoustic affair is one that feels very personal very reminiscent of Beck’s stripped back Sea Change. It’s best track, for me, everything I am is yours is ahighlight but trying just to pick one is a challenge. Without blur this would have easily been album of the month.
So another strong month. In fact it features very highly in the best 10 records over heard so far.
With this in mind, here are my top 10 albums so far this year. All 10 are well worth a listen
10 Noel Gallagher – Chasing Yesterday
9 – Alabama Shakes – Sound & Colour
8 – Father John Misty – I Love You Honeybear
7 – Drenge – Undertow
6 – Public Service Broadcasting – The Race for Space
5 – Laura Marling – Short Movie
4 – The Charlatans – Modern Nature
3 – Villagers – Darling Arithmetic
2 – Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
1 – blur – The Magic Whip