Thursday, 18 December 2014

Albums of the Year 2014 #5 La Roux - Trouble In Paradise

By now pretty much everyone knows the backstory to La Roux’s second album Trouble In Paradise; the five years it’s taken since Elly Jackson’s debut, her anxiety attacks, the false starts, the departure of co-writer and producer Ben Langmaid, the lack of support from BBC Radio 1 and then on its release the relative lack of sales, with the record free-falling in the UK charts.

But put all that aside, when listening to the music, this is an excellent pop record, albeit a pop record that seems out of time and out of touch with the majority of current pop trends. It would have been so easy for La Roux to have developed the 80’s tinny synth sound from the first LP to embrace smoochy R’n’B and had a go at becoming the UK’s version of Banks perhaps, or alternatively to have sidled up alongside the likes of Calvin Harris and produced some formulaic massive high-charting synth-pop bangers that would have guaranteed that the bank manager would have been happy. 

Thankfully La Roux chose a different route. Trouble In Paradise is a step to the left, grasping choppy funk, the later years of disco, Grace Jones, Nile Rogers, Amazulu, tropical pop, Tom Tom Club, Love Is The Drug by Roxy Music and Duran Duran. The instruments are far warmer sounding, Elly’s vocal less shrill, the production beefier and easier on the ears. Most importantly though the songwriting is generally excellent (with the exception of distinctly average closing track The Feeling which sounds like a b-side thrown on to make sure the record is a full album). Lyrically there’s plenty to dive into as well, Trouble In Paradise possesses an open vulnerability to it; Silent Partner seemingly addressing Elly’s relationship with Langmaid, whilst Let Me Down Gently, the track that bridges and connects first album La Roux to second finds Elly singing of wanting to be turned “into someone new, that’s what I really need.” 

Many pop albums don’t stand the test of time. They consist of a few hit singles and an awful lot of filler. Trouble In Paradise isn’t one of those albums – the good and great outweighs the bad by 89%. It’s a pop record to return to again and again and never tire of. 

La Roux - Tropical Chancer

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Albums of the Year 2014 #6 Sophie Ellis-Bextor - Wanderlust

From Breaking More Waves, May 2014:

“You know all those end of year album lists? We wonder when most people start thinking about them? If you’re anything like us (and frankly we hope you’re not) then you started in January. And one of those early contenders that we suspect come December will still be in the running for a place on the list is Sophie Ellis Bextor’s Wanderlust.

From Breaking More Waves, August 2014:

“Sophie’s 2014 Ed Harcourt produced album Wanderlust is the finest work of her career – an accomplished and mature record that takes in Eastern European folk, fairytale and mid-life crisis reference points and wraps them up into a captivating and enchanting listen. We suspect it will find a place on our end of year favourite album list.”


No surprises here then. Forget everything you knew about the disco-dolly-chart-topping Sophie Ellis-Bextor.  If Wanderlust is Sophie’s approaching middle-age pop album, then middle age suits her very well indeed. Beautifully sung with impeccably written songs, you get a real sense that this is the album Sophie Ellis-Bextor really wanted make for herself rather than any pop success. Ironically by doing so Wanderlust became Sophie Ellis Bextor’s highest charting album (top 5) since her solo debut Read My Lips, and deservedly so.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor - Runaway Dreamer (Video)

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Albums of the Year 2014 #7 Slow Club - Complete Surrender

Slow Club seem to have been around forever now. Or rather at least as long as Breaking More Waves.  Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor have got to the age where as a band they could almost considered to be musically middle aged, slipping into a pattern of comfortableness, repeating what has gone before, until eventually they get bored and stop. And yet they haven’t; and by doing so have created their best recorded work since they started. 

Moving from their early scruffy indie-country-folk sound to something richer, grander and more soulful whilst untapping Taylor’s seriously good pipes to an extent we’ve not heard before, Complete Surrender is surprisingly deep and often more than beautiful. It’s not just Taylor’s big voice that shines through though, Watson’s vocal may be more nasal and slight but it compliments his fellow band member perfectly in the harmonies they sing together.

Complete Surrender is a record that could have arguably been recorded in the sixties. It’s classic adult-pop, full of sadness, heartache, torch songs, the blues, piano ballads and dizzying horns. It’s like Dusty Springfield doing Amy Winehouse. It’s the album Duffy would have killed to record before it all went wrong. It’s more ambitious than we could have ever imagined. It’s a record of extraordinary emotions.

By far their most complete work to date, if you haven’t heard it yet, it’s time to give your ears up to it.

Slow Club - Everything Is New

Monday, 15 December 2014

Albums of the Year 2014 #8 FKA Twigs - LP 1

Following two excellent debut Eps, LP1’s release found a host of music reviewers stumbling over themselves to lavish praise on it and then unsurprisingly it got the nod as a Mercury Prize nominee, although it failed to win. However for those who think that FKA Twigs was just the fashionable flavour of the month think again, for this record stands tall on its own merits and has sneakily invaded our listening space ever increasingly since its release.

What’s a little surprising is that none of the tracks from those 2 first EP’s are featured on the album, which given that a typical artist's debut long-player these days is nothing more than a collection of the first four or five singles and a few filler tracks, is impressive.

Tahliah Barnett’s (aka FKA Twigs) musical palette encompasses various shades of ever-shifting rhythms and warped electronic sounds, sometimes created by sampling and then manipulating other instruments. It bears some similarity to the sonic experimentation of albums by the likes of Bjork, Tricky and The Knife but with a nearly whispered and sensually-charged approach. It’s unsettling, not always accessible and those looking for traditional songs will be in the main sorely disappointed. However, it isn’t as revolutionary as you might expect given some of the hype that has been laid at her feet; in many ways LP1 is just one slightly more leftfield step away from much of today’s edgier contemporary pop.  

For those who want something that takes a little longer to get the head around, LP 1 offers much to enjoy and ponder over. From the opening Preface where she quotes from Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poem I Find no Peace: “I love another, and thus I hate myself,” to the closing Kicks where she sings of how she’s quite happy with masturbation over sex LP1 is a fluid, uneasy and languidly erotic body of work that's worth spending some time with.

FKA Twigs - Two Weeks