Sunday, 8 December 2013
Following on from the PSB (Public Service Broadcasting) at number 13 in the Breaking More Waves album of the year list we have another duo with the initials PSB at number 12. After Elysium, the band’s previous release, it looked like the Pet Shop Boys were dead musically. The record sounded tired; we assumed the synth pop legends had lost their zest.
We were wrong. 2013’s release Electric is a stormer. It found the band rediscovering their love for the dancefloor and high energy pop. Forget Miley Cyrus and her Bangerz, all the pop bangers you really need are on this record. From the opening pulses of Axis, which sounds like the MDMA version of Jean Michel Jarre, complete with a Kraftwerk like vocal intoning “electric energy", through to its euphoric final track Vocal, Electric finds the Pet Shop Boys reinvigorated, super-sharp and doing what they do best. Whilst there are obvious nods to their long and esteemed past on tracks like the West End Girls referencing Thursday (which features a guest vocal from Example) and the brilliant intelligent euro-disco of Love Is A Bourgeois Construct - a distant cousin of their cover of Go West - Electric is undeniably the Pet Shop Boys finest record for a very long time.
Pet Shop Boys - Thursday (Video)
Saturday, 7 December 2013
At number 13 on the Breaking More Waves album of the year list is Inform Educate Entertain by Public Service Broadcasting. “To teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future,” is the objective of J Wilgoose Esq and Wrigglesworth and they achieve this by overlaying extracts of propaganda and information films from yesteryear onto their mix of indie rock and computer instrumentals with stirring effect.
Inform Educate Entertain is probably the only record you’ll ever hear that credits samples from a 1936 Royal Mail film called Night Mail, Studio Canal’s 1953 film The Conquest of Everest and US road safety films including The Bottle & The Throttle and None For The Road. It’s a playful, quirky and stimulating record that could loosely be called a concept album in so far as the LP is built around the idea of sampling voices from the past, albeit the tunes cover many different subject matters. However most importantly it’s an enjoyable eccentrically British piece of work that sounds unlike anything else released this year.
Public Service Broadcasting - Spitfire (Video)
Friday, 6 December 2013
Released in Spring of 2013, there was a weight of expectation resting on The Knife’s Shaking The Habitual. After all, since their 2006 menacing but pop laden release Silent Shout Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olaf Dreijer had been placed on a pedestal; the Swedish duo becoming something more than just a band – an enigma perhaps? It was that expectation that left many fans feeling confused, bewildered and disappointed when they first heard Shaking The Habitual.
Yet Shaking The Habitual makes its way onto the Breaking More Waves album of the year list. It’s certainly not an easy album to listen to. It’s complex, sprawling, messy and ambitious– it’s also a significant departure from their previous work. One track Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realised is a 19 minute long ambient / drone piece. Cherry On Top is a 9 minute jarring experimental ballad which will find many listeners pressing skip. There’s some sort of personal political concept within the record (which is somewhat blurred as many of the lyrics are not easily decipherable). Songs evolve and then disintegrate just when you thought you were getting a take on them. Parts of it sound like the soundtrack to a druggy horror film soundtrack. But like any challenge, once immersed in it, Shaking The Habitual is a very rewarding album.
Amongst the industrial weird-tech, the synthetic oddness and organic beaty clatters this is a strangely coherent record that is always fascinating, occasionally brilliant and one we return to regularly to try and uncover a little more. It’s also the album that redefines The Knife; they are no longer a pop band, but as Lady Gaga would like to be, they are artpop.
The Knife - Full Of Fire
The Knife - A Tooth For An Eye (Video)
Thursday, 5 December 2013
London Grammar’s debut LP was at one stage this year the favourite to win the Mercury prize, even before it had been released or the short list announced. Eventually the judges found no space for If You Wait’s gentle sophistication, but irrespective of music industry prizes this record finds a space in our heart.
The centrepiece of If You Wait is Hannah Reid’s vocals. Her voice is both otherworldly and powerfully soulful. Yet the music created by the three-piece is gracefully subtle – every finger pick of guitar, every smooth keyboard note perfectly nuanced and cast. It’s an album that deals with relationships and in particular the journey continuing beyond a certain point. “And when you cross that bridge, I’ll come find you.” “You crossed this line, do you find it hard to sit with me tonight?” “What are you afraid of?” “Desire paths will lead you quicker here.” All these lyrics hint at a need for taking things further, but one of the parties isn’t quite ready for that yet.
The music perfectly fits the sense of uncertain abeyance in the lyrics. It’s often slow, intimate sounding, fluidly flawless in its construction. It never forces itself on you, but gradually coaxes you in with gentle beats, keys, strings and soothing beauty. It's very much an album that fits the template of modern pop construct, taking the sounds of late night restraint that has grown in popularity over the last few years with the likes of The XX and James Blake and then finds its own elegant space within that design.
London Grammar - Interlude
London Grammar - Wasting My Young Years (Video)