Miru Kim is a young American photographer best known for her series Naked City Spleen in which she photographs herself, naked, in derelict buildings, abandoned subways, sewers etc in New York, London, Paris, Berlin and even Honduras.
I recently came across the work of Erika Svensson and she immediately became one of my favourite photographers. Much of her work has a dreamlike quality – both the subject matter and the composition, lighting and exposure.
Haven’t done one of these for some months. This is a quick look back at my listening over the past four months or so.
Nils Frahm – The Bells / Wintermusik
Frahm has been heavily promoted by Peter Broderick who released two of my favourite albums of 2008. The Bells is a collection of solo piano improvisations, slightly reminiscent of a less angular Keith Jarrett, recorded live in a church in Germany. The tracks are beautiful, uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. It is one of those rare albums you want to play again the moment it finishes. It was apparently made from five hours of recordings; I’d love to hear the other 4 1/2 hours.
Wintermusik is slightly different – two short and one longer track which also feature Frahm on organ and celesta – but equally beautiful.
Noah and the Whale – The First Days of Spring
I liked last year’s debut but found it a bit twee at times. This though is a very different beast – a deep, dark, melancholic album. Strong songs, beautifully recorded – every sound is crystal clear. It contains some of the most intelligent use of strings, brass, and choir that I can recall on an album for sometime. The songs are majestic, building through phases, encompassing walls of sound with strings and feedback, or stripped back to the scraping of piano strings. One of the finest albums of the year.
Joe Henry – Blood From Stars
And this is another album of the year contender. For 15 years Henry has been making some of the best music around. It draws heavily from blues, jazz and folk. Two of his albums – Scar and Tiny Voices – are two of my favourite albums of the last decade. This is not quite as good but isn’t far off. Great lyrics and excellent playing from all, especially Marc Ribot and Jason Moran.
Wilco – The Album
Another solid but not spectacular album from Wilco – an improvement on Sky Blue Sky but nowhere near the greatness of Summerteeth or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It has many highlights – Bull Black Nova and You And I to name two – but also a few too many songs that plod along. It is Nels Cline’s guitar work that really lifts this album beyond the ordinary.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Up From Below
In parts this is a wonderful slice of euphoric West Coast pop by this large group that recalls Arcade Fire and Polyphonic Spree. The first three tracks are one of the best openings of an album I’ve heard this year – uplifting, fun music. The album cannot sustain this and there is a series of tracks around the middle which are pretty unremarkable before it ends a bit stronger. They are, apparently, great live but have just failed to capture that here
William Basinski – 92982
Another excellent release from Basinski. Four long pieces following the now normal Basinski blueprint of short, simple pieces of music, sometimes just a few notes and chords played on a piano, from his archives, looped over other ambient noises – drones, mild distortion, and in this case sounds from Brooklyn heard through the window of Basinski’s apartment. Not much happens but the music is gorgeous, immersive and moving. I thought he’d never better Garden of Brokenness but I think he has.
Engineers – Three Fact Fader
It has been four years since The Engineer’s debut album, a gem of shoegaze/post rock. Many fans doubted they would ever see a follow-up. It was worth the wait. The songs are stronger than on the debut – built from the same walls of sound, beautifully constructed, with dreamy vocals on top. Often melodic, driven along by unobtrusive strings, occasionally exploding into something noisier. Mostly excellent but a little samey.
Baaba Maal – Television
I typically prefer African music at its rootsier, disliking attempts to make it more western. The new Baaba Maal is an exception. It draws on dance and pop (Maal has collaborated on the album with the Brazilian Girls). On the majority of tracks this works because Maal’s voice remains the dominant sound, soaring above the music and holding it together. It isn’t completely successful but when it works it does so brilliantly.
Cortney Tidwell – Boys
Tidwell’s debut album marked her out as a female singer who dared to be a little different, full of strong tunes with some unexpected twists. The follow-up is similar. Tidwell possesses a lovely voice and when she is happy to experiment the results are often lovely. But unfortunately a few too many stray into the bland singer songwriter category. I hope that it is the experimental side that she continues to develop.
Florence and the Machine – Lungs
Hard to escape Florence and the Machine this year and on parts of this record it is easy to see why. She has a lovely, powerful voice that yelps and leaps, and some tracks on here, in particular the singles, are among the finest I have heard this year. But the album is too long and becomes a bit tiring by the end.
Slow Club – Yeah So
One of those albums that comes from nowhere to be a very pleasant surprise. Slow Club are a duo from Sheffield. Their songs are nu-folk meets indie-pop, built around their delightful harmonies and interchange of vocals. There is a lightness of touch to this – it sounds spontaneous. A 60’s feel throughout though they also remind me in parts of a less crass version of the Moldy Peaches. Highly recommended and, if you can, get the double version as some of the live tracks are quite lovely.
Lightning Dust – Infinite Light
Lightning Dust are Amber Webber and Joshua Wells from the band Black Mountain. Their songs are a contradiction: sparse, spacious, but also very full sounding with instruments carefully layered. In parts it sounds like remote mountain folk music, in others it rocks. And then there is Webber’s vocals – the tremor in her voice just held back enough that it is effective rather than annoying. Very strong.
A gorgeous summery album by a Scandinavian band who make, apparently, Balearic pop. The album is full of strong melodies, with a mixture of African rhythms and 80s pop beats, and a hint of St Etienne. It is a short, almost perfectly formed gem that makes you believe in a summer that almost wasn’t.
The XX – The XX
There has been a real buzz around the young, London based The XX and it is easy to see why. This is a very strong album full of great songs and great playing, with a consistent atmosphere throughout. Reference points are, most obviously, Young Marble Giants with bits of The Cure, Jesus and Mary Chain and the Cocteau Twins, all topped off with some R&B. When you learn this is a debut album and that most of the band are still in their teens it seems even more remarkable.
The Big Pink – A Brief History of Love
Another London band that has attracted a lot of hype in recent months. A Brief History of Love is their debut album, though they have a background as a noise band. Shoegaze / rock with a 60’s psychedelic feel. In bits – the title track, Velvet and Crystal Visions – the album is quite majestic. But other tracks plod aimlessly making the whole thing a little frustrating.
Ramona Falls – Intuit
It is always a pleasant surprise to stumble across an album by an artist you like when you didn’t even know they were recording. Ramona Falls is the “solo” album by Menomena’s Brent Knopf (Menomena have recorded two great albums in recent years). It features a host of collaborators and sounds, on the whole, like Menomena. Built around Knopf’s distinctive voice and piano style, these are a series of intricately constructed songs which take surprising turns. A lovely album that after a number of listens is still revealing new details.
Worth mentioning in passing a few albums that didn’t do anything for me: The Low Anthem, Richmond Fontaine, Doves, Eels, White Denim, Kasabian, Jamie T, Wild Beasts, Dirty Projectors, Muse, Magnolia Electric Co., God Help The Girl, Cornershop, Graham Coxon, Arctic Monkeys, Taken By Trees, Mew.
Love the image below by Jeff Jacobson