Anyone close to me knows that music is a huge part of my life, and it dawned on me the other day that it’s something I hardly ever write about. Once in a while I might have a little rant about the state of popular music today *waves cane* but otherwise, I’ve noticed I tend to refrain from exclaiming over the joys of whatever happens to be filling my ears. I think that’s probably because I’ve stayed faithful to the homeland – my days are filled with BBC radio, NME recommendations, and anything sung by anybody from Wales. Sadly, this hardly makes for relatable conversation – but I felt it was about time I indulged and wrote about one of the things I love most in this world, and hopefully got some feedback (or better, recommendations!).
There were a number of albums over the last couple of years I’d heard a few tracks from, and then promptly pre-ordered from overseas, feeling like an excitable child on Christmas morning when they arrived in the post, jumping around and rushing to put them in the DVD player. (Surprisingly, I don’t own a stereo.) One of them happened to be an eagerly anticipated release from my favourite band in the whole world, Muse (who by horrible misfortune happen to be coming to every other place in Canada but Winnipeg – Leanne, Sean, Amber, Hillary… I’m looking at you for vicarious living opportunities!).
I’d discovered them by mistake six or seven years ago when I happened to be dating a radio DJ who got lots of sample CDs in the mail to potentially play on his show. He’d been sent a Vanessa Carlton CD, which obviously wasn’t going on the air, but we pulled it out one evening for a laugh, and it just so happened to be completely the wrong disc inside – instead, it was a copy of Time Is Running Out. We gave it a listen, and then put it right back on again. Wavering falsettos, smart lyrics, an incredibly funky bassline and a totally anthemic chorus reminiscent of early Radiohead had us hooked – so I promptly bought (my) first Muse album, Absolution. Releases over the next six years were consistently brilliant, though their penultimate-to-date verged into new territory – and to be honest, I felt like I did when Radiohead pulled out Hail to the Thief. But after seeing them live at Wembley in the most heart-stopping performance (to a crowd of >70,000) I’ve ever seen, I was still excited about The Resistance. And it just so happened to be their best and most impressive record yet. It’s a powerful, political, intelligent, and overall stunning epic, and I struggle to find another band even close to being in the same league in terms of creativity, boldness and sheer imagination. And the first single sounded like the Dr. Who theme, which in my opinion, only means bonus points.
Another incredible album 2009 brought to my door was the wonderful Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons (take a listen!), a small English band who I’m flying out to Toronto to see in February (!), but who, puzzlingly, have seemingly failed to make north American frequencies. I’m not one for folky, country-type stuff at all – I’m a total indie kid with a love of anything Brit-rock or new wave – but this was unlike anything I’d ever heard. It’s a perfect balance of heart-wrenching, goosebump-inducing, earnest longing with a heavy dose of bluegrass and roots, dominated by thumping kick drums and a killer banjo (yes, really) that had me cranking my speakers and jumping around the living room. It’s an extraordinary debut; a stunning combination of the expertly crafted upbeats and raw, emotionally ripping passion, each song fully able to stand alone as a fabulously crafted masterpiece.
Toward the end of the year, through lucky chance and impeccable timing, two relatively new artists were brought to my ears. Patrick Wolf’s Damaris played on national radio, prompting me to find a copy of the album, The Bachelor, immediately. It wasn’t too long before I did, and it’s quite honestly the strangest and most wonderfully artistic thing I’ve heard in a very long time. It’s the only place I’ve ever found such abundant strings and choirs juxtaposed with electronic beats and a voice that is at the same time as much ‘80s new wave as it is medieval minstrel. For a girl who studied medieval history and English literature, and who loves nothing more than to play old Human League EPs on vinyl, it was the stuff dreams were made of. It’s epic, intelligent, dark and beautiful, and its disjointed, individually ill-fitting tracks coalesce to craft an unexpectedly fluid, and altogether elegant whole. This man is an artistic genius – and I can’t wait for part two of this release to hit shops later this year.
And lastly, an artist whose album is as of yet unreleased – Marina and the Diamonds. I caught one of her (their?) tracks while listening to the BBC a few weeks ago, and instantly thought of Kate Bush. From what I know, she’s a 50% Greek, 50% Welsh, and 100% very cool singer-songwriter armed with keyboards, retro auras and bucketloads of talent. The tracks I’ve heard so far – ‘I Am Not a Robot’, ‘Seventeen’ and the wonderful ‘Mowgli’s Road’ (do it…) are unlike anything else being produced in the world of pop music today. They’re catchy enough to be on mainstream radio, but are edgy, slightly bizarre, and as evocative of early Kate Bush enough to hook the indiest of indie kids. The album’s supposedly out in a couple of months – and I can’t wait.
Hope you didn’t mind my sharing – but these guys are the best thing to hit my radar in the last little while, and I think they deserve a bit of praise spread across the internet, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I am!
Who’s rocking your world these days?