Clouds and Fire! Two artists at the top of their game: Iron & Wine (London Apollo, 16th February 2018) & Kendrick Lamar (Wembley Arena, 20th February 2018)

Two very different concerts within four days except that these two artists are among my favourite ones and currently at the top of their games so I thought it would be interesting to write a common review.

  • Iron & Wine, London Eventim Apollo, 16th February 2018

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For those who have not read yet the many posts I did on this band, Iron & Wine is the musical and stage name of Sam Beam, a very talented guy from Texas who happened also to be a father of five daughters …and the owner one of the most beautiful beards in the indie rock scene. He has been a long favourite of mine, basically since 2007 when I cherished his “The Shepherd’s Dog” album after driving through Texas that year. I have been lucky to catch him on stage in a few countries (USA, France, UK) and these gigs have never been anything else than pure joy so good is the guy on stage.

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Half Waif, the project of American-Indian Nandi Rose Plunkett singer, was a very good opening act. Funnily enough, I was seated just near her aunt and uncle (from Ashford, UK!) who were both very proud and moved by their niece’s beautiful voice.

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Sam Beam got on stage a bit later and he was as usual a mixed bag of emotion, cynicism and great humour. However, his great personality would be nothing without the beauty of his voice and songs and once again that was an amazing gig. There is a quality in his voice and melodies which may look common at first hearing for the non-converted but which is in reality completely different from that of a regular folk singer. First, his arrangements are always very subtle and influenced by pop, rock or even hip hop sometimes (he did a great cover of New Order‘s “Love Vigilantes“). Secondly, his themes and lyrics are nothing but extraordinary, mixing day-to-day life and poetry sometimes in the same sentence. Catch him live if you can or at least start to listen to these recommended records if you want to know more.

  • Kendrick Lamar, Wembley Arena, 20th February 2018

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I had a sort of hesitation to catch the incredible Kendrick Lamar on stage but I eventually went to see this gig, having the pleasure of being accompanied by my favourite teenager. For those who followed this blog on a regular basis, you will probably know I am a huge fan of this young rapper (well, not so young as I spotted he is now in his early 30’s) and that his last records have all been in my end of the year list (ALBUM OF THE YEAR actually in 2015). So indeed there was no real reason not to catch him live. However, I was a bit afraid to have again the Drake syndrome, i.e. not to find live Kendrick Lamar’s songs as good on stage as they are on records.

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It was fortunately not to be so and I must say it was an incredible and dense show. The great James Blake, his subtle electro/rock music and his beautiful voice put everyone in the right mood for the arrival of Kend…, sorry Kenny, our kung-fu turtle master of the evening. The guy played all night on his own on stage and unless I am wrong, there was no musician anywhere and the music was totally sampled from his records. The show itself was very good and full of rhythm and energy, although there was sometimes too much fire lights and special effects to my taste.

To put it differently, it could have been a not so pleasant mass celebration kind of show but that was not the case at all, thanks to the charismatic but quite humble personality of that evening’s host. Clothed in a beautiful colourful suit, our MC showed to his audience as much talent as energy and respect to his audience. One cannot say the guy is idle as after two sold-out gigs at the O2 Arena the previous week, he went back to the US to entertain the NBA All-Star before travelling back to London. ..and you may have noted he was the main musical force under the OST of the Black Panther movie, just released a few days ago. In a nutshell, Kendrick Lamar is currently at the top of his game in terms of art and like all great artists in such a position (say David Bowie, Prince, Radiohead or again Jack White), he does not sleep on his laurels but takes advantage of this period to be as productive as one can be. Good job Kenny!

Best albums of 2017 – Top 25.

Another year goes by and the more it goes, the less it seems to make sense … but not more or less than in the previous 3,000 years I guess. On these philosophical words, let’s focus on what this blog’s editor knows best, i.e. build nice end of the year lists!

Thanks to the nice suggestion of a friend, I started at the beginning of 2017 reviews of the best albums of the month. Quite a nice story and overall it meant that I listened to even more music thanks the intensive use of the streaming service I am subscribed to but also to regular visits to my local favourite stores, Rough Trade in particular. I tried to listen to all styles of music (folk, jazz, metal, pop, world, indie, soul, hip-hop,…) and hopefully without any prejudice. I can therefore proudly claim and make official that indeed big sellers such as Katie Perry, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Miley Cyrus or again Sam Smith have all released completely boring, uninteresting or sometimes atrocious records. Not a question of snobbishness but these records are produced without any invention, emotion or soul. The below list is of course subjective but as every year is a mix of newcomers, mature bands, artist I discovered on stage or people who had an impact in 2017. I could have easily select 100 albums I can come back to on a regular basis but that was not the point.

Top 25 this year and without further due, let’s start with our Album of the Year which is a masterpiece! For the sake of clarity, you can click this year on two links: the first one will take you to the monthly review when this album went out and the second one to a potential live review if any.

Pure Comedy

#1 Father John Misty – “Pure Comedy”. Out in: April 2017Live review What makes a record one’s album of the year. Beautiful music in the way Elton John could do in his peak in the 70’s with a touch of indie rock attitude? Angry and beautiful words against the state of the world ? Sensitive songs about the difficulty in being in love and making a relationship work ? Poetry ? Amazing presence on stage ? Probably all of this but to me what made it album of the year was the constant companionship and pure rough emotion I found in this album since it went out. Joshua Tillman is definitely increasing his game with every release. Stream it, buy it, read the words, catch him live; Father John Misty has made by far the RECORD OF THE YEAR!

Yesterday's Gone #2 Loyle Carner – “Yesterday’s Gone”. Out in: January 2017. This is the amazing debut album of the young London rapper Coyle Larner. His artist name is Loyle Carner as this is the way he used to pronounce his name when he was a kid due to dyslexia. He was also diagnosed as having behaviour trouble at that age but the young man found an escape in theatre and music. After the devastating death of his father in law, he went back to his music and released this very personal album full of great soul and jazz samples. Welcome to the club of great artists young man and keep on bringing a Man Utd Eric Cantona on stage.

DAMN. #3 Kendrick Lamar – “DAMN.” Out in: April 2017. Kendrick Lamar does not need this blog to be more famous or more critically appreciated as it looks the whole world loves him now.. and other artists too as he appeared this year on many other tracks (U2, Miguel or again N.E.R.D amongst many others). This is an extraordinary album again and the young man is definitely the current most talented artist. Every new album is an exciting event so let’s hope it will last for a few more extra years.

Aromanticism #4 Moses Sumney– “Aromanticism”. Out in: September 2017. Live review. Those who are familiar with this blog may remember the emotion and positive shock I had whilst catching this young American artist live at End of the Road festival. His debut album is as amazing as he is on stage. He has the voice of an angel servicing very personal, melodic and original-sounding songs. If Bjork was a Black American young man in his 20’s, she would probably sound like him. To discover without further due.

The Loved Ones #5 Flyte – “The Loved Ones”. Out in: August 2017. A real grower that one as it was not in my August 2017 selection. This record made me young again as I discovered them after catching the cover of the record in a billboard in London (as used to be the case in ancient times). This young band from London made what I consider a classic in terms of melody and freshness of the sounds while respecting the grand tradition of great bands from the past such as Prefab Sprout, The Bluebells, Aztec Camera or again The Dream Academy. If such influences do not make you want to discover it, English pop rock bands must not be your taste!

Hot Thoughts #6 Spoon  “Hot Thoughts”. Out in: March 2017. Live review. Another great LP by this truly exceptional band. The difficulty with bands like Spoon (or The National for instance) is that one is so used to quality with each release that one has to favour more glamorous things or new ones. Let’s not fall into this easy trap and celebrate one of the most inventive bands of our times. The more they go, the better they are it seems…

Moonshine Freeze #7 This Is The Kit- “Moonshine Freeze”. Out in: July 2017. Live review. This is the second time that Kate Sable’s band ends up in our best of the year ranking after 2015 excellent “Bashed Out”. Her music is also getting more mature and accomplished and her peers start to recognize such a talent. Folk music for those who do not like it.

Lotta Sea Lice #8 Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile  “Lotta Sea Love”. Out in: October 2017. This is typically the kind of collaboration which should have been interesting at best as very often two great artists playing together do not produce something amazing. This is totally untrue here between the young Australian singer and her male American counterpart. They built a friendship while meeting on tour, experienced a few songs and then ended making a proper LP. Very refreshing Velvet Underground-sounding music and nice words relating the troubles for those travelling a lot for their work (I guess not only musicians could relate to this!).

All - Amerikkkan Bada$$ #9 Joey Bada$$  “All – Amerikkkan Bada$$”. Out in: April 2017. Firstly for those of you who follow with the same intensity as I did “Mr. Robot”, let me precise that this is indeed the same Joey who plays Leon in the series. Having said that, Joey Bada$$ is first and foremost a great MC. This is the third hip-hop album in this selection and although I have been listening to tens of them, nothing moves me more than rappers talking about the state of the world on great soul and jazz beats and samples. Am I really that old-school?

Sleep Well Beast #10 The National  “Sleep Well Beast”. Out in: September 2017. Live review. …and here they are in this selection as well. Not a surprise for regular readers of this blog as I guess they probably have been my favourite band of the current decade. Great album as usual but this time with a leap forward in terms of electronic sounds and songs structure. In other words, they keep on being more inventive while staying what they are. One of the greatest bands of our times.

Painted Ruins #11 Grizzly Bear  “Painted Ruins”. Out in: August 2017. Live reviewGrizzly Bear have once more delivered the goods and this album is probably that where you will find the most beautiful voices of them all. This band keeps on going forward in their own very singular way and every new listen brings extra discoveries and entertainment. A great album to enter their world and potentially go backwards to their previous LP’s.

A Deeper Understanding #12 The War On Drugs  “A Deeper Understanding”. Out in: August 2017. His 2014 album “Lost In A Dream” was a masterpiece although for some reason it did not end in my end of the year list at the time; not sure why… I write “his” as the band is really the brainchild of Adam Granduciel. This new opus is as good as the previous one and the way to describe it best is to associate it with the early 80’s Bruce Springsteen records (“Born In The USA” or “Tunnel Of Love”) with an indie attitude. Play it on and you will dance to it!

Songs of Experience #13 U2  “Songs Of Experience”. Out in: December 2017. A very recent release so once again quite difficult to judge as a record very often needs time to reveal if it is a good one, a classic…or a a fake! My gut feeling is that this is one of U2’s best and a few songs already sound like stadium classics. After the fantastic “Joshua Tree” tour this year, I am looking forward to catching them… backstage for their next tour!

I See You #14 The Xx  “I See You”. Out in: January 2017. This record is on the opposite side vs. the previous one in terms of date as it was released very early in January. I had already forgotten its beauty and I had to listen to it again to get it right. The song “On Hold” is particularly very moving for this blog’s writer ; the reason being probably the great use of a Hall & Oates sample…

American Dream #15 LCD Soundsystem  “American Dream”.  Out in: September 2017. Live review. So it was not really the end of LCD Soundsystem when its leader James Murphy decided to end it all in 2011 at the Madison Square Garden… Well, I guess we should be delighted then as their comeback record is as good as their previous ones, keeping the New York Grooooove Thang sound. One of the best dance machine ever is back!

Slowdive #16 Slowdive -“Slowdive”. Out in: May 2017. Live review. Excellent shoegazing band comeback #1.

Weather Diaries #17 Ride – “Weather Diaries”. Out in: June 2017. Live review. Excellent shoe gazing band comeback #2.

Mental Illness #18 Aimee Mann – “Mental Illness”. Out in: March 2017. Live review. One of the most beautiful and singular female voices.

Masseduction #19 St. Vincent – “Masseduction”. Out in: October 2017. Perfect and moving pop music from a young woman #1.

Melodrama #20 Lorde – “Melodrama”. Out in: June 2017. Perfect and moving pop music from a young woman #2.

Villains #21 Queens Of The Stone Age – “Villains”. Out in: August 2017. No Villains, only Heroes!    

Dark Days and Canapés #22 Ghostpoet – “Dark Days + Canapés”. Out in: August 2017. Former call center British employee ; all roads lead to Rome!      

Witness #23 Benjamin Booker – “Witness”. Out in: June 2017. Blues Soul Punk Rock young master.      

In Spades #24 The Afghan Whigs – “In Spades”. Out in: May 2017. Live review. Second excellent album since they reformed.

Drunk #25 Thundercat – “Drunk”. Out in: February 2017. Soul and hip hop bass player gets solo.

So it looks the power of Anglo-Saxon music is over if you read a few magazines…but my selection is made out of artists and bands from the UK, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland only. I guess this is what moves me the most. The more it goes, the more this selection is well balanced between men and women…although I must recognize that this is still dominated by male US rock.

Other voices’ (websites, magazines, records stores, etc…) Top 10.

You will find below a selection of other lists but there are so many of them that you may also want to go to the albumoftheyear.org website to get an aggregation of them all (© JG from Garidech). Kendrick Lamar being the definite winner it seems…

  • Mojo (music mag): 1. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 2. Nadia Reid Preservation 3. Queens Of The Stone Age Villains 4. A Tribe Called Quest We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service 5. Jane Weaver Modern Kosmology 6. St. Vincent Masseduction 7. Kendrick Lamar DAMN 8. Hurray For The Riff Raff The Navigator 9. Sleaford Mods English Tapas 10. Aldous Harding Party
  • Uncut (music mag): 1. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 2. The War On Drugs A Deeper Understanding 3. Kendrick Lamar DAMN 4. The Weather Station The Weather Station 5. Joan Shelley Joan Shelley 6. Richard Dawson Peasant 7. The National Sleep Well Beast 8. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice 9. St. Vincent Masseduction 10. Hurray For The Riff Raff The Navigator
  • NME (not as great as it used to be…): 1. Lorde Melodrama 2. Wolfe Alice Visions Of A Life 3. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 4. Father John Misty Pure Comedy 5. LCD Soundsytem American Dream 6. J Hus Common Sense 7. SZA CTRL 8. Lana Del Rey Lust For Life 9. Wiley The Godfather 10. Liam Gallagher As You Were
  • Rough Trade (London, Nottingham, Bristol and Brooklyn stores): 1. Aldous Harding Post Party 2. Ryan Adams Prisoner 3. Bjork Utopia 4. Big Thief Capacity 5. Colter Wall Colter Wall 6. Cigarettes After Sex Cigarettes After Sex 7. The Big Moon Love In The 4th Dimension 8. Jane Weaver Modern Kosmology 9. Thundercat Drunk 10. Here Lies Man Here Lies Man
  • Fopp (UK stores): 1. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 2. The Xx I See You 3. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice 4. Father John Misty Pure Comedy 5. Richard Dawson Peasant 6. Fleet Foxes Crack-Up 7. Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit The Nashville Sound 8. Tinariwen Elwan 9. The National Sleep Well Beast 10. Grizzly Bear Painted Ruins
  • HMV (UK stores): 1. St. Vincent Masseduction 2. The War On Drugs A Deeper Understanding 3. The National Sleep Well Beast 4. Father John Misty Pure Comedy 5. Cigarettes After Sex Cigarettes After Sex 6. Alvvays Antisocialites 7. Aldous Harding Party 8. Jane Weaver Modern Kosmology 9. Slowdive Slowdive 10. The Horrors V
  • Greg Kot (Sound Opinions radio DJ #1): 1. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 3 2. Ted Leo The Hanged Man 3. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 4. Sir the Baptist Saint Or Sinner 5. Downtown Boys Cost Of Living 6. Protomartyr Relatives In Descent 7. Vic Mensa The Autobiography 8. Mavis Staples If All I Was Was Black 9. Moses Sumney Aromanticism 10. Priests Nothing Feels Natural
  • Jim Derogatis (Sound Opinions radio DJ #2): 1. The Regrettes Fell Your Feelings Fool! 2. Downtown Boys Cost Of Living 3. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 4. Priests Nothing Feels Natural 5. Rips Rips 6. Aimee Mann Mental Illness 7. Vic Mensa The Autobiography 8. The Feelies In Between 9. Wire Silver/Lead 10. Courtney Barnett And Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice
  • Pitchfork (music website): 1. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 2. SZA Ctrl 3. King Krule The OOZ 4. Kelela Take Me Apart 5. Lorde Melodrama 6. Moses Sumney Aromanticism 7. Vince Staples Big Fish Theory 8. Tyler, The Creator Flower Boy 9. Fever Ray Plunge 10. Jlin Black Origami
  • Paste (music website): 1. Jay Som Everybody Works 2. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 3. Father John Misty Pure Comedy 4. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 3 5. Courtney Barnett And Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice 6. Sheer Mag Need To Feel Your Love 7. Alvvays Antisocialites 8. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 9. Mount Eerie A Crow Looked At Me 10. Sampha Process
  • Les Inrocks (French mag): 1. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 2. King Krule The OOZ 3. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 4. Migos Culture 5. Alex Cameron Forced Witness 6. Juliette Armanet Petite Amie 7. Mac DeMarco This Old Dog 8. Orelsan La Fête Est Finie 9. Damso Ipséité 10. Cigarettes After Sex Cigarettes After Sex
  • The Guardian (UK daily newspaper) : 1. St. Vincent Masseduction 2. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 3. SZA Ctrl 4. Lorde Melodrama 5. Perfume Genius No Shape  6. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 7. The War On Drugs A Deeper Understanding 8. Thundercat Drunk 9. Kelela Take Me Apart 10. Richard Dawson Peasant
  • The Independent (UK website) : 1. Loyle Carner Yesterday’s Gone 2. Lorde Melodrama 3. Rapsody Laila’s Wisdom 4. Perfume Genius No Shape 5. SZA Ctrl 6. Ghostpoet Dark Days + Canapes 7. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 8. Syd Fin 9. Jessie Ware Glasshouse 10. Trampolene Swansea To Hornsey
  • Magic rpm (French bimonthly magazine, back in 2017…but already over in 2018?) : 1. Grizzly Bear Painted Ruins 2. Aldous Harding Party 3. Midget! Ferme Tes Jolis Cieux 4. Slowdive Slowdive 5. Kadjha Bonet The Visitor 6. Charlotte Gainsbourg Rest 7. Flotation Toy Warning The Machine That Made Us 8. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 9. Forever Pavot La Pantoufle 10. Big Thief Capacity
  • Noise Magazine (French bimonthly magazine) : 1. Quicksand Interiors 2. Blut Aus Nord Deus Salutis Meae 3. Jessica93 Guilty Species 4. Slowdive Slowdive 5. Dead Cross Dead Cross 6. Algiers The Underside Of Power 7. Oxbow Thin Black Duke 8. Crystal Fairy Crystal Fairy 9. Sleaford Mods English Tapas 10. At The Drive-In In.ter a.lia

April 2017 Album of the month: Kendrick Lamar “DAMN.”

April was a very good month in terms of diversity and I listened in particular to a few very good metal/doom records. They were not in the final choice but that was just to illustrate that there are so many good releases on a monthly basis…and hip-hop is back to the top this month.

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Album of the month: Kendrick Lamar “DAMN.” – Hip Hop – I hesitated a lot this month between Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$ and Father John Misty as these three Americans all released splendid records that may be considered as masterpieces when/if time confirms it. I did not find Kendrick’s new LP as great as the previous ones after a couple of listening but this album is a real grower and on par with his best material when you take the time to do so. What puts Kendrick aside from the rest of the competition today is probably the fact that he has the best balance between sound creativity, quality of songwriting and subtlety in words. To put it differently, today’s fight against the powers that be is to me more powerful if done this way rather than stating the obvious. One should note as well that Kendrick reminds everyone here of his excellence as a MC…and that the collaboration with U2 (“XXX.”) is actually very good!

  • Runner-up: Father John Misty – “Pure Comedy” – Pop/Rock – Quite difficult to summarize this record how complex and demanding it is. In terms of music style, Joshua Tillman digs the 70’s Elton John sound he started to play with his excellent former 2015 “I Love You, Honeybear” album. But the texts are amazing here and not easy to put in boxes. These are the words of a man in the middle of a weird and wide political and emotional world. Best way to understand what I am talking about is to listen to the 13-minute song “Leaving LA“.
  • Also recommended:
    • Timber Timbre “Sincerely, Future Pollution” – Synth Folk
    • Joey Bada$$– “ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$” – Hip Hop – An extraordinary record as well; it would have been record of the month if no such competition.
    • Splashh “Waiting A Lifetime” – Indie Rock
    • Gorillaz “Humanz” – Damon & friends playing all kinds of music
    • Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm “s/t” – Soul Blues
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month  Spoon – “Hot Thoughts”

 

2015 Top 15 records

Here we go for our annual review of the year in music through the best new records. Lots to write about in 2015 : dramatic and very important stuff with the Paris events but as well a few more derisory facts related to music in particular. The fact that the New Musical Express became a free weekly magazine was a very depressing one for those like me who were eagerly waiting in the 80’s and 90’s for its weekly edition to build one’s rock and pop culture. On the other side, vinyls are now available almost everywhere and one can only hope this is not a posh trend but something that will stay for good. I hope you will like this year’s selection ; I was quite happy to see so many powerful and independent women part of it by the way… And now, rock’n’roll !

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” What makes a record your favourite of the year ? Well, first, it has to be indeed your favourite and not the trendy choice to look cool and in line with rock critics’ choice. Then, it has to be a grower and probably not the kind of record you love after the first listens. On top of it, it probably has to get lost of changes, different musical styles, a few parts you do not really understand, others with which you are amazed, a kind of main thread through it too ? In this case, the choice is easily made and we are very happy to welcome a classic from Mr. Lamar three years after his previous opus. LP of the year !

TWO RUNNER UPS

Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I sit and think and sometimes I just sit” I have been told that one could feel that this record is made by someone special by looking at its cover and title and I must say this is really true. This young woman from Australia has justified this year all hopes put in her first past recordings with her proper debut album. Simple and punchy songs with a soft Velvet Underground influence for the music and simple and direct words from the “now” generation. Once you got this LP, I can tell you will have to listen to it regularly so good it is. Click here for live review.

 Torres “Sprinter” Torres is the musical moniker for American female singer Mackenzie Scott and this album has been a real discovery for me as I had missed her first good but not great LP. With a prestigious cast of musicians used to work with great artists such as PJ Harvey or Portishead, she delivered with this record a series of extremely powerful and melodic songs built around a very strong personality. Difficult to describe as her music does not appear so different at first but the richness and greatness is felt little by little when one takes the time to do so. Like what all great music, you will be rewarded if you take enough time for this record. Click here for live review.

The rest of the Top 15 records in no particular order

 Sleater-Kinney “No Cities to Love” Witnessing the reunion of Mss. Tucker, Weiss and Brownstein under the Sleater-Kinney tag was one of the joys of 2015. I must admit that I missed this band when they were at their peaks and only discovered them through the 2006 “The Woods” LP. In the meantime, I did my homework and bought little by little all their amazing punchy punk and melodic albums and became a fan of the “Portlandia” series in which Carrie Brownstein acts. No such fun as in the series in this record but an excellent job done by this female trio. …and Janet Weiss on drums has been for a long time a friend of this blog as she has played with so many great bands (Elliott Smith, Stephen Malkmus, Quasi, etc…).

 Marilyn Manson “The Pale Emperor” I really think I would never have thought to find Brian Warner’s evil alter ego in such a list as his music had always been a mystery to me… I had enjoyed a few powerful tracks here and there but always thought the guy and his band were a bit fake and difficult to like through an entire album. Complete change of thoughts with this LP which is a real and constant pleasure for those who like bluesy and powerful music. The musicianship and sense of melody are great in all tracks but what makes this record a real gem is the way Marilyn Manson uses his amazing voice. The kind of records Nick Cave could do to soundtrack “The Road” (ok, I know he did but you got the point…)

 Father John Misty “I Love You, Honeybear” Father John Misty is the name Josh Tillman took a few years ago and this symbolic act was indeed a liberation for him. After publishing a few solo records under his own name and more famously being the drummer for the (slightly boring but) good band The Fleet Foxes, he decided to get away from his folk and hippie look and make more aerial music. This record is indeed very ambitious and could have been done in the 70’s by West Californian singers. Complex and beautiful words also influenced by his getting recently married and the eternal husband-and-wife relationship stories…

 Tobias Jesso, Jr. “Goon” Talking about simple but beautiful songs played on the piano, let me please introduce you to Tobias Jesso, Jr. His story is the kind that could have been invented. After a few failed tentatives to succeed in the music industry, and after the conjunction of a car accident and the news that his mother was sick, the young man gave up on his Californian dream and travelled back to Vancouver. Family news fortunately got better with time and he started to compose a few songs on his sister’s piano…and here you go for one of the records of the year. He was even (un?)lucky to be chosen for one of his track to be sung by a successful English chanteuse called A., whom this blog will not mention as we are talking about the best of 2015 here!

 Sufjan Stevens “Carrie & Lowell” As often described for musical oeuvres that need a bit of time to get really appreciated, this album is a grower. I was actually quite surprised by its simplicity, knowing Sufjan Stevens is one of my Top 100 artists and is generally more ambitious in his records. This is  a very moving and autobiographical story based around his mother (and her demons) and his stepfather. The more one listens to this record, the most one will be touched by these amazing melodies and sense of detail. A year with a new record from Sufjan Stevens cannot be that bad. Click here for live review.

 Blur “The Magic Whip” Another quite unexpected news as although Blur had been back together for a few shows and singles, the idea of an album was not really realistic due mainly to all out-of-Blur extra activities held by Damon Albarn. Good news is that Graham Coxon is probably now the one who cherishes the most this entity called Blur and he was the real brain behind this new record. Cut from hours of jams when the band was stuck in Asia for a few days last year, he succeeded in putting structures behind these songs and suggested to Damon Albarn to add a few melodies here and there. The results are amazing and make it one of the best records from Blur. Welcome back gents.

 My Morning Jacket “The Waterfall” Seventh studio album for this incredible American band and its singer Jim James. This album has not been a real star amongst rock reviewers and I think the reasons are that My Morning Jacket are now very far from their original americana sound and that this album cannot easily be identified easily. Songs and styles all over the place indeed but to me this is what makes it probably their best record. Jim James has never sung so beautifully and I remember their End of the Road concert as one of the best of my musical year.

 Du Blonde “Welcome Back to Milk” Singer Beth Jeans Houghton went through a David Bowie (re)discovery phase, decided that life was too short to do the same music again and again and therefore decided to adapt this new Du Blonde moniker. Recorded with members of the Bad Seeds and other guests, her re-invention was really spectacular and beautiful. Powerful and melodic songs from a young woman not afraid to take risks in her career, what could one ask for more ? Click here for live review.

 This Is The Kit “Bashed Out” Mainly the project of their singer Kate Stables who spends her life between Paris and the UK, this record is to me the perfect synthesis between folk and modernity and I mean it as a real compliment. The sounds they create are really warm but with a constant sense of melody compared to other of their contemporaries. The show they performed at the End of the Road festival was amazing and probably over what they had expected, according to their reactions that day.

 Kurt Vile “B’lieve I’m Goin Down” This man has regularly been in our best of these last years when he has a new record but this is based on his high level of excellence rather than by laziness or habit. He is one of the young musician of our times I have seen the most on stage and I think there is no coincidence so brilliant he is live. The only difference vs. twenty or thirty years ago is that now such musicians bring their guitars cases on stage and do not drive in limos… A few new sounds here and there on this record with lots of piano for instance but once again the best way to describe Kurt Vile to me is an “indie” Bruce Springsteen.

 Kamasi Washington “The Epic” I think this is the first time that a so-called jazz record can actually be found in such a list in this blog. Weird I guess as jazz is probably one of the musical genres I like the most, best proof being the presence of Miles Davis and John Coltrane in my Top 100 of all times. However, to me, it has too often become a rigid style a bit far from the diversity and dynamism of new music… and this is the reason why this amazing triple album can be found here this year. Kamasi Washington often plays with hip-hop or electro artists such as Kendrick Lamar or Flying Lotus and one can feel these influences in his music. An incredible sense of urgency and melodic madness during these three hours that seem to last three minutes. A record impossible to miss.

 Robert Forster “Songs to Play” One of the finest return to form this year came from Robert Forster and that was quite an unexpected one. The former Go-Betweens co-leader has been particularly active this year either through the fantastic “G stands for Go-Betweens” box set for which he wrote the comments or with this great new record. So indeed this is not the nu-metal or grime new phase of Robert Forster but beauty often lies in classicism… Click here for live review.

Other top 5’s :

  • New Musical Express (UK formerly rock Bible – now free weekly bullshit): 1. Grimes “Art Angels” 2. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 3. Jamie XX “In Colour” 4. Wolf Alice “My Love is Cool5. Tame Impala “Currents”
  • Uncut (UK monthly mag.): 1. Julia Holter “Have You in my Wilderness” 2. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 3. Sufjan Stevens “Carrie & Lowell” 4. Ryley Walker “Primrose Green” 5. Father John Misty “I Love You, Honeybear”
  • Mojo (UK monthly mag.): 1. Julia Holter “Have You in my Wilderness” 2. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 3. New Order “Music Complete” 4. Tame Impala “Currents” 5. Jim O’Rourke “Simple Songs”
  • Paste (US web mag.): 1. Father John Misty “I Love You, Honeybear” 2. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 3. Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I just Sit” 4. Sleater-Kinney “No Cities to Love” 5. Hop Along “Painted Shut”
  • Pitchfork (US website): 1. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 2. Jamie XX ”In Colour” 3. Grimes “Art Angels” 4. Vince Staples “Summertime ’06” 5. Tame Impala “Currents”
  • Les Inrockuptibles (French weekly mag.): 1. Tobias Jesso Jr. “Goon” 2. Tame Impala “Currents” 3. Sufjan Stevens “Carrie & Lowell” 4. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 5. Django Django “Born Under Saturn”
  • Magic rpm (French monthly mag.): 1. The Apartments ” No Song No Spell No Madrigal” 2. Aline “La Vie Electrique” 3. Julia Holter “Have You in my Wilderness” 4. Tame Impala “Currents” 5.  Nicolas Godin  “Contrepoint”
  • New Noise (French bimonthly mag.): 1. Faith No More “Sol Invictus” 2. Failure “The Heart is a Monster” 3. Marriages “Salome” 4. Chelsea Wolfe “Abyss” 5. Vision of Disorder “Razed to the Ground”
  • Sound Opinions (US music podcast)
    • Jim DeRogatis’  1. Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I just Sit” 2. Low Cut Connie “Hi Honey” 3. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly 4. Bully “Feels Like” 5. Titus Andronicus “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” 
    • Greg Kot’s 1. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” 2. Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I just Sit” 3. Protomartyr “The Agent Intellect” 4. Shamir “Ratchet  5. Vince Staples “Summertime ’06
  • Other Music (NY records store): Top 30 in no particular order
  • Rough Trade (London records store) : 1. Bjork “Vulnicura” 2. Father John Misty “I Love You, Honeybear” 3. Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I just Sit” 4. Ezra Furman “Perpetual Motion People” 5. Max Richter “from Sleep”
  • Ground Zero (French disquaire) : Top 10 in no particular order

Best of 2012 : Top 20 !

This is already festive season time and our worldwide-famous best of 20 of the year. No smart words to write down this year as an introduction except that no excuse not to be interested in music in 2012 as choice and diversity are here more than ever.

Albums

 Channel Orange

Album of the Year – Frank Ocean “channel ORANGE”. Frank Ocean had been around for a few years either in the collective Odd Future or  as being one of the guests of last year shared album between Kanye West and Jay Z…but really nothing was preparing us for such a beauty. A tremendous record which one can really identify as being part of the 2012 culture and themes but bearing at the same time a sense of history. The music is a mix of soul, hip-hop, R’n’B, pop, rock with a beautiful voice reminding the greats such as Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder. I particularly liked as well as the interludes within the LP that make you feel this is more than one simple record. Album of the year

Animal Joy

My number 2 – ShearwaterAnimal Joy”. Once more and as in previous years, an excellent record from Shearwater, the Austin, TX based band. I had the pleasure in seeing them live twice in Paris this year (first one in La Maroquinerie with a great talk with their singer Jonathan Meiburg and the second one in La Boule Noire this time having a talk with the great rock critic Michka Assayas). I take the risk of repeating myself but this band is really amongst the best we have either for the intensity of the music or the class of the songs and I do not understand why they are not more famous. If you never heard a Shearwater record before, start with this one.

 

My number 3 – Paul Buchanan “Mid Air”. 2012 has been a kind of old-guys-being-back list and Paul Buchanan is the first example. This is the first solo LP of the singer of The Blue Nile and this is an album not to share but to listen to on your own very late at night. Based almost only on piano and voice, this record seems so fragile and strong simultaneously, bringing a sense of sadness and serenity complicated to explain with words.

One Day I'm Going to Soar

My number 4 – DexysOne Day I’m Going To Soar”. Talking about come back, this one was probably the most incredible and unexpected one of all times. This blog has been a huge fan of Dexys Midnight Runners (their 1985 LP “Don’t Stand Me Down” being a masterpiece as far as I am concerned). The issue is that band leader Kevin Rowland had lost himself in a perfectionism will and that apart from two weird solo LP’s, the name Dexys had been buried for 27 years…. Built with the help of former Style Council man Billy Talbot, this is as if Dexys had never left the music scene, with this fantastic white soul style. A very moving return.

 

My number 5 – Benjamin Biolay “Vengeance”. Vive la France ! Hyperactive Benjamin Biolay has returned again with a great LP, mixing very different styles and guests (including Carl Barat from the Libertines and French rapper Oxmo Puccino). Fewer ballads than usual but always that emotion one can feel I guess even if they do not understand the lyrics. Looking forward to seeing him on stage in 2013.

Other great records of my top 20 (by alphabetical order)

 Alabama Shakes “Boys & Girls”. Debut album from the Athens, Alabama, soul and southern rock oriented band. This record could have been out forty years ago but is really fresh as well. Click on les Inrocks Festival review to get a better flavour of the band.

  Fiona Apple “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do ” Tiny American chanteuse back with her leaner album in terms of instrumentation, with songs that directly go under your skin.

  Cloud Nothings “Attack On Memory”. Nothing revolutionary in leader Dylan Baldi’s music but such a pleasure to hear a pure guitar-band, influenced by Nirvana and by German repetitive rock at the same time. Pitchfork Festival review available when clicking.

 Hot Chip “In Our Heads”. London dance band Hot Chip’s 2012 LP might be their best. If you like your classic New Order dance period and beautiful nostalgic melodies…

  Howlin Rain “The Russian Wilds”. Every year, a psychedelic rock record gives me shivers down the spine. Last year was Jonathan Wilson, this year this is Ethan Miller’s band new LP.

  JapandroidsCelebration Rock”. Two crazy motherf*****s from Canada on guitar and drums making noise as if they were ten on stage (as seen at the Paris Pitchfork Festival) but with a “je ne sais quoi” of nostalgia that makes them one of the current bands to get interested in.

  Kendrick Lamar “good kid, m.A.A.d. city”. This, the official debut from young L.A., California, M.C. Kendrick Lamar is my favourite traditional hip-hop record in a very good year for the genre. Produced partly by Dr. Dre, this narrates the story of an 25-year old guy hanging out in Compton and has the best beats and samplings (hello Beach House) I have heard in a long time.

  Bob Mould “Silver Age”. Good old Bob… In a year when the three Sugar albums have been reissued and when he played “Copper Blue” on stage, Bob Mould took the time to give us this new LP, finding back the muscular guitar oriented sound of these first Sugar records. An important and appealing personality, Bob Mould is more relevant than ever.

  SpiritualizedSweet Heart, Sweet Light”. Talking about classic bands, here is another one. And this is probably one of the best records in Jason Pierce’s long career started in the 80′ with the Spacemen 3. If you like your gospel melodies with repetitive mantra, this record is for you (click for Festival les Inrocks review)

 Tame Impala “Lonerism”. Kevin Parker, leader of this Australian band, is simultaneously a complicated young man and a huge music lover, both qualities that created a monster of a modern psychedelic record. This is probably the album in our list that requires the most listening as their music is very rich and hides many beauties.

  The Walkmen “Heaven”. Like for instance Spoon, The National or Shearwater, The Walkmen are part of these great American middle-aged bands whose punch and melodies know-how is to cherish. What is difficult with these bands is distinguish an album from another as they are all excellent. I found a very moving maturity in “Heaven” and the songs were perfect for live shows.

 Paul Weller “Sonik Kicks”. Our all-time favourite non-smiling British citizen, Paul Weller has once again delivered the goods mixing his beautiful melodies with a rejuvenated interested in repetitive Krautrock. This guy should really be a model for all young musicians as his never-ending enthusiasm is something to cherish (as seen on stage).

  Jack White “Blunderbuss”. This is probably the most beautiful cover of all year (hello blue, goodbye red) but this is not the reason why Jack White is here. Amazing first solo record, mixing soul, retro rock, ballads and even…hip-hop influences. We do love values of hard work in this blog and this is not a coincidence to find musicians such as Jack White (and Paul Weller and Benjamin Biolay…) in our end of the year list. Tremendous shows as well all year-long for Jack White!

  Yeti Lane “The Echo Show”.  This is the second LP of this French band and one of the most enjoyable LP’s of the year. I must say this is the ideal target for our blog as we like melodic repetitive music here! I had the pleasure in seeing them live as well at the Rock en Seine festival and they are very good on stage.

 Neil Young with Crazy Horse “Psychedelic Pill”. Last but not least, 2012 was also the year of our beloved Canadian with no less than two records done with the beautiful Crazy Horse and one biography (“Waging Heavy Piece”). Fantastic long songs with lots of feedback ; keep on rocking in the free world, Neil!

Other top 5’s (Frank Ocean and Tame Impala everywhere!) :

  • New Musical Express (UK weekly mag.): 1. Tame Impala “Lonerism” 2. Grimes “Visions3. Frank Ocean ”channel ORANGE 4. Crystal Castles “(iii)” 5. Alt-J “An Awesome Wave
  • Uncut (UK monthly mag.): 1. Leonard Cohen “Old Ideas” 2. Bob Dylan “Tempest” 3. Jack White “Blunderbuss” 4. Dr John “Locked Down” 5. Frank Ocean “channel ORANGE”
  • Mojo (UK monthly mag.): 1. Jack White “Blunderbuss2. Frank Ocean “channel ORANGE 3. Bill Fay “Life Is People” 4. Leonard Cohen “Old Ideas” 5. Dexys “One Day I’m Going To Soar”
  • Paste (US web mag.): 1. Frank Ocean “channel ORANGE” 2. Father John Misty “Fear Fun” 3. Titus Andronicus “Local Business” 4. Fiona Apple “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do ” 5. Sharon Van Etten “Tramp”
  • Pitchfork  (US website): 1. Kendrick Lamar “good kid, m.A.A.d. city2. Frank Ocean “channel ORANGE3. Fiona Apple “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do ” 4. Tame Impala “Lonerism” 5. Swans “The Seer”
  • Les Inrockuptibles (French weekly mag.): 1. Alt-J “An Awesome Wave” 2. Tame Impala “Lonerism” 3. Liars “WIXIW” 4. Frank Ocean “channel ORANGE” 5. Django Django “Django Django” Their “best of 2012 Hors-Série” is as usual recommended as still excellent and coming with a CD of their prefered tracks of the year.
  • Magic rpm (French monthly mag.): 1. Chromatics “Kill For Love” 2. Chris Cohen “Overgrown Path” 3. Kindness “World, You Need A Change Of Mind” 4. Grizzly Bear “Shields” 5. Dominique A “Vers Les Lueurs”
  • New Noise (French bimester mag.): 1. Electric Electric “Discipline” 2. Dinosaur Jr. “I Bet On Sky” 3. OM “Advaitic Songs” 4. Mark Lanegan Band “Blues Funeral” 5. Cloud Nothings “Attack On Memory
  • Sound Opinions (US music podcast)   Greg Kot’s 1. Frank Ocean “channel ORANGE” 2. Kendrick Lamar “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” 3. Tame Impala “Lonerism” 4. Killer Mike “R.A.P. Music” 5. Kelly Hogan “I Like To Keep Myself in Pain”     Jim DeRogatis’ 1. Tame Impala “Lonerism” 2. Kelly Hogan “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain” 3. Frank Ocean “Channel ORANGE” 4. Melody’s Echo Chamber “Melody’s Echo Chamber” 5. Spiritualized “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light”
  • Fargo (Paris records store): Top 2012 records in no particular order (4 records in common)
  • Ground Zero (Paris records store): Top 10 – not available yet.
  • Other Music (NY records store): 1. Andy Stott “Luxury Problems” 2. Frkwys Vol. 9 Sun Arraw & M. Geddes Gengras Meets The Congos “Icon Give Thank” 3. Actress “R.I.P.” 4. Kendrick Lamar “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” 5. Daughn GibsonAll Hell”

Box Sets and Reissues

Many fantastic reissues this year (The Blue Nile, Sugar, Everything But The Girl, The Beat, Can, etc…) but if I had to choose three of them, no hesitation :

Blur “21”  Yes, you read well, 21 records (well, actually 18 CD’s and 3 DVD’s…) summarizing Blur’s career. They went back on tour as well and found time to play together between Damon Albarn’s numerous side-projects and Graham Coxon’s solo records and probably published the Single of the Year for me (“Under the Westway“). Beautiful box in which to dig every other day.

The Beatles “Vinyl Box Set”  Expensive indeed but having the complete works of this quite famous band remastered in a nice box with a beautiful book might be priceless. (re)discover if need be…

Roxy Music “The Complete Studio Recordings” Jump on it ; very cheap and indispensable CD Box Set if you want your place to look like home. Best band ever?

DVD’s and Blue Rays

Experiencing Blue Ray for movies is like doing the same when you have your first automatic gear-box for cars ; very difficult to give up when you have such a degree of quality definition in pictures and sounds. I therefore warmly recommend the two following extraordinary movies in this format :

LCD Soundsystem ” Shut Up And Play The Hits” 3-Disc set with on one side the full last ever show shot in 2011 at the Madison Square Garden with guest such as Arcade Fire and on the other side the melancholic documentary about leader James Murphy future life. Basically, what will be your life when you split a music band at the height of their powers?

Led Zeppelin “Celebration Day” This is the famous 2007 one-shot concert with Jason Bonham (John’s son) on drums. 20 million people (including me) had applied on the internet to see that show and one can see why here : one of the best songs ever written played by these great men.

That’s it for 2012. Please surf on the blog as there is plenty to watch and read and see you in 2013 for the follow-up of our Top 100 bands/artists of all times!