Best albums of 2018 – Top 25

A bit late this year due to a long Xmas break trip overseas but rest assured that the traditional end of the year list has been done with the same level of focus and love than all previous years. A very dense year in terms of quantity of excellent records, meaning LP’s by The Dirty Projectors, Richard Thompson, Suede, Blood Orange, The Breeders, Arctic Monkeys or again Bodega could easily have been here as well. But I guess a man’s job is to do choices, right? Nice to find three jazz albums this year as well in this selection. You will find below other lists from websites or magazines; it really looks that I am the only person on Earth to find Christine and the Queens’ music irritating and full of clichés…

Anyway, without further due, let’s start with the album of the year, a real masterpiece done by an old friend.

#1 Gaz Coombes – “World’s Strongest Man”. Released in: May 2018 -Probably not a major surprise for those who follow this blog on a regular basis but I hope that this symbolic reward will make the whole world listen again or discover this amazing piece of music. This is Gaz Coombes’ third solo album and probably the best of his entire solo career or with the excellent band Supergrass. Songs are catchy, sounds are inventive and different from one track to another and the musicianship of it all is extraordinary. What makes this record different though are the lyrics and in particular the doubts, fears and hopes of a middle aged family man living in me-too times and in a society where we are all looking for a sense of purpose. RECORD OF THE YEAR!

  #2 The Lemon Twigs – “Go to School”. Released in: August 2018. The Lemon Twigs are the band of the very young d’Addario brothers and this is already their third release after their debut LP in 2016 and a great EP in 2017. Putting as number 2 record of the year a concept album about an adopted monkey going to school, feeling rejected and putting fire to his college building may seem a desperate move but trust me with this one. This is a real grower and all 16 songs are fantastic. Looking forward to catch them live again soon!

 #3 Flavien Berger – “Contre-temps”.Released in: September 2018. If I had to prove again that I do not have anything against French music, here is another example. The thing is that I do not really care and the only thing that has driven me throughout these years and with this blog in particular is to share emotion found in music. This album can also be considered as a sort of concept album because every track is really fresh and inventive. To be discovered and enjoyed by non-French speakers as well.

 #4 Rhye – “Blood”. Released in: February 2018. A beautiful, sensual and very delicate 2nd album from Canadian singer Mike Milosh. Everything great pop music should be in terms of melodies and freshness in sounds. Imagine if Sade were a man and doing her first records now…

 #5 Neneh Cherry – “Broken Politics”. Released in: October 2018. Another beautiful and very moving record from one of our favourite female artist and singer. Neneh Cherry’s releases are not as frequent as they used to be but really deserve to be listened to. This new LP in particular may be the best she has ever done, either thanks to the strength of the lyrics or to the serenity of her music.

 #6 Spiritualized  “And Nothing Hurt”. Released in: September 2018. Umpteenth album from former Spacemen Three‘s Jason Pierce. For those familiar with his art, you will find what you like, i.e. themes of love and desperation within repetitive and Velvet Underground influenced songs. For the others, this album is the perfect choice to discover this fantastic band.

 #7 Kanye West – “Ye”. Released in: June 2018. Another best of the year end list and another album from Mr. West. Although it looks his public and social life is getting weirder every day, his musical skills remain as strong as ever, in particular in this mini-album where he very openly describes his mental issues.

 #8 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever  “Hope Downs”. Released in: June 2018. Musical movements are often things created by journalists but one has to admit there is currently an excellent wave of new and young Australian bands. The Rolling Blackouts C.F. are probably the best of the crew and this album will delight old Go Betweens fans but also a younger audience excited by new comers.

 #9 Sons Of Kemet “Your Queen Is A Reptile”. Released in: March 2018. Led by the great Shabaka Hutchings, Sons of Kemet are today’s best representative bands of the so-called new British jazz scene. In reality, all these musicians only want to respect the elders and create new sounds, mixing up traditional jazz in a context where they have all been listening to hip-hop and R’n’B.

 #10 Bill Ryder-Jones  “Yawn”. Out in: November 2018. Another great album from The Coral former member. As for all his albums, this one deserves to be listened again and again to appreciate his beauty and extreme musicianship.

  • 11. Petite Noir“La Maison Noir / The Black House”
  • 12. Interpol“Marauder”
  • 13. Jeff Tweedy“Warm”
  • 14. MGMT “Little Dark Age”
  • 15. Idles“Joy As An Act Of Resistance”
  • 16. John Coltrane – “Both Directions At Once”
  • 17. Kurt Vile – “Bottle It In”
  • 18. Father John Misty – “God’s Favorite Customer”
  • 19. Courtney Barnett – “Tell Me How You Really Feel”
  • 20. Sunflower Bean – “Twentytwo In Blue”
  • 21. Shame – “Songs Of Praise”
  • 22. Ty Segall – “Freedom’s Goblin”
  • 23. Field Music – “Open Here”
  • 24. Villagers – “The Art Of Pretending To Swim”
  • 25. Kamasi Washington – “Heaven & Earth”

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. You will appreciate that the Top 5 is made out of female artists.

  • Mojo (UK music mag): 1. Kamasi Washington Heaven and Earth 2. Arctic Monkeys Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino 3. Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever Hope Downs 4. Janelle Monáe Dirty Computer 5. Christine and the Queens Chris 6. Idles Joy as an Act of Resistance 7. Ryley Walker Deafman Glance 8. Courtney Barnett Tell me how you really feel 9. Spiritualized And Nothing Hurt 10. The Breeders All Nerve
  • Uncut (UK music mag): 1. Low Double Negative 2. Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever Hope Downs 3. Ty Segall Freedom’s Goblin 4. Spiritualized And Nothing Hurt 5. Yo La Tengo There’s a Riot going on 6. Janelle Monáe Dirty Computer 7. Gruff Rhys Babelsberg 8. Beak> Invada 9. Christine and the Queens Chris 10. Sons of Kemet Your Queen is a Reptile
  • NME (UK website): 1. The 1975 A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships 2. Arctic Monkeys Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino 3. Idles Joy as an Act of Resistance 4. Sunflower Bean Twentytwo in Blue 5. Pusha T Daytona 6. Shame Songs of Praise 7. Kali Uchis Isolation 8. Cardi B Invasion of Privacy 9. Mitski Be the Cowboy 10. Christine and the Queens Chris
  • Rough Trade (London, Nottingham, Bristol and Brooklyn stores): 1. Shame Songs of Praise 2. Everything is Recorded By Richard Russell 3. Idles Joy as an Act of Resistance 4. Khruangbin Con todo el Mundo 5. Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever Hope Downs 6. Daniel Blumberg Minus 7. Goat Girl Goat Girl 8. Mark Peters Innerland 9. Courtney Barnett Tell me how you really feel 10. Oh Sees Smote Reverser
  • Fopp (UK stores): 1. Kamasi Washington Heaven and Earth 2. Idles Joy as an Act of Resistance 3. Low Double Negative 4. Courtney Barnett Tell me how you really feel 5. Young Fathers Cocoa Sugar 6. Christine and the Queens Chris 7. Janelle Monáe Dirty Computer 8. First Aid Kit Ruins 9. Jon Hopkins Singularity 10. Nils Frahm All Melody
  • Greg Kot (Sound Opinions radio DJ #1): 1. Sarah Shook & the Disarmers Years 2. Idles Joy as an Act of Resistance 3. Noname Romm 25. 4. Superchunk What a Time to be alive 5. Saba Care for me 6. Our Girl Stranger today 7. Parquet Courts Wide Awake! 8. boygenius boygenius 9. Motorcade Motorcade 10. Eleanor Friedberger Rebound
  • Jim Derogatis (Sound Opinions radio DJ #2): 1. Viagra Boys Street Worms 2. CupcakKe Ephorize 3. Courtney Barnett Tell me how you really feel 4. Superchunk What a Time to be alive 5. Dessa Chime 6. Vince Staples FM! 7. Amanda Shires To the Sunset 8. The Beths Future me hates me 9. John Prine The Tree of Forgiveness 10. Parquet Courts Wide Awake!
  • Pitchfork (US music website): 1. Mitski Be the Cowboy 2. Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour 3. DJ Koze Knock Knock 4. Robyn Honey 5. Snail Mail Lush 6. Rosalía El mal querer 7. Earl Sweatshirt Some Rap Songs 8. Low Double Negative 9. Tierra Whack Whack World 10. Yves Tumor Safe in the Hands of Love
  • Paste (US music website): 1. Lucy Dacus Historian 2. Parquet Courts Wide Awake! 3. Courtney Barnett Tell me how you really feel 4. Soccer Mommy Clean 5. Snail Mail Lush 6. Mitski Be the Cowboy 7. Pusha T Daytona 8. Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever Hope Downs 9. Low Double Negative 10. Hop Along Bark your Head off, Dog
  • Les Inrocks (French mag): 1. Flavien Berger Contre-temps 2. Arctic Monkeys Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino 3. Cat Power Wanderer 4. MGMT Little Dark Age 5. Idles Joy as an Act of Resistance 6. Courtney Barnett Tell me how you really feel  7. Kanye West Ye 8. Jorja Smith Lost & Found 9. Miossec Les rescapés 10. Neneh Cherry Broken Politics
  • The Guardian (UK daily newspaper) : 1. Christine and the Queens Chris 2. Robyn Honey 3. Janelle Monáe Dirty Computer 4. Cardi B Invasion of Privacy 5. Mitski Be the Cowboy 6. Idles Joy as an Act of Resistance 7. Kamasi Washington Heaven and Earth 8. Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour 9. Low Double Negative 10. Arctic Monkeys Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
  • The Independent (UK website) : 1. John Grant Love is magic 2. Colter Wall Songs of the Plains 3. Christine and the Queens Chris 4. Suede The Blue Hour 5. Troye Sivan Bloom 6. Travis Scott Astroworld 7. Gaika Basic Volume 8. Ben Howard Noonday Dream 9. CHVRCHES Love is dead 10. Parquet Courts Wide Awake!
  • Magic rpm (French bimonthly magazine) : 1. Tunng Songs You Make At Night 2. Vera Sola Shades 3. The Married Monk Headgearalienpoo 4. Low Double Negative 5. Courtney Barnett Tell me how you really feel 6. En Attendant Ana Lost and Found 7. Spiritualized And Nothing Hurt 8. Beak> >>> 9. Cat Power Wanderer 10. Shame Songs of Praise
  • Noise Magazine (French bimonthly magazine) : 1. Hangman’s Chair Banlieue Triste 2. Idles Joy as an Act of Resistance 3. Turnstile Time & Space 4. Deafheaven Ordinary Corrupt Human Love 5. Alice In Chains Rainier Fog 6. Daughters You Won’t Get What You Want 7. Rendez Vous Superior State 8. Thou Magus 9. The Breeders All Nerve 10. Will Haven Muerte

September 2018 Album of the month: Spiritualized “And Nothing Hurt”

Metal, Hip Hop, Blues, Jazz, Electro, newcomers, mature artists, men, women, genderless,…well I listened to a lot of music this month, 1,106 tracks to be more precise. The month of September has always been a busy month and with streaming services one wants to listen to all new releases. At the end of the day, my choices were eventually on records in the tradition of well-written melodies…with something different.

Album of the month: Spiritualized“And Nothing Hurt” – Rock – For those not familiar with Spiritualized, this band is the sole project of Jason Pierce, who used to co-lead in the 80’s the excellent Spacemen 3, a band from Rugby, UK, whose records were based on Velvet Underground influenced repetitive and hypnotic songs. One could argue that Spiritualized is an even better band and that their 1997 album “Ladies and Gentlemen…we are floating in space” is quite an incredible record. This new record is his first since 2012 and as usual this is a very ambitious one with classic rock ballads, gospel choirs, horns and strings. The only difference this time is that Jason did everything at home on his studio laptop, showing to the world that making great and ambitious music in the context of a declining music industry remains achievable. Listen to this new classic album from Spiritualized and dig further into their discography.

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  • Runner-up: Flavien Berger “Contre-temps” – French Pop – I did not have the time to listen a lot to this record but as I know the first impressions are very often the right ones I am eager to come back to it. In a month with lots of French artists’ releases, with a few good ones (Murat, Miossec), a few weird ones (Manset!) and those for which I am probably the only human being not getting emotional and excited (Jeanne Added, Christine and the Queens), Flavien Berger has made a very ambitious and simple pop record all the same. An artist to discover.

 

  • Also recommended:
    • Teleman “Family of Aliens” – Pop Rock – Groovy melodies from this London indie-rock band.
    • Paul McCartney – “Egypt Station” – Pop Rock – New record from this young and promising 76-year old artist. I did my research and I have discovered he used to be in band called Wings in the 70’s.
    • Paul Weller “True Meanings” –  Folk Rock – Another record from another great Paul who just turned 60, this time in an acoustic mood.
    • Low “Double Negative” – Pop Rock – Probably the weirdest record of the bunch… A fascinating record which captures the current mood in a Trump-lead country…and no, do not tweak it, your headset is ok!
    • Viagra Boys  “Street Worms” – Rock – From Sweden, a great punk album. A real turn-on if I may…

Death of a ladies’ man – Leonard Cohen’s studio albums

I never had a simple relationship with Leonard Cohen and his music. Of course, I have always recognised the beauty of his songs and the fantastic character he was but he never touched me like artists such as Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen did for instance. Michka Assayas did in October ’16 one full week of programs on his songs and I must say it made me re-discover the work of this great man. His recent death was a shock as well although one could only see that he was very active until his last days and that he had a beautiful and blossoming life until the end. I thought listening again to all his studio albums was probably the best way to reflect on his work and give my modest feedback…

 Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967): His debut album when he was already 33-year old, which already made him different from his contemporaries who very often had finished their careers at that canonical age. The story is quite known for those interested by his life: Leonard Cohen was already a celebrated poet and writer but he realised there was more money to be made in the music business, hence this first LP. This is probably his most classic and famous record, which bears in particular the worldwide known song “Suzanne”. The formula is simple: Leonard sings with his beautiful deep voice ten songs with a very lean instrumentation (very often a bit of acoustic guitar and that’s it). What makes this record eternal is the quality of the songs and their peculiar stories which were very often true and just facts that Leonard Cohen lived and put through poetry. Best tracks: “Sisters of Mercy”, “So Long, Marianne” and “Hey, that’s no Way to say Goodbye”. 9/10

 Songs from a room (1969) :  …and here is for me the first concrete example of a not-that-great LP from Leonard Cohen… The music is really boring and the sense of melodies very often nonexistent. What remains then for the listener? A few great songs for sure but not all of them can be considered as such. Listen without prejudice and I guess many of you will feel that way. Best tracks: “Bird on the Wire” , “The Partisan” and “You know who I am”. 7/10

 Songs of Love and Hate (1971) : has an album ever had such a clear title? Probably the best album from Leonard Cohen and that where he has never been more bitter or sharper in his words. As usual, if you like very complex music chords, forget it but if your idea of music is authenticity, great lyrics and emotional songs sung from a gravel voice, this is for you. Another recurring trend in his career is the way a few of these songs will have better singers cover them, like “Avalanche” covered by Nick Cave in 1985 for instance. …and as Lloyd Cole once said in a concert I attended in the early 00’s, “Famous Blue Raincoat” is (one) of the best songs ever. Best tracks: “Avalanche”, “Dress Rehearsal Rag” and “Famous Blue Raincoat”. 9/10

 New Skin for the old Ceremony (1974) : this is probably my favourite album from the great Canadian. The main reason is probably because to me this is the one where the musicality is the best, in the sense that one feels a close-to-perfect balance between his traditional guitar sound and added production. Probably the album where you will be able to listen to real sounds of drums and bass… and even a bit of groove. Well, we are not talking about Pharell Williams but you know what I mean,a “groovy” Leonard Cohen. Fantastic songs once again but this has been a recurring thing throughout his career so nothing new here. Best tracks: “Lover, lover, lover”, “There is a war” and “Take this longing” . 9.5/10

 Death of a Ladies’ Man (1977) : this is actually where things start to be embarrassing and awkward… This album does not have a good reputation for sure but I did not care one second about such consideration and was actually quite excited to listen to it again with fresh ears. For those who know their music history, they will be familiar with the fact that this record was produced by the formerly great Phil Spector. However, the guy was already on a declining slope and more famous for his eccentricities than for his work as his masterpieces were already behind him…and yes, that’s the one where he put his gun on Leo’s temples during a recording session. But the issue does not come from this but more from the fact that these songs are overall ok but often poorly producted and sometimes with weak melodies. I challenge everyone to listen to the song “Fingerprints” and find it good. So not his best record for sure… Best tracks: “Paper Thin Hotel”, “Dont’ Go Home with your Hard-On” and “Death of a Ladies’ Man”. 5/10

 Recent songs (1979) : not the most famous album of the great Canadian but one of his most solid ones. After the Phil Spector’s atypical record, Leonard Cohen was back to his more traditional sound but in a warmer way than usual and helped by subtle musical gems. One amazing song with “Came so far for Beauty” whereas the rest can be heard as a long moody sequence of tracks, sung quite beautifully. One thing though that would start a trend felt also in the next records: this is the place where one can feel the first (over?) use of female choirs. I have nothing against it (hello, Spiritualized) but here this is sometimes a bit out-of-place as far as I am concerned. Best tracks: “Humbled in Love”, “Came so far for Beauty” and “Our Lady of Solitude”. 7.5/10

 Various Positions (1984) : the first of his muzak albums… For those not familiar with the meaning of muzak, there is an expression in French :”musique d’ascenseur” (elevator music). This is probably too harsh as there are amazing songs in this record and sometimes the balance is really good as on the opener “Dance me to the end of love”. But overall, the music is much too dated with the sound of these awful 80’s synthesizers and organs and also these female choirs which do not bring anything at all. The best example being by far the immense song “Hallelujah”. The world should be eternally grateful to John Cale for spotting such beauty in this song and covering it in a style that Jeff Buckley would make its own a few years later. Best tracks : “Dance me to the End of Love”, “The Law” and “Hallelujah”. 6.5/10

Image result for i'm your man cover I’m your Man (1988) : as reviewed above, it would be foolish to say that Leonard Cohen had actually retired from music so talking about a comeback would be improper. However, that was the general feeling from all critics and audience alike as this LP was not really expected either in terms of being available but also in terms of music excellence. I know I am probably not consistent by criticizing on one side an album like “Various Positions” and praising “I’m your Man” when one focuses on the musical production. The only difference is that here Leonard Cohen goes until the end of his vision by incorporating only new sounds rather than being between a rock and a hard place. To make it short, this album uses new technology as good as the Pet Shop Boys do it. But that would be nothing without the songs of course and here you definitely have a few classics so re-discover this album again if not already the case. Best tracks : ” First we take Manhattan”, “Everybody knows” and “Tower of Song”. 8.5/10

Image result for the future leonard cohen The Future (1992) : unless you are the #1 worldwide fan of the late great Canadian, I guess everyone with a sense of artistry will admit that the cover with the bird, the heart and the handcuffs will not deserve a prize. ..and yes, I know this cannot be a criteria when one has in mind the cover of the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds“. Anyway, this is neither the greatest Leonard Cohen LP… nor a tragedy as the songs are quite enjoyable in a sort of soporific-it’s-cold-outside-let’s-stay-home-read-a-book-and-play-this-record but this is not the main thing I want from music. As usual, there are a few great songs and “The Future” is one of them for sure but also a few embarrassing moments like the last almost-instrumental track “Tacoma trailer”. Best tracks : “The Future”, “Waiting for the Miracle” and “Democracy”. 6/10

 Ten New Songs (2001) : This record came out after nine years of silence, the longest interval between two albums at a time when Leonard Cohen was reaching his 67th year, so still a young man compared to other veterans. However, one can really feel here a man completely out of current trends, doing what he does best, ie singing calmly deep words with his gravel voice on top of quiet music. Once again, the music background is the real issue here as this is really to inoffensive and cheesy. Not terrible to one’s ears but quite boring to be honest. Not the kind or records you want to play regularly if you like music and the thousands of other exciting records to listen to. Best tracks: “In my Secret Life”, ” A Thousand Kisses Deep” and “By the Rivers Dark”. 5.5/10

 Dear Heather (2004) : First to all, “Dear Heather” is really the kind of record to listen to in specific moods and times of the day… In other words, quite a good record to listen to late at night, ideally in the umpteenth floor of a big tower with a view on the lights of the city… and not the kind you want to hear if you want super exciting music. This album is a bit the extreme for me regarding my muzak tolerance…but the songs are sometimes great, the mood makes sense very often and Leonard sings with the weight and wisdom of a not so young man. The thing is that there are really great songs but also terrible ones (hello “Undertow” and “Dear Heather”). Really difficult to judge on an objective manner so let’s be charmed by the great man and let’s not be too harsh… Best tracks : “Because of”, “The Letters” and “There for You”. 6/10

 Old Ideas (2012) : The first album of what I would call the farewell/twilight trilogy and a very good surprise to be honest. I bought this record quite mechanically I must say as when you are a music lover,… well you buy new records by Leonard Cohen, Radiohead, The Rolling Stones or Daft Punk whatever the reviews or the possibility of streaming… and this is one of those records I probably listened to a couple of times only. This is a much better one than his three previous efforts mainly due to the fact that the music is warmer and played with beautiful new instruments, such as a banjo or a violin. Interesting to note as well that Leonard Cohen is now clear about how to sing or rather how to tell stories whereas I was not convinced by his previous records. A few great songs and more than ever the regular themes of guilt, religion, disappointment, etc…on which Nick Cave based his career! Best tracks : “Going Home”, “Amen” and “Darkness”. 7/10

 Popular Problems (2014) : Another very solid effort from master Yoda and what a pleasure to get news from him on a regular basis so late in his career! Another thing I like about Leonard Cohen and his albums is that they are short and concise, which is a quality that fellow hip-hop artists should benefit sometimes. A very sharp album, where neither a word nor a note is superfluous. One should not be surprised by the quality of the writing when one knows the author but still there is such youth in these words that difficult not to be impressed. As usual, the music would benefit from having even less and I guess you understood that I am not a huge fan of female choir. What a pity that Leonard Cohen did not record with Rick Rubin as Johnny Cash did, as the results would have been amazing. Best tracks: “Almost like the Blues”, ” Did I ever love you” and “Nevermind”. 7.5/10

 You want it darker (2016) : Hopefully the last album from the great man as a) it looks it was conceived as such by his author b) nobody wants albums like the ones done after Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain died… This record has been out since mid-October 2016, i.e. two/three weeks before the sad news of the passing of Leonard Cohen and the mood is indeed very religious. Although not the masterpiece claimed in a few reviews, this is a beautiful way to say goodbye, thanks in particular to the great production of his son Adam Cohen. I am repeating myself but these last three albums will probably get better and better every year and this is quite difficult to judge such a fresh piece of art. Best tracks : “You want it darker”, “It seemed the better Way” and “Steer you Way”. 8/10

The verdict

14 studio albums in a row in around 3 weeks. Am I clearer on my musical relationship with Leonard Cohen? Slightly… I definitely recommend for anyone to own his four best albums and then one could create a great playlist with a few tracks here and there from the other LP’s. What is sure is that the world has been a better place with Leonard Cohen and that his influence on bands or on a certain way of seeing life and art has been immense. Musically speaking, it is true that not all his LP’s were great but who could say so apart from a few amazing artists? Alternatively, I would recommend one of the recent live albums (London or Dublin for instance) but also the fantastic compilation curated by les Inrocks in 1991 called “I’m your Fan”. Great covers by Pixies, Lloyd Cole, Nick Cave, Ian Mc Culloch…and so on. Probably the best way to listen to these songs is when they are sung by others.

R.I.P. Leo and thanks for making life on Earth a bit easier.

 

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!

My 2012 Autumn Music Festivals 2/2 : Festival les Inrocks, Cigale-Boule Noire-Olympia, Paris, 8th, 9th, 10th and 13th November, 2012

Your host has been a long time attendee of the Festival les Inroks and even  if I did not go necessarily every year, I try to mark up the dates when the program looks interesting. Quite a weird feeling this year as if I was more than happy to find back on stage more “standard” and guitar-oriented bands after the Pitchfork festival, the opposite was true as well, i.e. I found that the festival was lacking a bit in diversity. The best (worst?) examples being once more these sub-bands, mainly coming from the UK, that bring nothing apart for a kind a “savoir-faire” which I find quite cynical. I am talking here about bands such as The Maccabees,  The Vaccines, Electric Guest, Peace for instance.

Please go to the “shows” page for a complete picture of the bands I saw as I will focus here only on a few bands which I really enjoyed.

Spiritualized (4)

  • Spiritualized (8th November – Cigale)

At last! Spiritualized has been for years one of my favourite bands (ranked #77 in my Top 100) but I did not succeed in seeing them live before. The show was quite in line with my expectations, i.e. leader Jason Pierce being not very talkative and concentrated on his music with a great bunch of musicians behind and two beautiful gospel singers. I would even say that seeing Spiritualized live is understanding what this is about : slow start in almost every song with only a few notes that could be played in a church and then the music starts to speed up little by little eventually reaching repetition and pure pleasure.

Michael Kiwanuka (6)

  • Michael Kiwanuka (10th November – Cigale)

Michael Kiwanuka is young 25-year old young UK singer from Ugandan origins and he published his first album this year. His style is clearly influenced by soul/folk artists such as Bill Withers or the recently deceased Terry Callier, which makes him quite a curiosity in the current music scene. Excellent show live and his voice in particular is as good as on the record. I really appreciated as well the fact that there is a kind of understatement and humility in him and his musicians.

Alabama Shakes (7)

  • Alabama Shakes (10th November – Cigale)

Alabama Shakes is another 2012 revelation. Coming from Athens, Alabama and built around the strong personality of their singer Brittany Howard (what a name!), their music is not very far from that of Michael Kiwanuka in the mindset as their sound is clearly retro-soul oriented but in a modern way. In other words, this band is really part of the “now” but has the modesty not to create anything new but adopting great songs from the past. The musicians are really efficient on stage but the real star there is by far Brittany who has a real strong presence on stage ; the Cigale was on fire!

Pulp (4)

  • Pulp (13th November – Olympia)

After a short two-day break, back to the festival les Inrocks to see a band I had not seen live before actually : Pulp! The band was on indefinite hiatus for years and their singer Jarvis Cocker had a solid solo career until they started to play a few shows two years ago and went on playing throughout the world. It had been years since they did not play Paris although Jarvis is familiar with the city as he lives there all year-long.

So how was it? Well, very good show for a very good band if I may say but… Of course, all the Britpop hits were there and the crowd went hectic in particular when great songs such as “Disco 2000” or “Common People” were played but I was personally feeling a kind of inauthentic atmosphere, as in “let’s show the world that this concert is amazing and that I am great being part of the lucky ones”. The fact in having Jarvis speaking bad French between every song completely took out all emotion as fas as I was concerned. Let’s not be negative as the show was overall very good ; the climax being a fantastic version of “This is Hardcore“.

See you next year les Inrocks and enjoy my video of “Babies” :

TOP 100 Artists/Bands of all Times : 76 – 80

Follow-up of our TOP 100. As a reminder, clicking on the title related to the artist/band will give you more information about them.

80. The Colourfield / Terry Hall

from : Manchester, England / first great sounds : 80’s / style : sensitive pop/ essential album : Virgins and Philistines (1985)

Terry Hall was/is the main singer in great UK ska band The Specials. All his career has been made of musical experiences with different partners, sometimes with artistic or commercial success…and sometimes not. The Colourfield was a band he created with Toby Lyons in the 80’s and they made two LP’s only, the second one being nice but very 80’s sounding. Which leaves us therefore with their first LP….whih is a real masterpiece and sounds as fresh today as it did 27 years ago. I already reviewed this album when doing the best of 1985 and its title might have influenced this blog…

79. Creedence Clearwater Revival

La Chanson de la Semaine 58 dans Musique & Music creedence-clearwater-revival-reunions-617-4091 from : El Cerrito, California, USA  / first great sounds : 60’s  / style : pure american music / essential albums : Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968), Bayou Country (1969)

Lead by John Fogerty, Creedence Clearwater Revival represents as far as I am concerned the quintessence of American music. In other words, this band had American country-rock basics but went way far away creating punchy soul-influenced songs, sometimes lasting for a very long time, never in a “muso” way but on the contrary on a hyper sensitive one. Difficult music to describe actually except one could say it could satisfy a very large audience coming from very different universes. Hear their cover of “I heard it through the grapevine” and you will understand what I am trying to write.

78. Phoenix

Image result for phoenix live from : Versailles, France / first great sounds : 00’s  / style : euphoric pop/ essential albums : United (2000) / Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)

After years of not knowing if admitting having done my studies partly in Versailles was something to be proud or ashamed, the early 00’s brought a new wave of great French bands, allowing to answer “yes” to this question. I remember not understanding why such a melodic and creative band could not be more successful when I saw them live in Strasbourg at the time of their second LP in a half empty concert hall of eighty people… But they kept oneplaying and recording and their talent has eventually being recognized, which is justice. A band to recommend to see live as they are particularly great when on stage.

77. Spiritualized

 

12 from : Rugby, England/ first great sounds : 90’s  / style : dreamy repetitive gospel-rock  / essential album : Ladies and Gentlemen…We Are Floating In Space (1997)

Essentially the child of Jason Pierce which he created after disbanded the great Spacemen 3, Spiritualized has been a band which only did good or great records in their whole career. The formula is indeed often the same and based on a slow mantra that accelerates during the length of the song and therefore creates a repetitive and hypnotic atmosphere but with something else on top brought by Jason Pierce. Their 1997 masterpiece is the kind of record everyone should play loudly at home often and even if Jason Pierce has been closed to death in the past years following a complicated surgery, the guy is with us more than ever, as can be heard in their great “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light” 2012 recent LP.

76. Ride

 from : Oxford, England / first great sounds : 90’s  / style : shoegazing godfathers  / essential albums : Nowhere (1990), Going Blank Again (1992)

I remember very well starting the 90’s, reading the NME talking about the first EP by an amazing new band called Ride and having bought this same record. Quite magical the way young and exciting new bands can arrive out of nowhere… I saw them as well opening for then very good The House of Love and the band played probably with more intensity compared to the main act. They did not last very long (1990-1996) but their melodic fuzzy rock gave us four beautiful studio albums and many great EP’s. Andy Bell and Mark Gardener went on having a so-so career after this (Andy being the bass player in Oasis!) and never managed to get better than their first records. The first two albums have been reissued so get them if not the case yet.