Hello beautiful readers of Freedom Spark!
I’m Leah, who you may, or may not know from writing articles for this wonderful site in the past. I’m a student living up north in Manchester attempting to fit obtaining my Journalism degree around drinking, dancing and schmoozing too much. You’re only young once, right?
Since the site launched twelve months ago, I’ve interviewed bands, ran off to festivals and took some pretty pictures, all in the name of bringing you the best new, old and literally bonkers music we can.
For a new year and a new project, I’m going to be compiling a monthly playlist on the site to delight/ offend your ears, starting with my top albums of the year. As always, please let me know what you think down in the comments section, your feedback is encouraged!
Peace and love, L x
Also known to his mother as Aaron Jerome, SBTRKT is the native-mask wearing alter ego DJ and producer, knocking out a mixture of dub beats (‘Right Thing To Do’) mixed with simply stunning vocals (‘Pharaohs’) thanks to his collaborators Sampha, Jesse Ware and Little Dragon to name but three.
SBTRKT has also remixed a scattering of tracks for other artists such as M.I.A and Underworld as well as having Drake as a follower of his work (Check out the Drake remix of ‘Wildfire’). He has also been signed to the now widely recognised Young Turks label, playing home to other musical talents such as The XX and Glasser.
The debut sees SBTRKT combine two-step garage with synths, glockenspiels even brings in a touch of acid house on the musical part.
If you’re not familiar with Little Dragon and Sampha as individual artists in their own right (If not, WHY NOT?!), you’ll see that their soulful and sharp vocals don’t clash as the album progresses from track to track, they only add to the diversity and complement each other throughout the record- rather than colliding into a careless mish-mash, bubbling bass and ingenious samples help fasten together everything with a touch of originality.
Well done Mr. Jerome, any chance of flashing some face next album round?
Tyler The Creator (OFWGKTA)- Goblin
Unless you’ve been on Mars over the past twelve months, you will no doubt have heard about the controversy surrounding Tyler The Creator and his hip hop collective.
After his video ‘Yonkers’ hit over seven million views ridiculously quick, Tyler upped his game with this second full-length album of his, although wherever Tyler is, heated discussions are never far behind.
Described as ‘The Sex Pistols for the new generation of hip-hop’ as part of his collective OFWGKTA, Tyler is also a dab hand at producing remixes and has done so for the likes of Lykke Li and Salem in the past, along with gaining respective fans amongst the like of P.Diddy and Toro Y Moi. OH AND he won ‘Best new artist’ at this year’s MTV VMA’s. Now have we got your attention?
Tyler’s work, both on this album and on his past mixtapes, has been criticized for its use of misogynistic lyrics to which he replied “Do you know how much of a love song ‘She’ is? No hate on that s**t!” and has often referred to his theme choices as not to be taken literal and often justifies his work along the lines of “Wanting to scare the f**k out of old white people that live in middle f*****g America”.
Of course, I, and no doubt 99.9% of you reading this, don’t agree with these themes, but come on, hand it to the dude; this is a breakthrough of a generation, mark my words.
Tyler is an idiosyncratic character throughout the album, often taking on his different personas (Wolf Hayley, anyone?) linking fluctuating degrees of rap along with his unquestionable instrumental genius as heard on Au79. Oh and he taught himself to play the piano aged 14. Jus’ sayin’…
It is not radio-friendly and Tyler never will be but this is the beauty of the beast and you really will either love him or hate him…
Summer Camp- Welcome To Condale
Jeremy Warmsley (him of acoustic solo fame) and Elizabeth Sankey (her of spicy journalism and witty banter) joined forces back in 2009, setting up a MySpace account (remember those days?) pretended to the world that they were a group of Swedish Teenagers, not posting pictures of themselves but using old sepia-style prints as their disguises.
Fast forward two years and they have finally unleashed their debut album under the name of ‘Summer Camp’.
Touching on themes such as teenage lust, love and heartbreak as well as just having a bloody good time, the duo drift in and out of evocative, reto synths, throbbing drums and the odd whistle along effect, the two also accompany each other’s vocals perfectly (See ‘Last American Virgin’). The pair, on album release, included a zine (Read here: http://issuu.com/summercampmusic/docs/summercampcondale/19) fitting perfectly to the theme of the album, filled to the brim with American cultural references and scans of scrawled love letters and ‘woe-is-me’ teenage moments (the artwork is pretty flawless too).
Copenhagen natives Iceage released their debut New Brigade earlier this year and it, disappointingly, fell very much under the radar.
New Brigade merges moody guitar riffs with rolling, bottomless drums and accelerated, screeching vocals. Yes it’s dark, yes it’s gothic and its certainly punk, yet the foursome still manage to compass a wholly contemporary take.
‘Total Drench’ is a racket and a half taking Joy Division Guitars and impulsive, rough vocals along with ‘Count Me In’ being amazingly accelerated and extreme to every level.
Their blog is FULL of blood, mosh pits and DIY tattoos (http://iceagecopenhagen.blogspot.com/) so get a head guard and some plasters ready if you plan on going to any of their scheduled dates when they hit the UK (Plasters?! What am I, seven?!).
I honestly just don’t think anyone else had the balls to put something out like this and execute it so well, not only for this year alone, but for quite some time now. For that Iceage, we salute you.
Iceage – Broken Bone by What’s Your Rupture?
James Blake- ‘James Blake’
Tipped early in the year as part of the BBC’s sound poll, Blake had certain expectations suddenly thrust upon his shoulders, weather he liked it or not. February saw the release of his self-titled debut to much critical and mass public acclaim as he mixed nominal, delicate loops using drum machines, with his distinctively lustrous vocals shimmering overhead.
Blake’s live show often features multiple acapella ‘dips’ and his band hardly ever consists of more than four individuals playing minimal parts, which doesn’t hinder but re-captures the beauty projected on record.
James Blake features ‘Lindisfarne’ an agonizingly stunning, gentle track which, although features multiple voice distortion methods, does not retract from its elegance as a whole.
Tracks such as ‘I never learnt to share’ reflect a raw, admirable and self-condemned side to the musician; charged with rippling pianos and heart-wrenching lyrics, Blake’s debut certainly did him good.
(I couldn’t get a stream of anything off this album BUT here is a track ‘CMYK’ off an earlier EP, still just as good, he can do no wrong)
Beyoncé – 4
I honestly don’t even know where to begin with this record. We all know the basics, Jay-z, something about a pregnancy, the first woman to headline Glastonbury in twenty years and oh, y’know, just casually being the BEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD EVER. The NME rudely gave the album a 4/10 (What do you know anyway Hamish MacBain?! Lolz nice name) and The Guardian spent their review time jabbering on about her Forbes rich list position. Seriously, guys? 4 is punchy, charismatic and yes, clichéd at times (I’m looking at you ‘1+1’) but who cares? Our favorite ex-Destiny’s Child (Soz Kelly Rowland) is permanently on top form churning out hit singles like there’s no other, including ‘Countdown’ which chants its way through an, er, countdown-led bridge with parade-esque battery drums and her oh-so-sleek, creamy vocal obvious- no matter at what range. If you’re female, you WILL have heard ‘End of Time’ (or attempted to copy the dance out of the video on a night out. My bad.), ‘Run The World (Girls)’ and ultimate stick-it-to-your-ex anthem ‘Best Thing I never Had’. On the contrary, if you’re a male it’s most likely you fancy Beyoncé (If you don’t you’re gay: fact) and secretly listen to it on your girlfriends’ computers or something anyway so just go out and buy it; an all-round vivacious chunk of energy for all.
So, our favorite Black Tubes (Miss you, Mighty Boosh) who reinvented themselves from gothic sunken young men to slinky Bowie-esque creatures came back this year with their third full-length, Skying, but after taking such a dramatic change in direction last time around left people wondering if they would pull the same stunt again.
Sticking to what they learnt from their mistakes, Skying sees Farris and Co. plunge their audience headfirst into a potent mix of crisp, novel vocal and instrument combinations. Think ‘Primary Colours’ after too much weed (I’m being serious) on tracks such as ‘You Said’ along with scaling riffs and whirring high-pitched keys giving off ‘Lucy In The Sky…’ vibes on ‘I Can See Through You’.
Robust, flourishing and mythical, the boys’ have pulled it off again.
Battles- ‘Gloss Drop’
A multitude of bands have lost members and continued on to reach a more than favorable outcome (Hello? Atomic Kitten, S Club 7 I’m quite obviously talking to you) but when Battles lost Tyondai Braxton, many people and critics alike were not sure if Gloss Drop would catch up with the beauty and cult edge of 2007’s ‘Mirrored’.
Releasing Gloss Drop on Warp Records this year, the (now) trio assigned Gary Numan and Matias Aguayo in joining on vocal duties.
The earlier mentioned, featured on ‘My Machines’, brings booming groans over to the band’s dashing drums, along with both ‘teardrop’ and dark forms of keys to form an impressive, tenacious track.
‘Ice Cream’ is undoubtedly a track of thorough prodigy, seeing Matias Aguayo omit an unfathomable, almost native/reggae-like vocal whilst Battles bring a vast crescendo of drums into the introduction and continue to retain a feel of funk, exploding with an unexpected mixture of grumbles and high notes amongst the bridge. It quite literally, will melt in your mouth (SORRY SORRY, couldn’t resist).
Its track to absolutely let go to and you will no doubt attempt shout in someone’s face at its height of climax (albeit you will most likely end up making your own jibberish words up- you’ll understand when you hear the track- but I won’t tell if you won’t). Make sure you check out the video too, it’s pretty steamy in places and full of pretty ladies and weird people doing karate on a beach, cool vibez.
Glimmering and eccentric as a whole record, just promise you won’t make us wait another four years til the next record guys? Deal?
Drake- ‘Take Care’
To say I’m a Drake obsessive would be a mere understatement, I absolutely adore the man and Take Care is even more amazing than his debut album of 2010.
Ok, so I’m sick to death of hearing the title track already (only because Rihanna really needs to stop throwing her face/voice/arse everywhere she can) but it’s still irrefutably fantastic. Produced by Jamie XX and featuring a Gil Scott-Heron sample, it appears the only people that don’t like it are the Scott-Heron lovers who aren’t a fan of its context. I really can’t understand why as it’s an amazing pop single with accomplished hooks, raps, gentle tones and the sample is just the cheery on the cake, pushing it into the next level.
Other favourites on the album include ‘Underground Kings’- think gentle Spanish guitar introductions, undertones of deep snares and an insanely catchy chorus- and single ‘Headlines, complete with blazing, scintillating beats and enveloping itself into a heavier chorus complete with Drake’s trademark twang coming into play.
It’s punchy yet groggy as well as dizzy and dazed, the amount of spectrums this album crosses over is a thing to be celebrated indeed. All hail Drake!
Is Tropical- ‘Native To’
Our favourite caped crusaders Is Tropical, well capes of the face in the form of masks- all the rage this year it seems- released their anticipated full-length Native To on French party label Kitsune back in June.
The arty trio of ex-squatters, of whom I had the luck of hanging with when they were last in the UK, produce an ultimately quirky record full of sentimental, scuzzed out and emotive keys (‘South Pacific’)along with excellently composed and executed dance tracks such as ’Lies’ (Including a banned video of a pole dancer, tut tut lads!).
Progressive, unorthodox and quite simply, perplexingly fantastic, it makes you beg the question ‘WHY DO MORE PEOPLE NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS?!’.
Upon listening, it’s obvious why the boys are so suited to Kitsune, as the majority of the record gives off the vibe that you’d end up grinding up against some cool art student at some form of French disco (although you’re most likely to just be chillin’ in Dalston, soz.), what with all the incandescent bubbles of electro and dirty guitars.
Arctic Monkeys- ‘Suck It And See’
Arctics made a return this year, Alex Turner armed with a greased Danny Zuko quiff and a love for double denim it seemed, with their fourth studio album Suck It And See.
On this record, it is more apparent than ever that as a lyricist, Turner has actually grown up. Sure, Humbug had themes of love but they were all pulled off in an almost ‘jokey’/ non-sentimental style- long gone were the days of ‘505’ and ‘Do me A Favour’?
‘Suck It And See’, however, perceives tender, ambient guitars as seen on the title track, along with ‘Reckless Serenade’ projecting a serene yet edgy take. Singles such as ‘Hellcat Spangled (Shalalala)’ show the Monkeys’ at their utmost best, with a killer sing-a-long chorus and an outstanding riff. Even on their just-gone UK tour, when I caught them on their last night in Liverpool it was one of their best shows I’ve had the pleasure of watching, full of energy and interaction, which used to be practically non-existent.
The Sheffield lads also released, as a single, one of the album B-sides this year entitled ‘Evil Twin’ and the only I have ever had with Arctics in the whole wide world is over this release. WHY ON EARTH WAS IT ONLY A B-SIDE?! It’s unremarkable, almost old-school derived riff synchronized amongst superb declarations’ of ‘Your loves not what I need’ and showcasing Matt Helder’s now legendary drumming off to the world; you just can’t beat these boys.
Apart from having THE best artwork for every single one of his previous albums, Anthony Gonzalez AKA. M83 also makes philosophical, nebulous and epic music dontcha know.
This years Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming sees a collaboration on vocals from the gorgeous Zola Jesus on lead single ‘Intro’, the album opener. ‘Intro’ showcases alluring, repetitive keys before Gonzalez’s cries of ‘Carry On’ hit you right in the gut. The track is orchestral (As is the rest of the album) and Jesus’s enticing, deep Florence-esque (Florence who?!) verses correlate this perfectly before the whole episode comes to a courageous height, featuring elating drum beats and heroic harmonies to take your breath away.
Other favourites on the album include ‘Midnight City’ (If you’ve seen Made In Chelsea you will have no doubt witnessed Caggie, Millie, Spencer and Co. airing out their dirty laundry with this as the accompaniment.). It begins with iron, salient synths as Gonzalez’s eerie vocal soars high above. Even when the track breaks down, an oscillating beat still remains, drawing the whole thing together. Oh and just when you think it couldn’t get anymore striking, a saxophone- YES A SAX- solo glorifies the track to a whole other horizon.
Effulgent, awe-inspiring and he is soon to be coming to the UK (I might just cry of joy.).
Words by Leah Connolly.
Listen to the accompanying Spotify playlist here.