All reviews on newsoundwales are the personal opinions of the reviewer. We are not responsible for your listening enjoyment and cannot guarantee that you will share our views. Buy the music, go to the gigs, listen and make your own mind up
Top 50 Albums of 2010
This is always a matter of personal taste, but we thought as 2010 is rapidly drawing to a close we would put our heads together at newsoundwales and come up with our 50 favourite albums of the year. Some entries will be expected, some might be a surprise and with some you might think we have lost the plot! Our top album by John Grant has also been featured in other end of year round ups, however, we have been playing this album virtually non-stop since it arrived and it is without doubt a modern day classic.
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Queen of Denmark
This is happening
5.Band of Horses
Courage of others
7.Jonsi - Go
Look after your chihuaha
Urban Echoes vol 1
The day we ran into the sea
A book of songs for Anne Marie
12.The Walkmen - Lisbon
14.First Aid Kit
The Big black and blue
New bop sounds
Beneath this burning shoreline
In the wake
18.Gorillaz- Plastic beach
20.Erland & the Carnival
Erland & the carnival
The defamation of Strickland banks
24.Manic Street Preachers
Postcards from a young man
Becoming a jackal
28.Jessica Lee Morgan
I am not
Total life forever
Celebrate this place
31.Two Door Cinema Club
33.Ellie Goulding - Lights
I speak because I can
The Devil & I
Seasons of the soul
Own side now
41.Belle & Sebastian
Write about love
Besnard Lakes are the roaring night
43.Antony & the Johnsons
46.The Divine Comedy
Bang goes the knighthood
47.Kele- The Boxer
50.Lucy Wainwright Roche
The Gentle Good - Tethered for the Storm
If you are a regular gig goer in South Wales the chances are you have seen Gareth Bonello aka the Gentle Good at least once as he is something of a stalwart of the live scene. This is his 2 nd album and is a real step up from his debut. There are still the fairly traditional folk songs which are pleasant, but nothing exceptional. However, the addition of a string quartet and some excellent arrangements give many of the songs a pastoral feel with much needed colour and dimension " Ocean is King " being a case in point or the beguiling " Pamela ". There are hints to future changes of direction on songs such as " Old Window Song" with its rolling piano melody it is almost late 60s pop. All told at this rate it won't be too long before Gareth may well have to give up his day job and head out on the road spreading his music far beyond these shores.
Sufjan Stevens - All Delighted People
This has been released as an EP, however at 59 minutes it is twice the length of many albums released this year. This fact and a release date on the eve of Christmas will probably mean it will slip well under the radar which would be a great shame as there is some excellent music here. The title track makes reference to Paul Simon's 'Sounds of Silence' and is epic in it's narrative and complex musical developments; classic Stevens. Elsewhere songs such as ' Heirloom ' are more traditional but there is beauty in their simplicity. The track that lingers most is " The Owl & the Tanager " that has an intriguing narrative and a melodic vocal that enchants. The title track probably doesn't deserve 2 lengthy versions and the closing neoprog track " Djohariah will stretch the patience of many coming in at an unnecessary 17 minutes. However, those niggles aside there is some stunningly ambitious and creative music here. Sufjan Stevens quietly continues to be the most influential American artist of the past 20 years.
BRISTOL -based The Moles excavate the late 1960s underground for inspiration on The Future Sounds Of Ashton . Their 15-track debut, on See Monkey Do Monkey Recordings, clocks a spooky 52:52, and channels The Kinks ( Stuck Like Glue ), The Beatles ( Three Ghosts In My House ) and all points psychedelic, via Blur and a garage/punk sensibility. The ghost of Syd hovers, with The Combined Forces Of An Atom being pitch-perfect Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Despite the borrowings, however, this is a coherent musical landscape that looks forward as well as back. Brin Davies writes lyrics crammed with startling imagery, both wistful ( It's Snowing Again ) and menacing ( Ginger Tom ), Dan Chandler's effects-laden guitar is always interesting, Billy Fuller's throbbing bass propels proceedings, especially on standout Neptune's Beard , and Steve Dew's drumming keeps things grounded. A little too hallucinogenic for the mainstream, but The Moles have surfaced amidst a psychedelia revival. With FSOL (aka Amorphous Androgynous) now expanding their monstrous psychedelic bubble, FSOA may set the controls for the heart of Bristol.
( Reviewed by Stephen Nottingham)
The core of Cakehole Presley - Chris Ridgeway & Mark Humphries have been playing in and around the Cardiff music scene for decades. It seems that all those years of gigging, busking and sheer perseverance may have finally paid off with the release of this album. Look After Your Chihuaha is at times uplifting and joyous as with " Gotta know your name " and at times seething, driving and angry with songs such as " Back inside ". The highlights are the bittersweet and almost maudlin ' Sweet dreams " and the classy, sophisticated Dylanesque " Covered in candy ". Songs like this are born out of years of experience, finely honed song writing skills and ultimately dogged determination. Ladies and gentlemen be upstanding Cakehole Presley have entered the building!
It's now more than 10 years since Antony & the Johnsons first began to emerge after Lou Reed sang their praises in a series of interviews. After all this time this is still only the band's 4 th release. Seemingly unwilling to pursue the easy post Mercury prize option, the band have released 2 albums in quick succession, both of which posses an introspective almost meditative quality. There is no denying that Antony's voice is one of the great modern wonders of the indie world. However, he needs to take care that his limited vocal range doesn't begin to lose it's attraction and become predictable and dare I say it slightly dull and lagubrious. Songs such as I'm in love and Ghost are startling, enthralling and beautifully arranged. However, some of the tracks such as Thank you for your love just sound too formulaic and begin to grate half way through. Maybe some new instruments, such as guitar, brass or synths would give future recordings the sonic lift that is slightly lacking here.
Formed by husband and wife team of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, Besnard Lakes have recently had this album shortlisted for the Polaris Prize, the Canadian equivalent of the Mercury. The album opens with the swirling epic ' Like the Ocean' which sounds like a lost mid 70s rock classic. Anthemic and bursting with crunching guitars and tight harmonies. The rest of the album doesn't quite match this although the title track ' And This Is What we call progress' comes close. On the evidence of this album and recent UK gigs Besnard Lakes are further evidence that Canada is currently a real global hotspot for independent music.
A life in music was probably something of an inevitability for Jessica Lee Morgan with Mary Hopkin and Tony Visconti as parents and family friends including the likes of Danny Thompson and Benny Gallagher. Jessica has now finally released her long anticipated debut album. The first thing that strikes you are the high quality of the songs and the purity of her voice, but also the dramatic style shifts between tracks ranging as they do from electro pop to acoustic folk. The fact that she is a Gemini goes some way to explain this variety and although this may confuse some, it does demonstrate her ability to master different genres and her skill at writing incredibly catchy and memorable songs. The track that screams out as a potential hit single is ‘Leave the Light On’ with its poignant narrative and a melody to die for it drills into your brain and won’t let go. If this isn’t a success for her or someone else I will be surprised. Other highlights on the album include ‘New York’ and ‘Your Girl’ which are fine acoustic folk ballads. This album is an excellent calling card for Jessica Lee Morgan’s song writing and with maybe more of a consistent style on future releases a promising recording looks set.
Ffred Jones is one of Wales’ most talented young singer song writers and this is fine collection of upbeat songs ideal for the long hot summer days ahead. When the musical landscape is littered with numerous bedroom balladeers writing mournful songs in minor keys it’s a breath of fresh air to hear a collection of songs with a more positive sound. Songs such as ‘Penny for the Good’ work really well and are a good indication of his song writing and we are definitely beginning to witness an emerging, distinctive Ffred Jones sound. Not so sure about the use of the Welsh Choir on the title track although that’s probably down to personal antipathy to choirs on my part! All proceeds from this EP go to Ty Hafan so what’s not to like.
Jimi Hendrix – Valleys of Neptune
In the years following Hendrix’s death his memory and his fans were not served well by the stream of studio albums that were released. This reached its nadir with the release of Midnight Lightning and Crash Landing where music was re-recorded and overdubbed by musicians at the time. Thankfully the official releases since then have largely been sympathetic to his legacy and the Hendrix estate have kept a steady supply of live recordings and compilations coming over the past 10 years. This release sees the first official release of ‘Valleys of Neptune’, ‘Ships Passing through the Night’ and ‘Crying Blue Rain’. Neptune was a track that had potential to become a Hendrix classic. However, this version is still very much a work in progress and was not meant for your ears or mine when it was recorded. There are some fine moments here and the best are the pre-Albert Hall rehearsal takes such as a blistering ‘Red House’ featuring the original Experience line up. However, there are some less than essential loose blues jams such as ‘Crying Blue Rain’ that having been issued will be making Jimi turn in his psychedelic grave for sure. Proceed with caution and only buy once you have got hold of the original studio albums and live compilations.
Ellie Goulding – Lights
It would seem that the Ellie Goulding backlash has begun in earnest with some stinging reviews, especially in the fashionista music quarters. You suspect that is she was unknown and hadn’t won a Brit she would have faired much better from these critics. Admittedly the album isn’t particularly cutting edge or revolutionary, but if you are looking for quality synth pop it doesn’t get much better than this with tracks such as ‘Under the Sheets’ and ‘Starry Eyed’. Nearly all of the songs here are potential singles, full of melodic hooks and she has a strong and unique voice. The production does overshadow her personality at times and hopefully future releases will see her taking more control in the studio and trying out different styles. A fine talent that needs to be allowed to flourish and grow.
Several years apart with side projects School of Language and The Week That Was you could have been forgiven for thinking that a Field Music reunion was as likely as David Bowie performing the ‘Laughing Gnome’ on his next tour. However, fine those side projects were this album demonstrates the special bond between the Brewis brothers and combined their talent is monumental. I was slightly trepidatious approaching this release fearing it would be a sprawling, drawn out 2 hours of difficult impenetrable music. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes it is ambitious and almost progressive in places with shifting time signatures and layered guitars. However, it is at all times accessible, tight and hugely invigorating. One minute you are reminded of 10CC at their creative early period best and the next Todd Rundgren at his most inventive. The instant stand out track is ‘Them That Do Nothing’ a song that Ray Davies would have been proud of. It is early in the year but you just know that this is going to be one of the albums of 2010. Oh and at just over an hour in length I wish it was longer!
Changing their name from Radio Luxembourg to Race Horses could have been a setback or even a death Nell for many. However, it seems to have given this band the kick start they needed. This debut is packed full of fresh, intelligent upbeat Welsh pop music. This is a band bursting energy, enthusiasm and ideas and when it works well it is uplifting and full of energy. The first part of the album contains some real gems with tracks such as ‘Cake’ which with its driving beat and backwards guitar is already a Welsh indie freak beat classic. The band seems to lose some momentum as the album progresses and they seem to be searching for sounds and experimenting. That being said the first few tracks on this album demonstrate just what this band is capable of. On this form Race Horses seem to be odds on favourites succeed Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and the Super Furry Animals as the next great Welsh band.
Midlake – The Courage of Others
Another 3rd album release this time from the band from Denton, Texas. Released on uber cool label Bella Union, much has been made about the band’s new found obsession with 60s folk rock bands such as Pentangle and the Incredible String Band and they have certainly had an impact on this recording. The album is carefully crafted with exquisite arrangements and sounds superb. Even from the outset with opening track ‘Acts of Man’ the tone is set and the atmosphere established for what follows. Tracks flow from one to another with many at the same tempo and seemingly the same key and instrumentation. This does give the album a coherence and strong identity, however the lack of variety is a slight drawback. Nevertheless this seems destined to be the alt dinner party listening for the year ahead.
This is the 3rd album from the Cardiff Uni graduates. Produced by John Goodmanson (Death Cab for Cutie, Pavement, Bikini Kill) the album sounds less frantic and more thoughtful than previous releases and shows a definite growth and developing style. The band are now veterans of producing indie pop hits such as the title track ‘Romance is Boring’ with apparent ease. However, it is the darker and more reflective songs such as ‘The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future’ that show a maturity and willingness to experiment which are more rewarding and bode well for their longevity. This album is a huge leap forward and deserves more attention than it seems to be getting.
It’s always difficult when a band gets tipped for greatness before they have a time to develop and make their mistakes in relative private. After all the hype there was always going to be a sense of disappointment with this album. Despite this it is pretty good and contains some finely crafted indie dance tracks not a million miles from Friendly Fires territory. Where it works best is with songs such as This Momentary, Remain and the Duran Duran infused Submission. However, at times, such as with the title track, they sound too much like any one of thousands of dance tracks you could have heard 10 years ago – Unicorn Kid does this type of music much, much better. This band needs time to grow and develop. Hopefully they havent’ reached too high, too soon and will be given the time and space to build up their own sound and work on developing their song writing. The promise is there, but it needs a few years and a few more albums yet to reach its full potential.
Lawrence Arabia – Chant Darling
This Bella Union release is the 2nd album from New Zealander James Milne aka Lawrence Arabia and it is a welcome ray of sunshine during this cold start to 2010. Short, sweet, joyous pop songs that are heavily influenced by the Beatles. Infact at times it does move perilously close to Rutles style pastiche with tracks ‘The Undesirables’ sounding like Lennon’s ‘Julia’ part 2. However, the album is saved by the sheer quality of the songs and musicianship. Standout tracks are Apple Pie Bed, Eye A and the Beautiful Young Crew which would make a great single. If he can begin to assert more of his own personality and style Lawrence Arabia looks like a star in the making.
CD Reviews 2011
CD Reviews 2010
CD Reviews 2009