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Top Albums of 2012: Editor’s Picks

 
By on Tuesday, 18th December 2012 at 11:00 am
 

Wowsers, has this year flown by or what? I can scarcely believe we’re ready to celebrate Christmas in a week’s time, but you know what that means, boys and girls. It’s time for the editor’s top picks of 2012. Unlike most lists that have already published either in print or online, there will be no mentions of Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar or DIIV. Sorry. No, and this year, I tried to get away from dance as I could, which seems really odd considering where I found myself 2 years ago; this is probably good commentary on the music scene at large, where beats – either urban or poppy – have invaded nearly every facet of radio and except for the odd album or two, I found these to be completely devoid of heart. Or character. (But there were 3 in my top 10 that were arguably dance albums, so maybe there’s still hope…) Without further delay, here are my picks for 2012.

The-Crookes-Hold-Fast-cover1. The Crookes – ‘Hold Fast’ (Fierce Panda) – In the shadow of love – in its electric (2010’s #1, Delphic’s ‘Acolyte’) and nostalgic, life affirming (2011’s #1, Noah and the Whale’s ‘Last Night on Earth’) forms – my #1 this year goes as far back to basics with the good ol’ pop-tinged rock ‘n’ roll of Sheffield’s Crookes. I’ve always thought that the smartest songwriters are those that can write catchy tunes while also offering up thought-provoking, intelligent lyric; guitarist Daniel Hopewell fits this description to a T.

This album would feel equally at home in the 1960s as it does in 2012. There is no studio trickery or fancy production here, just heartfelt (and heartbroken in ‘Maybe in the Dark’) feelings being sung to memorable melodies that can help to remind you of simpler times. Or simply remind you of the important people who have coloured your life. Do yourself a favour and get this album. If you’re not sold yet, read my review of ‘Hold Fast’ here.

Keston-Cobblers-Club-cover2. Keston Cobblers’ Club – ‘One, for Words’ (Beatnik Geek) – It has been shown to us time and time again that family members who sing together make some incredible music. (For one, the Beach Boys.) In Julia and Matthew Lowe, we have familial alchemy at work again, this time on some incredible folk pop. When one album can make you laugh, make you cry, make you wistful for a former lover, make you remember through happy tears your life experiences, that is truly special indeed, and that’s what I’ve gotten out of ‘One, for Words’. I expect to be playing this album again and again until my final days. You can read my review of their debut album here.

Grimes-Visions-cover3. Grimes – ‘Visions’ (4AD) – Claire Boucher is now one of the hottest commodities in the music business these days, and surely the biggest game changer from Canada since Arcade Fire. Every time I tried to catch the baby-voiced master of synths and sequencers in 2012, I never actually managed to get in. Thankfully though, I have this album to keep me company whenever things have gone boring in my life. Variety is the key word of this album, with ambient, industrial, pop and minimalist genres all touched on for one eclectic group of songs. Every time you pick up this album, you’ll hear something exciting you missed the last time around, and I don’t think it’s possible for ‘Visions’ to get old. Read my review here.

Casiokids-Aabenbaringen-over-aaskammen-cover4. Casiokids – ‘Aabenbaringen over aaskammen’ (Moshi Moshi) – There’s no way I could have forgotten the craziness of Casiokids’ third album. Even in the middle of winter, thoughts of a pineapple-shaped maraca, the sheer wonkiness of ‘Det Haster!’ and ‘Dresinen’, and disco and jungle beats working in harmony on the same album easily warmed my heart. This is controlled chaos, in a way that only Nordics manage to do it. And even if you go into this album thinking, “no way is this album going to lift my mood”, trust me, it will. You’ll even leave it with a knowing yet silly grin on your face.Read more here.

Husky cover5. Husky – ‘Forever So’ (Sub Pop) – The Husky debut album was an example of when you keep hearing the name of a band so many times, you’re wondering what the fuss is all about. Well, wonder no more. If you’re the first-ever signing to a indie label as storied as Sub Pop, then you better bring the goods, and Husky Gawenda and co. do just that in a Fleet Foxes meets the sadness of Nick Drake vehicle. If you’ve ever been slayed by gorgeous harmonies, this album’s for you. Read my review of it here.

After the cut: some albums that just missed the top 5 cut, and others that disappointed.

Continue reading Top Albums of 2012: Editor’s Picks

 

Live Gig Video: Keston Cobblers’ Club perform ‘For Words’ acoustically for Burberry

 
By on Wednesday, 17th October 2012 at 4:00 pm
 

Following in the fine footsteps of Dog is Dead, Keston Cobblers’ Club was tapped by fashion house Burberry to perform and record this acoustic version of ‘For Words’, plus an exclusive extended outro. Watch the brilliant performance below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vgp6MGd-sRY[/youtube]

 

Album Review: Keston Cobblers’ Club – One, for Words

 
By on Friday, 7th September 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Being a music editor that lives in America, there was no way I would escape hearing that Mumford and Sons would be making their first guest live appearance on Saturday Night Live in 3 weeks. As the resident kings of folk in these parts and elsewhere, you can’t call them indie folk anymore. So what is an indie folk fan to do? Luke favours Dry the River; Cheryl prefers Of Monsters and Men. But I think I’ve found a happy medium between the two that manages not to pander its audience and comes out smelling much better than what people have claimed Mumford has become.

Keston Cobblers’ Club, with a name more appropriate for a collection of shoemakers than a group of musicians, is a Bromley-based band invading the territory that was once reserved for Fanfarlo and then later, Freelance Whales. If you like your banjoes and ukuleles well picked and your piano notes well appointed and you don’t mind shedding a tear every once in a while for a touching song worthy of the waterworks, then look no further than the band’s debut album ‘One, for Words’.

Like Fanfarlo and Freelance Whales, vocal duties are shared between male and female vocalists in the form of Matthew Lowe and his sister Julia, the songwriters of the band. Both these voices, either separate or harmoniously together, maintain a fragile honesty, with Julia’s reminding me of a young, innocent Alison Goldfrapp, or perhaps Laura Marling on her first album ‘I Speak Because I Can’. With the masterfully paired male/female voices, I think the comparisons to early Noah and the Whale or even Slow Club will be inevitable, but this isn’t a bad thing. After all, Noah and the Whale has since gone stadium rock/pop, and Slow Club has carved a unique folk / soul niche as of late, so why not let Keston Cobblers’ Club into the borderline twee and folk pop category?

While early support from ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris of Radio2 seems like a given, considering his affinity for country and folk, it was Steve Lamacq’s recent playing of songs off this very album that caught my attention more. The size of Lammo’s weekly accumulated post of demos and albums is legendary, and any band who can boast that Lammo chose theirs above all others through a cold solicitation like Keston has managed is in a very select group indeed, with both ‘Pett Level’ and early single ‘Your Mother’ (video below) have been played on his evening drivetime programme already. If you’re in an up and coming band, the one priceless accolade you want more than anything is Lammo’s endorsement.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvJF56gxAaU[/youtube]

But I’m not here to be a Lammo yeswoman, I’m here to review this album. And what a lovely thing it is. It’s started off serenely with ‘Maybe We’ll Be Heard’, whose title seems all the more apt given who’s championing them. It’s got oom-pah-pah polka-like drums, then an accordion, then proficiently picked guitar and then really nice harmonies. The polka-ish theme that is revisited later in ‘The Curve’, which is weighed down by comparatively too complex lyrics.

‘Pett Level’ is framed by the notes of a gay ukulele and quite possibly some of the most beautiful vocals you will have ever encountered. (The ukulele makes a reappearance in the clap happy ‘You-Go’.) Oh wait. ‘For Words’ follows close behind, and these two songs tie for the absolute highlights of the album. In the case of ‘For Words’, the song reminds me of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’, as it’s being sung to someone held very dear, but it’s clear the two parted in that awful way that relationships do when one party “just wants to be friends”. Emotionally, it’s done such a number on me that I’m now desperate to see this band live. What a fix for a UK music blog editor living in Washington, DC to be in, eh?

In terms of upbeat songs, ‘Your Mother’, ‘Ah, Jaunt Soon’ and ‘Dun Dun Dun’ will hit the spot for Mumford fans. For those of you who prefer a bit of a comedic bent with your folk, it’s ‘The Heights of Lola’ that will make you chuckle. If you prefer your folk stripped down, then album closer ‘The Handless Man’ is your song. ‘Lazy Days’ has the immortal lines “I’ve been thinking about the time we slept together / you’ve been thinking about the time we slept together / maybe we should just jump back into bed” sung with such a sweet naivete, it could make you forget about the last time you were rebuffed by a lover. Almost. Big sigh.

There used to be a joke that all country music was based around sad love songs. While there are a few numbers with slower tempo, there’s nothing on ‘One, for Words’ that will be purposely sorrowful to everyone. That’s not to say you won’t feel the emotions coming out of you when you listen to this album. You will. It’s just the songwriting has been done in a way that is subtle and intelligent.

Listening to the lo-fi ‘Promenade’ feels like you’ve stepped back in time, with its dance hall piano. But since the rest of the album feels more current, it feels like a misstep. In ‘Marley’, the harmonies that came through so clearly in other songs on here nearly get drowned out by horns and a melodica, which does the band no favours. But those two songs aside, this is an impressive debut, feeling like it was written and recorded by a band whose young ages belies their talent. It’s no every day you queue up an album – containing a baker’s dozen of tunes, no less – that makes you ache deeply inside, right? I suspect a tony spot on the Cambridge Folk Festival line-up next summer, if not on Latitude’s is in their future. In the meantime though, get on this album now, so when those magic moments happen, you can be feign surprise around your mates when deep down you can be smug in the knowledge that you knew about them way before anyone else.

9/10

‘One, for Words’, the debut album from Keston Cobblers’ Club, is out now on Beatnik Geek Records. You can stream the album in the widget below, but if you like it, you can buy it from the band’s Bandcamp for the bargain price of 6 quid.

 
 
 

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