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Top Albums of 2014: Editor’s Picks

 
By on Monday, 22nd December 2014 at 11:00 am
 

When it comes time for a music editor to review the year’s releases, it’s something that should not be done lightly. With great power comes great responsibility. This will be my fifth top albums of the year at the helm of TGTF, so this year I feel this even more so. Without a doubt, 2014 was politically tumultuous, not only literally with the Scottish referendum and all that’s happening with Obama vs. Congress and Cameron vs. Parliament, but also on the music front, where we saw Apple buy Dr. Dre’s Beats Music and enable U2 to give iTunes users a free album they never asked for, Taylor Swift withdrawing all of her songs from Spotify, and online streaming outpacing and resoundingly beating download purchases.

I’ve got no industry crystal ball in front of me, but it’s clear 2015 will bring additional challenges for the music business. Companies will need to look to and develop new models and new sources of revenue, and at the same time, artists and bands will need to retool and reinvent themselves to not only endure and survive but thrive in these exciting, challenging times. With that, I turn your attention to the albums I deemed the most worthy of your purchase from this year, as I tell you about the artists who made them.

1. Teleman‘Breakfast’ (Moshi Moshi); Teleman on TGTF
It’s the most important meal of the day, isn’t it? So it makes uncannily appropriate sense to start with Teleman’s debut album. A lot has been made about the differences in sound from three out of four of their members’ previous band – the now-defunct Pete and the Pirates – and yes, they do sound different. There are buzzy synth lines by the Pirates’ former drummer Jonny Sanders, and overall, the sound is more pop than the rock of their previous band. The live experience, as I thankfully finally got the chance to witness in New York City in September, is a whole lot of fun too.

But the most important pieces have stayed constant: the band’s excellent songwriting and singer Tommy Sanders’ voice, going from angelic (opening track ‘Cristina’) to borderline vitriolic (‘Mainline’), depressive (’23 Floors Down’) to frantic joy (‘Skeleton Dance’), and everywhere in between. The jewel of the crown of ‘Breakfast’ is, I suppose somewhat ironically, the most difficult day and time of the week, ‘Monday Morning’, where Tommy Sanders shows yearning alternating with ire as he expresses regret about a relationship that could have been so much more…but wasn’t.

The album’s brilliance as a whole is that no two songs sound the same, yet they’re all about transport and the action of moving or leaving, and in a way that I’ve never been touched by before. I’ve laughed to this album, I’ve cried to this album, I’ve contemplated the meaning of life to this album. It hasn’t left my car since I got it for review in May, which says a lot. Magnificent, Teleman. Truly magnificent.

2. Sir Sly‘You Haunt Me’ (Interscope); Sir Sly on TGTF
I’m sure you readers have noticed I generally go out of my way to avoid mainstream artists who by some “miracle” just jump to success off the back of a major label. American indie rock / r&b trio Sir Sly have been around for a bit, but I didn’t pay much attention to them until I queued up ‘Where I’m Going’ as part of my research on them a couple of weeks prior for their co-headline slot on a North American tour with Wolf Gang. (Read my review of their show in Washington DC in September here.) I was hooked immediately by the sultriness of singer Landon Jacobs’ vocals, paired with a electronic pop / funk background that’s catchy as all hell yet mysterious.

Their debut album for Interscope finally dropped in mid-September, and it’s a pop masterpiece. Title track ‘You Haunt Me’ shows the band at their poppiest, with a bouncy, infectious rhythm guaranteed to make you pogo, while the synths gleam and glitter with the best of them. Yes, there is a commercial thread running through this album – a remix of ‘Gold’ was used to great effect to sell Cadillacs to young people in an American telly advert this year – but dark, buzzy beats on ‘Ghost’, rattling percussion on ‘Nowhere/Bloodlines pt. 1’ and the oozy smoothness of stretched synths accompanied with the painful vocal delivery in ‘Too Far Gone’ prove Sir Sly are no one-trick pony. In a world where pop, r&b and electronic struggle to coexist peacefully on the charts, this is one band that proves it can be done, and done very well. Expect them to be the next massive pop/r&b act.

3. The Crookes‘Soapbox’ (Fierce Panda); The Crookes on TGTF
And now, for something with a bit harder edge. Which sounds a bit strange coming from the happy, peppy, back to basics New Pop of Sheffield’s Crookes, doesn’t it? From the starting discordant guitar note of first single ‘Play Dumb’, they made it evident to the world that they wanted to be and should be taken seriously, which totally makes sense on an album called ‘Soapbox’. Prior to its release, it was a big year for the band, as they explained to me in an interview after SXSW 2014, having signed to American label Modern Outsider in 2013 and headlining their night that week in Austin at Parish Underground.

While the foursome didn’t entirely reinvent themselves, they really ratcheted up the quality of the songwriting on their third album. ‘Echolalia’ and ‘Howl’ exhibit a sadness you feel deeper through their words and music in such a different way than from their previous releases. ‘While You’re Fragile’ and ‘Outsiders’ confirm lyricist Daniel Hopewell hasn’t strayed far from his usual direction; at the same time the band haven’t lost their pop sensibility altogether for which they have become favourites with their fans. Hopewell said in an interview for One Week One Band’s Crookes feature earlier this month, “I think I’m more honest now. And hopefully my writing is improving so I can express simplistic, honest ideas in a more beautiful way”. Taken together with how they’ve changed musically from 2012’s ‘Hold Fast’, ‘Soapbox’ seems to suggest there is plenty more room for the Crookes to grow, both in lyrical and musical artistry.

4. The Lost Brothers‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’ (Lojinx); The Lost Brothers on TGTF
When two people are destined to be musical partners, you can listen to a single song of theirs and on some subliminal level, you just know. I don’t want to make it sound like the songs contained within ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’ are basic; rather, it’s a true testament to the Liverpool-via-Ireland duo’s gifts to us – beautiful singing voices and incredible guitar dexterity – that they can make indie folk sound so effortless, yet so gorgeous.

This is the ultimate autumnal folk record, probably best listening to late at night. You can practically hear the fallen leaves crunch under your feet as you listen further through the effort. From the gentle simplicity of instrumental ‘Nocturnal Tune’, on through the heartbreak experienced by the actions of one ‘Derridae’, then to the anguish of a disillusioned fighter in ‘Soldier’s Song’, there is a lot of poignancy to feel here. But then you get to a track like the seemingly too happy (for them; I talked to Leech about this in a recent q&a) ‘Walking Blues’, and you know the sun will rise again. All in all, remarkably restrained beauty.

5. Sivu‘Something on High’ (Atlantic); Sivu on TGTF
After several singles and EPs scattered over the last year or so, James Page’s debut album was long awaited by me, especially after chatting with him at SXSW 2014 and seeing him live in Austin. It was a special privilege to be present for his LP’s launch party at Hackney Oslo in mid-October, bearing witness to quite possibly his first overzealous fan and stage crasher. So what is it about ‘Something on High’ that can cause such crazed devotion?

Page has separated himself from the other guitar-toting, may I say boring male singer/songwriters (for one, hello, entitled Ben Howard in Norwich) or ones who are trying for the r&b votes (like Hozier, whose popularity still makes me groan). How? There is beat, experimentation and strings in opening track ‘Feel Something’; earlier single ‘Can’t Stop Now’ is inspiration in the form of sunny pop. Yet the true genius of ‘Something on High’ is just how much this album will lead you to think, to truly contemplate one’s existence, something truly rare when it comes to pop albums. Page examines the keys to human existence (‘Miracle [Human Error]’), the desire to start over (‘Bodies’) and crushing self-defeat in the face of heartbreak (‘Sleep’) and in such a sensitive, yet stunning way.

 

Video of the Moment #1643: Teleman

 
By on Tuesday, 30th September 2014 at 6:00 pm
 

Teleman‘s new promo for their song ‘Mainline’ features cross-dressing and destruction of food (poor defenseless egg! poor tomato!) and other items. I know. It sounds strange. For a hoot, watch the video filmed and storyboarded by keyboardist Jonny Sanders below. (Personally, I think the song is better, but you might see things differently.)

For all things Teleman, including my review of their show at New York’s Mercury Lounge last week, go here. The band perform tonight at Bootleg Bar in Los Angeles.

 

Live Review: Teleman at Mercury Lounge, New York City – 25th September 2014

 
By on Monday, 29th September 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Despite not being a native New Yorker and living over 200 miles southwest of the place, I have been slowly but surely chipping away at my list of venues to see in the Big Apple. In the second half of last week, I finally got to witness London-based Teleman live, twice, during their first visit to our country and my first experience of the Mercury Lounge on East Houston Street. This review focusses on their first show in the Lower East Side, but later on this piece, I’ll briefly mention the differences between the two shows.

When I first arrived, slightly winded having just taken the train up from Washington and worried I was going to miss the start of their set, I was relieved to see they were still setting up. I’m not sure if this will continue, but the each member of the band – comprising ex-Pete and the Pirates members Tommy Sanders (vocals / guitar), his brother Jonny (keyboard / synths) and Pete Cattermoul (bass guitar) along with drummer Hiro Amamiya – is wearing a different shirt, each incorporating the three colours of yellow, red and blue that figure as dots on the abstract album art for their Moshi Moshi Records debut ‘Breakfast’ (reviewed by me here). Considering that since fashion-wise color blocks are still in, maybe they’re just ahead of this industry’s curve?

I think it’s always a precarious thing to go watch a band perform one of your favourite albums of the year. I do, however, always remember something Ed Macfarlane said a long time ago in a Friendly Fires interview, which was generally of the sentiment that your live show should bring something different to the table, because if someone wanted to hear the album reproduced faithfully live, they might as well listen to the album. I don’t know if you could blame the tentativeness in the first half of Teleman’s set on nerves, but the punchiness of first two songs ‘In Your Fur’ and ‘Mainline’ you hear on the album seemed not to translate live. As I was stood there down the front at Mercury Lounge, I noticed how crisp and clear the guitar notes sounded in the place, which seemed odd to me but amazing at the same time, if I compared it to the varying degrees of muddle I’m accustomed to.

Actually, muddling might have been a benefit to the set, as the conclusion of ‘In Your Fur’ was an extended psych rock out jam session. Similarly, insistently rocky ‘Steam Train Girl’ was also lengthened, much to the delight of the girls in front of me who were having a whale of a time, kicking their heels up to the music. The Teleman sound is definitely of the toe-tapping variety but not exactly designed for ravers. ‘Skeleton Dance’, arguably the most dancey of all the tracks on the debut album, with the brothers Sanders synths and guitar coming together harmoniously.

‘Breakfast’ most truly beautiful moments came across wonderfully live, as the trifecta of the bright yet regretful ‘Monday Morning’, the heart-pounding drums of past single ’23 Floors Up’ and almost nursery rhyme simplicity of the melody in ‘Lady Low’ in quick succession becomes the sonic equivalent of being simultaneously socked in the stomach and the heart. Sadly, due to the early show curfew, the set was cut short, with ‘Redhead Saturday’ not getting an airing until the next night at Glasslands in Williamsburg.

Still, quite possibly the crowning moment for those people so adamant that Teleman must be Kraftwerk obsessives (for the record, it’s not true, according to an interview Tommy did with Under the Radar magazine here in the States), hidden album track ‘Not in Control’ is directed by its beats, leading punters at both New York shows to bop to the rhythm and some cases, leaving them in a psych-ey, trance-like state that you wouldn’t see at a ‘pop’ show. I think the more the band tour this album, the better their set will be. Oh, and sorry to anyone who wants to request a Pete and the Pirates song, such as the couple who shouted for ‘Cold Black Kitty’. They don’t remember the chords.

After the cut: Teleman’s set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Teleman at Mercury Lounge, New York City – 25th September 2014

 

Video of the Moment #1605: Teleman

 
By on Tuesday, 19th August 2014 at 6:00 pm
 

Just yesterday, Teleman unveiled the video for ‘Skeleton Dance’, their current single off their brilliant debut album ‘Breakfast’ (my review of the LP here). Instead of taking the title literally and having sets of all 206 bones or people dressed up as our bony counterparts cutting a rug, animated dancing figures, coloured patterns and slices of citrus fruit (I’m being serious) are moving about in this promo while the band members are bending various shapes to their will. And those coloured dancing dots introduced around the time of their first single ‘Cristina’? They also make a reappearance. Watch the video below.

All coverage on TGTF about Teleman, is this way. ‘Breakfast’ and the single ‘Skeleton Dance’ are out now on Moshi Moshi Records.

 

Deer Shed Festival 2014: Day 1 Roundup

 
By on Thursday, 31st July 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

On Saturday the 26th of July, on the occasion of its fifth birthday, Deer Shed Festival finally came of age. I mean no disrespect to Villagers or Darwin Deez, but Johnny Marr is the perfect climax to Saturday night at Deer Shed. He drew a crowd to Baldersby Park’s gently sloping natural auditorium unmatched in both size and enthusiasm than in any previous year. By virtue of writing the music to countless songs that soundtracked the lives of the adults in the crowd when they were young, free, and unencumbered by the offspring who were variously marauding around the site in frenzied glee or asleep in their arms despite the noise, for an hour or so they gave Marr their undivided attention and appreciation as he reeled off one classic after another.

Even though perhaps not as much a household name as his Smithsian lyricist and singer, by virtue of avoiding the latter’s rum pronouncements on vegetarianism, race, and sexuality, and sticking to what he does best – playing decent music – Marr succeeds in a similar, but much larger fashion, to that which Gaz Coombes did the previous year. A combination of life-affirming back catalogue hits, each of which instantly evoke dusty memories of life past, together with new material that easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the older stuff, is a recipe for success at Deer Shed Festival. Thusly are memories of the future made.

But Deer Shed Festival is far from being just the Johnny Marr show, and the adventure commenced the previous sultry afternoon. For those that don’t know, Deer Shed festival is held in North Yorkshire, just off the A1 on the way to Thirsk, in the beautiful grounds of Baldersby Park. The unwritten rule of Deer Shed: bring the kids. Even though the music is as good as anywhere, the real focus is on giving children a good time throughout the weekend, so if you’ve an aversion to the little blighters, look elsewhere. If you need an event where the kids are kept amused as Dad moshes down the front, Deer Shed is for you.

After a less-than-arduous 5-minute walk from car park to campsite, silently congratulating oneself for attending an event of a sensible acreage, and a bout of fumbling with canvas and string in the baking hot sunshine, refreshment and musical entertainment are less desired than demanded. Teleman were welcome succour. Comprising three of the admired Pete and the Pirates but swapping jaunty guitars for more considered electronica-enhanced melodies, they mix Erasure’s way with a dramatic synth-pop arc with Belle and Sebastian’s observational twee. All We Are eased the main stage into the late afternoon sunshine with the gentle ebb and flow of their gently atmospheric, shoegaze-influenced pop. Contenders for “The xx imitators of the Year” award, along with Woman’s Hour.

PINS are impeccable now. Watching them transform from a rickety band of noiseniks just a couple of years ago into today’s whirlwind of glamour and red lipstick is a life-affirming experience. They combine the power of 1970s New York glam-punk rock with an overlaid sweetness of melody and delicacy of touch comparable with any Supremes classic. While the phrase “girl band” has loaded connotations of manufactured, shallow pop nonsense, bands like PINS are doing their best to reclaim it for groups of talented musicians who just happen to be women. Whether or not there’s any great feminist insight is open to debate, but nevertheless, theirs was one of the performances of the weekend.

Next comes the only major misstep of programming of the whole weekend. Just as the sun starts to think about lazily drifting towards the horizon, and the main stage crowd are tucking into their evening meal of organic houmous and vintage prosecco, along come Toy to blast away the early evening reverie. On record, TOY are more considered, melodic, and song-focused, but live they come across as an incessant wall of noise; they’ve got three guitars and they’re going to turn it them all up to 11. ‘Join the Dots’, the title track from their début album, is a case in point – its climax of multi-layered guitars, phased into the next universe, is an undoubtedly viscerally thrilling piece of music, but perhaps not enjoyable if it disturbs little Johnny’s digestion and makes the whole family go scrabbling around for the ear defenders.

It’s not that they’re a bad band. Far from it. In fact, along with Temples, they’re one of the most convincing neo-psych bands in the country right now. But in this instance it’s a case of right band, wrong stage. Various overheard grumbles pay testament, including the old classic, “it’s just noise!” A considerable chunk of the Deer Shed crowd rock up to the main stage auditorium in the morning with their camping chairs and stay there all day, so in a way have little choice as to what they are made to listen to. Whatever is on the main stage influences the enjoyment of the entire site, and the Friday evening slot needs to be something less challenging, a little funkier, to properly match the mood of the audience.

A band on the correct stage are Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – they play the tented Lodge stage, so aural participation is distinctly optional – but certainly recommended. Pip’s gently political and moderately sweary diatribes (“that last song had an MF in it, sorry parents!”) combined with Sac’s dubstep-flavoured soundtrack excites many audience members into a display of such extrovert dad-dancing that any child would be excruciatingly embarrassed. The atmosphere in the tent is genuinely charged with enthusiasm; Deer Shed’s first foray into urban/rap/hip-hop is superbly received. More please. In common with several other acts, Pip seems genuinely pleased to have such a diverse range of ages in the audience – officially the most people on shoulders ever at one of their gigs, as children are raised aloft to experience “the man with his head on upside down”.

The main stage headliner is British Sea Power, but inevitably for many parents their slot coincided with trying to settle one or more very excited children to sleep. They sounded great from the campsite. When eventually the kids are settled, the last attraction of Friday is the genius that is Darius Battiwalla accompanying a silent film: this year, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. It was intended to be The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari but had to be changed for licensing reasons, which would have suited the time travel theme far better, and also the patience of the crowd: Caligari is a mere 67 minutes long, whereas Hunchback is over 2 hours. Whilst I’d happily listen to Battiwalla play over a cornflake advert, that’s a long time to spend watching Lon Cheney gurning, and by the time the film’s impenetrable plot reached its climax, the audience were variously physically uncomfortable or sound asleep. It’s surprising how loud a small boy’s snores can be in the auditorium of a silent film!

Stay tuned for more of Martin’s coverage of Deer Shed coming soon on TGTF.

 

Live Gig Video: Teleman and Tom Vek perform at Sofar Sounds London session

 
By on Friday, 11th July 2014 at 4:00 pm
 

Last month, TGTF favourites Teleman (pictured at top) and Tom Vek appeared at a Sofar Sounds session in London and the fine folks from the living room gig organisers have released some great video from the night. Watch below as Teleman perform single ’23 Floors Up’ from their amazing debut album ‘Breakfast’ (reviewed here) and Vek breaks out ‘Trying to Do Better’ from his latest album ‘Luck’ (reviewed here).

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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