Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year Wishes

Here we are, then: the last day of 2014. I've already weighed and measured the best albums of this year, so now it's time to look into the future, to wonder what musical marvels 2015 might have in store for us.

Now, we already have a few dead certs. Modest Mouse, for example, have assured us that they will be releasing a new album next year, as have The Decemberists. But today's blog post isn't concerned with these releases; instead, it's all about speculation, the unconfirmed classics of 2015.

Here, then, are 5 artists that I'd really, really like to hear more from in the next 12 months. As far as I'm aware, none of these bands have given any indication that new work is on the way, but hey, if you're going to indulge in a little wishful thinking, the 31st of December seems like an opportune time for it.

The Magnetic Fields
Wishful-O-Meter: 2/5
It doesn't seem too optimistic to hope for a new MF album in 2015. In fact, you might even say we're due one - Distortion came out in 2008, Realism in 2010, and Love at the Bottom of the Sea in 2012, so if Stephin Merritt keeps up this every-other-year workrate, there should be an extra album in the MF discography by this time next year. Failing that, I'd settle for some Merritt solo action, or another 6ths album.

Wishful-O-Meter: 3/5
Wikipedia may count 2013's Across Six Leap Years - the latest Tindersticks release - as a studio album, but I don't. It was more of a career retrospective, and while it's cool that Staples et al bothered to re-record all of their old hits, I'm still waiting for a proper follow-up to The Something Rain (which came out all the way back in early 2012). Bonus points if the new one is on a par with The Hungry Saw - it's not my #1 favourite 'Sticks album, but demanding something as good as Tindersticks II at this stage just seems churlish.

Iron Maiden
Wishful-O-Meter: 1/5
If West Ham United's most famous fans fail to release a new album in 2015, this will be the longest Maiden drought the world has endured since the band's eponymous first album was released in 1980. The Final Frontier was almost four and a half years ago now, and so it seems perfectly reasonable to expect a follow-up before Christmas comes 'round again.

Tilly and the Wall
Wishful-O-Meter: 4/5
Things have been disquietingly, uh, quiet in the Tilly camp of late. Their official website still features 'upcoming' tour dates from June 2013, and nobody seems to have heard much of anything from them since Heavy Mood came out. Still, a boy can dream...

Wishful-O-Meter: 1/5...but also 5/5
"More and more gardens are coming into bloom" said Fyfe Dangerfield in a news post on the Guillemots website back in June. On Summer Island, the follow-up to 2012's springtimey Hello Land!, is now two years and three months overdue, and while Fyfe and Co are supposedly still working on it, we're still waiting for some kind of sign that it's nearing completion.

As you can see, I've given this release two completely opposite wishful ratings: a 1 because they can't possibly need another whole year on this, and a 5 because it's beginning to seem like this album will never see the light of day. Time will tell, I suppose, but one thing's for sure: if they continue at this rate then the seasonal quadrilogy that they promised us back in 2012 won't be complete until some time in 2019.

* * *

So that's it for this year! I'll maybe revisit this list in December '15 and see how many (if any) of my wishes came true. In the meantime, have a happy new year and cross your fingers for some great music in the months to come! 

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Albums I Got for Christmas

Well, the 25th of December has whizzed by for another year, and so it's time once again for me to dig an eager hand into my Christmas stocking and sort through the musical goodies that Santa was kind enough to bring me this year.

Here are the CDs that I was given as presents this Christmas:

Put Your Back N 2 It by Perfume Genius
I heard Sarah listening to Perfume Genius a little while back, and their languid, unhurried sound appealed to me in a way that languid, unhurried sounds rarely do. I suspect that this will be a good album for bedtime - it's in the same kind of vein as Pride, the languid and unhurried but exceptionally beautiful third album from Phosphorescent (definitely check that one out if you haven't already).

Friday, December 19, 2014

Top 10 Albums of 2014

Time for the big one, then. I've already told you my favourite songs of 2014, and with that warm-up out of the way, I'm now ready to reveal my favourite albums.

Frankly, I can't quite believe that it's been a whole year since Quiet Marauder scooped top honours in December 2013, but a year it has been and we're about to find out who is following in their footsteps. We know that it won't be any of the bands from my Honourable Mentions list; those albums were good, but not quite good enough for the final list.

Without further ado, then, here are The Album Wall's Top 10 Albums of 2014:

10) Commune by Goat
World Music, Goat's first album, was pretty good, but I never managed to shake the feeling that it wasn't quite as good as I wanted it to be. Commune is a lot closer to being that album; it feels much more full-on and much more mystical than its predecessor, and that full-on mysticism is what makes Goat such a great prospect. That and the rhythms - I particularly like Bondye, which uses metal chains as a percussion instrument.

Standout Tracks: Talk to God // Bondye

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Top 20 Songs of 2014

Great albums would be nothing without great songs so before I reveal my Top 10 Albums of 2014, I'd like to share some of the best songs I've heard this year. Some you will know, some you may have missed, but all of them are excellent and that's an Album Wall guarantee.

Just to clarify, any song is eligible as long as its parent album was released in 2014. That stonking new Modest Mouse song, for example, is not on the list; even though we're listening to it here and now in 2014, the new album won't be out until March 2015, and so as far as I'm concerned it's not a 'Song of 2014'.

Also, I'd finished compiling this list before Lampshades on Fire was made available to hear, so there we are. Now, without further ado, here are my Top 20 Songs of 2014!

20) Did I Ever Love You by Leonard Cohen
This song attracted a lot of criticism for its "bouncy country" section that "sounds like Mumford & Sons", but whatever - I still love it, and the contrast between those sad, achy verses and that abruptly upbeat chorus is one of the best things about it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014: Honourable Mentions

Only now, as I revisit all the albums I bought this year, do I realise just how good 2014 has been. True, there have been quite a few albums that didn't live up to my expectations, but many others have met and exceeded those expectations quite wonderfully.

I'll be sharing my Top 10 Albums of 2014 this Friday; in the meantime, I'd like to mention a few marvellous albums that, while not quite good enough to crack my Top 10 list, are still more than worthy of your attention.

I'll start with Mogwai's Rave Tapes, one of the first albums I bought this year and a fine addition to Mogwai's uniformly fine back catalogue. It's not a career best - it's neither as instantly gratifying as Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will nor as rewarding as earlier efforts like Come On Die Young - but songs like Remurdered and Repelish have a dark, brooding sound that's very, very cool. Blues Hour is my personal favourite; Mogwai don't often do lyrics, but when they do, the results are always awesome (see also: Cody, R U Still In 2 It).

Friday, December 12, 2014

10 Predictions for the New Modest Mouse Album

Modest Mouse fans - myself included - have been getting very excited this week, and it's all because of this photo:

This was the band's inaugural Instagram post, and it was the world's first indicator that our five-year Mouse drought (seven if you don't count No One's First and You're Next) may finally be nearing an end. Shortly after this mysterious 45rpm record hit the indie rock headlines, a spokesperson from the band's record label confirmed that, yes, Modest Mouse would be releasing a new album in early 2015.

Woohoo! Now, let's try and guess what that new album will be like...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Revisiting Life's Rich Pageant

There was a time when Life's Rich Pageant was my favourite R.E.M. album, perhaps my favourite album period. This wasn't merely because it felt like a hipper choice than Automatic for the People (although I won't deny that I enjoy feeling hipper than everyone else), but because I genuinely felt that Just a Touch and The Flowers of Guatemala were some of the best tracks in the R.E.M. pantheon.

I came back to LRP yesterday, and I must admit that it's not quite the world-beater I remember. The skyscraping solo in The Flowers of Guatemala (I swear to God, this was my #1 favourite song ever at one point) now sounds disappointingly prosaic, while Just a Touch - which used to sound like a thrilling rollercoaster ride of a song - has decayed into a slab of by-the-numbers rock 'n' roll filler.

Monday, December 8, 2014

On Working Without Headphones

I forgot my headphones this morning. At time of writing, I have already endured an entire morning without music (excluding the Titus Andronicus album that I was listening to in the car), and I'll still be here for a few hours yet.

Okay, okay, I realise that this is about as #firstworld as problems get - many people don't have the option of listening to music while they work, and I should be grateful to know that, as long as I remember my cans tomorrow morning, I can immerse myself in Damien Rice and The Hidden Cameras for the rest of the week.

Friday, December 5, 2014

December, Not Christmas

On Monday, I suggested 10 lesser-known Christmas songs for people who are sick to death of Slade, Band Aid, Cliff Richard, and all the other music that's pretty much inescapable from Bonfire Night onwards.

But what about the people who don't want to listen to Christmas music at all? I've seen quite a few Grinchy Scrooges on my Facebook feed this week, all of them complaining that it's too early to break out the Christmas records, or that they simply hate Christmas in general and wish everyone would stop talking about it.

Well, for the benefit of those people, today's blog will concern itself with non-Christmas albums that are nevertheless perfect for this time of year. December is a rather lovely month, what with autumn gradually turning into winter, and it'd be a shame to completely abandon ourselves to seasonal cheese when there's so much other music that's ideal for the latter part of the year.

Without further ado, then, here are three albums for a non-festive December:

The Magic Position by Patrick Wolf
I only purchased this album last month, so it already held a distinct autumn/winter feel for me. Still, I'm pretty sure that The Magic Position would sound Decembery even in June, with its evocations of bonfires and rotting leaves and its sprawling array of warming sounds (including - yes - a Christmassy-sounding glockenspiel on the title track).

"And you were my husband, my wife, my heroine - now this is our final December." 

Key Wintry Track: Bluebells, which seems to compare the slow decline of a romantic relationship to the Earth's slow descent into winter at the end of each year. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Race for Space

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about Public Service Broadcasting's second album and what it might be like. I speculated that it might be - indeed, should be - a concept album, similar to their WW2-themed EP The War Room. But, y'know, longer.

I also recounted some suggestions from people on Twitter:

Oh, and to my delight, I actually received a response from the band shortly afterwards:

Monday, December 1, 2014

10 Christmas Songs You Might Not Know

December is upon us, which means that it's now officially okay to listen to Christmas music. In fact, you're pretty much obliged to listen to Christmas music, so if you're not a big fan of Wizzard and Nat King Cole and Cliff fucking Richard, you may want to find something else with which to occupy your ears this December.

And that's where today's blog comes in. If you're bored of the same old Slade - because, let's face it, all Christmas CDs have basically the same tracklist - here are 10 lesser-known Yuletide classics that you might not have come across before. I've certainly never spotted any of these on a seasonal compilation, anyway.

1. A Christmas Duel - The Hives and Cyndi Lauper
A rollicking and gleefully hateful cheating song - and then some! Frankly, I'm not sure why Cyndi and The Hives haven't worked together since. I'd gladly listen to a whole album of this stuff.

2. A Christmas Carol - Tom Lehrer
Tom Lehrer ought to be everybody's songwriting hero. This is a characteristically sardonic take on the most wonderful profitable time of the year, recorded in an era when it wasn't yet clichéd to be cynical at Christmas (more on that later).