Review: Albums of the Half Year

So we’re done with the first bit of 2013. It’s been okay, hasn’t it? In fact, it’s been so okay us here at The Raccoon are struggling to fit much more into our little ears. The calibre of releases this calendar year has been flippin’ exemplary so far, so it’s only fair to do a half year list of our favourite albums of the past 6 months. Below each album is our favourite track from the record, so if you don’t already own it, you should reach the bottom of this page convinced that your ears have been missing out. Enjoy.

Luke:

Sigur Ros – Kveikur

Last year I saw a fairly underwhelming performance from Sigur Ros at Bestival. It turned out that due to the ‘extraneous demands’ of headliner Stevie Wonder, the group had been forced to perform their set whilst the sun was still shining. This, they said, ruined the visual element of their show, something they clearly feel very strongly about. There seemed to be an air of tension and even quiet awkwardness up on stage, and a few months later when news broke of one of their founding members quitting, I was concerned. Fear not though, they’ve gone and done something amazing. Kveikur, their first recorded output as a three-piece, bristles and grunts with dark, seething undertones that make you sit the fuck up and take note of what you’re listening to. That said, the integral wistfulness and soaring, emotive soundscapes are all still there and even more impressive when backed up by the angst-filled, percussion heavy layers that Sigur Ros have adopted. Kveikur displays a stunning feat of reinvention that simply demands to be listened to.

Local Natives – Hummingbird

This second album from Local Natives just really hit the spot for me. I’d enjoyed their previous album in small doses, so wasn’t expecting much here, however after a few listens I’d become absolutely addicted. The band seem to have a real ear for texture; their vocal harmonies and lush melodies providing the weight of emotional pull on the album. All tracks swell with gushing energy and sense of movement, allowing for some grandiosity in the way of huge choruses and shattering instrumental breakdowns. Cannot recommend it enough.

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

I know, I know. Two guitar records, who do I think I am? Send me back to the post-Libertines era of NME already. The fact of the matter is that, in an age of DJs and producers being messianic to the overwhelming majority, The National have ascended slowly but surely into a band of assured greatness. TWFM was arguably more anticipated than any of the band’s previous releases, but the feverish excitement was more than agreeable. Frontman Matt Berninger stills carries a mournful, regret-filled weight on his shoulders lyrically, but these lyrics are sung with more dynamism and confidence than before. As many reviews have stated, Trouble Will Find Me is the product of a band who are more sure of themselves than at any other point in their career.

Matt:

Kanye West – Yeezus

Perhaps it’s too fresh in my mind to ignore, but I cannot look past Yeezus Christ Superstar as one of the best albums of the year so far. With its dark glitchy beats and thunderous drums, this album is surely just an experiment for the man who made his name with the ‘Chipmunk Soul’ sound, but what an experiment it is.
This is the sound of someone just making the music he absolutely wants to and that benefits no end by having Rick Rubin at the helm, who drops the occasional Stax or Motown sample just to remind that they could be making something to please everyone but instead are pushing the limits of a mainstream rap record.

A. Chal – Ballroom Riots

An album which caused ripples when it really should have made waves, Alejandro Chal’s debut EP is still available as a free download which hopefully will reach a wider audience through word of mouth. It’s a record that has stuck with me since the first listen due to it’s sleazy air and dark LA feel. A.Chal’s sound really hits the mark when it grinds almost to a halt and is left to revel in it’s own big echoey synths. I expect nothing but big things once the world wakes up to this guy’s potential.

Adam Green & Binki Shapiro – Adam Green & Binki Shapiro

Not every album that you listen to has to make your face melt to bits like that scene in the Indiana Jones (You know…the bit where everyone’s faces melt.) Sometimes it’s great  to hear a good strong genre album, in the same way sometimes it’s good to  watch films that are typical action or horror films. The crucial thing is to make something which is completely committed to it’s theme and Adam Green & Binki Shapiro are fully signed up to making an album of jangly brass-tinted ballads.

There is just the right level of referential nod to the likes of Johnny Cash and June Carter, with Greens’s baritone delivery and Shapiro’s soft breathy response and the production values which are retro-fitted without seeming like a pastiche. This self-titled collaboration runs in at just under thirty minutes with ten finely crafted folk numbers that don’t stay long enough to outstay their welcome. It may not change your life but it will at least fill it with half an hour of beautiful songs.

Andrew:

Foals – Holy Fire

I was thinking to myself that maybe I should select from a left-field pool of barely known 2013 albums to make myself sound edgy, cool and way ahead of the mainstream wave, but I honestly can’t be bothered to put so much effort into pretentiousness, and I’m fully aware that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. So, turning my back on a Norwegian Freakwave compilation album, here’s my first choice, Foals’ third and, as of yet, greatest album to date. The funk remains the same but Yannis and co have added exponentially to their sound, creating an album that at times is a behemoth monster intent on bludgeoning your skull in, and at other times delicately fragile, offering an insight to the band’s inner-sanctum. Foals have been on an upward arc ever since their debut album Antidotes, meaning the future of one of the UK’s most interesting and unique bands is a very bright one indeed.

Disclosure – Settle

I’m genuinely shocked/slightly annoyed at myself for this choice, but hey, it’s been a confusing year. I saw Disclosure a couple of years ago and was underwhelmed at the time, a feeling that remained until their debut album Settle was released earlier this month. Now, I’m not a huge fan of house music, I’ll gladly listen to it when inebriated on a night out  but I’d never consider putting it on during day-to-day life. Settle has managed to change that though, mainly because of the fact that it works as an album, and not just a collection of dancey songs that don’t really have any order or flow. There are standout tracks like ‘You And I’ and ‘White Noise’ but the album as a whole feels so well produced and solid that it’s just a genuinely enjoyable listening experience. The future of house music is unknown, with many already claiming its had its day, yet this London duo’s (brothers, no less) first crack at an album has all the marks of a genre-defining record, and that is undoubtedly no mean feat.

Boards Of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

The cryptic build up to the album’s release was equal parts innovative to equal parts pretentious, featuring all sorts of weird codes that obsessed fans, desperate for new material, hopelessly tried to figure out. The fact that such a frustrating (yet massively successful) marketing campaign didn’t piss everyone off is testament to the adulation and respect the Scottish duo still command, despite their last album The Campfire Headphase coming out in 2005. Tomorrow’s Harvest harks back to the terrifying sounds of 2002’s Geogaddi, proof that Boards Of Canada, who were utterly groundbreaking at the start of this century, are still the kings of dark, ominous music.

So there you have it, nine albums that are prime examples of just how good 2013 has already been. If you haven’t heard these albums, get them listened to. Failing that, are there any albums that you, our dear readers, feel should have made the list? Either way, get listening and start looking forward to the rest of the year, featuring releases from Arctic Monkeys, Delorean, Drake and an absolute plethora of others.

 

Ben:

Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth

Do you know how difficult it is to come up with your favourite albums of the last six months? There has been so much great music in this fledgling year that asking me to choose my three favourites is like asking a mother who’s had loads of really good kids to choose three she likes most. There were many candidates for my albums of the year, Foals brutal-yet-beautiful ‘Holy Fire’ cannot be ignored, neither can the debut effort from UK electro-toddlers Disclosure. With that said, Mount Kimbie were straight onto this list without much hesitation. ‘CSFLY’ (abbreviations, yeah) is the sublime follow up to 2010’s ‘Crooks & Lovers’. Sparse drum patterns, spaced-out textures and meticulous layering give this album such great variation and understated emotion, it’s definitely one for the summer.

Joey Bada$$ – Summer Knights

Am I allowed to put this in? It literally came out a few days ago, but I haven’t been able to turn it off. Joey smashed his way onto the hip-hop scene last year with his debut mixtape ‘1999’. What is so refreshing about Joey is that he swerves away from the polished, club friendly beats that so many established rappers choose to jump on, and rhymes over the organic, understated yet enveloping beats of monolithic producers such as DJ Premier and DOOM. The fact that ‘Summer Knights’ is available for free means that it should be illegal not to have it.

Bonobo – The North Borders

Bonobo is an institution. Last year he continued his stream of stupendous quality output with ‘Black Sands’, and then ‘Black Sands Remixed’ which were both sublime and submerging in their own ways. Brought forward for digital release after some scoundrel leaked a promotional copy onto the internet (ban the internet, I say), ‘The North Borders’ is yet more evidence of Bonobo’s evolution. Five LPs in, he has refused to be drawn into the many trends and fads that have besieged electronic music, making his own beautiful, ethereal concoctions. I missed his tour this year, and I’m livid.

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