Top Music 2013

Looking back at the year in music that 2013 was for me, I can only conclude that it’s been an exciting year with a superb mix of music.

A Top 5:

  1. Editors - The weight of your loveEditors have grown into being one my of my all-time favorite bands, and that is not to be underrated, as it puts them next to a band like Bauhaus. 2013 saw the release of their “The Weight Of Your Love“, a fantastic resurrection after the near-death situation of 2012 with original guitarist Chris Urbanowicz leaving. The Weight Of Your Love combines the wide stadion rock music sound with their old indie background, desire for grandeur and acoustic silence. All at once. And then they are still widening their spectrum by intelligent use of the additional musicians but also in Tom’s singing.
  2. Arcade Fire has not only released the album Reflektor, but are also performing at some occasions under that name. It is a great double album, that made it very close to my number 1. With every album they release a work of integrity, intelligence, lots of folk influences and electric eclecticism, centered around a theme. The double album set up allows them to wander and search without too many limitations. The small contribution of David Bowie to the title song is a great plus.
  3. Nick Cave released a somewhat slow album, Push The Sky Away, with his Bad Seeds. I am very fond of the rather relaxed sound and production which holds many subtleties. The opening song, We No Who U R, and the closing title song cut deep into my soul and brain every time again.
  4. David Bowie made a completely unexpected sort of come back with The Next Day. Although, ‘come back’ feels quite inappropriate in case of a chameleon like mr. Bowie. The album is full of references to his career, the music he created, the places he visited, the people he met. Yet, it is clearly out of time music, immediately recognizable as Bowie’s.
  5. The Clash - Sound System Ghetto BlasterAfter 3 years of work behind closed doors (much by bass player Paul Simonon), The Clash released a brilliantly packaged overview of their career with the Sound System collection. A great way to finally catch up with this phenomenal band. In their brief existence they produced an enormous variety of tunes and dubs, but always remained true to their punk-style principles and ideals. All of these and a bunch of great extras were re-edited and re-issued and complemented by some little collectibles in a Ghetto Blaster format. Counting 5 regular albums over 8 CDs, and 1 extras album over 3 CDs, a poster, badges, dog tags and a manual.
    This collection got me into buying the Live At Shea Stadium album, where in 45 minutes or so they showed their greatness and forward rock approach, blowing away a crowd of 72000 rainy people waiting for The Who.

Other much liked music was released by:

  • Eels, “Wonderful, Glorious”. I also read mr. E’s autobiography which helped understand his personal and musical universe a lot better. And even besides that advantage, it is a worthwhile work full of humor of a survivalist kind. Much like the music. A true free spirit.
  • Bent Van Looy, lead singer of Das Pop, has released a bright and vivid solo album Round The Bend. The album was intended to be mostly piano, but ended up full of beautiful strings and light orchestral arrangements.
  • Suede did release a real come back album with Bloodsports. It has the old fierceness and wild pop orientation. The only minus I felt was the limited lyrical spectrum.
  • Agnes Obel gave us a beautiful follow-up to her debut album. Aventine resides mostly in the same universe as Philharmonics, but the intelligent and sparse use of classic piano, cello and silence does not feel ‘have heard’ at all.
  • Nine Inch Nails were brought to life again by Trent Reznor with Hesitation Marks. Although much more electronical again, less rock and -certainly- much less desperate and self-destructive, it reminded me much of The Downward Spiral, in a good way. Not that the latter gets surpassed, but that’s probably never going to happen anyhow. A good thing that mr. Reznor has found ways to collaborate.
  • Franz Ferdinand, much like Editors, conquered that little special place in my heart. I even lively remember how their debut album (2004) raised my hope again about music, after some years of disillusionment. With Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action they stick to their hyperactive danceable rock style funk something, highly recognizable, yet very fresh.

Top Music 2012

In 2012 it seemed I wasn’t involved in music too much. Not enough, that’s for sure. Result of being a workaholic? Anyhow, I still wanted to share:

Album of the Year (2012): Swans – The Seer

Swans - The SeerAfter rebooting Swans around 2010, Michael Gira released the epic double-sided The Seer album in 2012. It’s been repeatedly, including by the man himself, described as THE ultimate Swans album that Michael Gira not only had in mind during all of his Swan years, but also has been working on for over 30 years.

Gira has transformed totally into the master of his self-shaped universe of martial music with much varying song lengths, styles and tones, with songs that fade away into a gloom an then restart to burst into total fierceness. But these time around Gira often adds a touch of brightness and even some folky tunes to the dark repetitive mantras and drones. He even creates some acoustic drones, quite hypnotic. In a very clear production Gira lyrically sounds familiar with his themes of children of love, mother earth, holy gods.

Another sound year gone by, 2011 (Top Music)

2011 in retrospect turns out to have been an exciting year. Some bands produced great music; some as they have always done, some as they once did (and then left off a bit, so we can use the word ‘comeback’), some as they did for the first time. I’m glad I postponed this overview a bit, as I purchased some (what turned out) great recordings last-minute in the year. I also caught up with the past, so I’ll be mentioning some older recordings in 2011 although they should have had a place in previous Top Music overviews (2008, 2009, 2010). Or much longer ago.

Top 5

  1. dEUS – Keep You Close
  2. Snow Patrol – Fallen Empires
  3. Agnes Obel – Philharmonics
  4. Smith & Burrows – Funny Looking Angels
  5. Elbow – Build a rocket boys

dEUS released a simply brilliant album with Keep You Close. It shows a sound and cohesive band, not afraid of alt.rock breaks and rhythms, subtle background noises and little bites but still manages to be funky, steamy or romantic while keeping an eye on melodies and pop-ear friendliness. The album is full of great arrangements and orchestrations, and integrates their well-known indie weirdness into a very mature approach to modern rock. dEUS made me realize the mistake of not buying their previous work (Vantage Point), although I already had all of their albums, including a whole bunch of singles and some specials.

dEUS ran a close race with Snow Patrol, whose new release Fallen Empires I only decided to get on the verge of 2012. I am absolutely fond of the band and its down-to-earth charismatic singer/writer Gary Lightbody. But I didn’t feel like buying their previous collector album, and their new singles felt over-familiar. But how wrong was I. They expanded their sound pallet enormously with subtle key boards, synths and electronics. But they managed to keep their essential integrity although I feel even the approach to their guitar playing has been shaken up a bit. I hear them immersing the later rock orientation of Eyes Open in the indie sound of Final Straw (my first love) and still opening that up to wider horizons and stadions.

Agnes Obel surprised me with the sheer beauty and stillness of Philharmonic. I didn’t buy it upon the Riverside single on the radio, but after seeing her playing it live at some television show. And although it is a fantastic song, the album has more than enough besides that single. There’s the follow-up Brother Sparrow for instance, but I have a personal favor for the interpretation of the John Cale song Close Watch. Because I waited long enough I was able to buy the “Deluxe Edition”. It is a terrible insult for the early buyers to release such editions later, but maybe they find rest if I tell them that the additions (“Live In Copenhagen” versions and “Piano Sessions”) don’t add too much as far as I’m concerned.

The only regret I have over the winter album Funny Looking Angels by Smith & Burrows is their band name. Well, it isn’t really a band name, and that’s what I regret. But, hey, the album itself is a terrific combination of own material and carefully selected covers. From the care put into them, in the singing, the (re-)arrangements and the instrumentation, you can’t tell them apart. Both artists turn out to be great singers ànd musicians. The first being a sort of surprise as far as Andy Burrows is concerned, the latter for me not really, being a gigantic fan of Tom Smith and Editors. Music to listen to while slowly drudging through the snow, replacing a warm fireplace, or -better- sitting by a warm fireplace you longed for during that long drive.

It’s too easy to say that Elbow has confirmed their quality with Build A Rocket Boys. Although they did, their standards for intensity, beauty and withheld charms are so high that even just confirming earns them a place amongst the best albums of 2011.

New

The last days of 2011 gifted me with the debut of Belgium’s School is Cool. And I must admit that I am highly surprised by the song material, the overall sound and production, the drive and the variation on their debut Entropology. Sort of too bad of the silly band name, but luckily I overcame that and got their record.
Intergalactic Lovers
is another Belgian band that released their debut in 2011, called Greetings & Salutations. But unlike School Is Cool, the album isn’t convincing overall. The singles are great, but stick out too much compared to the rest of the album. In their lyrics I feel Intergalactic Lovers need to grow while in that area, School Is Cool shows much more maturity.

Old New

I would absolutely like to mention the new Waterboys album, An appointment with Mr. Yeats. In several interviews over the last years, Mike Scott pointed out that he had been around for so long and had lived and survived so much in music that he was having a hard time working out new songs. Although their live shows are superb and energetic, yondering from past to modern with great improvisations and full of musical drive, the Book Of Lightning album did prove Mike’s point. However, the boys did not only find inspiration in Yeats’ poetry, they turned it into vivid songs, grabbing what made them so great in the past and mixing that in a melting pot with rock and folk ingredients, and layering it with great backings, violins and flutes to spew a wild, organic and enthusiast set of multi-layered songs.

Gavin Friday produced a very alienating album catholic. Although not co-written with long-time companion Maurice Seezer, the overall arrangements are equally subtle, emotional and rich. It sometimes revives the past (in a good way) to show us the wild performer, but mostly Gavin sings of the emotional rollercoaster that ran over him during the last 5 years. To date I still feel that he’s showing and hiding at the same time in his lyrics. He’s being very personal, but it feels like at the same time he runs from it by generalizing his expressions in order to hide. His completely authentic approach to (pop) music suffers a bit from it, but his amazing live performances totally stand out.

For various reasons I intensely enjoyed following albums:

  • Axelle Red manages to take different directions with each album. Although probably not always too successful in it, Un Coeur Comme Le Mien knew to convince me in combining the French language with some country feel and Axelle’s chansons.
  • I had lost sight of Heather Nova, except for her radio singles, for many years. But 300 Days At Sea showed her using her roots to update her sound, and focus on song quality again (over production). Glad to have seen her play live as well.
  • Editors gave us the low-cost collection You are fading (part I-IV), combining some great songs, new or alternative versions of existing material, as well as sometimes showing that some materials were rightfully not included on the regular albums.
  • Nid & Sancy gave us the free collection of songs bundled as Add Nightmare And Rinse, that -to a certain extent- blew me away. They certainly know how to mindblowingly combine electronics with soft shocks of infused guitars and voice noise.

The Kaiser Chiefs (The future is medieval), The Horrors (Skying), British Sea Power (Valhalla Dancehall), Florence + the Machine (Ceremonials), PJ Harvey (Let England Shake), Beirut (The Rip Tide) and Arctic Monkeys (Suck it and see) all showed their star quality and their status as firm and standing rock artists.

New Old

As mentioned, I wanted to hear the previous work of dEUS in its current incarnation of people. And Vantage Point (2008) is worthwhile. It lacks the broader perspective of Keep You Close, but it’s certainly more coherent than Pocket Revolution. I can’t tell whether it would have made my Top 2008, but I do know that The National would have made my Top 2010 with High Violet. Because it is a work of staggering intensity, driven guitars and killer rhythms and percussion.

2011 proved again that you can’t get your youth completely out of your system. Siouxsie and the Banshees with Tinderbox (1986, remastered 2009) and The Dead Kennedys with Fresh fruit for rotting vegetables (1980) have been in my favorite playlists for quite some time. And not only did they not bore me, they still give me much joy.

Nederlands – Dutch – Niederländisch – néerlandophone

In ons Nederlandse taalgebied, en met Nederlandstalig werk, bevestigde Yevgueni met Welkenraedt wat we al enkele malen live hadden meegemaakt, namelijk dat ze stevigere rockers, eerder dan folkies, zijn dan eerder werk misschien deed uitschijnen.

Mira liet met het gelijknamige album een zachtere zijde zien, zonder haar spitse taalkunde uit het oog te verliezen. Alhoewel de muzikale songinslag van Hannelore Bedert gevoelsmatig knapper lijkt, kan haar Uitgewist mij niet ontdoen van een voyeuristisch gevoel, dat net iets te mono-thematisch is. Maar, let wel, het blijft huiveringwekkend knap soms. Tegenstrijdige gevoelens dus. In lijn met het album?

Luc De Vos bracht met zijn vehikel Gorki allicht zijn beste album sinds enige tijd uit, Research en Development. Maar hij blijft lijden aan het syndroom dat hem tegelijk zo sympathiek maakt, namelijk dat het allemaal niet te ernstig moet zijn.

Via Radio 1 ontdekten we onze lokale zigeunerkoningin, Lady Angelina. Met Amor y Caracon bracht ze ons vertederende, licht-droevige maar steeds warme en tedere beschouwingen.

The Sound of Blood Dripping

Editors keep expanding the musical imperium that rose after the release of In This Light And On This Evening. That CD was announced by the fireworked Papillon and accompanied by the impressive bonus Cuttings II. Next in line was Do You Know Love? And the most recent conquering attempt on our ears and senses is, besides the just released No Sound But The Wind piano cry (live recorded at Rock Werchter 2010), the Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool EP. Another collection of not only remixes but also new work that, in line with the Cuttings II material, moves the band further on the transcended path of mixing rock with emotional electronics.

And an amazing fifties comic video in appropriate colours to promote it:

They came . They saw . They played.

Tonight I went to see Editors live at the Sportpaleis in Antwerp. Although they played songs from every album, and I love them all, I find -as on album- their latest work to outshine. And especially the Cuttings II bonus.

But the concert had it all: manics, electronics, enthusiasm, base drum vs. crowd clappings, a solo moment at the piano, new songs, even skyscraping flame throwers to celebrate the escape of Papillon, but above all… the songs. But I would still love to see and hear those talented guys start upsetting the arrangements of their older songs. To match the fierce variety of sounds and paces of the newer work.

In this light and on this evening, Antwerp’s become the most beautiful place I’ve seen.

And you? Do YOU know love?

A withheld voice for the fragile lyrics of These Streets Are Still Home to Me (version 2), a sparse piano, fuzzy guitars and disturbed electronics. A song to make the You Don’t Know Love EP of Editors worthwhile.

And on top there’s of course the title track and its remixed disguises. A bass line to celebrate New Order’s Blue Monday. Metallic voices from a Kraftwerk universe… Editors just keep taking on different skins.


Top 2009 Music

Here’s my top 2009 music, presented in 3 categories (descending order):

Cat1: Superb – Surprising – Strong – Sparkling

1. I’ve put Editors at #1 with In This Light And On This Evening, thanks to the Cuttings II bonus CD. That’s what avoided an ex aequo with Starsailor. Going beyond this evening into This Night. Increased experiments of multi-layered electronic rock.

2. Starsailor‘s All the plans just happens to be a true masterpiece that combines, reinforces and pushes all that they’ve done before to a higher… plan… and beyond. The Deluxe acoustic bonus shows the melodic strength to their songs. My second best #1.

Cat2: Surprising – Strong – Sparkling

Some artists caught my interest and took me by surprise:

3. Bat for Lashes highlighted the shadows of Two Suns with her ethereal tunes of enlightened darkness.

4. Florence + The Machine produced an incredible debut that rages as an auditive storm pulling out the air of our Lungs.

5. The Horrors have painted a bunch of wild and dark songs in Primary Colours outgrowing ancient influences.

Cat3: Surprising – Strong or Sparkling

Familiar faces, sometimes hiding behind new masks, have given evidence of their musical qualities without necessarily transcending it.

  • Julian Plenti showed up saying he Is… Skyscraper. Although his voice says Paul Banks, his musical incarnation says differently.
  • Axl Peleman heeft ons een prachtig tweede plaatje in zijn sappig Aantwaarps In ‘t Gezicht gesmeten.
  • Peter Doherty showed a great song writer side to his talents on the fabulous Grace/Wastelands.
  • Brett Anderson has over merely 3 solo albums evolved to an extraordinary artist, with Slow Attack to prove that he definitely no longer needs unlimited electricity to be very powerful.

Cat4: Here to stay

Familiar names that have produced decent work, but had no desire to look for groundbreaking experiences:

Jerry Fish and the Mudbug Club – The Beautiful Untrue / Laïs & Simon Lenski – Laïs Lenski / Sting – If on a winter’s night / Arctic Monkeys – Humbug / Franz Ferdinand – Tonight / Morrissey – Years of Refusal / Rammstein – Liebe ist für Alle da

Cat5: Out of competition

  • Cecilia Bartoli gave new life to great compositions from the Napolitan School of castrati on Sacrificium
  • British Sea Power gave new life to the old life of a Man of Aran

Nocturnally staring into the evening’s light

Hypnotic pulses and stratospheric waves drive a mystic voice whispering about the inhaling Earth. The listener awakes to a beautiful thing to hear. Once awake he finds himself In This Light And On This Evening.

Editors - In this light and on this evening (Cuttings II)The opening tracks of the new Editors album gave me a feeling of being dragged along a psychosonic trip through 70’s Jarre synths, Radiohead-ish morphs and imagery of the Future (Sound) Of London, melted in a clearly recognizable Editors sound. Genuine rock, even while it lacks… guitars.

And the album keeps surprising as could be hoped from the 2 demo versions on the Papillon EP. Editors have not only set course into a new musical galaxy, Tom Smith has clearly entered a new era as vocalist. Luckily there is still his manic drive (as in his live act) but he’s explored more sides to his singing. Venomously layered irony, higher regions.

The Cuttings II bonus CD strikes even harder. Experimentalism. Gravely effective with its explosions of semi-symphonic nature, re-introduced guitar kick punches, layers of thunder. Enter NIN. Plastic(s). Dance. Entertain. Count. Money. The way you found your god. Silent debts.

Hand of Flood.