Jan 2011 Picks

A fresh and hopeful New Year to all. Apparently it's spring already (and there's revolution in the air) - in Ireland usually marked by the return of Wind. Some tunes following, which have been doing a great job of making us forget about the dodgy central heating at UOH HQ. They should keep the most reptilean among you warm, and the most revolutionary cool.
All albums, unless otherwise noted.

The Phoenix Foundation - Buffalo (Memphis Industries)

Cracking opening single from album of same name by the Wellington, New Zealand band. The tune is equal parts giddy, joyous and amiably psychedelic (let's face it, the plot concerns a seafaring buffalo), with an irresistible "woo-hoo" middle eight. The jangly guitars, high-fretted bass and spot-on arrangement make me think of fellow kiwis The Chills (something everyone should be made to do, daily). The whole thing is as fresh as a daisy and tends to remind you why you fell in love with pop music. Practice singing along with this killer chorus - "I'm on the sea-floor/I am the mammal you adore/I am the buffalo/Through the ocean I do roam".
*By the way, the rest of the album is a similar thing of warm, psychedelic beauty and dangerously liable to banish all thought of elections and recessions.

Essie Jain - Until the light of morning (Light of Morning)
Already loved in the UOH bunker. No frills, it's primal and straightforward stuff, this, and all the more beautiful for it. An album of lullabies featuring uncluttered rhythms (waltzes are prominent) around simple guitar and piano figures, with a single voice (mostly). But what a voice, an upper register landing somewhere between folk and classical - reassuring, soothing, cerebral somehow. Look no further than the sublime Lay down or What a big wide world. Perfect for children, and susceptible adults.

Telekinesis - Dirty thing (Morr Music, from the album 12 desperate straight lines)
An electric piano bouncing on the downbeat, a snaking guitar line and an appealingly self-deprecating lyric - it must be another catchy-as-hell Michael Benjamin Lerner tune. From his upcoming new album, another fine power pop collection.

Julianna Barwick - The magic place (Asthmatic Kitty)
More celestial gorgeousness featuring banks of layered voices from the New Yorker, title track from upcoming album, her first on Asthmatic Kitty.

Syd Matters - Hi life (Le Cargo session)
Thanks to Cormac from Boa Morte for unearthing this live version of one of my favourite songs of last year, from Frenchman Jonathan Morali and friends. Starting with the McCartneyesque slapping on the knees of the drummer, the wonderful interplay between the band adds depth to an already great tune (a lower key, or less showy, but creepingly insistent relation to Andrew Bird, if you must have a pigeonhole). From the excellent, soon-to-be-released album Brotherocean on Because Music.

Rich Bennett - Buddy Cop (Hidden Shoal)
Not content with releasing a beautiful album of songs towards the end of last year (On holiday, also on Hidden Shoal), Mr Bennett is back with a soundtrack to a fictional (or is it?) movie. Taking its cue from John Carpenter film music (Assault on Precinct 13 in particular), Bennett weaves an entertaining sci-fi noir atmosphere. Did I mention that it's free? And comes with a 50% discount voucher for his last two albums, both highly recommended from this direction. Here's a trailer to put you in the mood.

Duo 505 - Whirligig beetle party (Morr Music, from the album Walzer oder nicht)
Begins like Beach House (organ swell, sparse drum machine) but ends up closer to Mogwai (pummelling guitars). Along the way, the journey takes in glitch electronics, harmony guitar riffs and lounge noir. As you'd expect from a band named after a synth, there are also synths involved. From this Viennese duo's 2nd album of compelling instrumentals.

The Go! Team - Rolling blackouts (Memphis Industries)
Another album of the year contender on this ace English label. The first single Buy another day features the dreamy vocals of Best Coast's Bethany Consentino, yet still manages to be a thrillingly jangly, shouty affair. The infectious Secretary song sounds like a Japanese girl group covering Camera Obscura (that could only be a good thing); Ready to go steady also has an appealingly wispy C86 feel; there's the shake-your-fist, hip hop girl gang dynamics of Apollo throwdown and T.O.R.N.A.D.O.. My favourite track though is the (mostly) instrumental Yosemite theme, with slide guitar, banjo and harmonica, conjuring up the image of an indie band Ennio Morricone scoring an episode of Bonanza. If that sounds like gold-plated entertainment with a pop heart, that'd be right. Essential for the times we live in.

Dark Dark Dark - Wild go (Melodic)
Minneapolis group lead by Nona Marie Invie and Marshall LaCount. Comes on like a poppier Beirut, with similarities in instrumentation (accordions are prominent) and a taste for Balkan-style waltzes. Overall though more of a chamber than a cabaret atmosphere. Sign up here and get the rousingly beautiful Daydreaming for free, http://brightbrightbright.com/. The elegaic piano ballad Something for myself, the twirling trumpet of Right path and the plaintiff Robert are other particular highlights. On release in April on the very tasty Manchester label.

Hotels - The bat watusi (Hidden Shoal, single)
Fantastic lead single from the Seattle band's new album. And the second appearance this month of that most under-appreciated of genres, lounge noir (albeit a pumped-up, garage-y version - I've also seen sci-fi pop offered as a label, justifiably). A stalking bassline, ray-gun synths and glittering cascades of melody convey a wealth of intergalactic drama over four minutes. Taken from a concept album that re-defines ambitious, concerning as it does the "grand opening of the universe's only outer space casino complex"*. Now, more than ever, the world needs more of this kind of thing.
*"In-joke for Irish readers" alert - I wonder did Micheal Lowry have a hand in that casino too.

Hotels - The bat watusi

Jim Sullivan - U.F.O. (Light in the Attic, from the album U.F.O.)
Title track of an album re-issued in the latter part of 2010 (having been originally released in 1969, when it criminally sank without trace), but that passed me by in the end of year rush. Overall, the style of the album is reminiscient of the stately country rock of Gene Clark or Mike Nesmith, with shades also of Lee Hazlewood in the swoonsome orchestral arrangements. This song has a spooky subtext to it given the circumstances of Jim Sullivan's life and disappearance (find the full background here), outside Santa Rose, New Mexico in 1975. The tune itself is wrapped around a beautiful, melancholy trumpet line, with a fluttering flute and sweeping strings in support. A sad loss but a fine epitaph.

Fujiya & Miyagi - Yoyo (Full Time Hobby, from the album Ventriloquizzing)
Wonderfully sleazy and sinister opening single from the Brighton band's new album. Hushed vocals and motorik rhythms are again the order of the day, with added fuzz pedals this time.

Young Magic - You with air (Carpark Records, single)
Irresistible male falsetto refrain set over a buzzing synth and tribal beats. Also features recordings from a playground, which is always a good thing.

Malachai - Rainbows (Double Six, from the album Return to the ugly side)
Beautiful but unsettling, downtempo number from the Bristol band, with heavily reverbed guitars and wistful male-female vocals, and just the slightest hint of a dub influence. Without giving much away, it manages to recall The Specials and Portishead, somehow.

Gruff Rhys - Sensations in the dark (Turnstile, from the album Hotel Shampoo)
Falsetto vocals, mariachi trumpets, a rolling piano, buzzing synths, and a Blues Brothers-style breakdown. More musical madness/genius from the Welshman. The B-side is also class, the Eastern-tinged and winningly titled Follow the sunflower trail (Theme tune for a national strike). As I said at the top, revolution is in the air.


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