Music of 2009, part two

14th November 2009 – 3.10 pm

Oh my goodness, it's November and I am only just posting a second music review of 2009. It looks like I will have four reviews to complete for music bought this year, so I'd better pull my finger out.

I am over a year late in buying the second album from Cold War Kids, finally picking up Loyalty to Loyalty prior to going to one of the band's gigs. I'm not sure why I didn't buy the album when it was released, as the debut album is a quirky and emotional collection of pop songs, one that I very much enjoy. The band have clearly progressed from the first album, yet keeping their familiar styles and sounds, but there is a spark missing from Loyalty to Loyalty, a quality only indefinable in that I expect to be liking the songs but find them dreary instead. Even seeing Cold War Kids live at the Electric Ballroom doesn't bring any of their new songs to life, instead only highlighting how much more accessible the songs from the first album are. Hopefully, Cold War Kids are only struggling through the difficult second album and will return for a third having rediscovered their muse.

Pink Mountaintops return to inject another dose of folk-rock with third album Outside Love. The understated, emotional and country-tinged songs build on the previous albums without feeling like an mere encore, revealing a new dimension to the music. Whilst there is nothing particularly remarkable about the new album, Pink Mountaintops once again deliver a solid and enjoyable release.

I first learn of It Hugs Back from a review in the NME, and am excited to turn up to see Holy Fuck at the Scala and find It Hugs Back supporting. I snap up debut album Inside Your Guitar from the desk in the lobby before dashing in to catch most of the band's performance, which is both subdued and exciting, a sensation I later relive listening to the album. Although Inside Your Guitar doesn't quite match seeing It Hugs Back live, the album is a fabulous collection of pop songs that border on shoegazing in all the best ways. The album is a wonderful addition to my library that will get plenty more plays, and I hope to see more of It Hugs Back in the future.

I have to admit that when I was considering buying The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow earlier this year I was still somehow confusing them with Athlete, a band I am not particularly fond of, hence explaining my initial reluctance to buy the album. I think my confusion has cleared now, particularly with Athlete reappearing recently, and I have been listening to The Seldom Seen Kid quite a lot. From the opening blares interrupting the stillness of Starlings, to the catchy single Grounds for Divorce, and past the most uplifting anthem I have heard for years in One Day Like This, a thoroughly entertaining listen is only spoilt by the peculiar The Fix, which tells a drab story that refuses to end. But I won't let a single song ruin my enjoyment of this excellent album.

On first listening to Telegraphs I am greeted by what sounds like fairly generic rock. It's good but nothing really grabs me. But however generic We Were Ghosts may sound initially, it is never bland. There are subtle hooks that keep me coming back for more, until I realise I am listening to a great debut album from a seriously good band. Everything falls in to place. I am hearing the insightful and topical lyrics that stir emotions in me, what first sounds only like technical arrangements become nicely layered tracks that reward repeated listens, and the album fits together as a competent whole. Seeing Telegraphs live at Islington Academy 2 serves to solidify their position with me as a cut above the rest. I hear the band are recording their second album already.

With a name like The Joy Formidable there is no way I can resist buying debut album A Balloon Called Moaning. Although it seems difficult to find at first, I eventually order a copy easily enough through the band's website. The first song, The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade, grabs me immediately and refuses to let go. Even when I reach the end, after the repeated last line stops to draw a breath, and I don't think I'll hear any music more glorious, another hook digs deep in to me and keeps my spirit lifted for the next song, and for each song afterwards, until the album sadly fades quietly, not wanting to announce its departure too loudly for fear of causing emotional distress. The Joy Formidable are in position to be my favourite new band.

Sad Day for Puppets is another band with a super name, compelling me to explore their music. The first album from the Swedish band is Unknown Colours, and it bops along quite merrily, with jaunty tunes and pleasing vocals, treading the line between pop and shoegazing. Every time I listen to Unknown Colours I get a sense that I want to enjoy the music, and although I recognise the songs when they are played none of them seem to stick in my memory. My impression is that the album is perfectly good, one that I will doubtless enjoy with each listen, and it is unfortunate only in that I buy it at the same time as some exceptional music that captures my attention more vividly.

Dinosaur Jr. are back with new album Farm, again featuring the full original line-up of the band. As can be expected, the songs are loud, lo-fi monsters, with guitar solos that impress without either wailing hideously or forgetting the music as a whole. J. Mascis's unmistakable vocals are superbly layered over the fuzz of the overdriven guitars and full drums, as song after song feels like it could pound my in to submission if only each one weren't pumping adrenalin directly in to my pleasure system.

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