Music of 2013, part one

9th June 2013 – 3.49 pm

I had two-thirds of this initial review written by March, and I thought I was going to get a good jump on my posting of music I'm listening to this year. Then I got kicked out of my groove, like a needle skipping on a record, and ended up listening to the same bits again, and again, and again, but without writing about them. That's okay, though, as I really like what I've been listening to, for the most part. Still, I knew I ought to finish part one of 2013's music review so that I could move on to part two, so here it is.

I've liked The Joy Formidable for a while, although their debut album proper of last year wasn't quite as thrilling as the earlier A Balloon Called Moaning. Never the less, seeing the band play the tiny KCLSU venue late last year revived my interest in them, and I can't help but buy second album Wolf's Law. It's okay. I think The Joy Formidable are growing in a different direction to me, either finding their calling or being influenced by the huge venues and the bands they are supporting in those venues. The songs have traces of the older tracks, but the feel is grander, anthemic, instead of an intimate reflection. Although this is a generalisation, and there are songs to enjoy on Wolf's Law, the final song sounds like it was written to be played in arenas. And best of luck to The Joy Formidable, for they deserve to be heard by a wider audience. This type of rock is just not for me.

Seeing Toy live, speculatively, left me feeling a little underwhelmed at the supposedly psych-rock band. Not that I really know what psych-rock is meant to describe, but Toy felt a bit, well, normal. But I was craving some new music to listen to, and they weren't bad as such, so I pick up their eponymous debut album. And it's pretty good, maybe a bit better than that even. Guitars drone and hum along for the most part, working up to catchy riffs for extended outros, and there is enough character to each song to differentiate them and keep the album flowing. The vocals fall a little flat, not really having the shape that the music almost demands, but they aren't distracting most of the time. So despite the first live experience of Toy, Toy the album has me engaged, and perhaps enough to encourage me to go to another gig of theirs in the future.

Is the 'difficult second album' still a concept? It was often mentioned about bands back in the day, mostly after a strong debut, but I doubt it would be applied to Unknown Mortal Orchestra's second album. Whilst I enjoyed the somewhat psychedelic offerings on the first album, it was a little shallow in its ideas, taking a hook and not doing much with it. But II shows early maturity for the band, where a more mellow approach to songs creates a depth both within tracks and across the album, putting hooks and riffs on top of a foundation that forms songs which feel much more complete. II expands Unknown Mortal Orchestra's music as much as it extends, resulting in a second album that is not at all difficult to appreciate.

Sometimes a review turns my head, but unconvincingly. Occasionally, almost rarely, I will actually do some research and find snippets of songs to listen to in order to see if I will like the band, rather than speculatively buy the album. This is what I did with Grouper, where the review made the album sound interesting but perhaps not what I was looking for. So I hit iTMS and listened to what was available for The Man Who Died in His Boat. And I wasn't sure that I liked the rather bleak, minimalist sounds, to the point where I discouraged myself from buying the album. And then I bought it. I really do occasionally get a need to look for new music, and just wanted anything that I could listen to. The good part is that I actually really like the album. Yes, it's slow, quiet, kinda depressing, but I get it. Maybe not on a conscious level, where I could analyse the music, but I can put the album on, sit back, and let it wash over me with an understanding that I don't have to explain why I like it. I don't think I can recommend The Man Who Died in His Boat, if only because I don't know why I like it so much, but I do. I love it.

Opening track of Images du Futur, second album by Suuns, feels tense, with the droning chopping guitars and the chords never really resolving. Indeed, it takes until 2020 kicks in before you feel comfortable with the direction of the music, even with the drooping guitar playing in a different time signature to the relaxed bass and drums. It's a great start to the album. And where Zeroes QC felt energetic and vigorous Images du Futur feels laid back and mellow, but somehow without losing the same overall vibe. Minor Work's muted bassline seemingly drifting in to being from nowhere, Edie's Dream's playing more with off-beat guitar melodies, and the title track's being an atmospheric interlude demonstrate an overall coherence to the album not often found on many others. And the way that Bambi, although released prior to the debut album, slots seamlessly in to place in their second album is a testament to how Suuns can progress their music whilst maintaining a distinctive style. Images du Futur is an impressive album, and one that won't be out of place in most music collections.

The folksy piano of Open the Door is quite a departure from the feedback and screaming that began Leave Home. I skipped the previous album from The Men, though, so maybe their music has gone in a different direction. But the distorted guitars are back in second track Half Angel Half Light, and their punkish roots really start to show in Without a Face. But whether they are showing their more melodic side in The Seeds or bashing out lo-fi noise like Electric, The Men sound great. They clearly understand the genres they span, even fusing them occasionally, like with Bird Song, and play with confidence and style. The Men have pulled together a decent mix of songs to create an interesting album that's well worth listening to.

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