Review Of 2010 – Albums, Two

So, following on from yesterday’s first part, featuring all the records I was disappointed or just a bit meh-d with, here’s my list of ones I liked. Like I said yesterday, no absolute favourites, but some of the songs on these albums will live with me until my brain finally dissolves through alcohol abuse and Alzheimers.

(Part three is here)

The Best Album Of The Year By A Band Half My Age Making Music For People Half My Age


Avi Buffalo
Beach House


Avi Buffalo – s/t

Now this one came as a surprise. On the first couple of listens, Avi Buffalo seemed to be one of those records that had a couple of good songs and one absolutely great one (“Truth Sets In”). The rest was, frankly, a bit annoying, from the stupid song titles to Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg’s annoying yelp. But with more time, the record slowly unravelled to show itself as being a work of a rare talent. A great example being “Remember Last Time”, a seven minute long track that feels far too short, growing and swelling and suddenly shrinking again, before one final, two minute long cascade of guitar solos and general wigging out. It’s clear to me that Avi is a brilliant guitarist with a huge talent; if he can produce a more focussed record next time, and gives his bandmates more time on the mic, he could produce something very special indeed.

MP3: What’s It In For by Avi Buffalo

Buy “Avi Buffalo” (CD)

The Best Album By Kerazy Kanadians

The Besnard Lakes – Are The Roaring Night

2010 the year of The Return Of Half-Decent Shoegaze, and this record was more than half-decent. I wasn’t expecting great things after “…Are The Dark Horse”, but my word, did this lot deliver. “Albatross” demands to be played loud, loud, loud, and the rest of the album follows suit. Superb stuff.

MP3: Albatross by The Besnard Lakes

Buy “The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night” (CD/MP3)

The Best Albums by Previously Unknown Bands

Bullets in Madison – We Became Your Family When You Died

Came across this lot whilst just browsing some good music blogs. Lovely, and a brilliant example of how you can find music in the most random of ways. The way “Animals” slowly coalesces into lovely, glorious dream-pop is still wonderful, nearly a year after I first heard it.

MP3: Animals by Bullets In Madison

Buy “We Became Your Family When You Died” here.

The Best EP by a Previously Unknown Band

Bright Spark Destroyer – Holy Yell EP

Previously Unknown, because this is their debut. And what a debut. Thrilling, evocative, exciting, with just the right amount of that The Bends-era Radiohead stadium bombast to make them a dangerously promising tip for the future. If they aren’t on everyone’s 2011 end of year lists, I’ll eat my hat1.

MP3: A Feeling of Health by Bright Spark Destroyer

Buy “Holy Yell” EP here.

The Best Scandinavian Album (combined with the Nice Dinner Party Album award)


The Tallest Man On Earth
The Radio Dept
The Kissaway Trail


The Radio Dept – Clinging To A Scheme

Lovely. This year’s Bibio. Saying that a record is great to have when you’re doing the washing up is a major compliment, by the way.

MP3: Heaven’s On Fire by The Radio Dept

Buy “Clinging to a Scheme” here (CD/MP3)

The Best Indie-Pop Album Unfairly Maligned By The Meedja

Freelance Whales – Weathervanes

Soundtrack to the first few months of the year, I was convinced this lot were going to hit the big time, Arcade Fire style. But no. Some harsh reviews, some intimations of lack of imagination, and their fate, if not quite sealed, was made far harder. Shame, as this really is a charming and beguiling record that deserved a far, far larger audience.

MP3: Hannah by Freelance Whales

Buy “Weathervanes” Here

The Best Female Singer-Songwriter With An Obsession With The Natural World

Laura Veirs – July Flame

Just had to be, didn’t it? This one nearly slipped me by and I’m glad it didn’t. Perfect at gazing out of a window at drizzle whilst a roaring fire roars away in the background, as your loved one roasts a chicken.

MP3: I Can See Your Tracks by Laura Veirs

Buy “July Flame” (CD/MP3) Here

Albums From 2009 That I Identified In Last Years End Of Year Review As Might Be Good And Were

Twilight Sad – Forget The Night Ahead

Ok, so it’s only half a good album. But its heights – “I Became A Prostitute”, “Interrupted” and “Reflection of the Television” are as good as anything on their debut. Well, almost.

MP3: I Became a Prostitute by The Twilight Sad

Buy “Forget The Night Ahead” (CD/MP3)

Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

Identified last year as something I’d listen to this year, and nice to see I was right. Great album, this, and it’s got me to search back into their catalogue and find all those gems that have passed me by. And thanks to all the readers with suggestions of which albums I should try next!

MP3: Avalon Or Someone Very Similar by Yo La Tengo

Buy “Popular Songs” (CD/MP3)

The Yo La Tengo Award For A Band I’d Previously Discounted As Twee Nonsense Before Realising Belatedly That They Were, Like, Great

Belle And Sebastian – Write About Love

Just had to be, didn’t it? The first thaw in the huge icy wall around my heart came with Stuart Murdoch’s “Another Saturday” on 2009’s Dark Is The Night compilation. Realising that a man that could write something of such gentle, enormous beauty must be quite the talented sort, I gave Write About Love a go. Doesn’t quite reach the heights of “Another Saturday”, but now I’ve melted that iceberg of disdain I’m going to enjoy running through their back catalogue.

MP3: I Want The World To Stop by Belle And Sebastian

Buy “Write About Love” (CD/MP3)

That’s it for this post. Join me tomorrow for songs, gigs, and other gubbins.

1 Hat may be made of cake.

I Am A Tall Tree

Apropos of nothing in particular, I have Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s cover of “The World’s Greatest” by R White Kelly floating round my addled mind.

Restrain Yourselves, Ladies

And if it’s up to me, it’ll be floating round yours too soon.

In other news, this review is so very, very wrong.

MP3: The World’s Greatest by Bonnie “Prince” Billy

Buy “Ask Forgiveness” (CD)

The Week of Mixed Gigs – Freelance Whales

Fifteen seconds. That’s just about all it took into the first song of Freelance Whales‘ set at The Borderline before the hairs on my arms stood up. Must be a record. Still, it’s kind of what I expected. Their album “Weathervanes” (out March 16th in the US, and not at all in the UK yet) has been on near-constant rotation on my iPhone for weeks now, so the main question about seeing them live was whether they could translate their slick recorded sound to a live stage. And the answer to that is: Yes they can (mostly).

Some Freelance Whales

First off, the support. Being a man of advanced years (ok, in my late thirties), seeing a bunch of young whippersnappers come on stage and play like they’ve been doing it for years can be somewhat annoying. Or at least, it would be if they weren’t any good, but they are. Melodica, Melody and Me (I would complain about the name, but I’m the guy who called his blog “Loft and Lost”, for Pete’s sake) make a wholeheartedly charming folky sound. They reminded me of a young Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, only not so Welsh, obviously. Or a less scruffy Band Of Holy Joy1. Send me an MP3 chaps, and I’ll happily chuck it up on here. The song about the fisherman or the last one, would be great, ta. Oh, and they got a great reception from crowd (some of whom really should have stayed around for what followed).

Anyway, back to the Whales. After setting up their instruments – an impressive collection of keyboards, guitars, a mandolin, a squeeze box, an ocelot and a drumkit, which they spent all night swapping with each other – they launch straight into “Generator^1st Floor”. With all the band singing their “Ah ah ah”‘s to a massed crescendo, you can see exactly where the Arcade Fire comparisions come in. It’s a sheer moment of pure joy, causing the aforementioned hairs on arm moment.

For “Hannah”, the band clump together on the stage, as if for comfort, bringing out the song’s delicacy. It’s one of the songs that show that this lot really are onto something. How many bands construct their songs so well, with lovely, graceful changes in tempo and tone, filled with great little hooks and riffs and charming opaque lyrics, like “Hannah takes the stairs because she can tell that it’s a winding spiralcase”? How many do it on their first album, after only being together for a year? I can remember being this stunned by bands like Broken Social Scene and Grizzly Bear, but they’d already recorded and released an album before their breakthrough; they certainly weren’t this sharp on their first attempt.

That's Not My Lipstick

Sailing through their album “Weathervanes”, nearly in order too, these thoughts keep cropping up. The album is so well-made, so beautifully written and recorded, that I half-expected them to be some new manufactured act (*cough* Kings of Leon *cough*), manipulated with invisible strings by some shadowy svengali. But that’s so clearly not the case. They really do look like a bunch of folks from Brooklyn and Queens brought together by a shared love of the geek rock of REM, Weezer and Ween, inspired by the togetherness of Arcade Fire and nutured by the fertile Brooklyn music scene. Other than a missed beat here and a slightly out of tune harmony there, the songs worked well live and were less mannered and a touch rawer than on record.

And it’s on that note that I’ll come back to the “mostly” comment at the top. For all their songs and performance, there’s not the cohesiveness you’d expect of a band that have made such a great record at their first attempt. They’re lacking a bit of that togetherness, that tightness, that comes of playing together hundreds of times. They don’t quite feel like a full proper band yet; sure, they get along pretty well onstage (there’s some charming chats between them and they definitely gel well), but they need to get out on the road and become a fully-fledged band. Just like Arcade Fire did. Doh!

Some More Freelance Whales

And this is exactly what they are doing, with a big tour of the US lined up and appearances at SXSW in March. Their happiness to come and meet their fans after the show bodes well too2. By the time they head back to the UK in July (or possibly later) I’d expect them to have taken over the world, and I’ll be able to proudly say, I was there at their second ever London gig.

The funny thing about last night is that they don’t even have a record label in the UK, let alone a release date. Pitchfork and their closest UK equivalent Drowned In Sound have hardly mentioned them at all, despite a whole bunch of people in the crowd who knew the lyrics to their songs. But anyone can clearly see this lot are hugely talented, with a killer debut album. Sure, it doesn’t have the same kind of strong theme as Arcade Fire’s “Funeral”3, but it’s a gobsmackingly fine album nonetheless, and one that could propel them to some kind of indie stardom once the world wakes up to them.

Pre-order the album here. Do it, and do it now. You have to listen to this album and you have to see them live, before they get so big that you can’t get a ticket to their shows for love nor money.

Just like the Arcade Fire, then.

MP3: Hannah by Freelance Whales

Note on the title: I’m going to three gigs in four days; this, Beach House, and Midlake. So this is the first in three-part series, I suppose. A prize to the person who correctly identifies why the title is the way it is4.

1 Of whom I really should write a post about one day. Go and look up “Tactless” on YouTube, and if you’re not utterly charmed then you have no soul. You’ll probably be baffled by the appearance of Vic Reeves, who I believe was dating her from Transvision Vamp at the time.

2 I’d loved to have stayed longer and had a proper chat with the band, but we had to go and have a debauched all-night tequila and mescal session with some Mexican filmstars. Oh, ok, we had to go home and rescue the babysitter. So sadly I never got to ask them if they really do use autotune. Next time, maybe.

3 A comparison with Wolf Parade’s “Apologies to the Queen Mary” is probably more apt.

4 Don’t get excited.

New Year New Music Part Four – Freelance Whales

Animals are everywhere in music these days. Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, Department of Eagles, Animal Collective, Frightened Rabbit, Startled Ocelot and Disgruntled Goat1 have all made their mark in recent years. If you are from Brooklyn (or Stirling) and need to give a funky, trendy name to your band, you’d better make sure you name it after wildlife.

Which is the route taken by Queens (eg nearly Brooklyn) band Freelance Whales. When my old chum Andrew contacted me to tell me about this great new band he’d come across, I thought he was taking the piss, as is his wont. But no. Freelance Whales are indeed a real band, and a quite startlingly good one they are too.

Now, I’m one of those people who constantly compares new things to bands/films/books/dogs I already know about. Yes, I know that in Music Journalism 101 they teach you to not do this kind of thing, but what the hell, this is my blog and I’ll do what I like. Here’s my take on Freelance Whales. They are Fleet Foxes meets Justin Timberlake.

“You what?” I hear you exclaim. Hear me out. The reason why I say this is that they like:

a. Banjos

b. Autotune

See? It’s easy, this music journalism lark. But, facetiousness aside, they combine some of the folky pastoral vibe of recidivists like Fleet Foxes and Devendra Banhart with the rather more modern autotuned sounds of Timberlake and Kanye West. Sure, that sounds very odd indeed, but it does work superbly, making a mixture that seems incongruous on paper quite delightful in reality. There’s all sorts of other influences in there, from Mew to Super Furry Animals to Neil Young.

Their album “Weathervanes” is out in March, with previews of much of the album available here. Better still, you can pre-order the album on their website here and get a free MP3 download immediately, well before the March 16th release date. I suggest you do as it’s excellent.

And enjoy the MP3 below, the song “Generator ^ 1st Floor”, which elegantly builds up the Deliverance-style banjo to Arcade Fire style heights:

MP3: Generator 1st floor by Freelance Whales

Ah, new music. Can’t beat it, can you?

1 Not all of these are real.

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