Andrew Lockwood picks his favourite albums of 2015.
10. Belle & Sebastian - 'Girls In Peacetime'.
A glorious return to top form for Belle & Sebastian. 'Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance' contains all the bands trade mark signatures as well as introducing a few new ones. The generally up beat, playful tone of the album is full of pathos, dark humour and heartfelt musings. This is Belle & Sebastian back to their creative best. With an arty intellect and a wry take on life they have combined some of their most varied musical scores to date with more of their joyous lyrics.
9. Girl Band - 'Holding Hands With Jamie'.
A wake up call that needs to be heard. 'Holding Hands With Jamie' is a shot in the arm; a torrent of musical mayhem and magnificent noise. Distorted and unrelenting, 'Holding Hands..' is an unapologetic onslaught to the senses and a nerve tingling jolt of excitement. A quite brilliant debut.
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After setting the bar higher than any of his contemporaries with his first two solo albums, 'Queen Of Denmark' and 'Pale Green Ghosts', former Czars man John Grant returns with his third solo album proper. Having garnered more critical acclaim than most musicians dream of in a lifetime, the weight of expectation on John Grant's latest release 'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure' was not unsubstantial. Thankfully, his move to Iceland, bleak barely lit winter days, a foray into Eurovision composition and a seemingly more confident demeanour have not diminished his ability to craft and convey a song.
The twelve songs on 'GT, BP' are bookended by a reading from Corinthians about love; serving as a very apt binder for the whole album. The onset of middle age (Grey Tickles) and nightmares (Black Pressure) that such a passage in one's life bring with it may have been the premise for John's latest work. However, it is once again his tenderness, understanding, humour, bloody minded frankness and above all, honesty that set his songs apart and generally above other formidable singer-songwriters. "I can't believe I missed New York during the 70's, I could have gotten a head start in the world of disease. I'm sure that I would have contracted every single solitary thing. There are children who have cancer so all bets are off, 'cause I can't compete with that", Grant sings on the superb title track.
John's latest album is once again littered with film, actor and singer references from Scanners to Ordinary People, Charlene Tilton to Geraldine Paige and Joan Biaz to Joan As Policewoman. All are encapsulated in terrific lyrics that are both cleverly observed and even more cleverly incorporated. John's lyrics have always been full of blackly comic moments and 'Grey Tickles' has more than it's fair share of sharp, biting, incendiary content and wit to blow you away. "You and Hitler ought to get together, you ought to learn to knit and wear matching sweaters, you ought to learn the finer points of decoupage, you ought to spend your weekends clearing out the garage" ('You & Him').
Continue reading: John Grant - Grey Tickles, Black Pressure Album Review
Albums of Note... It’s been a long two years since James Blake released his debut eponymous album and now, the pioneering producer returns with Overgrown, album number two. Peppered with quality collaborations, with hip-hop legend RZA and electronic music’s figurehead Brian Eno, Overgrown is the sound of an artist still trying to find his niche, but releasing high quality, accomplished tracks, whilst he’s on his journey. “Blake really is a talent to behold, as his ingenious moulding together of poles apart genres and production wizardry clearly shows… when you're already as accomplished at all manner of musical exercises as he is then it will obviously be hard to focus all this talent and all this energy into one place.”
Splitting opinion like musical Marmite, John Grant returns with Pale Green Ghosts. This album may sound unrecognisable as Grant, to anyone already familiar with his work. He’s hooked up with Gus Gus’ Biggi Viera and has decamped to Reykjavik. As a result, a new reliance on vintage-sounding synthesisers and a nod to club-land has John Grant sounding like an altogether different proposition to the John Grant of days gone by.“Grant's dyspeptic edge may be blunted, but when called upon the man can make a fine ass post-modern disco song, like we ever doubted that he could, and Blackbelt is a tweaked remix away from the transient world of A Lists, charts and chat shows. Cleverly poignant, its way with knock out disses would give Jake Shears something to think about if it proved to be a permanent change of direction…”
John Grant's last album Queen of Denmark represented an echo of a phenomenon rarely seen these days; a slow burning, word-of-mouth success that eventually piled up mentions in the 2010's release of the year polls despite the singer's obvious estrangement from the music industry's hype circus. What made its power and worthy recognition all the more heart-warming was that seldom had a record so filled with misplaced self-loathing wanted to be loved so much, it's the songs' visceral subject matter - inspired largely by growing up gay in hyper conservative Colorado - matched only by their gorgeously beige musical counter punches, a quilted subtlety courtesy of the singer's friends Midlake.
Finally then, everything it seemed was working out fine for the first time in Grant's hitherto emotional war zone of an adult life, until shortly after he was diagnosed with HIV, a fact that with typically mind blowing candour he announced on stage to a bewildered audience in 2011 at London's Meltdown festival. Now finding his life once more sent into a tailspin, it might have seemed in his darker moments that the vengeful god on Queen of Denmark's JC Hates Faggots was indeed having the last laugh after all.
If all of this has scared the crap out of you but you're still here, fear not. Recorded in his newly adopted home of Reykjavik with Gus Gus supremo Biggi Veira producing, Pale Green Ghosts is less knowingly confrontational that Grant's first album, as if the prejudiced demons he sought out on it have now been consigned to just memories. Musically it's a major departure as well, ditching the seventies FM saccharine tones and replacing them instead with retro synthesisers and the chillier ennui of late 20th century European clubbing.
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Ex The Czars frontman/songwriter John Grant releases I Wanna Go To Marz, this is the first track from his debut solo album Queen Of Denmark although each song on the album was written by Grant it was recorded with the help of Denton, Texas' five piece Midlake. Mojo magazine gave the debut huge praise by labeling it as an 'Instant Classic', an accolade that in recent times was achieved by albums from Joanna Newsom and Fleet Foxes.
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John Grant is the former lead singer of Denver's gloomy but grand Czars, a band whom you probably haven't heard of. Queen of Denmark is his first solo record, one recorded in collaboration with Texans Midlake, who you absolutely should have heard of by now, and indeed taken to your hearts.
Continue reading: John Grant, Queen of Denmark Album Review