Label retrospectives are not without a degree of risk: it's easy for compilers to fall into the self-indulgent trap of looking after your pet projects, with the line by extension between vanity exercise and faithful cataloguing dangerously a thin one.
The guys at Wall of Sound will probably feel that they're worth it. Twenty years after their first and fondly remembered compilation 'Give 'Em Enough Dope', they're back to celebrate their 21st in business with a two disk, thirty-odd song opus, the idea to map the imprint's evolution from big beat boutique to its later, more cosmopolitan artist roster.
They've got the sense to start with two stone cold killers as well; it's been donkey's years since we heard the Propellerheads' 'Take California' or Royksopp's 'Poor Leno', but we're happy to report that both are still headphone gold. There are also selections from the respective acts at their peak, which is less than can be said, however, for some of the other choices strewn across the first disk. The problem here isn't a lack of the quality in the contributors - we've got stuff from the likes of Zoot Woman, The Bees and Les Rythmes Digitales - but they've all produced better material than that featured here, a point best illustrated via The Bees on the jazzy, underwhelming scat of 'A Minha Menina'.
Jordan Dowling's top albums of 2014
10) Royksopp – The Inevitable End
Royksopp's final full-length is a worthy farewell to the traditional album format for the Norwegian duo. Backed by a range of guest vocalists, most notably The Irrepressibles' Jamie McDermott, it is the kind of perfectly-presented electro-pop you expect from them, with 'Sordid Affair' and 'You Know I Have To Go' standing up with the best of their impressive back-catalogue.
9) Ian William Craig – A Turn Of Breath
Ian William Craig's “A Turn Of Breath” is William Basinksi's ambitious 'Disintegration Loops' project re-imagined for dusty, decaying pubs and desolate bedrooms. A single voice stretches and fragments as it repeats, sometimes accompanied by guitar or some other secondary noise but more often than not entirely alone. Its hard to say exactly what makes it so entrancing and unsettling, but it certainly is.
8) Future Islands – Singles
2014 was a breakout year for Baltimore quartet Future Islands, as vocalist Gerrit Wilmers silly danced his way into the public conscience with the band's performance on The Letterman Show. Behind it, “Singles” is a very strong collection of indie-rock nuggets that is worthy of its moniker.
Continue reading: Jordan Dowling’s Top Albums Of 2014
Whether or not Royksopp's fifth studio album actually is the duo's last remains to be seen, but if 'The Inevitable End' marks a clean break with the past for Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge, few will be churlish enough to accuse them of leaving much in the locker. From the beginning, they stack atmospheres on top of one another like pages in a diary, the vocoded words of opener 'Skulls' almost the least weird contrast, running as they do above a slew of twisted, mid-tempo programming that's hardly designed to press home any of their long-standing pop credentials.
To rewind for a second, Royksopp are a pair of Norwegians who first surfaced via their 2001 début album 'Melody AM', a collection of songs that re-cast the terms of the "Chill out" from geriatric acid jazz to nerdy crate digging introspection. For that, at least, we have to be thankful. From then, as first releases tend to do, it's cast a long shadow over their subsequent work, despite them re-locating their core sound in non-adjacent canyons. Occasionally, that has meant that since they've produced flashes of absolute brilliance - tracks such as 'Circuit Breaker' from 'The Understanding', or the rosy cheeked funk of 'Junior''s signature tune 'Happy Up Here' - without, however, quite consistently reproducing 'Melody AM''s simple genius. In the summer, they announced that this record would be their last in this format, buoyed by the commercial success of their recent five track outing with Robyn 'Do It Again', one on which the Swedish singer proved to be their almost perfect muse.
Unsurprisingly, then she turns up here as well, both on the moody house of 'Running To The Sea' and also on 'Monument', 'Do It Again''s lesson in epic solemnity, this time re imagined in a more orthodox format. Brundtland has talked about 'The Inevitable End' being in possession of what he describes as a "Dark energy", but its emotions are generally less complex than that; chiefly being drifting melancholy. Only on 'Rong' do things get weird on us, courtesy of Robyn again, this time dead panning her way through the refrain, "What the f**k is wrong with you?", over a series of strung-out bleeps which eventually give way to strings. It's out of character, but this wouldn't be a goodbye without the odd bridge being burned out.
Continue reading: Röyksopp - The Inevitable Album Review