You can forget Guardians Of The Galaxy as the best soundtrack for an extraterrestrial adventure, there's a new indie rock super group that's eclipsed the competition. Originally conceived as a classical project in a live setting, Planetarium has evolved from the original brief that Nico Muhly developed. By bringing onboard The National's Bryce Dessner, Sufjan Stevens and his recent collaborator James McAlister, along with an orchestra and a consort of seven trombones, Muhly has created something vast and epic in scope. At its core Planetarium is a very simple and self-explanatory concept, but the execution of that idea is pulled off with a suitable amount of grandeur and magic. It's an ambitious and memorable, if occasionally flawed, album.
The record actually succeeds at its most extreme and chaotic orchestral moments, creating an immersive atmosphere reminiscent of orchestral cues that accompanied cinema's best excursions into the universe. You can't fail but be reminded of the imagery of 2001: A Space Oddity, Gravity, or Interstellar as McAlister's electronic beats weave in and out of complex brass crescendos. However the less volcanic moments rely upon an almost too familiar sci-fi mood in the lyrics, which ultimately detracts from the overall experience.
It's difficult to pinpoint any particular song that demonstrates all of the strengths of Planetarium, it certainly works as a suite, just as any real world planetarium relies on all of its moving parts. Indeed the project has been designed to be cyclical with the album starting and finishing with bare bones piano ballads piloted by Stevens' angelic voice. It's here that he is at his most transcendent as he sings "all that I've known to be at peace" during the album's closing song 'Mercury'. Dessner's guitar slowly builds in the background to create a celestial calm and balance that draws the album's themes to a mesmerising climax. There's a hypnotic quality to Planetarium's coda that places it amongst the best work of all involved.
I doubt that 2015 will be remembered for being dominated by one particular musical genre. It seems the culture of digital downloads has made it more difficult for a movement to coalesce in a marketplace brimming with choice.
I'd argue though that the last twelve months has seen the strongest showing from female artists across the board for many years. Many acts would easily have made my year-end list on a different day, and many of them cantered on a strong female voice. Solo artists like Joanna Newsom, Laura Marling, and Lana Del Rey all presented strong albums. Even Florence Welch's third album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, which didn't quite live up to her previous efforts in my opinion, featured some glorious moments. I debated for a long time whether to include Courtney Barnett's Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit in my ten best records list. Ultimately it sits just outside for me, although her unique delivery and kitchen sink drama approach is wonderfully endearing. That Adele's 25 closed the year on a strong note, just underlined the trend that had been building all year. It's not just solo artists though; the likes of: Best Coast, Girlpool, Bully, and Wolf Alice, all demonstrated that women were back in the spotlight.
Other bands made welcome returns, Blur in particular were my live highlight of the year, thanks to Graham Coxon's master class on stage. Their album The Magic Whip didn't quite make the cut for my list in the end, compared to most other years it would have. Interestingly it was also a year where side projects came to fruition for well-known artists. Dan Auerbach's The Arcs produced their first studio material, as did Matt Berninger's El Vy. Both albums had their moments, but didn't quite feel fully realised in their own right. Elsewhere the likes of Lucero, Jason Isbell, and Ben Folds produced albums that matched their finest work. My love of bands from Philadelphia also continued thanks to Beach Slang's debut The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us and Hop Along's third album Painted Shut. If there were disappointment's I had, it was those records that were simply good and not as great as you'd hoped. The Decemberists, Frank Turner, Wilco, and Death Cab For Cutie's albums all fell into that category for me. By no means bad, the material on those albums struggled to compete with their high watermarks of previous years. I was especially curious about Ryan Adams' ambitious reinterpretation of the entirety of Taylor Swift's 1989, the result didn't quite live up to the promise it had on the drawing board though. It may have introduced a different audience to some excellent songs, but Adams managed to strip some of the fun out of the arrangements in the process. By the time there were Father John Misty covers of Adams' recordings on the Internet, it felt like the Swift fan club didn't need any more famous members.
Then there were the records you felt you should love, but for whatever reason they just didn't connect on a personal level. Drake and Father John Misty aka Josh Tillman produced records that despite the hype I just didn't manage to fall in love with. Tilman's 'Bored In The USA' was astute social commentary with it's tongue firmly in its cheek, but it didn't hook me into the album as a whole. Perhaps the biggest record in this category for me is Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly. It's technically brilliant, ambitious, has great rhymes, and straddles so many genres that it shouldn't be as cohesive as it is. The problem was, it left me cold. It almost felt as if Lamar wanted to prove he could produce something that ticked all the boxes he thought he should, rather than writing the record he wanted to. Perhaps with time I'll grow to love these albums, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Continue reading: Jim Pusey's Top 10 Albums Of 2015
It's sure sold a lot of copies for an album about nothing.
It’s all change at the top of the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart this week, as rapper Wale claims the Number 1 spot with his fourth LP The Album About Nothing – his second chart topper following his previous effort, 2013’s The Gifted.
Wale’s album, which he has revealed was inspired by Jerry Seinfeld and features the comedian himself, sold 100,000 copies in the week ending April 5th, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The Billboard chart now measures individual track and streaming equivalent sales as well as conventional physical and digital album sales.
The rapper scored his second American Number 1 album this week
Continue reading: Wale Scores Second U.S. Number 1 With 'The Album About Nothing'
After Sinead O'Conner's open letter to Miley, Sufjan Stevens pens a not-so-serious critique of Miley's grammar.
Miley Cyrus has been hit by the force of the pen yet again after indie singer Sufjan Stevens wrote an open letter addressed to the most talked about star of the moment, to add to the acerbic words she already received from Sinead O'connor. However, instead of attacking Miley's look, perma-tongue or annoying twerk trademark dance style, Sufjan took issue with the grammar in her latest song, 'Get It Right.'
"Dear Miley. I can't stop listening to #GetItRight (great song, great message, great body)," writes Sufjan: so far so good. But he then adds "maybe you need a quick grammar lesson. One particular line causes concern: "I been laying in this bed all night long." Miley, technically speaking, you've been LYING, not LAYING, an irregular verb form that should only be used when there's an object, i.e. "I been laying my tired booty on this bed all night long." Take note, Miley.
Ah, the Christmas album. Everyone thinks they know what Christmas is about; it's about massive presents and force feeding, but really, in its essence, the festive season is about hurriedly compiled albums chocked with bad covers and even worse originals. To help organize proceedings, we're taken the liberty of formulating come handy categorisations that best describe the concept of Christmas Album. Enjoy.
The Creepy: Merry Christmas, Baby by Rod Stewart (2012) - Classics by the gruff voiced classic songster. It includes collaborations with: David Foster, Cee Lo Green, Mary J. Blige, and Chris Botti. You can grab it for $11.88, but why do that when you can get the special edition for $39.99!? Ooh Merry Christmas, Baby.
The Youthful: Now That's What I Call Today's Christmas! by Now Today's Christmas, Justin Bieber, Train, Coldplay and Norah Jones. Young people don't care about Cliff Richard and Rod Stewart, they like ipods, The X-Factor and falling over. This is the album for them!