Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Albums of the Year

Forever the hardest decision to make, my favourite albums of the year. Here they are in an incredibly precise order that I've changed an innumerable number of times. I'm still not happy with it, but 2014 is almost done so here we go.

20. Real Friends Maybe This Place Is The Same And We're Just Changing
Last year's breakthrough pop-punk act couldn't quite continue the momentum. Maybe relentlessly pushing the same song down people's throats eventually was their undoing, but pophad -punk is pop-punk and can never truly be defeated. Pop-punk forever.

19. Say Anything Hebrews
An album with no guitars. A strange and disturbing place to be but it's pulled off remarkably well. Hebrews is awash with special guests, from Los Campesinos! vocal siblings to Bemis' own wife. 'John McClane' the obvious standout, but 'Hebrews' feat. Brian Sella, and 'Six Six Six' with a psychedelic verse from Andy Hull both provide proof that the rather unusual approach for an album works.  

18. Maybeshewill Fair Youth
When you watch Maybeshewill play almost every summer in a field they turn into a vehicle for nostalgia, so maybe that's why Fair Youth manages to make the list. Either that or because post-rock has always made a terrific essay writing, and I've had one or two of those to write on my Computer Science course. Either way Fair Youth is here on merit, not particularly boundary pushing but good, solid post-rock. The way it should be.

17. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties We Don't Have Each Other
The first of a couple of side projects, Aaron West is a character from the brain of The Wonder Years' frontman, Dan Campbell. All based around the protagonist's journey through life We Don't Have Each Other hits and misses but would probably be under the 'generally favourable' review category on metacritic.
16. Royal Blood Royal Blood
The year's band for people who enjoy preaching about a revival of British Rock Music without it ever having died. It's fairly obvious why Royal Blood have support slots with Foo Fighters lined up, they sound huge. Riffs is literally the name of the game, and to get the full sounding relentless attack from a two piece is impressive enough by itself. Quite obviously destined for big things, hopefully they don't suffer from a similar problem to Real Friends where they don't mix things up enough.

15. Fireworks Oh, Common Life
I wholeheartedly admit that I have listened to Oh, Common Life criminally few times since its release in March, but it doesn't take long to realise that the sextet haven't strayed far from the tried and tested. 'Run, Brother, Run' being a personal favourite, but the inaugural 'Glowing Crosses' runs it close. Does it exactly what it says on the tin.

14. Owl John Owl John
I'm always intrigued to hear the latest from the mind of Scott Hutchinson, which comes in the guise of Owl John - a solo project pushed by his label. Where Frightened Rabbit are clearly defined Hutchinson has clearly taken this as an opportunity to explore his musical horizons. 'Hate Music' is brooding in a way not imaginable from the man who wrote 'Poke', 'Red Hand' is jaunty and foreboding simultaneously, whereas 'Songs About Roses' is more familiar territory. The production is outstanding, and shout out to Atlantic for forcing him to indulge himself. Boy did it pay off.

13. Ariana Grande My Everything
I've considered shuffling around my list in order to bump this up a little but, heartbreakingly, I don't feel like it warrants it. Yes, this has some great tracks on it - 'Problem', 'Break Free', 'Love Me Harder' - but I just can't bring myself to put something with 'Hands On Me' into the top 10. Admittedly though, it's an incredible track for various reasons.

12. La Dispute Rooms of the House
Not up to the standard of previous works, that is undoubtable, but there's some gems hidden in the 41 minutes. 'First Reactions After Falling Through Ice' being the standout, but 'HUDSONVILLE, MI 1956' proves a worthy introduction, and 'Woman (reading)' is a beautiful case study. As always it's the lyrics of frontman Jordan Dreyer that really elevate the band into another category; 'THE CHILD WE LOST 1963' tugs at heartstrings in particular. This is the quintessential album of a post-hardcore band 'maturing' and honing their sound, and effectively mellowing out. Whether that's a positive is personal choice, but Rooms of the House certainly promises much more for the future.

11. Modern Baseball You're Gonna Miss It
Modern Baseball may be the definition of whiny American emo but that doesn't stop You're Gonna Miss It from being really quite good. 'Your Graduation', 'Apartment', and 'Charlie Black' make up the cornerstones, with 'The Old Gospel Choir' chipping in with a sensational two and a half minutes. It's not going to be an album for everybody, but that doesn't mean it's a heck of a good album. Then there's the fact that even if you don't like it you've lost less than half an hour of your life, there's no reason not to really.

10. Moose Blood I'll Keep You In Mind, From Time To Time
Moose Blood, the newest face in British Emo put out a real statement of intent with I'll Keep You In Mind. Straight away 'Cherry' lives up to its genre, although from there the lyrics aren't always up to scratch, but the tracks themselves normally do a very good job at masking any slips in quality. 'Boston' and 'Bukowski' are familiar to those with prior knowledge of the Canterbury quintet, meanwhile 'Kelly Kapowski' is one that suffers with its words - "She wears hats above her ears, oh God I want her here". Y'what? Basement have shown its entirely possible to succeed this side of the pond and one can only hope that come this time next year they're still riding high.

09. Childish Gambino S T N   M T N // Kauai
So not technically an album, but hey. A combination of mixtape (S T N   M T N) and an EP (Kauai), but part of one concept. The former a dream about home - using the vehicle of a Gangsta Grillz mixtape - and he then wakes up in Kauai. The 'Telegraph Avenue' video (also referencing Kauai) dropped at the same time and hey, that's just how the Bino rolls. It's not just recorded output where Childish excels; I had the pleasure of seeing him twice this year, once in the intimate surroundings of Manchester's multifaceted, Gorilla and another at Brixton's O2 Academy. Both were incredible and would quite easily make any 'gigs of the year' list I'd sketch up. I await your next move, Donald.

08. Taking Back Sunday Happiness Is
The last couple of Taking Back Sunday releases have been solid, but nowhere near living up to the 'early stuff' so it's good to hear Happiness Is has some of the finest tracks of the year on it. The first half of the album is absolute gold, alongside album closer 'Nothing At All' - quite reminiscent of the title track on this year's Xcerts' LP at least in style. With the self-titled hearing Lazzara on a track entitled 'Best Places to be a Mom' was odd, and although some of the lyrical content is quite obviously not aimed at those twenty and below it's made up for with incredible hooks.

07. Damien Rice My Favourite Faded Fantasy
It took eight years, but finally there's a follow up to 9. Lisa Hannigan's off with her own fairly successful solo career, and in her place are building, nine-minute long symphonies that lead into Rice's more classical style. The two tracks slotted into the middle, 'I Don't Want To Change You' and 'Colour Me In' are truly greats. From the soft to the soaring MFFF encompasses everything that made Rice rise to the top to begin with, don't leave us waiting so long the next time.

06. Taylor Swift 1989
I used to be cool. I used to mock the young, beautiful Pennsylvanian who wrote sickly sweet songs about young lovers, but then Red arrived and everything changed. 1989 continues that trend, with pretty much everything about pop music stuffed into 50 minutes. And hey, the bonus tracks may be among the best songs on the album - 'New Romantics' is incredible. If you didn't like Swift as a human being it's pretty hard not to after this.

05. Spring Offensive Young Animal Hearts
Spring Offensive may be dead, but Young Animal Hearts will live forever. An album I've been waiting for since 2010. The sorrow hidden in the lyrics don't always translate to the tracks - yet its these very lyrics that make Spring Offensive quite so enticing. One of my favourites comes from 'Worry Fill My Heart':

“If I can’t pay my rent then I’m completely dependant,
I never thought that I would be so in line with convention,
How dare I even think that I could be any exception

04. Pianos Become The Teeth Keep You
The only album to have truly depressed me in the past 365 days. The forty-three minutes are matched by nothing else. Since 2011's The Lack Long After the band seem to have lost that angry edge; the screams have been replaced by a softer, just-as-heartbreaking soul searching by vocalist Kyle Durfey, carrying on in the direction set out by 'Hiding' - one of the tracks of last year. In the context of the band, 'Lesions' line "I find myself moving my legs, to make sure I still can" is incredibly moving, and the repeated "Your wick won't burn away" in 'Repine' is just as poignant. The fury may have subsided, but what's left is just as harrowing.
03. Marmozets The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets
Marmozets have had an incredible year, and put on one of the best sets of 2014 when they opened up for Taking Back Sunday on their UK tour. TWAWM blew almost everything out of the water, and Roadrunner did a tremendous job in both allowing the album to be made, and promoting it to the point that they've put the band at the forefront of British rock. From the explosive 'Vibetech' to the soundtrack-esque 'Hit The Wave' the quintet cover all bases, and do so exquisitely.

02. Manchester Orchestra Cope
When I interviewed Manchester Orchestra after the release of Simple Math they said they had two sets of songs - yin and yang. If Simple Math was a softer beast then that makes Cope the fierce other half. The singles may stand out, 'Top Notch', 'Every Stone', and the title track. It's one of the fullest sounding records of the year, and although the classical Manchester Orchestra peaks and troughs may have disappeared it's produced a beautiful rock record.

01. The Xcerts There Is Only You
Four and a half long years since the release of Scatterbrain the trio finally get around to releasing a follow up that's been in the works since 2012. Learning the lyrics to 'Shaking in the Water' on the Brand New tour, followed up by a preview of new songs at the Scatterbrain album show under the moniker of Saul Goodman. The contrast to the previous LP is incredible, and the upbeat pop anthems has the potential to launch them into the mainstream. 'Pop Song', 'Kids on Drugs', and 'Kevin Costner' are all masterpieces in songwriting, but the title track is something else. An incredible ballad that builds and builds, impossible to listen to without joining in. While others on this list, Piano's Keep You for example, may be heartbreaking it's strange to finish an Xcerts album with a sense of optimism.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Travel: Barcelona 2014

Barcelona's long been one of my favourite places to visit, so when finding a deal online for Barca vs PSG in the final round of Champions League group matches there was little hope of ever turning it down. It happened to clash with the final week of uni but after a consultation of university timetables I was fairly certain that it'd all work out alright. Obviously I was wrong, and as I was in the air my robotics team were demonstrating Leslie's solution to our final exercise, which thankfully went incredibly well. Not only that but my final year project demonstration was meant to be at the time I left for the airport, even after explaining that was going to be an issue.

So the terrifying ordeal of flying was made slightly simpler by the doctor - shout out to her - and in fact frightening Josh was one of the highlights of the journey. Something not usually expected from those with their own flying fears. We made it okay though, and not moments after arriving at the hostel we headed out to La Rambla, the only vaguely tourist destination befitting ten in the afternoon. Seems slightly different in midwinter, Joshua being propositioned by 'ladies of the night' definitely didn't happen in early August. Thankfully we found a nice waffle place - I had ice cream, it was that warm - before heading toward the nearest Irish bar where we saw Sky replay Ramsey's goal over, and over, and over, and over, and over.

Our one true day in Spain was lovely. We managed to get locked into our room to begin with by some guy who I think was just trying to change the sheets. After half an hour banging on the door hoping for somebody to come and let us out we eventually managed to go on our way into the Catalonian sunshine. Other than that slight mishap we spent it the exact same way we did the last time. Beach, Parc de la Ciutadella with its pretty fountain, Gothic Cathedral. This time though, we really tried experiencing the culture. Paella, Tapas, Sangria. You name it, we ingested it. Alongside the classic English Breakfast tea, although always having to ask for milk did get a little tiring.

By the end of the day it was time for the entire reason we were there, football! If you've ever met Josh you'll be aware of his fascination with Messi. It's beginning to get strange, but as long as it doesn't turn into something to rival his Chloe Moretz 'thing' we should be all okay. Alongside the best footballer in the world there was Ibrahimovic, Neymar, Suarez, Iniesta, Xavi. Not a bad list at all. Better yet Messi, Suarez, Ibra, and Neymar all managed to find the back of the net. Maybe the first three weren't classics, but Neymar's strike was wondrous. From our position I just expected Sirigu to save it, but it went beyond his reach and nestled - that most used of verbs - into the back of the net.

It's always nice to unwind after watching the best football match you may ever see, so we ventured back into the city toward the horrendously overpriced Hard Rock CafĂ©. Hey, what the heck right? Just another quick shout out, this time to the Spanish for eating ridiculously late, which meant that when we rolled in at 00:15 it wasn't remotely out of the ordinary. Splitting a bottle of wine turned out to be much cheaper than a milkshake, and also far more romantic, but of course Josh had managed to run out of money by this point so it actually just ended up being me paying for everything. T y p i c a l   J o s h.

In our 43 hours overseas we had a great time, and it's genuinely gutting to come back to cold, grey, wet Birmingham after spending the best part of two days having to remind myself it was December. Wherever we head off to next next - Rome maybe? - we might end up going for slightly longer.

Just a quick final note, Josh is genuinely one of the most photogenic humans. Prettiest friend 4 eva. More photos on flickr!