END OF YEAR CHARTS: Eugenie Evelynne Johnson | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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5) Metronomy – Love Letters

metronomyWhile compiling this list, I had a bit of a mental block. There were about four albums which could easily have taken this space on their own merit but, unfortunately, I only had space for the one. A couple of friends then advised me to pick the records that I’ve played the most this year. That left me with only one option to place at number five: Metronomy’s fourth LP.

When Love Letters came out, it is safe to say that it gained a little bit of a critical bashing, at least in comparison to their third effort, the Mercury Prize-nominated The English Riviera. This led to me angrily screaming (in my mind) “what were they thinking” every time I gave Love Letters a spin. It’s one of the rare LPs from this year that I’ve kept playing on a loop and it has accompanied me on many a sleepless night, such is the quietly lush nature of its chamber pop.

Joe Mount and his team took a sideways step from the British electro-pop of The English Riviera and decided to create something infinitely more subtle and calming. And by god, is it glorious. Mount’s vocals creak and break over every song, sometimes literally dripping with raw emotion. The smooth, faux-baroque of Monstrous and the light doo-wop of I’m Aquarius are magical slices. For me, though it’s the flourishes present in The Most Immaculate Haircut that are the pinnacle of the LP; stopping midway to present the sounds of a man diving into water, it’s here that Mount’s voice and his band’s super-tight yet somehow utterly languid instrumentation really come together. Luscious.

Coincidentally, my biggest regret of this year was not going to see Metronomy playing live when they came to Newcastle early in the year. I will probably end up kicking myself for years to come over that one.

4) Gazelle Twin – Unflesh

Gazelle Twin UnfleshElizabeth Bernholz, better known as her alias Gazelle Twin, is a woman unafraid of facing her demons head on and dissecting them with razor sharp claws in a furious whirlwind. Unflesh, her second album, is occasionally completely bizarre, sometimes deeply affecting and at all times incredibly challenging to listen to. Despite this, it is a work of extreme beauty and catharsis.

Her first album, The Entire City, was an equal triumph, particularly to a fan of The Knife like myself. Listening to Unflesh for the first time was like hearing Gazelle Twin being torn apart from the inside out; across the industrial synths and the primal scream that accompanies its opening salvo, Unflesh tackles issues surrounding puberty, anxiety, miscarriage, body dysmorphia and euthanasia in a startling manner.

Unflesh stands as the alternative soundtrack to a David Cronenberg movie; its many labyrinthine tunnels and aching, almost unrelenting patchwork of heavy, metallic noise and piercing mantras encapsulate everything surrounding the term “body horror.” It’s by no means an easy listen but is infinitely rewarding once you penetrate its icy exterior.

3) tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack

Nikki_Nack_artworkI love a good off-kilter pop album and they don’t come more wonky than tUnE-yArDs. Merrill Garbus was stunning again this year with the release of Nikki Nack, the band’s most accessible – but no less bonkers – album to date. There are many reasons to love Nikki Nack, from its heavy use of percussion and bass as major musical building blocks to the sometimes wild bending of Garbus’ voice, effectively creating another instrument to add to the already complex layers.

It’s the storytelling present on Nikki Nack that’s perhaps the most impressive aspect of the record, though. Lead single Water Fountain demonstrates Garbus’s ability to slowly elaborate on darkly surreal tales perfectly. Despite being a light, whimsical tune, Garbus sings about a post-apocalyptic world with no water and the need for different tribes to resort to stealing from each other in order to survive. Why Do We Dine On The Tots, a spoken word interlude placed in the middle of the album, is taken mostly from a short story Garbus wrote while working at Martha’s Vineyard as a babysitter, while Hey Life tiptoes around existential questions and confusion about modern life with absolute conviction.

Real Thing is perhaps the most vicious examination of what it means to be a “real” artist and icon in the modern age since LCD Soundsystem’s You Wanted A Hit four years ago. Aside from musing on Garbus’ own singing style and musical deft, it also looks at femininity and the image of perfection. Garbus practically screams “I’m the real thing” before putting down fake media images and the whole concept of the “real.” It’s all rousing stuff by a woman who just doesn’t know how not to put together a mighty good tune.

2) Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!

flyloI spent much of the latter half of 2014 raving about Flying Lotus and his sheer brilliance. Steven Ellison is perhaps one of the best producers of genre-bending hip hop of the last ten years. The best part? He gets better with each album he releases. A couple of months ago I wrote a 2000 word essay for my personal blog detailing how You’re Dead! was one of the best albums of the year and, possibly, FlyLo’s magnum opus. Two months down the line, my opinions haven’t changed a bit.

Perhaps my slight obsession with FlyLo has come about because I spent a lot of time in my early childhood listening to classic hip hop from the late 80s and early 90s. I still love A Tribe Called Quest and The Roots and their method of blending multiple genres and creating genuinely inventive and ground-breaking music, all of which can be heard in the blending of jazz, funk, rap and rock on You’re Dead!

There are flashes of the gospel and slow pace that was found on FlyLo’s last album, Until the Quiet Comes, but for the most part this is a much more aggressive, full-throttle examination of life and death. It feels like a complete existential odyssey, shifting between the aggression of Kendrick Lamar’s furious rhymes on the blistering Never Catch Me to the confused and pained flows of Ellison’s alter ego Captain Murphy on The Boys Who Died In Their Sleep. You’re Dead! is a singular album by a singular talent.

1) Ramona Lisa – Arcadia

ramonaMy favourite LP of 2012 was Something by Chairlift. It was a beautifully constructed pop album that was something of a curveball from the band’s first effort but lost none of the beauty or integrity. Beneath some of its sheen was a distinctly weird and wonderful collection of songs that were pure gems to listen to; I still regularly put Something on and revel in its little twists and turns.

Chairlift’s vocals and some of the instrumentation is provided by Caroline Polachek, the woman behind Ramona Lisa. Arcadia, though, barely resembles Something’s glittering sheen. Where Something was all bright light and shimmering pop (despite some of its dark undertones), Arcadia is a gothic, often baroque electronic LP that regularly shies away from crisp production and traditional structures. Like with Metronomy, the understated nature of Arcadia – with its DIY feeling and subtle instrumentation – meant that many people were incredibly harsh when reviewing the LP; some even went as far to say that it was “pretentious.”

I can understand why people think that. Hissing Pipes at Dawn and closer I Love This World are made up entirely of noises seemingly patched together loosely with little structure holding them together. Wings of the Parapets, featuring a soaring, operatic vocal performance from Polachek, is essentially two songs in one. Alongside these oddities, though, is a majestic river of songs that are often short, sweet and lovingly put together on Polachek’s laptop. Avenues and Getaway Ride are thoroughly understated gems that let Polachek’s increasingly confident voice do the talking, while Dominic is a dancehall lament of epic proportions. Even on its brashest moments – most notable on Backwards and Upwards – there’s a distinct sense of melancholy and intimacy enveloping the LP.

It’s a beautiful piece of art that deserves care, love and attention. Yes, it may take a little while to get into but its often cosy, homely production and the little crackles and glitches are wonderfully endearing.

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