Xcerts get the balance between crunchy balls and pop tunes dead on. It's cool they did this via Raygun but also nuts that they aren't yet some major label priority (unless they've deliberately said 'no' to all that) - they're perfect post-Biffy superstars.
There Is Only You sounds massive, like they're already there. Singles are getting daytime Radio 1 too, so maybe it's coming.
Anyway, when they were recording this I bumped into Murray on the train and chatting about it set my excitement levels high enough to easily be disappointed - luckily the results are fantastic.
9. Taylor Swift - 1989 (Big Machine)
It's funny that 1989 is so sales-enormous because it feels to me like an interim record; as if Red was Swift's shimmy into mainstream pop, now this is a warm-up before she makes an out-and-out masterpiece in 2016 (like she already did in the more innocent country-pop genre with Speak Now).
I'm not an ironic fan - I sincerely think she's one of the finest songwriters alive and this may sound odd but (aside from her relatively weaker voice) she reminds me of Springsteen, so I hope she has 50 years in her. But I wonder if Swift albums come in trios; so the next one is a pop world-changer, then she switches direction again. That'd be très cool.
8. Owl John - Owl John (Atlantic)
Owl John is the solo name for Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit, a crazily gifted lyricist. It's not that stripped-down though, more of a produced record than a solo one; quite psychedelic and sonically ambitious, glued by Scott's peerless poetic wordplay.
It maybe relates to Frightened Rabbit stuff in the same way that Thom Yorke solo relates to Radiohead - so there's a lot still here but elements missing. Also, I'm probably being racist but Scottish men are so much better than English men at ripping out their hearts (in song) without sounding like losers.
Like a kind of ingrained Celtic machismo (probably in the drawn-out vowel sounds more than anything else) that frees them to self-examine better than us. Bastards.
7. Mogwai - Rave Tapes (Rock Action)
Rave Tapes is my top three Mogwai records now. Just enough hints at EDM and synth noise to get away with the title but really it's just another great Mogwai album.
I go a long way back with Mogwai without knowing them personally - they were on Chemikal Underground when I was and I first saw them in early 1997 at Darlington Arts Centre, which was without doubt at the time the best live show I'd seen of any kind for three years.
They've never lost whatever their magic is.
6. Swans - To Be Kind (Mute)
I didn't think Swans could better The Seer, which is a sprawling, vicious, gorgeous work. But To Be Kind is somehow more approachable without losing an iota of Swans' thing. It grooves and grooves, chants a bit, judders a bit, then smashes your face in with a house brick soaked in hallucinogens.
I like that they're old. I like that their re-emergence is so full-on intense and not genre-d in a boring way. I haven't seen them live yet - even though they were down in Brighton last month to collaborate with Wire for Drill Festival.
I keep putting it off in case the limitations of the real world; a shitty venue and other people in the room, kill the experience.
5. Jess Morgan - Langa Langa (self-release)
How to praise Jess without blowing too much smoke up her arse, since I know her slightly.
She's from East Anglia but came out of nowhere for me when we were on the Isle Of Man for a songwriters festival. What I want in songs - more than just a sweet turn-of-phrase - is ambitious narrative that works (has inner structural integrity) without losing musicality.
I don't know any (non super-famous) British lyricists who do this as well as Jess; her stories unfold in the most perfect way. She's a match for Decemberists' Colin Meloy, for example.
At the moment she's still self-releasing and touring at a grass roots level; a DIY artist in the country-folk scene - production-wise this is an LP that sounds like its budget - so I hope business nonsense doesn't mean she'll have to quit at some point to make real money doing something else.
She has it in her to become one of our great, important songwriters.
4. The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian)
I still can't believe Kozelek got on War On Drugs' arse - lost my respect in one go, it tarnished my view of him for the foreseeable.
For example, I'd half-listened to the latest Sun Kil Moon (that a lot of people are acclaiming) decided it was probably brilliant and I'd come back to it. But after he slagged off War On Drugs, I listened again and realised it's just over-rated lazy mizzog shit.
Just because he's ultra-mooey and doesn't know how to end his songs doesn't mean he's Vic Chesnutt kind of genius! But I have no idea how much of my distain is real and how much I'm just pointlessly offended on WOD's behalf.
The War On Drugs music is basically made for me: that blend of drone-ish shoegaze hypnosis stuff that Sonic Cathedral have revitalised here, with unlikely, classic American songcraft and even a slab of Dire Straits in there. Perfect.
3. Tom Williams & The Boat - Easy Fantastic (Wire Boat / Moshi Moshi)
They're in a funny place, I suspect; trying to turn the burst of publicity and near-success they've had on the first two albums (that thing we increasingly call being '6Music famous') into something more sustainable and broader.
This third record still has one foot in the "make us stars!" puddle, while the other foot strides firmly into the "gotta stretch my inner songwriting demons!" puddle, which unbalances Easy Fantastic enough to make it wonderful, where the second album was just very good.
I think Tom's voice and songwriting are up there with the UK's very best of the past 20 years. So if there's anything getting in the way of commercial breakthrough, or crossover, or whatever you want to call it, it's the paradigm of alternative folk-rock being so ubiquitous and crowded with idiots.
The Boat are far harder, cleverer and more noir than the rest, yet not quite noir enough (and still too young and pretty) to tip them into Nick Cave or Tom Waits territory. They're truer inheritors than anyone of, say, Broken Family Band's crown, despite the lack of Americana tropes. But whatever, it's a bloody awesome collection of tunes.
2. Splintered Man - Splintered Man (self-release)
One of the greatest acoustic albums of the past decade and you've almost certainly never heard of them. Splintered Man is a post-rock duo that is an offshoot of excellent London/Japanese post-hardcore indie band Smallgang (signed to Damnably, recently toured with Shonen Knife and whose own 2014 album San was not far off my Top 10).
Here's what Splintered Man achieve on this debut: an out-and-out stunning LP of progressive off-kilter songs that, though played on mainly acoustic guitars with a bit of low-key band augmentation, still sounds timeless and - crucially - like nobody else.
This is not flashy or ostentatious; they're an understated duo, yet musically they soar, weaving casually exceptional melodies from a big pile of cunning ideas and observational angles; with such rich tension and tangle beneath the calm of initial delivery.
Simon Koboyashi's vocal is also a unique and beautiful thing. It has a precious vibe all of its own.
In a better time, Splintered Man would be one of everyone else's albums of the year too. In a better time, they could be shifting this entire genre because they're streets ahead of any other contemporary acoustic release for a long, long while. Though to be fair, Splintered Man themselves aren't exactly running around shouting about it. It's not distributed beyond Bandcamp and they're not hard touring either.
Praising stuff is boring. This album is fucking perfect. If you're going to make loud, hard music, try to make it as smart, brutal, funny, groovy, insanely well recorded and sublimely performed as Shellac - or go the hell to bed. Don't worry, you won't succeed but at least your aim is valid.
My relationship with Dude Incredible slid through straightforward appreciation into addiction before the first song was two minutes in. That's all I have to say about that.
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