Bandcamp Favourites of 2011 - The Huntress
5. Precious Paragons - Sad Souls
Life can sway disconcertingly from joy to bleakness, effervescence to a lull of stillness. This is the tide of things; and Precious Paragons mirrors that precarious swing. The genre dissonance from track to track in this release- from starkly honest folk to gentle ambience- is strange and perfect. It’s wading through melancholia for brief stints of respite; but both are the lovely ebbs you live for. Tom Auty exposes his bones for us, and inside there is longing, and then you realise it’s your own.
4. Veils - Guilty Ghosts
One of my moments of 2011 was simple and this was the soundtrack. Behind my house is a sprawling park; and I hit it one morning just as the sun did after a sleepless night. Everywhere there were rabbits; tiny white things cantering about the grass that needed cutting, while currawongs crooned in the trees. I sat under the pink shock of the sky in the strangeness that was a suburban menagerie and listened to Veils. It’s a transporting epic; a masterwork of sound that holds you like a lover. Tristan O’Donnell knows how to sculpt music. He has produced my favourite riffs of the year; and makes instrumental music captivating- a difficult feat. When he’s joined by guest vocalists the result is stunning - Guerre and Sea Oleena both feature; the latter merger being particularly magnificent. Veils is stunning, and I can’t imagine that rabbit-ridden morning without it as the soundtrack- it turned the drain of insomnia into something beautiful. That wonderment still carries upon every listen.
3. The Color - Yellowbirds
Sometimes our suburbs and cities aren’t enough. That’s why we find ourselves in mires of cheap wine and substances; and seek to lay with the limbs of strangers. In the morning it may not be our bed but it is always our body.
There are other modes of escape. Sam Cohen has created another planet; great valleys of gently psychedelic soundscapes marked with mountains of ambience. The Color is thick with catchy licks and layered sounds; and Cohen’s unwavering voice could be a cult leader’s- and if this album were a manifesto, I might be tempted to eschew my life for the sunset fields of the Yellowbird’s denomination.
2. Ghost - Joel Robert Melton
This album is wonderful company; it carried me through mornings of frantic study in the dim of early summer sunlight; through the endless train rides in a strange country while a tiny woman snored behind me under a threadbare blanket. Melton gives us a seductive tumble of strings and riffs; measured perfectly with his rich, urgent vocals. I adore his lyricism; it is confessional without being prosaic. He isn’t afraid to yell his sentiments; and sometimes his instruments shout along- the gloom is shattered with the wail of a distorted guitar; or a just-dissonant piano that somehow carries seamlessly with the dream-pop scape he’s effortlessly crafted. Ghost is a memory of someone; an unmarked grave to kneel at. The longing pervades every track; until you’re at a shipwreck of sound- and in the midst, there is the calm of someone wanting with you.
1. Fold In The Wind - House of Wolves
The first thing Ray Villalobos asks is that you kiss him like it’s the fifties. He’s joined by a piano that you imagine is falling to pieces; and then horns confound you both. He mourns at you; and at the same time it’s a lullaby; and you are torn a little. Then he confides: it’s the bitter side of life that he likes. By now you’re on your knees. And it’s only track one.
We’ve all felt the hairline rips of heartache; and I’ve always struggled to articulate it. Villalobos has crafted it into an album, and in the process completely exposed himself. He is relentless in his reveal; exposing bones and veins through delicate guitar and subdued strings; accompanied by the sparsest piano and the occasional hum of horns. His voice is what crushes- it’s almost unbearably vulnerable and strangely genderless. It could be anyone whispering their secrets to you. You could be singing to yourself.
There’s nothing saccharine or overdone about Fold In The Wind; it’s simply honest. It’s something to go back to on the darker nights; with the malcontent of whisky making dive-rolls in your stomach. Villalobos lets you know that sometimes things are difficult; and that this can be a gorgeous thing. House of Wolves let you revel in melancholia; to roll about someone else’s glorious, melodic sadness while gently accepting your own. At the album’s gorgeous, subdued finale ‘Flight’; he croons ‘baby, you’re the one’. To me, ‘the one’ will always be the type of music that reveals itself to you in a mirror. That is what Fold In The Wind gifts you- an exorcism. It might be Ray’s, but it becomes your own; and you remember that the greatest lover you’ll ever have carries themselves in soundwaves- and that this is more than enough.
5. Wishbone - It is Rain On My Face
I listen to this with eggs and tea; and I return to it weeks later with wine and sunset. It is transient and forgiving; gentle like a grandparent. I adore the use of re-imagined sounds- sometimes it sounds like a knock on the door; at others like the crunch of wheels on a gravel road. Matt Jones does a lovely falsetto; but it’s the overall composition that makes me return to the album- the vocals are no more apparent than any other instrument or synth; which make it all the more bewitching.The tracks flow into each other and then it’s over- a little like a micro-sleep where you had an summer-flushed dream.
4. Into Clear EP - Glass Vaults
Something is in the Wellington water; and it’s making music that sounds like spectres. Into Clear is eerie and beautiful; it feels like waking up in a plane that is plummeting above the atmosphere. To describe something as music to perish to is strange; but there is a little death in here- just when your tired body is ready. It is otherworldly and out of body; streams of synth melded seamlessly with soaring vocals. This release is transformative and compelling. The sparseness they employ is just enough to mesmerise; and they have turned shoe-gaze upside down- you find yourself sky gazing; not wanting to return to the limbs that have been weighing you down.
3. Clem Snide’s Journey - Clem Snide
I have a thing for Eef Barzelay. He is sincere and his voice feels like a kiss. While you’re crying. And maybe there’s a mountain in the background. This is an EP of Journey covers; and he has reduced them to lovely; sparse renditions you’d never imagine given the epic; early eighties ballads that were. Perhaps dreadfully; I’m happy to forgo the originals for Barzelay’s versions- they have a sincerity and vulnerability to them that makes me pause and listen. I hope next year he attempts Tina Turner. That would see me dropping out of law school and moving to Nashville.
2. Alabama Shakes EP - Alabama Shakes
I fucking adore Brittany Howard. She has a swagger and soul that steamrolls many of her male colleagues attempting to encapsulate what she perfectly captures. The band behind her have a polish that’s rare in the multitude of EP’s I listen to- the music is tight and captivating; every element attuned while managing to stay appropriately grubby for the blues. This is one of those magical genre-bending releases; blending blues; rock and soul into a rip-roaring mini epic of song. I was delighted to hear that Rough Trade has picked the Shakes up and I can’t wait to hear what’s next. This is raw, sexy blues like no-one else is doing. It’ll make you want to dance and weep and make love and drink whiskey. Absolutely glorious.
1. Via Flamina - Futurebirds
This was love at first listen. Anything with harmonies has already weaselled its way into my alcohol-ridden heart; and Via Flamina is flush with them. Add anthemic; roughly (and gloriously) effect-ridden guitars that float into country-slide; and more harmonies (oh, keep them coming) and I’m in country rock heaven. From the left-field comes the loveliest rendition of Wicked Games I’ve heard; next, a sprinkling of piano and ukelele and the chant ‘don’t blame it on my wild heart’, and then, far too quickly, it’s over. Oh, I blame my umpteenth listens on you, Futurebirds- this EP is absolutely perfect.
5. In A Dream - Grandpa Was A Lion
I developed an enormous crush on this song. I thought about it in class; I jogged to its gentle shimmer. It floats through you; and then you’re elsewhere in a gorgeous lustre; and then it’s over and you’re not sure why your hair is wet or where your skirt went.
4. Southbound - Sea Oleena
Charlotte Oleena has an achingly lovely voice- featuring twice in my top five tracks of 2011 speaks volumes of this. She sings ‘maybe I’m a little wasted’, and at once I am where she is- wandering through a park after a long night; not wanting to sleep (and not able to anyway), taken by the beauty of the early morning; utterly alone and better for it. The piano in this track is sublime- I can’t articulate the chord change in the main riff; but it’s a perfection of how a touch of dissonance can be glorious (listen at 0:26-31 to understand). Oleena sings over herself, dancing with the sweet journey she’s taken us on. I want to ride again.
3. Via Flamina - Futurebirds
This track slays me. I’m a harlot for harmonies; and the stripped back chorus featuring a multitude of voices is perfection. The guitar sing with one another; the vocals are heartbreakingly frank- you are immersed while Via Flamina reaches a wonderful culmination of mourning and joy. Ride a bike through a park, turn off your phone, be alone, be elsewhere- it will carry you. Let it: there aren’t enough voices that sing to you like the Futurebirds do; let the guitars sway you into a mess of bliss, and then stop to feel how quickly you are breathing.
2. Ghost - Joel Robert Melton
The frantic frenzy of this chorus, where Melton shouts after what he can’t forget- you can picture him, head in hands; crying into a vortex- is utterly bewitching. I love the guitar sound, which at times wouldn’t be out of place in an old Western film and then at others are smoky and romantic as a first love; the tribal drums; the sweet acoustic that lures at the beginning- it is a total seduction and you hope for a haunting of your own.
1. Everlasting Evening - Guilty Ghosts
This song is a masterpiece. It peaks and plunges; reaching ecstatic crescendos of perfectly composed sound. I play it to friends and do that dreadful thing where I pause it to say (at 4:02, if you’re curious); ‘listen to this chord change! It’s just *long, speechless pause* - sublime!’. Sea Oleena’s gorgeous, ethereal vocals take Everlasting Evening to a vertex of joy- I run to it, I sleep to it; it is ideal for every realm of what life you may live. What’s more; it takes you to where you’d best like to be- somewhere above the city; looking at the ordinary with a renewed wonder, wishing that the ants of people below were feeling and hearing what you were.
Non Bandcamp albums
5. Metals - Feist
4. King of Limbs - Radiohead
3. The Whole Love - Wilco
2. A I A: Alien Observer - Grouper
1. Let England Shake - PJ Harvey
BCH Pick Of The Week
I’ve often envied those who experience musical synaesthesia (literally; the word means ‘senses together’), a condition where one sensory input evokes that of another. I’ve been browsing discussion boards where synesthetes discuss their accounts and it’s fascinating (albeit a little creepy on my part) - one guy said that Sigur Ros elicited aquamarine arcs of colour and another said that elevator music came with puce-shaded opaque triangles. What was interesting about my ‘research’ was that the accounts were largely of input>colour>emotional reaction. I reflected on my own listening behaviours and reflected that (somewhat obviously) my emotional state and music are inexorably entwined; to the point where a feeling seems somewhat subdued if unaccompanied by song. I listen to music constantly- to sleep, study, have sex, ride my bike- I abhor the vacuum of silence. Experience without music is insufficient; and it follows that music should elicit an experience. Which brings me to the pick of the week- Joel Robert Melton’s sunwashed and gloomy (yes, both!) release Ghost.
Wonderful music is good company; and Ghost has been exactly this- it is a textured, gorgeous and intensely intimate release. Ghost begins with a euphoric title track that tumbles into an crescendo of sound; before the mournful longing of ‘Crickets’ gives way to the seductive, Benoit Piolard-esque Shadowfingers Part One and Two. Melton has a knack for layering sounds, and the album is awash with harmonies; strings and perfectly textured guitar. It is achingly personal; Melton murmuring on ‘Shadowfingers Part One’ that ‘when it’s quiet, I often think it’s you’. Ghost feels like being in someone’s home when they’re away. I imagine that a synesthete would see ancient trees and winter sunsets upon listening. It saw me linger in my sunwashed garden, drinking scotch and feeling the quiet and unmistakeable pang of missing someone. That feeling permeates the loveliness of Ghost- a distant and unaccountable longing.