Bandcamp Favourites of 2011 - Bandcamp Hunter

Albums

5. No Coast - Wild Ghosts

You’ll notice many of my picks are somewhat…..glum. Introspective. Lurking in this genre some call “ambient folk”. Well that sort of music resonates with me, ok? But I am by no means a miserable sod. I like a good time as much as the next fella. ‘No Coast’ by Wild Ghosts is real damn good fun. What gets me here mostly are the guitars-booming, monolithic fuckers of guitars. Throw in the off-kilter wailing vocals and we’re in for some kickass indie rawk, a big old messy party that’s attended by all your favourite US rock bands from the past 20 years. Yes it’s yet another “Ghost” band but more importantly it’s droney, it’s surfy, it’s loose, it’s pounding rock ‘n roll straight outta Minneapolis.

4. Hawk Moth - Water Music

Our old Melbourne town has a fondness for dark country, for stout musical melancholy to be consumed in our grimy parlours. I’ve been attending live music regularly in Melbourne for over four years now and-not to blow my own horn-thought I had a pretty good grasp on who were the best musicians in town. Then along comes Hawk Moth. Mathew Barker had been a writer of sorts for a time before taking to music, and his listing of John Fante and Hank Chinaski as influences on his Facebook may give an indication of the lyrical content on Hawk Moth (other influences: cigarettes, the ocean). These are simple acoustic songs that I grew very fond of, songs that lament loss and celebrate friendship. Barker’s voice has a lovely high reediness, flavoured with nicotine and Coopers Pale Ale. Since discovering this record I’ve had a bit of contact with Matt-seems he’s been out of town but is playing a few local gigs soon. He reckons he’s going to buy me a beer. I’ll be returning the favour.

3. Fold in the Wind - House of Wolves

For a collection of such gentle music, this album hit me like a thunderbolt. From the opening strains of ‘50’s’ it’s completely apparent this is something very, very special.

Kiss me like it’s the 50’s; And pull your hands from the ground..

The goosebumps and the spine tingles set in and, remarkably, do not relent for the entire 11 songs of ‘Fold in The Wind’. Rey Villalobos has a pristine voice, an instrument of quiet elemental beauty that pushes through your ribcage and takes a firm but caring hold upon that pulsating, pathetic muscle within. To me, these songs evoke the image of a tiny leaf wavering on a branch-about to break free but not quite able to; part of something large and powerful yet utterly vulnerable. There is loss and pain here, no doubt, but more so there is beauty and there is hope. Mountains of it.

It’s the bitter side of life that I like too, Rey.

2. Place - Yes Know

This is an album that resonated within me; in its lyrics, in its ideas and its sounds. Sandy Gilfillan is another one man band-but my, hasn’t the image that phrase evokes changed? No more horns attached to knees and gigantic drums upon backs; no, listening to Gillifans songs we can envisage him in a lair of electronic and acoustic equipment, constructing these deep, reflective songs. ‘Here’ opens with what sounds a lot like a Neil Young riff and openly borrows lyrics from Dylan, Bjork and Animal Collective, giving a good indication of the diverse range of influences Gillifan draws from. The closing refrain of We’re all just simply here is one of my favourite lines of the year, neatly capturing one of my own mantras : “This is This”. It’s not exclusively existential pondering though, elsewhere Gillifan sadly and softly dwells on heartache in ‘These Waiting Years’ and the folky ‘Somehow Together’. Perhaps my favourite track though is ‘Balance’, a song that I listened to often on my recent travels through South East Asia. It’s a minimal piece (like all these songs) that would never fail to provide me with a glow and somehow enhance the glorious things I was seeing. I’ll close by quoting some lyrics that I found especially touching:

patterns only shaded 
words to go unheard 
in curiosity 
sneak across your globe 
into your spine 
adjust it to your surroundings 
enlightening and staying 
a comfort in balance 
contentment in balance

nb : Yes Know released a second album Over Under in 2011, which is also well worth your time.

1. Wide Awake LP -  Arches

When compiling an end of year list the music released earlier in the year is inevitably at an advantage over that released in the latter stages. For while there is undoubtedly music that that floods into your life and immerses you-convincing you in a very brief period of time it is The Greatest-it’s the music that you live with over time and that soundtracks your trials and triumphs (or your nothings-at-alls) that becomes ingrained in you, that reaches parts of you that are unreachable in a short period.

Arches are a two piece? Really? In spending many, many hours listening to music on Bandcamp this year I’ve been astounded by the amount of brilliant music being created by two pieces and solo artists (“the bedroom artist” - this always sounds a little…juvenile to me somehow). Philly’s Arches have a big sound for a two piece (occasionally swelling to a three piece on this record) and upon repeated listens the working behind how this sound is generated becomes more apparent. Guitars are looped, layers build in a seemingly organic manner and reverb is applied, though never excessively. So it’s brilliantly played and produced, but-as so so so many bands do not seem to realise-all this adds up to sweet F.A if the songs aren’t any good. Gladly, Julien Rossow Greenberg and Tom Herman Jr are badass songwriters.

Wide Awake is billed as a concept album, though the concept seems vague. The gist being : a lonely character living in a city, possibly thinking too much, leaving the city and in the process losing his grip on reality (it’s written by dudes so let’s say the protagonist is a dude). There is a certain literary feel to the album, in it’s poetic lyrics and existential probing (the Yes Know album struck me in a similar way-you can just tell these guys are well read). Themes of the disquieting effect of modern urban life are abundant throughout-the corrosive monotony of working life and the lack of purpose that leaves us lost, stumbling through the dark. ‘This Isn’t a Good Night for Walking’ (itself a fine candidate for a short story title) commences the album with the sound of steady rain and an approaching acoustic guitar before rearing into life with lulling piano, crashing drums and…

Strange cold wind; breaks from the west; got my hood on; to protect my ears. 

Like most songs on this record, ‘Walking…’ superbly balances the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic, without reaching for extremes at either end of the spectrum. Simply put, it is extremely listenable. I have found myself listening to this song walking through cold foggy nights alone, blaring it at boozy gatherings on balmy summer nights and losing myself within it’s noise and melody on long bus trips. It never gets old.

'Every Moment of the Day' follows but does not reach such wide screen proportions. It also shimmers into existence and evokes sunshine on a summer lake, reminiscent of Real Estate at their most cruisy. The subtle gear drop towards the end is very clever indeed, timing itself with the lines:

What will I have left? When I’m leaving something every moment of the day?

Here, through the banality of every day life, our hero has become all too aware of time dripping away moment by moment, and he does not care for it. This gives way to the albums highlight.

Guess we’ve grown but I still feel like a child; scared of the night

'Behind Closed Blinds' is a magnificent song. Swelling with quivering keys and subtle guitar, we learn of the narrators fears and restlessness in what is a near perfect 4:13 of pop music. It articulates an intangible feeling of yearning, perhaps akin to what the Germans call Sehnsucht, which C.S Lewis identified as “the “inconsolable longing” in the human heart for “we know not what”. There is fear in this song too, a fear of the unknown and of change. Many can relate to this conflict : the conflict of security over pursuing one’s dreams, of seeking discipline though not wanting to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve it. I know I can.

From here the story takes us away, through cobblestone paths and ‘Over the Hill’-the song of this name has a clear feeling of messy catharsis, as well as a suggestion of rural life in the amiable harmonica part.

Where did this all go; all the ways I used to know?

Like the album as a whole, the song is about embracing change and aching for the romanticism of urban escape. Our lives in the city are hollow, devoid of meaning. Wouldn’t it all be better in the country? But has our narrator left on that train or is he merely dreaming? 

Wide awake; or so it seems

How many of our days are spent thinking about what we want to do and how much of our lives do we actually spend doing it? Many questions, and this record does not attempt to resolve them. Rather, it tells a story that is common to many disenchanted 20-to-30-somethings who are free and so are lost, who love their city life and all it offers yet are repelled by the banality and monotony that goes with it. These paradoxes have been explored many times in art throughout the ages, and this is by no means a revolutionary record. However the album goes some way to capturing this cognitive dissonance-our confused modern wondering-both in the vague reflective lyrics and hazy soundscapes that accompany them.

'It Won’t Take Long' is a raucous closer, that reflects 'Walkings..' powerful dynamics (concept album 101: the bookends should reference each other in some fashion). It seems the singer has reached some sort of settled state: 

No more waiting for the time; we can call our own

It has been a disorientating experience, but now we have found a kind of contentment, realising that time is our own and we are not at it’s mercy. Perspective has been gained. These may seem weighty philosophical issues for a pop record but they are not presented as such, rather they emerge after repeated listens. And this is what the great albums do-present ideas and feelings gradually through a collection of songs. Arches have achieved this on ‘Wide Awake’ and more-the cohesive meeting of concept and superb music make for an indispensable record, and without doubt my favourite of the year.

Other favourites

Sleep Education - Jewellers
American Artist - Still Blue Still Turning
Single Twin - Single Twin
Veils - The Oscillation 

EP’s

5. Mystic Places EP - Woodsman

Woodsman haven’t put a step wrong for a long time now, and this EP sees them further refining their unique psych rock sounds to new, exhilarating heights. After an intensity building intro, we’re flung into ‘View From The Vison Hand’ (great live take here) and Woodsman take flight-all high pitched guitar riffs and dual drumming, layer upon layer upon layer of complex musical variation creating a killer psychedelic rocker. Elsewhere, ‘Parallel Minds’ takes us back to the earlier, more minimal Woodsman sound. Always fascinating, always arresting, this EP is a tantalising bridge to the next full Woodsman album.

4. Into Clear EP - Glass Vaults

Again we have a two piece casting staggering aural soundscapes-Glass Vaults are an intriguing New Zealand outfit whose evocative, ethereal songs seem well matched to their homelands own geographic majesty and cloudy mystery. The EP is seamless-the songs do not feel as if they a have beginnings or ends, instead they offer misty corridors for you to lose yourself within, corridors that echo with hymnal intonations and haunted guitar. Darkness and light interplay throughout, the tribal beat underlaying ‘Gold Star’ is brilliantly contrasted with warm, shining synth. A mighty release of tremendous, hallucinatory vision.

3. Mountains + Valleys - Michael Beach

Michael Beach is a former Melbourne resident who plays in psych-rock out fit Electric Jellyfish and now resides in San Franciso (and, disclaimer: once taught my younger brother guitar). Since being overseas he’s pumped out this gem of a tape for Twin Lakes. ‘Straight Spines’ is one of my favourite songs of the year, a dark and frenetic little thumper of a tune that is at once discomforting and uplifting. Our hearts are slowed after this with a moment of semi-ambient guitar noise and then it’s a brace of gorgeous coutnry rock songs. I love ‘There Is No Edge Of The World To Run To’ more than I can say, it’s a superb lament. The other highlight is ‘Mountains + Valley’s, a song of great depth and lyrical complexity that reminded me of Leonard Cohen. Beach is emerging as one of Australia’s premier songwriters. Hope he makes it home for a visit soon.

2. Via Flamina - Futurebirds

St Valentines killed a bear; On the fourteenth day of February

Is that the worst misheard lyric ever? Perhaps. Thats what I hear. 
Futurebirds were probably the band I listened to most in 2011 and ‘Via Flamina’ was my introduction to them. Two originals, two covers, all killer. Their sound immediately appealed to me-expansive country rock and roll infused with potent strains of psychedlieca, an exhilarating sound. The title track is the sort of mid tempo rock epic that almost makes you feel the wind in your hair as you fly along that highway, leaving it all burning down behind you. From there ‘Millstones’ is somewhat more subdued though no less uplifting, and then we are into the covers. From what I can tell, ‘Wicked Game’ has been the most covered song of 2011 and this is definitely the greatest version I heard. Oh, Isaak you smooth old cad. Then we have this rendition of Stevie Nicks’ ‘Wild Heart’. Oh my. I imagine this is the musical equivalent of the energy hits the old timers sold out of their medicine vans back in the wild west, a concoction of alcohol, caffeine, snake venom and cocaine that would transport you instantly into the clouds, and beyond. Bravo. I’ll have another hit.

1. The Alabama Shakes EP - The Alabama Shakes

What’s exciting about this EP from The Alabama Shakes is that it feels like something arriving. A statement of intent. This, as far as I’m concerned, is The Next Big Thang. Of all the music I played at parties and pubs and whatnot over the year, none has had such a universal reaction as this EP - “hey man, what the fuck is this?” It’s appeal is obvious and doesn’t require dissecting:its blues, rock and roll and it’s soul, played with immense passion and power. Brittany Howard is an absolute vocal powerhouse, these songs contain the finest vocal performances I have heard in recent memory. This EP is also a reminder-rock and roll ain’t dead, it’s as vital as ever. You think I’m gushing too much? Too much hyperbole? Bullshit. Words can’t express how good these cats are. I’ll be donating every body part I can spare to see them live in 2012.

Other favourites

Le Podium #3 - Holstenwall
Wild Vibes EP - Wild Vibes
Terrible Truths 7” (2011)  - Terrible Truths

Songs

5. Tip of Your Tongue  - Porcelain Raft

Infectious is the word here. Something highly infectious on the tip of your tongue. Ew. I dug all of Porcealin Raft’s music this year (prolific chap) but this was my favourite. A delicious little sugar bomb of a song that will have you skipping through the streets before you know it.

4. Cacophonous Vibes - Harmony

One of my favourite live bands of 2011, you ain’t seen or heard nothing like Harmony before. Punk and folk melds with those soaring female vocals to conjure a totally unique sound-often emotional, always cathartic. The album was one of the best Australian releases of the year and this is is it’s brilliant centre piece.

3. Behind Closed Blinds - Arches

As suggested above, this is my favourite song from my favourite Bandcamp album of the year. It is a song with great emotional impact yet the lyrics concern isolation and detachment-being dead inside doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate beauty. It borders on the anthemic but remains understated, a subtle beauty glowing from the seams of this tremendous song.

2. Straight Spines - Michael Beach

Oh man this is a straight up full body assault of a song-delivering flurries of blows before letting you catch your breath, leaving you all asunder, then ploughing back in for more. I can’t help but be reminded of Melbourne’s Eddie Current listening to it, not in the delivery but in the tangible feeling of pent up energy it creates. However I think this song from Beach captures that edgy anxiety better than ECSR have been able to. This is the sound of hyper mania and, amazingly, it’s fucking good fun.

1. Everlasting Everything - Guilty Ghosts

I wrote about this song earlier in the year and one word has stayed with me from that rambling review-colossal. This is a song of great scope; it evokes something enormous, something titanic. It shortens your breath and fascinates, though it’s greatest quality is how it engages the listener. This is no background music : you cannot play this without devoting your entire self to the song and being led to where it wants you to go. A towering achievement.

Other favourites

Family Portait - Other Side
Magnetic Hill - Pompeii 
Pony Face - Holly Said

Non Bandcamp albums

5. In Love With Oblivion - Crystal Stilts
4. I Am Very Far - Okkervil River
3. Whole Love - Wilco
2. Terra - Julian Lynch
1. Slave Ambient - The War on Drugs

Other favourites

Hit After Hit - Sonny and The Sunsets
Apocalypse -Bill Callahan
Days - Real Estate

Believers - AA bondy

Bandcamp Favourites of 2011 - BCH3P0

Albums

5. Man meats Bear - Bear Claws

What’s better than just normal, beautiful music? Bear themed beautiful music is what. Mesmerising, lofi traditional folk with everything you’d expect.

4. Geographer - Animal Shapes

Bright, catchy synth pop that doesn’t let up. I can rely on this album for a pickup. It’s so poppy it actually hurts sometimes, but all good things hurt a little.

3. Guilty Ghosts - Veils

Such a huge fan of anything Guilty Ghosts do. Blissful, scerene and elusive sonic landscapes. Beautiful built layers of sound, to lie down on and curl up into.

2. The Offset - Spectacles LP

Everything here, from the raw droning sound, to the Cantonese vocals and the perfect changes in pace slay me.

1. House of Wolves - Fold in the Wind

I think this wowed all of us from the very start. The entire album is just so ephemeral and atmospheric. Rey’s vocals are sublime and sparked a few arguments over whether it was a woman singing or Rey himself.. “oh but wait. That cannot be a guy, listen to that bit” but sure enough It’s all Rey and it only adds to the surreal majesty of this release. Magical, magical stuff. I can’t believe Europe and the US is tour blocking us, get down here soon. Please.

Other favourites

Alessandro Coronas - Where is my Heart?

Sons of an Illustrious Father - One Body

Slow Reverse: Slow Reverse

Sad Souls: Precious Paragons

EP’s

5. Glass Vaults - Into Clear EP

Shimmering, translucent and most importantly, takes your mood to places it wasn’t before.

4. It is Rain on my Face - Wishbone EP

A great, ambient EP that transported me to a different Season. When I listen to it I still close my eyes and see thin curtains blowing in a cool evening breeze

3. Future Birds - Via Flamina

Drew me out like long piece of string. All languid and reposed. A Great EP by these guys with a killer cover to boot. Expecting Great things. (and a tour?)

2. Little Sur - Little Sur EP

Beautiful folk. Emotional and heartfelt. I make emotional connections on the first listen and this was perfect for me, right at that time. These connections stick around.

1. Alabama Shakes - Alabama Shakes EP

I’d be surprised if this doesn’t come in all the Hunter’s top 5. You put it on, it gets inside you. You get up. You dance. You stomp your feet. You punch your thigh and you shake your head. If these guys don’t tour here soon I am going to start stabbing people.

Songs

5. Hemmingbirds - Mellow Gold Haze

Love the flow of this, the melody, the rhythm and the general 90’s poptastic feeling it gives me.

4. Geographer - Original Sin

I’m a sucker for this bright, poppy, electronic stuff. A bit too bright? No. It always hits my spot.

3. Sons of an Illustrious Father - We will do great things

Love a good Belting vocal and a footstomping, drunken tune. I would marry that voice.

2. House of Wolves - Acres of Fire

That haunting piano sets the emotional tempo of the song and then drags my heart through with it.

1. The Offset -Back in the Hole 

This song made me sit up straight away. I came across this album in the middle of a long Hunting expedition and my brain was fuzzy with dissapointment and lowered expectations. The savage buzz of the bass line and the clunking exclamation point snapped me back into reality like a shot of adrenalin. And then he starts singing in Cantonese.

Non Bandcamp albums

5.  Apocalypse - Bill Callahan

What a voice on this man. Something I know I can always return to and be thoroughly satisfied. The opening track, Drover, I love the living shit out of it. “And one thing about this wild, wild country. It takes a strong strong, it breaks a strong strong mind. And anything less and anything less, makes me feel like I’m wasting my time.” Magic.

4. Youth knows no Pain - Lykke Li

Yeah I know, I know. But man.. she reminds me of past relationships, good and bad. Plus she’s pretty cute. I’m an emotional man, what can I say. The heart has to have it’s say and this album makes it ramble all day long.

3. For Nihon - Various Artists

This is a stunning compilation that was put together after the Earthquake and subsequent Tsunami that swept over Northern Japan. A wonderful comp with a myriad of ambient and experimental artists. Highly recommended.

2. No time for Dreaming - Charles Bradley

Holy shit, this is what happens when a 60+ year old former James Brown Impersonator makes an album. This is heartbreaking Soul, it’s beautiful, it’s fucking magnificent.

1.  Departing - Rural Alberta Advantage

Sign me up as a total sucker for emotional and heartfelt songs that sweep through the realms of love and relationships. Melancholy and heartbreak my best friends. I love this whole album. Kinda cheesy I guess? Ask The Hunter though. I’m a cheesy guy.

Bandcamp Favourites of 2011 - The Huntress

Albums

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. 

Other favourites

HTRK - Work (Work Work)

Richmond Fontaine - The High Country

The Golden Age The Silver Girls - Tyler Lyle

Sleeplessness - Sea Oleena 

EP’s

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. 

Other favourites

Lyon - Benoit Pioulard 

Wintercoats - Cathedral EP

Songs

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