The Bones Of What You Believe by CHVRCHES
Always, we can sing, we can make time
Old songs, flood and flame, you could be mine
But you got to show me, both knees, skin and bone
Clothe me, throw me, move me
Early in the year, or perhaps even late last year, I heard a couple of their songs getting radio play and a little bit of exposure on blogs, then saw them at the Garage in Aberdeen in April. Whilst ostensibly a new band, CHVRCHES have Scottish indie credentials stretching back years and though they played one of the shortest headline sets I've ever seen, there was no doubt that every single song was an extraordinary electro-pop gem full of the musical passion felt by each of its contributors. I came home with their 10" Recover EP under my sleeve and played it to death, waiting for the album to come out. It came out, and it was magnificent, and then suddenly they were EVERYWHERE. And watching them live you fall in love all over again. And listening to them whilst walking home from town, all over again. And in the library tapping out this blog post, all over again! This is an album that cannot fail to put a smile on your face.
→ Visit their website
If You Wait by London Grammar
And all foundation that we made
Built to last, they disintegrate
And when your house begins to rust
Oh it’s just, metal and dust
It's fantastic that 2013 produced a debut album from not just one female-fronted electro trio, but two! And where CHVRCHES is upbeat and rapacious, London Grammar have captured that 2am groove with a series of smouldering tracks set around Hannah Reid's heart-achingly beautiful and other-worldly voice. Definitely the first album I've bought on the Ministry of Sound label, and although they are hip and trendy and of the moment this feels like a timeless album that could, in years to come, stand up against the likes of Portishead. A confident debut that belies the fact they wrote and released their first song together just a year ago.
The Civil Wars by The Civil Wars
You're like a mirror, reflecting me
Takes one to know one, so take it from me
After an acrimonious split that came mid-tour last year we were still treated to new album this year; The Civil Wars certainly live up to their name. With incredible production and songs that smoulder with the lingering tension of a relationship gone south the album better demonstrates the duo's range than their debut Barton Hollow. The vocals are utterly heart-wrenching at times and the musicianship rises to meet the lofty heights that Williams and White reach when they meet each other in the midst of a song like Same Old Same Old. It's a dark, tense album that opens up more with every listen.
Inform - Educate - Entertain by Public Service Broadcasting
Two very small men cutting steps in the roof of the world
An album guaranteed to put a smile on your face. I've capered around the kitchen listening to this whilst cooking food on a Saturday night (waiting for Craig Charles on 6Music, of course). Taking sound clips from old BBC recordings and crafting them into wonderfully fresh, modern sounding songs the album is full of moments of utter delight. You might expect that the concept would become tiresome after a while, but except the slightly stressful sound of Signal30, this is an album that more than holds its own on repeat listens.
Quickbeam by Quickbeam
lover, when you crossed the sea for me, I cried
I had the pleasure of hearing Quickbeam for the first time at an open mic night at Cellar 35 in Aberdeen a few summers ago. Via a mutual friend I heard a few of their early performances as they developed from a quiet two piece into a three piece with the introduction of a cellist. Their songs were soft and folksy but even then it was clear that they had a unique sound and talent. After keeping us happy in Aberdeen for a while they headed to Glasgow for bigger and better things, and there they attracted Creative Scotland funding to assist with the recording of their debut album. The band expanded again, adding a drummer to the line up. The album came out on Comets & Cartwheels in June 2013 and has rarely left my listening pile since. The original elements are still there - the atmospheric vocals, the beautifully effective guitar - but the bigger band has brought a more developed and fleshed out sound. Their songcraft is excellent; wonderfully melancholic songs filled with the misty atmosphere of a Scottish glen, and they reach for the atmospheric heights of the best post-rock at moments, bringing welcome moments of noise to complement and contrast the more intimate songs.
→ Listen and buy on Bandcamp
Holy Fire by Foals
It was just a dream,
The most beautiful place I've seen.
The white caps and the pines,
Ripped our nations in the sea.
Far more accessible than their previous albums, Holy Fire is laden with catchy guitar hooks and singalong melodies which contrast nicely with its heavier moments. The edgy math-rock remains in places but the overall intent is directed much more at filling large venues and this was more than evident in their electric performance at Glastonbury during the summer. The songs are brilliant layered creations which build and draw you into an ever expanding aural experience. Astonishingly good whether on the stereo, on headphones or driving through the Highlands in the car.
No Selfish Heart by Rick Redbeard
Through the mask I can see your eyes
There are no tears falling
I could have felt mildly irritated that a side project might be delaying the release of the much anticipated third album from The Phantom Band. However, it's hard to feel in any way aggrieved when their frontman, Rick Redbeard, has put together something so lovely. I bought this on vinyl and its opener, Clocks fades into light out of the soft crackle and pop of the needle traversing the first, quiet grooves. The album is a wave of heartfelt moments and Rick's wavering, fragile voice backed with spartan but atmospheric arrangements. The songs tackle the universal themes of love and heartbreak and fractured relationships. This is perfect music for those long, dark winter nights where the warmth of the analogue recording suffuses everything in a comfortable glow.
→ Buy it from Chemical Underground
Antiphon by Midlake
Winter came and I was old and alone
Time set’s gone under the mad skirts
Onward further to a land unknown
With only hope of the sea’s ago
It's always been clear that Midlake inhabit a slightly different universe to the rest of us. This was emphasised when singer and songwriter Tim Smith left the band part way through the process of recording the fourth album. Antiphon emerged as a response to the loss of Smith. The album is beautifully produced, taking some of the best folksy aspects of The Courage of Others, whilst dialling back up some of the rockier elements of Van Occupanther and its instrumentation is sublime. Its weakest side is the lyrics. Where Smith's were offbeat and other worldly, these lyrics are just plain strange, and mostly indecipherable. The album does have a number of highlights though including the fabulous melodies on Provider and the thrumming middle eight of Corruption.
The Dark, Dark Bright by There Will Be Fireworks
Their second album, released on Comets & Cartwheels came late in the year but has risen quickly to the top of my listening pile. Whilst I enjoyed the first album I thought it suffered from a slightly drab production that failed to do their sound justice. This has definitely been addressed on the new album and it allows their songcraft to shine. They retain their post-rock stylings but have diversified into more introspective territories. Nevertheless for me it is on pounding tracks like South Street that they really reach their potential and the album soars.
→ Buy it from Avalanche in Edinburgh and support local music shops!
Until The Colours Run by Lanterns On The Lake
it’s getting hard to breathe round here, to think round here
and we’ve been sold a thousand lies this year
we just want the quiet life
but they won’t stop until they see us in the ground
A brilliant second album from atmospheric, post-rocky Newcastle band. Not a million miles from their debut but Until The Colours Run manages to be simply better in just about every way. Hazel Wilde now takes charge of vocal duties and the music is warmer, the overall tone a little more melancholy. There are catchy hooks and stunning melody lines, and the lyrics are dark and brooding; songs very much of our time. Seeing them live in November crystallised this new album for me and I've had many happy listens to it since then.
I'm @nickbramhll on Twitter, @nickbramhall on App.net and +NickBramhall on Google+ if you'd like to get in contact.