These are the albums we've been loving this month.
The second month of the year has gone by so quickly, and with, unfortunately, only a handful of good albums. No matter; February has been about experimentation, raw emotion and pure fun and these six records demonstrate those qualities wonderfully.
HMLTD - West of Eden
These kooky Londoners are one of our favourite new bands at the moment thanks to their addictive debut experimental rock album West of Eden. There's something different in every track and it's so strongly millenial that it's almost a caricature of itself - but that's by no means a bad thing. This is a band who admittedly haven't yet found their sound, but we're happy to listen to them trying to find it.
Following the successful release of his 2015 eponymous debut with The Night Sweats (solo material came prior to this), Rateliff and his Denver-native cohorts have barely had time to draw breath in between a hectic schedule that's seen them take their powerhouse blues-fuelled folk rock across the globe, let alone write and record an official follow-up. Hence, the release of this EP is a logical interim step to keep fans happy with additional material at the same time as reminding critics they've not disappeared altogether. Clocking in at eight tracks ¬- seven of these new - it could easily be considered more of an album, though slightly shorter than most at half an hour in length.
'Parlor' draws the listener in from the off with its rock and roll riffs and Rateliff's Southern vocal twang and, by the time the chorus rolls in, it's caught you hook, line and sinker. As he sings about watching 'every woman and her baby' dancing at the parlor the previous evening and 'not giving a damn', you swiftly realise you want nothing else but to be there as part of that number. Unfortunately, the night is only so long - as is this track - and it feels over far too quickly. 'I Did It' and 'Out On The Weekend - Version 2' happily continue in the same vein, with boisterous, soulful vocals alongside lively melodies punctuated by trumpet and saxophone bursts. The latter song in particular has the listener fighting the urge to get up and dance, and these infectious rhythms are an undeniably key reason as to why Rateliff's sound has become so popular, despite being rooted in a more traditional style.
However, following a live version of 'Wasting Time' from their first record, the tone takes a rather different turn, and the spirited pace that carried the first three tracks becomes significantly slower. 'Just To Talk To You' and 'How To Make Friends' focus more on Rateliff's yearning, blues-y vocals, and the instrumentals are more subdued and folk-driven; which, while stirring, don't quite possess the same compelling essence.
I doubt that 2015 will be remembered for being dominated by one particular musical genre. It seems the culture of digital downloads has made it more difficult for a movement to coalesce in a marketplace brimming with choice.
I'd argue though that the last twelve months has seen the strongest showing from female artists across the board for many years. Many acts would easily have made my year-end list on a different day, and many of them cantered on a strong female voice. Solo artists like Joanna Newsom, Laura Marling, and Lana Del Rey all presented strong albums. Even Florence Welch's third album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, which didn't quite live up to her previous efforts in my opinion, featured some glorious moments. I debated for a long time whether to include Courtney Barnett's Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit in my ten best records list. Ultimately it sits just outside for me, although her unique delivery and kitchen sink drama approach is wonderfully endearing. That Adele's 25 closed the year on a strong note, just underlined the trend that had been building all year. It's not just solo artists though; the likes of: Best Coast, Girlpool, Bully, and Wolf Alice, all demonstrated that women were back in the spotlight.
Other bands made welcome returns, Blur in particular were my live highlight of the year, thanks to Graham Coxon's master class on stage. Their album The Magic Whip didn't quite make the cut for my list in the end, compared to most other years it would have. Interestingly it was also a year where side projects came to fruition for well-known artists. Dan Auerbach's The Arcs produced their first studio material, as did Matt Berninger's El Vy. Both albums had their moments, but didn't quite feel fully realised in their own right. Elsewhere the likes of Lucero, Jason Isbell, and Ben Folds produced albums that matched their finest work. My love of bands from Philadelphia also continued thanks to Beach Slang's debut The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us and Hop Along's third album Painted Shut. If there were disappointment's I had, it was those records that were simply good and not as great as you'd hoped. The Decemberists, Frank Turner, Wilco, and Death Cab For Cutie's albums all fell into that category for me. By no means bad, the material on those albums struggled to compete with their high watermarks of previous years. I was especially curious about Ryan Adams' ambitious reinterpretation of the entirety of Taylor Swift's 1989, the result didn't quite live up to the promise it had on the drawing board though. It may have introduced a different audience to some excellent songs, but Adams managed to strip some of the fun out of the arrangements in the process. By the time there were Father John Misty covers of Adams' recordings on the Internet, it felt like the Swift fan club didn't need any more famous members.
Then there were the records you felt you should love, but for whatever reason they just didn't connect on a personal level. Drake and Father John Misty aka Josh Tillman produced records that despite the hype I just didn't manage to fall in love with. Tilman's 'Bored In The USA' was astute social commentary with it's tongue firmly in its cheek, but it didn't hook me into the album as a whole. Perhaps the biggest record in this category for me is Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly. It's technically brilliant, ambitious, has great rhymes, and straddles so many genres that it shouldn't be as cohesive as it is. The problem was, it left me cold. It almost felt as if Lamar wanted to prove he could produce something that ticked all the boxes he thought he should, rather than writing the record he wanted to. Perhaps with time I'll grow to love these albums, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Continue reading: Jim Pusey's Top 10 Albums Of 2015
Nathaniel Rateliff and his band The Night Sweats seem to have hit on a winning formula. Their debut album together has sparked international interest in Rateliff's superbly crafted Soul compositions. But Rateliff is keen to remind people that his hit single 'S.O.B' isn't the whole story, in fact there's a whole back catalogue of material waiting to be discovered by the masses.
We caught up with Nathaniel ahead of his recent show in Brighton. Fresh from sound-check, the 37-year-old was nursing a cup of hot lemon in the dressing room to ward off a throat infection. Sporting his trademark hat and impressive beard, Rateliff is a warm and welcoming interviewee, who even after the allotted time kept chatting about his love of Dylan and The Band's The Basement Tapes.
Contactmusic - Congratulations, the last two months have seen great success for your new album and the single 'S.O.B.', but by my calculation this is your fourth record in the last eight years, or so. What's new this time around?
Nathaniel Rateliff - I just decided that I wanted to do Soul and R 'n' B. The last album, 'Falling Faster Than You Can Run', I was really proud of, but then I didn't actually know whether it was going to come out on any label at all. So I didn't know if anyone was going to hear it. Then of course we ended up doing another EP after that called 'Closer'. But I started writing the Soul and R n' B out of discouragement, because it was something I wanted to do for a long time, I just hadn't figured out a way to do it in a way that I wanted to. I wanted to sing about the topics and the content that I had been, and try to convey that same emotion into the R n' B music that I like so much. It just took me a while to figure that out, that's like two years ago when 'Falling Faster Than You Can Run' had just finished and I started to write these songs. So I really had no intention of putting out a Soul record. Well I take that back, the first two songs I recorded, 'Trying So Hard Not To Know' and 'Look It Here', I put out on a 45 on my own. Just the recordings I had done at home. Then I continued to create that stuff at home and put together a band, which is now The Night Sweats. It was kind of for fun and to do it in Denver, and I didn't want to come across as a blue-eyed Soul singer; of course I am I guess, whatever that means.
Continue reading: Nathaniel Rateliff - Interview
It's always a pleasure to see an accomplished band play to a sold-out audience in a small club. When it's a Soul band with a Hammond organ, sax, trumpet, and all the trimmings, it's best described as a joyful celebration. At a guess, Patterns, a basement venue opposite the seafront in Brighton's Kemptown district, holds no more than 250 to 300 people at a push. On Friday night, it was packed to see Nathaniel Rateliff and his seven-piece band the Night Sweats as their single 'S.O.B.' continues to gain international momentum. Within minutes of taking to the stage, which sits just inches above the dance floor, Rateliff had the entire crowd in the palm of his hand.
That wasn't a sure-fire guarantee though. The 37-year-old admitted to us pre-show that he'd been battling a throat infection and was beginning to feel exhausted from his recent travels. At that point, he was accompanied by a warm lemon drink to ease his vocal chords, by the time he was on stage he'd brought his 'A' game in stunning form. Flanked by the impressive collection of musicians that he's assembled into the Night Sweats, Rateliff burst into a blistering version of album opener 'I Need Never Get Old' to rapturous applause. Any concerns as to whether his voice would last the show were put to bed at this point.
He's an enigmatic stage presence, with his trademark hat and impressive beard, but beyond the charisma he exudes, Rateliff was surprisingly humble. Admitting that his previous shows in mainland Europe had struggled to get people to dance, Rateliff seemed determined to rectify that by toasting the crowd on a number of occasions and encouraging audience participation. To his credit, he succeeded with little effort as the crowd got stuck into a set predominantly populated, as you'd expect, with material from the band's recent debut album. That he was accepting drinks from the front row and ordering whiskey for the band from the bar demonstrated the intimate nature of the performance, despite the glorious wall of sound coming from the stage.
Following on from 2010's 'In Memory Of Loss', 'Falling Faster Than You Can Run' is the second full-length album from Denver dwellers Nathaniel Rateliff. Whilst it may be full of passion and is unquestionably delivered with stirring emotion it never manages to fully connect. Try as I might, and believe me I've given it plenty of tries, 'Falling Faster' seems to have lost something in translation as it's made its way across the Atlantic. There is no engagement, very little to capture you and hold you, and a sense on some tracks that they, Nathaniel Rateliff and the band, may have tried too hard.
It may be the subtleties and nuances that are intrinsically found in some British or American music that make it difficult to assimilate or it may be in the production or mix, but the overall album lacks coherence and is, aside from a few notable exceptions, difficult to like. Nathaniel's voice is a fine instrument full of soulful, rasping tones and the band are undeniably skilled artists in their own right, and if you take each song apart you'd find it difficult to pin-point just quite why the whole package doesn't quite come together neatly.
There are good songs trying to get out but, for whatever reason, they have been stifled by a need to overly deconstruct them ('How To Win' or 'When Do You See''). Just when you feel the songs are going to grab you, just when you feel a bit of embellishment wouldn't go amiss, they wilt and leave you wanting. It's not the pace, the lyrics or the quality of the players, but in the main it is the lack of a killer lyric, a hook or even a harmony that lets 'Falling Faster' down.
Continue reading: Nathaniel Rateliff - Falling Faster Than You Can Run Album Review
The broad church that supports the collective assembly of Communion Records was only formed 6 years ago through the vision of Ben 'Mumford' Lovett, bassist Kevin Jones and producer Ian Grimble. From its early roots as a club night, it has now flourished into an umbrella that nurtures, produces and records some of the most interesting and individual emerging talents around. Communion Records has already had a helping hand in the development of Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Matthew And The Atlas, Alessi's Ark, Pete Roe and Lissie to name but a few. 'Communion: New Faces' represents the label's third full-length compilation and contains no less than 20 tracks from a diverse string of like-minded artists.
Continue reading: Various Artists, Communion: New Faces Album Review