Well, well. This post took me a while to get around to finishing so it feels a little irrelevant by now, but here it is nonetheless. Top Tracks for September 2013 begins with a nice jazz/blues combination to start the party before moving into some of the finest music released this year to fall under the broad category of ‘pop’. From there onwards, things just get louder, heavier, and longer.
“Say That to Say This”
From: Say That to Say This
If there’s one thing I’ve learned when it comes to music, it’s that you can always rely on a New Orleans brass band to get a party started. Troy ‘Trombone Shorty’ Andrews and his Orleans Avenue band filter the classic New Orleans spirit into a funky R&B sound on Say That to Say This. While the results may be a little mixed at times, there’s no denying the strengths of the band itself as the four instrumental tracks “Say That to Say This”, “Vieux Carré”, “Sunrise” and “Shortyville” will testify. Shorty may have also been on a mission from God with a desire to put the band back together while recording this album. This time though the ‘band’ was funk progenitors The Meters who Shorty convinced to reunite for the first time in the studio since disbanding in 1977 to re-record their song “Be My Lady” with him on vocals.
North Mississippi Allstars
From: World Boogie Is Coming
Genre: Blues Rock
Just a short jump across the border from Louisiana to Mississippi will keep this party going on this next track. With nearly two decades of playing together, brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson bring the boogie in their latest celebration of the rich musical history of the deep south. The front cover elegantly sums up the North Mississippi Allstars‘ sound on this album in a single image. The brothers have an unmatched ability to make some of the most traditional music sound fresh again, for example on their three-song tribute to the old-time fife and drum blues music from “Shimmy” to “Granny, Does Your Dog Bite”. The oft-covered “Rollin ‘n Tumblin’” is also featured, but this time Luther plays his coffee-can diddley bow with one of the dirtiest guitar tones I’ve heard in a while.
From: The Electric Lady
Genre: Contemporary R&B
Listen: SoundCloud | YouTube | Spotify
Following on from the stunning success of her debut album The ArchAndroid in 2010, Janelle Monáe continues the ongoing story of android alter-ego Cindi Mayweather on her latest collaboration-heavy album The Electric Lady. Featuring suites four and five of a projected seven for the full story, the album opens with one of the strongest run of songs this year with the funky “Givin Em What They Love” featuring Prince, lead single “Q.U.E.E.N.” featuring Erykah Badu, and a perfect segue into the title track featuring Solange. I was almost ready to proclaim this as one of the best pop albums in a very long time based on those three songs alone. Unfortunately though, Monáe fails to maintain that consistency over its runtime of nearly 70 minutes. I know it would detract from her overall artistic vision, but there is a 40-minute masterpiece hiding in there somewhere.
“The Mother We Share”
From: The Bones of What You Believe
Genre: Synth Pop
Listen: SoundCloud | YouTube | Spotify
There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Chvrches since they first crept onto the scene with their anonymous “Lies” way back in May 2012. While The Bones of What You Believe might not be as strong as some of their earlier singles promised, it remains a satisfying slice of intelligent pop with enough highs to merit a keen interest in what follows next. A special mention must also go to lead singer Lauren Mayberry and her eloquent article published recently in The Guardian detailing the embarrassing amount of misogyny she encounters daily. Having completed a dissertation on the idea of femininity in women’s magazines and also setting up the women’s collective TYCI, I think it’s fair to say that Mayberry knows what she’s talking about when it comes to this issue. When placed in the context of the ongoing Miley Cyrus circus still consuming most of the media while both The Bones of What You Believe and The Electric Lady were released, I confidently consider Mayberry and Monáe as two examples of the most positive young female role models currently working in the music industry. Unfortunately though, it’s a shame where nearly all of the attention is focused.
From: Pearl Mystic
Genre: Psychedelic Rock
Listen: SoundCloud | YouTube | Spotify
Usually one to move along when I see the rather generic genre tag of ‘psychedelic rock’, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself really enjoying the Leeds-based band Hookworms. Known only by their initials (okay, their full names are floating around online, but you can’t expect to maintain anonymity on the internet for too long), MB, MJ, JN, SS, and JW have produced a strong debut which confidently charts most of the different traits common in the genre. They open their set with the heavy-hitting combo of “Away/Towards” and “Form and Function” but then soon settle into a spacey mood for much of the remainder of the album. I can easily see Hookworms fitting nicely in an All Tomorrow’s Parties bill sometime in the near future.
Genre: Avant-Garde Metal
The self-released tenth anniversary album by Brooklyn experimental outfit Kayo Dot is an eclectic mix of genres combining mostly metal antics with woodwinds, brass, and violin in often unpredictable ways. Running at nearly 100 minutes and telling the mildly obtuse story of a “meteor falling to Earth and its enchantment and alchemical transformation of a lonely poet”, Hubardo may not be the easiest listen for all but the most diehard of fans. However, I highly recommend giving this album a chance if you are at all interested in consistently interesting compositions or impressive musicianship in general. You may not care much for the metaphysical story – and indeed you may even dislike most of the music – but I’m almost certain you will find at least one erratic explosion of noise, unexpected transition, or dramatic flourish to enjoy somewhere within the album.
“The Master Butcher’s Apron”
From: Surgical Steel
Genre: Death Metal
In 1996, two very different bands released albums with ‘swan’ in their title which were thought to be the final albums for those bands: Mazzy Star‘s dreamy Among My Swan and Carcass‘ heavy mess Swansong. As it happens, both bands released their first album in 17 years last month with Seasons of Your Day and Surgical Steel respectively. And surprisingly, they’re both very good. I could have featured either release in this short playlist, but September seemed to be a great month for metal so Carcass made the final cut. Sure, it’s all a little silly really with its overblown riffs and growling vocals, but there are plenty of interesting song dynamics being thrown around. Considering the success of Surgical Steel, I almost hope for a Smeg and the Heads reunion to be next on the cards now.
Genre: Doom Metal
Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify
This month’s playlist ends with the lengthy “Boleskine” from the sophomore album of Virginia doom metal band Windhand. Named after Boleskine House, the former Loch Ness residence of Thelema founder Aleister Crowley and later owned by Jimmy Page, the 30 minute sludge-jam opens with delicately strummed acoustic guitar before a wall of heavily distorted guitars comes crushing down to stay for much of the next half hour. Amongst all of the slow-burning riffs at maximum volume, Dorthia Cottrell’s vocals, which seem to channel Kurt Cobain at times, are the real highlight of the album. “Boleskine” may not necessarily be the best track on Soma (“Woodbine” seems to be a common favourite), but it seems the most appropriate précis of the band and their mission to destroy each ear drum one crawling riff at a time.
And that concludes the noisiest Top Tracks playlist for this year to date. October’s playlist has been finalised and may very well be my favourite one yet (although I say that each month), but who can say when/if the full review will eventually be written. Until then, I will keep you in suspense.