Ruth's Manuvas


My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Ruthsmanuvas: albums for 2011 vs 2010

Just over one week into the New Year and 2010 seems like ages ago. The thing is I’m still so attached to some of last year’s albums that the class of 2011 is going to have to produce some pretty special stuff to make the products of its musical blood, sweat and tears a permanent headphones fixture.

There were a few albums that got shoehorned into my top five list come December 31, niftily sidestepping competition from Frightened Rabbit’s Winter of Mixed Drinks, Errors’ Come Down With Me and Hot Chip’s One Life Stand.

5. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

This 16-song epic flew onto my iPod in August, finally hitting that sweet spot with songs full of charm and honesty that packed euphoric whirlwind violins and piano chords.

It was a watershed of sorts for many people’s love of the American seven piece who, in the past, had struggled to straddle the line between the thrill of the orchestral Funeral, and the seriousness and lyrical craft of Neon Bible.

4. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

With an egocentric title of which you’d expect nothing less, LCD Soundsystem proclaimed this album in May as their self-indulgent last.

It’s not as instantly gratifying as Sound of Silver, but here, James Murphy and co definitely achieved their holy grail of balance between pretentiousness and perfectionism to create musical chemistry. From the stark opener, Dance Yrself Clean, that drops listeners off a spine-tingling bass cliff after three minutes, to the Bowie-esque All I Want and the sentimentality of Home that gives the band a softer edge, it’s a sublime album.

3. Caribou – Swim

Dan Snaith’s collection of intricately placed beats and stark lyrical proclamations made this record an unmissable, refreshing collection of dance tunes that completely challenged those flailing in its wake.

It’s almost obsessive compulsive in sound, and a total u-turn from the folky Andorra. It packs everything; from Odessa’s insistent beat that sounds as if it’s being played through a crackly stylus, Sun’s mesmerising repetitions and Mr Scruff jazz rhythms, to Bowls’ Tibetan percussion and mathematically timed chimes. Then there is Jamelia’s soulful loop and questions of ‘Am I good enough?’ that wrap this up into an album full of elegant musical nuances.

2. The National – High Violet

This one felt like a slow burner – so much so that it smouldered away in my music collection for a while before finally exploding into the consciousness in November.

Perhaps this, their fifth long-play album, mirrors the fact the band have been far from an overnight success. The truth is, High Violet is a masterful collection of melancholic writing. oozing with sorrow and beauty that sits just perfectly with Matt Berninger’s absolutely apt baritone singing voice. And in Bloodbuzz Ohio there might just be the lyric of the year with, “I still owe money, to the money, to the money I owe.” Just perfect.

1. Foals – Total Life Forever

The award for surprise of the year went to Foals in May, with a bolt out of the blue that delivered a mature, sensitive, yet wholly signature-sounding record.

It achieved the holy grail of completely bettering a debut whose math-rock rhythms and carnival quality felt so good it could’ve easily forced them to peak too soon. Some would argue TLF is a departure from the enigmatic, tautly plucked brilliance of Antidotes. In truth, they’ve still retained the percussion led breaks that burst midway tracks like sunlight through opening curtains, not to mention the rhythmic lyrics that double up as instruments in themselves. It’s just that this album also injects soaring, aching guitar riffs and pigeon-toed bashfulness that makes the listener feel they now begin to understand this Oxford quintet.

This all makes last year a tough act to follow – 2011 doesn’t whiff of box office big hitters. But over the next 12 months there are some albums I’ll be on the edge of my seat waiting to hear:

1. Cut Copy – Zonoscope

The long-awaited follow up to In Ghost Colours, Zonoscope is the Melbourne-based trio’s third album that’ll undoubtedly bless us with more sunshine-soaked disco electro pop.

It’s taken three years for this to drop, but if Take Me Over is anything to go by, we can expect healthy dollops of catchy synths, positivity-injected lyrics and more of the same ingredients that put the previous album near the top of record of the year lists last time.

2. Metronomy – The English Riviera

With an album title that either holds a slice of Devonshire coastline in basked glory or gentle mockery, this is another record that’s been a long time coming.

Nights Out was a further favourite offering from 2008 – it had charming dischords, 8-bit beats and riffs, and film set sound effects shoehorned into the fabric of its tracks. The album also boasted the instantly likeable Heartbeat and On Dancefloors that both felt like the soundtrack to a bad night out – or a broken heart. Oh how we wept and danced along with them.

3. The Avalanches – TBC

This album has been a year-on-year promise from a band that brought us Since I Left You over 10 years ago. But if the more convincing- of late – rumours are true, it makes them impossible to miss.

From an album that brought us that flute-led loop on Since I Met You, to the funk-beats of Radio – the band mixed sheer madness with sultry French Moulin Rouge, soul, jazz rhythms and more samples than you could shake a fist at. That is, all played through this scratchy filter that felt like you were sitting in a flat listening to the most brilliant house party though the walls.

4. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar

Thankfully, there are now only a couple of weeks to go before the release of this album that A Balloon Called Moaning EP has whetted the appetite for.

With an epic maelstrom of indie rock and pint-sized Ritzy Bryan’s breathy and robust vocals, Wales and London-based trio, The Joy Formidable’s debut should match the swathe of expectation that has gathered around their music over the last 18 months. With tracks like Austere, Cradle, Whirring and The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade, their blistering paced drums and delicious wall of sound is unlikely to pass without impact.

5. Battles – TBC

Even the first listen to Battles’ Mirrored – the band’s first album proper – spoke of the madness within.

With an album cover comprising of instruments caged behind a glass box; it conjured images that this supergroup of four might just need to be reined in to maintain sanity. The tracks echoed that. It was post-punk, glam-rock, sci-fi computational circuit-boards, dance – and more that you can’t even describe because it’s simply in a category of its own. And that’s why I want more this year of whatever Battles were on in 2007…


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The Joy Formidable @ Birmingham Academy 3 – Saturday 20 March 2010 – review

There’s been a swathe of interest over The Joy Formidable recently. The spotlight fell favourably on 2009’s A Balloon Called Moaning EP and ears definitely pricked up when the band were invited to support Passion Pit and Editors tours towards the end of the year.

Rhydian, Ritzy and Matt from The Joy Formidable

That meant there was a certain electricity and anticipation amongst the packed crowd in Birmingham’s Academy 3 on Saturday 20 March.

It would be easy for the weight of expectation to lie heavily on the shoulders of this Wales and London-based trio. Instead, with a barrage of drums and guitar reverb, they dissipated the tension and steamrollered into the set with ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’. With its signature three note riff, breathy vocals and the spiralling climb towards an epic change of pace at the close, it begged the question of whether the peak had been reached at the first fence. After all, the track is either an emphatic set closer or a very gutsy, almost arrogant opener.

‘Cradle’ – a short under three minute maelstrom of a song about keeping your tongue tied – followed, before gutsy drums, changes in pace and repeated lyrics hammered home ‘The Last Drop’. Many of the subtleties audible on the recording were drowned out live; a factor which would delight or disappoint depending on subjectivity. To this pair of ears, the wall of sound pleasingly filled the ear drums to almost bursting point.

‘Austere’, ‘Ostrich’ and ‘Whirring’ were served in a similar vein. TJF’s brand of epic shoegaze rock, delivered this time with a slower speed limit, offered time to appreciate the complex and brave way the band dispose with tradition in their lyrics.

Between tracks, Ritzy Bryan’s butter-wouldn’t-melt blonde hair, blue eyes and shy conversation starkly contrasted with her steely, glinting stare and robust, rangy vocals on each track.

With a long snare roll, ‘Magnifying Glass’ had its first introduction to a Birmingham crowd. ‘Anemone’ faired equally as well with it’s nod to a tried and tested TJF formula of tip toeing through the first half of the song, before encouraging the hairs on the neck to stand up during the second. But it was ‘Popinjay’s dig at foppish vanity that stood out as the most inventive of the new material, with a sawing guitar riff which ducked and dived in between the rumbling bass.

Whether intentional, the encore neatly balanced the blistering pace of ‘Greyhounds In The Slips’ with a stripped down version of ‘While The Flies’ – fittingly closing with one last blast of distortion.

On this evidence, TJF don’t appear to have noticed that the music world is waiting with baited breath to see whether their upcoming debut album to follow ‘A Balloon Called Moaning EP’ will fulfil promise. Maybe they’re just too busy enjoying the current ride, but it doesn’t look like they are nervous at all. Instead, they just channel their energy into getting better.

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BBC Sound of 2010 longlist

The ‘BBC Sound of’ longlist is usually a pretty good indicator of the artists that’ll be making it onto the masses iPods, the festivals and bigger venues over the next calendar year. From a corporation which brings us helpings of mainstream and Strictly Come Dancing, it’s a little bit surprising that they should be the temperature gauge of next year’s talent, but the list is picked by leading UK music critics and, for the last few years it’s been startlingly accurate.

Admittedly the Beeb’s 2009 picks were already a little more familiar than this year’s offerings by the time it was announced. And White Lies, Florence and the Machine and Lady GaGa all went on to headline festival stages, Passion Pit, La Roux, Little Boots – the 2009 winner – and Empire of the Sun were big hitters, whilst The Big Pink will grace next year’s NME tour.

Mumford and Sons and The Temper Trap, although a little less aimed at mass consumption, also gained some serious helpings of critical acclaim.  And testament to that, The Temper Trap’s ‘Sweet Disposition’ became one of the tracks of 2009.

Although Adele won it in 2008, with Vampire Weekend, Foals, The Ting Tings and MGMT making up some of the longlist, lets not forget past and rather less favourable winners included Keane and The Bravery – admittedly the longlists they topped were considerably better than they themselves.

So onto this year, safe bets are The Drums, who will play alongside The Big Pink, The Maccabees and Bombay Bicycle Club on the 2010 NME Tour and Everything Everything, who have notched up some good support tours including the Maccabees in early 2009. The electro indie bands Delphic and Two Door Cinema Club are also likely winners – both which sit on the achingly cool Kitsune French label and have toured under the Kitsune Maison umbrella during the year. Gold Panda and Joy Orbison are also really good bands, but its difficult to see them winning. Perhaps we’ll be surprised.

However, from the longlist, it’s hard to spot any immediate acts which will manage what some of the bands/artists from 2009’s longlist have. But then time will only tell whether Little Boots, Lady GaGa and White Lies will stand the test of longevity and this looks like a list more interested, largely, in critical acclaim than showing your posterior on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.

The glaring omissions? Perhaps Filthy Dukes and 65daysofstatic, definitely The Joy Formidable. Suggestions on a postcard. And by the way, the longlist in full is:

  • Daisy Dares You
  • Delphic
  • Devlin
  • The Drums
  • Everything Everything
  • Giggs
  • Gold Panda
  • Ellie Goulding
  • Hurts
  • Joy Orbison
  • Marina And The Diamonds
  • Owl City
  • Rox
  • Stornoway
  • Two Door Cinema Club

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Summer Sundae 2009 review – Friday 13th & Saturday 14th August

When The Streets and Dananananakroyd pulled out of Friday’s Summer Sundae line-up, the organisers of the Leicester festival must’ve been quaking in their wellies praying it wouldn’t rain on the parade.

They needn’t have worried – the sun still shined on the Sundae and melted many a music fan’s heart.

We were all pre-warned of Dananananakroyd’s none-appearance and once it was announced that Mike Skinner & co were also deleted from the main stage list, there was simply an echoing sigh and a collective shrug of the shoulder. No bottles hurtled through the air at the poor slumped-shouldered announcer as he stood on the pedestal of disappointment.

In fact everyone seemed quite contented to hear that Idlewild would be moved to pole position, with Beardyman replacing their tea-time slot. And it is this acceptance which in part illustrates why Summer Sundae is such a feel good festival. Spanning a small area across De Montfort Hall and part of Victoria Park, big named bands are simply an added bonus to the event. Festival goers are not forced to make many decisions between clashes of must-see acts, so this means people spend a huge chunk of their time lounging around in the sun, often staying at the main stage all day with a Mojito and an organic burger. As it is built on a smaller scale, you don’t have to walk miles to get to each end of the site and this means you find yourself wandering to alternative stages to check out other bands, only to be magnetically pulled back to the main stage within a two minute walk.

On Friday, it was Filthy Dukes who stole the show with their mid-evening indoor stage set. Although the gig begin with a small crowd, by the end the venue was packed full of dancing revellers who had gravitated to the room after glimpsing the party within. Highlights were In Rhythm and Messages, but the Dukes’ set was riddled with tracks to dance to and their enthusiasm and love for what they do got the sea of hands raised to the ceiling.

Filthy Dukes at Friday's Indoor Stage

Filthy Dukes @ Friday's Indoor Stage

Headliners, Idlewild, showed why they always should have been placed further up the bill to begin with, reeling off sing along tracks from 100 Broken Windows to the present, but there is still nothing like hearing, When I Argue I See Shapes, played at maximum volume with maximum heart as the Scottish rockers always do.

Idlewild headline Friday's Main Stage

Idlewild headline Friday's Main Stage

Earlier, Oi Va Voi had taken to the main stage violins akimbo, with a brand of Jewish and Eastern European inspired pop which was a great backdrop, although not to everyone’s tastes.

London beatboxer, Beardyman, used loops to cleverly mix in his sounds and created a DJ set which induced many of the crowd to a gentle bop. And although the formula ever so slightly tired towards the end of his slot, his best moments were when he broke into freestyle beatbox rap, mainly because people were able to actually see and hear for themselves the range and perfection of sounds he could make with his mouth.

Dan Black graced the indoor stage, drawing an ample crowd of people curious to hear whether after all the hype, his album, Um, really did stand up to the test. And whilst he entertained, it became clear that his two most well known tunes, the Rhianna Umbrella-sampled Symphonies and Wonder were the true gems of the bunch.

The re-hashed line up meant Mystery Jets were thankfully back on the personal bill after previously written off due to clashes. However, as on previous performances, though their tunes have a happy sing along quality, little about their set draws enough excitement for the band to be memorable.

And so to Saturday, where the Main Stage line up boasted Saint Etienne, The Charlatans and Bombay Bicycle Club and The Rising Stage offered heavier choices including Frank Turner and Future of the Left, whose latest album, Travels With Myself And Another, has gained much critical acclaim. Meanwhile, the Indoor Stage occupiers included Mr Hudson and Chipmunk.

During the day there was also time to check out the kids area in the gardens, where a huge mattress had been put up for pillow fighting, a library for storytelling and a huge 3 metre high scarecrow amongst other attractions. Other attention grabbers included the Comedy, Phrased and Confused and Cinema Tents.

It was the Main Stage though which held much of the gaze. Nottingham band Minaars, were a great mid-afternoon inclusion, with a catchy brand of indie saturated with Foals-style guitars and beats.

Then followed The Joy Formidable, a band hotly tipped for next year who have already racked up top notch support tours this autumn with Editors and Passion Pit. The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade and Cradle amongst others from EP, A Balloon Called Moaning, hit the mark perfectly and the goose bump-inducing wall of sound they produced did not go unnoticed by an ever-gathering crowd.

Throughout the afternoon and early evening Bombay Bicycle Club proved their status as one of the most promising bands of 2009 and amidst the humid heady haze at the Rising Stage, James Yuill’s folktronica collected a new music-hungry crowd. The dancing feet and smiling faces said it all, as the unassuming artist performed what can only be described as Jose Gonzalez meets Justice – a highlight of the day.

James Yuill @ the Rising Stage on Saturday afternoon

James Yuill @ the Rising Stage on Saturday afternoon

Perhaps the best accidental surprise of the weekend was Saint Etienne. The band were stumbled upon on a walk back to base camp and kept everyone mesmerised by their hit-filled list of indie dance-pop tunes. They were the perfect sunset band and delighted young and old, as well as the twenty and thirty somethings who were sailing on memories of club nights peppered with the band’s hit like the Neil Young cover of Only Love Can Break Your Heart.

As Saturday drew to a fitting close with former Britpop kids, The Charlatans, the main stage packed itself out and Tim Burgess did just what he does best – simple, Oasis and Stone Roses-tinged indie with sing along choruses.

The Charlatans close Saturday @ the Main Stage

The Charlatans close Saturday @ the Main Stage

The first two days of Summer Sundae left me on the kind of relaxed high which is rarely experienced with its larger counterparts. There were no aching feet, nor were there any feelings of exhaustion. In fact, the feel good factor of this carefully balanced family friendly yet hip festival had thoroughly won me over.

The organisers do an amazing job at Summer Sundae, cleverly weaving in classic names, buss artists, local bands to champion and music across the genres – all of whom are happy to play this boutique festival on the strength of its reputation.

My only gripe was that I wished I had opted for a weekend ticket.

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