A Music Special – Two Albums and Year-End Plans

We will be featuring our famous Album of the Year countdown from December 18th through to December 20th, which gives you a few days to rush out and buy our top tips for those last minute Christmas gifts.

Then, to celebrate my departure, on December 27th, I will be sharing my top album lists from the last ten years – I did a 2009 list on my Procurement Excellence website, so I have ten years’ worth of recommendations to share.  That leads on to December 28th, when I will consider the number ones from each year and rank them, to give my “Album of the Decade” verdict. Well, its not strictly a decade, but you know what I mean. But are there any amazing albums I’ve missed? Let me know what you would have at the top of your list.

But for today, I wanted to briefly review two new albums (well, one was released in September to be honest) which may feature strongly in my end of 2018 list. I didn’t want them to be surprises – I think everything else that is likely to be in my top 10 has been reviewed here this year.

A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is the third excellent album from The 1975, again showing a progression and highlighting their stature as he most successful, exciting and interesting UK rock band of the moment – and a Reading headlines for 2019 of course.

The “concept” of the album is around our relationship with social media – and each other – and Matt Healy, now 28 and super self-aware, looks back at his growing up, his recent heroin issues, and more -  “what would you say to your younger self? That growing a beard is hard and whiskey never starts to taste nice”. It’s been compared to Radiohead’s OK computer – I’m not sure it is that good, but it is very impressive. And forgetting the layers of interpretation you can put on it, tracks like Sincerity is Scary and Give yourself a Try are simply pop songs as strong as anything I’ve heard this year.

It is also very different from Radiohead’s magnum opus in that there is no consistency of musical style here. There’s just a huge amount going on here, and although the lyrical theme gives it some cohesiveness, the music doesn’t, as it runs through MOR ballads, a bit of garage, pop/dance bangers, smooth soul,  jazz, ambient electronica … it does in the main work, because of the strong tunes as well as the lyrics and overall feel, but maybe it is an album to dip into rather than consume in a single 60 minute (good VFM…) concentrated listen. But it’s a very fine piece of work anyway – 9/10.

 

I’ve been a casual fan of Low for years – I have a couple of their albums, including their Christmas album which is the best of its genre by a single rock artist ever, in my opinion. Low are famed for their “slowcore” approach – literally, very slow but beautiful music that is relaxing yet often full of tension too.

They’ve been going for 25 years, which makes Double Negative an even more startling album. It reflects the band’s feelings about the state of the world apparently – not good, is the verdict!  This is a piece of art as much as a musical album, and it really has to be listened to though headphones – put it on your computer or CD player and the first track will convince you that the equipment is faulty, with hisses, crackling, vocals fading in and out … and that’s only track 1.

I think it’s also the only album I’ve ever listened to during which I actually felt physically intimidated at times. For instance, Always Trying to Work It Out is a bit odd but still gorgeous for three minutes, then suddenly your ears are in the middle of a war zone. Then... back comes the melody. And as Pitchfork put it in their typically insightful and deep review, one track appears to have a “monster trapped in a box” proving the “rhythm”.

Songs bleed into each other or break down into unidentifiable noise. In one case, the “song” never manages to break through the foreground ambient noise – it’s like you can hear a band trying to be heard in the far distance and failing. It is the most peculiar album I have heard in many years, perhaps ever, yet there are moments of great beauty, where Low’s melodic skills do come to the fore.

I can only suggest you listen to it – on headphones – even then, you may not know whether you love it or hate it. More people will tend to the latter, I suspect, but there is a reason why this is coming top of many end of year polls (to be honest, that’s how I came across it). But I’m not even going to try and give it a mark out of ten.  (Weirdly, I have also found it is very easy to go to sleep to it, despite its oddness ...)

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