November Music Review – M83 and Ben Howard

And just as we thinking we’ve got at least our top 10 albums of the year pretty much sorted out, a couple of late runners come along and upset the ranking. Both released a little before November to be honest. So apologies that we’re a little late on them, but better late than never, as they say....

M83 is, basically, a Frenchman - Anthony Gonzalez. He may well be the most talented French rock musician since – well  - Vanessa Paradis? And “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” is a fine record.

OK, the intro to Magic City does sound like a glammed up “Out of Touch” by Hall and Oates, but this is a 75 minute double album roller coaster of 22 tracks, covering pop, dance, 80s electro, indie, prog... M83 can sound like Supertramp, Yeasayer (perhaps the closest contemporary comparator) , Tears for Fears, Pink Floyd, OMD, Yes, Daft Punk, Wild Beasts yet they (he?) keep it all coherent and together somehow.

Raconte-Moi Une Histoire is either pure trippy genius, as a little girl tells a story about a magic frog to a joyous backing track.. or the “most annoying thing I’ve heard for 20 years” (Mrs Smith).  You get the anthemic prog-electro pop of Steve McQueen and New Map, a children’s choir on Splendour; and short Brian Eno-like instrumentals dropped in.

It every hard to take it all in to be honest – some reviewers have suggested it would have been a better single album but there’s something magnificent about the ambition and imagination here. A late contender for album of the year? Not quite, but certainly in the top batch. 8.5/10

The first thing to say is that Ben Howard is going to be big, possibly HUGE. After listening to this album, I tried to buy tickets for his tour next Spring – pretty much sold out, including 2 nights at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. That’s evidence of the buzz about him, yet he’s an unassuming and apparently down to earth young chap from the interviews I’ve seen.

I’d heard of him but it was only when the current President of CIPS told me I really had to listen to him that I got round to a proper Spotify session. And.. thanks, David, well worth it.

Every Kingdom avoids the intrinsic MOR-ness that even talented British male singer songwriters seem to slip into at times (David Gray, Paolo Nutini, James Morrison et al). Howard’s most obvious vocal and perhaps song writing influence appears to be Bon Iver, with a touch of Nick Drake  – not bad influences for a young man. Add his guitar playing, recalling John Martyn, with a folk and jazz influenced picking style, and it makes for a potent and very impressive mix.  It’s got a “muscular” drive to it as another reviewer put it – strong melodies but with interesting rhythms and song structures. Contemporary yet more mature than, say, Ed Sheeran (who I like – but give me Howard any day).

I suspect if this had come out earlier it the year it could have got very high in the Spend Matters end of year chart – it feels instantly enjoyable but an album that might well grow into a classic on further listens. Stunning for a first album and very highly recommended. 8.5/10

We’ll be back next weekend with our “albums to buy for Xmas presents” list, then on December 17th we’ll start our countdown of the best albums of the year.

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