Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Playlist: January

Albums currently in rotation:

  • Shearwater—Animal Joy (2012)
  • Amplifier—The Octopus (2011)
  • Craig Armstrong—Film Works 1995-2005 (2005)
  • Spiritualized—Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating in Space (1997)
  • John Hammond Jr.—In Your Arms (2005)
  • Feist—Metals (2011)
  • Apparat—Devil's Walk (2011)
  • Mike Scott—Still Burning (1997)
  • David & David—Boomtown (1985)
  • Various Artists—Ahk-Toong Bay-bi, U2 tribute (2011)
  • Otis Taylor—Contraband (2012)
  • Field Music—Measure (2010) 
  • Little Feat—Feats Don't Fail Me Now (1974)
  • Crowded House—North American Travelogue (2010)
  • Led Zeppelin—Shepperton Studios Rehearsal (2007) 
  • Alison Krauss & Union Station—New Favorite (2001)
  • The Smiths—The Sound of The Smiths (2008)
Singles and EPs
  • Radiohead—The Daily Mail/Staircase (2011)
  • King Creosote & Jon Hopkins—Honest Words EP (2011)
  • Taylor Swift (feat. The Civil Wars)—Safe & Sound (2012) 
  • Pure Reason Revolution—Valour EP (2011)
  • School of Seven Bells—The Night (2012)
  • Sharon Van Etten—Serpents (2012)
  • Van Halen—Tattoo (2012) 
  • Porcelain Raft—Drifting in and Out (2012)
  • Chairlift—I Belong in Your Arms (2012)


I've been listening to a review copy of Shearwater's Animal Joy (to be released on Sub Pop, Feb 14.) for the past three months. Since I first discovered Shearwater in 2008, they've become one of my top five favorite bands of all time. Yes, they're that good. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that they are America's greatest band right now.

Shearwater is from Austin and they're hugely influenced by late-era Talk Talk. But, rather than mimicking the sound of Mark Hollis & co., they've taken that band's spirit (of Eden) and infused it into their Americana art rock.

Shearwater's past three albums, Palo Santo (2006), Rook (2008) and The Golden Archipelago (2010) are essential to your record collection. I never thought they'd surpass their masterpiece Rook, but Animal Joy is the band's best album to date. It's so good that it may well top my list of the best albums of 2012.

I'm not the only person who rates the album that highly. Last week, music critics Bob Boilen, Ann Powers, Stephen Thompson and Jacob Ganz selected the best new releases coming up over the next few months for NPR's All Things Considered.

Here's what Thompson, former Onion A.V. Club editor, said during the show, "I know what you're saying: This year, this 2012 we're talking about, it's still young. But I've now set my little placeholder for my album of the year and now everything I listen to will be trying to knock it off. A band I've talked about on this show that I love: Shearwater."

Animal Joy is a musical and lyrical departure from the past three albums. In fact, frontman Jonathan Meiburg told me that Animal Joy is almost the inverse of The Golden Archipelago. This one is more immediate, he said, and there aren't any strings or glocks on it; the rhythm section is high in the mix. There's less exotic instrumentation and the core sound is based around drums, bass, and guitars—though there's gorgeous harp on two songs and a bit of piano and minimalist keyboard—and so there's a palpable feel of momentum and energy that carries through the record from start to finish. (The album artwork reflects that departure—the same designers of the past two album covers have used a photo from the natural history museum of a taxidermied animal with big claws. It's a black and white cover but they've created a new red font for the band's name.)

It is Shearwater's most infectious set of tunes. The album's melodies and choruses are so strong that you'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite, though I'd nominate the following songs: "Dread Sovereign," "Pushing the River," "Believing Makes it Easy" and, especially a song called "Open Your Houses." There's an epic on it called "Insolence" that is the best thing they've ever done. Take a listen to the stellar first single, "Breaking the Yearlings" above (click on it for a free download).

What I love about Animal Joy is that it still sounds distinctly like a Shearwater album yet a wholly new iteration of the band's sound.

We live in an era in which most bands sound like echo-boxes of their influences. By contrast, I've always felt that one of Shearwater's many strengths is that you sound like no one else.

Take a listen to, and download for free, the lead single, from the widget at the top of the page.



For Christmas, my friend Simon in Manchester gave me a copy of Amplifier's album The Octopus. (For great music tips, follow Simon on Twitter at @sgort100.) I've been aware of Amplifier ever since I read Classic Rock Presents Prog's lead review of the double album but I never got around to checking them out. I've been missing out!

This record is fantastic and fans of the now defunct band Oceansize will love it. Indeed, Oceansize shared a camaraderie with fellow Mancunian band Amplifier, with the bands referring to each other as “brothers-in-amps.” Since the split of Oceansize, Durose has been touring with Amplifier as their second guitarist.

Amplifier's sound is more progressive than prog. It's often Sabbath heavy and with space rock and dark psychedelic influence. As a double album, The Octopus makes for pretty dense listening but they mostly pull it off thanks to great melodies.

This epic track, "Interstellar," is a great example of their sound. You'll have to wait a good 3 and a 1/2 minutes for the hooky chorus to kick in and each time the chorus returns it gets better and better and the song builds in intensity and fervor: Even better is "Trading Dark Matter on the Stock Exchange," with an almost jazzy, yet sinister, feel. And Muse would kill for the chorus that comes in mid way through "Minion's Song."

Try "Insect Song" (video above), which is available as a free download at http://amplifier.bandcamp.com/track/planet-of-insects