BEST OF 2011 – 29. Metronomy – The English Riviera

Some albums just ooze class from the off. The waft of mastercraftsfolk at work is a heady brew. Meticulously crafted pop music isn’t easy and rare are the acts who can pull off a whole album of belting tunes. Rihanna may offer up several marvellous singles a year (which still allows for the other 11 she releases to be mediocre) but listen to the albums and she’s reduced to frankly embarrassing knob jokes. Nicola Roberts was granted production crews most pop acts could only dream of, but the album was a hit and miss affair. First single ‘Beat Of My Drum’ was tremendous – though treading the very fine line marked ‘piss off out of my head now’ – and the tracks on which she collaborated with this very band stand up well, but consistency was the key, something which she’s struggled with in terms of chart positions also. However, ‘The English Riviera’ is nothing like Rihanna or Nicola Roberts. But then you could probably have guessed that. I could have written that ‘The English Riviera’ is nothing like the sound of a dozen flatulent elephants rehearsing a performance of the Top Gear theme in the storage area of a branch of Argos Extra and left you similarly informed. My point, ah yes, is that the novelty doesn’t wear off and the tunes don’t run out as the album goes along.

metro11

While not necessarily sounding great on paper, keening synth sounds, noodly bass and sashaying drum patterns are a recipe for success on this occasion. ‘Some Written’ is over six minutes long but by no means ‘epic’. It is understated, almost unobtrusive, and yet utterly captivating with its languid ache, delicious stylophone and tales of having been left a phone number which was “eight numbers long”. It segues into album closer ‘Love Underlined’, which harks back a little to their rather more electropop ways of old. It’s a curious piece, careering around like its drunk on the satisfaction of a job well done. It didn’t do much for me at first but, given time, it’ll draw you in.

More forthright kicks can be found from the pair of adjacent singles ‘The Look’ and ‘She Wants’, the former all nagging organ refrain and scraped comb, the latter a moody little blighter which initially sours the mood after its predecessor, but soon becomes an enigmatic mid-album favourite. Much like lilting wonk-pop lovely ‘Trouble’, which appears to be blessed with a seductive robot. I’ll leave it at that.

As ‘We Broke Free’ slinks out from behind the swans and seagulls of the brief, introductory, title track, the agenda is set with neatly positioned percussion and a falsetto. Such attention to detail is lavished on all eleven tracks, but ‘Everything Goes My Way’ is one for my end of year compilation, so utterly perfect is its every second. Featuring vocals from Roxanne Clifford of Veronica Falls (sadly surpassing everything on their, nevertheless, still rather good debut which also came out this year) it shimmies along, all dressed up for a summer’s evening, before the musical accompaniment fades and leaves the refrain, “love, I’m in love, again,” repeated over and over. Its wipe clean precision is exactly what makes it so endearing. Frankly, if the rest of the record was crap, I’d still be shouting about ‘The English Riviera’ because of this one, beautiful track. But it’s not. It’s really rather good indeed.

BEST OF 2011 – 30. Summer Camp – Welcome To Condale

Jeremy Warmsley had a relatively brief solo career, including two delightful solo albums, which proved notable for one particular song at the very least. ‘If He Breaks Your Heart’, with the charming line “If he breaks your heart, I will break his legs,” is a twitchy little tune, capturing the sense of someone not entirely at ease in their own skin. Despite the deadpan menace of the vocals, this sense that Warmsley knew he didn’t quite fit in wasn’t just there on this song but during his live shows too which were, perhaps because of this, a joy to behold. And yet, he now belongs. Both musically and romantically, Warmsley has found his partner in NME journo Elizabeth Sankey. Having recently admitted that he never wanted to be a solo artist, he seems much happier with a playfully flamboyant Sankey centre stage.

summer11

Musically, the album takes a lot of its cues from the Eighties, with some delicious layers of fuzz laid atop. The fact that half of this album would fit on the Back To The Future soundtrack is, in my book, no bad thing. Glorious singalong hooks and unashamed sass dominate, something which Warmsley was never previously known for. Indeed, the true might of their combined majesty is neatly captured in the wonderful ‘couple-at-war’ grudge match ‘Losing My Mind’. The stutteringly repetitive vocal line in the verse is simple but effective and as both voices combine on “this house isn’t big enough for the both of us, if you want to leave then I know you must” the track really takes off. Summer Camp’s capacity for pop hooks and occasional light touches of genius is showcased perfectly here. The drum machine breakdown prior to each chorus is one of my favourite musical moments of they year.

Early single ‘Ghost Town’ has been dusted down and polished up wonderfully while ‘Nobody Knows You’ unleashes Sankey’s gloriously unexpected glam howl. Distorted drums and vocals conjure a Yeah Yeah Yeahs who don’t take themselves quite so seriously. The enigmatic menace which is largely sweetened during ‘Losing My Mind’ is given full reign here and it’s a rather impressive find on a debut album.

Having been partly funded via the Pledge Music route – currently hosting campaigns from two Just Played faves: Ellen & The Escapades and Tom Williams & The Boat – my album also came with a demos disc which is rounded out by a lo-fi take on ‘Christmas Wrapping’ which finally confirmed what Sankey’s vocal style often reminds me of. Yep, that effortlessly languid delivery which has made this festive ode an enduring classic can be heard at points during ‘Welcome To Condale’ although, unlike The Waitresses, there’s rather more to her voice besides.

There have been several cracking indie pop albums of note this year, and I feel compelled at this point to give nods to Slow Club and M83 who have both just missed out on this list, but few are as consistently joyous as this one. Seek it out and keep it on hand as a guaranteed pick-me-up.

Just Played’s Albums of 2011 – The Top 30

Despite a quiet few months due to relocation and dislocation (with two fractures), the using and abusing of new music has continued over on the @JustPlayed Twitter feed and a not especially successful experimentation with podcasts. As December dawns, it’s time for the annual countdown and, in keeping with last year’s triumphant expanded list, you’ll be able to read about and click through for samples of all thirty albums over the coming weeks. I’d like to know what you think so please either comment on the pieces themselves or come and join the merry band on Twitter. Please, if you think an album has been misdiagnosed or you simply have a different take on things, it would be great to hear from you.

For ease, you’ll be able to find the list, as it slowly appears, via a link at the top of the page. Last year’s links are still there and the 2008 and 2009 lists can still be seen (and largely Spotifyed) via the links down the right hand side of the page.

Ok. Let’s begin…