BEST OF 2014: 14. Wild Beasts – Present Tense

Hear me out on this one, folks. Do you ever have that experience where you listen to a song so intently you start to hear parts of it in isolation? You zone in so acutely that you can deconstruct the various layers, sometimes in revelatory fashion, other occasions serving to puncture the bubble of something greater than the sum of its parts. Where I most often struggle with this is the drum part. Often, you’ll find a charging beat beneath a rather languid vocal, the syllables elongated beautifully while the drummer grinds their teeth and bursts towards the finish line. It’s not uncommon in popular music and yet, there are occasions where, having spotted it, that realisation can ruin the song. It seems to come apart in your head, the two perfectly aligned moments now ever so slightly at odds. Now, if this is just me, I’ll begin to get concerned shortly, but either way it’s a phenomenon that has intrigued me over the years. The crafting process that arrives at that combination. The musical nous to take such an approach. Such was the case with ‘Wanderlust’, the lead track from the fourth album by Wild Beasts. It stutters out of the traps and swirls about for almost five minutes of understated synth burbling and coiled vocals, all accompanied by a stuttering drumbeat. At first it works just fine, and many months later I have got over the initial trauma, but a few listens in I really zoned in on the drum sounds around the three and a half minute mark and started to hear a sort of giddyup pattern that was completely at odds with what’s going on over the top of it. If you’re still sitting there thinking ‘this has literally never happened to me before’, then forgive me but it quite sincerely put me off the track for several months and diminished a not inconsiderable level of expectation surrounding its parent record. And thus my relationship with ‘Present Tense’ was set off on a curious path. Thankfully, I need little in the way of consolation.

14 Wild Beasts

There are those who’ll insist that these eleven songs marked a significant shift in the band’s sound, but I don’t entirely buy it. It sounds very much like a Wild Beasts record. In a good way. Ok, it doesn’t sound like ‘Limbo, Panto’, but then what does? Following on from ‘Smother’, it makes perfect sense. The smoother-edged, more controlled approach of their third outing is sensibly evolved here, most notably with the continued reduction in guitar parts. By swerving their usual producer, Richard Formby, there were inevitable changes, but things are finessed rather than torn up. The sound is certainly a little punchier – take the chiming majesty of ‘Sweet Spot’ or the quirk-pop chops of ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’ as proof – but the devil is so very much in the detail on this album.

There is a percussive sound on ‘A Dog’s Life’, apparently conceived using a rippled snare, which sounds like a ball bouncing across the drum skin that is simply stunning. It neatly accompanies the lyric “throw the ball up into space” in a song which pays tribute to a pet prior to its expiration. The track  is one of the album’s “aesthetic signposts,” as the band would have it, and it certainly captures the sense of perfectionism that pervades ‘Present Tense’. The album is almost wipe-clean in its production but that is by no means detrimental to its presence nor intended as a criticism. The pristine sound does not restrict the innovation and ambition of this quite particular band. Whether it’s the first time you’ve encountered them or the next step on an already cemented love affair, this a record which already feels curiously timeless.

20 from ‘11 so far – Part 1

I like lists. Even a brief browse of the site should make that pretty clear. As a result, read on for the first half of Just Played’s Top 20 albums from the first half of 2011. Where I’ve already reviewed the album in question, there is a link through to it, along with a listen link to Spotify and a buy link through to the marvellous Rise site, who’ll sort you out with the tunes pretty sharpish. Feel free to agree, mutter abuse or supply your own lists below. Right then…

20. Noah And The Whale – ‘Last Night On Earth’ (MERCURY)

Noah WhaleI didn’t see this coming. The debut annoyed the hell out of me and, as a result, I came late to their rather lovely, if raw, second outing, ‘The First Days Of Spring’. This is a long way from either and is a record which took some time to learn to love. However, it’s one of the feel-good indie pop records of the year to date and will sound amazing should we get much more sun. Lovely vinyl pressing comes with bonus 7” too.

“‘Last Night On Earth’, however, is the one I’ll be merrily recommending to all who’ll listen and cherry picking for my end of year compilation. Only the ruptured heart of a self-loathing blowhard could find anything to dislike about ‘Waiting For My Chance To Come’.”

Read the full review

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19. Wild Beasts – Smother’ (DOMINO)

Wild-Beasts-SmotherThe bold and sizeable leap from ‘Limbo, Panto’ to ‘Two Dancers’ was an impressive enough feat, but with ‘Smother’ Wild Beasts have honed their craft and perfected their sound. There’s been much talk of Talk Talk in recent pieces about the band and there’s certainly something of the Hollis sound to parts of this album but it’s far from being derivative. Slightly less wilfully and protrudingly pervy than its predecessor, ‘Smother’ possesses a layered and fluid sound and has been produced superbly. Guitar lines are contorted and extended, serving to underline emotions conveyed by the typically forthright lyrics. A gloriously musical album, if that doesn’t sound too stupid, Wild Beasts’ third outing is one which I still think has plenty to reveal, even at this stage.

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18. The Leisure Society – ‘Into The Murky Water’ (FULL TIME HOBBY)

the-leisure-society-into-murky-waterThe first album resulted in Ivor Novello triumphs and bemused Five Live presenters having to interview frontman Nick Hemming, despite seeming to know nothing about him or his music. While ‘The Sleeper’ featured a number of beautifully constructed songs, it’s on ‘Into The Murky Water’ that they’ve truly blossomed. Although frequently described as folky, this is orchestrated indie pop with an arch sensibility and a raised eyebrow. I’m reminded, and I mean this as a compliment, of some of Mull Historical Society’s finer moments at times and ‘You Could Keep Me Talking’, a ludicrously catchy little tune, is a good snapshot of the album’s joyous sound.

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17. Radiohead – The King Of Limbs’ (XL RECORDINGS)

KoLIt’s not perfect and it’s not their best. But, that doesn’t make it bad or, to these ears at least, a disappointment. There’s much to love here and the more I’ve played it, the more I’ve warmed to its eight tracks. Wonderful moments like ‘Little By Little’, ‘Codex’ and ‘Giving Up The Ghost’ are enduring delights which all have aspects of the familiar Radiohead approach People seem to be complaining that the band haven’t taken a massive leap forward with their sound and yet eleven years ago there were cries about them failing to do another ‘OK Computer’ and fourteen years ago there were some complaints when ‘OK Computer’ wasn’t another ‘The Bends’. Yep, the band have got familiar with a certain sound but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some wonderful songs here. Forgive the defensive tone of this comment, but I do really think there are some great songs here, some months after all the hype, and, as I said in the original review, people would benefit from switching all desire to judge and simply listening…a lot.

“Once it clicks, you’ll likely find yourself sitting there wondering what exactly it was about it that confused you in the first place. Just like walking down dark streets to find somewhere you’ve never previously been to before only to find the return journey seems much quicker and considerably less threatening, the more full plays you give ‘The King Of Limbs’, the less any of it jars or seems wilfully perverse.”

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16. Sarabeth Tucek – ‘Get Well Soon’ (SONIC CATHEDRAL)

Sarabeth Tucek Get Well SoonFollowing up a debut which was already no slouch, Sarabeth Tucek’s next step was this utterly beautiful record; a soundtrack to a number of difficult and distressing events, packaged like a late Sixties, cult singer/songwriter album of note. And that’s sort of how it sounds too. Cat Power, Callahan and Karen Dalton fans should all check in here for some wonderfully understated and finely crafted music for the soul.

“It’s the sort of album you’ll tell people about excitedly and buy for the sensitive types in your life. The album’s final lines offer a measured sense of optimism and triumph: “It just takes time, get well soon. I was once just like you, get well soon.” Many great records have been birthed out of traumatic or intense periods of an artist’s life, and to that list of fine albums can be added ‘Get Well Soon’.”

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15. The Middle East‘I Want That You Are Always Happy’ (PIAS)

I_Want_That_You_Are_Always_Happy-ArtworkThis was a complete punt, having been drawn in by the artwork and its appearance on a couple of record shops’ recommended lists. Parts of it are hauntingly lo-fi, some bits are winningly janglesome and there are occasional moments of genuinely bleak introspection. It makes for a varied and curious early listen and my first impressions were muddled. Whilst at first the fluid approach to genre and sound can make the record seem fragmented, repeated plays give it space to breathe and time to ensnare you. For me, it was a walk in the rain, with the album seeping up from the background to suddenly coalesce into something which has held my attention ever since. I haven’t yet written in detail about ‘I Want That You Are Always Happy’ because it’s so hard to categorise but I may have to work on that, as I suspect it will be higher up the list when I come to put together the more detailed end of year overview. Hugely recommended, but make sure you give it a few plays.

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14. R.E.M. – ‘Collapse Into Now’ (WARNERS)

rem-collapse-into-nowIt’s not perfect and it’s not their best. But, as a long time fan of R.E.M., it was a joyous listen and it is their best since the turn of the millennium. Yes, ‘Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter’ does contain some pretty shit lyrics and, no, I don’t know why there’s that needless reprise at the end of ‘Blue’ either but there are some wonderful songs here and, for the first time in a while, their capacity to genuinely move me is back. The chorus of ‘Uberlin’ is vintage mid-paced R.E.M. while the short, sharp adrenalin burst of ‘That Someone Is You’ is close to melodic pop perfection, departing just shy of the two minute mark. ‘Walk It Back’ is the album highlight and its shuffling, understated delivery is one of Stipe’s finest recorded moments since ‘I’ve Been High’. If you want them to sound like Eighties R.E.M. then move along now and buy the ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ reissue but if you still have time for this band then I would be very surprised to hear that you were anything other than pleased with this largely excellent record.

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13. Iron & Wine – ‘Kiss Each Other Clean’ (4AD)

I&WThis album is curiously evocative of snow for me, despite sounding like it belongs in the sunshine. I was reviewing it during the ludicrously heavy snow fall of early December 2010 and, as such, I sometimes forget that this is actually a 2011 release. The cover is, clearly, ace and the music follows suit. While the gentle, lulling swoop of older material is rather less prominent now, Sam Beam’s music is never less than meticulously crafted and deeply affecting. ‘Godless Brother In Love’ and ‘Tree By The River’ are both absolute gems and just nudge several other tracks to be the highlights, but it’s a pretty close run thing. The music has smoother edges than on ‘The Shepherd’s Dog’ and the Seventies FM radio references in the early press material do make sense, but this is still clearly Iron & Wine and, by extension, tremendous.

“These ten songs ooze warmth, littered with classic rock gear changes, acoustic thrums and shuffling bass but the rhythmic schizophrenia from the last outing still remains intact. Although ‘Kiss Each Other Clean’ is yet further down the road from ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’, it is still quite distinctively Iron & Wine. That said, if early outings left you cold and wishing that there was a little more meat on the bones, then this might be the time to commit some cash for a re-evaluation.”

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12. My Morning Jacket – ‘Circuital’ (V2)

My-Morning-Jacket-CircuitalOccasionally a song is so good it can eclipse the rest of an album, somewhat. That is the case with ‘Holdin’ On To Black Metal’, a song so absolutely enormous it is impossible to hear on headphones without commencing a strutting swagger replete with the sensation that you are now eight foot tall and completely invincible. It’s a song you’ll play five times in a row, a song with a children’s choir and a song with horn stabs to which you can thrust limbs in an angular fashion. And the rest of it’s pretty special too. Opener ‘Victory Dance’ is a thundering way to begin while ‘Wonderful (The Way I Feel)’ is intimate and positive without ever bordering on being saccharine, despite its title. There’s a cracking 45rpm double vinyl pressing which is the best way to experience such a sonically pleasing record.

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11. Bon Iver‘Bon Iver’ (4AD)

bon iverIt was always going to be tough to follow up critics’ choice and all rounder indie sleeper smash, ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ but Justin Vernon doesn’t seem to have struggled too much, on this evidence. While I liked the debut, I grew a little tired of it due largely to the good lady’s borderline obsession with it which ensured it was playing somewhere in the house almost every day for a year. This is a leap on, with a different mood, subject matter and sonic palette. Oh, the saxophone. It’s still relatively early days for this one and I can envisage it getting plenty of plays during hazy summer evenings and slowly becoming as well-worn as its predecessor. It hangs together splendidly and I’m even inclined to forgive ‘Beth/Rest’ its excesses the more I play it. Be sure to check out the cover of ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ I mentioned previously, which appeared as a b-side to first single ‘Calgary’.

“It’s an album which sounds curiously out of time. Which is not to say it is timeless, far from it in fact. ‘Bon Iver’ sounds pointedly dated at certain moments, not least on album closer ‘Beth/Rest’, which has predictably provoked buckets of wrath for its Eighties soft-rock tones. While there are undeniably contemporary references here and there, it has the feeling of a moderately successful record of old, its beauty shining through despite the particular clothes of the time it has come from.”

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Mercury Music Prize 2010 shortlist – Just Played Verdict


I know that convention dictates that I start off with a sizeable rant about the MASSIVE WANKERS who decide on the Mercury shortlist and moan about how safe and, largely, shit the choice of albums is. I whine about how there are so many more deserving titles out there and wonder why they even bother doing this. Well, fuck convention.

It’s not a bad shortlist really. Could be a hell of a lot worse and there are some rather good albums on it. Yes, you can tell that almost nobody on that judging panel is medically allowed to let their blood pressure rise too dramatically and that ‘a nice glass of red’ probably accompanies all of these records rather effectively, but that doesn’t immediately make them all crap records. Just Biffy Clyro, and that was crap long before it got this nomination. Indeed, it has been crap since the hellish day that the group birthed it through the band’s collective arsehole; the result of a blessed constipation that finally subsided only to gift our ears with this limp, fetid dross.

I wasn’t exactly enraptured by the Foals album either, but it certainly has its moments. The vocals are a lot less ‘toddler with a foot stuck in a door’ and a bit more ‘artsy indie band with ridiculous hair’. The sound is a massive leap on from the frankly infuriating debut which started badly with the atrocious cover and didn’t improve much thereafter. This one is bold, adventurous and, at times at least, rather good. Also in the ‘no need to get the bunting out’ category is Corinne Bailey Rae’s ‘The Sea’. This particular record received such astonishingly positive press that it seemed like we were about to witness the second coming, albeit it at No.17 in the Asda album chart. It is quite nice. She’s stopped banging on about putting records on and is now singing about sad things because of the, admittedly tragic, loss of her husband. Musically it’s much less annoying than her MOR stylings of old but, for the life of me, I couldn’t really tell what it was that I was meant to be so overwhelmed by.

Then there’s the folk-pop boy band in waiting, Mumford And Sons. They are, as far as I’m concerned, traitorous bastards for wooing us with lovely limited 10” single releases only to then not put the album out on vinyl. Add into that the fact that they are now so ubiquitous they’re like flying ants or pollen and it’s hard to retain the early love. The songs are undeniably great and Marcus Mumford has a cracking voice. But, the production is oh-so-very polished and somewhere along the line it seemed to lose its soul a little. I’m by no means trying to be all snobby about this record; I still quite like it, but from the very first play it didn’t sound as raw it could have and should have and that’s a great shame. That said, I’m not sure it would be on this list if they’d gone down that route.

Dizzee Rascal, love him or hate him (or just laugh at him for being a bit of a cock), has produced some belting pop songs of late and such a consistent run of hits deserves recognition. Unfortunately, the album doesn’t really offer anything else to match those glorious singles and only serves to confirm that he is best in small doses. When in a good mood. And not especially bothered about what you’re listening to. A plausible choice, a maker of top pop but not an album to yearn for or fall in love with.

I’m genuinely delighted to see the marvellous I Am Kloot on the list with the recently released splendour of ‘Sky At Night’. I recently explained just why this record is deserving of a place in your collection and it is as good an album as the band have released to date. The vocals are quite beautiful and Guy Garvey’s string arrangements are superbly measured and precisely executed. As good a straight indie record as you’ll hear this year. Which briefly brings me to ‘Golden’ by Kit Downes Trio, which is potentially as good a jazz record as I haven’t heard this year. Is that the sound of a token being laid down I hear? Solitary nod to the ‘other’, I hear you cry. Well, yes. It’s not on Spotify, so I’ve not yet had the pleasure but, as I did with The Invisible last year, I’ll endeavour to have a listen. Find out what I end up thinking by following the Just Played Twitter here.

Wild Beasts’ ‘Two Dancers’ feels too old to be on this list, released as it was at the arse end of last summer but, it’s a wonderfully confident listen. By now, I’m sure you’ll know about Hayden Thorpe’s distinctive yelp, like a randy panda after a quick listen to ‘Grace’. It’s quite a voice and, while it might initially irritate, stick at it for there is much to love about ‘Two Dancers’. It took me a while to really get it, hence its absence from last year’s best of list. Unlike ‘xx’ by The xx, which rocketed up to second place in almost no time at all. It’s become a quite popular activity to criticise The xx for being trendy art-school types as a result of all of the hype they’ve received. Now, let’s briefly pause to consider why that is such a fuckwitted brainfart of an approach to this delicately grand music. They didn’t ask for the hype, it just gathered around them and, admittedly not always but sometimes, it happens for a reason. This time it was because of how good they are. The album is perfectly measured, charmingly executed and it offered something a little different towards the end of 2009, sounding quite unlike everything else released at the time. See here for my ‘40 From The Noughties’ piece about this one.

Old man Weller keeps on churning them out and, deep breath, he’s actually managed two great solo records in row. Indeed, I actually rather liked ‘As Is Now’ too, so that’s at least two and a half really. ‘Wake Up The Nation’ has been lauded as his best solo record in some quarters and has had fifty-something blokes in denim pogoing around like they don’t have mortgages, with their stomachs following soon behind. It is good, mind, and I have enjoyed great chunks of it. Initial plays felt a little like being able to hear a migraine, it was so phenomenally busy, but once you’ve adjusted to the frenetic pace of the thing, it actually shines through as a bloody decent set of songs. It firstly tells us that he has a cracking record collection, featuring plenty of southern and northern soul, and secondly that he has decided that prancing around in the street pissed with a near child on your arm and having one of the world’s shittest haircuts on your bonce doesn’t stop you from reminding people you were in The Jam. Fair play to him, I say.

Which leaves us with two. One of which, ‘Becoming A Jackal’ by Villagers, was recommended by Martin Rossiter (ex-Gene and thoroughly spiffing bloke) on Twitter a while back and I was won over almost instantly. I somehow missed the Later… performance that, apparently, turned most people in this record’s direction. I can see where the Rufus Wainwright comparisons come from, stylistically if not vocally, along with faint echoes of Simon and Garfunkel. It’s clever, melodic, sometimes melancholy singer-songwriter indie and it is executed to perfection. It’s a grower, a charmer and a winner. Though probably not of the Mercury Music Prize.

Not that I actually think that the quite divine Miss Marling will carry off the crown. I can’t help wondering if it will actually go the way of The xx or Mumford in the end, but that doesn’t stop this remarkable record being something to celebrate, shout about and buy in copious quantities for loved ones and friends. I’ve previously explored just what makes this such a mature and beguiling collection of songs, but suffice to say my opinion hasn’t changed, save to like it just a little bit more still. ‘Rambling Man’ is Joni, and Mazzy Star and Laura Veirs and oh so many other magical musicians rolled into one and yet still topped by a unique and stirring voice. She is a rare, rare talent and someone to be truly treasured.

Personally, I’m in a three way split with I Am Kloot, The xx and Laura Marling but, were I required to dish it out myself right now, I’d hand it to Laura. However, when the near paralytic Jools Holland steps up to the microphone in September, don’t be surprised if he utters the words, “and the winner is… The xx.”

2010 inverted