3. Wild Beasts – Smother (Domino)
Wild Beasts’ third album seemed to mark a definite change of direction forthe Kendal-based four piece. There was less emphasis on Hayden Thorpe’sremarkable falsetto, but it was mostly one of mood.
For Smother sees Wild Beasts going all sexy. There had always been apreoccupation about sex – the mention of “dancing cocks” on Two Dancers,and let’s face it, Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants sounds positivelyfilthy – but there’s an added sensuality now, a late-night mood ofstartling beauty.
There are moments reminiscent of Talk Talk in their Spirit Of Eden days,with several tracks resembling languid, lazy soundscapes, but it’s thedual vocals of Thorpe and Tom Fleming that give the album its soul – justlisten to the world-weary way that Thorpe sings “I’ve made enough enemies”in Loop The Loop for an example of moving Wild Beasts can be.
There are even tracks on Smother that sound slightly creepy (Plaything’s”New squeeze, take off your chemise and I’ll do as I please” couplet forone) but they just add to that mood of all-consuming carnal obsession.
By the time the aptly titled The End Comes Too Soon rolls about to closethe album, you’re confident that this is one of the highlights of theyear. And yet, startlingly, it failed to receive a Mercury Music Prizenomination – a bizarre decision, as Smother cemented Wild Beasts’reputation as one of the country’s brightest talents.
What we said: “Smother adds to an inventive and eclectic canon. While it stands apart, this is an evolution that will please both Wild Beasts’ early adopters and the many converts that will surely follow from what is, without doubt, one of the stand out releases of the year.” – Ben Edgell
REVIEW: Wild Beasts – Smother
2. Metronomy – The English Riviera (Because)
For Metronomy’s third album, Joseph Mount changes direction from the bouncy electro of Nights Out, softening his approach to plan homage to his home town of Totnes. That he succeeds shows an uncommon musical flexibility, the Devonian tribute reeling in many a sceptical listener on repeated hearings.
Mount has used analogue synthesizers to warm up the musical climate and, going still further, the distant sound of a Wurlitzer, played as if from the sea front at the start of the hypnotic Some Written. The lyrics speak intently of loves lost and won, with Veronica Falls‘ Roxanna Clifford a subtle romantic foil for Everything Goes My Way, one of many songs that tug freely at the heartstrings. Not only that, it has a whole host of wonderful tunes.
Nor have Mount and the band turned their backs completely on their vibrant dance music heritage. The Look – again with that Wurlitzer sound in evidence – and The Bay proved suitable for many a club, both passing through the studios of Erol Alkan and Fred Falke respectively. Meanwhile an undercurrent of frisson runs through the album, briefly surfacing in She Wants and Love Underlined, while a light level of bickering comes through in Trouble.
Mercury glory may have eluded them, but with this Metronomy produced their definitive album, confirming themselves as warm weather treasures to keep next to the seaside rock. As homely as fish and chips on the quayside followed by ice cream and a pint of ale, The English Riviera fuses warm nostalgia and intimate asides with impeccable balance, managing not to cloy as it does so.
What we said: “The English Riviera is a seamless transition for Metronomy – from dirty little dancing secret to bona fide contenders. While existing fans are catered to generously, the band have brought their sound on in leaps and bounds.” – David Welsh
REVIEW: Metronomy – The English Riviera
1. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Island)
By some distance the years most ubiquitous album, it was difficult to find a dissenting voice when it came to Polly Harveys eighth album. Becoming the first artist to win the Mercury music prize twice was a massive achievement but perhaps more impressive is the fact that Let England Shake seems to be that rare album that has united awards judges, critics and the public at large in their acclaim.
Released way back in February, the album has had tremendous staying power. This may partially be due to the Mercury win but has also been aided by a series of tremendous live shows for which she has adopted a consistent uniform garnished with an impressive headdress, appearing as a regal, ghostly observer of Englands military history.
The album delivers a poetic narrative of war and empire, making implications about our contemporary military predicament through the prism of history, with particular reference to the Galipoli campaign of 1915. The campaign for the album, not without considerable irony, involved two performances on the Andrew Marr show. The first, some time before the work was completed, saw her perform in front of Gordon Brown. The second saw her play to David Cameron. Whilst Let England Shakes politics are implicit, sometimes perhaps even oblique, there is a clear sense of the damage caused to a nations psyche by the harrowing impact of war.
Musically, Harveys brilliance rests on her chameleonic qualities. Every album she releases is a self-contained entity, retaining her artistry but usually sounding utterly unlike its predecessor. Whilst Harvey constructed White Chalk around her skeletal, untutored piano playing, much of Let England Shake is built around a minimal but strident combination of drums, autoharp and vocal chants. It is at once straightforward, immediate and sophisticated. Harveys own voice is at its best ever here – versatile, theatrical (particularly on the untamed soprano on On Battleship Hill) and melodic. Let England Shake could well be a career peak but it also leaves the strong impression that PJ Harvey is an artist with creativity and originality in abundance.
What we said: “Let England Shake, Harvey’s first solo album since 2007’s White Chalk, is a brutal, often difficult and always unflinching look at what terrible things happen to people when nations fight each other. while the album is rife with dark and horrific imagery of blood on the battlefield, it is not without its moments of beauty.” – Andrew Burgess
REVIEW: PJ Harvey – Let England Shake