30 October 2014

Cavorts - Got Your Brass

From the ashes, they arise; many years ago, I was introduced to a band called G.U. Medicine by our fellow blogger Luke.  They had that sort of high octave metal/rock sound that I liked and was very lucky to see them a few times.  However, somewhere along the way they split up; it was a shame but sometimes a band runs its course.  I mention this band because they all went on to form Cavorts and this is their debut album.  In 2012 they released their debut EP called 'Times Told' which was one of the dirtiest EP's I have ever heard.  The bass sound was just thick and the riffs sounded like a fight between heaven and hell, I really loved the overall result of the EP and have been awaiting this album for some time.  So without much further waiting, let's see what it is all about.

Starting off the album is the title track "Got Your Brass" which begins with a fast riff repetitively playing over, then the rest of the band comes into the song and the album begins with a mixture of punk riffing, alternative rock sensibilities and a ripping solo that I really enjoy.  It introduces the album slowly, not like a firecracker but with a statement of intent.  The next song was the opening track of the 'Times Told' EP called "Pigs Of Ballast", the bass opening still sends a shiver up and down my spine whenever I heard it and that has not diminished since the second I first heard it.  It is one of the best songs I have heard in the last few years and this version is just as good as the original.  Following on is "Wait On" which comes across as a traditional heavy metal/rock classic to begin with, then the punk ethics come into play.  What I like about this song is that whilst it is not as hairy chested and looking for a fight as "Pigs Of Ballast", it is still powerful and full of venom - just a brilliant number. 

"What's Cracking" is another fast and furious number, just rattling along and sounding like a gang looking for a fight.  The fact that they drop the odd solo mixed into the tune every now and then just raises my respect for this band.  There is a few really good bands out there that do not deal in solos, this band knows there importance as well as a meaty riff for you to bang your head to; this is one of the best songs on this album.  "Kicks And Strikes" slows the mood down a little, but not in a ballad type of way (I would expect this band to shoot anyone who suggested a MTV unplugged type of album), what they have here is a song which sounds more like Paw or Gruntruck - a mixture of grunge, punk and old school metal which is a great mixture of some of my most favourite styles of music.  I have to say the ending of this number is spectacular and has such a groove, brings a smile to this face.  "Rubbing Rags" is the sixth number on the album; it is another slice of alternative punk that will have people jumping around rooms soon enough.  The foot is still firmly buried into the floor as far as speed is concerned; it is a good song, but it is not as exciting as the other tracks for me.  It is played very well, but something about it does not quite click; but I am sure it will work for other people.

"Pick Up The Hammer" for me is a much better song, it is has more of a driven pace that sounds a lot more focused.  It is leans more on the metal side of the Cavorts musical palette.  The more I listened to the track, the more it stated to shows the clever interplay between the members and this sort of confidence only comes from lots of practice and years together.  Next is another song to have originally been released on the 'Times Told' EP - "Save Some Things".  This song for me is a great example of a Post Grunge number with a dose of Motorhead/Probot, it just flows with ease and there is a speed element to it as well; the fact that it has hints of the Probot/Lemmy song "Shake Your Blood" endears it even more to me - that that it is a cover or nicks elements from said song, just that it has the similar energy and styling to me.  Next is "Look After The Packing" and my deity does this song deliver, it has the swagger that is a trademark of the band and it just smashes into the listener with a menacing energy.  For the best percentage of the album, I was going to give "Pigs To Ballast", but "Look After The Packing" just hit it out of the park.  But it is not the last song on the album, no that honour falls to "By The Tide" which is not a slouch or disappointing track - it is the natural ending track of the album and the build in the middle sections into the swirling riff that encompasses this song is brilliant.

If there is any justice in the world, this band should get as much press as the current darlings of the metal and rock press such as Royal Blood, Black Veiled Brides and other band who gain all the headlines.  It is a great British Alternative rock/punk/metal album that ticks all the boxes in terms of energy, musical technique and style.  Out of the ten tracks on offer here, only one of them was a little bit below par; even then it was not a bad song, just not as good as the others.  I think that is a brilliant return for a debut album.  It is a little gem to have been released in 2014; I really hope that it gains the band more exposure and that they go from strength to strength with this album.  

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track - Look After The Packing

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can also purchase the album direct from their label - In At The Deep End Records - here

You can follow Cavorts activates from their Facebook page here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

For our Deezer users, here is a link for you

29 October 2014

Black Label Society - Catacombs Of The Black Vatican

We've been reviewing so many new albums this year that this may or may not be on the shortlist come December 2014, but one thing's for certain. If we had an awards list for the most imaginative title, Catacombs Of The Black Vatican surely would be a serious contender, and all the own work of Zakk Wylde possibly? Apparently so as he's the sole credited songwriter on this album. There's no denying the man's talent leave alone the dozens of instruments he puts his hand to, as well as finding time to do the occasional acting and production. I'm listening to this album and on first impressions it's a beautifully crafted piece.

Noted for his bullseye motif'd Les Paul,  the New Jersey born and bred first came to our attention in Ozzy Osbourne's backing band with a hand in the writing duties with the Brum legend. He's alternated his time in Osbourne's group with his own Black Label Society which he formed in the late 1990s. Since then and channelling virtually all his energies into BLS, they've been churning out on average an album a year, including a couple of live performances, so quite a few busy bees then seemingly. I note that there's been a few personnel changes in the fifteen or so years they've existed, in particular in the rhythm guitar and drum parts, presumably because of the other members' other musical commitments, and now bassist John DeServio is the last remaining original bandmate of Wylde's.

He may be from the East Coast, but many of Zakk Wylde's influences stem from The Deep South (Wikipedia lists Southern Metal as one of his genres), rubbing shoulders with the nobility from there. Probably not as intense as Down, but that's another of my first impressions of Catacombs. There's also the question of Ozzy's influences ingrained in Wylde, and I'm guessing that his own vocals are reasonably honed in on those overtones too, especially with the opening track Fields Of Unforgiveness. It also smacks a tad of When The Levee Breaks with the same key and beat, but very standout-type and impressionable, especially with its Louisiana backdrops. However, My Dying Time redresses the balance, very uncomplicated yet never short of riffs. Promising start to Catacombs, but Believe I'm not too struck on, certainly a reasonable filler if not stretching out to dizzying heights.

So far, it's been tried and well trusted 3 minute songs, but then it's a change of direction with Angel Of Mercy, it's an acoustical number, and the whole balance of the track is very engaging and threatens to become more intense. Maybe too premature as yet to name it as the best one of the album, but for now it's back to the Old Skool metal with Heart Of Darkness which doesn't fail to raise my smile, likewise the following Beyond The Down, strong showing of rhythm, riffs and chorus. Now back to the unplugged stuff with Scars, it's not as downbeat as I thought, and there's certainly a few traces of Lyrnyrd Skyrnrd, more inspiration from the Deep South, and enough to suggest it was written with Ronnie Van Zant in mind.

As I suspected, I probably spoke too soon about the top track here, as Damn The Flood is a delight to listen to. The licks are sharp, good leads right throughout the solo piece, while I've Gone Away is a little slower and I'm guessing a little more Soundgarden but not as intense, not as grungey but just as pleasing to the ear. We're coming towards the end now and Empty Promises follows the same format of psychedelia rock, and some curious harmonies. Shades Of Gray closes out in a rather oddball way. First, at six minutes it's the longest of the record, it's played in a 'C' key which is very rare in metal circles, very melancholic till midway through where Mr Wylde introduces his most dexterous touch on the fretboard. Not the best ending, but it's memorable.

This I must concede is not one of the most complex albums of 2014 I've heard, but Zakk Wylde has inputted a little technical wizardry in the production which is one good reason why I don't think this will age badly at all. While I seldom buy albums these days, Catacombs Of The Black Vatican certainly leaves with that rare urge. If it ever set out to be 100 per cent enjoyable, it's done exactly that, but I think to label Catacombs as old fashionable or old skool is rather cruel. I say because if metal is to leave an impressionable mark on the music industry Black Label Society presents a strong case for carrying the torch for a few years more and beyond. And whoever said that metal can never be listenable...?

8 out of ten. Oh, now you have my attention, and maybe my money, time and heart.
Best track : Damn The Flood

Cream - Disraeli Gears


Very sad news indeed to hear the passing of Jack Bruce in the last few days, one of my favourite bassists of all time. He didn't enjoy much commercial success following the breakup of supergroup threesome Cream in the late 1960s, and his subsequent works were certainly nowhere as near as fruitful nor recognised as that of his bandmates Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. What also makes it worse for him is that the finger of blame of Cream's dissolution points towards the Scotsman himself, as Clapton and Baker observed he was a difficult character to get along with.

While most of us who knew what Cream was all about back then, and with this recent tragic news in mind, I thought I'd quickly write this. Their brief reformation in 2005 for the Albert Hall concerts offered some hope of a more permanent get together, but from what I saw from the performance, it really wasn't Cream at their best, and certainly it was a tell tale sign that none of the three really had their heart in it. The act was technically flawed, there were plenty of mistakes in the show suggesting that it hadn't been rehearsed thoroughly. A real heartbreaking pity for me.

It's as good as time as any to have an examination of what made this supergroup great. The phrase "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" gets tossed around a bit these days, but no exaggeration for this blues influenced outfit even if they only existed for barely two years. I'm struggling to rack my brains at present of any earlier threepiece instrumentalists, or of any previous acts labelled as supergroups.  And their debut album, their first of four, Fresh Cream, showed the Robert Johnson type influences that the free thinkers of the time would be treated to.

The album sleeve, even if it's strictly psychedelic, is for me a work of art, encapsulating what it was like in the 1960s. It was designed by an Australian in Martin Sharp, who was also commissioned to do art pieces for Bob Dylan and Donovan. Curiously, the album title for the next one, was born from a play on words, when Clapton, wanting to purchase a pushbike, referenced toward derailleur gears. The term was mispronounced by a roadie as Disraeli, alluding to a 19th century UK prime minister , obviously a Freudian but still amusing slip. Nevertheless, the term stuck well and the rest is history, et al....

First track is the heavily blues run three chorded Strange Brew although with the psychedelia hints not straying far away, it certainly doesn't get too intense and overindulging. Eric Clapton takes a rare lead vocals on it, then it's straight onto to Sunshine Of Your Love, one of the most recognisable riffs of the 1960s with both Slowhand and Bruce sharing the verses though I fear most listeners and readers here who know little of Cream may not recognise it themselves. Then it's World Of Pain, where the wah wah pedalwork features prominently and where again the vocals are split between the two musicians, and one I love so much if it's melancholic.

Dance The Night Away has also some respectable chords and I Feel Free type harmony work between the two singers, while Ginger Baker, in a curious London accent, makes a rare vocal appearance in his self written Blue Condition closing off side one. Side two for me gets off on the best footing possible with the beautifully written Tales Of Brave Ulysses, the guitarwork is a strong scene setter, and the lyrics are just as exemplary, it's just such a spectacularly fantastic narrative.

Now for the next track which I find very oddball and just, well, odd altogether, SWALBR. Ok, granted that Eric Clapton's got a good ear for putting a good stringed set, but apparently the abbreviation is She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow. Lyrically, and they were composed by Pete Brown, a poet and friend of Jack Bruce. And while it appears that it was written under heavy influence of substances, it's basically about dealing with a love interest that walks and out of his life. Now for the minimalist track, We're Going Wrong, where it's Ginger featuring more prominently with some kettle drumsticks throughout, I certainly like the calm before the storm approach of it.

The next two tracks appear to be strictly blues-run-the-game order, first with Outside Woman Blues, originally performed by Blind Joe Reynolds, again some SWALBR type six string leads. From what I know of Reynolds, he had a disdain of women and maybe misogyny, and followed by the slightly less misogynous Bruce penned Take It Back, which is a similar Louisiana styled theme, but more meaty with JB in the vocals. Final track is Mother's Lament, basically two minutes, and I believe it's an old Cockney rhyme which I haven't heard in 30 years! Basically it's a honky tonk piano led by Jack, with all three members in full East End flowing voices, very quaint and I couldn't help giggling at it!

It might be confined to the swinging decade now, but Disraeli Gears hasn't lost the charm and unashamed grace, from overtones of blues of the Deep South to how the free thinker set his stall out fifty or so years ago. Ok, so half an hour's airplay isn't a lot to absorb these days but there's so much inventive arrangement and lyricisms that Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker put in, that suddenly I don't feel like I'm in a time warp. Not exactly overpowering The Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request or of course Sergeant Pepper, they were of course the front page news, but Cream thankfully were more than doing enough to hold their own. And of course, it comes down to at least 33 per cent the better known voice of the band - Jack Bruce, which I will charge a glass to. R.I.P.

9 out of ten. Almost perfect....almost.
Best Track : Tales Of Great Ulysses

Buy Disraeli Gears here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
Deezer listeners click on this link - There's also a welter of bonus tracks and demos too
Cream Facebook page here, but may not be official
Official Ginger Baker website here
Official Jack Bruce website here
Eric Clapton Official Website here

Sky Ferreira - Night Time, My Time

Delayed releases sometimes work to the best for this blog; the album that we are reviewing here is 'Night Time, My Time' by singer/actress/model/songwriter Sky Ferreira.  The original release from this album if you go by the American/Canadian release (and this is the digital/iTunes release is 29 October 2013.  However for the rest of the world, it has slowly been dripped fed to the rest of the world and it was finally released in the UK (where I am based) on 17 March 2014.  It is a bit of a delay between reviewing the album, but as I always say - we have been a little bit busy.  So this is the debut album from Sky Ferreira after two EP's and a numbers of singles.  The album was first announced in 2011, but due to delays and fights with her record company it was delayed (and explains why there has been two EP's since it was first announced).  The album also marks a change of her original style to 80's synth pop/alternative indie accordingly to the information I can find out about the album.  It was also a top 40 album in Australia, reaching 45 in the American Billboard charts and 73 in the UK - not exactly setting the world on fire, but for a debut it is a modest success story.  Now, before we go forward I want to address the elephant in the room - that cover.  It is designed to shock and grab attention, the fact it was picked by the artist themselves shows that she is comfortable with the picture being in circulation; it is not a sexy image and it feels like someone has took a photo of a very vulnerable time.  It is obvious an anti-image choice (granted, it is from a model but that is her choice) and reading what Sky Ferreira has said about it shows that she is trying to be a stark image; you can either be angry with it or accept it, but it is her body and image to sell.  From my point of view, I have no problem with it one way or another; but it should not be the only talking point of the album - it should be mostly about the music, so let’s find out what this is all about....

The first track on this album is called "Boys" which has a Ladyhawke quality about it; you have the indie sensibility and that big 80's sound.  Unlike some other bands which I have had the displeasure of reviewing recently, it feels finished and solid.  The indie pop dynamic of the song is infectious and full of energy, spirit and mystery.  It is by no means the most original thing I have ever heard, but it is certainly entertaining.  "Ain't Your Right" is the next song, to be honest it does not do much for this listener.  The jarring keyboard against the riff does not meet the standard of "Boys" and it feels like a filler track which is way too early at this stage of the album.  That said, the bass on the song is powerful and makes the track bearable.  "24 Hours" more than redeems the album though; this song is so over the top than I just enjoyed being lost in the moment.  I found myself singing out loud to the song which is not something that should be heard by anyone.  The 80's fade at the end was another nice touch and the song has a timeless quality about it.  After this we have "Nobody Ask Me (If I Was Ok)" which comes across as a 80's synth pop/punk anthem for any type of disco or club you can think of, you have the slightly throw away lyrics (I say slightly as it is about someone crying for help - if you are in need of help, talk to someone; Samaritans, police, anyone) and a pounding chorus that will have the masses singing along to at the drop of a hat.  It combines a glam rock swagger, luscious pop and clever production work from a production team (same team on all the songs - so it does not fall in the multiple producer bracket) who know how a pop song should work.

"I Blame Myself" is a step back in comparison to the last few songs, it is a piece of gentle pop and could easily been a song from Lady Gaga, Madonna, Britney Spires, etc, etc.  It is ok, but it is filler - nothing more or less.  "Omanko" has a strange guitar riff and bass combo from the beginning, it is all fuzzy, there are sleigh bells in the background and the drums feels as if they have been recorded in an air tunnel.  The lyrics are strange as well; the song is about a Japanese Jesus and Christmas.  It is a simple song which represents the feeling of spending Christmas in a foreign country.  It is a very strange tune and I am still not sure if I love it or hate it, all I know for sure is that I find it intriguing at the very least.  Next is "You're Not The One" which once again delves into that 80's box of tricks, once more it has that retro facade, it makes it almost throw away in nature.  But whilst it does not have much in the way of depth, it makes up for it in the terms of sheer pop cool; also when you keep returning to certain tunes, you know that the song is good.  After this is "Heavy Metal Heart", the guitars are brought back to the forefront and yet the pop is not forgotten.  This is in no way, shape or form a metal song; it does share a certain musical overtone with Deborah Harry and her hit "French Kissing In The USA", but with a modern touch and flair.  It is not as grabbing as "Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Ok)" which is also shares some similar sounds, but it is still one of the highlights of the record.

"Kristine" is a strange mixture of fuzzy indie and dream pop; the music is a swirling vortex of the distorted guitar tone that grunge music called their own in the 90's, yet the keyboards and lyrics are shopping mall and indeed there is part of this song that is about going to the shops Kristine.  But when you get underneath the tones of the lyrics, it is quite a harsh statement about young millionaires; this song sounds like it could have had David Bowie doing backing vocals, telling people about all of the things that are going on. It is the first song that actually confuses me, I'm not sure if it is a damming condemnation of today's youth or in praise - strange.  "I Will" is the tenth song of the album of the album, at first I was going to say it was another piece of filler and without merit; but the repeat listenings have unveiled a charm to the tune that comes through slowly but surely.  Again, there is a large dose of Blondie/Deborah Harry about this song; but that is not a bad thing to be honest.  Yes, it is still a basic pop song; but this is a pop album, I am not expecting statements from a Bono-crazed megalomaniac.  "Love In Stereo" has a slow keyboard, plucking guitar beginning and then the kick drum kicks in with a slightly faster beat; but it does not go beyond that point, this song is a filler track if I am honest, not unpleasant or without a pop glow that will make some people giggle like school children, but still filler.  Ending the album is the title track - "Night Time, My Time"; unlike most of this album, this is slowed down, dirty and slightly sinister pop gem that is not for the dance floor.  It is a fitting ending to the album, night time is sometime the point where you slow down; the vocals are haunting and the album ends on a high note as the song does speed up to a Beatles-esque wall of white noise.  On some editions there are a few more songs, but I am just reviewing the original release.

Now what we have here is a quality pop album, which like a pop records does have a little bit of fluff that is not for everyone.  Is it the most original of records - no, I have heard a lot of this done before.  Is it good - yes, it is incredibly good.  The pop formula is hard to get wrong, but it is also hard to get someone like me who is essentially a weird indie/metal guy from North East England singing out loud to some songs which are not really aimed at me anyway.  It is a pop gem of the last year and well worth looking into.  I still think the cover is designed to shock and will put some people off, but this is better than the Lady Gaga's, Shakira's and other pop divas of the world.  If you are looking for an alternative pop gem, look no further; also she has just announced that album number two is in the works.  I will be looking forward to that one.

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track - Nobody Ask Me (If I Was Ok)

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can follow Sky Ferreira's activity on her Tumblr account here

You can listen to the album from Spotify here

Here is the link to listen to the album on Deezer

27 October 2014

Metronomy - Love Letters

I have no idea who it was that asked me to review this album, but I am sorry it took me so long to get to it.  I have to admit that there is a bit of trepidation here, as I am not the biggest fan of Metronomy.  It is not a hatred or passionate dislike of their work.  It is just from what I have heard and saw in the past few years, they are just not my cup of tea.  They have been incredibly successful without any input from me and that is fine by me, if they are passionate about their music and it has an audience then great - but it does not mean it will do anything for me.  Anyway, Metronomy where formed by Joseph Mount (who produces this record as well) as a bedroom project.  Over the years it has gained members and they are currently a four piece (with Oscar Cash, Anna Prior and Olugbenga Adelekan), as well as having a fifth member who plays live with the band.  This record is their fourth release and has been their most successful as well - it has reached the top ten in the UK, as well as doing some good chart numbers across Europe.  But now it is time to look at the album itself, time to face the music, etc, etc, etc....

Starting the album is the song is "The Upsetter", starting with a simple drum machine the vocals of Mr Mount play over a simple song that is aiming for a minimalist new wave/romantic Romeo type of indie sensitivity that will make the hipsters swoon in their own dramatic way.  One of the lines is 'Why are you giving me a hard time tonight' - let me explain, if they had heard this song then I can probably understand why.  There is a good number in there waiting to get out, but the production job is awful and it sounds like a demo.  "I'm Aquarius" starts off almost the same, it could have easily drifted into the same sort of direction as "The Upsetter"; but somehow it changes when you have the drum machine is took up a notch and the bass is given more to do.  This is slightly more interesting, but it still feels like an unfinished demo.  After this you have "Monstrous" which starts off with a harpsichord sound, then goes into some strange keyboard noise with a basic drum machine going on in the background and some lyrics about another romantic disaster.  It starts off decent, but it does not move forward from that original pattern and once again you have an uncompleted number.

Next is the title track of the album, this starts off different to the songs that have gone before with a brass section building up a small recurring pattern over the first minute or so of the song; then all of a sudden the hidden up tempo and danceable side of the band is unleashed.  Well, for a bit they are released; it always feels as if it could just be an all out fun number that just needs something else in places.  The chorus is funky and infectious, but the verses are lacking the excitement of the rest of the song.  However, it still wipes the floor with everything that has gone on before this number.  "Month Of Sundays" is the next attempt at being a 60's or 80's English poet/rock star, with as much success as the chances of a month of Sundays.  Apart from the guitar solo, this is really slow and plodding; it drains all the good work that the title track done.  The next song is called "Boy Racers" and I was hoping it might be a little bit speedy, but it sounds like something that was mocked by Flight Of The Conchords with their tune "Fashion Is Dangerous".  To be fair to the instrumental, it is at least something different compared to a lot of the album and if it was given another look with outside eyes it could have been something really good.

"Call Me" is not a cover of the Blondie number; it is a slow, slow, slow, slow, dull, slow number that drains the soul of all happiness.  They might give it a fast drum beat, the might use some crazy synth noises; it is still dull and awful in many, many ways.  Now I like synth music and minimalist pop, this is not a good example at all - it feels like the end of a bad Human League demo, without any of the charm or grace of those Sheffield starlets.  The next song title just sums up this band for me - "The Most Immaculate Haircut".  The lyrics are all about a man with a haircut of an immaculate nature and the jealousy of the singer towards that fellow human.  I cannot bring myself to unleash the vitriol on the song, as that would be akin to being nasty to a defenceless animal - there is nothing right with this song what so ever, even when it goes for a swim in the middle of the number (that is no joke).  Next track is the penultimate number which is called "Reservoir" and this could have been made by Ultravox, the 80's synth love is out in force on this number.  The tune is another that sounds like an unfinished demo, once again I am let wondering what this album could have been with an outside influence in the production.  Ending the album is "Never Wanted" which sort of sums up this album, I could go on about the simplistic lyrics, the lack of anything akin to interest in the song, the fact that the bass and drum are kept away from the number for far too long and the fact that if it has started how it develops in the bridge that it could have been a brilliant song; but instead I will deliver my ending thoughts.

How did this album make it to the top ten of the charts around Europe?  I can understand that some of this music has a fan base, retro 80's music has been in fashion for many years; I just did not know it was time for the Ultravox renaissance.  This album needed someone who was not a band member to produce it, someone who was outside the band to give it more flavour as it sounds like the demos were done and they went - yeah, that will do.  You have the rough basis here for a quirky, interesting and ironic love letter to the world.  Instead you have a half baked album that neither justifies the stunning reputation that seems to follow the band or change my opinion of them.  I will file this one as not for me, if you like this stuff then I really hope you enjoy it and I wish the band every piece of luck that can get; because once this stuff goes out of fashion I foresee a lot of copies of their album being an ever present in charity shops up and down this septic isle.  All the marks here are for the title track.....

1.5 of ten - You really are touching the bottom of the barrel

Top track - Love Letters

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Metronomy website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

Here is a link for the album for our Deezer users

Mercury Prize 2014 - Round up & overall thoughts

So it is that time of year when the Mercury Prize for 2014 is upon us - people have had a month or so to get to grips with this year’s nominations.  So what will be happening with this blog will do what it says at the top - A brief summary from each of the blogs and showing what our thoughts are on the overall standard of this year's entries.  Last year the winner was James Blake - Overgrown (Cleverly linked here) which was 8th out of the 12 on offer.  To be honest, it was not expected at all for us or the general press as a whole.  The betting money was on either Disclosure, Rudimental or Savages (I know we said Mr D. Bowie - but with him being such a big star anyway, he was automatically out of the running) and Mercury do like to give a curve ball winner.  I think the only times I have ever got it right were for Suede - 'Suede', PJ Harvey - 'Let England Shake' and the first Artic Monkeys album 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not'; so my personal record for this event is 3 right and 18 wrong.  So, I am hoping to get this one right - anyway, let's look at this year choices:

Nick Mulvey - First Mind - 6.5 out of ten

The album could do with being trimmed by 2 songs and 10 minutes which would be much more digestible. Not bad for an ex-Portico Quintet bloke. I would be interested in hearing more of his music when he releases further material. - Chris C

I respect this woman’s approach and the interest in her is impressive, quite startling. But maybe I’m a troglodyte and I’m missing the reason behind the recent hype. However the album I’ve been given to blog about sounds like a soap opera in poetic form, mundane fixation on negative cynical pessimistic details.  I prefer escapism, music that is able to take you to somewhere new and different. This album just seems to grind the mind into the dirt of reality. No thanks. - Helen

Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots - 9 out of ten

This album is a dark slice of the soul which I would not have expected to hear from this man.  There are a few things I would change (get rid of the interludes and not too keen on Mr Tembo), but other than that it is a really, really good album.  I have always said I will praise when praise is deserved and as much as it pains me to say this, I do feel that I have heard a contender for album of the year.  Yes, Eddie Carter - the man who dislikes Blur an awful lot has just said that he expects this to be up there in the album of the year chart.  Hell is experiencing winter conditions..... - Eddie

Whilst this isn’t an album you’d listen to get yourself all gee’d up for a night on the town (and whatever you do, don’t listen to it while driving or operating heavy machinery) but as nice background music for sexy time, to listen to before sleep or, perhaps while off your tits on hash cakes then this is actually a decent enough album. - Luke

By rights, this album shouldn't work at all. In some cases, one layer feels mismatched to the other, and One Breath in all doesn't feel like the technical effort that I was somehow expecting. But on second listen, I guess I'm missing the point. One play of the album is not enough to fully appreciate the craft that Miss Anna Calvi applied to this. From an art point of view, this puts a fresh spin on things, it's delicate enough for its classical credentials yet not too heavily laboured, and more importantly, the freshness and its inventive approach is what swings me for this album. But that's exactly the point of Art Rock, and One Breath hits the nail on the head. As for its Mercury nomination, no less earned, but it's my hope that her more notable peers in the running for this year's prize won't have it their own way. - Marc

As jazz goes, this is fairly easy going; yet I can really see the influence of the UK electronica scene on this band.  The members of the band are really talented musicians and have made a beautiful piece of work that as an album is incredibly easy on the ear in places.  It has a limited crossover appeal, but this does not take away from the performance. I am also not 100% sure that I will be going out of my way to hear it again, but it is a good record and if it ended up winning the Mercury Prize I would not be disappointed. - Eddie

I actually enjoyed this album. Seriously - at first listen, I thought "Oh shit, here we go, another head scratcher of an album I've been made to listen to in order to get me out of my usual routine" but it actually turned out to be the opposite of my expectations. My line above about how the whole thing was probably gonna be all heavy-drum-loops didn't exactly ring true, they were there but there was a lot more thought and texture than I was prepared to give credit for. Production was interesting as well, one minute it seemed as minimalist as the ringtone on a mobile phone from 2001, the next it was all lush and extravagant. I would consider checking these out again in the future, maybe even by digging out some of their EPs. - Chris J

As an award nominated album, I find it hard to think that this could be the all out winner of the Mercury; not because it is not a brilliant record, it is a stunning piece of jazz/noise that will have fans of both genres thoroughly entertained.  It is just a bit too out there to be the award winner in my mind, but Mercury do like to throw the odd curve ball (Roni Size anyone?).  If it was not for the Mercury Prize, I would not have heard this hidden gem of a record.  It is challenging, abrasive and uncompromising in delivery; from beginning to end it has been challenging and the rewards of this album just keep coming with repeat listens.  Out of all the entries I have heard from this year’s list, this is my contender for the dark horse which may take everyone by surprise.  - Eddie

Overall its okay, I’d like to hear it in the background of a coffee shop perhaps, or in conjunction with Bowie or Sunn 0))) or Bhangra maybe? Or maybe all three; mix things up a bit. - Helen  

I have been told good things about this band and the album is a very good album indeed.  There is a perfect storm forming around this band that will take them onto better things, this album is really good and just a shade over 30 minutes it is an incredible ball of noise from this two piece.  The fact that this noise is only coming out of two people is another source of amazement/amusement (delete as per you own personal leaning).  Now, whilst this album is really good that it is not the second coming that some people are saying that it is.  There are a few moments which don't quite work for me, but there is a lot that does work as well.  I have been advised by many people that have seen this band over the last few months that the racket that these two people can make live is amazing.  A very good debut album, they are well placed to take over the world, let’s see what they do after this.  Also, one of the few hyped bands which aren't a pile of bollocks as well. - Eddie 

East India Youth - Total Strife Forever - 3 out of ten

When I first listened to Total Strife Forever I hated it. After a few more listens the hate faded and I just find the album incredibly frustrating now. There are a couple of good tracks and some that could be decent if they didn’t seem like works in progress. I think that’s where the main problem with this is; it feels like a collection of demos and half formed ideas, especially with only four of the eleven tracks having vocals. An album full of songs like Dripping Down and Heaven, How Long would have been a worthy winner of the Mercury Music Awards but this? This I find hard to understand how it was even released as is, as horrible as that sounds. - Luke


The album is awash with guitars, strings and electronic sounds, and I could pretend I was musically cultured enough to investigate each track as a case in point.  Instead, I will say that it's easy to see why this album hit number one, and why Bombay Bicycle Club are an accomplished festival act.  Bombastic opener "Overdone" was my highlight.  I'm giving this a 6 because musically it's brilliant, but not for me.

So according to our marking the system, in descending order here is what we think of this year's group of nominations -

Kate Tempest - Everybody Down - 2 out of ten (So this will probably win)
East Indian Youth - Total Strife Forever - 3 out of ten
Jungle - Jungle - 3 Out of ten
FKA Twigs - Lp1 - 6 out of ten
Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long, See You Tomorrow - 6 out of ten
Nick Mulvey - First Mind - 6.5 out of ten
Gogo Penguin - v2.0 - 7 out of ten
Polar Bear - In Each & Every One - 8 out of ten
Anna Calvi - One Breath - 8 out of ten
Royal Blood - Royal Blood - 8 out of ten
Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots - 9 out of ten
Young Fathers - Dead - 9 out of ten (So this one will have no chance) 

So I think that you can say that it has been better than last year's nominations (cleverly linked here) when only five of the nominations got over 7 out of ten; even then only two of them were better than that.  The fact that there was three releases on that list that are held as Jazz record with only one of them in the bottom half is a good sign for the UK jazz scene.  I also like the fact that it is a bit off the beat path here; only one of the nominations were of a huge stature (Mr Albarn, even though I still cannot believe how much I personally like that record - DAMN YOU ALBARN!!!!), with Royal Blood gaining popularity through their live performances, Bombay Bicycle Club being the indie darlings and Jungle being used by Amazon to promote their new phone (not convinced about the Amazon phone, but that is besides the point).  On the night I personally think that the award will go to Nick Mulvey or FKA Twigs, not because they are the best albums, but because they are the curve balls (unless they pick Polar Bear or Gogo Penguin - the two most obvious jazz records).  If they are obvious and pick Damon Albarn or Royal Blood - two incredible records, it would be a strange pick.  So this is what we think - let's see them prove us wrong....

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