Top 5 Albums of 2017

1. Crack Up – Fleet Foxes

For me, Fleet Foxes’ long awaited album, “Crack Up”, topped the year. The album maintained Fleet Foxes’ minimalist and hazy winter aesthetic, along with their well-known beautiful harmonies, but it offered something different to their previous work. Without a doubt, this album created a whole record more than anything else produced this year. Toward the beginning of the album, songs are fragmented and discordant before reaching a climax, and the listener is forced to persevere through ambient struggle. Toward the end, songs have more unity, and each track is filled with literary and mythological references. “On Another Ocean” and “I Should See Memphis” are personal favourite of mine off the album. I was waiting for them ever since 2011’s Helplessness Blues.

2. For A Moment, I Was Lost – Amber Run

Everything about Amber Run’s indie rock album oozed class in its production quality. Each track was well balanced, and while it maintained their sing-along indie following, songs like “Machine” revealed a sombre side to the bands’ songwriting process. Meanwhile, tunes like “No Answers” and “Fickle Game” have proved most excellent when performed, again and again. It was a relief to have so many stand alone tracks finally on one completed album from Amber Run.

3. Semper Femina – Laura Marling

Semper Femina is a beautiful celebration of femininity and transience. Stand out tracks were “Wild Fire”, “Next Time” and, of course, “Nothing, Not Nearly”. For me, it feels like just yesterday that Once I Was An Eagle came out, but this album revealed the change in tone and change in time between the two.

4. Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect – Sundara Karma

It’s hard to believe Sundara Karma’s album came out in 2017 – January feels like a long time ago. Tracks like “She Said”, “Happy Family” and “Flame” have been the soundtrack to UK festivals and independent bars throughout the year, particularly in summertime, matching the band’s energetic flare.

 

5. I See You – The xx

While this album maintains The xx’s sensual, drum-driven vibe, songs like “I Dare You” reveal a more romantic streak, and by now you’ve probably heard “On Hold” played, with its confessional opening of “I don’t blame you”.

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Fujiya & Miyagi @ Roisin Dubh, Galway | 30th November | Review

Slow Place Like Home

This was my second time seeing Slow Place Like Home live at the Roisin. I have to admit, I was more impressed by them this time around, and I feel their set matched the “indie x electronic” sentiment behind the main act. Although the venue remained relatively subdued during the support act, the vibe for an electronic dance set was definitely established.

Fujiya & Miyagi

The band played older tunes such as “Ankle Injuries” from their earlier album “Transparent Things” near the beginning of their set, and it was evident from the beginning that their use of bass and synth captured the attention of the audience.

The band’s set developed to feature multiple songs off of their new eponymous album. Most popular appeared to be “Serotonin Rushes” which encouraged the small but attentive audience to reach the dance-floor.

The British band gave off an approachable vibe, taking requests from the audience and being attentive to each others’ musical flare.

I would highly recommend their most recent album for an energetic and unique buzz, coupled with thoughtful bass.

Slow Place Like Home @ Roisin Dubh 20/10/17 | Review

Support

Participant

Participant’s set was truly captivating. The small crowd was almost silencing by Stephen’s performance. What really captured attention was this musician’s mixture of sensitive and thoughtful lyrics, and his unafraid use of electronic/ synthetic elements to enhance the singer-songwriter stripped back set. Despite the sombre nature of the lyrics, and the minor chords, the crowd were nodding their heads along with the beat of each tune. This set was the perfect warm up for a crowd really involved in music loving.

Floor Staff

Floor Staff’s set was a bit more enhanced by drums and electro features. Yet, it still maintained the beauty of songwriting. As the crowd built in size, the more upbeat nature of this set was perhaps more suited to the tone of the evening.

Album Release Show: Slow Place Like Home

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The show marked the release of the band’s album When I See You… Ice Cream!. The band’s performance was unexpected and somewhat in discordance with the support acts. Yet, the music itself was an interesting arrangement blending features of electronic and rock genres.

The talent definitely lay in the music production rather than the writing itself. In fact, Stephen McCauley has called Keith Mannion (the man behind the band) “one of the finest producers in Ireland”.

However, this in some ways left the performance too reliant on elements of production perhaps best enjoyed through listening to the album in detail with headphones. As a live performance, details of the album were somewhat lost, and the audience was left longing for the simplicity of Participant’s opening act.

Hudson Taylor @ Roisin Dubh | 13/10/17 | Review

Hudson Taylor, once again, impressed, entertained and surprised the crowd at the Roisin Dubh in Galway on Friday 13th October.

The most surprising performance of the night was the upbeat version of “Open Up”. Fans are used to this song off being performed acoustically and emotionally. Instead, the band added rock-like drums and encouraged the energy of the crowd.

Old time favourites such as “Chasing Rubies” and “Battles” captured the attention of the crowd, with the crowd’s singing almost drowning the voices of the brothers.

Tadgh’s fiddle solo in “Don’t Know Why” was definitely the most beautiful moment of the show. Closely followed by Harry and Alfie’s sister, Holly, accompanying them in a short acoustic performance.

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New songs include a balance of folk ballads, love songs, and others in the style of “For the Last Time”/ “Off the Hook”- with defiant lyrics and powerful harmonies. The next album promises to carry this value of resilience through, but with a rockier vibe represented in “Feel it Again”, the band’s latest single.

The boys are back on 27th December, and promise another uplifting, yet festive, show.

Barn on the Farm || 2017 || Festival Highlights Review

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Saturday

Outdoor Stage: OUTLYA really dominated the outdoor stage in the mid stages of Saturday afternoon, encouraging the ever-growing crowd to sing along and dance. Their energy shone through in their performance of The Light. The classic indie-looking band pulled off some unique use of instruments and harmonies and are an exciting prospect.

Wooden Stage: Benjamin Francis Leftwich gathered a large crowd in the peaceful wooden barn stage on Saturday. Leftwich balanced a performance of old and new songs perfectly, pleasing the crowd with “Pictures” and, for some devout old fans, a beautiful performance of “1904”. However, newer songs actually received an incredibly eager reception, with a large proportion of the audience singing along at stages, especially to “Tikkium” and “Some Other Arms”. Leftwich’s tone and confidence have improved drastically over the past few years. I last saw Ben perform in a small venue in Nottingham in 2012 and his crowd growth, song writing ability, and personal development are all obvious to see.

Main Stage: Highlights for the main stage, for me, were Sundara Karma and James Vincent McMorrow. Sundara Karma, much like OUTLYA earlier in the day, proved to be immensely popular and energetic. The band has clearly grown massively in recent times and their unique image, along with summer ballads like “She Said” are one to watch.

James’ set clearly blew everybody away. His soft tones were projected across the entire farm, especially for tunes like “Higher Love”, “We Don’t Eat” and “Cavalier”. McMorrow’s Irish humour remained humble though.

Sunday

Outdoor Stage: A large crowd flocked to see The Howl & The Hum following Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s recommendation. The band did not disappoint with a powerful performance of “Godmanchester Chinese Bridge”. Their interesting and “relatable” lyrics coupled with resonant tones make them a low-key intriguing indie band to look out for.

Wooden Stage: LOWES, a small band from Lancaster beginning their music career, dominated the wooden stage. Their first single, Awake at Night, was performed with absolute confidence, and is now available on Spotify.

Main Stage: The two final acts on the main stage, Amber Run and Tom Odell, were the absolute pinnacle of the festival. Amber Run, of course, have played Barn on the Farm before, but their increase in audience and performance of songs off their most recent album really set them apart from previous years. The band gives their all to every performance, and this was evident particularly in “No Answers”. The audience got an extra treat when friend Lewis Watson joined the band for a performance of “I Found”.

Tom Odell’s final set certainly surprised me. The man is a performer who thrives on audience’s energy, that’s for sure. From the “Barn on the Farm song” to “I Know”, the variety of piano based songs sound relatively mundane on Odell’s albums, but in person the performance of Odell’s guitarists, his piano skills, and his astonishing vocals set him apart from every other performer at the festival. “Still Getting Used to Being on my Own” was a particular favourite of mine, along with the version of “Magnetised” which had the entire crowd dancing.

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Until next time, Barn on the Farm.

Luke Sital-Singh @ The Bodega | Nottingham | Review | 21/5/17

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Support ~ Ciaran Lavery

It’s not often that a support act doesn’t merely warm up the crowd but actively captivates their attention, silences them, and heeds rapturous applause, but Lavery’s simple acoustic set achieved just that. “Return to Form” was an especially beautiful performance.

Main Act ~ Luke Sital-Singh

The Bodega was absolutely packed for Sital-Singh’s performance. The simplicity (despite the constant switching between guitars, and piano 😉 ) of his set is what encouraged the crowd to settle and concentrate on the lyrical quality of his songs, especially “Nothing Stays the Same” and truly stunning new song, “Killing Me”. “Cynic” was another new song performed undeniably impeccably.

When Sital-Singh and Lavery joined each other in a Ryan Adams cover, true beauty was achived.

Top class gig.

★★★★★

Lewis Watson @ The Bodega, Nottingham | 3/4/17 | Reivew

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Support ~ Slowlights 

This classic indie rock band really lifted the mood in the Bodega. “I Try So Hard” was an especially drum-driven song where the band really came together. The lighting for the set was especially good, fitting the rock vibe yet creating an ambient glow.

Main Act ~ Lewis Watson 

Watson dotted his set list with older, fan-pleasing songs, including Halo, performed beautifully. However, most of the set consisted of songs off his new album, midnight. The audience gave an excited and stirring response to “little light” particularly. Other standout performances included “forever” and “give me life”.

Watson also gave a heartfelt yet funny story about watching the film Seeking a Friend for the End of the World on a plane and being inspired to write “when the water meets the mountains”. A personal favourite of mine off the album, this song offered the most dynamic lull and build, to captivate the crowd.

The newer songs were all received well, in fact, midnight offers hope that genuine progression for artists exists, with its added drums and variation.

★★★

 

Fionn Regan- The Meetings of the Waters | Album Review | Track by Track

Regan’s new album, out April 2017, blends sounds off his older records with new studio experimentation. As a whole, a beautiful album, but best listened to as a record in its entirety.

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The Meetings of the Waters- The opening track and the first single off the album, this track is accompanied by a beautiful music video featuring Cillian Murphy. “The Meetings of the Waters” beautifully describes a relationship and a place (in Regan’s own County Wicklow)

Cormorant Bird- The minor arpeggios perpetuated by the guitar in this second single open the track as a somber one, and cyclical in its melodies and lyrics such as “I will always run to you”. The added instruments and bass in the chorus lifts it up into a mesmeric ballad, similar yet more melancholic to the the previous track- a track symbolic of solitude.

Turn the Skies of Blue On-Cape of Diamonds- The use of melody and soft guitar is reminiscent of Newton Faulkner, coupled with the “cute” refrain. Yet, the delicate lyrics and the imagery of Spring actually elevate this into a complex and beautiful song.

Cape of Diamonds- Again, this track is uncharacteristic in its rock-like opening. The use of drums and electric guitar are both modern yet haunting, perpetuated in the lyrics “think I’m haunted by you, lover”

Book of the Moon- The opening note of this is Stornoway-esque, yet the discordant minor lyrics are surprisingly stirring. The entire track is quite gothic and unsettling. All in all, a strange experimentation.

Babushka-Yai Ya– This track is perhaps the most surprising of the entire album. The use of additional synth and panning make this track an interesting pop and rock experiment.

Ai- A beautiful one minute euphoric interlude

Wall of Silver- Lying somewhere in between the folkloric tradition of Regan and this new dabbling in rock, “Wall of Silver” couples haunting lyrics of potential love with guitar finger-picking and synthy background chords.

Euphoria- Some Regan fans will have heard this song in the YouTube video of Regan singing with the Staves. This song begins gently and results in painful yet beautiful lyrics and chord progressions screaming their craving for affection. Probably the strongest song on the album, emotionally, yet very subtle musically.

Up into the Rafters- This penultimate tracks features an interesting and uncharacteristic use of synthy bass and pop-like snares. The lyrics are also more fitting of the pop genre rather than Regan’s usual poetic folk lines.

Tsuneni Ai- What is there to say other than an odd yet transcendent 12 minute ending to the album.

 

★★★★

Laura Marling – Semper Femina | Review

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Possibly the best Laura Marling album since I Speak Because I Can, this gem of an album focuses on female or feminine relationships and experiences with each other and melancholy.

If Alas, I Cannot Swim is perceived as establishing Marling’s tone, and Once I Was An Eagle as challenging this with incorporating rock elements and interludes, this album fuses the two.

The steady and jazz-like riff running through the bass of ‘Soothing’ set the tone for a relaxing yet thought-provoking album. The modulation and use of strings in the chorus is a charming surprise.

The use of drums and confident guitar in ‘Wild Fire’ and ‘Nothing, Not Nearly’ matches the confident female-empowering lyrics throughout the album.

In ‘Nothing, Not Nearly’ the electric guitar’s syncopation, and rambling lyrics develop a folk-like mismatch of syllabic beat and musical beat:

We’ve not got long, you know
To bask in the afterglow
Once it’s gone it’s gone
Love waits for no one

Overall, the album uses elements of folk, rock and jazz to marry musical freedom and feminist poetry.

★★★★

Amber Run | For a Moment I was Lost | Review

Inspired by Nikki’s review <https://nikkithinking.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/album-review-for-a-moment-i-was-lost-by-amber-run/&gt; I decided to write a few words on Amber Run’s most recent album.

Feeling close to Amber Run because of personal reasons (okay, the Nottingham connection), I was eagerly anticipating this album, and it hasn’t failed to disappoint. Personally, I cannot wait to see their performance at Barn on the Farm this Summer.

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Stand out tracks, for me, include Fickle Game, Dark Bloom and Machine. 

Fickle Game is lyrically stunning, yet simple, with a haunting chord progression, similar to that found in Machine. A stronger rhythm is indeed found in No Answers but the evocative use of arpeggios in Machine is simply beautiful. Speaking of simplicity, Haze is probably the most stripped back yet synthesized track, placing focus on lyrics such as “scared of getting older, scared of dying alone”. The album on a whole is very raw in its acknowledgement of risk and fear, musically and literally in its lyricism.

The opening and closing tracks to the album are also perfectly framing, making it a must-have for the vinyl collection.

Amber Run’s poignant use of electric guitar mixed with occasionally intense bass and drums, giving them a classic rock vibe mixed with “indie” singer-songwriter roots.