The Naked And Famous: 2011’s Sonic Boom!

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New Zealand’s The Naked and Famous are, so far, my favourite new band of 2011. Their debut album Passive Me, Aggressive You pulls together everything that’s good about popular music at the moment, while at the same time not coming across as commercial. Whether you hear their first single “Young Blood” in a club, at a friend’s house or on 5FM, the track is the epitome of cool every time.

Their sound is a mixture of dreamy dance-pop, dark sonic psychedelia and ripping up-beat melodies, as well as a healthy dose of noise. There’s definitely a lot in common with MGMT and LCD Soundsystem, but also hints of Radiohead, Animal Collective, Portishead, The B52’s and NIN. Yes, really.

Each song on the album is alive with youth and party, colliding synth-rock with dirty, edgier grooves in amongst the many memorable hooks. From the opener “All Of This,” you know you’re in for a road trip. There are brilliant ups and introspective downs along the way until arriving at the triumphant “Girls Like You.”

My favourite track at the moment is “No Way.” It oscillates between delicate female vocals with a restrained drum beat and an agitated guitar held in a wall of sound that reverberates over your ears… A lot like when you’re driving a little fast with the car windows completely open:

You can find out more about this fantastic band at their official website. Do that after you’ve bought or ordered yourself the album though, because Passive Me, Aggressive You will go down in history as one of those truly brilliant debut albums.

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The Howlin’ Shibanski at Pandora

The Howlin’ Shibanski is a rootsy, energetic blues band, and one of the best I’ve ever seen. Check them out on Facebook: http://goo.gl/NwQA5

It was also my first time at Pandora Art House, and it’s a great venue. With a view out over the Pretoria city skyline, this big old house is the perfect place to have an intimate yet loud evening. Unfortunately, it seems as if they won’t be around after the end of this year, so check them out while you still have a chance. http://www.pan-dora.co.za/

Expect the unexpected: Iron & Wine’s “Kiss Each Other Clean”

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There’s no such thing as too much Iron & Wine” ~ myself, ages ago.

The new Iron & Wine album, Kiss Each Other Clean is brilliant. To follow up from 2007’s The Shepard’s Dog, an album that’s so refined and rich with wide open spaces (basically, one of mankind’s finest moments), would take super-human skills. Consider it done. This is a brave new sound, and although it’s been a logical progression there’s clearly been a huge advancement in the band’s confidence.

From the humble beginnings of a man with a golden voice and a guitar, Samuel Beam’s sound has steadily grown to include other musicians and studio wizardry. Kiss Each Other Clean continues in this vein whilst catapulting Iron & Wine right out of the indie-folk box. There’s a myriad of new instruments all clamouring for attention (including brass, synths and a flute) and they all want to play 70’s era rock, funk or reggae…or just make a noise. But don’t fear. Sam Beam’s voice has the ability to cut through anything.

The songwriting is braver than ever, and Kiss Each Other Clean is also beautifully constructed and produced. As with every Iron & Wine album, there is immense beauty in Sam Beam’s wounded and courageous poetry, but there’s also plenty of restrained anger. From the sublime “Cause a rabbit will run, and a pig has to lay in it’s piss” on ‘Rabbit Will Run’ (such a fine moment on the album) to the epic 7 minute closer ‘Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me’ describing what we have become, risks have been taken, and all of a sudden Iron & Wine are throwing punches on a different level. I never thought Iron & Wine was capable of an opus the magnitude of Your Fake Name, but I was wrong, and I’m amazed.

Traditional fans may not be too impressed with the new sound, but that would have more to do with what they expected to hear. Artists need to evolve if they’re any good, and to cling to a sound that is familiar is selfish. Nothing has changed in terms of Samuel Beam’s incredibly melodic songwriting skills, and if you’re in any doubt about that just head over to the Iron & Wine Daytrotter session to download a selection of these songs in all their naked, non-produced glory. Kiss Each Other Clean is a magnificent album of immense proportion, and with it they assert their place amongst musical nobility. Order it from Iron & Wine’s website.

Best Albums of 2010

1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

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They can’t set a foot wrong, and their third full studio album is full of surprises that continue to set them apart as a serious creative force in music. The Suburbs kicks against the boredom and mediocrity that is middle class whilst experiencing the realisation that the kids in Funeral have become those having kids in The Suburbs. An entire story about where we were and where we’re going is played out in ups and downs of triumphant orchestral arrangements and pumping rhythms. To create such a monumental album (at 16 tracks and 64.07 minutes), Arcade Fire rocket directly to the #1 spot.

2. Broken Bells – Broken Bells

Broken Bells - Broken Bells

Danger Mouse and James Mercer from The Shins teamed up on a project that resulted in so much more than the sum of its parts. Broken Bells is a sublime, sorrowful, graceful and victorious album. Both changed their approach when working on this album: Danger Mouse laid off the heavy sampling and kept it simple, and James Mercer extended his vocals far beyond what he’d previously done with The Shins. It’s not often that you find brilliant music that everyone from your friends to your mom loves, but at the same time has immense depth and subtlety when you listen to it alone.

3. The Black Keys – Brothers

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Brothers is an instant hit album, grabbing your rock ‘n roll heart and exposing it to a bleeding blues guitar, drumming that shakes your bones, restrained vocals that pull at your nerves and so much soul it hurts. Most of the original tracks and the cover of the Motown classic “Never Gonna Give You Up” cry like pure, undiscovered gold. Brothers is a squarely a roots album that’s so loose, dirty and crafted, it turns out to be the coolest listening pleasure possible.

4. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

Sufjan Stevens

The Age of Adz departs from the gentle settings of Steven’s previous albums, diving headlong into a Radiohead-esque sea of electronic sounds. It’s a far cry from everything else he’s done, and that’s precisely what makes this album remarkable. Instead of weaving stories on the strength of his lyrics, this album basks in the liberation of crashing drums and humming synths, woven together with his hallmark gift of melodic arrangement. The Age of Adz will take many listens for you to get in to and wouldn’t sound out of place as a sci-fi soundtrack, but may be Sufjan Stevens’ best work yet. Given more listening time on my behalf (I just got the album the other day) this weird and exceptional album may have climbed further up on this list.

5. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

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This British indie-folk group have made an album that sounds like heartache with syrup on an overcast day. Banjos and big acoustic moments lead up to sweet harmonies and down-to-earth impassioned pleas, with the odd a cappella thrown in there with wonderous colour. All in all a perfect blend of British and American folk that rises up to slay the dragon of pretentious grey indie British music.

6. MGMT – Congratulations

MGMT

What impresses me most about this band is that they’re so committed to their sound, it seems like they’re oblivious to what people think of their music. That’s a good thing for cred, but not always for an album. Congratulations follows in the synth-pop psychedelic vein of Oracular Spectacular, but morphs into whole clouds of other songs within songs, making it not quite as accessible as their previous album, but a brilliant and hazy musical journey worth tripping to on a regular basis.

7. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse – Dark Night Of The Soul

Dark Night

This side project between Danger Mouse and Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) is the most underrated album of the year. Dark Night Of The Soul features an all-star list of guest artists, and the album is as beautiful and twisted as the story surrounding it’s release. To cut it short, Danger Mouse’s record company weren’t happy with the royalty split so the album was shelved. After leaking online and both Mark Linkous and Vic Chesnutt committing suicide, it was finally released. Even with so many different voices on the album (Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, Frank Black of The Pixies, Suzanne Vega, Nina Person of The Cardigans) the sound is homogeneous and beautifully elegant.

8. Best Coast – Crazy For You

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Lead singer Bethany Cosentino’s voice has the same rich, honey-like quality as Neko Case’s singing, but instead of Americana or Country influences pulling the music together, Best Coast put out carefree surf-rock tunes with a touch of indie charm. This is the sound of a lazy summer afternoon at the beach, young infatuated love and ice cream. It’s a short album, but the songs are so stripped down, simple and sunny that this album is instantly likable.

9. The Dead Weather – Sea Of Cowards

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This should have been The Dead Weather’s debut album instead of their second studio album, since it completely sets the band apart from Jack White’s other projects. Alison Mosshart and Jack White compete on vocals to the extent that you can’t always tell who is singing, turning Sea Of Cowards into a balls-to-the-wall revenge Rock album with careless swagger and discordant guitars. It’s the picture of booze and dirty sex in a graphic novel: utterly extravagant, enticing and an overindulgent ‘fuck you’ that leaves you wanting to join in on the fun.

10. The National – High Violet

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High Violet is a difficult album to write about, and I know that everything I write will come out sounding wrong. It defies being categorised. It’s melancholic, but not sad. It’s introspective, but not paranoid. It’s serious, but not grandiose. Mostly, this album is a friend and companion, like someone who has your back and understands how you feel. When I was busy doing other things this year, The National quietly made an album that crept into my heart and stayed there.

In other news, Kanye West made a few #1 spots, but I’ve listened to his album it’s okay. The man is a great producer and his lyrics are clever, but he shouldn’t rap. He’s probably gotten all this attention because of the wide range of songs he’s sampled that lie outside the normal pool where hip-hop draws inspiration from (everyone from King Chrimson to Gene Clarke & Rodger McGuinn from The Byrds) as well as the variety of people who appear on the album (Justin Vernon from Bon Iver, La Roux, Elton John, and the usual hot-at-the-moment hip-hop crowd that always collaborate on each other’s albums). With that being said, Danger Mouse features twice on the list above, and can probably kick Kanye’s ass in a studio.

Unfortunately I didn’t get around to the new full albums of Deer Tick, Neil Young, Grinderman, Rogue Wave and a few others, but I will, and if they rock I’ll write about them. But for now, this top 10 is a list of albums you really, really should be listening to. It’s been a great year for music.

This is the coolest local advertising I’ve seen. Period.

This is the coolest local advertising I've seen. Period.

Braai Day + Lady Gaga wearing a meat dress at the VMA’s = NoMU

It’s ironic because the couple that started the business (the wife) was vegetarian. They called it NoMU, as in no-moo. Later, they found out it loosely translates as “to drink, swallow or savour ” in Japanese. How cool is that?