Saturday, 6 July 2013

Mr McGuiggan's Mid-Year Top 10

by Patrick McGuiggan
I have selfish reasons for writing this article. My friends and I used to send these lists to each other which meant I rarely missed any new releases worth listening to. Nowadays, in my old age, I don’t have as much time to listen to music as extensively as I used to and so I call upon you, the people of PGS, to post your own lists from which I can garner some inspiration, perhaps whilst heavily criticising my own list? I can take it. As a result, most of the albums below are from bands I was already familiar with. I deliberated over this for far too long and I have changed the order numerous times, but it is what it is. Enough is enough.
Other releases I have enjoyed which didn’t quite make the cut: 
Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll
Alkaline Trio – My Shame is True
Tom Odell – Long Way Down
Cartel – Collider
Laura Marling – Once I was an Eagle
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Phoenix – Bankrupt!
I Can Make a Mess – Enola
Andrew McMahon – The Pop Underground EP

10. Eisley – Currents
Eisley, a band of siblings and one cousin, produce a unique brand of enchanting indie pop; their previous album ‘The Valley’ was exceptional and, whilst I don’t think ‘Currents’ quite reaches the same heights, it is still a solid release. Free from the constraints of a major label, it seems like Eisley have been able to produce the album they have always wanted. It is probably less accessible than before and takes a few listens to get into, but being a fan of the band I persevered and, thankfully, it has really grown on me. The album is wonderfully whimsical, with an atmospheric sound frequent throughout, and is filled with some awe-inspiring vocals, this time from all three sisters. If I had one criticism, it would be that the album doesn’t pack quite the same punch as some of their previous work; the heavy rock riffs are less prominent and seem to have taken a back seat for a more subdued indie pop sound. Regardless, it is still a fantastic album, even if it does takes some time to get into; I would probably encourage new listeners to start with their previous album ‘The Valley.
9. Josh Ritter – The Beast in its Tracks
Why are break-up albums so good? Some of my favourites: ‘Cursive – Domestic’,‘Dashboard Confessional – The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most’, ‘Elliot Smith XO’ or the all time classic ‘Fleetwood Mac – Rumours’. I could go on…but, another time maybe. I first got into Josh Ritter after being dragged to see him live by a friend. The gig was phenomenal, I have never seen someone so happy to be on stage, his enthusiasm was so infectious and upon returning home I immediately began checking out his back catalogue. The latest album to earn its place in the break-up album hall of fame is ‘The Beast in its Tracks’; after going through a bitter divorce, Josh Ritter decided to wait before recording his new album, admitting that the first songs he wrote were too spiteful and full of self – loathing to record. That’s not to say he doesn’t have his moments, on ‘New Lover’ he sings:
“I hope you've got a lover now, hope you've got somebody who/Can give you what you need like I couldn't seem to do./But if you're sad and you are lonesome and you've got nobody true,/I'd be lying if I said that didn't make me happy too.”
 The Beast in its Tracks’ is honest, open and almost unbearably beautiful; it is one of the finest releases from a singer/songwriter I have heard in a long time, do yourselves a favour and give it a listen.

8. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart

Frank Turner, originally from Hampshire (so show him some love) and educated at Eton, isn’t your typical folk/punk singer songwriter. He has always been a magnificent story teller, but his music is sometimes marred by some poorly constructed political arguments, however, not on this release. Instead, he is deeply personal and intimate; he is baring his soul and the album is all the better for it. In fact, on songs like “Tell Tale Signs” it is almost as if he is reciting excerpts from his own diary. The album is 12 tracks long but I would definitely recommend sourcing the deluxe edition, as the six bonus tracks are well worth a listen. What the album lacks, in comparison with some of his earlier work, is the same number of fun, fist-pumping, punk anthems, though this is perhaps due to the more inward subject matter evident throughout; that’s not to say they are completely scarce, ‘Four Simple Words’ is a fine example of what he is capable of in that respect. In summary, I, as a long time fan, found this to be anothergreat addition to his already extensive discography; however, I imagine new fans might require a few listens to really appreciate it.

 7. Paramore – Paramore

I’ve never really been a fan of Paramore, in fact I initially ignored this release, but after reading several positive reviews I decided to give it a go; I was pleasantly surprised. The same thing happened last year when I finally succumbed to the hype regarding a certain Miss Taylor Swift and gave ‘Red’ a listen. Perhaps I should branch out a little more often? The album really makes the band stand out, they have taken a lot more risks and experimented with their sound, they even have a gospel choir singing backup vocals on ‘Ain’t it fun’. The album is exactly that, fun. You may not like every song but if you don’t find something to like amongst these 17 tracks, I would be seriously surprised. This is a hugely ambitious album; they have taken a lot of risks, most of which pay off. This album has gone some way to cementing Paramore’s place as one of the finest active rock bands in America.

6. Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse 

I fell in love with Frightened Rabbit after the release of their brilliant second album ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ and even more so after seeing them open for Modest Mouse in Belfast. I had high expectations for what would come next and was left somewhat disappointed their next effort, ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks’. Thankfully, this latest release is a return to form. The band fit somewhere between indie rock and folk on the genre spectrum, although this album is slightly grittier than previous releases. The band’s front man Scott Hutchinson is a sublime lyricist, the album is like a collection of gloomy poems, narrated in a charming Glaswegian accent. Everyone loves a good regional accent don’t they? ‘Pedestrian Verse’ is the name of the album, but don’t expect to find anything pedestrian about the magnificent song writing on show here.

5. Jimmy Eat World – Damage

I have always been a massive Jimmy Eat World fan. They are one of the few American rock bands who regularly made the trip to Belfast as part of their UK tour (when few others would) and I have been lucky enough to see them on every single occasion. My dedication to this band knows no bounds; I even went to an extortionate one day festival in which they were third on the bill just to see them perform, enduring Eminem and OFWGKTA in the process. Their latest album Damage has a slightly rawer sound, almost akin to their 1999 release ‘Clarity’; it doesn’t seem as heavily produced which works well with the more stripped back sound and Jim Adkins outstanding vocals. They are one of the most dependable rock bands around; as with every Jimmy Eat World release, the album is heartfelt, relatable and catchy. Everything I have come to expect from one of my favourite bands.

4. Lydia – Devil

Lydia are a band I have been aware of but never really paid a lot of attention to, until now that is. This is currently my album of choice on these numerous sun-soaked days on the South coast. Not that I can handle the sun, as many witnesses at Sponge the Teacher will testify after seeing the state of my sunburnt legs. Despite the somewhat morose title ‘Devil’, the album is extremely uplifting and has a distinct summer feel to it, which is a complete shift in mood from previous releases by this band. It is incredibly catchy, filled with captivating lyrics and interesting melodies – it is the perfect soundtrack to summer. 

3.Tegan and Sara – Heartbeat

'Heartthrob' is nothing short of a triumph. On their seventh attempt, the Quin sisters have released what is, without question, their best album to date and probably a contender for the best pop album of the year. What is more impressive is that the girls have abandoned their guitars and traded them in for keys and synthesisers. With each album, their sound has slowly evolved but here they have jumped feet first in to the world of pop music ... and they are showing everyone else how it is done. What the girls have accomplished is an album that sounds like it could have been released 30 years ago yet still somehow manages to sound current. 'Heartthrob' excels at disguising its darker lyrical content with bright, electronica flourishes and its consistent up-tempo beat; they manage to harmonise throughout in a way that only twin sisters know how. It is entirely different to anything they’ve ever released, yet still sounds like a Tegan and Sara album. I promise, you will not regret it if you choose to buy 'Heartthrob' (or, more likely, spend time looking for it on Spotify or You Tube), for it is truly exceptional.

2. The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation

Pop punk has never sounded as mature, cohesive or exciting as it does on The   Wonder Years latest release, ‘The Greatest Generation’, their best album to date. I was lucky enough to see them live at Slam Dunk festival and I can honestly say, despite almost being crushed to death due to the crowd’s enthusiasm, they were easily the best band of the day. The album has some fantastic lyrics; one verse I particularly like is:
“I’m sick of seeing ghosts/And I know how it’s all gonna end/There’s no triumph waiting/There’s no sunset to ride off in/We all wanna be great men/And there’s nothing romantic about it/I just wanna know that I did/All I could with what I was given.”

I don’t have enough superlatives in my vocabulary to accurately describe how I feel about this album. There just isn’t a band in this genre that is even in the same league as The Wonder Years right now. Simply put, this is one of the best albums I have heard in a long time.  

1. The Postal Service 10th Anniversary Reissue – Give Up

Ten years on and I still listen to this album on a regular basis. The Postal service is the collaboration of Death Cab for Cutie front man Ben Gibbard and Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello. The two friends exchanged ideas through the post and after being pleasantly surprised by the success of the song "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan" on which Ben appeared as a guest vocalist, The Postal Service was born. They have never given me the second album I so desperately crave, however, this new edition which includes a few new tracks, as well as rarities and b-sides is a step in the right direction. The album is timeless; it is a perfect blend of indie pop and electronica; do yourselves a favour and bask in the unique brilliance of this album.

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