2012 Highlights in Music: Quarter One (January – April) [Feature]

It’s already been a busy year for releases and with the constant slew of new music it has been far too easy for things to fall by the wayside. I hope you are all suffering from a heavy chocolate hangover right now; hair of the dog doesn’t seem to have the same effect with this one unfortunately so why not spend your lazy sunday afternoon/evening reading through our run down of some of the highlights 2012 has had to offer so far! Lets hope the rest of the year continues in the current fashion! Without further ado and in no particular order:

Lilacs & Champagne – Lilacs & Champagne

Lilacs & Champagne’s self titled dropped at the tail end of January and we thought it was rather superb.

[Lilacs & Champagne] have managed to craft one of the most interesting and promising debuts I think I’ve ever heard. It’s a rich tapestry woven from samples and organic pieces strung together perfectly to create a sound that’s incredibly fresh.To put it crudely, if you take the Grails template from their recent efforts and give it a hip hop, sample focused twist, this is what you get. 

It’s followed up with some more excellent reviews from various other publications. We can’t recommend it enough!

Quantic & Alice Russell With The Combo Bárbaro – Look Around The Corner

Will Holland reunites with Alice Russell, backed by the ever excellent Combo Bárbaro. As you’d expect it’s packed with Columbian grooves, soul soaked vocals, smooth strings and brassy funk. It’s a graceful fusion and throw in Quantic’s sublime production and it will bring sunshine to your stereo whatever the weather. This is another album that’s escaped a proper review for the moment, but it hasn’t left my CD player since it dropped on my doormat so expect one soon. Highly recommended!

Dodgy – Stand Upright In A Cool Place

90’s band Dodgy reformed for a new album after eleven long years. Think Crosby, Stills & Nash combined with all the good Britpop you’ve ever heard, then add a little Fleet Foxes and a dash of excellent song writing. It’s a winning combination and perfectly executed, if not released a little early as these songs sound like summer anthems through and through.

Errors – Have Some Faith In Magic

The four-piece band from Glasgow released their brilliantly catchy full length follow up to 2010’s Come Down With Me. It’s catchy electro-indie at it’s finest and really builds upon the sound they’ve made their own over the two previous records. Bold, pulsating rhythms and bright keys aside it comes across as a rather organic sound and most importantly a finely crafted album.

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

I still have yet to review this album, it’s been one of the best of the year so far on many levels. Stripped and spacious, John Paul White and Joy Williams have managed to bring together one of the most intimate sounding records I’ve heard for a while. It’s primarily acoustic, largely without any form of percussion and effortlessly straddles both modern and old creating a timeless album that should appeal to a great many people. It’s beautiful stuff indeed and shifts between mellow, tender tracks and bluesy roots tracks with ease. I believe it’s been out for a year across in the States but we’ve only had it over here for a short while so if you’ve missed it, now’s the perfect time to catch up.

Django Django – Django Django

The British Quartet sprung almost out of nowhere with this infectiously catchy psychedelic indie-pop debut. It’s hard not to mention legendary group The Beta Band but throw in a little Metronomy as well and you’re half way there to Django Django’s sound. Deep, detailed, throughly danceable, quirky yet entirely accessible, this album should not be overlooked and was a real surprise highlight of the year as yet.

The Shins – Port of Morrow

If any of you have read my review of Port of Morrow you’ll already know how highly I regard this album. James Mercer returns with a finely crafted and absolutely stunning slice of Indie Pop. Its addictive melodies, beautifully written choruses and superb production contribute to arguably the strongest Shins record yet. 2010’s Broken Bells diversion with Danger Mouse is evident with a more electronic influence and helps to bring the Shins sound forward. Miss this album at your own loss!

Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself

Quirky, beautiful, haunting, charming. A mish-mash of various styles coming together to form something quite wonderful. It’s almost traditional yet thoroughly modern and has some killer whistling solos. Yes, you read that right, whistling solos. This was my first instruction to Andrew Bird and after reviewing it back in the first half of March it’s become a regular in my CD player. Blending traditional folk with a more modern rock approach it flits effortlessly between the two, forming an interesting flowing album that’s rich and detailed.

If you’ve made it this far hopefully you’ve either found something you’ve missed this year, or even better, maybe discovered something new. Let us know in the comments box if we’ve missed anything! I know I have!

Happy Easter from the Universal Wax team! I’m off to eat some more chocolate.

Au Palais – Tender Mercy [Listen]

Au Palais; my latest find is once again managed by the label Sound of Sweet Nothing. This is the kind of track I’d imagine being on the Drive soundtrack if it were made by a Brit.

It’s a slow-paced electronic song, with a drumming beat, overlayed with softy trickled vocals. The people behind the music are siblings; Elise and David Commathe who divide their time between Toronto and London. Before Au Palais, David was living in Tokyo composing minimal electronic music, and you can definitely catch moments of that style in music. Whereas this is Elise’s singing debut, and you could never tell!

Tender Mercy is their first EP, and there are talks of a full length album soon. The other tracks on the EP are equally all enjoyable. They all encompass a hint of that 80’s electronic sound, which has become more and more popular in the last few years. I look forward to hearing what’s next. Have a listen:

Tender Mercy by Au Palais

Tashaki Miyaki [Listen+Watch]

It’s not often I fall head over heals for an artist, but listening to Tashaki Miyaki’s cover of one of my favourite Dylan songs put them at the top of my playlist for the week.

I blame the summery vibes ringing in the London air at the moment that’s fuelling my current shoegaze phase. Tashaki Miyaki have a chilled out dreamy sound blended with well paced vocals which compliment each track perfectly – and I really mean that. The band are often compared to Best Coast, who I always ‘sort of liked’, but Tashaki Miyaki have that special thing which make them in my humble opinion far more enjoyable. I hope they come play in the UK soon.

The two girls behind the name, Lucy and Rocky are both from California. Their latest EP,  is released by UK based label The Sounds Of Sweet Nothing – the same people that released the new Halls EP. I have to say those people know how to find quality music.

What squeezes the icing on the cake for me is Tashaki Miyaki have quality music videos too. As a filmmaker myself, I see the importance in having good, tasteful visuals to this genre of music. So often with bands you see the cliché kaleidoscope of images badly processed through After Effects, (even on a zero budget, there’s no need for that). However their frequent director, Juan Iglesias has done a stellar job in producing very fitting videos for them, I salut you sir.

Check out their latest cover of Bob Dylan’s song, If Not For You:

This is a video for their track Best Friend, I also recommend checking out their video for Somethin’ Is Better Than Nothin’:

Grails need our help!

I wouldn’t usually post a call to arms (wallets) like this but Grails are in desperate need of the fans help this week, and being one of my favourite bands this is the least we can do. To summarise the situation, a hard-drive containing “1000s of hours of work for all 3 bands we produce, not all Grails, but it immediately impacts Black Tar [prophecies] 5, half of the next Lilacs & Champagne record is on there and probably towards 3 HolySons records…” has died and the band are planning to send it to Drive Savers in order to, hopefully, rescue the contents!

So how can we help I hear you ask? Well Grails need to raise around $2400 by Wednesday to ease the cost of saving this music. They are offering three options in order to help on their mailorder store. click HERE! to go and start saving the future of music. There are three options;

number one – an open donation which can be any amount.

number two, for $15 – five unreleased live tracks. These are culled from the best live moments that we could find in the archives from the early days..

Burden of Hope, Paris 2006
Back To The Monastery, Boston 2006
Word Made Flesh, Amsterdam 2006
The March, Paris 2004
Dargai, Geneva 2006

Grails will reply with a link to download within 24 hrs.

and finally, number three, for $30 – Your choice of the LP’s they have in stock: Burden of Hope, Redlight, Important Records 300th release compilation, or Lilacs & Champagne.

Personally I went with number two, the unreleased live tracks.

It’s worth mentioning the Lilacs & Champagne album that was released earlier this month was outstanding and the follow up is hanging in the balance right now, so if like me you care about Grails future music please consider helping them out!

Indian Summer by end’s not near [Listen]

This is a true gem of a track. About a year ago Bad Panda released a free album with a compilation of music from various artists, which as usual was put onto my iPod and buried away without proper attention.  However, like the majority of my loved ambient songs, this one wormed it’s way on my shuffle playlist and happily surprised me.

Japanese minimalist artist, end’s not near, has produced one of my favourite ambient tracks, Indian Summer. I’m a huge Haruki Murakami fan, and for me this song is the perfect soundtrack to his literature. I’m unsure of where the dialogue during the track comes from, or the actual reason for the production of this track, as his other work doesn’t seem to be connected. Either way, it’s a joy to the ears so sit back and relax to it.

Click here to download the track from Bad Panda’s blog.

Indian Summer by end’s not near

The Gertrudes [News & Listen]

“The Gertrudes sound like a ol’ time saloon party in deep space … experimental noise beds with down home folk passengers, frolicking through original material, played by a veritable orchestra of instruments.”

I feel like that quote pretty much nailed it on the head. Here’s a band you tell have a lot of fun while making their music. The Gertrudes is a mishmash of folk, rock, and pop. There are nine members, and they play a wide spread of instruments, including the theremin! You can imagine the songwriting process to be them all in a room together and suddenly someone goes, “I know let’s try this!”.

They’ve very recently released a new album, Till the Morning Shows Her Face to Me. One of my favourite tracks on the album, Dreams is one of their softer, slower paced songs. I love the vocals and banjo in it, I have a soft spot for girls who sing country music, so this sits nicely for me.

 

Check out their two albums here. Their first is as enjoyable as the second, I highly recommend you give them both a listen. Here’s a track from the 2010 album, Dawn Time Riot.

Enjoy!

Good Luck Mountain [Listen]

Good Luck Mountain is a new start for Mike Ferrio. The Brooklyn based artist was once known as Tandy, but 2008 brought an unexpected and tragic death to one of the band members. Two and half years later Mike launched himself into a new music project with a collective of respected artists including, Konrad Meissner (The Silos, Matt Nathanson), Jason Mercer (Ron Sexsmith, Ani DiFranco), Sibel Firat (Pavement, Giant Sand, Fab Faux), Matt Mays (The Guthries, Matt Mays and El Torpedo), David Chernis (Star City, The Damnwells), and Ana Egge (Ana Egge). They released their first album in 2011, called Good Luck Mountain.

Good Luck Mountain has an ‘alternative’ tag attached to it, but it has a more country western feel, with very subtle electronic tones – think Bruce Springsteen meets The Eels.

They were touring before Christmas, but I rather annoyingly missed them play. I wish this band the best of luck, this song, Heaven in the Haze is a stunning example of great songwriting, the instruments are as atmospheric as the lyrics. You gotta love those Western strings.

Check out their website where you can get your hands on their album: www.goodluckmountain.com

Heaven in the Haze by Good Luck Mountain

Halls – Fragile EP launch [News]

Tonight is the launch of a new EP by London based artist, Samuel Howard aka Halls. This will be his third release to date. His music is ambient, electronic and often has a sparse dubstep beat. For me, his sound is very engaging, I think it must be the ambient soundscapes that drift me off slightly into a psychedelic day-dream.

The launch is taking place at the hipster hive, Shacklewell Arms in East London. Doors open at 8pm. Click here to order your copy of the EP. I’m quite excited to hear him play live, his previous work is quite beautiful. Here’s the link to the Facebook event.

www.facebook.com/events/125280544254802

This track, I Am Not Who You Want, is from his new EP called Fragile, which is accompanied by a very apt music video, directed by Sebastian Nevols:

 

 

Islands – A Sleep & A Forgetting [News]

Islands are back with a new album. Islands originally rose out of the ashes of Nicholas Thorburn’s previous music venture, The Unicorns. Which was at the time, also very successful and well received. For me, the previous two albums that Islands produced didn’t quite cut it like their first and most acclaimed album, Return to the Sea. It’s been a while since i’ve given the album a good listen again. I usually just whack Swans and Volcanoes on my playlist and leave out the others which are each quite unique – Pitchfork described it as being a “a sprawling, gorgeous collection of pop songs that draws from disparate sources such as calypso, country, and hip-hop”. 

Islands have very recently announced that they’ll be releasing a new album called, A Sleep & A Forgetting, and to get the buzz going they’ve released a single from the album called, This is Not a Song. One of the main reasons I’m writing this post is because i really like this song, and i’ve got a feeling this album’s gonna be a good’n! It’s released on Hallmark’s Valenine’s Day. Here’s an oldie and the newie.

Band website: islandsareforever.com

This is Not a Song by Islands (A Sleep & A Forgetting 2012)

Neon Canyon [Listen]

Finding information about this artist is surprisingly difficult. What I can tell you is that Neon Canyon is made up of two friends, Mark Webber and Jon Sherman, they’re Canadian and they’re both very talented.

I found this artist through a song by one of my favourite electronic artists Blackbird Blackbird. This track is rather ironically called, We Have To Know, and features Neon Canyon. This by the way is a stunning tune.

Neon Canyon has an electronic, minimalistic dream-like sound. What I love is the simplistic hazy beats which are overlaid with ghostly vocals. As I said they are somewhat mysterious, even their Myspace page is down, but they do have Bandcamp page, which annoyingly doesn’t contain any tracks from my favourite album called, Neon Canyon. I believe this album is free, and i’ve seen it available on a couple of blogs, but i won’t paste a link just in case.

I’m still trying to track down their ‘currently private’ music video on Vimeo, which is for my favourite track called Photosynthesis, which according to all the blogs say is ‘sublime’. They’re such teases.

Here’s a link to their Bandcamp page, and let me know if you find the music video for this awesome track: neoncanyon.bandcamp.com

Photosynthesis by Neon Canyon