The Universal Wax Top 12 of ’12 – Part Three

So here we are with the final four albums of our twelve that make up the Universal Wax top 12 of ’12.  This time it’s Toms selection which is as broad as ever and features some really fantastic records. I couldn’t agree more with the inclusion of the Journey OST which has been one of the most beautiful scores I’ve heard for a long time and as any long time readers may recall we’re already big Andrew Bird fans here at Universal Wax. This will be our final post of 2012, however we’ll be following this one up in the new year with our notable mentions (those that didn’t quite make our top twelve) and some upcoming artists to look out for in 2013. In the meantime, from all at Universal Wax, we hope you have had a wonderful Christmas and are about to have a fantastic New Year, enjoy our now complete Universal Wax Top 12 of ’12 and let us know what you think in the comments below!  – Sam

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Andrew Bird – Hands of Glory [Review]

Andrew Bird’s distinct sound is the reason why I remember first listening to his track A Nervous Tic back when I was 18. Earlier this year his much anticipated album Break it Yourself valiantly galloped its way through music stores and blogs leaving dust clouds of positive reviews. Click here to check out Sam’s review of it.

Andrew Bird has been touring through the summer, and due to the highly positive response to his performances, he decided to record a mixture of reprises from Break it Yourself, along with a few classic Americana folk songs that he had performed. The result is Hands of Glory, another satisfying hit of Andrew Bird goodness.

From the age of 4, he’s been plucking and playing the violin, and so without making obvious comment to the beauty of it in his previous work; getting to hear him cover classic folks songs – especially, If I Needed You makes this compilation extra special. The rendition of Orpheo is another favorite, it’s completely stripped and played so slow that every word and creak of the bow lends itself to producing a more delicate and soothing song.

You can listen to the whole album on the Guardian website here. It’s a great collection of songs that make the perfect soundtrack to your Autumn walks. My only criticism is that I wish at least one track had him whistling!

Tracklist: 

  1. Three White Horses
  2. When That Helicopter Comes
  3. Spirograph
  4. Railroad Bill
  5. Something Biblical
  6. If I Needed You
  7. Orpheo
  8. Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses

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.

Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself [Review]

My introduction to Andrew Bird was while browsing the shelves of the small and rather wonderful record store People Independent Music of Guildford, Surrey. A superb Indie store packed with a range of genres and always something interesting or new, if you’re ever in the area check it out, it’s well worth a look. So, I’m standing there, browsing the Alternative/Indie section, I have one CD in hand, probably all I’m going to spend today and then this song kicks up, it’s beautiful, it reminds me of the Fleet Foxes, with a little Ryan Adams, but with a whole lot of violin and a little more subtlety, it’s sort of quirky as well. The guy next to me leans over to the counter and asks “Who is this?”, to which the girl replies with a smile “It’s Andrew Bird’s new album”, “Hmm…” the customer ponders for all of half a second, “I’ll take one!”. Handing the CD over in my hand to pay I echo, “You know what, I’ll take one as well”.

It was one of those moments I had to hear more on my own stereo, if I hadn’t bought that album there and then I’d be a mug. That’s a great start, first track of the new album and I’m totally sold, as was my fellow customer. I’m happy to report Break It Yourself delivers. I’d heard Birds name thrown around before, I’d heard his outstanding whistling skills (seriously, check it out – this song also features on this album), but never taken the time to check out his music properly. I was pleasantly surprised to find a sound that mixes beautiful strings with soft guitars and rock elements, arranged with just enough oddities to keep it fresh. It straddles modern acoustic songwriting and traditional folk music pretty comfortably and never feels like an unnatural or forced combination. Desperation Breeds elevates itself to one of my favourite album openers of the year beginning slow and brooding before bursting into life with beautiful flourishes of violin. These frequent the album and compliment most songs bringing the music alive with a bright and vibrant feel. The aforementioned whistling is there and is as excellent as ever, Bird really does have some skills and no matter what he is playing it all comes together so perfectly well with a natural and effortless flow. The short recording window and live studio recording only helps to give the album the organic, natural sound is presents. Pacing is graceful and mixes the uplifting with the more gentle mellow tracks.

The only complaints I have are aimed at the latter half which drags slightly before soaring again with the absolutely superb Hole in the Ocean Floor. It never becomes wearisome however and overall it can be taken as a very well rounded full-length. It’s worth keeping in mind that this is my first Andrew Bird album so I cannot compare it to previous releases, but it’s definitely a great place to start and I can safely say I’ve come away a fan.

Andrew lacks a website at the moment but check him out on facebook if you want to keep up with news and tour info.