Time to take a look at what other musical sleds have been making their way across the frozen tundras of post-production this week. Which albums did not complete the journey and died in a frostbitten heap to be savaged by wolves and which reached the North pole of solid sales and eternal back catalogue status?
The first album that got me excited this week was Two Vines, the third studio album from ethereal Australian duo Empire Of The Sun. I unashamedly love 80s music and there does seem to be somewhat of a trend amongst some artists nowadays to try and recreate the 80s sound. The synthesizer is seemingly en vogue once more, though I am reliably informed that the correct terminology is now 'on fleek'. What I loved about Two Vines is that it feels like evolution rather than emulation. Had 80s music been harvested and placed in a perfect Darwinian musical ecosystem designed specifically to weed out the characteristics required for species preservation and disregard all else, the result would be not too dissimilar to Empire Of The Sun.
Each track feels streamlined and beautifully crafted with emphasis on grandiose melodies and the powerful versatility of Luke Steele's vocals. The more I listened, the more I found myself ignoring the lyrics almost entirely and just focussing on the feel of the songs and the places in my imagination that they took me to. The album didn't blow me away quite like debut release Walking On A Dream did, however you can only experience something for the first time once. Two Vines is still a gorgeous offering, especially first single High and Low and closing track Welcome To My Life.
With December 25th on the horizon, this week has a battle for the title of 'Best Premature Christmas Album'. In the blue corner sits Christmas Party by hipster duo She & Him. As Christmas parties go, this feels like the year your boss decided the theme was going to be 'Classy Christmas'. Out went the tree, Santa and alcohol. In came bamboo draped in fairy lights, St. Nicholas and a tab behind the wheatgrass and kale smoothie bar. Him and his infinitely more famous She warble their way through a mixed bag of Christmas classics and lesser-known festive ditties, each trademarked with their unmistakeable apathetic drone. Just when you think a track is about to get going, it, well, it just... doesn't. This would be the ideal gift for someone in a coma over the holidays. The potential to startle is very low but perhaps best to stay away from closing track Christmas Don't Be Late which could have even the least Grinchy person trying to fashion a tinsel noose.
In the red corner, Neil Diamond invites us to enjoy Acoustic Christmas with him. To continue the Christmas party theme, this is the year that you decided to skip the event altogether. You stayed at home with a glass of mulled wine, watched an interminable vox pop countdown and were tucked up by eleven. You then had the satisfaction of returning to the office on Monday morning to sift the detritus of celebratory regret safe in the knowledge that your closet was skeleton-free. Diamond's voice is comforting, an old friend singing you through a selection of religious standards and more modern offerings. As far as Christmas albums from 1970s musical legends go, this comes a very close second to Bob Dylan's 2009 benchmark Christmas In The Heart.
I asked 100 people this week if they knew that Alexander Armstrong had released his second studio album Upon A Different Shore. The answer 'yes' was pointless. Conversely, 'yes' was a correct answer but scored 100 points as a response to my supplementary question which was 'Are you surprised that it's not completely terrible?'. Admittedly, his version of Kygo's Firestone is a little bit excruciating but there are some very effective arrangements and former choir boy Armstrong's voice is note perfect. I even prefer his version of Scarborough Fair/Canticle to the Simon & Garfunkel effort. This has been released just in time to catch the 'not sure what to buy an elderly relative who I don't really know or like very much' Christmas market and I'm sure is destined to be bargain bin filler before all the leftover turkey is finished. Look on the bright side though, Alexander – Daniel O'Donnell has built an entire career on this business model.
One artist who has not yet been drawn into the Yuletide gaiety (presumably he has stayed away from the British high street throughout October) is Jack Savoretti who releases his fifth studio album Sleep No More. Call me a cynic but it must be hard for a musician who distributes so many of his songs to youthful American TV shows (Wikipedia lists 16 different songs in 8 different shows) to not have this in the back of his mind when he comes to record a new album. That's not to say there is nothing to like here. Some of the songs are catchy, even enjoyable in the moment, particularly first track When We Were Lovers. It just all feels too safe and measured. Compared with Ryan Adams who has equal success peddling his songs whilst still maintaining a status as a risk taker, Savoretti's effort just feels a little flat.
Finally, Madness return with their 12th studio album Can't Touch Us Now. As a child, the only knowledge I had of Suggs was his appearance as a team captain on the BBC's short-lived poor relation 'A Question Of Pop'. It wasn't until later that I experienced him as a respected musician. Their new album has enough to satisfy die hard Madness fans as well as 'Johnny come latelys' like me. The stand out track is first single Mr. Apples but it will always be Madness' collective, collaborative songwriting and lyrical wizardry that takes them a level above and this is evident throughout the record. It could be five tracks shorter without losing its impact but, nitpicking aside, it is a solid addition to their already impressive catalogue.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Fall by the Yuletide wayside
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