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Kate Bush

50 Words for Snow

(Anti-/Fish People; US: 21 Nov 2011; UK: 21 Nov 2011)

Review [7.Dec.2011]


Kate Bush
50 Words for Snow


With only one song (barely) under seven minutes, the melodies, lyrics, and ideas on Snow pile up as slowly as its namesake, and are just as gorgeous. Bush has done “skittery” cold before, in old songs like “Waking the Witch”, where snow and ice are a prison or a trap. Thankfully she didn’t go for that same kind of fearful energy this time around. Here, snow and cold are friends and, in the case of “Misty”, even lovers. Snow is a patient, confident album that handles its concept extremely well. More importantly, it signals that Bush remains a vital artist who may be entering a new stage of creativity and inspiration. That’s an idea that makes many of us feel very warm inside. Andrew Gilstrap


 

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The Builders and the Butchers

Dead Reckoning

(Badman; US: 22 Feb 2011; UK: 22 Feb 2011)

Review [23.Mar.2011]


The Builders and the Butchers
Dead Reckoning


The Builders and the Butchers share some of the geeky-folk DNA with fellow Portlanders the Decemberists—and Ryan Sollee’s adenoidal voice is, if anything, even reedier and more anguished than Colin Meloy’s—but B&B claim an even darker, more gothic landscape as their own. Mandolin and bazouki lend unusual textures to the expected guitars bass and drums, but the real triumph here is in the songwriting. Breathlessly apocalyptic numbers like “Rotten to the Core” and “Black Elevator”—the elevator in question being the one that takes you to Hell—rub shoulders with downtempo dirges “Family Tree” and “Moon Is on the March”. Sure, the 80-second “Blood for You” is a throwaway, but that’s the only misstep on this, one of the best albums of 2011, and a criminally overlooked one. David Maine


 

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Zachary Cale

Noise of Welcome

(All Hands Electric; US: 17 May 2011; UK: Import)

Review [16.May.2011]


Zachary Cale
Noise of Welcome


When folk acts like Fleet Foxes seem so badly to want to give us a hug with their sound, it’s nice to know there’s guys like Zachary Cale out there. Cale’s brilliant 2011 album, Noise of Welcome, was the best folk record released all year. It’s as tuneful as any of those other guys, but Cale anchors his songs with a sonic heft that keeps them obscured and shadowy in all the best ways. They’re not navel gazing or downtrodden, just bittersweet and honest, from the early-morning gauze of “Blake’s Way” to the hushed croak of “Hello Oblivion”, Cale sings about heartache and loss openly, and the sweet groan of his voice sells every word—but this never feels like self-pity. Instead, these songs reach out in a real way, to comfort us not by washing us in sepia tones and sweeping flourishes, but by letting us feel the songs deeply for all their complex tones and moods and textures. The space between the notes of his finger-picked guitar often conveys more emotion than any number of hazy layers possibly could. Noise of Welcome is the folk record you should have heard in 2011. So start 2012 off right with this one. Matthew Fiander


 

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Anna Calvi

Anna Calvi

(Domino; US: 18 Jan 2011; UK: 17 Jan 2011)

Review [8.Feb.2011]


Anna Calvi
Anna Calvi


The comparisons to PJ Harvey were inevitable when Anna Calvi’s debut album surfaced in January, simply because she’s a husky-voiced singer whose dark compositions are accentuated by piercing guitar work. Although that influence is present in the music, the deeper you dig into this remarkable little record is just how unique and rich it actually is. With a flair for the theatrical that’s not far removed from Florence Welch and a knack for the sultry melodrama of everything from Angelo Badalamenti, to Richard Hawley, to Phil Spector’s girl groups, Calvi’s compositions seductively veer from the tender (“Desire”) to the downright fierce (“First We Kiss”). All that, and she can shred a mean guitar too, her blues and flamenco-inspired leads immediately setting her apart from her peers. Adrien Begrand


 

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Caveman

CoCo Beware

(Original Recordings Group; US: 15 Nov 2011)

Review [22.Jan.2012]


Caveman
CoCo Beware


In a time when everyone is seemingly obsessed with what is groundbreaking and entirely new, I find great pleasure in a band like Caveman. This debut is pure pop caffeine. It has hooks, choruses—you know, all the elements that used to make a great song way back when. The tight chord transition and emotive plead found in “Old Friend”—a song seemingly about an affair between a woman and the couple’s friend—contrasts beautifully with the light, feathery glockenspiel shimmering through “December 28th” and the woo woo woo’s that ring true of any lullaby. Each song on the album brings the listener to a different place sonically and by default emotionally. To me, Coco Beware, was the soundtrack to my 2011 and an album that played in the background while I drove, read and reflected on the year that was. Eddie Ciminelli


 

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CocknBullKid

Adulthood

(Island; UK: 7 Jun 2011)


CocknBullKid
Adulthood


Anita Blay’s punchy, beat-driven sound first caused a stir back in 2008, bringing a much-needed edge of lyrical introspection to the sugar-rush highs of the electro revival. Then she disappeared from the scene, taking her time over a debut album, Adulthood, that finally made its appearance in 2011. Blay’s verve, intelligence and ear for a melody acquired a new synthpop sheen courtesy of producer Liam Howe. No amount of production, though, could mask her sharp and occasionally gloomy wit, which still retains that acid bite. The standout track here is “Dumb”, where she skewers romantic delusions about a bad relationship as a moody synth backing underlines the heartbreak behind the tough talk. Too innovative to be pigeonholed as yet another mouthy singer-songwriter, Blay’s got the perfect combination of cynicism and heart, teamed with the fashion sense of Grace Jones. She can’t fail. Gem Wheeler


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