Courtney Marie Andrews - Honest Life

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My entry point to Courtney Marie Andrews is the sort of thing I used to do all the time in my university days (far too long ago now), walk into a record shop (this time it was Resident Records during a recent trip to Brighton) and randomly pick (and buy) an album purely based on the cover art, the track list names and the record shop blurb (heart on the sleeve country ballads was more than enough to part me with my hard earned). In this case, and many others down the years, the excitement of getting that record home and pressing play for the first time and taking that step into the unknown yielded exquisite results (and of course some utter horrors). It's a joy that the ease of streaming services and the Internet (and blogs like this) denies many. 

I picked Honest Life, my introduction to the Los Angeles basedsongwriter but actually her third LP (official, I believe there are a few that pre-date the three left on streaming services) and my instinct was spot on, the album is a treasure from start to last, filled with intimate and sparse ballads coupled with pure toned vocals and striking simplicity.

I could pick a number of other tracks to focus on throughout Honest Life, the heart melting title track, the beautifully plaintive "Table For One" or the equally subtle power of "Let the Good One Go" but it's the 'biggest sounding' pairing of "How Quickly Your Heart Mends" and "Put The Fire Out" that hit me hardest, reminding me of the sorely missed (and soon to return, I hope, Caitlin Rose) with strong, empowered vocals and devastatingly honest words. 

It's one of two essential releases of 2017 already (I'll write about the other one very shortly).

Albums of 2016 - The Holy - More Escher and Random Notes

Albums of 2016 - The Holy - More Escher and Random Notes

I've lavished praise on The Holy here countless times, slowly but surely people are starting to listen. The Helsinki quintet do not fuck around, leaving everything on the table at the end of their songs and treating you to these beautiful yet humungous soundscapes filled with soaring guitars and pummelling beats, their debut EP More Escher and Random Notes sums that up in more over five quite glorious tracks. 

"This Will Be the Day That I Die" was the track that started it for me a good while ago now, a huge, sweeping epic filled with darkly hued atmosphere. it's edgy, it's gorgeous and it's tense and it's even buoyant. Opener "Can't Remember Your Name" is another slow burning beauty that's just the right mixture of brooding and beauty, the percussive melody slowly rises in intensity amongst different, but always darkened textures, add in cascading synths and brooding guitars and soon it will command your complete attention up to its unsettling conclusion.

There's lots of drums throughout (there are two drummers in the band) and "Airport for Lovers" rushes along like Springsteen on acid with pulsating rhythms and soaring guitars duelling for attention. I can't pick a favourite but perhaps it is "Ramses The Evil Brother", similarly brimming with ideas, darkened in colour and majestic in delivery, rushing through at breakneck speed and triumphant in its fuzzy, dramatic conclusion, a truly glorious listen it is too.

More Escher and Random Notes is quite simply the best thing that passed through my ears in 2016 (closely followed by Blackstar - I'm not going to bother reviewing that one at the end of January - I'm sure you've heard it).

Albums of 2016 - Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation - Mirage

Albums of 2016 - Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation - Mirage

One of the most complete and seamless albums of 2016, Mirage, the second release in as many years from Sweden's Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation is a wonderfully immersive psyche-pop record that will have you hypnotised from the get-go.

"The State (I'm In)" kicks off Mirage and sums that up.  a hazy blend mix of throbbing synths, glistening guitar and forthright percussion, with Josefin's ethereal vocals floating on top, it's a gorgeous summer breeze of a track. "Sister Green Eyes" is moodier, combining repeating, droning rhythms with gauzy vocals and ominous intent. Both sublime.

Honestly, I could easily pick any track to laud with praise, the duo of tracks "In Madrid / Rainbow Lollipop" merge into one combine pulsing electronics with irresistible poised words. The atmosphere remains throughout, it's contagious and romantic all the same, never more so than on perhaps the absolute highlight "Rushing Through My Mind".

Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation are one of two bands I've not seen that I really, really fucking want to (the other is my next post). I've managed to miss them in London already and their next show coincides with when I'll typically be in Scandinavia myself. I hope I can break my duck soon, they promise to be an absolute revelation. 

Albums of 2016 - Petite Meller - Lil Empire

Albums of 2016 - Petite Meller - Lil Empire

And now, a lot, lot later than planned, my other favourite pop record of 2016. If The Lion King was made now and was a little more about the "Hakuna Matata" moments, there's a pretty good chance the soundtrack would sound like Petite Meller's debut record Lil Empire, it's bonkers, it's fun, it's vibrant and it's brilliant. 

From the very first notes of "The Flute" you are aware of that, pop meets majestic and beautiful African soundscapes in a boundless joy of a record that is catapulted by Petite Meller's utterly captivating lead, you sense her endless enthusiasm before you even see her videos, bouncing around with the energy of a young child and her unique style of eccentricity.

"Baby Love" is of course the one, an absolutely massive chart topper (nearly nine million YouTube videos mean I'm hardly the one one who thinks so), an infectiously quirky, dancey pop anthem that you'll be singing along all day long.  Early single "Barbaric" is nearly as good, a contagious banger with a killer chorus and then there's "Milk Bath" too, filled with funky afro-beat rhythms and the wonderful "Geez" needs mention to.

Basically, the only recommendation I have with Lil Empire is to play it and dance around your room like you don't care, I think that's what Petite Meller wants you do to. 

Albums of 2016 - Shura - Nothing's Real

Albums of 2016 - Shura - Nothing's Real

One of my two favourite pop records of 2016, Shura's debut full length Nothing's Real may have been a long time coming for those of us with her from the outset but it rewards the listening fully and offers a perfect addition to 80's indebted pop with a modern twist that's finding an increasingly prominent place in my record collection.

The entire record is direct and emotional from start to finish, filled with a broken-hearted mood amongst smooth, shimmering textures, take the wonderful trio of tracks that predated the album "Touch", "Just Once" and "Indecision" as perfect example and the brilliant "Indecision", a more 80's indebted, school dance-floor jam with sparkling synths and woozy guitars that is both restrained and luxurious as an example of the more upbeat moments seen best on the bedazzling "White Light".

The softly spoken vulnerability reaches its peak on my favourite two new tracks ("Touch" will always be the Shura song for me) "What’s It Gonna Be?” and "What Happened To Us", both see Shura challenging her lover with forthright questions about the potential end of relationship and hit hard with the tangled web that is human emotion. Despite its often brittle subject matter, Nothing's Real comes across as sexy and poppy and I love it. 

Albums of 2016 - Rachel Sermanni - Gently

Albums of 2016 - Rachel Sermanni - Gently

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I hope you haven't got any plans for the next half an hour, if you have, call them off because I guarantee there is nothing better you can do for yourself that cut to the end of my waffling words here and press play on the beguiling Gently EP by Rachel Sermanni.

Recorded with Rachel's friend Jennifer Austin (who has the final track named in her honour) in her flat and on her piano, the resulting four tracks ebb and flow with an understated yet hypnotising grace and beguiling beauty to results that touch deep inside. The opening "Gently" is pure poetry, a softly waltzing melody made up of little more than Rachel's acoustic guitar and Jen's piano chords, it leaves you with the sort of feeling that makes all your worries float away, dreamlike and devastatingly pretty with Rachel's breathy, ethereal voice and captivated words. That's a pretty accurate summation of the three "Gently" tracks which run into twenty minutes but feels half that, just exquisite. 

Albums of 2016 - The Sun Days - Album

Albums of 2016 - The Sun Days - Album

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Easily amongst the best indie-pop albums of the year, The Sun Days bright, beautiful melodies and warming harmonies (since the release of the record the band have changed vocalist, a hot and steamy show in London's Lock Tavern back in July showed that doesn't matter) don't seemingly match their Gothenburg roots (it's a wonderful City mind), but Album immediately charms the pants of you with its smile-inducing bounce and vigour, the sort of record that can do nothing but bring a smile to your face and have you jumping around your room whilst swooning at the heart-warming vocals.

"Don't Need to be Them" is the one, a killer, killer track that pulls you straight into the quintet's uplifting, positive world with a shimmering spirit and catchy chorus that will be firmly imprinted in your head by it's duration (the entire record is similarly infectious) but that doesn't mean Album is a one track pony, "I Keep on Wondering" and "Busy People" couple knock-out vocal performances and melancholic lyrics with jangle guitars and machine gun percussive drums that sound so upbeat that you're propelled to sing along and think pleasant thoughts. "You Can't Make Me Make Up My Mind" is the first track I heard from the band back in 2014 but it sounds just as fresh and radiant today. I could go on but Squarespace has already deleted my first draft and I'm waffling...

Yes 2016 has been a shitter for many reasons but let The Sun Days raise one more smile before pressing the reset ahead of 2017.

Amy Gillespie - Wintertime (For Blue)

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From a recent favourite, to a heavenly voice I've been familiar with for a while to something brand, brand new to me. London based Amy Gillespie and the ridiculously beautiful "Wintertime (For Blue)".

Perfect for the chilly nights ahead (and armed with a warming glass of whisky) the track is crushingly pretty from the get-go with Amy's evocative vocals and some wonderfully constructed guitar lines painting the most perfect of pictures. Go listen below.