King Creosote and Michael Johnston – The Bound of the Red Deer (Self Release) Ten years in the making, thanks to the prolific nature of both musicians and the distance of the Atlantic Ocean between them, The Bound of the Red Deer is a simple collection of modern Folk songs hinging on acoustic guitars, keys, percussion, and the lightest of ambient textures. Having met while working on the project that would become The Burns Unit, the pair have produced an album that in no way feels collaborative. That is to say, there appears to be such a singular vision and continuity in style through the tracks that the circumstances of the albums making surprise. Catch them performing as The Burns Unit here.
Blossoms – Blossoms (Virgin EMI) Harking back to a time when every guitar Pop band had melodic synth lines as an anchor point, Blossoms’ debut melds the more creative end of 80s chart Pop with current guitar Pop styling. Where ‘Getaway’ is pure Electro with a CHVRCHES feel, ‘My Favourite Room’ is destined for festival sing-alongs with its acoustic guitar base. Overall it’s an upbeat album with a focus on Tom Ogden’s self-assured and knowing vocals. We almost wish Top of the Pops was still around, and this is as good a fit as there can be in the current Pop climate. Check out lead single ‘Charlemagne’ here.
NAO – For All We Know (Little Tokyo Records) Can you say R&B sensation of the year? We’d admit to being hyperbolic if only we didn’t think we could be right. Taking cues from Erykah Badu and Aaliyah, NAO’s voice is a unique standout that captivates yet never overwhelms. This is no vocal album though. With top quality, forward looking production the subtly limited beats accentuate and compliment the upper register of NAO’s vocals. Check out the duel between her high note runs and the slow creeping stomp of the bass in ‘Bad Blood’ to see what we mean. For All We Know is a debut record from a fully-fledged star, even if the world doesn’t know it yet. Catch ‘Bad Blood’ here.
Bright Light Bright Light – Choreography (Self Release) With a title as apt as we’ve seen, Choreography is a perfectly packaged slice of Pop (as we’d have said if we worked for Smash Hits in the 90s). Featuring the Scissor Sisters, Alan Cumming, and Sir Elton John there’s certainly been a lot of planning involved in this self-released album of uplifting synth-backed Pop. As you’d guess from a list of featured artists like those above, the vocals are as polished as the production. Indeed, it feels much like every detail has been intently considered, and with titles like ‘Careful Whisper’ there’s a knowingness here that underlines that feeling. Catch the video for ‘All In The Name’ here.
Amp Fiddler – Motor City Booty (Midnight Riot) With Disco vibes, Funk, and 808s galore, this is a House album with style, class, and warmth from its core to its outer-reaches. Seeing the list of luminaries associated with this Detroit veteran would tell you this much, with J Dilla, Theo Parish, and Moodymann among them, but spinning this album up is the true test of its mettle. With Soulful Disco like ‘Steppin’’ here to guide the way through the night there’s a chance you put this one on and then play it right back through when you’re done. We’ll be honest, we’re smitten. Don’t miss the Qwestlife remix of ‘Steppin’’ right here.
Honne – Warm on a Cold Night (Atlantic) The line between neo-Soul and Electronica blurs further with the release of Honne’s greatly anticipated debut. Kicking off with the title track we’re discovering what it’d sound like if James Blake decided to work with Mayer Hawthorne, or even if he went the whole hog and signed for Stones Throw Records. There’s plenty of that label’s groove-laden, late night West Coast Soul on show here, but there’s also a UK sensibility to the beats. It’s an album at its best when the balance is struck, like on ‘Someone That Loves You’ with its mix of multi-tracked vocals and stripped down verses. Go ahead and listen to it here.
Bear’s Den – Red Earth and Pouring Rain (The Communion Label) As far as second albums after losing a key member go, this is a collection far closer to what you’d hope for rather than what you’d necessarily expect. Red Earth and Pouring Rain re-aligns Bear’s Den from a crowded collective of Folk-Pop, centred on the ever-present Mumford and Sons, to an Indie-Folk style more in keeping with Admiral Fallow or the War on Drugs. The highlight is the emotive ‘Greenwoods Bethlehem’ and its chilling keys and delicate acoustic guitar. It’s an accomplished step away from any previous pigeon-holing, and one worth checking out.
Alexis Taylor – Piano (Moshi Moshi) As you can guess from the title, this is an album dedicated to the piano from the Hot Chip lead singer. Unlike the master of solo piano Nils Frahm, who also comes with an impressive Electronic music background, this is an album that focuses as much on vocals as it does on the instrumentation. Yet, as a master of the Pop song, it’s unusual to find Alexis in such a stripped down form, but it goes a long way to highlighting his skill for writing as well as performance. His cover of ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue’ is gorgeously emotive, while his solo take on Hot Chip’s ‘So Much Further To Go’ shifts the tone from the downbeat nostalgia of the original to outright sadness. Catch it here.