Tag Archives: friendly fires

Azari and me

We like to pour scorn on artists who are propelled onto the cover of the NME without so much as a single to show for. A few scrappy gigs with celebrities spotted; assiduously applied kohl; the requisite rags of the day—it seems like there’s a set of characteristics we look for in our starlets.

Stick to the shadows, and you’re usually ignored. But occasionally, leaving everything to the imagination can be a boon, as in the case of Azari & III, an elusive foursome from Toronto who make house music that sounds like it’s beamed in from a different decade. At once futuristic yet revivalist, they’ve got their hands in the air like they just don’t care, one finger permanently perched over the “klaxon” button, and a pair of outlandish divas at the microphone to rival anyone Andy Butler ropes in to Hercules And Love Affair. Although their media appearances are scarce; their name, troublesome, it is possible to mentally assemble a reasonably accurate image of the group, so visual are the connotations of their sound.

Though their debut album, which is supposed to see the light of day pretty soon, is intended to dispel notions of the outfit being a one-trick pony, what we have heard from them to date is pure, almost naïve, house music. In an interview with Lev Harris of the Quietus, Azari & III’s Christian (stage name: Dinamo Azari), explained the genre’s appeal.

“House is a freedom of expression. There’s no like ‘you have to sing about this or that’, it’s more open, it’s ghetto, it’s classy…”

This openness is fully on display in what, for me, is their standout track, “Reckless With Your Love” (see above). There’s a joyful abandon to the music—it’s there in the playful bounce of the bass line, and the elasticity of the synthesizer that doubles up the melody—and an unashamedly context-free nature to the lyrics, which are sung with a tuneful fury that mimics the move-busting of revellers. In the final two minutes of the song, the intensity is ramped up courtesy of overindulgently stacked vocals in perfect harmony, booming out the title phrase. It’s camp and ridiculous, the way every syllable is lovingly stretched out into a million shapes. The nearest comparison I could make is to the refracted multiplicity of vocals that shimmer through the closing minutes of Hercules And Love Affair’s “You Belong“. In that song, the thrill is in the competing qualities of the two singers’ voices: the lush smoothness of Nomi Ruiz, versus the granular soul of Antony Hegarty. In “Reckless With Your Love”, it is the homogeneity of vocalist Cedric’s harmonies which is so dazzling.

The other song by Azari & III which charmed me with its playfulness is “Hungry For The Power“—an older track, and one which showcases the group’s two vocalists. Atop relentless 808 cowbells and occasional swells of what I geekily recognise  as a Sequential Circuits Prophet V, we get Fritz’s unnaturally low-pitched growl, interspersed with Cedric’s more typical house voice, drifting in and out of time, drenched in digital reverb. The ruthless efficacy of the song is at odds with the [spoiler alert!] primal, cannibalistic video, but “Hungry For The Power” is exactly what the doctor orders, when faced with a patient in need of a hedonistic groove.

Friendly Fires teamed up with Azari & III for the centrepiece of their Bugged Out! mix, Suck My Deck. The resulting collaboration, “Stay Here“, ends up channelling more of Azari’s chunky house goodness than the light-touch approach favoured by the St. Albans trio. There is a thumping and clattering beat, over which we get polyphonic stabs from a Prophet, and Cedric’s endlessly repeatable diva-thing ends up overshadowing Ed Macfarlane’s ghostly contribution. Meanwhile, Fritz steals the song’s bridge with a gravelly spoken-word segment that segues beautifully into the final segment.

But Friendly Fires end up preserving the mystery of Azari & III. Their schtick is predictable at this point in their career, but it is still beguiling: the soulful character of the voices, fronting essentially ego-less music. Throw on one of their singles, turn off the lights, and pretend you’re the centre of everyone’s attention.


My week as a playlist

“I love the girl,
But god only knows it’s
Getting harder to see the sun coming through.”
—Gorillaz, “Every Planet We Reach is Dead”

  1. Explosions in the Sky — Greet Death
  2. Hot Chip — One Pure Thought
  3. Beck — Send a Message to Her
  4. Radiohead — House of Cards
  5. Wild Beasts — Plaything
  6. Kanye West — All of the Lights
  7. Spandau Ballet — Gold
  8. Dionne Warwick — You’re Gonna Need Me
  9. These New Puritans — Drum Courts—Where Corals Lie (after Richard Garnett)
  10. Friendly Fires — Helpless
  11. Arcade Fire — My Body is a Cage
Every bit as grim as it sounds.

Friendly Fires — Pala

I suppose it takes a certain kind of musician to turn their back on critical acclaim, much of which has applauded you for bringing DFA-style grooves to the outskirts of the M25, and decide instead to make an album that’s intended to sound like the work of a polished 1990s boy band.

Well, Friendly Fires have done just that, making their second album, Pala, a sometimes frustrating listen for older fans of the band—though it isn’t likely to hurt the St. Albans trio’s commercial prospects. Continue reading Friendly Fires — Pala

Via the Guardian, I bring you an uncomfortable video assembled by Friendly Fires for their new single and Pala-opener, “Live Those Dreams Tonight”.

Frontman Ed Macfarlane has combed YouTube for footage of nineties ravers chewing their faces off, padded it out with scans of naïvely-designed flyers from the same era, and has in the process probably kicked off the latest unstoppable internet meme.

But don’t forget, the substance of the day wasn’t all bad news. To quote James Murphy,

“Goodminton was invented, by LCD Soundsystem, in Ibiza, on MDMA.”

Jody ‘Fingers’ Finch — Jack Your Big Booty

Today’s unavoidably memorable older cut comes from 1987, and Jody ‘Fingers’ Finch‘s infectious “Jack Your Big Booty”, here enjoyed in its BHQ No Acid Vocal Remix form, which was released in 2009.

For over seven minutes, there is just one lyric, cut up and repeated. Under it, the beat is thumping and atavistic. About four minutes in, some spare squirking sound effects surface, after which the pace picks up fractionally, and the percussion begins to clatter away in a less restrained way. This soon lets up. Derrick Carter‘s minimalism is indefatigable.

The original version runs at a faster pace, and the vocal line has a faint plate reverb that gives the impression of being sung into a vast, but padded, chamber. If anything, the effect is even more rooted in Chicago—the collision and intermingling of voices that rises halfway through is unquestioning and unstoppable. As in the remix, the lack of any melodic instrument creates an empty ocean of negative space, which allows the 808’s hi-hat to really ring out.

As has been pointed out here, the eighteen-year old Finch wrote this song in honour of “his friend’s mother’s backside”.

The remix has found some fame, in the nether reaches of Friendly Fires‘ excellent Suck My Deck mix, released last year for the London club promoter Bugged Out!. On the mix, “Jack Your Big Booty” rolls inexorably into B.D.I.’s “City & Industry”, which is comparatively luxuriant, with its Siren-like octave-jumping synth, and warmongering percussion.

Even more recently, the remix is featured as the opening track on Derrick Carter’s Fabric 56 mix. Unfortunately, according to Resident Advisor, “this mix doesn’t work”, but it might still be worth a listen.

For lovers of Chicago house’s primal roots, Jody ‘Fingers’ Finch’s track is one to check out.♦

Spring 2011 Round-up

Just checking in on you guys to prove I’m still alive etc. This post is going to be voluminous and far-reaching, and may be considered a portrait of the artist as a young man, aged twenty, approaching graduation.

Wild Beasts

The Kendal four-piece will release their third album, Smother, on 9th May; in anticipation of it, they have made available the meditative “Albatross”.

The new (OK, pushing the definition somewhat) song is silky and wafts in on a cloud of ambient keys, before a steely guitar melody takes over, underpinned by dubstep-sourced wobble bass. Unusually, given what we’ve heard from Wild Beasts in the past, the vocals in the verses are done in complete harmony, with Tom Fleming’s velvety croon no longer acting merely as a counterpoint to Hayden Thorpe’s arch falsetto.

It appears that Smother is going to be noticeably more informed by electronic textures, and the evidence presented on “Albatross” points to such a direction being taken. This is wild-eyed, ambitious art rock, crafted by people who now live in Dalston and listen to Ohneohtrix Point Never.♦

TV On The Radio

I thought the standout track on Dear Science was “Love Dog”; however, I didn’t anticipate the Brooklynite quintet to follow it by decamping to LA and making an album of homogenous, lovestruck, R&B-tinged rock.

“Will Do” was an early taster, and one that had me hooked in. Yes, it was more plaintive and unadorned than the kind of sonic warfare TV On The Radio (TVOTR) usually trade in, but it was lush in all the right places, and I thought it boded well for the album it preceded, Nine Types of Light. Now that the album has been released, I’m more ambivalent. To say it doesn’t break new ground is an understatement—this is predominantly tepid summery stuff, to listen to while tending to the barbecue (or, to use a word I’ve recently become attached to, “cookout”), and it certainly isn’t going to inspire a revolution.

But, this being the product of Sitek, Malone, Adebimpe and co., that’s not to say it’s bereft of merit. In fact, every melody is serviceable and the production brings a new level of glossiness to the band’s output. But it lacks the sparkle of faded grandeur that bled into their best work in the past. Dave Sitek no longer sounds like he’s using his guitar to carry out nuclear fusion; the two vocalists, normally so unhinged, now give off the appearance of having their legs up beside the fire, cup of cocoa to one side.

I’m sure this was the intention–and I’m hopeful that Nine Types of Light will bring TVOTR to a new audience–but it’s troubling that they sound like they’re on autopilot. I read that the gestation of this album was tortured, with Tunde (Adebimpe) and Kyp (Malone) literally despising their new surroundings (Rodeo Drive, next door to Sitek’s new home/studio). It’s strange that from such beginnings has sprung not an apotheosis, but a work of stagnancy. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Sitek said he needed the opportunity of making a solo album, Maximum Balloon, to flush the pop music out of his system, so he could go back and make the next TVOTR in the usual style. On this evidence, he didn’t try hard enough.

Prognosis: Adebimpe has leveraged his rom-com credentials to persuade the rest of the band into compliance. Prescription: a world tour characterised by indifference, which will bully the band back into their noisemaking ways, and away from middle-age ennui. TVOTR have always operated in harmony with prevailing global currents. Return To Cookie Mountain, their magnum opus, reflected the chaos and discord of America at war. Last time round, the optimism of Obamania and a rebirth crept in, giving Dear Science a dance-or-die attitude. But the last couple of years have been pretty rough for the world, in the context of which the ho-hum vibe on Nine Types of Light is bewildering.♦

Friendly Fires

The eponymous debut from this St. Albans dance-punk band really was a feel good hit of the summer (2009). “Live Those Days Tonight” is the opening track of their sophomore LP, Pala, and it plants the trio firmly on the dancefloor.

A heady concoction of tropical percussion and euphoric synths, “Live Those Days Tonight” begs comparison with the standalone single “Kiss Of Life”, the video for which was actually filmed on a beach in Ibiza. It’s sweaty and writhing, and has at least two masterfully executed drops, one of which features exactly the kind of spastic arpeggiated synth line I previously marvelled at on “Ex Lover”, which closed out their debut album.

The band have said Pala sounds, at times, like ‘N Sync or Backstreet Boys. Without having heard the entire thing, I can’t be sure how much their comments veer towards the ironic. But from all that I’ve read, we can expect this new album to revel in the glories of summer and festival-life, and maybe downplay the more shoegazey aspects of the previous album (which I liked very much). But it’s no bad thing in the evolution of a young band, to flirt with popstar-dom, especially since they’ve clearly got the chops for it.♦

LCD Soundsystem

Of course it would be remiss to post something on the blog without mentioning that LCD Soundsystem has retired, as of 2nd April. Like all good fanboys, I was glued to my computer screen for the duration of their farewell concert, aptly dubbed “The Long Goodbye”, which was being live-streamed on Pitchfork at the ungodly hour of 2AM, GMT. And it was long (four hours). And it was epic. And it was worth the fatigue I had to sleep off in the week that followed.

In short, it was a fitting tribute to a man, a band, a scene, and a city.

I’m going to write about this some more in a separate post…♦

Capital Old

Time to start a new feature. My starred tracks in Spotify are a rum bunch. There’s a mixture of deep cuts from newer albums, my all-time faves, and some older stuff that I need regular exposure to. It is this final category I reckon I could do more to blog about, and, handily, two such songs also have a link to LCD Soundsystem, so why not start with them?

I’m Not In Love — 10cc

James Murphy’s band came on to this 1975 classic every night of their final week of insanity (four three-hour gigs at Terminal 5, followed by the seemingly endless set at Madison Square Garden), before they sauntered into “Dance Yrself Clean”.

“I’m Not In Love” is a romantic’s nightmare, with a narrator who spends six minutes denying he’s in love, all the while tacitly admitting very much the opposite. Behind such lyrical confusion lies an arrangement dazzling in construction and beautiful to behold. Godley and Creme went to extravagant lengths to create a lush virtual choir, recording multiple overdubs of each note, then mixing them down into individual endless loops which could be summoned at will from the mixing desk, just by sliding up and down the faders of particular tracks. Painstaking but ingenious. The effect is both ethereal and mournful, with these vocal chords gliding through the mix like transient mists out on the moors.

Seabird — Alessi Brothers

Back in the autumn of last year, LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip embarked on a joint-headlining tour of the UK, which concluded with a show at the Manchester Apollo. I was privileged to catch the pair at Alexandra Palace, but it was only on the final date of the tour that they pulled off the inevitable, with James Murphy teaming up with Hot Chip for a one-off performance of the Alessi Brothers’ obscure 1977 cut, “Seabird”.

A curious choice, doubtless, but their crooning rendition inspired me to check out the original recording which, surprisingly, has aged rather well. With its primitive drum machine backing and a gorgeous chord progression played on Rhodes piano, “Seabird” is a lost soft rock gem, but one which could easily have featured in the charts circa 1995, as some kind of novelty hit. Check out the ephemeral harmony in the chorus! Propelled by a jaunty melody which lingers in the mind long after the refrain dies away, “Seabird” deserves a listen.♦

Friendly Fires – Kiss Of Life [FGHOTS 1]

This evening I have two official Feel Good Hits Of The Summer about which to briefly extoll.

The first comes from the finest dancers in St. Alban’s, Friendly Fires, who I have already heaped praise upon on previous occasions. They release new single “Kiss Of Life” on 31st August, which if anything is a bit too late to win the hearts of summer festival-goers, who will already have been grooving away to the song’s feel-good samba rhythms all season. The video, filmed in Ibiza, ties in perfectly with the song, which pits a flowering romance against the impermanence of lines drawn in the sand, waiting to be washed away by the tide. The music is unflinchingly euphoric and dancefloor-friendly, a fact impressed upon us by Ed MacFarlane’s inimitable beach-front jiving. My my, he has rhythm.

If this song isn’t a hit, I will despair. It is fully ready for the radio, and yet it doesn’t miss a beat in providing sophisticated, shimmering pop music for music connoisseurs. Expect Friendly Fires to be officially elected as rulers of summer by 2011 at the latest.

My mercury’s in retrograde

In traditional style, this year’s Mercury Prize shortlist has impressed and confounded me in equal measures. Congratulations are due to Florence & The Machine, Glasvegas, Friendly Fires, Speech Debelle, Bat For Lashes, La Roux, The Horrors, Lisa Hannigan, Led Bib, Sweet Billy Pilgrim… and, I suppose, if pushed, lad-rock terrace-chant favourites, Kasabian. Token surprising commiserations are also due to Doves, Manic Street Preachers, Jarvis Cocker, Patrick Wolf, Future Of The Left (who were never really going to be nominated, but still, I loved their album, and so did plenty of others), and everyone else who may conceivably have had a chance of making the shortlist.

Merely being mentioned in conjunction with the prize often has a helpful effect on sales figures, and of course, winning the prize is often seen as more of a curse than a blessing – after all, what became of Gomez, Talvin Singh and Roni Size? Here, then, is my brief rundown of the list, with some thoughts, feelings, and woeful predictions.

Bat For Lashes‘ sophomore album, Two Suns, is arguably the most consistently enjoyable entry on the shortlist. Musically stunning and frequently emotionally troubling, a victory for Natasha Khan would certainly be richly deserved.

Florence & The Machine has given us Lungs, which is a sonically diverse carnival of Kate Bush-esque gesturing and Bat For Lashes-lite. It’s the bookies’ favourite.

Friendly Fires produced one of the most entertaining albums of this twelve-month period with their eponymous debut, which combines percussive, frenetic, funk reminiscent of Talking Heads with a starry-eyed shoegaze surprise lurking in the guitars and synthesisers. My joint favourite to win, because I loved virtually every minute of it.

Glasvegas were hyped-up beyond all proportion by the most irritating man to ever write for the Guardian, Alan McGee, who said they were “more important than My Bloody Valentine” or some similar nonsense. They’re not. Their self-titled first album hints at shoegazey affectations, but does not marry this aesthetic to any particularly memorable tunes. Also, frontman James Allan’s vocals sound weird, as if they’ve been accidentally Auto-Tuned.

The Horrors have surely committed one of the great acts of musical reincarnation by following up over-hyped pesticide Strange House with this year’s stunning Primary Colours. Their undoubted love of great music has now been translated into a misty-eyed and thrilling set of songs that touch on krautrock and shoegaze as much as they do garage rock. Faris Badwan has also searched around in his cupboard and located his true voice – that of a doomed and tormented Robert Smith-style romantic. Music as miserable as this has never sounded so exhilarating. Along with Friendly Fires, this must surely be my personal favourite to win.

The Invisible have also named their first album after themselves. Unfortunately, it’s not on Spotify and I don’t own a copy of it, so my judgements of it are based on the contents of their MySpace music player, and the myriad interviews and articles they have inspired within the music press. A three-piece comprised of talented and knowledgeable session musicians and collaborators, The Invisible’s songs travel along wildly different vectors, from the hushed jazzy funk of single “London Girl” to the cut-up guitars of “OK”. From what I’ve heard of it, it’s pretty impressive, understated stuff, and these guys could pull of an unexpected victory and take home the prize.

Kasabian, having romped through the glammy electro-rock of Kasabian and Empire, return with West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum – an album of slightly unfashionable glammy electro-rock, now sealed with the production stamp of Dan The Automator. Why oh why?

La Roux have, imaginatively, named their debut album La Roux. A prime example of this year’s crop of female electro-pop artists, Elly Jackson has constructed a somewhat robotic album of new-romantic 80s pop songs, dealing with emotional breakdown and relationship breakups. It’s less cheesy than Little Boots, but boasts some of the biggest-selling singles of the year. Probable winner, much as I’d rather it didn’t.

Led Bib have secured this year’s token jazz vote with Sensible Shoes, a noisy and raucous offering. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and come on, it’ll clearly never win, but, being an outsider to the world of modern jazz (the closest recent album I can testify to owning is Antibalas’ thoroughly excellent Security), I’m not really in any position to suggest an alternative to this. If the judges wish to nominate a jazz album every year, why can’t they at least give one of them the prize, which would provide some level of vindication?

Lisa Hannigan, formerly backing singer for Damien Rice, spent two weeks making Sea Sew, and it’s a predictably lulling, folksy listen. Hannigan’s voice is particularly honeyed and soothing, in an agreeable, likeable way. The music is reminiscent of a more minimalist Belle & Sebastian. Without wishing to sound cynical, this is the token folk nomination, but it sounds like a lovely album of laid-back, idyllic music with interesting orchestral flourishes.

Speech Debelle has an interesting back-story that has been talked about elsewhere, and she draws on her childhood experiences in Speech Therapy, which is presumably the most exciting thing in British hip-hop right now, if you can look past the mainly tawdry offerings of commercially viable grime. At times, the backing music veers into lift-music territory, and her choice of words may sometimes seem a little platitudinous; again, I’m not really possessed of enough knowledge of the genre to suggest a better hip-hop album.

Sweet Billy Pilgrim‘s bewildering Twice Born Men is actually available on Spotify. Just like The Invisible, the band is comprised of three session musicians; unlike The Invisible, which was produced by avant-garde meister Matthew Herbert, Twice Born Men was cobbled together in a shed with some duct tape, one microphone, and a laptop. The album is surprisingly polished, but in a breathy, close-mic’ed way, and it takes in a variety of acoustic genres. I haven’t really had time to formulate a definitive opinion on it, but I’d be willing to bet that I won’t prefer it to some of the other albums that have missed out on this year’s shortlist – Further Complications, The Bachelor &c.

So, if you’re a betting man, you’ll probably want to go and place money on Florence & The Machine’s Lungs. I’m not, but come September 9th I will be sitting at home rooting for Friendly Fires and Primary Colours. I think Two Suns is probably a more accomplished album than both of those, but I personally was more entertained and emotionally moved by the first two. We’ll probably all be proven wrong though, and the world will have to face up to the fact that Kasabian are apparently bona-fide album artists.

Liquid Mercury

I think it’s been a pretty good year for British music, so far. While it’s certainly true that there have been fewer knock-out juggernauts emerging from these shores than from the US, the 12 month period beginning last July has seen a decent crop of albums bearing influences as diverse as chugging hardcore, electro-funk and krautrock. While we can’t win on quantity, the British albums that I’ve enjoyed this year have been of a very high quality, displaying a continued interest in the album format, and a willingness to break free from prior expectations and defy preconceptions.

Monday (I think!) sees the release of this year’s Mercury Prize shortlist, and it’s inevitable that despite my wishes to the contrary, there will be some examples of female electro-pop albums not authored by Bat For Lashes. While I’m not at all averse to empowerment of such artists – and it’s definitely more welcome to my ears than last year’s trend towards female soul-singers – I do truly believe that very few of these artists have created consistently rewarding albums, and such should not merit a place on the shortlist. I would be naïve to think, however, that they would be ignored by the judges. Music industry pressure being what it is, the judges would be loath to omit a token nomination from the Florence-Roux-Boots brigade.

Here, then, is my predicted list of nominations, in solely alphabetical order. You’ll note that I’ve only suggested ten albums, which is two shy of the actual number – this is because I can’t claim to be any kind of authority in the jazz universe, and there’s also always an unpredictable wild-card for some long-haired middle-aged folk artist who lives in a hippy commune, communicates with the outside world by morse code, and creates music combining the sound of crashing waves with an unpronounceable wind instrument from Switzerland. I can’t begin to imagine who will occupy this spot this time round.

Bat For Lashes – Two Suns. Natasha Khan came close in 2007 with Fur & Gold, and I’m willing to bet that this year’s sophomore effort, with its retro-glossy production and further inventive arrangements, is a dead cert for the shortlist. Not to mention the fact that the songs themselves bear evidence of improved writing talent from Ms. Khan. Whether she’s wailing from behind a piano, or bashing exotic percussion whilst plucking an autoharp, the quality of the songs on Two Suns never lets up, and the album is unified by an intriguing conceptual theme that explores the outer reaches of duality and difficult romance.

Doves – Kingdom Of Rust. A lot has been said of Doves being this year’s Elbow – perennially under-appreciated Manchester auteurs finally receiving the attention they deserve. Much of this is utter nonsense, because most of Doves’ albums have occupied hallowed ground at the top of the charts, and also because the two bands inhabit very different musical territory. But what does connect with me is that with their fourth album, like Elbow, Doves have crafted their most consistent, unerringly enjoyable beast. While the band themselves describe Kingdom Of Rust as “schizophrenic”, there’s a pleasing undercurrent of commitment to lush production and a kind of nostalgic romanticism that flows right through the album. They do arena-rock anthems far better with Coldplay, and with considerably more meaning and spirit, yet when they push out to more experimental ground, as on “Compulsion” and “The Outsiders”, they reveal just as much songwriting prowess, as well as a natural gift for musicianship that no-one ever doubted.

Florence & The Machine – Lungs. I’m not even going to pretend that I’ve listened to this album in full, but Michael has already expressed some admiration for it and, having seen her live, opening for Blur at Hyde Park, I got the impression that she’s a kind of cut-price Bat For Lashes, all crazy costumes and mad gesticulating arm-waving. As for her music, I understand that it’s getting a fair bit of airplay on the radio, and from what I’ve heard of it, she clearly has a playful ear for interesting textures. Whether the songs themselves successfully underpin the production is up for debate, but I can definitely see her fitting into the judges’ mindset.

Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires. Dating back from last year, this debut album from St. Albans three-piece has been a slow-burning success on the charts, but I think it’s unashamed pop music at its best. Taking more than a hint of Talking Heads-style funk (check out the additional percussion on “Jump In The Pool”!) and combining it with the kind of new-romantic emoting fashionable in the 80s, the band is tight in its instrumentation, and Ed MacFarlane has constructed a well-fitting collection of catchy pop songs that are unafraid of letting rip with a beautiful palette of shimmering and groaning guitar sounds. I loved every minute of this concise, exhilarating album (perhaps one criticism is that the pace never lets up, lending it a slightly frantic feel), and this could be the unexpected dark horse that romps to victory.

Future Of The Left – Travels With Myself And Another. Something of a wildcard prediction, in that most people haven’t even heard of this Welsh supergroup-of-sorts, and their witty, militantly angry breed of rock. Back in 2007, their debut, Curses, set out their stall pretty effectively: brutal guitars, battering keyboards, a rhythm section that’s tighter than a London parking space, and this year’s follow up confirms their talent with twelve songs that pound harder, scream louder, crack more jokes, and, crucially, show a step up in songwriting. Songs like “Arming Eritrea” take unexpected twists and turns; songs like “You Need Satan More Than He Needs You” take one great idea and pummel it into your brain for just the right length of time. People will probably be surprised that I like this sort of thing, but it’s only one step further than the kind of minimalist hardcore I adored in Shellac and Fugazi.

The Horrors – Primary Colours. Talk about confounding expectations! When Strange House landed a couple of years ago, padded out with a mountain of NME hype, no one was surprised that it was jolly awful. But lurking beneath that cringe-worthy goth aesthetic was a band full of surprises, with exceptional taste in music. The question was, could they translate their intellectualism into actual good music? This question is answered, and then some, on Primary Colours, which shows off a predilection for shoegaze, krautrock and psychedelia, set within a set of compositions that are earnest, hopelessly romantic (in a failed romance kind of way), and surprisingly affecting. Along with Friendly Fires, this would be my other dark horse prediction to take the win. Some of the songs may stretch a single idea for a tad too long, as on the never-ending, slightly plodding “I Only Think Of You”, but their intentions are clearly well-meaning, and the quality of the remainder of the album more than makes up for these minor gripes. Songs like the opener, “Mirror’s Image”, are perfectly constructed, sonically wondrous, and far too enjoyable given the depressing nature of their aesthetic forebears. Meanwhile, the closer, “Sea Within A Sea”, is ideally placed, with nigh-on eight minutes of loping krautrock ending the album on an ideal note. Throughout, Faris Badwan has found his true voice in a gloriously tragic timbre that is part Robert Smith, part Ian Curtis, and hopelessly mournful always.

Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications. The first of two Steve Albini-engineered albums on this list. I didn’t actually think Jarvis’s debut solo album was all that great – its primary emotion was pretty downbeat; it was musically pretty lacklustre; it lacked that special sense of humour that made Pulp so great. Which is why it’s so refreshing to hear Jarvis re-discovering his musical mojo on what must surely be called a break-up album. Re-invigorated by the cut-and-thrust, no-nonsense set-up of Albini’s production style, Further Complications is an almost brawling set of songs, where guitars sound like double-barrelled shotguns, the rhythm section is locked-in like a homing missile, and the lyrics fire out puns and asides like a machine-gun. Then, just when the barrage of entertainment threatens to get out of hand, Jarvis pulls off a masterstroke, with a closing brace that is lush and awash with romance, rivalling the closing pair on Pulp’s final album, We Love Life, for emotional charge. I think it’s pretty fantastic.

La Roux – La Roux. I said before that it’s inevitable that this year’s shortlist would contain at least one chart-friendly female electro-pop artist, and I reckon La Roux will gain the upper hand on Little Boots because their (for this is a duo we are dealing with) album is a slightly edgier, less poppy affair. La Roux is definitely in thrall to the synth pop of the 80s, and Elly Jackson matches the new romantics for complex and audibly breakdown-inducing lyrics. Without falling head-over-heels in love with it, I enjoyed the album, and felt it was the best representation of its genre, much in the same way that Klaxons’ Myths Of The Near Future was a cut above most of its nu-rave ilk. It’s catchy; it’s very lucrative, and I hope it gets a nod ahead of Little Boots’ more school-disco friendly Hands.

Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers. Just like with Jarvis Cocker, the assistance of Steve Albini has breathed new life into the Manics, which is ironic, given that the other primary addition to the band on this album is the lyrics of the deceased, Richey Edwards. Taking a step back from the arena-friendly alt-rock of recent albums, Journal For Plague Lovers is an aggressive, propulsive creation that spits venom with its lyrics, and breathes a kind of icy fire with its music. This could well be the swansong for the band, given that I don’t think Edwards had any other lyrics floating around in a folder, so it would be rather appropriate to nominate this thought-provoking, energetic album.

Patrick Wolf – The Bachelor. For all the months of brewing anticipation, which have seen Patrick Wolf toying with novel, record-company defying financing methods, and dipping into harsh, experimental forms of music, The Bachelor is an unashamed stab at an album of dark pop. If The Magic Position was a slightly disingenuous attempt at skewed, weird, happy, pop music, its follow-up is rather more violent and digital, with Wolf adding layer upon layer of synths, drum machines, strings and vocal chants over his bewilderingly beautiful vocals. He is clearly a prolific songwriter – this album is long, and feels long too, and it’s only the first half of a preconceived double album – but somewhere along the line, this album feels a little low on instant classics. Which is not to say that it’s a bad album – if it was, then it wouldn’t be on this list – just that it’s not his magnum opus. But I really do hope it gets a nomination, which would make up for the absence of recognition for all his previous albums, and would also salute the brazen experimentation that Wolf moulds into his soaring odes to romance and morality and goodness knows what else is lurking in his crazy-genius mind.

So that’s my prediction. Feel free to add your own suggestions, omissions and corrections, and bear in mind that many of the albums I thought were foregone conclusions (Kala, Third) for the shortlist last year didn’t get a mention at all.

Therein lies the difference.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been assiduously listening to two recent post-Klaxons albums, nominally of the nu-rave stable: Late Of The Pier‘s Fantasy Black Channel, and Friendly Fires‘ eponymous debut. Though both albums hinge on the elision of rock and dance music, I’ve come to the perhaps inevitable conclusion that, whereas the latter album benefits greatly on its commitment to sparkly pop music, the former eventually frazzles out on a wave of unwavering madness and sonic freakery that is just too much to handle.

Friendly Fires is a fascinating piece of work: only one song cross the 4-minute mark; everything is succinctly polished and pristine, and yet it was recorded in frontman Ed Macfarlane’s parents’ garage on a microphone gaffer-taped to a stand. The music is relentlessly energetic, but in a joyous, bubbly way – it never sounds comically overblown or hedonistic. The synth sweeps and throbs and kept in check by delightfully gushing vocals and beautiful guitar lines. It doesn’t feel brash, more plain confident. A particular highlight emerges at the tail-end of Lovesick, where the standard formula segues into the formative strains of a trance breakdown. Magically, after half a minute, it fades out again for a reprise of the original chorus. It’s this minimalism and concision that keeps the album consistently enjoyable and manageable.

The same can’t really be said of Fantasy Black Channel, which is, much like the title suggests, a lot of everything, crammed into stupendously complex song structures, and beaten over the head with Erol Alkan’s frequently disturbing synth gurgles. It’s enjoyable, but only in tiny doses, after which it quickly becomes grating, deafening and slightly ridiculous. It’s in the band’s worship of everything 80s, from Gary Numan to Van Halen, that in the end sounds superfluous and messy, as if instead of keeping distinct ideas to distinct songs, the band have instead elected to shove them all into one. There are definite high-points on the album, but they are more likely to be individual hooks or breakdowns, which are weighed down by a lot of searing synth flab and fat, which effectively fries the record, and possibly also the record player.

The 80s is set to dominate British musical output for the rest of the year, but it’s clear to me that only when bands keep the influences in check, and settle instead for that decade’s shininess and gloss does the idolatry succeed. When the camp, overblown excesses of the 80s drag the music into an abyss of dark matter, it just sounds a bit ridiculous.