Some styles are harder to succeed in than others; virtuosity, sweeping conceptuality; these are hard to master because they demand skills which are almost unobtainable. The laidback, silver New Wave of 26 year old Londoner Will Westerman’s sound is hardly revolutionary: but his chosen style comes with its own set of dilemmas. There are hints of Peter Gabriel, 10cc and Beach House to a washed-out style which has captured hundred bedroom outfits over the past decade, and it’s precisely this saturated market which makes Westerman’s debut so satisfying. Stare through a dozen supporting acts of cardigan wearing, feet-staring dream-pop bands and it’s easy to forget that this ethereal sound can be enchanting rather than bewitchingly dull, and he strikes that chord immediately.
The approach of the record is slow and cerebral, but among the sounds Westerman plays with producer Nathan Jenkins are sticky choruses and instrumentation which builds into graceful cacophonies; ornate in construction but relaxed in execution. Westerman’s voice is punctuated by circular guitar playing and filled with 21st century touches in the form of thunderous kick drums, loose hi-hats and looped guitar vamps. Songs like “Big Nothing Glow” are intensely detailed but remain elastic, bathed in shimmering synths and thick reverb which keeps the tracks loose and compelling. There are guitar solos too: lots of them.
With references to architecture and a bauhaus aesthetic, it’s an album which would have fit in the canon of early 80s British New Wave alongside Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and co., but Westerman’s concerns are very 2020. Lead single “Blue Comanche” is one of the album’s most luscious, but it’s words sting with anxiety over the ever-expanding harm of environmental loss, with references to acorns and cyborgs abound. It’s hard to imagine this single staying far from the top of the singles charts in 1981, boasting a staunch commitment to whirring synths and call-and-repeat vocals.
Westerman can be emotionally distant – these are erudite songs about grey areas, discourse and modernisation – but they also possess a rare nuance, such as on “The Line”, which wonders aloud where “the line is”. The context is left open – it could refer to political discourse or a row between lovers – but that’s where the poignancy comes from. And somehow the song still slaps: the ear-worm chorus soaring over a fog of synths and sharp guitar licks. Despite their sibylline character, others tracks express concrete affirmation, like the uptempo “Think I’ll Stay”, a reflection on chronic illness which ends with the proclamation: “don’t know how I got here / but now that I am I think I’ll stay”.
This debut album isn’t freewheeling and it isn’t revolutionary, instead it’s a remarkably precocious mastery of a style which has for too long being lost in the fog of it’s own introspection. Will Westerman meets that with directness, precision and a healthy dose of magic.
Words by Liam Inscoe – Jones.
This final End of Year list of the decade reads like a microcosm of the chaos of the nine years which went before it. Here there are pop albums made by underground musicians who can’t have expected anyone near a chart to hear them, R&B records made by rappers, pop records by rock bands and a million experiments in sound: from an album made of the sampled sounds of pieces of plastic to bluegrass revival. We are now in a place where it doesn’t seem absurd to place bandcamp sweethearts next to house DJs and chart-topping millionaires because we all listen to music on platforms which have them just a click apart anyway.
We leave the decade with new icons whose names are scattered throughout this list: musicians like Blood Orange, Tyler The Creator, FKA Twigs, Danny Brown and Charli XCX who we simply hadn’t heard of ten years ago, and the behind-the-scenes revolutionaries like the producers of PC-Music who started the decade pastiching commercial music from their bedrooms and ended it writing the genuine commercial hits of today, reshaping the sound of chart music for the better. We also leave this year with new stars, from Billie Eilish to Little Simz and Floating Points, who we may well be speaking of in the same terms in ten years time. We celebrated the 80th anniversary of Blue Note records (which the header of this year’s list pays tribute to) while passed icons Miles Davis, Prince, Leonard Cohen and Arthur Russell had works unearthed which added to the depth of their legacies. We lost a few heroes too: João Gilberto, Scott Walker, David Berman, Kieth Flint and Bushwick Bill being just a few names among many. Many of the narratives which have emerged around music journalism are represented here, from the burgeoning London jazz scene, the reggaeton revolution and the grime takeover, but some of the most telling stories are not: the unstoppable ‘Old Town Road’ for example was a history maker specifically because it has nothing to do with albums. Most of all though, music is a perpetual provider of hope – giving voice to the forgotten, allowing the ideas of the future to be taken for a spin, providing resilience in the face of tyrannical forces, or simply daily reassurance from songwriters who capture the essence of what’s means to be alive and – in clubs, gigs and living rooms – make the living fun.
This list was compiled by a music fan with nothing better to do, based only the albums I managed to hear this year, featuring bias and ignorance of critical consensus. It is instead based solely on the music which impacted us, and which we enjoyed and listened to the most. From top to bottom, we consider all of these albums to be produced by incredibly talented individuals whose music this year will provide pleasure and inspiration for many more to come.
100. Plastic Anniversary – Matmos
99. Flamboyant – Dorian Electra
98. Odds Against Tomorrow – Bill Orcutt
97. GINGER – Brockhampton
Continue reading “Our Favourite Albums Of 2019”
Fleet Foxes did not suffer the sophomore slump. In fact, their second LP Helplessness Blues was so well received that they seemed to found a different phenomenon: the sophomore peak, where after a six-year absence expectations for their third record were at fever pitch, and a similar level of rapturous acclaim was inevitably unattainable, especially for an album like this. Frontman Robin Pecknold, who’s singular voice defines the third of the band’s records in a way it hasn’t previously, posted on his (very wry) Instagram account a list of ‘inclinations’ for this cycle of music which largely comprise of defiance against the most celebrated characteristics of Helplessness Blues: “avoid singy-songy theatrical vocals” and “establish expectations, subvert expectations”. As a result, Crack-Up is more obtuse than even the subtler moments on Fleet Foxes’ debut, built instead on refused assertions, and contrasts. Continue reading ““How Could It All Fall In One Day?” – Fleet Foxes ‘Crack-Up’ Album Review”