Ashley’s Music Trek (or, Albumism 2016, part one)

Catfish and the Bottlemen, The Ride (2016) | This album has fallen short of my expectations, and fallen prey to the infamous sophomore slump;. The Balcony remains my favourite

In my frankly too bountiful spare time, I tend to devolve to my most basic form: a girl who loves music. Since the beginning of the year I found and fell for a number of artists and bands, most of whom I’ve been stuck on long enough to know the lyrics by heart, and since I am still on the ground (and will stay on the ground until further notice), I think it is time to share. Big word, that, considering I’m a snob and would rather keep my musical preferences to myself, for fear of both judgement and, yes, letting someone else into the artist’s world. I’m pretty selfish about my music, come to that, and the only reason I’m doing this right now is because I’m not in a very good place and this is one way to let myself out.

Hence: let us begin!

A trip down Ashley’s 2016 Musical Acquisitions

Aurora, All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend (2016)
Aurora, All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend (2016)

All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend

I don’t know what it is with Scandinavians but they are simply magical creatures by way of music. I see them as the faeries of our time, reminiscent of elven lore and timeless grace and beauty. And I am not exaggerating: evidence can be provided to you by so many other names, from Sigur Rós to Björk to Ásgeir to Of Monsters and Men. Time and time again I have been enchanted by the lilt of songs hailing from the globe’s northernmost countries. Diverse as their tunes may be, there is an unidentifiable common thread running in the notes, and in the ephemeral lyricism that always seems to bring me to the tops of their mountains, or down to the depths of the oceans.

Aurora perhaps sealed my eternal love for northern music, and because of her I will do my best to seek more. This album, which I have longed for since I heard her single Runaway, takes me places. Aurora bleeds into my ears in Running with the Wolves and Warrior; drowns me in the cold, dark waters of tracks like Winter Bird, Under the Water and Black Water Lilies; lifts me into skies of pale grey in Through the Eyes of a Child and Lucky; drops me into the deserts of Conqueror and Warrior. The whole album is an auditory journey through Norway and its many faces, bold and beautiful and haunting, all forest and fog and muted light.

*  *  *

The 1975, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It
The 1975, I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It (2016)

The 1975
I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It

Ah, yes; Matthew Healy has always had a way with pretentiousness. I will not defend his utter absurdity (neither does he, to be honest), but whatever qualms I had with the ridiculous title were quashed by the shocking opening riff of Love Me, the album’s second track (after the seemingly-traditional The 1975 opener). It’s a really good album.

Their self-titled debut from 2013 almost seemed like a joke next to this gloriously engineered second album. The first album was childish in a way, and hellbent on teenage angst and issues with love, drugs, and sex; this one goes a bit deeper, almost as if Healy was just waiting for this opportune moment where he can finally be true, and lash out at the world with a loyal following right behind him, sure to catch him if he ever falls. Tracks like Loving Someone, UGH!, and The Ballad of Me and My Brain, with their gnashing lyrics (to wit: UGH!’s “I don’t have the capacity for fucking / you’re meant to be helping me” and The Ballad‘s “Well I think I’ve gone mad, isn’t that so sad / what a shame you lost the brain that you never had”) and Healy’s cynical delivery (which amuses me to no end; the guy’s so snarky, I could hear it in his guitar solos, jfc), all play to the bigger man that Healy actually is, someone majority of the band’s tweenie fans missed during the hormonally-charged first album. Love Me also showcase a lot of George Daniel’s tight drum skills. Not that they aren’t evident across the album, but Love Me had him shining better.

The rest is an awesome joyride around what makes this band click for me: you get the really, really John Hughes tunes like This Must Be My Dream and Paris;  you have these sick, almost nostalgic references to their earlier songs in The Sound, A Change of Heart, and She’s American; and the heart-wrenching Somebody Else (which reminds me too strongly of a certain relationship I have with someone… err, never mind that, it’s a story for another time).

There are the really introspective pieces, those like  If I Believe You, Nana, and She Lays Down, which pull me back to the reality of these boys being, well, just boys. In fact, If I Believe You‘s jarring call-out to God and Jesus hit a little too close to home for me (“if I believe you / would that make it stop?”; “I’m asking you Jesus / show yourself”) and reveals a very vulnerable band, quite unlike the fierce bravado and fuck-everyone attitude displayed in their first album and earlier EPs.

Granted, the album was a little too long for me at 73 minutes, mainly due to the ambient interludes that channel Sigur Rós. They break up the momentum quite nicely, but sometimes get a tad bit overbearing, and were I not in the mood for the instrumental parts, I would fall asleep immediately. (I am always in the mood, though, so no issues there.)

*  *  *

Catfish and the Bottlemen, The Balcony (2014)
Catfish and the Bottlemen, The Balcony (2014)

Catfish and the Bottlemen
The Balcony

Catfish and the Bottlemen was a very pleasant surprise. I found this band during my short stint as a Spotify Premium subscriber, after having exhausted the Arctic Monkeys catalogue one day and finding myself in need of more gritty and honest indie/alt rock music, which is my go-to cure for the endless melancolia and diaspora I have acquired a long, long time ago from some forgotten place.

So I look them up, and I find Homesick, the album’s opening track, and I think I forgot I had work to do that day in the office. I think I forgot a lot of things, to be honest.

I’ve been listening to lots of synth and alternative music since the beginning of the year, and Catfish and the Bottlemen was a breath of fresh air. They are, to me, a contradiction of everything The 1975 is right now: they are honest and old-school rock, composers of no-nonsense lyrics and straight-up-the-amp guitar blares, vocals that are powerful and that satisfyingly growl at me. The whole album is anthemic and full of infectious energy that had me head-banging on a jeepney on the way home from San Fernando that afternoon I found them.

Standouts include Kathleen and Cocoon, tracks that leave you with a strong impression of what the band does and who they aspire to be. Interviews with frontman Van McCann often have the boys citing a dream of playing in stadiums, and you can see how such an aspiration shows through the arrangement of certain tracks (like Sidewinder and Pacifier, and perhaps most significantly, Tyrants, which I hadn’t appreciated until I heard them play it in their Glastonbury Festival set).

AND THE BEST BIT: They had Ewan McGregor in the music video for my personal favourite, Hourglass, and EWAN MCGREGOR SANG THE GODDAMN THING. I can explain later, but for now let me bask in the glory of E. McGregor playing the guitar and trying to find the last few lines of the song; it was a ridiculously cute moment. Leave me be!

*  *  *

James Bay, Chaos and the Calm (2016)
James Bay, Chaos and the Calm (2015)

James Bay
Chaos and the Calm

I remember first seeing him on TV at the Japanese carinderia at Sta. Cruz; I remember the moment clearly: I was buying Choc-O and Cheesy, my usual choco-and-cheese combo, and I was on my way out when I was assaulted by the unholy smell of cigarettes from some damnable asshat who did not think to look twice before blowing in my face his cancer-stick’s cancerous fumes. I had to stay in the store for a few minutes; MYX comes on and I hear the start of a really good guitar bit that catches my attention and keeps it. Later I come to know the song as James Bay’s Hold Back the River.

Tracks like Collide and Best Fake Smile are soulful rock beats, with the former speaking of an obviously destructive relationship and the latter bringing a fun, cheer-up kind of melody to the album. Others, like Let It Go, Scars, and Incomplete, had me falling in love then falling the fuck out because let’s be real here, I’m an emotional sink hole and the lovelorn hold a special place in my torn-apart and poorly-held-together heart.

Hold Back the River has its charms, being my first James Bay experience, but it is by no means my favourite. That honour goes to Clocks Go Forward, an acoustic track that features Bay’s bare essentials: his voice pained me so in this song, and the guitars were class. (It really doesn’t help, either, that I have very strong feelings tied to the sentiments presented in its lyrics. “We can hide under sheets, under heavy covers, so deep as the night draws in” croons he, “and we’ll be slow-hearted lovers ’til the clocks go forward again”, and I am transported to a particular night, with a memory of absent faces.)

(A close second is Need the Sun to Break, which also brings me back to a moment in my life I would rather forget but could never. Here he sings of the start of something frightening, but wonderful. There I weep.)

The whole album feels like the soundtrack to a millenial Mike Nichols movie featuring you, your lousy heart, and that inscrutable feeling in your chest that aches when they’re away and twangs when they’re around. It isn’t that special musically; the arrangements are good but bordering on just okay, but the lyrics are heartfelt and the delivery is perfect.

That, and I am sold by his casual use of the fedora; no man in this decade ever looked quite as good.

There you have it. I have more, but writing this shit takes a lot of self-control and I don’t think I can afford to reel in my fangirling any more than I already have; I mean, I completely copped out of the Catfish review and I should trim down my The 1975 rant, but I cannot and I will not, and I should show really just myself out already.

Until my next albumism, which probably isn’t any time soon—



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