So you are sitting there unwinding over Christmas, perhaps reading a book and all is quiet, too quiet what you need is some music.
Ray Davies: See My Friends
Ray Davies is one of the great British song writers of any generation; even amongst the golden generation of the sixties, he stands out as somebody special. This album sees him revisit some of his classic songs and duet on them with a variety of artists. Yes it's indulgent, yes it's lazy but I don't really care; there are some really rather special songs on here and although arguably none of these 'covers' are a patch on the original versions, they pretty all stand-up in their own right.
I love the Metallica duet covering 'You Really Got Me'; it's proto-metal riffs are given new power; Jackson Browne sounds good on 'Waterloo Sunset' and Mumford & Sons do an excellent job on 'Day/This Time Tomorrow'; for me the weakest is 'Celluloid Heroes' with Jon Bon Jovi but then again I find Bon Jovi assinine and irritating. And also on the album is Alex Chilton's last recording with a good version of 'Till the End of The Day'.
This could have been a car-crash but it brings new life to some classic songs.
Janelle Monae: The ArchAndroid
Touted as many as the new Prince; albiet from Atlanta and female; that's a hell of a tag line to live up to and then to do your debut album as basically a concept album, that's surely a bad case of hubris and a gaping chasm waiting to fall into. Crazily ambitious and sprawling over a pot pourii of 18 tracks, this girl is simply an insane genius.
From the start of the album which moves from an classical overture into rap on 'Dance or Die', a Grace Jones slab of dance greatness; audacious but sublime. 'Tightrope' is best James Brown track that he never recorded; you can see his ghost nodding his approval at this and when those horns kick in, well the funk is back.
Rap, funk, classical, pop, white-boy indie; this has it all. We might still be waiting for Prince to release one more classic album but I think Janelle Monae may have done the job for him. He can retire to Paisley Park, happy in the knowledge that there is another and even more insane musical genius recording.
Kele: The Boxer
The 'ex'-frontman of indie band Bloc Party; Kele has gone solo for the time being, finding the constraints of the indie genre boring and the result is 'The Boxer'. It's not a massive departure though from 'Intimacy' which was Bloc Party's last album and certainly 'One More Chance', their last single; those signposted the direction that Kele wanted to take the band.
Stand-out tracks are the full-on 'Tenderoni' and the Joy Division tinged 'Unholy Thoughts'.
Not an album for people who wanted a re-hash of 'Silent Alarm' but as a slab of indie-tinged dance, pretty damn good.
The Crookes: Dreams of Another Day
Heralding from Sheffield's conveyor belt of indie guitar bands; I suspect most of my readers have never come across The Crookes but if you can imagine a band which takes The Smiths, Belle and Sebastian and even a sprinkling of the House Martins with some Edwyn Collins thrown into the melting-pot and forging their own sound.
Not yet fully formed and yet to decide what they want to be; this collection of early songs shows potential and range which once they decide who they want to be points to a bright future.
'Back Street Lovers' opens the record sounding like if anything a very young 'The Smiths'; as if 'The Smiths' had started as a much younger band and later on the record, there's a sweet version of 'Born Under A Bad Sign' by fellow Yorkshire-man Richard Hawley (another artist that my American readers would do well to check out).
Can't wait for the first album proper.
Die Antwoord: $O$
Warning, I suspect that 90% of you are going to hate this album!
An incredibly confrontational rap-rave trio from Cape Town, South Africa. White Afrikaans hip hop, this the sound of 'Zef' music from rough Cape Flats district; this is grimy, urban and in your face, this not township jolly but belligerent in its intensity. Not a record for the sensitive but fortunately much of it is impenetrable as it is rapped mostly in Afrikaans, a language which you might not necessarily think lends itself to hip-hop.
But as their press release asked 'Is this Die Antwoord terrible, like the worst thing ever, or the most amazing thing the entire universe'; the answer is somewhere between these two poles but it made me smile, laugh and I've heard nothing else like it this year. And at time of the year when derivative 'X-factor' crap dominates the charts, this is the perfect antidote!
Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling & Dharohar Project
Okay, the fusion of Western and traditional Indian music does not always lend itself to success; sometimes ending-up as some horrible pastiche of both forms but fear not dear reader!
nu-folk darlings Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling and the traditional Rajasthani folk collective the Dharohar Project have produced what is a remarkable four-track EP. Laura Marling's 'Devils Spoke' opens the EP and takes her Dylanesque opening track fromm her 'I Speak Because I Can' album to a new place; a joint vocal flies and it just sounds like Laura is having the best time on this. Next is the turn of Mumford and Sons to take their place on the stage building from a quiet and contamplative start to a huge crescendo. 'Anmol Rishtey' allows Dharohar Project to display their skills in their setting, a marvellous piece of Indian call and response music.
But the best is saved till last, 'Meheni Rachi' is a true fusion of the traditional sound of Dharohar Project with the voice of British nu-folk; completely joyous and simply shows that Laura Marling has what it takes to become a huge artist on her terms.