- 17 Dec 19
40. Talos - Far Out Dust (BMG Rights Management (UK) Ltd) by John Walshe 8/10
‘The Light Upon Us’ Joyous second album from Cork singer Talos's debut album, Wild Alee, was the recipient of rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. It eventually clocked up in excess of 25 million Spotify streams and was shortlisted for the Choice Music Prize.
Indeed, so successful was his debut that Eoin French was able to give up working as an architect and university lecturer to concentrate on music full-time.
Far Out Dust is his wide-screen sophomore effort: written in New York City, Los Angeles, London, Dublin, Cork, and Reykjavik, the album features a host of well-known international producers, like Valgeir Sigursson (Sigur Ros, Feist), Damian Taylor (Arcade Fire, Bjork) and Doug Schadt (Maggie Rogers), aiding and abetting the Corkman in creating his cinematic sonic landscape.
What a landscape it is.
Album opener, ‘Boy I Was Wrong’, sets the tone from the off: there’s more drama than an Eastenders omnibus, as it builds from a tremulous beginning to a soaring maelstrom of synths, percussion and falsetto vocals. ‘The Flood’, too, morphs from aching piano ballad to insistent rocker in less than three-and-a-half-minutes, while ‘Dawn, The Front’ veers from delicate, piano-led confessional to synth assault. It’s not all pomp and bombast, however. ‘See Me’ is mid-paced, layered, intelligent pop, with French admitting, “I’m too afraid to be honest.”
‘On And On’ is a whimsical, piano-driven waltz, while ‘2AM’ is an aching, synth-driven rumination on an intimate encounter in the small hours. At its best, Far Out Dust sounds like James Vincent McMorrow jamming with Sigur Ros, as on the glacial majesty of ‘To Each His Own’ or the celestial rapture of ‘Let Go’, which almost singlehandedly redefines the meaning of epic. Current single ‘The Light Upon Us’ is deliciously warm, like wrapping yourself in a sonic sleeping bag, with a brass section so joyous that it’s almost impossible to listen to without feeling a rush of contentment rising up from the gut.
This is a seriously impressive album that’s sure to cement French’s place as a rising international star.
39. whenyoung - Reasons To Dream (EMI) by Wayne Byrne 9/10
Limerick trio whenyoung have been building a strong following in anticipation of this, their debut album. Last summer saw them grace the green fields of County Laois at the Electric Picnic and share a bill with Patti Smith and Nick Cave at The Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. Now, signed to major label Virgin EMI, the band have released an astoundingly assured debut, a statement of intent as they make their way inexorably to headlining status.
Considering the modest assembly of Aoife Power on vocals and bass, Niall Burns on guitar, and Andrew Flood on drums, Reasons To Dream sounds massive. Thanks to Burns’ smartly processed effects work, and the direct but effective rhythmic force of Power and Flood, their sound is made for the festival main stages they’re destined for. The album is also well-written and stunningly engineered, occasionally recalling the kind of late-2000s new-wave inspired indie disco that Ladyhawke briefly perfected. ‘Never Let Go’, ‘The Others’, ‘You’re Grand’, and ‘In My Dreams’, are all excellent, punchy, stimulating.
Elsewhere, ‘Blow Up The World’ offers a rare moment of melodic shoegazing that evokes memories of The Cocteau Twins and The Cure in their less-commercial milieu. It’s the album’s sleeper hit, one that initially feels like filler but which soon beguiles, building from a sparse, echo-laden opening to an epic climax. We’re back on the figurative dancefloor with the majestic ‘Future’, which immediately seduces us with Burns’ hooky guitar and Flood’s four on the floor rhythms. Blasting through the trio’s immense wall of sound is Power’s unique vocal delivery, the dulcet tones providing a potent dynamic against the thunderous sonic onslaught of her bandmates.
With Reasons To Dream, whenyoung have carved out their own distinctive brand of infectious indie dream pop. This is an album to rank among the finest Irish LPs of recent times.
38. Weezer - The Teal Album (Crush Music/Atlantic) by Wayne Byrne 8/10
Who would ever have ever have thought that Rivers Cuomo – the moody, reluctant rock star of The Blue Album and Pinkerton – would ever have released an album that contains faithful, un-ironic cover versions of Toto, A-Ha and TLC? Welcome to 2019! A world where Weezer cover Toto, Toto cover Weezer, and Donald Trump is President.
It may be one of the more unlikely developments in rock in recent times, but Weezer’s hit version of ‘Africa’ has successfully regained their mainstream audience. For sure, there will be carping: some will simply see The Teal Album as a cynical cash-in. What’s more, the sundry pop hits here – including A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’, Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’, and Tears For Fears’ ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ – are so faithfully covered as to be indistinguishable from the originals.
Truthfully, however, this approach is actually a testament to Weezer’s musical abilities. Trust me: it’s no joke trying to replicate Morten Harket’s falsetto. Weezer do add a few crunching power chords here and there, most notably on Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ and TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’, and they work beautifully. Elsewhere, their blazing cover of The Turtles’ ‘Happy Together’ is another highlight. Sadly, their take on ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’ is a total dud. Infectious in its enthusiasm, The Teal Album confirms Weezer as one of the most consistently entertaining acts left from the ’90s alt-rock boom. It makes for another intriguing twist in Weezer’s always fascinating career.
37. All Tvvins - Just To Exist (Faction Records) by Colin Sheridan 8/10
Sophomore syndrome – or ‘the difficult second album’ in music-speak – is a cliché that exists for a reason: bands buckle under the weight of a promising first record. Sometimes they overthink it (or maybe their A&R scout does). Or they just lose their way due to the excesses of fame, and produce a follow-up so underwhelming that it threatens their future.
There’s no such fear with Dublin-based duo All Tvvins. It appears band members Conor Adams and Lar Kaye got their existential crisis out of the way in between records, which cleared the path for Just To Exist, a snappy earworm of a follow-up to their 2016 debut IVV. There’s no excess fat on these 10 tracks, delivered in under 40 minutes. From funky opener ‘Hell Of A Party’, through the dreamy ‘I Heard You’ and the infectious ‘In The Dark’, this is irresistible stuff.
With its relentless hooks and loops, Just To Exist can sound like the score to an entire episode of Made In Chelsea, but that’s only testament to its unapologetic catchiness. The duo accepted an offer of help from none other than James Vincent McMorrow (who has a production credit on the album), and his contribution may have enabled All Tvvins to find a more mature voice. Whatever the process, songs like the title track and ‘Build A Bridge’ are pure volume-up/windows-down affairs. This is super smart indie-pop – and essential listening.
36. Jafaris - Stride (DFL Records) by Lucas Dean 8/10
If Jafaris’ reputation as a triple threat – actor, dancer, rapper – had already been forged by his 2017 EP Velvet Cake, the release of his debut album Stride is surefire confirmation: the boy has it. Jafaris, aka Percy Chamburuka, first made an impression as Ngig in 2016’s John Carney-helmed Sing Street, but he’s really made a name for himself through his energetic hip-hop bops and compelling videos.
With this 12-track effort, Jafaris makes it clear: he is one of Ireland’s top rappers. Whatever mood you’re in, there’s probably a song on Stride to suit. On the catchy and energetic ‘Invisible’, Jafaris throws down fast-paced lines with remarkable flair, while he takes a more introspective and soulful tone on ‘Brother’s Keeper’ and ‘God’s Not Stupid’. Elsewhere, concert-ready songs like ‘Found My Feet’, ‘Time’ and ‘Temple’ come in such quick succession, they’re impossible to resist. Meanwhile, the rapper’s lyrics throughout are honest and witty, giving a window into his thoughts and experiences.
Jafaris’ personality and artistic vision separate him from the rest of the pack, and on Stride, elevate him to the front rank of young Irish artists. We weren’t disappointed – and his fans won’t be either.
35. Hot Chip - A Bath Full Of Ecstasy (Domino) by Brenna Ransden 7/10
Simultaneously classic Hot Chip and a completely original sound, the seventh studio album of the London-based five-piece is a compelling listen. 'Positive', melds together psychedelia and electro-pop in an introspective recollection of the state of the world that never outright lists all of its faults, but nonetheless explores them: "You’re despised, contaminated / Defeated, isolated / People look at you / A puzzle, not a clue / To be solved by only you". The dance-worthy tune and trippy equalisation is distracting enough, however, that you can choose to listen in ignorant bliss if you so desire.
The album is remarkably cohesive, jumping from track to track, it maintains its integrity as a whole. However, it's the individual flare of each song – the keys in 'Hungry Child'; the harmonies in 'Clear Blue Skies'; the galactic disco beat of 'Spell' – that brings the most delight to the album.
Put your headphones on, tie up your dancing shoes, and get ready to bop along to A Bath Full of Ecstasy.
34. Orville Peck – Pony (Sub Pop) by Joey Molloy 8.8/10
Orville Peck galloped into 2019 with Pony, a debut that turned heads from all corners of the music world. The masked, queer cowboy flipped the country genre on its head, making for one of the boldest statements of the year.
Channeling the likes of legendary figures like Johnny Cash, Peck gives the golden age of country an update with dreamy guitar tones and lyrics that subvert the genre’s heteronormative tropes. For example, look no further than ‘Queen of the Rodeo,’ a graceful song about a drag queen from Canada.
Adding to the records allure is an element of mystery. Orville Peck is a stage name, and he never performs or goes anywhere without his draped mask and cowboy hat. Thus, he fully embodies the Western archetype of a stranger that just blew in from out of town. Looking deeper, that decision is very thoughtful. If it weren’t for the mask, Peck may not be able to perform such vulnerable songs.
Beyond the persona, what makes Pony so great is the unforgettable songs. Whether he's serenading us on a sultry ballad or kicking up dust on a honky-tonkin' rager, he always nails it. Take one listen to the haunting opening number ‘Dead of Night’ and you’ll instantly be transported into his nostalgic realm. At the end of the day, Peck may reach into the past, but his boots are planted firmly in the future.
33. Fangclub - Vulture Culture (EMI) by Edwin McFee 8/10
Before Dublin-based trio Fangclub entered the studio to record their second LP, their drummer Dara Coleman jokingly declared that he was “willing to lose his mind for the album.” Be careful what you wish for, as they say. Because by all accounts, the birth of Vulture Culture was one the members of the band will never forget – peppered as it was with paranoia, obsession and a hefty dose of struggle. However, pressure creates diamonds: this 11-track opus is most certainly the jewel in the Irish alt-rock kings’ crown to date.
In a bid to be as honest as possible, singer/guitarist Steven King apparently left writing the lyrics until the last minute, The end result is that Fangclub have delivered some of their most urgent and arresting songs you’ll hear all year. Vulture Culture is an unflinchingly heavy record, both sonically and emotionally. The overarching theme of the album is violence “towards yourself and other things”; Steven King sees Vulture Culture as a culmination of a lot of chaos and inner mental violence, which almost capsized the band. “Making this record got us through the fog,” he explained, “and we have a new lease of life. The energy is real, the chaos makes sense, and the violence is fuel for the fire.”
Which might be seen as a kind of long-hand for saying that their new record rocks like a demon. And it does.
Sounding both fresh and familiar – an almost impossible trick to pull off – Vulture Culture takes a step on from last year’s True Love EP. It serves up a tasty stew of sugared melodies, allied to punk and grunge-minded guitars, which evoke the tempestuous spirit of earlier Irish outfits like Kerbdog, Ash and Fighting With Wire. Make no mistake, however: this is Fangclub being gloriously themselves all the way.
The opener ‘Last Time’, which starts as a lullaby and ends with a roar, is a huge gamble – but it pays off in spades. Next up, the title track is an exhilarating, guitar-heavy marriage of playful rhythms and powerful riffs, whilst ‘Nightmare’ shows off their flair for razorsharp hooks.
The record is packed with future pit anthems, notably including the aptly named ‘Heavy Handed’ and ‘Viva Violent’. Elsewhere, ‘Hesitations’ is the heaviest song they’ve done yet; ‘Black Rainbow’ is a ferocious fusion of sweet vocals and head-crushing guitars; and the brilliant ‘King Dumb’ has a little of ‘Nowhere’ by Therapy? in its DNA.
Overall, this is an impressively muscular statement from a band arriving at the peak of their powers. Vulture Culture is one of the best rock albums you’ll hear in 2019.
32. Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising (Sub Pop) by Paul Stokes 7/10
Natalie Mering’s music has always rewarded patience, and the fourth album from her Weyes Blood project is no different. Much like its 2016 predecessor Front Row Seat To Earth, Titanic Rising avoids traditional pop structures. Nonetheless, those who enjoy Weyes Blood’s slow-burning style are in for a treat.
Titanic Rising takes many of the best ideas from Mering’s previous work and expands upon them gracefully, with a refreshing sense of purpose. The songs play much like the album art looks: saturated and colourful, but suspended in water and slowed to a crawl – like wading into a backyard pool on a sunny afternoon.
Songs like ‘Something To Believe’ and ‘Movies’ shimmer and sparkle, with pianos, guitars, strings and arpeggiated synths blending together beautifully. Other tracks, like ‘Everyday’ and ‘Wild Time’, come closest to traditional piano-pop balladry.
All of this – combined with Mering’s still detailed songwriting and effortlessly smooth alto vocals – make for a powerful experience. So while it does still take its time, faulting Titanic Rising for demanding close attention misses the point. It’s really all about taking a moment or two to slow down, before diving into the record’s absorbing soundscapes.
31. Pete Doherty & The Puta Madres - Pete Doherty & The Puta Madres (Strap Originals) by Wayne Byrne 7/10
Hard to believe maybe, but it has been almost 20 years since Peter Doherty unleashed his brand of decadent, gutter rock ‘n’ roll upon the world with The Libertines’ 2002 debut, Up The Bracket. Since then, whether with The Libertines or Babyshambles, Doherty has provided moments of extraordinary brilliance (‘Fuck Forever’ is untouchable) with bizarre personal troubles that threatened to overshadow the music and make him a tabloid superstar in the worst sense. As a result, perhaps, his output down the years has been frustratingly inconsistent and live performances hit-and-miss.
Peter Doherty And The Puta Madres is the singer-songwriter’s latest project, born out of the ashes of Babyshambles. The good news is that this self-titled debut features some of the best material of the frontman’s career. Produced by Jai Stanley and engineered by Dan Cox (Thurston Moore, Florence & The Machine, Tom Odell), it was recorded in Étretat, Normandy over four days in the summer of 2018 – and it is an immediate and refreshingly unpolished piece of work. In an era of heavily processed, metronomic rock and pop, there is a terrific live – and human – quality to the production of Peter Doherty And The Puta Madres: you can hear a genuine, physical groove in the rhythms, and the electricity of a live band, qualities that are desperately missed in so much contemporary production.
The band is made up of Doherty’s erstwhile musical cohorts from his solo tours, and they provide him with an eclectic musical canvas against which to craft his evocative tales. Doherty displays an impressive musical range here, from the Cajun blues stylings of ‘Buck Punk Bonafide’ (the kind of track The Rolling Stones would have covered had it been written decades ago) to the organ-driven ’60s psychedelia of ‘Who’s Been Having You Over’.
‘All St Sea’ is a powerful, rambunctious opener that shares some of the unbridled spirit and energy of Doherty’s previous bands – but the best is yet to come. Brilliant debut single ‘Paradise Is Under Your Nose’ is a rare, delicate country ballad co-written by Trampolene singer-guitarist and sometime Doherty bandmate, Jack Jones. Elsewhere, the truly stunning ‘Someone Else To Be’ is a highlight, melodically referencing Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ (well, to these ears!), and powerfully quotes Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’: “Please don’t put your life in the hands of a rock n’ roll band”. It might just be good advice.
The second half of the record is less compelling. Maybe they’ll grow on me with time, but on tracks like ‘Lamentable Ballad of Gascony Avenue’ or on ‘A Fool There Was’, his vocals are so mannered, it feels like there’s something tongue-in-cheek to his delivery. Is he being sincere or satirical with the cockney rebel imagery? I just don’t know. Regardless, when it is good, Peter Doherty And The Puta Madres is a real breath of fresh air, an album that doesn’t trade on the dysfunction that marred his prior groups.
Here Doherty is backed by a skilled band who temper his tendency towards the shambolic. For the most part, this is a richly musical and at times surprisingly tender effort – a hugely rewarding listen punctuated with irresistible moments of songwriting beauty.
You can read the complete list of Hot Press' Top Albums of 2019 in one brilliant sweep in the Hot Press Annual – in which we distill the highlights and low-points of the year, across 132 vital, beautifully designed pages. Starring heroes of the year Fontaines D.C. on the front we cover Music, Culture, Sport, Film, Politics, the Environment and much, much more. Buy this superb publication direct from Hot Press here.