And so we arrive at our first monthly review for the year that is either the first of the new decade of the last of the last decade depending on who you believe. As per the tradition we return with our best of December and January combined as release cycles slow down over this period.
Listen to the tracks at the end of the post or download or stream these songs this month…
Song: Sad Day
From album: Magdalene
FKA twigs is 31-year-old South Londoner Tahliah Debrett Barnett. Formerly an acclaimed dancer appearing in a number of top 40 pop videos and on stage as a backup dancer to live acts. The ‘twigs’ in her stage name comes from the uncanny way she is able to snap her limbs while dancing. The FKA bit may or may not stand for ‘formerly known as’ after a complaint from another artist using the name ‘Twigs’. Magdalene is her second album after 2014’s LP1 and 3 brilliant EPs. Her style is difficult to describe, genre-less even. Attempts to brand her as electronic R&B and nu-soul have been rejected by Barnett herself, dismissing them as an attempt to label her solely on account of her mixed race (her father was Jamaican and mother British from Spanish descent). Despite her diminutive frame and fragile voice there is evidence of a steeliness to her and she handles the attention and criticism with aplomb. She was even once under attack from Twilight fans when dating Robert Pattinson on the flimsy charge of not being Bella. Her soprano for the most part floats gently above a soft piano and electronica backing, but can also build to a near scream. Check out the second chorus of Cellophane as a prime example. Sad Day is probably her most traditional song to date. Use it as a springboard into her more challenging work. After a couple of listens you won’t regret it.
(Also download or stream from the album: Cellophane, Holy Terrain, Home With You)
Song: Piano Joint (This Kind Of Love)
From album: Kiwanuka
Up until recently England’s Michael Kiwanuka had enjoyed substantial critical success but only modest sales. But then a track from his second album was snapped up as the main title theme of popular TV series Big Little Lies and his commercial following exploded. That track (Cold Little Heart) and its parent album (Love & Hate) catapulted his career and one wondered whether it would reshape his singular approach to match a new popular trajectory. Fortunately, it didn’t, and third album (simply titled Kiwanuka) is a quiet triumph. Producers Danger Mouse and Inflo introduce an old soul backing without dominating. Kiwanuka himself remains very much the focal point and inflects melancholy throughout. Piano Joint (This Kind Of Love) is the stunning standout and was Equilibrio’s song of the year for 2019. Gently propelled by the titular instrument and a backbeat that only arrives at the 2-minute mark, this is an ode to the redemptive power of love. Kiwanuka was born in London to Ugandan parents, another great example of the growing global reach of African and African descendant musicians nowadays.
(Also download or stream from the album: You Ain’t The Problem, Rolling, Solid Ground)
Song: Dotted Line
From album: Marigold
Pinegrove exploded onto the scene in 2016 with their second album Cardinal, and in particular on the back of lead single and album opener Old Friends. That song featured on many a 2016 end of year ‘best of’ selection and the New Jersey band seemed to be at the cusp of triumph and stardom. But then, on the eve of the release of their follow-up album, lead singer and frontman Evan Stephens Hall found himself embroiled in allegations of sexual coercion involving a member of their touring party. Out of respect for the accuser, the band took a decision to defer the release of the album and went on a hiatus. They finally self-released Skylight through Bandcamp in 2018 without much fanfare. 4th album Marigold sees their proper return. One can only hope that this means that some sort of resolution has been reached as the world needs this brand of thoughtful and delicate alt-country music right now. As one would imagine under the circumstances, self-reflection and regret are some of the more prevalent lyrical themes on offer here, but to the listener its cushioned in a mellow warm vibe throughout.
(Also download or stream from the album: The Alarmist, No Drugs, Phase)
Song: Go DJ
From album: Bubba
What’s up with Canada these days? Cool, Trump-baiting president, bucket-list holiday destination for many, place of sane refuge in The Handmaid’s Tale, and lately the place where all the best music seems to be coming from. And a diverse list it is too; from Drake to Bieber to Arcade Fire to Grimes to Destroyer and everything in between, these are some of the most exciting acts on the planet right now. Throwing his hat in this impressive ring is Louis Kevin Celestin, also known by his stage name of Kaytranada. Originally born in Haiti, Kaytranada now calls Montreal home. Bubba is his second album release after 2016’s hugely acclaimed 99.9%. This electronic producer has also released countless other singles, EPs and remixes, not to mention work done for other notable artists like Rihanna, Beyoncé and Timberlake. It’s difficult to improve on the description of the album offered up by Pitchfork’s Jonah Bromwich: “Kaytranada blesses this woeful decade with one last great dance record”. Indeed…
(Also download or stream from the album: 2 The Music, 10%, Culture)
Song: Good Measure
From album: Dalliance
Speaking of the land of the maple leaf, on 20 January an email landed in Equilibrio’s inbox. Imbedded within was a link to a download of the debut album of a band named Beauts, an indie-rock band from Halifax. If you don’t know where that is it’s the capital of Nova Scotia (pop. 400 000). If you don’t know where that is either, it’s one of the larger islands off the East coast of Canada. Despite its difficult-to-reach diminutive size, Halifax sure punches above its weight; Beauts join an impressive cast of great Canadian acts hailing from there (think bands as diverse as Nap Eyes and Holy F*ck). With a jangly, bass-led backing not a million miles away from early New Order at their least electronic, the overall melancholic sheen brings to mind Scotland’s The Twilight Sad. Perhaps this kind of stuff needs windswept and desolate far open spaces to germinate (Nova Scotia also means ‘New Scotland’ in Latin so go figure). Anyway, I’m really grateful to Brendan for introducing us to Beauts. My only complaint is that the album is over too soon at only 7 tracks. But just do what I did and listen on endless repeat. Available from 21 February.
(Also download or stream from the album: Drifters All, The City Loves Me, Shut In)
In case you missed it…
Song: Super 8
From album: Blue Sky In Your Head (from 2019)
In early July of last year Lighthouse Family surprise-dropped their 4th album Blue Sky In Your Head seemingly out of nowhere. It was a full 18 years after 3rd album Whatever Gets You Through The Day. Much-maligned by the hipster, serious muso relevati for their twee sentimentality, there is a place for music like this: high quality pop that transports the listener to better places and times.
Lighthouse Family are multi-instrumentalist and chief songwriter Paul Tucker and vocalist Tunde Baiyewu (of Nigerian descent). The duo formed in the industrial city of Newcastle in Northern England in the mid 1990s while working together in the same bar during their university years. They found worldwide fame with their breakout debut album Ocean Drive in 1995 and became a go-to easy listening favourite of many. Tucker’s songwriting seems effortless, with many of their best known tracks achieving something close to pop perfection. However, it is Baiyewu who has proven to be their secret weapon. His sonorous golden baritone is crisp and clear and carries the listener along into a peaceful smog. Perhaps reflecting a desire to break from the gloomy North England surrounds where this music is written, Tucker and Baiyewu always delight with a graceful and uplifting tone.
2nd album Postcards From Heaven brought the band further success in 1997, but they weren’t able to repeat the feat in 2001 with their 3rd album and the inevitable split followed.
Luckily for us softies though Lighthouse Family have returned, and they’re touring South Africa in March. Tickets available via Computicket. The deluxe version of the new album also has a bonus disc containing all of the band’s previous singles as a convenient little catch up before checking them out.
(Also download or stream from the album: Waterloo Street, My Salvation, Put My Heart On You)
LISTEN TO OUR PLAYLIST
You can listen to previews of each track by clicking on the icons next to the song titles below.
If you have iTunes and an Apple Music account, you can listen to the full songs and add the playlist to your library. Simply click on the grey Apple Music icon and “add”.