herald

Thursday 18 September 2014

Never mind the pair of socks -- give the gift that rocks

NO ONE wants to be hearing nothing but Christmas carols over the holiday. So, this year, instead of socks, scent or Scrabble, why not give a few tunes as a gift.

There's been a lot of good albums this past year so you'll have plenty to choose from. There have been plenty of singer-songwriters on the radar but it's the two enduring kingpins, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, who've made some of the most captivating music of the year.

LEONARD COHEN: Old Ideas (Columbia) is, as you'd expect, a ruminative guidebook of meditations on life's big issues. The voice is more resonant than ever. The poetic insights are as stunning and the music as entrancing. "A lazy bastard living in a suit," is how he describes himself on the opening track, showing that there's always humour in adversity.

BOB DYLAN: Tempest (Columbia). He's been making albums for 50 years now and this ranks among his best. Remarkable, really, when you consider that he was 71 when it was released. His band can rock, too and provide a suitable soundtrack for Dylan's tales of mystery, regret and revenge.

By comparison, JAKE BUGG (Mercury) is a fresh-faced 18-year-old from Nottingham. But he burns with a fire that, at times, recalls the energy of the youthful Dylan. But he's not a copycat. The 14 songs on his self-titled album have an original modern voice that fits neatly alongside Elvis Costello and Buddy Holly.

FRANK OCEAN: Channel Orange (Mercury) comes from an adventurous LA hip-hop collective with a breath of vision that hasn't been heard since Prince first made an impact. He delivers sweet contemporary soul with the ache of Marvin Gaye and the sassiness of Isaac Hayes. It's true.

LANA DEL REY: Born to Die (Interscope) has been impressing lots of people with her lounge noir crossed with vintage pop cutesiness. Even Cheryl Cole asked her for a song. If you've heard Video Games, the track that launched her career, you'll understand why.

DJANGO DJANGO (Because Music) will put a smile on your face with an upbeat hybrid that runs electronica, surf guitar, grabby lyrical hooks and glam beats. It's all a bit mad scientist but exuberant and lovable.

DR JOHN: Locked Down (Nonesuch). The dude from New Orleans deserves the good fortune of having the world's hippest band, The Black Keys, get behind him for this wonderful return to form. Every riff on this album comes with shock and awe. "Never gonna be another Big Shot like me," croaks the Doctor. So listen up.

ALABAMA SHAKES: Boys and Girls (Rough Trade) have a commendable rootsy singer in Brittany Howard, a young woman who echoes the psyche-soul of Janis Joplin. If the Kings of Leon had been the backing band for soul queen Carla Thomas, this is how they'd have sounded. Damn fine.

Two Dublin bands who've avoided getting bogged down in dreary guitar rock are ORIGINAL RUDEBOYS: This Life (RubyWorks) and THIS CLUB: Highlife (Mercury). Both have been on a roll in 2012. Both have the talent and the smarts to keep that rolling into 2013. Either or both these ear- grabbing and danceable albums are good to go.

Two women artists who are working in very different genres are EMELI SANDE: Our Version of Events (EMI) and BAT FOR LASHES: The Haunted Man (Parlophone). The British music industry loves the urban soul pop of Sande, who's from Aberdeen. Bat for Lashes displays a more raw talent. She seems a little bit bonkers but has the pop hooks.

PLAN B: Ill Manors (Atlantic). The title track is a classic which outstrips the tough English hip-hop that soulboy Ben Drew has moved on to.

Two acts who were around in the Seventies are BILL FAY: Life Is People (Dead Oceans) and Led ZEPPELIN: Celebration Day (Atlantic). Zep never went away, really. This is a gig they played five years ago with Jason Bonham on drums. It rocks. Reclusive Bill Fay was MIA when Wilco's Jeff Tweedy rediscovered him. This elegant comeback collection is deeply moving. Its gospel feel will suit the Christmas mood.

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