At midday on July 2nd, it was the mid-point of the year 2012. Here at DiS we decided to take stock of the six months just gone, and attempt to offer you a little of the must-hear music from the year-so-far. Today, it is the turn of debut albums...
A debut album is an odd beast. For some, it's the result of six or seven years of hard work. For others, the slogging it out to find out who you are was done under a previous guise so this first release becomes a fresh start, with a new statement of intent. Whatever the gestation time frame, almost every debut album shares a similar aura of "...OVER-HERE, HI, I'M NEW HERE!" This isn't always shouted, it can often be a subtle message of 'here it is', from someone whose crafted something incredible and is pushing it out into the world like a closed-eyed kid with a science project.
Of course, in the current economic climate, just being able to get a record made (recorded-mixed-mastered-manufactured-marketed), whilst keeping the rent paid isn't easy. In fact, why bother? There's no mansion waiting at the end of it. You're probably not even going to find a label willing to release it. You should probably go work in a cafe or you could kickback on a Saturday morning, watch a bit of TV, instead of loading up your computer or car or maybe loading your lips with booze to get into the mood to write that symphony you know is simmering there, somewhere inside of you. Writing it, recording it and having it released is a herculean task (but rarely the destination when sitting down to write a song). Then getting anyone to notice it/you exist, is just as hard graft (perhaps even moreso). Some might say penning the songs is the easy part, finding people to care and to invest their time and money in you and your music, be that fans or fat-cats or fans that happen to run a label out of their bedroom, now that is the challenge (unless you're making the sort of thing people are actively looking for, but let's not get too pedantic).
Before a debut record flops onto critics doorsteps and appears in shops or iTunes digital racks, there have been all kinds of dark nights of the soul. Proper torments. Not to belittle it, but I don't just mean the - often horrific - experiences that lead people to becoming artists and musicians with a desire to express themselves in the first place. Like, there is the turmoil that comes with the compromises between indulgence and moments of accessibility, to ensure all of this isn't a complete waste of time (unless wasting time is number four on the manifesto, then that's cool, tick that off your list as done. Have a cookie.). The attempts to write a song that connects and brings it all into focus, that's a hard task, and one which many side-step. What if that track then makes the rest of your 'recorded works' seem terrible in comparison? ...Oh shit, doing this dittie was effortless, it just seemed to drop from the heavens and spewed out onto the spools of tape (yeah, I know, they were most probably using Pro Tools). I am a genius, therefore the world must hear my genius...
Then there were the debates with band members or loudly to themselves in the mirror about quitting dayjobs or swapping a week of 'holiday' for a week focussing on recording, mixing and maybe even uploading a track to the web. All them nights you didn't goto parties or cancelled a coffee with a friend. Those missed functions. The walking around in shoes with holes in because you've decided a new mic was far more important. There were the months of not knowing if it's ready, and the week after week of wondering if anyone cares. There was the procrastinating. The slamming of laptop lids and kicking of amps. And all those questions. Who will care? And why should they care? And do I even care anymore? There was the chasing for gigs, the logistics of playing a show, the rehearsals, the quest to find a car that could fit all the gear in... the duteous family member cajoled into helping out, who really enjoyed it, and can they come along next time? There was the reworking and reshaping and remodelling, and wondering what it is that isn't working... there were the attempts to find like-minded souls, whilst also seeming cool and aloof and not at all desperate because of what Thom Yorke said about ambition and ugliness. There was the blissful ignorance and the moments when the penny dropped. There were the nagging art-meets-commerce quandaries, the battles between presenting your music or persona in a manner that might attract the attention of a buck-toothed music industry that seems to have some secret language, and if only you could understand it, de-encrypt and translate it, you'd fondle it and change it and break it and you'd smash it and crush it... but can you do all that whilst not putting off your peers and those hipper-than-thou bloggers...?
The name, oh the name, why couldn't you just pick one and stick with it? There was the challenge to have that one song that might entice fans into your world and pave a golden path that gets rid of all these challenges. There was procrastination and jubilation and denial and emotions we'd rather not mention.... Not that a lot of people making the debut albums I love are thinking like that - well done for making it all seem some effortless! In fact, as a vague rule of thumb, musicians seem to get far more sullied by The Biz when it's all a bit real on albums two and three, and they've got fans to please and teams of mouths to feed. Debut albums can be bewildering beasts and none of them are ever the same. Their stories, their gestation period, their origins as humans, their reasons to be, it's endlessly fascinating and it is this that draws flies like me to the shit heap, lapping through it all until we find the golden goose. Find it we will, and we don't shut up about it, and you can see how happy we are because of that shit-eating grin.
For some, the debut album is a glorious misadventure that for a few weeks has a corner of the world listening to your screams of "HELLO WORLD, I AM HERE, I AM ALIVE". For others, this dazzling debut hasn't had the attention deserves, and is just the start of a long and interesting career. The six I've picked from the 1000s of debut albums released so far this year, are a bit of a mixed bunch. Some of them have such sadness in their grooves, it's a mystery how they mustered up the energy to get out of bed, let alone found the drive and the courage to capture it. Others sound like the work of mad people, whilst there are moments in almost all of these were it sounds so crafted that you'd think they had been making music for years... well, ok, admittedly some of them have been at it for a while, but in this world of new-new-new everyone's an overnight success, right? Right? Oh...
FOE Bad Dream Hotline
"Bad Dream Hotline is a gleeful shove in the back to anything of a devilish pop slant that may be planning to peek over the parapets into 2012. The gauntlet has been thrown down; even if it is most likely pink, glittery and streaked with blood and mascara." Read David Edwards' full review
POLIÇA Give You The Ghost
"...You can’t go wrong with any band that has two drummers, really... Give You The Ghost is a breath of the freshest air... a battle between human and machine... Channy Cassell (yes, she was in Gayngs, and yes this is a heart-break record, written in the aftermath of her divorce, which would be remiss of any press release reading reviewer to omit) is what takes this record to places few manage to reach. Her voice hangs in the air, slightly obscured, swimming within a rainbow of modulated effects that are part auto-tune (yeah, you could insert a mention of Kanye’s 808s, here, and an obligatory 'don’t worry, it doesn’t sound like Cher' remark, here), part otherworldly Cocteau Twin using an alien voice changer. Rather than sounding like a novelty sci-fi affectation or some Ellie Goulding-esque deformity, this distortion adds a layer of obstruction to understanding the words, and in doing so it coaxes your nearer, forcing you to pay full attention and become fully immersed... It's the interpretation of a human voice that elevates this record beyond a curious obscurist record and makes the simmering (but never boiling over) electronica truly shimmer.... you could denounce Give You The Ghost for its seemingly uber-hipster credentials, and slate it for being just another derivative detour to a land of post-Knife, post-Animal Collective, post-LCD, post-Daft Punk, post-Talking Heads, post-Kate Bush, post-Bowie, post-Roxy Music, post-Velvet Underground, post-[insert obscure prog-disco band obsessed with space travel] 'band', weaned on TLC, Aaliyah and Madonna. Yes, you could be put off by the perfect storm of hype, by Justin from Bon Iver being verbose about them, Jay-Z championing them, by the un-ending blog-love, broadsheet love, music mag love, decent-radio-station love...You’ll soon start referring to this as 'undeniably brilliant' and describing it as being “like Fever Ray at the discotheque.” Read Sean Adams' full review
KEATON HENSON Dear...
"Welcome Keaton Henson with a debut album of some of the most wonderful wallowing I've heard in quite some time. He surely owns a copy of Elliott Smith's Roman Candle, as his stripped to the bone sadder-than-sad songs come from a place of solitude and they will either anchor you or empathize with that shadow in your heart, as they reflect that utter bleakness you're maybe feeling right now. Then again, maybe you are a sadistic fucker like me and they'll lift you up. I mean, that whole Oberstism idea of 'the sound of loneliness making you feel happier' is true, isn't it?" - Sean Adams
"Much like The Field’s illuminating From Here We Go Sublime or Luke Abbott’s Holkham Drones, each track on this collection of the duos series of 12-inches released last year takes you on a different voyage, which isn’t too dissimilar to the next or the last trip it took you on. And every minute of it puts a rapt grin above my chin. There’s a awe-inducing majesty to the moments when all the subtly introduced parts coalesce and then ebb away but there’s also a sense of feeling completely lost, as if every ounce of euphoria you just experienced is more of a fading dream than a ‘song’ or a ‘composition’ or whatever the hell you wanna call these ‘pieces’. Pulling this record apart and picking out one track over another seems pointless (isn’t everything?) and every second you’re reading this, is another moment of your life you’re not spending escaping and fully immersing yourself in the throbbing bosom of Blondes." - Read Sean Adams' full review
JOHN TALABOT fIN
"fIN as an album appears to be the requisite cross-over hit of the year, following in the footsteps of Caribou's Swim and Pantha Du Prince's Black Noise. James Holden, whose journey from techno's most recent hey-day in 2006 has followed a similar path to Talabot's, was once quoted as saying "genre music generally tends towards a bucket of effluent about a year after a journalist first puts a name to it", and it is this desire to avoid pigeon-holes which sets great artists apart from their peers." Read Alex Baker's full review
EIGHT AND A HALF Eight And a Half
Two former members of The Stills and one fella from Broken Social Scene, hauled up in a studio full of vintage synths and made a summer party album that's delightfully dark.