by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Too much choice …
This blog started in January 2011 and each year since then I’ve indulged myself by posting my own personal “Best of …” albums from the previous year. Accessing good music today is actually much harder than it was in the early 70s when I first realized that music would always be a central part of my life. The problem today is too much choice and not enough reliable filters. Thankfully I’ve found a few filters whose recommendations almost always hit my mark – these include Tony Curtis (@735songs), Taylor Black (Extraordinary Events), Dara Lawlor (@darafl) and, of course, Andrew Basquille, one of my best friends and long standing musical collaborator.
So, here, for the fourth time – and, again, in no particular order – are the releases from 2014 that put broad smiles on my face:
Over the past 50 years, going back to Séan O’Riada, there have been key moments or step changes in the modern evolution of traditional Irish music. Planxty, The Bothy Band and Moving Hearts marked out these milestones in the 70s and 80s. The eponymous album from The Gloaming is another such moment where the best in trad is given a blood transfusion of jazz, classical and contemporary singer-songwriter to create a magnificent musical moment that both challenges and delights. To ease your way into this album listen to “Samhradh, Samhradh”. It’ll take you from lost memories of school days or Gaeltacht (if you’re Irish!) to a new appreciation for the awesome beauty of the Irish language and the culture that supports it:
Samhradh, samhradh, bainne na ngamhna
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn
Samhradh buí na nóinín glégeal
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn
As soon as I heard this album back in springtime I knew it would be on my list. It’s a multi-layered, delicious collection of songs with acoustic guitar, piano and occasional banjo high in the mix. There’s an immediate accessibility to this album which – apparently – is atypical for the prone-to-experimentalism Beck. It’s an album about renewal, about starting again and opens with an orchestral prelude which leads seamlessly into “Morning” the opening vocal track. On Spotify this is now the second most popular Beck track ever.
Future Islands have been around in various guises since 2003 but only came to global prominence thanks to an appearance on David Letterman which went viral on You Tube. At one level they sound like an amalgam of great 80s synth bands but there’s emotional depth to Samuel T Herring’s vocal delivery which takes Future Islands way above 80s synth-pop. The Letterman performance of the album’s opener “Seasons (Waiting For You)” shows this with Herring dressed geek-style in too-short black slacks ranging erratically like a prowling caged tiger across the studio floor.
A recommendation from Dara Lawlor, this is a stunning album of lush open chords, beautiful lead licks and magnificently layered harmonies. Dara hears Teenage Fanclub in there and I do too as well as Josh Rouse, The Silver Seas and even bits of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Hailing from New Jersey, Atlas is the band’s third album. There’s an underlying poignancy and melancholy to this album: you hear it in the sadness that emanates from Martin Courtney’s vocal delivery and in the plaintive counterpoint melodies from Matt Mondanile’s lead guitar.
I’ve been a follower of Jackson Browne since my late brother gave me The Pretender (1976) when I graduated high school and turned 17 in June 1977. Like many fans, I tend to rate everything pre Running on Empty (1977) higher than his output of the 90s and beyond. The opening track on this, his first studio album in 6 years, is the first full band recording of “The Birds of St Marks”, a song that he wrote in the 60s when he lived in New York. It belongs to the same creative set as “These Days” and Standing in the Breach would be worth whatever you paid for it for this track alone. It’s astonishing to think that a teenager came up with such lines as:
But all my frozen words agree and say its time
To call back all the birds I send to fly behind her castle walls
And I’m weary of the nights I’ve seen inside these empty halls.
So “The Birds of St Marks” is the stand out track for me but there are others too. This is a strong album that successfully walks that tightrope between political flag waving and personal revelation that defines Jackson Browne’s work.
Hozier came to prominence in Ireland on the strength of a wonderful single “Take me to Church” and a video film which accompanied its release that went viral. We waited in hope and with baited breath for the debut album which arrived late summer and it didn’t disappoint, delivering songs of maturity, power and purpose. Hozier’s musical palette is wide and varied but mostly influenced by traditional soul and blues although at least one reviewer references Jeff Buckley and Bon Iver. Wherever way you decide to categorise him, it’s ultimately all about an astonishing voice and songs that endure.
The former Razorlight drummer’s 2013 album Company was on my 2012 “best of …” list. It was a collection of great pop songs, songs that might have brought Take That style credibility to any boy band. Fall Together Again is more of the same – unashamedly melodic pop songs with big soaring choruses. You’ll hear 70s pop here, Crowded House, early Paul McCartney. Stand out tracks are “Watch Me Fall Again” with backing vocals from Tom Smith of Editors and the “See a Girl” which rises via a bridge into magnificent athematic chorus – had these songs been available to Westlife they’d still be hitting those number ones!
Released at the beginning of 2014, High Hopes is a hotch-potch of covers, re-cut songs and previously unreleased material, the stand out track of which, for me, is “The Ghost of Old Tom Goad” from the eponymous acoustic album. This time it’s given the full E Street Band treatment with Tom Morello (of Rage against the Machine) – hired to substitute for Steve Van Zandt who had an acting assignment – playing an amazing virtuoso solo. Like the live shows, this album is permeated by a strong sense of a band on song, delighting in a great collection of songs and thrilled to be playing them together.
And bubbling under …
I also liked these albums: The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream; U2, Songs of Innocence; Gruff Rhys, American Interior; Rumer, Into Colour; Cold Water Kids, Hold My Home; Gruff Rhys, American Interior; St Vincent, St Vincent; James Vincent McMorrow, Post Tropical, Metronomy, Love Letters; The Felice Brothers, Favourite Waitress; Caribou, Can’t do without you
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a marketing consultancy offering advice, experience and expertise to destinations, hotels and venues on strategy for MICE tourism.