Best of 2009: The singers: The XX, Fink, Cortney Tidwell, God help the girl, Soap & Skin, jj

Things I was excited about in 2009 pt.8

The XX

The XX, a very young London band, consisting of three 20-year olds (the fourth member dropped out due to exhaustion during their dangerously massive world tour), topped virtually all charts of 2009. And I think it’s one of those cases when the hype is totally justified. Interesting is the contrast between the hype and the music itself – it’s not your typical chart-topper flashy hyperactivity blitz; instead what you get is softly flangered guitars, hushed murmurs of vocalists Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft (who both remind me, a little bit - visually and audibly - of Tricky circa “Maxinquaye” and Tracey Thorn of Everything But The Girl), minimalistic drum machines and synths reserved enough to leave a lot of precious space between the notes and give a stylish pulsation but never rock the party hard. On top of that you get a real musical taste, great melodies and charisma. Plus a bunch of unexpecting covers and remixes (fantastic remix of You’ve Got The Love by another British media darlings – Florence and The Machine; and a cool (in any sense of the word) cover of UK Funky biggest hit - Kyla’s “Do Your Mind”). These two are one of the best remixes/covers I heard this year.

Check: The XX – “Basic Space” – excellent video, sublime song.

God Help The Girl

God Help The Girl is a concept project started by Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch. It’s a soundtrack for a film… which is yet to be shot (if all goes well, in 2010). It’s the story which eventually got shape from songs Stuart have been writing for 5 years and which didn’t seem to fit in the Belle and Sebastian material. To record these songs, Stuart wanted to find new female singers, not necessarily popular, so advertisements have been placed in the media, stating “girl vocalist wanted. Celine Dion wannabes, save your breath” and asking to add contender’s vocals to two Belle and Sebastian classic songs. Out of several hundreds, 3 girls have been selected, one of them – a newcomer Catherine Ireton – possessing a breathtakingly beautiful voice, comparable to sweet sunny voices of the best ‘50s-‘70s divas (Anna German comes to my mind first).

The whole album is a brilliant collection of classic pop songs with evergreen melodies (you can easily imagine them written decades ago and standing the test of times since) with super-professional arrangements, and the combination of these ingredients with heavenly voices make an ultimate listening pleasure if you can enjoy this cup of English tea.

Videos: Come Monday Night (sung by Catherine Ireton) and Funny Little Frog (sung by Brittany Stallings)

jj n° 2

Nothing is known about the mysterious Swedish project who released a 26-minute album on Sincerely Yours label, which only adds charm to already engaging aura of catchy semi lo-fi pop songs sung by not always 100% precise teenage girl voice (heck, the voice seems so young that I can actually imagine it could have been a 14-year boy singing, which makes it all even more ambiguous) over unashamedly MIDI-sounding strings and programmed synthpop beats. Positive, naive, dreamy, summery and – the secret of the attractiveness of the record – semi-amateurish in the best appealing sense of the word. And of course, the melodies – some of the songs, like the starters “Things Will Never Be The Same Again” and „From Africa to Malaga” you just can’t get out of your head after repeated listening; and thanx to the shortness of the album, it just asks to be played over and over, as soon as the funny acoustic closer „Me and Dean”, where the singer fails trying to hit the high note and we hear them laughing, fades out. This is how early Smiths, fronted by Mirah, could sound if remixed by Erlend Oye and Morgan Geist.

Listen and buy: http://www.klicktrack.com/sy/releases/jj/jj-no-2

Fink „Sort of Revolution”

Multinstrumentalist and DJ Fink (Fin Greenall) started releasing albums and mixtapes on Ninja Tune and its sublabel Ntone in the late 90s – classic Ninjatunish blend of trip-hop/downtempo/funky breaks, until things started to change in mid 00s, when Fink grabbed an acoustic guitar and started to sing in a deep husky baritone, backed by stripped down combo of jazzy drums and bass. And what a welcome revolutionary change it was! “Distance and Time” made my jaw hit the floor back in 2007 – minimalistic arrangements, almost physically palpable beauty of the sound recording - hissing of brushed drums, subtlety of plucked strings, ultra deep, almost dubby (although presumably acoustic!) bass, and on top of that –incredible, penetrating sadness and masculinity of Fink’s voice, elegant austerity of lyrics.

This year, Fink released a new album, “Sort of Revolution”, which continued and developed the same aesthetic – arguably, even improving it (hard to judge as “Distance and Time” seemed perfect already). The title song, which might be the best song Fink ever produced, has all the features described above – plus, as a killing bonus, added dub FX in the final part. Please, sit down and hear it through.

I can hardly name any more beautifully recorded music in my collection. I feel totally mesmerized each time I hear these songs.

YouTube: Sort of Revolution - This is The ThingNothing Is Ever FinishedPretty Little ThingIf OnlySee It AllMove on Me

P.S. Fink’s alter-ego is Sideshow – a mostly instrumental dub (previously – downtempo and house) project (not surprisingly echoes of dub found its way into Fink’s main sound). A very deep album “Admit One” is out on Will Saul’s Aus Music, check it too.

Cortney Tidwell

Since I first heard debut EP by this Nashville girl a couple years ago, I couldn’t stop spinning it. I rate it as one of my favourite releases of the 00s. Why? A combination of songwriting talent, brave pairing of electronic elements with traditional instrumentation & arrangements (also making friends with right people from the dance world which results in a series of good and sometimes unexpecting remixes), desperation and tenderness, lullabies and rockers, drums and drum machines, samplers and slide guitars, folk and shoegaze, ballads and glitches, and, in fact, first of all… how could I describe it… deep intelligent sensuality. This wailing voice… it’s just killing me softly :)

Actually, my love to Cortney Tidwell is one of those rare cases when words ultimately fail to explain the reasons and describe her greatness, just as music critics desperately try to make up an apt description of her sound (how would you like, urgh, “goth country”? I immediately remember the “gothic blues” in regards to Nick Cave, which actually makes sense). And while I still rate that first EP as her greatest height, “Boys” is an excellent album that can appeal both to very traditional rock music lovers and to people from dance/experimental background, and I lost count of playing it this year.

RIYL: Cat Power, My Bloody Valentine, Bjork, Hanne Hukkelberg, Lily Allen, Mirah, Gustav

YouTube: WatusiiSon and Moon - Missing Link17 horses - Don't let the stars keep us tangled up (Ewan Pearson's objects in space remix)

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