This Is The Kit
Released: March 2008
Heavily championed by Bestival founder Rob Da Bank, This Is The Kit is the solo project of one Kate Stables, a Hampshire-born expat now living in Paris. Produced by no less a talent than Mr John Parish, Krulle Bol is an utterly enchanting debut album full of captivating stories about socks, moths and soulmates. Warm fuzzy feelings abound as Stables saunters endearingly through a dozen tracks of modern folk that have seen her grace the stage with the likes of Jeffrey Lewis, José González and The National, sung in a plaintive, comforting, unshowy manner that inflames the imagination and appeals to the heart. Perhaps even more perfect as a winter warmer than as a prelude to spring, Krulle Bol rewards many, many listens and will still be on our stereo long into 2009. Of course, by then Kate plans to be back in the studio recording the follow-up, as well as a new EP with Whalebone Polly (her ongoing collaboration with Bristolian Rachael Dadd), so there’s a good chance you’ll be seeing her on this list in 12 months’ time.
Download: ‘Our Socks Forever More’, ‘Two Wooden Spoons’
Released: September 2008
Dirty Birds was a long time getting off the ground and threatened to be eclipsed entirely by the success of other homegrown modern folk acts like Laura Marling, but for those in the know – and obviously there are quite a few of you! – Kat Flint’s long-awaited debut is something of a revelation. Running just shy of an hour, the album pulses with an almost unhealthy amount of wisdom for one so young. The arrangements, too, occasionally surprise with unexpected adornments like the muffled conversation overlaying ‘The Blinking’ and the kazoo that appears out of nowhere on the fantastic ‘Anticlimax’, and Flint proves herself more than adept at upping the tempo without losing her profundity. She may not have all of Marling’s hooks but catch this pretty pigeon and you won’t regret it.
Download: ‘Shotgun Wedding’, ‘Go Faster Stripes’
Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
Sunday At Devil Dirt
Released: May 2008
Following almost too hot on the heels of their Mercury-nominated Ballad Of The Broken Seas, Sunday At Devil Dirt loses much of that album’s element of surprise and some of the dark sexual tension that made their first unholy union so deliciously seedy. Of course, there are still moments that smoulder with lust, but it’s of a more romanticised variety. Strings blossom through the wrongness on the single ‘Come On Over (Turn Me On)’, for instance, and the heartfelt sweetness of ‘Keep Me In Mind Sweetheart’ is less likely to have you break out in a sweat than reach for the cocoa and a sappy DVD. Campbell is even less of a vocal presence this time around, finally emerging to the fore on the sultry junkyard shuffle of ‘Shotgun Blues’, a creaky, creepy relic from the school of Waits and Brennan. Sturdy, if not stellar.
Download: ‘Shotgun Blues’, ‘Who Built The Road’
Day After Tomorrow
Released: September 2008
What we said then: ”Baez has quietly and conscientiously continued to broaden her musical horizons, primarily through her engagement with the work of new generations of singer-songwriters. Day After Tomorrow finds her enlisting Steve Earle as producer and adding songs by Eliza Gilkyson, Patty Griffin, Thea Gilmore and Elvis Costello & T-Bone Burnett to her already voluminous repertoire. It also finds her relinquishing the rockier and more ambient elements that have characterised her last albums and opting instead for a mellower, more traditional and exclusively acoustic approach. Throughout, Baez’s mature voice is a thing of beauty, full of feeling and expression, grace and gravitas. However, with just ten tracks and a running time of only a little over 35 minutes, the album feels excessively modest, and, overall, somewhat slight. But as a demonstration of Baez in gentler and more reverent mode then this remains a pleasing and satisfying album.” •••½ Alex Ramon [full review]
What we say now: With Obama about to be installed in the White House, Day After Tomorrow‘s uncluttered songs of trials and salvation are well worth revisiting. Baez’s wisdom-tempered optimism resonates strongly in the age of Change, and those dark days of the soul she sings of seem a little further away. For now.
Download: ‘Mary’, ‘The Lower Road’
Released: March 2008
What we said then: ”My overriding impression of Casey Dienel’s debut album under the White Hinterland moniker the first time round was of a jazzy Joanna Newsom. Evidence for: wordy narratives with metaphors jostling for position, all sung in a unique female voice that occasionally verges on the childlike. But while Joanna Newsom’s ghost definitely lurks somewhere near Casey Dienel’s vocal cords, it’s hardly a full-on possession. Phylactery Factory gives us jazz in place of baroque neo-folk, compact chamber pop in place of multipart epics, piano and wisps of vibes instead of harp-led glissandi. Even the less successful songs have a decent melody to recommend them, but a bit more consistency, belief in her lyrics and bottle to her voice would work wonders.” •••½ Adam Smith [full review]
What we say now: Dienel’s flirtation with the rigours of proper diction remained entirely non-committal on White Hinterland’s follow-up EP, Luniculaire, but it mattered far less once the complex, wilful charms of Phylactery Factory had fully sunk in. What both records show is an impressive dedication to threading magical tapestries of everyday beauty observed through a refracting frosted glass darkly that, while not immediately accessible, profit those who take pains to listen.
Download: ‘Lindberghs + Metal Birds’, ‘Calliope’
Rio En Medio
Released: October 2008
What we said then: “Hailing from the American Southwest, Danielle Stech-Homsy’s motifs of alienation, the sacred and the resistance of time itself seem born from beneath the heavy silence of a wintry desert. Despite this isolated upbringing, Frontier is a strong-lunged otherworldly child, vital and blood red with exposure. Gathering pools of mystical allusion melt away with each new song, shattered apart by the meter as much as they are contained within it. Frontier is beautifully dreary, almost terrorising in its sheer escapism. Its ability to make time seem obsolete is a personification of the disappearing road: two parallel lines lessening the distance between them as they travel toward a northern horizon.” •••• Paige Taylor [full review]
What we say now: With our first few listens to Frontier still fresh in the memory, additional perspective is marginal at best. It’s still an ambitious, challenging album that revels in its alien strangeness. We’ve forsaken any attempt to unravel it to be honest. The temptation to simply immerse is too great, and much less tiring.
Download: ‘The Umbrella’, ‘Heartless’
Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs
Dirt Don’t Hurt
Released: September 2008
What we said then: “Recorded rather haphazardly in the middle of a tour, Dirt Don’t Hurt is classic country fodder: a string of bantering duets nestling with tales of heartache and dysfunctional relationships. Sussex’s answer to Wanda Jackson, Holly wears the badge of country music as proudly as ever as she sings ‘Up On the Floor’, a world weary farewell to a drunken partner. She snarls her way through ‘Indeed You Do’ and bitterly curses ‘For All This’. The album peaks with the bass-slapping, boot-stomping romp that is ‘Getting High For Jesus’, in which they brazenly celebrate “Yeah, I’m getting high for Jesus ‘cos he got so low for me!” It’s The Brokeoffs at their hillbilly best. You can just imagine Holly, in one of her trademark vintage dresses, doing the polka around the stage like kd lang circa 1989 (though not nearly as embarrassing, obviously).” Sacha Whitmarsh [feature interview]
What we say now: It’s not hard to see at which end of the line Holly Golightly was stood when they were handing out talents (not that she believes in a Them or Him or Her). Dirt Don’t Hurt is just as rollicking as last year’s You Can’t Buy A Gun When You’re Crying, and the brash, brilliant spirit at its heart is resplendently unquenched. An intoxicating mix of gloriously percussive barn-party stompers, country bruisers and boy–girl showdowns, it’s fantastically unforced and hard to ignore.
Download: ‘My .45′, ‘Getting High For Jesus’
One Little Indian
Released: September 2008
What we said then: “With the release of her third album, Rose Kemp’s metamorphosis from demure folk maiden to fully-fledged rock chick continues apace. Produced by Foo Fighters, Biffy Clyro and Amplifier collaborator Chris Sheldon, Unholy Majesty consolidates Kemp’s myriad influences while also developing its own personality. Kemp showcases her clamorous guitar style and utilises her full vocal range, her voice shifting dramatically from percussive lows to whispers to occasional highly-strung shrieks. There’s a fine line between intriguing lyrical opacity and meaninglessness and it might be argued that Kemp’s songs sometimes cross that border. Overall, though, Unholy Majesty boasts more than enough strong material to suggest that Kemp has a very bright future ahead of her.” •••• Alex Ramon [full review] [feature interview]
What we say now: Homegrown female rock acts don’t tend to fare too well commercially for reasons we don’t have room to go into right now, but if anyone deserves to buck that trend then it’s fearlessly creative Bristolian Rose Kemp. Unholy Majesty is a massive leap forward from last year’s A Hand Full Of Hurricanes, revealing a depth of talent, fury and vocal dexterity that’s well worth investigating.
Download: ‘Nature’s Hymn’, ‘Wholeness Sounds’
I Love Your Glasses
Released: June 2008
What we said then: ”Lourdes Hernández has drawn comparisons with Joanna Newsom and Feist, among others, and it will be a wonder if she isn’t pulled in to be the next voice of car and iPod commercials across the globe. There is a rich goldmine of music here, filled out by an exquisitely haunting voice and crafty musicianship. Even on a slow acoustic cover of ’80s classic ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’, she takes a song so a part of musical history and manages to spin it in a new light, weaving new meaning into Cyndi Lauper’s lyrics. Although undeniably a wise marketing move to sing in English, Hernández often slurs her words, making them unclear and difficult to grasp. Despite this, however, Russian Red’s delicate emoting and passion overcome these flaws, making I Love Your Glasses a must.” ••••½ Loria Near [full review]
What we say now: Online buzz for this album has yet to translate into a UK physical release for this wonderful debut, but it surely can’t be long – I Love Your Glasses is much too good to languish in digital purgatory. As a tremulous, wavering essay on unrequited love it’s really very good. As an outpouring of sumptuous melodies and creative arrangements, it’s damn near impeccable.
Download: ‘Cigarettes’, ‘Timing Is Crucial’
A Little Bit Of Lovin’
Released: February 2008
What we said then: “Shelby Lynne’s post-country twang career most closely resembles an emotional rollercoaster; the lows have been the aural equal of the highs. There’s been little that hasn’t been of exceptional quality. Following receipt of an e-mail from Barry Manilow – what do you mean you don’t get e-mails from musical legends on a daily basis? – that suggested she look to Springfield as her next adventure, Lynne took some time out and decided to revisit some of the tracks from Dusty’s famous sojourn in Memphis. And how. From the opening rim-shot and cymbal introduction to the title track, her statement of intent is clear. The tempo is slow, the lights are dimmed, the atmosphere akin to the early morning hours of a closed diner or a sticky-carpeted casino with no one left to sing to but the busboy. The songs don’t flow from the speakers so much as ooze. The passion, the hopelessness, the come-hither words are so right it’s uncanny.” •••• Paul Woodgate [full review]
What we say now: This did not look good on paper. Nobody messes with Dusty In Memphis, right? Wrong! Of the many covers albums that emerged this year, Lynne’s is unquestionably the finest. The novelty factor has long since worn off but we keep returning to this elegant album for more. An incredible display of restraint and sensitivity, A Little Bit Of Lovin’ shows Lynne to be in a whole different class of interpreter. Cat Power take note.
Download: ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’, ‘I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore’