The best albums of 2014! What ? Still two months to go ? Yeah, but I’ve waited this long and I don’t see anyone beating these two masterpieces. They are, indeed, quite special.
Firstly, the wonderful musician that is Dhafer Youssef and his album “Birds Requiem” which was released in November 2013 and showcased on tour this year. The music is conceived as a four-piece suite, split into its constituent parts throughout the album, and then complimented by additional pieces which blend mesmerically with each other. Dhafer’s vocal style is unique and once resting in a baleful mood can sore to a falsetto crescendo the like of which you will hear nowhere else.
His gentle melodic oud is supported by a group of musicians who play with feel and sensibility and an almost cosmic unity – this music is often simply sublime. Pianist Kristjan Randalu weaves delicate textures while the subtle sweep of trumpeter Nils Petter-Molvaer and clarinestist Husnu Senlendirici bring a warmth to the landscape. The music is often serene. There is space and atmosphere. Soundscapes from desert to drama.
The interplay and musicianship is first rate. British bassist Phil Donkin grounds everyone with drummer Chander Sardjoe and yet the electric guitar of Eivind Aarset washes across the vista, again in what is an almost unique approach to electric guitar. It fits here perfectly. Aytac Dogan plays the kanun, a zither-like instrument, with mind-boggling dexterity. I have a lot of Dhafer’s music in my collection but without doubt this is his best yet, for me. Turn down the lights and light the candles and let your mind wander where it will to far off landscapes and strange new worlds. This music really will lower your blood pressure.
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
And now for something completely different – as the old catchphrase goes. I must declare some allegiance here and admit to being a huge Sun Kil Moon/Mark Kozelek fan, and I know he is not easy to get on with.However, I don’t always buy into what he does and that’s a good thing, for me as a fan and for him as an artist.He is an artiste who pushes boundaries and challenges his audience and I’m no sycophant. You might begin sitting comfortably but you might not finsh up that way. But whatever the challenge, you will be better for it.
His music is often drenched in self-confessed melancholia. His subject matter can hardly be described as upbeat. I bet you’ll never hear a cover of “Happy”. But let’s face it, Morrissey made a fortune out being miserable almost giving the genre some acceptability. And having set that up let me tell you that this is probably Mark Kozelek’s most challenging album yet. You will most likely have to try this more than once.
But life is too short, you say, catch me with a 30 second hook or I’m gone. In that case, dear reading listener, you will not be enriched by what is probably the most honest album you’ll ever hear.
Yeah, yeah, honest revelations.. Singer-songwriter … Blah, blah… Alanis Morissette….Heard it all before.
So here we go. This is an album that deals with death (frequently) of family members and acquaintances, teenage exploration, childhood guilt, the bare honest love for his parents. We are taken through scenes from family funerals, accidental deaths, loves and losses. You might find some of it cringeworthy on first listening. Lyrics that ride over his repetitive guitar riff style whose melody, if you listen hard enough, is often beguiling.
There is death, love, death, guilt, murder, death, failed suicide, mercy killing, shopping mall shootings, growing up, and growing old. I’m selling this to you, aren’t I ?
But by the time you are done you have been given an intimate view into the Kozelek family and it’s world more than I have ever heard any other singer-songwriter deliver of theirs. What we have here is the human condition laid bare seen through the prism of the life of one family and one member in particular, Mr.and Mrs. Kozelek’s boy.
Lyrically, Mark Kozelek seems to stream without editing, and sometimes you can be forgiven for thinking there’s too much detail. It can get a little personal to say the least. But that’s him. That is his music. He has made “wordy” music his artform. The effect is to realise that there isn’t always a host of golden daffodils but there is a story to tell and it’s better told straight.
Musically the arrangements can be sparse. Sun Kil Moon don’t offer up over-production but they do provide the perfect backdrop to the stories. You’ll find your hook. A little riff that just won’t leave your head alone.
And through the last track you’ll be singing along to the jazzy, catchy chorus with it’s “tongue-in-cheek” lyric…… “Little crab cakes” …. “Sports bar shit” …. This really is a zoetrope of an album…. Just keep changing the reel and enjoy.