—Tracey Thorn: Tinsel and Lights
Tracey Thorn has enjoyed the highs of pop stardom while always remaining steadfastly credible, having fronted bands ranging from the fragile UK indie pop of the Marine Girls in the early 1980s to creating pulsating dance tracks with later act Everything But the Girl. Tinsel and Lights then, a collection of mildly Christmassy yet not overtly obvious covers of musicians such as Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman along with a couple of new songs, seems to be a labour of love. Give it to a friend on vinyl (with CD version enclosed for good measure), and this tasteful package is the perfect musical offering this Christmas.
Tinsel and Lights is available to buy now.
—Julia Holter: Ekstasis
Sometimes the best albums of the year come with a whisper rather than a shout. That might be why the world didn’t really notice Los Angeles singer-songwriter Julia Holter’s ethereal, shimmering synth-laden collection slip past and in to some very high end-of-year critics' lists back in March. “Ekstasis” is a Greek word roughly translated as “outside oneself”, and there’s certainly an otherworldy and removed quality to Holter’s dramatic soundscapes. But it’s also a great album to curl up and escape with over the winter holidays. A frosty, ambient treat.
Ekstasis is available to buy now.
—Sufjan Stevens: Silver and Gold
The master of slightly quirky yet never clichéd themed albums returns to take his crown. Sufjan Stevens has made a career of aspiring to lofty and restrictive musical goals, such as recording a different album for every US state – Michigan and Illinois down, only 48 to go. Silver and Gold is his second collection of Christmas songs and sees him embracing the sensitive, beautiful and fragile orchestration that made him famous, rather than some of the more dance music-based sounds that Stevens has recently experimented with. So it’s a little bit like coming home but without ever being nostalgic, as the starting point for Stevens has always been way ahead of the pack.
Silver and Gold is available to buy now.
—Sophie Hunger: The Danger of Light
It might not be the first city the world might look to for a buzzing folk and blues talent but Zürich-native Sophie Hunger is changing perceptions with every song and show. In fact, Hunger’s music is something more than that, blending hip-hop-esque drum breaks and stabs of trombone to make this year’s The Danger of Light album a triumphant mix of fantastically melodic, intelligent songwriting dressed in muscular instrumentation. It’s one of the albums of the year and Hunger is a talent that Zürich can add to their successful 12 months, having taken home Monocle’s Quality of Life survey topspot, too.
The Danger of Light is available to buy now.
—Memory Tapes: Grace/Confusion
To welcome in the new year it’s great to find some new music to go alongside it. Grace/Confusion is the latest album from New Jersey singer and producer Dayve Hawk, better known as Memory Tapes. He has been evolving over three records since 2009 and Grace/Confusion sees a stronger pop sensibility emerging out of the washy, drone-y synth textures that have been his signature. It looks like 2013 might be a strong year for Memory Tapes if he can keep writing singles as catchy as the 1980s flavours found on “Neighborhood Watch”. Elsewhere on the album, Memory Tapes’ sentimental introspectiveness remains intact. So plenty here for a quiet Christmas night in or a party on New Year.
Grace/Confusion is available to buy now.