Album of the Year: “Canyons” by Young Gun Silver Fox
After their critically acclaimed milestones “West End Coast” and “AM Waves”, Shawn Lee and Andy Platts, better known as Young Gun Silver Fox, returned this year with their third album “Canyons”.
In the next chapter of this British-American success story, which began five years ago, the talented musicians, singers, songwriters, arrangers and producers take their listeners on another journey into the world of soulful West Coast Pop, Soft Rock and Boogie. “Canyons” is a consistent further development of the unmistakable YGSF sound and convinces with excellent songwriting and musicality, wonderful harmony vocals, sophisticated arrangements, concise brass sections and a crisp production.
Compared to the previous albums, “Canyons” has a certain 80s touch, not least due to the increased use of synthesizers like the Korg DW 8000 and the Juno 6. The first single “Kids” is subtly reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tango in the Night” era. The catchy pop gem “Baby Girl” makes you think of the late great Prince every now and then. The West Coast soul grandeur of Bobby Caldwell resonates in some of the songs, as does the timeless pop appeal of Prefab Sprout. “Danny Jamaica” inevitably recalls the theme of a lost television series from the 1970s. The sublime “Who Needs Words” skilfully rides the Californian wave, with excellent multi-layered harmonies that contain a touch of Beach Boys DNA.
“More brass!” could be another motto of “Canyons”. Having already played sporadically on “AM Waves” under the direction of renowned trombonist Nichol Thomson (listen to “Kingston Boogie”!), the Seaweed Horns can be heard on almost every song on the new album. On “Dream Woman” the brass section reminds you of the legendary Jerry Hey and Earth Wind & Fire. What a great arrangement!
YGSF succeeds to write music that is touched by the hand of nostalgia without sounding outdated. Timeless is the right term to describe the quality of their music, and achieving this is a great art.
Another thing that this album clearly proves: Andy Platts is currently one of Britain’s best and most versatile voices. There aren’t many singers these days with so much soul.
With “Canyons”, YGSF has achieved something that only a few bands accomplish: a third rousing masterpiece in a series of great albums. The reason for this success lies not only in their excellent musicianship and their undeniable intuition for catchy melodies and hooks, but also in the authenticity of their performance and their work. That is why Shawn Lee has the final word: “Being authentic is something I really appreciate. I think it is really important to be authentic. As Andy said in ‘Love Guarantee’: No Fugazi!”
Albums of the Year: ranks two to ten
“PREP” by PREP
Originally founded as a project by four established artists, PREP has developed from EP to EP from an insider tip to a bearer of hope of sophisticated British pop music. The quartet comprises of Grammy nominated producer Dan Radclyffe, French drummer Guillaume Jambel, Welsh keyboardist Llywelyn Ap Myrddin and London-based singer and frontman Tom Havelock. Their debut album convinces with an eclectic blend of contemporary indie pop, soul and synths, deeply rooted in the melodic West Coast elegance of the 70s and 80s.
“How The Mighty Fall” by Izo FitzRoy
Three years after her excellent debut album “Skyline”, British Soul singer, songwriter and pianist Izo FitzRoy released her highly anticipated follow-up “How The Mighty Fall” last March. Recorded between Paris, London and Sheffield, the native Londoner worked on this album with exquisite but also very different producers like Dimitri from Paris, Shawn Lee and Colin Elliott. The result is a versatile album, always rooted in Soul and Gospel, but not afraid to take a detour to the Disco dance floor.
“Companionship” by Joel Sarakula
On his new album “Companionship”, prolific writer, producer, performer and multi-instrumentalist Joel Sarakula keeps the mood easy and the grooves deep. Ten new songs see Sarakula develop a deeper, more introspective lyrical style from his previous works as he celebrates and laments friendships, love and loneliness. The result is one of the most exciting albums of 2020.
“Swimmer” by Tennis
“Swimmer” is the fifth studio album by the American husband-and-wife duo Tennis, released via their own label Mutually Detrimental this February. It’s a crisp R&B- an soft-rock-inflected pop gem that deserves attention. The single “Need Your Love” with its soft spot for the Carpenters is the catchiest track the duo has ever recorded. The synths are another standout on the album. With “Swimmer” Alaina Moore und Patrick Riley manage to balance skilfully on the line between nostalgia and modernity. A duo from whom we can expect even more in the future.
“It Is What It Is” by Thundercat
On his fourth album “It Is What It Is” the listener follows Stephen Bruner alias Thundercat through grief, madness, teenage humour escapades and playfulness in his unique, complex cosmos of jazz, fusion, funk, R&B, soft rock and manga. As usual, much of Thundercat’s music remains sketchy, it’s less about singles or classic song structures than about the overall “album” experience, moods and flow. Flying Lotus sat together with Bruner once again at the mixing desk and provided the high Brainfeeder standard and the necessary grip of the production.
“A Joyful Sound” by Kelly Finnigan
The 38-year-old Bay Area-based singer, songwriter, engineer, producer, and band-leader (Monophonics) Kelly Finnigan stands for authentic, handmade soul and follows artists like Lee Fields and the late great Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley. “A Joyful Sound” is Kelly Finnigan’s third full-album production in just under two years (!), including his debut album “The Tales People Tell” and Monophonics’ most recent effort “It’s Only Us”. With an all-star supporting cast of who’s who from the contemporary soul scene this record is truly a family affair with Kelly at the wheel, featuring amongst others members of Durand Jones & The Indications, The Dap-Kings, Ghost Funk Orchestra and Monophonics. The result is one of the best soul albums of the year and a future Christmas classic.
“Maze Of Sounds” by Janko Nilovic & The Soul Surfers
From Russia with funk… Of all the places in the world, Russia really isn’t at the top of the list of places where modern funk bands are expected. But The Soul Surfers from Nizhniy Novgorod have been showing us for years that great funk music knows no geographical boundaries. On their new album “Maze Of Sounds” they collaborated with Montenegrin-French composer, arranger, conductor, keyboardist and library music legend Janko Nilovic. Together they recorded one of the best instrumental albums of 2020.
“Shawn Lee’s Incredible Leg Warmer Band” by Shawn Lee
One night in spring at midnight two figures appeared on my bed. After a moment of shock, I recognized Olivia Newton-John in her complete 81 “Physical” aerobics kit (she looked really well trained and athletic), and the late great Sylvester in his palette-studded “So You Wanna Funk” outfit in the half-darkness of my bedroom.
Before I could wonder, Olivia put headphones on my ears – one of those unforgettable 80s models with orange ear pads -, while Sylvester put a golden cassette in a blue and grey Sony Walkman and hit play. What followed was 37 minutes of sweaty, early 80s inflected electro-aerobic funk that the world hadn’t heard since 1984. Shawn Lee says: “This is the album nobody thought they wanted but now NEED!!!!” And he is right. This album is not less than a sweaty electrofunk masterpiece.
“Coming Home” by Tomi Malm
Three years after his critically acclaimed debut “Walkin’ On Air”, Finnish songwriter, producer and arranger Tomi Malm returned 2020 with his sophomore effort “Coming Home” via Contante & Sonante. His new album presents another flawless collection of pop, soul and fusion songs, recorded with the help of some of the most talented musicians on the West Coast music scene – just to name a few: Andreas Aleman, Robbie Buchanan, Steve Lukather, Ole Børud, Simon Philips, Neil Stubenhaus and Maeva Borzakian. In general this album has a more jazzy touch. “Free Fall” is a good example. There are echoes of Pat Metheny, George Duke, Dave Grusin and Weather Report.
Compilation of the Year
The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Vol. 2
When Marcus Liesenfeld aka DJ Supermarkt released “The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco” in 2016, he not only created a long overdue monument to the female singers, musicians and songwriters who played a major role in shaping the sound of California in the 70s and 80s, but also compiled one of the most popular editions of the renowned series. The second chapter of “The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco” continues the success story of the series and presents songs written and performed by women who controlled their own careers as artists and whose strong will and creativity made them to role models for an entire generation of female songwriters. The exquisite selection includes classics and rarities from the years 1974 to 1982 by artists such as Franne Gold, Nicolette Carlson, Holly Near and Linda Tillery.
Reissue of the Year
“The First Coming” by Twylyte ’81
Last February the French label Favorite Recordings released the first official reissue of “The First Coming” by Twylyte ’81. Twylyte ’81 was a band consisting of Frank Jones Jr., Alfred Brown Jr. and John Belzaguy, who, except for Belzaguy, have never recorded anything else than this incredible album. “The First Coming” convinced with superb compositions and a excellent blend of Soul, Jazz, and Disco. A real discovery is the amazing deep and spiritual voice of the band leader Frank Jones Jr. Even more impressive is the fact that these three musicians were all less or close to 18 years old when composing and recording this beauty.
WEST COAST SOUL.de Albums of the Year Spotify playlist
If you want to not only read about our albums of the year, but also discover a selection of the best songs from these releases, you can now listen to the “West Coast Soul.de – Albums of the Year 2020” Spotify playlist – our soundtrack for the end of the year.