After the popularity of our 2015 roundup we thought we might as well introduce a quarterly one to keep you abreast of new releases throughout the year. We like to make ourselves useful. It’s also a good excuse for us to ensure we keep up with what’s going on. So, without further ado, here we go. Do let us know if we’ve missed anything 🙂
So, first of all, David Bowie‘s ‘Blackstar‘ (ISO, Columbia, RCA, Sony). What a way to go out. And if ever there was a better encapsulation of ‘hard act to follow’, here you have it. It’s almost like Bowie is saying, ‘go on then you young pups – see if you can do any better’, and we’ll be extremely surprised if anyone does. Granted, it will take some time to fully reflect, but our feeling is that, along with ‘The Next Day‘, this release shows Bowie was back to his best and makes it even more depressing that he’s gone, as the mind boggles regarding what he might have come up with next. OK, if you’re not a fan of the saxophone, then this might not be your cup of tea. Similarly, if you’re not up for music that is challenging or dark, then best stay clear as well. But if you want something that is progressive, stimulating, of its time in the sense it is thoroughly modern and shaped by present day influences (Visconti and Bowie were apparently listening to a fair bit of Kendrick Lamar before creating this work) but also very unique and, well, extremely Bowie, then this is an album which should go the distance.
Now, where ‘Blackstar’ is distinctive to the extreme in its individuality, you might be forgiven for writing off Hinds‘ debut ‘Leave Me Alone’ (Mom + Pop), as an album that is simply rehashed garage rock, a cynical attempt at exploiting the girls with guitars market. Well maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but, whichever, it’s addictive and largely enjoyable and, unlike other things that are addictive and largely enjoyable, say heroin for example, listening to Hinds won’t destroy your life, so why not dabble? A nice means of sampling what Hinds have to offer is the official video for their song ‘Garden‘. When all is said and done it’s nice to be writing about a new group that come from Madrid of all places. When was the last time that happened? Even though they do sound like they’re from New York. Which funnily enough is where their label is based. Sorry I used the ‘girls with guitars’ term by the way. It’s just marketing bullshit – I’m not saying I agree with it – but let’s not pretend it doesn’t exist. Someone somewhere is on cocaine, banging on a desk and shouting, ‘WE NEED AN ACT THAT CATERS TO THE GIRLS WITH GUITARS MARKET. NOW.’ Trust me.
Next on our list is Villagers’ ‘Where Have You Been All My Life?’ (Domino). We loved their debut like seemingly virtually all the critics did. And we liked their follow-up too despite indifference on the part of some. They’re a group that have found it difficult to continue earning plaudits since their first album and that’s a shame as far as we’re concerned. This latest work was recorded live in one day and is all the more impressive for it. If you want to catch up with this band then this is the perfect album to do it with as this is a release that blends together half a decade’s worth of quality material and it’s beautifully performed and captured. If you appreciate a more relaxing listen than say ‘Blackstar’ then this could well be for you.
Another eagerly awaited release is ‘Not to Disappear’ by Daughter (4AD). Their first album ‘If You Leave’ was a regular fixture on this dog’s MP3 player, the brooding, reverb-laden hooks, proving difficult to resist before needing to play it yet again. This new album doesn’t hit you between the eyes in the same ways as certain songs off the first release do BUT it could just be a grower. This band’s brand of shoegaze, indie pop and, it could be asserted, modern folk, is certainly not unpleasant to listen to and will prove well worth revisiting again and again we feel. In fact, I might just put it on now…
We often tend to like our music with a hint of the psychedelic on this here blog. I think it’s because we can’t handle our drugs anymore so music is the safest route to getting a bit out of it. If you’re the same or simply like to combine the two then we think you should be giving The Besnard Lakes’ ‘A Coliseum Complex Museum’ (Jagjaguwar) a whirl. It oozes wooziness. In a good way. It’s also a bit proggy but not at the expense of self-indulgence. The album has been criticised in some quarters for being a bit samey in relation to their previous work but that won’t bother you if you’ve never heard this band before.
After beginning with Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’, John Cale’s ‘M:Fans’ (Domino/Double Six) is a notable addition to this list, informed as it is by the death of another musical colossus, Cale’s friend and collaborator, Lou Reed, Reed of course also being a close friend of Bowie. Whilst not as big a name in the collective consciousness, Cale is still a musical force to be reckoned with, and usually one who can be counted on to challenge both himself and the listener in his approach to his art. This release in fact comprises of new versions of songs from his 1982 album, ‘Music for a New Society’. In Cale’s words, this album is born out of ‘a new sense of urgency to tell a story from a completely opposite point of view – what was once sorrow, was now a form of rage.’ Don’t expect easy listening, but if you relish the experimental, dive straight in. To both albums.
Mystery Jets’ ‘Curve of the Earth’ (Rough Trade) may see the group stray more into easier listening territory but we don’t feel the overall product suffers as a result of less quirkiness. This is a group that have served up enough oddities to deserve a shot at something more mainstream. We don’t think pop is a dirty word as long as the songs are well constructed and sincerely rendered. What this record serves up is nonstop audio pleasure. No it doesn’t reinvent the wheel but when music is this enjoyable the fact it doesn’t break boundaries doesn’t count against it. The production is glorious. The instrumentation delivered expertly and there’s no shortage of hooks. Put it on loud at the start of a sunny Spring morn’.
Tindersticks’ ‘The Waiting Room’ (City Slang) has been…errr… worth the wait. This is a band who are around a quarter of a century old yet never seem to sound long in the tooth. As you might expect if you are a Tindersticks fan, there is no shortage of atmosphere conjured up on this release, and this is only heightened by the fact the album is accompanied by a film project, a video per song. So those who like to be visually stimulated whilst imbibing sumptuous new sounds – knock yourselves out. This record also has a pleasing amount of groove if you catch my doggy drift. If you don’t, then sling it on and you soon will.
Fans of post-rock might well have felt pangs of delight to hear the return of Tortoise with ‘The Catastrophist’ (Thrill Jockey). Their willingness to incorporate vocals marks a noticeable change and will perhaps divide fans of the group but whether this rates amongst those in the know, i.e. the hardcore fans, as one of their best offerings is by the by for us because…it’s a new Tortoise album and Tortoise rule! This record often displays an unnervingly abrasive edge, an unsettling undercurrent of sound which aptly sums up the mood of the times. It’s fantastic to have them back. Listening to this album will in no way be a waste of your time.
Ty Segall is one of the more prolific artists to be featured on this quarterly roundup. Not just in his own right but also as part of his side project Fuzz, amongst other musical pies he has his dexterous fingers in. Emotional Mugger (Drag City) is a worthy addition to his catalogue. If you’re seeking a more catchy or commercial way in to Segall’s music you might instead wish to check out ‘Manipulator’, released in 2014. Emotional Mugger might feel a tad neurotic at times, or like a record frantically searching for its own identity, but we feel that in fact IS this album’s identity. In essence Segall is reveling in the schizophrenic nature of it all, and once you embrace that it’s an awful lot of fun. Masterfully demented.
Given it’s been a while, and bearing in mind how hugely influential and era defining they are, it’s been a little bit surprising that Massive Attack’s Ritual Spirit (Virgin) didn’t result in a lot more fanfare. Perhaps it did and we didn’t notice. Either way, this is a solid EP, with the opening track ‘Dead Editors’ featuring warped drones that actually remind this listener of Young Fathers, whom Del Naja has, incidentally, described as ‘the best fucking band in the world’. In actual fact, Young Fathers are featured on the third track, ‘Voodoo In My Blood’, so they’re doing well out of the patronage of these living legends. Track 2 sounds a little bit more like classic ‘Attack, if this is what you’re after, whilst last track ‘Take It There’ sees the welcome return of Tricky.
Like Massive Attack, forever to be associated with that same period of time, the 90s, Suede return with ‘Night Thoughts’ (Warner Music). With Bowie casting a long shadow over both this list AND the output of Suede in particular, whom they are somewhat indebted too, it might be easy to dismiss Brett Anderson and co. This would be unfair. This is a very mature album without feeling stagnant. There’s a lushness to the arrangements and it’s a big overall sound. At the same time it serves up the type of musical morsels Suede fans will surely greedily lap up, whilst also granting an easy access entry point for those less au fait with the group.
Turin Brakes! Another flash from the musical past. With ‘Lost Property’ (Cooking Vinyl) We bring the January portion of our roundup to a close. A busy month. It’s been 15 years since they first arrived on the scene with their catchy blend of acoustic rock and, whilst acoustic rock has never been the most fashionable of tags, Turin Brakes wear it well. Anyone who loved the debut will most likely enjoy this album too. There’s some unashamed pop melodies on show with that welcome familiar voice running through it all. You’ll know what I mean the moment you start listening.
In February a release we were eager to get our doggy paws on was ‘Is the Is Are’ by DIIV (Capitol, Mercury). Now, this is a band that has been followed around by a certain amount of controversy but let’s not allow that to distract us (immediately distracting the reader anyway with the mere mention of controversy – yes that’s how the media often works at all levels). We enjoyed ‘Oshin’ and were curious as to how the band would cope with the pressure of the hype, the drug issues, the celebrity relationship, and all the other stuff (yes I alluded to the controversy again didn’t I – cunning). Sorry. What do this band sound like – that’s the important thing isn’t it? Well, whilst image wise they’re not too far away from the thrift store androgyny of Nirvana, sonically DIIV are more indie/shoegaze than grunge. At times they sound a bit like The Cure and at other times more like Sonic Youth. Is this release any good? Well we think it is. Opening track ‘Out of Mind’ is absolutely irresistible as a starting point and from there the album progresses nicely. We do wonder though whether Zachary Cole Smith, in later years, with the benefit of hindsight, may come to regret piling quite so much pressure on himself, as he is quoted by Pitchfork as saying, “I knew it was going to take a really good album to save me. That’s what made it so hard to write, and why it took so long. If I didn’t make a great record, then I’m done. That’s it. I’m fucked.” If there is one major criticism of this album it is that perhaps at times it suffers from the weight of its own expectations and self-importance. And it’s a bit on the long side. That said, if you enjoy your rock to sound like a druggy dreamlike stupor, and we often do, this could be your album of the quarter.
Whilst DIIV have been noted here for being perfect media fodder, Field Music very much fly under the radar. They just keep chugging along doing what they do and doing it very well. ‘Commontime’ (Memphis Industries) is no different. There’s a lovely amount of width to the stereo field on this release, the funky ‘The Noisy Days Are Over’ being a case in point, and you have to say the Brewis brothers sure do display a lot more ambition than your average indie outfit. As is apt for such an understated and succinctly brilliant duo there’s not much more to say here than try it out. You shouldn’t be disappointed.
Love him, hate him, or just plain indifferent to him, it’s difficult to ignore him if you are a news consumer. And if it’s not him then it’s his missus wapping her baps out in the name of female empowerment. Or, as it’s otherwise known, crude, crass, unsophisticated and thoroughly tasteless marketing. There. I’m glad I got that off my admittedly much smaller chest. I am of course rather clumsily leading up to a discussion of the merits of Kanye West’s ‘Life of Pablo’ (GOOD Music, Def Jam). All the other nonsense aside, I like listening to some of Kanye’s stuff. And I’m not alone in that, as everyone from Lou Reed to Damon Albarn has something good to say about him. The hyperbole is amusing. He in undoubtedly one of the most influential people within his genre and a very skilled producer. But he needs to focus on his music a bit more rather than spouting off on Twitter if he wants to be taken more seriously, which he evidently does. That said, who are we to express an opinion? He’s got rather more followers than we do on Twitter put it that way and his strategy is obviously working to some degree if it’s media coverage he’s after. But this latest release? It’s not unique in the same way as ‘Yeezus’ and lacks the depth of ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’. But there are great moments, ‘Real Friends’ being one. And who knows how this album may end up seeing as he keeps updating it, with it being a ‘living breathing changing creative expression’ and all (his words not ours)? It might end up the best album of all time. It might end up the worst. We reckon though it’ll probably stay the way it is. Patchy.
Animal Collective. Just their name evokes something musically cuddly and colorful such is their reputation, and ‘Painting With’ (Domino) doesn’t let us down on that score. It might not scale the heights of ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ but delivers the psychedelic fix we have come to expect and then some. And besides, is it fair to judge any band on their most popular release? No. We don’t think so either. If you’ve never heard Animal Collective perhaps the best way to describe them is they’re how the Beach Boys might sound if they went off on an electronic tangent and never came back. And decided not to be quite so painstaking about their harmonies whilst they were at it. Go and have a listen. No. Stay and have a listen. You’ve still got more reading to do.
Now then. Just before we were mentioning Kanye West‘s undoubtedly huge influence regarding his genre. But here’s the thing, Kendrick Lamar is, artistically, simply out there on his own right now. The man’s on fire. ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ was undoubtedly one of the albums of 2015. And now, rather handily for us, because it gives us a means of making a comparative point regarding two works which belong to the same musical category, Lamar has released ‘untitled unmastered’ (Top Dawg, Aftermath, Interscope) with nothing in the way of buildup and no hype. And, an even more gutsy move, no titles or even mastering! Ballsy. Here’s a man happy to be judged on the music alone. Kanye West take note. These are all songs or demos that could have made it onto the aforementioned album but because it was felt they didn’t gel with the other tracks they were held back. It’s a fascinating set of songs, going from big sounding numbers to curious little oddities and back again. If you haven’t got time to sit through an album but want to listen to Kendrick then this is the perfect 8 track solution. And the fact Lamar combines hip hop AND jazz means your dad will probably hate it. Even better.
Ray LaMontagne. I never really knew whether he was supposed to be a guilty pleasure or not? Is he? Anyway, I’m too old to feel guilty about experiencing pleasure so whatever. Whenever I’ve tuned in I’ve enjoyed what he’s been doing, the last example of which was 2014’s Supernova. Some think ‘Ouroboros’ (Columbia) is his finest work yet. I’d suspect that’s because it’s his most inaccessible. Don’t worry though if you like his poppier side, there’s still plenty to enjoy here – it’s just got more of a darker, Pink Floyd even, veneer. It carries on in the same vein as his previous release in the sense there’s wispy overtones and a certain warped tapey feel saturating proceedings. I’m really digging it, and it’s particularly suited to an end of the day listen, if you’re searching for something mellow.
Whilst you might contend affairs of the heart and alienation in the digital era have been more than covered in the spheres of music and film, Emmy the Great’s ‘Second Love’ (Bella Union) is no less enjoyable because of that. And anyone perceiving her simply as a somewhat twee anti-folk performer, might be surprised by what they hear on this album which is the sound of an artist who has come on in leaps and bounds. She’s indulged the electronic side of her persona more here and the album sounds much richer for it.
William Gray releasing ‘Flounce’ (Medic Independent Records) on March 17th, the choice of St Patrick’s Day a tribute to the support offered him by Irish label boss and solo artist John Carroll, means that we can finally include a locally based artist on our list. YAY. For our future quarterly album roundups this year here’s hoping we can include at least one China-based artist per list. Please do let us know if we’ve missed anyone you think should be on here. We do admittedly need more people contributing who have expertise regarding music in China as our knowledge is very much centered around Western music. I’m sure there’s countless actual Chinese acts out there who more than merit a mention. Anyway, back to the album in question. We wouldn’t have included ‘Flounce’ if we didn’t think it was deserved. It more than holds its own here amongst more illustrious contemporaries. The phrase, ‘all killer and no filler’ is a rather worn out expression but from the off this record is just that. Opening track ‘Child’s Play’ is as endearing as it is unique and there’s a golden run of catchy material winding its way towards the break in proceedings, ‘Suck It In Spit It Out’, which is unexpectedly raw given Gray’s previous work, but nonetheless a welcome venting of frustration, be it real or feigned. The album then returns to what it does best, lofi alternative pop, in the form of perhaps the album’s standout song, ‘Anyway’ before bringing things to the boil in the form of title track ‘Flounce’ where a solo is suddenly busted out that wouldn’t be out of place at a stadium gig. ‘Regardless’ is as fitting an epilogue as one could imagine for a bedroom artist who won’t stop doing what he loves no matter how much he might continue to be ignored by the mainstream because, at the end of the day, all that matters is the music. So here’s to bigging up local acts.
To end this piece with Iggy Pop‘s Post Pop Depression (Loma Vista) seems right given we started off with his old pal David Bowie. Opening song ‘Break Into Your Heart’ seems to instantly fulfill the promise of an album you’re probably already more than aware has been produced by Josh Homme. The straight to the point poetry and hard nosed garagey punk vibe is still evident but this is perhaps a more melancholy sound than we are used to from Iggy and with good reason given his advanced years and the fact he has experienced the passing of certain celebrated close contemporaries. Whilst some might be gutted that this record arguably lacks the bite of previous Iggy Pop releases, we feel it’s nice to have an Iggy Pop record we can reach for if we’re in a more reflective mood.
That’s it for now. Let us know if there’s any glaring omissions. And no sorry, we’re not including Kula Shaker. The 90s are already well represented enough on here. Woof!