Quarterly Roundup ::: Summer Swelter, Helter Skelter

Our music roundups are one of our most popular features so that’s why we’ve gone from yearly to quarterly. We often like to cover people who are under the radar or part of the Chinese music scene as there are obviously countless blogs covering the big hitters. That aside, we feel it’s also important to ensure we’re paying attention to as much as we can that’s great out there – no one music exists in a vacuum. Not even this –

The first release I remember listening to this quarter is ‘All That’s Gained’ by Kelly Dance. Or Jelly Dance as she’s known on my Chinese phone with its infuriating predictive text. Quite a cool band name actually. Anyway, what did we refer to this EP as? We referred to it as, ‘Overall a well crafted, tunefully written EP with an array of layered textures and arrangements, all delivered by a beautifully hypnotic voice with alluring and purposeful lyrics. Well worth your attention!’ If you like Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac this could be right up your err Chinese alleyway.

Actually released before Dance’s EP, Yeasayer’s ‘Amen & Goodbye’ (Mute) is a very interesting record. Check out the intro. So Beatley/Pink Floydy. A really good way to win this music loving canine over straight away. I really enjoyed ‘Odd Blood’ but kind of lost touch with them after that. Listening to this album has made me want to catch up with them.

Cate Le Bon’s ‘Mug Museum’ (Drag City) was played constantly in our household. Sorry. In our kennel. We were REALLY looking forward to ‘Crab Day’ and the Welsh singer-songwriter hasn’t disappointed. It carries on where the last album left off in the sense there’s a similar dynamic and it’s thoroughly bonkers. Anyone who thinks they’d dig a tripped out, laidback version of the band Television, DO listen to this album.

PJ Harvey is always an artist worth a listen. ‘The Hope 6 Demolition Project’ (Island) doesn’t hit the heights of ‘Let England Shake’ but there’s enough here for Harvey fans to get their teeth into whilst for those unfamiliar with her work it might serve as a suitable route in.

Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ (Parkwood Entertainment). We don’t normally cover music we’re not massively enthusiastic about but if something is heralded BIG NEWS it deserves a mention because it’s an artist of real global significance. Beyoncé is undoubtedly extremely talented and those talents extend well beyond having a brilliant voice. But when something is hyped so much it impossibly raises expectations. I’ve listened. I’ve watched the film. I’m sorry. Didn’t do it for me. Some great moments. Love the opening harmonies bouncing off each other and ‘Pray You Catch Me’ gave me the false impression this indeed was going to be one hell of an LP. Sadly though this beautiful song or melody is cut short and far too quickly. The Jack White collaboration ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ is a huge sounding track which I’d happily listen to again but, whilst I admire the ambition of Beyoncé and the important subject matter she’s often tackling, I found myself bored listening to this album. I think Beyoncé‘s great and what does my opinion matter to her anyway? She’s deservedly an extremely successful artist. But what is the wearing fur thing about?

Anohni’s ‘Hopelessness’ (Secretly Canadian/Rough Trade) reinvents the protest album and shows it is possible to be political without sounding preachy or obvious. Whilst Beyoncé is an artist of global significance then, Anohni offers content of global significance. The brand does not eclipse the content. But don’t get the wrong impression. This isn’t a non-stop barrage of all that’s wrong with the planet. It also comes across as a deeply personal record. This is the amazing feat Anohni has managed to accomplish – and arguably something that all music with broad appeal is – personal and universal at the same time. The production is big-sounding and modern without being gimmicky and the sonic influence of Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke is something this dog’s sensitive ears are extremely grateful for. Standout song for me is ‘Crisis’.

Radiohead are back. With all the awfulness 2016 has so far thrown at us regarding the general 24 hour news cycle, that at least is something to be pleased about. And never has the worn out expression ‘a return to form’ been more apt. Right from the off, ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ (XL) sounds like a group buzzing to be back in the studio. Whilst Radiohead always offer something worth listening to, I’ve found more recent releases, though undoubtedly musically intriguing, sometimes slightly labored. The pulsating confidence of ‘Burn the Witch’ is an assured way to start an album if ever there was one, and cements Jonny Greenwood‘s importance to the ‘head dynamic. From here it’s just nonstop audio lushness. ‘Daydreaming’ sums this up nicely and lends another opportunity to appreciate the Greenwood string arrangements, conjuring up sounds similar to the ones he threw at us in the solo release/film project ‘Bodysong’, which is well worth your time by the way. ‘Decks Dark’ has an irresistibly warm-sounding bass groove and twinkling piano line, whilst ‘Desert Island Disk’ has an approach which could serve as a template for aspiring folktronica artists everywhere. I’m going to stop now or I’ll just go through all the tracks telling you why they’re awesome. Just listen yourself.

Beth Orton ‘Kidsticks’ (Anti-) is an LP, which as the title might suggest, is a lot of fun. For anyone expecting acoustic guitar, you’re going to be surprised. This is largely due to Orton teaming up with Andrew Hung, most well known for his role in the duo Fuck Buttons. This is a launch pad for Orton to indulge her experimental side but at the same time she never deviates too far from what she’s good at. This is an artist who is happy to take on new shapes but also knows precisely who she is and what she’s about and this shines through beautifully.

Andy Shauf’s ‘The Party’ (Anti-) is arguably the release I was looking forward to most. This is because, as well as enjoying his previous album, I was completely blown away by the song ‘The Magician’ and its accompanying video, which manages to evoke a 70s feel production wise without it coming across as contrived, whilst the video is pure ‘Sledgehammer’ Peter Gabriel. All of the songs on this album are great and beautifully pieced together to tell the story of…’The Party’. It’s just fantastic hearing a record where there’s so much talent on show when it comes to arrangement, instrumentation, engineering, and production, and all of this would be nothing of course without Shauf’s immense talents as a songwriter. Tender, witty, melodically enticing, and expertly rendered. I’ll be listening to this for years to come.

Chance the Rapper’s ‘Coloring Book’ is a mixtape not an album apparently. Whatever, sounds like an album to me. It’s got lots of tracks on it. Um. Well, for me, we’re back to the hype thing again. I loved ‘Acid Rap’ and ‘Surf’ the Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment album, but ‘Coloring Book’? Well everyone says it’s brilliant but is it? Really? I’ll give it another few goes because Chance the Rapper is one of the most talented artists out there at the moment and good on him for going it alone without a label and succeeding big time. But, I don’t know, it’s not reeled me in as yet.

James Blake, ‘The Colour In Anything’ (Universal) – another hyped and widely acclaimed release. I’m starting to feel like I’m missing something. I’ve tried with Blake I really have. I’ve listened to his previous work too. I just end up really, really restless and wanting to listen to something else no matter how inventive people are telling me he is. Sorry James. It’s probably just me. Each to their own eh?

Whilst James Blake makes music that makes me want to have an early night, Kaytranada makes tunes that immediately enthuse. ‘99.9’ (XL) serves up tracks that bend in and out of shape and morph into something stupendous. I’d completely forgotten this album exists. Having it on the cans is now a wondrous rediscovery. I don’t care if the vocals are occasionally a bit cheesy and a disco vibe sometimes permeates proceedings. It’s lovingly presented and it’s fun. And a few different genres are skillfully absorbed into the mix.

The Strokes‘ return with their ‘Future Present Past’ EP (Cult Records) is a bit of a stingy reemergence when you consider the album Radiohead just served up but it’s always nice to have a decent rock’n’roll group around. ‘Drag Queen’ has a bit of a Joy Division vibe and makes for OK listening but it’s ‘Oblivius’ for me that is the standout track. Dueling guitars check, classic Strokes-sounding chorus check. What’s there not to like? This is a good excuse to tell you to check out Julian Casablancas and The Voidz 2014 release ‘Tyranny’ actually. Or just look for ‘Human Sadness’ on YouTube if you’re pushed for time. Mind-bending.

It was nice to start with a relatively unknown artist and that’s how we’ll finish. And he fully deserves to be mixing it with the big girls and boys. Conor McAteer is an artist we discovered via William Gray who co-produced some tracks with McAteer in the past, perhaps most notably the incredibly catchy and endearing pop song ‘Things You Do For Love’. Well his latest release ‘I Was An Astronaut’ sees McAteer really come into his own as an artist and is a work we described thusly, ‘A truly lovely album. Give it a go.’ And give it a go you surely should.

All that’s left to write is we’ve undoubtedly missed loads. That’s deliberate. We see this as a two-way street. Tell us what we’ve missed. Or why we’re wrong. Let’s get some serious musical debate going. Seriously – what else is there to do?


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