It’s that time of the year again. I know. Already. Time flies when you’re having fun. And it’s really going to fly when you wrap your lugholes around this lot. Starting us off is ‘The Bride’ (Parlophone) by Bat For Lashes (AKA Natasha Khan). Now this album was much anticipated, and perhaps hasn’t quite lived up to the hype (what does?), especially going by how it was received by the critics. BUT top marks for trying to do something interesting Natasha Khan when so many artists, you know, don’t. And by the way Natasha, I know you claim it isn’t a concept album, but when a record centers around a ‘concept’ (a woman’s husband-to-be is killed on the day of their wedding) then that makes it a concept album. Hope that helps. Personally we prefer Khan’s side project, the Sexwitch album, which is all kinds of awesome but we also think this one is well worth a try.
‘Freetown Sound’ (Domino) by Blood Orange, it could be argued, is something of a fashionable choice. Heck Julian Casablancas from The Strokes is even in the video for ‘Augustine’. But will the music stand up to scrutiny in years to come? We think it will. In recent times, there’s been a bit of a fetish for all things 80s, not always a good thing especially when it includes being a selfish a**hole, but this LP represents some of the better aspects, i.e. a pioneering spirit when it came to absorbing electronic elements into pop music. There’s some irresistibly soulful moments, encapsulated by ‘But You’, which for us is a standout track, that is almost, ALMOST, a bit Michael Jacksony. See what you think. Some have criticised this album for sounding ‘unfinished’ but we think this adds to the charm.
‘Summer 08’ (Because Music) by Metronomy sees Joe Mount relishing the chance to go all out when it comes to the production. This record is all about Mount, rather than trying to fashion something that can immediately be toured in a traditional band format. It’s hard to see how he will ever better The English Riviera but if you are into Metronomy then this will prove a welcome addition to the catalogue. If you like your music synthy and a bit funky then you could do a lot worse than listen to this.
The Avalanches finally returned this quarter with ‘Wildflower’ (XL). Was it worth the wait? Well how could anything be worth waiting that long for? As someone who resigns himself to at least a half an hour wait for the wife when I’m trying to leave the apartment, I like to think I’m pretty patient (I’m not), but frankly The Avalanches are taking the piss by making me wait this long. I can forgive them though, such intricate and heady perfectionism takes a long time to craft. Some people actually seem to be under the impression that sampling is lazy or cheating or something. To those folk I say, try making a decent song, let alone an album, using sampling and see how far you get. This album is a great listen and more than deserves to stand next to ‘Since I Left You’ in The Avalanches’ album list.
We already covered Dinosaur Jr‘s ‘Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not’ (Jagjaguwar) so not much need to go into it here other than to say DO CHUFFING LISTEN TO IT.
Wild Beasts‘ have returned this quarter with ‘Boy King’ (Domino) and it’s a belter. So distinctive is the vocal style of Hayden Thorpe, it’s easy to forget how much this band’s approach has varied over the course of their releases. Compare, for example, early favourite ‘Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants’ with the opening track on their latest album ‘Big Cat’. The more synth-orientated sound and mangled guitar noodlings, and even the album artwork in this case, perhaps signifies again how many groups are in thrall to the 80s currently. Personally the reverb-laden, janglier guitar work of their earlier stuff works better for me BUT I still dig this latest material too.
In this world where slick presentation and gimmicky PR is often more important than artistic substance, the likes of Ed Harcourt will perhaps always struggle to get attention. This is a sad state of affairs. Harcourt is one of the best singer-songwriters around and has proven it consistently. ‘Back Into The Woods’ is perhaps my favourite release of his but ‘Furnaces’ is a welcome addition to his list of LPs which stretches back to 2001. The video for the title track is well worth checking out if you wish to dip your toes into the water and are looking for a writer who has something to say.
Where Harcourt will never be the most fashionable of figures to plonk on a music blog, Frank Ocean, it could be asserted, is something of a favourite of the music press, and another example of someone apparently happy to tease, this time regarding a follow-up to his highly regarded ‘Channel Orange’. Not only did Ocean tease however, he also served to confound, first dropping ‘Endless’ (Def Jam) and then ‘Blonde’ (Def Jam). It seems waiting for an album, where Ocean is concerned (Frank not Billy) can be like waiting for a bus – nothing and then two come at once. Whilst the video element of the former is of questionable worth (it hardly makes for riveting viewing), the music is interesting and worth revisiting. Together with ‘Blonde’ I can’t help but wonder if Ocean is, for our time, what Marvin Gaye was for the 70s, bending and fashioning R&B and Soul into fascinating new shapes with an extremely beautiful voice tying it all together. If you’re going to investigate either of these releases prepare yourself for something experimental. If you’re going to choose to give just one your time then I’d recommend ‘Blonde’.
Why should news of a new De La Soul release provoke anything other than unbridled joy? It’s been 30 years since the release of their classic debut ‘3 Feet High and Rising’, an example if ever there was one of how rap or hip-hop can be as valid a form of art as anything else as well as a textbook reference for expert sampling. As sonically pleasing as their debut is, what instantly hits you about ‘And the Anonymous Nobody’ (A.O.I Records) is how much the new stuff benefits from all that modern production techniques have to offer. This record just sounds absolutely lush.
They often say if it’s a good song then it works on an acoustic guitar. So what of Jack White’s ‘Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016’ (Third Man)? White comes across well it must be stated. One could be forgiven for thinking a project such as this is just an excuse to repackage some old material and make a quick buck. However, with White no stranger to placing barriers or untruths between himself and the listener in the manner in which he has marketed himself in the past (pretending the drummer is your sister for example), this release is a refreshing means of examining his music up close and personal. This is something any music fan might get something out of but is obviously a must for die-hard Jack White fans.
Local Natives are a group that sum up how hard it can be to make a go of things in today’s industry. Their catchy debut seemed to hold the promise of a band that could be seriously big but there’s so much competition these days, so much talent out there, and the music consumer, fickle at best, is able to peruse a never ending production line of NEW. Hats off to Local Natives for keeping going. With ‘Sunlit Youth’ (Lorna Vista) they’ve now released three great albums. Keep at it lads.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. They’ve brought such amazing art into our lives. Their previous release ‘Push the Sky Away’ was one of my favourite albums of 2013, if not this century, whilst the film ‘20,000 Days on Earth’ I’d recommend to any music doc addict. ‘Skeleton Tree’ (Bad Seed Ltd) is billed as a more raw follow-up to the last album, which I thought was reasonably raw anyway. Anyway, this is an extremely affecting listen, and perhaps not one for the casual listener – background music this ain’t. I’m not going to go into the tragedy surrounding the making the album, it’s been raked over more than enough. But if you’re serious about your music then this is perhaps one release you should not be ignoring. I can’t wait to see ‘One More Time with Feeling’.
Cymbals Eat Guitars are one of my more recent discoveries. I have been listening to their 2014 album ‘Lose’ again and again. Despite there being obvious differences regarding the overall sound, for some reason, it brought back memories of listening to Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’ for the first time. I guess I was in the mood to be shown rock music still has the power to beguile, to be experimental yet not disappear up its own proggy arse. I was keen then to hear ‘Pretty Years’ (Sinderlyn). It’s a different beast to ‘Lose’, which I’d recommend to anyone still who wants to find a way in. But that’s not to say it’s a disappointment. The raucous nature of it all makes me think of The Clash but the production is quite modern and interesting. Give it a go.
Warpaint’s ‘Heads Up’ (Rough Trade) could possibly be, the song ‘Undertow’ notwithstanding, their most catchy material to date. But don’t be expecting something overly poppy. This is still gloom-laden, dissonant, dreamy, challenging indie rock, it’s just some of the edges have arguably been smoothed out. Whether that’s how you want Warpaint to be we’ll leave up to you.
Bon Iver, if recent interviews are to be believed, isn’t too keen on fame. We can’t see his newest album ’22, A Million’ (Jagjaguwar) helping matters if that’s the case, as it already has the critics salivating. With good reason if early listens are anything to go by. This does indeed seem like it has the makings of a classic. If his second album ‘Bon Iver’ left his original fans a bit dumbfounded perhaps this latest release has the potential to placate whilst still indulging his progressive side. And kudos for releasing it via Bandcamp.
Pixies are a band of my youth and I find it hard to say anything bad about them. So out of respect I’ll tell you they have a new album out called ‘Headcarrier’ (Pixiesmusic) and not delve too much further than that. After giving it the once over I suspect it’s not really going to quite do it for me, as was the case with the record that preceded it, ‘Indie Cindy’. The basic ingredients are present but the magic of the era that ended in 1991 with Trompe Le Monde just isn’t there anymore as far as I’m concerned. Best of luck to them though – they more than deserve the opportunity to earn their keep playing and releasing music.
Followers of our quarterly roundups might remember we covered the latest Beyonce album and didn’t exactly succumb to the hype. Well, as much as we think it’s catering to the lowest common denominator to set two siblings against each other, it’s not always easy to do the right thing. So we’re going to say if you’re planning on listening to an album made this year by someone with the surname ‘Knowles’, make it ‘A Seat at the Table’ (Saint) by Solange. This is an understated and beautifully pieced together LP. A really rewarding listen.
Whilst you’ll note a lot of these artists in our quarterly reviews are quite or very well known, we like to include a lesser known artist or two if we can. Part of what we want to do with this blog is cover the music you like or are interested in but also hopefully direct you towards something you haven’t heard before. An artist or a band that has put in the hard yards but, for whatever the reason, this hasn’t resulted in more mainstream success. Hopefully it’ll be local to where we are in China but that’s not always necessarily possible if releases we know about are thin on the ground. One such prolific songwriter who is making waves in Far-East Asia, William Gray whose album ‘Flounce’ we covered earlier this year, has also just released his follow up Ep, ‘Seine'(Medic Independent Records).
Our pick this quarter is a band called Windings and we’ll hopefully find time to review their new release ‘Be Honest and Fear Not’ (Out on a Limb) in more detail in the near future. But suffice to say it should be on your radar. There’s a live feel to this record that would imply this is a band worth checking out if they ever play a venue you can get to, and the music strikes just the right balance between raw and melodic.
Hope this gives you more than enough to get your musical teeth into. Let us know if we missed anything.