2017 Quarterly Roundup 1 ::: Spring, Stars Float Along The Void

We’re going to try and a bit speedier with our quarterly roundups this year. Partly because we’re doing full reviews of more albums anyway at the moment. And partly because I drank too much ale last night. I just want to be honest with you dear readers.

First of all, Bonobo’s ‘Migration’. Perhaps the term ‘intelligent dance music’ or IDM is one that is overused. Perhaps it’s also time we got over the fact that very clever people make electronic music. Sam Shepherd (AKA Elaenia) is a neuroscientist for crying out loud. Anyway…after stating all this, Bonobo’s latest offering does come across as pretty err intelligent. Loving the African influences on ‘Bambo Koyo Ganda’ (featuring Innov Gnawa). If this isn’t your usual genre of music and you’re looking for a way in, this is a very good option and arguably Bonobo’s most accessible outing to date.

It’s time for another Flaming Lips album. Great. ‘Oczy Mlody’ sees the group continue to explore the darker psychedelic fringes of their already sizable output rather than revert back to the type of earworm songwriting that saw them winning over a broad spectrum of music fans in the past. It’s a bit ploddy at times but not in a completely unappealing way, particularly if you’re listening on your headphones and catching some relaxation time.

Foxygen, ‘Hang’. Often seeming like a hotchpotch of various acts from the 60s and 70s, think Donovan meets Jagger meets Bowie meets well whomever they feel like meeting, Foxygen have always surfed the retro tide in a bit of a quirky and tongue-in-cheek way. With this record that strand running through their output is still very much in evidence, but a progression has been made to a smoother, more studio-crafted sound where arrangements have been nailed down hard. Suddenly Foxygen seem to have gone from japery to serious contenders who might just be sticking around for some time yet. We’ll see.

Japandroids are a lot of fun if you’re in the mood. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear some unabashed rock blasting out your speakers. If that’s your bag then you’ll probably enjoy ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’ though is it just me or has this album been smashed a bit too hard during the mastering process? Personally I think the final product doesn’t quite let the songs, which are catchy and fun, breathe enough. Come on music industry, I thought we were over this loudness war bullshit. That aside I bet these tunes would be great at a gig. Any plans to visit Zhejiang lads?

Quite appropriately, now we’re on the subject of loudness wars, Elbow are a group who have strived to not play that game and their music really does quite obviously benefit from a more softly, softly approach. This is again apparent on their new album ‘Little Fictions’ which is a really moving listen right from the off. This is a group reinvigorated perhaps by matters close to the heart (is love in the air?) but also perhaps by fresh approaches and angles to making music which gives this LP a light, airy and bouncy feel whilst still somehow remaining classic Elbow. Try it.

If Elbow’s record sounds like a man falling in love then Ryan Adams’ latest offering ‘Prisoner’ is an audio testament to a relationship breaking down. Adams in his more recent offerings has given in to his more AOR (MOR even?) leanings but, weirdly, although I at times questioned whether listening to his 2014 album ‘Ryan Adams’ was something of a guilty pleasure, music often works best when an artist is simply being true to themselves, whatever type of tag we try and place on them. If this release doesn’t quite catch fire in the same way as the 2014 release does then that doesn’t mean it’s not still a thoroughly engulfing listen. I’m enjoying it and you might too, especially if you’re a Springsteen type of person of which there’s more than a hint of here, most notably with the title and vibe of the song ‘Outbound Train’.

Sampha’s ‘Process’ is an album which had me all excited when I read reviews of it. The opening track is a belter and early on this record showcases one heck of a talent. But, for me anyway, it gets a bit lost and muddled along the way and never quite builds on its early promise. You can do a lot worse than check it out though – certainly an artist to keep an eye on.

Surfer Blood had a hellish time of it with the loss of member Thomas Fekete from a rare form of cancer. If you haven’t already, check out Fekete’s album ‘Burner’. It’s fantastic. For Surfer Blood to return from this tragedy with the amazing ‘Snowdonia’ is nothing short of a massive triumph. This is a fun, guitars chugging along pleasingly, melodic, little pearl of an album, which somehow reminds me of Swedish group Bob Hund. Is that just me?

It’s probably about time we mentioned some hip-hop. Thanks for helping us out Oddisee with your new album ‘The Iceberg’. Yes. We’re liking this. A friend once told me hip-hop is the new blues because it tells the stories of ordinary people, from the fun to the deadly serious, provides social commentary, and at times a social conscious. Well with evidence such as this who can disagree? Just as we argued with the Tribe release last year, this is the type of hip-hop the world needs right now. Loving the live feel to the tracks too. Check it out.

Pissed Jeans ‘Why Love Now’. It’s loud, thick and crunchy. If that sounds like audio granola then perhaps that’s because it is. In that it’s good for you and very tasty. If you like rock music rough and raucous then I think this is the band and the album for you. On ‘The Bar is Low’ the vocals sound distinctly Lemmy which can only be a good thing surely. Thanks yet again Sub Pop.

For those wishing to challenge themselves we’d urge you to listen to ‘World Eater’ by Blanck Mass. You might know of Benjamin John Power from Fuck Buttons. You might not. But either way, when it comes to pushing the boundaries with noise, for want of a better description, he’s way out there on the boundaries – a veritable pioneer. If you’re after something prettier, then the aforementioned Bonobo might be for you, but for those into the heavy or industrial side of rock music – if you’re looking to flirt with something more electronic then this could be the one.

Grandaddy is/are back with ‘Last Place’. Much like The Shins being back it’s difficult for such bands to compete with their classics. Whilst those who are unaware of Grandaddy might be best trying out The Sophtware Slump to see what the fuss is about, those who do dig the output of Jason Lytle should be perfectly happy with this record. And that very much includes me.

Laura Marling is an artist I’ve witnessed perform live and I have to say I was completely blown away. Despite this, and despite her recorded output being perfectly credible in that it’s well recorded and showcases great songwriting and musicianship, for some reason it’s always generally left me slightly cold. Up to this point my favourite record of Marling’s is probably ‘I Speak Because I Can’ but her new release ‘Semper Femina’ has definitely started to win me over. Give it a spin.

You might remember we covered Conor Oberst’s ‘Ruminations’ in our previous roundup? Well now he’s let us down by re-arranging that record and performing it with a full band. Ha. Only kidding. OK, it’s true we did like the stripped down and honest way in which the initial album was presented and it might feel like this new release, ‘Salutations’ undermines that somewhat, in fact some critics have apparently argued as much. Notwithstanding we find it interesting to hear the songs done in a different way and if that’s what he wants to do well it’s jolly well up to him isn’t it? Alright? Great. Glad you agree.

There’s something very British about British Sea Power and it’s not just the name. Perhaps it’s because they give off an air of a particular type of eccentricity? Maybe it’s the fact geographically they started in Kendal, Cumbria but ended up in Brighton, Sussex? Whatever it is, they’ve a new album out called ‘Let the Dancers Inherit the Party’ and we’ve not had the chance to really give it a good going over yet BUT what we’ve heard so far sounds ruddy marvelous so looking forward to more.

I hope you’ve found this useful. We’re not seeking to give you in depth descriptions at this juncture. Just to give you a heads up on some of the great stuff we’ve stumbled across that you might wish to fall into as well. In addition we have covered the likes of Ty Segall, Vagabon, Alasdair Roberts, Kelly Dance, Menace Beach, Tongue (舌头乐队), Real Estate and The Shins in recent weeks/months so if you want something with more detail PLEASE do check these fantabulous artists out. Cheers. Bye.

 

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