Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Holly Herndon - Platform review

It's not often that I get excited about an artist over a record which leaves me completely cold, but this was certainly the case with clinical redhead goddess Holly Herndon, whose 2012 debut Movement was the very definition to cold. Whether it was the sharp and precise beats or the distant vocal samples, everything felt very clinical and detached. The fact that the record clicked with me so much is surprising considering how much I usually like music which is the complete opposite (both warm and organic). My immense excitement over Holly's music was fully justified when her (still completely incredible) single 'Chorus' dropped back in January 2014. A departure from the anatomical focus of Movement; Chorus marked the start of a new artistic chapter for Holly, one based in a not-too-distant digital dystopia in which our lives are dictated by technology. Fortunately for me, Chorus is just one of ten thought-provoking yet digestible pieces of electronica you'll find on this wonderful, wonderful record.

In the music media people seem obsessed with genres and labels. This is understandable bearing in mind that there are millions upon millions of releases all over the internet which are open for consumption. So for the sake of practicality, genres are there to filter out what we wouldn't like and draw attention to what we might like, based on our pre-recorded personal taste. But what happens when you refuse to be labelled? Holly Herndon has made it pretty darn difficult to categorize her music and it makes me adore her (and Platform) even more. 

But even within the broad 'experimental electronica' tag there are preconceptions of what your likely to hear, this again is something that Platform openly challenges. What was even surprising to me was how human some of the tracks on Platform are. Take the single 'Home' for example, like a handful of tracks on the LP vocals take centre-stage, the mix of Holly's lone vocals and the patchwork of cascading samples in the background create a sense of distorted euphoria, especially as the track breaks down and the electronics fade towards the climax. But perhaps the most 'straightforward' track on the record (I use that term loosely) is the stunning 'Morning Sun', a vulnerable ballad  which carries a surprising amount of emotional heft. One of the weirder moments is the ever-so-slightly spiritual 'Unequal', which stylistically can be best described as 'New Age for the digital age', here Holly uses hypnotic vocal manipulation to create an almost ritualistic atmosphere.

Aside from these more accessible tracks, Platform also features punchy beat-led electrobangers that I imagine would sound pretty epic in ~the club~ (clearly I'm an expert in this field). The opening track 'Interference' is an industrial break-beat masterpiece, laced with pulsating beats and throbbing drum machines. 'DAO' ensures the momentum is sustained in the latter half of the record, here we see Holly up her glitchy electronics game to a new level of theatricality. 'An Exit' is another playful yet challenging piece, it deviates between desperate and frantic to a euphoric and lush chorus-like moment. 

The range of sounds and styles Holly experiments with on Platform are what make it such an exciting and engaging listen. Over the course of 10 tracks she explores elements of  new-age, break-beat, techno, glitch-hop, choral pop, trip-hop, avante-garde, house and even ASMR. There are easily accessible and almost anthemic moments to be found on tracks like Chorus, An Exit and Morning Sun as well as bizarre left-turns on tracks like 'Lonely At The Top'. Some of her experiments are more successful than others, but overall this is an essential listen for anyone seeking to sonically explore the digital age we currently live in from a perspective which is both critical and celebratory. 


Best tracks: Interference, Chorus, Morning Sun, An Exit, DAO, New Ways To Love

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Best of April

Even though we're only 5 months into 2015, we've already seen (or rather, heard) some truly excellent music by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Sufjan Stevens and Lady Lamb. But the best is still yet to come; May and June are already shaping up to be incredible (see the list of future releases at the end of the post). April, if anything, was more of a teaser for what's to come, meaning that the past month has been mostly dominated by buzz tracks. On the albums side it was more quality over quantity with only two legitimately fantastic records, both are incidentally the follow-ups to my favourite two records of 2013 (that's pretty strange, right?). 

If this is a little rushed it's because I'm writing this post to distract myself from the terrifying reality of my AS exams being like a week away, so I apologize in advance for any inconsistencies or errors you may be confronted with. And on a side-note I'm not sure if I'll be doing a 'best of May' at the end of May or at the end of June, i.e when these god-forsaken dream-crushers are done and dusted, so look out for that.  

Moving on, I'd like to thank everyone who's been following this because it's a pretty big deal to me. Over the past month alone I've had over 1,000 views which I never expected, especially as I approach iplugtoyou's 2nd anniversary. So to celebrate this milestone I intend to start varying the content in the coming months, writing more for outside publications and iplugtoyou TV will be returning at some point. Special shout-out to my readers in Ukraine, who've been dominating my viewership lately, stay strong guys!

And last thing, I recently got a shout-out on my favourite podcast, The Only Music podcast by Has It Leaked (episode 4), it's available on iTunes if you're curious. It really is the best music podcast around and the exciting thing is that they're only just starting out (plus I'm obsessed with their Swedish accents), you can find out more about them here.

Albums of the month

Nadine Shah - Fast Food

Now I hate to be that guy but back in 2013 when I was harping on about how amazingly talented Nadine Shah was, hardly anyone listened to me (possibly because my viewership was like 4 people at the time). Not that I'm complaining, Nadine is a pretty big deal nowadays and her stunning voice has captivated the mainstream media, particularly album highlight 'Fool'. There will always be a special place in my heart for Nadine's debut album Love Your Dum and Mad, which not only soundtrack by Christmas 2013 but is the album that essentially got me my Earbuddy job, so thanks for that, Nads!

I also adore dark and brooding music, and her debut was just about as good as it got. A lot of writers compare Nadine's style to PJ Harvey, which I agree with production-wise, but vocally this is a rather lazy comparison. Fast Food, though not exactly breezy, is a lot more accessible and easy to digest than it's predecessor, with a more clean and crisp production quality. The range between gritty noir-rock bangers such as 'Stealing Cars' and 'Fool' and the more sultry moments like 'Washed Up' further exemplifies why she is easily one of the best acts coming out of the UK right now. 

Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp

Even if Ivy Tripp didn't exactly grab me at first listen, once you warm up to its quirks it becomes utterly captivating, almost like an ugly pet that you can't help but love. And having had time to take it all in, I can honestly say that I do love this record. I love that I haven't been able to stop playing La Loose (still listening to it as I type), I love that it feels like I've been loosing my shit to Poison for a year already and I love that Air is already an absolute classic, in my book at least. At its core Ivy Tripp is a beast and it will consume you hole once you let your guard down, which is ironic considering that this is one of Crutchfield's for defiant and stoic records lyrically. Well I assume that is the case, there is a lyric on the track 'Less Than' (<) which has perplexed me since the day I heard it; I'm not sure if "you're less than me, I am nothing' is empowering or self-deprecating, but regardless it's a powerful sentiment and one which I feel sums up Ivy Tripp as a whole.

Full review:

Tracks of the month

NoMBe - California Girls

Before you jump to any conclusions here, this is NOT a Katy Perry cover. What it is however is a hazy, woozy and gripping piece of electronic blues-rock. The way the song unravels and progresses whilst retaining its intoxicating intimacy is really special. Don't even get me started on that breakdown at the end, it's truly masterful, but I wish it lasted a little longer. I can't wait to put this on blast for the next 4 months, I recommend you save this one for your summer playlist.

Lianne La Havas - Unstoppable

And now we get to the triumphant return of British songstress Lianne La Havas, who has been teasing me for way too long with cryptic social media messages about new material and now she's back with her new record Blood (out in July). I always knew she had the potential to be incredible, I mean her debut album was great, but she has taken her artistry to the upper echelon with this gorgeous track. A departure from the guitar/piano-led soul-pop that dominated her debut; 'Unstoppable' is an airy, jazzy and soulful beast of a track, which bodes very well for Blood indeed. 

Jaakko Eino Kalevi - Deep Shadows

Before we get onto the track (and what a track it is), I'd just like to say that this dude has the most luscious locks in the business and I really wish I could pull off that look...

Moving on, I neglected to feature 'Double Talk', the lead single from his forthcoming self-titled debut, which I can confirm is one of my favourite tracks of the year so far. 'Deep Shadows' far exceeds its predecessor, it is everything I love in a pop song; it's weird, it's funky, it's full of hooks and IT FEATURES PANPIPES! Seriously incredible stuff, keep it up sir!

Goldroom - Mykonos (Fleet Foxes cover)

OK so here's the deal, I really don't like cover versions. Like, I understand they're important in helping an artist gain attention and they can work really well (see: Chvrches), but I just feel that the majority of generic 'piano covers' or 'acoustic covers' completely drain the life and soul from great songs. However, like a good little indie kid I adore Fleet Foxes (where u at guys?!) and so I am still open to hearing a good cover of one of their tracks. 

To my surprise, I discovered one of the covers I've heard in a while. What is so great about this cover is how Goldroom completely transform the track, the only thing that remains in are the fantastic lyrics, everything else has been reconstructed (tastefully, I might add) to turn a FF classic into a summer bop, who would've thought it, ey? 

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Can't Keep Checking My Phone

Somehow I managed to allow one of, if not, the best track of the year so far bypass me completely. That track was 'Multi-Love' by Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and it still slays a solid 90% of the stuff I've heard this year. Whilst this new track isn't quite on that level of excellence, it's still great enough to make me want to replay it a ridiculous number of times. It runs firmly in the 'funky af' vein of ML, and is every bit as toe-tapping.

Empress of - Water Water 

After years of teasing, Empress Of looks to finally be releasing her debut album this year (date still unannounced). Bearing in mind her incredible single 'Hat Trick' dropped 3 years ago now(!) we've only got one buzz track since then in the form of 'Realize You', and even that was over a year ago now. Was 'Water Water' worth the wait? I'm not sure. It's a great track but I don't think I can be fully satisfied until I hear more, and specifically, a track better than Hat Trick. But for now, this certainly does the job; watery synths and a pounding house beat, this is worlds away from her previous work, but after nearly 3 years I came to expect this. Expect an eclectic collection of off-kilter pop when her record does drop at some point this year. 

Chromatics - In Films

From watery synths to gittering synths now, courtesy of the ever-excellent Chromatics. This is now the third track to drop from their forthcoming LP Dear Tommy, which still hasn't got a release date (sort it out guys!). But at 17 tracks I'm pretty confident it'll be worth the wait, especially if the production is anywhere as crisp as it is on this track. The driving production and Ruth Radelet's deadpan yet alluring vocal delivery is a match made in gamer-nerd heaven, the relevance of this being that the band's music has the tendency to sound like the soundtrack to an 80's video game, which tends to age better than the graphics to be fair. 

Throwing Shade (feat. Emily Bee) - Honeytrap

Speaking of intoxication and wooziness, I couldn't think of a better description for this new offering from London producer Throwing Shade. I've been keeping a firm eye on her for the past 5 or so months. My obsession essentially began when she dropped her mind-bending 19 Jewels EP late last year, and only grew stronger after seeing clips of her incredible Boiler Room set a couple of months back. She has once again enlisted the vocal talents of Emily Bee to create this surreal jam, which is lifted from a new EP which is dropping this month. Be excited.

Chelsea Wolfe - Iron Moon

Following her breakthrough 2013 LP Pain is Beauty, goth queen Chelsea Wolfe is set to return this August with her 'darkest and most personal' record to date. In that case the title 'Abyss' seems pretty accurate. So far she's done every single pretty darn right for me with this release, excellent title - check, phenomenal artwork - check, epic single - double check. When a new album campaign kicks off with what is perhaps your best track yet, you can't go far wrong in my opinion.

This month, look out for new releases by:
Holly Herndon
The Weather station
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Blanck Mass
Circuit Des Yeux
Barnett + Collocia

Monday, 6 April 2015

Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp review

As Waxahatchee, Katie Crutchfield has created not one, but two of my favourite records of all time. Drenched in reverb, 2012's American Weekend was lo-fi in every sense of the word, yet the melodies and stark truths delivered with every lyric made the record feel cozy and familiar to even the most casual of listeners. Its follow-up (and Waxahatchee's breakthrough) Cerulean Salt was slightly sharper production-wise, yet Crutchfield's blunt lyrics ensured that the charm was kept alive. Even when you count the releases of P.S Eliot (the duo completed by Katie's twin sister, Allison Crutchfield of Swearin'), her discography is still pretty concise for such a substantial artist in the 'indie world' today (if there is such a thing...perhaps 'the Pitchfork world' would be more apt). But with Waxahatchee it has always been about quality over quantity; in the two LPs she's dropped (excluding Ivy Tripp) you'll find some of my favourite tracks of all time such as 'Be Good', 'Coast To Coast', 'Swan Dive' and 'Catfish', and they're all pretty short.

As American Weekend and Cerulean Salt were my favourite albums of their respective years of release, my expectations for Ivy Tripp upon release were insanely high, to the point where I subconsciously knew that that disappointment was inevitable. And I  must admit, this is not an instant record by any means; more so than any other Waxahatchee release, Ivy Tripp takes time and effort to equate yourself with, simply because the melodies aren't as instant on the whole. That being said, there are a fair few tracks which would fit seamlessly on Cerulean Salt; 'Under A Rock' and 'Poison' remind us all how rocking out is essentially second nature for a Crutchfield, the latter in particular contains a riff so powerful that creeps up on you as the track blazes on and reverberates in your brain for hours afterwards. At the opposite end of the spectrum there are more overtly melancholic campfire songs like 'Summer of Love', which I was initially convinced was already track on Cerulean Salt. The familiarity of tracks such as these make this record more easy to sink into and thus allow you to digest the more left-field moments that surround them.

As this was Waxhatchee's first record on indie giant Merge records, I was expecting some bolder moments on Ivy Tripp, I was not let down in the slightest. 'La Loose', which is the most off-kilter track on the album, sticks out in Crutchfield's discography like a sore thumb but for all the right reasons. For this synthy ditty, Katie puts her guitar to one side, replacing it with fluttering synths and cutesy ooh ooh ooh's and the result is a super fun and endearing bop. Once you hear this track, getting through the rest of record is a struggle, especially when the following track ('Stale By Moon') is one of the dullest she's ever produced. The opening track 'Breathless' and the closer 'Bonfire' act as bookends for the record, both soaked in suffocating static which is so intense it devour your mind. This heavy and uncompromising approach is not an unfamiliar one, but the way it closes the record leaves a aptly bitter taste in my mouth once the record ends.

Even if Ivy Tripp didn't exactly grab me at first listen, once you warm up to its quirks it becomes utterly captivating, almost like an ugly pet that you can't help but love. And having had time to take it all in, I can honestly say that I do love this record. I love that I haven't been able to stop playing La Loose (still listening to it as I type), I love that it feels like I've been loosing my shit to Poison for a year already and I love that Air is already an absolute classic, in my book at least. At its core Ivy Tripp is a beast and it will consume you hole once you let your guard down, which is ironic considering that this is one of Crutchfield's for defiant and stoic records lyrically. Well I assume that is the case, there is a lyric on the track 'Less Than' (<) which has perplexed me since the day I heard it; I'm not sure if "you're less than me, I am nothing' is empowering or self-deprecating, but regardless it's a powerful sentiment and one which I feel sums up Ivy Tripp as a whole.


Best tracks: Breathless, Air, La Loose, Under A Rock, Poison, Summer Of Love, Bonfire 

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Best of March

March was no doubt a spectacular month for music, some might say that it's the new February 2014, but I'm not quite convinced yet. But my God was some great music dropped this month, from electronica (Jamie XX, Holly Herndon) to folk (Sufjan Stevens, Laura Marling) and psychedelia (Tame Impala, The Holydrug Couple), there was a little something for everyone. Let's recap on the best, in my opinion of course...

Albums of the month

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell

Ever since I heard Seven Swans I was hooked on this guy's music. His inventive combinations of traditional folk, chamber pop and the occasional electronic elements, for me, always set him apart from the bog-standard 'dude with a guitar' acts. When it was first announced that Carrie and Lowell would 'a return to his folk roots', I had no idea how true this statement would be; this is the most bare and raw I've ever heard Stevens sound. As a mummy's boy myself, this is a truly devastating listen with absolutely no break from the darkness in its 42 minute running time. But I must admit, praising this record for its rawness and its relentlessness makes me somewhat of a hypocrite when I criticised Sun Kil Moon's Benji for the exact same reasons. The difference is that Sufjan balances the bleakness of these tracks with far more engaging melodies and his signature paper-thin falsetto, which makes the tone much cozier than it should be.

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

The ongoing class war in the UK and the race issues in America have defined 2015 so far and I have no doubt they'll continue to be prominent areas of debate among members my generation, and rightfully so. Growing up in an area which is both ethically and economically diverse, I recognise the need for enlightened social commentators like Kendrick Lamar. Even though I didn't get the hype over his last record, both lyrically and production-wise this stands heads and shoulders above Good Kid M.A.AD City. Inevitably his music won't appeal to a cynical and often ignorant older generation, but what is important is that we take notice of Kendrick's message and be inspired to speak about the issues that concern us.

Lower Dens - Escape From Evil

What is most commendable about Lower Dens on this record is the ease with which they are able to achieve such a distinct atmosphere and sustain it throughout, especially when so many others try so hard to convey any sort of mood whatsoever and fail. Where Escape From Evil shines brightest is when the band let go and embrace a lighter, more euphoric aspect of their sound, particularly on the melancholic yet therapeutic sheen of “To Die in LA”. My only wish is that they capitalized upon this sonic breakthrough with a record full of tracks of this calibre, which makes the fact that they didn't somewhat frustrating. That being said, knowing that Lower Dens have the potential to create melancholic pop perfection is comforting in itself.

Laura Marling - Short Movie

With her debut album, Laura Marling didn't quite 'burst' but 'politely step' onto the scene, though gradually she won over fans and critics alike with her 'British rose with an edge' charm. Fast forward to 2013 and she's musically evolved into a middle-age, troubled American badass on Once, I Was An Eagle. With such an epic predecessor, I had high hopes for 'Short Movie' and fortunately I was not disappointed. The best thing about this record, especially for a long-term fan like me, is how apparent it is that Marling's confidence has grown, both lyrically and vocally. The real gem here is 'False Hope', continuing the crunchy and aggressive folk-rock vibe from Once, I Was An Eagle but with even more bite. 

Lady Lamb - After

Though After feels far more mature and developed than it’s predecessor, it does have a few big moments, namely the tense, bitter and uncompromising stomp of “Batter”. Lead single “Billions of Eyes” is probably the most straight forward track Lady Lamb released to date, the carefree chants and general breeziness of the production make it a summer anthem waiting to happen. “Spat Out Spit” features one of the record’s biggest choruses, laced with horns, hand-claps and rolling guitar. The subtle lyrical references to Ripley Pine tracks scattered throughout the record in many ways cement After as the coming of age record for Spaltro’s Lady Lamb project, which at this stage in her career is pretty damn impressive.

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Though the Aussie chanteuse only just released her debut album, Courtney Barnett has already become somewhat of a cult hero in the indie scene.  As expected her debut LP is full of razor-sharp, dry, witty and clever songwriting that crystallizes the world around us with a sly wink and a smile. Sometimes I Sit and Think... sits comfortably between the romantic and tongue and cheek fun of Father John Misty's I Love You, Honeybear and Alvvays' feelings of confusion and uncertainty of being a 20-something in the 21st century. Barnett recognizes the tedium of normal life (Depreston), but still finds a way to revel in the everyday (Pedestrian At Best).

Songs of the month

Jamie XX - Gosh

Jamie XX has finally announced the details of his debut LP after teasing us time after time with bangers such as 'Girl' and 'Under One Roof Raving' (which unfortunately didn't make it onto the record). Along with the announcement of In Colour, Jamie dropped not one, but two brand new tracks, but whilst everyone lost their shit over 'Loud Places' (which was basically an XX reunion as it features Romy) I was (and still am) mesmerized by 'Gosh', possibly his finest track to date. One of the best things about Jamie's style is how well he uses samples, but with this track he takes it to a new level, the base and the aggression on this track, as well as the epic outro, really encapsulates exactly why he's one of the best producers in the UK, if not the world, right now.

Jenny Hval - The Battle Is Over

Following the release of her breakthrough LP Innocence Is Kinky in 2013, I have been eagerly anticipating her next solo album. Even though her collaborative album with Susanna Meshes of Voices was nice, it was not exactly what I was hoping for. Fortunately though her new solo record Apocalypse, Girl is shaping up nicely, with this, it's lead single being one of her strongest to date (as well as one of the best tracks of 2015 to date). Lyrically this track is a goldmine, to the point where I can't pick just one to feature; with themes ranging from feminism and cancer to socialism, I cannot wait to here this new record when it drops.   

Holly Herndon - Interference

Holly Herndon really is on a roll with these new tracks, isn't she? Both 'Chorus' (still amazing) and 'Home' will feature on her upcoming 4AD debut Platforms along with Interference, yet another clinical exploration of the digital age we live in. With every new track and every interview I read/watch I am captivated by Herndon's artistry and her process as a whole; her approach to her art is so fresh and innovative, it is no surprise that she is so highly acclaimed.  


Tame Impala - Let It Happen

God I love this band. Lonerism is still the official sponsor of my summer (i.e me eating ice cream and pretzels in my room, listening music and watching old TV shows, alone). But it's so much more than that, it is able to mentally transport me to a psychedelic dream world (like some kind of trippy escapism from reality). Even though there has been no official announcement of their new record, Let It Happen, at 8 minutes, is long enough to quench my thirst for the moment. 

Grimes - REALiTi

For the record I actually really liked 'Go', but even I (like many) was relieved when Grimes announced not only that it would not feature on her next record but that it did not represent how said album would sound. I, on the other hand, was fricking ecstatic when this absolute banger entered my life. I may* be getting ahead of myself here but this is the best Grimes song ever and I cannot even begin to explain how exited I am to hear the 're-made' version which she was kinda forced to make. When you're ready, Claire!

Girlpool - Ideal World

"Tranquilize me with your ideal world", even though I am yet to hear Girlpool's debut LP I get the feeling this lyric sums the general sentiment up pretty well. With the Lego-themed art direction as well as the title itself, I get the idea that Before The World Was Big has something to do with growing up (or perhaps not wanting to grow up). As 'Chinatown' was pretty bleak (still great though), I'm glad Ideal World is a bit more chilled and easier to digest. One thing's for sure, this album's gonna be a corker.

Novella - Sentences

Less than a month after putting out 'Land Gone', Novella have released yet another taster from their upcoming debut Land. I don't usually like to feature buzz tracks and singles from the same acts in succession but I just couldn't help myself with this one. Yet another hazy and euphoric number from these guys, drenched in reverb and shoegazing guitars I am once again reminded why I love these guys so damn much. 

Kero Kero Bonito - Picture This

What better way to celebrate (or mock?) the vain, insecure and self-obsessed generation we are than making a fun bubble gum/J-Pop crossover track about it? Well that's what Kero Kero Bonito have done here. I tend to affiliate this band with the PC Music group who have been taking the internet by storm with their sickly sweet, colourful and downright bonkers approach to pop music.

The Holydrug Couple - Dreamy

I don't know too much about these guys so I'll keep this brief. Firstly, they're from Chile, secondly they are signed to the ever-hip Sacred Bones Records and thirdly, they sound like Tame Impala. So to sum up, they're a more chilled and Chilean answer to Tame Impala, got it? Great. 

Shunkan - Our Names

You may vaguely remember me gushing about Kiwi/LA/Japanese badass Shunkan a while back, well now she's back with yet another excellent, albeit painfully short, indie rock gem. I hate to compare artists (even though I do it all the time) but this track really does sound like a much more upbeat Waxahatchee, which is a massive complement because I love a bit of Katie Crutchfield. Once again we see the feeling of loss and confusion when transitioning into an adult, with the lively and hook-laden production making it all seem alright. 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Double Album Review - After by Lady Lamb the Beekeeper and Another Eternity by Purity Ring

This week two very good sophomore albums were released, one by Canadian duo Purity Ring and one from rising singer/songwriter Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. I've never done this before but releasing a second album which isn't a massive disappointment is no mean feat so we may as well celebrate it. Before we start, here's a playlist to get us all in the mood:

Though Maine native Aly Spaltro has been releasing music in various forms for a few years now (starting with her first homemade CD back in 2007), it was her electrifying live shows in the last couple of years which really got people talking. Though I haven’t yet been fortunate enough to catch her live, I can imagine that her music would translate incredibly well, after all, her debut record Ripely Pine was one of the finest debuts in years.  Spaltro really utilized the backing band on said record, making every song unique and memorable through an eclectic range of instrumentation and song structures. With moods varying between tracks, one thing that always came through was that Spaltro was truly passionate about what she was singing; there were points of immense vulnerability where her voice was barely a whisper and other points where she would scream at the top of her lungs. This equated to an immensely dynamic and engaging listening experience, which she has only capitalized upon with her sophomore record.

After opens with a bang in the form of “Vena Cava”, with gentle guitar plucks and stripped back vocals erupting into the gritty and heavy chorus. There is a greater confidence in Spaltro’s vocals, with the gorgeous raspy quality of her voice being increasingly prominent on this record.  Similarly obscure in composition is “Violet Clementine”, which begins with Spaltro’s A Capella vocals before the banjo, yes banjo, kicks in and ramps up the pace of the track, with more layers of instrumentation and vocals being added as it progresses. This isn’t to say that After doesn’t feature some down moments to balance out the chaos; “Sunday Shoes” being the prime example. Though there are less of these tracks than on Ripely Pine, they still play a pivotal role on the record and like in the case of the former, they showcase Spaltro’s vocals in the most intimate of ways with only the guitar to back her up. The stunning “Ten” features one of her strongest vocal performances to date, showing that she is more than capable of creating a moment without the need for a dense instrumental backing.

Though After feels far more mature and developed than it’s predecessor, it does have a few big moments, namely the tense, bitter and uncompromising stomp of “Batter”. Lead single “Billions of Eyes” is probably the most straight forward track she’s released to date, the carefree chants and general breeziness of the production make it a summer anthem waiting to happen. “Spat Out Spit” features one of the record’s biggest choruses, laced with horns, hand-claps and rolling guitar. The subtle lyrical references to Ripley Pine tracks scattered throughout the record are another fun touch, the reference to personal favorite “Aubergine” in “Vena Cave” — “There ain’t no aubergine in my blood” — being an example which sticks to mind. This in many ways cements After as the coming of age record for Spaltro’s Lady Lamb project, which at this stage in her career is pretty damn impressive.


Best Tracks: Vena Cava, Violet Clementine, Heretic, Spat Out Spit, Dear Arkansas Daughter, Ten, Batter, Atlas

Saying Canadian duo Purity Ring made a mark on the pop landscape when they dropped their critically acclaimed debut Shrines back in 2012 is an understatement, they mastered the 'bedroom beats' sound without sounding try-hard or lazy. For me at least, it set a bar for both indie and mainstream pop 'bangers' to reach, and to this day very few do. With tracks like 'Fine Shrines' still getting regular airplay and exposure (mainly on brooding ads), I was fully expecting the duo's next record to smash, not only the 'blogosphere' but the mainstream charts also, they are certainly good enough. With Another Eternity, they've done just that - created a record full of ambitious and dynamic pop songs, all of which have the potential to set the charts alight. 

'Push Pull' is one of the most straight forward pop tracks the duo have produced so far, melodically it is catchy and easy to digest, it also sees the qlitchy soundscapes which were at the heart of Shrines take somewhat of a backseat whilst Megan James' vocals take centre stage. One of my favourite things about Shrines was the contrast between James' sugary-sweet vocals and her graphic anatomical lyrics, "you push and you pull and you tell yourself no, it's like when you lie down, the veins grow in slow" she sings on one of the record's finest hooks.  Corin Roddick's production ensures that every track has a spectacular moment, from the trap-influenced 'Stranger Than Earth' and 'Flood on the Floor' to the dance floor ready stomp of 'Begin Again' and 'Sea Castle, this album certainly contains some earth-shattering pop moments. 

That being said, there seems to be an indescribable disconnect between the production, the vocals and to an extent, the tracks themselves. This is somewhat ironic considering the duo were apart when creating their debut, perhaps this is which it feels as if the intimacy that album had from the 'bedroom beats' vibe is lost here entirely. Of course the tracks are all great and this is a solid pop record, but I can't help feel that this was a lost opportunity and that the better tracks could've been showcased better. 


Best tracks: Bodyache, Push Pull, Flood On the Floor, Sea Castle

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Best of February

Albums of the month

Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

After his breakthrough solo LP Fear Fun, Josh Tillman has delivered yet another excellent singer/songwriter LP. Sonically it isn't much of a departure from his previous material, however he does keep it interesting and throws a few curve balls in there, namely the electronica-tinged 'True Affection'. Best of all is the unashamedly soppy title track, which despite the sickly sweet lyrics is one of the most satisfying and engaging tracks in his discography. 

Ibeyi - Ibeyi

The other day I indulged in a binge interview-watching session on YouTube, and it was here where I fell in love with Ibeyi. Their sound is inventive and fresh; singing in both English and Yoruba and combining elements of folk, vocal, electronica and hip-hop, making their debut record is like nothing I've heard before. They are also incredibly endearing, breaking into song every-so-often, completing each other's sentences and just seeming to happy to be where they are. My personal favourite track is 'Stranger/Lover' for its stunning piano melody, though every track is pretty solid in its own right. 

Marika Hackman - We Slept At Last

I've been harping on about Marika for a while now and the time has finally come for her to release her long-awaited debut We Slept At Last. When following a new artist for a few years it's always a concern that their debut won't live up to the bar you sub-consciously set for them, fortunately this isn't the case here. Featuring only unreleased tracks on your debut album is always a risk, but it certainly paid off here, with album highlights including 'Animal Fear', 'Ophelia' and 'Open Wide'.

Screaming Females - Rose Mountain

Ugly, the debut album from Screaming Females' 2012 breakout record divided listeners, many loved the hard-hitting attitude that oozed from every track whilst others couldn't stomach Marissa Paternoster's marmite vocal style. With Rose Mountain however, it is very much the opposite; some of the band's older fans feel it doesn't go hard enough whilst others (like myself) appreciate its accessibility. Well one thing I think we can all agree on is that 'Wishing Well' is an absolute tune and is one of the best tracks of the last year. 

Tracks of the month

Kendrick Lamar - The Blacker the Berry

The ongoing class war in the UK and the race issues in America have defined 2015 so far and I have no doubt they'll continue to be prominent areas of debate among members my generation, and rightfully so. Growing up in an area which is both ethically and economically diverse, I recognise the need for enlightened social commentators like Kendrick Lamar. This could well be his best track yet, both lyrically and production-wise it stands heads and shoulders over the output of his contemporaries. Inevitably his music won't appeal to a cynical and often ignorant older generation, but what is important is that we take notice of Kendrick's message and be inspired to speak about the issues that concern us. 

Rosie Lowe - Who's That Girl

Yet another killer track from rising UK soulstress Rosie Lowe and this could well be her best track to date. She has confirmed that her debut album will be out this year and has given us the excellent 'Who's That Girl' to quench our thirst for the moment. The production, as ever, treads the line between now and the future, with icy beats and subtle vocal manipulation complementing Rosie's vocals impeccably. I need this album, and so do you.

Sufjan Stevens - No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross

Following the announcement of his new record Carrie & Lowell, inspired by none other than his mum, Sufjan Stevens stated that it was a 'return to [his] folk roots'. Following the envelop-pushing and highly divisive The Age of Adz (my favourite album of his), I do feel this is a good route to take for Sufjan and could help him to reach a wider audience. In terms of the track itself, it's very intimate, very dreamy, very melodic and very Sufjan. 

Chromatics - Just Like You

My first encounter with Chromatics was their track 'Tick of the Clock' from the excellent Drive soundtrack. The pulsating beats and the nocturnal vibe of the production made it an obvious standout and naturally I was very excited to see what else the band would put out. 'Just Like You' is far more dreamy yet equally hypnotic as the former, the vocals also become the focus of the track (the former is an instrumental) and make it more dream pop than electronic. There is currently a lot of hype surrounding this release so I hope Dear Tommy will deliver. 

Braids - Miniskirt

Yet another unashamedly political track to reflect the times we are currently living in; this time against sexism, the idea of double standards in particular. This may defy the purpose of this song somewhat but what really grabs me about 'Miniskirt' is the production. It is certainly a lot more forthcoming and bold than the band's previous material, both production-wise and lyric-wise and I have to say, it sounds very promising indeed. 

Novella - Land Gone

Having praised their very excellent single 'Follow' to the high heavens back in 2013 (let that sink in...), the shoegazing marvels have finally announced their debut album Land (with some pretty epic artwork). The lead single is yet another progressive track, with a surf-rock/psychedelic vibe which suits the album's May release date pretty damn well. It's always reassuring to know that I will have a nice summer-y record to cry about my upcoming exams to (silver linings and all that).

Undiscovered gem

Jane Weaver - The Silver Globe (2014)

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Having graced multiple 'Albums you may have missed' lists late last year, I have finally taken the time to actually hear the wonder that is Jane Weaver. This, her sixth album, is a ambitious concept album with all 10 tracks being as innovative and engaging as the other. If (like me) you were a bit late on Jane Weaver train you'll be glad to know that she's re-releasing the album with 10 extra tracks next month with a fancy repressing and everything. 

Next month, look out for:

New albums from
Sufjan Stevens 
Purity Ring
Lady Lamb the Beekeeper
Moon Duo
Clarence Clarity
Matthew E. White
Twin Shadow
The Go! Team
Courtney Barnett
Laura Marling
Lower Dens

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Best of January

No one likes January. January is like that relative that no one likes but kind of has to be invited to social gatherings, during which they proceed to ruin everyone else's fun. This year I expected nothing less and was preparing myself for the worst. But something about the month just gone felt very different it, if anything, felt promising and dare I say...exciting. From Bjork's new album being leaked 2 months early to that hideous Rihanna single, there was certainly a lot to talk about, not to mention the promising new album announcements from the likes of Torres, Sufjan Stevens, Waxahatchee and Purity Ring; one thing's for sure, 2015 is here...and it isn't messing around.

Albums of the month

First and foremost, shout out to the new Sleater Kinney, Panda Bear and Bjork albums, which despite having several excellent moments between them didn't really grab me in the way I would've hoped.

Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass


What tops this album off is its rather unique back story; if you are wondering why this record sounds so nostalgic and warm, it could be because it was in fact recorded years ago...three to be exact. Since 2012 it had been sitting with Matthew E. White's Spacebomb label, who cruelly kept it under raps in order to promote the latter's 2012 breakthrough record Big Inner, and rightfully so, that album was a masterpiece in its own right. And even though White is releasing his new record later this year (which I'll be reviewing too), to me 2015 finally is Prass' time to shine. With such an accomplished debut, is see no reason why whatever she releases in the future won't be even better, as long as she's used this time productively, I'm expecting big things from this rising chanteuse.

Full review here

Jessica Pratt - On Your Own Love Again

There is certainly a timeless quality to Pratt's music and though I've never been an advocate for the 'real music' brigade who dismiss anything with a trace of synth, Pratt's ~traditional~ sound is certainly a breath of fresh air my my mostly-electronic music library. That's not to say that Pratt doesn't experiment at all; tracks like 'I've Got A Feeling' and the aptly titled 'Strange Melody' toy with nauseating guitar textures and multi-layered vocalization. With only 9 tracks this album, to me at least, feels like more of a taste of what's to come from Pratt, and if 'Strange Melody' and 'Back, Baby' are anything to go by, there will be a lot more excellent material to come.

Menace Beach - Ratworld

The contrast between songs like “Lowtalkin'” and “Blue Eye” shows that Menace Beach are a lot more versatile than their peers in the psych-rock world. While the former is punchy, aggressive and raw, the latter is much softer, lighter and even ethereal in the way of Slow Dive. Without a doubt “Fortune Teller” is the album’s best song and finds the band adopting a grunge-meets-MBV shoegaze sound to add a new dynamic to the record. With indie rock being such a crowded genre, I really hope Menace Beach continue to experiment with their sound and push the envelope further on future releases, as “Fortune Teller” is proof that it will pay off.

Full review over on Earbuddy

Songs of the month

Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp

Waxahatchee - Air

If you trace back to the end of 2013, you'll remember that I placed Katie Crutchfield's sophomore album at number 1 on my favourite albums of 2013 list. Now she's back with a new album in April titled Ivy Tripp (see artwork above), having signed with Merge records, I was expecting a radical departure from her lo-fi grunge sound from which she made her name, and I wasn't far wrong. 'Air' sounds very much like a Waxahatchee song, though it certainly feels a lot bigger than her previous tracks, there is a confidence her which feels as if Crutchfield has really found her stride. 

Marika Hackman - Animal Fear

Following the release of her excellent EP That Iron Taste back in 2013, I have been waiting for Marika Hackman to drop her debut album. Since then she has released a string of EPs, all of which were great, but nothing grabbed me as much as her debut single 'Bath is Black', but this changed as of this month. 'Animal Fear' is possibly the finest track Hackman has released to date, now her debut cannot come sooner.

Torres - Strange Hellos

Mackenzie Scott is back, and guess what...she's pissed. The first taste of her new record Sprinter is a rip-roaring package of spite and attitude, and it's excellent. Half the time it sounds as if her teeth are gritted, to the point where the words are incomprehensible, but the sentiment is clear none-the-less.

Lower Dens - To Die In LA

At this point, I am very much over Winter and I want Spring. So until I have perfected my time-shifting skills I'll just have to listen to this track on repeat to stimulate the season until it actually comes. The band have adopted a much more euphoric and light sound, reminiscent to Cocteau Twins by the way Ballet School. I am also a sucker for visuals and their artwork game is incredibly strong at the moment.


Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - Love After Love

In case you didn't know, dark ambient is one of my favourite genres, and at this point in time I'm assuming Jefre Cantu-Ledesma will be filling the void that has been lingering in my music library for the last 5 or so months. Packed with texture and depth, Pale Flower is a tantalizing taste of what I'm sure will be one of my favourite albums of the year. 

Purity Ring - Begin Again

Though I didn't totally ~love~ their critically debut Shrines, it certainly did have some very strong moments (plus the artwork was pretty). 'Begin Again' is already my favourite song of theirs, production-wise it's now less about the glitchiness and more of the melodic noir-pop aspect of their original sound, and I like it,

Courtney Barnett - Pedestrian At Best

Much like Marika Hackman a ~proper~ album release from Aussie slacker queen Courtney Barnett has been a long time coming. This is certainly one of my favourite tracks from her to date and I am very much looking forward to more of her witticism/cynicism. I am now fully committed to repeating the line "I think you're a joke, but I don't find you very funny" as a put-down at some point this year, just a heads up. 


Diet Cig - Scene Sick

*Insert obligatory comment about my love or straight-up Indie Rock*

No but seriously, this is a really great track. It's nice to see an Indie band taking a stab at the scene that would be the most likely to embrace and champion them, plus the sentiment of 'I don't care' is always a welcomed one.

Petite Meller - Baby Love

When I wrote about Petite Meller's brassy track 'Backpack' late last year, I didn't expect her release a full-on banger, but she has proved me wrong with 'Baby Love'. Very catchy. Very fun. Very French.