Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Alvvays - Alvvays Review

Indie rock, indie pop, jingle jangle pop, or whatever you want to call it, is a genre I am generally rather critical of; Despite how excellent it can be when its done well (The Smiths being the optimum example), I feel that bands (mainly new bands) can sometimes be a bit half-arsed with their approach, whether it be their lyrics, arrangements, melodies, hooks, vocals or production; many indie pop bands tend not to be able to deliver a solid record. Step in Alvvays, a Canadian outfit whom have received immense critical acclaim with their prior singles 'Adult Diversion' and, more notably, the brilliant 'Archie, Marry Me'. With the internet swooning over their glistening indie pop, the band have exploded out of buzz-band status with an impressive debut.

Judging by the calibre of the material we were treated to prior to its release as well as the fact that it is merely 9 tracks long; Alvvays was intended to be an all killer, no filler affair. And that it certainly is. Every single track on here is strong and memorable in its own right; even the lesser tracks are brilliant in their own way. 'Adult Diversion' kicks off the album with a blast of sun-drenched guitar hooks, before frontwoman Molly Rankin's sugary sweet vocals elevate the dynamic hooks further. This is preceded by 'Archie, Marry Me' (arguably my song of the summer) which, despite the heavy reverb on this track, never feels disconnected and is easily one of the most engaging slices of pop I have had the pleasure of hearing in a long while. 'Next Of Kin' provides a toe-tapping moment which feels ideal for a day frolicking around at the beach (which is kind of ironic as its about drowning).

Now at this point you may be thinking: "Yeah, yeah. But what (if anything) makes this particular record any different from the multitude of indie pop albums which are generally warmly received and then swiftly forgotten?". Well, Alvvays just has a lot more depth than your average indie pop record, not only do the melancholic lyrics juxtapose nicely with the campfire aesthetic, but instrumentally it is rather complex at times. For example, the 20 second outro of 'Party Police' or what I describe as an insanely pretty spiraling manifestation of  synth which is easily the most intense moment on an otherwise joyous and breezy record. Despite its breeziness, this is also a dense and layered record, this being exhibited through its use of psychedelic guitar-led soundscapes on tracks such as 'Ones Who Love You' as well as the lyrics, which, in terms of delivery are very Morrissey at times (though, to Rankin's credit, far less pretentious).

Whilst many debuts tend to blend into a host of other sub-Parr albums before fading into obscurity a few years (or even months) later, I feel that this won't be the case with Alvvays. Even though it's clear that Alvvays are influenced by bands such as The Smiths, The Vaselines and Teenage Fanclub, they pay homage to them through crafting songs that are often on their level of greatness. This is not only true for the excellent pre-release singles, but for many of the other album tracks also, primarily 'Next Of Kin' and 'Party Police'. Their brand of jingle-jangle pop evokes all the happiness that makes the genre so great whilst adding more dimensions through their melancholic moments of lyrical genius. In summery, this record won't change the world but it certainly makes mine a little happier, and therefore better.


Best Tracks: Adult Diversion, Archie, Marry Me, Next Of Kin, Party Police, Atop a Cake

If you like what you've read, check out my introductory Alvvays playlist below. I thought it'd be nice to include tracks from relevant bands (mainly those reference in the review itself), plus they only have 2 tracks on their soundcloud and I wanted to flesh it out a bit, so...

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Honeyblood - Honeyblood review

The relevancy of guitar music will always be a hot topic, especially considering the popularity of artificial production methods (not to mention our reliance on technology as a whole). Are guitar bands dated? What's the point when it's all been done before? My personal response is response is: Who the hell cares? All that matters is that the music is well-made with thought and soul, regardless of genre or format. Honeyblood are one in what has proven to be a surge of rock duos to surface in the last few years (Royal Blood, Deap Vally and Drenge being a few examples), all of which embracing sounds from many other, more established bands yet still managing to find their own style to an extent. Hailing from Glasgow, a city which produced Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura amongst many others; Honeyblood seem to have hearty indie rock prowess running through their veins as killer melodies come ever so naturally to them. This, their debut album has certainly done their city and it's rich musical heritage proud.

Honeyblood's greatest strength is it's consistency, all of its 12 twelve tracks contain a memorable hook or refrain which makes each track stand out in its own right.  Although every track is equally satisfying and enjoyable, it also means a handful of tracks could be removed from the track list and it wouldn't make that much of a difference. That being said the highs on here are truly glorious; standout track 'Choker' is full to the brim with crunchy hooks whilst 'Killer Bangs', the album's most erratic moment, grabs the listener with an irresistible ramshackle melody. 'Super Rat' meanwhile provides the album's key sing-along moment as Stina Tweeddale chants "Scum bag sleaze! Slime ball grease! You really do disgust me!", an insult if ever I heard one. All lyrical themes revolve around relationships, romantic or otherwise, from the highs to the lows, no base is left uncovered here, thus complying with the compelling nature of the melodies perfectly.

Sometimes with duos, there is an issue with diversifying their sound due to their set up size, Honeyblood manage to overcome this through channeling country/folk sounds on tracks like 'Bud' and '(I'd Rather Be) Anywhere But Here'. For me, the most impressive moment on Honeyblood is the immense closing track 'Braid Burn Valley' in which we see Stina at her most venomous as she spits 'Another fucking bruise, and this one looks just a rose' against a blazing guitar riff and an intense drumline, courtesy of Shona McVicar. The way in which the instrumentation builds to this epic moment, not to mention the unexpected addition of a piano ballad in the form of a hidden track prove that Honeyblood have far more tricks up their sleeves.

As far as debut albums go, Honeyblood has it all; anthemic moments like 'Super Rat' and 'Fortune Cookie', melodic slow burners like 'Bud' and '(I'd Rather Be) Anywhere But Here' and of course, the band's specialty, raw and punchy pop gems like 'All Dragged Up' and 'Killer Bangs'. Yes, one could say that it would've been slightly better had the track list been a little shorter to allow the very best songs to shine brighter. But from where I'm standing this is a record created with passion and skill, making it an absolute joy to listen to and proving that you don't need a multitude of synths and software to make an excellent record in 2014.


Best Tracks: Fall Forever, Super Rat, Choker, Killer Bangs, Braid Burn Valley

Discover Honeyblood's music with this handy little playlist I put together below:

Monday, 30 June 2014

Best of June

Now I don't wish to startle you, but we are already half way through 2014. I know, where did the time go? But at least it's summer now. In homage to this I decided to focus on the more summery tracks of the past month in the playlist (below the songs section). And of course with releases from the likes of Spoon, Alvvays (<<AMAZING), FKA Twigs, Jungle, Honeyblood, Royal Blood, La Roux and The Wytches, this should be a summer to remember. Before we get too ahead of ourselves I feel it would be appropriate to look back at the best releases of the month just (swiftly) gone.

Albums of the Month

Lone - Reality Testing

There is an immense confidence felt throughout this record, a self-assurance in Matt Cutler's flawless production which makes Reality Testing feel more entrancing and engaging than your average electronic record. Not since Jon Hopkin's astonishing Mercury-nominated Immunity have I felt such warmth and depth from an electronic record. With Reality Testing there is a real sense of balance between paying tribute to older scenes such as Detroit techno and Chicago House and innovating new sounds. As a result I feel this record will stand the test of time, to the extent where it already feels somewhat of a classic, to me anyway. Hopefully between this and the popularity of acts such as Disclosure and Julio Bashmore, mainstream dance will regain its credibility once again. 

Read my full review here.

How To Dress Well - "What Is This Heart?"

There has always been something unique about How To Dress Well's sound, encompassing the past, present and the future through Krell's eclectic palette of sounds and both visual and sonic influences. On "What Is This Heart?", the ancient Greek and Roman imagery creates an interesting juxtaposition with the colorful R&B beats and abstract melodies,  particularly on the entrancing slow jam 'Words I Don't Remember'. This along with Krell's attention to detail equates to an album which is dynamic as well as cohesive, to the extent where not listening to all tracks in order just feels plain wrong. The subtlety found in Krell's former releases has vanished, making this his most dynamic and confident work to date.

Read my full review here.

Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence

'Spiritual', 'cinematic' and 'almost so dark it's listenable, these were the hints that Lana Del Rey gave earlier on in the year regarding Ultraviolence, the follow up to her massively successful major label debut. Not only are the individual tracks on here stronger, but I feel her approach is far less forced. Here she has replaced hip-hop beats and her prior pop sensibility with a far more baroque-rock infused sound. Lana has proven that she can back up her style with substance and with the help of The Black Key's Dan Auerbach on production she has evolved into an artist who is so much more than your run-of-the-mill pop star.

White Lung - Deep Fantasy

Like with many punk albums, my only major qualm with Deep Fantasy is the lack of variation between tracks. But to be fair it would of been difficult for White Lung to fit any more sounds in considering the running time of this record. Giving credit where credit’s due, in 22 minutes White Lung managed to pack every millisecond with noise, angst, attitude and, most importantly, passion. This passion for their craft is not only apparent in the superb instrumentation and punchy lyricism (themes include rape, sexism and power), but in the prowess with which the former two are executed, Deep Fantasy oozes confidence, and this is what makes it such an enthralling listen. With this record, I think it’s fair to say that Mish Way has cemented herself as one of punk’s most important frontwomen.

Read my full review here.

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Days Of Abandon

One of the year's more underrated releases I feel; Days Of Abandon sees the band embrace a more celestial 80's pop inspired sound, and boy does it work. It would be easy to despair at the lack of heaviness in the guitars in comparison to their previous efforts, but with tracks like 'Until The Sun Explodes', which features one of the band's best riffs yet and not to mention and amazing video. Elsewhere the tracks 'Simple And Sure', 'Kelly' and 'Eurydice' are among my favourite of the year so far. 

Songs of the Month

Caribou - Can't Do Without You

Bearing in mind his thus-far flawless back catalog, you can only imagine the immense pressure upon Daniel Victor Snaith (A.K.A Caribou)'s shoulders at this point. This hasn't stopped him from taking a risk with his latest single though; with such a long build up in proportion to the pay-off this could've easily become tedious and flat, thankfully it hasn't and is in fact a massive, massive tune. Fair enough, it's no Odessa but is still more enough to whet my appetite for his new album, even if it is bloody well due in OCTOBER. The wait begins...

My Brightest Diamond - Pressure

Ever since I heard St Vincent's excellent eponymous album earlier this year I was convinced that she was the official queen of art pop in 2014, but now it seems Shara Worden is giving her a run for her money. Releasing music under the moniker My Brightest Diamond since 2006; her work hasn't really clicked with me before this point, that has all changed with this, her latest single. The excellence of 'Pressure' is undeniable; from Worden's immaculate vocal delivery to that drumline, it's all just so right. Look out for her new album This Is My Hand in September and prepare to be blown away. 

FKA Twigs - Two Weeks

Through the release of her two very excellent EPs (the creatively titled EP1 and EP2), FKA Twigs has become one of the most hyped UK artists of the last few years. And now with the release of her debut album (called...you guessed it: LP1) she has only gone and dropped one of the best tracks of the year so far. Seeped in sensuality; 'Two Weeks' is a sexy R&B slow jam which still maintain Twig's elegant aesthetic, this being reiterated by the stunning video for the track.   

The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers

As far as indie super groups go, The New Pornographers is definitely one of the best (and not just because of the name). And with Neko Case on board you cannot go far wrong. Their new album Brill Bruisers (due in August) is promised to be a "celebration record", and judging by the title track there will be plenty of celebration on my part when it finally drops. 

Rustie - Raptor

Having crafted one of my favourite albums of all time, Glass Swords back in 2011, Glasgow's finest Rustie sure does have a lot to live up to with album two. 'Raptor' is the perfect track to ensure that my faith is fully restored.  Vicious and all-encompassing; 'Raptor' is a beast of a track which is certainly not a faint-hearted.

Lia Ices - Thousand Eyes

After her criminally underrated debut album Grown Unknown; Lia Ices has returned with not only a new and improved sound but a new concept altogether, flight - the concept of leaving the earth and all of it's stresses entirely. 'Thousand Eyes', the first taste of new album Ices is a melodic slice of folktronica with an essence of reggae thrown in for good measure. More please.

Zola Jesus - Dangerous Days

Nika Roza Danilova (better known as Zola Jesus) has always sparked intrigue in me; I have always had a degree of admiration for Zola's concept and sound, but as yet has not created a full album that has completely grabbed me (it is worth noting that 2011's Conatus was very nearly there). But I think it's fair to say that new single 'Dangerous Days' is a complete game-changer for Zola, it is easily her most accessible release to date, but is no less epic and grand than her previous work. With her new album Taiga sounding ever-tantalizing this could be a major turning point for Zola.  

Jamie XX - All Under One Roof Raving

The XX are undoubtedly one of the UK's greatest success stories of the last 10 years, from humble beginnings they exploded with their sensational debut album, taking the world by storm and arguably re-shaping the pop landscape with their sparse approach to production. Jamie XX, arguably the mastermind of the trio, often remained in the shadows of his band mates, but if he continues to produce tracks of this standard that will not longer be possible. An ode to the ever-vibrant London urban scene (of which I am rather accustomed to); 'All Under One Roof Raving' is an ode to London with added tropical flavor, courtesy of steel drums alongside the persistent sample usage. That full length solo album cannot come soon enough. 

Jessie Ware - Tough Love

Jessie Ware is a goddess, no more explanation required. 

Menace Beach - Tennis Court

As promising as their debut EP was (so much so that I made it my EP of the month all the way back in January), I honestly did not expect such an excellent single this soon afterwards. 'Tennis Court' is easily their catchiest and most skilled track yet, it embraces the best of 90's nostalgia while the hook-laden chorus sweetens the deal. Just in time for Wimbledon too.

Ryn Weaver - OctaHate

I'll let the music speak for itself on this one: this is the best pop debut single of the year so far. And with over 500,000 soundcloud hits in a matter of days, Ryn Weaver may well be a force to be reckoned with. 

Esben and The Witch - Blood Teachings

I thought I'd end things on a more sombre note for a change, ya know, just to be different. Espen and The Witch only caught my attention very recently, after listening to this rather Swans-esque track I was compelled to hear more (mostly due to my immense love for the latter's latest LP To Be Kind). Fortunately the band are releasing their debut album in September so I shan't have wait too long.  

Monday, 23 June 2014

How To Dress Well - "What Is This Heart?" Review

As 2014 progresses, the marriage between the 'indie community' and R&B seems increasingly prominent; beloved acts such as Warpaint and Sharon Van Etten are experimenting with R&B sounds on their respective recent releases whilst 'indie icons' like Grimes and Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino have been proclaiming their love for R&B stars like Drake. Though this all may seem quite sudden, 'Indie R&B' has actually been in existence for quite some time now. Tom Krell is somewhat a pioneer of this sub-genre, creating intriguing and textured down-beat R&B under the moniker How To Dress Well since 2009 with a series of free EPs. It was his critically acclaimed 2010 debut Love Remains which first turned by attention to Krell's sound; a strikingly assured debut, Love Remains offered soulful R&B jams under a blanket of  haze. Follow-up Total Loss was an equally down-beat affair, though Krell's strengthened sense of melody in his songwriting made it far more accessible than it's predecessor.

Lyrically, "What Is This Heart?"  is very much in the same vein as Krell's previous two LPs. Though with themes such as love, pride and trust being addressed in an equal measure to loss, anxiety, fear and shame, "What Is This Heart?" certainly feels more uplifting than anything he has ever done before. Without even listening to the record, the imagery immediately provides you with contextual ideas which coincidentally tie in rather well with the music itself. The cover is a stoic portrait of Krell gazing into the distance with a sense of anguish, longing and (possibly) inner-turmoil in his expression. In the elaborate deluxe packaging there is a stone-carved image for every song on the record, each evoking a tone and aesthetic similar to that of an Ancient Greek or Roman mural. This is reiterated by the record itself, with lyrics reading like a Greek tragedy at times and the production grand and cinematic (see 'Pour Cyril').

Following the stripped-back opening track '2 Years Back (Same Dream)', the tone shifts into much darker territory with the commanding beats and echoing vocal samples of the menacing 'What You Wanted'. Krell continues to explore the darker side of his sound on the trip-hop infused 'Face Again' (the video of which  features Krell as a God-like figure, reiterating the album's aesthetic once more), with the heavy manipulation of his vocals and thumping beats in the chorus, this is certainly one of his more intense tracks. However, not all tracks are as enthralling as these, the track 'See You Fall' unfortunately lacks the melodic flair that is otherwise consistent on this LP, causing it to fall rather flat, though due to it's length it fails to spoil the flow of the record.

What is clear is that Krell is at his best when he embraces a poppier approach to his melodies, the lead single and standout-track 'Repeat Pleasure' being a prime example of this. Here he showcases his breathy falsetto over an infectious soul-pop backing, making the triumphant lyric 'Pleasure repeats on and on: even broken my heart will go on', even more poignant. More so on any other record of his; on"What Is This Heart?" we see Krell embrace his influences, even recalling Prince and early Michael Jackson on the excellent 'Precious Love'. A more contemporary comparison can be made on fellow highlight 'Very Best Friend', which could easily be a chart-topping Drake hit with its glitchy hip-hop beats and slick delivery. Meanwhile, the astonishing 'A Power' sees Krell more audacious than ever with cinematic piano chords and thumping percussion assisting his ever-excellent vocal delivery.

There has always been something unique about How To Dress Well's sound, encompassing the past, present and the future through Krell's eclectic palette of sounds and both visual and sonic influences. On "What Is This Heart?", the ancient Greek and Roman imagery creates an interesting juxtaposition with the colorful R&B beats and abstract melodies,  particularly on the entrancing slow jam 'Words I Don't Remember'. This along with Krell's attention to detail equates to an album which is dynamic as well as cohesive, to the extent where not listening to all tracks in order just feels plain wrong. The subtlety found in Krell's former releases has vanished, making  "What Is This Heart?" his most dynamic and confident work to date.


Best Tracks: What You Wanted, Face Again, Repeat Pleasure, Words I Don't Remember, Precious Love, A Power, Very Best Friend

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Lone - Reality Testing Review

Though dance music is arguably the biggest genre in mainstream music today, I feel that many people my age are still fairly unaware of the diversity and rich history of dance music. I believe the mostly 'dumbed-down' dance music found at the top of the charts, predominately by bland and faceless eurotrash DJs don't represent the excellent dance sub-genres including house, techno, drum & base, trance and new wave, to name a few. This coupled with the surge in accessible electronic sounds due to the prominence of artists such as James Blake and Burial can make it all a bit confusing to many. Enter Matt Cutler, a Nottingham-based electronic producer who crafts rich, atmospheric and very dance-able electronica, infused with a variety of different sub-genres whilst also creating something completely fresh.

Opening track 'First Born Seconds' sets the tone perfectly, with euphoric synths and heavenly chimes it acts as a musical breath of fresh air, giving way for the heavier tracks to come. What I feel sets Reality Testing apart from other electronic dance records is Lone's incredible outros which allow the tracks to flow seamlessly into one another, making the whole album an experience. However there are still plenty individual standout moments such as the thumping italo house chords on the track 'Aurora Northern Quarter' or the euphoric hip-hop infused '2 is 8'. Though none of the tracks feature singing, at no point does Reality Testing feel repetitive or as if Lone is running out of ideas. He uses a mesh of samples throughout the record which weave seamlessly into the narrative, take the track '2 is 8', for example, the samples of laughter bring an element of fun and naivety to the care-free summer-y vibes of the track whilst on 'Stuck', the production asks as a backdrop to the vocal sample. 'Cutched Under', the closing track, ends the record with a subtle sensuality with neo-soul recalling bassline and more colourful beats over the top and ensures the album goes out with a bang.

There is an immense confidence felt throughout this record, a self-assurance in Matt Cutler's flawless production which makes Reality Testing feel more entrancing and engaging than your average electronic record. Not since Jon Hopkin's astonishing Mercury-nominated Immunity have I felt such warmth and depth from an electronic record. With Reality Testing there is a real sense of balance between paying tribute to older scenes such as Detroit techno and Chicago House and innovating new sounds. As a result I feel this record will stand the test of time, to the extent where it already feels somewhat of a classic, to me anyway. Hopefully between this and the popularity of acts such as Disclosure and Julio Bashmore, mainstream dance will regain its credibility once again. 


Best Tracks: Restless City, Meeker Warmer Energy, Aurora Northern Quarter, 2 is 8, Jaded, Cutched Under

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Best of May 2014

With Summer looming and festival season approaching, I'm sure we are all very much looking forward to getting this month over and done with. After all there is plenty to look forward to; new albums from Lana Del Rey(!!!), Jungle(!), Merchandise, JJ, Banks, First Aid Kit and La Roux(!) imminent and UK festivals such as Latitude and Glastonbury are promising their biggest and best line-ups yet (there's also the world cup if you're into that sort of thing...). But it never hurts to look back once and a while, and May has been an excellent month for new music, just see the epicness below: 

Albums of the month

Sharon Van Etten - Are We There

Following the immense critical acclaim which followed her 2012 LP Tramp, Brooklyn's Sharon Van Etten decided to take the plunge and make something a whole lot more interesting for album 4. This R'n'B style may not have served her too well on the lead single 'Taking Chances', but on the tracks 'Our Love' and 'Nothing Will Change' it works an absolute treat, these tracks are perhaps her most soulful and accomplished to date. Like Angel Olsen's excellent sophomore album earlier this year, with Are We There Sharon accepts and even makes light of the heartbreak which shrouded her past in order to be completely free. Now, without her shyness holding her back it seems that her sonic innovation knows no bounds, making her future work an incredibly exciting prospect indeed.

Full Review here.

Swans - To Be Kind

Speaking of critical acclaim, Swans' 13th studio album has seen plenty of it, most notably a staggering 9.2 from the otherwise stingy-as-hell Pitchfork Media (unless your Kendrick or Kanye, that is). Whilst 'post-punk' is far from my scene, one must commend Michael Gira and co's relentlessness in their approach to this titanic 2 hour record. To Be Kind is certainly not an easy listen, though beneath the shrill vocals and bleak arrangements there is an intense beauty here. 

Lykke Li - I Never Learn

Despite this album's flaws, I do admire Li's boldness; not only is this album raw and powerful sonically, but lyrically this is also the most vulnerable we've ever seen her. In all the sorrow she still manages to maintain her sharp ear for melody and killer choruses (see 'Gunshot' and 'Heart Of Steel'). As much I would of loved another 'I Follow Rivers' and God knows how happy another 'Get Some' would've made me, Lykke Li has stayed true to herself and for that I respect her. As this is 'the last in a sonic trilogy', I have no idea what's next for Li, but whatever happens she can be proud that she has created some of the most honest and powerful pop albums of the last decade.

Full Review here.

Sylvan Esso - Sylvan Esso 

Instead of cramming every inch with beats and effects, Durham's Sylvan Esso have taken a very different approach to pop music. Despite coming from a slightly different angle to acts such as The XX and London Grammar, they are all making interesting and artful pop music. With sounds here ranging from pulsating 'post-dubstep' ('Hey Mami') to simple yet effect skeletal pop ('Coffee'), this is easily one the most fun and infectious debuts I've heard this year.

tUnE-yArDs - Nikki Nack

As much as I wish I loved this album as much as I loved her last album W h o K i l l, I must accept that Merrill Garbus is a ruthless experimentalist and therefore a tUnE-yArDs record could never be perfect. This is far from a bad thing though, as the track 'Real Thing' (a future anti-perfection anthem) rightfully points out, the real thing or perfection is overrated. Just sit back and watch the beautiful madness unfold.

Read the Earbuddy Roundtable review here.

The Rails - Fair Warning

If you read my recent post about my record store day experience at Rough Trade East, you'd know that last month I fell in love with folk duo The Rails and their tight harmonies, intricate guitar playing, strong chemistry and bubbly onstage banter. All these boxes remain firmly ticked on their debut album, which was even hailed by Rough Trade as their 'Album of the month' and deservedly so. If you are a fan of folk music, I recommend you give this a listen.

Little Dragon - Nabuma Rubberband

Despite my prior criticisms about the band, after seeing their recent performance on 'Later...with Jools Holland' I gained a much greater appreciation of what this band does. In a world where less is more and bands tend to favour computer screens over instruments, bands like Little Dragon and Polica take a refreshing stance by keeping the band format alive and exciting. As much as this album isn't perfect, for the most part Nabuma Rubberband provides colourful, catchy and fun electro-soul with sinister nocturnal undertones.

Full Review here.

Fatima - Yellow Memories

Sweden-born London-raised soul singer Fatima presents a new breed of soul music; though her vocals are as rich and skilled as any of her contemporaries, what sets her apart are her flawless production choices. Her voice coupled with beats and arrangements from the likes of Scoop Deville, Flako and Computer Jay creates fresh, colourful and vibrant tunes which are worthy of any summer playlist. 

Pulp Culture - What Do You Want?

One of the best thing about doing this blog is the opportunity it presents to talk to bands and artists from all across a broad range of genres and scenes. This month I was sent the latest release from Detroit's Pulp Culture. Don't let the word(s) 'Math-rock' put you off, what these present is experimental, progressive and ambitious rock music, though the rhythm section has a pop sensibility which could spark the interest of a far more mainstream audience (if they wished to do so). 

Hear more on the band's official website.

EP of the month

Hockeysmith - But Blood

Sisterly duo Hockeysmith have come a long way since I featured them in my Ones To Watch post back in December, back then they were virtually unknown and mysterious with a mere two tracks to their name, now its all a very different story. Since dropping the Davy Evans-directed video for the very excellent title track back in February, their status has been gaining momentum hugely, making them one of the most exciting new British acts around. They have certainly delivered the goods here; in a broad range of ambient soundscapes they have created a sound best described as avant-garde dream-pop meets shoegaze. With the track 'Hesitate' the band step into an almost acid-house territory with it's infectious baseline. Between this and the sparse bliss-pop of their earlier tracks I have no idea what to expect from their debut album. The plot thickens...

Songs of the month (see playlist at the end of the post to hear the tracks)

Lone - 2 is 8/Aurora Northern Quarter

Perfection is wholly subjective. To some people perfection is the smell of freshly cut grass (that's an assumption), while others think there is nothing more perfect than an evening in watching rom-coms and eating their body weight in Ben and Jerry's. I for one believe that perfection is a perfectly produced, perfectly executed piece of music. Not only did Mancunian producer Matt Cutler A.K.A Lone achieve this with '2 is 8' but he also achieved it a couple of weeks later with 'Aurora Northern Quarter'. Both of these tracks are an ode to the golden days of the Manchester dance music scene with nostalgic synth melodies whilst still sounding fresh and current, if not, forward thinking. His forthcoming 5th studio album Reality Testing (due June 17) is already my tip for album of the year.

Lana Del Rey - Shades Of Cool 

As much as I liked 'West Coast', it didn't hit me as hard as the singles she put out prior to the release of Born To Die such as 'Video Games' or 'Blue Jeans'. This got me slightly concerned about how much I'd like Ultraviolence (especially bearing in mind I just invested in a £40 boxset version). But thankfully Lana took the hint and got her ass into gear and (short of) put out 2 new tracks from the up and coming LP (+ a teaser  for the track 'Brooklyn Baby'). 'Shades Of Cool' is a grand serenade which recalls some of her earlier tracks like 'Blue Velvet' and 'Million Dollar Man' with added guitars in the form of a massive fucking solo . Consider my faith restored.

Parquet Courts - Instant Disassembly

Unlike their last record Light Up Gold. Parquet Courts' new album Sunbathing Animal is a little bit hit-and-miss for me. I do however like it overall but this track is the complete standout. At over 7 minutes it is the longest track on the album yet it still manages to be one of the most engaging. Here, frontman Andrew Savage adapts a vocal style similar to that found on the still incredible 'Stoned and Starving'. The persistent and infectious guitar riff is what makes this track on of the most memorable on the record - good luck getting it out of your head.

JJ - All White Everything

As decent as their debut album was, there has always been something off about JJ (formerly known as Jj), perhaps it was the annoying inconstant capitalization of their name? Or maybe because I've always seen them as an inferior Beach House? (one of my favourite bands of all time). But now they have reemerged after their rather crap sophomore album with a fresher more sparse sound and it suits them well. 'All White Everything' isn't catchy nor is it instant but there is something about it that I cannot for the life of me get out of my mind. The slow-building and masterfully arranged production and the feeble-yet-resilient vocal delivery bodes extremely well for their forthcoming LP V, which is due in August.

Alvvays - Archie, Marry Me

Anyone who follows my post regularly will know that I am a sucker for an indie-pop band with a female vocalist. Whilst there is nothing particularly revolutionary about Alvvays' sound, there doesn't really need to be. At the end of the day they are crafting warm, melodic and catchy power-pop and they are damn good at it.

Naomi Pilgrim - House Of Dreams

You know that moment when you hear the first 3 seconds of a song and just think to yourself 'hell yes'. That right there is a special moment. I felt this when I heard the latest track from R'n'B newcomer Naomi Pilgrim. Here she uses samples of her own voice alongside rolling keys and throbbing synths to create a sense of euphoria in the imagery she is creating through her lyrics. Her sultry vocals are simply the icing on the cake.  

Lyla Foy - Cornflake Girl

Say what you want about Tori Amos but you cannot deny that Cornflake Girl is a cracking tune. Even if piano-pop isn't your cup of tea I'm sure we can all agree that Tori's vocal delivery and the piano melody in this track are absolutely glorious. Now enter Lyla Foy, the fresh-faced British songstress who just released her debut album for Sub Pop in March. I always knew that beneath her light and cerebral pop was a darkness, and this confirms it. Brittle guitars, eery vocal layering, pounding drum beats; this has to be the most haunting cover I've heard all year. More like this please, Lyla!

Quirke - Break A Mirrored Leg
As I continue to rediscover my love for electronic music, my mind is constantly opening as I desire to push the boundaries of my own taste. This extremely difficult piece of music from mysterious producer and recent Young Turks (The XX, FKA Twigs) signee Quike is certainly mind opening. From the immense speed of the track to the haphazard sample arrangements this track certainly pushes you, but once you get it, boy is it incredible. 

La Roux - Uptight Downtown/Let Me Down Gently
After 5 years of waiting, I was starting to loose faith in La Roux. But just in the nick of time, the glorious slow burner that is 'Let Me Down Gently' came into my life. The track starts of as a simple yet powerful ballad, with Elly Jackson (now a solo artist) demonstrating a more matured vocal, the track then erupts into a post-disco breakdown and reminds us all exactly why La Roux dominated 2009. Then, since Elly is clearly guilty about the ridiculous length of her hiatus she treated us to yet another new track; 'Uptight Downtown' (the official lead single from Trouble In Paradise), not only is this her funkiest track to date but it's one of her catchiest too. This album cannot come soon enough.

Alice Boman - Over
Eery folk songstress Alice Boman releases her second EP II next month. Judging by how incredible this/she is, it is hardly surprising to me that she is in fact from Sweden. They must have something in the water there because they have been churning out some incredible talent in the past few years (Lykke Li, Robyn, the girl who sang Euphoria at the eurovision that time, etc). The melody here is subtle yet wholly effective, with a distinct pop sensibility to top it all off. 

The Antlers - Hotel
The Antlers' Hospice is easily one of the most sad/beautiful/wrist-cuttingly-depressing albums I have ever heard. It was concept album based around the love affair between a hospice worker and a cancer patient. So yeah, happy happy happy. 'Hotel' is no EDM banger neither, instead it is a melodic piece of chamber pop, complete which modest yet powerful horn arrangements.

Braids - Deep Running
Quite the departure from their last album Flourish//Perish; 'Deep Running' is a full on pop song, though it is edged-out with menacing synth blips and constantly shifting instrumentation, making it their most dynamic song to date. 

Allie X - Bitch
Following the very excellent singles 'Catch' and 'Prime', Allie X scores a perfect pop hattrick with her latest track 'Bitch'. Drowned in reverb; 'Bitch' is quite the departure from the sheen of her earlier tracks. Here Allie appears to be living in a sort of Stepford Wives-esque parallel universe in which her man 'brings home the bacon' and she cook[s him] dinner', the sense of abnormality is echoed through the distortion of her vocals in the chorus. 

Jungle - Time
Usually, calling a band's new track 'their worst yet' is bad thing. Unless your Jungle, that is. The melody isn't as interesting and the hook is nowhere as sharp as previous singles such as 'Busy Earnin'' or 'The Heat'. Never the less, it is still a pretty great tune and I am still very excited about their forthcoming debut album this July. 

Beverly - You Can't get It Right
One word: harmonies. Those fucking harmonies, man. (This track isn't available on Soundcloud so I put their other very good song 'Honey Do' in the playlist.) The latter also features pretty great harmonization too. Keep it up girls.

You can hear (nearly) all of my favourite tracks of the past month in the rather convenient playlist below:

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Sharon Van Etten - Are We There Review

Brooklyn based singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten's assent to prominence wasn't instant, it took 2 records before her sound began to register with me and the critics seemed to agree; her third album Tramp was universally adored and deservedly so. Lyrically, Tramp was clouded by stirring tales of Etten's long-term abusive relationship. Conversely, the instrumentation was often light and melodic which balanced out the darkness of the lyrics enough to make it a thoroughly enjoyable listen. Though Etten's sound remained very much in the 'folk' bracket she still managed to experiment stylistically; sounds ranged from raw indie rock on the opening track 'Warsaw' to cerebral guitar/vocal progression on standout track 'Leonard'. Lead single 'Serpents' is what truly elevated her from 'bubbling under' to 'blowing up' in terms of her reach, soundtracking several intense moments on US TV, most notably on The Walking Dead. After emerging from what seemed to be a rather dark chapter of her life, it is wonderful to see Sharon continue to blossom as an artist, she produced Are We There herself alongside Stewart Lerman and the results are outstanding.

The title Are We There itself is very telling, the lack of a question mark may seem annoying to grammar freaks like myself but as The 405 stated in a recent interview with Etten "the phantom question mark in the title becomes even louder due to its absence", which is true, it makes it less of a question and more of an assured statement. This assurance translates into confidence as far as the music itself  is concerned; on Are We There Etten embraces soulful R 'n' B flavours alongside her normal folk sound, with mostly successful results. I felt the drums on lead single 'Taking Changes' were a tad out of place, though this seems far less apparent within the context of the album. Elsewhere, the opener 'Afraid Of Nothing' starts wonderfully with angelic string arrangements before falling apart somewhat once some poorly-judged drums emerge in the second chorus.

Apart from these minor points, the album's 9 other tracks are pretty much flawless; 'Your Love Is Killing Me', the album's longest track at 6 minutes is a relentless and bleak  assault on her ex-lover. Here we she Sharon at her most venomous as she spits "Break my legs so I won't walk to you/Cut my tongue so I can't talk to you/Burn my skin so I can't feel you" over clattering guitars. The angst with which she delivers these lyrics makes it empowering rather than draining or depressing. Though the real standout for me is the soulful mid-tempo 'Our Love', easily the most R 'n' B influenced track on the album it is a real testament to Sharon as a producer as well as a vocalist.  "I'm a sinner, I have sinned" she confesses over a dreamy guitar arrangement and subtle drum beats, this is perhaps the most innovative and current we've ever heard her sound. Other triumphs in the production include the horns on the stunning track 'Tarifa' and the woodwinds on the brazen 'Nothing Will Change'. 'Every Time The Sun Comes Up' provides some light relief to tie the record off ; on this track we see Sharon at her most candid as she sings "I wash your dishes but I shit in your bathroom", celebrating mundanities of life with finesse.

Elsewhere, Etten showcases her gorgeous voice on stark and intimate ballads such as 'I Know' and 'I Love You But I'm Lost', both sporting simple yet effective piano-led melodies.  Like on Tramp, the songs on Are We There lyrically dark yet are elevated by intricate instrumentation and the occasional backing vocal, take 'Break Me' for example, "He can break me with one hand to my head" she falsettos over guitar/organ-led production. Her voice is powerful and raspy at points, yet it has a vulnerability which allows the listener to feel every word she sings, especially as she delivers them with such conviction.

Though part of me misses the ramshackle charm of her earlier work, the other part is reveling in Sharon's new found confidence, and I'm sure she is too. Instead of staying with the style which gained her critical praise, she decided to take the plunge and make something a whole lot more interesting. This R 'n' B style may not have served her too well on the lead single, but on the tracks 'Our Love' and 'Nothing Will Change' it works an absolute treat, these tracks are perhaps her most soulful and accomplished to date. Like Angel Olsen's excellent sophomore album earlier this year, with Are We There Sharon accepts and even makes light of the heartbreak which shrouded her past in order to be completely free. Now, without her shyness holding her back it seems that her sonic innovation knows no bounds, making her future work an incredibly exciting prospect indeed.


Key Tracks: 'Your Love Is Killing Me', 'Our Love', 'Tarifa', 'I Love You But I'm Lost', 'Break Me', 'Every Time The Sun Comes Up'

You can discover the wonder that is Sharon Van Etten in a handy little playlist I created below: