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.
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.
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: