In all my years of reviewing albums ( 15, yes! it’s true) I always come across a small quandary: shall I review a record in the context of the previous releases or as an individual record. Here I will attempt both.
In the context of the discography: Courtney Barnett has had a strong run. Here first two EPs showed potential. Her debut album, Sometimes I sit and think and sometimes I just sit was AMAZING. It’s in my top 10 albums of all time. Great lyrics, great hooks even the sequencing was flawless. Then to top it off, last year’s collaboration with Kurt Vile , Lotta Sea Lice was another great move.
Which leads us to her second album proper, Tell Me How you Really Feel which is… a bit of a let down to be honest. It’s not that it is a bad album but compared to her debut it’s a bit normal. For starters, with exception of a couple lines here and there, the clever wordiness of the past is gone. The music itself is good but it sounds a bit like a grunge knock off at times ( I will admit there are some new instruments in the mix). In fact Kelly and Kim Deal of The Breeders sing backing vocals on standout track Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence, thus both past and present are entwined. I can’t help thinking that Barnett’s previous releases were better though.
As an individual album: If one takes each track individually, the yes this is a good album. Each song is catchy, has a good chorus and is definitely a more energetic and slightly noisier record, even angrier in places. Also each of these tracks can be a single so I won’t be surprised if I see more videos in the future. Like her previous albums, Tell Me… is sequenced beautifully and that is something I like.
Total Summary: Tell Me How you Really Feel is a good solid album that will attract a lot of fans but in the grand scheme of things Barnett has displayed better lyrics and riffs in the past but this is not a record to discard as it shows Barnett taking a more streamlined path, which a lot may like but I prefer the quirkiness of the past.
When Camera Obscura member Carey Lander passed away in 2015 and seeing no activity from the group. I was sure that eventually the band would break up ( they haven’t at this point) I am a huge fan of the band and I was wondering if there would be any new material in the future.
Then in February I saw a teaser video with the names Tracyanne & Danny on it and yes, my suspicions were correct, it was indeed Traceyanne Campbell, lead singer of Camera Obscura. Upon further research the Danny in the title is Danny Coughlan of the group Crybaby, another artist whose album I liked.
T & D’s music evokes the spirit of 50’s girl groups, the third Velvet Underground album, with a bit of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra in there too, oh and the Be my Baby beat makes an appearance. In reality it’s not too far off from Camera Obscura or Crybaby’s music so this is a musical match par excellence. It also helps that Edwyn Collins produced the album and lends backing vocals to one track.
Despite the fact that I have mentioned a number of groups, not once does the music here feel like a pastiche. In fact all the handclaps, violins, glockenspiels and saxophone sound natural. Even concluding track O’Keeffe has an accordion, giving a whiff of French pop but it works.
The end result is 10 tracks that are pleasant, will make you tap your feet, break out in gooseflesh and sway a bit, Due to the high quality of the songs it’s a bit difficult to pick out a standout as I think everyone will have their favourite song (mine is It Can’t be Love Unless it Hurts) More than anything I see Tracyanne and Danny as a BIG welcome back. I missed Campbell’s honeyed vocals and I am glad to listen to them once again.
Although you must of heard this a million times, LUMP is a collaboration singer/songwriter Laura Marling and Tunng founding member, Mike Lindsay. When I first heard of this collaboration, I was pretty excited. I think Marling is a fantastic singer due to the fact that she can vary the tone of her voice and throughout the album we listeners are lucky enough to get quite a selection, Some tracks she releases her smoky voice (Hand Hold Hero), her ‘sort of singing but it’s really talking’ voice (Late to the Flight) and she lets loose it is great (May I be the Light).
I have also been a follower of Tunng ever since the debut Mother’s Daughter and Other Song and I’ve always admired their ability to mix beats folk instruments, incidentally there’s a new album out soon but that’s another story.
Lump (if in small cases then the album) is only a brief 30 minutes but a lot is packed in there. First of all the record begins like a dj set; it starts slowly and then builds up to the mighty centrepiece, Curse of the Contemporary, a track where Marling unleashes her voice to twanging guitars , booming bass, a shuffling beat that gets faster as the song proceeds. It’s heart stopping, amazing and possibly the best track I’ve heard this year. The album continues on another high note, the already mentioned Hand Held Hero, with its Giorgio Moroder intro and then peters out.
All seven tracks on Lump are fantastic. The instrumentation is rich and yet organic. Sometimes you’ll want to dance, and sometimes you’ll want to reflect. It’s an album that is varied but has a distinctive sound. My only worry about this project is if it stops here. Clearly there’s a ton of potential here, especially when this first offering sounds so good.
Jon Hopkins last album, Immunity was a fully realised record, the kind of album that establishes an artist’s sound and is the kind of thing Hopkins has been working towards. It was an record of two halves. One side consisted of dancefloor thumpers while side two gave space to more ambient pieces.
Upon hearing that Hopkins was releasing a new album, I was curious to see what it would sound like. Would it be Immunity part 2? an album that will make you wanna dance only or an ambient record? or maybe a new direction?
Singularity is essentially an amplified version of Immunity. What I mean by this is not that Singularity is a carbon copy of Immunity but it takes that album to new levels. The more aggressive beats now bash your headphones to pieces and the ambient tracks are enhanced by a choir, thus making giving the music this beautiful edge. Sometimes both elements are mashed into the same track. The end result is actually an interesting album with quite a few moments which catch the listener off guard.
There are tons of euphoric moments but the album centrepiece Everything Connected is the best thing Hopkins has done; it is a gobbling techno monster that will be guaranteed to do your brain in. Even after three dozen spins I can still hear new noises and it still makes me bob my head enthusiastically. It’s a ten minute headrush.
The rest of the album keeps up the quality and during the ambient side Hopkins even throws in one last energetic track (Luminous Beings) and I’m glad that track is there as one last hip shaking hurrah.
Singularity is Jon Hopkins taking his signature sound further and succeeding. Considering that Hopkins could just rest on his laurels and take up production jobs (he’s worked with Brian Eno and produced some tracks from Coldplay’s 2014 album, Ghost Stories) and yet continues recording albums of such a high calibre makes me think that Hopkins has more surprises for the future.
One thing I like about Dj Koze’s music is how he refuses to stick with any particular style and yet he manages to create a cohesive album. Throughout it’s 80 minute running time Koze’s third album flits between cerebral electronica to pure dancefloor mayhem and sometimes a mixture of both.
Knock Knock, like its predecessor Amygdala, has a good number of guests but this time slightly more high profile. There’s Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, Ex Moloko singer Roisin Murphy, Folk star Jose Gonzalez , Speech from 90’s hip hop group Arrested Development and some artists who are on Koze’s own Pampa label. Needless to say that the best is brought out of each of these collaborations. Especially Roisin Murphy, whose disco inflected track Illumination is the best thing she’s done and an album highlight.
Knock Knock is stuffed with many amazing tracks; there’s the Bon Iver sampling Bonfire, the shoegazey Planet Hase. Moving in a Liquid does feel like you are lost in some watery fantasy. However the track which will be replayed and will feature in dj sets throughout the summer is album centrepiece Pick Up. This track has a heavy 90’s French house feel to it but also oddly feels ultra modern. Complemented with a Gladys Knight & the Pips sample and beats which dance in and out of the speakers, Pick Up is a perfect track to dance to and probably will end up being the track Dj Koze will curse he’s ever unleashed.
What else can be said about Knock Knock? It’s a fun record that you can put on if you feel like partying or just for slipping on headphones for some midnight grooving and despite the long running time it is so absorbing that you’ll ignore the fact that it is a lengthy album. Although the word Masterpiece is used too freely (GUILTY) I cannot say anything else about Knock Knock. it is a masterpiece full of tricks, surprises and more importantly ear catching tunes.
Daniel Blumberg first entered my radar roundabout 2007 when he was part of indie band Cajun Dance Party, then when they split Blumberg joined Yuck. After that there were solo projects under different monikers and collaborations with Low and Lambchop which brings us to 2018 where Blumberg has finally released a solo album under his own name.
Minus is a confessional album. Blumberg has bared all his demons, unleashed his past and worn his heart on his proverbial sleeve. Generally these sort of records can be too introspective but here it’s different.
Being someone who is used to Blumberg’s particular brand of noisy indie rock I was surprised that Minus contains a mixture of beautiful sounding music mixed with pure ugliness. Each track is a rick musical palette of violins, pedal steel and pianos but then there’s the squalling feedback, furious drumming and distorted guitars (this can be seen on Madder). It is unique.
Probably the closest I can compare the music is the artier moments of Talk Talk mashed with the quieter moments of The Dirty Three (which makes sense as Dirty Three’s drummer, Jim White also is the drummer of this project)
Despite the fact that Minus is experimental it is oddly melodic. Over the past three weeks I have been humming these tunes. Obviously these are not tracks that make you want to shake your feet on the dancefloor but these songs will stick in your head. The title track’s refrain, Minus the intent with you just wedges itself in your brain. Permanent is like a warped nursery rhyme. Stacked was made for swaying along and the closer, Used to be Older employs a choir and it is spine tingling.
It takes talent to mix melody with distortion so effortlessly and Blumberg has tons of that. It seems that with Minus both lyrically and musically Blumberg has shed his past and is heading out to new challenging territories and yet his knack for writing a tune has not departed and here’s to hoping that he pushes boundaries some more but retain the catchier side of his music.
Isn’t it weird that a good number of supergroups have been cropping up in the last few years? Whereas in the past it would be a clash of egos it is now something to look forward to. Mastersystem consists of members from Editors Frightened Rabbit Minor Victories ( a supergroup itself) and yourcodename is milo
Musically there’s a heavy 90’s American Alt influence. I can hear echoes of Smashing Pumpkins and even Foo Fighters in there but I also hear plaintive cries of Fugazi as well. I acknowledge that it is rather cheap to write about comparisons but as someone who grew up in this era, I can’t help band dropping.
What is important is whether the songs are great and trust me, they are! Notes on a life not Quite Lived is the grunge anthem that would have taken MTV Europe by storm. Teething is a moshpit delight. The Enlightenment has a choruses that will have you singing along and the closer Bird is Bored of Flying is exactly how an album like should close.
To be honest I didn’t expect a bit of a nostalgia trip with Mastersystem but I am not complaining. If there’s good riffs, great choruses and lots of loud/quiet dynamic I’m happy.
At first Goat Girl’s debut seems daunting. It’s a hefty 19 track album but rest assured the record itself is a brief forty minutes and everything whizzes by.
Unlike most of albums, Goat Girl was approached differently as for some strange reason my discman would not play the cd so for the past three weeks I listened to the album solely on my personal stereo while performing tasks. Laugh all you want but it does make a difference.
Soundwise I’m reminded of post punk band The Raincoats. Goat Girl play raggeldy type of indie rock that is rough and bruised. Also there is a violinist within the group which will enhance those Raincoats comparisons. Saying that Goat Girl emphasis more on melody. A lot of these tracks build up to these amazing choruses. After some listens the album’s catchier side emerges and the general feel is that Goat Girl (the group) had a lot of fun recording this debut. Tempos speed up at no given point, there are weird breakdowns (Cracker Drool), sometimes found sounds make their way into the mix (Salty Sounds, Moonlit Monkey) and sometimes they do play it conventionally, such as album centrepiece The Man, I Don’t Care Part 1 and the rerecorded first single Country Sleaze.
Goat Girl has a ton of verve and energy, even the slower tracks are busy and don’t dampen the frenetic pace of the record. I won’t say it’s an album stuffed with hits but it definitely an album filled with aural treats that show their true colors after repeated listens. This is not to say that Goat Girl is a tough album but it is a bit of a grower. I’m glad that it is too.
As I have said quite a few times on this blog, I am starting to see better British guitar/indie acts on the horizon and definitely Goat Girl are up there with the more interesting. This debut is quirky, enjoyable and offers quite a few surprises. Really it’s what a debut album should be.
As I have been a member of the Rough Trade Album Club for 11 years, I have noticed that once a year the core album has a heavy 60’s influence. In the past years I have received records by Unloved, Cults, Candie Payne and more. As you can guess April’s core album, The Shacks are another group who play a debt to the sounds of the past.
Girl groups, country pop, French pop, 60’s radio hits it’s all there but The Shacks are smart and rather than steal 60’s sounds, there’s a gentle homage. Take one of the standout tracks Birds, it starts off with a rubbery acoustic guitar and then disappears into a floaty ambient music for the verses and then plunges into the rubbery guitar again. It sounds great. Second track Follow me has a gentle swagger that wouldn’t sound out of place on a sixties pop compilation but then electronic noises make their way into the mix and it does a good job of making the old sound new.
A lot of the tracks follow suit, making Haze an overall pleasant guitar pop album. One that will make you dance with its playful vibes. Not one track is a dud so the high consistency makes Haze an wholesome listen as well. It also does one thing that I have been finding rare in albums and that it has a memorable closing track; Let Your Love. At first listen it may give off a whiff of twee but then I am sure when that ‘no woman no cry’ rhythm sinks into your brain then you’ll see it as the perfect closer.
I like a good sunny album, furthermore I like a consistent sunny album and The Shacks have that in bucketloads. As an added bonus there’s a second disc with their debut mini album and trust me it’s equally good. The Shacks obviously have a knack with a tune and with arrangements and it comes out beautifully on Haze.
Weirdly enough, the album I thought I would ‘get’ within a couple of spins actually took a while to sink in and this is totally within my comfort zone. Go figure.
Soccer Mommy is the project of Sophie Allison and it’s a collection of ten confident indie rock songs with the odd folky moment . Think of Waxahatchee or Mitski or if you want to go further back I am reminded of Mirah. In one sense the music is excellent – the choruses come at the right time, there are head shaking melodies galore and there are little tricks that keep the music interesting. Plus Allison is a lyricist who is not afraid to bare all . This is an album without pretensions whatsoever.
Why did it take me such a long time to let Clean to infiltrate my brain? In theory this should be the easiest listen ever, I mean my formative music years were dominated by 90’s sounding alt rock. Am I of the wrong demographic? Am I growing out of this genre? I still don’t have an answer but I am glad that Clean has sunk in because it is quite a debut.