Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Best Of April 2014

Hi all! I cannot believe it's May already! What a month it has been; record store day, serious album of the year contenders from Fear Of Men and EMA plus tantalizing new tracks from the likes of Swans, Lana Del Rey, Sharon Van Etten and Lykke Li (more on these later) and album release details from BANKS and Parquet Courts. And to top it all off Jessie Ware revealed that she has completed work on her upcoming follow up to Devotion! Here are my highlights of the month just gone:

Albums of the month

EMA - 'The Future's Void'

EMA - The Future’s Void 

Erika M. Anderson’s debut album under the moniker EMA; 2011’s Past Life Martyred Saints is one of my favourite albums of all time. Erika’s raw and brash vocals, honest and potent lyricism and heavy beats (inspired by her experience in the noise music scene) made it one of the most inventive debut albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. So naturally, I was apprehensive about it’s follow up, however after hearing the record I can gladly say it is absolutely breath-taking. Not only is it her most exciting release instrumentally but it is also her most accessible.

Full review here.

Fear of Men - Loom 

Bearing in mind the standard of the 5 tracks Brighton's Fear Of Men have put out since the beginning of the year, I was certain that Loom would be a special record...and I wasn't wrong. From the soaring melodies of tracks like “Waterfall” and “Decent” to the more delicate and ethereal moments such as “America” and “Atla”, Fear Of Men exhibit their diversity as well as their consistency on this stunning record. Due to the brevity of Jess Weiss’ lyrics and the masterful instrumentation, courtesy of Daniel Falvey and Michael Miles among others, every track on Loom is a show-stopper in its own right. I struggle to imagine another debut album released this year to even come close to what Fear Of Men have achieved with this record.

Full review here.

Smoke Fairies - Smoke Fairies

Obviously, eerie folk isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so Smoke Fairies will not appeal to everyone. But in my humble opinion, this record is pretty damn special. The only thing letting this album down is that certain tracks lack the bite that the better tracks possess, and this may not have been so apparent had the track list been slightly shorter. That aside, this is a wonderful effort from a duo who were on the verge of splitting around a year ago. The complex approach to melody and ambiance creates a bewitching atmosphere that clouds the listener’s mind, and this is all heightened by the excellent vocal performances. Now, whatever Smoke Fairies choose to do in the future, they can be proud of the spirit and passion that has made this record so enchanting.

Full review here.

Wye Oak - Shriek

After the gut-wrenching sense of tragedy which lingered throughout their last LP Civilian, it’s nice to see Wye Oak explore a lighter side of their sound. However, where ‘The Tower’ and ‘Shriek’ triumph, other tracks such as ‘Sick Talk’ and ‘Schools of Eyes’ fall slightly short. On both of these tracks the production is wonderful as always but the melodies and vocal deliveries lack the ‘oomph’ that the former tracks possess. This makes the album as a whole seem a little top-heavy. Though due to the sheer quality of the earlier tracks, this doesn't spoil the album as a whole and it is still an accomplished body of work.

Full review here.

Todd Terje - It’s Album Time 

Norwegian DJ and producer Todd Terje has been making huge waves across the world in more ways than one; not only has he put out a handful of well-received releases under his own name, most of which were released under his very own Olsen Records, but what you may not know is that he co-wrote Robbie William’s smash hit single ‘Candy’ (make of that what you will). He is undoubtedly extremely talented, and the evidence is clear, It’s Album Time, as well as being excellently titled, it a funky masterpiece with a huge curveball in the form of the standout ‘Johnny and Mary’.

TEEN - The Way and The Color

And the award for 'most improved band' goes to Brooklyn's TEEN; Following their disappointing debut album In Limbo in 2012, they have come leaps and bounds to release a psychedelic alt-R'n'B masterpiece. Though none of the albums 10 tracks reach the level of excellence that the hook-laden opener 'Rose 4 U' (which is one of my favourite tracks of the year so far) does, The Way and The Color is still an absolute belter none the less.

Tweens - Tweens 

Cincinnati thrash punk newcomers Tweens have been firmly under my radar since I heard their demo for lead single ‘Be Mean’. Even in the studio recording, ‘Be Mean’ doesn't lose any of the energy or ram-shackle charm which made my first fall in love with the band. The entire album in fact is packed full of spirit and energy, even the heart wrenching ballad ‘Want U’ exhumes a Lana Del Rey-esque spirit. Easily most fun and enjoyable debut I've heard all year.

Full review here.

EP of the Month - Shunkan - Honey, Milk and Blood

As Much as I hate admitting that I've discovered an artist via the NME, that is exactly how I found out about New Zealand's Shunkan. Her reverb soaked shoegaze-y grunge-folk recalls the sound of Katie Crutchfield A.K.A Waxahatchee (whose last album I loved so much I named it my album of the year 2013). But it doesn't end here; it appears Marina Sakimoto is a girl after my own heart and on her impressive debut EP, she recalls Yuck on the track 'It's Not Your Fault' and even, wait for it, MY BLOODY VALENTINE on the track 'Hail'. I'm deadly serious. The eclectic range of sounds she explores on this release establishes her as one of 2014's most exciting prospects. I also feel it is a testament to a new artist when I am willing to investing in a cassette tape of theirs.

Honey, Milk and Blood is out now digitally, with a limited run of 50 (now sold out) cassettes being released on May 5. 

Songs of the month

Little Dragon - Paris 

Dark, sensual and deliciously sweet; some words to describe the latest cut from Little Dragons upcoming forth LP Nabuma Rubberband. So far we've been treated to 3 cuts from said record (and a B-side called Winners for those who purchased the record store day 12"). All these tracks have had a nocturnal quality which indicates that this could be their most dark and sonically interesting record they've released to date. This track even has a french spoken word bit - It doesn't get much sexier than that.  

Shunkan - Dust In Your Eyes

As I previously mentioned, I really like the new EP from Kiwi rising star Shunkan. This track in particular is spectacular, building from a subtle, straight forward guitar-led opening into a brash indie-rock beast. I don't know what they put in the water in New Zealand but whatever it is, it's churning out some exceptional young artists...

Lykke li - Gunshot

The third official cut from her stunning new album I Never Learn. Despite being a mere 33 minutes long, Li certainly makes ever second count on this record. 'Gunshot' (as the title suggests) sports the album's most explosive chorus, showing that despite Li's adamance to avoid the 'pop' tag with this record, her hook-crafting skills are as sharp as ever. 

*Bloody Youtube won't let me embed it*
Sharon Van Etten - Every Time The Sun Comes Up

It's fair to say that Sharon Van Etten has been a bit stingy with putting out singles from her upcoming forth LP Are We There, so far we've had the R'n'B tinged single 'Taking Chances' and now, the excellent 'Every Time The Sun Comes Up'. It's wonderful to see Sharon's confidence grow since her last LP, here she sings 'I wash your dishes but I shit in your bathroom' with enough prowess and enough snarl in her voice to pull it off with ease. 

Swans - Oxygen

Bearing in mind it took two years for me to warm to their last record The Seer, I am surprised that both cuts from Swans' latest album To Be Kind have clicked with me instantly. Slightly more unhinged than 'A Little God In Our Hands', 'Oxygen' sees Michael Gira really let loose over a lively 'post-punk'/funk-rock arrangement which has further wet my appetite for this new album.

BANKS - Goddess

Banks = Goddess. It's pretty simple. So far LA's Jillian Banks has put out 9 tracks and all of them have been pretty much perfect. 'Goddess' is no exception to this. She always manages to strike the perfect balance between raw and slick in her production and vulnerable and strong in her delivery. 'Goddess' proceeds her debut album of the same name which is set to drop in September(!).

tUnE-yArDs - Wait For A Minute

As tUnE-yArDs' new album Nikki Nack continues to grow on me,this track gets better and better. 'Wait For A Minute' is the album's most electronic sounding track, it is also one of the most stripped-backed instrumentally. Despite Merrill Garbus' usual penchant for heavy drum beats and vocal chants, on this track she favors a more R'n'B-tinged sound, which suits her androgynous vocals surprisingly well. 

Torres - New Skin

It's good to have Torres back, after little over a year since her self-titled debut album was released, she is finally gaining momentum as she embarks on her new album campaign later on in the year. 'New Skin', which features The War On Drugs and Sharon Van Etten, is just a session version but is enough to ensure that I will be keeping a close ear out for her impending new album.

Lana Del Rey - West Coast

Despite being one of the biggest pop stars in the world right now, Lana Del Rey isn't afraid to be a little different from the norm. While her contemporaries move into more electronic sonic territory, Lana moves in the opposite direction and opts for guitar laced soundscapes (courtesy of The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach). The abrupt key change into a slow and seductive chorus make 'West Coast' something a little different from your average chart fodder, and a lot more exciting. 

Blessa - Unfurl

Following their glorious single 'Between Times', Sheffield bliss-poppers are releasing their debut EP Love Is An Evol Word in June. 'Unfurl' very much runs in the same vein as their earlier tracks, the highlight still being the gorgeous lead vocals. I'm sure their EP will further justify why I picked them as one of my ones to watch for 2014

Hannah Diamond - Attachment

After the sickly-sweet bubblegum pop of her debut single 'Pink and Blue' sent the blogosphere into a frenzy back in 2013, PC Music starlet Hannah Diamond slows things down on new track 'Attachment'. Her vocals remain as divisive as ever, but the production has definitely stepped up a notch. 

Fatima - Ridin' High

It's been a while since I've as excited about an up and coming soul singer as I am about Fatima. After a handful of releases, including the excellent 'La Neta', Fatima finally releases her debut album Yellow Memories next month. Whilst most soul music is very much focused on vocals with production being secondary, Fatima chooses the most interesting and fresh producers to take her sound up a notch. Expect colourful and eclectic soul tunes from her record when it drops on May 12th.

Petite Meller - Backpack

Have you ever wondered what a collaboration between MØ and Bridget Bardot would sound like? Well here you go; Petite Meller's Backpack recalls the danish songstress with her ample use of soaring horns and hip-hop beats whilst the distinctively continental energy she exhumes isn't too far from the sounds of the French starlet's 'Bubble Gum' period.

JUDE. - Crystals

I don't want to be that guy but this track really sounds like Lorde. So much so that 'Crystals', the debut track from JUDE would fit on the former's debut album Pure Heroine rather comfortably. That's not to say that this track isn't excellent in it's own right, I suggest you download this now, sit back and watch the music press latch onto this duo in the next few months.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Fear Of Men - Loom Review

The juxtaposition of dark lyrics with intricate melodies and ethereal vocals  is nothing new. From Cocteau Twins and Dirty Projectors to Daughter and Agnes Obel; this sub-genre of art pop/adult alternative/dream-rock has always been a sound that many bands and artists strive for. However, you would be foolish to assume that Fear of Men are just another band trying to emulate the quality that any of  above naturally achieve but ultimately fail. Loom is in fact a very special record from a very special band who use delicate soundscapes and barbed-wire lace pop hooks to create a debut album which is both accessible and heart-wrenching to the extent where you are engulfed by the concept of the record entirely. 

What initially wet my appetite for this release was the phenomenal buzz single 'Waterfall' which bursts out from the docile intro track 'Atlas' with its thundering drums and the euphoric harmonization of Jess Weiss' vocals. Beneath the track's sugar-coated exterior lies a venomous serpent in the form of Weiss' lyrics, 'I bit your cheek, the blood runs down your face', she sings. The running presentation of water as a destroyer is another poignant theme in the lyrics. On 'Tephra', one of the album's more uptempo tracks there is the line 'The waves are calling you, they'll take it all' while on the track 'Green Sea' Weiss 'bends beneath the water top, where you left me'. The concept of escapism is also explored on Loom, particularly on the wistful 'America' in which Weiss is 'free to dissolve' as she's 'drifting out of reach'. What makes the lyrics so skillful is that that, despite the abstract imagery, what Weiss is singing about is a lot more relatable that you may think; We can all relate to feelings of love, heartbreak and the loss of control. Fear Of Men avoid the pitfall of pretentiousness and over-ambition through their overt use of pop hooks, particularly on the standout track 'Decent' which, with it's playful melody and rumbling guitar-laced hooks recalls a more euphoric Blondie.  

The visuals for this record are heavily influenced by volcanic eruptions and what they leave behind, the carbonized human and animal remains in their artwork being prime examples of the latter. However it is the imagery of  eruptions themselves which strike me as the most relevant to the record sonically speaking. The majority of tracks on Loom descend into a beautifully chaotic onslaught of brash noise and cinematic string arrangements, perhaps representing  pyroclastic flows as they engulf and suffocate you. This is best seen on the penultimate track 'Inside' which, after floating for 5 or so minutes on jittering drum beats and delicate vocal hooks descends into a frankly terrifying yet beautiful noise. This, the album's most cinematic moment is balanced by the brittle guitar hooks and vulnerable vocal styling on the closer 'Atla', which ends the album on a much welcomed positive note.

From the soaring melodies of tracks like 'Waterfall' and 'Decent' to the more delicate and ethereal  moments such as 'America' and 'Atla', Fear Of Men exhibit their diversity as well as their consistency on this stunning record. They manage to succeed where many of their contemporaries fall short; they are able to balance the light with the dark, the tame with the raucous and the vulnerable with the resilient. Due to the brevity of Weiss' lyrics and the masterful instrumentation, courtesy of Daniel Falvey and Michael Miles amongst others, every track on Loom is a show-stopper in it's own right. I struggle to imagine another debut album released this year to even come close to what Fear Of Men have achieved with this record.


Key Tracks: 'Waterfall', 'Green Sea', 'Tephra', 'Luna', 'Decent', 'Inside'

Sunday, 20 April 2014

My Record Store Day 2014 Experience

After 4 years of following the event closely via social media, this year I decided to finally take the plunge and loose my 'record store day virginity'. This year I would go to Rough Trade East at a ridiculously early time of the morning, join a queue full of avid record lovers and all for the sake of buying some colourful wax in a pretty sleeve and that's exactly what I did (and it was bloody excellent.)

My original plan was to got to bed at 9/9:30 in order to get a good nights sleep. But instead, due to my intense excitement/nervousness I eventually nodded off at 0:30. So yeah that failed. After 4 hours sleep(!) I embarked on my journey. Following a 30-minute train journey from an (unsurprisingly) deserted Crystal Palace station, I arrived at Brick Lane and joined the queue, which to my surprise only had around 70-80 people when I arrived. However, the size nearly doubled within the next 30 minutes. Whilst queuing I struck up some record-based 'banter' with some of the people in front of me, which mainly consisted of 'What are you hoping to get?', 'what time did you wake up?' and 'when the bloody hell are they gonna open up?!'. Aside from this we discussed the event itself, most talk focusing on the question: 'If by 8am the queue is this huge, how big will it be at the same time next year?' 

These deep thoughts were firmly put on hold when the queue started to move and thoughts turned back to 'VINYL VINYL VINYL!'. With the glorious sun beating down on us, the entrance was so close I could practically taste the wax. After quickly working out a strategy with my friend, I made my way in. I wasted no time and went straight for the excellent Fear Of Men LP (which was my most anticipated release). I then took the advice of one of my queuing buddies and used my unfortunate height situation to my advantage by staying low and weaving through the crowds before surfacing briefly to pick up a record, like a cheetah in the Savanna stalking its prey. My strategy was clearly effective and I got everything on my list with the exception of the London Grammar 10" (which I couldn't find for the life of me) and the non-violent femmes compilation, which unfortunately sold out before I even got in. As I made my way to the counter, slightly disappointing with not getting those items, a very courteous curly-haired gentlemen (who may well be my guardian angel) informed me that there was in fact one London Grammar 10" left. So without even a second thought I pounced on the rack and just about beat 5 other hands to get the very last copy. Result.

With a bunch of new goodies (including the excellent 12" from Little Dragon and the Tame Impala Live Versions LP) in tow, I headed towards the stage where the first instore of the day was about to start, the first band I had the pleasure of seeing was a London folk-rock duo called The Rails.Though I had heard about them briefly beforehand, I didn't really know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised with how brilliant they were. Their tight harmonies, intricate guitar playing, strong chemistry and bubbly onstage banter made their set the highlight of my day. I would seriously recommend checking out their debut album Fair Warning when it's released in May. If that wasn't enough, they also played Rough Trade NYC on the very same day. So extra brownie points for them.

After yet more waiting around (I had gotten used to it by this point), it was finally time for TOY's set. A considerably larger crowd had gathered by this point, mainly consisting of 16-24 with 'vintage' clothing and questionable haircuts. This one certainly felt more like a gig. At this point in time my lack of sleep had come back to bite me and I was beginning to drift off. Luckily I was standing right by the speakers which nearly melted my face off when the band started playing. The highlight of their set was the last track they played 'Join The Dots'; the title track of their last album certainly ensured that they went out with a bang. As fun as it was being physically moved across the floor by the vibrations of the speakers whilst awkwardly bobbing my head (out of sync with the beat I might add) in an effort to not look totally out of place, I definitely preferred The Rails. 

As much as I wanted to see East India Youth, standing constantly for 6 hours was beginning to take it's toll and (unlike R.Kelly) whilst my mind was telling me yes, from body it was a resounding no. So I headed off for the markets where I bought a hot dog the size of by lower arm and gazed in awe at my purchases.

In spite of all my prior fears and concerns, Record Store Day was a success (well it was for my anyway). Not only did I manage to get the majority of records I was hoping to buy and watch two of the 3 acts I wanted to see, but I also got to speak to some like-minded vinyl enthusiasts. This reassured me that despite all the negative criticism the event has been receiving of late, one cannot deny that the event has further spread the message that vinyl is back and is better than ever. However, this is as much an issue as it is a positive; how much bigger can the event possibly get before the concept is lost completely and it becomes impossible to get anything unless you camp at 2 in the morning? Not long, unfortunately. 

I feel the best way to end this post would be with the line which was proudly written across the shop front at Rough Trade: 'A record is for life, not just for record store day. Amen. 

Side note: You can see me looking very happy albeit slightly stoned (I wasn't, by the way) on The Guardian Website here:

Monday, 7 April 2014

EMA - The Future's Void album review

EMA - 'The Future's Void'

Erika M. Anderson A.K.A EMA's debut album Past Life Martyred Saints was a modern classic in my opinion. All throughout it's nine tracks there was a strong sense of sonic identity and immense attention to detail; every sound and every effect had a purpose. She embraced her past experience in the noise music scene (as the front woman of Gowns) by incorporating harsh beats and brash effects on her vocals whilst still retaining a keen ear for melody and even pop sensibility at times, specifically on the standout track 'Milkman'. Her audaciousness wasn't just limited to the sound itself though, the lyrics were also extremely personal and honest, particularly on the track 'California' which reads like a poem which confronts prejudice and rebels against conformism ( the lyric 'Fuck California, you made me boring', being most prominent). On the follow-up she signed with indie giant City Slang and has created an album which is equally powerful, yet is also her most accessible and accomplished work to date.

Perhaps the best opening track of 2014 so far; 'Satellites' is best described as a apocalyptic battle-cry, the pounding drums alongside Erika's blood curdling roars set the tone for the album perfectly. Like on her debut, she utilizes her noise roots to create theatrical stompers like 'Cthulu' and 'Neuromancer'. The Future's Void is dominated by themes such as Surveillance, society's obsession with social media, technology and human vulnerability; big topics which are tackled in a big way. Cthulu's progressive vocal chants come to an explosive climax with arresting synth beats and soaring guitars. 'Makin a livin off taking selfies off takin selfies, is that the way that you want to be?', she chants on the menacing 'Neuromancer', backed by an intense tribal instrumentation. Penultimate track 'Solace' is also a standout, Erika's soft vocal delivery juxtaposes a throbbing synth baseline, the  vocal break down at the end of this track acts as one of the albums more uplifting moments.

However there is more to The Future's Void than just industrial folk-rock epics, like on her debut there is a fair share of intimate, reflective moments like the stunning track '3Jane', which sports one of the album's lightest instrumentals. The song's real strength is in it's lyrics, it references a 'modern disease', the symptoms of which include being paranoid about how you're being perceived online and disassociation from reality through your internet self.  This sentiment is particularly poignant bearing in mind that we all suffer from this 'disease' to some extent. 'Smoulder' does exactly what it says on the tin, the throbbing baseline oozes out of your speakers like lava, gradually consuming you entirely - it's utterly entrancing. The tracks 'So Blonde' and 'When She Comes' are the least synth-laden tracks on the record, both mostly guitar led. Arguably, this is Erika's best format as it exhibits her knack for melody and subtle pop hooks. Hopefully she'll explore this side to her sound further in her future work.

Despite every track on The Future's Void being excellent in it's own way, there is certainly a divide in tone; one part consists of pounding, theatrical epics such as 'Satellites', 'Cthulu' and 'Solace' and the other of intimate and vulnerable tracks like '3Jane', 'Smolder' and the closing track 'Dead Celebrity'. And then there are two anomalies; 'So Blonde' stands alone as a perfect slice of grunge-pop and 'When She Comes' presents a subtle melody which proves to be an unexpected ear worm. What is clear is that EMA has comes leaps and bounds since her debut. She has maintained her rawness (like her debut The Future's Void was completely home-recorded), yet has created a record which is richer and more innovative than I could have ever imagined. If Past Life Martyred Saints was her breakthrough from the underground, The Future's Void should propel her into the stratosphere.


Best Tracks: So Blonde, 3Jane, Cthulu, When She Comes, Solace