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.

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