Saturday, 30 May 2015

Best of May

Over the last month we've heard some serious AOTY (album of the year) contenders from Holly Herndon, Novella and The Weather Station, all of which represent completely different sections of the music spectrum, exemplifying why this was such an interesting month for new music. I've also discovered a promising new artist by the name of r.e.l, who features below the albums section.  

But perhaps the highlight of the month was the long-awaited announcement of the new Beach House record titled Depression Cherry. Despite no material being dropped as yet, it is already one of my favourite albums of the year; amazing name - check, solid record label(s) behind release - check, excellent cover - check and, for the shallow collectors like myself, excellent packaging - check (I mean it has a red velvet sleeve for crying out loud!). But the bottom line is that Beach House are one of the most consistently excellent bands of the 21st century and so I have every hope that this will be yet another strong addition to their immaculate discography. 

Albums of the month

Holly Herndon - Platform

The range of sounds and styles Holly experiments with on Platform are what make it such an exciting and engaging listen. Over the course of 10 tracks she explores elements of new-age, break-beat, techno, glitch-hop, choral pop, trip-hop, avante-garde, house and even ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response). There are easily accessible and almost anthemic moments to be found on tracks like 'Chorus', 'An Exit' and 'Morning Sun' as well as bizarre left-turns on tracks like 'Lonely At The Top'. Some of her experiments are more successful than others, but overall this is an essential listen for anyone seeking to sonically explore the digital age we currently live in from a perspective which is both critical and celebratory. 

Read my full review here.

Eskimeaux - O.K.

Even if O.K. isn’t the flashiest or even the most hard-hitting of pop records I’ve heard this year, it certainly speaks to me the most. The vocals are often light and vulnerable, at points they’re barely above a whisper, but the occasional harmonization is there to remind us all that we aren’t always alone. The power that these folky-pop ditties possess, whether that be lyrically or sonically, make O.K. one of the more compelling releases of the year, and Eskimeaux one of the most endearing and charming of the many indie-pop acts I’ve discovered as of late. So if you’re ever feeling down or in need of comfort and reassurance when the world is getting a little too much to bear, I would recommend O.K. straight away.

The Weather station - Loyalty

As much as I love techno and audacious pop music, I'm also partial to good folk record and this is likely to be the best you'll hear all year (unless Queen Joanna Newsom finally drops one this year, here's hoping). Even though there are no synths or vocal acrobatics to make her tracks accessible or catchy, Tamara Lindeman's gorgeous vocals assure that I remain engaged and hanging on her every word. The instrumentation is simple yet the melodies, perfectly complementary to Lindeman's vocals, bring the lyrics to life and take you into the whimsical world that Loyalty exists in. This is yet another strong release for Paradise of Bachelors.

Novella - Land

As many of you may be aware, I've been anticipating this record for a while now. Thankfully, Land was well worth the wait and has been on heavy rotation for the last couple of weeks. The impeccable 'Follow' has been re-recorded and opens the record perfectly, the driving guitar melody retains the psychedelic charm of the band's earlier material that I love so dearly. The record shines the most on the more hook-laden tracks like 'Sentences' and 'Land Gone', the harmonization of their vocals in combination with the reverb-soaked production and shedding guitars provide some the most compelling musical moments of the year so far.  

Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh

Dumb Flesh is a weird ol' record. It isn't designed for the dance-floor, it isn't designed for road trips and it certainly isn't a  record you can listen to casually after work/school. These songs hit grooves and ride them in a way that Benjamin John Power's earlier work didn't. If his self-titled debut was an exploration of the outer reaches of (audible) space, Dumb Flesh torpedoes straight to the core and rips it to shreds. Whether it be the ear-shattering drones on 'Dead Format' or the surprisingly therapeutic second-half of the closer 'Detritus', this project never fails to excite and intrigue me. 

Circuit Des Yeux - In Plain Speech

Ever since I discovered Circuit Des Yeux I knew I was going to have a hard time describing her music, but I'm gonna try my best. Firstly, it's surreal; I have never heard a female baritone before, I never thought it would work to be completely honest. But within the labyrinth that is In Plain Speech, Haley Fohr's rich vocals blend seamlessly with the droning soundscapes to create a record which is unique, fresh and bold. None of the tracks necessarily work alone, but together they each feel substantial and captivating in their own right. 

Discovery: r.e.l

Earlier this month I was greeted with an email about an exciting 19 year old female artist who's showing great promise and has a sound reminiscent of the likes of Lorde, who I happen to love immensely. So I had a listen and was delighted with what I heard, I'd even go as far as to say that this is one of the strongest pop releases of the year so far. For a debut release, I was surprised to hear that she wasn't mimicking other female artists or blatantly recycling melodies, instead r.e.l borrows from an eclectic range of influences, from bubblegum pop to darker electronica and occasionally folk sounds. 

Her self-titled EP consists of 6 light, catchy and occasionally touching pop songs. My favourite of all is the opening track 'All That Bite', the infectious chorus recalls the style of blog favourite Hannah Diamond of PC Music fame with its bubbly synths and sickly-sweet vocal delivery. The EP shows immense range over the course of these 6 tracks, deviating from care-free party songs ('Salt') to skeletal hymns ('Love Your Neighbor'). The album's true moment comes on the track 'Headed To The Sun', an anthemic love song which I would fit quite comfortably on a mainstream radio playlist. But for now, my introductory playlist is below and features tracks from her debut EP as well as some relevant tracks from similar artists.

For fans of: Wet, Sylvan Esso, Lorde, Wild Ones

Songs of the month (playlist at the end)

Puro Instinct (feat. Christian Rich) - Lake Como

God, this is just gorgeous. Now I'm always partial to a bit of dream pop but this really is outstanding. The duo have been quiet for so long that I kinda forgot about them, but with this stunner they are back with a vengeance. As aggressive as that sounds, 'Lake Como' is a slow, sultry and dreamy mid-tempo with rolling 80's style synths and a majestic chorus. 'Over and over I under your spell, don't know you do it you do it so well', my thoughts exactly ladies, my thoughts exactly...

Samantha Crain - Outside The Pale

Moving on to something COMPLETELY different, a spot of Americana, courtesy of Samantha Crain, who released her stunning debut Kid Face early last year. Her debut was a 'hidden gem' in every sense of the word, but I blame this on the weird-ass release date...I mean, who released an album in December/January? When everyone is broke, hungover and depressed and the music media are on holiday? Smart move. Clearly this is nothing to do with the very talented Samantha, and fortunately her new record is receiving a fair amount of press already. This is by far her strongest track so far, the strings and raw production style remind my of exactly why I loved Torres' debut record. She has a very ~authentic~ and ~rootsy~ sound and I'm really looking forward to hearing this new record. 

Jamie XX - I Know There's Gonna Be Good Times (feat Young Thug)

Now that it's very nearly summer, the new Jamie xx LP In Colour (full review here) is already ready and waiting to be your soundtrack. Even if (like me) you won't actually enjoy this summer at all because of school/work/stress/life in general, this record with certainly make it easier. Amongst the many understated, nocturnal club tracks comes this odd-ball, which sticks out like a sore thumb, in the best possible way. Young Thug, one of the most promising rising rappers, really adds to this track, his crazy flow fits the sampling perfectly. I'm just gonna ignore the lyrics, it's a club track after all, so who's judging? 

VÉRITÉ - Colors

While we're on the subject of summer bangers, here's another one for you. It's nice (and rare) to see a pop song that is this well-crafted; the production in the verses is as well thought-out and hook-laden as the spectacular chorus. Unlike many pop songs, the lyrics aren't vapid and the concept of colours and euphoria blend seamlessly into the atmosphere and mood of the track, tying it all together rather nicely. 

DRINKS - Hermits On Holiday

OK, this is a weird one. Yep, that pretty much covers it. 'Hermits on Holiday' is a bonkers piece of indie (I couldn't think a better genre to defy it with). But what you really need to know is that half of this newly-formed duo is the very excellent singer/songwriter Cate Le Bon, whose LP Mug Museum is still every bit as incredible as it was when it came out back in 2013. Anyway, the majority of you probably won't really like this but I do and it's my blog so...

Gwenno - Patriarchaeth

There must be something in the water across the boarder because here is yet another outstanding recent track from a Welsh artist, this time it's Gwenno Saunders, the former frontwoman of The Pipettes who has since gone solo under the moniker Gwenno. If the last track wasn't Welsh enough for you, this one is actually sung in Welsh. Gwenno actually released her album, titled Y Dydd Olaf, in October last year on a small Welsh label called Peski Records. This here is a fun, 70's inspired ditty which has a great sense of authenticity and really stands out from the many songs I've heard in recent months. 

Adult Mom - Survival

Here's yet another hip indie band from New York! (courtesy of Stereogum, naturally). I sound cynical but I keep coming back for more so I can't really complain. 'Survival', at first listen, is a deceptively pleasant, light and catchy indie pop track but the lyrics reveal undercurrent of teen rebellion and self-depreciation which make it feel a lot more memorable than your average indie pop track. Plus it has really nice synths, which I have a real weakness for. 

Briana Marela - Surrender

I thought I'd end the post (and indeed, the playlist) with a euphoric piece of folktronica. Jagjaguar is a label renowned for its constancy in delivering solid and interesting records from artists who have longevity (Sharon Van Etten, Unknown Mortal Orchestra) and I reckon their latest signee Briana Marela will be no exception to this. 'Surrender' doesn't really follow any recent trends, it just exists in its own little world, picking flowers and frolicking through meadows; the layered tones and bleeps under Briana's ethereal vocals make it perfect for some Disney-inspired fun.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Jamie xx - In Colour Review

There is no doubt that the runaway success of The xx's self-titled debut had an auspicious effect on the formerly drab pop landscape. Instead of cramming every inch with beats and effects, artists are now learning the power of space in their music. Now I know that I'm not reviewing an xx album and so won't drift too long but one cannot dismiss them as 'just another group of hipsters'. The fact that 'Intro' is even now the go-to soundtrack for TV suspense/ambiance rather than a classical composition from last century is pretty special, to me at least. This explains why this, the debut record from Jamie Smith (arguably the mastermind behind the band), has so much buzz surrounding it. Even though I recognize that both Romy and Oliver's contributions to The xx's sound were pivotal to the band's success, I believe the production is the best aspect of The xx and this was mainly down to Jamie. So now that he has finally emerged from the blackened indie mist and taken centre-stage, has he lived up to expectations? The answer is yes, yes he has.

'Gosh', an absolute banger, opens the record in a rather epic fashion, with thumbing beats circulating around a frantic vocal sample before soaring into a swirling melodic outro. Despite being one of the denser tracks on the record it still, like the rest of In Colour, toys with sparsity and vast soundscapes within a house context. 'Sleep Sound', despite having heard it over a year ago, has a whole new gravitas within the context of the record itself and I couldn't imagine it not being on here. Whilst we're speaking of pre-released material; 'Under One Roof Raving', perhaps my favourite Jamie xx track, didn't even make it onto the final tracklisting. Fortunately, 'Obvs' emerges as the former's tropical revenge, with steel drums having an even greater presence in its gittering production. The party continues with 'I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)' and though I don't really dig Young Thug ordinarily, his erratic style and flow work perfectly here, making it a fun and dynamic party track for the summer. Jamie also showcases his talent on slow-burners like 'The Rest Is Noise'- it takes a while to get going, but when it does...oh boy.

Even whilst Jamie is lost is the wonders of 'da club', he still hasn't forgotten his roots; In Colour features 3 collaborations with his xx bandmates Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, whose contributions are among the album's many standout moments. 'Loud Places' caused excitement for this record to reach fever-pitch when it dropped earlier this year, mainly due to Jamie's otherworldly sample-usage in its euphoric chorus. In a sea of instrumentals, these three tracks lyrically delve into themes of anxiety and uncertainty, more so on 'Stranger in a Room', with Oliver asking “want to change your colors/Just for the night?”. On album highlight 'Seesaw' Romy's signature hushed sultry purr oozes over a dreamy nocturnal melody, the vocals and the production work seamlessly together to create one glorious, driving and, dare I say, colourful soundscape.

In Colour, though composed of a mixture of pre-released material (Girl, Sleep Sound), club bangers (Gosh, Good Times) as well as a handful of tracks which could just as easily been featured on a new xx record (Seesaw, Stranger in a Room, Loud Places), works immaculately as one cohesive body of work. Despite its many standouts, one can't help but listen to the LP in its entirety, that's the only way one can appreciate the triumph that this record is.


Best tracks: Gosh, Sleep Sound, Seesaw, Loud Places, The Rest Is Noise

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Holly Herndon - Platform review

It's not often that I get excited about an artist over a record which leaves me completely cold, but this was certainly the case with clinical redhead goddess Holly Herndon, whose 2012 debut Movement was the very definition to cold. Whether it was the sharp and precise beats or the distant vocal samples, everything felt very clinical and detached. The fact that the record clicked with me so much is surprising considering how much I usually like music which is the complete opposite (both warm and organic). My immense excitement over Holly's music was fully justified when her (still completely incredible) single 'Chorus' dropped back in January 2014. A departure from the anatomical focus of Movement; Chorus marked the start of a new artistic chapter for Holly, one based in a not-too-distant digital dystopia in which our lives are dictated by technology. Fortunately for me, Chorus is just one of ten thought-provoking yet digestible pieces of electronica you'll find on this wonderful, wonderful record.

In the music media people seem obsessed with genres and labels. This is understandable bearing in mind that there are millions upon millions of releases all over the internet which are open for consumption. So for the sake of practicality, genres are there to filter out what we wouldn't like and draw attention to what we might like, based on our pre-recorded personal taste. But what happens when you refuse to be labelled? Holly Herndon has made it pretty darn difficult to categorize her music and it makes me adore her (and Platform) even more. 

But even within the broad 'experimental electronica' tag there are preconceptions of what your likely to hear, this again is something that Platform openly challenges. What was even surprising to me was how human some of the tracks on Platform are. Take the single 'Home' for example, like a handful of tracks on the LP vocals take centre-stage, the mix of Holly's lone vocals and the patchwork of cascading samples in the background create a sense of distorted euphoria, especially as the track breaks down and the electronics fade towards the climax. But perhaps the most 'straightforward' track on the record (I use that term loosely) is the stunning 'Morning Sun', a vulnerable ballad  which carries a surprising amount of emotional heft. One of the weirder moments is the ever-so-slightly spiritual 'Unequal', which stylistically can be best described as 'New Age for the digital age', here Holly uses hypnotic vocal manipulation to create an almost ritualistic atmosphere.

Aside from these more accessible tracks, Platform also features punchy beat-led electrobangers that I imagine would sound pretty epic in ~the club~ (clearly I'm an expert in this field). The opening track 'Interference' is an industrial break-beat masterpiece, laced with pulsating beats and throbbing drum machines. 'DAO' ensures the momentum is sustained in the latter half of the record, here we see Holly up her glitchy electronics game to a new level of theatricality. 'An Exit' is another playful yet challenging piece, it deviates between desperate and frantic to a euphoric and lush chorus-like moment. 

The range of sounds and styles Holly experiments with on Platform are what make it such an exciting and engaging listen. Over the course of 10 tracks she explores elements of  new-age, break-beat, techno, glitch-hop, choral pop, trip-hop, avante-garde, house and even ASMR. There are easily accessible and almost anthemic moments to be found on tracks like Chorus, An Exit and Morning Sun as well as bizarre left-turns on tracks like 'Lonely At The Top'. Some of her experiments are more successful than others, but overall this is an essential listen for anyone seeking to sonically explore the digital age we currently live in from a perspective which is both critical and celebratory. 


Best tracks: Interference, Chorus, Morning Sun, An Exit, DAO, New Ways To Love