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.

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