Getintothis’ Peter Guy, Paul Higham and Adam Lowerson round up the cream of the latest new LP releases.
Since the last meeting of Album Club we have seen witness to a few much anticipated heavyweight LP releases from the high table of Merseyside music.
It can’t have escaped notice that The Coral have marked their return with Distance Inbetween, a record some have hailed as their best yet. Inaugural GIT Award One To Watch winner, Lapsley, has proved all early judgements entirely correct with the frighteningly mature Long Way Home while current GIT Award nominees Mugstar have offered up a career high with Magnetic Seasons.
Yet this column offers to also shed a little light, however dimly, on some of the music that may have slipped through the cracks escaping attention. That so, we have hunted through the racks to uncover edgily infectious 90s-influenced indie rock, catchy underground pop punk from California and dynamically-assured post-hardcore.
Elsewhere we’ve snaffled a copy of a certain female harpist’s new LP – and, no its not Joanna Newsom – together with dense ambient electronica from the drummer of one of the world’s most loved bands. Emo-fans are catered for with a record that (thankfully!) wears its log-cabin recording studio story lightly while an original titan of the American hardcore punk scene contemplates his own mortality.
Oh, and we’re quite taken with the new Lapsley record too.
The Coral: Distance Inbetween
It’s easy to forgot *just* how mighty, and how young, The Coral were when they exploded on to an unsuspecting British public back in 2002.
Brit Award album nominations, Jools Holland performances, festival headlining, world tours, Electric Proms with Noel Gallagher and all the while playing a barnstorming mix of the Coolest Pothead Jams In The World Ever – all in their late teens and early 20s.
By melding a classic compilation of Beefheart, Love, Floyd, Romantic poetry, sea-shanties and bowl hair-cuts, they were a blast from a slightly forgotten past but injected with the gang’s dynamism they positively oozed now.
Fast-forward to 2016, and their timing is impeccable, for while there’s never been a more fertile period for new psychedelic pomp, The Coral steadfastly remain their own singular ship – a careering tidal wave, still out of step with their kaleidoscopic peers, yet sounding utterly fresh – and this new vigour is all over Distance Inbetween – their first album proper in six years. And boy, does it boot.
As evidenced in the thundering Chasing The Tail Of A Dream, the album is muscular, loaded with meaty riffs and easily the band’s weightiest effort yet all the while retaining their characteristic nous for a pop tune and instantly hummable harmonies.
White Bird and Connector kicking things off with two Hail Mary’s; the latter a stampeding organ droner (the album is rife with lazer-gun keyboards set to stun), the former a fuzz-laden axe-chop to the belly while Miss Fortune employs Paul Molloy’s searing guitars to full tremouring effect. Fear Machine, meanwhile, could have dropped off any Black Mountain album, such is its colossal leaden delivery.
But amid the bluster, as per, there’s several softer diamonds – as James Skelly once again shows his hand as one of the UK’s finest song-writers; Beyond The Sun a case in point which exudes a melancholic mourning twinned to a strident Caravan-like Nick Power keys motif – it’d be the perfect tune if Neil Diamond were ever to ride singing into a medieval battlefield.
In truth, there’s barely a weak spot on Distance Inbetween, and credit must go to Parr Street Studio‘s Richard Turvey for cataloguing this set of very heavy jams but retaining their effervescence and pop sensibility – too often in the new psychedelic movement band’s output can be reduced to a stew of ideas and mush of inconsequential nothingness. Distance Inbetween is nothing of the sort – it’s a record which sees The Coral at the peak of their powers – something to cherish. Peter Guy
Palehound: Dry Food
Originally released in the US in the summer of 2015, the debut LP by Boston’s Ellen Kemper has found a welcome springtime UK release on Heavenly Recordings. Recorded under the moniker Palehound, Dry Food is very much a celebration of stateside 90s indie-rock. It makes for a sparsely fragile recording delivered with an angst-laden immediacy articulating the melancholy and evoking the suffocating nature of time spent alone in a teenage bedroom.
The challenge for all records that openly and unashamedly display their influences for all to see is to be able to transcend them. This isn’t a record that is suffocated by its nods to Pavement and Frank Black; on the contrary it tips its hat to them but otherwise asserts itself confidently.
There is an urgent intimacy underpinning much of the songs many of which are backed by infectiously catchy and spiky melodies as guitar riffs twist and turn with an often unresolved tension. For all that it has the feel of a confessional coming-of-age album, it is in the main a sprightly and upbeat record.
Opener Molly is perhaps the standout here, full of angular and unresolved guitar lines that allude to dark edges over its summery tones. Elsewhere Healthier Folk could be a Speedy Ortiz song. Indeed fans of Sadie Dupuis‘ band as well as the likes of Waxahatchee and Girlpool will find much to enjoy here. Paul Higham
Yeasayer: Amen & Goodbye
Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance, TV on the Radio, Dirty Projectors… New York, and more specifically Brooklyn, saw a conveyor belt of boss bands during a heady 2007. In the years that have passed it’s hard to see where these artists fit – sure they produced superlative albums; but they seem very much of a time and place – and musical revisionists maybe quick to dismiss them as hype stars for the Pitchfork Generation.
Not so, for this writer, but it’ll be intriguing to see how things shape up in years to come. Another of those Brooklynites who seemed to be on the cusp of greatness, only to retreat into mid-tier relative obscurity are Yeasayer – a curious band who’ve leapt from progressive neo-world guitar rock into thumping electronic pop and for their last effort obtuse WTF-ness. A band almost too clever for their own good, Yeasayer have gradually excelled in knowing an incredible song before ripping it and making it barely listenable. But this experimental bent appeared to back-fire on the impenetrable Fragrant World – and for their fourth offering they appear intent on clawing back the listener.
The evidence wass clear with opening single I Am Chemistry – a song which employed their grinding, mechanical rhythms but set it to their multi-tracked harmonies and a FUCKING CHOIR. If in doubt, always get a choir.
Indeed, Yeasayer have never been shy to throw the kitchen sink at it, and Amen Goodbye is rife with wild instrumentation and odd orchestration. All folky strings, chattering pianos and off-kilter guitars, Gerson’s Whistle is akin to Canterbury prog channeled through Wayne Coyne‘s mind while Cold Night begins with a Beck-like boogie before rolling into a chamber-pop strum. The peak arrives early doors with Half Asleep – a woozy strut reminiscent of their best moments on All Hour Cymbals – complete with female vocal harmonies and woodwind Eastern pageantry.
But, alas, this is no return to those early career peaks, there’s far too much clutter and incidental segues (four of the 13 amount to little but filler) which vie for attention leaving a record which is ironically overly-formed and could do with strimming back. Ultimately, Amen Goodbye is a reminder of a band worth sticking with – let’s hope others do too, for the next album, could lift them to those lofty peaks of ten years ago. PG
Adult Books: Running From The Blows
What exactly is punk? For many it is music borne out of anger frustration and alienation. A desire to change the world using the power of music to both shock its target and provide a focus around which people can unite. Running alongside this is a sense of a Punk or DIY aesthetic that focuses on the way music is made as much as the way it ultimately sounds.
Emerging from a part of Southern California with a rich punk heritage come Adult Books, whose brand of punk is more defined by its underground identity than any sense of angry defiance. Running from the Blows is a catchy slice of infectious pop-punk that, in its summery disposition, borrows much from the Golden State’s surf-rock traditions.
Although Running from the Blows works as a punk record, much of its success lies in its fusion of that with a pulsating post-punk angularity and a new wave sensibility. While this is packed full of sprightly melodic pop-punk it still offers up wry lyrical barbs, taking aim, for example, at mundane conformity on Suburban Girlfriend. Elsewhere, added dimensions are hinted at as Lobby Talks unwinds into free-form experimental noise work-outs.
You are left with the impression that this is a band willing to embrace a range of styles and, if they can continue to blend their obvious ear for catchy pop melodies with their individuality and DIY aesthetic, will be one to keep a strong eye on. PH
Big Ups: Before a Million Universes
How much of today’s music really is truly innovative? As time passes it becomes increasingly difficult to be a true original, particularly when operating in a conventional guitar/bass/drums set-up. Without taking advantage of technological advancements to push sonic boundaries, Big Ups far from reinvent the wheel on Before a Million Universes; indeed much of their sound owes a significant debt of influence to the likes of Slint, Shellac and Fugazi.
Yet in borrowing from the past, Big Ups have chosen their source material wisely and have revealed what makes music of this type succeed. Steering clear of more formulaic hardcore paths the band revel in an exploration of dynamic subtleties, prolonged tension and tautly brooding minimalism. This finds welcome juxtaposition alongside the releases, where bouts shuddering volume, pummelling intensity and howling vocals hit you almost as a relief.
It recalls the worst sort of argument. One where a cold-shouldered resentment simmers edgily and uneasily. When things reach a head and the full blown war of words ensues the atmosphere normalises and everyone can breathe that bit more easily. That is the way to works here. You cling to those occasional outbursts, you want them to come, you need them. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and its unpredictability transfixes. In short it is exciting.
It is the sense of excitement that makes Before a Million Universes merit inclusion in this list and ensures that it is much more than a soulless rehash of more celebrated forebears. PH
Into It. Over It.: Standards
Now I know just what you’re thinking, isn’t the whole relocation and self-imposed isolation for the purposes of making an album a bit, well, passé. Furthermore, it follows that to coat such a writing and recording methodology with additional layers of authenticity is to simultaneously and erroneously imply that those records recorded under more conventional means are somehow less authentic. Now this is largely an irrelevance as a record lives and dies by its end product, not the path taken to arrive there.
For that reason, it is a shame that Standards is weighed down with such unwieldy baggage. It doesn’t need it. Into It. Over It. have made a record that triumphs on account of itself. Who cares that Evan Weiss and Josh Sparks holed themselves up in a log-cabin in Vermont for a month while making it. It adds little.
Sonically the album veers between driving slices of anthemic blue collar Americana which, in its widescreen sweeping vistas, alludes to the great American Novel, and more introspective less adorned fare which allows the beauty and cryptic poignancy of Evan Weiss‘s lyrics take centre stage.
At its core this remains an emo-influenced record built around personal introspective lyrics. Yet to attach such a narrow label to it seems unnecessary. It is a bold, ambitious, affecting and often beautiful work. True, it doesn’t always work. The more straightforwardly driving rock sounds can, on occasion, grate but in the main it is a compelling listen and encapsulates the anguish and ennui of relinquishing one’s youth. PH
Mary Lattimore: At The Dam
Mary Lattimore is living proof that there are harpists other than Joanna Newsom – although that is where the comparisons end. For where Newsom excels in highly strung cascades of avant-folk, Lattimore presents more understated and spacious sonic soundscapes that draw on elements of ambience, electronica and gentle drones to augment the core harp sound.
Entirely instrumental, the album meanders in a near dreamlike, meditative state alluding to love, loss and longing in its seductively mournful tones. There is a seemingly undeniable evocation of sadness in the sensuality of the album that makes for a sparse yet intimate listen. Therein lies the real skill at foot here, as a definite sense of less is more prevails. Little is wasted and every sound seems to carry real purpose.
Equally striking is the sense of space, as harp notes are afforded the freedom to live, breathe and then to gently fade out of earshot as if mirroring the natural world to which your mind is unerringly drawn on listening. As a work of textured subtle ambience this feels like a piece of almost neo-classical composition, remarkable for its delicate pastoral imagery, and one that introduces Mary Lattimore as a real talent. PH
Jeremy Gara: Limm
From the album cover alone you almost know what to expect. Much like the modern art to which it relates this debut album by Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara deals in sonic abstraction.
As an exploration of ambient electronica it works as a series of vignettes, with each piece suggestive of different mood or environment. While this offers an engaging contrast it can result in a lack of cohesion. Opening track Divinity for example processes a church organ sound layered with a series of beeps and dashes before giving way to the unsettlingly urban claustrophobia of Chicago which subsides into the jaunty, almost waltz-like Dupe.
There is clearly much to admire here in the ambition and scale of the work, and in its breadth of ideas. Where it undoubtedly succeeds is in the lengthier darker tracks that possess a pervading sense of dystopian menace, suggested by track titles such as Judgement Dialogue and Violence. This has the effect of making the lighter tracks feel, by comparison, somewhat throwaway, breaking the spell rather than juxtaposing light with dark.
That said, there remains much to admire here and, on account of its scale and ambition alone, makes it well worth checking out. PH
Bob Mould: Patch the Sky
When, as a musician, do you qualify as being an elder-statesman? The many recent traumatic and untimely passings we’ve experienced this year has made me resolve to enjoy the old favourites and not heartlessly dismiss them in search of new and shiny younger models. Now, Bob, if you’re reading this (you won’t be) please don’t be offended if, at a mere 55, I’ve lumped you into that category for this isn’t intended as a hastily written epitaph.
Rather, it should serve as timely reminder that Bob Mould is currently undergoing something of a renaissance on his new home at Merge Records. Patch The Sky is his third record on the label since 2012’s Silver Age, and could be his strongest of the trilogy.
A renaissance maybe, but the record also does seem to be preoccupied with the ageing process, death and mortality and the decline in mental and physical capacity. Song titles such as Voices in My Head, the standout Losing Sleep, and The End of Things don’t attempt to disguise the lyrical content as the past clearly weighs heavy on Mould.
Yet this is not a record to wallow in mawkish sentimentality. Musically it remains vibrant and urgent, blessed with a distinctive muscularity coupled with a catchy ear-worm riffs that rise almost as a wall of sound, and, in alluding to his own frailty, Patch the Sky acts as a timely reminder to cherish our heroes while we still can. PH
Lápsley: Long Way Home
Despite the reputation 19 year old Holly Lápsley Fletcher has built as a talented songwriter through her handful of singles and demos released over the past couple of years, not many would have expected the mature, refined sound of her debut album Long Way Home.
Released on XL Records, home of another certain pop sensation whose first record was released at 19 in Adele, Long Way Home takes the minimalist, electronic pop elements from early singles such as Station and Falling Short, and builds upon them to create a soulful, RnB tinged sound. Tell Me The Truth features Lápsley duetting with her trademark pitch-shifted male alter ego, where Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me) is a complete departure from the rest of the record, mixing warm, grooving basslines and disco rhythms to make for a genuine pop banger.
Hurt Me and the majestic pop ballad Love Is Blind both feel they have the potential to be real big hits, while Silverlake showcases Lápsley‘s maturity in putting together well crafted songs, with layer upon layer of harmony and counter-melody, it’s a massively intelligent tune topping off what is a brilliant debut record. Adam Lowerson
Christine and the Queens – Chaleur Humaine
You’d be forgiven for never having heard of Christine and the Queens, the recording name of French musician Héloïse Letissier, an artist who recently released her debut record in the UK in Chaleur Humaine. Yet in her native France, she’s a huge mainstream star. With a stream of top 40 hits and high profile industry awards behind them, Christine and the Queens are a big deal.
With records like Chaleur Humaine, an English translation of a French language album of the same name, it surely won’t be long before that’s the case over here too. It’s an astonishing piece of work in whichever way you decide to take it, whether as a deeply honest and explorative album about gender, identity and sexual orientation by a pan-sexual woman, or just as a collection of great, intelligent pop songs, you can’t help but wanting to keep listening and look deeper.
Tracks such as No Harm Is Done, her collaboration with rapper Tunji Ige, is a brooding and smothered in RnB influences, with sharp electronics dancing over stammering beats, while album opener iT showcases Letissier’s stunning vocals
It’s a brilliant album, and what it lacks in obvious UK chart hit material it makes up for with charm, intelligence and inventive melodies. It is genuinely refreshing and forward thinking pop and deserves to be heard by ears from far further than the French borders. Take note, Britain. AL