Under the radar: 16 albums that were overlooked in 2016

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The Hanging Stars (credit: artist's Facebook page)

The Hanging Stars (credit: artist’s Facebook page)

Having emerged just about unscathed from 2016 and with the year now but a memory, Getintothis’ writers offer a selection of 16 albums from last year that flew under the radar.

2016 saw the launch of GetintothisAlbum Club, a fresh monthly column designed to bring you the best new albums as selected by our team of ever-reliable and on-the-money contributors. The brief has been simple, we ask our writers to write about things they like, that they’ve enjoyed listening to and inevitably want to share.

The focus has always been on current releases, bringing sounds while still oven-warm. The consequence of this is that we miss stuff, first hearing a new album only months after its initial release. Too late for inclusion in our monthly column.

There are further drawbacks. Sometimes albums are slow in revealing their hand, adept in disguise their charms and hiding their depths that bit deeper. It is easy to initially dismiss such albums, and how often have we done so only later for the penny to drop. That magical Eureka moment. Just when your ready to give up on a record you listen for what you think will be the final time only to suddenly get it. The joyful epiphany that ensures the album a season ticket to your turntable.

Yet too often this moment happens much after release and initial listen. Sometimes months have passed and we can’t include in our Albums Club column without appearing seriously behind the times.

The modern age has a tendency towards immediacy and instant gratification. Just as success in sporting arenas is demanded straightaway irrespective of the challenges and obstacles, music can be too obvious and too one-dimensional.

You know the sort. That insanely catchy record that attracts your attention, makes your head turn and demands you take notice. You listen excitedly and play it to stylus-damaging death, only suddenly for the lustre to fade; the excitement supplanted by a boredom-inducing over-familiarity. You return the record to its sleeve and file it away, destined to never listen again.

How often is it that the challenging or so-called ‘difficult’ albums are the ones that retain our interest longest. Those that offer that little bit more with each listen, the ones we know we will just keep returning to. The best albums are loving marriages rather than lust-filled flings.

Yet it would be a travesty, in this relentless and insatiable demand for the new and current, for such records to go unremarked upon. To become mere foot-notes of history, not getting the attention that they merit. With this in mind we have asked our writers and contributors to select some of the albums that they missed during the year or discovered too late.

Of course the end of year brings time for reflection. A chance to look back on the year just gone. An opportunity to reassess and reappraise. The break from work a chance to relax in convivial environs with friends and family, and hopefully to peruse that equally loved and equally maligned concept: the end of year list.

The best of times and the worst of times – 2016 a year in review

The end of year presents a chance to right some wrongs. An opportunity to give due merit to albums we may have overlooked at the time of their release. Yet there are flaws, things fall through the cracks, things get omitted. The beginning of the year feels so far away and  early releases can be so easily forgotten. Some releases come too late, either after lists have been compiled or else we have insufficient time to appreciate and to give them our full and undivided attention.

Elsewhere any ‘best-of’ list is merely a best of what we’ve listened to. Despite everyone’s best efforts nobody can possibly listen to everything, there are things that we miss. By implication such lists are never definitive. Things get overlooked, not deliberately so but sometimes, well, just because.

The below list of 16 albums from 2016 worthy of greater attention is a small attempt to redress. Our contributors have selected some albums that they were unable to give due attention to during the year, that flew under their or our collective radar. Some perhaps you’ll know, some perhaps entirely new to you. The common thread is that our writers believe in them and urge you to take a listen.

Go ahead, you might be surprised. Paul Higham

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Anchorsong: Ceremonial

Tru Thoughts

Brighton’s Tru Thoughts must be one of the most over-looked or at least under the radar record labels this country has ever produced.

Of course to vinyl lovers and the likes of repeated champion Giles Peterson it has been a staple for producing some of the finest whacked out electronica and exotic grooves since launching in 1999. Home to the likes of Benji Boko, Flowdan and Lost Midas plus big cats like Bonobo, Alice Russell and Quantic, it’s an ever evolving conveyor belt of mutating musical wizardry.

However, 2016 saw a release which was head and shoulders above anything the label’s released in some time – in fact, not since Rodney P and the reissue of the seminal Gangster Chronicles (the definitive UK Garage precursor) has a record from the Tru Thoughts stable left such an impression.

Ceremonial by Tokyo born, London based Anchorsong (Masaaki Yoshida to his mum) is a church of flexing instrumentals with the magnetic pull of the moon. There’s little release from the get-go and likewise no dip in quality instead he presents a tapestry of colliding beats, strident orchestration and repeated motifs of chiming bell-pipes and Oriental vocal howls.

When he does employ harder edges the result is often nothing short of astonishing – see the hip hop infused blockbuster Expo complete with Tarantino-like surf guitar or the Tropicalia buzz of Butterflies.

Saving the best for last, Ceremony finds him in sultry Eastern mode complete with snaking sitar-infused riffs, cinematic Arabian strings and cybersonic squelching pockets of electronica – it’s something Four Tet at his finest would be proud of.

There’s a reason why 6 Music posted this at #5 in their albums of 2016 – we’re just glad to have caught up, you should too. Peter Guy

 

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Beach Baby: No Mind No Money

Island

Beach Baby, somewhat overlooked as an artist as a whole in 2016, manage to maintain a post-punk sound but intertwine it into contemporary pop.

Beach Baby’s debut No Mind No Money is the perfect LP to play loud enough to annoy the neighbours while pretending it’s 25 degrees outside, despite knowing that, even in the British summer, it would be far from holiday weather.

The 11 track LP includes six previously released singles. Cleverly combining re-records of some of their early releases, such as Lady Bird, and some newbies, Bug Eyed and Blonde and Hot Weather.

Stand outs on the album are Smoke Wont Get Me High and U R. The former’s funk-filled bass line resembles sounds of Echo & The Bunnymen and New Order, yet is independent enough to have its own modern spin. And the latter is cleverly placed mid-album, as its relaxed style portrays the band in perfect light; with simplistic lyrics and a catchy synth riff repeated throughout – it epitomises a sing-a-long.

As an album, it is not an one that is going to grab you by your you-know-whats and make you shout to the town to listen to them, but it is diverse enough where one can listen to it in different environments – chilled enough to listen aloud at home, but boisterous enough for festival groovers. Lorna Dougherty

 

Blood Sport Axe Laid To The Root

Blood Sport: Axe Laid to the Root

Blast First Petite

It is rare these days to hear something that so overwhelmingly stops you in your tracks, music so original and dripping with ideas beneath a racked, tightly coiled inexhaustible tension. From the outset Blood Sport play with ideas that twist and subvert convention in the process turning it 180 degrees and leaving it standing on its head.

That’s not to say Axe Laid to the Root is blindingly original, certainly not when measured by the sum of its parts. The band are reluctant to use the term Afro-beat, yet their improvisational spirit is underpinned by near-virtuoso poly-rhythmic structures that have a binding effect, pinning down the sound with a malleable tautness yet retaining its air of unpredictability.

Throughout there is the feeling that it all could descend into barely ordered chaos. A ramshackle and discordant whirlpool that feels simultaneously sprawling yet powerfully controlled like iron filings around a magnet. The energy is palpable. The post-punk industrial grind is purposeful without ever being overwrought, the array of rhythms keeping us permanently on our toes forever unsure where the journey will take us next. Vocals are fraught and anxiety-ridden, exhaled over waves of sonic distortion that compete with bursts of guitar and onslaughts of extraneous electronic noise.

The band prefer the term ‘aggro-beat’, and this seems the best description there is. It acknowledges the influence of Fela Kuti but transports it to the dark post-industrial north, the land of dark satanic mills and grey dismal weather, and it is this very coalescence of competing influences into something compelling and unique that has made us sit up and take notice. Paul Higham

 

case/lang/veirs

case/lang/veirscase/lang/veirs

Anti-

If there’s one word which fills this writer with dread and scepticism when describing a band it’s definitely the word ‘supergroup’. More often than not, it’s justified too. Yet with the self-titled debut of case/lang/veirs, the supergroup made up of singer songwriters Neko Case, k.d. Lang and Laura Veirs, there’s nothing to be sceptical about at all. With each artist bringing their own influence to the mix, the result is surprisingly greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a perfect collaboration.

The Americana-tinged record is packed with gorgeous harmony and perfect soaring melodies, with Case, Lang and Veirs’ vocals all complementing each other’s as well as an ice cold drink on a hot summers day. Although the record is very much a melting pot of ideas and styles, each of the songwriters’ styles do show on certain tracks, with Veirs shining through on Atomic Number, Case on Supermoon and Lang on the stunning Why Do We Fight.

It’s a complex album, one with the ability to lift you up one minute with the alt-country shuffle of Best Kept Secret, before bringing you right back down again the next with poignant moments lyrics such as Lang questioning “Can a love make me so cruel, to lose my faith and lose my heart?” on Why Do We Fight.

case/lang/veirs is a slow burner, but it’s a record to be savoured and to spend time with to unravel its layers. From the lyrics to the arrangements and production, it’s an absolutely gorgeous album. Adam Lowerson

 

Flamingods Majesty

Flamingods: Majesty

Soundway Records

Majesty is a journey from sounds of creatively constructed psych-pop to more avant-garde world music through gradually ever-changing intensities. Packed aplenty with great musical skills, but the album never ends up being a playground for self-indulgent musicianship that many ‘out there’ music records risk. The skills are only used to the point necessary to deliver vibey, catchy songs for the first half and then intense hypnotic groovy world-music in the later half.

The opening title track features straight-on easily catchy vocal lines with the metallic quality of Oasis or Kula Shaker but backed by more good eccentricity than any of the two bands managed. Don’t let the Oasis comparison mislead you. Flamingods is like modern day Radiohead had Radiohead gone more of a ‘natural sounds from around the world’ route than the electronic route and also found some more happiness to communicate.

Further along, Taboo Grooves and Majestic Fruit feature sweet chilled feelings of summer fruits before the meditative midway point at Anya. After that, the record moves to the more avant-garde style with less focus on vocals and being more about world music grooves. This half’s assault might tick off a listener who’s all about the catchiness of the first few tunes, but what can you do about it? It is what it is and we won’t have it any other way. Daring to change into something else is what gives the whole album an edge and keeps it from being boring or predictable.

On the whole, the album is a 21st century psychedelic party. Chilled and inviting at first and then tripping and intense to the point you may or may not dare stick around for. Amaan Khan

 

found-terra-nova

Found: Terra Nova

Chemikal Underground

For those that don’t know Edinburgh-based Found, the group are as much an arts collective as they are an experimental pop outfit. Released in the summer to little fanfare, their fifth album is certainly one that fell through the cracks, struggling to find a foothold even on the internet: many a google search has proved fruitless.

What little we do know stems from the album’s extensive liner notes (from the vinyl copy happily stumbled upon in a charming Falmouth record shop while on an autumnal break) which reveal the album to be an aural accompaniment to an exhibition of Dr William Clark Souter‘s photography taken while travelling to Antarctica 1902 to rescue Captain Scott‘s RRS Discovery from ice. The exhibition covers not only Souter’s photography, but also Google Streetview images – which now extend to Antarctica – a film, and a quadrophonic sonic installation.

So what of the album. It captures the eerie uncertainty of the Antarctic wilderness through its sparse electronica marrying this with delicately fragile and vocal-led indie pop, spoken word poetry, field-captured sounds and analogue synth. Equally evoking the beauty and the unrelenting starkness of the landscape the recording emphasises man’s forlorn futility in the face of such wilderness, despite Google’s attempts to colonise it. Bold and ambitious, Terra Nova is a seriously introspective artistic statement by a band that surely deserve wider recognition. Paul Higham

 

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The Hanging Stars: Over The Silvery Lake

Crimson Crow / The Great Pop Supplement

How this one slipped under our 2016 radar is quite simply staggering. It shouldn’t have.

In truth, it didn’t. We first listened to Over The Silvery Lake back in late summer while cooking a Thai green curry; we can remember doing so as ordinarily we’d have pressed stop and switched on Craig Charles‘ funk and soul show – for there is no mightier rhythmic accompaniment than the Trunk of Funk to crush your garlic to.

However on this occasion, The Hanging Stars made an impression: like our Basmati rice, we stuck with it.

For theirs is a sound which positively gallops oozing an easy-going assurance and west coast melodicism. It’s of little surprise that the London collective squirrelled off to Los Angeles to record the album before adding the finishing touches in Tony Mortimer land of Walthamstow.

But, there’s further reason why it shouldn’t have slipped under our radar: the album is on The Great Pop Supplement (home to the likes of By The Sea – whom they shared a stage with at the Lexington late last year). And they also played Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia – that really should have been the give away.

We cursed Loyd Grossman and his stir in sauces out loud when the folks at Harvest Sun confirmed they are in fact the new outfit by The See See – a band we’ve long championed on these pages.

Anyway, if you’re in further convincing of this must-not-miss opportunity of fine musik – give opener Floodbound a whirl – with its golden steel pedal echoes and sun-drenched ambience it typifies their sound – you can almost feel the warmth on the back of your neck. Hot stuff. Peter Guy

 

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Hexa: Factory Photographs

ROOM40

Factory Photographs is another under the radar release from 2016 inspired by photographic art, in this case David Lynch‘s collection of photographs of post-industrial factories in locations ranging from USA and the UK through to Germany and Poland.

Hexa, commissioned to provide aural accompaniment to the work, comprises composer Lawrence English and Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu, the latter no stranger to the assorted works of Lynch, having recently performed the music from Twin Peaks. Factory Photographs in all its discomfiting representation of eerie gloom is a record to sit alongside and draw inevitable comparison to the Eraserhead soundtrack.

Yet Factory Photographs is a success in its own right, principally on account of its naturalness in conveying its subject matter, it hardly ever feels like a composition. The echoing ambience evokes a sense of space and sentiments of pent-up anger of its current state of disrepair and disuse predominate. Through the unrelenting drones and clanging there is a profound sense of place, very literal and very real industrial music.

Amid the bone-pressing intensity and uncompromising power of the record, there is a strong sense that this is not recreating the factories in their pomp, full of purpose and importance, but rather the embittered ghosts of those places. This is a record that conjures up the malevolent spectre of our near-industrial past that seems set to rise up in some dystopian horror to extract revenge from an evolved society that has long forgotten its former factories.

A difficult and unsettling listen, its true terror is in the sounds captured. It all sounds real, like field recordings of angry machinery. Very angry machinery. The sound of a nightmare. The sort of nightmare that feels so very real, even after you wake lathered in sweat, still screaming. That is how you feel at the conclusion here. An essential listen, but keep the lights on. Paul Higham

 

palace-so-long-forever

Palace: So Long Forever

Fiction

Heartbreak can be enjoyable. Allowing yourself to mope and wallow in your own despair can encourage creativity to bubble forth in a lot of people, this is clearly evident in Palace’s So Long Forever.

The sound Palace have crafted in their debut album is something special, bluesy and emotive. This is music to make you get inside your head, reflecting loves lost, while in contrast, being simultaneously catchy and comforting. Opening with the fast paced Break The Silence, this song throws you headfirst into the emotion of the album. Followed closely by Bitter, with its introspective lyrics suggest you relax and make time to take it all in, to relish it.

So Long Forever will make you look forward to that long car journey or commute to work, for time alone to enjoy the consistent blues rock, laced with dreamy melodies and definitive vocals. If there’s any album to get to know from the year just gone, I implore you, let it be this one. Katie Murt

 

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Pavo Pavo: Young Narrator In The Breaks

Bella Union

Brooklyn five piece Pavo Pavo almost sneaked this album under the radar at the tail end of last year, suggesting a sense of understatement that we hear throughout this perfectly constructed pop record. Young Narrator In The Breaks is a well considered and wonderful statement of intent. As a debut album it is both optimistic and joyful, and unashamedly pretty. The warmth of the sun shines through this album, in its structure, in the builds and the dynamics, in all its wonky glory, and most of all, in the harmonies.

It’s all in the warm, angelic and enchanting choral harmonies with this band. In songs such as Somewhere In Iowa, the melodies seem to have found their own space within the songs, almost as if they were devised more by accident than intent, but each voice is perfectly suited to the others, complementary to each other, rather than competing. Such is the naturalness of the writing.

Each member, all of whom are classically trained, takes their part so well, so intuitively, in the weaving of this post futuristic landscape. Rich sculptural vocal soundscapes weave delicately and fragilely around the layered analogue synth strings and pianos and woodwind. With influences taken from 50s TV themes, sci-fi, French jazz, 70s folk, Smile-era Brian Wilson and Big Star, the songs celebrate their offbeat quirkiness, almost revelling in their haunting filmic patterns. There are very few moments of doubt in this record. It’s a beguiling and quietly confident beginning to what looks to be an absorbing and exceptional creative journey into the future for Pavo Pavo. Paul Fitzgerald

 

Pinegrove Cardinal

Pinegrove: Cardinal

Run For Cover

Pinegrove’s Cardinal became one of my favourite albums of 2016 almost by accident. Reviewing this hitherto unheard (by me) New Jersey band at Studio 2 back in October, I was immediately taken by their almost campfire style of Americana folk. With an uncharacteristically emo following Pinegrove exceeded all expectations and I hit the merch stand.

The album’s production by the band themselves has one foot set firmly in the 90s and it is this hark back to an oft questionable retro period that makes their sound a little more unique. Old Friends is as appealing an opening track as you are likely to find on an album, catchy in the extreme despite the moody lyrics. Comparisons to early Wilco are inevitable and common, but the sound here is fresh and very much their own. The tidy journey from Old Friends to album closer New Friends in just eight succinct tracks is a joy that begs looped plays.

Vocalist Evan Stephen Hall has an infectious humility in his voice that demands you to listen to each tale of lost love and heartache. Fan favourite Aphasia illustrates this point perfectly, as do most of the slower paced tracks here, never afraid to rush proceedings but equally unafraid to break into the odd heartfelt bawl.

Cardinal is an infectious and comfortingly warm little album that should have perhaps risen above the radar last year and is well worth investigating. Del Pike

 

emma

Emma Pollock: In Search of Harperfield

Chemikal Underground

It’s hard to believe that we overlooked this great record by Emma Pollock. Maybe it was something to with the fact that it was released at the end of January 2016 and as we know, 2016 was a fucking long and tiring year. By the time it came around to December, we’d all had enough of 2016. January seemed a long time ago.

But that’s possibly one of the lamest excuses ever. This record should not have been overlooked and doesn’t deserve to be overlooked. If anything, it should be presented to the nation as something to treasure for a very long time indeed.

This third solo album by Emma Pollock, since the demise of her previous band, the much-loved bitter sweet indie champs, The Delgados, shows her maturing as a songwriter, with possibly her strongest lyrics to date. She was always an adept wordsmith, but on In Search of Harperfield, she deals with difficult and troubling themes with a quiet yet determined confidence throughout.

An album about childhood, half-remembered fragments of time, loss, love, role reversal, death and well, just coping, it’s autobiographically based and largely around a time when she was caring for her two ageing and ill parents.

In that sense, it has remarkably similar thematic echoes to another one of our favourite albums of the year, Hannah Peel’s Awake But Always Dreaming, even if it doesn’t sound anything like it.

There’s a subtle use of strings throughout the album, gently wafting away and underpinning it all. In Alabaster, you hardly notice they’re there and even when they play a central role on Clemency, when all there is are strings and her voice, that’s all you need. A perfect combination.

It is difficult to single out any other track for special mention because they all deserve it, but In the Company of the Damned, with its gentle Lou Reed Velvet guitar stylings is well worth a listen and will captivate you and have you humming along long after the song has finished.

There’s something about Pollock’s voice, understated and with a matter-of-fact delivery, which  makes you wonder how can anyone sing about such hard things in such a relaxed manner; no tired old rock tropes are needed for her to get things across to you as a listener.

And that’s how it feels and you know that makes it a great record. It sounds as if it was made just for you. It’s a very personal record and something we’ll be listening to for years to come. Rick Leach

 

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Hope Sandoval and the Warm Intentions: Until The Hunter

Tendril Tales

After a seven year hiatus, Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval and Colm Ó Cíosóg of My Bloody Valentine have returned under their Warm Inventions moniker with a third album of intoxicating tranquility, and dreamy psych folk packed with the sort of immersive and emotive melancholia we’ve come to expect.

From the nine minute opening track Into The Trees, with its long hammond organ chords and piercing shots of high end feedback, and the yearning and longing in Sandoval’s voice as she repeats the phrase “I miss you”, its darkly sensitive, sparse, intimate and close, it is at once recognisable as their work, and everything we’d wish for from this most unique pairing of artists.

That is by no means the overriding theme on Until The Hunter, however. A Wonderful Seed is basically a part sung poem, set to a waltz timing, and with a distinctly French feel, its childlike and haunting, and uses well the resonant space created by recording in an ancient stone tower, as they did.

The album’s standout track, Let Me Get There sees Sandoval duetting quite magically with Kurt Vile. Their voices compliment each other so well on this lilting country folk flavoured ballad, its reminiscent of the Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra recordings, and a duet project surely worth an album of its own.

Until The Hunter’s beauty, and let’s be clear, there’s much beauty to be found here, lies not just in the writing or Sandoval’s dreamy vocals, but in the space created in the production. Its almost Pinter-esque in its reliance on those spaces, and the resonances they create. It’s a record that offers more with each listen, and delivers every time. Special. Really, very special. Paul Fitzgerald

 

Sunflower Bean Human Ceremony

Sunflower BeanHuman Ceremony

Fat Possum

Brooklyn trio Sunflower Bean bring a much needed dose of vigour into the often mundane world of stoner rock. For a band that have only been together just over a year, it’s as impressive a debut as you are likely to hear.

Hints of the jangly pop of R.E.M. and Blondie are met with clattering of Krautrock, as demonstrated on the piercing Wall Watcher. Each track is short, sharp and instantly hooks you in, perhaps best demonstrated on the beautiful Easier Said, a track with such magnetic pull that Morrissey and Marr would be proud to have crafted. Craig MacDonald

 

Syd-Arthur-Apricity

Syd Arthur: Apricity

Harvest Records

Named after Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee and hailing from Canterbury, this is the band’s fourth long player, released on the Harvest label, and their most accomplished offering so far. Describing themselves as an English psychedelic jazz band, which is somewhat misleading, the most obvious influences on their sound here are the so-called Canterbury scene progressive rock bands of the late 60s and early 70s, such as Soft Machine and Caravan.

“My world was never the same again” – Love’s De Capo at 50 – a personal reflection

However, unlike their proggy forebears, Syd Arthur avoid the self-indulgent excesses that have done so much to tarnish the reputation of prog rock. They write and record proper songs and keep the extended jams and soloing to a minimum. Their sound also has a good dose of the 21st century, sounding not unlike Radiohead in a good mood on Evolution for example. Producer Jason Falkner, who has previously worked with Beck, makes the band’s sound sparkle like never before.

The album begins in understated fashion but soon lifts off. Into Eternity has an epic quality and uplifting, expansive sound that should appeal well beyond the blokey, niche prog rock audience that the band’s earlier efforts delighted, and which earned them a support slot with Yes. Title track and album closer Apricity is decidedly contemporary and points the way forward. This is a well-written and tastefully arranged collection of songs played with a virtuosity that few other currently active bands of Syd Arthur’s age and fighting weight could replicate. Gary Aster

Wolf People Ruins

Wolf People: Ruins

Jagjaguwar

Wolf People have been gigging and recording for just over a decade now. This is their third album proper (discounting a collection of early singles and eps), released on the Jagjaguwar label, and their best work so far. Often described as a psych/folk/prog band (or some slight variation thereof), they’ve seemed on the verge of breaking through for some time now, and in a more sane and rational world than this one, it would already have happened.

It’s clear that the band aren’t just music fans, but record-collecting obsessives drawing on a wide variety of often fairly obscure influences subtly in evidence here. But they are no mere revivalists; like hip-hop artists they recycle the past yet still sound fresh. There’s a distinctly contemporary aspect to this album. The “ruins” of the title refer to the aftermath of fallen civilisations – a theme that resonates in the current climate.

Like many of the artists on the Ghost Box label, Wolf People invoke the past to throw new light on the present and this has led some to detect a hint of the not-quite-nostalgic quality referred to as ‘Hauntology’ in their music. Imagine Fairport Convention jamming with Black Sabbath and you’re getting closer, but there’s also a can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it facet to this record, which makes those comparisons seem forced and feeble. Still, if everything could be explained using only words then we’d have no need of music. Gary Aster

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