In the latest edition of Album Club, Getintothis’ writers present their round-up of the best new album releases of the last month.
Sometimes, things happen all at once. Festivals are a good example of this – we can wait months for a good run of gigs and then, in one weekend, we have more choice than we sensibly know what to do with. Trying to run between stages to catch bands can be a frustrating, tiring and usually disappointing exercise and it is easy to look back at old festival lineups and wonder why we didn’t see more of the bands we love.
In fact, it’s not just festivals that are like this, it’s festival season. Seeing as a festival can be a huge money sponge, not to mention taking up huge chunks of our hard earned and easily lost annual leave, there is often a choice to be made as to which we go to and which we don’t. And, as good as Glastonbury will undoubtedly be, there will forever be a part of us that wishes we’d gone to Blue Dot, or Festival No 6, Reading, The Secret Garden Party, or any one of seemingly hundreds of others.
Thankfully, albums are not like that. If we get a month where there is a run of great new releases, from big names, up and comers or underground heroes, we have the luxury of being able to take our time. We can come back to albums whenever we get the chance. Indeed, one of life’s great pleasures us stumbling across an old treasure, an album we always meant to buy but somehow never got around to, and then delighting in its long hidden joys.
This month’s album club presents us with such a thing. New albums from The Afghan Whigs, Slowdive, Gorillaz, Alice Coltrane and (ahem) Harry Styles all grace our Album Club this month. So jump in, indulge yourself or take your time and add some of the reckless beauties below to your list. At least you know you don’t have to wade through mud to listen to them.
The Afghan Whigs: In Spades
Sub Pop Records
Cincinnati alt-rockers The Alfghan Whigs are back with their eight studio album In Spades – two years after releasing the ‘comeback’ record Do The Beast in 2014.
In the 1990s the band lead the way in what would become modern day rock’n’roll adding ballads and R&B together to create sounds so pioneering for their time.
Led by front-man Greg Dulli, In Spades is a spooky add-on to The Afghan Whigs back catalogue. His raw vocals purr over each track, creating a nightmare in each track, almost inseparable to Dulli‘s other work with Twilight Singers.
Opening track Birdland takes another turn, paying tribute to staged scenes like we see on cinema screens, before a sharp set of harmonious bolts of lightning alongside gasps for air. Tracks draw on personal reflection and experience – I Got Lost being written after collaborator Dave Rosser had been diagnosed with cancer.
This style of hopeful and sombre ballads give the album a totally undeniable timeless melody of life and it’s fuck-ups. Other tracks such as Arabian Heights are coolly placed in slick funky waves of tension and madness and lead single Demon in Profile is a moody, jacked up dance tune playing on Jazz mysticisms.
With just 10 tracks, the album gives an experience like no other proving that, two decades on, The Afghan Whigs remain on top of their game. Lauren Jones
A R I Z O N A: GALLERY
A R I Z O N A (the band, not the state, as they never fail to clarify) have finally released their debut album, GALLERY, after almost two years of build-up following the release of their singles I Was Wrong, Oceans Away, and Let Me Touch Your Fire.
The album does a great job of reintroducing the group after the long period of silence, and has had a huge reception since its release on May 19. Their early singles Oceans Away and I Was Wrong are both included, as well as 10 other brand new bangers.
I Was Wrong and Oceans Away came dangerously close to turning generic shortly following their release, but this could have been simply because of their failure to turn songs out regularly in the past year-plus-change.
Generic or not, their 10 new tracks come a lot closer to where they need to be to sit on the cutting edge of electronic music; taking musical cues from the sound of groups like The 1975, LANY, and other major developments in the latest scene.
The songs are genuinely grabbing, catchy, there are some great ideas in nearly every track, and they absolutely pull them off. Each track slams the idea further home that they will not be ignored or become irrelevant anytime soon.
Worth a listen (or three)? Definitely. Profound? Maybe not, but they are clearly players in the current electro-pop scene who cannot be ignored. Stephen Geisler
Alice Coltrane: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
Released on David Byrne‘s Luaka Bop label The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitanada is a collection of ten pieces of music originally recorded on cassette tape between 1982 and 1995 by Coltrane and members of her Californian ashram. They were originally committed to tape for their personal devotional use. The album seems to be able to mix European medieval choral music with classical Indian in an alternatively meditative and ecstatic tapestry.
Coltrane largely eschews the jazz influences for which she was best known (despite always playing second fiddle to her husband, saxophonist John Coltrane) and utilises her new found discovery of the synthesiser (in this case an analogue Oberheim OB8).
At time, the synth carries the slow weight of a church organ, at others a gravity defying, uplifting space bound swirl. The 24-piece choir soar over the heavy, slow swathes of sound on the epic Journey To Satchidananda before Coltrane returns to more familiar territory, playing fragile, shimmering harp on Er Ra. The vocals also weave together multiple influences, from medieval choral, through soul and gospel to chanted Eastern devotional repetitions. Coltrane’s vocal on Om Shanti is a standout infusion of soul and gospel. A percussive accompaniment of simple handclaps and tambourine shakes adds a rhythmic pulse throughout.
With the Indian influences on The Beatles being explored in the Sgt Peppers 50 Year celebrations this is both a timely and timeless release. This music could be played in this city at either cathedral, at Milapfest’s Indika Festival or at Psych Fest. Any takers? Glyn Ackroyd
Parlophone / Warner Bros
After a seven year absence Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s animated concept band return with their fourth album proper (discounting side projects) and much the same formula as before. An impressively assembled line-up of both emerging and established talents collaborate on a varied collection of songs, each orbiting around certain key themes or concepts. Explicit references to Donald Trump and Brexit are lacking, but the album riffs on a world that could produce such results. Another theme is our ambiguous relationship with technology; the Humanz of the title are reminiscent of the Everyday Robots Albarn described on his 2014 solo record.
It’s not as immediately obvious as previous Gorillaz offerings and there’s a noticeable decline in the number of tracks that scream ‘hit single’ at you – definitely more of a grower. Most of the songs occupy familiar Gorillaz territory. However, Albarn does a nice line in musical melancholy, and it’s a side to his song-writing that’s found little outlet in Gorillaz before now. Here it proves to be a natural fit for the band on tracks like Busted and Blue and Hallelujah Money.
But this is not to say that it’s a bleak record. Albarn has repeatedly described it as “a party record for the world going nuts”. Helping him celebrate are some returning to the Gorillaz fold (De La Soul, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man), some surprising new arrivals (Grace Jones, The Staples Singers, Jean Michel Jarre) and a couple of old acquaintances (Graham Coxon and Noel Gallagher) amongst others. Albarn’s co-producers, the Twilite Tone and Remi Kabaka, ensure that everything sounds current and slick, and together they’ve produced a record that somehow manages to find cause for hope and optimism without resorting to sentimentality. Gary Aster
Hey Colossus: The Guillotine
Hey Colossus have undergone a spectacular transformation with their last few records, growing from krautrock infused sludge-terrorisers into measured and menacing psychonauts with honest to god catchy songs.
This new record sees them continue down this path, perhaps for the first time placing Paul Sykes‘ spectacular lyrics front and centre, which is a good job, because he’s really got something to get off his chest. The dread of the current political climate hangs over the entire record, with a verse from single Englishman‘ that muses on the futility of nationalism sticking out in particular: “Whoops the empire slipped through the cracks / The stuff of legend and it’s never coming back / Here lies egress / Stitching on a dodo to the family crest“. He strikes out at the world’s ails with verbose, pointed and acidic wit throughout the record, while retaining a level of esoteric mystery that’s captivating.
Sonically, the band demonstrate their control here more than anywhere else in their discography, and having caught them live twice recently, they clearly know the strength of their new material – they played 6 of the 8 songs from this record both times. Their triple guitar attack is a dense latticework within which no player ever intrudes on each other’s space, and often functions as an extension of the rhythm section.
Even in their most plaintive moments like the delicate Calenture Boy and Potions, they move with looming power as a solid propulsive unit. The focus on the vocals makes them feel much more like a Post Punk band than ever before, but they don’t sacrifice any of their heft for their newfound nuance. Second track Back in the Room might be a career highlight, with animalistic yelps that Nick Cave would be proud of, a deadly two note kraut groove in 3/4 that sounds like Swans on speed, and an incredible saxophone solo that slices through as the track releases all of its muscular, paranoid tension in its coda.
Fans of the band’s previous record Radio Static High (one of this writer’s favourite rock records of the decade) may find some of what’s here a bit downtrodden compared to that record, and definitely not as immediate for the most part, but it unravels layers of wonderful detail upon repeated listens. The Guillotine is THE rock record for modern Britain, and another stunning notch on an astoundingly consistent band’s bedpost. Michael Edward
Kelly Lee Owens: Kelly Lee Owens
The debut album by the London based producer Kelly Lee Owens is fragrant with character that she has acquired along the way from her native North Wales to Manchester to working at London’s XL Recording. An electronic mostly techno work at heart, the self-titled album can potentially convert someone not already interested in those genres.
Filled with perfection and nuances one can expect from a producer who constantly collaborates with Daniel Avery and James Greenwood (Ghost Culture), the album’s upside is the flow from song to song on top of the variety the songs offer.
The opening track S.O. is by far the most seductive with its moodiness and drama. The minute you think it is just business as usual, use of ethnic loops take the sound levels apart. From Anci to Lucid, the techno influence takes the forefront evolving to its punchiest peaks at CBM. While the moodiness comes back at Keep Walking and the ethnic exoticness at the drone-laden 8 which with its immersive qualities sums up a whole album that’s made up of creative genius, moodiness and atmospheric beauty. Amaan Khan
Ron Sexsmith: The Last Rider
Ron Sexsmith’s songs and delivery have a true elegance, with melancholies very much borrowed from the Tim Hardin songbook; in real terms, the Canadian is the ultimate sensitive singer songwriter. At the Glasgow show on his last UK tour a fight broke out in the audience, leading to the speculation that maybe the people concerned were arguing about which of his songs is the most sensitive; the jury’s still out on that one.
The Last Rider is his thirteenth studio album. On the cover we get a re-enaction of the Last Supper, with Sexsmith in the starring role of Jesus, in a bright red silk kimono. The image itself is so very….unlike him. Yet Ron Sexsmith is a contradiction in many ways; sharp and witty on Twitter (someone turned up to his show at the Epstein Threatre 18 months ago expecting a stand up comedian, the Liverpool rumour mill has it), but a nervous, anxious performer. Yet his songwriting is bold, Sexsmith is the only lyricist I can think of who gets away with writing a song about a St Bernard dog without it being neither cheesy nor a metaphor for something deep and meaningful, as he did on 2015’s Carousel One.
The Last Rider has a value for money fifteen songs, and not one filler amongst them. Evergreen is a song of sweet hope and optimism. Worried Song with its sentiments of faith is a simple beauty, striking chords of religious and romantic love, whilst West Gwillimbury is a jaunty dip into bittersweet memories. Sexsmith’s critical acclaim has never translated into huge commercial success, more fool those who miss out, I say.
The Last Rider is a gentle, thoughtful record; classic Ron Sexsmith. Cath Bore
For a band who make such a calm and reflective sound, Slowdive attracted more than their fair share of detractors and derision. The Manic Street Preachers’ Richey Edwards famously stated that “I hate Slowdive more than Hitler” and Melody Maker’s review of their debut album concluded that it was a “major fucking letdown”. The band were and derided as rich boys and girls playing at making music and there was a sense that they were unfairly scapegoated, largely due to the appearance of Suede and the emerging Britpop scene changing the musical landscape.
Outside of the UK however, they were seen as dreampop pioneers. After they split, their name started to be mentioned as an influence, and echoes of their sound can be heard in the likes of Ulrich Schnauss, Deerhunter and Tame Impala. No one was more surprised than the band at how much their popularity had grown in their absence, particularly when the reformed Slowdive played Primavera to 25,000 people.
And now they have taken a step still quite rare for reformed bands; they have released a new album. So what, if anything, has changed? Well, gone are the more ambient soundscapes of their last album Pygmalion, gone also are the more meandering aspects of some songs from their first two albums. What we get can perhaps be seen as a culmination of the Slowdive sound – processed guitars and breathy vocals are present, the music can certainly be referred to as atmospheric and the lyrics go largely unheard. What has changed is that they sound more focused and more solid. It is as if they finally realise what Slowdive are and how they sound, without having to force it or make it up anymore.
Opener Slomo sets the scene with a slow intro and atmospheric giving way to a catchy guitar line. Star Roving and Everyone Knows rock out very effectively and gives lie to the cliché that Slowdive only write introspective songs. In fact, the album is a masterclass in building a song up to dizzying heights, creating a surge of noise, only to have it crash down again in waves of sonic bliss.
Slowdive is an absolute triumph and one that will reward repeated listens. The world, it seems, is finally ready for them. Banjo
Harry Styles: Harry Styles
It’s a little bit of an understatement to say that Harry Styles self-titled solo debut took music fans by surprise. I can’t believe I’m writing these words but simply put, it’s a really good and versatile record from start to finish.
After Styles had cited the late and great Bowie as one of his main influencers, many held their breath in anticipation for what would follow from such a bold and brave statement, but to his credit, the leading single Sign of the Times did somehow encapsulate elements of what the pioneering icon had historically created. Raw, simplistic piano maintains the core of the track, as Styles’ vocals effortlessly change from a passionate force, to a falsetto style sound. More elements build up to create this powerful ballad of glam-rock style guitar and the inclusion of a gospel style chorus creates the ultimate crescendo finale.
Of course, Styles’ talent was known since his initial X Factor audition, in which Cowell’s pupils turned into pound signs and one of the biggest boy bands was born. But behind his counterparts, it was easy for his voice to get a bit lost. This album is his chance to shine alone, and while most songs are basic sweet love stories and heartbreak anthems of echoed vocals and slow guitar strums and finger picking, they still stand out as well produced and put together tracks, hailed by the likes of indie-folk cult favourite Father John Misty. Singles such as Sweet Creature showcase Styles’ lone songwriting skills while From The Dining Room highlight his adaptability to a more stripped back affair.
As Styles was often tarred with the ‘bad boy’ brush in his One Direction days by the mainstream media, he seems to have lived up to these expectations with some of his lyrics – what a marketing team the guy must have! The unexpected, fast-paced squall of guitars and Joe Strummer-esque squawks in his song Kiwi are matched with equally as racy lyrics, “Hard candy dripping on me ’til my feet are wet, and now she’s all over me, it’s like I paid for it” – it’s enough to make anybody blush. Message received Harry, you’re not part of a manufactured boy band anymore, this is the antithesis of anything the singer had been associated with before.
A particular highlight of this song though, is the exaggerated sniff at the end of the line “Holland Tunnel for a nose, it’s always backed up”, as if it wasn’t obvious enough that this was a cocaine reference. While subtlety isn’t his strong suit, Styles has well and truly shaken off the boy band personna and it seems that this may have been the main drive behind this well-executed solo project.
While it may have divided the young and impressionable One Direction fans, I’m among the many that support it. Lorna Gray
Wavves: You’re Welcome
Severing their ties with Warner Bros. due to terrible organisation, describing it as a series of ‘cons’, Wavves release their latest record, You’re Welcome on Nathan Williams‘ solo label, Ghost Ramp. A wise decision perhaps, but do they channel this wisdom into their 6th record?
The answer is, well… kind of. It’s almost as if Williams isn’t bothered either way if we like it or not, title track You’re Welcome is his deadpan equivalent of saying “here you are, here’s some tracks I made, don’t mention it“.
No Shade is the first-half highlight; a minute and 46 second thrasher punk number roars on a rough set of Black Flag chords and rapid fire snare hits, all the while Williams muses: “If my baby don’t come, neither will the sun“. Come To The Valley is a sinister anthem that would have got Pinocchio and his cigar-smoking friends onto the boat to Pleasure Island, “there’s no need to run, and no need to be scared” we’re creepily assured, with the music sounding like the audible version of the Cheshire Cat’s smile.
Animal and Stupid in Love show more promise, but sadly feel like mere flotsam from earlier Wavves records, undoubtedly offering us a big meaty chorus, but sadly not much more. Exercise is simply that, a work out for the band, but it’s that ferocious energy that we love; perfect for slamming your face into a half pipe to, ensuring you’ll come out laughing even if your teeth are scattered across the park.
Williams‘ variety of effects were what separated Wavves from other punk pop outfits of the time, and they’ll always remain, but rather than adding anything to the experimental lo-fi aesthetic, this time they seem to obscure the finish product, saturating it with unnecessary weirdness in a ploy to sound a little different. Dreams of Grandeur on the other hand is a lovely example of this weirdness coming to fruition and the album finale I Love You is a mighty 50’s pop ditty that’ll no doubt leave a sweet if not overly sugary taste in your mouth. Matthew Wood
Jane Weaver: Modern Kosmology
Jane Weaver’s latest offering continues to explore the sonic territory of 2014’s The Silver Globe, probably the most successful record of her long, varied and durable career thus far, though it may yet prove to outdo its predecessor. Certainly it’s been very well received by the critics and it’s not hard to hear why.
The song-writing is as good as ever and the arrangements provide a pleasingly inventive backdrop for Weaver’s ethereal vocals. She has a good ear for a melody and resists the urge to overwhelm it with endless overdubs. Indeed, as a whole the album sounds noticeably pared-back when compared with her previous collection. The continuity between that record and this one is immediately apparent, yet this is no mere re-tread of old ground. This is a carefully considered, if cautious progression rather than the great leap forward which separated The Fallen By Watchbird and The Silver Globe.
It can be broadly described as contemporary psych, though it sounds nothing like a 60s revivalist album – much more Trish Keenan than Grace Slick. The influence of Can, whose original singer Malcolm Mooney pops up to provide guest narration here, is apparent throughout. The analogue synths and vintage music tech employed to great effect are reminiscent of Weaver’s extensive, cool and knowing influences and it’s an album that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Ghost Box label – early electronica, experimental soundtracks, 70s space rock and krautrock comparisons are unavoidable, but don’t tell the whole story.
You may well be thinking that these are well-ploughed fields of inspiration yet Weaver manages to bring a freshness to them whilst carefully avoiding the clichés. The album’s pleasingly succinct opening track breathes new life into the well-worn motorik beat and doesn’t out-stay its welcome. The song concerns itself with Hilma af Klint, a Swedish painter and mystic who produced abstract paintings in the belief that she was channeling spirits, and it’s hard to avoid thinking that Weaver is here, metaphorically speaking, doing something similar in the exercise of her creativity. Gary Aster