In our first Album Club for 2018, Getintothis writers fight against the January blues to pick the best of the months releases for you.
There are times, let’s be honest, when we all get a bit bored with music.
It all seems the same, nothing excites and we all fall into that maybe not so tired old cliché that there’s nothing new under the sun.
We flick through our record collection, searching for something to listen to, something to (re) invigorate our faded aural palates and nothing springs to mind. We may even stick something on, half-heartedly and with a sense that it may just work, only to hear 45 seconds of it and then switch it back off. Nothing works.
For this writer, there’s a couple of go to records which invariably snaps me out of that lethargy, a couple that always pull through. Reliable stalwarts I suppose and probably most of us have one or two of those.
Maybe it’s always worse in January, this tendency to get bored with music. In general terms, winter has dragged on for ages, the weather is shite, the joy of Christmas is but a fading memory and most of us are more skint than ever. And as music fans, we’ve probably overdosed on a whole lot of music with end of year lists and simply need a break. A bit of a breather if you will.
And yet, and yet…
Something keeps us going.
And perversely while it’s January and all that (weather, winter etc), because it’s January, we have something to look forward to. New music.
We’ve another 12 months of music to discover, to find out what’s around the corner and what unexpected delights await us.
It’s a truism that we really do not know what the future holds.
We have no idea what great new music is waiting for us, what future classics will drop in the next 365 days (because there will be some for sure) and what will reignite our love of it all. What records we’ll rave about, what new artists and bands will emerge blinking into the sunlight and what will break the boredom. Who knows?
And that’s exciting, that’s what we at Getintothis are all about.
Eternally optimistic and fighting the boredom and cynicism.
So with that in mind, we’ve carefully selected some of the best albums of January 2018 for your consideration in this, our first Album Club of 2018.
Onwards and upwards! Rick Leach
Dream Wife: Dream Wife
Lucky Number Music
Dream Wife are a powerful and arresting proposition live. Performances full of venom and fire have kept Getintothis writers and shooters eager to cover their gigs whenever they’re in town. The last time they played Liverpool our reviewer described them as ‘a cross between The Spice Girls and The Fall’. A pretty perfect description of their live act.
So we were more than happy to get an email saying our pre-order of this, their first album proper, had been delivered through the letterbox while we were at work. And measured by most reasonable standards this is indeed a very good album. Coming in at a surprisingly short 35 minutes it’s punchy, poppy and rocky with just the right amount of shouting from Rakel Mjöll’s confident voice.
But, but, but. Oh. There’s something missing.
It could have been so much better. There’s a weird omission from the track list. Kids and Hey! Heartbreaker from the first EP get on the album, but not Lolita, which is odd. Lolita is one of the band’s most affecting and politically charged songs of these times. A puzzling absence.
Second, there does seem to be something a bit, well, flat about the mix.
The guitar is up there nice and bright, but the bass is hiding a bit. We think a band who can open an album with a song called Let’s Make Out (‘Turn your lips to me, Lights out …’) and finish with F.U.U. (I’m gonna fuck you up, I’m gonna cut you up, Then I’m gonna fuck you up’) could have been a bit bolder with the production. It could have had more depth and less pop.
Nevertheless, maybe we’re being overly critical. But perhaps not.
While their live performances have always deserved a five-star rating this album doesn’t quite get there. It’s somewhere between a three and a four. We’ll keep playing it because we like it, but we’ll still be thinking it could have been just that bit better. Peter Goodbody
First Aid Kit: Ruins
Ruins is the third album from Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg and is an assortment of sublime Americana folk oozing with melting melodies and silky harmonies. First song Rebel Heart sets the tone for the ten-track album, beginning with eerie guitar picking that soon dissolves behind the distinctive harmonies and Americana/pop sound.
The two single releases which preceded the album, It’s A Shame and Fireworks, hold no surprises but fit snugly in amongst the other hypnotically melodic tracks. It’s A Shame has a tantalisingly catchy hook – one that will no doubt be stuck in your head for days. Meanwhile Fireworks is the more subdued release of the two, featuring a twangy guitar refrain, violins and reflective lyrics.
None of the album is overtly Scandinavian but instead mimics the country legends of 50s America. However, in a chart overladen with artists tackling to become the future of music, it’s important to remember the music that satisfies nostalgia and reminds us of significant past musicians who still impact today’s music. Lauren Wise
Nils Frahm: All Melody
To say the release of a new album is highly anticipated is a phrase that been used so often it counts for nothing.
It’s that sort of off-the-peg line that gets thrown into nearly every press release that’s ever been written. In fact, if you type the words “new album” then with the beauty of predictive text the words “highly anticipated” pop up as if by magic. You can throw it in every single type of music. Susan Boyle’s new album might be highly anticipated as Muse’s.
It stands alongside the overuse of the word “genius” to describe anyone who can belt out a half decent original tune as something that should be banned. At the very least.
Having said that, for this writer, as well as many other people, the news at the end of 2017 of a new Nils Frahm album dropping in January 2018 was like an early Christmas present. One that we’d have to wait for until just after Christmas and with, to be honest, a heightened sense of anticipation.
There you go. Irony.
But exactly why was this album something to look forward to? What is so special about Nils Frahm and the music he makes?
It was with his first album for Erased Tapes back in 2011, Felt, that his innovative melding of classical and electronic music made people stop and realise that something different was going on.
Since then, using vintage electronic instruments alongside pianos, Frahm has created music of such beauty and originality that it takes your breath away. Spaces, his album of live recordings from 2013, really took things to another level, with gentle gossamer-thin piano melodies drifting like mist on an early summer morning alternating with and hardened by subtle use of electronics. It was music like no other and won him a whole new legion of fans.
He hasn’t put a foot wrong since then; headlining the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, being a driving forces behind Piano Day, playing at the Louvre, recording soundtracks and collaborating with the likes of Olafaur Arnalds and DJ Shadow. He also reunited with two old schoolfriends as Nonkeen in 2016 to record one of our albums of the year, The Gamble.
Frenetic activity has been the order of the day then for Frahm. But since Spaces, he’s not released a pure solo album. And because Spaces is so, so good we wondered how on earth could he follow it up?
There is always that nagging doubt. Maybe he couldn’t. Maybe it would be impossible. Maybe Frahm’s 2018 album would be the musical equivalent of The Phantom Menace.
Well, after listening to it virtually to the exclusion of anything else of the past week we’re happy-more than happy, we’re ecstatic- to report that it’s far from that.
All Melody is an incredible record. Beyond outstanding.
Frahm spent a fair bit of time building a new studio from scratch in East Berlin, moving in all his retro equipment and processors, a pipe organ and numerous pianos to record the album. (Where does he find the time?)
And as the title suggests, over the 12 tracks we have melody, a lot of melody as well as extended dance rhythms throbbing away in the background, like the hum of a distant and unknow machine buried in the basement. There’s echoes of electric Miles jazz and inflections of ECM ambience (which is quite fitting when you know Frahm’s background.)
While the album is a solo Frahm piece, he’s now has the confidence and insight to draft other musicians in. So we have a wordless choir intoning on the opening track, The Whole Universe Wants to be Touched, like voices from a distant planet. We’ve got subtle use of strummed guitars, trombones and extensive use of marimbas throughout.
Some of the tracks-Kaleidoscope and #2 as well as the title track itself, languidly stretch themselves to nearly 10 minutes each, but they never feel like fluffy ambient meanderings; they are going somewhere.
This is the beauty of All Melody. It is going somewhere and we’ll enjoy going with it on that journey for a very long time.
And if Frahm can follow up Spaces with this, goodness only knows what he’s going to come up with next.
Highly anticipated? You bet. Rick Leach
Keiji Haino & SUMAC: American Dollar Bill
Japan’s Keiji Haino has carved out a career in oddball free-form improvisation, collaborating with the likes of Jim O’Rourke, Oren Ambarchi and Boris along the way. Haino’s cathartic explorations have been the source of delight for crate diggers and experimental aficionados alike.
Then there’s SUMAC, led by Aaron Turner. For the last twenty years, he has held the torch as a purveyor of progressive and heavy sounds, most notably with post-metal titans, ISIS.
Turner, though, has always looked to stretch his sonic boundaries post-ISIS, with acts such as Jodis, House of Low Culture, Old Man Gloom and Mammifer. That’s just to name a few, too. Like Haino, staying idle is failure in Turner’s eyes and American Dollar Bill is a collaboration between the two which continues the theme that gratification is found outside the boundaries.
An album which bears title lengths that rival Godspeed You! Black Emperor‘s (the best, although not the longest, being I’m Over 137% A Love Junkie and Still It’s Not Enough), American Dollar Bill is five songs containing free-form improvisation that are a withering demonstration of sonic terrorism.
SUMAC’s bludgeoning tones are just as instant as Haino’s murderous shrieks. Together they forge something that feels tribal, like listening to the latest incarnation of Swans. That’s why it’s disingenuous to pinpoint any particular song as a highlight because each cut drips into the next.
It’s a headphones listen from front to back and one not for the faint hearted. For those who like their sounds to steamroll and provoke thought, it’s an essential listen. Simon Kirk
Four years on from their last album and Leeds’ Hookworms have delivered a record which charts significant, if somewhat expected changes in sound from the primal ferocity of their opening two albums Pearl Mystic (our album of 2013) and The Hum.
Microshift, borne out of the 2015 flood which devastated the band’s Suburban Home Studio, sees frontman MJ and his cohorts realign their focus towards the music’s production and with it a heavier emphasis on the synthetics which drive Hookworm‘s sound – moving somewhat away from their characteristic live fury into a steely, modulating mechanical wonder.
For committed fans of the band this should come as little surprise given MJ‘s long-time production nous and MB‘s (Matthew Benn to his ma) side project, the superlative Xam, who, teaming up with Christopher Duffin created the kraut-fueled electro-prog of 2016’s Xam Duo for Sonic Cathedral; a record which delighted in beautifully languid washes of warm electronica.
Indeed, Duffin appears as one of the co-writers on the track Boxing Day – a track which is indicative of Microshift‘s switch of direction – an undulating robotic march broken up with squalling jazz honks and brutal dissonance. It’s a mere two minutes in length but it packs a mighty punch and is immediately followed up by the ambient bath of Reunion which serves as a meditative aural calm after the previous sensory battering.
Elsewhere, there’s a sequence of electronic rock n’ rollers imbued with metallic, serrated edges which will satiate Hookworms devotees. Ullswater is a pacy riot which builds to a mesmeric climax with MJ in searching reflective mode amid a blistering harmonica squall, opening single Negative Space grooves and funks in triumphant fashion while the eight-minute Opener emerges from a cloud of noise before blossoming into a quite beautiful plea for help amid a drenching of humming organs.
The oldest song on the album, Static Resistance which was in the band’s live sets around 2016, finds them struggling to ‘escape the life they’ve built’; this maybe the case, but on Microshift Hookworms are continuing to explore fascinating sonic terrain – and while there may well be continuing battles with mental health, depression and the constant battle of this thing we call life, they do so with music which is both life-affirming and hugely uplifting. Peter Guy
Meilyr Jones: Mimesis
Meilyr Jones’ debut solo album 2013, released in 2016, is an emotional, romantic listen, an ambitious record of immense chamber pop.
Mimesis is the recording of a celebratory concert 20 months ago in a London church with a 33-piece orchestra, 17-strong choir and full band, 2013 performed from beginning to end.
Mimesis’ charms lie in its unique combination of formality – the Welsh Music Prize winner’s classical background is at the root of that, the audience respect for silence, customary at all his shows, is practised in full here – and an essential vulnerability.
The creak-sigh of the piano and Jones’ thickened breaths on the microphone on Refugees adds to the latter’s endearing qualities, within both artist and song. On Mimesis, Rome is wonderful and oh so very grand, the choir on Olivia is bloody glorious, warming the heart but demanding authority. Accordion player Nicola Barbagli links Return to Life and Love, weaving in and around the bring your own bottle upstairs balcony, as he gifts us all a charming intermezzo.
On Mimesis we also enjoy songs not on 2013, but often performed live. Watchers is an eerie reflection of love and loss. And it’s a wise decision to have All Is Equal In Love in there too – the B-side that should have been an A-side; when Girl Ray recorded it, they assumed Jones’ own version was itself a cover of a classic pop song.
For those who missed the concert at Round Chapel in Hackney that warm late Spring evening nearly two years ago, it’s a fine thing Mimesis is here at last, and for those who were present, serves as a precious reminder. Cath Bore
Prog rock is alive and well, we’re happy to report as we spin the latest offering from Liverpool’s wordshy Kusanagi.
This 5 song trippy, psychy, deliciously instrumental (mostly) is an album that really shows how far they have progressed.
There’s a general feeling (probably because there are many examples to prove it) that instrumental rock is dark, moody and sometimes just plain depressing.
This album is none of those things. It’s bonkers good, that’s for sure, but it’s also a bit of a journey. From the heavy guitar of opener I See You to the kind of Simple Minds-esque guitars of Memory Reflector this is a band who have definitely found a level. And it’s a high one.
The album swings and swirls with gorgeous synths and heavy guitars and drumming. Kusanagi don’t need vocals to get their message across. They just do it with noise.
But then the symphonic Alterdark (not a typo – it really is Alterdark) hits the deck. This is a BIG TUNE. It’s 10 mins of a slow burn assault with a sweet piano interlude half way through – just to lure us into a false sense of security, but we think we can get out of here alive. The crescendo, with its marching drums sees us running into some kind of battle with imaginary Orcs, unicorns or some other form of flying creatures, probably with very sharp teeth and fire breathing abilities. It’s brilliant.
The album’s finale is The Infinite Bright – another long one at nearly 8 minutes. With an almost funk feel to some of the guitar playing, it builds and builds to a massive climax of noise with the band just going all out to pummel us into submission. It’s a fitting end to a triumph of an album.
Kusanagi get their name from a legendary Japanese sword – one of the three Imperial Regalia of Japan – that only a handful of Shinto priests have ever seen, assuming it even exists (they’re not saying).
Legend has it the sword has been lost at sea numerous times, but each time has miraculously been floated back up or washed ashore to be recovered and delivered back to be shrouded once more in mystery. It was last “seen” at the ascension of Emperor Hirohito to the Japanese throne in 1993, except, even then it was hidden inside a package. The story of the sword seems to fit the band’s music perfectly.
It’s a real voyage on which this album takes you and a thoroughly enjoyable one, even though you’re not quite sure where you’ve been or how you got there. Peter Goodbody
Sylvan LaCue: Apologies In Advance
Wiseup & Co
It’s one thing penning lyrics, getting ideas onto paper in a lyrical format is no easy business, but with the right melody the simplest of lyrics can become a memorable hook. For rappers it’s a little different.
Particularly with the lengthy narrative style many opt for these days, rappers are tasked with not only sketching a compelling tale, but they need to add movement to the words on the page, a flow to stop them stagnating.
Sylvan LaCue, formerly known as QuESt, channels a flow that feels cleansing, his rhymes glinting with a purity as they reach the surface. Sincere and powerful, it almost feels as though the beat moves in time to LaCue as he slips and slides through winding, superior lyrical patterns.
Apologies In Advance boasts the characteristically crisp production and smooth, jazz-inflected beats that LaCue feeds off so well, but perhaps we need more from the Miami rapper in the beats department.
While his lyrical prowess will continue to compel, to really hit the heights of his idols Kendrick and Drake, he’ll have to channel some of his magnetism into his instrumentation, but there’s still plenty of time for that. Matthew Wood
Mugstar: COLLAPSAR (Skull Scorchers and Neuron Phasers – Singles and Rarities)
RIFFS! BLOODY RIFFS!
Let’s be frank, no band on Merseyside – and few others in the UK – have been creating riffs with such colossal intensity for as long as Mugstar.
The quartet’s live shows are the stuff of legend, quite why this hasn’t transported them to the top tier of renowned heavy musical titans operating in this country is anyone’s guess because, unlike many of their contemporaries, the band manage to skilfully translate their colossal live noise so masterly on to their records.
Having formed in 2003, Pete Smyth (guitar, vocals, keyboards), Neil Murphy (guitar), Jason Stoll (bass) and Steve Ashton (drums), have snuck out COLLAPSAR, a compilation of singles and rarities on Sheffield’s Evil Hoodoo; a sprawling 16 track odyssey which charts their evolution from something of a noise-rock band trading in Sonic Youth angularities to widescreen purveyors of oceanic sonic tornadoes.
And what’s most intriguing about COLLAPSAR is its collecting of their various guises all under one monstrously riff-laden noisy roof.
There’s the jazz-funk skronk riffs of My Babyskull Has Not Yet Flowered, the organ-laced psychedelic riff attack of Technical Knowledge As A Weapon, the droning post-punk riffs of Spotlight Over Memphis and the all-out monumental riff assault of Red Shift.
If you’re after light relief, this is certainly not the record for you.
Fans of their latest albums, Magnetic Seasons and Lime in particular, maybe less inclined to love the forays into speed punk say on the likes of I Got The Six or Flavin HotRod or the misstep of the quite odd reinterpretation of folk classic Tam Lin, however, the breadth of scope on COLLAPSAR makes it a must-listen for both new fans and old.
And amid the metallic post-rock din of Bardo Head Finder, the neo-Canterbury-esque rhythmic beasting of Trone and classic Mugstar riff mauling of opener Bethany Heart Star here is a record seriously worthy of your investigation.
We’ve said it before at least twice on these pages – but we’ll say it again, Mugstar are some band, and to have them on our doorstep in Merseyside, well, that makes us all the more thankful indeed. Peter Guy
No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
After their meandering last album, An Object, Los Angeles duo, No Age, are a bit longer in the tooth and this seems to have paved the way for a more reflective statement on their fifth album, Snares Like a Haircut.
The band’s first on the Drag City label, holistically, Snares Like A Haircut is a return to the aesthetic which made Everything In Between one of their finest records to date. Here, No Age seem to have traded in the sinewy noise-punk flurries heard during the brilliant Nouns, for a looser dreamscape sheen.
Stuck in the Changer and Send Me demonstrate this approach perfectly, along with the album’s two interludes, the title track and Third Grade Rave. There’s even a hint towards a Japandroids vibes throughout, too, and when you first listen to album opener, Cruise Control, it bears an uncanny resemblance.
Although No Age orchestrate a more ethereal sound, at its core, Snares Like A Haircut still very much feels like a No Age record. There’s Secret Swamp and Soft Collar Fad, which are both shredding numbers that are easily among the finest the band has written.
It’s an album which illustrates a band that’s comfortable in its own skin and, five albums in, that’s no bad thing. Snares Like A Haircut will appease No Age‘s most devoted followers, but it also has the capacity to attract a wider array of listeners, too. Simon Kirk
Jeff Rosenstock: POST-
Quote Unquote Records
Averaging almost an album per year is no mean feat, but Long Island punk rocker Jeff Rosenstock is managing it with aplomb on his latest album POST-. His strongest and most hook-laden whilst also being his most cogent and timely collection of songs to date, Rosenstock surprise-dropped his third solo offering on January 1. Happy New Year.
Rosenstock wrote what would become POST- as a response to the 2016 US presidential election, holing himself up in the Catskill Mountains to do so, just as we all wish we could have. So it’s not surprising that the resulting album explores themes of alienation and is “chiefly concerned with losing hope in your country, yourself, and those around you”.
We could studiously dissect the album at this point, and to be clear there’s something to love about every track on POST-, from the thumped-out solo of Yr Throat, the convulsive, collapsing drum fills of All This Useless Energy or the lounge-punk vibes of 9/10. But you really can’t ignore the album’s showpiece opener, the blistering, thundering protest anthem USA, which storms in and takes over from the outset. It’s the kind of song you’re still singing the chorus to after the record stops 30 minutes later, it’s really that exhilarating.
What could be a mutter of apathy, “we’re tired and bored,” becomes USA‘s mantra, Rosenstock frothing into a fury of indignant rage as the song rises to crescendo. When that comes, it peaks into a confetti cannon of whooped gang vocals, delirious handclaps and screeching guitar chords. The fact that the lyric “Et tu, USA” is a near-perfect aural approximation of “F U, USA” can’t be a coincidence; it’s an admission of unexpected betrayal and the emotional fallout from this, ingeniously packaged as a fist-raising anthem.
USA, just like its parent album as a whole, is a punkish power pop riot in which Jeff Rosenstock manages the neat trick of making playful, joyous and immediate music whilst also displaying a disarming social consciousness. Both track and album respectively stand as one of this year’s best already. David Hall
Tricksy fuckers, Suuns.
Having formed just over a decade ago in Montreal, such was their lascivious, creeping malevolence, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination if you’d learnt they crawled out from the sticky stench of a steamy Canadian drain.
Over the course of three albums they’ve melded sinewy rhythms with spindly guitar melodies and Ben Shemie‘s disarmingly sinister vocal to create a sound which is (with the obvious exception of Clinic!) almost entirely their own; haunting, intense and thrillingly claustrophobic.
On Felt, album number four, they once again reveal their hand decidedly slowly with a set of tracks which is willfully anti-melody and devilishly obtuse. It is far from an easy listen. But persevere and dark riches are to be mined.
Much like their live shows, Felt has the power to suck you into the maelstrom before unleashing taut, frightening industrial pangs of noise. Take the slithering grind of After The Fall – for three minutes, Shemie repeats the refrain ‘in you‘ amid sheet white noise and reverberating grinds before shuddering to a deadened sudden stop. The almost balladic keys-led Control serves as a momentary respite.
Repetition plays a key part throughout Felt, building tension and disorientation – the sparse plucked chords of Peace and Love all seasick woozy contrasts with the preceding echo-laden fuzz of Daydream while Look No Further is classic Suuns all spidery and murderous.
While Felt perhaps lacks the catastrophic hit of earlier singles 2020 or Arena, what it does is cement their status as a consistent force of otherworldly oddities. Peter Guy
Shame: Songs Of Praise
There’s a cock-sure confidence to Shame that emanates from emphatic, anti-hero front man Charlie Steen which is both captivating and curiously endearing. His menacing nature is, of course, all an act, as off-stage he is a pleasant and genial guy.
With biblical references to ‘the helpless and needy‘, ‘sodomy’, ‘a christening’, ‘angels’ and ‘the promised land’, Songs Of Praise is clearly a very apt title for the album. It’s also perfect for a spot of early Sunday evening listening!
Taking time out from a heavy touring schedule to record the 10 songs (in just 10 days), a decision to play it safe and include all previous single releases is the only criticism that can be levelled at the band for this product.
There are numerous highpoints in what is mostly a seething, simmering and at times raging beast of an album. Songs we know, such as the snarling Tasteless and the enraged Concrete are tempered by newer tunes such as the self-deprecating, One Rizla and the beautifully hypnotic Angie.
Josh Finerty (bass) and Charlie Forbes (drums) provide a propulsive beat and driving rhythm throughout, whilst the soaring riffs of Sean Coyle-Smith and Eddie Green complement the band’s sound and Steen’s vocal onslaughts perfectly, to create a cacophonous anarchic discord.
Whilst a few old-era punks are shaking heads wondering what all the fuss is about, new generation punks are enjoying a blistering debut from this contemporary and especially relevant South London outfit. Mark Rowley