As the dust settles on this year’s Mercury Prize shortlist, the Getintothis Album Club focuses on what really matters
The recent announcement of the Mercury Music Prize shortlist has caused its usual amount of consternation and debate, as these things tend to do.
There will be those who are resentful that their favourite album or band of 2018 is not amongst those selected by the panel of judges, those that think the shortlist is too safe, too predictable or too hipsterish. But what is it all about?
The panel of judges this year includes the Deputy Editor of the Guardian Guide section, one of Mumford and Sons and Jamie Cullum. If I was still in a band, I hope that the day I gave a shit about what Jamie Cullum thought about my music as the day I finally laid down my guitar and looked for a career in mini-cabbing. Why should I listen to Marcus Mumford’s opinion on my hard-written songs, given some of the turgid nonsense he’s seen fit to fling my way over the years?
But this is the thing about awards – no matter who the judges were, it would be their subjective opinion as to which records were better than everything else. And nobody really is qualified to make that decision. What is a classic all-killer-no-filler album to me may be a mediocre affair to you, or a record that passes me by with little or no trace left on my psyche may hit you square between the eyes and change your life forever.
This is the nature of art, there is no yardstick yet devised that the relative merits of different records can be measured against to produce a definitive answer as to which one is best. The opinion of a panel of judges is still that – an opinion, albeit a group one.
Nick Cave once asked to be withdrawn from the MTV Awards for Best Male Artist, reasoning that his muse was not something that he felt should be in competition with anyone else’s. He also asked not to be included in any similar award ceremonies going forward. His craft, he deemed, was to be judged against his own back catalogue rather than the latest albums by Blur or M People.
In his letter he stated that ‘My relationship with my muse is a delicate one at the best of times and I feel that it is my duty to protect her from influences that may offend her fragile nature.’ He further added ‘I feel that it’s necessary for me to request that my nomination for best male artist be withdrawn and furthermore any awards or nominations for such awards that may arise in later years be presented to those who feel more comfortable with the competitive nature of these award ceremonies. I myself, do not.’
It is hard to deny he had a point. More than that, in this world of record company spin and high cost social media advertising campaigns, an artist asking for his work to be removed from the merry go round indicates someone who is not prepared to sacrifice his integrity for the sake of a chance at some kind of glory.
Infamously, the KLF felt that the notion of the Turner Prize, where one piece of art is judged to be better than others, was such a ridiculous notion that they decided to award double the Turner’s prize money of £20,000 to what they judged to be the worst piece of art. Needless to say, they awarded it to the winner of the Turner Prize. When the dual winner refused to come outside to collect her money, the KLF told her that she could take it and maybe donate it to charity or they would set fire to it right there on the pavement. Eventually a representative was sent out to collect the £40,000, although history fails to relate what happened to it after this.
That said, it must be said that critics operate in a similar field, where we set down in writing our opinions on each months releases and compile our lists of the year. But at least we are quite open about the fact that this represents our own opinion and nothing more. We are not awarding money to records that we have judged to be superior to others, just passing on our own musings on some new music.
And, with that in mind, here we again present some of the records to have caught our ear over the last month. Good luck to them all – may they be loved by all who play them. Banjo
Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
As the title suggest, Deafheaven‘s fourth album, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, provides the narrative of the commonplace. Everyday life.
The past couple of years has seen the band dragged through a dark vortex of drug abuse and everyday struggles of being a band-in-a-van, touring all corners of the world. While Deafheaven‘s music has never suffered from these struggles, questions of longevity posed as some concern should such lifestyles continue. The answer is Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. An album that sounds and feels like Deafheaven have dragged themselves from the abyss.
Founding members, George Clarke (frontman), and Kerry McCoy (guitarist), further illustrate the transcended beauty of their song-writing partnership. You Without End is a sombre operatic opener that is an wild marriage of post-rock and black metal. It’s a sad song and perhaps the most emotionally driven Deafheaven has written to date.
Album centerpieces, Honeycomb, Canary Yellow and Glint are visceral animals that brim with ocean-deep emotion. Sonically, the brooding waves of flanging black metal guitars provide a backdrop of the apocalypse fighting against the all sense of hope. In fact, Glint feels like the angriest cut the band has produced yet.
Then there’s Near and Night People. Tender slowcore numbers that could easily occupy space next to Mogwai’s Cody. Clarke‘s trademark shrieks are replaced with actual singing; even alongside a guest appearance from Chelsea Wolfe on the latter track.
Four albums in and Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is Deafheaven‘s most eclectic yet. It’s also the album which they seem most at ease with themselves, and where many artists stumble at this juncture, Deafheaven seem to revel, finding an inner strength, growing stronger as a band.
As individuals. The fierce collision between crystallised beauty and poignant brutality hasn’t sounded so majestic for years. It proves that Deafheaven are one of the finest architects of illuminating even the darkest corners this world has to offer. There simply is no other band out there like them. Simon Kirk
Domadora – Lacuna
The year’s served us well thus far for riffs – Wooden Shjips, Here Lies Man, MIEN and Anthroprophh have all served up seismic dollops of noise – but few come close to Parisian titans, Domadora.
Four tracks of desert rock breezeblocks makes up Lacuna each with enough power to put an elephant to sleep. Seriously on seven minutes when second track Gengis Khan hits its stride it’s enough to give you an asthma attack. Enduring all 14 minutes is akin to falling down Rapunzel’s staircase; check Karim Bouazza‘s battering-ram drumming as Belwil (just Belwil, no idea if that’s his name or a medieval potion) lays waste to a series of snarling guitars.
Yet there’s more to Domadora than simply primal ferocity. Standout track Vacuum Density (the album’s shortest track, clocking in at a modest six minutes) is a soulful succession of building cyclical riffs aligned to hook-laden rhythms, however, when it kicks in you’re whisked down a vortex of sand-swept melodic nirvana. Much credit must go to Brice Chandler for his engineering skills – capturing the live essence of a band of this nature can be lost in the recording process, and here it is as solid as rock.
Opener Lacuna Jam sets the scene beautifully melding their Kyuss-meets-Sabbath whirl while the epic 16-minute closer Tierra Last Homage slows proceedings down to a sludgy drool before blasting off into unbridled carnage complete with a Bouazza drum solo.
If anything this lack of control is perhaps their only undoing, for when the album concentrates on hypnotic relentless psychedelia they’re near unstoppable. Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia bookers – if you’re reading, snap this lot up now. Peter Guy
Fog Lake – Captain
Dog Knights Records
On his 2012 debut There‘s a Spirit, There‘s a Soul, Aaron Powell, better known by the moniker of Fog Lake, established his own aesthetic and has stuck to it ever since.
This is not to say he hasn’t grown, matured or developed as an artist, but rather that he has recognized his own uniquely tender sound and simply built upon it. Though this transatlantic low-fi ‘sad-indie’ style is by no means alien or entirely unpopular, the manner in which he addresses it on his latest release Captain is exceptionally distinctive.
This record, yet again for Powell, works off the Fog Lake blueprint – the trademark gloomy, almost droning instrumentation covered with bright keys, slight guitar strumming to accentuate the rhythms, all of which are cut cleanly through by his soft, creeping voice.
The music is effectively melancholy manifest, yet it refuses to be mushed in it thoughts. Instead, the nebulous droning arrangement is purposefully salvaged by the clear vocal melodies that carry throughout every track. The definition of the seemingly androgynous voice helps Powell reclaim clarity in the midst of all the dejected sounding instrumentation and confused lyrics of loss and helplessness.
The DIY approach now synonymous with Fog Lake, combined with its release exclusively on small record labels, makes this music and its sentiments even more intimate and personable.
As expected, the album primarily introspective – even the more sonically up-beat cuts Serotonin and Acrylic are lyrically quite meditative and self-critical. However it doesn’t spiral into a self-indulgent whinge. The record does offer parts of external commentary (albeit quite related to Powell himself) with observations like ‘It took a while for you to settle down; settle in’ constituting the very first line of the lead single ‘California’ for example.
It must be said that, hailing from the tiny Canadian town of Glovertown, Powell’s music is remarkably expansive considering his origins. The lyrics are intimate yet widely relatable whilst the soundscapes are mostly dark and gloomy but still remain relatively catchy and accessible. This is all perhaps best shown in closer Dying Out East where all these contradictions of terms fuse to create a calming, bitter-sweet sounding ending.
This record is essentially bottled nostalgia – a cohesive piece of antithetical happy sadness. Matthew Lear
Grouper – Grid Of Points
Harold Pinter famously used space to create dramatic tension or the sense of unease and dread. And while Liz Harris aka Grouper doesn’t employ the violence you’d associate in the likes of Pinter‘s The Homecoming or The Birthday Party, the empty silences and pauses within her music are equally as affecting.
Such is the stillness at work in Grid Of Points you can literally hear every stroke on the piano, air circulating in the recording room or on the shimmeringly beautiful Driving Harris‘ first breath eases the music to life.
Notes are often left hanging in the air as you’re transported into a world of static emptyness or iridescent tranquility. While Harris suggests the inspiration was drawn from ‘the space left after matter has departed, a stage after the characters have gone…’ this mini 39 minute collection are more comforting than you’d first imagine.
None more so than on the quite beautiful Parking Lot which utitlises layered vocals atop of the hymnal piano gently building to a cushioned crescendo. Elsewhere, the voice and piano work as one – almost ambient in unison like on the celestial calm of Blouse.
While Grid of Points may be Grouper‘s most minimal effort to date, it’s also one which warrants repeated visits – let it consume you. Peter Guy
The Innocence Mission – Sun on the Square
Sun on the Square is the 12th album from ‘indie folk’ trio The Innocence Mission. And it is a thing of rare beauty.
After early albums drew comparisons to the likes of The Sundays, the group’s drummer left the band. Bravely, they decided to carry on without a drummer, feeling that this was truer to the nature of the band. This turned out to be a good move, as they now produce some of the most beautiful, haunting music to be heard.
The Innocence Mission avoid the trap of creating a folk music that relies solely on acoustic guitars. A double bass adds depth and texture, and the use of strings lifts the songs higher, creating a lush bed of sound for the superb vocal talents of Karen Peris.
Peris must be one of the most impressive vocalists around, her voice is crystal clear and her lyrics paint vivid pictures. Not that this is entirely her show. There are harmonies galore on Sun on the Square, and all mesh perfectly. The music here is, if I may use two contradictory terms, substantially ethereal.
Opening track Records From Your Room starts the album with finger picked guitars and sets the tone for the album perfectly. Look Out From Your Window is a waltz that builds and builds and builds, as backing vocals and strings take the song ever further, ever higher. Special mention must be made to the production here, as all the instruments are given space in the mix and, despite the number of instruments on some songs, the music never sounds crowded or muddied.
Peris’ husband Don takes vocals on Star of Land and Sea, a simple lilting song. His vocal lends a touch of fragility to the album after his wife’s virtuoso singing.
Sun on the Square is a beautiful record, and one I have found myself returning to often. Repeated plays mean that the songs it contains work their way into your mind and into your soul. Beauty like this is to be treasured. Banjo
Neotropic: The Absolute Elsewhere
Neotropic is the artist name of Riz Maslen, a maverick figure in the UK electronic music scene since the 90s. Collaborations and remixes with Future Sound of London, Ntone and Ninja tunes set the tone back then, but her own music stretches into areas unexplored by her more illustrious fellow travellers. This 7-track album is her first since 2009 – and the development over those 9 years is clear. This is filmic in all senses: story telling, complex, rich and varied. In the vocal virtuosity and aesthetic the album is in many ways nearer to classical music than the psychedelic folk and post techno mentioned in the press release. And if this was to be film music, the film is dark – at times, very dark…
Proving the classical thread, the first track is called Overture and there’s no messing around. Full of epic promise and foreboding: Wagnerian horns and Stephen King glockenspiel melody topped off with Riz ’s plangent voice – but just a hint of the vocal gymnastics ahead.
Riz multiplies herself into choirs on Your War, lamenting the effects of war. This multiplication gives us a glimpse of her range: from fragile and childlike, to the heart-rending sound of keening women mourning their sons. This is an expressive vocal range beyond the reach of her contemporaries – as a singer Riz leaves the likes of Bjork in the dust.
On in to the darkness, we find Wreckage of Dreams. The vocal echoes Ian Curtis in lyric and delivery ‘The sea is black, love, and unforgiving…’ is delivered in a solo voice against the sound of the sea and a tapestry of ominous synths, making the hairs on the neck of this salty old scouser stand endwise.
Nyolat gives us the first drums on the album. Usually the staple of electronic music, Riz saves the beats to recreate for us the funerary ceremony she attended in central Kalimantan in Borneo. This album is not for the faint hearted. The beats are raw.
But Pleiades takes us away from the tropics and back to the cold comfort of deep space. Minimalist violin patterning in counterpoint to another sumptuous vocal arrangement with that ever-present sense of doom: the voices draw you in.
This is a beautiful album showing real narrative skill and a complex and clever sound world, effortlessly bringing sea shanties, ethereal choirs, synthetic texture and minimal patterning all into service of her voice. The last line of the album tells us ‘She was a worker, working her bones’. Damn right. This doesn’t happen overnight. Jono Podmore
Oh Sees – Smote Reverser
John Dwyer’s seemingly endless banquet of sonic goodness is once again overflowing on Oh Sees‘ (or whatever you wanna call ’em) 20th studio album.
Once again, they’ve ramped up the effects pedals and continuing where predecessor Orc left off, Smote Reverser is heavy on the heavy jams.
However, this isn’t an exercise in repetition, with masses of experimentation at work. See Tom Dolas’ ecstatic swamp organ frenzy on Enrique El Cobrador, Last Peace doles out an inebriated wheezing hysteria and the blissed-out country-metal of Nail House Needle Boys. Overthrown, meanwhile, is simply all-out punk delirium.
The centre-piece is the 12-minute beast Anthemic Aggressor which shows off the band’s duel drumming might of Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone as they hold court amid a cacophony of skronking organ and Dwyer‘s permanently on the brink of collapse guitar histrionics. It’s the kind of jam that have made Oh Sees one of the world’s best live bands – and while it’s loose it’s also preposterously great – and shows a fearless band at the peak of their powers.
If there’s a criticism, you wonder whether a careful edit could have made Smote Reverser a seriously great album however, Dwyer and indeed the band’s enduring appeal is the cavalier, yet superbly crafted, albums seemingly tossed out at will. You have to sit back and simply encourage it. Peter Guy
Self Defense Family – Have You Considered Punk Music
Run For Cover Records
‘My girl and I have started fostering dogs/shit’s a hassle but they help keep her calm/She’s seen a lot but so have those pups/They connect in a way that’s fun for me to watch.’
These are the opening lyrics to Self Defense Family‘s new opus, Have You Considered Punk Music. A dyed-in-the-wool stream of consciousness album. While the stock standard Self Defense Family themes still linger (this band references Mohammed a lot!), there is a more inward, self-consciousness that underpins Have You Considered Punk Music. Whilst mental health is a prevalent subject within a lot of these songs (‘The Supremacy of Pure Artistic Feeling’, ‘Watcher At the Well’, ‘Nobody Who Matters Cares’) there are a lot of direct references to the band’s favourite artists, not limited to Nick Cave, Talk Talk, Lloyd Cole and Bill Faye.
It’s an interesting union. People these days almost feel afraid to talk about their favourite bands, almost assuming things as some unspoken certainty. Frontman, Patrick Kindlon, isn’t afraid to tackle the issue, using these references alongside mental health as a way to overtly express that music is one of the most important mediums that can save you from the void.
Have You Considered Punk Music is a slow-burner. Gone is the thunderous post-hardcore linage we associated with Heaven is Earth for a quieter, self-reflective series of slow-motioned post-punk dirges. It’s an album the listener needs to spend a bit of time with. Often these are the best albums that occupy one’s collection. Simon Kirk
Uniform & The Body – Mental Wounds Not Healing
After touring together in Europe last year, New York’s Uniform and Portland’s The Boyd decided to get behind the studio glass and commit their sonic chaos to tape. The end result is Mental Wounds Not Healing. An album that forges Uniform’s nihilistic shards of electro noise-rock and The Body’s harsh ear-bleeding desolated form of metal.
Thematically, this album sees the two bands pushing and pulling against the tide of mental illness. The Body, howling from the bottom of the vortex one minute, wanting to project out of their own skin the next. Alongside Uniform, generating a noise that can only be described as a wall of paranoia. If you could picture an over-medicated psych patient cowering in the corner imaging any way to escape from the world then you’ve just about entered the realm Mental Wounds Not Healing.
It would be remiss to single out particular songs on Mental Wounds Not Healing. For its twenty-eight minutes, it brims with a searing paranoid energy which is channelled by two bands that provide the perfect foil for one another. Sonically, as far as albums that explore anxiety and depression are concerned, you would be hard-pressed to find anything better that demonstrates these themes. Pure and simple, this is the sound of the nihilistic apocalypse. Simon Kirk
The Vryll Society – Course Of The Satellite
One thing The Vryll Society aren’t short of is admirers. Lauded at just about every turn by press and public alike, the release of their debut LP for Deltasonic Records is hotly anticipated thanks to the promise this band have shown through their live sets and recent single releases.
Picked up by the late and much missed Deltasonic founder Alan Wills in 2012, they fitted the type for him perfectly. He instantly saw in them similar attributes he’d previously found in the early days of The Coral and The Zutons. The confident swagger, the solid union formed by their band-of-brothers gang mentality, their willingness to stand outside the conventional and often stifling jangly Liverpool scene, and the work ethic. Always the work ethic.
They’ve taken their time to get to this point, sure, but the city’s favourite space cadets have more than delivered with this blissful and madly infectious record. This isn’t pop frippery, these aren’t throwaway cheap thrills for our disposable times. No, this is heavier. Music to feed your head.
Course Of The Satellite is a dizzying eclectic palette of everything from deep funk to Krautrock, electronica and prog. They’ve created a heady, intoxicating, pin sharp, and tightly wound mellifluous groove, washed over with cyclical motifs, acres of effects laden guitar hooks, and shimmering, textural technicolour soundscapes forming the deep layers around Michael Ellis’ graceful and elegant vocals.
Simply put, there are no low points to this record, from the opening spaced out strains of the title track, to the haunted beauty in the album’s final delicious moment Give It To Me, this is work of impressive confidence and stature. Alan Wills would be rightly proud. – Paul Fitzgerald