Albums Club #36: Stealing Sheep, White Denim, The National, Fat White Family, Mac DeMarco

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2019 continues to be a classic year for albums, with Stealing Sheep taking top honours for their hugely impressive Big Wows and SPINN getting ready to soundtrack our summer.

As the opportunity falls on me to write an intro for Albums Club, there’s something that’s been on my mind for a while.

Why is it that some albums can disappoint you when sitting down to listen to them, but work really well in a live setting? Likewise – why can some albums sound amazing when you sit and listen to them, but not stand up too well live?

The best example I can bring to mind from personal experience is PiL’s Second Edition/Metal Box.

Controversial, I know, but I’m personally not a massive fan of that record.  And yet, when I saw them at the O2 Academy way back in 2013, the material from that album, like Albatross, was absolutely second-to-none, with the band seeming really switched on while performing it – and the fans enjoying every second.

Conversely, some bands struggle to record their live sound in a studio, the sterile recording studio proving inconducive to capturing their onstage performance.  Famously, Joy Division were disappointed the first time they heard both Unknown Pleasures and Closer, feeling that the songs produced by Martin Hannett bore little relation to the music the band made on stage.

Thankfully, over the years, the band have come to appreciate Hannett‘s genius in creating such flawless, classic albums.

It always amazes me when there’s such a big contrast between hearing something on-record and live, whether it’s related to atmosphere, or simply energy, I’m absolutely sure it’s a real thing, and can definitely work both ways.

We’d love to hear if you have any stories of albums exceeding your expectations, or unfortunately not matching them. If you’ve got anything to say, please let us know in the comments below!

So anyway, without further ado, it’s my pleasure to bring you the latest iteration of Getintothis’ Albums Club.  Max Richardson

Album of the Month

Stealing Sheep: Big Wows
Heavenly Recordings

Stealing Sheep have been around for some time now.  They first appeared in these pages in a live review back in 2010, where we described them as ‘harmony-led folk’.  Clearly much has changed since then.

By 2011, they had, in our reviews, moved from folk to alt-folk to psych-folk. Clearly things were moving, but folk was still being cited as the dominant strain in their music. The progression here is interesting though, if folk had been a starting point, their music and ideas were evolving beyond their roots at a considerable pace.

By 2012, Stealing Sheep had slimmed to a three piece, with Getintothis noting ‘the first striking thing that hits is the raft of new ideas the trio have brought to the table.’

Stealing Sheep 2019 are as far removed from folk as it is possible to get.  They now offer ultra-modern, hi-gloss, intricate, off-kilter pop for the 21st century.

Live they are a performance art revelation, with their Big Wows show at Edge Hill Arts Centre proving to be one of the best gigs this writer has ever seen, commenting at the time that ‘the work and thought that must have gone into the show before even the first note was played is phenomenal. Here is a band who have an artistic vision that obviously reaches beyond the scope of most of their peers. One number in and already all other bands look inadequate and old fashioned in comparison.’

We noted at the same gig that ‘There is a femininity to the way Stealing Sheep interact, the way the make music and the way they mesh together. Coming after International Women’s Day, it is inspiring to see everything that is good and positive about such a day being played out so effortlessly before our eyes.’  This is core to both the music they make and they way they play it live.

Whatever process of evolution Stealing Sheep have gone through, they have now arrived, fully formed and perfect. They are quite unique and, as a music writer, I struggle to describe their music using mere words.

The closest I can come to in terms of finding another band to compare them to is to say there are some similarities to the approach and sound of Let’s Eat Grandma‘s latest album, I’m All Ears, but really Stealing Sheep operate in their own arena.

On Big Wows, everything gels perfectly.  Their attitude, their closeness, their musical vision, everything is in place and creates a whole that is as near to perfection as it is possible to get.  And then some.

Their music is made up of parts that seem to have been created separately, with little common ground to stand on.  And yet, when they are put together, they create a sound that is as complex as the inside of a Rolex watch but that fits together as perfectly and creates music that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Emily Lansley’s bass is used as a foundation for the songs to stand on, creating melodies of its own that often bear little relation to what is going on around it, but that hold the songs together.  Lucy Mercer’s drums shy away from conventional rhythms – such things have no place in Stealing Sheep’s world, with an instinctive avoidance of convention being part of their musical DNA.  To complete the picture, Rebecca Hawley’s keyboards and effects provides essential hooks, texture and washes of sound.

All three contribute vocals and their voices mesh together superbly, the result maybe of their folk roots showing through.  Harmonies are, as is Stealing Sheep’s way, intricate, flawless and perfectly worked out.

This means there is no lead singer in Stealing Sheep, no grandstanding or limelight stealing.  There’s  a vision of a perfect world, a utopian ideal, where art and the execution of art are more important than ego.

Big Wows starts off with Show Love, which demonstrates the Stealing Sheep aesthetic in all its glory.  Catchy yet clever, awkward yet simple. It’s easy to imagine this taking over the airwaves to soundtrack our summer.

Second track Back in Time again almost sounds too odd to make for a pop song, but somehow they manage to rein it in and command all the odd elements of the song to make sense and fit together. This is Stealing Sheep’s genius, to be both non-conventional and yet to make music that can come together to sound straightforward  It is not an easy line to walk, but they manage it with enormous style.

Girl features a taut funk bassline that puts us in mind of early 80s post-punk, but married to modern sounds and treatments and again I am minded to note that Stealing Sheep occupy a hinterland somwhere between The Raincoats and SOPHIE, between a version of the past and a vision of the future.

Just Dreaming calms things down with a short, chilled interlude, before the album’s title track again picks up the pace, with shades of Talking Heads backing and dream-like vocals.

Album closer Heartbeats arrives to usher us out, its pulse rhythms and backwards keyboards feeling like a return to the womb. There is a symbolism here that I don’t want to ruin by stomping all over it in my clumsy linguistic boots, but again Stealing Sheep’s natural feminism informs them and the music they make  It is the perfect end to a perfect record.

I am aware that I have perhaps overused the word ‘perfect’ here, but in all honesty Big Wows demands it.

Stealing Sheep are massively important, their mere fact that they exist at all makes pop music a better place.

Where they go from here is hard to predict, but for now we have Big Wows.  And for now that is enough. – Banjo

Anderson .Paak: Ventura
12 Tone Music

One of the most exciting artists on the planet right now, Anderson .Paak has returned in no time at all. Less than half a year after releasing Oxnard, the iron hasn’t had a chance for a breather, never mind cool down and we’ve been spoiled with Ventura.

Both records were born and bred in the studio together yet have distinctly different sounds – stating himself “one was made to be gritty, one was made to be pretty” and ‘Oxnard is to be played on the way to Vegas, and Ventura on the way home.’

It’s testament to his talent and focus to create such different sounds simultaneously without missing a beat in any major way at all.

As his fourth solo record using his real name, it connects far more with the original duo, Venice and Malibu. Showcasing his unadulterated aptitude for funk and soul through every track and his natural talent for fusing numerous genres into one complete creation. It’s the culmination of a journey that’s featured so many collaborators including Smokey Robinson and Andre 3000 on this record alone, and long term creative partners Dr Dre and Knxwledge.

Our first taste of what to come, King James, was the perfect appetiser for such a drastic shift in tone. Where Oxnard was a more ambitious and diverse sound compared to his other outputs, Ventura doesn’t suffer from any hangover or play it safe in any regards – hitting the mark and soothing your senses into tranquillity.

Hopefully we’re nowhere near the end of this musical safari. He’d be forgiven for taking a break when his incessant touring eventually slows up. But hopefully the drive that’s fuelled each record lights another belly after the countless encores to come. – Nathan Scally

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The Crows: Silver Tongues
Balley Records

Recently signed to Balley Records (the label ran by Joe Talbot, vocalist with IDLES) and over five years in the making since their formation, Silver Tongues, London based Crows first album, finally sees the light of day.

Light being an inappropriate choice of words, as this is one dark brooding monster of a debut.

Having supported the aforementioned IDLES on their UK tour last month, it was interesting to see if they could be as effective on record as their impressive live show, and thankfully no-one who witnessed it could be disappointed.

The opening title track is a relentless bludgeon of noise that sets the tone for the whole record, straight from the off it’s evident that the rhythm section are the bleeding heartbeat of the band.

Demeanour is a scorching blast, “Its that sinking feeling” chorus, is akin to a PIL early snarl, all attitude.

It’s an ongoing cacophony with no let-up, no chance to catch breath (literally, as their is no seconds of silence in between any of the tracks).

There’s not much in the way of light and shade, it’s a grinding onslaught with aching vocals.

And what a vocal. They were recorded, as live, on stage in an empty London venue to try and capture the raw, pure essence of the live experience. This is seen to best effect in Empyrean, which is a howling, almost gothic noise, disturbing and distorted.

First Light// False Face and Dysphoria close the album, reminiscent of Nick Cave in his darkest moments, between them a mammoth, almost 14 minutes in total, a crescendo showing them at their peak, it feels like closure on the process of making this album.

In the wrong hands this could have been a slog, endured rather than loved, but this is glorious.

It may have been five years, but it seems they didn’t waste a second of it. – Steven Doherty

The Delian Pool: Affectedly Yours
Secret Annexe

Wirral duo The Delian Pool have returned with their second album, Affectedly Yours, following their debut release in 2017.

The lead track from the album, eighth track Conductor, Please featured in GetintothisDeep Cuts a couple of months back, and it was a true taste of the pulsating, microwave emittance that Martin Ward and Kevin Downey have produced.

Affectedly Yours kicks off with the inciting Come The Revolution, a track that deserves to soundtrack a pair of mad scientists creating something wicked in some underground lab, under the Mersey, perhaps. Stand out mid album track, True Crime jangles, pinned by a snare beat and a slight cymbal, it slows the pace but leans to rockabilly as the true range of the duo is explored.

By the franetic A Carnage of Cuckoo Clocks, that diversity turns to the outright weird.  As the song tells us, “You’re beautiful and strange, magnificently deranged…”

Final track Stray Dogs kicks off aptly, as the album slows to a finish. It’s an experience, and as a listener it leaves one not entirely sure of what the meaning of such an experience was, but it lies provocatively between the real and surreal, dead and undead.

The real shame is that the band’s live performances are ultra rare.  They have said that they plan to do more gigs in the future and one would hope that this album could grace the likes of Sound soon, where its synths would drip from the walls.  – Lewis Ridley

Mac DeMarco: Here Comes the Cowboy
Caroline

Mac DeMarco‘s Here Comes The Cowboy is the fourth album from Canadian Indie Rock guitarist from Edmonton, Alberta, and it is a record that appears at first glance to relate pretty heavily to growing up in the hills of the mid west of Canada. While DeMarco comes from the grungier end of rock this record is probably best described in his own words:

“This one is my cowboy record. Cowboy is a term of endearment to me, I use it often when referring to people in my life. Where I grew up there are many people that sincerely wear cowboy hats and do cowboy activities. These aren’t the people I’m referring to.”

He’s not wrong. The first track is a simple introduction, in so far as it has one lyric, Here Comes The Cowboy, which is repeated ad infinitum from start to finish, three whole minutes of it as it happens. You could drop a pin in any moment of this song and it would sound exactly like any other. We always considered the story as an integral part of the cowboy musical bag, apparently not.

He does make up for it across the remainder of the record though, to be fair to him, Nobody is a plucky, gently story where he opened up a songbook and his voice. Finally Alone hints at influences from elsewhere, in this case, it’s a little 70’s soul, which is odd for a cowboy album, it’s a great song, it just seems out of place.

Little Dogs March and Preoccupied don’t stretch the tale much further, Choo Choo gives us more of the 70’s funk and soul and it’s a lovely thing for it, coming in at 2.40 it’s short but very sweet and just scratchy enough to make you love it.

K, Heart to Heart and Hey Cowgirl are in the same vein, giving him a little room to move around and find a little more depth as he goes, On The Square feels like it’s a note out in places and if we’re brutally honest we didn’t make it to the end, it’s slightly disorientating, oddball twangs and unusual pacing that set your heart rate off.

All Of Our Yesterdays goes back into the country fold a little, sounding like it’s been recorded in a bare room in the hills around Edmonton somewhere, Skyless Moon plays on that disorientation a little more and Baby Bye Bye takes a leaf or two out of the country feedback cookbook, if it had been thrown into the trunk of a station wagon with Hendrix and James Brown.

Baby Bye Bye and Choo Choo are probably the highlights for us in a record that isn’t nearly as country as DeMarco would have you believe.  – Chris Flack

Billie Eilish: When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Darkroom/Interscope Records

Sitting at the top of the charts in 13 different countries, Californian Billie Eilish‘s debut When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? follows on from her 2017 EP Don’t Smile At Me.

Becoming the first person born in the 2000s to have a number one album, at 17 Billie has the world at her feet, this album being arguably the hottest and most high-demand catalogue of works to date.

The first single You Should See Me in a Crown was released in July 2018, written and produced by her brother Finneas O’Connell, it’s a slow burner of whispering and haunting vocals charged with plenty of electro-pop layers and synthetic beats.

This is something shared with her second single, When the Party’s Over, again written by her brother. The track is kooky and mellow. Highly emotional, the viral-superstar’s angelic vocals knit together heaven and hell with this catchy number.

Bad Guy, the fifth and latest single, is a pulsating ancient Egyptian ode to alternative pop, this popular release is over within three minutes 14 seconds – too quick if you ask me.

Whatever you do, don’t listen to Bury A Friend at max volume on your car with the bass-treble turned to the max. I got the fright of my life when my car began shaking with the strength of those beats.

The song is one many will have heard before, championed on national radio stations, Billie has previously said this song helped shape the album, saying the album ‘just clicked‘ when she created the track.  Written about monsters under the bed, the track even has a nod to People are Strange by The Doors.

From start to finish When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is a modern-day 14-track masterpiece.

For someone who has an impulse need to listen to good-old guitar music, this album has opened my eyes to a shiny new world of electro – and I can’t get enough.- Lo Jones

Fat White Family: Serf’s Up
Domino

My first experience of Fat White Family was running into a venue during a festival to take a few pictures for a magazine, I didn’t have very long as I had about five shows to cover. Before I even managed to get my camera out of my bag one of the lads, I can’t remember which, was to be found hanging upside down, dangling from a lighting rig by the back of his knees while still playing guitar. You can imagine my surprise.

Their third record has surprised me again. Serf’s Up sees them seemingly grow before our very eyes. The Fat Whites always seemed like a band that could explode into absolute chaos at any point, you were always waiting for one of them to throw a punch, but here, with Serfs Up, well, they’ve grown.

It is an accomplished piece of work, Feet is pure disco, pure pop grunge, at 5 minutes 20 it’s a statement of sorts, marking a return from a tumultuous time. There have been actual fights, addiction, departures and a lot of subsequent healing. It has obviously had a huge impact.

I Believe In Something Better is a slice of industrial pop, subtle thumping bass, it’s lush and mellow at the same time. There has been a lot of time in a studio slaving over this one.

The Fat Whites‘ anger and wider considerations about the world are still there, thankfully. This is blindingly obvious on Kims Sunsets, a swirling, jangly, orchestral infused number about Kim Jong-un lovingly looking over his nuclear arsenal, as you do.

Fringe Runner brings a little more in the way of the Fat Whites we know, its horror movie soundtrack territory, crashing noises, demonic vocal overlays and the definitive Fat Whites harmonies.

Oh Sebastian drags a little, it’s just too 80s synth pop and lackluster with it for our ears, still, it’s not a bad tune and one the wind you down towards the end of the record. Tastes Good With Money sounds like Fat Whites of old, half way between Marc Bolan and Arcade Fire.

The remainder of the record give us a much more chilled-out Fat White Family, Rock Fishes, When I Leave and Bobbys Boyfriend sound very much like one of their records, but this is definitely a more mature, chilled out record, it still has all of their anger, all of their wit, but it’s like they’ve replaced the basement bars with a pair of comfy slippers, a pipe and a direct line to the Guardian letters page.

If you’ve come here looking for Breaking into Aldi you might be disappointed, but this is a record that grows on you, as the need to write to The Guardian, Not a bad bit of work at all. – Chris Flack


Fennesz: Agora
Touch

Notwithstanding the excellent 2014 release Becs, Christian Fennesz has since collaborated with King Midas Sound (2015’s Edition 1) and Jim O’Rourke (2016’s It’s Hard For Me To Say I’m Sorry) – both with the desired effect.

However, where the Austrian composer flourishes, is when he works within his own confines and with his latest release, Agora, Fennesz has reached new heights.

Agora is album that doffs the cap to glam luminaries of the ’70s and ’80s. On the surface it may not appear this way, however this is undoubtedly the quintessential Fennesz pop album, exploding with  melody that transcends the customary multi-layers of drone and obligatory field recordings.

Opener In My Room brims with shining glacial soundscapes, pulsating with beats that build, unfolding and guiding us into a celestial alternative universe. It feels like a track to watch the sunrise to. When at the top of his game Fennesz has an uncanny knack to drag you through a distorted portal into his own world. It’s meditative music by default.

With the album’s title track, Fennesz cherry-picks his audience from land and drops us into the ether to occupy, float and consume. It’s equal parts serene and intense, illustrating Fennesz as the true romantic of ambient music of the last twenty years.

Album closer We Trigger the Sun is a stunning end in what may just be one of the finest compositions Fennesz has written. It feels like the track was written for a backing band, such as the weight and wholesomeness of sounds, which are a vapour trail of drone and ceaseless melody. It’s truly a defiant piece of work, honing in on Fennesz‘s quality to uplift his audience in true world-builder fashion.

Christian Fennesz has always been consistent in releasing good music but where Agora is concerned, he has upped the stakes by producing one of his finest releases yet. Here is an artist firmly entrenched at the summit of his creative arc. – Simon Kirk

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Anni Hogan: Lost in Blue
Cold Springs

Anni Hogan has an enviable pedigree.  Hogan worked with Marc Almond for many years and was a big part of Marc and the Mambas and the Willing Sinners.  She has also worked with Nick Cave, Barry Adamson, Paul Weller and William Orbit.

Hogan has forged her own corner of the creative world with these like minded souls and her latest album, Lost in Blue, features a cast of some of the most respected names in what we can loosely call alternative music.

Lost in Blue features vocals and contributions from Kid Congo Powers (Cramps, Gun Club, Bad Seeds), Lydia Lunch, Gavin Friday and Wolfgang Fleur (Kraftwerk) and is produced by Dave Ball (Soft Cell, The Grid).

With names of this ilk and character, we can perhaps expect a couple of things from Lost in Blue.  We can expect a certain type of art or literariness, a leftfield approach of sorts. And we can also expect a high standard of songs and songwriting.

We are not disappointed.  Lost in Blue presents us with a superb dark cabaret or torch noir.

Hogan takes vocal duties for opening track Lost Somewhere, a tale of moving away and leaving home behind ‘somewhere on the horizon’.  She has a fine voice that suits the ebbs and swells of the music and we hear her again on Thunderstruck.

An album where she sings all the way through would be welcome, but for Lost in Blue we are present at a cabaret where torch singers in the faded glamour of rented tuxedos or worn out gowns take to the stage throughout the evening.

Kid Congo Powers talks us through a suitably sleazy tale on My Career, taking in ‘the housecats, the stoners, the weirdos and the shy’ that have made up his audience.  Richard Strange takes the following song, Death Bed Diva in much the same vein and the mood is that of a Berlin basement in the 20s.

In Ghosts of Soho we are taken down the alleyways of a Soho’s seedy past, where haunting saxophones and muted trumpets conjure up images of smoky cellars.  The song is also a lament for the sleaze that is replaced by the bars and restaurants of gentrification.   ‘The ghost of Charles Dickens singson the music hall of Dean Street ’ sings Celine Hispiche, capturing a nostalgia for a time she never knew.  Saudade drips from the song like honey.

Wolfgang Fleur takes vocal duties on Silk Paper and Golden Light, coming across very much like comedian Henning Wehn on the latter. Lydia Lunch does her Lydia Lunch thing on Blue Contempt, but she does it well.

On Making Blackpool Rock, Scarlet West tells us a story again of fading beauty, this time the non-glamour of a British seaside town. Gavin Friday croons through Angels of Romance superbly in one of the albums highlights.

The album closes with its title track, which is grandiose and epic, sounding like Flaming Lips attempting Prince’s Purple Rain.

There is a David Lynch like quality to the Lost in Blue, where the seedy underside of life is brought out into the daylight and examined.  Indeed, if videos were to be made, Lynch would be the obvious choice to create the visuals to accompany the downbeat, downtempo songs.

However, the cinematic scope of Hogan’s songs and the performance of the stellar cast render such a thing obsolete.  Close the curtains, pour yourself a scotch and light a cigarette, undo your shirt buttons and let Lost in Blue tell you its stories. – Banjo

Gang of Four: Happy Now
GANG OF FOUR

The 10th studio album by Gang of Four has finally landed and about 40 years after they first grabbed the post punk world with their first, Entertainment. The sound is familiar, angled guitars thumping, yet intricate rhythms and haunting vocals.

This release doesn’t have the hard, rough edges of the band’s early work. It’s more mellow and developed, which is perhaps to be expected after the four decades they’ve had to hone their craft.

But it’s no less angry about the world. In particular, Ivanka: “My Name’s On It” which follows on from 2018’s EP release Complicit, featuring a smiling Ivanka on the cover. “In the morning daddy wants me in his room, it’s where we get together, It’s not true that daddy calls my name in stormy weather” Ouch.

Gang of Four are still shouting at the walls just as loudly as they were back in 1979 and we should listen to them. It’s an overtly political message, these are not love songs, that was never their style.

Penultimate track, Paper Thin has more of an 80s dance feel to it than much of the band’s other material, but it packs a punch with its lyrics: “Just because you can move your mouth, it doesn’t mean debate … ” The classic fact v belief argument we’re all having to wrestle with at them moment, summed up in one pithy line.

Gang of Four have lost none of their bite and they’re coming for you.

The album closes with Lucky : “You work hard, you pay your dues, play by the rules, but you still lose”. Stay classy, Gang of Four. You’re needed more than ever now. – Peter Goodbody

The Membranes: What Nature Gives … Nature Takes Away
Cherry Red Records

The Membranes have been around a long time – since the early days of punk. But this ambitious 16 track double album is a very long way from 1977.

In some ways, it’s recognisable as a punk album, but there’s much more to it than that. For a start, the band are joined on the record by the 20 strong BIMM choir, who will be familiar to (most of) those who have seen the band play live over the last couple of years. The choir adds a sophisticated layer to the band’s sound and softens John Robb’s snarly vocals.

The album follows 2015’s Dark Matter/Dark Energy, which was then the best selling record in the band’s history. This new release would seem likely to better that.

It takes on the big issues of the times and seems as though it almost predicted the Extinction Rebellion protests of recent weeks. There are discordant wild songs about crows, demon flowers, strange perfumes, voluptuous petals, voluminous oceans and treacherous seasons – the poetry of life and death.

Musically it shifts from seething musical pulses to epic choir driven post-punk, from dark dub workouts and throbbing dirty disco dark wave, grinding bass driven apocalyptic visions to choir driven dark opera and brooding classical.

With song titles such as A Murder of Crows, The City is an Animal (Nature is its Slave), Winter (The Beauty and Violence of Nature) it’s easy to see this is an album that could, and, arguably should, be heard and appreciated by a new generation of Membranes fans.

A collection of anthems for 2019 and beyond. – Peter Goodbody

Steve Moore: Beloved Exile
Temporary Residence

As a great lover of all things synth related, I’m always pleased to hear someone describe their work as an ‘analog synth masterpiece’.

The 5 track LP begins with the soft, shimmering sounds of a gorgeous synth pad, all drenched in that lush, inimitable warmth which can only be provided by analog synthesis.

Indeed, Your Sentries will be Met with Force gently introduces the listener to the exquisite sound worlds crafted by Moore, with an almost hypnotic sequence remaining constant while everything else changes around it.

This makes way for In the Shelter of the Dunes, a similarly soft track which shows Moore demonstrating the true depth of his knowledge of synthesisers. The track is simply incredible, with a wide variety of synth sounds fusing together in a perfect blend of timbral consonance.

The titular Beloved Exile comes carrying a slightly more energetic pace than the previous tracks, with a crisp beat accompanying the pulsating sounds of those similar pad synths we have grown accustomed to in the previous tracks.

This is the real strength of Moore as a composer, blending aspects of familiarity such as synth sounds and chord progressions with enough change so as to keep the listener engaged throughout the track, and indeed, the LP.

The epic, sprawling My Time Among the Snake Lords spans 15 minutes and 36 seconds, and really demands the full quarter of an hour to appreciate it at its most beautiful. – Max Richardson

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The National: I Am Easy To Find
4AD

The best records, the best albums, are the ones that catch you unawares. The unexpected ones. The ones that come out of the blue, unannounced.

We’ve all had them. Ones where you didn’t really know anything about the artist, ones where you hadn’t heard anything from them before and…pow!… it just hits you. That sense of…“where on earth did that come from?”

That’s always a good thing and something that happens every so often. Not frequently, but enough to make you carry on listening out for the new.

There’s something else as well. A different sort of new. Something that happens less often. This is more dependent on the artist rather than the music. A subtle distinction, but one that’s important.

Let’s face it, if you listen to music a lot, you kind of know what you’re going to get from most artists. (We’re talking albums here by the way.)

They have a template, a style. Something that works. Why fix it if it ain’t broken etc? That’s perfectly understandable. It’s a case of refining what works, making it better (for them) each and every time.

And this applies to all creative endeavours, be it literature, cinema, painting but maybe more so in music than any of those. Maybe in music there’s as much as a commercial interest as an artistic one to stick with the tried and tested. Why risk alienating your audience?

We can all run the through a list of our favourite artists and bands; how many of them come up with something unexpected? How many of them catch you unawares? How many of them can suddenly take a left-turn and swerve off the road into somewhere unexplored? Not many I guess.

(And you can discount all the guff about x or y’s new album being a “complete change of direction…” or  “a challenge to preconceptions.”  The opposite always tends to apply.)

No, the artists who genuinely change direction don’t shout about it. They just do it.

And I can only think of a few who’ve done that, album by album. The ones where you play track one, side one and you know who it is but it sounds so different, you wonder what’s going on.

You wonder why when the last album was so good, why they needed to change? You may feel disappointed, a bit let down, even a bit cheated. This is a measure of how much we expect the expected and how much we’ve been conditioned to this point of safety.

But who’s taken these left turns over and over again? Pretty sure you can come up with your own but after scratching my head and running through the a- z of everyone I can think of (hundreds of artists, all worthy in their own right and many of whom I admire greatly), I could only come up with Bob Dylan and The Fall as examples of ones who’ve consistently surprised me.

Yet now with this album, The National join the gang alongside Messrs. Zimmerman and Smith

Because I Am Easy To Find is so very different to their previous album Sleep Well Beast (which in turn, was a sea-change from its predecessor, Trouble Will Find You.)

The National seem to be making a habit of this.

Where Sleep Well Beast was dark and tight and infused with near-unbearable tension, I Am Easy To Find is a much looser and woozy affair. It’s stretched out and dreamlike, languid and resigned. Matt Berninger‘s vocals evoke the sound of ghosts and the ghosts of doomed relationships; yearning and loss.

Some of the stretched-out feeling of I Am Easy to Find is clearly down to the fact that it’s a long record. It lasts just over an hour and has sixteen tracks. There’s no rush in it- and that’s a good thing. It’s an album which cocoons you, wraps itself around your mind and in a strange way, soothes.

But appearance can be deceptive. I Am Easy To Find is only six minutes longer than Sleep Well Beast.

The stretched out-ness is maybe down to something else. The music itself is less urgent, guitars are a lot less strident; there’s no cutting steel like on The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness or Turtleneck from Sleep Well Beast.

As good as those tracks were, this is where The National surprise and delight. They could have easily repeated those rock tricks but instead there’s a mistiness about the whole thing.

This might not only be down to the music- the sound- but that the darkness, the night time atmosphere of the whole of Sleep Well Beast– an album that was steeped in that desperate two o’clock in the morning bleakness- has been leavened by the introduction of guest lead female vocalists on I Am Easy To Find.

Long- time Bowie foil Gail Ann Dorsey along with Sharon Van Etten and Lisa Hannigan add so much to what The National do so well already that it’s staggering. They seem to make The National expand as well as stretch out. It’s like staring in wonder across a Cinemascope desert scene; everything stretches for miles and miles and it’s hard to see where the horizon ends and the sky begins.

The inclusion of the This Is The Kits Kate Stables on the title track, her vocals intertwining with Berninger’s makes for the loveliest of songs; likewise the harmonies of Stables, Hannigan and Dorsey on the stand out Not In Kansas evoke Surf’s Up-era Beach Boys– but somehow more magical, more-lump-in-the-throat-like: as if that unlikely prospect is even possible.

But it is. This is what this album is about. The unlikeliest and most unexpected thing ever. The National have truly come up with a thing of rare beauty. Treasure this record.- Rick Leach

Lucy Rose: No Words Left
Communion JV

Going back a few years, I’d heard of Lucy Rose but it wasn’t until a good friend of mine took me to see her at the Liverpool Guild of Students in November ‘17 that I’ve grown to love her writing, her softly sung lyrics, effortless harmonies and endearing charm.

Lucy is good at pronouncing her words, they hit you – there’s no need to Google to make sure you’ve got the right message The album starts off with Conversation, beginning with an ambient feel and a soaring high-end vocal line, there’s moments where it feels like you’re being taken to a section of Pink Floyd‘s The Great Gig in the Sky.  It is soothing yet moving, there is a clear message of how love can hurt. ‘It’s true. No one makes me high like you do. And I craved for you. I lost sleep with you. Who knew? No one loves me quite like you do. But no one lets me down like you do.’

The third track on the album is Solo(w), a crafty play on with words. Not even half way though the album, you know that this album is set to be a tear jerker. A beautiful saxophone makes a subtle appearance in this track along with great accompanied piano playing, a well written piece

Another highlight is The Confines of This World, that voice is superb. She’s really wearing her heart on her sleeve, there’s a sense of vulnerability, guilt. ‘I really don’t mean to bring you down. But I need someone to talk to. I hate that I might’ve brought you down. And I need someone to see through. Well, that person’s you.’ A catchy chorus where the guitar and melody bounce off one another, another beautiful track with great instrumentation that never masks or overpowers the vocal melody.

This moves us onto the seventh track in her album Nobody Comes Round Here, a simple chord progression on the piano accompanies Lucy’s vocals again. You can’t help but sing along to those harmonies in the chorus, I’d say this is one of the more commercial sounding tracks, with a predictable structure, but it does stand out as being a favourite.

Overall, this is an album where you can sit down and watch the world go by around you, you can paint many pictures around Lucy’s song writing, there’s so much depth, thought and feeling put into this release.

A captivating album for the Spring. – Sarah Louise Jones

Spinn: Spinn
Modern Sky

Put on your shades, step outside and make Spinn the soundtrack to your life. This is the sound of summer 2019.

Spinn have been around for a number of years, writing jangly guitar pop tunes, inspired by the likes of The Smiths and The Cure. Over the last year they have blown up, receiving Radio 1 airplay, as well as playing across the other side of the world in Tokyo (to a crowd bigger than they played in Manchester).

With the excitement surrounding them, both nationally and internationally, now seems like the perfect time for them to bring out their self-titled debut album.

This is an album that will send you dancing like their lead singer, Johnny Quinn, around your bedroom at three in the morning.

Bold basslines and rhythm guitar, mixed with melodic vocal harmonies for days, make Believe It Or Not the perfect start to the album. Lyrically this song feels like an apology to a lover over a failed relationship, with Johnny seemingly saying that that wasn’t his intentions.

If someone asked you to describe Spinn in a song, Is There Something That I Missed? would be that song. Defined by a simple, yet addictive guitar melody, under catchy and easy to sing lyrics, the song’s simplicity is what makes it the perfect definition of Spinn. It makes you want to sit in a field of daisies with your mates on the hottest day of the summer, while sipping on some fruity cider, while thinking about simpler times gone by.

Old favourites Bliss and Notice Me have both been bathed in glitter and polished, transforming them into beautiful swans and more in line with the rest of the albums sound.

These are broken up in the album listing by Sunshine and July, At A Glance, which are both aptly named.

Sunshine sounds exactly how the name suggests, it sparkles with the introduction of an acoustic guitar, while seemingly sticking to the standard Spinn formula, consisting of the wonderfully intricate Andy Power guitar riffs, engagingly bop-y bass lines and a catchy and instantly repeatable chorus about ‘sunshine girls who’ll break your heart’.

Spinn are known for to be incredibly engaging with their fans, so when they asked Twitter to name a song for them, one of their fans came up with July, At A Glance. In a weird twist of fate, it feels like this song couldn’t be more fittingly named. It makes you imagine walking through a park at the height of summer as you listen, with its simplistic nature making you feel relaxed. The only problem with it is that it ends.

Johnny is well known for his weird and wacky dancing on stage, and now he seems to have harnessed it into a song. Called Keep Dancing, it almost feels like a cry out for help, with Johnny reflecting upon how hard life can be, yet how he still dances through it all. It makes you want to dance, or at least tap your foot for those of you who aren’t quite up for copying Johnny’s dancing. With a strong, positive message, this should be a great song for their young, teenage fan base to relate to, remembering to stay positive throughout whatever they go through.

Give me some time to get this song out my head”, sings Johnny on the first line of Foundations, and that’s what you’ll be thinking by the end of the song, which is easily the catchiest song on the album. With glorious melodies, that will get stuck in your head for days, the grooviest of basslines and drum beats, and the addition of synths everywhere, this song is literally impossible to stay still to.

Spinn have gone from being four young lads writing tunes similar to The Smiths, to showing the ability to break out of the mould and forge their own identity in the indie pop world. The jangly guitars have become more sophisticated, and the addition of synths and an overall cleaner sound make this the best thing that Spinn have done so far.

To define this album in one sentence: This is the sound of summer. – David Hughes

White Denim: Side Effects
City Slang

As time has slipped by since White Denim’s first release, they’ve progressively stepped out of their roots. But whatever had seemingly been left behind and seen to have no home has now been resurrected with their neo-blues, effect riddled, rock style to provide a quick follow-up to last year’s album Performance.

So is this just an album of headless didn’t-quite-cut-its in an attempt to enjoy the sun whilst it shines? Well the group have made it quite clear what the album is about, so they can’t be accused of trying to pull the wool over our eyes even if it is!

Straight up the Texan tank of energy opens its floodgates with opening track Small Talk (Feeling Control) the track skips about, forever busy and is swarmed with twitching phased guitar parts. Not a shabby start. Next Hallelujah Strike Gold offers further leftfield soundings throughout its verses before a rocking releasing chorus.

Shanalala is a real on your feet track, deep distorted grooving bass and rapturous licks all for your ears to enjoy. Play it loud and expect mountains to be moved. This track has been on the back burner for some time since Corsicana Lemonade, 2013 according to James Petralli.

Next up is NY Money, the only track born and raised in the studio. A shimmering symbol filled intro leads in an echoing dreamy melody alongside a more high-tempo, country acoustic affair. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album despite it not having the same genesis as its counterparts.

Out of Doors is a tripping skirmish of effects with samples of nature that interludes into Reversed Mirror, which straight away has distant car horns to break you back into the chaos as both bass drums and keys rally up into another signature pacey synth saturated track. The track is born from an improvisation habit on stage while touring their Fits, 2009 album. What they’ve put together with this track optimises the album

So Emotional features an Omnichord or two, maybe three and why not?

Track 8, Head Spinning, is a delight but it seems out of place here. There’s no effects spilling out of your ears just old fashioned instruments doing old fashioned tricks albeit the result being a great listen.

Finishing this album off, Introduce Me, with insomniac spurred psychedelic blues. This track would have done a job at the front of the album, but such is the mismatched nature of this album then sealing it off with it works just as well.

Confusing at times, there doesn’t seem to be a consistent thread to the album yett that doesn’t take away from the individual sounds that this innovative collision of ideas brings forward at times without being gimmicky.

White Denim are set to play as support for Noel Gallagher at Heaton Park in June alongside Doves. This band will give anyone a run for their money live so if you’re thinking of going don’t hesitate – Harry Rigby

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