Albums of the year so far – Getintothis’ top 25 staff picks for 2019

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With the year almost reaching the halfway point, the Getintothis team rubbed their heads together to bring you their selection of the finest albums of the year so far.

If nothing else, 2019 has been a turbulent year so far.

With Brexit looming on the horizon for the latter part of the year, alongside the shift in the leadership of the country, it’s safe to say that 2019 is already shaping up to be a particularly eventful year – for better or for worse.

Fortunately for music lovers, 2019 has also brought with it some utterly superb releases from a wide range of artists, arguably even more-so than can be usually expected in the first half of the year.

With new material released by iconic acts such as Madonna, LCD Soundsystem, The Chemical Brothers, Flying Lotus and Bruce Springsteen mingling with stunning efforts from newcomers such as Fontaines D.C. and Billie Eilish, music lovers have been absolutely spoilt for choice with an abundance of top quality music released in the first half of the year…

…and also Susan Boyle’s rendition of The Proclaimers500 Miles (well they can’t all be winners).

What’s great to see is the quality of releases from the smaller acts, and the newcomers emerging onto the scene.

The previously mentioned Fontaines D.C. have blown critics and listeners alike away with the utterly sensational Dogrel, pulling no punches so as to top similar lists across the country, an amazing feat for a band who were largely unknown this time twelve months ago.

Indeed, it’s apparently the year of the underdog, with the smaller, newer acts seemingly receiving more praise and attention than the output of seasoned veterans of the music industry.

The buzz surrounding these acts has been a pleasure to document, and it bodes well to hear such promising music coming from new artists.

Of course, for every album we’ve included in the list, there’s ten more that we couldn’t fit in.

But this list represents the cream of the crop – the truly exceptional albums that have blown us away in the first half of 2019. – Max Richardson

So without further ado, here’s Getintothis‘ top picks of 2019 so far:

Big Thief:  U.F.O.F.
4AD

With the benefit of hindsight, Adrianne Lenker‘s 2018 debut solo album, Abysskiss, seemed like a gateway for Big Thief‘s much talked about third album, U.F.O.F.

While Big Thief’s previous two records, Masterpiece and Capacity, contained some downright gut-wrenching moments and are fine records in their own respective rights, on U.F.O.F. Lenker has bottled-up this tender magic and delivered Big Thief’s finest work yet.

U.F.O.F. is an album that unravels slowly, rewarding its listener for long periods of time spent in its company. Often these are the best records and U.F.O.F. certainly fits the bill.

Buck Meek‘s guitars spit and crackle throughout (Contact, Jenni) while the dreamy soundscapes and charming ambiance (Open Desert, Strange, Terminal) are a welcomed additions to the Big Thief cannon.

These adjustments of Big Thief’s sonic template work beautifully with Lenker‘s mesmerising storytelling abilities.

Whilst Big Thief‘s approach could be defined as being slightly more jarring in a sonic sense, the album’s title track, the spellbinding Cattails and the achingly beautiful Orange still have remnants of Big Thief’s simplistic approach that are aligned with Masterpiece and Capacity.

Holistically, however, U.F.O.F. feels refined and perfectly balanced.

In some ways Big Thief could prove to be their own worst enemy with U.F.O.F.

It’s a big record that launches them into a new stratosphere which risks alienating some listeners. Having witnessed their set at Primavera last month, they occupy a space somewhere between the big stages of modern day pop stardom and coy indie intimacy.

However, you can’t deny U.F.O.F.’s quality and with it, Lenker has undoubtedly arrived as one of the most exciting modern day songwriters. – Simon Kirk

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

Cinematic OrchestraTo Believe
Ninja Tune

Like the marriage rock and dance music, Electronic and orchestral music always has the potential to be a complete disaster.

There’s a narrow corridor for success and where the latter genres are concerned, with their latest album, To Believe, London’s Cinematic Orchestra have stitched together something achingly beautiful.

With To Believe, Cinematic Orchestra‘s fourth album, Jason Swinscoe and Dom Smith draft in a wealth of talent to breath life into their ambient orchestral conceptions and this may just be the biggest victory with To Believe.

The title track starts us off, giving us quiet acoustics, electro undercurrents and big strings which Moses Sumney soars over with his soulful vocals.

On A Caged Bird/Imitations of LifeRoots Manuva‘s thick baritone vocal style is stripped back to a soft serene traipse. His performances makes the track as it weaves through elegant electronics akin rain drops and sparse piano.

Then there’s Wait For Now/Leave the World. The album’s centre piece and Tawiah‘s heartfelt lyrics have you choking up in front of luscious arrangements and rippling pool piano, providing an equisitte sonic bedding. It really is one of the finest tracks released this year.

The album concludes with A Promise, featuring Heidi Vogel on vocals. It’s a perfect end to To Believe with spacious urbanised soundscapes that hang in the air like cigarette smoke.

To Believe breathes a new vitality into a dreary everyday existence, elevating these themes through a snapshot of blissed out beats and rich elegant orchestral offerings.

It’s the sound of rainclouds parting. It’s the sound of optimism. It’s the sound of love. – Simon Kirk

The Mars Volta: top ten tracks from the free-wheeling and virtuoso mavericks

The Comet Is Coming: Trust In The Lifeforce Off The Deep Mystery
Impulse!

The Comet is Coming are back with their follow up from 2106’s Mercury Prize shortlisted Channel the Spirits.Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery is the work of the London based three-piece comprised of saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, keys and synth Dan Leavers, and drummer Max Hallett.

Personally it’s been eagerly anticipated.

The first release from the album Summon The Fire has blown ears away with its pulsating, chaos charged electronics and psychedelic jazz sax that leaves you dazed from a light speed trip through hyperspace.

This psychedelic jazz collection is wide left field, with crashing synths over unorthodox sci-fi loops. The cosmic exploration is nourishment for the soul, drawing enrichment from the likes Fela KutiSun Ra and John Coltrane, it’s testimony is undoubtedly of the now.

The music is profound of an age where mass political enragement in rife, an oppressed culture screams loudly and defiance is deafening.

Delve into this album for a journey of provoking thoughts and an atmospheric fizz as you teleport along a track-to-track timeline.

Listening to the albums opener, Because The End Is Really The Beginning I felt as though I was immersed in the rising haze of a new world amongst the intro.

The gaps between the crashing drums adds suspense as Shabaka Hutchings’ slow melody pushes you into the unknown.

Birth Of Creation brings you further into this world as it develops with more sinister layers. Then into Summon The Fire which leaves you at the point of no return.

With your back against the wall and ears tuned in Blood Of The Past ft. Kate Tempest is delivered with a powerful poem from the mouths of those who have suffered in conflict, to those who live a selfish life where these spoken events are disregarded and seen as untrue.

Leaving what feels like days just passed the record ventures on.

Super Zodiac and Astral Flying blend into each other and it’s hard to be descript here, as who knows about what lies ahead on this timeline but with track names like that your thoughts turn to space and discovery beyond our present knowledge. 

Timewave Zero has a tribal/carnival drum beat which lays the foundation for a saxophone showcase which eclipses to a momentary climax.

Feeling that you’re now on the other side of this journey Unity brings a smooth, dreamy, peaceful mood.

Again with tribal-like drums, there is no sense of distress in this track which can be identified in those previous. It really is a beautiful and relaxing piece that to me, resembles hope for togetherness in the times ahead.

The albums closer The Universe Wakes Up, is a new dawn with a sax intro that I’d listen to every morning with rising sun if I could. It’s a warming track which grows into a meditation before

Shabaka sends you off back to your affairs, leaving you more in touch with what else there is outside your own little world.

One conclusion to come fromlistening to this album is that it’s not experimental nor progressive, this is the truest form of modern jazz.

Whilst Hutchings with Sons of Kemet threw down the gauntlet with last year’s Your Queen Is a Reptile, he has now picked it back up to define the genre into a wholly new generation.  – Harry Rigby/Kev Barrett

Deadbeat and CamaraTrinity Thirty
Constellation Records

There’s a moment after sunrise that this writer has taken to running. It’s a beautiful feeling hearing little but the waking of birdsong and the low rumble of a town switching gear.

This calm is echoed in another sensory experience we’ve taken to during the last few months, the new album by Berlin-based producers Scott Monteith (Deadbeat) and Fatima Camara – a record which mirrors the soothing rush of running alone with little distraction but your own thoughts.

It has been our comfort blanket both during early mornings and deep into the night.

The backstory is simple: a thirty year anniversary tribute to The Cowboy Junkies’ album The Trinity Session.

Yet this writer hadn’t heard the original (considered an unlikely classic in many quarters) – and so unfolded a listen which rather than come at it with comparisons, we felt entirely fresh and unprepared.

And what a listen. The duo fuse somnambulant drones with subtle yet profoundly deep electric pulses paired to the duo’s melancholic harmonies.

The results are quasi-religious cowboy gospel love songs which are quite magnificent. Much of the beauty is found in the cracks, spaces and silence but every so often a peak will occur which is both disarming and highly arresting.

Take the vocal refrains which pierce through the gurgling backbeat of Blue Moon, the sitar-like drone in Working On A Building or the minimal dub stomp of I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry which threatens to dissolve into dirt at any point before ghostly church organs phantom their way through the mix.

Much like Grouper, Low or passages of Julia HolterTrinity Thirty is not an easy listen – especially given the profound quiet that shimmers throughout – for this is a record to bask in and let it ease its way into your psyche.

However, where it differs from those mentioned above, is in its rich warmth – despite the often bleak subject matter – these are songs bathed in an iridescent glow and spine tingling aural hug.

None more so than when vocalist Caoimhe McAlister joins the woozy party on the languid waltz of 200 More Miles which is simply stunning.

The only misstep is the closing Sweet Jane which can’t help feel like a lumpy pastiche of the original, however, this is a minor point on an album dripping with so much soul and evocative emotion it’s barely shifted from the jukebox. We should really listen to the original. – Peter Guy

Durand Jones & The Indications:  American Love Call
Dead Oceans

Ah, Rough Trade. You sexy beast.

When I signed up to your Album of the Month scheme a couple of years ago I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to pan out.

Obviously, I understood the basics – I send you some money and you send me your chosen best album of the month … every month.

Your taste is patchy and you’ve sent me some stinkers, but the hits have been better than the misses. And I quite like getting parcels in the post, so I’ve stuck with you.

There’s always a little booklet along with the CD which gives me another 10 or so albums to check out too and that keeps me occupied, even if the chosen one is not to my taste.

But I have to say the last couple of months you’ve raised the bar pretty high and I can’t see you beating either February or March any time soon.

You chose The Delines for February and that was an absolute glorious piece of work. The timing was spot on for their Liverpool gig as well. Nice work.

But, for March, Rough Trade, you have excelled yourself. It will all go downhill from here. There is no possible way you can choose an album of the month better than Durand Jones and the Indications.

American Love Call is the soul record everyone who ever suggested they were anywhere near that genre wanted to make. It is close to perfect. It is slick, smooth silk.

It is Detroit in its heyday, banging out Buicks and Cadillacs to a brass ensemble everytime one rolls off the production line. The vocals are a pure Motown mix of bass, alto and higher backing harmonies thrown in.

But, here’s the thing that gives this release an edge. It’s got a political kick to it and the best example is the first track: “It’s morning in America, It’s morning in America, We’re mourning in America, And I can’t see the dawn”.

Oh, that extra “u”. Bloody hell, how that changes things.

And then there’s: “The sea gets hotter, And the drums beat louder, And world seems colder, Singing that same ol’ tune”. Let’s just pause and have a guess at where this one’s heading.

This album is a remarkable thing. A great big hug for its mellifluous tunes and a great big kick into the solar plexus for its uncompromising lyrics.

There are a couple of love songs on here, just to sweeten the pill, but don’t be fooled.

Durand Jones is after you and he won’t give up until you sign up to his creed.

As for me, I already did.- Peter Goodbody

Fat White FamilySerf’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 FamilyRock FishesWhen 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fontaines DC: Dogrel
Partisan Records

Fontaines DC are a uniquely original Dublin quintet, hewn from the ashes of long dead, hopeless, lost bands. Fontaines DC deserve every accolade they get and more. And there is no shortage of that incoming.

Their first single, Liberty Belle, was released in 2017 and scratched the surface, Hurricane Laughter followed, showing their snarling angry side, the urgency of Too Real and Big followed, highlighting a relentless need to create, to speak truth to power and make a stand for something.

Anything.

Comparisons have been made to The FallPiL, The StrokesSonic Youth and more in that vein, but none of these do Fontaines DC any justice.

They’re resolutely proud of their upbringing, of their city, of their Irishness.

Their energy and lyricism come from a shared love of old Irish poets and writers, of an Ireland long gone, of an Ireland yet to realise its potential. Their inspiration comes from years of bold texts and brick-lined alleys, and it is an inspiration not lost on anyone.

Rolling Stone has them listed as one of the top bands at SXSW this year, describing their sound as blunt force trauma. It is hard to argue with that. 

Fontaines DC speak to all of us. In a city where people can’t afford to live, or they try to live on shit wages spread over three jobs while Google and Facebook are given tax breaks, young people, people like Fontaines DC, have a lot to shout about.

Their anger has become Dogrel.

Dogrel is about a Dublin that is being chewed up and spat out, via foreign money, gentrification and people like Jacob Rees-Mogg using the city as a place to hide his filthy lucre.

Dogrel is an oft used term that talks of rhyme, of rhythm, poetry, and music. It is lyrical, burlesque, cheeky. Dogrel is a working-class thing, anger, and joy.

Dogrel is Fontaines DC.

It starts with Big, a relentless homage to Dublin in all its glory and guts, tales of challenging childhoods, making life your own, taking it back, making it big. It’s a statement of intent.

Sha Sha Sha is next, driven by a pulsating beat that suits its prowling fury. “you work for money and the rest you steal” gives you an idea of where their heart is.

It’s followed by Too Real and you’ve been living under a rock or tied to a radiator if you haven’t heard that before now.

Too Real is a remarkable tune, a call to action almost, a song wondering why we’re all sat around talking shit while Rome burns. This is pure brutal honesty, and it is fucking remarkable.

Television Screen seems to laugh at us while the water levels rise, literally. A gentler beast this, though still as urgent, it is a sad, stunning thing.

Hurricane Laughter, for us perhaps, is one of their finest songs. A post-apocalyptic, grungy thrashing animal about the end of the world, running, getting lost, finding truth.

It feels like you’re being beaten to a pulp by an evil genius’ henchman in a dark dank alley someplace while said evil genius stands over you, preaching in a hushed, monotonous tone. It’s menacing. Terrifying.

Roy’s Tune is a heartbreaker about putting up with shit, namely capitalist bullshit, barely putting up, barely hanging on. It’s beautiful, heart-rending. 

The Lotts lifts things up a notch, it’s another thrash at poverty and life on the streets while Jags drive Tory tossers to tracking meetings so they can watch their money decimate city streets and souls.

Chequelesss Reckless is their most lyrically clever, a song about greed, waste and loss, about trying to figure out what is going on in the world, if you can pull yourself away from your phone. “She documents an essence in a bathroom stall” says everything you need to know.

Liberty Belle continues our central theme of anger, of money, and bullshit.

Boys In The Better Land snarls about those who’ve left the city in search of double barrel names, fancy cars and fame. It’s five minutes of righteous fury and figurative fashion faux pas. Phenomenal.

Dublin City Sky is a heartbreaker of a final song, a homage to Shane MacGowan and The Pogues, it’s more Irish, gently lyrical, it is almost traditional in its tone.

It’s a singsong of a punky poetic passionate love song.

Dublin City Sky will be as big as anything The Pogues ever produced, it could be the biggest thing we’ve heard out of Ireland in a very long time, it is that good.

By the time you get to the end of this record, it becomes clear that Fontaines DC might just have taken The Pogues mantle.

As a single piece of work Dogrel is one of the most complete albums we’ve listened to in some time, it is clearly meant to be enjoyed from start to finish, there is a narrative, a tale to tell.

It is an inherently intelligent piece of work, it avoids the usual fodder of four-piece beer swilling bands.

Dogrel has a swagger all its own, it has a point, a soul.

It is angry, in your face confrontational, it demands attention, it is delivered in a colloquially rich Dublin drawl that drags you in, dumping its energy in your head, this stays with you.

Dogrel is a love letter to a city these boys love, its a love letter that begs for patience, a love letter that begs for the forgiveness of love lost somewhere amidst the money and the Maseratis.

Dogrel drips with a uniquely Dublin humour, it is dark, devious, devilish, it’s dipped in Guinness and hung out to dry for all the world to see.

For all of their anger, there is a recognition in their work that the Dublin they know, and the Ireland they know is changing, and not all of it is bad.

This is a country that legalised same-sex marriage by way of a referendum, the first place the world to do so.

They also legalised a woman’s right to choose and alongside those two huge changes, they’ve kicked the church into touch too.

An act that was seemingly easier to do on the news that that same church was responsible for the burial of 800 babies in a septic tank at a church property over the past century.

Ireland is not the place it once was, it’s getting there, slowly, but there is still lots to be angry about, lots of change needed, lots of anger.

Fontaines DC seems to be the outpouring of that anger that has been bubbling under the surface for a very long time.

No more. Their time is now. – Chris Flack

Gum Takes ToothArrow
Rocket Recordings

Gum Takes Tooth are at times reminiscent of bands like LiarsOneidaFuck Buttons or Holy Fuck (yes there’s a fair few fucks there). With each song they traverse a pop/indie soundscape with anthemic, pleasing chops.

Passing the opening track we are headfirst into a collapsing star of a song, the titular The Arrow slowly developing into a raver of a track.

Moving through each song we get a better feel of what this band wants to achieve. Developing the each strand of sound into a hedonistic troupe, unapologetic about the enjoyment it plays.

It’s downward spiral into further depths of joy, skipping into trance state electronica. We push through into ever more pleasures, cascading into one track to another, each delivering the listen further into a hypnotic state.

Slowing down through some classic style early industrial landscapes and falling into tribal beats. This album is a classic in the making.

In this album Gum Takes Tooth have encompassed what great indie albums can achieve; stealing the instruments of the pop ethic and twisting into realms that only a few other bands have been able to follow.

If you’re a fan of bands like those mentioned above then you’ll love this band.

Here’s hoping we can see them live very soon. – Guy Nolan

Will Burns & Hannah Peel: Chalk Hill Blue
Rivertones

There are some things that you never want to end.

Like reading a great book or watching a particularly special film, you hit a point of sadness when it’s over. When the last page is turned and you put the book back on the shelf or when the end credits roll.

You know it’s over and real life intrudes.

That moment, those accumulated and aggregated moments where you’ve lost yourself, when you’re enmeshed in it all to the exclusion of everything else has gone.

You want to start all over again. You want to read those words for the first time or watch those flickering images with a sense of the new and unexpected.

But it never can be the same. Not again.

But sometimes-just sometimes- very rarely it should be said, those moments don’t fade. You can go through things again with a sense of the new, a sense of exploration and wonder.

Those moments do not fade or become old and tired.  That’s how it is with this new album by Will Burns and Hannah Peel.

Burns and Peel had met in 2016 following the release of Peels’ Awake But Always Dreaming album due to their shared experiences in their respective works of memory loss, family life and dementia .

In summer 2018 this collaborative work came into being in producer Erland Cooper’s studio. Burns with softly-spoken yet carefully chosen and selected words and Peel running analog and digital synths and drum machines underneath it.

No, underneath is the wrong word. Beside it would be more appropriate.

This is not poetry set to music nor is it music with poetry providing a background. This is something that works together so well, this is something that’s finely balanced, perfectly balanced.

And put your misconceptions to one side. Any misconceptions about poetry. This is tough stuff.

Chalk Hill Blue is not only the title of the album but also the name of an iridescent blue-grey butterfly which lives on the chalk heaths of Buckinghamshire where Burns lives and works.

The album came about after hours of Peel and Burns walking those dusty summer hills.

Burns evokes something deeper than a simple rural idyll, deeper than looking beyond the landscapes of golf courses, four-wheel drive cars and golf courses to find a past that maybe was never there.

These are words that look to the future as well, using those landscapes to discard sentimentality and to tell stories and tales you want to explore more deeply, where you want to know what has been going on.

Stray fragments and glimpses of memories, not only of Burns’ but of your own. Of your own past and your own memories.

There’s a resonance brought forth with those words. And that music.

This is where Chalk Hill Blue works so well. It’s the ebb and flow not only of the words but of Peel’s music. It would be too easy and simplistic to say that the music complements the words.

It does so much more than that.

On Spring Dawn on Mad Mile for instance, Peel’s swirling synths fade into gentle single piano notes and you’re transported to those early mornings when, as Burns states; ‘there is no weather yet to define the day in those terms.’

In The Night Life, quite unexpectantly for what will no doubt be (incorrectly) called a pastoral record, Peel’s loops and synth percussion echoes ghosts of early Cabaret Voltaire, all disconcerting swoops and jarring rhythms as Burns relates a tale of early divorce, regret and drink.

His words end moments into this track but somehow manage to linger through Peel’s use of music.

Afterwards speaks of change and loss and absence, of half-memories, of what was real and what was tangible and what jars and tugs and pulls.

Summer Blues, well Summer Blues is just incredible. As is the rest of this album.

I know we’re barely a few months into 2019, but Chalk Hill Blue is already the album of the year.

Not only this year, but every year from here on in. It truly is something remarkable and I strongly urge you to listen to it. Over and over again.  Rick Leach

Julia JacklinCrushing
Transgressive

Julia Jacklin’s second album, Crushing was written over the two years following her debut album Don’t Let the Kids Win, primarily drawing inspiration from the ending of a romantic relationship.

But rather than becoming overly personal and literal, Crushing draws upon the experience to narrate to the listener certain universalities that we have all at some point experienced when losing love.

Whether that’s lamenting love that has already been lost (Turn Me Down), worrying about love that is in the process of being lost (Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You), or the head-scratching and soul-searching involved when one tries figure out what to do afterwards, not only with the pieces of a broken heart (Head Alone, When the Family Flies In) but also with the remaining residues of guilt (“You can’t be the one to hold him when you were the one who left” she sings on Comfort), it’s all here.

Musically, the instrumentation is for the main part subtle and on the right side of country (think Neil Young or Neko Case), with the occasional break-out; although it might be lazy to draw comparisons with Courtney Barnett, the fuzz and abandon of Pressure to Party and You Were Right do share similarities to her fellow antipodean.

The main attractions here however are Julia’s voice and lyrics, at points displaying a vulnerability and fragility.  Good Guy finds a near-broken Julia pleading “tell me I’m the love of your life, just for a night… even if you don’t mean it”.

There is a temptation to write about Crushing through the lens of a female empowerment perspective; yet, writing as a male, that would be, by its very nature not only patronising, but entirely missing the point.

Falling into the wearily outdated trap of ‘mansplaining’ the content of the album (“what you should all be finding in this is the growth, not only of the artist, but the woman… here, let me show you how I know that…”) would be a disservice to not only you as a reader, but to Jacklin herself.

Although, there are themes of Julia the individual trying to find her way back to normality after heartbreak and commentary on the experience of being female in the midst of this (“I don’t want to be touched all the time, I raised my body up to be mine…”), making that the focal point of the album would be wrong.

Rather, like Beck did with Sea Change and Joni Mitchell did with Blue, Julia Jacklin here has perfectly summed up the confusion, the mess, the anguish and the recovery involved in a break-up, so we don’t have to, and frankly, we should all thank her. – Matthew Loughlin

King Midas Sound: Solitude
Cosmo Rhythmatic

After their collaboration with Fennesz followed by a change of line-up resulting in vocalist Kiki Hitomi no longer being involved in the project, King Midas Sound return with Solitude – yet another genre-defining slab of brilliance to add to their mesmerising cannon of work.

With Solitude, vocalist, Roger Robinson, has effectively shelved his heaven riding melodies for poetic baritone dread. No other vocalist chameleonises his voice and resonates at either end of the spectrum like Robinson does.

King Midas Sound‘s 2009 debut album, Waiting For You, was such a head fuck that I was convinced that Robinson was indeed two separate vocalists, such as the canyon-wide scope that his voice possesses.

Robinson reiterates his true originality on Solitude with a new fire, fuelled by different circumstances, squeezing every inch of life from a brooding undercurrent of emotional despair.

Yes, this is a meat-raw marrow-deep break-up album and one of the most honest and darkest that has emerged from the studio walls in recent times.

Robinson‘s dystopian diatribes are counterbalanced perfectly by Kevin Martin‘s stripped-back arrangements of glacial nuances, lonely backstreet hums and oceanic drones, making Solitude one of the albums of the year.

It’s difficult to put each songs under the microscope. The emotions of heartbreak (You Disappear), anger (Lies), loneliness (Alone, The Lonely), finality (Missing You, X)  creeps slowly from the speakers and spreads, consumes, and sinks into your pours like the plague.

It’s approach simple, but monolithic.

Crushing in its transparency and something that King Midas Sound will never produce again. Like all heartbreak albums. Because it is a heartbreak album.

A brutally raw admission of loss with Robinson cascading his emotions across the canvass.

Whilst finding it difficult to pinpoint one defining moment, perhaps a form of consolation is found in Solitude‘s final two tracks.

Her Body captures Robinson‘s realisation that his lover is gone. He opens the curtains, inviting his audience in,  recounting those intimate moments he once shared.

There’s a defiance here. An inner strength, like he is almost ready to move on. Which is where the closing track X comes in.

An emotional encounter with friends and family of his former partner, sharing stories over dinner, finding a common ground with others through similar relationships, culminating in some form of closure.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel, rounding out this cathartic experience.

Solitude is not for the faint hearted, but when push comes to shove, the best art created in this world never is and Solitude can be defined as that. – Simon Kirk

Lost Liverpool #25: Jimmy Campbell – the greatest songwriter you’ve never heard of?

La DisputePanorama
Epitaph

Sensational Michigan hardcore rock outfit La Dispute have returned with a fourth LP titled Panorama.

This LP is a solid selection of ten tracks, including the singles Fulton Street I and Footsteps at the Pond, all of which are delivered with the signature intensity and aggression of the group.

Panorama sees La Dispute at their absolute finest, with poignant lyrics fusing with carefully considered instrumental backings to craft an eery soundscape throughout the album, taking listeners on a journey in a fashion almost reminiscent of a work of storytelling.

Fulton Street I sees the album start on a strong note, with swelling and fading instrumentals complimenting the superb spoken/shouted lyrics of Jordan Dreyer in a gorgeous track delivered with a real sense of feeling and emotion.

Everything in this track feels like it arrives exactly as needed, with the group displaying an extraordinarily intuitive sense of timbral awareness.

Elsewhere in the album, tracks such as Rhodonite and Grief transport the listener to entirely different places, with other more laid back tracks, such as In Northern Michigan mingling with more energetic tracks including Anxiety Panorama with impeccable ease.

As much as it sounds cliched, Panorama as an album really is a sonic journey. Every track carries a different timbre, which blend together with such ease to create an album that really is a cohesive work rather than a collection of unrelated tracks.

Neither the lyrical material or the musical content of the album is particularly stronger than the other, remaining a true testament to the inimitable chemistry displayed by La Dispute, with each element complimenting each other beautifully.

Panorama really is a superb album, showing that even after a five-year gap from their last LP, La Dispute haven’t even broken their stride. – Max Richardson

Lorelle Meets The ObsoleteDE FACTO
Sonic Cathedral

Confession time: we’re not exactly sure when we first ‘heard’ Lorelle Meets The Obsolete. It could have been 2013 in the sweat box decay of Blade Factory or perhaps 2016 in the cavernous surrounds of Camp & Furnace.

The fact our memory is hazy holds little bearing on the band’s music but on the semi-conscious state we were in during Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia‘s brutal sensory overload.

While we’re relatively sure we enjoyed what was on offer revisiting their music away from the live arena proved less inviting and ever so slightly underwhelming for like most artists prone to rely on cranial exploding sonics and arresting visuals they didn’t quite translate into the grooves.

Not so anymore. As the Mexican duo of Lorena Quintanilla and Alberto Gonzalez have, for their fifth album and first time of asking, employed their live band in a newly built home studio in Ensenada resulting in their strongest record to date – one that fully explores their hitherto slinky ambience but captures the wild drama of their live show.

In essence – it’s louder, heavier and more seductive See Fernando Nuti‘s bass and Andrea Davi‘s drums are pushed to the fore on Acción – Vaciar snaking around Jose Orozco‘s treated synth and Gonzalez’s hypnotic lead guitar or

Central to DE FACTO’s attraction is is the push and pull between meditative chamber pop and grinding death rolls of riffs and percussion; the woozy Inundación a perfect example with it’s Lynchian like waltz before morphing into a megalithic droning rumble.

But it’s the nine minute Unificado which is head and shoulders above the rest building from subtle bedtime noir into rabid riffs of raining sheet metal.

Elsewhere, Resistir and Lux, Lumina reminds you they can still do noisy psychedelic rock and roll before the quite beautiful 10-minute dreamscape closer of La Maga sees you down the home straight in relative aural comfort. For an album riddled with juxtaposition and contrasts it’s pretty close to perfection. – Peter Guy

Psychedelic Porn CrumpetsAnd Now For The Whatchamacallit
Marathon Artists

With a name your mum would sneer at and a sound which would make her confused,  Perth’s Psychedelic Porn Crumpets return with their third album And Now For The Whatchamacallit via Marathon Artists.

The band have been developing their own sound after the acclaimed first two releases High Visceral Part 1 & 2saw them become one of psych’s most exciting new acts.

Known for big riffs, big sounds and even bigger live performances the Aussie lads nearly blew the roof off the Shipping Forecast in May.

The band says the hedonism of touring the world and being immersed in music has influenced the new album through “large nights out, larger characters, drunken recollections of foreign cities and rabbit hole-ing into insanity.”

Keen For Kick Ons aptly kicks it off with dancefloor bass riff to with a rhythm that instantly goes through you and makes you want to dance.

A really Heebies basement psych dance floor anthem. The lead single Bills Mandolinis an ode to the mandolin given to the band by lead vocalist Jack McEwan’s grandfather and has seen many tour antics.

Another raucous guitar riff sees within the video the Mandolin transformed into a medieval Excalibur as the fuzzed barrage is the quintessential Porn Crumpets sampler.

McEwan sums up Hymn For A Droid best by describing it as a “rhino at full charge” as with all the chaos you’re only three tracks in at this point and you already feel like you need a lie-down.

The onslaught of energy does subside as Fields, Woods, Time gives a nice, relaxing instrumental respite as Native Tongue’s oscillating and interlocking guitars offers woozy psychedelia.

The riffs return with When In Rome and Social Candy with the band’s adventurous recording and composition coming into fruition in the tracks surrounding it.

Digital Hunter brings in a feeling of controlled confusion with jazzy influence, a free form and really solid groove.

Dezi’s Adventure finishes the release with a dreamy carnival feel as a blurry Wurlitzer organ makes you feel like you’ve had too many cans and you’re stuck in a hall of mirrors and want that lie down again.

The album is missing the larger immersive solos which felt like being blasted through space on Porn Crumpets’ first two records but the album just over half an hour and is refreshing and straight the point.

It’s a get-up-and-go crazy psych party record which reinvents itself as a demon when performed live, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets are not a band to be snubbed at all. – Will Whitby

Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats: Anger Management
Sugar Trap

The 18-minute hardcore ride through Rico Nasty’s inner fury has been a sonic highlight of 2019 so far.

Anger Management pummels and attacks, the 21-year old rapper’s vocals shredding, jumping and flowing over squelchy buzzing beats in an immersive performance that leaves you nowhere to hide.

And like some weird therapeutic journey that turns you inside out –  it arrives at a place of reflection and peace.

Anger Management is an amped-up wrecking ball work by a breakout female artist, a concept album emerging from a creative space where any medium can be played with.

Glitchy electronic voices that sound like they belong in a cheap sci-fi show welcome us into an ‘anger management’ programme and we’re off into anxious jumpy opener Cold.

The wordplay gets even more aggressive and rapid on Cheat Code (featuring trap and bass producer Baauer as another collaborator), then Hatin’ continues the banger-onslaught.

Lines like ‘I got bitches on my dick and I ain’t even got a dick’ exemplify the compressed and twisting brilliance of the lyrics.

The tracks are short – none cross the 3 minute line; Relative clocks in at 01:20. This is a record infused with insistence and urgency with an exhilarating sense of exploration, each song making its statement and moving on.

The album opens out into more lyrical spaces with Sell Out and triumphant, anthemic pop closer Again.

Anger Management is witty and playful but the intentions of ‘Course One of Rico Nasty’s Anger Management seminar’ feel serious: ‘The expression of anger is a form of rejuvenation / I’m screaming inside of my head in hopes that I’m easing the pain’ doesn’t sound like irony, more like an artist with the confidence to dig deep into her own experience.

Turn it on and take the bashing. It’s worth it for the catharsis. ‘Do you feel better now? Good.’ – Roy Bayfield

Sharon Van EttenRemind Me Tomorrow
Jagjaguwar

On her newest release, Sharon Van Etten takes gigantic strides forward in her development as a musician and a storyteller.

Since her 2009 debut Because I was in love, Van Etten has continued to draw from a wide pool of influences, something that will be abundantly clear to anyone who buys the vinyl release of Remind me tomorrow which includes a ‘recommended listening’ list in the liner notes.

Clearly a sign of an artist who is fuelled by a love of the music she works in.

While that first album was driven by rich vocals and clean guitar melodies, each subsequent release has dipped into a rockier and murkier sound.

But this isn’t the same well-trodden path of a folk singer becoming a rock singer as their popularity grows.

She’s not switching genres, she’s stripping them for parts and building herself something new and unmistakably hers.

Only a few of the tracks are primarily guitar driven, leaning more towards synthy keyboards and thumping drums, both physical and 808’s, layered with subtle complexity that rewards repeated listening.

There’s a diversity of sounds on Remind me tomorrow that a lot of bands couldn’t match with their entire discography.

Van Etten’s most adaptable instrument is still her vocals, sometimes velvety, sometimes roaring with shades of Stevie Nicks; and the poetics of her lyrics match the skill of her composition.

From the Springsteenesque balladry of Seventeen to the dreamy soundscape of Memorial day, every track has something to offer.  –Mostyn Jones

Stealing SheepBig 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. Things were progresing, 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

Sunn O))) : Life Metal
Southern Lord

Sunn O))) have always been an elusive proposition to me. Whilst I could appreciate what eternal amplifier worshippers Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley were doing, it still felt as if idealism outweighed the end product. After all, they say it’s the idealism that kills you.

Then, along came Life Metal...

The album’s cover art was the first thing that deeply resonated with me. Samantha Keely Smith‘s artwork (which is one of four paintings which comprises Life Metal) is ingrained in romanticism and abstract expressionism.

As soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew Life Metal would be one of those game changing albums. It’s an inexplicable circumstance with music when this happens – sometimes it just works that way.

From the canvass to the turntable platter and Life Metal begins with Between Sleipnir’s Breaths.

We are greeted with a whining horse that sounds like it’s fearfully marauding from an impending apocalypse. From there, we are met with the Sunn O))) treatment.

An array of humid drones that swell, explode and singe the hairs from head to toe. The track’s behemoth masculinity is expertly offset by Hildur Guðnadóttir‘s haunting meditative vocals. It’s a striking clash of ideas.

Troubled Air follows and is equally beguiling. The varying textures in tone and frequency make the listening experience between sound system and headphones polar-opposite. It’s loud, bruising and scarring to the ears.

Sunn O))) seem to ease the tension during the second half of Life MetalAurora showcases a slow motion whirring ambience with flickering feedback and low-end trailblazing roars.

Not as overtly aggressive as the two tracks it follows, Aurora possesses a mysterious slow burning quality and in time, could well be Life Metal‘s finest moment.

The longest track on the album at just over twenty-five minutes, Novae leads us to the end of Life Metal and what a captivating way to culminate this offering of sonic mutiny.

Novae begins with Sunn O))) threatening to break the shackles and become a conventional rock band (believe it or not).

The balance of tone fluctuates to the point where you almost succumb to vertigo. Gradually, it disappears into a smouldering atmosphere, an ambience enveloping into a hush and gentle string sections that can be picked up with careful listening.

It ends in hell-fire with an onslaught of drones for the last two minutes. Sunn O))) could only end it this way.

With Life Metal, I’ve never come across an album that has such a contrasting listening effect through the medium of choice. Through stereo and headphones, Life Metal reveals that it is an unprecedented split personality.

In Life Metal‘s physical presentation, turned up loud, the noise serenely reaches every corner of the room. It’s a cathartic experience of flickering feedback and loud/quiet torrents of sound.

That’s Steve Albini‘s trademark recording techniques. It’s the best recording performance that Albini has given us in quite some time.

With headphones, things couldn’t be more different.

The experience equates to be dragged to the gates of hell. It’s physically and emotionally exhausting, making your mind crumble as you are faced with a rolling maelstrom of drone storms. It’s core shuddering.

The eye watering tones make you realise that with Life Metal, well, this is living!

It’s an album that will have you crying tears of joy into your pint glass, ultimately forming the holy water of a new religion dubbed Life Metal.

Because this is life and, yes, this is metal and in 2019, there won’t be a more immersive listening experience than this.- Simon Kirk.

Roky Erickson – You’re gonna miss me:  A tribute to psychedelic pioneer


Teeth of the SeaWraith
Rocket Recordings

It always hurts more when those you love let you down. Speaking as a Prince fan this writer had to get used to that during the latter years of his relentless conveyor belt like musical production line.

While, not quite on that level of stratospheric musical adoration, during the last decade Londoners Teeth of the Sea have been right up there in the ‘favourite band‘ stakes.

The love affair began in 2010 with their second album Your Mercury and reached peak infatuation during a colossal live display at MelloMello in 2012

They tick all our boxes: lashings of grooves, malevolent riffs, unexpected time signatures and a penchant to stray into cinematic progressive ridiculousness.

Not in a turgid Muse kind of way – rather that of similar mavericks OceansizeMars VoltaPorcupine Tree or even Radiohead.

Yet their last album, 2015’s Highly Deadly Black Tarantula marked a sea change in the band’s consistently magnificent output – not only did it sound like several bands experimenting with several ideas it was also a bit of a let down.

No matter how much we revisited it just didn’t quite click.

Sure it was dark as hell and at times those aforementioned riffs threatened to kick in but for the most part its industrial serrated edges and bleak dissonance was hard to love.

Thank heavens then for Wraith. Their fifth studio album on Rocket Recordings finds the band sadly down a member in Mat Colegate yet returning to what they’re best at spine-chilling widescreen atmospherics married to blockbuster slabs of noise – and the odd bit of lunacy.

From the off, their characteristic use of squalling trumpet oozes into opener I’d Rather, Jack which trades phased guitars with molten Mezzanineera beats providing the ideal scene setter for a record which is a black magik box of tricks crammed with a plentiful supply of dark arts.

The aforementioned Sam Barton‘s trumpet pervades throughout (hurrah!) with Burn of the Shieling all Arabian exoticism, Her Wraith a slow burn of rattling disquiet while the crime thriller-esque Hiraeth carries a magisterial jazzy pomp before blossoming into a trip-hop game of dagger-stabbing beats, leaden thuds and jarring grooves.

But like centre-piece A.C.R.ON.Y.M. on Your Mercury and closer Responder from 2013’s MASTERTeeth of the Seaspecialise in almighty juggernauts of sound ad when they hit home they induce Mike Tyson levels of power. Wraith delivers two knockout blows.

The first arrives midway through (a track we’re told the label almost convinced them to drop) as VISITORemerges from a futuristic cocoon of sinister John Carpenter keys and strident brass parps before building into Jimmy Martin‘s trademark Robert Fripp aping guitar heroics. It’s supernova in its epic brilliance.

And yet the closing Gladiators Ready (what a title!) betters it with horrorcore synths jerking off to mechanical fuzz-drenched atmospherics which swell into a death disco march before exploding courtesy of a Josh Winkorgasmatron which will have you laughing your tits off at the sheer audacity of it all. It is preposterously good.

The depth on this album is staggering, there is much stirring and there’s many a layer to unravel on Wraith but like the band’s finest work it’s worthy of persistence – for Teeth of the Sea are a special collective truly worth falling for.- Peter Guy

The NationalI 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 literaturecinema, 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 KitKate Stables on the title track, her vocals intertwining with Berninger’s makes for the loveliest of songs; likewise the harmonies of StablesHannigan 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

These New Puritans: Inside the Rose
Infectious Records

These New Puritans kicked up a storm upon formation in 2005. The two-piece has eschewed musical categorisation over the years, instead approaching songwriting from the stance of sonic innovators.

The fraternal two-piece’s latest effort, Inside the Rose, definitely continues this lineage, yet takes a tangent into a more commercial realm – something the band has actively (or perhaps subconsciously?) avoided since setting up shop in the 00s.

In an interview with Getintothis published in April , songwriter Jack Barnett professed that, historically, the group follows its instincts and the people they want to work with.

He also described the album as about ‘letting someone or something completely consume you and change you; about searching for things beyond your normality.’

Perhaps letting those the band has taken this journey with leave a lasting impression has shaped the end result we hear today. The album takes a romantic stance, such as Where The Trees Are On Fire and Anti-Gravity, dealing with change and the ominous ‘next step’ in life.

Take this commercial ‘approach’ with a pinch of salt, though; Inside The Rose is full of smoke and mirrors in the form of diversional soundscapes that play tricks with the mind throughout.

Infinity Vibraphones leads with mesmerising chimes from the instrument of the same name, later giving way to choral and piano-led sections.

Meanwhile, Beyond Black Suns features smashing glass, dark electronic drum beats and sampled vocals – a weird, yet truly wonderful soundscape knitted together by a repeated statement: ‘this is not yesterday‘.

Lead single Where The Trees Are On Fire is perhaps the biggest curveball of them all: a jazzy brass section lays the foundations for George Barnett revealing his woes for environmental destruction: ‘This is where the trees are on fire,’ where ‘blood runs cold’ and ‘dreams come true‘ – but also ‘nightmares too.’

Dig in for a moment of reflection, with a varied soundscape to accompany ever-shifting thoughts. – Luke Halls

XamVolo: All The Sweetness On The Surface
Decca

It’s been longingly anticipated, but XamVolo has finally released his debut album, All The Sweetness On The Surface.

Having juggled an architecture degree with developing his catalogue, taste and musical identity, Sam Folorunsho signed to Decca Records a few years back.

This album comes as a merging of all his work from his time making music, from bedroom to studio, and the end product is a clean, soulful and crafted record which has gained praise from the likes of Huw Stephens and, albeit a slightly different genre, Enter Shikari.

When speaking to Getintothis a few weeks back, XamVolo said that he appreciated when a listener explores his music in depth as much as providing someone some background music, and this album can be appreciated in both ways.

On one level, it’s an uplifting record to brighten a day while at other times it deserves deep consideration and, as he said himself, personal reflection to decifer each listeners own meaning. “What do you think this is about?” he posted on social media when sharing Sins of A Soldier.

Maybe you should go and find out. – Lewis Ridley

Yak: Pursuit of Momentary Happiness
Virgin EMI / Third Man Records

It seems we’re quite lucky to have gotten a second album from Black Country originated, London based band YakPursuit of Momentary Happiness is a last gasp from a period of over excess from the group whilst attempting to record the LP.

The story goes that Yak were going to record this album with Tame Impala over in Australia but got side tracked drinking, partying and binging that stretched to a trip to Japan and back.

Getting home to London with their tails between their legs, Yak found they had nothing to show for it other than going completely broke.  (Listen to song Fried with the lyrics ‘I’m gonna stop when I collapse‘).

It seems none other than Spiritualized genius Jason Pierce (J.Spaceman) came in to save the day, pointing them in the direction of a record label and even appearing on tracks.

Last track This House Has No Living Roomhas the J.Spaceman trade mark spaced out guitar sound all over it.

The whole album is one huge blast of in your face garage rock, that echoes more of the early 2000’s revival rather than it’s 60s originator.  But recorded on a broken tinny microphone.

Layin’ It On The Line sounds just like early Kasabian, the good stuff like Processed Beats or Cutt Off.  Pay Off vs.

he Struggle reminded us of Modey Lemon (remember them?) and Blinded by the Lies has a huge fuzzed up bass line to match BRMC‘s Rise or Fall.

Singles Bellyache and White Male Carnivore are loud roars from a man driven to excess and having to put all he has left into making the record work.

Screaming He’s Got The Whole Wide World In His HandsYak have gone from living out of a car whilst recording the album to potentially having the whole world in their hands after touring this one. – Lucy McLachlan

Yank Scally: There’s Not Enough Hours In The Day

For one so young, Yank Scally is preoccupied with time. Or the lack of it.

Since he burst on to the Liverpool underground circuit midway through 2018, the 24-year-old from Toxteth has produced music of high calibre at a prodigious rate.

And while the self-proclaimed wizard (aka Dylan Costanzo), complete with hooded robes, is fully in control of his musical powers, he seems grounded enough to know that striking while on a hot streak is something he should – and will – do.

During the last nine months his ferocious output, mostly displayed on his SoundCloud account, has bore witness to dozens of tracks of a superlative and often wildly diverse stylistic nature, all the while being uploaded and sacked off quicker than a Chelsea manager’s coaching tenure.

And while there’s a self-deprecating, often mumbly laconic tone to his delivery, there’s also a sadness and resignation as he wistfully wonders where the time goes and how can he stop the sand slipping through his fingers.

Whether it’s intentional, there’s a thematic nature coursing through There’s Not Enough Hours In The Day with songs Morning, Up All Night, Red Sky At Night, Going For A Drive and Stars At Night all seemingly existing after hours in a hazy otherland when emotions are high yet suppressed in a stoned barely awake slumber.

Dreams waft into consciousness and back into heavy-eyed couch-induced fuzz.

Musically the album marries up to Yank‘s scatty lyricism – delicate and tender, it’s also unsettling and often on the brink of collapse.

See how Going For Drive skates between comatosed lullaby and schizophrenic piano freneticism while the dizzying synthetics of Walk Home finds our protagonist stumbling you suspect from one crash pad to his bedroom.

What makes the record such an enchanting and rich listen is his array of guests.

The collaborative nature of There’s Not Enough Hours In The Day is set in motion from the off with live band member, Josephine Yeoman lending not just her beautiful crystaline vocal but sweeping violin strings to a woozy backbone of beats and jarring textures.

The bombastic blip pop of Delete is utterly bewildering on first listen with it’s scattershot drones and undulating squeezebox pangs before The HushtonesMartha Goddard emerges through the mix to add light to the groogy shade.

While synth pop is ultimately what he trades in there’s a healthy dose of hip hop fueling the sidelines as WOR and Liverpool-based MC Remy Jude contribute to the fizzing Bulletproof Wizard.

Elsewhere, MC Nelson guests on Morning which morphs from calypso bops to gloomy mumble rap while Scouse maverick Bang On‘s characteristic verbosity is relatively restrained on the cheery observational pop of Holiday.

Better yet is the near seven minute centre piece Red Sky At Night a kind of kraut murder ballad with rich, dystopian echoes and spoken word courtesy of poet Niloo Sharifi and Algerian ‘internet friend’ Forth.

By the time the introspective balladry of Sunday rolls it’s weary body into view what strikes you is the wealth of ambition and raw mastery at work on There’s Not Enough Hours In The Day.

While this debut album is far from flawless it represents the initial scrapbook of one of Merseyside’s most intriguing and blindingly ambitious artists for sometime.

While we’d suggest time is on Yank‘s side, he may not necessarily agree – but we’re damn sure he will use it well. Peter Guy

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