As the seasonal flurry of new releases quickens, Getintothis’ writers select their pick of the finest new albums.
We have recently launched an exciting new column that trawls the depths of Soundcloud to select the best new songs from the North West and beyond. In many ways this reflects a transition in listening habits. Streaming media and cloud-based listening is becoming increasingly more prevalent.
Not only do you no longer have to possess a physical product, you now don’t even need to have a digital file stored on your computer’s hard drive or portable listening device. While vinyl remains resurgent however much some may question the motivation behind its revival, it is clear that for many listening to music is no longer about putting a record on the turntable or a CD into a CD player.
This has an effect on how it is consumed. Single tracks now predominate and the accessibility of technology has changed people’s listening habits. Like it or loathe it, we live in the playlist generation (or mix-tapes for those of a certain age) and with the sheer volume of music at our finger tips the scatter-gun approach is understandable. Our new Deep Cuts column reflects this, pulling together the best of the new breed into a single monthly place. We do the hard work so you don’t have to.
You’d be forgiven for wondering what this all means for the album. Life is as fast-paced as it’s ever been and shows no sign of slowing. Do we have time to invest in a new album, for an album requires real commitment. The best albums are whole standalone pieces, intended to be listened to front to back and in the order the artist intended. No cherry-picking the best tracks and heaven-forbid, turn shuffle off.
While there are artists who are turning their back on the album format, thankfully it remains an enduring concept as the wealth of the album-producing talents below surely testify. The album remains the artistic pinnacle, all aspiring musicians want to release that first album, while for mere fans and enthusiasts the anticipation of a new album never fades. Even in this streaming age the thrill of returning home from the record shop takes us back to being a teenager, giddy with excitement at the delights underneath the protective shrink-wrapped layer.
Demonstrating the enduring appeal, we are now approaching the season of the list, where publications, record shops, blogs and webzines compete to publish their album of the year countdowns as if to highlight the refinement of their tastes. The more obscure the better as the inner music snob in us all (well, most!) is unleashed.
There is so much music to wade through, the sheer volume of albums being released is as daunting as it can be tiring. It feels sometimes as if lists are intended to belittle – well if you haven’t heard the latest kraut-techno-afrobeat fusion from Estonia then you just aren’t as dedicated a music fan. Not as worthy as us.
This tedious oneupmanship is far from the purpose of this column. This recognises time is short and the demands placed on it vast. So we have picked a handful of the latest and best new album releases to help you sort the wheat from the chaff and ensure that your hard-earned cash is well spent. There’s so much to enjoy so sit back, relax and celebrate the longevity of the album with our tasty recommendations. Paul Higham
American Football: American Football (LP2)
By rights we should hate this album. It’s an incessant moan, flips the math-rock-lite thing which gotten boring last decade and is stuffed to the brim with whiny Yank vocals. In fact the whole thing is one big mope. More bed-wetting than the official Travis Fan Club.
But the songs are undeniable. Like, really fucking, undeniably good. And it doesn’t stick around long enough for you to get pissed off yourself.
The irony is, like good emo, it’s actually really uplifting, and who doesn’t need a big hug this time of year.
There’s even a song called Give Me The Gun which when you play backwards has the refrain ‘So I can shoot Donald Trump right in the shitter.‘ Touchdown. Peter Guy
Bendith, Welsh for blessing, is a self-titled album, created by the combined forces of alt-folk trio Plu, and Carwyn Ellis of Colorama. The ten Welsh language and instrumental songs work well, even if Welsh is not the listener’s own tongue. The immaculate harmonies of Elan, Marged and Gwilym Rhys are as warm as blood, underpin the album’s themes of home, family and kinship.
The opening chimes of Dinas remind us of a gently tolling Sunday morning church bells and, with Georgia Ruth on harp, the song needs no words. Mis Mehefin is sweet and lovely, the Rhys family’s voices blending at their most beautiful.
The single Danybanc sees Ellis take on lead vocals. A fond recollection of his childhood days at his grandparents’ home in Carmarthenshire, delicately sung, an upbeat classic pop song with a Latin American feel, and pretty flamenco guitar.
When we saw Bendith perform in the intimate surroundings of Sacred Trinity Church in Salford earlier in the month, Angel brought tears to the eye. We might be being a little sentimental here, but there is something undeniably beautiful and true to sibling harmonies, and in this song they ebb and flow, seamless.
The instrumental title track Bendith, though, is the one to be played repeatedly. Concluding in just over two minutes, the gentle piano and simple melody brings the record to a satisfying and emotional close. The album’s cover is a fold out pastel portrait of the Dinas Valley by Japanese artist Asami Fukuda is very lovely, much like the record itself. A secret gem. Cath Bore
Bon Iver: 22, A Million
There’s been a copious amount of bullshit written about Bon Iver‘s third album. ‘Departure’, ‘difficult’ and ‘disappointing’ have all been associated with 22, A Million – but we’d suggest it is actually his most direct – and also continuing the natural path Justin Vernon has been exploring for some years.
His debut For Emma, Forever Ago may have been aligned to that of a traditional folk album but his work since then has been layered with electronic expansion and the introduction of vocoder and treated effects have been apparent since his stop gap EP Blood Bank back in 2009.
The fact is, 22, A Million reaffirms what Justin Vernon is about – an uncertain, anxious and often troubled mind creating quite visionary, beautiful music which has that rare gift to sound widescreen and multi-faceted yet so intimate you’d swear he’s penned these tracks just for you.
This time around, the vocal production shares much of the studio trickery he’s been drafted in while working with Kanye – it’s a suite of personas and vocal operatics all gliding in and out of focus; atop of one another and using a variety of tones – the effect can be disarming but it’s engrossing and the result is his most realised album yet.
Especially given the depth of song-writing; at just 34 minutes 22, A Million may seem slight – but there’s more ideas packed into these wondrous works than many artists pack into a career.
The lullaby like 29 #Strafford APTS manages to combine porch-house folk, Rodgers and Hammerstein theatrics, delicate RnB and frazzled country-rock. 33 “GOD” manages to combine banjo with Disney instrumentals, hip hop slam-dunk beats, Munchkin *and* Super-fly soul vocals – and all still sound definitely like Bon Iver – it is an astounding piece of music.
One criticism that is repeatedly thrust Vernon‘s way is that he creates trad music for indie white-boys – this couldn’t be further from the truth for 22, A Million, is if anything a gospel record – with it’s song-titles (33 “GOD”, 666 ʇ) repeated refrains of searching for redemption, salvation or confirmation it is lyrically like a prayer book – but most of all, musically, it’s all about those singalongs which are both divine and imploring you to join the congregation. It builds and builds throughout, often repeating certain crescendos so you are carried perpetually throughout the journey.
None more so than on closer 00000 Million – a towering sparse multi-tracked vocal sailing along to a twinkling piano and whispering orchestration.
Opener 22 (OVER S∞∞N) is both ghostly and an evocative gentle soul stormer enriched by Mahalia Jackson‘s timely How I Got Over sample while 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄, on the otherhand, is a tribal build of beats and an ire which bursts through the thick glitchy production.
Where Vernon goes next is perhaps the only worrying aspect of 22, A Million, for the self-doubt and uncertainty is awash on his third album – but once again it posits him as one of contemporary music’s finest talents – and he joins that ultra-rare clutch of song-writers who’ve laid down three gold standard albums on the trot. He’s one in a million. And more. PG
C. Diab: No Perfect Wave
No Perfect Wave is the work of C. Diab, a Canadian experimental guitarist. Yet this is far from your conventional guitar-based album. In producing this debut album Diab has collaborated with Ian William Craig, that master of warped and manipulated ambient soundscapes. It is thus in this territory that No Perfect Wave resides.
The guitar is played almost entirely by bow, yet it barely matters that a guitar is being played. The sonic impact feels so alien to that most familiar of instruments. The result is a work of deeply resonant ambience, hazily rich drones that perfectly match the evocative track titles. Album opener Memory as Mist is a perfect illustration. Mellow and meditative, it meanders with a sonorous purity that, in its orchestral feel and protracted droning qualities, suggests a yearning, a grasping at thoughts just out of reach. Its funereal tones usher in a reflective mood and a sweepingly majestic sense of nostalgia. It works supremely as a prelude for just what is to follow.
Much of the record borrows from aspects of post-rock, albeit one not characterised by straightforwardly loud/quiet dynamics. Ice has a glacial feel. The warmth of Memory of Mist swept away by fragile and delicate chimes that build in intensity, all the while augmented by what sounds like fragmented decaying tapes. Close your eyes and you can almost picture the melancholic winter scene, yet one which becomes increasingly more eerie as light turns into dark.
Indeed there is a subtle gradualness to much of the album. Moods change almost imperceptibly its dark and ominously foreboding tones that conjure up the anxiety of increasing isolation are nevertheless counterbalanced by rays of light that peek through the cracks. Pale Inks undulates with unease, its formlessly amorphous background bristling against atonal shimmers of drawn-out guitar tones. Silent, Still is more jagged and unkempt, its sharp edges evoking the minimalism of 20th century avant-garde while channelling the boundary-pushing spirit of Glenn Branca.
It is the vignettes that offer contrast here. Lying in the Back of the Car on Highway One echoes delicately, like the sound you might hear when an upturned glass is placed over your ear. The sound of the stars, or merely the persistent rumble of passing traffic however strong the desire is to shut it out. Three Pyramids returns to expansive droning territory creating a broader and less suffocating soundscape assisted by effective useful of trumpets which ultimately lend it a mournful air.
We could go on for there is something profoundly moving about this work. In straddling the world of classical composition and the avant-garde alternative worlds C. Diab has created a work of breathtaking stature and crossover appeal capable of being filed equally alongside Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Philip Glass. Paul Higham
C Duncan: The Midnight Son
Second albums. The age old issue, how to capitalise or build on what’s gone before, to break new ground and find new inspirations. There must surely be an added stress if your first production was Mercury nominated and took you from the security and obscurity of the bedroom studio to the five star flavoured columns of critics, and the welcoming hearts and minds of new found fans. With this new offering, The Midnight Sun, Christoper Duncan has found inspiration in American Sci-Fi showThe Twilight Zone. The album is named after an episode of the show. It makes perfect sense that Duncan would find so much to inspire there. Full circle, maybe, given the drama and moods conjured by his first outing.
Again, those luscious sweeping layers of strings, and perfect harmonies, the orchestral arrangements of the instrumentation, the eerie atmospheric soundscape which surrounds and envelopes each instrument, those elements we found so beguiling on Architect are thankfully all still in place.
Lyrically stronger perhaps, he’s found comfort in a place where he can discuss such issues as a past relationship, as on Last To Leave, opening with a delicate droning sweep synth line which passes into the background as an insistent bass pulse takes the foreground. The warm, heavenly vocal on Do I Hear offer the melody up, while analogue synths form an interplay around a simple plucked acoustic guitar. With every layer, the atmosphere grows and develops into the whole, and the album feels somehow more whole than its predecessor, but no less beautiful because of that.
An album inspired and inspiring in equal measure. Paul Fitzgerald
D.D Dumbo: Utopia Defeated
It’s been two long years since Australian Oliver Hugh Perry, aka D.D Dumbo, released his first EP, Tropical Oceans. Fair to say then, that Utopia Defeated, his first full length release, has been pretty highly anticipated. For whatever reason it’s taken Perry this long to put the record out, it’s been well worth the wait, as the result is a painstakingly well crafted pop gem.
The first thing noticeable about Utopia Defeated is Perry’s voice. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Floating perfectly above his unusual instrumentations, the Aussie songwriter shows off his talent for unusual and adventurous melodies, and has hints of Sting and Paul Simon.
Packed with grooves, the odd stomping beat and infectious tunes, Utopia Defeated is an immensely enjoyable listen without having to delve in too deep. With its sweeping soundscapes it works perfectly in the background, but to listen to it in this way seems like a bit of a way. There’s so many layers to the textured, intricate sound, that’s it’s one of those records that gets better with every listen.
The highlight is The Day I First Found God, a track which brings together every one of the styles that make up the rest of the record into a perfect piece of dreamy, atmospheric pop. With its chiming guitars and shuffling drums, it almost has the kind of spacey-Americana feel that the War on Drugs do so well. With so many sounds and ideas packed in together to make up the record, it’s a credit to the production that it still sounds spacious and vast. It’s a sound that you can completely immerse yourself in, and well worth the two year wait. Adam Lowerson
Half Man Half Biscuit: And Some Fell on Stony Ground
This compilation gathers together lots of Half Man Half Biscuit rarities that were ‘previously only available on long deleted releases’. The first thing that we are reminded of when listening is that how consistent the band are; these may be B sides and other assorted curios, but there isn’t a duff track here, all of it is essential. All wheat and no chaff. It’s clear that Nigel Blackwell deserves to be in the canon of classic English songwriting, not only are his lyrics irresistible, his melodic gift never fails.
Track after track shows that Half Man Half Biscuit are on the most significant bands that Merseyside has ever produced. Jarg Armani shows how solid the band’s roots were in punk, the opening guitar riff even reminds me of Complete Control by The Clash. However, this is a band who are equally at home with folk, country, eccentric pop, Britpop piss-takes, US alternative rock and even goth. Not only that, it’s rare to hear a band use pan-pipes, xylophones, accordions, penny whistles, and buzz-saw guitars all in the same song, which is a shame.
Half Man Half Biscuit never tire of experimenting, which this compilation makes abundantly clear. It’s great to hear alternative versions of the genuinely funny Eno Collaboration here, in addition to a banjo take on The Trumpton Riots (cunningly titled On Finding The Studio Banjo). There are lots of songs here that are less well-known; Hair Like Brian May Blues is still a personal favourite, as is Ordinary To Enschede, David Wainwright’s Feet, and Blood On The Quad. The whole NY Factory scene is ruthlessly mocked in New York Skiffle, short-work is made of Stephen Malkmus and other assorted music-press icons. There are nineteen tracks here, but it feels far shorter. An excellent release, with some great Jahcuzzi artwork. Andy Holland
Hooton Tennis Club: Big Box of Chocolates
Hooton Tennis Club’s follow up to last summer’s Highest Point In Cliff Town impresses, and with Edwyn Collins on production duties they have realised their true pop potential. Messy is too severe a description for their first record, but its looseness is still evident on Big Box of Chocolates, but made shiny and new under Collins’ watchful eye.
With no difficult second album issues, Hooton Tennis Club made massive strides in short fourteen months since Cliff Town. Live they’re more disciplined while retaining that engaging sense of fun, and on this album, lyricists Ryan Murphy and James Madden‘s always sideways observations of life, are as clever as ever. Each track on Big Box of Chocolates is a short story of sorts, emotions laid more honestly here than by its predecessor, showing a growing confidence and – dare we say it, maturity? Tales of friendships, the notion of an era at an end as a flatmate moves out in Katy-Anne Bellis carries a coming of age melancholia, a sense of innocence now passed.
Statue Of The Greatest Woman I Know presents us with a surf guitar surprise, and Lauren, I’m In Love! brings out the biggest smiles, a cute Happy Days love letter to the 6 Music presenter. O Man, Won’t You Melt Me? touches the tenderest spot, and breaks our hearts. ‘I can tell that her man’s not me, it’s not me / Why would she change it all for me?’ Blimey, woman – whoever you are, give the lad a break, will you?
It’s only the final song on the record, the title track, on the album though feels like a slight hangover from Highest Point In Cliff Town, dragging its feet in an effort to keep up. But the album Big Box of Chocolates, for the most part, is proof Hooton Tennis Club are reaching maturity. This is a bloody good record. CB
Jenny Hval: Blood Bitch
It is a measure of the artist that just when you think Jenny Hval has taken her music and her concepts to unassailable extremes, she is able to return once again with an album that much more challenging than its predecessors. As bold in concept as anything she has done before, Blood Bitch is an album about blood that references vampires, sexuality and menstruation.
The blood is largely symbolic. Used as a metaphor for the rhythm of life, its pains, its suffering. The female condition hangs heavy over the record. The parallels of ovulation to creativity are set starkly alongside the physical pain of menstruation, the psychological self-loathing and thwarted ambition. These themes are symbolised in Untamed Region, a song of blood-stained bed sheets in an unfamiliar house where Hval’s “big dreams” are downsized to the sum of her “combined failures“.
As with most powerful works this is heavy on ambiguity, uncertainty and incoherence. Much of the lyrical messages are shrouded in obtuse abstraction. She pulls back from rare moments of clarity (“I don’t know who I am / I have never truly loved“) to almost describe a dreamlike sequence, a dream no doubt rich on symbolism but which make little conventional sense.
This is clearly a serious album. Hval is attempting to convey strong messages about her self, her femininity, her sexuality and the power the female cycle holds over her mood, her art and the perception of her role in the world. For such a profoundly mysterious album that is both unusual and defiantly avant-garde, there remains a pop sensibility, particularly on Female Vampire which shines with a glossy shimmer. The Plague finds Hval at her most musically experimental while Secret Touch shows her capable of lending a conventional pop voice to existential themes. A challenging but rewarding listen. PH
The Lemon Twigs: Do Hollywood
Let’s not beat around the bush here – The Lemon Twigs sound loads like Abbey Road-era Beatles. The Long Island brothers are certainly a band who wear their influences for all to see, and there’ll no doubt be a lot of people who don’t like them for this very reason.
There’s clear bits of Beach Boys, Todd Rundgren and of course The Beatles throughout their debut LP, Do Hollywood, which was released this month on 4AD, but the fact that originality might be lacking doesn’t matter. The songs are absolutely great.
Album opener I Wanna Prove To You honestly could have been written by McCartney with its choral backing vocals and waltzing rhythms, while Haroomata floats between baroque pop, psychedelia and Smile-era Beach Boys. It completely ignores the regular pop song conventions, and the result is a Brian Wilson-esque mini symphony.
Do Hollywood is like a history lesson on the great songwriters of the past. It travels through the late 60s all the way up to more recent bands like the Flaming Lips, taking a short toilet break at 70s glam rock along the way. If there’s one thing we can be certain of, the Lemon Twigs must have a boss record collection. AL
Hannah Peel: Awake But Always Dreaming
My Own Pleasure
Given the prominent success and critical adoration afforded to the Magnetic North‘s Prospect of Skelmersdale you’d be slightly forgiven if you allowed Hannah Peel‘s solo LP Awake But Always Dreaming to slip under the radar. Yet make no mistake, this captivating album is very much the equal of The Magnetic North‘s superlative release.
Built around the concept of memory and in particular its fragile vulnerability and our own inability to control our own thoughts, the record takes form around supremely affecting sound collages, distorted instrumentation, found sounds and alien, sometimes jarring sometimes beautiful, synth work. It is an all encompassing persistent listen that demands your time and invites you to be wrapped in its charms.
The concept is derived from Peel‘s personal experiences of watching her grandmother’s slow decline, suffering from the debilitating illness of dementia. The subject matter is dealt with most directly on the heart-wrenching yet achingly beautiful Conversations which sees Peel at her most stripped bare recounting the dual impact for both sufferer and carer alike. Such is its devastating rawness that Peel can’t envisage a time when she will be able to perform it live. Elsewhere the entirely instrumental Octavia charts the descent into the darkness of dementia, the analogue synths and clarinets mirroring a jumbled mind incapable of summoning any articulacy.
Notwithstanding, this the album wears its concept lightly and is remarkably subtle in its use of sonic abstractions to suggest the fragmented nature of memory and the capacity for dark thoughts to triumph over light. All the while it is held together by Peel’s often wistful, always beautiful vocals which add a peaceful sense of serenity to often confused chaos suggested by the music.
This is a substantial record that develops with each listen and is easily a surefire contender to be one of the albums of the year. A magnificent piece of work. PH
Solange: A Seat at the Table
Saint / Columbia Records
Yes, baby sister to the biggest popstar of the twenty-first century, Solange Knowles, quietly released her third album A Seat at the Table on September 30. To be frank, we’ve never listened to any of the other Solange LPs, but the sheer amount of recognition this one was getting so soon after its release made us wonder. We know Solange as the more ‘natural’ or afro-centric of the two Knowles sisters, but we’ve always assumed this to be a marketing strategy to differentiate herself from her squeaky clean sibling. More style over substance, we thought.
But, after being quite heavily addicted to A Seat at the Table since that first listen, we can now say that if it is all style – it is impeccable. Solange has released a racially charged album like no other, in the way that there’s hardly any aggression to the sound. The lyrics are undoubtedly angry, but they’re delivered with much sweetness. It’s been described as neo-soul, modern or psychedelic soul. There’s some gospel, a smattering of funk, strings, horns, modern electronica, 80s sounding synth and a generous helping of hip hop beats. It is a truly delicious album.
Knowles’s vocals are delicate and authentic, fluttering from track to track with ease. She confidently plays with melody in a way that showcases her training without showing off. Taking several years to complete, Solange has admitted that A Seat at the Table is representative of a difficult period in her life. At aged 30, this is her coming-of-age album or ‘Saturn’s return’. On it we hear not the baby sister of Beyonce attempting to get in on the fame, but a black female artist in her own right with something important to say. Whatever the motive behind it, this is political statement: an elixir for a diasporic black community in crisis.
The interludes on the album are mainly interviews with No Limit founder Master P and sections from her parents. Each of them discuss historical and present day encounters of racism – from Mathew Knowles’ escorted trips to school in the late 1950s (protection from common racist attacks) to Master P’s experiences in the corporate world. On songs like F.U.B.U, Mad and Don’t Touch My Hair, Solange is making sheer bold statements of black pride. It is at its heart a positive affirmation of the modern black experience – a rather pretty sounding call to arms. Give it a listen. Janaya Pickett
Xam Duo: Xam Duo
A recent trip to Sheffield produced one of the most exhilarating night time drives in Getintothis‘ lifetime.
Bear in mind we’ve wazzed through the Atlas Mountains, the San Antonio freeway and the French Alps all around 3am in various states of disarray (as a mere passenger dear reader, we’re not *that* reckless) and the choice of stereo sonic accompaniment has always been equally wild.
Yet, this recent motorik excursion saw us battling with ferocious winds at around 3.45am driving through a several hundred foot drop as the chasmic and geographical wonder of the Snake Pass surrounded our view. It was pitch black. But you could still see the colossal shadows of the mountains, endless curtain-like treelines and the vast drop below to nothing.
Low lights, save for our car’s full beam, lit the road ahead as we cruised our way home after a fantastic evening of revelry and as we hit the motorway, escaping the Tolkien-like backdrop the second suite of I Extend My Arms kicked in in exhilarating, triumphantly cool fashion. It felt like we’d shot out into the next frontier; like a jet breaking through nature’s barriers. A rush – beat that Kowalski.
The track is the 23-minute centre-piece of the self-titled debut album by Xam Duo (consisting Matthew Benn of Hookworms and Christopher Duffin of Deadwall) – a sprawling undulating epic that’ll have krautrock fans chewing their pillow with delight as it injects them with warm gushes of hyper-kinetic electronic endorphins.
There’s a further 18 minuter named Rene – presumably after a famous waiter – which is equally incredible.
Released on the perma-delicious Sonic Cathedral, Xam Duo have created a cocktail of ambience, space-jazz, brass jams and future-kraut that once served up, is impossible to put down. A head-spinning masterclass.