Getintothis’ writers present their selection of the best album releases from the past month.
Apparently, according to a major national newspaper just this week, streaming services have saved the music industry.
Streaming subscriptions are at record highs with 112 million subscribers contributing to a 60% increase in revenues. Some are labelling it a tipping point, like a corner has been turned. Everything from now on in the garden, it seems, will be rosy. It used to be the music is sold on physical mediums like tapes and the even older vinyl records. The coming of the digital age made it possible for piracy to take a huge bite of the revenue from recording labels and most especially musicians. Though many both underrated and mainstream personalities are ranked on websites like Music Critic, there are still issues that streaming platforms are now trying to address.
As predicted by many, digital download sales have continued to fall suggesting that the still youthful format might already have enjoyed its halcyon days. For many the physical format reigns supreme. Recent evidence from Record Store Day suggests it continues to be cherished, while CD and record sales comprise 70% of the market in France and Germany.
Maybe the streaming models have helped conquer the challenges posed by piracy, with many accepting the cost of £9.99 per month on a Spotify subscription over the threat from the long arm of the law. Yet it does seem that the wealth in the industry and the revenues it generates is concentrated in ever fewer hands.
A cluster of the same artists seem to forever populate the higher echelons of the streaming charts while smaller artists, not helped by the perpetual threat of music venue closures, find it increasingly difficult to gain a foothold as labels’ economic models come under pressure. Indeed Record Store (shop?) Day seems now a curse as much as it was once a blessing. The predominance of heritage represses clogging up pressing plants places a further burden on independent artists.
It remains a frustrating vicious circle as popular artists become popular because, well, they’re already popular. It’s perhaps always been this way, but mid-ranking bands used to be able to survive and often prosper on the back of record sales alone. Despite record numbers of streaming service subscribers money has accumulated at the top and, it would appear, shows little inclination to trickle down. Quelle surprise.
It thus becomes ever more important to scrape beneath the surface and champion the unheralded. This remains the brief of Album Club and, true to it, here is a selection of new releases that a more than worth a listen. I tell you what head to your local record shop and hand over some cash for a physical copy. No streaming now.
The Black Angels: Death Song
It’s been 11 years since Passover, the breakthrough debut album by the underlings of garage doom, The Black Angels, stationed themselves like a hearse loaded with heroin and thunder – and much has changed.
Their introduction to this listener came off the back of buying the simple black sleeve 12″ by The Warlocks – a band crossing over into the mainstream courtesy of a new wave of dark rock and roll outsiders; The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and a clutch of others represented a pocket of new-wavers making smack-laced blisteringly exciting drone.
While the BJM toured relentlessly garnering their infamous reputation, and fleeting appearances by BRMC and a notable set by The Warlocks upstairs in Liverpool’s then Barfly Loft, The Black Angels proved more elusive and certainly more enigmatic.
Push things forward and this careeringly bleak yet energising psychosis of guitar rock is now firmly entrenched in the mainstream – with any city worth it’s salt hosting a spin off Psych Fest – so it seems only natural The Black Angels make their return at the UK’s finest of such here in Liverpool.
Death Song is the album and Currency – a rip-roaring condemnatory outcry against capitalism is the rallying cry. It sets the tone for a record which barely deviates from their characteristic template which is nonetheless a wonderfully vicious, steely listen.
I Dreamt shows the band at their most direct, almost Clinic-like in it’s spooky pop before whisky-soaked riffs plough through the mix.
Elsewhere Comanche Moon is a triumphant blast of titanic power, echoing choral vocals and a vortex of a fuzzy climax. Better still is Half Believing a neo-gothic ballad which marries Alex Maas‘ deadened vocals with a sharp military beat and ribbons of spiky fretwork while closer Life Song is a mournful cousin of Pink Floyd‘s Eclipse drenched with regret and modulated synths.
While there’s little new present on Death Song, The Black Angels‘ reemergence is not only fitting but a timely reminder of a small gang of dark musical prophets who spawned a legion of unholy apostles. Peter Guy
Public House Recordings
Is this on Ghost Box? If not it ought to be.
On Waves Dalham has succeeded in creating an album of twisted analogue electronica that is both disturbing and compelling.
Did I mention Boards of Canada? I hope not because the obvious comparisons are most often best avoided, none more so than here. Waves is a somewhat darker affair, often disguising the sunshine in favour of darker scenes that allow images of a dystopian future to emerge.
Yet this is largely an album that looks to the past and its appeal lies in its apparent simplicity. And by simplicity we mean its sense of space and warmth as its curious synth textures are given room to breath and the time to begin and end. There is a manual playfulness in its evocation of sounds that are broad and rich in their textural experimentations while never sounding over considered or excessively programmed.
There are definite nods to the past. Its allusions to the halcyon days of TV sci-fi and the role it played in the progression of electronic music are paramount, as are the nods towards 1970s horror soundtracks.
New Sun basks in an eerie moodiness that is nonetheless offset by moments of lightness that Dalham just can’t help but allow to seep through. Indeed for all its darkly mysterious aesthetics there remains a bright side and it is this duality that provides the album’s most interesting moments.
The gothic gloom of CHK is adroitly counterbalanced the constancy of a bright electronic beat, while Marlowe acts as a Broadcast-like interlude. Prism begins positively breezily, showcasing the sense of air and space that reins in the threatened tendency to veer into more claustrophobic territory. Hasze is denser fare, its opaque canvas revealing yet another facet to the album.
Waves provides much to admire and in its construction reveals Dalham’s genuine love for off-kilter, weird and unusual electronic sounds that can’t help but engage. It makes for a quirky listen but, in its underlying conflict between darkness and light, space and claustrophobia, one likely to endure. Paul Higham
Happyness: Write In
Some albums are maligned for being derivative – others are lauded for the ecelcticism of their influences with praise invariably being dolloped on the breadth of the band members’ record collections.
Happyness have not reinvented the wheel. Write In by the South London three-piece breaks little in the way of new ground, although who truly does any more. Yet the more you listen to their second album the more difficult it must surely be for the mud-slingers to make the dreaded ‘too derivative’ label stick.
This is an album characterised by its poise and elegance and the sheer know-how of its makers. That’s not to say it is either dull or unambitious, not by any stretch. Opener Falling Down builds with a relentless ease, the sort you barely notice until its encirclingly repetitive riff becomes so firmly ingrained in your head that you have little choice but to succumb to its unforceful force.
The undeniable charm of the album is that it sounds so effortless, like they’re not really trying. Yet on account of its accomplishment you know that they are. It is inescapably languid, imbued with an easy assurance that it really is difficult to find fault.
Sure there is little by way of overt experimentation but part of the joy is in the comfort and familiarity. Like its predecessor, Write In casts its eye Stateside flitting between college rock, the restless inventiveness of Yo La Tengo and the slacker vibe of a Pavement while seeming to stand proud in its own identity.
Unlike some, this isn’t a record that makes you dwell on its forebears. You’re not itching for the stop button before reaching for Slanted and Enchanted or I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One.
On the contrary a factor in Happyness’ success on Write In is their self-confident forging of their own identity. They flit through a range of styles without diluting their voice.
Take for example the shoegaze haze of Anytime that is immediately followed up by the folk-oriented ballad-like Through Windows. It shouldn’t work yet it does. Elsewhere the near chaos of Bigger Glass Less Full unwinds into the mournful beauty of Victor Lazarro’s Heart.
And this is an album with a lot of heart and a central core that allows them to seek the new without ever breaking the ties that bind them to themselves. An assuredly beautiful record that lives up to the cliché – it really does improve with each listen. Paul Higham
In Flagranti: Sprezzatura
From time to time an album turns up that throws you off balance, makes you see the world slightly differently or skews your perceptions of what a genre of music can provide.
For me, a writer bored of most samey, dull and safe modern electronic music, I wasn’t expecting great things from In Flagranti‘s latest album. The Swiss duo describe it as a ‘pre-internet-record-buying- phoneline-concept-album-come- mixtape’ and have only issued it physically on cassette. So far, so hipster.
However, Sprezzatura – at a hefty 30 tracks long – is actually one of the most light, airy and breezy albums I’ve heard all year.
Apparently influenced by sampler cassettes they used to pick up from their favourite record store as kids, Sprezzatura is less of an album and more of an eclectic electric affair, bouncing genres from distorted techno to glittery off-kilter disco and back again.
There’s a lo-fi authenticity to the album that sets them apart from most modern electronic acts. The 30 track length makes it tough to enjoy as an album in its entirety, but there’s plenty to dip in and out of, knowing that you’ll always find something you like no matter at which point you enter the ride.
Track-wise there’s the mutated easy-listening thrum of TV Fashion Show and Expensive Trinkets; the ‘full-on 80s’ of Charity Bazaar; and the totally tropical Slow Burn.
There’s a lot to take in – although there are very few dull moments as you’d perhaps expect from such a lengthy album. Sprezzatura hangs together well, with standout track My Sordid Little Affair sounding like an early, lost Daft Punk cut.
Hands down one of the most intriguing albums I’ve heard so far this year. Chris Burgess
Lo Five: When It’s Time To Let Go
Seductive warmth and gently radiating beauty aren’t necessary the things you most expect from modern electronic music. Yet Lo Five‘s When It’s Time To Let Go feels initially blessed with a bucolic pastoral quality, the sweeping cinema and open spaces of the countryside finding favour over oppressive urbanity.
There is an openness to the music, its gently echoing windswept vistas inducing a sense of nostalgia leading to explorations of time, place and memory. Throughout there is sufficient bite yet the overriding feeling is one of rounded edges and a frayed beauty as songs emerge, melody in tact, like half-remembered childhood tales, a grainy hue from faded times.
The record borrows sounds from the world around us. Birdsong competes with wind turbines offering allusions to the inherent contradiction of man’s disruption to nature by the very effort to help preserve it. Sabre Contusion plays on this sense of confusion, an unresolved skirmish between icy minimalism and wider melodic warmth.
A Pivotal Moment stands out equally. The coastal isolation that usually evokes a sense of freedom and opportunity here is quickly replaced with a sense of foreboding as a sinister eeriness holds sway amid its less than soothing ambient waves. I’d Like To Be introduces a sense of the macabre through unsettling laughter while Death To Innovation embodies a struggle between light and dark, seemingly jolting us back into the present day.
As the album progresses the more it reveals of itself. Pushing you down different roads, a journey of surprises and unusual sounds. Like the best albums too it works with your mood, proving equally a wistful voyage into our past as well as a discomfiting reflection of our troubled present. Paul Higham
Sacred Paws: Strike A Match
First rule of music criticism – don’t talk about the weather.
Well, tough shit, because here’s 2017’s Album of The Summer.
Yup, arriving ahead of schedule in late March, guitarist Rachel Aggs and drummer Eilidh Rogers, have made the most joyous album we’ve heard all year – and we’d be surprised if it’s topped. For a little over half an hour Strike A Match funks, bops and breaks loose barely letting you catch your breath, positively oozing nervous giggles of anxiety-aggit-pop.
The alchemy between the duo is irresistible – made all the more remarkable given they live at other ends of the country and seemingly operate the band loosely between their London and Glasgow bases. It’s positively wondrous to hear bubblegum hooks gel with funky rhythms, body-popping jangles and frequent bursts of trumpet plus their infectious call-and-response vocals adding to the nonchalent savoir faire swaggering out the speakers. In some ways the effect recalls the naive innocence of Elastica‘s classic debut – in that every song beautifully bleeds into the next with self-assurance and quiet untapped innocence. There’s no highlights here – it’s just a simple fully-formed whole of good-time moments.
Say, 0.45 in of Nothing Matters when those first parps of unexpected brass rips through the system; 0.56 of Voice as the drums rachet up a notch and rays of cheeky snaking synth angles into view. Or how about the Gracelands-like Afropop jangle one minute into Rest – a track that’ll make you want to do the Conga around your sitting room. On your own. Or grab a neighbour.
Only once does the pace drop – Wet Graffiti is the midpoint softer lilt with a careless melancholia – ironically it’s almost sunny with its liberating refrain ‘I wanna run away‘ sitting atop an out of tune recorder. It serves as respite and only helps the following title track rattle along at twice the speed.
Simply put, Strike A Match is that rare pop jewel which will have you clinging on from start to finish. We’d implore you to buy it. Peter Guy
Lee Southall: Iron In The Fire
When his former band went their separate ways in 2012, Southall left Merseyside for the rural heights of Hebden Bridge, with its dramatic landscape and weather helping to inform his burgeoning song-writing output.
The album was originally to be called Between Two Worlds, but is now named after its opening cut. It was engineered and produced by Seadna McPhail in Manchester, who has previously worked with the likes of Badly Drawn Boy, Doves and I Am Kloot.
The hypnotic title track kicks things off in a leisurely style with some a capella Fleetwood Mac-esque harmonies, soon joined by minor chord guitar notes a la White Album-era Beatles.
The influence of classic singer/songwriters such as James Taylor, John Martyn and Bert Jansch are apparent in other numbers like Misty Mae, while Shade Of Blue successfully aims at a more poppy sound. Sometimes his voice brings to mind forgotten scouse indie kids Benny Profane’s Dave Jackson.
Sleep and Spread Your Wings up the country influence a little (more Gram Parsons than Hank Williams), while Semay Wu’s cello subtly backs up Blue Skies. Overall, the musical accompaniment is understated, letting the songs themselves (and his guitar picking) be the star.
One of the music world’s nice guys, let’s hope this makes a splash like his former bandmates have done with their solo efforts in the past few years. Will Neville
The Sundowners: Cut The Master
Skeleton Key Records
Shamanism involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousnesses in order to interact with the spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into the world, or so says the word of Wiki at least.
If that is the case, then The Sundowners have truly become exceptional Shamans of the musical world, with their sophomore album Cut The Master an early contender for one of the albums of the year, for this writer at least.
Awash with transient melodies that flow effortlessly around the incredible harmonies of Fiona Skelly and Niamh Rowe, they have built upon their eponymous debut and progressed into something altogether uniquely beautiful, which shows throughout the ten tracks of this exceptional record.
From the opening whimsical keys of starter Before the storm, we are transported into a sonic voyage of splendor that doesn’t let up. The flow between dreamy hypnotic psych to etheral alt folk is seamless, within the delicate workings of Walk On In as lush rhythms twine around the listener and draw you nearer to them.
That isn’t to say that Cut The Master is floating on the ether, far form it in fact, as tracks like the searing The Watchful Eye add gusto to proceedings, with the roaring beat of Jim Sharrock at its most ferocious best. It’s a testament to the development that The Sundowners show in their latest offerings, with the slick futuristic keys of Find Out For Yourself proving that the subtle details on this album are equally as effective and crucial to its chemistry.
With the aptly named Great Beauty providing us with a first glimpse of what was in store for this record, it more than lives up to the hype that has been placed upon it and sees The Sundowners hypnotise all to their shamanic world. Craig MacDonald
Justin Walter: Unseen Forces
Opening with 1001, Unseen Forces begins with a mournful drone, its vintage wind-synthesiser summoning us from our slumber as its light melodies gently usher in the first lights of the day. Its gently soothing undertones easing us into the album.
Title track Unseen Forces is equally enchanting. With only the merest hint of an increase in tempo its delicately crafted vistas talk to the soul, before the insistent trumpet reminds of its melodic intent puncturing you from the inside with the wistful sense of melancholy that it easily conjures.
The record makes its mark with its expansive soundscapes that can’t fail to leave a lasting impression. It develops with every listen; the subtle drones ever-eager to reveal more while the marriage between its minimal structure and the enveloping atmosphere solidifies with each passing spin.
This most definitely is anything but background music. The ambient textures demand to be listened to, growing more powerful as the record progresses. Sixty ups the ante considerably fomenting a growing sense of unease and discomfort as it adds layer upon layer of droning textures which never quite fit together in snug harmony.
End of Six begins as a series of protracted notes reveal themselves through a murky underwater haze, gently echoing away from the listener into the mid-distance with a sense of resigned despondency. It’s Not What You Think pulls the listener back into its seductive melody. Its initial funereal mood gives way to jittery electronica that emphasises the juxtaposition between the underlying lugubriousness and an edgy tension.
Unseen Forces is near classical in its structures composed almost entirely from wind synth it shows remarkable restraint and in its analogue ambience betrays both an unerring beauty and a surprisingly melodic heartbeat. Paul Higham