In our latest edition of Album Club, Getintothis writers pick the finest selections from the last month for you.
Compilation albums are a funny thing.
By and large they tend to be some of the most disposable and well, unloved records you may have in your collection.
In the compilation albums that fall into the ‘very best of…’ or ‘the essential…’ category then you probably only got them as a way of dipping your toes tentatively into a particular artist’s works and you didn’t really know where to start. It may have been because they were cheap and it was an easy option. A sort of taster.
There’s something about quantity vs quality as well. You know that best of compilations end up with a whole lot of material crammed in there, although it might not actually be the best stuff. That’s the danger of making a record by committee I suppose. A race to mediocrity and the blindingly obvious.
And this is before we deal with the reason that most of these ‘best of’ comps are issued. Usually because it’s a way for the record companies to milk a fading cash cow that’s drying up or sadly, because the artist has died and well, they might as well make some money while they can. But we are equally complicit in this, as we are not adverse in buying the damn things.
Then there are even the worse compilations; the various artists ones. Granted, there are some gems; Phil Spector’s Christmas Album and the Nuggets comps spring to mind, but for every one of that calibre, there are countless others that are simply a waste of plastic. The Very Best of The Blues. The Top Rock and Roll Songs Ever! (there’s usually an exclamation mark involved.) Or worst of all-any Punk- or God help us- “Indie” collections.
A complete waste of shelf space. But I’ve got more than a few of them and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. They’re stacked at the end of the shelf, getting gradually more and more dusty and increasingly unloved.
But it’s not true that all compilation albums have to be that way because 40 years ago, way back in 1977, the rarest and possibly coolest compilation album ever made was released.
There are only two copies of this record and neither of them are still around. At least not on Planet Earth because both of them are many miles away, millions of miles away, spinning through the endless tracts of space.
This forty-year old compilation is the Voyager Golden Record. It was made specifically to be placed on the Voyager spacecraft and then flung into outer space, where it was hoped that maybe thousands and thousands of years from now, an alien life form might stumble across it and give it a spin.
It’s not got just music on the record of course, although that’s what piqued my interest in it. There are spoken word greetings in 55 different languages and messages from the then US President, Jimmy Carter and the UN Secretary-General, Kurt Waldheim. There are many images, photographs and scientific diagrams, showing life on earth and various cultural aspects of human existence.
There’s sounds of babies, mothers, people laughing, dogs barking, whales singing, footsteps, tractors, kissing, birds, crickets, frogs, surf, thunder, heartbeats, trains, sawing, wind, elephants and more. By itself, just for all that alone, I’d have said it was the best compilation ever made. Wouldn’t you want to hear it?
As for the music, well that was something else altogether.
It was collated by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan (a cool fucker if there ever was one), the renowned cosmologist, astrophysicist, astronomer, astrobiologist, author, science populariser and communicator. There wasn’t much he couldn’t turn his hand to, so deciding what tracks to put on his record must have been easy. None of this endless mixtape prevarication.
Sagan and his esteemed committee put together a magnificent collection of music.
Bach, Beethoven, Indonesian gamelan, Native American tunes and Pygmy music out of Zaire. There was stuff from Australia, Peru, China, Mexico and all around the world.
He also managed to get Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (one of the greatest blues songs, and in fact one of the greatest songs ever) on the record.
Chuck Berry’s Johnny B Goode also made an appearance alongside Louis Armstrong’s Melancholy Blues. The committee wanted The Beatles Here Comes the Sun but EMI nixed it. Maybe they didn’t want aliens getting hold of the back catalogue.
There was Mozart and Stravinsky and the whole musical selection lasted for 90 minutes. A perfect fit for a TDK C90.
Yet Sagan didn’t go for a tape.
This was a proper 12” record but not one made on vinyl. Oh no. For something that had to go into space Sagan wasn’t going to piss around. This was made out of solid copper and coated in real gold. The cover was solid aluminium and electroplated onto it was a very pure sample of the isotope uranium 238. As uranium has a half-life of over 4.4 billion years then it would be possible to work out how old the record was from that alone.
Once you put together the combination of ace music, added visual extras, bonus sounds, a record so rare there are only two copies around and both on spacecraft somewhere out there, a cover that is totally unique and practical, then you’ve got the compilation record to beat all.
Wouldn’t you love to get your hands on it?
Well, clearly that’s impossible but in one of the most tenuous links ever, here’s Getintothis’ pick of the best albums of the last month. We can’t promise that they would have met with Carl Sagan’s approval, but we like them.
And there is one compilation in there as well…
Beach House: B Sides and Rarities
Beach House (that is, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally) have been dispensing sonic sugar pills since 2004, producing dreampop that has often been gloriously reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins in their prime.
Since their self-titled debut, Legrand and Scally have released six memorable albums (the standouts being Devotion (2008), Teen Dream (2010) and Thank Your Lucky Stars (2015)) all within this furrow of eerie pop marginalia.
Thus, the new B Sides and Rarities LP is a very welcome addition to their seductive discography. Admittedly, it brings little of difference to their back catalogue – Beach House, as much as anything else, are creatures of musical habit.
Despite this, if you are a long-time fan, you will still find plenty to enjoy. Intriguing alternate versions/recordings of staples such as Used to Be, Norway and 10 Mile Stereo are beguiling efforts at bringing new nuances to long established tracks.
In addition, there are secret songs from previous albums like Wherever You Go (which was a hidden extra on Bloom (2012)) or curios honed within their practice space in Baltimore.
You won’t therefore, find anything earth-shattering here but perhaps, that is all to the good.
As it is, all you will find are some more slices of the delicious trance-like pop that Beach House have been crafting for over a decade. For this, we remain very grateful. Chris Leathley
Drums Off Chaos: Compass
Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, who died earlier this year played on over 200 releases but strangely the group that he worked the closest with for over 35 years have only ever released a handful of tracks.
But in the last few months of his life Jaki earmarked some Drums Off Chaos recordings as suitable for release, as found on this release on Burnt Friedman’s Nonplace label.
Jaki developed a profound and all-encompassing systematic approach to rhythm largely through daily experimentation with Drums Off Chaos. Though his system is derived from studies of music from all over the world, the result is music that transcends cultural definition and boundaries.
Of the five tracks here there are flavours of African, Middle-eastern, Indian, Far-eastern and European art music, but nothing that clearly defines it as borrowing from any of them.
This only comes from identifying, using and living with the principles behind the music; in contrast to just taking a snapshot of the surface – like a kid using samples provided in software to build their music.
This is hand-made – including the drums themselves. Yet the rhythmic precision of, for example Antidote, or the technical control of Turn Off the Blue reach beyond the scope of the stiff programming that makes up so much of our music today.
Compass is something genuinely fresh and yet utterly timeless. It stands outside of so much of the music we’re accustomed to so it might take a while to sink in. But when it does your ears will never look back. Jono Podmore
Ex Eye: Ex Eye
Heavy metal, jazz, Can, Led Zeppelin, Yes, 13 minute songs, hammering drums, screaming guitars, saxophones, pauses, 5 tracks, more saxophones. Difficult listening. Am I selling this one right?
Yup. I am. This is an absolute belter. A kind of Mogwai on speed and Godspeed You! Black Emperor backed into the blue corner by the masters of the kick-ass manic crazed mayhem that is Ex Eye.
This is a debut album from a band put together by saxophonist Colin Stetson – and drummer Greg Fox – a pair who have an impressive CV of collaborations with a long list of luminaries as diverse as Tom Waits, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, TV On The Radio, Feist, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Bill Laswell, Evan Parker, The Chemical Brothers, Animal Collective, Hamid Drake, LCD Soundsystem, The National, Angelique Kidjo, Fink, and David Gilmore.
But none of that list prepares you for the onslaught of Ex Eye. And it gives you no clue what this record will sound like. And, neither, really will this review – it’s more a steer to get you to go and check out something different.
It’s complex from a writing point of view and, according to my partner, mind numbing. It takes no prisoners. It grabs you with its power, angst and difference. It’s an album like nothing we’ve heard before. We can’t pigeon hole it other than to say it’s wicked.
There’s a gentle-ish intro in the form of the 4 minute Xenolith; The Anvil which is a pretty classic romp around some heavy metal guitars. But that’s just a teaser. Followed up by the 13 minute Behemoth that is Opposition/Perihelion; the Coil the listener is left reeling, but wondering what’s coming next. As Anaitis Hymnal; the Arkose Disc takes hold, you’re gripped and there’s no going back.
You’re trapped in this maelstrom of unfamiliarity, not sure where it’s taking you and not even sure you’re really enjoying it. But something gnaws away and you keep going. You manage to get through the, by now, it seems, relatively brief 8 minutes of Form Constant; the Grid – all cymbals, bass sax and screaming. You haven’t even noticed every track has a semi-colon in its name, let alone wonder why. You can’t yet process what’s going on.
There’s a beauty to the intro of Tten Crowns; the Corruptor – here’s some jazz sax and gentle rhythm to get you in kind of different mood, but it doesn’t take long before it starts to get darker and sinister with a violin that would appear to have been sacrificed for the cause. Drumming that would make Metallica look pedestrian and then, even at 12 minutes it leaves you wanting more. You feel, in the end like you’ve only got started.
We have no idea about the semi-colons, nor why Tten Crowns; the Corruptor has two Ts to start with. It’s a bit like some kind of John Le Carre mystery novel with a double twist at the end. We can only hope there’s more of this madness because it’s just absolutely brilliant. Peter Goodbody
Girl Ray:Earl Gray
Girl Ray, three nineteen-year olds from London, emerged last autumn with the single Trouble, indie pop as it is meant to be.
The sweet but off-kilter harmonies led by Poppy Hankin and assisted by bandmates Sophie Moss and Iris McConnell added an edge, and next single Stupid Things (about the-well, stupid things teenage girls do to impress a guy) and the third, Preacher, delighted even further.
The videos accompanying each single only added further to the intrigue. It’s all about the letters, you see.
The album Earl Gray fulfils the promise of those initial songs.
Calling your debut album after a type of tea is so utterly British, and quaint; Girl Ray have oft been compared to the C86 bands of thirty years ago, yet the trio’s musical palette is far wider reaching.
Poppy’s voice carries the slightly detached quality of Nico, yes, but her knowing tone and wry lyrics inject more than a touch of humour. Beach Boys-esque harmonies on opener Just Like That are like a hug, but if you’re hoping for a nostalgia trip, then I suggest you go elsewhere.
The indie-twee comparisons may well be valid but, I suggest, but we’d all do well to remember young women in indie bands- drummers, bass players, musicians in their own right- were more commonplace three decades ago, but washed away by Britpop a few years later and are only now making a recovery in number.
We’re just not used to it yet. But we soon will be.
Earl Grey is the work of a band past fledgling status, but not there quite yet; it will be a treat to see these songs performed live at Liverpool Music Week in late October. Cath Bore
Happy Meals: Full Ashram Devotional Ceremony (Volumes IV – VI)
For me this was like discovering synthesised music again for the first time. It’s a return to the future past.
To say that I loved this album would be an understatement.
I’ve followed this band from the first LP Apero to the follow up album of Fruit Juice Both those albums are a collision of disco beats and indie ethic, but on this album they seem to have moved their sound to a new level
Happy Meals are the duo, Lewis Cook and Suzanne Rodden, and in this, their third release, they have developed more ethereal sounds, moving away from a pop ethic for more transcendental drones and pulses, merging elements of seventies futurist synthesiser experimentation with aspects of Spacemen 3-layered contemplative psychedelia.
The opening drone of 432hz resonant activation tone washes over the listener. Colliding oscillations build the anticipation of the track only to be broken at the end with a wash of pink noise that bleeds into ‘may you be the mothe/-may you be the sun’ Carpenter-esque drum sounds are overladened with synthesiser chimes and shifting delays: flute and guitar develop the sound into a wonderful Krautrock rhythm.
While Suzanne Rodden’s vocals shift between the track as it develops and becomes more trance-like collapsing into full ashram emerging theme which seems to float in the air with the music bleeding out, leaving only a vocal chant behind.
Every moment is a birth is like a summoning of sound, its experimental warpings are interspersed with arpeggiated keyboard breaking into Berlin-school style repeats and the album ends with 528hz full heart vibration – the final drone.
A truly stunning album and worth searching out, a true future classic. Guy Nolan
Jamila Woods: HEAVN
Jamila Woods is a name that will likely become much more familiar in the coming months, following the release of the Chicago based R&B-singer and Chance-the-Rapper-collaborator’s solo debut album HEAVN. released on August 15th.
HEAVN is a refreshing and politically driven take on recent events, and its release surrounding the recent Charlottesville incident will no doubt help Woods to cut through the noise.
The album is focused on a non-separatist and yet still strong sense of black-pride, enforced in tracks like Blk Girl Soldier and VRY BLK which both speak out strongly against recent events in the US, while still maintaining a hopeful, unifying and positive tone.
Her voice may have been the perfect voice to deliver the harsh truths that might have been lost had it been a more aggressive delivery.
The album’s protest theme is not purist, and the album is complimented by quite a few beautifully personal tracks from Jamila.
Musically, the choices throughout the album shine, and her choices for feature tracks such as LSD feat. Chance The Rapper are great moves for her own promotion.
There is a wide spectrum of R&B influenced sounds throughout the album, from classic hip-hop beats to full bands, especially in the title track, featuring fantastically soulful and jazzy instrumental performances.
An album well worth a few listens, and an artist who is without a doubt worth following as she gains traction. The messages in her music are some that everyone should hear and take to heart in tumultuous times like these. Stephen Geisler
Lana Del Rey: Lust For Life
Lana Del Rey returns with her fourth album Lust For Life, one which features collaborations from The Weekend, A$AP Rocky, Stevie Nicks, Sean Ono Lennon and Playboi Carti.
Although out of the 16 tracks on the album only five feature guest artists this is an impressive feat when such heavy hitting names are connected with the project.
Del Rey draws us into the world she has created, filled with the nostalgia of times long gone and places we have only dreamed of in the midst of lives filled with love, loss and hope.
The opening track Love, the first single from this album and the perfect opener as it appears to touch on all of Del Rey’s usual tropes, however here we see the nostalgia more in a sense of talking to someone younger and of fondness rather than a wish for changed events.
Del Rey even turns to the political landscape we have found ourselves in over the past couple years.
The track God Bless America- And All The Beautiful Women In It acts as an anthem for women who are currently fighting for equal rights and control of their own bodies. A song which empowers those who need it in the darker of situations.
This is furthered by the next song, When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing,
‘We just want the fuckin’ truth, Is it the end of an era? Is it the end of America?’ the merging of the world Del Rey creates and reality showing how far from reality the current events feel yet the darker and unnerving feeling in the static melodies shows the aggression and the want of ‘the fuckin truth.’
Lust for Life is the perfect development of Born To Die, Ultraviolence and Honeymoon as Del Rey experiments with allowing others into her world and even expanding to include genres which we wouldn’t have expected to fit so perfectly into a world of nostalgia, vintage and lovelorn moments.
The simpler moments on the album do steal the show from the piano based ballad of Change leading into the album finale Get Free, both of which exude an element of hope from a world which for the past three albums has focused on the darker side of situations but here Del Rey has reached a point of hope and pledge towards the future. Jess Borden
Milo: Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!
The album opens with an excerpt from African American writer James Baldwin’s lecture The Artists Struggle for Integrity.
The artist’s struggle, Baldwin claims, is representative of the struggle of humanity more generally.
Speaking in 1962 he reflects on the importance of artists, or poets, ‘in a country like ours and in a time like this’ and in the way that all great thinkers do or have done, draws eerie connections between then and now.
We hear the cyclical nature of time and the depth of struggle, history repeating itself.
‘I would never come before you in the position of a complainant for doing something that I must do’.
And here Milo comes in speaking over and in time with the recording and then repeating the phrase independently ‘I must do… I must do’.
Milo (real name Rory Ferreira) has, for the past six years, harvested praise amongst critics as an independent art rapper, who weaves Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, ancient symbolism, poetic imagery and so much more into his raps.
Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?! is his third album as Milo and perhaps a more concentrated expression than A Toothpaste Suburb or So the Flies Don’t Come.
Indeed Baldwin’s lecture that opens Who Told You… reveals much about the album. Milo is an artist determined to retain his integrity despite the challenges and times. His relentless quest for knowledge and constant questioning are a blessing and a curse and there is much to be said about the burden of knowing too much.
It’s an album for those who love language, jazz perhaps and art.
Those who like to pour over music that reveals itself over time. Its essence and sophistication just can’t be captured in such a small review and so I implore you if you’re into your hip hop or you just want to hear something different, then listen to this and thank me later. Janaya Pickett
Mogwai: Every Country’s Sun
With Every Country’s Sun, their ninth studio album, Mogwai have come up with a blinder.
Reunited with US producer, Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev) for the first time since 2001’s Rock Action, this record is a revelation.
Mogwai have always been one of those rare bands who are confident and self-assured. Even from their early days, they seemed to have known where they were going. They were artists who weren’t messing around.
Yet, with Every Country’s Sun, they have taken it one step further.
With tracks like Coolverine (the opener), Don’t Believe the Fife and aka 47 there’s still that faith in what they’re doing shining through but there something else. Something more.
It’s that sense you get when you see someone who has complete mastery with their work It might not necessarily be a musician; it could equally be someone making an intricate piece of jewellery or repairing something that appears to be utterly broken. It could be an artist, a painter, even a footballer; just think of Zindane in his prime.
Whatever it is, they make it seem effortless and right. You don’t really understand how they can do it, but they do.
This is the level that Mogwai have reached with Every Country’s Sun. It’s effortless and right.
Party in the Dark in possibly the hookiest song that Mowgai have ever recorded. In an alternative universe, it would be Number 1 for weeks. And as there clearly are alternative universes, then this perfect pop tune, with distinct echoes of New Order or the Flaming Lips at their catchiest has been at the top of the charts all summer long.
The album builds and builds to the title track which rounds it all off so well. It’s crescendo after crescendo, everything layered and interwoven. It explodes like thousands and thousands of fireworks in the darkest November sky and you find yourself slack-jawed and amazed as it ends.
How did Mogwai do all that you ask yourself? You’re not entirely sure, but you’re so glad they did. Rick Leach
The National: Sleep Well Beast
In what seems almost a lifetime ago, way back in 2013, The National released their last studio album, Trouble Will Find Me.
That was their sixth long player since their 2001 self-titled debut. Although it received wide critical acclaim and commercial success, to the ears of this writer, it sounded slightly of a band that was becoming a bit tired and a touch worn out.
Although not bereft of ideas-it was far from that- Trouble Will Find Me was a sombre, downbeat and strange to say, a quiet affair.
It seemed different from their three earlier albums, Boxer, Alligator – and especially the high-octane High Violet.
There was an element of something lacking; an urgency, a sharpness and indeed that touch of righteous anger which had made that triptych of their previous releases so vital. Maybe it just was a sign of a band simply maturing as opposed to running out of steam. We had to give them the benefit of the doubt, but nevertheless it felt like The National may have just been going out with a whisper. A good whisper, yet a whisper for all that.
It kind of felt like a natural conclusion especially when lead singer Matt Berninger hinted quite strongly at the time that Trouble Will Find Me could be their last album. Ah well, it was good while it lasted.
Berninger recorded a spin off album as EL:VY and fellow National bandmates, brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner seemed fully occupied with soundtracks and art projects.
But you shouldn’t always write great bands off, because The National are back in 2017 with a brand- new album and we are taster single e pleased, nay ecstatic, to report that it’s an absolute cracker.
Sleep Well Beast sees The National return stronger and tighter than ever before.
We had a sign of this with the release of the first single from the album, The System Only Sleeps in Total Darkness earlier this year. It had those Raymond Carver-esque hints and echoes of quiet and desperate lives that The National excel at; those narratives that act exactly like short stories and leaving you needing to know more, yet perfectly formed as they are.
That edge had come back with that single. Staccato guitars and swooping vocals merged with an ever-rolling drum pattern. This was The National as how they should be!
We wondered if it was a one off. Had they simply picked the strongest track from the album?
We needn’t have been concerned because when they played Glastonbury this June, they took the brave step of playing five brand new and unheard tracks from Sleep Well Beast in their Pyramid set.
If anything, the taster single was just that; a taster because the new tracks were so good and on the album they sound even better. Strings and intricate keyboard arrangements are used with skill and just at the right level to add that urgency that’s needed.
Day I Die and Turtleneck are particularly worthy of attention, the latter a three-minute pure blast of invective that Berninger appears to have dragged and dredged up from the depths of his sub-conscious.
2017 has been a vintage year for albums and now with this one from The National we’ve got one that stands right at the very top.
A treasure. Rick Leach
Various Artists: Space, Energy and Light: Experimental Electronic and Acoustic Soundscapes 1961-88
Soul Jazz Records
If you’re not familiar with Soul Jazz Records, may we gently suggest that you should be (perhaps start with the NY Noise or Disco Compilations).
For some time now, they have been curating wonderful samplers of obscure slices of musical esoterica, much of which having been unjustly neglected over the years.
This latest release, as the title and the lunar travel paraphernalia upon the cover implies, is a leap into the musical unknown. Caressed synths, echoing vocals (often without discernible language) and swoops of electronic effects all combine to generate an atmosphere of genuine wonder.
There is an innocent joy to much of this double LP which, if we are being truthful, can occasionally stray into cloying New Age sentimentality. Additionally, the liner notes throw up some (unintentionally?) comic gems, particularly when a US university compares one track to the sound of the after-life…
Nevertheless, you’d be wrong to let this put you off. This collection is full of laser loops, analogue wizardry and delightful minimalism, all of which form component parts of a meticulous musical architecture.
For any adventurous fan of the lush electronic wilderness created by true pioneers, this Soul Jazz release is an absolute must buy. Chris Leathley