In our first Albums Club of the new year, our own Banjo looks at the effect a good album can have on our lives and the Getintothis team bring you the best of the new releases.
In our last couple of Singles Club columns, our writers have quite rightly been praising the humble single.
They love the fact that a single can be a solitary spark of genius, a lone track that stands on its own or an introduction to a soon to be loved new band.
All of this is well and good and is something I totally agree with.
But, as editor of our monthly albums club, I feel that a gauntlet has been thrown down somewhat and as a result, I am here to speak up for the mighty album.
A good album is more than a collection of songs, a good album can be a something that will accompany you throughout your changing life, it can be a direct link to an artist’s heart and soul and can even be an indicator of social change.
Back in the days when vinyl was the only way people could listen to albums, it was not uncommon for fans to have an album’s sleeve on display somewhere, somehow, to indicate what kind of person you were or what tribe you belonged to.
The twelve-inch square sleeve was easily seen and could loudly shout your allegiance to a scene or a type of music, in such ways were friendships formed, if someone liked an album that you also loved, you instantly had common ground on which to meet.
It is not uncommon to see features in monthly music mags asking artist’s to name the albums that changed their lives. To a non-music fan (do such people really exist?) this must seem like an extraordinary concept.
How could a collection of songs change someone’s life?
But to those of us who remember the thrill of hearing, loving and getting involved with a band or a music scene of our own this is just fact. And we have reason to feel sorry for those poor unfortunates whose lives have never been irrevocably altered by an album.
Whether it was hearing David Bowie‘s Ziggy Stardust and realising that music can be more than the songs we heard on daytime radio, having your thoughts and your future crystallised when you walked out of a record shop with a copy of Never Mind the Bollocks or the full-on rush of being part of Britain’s last madcap musical movement, signified by owning (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?; an album can be so much more than the sum of its parts.
An album is where an artist can expand their vision and present to you the full scope of their musical soul. They can take you places and change who you are.
So here we present another clutch of beautiful, emotional, angry, empowering and eclectic albums. Dive in and let them change you.
Banjo, Getintothis Features Editor.
Album of the month:
Psycho Comedy: Performance Space Number One
Silver Machine Recordings
In Performance Space Number One, Psycho Comedy have made not just the best album of the month, but also one of the most astonishing albums of recent years.
I will delve into the songs that have led me to this conclusion shortly, but before we get into that, the first things that jump out at the listener on Performance Space Number One is the sense of bravado on display, the sense of confidence and the sense of outsiders being proud of their place in the world.
There is such a presence on Performance Space Number One it is hard to believe this is their debut album. There is a swagger, a determination and a huge amount of couldn’t-give-a-fuck about this record that is hugely impressive on album number one.
As the opening track Psycho Comedy begins, frontman Shaun Powell screams a full-throated ‘Wooooh’ and thus stamps himself over the music the band make from step one. It is an effect that does not leave for the rest of the album; Powell’s presence in written large over Psycho Comedy, it is his voice, his lyrics and his vision that they bring to life in their music.
There is an air of the circus or a rainy American carnival about this first song, it’s guitar line evocative of a Victorian stage play or a backstreet melodrama.
Psycho Comedy wear their influences on their sleeves and it is easy to hear snatches of Glam-era Bowie, Stooges and The Birthday Party in their music. Powell comes across as an Iggy fan while the guitars sound in thrall to the work of early Rowland S Howard.
One look at their playlists on Spotify reveals their influences – Suicide, Lydia Lunch, Velvet Underground, Johnny Thunders. It is from this well that Psycho Comedy draw their water.
But theirs is a vision that is not only distinctly British but hugely, unmistakably scouse. Still on track one, Matthew Smith delivers a stream of consciousness rant about supermarket meltdowns, dole queue uprisings and ‘left-field normality‘, ending on the repeated phrase ‘we won’t stop the music‘ is a voice so scouse that it drips with the infectious attitude of that city.
This is repeated elsewhere in the album, allowing street poetry to become an unexpected part of the Psycho Comedy sound. The scouseness of it all seems somewhat anachronistic; as if the music is more suited to tales of a New York underground, not tales of local crisis and views of Chinatown.
The effect of this is just stunning. We have left the confines of a normal song behind and we are into something else, something other. All this and we haven’t even finished the album’s first song yet.
The second track, the excellently titled First Cousin Once Removed, picks up the baton from the sadly no longer with us Queen Zee and lets us know that Psycho Comedy are perhaps perfectly placed to pick up their audience of outsiders looking for a crowd to call their own.
Psycho Comedy‘s sound is primarily composed of their twin guitar attack, one steadfastly supply a steady rhythm track, leaving the other to go off on wild flights of fancy, shrieking and screaming all over the soundscapes that make up this record.
It is almost performance art – Powell recorded all his vocals for the album after depriving himself of sleep, to capture the 24 hour-city-that never-sleeps vibe of the songs he writes.
For all their grit and sleaze, Psycho Comedy are quite capable of writing pop hooks and memorable, catchy choruses when the occasion demands it.
Singles Standin’ and Pick Me Up have understandably been attracting attention from 6Music DJs, including Steve Lamacq, who knows a thing or two about finding a good band.
Sleepwalking ramps up the Birthday Party influences to great effect, sounding like it would fit happily on the b-side of Release the Bats, at least until Powell‘s vocals come in.
The album’s title track is also its highlight. Discordant Rowland S Howard guitar lines carry the song that, although it clocks in at just under three and a half minutes still has an epic feel to it. It is incredible and perhaps points the way forward for Psycho Comedy.
One promising thing about this reminding me of Prayers on Fire era Birthday Party is that it makes me wonder what their next album will sound like, given that follow up album Junkyard is one of my very favourite records of all time. Psycho Comedy have given themselves a wonderful place to grow from.
Closing tracks I Am The Silver Screen and One close the album in fine style, sounding like the encores they very probably are.
A suitably noisy and in-your-face closing to a stunning album. Psycho Comedy have made an early claim on the best album of 2020.
The album is released on February 14 (Valentines Day, how apt), Buy a copy as soon as it becomes available.
You will not be sorry. – Banjo
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead: X: The Godless Void And Other Stories
Dine Alone Records
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead are the best cult band in the world. That’s what fans of the ‘Deads will tell you. That’s what we will tell you. Devotees of the ‘Deads aren’t like insufferable Tool or Mars Volta aficionados who direct a misguided homage to nostalgia not limited to artistic aloofness and the so-called essence of prog.
…Trail Of Dead have spent two decades filling small clubs all around the world. Their fans don’t shout it from the rooftops, though.
They turn up to bear witness to a band forever evolving, fraying nerves and rag-dolling the collective conscience with Sonic Youth inspired interplay one minute, crushing Who-like hooks the next with gentle string-laden balladry thrown in for good measure.
The thing that separates …Trail Of Dead is their pervasiveness to cause that element of surprise. They’ve spent years carving out new worlds beyond the realms of stone-cold classics, Madonna and Source Tags & Codes, which were gale force slabs of artistic genius.
Not ones to rest on their laurels, …Trail of Dead have churned out a plethora of brilliance since – most notably the anthemic riddled Worlds Apart and 2012’s ray gun riff opera in Lost Songs. Now we can add X: The Godless Void And Other Stories to the pile of pleasantries.
Originally earmarked to be Conrad Keely‘s second solo album (his first, 2016’s Original Machines), these songs have been given the full …Trail of Dead treatment but it’s …Trail Of Dead version 2020.
Yet another shedding of skins for Austin, Texas’ finest purveyors of all things post-hardcore and indie rock with various other facets comprising this Molotov cocktail of noise.
It’s Keely‘s first album since returning to the United States after spending most of the last decade in Cambodia where he spent some time playing in boozers with country bands. The trademark …Trail of Dead template still thrives throughout The Godless Void. All Who Wander spins with scuzzed-up guitars and swirling pianos which have formed the underpinning of band’s finest moments.
Aggression consumed by elusive grandeur.
Something Like This is a melodic lament held together by a gentle riff that encapsulates the new terrain …Trail Of Dead have decided to embark on. The other creative half of …Trail of Dead, Jason Reece, arrives with Into the Godless Void, where he jumps from beyond the drum kit to unleash those unique gravel-throated yelps. His voice still sounds as strong as ever.
Don’t Look Down spits and splutters with a swerving bassline and sci-fi inspired interludes providing an aesthetic akin to dystopian proto-pop. Albums highlights Children of the Sky and Gravity reveal Keely’s vocal performance as one of his strongest conceived from the vaults.
The essence of both numbers have that morose campfire-song feel to them, only to be transformed into immersive fevered musings that render as the album’s shining beacons. Particular the former, where Keely sings “That smile, and memories of a time/How we cruel people never really learn/And when I got home that dawn to learn you had gone/Never to return.” Some of his strongest lyrics yet.
The final two tracks are just as strong.
Blade of Wind pummels with rollicking bass and grumbling pianos and that thumping chunk of guitar that …Trail of Dead have made their own for the past two decades. The track wouldn’t look out of place on Source Tags & Codes.
Through the Sunlit Pianos concludes the album. A raucous anthemic number that fittingly ends this journey, it exudes that feeling …Trail of Dead have always given us.
Those trademark chord structures and lung-busting choruses that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The true feeling of artistic expression getting under your skin and staring you in the eye and having a conversation.
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead have always made music that talks to you and with X: The Godless Void And Other Stories that conversation very much continues. – Simon Kirk
After releasing her debut album in 2006, Akiko Urasaki – known now as Awich – waited over a decade to expand her discography, and dropped two records in quick succession, the most recent of which: KUJAKU.
This newest offering is a gorgeous mix of linguistic interlacing, global perspective and stunning production with features to match. Hailing from Japan’s southernmost main island: Okinawa, Awich’s record encapsulates the culture, conflict and diversity of her beloved birthplace, both lyrically and stylistically.
The prefecture of Okinawa, peppered with U.S. Army Bases and personnel, and its differing dialect from Standard Japanese, really does stand out. The continual protest, difference and identity politics (to varying extents) belonging to its inhabitants clearly becomes the centrepiece for Awich’s project to explore.
Throughout the album she weaves in and out of punchy, minimalist beats, waxing lyrical in native Okinawan, as well as Japanese and, too, in strong bouts of English. The title, meaning ‘Peacock’, very much announces the record from the start as proud, loud and stinking of sheer audacity.
The kalimba sounding first notes of opener Love Me Up, with its timid, bumping synths sounds in the back, are not so dissimilar from the popular glossy aesthetics of Clairo or even, concerningly, The Chainsmokers. But fear not; this thing is a chameleon and only picks up from here.
The second track, and my pick of the lot: SENNO, featuring Dogma and Chinza Dopeness, sees the album change gear and really show its teeth. It is attitude bottled, and to be found in abundance throughout the rest of the album.
Awich succeeds in combining and confusing Okinawa with Japan, and Japan with America. The battle of language, of culture, and perfect marrying of it all – doused in flamboyance and confidence – this is impressive, affirming and poignant pop music. – Matthew Lear
The Big Moon: Walking Like We Do
It is the hurdle oft tripped over, an indie band’s sophomore album.
In order to avoid the landfill, The Big Moon needed to mix things up while keeping all their best bits. Luckily, on sophomore Walking Like We Do, they succeed effortlessly.
One of the main changes the band seem to have made is switching the guitar for the piano as the main songwriting instrument. That’s not to say that the guitars are absent or pointless, just that it’s more often found adding countermelodies and brief but effective stabs.
Opener It’s Easy Then leans into their pop sensibilities, and trades their indie-rock guitars for piano and call and response vocals. It’s a strong lead in to the album and sets their intentions out clearly: good vibes and catchy melodies above all else.
It’s hard not to draw a comparison between them and Haim, their American counterparts, who also doubled down on their summer festival pop inclinations on their second album.
The piano led Dog Eat Dog is a perfect example of the band’s efforts in diversity; based around a jangly pub piano part, Jackson’s voice takes a theatrical front and centre. There are echoes of weird pop pioneers Marina and The Hoosiers in here. It’s a tender and confessional side to the band we’ve not seen so much of, and it’s a welcome change.
Most recent single, Take A Piece sees The Big Moon honing all their best features. Frontwoman Juliette Jackson is softly spoken in the verses, confessional and tender. The chorus is anthemic and super catchy – though not in the same guitar rock way that it would have done had it featured on the previous album.
Though some fans may be disappointed by the lack of raucous fuzzy guitars and shout-along choruses, the bubblegum optimism and girl gang vibes still hold strong on this second album. It feels the perfect mix of slightly more produced while still keeping the songwriting at the heart of each song.
At the end of the day, Walking Like We Do changes it up enough to keep things interesting but keeps all the necessary bits. – Will Truby
The Black Lips: Sing In a World That’s Falling Apart
Sing in a World That’s Falling Apart marks The Black Lips 9th record, paying homage to some of the Deep South’s greats, they channel their fiery spirits with the guidance of the age-old songbook.
Awash with tropes of the American country and their signature concoctions of energetic guitar, the raucous Atlanta outfit takes us on a dusty jaunt through saloons, love affairs and the longest-running prison rodeo in the US.
Opening number Hooker Jon is exemplary of what this record is all about, a re-imagining of a classic with a sickly-sweet chorus, buzzing guitars providing a tangible magnetism, and Cole Alexander throwing in a meaty belch for good measure.
Rumbler is perhaps the catchiest of the lot, charged by a rambling beat and the sweet flutters of harmonica, it’s not hard to imagine a modern-day cowboy saddling up and blasting this one through his AirPods, leaving a cloud of dust in his wake.
Get It on Time is a softer, meandering track marked with a Bob Dylan–style rasp, while Angola Rodeo could sit inconspicuously on Exile on Main Street, exploding with muscular blasts of saxophone.
Front-man Cole Alexander has always exhibited a finesse to his story-telling that leaves a bitter, intoxicating taste in your mouth. In Gentleman we see him adopt a Bukowski persona, “spitting dirty words” and “ticked off, drunk and crude” growing tired of his degenerate self, all the while launching into an exultant chorus, flying in the face of the down-trodden soul laid out on the table.
And perhaps this is what The Black Lips wish to encourage through this record, a message that resounds in the album’s title: that no matter how shitty things get or seem to be, there will always be music, stories and the love of something or someone, that can occupy our troubled minds, at least for a moment.
On the whole, this one’s a well-worn satchel full of stomping, “foot on the piano” country rock & roll that hits the spot like that first crisp beer and will have you sweating through your checked flannel shirt until sunrise. – Matthew Wood
Alex Chilltown: Eulogies
Fear of Missing Out Records
Strangely familiar and yet new at the same time, Alex Chilltown have a sense of space within their sound.
It’s rhythm, and structure has an effortless musicality, each song a joyous and well defined. Capturing cascading reverb covers the album, but never overpowers the songs.
It is a wonderful sounding and a very pleasing album. It has elements of Galaxie 500, Spacemen 3 and earlier Arcade Fire (but don’t let that put you off) without losing the bands own identity.
Drown, the second track on this album will make you a fan instantly, but the album offers more to the listener than the usual indie affair. The title track starts things off slowly with haunting, intertwining guitar and bass, with vocals that are almost ghostly, buried in the mix. The effect is one of space, of floating, a song that carries you along to unknown waters.
Next track, Drown, is a livelier affair, but one that still manages to retain Chilltown‘s easy knack with atmosphere. If it wasn’t for an air of melancholy about his songs, it would be easy to describe his songs as anthemic.
Even with this underlying wistfulness, it is easy to imagine the songs on Eulogies being sung by huge crowds at festivals in the summer months.
Barely Awake is a hit in waiting while Only Ghost closes the album with an epic song that again manages to straddle the line between shy/introverted and appealing to the masses, across eleven minutes it builds and builds, growing to a slow wall of sound without ever losing sight of its dispirited start.
Eulogies is a stunning album.
Give it a try and fall in love with Alex Chilltown. – Guy Nolan
En Attendant Ana: Juliette
Trouble in Mind
Juliette is an odd little record but is also a gem of an album.
It crosses over lots of musical boundaries, fusing mid-eighties indie-pop with indie, post-punk and garage pop/rock. Beautiful vocals shimmer over the jangle of guitars and joyous rhythm of bass and drums.
There is a naivete about the music that is either studied or comes from a band who are perhaps still learning their craft. This shows in the playing and the songwriting, but En Attendant Ana have enough swagger, energy and enthusiasm to carry it all off perfectly.
It is this energy and enthusiasm that is En Attendant Ana‘s defining characteristic. it flows from their music and catches in your heart, creating sound it is impossible to sit still to.
Juliette is an indie classic in waiting and En Attendant Ana seem to have a direct line to the early 80s indie sound of the like of Dolly Mixtures, early Passions, June Brides and the like.
This is not to say that Juliette is a retro affair, En Attendant Ana filter their songs through their own age and their own experiences. Straight to the heart of every pastel/breeders fans, Juliette will bring a smile to everyone who will listen to it, it is truly stunning and joyful.
Juliette is a summer classic in the midst of winter and will warm you to the soles of your feet. – Guy Nolan
The Innocence Mission: See You Tomorrow
Every few years the world receives an injection of kindness. The sun comes from behind the clouds, we have a nice dream, and someone smiles at us on the street. If you noticed that happening to you, you should know why: a new album by The Innocence Mission has just been released.
Arguably the sweetest band in the world – sorry, Belle & Sebastian, you lost that title about 15 years ago –, the Pennsylvanian group has been perfecting its 1960s-inspired psychedelic folk sound since they became a trio, at the turn of the century.
Their 12th LP, See You Tomorrow reaches new melodic and arrangement heights and is one of their best works. The record opens with The Brothers Williams Said, a gorgeous piano-based tune, with orchestration coming later, producing a sound larger than they usually make.
As we all know, Karen Paris’ voice is pure tenderness delivered through sound waves, and this time it’s particularly delicate and charming. She was surely French in a past life, and she enchants us by sounding like a shy and young Françoise Hardy speaking in 1963.
On Your Side is one of the most beautiful songs The Innocence Mission have ever produced. And France, of course, had to be in it: “In my dream, I would be in Paris with my mom / In cafés she would sip coffee / She would be smiling on”.
St. Francis and the Future and At Lake Maureen see the group in their basic, vintage version, with Karen on acoustic guitar and voice.
As usual, Karen Paris wrote most of the songs and played an impressive list of instruments – guitars, piano, pump organ, accordion, melodica, low harmonica, electric bass, strings keyboard and mellotron.
Her husband Don wrote one of See You Tomorrow’s best songs, though; Mary Margaret in Mid-Air, taking also the lead singing role. Bassist Mike Bitts plays only in four of the 11 tracks, which confirms the group as basically a couple affair.
Atmospheric music, touching lyrics, gentle singing, everything we expected from an album by The Innocence Mission is here, and a bit more. Thanks to them, the first month of the year has been kinder to us. – Rogerio Simoes
David Keenan: A Beginners Guide to Bravery
Like a great master of ceremonies, David Keenan reveals the name of his quintessential debut A Beginners Guide to Bravery within the opening track, James Dean, accompanied only by an electric guitar, whereby he dreams of seeing the doomed actor alive and well working for Irish Rail.
Each song is a tale of hardship and woe, reflecting on the times we live in today. It’s a character-heavy LP, the songs feature the quirkiest of people from cultural burlesque dancers, tramps with one eye to a man who was a household name during the last days of Rome.
Once an adopted Liverpool son and now residing in Dublin, it’s fair to say the city has made its mark on Keenan and his body of work.
His poetic prowess is at its best with the full string accompaniment on Unholy Ghosts, the snare drum led Altar Wine and the electric Eastern Nights while the piano-laden Evidence of Living has Keenan demanding for change for the younger generation, asking ‘is there any evidence of living left in this town?’
Personal highlights are the piano and lyrical driven Tin Pan Alley, the rapid-fire lyrics of The Healing and the impressive Origin Of The World and it’s spiralling outro.
Christening the album is the ever emotive, Subliminal Dublinia, a battle cry for the homeless of Dublin.
Clocking in at just under an hour, the variety and quality of songwriting is evident, making for an impressive debut record for Dundalk native following on from a string of well-received EPs.
Keenan recently launched the record at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, selling out the 1250 capacity, in which he had the audience in the palm of his hand, reciting his lyrics back to him as Keenan allowed for the audience to take flight and as stated, play their part in this journey.
As Keenan states, “we must move now to set an example, for every kid whose dreams died in fifth class” – he is doing just that. – Lo Jones
Mura Masa: R.Y.C.
Mark my words, R.Y.C. will be the soundtrack to every teen’s angst years.
Following Mura Masa‘s last self-titled record, R.Y.C. is a release that is nothing less than a reflection of the self. Possibly a confession of the self. But it’s anything but empty.
Genre-defying is a phrase I try to avoid at all costs because it just translates as I don’t know what this is, so I daren’t describe this one as genre-defying. However, this is certainly experimental, it is marked as electronic pop, but there is so much more to it than that.
Raw Youth Collage and Teenage Headache Dreams are just two out of the 11 tracks that feature guitar riffs that are reminiscent of the 2000’s pop-rock era. I wouldn’t necessarily define this one as pop, but it’s much more complex than pop-rock.
It takes you on a ride, that’s for sure. Although it’s completely confessional, it’s also hopeful. With every climax, it leaves you with that ever-protective sense that everything will be fine. That’s what pop music is supposed to do, right?
The Guernsey born artist has already established himself pretty firmly among the titans of the industry, with his debut album featuring big-hitters and hitmakers alike like Christine and the Queens, Charli XCX, and A$AP Rocky.
Listening to this album it’s pretty easy to see why they were all so willing to work with a debut artist like Mura Masa.
If the lyrics aren’t enough to uplift you and make you feel elated, the production sure is. Although it may fluctuate between light, almost sweet acoustic guitar and robotic vocals and core-shaking electronic beats, it all somehow makes perfect sense.
A Meeting At An Oak Tree is a welcome surprise. Exuding teenage innocence and tales of young love, this track turns an otherwise stellar pop record into a comprehensive story with super special insight into the mind that brought this album to be.
Pop has somewhat of a bad rap due to its often-manufactured nature, but here at Getintothis we appreciate a pop album that has soul and charisma, and R.Y.C. has that in spades. – Kris Roberts
Jim Noir: A.M. Jazz
Manchester’s quirkiest song-crafter Jim Noir (Alan Roberts) returns with his fifth full-length album, his first since 2014’s Finnish Line.
His own unique psychedelic pop electronic is firmly rooted in the DIY approach that brought him to much wider acclaim following his beautifully rich and creative debut, 2005’s Tower Of Love.
The multi-instrumentalist approach still serves him well and this latest release is no different. Deciding to step somewhat back from the guitar-laden sound of his last couple of releases, here there’s a real sense of going back to his roots.
There’s a real shoegazey feel to this album and echoes back to the earlier fan club only EP releases of old. Analogue synths and drawn-out phrases come straight from a canvass using only a soft palate of sound.
This melancholic, cloudiness permeates right the way through, leaving you with a soft, freshness sprinkled with enough hallmark atmospheric touches that you’re on another journey through the mind of Monsieur Noir.
Breatheart is a funk-driven, harmonised groove where sounds are allowed to rise and drop all over the infectious hook. Deliriously disorientating it takes you right back to where it all started.
Even more so on vocoder techno Feel OK– a direct Air’s Moon Safari-style re-interpretation of the melodies of debut album track I Me You Am Your, whilst being transported to a futuristic airport lounge on Tol Circle re-routed via Premiers Symptones and Terminal 2 of Manchester Airport.
With contributions from Phil Anderson and Mark Williamson, this album is a further example of Noir’s ability to create such smooth soundscapes whilst intertwining sheer pop sensibilities.
Trying to gain a grasp on whether this is a flippant collection of ditties or a stroke of masterwork is a tough one. On the surface, there’s minimalist sounds and floating charm. Take the time to see through the cloudburst and you’ll see that work this effortlessly fine, is the output of a true craftsman. Smooth, engaging, relaxing and searching.
After such a long wait, it’s great to hail the new decade with a Jim Noir record. – Howard Doupé
Pet Shop Boys: Hotspot
Hotspot is the 14th album from Pet Shop Boys, who, after selling over 100 million records, are the most successful UK pop duo of all time. It’s already been critically acclaimed with some of the best reviews they’ve had in years, up there with even those garnered during their late 80’s imperial phase.
So why is it then do we feel such a sense of trepidation as we are about to hear it for the first time?
Pet Shop Boys have been a massive part of my life over the last 35 years, and I’ve been lucky enough to see them on every tour they’ve ever done. But I’m not blinkered enough to know that they’ve had some stinkers in the past.
The dull mid-life crisis album that was 2002’s Release and the will-this-do feel of 2012’s Elysium are the two that spring to mind. And it’s fair to say that a couple of the tracks that have been released before Hotspot have left us slightly underwhelmed.
Dreamland, the lead single, was ace, but follow-ups Burning The Heather seemed bland and Monkey Business just on the wrong side of cheesy. With it only being a ten-track album, it didn’t leave us much else to save it.
We should know better.
The record, lauded as the final part of the Stuart Price (producer of the last three albums) trilogy, following the Electro Dance fest Electric and the banger-laden Super, but this has an altogether different feel.
The album is built around the slower songs, the likes of You Are The One and Hoping For A Miracle would fit into any of their earlier albums, perfectly bringing to mind the sadness of older tracks such as Kings Cross or Jealousy, especially on Only The Dark (with its excellent use of the word “superfluous”).
They’ve not lost their subtle social conscience either. Dreamland tries to give out hope for the future, telling us everything could be okay. Just like they’ve tried to do for their whole career, positive messages abound with just a hint of melancholy behind.
Fear not, those who love their dancier side, the chooons are still in place too with opener Will O’ The Wisp leading the way. Happy People is a classic 90’s dance corker, sounding like every big tune the PSB’s have ever made stuck in a blender, with Neil Tennant doing his best classic talky-rap voice.
For men of their age, they still bring some toe-tapping noise.
Side 2 of the record (because you just know that Tennant and Lowe still think of it in such terms) kicks of with I Don’t Wanna, which could have come straight from their 1985 debut Please, with it’s simple, catchy chorus. In the context of the album as a whole, the lead singles finally fit perfectly in the stream of the record.
Monkey Business confirms itself as a massive grower, before Burning The Heather as the penultimate track makes sense, leaving us thinking that a serene ending to the record is to follow. But no. They’ve usually kept their more off the wall stuff for B-sides, such as The Sound Of The Atom Splitting, but here they end with the strangest track they’ve made in a while.
Wedding In Berlin could be seen as a cynical attempt to write a song that WILL get played when people get married (hell, if it was out 20 years ago I’d have had it at mine).
It’s absolutely barking. A rave version of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. Yes really.
Hotspot has a feel about it, whether it’s the warm glow of Berlin where it was recorded, but it is more likely to be the confidence of a band whose star is firmly back in the ascendancy. Whichever era of Pet Shop Boys is your favourite manifestation, then there will be something for you to love here.
It’s a pity, in some respects, that their forthcoming tour is the first purely Greatest Hits tour they’ve ever done, as Hotspot would make a great live experience.
And that’s a sentence we didn’t think we’d be writing just before pressing play. We need not have worried.
There’s genius. And then there’s the Pet Shop Boys. – Steven Doherty
Pia Fraus: Empty Parks
Prior to becoming acquainted with Empty Parks, the sixth full-length album from Tallinn sextet Pia Fraus, music from Estonia had not been on my radar at all. And if this is anything to go by this writer is beginning to wonder what other musical treasures this Northern European nation may be hanging on to.
The band began to tease a new album in September of last year when they released the single Sweet Sunday Snow, a beautiful semi-acoustic number featuring some beautiful vocal harmonies, lush reverb and melodic guitar hooks. Second single Hidden Parks followed two months later and opens the album.
The band also prove that they can groove with the bass riff on Paper Flower Projects. It cuts through the swirling guitars and the subtle but effective synth noodlings. If your foot isn’t tapping immediately I suggest you seek the advice of a trained and trusted professional.
Pia Fraus competently reference and pilfer from shoegaze, dreampop and even contemporary pop the end result is an album that is as beautiful as it is esoteric. They never overuse any genre convention but weave carefully selected elements into something that is unmistakably their own.
Currently on tour in Japan, one can only hope that they do not leave it too long before visiting our part of Europe. – Andy Sunley
The Pistachio Kid: Sweet Remedies
The Violette Records machine shows no sign of slowing down in 2020. Following on from 2019’s excellent Buxton Palace Hotel by Studio Electrophonique, the label has collaborated with local prodigy Charlie McKeon, under the moniker The Pistachio Kid to create an ‘ELP’ (a bridge between an EP and LP) titled Sweet Remedies.
On initial listen, it quickly becomes apparent that the title of the ELP is more than apt. Across eight songs (seven originals plus a tender interpretation of Bob Dylan’s Mama, You Been on my Mind), McKeon soothes the listener with sugary – but not saccharine – melodies that charm and break the heart equally.
Opening (nearly) title track Sweet Sweet Remedies is a delightful vocal-only doo-wop swoon with a melody that George Gershwin or Paul Simon would have killed for, while Vistabella Road and Bicycle Thieves! employ a childlike, Moldy Peaches-like naivety to proceedings that belie a well-honed craft and extraordinary talent that lies underneath. The lyrics are quirky without ever becoming inane or clunky, very much in the way Jonathan Richman handles his.
There is depth across the ELP too that prevents it from ever becoming one-dimensional or throwaway. Park Song, for instance, is built around a haunting, almost baroque theme that has lyrics to fit, that sounds like Jimmy Campbell or Bill Callahan played by Bert Jansch. Likewise, the ambient Soreberry Tree with its use of delay and reverb brings to mind Durutti Column and Panda Bear; indeed, the fact this review makes comparison to so many varied artists surely highlights the point that this is never boring or straightforward – yet by the same token, the ELP never feels too full of ideas, or over-layered; it is a perfect balance of an exemplary record collection and a wonderful imagination.
If one complaint has to be made, it would simply be that this is too short. The Dylan song that ends the records is a lovely rendition that walks the line between a cover and reworking, however, given the strength of the preceding songs, the listener would be forgiven for wishing there was another Pistachio Kid original (or three) to round things off.
Yet, surely that is small pickings; if the worst thing that can be said about a release is that there isn’t enough of it, that’s a two-thumbs-up recommendation. Remedies so sweet, we are left craving more. – Matty Loughlin
Sunburned Hand Of The Man: Headless
Cardinal Fuzz Records
About six years ago you couldn’t go for a shite without some crank bleating on about a new psych band.
You’d be just reaching for the loo roll when some bearded wazzock would whistle through the window: “eh, mate, get into Sand Blast Disaster Bastards, their new album on Wanky Round The Edges Records is sick!”
To say the pool gotten diluted would be an understatement, it made indie landfill resemble a Woolworth’s bargain bin – this was more like a never-ending abyss of men who’d discovered reverb pedals.
Yet, in 2020 there seems to be more room to play with. The cycle appears to have somewhat spun – and there’s certainly more room for an incessant drone. If done well of course.
Sunburned Hand Of The Man, are one such band, who have ploughed their own furrow for as long as we can remember.
You have to go back as far as the early 1990s to find their first releases – but it wouldn’t surprise us if they were rooted in medieval times of witchcraft and torture gardens.
The Boston collective specialises in fried transmissions which are as melodic as they are convoluted; forever restless and dancing to the tune of their own tribal beats.
We discovered them almost 20 years ago but became a big fan with the release of 2007’s Fire Escape released by the uber-cool Smalltown Supersound Records and which featured the production of one Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet.
They’ve subsequently dropped off our radar, however, it is the release of Headless courtesy of the similar uber-cool Cardinal Fuzz, which brings them back into sharp (albeit still hugely fuzzy) focus.
Recorded in 2017, released in 2019 as a hand-designed 20 limit cassette called Intentions, the album showcases the band at it’s breathlessly wild best.
With founders John Moloney and Rob Thomas at the helm they play alongside Jeremy Pisani, Ron Schneiderman and Gary War – and boy, is there some musicianship at work.
There are warped organ drones trading with mystical synths and shamanic vocals (Framework), modulated wah-infused stoner jams (Experiments), Arabian wrecking-ball rock (Coffee and Cheese) and beautiful plaintive folk-rock strum alongs (Prism Mirror Lens).
Agitation Cycle is our current favourite – a magical krautrock Klaus Dinger beat aligns to twinned menacing guitars which give way some outrageous interstellar noodling. The first time we heard it, we played it three times in a row.
Perhaps the reason this feels like the best Sunburned Hand Of The Man record we’ve heard is because it feels like the sum of their collective history joining into one glorious whole. It’s psychedelic, baby! – Peter Guy