So, dear readers, I’ve been extremely remiss recently and not posted about any of the myriad records I’ve been sent. I bet you were having palpitations. This will be a long post. There are a lot of records to cover. As such I will be perhaps somewhat more cursory than I can be on occasions, prone as I am to verbosity in the Word Count department. Take it from me though, there’s a lot to love in each one of these releases. Some of them are very special indeed. I’m writing about them in no particular order. See you on the other side.
Lovedrug – Notions
Watch the video for Spinning Out of Control below
I’ve loved the music of Lovedrug for almost half my life. That’s a scary thought. ‘Everything Starts Where It Ends’, the band’s second album, was a vastly underrated indie rock masterpiece. “American Swimming Lessons” from that album remains one of the most wonderfully bombastic American rock songs of recent memory. Whereas, in the past, the band were driven on an urgent alternative rock plane, now things are a lot straighter, more radio-friendly. On this album, Michael Sheppard plays almost everything, as well as producing and mixing. In a sense, it feels like more of a follow-up to his recent album with the Boys on the Radio moniker than it does to Lovedrug’s last album Wild Blood, but this is still a potent record full of great songs. I just wish, personally, though that the handbrake had been let off a few more times. Maybe on the next album!
Zeitgeist – Zeitgeist
Any trio which claims to root themselves in jazz and heavy metal (not that there are that many, admittedly) is going to get my attention, and that’s exactly what Zeitgeist have done. Their self-titled debut album may only contain five tracks, but they are all weighty, both in terms of length, and in terms of ambition compositionally and in terms of performance. The off-kilter ‘Haiku’ is a particular highlight, as melodic and rhythmic shifts you might normally expect to see on a Meshuggah album are carried off delightfully in the realm of the more traditional jazz setting. For me, this band have no true reference points. They’re closer to The Bad Plus than, say, Trichotomy, with the odd nod to Neil Cowley Trio, but something about the way the three instrumentalists combine leaves them out in a realm all of their own. One to seek out.
Get the Blessing – Astronautilus
Watch the video for Phaenomena below
Show me a fan of modern jazz or, to hell with it, intelligent progressive music, who finds it hard to fall in love with Get the Blessing and their incredible blend of rhythm and brass and I’ll show you….well, I don’t know what I’ll show you, because I’ve not met anyone who’s spent any time in the company of any of their albums and failed to fall head over heels in love with them. “Astronautilus” continues the band’s recent form, with a series of solid-gold grooves and crescendos which build so meticulously that they’re on top of you before you even realise they’re there. Opener ‘Carapace’ is an astonishing example of one such. ‘Monkfish’ shows another string to the band’s bow, as wailing brass compete with a head-spinning drum track. This has to be one of the finest jazz releases of 2015. Do not miss it.
Fred Abbott – Serious Poke
Watch the video for ‘Adrenaline Shot’ below
You might have already clicked play on the video for ‘Adrenaline Shot’, the opening track on Fred Abbott’s debut album. If you haven’t, and your day is on the drab side and needing a boost, I strongly recommend you stop what you’re doing this instant and listen to this song. There, feel better? I thought you would.
Fred Abbott used to be part of Noah and the Whale, the ultra-intelligent pop band who achieved dizzying success a while back. Now Abbott’s back, and he’s brought all the musical intelligence which characterised his former band at their best moments, whilst adding a heady dose of straight ahead rock and roll. At times, this touches on Tom Petty, at others, such as on ‘Awake’, it is Bruce Springsteen’s name that most easily comes to mind when searching for a comparison. If you like your singer-songwriters to have a widescreen sheen, ceiling-high choruses and just the merest hint of an alt-country twang, then “Serious Poke” is the album you’ve been longing for.
Sons of Kemet – Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do
Sons of Kemet emerged with their twin drum and twin brass attack two years ago in a blaze of publicity and a Mercury nomination. Most of the publicity seemed to centre on the presence of the huge hair and huger talent of Seb Rochford in their ranks, but in a sense, this was an unfair distraction from the visceral and vibrant qualities which characterised their debut album, “Burn”. Instead, as on “Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do”, it is the compositional talent of Shabaka Hutchings which most persistently demands, and merits, attention. These are simply brilliant pieces of music, fantastically conceived, and faultlessly executed. Whether it’s on the understated yet insistent ‘Breadfruit’, or the gloriously expansive ‘Tiger’, this is a band which, far from being at the peak of its powers is only just seeing top gear in the distance. The sky is the limit for the potential of this quartet.
Ash Walker – Augmented 7th
What we have here is some fine, mostly very chilled and downtempo, electronica. Ash has been receiving support all over the shop from BBC 6Music DJs, so there’s no doubt that this debut album is going to make quite a dent. His roots in trip-hop are obvious throughout, particular for me on the gorgeous ‘They Do Not Know Yet’, while ‘Six Eight’, which is in…..6/8 immediately follows, showing the jazzier leanings which lift this from being a one-paced slow groove record into being a collection suffused with gravitas and beauty. At thirteen tracks, the album is quite a lot to digest in one sitting, but it works well as an extended snapshot of the breadth and depth of Walker’s talent and potential. The gloriously named and otherworldly ‘Root Veg’ is a woozy late album highlight not to be missed, too.
Autobahn – Dissemble
Watch the video for ‘Society’ below
This is gloriously uncompromising stuff. Seemingly universally lauded, “Dissemble” is a hard pill to swallow at first, but one that has serious restorative powers. Equal parts Cooper Temple Clause-esque squall, as on opener ‘Missing In Action” and foreboding, krautrock-esque drive on ‘Immaterial Man’, which immediately follows it, the album is really singularly indescribable. Built on unshakeable melodies, and with the unmistakeable vocal performances of Craig Johnson giving the band an extra string of individuality to its bow, there is simply no way that this album will not end up as one of the albums of 2015. By the time the dissonance of ‘Passion’ cavorts its way into your heart and mind any thought of resistance will be long gone. Autobahn must be a fearsome proposition live. Make a point of checking them out.
Sweet Baboo – Boombox Ballads
Watch ‘Walking In the Rain’ below
Like the most impenetrable prog rock album, now our attention turns to a gorgeous album from folk-influenced singer and songwriter Sweet Baboo. Don’t be fooled by the winsome strumming that begins opener ‘Sometimes’, there’s a depth and resonance to this album which is on show the moment the strings, brass and what sounds like an accordion, spring into action at the song’s coda. ‘Two Lucky Magpies is a beautiful piano ballad augmented again with legato strings, whilst the yearning of ‘I Just Want to Be Good’ would be bound to cause anyone who heard it to invite Sweet Baboo in for a nice cup of tea. Chock full of memorable choruses, and meticulously constructed soundscapes, if this is your introduction to Sweet Baboo, as it is mine, you won’t be disappointed.
Maserati – Rehumanizer
Watch the video for ‘Rehumanizer II’ below
Something special here from Maserati. I’m new to the band, and a search to try and work out where this fits in the canon of the band is less straightforward than it might first appear to be, but I make this their eighth album. Whether it turns out that I can’t count, or not, all the evidence suggests that Maserati are a band who are still on the up. Their blistering amalgam of metronomic krautrock, programmed drums and explosive passages of full on psychedelic rock wig outs is a potent combination. Best exemplified in the stupefying end to ‘End of Man’, really there are few bands as exciting as Maserati in full flow on the scene at the moment, on this evidence. Only ‘Montes Jura’ breaks the mould on this set, with more of a focus on the glistening synth-driven 80s element of their sound, it is a nice diversion, a brief pause, before the rock returns with a vengeance. This isn’t out until October 30th, but get prepared, this is a fine album.
Hills – Frid
Watch the video for ‘Milarepa’ below
Once again, this is heavy stuff, on the third album from Gothenberg-based Rocket Recordings (Goat et al) signees Hills. This is cited as their ‘most intense and out of mind outing yet’ and it’s not hard to disagree. Opening groove ‘Kollektiv’ may very well take you over. By the time it lets you off for a few seconds with a Sitar-esque interlude, you will probably be under the band’s spell, not to emerge until 60s influenced closer ‘Death Will Find A Way’ has wound its, erm, way round and round your subconscious. In between times, ‘Natural Drone’ proves itself one of the most correctly-titled songs of recent times, carrying within it some lovely squalls of guitar, while ‘Och Solen Sänkte Sig Röd’ really stretches things out, it’s near 11 minute peaks and troughs among the record’s most satisfying moments. Best taken as a whole though, “Frid” adds to Rocket Recordings’s stellar recent output. Hills appear to be another band not to miss live, should the chance arise.
Muncle – Hot Brain
Watch the video for ‘Chicken Or Egg’ below
Muncle is the brainchild of one Mike Griffifths, a Bristol-based multi-instrumentalist and longtime member of several fine bands, some of whom I think (if I have this right) I shard a stage with in a previous life. On ‘Hot Brain’, which was mastered by Ed Woods ((Jamie Lenman, The Xcerts, The Who, Idlewild), but otherwise self-recorded, produced and mixed, Mike presents a stark study of his personal and private frustrations, doubts and questions. So, you might think this would be an introspective record. You’d be wrong. It explodes in to life with the wall of sound that is ‘Kick Up A Fuss’ and barely lets up from there. ‘Glass To the Wall’ is a fantastic, Reueben-esque series of melodic twists and turns. ‘Obituary’ has a chorus that Blur would be more than happy to steal, while the breakdown in ‘Mother Was Right’ is a spellbinding moment. Lots of people make records at home. Not many of them turn out as good as this one.
Laura Cannell – Beneath Swooping Talons
I could write reams and reams about why Laura Cannell and her album, “Beneath Swooping Talons” are among the very most exciting of my most recent discoveries. I could wax lyrical about the sheer emotional power and resonance of her instrumental performances, about the meaning they convey without recourse to anything as trite and trivial as words. I could tell you that this album has reduced me to an awed hush on more than one occasion even as I’ve been preparing this post. But really, when it’s all said and done, you’d be better served clicking the link above and spending some time immersing yourself in the these pieces yourself.
Alif – Aynama-Rtama
Watch the video for Holako (Hulagu) below
I can’t claim for one minute to be a World Music aficionado, but something about the heady mix of Eastern and Western styles on this debut album from Alif has quite beguiled me. As you’ll hear from the track in the video above, Alif are a band bridging the gap between cultures, in a similar way to another of this year’s success stories, Mbongwana Star. Listening to the way the Buzuk and the Oud dovetail so beautifully with keyboards, bass and drums, all topped off with traditional Arabic poetry, the feeling really does come that a kind of musical and consensus has, if it has not been reached, been made possible. If ever listening to an album can make me feel ignorant and narrow-minded in my appreciation of what music has to offer, this one is it. There isn’t an album I’ve heard in the last few months which has caused as deep an emotional response in me as this one. Make a point of seeking it out.
Light Music – Ocean’s Daughter
Light Music, from Milwaukee, Canada, are described as an ‘epic pop band’. Rarely has a genre description for a new band with a debut album been more apt. As you will have heard if you’ve clicked on the link to listen to ‘Nessum Dorma’, the opening track from “Ocean’s Daughter” there is a lot going on with this music. The button marked ‘skyscraping ambition’ has been pressed in the studio. Everything about this record is huge. The mix is full and layered, the drums sound huge (just check out the build in the part on ‘True Colours” for one example) and the songwriting wilfully seems to take things in unexpected directions. At times, the scope is Muse-sized. At others, Civil Twilgiht and Circa Survive are the closest reference points. Tiis is beautifully executed heavy modern pop music.
Shannon and the Clams – Gone By The Dawn
Watch the video for ‘Corvette’ below
‘Gone By The Dawn’ is the fourth album from Shannon and the Clams. Unless you were there the first time around, it’s unlikely that you will have heard anything like their mix of 50s surf rock (‘I Will Miss the Jasmine’), bar ballads (‘My Man’) or stomping dancefloor fillers (‘Point of Being Right’, which, itself reminds me of the best of Nicole Atkins) before. This is music full of attitude, and with a clear aesthetic, but without the songs such acts rarely get as far as a fourth album, and Shannon and the Clams have songs aplenty. The title track is a luscious waltz which teeters on the blink of melodic collapse throughout to an enormously satisfying degree, whilst ‘Telling Myself’ swings and rolls along at quite a lick with a trademark 50s guitar riff whilst lead singer Shannon Shaw, whose vocals are fantastic throughout the album, somehow contrives to sound a little (a very little) like Julian Cassablancas at his most rasping. You’ll find yourself humming the chorus for the days. This is a fun album. Remember when people made those?
Kat Reinhert – Spark
“Spark”, the new album from exceptional talent Kat Reinhert shows her vocal and compositional versatility. She has a a voice which seems to crest melodic waves endlessly, and these thirteen songs provide ample moments with which she can show her prowess to its full extent. Over the mournful groove of ‘Heavy’ her tone is easy, light and precise. “My Arms’ gives her a chance to show her depth and warmth over a light and playful melodic backing. ‘Little Compartments’ builds from an ominous-sounding beginning into an atmospheric climax. What is most pleasing about this set is its musicality. Each player is enabled to show their chops as the record is peppered with solos and instrumental passages which, rather than merely filling time, add greatly to the whole. What cannot be escaped however is that it is Reinhert’s voice which makes this album as special as it is. She is a special talent.
Small Feet – From Far Enough Away Everything Sounds Like the Ocean
Watch a live video for ‘Gold’ from this album below
Simon Stålhamre, the main driving force behind Swedish band Small Feet, is purported to have learnt English from watching television as a virtual recluse after leaving school early. I wish watching television did me that much good. Small Feet’s debut album is as extraordinary as the backstory of its primary songwriter. ‘Gold’ the opener is a strident, acoustic-driven piece of emotive 60s pop. It is immediately followed by ‘River’, which sounds like a Simon and Garfunkel offcut, by way of Scandinavia, yet with a much deeper emotional depth than even the much-lauded duo could match. Quite a claim that, but there we are. When the chorus hits, and the reverb-drenched vocal harmonies find the sweet spot, there’s nothing else in the world that matters apart from seeing what happens in the rest of this song. Very few debut albums can grab and hold a listener to this extent.
There are too many other strong moments here to describe them all. The haze which floats above the groove of ‘Backwards Falconer’ is an unusual and enticing touch, while ‘Lead Us Through the Night’ has a lovely instrumental break which we hear through a fug of reverb and delay before vocals return with crystalline clarity.
I was going to say that perhaps this is the album Neil Young would make if he had spent his life in Scandinavia. Perhaps Justin Vernon’s process and output would be similarly affected by a spell in Northern Europe, but in actuality, there is only one Small Feet. This is a deep, important piece of art.
HeCTA – The Diet
Watch the video for ‘Sympathy For the Auto Industry’ below
So by now you will have heard that members of Lambchop, noted alt-country mainstays as they are, have decided to take a turn not just leftfield, but have planted an entirely new field of their own. In case the listener is in any doubt, the uncompromising four-to-the-floor of ‘Till Someone Gets Hurt’ opens the album and, within seconds, any worries about this being a pastiche or tokenistic attempt at electronica are dispelled once and for all. This is the real deal. As an organ pulses in the song’s latter section we could be on any refined and discerning dancefloor in all of the world.
And nor does the pace slow down, either. ‘Prettyghetto’ has an outrageously funky bass riff as its jumping off point, which is oddly reminiscent to me of short-lived hitmakers Hockey, while ‘The Concept’ utilises atmospheric synths and quirky vocal samples to make its point.
Throughout everything, hooks abound. There is a beating pop heart in the midst of this record, but it never once, not even for a second compromises on its primary objective: this is music to get you moving. It is impossible that it will fail.