Ex Libras – Woe EP

Watch the lyric video for Woe below

This is a special return from Ex Libras. Much fancied around the time of the release of their debut album Suite(s) and its follow up EP Cut(s), the band went off the radar for several years leading up to the release of this comeback EP, which is undoubtedly something of a triumph. I missed them first time around (more fool me) so as the first bars of the title track’s sinuous groove kicked in I was taken aback. The press release likens the band to Radiohead and Foals and this is not too far wrong. There’s something of the compositional creativity of the former mixed in with the aggression of the latter as each of the EP’s four tracks wend and wind their way to some particularly fascinating musical destinations. On this evidence a full length album can’t come soon enough. Ex Libras are certainly a band to watch.

Andrew Wasylyk – Soroky

Now a member of Idlewild, previously a member of The Hazey Janes and sessioned for Electric Soft Parade and School of Language, Andrew Wasylyk has a stellar pedigree and. on the strength of this musically strong and lyrically emotive album, a promising future. Beginning with the woozy piano of ‘Last of the Loved’ and its intelligent use of chromatics (not to mention a fabulous Crowded House-apeing chorus), Soroky is a fine album. Centrepiece and high point ‘Empress Ballroom’ calls to mind Grizzly Bear at their most opulent, whilst ‘Morning Falls to Blue’ builds gloriously to a cinematic climax. This is an album full of musical intelligence and with enough twists and turns to keep even the most demanding listener happy.

Nova Heart – Nova Heart

Watch the video for Lackluster No. below

I get a lot of music sent to me. A lot. Not much of it is classified as ‘minimalist post-punk/electro from Beijing’ so when the debut album from Nova Heart landed in my inbox my interest was piqued. The band feature Helen Feng who, the press release reliably informs me, ‘has been dubbed the Blondie of China’. The record was mixed by Rusty Santos (TV On the Radio, Animal Collective) and there is something of a Dave Sitek influence throughout. As you’ll hear from ‘Lackluster No.’ if you watch the video above, things brood and shape-shift without ever really losing control. ‘No Controversy’ and ‘Evil’ both ricochet along percussively, the latter one of several tracks here to feature some wonderfully jarring guitar effects work. ‘Right Wrong’ has a synth-driven, disco-infused chorus to die for, and ‘My Song 9’ could pass for some of the best recent work of Russian shoegazers Pinkshinyultrablast. This is a wonderful unexpected surprise.

Jono McCleery – Pagodes

Watch the video for an acoustic version of ‘Desperate Measure’ below

When you’re blessed with the kind of voice that Jono McCleery is (it’s the kind that could stop you in the street singing the phonebook, or whatever the modern equivalent of that is) the temptation could be to skimp on the other crucial element of the solo artist’s art: the songs. On ‘Pagodes’ everything works beautifully in tandem. McCleery’s vocal performances range from wistful and intimate, as on ‘Age of Self”, all the way to the understated yet complex ‘Fire In My Hand’ where the emotion causes cracks to appear on  more than one occasion. Having been featured as a vocalist with Portico this year, perhaps it’s no surprise that there is plenty of jazzy electronica here. ‘Halfway’ draws you in with its syncopation before letting rip with a gorgeous chorus that wouldn’t have been out of place on the recent Grasscut album. Allied with this, tracks such as ‘Bet She Does’ position McCleery as an acoustic singer songwriter par excellence, whilst ‘Pardon Me’ takes things in a piano-driven Benjamin Clementine direction. What is clear at the end of the listening experience of this album, and it is an album to be experienced rather than consumed, is that Jono McCleery is a prodigiously talented artist deserving of a much wider audience. Don’t miss this album.

Esther Joy Lane – Esther Joy Lane EP

Listen to the EP below.

If you’re eagle-eyed, or your memory is better than mine, you’ll remember that I swooned over the performance Esther gave at this summer’s Irregular Folk Festival in Oxford. The best compliment I can pay this driving EP of dark, brooding techno, is that as I listened, I remembered each of the songs from that performance. These are four beautifully crafted tracks. Esther has a haunting, spectral voice, which cuts through even the most densely populated track. She also has a winning way with a vocal hook. Each song here contains within it the kind of chorus that pop hit factory songwriters kill for. The fact that the emotion of each song is so keenly felt is even more to Lane’s credit. At times reminiscent of the best bits of Poliça, this is sterling stuff that should be all over the radio. For me, the best track here is ‘You Know’, which grows and grows in to a real electronic mini-symphony, but to pick favourites is to potentially diminish the power of this collection as a whole. Just listen to it.

USA Nails – No Pleasure

Watch the video for ‘I Am Normal’ below

USA Nails brings together members and ex-members of Oceansize, Hawk Eyes, Kong, Future of the Left, Silent Front and Dead Arms. So you know what you’re getting. This is fast, loud, uncompromising, technical and downright heavy and fun post-hardcore. At times it reminds me of These Arms Are Snakes, but I may well be ignorant in this regard. The album barely lets up from the first to the last. ‘You Sing For Yourself’ is monstrous and its time signature changes are a joy. The distorted bass of ‘Laugh It Up’ gives the pummelled listener something to hold on to in a sea of musical chaos, and ‘Make Me Art’ really tips things over the edge in to an extra dimension with some brazen guitar work. If you like your rock records to actually rock, this second album from USA Nails is for you.

Victories At Sea – Everything Forever

Listen to ‘Bloom’ below

Victories At Sea are probably the most exciting band to have emerged from Birmingham this decade. They’ve been supporting Editors this month, so their progress in to the hearts and minds of the indie-loving nation is virtually assured. But is the record any good? Well, in a word, yes. Citing influences ranging from Slowdive to Mogwai and all the way through to dancefloor fillers Factory Floor, this is a record the like of which 2015 has not seen. That in itself is a great thing to be able to say about a debut album from a British band. Much more than the sum of its parts or influences, Victories At Sea make a truly unique artistic statement which is a real joy as the year wanes to its end. ‘Florentine’ is a driving indie pop song with a pumping rhythm bed. So is ‘Up’, which reminds me of the brilliant Losers from a few years ago (featured members of Cooper Temple Clause as I remember). DMC is darker and largely instrumental, creating a foreboding atmosphere which leads in to ‘Poles Apart’, a song with another great pop chorus, and swathes of guitars which envelop the listener like a winter fog, before the track lets go in a percussive coda. Is this a pop album? Yes. Is this a post-punk album? Yes. Is this a rock album? Yes. Is this album beyond simplistic categorisation and simply one of the best of 2015? Most definitely.