Thursday, January 01, 2015

Slow Thrills albums of 2014




Well, albums of the year lists are a bit of a thing this year, aren't they? I'm sure most people have reached list fatigue by this point, but it is almost compulsory for a music blog to make a AOTY list and besides I still enjoy it.
Cast your mind back twelve months to the end of 2013, which I decided was a vintage year for albums, and I celebrated by compiling my top NINETY albums in order. Although I heard even more releases in 2014 - I think it was 220 this year versus 187 the previous year if anyone is interested! - I vowed not to go overboard with the AOTY chart this time. One reason was that when I was compiling the radio shows in the earlier part of 2014 I heard lots of great tracks, but not always great albums - that's one of the reasons why I put a lot of effort into making two "tracks of 2014" mixes. There are plenty of tracks in there that don't come from any of these 20 albums.

As regular readers know, this blog publishes a monthly round-up of (usually ten) new releases and that list is not in any specific order, although for the AOTY I did submit to peer pressure and I've put the choices in order. Obviously I cannot hear everything within the confines of a calendar month, so I am quite surprised in how many of those choices made up the final list. It turned out that most of the albums I missed from those round-ups were, to my ears at least, non-essential. At time of posting I have heard nearly everything I set out to hear with the dramatic exceptions of Einsturzende Neubaten's 'Lament' and Andy Stott's 'Faith in Strangers', both of which I suspect may have made this list.

2014 saw a different variety of psychedelia emerge, evolving away from the garage bands towards a post-Stereolab vibe. The records that came out of nowhere to surprise me sound more like Broadcast than Syd Barrett or the Seeds. That was the defining sound of the year for me, but I'm also a sucker for songcraft and both 'Benji' and 'Colfax' were great examples that that art is still alive and well.

As each year passes I often think about what to do next with the blog and I think in 2015 things are set to change here. I didn't utilise the blog as much as I would have liked in 2014 (though it was better than 2008 when I didn't post for the entire year!) and I would like to try a different approach to things now that the new year is here. In the meantime, thanks for your support over the last 12 months, and I hope that you find plenty to explore and maybe something to love in this list.

20. Skull Defekts 'Dances in Dreams of the Known Unkown' (Thrill Jockey)

"a thrill from start to finish and is perhaps surprisingly accessible...There is great tension between the riffs and the melodies... the guitars are just seconds away from dipping into something truly edgy and discordant. The Skull Defekts understand the power of repetition when used correctly - think of the Fall, Can, Sonic Youth - and (Daniel) Higgis's presence completes the band and makes it possible to deliver an album as trippy, yet somehow coherent, as this one" -my review (the 405)
Spotify

19. Grumbling Fur 'Preternaturals' (The Quietus Phonographic Corporation)

Grumbling Fur are evolving with each release, and this third album is a fascinating blend of influences. There is a particularly "British-folk" base behind it, and they build on this with elements from synth pop, hauntology and industrial music to create something well worth exploring.
(great review here)
Spotify

18. TV On The Radio 'Seeds' (Harvest)

The fifth full-length studio release for the indie rock band is its first since the death of bassist Gerald Smith, and sees the band emerge from that tragedy to create an album full of life. It is much more an indie-pop-rock album and fans of their early doom-gaze material may struggle with it, but it still has an edge to it, and the pop touches are both triumphant and surprising, particularly as some people were expecting a heavy dose of melancholy.
Spotify

17. Flying Lotus 'You're Dead!' (Warp)

The psychedelic touches are there of course and that teasing way that he flips away from one idea before it is really finished with is still in evidence as well. The title does hint at a fairly morbid effort, and it does get darker than he has before, but ultimately it is well worth hearing for the adventurous and ambitious turns that the music takes.
"As each song merges into the next, as one style succeeds another, the sensation is that of being in a dream." (the Guardian)
Spotify

16. Wrekmeister Harmonies 'Then It All Came Down' (Thrill Jockey)

"This was premiered in the National Bohemian Cemetery in Chicago, under a full moon. When you hear it, that all makes sense. The natural yet eerie setting, surrounded by reminders of mortality, and the potential interest in the occult. This is a superbly assembled piece, with a great grasp of dynamics and an understanding that its subtle moments can be just powerful as those times when it becomes a complete aural assault. Then It All Came Down is a noisy beast, but it is a beautiful one too." - my review (the 405)
Spotify

15. Sharon Van Etten 'Are We There'(Jagjaguwar)

In my opinion, not quite as great as her near masterpiece 'Tramp', but still a sign of a superb talent.
"Are We There offers an artist in full command of her voice and her instrument, a woman who knows exactly what she wants to offer listeners and who isn’t afraid to accompany the barest streaks of sunlight with thousands of clouds." (A.V. Club)
Spotify

14. The Soundcarriers 'Entropicalia' (Ghost Box)

I think this is the only one here which wasn't in our monthly round-ups as it only came to my knowledge late in the year, and a quick search shows that it has been generally under-reviewed. What you need to know - it's on Ghost Box, it features guests include some of Midlake and a cameo voice over by Elijah Wood. The title is accurate in that there is a large Brazil/ tropicalia influence, but there are also large dollops of baroque psychedelia, funk and motorik vibes. Space age bachelor pad music I reckon.
Spotify

13. Virginia Wing 'Measures of Joy' (Fire)

one of the debuts of the year... The vocals of Alice Merida Richards are central to it all, and her delivery plus the accompanying drifting psychedelia of the other musicians create something not unlike the more experimental moments of Broadcast and Electrelane. It is so much more than a carbon copy of those acts and each listen reveals new layers and twists and turns.
"‘Measures of Joy’ is a piece of noir-pop majesty that constantly pushes its own boundaries and frequently shatters the listeners’ sense of expectation." (Loud & Quiet)
Spotify

12. Wild Beasts 'Present Tense' (Domino)

Initially the fact that this was the first WB album to be written on computer unsettled me, but I grew to love the songs.
"Their most complete record by a serious stretch, it's a work that laughs, cries, detests, adores and above anything else inspires." (DIY)
Spotify

11. Thee Silver Mt Zion 'Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything' (Constellation)

“We live on the island called Montreal, and we make a lot of noise… because we love each other!” says one of SMZ's children on this excellent 7th album by the band that began as a post-GY!BE porject. This album strikes a lot of chords, as it takes on raising the next generation in a repressive world of austerity. Closing track 'What We Loved Was Not Enough' was the anthem of the year for me.
(Pitchfork review with lots of background here)
Spotify

10. Thurston Moore 'The Best Day' (Matador)

The most Sonic Youth of any of the post-Sonic Youth releases, and in fact it hits on exactly what made SY so appealing and intriguing - the mix of subtle melody and extremely disorienting noise. TM's band are a bit of a supergroup, with Steve Shelley back on the drums and Deb Googe from MBV on bass duties, and it's joy to hear how well they gel here.
"Both comforting and discomfiting, The Best Day recalls prime Youth, when their tense experimental attitude dovetailed with often sour but instantly accessible pop melodies." (the Observer)
Spotify

9. Lorelle Meets the Obsolete 'Chambers' (Sonic Cathedral)

Another grower which I paid more attention to after I had seen them live. My fave psych-rock release of '14 and almost certainly the first Mexican act to make my albums of the year.
"Chambers is an album that reveals more of itself and ever more nuances and clever touches with every listen. Final track Thoughts About Night Now, featuring Gonzalez on vocals, is a rather lovely pop tune, showing that they can try their hand to pure melody for good measure. There’s much to savour here from a band that are just hitting their stride and attracting new audiences all the time."(musicOMH)
Spotify

8. Gulp 'Season Sun' (Sonic Cathedral)

This one came out in the summer and crept up on me over the last few months.
"This album will certainly tick a lot of boxes for Super Furry acolytes, but for those who couldn't take to the SFA brand of avant-pop, Gulp should provide you with a nerdgasm or ten. Library electronics, jangly loftiness and enough in the way of melodies and choruses to soundtrack your summer." (the Quietus)
Spotify

7. Dean Blunt 'Black Metal' (Rough Trade)

An album that dominated my listening in the latter part of this year. This has nothing to do with black metal by the way, let's establish that straight away. I wasn't completely convinced by Dean Blunt's previous solo album, but 'Black Metal' is a beaut. Somewhere between noise-rock bliss-out, dub reggae and melancholic rock, he has a knack for putting together delightfully unhinged tunes, with suitably laconic vocals that sit somewhere between Bill Callahan and Rudy from AR Kane. The female counterpart on 'Molly and Aquafina' and the superb '50 Cent' gives the sound an extra dimension.
Spotify

6. The Delines 'Colfax' (El Cortez)

If you like Willy Vlautin's work with Richmond Fontaine, or even his novels, then imagine that kind of writing combined with a perfectly pitched female vocal that brings every bit of emotion out of it and you have the Delines. 'Colfax' is their debut album (maybe their only one?) and it is superb.
"One can find precedents for this album in classic Americana songwriting by those who know how to encapsulate how frayed our national experience can sometimes become for everyday people by setting their narratives in specific places or out on the road."(American Songwriter)
Spotify

5. Angel Olsen 'Burn Your Fire for No Witness' (Jagjaguwar)

Her previous effort Half Way Home was good, but on this follow-up she raised her game even more. Those Roy Orbison comparisons remain valid, whilst she remains a performer equally at home with country or indie-rock.

"Burn Your Fire for No Witness conjures the past without ever imitating it, swirling its influences into something intimate, impressionistic and new."(Pitchfork)

Spotify

4. Grouper 'Ruins' (Kranky)

Grouper aka Liz Harris nearly always works alone, but this time she has dispensed with any artificial studio work and recorded four long sad songs with just voice and piano in a seemingly untreated room. There are many incidental sounds that are picked up - thunder and rain, crickets and the ping of a microwave - it is quite a revealing listen on headphones. The songs themselves are sad and beautiful, and overall Ruins is pretty wonderful.
Spotify

3. Jane Weaver 'The Silver Globe' (Finders Keepers)

Puzzlingly passed over by most blogs and mainstream press, Jane Weaver's sixth album is a wonderful thing. The move from her folk background is more of an evolutionary one rather than a change of direction. The constant factor in all of her output is her voice, and it is the unifying factor in this varied album, always bringing a melody regardless on top of any sonic experimentation.
Spotify

2. The Bug 'Angels and Devils' (Ninja Tune)

A long awaited follow-up that at least equals predecessor London Zoo. 'Angels and Devils' is very much an album of contrasts, as it mixes fascinating ambient noise and aggressive MC-led pieces.

"one of the most stunning documents of 21st century music being made in Britain." Clash

Spotify

1. Sun Kil Moon 'Benji' (Caldo Verde)

Such an awkwardly beautiful album. "In nearly every song on Benji, someone dies. Family members, friends, celebrities, people in the news; they all pass away. This album packs a huge emotional punch as it tells its stories, often solely through Mark Kozelek's baritone vocal and his skilful yet gentle guitar playing. It moves, entices and, in some places, even amuses the listener....Most people who have heard Kozelek's previous work will know to expect beauty, sadness and emotional baggage. Benji is no different in that respect, but it encourages you to empathise with the subjects of the songs, and therefore adds some light to the melancholy.
my review (the 405)

Spotify

Don't forget those "tracks of the year" mixes!

Slowthrills 2014 end of year mix #1 by Slowthrills on Mixcloud


Slowthrills 2014 end of year mix #2 by Slowthrills on Mixcloud

Monday, December 29, 2014

Embedded: Slow Thrills tracks of the year 2014

It's just like when Guns n Roses released Use Your Illusion I and II really, right down to the different coloured sleeves! Seriously though, I've put together TWO different "tracks of the year" mixes, both featuring music that I couldn't get enough of this year.
I'm not sure what this says about 2014, but neither mix has a strong overlap with the Albums of the Year or the Gigs of the Year, both of which will be on here in the next day or so. Meanwhile, feel free to dip in out of the three hours of music embedded below, it is conveniently timestamped.

Slowthrills 2014 end of year mix #1 by Slowthrills on Mixcloud


Slowthrills 2014 end of year mix #2 by Slowthrills on Mixcloud


(tracklists below as well as on mixcloud)
Mix #1
Don't Wanna Lose - Ex Hex
Big Stars - Perfect Pussy
Salford - Mazes
Encrypted Bounce - Thee Oh Sees
Lawman - Girl Band
Slider - Bo Ningen
The Known Unknown - The Skull Defekts
North Hollywood Microwaves - Pink Mountaintops
Kong - The Notwist
Meshes - Virginia Wing
Boiling Point - The Soundcarriers
Strange Colores - Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks
Eruption - Tobacco
The One - The Bug
Medicine - Trash Kit
What's Holding You? - Lorelle Meets the Obsolete
Vote for Me Dummy - Guided by Voices
Chem Trails - Spider Bags
With Light and With Love - Woods
What We Loved Was Not Enough - Silver Mt Zion

Mix #2
Drive (fade into) - Marissa Nadler
Micheline - Sun Kil Moon
Shell - Vashti Bunyan
Atomos IX - A Winged Victory for the Sullen
Don't Take My Soul - Jane Weaver
Game Love - Gulp
New Born - Sounds of Sputnik feat. Ummagma
3Jane - EMA
Before - Wye Oak
Rites - Lost in the Trees
Faded Eyes - Horsebeach
Mister Skeleton - Grumbling Fur
Windows - Angel Olsen
Sun Has Gone - Broken Twin
He Told Her The City Was Killing Him - the Delines
Hallowe'en - Wussy
Holding - Grouper
Meteorites - Yann Tiersen

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014 CATCH UP no.3 :Sea Pinks



Any band which begins their biog with "A band from Belfast inspired by sea glass, bleached grass and ghost guitars" deserves your attention.
That is how Sea Pinks describe themselves. The band have been around for a few years now and I first became aware of them when they played a few shows with fellow Belfast band Girls Names a few years ago. Back then Sea Pinks singer/guitarist Neil Brogan was the drummer in Girls Names, and I think it's fair to say that the two bands complimented each other well, both coming from the same place in terms of geography as well as musical influence.
Sea Pinks most recent album Dreaming Tracks is their fourth but it's their first to be recorded in the studio with the full band line up of Davey Agnew (drums) and Steven Henry (bass) along with founder singer/guitarist Neil Brogan and cellist Jonny Agnew. It has been released on their own CF Records, a label which grew out of the Cass/Flick imprint, which began in 2006 with a series of cassette only releases and went on to issue material from the likes of Cloud Nothings and Thread Pulls.

Some compare Sea Pinks to the Smiths but it is not as straightforward as that. There are post-punk influences (Orange Juice and the Go-Betweens might be a more accurate comparison than Moz and co) but there is also a healthy dollop of sixties style garage-rock and summery-pop, and the resulting mix would sound perfectly at home on a K Records release from the 90s. Given that their sound is essentially fairly clean guitar bass and drums with regular melodies, there is plenty of variety on offer.

Anyway, enough of my prattling, check them out yourself below. Releases are available on vinyl or bandcamp downloads.





2014 CATCH-UP PIECES
Holy Sons
smallgang

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

2014 CATCH UP no.2 :smallgang


[pic by Katie Harris]

A power trio of sorts, smallgang comprise of brothers Simon and Toshi Kobayashi with their friend Matt Atkins on drums. Their sound is curiously out of time in the uk at least, given that it owes a lot to American post-hardcore and indie-rock. Back in June we reckoned that their second full length 'san (三)' was "a more ambitious album than their debut 'Trespasses'" and that still holds - the songs are varied and there are a couple of female vocal guest spots too courtesy of Gill Sandell (Emily Baker and the Red Clay Halo) and Jen Macro (Something Beginning With L, My Bloody Valentine). It is an energetic and noisy album, with all the instruments sounding big in the mix and brutal and half-spoken vocals sometimes deliberately submerged.

Well worth hearing if you like Shellac, Wedding Present, Sebadoh, etc, which I reckon you do if you're reading this. More info (biog, audio, dates) from their label Damnably. London types should be aware that they are playing the Windmill in Brixton on the January 18th, 2015.





2014 CATCH UP no.1 : Holy Sons

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

2014 CATCH-UP No1: Holy Sons



Today's overlooked act is Holy Sons, which is essentially the solo project of Emil Amos, who is perhaps better known as the driving force behind Grails, or the drummer in Om. I reviewed Holy Sons fine new album The Fact Facer for the 405, it was released in September this year.
"The Fact Facer applies variety and imagination throughout, which doesn't dilute the melancholy, yet ensures that the album doesn't become an overbearing listen. If anything it is the opposite, as the band are full of surprises and Emil Amos's voice is often a joy to hear. By the end of the album you can scarcely believe that this man is the drummer in Om."
Holy Sons are playing some European dates in February 2015, with Watter, and Lilacs and Champagne. If you don't already know, Watter feature Britt from Slint and Zak from Grails, whilst Lilacs and Champagne are Emil himself and Alex from Grails. I can feel a Grails family tree coming on! Full tour dates are on the Thrill Jockey website. Meanwhile here is the official video for 'Transparent Powers' (from the Fact Facer)

Monday, December 01, 2014

The best new albums of the month, November 2014 edition

Deerhoof 'La Isla Bonita'
Their twelfth studio album and whilst it is very much a case of them staying within their familiar boundaries - snippets of catchy hooks, skeletal yet tight arrangements making the most of their guitar-bass-drums line up - this time they have taken a step away from the moody synth touches of previous album 'Breakup Song'. The band sound great as ever and Satomi's lyrics manage to be both playful, anthemic and puzzling, almost at the same time, but then that's one of the things we love about Deerhoof.




The Wharves 'At Bay' my review (the 405)
"The most striking thing about London based trio The Wharves, whether it is on record or in their live show, is their knack of combining two lead voices. On paper they are a standard indie-rock trio, comprising Dearbhla Minogue (guitar), Gemma Fleet (bass) and Marion Androu (drums), but in reality they manage to create a lush mix of gently psychedelic folk-influenced music without losing sight of the pop sensibilities of '60s girl-groups and garage rock....At Bay is a musically rich and varied debut which proves that you can still do a lot with guitar, bass and drums when you have as much imagination as these three."



TV on the Radio 'Seeds'

The fifth full-length studio release for the indie rock band is its first since the death of bassist Gerald Smith, and sees the band emerge from that tragedy to create an album full of life. It is much more an indie-pop-rock album and fans of their early doom-gaze material may struggle with it, but it still has an edge to it, and the pop touches are both triumphant and surprising, particularly as some people were expecting a heavy dose of melancholy.




Clark 'Clark'

To file this simply under "techno" does it a disservice, as this seventh album from Warp's often overlooked maestro builds some lush atmospheres along with some doom laden ambient textures. That's not to say that it isn't dance music - you only have to listen to 'Unfurla' or 'The Grit in the Pearl' to hear the floor filling material - but weird tunes like 'banjo' and the sheer beauty of 'Winter Linn' prove that Clark has the variety and the talent to rival the very best of his peers.




Hookworms 'The Hum'

Not only does this follow-up to Hookworms debut sound brilliant, its songs are sequenced together so well as a set - a proper "album" if you like. The bridging tracks are also called 'iv', 'v', 'vi', as if it has continued seamlessly from the debut album. The main elements that made 'Pearl Mystic' such a triumph are still present, though the songs are stronger and the distorted lead vocal is even more of an instrument in the mix this time. The tracks make most sense as part of the whole album, so forgive me for posting a lone one below.



Dean Blunt 'Black Metal'
This has nothing to do with black metal by the way, let's establish that straight away. I wasn't completely convinced by Dean Blunt's previous solo album, but 'Black Metal' is a beaut. Somewhere between noise-rock bliss-out, dub reggae and melancholic rock, he has a knack for putting together delightfully unhinged tunes, with suitably laconic vocals that sit somewhere between Bill Callahan and Rudy from AR Kane. The female counterpart on 'Molly and Aquafina' and the superb '50 Cent' gives the sound an extra dimension.




Alex G 'DSU'

Alex G is a university student who has created a buzz through a steady stream of self-released music over the internet, As far as I know, 'DSG' is his first full length album to see a conventional release and it shows him to be a songwriter with a wealth of influences. It is early days for him yet, but he has been favourably compared to Elliott Smith, Big Star and even the Beatles. This is also a full band record, though his scratchy lo-fi past isn't too far from the surface.




Virginia Wing 'Measures of Joy'

All I know about Virginia Wing is that they are based in Camberwell and they have made one of the debuts of the year with 'Measures of Joy'. The vocals of Alice Merida Richards are central to it all, and her delivery plus the accompanying drifting psychedelia of the other musicians create something not unlike the more experimental moments of Broadcast and Electrelane. It is so much more than a carbon copy of those acts and each listen reveals new layers and twists and turns.




Tim Wheeler 'Lost Domain'
Tim Wheeler's latest solo album is both a tribute to his late father, and an account how a family deals with the dementia. It's a difficult listen for me as my own mum has vascular dementia, and there are so many triggers here, several times the lyrics really hit home. There are no pop songs, and no noisy Ash-style tunes either, and I find it more affecting when he writes reflective short songs, although the two epic songs in the middle of the album, 'Hospital' and 'Medicine', are quite striking.
'Lost Domain' is not what anyone could call an enjoyable listen, but as a cathartic one it works very well.



Exit Verse 'Exit Verse'
Although Geoff Farina's recent run of solo acoustic guitar records have been hugely enjoyable, some fans have been hankering for Geoff to either reform Karate or get back into playing rock music again. Well, Exit Verse is what happened when Farina put together a new rock band, although people expecting a slice of jazzy post-hardcore here might raise their eyebrows at the finished results. Exit Verse has taken on board lots of classic rock influences (Thin Lizzy in particular) and at times this reminds me of Ted Leo or the Hold Steady. It's a grower though, and repeated listens bring out Farina's subtle guitar lines.

Monday, November 03, 2014

The best new albums of the month, October 2014 edition

If you are the sort of person inclined to chop up your year into monthly chunks, you know that some months are better than others. And in 2014 terms, October astrides this calendar year like a collossus. The overall quality meant that it was harder than ever to keep the list to ten choices only, and as I listened to roughly double my monthly amount and had more reviews published than usual, I have gone giddy and selected 15 albums. Enjoy.


Vashti Bunyan 'Heartleap'
my review (the 405)
"Vashti has said that Heartleap will be her final album, and with that statement it is as if she has come full circle. For someone who walked away from the music business at the age of 25, it is fitting that she has bookended her career with this album. It has been made on her own terms and in her own time, with her in total control of the finished product. In other words it is a total re-establishment of the self-confidence that she lost in the '60S. Best of all, Heartleap works superbly as a collection of songs, and can only serve to extend and preserve her legacy."


A Winged Victory for the Sullen 'Atomos'
my review (the 405)
"Apparently conceived and performed over a relatively short time span, Atomos is a very powerful work and one which could well bring modern classical music to the attention of people with only a passing interest in it, in much the same way as Philip Glass and Steve Reich have done. It's a beautiful record which well worth your attention."


Wrekmeister Harmonies 'Then It All Came Down'
my review (the 405)
"Then It All Came Down was premiered last year in the National Bohemian Cemetery in Chicago, under a full moon. When you hear it, that all makes sense. The natural yet eerie setting, surrounded by reminders of mortality, and the potential interest in the occult. This is a superbly assembled piece, with a great grasp of dynamics and an understanding that its subtle moments can be just powerful as those times when it becomes a complete aural assault. Then It All Came Down is a noisy beast, but it is a beautiful one too."


The Twilight Sad 'Nobody Wants To Be Here and Nobody Wants To Leave
my review (the 405)
"This fourth album comes across as a consolidation of the edgy noise of their early records and the electronic aspects of its predecessor. They sound as powerful as ever, and their penchant for weaving subtle folk melodies amongst their noise is still pretty special. Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave is a highpoint for the Twilight Sad and in many ways it is the best record they've made to date."


Scott Walker and SUNNO))) 'Soused'
A controversial record of course, but a brave and brilliant one as well. Despite the fact that it sees the enigmatic Scott join up with the experimental doom-metal of Sunn0))) this seems like a step away from his very challenging Avant Garde trio of albums. Sunn0))) play with a fairly straight bat, hitting the fuzz when they need too, and the main eyebrowing raising moments come from Scott's barmy attempts at poetry.


Allo Darlin 'We Come From the Same Place'
Personally I never thought Allo Darlin were that "twee" so it is odd to read reviews which say they have grown up. This album was created with the members living in different countries for the first time, due to Elizabeth leaving the UK. Musically and lyrically however, We Come From the Same Place carries on where its fine predecessor Europe left off. There are some lovely lyrical gems and some decent tunes, and if anything has changed it is that Elizabeth's voice sounds more confident and established. Maybe that's what people mean by sounding grown up. Hear for yourself...


Grouper 'Ruins'
It's early days but this already seems like a very special record. Grouper aka Liz Harris nearly always works alone, but this time she has dispensed with any artificial studio work and recorded four long sad songs with just voice and piano in a seemingly untreated room. There are many incidental sounds that are picked up - thunder and rain, crickets and the ping of a microwave - it is quite a revealing listen on headphones. The songs themselves are sad and beautiful, and overall Ruins is pretty wonderful.


Azar Swan 'And Blow Us A Kiss'
my review (the 405)
"Azar Swan have set out to make a pop record and have succeeded. Currently there is so little darkness and experimentation within the world of pop that And Blow Us A Kiss comes across as a genuinely exciting record, and one which shows a lot of their contemporaries in the worlds of the goth/industrial/dancefloor crossover that they have plenty of tricks up their sleeve."


Flying Lotus 'You're Dead'
When FlyLo emerged last decade people became aware of his jazz heritage and the family connection with Alice Coltrane. However, 'You're Dead' is the closest any of his records has got to jazz, albeit in a free-form freaked-out version. The psychedelic touches are there of course and that frustrating, teasing way that he flips away from one idea before it is really finished with is still in evidence as well. The title does hint at a fairly morbid effort, and it does get darker than he has before, but ultimately it is well worth hearing for the adventurous and ambitious turns that the music takes.


Run the Jewels 'Run the Jewels 2'
Run the Jewels debut appeared out of the blue and - like this one - was given away free over the internet. At the time it seemed like a one-off but after a couple of successful tour and a great reaction to that debut, the duo of El-P and Killer Mike have released a follow-up. Album two continues where the debut left off, though this time around it flows even better, and sits together as a set really well.


Jane Weaver 'The Silver Globe'
This is Jane Weaver's sixth solo album, and although some people may know her as a folk influenced musician, The Silver Globe is a concept album taking its name from a Polish sci-fi film - yet it manages to be both a coming of age tale and a romantic paean, though I haven't quite got to grips with the story yet. It goes heavy on the synths and prog touches, yet equally unafraid of pop melodies. There are some gentle subtle songs, some electronic noodling and this tune, which sounds like Can and Hawkwind at the same time...


Thurston Moore 'The Best Day'
The most Sonic Youth sounding effort from any former Sonic Youth person to date, and I don't think many people would complain about that. It is half of SY of course, as Thurston is joined by Steve Shelley on drums, whilst Deb Goodge from My Bloody Valentine and James Sedwards from Chrome Hoof form the rest of the four-piece. This time Thurston has side-stepped the obvious noise, improv and folk stylings of his recent projects to make a damn good rock record. It isn't all straight SY songbook though, and the likes of the drone-folk piece 'Tape' show that those other influences are never far away.


Iceage 'Plowing Into the Field of Love'
I haven't gotten on with Iceage's records to date, but 'Plowing Into the Field of Love' is totally different to anything they've done before. So much so that a lot of their fans have turned their noses up at it. In contrast to their earlier efforts, this time the singer has adopted an unhinged Shane McGowan style delivery - not quite in tune - and the music is a rich cacophony of edgy 80s acts like The Gun Club, Crime and the City Solution and the Bad Seeds. Brave to see a band completely change tack, and I hope they can gain some new fans in the process.


Caribou 'Our Love'
The contented Caribou album. A record all about love, and consequently one that is more in touch with Dan Snaith's equallty great Daphni project than previous Caribou releases. It is joyous, dig in!


Heat Leisure 'III & IV'
I'm on a mission to reclaim the word 'psychedelic' from the epidemic of garage bands, so this is the second psychedelic album in the list, after Flying Lotus. Heat Leisure are a collective featuring both of Guardian Alien, the Pontiak brothers and Steve Stromhier from Beach House and these two long pieces owes a debt to the early records of Can and Amon Duul II. The voice which introduces the whole thing is the original Merry Prankster, former Grateful Dead MC Ken Babbs, who has contributed a long monologue. The rest is a joyous, often improvised jam.