The best of albums of the last three months, May-June-July 2015 edition

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Whilst they have been a fixture of this site for the past couple of years, the monthly album round-ups didn't happen over the last few months. I have been focusing on other things, not least the new site I'm helping to launch in September (it will be called Suburban Speed and it is taking shape over here). These monthly round-ups may well move over there in the future.
I did hear plenty of albums in my "break", and I've put together this digest of albums from the months I missed - May and June 2015, with a few added in from the traditionally meagre month of July. The albums aren't listed in any order, but let's say they all managed to score 7/10 or over in my hugely scientific rating system...

Jim O'Rourke 'Simple Songs' (Drag City) buy | my review
Simple Songs sounds fantastic, and the intricate arrangements mean that every time you come back to the songs they reveal something new. Most of all it gives a snapshot into the contradictions which make Jim O’Rourke so fascinating. Lyrically this is the grumblings of a middle-aged man and musically this ends up somewhere between easy listening and math-rock. This is widescreen music, not for background listening.

Jenny Hval 'Apocalypse, girl' (Sacred Bones) buy | stream
Whilst Innocence is Kinky had an edgier backing than this lighter, almost trip-hop sound, it is Jenny Hval's voice and words which draw you in. This is more arty, poetic and at times quite humorous. From the spoken word with noises-off challenge of Big Bananas to the beautiful vocal styling of the Battle is Over, Sabbath, and Take Care of Yourself - at times reminiscent of Robert Wyatt - this is an album which reveals new pleasures on every listen.

Circuit des Yeux 'in Plain Speech' (Thrill Jockey) buy | stream
A baroque-pop, experimental, Scott Walker-channeling tour de force. Haley Fohr's first recording with a "backing" band (albeit one plucked from Chicago's alternative elite) offers atmospheric backgrounds behind a powerful, intriguing vocal performance.

Death and Vanilla 'To Where The Wild Things Are' (Fire) buy | stream
Death and Vanilla are a Swedish band who tread that delicate line between sixties psychedelia, dream pop and hauntology. Oh, and there are some beats thrown in for good measure. They wear their influences proudly - from Silver Apples to Broadcast - yet ultimately this album has enough in the form of pretty tunes and interesting atmospherics to stand as a valid contemporary release.

Wilco 'Star Wars' (dBpm records) free download (ltd time)
Seemingly appearing out of nowhere, this is as good an album as Wilco have made since A Ghost Is Born nearly a decade ago. it bridges trad Americana, classic pop and skronky noise with ease.

Trembling Bells 'The Sovereign Self' (Tin Angel) buy | stream
Whilst I have enjoyed most of the Trembling Bells releases to date, this is the first one that I absolutely love. What has changed? Well, for a start there's an extra (electric) guitarist which manages to skew their already heady brew of psychedelic rock and traditional folk towards something leaner like Television. I reckon the songs are stronger too, and their vocals, as always, are something to behold.

Du Blonde 'Welcome Back to Milk' (Mute) buy | stream | my review
FKA Beth Jeans Houghton, Du Blonde’s debut may not be as extreme as the attention-seeking, merkin-wearing cover photo hints at, but there is a ferocity and a verve which suggests that it is a new lease of life. It's noisy, abrasive, though many of the most impressive aspects of Du Blonde are found in the sheer musical variety on offer. Produced by Bad Seed Jim Sclavonious, this switches between grunge power trio, epic pop songs and subtle piano tunes whilst still managing to sound coherent.

Rose Windows 'Rose Windows' (Sub Pop) buy | stream | my review
When classic influences meet a diverse bunch of musicians like this they get a new lease of life. One wise review said that although the music sounds old, in a way it could only really be made in the here and now. The music is a melting pot which has grown more complex as the years have gone on. No negativity should be read into the fact that they called it a day just before this album came out. They felt that they had run their course and wished to bow out on a high note. They have done exactly that.

Ezra Furman 'Perpetual Motion People' (Bella Union) buy | stream
This comes across as the E Street Band fronted by someone more insecure and edgy - maybe Jonathan Richman or Jad Fair? There is no doubt that Ezra is now being recognised as the special talent he so clearly is, and whilst this new record wasn't as immediate for me as its predecessor, a few more listens revealed that the songs are good and the band sound great.

Haiku Salut 'Etch and Etch Deep' (HDIF) buy | stream | my review
This music recalls the minimal quirkiness of múm, the melodic sweeps of Sigur Rós, and at times comes across like Yann Tiersen's Amelie soundtrack if had been transported to the recent future. It is still surprising to find that Haiku Salut have created all this in Derbyshire and not somewhere more exotic. Ultimately though, it is about mixing disparate influences and seeing how they blend together. Happily for all of us, this approach works brilliantly.

Holly Herndon 'Platform' (4AD) buy | stream
Every time I return to this there is something more, something I hadn't caught last time. This is genuinely experimental music, mostly based around lush, melodically rich electronica often created from voice samples. There are unusual moments, like the "massage" on 'Lonely At the Top', but ultimately this stands up as a great example of modern, progressive electronica.

Sarah Cracknell 'Red Kite' (Cherry Red) buy | stream
Whilst there is a pop heart to this solo album from the voice of Saint Etienne, Red Kite is steeped in baroque-pop and 60s folk influences. Somehow sadder and more reflective than I expected, and a fine piece of work.

Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe 'I Declare Nothing' ('a' Records) buy | stream
I'm not really aware of Tess Parks's previous music, and I'm not a big fan of Newcombe's BJM, but this has a beautifully weary quality to it, and comes across as an updated, more frazzled Mazzy Star.

Four Tet 'Morning/ Evening' (Text) buy | stream
A beautiful release from Kieron Hebden. Just two long pieces, one on each side, as contrasting as morning and evening are in reality. His biggest dalliance with Indian music to date. Although glitches and electronic buzzes give it a modern edge, the 'Morning Side' is centered around a haunting hypnotic vocal which sounds meditative and ancient.

Mbongwana Star 'From Kinshasa' (World Circuit) buy | stream
A fascinating record, and one whose influence may well be felt far into the future. Featuring former members of Staff Benda Bilili (and a guest appearance from some of Konono No1) this music sits within the Congolese soukous tradition, but also manages to push its post-punk and electronic influences to the fore just as much.

Thee Oh Sees 'Mutilator Defeated At Last' (Castle Face) buy
Thee Oh Sees are now very much a power trio and I'm sure I'm not the only one to hear echoes of Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience deep in the grooves here. Wild, unhinged rock n roll, and pretty great at that.

Grimm Grimm 'Hazy Eyes Maybe' (ATP recordings) buy | stream
Coming across like a dreamy acoustic contemporary of Bo Ningen, Grimm Grimm's debut is a beautiful, subtle record. A genuinely unusual take on modern psychedelia, focusing more on acoustic weirdness rather than volume overload.

Sun Kil Moon 'Universal Themes' (Caldo Verde) buy | stream
Here Mark Kozelek continues to detail the minutae of his life (I assume the album title is ironic) with arguably a more interesting musical palette than last year's acclaimed Benji. He is still stuck on tour as female acquaintances, cats, and other musicians pass by, boxing matches happen, and so on. He has been unpleasant to watch live for a few years now, and I don't bother with his gigs anymore, but this is far from the turkey of an album that some reviewers claimed it was, post-Barbican debacle.

Rozi Plain 'Friend' (Lost Map) buy | stream
On to her third solo album already, 'Friend' sees Rozi Plain weave a dreamy mix of folk and laid-back psychedelia with the help of Serafina Steer and Alexis Taylor along the way. Opening track 'Actually' is one of my favourite songs this year.

Mac McCaughan 'Non Believers' (Merge) buy | stream | my review
It is interesting that Mac chose to release this album under his own name, almost as if he is deliberately pitching it from a time when there was no Superchunk, or Portastatic, or Merge. He is out there on his own, playing it all himself, freed from expectation. It is fitting as well that his desire to use synths and drum machines has led to a more naïve way of playing. This isn't a slick indie-rock record, although it is a very good one. This is the sound of someone feeling their way back into the music of their youth, and the end result is so much more than a vanity side project.

Loop 'Array 1' (ATP recordings) buy | stream
Perhaps a surprise that Loop have continued on after their ATP festival reformation. Array is the first of a series of releases, consisting of just four tracks so it's sort of an EP, although closing track radial clocks in at 17 minutes and makes this album length. Robert Hampson is the only constant member but this is not ambient or music concrete, instead it's driven by the kind of riffing that the original Loop excelled at, coupled with a busy, urgent percussion.

Sauna Youth 'Distractions' (Upset the Rhythm) buy | stream
As you may expect if you ever caught this lot live, this album fizzes and buzzes with energy. At times they remind me of prime period Buzzcocks, other times they are more abstract on spoken pieces like '(Taking A) Walk'. At their best of cuts like 'The Bridge' and 'Creeping' where they manage to combine strong hooks with abrasive noise really well.

The Cairo Gang 'Goes Missing' (Drag City) buy
I suppose most people will associate the Cairo Gang (and its de facto leader) Emmet Kelly with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, so it's a pleasant surprise to find that this latest album takes its cue from guitar-pop as practiced by the Byrds and more recently, Guided By Voices. This was a late arrival and made the list after one listen - it seems varied but some of the songs ('Ice Fishing' for example) are so good they knocked me sideways.

Kamasi Washington 'The Epic' (Brainfeeder) buy | stream
The Epic is so epic that I've only been able to listen to it all the way through once. Some people will visit this recording on the back of Washington's association with album-of-the-year elect To Pimp A Butterfly, yet The Epic is more of a lesson in jazz history. Released on Brainfeeder, this is more Alice Coltrane than Flying Lotus, and although some of the vocal pieces are too smooth for my tastes, the evocation of the more psychedelic works of Miles Davis and Pharaoh Saunders make it worth investigating further.

White Reaper 'White Reaper Does it Again' (Polyvinyl) buy | stream
Young American punk types, desperately in love with the American punk of old (the artwork even suggests the Minutemen), and this debut full length manages to be angst-ridden, joyous, and maybe a bit dumb - often in the course of a single song.

Archive Interview: Prolapse

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Around twenty years ago, our fanzine The Weedbus did an end of year Readers' Poll, as we thought we were the NME or something. Anyway, Prolapse won the Best Band category fair and square so we chased them for an interview. We usually did interviews in person with bands when they visited Belfast, or sometimes their press people sorted out "phoners" for us, but with Prolapse we decided to conduct it via the Royal Mail, with written communication from our PO Box to theirs. This took ages, and if I recall it properly, it only really took shape when Linda started coordinating the band's replies. The results are below, it's quite fanziney, a bit silly, and I'm pleased to say they answered some of our questions with their tounge firmly in cheek, but I'm posting it here for posterity. We never did get Scottish Mick's replies....

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this interview was published in the Weedbus issue 12, May 1997

Winners of our last substantial reader's poll, Prolapse are returning to the public eye with a fantastic new single 'Killing the Bland' and an album due in September on Radar records, owned by Warner Brothers. With the help of vocalist Linda I managed to get most of the band to complete a postal interview - apart from Scottish Mick that is, whose answers may appear at a later date! Otherwise it all went smoothly, so here are the results....

How did the band first get together?
Mick (bass): "In 1979 myself, Tim (drums), Scottish Mick (vocalist) and Pat (guitar) were fishing for squid just off the boundary surrounding Ben Nevis. Pat caught three squids and a girl called Linda who despite being covered in coral and sharks teeth was singing a very good version of 'Don't Slip Up' by Meat Whiplash. Scottish Mick only succeeded in catching a bag of eels, Tim caught loads of plankton (which he still has in a jam jar). I was having a bad day, I only caught an amoeba called Dave Jeffries. Prolapse was formed."

Why did you only issue one album on Cherry Red ('Pointless Walks to Dismal Places' 1995)?
Pat: "The label discovered that my brother had been in the infamous Cherry Red outfit The Tights!"
Dave: "They had a dramatic reshuffle and all of their bands fell out of the pack."

Since then Lissy's has been releasing most of your material - what's the set up there?
D: "Lissy's is run by Jamie from the Rough Trade Shop in Covent Garden and basically he puts out records that he likes."
Linda: "Jamie gave us a few fivers to record a single for his label and we ended up recording a whole album ('Backsaturday') by accident."

Would you rather release one-off singles or albums?
L: "Six and two threes - they both have good and bad points."
D: "I don't buy singles and I would like to think that we're able to do both, but I'm not sure that we're capable of either!"

You've now signed a 'proper' deal with Radar, who are owned by Warner Brothers. How is this going to affect things?
L: "We wouldn't sign if there was a whiff of us getting pushed into anything. There would be no point."
D: "We don't know. They seem pretty open to us as an entity. Artistic control is pretty important, but record companies have product to sell, so... let's wait and see, eh?"

What are your immediate plans?
D: "We're in the studio working on the new album with Donald Ross Skinner (ex- Julian Cope, Baba Louie) and plans are to tour pretty soon."

What annoys you about the current music scene?
L: "Anything to do with corporate manipulation."
D: "Where do I start? Most of the music, the national music press, the touring agent competition, the London-centredness as usual."
P: "The current music scene is mainly either bland or ultra-conservative or both."

What inspires you about the current music scene?
P: "One of the things is that at least people are more likely to listen to a broad range of influences - from Tibetan throat music to Lee Hazelwood."
D: "I'm supposed to say something about the way in which the DIY ethic is coming back and Bis are getting on TOTP even without a record deal. However, it doesn't mean anything to me personally and beware of what you read about Bis 'cos they had a huge publishing deal before their much publicised TOTP appearance."
L: "Really what inspires me is the occasional gig/ single which makes me go I LOVE THIS - ie Broadcast/ The Yummy Fur (gigs) and those two Tiger singles, among (few) others."

Are there any current bands you particularly rate?
L: "As well as Broadcast, the Yummy Fur, Tiger, there's Stereolab, Papas Fritas... shit I hate questions like this cos my mind goes blank!"
P: "Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Stereolab."
D: "Apart from Stereolab and a great band called Juno, there's not much worth shouting about. Drum n bass is best - in patches mind!"

What about influences? Tell us what you think of the constant Fall/ Stereolab/ Krautrock comparisons.
P: "Musically I think the comparisons are reasonable. I personally listen to a lot of Krautrock stuff - I can remember my brother's band doing a cover of 'Hero' by Neu!"
D: "All three are an influence on me personally, but it needs to be said that Prolapse were listening to Kraut stuff at the same time as Stereolab and before they started releasing records."
L: "All Prolapse people have different influences. Don't know what mine are but I'd hazard a guess at Dusty Springfield/ Kim Gordon/ loony bin inmates. As for the Stereolab/ Krautrock thing - we and Stereolab are different interpretations of similar influences so it's slightly peeving when people say 'Prolapse are influenced by Stereolab' cos that makes us a different generation which isn't the case. We LOVE Stereolab - but we are their spiritual cousins, not their proteges... or something."

Your onstage tension, particularly in 'Tina, This Is Matthew Stone' is semi-legendary. Do you all get on?
L: "Yes, but every member of the band has been in a fight with another member. Except Pat!"

Who is Matthew Stone anyway?
D: "Matthew Stone is the lead character, played by William Shatner, in a really bad film called 'Impulse'. He plays a psycho, though not very well."
P: "It's an amazingly bad film - it has to be seen to be believed."

There are a lot of European references in the songs - do you feel more European than British?
D: "I'm afraid to say I'm British despite being Welsh and having lived in Brussels and Dublin. I certainly think we're a very British band."
L: "I don't feel at all European. Europe's a funny old stick if you ask me."
P: "Usually, especially when touring abroad I realise there are some good things about Britain but mainly it's on a downward spiral. The anti-European stuff in the press and from politicians irritates me. You only have to go out on a Saturday night in Leicester to realise what a fucked-up country we're living in."

Finally, what are the best and worst things in life? Get the worst out of the way first!
P: "Kula Shaker, nightclubs, Jim Davidson, Birmingham New Street station, Man Utd, getting out of bed, marmalade, flying, loud music, ginger cake."
D: "Being in a band, seriously! Touring. Too many bad bands to mention. Not being able to spend all my time with my family."
M: "People who eat loudly, getting up early, Noel Edmonds, Ocean Colour Scene, baked bean stains on black jeans, food dribbling from mouths, halitosis, Robin Williams, Jeremy Beadle, Hitler, rich students, posters of blokes with babies, Elvis Presley, Frank Skinner, Suggs, Eric Hall, smell of vomit and crap, Neneh Cherry, Alanis Morrisette, the powdery scrapings at the end of a packet of Golden Virginia, being in Prolapse."
L: "Those moments when you think I HATE MYSELF AND I WANT TO POP MY CLOGS IF ONLY IT WASN'T SO PAINFUL/ MESSY/ EASY AND ANYWAY I MIGHT FEEL BETTER ONE DAY."

And the best?
D: "My family - partner Penny, daughter Ella (3 1/2), son Isaac (7 months). Art. 'Composition for 16 Musicians' Steve Reich, 'Ascension' John Coltrane, reading philosophy and generally being pretentious. Rolling Stones circa 1968- 1972."
P: "UK Gold, Guinness, Sandy Denny, Coronation Street, weasels, stoats and polecats, anything with a long body, piercing eyes and sharp teeth, Everton winning (rare, I admit), Bamboozle."
L: "Those moments when you think I LOVE THIS..."

Interview co-ordinated by Jonathan, with the help of Linda from the band

The best new albums of the month, April 2015 edition

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The Mountain Goats 'Beat The Champ' (Merge) buy | stream
It's incorrect to call this a return to form, because to be honest the Mountain Goats are always consistent. However, this (fifteenth!) album recalls the sound of 'Tallahassee' and 'The Sunset Tree' to an extent. It's musically varied with piano pieces, brass sections and their default setting of proper rock n roll power trio. It's a "concept" album of sorts, but delightfully, the subject is the world of pro-wrestling and specifically how it resonates through John Darnielle's childhood.

Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld 'Never were the way she was' (Constellation) buy | stream | my review (the 405)
"Billed as “original compositions for horn and violin”, the debut collaborative album from these two Montreal based musicians comes across as an impressive and experimental work, as they twist and manipulate their instruments to create something futuristic, not traditional. Sometimes they gel beautifully, and sometimes the tension between them adds drama and dynamics, bringing their instrumental music into sharp focus."

Colleen 'Captain of None' (Thrill Jockey) buy | stream
Perhaps better known for some beautiful ambient records over the last decade, Colleen has fallen in love with Jamaican music, and although Captain of None is still built around her viola-de-gamba playing, the dub effects, bass lines and the minimal lyrical touches underline the stylistic shift in her music. A worthwhile reinvention, albeit a subtle one. Read my interview with Colleen here (the 405)

Waxahatchee 'Ivy Tripp' (Merge/ Wichita) buy | stream
A more complex, slowburning record than her previous releases, Katie Cruchfield's latest under the Waxahatchee name is none the worse for that. A little more enigmatic than standard indie-rock fare, this rewards repeated listens. It's not all downbeat, and there is a fair dose of quality indie-pop goodness here too.

Built to Spill 'Untethered Moon' (ATP Recordings) buy | stream
I've been giving Built to Spill a wide berth these last few years. On the strength of this album I've been foolish as this isn't far off the heights of their cracking albums from the 90s. Doug Marsh's guitar parts are stellar.

Follakzoid 'III' (Sacred Bones) buy | stream
This Chilean bunch are learning and developing all the time. Their previous album ('II') was great but devotees of Krautrock or late 80s psych-rock would have found much of it familiar. 'III' sees them developing their electronic side over four lengthy tracks - it's less of a freak-out, more of a trance-like immersion - and the vocals are used sparingly, creeping up on you like a ghost in the mix.

GNOD 'Infinity Machines' (Rocket Recordings) buy | stream
There should be more bands, or collectives, or whatever they are, like GNOD. Here the Salford bunch extend themselves over triple vinyl - nearly two hours in length - and their blend of noise-rock, electronics and unhinged sax sounds as good as ever. More politicised and edgy than many other, wordier bands.

Young Fathers 'White Men are Black Men Too' (Big Dada) buy | stream
A fascinating multi-layered record, released with the tagline "file under rock and pop". It's much more than that - a huge mix of styles and genres, belying their pigeonhole as a hip-hop act. Some parts could almost be northern-soul floor fillers, whilst others touch on experimental noise-rock - it is at one moment catchy, and at another moment challenging - yet it is always rewarding.

Braids 'Deep in the Iris' (Arbutus) buy | stream
Another release which people are calling a change of direction. It's not really. Whereas their second album saw them change radically to swap swirling guitars for synths, this one is simply a progression from that. The big developments are in the delivery and the lyrics of Raphaelle Standell-Preston, at times brave and brilliant - check out 'Miniskirt' for example. Oh, and her voice still soars as well.

Ela Orleans 'Upper Hell' (HB) buy | stream
Perhaps surprisingly produced and released by Howie B, this new one from Glasgow-based, Polish born Ela Orleans is a thrilling slice of dark electronica. 'Upper Hell' is where Dante started his descent. This album flicks between spooky imaginary soundtrack music, catchy pop and downbeat atmospherics.

The best new albums of the month, March 2015 edition

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Lightning Bolt 'Fantasy Empire' (Thrill Jockey) buy | stream | my review (the 405)
"In the five years away from the studio they certainly haven't stagnated. Fantasy Empire is the sound of a band modifying their sound rather than totally changing direction and whilst their spontaneity may have been tempered by their new ways of recording, their intensity and creativity remains very much intact."

Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat 'The Most Important Place in the World' (Chemikal Underground) buy | stream
The second album from the genial Scotsmen, and a worthy follow-up to the excellent Everything's Getting Older. Bill's arrangements (from ballads to wild jazz) complement Aidan's poetic words so well, and the genuinely alarming 'Lock Up Your Lambs' comes across like an unplugged Liars. This album will be keeping me company all year.

Sufjan Stevens 'Carrie and Lowell' (asthmatic kitty) buy | stream |
Sufjan's other two masterpieces (Michigan and Illinois) were expansive and ambitious records, and Carrie & Lowell sits proudly beside them, although it is a much more personal introspective work, focusing on his long distance childhood relationship with his mum and step-Dad. It reveals new raw details with every listen, and it is heartbreakingly beautiful.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor 'Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress' (constellation) buy | stream |
Avid fans will recognise the music here as the centrepiece from their 2013 tour, aka 'Behemoth'. It has been honed into four sections and trimmed to a mere 40 minutes - very short for a GY!BE album. Worth noting that this is the first fruit from the post-reformation GY!BE, given that the previous album was material that existed before their hiatus, so it's interesting to note the absence of any voice samples. Now they sound heavier, leaner and still totally essential.

Pile 'You're Better Than This' (Exploding in Sound) buy | stream |
The third album from this New England based bunch sees them in rowdy form, with vocalist Rick Maguire on the edge of a tantrum throughout. Bizarre, imaginative lyrics and an unhinged energy to rival prime period Modest Mouse, Fugazi, Pixies, it's that kind of vibe. Juddering, erratic and a whole lot of fun.

Lower Dens 'Escape From Evil' (Ribbon Music/ Domino) buy | stream |my interview with Jana Hunter from Lower Dens (the 405)
A shift towards left field 80s influenced pop and slightly away from the overtly experimental leanings of predecessor Nootropics. Shades of Motorik and Berlin-era Bowie are evident, but ultimately this is a collection of finely crafted songs with depths and layers underneath that pop sheen.

Matthew E. White 'Fresh Blood' (Domino) buy | stream |
It's fair to say that this isn't a massive departure from Matthew's superlative debut Big Inner - the seventies soul feel, the big arrangements, and his laid-back delivery are all present and correct, and serve to show what a talent this guy is.

Lonelady 'Hinterland' (Warp) buy | stream |
This contains one of the best three-song runs on an album this year, with 'Bunkerpop', the title track and 'Groove it Out' throwing the knock-out punches. The rest is good, if a little samey, but this long overdue second album makes a bigger splash than her debut and proves that Julie Campbell is onto something special.

Modest Mouse 'Strangers to Ourselves' (Epic) buy | stream |
It's almost as if they made Strangers to Ourselves extra-long to make up for time away, and there is the suggestion that they are resting on their indie-rock laurels a little here, but there are enough highlights to keep their fans engaged. The eccentric songwriting of Isaac Brock is something worth cherishing.

Ghostpoet 'Shedding Skin' (PIAS) buy | stream |
This album move from Ghostpoet, as he has left behind electronics and Afrobeat and has chosen to work with a traditional guitar-bass-drums backing this time around. The reasons are cathartic as Shedding Skin is a break-up album and both the instrumentation and his detached vocal delivery suit the bleak mood and make a big emotional impression.

new music round-up #2

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If you are interested in these new music updates, then please follow us on Facebook. From the latter part of March we will posting tracks we like as we hear them - no need to wait for these monthly round-ups. Meanwhile, here are some selections which we stumbled upon recently.

Gazer
The name suggests yet another shoegaze act, but refreshingly Gazer lean more towards an energetic post-hardcore intensity. Hailing from Cincinnati "Fake Bulbs/Phone Commercial" collects their two most recent EPs. Shades of Big Black and even Lightning Bolt - well worth a listen.


Malojian
Malojian is the stage name of songwriter Stevie Scullion, from Northern Ireland, a fine purveyor of melodies and this strong tune is a taster from his forthcoming second album 'Southlands' [pre-order from the Pledge Music campaign here.] Malojian's debut 'The Deer's Cry' was widely acclaimed - and we reviewed it here


Meltybrains?
From some reason I had this Irish act pigeonholed my head as techno, but 'Donegal' and the flipside 'IV' are both packed full of ideas and are much harder to define, as their music encompasses the same sort of widescreen ambition found in the likes of These New Puritans, Talk Talk, and in particular, Luke Sutherland's old band Bows.


NRVSLVRS
San Francisco 6-piece cracking out some tasty, epic indie-rock in the TV on the Radio vein. Keen to hear more of these people. Their album 'The Golden West' will be out next week (March 16) Also check out their earlier single 'City Lights'


Andrea Balency
Franco-Mexican artist Andrea Balency has built on her 2014 buzz with a brand new EP entitled Volcano, which demonstrates sound very imaginative composition and production. It is a shame that FKA twigs got there a few months earlier, because really these artists have evolved independently and have arrived at a similar sound independently. This is lush, though.


The Chemistry Experiment
It has probably been the best part of a decade since I saw this prog-influenced Nottingham quintet live. This new single is taken from their ten-years-in-the-making second album Gongs Played By Voice and is a catchy slice of psych-pop.


The Machismos
A blast from the past here. Machismos is the project of Sam Marsh, once the singing drummer of good old Jacob's Mouse, and this is a re release of the previous single 'My Narghile' from their new upcoming album 'Britpop Fucked My Wife' in March. Love it (and I'm old enough to have the original 7")


Sasha Siem
Classically trained Anglo-Norwegian music Sasha Siem is gearing up to release her debut album Most of the Boys. She has previously worked as a composer but this is her first "rock" release. I was going to say traditional rock release but it is nothing of the sort, as it takes wildly imaginiative leaps into non-conventional songwriting, in the playful spirit of the likes of Laurie Anderson and Tom Waits.


Taman Shud
Over the years I've been inclined to take most band's self-descriptions with a pinch of salt, but Taman Shud call themselves "Blackened psychedelic motorcycle punk" and I reckon that is spot on. There is a Middle Eastern feel to this - their name is Persian after all - and overall it has an intense tantric quality.


Acre Tarn
Acre Tarn is the electronic music project from Anna-Louisa Etherington, a singer/producer originally from the Lake District. Her music comes across as a dreamy ethereal version of left-field pop, not a million miles away from Grimes's material. In an ideal world this would be in the charts, there's even a hookladen chorus.





The best new albums of the month, February 2015 edition

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Spectres 'Dying' (Sonic Cathedral) Spotify buy
my review (the 405)
"Although there are many revivalist bands being tagged as shoegaze and psych-rock, none of them are using their music as an aural assault weapon in the way Spectres are. Dying may appear to have a ominous bleakness about it on the surface, but it soon becomes clear that this is an urgent, cathartic and downright exciting listen."

Sir Richard Bishop 'Tangier Sessions' (Drag City) listen/buy
my review (the 405)
"It is important to remember that Tangier Sessions does not sound like someone indulging themselves just because they got a new guitar. These improvised pieces are intricate and certainly stand up to repeated listens, and the album makes a good companion piece to Bishop's previous, rather fine, acoustic recordings."

Duke Garwood 'Heavy Love' (Heavenly) Spotify
my review (the 405)
"There is a great sense of space, songs seem to just hang in the air - and Duke's playing and vocal style is raw and dry and earthy.... The way that Garwood has executed this moody and atmospheric take on the blues reminds me of parts of the later Talk Talk albums or maybe even the last Bad Seeds record. This music has an antique heart and, instead of having lots of modern crap plastered on top of it, it has been lovingly restored."

A Place to Bury Strangers 'Transfixiation' (Dead Oceans) Spotify buy
Recapturing the energy of their first two albums, yet managing to bend their noise into something slightly different. They have thought about how to progress whilst still working within the same parameters. They still echo early JAMC in places, but this time the walls of sound aren't as fuzzy, instead they are as sharp and as hard as a diamond.

Public Service Broadcasting 'The Race For Space' (Test Card Recordings) Spotify buy
The first challenge was to prove that they weren't a gimmick, that their penchant for mining archive voices could continue for another full album. They've certainly succeeded at that, as this is a far stronger album than the debut, the material works well as a set, and those samples are used to tell a story (basically the space race of the 60s). The likes of 'Fire in the Sky' and 'the Other Side' are just two of the shivers-up-the-spine moments of drama here. A genuinely moving piece of work.

Cat's Eyes 'The Duke of Burgundy OST' (RAF/ Caroline) Spotify
Faris Badwan (of the Horrors) and Rachel Zeffira move away from their alt-rock roots to create this beautiful set of atmospheric music written for Peter Strickland's film. He also directed Berberian Sound Studio, and the music here has some of the eerieness of Broadcast's score for BSS, although it sounds more folk-based and organic. At times Rachel recalls Francoise Hardy. Shades of late night creepy 70s telly, psych-folk and even Mozart on the requiem piece.

Sea Change 'Breakage' Spotify buy
my review (the 405)
The stage name of Ellen A.W. Sundes, who wrote and recorded this debut album alone in her Oslo bedroom. Despite this – or maybe because of this – Breakage sounds great, Endre Kirkesola's mix is lush and multi-layered and the songs are dynamic, well-crafted and immersive. Sundes may well have chosen to name herself after Beck's beautifully downbeat album Sea Change, but the fact that she has chosen to work within the field of synth-pop means that it she isn't simply following on its coat-tails. It is fair to say that, where the Beck opus created a distinctly woozy melancholic mood, Sea Change's debut full length definitely captures a similar mood.


H Hawkline 'In The Pink of Condition' (Heavenly) Spotify
For his Heavenly debut, the Cardiff boy has relocated to LA and delivered this fine collection of psych-pop gems. His partner Cate Le Bon is on board as producer (last time I saw each of them they were in each other's bands too) and the resulting mix of deft and tuneful indie-rock will please fans of both. In some ways this is Mug Museum's other half (and remember what I thought of that gem).

Dan Deacon 'Gliss Riffer' (Domino) Spotify
This threw me a little. After the majestic ambition of 'America' on first listen this sounded like. at best, a side-step. It seemed too busy and cluttered and I wasn't sure about the vocals, but as it developed it started to make more sense, and the final two tracks, where he gets into a solid post-rock electronica groove (could almost be Battles) are what swayed me in the end. Dan would always get the benefit of the doubt anyway, as he is a force of nature and a musical treasure!

Eternal Tapestry 'Wild Strawberries' (Thrill Jockey) Spotify buy
A long slow trip through the world of psychedelic rock, recorded in a secluded cabin under the shadow of Mount Hood in Zigzag, Oregon. The track names are all from plants specific to the region. Languid improvised guitar parts, snaky melodies and some tape trickery as well.




In an effort to get the monthly retrospectives up in a decent time, I have to admit defeat in trying to hear everything. This time my oversight is the new Six Organs of Admittance album, which I don't have yet, and I should also add that if the new album by the Unthanks is as good as the title track, then it should've crept into this list too.