The best new albums of the month, March 2015 edition

  • 0

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

  • 0
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.

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 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

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.

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

  • 0

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.

my #mwe experience: how a hashtag inspired me to explore other genres

  • 0

At the beginning of February I spotted a few tweets from other music writers which used the hashtag "mwe". It turned out that they were talking about a twitter project (#mwe) called Music Writer Exercise. It was the brainchild of Gary Suarez (@noyokoono) and the idea was a simple one - pick an album you've never heard, listen to it once, and then review it in a single tweet.
I was interested. It sounded like a challenge - my regular reviews are 500 words after all - and even better, it would break my listening away from the constant deluge of new releases which arrive daily. I didn't start properly until Feb 2nd, and although I included the new Disappears album on Feb 1st as I got it that day, I resolved to steer clear of new releases and explore some older music which I had missed.

Now, a dumb thing to do would be to collate the succinct tweets composed as part of #mwe into a single blog post, as that would destroy the whole point of the project, so instead I decided to write about what I gained from the task.
I resolved to explore not just bands which I hadn't heard, but whole genres that I was in the dark about. So indie-rock, post-punk, psych-folk and electronica were side-stepped in favour of some classic albums plucked out of the 1001 Albums to Hear Before You Die book (due to time factor they had to be on Spotify), and a pile of cheap CDs that I got last year in an HMV which was closing down. I reckon I can die happy without hearing a Frank Sinatra or Red Hot Chili Peppers album all the way through, so I did use some quality control when selecting items from the book, although ultimately I felt I needed to explore the worlds of country, soul, R'n'B as well some classic "names" who I was ignorant of (Rundgren, Fairport, The Dead).

Over the course of the month, I put my previous prejudices to one side and opened my ears, as I discovered that Alice Cooper was once the name of the band not the frontman and they sounded a bit like Syd Barrett, that the Electric Prunes and the Style Council were both worse than I expected, and that Circle Jerks were a way better punk band than Bad Brains - in my knee-jerk twitter opinion that is, of course. Slowdive's Pygmalion did not come across as the classic which I was led to believe it was, but Zappa's Lumpy Gravy, Madvillain's Madvillainy and Dr John's Gris-gris had me scratching my head, thinking why had I never heard these albums before? Loads of twitter folk joined in with the challenge, and I hope they all had as much fun as I did.

Listening order below, tweets at

1. Irreal - Disappears (2015)
2. Phaedra – Tangerine Dream (1974)
3. I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You – Aretha Franklin (1967)
4. Gris Gris – Dr John (1968)
5. I Against I – Bad Brains (1986)
6. Something/Anything? - Todd Rundgren (1972)
7. Eternally Yours – the Saints (1978)
8. Group sex- Circle Jerks (1980)
9. Pygmalion - Slowdive (1995)
10. Phrenology – the Roots (2002)
11. I Know What Love Isn't - Jens Lekman (2013)
12. Jack Frost - Jack Frost (1991)
13. Trust Now - Prince Rama (2011)
14. Krull Bol - This is the Kit (2008)
15. The Electric Prunes - The Electric Prunes (1967)
16. De-loused in the Crematorium – Mars Volta (2003)
17. Get Lost - Mark McGuire (2011)
18. Eden - Everything but the Girl (1984)
19. Wave Like Home - Future Islands (2008)
20. Unhalfbricking – Fairport Convention (1969)
21. Talking Timbuktu – Al Farka Toure & Ry Cooder (1994)
22. Mama’s Gun – Erykah Badu (2000)
23. Pretties for You - Alice Cooper (1969)
24. American Beauty - the Grateful Dead (1970)
25. Café Bleu – Style Council (1984)
26. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams (1998)
27. Madvillainy - Madvillain (2004)
28. Lumpy Gravy - Frank Zappa (1967)

new music round-up #1

  • 0
It has been a feature of this site over the past two years that the monthly album reviews have dominated proceedings. Unfortunately this does not reflect the large amount of new music we get sent, so, in order to keep on top of this we have decided to put together a regular post that picks some of the best new/ self-released/ unsigned material that we stumble across - either from our busy inbox or elsewhere. Here is the first instalment...

The Tamborines (link)
A Brazilian duo based in London about to release their second album 'Sea Of Murmur' on their own Beat-Mo records, and it promises to be a little quieter and more melodic than the swirling fuzz of their debut. 'Indian Hill' is the first track to emerge from it, and it's pretty good teaser for what is to come.

Föllakzoid (link)
This is the band who got labelled 'krautrock from Chile' when their second album brought them to a wider audience a couple of years ago. This taster from the forthcoming follow-up is an exciting progression from that sound and shows their love of minimal electronica.

Sharks' Teeth (link)
The prolific Sharks’ Teeth began in 2009 as an outlet for the solo recordings of Tyler Scurlock, songwriter and guitarist of New Orleans indie band, Sun Hotel. 'Jade Oscilloscope Screen' is a track from the forthcoming cassette release ‘Wissenschaftslehre IV or Opinion Crisis’ which is the latest in the series of ambient recordings.

Young Guv (link)
Young Guv is Ben Cook, who is best known as one of the guitarists in Fucked Up, but this taster for his forthcoming solo debut is way more POP than you could possibly imagine. Think Prince, the Cars, Cheap Trick.

Rosenthal (link)
This lot had a couple of decent releases last year, and the forthcoming single 'Heart' should turn even more heads. From Copenhagen, this is dreamy indie-pop somewhere between New Order and The xx.

K-X-P (link)
Who remembers Op:L Bastards? Well two of that acclaimed Finnish band have continued to work together under the name K-X-P, and Space Precious Time is the first track to emerge from their forthcoming album 'III Part One'. An odd yet infectious tune that manages to combine industrial beats with space-rock drones.

Craig Scott's Lobotomy (link)
It is a constant moan of mine that there isn't enough genuinely unusual music being made, and also that there are precious few outlets for it to be heard as well. Well this release is certainly unusual - an album with little regard for genre or conventional song structures and tempos. People may file this under jazz or avant-garde, but really it is in a league of its own.

Grubby Mitts (link)
This band features the acclaimed UK visual artist Andy Holden and this is a taste of their forthcoming album which has taken so long to complete (eight years I think), they have taken to describing it as "Part anthology, part debut album". Lots of depth and experimentation here.

This Heel (link)
This Heel is a new collection of songs from the Malmö band Dog, Paper, Submarine's frontman Martin Månsson Sjöstrand. Although a lo-fi solo project (Martin played everything on the record), fans of Dog, Paper, Submarine should enjoy this EP, as it contains four short sharp tracks of melodic and fuzzy indie-rock.

The best new albums of the month, January 2015 edition

  • 0
2015 has offered up some gems already, and here are ten of the best of the year so far.

Jessica Pratt 'On Your Own Love Again' (Drag City) iTunes
my review (the 405)
This "flows perfectly from where her debut left off. Recorded to four-track at home in California over the last two years it is once again a delicate, reflective affair. There are nine songs, and most of them feature just Jessica and her acoustic guitar, yet this time there is room for occasional keyboard touches on a couple of tracks and some adventurous multi-tracking of vocals to flesh out the sound... a mesmerising, bewitching listen."

Dan Mangan & Blacksmith 'Club Meds' (City Slang) Spotify
my review (the 405)
"Dan Mangan transcended the singer-songwriter label three years ago with Oh, Fortune. Now that his band have equal footing perhaps people will start to appreciate that his work involves rich musicianship which gives the music an extra dimension and depth. Club Meds is deliberately dense and cluttered and at times confusing. The fact that it manages to be beautiful and intriguing at the same time is quite a feat."

Pinkshinyultrablast 'Everything Else Matters' (Club AC30) Spotify
my review (the 405)
"Even at this early stage Pinkshinyultrablast have a great understanding of how to harness their noise and work them around the song, and their willingness to use rhythm to give those older shoegaze elements a good kick, means that this debut is not a homage but a fresh step into the future."

Viet Cong 'Viet Cong' (Jagjaguwar) Spotify
There is nothing new under the sun these days it seems, and whilst a lot of bands are plundering shoegaze and garage rock, Viet Cong have set their attention on the post-punk of the early 1980s. VC comprise the rhythm section from the acclaimed group Women, but in this incarnation their music is more direct , more cacophonous, more intense. 'March of Progress' is one of the tracks of the year so far.

Ghost Culture 'Ghost Culture' (Phantasy Sound/ Because) Spotify
Another mysterious London producer only known by stage name, Ghost Culture has crafted a great debut, which manages to combine the darker side of electronica as well as the pop side. Comparisons to Arthur Russell and Kraftwerk are justified, and you get the feeling that this multi-layered album will be one that keeps on giving.

Darren Hayman 'Chants for Socialists' (wiaiwya) Bandcamp
Apparently Darren, the man who wrote Hefner's 'The Day That Thatcher Dies', thought the release of an album called 'Chants for Socialists' in an election year would be a boutique release. It's fitting that this release has a lack of commercial ambition, but it would seem that the vinyl edition - complete with sleeve created on a press used by William Morris - is nearly all gone.
As you may already know, the chants in question were written by Morris in 1890s and produced in a pamphlet, intended to be set to the popular music of the day. Hayman has faithfully updated them with his own music and in turn produced one of his strongest solo records to date.

Sleater Kinney 'No Cities To Love' (Sub Pop) Spotify
Sleater-Kinney's first album in a decade has been hugely and deservedly acclaimed. It's so great to have them back and it's also fascinating to hear them deliver 'No Cities To Love', which may actually be their very best record, this far into their career. What other occurrences are there of a band returning after so long, only to deliver its best work? 32 joyous minutes of cracking punk-pop songs. One of the great bands really.

Panda Bear 'Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper' (Domino) Spotify
Perhaps not as bleak as the title suggests, this third solo album is darker and more soul-searching than his others, but also has a neat line in memorable melodies. This time as well, his sonic experiments have been tweaked to include some hip-hop beats which don't seem obvious on the first few listens but come to define the album. This also feels like the conclusion of a trilogy, but maybe I'm reading too much into that.

Menace Beach 'Ratworld' (Memphis Industries) Spotify
Slightly in danger of becoming submerged by its influences, which are mostly 90's indie-rock, Leeds band Menace Beach's debut is the sort of thing people would have gone mad for if the band were, say, from California. Essentially a duo, with some regular guests like Hookwroms's MJ - who also did a cracking job on production - they flick between slacker-indie tunes like the title track, moody pieces like 'Blue Eye' and the frantic 'Lowtalker', with ease. There's lots to investigate here.

Jan St Werner 'Miscontinuum Album (Fiepblatter Catalogue #3)' (Thrill Jockey) Spotify
This challenging and experimental work from Mouse on Mars's Jan St Werner was developed over the last four years as an operatic performance and also a radio play. "The central concept of Miscontinuum explores misconceptions of time and memory, inspired by unique acoustic phenomena derived digital phasing and musical time stretching techniques. There is an aura of doom that pervades the work." Largely ambient and electronic, it contains cameos from Markus Popp (Oval), Dylan Carson (Earth) and Taigen Kawabe (Bo Ningen).

Time constraints mean that I couldn't quite do justice on albums by Etienne Jaumet (one half of Zombie Zombie), Alasdair Roberts, and the surprise release by Bjork, in time for this round-up, but then January always is a bit overwhelming in terms of the new release pile.

Slow Thrills albums of 2014

  • 0

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)

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)

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.

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)

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)

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)

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.

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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.

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)

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)


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.

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.

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


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)


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