Our music enthusiasts John and Neil J. select their favourite music over the last few months. Check them out!
Real Estate – In Mind
In a world of constant change predictability can sometimes be a comforting thing and once again, indie hipster heroes, Real Estate, deliver another portion of their gorgeous laid back jangle pop. It is exactly what fans will expect –tremolo heavy guitars, lovely harmonies and bitter sweet songs, all delivered at a relaxed pace by musicians so tight as to appear telepathic – and the fact that there are no surprises is in this case a definite plus. They may be heading down exactly the same road – but it’s hard not to hope they keep doing so for a while yet.
The Handsome Family – Unseen
Another act that successfully tread a well-honed path are husband and wife alt country duo, The Handsome Family. It would be easy to assume that ten albums in they had exhausted ideas for their dark and entrancing gothic folk country sound, but this would be a mistake as, if anything, the contrary is true, with ‘Unseen’ the best record they have made for a while. The melodies are lovely, their darkly surreal stories as absorbing as ever and the playing as understated and gently off- kilter as to be expected. There was a time when The Handsome Family were a closely guarded secret amongst devout fans, until their title theme for ‘True Detective’ cast them into the spotlight, and the exposure appears to have given them a new confidence.
Grandaddy – Last Place
Well-crafted songs, unpretentious 2000’s indie-rock sensibilities, great hooks – guess what, California’s Grandaddy have made a new record after an 11 year silence! Granddaddy were always singer/songwriter Jason Lyttle’s band and it’s great to hear his esoteric, slightly melancholic slacker take on existentialist angst once again. The production is excellent – not trendy lo-fi and not over produced bombast –and gives the guitar, keyboards, occasional strings and electronics room to breathe under Lyttle’s hushed vocals to create a lovely listening experience. Grandaddy were always slightly out of place and now, probably even more so, but their workmanlike song craft and studied carelessness offer a welcome return.
The United States of America – The United States of America
Released in 1968, this was one of the most progressive records released at the time and among the first to feature electronics within a band setup. Grounded in psychedelia but influenced by the New York avant-garde experimental scene, band leader Joe Byrd recruited a group of UCLA students, well versed in John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, to record the group’s lone self-titled LP. The record flopped, but went on to attain cult status and, apart from some of the hippie inspired lyrics such as “Lemonous petals, dissident play/ Tasting of ergot/ Dancing by night, dying by day”, it sounds remarkably contemporary with musique concrete-style tape collages, white noise, tape delay, ring-modulated fade-outs and distorted synthesizers. This re-issue includes 10 extra alternate takes.
Illum Sphere – Glass
The second album on Ninja Tune from UK electronic producer Ryan Hunn finds him ditching the vocals of his debut to present an excellent album of studied electronica. Maintaining a nice balance between abstract and melodic, the tracks wend their way through a variety of styles including minimal four to the floor, sequencer driven grooves, atmospheric ambient and dubbed out chillscapes throughout a confident and beautifully produced immersive listening experience.
Slowdive – Slowdive
It’s always a risk when a band that has attained cult status makes a new album, and the 22 years since Slowdive’s last record is a good case in point. Key figures in the early ‘90’s Shoegaze movement, Neil Halstead’s vast glistening guitar textures and Rachel Goswell’s hushed vocals, last heard on 1995’s ‘Pygmalion’, have been a huge influence on many bands over the past two decades and it is a great pleasure to discover that their 2017 album is a grandiose and spectacular comeback. Everything a fan could hope for is here – deep layers of beautifully textured guitars and lovely plaintive vocals delivering songs, wistful and reflective, within a shimmering production……. and not a guitar solo in earshot.
Gas – Narkopop
In 2000 German electronic maestro Wolfgang Voigt released ‘Pop’, a deeply immersive record, featuring layered loops of orchestral samples to create engrossing electronic ambient music that exhibited all the majesty of classical. Since then he has pretty much created a genre of beatless electronica via his annual Pop Ambient compilations that feature a wide array of electronic artists applying techno production techniques to ambient textures. ‘Narkopop’, his first full release in 17 years, is a follow up to ‘Pop’ and dives deeper into the original template, focusing on texture and reverberation and introducing sub bass pulses to create stunning symphonic electronic chamber music that is as meditative as it is unsettling.
Fazerdaze – Morningside
The latest release from Flying Nun is ‘Morningside’ the debut album by Fazerdaze, an AK band fronted by Wellington born, bedroom pop artist Amelia Murray. Receiving rave reviews worldwide, the album has even been described as ‘generation defining’ on Canadian website ‘The Review’. Since their recent Laneway performance interest in the band has skyrocketed, with their infectious jangly guitar pop finding an audience in a young generation that has been described as the ‘anxious generation’, and if that is true then it is easy to understand how comfort could be found in these simple and stylish songs. Amelia Murray has a sweet voice and her songs hold emotional resonance, revealing a wide range of feelings – anxiety, trepidation, hope, and relief – delivered via confident song structures and diverse arrangements that reveal glimpses of darkness under the apparent innocence.
Fujiya & Miyagi – Fujiya & Miyagi
Six albums in and the Brighton, UK, based band are gradually becoming underground favorites worldwide. Their latest release compiles three eps released over the past year and finds the band fine tuning their sound. They appeared pretty much fully formed back in 2002 and their idiosyncratic sound hasn’t changed a lot since then, but they have grown into a tight band that successfully blends dance floor electro with band sensibilities and their krautrock inspired electro grooves and whispered vocals are presented here with a lot of confidence.
Tycho – Epoch
Another band that bridge electronica and indie rock are Tycho from San Francisco who have developed from the solo IDM project of electronic producer Scott Hansen into one of the best known instrumental electronic bands of this era. ‘Epoch’, their fourth release, received a 2017 Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album, which is surprising considering the amount of guitar playing and drums that feature on a record that is, essentially, an instrumental post rock album. Generally it’s a four to the floor excursion with a few tracks rhythms verging on math rock and even drum’n’bass, yet overall the swirling guitars and cascading synths maintain a steady flow of highly enjoyable grooves.
Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble – Finding Me Finding You
The demise of UK post rockers Stereolab left a gap in contemporary music, but some solace can be found in the fact that there are now two bands in Stereolabs place, with Tim Gane’s Cavern of Anti-Matter exploring further into kraut rock while Laetitia Sadier continues to create her surreal sensual pop informed by the harmonies and lush instrumentation of exotica, easy listening and tropicalia. This is her fourth record since Stereolab split in 2010, and she has proven to be an artist with a clear singular vision which she explores consistently, with the addition of subtle twist here and there. Here she presents her warmest record yet, however the beauty is lodged within shifting abstract song structures that demand a listener’s perseverance – but the effort is well rewarded.
Karriem Riggins – Headnod Suite
Not quite a jazz album and not quite a beat tape, Detroit drummer and producer Karriem Riggins’ second album contains 29 tracks, most of them less than two minutes in duration, that run together to create an engrossing listen featuring vocal snippets and instrumental samples all pushed along by very cool beats. Anyone who has enjoyed the contemporary re-invention of Afro-American fusion explored on Robert Glasper’s remix projects, which re-imagine hip-hop, jazz, electronics and soul, should find this an interesting release. Like classic instrumental hip hop releases such as ‘Donuts’ (Karriem Riggins worked with J Dilla) the multitude of sounds dissipate as quickly as they appear entrancing the attentive listener
Jah Wobble & the Invaders of the Heart – Everything Is Nothing
35 years ago it would have been impossible to foresee the bass player from Johnny Rotten’s post punk band Public Image Ltd making an album of spiritual jazz-funk, but times change and Jah Wobbles latest PledgeMusic funded record is an excellent contemporary fusion of afro-beat, jazz and polyrhythmic funk. Producer Youth has described the record as Wobble’s “Miles Davis opus”, which may be an overstatement; however, this predominantly instrumental album features ten tracks delivered by a talented group of virtuosos who never grandstand but play to the funky polyrhythmic grooves, anchored by Wobble’s dub-infused bass and former Fela Kuti drummer, Tony Allen. Featuring muted trumpet, piano, guitar, Rhodes, vibes, synth, blistering sax (courtesy of Hawkwind’s Nik Turner), flute and strings, this is a big and very funky sound that both references and pays homage to the influential afro jazz that has gone before.
Neil J’s picks
Jesca Hoop – Memories are now
The supremely talented Jesca’s latest release is another subtle, melodic, sophisticated outing. Building on her previous releases it as the cliché says “ rewards repeated listening’s”. Bound to be in many peoples best of 2017 lists when that time comes. A rather beautiful wee album.
Perfume genius – No Shape
Perfume genius’s fourth album No shape is a lush, elaborate, decadent shape shifting album of contrasts. Moving effortlessly from haunting delicate fragile melodies that still somehow sound slightly damaged or decayed to uplifting euphoric rapturous elements often in the same piece of music
Bonobo – Migration
Bonobo aka Simon Green’s latest work is a sonically rich , dreamy and downbeat piece of electronica with the odd vocal sprinkled through. Its easily his most listenable work to date.
Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
I love the Fleet foxes first two albums and was intrigued to hear that Crack up their third outing starts exactly where the last track of their second album Helplessness blues ends. No band is attempting to do what they do with their sound. It’s really hard to describe their work but here goes experimental, orchestral, modern folk music with a close affection for music from late 1960s American West coast Scene. People like Crosby, Stills and Nash or Joni Mitchell. Its lush, its gorgeous, its seductive and it has serious intent too one of my favourites of the year.