Category: Album of the Month

Fever Ray – Plunge

Welcome back Karin. You’ve been missed.

I am very pleased to be able to choose the new Fever Ray album for December AOTM. Merry Xmas Brothers.

My introduction to Fever Ray (aka Karin Dreijer) came before I think I had ever heard anything by The Knife, the band that Karin created with her brother Olof. The Knife were a European Electronic phenomenon in the early ’90s perhaps never having the success or influence they enjoyed in Europe and Internationally.  I worked backwards from my love of Fever Ray’s debut Fever Ray into The Knife back catalogue.

The album, Fever Ray was a (logical!?) musical progression from Silent Shout, The Knife album that preceded it chronologically. Silent Shout was a fairly dramatic, progression from The Knife’s earlier output focusing in on the more intense, dark and moody qualities of the previous albums. Fever Ray picked up this baton and Karin explored much more personal of pregnancy and motherhood as Fever Ray. She shared something we’d never heard or seen (please check out the videos from this album) from her work with her brother. The fact that the release of this album and Stacey and my love of it coincided with Stacey’s pregnancy and our early parenthood made this is a very special album.

If Fever Ray was a progression from Silent Shout then ‘Plunge’, in turns picks up many of the stylistic turns explored on ‘Shaking the Habitual’ the last Knife album. ‘Shaking the Habitual’ was mental. It was a pretty tough listen even for a fan. I do like it very much … but I don’t play it too much! I am sure that when you first listen to ‘Plunge’ you may feel similar emotions but I implore you to dive into it head-first. Create occasions where it’s oppressive, angular and downright scary nature is a plus … not sure what those occasions are really but immerse yourself and its brilliance will reveal itself.

Karin’s voice is urgent, pleading, desperate and reflects the less conventional electronic soundscape that creates each song. But when needed, she turns into a Scandi-Electro-Pop queen sounding cute and friendly. This dark and light is found all over the album. IDK About You is a great piece of urgent Punk Pop but at 150BPM comes across like an assault the first few listens. Again, once you get it, you really get it. ‘This Country’ see’s Karin open, explicit, politically charged and exposed. ‘To The Moon and Back’ harks back to The Knife’s perfect pop moments on the Deep Cuts album. It sounds like the gorgeous radio friendly ‘Heartbeats’ or ‘Pass This On’ until Karin coo’s ‘I want to run my fingers up your pussy’ … oh, she went there. How Karin.

So don’t relax and sit back to listen to this. It won’t work. But do get involved with it’s complexity and range.

NOVEMBER: Wallflower by Jordan Rakei

Ah, blue-eyed soul. A double-edged term that come across as much as insult as praise. It implies a lack of depth, a lack of the heritage of the music, not just racially but in terms of authenticity. Maybe this isn’t quite blue-eyed soul, but it’s certainly made by an artist who’s steeped deeply both in the history of the music and current trends. It’s also not quite accurate to say he’s a white guy singing a historically black genre. To be specific, he’s a Kiwi of Pacific Islander heritage who now lives in London and signed to Ninja Tune. How fantastically 21st Century.

So where did this come from? That was what I thought when I first heard ‘Goodbyes’. It was one of those times I immediately Googled the artist, found he’d made a whole album, and then just sat opened-mouthed when I sat down and listened to it. The opening number, ‘Eye to Eye’ starts like a soul ballad, and then when it kicks in, you know you’re going somewhere really interesting. That edgy, nervous arrangement, almost jazz-sounding at at times, is such a great counterpoint to his sweet voice.

This is such a tough genre to excel in. I mean, I think I’d call this a soul record, but it’s a post-dance era soul record, I suppose in the same way that Sampha is. There’s also a touch of those downbeat artists like James Blake in there too. But where some of this genre can be a little hit-and-miss – for example, I LOVE the highlights of the Sampha album, but there’s some filler on there, I really love the whole of this. It’s so fully-formed, it’s so rich, it’s so delicious to listen to. It’s beautifully produced too – those strings remind me of Craig Armstrong’s work on Massive Attack’s finest albums. In fact, Massive Attack are a real cornerstone, influence wise. Time for a trip hop revival, anyone? 😉

There are two stages to your relationship to an album, I find. The first is: do I keep playing it when I first get into it? This has been a huge yes – I’ve had to start rationing myself because I’ve listened so many times. The second stage is: Will I come back to this, year after year – has it become a permanent part of my musical landscape. Well, of course, I won’t know that yet. But if you’re asking me to guess right now, I’m pretty certain it will be. I like it that much.

Highlights: opener Eye to Eye, the straight-up soul of Nerve, funky, melancholic single Goodbyes, Massive Attack-esque Hiding Place. But honestly, I love the whole thing!

Thoughts, brothers?

OCTOBER: Alvvays – Antisocialites

It’s “at last” in more ways than one (with profuse apologies for the incredible tardiness of this review) – last in that this is my final contribution as being one of the Brothers on this rather wonderful blog.  Opening those windows and throwing them open wide to the music I’ve been exposed to for the last… eighteen months or so…? has been a joy and I’m thankful to my fellow the Brothers for bringing me into the fold.  At last, as well, to Alvvays in bringing which seems to have been a long time coming, ie that elusively consistent indie album.  Such things tend to be a rarity, as we know.  There are, more often than not, dips and on repeated listens, those tracks which we just skip by in search of the one that grabs us.  That’s not to say that Antisocialites is perfect all the way through – but the skip point for me doesn’t appear until Already Gone, track eight from ten, and even then that’s the only one.

But I’m getting ahead of myself somewhat; Alvvays grabbed my attention with 2014’s release of the achingly glorious and sweepingly sublime Archie, Marry Me, about as classic as modern alternative music can get and stands Up There with the greats.  Forward then, pinging on three years and we have the second long player from the Toronto quintet.  They’ve not moved on a bunch in terms of their sound, so there’s no gear change progression in their approach.  Indeed, they road tested much of what ended up on Antisocialites when on tour through 2015 and 16, so they’ve stuck with their “jangly pop” (the band’s own description for their brand of music) which fits in with their existing catalogue.  Still, reinventing the wheel isn’t always essential and their craft is honed splendidly here.  Melody remains at the heart of their art; it’s the hooks that grab and won’t let go – the trainer-pogo Plimsoll Punks evokes memories of bouncing indie discos featuring stupidly wide grins as That Guitar Riff makes you jump that little bit higher.

There’s a lot to appreciate with Alvvays’ occasionally etherial electronica where they exude an other-worldliness distance which bleeds through time and again; Forget About Life is pure romance and the sweetest proposition to simply hang out, be faithful to your own being and spend time with someone who means the world.  It’s enough to make a middle aged reviewer sit back, smile and sigh in reflection that sometimes, things aren’t that bad and, indeed, can be pretty good.  But looking back in the collection, Forget About Life was quite neatly foreshadowed earlier by the album’s second single, Dreams Tonite and it’s worth following the link as it’s a time capsule video, capturing Alvvays’ vintage but modern look and feel.  Look out for the hat tip to MuchFACT, the Canadian music fund towards the end of the short.

Antisocialites ticks the indie kid box and appeals to the electronica side of my tastes and if those two loves can be catered for, that’s usually a win for me and that’s what we’ve got here.

SEPTEMBER : LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

So first things first. Let’s celebrate we’ve been running this blog merrily for more than FIVE YEARS! Well done us. And what a constant source of great music and discussion it’s been.

And how apt that we turn to a band after whom the blog was (kind of) named. And a band that has glued us all together musically for many years. We’re talking, of course, about James Murphy and his merry band of LCD wizards.

Second things second. This is a really good album. He’s at the top his game. It’s LCD Soundsystem FFS, what else was it going to be? What I’d like to get into is this: is it a GREAT album? And can something be a GREAT album if it wears its inflences so strongly on its sleeve that it’s impossible to ignore them.

Let’s start with the simple positives. The songwriting is great, and all the lyrical content, with his obsession about getting older, loneliness, disaffection, it’s as as good as anything he’s done. AND, despite the LOOOOOONG running time, I think they pull it off. I was a bit daunted when I saw list of 6, 7, 8, 9 minute songs – but on the whole, they’re little works of art that build their own internal momentum.

So what about that influences thing? Murphy’s mentioned in a number of interviews being inspired by Bowie to make another album, and to do exactly what he wanted to do, regardless of what the audience wants. He’s sure done that. But my goodness, those influences are SO plain the mix. Here’s a list of ones that jumped out on me on pretty much a first listen:


Emotional Haircut – Jesus H Christ, this is pure Joy Division. Could it sound any more like it was produced by Martin Hannett? That drum mix is quintessential Joy Division.


How Do You Sleep? – Oh man, name your early 80s influences. Siouxise? Cure? New Order? Bauhaus? Hell, this could be a bloody band from Leeds in 1982.


Change Your Mind – That guitar part is STRAIGHT from Bowie’s Scary Monsters. You think I’m exaggerating?

I could go on. There’s heaps of New Order and Joy Division influences, but Bowie is the veil than hangs over it all.

And then there are even times when LCD feel like they’re doing a cover of themselves. Do you know what I mean?

Call The Police

Other Voices (again, man, that Robert Fripp-esque guitar that could be from any number of Bowie albums!)

– both of these could have appeared on any of the LCD albums since Day 1. And they feel both wonderfully familiar, but also it’s as I’ve actually heard them before.

So I guess what I’m asking is: does this matter? We talk a lot on this blog about influences and being derivative and being original. Will that, in the end, mean that this is an album I play for quite a bit, then shelve because, when it comes down to it, I might as well listen to Unknown Pleasures or Heroes? Or has Murphy pulled this off with such brio and force and passion, that he’s moulded all the sounds he’s pilfered from his heroes into something new?

Right now, I don’t know. I’m so enjoying listening to it. But I do have a nagging voice in the back of my head. And occassionally, I’ve laughed out loud at how obvious he’s been about stealing a sound.

Over to you, Brothers. And here’s to another 5 years!

AUGUST: Aldous Harding – Party

If you were to ask me what are my most listened to types of music it would go like this: 1) Hip Hop, 2) Folk, 3) Dance. In the middle there is arguably a bump in the road with folk but it for a number of reasons it works for me and has for a very long time. I’d actually argue folk is ahead of hip hop at times.

 

Parking that top 3 and delving more into folk I noticed a year or so ago that my folk collection was heavily swayed towards males. One could say that about my hip hop collection but there is reason for that.. there are (in my opinion) many more males with better talents that females as a whole within hop hop. Folk on the other hand is a fair split. So logically I started to delve deeper into folk to find more females that I liked. Of course there is everything from Joni Mitchel, Laura Marling, The Staves, but I needed to dig deeper like I have to find male artists. Where I often came short wasn’t great songs but in fact strong consistent albums.

Brother Joseph has introduced us all to two fantastic Female artists over the last few months with his contributions and with my selection I hope it continues with Aldous Harding.

I very much want to leave this album to sink in with you like it did when I came across it a few months ago, so I don’t want to delve into it too deep except for saying that I have found it an album that gets better with time. So what to tell you then; well she from New Zealand, she’s on 4AD records and at the ripe age of 27 she sings beyond her years. At times you could compare her to Kate Bush, others Bjork apparently.

For me this album brings a beautiful calm with honest and at times some surprisingly dark lyrics. Her haunting yet happy at times vocals give her lyrics credit. This also is a complete album of music.

 

So enjoy brothers, and happy August… or should I say Aldous (sorry, I had to do it).

 

JULY – Joe Goddard – Electric Lines

 

So, I don’t think I need any disclosure here: this feels a little obvious as a ‘Guy Album Of The Month’.  Yes, I love Hot Chip (and LCD, and Joe and Al and Felix and Owen and Alexis and New Build and 2 Bears and…) as much as any other band that’s been around in the last two decades, but this doesn’t make it a throwaway choice. In fact, it’s one of the most listenable albums of the year so far for me, but it’s also much more than ‘oh, that bloke from Hot Chip’s made a solo album of dancefloor bangers’. It’s actually pleasingly more subtle than that, and it’s an LP that you should give a chance, because in many ways, it talks about what music means to me and tries to grab bits of all those *moments* that you have, whether it’s in a club, on the way to work, at a festival, at a gig. It may be ‘dancey’, but it’s not just a dance album. Stick with it and hopefully you’ll end up as rewarded as I do.

Joe’s a proper, unashamed, music geek. He loves disco and Salsoul (more of that later), but also dancehall and dub (just look at The 2 Bears influences). He loves techno and rave, and he loves pop music. But until now, his songs have often been twinned with others – Alexis Taylor in Hot Chip, Raf Rundell in The 2 Bears, as well as his Greco-Roman collective (label and releases-wise) – but while the solo stuff he’s done goes back to 2009, and there’s been some memorable stuff, this feels like a long time coming, and a bit of a new chapter for Goddard. He’s spoken about having a load of new kit, and wanting to make a record that  gets the most out of it, and to push himself in a way that perhaps he doesn’t get when operating within the strictures of a band. But even with the newer sounds he’s created, what his music always sounds is joyous, vibrant, and throbbingly alive. And it takes someone with a cold heart to feel there’s nothing in Electric Lines for them.

So, what’s it like? There’s a myriad of influences, but instead of wrapping them in knowing subtlety, they’re out there front and centre, whether it’s the famous Celeda sample in tribute-heavy and vibes-laden Music Is The Answer, or the Salsoul sample – Brainstorm’s We’re On Our Way Home – in the paen to late-night wobbly post-club treks Home (with its brilliant Pete Fowler cartoons), Joe’s celebrating the music that is important to him, framed in his own template. The album flits around, from Ordinary Madness’ restrained modern soul openings, to shimmering, wide-angle pain of Human Heart, via balls-out 6am sweatbox Lasers, but there is a traceable line, and changes in tempo and feel that works across the length. You don’t make half a dozen albums without knowing how to structure an LP. Above all though, sonically and stylistically, the album shouts ‘HAVE FUN’, and it’s hard not to just let it wash over you and bounce down the road. It’s definitely made for summer and shades.

And with Al’s away with LCD, and Alexis releases piano-based albums, it’s a deserved chance for Joe to get some more limelight. No, it’s not a huge departure from other work he’s done, but why need it be? Alexis joins on the title track to sublime and familiar effect, and there’s some shades of Hot Chip around a few turns, particularly the cascading synth lines of Truth Is Light. But it’s very much Joe’s own project, and an album that shows that solo work doesn’t have to be any more complicated than putting together a load of music that shows who you are, and if that’s about good times, then where’s the evil in that? Despite being the wrong side of 35, he’s not a man that appears to be growing respectable with age (his comments about simply tearing out into Shangri-La and hanging on for the next 4 days made me chuckle), and if you saw his Glastonbury set on the Sunday, it’s a pretty impressive knowing what he probably got up to before that point!

Sometimes albums that are instantly accessible fade quickly, and feel disposable, but this isn’t one. Also, it’s hard to say what you’ll connect with in music. Even something you think you’ll like, it just doesn’t happen. But I’ve listened to it a couple of dozen times, and all I’ve done is feel it speaks to me and those moments you have when you’re out (we’ve all been in that fuzzy cab ride home). And you feel the connection was there from the start. I can’t make you like it, but I can make you listen, and just hope you do.

Not Even Happiness – Julie Byrne

Happy (just about) June Brothers. I am going to stick with the tradition of starting my AOTM post by apologising. I have been under-active on our little blog and I am very late to the June AOTM party. The reasons are the same as usual. Life is too hectic and I am poor at managing it. I have taken steps, I am currently working my notice period and changing jobs with the aim of a longer term better quality of life. Another change that I have made this year is that I have not let me love of music suffer at the hands of a hectic life. My escape into music this year has focused mostly on calm and ‘therapeutic’ additions to my new-music folders. ‘Not Even Happiness’ is no exception to this trend.

I would like to present what I consider to be, a thing of beauty. It’s probably filed under ‘Folk’ of some sort but Guy, please don’t let that put you off. For me this is irrelevant as this works on so many levels and for so many environments. I listen to this all the time. It’s been a universal constant in my life since it was released earlier in the year. Back in the cold of Feb and March it felt like a warm winter blanket. In April and May it felt like shoots springing-up through new ground. Now it feels like a cold beer on a sticky evening, chilling out on the decking. There few albums that can pull off this trick.

I won’t go track by track on this one as I could make a strong claim for each one to be my favourite or my ‘stand-out’ track from the album. The instrumentation is simple, sparse basic. Her voice is immaculate and the production of her voice matches this perfection. Her range is impressive but she never feels the need to make a show of it. There are no fancy, show-off vocal embellishments, there is no need. Her finger picking is beautiful. I think its interesting that she chooses to use an electric guitar rather than an acoustic guitar on some tracks. The guitar is paired with a small and varied number of other instruments through out the album, few tracks have more than 2 or 3 instruments and I think I am write to say that there is no percussion on the whole album?

The result is a hauntingly beautiful collection of songs that merge and sway into one another like clothes on a line. This album brings out the best in me. It makes me smile, and loving, and grateful, and thankful. It makes me kiss my wife and ruffle my kids hair. I am a happier person for this album being in my life. I hope that you enjoy it and I hope it makes a similar emotional dent in your life.

Happy listening. As always, if you can give it a run through on headphones you won’t be disappointed.