Review: Thirteen studio albums in, and 'Colors' sees Beck maybe at his most playful and upbeat since the late '90s. Title track 'Colors' opens the albums with an immediacy that bursts out like a heavily polished 'Devil's Haircut'. The album veers off in all kinds of pop directions, from the anthemic 'Seventh Heaven', to the almost trap-like 'Wow', Beck shows he's willing to experiment and wrangle as much as possible into an album. It might not be his most contemplative record, but it's definitely his glossiest and most entertaining in a while, and promises a rollercoaster ride from start to finish.
Review: The evolution of Justin Vernon from the broken-hearted, falsetto-voiced troubadour who emerged from his cabin to deliver his debut eight years ago to the here and now may seem downright implausible, yet the facts of the matter are this - '22, A Million' is proof positive that he is one of the most multi-faceted and enigmatic and inscrutable artists we have at our disposal, still capable of delivering heart-rending beauty in song form yet also of marrying it to wilful abstraction in a way that not only offers emotional resonance yet reflects and refracts its surrounding era to offer succour and salvation. Sing it from the rooftops, this is little short of a complicated modern masterpiece.
Review: The best thing since the Klaxons or Bloc Party have arrived. black midi! The student art rock band are bringing a new youthful energy and slight of malice back to the arena of post-indie inspired alternative guitar and synth music. They make this overtly known from the start with the supercharged opener that is "953", introducing an album that is said to have laid down eight of the record's nine tracks in just five days. Drums are fast and skittering, rhythms are dancey and guitars keep it Madchester jangley. "Speedway" (is that a wry Prodigy reference?) is among the album's highlights alongside the punk-funky "bmbmbm" and the short but trippy "Years Ago". With a 100 per cent backing by UK music institution Rough Trade: meet this generation's newest sensation.
Review: Justin Vernon's voice has always been the people's main attraction to Bon Iver, and the fact his pseudonym even exists is certainly no coincidence. As fragile and heartbroken as it is forthright and experienced, when you're wearing a shredded heart on sleeve and confessing to all your deepest insecurities using a pen name can help immensely. Album number four perhaps proves this more than any of its predecessors. While the three previous chapters have all made his thoughts, feelings, insecurities and fears clear, this one takes honesty to new heights. Combining the frail electronics that have gradually slipped their way into his back catalogue with the acoustics of his earliest, rocket-to-fame efforts, it's a culmination of all that's been in the truest sense. Perhaps even more intimate than the breathtakingly personal "For Emma, Forever Ago", "i,i" is a striking work to say the least.
Review: Lying dormant for eight years has evidently provided Brand New with enough reinvigoration to return guns blazing on this powerful and engulfing record. From the haunting samples that open the album in 'Lit Me Up', through to the resonating feedback and field recordings on the tail end of closer 'Batter Up', 'Science Fiction' follows a brooding path through contrasting passages of loud and quiet, confessional introspection and frustrated aggression. The band's well tempered control makes the more surprising moments, such as the bluesy desert rock of '451' and the pared back folk of 'Could Never Be Heaven' fit in seamlessly, making this an impressive, engaging and well-rounded return to form.
Review: It may be debatable whether B-sides still exist in the here and now, yet beneath the very slightly prosaic title of this compendium lurks the work of an outfit who - despite having essentially surfed along a very definitive wave of sun-dappled languour since their inception - are capable of delivering offcuts that are every bit the equal of most folks' hits. True, the Spinal Tap insult of 'the musical growth rate of this band cannot even be charted' could be applied to Beach House, but when their catalogue over the ten years of their existence esentially consists of a variety of themes on opiated bliss, we're only too happy to embark on the ride.
Review: As Zach Condon prepares to embark on a mass trans-atlantic tour in support of this Gallipoli LP as Beirut, all the fanfare of his horns, bells and whistling croons are once again to be enjoyed in full for a fifth time. Debuting back in 2006 with Gulag Orkestar, Gallipoli adds to the band's stream of albums these past 15 years and presents the singer-songwriter's second appearance on London's great 4AD. Inspired by a chance encounter with a brass band procession on the fated Turkish peninsula which reminded him of the Italian films from his childhood, he named the album and title track after small, coastal town in Apulia, southern Italy. These influences can be heard across Gallipoli alongside the sweet screams of synths and chimes that adorn the others, to spates of bluesy tropicana and the sweet, melancholic and trumpeting tones the band are most cherished for.
Review: There's plenty of anticipation around Big Thief's third record U.F.O.F., and we can say with confidence that it delivers on every front. A solid expansion of their last record, Capacity, U.F.O.F. for the most part goes deeper into diverse sonic territories that's emotionally raw and rich, calling to mind Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell and various other accomplished singer songwriters especially in songs like "Contact" and "Cattails". Elsewhere, "Strange" and "Orange" provide a backing that seems more upbeat on the surface, yet the varied vocal technique of Adrianne Lenker, ranging from a whisper to a vulnerable bellow keeps us firmly captivated. The album really shines through when it reaches for slightly louder soundscapes, best heard on "Terminal Paradise" and "Jenni" (with the latter reminding us of "Washer" by Slint). All in all, U.F.O.F. will be a record that entrances you with its subtle yet haunting charm.
Review: Don't believe everything you read - the fifth Bat For Lashes album confirms this girl (or woman) found herself musically and thematically some time ago, freeing up creative energy to explore new approaches to deliver her often mournful, always heartfelt songs inspired by personal crises and private longings. On this outing there's more than a hint of 1980s pop evident in the mix. Shades of Prince ("Feel For You"), Madonna ("So Good"), Bowie's Berlin days and electro-era Gary Numan (the stunning, infectious instrumental "Vampires") cast the record in a nostalgia that suits the sense of yearning that always seems to pervade Natasha Khan's work. Simply name-checking reference points is lazy and unfair, though. This is an incredible collection of tracks moulded in the artist's own image - bold, beautiful and instantly captivating. Then again, it would be surprising if anyone had expected anything less.
Review: 'American Utopia' is the first solo record in 14 years from iconic polymath David Byrne. The album comes as part of a larger project entitled 'Reasons To Be Cheerful' - a series of works that strives to antidote pervasive social and political anxieties. In keeping with this, 'American Utopia' questions realities of contemporary culture with playful writing that shifts perspectives and favours optimism over despairing pessimism. Being the product of working with 25 collaborators, 'American Utopia' feels like something of a sonic patchwork, but doesn't ever feel sprawling, neatly tied together by Byrne's inimitable sense of melody and harmony. 'American Utopia' doesn't offer any transcendental conclusions on how to save the world, but advocates positive and unusual ways of looking at the world around us, and with a career underpinned by a singular and indescribable quirkiness, Byrne is the ideal candidate the job.
Review: It's not hard to understand why people so often ignore album release blurb. Sales-y, hyperbolic, and on more than the odd occasion rather poorly written, it's hardly required reading in order to get the most out of the record. That is unless it's Big Thief's 'Two Hands', a collection of music that genuinely makes more sense when you know the back story. For one thing this long form offering is arriving just months after its predecessor, which is always either the sign of a band that don't need big ideas to facilitate rapid-fire output, or a band that have so many big ideas they literally can't stop the momentum. This is a case of the latter. Timescale aside, "Two Hands" genuinely feels as though it was born in the Badlands, epic songs that invoke endless vistas across barren settings in a way that makes you feel as small as you actually are in a global context. Like cosying up in a log cabin away from the chilly endless dark of a desert night.
Review: Considering their penchant for spinning yarns and the cinematographically-suited nature of much of their work, it's surprising "Days Of The Bagnold Summer" is only Belle & Sebastian's second shot at a movie score. The last was 2001's '"Storytelling", accompanying Todd Solondz's movie of the same name, and they certainly did a good job then. So, high expectations this time round. For those unfamiliar, their latest foray into the film world partners the directorial debut of Simon Bird, best known to many as one of "The Inbetweeners". The flick, an adaptation of Joff Winterhart's 2012 graphic novel, chronicles the life and times of a teenage metalhead and his single mother. The album perfectly accompanies but also contributes to that tale. Highly emotive instrumental tracks and classic B&S songs-proper, this OST is destined to go down well with the band's true believers.
Review: American singer-songwriters Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst are two accomplished musicians in their own right, with the latter largely known for his role in Bright Eyes and other bands, with an enviable solo discography too, while the former, after a slew of singles, released her debut album Stranger In The Alps in 2017. Together the pair form Better Oblivion Community Center, who recently scored some airtime on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert with a beaty rendition of their dust-kicking vocal number "Dylan Thomas". The album delivers a bevy of duets and folk-tales with references to '90s pop rock and grunge never that far off, and it's best heard on "Dominos" and the cutesy synth-play of " Exception To The Rule".
Review: Where would we be without our mothers? Literally nowhere, of course, given the medical facts of life. But psychologically and spiritually somewhere very different, too. Just ask Devendra Banhart, whose latest, heartbreaking and poignant LP packs intimidating strength and thoughtful themes by the birth-giving load. Here the synths that dominated more recent albums are replaced by instruments best described as "a bit earthier", with strings and woodwinds joining brass and keys. Despite its title, this album is less a dedication to motherhood itself and more a meditation on emotional ties and links in general. "Memorial", for example, is about the death of Banhart's father, while elsewhere we are told love is like "crowd surfing in an empty club". As per usual, Banhart's songwriting verges on mania, recalling the late-Daniel Johnston's razor sharp observations wrapped in innocent imagery, while the instrumentation conjures Burt Bacharach and the like.
Review: In the aftermath of the Brexit vote the question on many people's minds is 'what's going to happen'...well an answer for some, at least, was a new BC Camplight album, fittingly named, Deportation Blues. Recording in Liverpool's Whitewood studios, Brian Christinzio is said to have locked himself in a windowless studio and recorded all songs almost exclusively in the dark. With title track Deportation Blues its most illuminating result, the album overall is a more electrified opus, musically speaking, than his previous long players How To Die In The North and Blink Of A Nihilist. Featuring Luke Barton on guitars and synth, alongside guitarist Tom Rothery and multi-instrumentalist/ backing singer Ali Bell, BC Camplight lights it up again.
Review: Listening to the awaited full length of The National's Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon's (Bon Iver) Big Red Machine project and it's hard not to think they've invested themselves in discovering deeper strands of electronic music, or production... if the sporadic drum machine work of "Deep Green" is anything to go by. "I Won't Run From It" however sees the pair back in their full choral beauty, presenting a song for thousands to potentially wave their hands this summer. This Big Red Machine was produced over the past two years involving many-a collaboration from New York and its artistic community, with the band themself saying: "this feels like something new-the process felt different and the outcome felt different." Check it.
Review: Social Registry brings you Blood On The Wall's new album 'Liferz'. Having gone from hometown heroes to national fan favourites and critical darlings, the band has earned its reputation as top of the rock heap.
Putting out raucously fun records, this is a portrait of a band at the top of their game - somehow they have managed to get even more awesome.
Review: This Essex four-piece are purveyors of a stylish and succinct brand of guitar-driven indie rock that nods to the like of Royal Blood's heavy riffing and The Dandy Warhols' arch pop tunesmithery, arriving at a black leather jacket racket that makes its presence felt with hooks and swagger, arriving at a continuum that unites Britpop vim and vigour with a more twenty-first century brand of attack. The Bohicas style themselves as 'The kind of S-t that Marv from Sin City would listen to', and indeed the thuggish efficiency of 'The Making Of' is redolent of a band who have their sights set on mainstream glory and aren't ashamed to admit it.
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