Review: Any artist lucky enough to share a stage with the Metropole Orkest should be taken very seriously indeed - whether that's the institution's full 54-person strong entourage or a pared back team sheet. The Dutch aficionados, led by acclaimed British conductor Jules Buckley, set the benchmark for contemporary orchestral work, collaborations with cutting edge electronic producers and pop songwriters abound. For Sohn, the honour of working alongside these world-beating musicians came as part of 2019's Amsterdam Dance Event, the world's largest electronic music festival, with the stage set at Melkweg, arguably the most iconic live venue in the Dutch capital. Background details done, all you need to know is this is a stunning showcase of a songwriter on top form, capable of creating vast atmospheres with sparse, tripped out R&B pop, with those harmonies, basslines and strings rendered more powerful than ever thanks to incredible supporting cast. A genuinely unforgettable listening experience.
What If Birds Aren't Signing They're Screaming (3:03)
The World Is Looking For You (5:05)
Swell Does The Skull (5:51)
Review: It may be open to debate how ironic that title is - the New Zealand-born singer-songwriter Harding insists that it's not. But the fact that this record isn't overburdened by elated atmospherics takes nothing away from a quietly powerful, reflective and charismatic piece of work. PJ Harvey comparisons (particularly in relation to 'White Chalk') are bound to present themselves, especially with longtime Peej collaborator John Parish on board, but 'Party' is a dark gem with a lustre all its own. not to mention brio, humour and subtlety to spare.
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: 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: Album titles are rarely accidental in their connotations. US Girls don't break from that with this record. 'Heavy Light' gives more than a nod to Franz Kafka, the literary icon concerned with the existential threat posed to our souls by post-industrialised orders. As a body of music, there's plenty here to invoke a sense of dread and unease, taking well-targeted pot shots at politics rather than scattergun approaches to commentary, and pairing those with tangible atmosphere.
Meg Remy at her finest, then, with the mastermind behind this project finding herself as part of a collective for the first time under this moniker, rather than genuine leader -Basia Bulat and Rich Morel co-write. The end product is an epic in every way, from the catchier-than-corona opening title number, with its hook-y strings and pop groove, to the industrial-edges of the percussion-vocal duet 'Red Ford Radio'.
Review: Brandon Cox's future-guitar crusaders made a landmark release with this 2008 album Microcastle which re-invented indie-guitar pop through a prism of psychedelic invention and Radiohead-esque avant-magic, creating a powerful elixir that chimed with the here and now just as it was satisfying long-term lovers of sultry shoegaze and effects-pedal euphoria. Moreover, the savant axe man was prolific enough to quickly come up with the Weird Era Cont follow-up after Microcastle prematurely leaked, creating a seductive cocktail of effects-pedal squall, songwriting classicism and ambient fever-dreams that haunts the consciousness. Taken as one, this is a potent document by an almost unnaturally talented modern iconoclast.
Review: It's hard to imagine the rock music of the last quarter-century without Pixies, and in particular without the Doolittle album. Lest we forget, Kurt Cobain was at one point concerned that Smells Like Teen Spirit might be too much of a Pixies ripoff, which is testimony to the innovative qualities of the band's meld of surrealism and pop hooks; quiet and loud, sweet and sour. This triple-album set offers an opportunity to bear witness to the gestation of this near-perfect opus, collecting demos and radio sessions to map out the means by which four weirdos united the underground and the mainstream, seemingly by some serendipitous car crash of happy accident and raw talent.
Review: Taking delirious pop melody and filtering it though a prism of ethereal effects-pedal abandon, Lush were a band who the shoegaze cliches of 'kaleidoscopic harmonies' and 'cathedrals of sound' were originally spawned to describe. Yet beyond the production values and the photogenic allure, both these infectious ditties and the band's steely approach have more than stood the test of time, and their recent reunion only helps to display their standing as more than a mere '90s museum piece. From the Robin Guthrie-abetted swirl of 'Nothing Natural' and 'De-Luxe' to the more stripped-down pop suss of 'Ladykillers', this compilation is testimony to a band who transcended cliche to straddle both dreamtime rapture and boozy abandon.
Review: It may be speculative to wonder what difference moving to LA from Vienna may have made to London-born electro-soul crooner Christopher Taylor, but it's perhaps resulted in a more upbeat and upfront sound, one that for all its sample and beat-driven experimentation wastes little time in consigning talk of 'blubstep' and comparisons to James Blake firmly to history. Yet for all this album's flirtations with mainstream R&B, it still maintains strength in depth, with both Taylor's mellifluous voice and politically-inspired lyrics rendering it a fine blend of hooks and heart.
Review: Seven albums in, The National have solidified their songwriting with confident nuance, and 'Sleep Well Beast' is another milestone on this consistent band's upward curve. Standout ballad 'Carin at the Liquor Store' waltzes and wanders through melancholic nostalgia and glimmers of hope, exemplifying the sound and storytelling that The National are so renowned and respected for. Small cracks in the concrete gloom appear with the more energetic and optimistic tracks, allowing just enough light in for this masterfully executed album to encourage repeat listens, which will in turn, and as always, provide ample rewards.