Review: There's certainly plenty to talk about here. British chart-topping and stadium-filling enigmas The 1975 return to prove you really can't predict what the troupe will do next, delivering what would be their most divisive and explorative album if it weren't for the fact they command so much loyalty from fans you could be forgiven for thinking dark forces were at play. 'Notes On A Conditional Form' is easily the furthest we've wandered from the formative years of a band that cut teeth doing teen-punk covers, and it's hard not to notice the subtle theme here. From 'Having No Head', which rides on a sharp house groove, through the garage breaks of 'Yeah I Know', low slung dub of 'Shiny Collarbone' and the shoegaze of 'Streaming', it plays out like a celebration of the breadth and diversity of UK pop culture.
Review: Damon Gough's millennial-era massiveness was never going to be easy to maintain. Such was the strength of his first record, preceding singles, that score to British smash hit movie 'About A Boy' and LP three, 'Have You Fed The Fish?', the Manchester maestro could have hung up his yarns then and retired comfortably. He didn't, and gradually moved towards 2010's 'It's What I'm Thinking Pt.1 - Photographing Snowflakes', a far more introverted work you needed to spend time with. So a return to the release schedule after the subsequent hiatus, perhaps presumed retired, was never going to be predictable. Take it from us, though, 'Banana Skin Shoes' is another Badly Drawn Boy album and a career landmark for more reasons than a comeback. Lyrically never more confident - even forsaking subtle metaphor for brazen emotions at times - and instrumentally innovative, intriguing hooks and curveballs abound, it could be his best to date.
Review: Donny Benet is many things to many people - but everyone agrees you want him at the party, where he's likely to be the last one standing. Glossy, over-produced 80s pastiche disco pop is always going to be divisive, but despite the overbearing commercial feel here the Australian curio is one of the most honest and real artists out there. Real enough to include a karaoke DVD with his first album. The balding and mustachioed synth master is on fine excellent here, although the context is different to previous outings. Made in hotel room isolation at a time when a world tour was postponed due to a global pandemic, it encapsulates the need for optimism and fun at a time when nobody really knows where the planet, or modern society, will be in 12 months. Indulgent, open and smooth beats to take the blues away.
Review: When Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess dropped 'Empathy For The Devil' back in February it burst onto playlists like the scorching sunshine it sounds like. A jaunty, carefree slice of summer pop, complete with proclamations of "What will be will be", it marked the return of a Britpop hero who is one of the era's most talented, likeable and consistent - his work after those heady days has remained highly original and varied. Those looking for more of the same on this, his fourth solo album, will be pleased to know it's hardly lacking in good vibes. 'Sweetheart Mercury' follows the aforementioned single and album opener, and it's equally sublime and bouncy. In fact, anyone looking for something subdued must wait for 'Undertow' and its piano and vocal build, which is still a track of strength rather than vulnerability. Packing a powerful punch while never failing to explore new ideas, it's exquisite, timeless and essential.
Review: It's difficult to know exactly which slice of this hyper-Romantic delight to fall head over heels with most. The second full length record from Utah's greatest ode to mid-80s Cure glitters its way from one glorious swoon to the next, making it easy to forget what year it is, let alone the day. Opening on 'It's Over', a track packed with punching drums and gliding chord refrains, while the sound may be more than familiar authenticity is key here. 'Nites Like This', 'Shatter' and the closing title track sound genuinely wounded, or at least come with a sense of reflecting on old injuries. 'Complainer' launches from the starting blocks with an abandon that belies its lyrical sincerity. 'Sweet Candy' introduces subtle elements of surreal rock worthy of a Lynchian parable.
Review: Five years on from their last full-length excursion, Darkstar return with "Civic Jams", a socio-politically charged set that Warp says was influenced by two decidedly disparate musical inspirations: the opaque, slowly shfiting sonic density pf shoegaze, and 30 years of the British bass music continuum. In practice, that means a striking fusion of tactile vocals, drowsy electronics, wall-of-sound chords and crunchy, off-kilter rhythms that tip a wink to hip-hop, grime, dubstep, breakbeat and more, while never sounding specifically like any of them. It's not a club-focused set, but it an undeniably impactful one, primarily because its inherent bittersweet beauty and weary melancholia seems in tune with these unusual, claustrophobic times.
Damaged Eyes Squinting Into The Beautiful Overhot Sun
I Call On Thee
Review: Experimental rock deities Deerfhoof ensure something will survive with their latest, adding gems to an already-bejewelled crown by way of innovation and chaos, not to mention doe-eyed beauty if you listen hard enough. A testament to the power of paring back, and the band's ability to follow their deeply textured and melodic 'Mountain Moves' album with something completely different, its among their best work to date. At least part of the aesthetic comes down to recording process - in this case the use of a built in laptop mic. Its limitations afford a distorted quality to the more intense tracks, not least those Commander-in-Chief riffs of 'Ye Saddle Babes', and the mangled drum rolls on 'Sympathy For The Baby Boo'. A trippy, rhythm-heavy and rough and ready guitar triumph.
Review: It might just be us, but the third record from Spanish garage guitar wielders Hinds feels like a marked change of path for the rightly acclaimed outfit. It's certainly an altogether less growling and bloody-nosed affair than their first record, and to a lesser extent 2018's 'I Don't Run'. Which isn't to say this development is a negative thing. Of course not everything here sounds like the retro-pop of 'Good Bad Times', which is a colourful, upbeat and synthy introduction to their new work. 'Just Like Kids' is a far more raucous and unconventional stomper. 'Take Me Back' shows the power of pared back arrangements, echoed riffs accentuating the feeling of space. And 'This Moment Forever' is a low slung, downtrodden delight. Altogether sweeter, but still capable of knocking anyone out, if Hinds weren't already close to your heart they should be after this.
Review: 'Mordechai is another blissed-out record from Texan party-chill-psyche trio Khruangbin. It's also among the outfit's most defined and driven, a smooth, sticky hot funk odyssey made for hazy afternoon soirees. Leader Laura Lee is, as ever, unfathomably siren-like on vocals, her bass grooves aiding the process of seduction no end. Even at the most upbeat and anthemic, 'Time (You and I)', it's hard not to feel woozy and intoxicated by the pared-back breaks and guitar lick combination. Dance floor ammo for sure, as is Pelota. Overall, though, it's an album best savoured slowly, allowing you to fully appreciate every lackadaisical moment of opiate goodness, with tracks such as 'Father Bird, Mother Bird', 'One To Remember' and 'Shida' summoning stunning sticky, heavy, deep atmospheres.
Review: As any self-respecting fan of The Walkmen will probably know, frontman Hamilton Leithauser has revealed just how much of a stylistic auteur he is since the band announced their "extreme hiatus" in 2013 and four of five members went solo. Most things, if not everything, he has touched since has borne similar traits to the group's highly emotive and atmospheric indie rock. That's certainly no bad thing if we've seen several more subtle aspects of the outfit come to the fore as a result, and in the case of 'The Loves Of Your Life' its the croon-ish, classic songwriting balladry that is really allowed to blossom. The baritone rock 'n 'roller vibe of 'The Old King' is one case in point. 'Wack Jack' is another. There's still plenty of the everyman guitar stuff on raucous efforts like 'The Other Half' and even 'Stars & Rats', though, making for a very complete answer to any possible critics.
Review: It really isn't a clever name - The Magnetic Fields celebrate the beauty of brevity with 'Quickies', a collection of tracks that run to no more than two-and-a-half minutes, with the shortest clocking in at around 12 seconds. The question is, how much can you really do in such a small amount of time? Stephin Merritt et al more than prove the answer is 'quite a lot', if not 'loads'. With track titles like 'My Stupid Boyfriend' and '(I Want To Join A) Biker Gang' these efforts are nothing if not direct and to the point, but sat just behind all the immediacy and innocence is a depth and power stemming from allusion, suggestion and implication. Short, sweet, tender and evocative experimental pop rock of the highest caliber and most charming character you could ask for.
Review: Sax specialist Pete Wareham is back and in fine form here, with his MYD project proving once again that they are the most rambunctious, rowdy, party-starting and genre-smashing jazz-rock sextet out there. Packing more energy into this studio-recorded track list than most bands can summon on stage, opening with the ferocious and propellant 'Boot & Spleen', we begin with blood, sweat and tears en masse. From there it's very much a dancefloor affair - telling of Wareham's decision to lead this esteemed band of players beyond traditional jazz clubs and into non-seated rock venues. The plan worked, and in many ways this record distills the elements that got the troupe noticed in those spaces. 'This Is The Squeeze' is all stomping rhythm, while 'From The Mouth' is as close to garage as we've heard a brass-focused ensemble reach. Throw in the stoned groove of 'Don't Think Twice' and the deal is done. Recommended stuff.
Review: You'll probably struggle to find an album that opens with two more contrasting tracks than the fifth long form effort from Mike Hadreas. Re-teaming with GRAMMY-nominated production talent Blake Mills, with the pair inviting a host of guest collaborators to help on this record (Jim Keltner, Pino Palladino to name but two), the record begins with the peaceful, reflective and hymn-like 'Whole Life', a classic slice of rock croonerdom, before the scuzzy guitars of 'Describe' drop in like juggernauts. Elsewhere, you have the proto-pop of 'On The Floor', a track heyday Cyndi Lauper would have been happy to call her own, and the haunting slow dance of 'One More Try', offering yet more shades of grey which, combined, create a complete picture of a man, or indeed men, in the 21st Century. Rebellious, tender, caring, carefree and deeply complex. Definitely one that will keep you exploring long after first pressing play.
Review: Although Sex Swing have emerged from London's ever-fertile independent scene, their roots are pretty global. And speak volumes about what to expect from the band. Members have also been involved with Dead Neanderthals, a free jazz project, Seattle's masterful drone metal dons Earth, and a band called Dethscalator. Among other endeavours. As you might assume, then, their combined take on dark electronic rock comes stacked with unnerving doom and a feeling of foreboding menace. Cacophonies abound, the aural turmoil of 'Skimmington Ride''s climactic finale showcase just how loud and disorientating things can get, without forsaking musicality within those walls of keys and chords. A contrast to 'Garden Of Eden', which keeps itself on a direct and frantic course bound for the album's conclusion - think sweat, spilt beer and blood on the dancefloor. Packing plenty to satisfy fans of everyone from Liars and Idles, its uncompromising and unforgiving stuff.