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: 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: Where were you seven years ago? School? High school? College? First job? Last job? Whatever the answer it's certainly not the same place as Efterklang were, and still are. The Danish trio have never been of this world, yet give us so many opportunities to consider the emotion and passion this world offers. The first album to be fully written in their native tongue accentuates those qualities - dreamy soundscapes, different and decidedly bewitching intonation. It's an epic journey, with the likes of "Uden Ansigt" among the most epic, like Bon Iver's vocals slow dancing with the soaring instrumentation of Sigur Ros. "Havet Lofter Sig" ups the beauty, fittingly on the shortest track - gentle pianos, unnaturally pitched backing voices and baritone lead creating real yearning, proving nothing great lasts forever. Or longer than a couple of minutes. Cutting to the chase, it's a mesmerising work you're sure to have on repeat.
Review: It's hard not to be impressed by everything Grimes touches. From the moment this album's trippy downtempo titular opener emerges from submerged depths of sound you know the latest from the Canadian is going to be a special moment in pop. As if to accentuate our point, "Delete Forever", two tracks later, introduces acoustic guitar tips while still retaining deep timbre and utilising effects to hypnotic ends on those hummed vocal loops. "IDORU", which closes out the record, feels far more playful, simple keyboard and whispered choral lyricism introduced with a backing track of bird song, before broken club beats fall in. It might be most fitting to finish a write up on the aptly-titled "You'll Miss Me When I'm Not Around", its guttural bass guitars and EDM-leaning vocal stabs not the only things reminding us the world would be weaker without this one.
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: To live a life with harmony is some of the first lyrics spent on Aldous Harding's anticipated Designer album, and she gives us plenty here. Easy going '90s coastal pop nostalgia is subtly blended into folky storytelling of up-front, breathy vocals, strumming and finger picked guitars, to acoustic drums and various strokes of piano. Patti Smith influences, to Nico, Kate Bush and even Cat Power similarities and inspirations are there to be found on this LP too. And with the New Zealand singer-songwriter already making quite the impression with her Party LP from two years ago, her debut on the always impressing 4AD, this sophomore album looks to conjure up more of her sweet and dreamy flow yet.
Review: While Tim Hecker has a well-earned reputation for extreme electronic experimentation, he's always been capable of delivering releases shot through with intense beauty. It's this side of Hecker's output that's explored on Love Streams, his first album for three years. Effortlessly melodious, fluid, and constantly evolving, it pairs fuzzy, drone-inspired textures, melancholic atmospherics and ear-pleasing ambient melodies, with flashes of steel drums, manipulated string arrangements, and the distinctive sound of an Icelandic choir. It's a sound palette that ensures a stream of memorable, eyes-closed moments, from the Tangerine Dream inspired "Voice Crack", to the loved-up bliss of the two-part "Violet Monumental".
Extreme Love (with Lily Anna Haynes & Jenna Sutela) (2:36)
Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt (3:10)
Evening Shades (live Training) (1:31)
Bridge (with Martine Syms) (2:49)
Last Gasp (5:13)
Review: When it comes to working with voice and voice alone there's few artists out there that can really dissociate speech and its connection with the brain. Proto is the third full-length album by composer and sound artist Holly Herndon, and it brings out on onslaught of sounds that will keep you rooted in your seat. Opener "Birth" for example sounds something like a poor soul struggling with the deepest of emotions and most spellbinding of speech impediments. The music embraces rave and extreme cut up techniques with bass music and a myriad of experimental beats, ideas and philosophy. Much like SOPHIE's music there are so many reference points to discover; with our best comparisons being Enya, Laurie Anderson's "O Superman" and the cluster of music coming out of experimental label PAN. The album also features a collaboration with Planet Mu's Jlin with the gnawing beatboxes of "Godmother". What a trip to redefine what we might one day call 'prototypical' - but for now, take a deep breath and dive into the multi-dimensional abyss.
Review: Britain is on the very cusp of the post-Thatcher era, mistakes not necessarily learnt from the past 11 years, but certainly evidence mounting for the failure of individualism and the importance of communities. Change is needed, and change is what the next decade would bring. Some of which began with this album, unveiled in 1989, now regarded among the best shoegaze outings of all time. The label doesn't sit that well with us, though. There's just too much else happening with Pale Saints' pacy, expansive and utterly compelling debut. Post punk accents, eruptions into (and introductions based on) pure noise, and surrealist dream pop. Presented here in a new collector's edition, featuring recordings from the band's seminal John Peel session and demos, we couldn't think of a band so deserving of being discovered by a new generation, and re-celebrated by those who were there at the time.
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