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: This collaboration between the sepulchral Sinatra and the kings of ceremonial metallic drone-worship, whilst it is transparently not a work for the faint of heart, is nonetheless worth all the excitement its announcement created in avant-garde circles, and more besides, It's more audibly a work from Walker's than Sunn O)))'s, yet with their assistance the rich melodrama and unflinching abstraction has rarely sounded more startling, or alarmingly approachable. What's more, the counterpoint provided by Sunn O))) to his stentorian baritone elevates proceedings to new heights of otherworldly intensity, resulting in no less than a game-changing triumph, and a clear album of the year contender from this odd couple.
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: 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".
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: 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.
Review: Planetarium is an intriguing proposition: a four-way, collaborative concept album themed around space (but actually about the human condition), written and produced by alt-rock singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens, modern classical composer Nico Muhly, drummer James McAllister and jazz guitarist Bryce Dessner. Over the course of two slabs of vinyl and 75 minutes, the quartet - at times accompanied by no fewer than seven trombonists, for reasons not explained in the publicity material - speed between intergalactic ambience, political prog rock anthems, sweeping modern classical compositions, thrilling electronic/acoustic fusions, luscious piano ballads and lots more besides. Despite the impressive eclecticism on show, the whole thing feels surprisingly coherent thanks to frequent appearances from Stevens distinctive vocals.
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