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: A Welsh language album with a couple of verses in Zulu and an English title. If one thing was already clear about the enigmatic Gruff Rhys it's that he doesn't play strictly by numbers, making "Pang!" a logical addition to this oeuvre. If, of course, you're familiar with his oeuvre. Opening with its titular track, the artist immediately makes the few remaining newcomers to his work aware of his deft skills. Complex guitar instrumentation, soft, padding, exotic drum arrangements and - for most people - foreign lyrics. We're immediately transported to faraway climes, and it's here we stay. Playful percussion and looped six strings on "Niwl O Anwiredd". The celebratory "Ara Deg (Ddaw'r Awen)", which recalls sub-Saharan crossover pop. The surreal atmosphere of "Digidigol" - where marching band meets opera in a haze of lilting chords. Put simply, it might be Rhys' most explorative yet, and that's saying something.
Review: The preaching sirens of Deerhunter return, long has everyone been waiting, since the band's Fading Frontier LP of 2015. The group have moved on from the pinky-pop nostalgia they've described as their last album, and moved into and towards a darker and more intensifying feel. The Atlanta group's eighth full-length in total finds itself tripping out on klaviers and chant-like numbers as heard in "Element" and the rickety jingle of album opener "Death In Midsummer". While there's some crooked-eye positivity to be found in the James Dean referencing "Plains", the masterwork of the band's ambient and cinematic scope remains as strong as ever, and alongside Bradford Cox's undeniable haunt, vocal contributions and extra (subtle) hints of subversive nihilism come from Cate Le Bon and White Fence's Tim Presley.
Review: As you're probably by now aware, the latest Special Request album, "Bedroom Tapes", includes some of the earliest music recorded by Paul Woolford in his Leeds home during the mid-to-late 1990s. The tracks were recovered from cassettes the producer rediscovered during a recent house move. There's much to enjoy throughout, from the deep and melodious electro brilliance of opener "Panaflex Sunrise" and the IDM-influenced ambient techno sweetness of "Thermatropic", to the fizzing, stargazing brilliance of "Entropy" and the high-octane, sub-heavy dreaminess of "Double Rainbow", which like a lot of the album draws influence from the likes of B12, Autechre and Boards of Canada. Arguably best of all, though, is the epic techno workout "Xenospin", a slowly rising chunk of rushing Yorkshire futurism.
Review: There are two things Starcrawler can definitely be described as - lost children of the 1970s, and incredibly Los Angeles in style. They make music that seems impossible to remove from one of the headiest rock 'n' roll decades in history, despite age preventing them from actually having been there at the time. It also falls on the polished side of heavy metal, channeling both pop punk and bare-chested, sweat-soaked guitar solos in one fell swoop. The result is a record that plays out like a bar fight in Tinsel Town. Muscular, powerful, driving and unarguably sexy, from the gaggle of kids preceding the onslaught of opener "Lizzy" to the final, liquor-soaked midnight sing-a-long of "Call Me A Baby", "Devour You" does what it says on the tin, with all the subtlety of Hollywood's finest, and perhaps even more entertainment value.
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: Soma regular SLV is the epitome of techno cool; a producer who eschews press coverage and instead just serves up regular musical missives from his East Berlin studio. "Berlin: A Portrait In Music" is the shadowy producer's second full-length outing following last year's largely club-focused "Origin of Light" on Virgo. It has a very different feel to its predecessor, with SLV offering up a series of atmospheric ambient cuts built around evocative field recordings, gentle melodies, ghostly chords, crackling aural textures and occasional delay-laden percussion hits. While there is some contemplative positivity - see the impeccable sound design of "Forest Voices" and Jonny Nash style bliss of "Mirage" - the majority of the album is surprisingly poignant and melancholic, with SLV embracing the solitude and loneliness sometimes associated with living in a major European city.
Review: Combining indie rock, psychedelic rock and Eastern influences, Flamingods certainly know how to mix things up. Levitation, their 5th album and the first since 2016's Majesty opens with a disco feel via "Paradise Place", before the laid-back grooves of "Koray" provide a leeway for more eclectic and dance-centric tracks to take hold later on in the album. The second half of the record takes us into more spacey territory best heard on "Moonshine On Water", before the band's trippy, psychedelic influences come strongly to the fore on "Mantra East" and Eastern melodies shine through on "Nizwa". An eclectic, psyched-out adventure of a record, Levitation is an album that will tempt you into Flamingods' esoteric world.
Review: The latest missive from Trevor Jackson's label, Pre-, is another previously unreleased archive project from the man himself. Jackson recorded the material contained on the album between 1994 and 1997, when he was best known for producing dusty, sample-heavy hip-hop beats as the Underdog. Understandably, roughly half of You boasts the blazed, head-nodding swing of dope hip-hop drums, cleverly combined with textured samples of acoustic guitars and other vaguely Balearic instrumentation. The other half is more experimental in tone, with Jackson variously touching on post-rock, new age and folksy ambience. Most importantly, it's all hugely entertaining.
Music For Dolphins & People (part 1 & 2 - Laraaji Voice & Zither)
Radiance Gateway (Laraaji Voice & Zither)
Rest In Peace (Laraaji Voice & Zither)
Ten Moons (Laraaji Voice & Zither)
Creation Tones (Laraaji Voice & Zither)
Review: Saucer-eyed ambient sorts Seahawks may well be impressively prolific (especially for an outfit dedicated to decidedly horizontal sounds), but they rarely disappoint. Astonishingly, Eternal Beams is their 13th studio set since 2010, suggesting a work rate that would make one of their inspirations, Tangerine Dream, proud. As usual, they combine drowsy, head-in-the-clouds ambient movements with the kind of thickset aural textures usually found on drone and dub techno releases. There's a little less sun-kissed Balearic cheeriness than on some previous sets, with the duo instead inviting legendary New York artist Laraaji (he of zither playing and laughter therapy fame) to put his decidedly cosmic stamp on a number of tracks. The results are, as you'd expect, predictably impressive.
Review: These days, Mulatu Astatke is widely considered to be the "Godfather of Ethiopian jazz". Yet when he recorded the two-part "Afro-Latin Soul" album in 1966, he'd just left music college in Boston. As this fine reissue proves, Astatke was years ahead of the game. While rooted in American jazz from the period, all 19 tracks (both albums have been compiled on to a single disc for this edition) draw heavily on Cuban jazz, in particular, as well as Ethiopian musical traditions. In truth, the latter aspect doesn't come through quite as strongly as you'd perhaps expect, though some of the album's highlights - the brilliant "Soul Power" in particular - draw more heavily on the percussive polyrhythms of Africa. Regardless, this is a superb set of forward-thinking global jazz that delivers high quality entertainment from start to finish.
Review: Here's something to excite all those who like their stripped-back techno to come with a heavy dose of soul. It features Chilean minimal maestro Ricardo Villalobos join forces with Chez Damier and Ben Vedren's H2H project. On the A-side, Villalobos delivers a superb remix of "No More", wrapping lusciously soulful vocals and languid piano motifs around a typically bouncy and left-of-centre minimal techno rhythm. On the flip, Villalobos joins Damier and Verden to deliver a three-part "Conspiracy". Each of the three interpretations has its own distinctive vibe, but all deliver a near perfect balance between soul-flecked deep house, trippy tech-house, Chicago acid and the South American wonkiness that Villalobos does so well. In other words, it's a musical marriage made in Heaven.
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: It's been a while since Ikonika dropped a full-length excursion. In fact, Distractions is her first album since 2013. It largely sticks to the bass-heavy fusion script she's been perfecting since making her debut on Hyperdub back in 2008. That means attractive and weighty R&B and hip-hop beats, aural ticks lifted from techno, the surging low-end movements that mark out British-made dance music, and occasional blasts of boogue-flavoured synth riffs. Pleasingly, the guest list of vocalists and collaborators includes MC Jammz, Andrea Galaxy, Jessy Lanza and Night Slugs' Sweyn Jupiter, all of who make fine contributions to enhance Ikonika's "futurist and industrial" approach.