Review: Mrs Dolphin by Pale Saints has only previously been available on CD in Japan, but for Record Store Day this year, 4AD finally press it to wax for the first time. It gets a full treatment, too, on limited, marbled green vinyl. The album is a compilation of early singles from both the group's early period 4AD EPs (Barging Into The Presence Of God and Half-Life) as well as a track that was on a Melody Maker compilation, Gigantic! 2, in 1990. As well as that, 'Colours and Shapes' is a track included here that was until now unavailable on vinyl.
Review: It's easy to forget this is the first new record we've had from Doves in more than a decade, given the rousing call to action and emotional intensity of aptly-titled album opener 'Carousel'. A huge, nostalgic fairground thumper that sets the adrenaline levels at 11, it could be their most confident album opener to date.
And The Universal Want is far from a tease, too, capturing the essence of what we hoped from this Manchester trio's comeback fanfare. From the science fiction synth beams of Bowie ode 'Cathedrals Of The Mind', to the redemptive and hope-filled stadium indie of 'For Tomorrow', and the title track's melancholic proto-house stomp, it's very much a record of our time but also one that will likely stand the test of time. A very welcome return for, and another schooling from, Jez Williams and his team.
Review: When it was initially released three decades ago in the summer of 1990, Slowdive's eponymous debut EP was heralded as an instant shoegaze classic: a drowsy, dreamy collection of hazy wall-of-sound, reverb-drenched songs that put the Reading band right at the heart of a growing musical movement. As this 30th anniversary reissue proves, it remains a fine collection of cuts. While lead cut 'Slowdive', a more orthodox fusion of shoegaze, dream-pop and indie-rock, was the one that chimed with listeners at the time, it's the two-part soundscape 'Avalyn' - and in particular the epic 'Avalyn II' - that resonates loudest in the 21st century. The latter track is so good that it's worth buying the EP just to get your hands on it.
Review: The last ten years have seen no shortage of bands with their delay pedals set to stun intent on capturing an aura of dreamlike radiance. Yet Texas 'pop-noir' troupe Cigarettes After Sex are no ordinary shoegazers, for a variety of reasons - frontman Greg Gonzalez' androgynous and dulcet tones may be part of the appeal, yet moreover it's the quality of the songwriting here, which never falls prey to the style-over-substance traps of their peers. Indeed, this debut is more than enough to justify the considerable hype around this outfit, being a collection of ditties as sultry as they are atmopsheric.
Review: Smoked-out Texan psych troupe Khruangbin have picked a pretty apt moment to release this recording of their live show at Villain, Brooklyn. For starters, it's summer 2020, and if it weren't for a global pandemic there's a good chance a few of us would be recovering from the night before to a late-afternoon, or better yet early-evening performance from this lot at some festival or other. Secondly, because of said health crisis, we're all starved of the unique qualities that come from a band playing in the flesh. Dinner is definitely served here, then, via generous helpings of Laura Lee's bass-laden grooves and gorgeous, intoxicatingly airy vocal delivery. First laid down in 2018, when Khruangbin were touring in support of their second album, while 'Con Todo El Mundo' provides the majority of musical moments here, really 'Live At Villain' is a self-contained record - an hour or so of the band's typically magical and engrossing stage stuff, captured for keeps.
Review: You can never really understate the impact Polly Jean Harvey had when she landed on the UK music scene, and the radars of tastemakers like John Peel, in the early-1990s. Guitar tracks at the time were usually split into unashamedly lager-soaked upfront Britpop, or nihilistic and self-sabotaging grunge and metal from the US. PJ Harvey was neither, and on 'To Bring You My Love' she perfected a particularly UK take on heavy, darkroom rock.
Pressing play means stepping into a world where the blues can either be a sparse, pitch black tome ('To Bring You My Love') or stomping and sweat-soaked juggernaut ('Meet Ze Monsta'), and that's just referencing the first two songs. Compare either to the trip-hop infused downtempo melancholia of 'The Dancer', and it's pretty clear why this was one of the albums of its decade.
Review: The world was very different in 1992, but some of the greatest musical moments from that year stand the test of time. Just take Polly Jean Harvey's staggering debut - the making of a musical icon and one of the era's finest examples of songwriting. It still sounds exceptional and its messages still resonate, lifting the woke-washed veil of our age in one fell swoop, laying bare the fact that many toxic attitudes prevail. It's rock music, but that's hardly the point. What matters isn't so much what's being played, but how and what's being said. Delivered with an air of Pixies and nod to Patti Smith, written in the wake of a relationship imploding, our introduction to Harvey remains vital as ever. A refusal to accept simplistic, patriarchal views of womanhood and femininity, or indeed simplistic patriarchal views of anything, the record's razor sharp observations, cunning wit and deft ability to reference but feel original is remarkable.
Review: Welsh multi-instrumental troubadour Gruff Rhys has never shied away from tackling expansive subjects, whether that's the American Interior or the plight of 21st Century Britain, as seems to be the case here. The germination for this collection of original recordings, demos and songs happened back in 2016, a year when Brexit was beginning to loom large, Bowie died, and this album become the last thing recorded at Ali Chant's studio - another creative space bulldozed to make way for redevelopment.
The tracks themselves are less obtuse about that backdrop than the 'Plague' in the title, but the classic intensity of Rhys is very much at play here. A guy who manages to hook us in with a very gentle kind of witchcraft, tracks built around locked guitar hooks and smoothly give way to sprawling overtures, but there's also a potent campfire intimacy here, too - the hushed master storyteller holding his audience from beginning to end.
Review: Unremembered, Remembered includes seven never before heard tracks and is often referred to as the final album from The Wolfgang Press that never was. Those tracks have been dug up from the vaults from a last ever session they had together at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London sometime between 1995 and 1996. By that stage only Andrew Gray and Michael Allen remained and the writing sessions came during times of political unrest, Brixton riots, IRA docklands bombing and the Dunblane Massacre. As such it has a heavy atmosphere that is well worth sinking into all these years later.
Review: If you've been keeping an eye on the COVID-19 musical landscape a few things will be clear by now - much is in pieces, and Working Men's Club's debut album, arguably this year's most anticipated, has been postponed until October. You might also have picked up on the fact they made this pandemic party megamix available to stream for free for one week over summer, meaning it's probably scored a few living room moments already.
The release is basically 21-minutes of seamlessly melded synthdom taken from a full record which, as yet, hasn't really been heard save for a few tasters. And the result is perhaps the best example of the intensity, energy and drive that defines every one of the band's fabled live performances. Synth-punk-elec-indie packing huge sounds, finely tuned details and an overall forward atmosphere.
Review: While it had only been a few months since the release of her 4 Track Demos project, when To Bring You My Love first arrived in 1994 it felt like it had been a long time coming. Taking elements that made her early studio efforts stand out - the twisted mania of Dry and the Patti Smith-esque agony of Rid of Me - here Polly Jean Harvey fully embraced a kind of pained grunge-blues.
The resulting brew is particularly potent. Whether you're listening to the hushed, mysterious groove of 'Working For The Man', 'Long Snake Moan''s dark metal edges, or the sparse, troubled and deeply pained anthem 'Teclo', everything here is clearly the work of a genius. A fact that rings particularly true given these stunning versions represent her work in its original demo form.
Review: If you felt Angel Olsen's 'All Mirrors' album would benefit from a stripped down, pared back interpretation this is your lucky day. Far from some rushed attempt to release anything into the music industry's COVID-19 infested waters, the intimate, often hushed and delicate versions here are actually the original recordings of the tracks, which were then elevated to the scale we heard on that LP of last year.
The plan was always to release these as a counterpoint to the bigger sounding takes, and there will be few reasonably minded people who won't delight in that decision. It's as if we've watched her sepia-hued show-stopping performance in the main ballroom and then retired for intimate drinks in the dressing room. A staggering sibling to what was already one of our favourite records from recent years.
Review: Twenty years ago it sounded like an oddly poignant evocation of pre-millennial tension. Two decades later it stands as an eerily prescient glimpe into the technological alienation and dislocation of of a new era. Yet more importantly, OK Computer is no more or less than a sparkling, dramatic and moving collection of songs that haven't lost any of their impact in the interim. The sound of a band stubbornly refusing to follow up the stadium-strafing stylings of its predecessor The Bends - and instead bursting headlong into experimentation and wild creativity -is portrayed in still more vivid colours by the alarmingly strong collection of out-takes and B-sides collected herein, Yet there's no getting away from the chill and spark that marked out OK Computer from everything surrounding it in the post-Britpop malaise, and continues to do so in the pre-Brexit counterpart.
Review: It's easy to forget, or take for granted, how consistently impressive and solid Pixies were during the late-1980s and early-90s. Thankfully here's a 30th anniversary deluxe edition of 'Bossanova' to bring memories flooding back, a record that stands up with their finest but gets less airplay, playlist love and written references today compared with the likes of 'Surfa Rosa' and 'Doolittle'. Granted, this came after those seminal moments in alt-rock, noise pop and garage punk, so its track list is less sonically arresting. By now we knew to expect shrill, anthemic explosions of riff 'All Over The World' juxtaposes with low-slung, nonchalant grooves; 'Hang Wire' and 'Rock Music''s air of borderline-heavy metal, and the grunginess of 'Stormy Weather'. But that doesn't detract from the fact every song here is a prime example of why this band are so feted.