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Reunited English band still shoegazing.
What's a 22-year silence between friends? When it comes to one of the non-movers and non-shakers in the UK shoegaze scene, not much. The tinkling guitar wash and moochy vocals of opener "Slomo" fade in as if they just went off for a quick smoke in 1995. "I wanna see it," coos Neil Halstead in "Go Get It". "I wanna feel it," answers Rachel Goswell. It would be nice to feel more. The wall-to-wall haziness means the atmosphere switch is on 10, while the "innovation" and "surprise" switches are set somewhat lower. When they close with "Falling Ashes", a hypnotic song built around a circling piano melody, you wish they'd branched out earlier.
Deluxe Best Of pays reverent tribute to Cave and Co's back catalogue.
"There are some people out there who just don't know where to start with The Bad Seeds," says Nick Cave as way of justification for this latest compilation, a full 19 years after the last Bad Seeds Best Of. Given how heady a period the past two decades have been for Cave creatively, such justification isn't really necessary.
Lovely Creatures comes in several formats, from the basic double CD (21 tracks) to a triple vinyl package and, at the top of the tree, this 3-CD and two-hour DVD package, complete with glorious hard cover book featuring essays by the likes of journalist Bleddyn Butcher and author Larry 'Ratso' Sloman. In addition to myriad photos plucked from the archives of members past and present, the book also holds delightful little secrets stuck loosely between the pages – a row of negatives, a hand drawn prototype of the cover for "Into My Arms", an after show pass – lending it the feel of a scrapbook you've stumbled across.
Musically, its three discs are split into distinct eras – 1984-1993, 1994-2003 and 2004-2014 – charting Cave and the Seeds' journey from the primal, wailing, apocalyptic blues of "The Mercy Seat" to the cinematic strains of "Jubilee Street". It's an astonishing ride.
Greg Dulli and Co. mine murky themes and soulful alt-rock.
Although lumped in with the Nineties alt-rock movement, this Cincinnati band developed a swing and swagger that took cues from heavy soul, R&B and funk. Their second album since reforming six years ago continues Greg Dulli's exploration of dark themes including power, self-loathing and damaged relationships. But opening track "Birdland" signals a change in approach, with see-sawing Morricone-like strings and chopped-up backing vocals providing a staccato rhythm. "Copernicus" proves they've still got an ear for noise, but there's a cinematic scope to the instrumentation and an impressionism to Dulli's lyrics that paint a more menacing shade of murk. b.d.
Underground hip-hop hero swaps anger for enlightenment.
"I am not beautiful. I am an elegant beast," begins Brother Ali on his peaceful, pacifying sixth album. The Minneapolis rapper meditates on police brutality, race and personal topics like suicide and family with a learned silver-lining attitude ("You've got a spirit that a bullet can't kill"). But the music, produced by Atmosphere's Ant, often tips from inspiring to soppy, with sugary pianos ("Dear Black Son") and mawkish horns ("Can't Take That Away"). That said, its dramatic moments are sublime, particularly the woozy trip-hop of "Never Learn". Ali's message is powerful; shame about (most of) the music.
Oakland dream-pop polymath makes a mixed debut.
Jackson Phillips births his first LP as Day Wave to ample buzz. Surfing a tide of fuzzed-out guitars, lucent synths and skeletal basslines seemingly borrowed from Peter Hook, much of the album is intractably summery, in the same way that lense-flare, overexposure, and pervasive languor are 'summery' ("On Your Side") – the reigning drowsiness underscored by Phillips' penchant for hammering a vocal refrain into the ground ("Home"). Phillips never quite achieves the penetrating honesty of fellow DIY-fuzznick Michelle Zauner (Japanese Breakfast), but when he imports some genuine DIIV-like urgency, he's hypnotising ("Promises").
More sumptuous, sophisticated pop from Seattle's golden boy.
2014's Too Bright saw the artist also known as Mike Hadreas combine songwriting prowess with cutting social awareness, confirming him as a genuinely original, idiosyncratic voice. His fourth LP is less ideologically charged yet just as powerful. Some eclectic production ranges from the polished, Prince-like "Sides" to the electronic minimalism of "Go Ahead", and even lo-fi 'folk' on "Valley". Hadreas's melodic turns remain subtle, with some songs requiring extensive listening to be properly revealed, while his vocals increasingly feature a winsome quiver comparable with Anohni. Heartfelt, contemporary and very beautiful.
Fremantle indie quartet return with sun-drenched, beachy pop.
For a band whose breakout single was titled "Awkward" (2012), San Cisco have an uncanny knack for the easygoing. Their third studio album is brimming with sunshiny pep: chirpy synth adds multi-coloured splotches of sound to crunchy guitar chords and gently grooving bass lines. "Kids Are Cool" kicks off the good vibes, "The Distance" injects some funk, and club tune "SloMo" is anything but. As the LP continues consistency starts to turn into predictability, blurring together some cheery, if forgettable, tracks. However, an album so blatantly feel-good earns forgiveness easier than most, so don't overthink it.
Sonic Youth guy surrenders to mystical shoegaze sojourn.
"Exalted" might be a cool indie pop song if the chiming riff cut to the vocal after four bars. But no, it's a tense minute before the chordal vista opens; three more til the stinging lead guitar and almost eight when the metal press shears your ears off. The song's muse (via London poet/ lyricist Radio Redieux) appears after that, a prophetess "spaced out in timelessness" and French kisses. Gods and ghosts likewise haunt the four songs to come, in a textural soup tellingly seasoned by Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and My Bloody Valentine bassist Deb Googe. "Aphrodite" is a cosmic climax but naturally, the trip is more exploration than destination.
Sydney quintet find themselves stuck on fifth LP.
The glorious glitter cannon crescendos of 2006's Granddance are gone. As are any signs of the stadium-sized ambitions of 2009's follow-up, Zounds, or the quirk-charm of 2004 debut A Smile, and its second act, the spit-shined 2012's Lake Air. The fifth full-length from the Sydney quintet is as imaginative as its title.
Aside from a few flirts with variance –the heartland hope of "Know Your History", swooning chillwave wobble of "Stone Men" and disco-funk counterpoint, the commanding "That Sound" – Five is categorically capital-A adult contemporary, where, between those few selected side-steps, distinguishing each song is isolated to inspiration source alone – be it Fleetwood Mac soft-rock sway, Yoshimi-esque melancholy or Ziggy Stardust-lite pop theatre. The result sounds unmistakably unambitious, a framework sketch of Dappled Cities' previous efforts, where neither pop heights are scaled nor rabbit-warrens of weirdness pursued.
The damage is done by the time we reach standout closing track "Driving Home at Night Alone", a crushing take on the urges of adulthood escapism set to a dark, minimal synth-pop soundtrack. It's the band's logical next creative pivot – yet unfortunately absent across the album's previous 10 tracks.
Icelandic megastar hints at a new direction on second LP.
His 2014 debut (also released in English as In the Silence) is the biggest selling Icelandic record of all time, but on the follow-up Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson – Iceland's cornier answer to Bon Iver – has wisely done away with some of the more cloying acoustics and amped up the synthetic sounds, providing a far more interesting backdrop to his angelic falsetto. Some of it is still overwrought, but there are welcome surprises, from "Stardust", coming over like an upbeat James Taylor if he started playing around with synths (no slight), to the flute-driven jaunty breakdown of "I Know You Know". The back end lags, but his new direction is promising.
Canada's indie idol stays daggy on fourth album – but sincere too.
Three years after Salad Days, the affable, overall'ed Mac DeMarco doesn't sound like he's sweating stardom in the least. This Old Dog finds him stripped-back and laidback to the max, gently serenading us in solo mode against acoustic guitar and budget synth. That beachy breeziness can bely some darker lyrics, like "Simply bein' alive's been rough" and "Oh no, looks like I'm seein' more of my old man in me". But the Canadian breakout always seems supremely unruffled, no matter what his words might signal.
As for the album's sound, DeMarco riffs on daggy genres with glowing affection, whether spacey Seventies R&B on "For the First Time", smooth jazz licks on "Still Beating" or pure soft rock on "One More Love Song". The title track nestles into the overlap between Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson, while "A Wolf Who Wears Sheeps Clothes" oddly evokes JJ Cale and other moments veer toward Jimmy Buffett territory. And on wry lullabies like "Dreams From Yesterday", the indie idol sounds like a busker crooning over chintzy pre-recorded backing. That's no insult though: DeMarco has a way of turning silliness into sincerity before our very eyes. It's only around the last quarter that the album starts to drag, due to the unnecessary inclusion of the baggy seven-minute jam "Moonlight on the River".
Melbourne electro dreamers murmur like it's 1999.
"I lose myself in colour, I lose myself in sound," Philippa Nihill sings in the padded embrace of "St Kilda Regret". Fans of Underground Lovers know that feeling like a sense memory and whoa, here it comes again. Thickly clanging guitars and shagpile bass roll like the "lovers lost in time" on "You Let Sunshine Pass You By", then crash and soar in the steroid rush of "Conde Nast Trap". The slow spiral of "Seen It All" and the two-chord hypnosis of "It's The Way It's Marketed" peak in an epic face-plant into the vortex called "Glamnesia". From shimmer to shudder to dive-bombing smash, the Undies' thousand-yard stare is all it ever was.
Legendary post-hardcore prog-punks make their triumphant comeback.
How do you follow up a record – 2000's Relationship of Command – that's close to perfect? At the Drive In's approach of 'wait 17 years, then deliver a pleasingly four-quadrants ATDI experience' is unexpected, as befits the El Paso band's unique disdain for anyone else's expectations.
Seventeen years between albums also makes for terrific perspective. At the Drive In's hyper-paranoiac, anti-authoritarian stance and distrust of corporate-governmental overlords proved to be (horrifyingly) prescient, with rich, narcissistic psychopaths more entrenched in the systems of world power than ever. in • ter a • li • a (Latin for "Among Other Things") opens with "No Wolf Like the Present" and finds ATDI examining their place in 2017.
They're older, more mature, and the razor-edge tension and philosophical weight that fuelled their original fire has hardened, giving the piercing, kaleidoscopic Omar Rodriguez-López riffs and Cedric Bixler-Zavala's barked pronouncements a darker, more impenetrable edge.
in • ter a • li • a lacks RoC's defining dynamic range, but their frenetic, pinpoint aggression in the swaggering rumble of "Continuum", comeback single "Governed By Contagion" and the post-punk catharsis of "Call Broken Arrow" and "Tilting At the Univendor" show that ATDI's talent for mind-bending riffalanches remains unimpeachable. in • ter a • li • a is better than anyone had a right to expect... but then, 17 years on, ATDI still don't care much for expectations beyond their own.
Onetime Screaming Trees man plunges into darkness anew.
Lanegan is a noted shapeshifter. His present mode embraces the detritus of Krautrock, post-punk, new wave, and Eighties-Nineties electro – a bent staked out likeably on Blues Funeral (2012) and Phantom Radio (2014). Gargoyle is bleaker than the latter album, mediating at times between Beasts of Bourbon and Tangerine Dream ("Death's Head Tattoo"). Abetted by, among others, Josh Homme, Lanegan draws sepulchral electro ("Blue Blue Sea"), drum'n'bass ("Drunk On Destruction"), and Peter Gabriel-esque feeling ("Goodbye To Beauty") into his signature neo-Gothic web. Lanegan's battered baritone continues to carry the weight of ages along with it.
Danish combo continue to dazzle on album number seven.
Mew have never been a band to work quickly – seven albums in 22 years speaks of an outfit not overly concerned with work ethic, but the opposite is true. Instead they take a painstakingly slow approach to crafting each sonically lush record (imagine a cinematic post-rock band, with vocals, that can't help but feed their pop habit). Surprisingly, this comes only two years after predecessor +/-, and finds the Danish outfit trying to be succinct rather than craft epics. One thing that's still intact is the band's soaring choruses, which often emerge in the most unlikely of places – see the apocalyptic, robotic stomp of "Candy Pieces All Smeared Out".
The You Am I frontman ends up writing about himself while trying to write about an old actor.
For a record that started out as a performance piece about an elderly actor facing his twilight years, An Actor Repairs sure tells us a hell of a lot about Tim Rogers. "I've written bullshit songs expressing my grief that will surely bring comfort to surly teenagers in need," he sings in "Forgiveness", beating himself up ever so gently. Later in the song he decides he should just do what he does best in order to gain some measure of redemption: "Tonight I'll be the guy in You Am I and I'll work it until my soul is rinsed dry."
So it goes on Rogers' seventh solo album, as he writes about trying to age gracefully while too often ageing disgracefully. Lust, alcohol, regrets and hard-won lessons all have major roles. Playwright Edward Albee and actor Oliver Reed are name-checked in "Age (A Couple Of Swells)"; Bruce Springsteen and Handsome Dick Manitoba grace the lyrics of "Cars and Girls".
Rogers stretches himself musically. "Round the Bend" is reminiscent of his work with the Bamboos and "The Possibilities" has a Kinks-meets-XTC feel familiar to anyone who considers Hourly, Daily a holy work. But piano, acoustic guitar, woodwinds, brass and double bass thread their way through most songs, giving them a late-night jazz club feel, with the skinny, wordy bard at the microphone soundtracking every heartbreak in the joint.