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Debut from English songstress with a heartbreaking voice.
In an era where the term "folk" has come to mean "anything with banjo", London songstress Olivia Chaney pops up to remind us there is so much more that belongs under that broad, ambiguous umbrella. The Longest River delivers aching old-world balladry, weaving tunes of impossible delicacy into tales of heartbreak from another time and place. Chaney's pure, almost austere voice might not be for everyone, but the emotion it brings to the jilted lover in "False Bride" or fearful heart of Henry Purcell's "There's Not a Swain" is undeniable. Among the din of modern music's bombast, Chaney has found a different way to be intense.
Dance music with its heart on its sleeve.
Anyone who swooned over Caribou's Our Love should find an appealing bookend in Fading Love. It may be a breakup album, but UK producer George FitzGerald lends a romantic glow to his ticklish, pop-leaning house. Split between swimming instrumentals and melancholy vocal contributions from Lawrence Hart and Boxed In, the LP sweetly explores sadness even while crafting immaculate dancefloor tunes. "Call It Love (If You Want To)" pits Hart's wistful sigh against star-bright synths, the liquid dreaminess of "Full Circle" makes it an instant breakout, and the closing "The Waiting" typifies FitzGerald's merger of disciplined dance, lush atmosphere, and shivering emotion.
Oklahoman punks brandish enormous hooks on third outing.
Sometimes, as much in music as in life, all you need is simplicity. There's an art to simplicity; a brilliance in uncomplicated ideas executed without ceremony. And Red City Radio are a simple band. They favour gang vocals; choruses that gush early-30s angst, excellently; and the kind of unfussy guitar work that inspires you to pick up your axe and play along. There isn't much here that differs stylistically from past efforts, but that's no bad thing. Instead, Red City Radio have opted to take the scale of their sing-a-longs up to 11. The disc is rife with infinitely catchy and endearing punk epics, and frontman Garrett Dale's passionate bellow makes it almost impossible to let him sing those hooks alone.
Legendary Swede punksters triumph on eighth LP.
With a career spanning 23 years and seven albums, you'd half expect Millencolin to sound tired by now. Certainly, many of their classmates who opted to stick true to their musical roots have gracelessly slipped into irrelevance. But on True Brew, the Swedes' first LP in seven years, the quartet sound more pertinent and more powerful than they have since the early noughties. These tracks thrive under the precision the group has honed over the years, and most contain hooks that hit harder than Hercules' fist. To remain so loyal to the sound that birthed them and, two decades on, manage to produce a record as exhilarating as this deserves applause. Millencolin are in top form.
Hardcore outfit set a new high-water mark.
Deez Nuts inhabit a musical world where riff-heavy hardcore meets hip-hop in a hail of bleary-eyed partying, disaffection and neck tattoos. With their fourth album, main man JJ Peters has delivered his most scathingly brutal record yet. Peters' libertarian DIY-fuck-what-everybody-thinks ethos takes an even more inward-looking approach here; the individual-as-freedom, good time party vibe has been honed into something more defiant and personal. With the crisp production lifting the metalcore riffs and mind-crumpling beats to a whole new level, and Peters spitting fire over everything, anthemic chants like "Face This On My Own" and "What's Good" drip with wariness and defiance.
Fast-rapping Alabama MC rediscovers his country side.
Yelawolf's second major-label album trades out the failed stabs at arena rap of his 2011 debut for a stronger embrace of his Southern roots. This time around he's less Eminem, more Kid Rock: Instead of awkward outsourced hooks, the Alabama native serves up slow-burn ballads like "Devil in My Veins" and "Whiskey in a Bottle", where he weaves in and out of cornfed guitar licks. Yelawolf's populist ambitions haven't gone away – check the wave-your-lighter anthem "American You" – but Love Story avoids sanding away all of his edges. Deep down, he's still a proud "American fuck-up" who grew up next to "spoon-cooking heroin junkies" and "methadone clinics".
Indie-dance quartet inject Californian weirdness into second album.
"Real Slow". It's the name of the first single off Miami Horror's second album, released back in 2013, and it equally applies to the evolution of this record, arriving some five years after their accomplished debut, Illumination. In the meantime, the Melbourne "indietronica" four-piece have racked up a few relationships and air miles between them, spending the past three years in their adopted home of Los Angeles, complete with home studio.
And true to the pastel Eighties-deco cover, All Possible Futures conjures a world of palm trees, Malibu breezes, and a stubborn sunniness – even when the romance veers off the Hollywood script. Early on, over flutey synths, guest vocalist Sarah Chernoff implores her lover to take it "Real Slow"; while cruisy parenthetical record interlude "(Maybe I Need You)" is amended to "(Happy Without You)" a few tracks later.
Miami Horror struck Triple J gold with their first album, and that winning formula is tapped on current single "Love Like Mine", a festival-ready Nile Rodgers jam that's at once the catchiest and the least interesting song here. Much better is the David Byrne-does-disco "Out of Sight", or closer "Forever Ever?", a sprawling acid-house update that owes as much to Jagwar Ma as it does Primal Scream. A leave-no-stone unturned approach to influences sees the record bloat to 15 songs, evoking everyone from Abba to the Beach Boys to Cut Copy. But when the tracks are as classily executed and pleasingly diverse as this, it's hard to begrudge their inclusion.
Alt-rock flashbacks prove catchy but samey.
The Nineties are strong with this one. Speedy Ortiz nail that decade's noisy, angst-drenched alt-rock, with frontwoman Sadie Dupuis leading the Massachusetts quartet through a hummable brand of bitterness. "The Graduates" strongly recalls early Liz Phair, while other songs evoke Helium and Hole. But nostalgia isn't the problem, so much as a nagging lack of variety. The band do mix things up with blown-out beats on "Puffer" and the ballad "Mister Difficult", but a wider range would go a long way. That said, "Swell Content" gets everything right with its scabrous catchiness and, when Dupuis lets her voice wander on "Ginger," it's more appealing than just straight venting.
No going back from the ominous advance of 'Everyday Robots' on British quartet's new LP.
It takes 15 seconds for Blur to be Blur. "Lonesome Street" kicks into gear with a clanging riff of juddering guitar chords over the loose-hipped swing of some likely lads hitting the offie. Woo-hoo or what? Fourteen years after guitarist Graham Coxon ended an era by walking out of the Think Tank sessions, the brash thrash-cockney chemistry of Blur's glory days is back on tap.
Anyone with half an ear to Damon Albarn's trajectory, however, would rightly rate nostalgia very low on the frontman's list of motives. With the late Nineties experiments of Blur and 13, the band he and Coxon formed with Dave Rowntree and Alex James in '88 morphed into the most mercurial and progressive of the legions to be saddled with the Britpop uniform.
Even the synth tinfoil and Moroccan threads of Think Tank were just departure points for one of the most restless and expansive "solo" careers of this pop century – although Albarn's appetite for immersive collaboration (Gorillaz, the Good, the Bad & the Queen, African Express, Rocket Juice and the Moon) makes light of that word's egocentric implications.
A Blur reunion, then, could only be a stepping stone to somewhere new, and The Magic Whip is a panoramic reflection of it: a bustling, uneasy vision towering like neon-lit smokestacks in the advance of the Asian Century.
"Whaddya got? Mass-produced in somewhere hot", is the first snapshot from Hong Kong, where the album was begun in 2013. The cheeky accusatory tone of the spring-heeled opener soon turns to the kind of heartsick English melancholy that characterised Albarn's Everyday Robots album of 2014.
"Green, green, the neon green" of "New World Towers" is the sunset before the sleepless night of "Thought I Was a Spaceman", a post-apocalyptic sigh of advancing deserts and washed-up black boxes; and the militaristic march of "There Are Too Many of Us", with its mea culpa to future generations "in tiny houses here and there".
Despite his still exquisite melodic gifts, Albarn is no more comforting in the more personal reflection of "My Terracotta Heart", a percussive, relentlessly descending flashback to "when we were more like brothers – but that was years ago." Nor is there much to woo-hoo! about in the gorgeous desolation of "Pyongyang", with its mausoleums on empty avenues and silver rockets in a fading blue sky.
The sense of human dread overrides the brighter likes of "Go Out", the hotel lounge vibe of "Ghost Ship" and a late shimmy of la-la-la-las and hand-claps, "Ong Ong". And while Coxon's guitar work is brilliant enough, and Rowntree and James' lithe backbone empathetic and often distinctive enough to make this a band record, it's the singer's deepening future shock that inevitably prevails.
This far from the cosy caricatures of Parklife and The Great Escape, after all, is a man who has seen too much of the world to feel comfortable in it. Whether it's in the fresh Oriental flourishes of bending strings and xylophones or the collision of rock, African and electronic textures collected on the way, The Magic Whip is more than the sum of one band's journey.
Swelling arrangements buoy a story halfway told.
Roomy, dreamy, occasionally raucous, and ultimately thankful, The Great Wave maps Mark Lang's journey through his wife's cancer treatment and recovery. Styles range with a freedom typical of SGV, from sparse folk ("Lost in the Heads") to a summer anthem with glib keys ("Dance Again") to the electro pretensions of "West Coast". Heartbreaking closer "Lay With Me" finds Lang supported by disconsolate banjo, clinging to uncertain hope as "poison coldly seeps in". The first track penned, it's the truest. Trouble is, surrounding songs tend to deploy tired imagery and metaphor: the promise of summer, autumn romance. With narrative stakes this high, lyrical invention needs to rise to the occasion.
Grammy-nominated quartet mix things up on surprising second album.
Recorded in Nashville with co-producer Blake Mills (Conor Oberst), Sound & Color finds Alabama Shakes at some remove from the rock & soul confluence of Muscle Shoals – near neighbour to their hometown of Athens, AL. The change can’t be ascribed to the hundred miles of Tennessee blacktop between Athens and Nashville, though – the band’s multi Grammy-nominated debut Boys & Girls (2012) was itself tracked in Music City. But, where Boys & Girls coupled unhurried R&B, soul and swamp sounds with Sticky Fingers-style swagger, Sound & Color offers up a sprawling style tableau that pulls psych, garage, and space-rock sidebars into the mix.
While the Shakes’ core sound subsists in the singular red-clay tones of Brittany Howard’s vocal and the understated, Shoals-style percussion of drummer Steve Johnson, Sound & Color ranges with arresting freedom. There are strings and chimes (“Sound & Color”), vintage psych (“Dunes”), space rock reminiscent of Blue Lines-era Massive Attack (“Gemini”), a psych-funk changeup (“Gimme All Your Love”), and a garage punk charge (“The Greatest”).
Aside from occasional missteps into lounge territory, Howard impresses throughout, testing her range against coarse synth drones and ragged guitars. “Miss You” is an album highlight; Howard’s affected insouciance in the opening refrain dissolves into hypnotic oscillation between composure, momentary lapses into pleading desperation, and hollered devotion.
Genre-defiance is a mesmerising stand-in for ready definability here.
Ambitious but uneven solo debut from former kyü member
Once half of acclaimed Sydney duo kyü, Alyx Dennison's first solo album swings between many promising ideas. Opener "Triptych" wanders from spooky folk to sporadic electronics, foreboding percussion and chanted harmonies. "Jewels Are Just Lumps" spikes accessible singer-songwriter appeal with unpredictable, string-swept textures, while "I Don't Love Anymore" is pared back to vocals and drums. Comparisons to Björk and Kate Bush are unavoidable, even as Dennison broadens her horizons. "Desiring Machine" stretches to almost 10 minutes, ending the record with a trail of instrumental ambience. Most of it works, but not necessarily together.
West Coast cult hero raps about his darkest demons on a brilliant, claustrophobic solo set.
On his first studio album, 2013's Doris, the most mysterious member of L.A. shock-rap gremlins Odd Future proved himself by exploring real-life alienation. On his excellent second LP, Earl Sweatshirt keeps deepening his game — spooling out dense, mordant rhymes over zombifically blunted tracks as he somehow sucks you into his sunless reality. It's amazing that music so claustrophobic can be this engrossing.
As always, Sweatshirt is most compelling when he's going toe to toe with his own demons. "I spent the day drinking and missing my grandmother," he raps on "Huey," perfectly summing up the music's desolate vibe. "Mantra" opens with some maniac grandstanding ("With a cleaver and a .30 and some twisted weed/I pick one and let the crimson leak"), then slides into a downhearted breakup song. "Grief" is a harrowing shut-in snapshot: "I just want my time and my mind intact/When they both gone, you can't buy 'em back." At just 10 songs in a half-hour, I Don't Like Shit is surprisingly concise — even if it's sometimes dark and paranoid enough to make There's a Riot Goin' On sound like the Three's Company theme. And who needs more? Even a half-hour with Earl is enough to leave you with a lifetime of creepy memories.
The only way is up for Passion Pit on manic third album.
Three years ago, Passion Pit's future looked grim. Michael Angelakos, the man behind the band name, cancelled a U.S. tour behind his second album due to ongoing treatment for bipolar disorder. From the sound of album number three, things are on a decidedly upward swing. In fact, Kindred is almost manic. Everything – from the beats to the synths to the vocals – sounds filled with helium.
First single "Lifted Up (1985)" is indicative, with Angelakos virtually whooping with joy as he squeals "1985 was a good year, the sky broke apart, then you appeared". Nearly everything he sings sounds like it should have an exclamation mark at the end of it. He seems to be blissfully infatuated throughout all these songs and uses any means necessary to express his joy, whether it's the Michael McDonald-meets-Christopher Cross yacht-pop of "Where the Sky Hangs" or the Daft Punk-meets-Stardust autotuned buoyancy of "Ten Feet Tall (II)".
Passion Pit are nominally a pop band – sometimes they get called indietronica – but here they take on elements of rave, working with build-ups and climaxes. You can almost see the sea of hands in the air. The relentless upward trajectory can give you vertigo over the full length of the album. Angelakos' fixed-grin vocals, the persistent bounce of the musical backing and the hooray-for-everything lyrics may make some listeners back nervously towards the exit signs. But once they've made their escape, many of these songs will remain imprinted on their memories, insistent earworms that prove difficult to shake.
Grammy-winning hard rockers deliver powerful third album.
Halestorm vocalist Lzzy Hale is an antidote to the legions of female pop artists who equate self-empowerment with performing in their lingerie. Tough, sexy and self-confident, she possesses a set of vocal cords that can soothe one minute and out-roar Metallica frontman James Hetfield the next, enabling the Pennsylvania rockers to follow a piano ballad such as "Dear Daughter" with the serpentine rock-pop of "New Modern Love" and, then, the bruising late-Nineties metal of "Mayhem". Less gritty and more polished than 2012's The Strange Case of..., if heavy rock really is in the formative stages of a commercial resurgence, Into the Wild Life will be at the forefront.
Sydney dance hero goes solo again.
For his first solo record in a decade, Paul Mac – half of seminal rave act Itch-E and Scratch-E and, more recently, the man who brought the Dissociatives to life with Daniel Johns – has headed back into melodic dance territory. Four years in the making, Mac's brought on board a formidable collection of guest vocalists and co-producers (so maybe "solo" isn't an entirely accurate descriptor). Some collaborations work better than others: his propulsive tracks with Ngaiire and the cosmic "Inside Outerspace" connect more than goofy, pop-leaning numbers with Megan Washington and Brendan Maclean. But even at its cheesier points, Holiday From Me is a welcome return.