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Perfect imperfection explored on Londoner's long-awaited debut.
On the profound, emotive Process, Kanye/Drake/Solange/SBTRKT collaborator Sampha Sisay bares his utterly unique voice atop futuristic R&B, tender piano ballads and electronic subtleties. He examines life ("Plastic 100°C"), loss ("Timmy's Prayer") and modern relationships ("Under") with a velvety rasp and delicate yet fully realised melodies. From the dancey grooves of "Blood On Me" to the crushing intimacy of "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano", Process is pristinely assembled; sagacious yet vulnerable, it neither conceals nor avoids what lies at its core: real, imperfect, uncertain humanity.
UK art-rockers regroup and lighten up on album seven.
The departure of drummer Richard Jupp might have thrown Elbow for a loop but they've embraced crisis as opportunity. Through a labyrinth of limb-twisting time-signatures, treated tones and weird choral counterpoints, the Mercury-winning band's elaborate scaffolds of rhythm and harmony have rarely sounded more driven by the joy of creation. Guy Garvey's jazz-inflected word pictures are dizzying in the eight-minute-plus title track, which finds the ominous "Little Fictions" seeming, after all, like trifles in the big picture of humanity. "What does it prove if you die for a tune?" he smirks elsewhere. "It's really all disco. Everything."
Philadelphia-based punkers reach new heights on fifth album.
What happens when your twenties are over? It’s time to settle down, get a good job and have a family, right? On their fifth album, Philadelphia punks the Menzingers are calling bullshit on society’s expectations of a traditional life path, pairing it with their boisterous brand of gritty, ballsy, blue-collar punk, which recalls everyone from Social Distortion to Polar Bear Club. In what might well be their most consistent collection of songs to date, the likes of “Tellin’ Lies”, “Charlie’s Army” and “Midwestern States” are rife with muscular hooks that are immediate without being throwaway. Here’s to growing old disgracefully.
Dune Rats create a record that your parents will hate.
Dune Rats know well that their charm lies in their ability to distil punk and pop down to its most elemental. Their 2014 debut was a heady mix of surf-rock and garage-punk, but it also had some interesting melodic tinges, lending otherwise stupid songs like "Dalai Lama, Big Banana, Marijuana" a sense of self-aware piss-takery. On The Kids Will Know It's Bullshit, that playfulness has been mostly replaced with rebellion so nihilistic that it seems irresponsible.
By the time you get through the punny first single "Scott Green" and the bogan anthems "Bullshit" and "6 Pack", it becomes clear that The Kids Will Know... is the Dune Rats' party manifesto taken to the extreme. Early singles like "Funny Guy" had a sweetness and honesty that made them easy to like, but their sneering bongs-and-beer-obsessed follow-up feels like the party has gotten well out of hand.
It's a fun record, but in the same way that drinking till you throw up is fun. Like the Cosmic Psychos, Dune Rats have created their own brand of Aussie irreverence by stripping everything back to its bare bones and turning it up to 11. It's the sort of album that will shock even the coolest of parents, which in this day and age is no small feat.
Genre-defying instrumental gymnastics from New Jersey.
The music of in-demand multi-instrumentalist Steve Marion is defined by its almost complete absence of vocals, yet such is the sharpness and tunefulness of his textured instrumental explorations that they're highly accessible, even hummable. There is a good-humouredness that recalls Todd Rundgren, while Rundgren's influence as a guitarist looms over Glam-ish tracks like "Cartoon Rock". Elsewhere, the slide work of George Harrison is hinted at on the particularly satisfying "Tomorrow". Those touchstones aside, Marion's idiosyncratic noise sounds like very little else, and it's an intoxicating concoction.
Indie-punk outfit redefine their sound with album number four.
Save for room-trashing climax "Realize My Fate" – reminiscent of the gritted-teeth snarl of 2012's Attack On Memory – Dylan Baldi's fourth full-length as Cloud Nothings sidelines scrappy spontaneity in favour of a more measured and melodic approach. The edges of post-teenage angst are buffed out, by both a notable increase in production quality and a cemented bond between Baldi's mainstay subject focus – personal weights of mid-west suburban mundanity – and the uncluttered, pop-skewed guitar rock route of his unconcealed influences (Built To Spill et al). This isn't exactly growing up, but it's definitely a step in that direction.
Replacements bassist reprises early Nineties solo project.
Tommy Stinson was 14 when he formed the world's greatest bar band. And despite stints in Soul Asylum and Guns N' Roses, that liquored-up Replacements sound has stuck to him like cheap cologne. That's clear from the moment Anything Could Happen opens with slide guitar, a honky-tonk piano and Stinson's weathered drawl. From there the hooks come thick and fast, most notably the chain of power-pop nuggets that begins with "On the Rocks". The relentless riffery barely lets up until "Shortcut", which closes out the record with a sober reflection: "Take a long hard look and take a shortcut through the dirt."
Ninth solo LP strums its way across the history of rock.
It's no mistake Ty Segall's ninth LP, and second self-titled LP after his 2008 debut, bears the prolific singer's name. An amalgamation of the guitar-shredding savant's many musical selves thus far, Segall throws up Sabbath-fighting-the-Stooges face-melters ("Break a Guitar"), Bowie-vs-T.Rex glam-offs ("Freedom"), Beatles-esque psychedelia ("Orange Color Queen") and sometimes all of the above at once (the epic, 10-minute "Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)"). An album that knows when to pummel and when to pause for breath, this is one of Segall's most satisfying records to date.
Canadian pair re-invent their sound with lyrically focused third LP.
While on the surface album number three might seem to comply to Japandroids' strict motif – a tracklist of eight songs, black-and-white portrait artwork and a hook-leading single ready for fist-pumping crowd revelry – appearances can be misleading. This is Japandroids 2.0.
And this new model comes with a notable upgrade: lyrical density. While previously satisfied with shouting single-line sentences, Near to the Wild Heart of Life takes the opposite tact, primary vocalist Brian King often tangling himself amongst alliteration and punchy, poetic lines ("passport, past life, a drifter's demons"). The complexity is complimented by the music itself, with formerly frantic drums/guitar punk minimalism and heartland hedonism now funnelled by both variety (the folk-rock skew of "Midnight to Morning") and sheer experimentation. The latter is most notable on centrepiece "Arc of Bar", a sprawling seven-plus minute opus that inflates from effects loops to female choir crescendo and cluttered prog extravagance.
Old habits die hard, however, and the pair keep one eye on the preservation of their live reputation throughout. "In a Body Like a Grave" aims for a "Continuous Thunder"-like show-closing sing-a-long, while "No Known Drink or Drug" slowly builds to a climatic peak, aligned with moshpit resets. All up it proves that while the band are now looking beyond the morning after, the night before ain't done with them yet.
Guided By Voices man exhibits shaggy charm on lo-fi solo album.
In the market for a lo-fi album loosely based around the concept of the innocence of boyhood and the reality of middle age? Here you go. Opener "Future Boy Today/Man Of Tomorrow" not only encapsulates the album's theme, but its saturated mix of fuzzy and ringing guitars could have easily fitted onto a Guided By Voices record. Sprout pinballs between this brand of gnarly, tuneful rock and plaintive piano-led ballads such as "The Universe and Me" and "When I Was a Boy" that nod to both John Lennon and Daniel Johnston. His wavering vocals and the homemade sound have a shaggy charm.
Young UK rapper finds his voice on poetic, soulful debut.
Covering well worn ground – the woes of being young and laden with money/girl troubles – and making it sound fresh again requires a special kind of talent. Say hello to 22-year-old South London rapper Loyle Carner (real name Benjamin Coyle-Larner). Blessed with a poet's way with words and a weary, wise-beyond-his-years voice that sounds like it could break down at any second, Carner's emotive raps are coupled with crisp jazz and soul-inflected production (check the early Kanye-ish "The Isle of Arran"), marking the young wordsmith out as an erudite and compelling new voice to be reckoned with.
Ladies' choice on Bad Seed's last dance with M. Gainsbourg.
French pop-symphonic renegade Serge Gainsbourg left behind 16 albums and much more, from film soundtracks to a wealth of material for the many women in his life. It's mainly the latter seam Mick Harvey mines on his fourth, ostensibly final album of lush and lusty translations with a bevvy of cooing accomplices. Fans may feel a deflating sense of déjà vu as Andrea Schroeder pants a German coming of "Je T'aime" for openers, but the inebriating effects of Gainsbourg's bottomless cellar slowly accumulate, from the pastoral romance of "Prévert's Song" to the long, slow, swollen eruption of "Cargo Cult".
Icy Canadian electronica makes the political danceable, too.
Austra are unique. Fellow darkwave dons Crystal Castles are far more distorted and abrasive; Zola Jesus' Nika Roza Danilova, to whom singer and producer Katie Stelmanis is frequently compared, makes tracks less club-ready than Stelmanis' studied, propulsive compositions. Stelmanis' voice is an operatic alarm call that jars initially, then captivates. Future Politics brings civics to the dancefloor through metronomic beats, popping percussion, witchy atmospherics and those pipes. That voice levitates over most anything, but to her credit, it's never overused, and Austra never sound anything less than majestic.
L.A. duo go orchestral on overstuffed album.
Fittingly for a band obsessed with the seamier side of Seventies music, Foxygen know a thing or two about excess: their songs often sound like several tracks jammed into one, and 2014's ...And Star Power was a 24-track double LP. The songs have been pared back to eight on Hang, but the flair for excess remains: each features a 40-plus piece orchestra, giving them the air of a druggier ELO on breezy opener "Follow the Leader". Centrepiece "America" serves as an accurate metaphor for both the country and the album as a whole: schizophrenic and unsettled, but bursting with reach-for-the-stars ambition – even if that ambition often falls a little short.
Carter and co. show their hand on unflinching second LP.
If the Rattlesnakes' 2015 debut, Blossom, was a Molotov cocktail, Modern Ruin is a rifle grenade. Where the former sought only to explode on impact, the latter follows a graceful arc before it erupts. But it still erupts, as only a Frank Carter record can. Taking a few – but not too many – melodic cues from his first post-Gallows outfit, Pure Love, the Rattlesnakes' second outing is all tempered indignation and dynamic evolution. Culminating in the aggressively atmospheric and altogether startling "Neon Rust" – a Lana Del Rey-esque dystopian lullaby – Modern Ruin is the work of a man who appears to have finally found himself.
L.A. upstarts go bigger on sophomore outing.
With founding singer-guitarist Clementine Creevy just out of high school, it's a stretch to say that Cherry Glazerr have matured since slacker debut Haxel Princess (2014). That said, Apocalipstick sees Creevy graduate from sarcastic songs about grilled cheese sandwiches to a meatier sound that's more Bleached posturing than Burger Records DIY zest – stepping up to co-producer Joe Chiccarelli (the Strokes) in the process. CG traverse jangling psych, scuzz-pop nonsense, lumbering desert rock and fuzzed-out garage-punk, rising to the middle of the pack in a crowded L.A. psych/garage scene.