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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.
New life breathed into romantic longing on singer's debut LP.
Airling's debut album opens with a sample from a self-help hypnosis tape, informing the listener that "the sound of the voice relaxes you and entrances you, into going deeper and deeper into your own sense of connection". The tongue-in-cheek meta-commentary is unnecessary, but accurate: the Brisbane artist born Hannah Shepherd uses her emotive vocals to lure us into her sensuous world of morphing synths and crisp, airy beats, ably abetted by strong production from Big Scary's Tom Iansek and Graham Ritchie. There's echoes of the xx and FKA twigs, and as an opening salvo it entices all on its own, regardless of hypnotic suggestion.
Sydney hardcore pioneers keep the fires stoked.
Toe To Toe's rage hasn't dimmed in 25-plus years, and the world in 2017 gives the Sydney punk legends plenty of ammunition. Their breakneck hardcore is particularly beefy on Rise Up – imagine a Danny Green pummelling in musical form – and they're reliably great at taking the pissy, political and personal and give everything a universal relatability that avoids sloganeering: vocalist Scott Mac's raspy growl on "My War, My Way" could inspire the pope to run through a brick wall. But they're at their best taking the ragged punk edge of cuts like "First Sin" and "DTOM" and infusing them with a refined sense of melody and bodies-in-the-air brutality.
Singer-songwriter steps into the dark and dreamlike on fifth album.
If you haven't checked in with Feist since back when she was the chill Toronto folk-pop charmer happily counting us off on her left-field 2007 hit "1234," you might be in for a surprise. Pleasure, her first LP in six years, trades the sweater-wearing kitchen-jam vibe of her breakthrough The Reminder for a stark intimacy that can suggest Kate & Anna McGarrigle if they'd been big fans of the Young Marble Giants' post-punk bedroom mumblings or PJ Harvey's blues-wrath epistle To Bring You My Love. "It's my pleasure and your pleasure," Feist sings, her voice low, raw-nerved and right in your ear against dank, stressed-out guitar roil.
Of course, there's always more to a Feist record than meets the eye, especially when she's navigating in the dark. These songs build slow as they add instrumental muscle on a skeletal form, arriving at something at once scary and lovely. The musical palette is wide and subtle: Her voice sleepily skates above West African-tinged blues guitar and coolly tumbling percussion on "Get Not High, Get Not Low," and stays closer to the ground on "Lost Dreams," as the instrumentation makes like a distant train whistle. The narrative shadow play and alluringly mysterious delivery that have always been her hallmarks define the set. Often they reveal bracing truths ("How could I live if you're still alive?" she opines, almost slamming her acoustic guitar on "I Wish I Didn't Miss You").
But that sense of foreboding comes balanced against a gathering warmth. The gusts on the "The Wind" threatens to rip her to shreds but they also shoulder her toward epiphany; "keep on the horizon," she demands, as subtle orchestral jazz textures and a softly puttering synth-drum move the song forward. "Young Up," which is kind of like a Canadian indie crooner's notion of Laura Nyro's Seventies work with Labelle, opens with intimations of her own death, a coming attraction she seems to take in relative stride. Here even the bleakest truths feel like the stuff of half-remembered dreams.
A meeting of the indie super-minds on accomplished debut.
Eric Pulido and Midlake invite Travis's Fran Healy, Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos, Grandaddy's Jason Lytle and Band Of Horses' Ben Bridwell to come out and play. Pulido's "Restart" and Healy's "L.A. On My Mind" both feature fuzzed-up guitars and stack-heeled beats, suggesting there's a Seventies glam band busting to get out. "Real Love" is their Traveling Wilburys moment, with a stinging slide guitar that attempts to wake the ghost of George Harrison. Kapranos and Healy venture further outside their dayjobs than Lytle and Bridwell, and while it's a bit of a patchwork, the songs are more than mere throwaways.