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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.
10th album from gloom-punk kingpins.
AFI trade in the kind of darkness that isn't so much dangerous as it is fodder for a bad tattoo, but their unabashed flamboyance and dramatic, emotionally torrid eyeliner-punk is macabrely entertaining. Bigger and lighter than 2013's Burials, AFI (The Blood Album) is more emotionally overwrought than a Bachelor finale, but delivers ace emo bolters ("Still a Stranger", "Hidden Knives") and strained epics ("Pink Eyes"). The emo-goth-lite "Aurelia" and "Snow Cats", plus the Cure-channelling "Above the Bridge", are kinda comforting though: in a world that can feel oppressively meta, there's still time for melodrama.
Alt-country luminary bares her soul anew, shines more brightly still on 11th studio LP.
Kasey Chambers has always tended to eschew the more reticent course of songwriting from a point of abstraction, consistently wearing her profoundest truths and uncertainties on her sleeve. It's an artistic penchant given full flight on free-ranging double-LP Dragonfly: "Talkin' Baby Blues", a shot of Woody Guthriesque spoken-word acoustica, is itself a stunningly candid retelling of Chambers' storied life to date.
From country-roots arrival The Captain (1999) through pop-rock outlier Carnival (2006) and back to antebellum country-folk collabs with Shane Nicholson in Rattlin' Bones (2008) and Wreck & Ruin (2012), fixity of style has never been Chambers' remit.
The 20-track span of Dragonfly makes for an immersive arc, recalling Lucinda Williams' sprawling Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (2014) for scale, while more than matching it for style, honesty and range. Frequently trading in the earthy blues-leaning vernacular of Chambers' work with Nicholson ("The Devil's Wheel") and the unvarnished raucousness of Springsteen's Seeger Sessions (2006) (loping dustbowl spiritual/train song "Golden Rails"), Dragonfly delivers on the expansive promise of 2016's Ain't No Little Girl EP sampler.
The album's discs cleave into two discrete sessions: the first with sometime collaborator Paul Kelly, and the second with brother and stalwart producer Nash Chambers. Both carry forward something of the raw, biting brilliance of Bittersweet (2014), Chambers' winning foray into the wheelhouse of U.S. ex-pat producer Nick DiDia.
Opener "Pompeii" entrances with its spindly old-time banjo and hypnotic trad-blues vocal refrain, before song of empowerment "Ain't No Little Girl" – a jazz-inflected belter thrilling with defiance – showcases the newfound strength in Chambers' ever-distinctive voice following nodule surgery last year.
Chambers finds an all-purpose creative foil in key collaborator Harry Hookey – see slinky folk dance "No Ordinary Man" (with Vika and Linda Bull) and sweetly irreverent, self-deprecating country-pop ditty "Satellite" – and trades lines with Kelly to striking effect on juddering blues stomp "Hey". Yet, by the time "If We Had a Child" with Keith Urban arrives on Disc Two, the inclusion of a big-name guest vocalist feels like an aside: it's Chambers' show.
Disc Two unfurls with similar stylistic expansiveness, taking in everything from chain-gang call-and-response "Shackle & Chain" to swampy backwoods blues snarler "If I Died". "Dragonfly" is, unsurprisingly, the album's standout moment, emboldened by urgent strings and awash with feeling.
A towering songbook, wordy and resigned, Dragonfly is the opus of Australia's foremost progenitor of, and innovator in, the country-roots fold. It's the masterwork of a heart laid bare in song.
Too many computers create disconnect for one-man-music-machine.
"The Wheel", from Sohn's 2014 debut Tremors, is a beguiling track. His clear, yearning croon is layered over a single stuttered, treated vocal utterance on loop and plinking percussion, and it's all swollen up in the middle, the voice dropping out as the synth washes get loud. There's nothing like it on Rennen, the London-born, Vienna-based producer's second album, on which the man born Christopher Taylor turns away from the warm, acoustic-toned electronica of his debut and towards something colder, more clinical and harder to connect with.
Opener "Hard Liquor" sounds a little like U.S. soul singer Allen Stone if he started playing around with synthesisers ("She needs that hard liquor, and she'll be ok"), and Rennen never really escapes that quasi-churchy, school camp feel throughout (see the twee verse and clap-stomp of "Conrad", and his repentance on the title track as he intones "my faith don't mean a thing" in the chorus). It's not unlistenable – "Rennen" benefits for being a fuss-free piano track, and "Falling" manages to convince you of the sentiment, the track's title repeated until it descends into a swirling pit of nefarious organ synths. But too many of these busy tracks are jam-packed with effects, lashings of James Blakeian auto-tune and everything but relatable feeling. It's hard to feel much towards Rennen in return.
Underground icon celebrates four decades with album 15.
Jad Fair is 62 years old, but he's still singing about giant leeches with 40-foot long noses that are so scary that literally "no one is safe". It's been 40 years since Fair formed Half Japanese with his brother David in their bedroom, and one of rock's great oddballs is just as wide-eyed, energetic and infectiously youthful as he's ever been. It's a Half Japanese record so Fair's stream-of-consciousness musings take centre stage. But with a dexterous band at his disposal – featuring Nineties-era collaborators and a baritone horn player and cellist that you can barely hear in the mix – this old dog has brought some new musical tricks.
Bonobo plays to his textured, mood-shifting strengths.
There's a reassuring consistency to the music Simon Green makes as Bonobo. The producer's sixth album finds him in dependably classy form, with one foot in a darkened club and the other at the morning-after wind down. Where 2013's The North Borders channelled the energy of London's underground scene, Migration mirrors the shifting moods of Green's marathon DJ sets. As a result, the tracks with a dancefloor pulse feel more alive than the likes of "Grains" and "Second Sun", whose tasteful restraint recalls a massage therapy soundtrack. Migration is built on fine details, with new layers shimmering up on each listen. It is, in other words, the Bonobo we know.
First album in three years from Oklahoma's fearless freaks.
2013's The Terror was more than just a morbid mood piece. It was a timely reminder that no matter how many confetti cannons they discharged or how many fake blood vials they poured on their faces, Wayne Coyne's fearless freaks could still be very real when they wanted to be.
But if The Terror caught them heading into the middle-age abyss with eyes wide open and guns blazing, then Oczy Mlody is the calm after the cataclysmic storm.
The album is painted in the same soft hues as 2002's Yoshimi, but without a song like "Do You Realize??" or "Fight Test" to give this flighty collection some heft. The closest thing here is "The Castle", where Coyne sings of a girl with eyes like butterflies in a voice that's getting weaker and, consequently, more effected with age. It's more of an instrument now, wrapping wordlessly around the shape-shifting arrangements and light techno of "Nigdy Nie (Never No)", or being Auto-Tuned to buggery on "Do Glowy".
"The Castle"'s melody is repurposed for "Galaxy I Sink", which veers off into Morricone territory midway through. At times they sound like they're stuck in a Disneyland snow globe, but they bring it all home on a poignant note: the zany but affecting "We a Family", with best bud Miley Cyrus pitching in on vocals. Nawwwww.
Second album of infectious garage rock from L.A. troupe.
The Molochs, the brainchild of singer-songwriter Lucas Fitzsimons, sound like a heady combination of several epoch-defining bands when they were young and raw. "No More Cryin'" is pure pre-Aftermath Rolling Stones; "Charlie's Lips" channels Barrett-era Floyd, while "New York" is a clear homage to the Velvet Underground & Nico. Amid the bluesy, abrasive jangle there are definite songwriting chops ("You and Me"), while Fitzsimons possesses a magnificent nasal snarl of a voice. There may not be a lot that is original, but the Molochs are an invigorating, exciting bunch nonetheless.
London indie trio embrace a more expansive sound on third album.
After their brilliant 2009 debut xx, and a very good, if safe, sophomore effort in Coexist (2012), British trio the xx assert their intentions early on I See You.
"Dangerous" opens with a set of horns and settles into a coltish beat, the claxons reappearing and multiplying in the chorus as Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft pursue a relationship they know they shouldn't. It's the sound of the xx moving out of their natural habitat – the shadows – and towards the more experimental, wide-ranging palette that producer Jamie "xx" Smith painted so brilliantly with on 2015's solo album In Colour.
It's in the calypso notes of "Say Something Loving", the marimba-heavy "Lips" and the liberal sampling throughout, most effectively in the sped-up snippet of Hall and Oates' "I Can't Go For That" in the album's statement-making lead single "On Hold".
Fans, fear not, it still sounds like the xx – Madley Croft and Sim's distinctive, unchanging vocals see to that, and even when Smith is referencing a grab-bag of genres, his "future garage" flourishes identify him – but their efforts to evolve are palpable without sounding laboured. And there's no need to begrudge an equal amount of classic the xx tracks such as the simply lush "Replica", bass plucked over sunshine synths and heavenly sighs. The future looks bright.