Albums Of The Month
1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
With their ninth studio album, Radiohead move beyond the existential angst that made them music’s pre-eminent doomsayers, pursuing a more personal—and eternal—form of enlightenment. Overshadowed by the break-up of singer Thom Yorke’s relationship, announced last year, A Moon Shaped Pool finds the band mining their long and deep back catalogue, while pushing their compositional skills relentlessly forwards. Where 2011’s more granular and underrated The King of Limbs revelled in beats, A Moon Shaped Pool marks a frequent relaxation into more conventional songcraft – manna from heaven for a certain stripe of Radiohead fan. Jonny Greenwood’s film score sideline pays dividends, too, in the string arrangements and modern classical introduction to Glass Eyes. The album unfurls with understated ease, each silvery song shimmering into the next. The pulse rarely quickens and the arrangements seldom agitate yet the album never quite feels monochromatic. Sly, dissonant strings grace some cuts, acoustic guitars provide a pastoral counterpoint to an electronic pulse, Thom Yorke’s voice floats through the music, often functioning as nothing more than an element of a mix; what he’s saying matters not as much as how he murmurs. You would not want to be so crass as to call this Radiohead’s break-up album; after all, there are four other band members. A song such as The Numbers (formerly known as Silent Spring) uses found sound, a little cosmic jazz, folk-rock acoustic guitar and accusatory strings to seethe specifically about ecocide. Ful Stop, meanwhile, is six minutes of encroaching electronic menace whose lyrics self-flagellate quite mercilessly. Sections of A Moon Shaped Pool contain an eerie, disconcerting glimmer, usually attained through power kept in reserve—nothing stabs as hard as sawing fanfare of “Burn The Witch,” while the winding, intersecting guitars the conclude “Identikit” provide the noisiest element—yet the album as a whole doesn’t feel unsettling. Instead, there’s a melancholic comfort to its ebb and flow, a gentle rocking motion that feels comforting Radiohead is recognizably the same band that made pioneering pieces of electronica-rock like Kid A but they’re older and wiser on A Moon Shaped Pool, deciding not to push at the borders of their sound but rather settle into the territory they’ve marked as their own. This may not result in a radical shift in sound but rather a welcome change in tone: for the first time Radiohead feels comfortable in their own skin.
2. Whitney – Light Upon The Lake
On their winsome debut, the duo Whitney make a warm, simple and profoundly enjoyable rock’n’roll record, evoking the earnestness and innocence of Girls. The band is composed of former Smith Westerns guitarist Max Kakacek and former Unknown Mortal Orchestra drummer Julien Ehrlich. Both were standout members of their former bands; Whatever reasons for their previous acts’ dissolution and split, the two have found each other and put together something simple but always invaluable: a great warm weather rock’n’roll record. Light Upon the Lake, their debut LP, is a short collection of short songs; half of them are made up of easygoing guitar flourishes, the other half feature woozy strings and slurred brass. This is the Corona of rock records, as Whitney consistently walk that fine line between identifiable and platitudinal. Light Upon the Lake operates in a universe of endlessly repeatable joy, with a touch of melancholy to keep it interesting. The songs could be about romantic love, but they’re open-ended enough to be whatever you want them to be. The crisp edges of these songs betray people who really know how to play their instruments, but instead of flashing that fact, they back up, writing only in vivid, broad, easygoing pop-rock strokes. “Golden Days,” has all the elements of showiness—a guitar solo, extraneous brass, a singalong—but the song stays small and hummable. Low-key perfectionism is perhaps a humbler virtue than seeking the big, dynamic splash. But it has a way of sneaking in past our defenses and lingering longer—before we know, we’ve been singing that song under our breath. Whitney might not reinvent anything, but they sound perfect right now, and it’s hard to argue with being in the right place at the right time.
3. Brigid Mae Power – S/T
Her self-titled Tompkins Square debut was recorded in Portland with Peter Broderick, and occupies a liminal space made up of droning guitars, metallic piano reverberations, and lyrics that trace some barely escaped threat. The liturgical haze and her slow, methodical singing give the impression of a woman and single mother learning to trust herself and others again, tentatively adapting to a life where she no longer has to look back every dozen steps. Like This Mortal Coil, Marissa Nadler, and White Chalk-era PJ Harvey, Power is adept at grounding what could otherwise be quite gossamer music. Sometimes she uses pace and volume, as on opener “It’s Clearing Now,” which spends almost eight minutes creeping in like a storm over the horizon, until it becomes overwhelming and transcendent. She shades her songs with soured highs and unsettling depths, Power is an equally nuanced vocalist. Her voice is agile and exhilarating, conveying all her nervous optimism and frank exhaustion. Despite its clear seriousness, Brigid Mae Power runs on that sense of newfound freedom. Power and Broderick find glimmers of light even in the darkest moments.
4. Psychic Ills – Inner Journey Out
While the New York duo have always sounded somewhat self-medicated, their songcraft travels far beyond druggy introspection. Inner Journey Out is an open book that is also resistant to interpretation. Pleasures like the duet with Hope Sandoval, “I Don’t Mind”, are simple but rich. Brent Cordero’s Wurlitzer and Farfisa enrich the hues of the horizon-kissing terrain, as do the numerous guest musicians and drummers such as Harry Druzd of Endless Boogie and Derek James of the Entrance Band. The album is drawn out in length (14 songs over two LPs) but glides by without drag. Its melodies are mostly free of dramatic tension, but there is something continually compelling about its cracked but unbreakable zen demeanour.
5. Felice Brothers – Life In The Dark
The Felice Brothers recorded their new album on a farm, and clucking chickens even ended up on the recordings. Their Dylanesque Americana – all wheezing accordion, fiddles and folk tales about forgotten bandits – occasionally conjures up the atmosphere of a heady barn dance. But this rustic, deceptively homely backdrop provides a clever vehicle for songs that subtly but powerfully address the suddenly shakier foundations of Trump-era America. The nine songs see wedding dresses pawned, and houses and cars sold amid wealth inequality and “rich man’s wars”, but are never hectoring. Ian Felice’s lyrics tread a careful line between the blackest of humour and outright darkness, and their troubling imagery sounds musically exuberant. Plunder is ostensibly about a dog called Archibald but suddenly references a schoolgirl drowning. The Springsteenesque Triumph ’73 and grimly funny Jack at the Asylum are also terrific, characterful songs. However, the killer is the bleakly beautiful closer, Sell the House, which captures the painful scene as a family breaks up.
- STEVE GUNN – EYES ON THE LINES
This a guitar record with a capital G, although you’ll look long and in vain for what might pass off as a traditional, guitar face-pulling face-melter. Instead, the humble, common good-serving guitar heroics – a deft riff here, a light flurry of notes there, constantly shifting yet never needlessly busy – are built into the very fabric of tunes such as “Ancient Jules”, making it impossible to fully establish where the song ends and the guitar showcase begins, and installing the proceedings with a beguiling whiff of in-the-moment improvisation. Making experimental music is certainly a noble calling. Sneaking the adventurous spirit of improvisation into a relatively conventional song-based record such as Eyes On The Lines, however: that’s truly radical.
- WILLIAM TYLER – MODERN COUNTRY
Tyler’s third album, is described as a “love letter” to this vanishing world. Yet for all the focus on the past, it is musically a lightyear-leap forwards. Largely gone is the solo acoustic focus of his early work, replaced by something approaching a recognisable “band” sound, featuring electric guitars, drum machines and even hints of synths. This might seem risky: Tyler’s refrains are so tender and intricate that cloaking them in instrumentation could smother them. But on tracks such as the droning, ominous Gone Clear and the chiming pastoral folk of I’m Gonna Live Forever (If It Kills Me), Tyler’s backing group only serves to deepen and accentuate his spectral, ageless melodies. The result is an album that feels rich and rewarding, revealing new details on each listen.
- DJ SHADOW – THE MOUNTAIN WILL FALL
DJ Shadow trades in his turntables and MPC for a copy of Ableton and embarks upon a freewheeling, low-stakes journey through the contemporary sounds that inspire his practice. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Shadow is a foundational figure in hip-hop; with Endtroducing, he helped elevate both sampling and hip-hop instrumentals to the art forms they are today. And yet here he is, more than two decades in, experimenting, having fun, trying out new sounds and not being afraid to fail. Far from aiming for some grand unified statement, The Mountain Will Fall feels a lot more like a DJ set—a curated grab bag of ideas that overlap and collide, sometimes in unexpected ways. It’s as if Davis has no agenda beyond putting his own spin on the music he finds exciting—what higher calling could there be for a DJ?
- LAURA MVULA – THE DREAMING ROOM
Laura Mvula is a classically trained vocalist with an orchestral pop style all her own. Her second album is filled with her rich and moving voice and is laden with sonic surprises. Mvula’s sound doesn’t scan retro or referential. Rather, it feels visionary, and somewhat out of time. The Dreaming Room is a consolidation of Mvula’s dramatic instincts, her ability to burnish alienation and longing and bravery into set pieces saturated with coolly psychedelic soul. She’s a mannered artist with a degree in composition, and she favors careful and narrative orchestral accompaniment
- MALA – MIRRORS
In this expertly curated record, Mala blends the local instruments and hypnotic polyrhythms of the Andean mountains with the menacing synths and heavy bass of the UK’s underground music scene to narrate his Peruvian travels. From the amorous soprano in Cunumicita to the acoustic guitar accompaniment in The Calling, the album is peppered with tender moments, but isn’t lacking in the weighty, dancefloor-friendly tracks the producer is known for, such as Looney and the breakbeat-influenced finale, Elements. Although Mirrors requires several listens to fully appreciate its beauty, it is definitely worth the effort.
This month was swarming with great new releases so we thought we’d up our usual Top 10 to a TOP 15! Here are the ones that just missed out on our top 10 slots:
- Allen Toussaint – American Tunes
- Swans – The Glowing Man
- Rival Sons – Hollow Bones
- The Invisible – Patience
- Band Of Horses – Why Are You OK
FULL LIST OF OUR TOP 100 ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2015 CLICK HERE. ALSO CHECK OUT UNDER AOTY2015 FOR OUR TOP 20 REISSUES, COMPILATION AND STAFF LISTS.
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