This month Getintothis’ writers round up some of their favourite recent releases – as well as some that might have slipped through the net.
With the summer months ushering in a traditionally quieter period of album activity before autumn unleashes its usual frenzy of new releases, this month alongside the new we look back at some releases that have been slowly revealing their charms to us over the last few months and which were unfortunate to have missed the cut in earlier Album Club editions.
We take in as ever a varied selection ranging from the overtly political and sultry sounds of Blood Orange, the meditative ambience of Jherek Bischoff and the drum and bass of Fred V & Grafix. We welcome the return of a reenergised Kathleen Hanna and her current band The Julie Ruin, alongside the wildly inventive avant-pop of Deerhoof.
Elsewhere Stephen Steinbrink leads us to reappraising the notion of singer-songwriter, Radiohead‘s latest surprises us by, well, surprising us and Parlour ensnare us with some full throttle repetition.
Oh and there’s a rare inclusion of a live album that’s just too good to miss out – scroll down to find out what it is.
Jherek Bischoff: Cistern
Yorkshire based, The Leaf Label has been conjuring up various gems for sometime now, whether it be the cinematic multilayered epics of Efterklang, off-kilter pastoral delights of Nancy Elizabeth or the freakish and beautifully unpigeonholeable Melt Yourself Down and Icy Demons.
However, it’s the beguiling string-oriented mini symphonies of the likes of Wildbirds & Peacedrums and last year’s superlative Julia Kent that we’ve been truly struck with in recent times.
Well, add another to the list: LA’s Jherek Bischoff specialises in orchestral pop, be it on the ukulele or grandiose musical theatre scores. His latest collection on Cistern is redolent of Johann Johannsson‘s work both sonically combining vast string collages with meditative soothing ambience, and literally with the album being recorded in an empty church.
Where he departs from Johannsson is that much of the music on Cistern arcs into great swells of neo-post-rock voids – and if that all sounds tremendously serious, don’t be put off as it’s simply wondrous and far from a difficult listen. Take the quite magnificent Headless which in itself could soundtrack an entire series of David Attenborough‘s wildlife wonders.
Elsewhere, opener Automatism combines chilling piano stabs with rich violin pageantry, The Wolf is a slow, stalking Hitchcockian terror, closer The Sea’s Son is one long warm release of rippling orchestration while Closer To Closure sways eerily among woodwind and yet more oceans of strings.
Apparently, Bischoff drew inspiration from his time submerged in an ‘empty two million gallon underground water tank‘ – if that sounds incredulous, take a listen to Cistern – you’ll find it an unforgettably immersive experience. Peter Guy
Blood Orange: Freetown Sound
The first time we saw Dev Hynes was around 2005 with his band Test Icicles supporting Arctic Monkeys for some Zane Lowe hosted MTV affair in Liverpool’s Masque Theatre (now the Arts Club). It was a catastrophic car-crash of a gig as he and his band-mates drunkenly wrecked their instruments, swore at the audience and made perhaps the worst noise imaginable. It was so bad it went past the point of funny straight back to bad.
Fast forward several years and various incarnations, and we’re quite dumbfounded to think about what he’s become – perhaps, in our world anyways, in the top five most vital songwriters in pop. By moving to New York and escaping the vacuous swallow-em-up-hole-and-spit-em-out-devoured English press, he’s transformed into a chameleonic force penning tracks for the likes of Kylie, Chemical Brothers, girlfriend and former Friends star Samantha Urbani, Carly Rae Jepson, Sky Ferreira and under his own pseudonym Blood Orange.
It was on 2013’s Cupid Deluxe that his knack for a perfect pop groove was cemented imbuing neon-infused Prince disco-funk with winsome aplomb and now he’s back with the ludicrously ambitious 17-track opus Freetown Sound. On paper, there’s not *too* much of a departure – the sultry percussive pads are twinned to sultry and very often dirty 80s synth grinders yet the sheer amount of music on view is both overwhelming and rather dazzling.
It’s only after several listens that the political overtones shine through – Hands Up references the killing of Trayvon Martin while the ballsy horns flittering of Love Ya samples writer Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ toils of being a black man just doing routine things aligning Freetown Sound to the likes of To Pimp A Butterfly.
However, musically, it all comes back to Grade A Pop. But You could have dropped off peak-era Michael Jackson, Thank You is a delectable slow-jam slice of finger-popping neo-soul and Augustine is the bastard cousin of Prince‘s Lady Cab Driver with a massive injection of spaced out gospel. Of the guest tracks (Nelly Furtado, Carly Rae and even Debby Harry all feature) it’s the body-jerking hip hop rumba of Best To You which works best as Empress Of‘s high-pitched choral vocal sounds positively radiant amid the treated wood-block assisted beats.
In truth, we’ve not yet fully digested this opus of sounds and layers, but for every listen we take Freetown Sound reveals yet more delights – and surely that can only be a good thing. PG
Deerhoof: The Magic
If the pithy “always different, always the same” accurately describes The Fall, then Peel‘s famous aphorism could apply equally to Deerhoof. With The Magic they have returned with a new album that sounds different yet is unmistakably and undeniably their own.
It is a record that pulls and twists in pretty much every conceivable direction, often at breakneck speed. A dizzying confection of breezily effortless avant-pop experimentation that both refuses to be conventionally pigeon-holed yet is far from the archly over-considered and too-clever-by-half offerings that perpetually clutter this space.
On the contrary, The Magic has a lightness and a spontaneity to it that is characteristically Deerhoof.
It also comes with a dreaded back-story. One of the band taking off for seven days of isolation to produce a new album in an abandoned New Mexico office. Whereas such retreats can often output little more than self-absorbed introspection the effect on Deerhoof is little short of extraordinary, partly perhaps owing to limitations of time but more likely to a genuinely artful, outward-looking irrepressible sense of imagination.
The Magic positively brims with ideas that take form amid an often confusing melange of ideas and inspiration that has at its core a more conventional rock-based and riff-heavy sound that anchors the band’s wilder tendencies. Alongside the ball of pent-up energy that is singer Satomi Matsuzaki, comes more conventionally structured rock-songs like Dispossessor and the grunge-like That Ain’t No Life To Me.
The result is an album that feels more immediately accessible delivered with a spiky serving of fun. Its abrasive edge will serve to reassure long-standing fans and prove unlistenably harsh to others. Ever a band to divide opinion, this will surely merit repeated listens and is a worthy addition to their growing canon of very fine releases. John Peel would surely approve. Paul Higham
Fred V & Grafix: Oxygen
There is a saying that goes along the lines of “The pioneers get the arrows, the followers get the gold”. From a musical perspective this means that those who initiate, popularise or develop new music can often go ignored or under appreciated, while those who follow in their footsteps, arriving fresh in a genre that has already been established, can reap the rewards, free of any ‘outsider’ status.
Examples of this include DJ Kool Herc, who first created breaks by mixing small sections of records togethe on two decks, thereby inventing a prescient hip hop, thereby making many people wildly rich and John Lydon, making butter adverts to finance PiL’s reunion, while those who crept through the door he opened in the late 70s became multi millionaires. Yes I’m looking at you Bono, Sting, Robert Smith.
London’s Hospital Records can lay claim to being pioneers, having been involved in the developing drum & bass sound for almost 20 years. The latest release in Hospital’s hugely impressive roster is Oxygen, from the mighty Fred V & Grafix. Two years on from their first album, Recognise, Oxygen finds the pair sounding like potential world beaters. Whereas their debut had an air of Stadium Drum & Bass about it, the follow up is a lighter, more considered record.
With the likes of Rudimental headlining festivals, scoring number one albums and easily selling out arena tours, one can imagine a certain amount of consternation at Hospital HQ when their albums sell in relatively small numbers. And fair enough, with a track record of turning out consistently excellent records, where is Hospital’s share of the pie?
Oxygen may well be the album to change that. With themes of love, catchy choruses and hooks aplenty, this album deserves to crash the mainstream party and be loved by all. Lead single Ultraviolet sets the tone, with light, skittering drums and a female vocal drawing you in before the killer chorus kicks in after just a few seconds. Stand out track Like the Sun seemingly has all the ingredients for a breakthrough single and it is difficult to reason why mainstream airplay and chart success is not already theirs.
With some lovely post–dubstep touches Comb Funk is yet another potential single, while Together We’re Lost takes its inspirations from The Streets, influenced by Mike Skinner,s gritty urban tales.
Perhaps the crucial difference between Fred V Grafix and Rudimental is the lack of a killer stage show. But one gets the impression that, if this were to be addressed, the duo are but an appearance on Later and a good Glastonbury show away from taking their well crafted D & B all the way to the top. Banjo
Honne: Warm on a Cold Night
It feels like an absolute age since we were first introduced to Honne with their first track Warm on a Cold Night back in late 2014. We’ve had plenty to keep us satisfied along the way with a number of solid EPs having been released by the London duo, but we certainly are pleased that their debut album is finally here.
Also titled Warm on a Cold Night, released this month on Atlantic Records, the record is packed with the smooth, electronic pop sounds which have teased us over the past couple of years. It has been well worth the wait.
The title track and album opener feels like a real pop hit. It’s smooth, soulful with a slow but danceable beat laced in glittering synths. The processed vocals, as they are throughout the record, are filled with feeling. It’s slick, sexy and a piece of great songwriting.
The album as a whole is generally a bit of a slow burner, but it’s never boring. The pace is picked up with tracks such as Coastal Love, a shuffling disco tune with choppy Nile Rogers-esque guitars and a great melody. A real highlight.
Honne are like the cross between James Blake and Jungle. Their sound is so 2016. Their influences clearly span many a decade, but it’s all these soul, disco and pop elements which are given a modern sheen by the duo’s slick production. It’s a hugely listenable record, with many tunes you’ll be singing for days after the first listen. Adam Lowerson
The Julie Ruin: Hit Reset
Listening to Kathleen Hanna‘s second album in her latest band The Julie Ruin you’d be forgiven for making an initial assumption that her feminist outlook was shaped by her upbringing. Titular opening track Hit Reset draws inspiration from her childhood experiences, particularly the pernicious and unpleasant paternal influence that left a young Hanna sleeping “with the lights on, on the floor / behind a chair that blocked the door“. Launching into the record with a full-on energetic freneticism that marries a passionate intensity with catchily effervescent élan, it sets the tone for most of what is to follows.
Album closer, Calverton, surely the closest Hanna will come to a ballad, provides a rare sonic and lyrical contrast. Gentler, piano led and off-kilter in almost child-like innocence, it sings the praises of perhaps the most profound influence on Hanna‘s future direction and outlook: her mother. Closing the album in a positive tone without attempting to disguise the darkness it lauds the protectively inspirational influence that “made me think that I could fly“.
Yet in between the record finds Hanna taking aim at the continued injustices and barriers faced by women, together with the irritatingly patronising platitudes trotted out by those within the still male-dominated music industry. Just listen to Mr So and So for an perfect encapsulation of Hanna’s withering contempt. Hit Reset, however, is more than a collection of polemic diatribes. It is a vibrant fully-charged pop record that adroitly blends its acerbically angry core (the frenzied yelps on Be Nice) with surf-garage punk infectiousness. It bounces along with wit, charm, craft and genuine humour.
In continuing to produce such vital records, Hanna not only reminds why Bikini Kill were so important to so many all those years ago but also serves to frustratingly highlight that their central themes of gender inequality remain depressingly prescient. Nonetheless it does provide creative impetus to one of independent music’s maverick talents and it is so good to have Hanna back and in such seemingly rude health. Let’s hope this release finds a wider audience and raises awareness of the inherent prejudices that remain all too prevalent. PH
Formed in 1995 by Tim Furnish, Louisville’s Parlour are an avalanche of clanging, angular riffs at war with rampaging saxophones, abrasive synths and steely percussion. Do we need to say more?
Okay, so they’ve been on kinda hiatus for a while but are back under the wings of perma-awesome label Temporary Residence which should serve as a fitting tribute as to the kind of noise that Parlour make – it’s crunching, disarming, metallic and brutal – there’s not a single moment of their self-titled album which doesn’t stir with disquiet.
Yet for all its visceral intent, Parlour is a hugely fun listen; escapist even. Fempire injects comic-book John Carpenter-esque synths aligning them with wrecking ball riffs while opener New Syntax Preserves sounds like a bomb detonating inside a guitar factory. Nadeemed, meanwhile, comes on like Oceansize playing inside an asylum with the fire alarm going off.
If there’s a criticism the incessant repetition – which is of course a motif used deliberately – can induce migraine symptoms should you not be in the mood for a full-throttle aural attack. Yet, despite most the tracks clocking in around the 7 minute mark, Parlour is a bracing, thriller of a record which jolts and entertains at every ferocious turn. PG
Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool
Confession: with every release since Amnesiac this writer gets less and less excited about the concept of Radiohead. It seems like we know what Radiohead are about – there’s no sense of the new, no sense of drama, no sense of a band likely to shock, or dare we say surprise. And yet, here is a band, that with every single release – without fail – manage to at the very least illicit some kind of musical statement which is nothing short of breathtaking.
Admittedly, they do this with wildly differing results. Hail To The Thief was erratic in the extreme, In Rainbows was extremely exhilarating and King of Limbs, with the exception of Codex, devoid of almost anything. Subsequently, following on from the band’s career nadir of 2011, A Moon Shaped Pool registered barely a flicker of the pulse in our household, yet once again, the results have confounded our indifference and made us question why we feel this way – for this record is right up there with the band’s finest worksongs – and in many respects is their most surprising to date.
Slow, almost sluggish, A Moon Shaped Pool is an album which entices you, ensnaring you with every listen as layer upon layer of subtlety grips you tighter. It locks you in its detail. Save for the darting waspish opener Burn The Witch there’s barely a track which gets gets out of second gear, yet this is without doubt its appeal as Yorke and co. have crafted a tomb which demands you stop and pour all your attention into some of the most beautifully crafted songs they’ve ever produced.
There’s a succession of tracks which mellifluously meander by yet form the spine and set the tone; Glass Eyes barely registers above a hum as cello deftly weaves among bubbling synth and Yorke‘s barely-there vocal, Daydreaming recalls Aphex Twin with its shapeshifting loops and disorientating melody while Tinker Tailor is a distant cousin of Pyramid Song yet underplayed with a sinister sweeping string section. There’s further unease as Ful Stop harks back to Kid A all itchy rattle-n-fizz, Decks Dark is a piano waltz groove while Identik recalls the rhythmic pangs of In Rainbows yet it’s stripped to the bare bones save for a multi-tracked choral and synth outro.
Much has been made of the fan favourite ‘lost track’ and live thriller True Love Waits and while there’s no denying it’s simplistic majesty, we’d argue the centre-piece lies with the quite magnificent The Numbers a track which emerges from a dancing piano intro into a malevolent jazzy John Martyn number which erupts into a strident fanfare of power chords, trumpet blasts and luscious orchestration. Albeit rocking somewhat relatively gently.
For much of their career Radiohead have been likened to Pink Floyd, and while we’ve seen the likeness in their ambition, musically it seemed tenuous. Yet on A Moon Shaped Pool this is the closest they’ve come by marrying the ambience of Eno and the studio trickery of the Floyd they’ve produced an album which is very much the delicate sound of thunder. And it’s shockingly brilliant. PG
Stephen Steinbrink: Anagrams
It must be time for someone far more adept with words to come up with a better term than ‘singer-songwriter’. Hell, how many listeners have been put off by those two words being attached to some poor soul making music. ‘Singer-songwriter’ is right up there with ‘paedo-butcher’, city banker and Margaret Thatcher in the lexicography of two words you never want to be referred to.
Phoenix’s Stephen Steinbrink has presumably fallen victim to this curse as he’s on to album number and still lingering beneath most people’s radar which is both unfathomable and cruel. For not only does he know how to write exquisite songs but they sound so rich and full and far too bold to emanate from a simple SINGER SONGWRITER. No, Steinbrink isn’t a singer-songwriter – he’s a titanic vacuum of melody spunking out golden warmth of aural sunshine guaranteed to turn your day into a blissed out daydream.
On Anagrams he builds upon the beauty of 2013’s Arranged Waves with his debut for the vastly underrated Manchester label Melodic Records (home to the disparate talents of K-X-P, Malcolm Middleton and George Verts) turning in chiming, iridescent Americana.
Clocking in a little over 40 minutes, Anagrams positively chases by and its riches are overflowing; Canopy can’t help but recall the brooding melancholy of Elliot Smith while Disassociate Blues has the wistful appeal of Simon and Garfunkel, Impossible Hand is a jaunty stroll through the backyards of small town America while the title track is two and a half minutes of radiating REM bouncy pop.
The biggest departure arrives on the album’s closing track, Next New Sun, a near six minute drenched in echo near-ballad which is both mournful and yet heartbreakingly uplifting given Steinbrink‘s characteristic honey-soaked vocal. It is outstanding.
Sure, there’s little on Anagrams which will test the ears but you’ll do well to find a collection of songs that are this affecting all year. PG
Thee Oh Sees: Live in San Francisco
We’re not sure if this is actually allowed or if it runs contrary to the spirit of the club.
A live album? Really? When there is a wealth of new statements of fresh and undiscovered artistic intent awaiting your ears?
We know that this column’s beating heart and its raison d’être is to introduce you to new music that will expand your mind as freely as your record collections. But, hey, what are rules for if not (on occasion, at least) to be broken.
It also helps that Thee Oh Sees are pretty much the greatest live rock and roll band in the world right now and, unlike most live albums that struggle to recapture that indefinable sense of energy and excitement, Live in San Francisco perfectly evokes the full throttle relentlessness of a Thee Oh Sees live show.
The set-list is largely taken from recent material and is based around the new line-up that emerged following the band’s thankfully short-lived hiatus. Its propulsive prowess is augmented by the twin-drumming set-up and John Dwyer‘s unrestrained yelps fizz from the speakers with punk-like urgency. This is one to turn-up loud and bask in its unbridled majesty and sheer ebullient exuberance.
Coming with a DVD and spread across four sides of vinyl – the fourth devoted in its entirety to the prolonged wig-out of Contraption – it doesn’t come cheap but is surely worth every last penny as an appetite-whetter for their forthcoming new LP A Weird Exits. PH