On the strength of this month’s album releases, you might just need to remember to leave the house now and then. And if you do, probably good to take your earphones out now and then to interact with other human beings.
WEYES BLOOD – TITANIC RISING
Just as there was a time when it felt like all pop songs were written about drugs (then sex, then love, then crying in the club), soon there will come a day when all music will be about the end of the world. Natalie Mering, aka Weyes Blood’s third album Titanic Rising — an appropriately absurd and cinematic title, and nod to the James Cameron film which influenced it — is the ecocritical flagship for a world in which the iceberg has already melted.
Retro-futuristic synths combine with classic, 70s songwriting in the same vein as Carole King; the overdubbed vocals of Karen Carpenter, the twists and turns of Laura Nyro, the stridency of Harry Nilsson, the heart of Judee Sill; the sound that’s come to be defined as ‘timeless’. It’s an impressive tapestry of influences which make themselves apparent from the album’s get-go, but they’re tinged with the pathos of deliberately-dated synths, and the understanding that no art can truly be timeless in a world that is soon to melt down to the size of a dewdrop.
The composition on Titanic Rising rivals even the most ambitious and cerebral of today’s songwriters, but in a way that never seems impressive for the sake of being impressive. Instead, Mering lulls you towards her point of view with a soft insistence. It’s Mering’s quietness that convinces, and no more so than on the album’s standout track, ‘Movies’. Waves of synth swallow her memories of watching movies as a child, and her plea never to leave. It’s the sound of a ship capsized. Emma Madden
VISIBLE CLOAKS, YOSHIO OJIMA & SATSUKI SHIBANO – FRKWYS VOL. 15: SERENITATEM
Bring your headphones to this FRKWYS party, as Portland’s digital duo Visible Cloaks team up with two Japanese veterans, producer Yoshio Ojima and pianist Satsuki Shibano. Close listening helps to absorb the tiny details that make this album’s pairing such an intriguing study in ambient music. On opener, ‘Toi’, it’s Ojima and Shibano that quickly establish themselves as the dominant force with their impressively quiet atmospheric pop. On the margins are the American pair who selectively jump in and out to run interference with their processed blips and gurgles. Over its eight tracks, the focus is largely on Shibano’s treated Laurie Anderson-esque vocals, as the album eventually settles into an ethereal drift. But I prefer these duos separately, rather than together. Four’s a crowd. Geoff Cowart
W.H. LUNG – INCIDENTAL MUSIC
Blur sounds like a great name for a chain of opticians. Mumford & Sons could easily be undertakers. Oasis (allegedly) named themselves after a leisure pool in Swindon. W.H. Lung sounds like the purveyor of stationery and offal, and are named after their local Chinese supermarket. Any self-respecting supermarket plays incidental music. If supermarkets played as mesmeric, non-incidental music as the content of W.H. Lung’s Incidental Music, then arguably more people would go shopping. No more quick trolley-dashes, dodging the arguing families and the unpleasant chilled aisles. You’d definitely hang about. After merely two of the ten-minutes-plus of synth-pop/post-rock opener, ‘Simpatico People’, you’ve already had a warming dose of Kraftwerk, The Cure, Mogwai and Public Service Broadcasting. Well worth checking out. Jon Kean
SEAN ADDICOTT – TAPESLEEP
Addicott illustrates his interpretation of dreams, sleep and sleeplessness through shifts in tone, rhythm and emotion, making a typically-passive and genre-enveloping effort. The single, ‘Restless Bursts’, particularly shows Addicott’s ability to harness contradictory, sonic elements; drone and staccato, stillness and erratic movement.
More than anything though, the album presents itself as an interpretive work on our thoughts, as they become uncontrollable in the night while we border consciousness and unconsciousness. Tapesleep is an enjoyable listen if you’re in to ambient and is one of the better albums of its kind in such minimalist genres. Does it do anything new? Not particularly, but it’s a solid project from what sounds like a student of all the right groundbreakers. Albert Testani
MEMORY OF ELEPHANTS – BEACHBALLIN’
Funded by an online pledge campaign and fuelled by passion and determination, local math-rock trio Memory of Elephants release their very first album, Beachballin’. Teasing boisterous riffs and progressive melodies, the intensely-creative and expertly-refined ‘Scrapsuit Mafia’ marks the first single to be released, packed with vibrant energy and infectious instrumentation.
Despite Beachballin’ being a debut, there is no indication throughout these tracks that the trio could be amateurs. Having spent a six years touring, mastering their sound and working towards what they’re calling a ‘collective dream’, Memory of Elephants appear to be on the verge of a breakthrough. If ‘Scrapsuit Mafia’ is anything to go by, the band certainly have a great year ahead. Kelly Ronaldson
DRUGDEALER – RAW HONEY
It’s not difficult to guess which is the road taken by the car we hear picking up speed at the very beginning of Drugdealer’s Raw Honey. Michael Collins’ sophomore, described in his own words as a “new tapestry, one woven with the recycled fibers from thousands of tapestries that have colored our collective listening histories,” stands from the start in direct lineage with George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass – as the guitars on ‘Honey’ prove – with a wink to later Beatles’ piano sound (‘If You Don’t Know Now, You Never Will’) and a glimpse of America’s vocals arrangement (‘Fools’). If the remedy to a ‘London Nightmare’ can only be a California dream, with Drugdealer we now know that it will be an Angeleno leading the sound of the next British Invasion. Guia Cortassa
TR/ST – THE DESTROYER – I
In the five years since the release of Joyland, Ontario musician Robert Alfons, otherwise known as TR/ST, developed an unwavering appreciation for patience and perseverance. Taking a new approach towards writing and recording this album, Alfons sought absolute quiet to make sense of the inner workings of his mind, resulting in an enthralling two-part record.
Opening the first instalment, the dark-wave influence of ‘Colossal’ sinks under the skin through a series of pounding, electrifying beats, before lead single ‘Gone’ moves towards a lighter anthemic sound, combining emotive vocals with a dizzying sense of longing. Tracks such as ‘Unbleached’ and ‘Bicep’ blend new-wave undertones with an electro-pop dance vibe, while ‘Control Me’ and ‘Wake With’ entrance with a series of dream-pop influences. Kelly Ronaldson
STEALING SHEEP – BIG WOWS
Bands that should be infinitely bigger, part 426: Stealing Sheep. Seriously though, Emily Lansley, Luciana Mercer and Rebecca Hawley are responsible for some of the most progressive pop songs of the past decade, be it the psych-folk oddities on 2012’s Into The Diamond Sun or the Krautrock-inspired, drum machine- driven experimentation on 2015’s Not Real. The Liverpudlian trio’s third LP is better still, supercharging the sleek, synth-led palette of Not Real with steelpans, buoyant, full-kit percussion, and all manner of electronic whooshes and whizzes, like Delia Derbyshire down the indie disco. Be it ‘Show Love’’s digital dopamine rush, the cosmic tropicalia of ‘Girl’ or the raygun funk of ‘Back In Time’, Big Wows is full to the brim with bold, experimental pop music. Gemma Samways
CRAIG FINN – I NEED A NEW WAR
Sure, it only takes 18 seconds of ‘Blankets’ to find ourselves at the race track, and not many more for things to get druggy… But, for all those generous nods to the Hold Steady’s beloved motifs, Craig Finn’s made a glorious solo record that sounds nothing like his regular band and, more so, doesn’t leave us kinda wishing it did.
From the Northern soul horns, that kick as hard as Dexy’s ever did, on ‘Something To Hope For’, to the swoony waltz of ‘Indications’, I Need A New War oozes a rich, relaxed confidence that does everything you want from Finn, but repeatedly surprises and thrills. Of course there are tender studies of humans trying to get by, but this is the hungover slog when the partying ain’t so funny anymore, trying not to fall apart in big cities, and where “Anne Marie’s dancing while Shane gets pissed.” I Need A New War is poignant, potent and the best music Finn’s put his name to in years. Dave Rowlinson
MARINA – LOVE + FEAR
One of the first gigs I ever went to was Marina & The Diamonds. I saved up my Saturday café job money and cried as she sang ‘I Am Not A Robot’ onstage in Birmingham. But as I have grown, so has Marina. Leaving behind the suffix ‘and The Diamonds’ along with her platinum-blonde hair and black eyeliner love hearts, just Marina has never been more herself.
Boosted by previously-released singles ‘Superstar’ and ‘Baby’, her dual-concept album LOVE + FEAR holds our hand as we venture through a jungle of infatuation, confusion and growth. ‘Karma’ unpicks her ‘Heartbreaker’ persona alongside Latin-inspired guitars while ‘True’ lays bare the Welsh singer-songwriter in all her gooey electro-pop glory. Instead of pushing for new versions of an idolised self, Marina has taken a much-needed step backwards. Caitlin Clark
KORNÉL KOVÁCS – STOCKHOLM MARATHON
Does Studio Barnhus, the Stockholm label helmed by Axel Boman, Petter Nordkvist and Kornél Kovács, ever put out a bad release? Following on from the fantastic compilation released last year, the latter of the trio returns with an album that builds on their wonky-pop and offbeat house blueprint. Recorded in the aftermath of a break-up and a period of self-reflection, Stockholm Marathon is the epitome of bittersweet; ‘Ducks’ strikes a tone that’s both down-tempo as well as undeniably danceable while ‘Szombat’’s juddering push-and-pull mechanism feels like aching limbo between an ex-lover, while the chorus of ‘Marathon’: “I’m falling in love, such a mistake, you got me moving around, feeling so sick,” seems set to be a refrain repeated on dancefloors for years to come. Lee Wakefield
SOAK – GRIM TOWN
Rough Trade Records
“A dystopia that I’ve created in my brain,” explains SOAK of her second album, Grim Town. “Me on the inside, processed into a pretend location.” Bridie Monds-Watson does possess an exceptional ability to transport the listener to a beautifully cold, movingly desolate place with her incredibly assured, thought-provoking and astute song-writing. Pair this with a beautifully unique vocal and intricate, diverse production and it’s a record of great depth and variety. ‘Deja Vu’ is an uplifting pop ditty wrapped in typical SOAK subtlety, ‘Knock Me Off My Feet’ recalls Wild Nothing with its gently-driving indie-pop hue, while lead single ‘Everybody Loves You’ is a stunning example of Monds-Watson’s melancholy balladry. SOAK has invited us all to Grim Town, but sonically it’s an entirely beautiful place to be. George O’Brien
OTOBOKE BEAVER – IKETOMA HITS
Due to their chimeric sound, personal aliases, and skewed Western press that assumes a band made up of women must be totalled as feminist, Kyoto’s Otoboke Beaver are righteously “punk as fuck” and still alluringly enigmatic. Six new songs present themselves on Iketoma Hits among tracks from Love Is Short and Bakuro Book EPs, most of which have been cleaned up for the occasion and feature new contributions from drummer Kahokiss. Yet the running order – far from betraying itself as a compilation – is extremely tight and makes for a wholly mind-blowing listen. If the eighteen-second and aptly titled ‘Mean’ makes you to question what this noise is yet draws you to listen further, you’re perhaps on the right track. Iketoma Hits, and it hits hard. Harriet Taylor
KEVIN MORBY – OH MY GOD
Kevin Morby gets better with every record, and given that his last one – 2017’s City Music – was truly excellent, you know you’re in for a treat here.
On Oh My God, Morby excels himself not by broadening his palette, but refining it. It’s the sparsest and most intimate of his albums, stripping back the instrumentation to allow more light to shine on his gorgeous half-sung, half-whispered vocals, and songwriting chops that are by this stage pretty much peerless.
With its threadbare arrangement and mesmeric hand-clap percussion, lead single ‘No Halo’ is an early standout, but nothing quite prepares one for the epic ‘Piss River’, quite possibly the most wonderful and unnerving song he’s laid to tape to date. Just listen, at your earliest convenience. Thomas Hannan
JACKIE MENDOZA – LUVHZ EP
Jackie Mendoza is a bilingual pop-explorer, mining various traditional sources for more esoteric jewels that embody her penchant for expanding on less linear notions. Luv Hz, her debut EP, is a succinct introduction to Mendoza’s imagination, full of kaleidoscopic range that merges with surprising cohesiveness. Whether through the jarring, clanging industrialism of ‘Mundo Mias’, the atmospheric, Balearic release that runs through ‘Loco Flow’ or even the lo-fi bedroom twinkle of ‘Seahorse’, Mendoza’s fascination for immediacy melds the EP together into a pleasingly substantial whole.
The one constant within the ever-transcending move through genres is Mendoza’s voice, at times considered and shrouded in vocal-affected mystery, at others sensual and flowing peacefully alongside the ebb and flow of the transitions. It’s a broad early entry from an increasingly interesting personality. Ross Jones