Be your own best friend – check out our pick of the May album releases, including Cate Le Bon, Mac DeMarco and Honeyblood.
After six years away Vampire Weekend are back. In those intervening years they’ve lost a founding member and songwriter (Rostam), signed a major-label deal, and developed a worrying penchant for wearing socks and sandals and, it seems, making double albums. So here is Father of The Bride (sadly not a Steve Martin concept album), finely treading its sandalled feet along the line between corny and cool.
For a band constantly criticised for being overly arch, they’ve always sounded joyfully unpretentious. And so it remains. ’Harmony Hall’ mixes a 90s baggy vibe and wonderfully uncool piano groove to make maybe the single of the year. There’s also a song knowingly called ‘Unbearably White’ (insert side-eye emoji). This is a looser, warmer sound than before and gloriously unfashionable touchstones are everywhere. Sometimes that works, like on opener ‘Hold You Now’ which mixes a campfire strum with Danielle Haim and a choral sample from the Hans Zimmer Thin Red Line score, and ‘We Belong Together’ and ‘This Life’ (co-written by Mark Ronson) where Ezra sounds more like Paul Simon than he ever has before. But songs like ‘Sunflower’ show prog should never come back into fashion and it seems to drag in the final stretch. The result is a fantastically all over the place 18 song record that could have been a brilliant 12 track one. Watch out, we’ll all be wearing sandals soon. Danny Wright
Drahla grabbed a handful of studio days between tour dates and festival slots between January and August 2018 to record Useless Coordinates. The title reflects the band’s transience during that time. As for the feel of their debut album, ‘hectic’ doesn’t even do it justice. By the time you get to ‘Stimulus For Living’ on track four, you’re already suitably stimulated to stay awake for a good 48 hours.
Tracks like ‘Pyramid Estate’ and ‘React/Revolt’ showcase the new addition of Chris Duffin’s crotchety sax, shouldering into Rob Riggs’ impatient bass, Luciel Brown’s shredded beats, all thumped in return by Mike Ainsley’s percussive assault and battery. It sounds like the ultimate musical mosh pit. The album finishes with ‘Invisible Sex’. You can’t say you saw that coming. Jon Kean
Eleven years since the band’s formation, Bath natives Snow Ghosts have worked mercilessly to refine their sound, blending a unique hypnotic ambience with post-industrial influences, haunting vocal harmonies and a smooth wave of electronic undertones. This month, the trio return with their third studio album, A Quiet Ritual, offering a poetic and sobering commentary on the concept of death. John Kenny’s carnyx opens the album, gradually progressing into a violent and distorted burst of sound, courtesy of ‘RIP’, while ‘Heavy Heart’ builds towards a rush of heavy, aggressive instrumentals. Later, the mesmerising ‘Spinners’ borrows lyrical themes from Norse mythology, and Cartwright’s powerful vocals pierce through an eerie musical soundscape laden with sorrow, before the harrowing ‘Silence’ reflects the emptiness of loss with a simple, bittersweet melody. Kelly Ronaldson
Kedr Livanskiy’s second album, Your Need announces its arrival with the piercing synths of its title track. It’s a fiercely confident opening statement, at odds with a recording process that, by her own admission, felt uninspired for long periods and ultimately came to fruition in a matter of weeks. Perhaps it shows in the record’s frantic feel, skittering from one electronic touchstone to the next, yet never feeling predictable. Levanskiy is not paying homage, she’s simply setting out a new blueprint for us to embrace, examine and worship. And there’s a lot to enjoy here, from the pummelling breakbeat of ‘Ivan Kupala (New Day)’ to the delicate keys that lend ‘Your Need (Deep Mix)’ a gorgeous sense of weightlessness. Uncompromising, this is club music on Kedr Kivanskiy’s terms. Lee Wakefield
There are over 2,200 named species of black flies in the world, and whilst the Bristol-based band’s debut EP, The Break, doesn’t have quite that many songs, they masterfully replicate such variety across their five offerings, maintaining sonic cohesion throughout.
Opener, ‘01’, establishes the group’s fundamental resolve; a jangling instrumental piece with moody allure. ‘L’appel Du Vide’ is scattered with bellicose beats, forging an irresistible eeriness, accentuated by vocalist Joshua Milton’s raspy tones. ‘Kaleidoscopic’ appears an untamable beast, contrasted by the more methodical, crescendoing ‘Breathe’, the band’s finest work. The EP is rounded off with ‘Motions’, a track which possesses a subtle yet impactful restraint representative of the impressive clarity and precision rife throughout the group’s output. Will Perkins
Everybody’s favourite lovesick scoundrel is back, and he’s sticking to the plan. With Here Comes The Cowboy DeMarco saunters through the saloon doors and serenades us with a bluesy collection of railroad ditties and mournful ballads. Lead single ‘Nobody’ swaps DeMarco’s trademark slider for a saturnine horn, parping under pizzicato chords. His razor-sharp witticisms burn as his jaunty vocals belie his true meaning with lines such as “Hop on a plane, fly out to Spain, you can die alone,” interspersed amongst songs like ‘Choo Choo’, which apparently mean nothing. An air of sarcasm hangs over the whole record, and if I’m honest, I was hoping for something a lot more radical. Best listened to in the haze of lonely summer evenings. Madeleine Wrench
In recent years Lydia Ainsworth has written pop songs for people who are ambivalent about pop.
2017’s Darling Of The Afterglow was an electronic- meets-orchestral affair flecked with hooks. Phantom Forest is her most sonically taut yet – one for listeners seeking evened plains – a concept record about humanity’s disregard for nature that’s set to a crisp, synth-pop soundtrack. ‘Can You Find Her Place’ is a tropical tonic of springy bass and whip-smart beats. ‘Diamonds Cutting Diamonds’ best exposes Ainsworth’s composition chops: mapping synths and beats like a symphonic movement. Phantom Forest isn’t, however, constrained to the synthetic sounds typically associated with modern pop – there’s ample acoustics. Moreover, Ainsworth is keen to test her experimental limits, even if the results are less cluttered overall. Charlotte Krol
There’s nothing quiet about Hush Mozey. Their trademark inky-souled grunge turns new heads on their latest EP Pretty Little Seance – the loudest, and darkest, excursion yet. Comprised of choral chamber chants and sombre plucking of guitars, the band’s sound falls well under their self-identified label of ‘drowsy rock and roll’, something they’ve made very much their own.
Their saturnine style makes the subject of a busy night out – the thematic motif of the EP’s startling opener, ‘Staying Up’ – feel like they’re waxing lyrical about a vampiric eternity. This deadly obsession rings true throughout all six tracks, their music and words in a union that encapsulates the dreamy uncertainty of youth, even if it turns out to be a nightmare. Georgia Marsh
Met with collective critical praise for their 2017 debut, Guppy, Charly Bliss return with a sophomore effort that’s more considered and introspective, but only fractionally less pop-punk and bombastic. Eva Hendricks’ distinctive, high- pitched range accentuates the juxtaposition between the squeaks and shimmers with jawbreaker-like lyrics, where each catchy, sugar-laced layer gets closer to a centre that’s confused and searching for answers. The groove and bright pop synths of ‘Chat Room’ and the emotional weight of the title track paint the picture of growth and evolution of Charly Bliss’ sound on Young Enough into something unique rather than novel. All the depth and changes aside, this record is fun and it’s exciting to know there is more to come from them. Albert Testani
There’s a slow-burning, blue-flame energy to The National. Combining the best bits of Smiths-y melancholia, traditional dad rock, alt-rock cynicism, and straight-up art. Their success was both surprising and inevitable.
Their eighth album comfortably meets and exceeds the breadth of their past decade’s aural sublimity. Tracks such as ‘The Pull Of You’ and ‘So Far So Fast’ are utterly breathtaking journeys, as Berninger’s characteristically soothing baritone retreats slightly into the mix, complimenting the addition of prominent guest vocalists and choral arrangements.
This sixty-minute sensation is further indebted to the Dessner and Devendorf brothers’ calm handling of strings and percussion, which reframe past sorrows in a strange new light.
Head to any record retailer, and their discography now dryly beckons: I Am Easy To Find. Harriet Taylor
Cate Le Bon possesses that rarest of gifts; a specific sound instantly recognisable as hers, but one pliable enough to take her anywhere. On Reward, the fifth in a series of increasingly impressive records, she uses it to visit her most mesmerising musical territory yet. A rock record only in the broadest of terms, Le Bon is wilfully experimental across Reward, but always in control. Her music is playful and delicate, highly intellectual without snobbery. Consistently, it’s a joy, from the peculiar beauty of the brass-laden ‘Miami’ opener through the effortless pining of ‘Daylight Matters’ to the closing staccato lament of ‘Meet the Man’. At once a comforting and curious listen, Reward is an excellent album from an artist finally getting the recognition she deserves. Thomas Hannan
Honeyblood is now very much a solo project for Stina Tweeddale, but she was far from alone in the build-up to her band’s third album: “I was being haunted by a woman who’d come in my dreams and try to kill me.” Yikes! It’s an experience documented on album opener ‘She’s a Nightmare’, and gothic paranoia informs much of In Plain Sight, albeit mostly metaphorically – the tricks and treats of love and lust are confronted in the likes of ‘A Kiss from the Devil’ and ‘Tarantella’. It’s largely set to glassily- produced bubblegum rock that lacks the raw punch of Honeyblood’s earlier material but isn’t shy of brash pop-punk hooks. ‘Glimmer’ is the grittiest of these contagious cuts, but it’s the warmer, darker melodia of ‘Twisting the Aces’ that’s most likely to tingle one’s spine. Nick Mee
Sebadoh are back in the game with their first record in over six years and it’s an angsty bundle of joy. Act Surprised feels like a familiar friend from the get-go. It’s got that youthful grit and energy that the band have come to be known for in their prolific career. Tracks like ‘Celebrate The Void’ showcase cracking lyricism as Lou Barlow utters, “I get the feeling you don’t feel me.” There’s a sense of urgency and freshness behind this record that’s immediately apparent from the first listen. It sounds like a bunch of guys who are enjoying making music and the result is perhaps one of their finest albums so far. Rhys Buchanan
“I should get out more,” Webster repeatedly utters throughout the opening track of Atlanta Millionaires Club. It’s a statement that belies the wonderful diversity of inspiration the artist draws from. The prominence of pedal steel – the stunning, slow- walking ‘Hurts Me Too’ and ‘What Used To Be’ – point to country, there’s brooding soul in ‘Jonny’ (also home to one of the album’s best lyrics: “…my dog is my best friend and he doesn’t even know what my name is.”), funk in ‘Come To Atlanta’, while ‘Flowers’, with its gentle swaggering, rap-clad hue wouldn’t feel out of place on an FKA twigs record. Webster paints a picture of vulnerability while tongue appears gently in cheek and there’s a knowing wink in delivery. Millionaire or not, Webster’s club is one we should all look to join. George O’Brien
Stanlæy is as Icelandic as you can be, without coming from anywhere near Iceland (unless you’re talking about the frozen food emporium in Southmead). If you’ve been to the actual land of fire and ice, you’ll hear every elemental glimmer of its glaciers and every billowing of its geothermal fumaroles. Think of a hybrid of Björk and Joanna Newsom, running on magma.
That said, never mind your speakers, it’s possible that Stanlæy has emerged through your wardrobe, right from Narnia. On opener, ‘The Moon’ it sounds like the trees are singing to us, with Mr Tumnus the fawn on sax. A hang drum consistently enchants. Elsewhere, she collects mountains and talks to the universe. The Human Project sounds about as metaphysical as worldly sound gets. Jon Kean
Fresh from their SAY award win with debut album Strike a Match, the Glasgow-based act are back with their trademark brand of highlife-inspired pop. Run Around The Sun sees the band playing on themes of insecurity, loneliness and resilience. Not ones to bring their audience down, every track is buoyed by triumphant horns and infectious rhythm sections. On ‘Life’s Too Short’ Rachel Aggs and Eilidh Rodgers sing in unison about continuing in the face of opposition, while ‘Shame on Me’ reflects on a failed relationship. ‘What’s So Wrong’ ponders on the cyclical routine depression forces us into, all played out over a chaotically joyful melody. With this record, Sacred Paws have created an album you can dance through your existential crisis to. Stephanie Phillips