Open The Satellites: Album Roundup, April-June 2014
Posted on Friday, 11 July 2014 | No Comments
2014 continues to race along: even if it doesn't feel like a vintage year in the same way 2013 did so far, there's been a plethora of exciting, engrossing work coming out. Even at twenty releases, it's not been easy to narrow it down to the final list. There's several very deserving releases that just found themselves pipped to the post when it came time to compile the final piece - that releases like Becs by Fennesz, Glass Boys by Fucked Up and What Is This Heart? by How To Dress Well didn't make it is as much a surprise to me as it might be to you. (It's also worth nothing that the recent Death Grips release almost made it, but as it forms one-half of the forthcoming double album the powers that b, I've decided to restrict it from inclusion at this juncture.)
This does mean though that the twenty albums that have made it here are all very much deserving of your time and money. So scroll down below, read the descriptions, give the excerpts a listen and catch up on what you might have missed in amidst a very busy spring...
A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Sea When Absent
As a shoegaze enthusiast, the problem with recent shoegaze revivalists has been just that: it's a mere retread of already established sounds, rather than a development or evolution of the work of the pioneers of the field. Perhaps this is why A Sunny Day in Glasgow's third album Sea When Absent represents such a welcome shock. Certainly, their first two albums (in particular Ashes Grammar) boasted an ambition far beyond their peers, but it's here that it all comes together - beautiful, surreal song arrangements that never sound as you would expect but thill all the greater for it. When Kevin Shields spoke about he wanted to integrate his love for Brian Wilson and SMiLE with the work than eventually became m b v, you have to wonder if this is what he had in his head all along.
Key Track: The Body, It Bends
The Afghan Whigs - Do to the Beast
The return of The Afghan Whigs came with certain question marks raised above it, namely that with Greg Dulli and bassist John Curley the only returning original members, wasn't this just a Twilight Singers record with a bigger name on the front? Thankfully, Do to the Beast swept away all such concerns, managing to delve into the sinful mire of prime Whigs whilst still sounding new and fresh within their cannon. Parked Outside and Matamoros might have been the grand opening pyrotechnics, but it's further into the record - the single-that-should-have-been The Lottery, the fiery Royal Cream, the grand show-stopper These Sticks - that the revived Whigs really soar.
Key Track: Royal Cream
Ben Frost - A U R O R A
Ben Frost's certainly been anything but quiet since his 2009 breakthrough By the Throat - a score of soundtracks, independent releases, collaborations and live appearances confirm that - but his 'official' follow-up A U R O R A came with heightened expectations. Trading in the unsettling industrial soundscapes of that album for a focus on pounding percussion and sci-fi synths, A U R O R A is a notably more immediate work than its predecessor, but sacrifices none of its intelligence, nuance or subtlety along the way. With contributions from Thor Harris and Greg Fox amongst others, this claustrophonic yet cavernous record plays out like a warped mutation of dance music, a dance music arisen from the mechanical waste of some long-forgotten alien ancestors.
Key Track: Venter
The Body - I Shall Die Here
Thought that The Body couldn't get any more intense? Ha, you puny mortals! Mere months after the release of 2013's savage, condensed Christs, Redeemers comes this latest remarkable dispatch from the void. The key cornerstones of their sound remain in place - the sandblasted riffs and ultra-distorted screams of Chip King and the grinding drums of Lee Buford - but this time, for maximum impact, they're oped in the talents of Bobby Krlic, a.k.a. The Haxan Cloak (whose Excavation was highly praised by this blog last year). As such, their noisy take on doom metal finds itself warped even furhter out of shape by Krlic's ominous drones and electronic manipulations, resulting in the most potent The Body release to date. There's plenty of great metal coming from America this year, but precious little of it can even come close to the hermetic hell of this.
Key Track: Darkness Surrounds Us
Clipping - clppng
Clipping saw plenty of Death Grips comparisons come their way after the release of their 2013's midcity, a mess of alt hip-hop and industrial beats that made plenty of use of found sound and music concrete to cojure up its bizarro beats. Truthfully though, that was always something of a misguided comparison, as their Sub Pop debut clppng demonstrates. There's still some remarkably counter-intuitive backdrops on here - the buzzing alarm sound that makes the beat for Get Up for one - but there's also a taste for melody amidst the digital collages and a far less antagonistic lyrical flow that sets them far aside their supposed fears. Not a perfect album, but a fascinating and enjoyable one nevertheless.
Key Track: Summertime
EMA - The Future's Void
Past Life Martyred Saints was an intense, personal statement that bordered on the uncomfortable in its lo-fi confessionals, blending noise, grunge and singer-songwriter moves into a compelling and impassioned whole. The Future's Void finds Erika M. Anderson taking a step back (whilst keeping herself fully in the picture mind), tackling the impact of the internet age on how we interact, how we think and how we judge ourselves and others. It's a bold, weighty album, but it wouldn't be as astonishing as it is without Anderson's remarkable songwriting talent and her superb ear for arrangement - every song is distinct from the last, yet the whole adds up perfectly. I raved about this one back in April, and if anything it's sounding even better a few months down the line.
Key Track: 3Jane
Fatima - Yellow Memories
Fatima's debut album certainly hits plenty of cool notes - another take on the current trend for slightly skewed, '90s-sounding R&B and soul, featuring production from Floating Points, Computer Jay, Flako and more - but where Yellow Memories stands out is with its mighty heart. Every producer is on their top game here, and Fatima herself gives everything to these tracks, both in her vocal performances (finding a sweet spot between relaxed nonchalance and genuine outpouring, a fragile posture ready to break at any moment) and her lyrics that confront loss and her family history. There's plenty of records tapping into this sound right now, but none of them can compare to Yellow Memories.
Key Track: Circle
Fatima Al Qadiri -Asiatisch
Sure, chillwave might have seemed short-lived, but what about sino-grime? A micro-genre that, to all intents and purposes, started and ended on one Kode9 mix that incorporated Chinese motifs, sounds and tracks into his grime and dubstep pallete - and yet, this micro-genre forms the seed for one of the year's most fascinating electronic releases. Fatima Al Qadiri, a visual artist and producer, has already earned a formidable reputation for a series of conceptual and complex EPs, but for Asiatisch she revels in the sounds of an imagined China, grappling with the ghosts of globalisation and colonialism in these strange, airy, futurist works that both fulfill and subvert stereotypes, taking her miminal take on modern bass music into challenging new lands.
Key Track: Shanzhai (feat. Helen Fang)
The Horrors - Luminous
Truth be told, the songwriting on Luminous is probably a slight notch below that found on Primary Colours and Skying. Yet what they lack in invention The Horrors have, ever since that shocking, stunning 2009 re-invention, more than made up for in execution, and Luminous caps of a trilogy of records that have turned record-collector rock from an insult to high praise. Pushing the synths and percussion up in the mix for their brightest, most upbeat album to date, these sonic perfectionists have managed to dish out more should-be-anthems that gobble up a vast array of cult influences and obscure sounds and take them right into the heart of the mainstream.
Key Track: I See You
Liars - Mess
The twists and turns of the Liars catalogue have made them fascinating to keep track of over the years, but some looks have suited the better than others over the years - and whilst it certainly wasn't without its highlights, the tense yet atypically cautious electronica of WIXIW ended up slightly ill-fitting. Mess however finds the trio tackling their new genre of choice with the manic energy and twisted humour of their finest work and succeeding on all levels. The first-half of the album is the most crazed and relentless they've ever been, and even when things slow down afterwards, the tense, skeletal rave of Perpetual Village makes for a remarkable climax. Toned and beefed up, their new gadgets now fit Liars pefectly.
Key Track: Perpetual Village
Lykke Li - I Never Learn
There's no shortage of singer-songwriters out there whining endlessly on about how love has done them wrong, how they've been heart-broken by the boy/girl/inflatable sex toy of their dreams, and just how could someone come and upset such a sweet soul like this. Cowards and liars, the whole sodding bunch of them. Instead, Lykke Li has tipped the thing on its head and written a dark pop suite about being the cold-hearted one crushing their formerly beloved under their feet, coming up with music that goes from the stunningly bare to the grandly ornate and meeting the listener at all times with a steely, brilliant gaze. This exercise in pop music as brutality with have the pseudo-folk bores crying into their Birkenstocks - and the rest of us cheering with delight.
Key Track: Love Me Like I'm Not Made of Stone
Royksopp & Robyn - Do It Again
This was a tricky one to include - not because it isn't deserving, but because I'm not sure quite what on earth it is. Is it an EP, a mini-album, a full album that just happens to only have a few (sometimes rather long) songs on it? Whatever you decide though, what is evident is this: Do It Again is a triumph. When the tour gets announced before the record, it's easy for cynicism to breed, but Royksopp and Robyn are at their peak here, delivering a short but sweet collection that divers between lustful house, tragic disco, gorgeous ambiance and - in the form of the imperial title track - the best single of the year. This is a collaboration that sits comforably with the best work of both artists.
Key Track: Do It Again
School of Language - Old Fears
If there is an upsideto Field Music being on a temporary hiatus, it's that the brothers Brewis don't see it as an excuse to put their feet up - quite the opposite in fact. David Brewis's first School of Language album Sea From Shore seemed slightly tenative, like half a Field Music album that got lost along the way. On Old Fears however, he's found a solo identity seperate from the band, embracing classic synth tones and skewed funk rhythms alongside a surprisingly introspective and personal lyrical perspective. It's a boldness that delivers in spades, the result being another smart, idiosyncratic and endlessly replayable product from the Brewis factory.
Key Track: Dress Up
Sleaford Mods - Divide and Exit
Cometh the socio-ecenomic clusterfuck, cometh the righteous fury of Sleaford Mods. The duo of Jason Williamson - he of the outraged bark and the endlessly vitriolic lyrics - and Andrew Fearn - he of the minimalistic, more-punk-than-punk bass lines and drum beats - have been slowly amassing their fanbase in the underground that lies beneath the underground, but this year's Divide and Exit is the sound of a band grabbing their moment with both hands and operating at full capacity. This joyously caustic, perfectly snarling, utterly and precisely fucking appalled attack on the misery of Cameron's Britain is a vital voice against neo-liberal concensous and smug complacency. If an album can be said to be needed, then this year needed Divide and Exit - and thank your god that Sleaford Mods served up the goods with such aplomb.
Key Track: Under the Plastic and NCT
Swans - To Be Kind
Do I really need to tell you about this one? Didn't my utter euphoria after their live show, my complete inability to even begin to think of actually reviewing the thing tell you enough? Look, if you haven't heard this one already, if you haven't already fallen beneath its majesty and praised Gira (PRAISE GIRA!) for the agony and beauty of it, then that's your problem, not mine. Hell, if Scott Walker and Sunn 0))) hadn't announced a collaborative album in the pipeline, I'd have saved myself the time and bestowed Album Of The Year on it now. 11.0/10.0, Best New Anything.
Key Track: She Loves Us!
Thantifaxath - Sacred White Noise
American black metal is having something of a banner year thus far - although they didn't make the list, the epic new Agalloch album The Serpent & the Sphere and the mighty new Tombs release Savage Gold are essential listening for anyone interested in heavy music - but it's the mysterious Canadian trio Thantifaxath that have released the record to beat in the field with their debut Sacred White Noise. The elegant complexity and forceful, modern production of the album may not be kvlt enough for some, but in this case these only add to the astonishing force of these epic, towering compositions. Without falling back on cliche, Thantifaxath have produced a major statement in a field alreadu bursting at the seams with talent.
Key Track: Where I End and the Hemlock Begins
Thee Oh Sees - Drop
Beating the aforementioned Field Music in the hiatus stakes are San Francisco garage-psych kings Thee Oh Sees, who announced a hitaus at the end of last year...and then released yet another new album in April this year. Instead of the live line-up featured on the last few releases, Drop sees Oh Sees mainman John Dwyer joined by a different cast of collaborators for a record that trades some of the muscle of Floating Coffin for a more surreal, whimsical work that flits between the opening freak-outs of Penetrating Eye and Encrypted Bounce (A Queer Sound) to the oddball pop-prog of The King's Eye and the gorgeous, understated closer The Lens. Once again, the ever-prolific Dwyer is on form.
Key Track: Encrypted Bounce (A Queer Sound)
Todd Terje - It's Album Time
Yes, but is he serious? Todd Terje's whole shtick, from that brilliant-awful album artwork to his lounge-house concoctions called things like Inspector Norse and Delorean Dynamite, seems almost calculated to bring bile rising up the throat of the 'serious' music fan, a highly cultivated anti-cool that expresses itself with flamboyant maximalism. To which the answer is: well, why can't you be serious about fun? Because this is a meticulously arranged record, scrupulous in detail and exacting in sequencing, one that wants to leave the listener with a great big grin on their face and suceeds: and yet, within all the whimsy and joy, there's that stunningly still Robert Palmer cover with its surprisingly frail Bryan Ferry vocal, and you realise that for all the self-mockery, Todd Terje is deeply serious about his un-serious, un-cool art.
Key Track: Johnny & Mary (feat. Bryan Ferry)
Tom Vek - Luck
Funny how not getting a major-label advance speeds up the work-flow, isn't it? After charming the indie world with We Have Sound, Tom Vek spent six years keeping everything hanging on before finally delivering Leisure Seizure when the cash ran out, an enjoyable but anti-climactic and curiously thrown-together record. Three years on and semi-conciously uncoupled from Island, Vek remerges with Luck - and whilst this latest return might not have attracted much fanfare, it's with a far stronger album. Luck is a deliberately awkward, conflicted, bolshy piece of work, full of barely-covered tension and paranoia and far more varied and intricate than its predecessor. In losing the industry game, Tom Vek has re-discovered his voice.
Key Track: The Tongue Avoids The Teeth
Tune-Yards - Nikki Nakk
In a world of perversely apolitical bands and bland hipster non-entities, artists as inventive and individual as Merill Garbus are to be treasured. Having announced herself to the world with the exuberant W H O K I L L, her third Tune-Yards album finds her doubling down on the non-Western percussion and sounds, bold vocal choices and off-kilter critiques. At times on Nikki Nack, the nagging fear that it might just tip over into lol, random raises its head (particularly on the bafflingly awful interlude Why Do We Dine on the Tots?), but when she pulls off so many of her most ambitious and difficult tightrope walks and even finds time to slow things down and let people catch their breath on Wait for a Minute, it seems almost churlish to complain.
Key Track: Wait for a Minute