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All The Rays - Album Roundup, July - September 2014

Posted on Friday, 3 October 2014 | No Comments

Hear what the sun left behind.
Plenty to get through, so let's get on with the show: apologies to Adult Jazz, whose hesitant but beautiful Gist Is made for an ambitious debut and to Merchandise and their dreamy After The End, but you have to draw a line somewhere. And these twenty summer releases are quite enough.

Aphex Twin - Syro

Look, the whole 'the Cornish acid mentalist who came in from the cold' shtick that's been doing the rounds is a load of cobblers. If not as prolific as in his nineties heyday, the previous decade still brought us the crazed double album drukQs, eleven entries in the Analord series, two releases as The Tuss and various live appearance. Richard D. James never went anywhere. This isn't to say though that having a new Aphex Twin album is anything other than a joy, and Syro shows that if he can't lead the pack anymore, his truly idiosyncratic approach to melody and production (and on a purely sonic level, this must be the best sounding release of his to date) is still beyond imitation. Time will judge him a genius of mass-audience music alongside Miles Davis, Kate Bush or Prince, and on this evidence there's plenty of brilliance left to surf along his sine waves.

Key Track: CIRCLONT14 [shrymoming mix] - no link available

Botanist - VI: Flora

Amongst the increasingly crowded field of North American black metal acts, one-man band Botanist has always had a fairly remarkable USP: a series of concept albums concerning eco-terrorism and the natural world rising up against humanity, as played on drums, hammer dulcimer and 12-string bass. VI: Flora however adds a surprising accessibility to proceedings, slicing down the running times and adding a dreamy ambience to the percussive assault, making for the most rewarding and distinct Botanist release so far.

Key Track: Gleditsia

The Bug - Angels & Demons
Where London Zoo was a fairly unrelenting prospect, full of urban dread and ragga fury, for the follow-up Kevin Martin eases us in. Not all listeners have appreciated the divide between the Angels side, which matches Martin's signature bass rattle to a softer, airier set of production featuring vocals from the like of Grouper, and the Devils side which returns to the molten anger typical of Bug productions, but on a track by track basis Angels & Demons is a great success (even if the Death Grips track feels like a slight missed opportunity).

Key Track: Fat Mac [feat. Flowdan]

Earth - Primitive and Deadly

Dylan Carson has dragged Earth further and further away from their origins in feedback-laced drone towards slow-motion Morricone beauty since they re-emerged at the turn of the millennium, which makes Primitive and Deadly's one-eighty turn into primordial metal riffing all the more unexpected. Carson remains too tasteful and subtle a guitarist to submit to histrionics though, and even with the guest vocalists, this still feels like an album that only Earth could put out. And seriously, those riffs in From The Zodiacal Light.

Key Track: From The Zodiacal Light [feat. Rabia Shaheen Qazi]

FKA twigs - LP1

The second coming of trip-hop? Well, yes and no: the productions on LP1 slow down and strip back contemporary R&B and hip-hop to a faint, distant hum. But FKA twigs confirms herself as such a staunchly individualistic proposition, her vocals swooping and soaring (but - and this is crucial - never show-boating) over these cracked beats whilst lyrically tracing along the fine line between intimacy and rejection, that the charge of dinner-party dance is patently absurd. Instead, LP1 marks the true arrival of an ambiguous and brilliant new pop star, one happy to drag the mainstream into her orbit rather than pander on what might be the finest debut of the year.

Key Track: Lights On

Grumbling Fur - Preternaturals

Last year, The Quietus started up a record company to alert the world to the marvels emerging from William Doyle's studio. This year, they're putting their money behind the fourth record from electro-folk duo Grumbling Fur, and again they've come up trumps. Preternaturals is their most condensed and pop-friendly record, yet its slender thirty-three minutes still pack in plenty of woozy ambience and psychedelic wonder alongside some glorious lo-fi miracles. Dig in, and prepare to go deep with this one.

Key Track: All The Rays

Interpol - El Pintor

For a band whose image had been tied to a sense that they were 'above' the indie rock circuit - the suits, the sharp aesthetics, the precision of the playing - Interpol have matured into a peculiarly everyman band. Maybe it's the critical mauling their last two records got (Our Love to Admire largely undeservedly, Interpol largely deservedly) or that they've plateaued at a level of popularity slightly below the arena circuit, but they return as a trio on El Pintor as unexpected underdogs. This turns out to be a strength: Interpol were never a band of great adventure, so the decision here to double down on their still-fantastic guitar interplay and deliver their most lean, efficient record to date pays off in a surprisingly rewarding re-statement of intent that delivers a career-best performance from drummer Sam Fogarino and their best single since Evil with All The Rage Back Home.

Key Track: All The Rage Back Home

Jenny Hval & Susanna - Meshes of Voice

Born out of a live collaboration between the two singers and songwriters in 2009, Meshes of Voice quietly arrived as one of the year's most powerful artistic statements. Covering modern classical, hymnal folk, digital noise and piano reverie, this was a real treat for the ears when I got to cover it for NARC. Suffice to say, each subsequent listen only serves to reveal new intricacies and details in this remarkable song cycle. A genre-defying triumph.

Key Track: I Have Watched This Body

La Roux - Trouble in Paradise

So far, Elly Jackson's comeback might not have set the charts on fire, but frankly that's a indictment on the wider listenership than any comment on this album. Ditching her previous sound and original co-writer has, on a musical level certainly, been entirely vindicated. The blend of Italo-disco and eighties funk touted here fits her voice ideally, and the tightrope between heartbroken sophistication and nudge-nudge, wink-wink humour walked throughout (if you can't spot the obvious tongue-in-cheek inherent in actually calling a song Sexotheque: again, your problem) made for a rare oasis in the pop charts.

Key Track: Silent Partner

Laetitia Sadier - Something Shines

At this point, few can be expecting surprises from a new release by Laetitia Sadier, and her third solo album Something Shines does nothing to change this. But then, when you have a formula as much-imitated yet never-bettered as this, what complaint can there be? Sci-fi tropicalia nudges up against amped-up chanson, Marxist sloganeering against heart-felt lullabies, and multi-part epics like the spectral wash of Quantum Soup (which is about as close as anyone since has come to the outer-space groove of Soon Over Babaluma) sit alongside the direct bolts such as Then, I Will Love You Again. No matter how many have tried, only Sadier and Tim Gane have ever had the key to this sound.

Key Track: Then, I Will Love You Again

Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems

Generally, as we mature into our elder years, it's expected that other people provide for us rather than the other way round. Evidently nobody told Leonard Cohen, who continues his remarkable late in the day streak with Popular Problems, a present to the world on the occasion of his eightieth birthday. As recently discussed here, it's an album of sparse grooves and angry proclamations against the darkness of the modern day, yet despite this it retains the generosity of spirit of his recent tours and of its predecessor Old Ideas. If not one of his most immaculate efforts, Popular Problems is still fine work from the greatest songwriter there is.

Key Track: Born in Chains

Manic Street Preachers - Futurology

Of the many  joys that Futurology throws up - early Simple Minds instrumentals! Bilingual electro stompers! Russian futurist pop! - is that the Manics party line of their being 'two versions' of the band, the cold post-punk of The Holy Bible and Journal for Plague Lovers and the arena rock of Everything Must Go and Send Away The Tigers has, once and for all, been proven as absolute cobblers. This album falls into neither category, and instead showcases a band who, twelve albums in, still have the dedication and the belief to keep on fighting. In my review of the album for NARC, I dubbed Futurology "not so much a cry as a roar against the dying of the light". More than that, it's an album that finds a whole new light ahead.

Key Track: Europa Geht Durch Mich [feat. Nina Hoss]

Mick Jenkins - The Water(s)

Mick Jenkins arrives from the same fertile Chicago community that gave us Chance the Rapper, but listening to The Water(s), it's the impact of Kendrick Lamar that looms largest. The success of good kid, m.A.A.d. city showed a way for dense lyrics and intricate production to burst through, and the hazy jazz beats that power Jenkins' narratives of youthful misdemeanour, rejecting expectations and searching for intellectual and spiritual truth aren't a million miles away from that record's blueprint. But Jenkins is already establishing himself as a coolly poetic voice of his own, and The Water(s) is a superb piece of craftsmanship from anyone, let alone someone only on his second mixtape. Besides, if the dreadful Hallmark-rap of i is any indication, we might be need of a new Lamar far sooner than anyone had feared.

Key Track: Black Sheep

Mr Twin Sister - Mr Twin Sister

As a rebuttal of the overly-sweet sounds of their debut In Heaven, Mr Twin Sister's appropriation of the Yeezus aesthetic is as clear a shot as you can get. Whilst the work of the newly rechristened band (formerly plain old Twin Sister) isn't going to be confused with the violent distorted beats of Kanye's most recent work any time soon, this set is far closer to something akin to actual dance music than what came before it, be it the pitch-shifted, gender ambiguous Twelve Angels or the tense groove of Out of the Dark. The clear highlight arrives though with the superb loner-disco of In the House of Yes, fusing string-led opulence to headphone-ready production while Andrea Estrella belts out an anthem for a club of one.

Key Track: In the House of Yes

Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden

Doom metal is not normally a sub-genre one associates with hooks, but Pallbearer manage to stuff a plethora of the things inside the lengthy, complex compositions held within their second full-length Foundations of Burden. Most bands in this style end up ripping on Sabbath to some extent, but Pallbearer stand out for taking on the grandiose semi-prog of Sababth Bloody Sabbath rather than the more expected touchstone of Master of Reality: it doesn't hurt either that in the mighty pipes of Brett Campbell, they possess a vocalist far more capable of hitting the high notes than peak-era Osbourne. That Pallbearer make such heavy music so catchy only makes Foundation of Burden all the more mighty.

Key Track: The Ghost I Used To Be

Perfume Genius - Too Bright

Too Bright is, at best, a bluff of a title. At worst, it's an outright lie. Rather than using his third album to clean up his sound or add some lightness to his songwriting, Mike Hadreas here works in the kind of overwhelming, overpowering shining light of an interrogation or a hunt. Making the most of co-producer Adrian Utley's banks of synths, he adorns his material with fuzzed-up bass and strange, violent effects, notably on the genuinely unnerving Grid. The introspection and doubt of his earlier work is here thrust upon the world, flaws and anger as exposed viscera. And yet, as on the steely album cover and the swinging, defiant lead single Queen, there's a new strength to Hadreas' writing here, fighting back against a world that would only compound his neurosis.

Key Track: Queen

Shabazz Palaces - Lese Majesty

Lèse-majesté: in French, the act of injuring majesty, the crime of defying a sovereign's dignity. The second album from Shabazz Palaces is not an attack on a figure of power however, rather a statement of fragmentation, an attack upon the entire concept of power and structure. Lese Majesty takes the spaced-out production and Thomas-Pynchon-of-hip-hop lyricism of their debut Black Up and pushes further, harder. On the punchline-rap mocking #CAKE, it's the state of the competition that has Ishmael Butler riled, while They Come In Gold strikes out against self-shackling egotism. A heady, experimental brew that will keep unravelling new layers for years to come.

Key Track: They Come In Gold

Slow Decades - The Frost and the Concrete

Reviewing their album launch, I noted that for me to really comment on this album in a typical manner is - due to my close proximity to the players and to the material - functionally impossible. To ignore this work in this countdown would be a great misjustice however, so here we are. The Frost and the Concrete by Slow Decades, a concise but rich debut with a far more lush and intelligent take on indie pop than the norm, one that deals explicitly with Northern identity and the pained journey from adolescence to adulthood without recourse to cliche or cheap sentiment.

Key Track: Hesitation

Thom Yorke - Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

A truly last-minute entry this one, but isn't that just Yorke's shtick by now? I've written this up very recently, so not too much to add, but it's worth noting that this subtle piece of laptop art is already proving far more engaging, involving and deep than AMOK ever had. A minor but brilliant work, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes is a treat for a fanbase starting to wonder if their icon had lost his way - and one that could bode very well for whatever Radiohead's next step turns out to be.

Key Track: Nose Grows Some - no link available

Yob - Clearing The Path To Ascend

If Pallbearer above proved that technical, underground metal could be made accessible, Yob prove that doom metal can achieve its greatest lift-off at its most weighty. Four monolithic tracks spread over an hour makes Clearing The Path To Ascend a fair challenge for the casual listener (although, hey, fuck the casual listener), but it's one worth persevering with. The muddy psychedelics of previous effort Atma have been traded in for a full-on roar that bludgeons into submission yet also raises the listener up, prepares them for transcendence. Really, Clearing The Path To Ascend does what it says on the tin exactly.

Key Track: Marrow

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